Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Return of What's Up Wednesday: September 14, 2011

Hello! In efforts to find more ways to distract myself that aren't "sit on couch and eat too much while watching movies," I'm pulling out the What's Up Wednesday semi-feature I tried about a year back. This should get me writing more regularly, and should provide me with a "deadline" and reason to dedicate some blog time every week. This week's update is going to be long, as I figured I should dive in headfirst, so let's see what struck me as interesting, fun, and or important about the previous week!

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I got to see Contagion with @Morgoid last night. The trailer had me mildly interested until I saw that it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and then I knew I had to see it. Soderbergh's one of my favourite modern directors, and although he's helmed a few clunkers he's also put together two of my favourite movies: Out of Sight and The Limey. And since he is apparently retiring from the movies to paint, I thought I should see what might be his last movie in the theater.

Overall, I thought Contagion was a good film. First of all, it's a hell of a cast: Lawrence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Enrico Colantoni, Chin Han, Elliott Gould, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, and Bryan Cranston all do remarkable work. I thought it would be distracting having so many recognizable faces because the presence of so many stars might pull you out of the story, but ultimately having so many names helped because they were all really good performances. Each character was given moments of weakness and of strength, so the characters weren't all paragons or villains, but people with varying degrees of greed, hope, selfishness, passion, and fear.

The pacing, sparse score, and naturalistic dialogue help the film to be very matter-of-fact without being boring: it really does feel like this is what would happen if there was a worlwide outbreak of a devastating disease, which makes the horror very real. You get to see the impact of the outbreak from varying levels: international tensions, national political issues, state and family emergencies. It's a very thoughtful and well-researched film that some others might find cold and unengaging but I appreciated the lack of sensation and sentimentality that you might find in a lesser "Hollywood-style" thriller.

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Still finding it really hard to read lately - apparently stress plays havoc on my concentration - but I am trying to finish The Lost City of Z that I started reading for Nerd Book Club. It's adventure non-fiction, the story of explorer Percy Fawcett and his doomed trip into the South American jungle in search of a fabled lost civilization. I'm enjoying it but I don't like the author putting words and thoughts in the character's mouth: it's one thing if you're quoting from journal entries and letters, but inventing dialogue whole-cloth is where I draw the line in my non-fiction. Your mileage may vary, but if you enjoy exciting and interesting non-fiction then I think this is up your alley.

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Speaking of Elliott Gould: I watched a lot of DVDs this week (including the fascinating I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale which is a must-see documentary for people who love acting and/or movies, and the entire first season of Castle which was just as fun as I remembered), but the DVD I really want to rave about is The Long Goodbye. I read Raymond Chandler's novel when I was in University and really liked it, and was a little hesitant to watch a re-imagining of the story directed by Robert Altman, who I knew had taken a number of liberties with the story and the setting (updating it to the early 1970s, contemporary for the time). Finally sitting down to watch it, though, I was really pleased: although it does feel like an Altman film in the same vein as M*A*S*H or McCabe & Mrs. Miller (meandering storyline, chunks of improvisation, moments of unintelligible dialogue, constantly moving cameras), it works as a movie in its own right.

Elliott Gould's Marlowe is really terrific, and it's because he doesn't do a version of Humphrey Bogart, although there are similarities in the characterizations. I love the contrast between Marlowe's 1950s aesthetic and the rest of the characters "contemporary" attitudes and styles; his straightforward hard-boiled nature and older-cut suits play beautifully off the ambiguous characters and sometimes outrageous outfits. Gould is funny and wry when he needs to be and tough and cold when the situation calls for it, and another awesome standout is Sterling Hayden, sporting a Hemingwayesque beard, as a troubled writer that Marlowe is hired to find. Plus: Arnold Schwarzenegger in a non-speaking role sporting a moustache. Yeah. That happened. I can't stop thinking about it since I watched it three days ago, which to me is the mark of a good movie. Watch it: you just might be surprised.

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I'm going to shine a spotlight on what is not just one of my favourite comedy podcasts but one of my favourite podcasts period: Doug Loves Movies. (Fun Fact: I saw a taping of Doug Loves Movies when I went to California in July and if you listen to this episode you can hear me laughing in the background and catching a monkey.) The premise is that comedian Doug Benson sits around a table with a bunch of his friends, ostensibly talk about movies, then play movie-themed games such as "Build a Title" (where you add movie titles together to make things like "Wait Until Dark City of Angels in the Out-Field of Dreams" and "The Leonard Maltin Game" (think "Name That Tune" but with movies and actors). In the past two days I've listened to five episodes and they're all very funny; three of the most recent episodes were recorded live from the Bumbershoot festival and feature great guests such as Scott Aukerman, Kyle Kinane, Eugene Mirman, and Paul F. Tompkins. I think the Bumbershoot episodes are a good intro to the show because you get a lot of content and a lot of great guests without a lot of self-promotion (which, let's face it, is why people do the podcasts). If you like movies, standup comedy, and tangents: Doug Loves Movies is for you.

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On Monday the last episode of So You Think You Can Dance Canada aired and while the show itself felt kind of like filler, Mary Murphy's breasts shocked and terrified, and Leah Miller's special brand of anti-charisma threatened to break my spirit, I enjoyed it. Not only did the "right" dancer win (in both my and @DanicaHere's opinions), it featured some of my favourite routines. If you're curious as to what I thought, or what you can expect, here are four of my favourite routines of the season in glorious low-fi YouTube quality! (You can skip through the judges at the end, I usually do.)

Melissa & Shane in a Hip-Hop routine (choreographed by Luther Brown; the music is awful but the dance is really fun; starts at about 0:50)

Jordan & Joey in a Jazz routine (choreographed by the great Sean Cheeseman; starts at 1:16)

Shane & Lindsey in a REALLY fun disco routine (choreographed by Melissa Williams; starts at about 3:08)

And because I want EVERYONE to see this last one, embedded video! Jordan & Christian in a breathtaking Jazz number (again by the brilliant Sean Cheeseman):

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I read quite a few comics last week, but the ones I'm going to focus on are the ones from the DC relaunch. For those non-comics people who read my blog, DC Comics (they who make Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc.) decided to revamp/relaunch their line of superhero comics by streamlining continuity, making the characters younger and more modern, and releasing 52 new titles starting all over at #1. It's an attempt to bring in new and lapsed readers, and as someone who is neither of those two things I'm still excited to see what they do with their titles. The four titles I liked best from last week were:

Swamp Thing: The list of talented creators who've worked on this title in the past is about as long as my arm, and this first issue lives up to those expectations. This is more of a supernatural thriller than a superhero book, but it's definitely grounded in the shared universe thanks to featured appearances by a number of recognizable DC characters. Swamp Thing features really lush art from Yanick Paquette, which is some of my favourite art of the books I read. I've never read anything by Scott Snyder but he has sold me on this Swamp Thing and I will be going back to pick up some of his Detective Comics run as well.

Animal Man: I have a soft spot for Animal Man; I have almost the entire run of single issues from 1-89, and even when it got really weird and sloppy it was still interesting. Writer Jeff Lemire does a good job of holding the tradition of the title while still breaking new ground, and while I wasn't always affected by Travel Foreman's art there were a number of sequences that blew my mind. Definitely a companion book with Swamp Thing, bringing supernatural and horror elements into the superpowered DC Universe, and despite a few reservations I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.

OMAC: Something I thought would be disposable and easy to pass up ended up being my favourite book of the week! I love 70s Jack Kirby and OMAC is some of the best stuff he did in my opinion, and Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, and Scott Koblish make this new iteration SING. Part of the reason I love it so much is that it reminds me of those old Kirby books, with many tips of the hat to the King's legends, but the other part is because it is BIG LOUD FUN which is sometimes all I want out of a superhero book. Evacuate your expectations because OMAC is going to destroy them!

Action Comics: The new origin of Superman from writer Grant Morrison, penciler Rags Morales & inker Rick Bryant is probably the most new-reader-friendly of the bunch, and despite some online brouhaha is a very good comic. This new Superman feels like he's going back to his 1930s roots: a working class hero with a sense of social justice. He doesn't fly: he leaps tall buildings in a single bound. He's faster than a speeding bullet. As for the locomotive...well, you just have to read the issue. It tells a complete story but ends on a cliffhanger, daring you not to pick up the next issue.

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Is about as positive as a Morrissey song. I'm not getting into it. But the possibility of more #yegprov (a Twitter-enhanced improv experiment) is an exciting development. And I hope to have a new creative project to ignore starting on Monday, so keep your eye on this space.

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