Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Seen in March

Still stuck in lockdown? Run out of stuff to watch? I got you. Here's some options.

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, image via The Movie DB

Schitt's Creek S01
Netflix, CBC Gem
I'm a little late for showing love for this successful Canadian comedy. I'd seen episodes here and there but didn't really follow it. Buckets of awards later I can see why it was the little show that could. While I think there are moments the show could slip into schmalzty sentimentality, it always quickly resurrects itself on the strength of the cast (if not always the writing). The show is a sort of Green Acres comedy about the affluent and metropolitan Rose family losing all of their wealth and being forced to retreat to their last holding of any financial value, the small rural town of Schitt's Creek which was purchased as a joke. In that town, the Roses find a better version of themselves and plenty of humour. If the writing or conceit ever flag, superior performances by all the Levy clan, Eugene, Sarah and Dan Levy, as well as Catherine O'Hara, Annie Murphy and Chris Elliott prop up the show.

On the Basis of Sex
How many supreme court justices have had two films made about them? Clarence Thomas doesn't count. The correct answer is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This biopic of Bader Ginsburg's life focuses on her time at Harvard, then teaching law (because no firm would hire a female lawyer) then working with the ACLU to bring a breakthrough case on sexual discrimination to the US Supreme Court. The filmmakers love showing how Bader Ginsburg was frustrated by being the smartest person in the room but never heard. Her abrasive, no back-pedalling approach is exactly what the legal profession expected of a lawyer, but not of a woman who was a lawyer. Despite her shortcomings as a mother (expecting more of her daughter than she did for anyone else) or as a cook (luckily, her husband excelled at and enjoyed cooking) her fierce intelligence led her to influencing legal decisions over her long and distinguished career. 

Masks galore in Contagion. Image via The MovieDb.

I am apparently the last person during the COVID19 era to watch this film. While some want to point out the flaws of the science of this movie, there is no doubt it got many more facts and speculations correct. While it is fascinating to watch, it does suffer from maybe too many stories in too short a time frame. Director Stephen Soderbergh takes the same approach here as his film Traffic (about the effect of the illegal drug trade in the US), which is to say, a handful of interconnected plot lines that attempt to give a wider view of the pandemic yet it can at times feel like a disconnected anthology without a real narrative other than a pandemic to join them. 

Jonah Hex
I enjoyed this comic book series which is about a cursed bounty hunter who survived the American Civil War who has long ago given up redemption for revenge. The comic is a classic lone wolf gunman tale but in movie form it stars Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox and it is, not too surprisingly, a boring clunker of a movie. 

Marvel channelling Bewitched in WandaVision. Image via The Movie DB

OK. If you have not followed the decade long, 20-something movie franchise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then read no further. If, however you enjoyed those films and the characters, Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, then you'd probably be interested to know what became of them after the events of Avengers: End Game. It turns out, quite a lot. In Wanda Maximoff's grief, she uses her mighty witchy powers to take over a small town in New Jersey where she resurrects her lover the sentient android, Vision, and creates a dream world that includes twin boys and her dead brother. It's a hoot, but beyond the comic book world fantasy, there is also a surprising examination of identity, love, loss and grief. I'm not kidding - it's actually pretty good and even groundbreaking within the confines of big, corporate, action-adventure franchise like this. I hate to sound like a hater, but… Martin Scorsese should check it out.

If & Of Itself
A handful of startling magic tricks are sprinkled throughout this live show of Derek DelGaudio where he weaves a story his life and experiences and search for identity. It's basically a highfalutin, high concept magic show that attempts to tell a narrative through a series of illusions which, I would assume, are much more impactful to witness live than in a video format.

Party Down S01
It's a well worn cliché that actors work in the food service industry in between gigs or while waiting for their big break.  This well cast comedy is full of improv and comedy performer veterans as well as sprinkling of cameos. The series centres on the Party Down catering company and Henry, played by Adam Scott, who is an actor whose only big break was a long running beer ad that essentially ruined his career. After years trying to earn a living as an actor, he's decided to quit acting and take a minimum wage job as a bartender for a catering company. The crew represents a swath of Hollywood types: the pretentious writer, the handsome but dim actor, the once busy but now unemployed actress who aged out of her roles and the comedian still trying to break in to the industry.

There goes the neighbourhood. Image via The Movie DB

Solar Opposites
Imagine two aliens and their younger replicant counterparts crash landed on Earth and tried to learn about us via our pop culture. From the creator's of Rick and Morty, this adult leaning cartoon is pretty funny and more than a bit irreverent. It's a bit of My Favorite Martian meets the Odd Couple. When the show veers into typical sit-com territory it immediately becomes somewhat strangely, slightly more odd and funnier.

Zack Synder's Justice League
I watched this four hour film so you wouldn't have to. I'm surprised HBO didn't just turn it into a three or six-part mini-series but I guess Synder didn't want that. Director Zack Synder did not finish the original cut of this film so he came back and did everything he wanted, which had significant differences to the theatrical release, which is to say it was less confusing and even more boring. Snyder has his fans but I'm not one of them. Dull, overly serious and despite all the extra dialogue still somehow confusing. I really don't know what fans see in this but like Peter Jackson fans who enjoyed two extra Hobbit movies, maybe they just wanted more.

Image via The Movie DB

I Lost My Body
An animated tale of a dismembered hand that crawls its way through Paris to reach its body. It is visually great, but I'm not sure I understood any underlying theme. The owner of the hand is a young immigrant who having lost his parents in a car accident was raised by a disinterested distant relative. Through flashbacks we see the contrast of the young man's life of love and potential with his parents compared to his dead end job and loveless life without them. Only a passing encounter with a young woman who works at a library gives him any hope to cling to.

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema
"Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn't give you what you desire - it tells you how to desire"
- Slavoj Zizek
Philosopher, film critic, raconteur, Slavoj Zizek presents his ideas of film and philosophy in this engaging and eye-opening film by Sophie Fiennes. Fiennes embeds Zizek, the Slovenian pyschoanalyst, directly into some of his favourite scenes which he uses to illuminate the ideas and concepts of pyschoanalysis. Not only is film the perfect medium for criticism of itself, but also the perfect forum for Zizek and his particular talent of constructing and explaining his ideas in a seemingly free-flowing, unscripted style. When Zizek pops into The Matrix we can't help but laugh when he demands a "third pill". Also, I can't help but notice that the blue pill looks an awful lot like a fast-acting Advil gel capsule, of which I have consumed far too many. I guess that's my subconscious desire to stay within The Matrix and refusal to awaken to the reality of my existence. Or maybe I just had a headache.

You do the crime, you do the time. Except sometimes, that "time" is a ridiculously long time. In this intimate documentary we meet a young couple full of hope, love and life until, in a desperate act to keep their retail business afloat they decide to rob a bank. Sometimes good people make bad decisions and in the end this bad decision broke apart a family and put a man with seemingly no history of violent crime in prison for 80 years without a chance for parole. A more typical plea bargain would've resulted in 12 years. Yet, for almost 20 years we see Fox Rich fight on to get her husband Rob a parole hearing. Through her mantra of "Success is the best revenge" she raises her children (with help of her own mother), all boys, works to pay the bills, which included huge legal fees as she also advocated for her husband's sentence to be changed. This is incredible documentary of an incredible family and it's hard to not be moved or see the injustice of modern incarceration.

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