Thursday, July 02, 2020

Seen in June 

Hilda and Twig off on an adventure. Image via The Movie DB.

As the days grow longer it’s harder to find screen time. Ha! During a pandemic lockdown there is more time than ever. The presence of so much time would absolutely flummox Einstein or Hawking. Where did it come from and where it is going? Straight down my gullet via my eye sockets that’s where. Here’s what my eyes swallowed whole this month.

Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist William
Friedkin, director of The French Connection, The Exorcist and To Live and Die in LA, is interviewed at length on the making of The Exorcist. This is sort of dull only because most of the film is just Friedkin expounding on his film and influences, which is exactly the sort of crap I love. Unfortunately, most of the other principle players and contributors have passed away so we really don’t get their view at all. Now if only I had the guts to watch The Exorcist.

Hilda S01
Netflix
This is a wonderfully cute cartoon for kids full of fantastical giants, trolls, elves and magic all encountered by an adventurous little girl. The show is based on a comic book and maintains the really lovely quality of colour and line that is so gorgeously rendered in this compact show full of personality and wonder.

Space Force. Journey to the unneccesary. Image via The Movie DB.

Space Force S01
Apple TV+
In the parlance of our times, I binged this show waiting for something funny to happen but it never did. This show has plenty of talent such as Steve Carrll and John Malkovich trying to do a send up of the newly formed branch of the military issued by POTUS with the ridiculous name of Space Force but unfortunately there are times they take themselves a little seriously. This could’ve been Avenue 5, HBO’s space based comedy, with a purpose but instead it’s stuck somewhere in between a workplace comedy and a family drama. It’s toothless as a political farce. I laughed out loud once; when an American chimp astronaut is captured by a Chinese space station, Carell praises his brave simian comrade while admonishing him under his breath with, “He’d better not talk!"

Upload S01
Amazon Prime
I binge watched this show thinking, “there's something here” but there wasn’t. Another futuristic comedy in which our lead, Nathan, is seriously injured in an accident and is prematurely uploaded to a posh afterlife by his girlfriend. In the future, when you die, you can have your consciousness saved to a hard drive with a virtual reality. The more you spend the better your afterlife is. In this scenario, Nathan’s customer support representative, considered his “angel”, unexpectedly (well, not really) falls in love with him. Troubles and what not, ensue.

Cheer Up
CBC Gem
High school-aged Finnish Teen-agers compete for top spot in competitive cheerleading. They finish last in the standings, but first in your heart. It’s really a lovely documentary showing kids going through family troubles, getting on with life and trying to jump from a human pyramid with a smile on their face.
13th
Netflix
Having trouble understanding what “systemic” in “systemic racism” means? Watch this. You’ll learn such troubling statistics as 1 in 4 people incarcerated on the planet is an American even though the US only makes up about 5% of the world’s population. Then you’ll learn how many of these inmates are black Americans and that 97% of them never had a trial. Ava DuVernay’s compelling documentary will break down almost ever preconception you have about the American for-profit prison system and the role of police as the tool of that system.

A fleeting moment of frivolity in Mad Men's seventh season. Image via The Movie DB.

Mad Men S07
Netflix
Every once in awhile the art you consume and the world you live in forms a Venn diagram that is more of an eclipse than an overlap. While riots and violence raged around the US and the world about police brutality and the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, pundits tried comparing 2020 to the turmoil of the late 60s that saw the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the peak of the Summer of Love, the moon landing and the end of the Summer of Love after the Manson Family murders. The end of Mad Men essentially carries Don Draper over the stoop to 1970. I had avoided watching this thinking that there was nothing to learn from a character who was a Lothario, an alcoholic, an absent father and a bit of a bastard. There is a bit of “closing time” feel to the last couple of episodes but we watch Draper fall off the carousel, wander away from his job, take a cross country trip only to find out in the end, all he ever was, was an ad man. A very good one, and maybe that’s enough.

Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time
Crave
This two part documentary reveals the fascinating time roughly between the mid 60s to the early 70s when anyone who was anyone in American music lived and became a part of a community in one magical area of Los Angeles known as Laurel Canyon. The list of names of those that lived near each other including The Byrds including David Crosby, Buffalo Springfield which included Stephen Stills and Neil Young, Graham Nash of the Hollies, who all later became briefly Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They also had either a relationship or friendship with Joni Mitchel. They ate, smoked and drank with the Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees and The Doors. I still haven’t mentioned Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, Steve Martin, Bonnie Raitt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley who were in Linda Ronstadt’s band. I never really cared for this period of American music or particularly how this generation had such unearned influence over generations of pop culture that followed, but I get it. They were all friends who played, laughed, loved, cried and sang together. It was telling that I saw this after the Mad Men final season, set in the same era and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, again set in the same time and place. 2020 and 1968 had a lot in common; protests, police violence, racial tensions, a corrupt American president but I hate to admit this, maybe the music of that summer was a tiny bit better. I mean, at least they knew how to harmonize.

Better Call Saul S04
Netflix
How did Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman? How did “Slipping Jimmy” become an attorney to drug dealers? It all seems so obvious by the end of this season. Saul’s con man moniker “Slipping Jimmy” wasn’t just an insult from his lawyer brother but who he really was all along. While Breaking Bad is ostensibly about a regular guy, Walter White going from a high school teacher to “Scarface”, Better Call Saul is more about Jimmy McGill’s long road to going back to what he always was. A guy more interested in a hustle than anything else.

Phil Demers. Image via The Movie DB.

The Walrus and the Whistleblower
CBC Gem
Who can forget Ontario’s water park playground, Marineland? If you lived in Ontario you heard the ear worm jingle constantly in advertising, “Everyone loves Marineland”. That included Phil Demers who worked at the theme park as a handler of a much loved walrus named, Shmooshie (spelling?) He went along with the improvised veterinarian care, the lackadaisical nutrition and confinement of the animals until a vital piece of equipment broke down leaving the animals without clean water. In lieu of fixing or replacing the expensive machine the owner opted for the heavy use of chlorine. This led to a further degradation of the living conditions for animals such as orcas, belugas, dolphins, seals and walruses that are really too large to be kept in captivity in the first place. Phil Demers’ heart was broken and while advocating for animal safety he was fired and or he quit. Then he became the target of a lawsuit and smear campaign by the owners. We watch in sadness and horror as Demers works to free the animals he loves that eventually leads to a very significant piece of legislation that put Canada at the forefront of animal welfare. This doc was part of this year’s Hot Docs film festival and was an audience award winner.

A Merb'y poses at Fort Amherst. Image via CBC.

Merb’ys
CBC Gem
You’ve heard of mermaids, and mermen perhaps? Well b’y whaddya get when you put a bunch of Newfoundlanders in mermaid tails to pose for a fundraising calendar? You get Merb’ys who come in all shapes and sizes and maybe redefine masculinity while raising money posing for a calendar.

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
Living with a spouse with a brain injury is difficult. It isn’t any easier when the only thing your partner can remember are the same handful of jokes he tells over and over again. Still, in for a penny in for a pound in this complicated little documentary short.

Playback
The filmmaker of this documentary short film made something pretty great and unique from some pretty poor source video. This film tells the story of small group of transgender women and drag queens in a conservative Argentinian city and re-imagines the lives of those they lost to AIDS.

Lhomme’s Dreams
An animated short that reflects on Dr. Jules Lhomme, a collector who travelled the world through his collection of over 3000 pieces of African Art. It’s hard to say whether this remarkable collection is a reflection of the pain of colonization through which it was made or a vision of African art as objects of beauty and importance at a time when they may have been considered “primitive”.

Recoding Art
What does AI think of art? Not much apparently (probably because no one taught it what art is). This short documentary gets you thinking about not only the shortcomings of artificial intelligence as it is today but also how few of us understand its basic underpinnings.

CSI KFC is on the case. Image via The Movie DB.

Knives Out
Amazon Prime
Daniel Craig is only one of a bevy of talents on hand to make this southern “whodunit” a fun and entertaining movie. Craig plays detective Benoit Blanc, a sort of "CSI KFC” as another character puts it, who has been hired by an unknown client to investigate the death of a wealthy family patriarch played by Christopher Plummer. It’s a classic parlour murder mystery with a large cast of suspects but the interesting twist is that we already know exactly what happened but there is still a puzzle to solve and Blanc, like a Louisiana Hercule Poirot is more than up to the challenge.

Haru meets the Cat Bureau. Image via The Movie DB.

The Cat Returns
Netflix
Last year there was a worry that the collection of great animated features from the Japanese outfit, Studio Ghibli, home famously of the great director Hayao Miyazaki, would be orphaned. Disney had the theatrical distribution rights for North America but not the streaming rights and as such did not add the films to their own streaming service Disney+. Now, over 20 of their films have appeared on Netflix thus ruining any plans I had of ever going outside ever again. This is one of those films and it bears all the hallmarks of a Ghibli movie. A teenage girl, Haru, saves a cat from sure death in the middle of a busy city street and once recovered the cat brushes himself off, says thank you and reassures the girl she will be rewarded for her selfless act. Stunned, Haru tries to forget the incident thinking she was mistaken. That night she is visited by a convoy of cats including the Cat King who offer her many gifts. Unfortunately one of the gifts is marrying the cat Prince whom she saved. Haru is tipped off to seek the help of the Cat Bureau which leads her to a secret kingdom where cats laze about in a beautiful wonderland. See? Typical Japanese fantasy stuff.

After Life S01-02
Netflix
Ricky Gervais’ latest series follows a desperately depressed and near suicidal widower, Tony. What saved him from suicide? He had to feed the dog. This show is full of the commonplace dreck that saves a lot of us. His dog Brandy, along with many other lost souls all seem to need his help in one way or the other. Most of the fun is Tony’s near Larry David like disregard for social norms because when you feel like killing yourself, who gives a dogs bollocks if you offend someone? Don’t kid yourself though, the two seasons are full of “feels”, good, bad and funny.

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