Monday, December 11, 2017

Yup 

I'll be home for Christmas…





Seen in… November 


Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon. Image via theMovieDB.org

I have no idea how I found time to see so much in November when every work day started at 7 or 8 AM and ended at 6 or 7 PM and I had a cargo bike full of advocacy meetings (sometimes two in one day) but I did see a lot. Some I caught on TV, binged or otherwise, and some were screening at the TIFF theatre so I sort of had to catch them in a short run or miss them entirely. Oddly, there was one film I tried and failed to see each weekend for the last month but could never get to because it was screening just out of cycling range (well, cycling range on cold wet November nights). I guess the best movies to see are the easiest ones to see.

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!


Of course the later line, “A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope” is usually removed but speaks to the anti-Catholic sentiments of the time. This BBC mini series is a good a history lesson as you're likely to get. Part 1 begins when Queen Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic raised in exile in France returns to Scotland to challenge Queen Elizabeth I, an English Protestant. When Mary is finally cornered her son James is taken from her and raised as the King in waiting (waiting for Elizabeth to die). Part 2 of the series begins with Elizabeth’s death and Mary’s execution making James, the regent and rightful heir to the throne, the king of a united England, Scotland and Wales. I think I got that right? The series focuses on King James struggles, played with greasy anger by Robert Carlyle to be accepted as king and the machinations of Parliament to control him. Through some dubious and curious sexual harassment, James promises a prominent Catholic that under his reign, Catholicism would be tolerated but it wasn’t to be which raises the ire of those who put their faith in the hands of James. The plotters put their plan in motion but the crown’s spies soon discover their conspiracy. Yet the King wishes to let the plot fester and catch the Catholic dissenters red handed, namely Guy Fawkes (aka Guido Fawkes) played by a young Michael Fassbender. Turns out Fawkes was an angry Catholic fighting for his faith where ever the fight took him until it found him guarding 20 barrels of gunpowder. The rest is history.

The Neon Demon

This is one of those films that people either love or hate. This film about a young woman landing in LA to start a modelling career is from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive, an equally divisive movie. Elle Fanning plays Jesse the effervescent teen who after catching the eye of casting directors then ignites the jealousy of her feminine rivals. Can the innocent beauty survive the dog eat dog world of fashion? Will she lose the spark that makes her special? From that point of view, this is an incredibly simple film and the movie itself is a very obvious metaphor. The audacity of this thing is how incredibly, enticingly, beautiful the film is and it seems to me to be appropriately superficial. I suppose it is this simplicity that makes the movie open to criticism or that any acclaim might seem hyperbolic but for me it was refreshingly forward and obvious. I think that’s what I like about this director. Simple, stylish, iconic and straightforward.

Spielberg

This HBO documentary profile of one of the greatest American directors is an insightful look into his life and career. What is amazing to me was the company and cohort that Spielberg was part of. Spielberg ran with a madly talented group that consisted of Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas. To hear those icons of American cinema speak of a friend with respect, awe and even a bit of envy is pretty great. More interestingly to me was how Spielberg found the only other people who spoke his language: film.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Nature's Soft Nurse 


Winsor McCay's Little Nemo always found Slumberland even if it wasn't always an easy ride.

I thought I had defeated my sleep problem but over the last few months it has crept back in like a pest you thought you had dealt with only discover it has broken into the pantry, chewed through every box and pooped everywhere. What a fool I was. I’m undeniably a night owl. My natural rhythm would be going to sleep at 2 AM and getting up after 8:30 AM with a midday nap happening sometime between dawn and dusk. Yet that isn’t how “society" works and it certainly doesn’t work that way if you want to remain employed. I’m struggling to get to work, then get through the day at work, then getting to bed early enough so I can be rested to get to work the next day. It all comes crashing down on the weekend which is something I would really like to be awake for. It’s like living in a state of near constant jet lag.

The problem is partly mine and partly work’s. I work on what my company calls “distributed teams” where team members are based in many different geographic locales as opposed to "co-located teams” where the team members work in the same location. Which means the only time to talk to anyone in India is 7 or 8 AM which would be fine if I’d gone to bed by 11 PM rather than 1 AM. I take it back. 8 AM meetings are never fine. This schedule was supposedly temporary. We had a project to be done for a certain trade show. Once that was done, we could go back to normal. Instead, it became normal. To complicate matters I was travelling more, getting regularly sick and getting regular medical treatments, which led to dropping the one thing that was keeping me alive: exercise. I never recovered. The old adage that it’s easier to stay fit than get fit has never felt truer.
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Thursday, November 09, 2017

FYI WFH 


Working alone is like… Alain Delon in Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse’ (1962)

Every once in awhile, maybe every other week I WFH - work from home. The custom of sending a wide e-mail informing co-workers of this pretty much ended years ago. Actually about three or four times a week I SWFH. That is I "Start Work From Home” due to early morning conference calls but then head into the office. It is pointless to tell anyone about this because to the majority of my colleagues, many of whom I’ve never met, I am nothing more than a crackling, fuzzy and distant disembodied voice. They live and work on another continent. When I do go into the office those sitting near me are also working with people on other continents that they’ve never met. We sit side by side with fingers on keyboards playing chords of code sent all over the world to people we neither know or recognize. So why do I go to the office at all?

Funny you should ask. In the last two weeks I’ve attended two different conferences, one focused solely on the technology of artificial intelligence and the other focused on design issues, namely the practice, business and art of design. While the practical side of attending conferences is to improve your skills and knowledge while discussing processes and business with your peers, I think I like to go to prove I exist. Talking to other people feels like it proves I exist as if I were a ghost surprised that the residents of a dwelling I haunted could suddenly see me when for years no one else had. This is essentially why I go to the office to work. I need to see other people who see me to prove to myself that I exist. Sure you could call it “social interaction” but whatever you call it, it is worthwhile to prove my existence. Read more »

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Seen in… October 


The Night of the Living Dead image via The Movie DB

Evolution
This is a kind of corny but loveable sci-fi comedy that doesn’t ask much of you. It stars David Duchovny and Orlando Jones as a pair of small town college professors who happen to be in the right place at the right time when a meteorite carrying a fast evolving alien life form lands in the nearby desert. Everyone from the FBI to the state governor wants credit for the discovery but the conflicts lead to confusion which leads inevitably to a pterodactyl type thing flying through a mall. I’m sure Duchovny took this role in a light comedy to offset or play against his overly serious role as Fox Mulder on the much-loved X-Files but sometimes, because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.


Scene (cell?) from Loving Vincent image via The Movie DB

Loving Vincent
Someone actually thought it was a great idea to film actors portraying the last years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life then paint over every frame in the style of the Dutch painter and animate it painstakingly. Sort of crazy. Crazy beautiful. Unfortunately the premise which endeavors to bring to life not only Van Gogh’s story but the stories of the people and places he painted goes a little bit Agatha Christie and winds up with a spurious murder theory. The film is strikingly beautiful and creates wonderful vignettes that shines a light on the lives of the small town where Van Gogh painted but the conspiratorial tone intended to create tension is a more fraught than taut. Despite those flaws, this film is worth seeing for its technical and aesthetic merits alone and the filmmakers allow you to bath in all its golden barley glory and swirling indigo night skies. Certainly a big screen experience.



Gosling looking comfortable in his artificial skin image via The Movie DB

Blade Runner 2049
Set 30 years after the original (though filmed 35 years after the original) this highly anticipated continuation of the story of a cop whose job is to hunt and “retire” rogue androids (“replicants” if you please) satisfies stylistically if not entirely. Denis Villeneuve is a very thoughtful and patient director who is willing to let a story take its time to unfold and reveal itself which certainly suits the atmosphere of this future dystopian vision of L.A. that Ridley Scott created in 1982. The visual references and style of this film are without question on point and live up to the hype. I guess my only quibble is the story is too complete, too structured in that it is a more conventional plot driven reckoning of all the openings the original let us fall into. The original Blade Runner was far more open ended giving us a classic sci-fi story that left more questions than answers. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love the original and the director’s cut of the original, there were moments I didn’t like or aspects that made no sense (Deckard’s “unicorn vision”? Was it a dream? A piece of a different movie that fell into the projection reel? It felt really out of place and at the time I couldn’t even tell if it was a dream, a memory or just a random music video that Deckard was watching.) Yet this version almost feels too “standard”, too rote. There is even a scene that could potentially set up another film, a scene that suggests a connection to Prometheus and the Alien films and a very coherent ending. It seems strange to say a film was too well written to be satisfying but I think a few loose strands to pick at would have been better. After all, it was the unanswerable loose threads that made us revisit Blade Runner again and again and made it one of the most enduring sci-fi films of all time.
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