Guitar Lessons

Still from "Guitar Lessons": Leland walks down a railroad track

Leland inher­its a gui­tar from his “uncle[1]More like­ly his dad.”. Ray—once a tour­ing musi­cian, now a suc­cess­ful oil­man[2]He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.—gets a call from a for­mer band­mate, let­ting him know their deceased friend left his gui­tar to some kid in his area (“and you might want to check in on it before it turns into firewood”).

Kind of like Viking last week, this one’s a Cana­di­an com­e­dy that becomes less fun­ny in the sec­ond half. Where Viking went a lit­tle dark, though, Gui­tar Lessons delves deep into the char­ac­ters’ flaws, and shows us how they try to fix them­selves. There’s a deep lake of dra­ma under the sur­face laughs. This film has things to say about fatherhood—biological and adoptive—addiction, grow­ing up (for both teens and 50-year-olds), priv­i­lege and wealth, rela­tion­ships, and life in oil coun­try. It’s also beau­ti­ful­ly filmed: med­i­ta­tive in its fram­ing. There’s a long sequence of Ray clean­ing, repair­ing, and pol­ish­ing his old friend’s gui­tar, word­less. The shots of the coun­try­side and the towns through­out are love­ly, too.

I quite enjoyed it.


1 More like­ly his dad.
2 He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.

Viking (review)

Still from the movie Viking: four "astronauts" stand in a desert meant to stand in for Mars

Tonight I showed / watched the movie Viking at the Evans.

Five astro­nauts have been sent to Mars. Mean­while, back on Earth, the Viking Soci­ety gath­ers five oth­er people—their psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files matched as close­ly as pos­si­ble with the Mar­t­ian astronauts—to try and head off any pos­si­ble prob­lems on the Red Planet.

But they’re only human, so nat­u­ral­ly things go a bit wrong. Some take things a bit too seri­ous­ly; oth­ers, not near­ly seri­ous­ly enough.

I thought the movie was pret­ty good. It was quite fun­ny until sud­den­ly it was­n’t fun­ny at all any­more. I was amused at the acronym for the ana­log NASA (ASEA, the Amer­i­can Space Explo­ration Agency; peo­ple in the movie def­i­nite­ly were asea). I think the fact that most of the music remind­ed me of the sound­track to the short film “They’re Made Out Of Meat” added to my amusement.

Once the turn from com­e­dy to tragedy[1]Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; dra­ma? hap­pened, I was still locked in to the sto­ry. The scene near the end in the phone booth felt pret­ty raw to me.

Smile and say “astro­naut”.


1 Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; drama?

Michelle Yeoh Double Feature

Stills from Everything Everywhere All At Once and Minions: The Rise of Gru

Last night we checked out the movie every­one’s been rav­ing about: Every­thing Every­where All At Once. It was a great film, hilar­i­ous and heart-rend­ing, touch­ing on com­pli­cat­ed themes[1]I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the mul­ti­verse.. I nev­er thought I’d feel emo­tion­al watch­ing a stone with goo­gly eyes roll off a cliff, but here we are. If you’re look­ing for a film filled with love, despair, tax prob­lems, kung fu, mul­ti­verse-hop­ping, and wild cos­tum­ing, this is the one for you.

Then, stand­ing in the lob­by after the show, we decid­ed to also watch Min­ions: The Rise of Gru. This was a much less com­plex film, but fun in its own way. I thought it might be a “How Gru Met His Min­ions” ori­gin sto­ry, but they were already togeth­er at the begin­ning; it’s more of a “Gru’s First Crime” tale instead. If you want a sil­ly caper filled with yel­low non­sense-spout­ing blobs in den­im over­alls, this is the one for you. (I appre­ci­at­ed some of the sight gags: in one scene, three Min­ions con­struct elab­o­rate disguise—including one paint­ing itself like a brick wall—to infil­trate a vil­lain’s lair, even though there’s a stack of blue-and-yel­low bags of fer­til­iz­er lying on the lawn; in the end cred­its, there’s a draw­ing of the Min­ions’ Hal­loween costumes—Oompa Loompas.)

The con­nect­ing thread: Michelle Yeoh, who played Eve­lyn Wang (the main char­ac­ter) in Every­thing Every­where All At Once and voiced Mas­ter Chow (who taught the Min­ions kung fu) in Min­ions: The Rise of Gru.

I enjoyed both movies for vast­ly dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Good times.


1 I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the multiverse.

Top Gun redux

F-18 fighter jet in a steep climb. Photo by Darren Nunis.

I watched Top Gun: Toppest Gun[1]OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick. last night. The movie, once it got going[2]It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie., was—

Well, it was a Top Gun movie, that’s for sure.

(For con­text, I was in Air Cadets as a youth in the 1980s, and so I was legal­ly oblig­at­ed to see Top Gun approx­i­mate­ly 6.02×10²³ times.)

There was Tom Cruise fly­ing planes worth qua­jil­lions of dol­lars. There was Tom Cruise charm­ing a lady. There was Tom Cruise rid­ing a motor­bike with no hel­met because that’s what heroes do. There was Tom Cruise, being brash and break­ing all the rules. There was Tom Cruise grin­ning boy­ish­ly, end­less­ly. (“This is my only look,” indeed.)

Aside from Tom Cruise, there were oth­er items in this movie. There was Val Kilmer in the Admi­ral­ty now. There was a shirt­less game with balls (more oval this time). There was a smirk­ing jerk pilot and an elite fight­er pilot who need­ed glass­es (wait what)[3]If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.. There was a very very tight time­line that they still inter­rupt­ed for an impor­tant funer­al. There was dog­fight train­ing and a bar­room sin­ga­long and some very very hand­waved geopol­i­tics. There was a trench run with a tar­get not much larg­er than a womp rat[4]Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the mak­ing.. There was dogfighting—good thing they trained for it.

There were jet planes. Oh my word, there were jet planes. Some of them were fifth-gen­er­a­tion, what­ev­er that means; bet­ter than F‑18s in every way, appar­ent­ly, though (spoil­er alert) it sure did­n’t end up seem­ing like it. There was a sin­gle, incred­i­bly con­ve­nient F‑14.

There were tail­hooks and cat­a­pults and mis­siles and chaff and “out of mis­siles, switch­ing to guns”. There was a yel­low-tinged mon­tage of fight­er jets depart­ing a car­ri­er to the dul­cet tones of Ken­ny Log­gins’ “Dan­ger Zone”.

I went into this movie with a bad atti­tude, I’ll admit it. Most of the mol of times I watched the first movie weren’t my choice; at Cadet camp, the first per­son to get to the staff lounge got to pick the movie for the night, and most every­one else want­ed to watch Top Gun again[5]And again and again and again..

The movie deliv­ered in a lot of ways. I can see where peo­ple and crit­ics like it. The actors are all very very good, the bit of nec­es­sary expo­si­tion when we’re intro­duced to The New Crop of Top Guns is han­dled about as well as it could be[6]Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this per­son?”, and the stunts are breath­tak­ing. I admit I laughed a few times (the “What were you think­ing?” “You told me not to think!” “…Touché.” exchange was well-played, I thought).

I got what I expect­ed. I got a Top Gun movie. I still don’t know if that’s what I wanted.

Cov­er pho­to by Dar­ren Nunis on Unsplash. This is not one of the F‑18s in Top Gun.


1 OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick.
2 It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie.
3 If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.
4 Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the making.
5 And again and again and again.
6 Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this person?”

Bad Times at the El Royale

Still from Bad Times at the El Royale

Final­ly, last night, I watched Bad Times at the El Royale. Back when I first saw the trail­er, I thought it was an Evans movie for sure, but it end­ed up play­ing at the mul­ti­plex down the street instead, for all of two weeks. I man­aged to miss it. Now I regret not see­ing it on the big screen.

El Royale takes place at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, on the bor­der between Neva­da and Cal­i­for­nia. The bor­der lit­er­al­ly bisects the hotel. Rooms on the Cal­i­for­nia side are $1 more per night.

The movie opens with a priest, a singer, and a vac­u­um-clean­er sales­man try­ing to check in, one love­ly after­noon in 1969, but the clerk is nowhere to be found. Once they do track him down, a fourth guest appears, and she’s got some bag­gage. Well, they all have bag­gage, but the fourth woman appears to have kid­napped someone.

Of course, this is a noir-ish thriller, and no one—not even the venue—is who they seem to be.

I quite enjoyed El Royale. It felt a lot like a Quentin Taran­ti­no movie, but it was writ­ten and direct­ed by Drew God­dard. God­dard man­aged to take all the good things about a QT movie—colours, music, sud­den vio­lent twists—and dis­card the end­less solil­o­quies. It real­ly makes for a tight, nasty thriller, and it’s just the thing I was look­ing for.

If you like vio­lence, secrets, thun­der­storms, ’60s music, and vio­lence, it might be just what you’re look­ing for too.

Head­er image from The Movie DB.

Christmas movies

still from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Is Die Hard the best Christ­mas movie? I dun­no, I’ve always leaned toward The Night­mare Before Christ­mas*, myself.

But this arti­cle makes a com­pelling point for oth­ers, too. I just re-watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in the sum­mer­time, dur­ing my writ­ing retreat. (How is that five months ago already? Man, time flies.)

[M]ost of his films [have a] fairy-tale like sheen, sim­i­lar to what makes Die Hard so suc­cess­ful. And mak­ing it Christ­mas in L.A. (which the major­i­ty of his films do), offers a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ty to the use of the hol­i­day on film.

—Emi­ly Ash­er-Per­rin, Die Hard is Great, but Shane Black is the King of Christ­mas Explosions

* Oh who am I kid­ding? Night­mare is sec­ond; A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas is first, even if it’s only about half an hour long.

The Old Man and the Gun

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

Last week­end I watched The Old Man and the Gun at the Evans The­atre. I loved it.

For­rest Tuck­er (played by Robert Red­ford) robs banks. We meet him as he’s rob­bing the lat­est one. He’s polite, he’s charm­ing, he’s got a gun that he shows the man­ag­er (but that we don’t actu­al­ly see till much lat­er). He makes his get­away, and after he’s switched cars he spies a truck bro­ken down on the side of the road. It’s dri­ven by Jew­el (Sis­sy Spacek), whom he offers a ride home (after the cop cars go scream­ing by, hunt­ing a get­away car he’s no longer driving).

For­rest is in a gang with Ted­dy (Dan­ny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). The media dubs them the Over-the-Hill Gang. They don’t seem to need to rob banks, not for the mon­ey, at least; they seem to enjoy it.

(Aside: Ted­dy’s tragi­com­ic Christ­mas sto­ry was my favourite scene in the movie. It’s got noth­ing to do with the sto­ry, but it says some­thing about his character.)

Round­ing out the sto­ry is the police offi­cer John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is deter­mined he’s going to be the one to nail the Over-the-Hill Gang. Will he suc­ceed? Will our plucky anti-heroes get away with their next heist? Will For­rest and Jew­el’s meet-cute turn into some­thing deep­er? Watch the movie to find out. It’s worth it.

Few things in this movie are stat­ed out­right. What appears at first glance to be an old-timey hear­ing aid is more like­ly a police-radio scan­ner, and this rev­e­la­tion makes it eas­i­er to under­stand how Tuck­er man­ages his get­away in the open­ing scenes. As men­tioned, we don’t actu­al­ly see his gun for quite some time, and it’s unclear by the end of the film if he’s ever even loaded it, much less fired it. One of the cen­tre­piece heists isn’t even shown on-screen; we see a bit of the plan­ning, a lot of hand-wring­ing by the Over-the-Hillers (“Can we even do it? Is it worth try­ing? I can’t run near as fast as I used to”, etc), and then a news report about the crime as Tuck­er puts the loot into its hid­ing place.

It’s a fun movie, a fun­ny movie, and a sneaky, sly movie. I loved it.

I read recent­ly that Robert Red­ford decid­ed to retire after mak­ing The Old Man and the Gun because he want­ed to go out on a fun movie. I think he did a fine job.