Citizenfour (2014, Laura Poitras)

Categories: Movies.

Like many of you, I paid attention to the Snowden leaks when they came out – as much attention as I could – and have followed The Intercept and others about the surveillance state since that time. But, on the other hand, my process of making my own life less accessible to the surveillance state has been a case of one step forward, one step back: every time I do something to make my life more private, I stop doing it after a few days or weeks. (Though I do pay for most things in cash and don’t own a Read More

John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski, David Leitch)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

This is a revenge film that takes place in a bizarre universe in which all the hitmen I (and hitwomen!) hang out at the same hotel and club. That is a ridiculous conceit that would bother me if the movie around it wasn’t entertaining. I mean, why wouldn’t the police (virtually non-existent in this film) or the gangsters who want to kill the hitmen, just blow up the hotel? Read More

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

Categories: 2014.

I think I like this more than the first movie, though I can’t necessarily identify why. One thing that differentiates it from so many other current super hero movies is that the enemy at the end of the film isn’t some ridiculous, world-destroying force or space monsters, or whatever. So that’s something. But there are difficulties: I agree about the criticism regarding Black Widow – she sure feels dependent on the Cap’n and some of the other male characters a lot of the time. Also, the dating talk…for fuck’s sake. This movie is already so long but it needs a Read More

Bird People (2014, Pascale Ferran)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This film tells the stories of two people who accidentally meet. In that sense, it is much like numerous other films that tell individual stories and combine them with chance meetings. Only this one has a fantastical twist hinted at in the title. Why it has that twist I can guess at but I’m not sure one story having the twist and the other not adds anything to the film. Rather, why have both stories, when you can just have the one? This film is just over two hours but is deliberately paced and feels considerably longer and, when you Read More

The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young (2014, Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane)

Categories: 2014, Movies, and Sports.

This is a very conventional documentary about one of the craziest races you’ll ever hear about. Not only is it insane (somewhere between 100 and 130 miles in 60 hours, over hills and through the woods) but is run in such a kooky way. Part of the appeal of this film is the sheer accomplishment of these people – I could never do anything like this, I’d merely be able to complete 1 loop walking and then I’d be done like dinner. But the other part is the sheer kooky traditions of the race – the conch shell that gives Read More

71 (2014, Yann Demange)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a mostly stellar thriller set in Belfast in 1971. I think this would have been an exceptional movie had a surer hand with more experience directed it. Though tense, I can imagine a better (or more experienced) director making a more tense film. While I’m at my nit-pikcing, the framing device of the child feels incredibly inauthentic for 1971. (Were their single parent British privates serving in Belfast then? Maybe, but I doubt it. There might have been one.) But otherwise this is a pretty great first film and I look forward to seeing what the director does Read More

Ian Sabourin Counter Tenor (2014)

Categories: 2014 and Music.

I was sitting on a bench waiting for Jenn to leave her work when I heard this incredible voice (a counter tenor, it turns out) all around me. I thought it was coming from multiple speakers, it was so powerful. After looking around a bit, I saw a young man singing. What impressed me particularly was how he was using the building to resound his voice. I mean, we were on Bloor street. You’d think the voice would have just disappeared into the rush hour bustle. Anyway, I bought his CD because it’s pretty rare that I’m startled by a Read More

Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger (2014, Joe Berlinger)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Somebody once said, it’s not integrity that matters, it’s the perception of integrity. One of the reasons people freak out at the more minor of political scandals – the ones where there are only hints of impropriety, or where bureaucrats or politicians are accused of over-spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when the budget is in the billions or higher – is that the assumption of integrity, the appearance of integrity is violated. We are supposed to be able to trust our government and the perception of corruption is, in some ways just as bad as corruption itself. Read More

Iris (2014, Albert Maysles)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I struggle to view fashion as a true art. I don’t wear clothes so people will look at me or think about me. I wear clothes because of social convention and because I live in Canada. But as I get older I recognize that a substation section of the population does view clothes as art. And some of these people have interesting things to say. One of these people is Iris Apfel, New York “style icon.” She’s an interesting woman and I can see the appeal. The film around her is kind of directionless, like so many of these movies Read More

Merchants of Doubt (2014, Robert Kenner)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a compelling film about how corporations and lobby groups use pundits to undermine scientific consensuses that would otherwise hurt their profits. The examines the bag of tricks both the tobacco industry and the oil industry have used to fool the American public about both the short and long term health risks of the use of their products, including making the conversation about economics, not science, and outright lying about scientific studies and consensus. Read More

A Most Violent Year (2014, JC Chandor)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Chandor’s skill is that he can take realistic situations that seem like might not have enough drama for film and turn them into gripping films. Like the best filmmakers of the American Renaissance, Chandor can take wrest drama and suspense from something like minor corruption. This is a film that unwinds slowly, so slowly that it is hard to see the descent at times, much like in real life. And instead of having a romanticized mob world of ’80s New York, we get a vision of the moral costs of doing business as usual. This is a fine film and Read More

Drone (2014, Tonje Hessen Schei)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a brief but compelling examination of the issues around the United States’ use of drones for “targeted killing.” It is a pretty conventional talking head documentary merged with a conventional documentary of the style where they follow people around, but the subject matter and a number of the interviewees are compelling enough that this doesn’t matter. I for one haven’t seen the issues summarized in a better, more accessible fashion, so this film is appreciated. 7/10 Read More

Janacek: Glagolitic Mass, The Eternal Gospel (2014) by Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tomas Netopil

Categories: 1914, 1927, 2014, and Music.

This set collects two of Janacek’s choral works, a mass and a cantata. The setting for the Glagolitic Mass (i.e. the Mass is in old Slavic) is a great, bombastic thing. This is the original version, which is apparently performed less frequently. I always find masses the most dense of orchestral music and have a hard time digesting them in just three listens, but this thing just pulsates with seemingly radical ideas – certainly radical for church music. It’s among the cooler 20th century masses I’ve heard (though I haven’t heard many). The Eternal Gospel is a triumphant but modern; Read More

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014, Mary Dore)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This film gives an overview of the rise of the feminist movement in the United States. It’s a film that both attempts to show accomplishments of the movement and focus on some of the players who may not get as much acknowledgement. It’s an important story. But I found the scope of it to be perhaps a little too broad (or the film not detailed enough, I’m not sure) and the focus on movements in four American cities to be kind of myopic. But it’s worth watching. 6/10 Read More

Non-Stop (2014, Jaume Collet-Serra)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is one of those Liam Neeson action movies. It’s also one of those thrillers set on a plane. And like so many of both of these types of movies, if you think about it for a moment, everything falls apart. I can’t tell you how many things are wrong with the plot of this movie because there are so very many. It’s one of those films where so much doesn’t make sense, from the plot, to the motivations of everyone beyond a couple of the characters, to the response to the absurd plot, which is equally absurd. But the Read More

The Quest for a Moral Compass (2014) by Kenan Malik

Categories: 2014, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I have been reading Malik’s blog for more than a few years at this point (I think), in part because I feel like he has much greater insight into the issues around jihadism than most of the people writing in North America (who I’ve had a chance to read). I find his approach not only measured – which is refreshing – but also imbued with a strong knowledge of the various cultures at play, and a knowledge of history. It is for this reason that I got this book. To be honest, I was initially quite disappointed. I am not Read More

Mad Men (2007)

Categories: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and TV.

I watched Mad Men over an even longer period than most of you, so my memory of the individual episodes is not perfect. I know there were some weaker ones in there, and there even parts of seasons (perhaps even whole ones) that I didn’t enjoy on the level of the best parts of the show. But I want to talk about the show as a whole, and not dwell on its occasional missteps or the fact that it ran on too long (like most other American TV shows…). Read More

American Experience: The Poisoners Handbook (2014, Rob Rapley)

Categories: 2014 and TV.

This is a fascinating history of both the emergence of forensic science in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, but also of homcidal (and accidental) poisonings in NYC. It’s a useful reminder about how much we take for granted in the criminal justice system but also in our food and other safety laws – we’re protected now, but we once weren’t, when people were able to sell radium-based “tonics” and cosmetics, for example. (Jesus tapdancing Christ.) Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and it’s on Netflix. 8/10 Read More

The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Hype is a dangerous thing, as I have noted more than a few times in the past. Hearing too much about a movie ahead of time can unwillingly alter your expectations, even without your knowledge. And so I find myself watching yet another movie I’ve heard too much about, with out-sized expectations. Maybe if I hadn’t even heard of it, though, I would still have issues, as there are multiple quotes from famous horror figures about how this movie is super terrifying, or whatever. SPOILER ALERT Read More