Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Movies of 2015

I plain old forgot to come here and update this earlier in the year. Oops.

Didn't see as many films in 2015. Partly this was because I've been busy with other things: writing, the boys, life in general. Partly it's to do with more TV shows of quality being available. Shows like Happy Valley, Jessica Jones, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

Anyhow, in 2015 I saw 60 films, although a few of them were shorts, including some seen at Saskatoon's Fantastic Film Fest. That's down 10 from last year, but I saw 30 in the cinema (denoted with *),  up from 27, although again, some were shorts.

It doesn't feel as if I was quite as international last year. 11 countries in 2015, 16 in 2014. I must fix that for 2016. Here's that list:

Argentina - 1
Australia - 2
Austria - 1
Canada - 2
France - 1
India - 1
New Zealand - 3
South Korea - 2
Sweden - 2
UK - 8
USA - 37

Anyhow, here's what I saw last year, followed by my personal top ten of the year. I do count some movies from 2014 in my final assessment, depending on whether or not they were possible to see upon release.

*The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) USA - A couple of nice moments as well as tremendous emotional anchoring by Martin Freeman as Bilbo couldn’t save this unholy mess of a movie. I used to think there was plenty Jackson could do with the battle scenes, since in the book Bilbo took a knock to the head and missed pretty much the whole damn thing. But no, the battle (aside from the funny but not clever injection of Billy Connolly) was interminable, the changes made bothering even me, definitely not a purist.

Rich Hill (2014) USA - Disturbing and so very sad, and yet some moments that were remarkably uplifting. These kids have been given the short end of the stick all their lives, and yet they still work to get by.

Pride (2014) UK - Very enjoyable, with an excellent cast. As usual, I sometimes find myself wishing these movies based on real people and events wouldn’t feel the urge to create fictional characters to add to the group, but happily some of the characters were actual people of the events.

Housebound (2014) New Zealand - The funnest and funniest horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time. At least until the other horror movie from New Zealand I saw this year. Some nice twists and turns in this one.

*The Babadook (2014) Australia - Creepy and powerful, and a reminder that horror films often seem to be the places where you can find the strongest female characters, those who have the most agency.

*Wild (2014) USA - A nice vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, this is an emotional film that almost teeters over the precipice once (the two hunters, who may or may not be threatening to be worse) but pulls back and, again, gives the character agency.

*Wild Tales (2015) Argentina - Hilarious and horrific in equal measure. The wedding sequence is quite rightly the one most people talk about.

Force Majeure (2014) Sweden - Another funny and slightly disturbing film, this one about uncomfortable dynamics in a family after the husband turns tail and runs in the face of a possible disaster. Cutting and sometimes vicious, too.

Atari: Game Over (2014) USA - An intriguing little documentary about the mystery of cartridges for one of the worst games ever made (ET for Atari) being possibly buried in a dump, and the archaeological detective work done to find them.

Big Eyes (2014) USA - Tim Burton, exhibiting a (slight) return to form after a rather horrific spell. Perhaps it helped that there was no Johnny Depp in this one.

*Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) USA - I enjoyed it well enough, but in the end it’s a big, noisy, flashy, expensive mess, and reminds me how tired I am of the stakes always being upped in these movies so that the end of the world is always what’s on the line.

*Ex Machina (2015) USA - An excellent little film, more about character and the philosophy of what it means to be human than it is about the explosions and adventure that so often marks current SF films. Although, as noted below, explosions and adventure don’t have to be a bad thing.

*Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Australia - A remarkable, explosive, adventurous film that is also very subversive. Make no mistake: Max may be the title character, but he is not the main character. This is a film about and driven (sorry) by women.

Selma (2014) USA - A decent historical film that wisely picks a smaller slice of time rather than the broader sweep of the entire civil rights movement.

Korengal (2014) USA - A follow-up (I hesitate to say “sequel”) to Restrepo, another excellent documentary about life for soldiers deep in enemy territory in Afghanistan.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) UK - Violent and cheeky and a whole lot of fun. Probably my favourite (big screen) comic book adaptation of the year.

*Spy (2015) USA - Very funny, and who knew Jason Statham could be as hilarious as he was here?

Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014) South Korea - A good (but not great) Korean film, which feels odd to write, because Korean films very often blow me out of the water. Still worth seeing, though.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014) USA - Sad and sometimes difficult to watch, a nonetheless somewhat uplifting film about the power music has to keep Glen Campbell’s life and deteriorating health on a temporary even keel.

*Inside Out (2015) USA - Another triumph for Pixar. Simply lovely, and so very moving.

*Slow West (2015) New Zealand - A film about the American west made in New Zealand by a Kiwi director. The best western I’ve seen in ages, this one lives up to its title, a slow burn leading up to a horrific, nail-biting climax. And then, the perfect finish.

*Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015) USA - The best of the lot, and how does the 5th movie in a series get to be that way? Great fun.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) New Zealand - One of the funniest movies I saw this year, a mockumentary about vampires.

Kill the Messenger (2014) USA - A decent movie about the true events surrounding the reporter who uncovered the CIA’s involvement in arming the Nicaraguan rebels and coke smuggling, and the efforts made to smear him.

’71 (2014) UK - Thrilling and tense and sad, about a British soldier trapped behind “enemy lines” in Northern Ireland and trying desperately to get to safety. Had one of two great turns by Sam Harris that I saw this year, the other being in the MI film. Watch for him.

*Ant Man (2015) USA - I think this was the best superhero film of the year, although, again, it doesn’t hold a patch to Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Tig (2015) USA - Another moving documentary, this one about the comedian Tig Notaro. Even though I knew what was coming, her final performance is awesome and brave and inspiring.

Locke (2013) UK - Finally got to this one. Tom Hardy to me is a cipher: I’m never sure what he really looks or sounds like, and playing a Welshman in this just adds to it. Excellent film.

It Follows (2015) USA - An excellent horror film, although I would like to see a sequel that deals with the disposability of sex workers on the street, because the ending surely doesn’t, even though it leaves the question wide open.

Lucy (2014) France - Blah. Quite lousy, a sign we should allow fewer ten-year-olds access to screenplay writing software.

Rosewater (2014) USA - A good, heartfelt film. Especially nice that Jon Stewart didn’t inject himself into it.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) USA - An appalling (in a good way) documentary about the shit show that arose from a movie that, no matter what the hopeful folks say, was likely going to remain a shit show, just of a different type.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) USA - Very good documentary, frightening to see the control exerted and the abuse given.

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) UK - This was much more fun and clever and suave than I anticipated. Not a classic, but it stood up well.

*Mistress America (2015) USA - Another enjoyable Noah Baumbach film, although I did prefer Frances Ha from 2012.

*Mr. Holmes (2015) UK - Ian McKellen is wonderful as an aged Sherlock Holmes. The central mystery is not world-shattering, but it still means very much.

The Lunchbox (2013) India - Not only an astonishing look at one small aspect of a very different culture, this is a very sweet love story.

*Cop Car (2015) USA - Kevin Bacon as a cop in a fair amount of trouble, and two young boys are a part of why he’s in trouble. Extremely tense thriller.

*A Way Out (2015) USA (Short)

*Goodnight Mommy (2015) Austria - Horrific and frightening thriller/horror, I only felt let down by the little sung coda at the very end.

*Heir (2015) Canada (Short)

*A Hard Day (2014) South Korea - Proving once again that some of the best thrillers come from South Korea, this is an excellent film that has a very funny and very tense set piece involving a remote-control toy car and a dead body.

*Green Room (2015) USA - By the director of the also-brilliant Blue Ruin, this is another great thriller, a very tense movie involving a punk band, neo-nazis, and Captain Picard.

*The Stomach (2014) UK (Short)

We Are What We Are (2014) USA - A decent horror/thriller about a very dysfunctional family.

*The Martian (2015) USA - A top notch science fiction film with a very likeable main character.

*The Walk (2015) USA - An all right movie with astonishing special effects, best served if seen in 3D on the big screen. But the story itself was captured much better in the documentary Man On Wire.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) USA - Not as appealing a documentary as I would have hoped. The music selections are largely drawn from the sort of thing only obsessive completists would want to hear.

*Bridge of Spies (2015) USA - Not the highest calibre Spielberg movie, but still very good. A spy movie of a different sort.

Jupiter Ascending (2015) USA - Ick. Much like The Fifth Element, this felt like a movie based on the dreams of a 12-year-old, except it made even less sense.

Kung Fury (2015) Sweden (Short) - A crazed, deliberately mediocre-looking homage to bad ‘80s cop shows and ‘70s martial arts flicks. Hilarious.

Beasts of No Nation (2015) UK - An excellent film made for Netflix, with a great performance by Idris Elba.

*Spotlight (2015) USA - Outstanding. At the end my wife said to me, “It feels like I’ve just read a really good book.”

Back in Time (2015) USA - A fun if light documentary about the making of Back to the Future.

*Remember (2015) Canada - A decent thriller about two elderly men and the effects of the Holocaust, but the ending borders on ridiculously unbelievable. Both Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau are excellent.

*Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) USA - Fun. Felt like a Star Wars movie should. Which may be partly because it matched a lot of the first film beat for beat.

*The Big Short (2015) USA - Tremendous and funny and not afraid to deal complicated ideas to its audience, even when it tries to explain them.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) USA - A so-so film based on a very funny book. A shame Paul Newman couldn’t have made this with Redford, instead of Nick Nolte, although even then I question whether or not it would have really worked.

Trainwreck (2015) USA - Very funny, very NSFW.

*The Hateful Eight (2015) USA - I know a bunch of my friends weren’t fans of this, but I really enjoyed it. Some neat twists and turns, as is Tarantino’s wont.

A few movies came close to making the top ten. As always, a list like this might change depending on my mood. I could see adding The Big Short, Housebound, Bridge of Spies, What We Do In The Shadows, Beasts of No Nation, Ex Machina, The Babadook, Rich Hill, Korengal (my favorite documentary of the year), '71, or Force Majeure to the list. And yes, that's eleven more movies right there.

1. Spotlight
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Martian
4. Slow West
5. A Hard Day
6. Inside Out
7. Green Room
8. Mr. Holmes
9. Cop Car
10. Wild Tales

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Interviews with Trapper Bud

For the past two or three years, as many of you know, I have been tweeting the diaries of Bud Murphy, my grandfather, who spent a decade, starting in 1929, trapping with his father in the Northwest Territories. When I finished with those I dove right into the diaries of his dad, Matt Murphy, who went up for one season in 1925/26 and then again when Grandpa went with him.

I've also been putting up photos, not only ones that were taken by Grandpa, but some that have been passed on to me by others, and tweeted great information and questions and answers from readers, people who have turned this project in family history into a crowd-sourced project of local history. A wider scope, with Grandpa and then Matt still at the center of the view, has opened up tales and vistas I did not think possible, and I am grateful every day for the opportunity to share and to sometimes have that spirit of sharing reflected back on me and my family.

Heck, I even sometimes get phone calls from a gentleman who knew my great-uncle Neill, and we chat about his own time in Yellowknife and the people he knew.

Today, I'm pleased to be able to share another level of that history with you.

Somewhere between 1984 and 1986, after my grandmother Elda Murphy died, my father George and I sat down with Grandpa and interviewed him, on tape. I've been sitting on these tapes all these years, and found them (at least, I hope I found all of them. Can't be sure, and you'll see why in a moment) at the same time I found the diaries.

But tapes that are 30+ years old are not guaranteed to work, and I didn't want to just throw them in the one tape deck we still have in the house and discover I had created a disaster. I also had an old computer and didn't want to digitize things and, again, discover that I'd caused even more problems. So I researched what was the simplest way to turn these tapes into digital files, and then, about a month ago, I bought a new computer. Then I bought the cord to move the interviews from the deck to the computer, brought the deck upstairs, hooked up everything...

...and still almost screwed up. Badly.

Two tapes went into the Tape A spot, but both got chewed up.

The good news, though, is these tapes weren't the interviews with Grandpa. No, they were music, both by friends (and so still irreplaceable). I grabbed a third tape and put it in Tape B, and everything worked.

And so, fingers crossed and breath tightly held, I put in the first tape, hit play on the deck and record on the computer, and watched (not listened, since it was transferring in silence) as steady lines turned into jumping sound waves. Everything seemed to be working.

And so, lucky me, lucky family, lucky you. What we have in the following link are four separate files, all from the same interview, my Dad and I sometimes asking questions for clarity, but mostly listening to Grandpa talk about his time in the NWT.

I do warn you in advance, though, that it's Amateur Hour at the Murphy household. This was all done on a Toshiba boombox I had had since I was about 15. No external mic. Whenever a tape ended I would jump up to flip it over or put in a new one, but Grandpa would not stop talking. Sometimes I'm able to reel him back, sometimes not. In the meantime, there's a fire crackling in the background. Sometimes (including early on) the phone rings, or the dog barks, or my mom interrupts. But really, not only are you hearing the history involved in Grandpa's early life, you're also witnessing the chaos of a suburban Edmonton home in the mid-80s, so think of that as a kind of history as well. Less interesting, frankly, but it's still there.

Finally, let me state what a joy it has been to sit and listen to Grandpa's voice again. He died in 2004, and while I could hear his voice in the back of my head when I was inputting his diary entries, this is definitely different. The discovery and recovery, even though I knew the tapes existed, has been a real thrill. My regret now is that I didn't do the same with my other grandparents, and I hope that at least some of you, as you read this, will feel the spark to go out and start collecting your own family history.

Part One is here.

Part Two is here.

Part Three is here.

Part Four is here.

You can access all four in one place here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

@TrapperBud and his Brush With Death

Today in the mail I received a package from my parents, an old brown envelope addressed to Grandpa as “Mr. Cyril M. Murphy, Whitelaw, Alberta, Can., postmarked Mar 17 1941 at 11pm at the GPO on New York, NY. It has a 3 cent stamp on it that, for some reason, is Canadian, a red King George VI from 1937 (I’ve done some research). Also stamped on the envelope are the words “POSTAGE DUE 6 CENTS.” Worthy of note is the fact the enveloped has been opened with a letter opener, pretty much a tool of a bygone era these days.

Inside the envelope are two stories, likely not the original contents, both of them attempts by Grandpa to tell the same story. These are a part of the @TrapperBud legacy, one I am keen to share, but clearly too long for Twitter, and so I have turned to this blog as a home for this story. The one I have transcribed below is likely the final draft, as the other has scribbled-out words as he corrected himself while writing, and I will supply footnotes to indicate when the stories diverge. He was operating on memory here and made a small dating error, it seems. But read and enjoy and don’t get too caught up in small details.

Mr. Cyril M. Murphy
Whitelaw, Alberta, Can.

The Stampede of Caribou*

I was a Barren Land trapper for ten years and during that length of time I had several narrow escapes from death, one of which a large herd of stampeding caribou took part in.

My father and I had been on Artillery Lake for four years and as the fur had not been very plentiful the last couple of years we decided to move to new trapping grounds. After much scouting around we made plans to settle on Back River about one hundred and fifty miles North East of Artillery Lake.

We left Artillery Lake on the fifth of May 1933* with our dogs and a canoe on the tobaggan with about four months supply of food. We travelled on the ice as the big lakes do not open until the end of July in the north. We arrived on Back River on the eighteenth of June, still on ice. After a hard pull for the dogs for fifteen miles over bare ground we arrived at our previously picked out camping place.

It took us about a week to get our camp into* shape for the winter and then came the task of getting our wood supply. It took us about a month of hard work to get what we thought would do us for the winter. The only wood that is available* in that country is small green willows about one inch thick and they are found only along the edges of the small creeks.

As we were short on food it was decided that I should take the canoe and the Johnson Outboard motor and make the trip to Reliance, two hundred and fifty miles south. The ice was just breaking up* in Aylmer Lake which delayed my start until the fifth of August. This lake was the beginning point of my trip as the Back river was too shallow for travelling on by canoe and engine.

With food for a week, a small tent, my rifle and sleeping bag I started out to walk the fifteen miles to Aylmer Lake, where the canoe and engine had been left. As I came up over a ridge about five miles from the lake I saw a herd of about five thousand caribou feeding along the base of the ridge. These Caribou come from the North East by the tens of thousands about the end of July and move on to the South West, making a big circular tour and come back through again from the North East about the last* of September.

Not needing any meat at the time I never bothered to take my rifle from the case which was an oversight* on my part which I regretted very much a few minutes later*. Suddenly I saw two bulls jump into the air, which is common of Caribou when something startles them. Thinking nothing of it, as I thought it was me they had spotted I kept on walking, but instead it was a couple of big grey Arctic wolves out after a caribou dinner.

Immediately all of the caribou stampeded and as they were coming straight towards me I did not have time to pull my rifle from its case. The only chance for my life that I could see was to make a run for the nearest large rock, which was about fifty feet away. When I got closer the rock looked pretty small but I couldn’t get any further as the leading caribou brushed my clothes as I fell on my face behind the rock. They came thundering on, some going on either side of my shelter but a large number jumped over me and the rock.

It seemed hours that I lay there tensely waiting to be trampled to death by thousands of hoofs, but it was only a few minutes until they had all passed. When I finally stood up I was shaking so badly I could not steady myself enough to put the rifle to my shoulder to fire at the wolves which were only two hundred yards away, still chasing the caribou.

That was the closest call to death I ever had in my ten years I was trapping in the N.W.T. and I don’t want another like that.

* The other version does not include is name and address

* No underlining in the other version

* He says twenty fifth in the other version. Going back to the diary doesn’t really pin it down, but it seems to be between the two dates

* “In” shape in the other version

* He doesn’t say “available” in the other version

* He doesn’t say “up” in the other version

* He says “end” instead of “last” in the other version

 * He writes “an oversight” in tiny script above the sentence, a late addition in the other version

* After “oversight” he writes “which I was to regret a few minutes later” in this version

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Which I Discuss Traffic Issues With the City of Saskatoon: A One-Way Conversation

Edited, to add the City's response and my own response to that, down at the bottom.

I've written a couple of letters to the city's Contact Us website. Here's the first one:

On June 16 just after 7pm it took me 15 minutes to drive from the Lawson Civic Centre to the SW corner of the mall at Primrose and Warman. The traffic was horribly backed up, and the surprise came at the end when I reached Warman and found that the right lane was closed just before the corner, forcing those vehicles to merge into the left lane. The only reason for this was to keep people from turning right onto Warman, which was already blocked off and therefore there was no way to turn right. As soon as we got onto Warman southbound, it was two lanes again. So my question is, why not just put up signs advising drivers that they won't be able to turn right at Warman, instead of blocking traffic? Are Saskatoon drivers illiterate? No, scratch that, I've seen how Saskatoon drivers behave, and this is entirely possible. However, I think your construction and engineering teams are giving us short shrift. If someone is already on Primrose with the intention of turning right on Warman, and if they don't pay attention to signage, they won't be turning right whether or not your Traffic Flow Incoveniencing Device is in place or not. In the meantime, the rest of us - already weary from the closure of the University Bridge, the closure of Warman Road, the decrepitude and soon-to-be death of the Traffic Bridge, non-stop potholes and who knows what other road construction - would appreciate the chance to be treated like adults who can sometimes make intelligent decisions and not have to deal with seemingly-deliberate attempts to stopper traffic flow for no better reason than "we have this neat electronic sign that we paid for and therefore should use it as often as possible." I thank you for your attention to this matter, as well as your patience with my rambling.

And here's a second:

Well, after yesterday's email to you folks (unanswered, by the way, but I accept that it has only been 24 hours: an eternity in this digital, everybody-hooked-up world of ours, but barely an eye blink for a governmental bureaucracy), it turns out that the electronic sign on Primrose was indeed moved. Good news! Sadly, though, the sign was only moved about 5 meters or so. This time (about 6:15pm), Warman Road north from the SW corner of Lawson Heights Mall was open so that people turning right could do so, but since one can also turn left from the right lane, there are many cars in that lane anticipating they might be able to do so. And again, since there are no signs anywhere between the Lawson Civic Centre and the corner, this comes as a surprise to those drivers. Although today allow me to offer kudos to Saskatoon drivers, who did a much better job of handling the surprise zipper merge. I can't speak, however, to how those drivers handled their dismay or even anger on finding there was again no apparent reason for this traffic blockage. Warman Road going south has no construction at this moment, tonight the road going north was also open, so again it seems the only reason this electronic traffic sign and accompanying pylons are in place are to a) aggravate local drivers, and/or b) get some usage out of an expensive sign that was just going to be sitting around anyhow. For your benefit, I have taken a picture and tweeted it to @cityofsaskatoon via my @derrylm account. You can see it here: I will be back in that area tomorrow, and do so look forward to seeing where the sign has been moved to then. Perhaps in the middle of the intersection? 

Then today I heard from Chris, with City of Saskatoon Transportation:

Good Morning Mr. Murphy,

Thanks for the emails and your sense of humour.

Warman Road is being re-surfaced so that is the reason for the lane closure. I know it can be confusing when a lane is closed down and you see no personnel around but it could be the crew contracted to do the work isn't at that specific location at the moment you drive by. The lane restrictions have to remain as the condition of the road is unlikely in a safe driveable condition.

The sign should be in the same place today unless, due to your picture showing it's [sic] awesomeness, someone has come and stole it.

 Thanks for your patience as the City tries to get as much road work done as they possibly can over our short construction season.

Have a good day,

To which I responded:

Hello Chris, and thank you for your reply.

The electronic sign was gone today. While it is possible the sign was moved by someone human, I worry that it may have arrived at some form of self-awareness, and respectfully request you have someone check the manufacturer's label to make sure it doesn't say Cyberdyne Systems. If it does, then I know a fellow with a nice facial scar who might be able to send me back in time to last autumn in order to try and stop this asphaltocalypse.

In the meantime, while the City was good enough to place signs up in advance telling drivers to get into the right lane this time (as opposed to the right lane being closed without signage the past two nights), there were no signs telling approaching drivers that, even though there was one lane open going southbound, we fools coming off of Primrose would not be allowed to turn left onto Warman. It was like the people in charge of signage felt it would do us all some good to receive a surprise, today's surprise being that in order to go left you had to turn right and then drive a very long distance in order to double back.

I suppose, though, this made as much sense as the electronic sign (Cyberdyne Systems T-300) blocking the road when there was no actual construction going on at the time. I understand the need to do the road and bridge construction now (8 months of winter, 4 months of construction are the two seasons, I know), but, at the risk of sounding like the classic definition of insanity (yet another side bar: Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result), I only ask that the drivers be warned so that we can make decisions about how to get where we're going in advance of arriving at the point of no return.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Movies of 2014

The number of movies I saw this year went up again, from 61 last year to 69 (with a proviso or two, which I will get to), although the number seen in the cinema dropped slightly from 28 to 27. I’ve pretty much stopped seeing any film with my older son, and now the youngest is beginning to go off in his own direction as well. He has said he wants to see the last Hobbit with me, but life keeps him very busy. We shall see if I get to it in 2015. As for past years, click on the "movies" hashtag at the end of this and that will take you to see my past few entries.

Other numbers? Of the 69 I saw, 17 were documentaries. 16 countries were responsible for what I saw, although Spain is more than a stretch, and oddly (considering how much I enjoy South Korean movies), the only offering from South Korea this past year was Snowpiercer. But considering the Indonesian film was made by a Welshman, and last year I saw a German film made by an Australian, I suppose we truly are watching a global art form, so I counted them that way. The countries were: Australia; China; Denmark; France; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Japan; Morocco; Netherlands; Poland; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; UK; USA.

As usual, some of the movies are from other years, including a few from much earlier. I choose to list them if it was the first time viewed, but only 2014 or 2013 (if unavailable to me before then) films are eligible for the top 10 or for my newly-minted list of honourable mentions. I’m not a critic, I don’t get paid to go see movies, and time is often difficult to find, so there are lots of films I haven’t seen and wished I had (top of that list right now is likely Nightcrawler). As well, living in the boonies as I do means there are movies that haven’t made it here yet. I count The Babadook and Force Majeure among the tops of those, although I discovered to my pain that The Babadook did play for one measly showing here at the Broadway a few months ago as part of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Fest, as did a bunch of other good looking films. I must pay better attention in 2015.

I also, besides life with the family and work and writing and reading, try to find time for a few new TV shows, most of them these days also on Netflix, so that eats into movie time as well. Happy Valley was the best discovery of the year in that area, and if you have the service and haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Netflix is a place I go see documentaries, a genre I mostly enjoy by myself in this family (although, contrary to what I said about my older son, Aidan did come to the theatre to see Jodorowsky’s Dune with me). Some I watch not out of anticipation of a great film, but rather to see something about a subject that interests me.

As well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Science and Interstellar. There were some complaints about the science in the movie, which struck me as frequently wrong-headed. Yes, you can have issues with something, but eventually you’re going to look like a one-noted special interest group if that’s your only reason for liking or not liking something. In truth, it’s become a common issue throughout film: there were complaints from the stage community this year about how Birdman didn’t properly portray live theatre, and complaints (apparently in a drumming magazine) about how Whiplash didn’t truly show jazz drumming. The film critic Matt Zoller Seitz had a great response on Twitter for this, and my own contributions, if I had chipped in, would have possibly been “Let me tell you about what Bringing Up Baby got wrong about Apatosaurus,” or “Let me tell you about what The Big Lebowski got wrong about bowling. And marmots.”

There were also complaints that Interstellar didn’t make sense, or was too metaphysical. That’s fine, but some of those complaints came from people who really like 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I don’t buy it. Perhaps I discuss Interstellar too much, since there were other movies I ranked above it, but those issues seemed to me to be especially prevalent with that film, maybe because as a SF author I find myself more often in those circles.

That’s enough preamble. Here’s the list of what I watched in 2014.

Jack Reacher (2012) USA - Actually pretty good, for what it was, and Werner Herzog was believably freaky as the bad guy. Also, a friend was an extra in one scene, so I had to watch it just to see her.

*Lone Survivor (2014) USA - Tense and exciting and more than a little gruesome. I was happy that not all Afghans got short shrift, and indeed, even the epilogue sings their praises in a couple of different spots. Not one to be seen if you’re sensitive to blood or extreme pain.

Rush (2013) USA - Decent but kinda typically Ron Howard movie. Follows all the notes that type of movie is supposed to.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (2012) USA - An interesting if not anywhere close to groundbreaking documentary about the magician and card player.

Good Ol’ Freda (2013) UK - Enjoyable doc about the woman who was the Beatles’ personal assistant.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) USA - Took a long time to see this very upsetting doc about murder and suicide, precisely because I knew what was coming. But still worth watching.

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012) USA - Another doc, a strange one about a woman who claimed to be something she wasn’t.

Veronica Mars (2014) USA - Not sure why I felt the urge to watch a movie based on a TV series I never watched, but I did enjoy it. Nothing extremely marvelous, of course, but fun enough.

*The Room (2003) USA - One of the worst movies ever, and very proud of it. We saw this with the director/writer/star and the co-star, and it was everything I wanted it to be. A fun evening.

*Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) USA - Aside from the “Hail Hydra” moments and the great big explosions at the end, this was a great superhero movie, more of a spy thriller than a bombastic comic book movie.

The Intouchables (2011) France - A lovely film about friendship. Highly recommended.

*The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) USA - As usual, Wes Anderson has created a great movie full of quirks and quirky characters, presented on film with rigorous formality, as if on a stage.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012) USA - A fine documentary about one of the greatest bands most people have never heard of.

*Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) USA - A mind-blowing doc about a movie that never was but perhaps should have been.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) USA - I was surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did. Not great, but affecting, and as a former photographer and photo clerk I have to say I appreciated the final cover photo.

*The Wind Rises (2014) Japan - As usual, a marvelous film from Studio Ghibli. Who would have thought the story of the creator of the Japanese fighter plane the Zero would be so affecting and lovely?

The Family (2013) USA - A minor halt in Robert De Niro’s career slide. Also, a bit of a wink to Michelle Pfeiffer’s role in Married to the Mob. Fun, if slight.

*The Raid 2 (2014) Indonesia - Not as balls to the wall as its precursor, but still a great action movie with some of the most insane fight scenes anywhere. I’d love to see the director get his hands on a superhero property and mess with it.

Zaytoun (2012) Israel - A good if rather ordinary-feeling film about an Israeli fighter pilot and the Palestinian boy who rescues him from his captors in Lebanon.

Elysium (2013) USA - I had high hopes for this, but it was at best an ordinary SF film with loftier goals than ability to attain them.

*Godzilla (2014) USA - A decent and enjoyable monster movie, far better than the Matthew Broderick iteration, and it does a nice job of teasing us with the monster.

The Iceman (2012) USA - Michael Shannon, as it seems he always is (even when he plays a nice guy), quite disturbingly on edge in this one.

*Edge of Tomorrow (2014) USA - A thrilling military SF film, and so many of us couldn’t argue with seeing Tom Cruise buy it in so many different ways. That said, he was very good in this movie.

The Monuments Men (2014) USA - Might go down as my biggest disappointment of the year. “Hey, let’s make a movie so we can all get together and hang out and crack lines at each other!”

*X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) USA - Time travel in a superhero movie done well.

Best Worst Movie
(2009) USA - A mildly fun doc about the people who were in Troll 2, which was neither the sequel to Troll, nor about trolls. Especially interesting when you see George Hardy finally realize how he’s letting this all get away from him.

Frankenstein’s Army
(2013) Holland - The coolest practical creature effects I’ve seen in years. Not a perfect movie, but definitely worth seeing.

Dear Mr. Watterson (USA) 2013 - A decent doc about the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

Jesus Camp (USA) 2006 - Another older and disturbing doc I finally caught up on.

The Lego Movie (USA) 2014 - Well, this was everything I was told it would be. An absolute blast.

The Lone Ranger (USA) 2013 - Actually better than I expected. But honestly, I expected only the worst.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (China) 2014 - There is a scene involving blood in this Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) movie where I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in years. Overly long and a little diffuse at some points, it is still funny and exciting and worth seeing.

Grand Piano (Spain) 2014 - A deliberate homage to Hitchcock (even the main character’s name is a giveaway), this is a taut, fun thriller, a little preposterous but well worth watching. All American, but the director is Spanish and the film is listed as thus.

*Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) USA - I enjoyed this much more than the first remake. Exciting and with believable characters, human and ape.

*Tracks (2014) Australia - A moving true story about a young woman who has not a lot of room in her life for human interaction, and her trip across the desert interior of Australia with camels and her beloved dog.

Enough Said (2013) USA - One of James Gandolfini’s last roles. He’s good in a light little romantic comedy like this, but it won’t go down in the annals of time as one of his great roles.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014) USA - A Netflix original doc, about a Single A baseball team owned by Kurt Russell’s father in the 1970s. Good fun.

*Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) USA - Epic and hilarious and peopled with characters you care about, this was everything a superhero movie should be.

Milius (2013) USA - A doc about a Hollywood screenwriter of a different stripe. An interesting enough story, if you already have an interest in such things.

Snowpiercer (2014) South Korea - What a weird and wonderful SF movie. And Tilda Swinton absolutely ruled in it.

Alan Partridge (2013) UK - A very funny Steve Coogan movie, albeit another one in which he plays a rather insufferable individual.

*A Most Wanted Man (2014) UK - One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films, this spy thriller very much sits in the same category as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both were from books written by John le Carré) or The American (both were directed by Anton Corbijn). It’s slow and thoughtful, and Hoffman puts on a master class.

Horses of God (2013) Morocco - A very disturbing and sad fictionalized account of terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003, of how children and young men turn to fundamentalism and ultimately to killing because of the circumstances surrounding them.

*Boyhood (2014) USA - I found this quite affecting, and proof that you don’t need the finest actors in the world to tell a moving story.

Blue Ruin (2013) USA - A tense indie thriller. Lots of blood and violence, but unlike so many other movies of this type, the violence here has real impact and truly doesn’t solve anything.

*Calvary (2014) Ireland - Much more tense and disturbing than I expected (the ads made it look like a typical Irish black comedy), with a remarkably moving ending.

*The Trip to Italy (2014) UK - Very funny, again, and I enjoyed the meta part when they discussed how sequels usually aren’t as good as the first time around. Also, I desperately want to go there, stay where they stayed and eat where they ate.

Ender’s Game (2013) USA - First off, the opening narration set me off, completely unnecessary since the same thing is gone over later during training. It’s a lazy cheat. Otherwise, as odious as Card’s beliefs are (I ensured I wasn’t paying to watch this movie, aside from the premium cable price for the movie channel it was on), I suppose it was OK. But not a lot of wonder in the movie, I found.

*Gone Girl (2014) USA -  Tremendous and tense and I’m very glad I didn’t read the book. Also ludicrous in many ways, but Fincher pulls it off with ease.

Terror at the Mall: The Nairobi Siege (2014) USA - An excellent and gripping documentary from HBO about the terror attack in Nairobi. Makes great use not only of CCTV footage (and there was a lot) but also still photography shot in such quick bursts it almost looks like film.

*Fury (2014) USA - A tremendous war movie with great performances. Some tropes are dipped into, but they are still put to good use.

Hours (2013) USA - One of Paul Walker’s last films, this is a fine little thriller/drama, quite tense and smart.

*The Phantom of the Opera (1925) USA - Another part of the Silence is Golden series at the Roxy, one of my favorite movie theatres anywhere. Seen with musical accompaniment by about 20 members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra as well as a pianist/organist from LA. A marvelous evening.

*Interstellar (2014) USA - Remarkable and emotional, even as it maintains its adherence to rationality. This is SF with an immense sweep and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Some minor problems, yes, but it sucked me in and moved me a whole lot.

The Hunt (2013) Denmark - A very difficult movie to watch, about false accusations of child abuse and the tragic affects on the accused, his friends and family, and the entire community. The buildup of the accusations just in the few sentences the head of the kindergarten speaks is mind blowing and frightening. Tremendous.

*Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) USA - Absolutely marvelous, a serious indictment of the pop culture/comic book scene that’s taken over so much of movies and more these days. Great acting, amazing cinematography, and a wonderful ending.

Ida (2013) Poland - Some of the most arresting cinematography I saw this year, with a brilliant use of negative space, this is a quiet and uneasy film with two powerful central performances and an offhand shock that comes with little or no time to think about it. A great meditation on faith and family and the horror of loss.

*Whiplash (2014) USA - Powerful and disturbing with some amazing acting. Hard to like what happened in the film, but not hard to be blown away. And wow, what a finish.

*The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) USA - There were some highlights for me, including Katniss visiting the wounded and a reasonably tense extraction mission, but that second one is also a small example of why I’m having some problems with this series. Katniss has very little agency, and generally when she acts it’s because she is forced or coerced to, either by someone on her side (Plutarch) or the other (Snow). The extreme example of course is the end of the last movie, when they took her to District 13 but couldn’t tell her for fear of giving it all away.

*John Wick (2014) USA - A pretty decent thriller, much more existential and slow-paced than most of its ilk. There comes a point in the film where I was sure, absolutely positive, it must have been based on a comic book, but no, it’s original. And quite clever, I might add.

Altman (2014) USA - A decent documentary about the director Robert Altman. I thought the narration, by his widow, was quite enjoyable.

We Are the Best! (2013) Sweden - A delightful and somewhat meandering film about three young girls (all about 13) in 1982 who - despite two of them having no musical experience at all - decide to form a punk band. The essence of innocence and fearlessness lies in these girls, and it’s wonderful.

*Foxcatcher (2014) USA - Outstandingly creepy, a mood aided by some phenomenal sound design. This is a remarkably quiet movie, many of the conversations just a hair beyond the audience’s ability to hear, which makes it feel like we’re watching something on the sly, illicitly. A trio of great performances as well.

The Equalizer (2014) USA - I liked it. The tells McCall’s character gave, all the OCD moments, really helped build who he was in my mind. And yes, the big set piece at the end was a kind of Home Alone for grown-ups, right down to the torch on the doorknob, although that was of course used in a different fashion.

*The Imitation Game (2014) UK - Mostly excellent, and of course Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Turing. The coda to the ending bothered me a bit: I knew by the reactions of people around me in the theatre that many don’t know about Turing and what happened to him, but still, the titles at the end feel a touch didactic and pedantic, and overlaid atop images of the group burning their papers and drinking beers felt a tad like the end of a TV movie. Some of it was perhaps unnecessary as well. But still, I really liked it.

7Up, 14Up, 21Up and 28Up (Various years) UK - Finally getting to the brilliant Michael Apted documentary series following English children from a broad cross section of society, every seven years. Still to watch: 35, 42, 49, and 56Up. At that point I’ll feel more equipped to talk about the project as a whole. But for the moment, I’m counting these as four movies, but accepting they fall into the “Yeah, but” category for the year.

And so on to the top ten and honourable mentions. This list could change order any day (Boyhood in particular could slide up), and I could see a couple of the movies on the outside muscling their way in (Snowpiercer, A Most Wanted Man), but for the moment I’m satisfied with my placement.

1. Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2. Ida
3. Blue Ruin
4. Whiplash
5. Interstellar
6. Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Boyhood
8. The Hunt
9. Horses of God
10. We Are the Best!

Honorable Mentions: Jodorowsky’s Dune; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; The Lego Movie; Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons; Tracks; The Battered Bastards of Baseball; A Most Wanted Man; Calvary; Snowpiercer; Foxcatcher; The Imitation Game


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grandpa, Trapper Bud, and the Camera Pouch

The first thing to note is that if this is of interest to you but you're not following @TrapperBud on Twitter, perhaps you should.

As background: My grandfather, Cyril "Bud" Murphy (although at the time he was known as "Spud," a nickname that would eventually be changed at the behest of his sister Mavis) went to the Northwest Territories as an 18-year-old in 1929, to accompany his father Matt Murphy as a fur trapper for the next decade, starting first along Artillery Lake and eventually moving to the Back River.

After Grandpa died, I inherited some of his old diaries, but set them aside and for a long time never looked at them. But when I did, I realized they were mostly in the ideal format for Twitter. Generally short and to the point, but often with amazing details about getting lost, about hunting and trapping, even about murder and suicide. Other family members stepped up and soon I had most (although sadly not all) of his diaries right through the next decade.

One of the best parts of this ongoing story has been new people, new stories, and new things coming out of the woodwork. And while I am working on telling people more about all of this in the future, there is one item I wish to show everyone right now.

I don't know what year it was, but on a recent visit with my dad he told me the story of Grandpa riding his dog team past what he would have called an Indian camp. At the time the only person there was a woman, and she needed help for some reason, so Grandpa stopped and gave her assistance. A few days later, riding back to his camp, a man came out and stopped Grandpa. Turned out they wanted to thank him for his help.

This was what he received.

When Grandpa had stopped, the First Nations woman had taken one look at Grandpa's 620 format camera and right away knew its dimensions. By the time he'd returned she'd made him a camera pouch from caribou hide and beads, and it fit perfectly. And since she knew him, I'm guessing, she added his initials (CM) on the flap, inside the red circle.

Grandpa was very proud of this pouch; I remember him showing it to me many years ago, but had forgotten about it. The camera no longer works, of course. The bellows are torn, and 620 film is no longer a thing. But lots of great photos were taken with it, gradually showing up on @TrapperBud, and this pouch is a great addition to the memories and the history, something for everyone to see.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Trapper Bud, Otto Lanner, and a Hint at the Tragedy Behind "Northwest Passage"

In my ongoing Twitter feed for @TrapperBud (the diaries of my grandfather when he was a trapper in the NWT in the 1930s), I've been typing in diary entries ahead of time so they are easier to slot in on TweetDeck. As I've been doing this I've been eagerly awaiting the first mention of Otto Lanner, and just the other day came across it. Otto, in case you're familiar with my short story "Northwest Passage," which was initially published in the magazine Realms of Fantasy and recently reprinted in my Sunburst-nominated collection Over the Darkened Landscape, was the inspiration for the character Swede in that story.

Another mention that came much earlier in the diaries and has already gone out there was of Emil Bode, who also figures in the same tragic sequence of events involving Otto. The inexorable march towards this is quite exciting for me to watch.

However, if you haven't read the short story, I'm not going to give it away today. I would hope you will follow the feed if you're interested, or at least check back here for notice when it comes up (and I promise to be better about using this space for this sort of thing).

What I will say is that, out of curiosity, I Googled Lanner's name and found a mention on from all the way back in May 2001, a woman in Sweden asking "My grandmother had a brother by name Otto Lanner. He came from the parish Tuna in Sweden to the state of Alaska in the beginning of the last century. I don´t know if he had any children?"

I looked on Facebook and found her name and sent her a message to see if this had been the same person, and today she contacted me. It appears he was indeed her great uncle, and I've been able to fill in some gaps for her, and will be forwarding on a photo. In return, she tells me she will send some photos of Otto from the early days.

@TrapperBud continues to open up all sorts of new and exciting avenues for me, and I'm thrilled to not only fall into this small slice of family history, but to welcome others and their own offshoots of that history. We really are weaving this together, or perhaps finding shards of a mysterious and broken past that fit together in surprising ways, offering new and expanded views of what came before.

For this, I'm grateful.

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