Monday 28 July 2014

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason-able blogging

Short of my recent post on Lucy, I've been missing from the old blogosphere for a good solid 4 months. Looks like things have continued on without me well enough, but this was easily my longest break since I started scribbling my opinions on the Internet. So what happened? Nothing really...There's no big dramatic story here. No period of self-reflection followed by life-changing revelations. No turning point event that has altered my view of what life is about. And (fortunately) no major family tragedies.

Sure there are trials and tribulations like everyone else. My folks are getting older and life is getting a bit harder for them both (we as a family need to figure things out in the next 6-12 months), but it's far better than 2011 - a bad year when we lost several friends, my beloved Aunt and almost my Dad. So grand scheme of things? Life is good. I like my job (most days), I love my wife, and my son (just turning 14 - how the hell did that happen?) is the absolute best thing ever.

So what's wrong with me? Along with this dearth in posting (I can never quite get to the point where I call it "writing"), there has also been a major drop in the simple act of watching film. As of right now, I've seen 134 films this year (theatrical, DVD, BluRay, streaming) including new, old and rewatched movies. That's abysmal for me. I've usually hit that number before the end of the first quarter. The simple answer is that I've been focused on other things:

  • In the sidebar, my little lame "About Me" section says that music occasionally crowds out film as my number 1 obsession. Well, that's certainly been part of the shift...After getting myself an Rdio subscription, I've been diving into my lists of albums I've always wanted to hear, slowly making it through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (I'm not getting much younger you know) and keeping reasonably on top of 2014 releases (Mogwai, The Souljazz Orchestra, Moonlit Sailor, Djam Karet, Tycho, Gord Downie & The Sadies, Collapse Under The Empire, The War On Drugs, Kongos, Manchester Orchestra, Band Of Skulls, Against Me!, Broken Bells, Lost In The Riots and Bob Mould would make a nice Top 15 at this stage).
  • Work has never been busier for me. Note, that's not necessarily a complaint. Oh, there have been moments of absolute frustration, but also some of great satisfaction. Since February, it's been a much more devoted focus during the day and spots of additional work at home in the evening. I'm fine with that, but it nibbles at the free time and makes my brain crave some respite.
  • The Boy too has been snatching more and more of my cycles - again, not a complaint! He's been wanting to watch more movies with me (usually ones I've seen, but that's good) and has been trying to push his film boundaries to match with what the Internet proclaims are the best movies ever (ie. mostly male dominated films slightly above his pay grade). It's been great as we typically go back and forth between something I think he should watch and something he wants to watch. I should probably take a stab at a post on that sometime soon...He's also going to bed a bit later which means he commands the basement (where the computers and video game systems live comfortably next to the DVD collection and TV) for longer periods of time in the evening. Again, I've no issue with that as it was completely expected and somewhat of a design point. We don't have the biggest house in the world, so we wanted him to have some space. It also allows him to have his buddies over for weekend (and mid-week in the summer) movie or game nights. And having your child comfortable with having his friends over is gold.

When I was watching movies during this time, I would often think of little tidbits I'd like to post (the many different things being fired by men in The Hidden, my son's reactions to what he watches, etc.), but then 2 things would happen: 1) I'd feel like I should actually be watching something instead of blogging (so much to see) and 2) the process of typing up a post would start to feel a bit like homework. There's another side to it as well - is anyone really reading? Over the last few years my hit counts have been bottoming out (rightly so in that I haven't been providing consistent updates or content) with most hits coming from Google Image searches (I've always been a bit image heavy). It's somewhat self-propagating as I wonder what came first: the lower hits or the dropoff in posting? Also, there's been quite the change in landscape since I first started tossing out my missives back in 2007. It used to be much more of a - dare I say the word? - community (at least for me). There was a set of bloggers who sought each other out, commented on others' posts, discovered new sites/writers and pulled them into the ranks, etc. I'm overstating it somewhat, but there was much more daily contact with other people who wanted to discuss film. And by far that's been the most enriching part of this whole experience - the many friends I've made. Both the virtual online folks (a few of which I've managed to meet in the flesh) and the countless Toronto bloggers, writers and film buffs who have become a pretty damn important part of my life.

But it is different now - or at least it feels different. There's more emphasis on being FAST with your opinion. It's less about sharing and questioning, but a bit more about telling and marketing. Seeing a new release on opening night? Too late...You've already missed the boat if you didn't catch the preview screening. The conversation may already be done. I could blame Twitter, but that's too easy and likely only a bit of the reason. Also, Twitter can be a fantastic tool at quick connections and is particularly invaluable during a film festival (sharing your early impressions of films you've just seen, getting immediate reactions about ones you're hearing rumours about, and finding moments to meet up with others). I'm equally culpable during these periods in trying somewhat to be first out of the gate - the credits are still rolling and I'm trying to put together my 140-character "bon mots" about a movie that no one else has seen yet. But hey, it's pretty cool to get re-tweeted by a filmmaker or distribution company, so I will totally cop to that.

So this is really all apropos of nothing...That's just the new landscape. I never expected or even wanted to be a full time critic, so it's not like dreams are shattered for me. I have friends putting in the hours and the work to try to make it. I respect the hell out of them (and the other online critics and writers) as they make progress and even seem to occasionally enjoy it. The job does come with some new and necessary skills though: doing self-publicity and working social media. Neither are my forte, so it only increases my appreciation of those who do it well.

But as I've started getting back into the viewing habit over the last couple of weeks, I have a bit of an urge to start jotting down a few thoughts along the way. Though I have no expectations that I might do it on a consistent daily basis, I have been missing it...So even though I'll always have competing interests, obligations and distractions, I certainly plan to carve out some time for writing. Or whatever it is you might call this...

Thursday 24 July 2014


In response to those grumbling about the experience of watching Lucy (Luc Besson's latest big effects action film - this time with Scarlett Johansson as the kick ass lead), I'm of two minds...Going in to the movie, I was simply hoping it would at least be a somewhat fun trifle of a summer flick on the order of Limitless. On that scale, it hits its target the majority of the time (though you'll have to decide for yourself if it deserves bonus or penalty points for its rather kooky ending that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Isaac Asimov and part "You've gotta be kidding me..."). However, I can't help but think about what the film could have been...How it could have explored the nature of the brain from Lucy's perspective and touched on how the organ evolved, continues to do so and manages to have such a vast array of amazing abilities and structural flaws. That probably would have departed drastically from what I hoped for going in, but the possibility is just so tantalizing...

The movie you do get is patently ridiculous. That's OK though - even though it's not overly thrilling, has laughable science, is best when no one (except maybe the always menacing Choi Min-sik) is talking and has CGI effects that get in their own way sometimes, I'll be damned if I wasn't at least somewhat entertained. Most often that was due to the built-in ridiculousness, but at some point it's easy enough to roll with the whole thing and realize that it's just one of "those" movies. As it slowly but surely ramps up the silly, it lets you reset your approach to it, laugh with and/or at it and then settle back with a bit of a grin on your face.

To its credit, the story doesn't waste much time at all in jumping into the thick of things. Within a few minutes, Lucy has been tricked into delivering a suitcase to a Korean businessman in a swanky hotel lobby and before you know it, she's been snatched upstairs and forced into a drug mule operation. The new drug in question (synthesized from a chemical that pregnant mothers transfer to their still developing babies) purports to give users a superman effect, but when Lucy accidentally ingests a rather large quantity, it begins to expand her brain's capacity to allow engagement with all the matter and energy around her. During these early stages of Lucy's adventure, we occasionally check in with a brain researcher named Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) who is giving a lecture about that old (and disproved) adage that we only use 10% of our brains. He's been working on theories about what humans could do if we tapped that extra bandwidth within our skulls and he suggests we could control more than just our own bodies.

As Lucy's brain starts increasing the percentage of utilization (handily flashed on screen whenever she reaches another milestone: 20%, 30%, 40%, etc.), she realizes that she will need more of the drug to stay alive and pass along the knowledge being gained from the experience. Given her new "powers" (e.g. language translation, a new found ability to drive a car, tapping into people's thoughts, controlling objects, etc.), she goes back to the Korean drug kingpin (Choi) to get more of the blue crystals. She also contacts Professor Norman to learn more about her brain's evolution and a French detective to help her recover additional quantities of the drug that have been dispatched to other corners of the world.

Though the script fumbles through some oddly phrased moments and goofy jargon ("cracking the nucleus of the cells"), it is somewhat refreshing to see a movie that assumes its audience not only accepts evolution as the guiding force for the diversity of life, but hopes that they can extrapolate from there (and even alludes to man being its own creator as Lucy "meets" the original Lucy). Granted, as mentioned, the rest of the film's "science" is pure gobbledygook, but I was happy to give it a wide berth since at its core it does wonder how the human species will evolve to meet the more and more hostile environment that it is creating for itself.

The set pieces aren't terribly exciting (the car chase pales in comparison to The Raid 2's well-orchestrated affair due to its reliance on CGI cars and crashes), but at a brisk 90 minutes it almost never lags. Though Johansson does what is necessary for most of the role, the direction and script don't do her many favours at times - particularly when she is encouraged to act in robotic fashion or needs to describe her feelings out loud as she explores her own brain. A call to her mother early in the film has her detail the energies all around her as she grasps at how to explain the permanent change that has occurred. As frustrating as that monologue is, the scene is doubly frustrating for giving a glimpse as to what the film could have been.

Specifically, Lucy's ramblings about memories flooding back, revelations about the world and the sudden realizations about the energy flowing around her reminded me of this wonderful and emotional talk by the real life brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor. In it, she recounts how she tried to understand and study her own brain as she lived through a stroke. She tells of her brain flipping between its two hemispheres - the logical part reminding her to get help since something was obviously wrong while the sensitive, empathetic side felt it had reached nirvana and had become one with the entirety of the energy around her. It may sound a bit new-agey, but the decoupling of the brain's mechanism as described by this neuroanatomist is fascinating, dramatic and far more alluring than the powers realized by Lucy. It strikes similar chords as the tales of hallucinogenic drug users and dangles the prospect of ideas well beyond our current imaginations. I don't know if there's a movie in Bolte Taylor's real-life blow by blow record of her brain coping with its twin halves splitting from each other, but the 18 minute talk is far more compelling than the ideas only partially worked out in Lucy.

So I couldn't help but want more - much more - from Besson's thriller. But that's my right hemisphere talking...My left side would say that if you simply don't expect more than what was intended - a pleasant summer diversion - you won't leave too disappointed. So like I said, I'm of two minds...