Thursday, February 14, 2019

Seen in January… 

Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek on one of the many sets and locations for The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. Image via The Movie DB.

This is becoming a bad habit of mine - posting the previous month’s list when the following month is almost done. It hardly matters as the first half of January was lost to me. I had a cold that was relentless. During that time I sought out mostly movies I had seen and knew would comfort me (also it wouldn't matter if I fell asleep while watching). This is what I did see peering from behind a dune of used tissues.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes have created another in their series of collaborations which are more like cinematic essays or lectures that apply a Freudian lens to many classic films. Zizek is professor of philosophy and a cinephile and Fiennes the director. In this documentary, there's a slight reversal in that Zizek uses film to explain ideology. Not just the ideology of Capitalists versus Marxists or Reagan or Stalin but also how we form our own ideology, especially in the context of the society within which we live. This approach makes the content much more engaging and memorable. One of the surprising insights is how someone like Stalin's personality and personal ideology helped formed the ideology of the Soviet Union and how the survival of Capitalism makes sense because it is inherently self destroying and constantly reforming and aligning itself however it needs to (more like a viral infection than any organizational principles). In that light, Capitalism doesn't need an individual to guide it, but it is much closer to nature's own survival. There are some mind expanding revelations if you're open to it.

A photo by Mark Hogancamp from Marwencol Image via Artsy


The documentary of a man who created his own therapy through his art and is the basis for the latest Robert Zemeckis film Welcome to Marwen (presumably they didn't get the permission of the "Colleen" who makes up the "col" part of the name). I will not see that film because I do not like Robert Zemeckis films and I'm pretty sure you won't really find out much about the real Mark Hogancamp who the story is based on. Mark Hogancamp was at a bar in his upstate New York town when he was jumped by a group of men who very nearly beat him to death. Why? He may have mentioned it wasn't so weird to wear women's clothing. The men were arrested, charged and jailed but that didn't heal Hogancamp. He spent months in physical therapy relearning how to walk and when the insurance money ran out, teaching himself to read and write again. Damaged and reeling from a brain injury Hogancamp withdrew into a world of storytelling where he was the rescuer and rescued hero of his own devising. In some respects the brain injury was a reset. Hogancamp's previous life included a successful marriage until alcoholism tore that apart. After the injury he had no interest in drinking at all. To keep himself occupied he began to build a model town set in World War II era Belgium. He populated this town with his G.I. Joe scaled dolls depicting friends, many female, who were based on those people around him thus the name he gave the town, "Marwencol", an amalgam of Mark-Wendy-Colleen. He didn't just build the town, but created a storyline for it as an evolving place that he recorded through simple but striking photography. When a photographer met Mark on one of his many walks he saw the potential of the work, contacted a small art magazine publisher and gallery owner. That's how his work and story came to national attention. By the end of the documentary we see Hogancamp realizing this next stage of his life in a new version of Marwencol. In this new version, the action figure of himself is not a WWII hero but an artist photographing a scaled down version of his original creation. Retelling his reality in an alternate nested reality is a sort of physical manifestation of how we relate our memories when we repeat our own stories to ourselves and others. Picture yourself telling a table full of friends how one time you found a cat in a tree. Now imagine you created a scaled version of yourself sitting at a table of doll sized depictions of those same friends and on the table you have created a scaled diorama of yourself rescuing a cat from a tree. That's what this would be like. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to view this with Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York which is about creating something as a stand-in for another thing (sort of).
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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Seen in… December 

December is the Season for cranking up the heat until sauna conditions are reached. Yet it’s also the time when I seek comfort in watching old favourites or seeking sentimental seasonal flicks. Call it seasonal cinematic disorder.

Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. Image from The Movie DB

The Man Who Invented Christmas

A new spin on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and Dan Stevens as Dickens. We meet Charles Dickens returning from a successful American tour only to find his recent books are failures, his debts are piling up, his wife is struggling to make a home in their new (expensive) London house while his ne’er-do-well father shows up with hands out hustling for an income by selling his son’s autographed letters. Dickens knows he needs a hit and has struck upon an idea inspired by his young Irish housekeeper for a Christmas story. His publishers are skeptical, even wondering who even cares about Christmas, and unsure of being able to print a book in time for the holiday never mind write one. Frustrated, Dickens fronts the money for the illustrations, the printing plates and the elaborate, ornate binding he envisions. Of course this only adds to his stress. We see the story come together as Dickens struggles with writer’s block while arguing with the imaginary cast of characters that will be so well known to us in the story that will become A Christmas Carol. Plummer is a perfect Ebenezer Scrooge and a wonderful foil to Dan Stevens as Dickens.

Zinedine Zindane in his natural environment.

Zindane: a 21st Century Portrait

Listed as a documentary, this film should not be confused with anything other than an unique art film that explores the idea of portraiture through movement, audio and a kind of video collage - so yeah, not your average documentary. Seventeen cameras follow French soccer icon Zinedine Zindane during a Real Madrid vs. Villareal match from April 23, 2005. With music from the band Mogwai as the score, it's not a particularly thrilling match but it is a mesmerizing montage of modern sport.

That's Miles Morales as Spider-man. Image from The Movie DB

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

Dazzling. For the young at heart but definitely not for anyone who isn't up to contemporary cinema's fast paced editing style. There is also a unique style of animation here that merges the graphic vernacular of comics with computer generated effects and a sort of, American Anime. For me a problem of the Marvel live action films is how a character like Spider-man, as computer generated puppet appears to defy the gravity of the real world. In animation however, the squash, stretch and spring of the character comes to life in a stylishly unrealistic way that is very satisfying. The animation sets the characters free to be as exciting on screen as they are on the page. This Spider-man is torn from Marvel’s multi-universe interpretation in which many different people in many different variations become Spider-man and Spider-women. In this universe, a confident and daring Spider-man dies while trying to stop his nemesis the Kingpin from using an electron collider to open a parallel universe (see, even science can be set free in an animated world). The consequences of this device are that Spider-people from various alternative universes begin to show up in New York like Gwen Stacey or a Japanese school girl, or a talking pig or a young bi-racial Brooklyn teen named Miles Morales who becomes his own version of Spider-man and discovers new abilities that the previous Peter Parker never had. Miles is tutored and encouraged by our universe's Peter Parker, who has become somewhat of a disappointment to his friends, family and himself. Divorced, broke, out of shape, our Peter Parker seems too far gone to save anyway, including himself but of course you’ll have to see the movie to know how that turns out.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Proposed Pipeline 

Earlier today a Toronto man proposed a pipeline that would lead directly from his sinuses to the sea. Hydrasense, maker of a popular netty pot, suggested the project could be completed by the spring. Environmentalists have criticized the proposal with a spokesperson from Greenpeace International saying, "We just don't know what kind of damage that amount of mucous could do to the environment and the fragile sea floor." Proponents have suggested that the project could in fact be good for the local ecosystem by creating an artificial reef capable of protecting shoreline species from the threat of rising coastal water levels. Other critics, including the water protection group WaterKeepers have called this thinking unproven and unlikely. "Have you seen how snot mixes with water? It will not form a reef or solid structure of any kind but will just make the water cloudy and gross." said a WaterKeepers representative. The President of the United States has argued for a barrier or wall around the man's nostrils though few believe he could find support for funding. Additionally, the man himself is worried such a barrier would only cause further blockages and lead to a worsening of the sinus pain and headache situation. For now, the man has decided to burrow beneath a lightweight comforter on his home sofa surrounded by a small berm consisting of used facial tissues. "I expect to die here", said the man, noting that he has consulted his lawyer about possible attempted murder charges being brought against the toddler believed to be at the centre of this current outbreak. Such charges are thought by legal experts as unprecedented and absurd. Indigenous groups have also said they would protest and block any type of pipeline construction. This is the eleventh day of the sinus impasse with no end in sight.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Black Heart Blues 

December can be an epic disaster of social events, over-eating, over-spending and over-extending. I found some relief when a couple of difficult projects were done and dusted, tucked away or sent off to the ether where they would no doubt die in the cold lonely space where neglected work dies. My calendar cleared up further when my volunteer commitments had been met and only one party was left. I took an evening to put up some Christmas decorations while playing a cheesy Christmas movie in the background (theme: when you’ve lost family, create your own etc) and I have to admit some seasonal warmth crept into my black heart.

Why the black heart? I’m not sure. It’s as though you’ve just discovered your hand has lost all sensation after driving a nail into it without noticing. That’s odd, you say to yourself, that should really have hurt. My job lately has been so soul-suckingly unsatisfying it has left me numb to whatever ridiculous thing happens next. The bleakness of the darkest November in 30 years certainly contributed. Meanwhile the hellscape of political machinations infecting our world is inescapable. I resolved to ignore it but no matter what, some kind of terrible news slips into your life like an unwanted guest.

I thought I could outrun that black heart but you don’t get far if you can only get around to running once every few days (see “work”). Maybe a good night’s sleep would do the trick but where did all the good nights go? I thought I could drink it away but that’s a bit of a cliché isn’t it? I thought the company of friends would take it away but you can only impose yourself on friends for so long. I sought out art only to find those unscrupulous thieves called artists not only have your number but they will call it and who answers that call? The black heart.

The black heart. That inky celphalopod who lurks and slips into any nook and cranny. That fairground funny mirror who reflects your own corrupt and morphed image of yourself. It’s a box, opaque to everyone else but transparent to yourself and it is disgusting, smelling of the rot of your own septic guts. Who are you? You voiceless director, making me your whipping boy, pressing my face in the mess that is my life. You are a spectral bully and if there is one thing I hate, it’s a bully. When you live in a time that venerates, celebrates, champions and elects bullies and their bullshit, it’s hard to see the bright side. There was a time I would have avoided typing that word but it’s too late for that now. We live in a golden age of bullshit. It is an era when that word went from unacceptable to the only way to describe the world.

I guess that’s a cynical view of the world, life and everything but that’s what the Black Heart does to you.


Seen in… November 

Band of Brothers, more like horde of hunks. Image via The Movie DB

The weather of November lends itself to the interior, as in the interior of your home watching your television. Despite a dark and murky November and typical busyness I was able to get to the cinema a few times and finish a few series I've wanted to watch for awhile.

Marvel’s Daredevil Season 3

Like another Marvel series, Punisher, this is a very well scripted and paced show with death and violence as its focus. Unlike Punisher where the main question is “Why shouldn’t I kill my enemy?”, Matthew Murdoch aka Daredevil struggles with defeat and the idea that a murder would be the easy way out.

Band of Brothers

Like Platoon for a different generation of actors, this HBO mini-series from 2001 feels contemporary and fresh like a wound that won’t heal. It’s the story of Easy Company, the group of American paratroopers that fought from Normandy and worked their way through the European theatre of World War II. We follow the company from their initial training and through their many perilous battles. As an American story, it sometimes flirts close to American jingoism, yet the reality of war, its tactics, its fears, its horrors, its boredom and its shock reminds us that it is a universally human and terrible thing. There are an incredible number of actors in this huge ensemble and many, who were unknowns at the time have gone on to fame and recognition. You might want to watch it with the open just to cure the itch of finding out the answer to “Where have I seen that actor before?”

Paddington was so fun they made another one. Image via The Movie DB

Paddington 2

I’m not even sure why I watched this. I wasn’t a particular Paddington fan as a kid and I didn’t see the point of making a feature length film of a little talking bear who had moved to London. Perhaps after watching so much grim and intolerably violent stuff I just wanted a relief. A break from blood and gore. A break from the depressing news cycle of racism, misogyny and hate that passes as politics today. Well, lo, a golden gleaming ganache appeared before me and without even asking if I needed it, I had already consumed it. This is one of those “all ages” films that plants itself in its own invented world of magic realism as Paddington’s adventure starts with a wish to buy his aunt a birthday present but winds up as a treasure hunt and jailbreak. You don’t need to really know anymore than that but rest assured if you let yourself slip into this movie like comfy slippers you’ll come out relaxed and revitalized just a little bit. Visually, it’s movie “hygge” and Hugh Grant is a surprise as a dastardly villain who shows more range in this one small role than in the last twenty years of his career.

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