Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Seen in July 

A taste of the inventiveness of The Twentieth Century. Image via The Movie Db

In July 2020,  theatres remained shuttered in Toronto but something new appeared on my doorstep: a brand new 55” 4K HDR smartTV, which is actually kind of annoying if I’m being honest - the SmartTV part I mean. I don’t want my TV to need to update its operating system. I want it to stupidly show me what I want. Having a bright shiny television made self-isolating a whole lot more fun.

The Twentieth Century
This eccentric and vibrant Canadian indie film is based on the life of William Lyons MacKenzie King. Very loosely based. Evocative of David Lynch's Eraserhead, or Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg but entirely and uniquely its own thing. On seemingly a tiny budget, filmmaker Matthew Rankin uses graphically bold and theatrical sets to create an epic yet idiosyncratic telling of how MacKenzie King became prime minister and part of Canadian history. If you know anything about MacKenzie King you know he was a weirdo. A life long bachelor who had his dead pet dog stuffed and was so committed to his mother he held seances to try and communicate with her after her death. All of this is fertile ground for this witty and unusual movie that, for me, has a similar tone to cartoonist Seth’s stories of his invented Canadian town, Dominion, Ontario.

Jumanji: The Next Level
I swore off any film with a “:” in the title, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But I guess in Hollywood, if it ain’t broke, make another one. This reunites the cast but inserts Danny Glover, Danny DeVito and Awkwafina into the mix. The plot is similar to the previous films, the characters are stuck inside a magical but sinister video game and they must complete the quest to survive and escape. It’s good harmless fun so just relax and enjoy it.

Giri/Haji. Sub-titles sometimes required. Image via The Movie Db

Giri/Haji S01
The title of these series set in London and Tokyo is Japanese for Duty/Shame. One brother has double-crossed the Yakuza and escaped to London but after stint lying low, commits a murder with dire implications; a gang war back in Tokyo. The other brother is a detective in the Tokyo police and to keep the peace has been sent to London to find and retrieve his brother. Basically both brothers are caught between a rock and a hard place, both with reasons to leave either London or Tokyo. Family, obligations, peace, violence, love and hate all play their part. For the most part the series is a straight ahead crime thriller/police procedural despite there being more gun deaths in a single scene than Tokyo usually has in a year. One of the final scenes takes a surprisingly theatrical turn which is both lovely and well, a bit much. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Smell of a Potato

A slightly prettier table spread from Food52 

It hit me by surprise. A combination of smells that transported me through time. That’s how smell works though isn’t it. It’s actually kind of hard to just close your eyes and think of a smell that would take you back to when you last experienced it without actually smelling it. When it happens, the clarity of the memory is so evocative it may trigger all sorts of emotions and tremors in your body. For me it was a baked potato that I had just taken off the grill, cut into and stuffed with a pad of butter. This was paired with a sweet BBQ sauce on pork. The entire meal was improvised and put together quickly. I had decided to bake the potato but didn’t have the energy to do much more. I don’t often grill pork chops and lacking imagination I grabbed a little used bottle of Diana Barbecue sauce. As I absorbed the odours, it was as if the world paused for a moment while my brain took in the flicker of images, sounds and senses from probably forty years ago.

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Monday, August 03, 2020

Some Starry Night 

Sometimes the Universe doesn't care for your plans.

As Toronto finally joins the rest of Ontario in “Stage Three”, which sounds more like a cancer diagnosis than a pandemic economic recovery plan, we’re trying to return to normal except we really aren’t. We’ve had almost 40,000 cases of COVID-19 with almost 2800 deaths, so there’s really nothing normal here, new normal or otherwise. Whether it’s all the restaurants that can’t fully re-open or the closure of movie theatres or the fact that travelling somewhere, anywhere, now feels unnecessarily risky, the pandemic has sucked a good deal of fun from the summer. More than the pandemic however is my own skin which won’t quite heal from the urticaria that has plagued me for the last eighteen months. Fun in the sun is a no-go. Stepping out in the searing bright sunshine almost immediately leads to painful hives. I’d love to go for a paddle but sitting in kayak sweating would be my undoing. A cool swim might be the perfect summer treat until I have to shower and soap up which may turn my skin into a living version of kimchi.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the stuff I can enjoy this summer instead of all the stuff I’ll miss due to either the Pandemic or Urticaria. I might not get the long rides, kayaking or swims but there will be hammock hangs, grilled meats, home made ice cream, and movies on a shiny, new TV beneath the chill of the A/C.

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