Monday, November 04, 2019

Seen in September & October 


Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon, aka Frau im Mond. Image via the New York Times

Netflixation: the feeling of slight elation or the smallest tingling of satisfaction of having actually selected something to watch. My phone tells me my “screen time” was up 40% last week, but that of course, was the time my phone was active. I attribute that simply to being out and about more recently and needing my phone for all things. Also I’m really really trying to figure out Instagram “Stories” which is an entire mystery to me (I’m particularly angered about this as the lead designer of the app is featured in this season’s series of designer profiles, Abstract). App anxiety aside this is what I gave time to in September and October.

Derry Girls S02

This series that is sort of a coming of age story of a group of teenage girls (and one lad) all set in Londonderry, Northern Ireland at the time of “The Troubles” will make you believe ordinary life stories can be funny, endearing, heartbreaking and meaningful and important especially during the most tumultuous of troubling times.

Listen Up Philip

Listen up, this flailing attempt of a kind of American version of a Francois Truffaut style French New Wave cinema is a complete failure. It's the story of a promising young novelist’s romantic entanglements and his friendship with an older “literary lion” mentor. The dialogue all sounds stiffly like portentously pseudo-intellectual ramblings of a first year student in a creative writing workshop. At one point I felt bad that Jason Schwartzman’s efforts were completely undermined by some questionable editing and amateurish directing. Jonathon Pryce also gives his best effort only to be cut off at the knees by bad writing, terrible editing and an almost grotesque use of handheld camera work. Elizabeth Moss is also wasted in the role of frustrated girlfriend.*

PS. Please note, my tone of critique of this movie is almost as stupid and insipid as the dialogue and dumb voice-over used throughout.

Woman in the Moon

A little known 1929 Fritz Lang sci-fi epic about an expedition to the moon. It would be the last silent film Lang would direct. The reason this film is so little known is probably because it is long and can’t decide if it's a thriller, a romance or a science fiction film. There’s a love triangle, a heist (of plans to go to the moon) and the trip to the moon which has more in common with Tintin’s Explorers of the Moon from 1954 than the 1902 Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon. The basic plot here is that a group of investors want to go to the moon to explore and exploit possible mineral riches. They essentially hijack an adventurer’s plans to do so because he’s much further ahead in building a rocket (imagine if a group of Chinese investors forced a takeover of Elon Musk’s Space-X program and company). The movie is an odd mix of what it gets right and what it gets wrong that makes it a little like the 2001: a Space Odyssey of its day. It is sort of stunning how little we knew of the moon by the late 1920s. The sequence of firing the rocket to the moon and landing there are surprisingly like Apollo 11, but when they land on the dark side of the moon because that location is most likely to have a breathable atmosphere, we’re back to 19th century conjecture. Another surprising aspect of a film that seems to care about scientific accuracy is that the melodramatic acting is still in full swing as if we hadn’t been making movies for over a decade before that. I guess it wasn’t until the regular use of sound when that sort of acting must have seemed as crazy as a trip to the moon.



If Beale Street Could Talk. Image via the Movie Db

If Beale Street Could Talk

If you were a black man in the 1905s accused of raping a white woman no matter how unlikely it was or even if you had two witnesses as alibis, it’s likely you were going to go to jail. Is the situation any different 60 years later? Tish and Fonny (played by Canadian Stephan James) are sweethearts who have grown up together but just as they are planning on getting married and finding a place of their own in New York City, Fonny is accused of a crime he never committed. That’s the menace of being black in 1950s America. Your freedom is imperilled nearly everyday by a system of justice that wants only to keep its boot on your throat. The film is illuminating and luminous, beautiful but heartbreaking, joyful and sad. It is also very slow. Maybe even too slow. There are several scenes when director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) allows his actors so much time and space you may be compelled to get up and get a snack from the kitchen.
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Simple Math 

How do you run faster as you get older? Simple math really. Hard Work + Never Quit = Payoff.



There are a lot of great things about this story but the simplicity of just running without the gym membership or all the fancy doodads is what gets me. I've never understood why more people don't run especially when there is almost zero barrier to entry. I understand why the less affluent aren't as healthy as the more affluent. Cheap, empty calories versus expensive fruits and vegetables, access to health care, longer working hours, shift work, longer commutes all lead up to a less healthy lifestyle. Yet the answer is right in front of our eyes and so few of us take the time to see it. Running isn't like other sports with registration fees, expensive specialized equipment or access to highfalutin facilities. You just put on a pair of shoes (even the cheapest will do) and go. Any time, day or night. As far as you want, as fast as you want.

Ask Memo. Memo knows.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

My Monkey Mind 


"N is for Neville who died of ennui" from Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

I recently heard a radio documentary about boredom and yes, the benefits of this misunderstood “universal emotion". I felt vindication. For most of my life when I felt boredom, I leaned into it. I always felt slighted by the expression that a smart person is never really bored. I feel boredom and secretly love it. Boredom remains a place where my mind wanders like a stroll in a tranquil forest. It’s where my day dreams live. I think of boredom as different from ennui which seems like a melancholic trap or from tedium which is more like anaesthesia for the brain.
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Wednesday, October 02, 2019

It's an Engine That's Running 


It's an engine and it's running. Maybe it's even a steam engine.

Since January I’ve been struggling with the worst kind of illness: one that is incredibly annoying but not serious enough that anyone gives a crap about. Cholinergic Urticaria. Prickly heats. Heat rash. I’ve tried every tincture, salve, cream, ointment, powder and potion you can name but it’s all nothing but temporary. A dose of cortisone or similar steroid usually does the trick but not this time. After describing it to a friend when he noticed I passed on drinking a beer (beer, wine and liquor all make it much worse) he responded, “I get it. It’s an engine that’s running.” Which really is the best way to describe it. It is an engine, it’s running and I can’t find the brake.
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Sunday, September 08, 2019

Seen in August 


Golden. Image via The Movie Db

I feel like the days of the big summer movie that everyone saw and talked about are over and gone. This isn't a bad thing, if only because we live in a time when so much content is available that it's just hard for a "summer movie" to happen. On the other hand it sucks if movie theatres just become places we go because the a/c is better. I had many intentions of seeing movies in cold theatres, in old theatres, in new theatres and even in parks this summer but at the end of the day, at the end of my couch there was always something just a click away (and often better that what you could see on the big screen).

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Ok let’s not spend too long on describing this Fast and Furious franchise spin-off. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their respective roles as former agent and rogue, Hobbs and Shaw, joined by Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s MI6 agent sister (we’re meant to believe their bad-assery runs in the family) as they team up to save the world against a genetically enhanced self-proclaimed “Black Superman” played by Idris Elba. As I’ve said before, for whatever reason, in one movie I can fully buy in to a talking raccoon yet in another, I can’t believe a character’s flawed motivation. That’s on me. The best way to think of this movie is that it takes place in another universe with different laws of physics so that a car can crash through multiple windows without losing momentum and then land on all for wheels and keep driving. Once you accept that nonsense, you’ll accept the rest (even the plot lifted from a Mission: Impossible film) and you’ll be fine. This assumes you wanted to see well choreographed fight scenes, unbelievable computer generated car stunts, explosions and a lot of snarky (camera winking) one-liners to begin with. No surprises here.

Crashing Season 01

Before Phoebe Waller-Bridge made her sensational Fleabag, she helped pen this hot mess British comedy of a group of people whose romantic and comedic lives overlap as they squat for cheap rent in an abandoned London hospital as something called property guardians. It’s a little exasperating as so much of the plot is driven by unnecessary truth-telling or lying that only leads to greater misunderstandings or insights. Yet it crackles and bristles in the funniest way even if it is the umpteenth show or movie with the title "Crashing".

The Rim of the World

This is Netflix’s attempt at catching lightning in a bottle and failing. The setting is a summer camp (at the Rim of the World) where a group of kids meet and find they may hold the key to stopping an alien invasion. Kids, in the 80s, fighting supernatural forces. Sound familiar? There’s some criticism that Netflix hasn’t successfully even added to the existing Stranger Things so why did they think they could just turn it into a genre? This film, with its younger cast is pointedly for a younger audience which begs the question, how does a younger audience understand the Goonies references and why would they care about the 80s in the first place. Not even Super-Mario or Pac-man could save this movie from the Rim of Despair.
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