Saturday, January 14, 2023

Seen in December 

Mysterious cloud formation in Nope. All images via The Movie DB.

There was a time in Christmases past, when I would walk down to Film Buff Video and take advantage of their 5-disc, one-week rental deal. I'd usually get a couple of popular blockbusters, a couple of classics and one, if not more, serious "art" films. One year I watched, Kung Fu Panda, Ran, Andrei Rublev, My Man Godfrey, His Girl Friday, Our Man in Havana, Sullivan's Travels, and It Happened One Night. I guess that year I was watching a lot more older films than blockbusters. At Christmas I tend to enjoy watching old favourites, like a bunch of Bond films, The Harry Potter series or The Lord of the Rings. Yet this year, after watching only one LOTR we realised that watching over nine hours of films excludes nine hours from everything else on the "watch and/or To Do list", so we ditched it and moved on. A wise decision it was, my Precious.

Breaking and re-making black cat stereotypes in Luck.

Apple TV+

Sam, a young woman who grew up in an orphanage, has perhaps the worst luck in the world. Yet, for all her terrible luck, all she wants is a little good luck for her young friend back at the orphanage to find her "forever family". Despite her bad luck (which, if I'm being honest seems a whole lot more like clumsiness and lack of spatial awareness), she finds a lucky penny, which she immediately loses. While trying to recover the blessed coin she stumbles (fortunately) into the Land of Luck. Here's where her adventure really begins. As far as kids movies go, this is as fun and thoughtful as anything you might expect from former Pixar directors, producers, writers who have now set up shop at Apple. I thought the premise was a bit weak but they still made an entertaining film. But I'm more from the sports school of "Luck" - you've got to be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky with a dash of "some people make their own luck".

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

OK. I can't believe I watched this, but on watching it, I was more surprised they made it. The Marvel folks made an hour long Christmas-themed show with the characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy but don't despair nor get too excited. The premise is Mantis (Pom Klementieff) wants to provide Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) with the ultimate Earth Christmas so she convinces Drax (Dave Bautista) to travel to Earth to bring back Peter's idol, Kevin Bacon. There's comedy, sci-fi action and most importantly and somehow unexpectedly, singing. While this is no Star Wars Holiday Special (which is famously cheesy and terrible) it still is a bit too silly to be anything other than the odd curiosity that it is. I was going to say it was a "cash grab" but as this special clearly cost a bundle to make, and went straight to Disney's streaming service I have no idea exactly what cash there was to grab.

A one-eyed doctor, a nurse/heiress and a Black American Lawyer walk into a bar…in Amsterdam


Listed on some "worst films of the year" lists, I can still find plenty to recommend here. One serious problem is the distractingly large number of cameos (Chris Rock, Taylor Swift, Timothy Oliphant, Ana Taylor Joy, Rami Malek, to mention a few) in the cast from this film by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook and many others). Christian Bale, John David Washington and Margot Robbie star as three friends who bonded during their time recovering from the War in Europe (WWI). Robbie and Washington briefly enjoy a romantic bi-racial relationship that while tolerated in Amsterdam would be unacceptable in the States. Bale is a Jewish doctor whose own eccentricities have seen him fall out with his fiancé's father and respectable Manhattan medical circles. Through their fundraising and activism of veteran's rights the trio stumble into a fascist plot to overthrow the American government which is more of a backdrop to some madcap adventures than saying anything interesting. It's fine enough entertainment even it fails to provide anything deeper and it doesn't deserve to be considered on any "worst films" list.

Dwanye Johnson holds up his end, and everyone else's before dropping them, in Black Adam.

Black Adam

Another film listed as among the year's worst that isn't really that bad. Seemingly forever in the making (the years long buildup and release of photos went on for ages) this is Dwayne Johnson's super-hero debut as Black Adam, who is considered an anti-hero for the way he thoughtlessly kills baddies (usually by carrying them to a great height and dropping them). The character was born thousands of years ago when victors vanquished foes to dust, so he's really just a man of his time. Set in a fictional middle-eastern country, Black Adam, born a slave until granted super powers, is a welcome opportunity to have a hero with Superman-like abilities who is a person of colour fighting for an oppressed people but in the bluster of these kinds of films, subtlety is sort of thrown out the window for spectacle. Johnson was made for this kind of role but as part of the Shazam family of characters, there is a built-in cosmology and corniness that may be difficult to overcome (although DC did so, much more successfully with the Billy Batson character in the film Shazam). For all that may be wrong or right with this movie, I found the supporting characters were the real problem including this version of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) who is portrayed more like a spoiled, egotistical pro-athlete who doesn't seem to understand exactly how out-matched he is. The greater problem with this movie is the underlying DC Comics DNA which always had overly earnest heroes fighting for the American way, whether they were fighting in Kansas or on the moon.

I'm not sure I understood anything, anywhere at any time, but it's a whole lot of fun.

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Amazon Prime

Here is a unique thing. A film with both critical acclaim that is also widely popular with audiences. On the surface, this is a film about a woman, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), who can't seem to complete her taxes and is on the cusp of being audited by the IRS while she attempts to keep her dry cleaning business afloat, look after her aging father (the great James Hong), deal with her argumentative daughter's demand for independence, and address her feckless husband's wish for a divorce. I can't decide if her adventure in the meta-verse actually happened or was an allegory for one woman's struggle to balance her multitudes as business owner, daughter, wife and mother while never fully letting go of her own ambitions. Not that it matters. It's a full out action comedy and family drama rolled into one wild ride. At some point I had no idea what was happening or how one scene connected to another but once I let that go I found myself rooting for Evelyn to win the day (whatever that meant). One thing I realized too late was that the multiple universe's Evelyn jumped between were not so much alternate realities as much as influential films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or In the Mood for Love. Now that I think about it, maybe all those dimensions were really just different films from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai?

The gang's all here in Glass Onion.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Another film with high marks from both critics and audiences, this is the second murder mystery from director Rian Johnson starring Daniel Craig as American detective for hire, Benoit Blanc. I'm not familiar with the books but these films feel like the Agatha Christie adaptations of yesteryear for a new generation. Every cast member is a cameo of some sort and there's an overly complicated plot full of twists, asides and flashbacks. Despite all the tropes and clichés, it's still a fun film full of delights.

Emerald and OJ bond over the mystery above their ranch.


It seems films from Jordan Peele are impossible to quantify either because he sublimates, bends and blends so many different genres or because he has kind of created his own genre, one that often includes horror, comedy and science fiction in such a way as to expose social issues of race and class that are at once obvious but also little discussed. A brother and sister, OJ and Emerald (Daniel Kayuula and Keke Palmer) try to mend their own relationship and keep their father's ranch and Hollywood stunt business going. In the meantime, they find their quiet spot outside of LA is being visited by a mysterious cloud above the hills that hasn't moved. Not a fan of horror? Don't worry, it's not so scary. Not a fan of sci fi? I can't help you, yet the wonder of this film only grows for me.

The adorable, heartbreaking and uplifting stories of Scarborough.


This is probably one of the best Canadian English language films of the year, or even the last decade. Scarborough, based on the book of the same name, follows three disadvantaged kids spanning the spectrum of societal difficulties. Kids from single parent families who are immigrants, indigenous families, from families suffering with addiction, disabilities or the working poor all come together in a story of friendship, loyalty, family, racism, hate, love and resilience. The film focusses on three kids from similar but very different backgrounds with different challenges. My only small issue with this film is that white people are not well represented here, and I don't mean there aren't white people in the story, just that, for the most part, anyone who is a villain, or being a jerk, or predator, or perpetrator of violence or bias, is going to be white (especially white males). I'm not here to defend "whiteness" but sheesh… Of course, so many films fail by virtue of white saviour syndrome, but this is one that may have a bit of a white devil problem. Despite the bleakness and heartbreak of this film (no film has ever captured the utter ugliness of Toronto and its burbs more openly), there are moments of joy and sweetness. It's not an easy film to watch (and certainly not the most Christmassy) but it is definitely a worthy film and one that will leave you seeing how the cracks in our education, health and welfare systems easily become chasms to those who have to navigate them.

Cat Daddies

Apparently, unknown to me and my many male friends, there is a perception that men do not like cats and if they do they are either mentally unstable, overly feminine or somehow not "manly". As I've said, I, nor my many guy/bro/dude buds have ever shied away from liking cats. Perhaps the idea of a man out fishing or hunting with his dog is a well known image, but who is to say that very same fisherman or hunter did not have a cat at home that was busy doing something else that day. In any case, this documentary takes it upon itself to dispel the myth (if such a myth exists) of men not liking cats to show us many men, such as firemen (again, is the firehouse cat not as much as a cliché as the firetruck Dalmatian?) or techies, or policemen or stuntmen who all enjoy the company of their cat or cats. It's a charming film that even introduces us to a man with poor health living on the street with his best friend, his cat. There's plenty of fun and heartwarming cats to take in and the film also shows just how absorbing a well made documentary on simple subject can be.

The subject poses with her large photo-mural portrait.

Faces, Places (Visages villages)

The (second) last film of French director and film icon, Agnès Varda is a collaboration with the much younger French artist JR (a photographer best known for his street art wherein he plasters very large black and white portraits onto buildings and such). The French title, Visages villages, seems slightly more accurate as the pair travel throughout France meeting fascinating yet ordinary folk in small villages and towns, taking their portraits and elevating them in size and stature by creating large scale murals using JR's famed technique. I was unaware of who JR was and suspect of him (in the film, as in life he never removes his sun glasses or porkpie hat) but he is disarmingly charming and has a noticeable affinity and ease particularly with older people. When we meet JR's grandmother we see the special bond they have and it's obvious why he has such a comfortable interaction with seniors. It's also very clear that average French people in general are interested and open to helping out a pair of artists as they play with images. This film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017 and made much of a hullabaloo at TIFF that year as well. While it's enjoyable and interesting it does have this annoying (to this viewer) French habit of adding wholly unnecessary voice-over, in the stilted, affected, but weirdly unprofessional narration that is reminiscent of a 1960s Jacques Cousteau excursion.


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