Sunday, February 11, 2024

Seen in January 

The dangerous dames of Joy Ride.

Winter is a time for hibernating, which apparently is quite separate from the weather. There have been no ice or snowstorms to barricade us indoors, yet indoors we stayed. My apologies to the theatre owners but even if I only had to cross the street to get there, I may have still chosen to stay on my couch. The view was good, the sound was good, the in-house food service was good and there was a cat to keep us company so it's kind of hard to beat.

Joy Ride
At its heart, this is one of those R-rated, gross-out, explicit, road trip, journey of self-discovery comedies. The difference here is the predominantly female and Asian cast. It might sound like I'm dismissing this movie, but I'm not. It is very funny. If you've found yourself put off by the likes of Judd Apatow comedies then this might not be for you. That's OK, you'll just be missing out on one of the funnier movies made in a while. The movie revolves around two best friends who grew up as the only Asians in their very white town. Lolo (Sherry Cola) grew up knowing the language of her Chinese parents and her extended family, while Audrey (Ashley Park) was adopted by white parents, and overcame racial biases by putting energy into her aspirations by working to be the top of her class. A work trip takes the overly ambitious Audrey to China, which Lolo sees as an opportunity to find Audrey's birth mother. The real twist in the film is what Audrey actually discovers about herself and her past.

Doctor Who Specials 1-4
For anyone worried that The Doctor had become too woke, you might want to maintain your head-in-sand position while the rest of us enjoy another invigorating reset of this long-running Sci-fi series. In the fifteen years or so since David Tennant was The Doctor, the character had been re-incarnated as an old-ish Scotsman (Peter Capaldi), a handsome chap who appreciated a bow tie (Matt Smith) and a woman with a charming northern accent (Jodi Whittaker) – all of whom remained decidedly British despite being an ancient time-travelling alien. For this special limited series, the creators brought back Tennant as The Doctor to reunite him with his companion Catherine Tate, for perhaps nostalgic reasons. The result is as fun as it ever was. By the end of this series The Doctor has reformed yet again to be replaced by a charismatic young, Ncuti Gatwa, who you might recognize from the Netflix series Sex Education. I wondered if the charm of this series might wear thin due to it having improved special effects and higher production values, but in truth, the show's stories and characters are the engine that makes the show run and the Tardis, the spaceship in the shape of an anachronistic police box, take flight.

I avoided this adaption of a Disney classic short (which in turn was an adaptation from a children's book) for three reasons: could they make a short film feature length, John Cena voicing the main character, Ferdinand the Bull, seemed dubious, and my own cynicism. It turns out all those reasons didn't add up to much as of course Disney knows how to tell a story, no matter what the source is. Then, after seeing John Cena in Peacemaker, I realized he was more than a one-trick pony. Cena does well here as the oversized bull raised to fight in Spain's bullfighting spectacle, but is more interested in flowers and friendship than fighting. In the end, Ferdinand proves the best way to overcome "bullying" (pun intended), is to not be one and to ask the ones who are, why they are. There are plenty of other lessons to learn in this family-friendly animated film but maybe the main one is not to judge a film by its poster art.

Keanu Reeves is John Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 4
Do I really need to explain what and who John Wick is? Keanu Reeves as John Wick, excels at this kind of fantasy, highly choreographed violence. The fight sequences really are like a ballet. A ballet where the lead dancer shoots a hundred guys in the face. Visually, this series of almost plotless action is both without rival yet also the child of a million music videos and ad campaigns. It is slick and moves at a tireless pace. Like accepting that Superman is an alien who can fly, you must be able to leave logic, reason and common sense behind before entering a world of highly paid assassins who abide by ancient rules of conduct, while simultaneously breaking those rules only moments after saying how unbreakable the rules are. Are the action scenes fun? Sure. Is the fighting style coined as 'gun-fu' as riveting as any dance performance? I suppose so. Then what's the problem? For me, whenever the film stops to take a breath, which isn't often, you have to wonder why any of it was worth it?
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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

With NoLo, No FOMO 

These gents were not interested in alcohol free anything other than free alcohol.

It's been so long since I've had a full-alcohol beer (anything more than 0.5%) that I don't think my opinion on the topic can be trusted. In my journey of non or low-alcohol beverages I’ve made some discoveries and I’ve found some good substitutions. For instance, Corona’s “Sunbrew” is very similar to Corona. “Like making love in a canoe, it’s ****ing close to water”, as it’s been said, but I guess any of the light lagers can be similar to their full alcohol versions due to their watery disposition. Peroni 0.0% is similar, though the German weiss beer Erdinger and Kronenburg’s 0.5%, while a little sweet, are close to their full alcohol counterparts. We’ve even found some wines too; a Chilean 0.5% Sauvignon Blanc, Tarapacá, and a German Pinot Noir that is 0.5% are also surprisingly good. At the LCBO a cashier asked me what the no-alcohol wine from Loblaws was like and I said, “Church wine.” She didn’t know what I meant because I suppose she was a heathen of some sort. I meant it was overly sweet and dry which puts it closer to prune juice than wine. What is more interesting now is that even the most typical “pub” will have at least one non-alcoholic beer.
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Thursday, January 18, 2024

War on Torpor 

One way to stay warm as generated by MidJourney.
With the weirdly up, down, wet, cool, not cold December we had, this blast of winter we're having right now feels particularly nasty. The thing is, it's not even that cold (here in Toronto at any rate), in relative terms. It's not Alberta-cold. It's not Saskatchewan-cold. It's not Ottawa or Montreal-cold. Yet it's still cold-cold.
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Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Lime Green Pop of Chlorine 

The luxury of having an entire public pool to yourself.

I was somewhat astonished that the Cooper Koo Y, where I swim, was open every day during the holidays. My aspirational self noted this as if my actual self was going to get up off the couch during the torporific season between Christmas and New Year's and do something about it. Then I did surprise myself by going a few times. What I found was in Toronto many people don't do much during Christmas so they'd rather be at the Y working out, playing basketball, or volleyball. This meant the pool was even busier than usual. Except for one day. Friday, January 05. For whatever sociological reason I cannot fathom, Fridays seem less busy. On this particular Friday, the last Friday of the school break, the Y wasn't busy at all. In fact, before I finished my swim, the only other people in the pool had left and I had, not just a lane, but the entire pool to myself. It reminded me of swimming on Friday nights as a kid.
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Monday, January 01, 2024

Seen in November & December 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford contemplate their futures.

Mr Dressup
Amazon Prime

If you're Canadian you probably grew up thinking Mr. Dressup was the greatest Canadian. He was actually an American named Ernie Coombs and like his close friend, Mr. Rogers, he was just as thoughtful, imaginative and kind as the person you saw on your TV screen.

Derek S01-03

I’m still not sure how I feel about Ricky Gervais playing a neurodiverse individual but on the whole, this is a genuinely heartfelt comedy tinged with a dangerous drop of sentimentality. I still don’t like the unnecessary tinkling piano transitions but no one’s perfect.

The cast of the movie, based on the TV series, based on the books, based on the radio play.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I loved this series as a radio play. I loved it as a television series. I especially loved it as a series of books. Now I love it as a whole maligned feature-length film.
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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Tired of Living in Last Year 

Why should old acquaintances be forgot?

Like millions of other people today, I’m looking up the meaning of the Scottish poem Auld Lang Syne. While academics argue its provenance, all you really need to know is, it's about two old friends sharing a pint and recalling old times. As news and media pundits practice their augury by looking back over the last year to divine some theme or other, I’m reminded of Homer Simpson’s insight at the end of an episode when he said perhaps there was no lesson to learn, but rather, “Just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

Let’s face it, the Universe doesn’t care about our orbital year-end wrap-up or your most-listened-to tracks. Why are humans so particularly cursed with pareidolia - the tendency to assign meanings to patterns? When I had a digital bedside clock, I was constantly noticing when it read “12:34”, “1:11”, “2:22” or “3:14” and wondering what it meant? It meant nothing other than my brain trying really hard to make it mean something. To me that’s what all these year-end reviews are, simply a collective case of pareidolia. Every year we tally the wars, the deaths of celebrated individuals, the natural disasters, the political plots, the words on everyone’s lips.

This year is as predictable as any other. We were "shocked" at some celebrity's passing (though some argued we should've been more shocked they hadn't died before), we were disheartened and disturbed by wars in Ukraine, Yemen and now Gaza, we were dismayed at wildfires, flooding, earthquakes and amazed by volcanic eruptions. The economy behaved one way or another, causing wealth or poverty. Food bank use skyrocketed yet so many people bought tickets to Taylor Swift concerts that it actually buoyed local economies wherever she played.

There were shocks in Hollywood once they realized they had been spending too much money making too much crap, that only got worse when writers and actors went on strike. Why did they strike? Money, obviously, but less obviously, there were concerns about AI (or more correctly ML – Machine Learning) that was jeopardizing livelihoods. While most people had fun playing with new, and surprisingly viable, AI models and applications, writers, composers and actors could see the potential of them being literally being written out of a job by a bot trained on their own work. It seems more than a slap in the face if you're an artist whose work was used as raw data, without your consent or compensation, by a machine learning algorithm to learn how to create art, and then you would lose your career to this very same bit of code.

Christmas is such a time when we celebrate nostalgia, it's almost hard to think of anything but the past and its traditions. A new Christmas film isn't a "classic" until it has been played repeatedly for years. Then we stop complaining and forget that it was never considered a classic (see Elf, released twenty years ago, now on everyone's Christmas watch list). By the last days of the year, we tire of the replays and living in the past. We crave the new. Why do we ring in the New Year with fireworks? Are we so desperate to burn away last year we want to see it go up in flames like some kind of metaphoric effigy? We want the world to have a reset button, but it doesn't it work that way. We aren't out in space revolving around the sun like it's a treadmill. The sun itself is in an orbit, and we're following it, so in truth, we, the planet and everything on it, are on a forward trajectory. There's no going back. There's only forward, so fasten your seat belts, it's going to be another bumpy ride.