Monday, November 15, 2021

Seen in October

Marvel's What If… asks all the big (nerd) questions. Image via The Movie Db

October rolled over me like a fever dream. Hot. Cold. Done. Did that just happen? It can't be? The leaves are still on the trees? Believe it or not, October saw me attend a film festival in real life and go to an actual movie theatre for the first time in over eighteen months, since March, 2020 (when we saw Parasite). Here's what I saw, streamed and in a real live theatre.

What If… S01
Marvel's lively animated series attempts to open our minds to a vast, prismatic "multi-verse": a reality where infinite parallel universes co-exist providing their writers an opportunity to play with well established characters and scenarios and twist them like so much wind-blown laundry on the line. What if Peggy Carter jumped into the experiment to create a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers? What if Doctor Strange had become obsessed with saving the love of his life? What if Ultron, the artificial life form created by Tony Stark, had defeated The Avengers? Et cetera, et cetera. On one hand, this series brings to life a fan-loved comic book series, while on the other it provides Marvel the ultimate "out" and a way to re-invent any of their character franchises. One problem with any Marvel film is because they've created this world where anything can happen, they've lowered the stakes so much, it becomes hard to care. While each episode is a fun romp through the Marvel Universe's canon, the last two episodes are probably the wild ride you've been waiting for. Jeffrey Wright is a highlight of the series for me, as he voices the character of The Watcher. The Watcher isn't a pervy creep hiding behind a bush, but a cosmic being who observes various worlds… from behind a cosmic bush? Anyway, the show's look and animation style is pretty great and it's all a bit of fun, though as each 30-minute felt longer, I'm guessing a lot of people would find it tedious so this is probably for fans only.

The Procession
A stylish animated short about a woman speaking from the afterlife to her grieving husband who is struggling to cope through his family's funeral traditions.

Ted Lasso S02
Apple TV+
I've read a smattering of Internet comments and articles on how this show addresses "toxic masculinity" and now I'd like a turn. Yes, season one of this show was a charming comic salve about an American football coach, played by Jason Sudekis, struggling to coach an English Football club, but it had little to no depth and I'm not sure it deserved its tsunami of Emmy nominations. Season two, however is something different. A lot of the show focusses either on characters like Ted Lasso as an alternative to aggressive male stereotypes or, toxically masculine stereotypes addressing why they are the way they are. There are also characters becoming better versions of their masculine selves. A surprisingly emotional moment after a devastating team loss leads to one such confrontation. While three or four male characters work to redefine their masculinity within the sporting world, the two main female leads learn how they can defy female stereotypes to become captains of business without giving up on being feminine. Meanwhile, yet another male lead, initially sweet and mild mannered, tires of being the pussycat in the lion's den (or puppy in the Diamond Dogs) and learns success is found by becoming the very a-hole he despised.  That said, Ted Lasso has become a much better program than the one fêted for its original season.

Language Lessons
St. John's International Women's Film Festival
This small independent film was forged in the fire of a pandemic. It's a simple story of a man given Spanish lessons by his husband and the relationship he forms with the young woman who is his teacher. All of their interactions are via video calls or recorded videos sent to each other. You'd think this device would get old pretty quick but the two form an unusually intense and engaging bond.

Undeniably Young
Forest City Film Festival
This documentary short* combines interview footage and animation to tell the story of Nora Young, a multi-sport athlete who was really ahead of her time. In another era she would've been as celebrated as Clara Hughs but when Young competed in a 1936 bike race, she was one of only a few women of her caliber riding in Canada. This short covers a lot of ground in a few minutes and I'm not sure which part is more amazing. The number of sports Young excelled and won in (basketball, softball, ice hockey, track and field and cycling) was mind boggling. The popularity of women's sports at the time was also surprising. The idea that you could set up a cycling velodrome in Maple Leaf Gardens and sell it out for a week long race is sort of insane given how few velodromes the country currently has. Lastly, the fact that you've never heard of Nora Young is probably the most astonishing thing of all.
*Full disclosure: this is Julia's film so of course I've seen her passion and talent come to fruition first hand.

Deadman’s Switch
Forest City Film Festival
You may have heard the story a few years ago of the death of a young entrepreneur who left over $250m in cryptocurrency encrypted and inaccessible to investors. What you may not have known was that his company, QuadrigaCX, was Canada's largest cryptocurrency exchange and that it was highly unusual for such funds to be kept the way they were, where only one person was able to generate the digital keys necessary to unlock the funds. There are even more mysteries in this tale that may actually be Canada's largest financial fraud.

Forest City Film Festival
Do you remember the Oka Crisis (also known as the Kanesatake Resistance) of 1990? Here's a refresher: a developer of a golf course wanted to expand into sacred land of the local indigenous community where family members were buried. The Mohawk of the Kahnawake reserve protested by blocking roads and very quickly the situation escalated to a 78-day armed stand-off. What we saw on the news was inherently an outsider's view. Now imagine you're a smart kid caught up in the middle of the conflict and how those events of violence, fear and hate affected you and your family. Beans, (who is basically the young version of the film's creator, Tracy Deer) is the young girl caught up in the political and racist events while she herself is going through an important moment in her own life. I wouldn't be alone in saying this is probably the best Canadian film I've seen in a decade and there is no way of watching it and not being affected.

Lots of young, unrequited and quite requited love. Image via The Movie Db

Sex Education S01-03
Teenager Otis feels he's falling behind in the relationship department. It doesn't help his issues are confounded by his parent's divorce and the fact that his mother is a sex therapist. He might be the first teen to yell, "Stop therapizing me, Mum!" Yet, his exposure to his mother's expertise has made him a pretty good therapist without realizing it. Maeve, the overly smart social outcast does realize it and conspires with Otis to start a sex clinic on the grounds of the school. I read somewhere on the Internet that season 1 of this show was great, but season 2 less so and season 3 even worse. The Internet was wrong (shocker)! While shows like Ted Lasso were tactfully tackling "toxic masculinity", this show was completely dismantling it and redefining "normal" in hilarious and touching ways. I even learned a few things. The primary themes of speaking your truth and listening to someone else's truth are a constant lubricant of this well written and expertly cast show. My only complaint is that Otis, as a character, falls into the trap of being considered a social "nothing" at school yet at home has an immense, deep and expertly curated collection of high quality vinyl records. He's a teen, in the 2020s, in a tiny Welsh town. Where and how did he amass such a collection, especially when we see him more often buried in his phone?

Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling

Phil Liggett is synonymous with one thing - being the longtime, expert commentator of The Tour de France. Like Jackie Stewart for F1 racing, or in Canadian terms, like Foster Hewitt for Hockey Night in Canada, there is no one else you would want to hear calling pro cycling's biggest races. Yet he is aging, not that he's lost any of his abilities but it seems fitting to create a documentary that covers his career in cycling and finding out more about his second and third great loves. Liggett's first love is the natural world but he never had the income to study to become a naturalist, yet his success in broadcasting (and the calendar of pro cycling) allowed him to move to Kenya to spend his time observing the animals he loves so much. His third love? His long time personal and professional partner who herself was an Olympic athlete in speed skating and went on to become a successful team trainer and manager on the short lived women's version of The Tour. The film spends some time discussing his support of Lance Armstrong but I feel his critics may have been too severe. I never really think of Liggett as a journalist, though he certainly was, or his implicit endorsement of Armstrong was never any greater than many other members of the media. If it's a case of "doctor, heal thyself", journalists always seem the least likely to take a dose of their own medicine.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
A follow up to the Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson action flick The Hitman's Bodyguard, but the schtick that made that film fun, wears thin here as each leading actor portrays the biggest stereotype of their careers. This would've worked better as a Saturday Night Live parody movie.

A very New Yorker murder mystery. Image via The Movie Db

Only Murders in the Building S01

Steve Martin and Martin Short play two aging and established tenants of a handsome and genteel New York Co-op. They are also "True Crime Podcast" aficionados, something they share with their twenty-something neighbour played by Selena Gomez. When a surprising and violent death occurs in the building the three start sleuthing… and podcasting. Yet, as a cranky mid-towners who can't be bothered to follow up on crimes elsewhere they decide to just stick to "only murders in the building".  The show begins as a gentle comedy but as the mystery grows, so does the show's depth. Don't expect Martin and Short to continue their "grumpy old men" act, though there is some of that.

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