Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Seen in April

The fact that it's the end of May and I'm just posting what I watched in April tells you that I've been busy. Not Chinese 996 busy (some claim the work culture in China is such that you work from 9 AM to 9 PM, 6 days a week), but too busy to finish a day of work in front of the computer, to log in to a different computer to relay my thoughts. In any event, this is what I watched.

Unlikely but endearing friends. Image via The Movie Db.
The Speed Cubers
A great documentary about the friendship between two of the best "speed cubers" in the world. Speed Cubers are those clever, lovable nerds who are devotees of solving Rubik's Cube puzzles as fast as possible. You will be amazed.

John Cleese takes a dip. Image via The Movie Db.
Romance with a Double Bass
A short film based on a Chekov story about a how a double bass player headed to the palace to play for a princess' wedding has his tuxedo stolen as he takes a cool dip on a hot summer day.  The very same princess also has her clothing stolen by the same thief when she wades into the same creek to untangle her fishing line. The two cross paths and despite both being naked, the class distinction between the two remains. The musician concocts a plan to get the princess back to the palace by smuggling her in his large double bass case, which means he has to get both the princess and his double bass back to the palace. The comedic duo is played by the brilliant John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth. Warning: humourous nudity and British accents.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland. Image via The Movie Db.
This Oscar-winning film is a quiet and powerful meditation on the state of American capitalism. Some may tell you it's about a woman travelling through the States, moving from job to job living in her van but it's much more than that. There are undoubtedly many people who have chosen to live on the move due to a desire to see the striking landscape of their country or to experience the freedom of the open road. Surely this romanticism exists, but there are also many others living in their vehicle due to their economic situation. What this film offers is an examination of that life without judgement. Between the natural performances, easy pace and cinematography, it's easy to see why this film was considered one of the best of the year.

Genius S01
This ten episode series attempts to tell the story of a brilliant young German physicist named Albert Einstein and his ideas that not only changed the field of physics but also our view of our world and universe. Oh and he was kind of a jerk to the women in his life.

It's been said this film about a hybrid human-vampire who hunts vampires was the movie that saved Marvel Studios and publishing.

Blade 2
Blade is back but this time the film is directed by Guillermo del Toro, so of course, there are freaky monster vamps. The director's hand is notable throughout the film and elevates its otherwise campy premise.

Blade Trinity
Blade faces the greatest challenge of his life: sharing screen time with Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel. He also has to defeat the greatest vampire of them all – Dracula. There will be blood.

Apple TV+
John Stewart left The Daily Show to take care of goats on his New Jersey property. Then the worst president the United States has ever seen came to power, so John Stewart enlisted his friend and one of the best comedic actors of his generation, Steve Carrell, to make an important, timely and stirring political comedy. I'm not sure where that film is, but this is not it. This film is obvious, unimaginative and not very funny.

Thunder Force
Marvel has concocted a formula of making 'super-hero movies' that are thrilling, moving and oddly fun and funny. Their comic book competitor DC has had more luck making dark, dystopian fantasies than matching Marvels punch and punchlines recipe. One can understand why you might think the time is ripe for a super-hero comedy. Well, it might be, but this film is underwhelming and tiresome.

Not the buddy comedy you were expecting. Image via The Movie Db.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
Disney keeps expanding its cinematic properties into its streaming business. WandaVision deviated from a typical Marvel movie and went deep into weird, trippy magic. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier hoped to pull a similar trick. It's pointless to explain the almost decade long history of these characters, but basically, Sam, The Falcon, is the all-American good guy who still believes in his country, while Bucky, The Winter Soldier, is still struggling with PTSD from years of being a brainwashed assassin. While Marvel and Disney have generally done an amazing job of writing stories of inclusion, racial and gender identity without you ever realizing it until later, this series seems like it's really try to jam legitimate issues into the story line with long, heart-on-its-sleeve, expository speeches and dialogue that not only slowed down the action but felt too obvious. Sam, as a black American would obviously ask himself if his country cares about him as much as he cares about it, but should he have done it so clumsily and righteously (well, sure, a bit righteously)? I've said it before but it's worth saying again, it feels like we are seeing the end of subtext or maybe the writers of this show simply lacked the skill to deliver its messages without us seeing the delivery man coming.

A little fairy tale New York moment in On the Rocks. Image via The Movie Db.
On the Rocks
Apple TV+
This film from Sofia Coppola makes me feel like the director wanted to answer the question, what would her female protagonist from Lost in Translation be like twenty years later? Rashida Jones plays Laura, a writer who is also a stay-at-home mom and the two things are not going very well as the demands of motherhood take much of her energy. Meanwhile, her husband, Dean, played by Marlon Wayons, is working long hours getting his new business off the ground. At some point, Laura's unfocused mind starts believing Dean is getting a little too close to an attractive colleague. Enter her dad, played by Bill Murray, who is a life long Lothario and only reinforces his daughter's suspicions. What follows is a slow burn that's more like a heat rash. If the humour is a little on the light side, or the affair drama seems not so dramatic, you may just enjoy Bill Murray's casual joie de vivre and his tour of director Sophia Coppola's version of "fairy tale New York". Murray's character is an art dealer so of course he winds up at fine parties, storied New York restaurants, and zipping around town in his vintage (though unreliable) two-seater sports coupe. In the end, like other Sophia Coppola films, not much happens but the film is a ruminative mood about making room in your life for family, creativity and love. It ain't easy but hopefully it's worth it.

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