Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Seen in March

Still stuck in lockdown? Run out of stuff to watch? I got you. Here's some options.

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, image via The Movie DB

Schitt's Creek S01
Netflix, CBC Gem
I'm a little late for showing love for this successful Canadian comedy. I'd seen episodes here and there but didn't really follow it. Buckets of awards later I can see why it was the little show that could. While I think there are moments the show could slip into schmalzty sentimentality, it always quickly resurrects itself on the strength of the cast (if not always the writing). The show is a sort of Green Acres comedy about the affluent and metropolitan Rose family losing all of their wealth and being forced to retreat to their last holding of any financial value, the small rural town of Schitt's Creek which was purchased as a joke. In that town, the Roses find a better version of themselves and plenty of humour. If the writing or conceit ever flag, superior performances by all the Levy clan, Eugene, Sarah and Dan Levy, as well as Catherine O'Hara, Annie Murphy and Chris Elliott prop up the show.

On the Basis of Sex
How many supreme court justices have had two films made about them? Clarence Thomas doesn't count. The correct answer is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This biopic of Bader Ginsburg's life focuses on her time at Harvard, then teaching law (because no firm would hire a female lawyer) then working with the ACLU to bring a breakthrough case on sexual discrimination to the US Supreme Court. The filmmakers love showing how Bader Ginsburg was frustrated by being the smartest person in the room but never heard. Her abrasive, no back-pedalling approach is exactly what the legal profession expected of a lawyer, but not of a woman who was a lawyer. Despite her shortcomings as a mother (expecting more of her daughter than she did for anyone else) or as a cook (luckily, her husband excelled at and enjoyed cooking) her fierce intelligence led her to influencing legal decisions over her long and distinguished career. 

Masks galore in Contagion. Image via The MovieDb.

I am apparently the last person during the COVID19 era to watch this film. While some want to point out the flaws of the science of this movie, there is no doubt it got many more facts and speculations correct. While it is fascinating to watch, it does suffer from maybe too many stories in too short a time frame. Director Stephen Soderbergh takes the same approach here as his film Traffic (about the effect of the illegal drug trade in the US), which is to say, a handful of interconnected plot lines that attempt to give a wider view of the pandemic yet it can at times feel like a disconnected anthology without a real narrative other than a pandemic to join them. 

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Friday, March 12, 2021

A rock with your name on it 

I remember a place we went to on vacation when I was a kid. They sold souvenirs and one of the souvenirs you could buy was a rock with your name in it. There were many rocks with different names on them, arranged on a folding table, like a tiny pet cemetery. I wondered what would be the purpose of such a thing?

Was it meant to be a paperweight? Do I need a paperweight? To need a paperweight you need to have a desk, with papers on it, near an open window such that the papers needed holding down by a rock and just so no one will take that rock, you would need one with your name on it. Perhaps you needed a rock to throw through a loved one’s window to let her know that you were thinking of them? Yes, well, if I threw a rock through a girl’s window, "how’s she gonna know who the rock came from? What I really need is a rock with my name on it." Maybe it was a rock to throw at your enemies? Because don’t you want your enemies to know who threw this rock at them? I mean, did David write his name on any of the rocks he hurled at that Philistine? “Yeah, that’s right buddy, it’s David! They call me Dave and that’s my rock and now you’re dead! Boo-yah!”

Then it occurred to me, isn’t that what a headstone is: just a rock with your name on it? Is that how we’re remembered? Is that the only legacy  you leave behind on this planet? Is that all you ever achieved?  A piece of rock with your name carved in it? I think we either don’t think about it at all or we hope for more than that. Family? Kids? Work?

Can a legacy be simply the life you lead and the lives you touch? Seeing so many lives lost due to COVID-19 and hearing about those lives from friends and loved ones really makes you think. What would people say about me if I were to pass? I don't mean to be bleak - a claim hard to make after four paragraphs leading up to the question of death. I don't think I'll be remembered by a pile of books, or wonderful art works or even by these journal entries but maybe by some odd combination of all of it? This is just to say, if you want to be remembered for more than just a slab of granite with some type carved on one side, you'd better get started now. That's exactly the kind of glum thought a birthday can bring. I don't think of it as "glum" though. More like a motivator, like seeing a shockingly high number on the weigh scale or a pair of pants that don't fit anymore. Be the change you want to see and all that because before you know it, all you'll be left with is some dirt and a rock with your name on it.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Seen in February 

One of those most gloriously beautiful films of the year, Wolfwalkers. Image via The Movie Db 

In the deep, dark days of February, something funny happened. February wasn't that deep, or dark or even that February-ish. Despite working long hours, and a continuing pandemic lockdown, or maybe because of it, I found myself rewatching things I'd seen before, like comfort food for the eyes. Here's what I did see.

Brockmire S01-S02
Have you ever wondered what those tenor, whisky-tinged-voiced sportscasters are like outside of the broadcast booth? Jim Brockmire is such a fellow and his voice is more than "whisky-tinged" but also tinged with bourbon, rye, vodka, beer, cocaine and any other pill he finds in his pockets. Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons fame) portrays  former major league baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, as a talented but self-destructive but still highly functioning alcoholic, who has accepted his fate of being reduced to calling minor league ball in a small, no-luck town. Yet, using alcoholism as an excuse for laughs and misadventure can only go so far and by the end of season 2, we find Brockmire has sobered up long enough to land another opportunity to call a big league game.
After a man's wife passes away, he comes out of the closet he's been in his entire life. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing Hal, the gay octogenarian who tries to make up for a life half-lived by moving at double speed in his remaining years. Unfortunately, he becomes ill with cancer, leaving his son, played by Ewan McGregor, to learn a life lesson all on his own. That lesson? Express yourself to those you love the most, no matter how vulnerable it makes you feel. Outside of Plummer's performance and a very charming dog, this film is a fairly straightforward story about feelings and stuff. There is however, a slightly unrealistic side story in the film. McGregor plays a graphic designer who is asked by a client to deliver the same style of illustration he's become known for. In an effort to bring something new to his work he pitches something different, not just once, but I think, three times. There is no way that if your creative director has already rejected the first pitch and already told you to do the same thing that you've done before, would you get the chance to pitch two more doomed ideas.
Eastbound and Down S02
Danny McBride is Kenny Powers, the world's greatest washed up pro baseball player who believes without a doubt, that his return to the majors is just one pitch and several life lessons away.

Who's that cute lil' baby? No, really. Who is it? Image via The Movie Db
Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley has a story to tell. This film begins as an almost unremarkable documentary about the filmmaker's mother. As Polley's interviews with her siblings and father grow more and more intimate a story is suggested and begins to unfold from various view points. The story we're building towards is about the identity of Sarah Polley's biological father and it is revealed with incredible skill and deftness. One thing that only struck me as odd, later in the film, was the immense amount of "home footage" Polley was using to tell the story, which it turns out wasn't home footage at all.

The most unnecessary nasal appendage in movie history. Image via The Movie Db
All is True
Kenneth Branagh portrays William Shakespeare after the Globe Theatre fire when he returns home to his family to retire. So little is known about Shakespeare's personal life that what we see is a quilt woven from only a few threads. Shakespeare's wife and daughters find him aloof and distant as he dwells on the death of his only son. His illusions about his son's potential, his delayed grief of the boy's death years earlier and the suggestion of a romantic entanglement with a previous patron all cause a rift that Shakespeare only comes to terms with just before his death. This is a quiet and slow film and if I'm being honest, not that interesting. If it had been a comedy about a revered playwright who returns to his family now in disarray and debt l might have been more interested. For some odd reason, Branagh appears to be wearing a prosthetic nose, which makes no sense whatsoever as no portrait of Shakespeare was ever made during his lifetime and of the ones that do exist only bear a passing likeness to each other.

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Where has all the chocolate gone? 

I'm not addicted – I don't sweat, shake and vomit like Jamie Foxx trying to impress the academy members when I don't get my fix.
I am not prone to substance abuse or addiction. I assume that is mostly some luck of genetics, nurturing, brain chemistry and simply being too lazy to commit to something that generally sounds exhausting. I do however, have a mighty powerful hankerin' for chocolate but now, all the chocolate  is gone.

During the holidays there was a surplus of chocolate. So so so so so much chocolate. At some point I worried if I could "catch" diabetes from chocolate, then realized that is ridiculous and you can only catch diabetes from a diabetic. I was also concerned that chocolate was bad for my teeth. I did away with this worry by following some solid dental hygiene practices. It may have crossed my mind about weight gain, but let's be honest, that's never stopped me before.

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Thursday, February 04, 2021

Seen in January 

No ordinary Joe, in Pixar's Soul. Image via The Movie Db.

Almost a year into a pandemic and I'm still not out of stuff to watch. Every time you turn on the television there's something new (or old) to stream. A stream of content conjures a beautiful cool creek flowing o'er your tired feet (or maybe something naughtier, I'm not the boss of your imagination). In any event, I threw myself before the glowing screen and I share with you here what I saw. Make of it what you will.

What is your purpose in life? What's it all mean? What happens when you die? All classic cartoon themes. Well, for Pixar anyway. In their latest film, Joe, voiced by Jamie Foxx, is a jazz pianist and grade school band leader who has finally landed the gig of a lifetime. Unfortunately, he's also landed in a coma after falling through an open manhole. Now he finds himself in some kind of purgatory afterlife trying to find a way to get back to the world he left. He teams up with a soul named number 22, played by Tina Fey, who, unlike her soul peers has rejected the idea of ever going down to earth to be born. This becomes a bit of a buddy travel movie with someone who refuses to die paired with someone who refuses to live. Like their films Wall-e, Up, and Inside Out, Pixar finds a story that is funny, very beautiful and surprisingly moving. I'm glad I have a large screen television but this film's visuals and music would have been spectacular to see in a theatre.

Kiki takes to her broom. Image via The Movie Db.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
This is one of the simpler Studio Ghibli stories. Kiki is a young witch who, by some witch decree, has at thirteen, reached the age when young witches must leave home to hone her witch skills. With her only skill being able to fly on a broom, Kiki soon finds a job in her new home as a courier, making deliveries by broom. She meets a young boy who is fascinated with her ability to fly and though she rejects him at first, she slowly befriends him. It's a basic story of a young girl who loses then regains her confidence. The animation of Kiki floating above a charming city is really pretty delightful. For at least a couple of nights after watching this movie, I dreamt of flying over Lake Ontario or sitting high atop a downtown rooftop.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Where the Roomba Never Goes 

KKK parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, August 8, 1925, from the Washington Post. See the original image on

Someone close to me recently took pleasure in pointing out an incredibly, neglected and dusty corner of my otherwise tidy home. How dusty? Think "theatrically dusty",  like when an abandoned haunted house in a movie has Egyptian-tomb levels of dust. While I was surprised, I knew the reason for this detritus. That was where the Roomba never goes. My friendly robot vacuum cleaner is a pretty terrible vacuum, but a terrible vacuum is fine as long as it vacuums more often than I would. Despite its intentions (or its programming), the Roomba can't vacuum everywhere, such as tight corners under end tables. It occurred to me this was a very handy analogy. The dusty parts of our society or even ourselves, are the places the Roomba never goes. Our experience with the pandemic has definitely exposed parts of our lives and society where the Roomba never goes. The places we've forgotten or overlooked are now the things we can't stop seeing.

One thing I’ve learned is how close so many people are to despair. Missing a single pay cheque means seeking a food bank or being without a home. On the other hand, the affluent don’t even realize their own wealth. There’s an old saying that to earn your first $100 is very hard but any idiot can make their second million. Money begets money. When you have a high-speed Internet connection and you work from your computer all day, it's easy to keep doing that. In fact, it's even easier than it was. I never liked working from home but over the years I've worked more and more with people who live elsewhere; San Jose, London, Bangalore, Minnesota, North Carolina. My day is easier than ever. If I want, I can wake up late and wander to my desk and start working. If I get sleepy and I have a break in the constant meetings, I can even take a nap on my own couch. I can start supper while on a call, I can do a load of laundry if I need to. All the while, I still get paid. I also have the added benefit of benefits, and as I work and live alone, it's really up to me if I work if I get sick. If I am too sick to work, I have plenty of time I can take off without losing my job or pay. It's been very eye-opening how few people have any of those supports. It seems pretty obvious now, but as a country, we need a drug plan not linked to employment, maybe even a guaranteed income (rather than a myriad of costly social programs that are trying to achieve the same goal), jobs that provide a living wage and guaranteed sick leave. Those things wouldn't solve all problems but it would go a long way to helping the most vulnerable.

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