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Let me put my Force into you.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Then Along Came the Bad Batch

There is perhaps no modern mythology more compelling than the western, and no modern mythological figure more captivating than the cowboy. The term "western" itself is so ingrained in our cultural lexicon that nobody batted an eye when in reviews of the movie Logan, people started referring to it as a western or neo-western. The rest of us nodded along knowingly at this obviously deep insight into the cross-pollination of movie genres without giving a whole lot of thought as to what this analysis actually meant. On the one hand, iconography from the western genre and the archetype of the cowboy himself have become so ingrained in our understanding of storytelling. But on the other hand, I'm willing to bet a fistful of dollars that the majority of Logan's audience had never heard of - let alone seen - Shane, the 1953 classic western that's explicitly referenced in the movie itself and that many critics then compared Logan to in a series of seemingly endless online analyses (exactly the kind of cheap, short-lived dialectical trend I would never embrace).

The thing is, though, we toss around terms like "western" simultaneously knowing exactly what they mean, but not knowing at all what they mean. And I don't think it's enough to set the bar as low as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and simply resort to the dismissive and unhelpful ambiguity of "I know it when I see it." This is especially important when we talk about reimagining, deconstructing, or subverting genre tropes; before we can reasonably say that something has been deconstructed or reimagined, first we have to know how that thing is constructed or imagined in the first place.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

2020: A Year in Review

You're welcome, 2020.
For those of us who lived through 2020, it is our sincerest hope that we never encounter another of her like in our lifetimes. Normally, I wouldn't feel comfortable speaking for the entire world, but this is one of the rare cases where things went so terribly sideways, and the citizens of little planet Earth were united by the common desire for something or someone to fuck right off. In this case, it was the entirety of the year 2020.

But as 2020 proved, years aren't bad. People are bad. Not all and not fundamentally, but people are can turn lemons into lemonade or improvised explosives. Sure nature is uncaring and ambivalent, but it takes people to really turn things to shit.

The year 2020 was, of course, dominated by the life-altering effects of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which evolved into a global pandemic. It not only affected the lives of individuals, it shook the very foundations of our entire civilization. Or, at least, it exposed cracks already forming in the bedrock. Of course, the United States was a prime example of how a basic issue of health and safety could become politicized, but there are similar sociopolitical divisions that were laid bare all over the world.

We already knew that increased levels of stress and anxiety provide a toxic mixture that negatively impacts mental health, corrodes reason, and obstructs otherwise sound decision-making. But seeing it in action on a planetary scale is something else to behold entirely. As lock-downs and stay-at-home orders  were issued in nations the world over in an effort to maximize social distancing and stop the spread of an incredibly deadly virus, social media platforms like Facebook allowed for the large-scale dissemination of increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theories and outright lies and showed us exactly which family members and friends were most likely to break in a police interrogation or be the least help in a zombie apocalypse. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Mandalorian: For Every Character There is a Season

Every since Disney bought out Lucasfilm and announced their plans to carry on the Star Wars franchise, I've approached each new installment in the Star Wars story with a mix of trepidation and excitement. Like a junkie, part of me wanted to keep chasing that high I felt from the Original Star Wars Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy, to recapture that same feeling of wonder and adventure and excitement and strangeness like surprise incest or random '50s-style diners. But the rational part of my brain kept trying to tell me that Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm marked the end of an era, and that the high I was chasing didn't exist, and I should devote my energies to other, more fruitful pursuits, like developing the world's first mass-produced, consumer-grade flamethrower. Unfortunately, Elon Musk beat me to this totally useful and not in any way egregious misuse of humanity's finite resources in a world where people are literally going homeless and dying from easily treatable medical conditions in the richest country in the world, so I guess I'll have to go with Plan B: miniature bidets for cats and dogs.

The Star Wars content that Disney did put out has, for me, been an exercise in diminishing returns. I'm still not completely caught up on the animated shows, but for me, Star Wars has always been about the silver screen experience: the epic storytelling, the larger than life characters and plot, the cheer of the crowd, the crushing of the enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of the women. At the time I'm writing this, there've been five Star Wars feature films released under the Disney Regime so far: Episodes VII, VIII, and IX carrying on the main movie storyline, and two spinoffs set between Episodes III and IV of the main series, Solo and Rogue One. Out of those five, Episode VII: The Force Awakens was essentially a soft reboot of Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi stands with the best that Star Wars has to offer, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker keeps getting worse the more I think about it, Solo was a decently fun galactic romp, and Rogue One was the movie equivalent of a couple of kids playing with their toys for a couple of hours.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Running Low on Blood and Oil in East Texas... No Corpse is Completely Silent and No Chainsaw Can Drown Out Their Cries Completely

Death is, of course, the core anxiety that drives horror films. It's an experience that is fundamental to the human experience, not just in the sense of its inevitability as an endpoint for all of our journeys, but in the sense of how the knowledge of that inevitability shapes our perspectives and behaviours. This isn't any kind of groundbreaking proclamation; any first-year philosophy student could probably spout off entire passages from Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death verbatim like some kind of morbid mating call. Essentially, Becker argues that all of human civilization is, in one way or another, the result of humanity trying to cope with the anxiety that comes from understanding that some day we all have to cash in our chips.

To try and place horror films within this context is to ask that question that invariably comes up in discussions about the genre: Why do people enjoy horror movies in the first place? I'm not going to pretend that I can provide a definitive answer, but I have my own thoughts on the matter. Whether or not one takes Becker's theories about fear of death being the single organizational force behind the entirety of human society, it's undeniable that death is one of the fundamental anxieties that we have consistently grappled with over the course of our species' history. One has only to survey the storytelling tradition of the past five thousand years to see how prevalent themes surrounding death really are, followed closely by sex (hopefully the only time in your life you feel comfortable putting those two experiences in that particular order).

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Legend Never Dies: Sean Connery and the Inevitability of Change

Some of my favourite memories of my grandfather involve sitting around basking in the warm glow of the TV screen. Whether it was at family functions or those times when I and maybe one of my siblings was visiting for the summer, there was something special about going through stacks of movies and TV shows on VHS, making a bag of microwave popcorn, and then settling in, preparing ourselves to enter an entirely new world. I remember my grandfather had a particular fondness for James Bond, and so it was my grandfather who introduced me to the franchise (at least according to the hazy depths of my own memory, which I will grant is only as reliable as the next man's and subject to the same imperfections). Maybe it was just a coincidence of time and space, with the James Bond films originally having become a part of the cultural zeitgeist when my grandfather was still young enough to identify with the James Bond fantasy of the witty and charming secret agent who oozed confidence from every pore and crackled with sexual energy and old enough to need that kind of escape from the drudgeries of everyday life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Bourne Legacy: An Origin Story In Search of a Franchise

The worst thing about The Bourne Legacy is probably that it felt like a puzzle piece that was desperately jammed into a spot where it didn't belong in the wrong puzzle. I absolutely love the original Bourne Trilogy, which is probably why it took me so long to get around to watching The Bourne Legacy (eight years after the fact) and Jason Bourne (four years after the fact); I had such high expectations, that there was virtually no way that either of the straggling sequels could live up to them. And I was mostly right. Mostly.

Honestly, I really found myself enjoying The Bourne Legacy for the most part, though it lacked the depth and weight of its predecessors, but something about the whole movie seemed off, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. It was a little distracting, of course, having a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). It was a shame that things couldn't have worked out better behind the scenes, even if it was just to have a short scene at the end of the movie where Bourne shows up and meets Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the super assassin hero of Legacy, like at the end of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift where Vin Diesel makes a cameo and ties the adventure into the franchise proper. But that didn't break the film for me. No, what really stuck in my craw was that The Bourne Legacy seemed like it was an entirely new intellectual property which the powers that be decided to try and shoehorn into the Bourne franchise.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Feel Free at Any Point to Tell Me Exactly What the Poets are Doing... Centuries Ahead though Years Behind... The Tragically Hip and Landing the Balloon

Like most Canadians, I can tell you exactly where I was on August 20, 2016. The Tragically Hip was a staple of Canadian music for the last three decades, and whether you were an ardent fan of the band or merely the proud owner of a Canadian passport, it was impossible not to know who they were in this part of the world, especially in the summer of 2016. This was the summer of their final tour following the heartbreaking announcement that their singer and front man Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This is not the kind of diagnosis that I would wish upon my worst enemy, and whether it involves your grandmother or a Canadian icon, has a sobering effect like no other.

It was, in short, complete and utter bullshit.

Personally, I count myself as a fan of The Tragically Hip, so the news hit like a sort of record scratch in the soundtrack of my life. More than a fan, I guess. Gun to my head, if you asked me who my favourite band was, I would be hard pressed not to reply with The Tragically Hip. Certainly, they were the musicians whose library of songs I had put in the time and effort to learn the lyrics of more than any other. They're still the only band other than the Beatles that I could say with any degree of certainty that I could name all of the members off the top of my head. It's their music I tend to turn to most often, whether it's to help calm my nerves during the workday or if I need something to sing in the shower.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Talking the Talk... And You Can Quote Me On That

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls, sometimes seemingly more than our fair share. But every once in a while, it gives a little something back. We're often faced with challenging situations that put us in direct conflict with other people, whether we're having a heated discussion with a coworker on how best to tackle an assigned project or forced by our code of honour into a private war with a Colombian drug cartel to rescue our niece. Sometimes, shit happens. Luckily, though, one thing we don't have to worry about is how to respond, because thanks to over a century of filmmaking, we have distilled down all of our wisdom into witty one-liners that we can apply to nearly every conceivable situation. The following five quotes represent a small part of our collective cultural wisdom passed down from generation to generation, father to son, mother to daughter, onward through the ages, that are invaluably useful for a myriad of circumstances in which one might find oneself.

1. "You're going to need a bigger boat."

Often paraphrased as "We're going to need a bigger boat," this iconic line from Jaws is applicable in so many situations particularly because as a moderately intelligent species of hairless ape, human beings are often confronted with challenges that defy our comprehension, at least initially. This is simple shorthand to describe how insurmountable a problem might be with the current available resources,that a regrouping to reassess how best to tackle the situation might be in order. As one might suspect, this is useful input when facing any challenge for which any other initial assessment might not come readily to mind. This is best uttered with sheer awe for how incredibly impossible the task seems at first glace, maybe even with eyebrows raised while glancing at your band of gruff but trusty companions.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Movie a Day Keeps the Boredom Away: A Modern-Day Odyssey

About four months ago, my wife and I sat down to have one of those conversations that every couple dreads. Yes, it had come time once again to take stock of our finances. It wasn't that there was some seismic shift in our life circumstances like the loss of a job, a new child, or an inheritance from long-lost relative in Nigeria (still waiting on that cheque, Prince Abdulla). No, in fact, quite the opposite. Somewhere in between working, raising two kids, and completing an epic binge-watch of twenty seasons of Survivor to prepare for Season 40 which featured a cast of returning winners (#WinnersAtWar) we ended with a few spare moments to contemplate our own little micro-economy. 

We gradually realized, as though awakening from a long slumber and looking around groggily at our surroundings trying to find our bearings, that something was amiss. Things literally did not quite add up. When we actually looked at how much money we were pulling in combined from both our jobs, the number was actually quite a bit higher than we had thought. I know, it's a tough life we lead. It's not like we can retire early or start yacht shopping or anything like that, but we realized that we were getting dangerously close to that middle class sweet spot of achieving a level of income that could finally be described as "comfortable." 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Dawn of the Dawn of Justice... Again! Release the Snyder Cut with a Side of Mayhem

Every once in a while, the story of the making of a film can rival or even eclipse the actual film itself. Movies like Apocalypse Now and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote are examples of films that faced such legendarily troubled productions that they each spawned their own documentary films chronicling the sheer, nearly inhuman struggles that they faced and the Herculean efforts it took to overcome them. Now, Justice League of all movies will be joining that list, though its journey is far different, and truly a product of an age of unprecedented information and communication. It's also clearly the sign of an obvious glitch in whatever software that the universe is running for 2020, because it seems weirdly appropriate that the year of a global pandemic that has turned our little world completely on its head is the year that a seemingly impossible cut of a movie that was technically a financial flop was announced as not only existing but also being released after a second studio was dumping tens of millions more dollars into finishing up post-production just so the damn thing can be released. We bought the ticket, so now all that's left is to take the ride.