Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Time Rift

aestas canadensis (Canadian Summer)

I always have this nostalgic vision of summer: lazy, sunny mornings, padding around the house barefoot, where I linger over coffee, pastries and seasonal fruit. Reading in the shade while listening to new music or podcasts. Countless swims and bike rides and plentiful stops for ice cream. Restaurant hangs with friends. Movies in cooled theatres. Music in parks. Slow shopping in markets to get ingredients for a great meal made over a grill under a salmon coloured evening sky. None of that is exceptional or difficult but you need time such that none of it is rushed. You need a special kind of time. You need summertime.

Yet, what is a summertime? It's really just a dozen weekends, and if you really think about how many weekends others ask you to join them in their summer endeavours or that you have to use for all the chores and errands you were leaving for a warm, dry day, that number is probably closer to half of that. You also need summer weather. We now have summers of crushing, searing heat, oppressive humidity, raging forest fires, overwhelming droughts or deadly flooding and mudslides. Not a time for simple pleasures.

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Seen in August

Whether taking shelter from the heat or relaxing at the end of the day, this was how my summer ended. Only one film noted here was seen in a theatre. Maybe it seemed like too much trouble, maybe COVID was still on my mind, or maybe there just wasn't anything to see, but going to a theatre seemed less enticing this summer. Luckily, you can watch almost anything from home, so, adjust the heat or a/c as you like, pour your favourite drink and try one of these titles.

Jenny Slate of said stage fright.

Jenny Slate: Stage Fright
Comedian Jenny Slate's debut comedy special on Netflix. It's easy to be a fan of Slate, who previously was a Saturday Night Live cast member and is the co-creator and voice of Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. In some ways she is mining that the same vein as Sarah Silverman. She embodies the pretty Jewish princess who is so sweet that you are shocked by how much she cusses while talking about her lunar sex life. Unlike Silverman, who you can never know when and how far or ironic she will take her humour, Slate seems much more genuine and honest with her audience. Plus, in this comedy special we get to meet Jenny Slate's funny, supportive and for her, inspiring family.

My Old School
The story of a student named Brandon Lee who shows up at a Glasgow high school in 1995. Immediately his classmates thought he was a teacher, clearly too old to be a student, but when he was introduced as a new student, they all began to buy into a lie that played out over many months. As the student known as Lee did not want to be filmed, actor Alan Cumming portrays "Lee" (not his real name) visually and lip syncs the audio recording of the interview. The truth eventually comes out that the boy named Brandon Lee was really a 30-year-old man named Brian MacKinnon. The story of the deception and reason behind it is told in animated re-enactments combined with contemporary interviews with MacKinnon's 1995 classmates. It's a fascinating film told in an innovative and entertaining fashion.

The eponymous house.

The House
A stop-motion animated anthology of three stories set in three different eras, all set in the same house originally built in the 19th century (I think). The house would appear to be cursed or something. The first story, which shows how the house was built feels like a surreal horror film, while the second seems more like a modern nightmare. The final story, presumably set in the future when the rising waters of our current environmental crisis now threaten the house. This film is wonderfully animated, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, but mostly it is very, very weird.

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Saturday, August 27, 2022

Seen in July 

Marcel, the small shell with the big heart.

I haven't seen all the big screen summer blockbusters but I've seen some of the small screen blockbusters. Yet with patience those big screen movies will appear on our smaller screens at home. Here's to the big screens and small screens. May all your screens bring you joy.

Some beasts are not really so fantastic.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
I'm not sure I can name a series of films so popular as the Harry Potter movies, where the continuation of the franchise fails worse and worse with each subsequent outing. Oh wait. The three Star Wars films where we learn the origins of Darth Vader. Yes, this film is as disappointing as that. It had no reason to fall on its face other than a failure to launch. The first film set up the second, the second ended without so much of a cliff hanger as a loose thread. The third just never gets going until the place it goes is entirely underwhelming. The entire plot of this movie revolves around "rigging of a magical election" by a criminal wizard. Yawn. The January 6 hearings have offered far greater entertainment. Surely this series in the Harry Potter franchise is done especially after suffering the downfall of two primary cast members due to their extracurricular legal difficulties (Johnny Depp's marital mess and accusations of grooming against Ezra Miller). Good night, Newt Scamander, we hardly knew you.

The Bubble
A comedy about a film crew attempting to finish a new installment in a popular fantasy-action franchise, set during a pandemic wherein the crew has to work within the bubble of the film set and a luxury hotel. Like the pandemic itself, the film is absurd, awkward and there were long periods of time when no one was laughing.

No Time to Die? Oh, there's always time for a little dying.

No Time To Die
It turns out, there is time to die, plenty of dying, in fact. So much dying. This is the latest Bond film and last one starring Daniel Craig as 007. One thing this Daniel Craig run has done much more successfully than previous "Bonds" is a continuity between the five films. This film did offer some fun surprises, such as what Bond's retirement looks like, another brief view of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, Bond's 007 replacement, Ana de Armas as a novice agent who finds more than one way to be lethal in an evening gown and in keeping with this series, innovative yet less fantastical spy gadgets. At the end of the day, missions by these MI5 agents depend more on the abilities and sacrifices of individuals more than any deus ex macchina like an invisible car. The ultimate surprise of this Bond movie is the ultimate sacrifice, which reflects uncommonly high stakes compared to other franchise films these days.

Not just the series of the summer, but also the song.

Stranger Things S04
Last month I realized just how expensive my Netflix subscription has become. What was once a great bang for your buck had become a whole lot of buck for no bang. That is until the latest season of Stranger Things dropped bringing us more "Stephen King meets Steven Spielberg" vibes than we could ever imagine and the early song-of-the-summer, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, which was already the song-of-the-summer back in 1985. In this season, we find the cast spread out from California, to Indiana to the Soviet Union with multiple stories lines brought together in an over two-hour long finale. What we discover is that the evil from the Upside has persisted, the pre-teen friends' relationships are fraught by the challenges of their teen-age years and only by knowing what happened in the past can we see what to do on the road ahead. Be prepared to be shaken by cliff hangers and the fear of losing your most beloved characters. The Duffer Brothers, creators and directors of the series, are, in my opinion, worse than the villain Vecna, for how they manipulate us through nostalgic tunes, suspenseful endings, near misses and revelations. There is clearly only one answer: a fifth and final season!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Long Answer

Amsterdam, Weighing House.

Can you be there?

The short answer: maybe.

The long answer: In the year 1693 a guild of Dutch bankers and wealthy landowners, led by Johan Venthaagen, had determined a large investment in seaworthy vessels would ensure the supply of spices such as pepper and cinnamon from what we now call Indonesia. It became clear that such an investment would require a multi-component authentication system consisting of a wax seal and a porcelain copy of an account holder's tooth of their choosing, to be stored in separate locations obviously for integrity and security reasons…

Am I losing your attention? Of course I am. See? No one wants an intelligent, nuanced answer with historical context anymore!

For the fully nuanced long answer just subscribe to the six-part podcast coming this summer, brought to you by Square. Square - when you want to pay for something without having to touch money or make eye contact with anybody. Come close without touching with Square.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Forthwith & Posthaste 

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’m not as patient as I used to be. I’m also more patient than I used to be. In private, amongst friends or at work or even when trying to make considered decisions, I am like a zen master. I can sit silently and contemplate the nature of my existence. Yet, if in a lineup waiting to pay for something, I cannot abide the person in front of me who has decided to bury their credit card in a wallet, deep in the bowels of a backpack, purse or messenger bag, and only after every item has been scanned and bagged decides to begin their spelunking adventure for the one card they require to pay for the things they knew they would have to pay for when they entered the store. You just wasted my precious time, but don't think twice, it's alright. Many people commit this act of time terrorism. I find glaring at the back of their head is calming. It’s a coping mechanism.

Why worry about a few moments lost in a lineup given the immensity of hours lost connecting one device to another device via bluetooth, or watching the spin of a loading graphic or trying every password you've ever used to log into a computer you rarely use. None of which compares to the time spent sitting in front of my computer in service of somebody else's business. That is my job. I am literally paid to sit there and take it. I fill the time by taking copious notes, colour coded, with diagrams and arrows and instructions with sticky notes.

I'm not sure it's because I'm being paid for this time that makes it tolerable whereas when I'm out in public it feels like everyone else is wasting my time, but shopping in particular is an excruciating experience for me. Let me be clear, I don't mean window shopping or browsing, for those are times I've chosen to slow down, but when I need to buy something as dull as dish soap it feels like I'm wasting my life on this unredeemable task. I'll never get that time back and I get nothing from it, except dish soap.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Seen in June 

No children or franchises were harmed in the filming of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Image via The Movie DB.

A month of life, death, travel, and illness, but not a month with a lot of films or television.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Amazon Prime
Despite mixed reviews, this is a fine and enjoyable film. It feels like a summer movie (especially the score for some reason). Directed by Ivan Reitman's son, Jason Reitman, this is a much better addition to the "Ghostbusters" lore than the previous effort. I should confess here and now that, while I loved the originals, we should not let the dust of nostalgia cloud our vision. The original film was fine, funny entertainment, but the fandom that has grown around these films seems to ignore how simple and corny they were. This latest edition is certainly one of the best looking of the Ghostbusters films and the charm of the originals remains intact. Yet do not expect some old glory to be restored. Again, it's a better film than some reviews would have you believe but let's just lower our expectations a bit first. In this version, Egon Spengler's grandchildren and their mom find themselves in a small town with not much to do but save the world. Which they do, while also discovering Egon Spengler's legacy. The end.

The short The Very Pulse of the Machine seems very much inspired by comic book icon, Moebius. Image via The Movie DB.

Love, Death & Robots Volume III
Another mixed anthology of animated sci-fi and fantasy shorts ranging in quality from something akin to a good video game to the epically mind blowing. The inconsistency should be expected by now and I guess fans of the series probably enjoy that. The quality of the stories is also inconsistent ranging from simple one-off jokes to inconclusively unfulfilling to satisfying short films. Despite the unevenness, the short nature of these episodes means there is little commitment to watching something you don't quite like only to find something you love. Two episodes, The Very Pulse of the Machine and Jibaro (from Oscar winner Alberto Mielgo) are two standouts in my mind.

Eve and Villanelle, together one last time. Image via The Movie DB.

Killing Eve S04
The final season of this series about an MI5 agent, Eve, played by Sandra Oh, in pursuit of a serial killing assassin Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, does not disappoint. The show maintains it's high level of action, thrills and dark comedy as Eve and Villanelle team up to try and take down the stealthy and powerful criminal organization, The Twelve. In some ways the series provides a satisfactory conclusion but also enough open threads to leave you wondering what actually happened. The show should also finally prove that a female led, created, written and directed series can be every bit as great as a male led story. It certainly met and exceeded the Bechdel Test for female representation many times over.

Doctor Strange, Wong and interdimensional being, America Chavez in one of the most appropriately named Marvel films ever. Image via The Movie DB.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
I've said before that Spider-man: No Way Home almost required the viewer to have seen a dozen different films over the last decade to get all of the references the film made. While that isn't necessarily true of the latest Doctor Strange film, it does assume the audience is familiar with many of the constructs of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the idea of many universes. The plot is that someone simply wants to steal America Chavez's ability to jump universes and she has sought out Dr. Stephen Strange to save her. The visualization of this concept can be spectacular at times, but also spectacularly confusing at other times. The effects in this film can be either stunning or cause stunning. There is also a lot of what can be called "Fan Service". That is the idea where the filmmakers bring in characters or ideas they know that core fans will undoubtedly want to see, whether it adds anything to the story or not. The freedom of the idea of the multiverse may allow writers' ideas to explode off the screen but it also removes many of the high stakes films like this obliterate. You can introduce, then kill as many characters as you like in as many ways as you fancy if it's all happening in someone else's universe. I've been surprised by some of the emotional moments the film offers because as I said they happen to a character in some other dimension. In the end, the character of Doctor Strange that Benedict Cumberbatch has created and the ability of ring master extraordinaire, director Sam Raimi, keep the threads of this movie together but just barely. The wildness of the ideas lead to too many things happening all at once and not enough focus on any one to care about. At some point these Marvel films can be so far up their own self-referential butt as to become some new kind of medical condition. When Martin Scorsese criticized these kinds of films as a theme park ride, he wasn't wrong, but I kind of think Marvel has created a whole new type of entertainment that some people will not recognize or enjoy. For those that do, it's quite a ride.

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