Sunday, March 05, 2023

Seen in February 

Angela Basset is everyone's favourite queen.

In the throws of an unpredictable winter, with rain, sleet, freezing rain, snow, but little sun, one finds comfort in what one can control. This is what I've seen and how I saw it. I hope you find something for yourself.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Another successful addition to the franchise. If that doesn't sound like a glowing film endorsement, it probably isn't. In many ways there are some inevitable plot points that had to follow the death of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the reveal that this film would introduce a novel take on the character of Namor led to some surprises. In the future someone may draw comparisons between this film and politics of this world where groups who appear to be allies, have their own conflicting agendas. In this film, Wakandans have been in neutral without their protector, Black Panther, meanwhile, the watery world led by Namor are making it known to mankind that they will not tolerate incursions on their world. While the writing has made clever connections between Wakanda and the re-imagining of Namor, who is a prickly character in the comics at the best of times, there's still a slight feeling of too much being packed into the story (for me). The film has a long run time and spends fully the first act dealing with Chadwick Boseman's death and how the characters in the film handle that grief. While I often begrudge the length of films beyond two hours, there is a case to be made that the extended time also gives the emotional space required for the viewer to feel the impact of the ending of the movie. It might be odd to talk about "emotional space" in a super-hero flick, but Black Panther is a different kind of super-hero movie.

Porco Rosso
Another fun Miyazaki animated film about a 1920s era pilot who is a sort of bounty hunter of the skies above the Mediterranean Sea. The pilot, for reasons not fully explained, was a handsome fellow, is now cursed as a anthropomorphized pig (who flies a red plane, thus the title Red Pig). I'm not sure explaining more of the story will help you. If you love Studio Ghibli films, you'll love this one. If you don't, well, we should probably talk.

Extraordinary S01
Imagine a world where everyone has a super-power. Some of those powers would seem familiar to comic book readers - super-speed, super-strength, invisibility, flight - while some are less, "super", like the ability to change your hair colour or to give anyone an orgasm at a slight touch. Now imagine, in this world, you are the only person you know without a power of any kind. Your lack of any special ability makes you sort of extraordinary. That's the premise for our protagonist, Jen, as a bit of a disappointing underachiever as she sets out to find her extra ability before she can move on with her life. The fact this series is British and that Jen is a foul-mouthed Irish twenty-something already adds about 20% to the fun factor. It's an irreverent take on the super-hero genre that's been tried before but maybe not landed as well.

Good Luck to you, Leo Grande
A widow and retired religious education teacher decides she hasn't had enough sexual experience so she hires a young gentleman whose specialty is um… well, sex. He expertly helps her with her problems yet when she wants to know him more and "help" him, things take a turn for the worse. There's a lot here to unpack, like maybe having a sexually repressed woman lecture her students on "dressing like sluts" isn't healthy for anyone. Or that our sexuality doesn't end with our youth or that we can never really make assumptions about who someone is based on what we see or even what they tell us. The two leads in this small, intimate film, Emma Thompson as Nancy and Daryl McCormack as Leo Grande are great and by the end, you'll want to sleep with both of them.

Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield and Donald Glover in Atlanta.

Atlanta S04
This series set in Atlanta about Earn (Donald Glover) and his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) making their way in business and cultural world of rap and hiphop is as revelatory, surreal and allegorical as the previous three. There is definitely less of a narrative arc between the episodes in the final season but I, as a white Canadian with Anglo Jewish ancestry, have found the show to be a great explainer, teacher, satirist, dramatist and humorist of the Black American Experience. It might lean to the male POV of that experience but even that is handled with a self-knowing panache. Not only does the show itself feel like "landmark" television but the leads, including LaKeith Stanfield as Darius and Zazie Beetz as Van, have all gone on to do great work elsewhere. The show overflows with talent and has a bristling intelligence not often found in such an entertaining package.

Alexsander Skarsgärd in The Northman, where "ab day" is apparently more important than a decent manicure or even a bath.

The Northman
From American director Robert Eggers, who previously made The Witch and The Lighthouse, comes another mystical and violent journey of madness and revenge. This story has a sort of Hamlet feel about it. Amleth (Alexander Skarsgärd) seeks revenge for the murder of his father (Ethan Hawke) at the end of his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) who after killing his brother, abducts Amleth's mother (Nicole Kidman). Amleth escapes the carnage, all the while muttering, "I will avenge my father and free my mother." The odd thing about this film is that while at times it feels like a Viking epic, it also, on occasion makes you wonder, "Really?" Just when we think Amleth could have his revenge, he retreats. When his mother sends him away, he is shaken. When he lays waste to his uncle's family, he retreats again, and just when you think his love (Ana Taylor Joy) has turned his heart, he again attacks. Each successive back and forth only weakens the urgency of Amleth's revenge or makes it seem less vital. I think this is a failure of Eggers in that he seems to take his characters beyond their journey only to double-back to try it again. Still, it's a loopy thrill ride on par with The Green Knight. Sometimes myths are just weird, you know?

Ghosts S01
A young couple, Alison and Mike, are longing for a home they can afford when a long lost aunt dies and leaves a rather grand mansion in need of repairs to Alison. Rather than sell and move on, the couple decide to renovate the place to create a luxury hotel in the English countryside. This is to the chagrin of the cadre of ghosts who inhabit the place. After having a serious head injury, Alison realizes she can now see the dead, including the many now haunting the inherited Button House. Much of the charm and humour of the show comes from its Britishness of its many characters. It was successful enough to inspire a less charming or funny American version.

Young Sammy Fabelman discovers the allure of moving pictures.

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielbergs re-imaging of his own youth and upbringing that led him to become one of the foremost American directors of his generation. Set in the 60s of Spielberg's youth, the movie relates Sammy Fabelman's high school years, the marital struggles of his computer trailblazing father, and his artistic mother, his overcoming anti-Semitisim from his classmates and his rejection of college to pursue a career in filmmaking. Like many other Spielberg films we can see or feel the master at work. There's clearly a profound talent at the helm of this story. For me watching a Spielberg movie is like seeing a master craftsman make a beautiful ukulele rather than the Stradivarius violin you know he could make. There's always more popcorn than steak, which is fine. There is a streak of sentimentality in Spielberg's work that will always hold it back. Yet, the nostalgia and sentimentality are appropriate for such a personal story, one that we're glad he finally got around to telling. A favourite moment in the film has to be when storied American director, David Lynch portrays storied American director John Ford telling storied American director Steven Spielberg what makes a shot interesting.

A black kite examines their captor/rescuer.

All That Breathes
A documentary about two brothers in New Delhi who run a wildlife hospital for injured birds, mostly kites, who are a neglected but important part of the local ecosystem. They persevere through financial troubles, power outages, floods, sectarian violence and protests to take care, mend, and rehabilitate dozens of birds they've rescued. Seeing this beautifully filmed doc you realize not just how fragile life is in our polluted world during a climate crisis and efforts to stem the tide of the loss of species depends on the dedication of just a handful of people already pushed to the brink.

Oscars Animated Shorts

Each year a program of the Oscar nominated short films appears at the TIFF Lightbox theatre. Three different programs are put together, one for the documentary shorts, one of the live action shorts and one for the animated shorts. These films rarely get seen outside of specialty film festivals so I'm always grateful for these programs. The animated films this are:

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
A beautifully animated in a sort of digital 'pen and ink' style, this is from a British book feels fashioned from a Brené Brown lecture of daily affirmations, as if told by a young boy, a mole, a fox and a horse.

The Flying Sailor
Based on the purportedly real story of a British sailor who survived the Halifax Explosion of 1917 after being blown almost 2 kilometres from the dock. He was found alive, naked, wearing only his boots. It's a fantastical re-imagining of what being thrown two kilometres through the air might be like. As this is a Canadian NFB production, it's of course my favourite if unlikely to win.

Ice Merchants
Similar to The Flying Sailor in it's more traditional style and fantastical open interpretation, this little film depicts a man and his son living on the side of an icy mountain, making a meagre living making ice until that is no longer viable.

My Year of Dicks
A comic retelling of a young woman's quest to lose her virginity in five parts. The loose, sketchy, funny style gives this piece a personal and intimate feeling.

An Ostrich Told Me the World is Face and I Think I Believe It
A stop motion short wherein one of the characters has a "red pill/Matrix" moment when he begins to wonder if the world he inhabits is real, or under the control of an evil overlord or animator.

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