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.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Legacy of the Twelve Colonies Volume IV: Battlestar Galactica... There's a Starbuck Waiting in the Sky

Forgiveness, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. At least, that's what mom always told me. Learning to move on from any kind of sustained animosity or after being wronged is no easy feat for either the forgiver or the forgivee (unless either one of those parties is a complete sociopath, which in that case, problem solved, I guess), and in my own experience, forgiveness is almost always driven by some utilitarian purpose. This isn't a knock against any variety of situational pragmatism: in fact quite the opposite. Most important decisions in life tend to be made only when our hand is forced. (Or maybe I'm just an indecisive bastard.) Real life has a way of throwing curve balls; it's these changes in our personal situations that tend to act as catalysts for our really big decisions. And rightfully so. In life, as in film, we're often far better served by what we need rather than by what we want. And the contingency that serves as an impetus for driving decisions should also necessarily bleed over into the content of those decisions:

Like trust, respect, love, and making on offer on a house, forgiveness should always be conditional.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but essentially what I'm arguing for is forgiveness in the sense of accountability rather than forgiveness in the mystic sense of the Christian (or Cylon) tradition, which is tainted by this concept of absolution. People absolutely should be given second chances, but it's important to make this distinction between accountability and absolution. Accountability is a process of accepting responsibility for one's actions, and involves an effort on the part of the individual who wronged someone to better themselves and atone for what they've done; it's also a process that involves that individual's society (either on a macro or micro level) to work with and support them, and reintegrate them back into the group. Absolution, on the other hand, is an abdication of all responsibility by all parties to have to change or strive to do better; it's a surrender, in the worst sense of the word, of any kind of moral obligation for everyone involved, sacrificing the need to process uncomfortable emotions like hate, anger, guilt, or resentment in favour of a self-indulgent and immediate gratification.

Like much of the series, Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica doesn't shy away from difficult ethical questions like this. Season 4 was, in many respects, centred around this core theme of the pragmatism of forgiveness, and that divide between accountability and absolution. Well, that, and, of course, hot robot sex.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Deafening Sound of Silence and The Virtues of Failure: Why Everybody Lives by a Code and Nobody is Ever Completely Right

There are very few films I can recall that sent a chill down my spine after watching them, but as I sat watching the credits roll for Silence, I felt that familiar vibration creeping across my vertebrae. It wasn't that the story of two 17th Century, Portuguese, Jesuit priests travelling to Japan to search for their missing mentor who was rumoured to have rejected his faith while at the same time engage in missionary work themselves to promote Catholicism was some kind of a white-knuckle, thrill-a-minute adventure.

Quite the opposite, Silence was a (for the most part) quiet meditation on faith and spirituality by Martin Scorsese, who has wrestled with his own faith throughout his life. This has been a common theme in many of his films, probably most notably The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, which comprise the other two thirds of the unofficial Scorsese spirituality trilogy. Also notably, and kind of appropriately, the public response to Silence seemed a lot more subdued compared with Last Temptation or Kundun, both of which stirred up considerable controversy at the times of their release, with Scorsese even being banned from China for a time after the release of Kundun. I don't know if that's saying too much these days; if you sneeze in the wrong direction you're liable to attract the ire of the Chinese government (or, you know, if you're gay or a ghost, or perhaps worst of all, a gay ghost).

For some reason, despite his vast and varied catalogue of films, it seems that from recent online discussions, people seem to have superficially associated Scorsese mostly with subject matter relating to organized crime. Although several of his films do deal specifically with the Mafia or some type of organized crime, these specific settings and characters are a pastiche of what Scorsese witnessed growing up in New York, and a lens through which he explores themes and concepts that run a little deeper than whether snitches do, in fact, get stitches.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back... Again: There's a Little Reboot in All of Us

"Who wants a free joint?"

This was the call not of the wild, but of exactly the type of fan you'd expect to be in line at the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow. It was the equal parts depravity and generosity that would have made Kevin Smith proud; a true disciple, doing Alanis Morissette's the good lord's work (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). It was because of Mr. Smith and his collaborators that Ryebone and I found ourselves waiting in line outside in the snow in downtown Toronto at 9:15  in the evening on February 1, 2020, along with hundreds of our fellow anonymous compatriots. We were, in fact, suffering from the same mass depravity, being members of a Secret Society that has for countless years united people from around the world in peace, harmony, laughter, and blue smoke; we were Kevin Smith fans, and we were legion. 

My own initiation into this particular cultural club began back in my second year of university. It was a Saturday, and I was on the slow road to recovery from the worst night (that I can (partially) remember) of my university days. I had spent a good part of the night previous getting the most drunk (that I can (partially) remember) that I had ever been at my university's student pub with friends, and the remaining part of the night lying in bed vomiting all over myself and shivering in the dark waiting for the blessed release of the total black-out-drunk sleep that the sober can never really truly appreciate and the inebriated welcome enthusiastically.

I awoke to find myself and my bed drenched in the regurgitated food-stuffs that had been swimming around in the depths of me the day before and a weakness of mind and body I could not have imagined had I tried. By the time I managed to drag myself to the shower and stealthily strip my bed and get my sheets into a washing machine in the laundry room down the hall, it was already three in the afternoon. I was able to choke down a Pillsbury mini-pizza before my roommates--led by Ryebone--dragged me out to see a film that would forever alter the course of my destiny (even though I didn't know it yet):

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Go Then, There Are Quieter Places Than These

Pop quiz, hot shot. What's the first film that comes to mind based on the following description:

A group of isolated survivors try to escape from a group of strange, alien creatures that hunt their prey by sound alone. These seemingly unstoppable creatures stalk their prey relentlessly, as the survivors try to make as little noise as possible to avoid detection. Eventually, the survivors are able to fight back and defeat the creatures by exploiting their reliance on sound, the very thing that made them such effective predators to begin with.

If you said Tremors, you'd be right.

If you said A Quiet Place, you'd also be right.

I make the comparison not to try and point out that A Quiet Place is simply copying Tremors, because that's not the case. I just thought it would be clever to point out the similar concept unifying these two films (an eerily similar concept, if one were to be honest), though for most audience members (especially those of a certain age), I'm sure this comparison was (almost) immediately obvious.

I thought it was appropriate, because A Quiet Place is a movie that revels in its own cleverness. It wants us to know how clever Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) and his family are for using trails of sand and walking barefoot to cut down on sound when making supply runs in the town near the farm they call home. It wants us to know how clever Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) is for making a soundproof nursery and crib for when the baby she is expecting is born. It wants us to know how clever the Abbott family is for reducing the risk of causing sounds that might attract the creatures by removing all of the doors from their home and clearly marking with paint the creaky floorboards to be avoided.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

2019: A Year in Review

Like most years, 2019 seemed to pass by all too quickly, like KFC through your digestive tract. On their own, every moment seems so insubstantial, but each one bears the weight of each that preceded it, so that to examine one in any detail is to stare into that terrible abyss of all of the other moments that had to happen for that single one to come to pass. How many civilizations had to rise and fall, how many people had to die, how much cosmic chaos had to unfold just so that I could buy a couple more blu-rays or spend time at the finest amusement parks Canada has to offer?

The answer: a lot. I honour their memory in my own way and at my own pace, which is the only way one can, really. And so it is that I mark the passing of time with this rundown of some of my own personal memorable moments from 2019, that likely have no significance to anybody else in the universe.