Saturday, August 27, 2022

Seen in July 

Marcel, the small shell with the big heart.

I haven't seen all the big screen summer blockbusters but I've seen some of the small screen blockbusters. Yet with patience those big screen movies will appear on our smaller screens at home. Here's to the big screens and small screens. May all your screens bring you joy.

Some beasts are not really so fantastic.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
I'm not sure I can name a series of films so popular as the Harry Potter movies, where the continuation of the franchise fails worse and worse with each subsequent outing. Oh wait. The three Star Wars films where we learn the origins of Darth Vader. Yes, this film is as disappointing as that. It had no reason to fall on its face other than a failure to launch. The first film set up the second, the second ended without so much of a cliff hanger as a loose thread. The third just never gets going until the place it goes is entirely underwhelming. The entire plot of this movie revolves around "rigging of a magical election" by a criminal wizard. Yawn. The January 6 hearings have offered far greater entertainment. Surely this series in the Harry Potter franchise is done especially after suffering the downfall of two primary cast members due to their extracurricular legal difficulties (Johnny Depp's marital mess and accusations of grooming against Ezra Miller). Good night, Newt Scamander, we hardly knew you.

The Bubble
A comedy about a film crew attempting to finish a new installment in a popular fantasy-action franchise, set during a pandemic wherein the crew has to work within the bubble of the film set and a luxury hotel. Like the pandemic itself, the film is absurd, awkward and there were long periods of time when no one was laughing.

No Time to Die? Oh, there's always time for a little dying.

No Time To Die
It turns out, there is time to die, plenty of dying, in fact. So much dying. This is the latest Bond film and last one starring Daniel Craig as 007. One thing this Daniel Craig run has done much more successfully than previous "Bonds" is a continuity between the five films. This film did offer some fun surprises, such as what Bond's retirement looks like, another brief view of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, Bond's 007 replacement, Ana de Armas as a novice agent who finds more than one way to be lethal in an evening gown and in keeping with this series, innovative yet less fantastical spy gadgets. At the end of the day, missions by these MI5 agents depend more on the abilities and sacrifices of individuals more than any deus ex macchina like an invisible car. The ultimate surprise of this Bond movie is the ultimate sacrifice, which reflects uncommonly high stakes compared to other franchise films these days.

Not just the series of the summer, but also the song.

Stranger Things S04
Last month I realized just how expensive my Netflix subscription has become. What was once a great bang for your buck had become a whole lot of buck for no bang. That is until the latest season of Stranger Things dropped bringing us more "Stephen King meets Steven Spielberg" vibes than we could ever imagine and the early song-of-the-summer, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, which was already the song-of-the-summer back in 1985. In this season, we find the cast spread out from California, to Indiana to the Soviet Union with multiple stories lines brought together in an over two-hour long finale. What we discover is that the evil from the Upside has persisted, the pre-teen friends' relationships are fraught by the challenges of their teen-age years and only by knowing what happened in the past can we see what to do on the road ahead. Be prepared to be shaken by cliff hangers and the fear of losing your most beloved characters. The Duffer Brothers, creators and directors of the series, are, in my opinion, worse than the villain Vecna, for how they manipulate us through nostalgic tunes, suspenseful endings, near misses and revelations. There is clearly only one answer: a fifth and final season!

Upon the death of the iconic Canadian artist David Blackwood, I wanted to revisit the NFB documentary showing his work and process that explores the stories behind some of his best known pieces. At just under 30 minutes, this is wonderful way to see Blackwood's impact on the art community in Newfoundland and find out more about him and his influences.

Barry S03
The finale was so fantastically shocking yet fitting that you are left wondering "Is that it?" but of course it is. Bill Hader, star, writer, creator, producer and director for much of the last season shows his wide ranging talent as a performer and a storyteller. The show follows Barry, played by Hader, who, as an ex-marine, has become a professional assassin yet longs to leave that business behind him. He discovers an acting class and despite all logic, believes he can leave his murderous life behind to become a full-time actor. Of course, it's not that simple. Those complications take him down further and further into an increasingly violent trajectory and each time he thinks he can extricate himself, it usually means more violence. It can only end badly.

Ben gets his groove back.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Until Ol' Ben Kenobi gets his groove back, this series treads water. Ewan MacGregor returns as Obi-Wan Kenobi who is seen living modestly, hiding his Jedi past. The hope was we find out what the character did between the time he delivered the infant Luke Skywalker to his aunt and uncle and to when he begins Luke Skywalker's training. Yet, rather than be about Kenobi's time in Tatooine's wilderness watching over young Luke Skywalker, we're shown why Princess Lea Organa trusted him so much. The young ten-year-old princess is kidnapped as a ruse by the Empire to draw out Kenobi from hiding yet there are too many moments that feel like filling time until we get the moment we've all been waiting for: the penultimate battle between Kenobi and his former protégé Darth Vader. This is a bit of a pattern with some of Disney's Star Wars stories. That is, not enough story. The Book of Boba Fett even abandoned the lead character Boba Fett for two episodes to follow Grogu ("Baby Yoda") and the Mandalorian rather than find something for Fett and his boring compatriots. Obi-Wan has no one else to turn to and as such there are too many empty and vapid moments that simply go nowhere. This could've been a 2-hour feature film rather than almost six hours of thumb twiddling.

Just your typical super-teen.

Ms. Marvel
Another fun and inclusive show that introduces Kamala Khan, a Muslim American teen with Pakistani parents living her life in New Jersey when she discovers she has super-powers. Ms. Marvel is a show that skews towards a younger audience and has a bit of a Saved By the Bell and Degrassi High feel to it. It's a bit corny and colourful and while the Canadian lead, Iman Vellani fills the role well, the show suffers from an odd lack of pace and purpose. Despite having her high school troubles, her mosque being a target of government surveillance, a trip to Karachi to discover her roots and learning new super-powers, it feels like there's hardly enough oompf to fill the show. I'm not sure if it was the underwhelming action sequences or the awkwardly listless story telling but there just wasn't enough here to hold your interest. Hopefully the show will improve because there's good bones, just not enough meat.

The Boys are back in town.

The Boys S03
Amazon Prime
This series, based on the comic books of the same name, is like the antithesis to Marvel's Cinematic Universe and DC's league of doom and gloom. In a world where superheroes are created by a corporation and held up as celebrities, we see what having people with super powers might really be like. Absolute power corrupts absolutely is the theme here. A group of supe's, as they are known, lead by Homelander (a sort of super-douchey Superman) have essentially become untouchable and do as they please. The small team of regular folk, known as The Boys are led by Billy Butcher and are determined to stop superheroes and the company, Voigt, by any means necessary. This show is the one I would recommend to anyone who dislikes the super-hero genre. It covers so much about the corruptibility of the powerful, the divisive politics in the world today, the shallowness of celebrity, the underlying destructiveness of capitalism and the audacity of racism. Oh, plus this is a very adult look at superheroes. There's cussing, sex and some very graphic gore yet there are many episodes with very little special effects of bombastic battle scenes and still, the story reels you in. The bad guys are obviously bad, but in this show, as in real life, the good guys are compromised and in the end we're left wondering if the ends justify the means. Also, I mean to justify that this series not end… just yet.

An Alan Zweig documentary that lets ex-cops tell their worst stories about their time on the force. On one hand, the trauma of the work is terrifying, on the other, the institution of policing is equally horrifying and with so little support given their officers, it's a wonder that anyone would ever want to stay a police officer. The interviewees seem sometimes unaware of the contradiction and at other times accepting of it. Zweig is no fly on the wall documentarian but his conversational style is one that invites his subjects to pour out their inner thoughts to the camera. Side note: there were enough anecdotes of officers picking up motorcycle helmets containing the rider's head to make me swear off of ever wanting to own or ride a motorcycle.


Russian Doll S02
This series about a woman, Nadia, played by show creator Natasha Lyonne, who was caught in a strange time loop in season one is back. In season one Nadia attended a party during which she would die, and wake every morning, resetting the day. In the process she repaired her relationships and herself. In season two, she gets caught in another bizarre time loop, this time, she rides a subway back 40 years where she tries relentlessly to fix a family rift and give insight into a personal mystery.

Marcel hits the road.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
A stop motion animated shell named Marcel and his quest to find his family who were swept up and taken away from their sock drawer safe space. This film began life as a short film online and the series of shorts garnered millions of views and fans. Marcel is funny, endearing and heartwarming. It may seem a little bit like Chicken Soup for the Soul, but Marcel is genuinely fun and is a wonderful respite from all the awful news of the world.

I'm Not Okay With This
Another teen-ager, coming-of-age drama/comedy cloaked as a superhero origin story. Sophia Lillis (who, after starring in It, seems on an inevitable star trajectory), plays Sydney, an awkward, introverted teen in a small town who slowly discovers she has some pretty incredible super powers. Unfortunately, controlling those powers is linked closely to her teen-age girl emotions. It's a fun little show but unfortunately it seems like its second season was a victim of COVID filming cancellations and Netflix budget cuts.

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