Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Seen in June 


No children or franchises were harmed in the filming of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Image via The Movie DB.

A month of life, death, travel, and illness, but not a month with a lot of films or television.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Amazon Prime
Despite mixed reviews, this is a fine and enjoyable film. It feels like a summer movie (especially the score for some reason). Directed by Ivan Reitman's son, Jason Reitman, this is a much better addition to the "Ghostbusters" lore than the previous effort. I should confess here and now that, while I loved the originals, we should not let the dust of nostalgia cloud our vision. The original film was fine, funny entertainment, but the fandom that has grown around these films seems to ignore how simple and corny they were. This latest edition is certainly one of the best looking of the Ghostbusters films and the charm of the originals remains intact. Yet do not expect some old glory to be restored. Again, it's a better film than some reviews would have you believe but let's just lower our expectations a bit first. In this version, Egon Spengler's grandchildren and their mom find themselves in a small town with not much to do but save the world. Which they do, while also discovering Egon Spengler's legacy. The end.


The short The Very Pulse of the Machine seems very much inspired by comic book icon, Moebius. Image via The Movie DB.

Love, Death & Robots Volume III
Netflix
Another mixed anthology of animated sci-fi and fantasy shorts ranging in quality from something akin to a good video game to the epically mind blowing. The inconsistency should be expected by now and I guess fans of the series probably enjoy that. The quality of the stories is also inconsistent ranging from simple one-off jokes to inconclusively unfulfilling to satisfying short films. Despite the unevenness, the short nature of these episodes means there is little commitment to watching something you don't quite like only to find something you love. Two episodes, The Very Pulse of the Machine and Jibaro (from Oscar winner Alberto Mielgo) are two standouts in my mind.


Eve and Villanelle, together one last time. Image via The Movie DB.

Killing Eve S04
Crave
The final season of this series about an MI5 agent, Eve, played by Sandra Oh, in pursuit of a serial killing assassin Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, does not disappoint. The show maintains it's high level of action, thrills and dark comedy as Eve and Villanelle team up to try and take down the stealthy and powerful criminal organization, The Twelve. In some ways the series provides a satisfactory conclusion but also enough open threads to leave you wondering what actually happened. The show should also finally prove that a female led, created, written and directed series can be every bit as great as a male led story. It certainly met and exceeded the Bechdel Test for female representation many times over.


Doctor Strange, Wong and interdimensional being, America Chavez in one of the most appropriately named Marvel films ever. Image via The Movie DB.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Disney+
I've said before that Spider-man: No Way Home almost required the viewer to have seen a dozen different films over the last decade to get all of the references the film made. While that isn't necessarily true of the latest Doctor Strange film, it does assume the audience is familiar with many of the constructs of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the idea of many universes. The plot is that someone simply wants to steal America Chavez's ability to jump universes and she has sought out Dr. Stephen Strange to save her. The visualization of this concept can be spectacular at times, but also spectacularly confusing at other times. The effects in this film can be either stunning or cause stunning. There is also a lot of what can be called "Fan Service". That is the idea where the filmmakers bring in characters or ideas they know that core fans will undoubtedly want to see, whether it adds anything to the story or not. The freedom of the idea of the multiverse may allow writers' ideas to explode off the screen but it also removes many of the high stakes films like this obliterate. You can introduce, then kill as many characters as you like in as many ways as you fancy if it's all happening in someone else's universe. I've been surprised by some of the emotional moments the film offers because as I said they happen to a character in some other dimension. In the end, the character of Doctor Strange that Benedict Cumberbatch has created and the ability of ring master extraordinaire, director Sam Raimi, keep the threads of this movie together but just barely. The wildness of the ideas lead to too many things happening all at once and not enough focus on any one to care about. At some point these Marvel films can be so far up their own self-referential butt as to become some new kind of medical condition. When Martin Scorsese criticized these kinds of films as a theme park ride, he wasn't wrong, but I kind of think Marvel has created a whole new type of entertainment that some people will not recognize or enjoy. For those that do, it's quite a ride.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

How to know if you’ve stayed too long. 


Edward Gorey's The Doubtful Guest most likely stayed too long.

There is an old saying that visitors are like fish: after three days they begin to stink. Whoever came up with this expression may not have been aware that some fish stinks a lot sooner than three days. Also, this adage is really intended for the host but how would you, as a visitor, know you've overstayed your welcome. We are here to help and hopefully provide this guidance on knowing when you've stayed too long.

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Monday, June 27, 2022

One Week Together, One Apart


Together at last and at least once.

Two foreign items sat drying in the sink of my brother’s kitchen: a dissembled stovetop espresso maker and a colander. What makes them foreign? For one, my brother doesn't drink coffee and, while I think of a colander as primarily a way to wash and strain fruits and vegetables, my brother neither cooks much nor eats many vegetables. Why were these items in his sink? Because we visitors had essentially taken over the main floor of the house while my brother self-isolated in his basement after feeling unwell and having a positive COVID-19 test. As we regularly brought him meals or a fresh bag of ice, meeting him, masked, on the stairs, it felt oddly like throwing scraps down into a hole. While most of my brothers and I are fine with (maybe even enjoy) solitude, this was more like deprivation or imprisonment than any kind of personal retreat.

The strangeness of the COVID-19 pandemic continued when J. and my niece also tested positive for COVID-19. We travelled here to be together yet now find ourselves self-isolating, afraid to come too close together in case we pass on a virus that would mean more isolation, and more changed travel plans (and all the cost that comes with that). We were here to see my mother off of this earthly domain. Undoubtedly, my mother was a remarkable woman who, most likely, would not have abided too much of a fuss. Yet, a fuss was made. Some of us had travelled a fair distance at an incredibly difficult time to do so. There were the visitations and the funeral. My mother, father, nephew and my mother’s step-mother were all buried at a cemetery still so new that it has more in common with a headstone parking lot than older more treed and established places.

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Saturday, June 18, 2022

Seen in May 


A still from the animated documentary, Flee.

April showers bring May flowers, but May sunshine brings walks, bike rides, and many other things that do not always involve looking at a screen. It was a busy month and busy months mean less viewing and less viewing means shorter blog posts.


One of the many Moon Knights in, Moon Knight.

Moon Knight S01
Disney+

Another entry in Marvel's streaming shows, and another thoughtful approach to fantasy and fanciful ideas. In this series, our protagonist Marc Spector/Steven Grant is suffering from dissociative identity disorder caused by a trauma in his childhood. Also one of these identities has the powers of an Egyptian god named Khonshu because it is a Marvel TV series after all. The series examines the character's mental health, faith and relationships in a much deeper, more meaningful way than say some superficial take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide. The story also treats the faith of Egyptian gods, and Judaism respectfully and easily creates an inclusive and international setting for the action to take place. Basically, it has all the fun of a super-hero film with all the mystery, mysticism and adventure of an Indiana Jones movie.


The excellence of Gary Oldman on display in Slow Horses.

Slow Horses
Apple TV+

Like a lot of Apple TV+ shows, this six-episode mini-series seemed to appear out of nowhere. It's a spy drama (but also a bit of a comedy) based in contemporary London where a right-wing group has taken an ethnically Pakistani but essentially British university student hostage with the intent of beheading him on a live video stream. The only problem is, it was really an MI5 false flag operation to ensnare and root out those extreme right-wing elements. When it goes sideways the director of the operation, played with chilly brilliance by Kristen Scott Thomas, and a higher-up at MI5 decides to blame a group of screw-up agents who are housed in a crap office across town. Those agents, known as Slow Horses, discover the set-up and do everything they can to sort out the mess by saving the university student and by extension, saving their own lives and careers. The Slow Horses are led by a jaded agent who is nearing the end of his own disappointing career, played deliciously by Gary Oldman. It's such a fine cast, filmed, written and directed like some combination of John Le Carré intrigue but with Armando Ianucci wit that you can hardly believe your luck that a thing like this exists. Read more »

Friday, June 10, 2022

Monkfish 


A comparison of a squid with sea monks from the sixteenth century shows that in olden times, fisherman had very vivid imaginations.

My Chinese zodiac is the year of the monkey, with the element of earth making me an earth monkey (I assume). A superficial description of my character traits are as follows:
"They are optimistic, confident and have strong initiative. They have high intelligence, quick reaction ability, and strong adaptability to environmental changes, so they can handle any urgent and complicated matters calmly and clearly. They like socialization and are warm-hearted, so that they can get along well with others.”

My astrological sign is Pisces which is described as:
“They dream on such a lofty scale that their reach often exceeds their grasp. [These] people enjoy living in the limelight and gravitate toward a fast-paced lifestyle that offers them glamour and romance. Pisceans hold on to their memories from childhood, good or bad. Even if they feel burdened by the past, it is almost impossible for these sensitive souls to cut themselves off from family. They make conscientious parents. They know how to foster an an atmosphere of liberalism and good times. They have an instinct for making money. They have the ability to stay within a tight budget.”

Comparing the zodiacs of Persia and Asia, one makes me out to be a monkey of the earth who will not make a great fortune and be unhealthy, while the other says Pisces is a water sign and fortunes are to be mine because I’m good with money. Maybe I am both, of the earth and the water. A monkey and a fish. A monkfish, if you will. I readily admit my mind is sometimes a laughing monkey. Other times it is a sleeping monkey. Sometimes it is that monkey picking and eating ticks from the coat of another monkey. Still other times, it is that monkey who sits in the corner of the compound, quiet, bored, crouching in a slump and scratching his ass.

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