The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Great Belonging (2020) Book Review

Title: The Great Belonging
Year: 2020
Writer: Charlotte Donlon
Publisher: Broadleaf Books

Since the beginning of Winter 2020 my book group at Saint Benedict's Table, an Anglican church located in downtown Winnipeg, has been meeting up via Zoom on Thursday evenings to discuss Charlotte Donlon's The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other.  Originally hosted by Rev Rachel Twigg, and myself in the Spring , the book group has proven to to be necessary during the covid-19 pandemic where we're all feeling a little more lonely than usual. 

With The Great Belonging, writer and spiritual director Charlotte Donlon helps us understand our own occasional or frequent loneliness and offers touchpoints for understanding alienation.

The book, which should belong on any guidance counselor's bookshelf, is a welcoming invite to a remarkable & engaging discussion about a feeling or state of mind that is universal. The approach is different from many authors, as most would fill their book up with platitudes & be overly sentimental. Donlon's approach is thoughtful, personal, honest & doesn't try to find an easy solution. Donlon approaches very serious topics, like mental illness, with very little hesitancy. 

Speaking to the many kinds of multi-facted aspects of loneliness, The Great Belonging is a work you'll want to keep for years, as you may need it in times of difficulty and isolation. While the book does discuss Faith & Christianity, it is not solely a religious work, as even a person who is not well versed in Religion, like myself, can find themselves finding quite a large amount of introspection within.

The Great Belonging is filled with short meditations that help makes sense of one's loneliness & will help one unpack their turmoil through great self-reflection. Charlotte is an easy person to connect with; her words sooth your mind & make you feel like you're not facing your troubles alone. 



Monday, April 12, 2021

Thy Geekdom Come Vol.2 (2021) Book Review

Title: Thy Geekdom Come Vol. 2
Year: 2021
Publisher: Mythos & Ink
Country: Canada

Growing up as a lover of science fiction, the written works of  Issac Asimov (I Robot) & Arthur C. Clarke  (2001: A Space Odyssey) felt very separate from my own faith & relationship to the church. I couldn't foresee a devotional made about Akira or Star Trek. Church often, as the writer of the foreword Dr. Michael Boyce says, denied the validity of these works because they weren't explicitly Christian.  Thy Geekdom Come Vol.2 seeks to meld these two, seemingly distant items, together into a fascinating read. 

Thy Geekdom Come Vol. 2 is a collection of 42 devotionals that challenge readers to look for faith in their favorite stories from pop culture. Written by a collection of Canadian authors and pastors from a variety of Christian backgrounds, it is already making rounds among the Christian & science fiction community. 

Thy Geekdom Come Vol. 2 is a fairly strong academic exercise. Featuring pieces written & approved by scholars, each devotional is a sincere study of both art & faith that will leave the reader with a deeper appreciation for pop culture, in addition to lesser known biblical characters like Gomer. As a person with a novice understanding of Christianity, I appreciate that Thy Geekdom Come didn't just trend the familiar stories of Exodus,  Genesis etc. but went further like comparing Akira to Matthew 20: 25-28 in Justin Koop's Power in Akira and the Church. 

In each devotion we are treated to geek quote, scripture, and refection questions. The book encourages hours of self-reflection as each question, like "Has a major disappointment ever shaken your faith?" from No Power in the Verse Can Stop Faith is quite thought-provoking, especially in relation to the devotional itself.  

Even though I didn't quite know every reference in Thy Geekdom Come Vol II. there are 42 of these devotionals which should be enough to find something that speaks to you as a fan and/or person of faith. The book is so well put together that a person of any faith can pick this up & find some enjoyment within its pages. 





Friday, April 2, 2021

500 Miles - A Reflection




I was inspired to write this entry after reading Andrea Shalay's If I had a Hammar reflection on her blog Diversity Tree (https://diversitytree.blogspot.com/2012/11/if-i-had-hammar.html) In that article, she briefly dissects the history of the song, as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. She also contrasts it with her own experience & asks us to do our own inner brainstorming about what the song means to us. I am intending to do the same, but with a different song called 500 Miles

Lyrics:
If you missed the train I'm on
You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

A hundred miles, a hundred miles
A hundred miles,
A hundred miles You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

Lord, I'm one, Lord, I'm two Lord, I'm three, Lord, I'm four
Lord, I'm five hundred miles away from home
Away from home, away from home Away from home,
Away from home Lord, I'm five hundred miles away from home

Not a shirt on my back
Not a penny to my name
Lord, I can't go back home this ole way
This ole way, this ole way
This ole way, this ole way
Lord, I can't go back home this this ole way

If you missed the train I'm on
You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

A hundred miles, a hundred miles
A hundred miles,
A hundred miles You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles


History & Interpretations

Originally written by Hedy West in 1961, 500 Miles has been sung by many different musicians & found its biggest commercial success when paired with Bobby Bare in 1963 when it reached the US Billboard's Top Ten. My favorite version is by Peter, Paul and Mary as I feel as their more somber approach resonates long after the tune is over.

The meaning of this song has been debated throughout the years. Some claim it's a marching tune, meant to aid escaping slaves escaping the cruelty of their masters. The train being the Underground Railroad.

Others feel the song is about death; "You will know I'm gone" essentially meaning "you will know I have passed away"

My favorite interpretation is that it's about The Great Depression. Men who stowed away in train box cars to spare their families the burden of feeding them, and hoping to find work in another town. The singer is ashamed though because they found no work & are worse off than before.


Self Reflection

I interpret "home" as "childhood" a safe point in my life where I was carefree & had very little responsibility. Very little was expected of me & any pain could be cured with a band-aid. (Albeit I understand many have very traumatic childhoods, this is about myself)

We all want to go back to a period in our lives where we felt very free & safe from consequence, but it's unrealistically far away. What is that famous saying? You can't go back home again. Lord, I can't go back home this this ole way

Quite a few times in my life I've felt stuck & in a difficult situation. When I was 18 my parents split up, my basement room got flooded & the remainder of my possessions caught fire due to poor post-flood storage. I had to sleep on an air mattress in the living room of a 2 bedroom apartment with 4 people (my mom got the couch). I literally had a penny to my name, albeit I was able to spare a few shirts. In order to improve my life I had to accept that life had changed, I couldn't go back to how things were & I had to take a step forward in order to improve my situation. (to university!)

A film that reminds me of this song is a potential 2021 Best Picture Winner at the Academy Awards called Nomadland. Starring Frances McDormand, the film is about a woman who is constantly on the road; homeless by choice. In the film she is confronted by her well-to-do sister & is asked "why can't you settle down?" McDormand says "I can't go back to the way my life used to be."  


Questions
- Where in your life have you felt "500 miles away from home"?
- Do you think the phrase "You can't go back home again" rings true?
- Where in your life did you feel most safe?
- Is there anything in your life you can't go back to?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Career Stories Method (2020) Book Review

Title: The Career Stories Method
Year: 2020
Author: Kerri Twigg
Publisher: Page Two Books


A few decades ago it used to be incredibly easy to get a job; you would hand your resume to the manager in-person & they would consider hiring you. In 2021 the process has become so convoluted and frustrating. The last time I went job-hunting I looked for over a year, constantly being rejected despite having an interview coach & seemingly doing everything right. I eventually found work, but I felt very defeated & full of vinegar. Luckily Kerri Twigg has a book that can ease the pain of job-hunting. 

The Career Stories Method is a career search guide that helps you tell stories about yourself. She provides practical tools for networking, writing resumes that impress, building your LinkedIn profile etc. She helps entrepreneurs & business owners as well. 

Having been to EVERY job recruiter in the city, and finding the majority of them unhelpful at best, Kerri Twigg is a standout among career coaches. Dare I say, she's the only one I trust isn't full of bs. She turns the agonizing process of job hunting into a series of self-reflective creative exercises that, at the very least, will make you more in-tune with yourself. I found her unique humanistic approach very calming & meditative. 

With chapters like "Love Yourself, Love Your Career" and "Find Work that Makes the Heart Sing" Twigg's book isn't just about finding A job, it's about finding THE job. In addition it can have the fortunate side effect of finding yourself if you feel lost in life or are feeling blue because well, job hunting normally sucks. 

By sharing personal examples, as well as promoting client success stories, Kerri Twigg has managed to do the impossible; make an enjoyable read out of career coaching. I find myself actually excited to do the 11 steps listed (all are given a chapter & a lengthy deep dive) & am hoping to find better employment on the other side.

compared to other books of the same category


Over the Garden Wall (2014) Review

Title: Over the Garden Wall
Year: 2014
Creator: Katie Krentz; Patrick McHale
Country: US
Language: English


I must thank Stephanie Skelton (follow her @I_Hominin on Twitter ) for introducing me to this show. Over the Garden Wall is fairly short, twenty 11 minute episodes, and thus I feel like I'm going to re-watch it for years to come. This hidden gem. hidden from me at least, from Cartoon Network has the quality of an animated film. I'd argue that it is better than the majority of animated films being released, perhaps Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli excluded.

In this mini-series Two Brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Colin Dean) find themselves lost in the strange woods, adrift in a time. With the help of a shadowy Woodsmen (Christopher Lloyd) and a foul-tempered bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynsky) , they travel through the foggy land in hope of finding a way home

Taking inspiration from a variety of animated sources that stretch throughout time (1930's Betty Boop) and culture (Japanese drama known as Noh) Over the Garden Wall is a series that is equal parts dark, creepy and atmospheric, as well as light and whimsical. One episode we get a frog singing to other bourgeoisie frogs and another we get the incredibly dark Auntie Whispers (Tim Curry!) episode where the children fear they may be eaten.  My favorite is the Auntie Whispers episode. 

Over the Garden Wall is a very cleverly written film that stirs at the imagination as scenarios unfold in ways that surprise and captivate us. The talent behind this film feels miraculous. Elijah Wood, Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, Melanie Lynskey among others. You'd think with this much talent onboard the studio would demand more episodes, but this doesn't matter I suppose as ten episodes are enough to tell quite an impressive story. 

The music, which features "Potatoes and Molases" and "The Loveliest Lies of All", is quite catchy. The animation captures the same vibe you get from Grimm's Fairy Tales and, although to a lesser extent, Alice in Wonderland. Overall this is a solid show that will stick out as an odd outlier in your mind when you think of animation. 




Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Science Fiction Makers (2020) Review

Title: The Science Fiction Makers
Year; 2020
Director: Andrew Wall
Country: Canada
Language: English


With The Science Fiction Makers director Andrew Walls seeks to compare and contrast "light science fiction", sci fi that is based on the mystical (ex, Star Wars), with "hard science fiction", sci-fi that is based on technology & practicality (ex. Star Trek), In doing so, we examine the lives and works of three Christian writers (Rosseau, Lewis and L'Engle) 

Beginning with discussing Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, describing it as a retelling of the Garden of Eden & essentially making it a Christian tale, Walls shows us an example of what good Christian science fiction is while using HG Wells' The Sleeper Walks as an example of bad atheist fiction. HG Wells was so repulsive that Rosseau & C.S Lewis wrote their works, most notably The Messiah of the Cylinder, as a response to him. 

I dislike this documentarys' method of building up Christian writers by dismissing the thoughts of secular writers.  Even the narration, such as when we read Orwell's response to C.S Lewis The Hideous Strength, makes the secular writer sound like a villain. The response we get from a secular critique of a christian writer is "well they are secular."  Walls' encourages us to view the secular writers as Marxist pro-eugenics, anti-faith while holding the Christian writers in high regard. It almost pushed the film towards "too evangelical for me." Surely these writers are good enough on their own & putting down secularism wasn't necessary to get the point across.

I do love the in-depth discussion of each writers' works, lives & importance to Christianity as a whole. The dramatization of events, told by a number of Winnipeg's best and brightest (Dr. Michael Boyce, Dr. Diana Glyer etc,), improved with an intense score, creates a remarkable documentary that feels different from most. The information feels urgent; each sentence forming a small piece of a giant picture that encourages its audience to dive into Christian writing. The research done to create this documentary must have been staggering; I am impressed by Walls' passion for history.

Despite my distaste with putting down secular writers, I must admit the documentary is very well made. It is as engaging as it is informative. The second part of a trilogy, I look forward to seeing the third part of The Science Fiction Makers when it is finished. More interviews with Dr. Michael Boyce please! 




The Science Fiction Makers is available on Amazon Prime & Super Channel in Canada


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Soul (2020) Review

Title: Soul
Year: 2020
Director: Pete Docter
Country: US
Language: English


Though often made for a younger demographic, there are certain animated movies, by Disney or otherwise, that are in no way, shape, or form "kids movies". Soul, which begins with the death of the main character, is not a kids film. Released on Christmas Day, this latest Disney Pixar strangely reminds me of another Christmas classic; It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

In Soul a musician (Jamie Foxx) who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself (Tina Fey) .

Our protagonist is a middle aged man grappling with middle aged issues of self doubt, insecurity, and facing the reality of his failed dreams. It's a poignant big hearted picture that has an odd moral for a studio known for telling kids to chase their dreams. Soul tells us that our lives are meaningful and that we can find meaning in the smallest of things. In addition, Soul explores the emptiness of dreams fulfilled. 

Unusual for a Pixar film - as in there is a long history of non-representation- the film is centered on a predominantly Black cast. Albeit this may be a case of one step forward, two steps back, as much of the characters are a non-racial blue pigment during the majority of the screen-time. POC have made many complaints that their skin color isn't fully represented even though the main character is a poc. 

Soul (2020) is a pretty mature animated film that is a little bit balanced with some of its more comedic moments. As a cat person I loved the scenes where our main character accidentally become a feline in New York. This is a worthwhile film that can stand alongside Pixar's best. 





Hamilton (2020) Review

Title: Hamilton
Year: 2020
Director: Thomas Kail
Country: US
Language: English


Hamilton depicts the real life of one of America's foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Captured live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast. The filmed version is exclusive to Disney+.

Overseen by Thomas Kail, who also directed the show on Broadway, this direct stage-to-screen version of Hamilton is a live capture covered by six cameras. Director Kail intermixes Steadicams and cranes with fixed cameras, ricocheting the audience from one side of the stage to the other and trying to find a slightly different approach for each number. The result doesn't look especially cinematic, but it is still quite impressive and full of energy. Please hire this man for more musicals. 

Hamilton does a great job at making American History accessible to people of all races. We've all been taught the white powdered wig version of the US, but poet laurate Lin-Manuel Miranda changed the founding fathers to be idealistic people of color (George Washington looks quite similar to Prince) & turned their nations' soundtrack from stuffy classical to up-beat hip=hop. Miranda's version of America is one that reminds its citizens that its roots are in the outsiders. It's such an important statement to make during the Trump era of American politics. 

A celebration of diversity which consists of a memorable soundtrack ("I wanna be in the room where it happens."), phenomenal acting by the entire cast (I particularly love the cameos by Jonathon Groff) and inspired choreography, Hamilton is a remarkable musical that has set the bar for how future musicals must look & sound like. 




Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Events Transpiring Before, During, and After a High School Basketball Game (2020) Review

Title: Events Transpiring Before, During, and After a HIgh School basketball Game
Year: 2020
Director: Ted Stenson 
Country: Canada
Language: English



This feature, which has an incredibly long name that I'll just abbreviate as ETBDAHSBG, was a very last minute addition to my Calgary Film Festival viewing list. I am not a huge fan of basketball or documentaries about basketball, (sorry Hoop Dreams) but I found myself intrigued by the fact that the director was local to Calgary. I was surprised to find out this was not a documentary. It is a comedy, and a damn good one at that.

As Middleview High School's woeful boys basketball team prepares for another certain loss, several unusual dramas take shape around its periphery. A referee finds himself taking care of a pomeranian, the assistant coach is adamant they try a new strategy, a player tries to explain existentialism, and a drama class plan a confrontational protest after their play is banned.

"Have you guys seen The Matrix?" ETBDAHSBG is a weird picture which tells many different odd stories from an eclectic group of characters that is equal parts mundane and absurd. It has the awkwardness & amateur style acting of Napoleon Dynamite, mixed with the social nuances of The Breakfast Club. It's a modest little film that takes a low key approach to the genre. None of the characters are chewing the scenery, rather the ensemble and their stories intertwining are at the core of this picture.

You might not remember any of the characters in ETBDAHSBG, though that might be purposeful as most students feel invisible in high school. You might not enjoy every joke either; one scene involves a moment where a kid claims Jack to be his favourite Coppola flick. The joke is akward and doesn't make any sense, as do many other "jokes" in the film. 

I feel the director captures the spirit of high school adolescence and the uncomfortable times that it produced.ETBDAHSBG is a fairly short feature film (70-ish minutes) that impressed me with how it could tell so many stories in such a compact and satisfied way. The many great performances, combined with quirky direction left me amused by this very relatable, very nostalgic film.



Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958) Review

Title: Jazz on a Summer's Day
Year: 1958
Director: Bert Stern
Country: US
Language: English



The Calgary Film Festival
didn't just show newer pictures; Jazz on a Summer's Day is a concert film from the 50's that was newly restored for its 60th Anniversary. Considered the first concert film ever made, Jazz on a Summer's Day paved the way for similar workslike Montery Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970)

In 1958 photographer Bert Stern went to the Newport Jazz Festival and captured the fabled performances by an array of musical legends including;  Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington and Mahalia Jackson.

Funded by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, the film restoration greatly enhances the original audio and visuals. It does a complete cleanup to where no markings, scratches, or grain is present. This film, while made 61years ago, looks as if it was shot today. You could show it next to any modern film &  most audiences wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a technical aspect.

Jazz on a Summer's Day was a joy to watch. We are treated to a variety of performances by Jazz legends. We get to go backstage with some of them & get a feeling for their personality. We get to soak up a late 50's atmosphere that feels vibrant, youthful and full of energy. 

We often view this era as a conservative time, but this picture shows us glimpses of the hippie 60's that has yet to come. Ultimately,  I was transfixed & deeply moved by this impressive documentary.