Thursday, July 14, 2016

Seen in June 

Bikes vs Cars, image via the Globe and Mail

Bikes vs Cars
This documentary focuses on the work of cycling advocates in particularly traffic congested cities like Sao Paulo and Los Angeles. The film also finds time to drop in on Toronto when Rob Ford was tearing out the Jarvis Street bike lane. What is clear is the persistence in the face of frustration of these cyclists working against a systemic imbalance of the importance of car based transportation. Cities like London, New York or Paris which have great public transportation seem to be more open to ideas that restrict car access because individuals in cars are essentially slowing everyone else down. Sao Paulo and LA do not have great public transportation so for many the car is their only way to commute or shop or whatever. What drivers and pro-auto politicians don’t understand is that a more bike-friendly city isn’t about making a cycling utopia but it’s about making a more humane city. A city with great bike infrastructure tends to have better pedestrian access and public transportation links. You can’t really have great transit system without protecting pedestrians. These systems are interconnected. One thing I didn’t care for was a little bit of the cliché of cyclists as eco-warrior hippies. It wasn't blatant or anything but the film showed cyclists as free-wheeling, free spirits who waxed poetic about their bikes. Sure that exists but most people just need to get somewhere quickly, easily and affordably and that would be by bike. One really interesting thing the film does is interview a taxi driver in one of the world’s great biking cities, Copenhagen. The cabbie's frustration with cyclists is obvious but oddly resigned to accept the situation simply because so many people bike in the city – everyone you know bikes somewhere at some point so to complain against it would be a losing proposition. We can only dream of such a scenario in Toronto.

X-Men: Apocalypse
I love the Marvel Universe of characters and their interconnected movie plots but just how much worldwide mass destruction am I supposed to put up with? An ancient powerful “mutant” is roused from his slumber with plans to take over the earth by ridding it of the weak and yadda yadda yadda. Muscular men popped their biceps, sexy ladies wore latex, things went boom etc and so on and it got pretty tiresome. I think I’m just going to avoid films with “:” in the title. The one bright spot was Quicksilver whose talent (he's super-fast and his scenes are shot in beautiful slow-motion) and humour made everything else bearable.

Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
I avoided this film because I assumed it was exactly what the title said it was. I was wrong. It is the inspired (though hardly inspiring) story based on the comic book memoir of the teen protagonist, based on the real Phoebe Gloeckner who, in 1970s free-lovin’ San Francisco has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Ooo, ick, you say? Well you should say that because even though it starts darkly comic it becomes more like a dark comic (book). Kristen Wiig is the under appreciated yet ineffectual mom, Peter Skarsgård is the hunky idiot lover (certainly no Humbert Humbert) and Bel Powley is excellent as Minnie, the teen meat in this love tryst sandwich - eew, ick. I really shouldn’t have gone there.

W1A Seasons 1 & 2
Excellent and cutting (and extremely “meta”) faux documentary comedy from the BBC about – are you ready for this? – the BBC. Somewhere the kimono was opened and we saw inside baseball, from inside and it gets weird and very, very funny. What is also funny is how, while the show is clearly loving it’s skinning of the BBC, it completely works as a scathing satire on any large corporate workplace that is full of indecision, poor decisions and the morons who rise the ranks simply by knowing you float better by not moving. Sweeter still, Hugh Bonneville, the upper crust patriarch of Downton Abbey, is Ian Fletcher, a posh well positioned executive who is just cunning enough to out fox the foxes. Better still, Fletcher and the entire series is a continuation of the series about “behind the scenes of the London Olympics” a similarly great comedy called Twenty Twelve. Which when I think about it, connecting Downton Abbey and this series feels a little Black Adder-ish.

Special Correspondents
I’m not sure “Netflix Original” is carrying any significant meaning other than knowing the content is available in other regions. That’s how I felt about this Ricky Gervais film about a pair of journalists tasked with going to a South American war torn country only they don’t quite make it. Through a series of unfortunate events, they miss their chance to actually go anywhere and spend weeks hiding out in New York (or Toronto set as New York) while they make up reports. Eventually their ruse leads them to pretending to be kidnapped and their only way out is to sneak into the country and pretend to escape their fake kidnapping. For some reason it reminded me of two little Woody Allen movies, Bananas and The Front. In Bananas, Allen is a guy from the Bronx who winds up leading a revolution and becomes the head of state of a Banana Republic and in The Front, he plays a deli cashier who fronts the scripts of two black listed screenwriters. I guess it’s the whole thing of South American dictators and duplicity that came to mind.

The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur
Incredibly beautiful and stunning looking film about a dinosaur who, having lost his father, finds himself separated from his family and comes of age with the help of a not quite evolved human. It’s everything a Pixar film should be and yet it felt very flat and wrong in many ways. Pixar can still make an incredibly emotional film though, which is weird in this case because I didn’t like it or the premise. In a lot of ways it was like Cars in that the setting and scenario don’t make enough sense. I mean, I get a cartoon talking dinosaur and even human/dinosaur overlap but why would dinosaurs farm corn? How much corn would a family of dinosaurs have to eat to survive? I assume an entire season's harvest in one day. The logic of the dinosaur farmer was so stupid that nothing else made any sense to me.

The To Do List
I’m a big Aubrey Plaza fan. She’s funny and sexy and weird and shrewd and smart and cool. Which is why this film didn’t work for me. It felt a little like someone wanted to make a female version of the common male trope of the geeky high school teen wanting to get laid before they go to college and treating this milestone just like another academic accomplishment. But, maybe I’m too oldey fashioned, that story with all its dumb cliches just doesn’t translate comfortably to a gender swap. Anyway, Plaza, a woman in her late twenties playing the over achieving teen didn’t work that well, not because she looked too old or something, but more that I didn’t buy her as being naive. Pass, by which I mean, fail. If you know what I mean.

No No: a Documentary
The story of Dock Ellis, an accomplished major league pitcher throwing a no-hitter (the No No of the title), while experiencing LSD hallucinations is legend. Thankfully that is just one fascinating anecdote of a much deeper story of the man some called the Muhammad Ali of baseball.

It's Such a Beautiful Day

It’s Such a Beautiful Day
Don Hertzfeldt is a legend amongst animators but not like one of the grand ol’ men of Disney but for his fiercely independent, unique and personal style. Very few people could write, animate, voice, film and edit a feature length animated film that is funny, insightful, dream like, hallucinatory, and at times, like a stream of paranoid consciousness. If you are a fan of animation film festivals you may have seen his short films - well this is a little like that but longer which makes you wonder how Hertzfeldt would sustain your interest. Sometimes it doesn’t but over all it is a magnificent success and like nothing you’ve ever seen before - unless, like I said you’ve seen his short films which are also great.

De Palma
I doubt there have been many careers like Brian De Palma’s in any field. As a director some of his movies defined whole chunks of cinema – Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and so on, but he’s also directed some real dogs. More interesting is how many films he's made that are really under appreciated gems and became very influential to a younger generation of directors (Body Double comes to mind). This documentary is so simple. It is just De Palma talking about his career and films intercut with shots from his movies (or ones he references). I doubt there are as many people as knowledgeable about film alive as Brian De Palma, but I would be the first one to say, sometimes knowledge does not always translate into art.

Lady Dynamite

Lady Dynamite
What to make of this strange and absurd and very very funny sit com on Netflix loosely based on Maria Bamford’s life. Bamford is a successful stand-up comedian who makes great comedy material out of her own struggles with mental illness such as bi-polar depression and, I don’t know, “other stuff” (she comes with a lot of baggage). Her comedy is brilliant and frightening and will make you re-think anything you may have ever thought about mental illness. The show is amazing in its sheer bald-faced frankness about mental illness, treatment and medication. It is, like Bamford herself, one of a kind and really really funny. One particular scene had me convulsing. Actual, outright convulsions of laughter. There was a spit-take followed by about five minutes of teary eyed wheezing laughing. Unfortunately I can not describe what me laugh so hard because I should reserve that for a therapy session.

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