Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Seen in September 

Watching movies is still a great escape, just as it was in Branagh's Belfast.

Autumn brings The Toronto International Film Festival and with it, all the "serious" films contending for awards season, yet here at home, we watch what our heart tells us and not the critics. Sometimes, the heart is wrong.

Prey, sort of, but not really, a prequel.


A continuation of the Predator series (about a species of aliens with advanced technology are compelled to hunt) but this time the sci-fi horror thrill ride is set in the 18th century American Great Plains. Our hunting alien is on the trail of European trappers and a small band of Comanche hunter-warriors, one of whom is a young woman determined to be recognized as more of a hunter than a gatherer. It's a novel twist on a series that had at once created its own genre, yet fell prey to its own clichés.

Sure, there's love, and even thunder, but aside from a few gags, little else.

Thor: Love & Thunder

How strange. Taika Waititi took the Thor storyline from taking itself too seriously to making it a self-parodying joke. Too bad. Everything is trivialized for the sake of a gag. In the plot, Thor combats a once faithful follower who has discovered a way to kill all the gods. I thought "progress" killed the gods? We also find Thor re-united with his great mortal love, Jane Foster, who now has terminal cancer but is worthy enough to be able to wield Thor's broken hammer, Mjölnir to become as heroic as any other hammer-based super-hero. In the end, it's like Shakespeare wrote when MacBeth said after hearing of Lady MacBeth's death,
"…(it) is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

There are murders in the building, but it's such a nice building.

Only Murders in the Building S02

Season one ended with one of the main characters holding the bloodied body of a neighbour, which is the beginning of season two. This murder mystery comedy starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez moves at a great pace (even if sometimes the pace is chasing a red herring) which makes it highly "bingeable" and entertaining.

Dash it all, but this business of a French villa is all a bit rummy, if you ask me, old top.

Downton Abbey: A New Era

"Do I look like the type of a person who turns down a villa in the south of France?" The Crawley clan decamps to France to discover why a wealthy man would bequeath a villa to Violet. Lady Mary stays behind to oversee Downton that has rented for a new fangled film shoot in what becomes a very meta subplot (the family has rented the property for filming to pay for a badly needed roof repairs, much in the same way the real property made income from the filming of the Downton Abbey television series). For fans of the television series this film provides a satisfying wrap-up for this generation of the Crawley family. For non-fans… why are you here?

Jason Logan, Canadian inkmaker.

The Colour of Ink

A Canadian documentary about the Toronto based artist and designer, Jason S. Logan, and his work in creating non-toxic inks from natural materials. Whether he's creating an ink using black walnut trees from Queens Park, using soot to create lamp black, or travelling to Death Valley to find a pure red, Logan creates inks for artists using materials from a specific place and history (like his explorations using a Roman nail) and that context gives added meaning to the works they are used for. When he used sandstone from a University of Toronto college to create a red ink for Margaret Atwood, it reminded me of Patrick Süskind's book, Perfume, about a perfumer's apprentice who begins experimenting to create scents from doorknobs and fresh cut wood. Logan's experiments lead him to making a deep black from magnetite for a Japanese artist who wanted a black ink with a planetary mass, like Mars black, or a blue ink that contains traces of blood from a beloved pet. This documentary hit home for me as I've long played with the vagaries of ink (especially its relationship with paper and quills), and Logan himself is a designer and illustrator who not only bikes everywhere he goes in Toronto, but one of his favourite places to search for materials is one of my favourite places, The Leslie Spit.

Cat, Istanbul.


Documentary following the cats of Istanbul and the residents of the city who take upon themselves to look after these street felines. Not just cute cat time, but also a great tour of Istanbul.

Clay Dreams

A documentary about the "Father of Claymation" Will Vinton and how he created and lost his influential studio. In 1974, Will Vinton and a friend, Bob Gardner, created the Oscar winning animated short, Closed Mondays, about works of art coming to life while a museum is closed. Eventually, the two friends grew apart and as Gardener struggled with alcohol abuse, Vinton went on to create hugely popular ads such as the California Raisins and the Domino's Pizza character "The Noid". The success of those ads eventually led to television deals such as Eddie Murphy's The PJs. As the studio grew, Vinton's business acumen had essentially reached its limits and so he brought in a new CEO, which led to seeking outside investors such as Nike founder, Phil Knight, who only had one stipulation, that his son Travis be given a job. This, oddly, was the beginning of the end for Will Vinton. Just as the studio's success was reaching new heights, it came to a sudden halt. Their financial troubles worsened when a string of cancelled productions destroyed their revenues. It was then that Phil Knight stepped in and took control of the company and forced Vinton out with a puny $50,000 severance. Travis Knight, who in his time at the studio had become an accomplished animator went on to be a lead animator on the Henry Selick films Coraline and Corpse Bride and eventually was named the CEO of the renamed Laika Studios. For all of his energy, creativity and kindness, Will Vinton seemed unbelievably clueless to the business of the business he founded. I also find it weird that he found such success when the animation he produced was of such poor quality. Ironically, even if Travis Knight took control of the studio via nepotism, the new Laika Studios has created some beautiful and influential stop motion films that continue to entertain despite most companies moving to computer animation.

Father and son, in Branagh's Belfast.


Kenneth Branagh's retelling of how his family left Belfast in the midst of "The Troubles". The film begins with a romanticized version of a street of tightly knit townhouses mixed with Protestants and Catholics being jarringly disrupted by sudden violence. The family is shown as divided by a dilemma of staying or going yet in the end the decision is clear as greener pastures await them in England. The film is peopled by wonderful characters with actors in fine performances though, for me personally, I found the insertion of Van Morrison tunes throughout thoroughly annoying (just don't care for Van Morrison). There's also a wee bit of cliché montage of contemporary Belfast bookending the movie that felt like an advert from the Belfast Better Business Bureau that seemed unnecessary.

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