Saturday, January 16, 2021

Seen in December 

Veni vidi vici. Image via The Movie Db.

Remember when we thought 2016 was a dumpster fire? Or was it 2017? Or maybe 2018? Whatever it was, 2020 outdid them all. Oh, I'm sure there were years like 1918 when so many died from influenza, or during The Great Depression and Dust Bowl, which tore asunder millions of lives. Even when The Dirty Thirties ended, fascists had taken over Europe and threw the world into war. Still, by any measure, 2020 was not a good year. A pandemic, mass unemployment, riots against police violence, violent riots against riots against violence, racial tensions, racists causing tension, conspiracy theorists running amok, unhinged politicians flinging muck, not to mention massive forest fires and a worsening climate crisis. Many people, myself among them, thought we needed Christmas more than ever. I sought out comfort via television. Not mentioned here are all the films I enjoyed before that I rewatched just for the comfort of it, like the Harry Potter films and countless Christmas specials. Here is what I saw worth writing down.

Coming To America
Before there was Black Panther there was another movie with a nearly all black cast. An Eddie Murphy comedy from 1988 about a wealthy African prince, Prince Akeem, who wishes to leave behind his arranged marriage and find true love in America. Specifically, he travels to Queens, New York to find his queen. I know this was made at the height of Murphy’s fame, yet I never really felt a need to see it. As a film, I’m not sure there’s as much here as its popularity would suggest but as a pop-culture moment, I get it. Appearing in small roles are some significant African American actors like James Earl Jones, John Amos, Eriq La Salle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vondie Curtis-Hall, Samuel L. Jackson and other recognizable names and faces. My favourite moment is a call back to a previous Eddie Murphy film, when Prince Akeem hands a large wad of cash to Mortimer and Randolph Duke, now homeless on the streets of New York, who were ruined by another Murphy character in the film Trading Places.

Back to back camp. Image via The Movie Db.

Man With the Golden Gun
Roger Moore is British super spy, 007, James Bond, on an off-the-books mission to find, apprehend or kill the notorious assassin, Scaramanga, played gleefully by Christopher Lee. Moore was the Bond of my youth so I guess I should have enjoyed the nostalgia factor but in reality I find this series of Bond films too campy. Roger Moore is a great actor but I always felt this 70s version of Bond in polyester leisure suits, he seemed more like a concierge about to lead us to our table rather than someone ready to fight international criminals. 

The Life Ahead
Sophia Loren plays Rosa, an aging Holocaust survivor and prostitute whose only income seems to be caring for the children of other sex workers. Added to the two kids she’s already taking care of is Momo. Momo is brought to Rosa by a elderly doctor who also cares for a variety of street kids. The doctor sees Momo slipping into a criminal life on the street and recognizes the silver candlesticks he’s stolen as Rosa’s. He brings Momo to Rosa to return the stolen goods and apologize, he also thinks maybe Rosa is the real caretaker Momo needs. Momo is a Senegalese Muslim refugee who has lost his family, his faith and any remnants of his culture and as a black kid in an Italian city he stands out as different. Rosa introduces Momo to a Muslim shopkeeper hoping for him to give the kid a gentle introduction to his own faith and culture. Rosa has her own troubles including the trauma from her past and growing dementia. In spite of his own self-interests and independence, Momo sees that the old woman needs his help. Essentially these two need each other, especially emotionally. This interdependence is integral to the human experience, right? That’s what Momo learns through a painful transition from a street kid fighting for every inch, to a person who learns to find himself through his connection to others.

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Monday, January 04, 2021

T'is Still the Season 

Baking is always a part of the holidays and this year I baked a couple of pound cakes (one to share for Mike to finish with marzipan and glaze and one for myself) and some bread. The pound cake turned out great and I think the reason was really just the amount of whipping I did when making the batter. At least so says founder and owner of Milk Bar, Christina Tosi. Tosi's point being you can't really play with the ratios of ingredients in baking but how you handle them makes a difference, like whipping more air into a batter.

On the other hand, I hadn't baked much bread lately because I was avoiding bread, gluten and carbs. I have to admit after avoiding gluten and dairy for almost eight months I couldn't see any big difference in my health. I could still avoid the carbs but I'm not sure I have the problems with gluten that others have so, basically, here comes the bread! Baking bread is fun. I use a pretty simple and forgiving recipe so it's easy to imagine playing with it by adding seeds or nuts, or even things like olives or sun-dried tomatoes. A lot of people took up baking bread over 2020, whereas I sort of stopped, but I think this year I might get back to it.

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Sunday, January 03, 2021

We Need a Little (More) Christmas 

On an overcast, ugly day in January I'm trying to extend the sweet warmth of the holidays by listening to Christmas specials, eating chocolates and generally being a world champion layabout. This my last day before going back to work tomorrow, so it will be a day of snacking, napping, reading, and watching television and listening to podcasts. As to continued snacking… in for a penny, in for a pound, or two or maybe three or four. I can wait a few more days to think about getting back in to shape starting with four-second workouts or how to get fit in my second half.

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Once in a Life 

2020 has been
The worst of times
The best of times
But mostly maybe the time of times

We wring our hands
While they wring our necks
For counting coins from government cheques
And banging pots from our decks

Upon grieving the dead
Our gums bleed into bread
Made from sour dough starters and salt of tears
It feels like it’s been a year of years

There’s no joy for hoi polloi
And it seems there are only memes
For evil doers and fomenting brewers
For finger pointers and casket joiners

There’s pitter patter
Next year will be better
Within our homes we hoard plenty of stuff
Yet once in a life is plenty enough

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Seen in November 

On the road again, McGregor and Boorman in The Long Way Up

Hey, isn't it late to be talking about what you saw in November? Yes. That is true but it was a busy month full of pandemics and American elections and any other excuse I can make up. Here's what I saw. Here's what I have to say about it.

The Long Way Up
Apple TV+
A continuation of Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s motorcycling adventures. In this series they ride from the southern tip of South America to Los Angeles with a small crew filming them along the way. The difference this time is they are using and evangelizing electric vehicles. McGregor and Boorman are riding two prototype Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles while their producers are following in two prototype Rivian electric trucks. There are more than a few challenges enroute but for the most part this is just a fun travel adventure at a time when most of us are commandeering our couches rather than being kings of the road.

Fargo S02
The second season of this anthology series lives up to the quality of its cinematic parent from which the show was spawned. The original Coen brothers film continues to act as a type of spirit guide to the series. Season two is set at the end of the 70s when a big time Kansas City mob wants to move in on the profitable but small time family-run Gerhard trucking and criminal operation. These events coincide with the youngest Gerhard brother’s disappearance and a beautician’s attempt to cover a hit-and-run accident. The season is also a sort of prequel to season one, which was a nice surprise and a satisfying endnote to a satisfying season.

Connery and Hedren in Marnie. Image via The Movie Db.
Sean Connery plays Mark, a wealthy man who becomes fascinated with a woman named Marnie, played by Tippi Hedren, after she steals from his family business. He marries her and then attempts to cure her of her psychological problems through rape. After that triumph of masculine intuition he saves her from a weirdly failed attempt at suicide. If that sounds rough, I’m afraid to tell you, it is also pretty accurate. Marnie is a woman scarred by her past and can see a future no further than stealing and moving on. Yet, her new husband is determined to unravel her past to discover why she is so averse to sexual abuse. OK, I’m being facetious, but it is a weird and uncomfortable film to watch now and I’m sure it wasn’t that much easier to watch when Alfred Hitchcock made it in 1954. What I find interesting is how eager Hitchcock is to dig deeply into some shallow pop psychology of a difficult subject but isn’t the least bit interested in his own fascination with blonde hair starlets and their waves of peroxide swirls.

Billi and family in The Farewell. Image via The Movie Db.
The Farewell
Amazon Prime
This is the amazing story of family and tradition that is both joyful, celebratory and bittersweet. Awkafina plays, Billi, a young Asian American woman living both the in the US where she grew up and the world of her fairly conservative Chinese family. When the family discovers their beloved matron, Billi’s grandmother, is seriously ill with cancer, they invent a ruse, a family wedding, to visit her as their last goodbye without telling her how sick she is. Many traditional and conservative cultures believe in this practice, by the way. It’s more common than you may think to intentionally withhold information about a serious illness particularly from an elderly family member, presumably so that they may live out their remaining days without worry. Billi is torn between telling her grandmother the truth and respecting her family’s wishes. Many more relationship quandaries within the family are exposed by this dilemma but it’s in seeing these difficulties we see the value of family. As they say, the hard stuff is hard, but it’s what makes us who we are.

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Like the Ones I Used to Know 

I’m passed the age of dreaming of snow for Christmas or presents under the tree or chocolates in a sock (OK, if I find a sock full of chocolates, it would probably cheer me up. C’mon… chocolate!) but I’ll never be passed the age of missing family. So many people are lamenting not being able to be with family for Christmas this year but I’m sure a few are more than happy not to deal with the stress of travel, the expense and stress of gift giving or the inevitable drunken Uncle Phil with a less than modern view of race relations and gender fluidity (“Fluids?! Don’t mention fluids at the dinner table!”)

Last year, I voluntarily removed all the stress of the holidays by staying at home alone. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day entirely alone. In my solitude I slept, ate, watched TV and movies, snacked and napped my way into a state of bliss. Of course, this was possibly one of the loveliest holidays ever because I was still able to see friends, visit galleries and I wasn’t really missing family as I had spent a lovely summer vacation with them when Newfoundland is at its best (“When summer spreads her hand” as the Ode to Newfoundland says).

This year is different. I won’t be spending the holidays alone, but I won’t be with family either. Now, almost a year and half since seeing family, including my ailing mother, and there is a bitter tang to this pandemic pill. (Pill? Is there a pill?! No, Uncle Phil, go back to sleep.) We can never seemingly get what we truly desire, unless you live in a Hallmark Christmas movie, which is to have everyone we love be together at the same place, at the same time, and still have control of the television remote. So pardon my nostalgia, back to a time when I was so small that my world was so small that everyone I loved fit on a single couch and could squeeze into a single photo. My world is bigger now but I still want that feeling. Hopefully, a slice of marzipan covered pound cake, a chocolate (or two), an old tune and some familiar voices will do just that.

Merry Christmas everyone.