Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Seen in… December 

December is the Season for cranking up the heat until sauna conditions are reached. Yet it’s also the time when I seek comfort in watching old favourites or seeking sentimental seasonal flicks. Call it seasonal cinematic disorder.

Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. Image from The Movie DB

The Man Who Invented Christmas

A new spin on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and Dan Stevens as Dickens. We meet Charles Dickens returning from a successful American tour only to find his recent books are failures, his debts are piling up, his wife is struggling to make a home in their new (expensive) London house while his ne’er-do-well father shows up with hands out hustling for an income by selling his son’s autographed letters. Dickens knows he needs a hit and has struck upon an idea inspired by his young Irish housekeeper for a Christmas story. His publishers are skeptical, even wondering who even cares about Christmas, and unsure of being able to print a book in time for the holiday never mind write one. Frustrated, Dickens fronts the money for the illustrations, the printing plates and the elaborate, ornate binding he envisions. Of course this only adds to his stress. We see the story come together as Dickens struggles with writer’s block while arguing with the imaginary cast of characters that will be so well known to us in the story that will become A Christmas Carol. Plummer is a perfect Ebenezer Scrooge and a wonderful foil to Dan Stevens as Dickens.

Zinedine Zindane in his natural environment.

Zindane: a 21st Century Portrait

Listed as a documentary, this film should not be confused with anything other than an unique art film that explores the idea of portraiture through movement, audio and a kind of video collage - so yeah, not your average documentary. Seventeen cameras follow French soccer icon Zinedine Zindane during a Real Madrid vs. Villareal match from April 23, 2005. With music from the band Mogwai as the score, it's not a particularly thrilling match but it is a mesmerizing montage of modern sport.

That's Miles Morales as Spider-man. Image from The Movie DB

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

Dazzling. For the young at heart but definitely not for anyone who isn't up to contemporary cinema's fast paced editing style. There is also a unique style of animation here that merges the graphic vernacular of comics with computer generated effects and a sort of, American Anime. For me a problem of the Marvel live action films is how a character like Spider-man, as computer generated puppet appears to defy the gravity of the real world. In animation however, the squash, stretch and spring of the character comes to life in a stylishly unrealistic way that is very satisfying. The animation sets the characters free to be as exciting on screen as they are on the page. This Spider-man is torn from Marvel’s multi-universe interpretation in which many different people in many different variations become Spider-man and Spider-women. In this universe, a confident and daring Spider-man dies while trying to stop his nemesis the Kingpin from using an electron collider to open a parallel universe (see, even science can be set free in an animated world). The consequences of this device are that Spider-people from various alternative universes begin to show up in New York like Gwen Stacey or a Japanese school girl, or a talking pig or a young bi-racial Brooklyn teen named Miles Morales who becomes his own version of Spider-man and discovers new abilities that the previous Peter Parker never had. Miles is tutored and encouraged by our universe's Peter Parker, who has become somewhat of a disappointment to his friends, family and himself. Divorced, broke, out of shape, our Peter Parker seems too far gone to save anyway, including himself but of course you’ll have to see the movie to know how that turns out.


Excellent teenage sex comedy that effectively gives us the viewpoint of the parent and teenage girl without the creepy "male gaze" of what you would expect. This movie is the story of three girls determined to lose their virginity on prom night and is surprisingly funny and a refreshing take on the teen “sex” comedy. The trio of teens are well cast along with their parents that feature Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena as one particularly over-protective dad.

Tina meets Vore. Image from The Movie DB


A female customs agent, Tina, is curiously, well, there’s no other way to put it, unattractive, but she is also curiously able to smell or sense when anything seems off. Her uncanny ability is thrown into disarray when one day she meets a traveller named Vore who is much more like her than she understands. This person throws her life upside down while shattering the audience’s expectations of what a movie plot or genre can be. At first blush you might think, is this a horror movie or an art film? Or is it a fantastical metaphor or dramatic action thriller. Yes. Yes it is. It is all those things. To say more would ruin the fun. I will tempt you with this one salacious detail: wildest sex scene ever.


Is this the "Golden Age of Television" or is it that we have really great access to brilliant British storytelling like this series from the BBC? The series focusses on a highly proficient London detective played by Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, who is an Afghanistan War vet suffering from PTSD assigned to protect the very type of politician that sent him and his colleagues to fight a regrettable, neglected war. The tension filled drama is so good that it highlights the effectiveness of every aspect of great television, from the writing, the dialogue, the performances, the direction to the editing and score. This was undeniably one of the best shows from 2018.

Don Juan begins his conquest. Image from The Movie DB

The Devil’s Eye

I think this was supposed to be a comedy by Ingmar Bergman, but perhaps the Swedes have a very different sense of humour. It's also a little bit dated when it comes to the ethics that form the basis of the story. It begins with an invented expression of folk wisdom that a beautiful girl who is wed a virgin is a stye in the Devils’ eye (yeah, I have no idea what that is) but the devil who finds himself with such a malady sends his best agents, including Don Juan, up to earth to rectify the situation by deflowering the beautiful young lass played by the Swedish icon and Bergman favourite Bibi Andersson. It’s a curious sort of morality play with uninspired priests, demons who can change form and a horny side kick who is actually more effective than the master Don Juan himself. While this is “light” for a Bergman film, I wouldn't exactly describe this as a comedy, but then again it is Bergman.

A family day at the beach, from the film Shoplifters. Image from The Movie DB


Fantastic and wonderful film of a “family" in a Japanese city. The word family is in quotes there because that definition is really part of the heart of the film. A couple find a neglected little girl on the street and take her in, to find months later that her abusive parents are searching for, as are the police. We don’t realize the fragility of their arrangement until the woman we believed to the grandmother passes away. This troupe of misfits steal to get by and it turns out their entire lives are lifted from where ever they could find it. They’ll wind up shop lifting your heart too - c’mon, give me a break, it was right there for me to use!


OK, so I saw Paddington 2 before this but never mind. These films have found a comforting magic realism where every character is slightly larger than life while the little bear from Peru remains the centre of attention and no one asks how a forest-raised animal speaks such fine English and always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat for emergencies.


This was a hit, right? Made tons of money? Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams are amongst the best talents of their generation but they blend into their stereotypes here. I guess this is why I don’t understand the kids these days. It didn’t really interest me but I get why it would be popular. The thing is the comic book character of Venom is the anti-hero story that is right for our times. A symbiotic or parasitic alien who needs a host to survive on Earth lands on Eddie Brock, as played by Hardy (whose unplaceable Brooklyn accent is proof that even great actors can be bad at accents). Venom provides a modern day kind of Jekyll and Hyde story. The do-gooder/rule-breaking reporter of Eddie Brock wants to fight for the little guy while space alien Venom wants to eat the little guy. I suppose the success of the Deadpool movies and the availability of computer effects making the visualization of Venom possible makes this as good a time as any to bring the character to the big screen.

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