Monday, August 21, 2017

Time Will Tell 

One thing is not like the other thing.
“ Only time will tell, then we can rewrite that story too.”
Seeing a bust of Sir Winston Churchill anywhere in Canada is surprisingly common. Recently, it came up in conversation that the current desire to remove monuments to Confederate heroes is a version of rewriting history and seeing historical persons in a contemporary light fails to recognize that. Would there ever be a time Churchill would be viewed as a war criminal and have public statues of the British war time prime minister removed? Well… that isn't really the same thing is it? If there was a glass of milk on the table when we left the room and we returned to find it empty, who's to say it was consumed by a thirsty thief or returned to its carton by a do-gooder? The result only appears similar but what happened was entirely different. In truth, we rewrite history all of the time when new evidence is discovered that offers an alternative viewpoint or if a different context provides a clearer picture. Yet, the removal of monuments commemorating Confederate military leaders from southern US cities, particularly those monuments erected in the 20th century funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, isn't a rewrite, it's a correction. Those monuments themselves represent a rewriting of history intended to argue that the Civil War wasn't about slavery as much as it was about the rights of states and to believe that interpretation is to accept the revisionist story as truth. This video makes that argument:

It's also a bit of a non-starter to equate Churchill's legacy with that of say Robert E. Lee, much as it was a false equivalency to compare Thomas Jefferson or George Washington with Lee et al. Of course in Canada, the recent renaming of the Langevin Block on Parliament Hill due to the namesake's role in the residential school system that caused so much pain to indigenous Canadians is another example of what some might think of revisionist history. I would say in this case the intention wasn't so much to rewrite history but to learn from it, and, by the way, maybe not commemorate someone whose very mention is an insult. I don't even really know Hector Langevin's part in the residential school system but taking his name off of a government building doesn't remove him from the history books but recognizes a reasonable diminishment of reverence.

It is interesting that this summer's acclaimed picture Dunkirk about a much revered moment regarded proudly by the British despite it being a tale of defeat, has been criticized for accuracy and will be followed by another British WWII themed bio-pic of Churchill. I suppose we accept the editing of historical fact for entertainment because we understand the desire for brevity or the elements that make for a better story are sometimes less complex than the reality of what happened. It's curious that World War II themed films of how the British overcame their "darkest hour" would be released in a cluster like that. It makes me wonder if on the heels of Brexit there was a swelling of British pride and a desire to pursue those kind of stories. Only time will tell, then we can rewrite that story too.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Daring and Devilishly Good 

Marvel's Daredevil image via

I wouldn't describe myself as a Marvel fan-boy nor an aficionado but I did grow up reading the Spider-man and Daredevil comics of the 70s when Hell's Kitchen really was a crime riddled neighbourhood and I was enthralled by Frank Miller's re-imagining of characters like Batman and Daredevil in the 90s. What I loved about those original Marvel comics were their placement in the real world of New York City and the interconnectedness of the heroes (now often referred to as the Marvel Comics Universe or MCU).

Now comes the Netflix series of Marvel stories which are unique to the oeuvre in how rooted to a real time and place they seem. Every thud or punch thrown is felt like a cracked rib. The characters eschew spandex costumes and logos and fight in gritty urban streets, rooftops and alleyways. Just as each of the series revolve around a singular character like Matt Murdoch, Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, (I’ll exclude Iron Fist for now, due to its failings) each show has its own look and voice despite being connected thematically by shared characters. Each show also has its own colour palette.

Daredevil. Interior, Indian Restaurant.

Instead of yellow boxes filled with hand-lettered captions, or thick black frames, these shows use colour to thematically and spiritually connect them to each other and their source medium, comic books. This approach of distinguishing the separate series by colour is obvious but I’m not sure I could say “red” = “fear” or something but in the early episodes, before Matt Murdoch dons a red suit, his silhouette is often drenched in red neon or framed against a red wall. It’s a great way to connect a television series to the lurid palette of comic books in a way that’s doesn’t seem contrived or convoluted but fitting to the medium and storylines. A lot of the episodes reveal themselves in the dark under artificial light. Murdoch describes his sense of enhanced vision as “a world on fire” and as if to echo this without special effects the sparks of a relationship that is beginning to bubble with Karen Page takes place in an Indian restaurant with the same myriad of coloured strings of lights as in the liquor store scene in Birdman. I doubt there was any intended connection but both scenes capture the weird magic of moments in our world within the world of film. I realize that last sentence is a bit of jibberish but I think those scenes stop us, the viewer, with the intention in both scenes of being a momentary pause in the swirling events of the character’s lives.
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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Seen in… July 

Last month I started exercising regularly again and sketching more often which, between showers and suppers, didn’t leave a lot of time for regular movie going. Still. Two movies? That was it? A blockbuster, an “indie” rom-com and a Netflix series? I guess I just spent more time running around Corktown Common, making pickles and grilling stuff. Usually in the summer, the air conditioning of a theatre is enough to make me go see any movie. This is definitely a perplexing lack of cineplexing. Turns out, I saw more movies last weekend than all of July.

Typical New York City moment, Spidey hanging out on a fire escape. Image via

Spider-man: Homecoming
To compare this Spider-man with others, I re-watched both Sam Rami/Tobey Macguire Spider-man films and the first of the Amazing Spider-man movies with Andrew Garfield and if I'm being honest Emma Stone who is the perfect Gwen Stacey. Spider-man 2, where a lovelorn Peter Parker battles Doc Oc is a definite favourite of mine. Yet, there was so much to love about the young Brit Tom Holland. Scenes of Spidey sitting on a fire escape, mask pulled up halfway eating a sandwich or whiling away time hanging in a hammock spun from his own webbing harkened back to what makes Peter Parker such a relatable comic book hero. He's just a kid and Holland's body language and his way of speaking firmly rooted the character in his teen years (despite Holland being 21). The inclusion of the Vulture as the nemesis sealed the deal. The only thing I didn't like was the gadgetry of Spider-man's outfit. Not so much because the suit had bits and bods but that it was created by Tony Stark and given to Peter. In the comics, Peter Parker is good at science and making his own ingenious kit which we sometimes see him tinkering with to fix (he's not Batman, he can't afford to waste gizmos). Though the story certainly didn't take that ability from him and in fact, part of Peter's appeal to Tony Stark is that Stark sees Parker as a younger version of himself. One last trope from the original stories that makes its way into the movie is just what a crap driver Parker is (he's a New Yorker whose father figure died before he could learn). In my dreams, Spidey’s getaway man is Baby Driver.

Alison Brie wondering what has she got herself into. Image via

Glow Season 1
GLOW aka the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a new Netflix comedy/drama that adds to the number of women's stories that have suddenly appeared this year, as if producers suddenly realized women watch television. The comedy is fairly low key however, as is the drama now that I think of it. It seems odd to say that a story based on an actual 1980's women's only wrestling league is low key but that's how it felt to me. Perhaps it's the portrayal of the drabness of the 80s that made it seem that way. This show is also another attempt by Netflix to mine a wave of 80s nostalgia. It's strange to have become the target audience for a nostalgia trend. The show revels in the irony of the women's personalities outside of the ring with the cartoonish outsized characters they inhabit inside it. The diversity of the cast seems unremarkable in some ways but is in stark contrast to the stereotypes of their wrestling personas. One of the leads, Alison Brie, will be familiar to fans of Mad Men or Community and this role combines both her comedic and dramatic skills as a struggling actress who is just desperate enough to try this pro wrestling thing. Of note, Brie gets her top off at least twice in the first half of the first episode which admittedly was kind of jarring mostly because it felt exploitative and really seemed like they were trying to show just what kind of grown-up show it was. That said, yes sir, may I have another.

Kumail and Emily up in a tree… Image via

The Big Sick
I laughed until emergency services arrived and placed me in a comedy induced coma. I awoke refreshed! This film is based on the real events that happened in the first year of the relationship of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily. Nanjiani is an American comedian with Pakistani roots whose traditional muslim family were only patient with his stand-up career because they assumed it was a phase before he went to law school and settled into an arranged marriage. In the film, he's stuck between wanting to live his own life and his parents' expectations. Meanwhile as his career is flatlining and he entertains his parents' ambitions he meets Emily who sets his heart afire. At some point Emily discovers Kumail's cache of wifely prospects (candidates of arranged marriages have headshots and resumes - like offline OK Cupid profiles) and rightly asks if they have a future. She storms out leaving Kumail both crestfallen and angry about being in the situation he's in. Weeks pass and out if the blue Emily's roommate calls to tell him she's in hospital. As the only person visiting her Nanjiani is suddenly thrust into the decision of placing Emily in a medically induced coma. Then he has to call her parents (played by Ray Romano and the indomitable Holly Hunter) who, it turns out are not at all fond of him. I'm sure I could've explained this a lot faster but this just isn't your standard rom-com. Especially the final 20 minutes when everything goes awry. It's full of laughs, emotional torment, social commentary about family and culture and arrives at a time when the United States is battling its worse inner demons about what being American means. Years from now when we can look back in amazement at 2017 this film will be at the top of everyone's zeitgeist playlists.

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Another Breath Before Sleep 

The run
“I’m a coach driver letting his team of horses run.”
I leave the theatre accelerated. Past the stilettoed women, laughing and confident, past the coiffed young men, sneering and arrogant. I find my bike and begin to glide. I’m never sure where my late night adrenaline surge originates but it’s there. My afternoon rides home are sluggish and doleful by comparison. Whereas late at night I’m completely awake and my legs are so full of spite they feel like they might tear themselves free of my body and ride on without me. Perhaps it’s the darkness of the streets, spotlit by dim streetlights strobing beneath me which gives an illusion of speed but I feel like I am ripping over the tarmac without touching the surface at all. I slip through stymied traffic like a dry wind and all the while my legs carry me ever faster. I’m a coach driver letting his team of horses run. My back tightens while my knees pump the steel crank. Maybe it is the thick close cool night summer air that wills me to pedal so hard that I can feel the bike’s frame twist in my assured grip.

It’s these humid turbid nights when the ride starts chilly but soon enough I feel the sweat forming on my back like morning condensation on the hood of a car. At some point I break from the Entertainment District and past the valets and hotels and the city quietens and I take the side streets where the breeze through trees sounds like water lapping on a shoreline and my thin rubber tires rolling through shallow reflecting pools flit like swift flying insects buzzing by.

I’m surprised by the size and brightness of the full moon which I mistake as a streetlight above rooftops of low darkened apartments. The dank green acrid smells of laneways and all their putrid water anchors me back on earth. I dismount, unlock the gate and pour my bike through the back door with an easy fluency. I’m home, the surge ends and my energy drains away like I’m leaking blood from a huge wound. I wobble momentarily, my head swoons slightly and my hands shake from the sudden shock of stopping. The creeping sweat I was aware of before is now a deluge with my shirt and jeans sticking to my skin. I let it take its course and breathe deeply while allowing my arms to dangle lifelessly and my legs to slacken. Another breath and the tiredness of the hour sinks in. A glass of water before closing. A rinse and stretch before lying down. Another breath before sleep.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Apparently, It's Still Weird to Run 

When running was for weirdos from Vox Media

I’ve grown to really dislike films by Robert Zemeckis. One in particular: Forrest Gump. I dislike the conceit that a simple country bumpkin would somehow be at the centre of the 20th century’s most important moments. Heck, I don’t even like which moments that were chosen as being important. What I dislike the most though are the quotes. Firstly, “Life” is in no way like a box of chocolates mostly because many chocolate boxes have a menu reflecting what each candy contains, there’s also a list of ingredients and… you know what, no, I’m not even going to continue this line of reasoning because you can’t use logic and reason to explain something that has no logic or reason. Most of all though, I really really dislike (is “hate” too strong a term?) the quote, “Run Forrest, run!” Why? It’s simple. So many times, when I go for a run, some idiot, or someone about to expose themselves as an idiot, will say it after I pass them. I quietly and respectfully will pass a person on the sidewalk and then, without prompting, I’ll hear, “Run Forrest, run!” and judging from the sarcasm in their terrible version of a Southern accent, they are not encouraging me, but mocking me or simply showing their disdain for… for what? Disdain for a person exercising? For all they know, I’m running from a marauding axe-wielding maniac and “Run Forrest, run!” will in fact, be their last words. That would be a shame, to die with your last words being a sarcastic, unimaginative, unoriginal and unfunny quote from an old movie, probably delivered in an approximation of an accent that borders on racist. That would be a shame.

Typically, you know who will say this. Usually, they are young, probably aging from as young as 12-13 to early 20s. And usually they are male. And usually they are in a group of two to four. A person walking on their own has never said this to me. They are also… how do I say this without being too offensive (it’s probably too late in my life to not be offensive)? They are likely to “appear”… well, not stylish. Not affluent. Not genteel, nor refined. They will appear to be very casually dressed, in fact probably more casually dressed than would be acceptable in many work places. Ironically, they are the kind of person who wears athletic clothing while never engaging in any athletic activity. They will appear brash or full of braggadocio and walking with a body language of exaggerated swagger. Oh and they usually wait to say it as if it takes a moment for them to process a person running by and an opportunity to say “Run Forrest, run!”

The other night was different but really the same. I passed two women, one of whom was walking a dog, both were wearing sweatpants and I believe what you might call a halter top. I left the sidewalk to pass them, turned the corner then heard “Run Forrest, run!” and laughter. It was unexpected because my “social profile” was wrong. I didn’t realize this level of idiocy crossed all social demographics and groups. Likewise, I was in an elevator leaving work this week when someone said they had a train to catch and their colleague said, “Wow, you’d better run.” As the doors opened the train commuter bolted and started walking briskly. His so-called colleague then called out, “Run Forrest, run!” and laughed. No one else laughed. No one else laughed because it was a stupid and unoriginal thing to say. So now we’re just saying this stupid quote to anyone in a hurry? Again, my demographic profiling was wrong. This paunch with legs and necktie was dressed “Business Casual” (a term for anything less formal than a suit, but more formal than blue jeans). I can only guess this man’s friend was thinking to himself as he was treading away from the elevator, “Run Forrest, run?? I’ll remember that the next time you’re late for a meeting. Maybe you should’ve ‘Run Forrest’? You little neck waddle with arms.”

I suppose you might think me “cranky” or just a “crank”. You might even bring up the trend some years ago of finishing sentences with an exaggerated “NOT” (eg “I looooove rainy days – (pause for effect) – NOT!”) as a passing attempt at humour. I assume this was begun as a sophomoric catch phrase by Mike Myers in Wayne’s World, then re-invigorated by the film Borat (I would suggest both comedians used the device ironically). Yet this dumb use of a dumb quote continues to thrive and annoy. I have no answer for it except maybe if you just call people out on making a dumb joke they’ll stop seeing the humour in it. Last winter I passed a couple of youths, and I felt for sure, this was the perfect set-up. Two young teen lads, in their NBA hats and over-sized jerseys are the very group that usually drop that "vicious burn" and when I passed, almost like clock-work, one of them said… actually he surprised me. Instead of using the ol’ Forrest Gump trope, he coughed the word “a**hole”. I’m not exactly sure what leads people to assign such labels to strangers, but I’m pretty sure, someone who calls a stranger that, is probably the very thing they are accusing. I stopped and thought, I’ll be super polite and over-charm this guy. When I turned, I said ever so sweetly, “I’m sorry, did you say something to me?” As I was saying this I realized just how young these two were and they couldn’t really hide their age under the brims of their hats and I suddenly felt like a terrible bully. The one who said the obscenity meekly, nearly whispered, “No, sir.” “Okay, well have a good night, guys.” I chirped back, now fully feeling like a principal of a high school admonishing students for slouching.

I thought about the incident for days afterwards. Was I being a jerk? Would that stop a jerky kid from being a jerk next time only because he worried he would be caught? What if I’d been wrong and turned to find someone much older and bolder who would’ve suddenly escalated the encounter? I have no answers for the strange kind of inverted classism I bump up against all the time in Toronto. Maybe I am a hipster-liberal-elitist only here to gentrify and ruin your neighbourhood, but I don’t harass people in the street? What would that be like? “Hey, check out this massive property tax bill I just paid that I drove up by paying too much for my tiny but well situated house!” “Where’s the organic milk section of this crappy grocery store anyway?” “Yo, buddy! Can’t you vape that weed so I don’t have to smell it?!”

More than anything, it is a class thing. I get it, if I’m riding through Moss Park on a $2000 bike dressed like a peloton groupie but when I run, it’s just a t-shirt and shorts and Nikes. I mean, it doesn’t cost anything to run. Sure, my shoes cost a little more, but you don’t have to wear expensive shoes to run. It is the cheapest form of exercise you can imagine. No memberships or equipment required. I’ve heard strange stories of how runners used to be treated; from being stopped by the police to having rubbish thrown at them from moving cars, but the even stranger thing is, the refrain “Run Forrest, run!” is proof people still think you are an oddball if you run for exercise. Not just an oddball, but an affluent entitled jerk to boot. That’s the part I really don’t get. I really do not wear particularly fancy running apparel. You definitely could kit yourself out like an idiot but I wear pretty cheap stuff because I don’t feel expensive stuff helps.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem except that when someone thinks they are making a good joke at my expense, I have the smug thought that it is actually a crap joke. Yet what can I retort? Well, when you die from choking on a Cheetos or whatever, I’ll show up at your funeral wearing inappropriately short running shorts and say “Hey, lay perfectly still, Forrest, lay perfectly still!” and no one but me will laugh, and they’ll all wonder who this weirdo is.