Sunday, September 11, 2016

On/In the Water 


The Donald D. Summerville Pool, image via BlogTO

A little known fact to those who don’t know Toronto is that the small collection of islands that shelter the harbour on Lake Ontario are inhabited and collectively, the islands are one of the best places to be on a hot summer day. As more and more Torontonians live in condos and apartments, more and more of them need a backyard. One thing Toronto has failed to do is maintain adequate green space for its citizens (which is why the idea of the so-called Rail Deck Park is so intriguing). A popular option for a lot of people living in the city who don’t have cottage-country-getaways is heading to the islands. A lot of people trying to get to the same place by limited means results in line-ups, and long line-ups for the city operated ferries are common. The water taxis on the waterfront are running constantly on the weekends and during the week, summer camps fill the islands with an almost midway like bustle.

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View of Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands from Corus Quay

In sixteen years I think I have been to the Toronto Islands three times. When I started biking for exercise, my main route to get out of the core was along the Lakeshore. When I lived in Parkdale, I knew multiple landmarks for doing 5, 7, 8, 10 km runs along the water. Running from Liberty Village I would experience the double sunset - run eastward and you’ll see the setting sun reflected off the downtown towers; run westward and you’ll see the actual setting sun falling behind Etobicoke and shimmering on the water. Unfortunately, my desk on the 26th floor looks north towards other taller towers, but reflected in the glazing of a new tower across from my office, I see the waterfront, Billy Bishop Airport, the Toronto Islands and the Lake beyond. I’ve come to realize how much of my happiness was dependent on the view of Lake Ontario. I also realized how close I live to the water but never experience it.
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Monday, September 05, 2016

Seen…in August 


The new old Sherlock, The Abominable Bride

In the last thirty days I swam 57% more, ran 40% more and watched 50% less so I guess that explains this paltry viewing entry. Can you blame me? I know I should've been hiding out in an air conditioned theatre watching all the great summer movies - if only there were any great summer movies to watch. I did see two, one of which is my favourite of the year.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
…not the “abdominable” bride as I originally wrote. This was created as a special one-off episode of the popular BBC Sherlock series. Given that the show’s two principals, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, were either making a Lord of the Rings or Marvel movie, it’s a small miracle this episode was made at all. The twist on the Sherlock series is that it is set in contemporary London rather than 19th century London. The twist on this episode is that it seemingly puts the same cast back into their original 19th century setting. Except it isn’t really. At some point in the series, Sherlock Holmes’ deductive reasoning goes from super intellect to super power to super parody. This episode pushes that parody to pure fun. They clearly know they’ve left the realm of reality, because this story is told with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s a lot of fun but early trailers for the upcoming season look to be a whole lot more serious so enjoy this amuse-bouche for what it is.


Zootopia
Imagine a world without humans where the entire animal kingdom learned to live together without eating each other. Sounds like a Disney movie? Well, that’s because it is. And a good one too. It is of course beautifully designed and animated. It’s strange to think how far digital animation has come where the medium melts away during a fun story and the great characters are created by a seamless blending of the voice actor’s performance and an animator’s work. This movie has a lot of subtext going on. “Everyone is different but you can still be what you want to be if you try really hard and focus on what makes you special!” and so on. Sometimes it sounds a little like a self-confidence seminar but it never feels like it, as super cute bunny (but don’t call her “cute”) Judy Hopps fights to be accepted as the first rabbit police officer in the animal utopian capital city of Zootopia. This, at heart, is a buddy cop comedy, and the buddy is a streetwise fox, Nick Wilde. The fox character is so much like the 1970s fox from the Disney animal version of Robin Hood it’s no surprise that movie was an inspiration for this one. It would be interesting to create a taxonomy of animals matched to character tropes in Disney films throughout the years, from the “black” crows of Dumbo, to the Italian mobster shrew (or vole?) with the Martin Scorsese eyebrows in Zootopia. Or not. It does sound kind of nerdy now that I think about it.



Kubo of Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings
This might be my favourite film of the year so far. It’s set in medieval Japan, and tells the tale of a boy sent on a quest and a great adventure to find an unbreakable sword and magic armour. It’s really a story of him finding his parents and “a journey of self-discovery” but a really great journey of self-discovery. This animated film uses primarily stop motion animation for the characters but uses digital animation where stop motion was impractical and it is stunning. Really. It’s from the same company that created Coraline and the Box Trolls so you know it will look good. Yet it is also full of “feels”. Just when you think it’s going to have the saddest ending full of devastating loss the lead character exclaims he needs some kind of happy ending and he comes through in the end. All the “feels” had me claiming the darkness of the theatre made my eyes water.

Bojack Horseman Season 03
This superficially simple animated series of a 90s TV star’s descent into becoming an even worse person (horse person?) is pretty great. Here’s a thought. Will Arnett, who voices the eponymous lead character Bojack, is a bit too melodramatic an actor in a real drama but he’s perfect for this. Plus his comic delivery is also perfect. The show is sort of strangely boundary pushing with one episode being almost entirely silent (with a nod to Chaplin’s The Kid?) while another episode has the most frank, and funny, discussion about abortion ever seen on network television. Oh, right. This isn’t network TV, it’s Netflix.



Chris Evans as train revolutionary in Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer
Imagine the nations of the world use some kind of crazy science to try and correct global warming but the correction has the effect of freezing the planet casting it into a permanent winter or ice age. Now imagine the only safe place was a train that has to keep moving to avoid freezing (I assume) and that self sustaining train becomes a microcosm of society with the elites at the front of the train and the peasants at the very back. After seventeen years and several uprisings later, a revolution might just succeed with the goal of fighting their way to the front and stopping the train. This film from an acclaimed South Korean director has the cast, budget and action of a Hollywood blockbuster but the thoughtful eccentricity of the best South Korean sci-fi. Chris Evans of Captain America fame is the leader of a revolution that slashes its way through the train cars and its fascinating slices of a society while the train they're on careens its way around the planet. There are plot holes large enough to drive a train through but why quibble? All the whys and hows and what-nows are set asunder to create the high-speed analogy. It is certainly entertaining but I don’t know if it’s quite as good as critics may have said it was but who cares if we all just buy into it. I guess my problems with this movie are exactly like the ones I had with The Hunger Games in that I found it too difficult to buy-in to the original conceit to just relax and enjoy myself.


War Dogs
There have been several movies about arms dealers that walk the line between dark comedy, political satire and drama but War Dogs is uniquely fascinating for the strange character Jonah Hill creates as one of two twenty-somethings who somehow won a massive US government contract to supply weaponry to the Afghan army. The backdrop of course was the American invasion of Iraq and their attempt to prop up a government in Afghanistan. The Iraq war itself has been a fertile source for many recent American films. War Dogs operates with the cognitive dissonance required to accept that there are laws around warfare. Despite the fact that one government can engineer a regime change of another country, they somehow have a rule book to follow while doing it? In this case that rule book stated the US can’t buy weapons or armaments of Chinese origin, even if they were found in Albania. The amazing thing about any part of this being a true story is that it would go that far before it all went to hell. I guess that’s war for you.


Mackenzie Davis is about to have a gaming epiphany in Halt and Catch Fire, Season 02

Halt and Catch Fire Season Two
For me, this series about the early high tech scene in Austin and Dallas in what was referred to as The Silicon Prairie (as opposed to Silicon Valley) is addictive. None of it is based on fact yet it seems truer than anything I’ve seen. Even knowing that AMC almost cynically wanted to recreate the success of Mad Man by choice of the subject matter and characters (set tumultuous personal relationships at the nexus of a specific time in a specific industry and watch it unfold) does not undermine how much I love this show. One thing it does much better than Mad Men is the soundtrack. Each character has their own playlist of era correct music that is played whenever we are in their storyline. It might not be for everyone, but I’m glad it’s for enough people that they made a second season. This season begins with the end of Cardiff Electronics. Almost two years have passed and Cardiff’s success has meant it was taken over by a larger Japanese concern. The cast is scattered yet still find themselves in an explosively exciting and innovative time in American technology. Cameron, the clever coder from season one is running a rag tag start-up that is at the genesis of online gaming and chat rooms, while Joe the visionary Svengali from season two has stumbled upon an opportunity that looks like an early version of Amazon Web Services. It’s a world of punk-rock, Commodore 64’s, Mac Plus, and super nerd talk. I love the retro Coke cans and modem sounds and if you like that stuff too, then start watching this show.


All images via The Movie DB

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

I Had the Strangest Deam 

Farine Five Roses
Farine Five Roses, Lachine Canal, Montreal

With a calm canal flickering by one shoulder and a near full moon over the other I couldn't escape the feeling, an intense feeling, of deja vu. I had been here before and I knew every detail. It had been a dream but now I was experiencing it for the first time for a second time. I knew from the moment I stepped from Saint-Ambroise to Turgeon and the eery familiarity of the cascading light over the red brick houses that this was the same surreal, I'm talking Giorgio de Chirico surreal, setting I had wandered through in a dream I had years ago.

I rarely remember the dreams we apparently have every night. Such is my sleep cycle I guess. But occasionally I will awake fresh from a dream in the way that I not only remember it afterwards but that it stays with me for a very long time.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Receipt Diary 

Vacances du Québec
Dig a little deeper and you can expose the complete EXIF data for every photo taken.

For years I’ve kept receipts. They have piled up on dressers and side tables. On the surface I keep them in case I need proof of purchase for a return but more deeply, they are a record of my life. Paper print-outs of data that record where exactly you were at what time, doing exactly what. Paper fossil records of a day in the life. I’ve definitely missed some including items purchased where I refused a receipt or lost an inconsequential one (ice cream bought at a truck, items at a corner store, a fast food meal purchased with the tap of a debit card), not to mention use of things procured within a mobile phone app or on a tap-to-use transit card. Yet this marks a journey of just some of the data bread crumbs I’ve left behind. You can even garner the exact time the photos were taken (somehow that seemed like overkill - or I was too lazy to note it). I’ve added notes where I remembered the transaction but amazingly you forget what it was you were thinking or even doing despite having an actual record of it in your hand. This seems a little strange to share how much I spent and what I bought but it also feels “truer” if that makes sense? I’m not sure why I’m starting this on August 5? Maybe it was the first August receipt I could find. I’ve also included my activity data to fill in when I wasn’t buying something. It’s strange how there are very little impressions from these moments yet it feels like it adds up to something. This is how I spent August including a week on vacation in Québec.
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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Seen in July 

There are very few things I love more than escaping the summer heat by retreating into an air conditioned theatre to watch a movie about people enjoying the summer. In theatre there is a term, synecdoche, appropriately Greek in origin which is when a singular word or phrase is a stand in for a longer term or larger idea (like saying "Ottawa" when you really mean the entire system of the Canadian federal bureaucracy). Or when the curtain rises on an interior in a Manhattan apartment which is really a set on a stage in Toronto but we all just accept that we the audience are there, in an apartment in another city in another country. The set on the stage is a stand in for another place which is itself inside a place in city within a country. Of course, this shared self-delusion and layering of experience happens all the time in film and theatre. Perhaps it's even a stranger phenomenon in film when we are watching a movie set in London, that was really filmed in a Hollywood studio that we are watching in a theatre in Toronto. For me, the somehow "meta" synecdoche of watching summer movies in the summer only adds to its dreamy otherworldliness and transports me much more easily than say a plane or ferry to a faraway vacation spot. Here's some of the transport I took in July.


Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash
Tilda Swinton is a vacationing rock star recovering from vocal chord surgery and enjoying a holiday with her filmmaker boyfriend on a beautiful and remote Italian island when an old flame, played by Ralph Fiennes shows up with his beautiful daughter (Dakota Johnson). Their unexpected arrival causes ripples then waves and ultimately, a dangerous storm. Based on the 1969 film La Piscine the movie reminds me of a lot of other summer dramas involving sunbathing, swimming, meals, music, dance and, of course, tension (like Stealing Beauty, L'Avventura or La Collectionneuse). Ralph Fiennes is great as the enthusiastic old lover hoping to somehow tip a happy relationship into disarray. Tilda Swinton is unbelievably ageless while Dakota Johnson is sort of annoyingly perfect as the overly confident and coy ingenue looking to push whatever boundaries exist.
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