Saturday, June 01, 2013

Seen in May 

Alone again, naturally. Image via

Don't April showers bring May flowers? The city has felt more soggy than blossoming which might be why I sought out simpler pleasures. The month started with beauty, which led to quirky, then spooky, followed by techy but went quiet near the end. I sought out anything easy on the eyes and/or fun. Pure and simple fun. On the long weekend, I even went for a good old fashioned double matinée which I haven't done in about two years when I went for a triple. I aslo watched three classics I had put off in the past. Seeing those film classics seemed not only good for the soul but just "good". I guess they are classics for a reason. Watching those older films combined with a TIFF movie trivia night got me thinking about getting back to seeing more challenging movies (not that you'll find anything challenging in this list). I'm planning on dumping my cable plan soon and I hope that will mean more quality viewing – though who can say, there's plenty of pop in our culture and probably more fizz in our films.

Sleeping Beauty
Ostensibly a modern retelling of the Sleeping Beauty myth but more like a contemporary Belle du Jour except this beauty isn't lulled into a strange world of desire by boredom but by financial need. Lucy is a beautiful young student who, desperate for money despite having 2 jobs, takes work for a weird type of escort service. No sex takes place but the clients are all older men whose strange pecidillos requires a service with such discretion that not even the girls involved can be party to the encounters - thus they are drugged to sleep so they never know the men or what happens. I'm sure with more thought this film may have a not so subtle feminist message about the coercion of women in a man's world but it's unclear to me what else it would be. Lucy's other odd relationships with men - curiously complacently picking up men at a bar, a sexless friendship/love affair with a hapless depressive alcoholic, a rejected former lover - only add to the eccentricity of this slowly paced movie.

Beauty is Embarrassing
What does exuberant humourous creativity look like? Wayne White, that's what. White is the expletive spouting artist responsible for some of the craziest creations middle America has ever seen via his work designing sets and puppets for Pee-wee's Playhouse (along with some other now notable artists). This documentary is based on White's stage show / presentation of his work. It's so curious to me that America is the last place someone like Wayne White could flourish but it's the only place where someone like him could come from. Not that he's had nothing but success. Many artists have their own story of working unbelievably hard only to get nowhere and as White says, he doesn't have any "F.U. Money — that's the American dream. Having F.U. money…" He is yet another example of there being far more than "two acts" in American life. His and his wife's humour and view of family, life and art (their two children are also artists) are a wonder and inspiration.

Hemlock Grove
Another Netflix original series but this one is about horror and the supernatural and things that go bump in the night. It's a little as though someone saw True Blood and Vampire Diaries or Walking Dead and wanted to do something in between but scarier and with more teen angst. Which is the problem. I've only watched one episode but it feels like someone from marketing found this book and thought robotically, "This narrative will suit a desirable demographic and budget. Execute." I'll give it a few more episodes because, um, hello? Famke Janssen stars in it. She can curdle my blood without a single werewolf to be seen.

Adventure Time
This is the most fun show on TV. Jake the Dog and Finn the Human find adventure where ever they look for it. Which is pretty much every where. If you need a pick-me-up, try a bite-sized snack of this super fun cartoon. I'm guessing the show's creator Pendleton Ward is a kindred spirit of Wayne White, one of the influential artists who worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

The General
Buster Keaton's 1926 civil war epic. Many scenes from this film are so famous you almost forget they are a movie you can watch simply for the pleasure of it. I'd watched this movie years ago but it's too good to not watch again (and maybe again). Note in the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster The Lone Ranger, there is a large and computer generated train crash from a bridge. Yeah. Buster Keaton did that over 80 years ago… for real, y'all! Respect!

Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Some times you just want to watch something so stupidly fun that it makes you feel young again. Though made in the mid-80s it hardly dates because, well, Pee-wee is timeless - belonging to no time other than his own. In his own words, "Merci buea-blaaaaahhhgg!"

Top of the Lake
Jane Campion's dramatic BBC series about a detective who, while visiting her ailing mother, investigates the disappearance of the young pregnant daughter of a local drug lord. Set in rural New Zealand the vistas are both sweepingly beautiful, and haunting which heightens a sensation of isolation and alienation. Elisabeth Moss of Mad Man fame plays the detective, Robin, who is only visiting her home town – and that's how she is treated by the local police – as a visitor. Peter Mullan plays the menacing drug lord. Why are "rural drug lords" so much more "menacing" than the big city variety The Wire showed us? Holly Hunter also has a turn as new age feminist who has created a recovery settlement of sorts for damaged women on a disputed plot of land. I didn't expect much from this, but I'll be back.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is everything you expect but nothing more. It is everything you want in a Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man - namely, Robert Downey Jr. Clearly this film was targeted for a Christmas release. There's no real reason for it to be set at Christmas - thus I'm not sure why they didn't just expunge the season from the plot once they knew it would be a spring release? Any way you cut it, this is exactly what it should be. Iron Man and more Iron Man. The only thing I really didn't like was the ridiculous epilogue voice over – here, let's just say everything worked out alright? As you can tell from the ads, Tony Stark aka Iron Man has lost a lot (down but not out, in Hero parlance). Unfortunately, his John Lautner-inspired super cool pad gets demolished but it is fun watching Stark resurrect himself by getting back to being a "mechanic" - revisiting the establishing origin story and giving the character a mini-reboot in the process. Pepper Pots also gets to be more than the proverbial plot device which is a nice change of pace (similar to Uhura's updated role in Star Trek: Into Darkness).

Star Trek: Into Darkness
Iron Man 3 didn't disappoint but J.J. Abrams' re-invented timeline and rejuvenated version of the Star Trek franchise is so much more. It's head-scratchingly good. You'll be saying, "Wha jus' happen? Then, when the guy… who?" and promptly want to see it again. I wouldn't want to really plot out the nebulously gassy storyline here, but it doesn't really matter. This Star Trek is Hollywood gold. Abrams has, with some flourish I might add, found a way to ignore previous Star Trek lore while simultaneously glorifying it. The cast is so well rounded that tiny parts such as those of Scotty shine brightly. While the sausage fest of Kirk, Spock and Bones is well, um, de-boned by an expanded and relevant role of Uhura, it remains those intracultural relationships (sorry, it was the only word I could think of) and themes of inclusion, diversity and personal identity that really give the film it's emotional warp core. All puns aside; Zachary Quinto is excellent as Mr. Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch is a superb villain, and the action is appropriately set to hyper-speed. There is lots to like here for fans old and new. It has even made me want to re-watch at least two other Star Trek films.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday
I'm not a super fan of Jacques Tati but I think I owed it to myself to see this 1953 film, originally titled Les Vacances, as it was his first feature of note introducing his silent Monsieur Hulot (the "h" is silent too). I think of Tati as Mr. Bean in that his character is silent while others are not. To be fair, Mr. Bean is really the British Mr. Hulot as he came almost 40 years later. This film is typical Tati. Highly choreographed visual gags are the highlight. It is funny in the silly kind of way your parents would find it funny. Yet there is a decidedly French undercurrent of social statement on the Bourgeoisie throughout all of Tati's films. From English eyes, we wonder why the French think they are being satirical by making fun of the class of which they belong – which is very Bourgeois, non? To be honest, these gags are none too subtle and not entirely that funny. So if you want to watch a French mime bungle through enjoying the beach, this is the film for you! The opening sequence of holidayers scrambling to get their train is great though and very reminiscent of the opening of The Seven Year Itch from 1955. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that train boarding scene from Billy Wilder was inspired by Tati's movie – butterfly nets, canoe paddles, tennis rackets and all.

Gold Rush
Another silent master in his quietude, as the Tramp goes to Alaska to discover riches and love… yadda yadda yadda. You know the story, you've seen the potato dance (though by God they look like bread or buns to me) but seeing it one sitting is remarkable. There are a few shots that are amazing and moving – I'm thinking of how the Tramp is left alone amongst a dancing throng in a lively pioneer tavern, and it is genuinely funny. I mean, I laughed out loud, kind of funny. That's what's amazing about Chaplin. Other actor's antics look obviously dated but his reactions and humour remains really modern. It's odd just how easy it is to get wrapped up in a movie at the wrong aspect ratio, in scratchy black & white with text cards for dialogue and clanking simple music but you do.

Arrested Development, Season 4
Speaking of laughing out loud… okay, this is not as good as the original three seasons. I think that's more due to the format of following each character per episode. Previously, each episode was Michael Bluth's attempt at sanity in the middle of a circus (a circus of G.O.B., Tobias and Buster mostly) and the intercutting of their misadventures made the show so great. Having an entire episode of Michael reveals what a sad sack he is. That being said, it is still very good and there are so many great moments that it is still the best show (not) on television - um and how much other shows like Modern Family owe to its originality.

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn
Seeing this year's Star Trek actually made me want to see 1982's Star Trek. It was still fun but… you know, even though this was the best of that series, it sort of felt like a television episode. Not in production values – I have to say the effects hold up, this was Pixar's first feature gig after all (the planet birthing Genesis effect) – but the outfits? Yeeesh! Oh and Shatner's cheesy acting. I think it was actually the action sequences were a little shaky which really felt like episodic TV from the 70s. At point Kirk "karate chops" an assailant. Whewee. I don't know. It was a nice trip down memory lane but you can't really a compare mediocre film from 30 years ago to a current film made with a budget larger than most nation's GDP. Though it's noteworthy that another sic-fi film came out that year too; Blade Runner. Kahn was great, but he was no Roy Batty (the android who wished to dream of electric sheep).

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