Thursday, March 10, 2022

Seen in February 

This Eakins painting isn't a scene from The Power of the Dog, but could be.

It's been a long, hard, two-year long winter. I've probably re-watched more old favourites than discovering new things and to be honest, maybe I haven't been that interested in "challenging" film or television so maybe that explains my tepid viewing lately. You be the judge.

A typically lush scene from Arcane

Arcane S01
Yet another video game to television series conversion that has left fans craving for more. This is a sort of “Steampunk” kind of fantasy world in which magic powers mechanical devices and opens portals but it’s also a world cleaved between the “haves” and “have nots” and the conflict between those worlds divides friends and families. It’s a well written show with a few recognizable actors as voice talent but more importantly it is strikingly beautifully animated. It apparently took four years to realize, and despite being renewed for a second season, the producers have already said another season is at least two years away. Hopefully they can maintain the quality of animation and make it worth the wait.

Oh, we're going to talk about Bruno.

Set in a magical Colombian village, this animated movie is about an enchanted family where each generation discovers a magical ability they share with their family and the prosperity of the village. All but one of the family received an enchanted gift, the easy going Mirabel, who is happy to celebrate her sisters, aunts and uncles until her lack of magic threatens to pull the family apart (or something). This animated musical shows a level of quality usually reserved for Pixar projects (also part of the Disney family), and apart from the animation, it also has some standout musical numbers, like the virally spread “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”. The popularity of the songs isn’t too surprising, given the composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was one of the creative talents behind the successful Broadway show, Hamilton.

Riz Ahmed as Ruben.

Sound of Metal
Imagine your life is music. Not just your job but also all of your personal relationships. Then one day, that slight ringing in your ears becomes a rapidly developing deafness. Riz Ahmed is excellent as the drummer Ruben whose world starts coming apart when, already struggling with sobriety, he discovers he’s losing his hearing. Desperate to save his relationship to both music and his partner, he finds a community where deafness and substance abuse are treated together. Ruben submits to his new reality but still holds on to the hope that a cochlear implant surgery can resurrect his old life. There are too many lessons and journeys to be considered here but just know this is an excellent film that gives insight into a world few of us know but also into emotions we can all recognize.

The Party (2017)
No not the film with Peter Sellers in brown face as an Indian actor in Hollywood, this is a British “art film” that takes place during what should be a celebratory get-together when Janet, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, receives an important promotion. I’m not sure why, but this film is described as a dark comedy and the promise of greatness seems genuine when you see it is from director Sally Potter and packed wall to wall with a talented cast. Yet, I’ve come to the conclusion that intellectually driven films like this cannot ever be comedies because very clever people who write independent movies like this, do not have a very good sense of humour. It is rarely funny and it turns out to feel disconnected and aimless. Also, despite a good amount of shouting and intensity, it has the emotional depth of a very thin pane of glass.

How To With John Wilson S01
Can a documentary be funny? Of course. Can it be absurd? Yes. Can it be a series on HBO? Apparently it can. This is a very weird series on HBO by documentarian and comedian, John Wilson. I'm not sure how to describe it other than imagine the Website, "people of Walmart" as a television show, narrated by a nerd.

Benedict Cumberbatch is unusually rugged as a man at home on the range.

The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a Yale educated cowboy, who, along with his brother, George, runs the family ranch. Despite his education and background, Phil is the very embodiment of toxic masculinity. When his brother marries a widow, Rose, Phil turns his bullying ways on her and her teen-age son, Peter. Yet what lurks beneath Phils brusk exterior is a male gaze something akin to a Thomas Eakins painting. His ability to inflict psychological hurt on others stems from his own pain, and that anger he turns on the world blows back on himself from the unassuming Peter, whose particular lack of "manhood" only hides another kind of toxicity.

John Cena as Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker

Peacemaker S01
The ridiculous villain from The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker, played by John Cena, gets his very own, very funny but thoughtful series. Peacemaker, a trained killing machine whose jingoistic patriotism used to be funny before January 6, 2021, is dedicated to peace, "no matter how many men, women and children he has to kill to get it." This mantra is tested the first time he's ordered to kill a child. As part of a small, under-funded, "unauthorized" government hit squad, Peacemaker, also known as, Chris Smith, is a more complicated character than his DC Comic origins would have you believe.

Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster
Another quality stand-up comedy special from this pale every man comedian.

Where it all started.

The King’s Man
An origin story of how the Kingsman, the secretive, private spy organization was born from the chaos leading to The Great War. This is one of those 3-in-1 movies, in that it can't figure out which film it wants to be. Could it be a serious anti-war movie, a family drama set during wartime or an action spy comedy. Unfortunately, it tries out each approach in an overly long, confused script. I've read described as "tonally confused", which is also the case as the movie takes wild swings at comedy, action, and drama from one long set piece to another. All the elements were there, except for a skilled editor. Pity.

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