Friday, February 03, 2023

Seen in January 

Your holy goofs.

Hibernation is in full effect and the upside of staying inside is being able to enjoy the many modern delights at our fingertips.

Mission: Joy (Finding Happiness in Troubled Times)

A documentary that examines the friendship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, two of the most respected voices for peace and spirituality we've known in our lifetime. What is obvious immediately is the great respect the two have for each other, and perhaps even mutual fascination as they discuss the difficulties each faced in their own lives. Another interesting outcome of their conversation is simply how similar the bigger questions of life are addressed by two very different religions and worldviews. The old adage, we have more in common than that which divides us, has never seemed truer or more obvious.

The Gray Man

A convict is chosen by a CIA handler because he saw something in him. A moral centre, or an ability to set his morals aside perhaps? Not a hired gun. Not an agent. Not good. Not bad. Something in between. Someone who works in the gray. Get it? This is a big action packed spy movie from the Russo brothers, with big name stars such as Ryan Gosling as Six, the assassin moving in the shadows who discovers some intel on a flash drive (eye-roll – have spies never learned of the dark web or secure servers?), oh and at some point he has to save a young girl as a promise or something. The agency sends a private psychopathic contractor, Lloyd Hansen, played with delight by Chris Evans, to capture and/or kill Six. The plot is so minimal it's often discarded or forgotten. This is a movie of spectacular shoot-outs, chases and intricate fight scenes. Judging from Rotten Tomatoes scores, audiences generally like such fare and critics do not. This film does not take itself too seriously and has some fun "meta" jokes, like when Evans issues a command for someone to "shoot this Ken Doll in the face!", referring to Gosling's character, who, by the way, will soon be appearing as "Ken" in the upcoming film, Barbie. If that's the sort of throwaway lines you like with your action, you'll enjoy this.

Brad Pitt, in a rare moment not surrounded by other stars, in Bullet Train.

Bullet Train
Amazon Prime

Another all out action offensive topped to the gills with fine and recognizable actors which is thin on plot but thick with action sequences. Brad Pitt is codename: Ladybug, who is tasked with retrieving a suitcase on a high-speed Japanese train. Of course, there are others who want the case. Two British toughs, named Lemon and Clementine (two more great actors, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry respectively) are transporting both the case and the son of a vicious mobster. A young woman (Joey King) wants the case as leverage against her intended target, another assassin has also been sent to steal the case and yet another criminal, from a Mexican cartel is there for revenge for his own family. While the film may have more plot complications than necessary, it's a funny, high-speed adventure, fun for the whole family - well, not the whole family, but the action-enjoying-adults in the family.

Everyday Staten Island vampire and his familiar.

What We Do in the Shadows S04

This household of Staten Island vampires keeps on entertaining. Some say it's not as "clever" as the original film but to those I say, "pish-posh", it's a funny and absurd show to be enjoyed like all-dressed potato chips — quickly and in large quantities.

Carmy realizing he might be in over his head in The Bear.

The Bear S01

Carmen Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) has inherited his family's Chicago sandwich shop after his brother commits suicide. Carmen practically grew up in the restaurant but left to follow his own path, becoming an award winning classically trained chef. Now he's determined to remake the restaurant and martial its staff, who are practically family to each other, into a top notch crew. No matter what he tries, it always seems like he's taking one step forward, two steps back. The chaotic circumstances of the place, its location, its staff and the razor thin margins of running a sandwich shop may be Carmen's undoing but with the help of his ambitious sous-chef, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), there might be a future and a second season. My only problem with the show is how it's continually described as a comedy-drama, but the only funny thing about the show is the lack of comedy. I don't see much of any comedy. This is more of a drama and a compelling and inventive one at that. You can't enter the show without feeling the tension and claustrophobia of a running a small, struggling family restaurant.

Welcome to Wrexham

What happens when two Hollywood A-listers decide to buy one of the world's oldest football clubs which happens to be in a bottom tier league in a small northern Welsh town. Rob McElhenney, creator and one of the leads of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Mythic Quest was, for some reason, determined to buy a sports club and when he discovers Wrexham AFC he falls in love with the idea of trying to lift a storied Welsh soccer club out of the lowest tier in British soccer. Somehow he entices Ryan Reynolds, who he only knows through a connection on Twitter, to join him. This is a documentary, in part conceived as a way to promote their endeavour and document their attempts at owning and running a professional sports club.

Satsuki and her new friend wait for the bus.

My Neighbor Totoro

This Miyazaki animated Japanese classic is full of wonder and feels. When I watched, there was a rare weather event wherein it was raining in my eyes. It's a story of two young sisters who move to the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recovering. Their father does his best but often the girls are left to their devices. While on their own, they befriend a forest spirit who finds magical ways to help the sisters. All of Miyazaki powers of storytelling are on display here, from the subtlest details to the wildly imaginative visuals, it's a treat and a wonderful entry to the Studio Ghibli film catalogue.

The Flying Sailor
A fantastical short based on the real tale of a British sailor who survived being blown 1.5 kilometres from the 1917 Halifax Harbour explosion. That explosion devastated the city and was responsible for nearly 2000 deaths but the Maritime Museum in Halifax recount this tale of the young sailor surviving being blown up into the air and out of his clothing and landing wearing only his boots. Is such a thing possible? What would it have been like?

Nuisance Bear
Youtube/The New Yorker
A short documentary about what happens when a polar bear takes too many strolls into town.

Youtube/The New Yorker
A short film about a woman who decides to learn to swim before she turns 80.

Heart Valley
Youtube/The New Yorker
A short profile of a 73-year-old Welsh sheep farmer as he shares his love for the valley where he was born and why he never left.

The inseparable, indomitable Garvey sisters.

Bad Sisters
Apple TV+

The five Garvey sisters are as close as any siblings you can imagine. They support each no matter what. Four of the sisters see just how abusive and damaging their brother-in-law John Paul (Claes Bang) is to their sister Grace (Ann-Marie Duff) and determine it would be better if JP were simply dead. Everybody dies, why not expedite the matter? The show begins with John Paul's funeral, so we assume one of them succeeded. Each of the four, Eva (Sharon Horgan), Bibi (Sarah Greene), Ursula (Eva Birthistle) and Becka (Eve Hewson) all have their reasons for hating JP. Bibi lost an eye to an accident he caused, Becka was promised backing in a business he then withdrew from, he's blackmailing Ursula and at work, he upends Eva's promotion (and then some). The man is simply a sociopathic top grade, a-hole. The dark humour of the show is evident the moment Bibi proposes her idea and the drama comes from the consequences of their choices which only worsens when an insurance agent, desperate to not make a big payout, investigates the claim. The fact that the women are all lovely and Irish only adds to the charm.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin

Two friends go separate ways when one decides he’s wasted enough time being nice to the other and would rather put his time to use creating something that will last longer than himself, his art, his music. This all takes place on a remote island while in the distance, on the mainland, the gunfire of civil war can be heard. In that way, this film is both a fable and allegory to the violence of war that divides us and is not unlike a form of self-harm as we turn against each other.

Chihiro is our hero.

Spirited Away

Chihiro is a young girl moving to new town with her parents when they miss a turnoff and wind up finding an abandoned theme park that resembles an old Japanese village. At some point the family enters a spirit world where Chihiro's parents are turned to pigs until Chihiro can find a way to set them free. To do this, the young girl must take a job with a witch who runs a magical bathhouse that is sort of a spa for spirits. Through her courage, kindness, and thoughtfulness, Chihiro befriends a dragon, the boiler man and others at the bathhouse and importantly, never forgets her name or her parents. The beautiful and wildly imaginative world Miyazaki creates is hard to explain but a joy to behold.

A whole lot of grieving going on.

All My Puny Sorrows

Two sisters, one, Yoli (Alison Pill), is a writer, the other, Elf (Sarah Gadon) is a successful concert pianist, have a close yet complicated relationship. They were raised in a free-thinking household in a conservative Mennonite community and were destined for things bigger than their communities elders appreciated. Their school teacher father suffered from depression and, when the girls were teens, he walked out on to the rail tracks near their home and killed himself. Years later, Elf struggles with the same issues and has attempted suicide. Yoli returns home to support her mother and look after her sister. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, this is a faithful retelling of the novel, but despite a fantastic cast that includes Mare Winningham as the mother of the two sisters, this film lacks the exceptional humour and grief of the book. I suppose it's cliché to say, "the book was better" but I guess my point is the film never really translates the story cinematically. OK, that sounds worse than the saying "the book was better" but the film lacks a kind of light and energy that the story has. The book is a marvel as an exploration of suicide and the struggles of both the survivors and the afflicted and though this film has some wonderful performances, it never really takes flight.

Do nothing. Stay and fight. Leave.

Women Talking

Did someone say great cast? This film is excruciating. It is hard to watch. It is devastatingly sad yet has moments of laughter and ultimately, joy and, I'll say it, love. Based on a Miriam Toews novel of the same name, the story is inspired by real events in which the women and girls of an isolated Mennonite community were routinely drugged and raped by a group of men in their colony. In this telling, while the men of the colony go to town to pay the bail for the accused men, the women gather in a hayloft to discuss whether to forgive the rapists, to stay and fight for empowerment or to leave the men and colony entirely. The discussion plays out like a debate of the violence of men and the fate of women in, not just this colony, but in society in general. They know they want be safe, free and maintain their faith and they know what they must do to achieve those things. The screenplay is adapted and directed by Sarah Polley who has created something masterful and shown how such a cruel story can be visceral, intense, lovely and visual. The difficulty of taking a book like this and telling it visually, onscreen, can not be understated. The incredible cast (Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Ben Whishaw and Frances McDormand) is also mesmerizing to behold. The film is nominated in the best picture category and Polley is nominated for the adapted screenplay but it's something of a crime to not recognize Polley's direction.


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