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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Movies of 2013

Well, after a drop in the number of movies seen each year, 2013 saw an increase in viewing. Part of this can be attributed to Netflix, even though they’re usually not very up to date, and part of this can be attributed to more that interested me and, for some reason, more time to see it.

In 2012 I saw only 40 movies, but 2013 saw that jump all the way to 61, although there are some provisos to that number. While normally I track only movies from the current and previous year (to allow for the time it takes some to make it here to the backwoods), this number does include a few from years previous, including one from many years ago. Suitable notation will be made so you know which is which, and why. 46% of the movies I saw were on the big screen, but a crapped-out TV saw us move up to a 55 inch screen in the TV room, so that with a decent surround sound system does help the viewing experience.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I seem to have only purchased one BluRay during the entire year. I know I would like to start picking up Criterion discs, but have yet to commit to it. Otherwise, most everything I want to watch at home I can find online.

And so, here’s the list. As usual, any movie I saw in the theatre will include an asterisk (*), and if a movie is not from 2013 I will include its year of release. This time out I’m also telling you what in what country it was produced. When you get to the entry about Lore you’ll see why this interested me. As well, this year there are some 2012 movies I won’t rule out of my top 10 list, strictly based on whether or not I even was given the chance to see them in 2013. As a final note, let me remind you I am not a critic, I have a life, and therefore miss a lot of films. So this list is only from my tiny little corner of the world.

*Django Unchained (2012) US - Typical sharp, stylish Tarantino, with plenty of violence and, being a revenge fantasy, loads of improbabilities. Not quite as ahistorical as Inglorious Basterds, and not quite as good, but still enjoyable.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) US - It worked well for what it was, the old comic geek in me appreciated that Gwen Stacey was there at the start instead of Mary Jane Parker, but I do question why it had to be done this way so soon. Still, the hints of the next movie look interesting.

Headhunters (2011) Norway/Germany - A crime thriller with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (of Game of Thrones fame). Tense and smart and I do recommend seeing it before the supposed American remake shows up.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) US - A small indie film about 3 magazine employees looking to interview the guy who placed an ad seeking a companion for his time traveling. There was a side story I at first question but which ended up being right for the movie, and the ending is almost as perfect as any ending on this list could possibly be.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) US - I didn’t mind it, but it seemed a little too caught up in all its cleverness. Sam Rockwell plays unhinged quite well, but to see him at his best there was another movie this year to watch.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) US - Absolutely delightful. The voice casting was spot-on, the story heartfelt and the characters and animation tremendous.

*Silver Linings Playbook (2012) US - I enjoy David O. Russell films, and this one was no exception, but I never know exactly where he’s going to take me. I suppose that could be good, but for a movie about two damaged individuals, this one seemed to be fairly tightly controlled. Not antiseptic, but like a story that knew all the beats it had to hit and made sure it landed on them hard.

*Pacific Rim (2013) US - Sue me if you want, but a giant robot vs giant monster movie with shots like the one of Idris Elba coming out of the top of his Jaeger with the sun shining down from behind him like a halo is about nothing but iconography, the images of movies and heroes and our fears, and it did almost everything right.

*Man of Steel (2013) US - Dizzying, numbing, with a disappointing finish. That said, the scenes with Kevin Costner as Pa Kent were real and sometimes heartbreaking. He seems to have reinvented himself, and I hope it holds.

*Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) US - Last year it was Prometheus, this year the movie that made me very angry was this one. “Hello? I know we said we wouldn’t do it because it would mess with history and the time stream, but I’d like to place an intergalactic direct call to the original Spock so he can solve a plot point for me with me having to do any actual, you know, work on the story.” See also: white guy playing a Sikh character. Also see also: Klingons as an afterthought. Also also see also: regurgitating only some parts of an old plot from the series, rather than finding something original. Argh. Now I’m getting angry again.

*Iron Man 3 (2013) US - Comic book geek I may be, but I have no history with the Mandarin, so what happened with his character didn’t bother me. That said, that particular sleight of hand did feel like a bit of a cheat. The good news was this was still a good fun punch/blast ‘em up.

*Mud (2013) US - This movie was a pure wonder. Superb acting, tense filmmaking, a marvelous cast, great dialogue.

*42 (2013) US - A decent sports movie with a unique (for him) turn by Harrison Ford, although at the same time the whole thing is still very much of a piece with almost any other sports movie.

*Room 237 (2013) US - A very strange documentary about people with conspiracy theories and strange beliefs about Stanley Kubrick and The Shining.

*The Shining (1980) UK/US - And while I saw this when it first came to theatres, I include it here because I saw it as a part of a double bill with Room 237. Very nice to be able to see it on the big screen and in that company.

*From Up On Poppy Hill (2013) Japan - Another marvel from Miyazaki. This one was no fantasy, unlike so many of his others, but grounded in the reality of a post-war Japan leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. It delights me to report that this is Brennan’s (who is 14) favourite of all of the Studio Ghibli films.

The Last Stand (2013) US - Schwarzenegger is back, and doing a fine job of making fun of his age and decrepitude while still being a tough guy. A very good actioner.

Mama (2013) Spain/Canada - A decent enough horror film with an ending that just pissed me off no end.

The Bay (2012) US - Barry Levinson, you helped create the greatest TV crime drama of all time, and you did some decent things with this, but found footage? Really? Still, a tense enough thriller/horror flick.

End of Watch (2012) US - A good cop drama, although somewhat episodic, which disturbs the flow a few times.

Premium Rush (2012) US - I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. The bike-messenger-as-savant trick worked well for me.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) Japan - A lovely little documentary about a top sushi chef in Japan. Well worth watching.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) UK - The slightest of slight. Enjoyable, I suppose, but it didn’t take me anywhere.

The Hunter (2011) Australia - While the tension was real and the acting tremendous, the conceit, not only of the existence of the thylacine but of why it needed to be killed, was a huge, ridiculous stretch.

*Kon-Tiki (2013) UK/Norway/Denmark/Germany/Sweden - Interesting fact: they filmed this in both English and Norwegian, doing separate takes for each. Good movie, about a story that once captured our hearts and minds but which most of us have forgotten about.

*World War Z (2013) US - A whole lotta stupid going on. Yeah, it was tense and exciting, but so much of that was manufactured in ways that took me out of the picture.

*Trance (2013) UK - A Danny Boyle thriller, which means there are going to be moments of sheer bliss and moments of undeniable silliness as he asks you to buy into things.

*The Way Way Back (2013) US - Outstanding movie. Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. Fun and sweet and moving and peopled with all sorts of interesting characters.

*Much Ado About Nothing (2013) US - Very well done and enjoyable. But now I want to go to Joss Whedon’s house.

*Skull World (2013) Canada - A strange and quirky documentary about a guy who makes armor and weapons of of cardboard and then has battles with others who do the same. Unending childhood, in other words. It came as no surprise to note what his favorite type of music was.

*The World’s End (2013) UK - While not as crazy funny as the previous two Cornetto Trilogy movies (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), this still worked very well, and even piled on more of the interactions between characters who had forgotten how to get along.

In the Loop (2009) UK - Funnily enough, I was out of the loop on this one, and didn’t even know about it until after James Gandolfini died. Very funny, very dark, and Peter Capaldi (whom I have liked very much since Local Hero) his so brilliant in it.

Oblivion (2013) US - A mediocre Tom Cruise SF movie with a premise that Moon did much better.

Into the White (2012) Norway/Sweden - A decent little film based on a true story, of Luftwaffe and RAF airmen forced to survive together in the Arctic. Rupert Grint, AKA Ronald Weasley, does a convincing Scouse accent.

*In A World (2013) US - I really liked this one, about a young woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailer narration. Funny and smart.

The Impossible (2012) Spain - Yeah, I know it’s white people suffering in a tragedy while surrounded by many non-white people also suffering, but it is loosely based on a true story. Decent, and it does flip things upside down a bit by having the natives do the rescuing.

*Gravity (2013) USA - Astonishing. This one pinned me to the back of my seat and didn’t let me up. Emotional and thrilling and exhausting, and a second viewing didn’t change any of that for me. There are few films I think 3D are ideal for, but this one was for sure.

This is the End (2013) USA - Funny and at the same time the sort of irritating that only comes from a bunch of guys using frat-boy humor to give each other knowing nods and winks.

Ain’t in it For My Health (2010) USA - An excellent documentary about Levon Helm, once the drummer for The Band, as he lives out the last of his life.

*Nosferatu (1922) Germany - Another event at the Roxy, the local repertory cinema, where they host a fundraiser with a silent movie, music supplied by members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. It had been a long time since I’d seen the movie, and I found if I set aside my 21st-century expectations, it still held up.

*Captain Phillips (2013) USA - Tom Hanks does a good job, and the Somali actors (who were not actors before this movie) were wonderful. I know this is one of those “true” stories that is heavily disputed, so I found it easier to watch this as just a fiction. Nice to see a thriller in which the protagonists are not relying on newly-found Rambo skills.

The Sapphires (2013) Australia - It seems obvious that Chris O’Dowd is set to play the same character in every movie he acts in, but I’ll give that he’s clever and likable, even when he isn’t supposed to be likable. Another fact-based movie that messes with the truth in the service of a supposedly better story, it is (mostly) light and good fun.

*12 Years a Slave (2013) USA - Everything good you’ve heard about this movie is true. So hard to watch in so many spots, this is nonetheless an amazing film with some incredible acting.

Monsters University (2013) USA - A lot of very good fun, and it almost recaptures much of what made the original so special. Sadly, there is no character like Boo.

I’m Not Scared (2003) Italy - I watched this based on a recommendation, and am here to tell you it was an astonishing find. Disturbing and tense and a very real look at how children react to outside pressures, this one needs to be watched.

*The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) USA - Good, better than the first, but, as with the book, I find myself disturbed by Katniss’ lack of agency at the end.

*All is Lost (2013) - Robert Redford is a wonder in this, a very quiet and draining movie that works hard to break a lot of conventions. The ending will leave you thinking, too.

Europa Report (2013) USA - A very smart science fiction film with actual, you know, science. Especially astonishing considering how cheaply it was made.

Frances Ha (2012) Netherlands - Not sure why the listing says this is a Dutch film, since it’s all Americans and mostly takes place in New York. Funding, I guess. The title character, as played by Greta Gerwig, is likable and more than a little floundering in her life. A nice story about normal people, with normal lives.

The Trip (2010) Greece - Same deal with place, since this is clearly a UK film. Funny and wry, and now I’m obsessed with Rob Brydon’s Tiny Man Trapped in a Box.

Blackfish (2013) Iceland - A disturbing documentary about captive Orcas, especially Tillikum, and Sea World and the industry it has created and is fighting very hard to hang onto.

*Philomena (2013) USA - But really UK. I liked that this film had some smart, adult things to say about the nature of faith, from both sides of the divide. A fine film.

Stand Off (2011) New Zealand - But really Ireland. Don’t let the poster fool you, this is a clever little film with Brendan Fraser doing what he does well, albeit having aged a bit. Plus, it has Colm Meaney!

*The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) USA - I lost count of the times where this movie played like a video game. But still, I got what I paid for, what I expected, and therefore had a good enough time.

The Short Game (2013) USA - A fun and delightful documentary about young children (7!) at the world championship of golf. You don’t have to be a golf fan to enjoy this.

Oldboy (2003) Korea - Finally. And every bit as disturbing as I’d heard.

Do the Right Thing (1989) USA - Also finally. I can’t believe it took me this long. And Radio Raheem was Robbie from the Raimi Spiderman movies!

Lore (2012) Australia - All in German, about the children of an SS officer trying to get across the country to their grandmother’s house at the end of WW2. But directed by an Australian. Very good movie, and the payoff at the end is extremely powerful.

The Angels’ Share (2012) UK - For director Ken Loach this is something of a trifle, but still an enjoyable one. I of course have a weak spot for anything about single malt.

*American Hustle (2013) USA - Tremendous acting, including a nice surprise appearance, and some of director David O. Russell’s strange little quirks make for a very good movie, but I always feel like he’s reaching when he throws in a happy ending (see: Silver Linings Playbook).

Stories We Tell (2012) Greece - But really Canada. And why the hell couldn’t she find financing here? This documentary, made by Sarah Polley and about the search for her real father, is incredible. There’s a scene near the end when the camera revolves through most of the people involved, focusing in as they think on their lost friend/spouse/mother, heartbreaking not just for what it includes but for what it doesn’t.

I tried to watch Oz the Great and Powerful but couldn’t stomach it. Just awful.

And so to the top 10 of the year. Remember, while this is primarily 2013, if a 2012 movie is included, it's because there was no way for me to see it in its release year. If you have problems with the order of 1 and 2, keep in note that this is strictly because of how the first one hit me. I'm not saying it's a more important film; I'm saying it had a bigger impact on me.

1. Gravity
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. The Way Way Back
4. All is Lost
5. Mud
6. From Up on Poppy Hill 
7. In a World
8. Stories We Tell
9. Lore
10. Frances Ha

ps I made a mistake, forgetting all about Mud and All is Lost, so some movies have been moved around, and American Hustle and The Short Game displaced.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

News From Back in the Day

Today the mail brought a bunch of goodies for my ongoing @TrapperBud project. For anyone not aware of this, I am tweeting the diaries of my grandfather, "Bud" Murphy (yes, Bud, even though at the time he was called "Spud." It's what we knew him as) from his time as a trapper in the Northwest Territories. The current set of entries are in late 1929.

Anyhow, a bunch of diaries from my father, uncle, great-uncle and second cousin arrived today, via my dad, as well as some ephemera. While the diaries lend themselves nicely to Twitter's format, some of these items may not. In those cases, when appropriate, I will put them up here.

The first is an article from either the Edmonton Bulletin (which died in 1951) or the Journal. It's been clipped, and nowhere do I see the date. However, I feel it safe to say it was written some time in the late 1930s. There are a few clues to that assumption. First, Grandpa is mentioned in the article, and he was in the north for pretty much all of the '30s. Second, the article seems to have been on the second page of the paper, and what remains of the front page mentions Edmonton mayor John W. Fry. Wikipedia tells me he was mayor from 1937 to 1944. Also on the front page is a British United Press article dated May 21 from Vancouver entitled "Unemployed Sit-Downers Still Control," about an "efficiently organized army of unemployed" engaged in a sit-down strike. So, the Great Depression. Since elections were in November, this would be 1938 or 1939. I'm guessing 1938.

The unnamed author is breathless in his statements about just how barren and alien the north must be, so much so that I'm surprised Grandpa hung onto it for all of his life. He was always sure to mention how wild and bare and dangerous the north was, sure, but never without telling me about how great it was as well. He respected it

As a point of interest, Edmonton in 1938 had a population of 88,887, as opposed to a metropolitan area that sits at over one million today, over 800,000 of them in the city itself.

No More Exciting Than Clerking in Store Hardy Men Declare

Running a trap line in the barren lands is no more exciting than clerking in a city store, not nearly so dangerous as trying to cross a city street, and is a darn nice way to earn a living if you don't mind doing without a few comforts, is the unanimous opinion of eight barren lands trappers who arrived in Edmonton Friday afternoon in a Mackenzie Air Service plane piloted by Archie Vanhee.

The party, consisting of M.P. "Matt" Murphy, and his son, C.M. "Spud" Murphy, George Magrum and his son John, A.J. Knox, Allan "Skipper" Stewart, J.W. Cooley, and John "Tin Can Johnny" McKay, have spent the past winter, and many others, trapping in remote parts of the barren lands about 200 miles north and east of Fort Reliance.


To reach the plane at Fort Resolution, the men trekked by dog team more than 400 miles across the dreary, frozen wastes of the barrens, bringing their winter catch of furs on sleighs with them. The country in which they trap is so remote that even the Indians and the Eskimos shun it and, except for wolves, foxes and caribou, these white men are its only inhabitants.

The two Murphys spent the winter trapping along the Back river, within 60 miles of the Arctic Circle. The Magrums trap north of Aylmer Lake, Stewart was trapping at Muskox Lake, as does Cooley, while "Tin Can "Johnny" McKay traps far to the eastwards, on the eastern side of the Thelon river, beyond the game sanctuary. Knox traps north of Aylmer Lake.


The country in which these men trap is a barren, rocky waste, traversed by numerous little streams and lakes. Beside these lakes grow small patches of scrub willow, and it is upon these patches of willow that the trappers depend for their supply of fuel.

In order to live in the barrens during the long cold winters, when the icy wind howling out of the north, drives even the foxes and wolves to shelter for days at a time, these men spent two months each fall preparing for the winter's work.

Cabins, usually canvas topped mud huts, are set up at strategic points along their trap lines. Then, for nearly a month, the trapper busies himself laying in the winter's supply of fuel.

Frome (sp) the sparse willow thickets, the men cut branches of willow -- usually less than half an inch in diameter.


These willow branches are piled onto the sleighs and skidded across the barrens behind a team of six or seven dogs. Sometimes they have to carry their wood as far as 50 miles. And they must be sure that an adequate supply is laid in, because a man must have fire to live in that frozen land. For weeks he will cut and bundle willow roots and shoots, and haul them to his cabins and pile them where they will be readily accessible.

After the supply of wood is laid in he must lay in a supply of meat. There must be not only food for himself, but food for his dogs, and bait for the traps. Fish are plentiful in the streams and lakes, and the country is the natural home of caribou. But it takes two or three weeks to catch enough fish and shoot enough caribou to last through the long winter.


The traps and equipment must be repaired and put in good working order. Supplies of coffee, tea, tobacco and canned butter, bacon, flour and other supplies brought in from Fort Reliance.

When these things are finished the trapper is ready for the winter. Then he walks miles behind his team visiting his traps marked by mounds of snow. Foxes and wolves are taken from the traps and skinned, and the skins stretched. The trapper is a busy man.


But these men of the north would rather live there than anywhere else. "We live there by choice. We think that trapping is as good a way to earn a living as any other. We don't mind going without inner spring mattresses and the comforts of home. And we prefer being up there where we aren't bothered by salesmen, politicians or reckless drivers. And after a short holiday we are all going back," stated Stewart -- known to these men as "The Skipper" -- and the others nodded their agreement. They don't waste words.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Words of Others on Steubenville

I've been collecting a variety of pieces on the rape, bizarre citizen reaction, and ensuing court case in Steubenville. Items for my teenaged boys to read. They're good kids, and I know damned well that Jo and I have taught them well enough to know what's Right and what's Wrong, and how to treat women, girls, men, boys, and of course animals.

But I also know that they are teenaged boys, and I know that sometimes, usually the most inopportune times, the ol' brain cells take a short holiday. Just because I've raised them well up to this date doesn't let me off the hook; it's an ongoing job, and while I trust them to make me proud, I also trust them to sometimes follow along with the crowd and not realize what they have done until after the fact. The good news is, that sort of action usually involves something much more minor than sexual assault, rape, or even sexual harassment.

I was going to link to these pieces one by one via Twitter and Facebook, say something short and sweet, and then stand over them as they read. But today I read something that made me feel as close to physically ill as reading anything has made me feel in many years. And so I thought, Yes, I have to share this with the boys as well. Because they need to understand that shit can be smeared by people who are ostensibly intelligent, who are lucky enough to have some sort of platform, and who are so full of themselves that they would never condescend to accepting any opinion that might damage their precious worldview.

With that in mind, I give you the latest idiocy from Barbara Amiel, in Macleans', which likes to pretend it's a news magazine in the spirit of Time, I suppose. Go read the article, and then, once you've shaken clear all the awful images that come to mind, come back and think with me on this: how can someone, even someone so clearly abhorrent as Barbara Amiel has apparently become, simultaneously take such repulsive stands on rape, on child pornography, on assault, and even say a few good words about society degrading because of all sorts of things she disagrees with. It's a grab-bag of horrid, classist, full-on disgusting declarations, all neatly wrapped up in one simple package. The editors at Macleans' should be ashamed, and I sincerely hope they receive letters from large numbers of people cancelling their subscriptions.

So now we need to wash away the bad taste in our mouths. How about we start with the teacher who taught her students how not to rape? Yeah, that's a good one. Encouraging. And you see what I mean about teen brains? Sometimes the kids are taught wrong from the start, but sometimes they just don't put two and two together right away, but give them a chance, and the majority of them will figure it out.

Tabitha Southey had some good (and sad) things to say about this in Saturday's Globe and Mail. In the same paper Elizabeth Renzetti wrote very well about helping our kids to have the bravery to act, rather than just watch, and even laugh along.

And, no surprise, John Scalzi wrote a couple of excellent blog posts on the matter, "Two Simple Observations, Regarding Women," and a bit more on Steubenville, which includes these two key rules, which make sense and therefore frustrate me to no end that they have to be repeated:

  1. One’s own poor judgment does not excuse the poor judgment of others.
  2. Nothing excuses rape.
Finally, if you haven't seen it, watch this short video. There have been plenty of memes going around on Facebook and elsewhere lamenting the fact that women starting university often have to be taught about how to avoid rape or sexual assault, and yet there is little effort being made to tell men instead, Well, no, that's not a good thing to do. So here we have an answer, as small as it might be.

If you have boys, I hope that some day you will find the appropriate time to discuss these issues with them. If not, this is all still worthwhile, for all of us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Movies of 2012

Another drop in movies seen this past year, which on the face of it seems odd since by most accounts 2012 was a far superior year to 2011. But, you know, life. The kids keep me busy, work keeps me busy, writing keeps me busy, and 2012 was the year I finally got an Apple TV and hooked up to Netflix, so there is that. First thing accomplished upon that purchase, actually, was to find the delicious goodness we'd been missing with Downton Abbey. Cramming in all of those episodes takes time!

In 2011 I saw 48 movies, which was a drop from the year before. 2012 only brought me to 40 movies, two of which were significantly older than the usual fare, but which are listed because I saw them on the big screen. 44% of the movies I saw were in the theatre in 2011, as opposed to 58% in 2012. If I were to guess as to why this is, I'd say that the lack of nearby video stores, coupled with Netflix being readily available and yet not carrying many truly current movies are the main reasons. That said, it made sense to see many of these movies on the big screen, something I can't always say.

Here's the list. Any movie seen in the theatre will include an asterisk (*), and for those movies not released in 2012 I will include their year of release.

*The Grey - I went into this ready to ridicule it for making wolves into the bad guys and feeling like it was probably going to be Sarah Palin's ultimate wet dream. I came out astonished to have seen something of a paean to atheism, to say nothing of a quiet yet brutal thriller. And the best plane crash since Castaway, possibly even better.

Chronicle - While I tire of the found footage movies still being flung our way, this one wasn't too irritating. Decent, even, although whiny teens no longer occupy a soft spot in my heart, being the father of teens now.

*In Darkness - A Polish movie, based on a true story, of Jews being hidden in the sewers by a local man who initially starts out only thinking about money, but soon grows into more altruistic reasons. Outstanding.

*The Secret World of Arietty - Out in 2010 in Japan, but it didn't make here and in English until last year. Miyazaki didn't direct, but he did have a hand in the script, and this adaptation of the children's novel The Borrowers was tremendous.

21 Jump Street - Funny and raucous, a well-done entry in the sudden onslaught of gross-out comedies.

*The Hunger Games - My son Brennan, a huge fan of the books, was a little harder on this than I was. That said, it was more than OK, less than excellent.

*The Raid: Redemption - A martial arts/police/crime thriller in Indonesian directed by a Welshman. Incredibly intense and exciting.

*The Cabin in the Woods - This was apparently a love or hate movie, and I fell into the love camp. Great gooey fun.

*Beasts of Southern Wild - A revelation, and worth all the hype. Yeah, you're not supposed to like the dad, nor are you supposed to be pleased with the poverty. But instead of viewing it as an apologia (as I heard from a critic on the radio today), view it as a triumph of human spirit.

Bernie - If you haven't seen it you may have trouble processing this, but now that the Oscars have been announced I find myself disappointed that Jack Black did not receive a nomination for Best Actor. Because he really was that good. A better feel-good movie about a murderer you won't find these days.

*The Avengers - Sloppy and sometimes bothersome, but some great characters and chemistry redeemed it.

*Moonrise Kingdom - I love Wes Anderson's stagey presence in his movies, his calm detachment, his quirky characters. But even with all that, this was his warmest movie in years, and it's a damn shame it didn't get any love from the Academy.

*Prometheus - Woof. Listen, you've proven you can run moments after having an emergency C-section, so why can't you just run to the side? What a ridiculous movie. The more I think about it, the angrier I get.

*Brave - Not as light a Pixar movie as some might have it, its family dynamic still suffers a bit in comparison to the real emotion of Up and Wall-E, probably because it ended up feeling more like Disney and the Lessons Required in such movies.

*The Dark Knight Rises - I liked Bane as a character, I liked Catwoman, I liked some of the set pieces, and I was appalled by the not-so-hidden message that the ordinary people can't and shouldn't think and act for themselves.

*Looper - A smart time travel thriller. Quite enjoyable.

*Argo - Yes, there were cars chasing the plane, characters were sometimes composites, and it gave short shrift to the Canadian contribution, but this was still an enjoyable film, and it's surprising how tense I felt considering a knew what was coming.

*Skyfall - Lost me when he rode on the back of the monitor lizard. Would have pulled me back if Sean Connery had played the Scottish gamekeeper, although Albert Finney was perfectly serviceable. But still enjoyable.

*Lincoln - Daniel Day Lewis really is all that and a bag of chips. And the movie itself was wonderful. Yes, I know Spielberg knows how to pull my strings, but if he's going to do it like this, I'm OK with it.

*Life of Pi - The most gorgeous movie I saw last year. Stunning, and more so in 3D. And it made me feel good. Which may sound odd, if you've seen the movie and know my views on god and religion.

*The Hobbit - 3D was not absolutely necessary, but I did see it that way, and in 48fps as well. The sharpness that gave made it feel like I was watching an episode of Planet Middle Earth, waiting for David Attenborough to start narrating at any moment. Enjoyable, but it could have used some editing.

*A Separation (2011, but since it was the very end of the year, I will count it as 2012) - Magnificent and distressing Iranian film about the collapse of a family.

Centurion (2010) - A pretty decent film about Roman soldiers on the run for their lives in ancient Britain.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) - Good thriller with Matthew McConaughey.

Midnight in Paris (2011) - I couldn't rave about it as much as others, but I did like this movie. For me, this is closer to a return to form for Woody than some previous outings.

X-Men: First Class (2011) - I'm now at the point where I can honestly say I enjoy a good superhero movie, but can't think of anything to say about them. Overload.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - Very good, especially the mocap work by Andy Serkis as Caesar.

Fright Night (2011) - A quite good remake of the original horror flick.

Colombiana (2011) - Dime-a-dozen revenge thriller.

Contagion (2011) - Spooky, and it felt all-too-real. I especially liked how Soderbergh looped it back to the beginning.

Moneyball (2011) - This was a very good movie, which surprised the heck out of my wife.

50/50 (2011) - A movie about cancer that makes you feel good, and doesn't cheat doing it. Well done.

The Ides of March (2011) - As I noted, most people have been saying that 2012 was better than 2011 for movies. But there were a whole lot of movies that were really took you places without requiring stuff blowing up. Tense and interesting and well-acted.

The Descendants (2011) - Another excellent Clooney film.

The Muppets (2011) - And this one was way fun, as well.

*The Artist (2011) - Good. Not worth all of the fuss, I thought, but still fun to watch.

*Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - I very much loved this movie, and if I'd been able to see it in the year it was released it would have been on the top of my list. Gary Oldman was a marvel. Watch how calmly he reacts to the bee in the back of the car, and then see the back of his neck in John Hurt's apartment in the next scene.

*Thief of Bagdad (silent, with symphony) (1924) - A fundraiser at our excellent Roxy Theatre, this is the Douglas Fairbanks movie, completely and ridiculously overacted, and every moment was a blast.

*Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - My all-time favorite film, re-released and cleaned right up, on the big screen the way it was meant to be seen. Glorious.

And so on to my Top Ten(ish). Again, only movies from 2012, aside from the odd foreign film that couldn't get here at the original release date.

1. A Separation
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Lincoln
4. Life of Pi
5. In Darkness
6. Moonrise Kingdom
7. Bernie
8. Argo
9. The Grey
10. The Raid: Redemption/The Cabin in the Woods (tie)

I have seen Django Unchained, but didn't get to the theatre until the new year, so that will have to wait. And I promise to try and be more diligent.

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