Double Happiness: a Contemporary Classic of Canadian Cinema

I recently watch my DVD copy of this 1994 favourite because I was in a nostalgic mood. So when Double Happiness aired on CBC TV last night, prefaced by a brief interview with writer director Mina Shum and a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of women in the film industry, I was thrilled to learn that this film still resonated with others. I was also somewhat saddened by the glacial pace of progress towards diversity in contemporary mainstream TV and cinema. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this film holds up.

Sandra Oh (in her feature film debut) plays Jade Li, the eldest daughter of Chinese parents from Hong Kong, who now live in Canada. She is a struggling actress, much to the chagrin of her traditional parents who view her artistic passion as a frivolous and futile pursuit. For much of the film we watch her navigate a punishing series of auditions as she fulfils role as dutiful daughter and supportive sister and fun-loving friend. We see her humour her parents as she is set up on numerous dates with men from good Chinese families. Ultimately we watch her figure out what she wants, rather than what her parents want.

This film shares many thematic similarities to The Big Sick, which I recently blogged about. However, this film is more drama than comedy, by design. This story is an honest portrayal of the double life that is familiar to many children of immigrants to North America. This is Sandra Oh’s film and she is a delight to watch in an authentic portrayal of a young adult dealing with culture class and a generation gap. Themes that always strike a cord with me. The supporting cast, which includes Callum Keith Rennie, is also fun to watch. I bet that this DVD is available in most Canadian libraries. It is currently also available to stream on CBC TV’s mobile app and website at the link below.

http://watch.cbc.ca/canadian-feature-films/all/41bd9e84-2271-4aeb-8395-16a579a2d330

The Big Sick: a Review

Funny and sweet romantic comedies are hard to find. The Big Sick was getting great buzz among critics and because I love writer/actor/comedian/podcaster Kumail Nanjiani for so many reasons (Silicon Valley, X-Files files), I knew I had to see this film in the theatre. I am happy to say that not only did I enjoy it, so did my husband and daughters.

 

Kudos to Kumail and his wife Emily V. Gordon! They spun a harrowing tale of her real illness into a great romantic comedy that added some new twists to an often repetitive predictable genre.

Kumail plays a fictionalized version of himself. As a struggling standup comedian he meets Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) and before you know it they are a couple. But how is he ever going to tell his traditional Pakistani parents about her? Especially when his family is fixated on an arranged marriage to a Pakistani woman. When Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail meets Emily’s parents and the result is a richness of humor, personal growth and understanding. To say more risks spoiling the film.

As a child of immigrants I really enjoyed the themes of culture clash woven with great specificity into this movie. It is easy to see why the 2 charming main characters fell for each other, so when trouble hit, the subsequent drama is that much more poignant. Authentic relationships, i.e ones to root for, are often a leap of faith in lesser films. I also enjoyed that there was no need to inject a real villain (i.e. cartoonish exes). An additional delight is a super-talented all-star cast that also includes Anupam Kher (Bend it Like Beckham), Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

This film has been in theatres for a while now. I did see it a few weeks back but was too busy to write about it until now. I just hope that if you like romantic comedies and are looking for a fresh take you can still find this playing somewhere near you.

GLOW: a review

Wow, over the course of 2 days, I binge-watched this Netflix original series (10 episodes, 30 min each) with my youngest daughter. It has been on my radar ever since it was featured on one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.

My daughter was bored, we were home alone together and she was willing to learn how to make home-made pizza with me but wanted to watch something while we flattened dough, chopped veggies and laid out toppings. I swear we would starve if we didn’t have a TV in the kitchen. So I suggested GLOW and she was game.

GLOW is a period (1980’s) drama with a healthy dose of wry humour about the formation of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I should preface this review by saying that I have never actually watched wrestling, but have close friends that have (still do). In fact we don’t really watch sports in my house. Occasionally a big important game (Olympics, NHL or MLB playoffs) will grab my husband’s attention. This show’s strength lies in its ensemble of women who are figuring out their lives. Some of the struggles depicted involve their relationships with men but many of the best moments are when the women are helping with each other’s issues and forming their friendships. Each of the women are part of GLOW for different reasons. Season 1 is rather like an origin setup. Unfortunately, the short season means that some characters are better served than others. The ending begs for a follow-up season.

I won’t give away any spoilers for this character driven show. The main conflict of the first season deals with 2 ex-friends, both actors who are trying to grab a foothold on their stalled careers. Alison Brie (loved her as Trudy in Mad Men) plays Ruth (aka Koya the Destroyer) and Betty Gilpin plays Debbie (aka Liberty Bell). They are the most developed characters and we watch them struggle and grow throughout Season 1. This show has a pretty diverse cast of women, some whose life’s struggles we are also privy to.

I should mention that Marc Maron also stars as a down on his luck B-movie director. He is tasked with bringing GLOW to the small screen, with the spotty financial backing of Chris Lowell (Piz from my beloved Veronica Mars) as his man-child producer. I should also mention that I am not a Marc Maron fan either; I tried listening to his podcast a few times but it was not for me. But credit to him, he was just perfect for this sleazy role.

My daughter and I really were pleasantly surprised with the surprising developments of this show and its handling of sensitive subjects. We are hoping for a season 2. So if you are looking for a quick TV fix, love the 80’s (the hair, the makeup the fashion, and especially the MUSIC), crave a realistic depiction of complex female characters, you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy GLOW. It is worth a look.

Baby Driver: a review

To get out of the heat today and spend some quality time together, my family and I decided to go to the movies. Baby Driver has been getting positive buzz, so when Judge John Hodgman gave it a big plug on his podcast this week, I just knew I had to see it.

Wow, this was a film that left 2 middle-aged adults and their teenaged daughters  grinning from ear-to-ear. This is a beautiful action-filled, tense heist movie with a sweet love story overlay. It is brutal in its gun violence and car chases. Yes , you read correctly, this is a film full of car chases that I really really love. The ingenuity of writer/director Edgar Wright is simply a marvel.

The main character, nick-named Baby (Ansel Elgort), is a getaway car driver who is constantly listening to music on his iPod. He is trapped in a life of crime, because of a stupid youthful bad decision and when he meets the girl of his dreams, he is determined to start a new chapter in his life. But then things get complicated, as they do, when a film also stars Kevin Spacey as a crime boss and Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx as bank robbers.

I actually approached this film with some trepidation, despite all the positive reviews, because I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. I also have a serious allergy to most movie car chases, especially when it is “the same old, same old.” But I have a great love of Edgar Wright’s previous work. His knack for making me love films of genres I usually eschew is uncanny. He is also brilliant at comedy. If you need convincing of that fact, please watch the video below.

And then go watch Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End.

Wright’s attention to detail and love of music is magnificently displayed on the big screen in Baby Driver. Throughout the film the audience is privy to Baby’s playlist and the beats are synchronized to the onscreen action in a remarkably joyful style. Full disclosure, I fully admit to being someone who loves her iPod Classic and will have it on at work as often as possible. Thus this movie spoke to my soul. For some of us, music is a very important part of a working day.

This is a tense drama that is peppered with comedic moments. The imaginative stunt driving, dazzlingly choreographed fights, vivid dimensional characters and sharp dialogue make for a fabulously original film. If you are looking for an excuse to see a movie that begs to be seen in the theatre, look no further.

New Waterford Girl: a Contemporary Classic of Canadian Cinema

 

I watched New Waterford Girl on DVD again; is it the 3rd or 4th time? I have lost count. This 18 year old movie is one I absolutely adore. It is funny, quirky, sweet, kind, very specific to time and place and so very Canadian. It also has an amazing pedigree. It was directed by Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume) and features Mary Walsh (This Hour has 22 Minutes) and Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest), two icons of Canadian TV. Both actors give authentic portrayals as the titular character’s haggard parents. Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink), an under-rated talent, is great in a key supporting role.

 

 

Liane Balaban makes her film debut as Agnes Marie (nick-named Mooney) Pottie in this coming of age story set in 1970’s small town Nova Scotia. She struggles to be understood as the 4th of 5 children in a lovingly chaotic dysfunctional family. She is introverted, imaginative and creative and considered weird because she dreams of a life beyond her small mining town. With the help of her teacher, Mr. Sweeney (not a local) her talents are rewarded by a scholarship to a prestigious art high school in Manhattan. But how to get there? In an insular Catholic town, where anyone who comes from away is viewed with suspicion, any girl who leaves does so under a cloud of gossip. With the help of her tough new extroverted friend Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn), an American new-comer, in exile from the Bronx, Mooney concocts a plan to realize her dream.

I really enjoy the way the film prioritizes a friendship between 2 very different teenage girls. Both Mooney and Lou are trying to figure out who they are and the actresses portraying them do a terrific job.  Both girls have to make fine adjustments in their behaviour and beliefs while determining where to draw the line. All this is done without the need for a major romantic subplot. Ok, there are hints of romance but Mooney makes it clear that she has no interest and won’t be flattered by its introduction. How refreshing and un-Hollywood is that?

Gosh, I am a sucker for films about misfits. This film also hits other themes in my wheelhouse. It deals with family dysfunction, the expectations of women in the 1970’s, small town life and the role of Catholic church. Mooney is singular in her dream of the life that she wants, eschews conformity and allows nothing to derail her. This film has a great period soundtrack featuring Canadian artists and a musical performance cameo by Ashley MacIsaac. Having lived through the 1970’s, I feel comfortable in saying this film  captured the spirit of the times in a remarkable way. The outfits, the cars, the hairstyles, the interior decor, this film just nailed it.

If you are looking for a quirky, sweet, fun, blast from the past, you might want to check this one out. I imagine almost every public library in Canada probably has a copy.

Wonder Woman: a review

 

I saw Wonder Woman (in 2D) last weekend with my family; mostly at the behest of my husband. I had mixed feelings going in that never left. It was a split decision in my family. Half us liked it and the other half thought it was ok.

 

This is a war movie disguised as a superhero origin story with a hint of romance. This combination of themes left me wanting. I have my bias. I gravitate toward character and relationship-based superhero or war or romance stories featuring an underdog. Or if movies are really funny and poke fun at the usual tropes, I can be won over. This movie was just not made for me. I think I am too old and have seen too much. In a nutshell, it was fine. Because all the reasons why I feel this way about this blockbuster are better explained in this excellent review at the AV Club I am just going to make a couple of lists.

What I liked

  • Gal Gadot is very convincing as a kick-ass superhero who does not conform to gender stereotypes of this period piece.
  • Gal Gadot’s performance as a fish-out-of-water Amazonian warrior in WW1 ravaged Europe was pretty funny at times.
  • Chris Pine’s performance as a spy and romantic interest for our heroine was a good balance of chemistry, comedy and drama. I am warming up to him as an actor.
  • Gal Gadot’s costume wasn’t completely ridiculous and she had sensible footwear. Reminded me a bit of Xena.
  • A woman (Patty Jenkins) directed this film and it was a successful blockbuster.
  • Some fun slo-mo fight sequences.
  • The humorous interludes were very welcome.
  • Romance did not derail the narrative.

 

What I didn’t like

  • A generic good vs evil plot.
  • Uninspired villains.
  • Lacklustre origin story.
  • Too much time devoted to routine depictions of explosions, mass destruction and the ravages of war. None that were interesting or creative.
  • Not enough humour.
  • Terrible accents among the Amazonians.
  • Too many dark and grey scenes (so glad I did not see this in 3D), that’s ok for the WW1 trenches but does everything else have to happen at night?
  • The power of love? Seriously? UGH!

I won’t see it again and wouldn’t go to the theatre to see a sequel unless the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and gushing about humour or originality. This film didn’t have enough of either for me to generate much enthusiasm.

13 Reasons Why: a review

 

A number of people have been asking me about this show so I thought I would blog about it. I watched this show with my youngest daughter (13 years old) when she expressed interest in it. Her interest was stimulated by the kids at school buzzing about it. I probably would not have started watching it otherwise, as there is so much else on my viewing radar (an almost complete list of shows can be found below). My eldest had no interest in the show at all.

 

13 Reasons Why is based on a young adult novel of the same title by Jay Asher. It centres around the life of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has just killed herself. She left behind 13 audio tapes for her friends and acquaintances to listen to, in an attempt to be finally understood by those who failed to help her. There are voice over narratives and flashbacks interwoven with the present day depiction of a community devastated by the loss of this girl. We spend much of the time with Hannah’s friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to the tapes and tries to figure out what he could have done differently. This show is a realistic depiction of many aspects of teen angst.  For this I applaud it. This is a far cry from the teen glamour soaps that that flood us (Pretty Little Liars, etc.). It is also quite stark in its depiction of physical and sexual violence as well as suicide.

The acting was convincing by the young cast. The dialogue was pretty realist as well. However, the suspense structure for dramatic effect seemed contrived at times. This show strained to fill 13 episodes (45 min each). I wanted to understand Hannah’s pain in the context of her extreme action but struggled to do so for much of the 1st season. My daughter had a hard time understanding her too. A somewhat better understanding was left to the end. Much of the earlier events seemed like ordinary teen stuff that she was emotionally ill-equipped to handle. That Hannah could not go to her parents for help was very difficult for me to watch. Her parents were depicted as loving and supportive in flashback scenes. Their devastation after her death brought me to tears. This show had little if any discussion about the mental health aspects of Hannah’s troubles. I found that problematic. It also seemed to simplify and externalize much of the responsibility of what is a very complex and very personal problem. Hannah’s isolation was probably realistic. Many kids live inside their own heads and do not know how to clearly ask for help. Their struggles can seem overwhelming in the echo chamber of their minds. Suicide is often described as an impulsive and desperate act, but as depicted in this show, it is usually associated with depression. I hope Season 2 will delve into this a bit more.

This is a Netflix original series that I admire but would have a hard time broadly recommending as must see TV. I think if you are a parent who is interested in pop culture and you want to know what kids are watching, it is worth a look. If your child is watching it, then I think you should definitely watch it too and discuss the themes which include financial struggles, social class, social media shaming, under age drinking, rape culture, friendship, crushes and sexual identity. This show has been renewed for a 2nd season. I will probably only watch it if my daughter wants to. I am grateful for the opportunity to have watched season 1 with her.

Curious about what else I have been watching? The list below is shocking.

The Americans ___ Archer ___ Better Call Saul ___ Black Sails ___ Call the Midwife ___ Catastrophe ___ Crashing (UK) ___ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ___ The Crown  ___ Dr. Who ___ The Fall ___ Fargo ___ Fleabag ___ Girls ___ Glitch ___ Grantchester ___ Happy Valley ___ Humans ___ iZombie ___ Jane the Virgin ___ Jessica Jones ___ Killjoys ___ Last Tango in Halifax ___ Lovesick ___ The Magicians ___ Master of None ___ Mercy Street ___ Orange is the New Black ___ Orphan Black ___ Please Like Me ___ Poldark ___ Preacher ___ Scott and Bailey ___ Sense8 ___ Silicon Valley ___ Taboo ___ This is Us ___ Veep ___ Victoria

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: a review

My family went to the theatre to see the 2nd Guardians of the Galaxy movie today, on the opening weekend. Both kids brought a friend and all 6 of us had a fabulous time. Mind you, our love for the first instalment of this franchise was documented on this blog here, almost 2 years ago. In a nutshell, if you liked the 1st film, you will enjoy this sequel.

I have recently limited my superhero movie consumption, as my tolerance for space chases and endless explosive destruction has diminished in my dotage. The only other recent superhero movies that I have watched (but didn’t bother to blog about) have been Logan (‘cuz, duh, Hugh Jackman) and Ant-Man (‘cuz it was widely reviewed as funny – and it was, I enjoyed it). This film manages to put a fun spin on action sequences, saving me from tedium. The film has a certain self awareness and doesn’t mess with the formula of its previous success.

 

 

Best of all, it is just as funny as the first film. Watching it with an audience, laughing together in a theatre, made it extra enjoyable. The current plot is not as convoluted as that in the 1st film. It serves as a necessary backdrop to watch a charming group of characters bicker like a typical family. Essentially, our beloved heroes find themselves chased for various reasons and find themselves separated and ultimately reunited. The film shows them struggling to figure out what they mean to each other while they forge a path for the future of this franchise. Along the way they interact with some new characters (friend and foe) whereby they learn about each other and themselves. On many levels this is a dysfunctional family story as much as it is a superhero film. Although the plot is largely secondary to the characters, it is better written than it had to be.

The retro soundtrack is well selected, adding to the joy. There are only hints at romance (thank goodness) that add to the fun. The introduction of Baby Groot adds a new dimension to our group. His adorable toddler-like presence contributes much of the film’s humour . He also serves as a foil, bringing out the best in our bickering band of heroes.

If you are looking for a fun film for the family and you liked the 1st Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you will definitely want to see this film. If you haven’t seen the first film, don’t worry, it isn’t mandatory viewing. You will still have a fun time with this sequel. Be sure to stick around for the credits to enjoy 5 extra scenes.

Anne: Prestige TV meets a Canadian Icon

Anne

 

I just finished watching the last episode of Anne on CBC television and I could not wait to blog about it.

Full disclosure first, as a Canadian and Anne of Green Gables fan, I am very biased. I have reread the entire series of Anne books (all 8 novels) countless times since middle school. Additionally, I have read many of author L.M. Montgomery’s other works of fiction. I loved Megan Follow’s performance in the TV adaptions of the first few novels; so much so, that I haven’t had the desire to watch the most recent Anne of Green Gables TV movie starring Ella Ballentine and Martin Sheen, despite owning a copy. By happenstance, in 2008, my family was visiting Prince Edward Island during the 100th Anniversary celebration of the novel’s publication. We found ourselves immersed in this cultural icon at the Avonlea Village and were delighted with Anne of Green Gables, The Musical at the Charlottetown Festival.

So when I found out there was to be another TV adaptation, a short series of 7 episodes, I feared anticipointment. Then I learned that Moira Walley-Beckett, the Canadian born, Emmy award-winning writer (for Breaking Bad) was in charge; I was intrigued.

So yes, I am very, very biased, and glad to say I loved this new TV series. I was hooked at the opening credit sequence. Poignantly selected Tragically Hip song “Ahead by a Century” accompanies beautiful images of the beloved heroine of this underdog tale. For those unfamiliar with her story, the setting is turn of the previous century. Anne is an 11 year old orphan who is adopted by the Cuthberts, an elderly brother and sister who live on a farm in fictional small town Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. Anne is a spirited, intelligent, imaginative girl who desperately wants to be loved and accepted.

Amybeth McNulty is perfectly cast; she embodies Anne’s earnestness and awkwardness like no other. Anne is an underdog, coming-of-age story that touches on themes of community, love, friendship, bullying, social privilege and financial hardship. In addition to Anne’s casting,  Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson inhabit the roles of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert exquisitely. The period sets and costumes are wonderful.

The original novels were rather innocent with just a hint of darkness. Sadly, I have yet to persuade my daughters to read them. However, I hope that the dark realism that is dialled up (not to 11, rather a 7) in this TV adaptation will appeal to a broad audience. I hope Netflix will continue to support it; especially if it finds new young fans in addition to those of us who are young at heart and fond the previous screen adaptations.

The first season (7, 1 hour episodes) loosely follows the first part of the novel and ends on a cliff-hanger. I watched newly adopted Anne adjust to her role in the Cuthbert family and got flashes of her pitiful life before the Avonlea arrival. Some of the plots are directly from the book; whereas others are what I would like to call “new chapters.” I found these embellishments fresh and compatible with the original spirit. A bit more darkness is not incompatible with Anne’s story; especially now that new biographical information is available about author L.M. Montgomery life’s struggles.

If you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables, the novel, this is TV series is definitely worth a look. I am curious to know what others think of it.

For now i must wait and hope for more new chapters. Perhaps it is time again to dust off my novels for another reread.

For fans of the series who want to know more about the cultural impact of Anne of Green Gables, especially on an international scale, here is a link to an essay by Margaret Atwood. It taught me why the Japanese love this fictional character so much and continue to visit Prince Edward Island because of her.

Detectorists: a review

I just finished binge watching this quiet, funny British TV show and couldn’t wait to share my thoughts. It is available on Netflix; with 2 seasons, a total of 13 1/2hour episodes, the series flew by and came to a really fine conclusion. A recently announced 3rd season is in the works, and I am thrilled. I decided to check it out on the recommendation of Judge John Hodgman, a comedian whose podcast I follow.

This show is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. He is best known for his role as Gareth in the U.K. version of The Office and for his wandering eye (literally) in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. He and Toby Jones star as a couple of buddies who share a passion for “treasure hunting” in the fields of rural England. This eccentric hobby is handled with kindness, humour and respect. It is quite moving at times; I found myself carried away with the characters’ enthusiasm. With little by way of introduction, this show drops the viewer into the fictional town of Danebury, North Essex. Here we follow Andy (Crook) and Lance (Jones) as they search for gold and navigate their relationships with significant others, rival detectorists and each other.

Detectorists is perhaps not as laugh out loud funny as other comedies I watch. However it didn’t take but a few episodes for these 2 vulnerable nerds to worm their way into my heart. This show might appeal to anyone who enjoys British comedies without laugh tracks. It would be specifically endearing to anyone who has a niche interest or an obsessive hobby. The running gags never get tired. The domestic situations ring true and are very relatable. There is conflict yet kindness and warmth in this gentle comedy. As an added bonus, season 1 episode 3 has a cameo by Johnny Flynn, the star of another Netflix show I recently blogged about, Lovesick. He performs the show’s theme song during open mic night at the local pub.

I was delighted to learn this show won a BAFTA award for best TV comedy writing. It is well deserved. The recently announced 3rd season is due toward the end of the year. This is 2 years after the 2nd season ended. I love that about British TV shows. They are not restricted to a time frame or an episode count. All in good time. If you are looking for a sweet British comedy with a reasonable number of episodes and a tidy conclusion, you may want to check out Detectorists. And if it leaves you wanting more, then you are in luck.

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