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REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle

In days as convoluted as these, harmless movies about well-intentioned people overcoming difficulties and coming out empowered are a welcome respite. The High Note is one of those films. Clearly destined for the big screen (nice production values, a combination of up-and-comers and vets), The High Note is a nice movie that doesn’t break new ground or ruffles any feathers.

Freed from the 50 Shades burden, Dakota Johnson is delightful as Maggie, the assistant of an R&B diva. Maggie has designs beyond her less than fulfilling job: She wants to become a music producer, preferably for her boss. But there’s no clear path to go from her lowly job to behind the sound desk.

In turn, her employer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish), is struggling with a transition of her own. A decade after her last successful record, she’s been offered a residency in Vegas, the musical equivalent of a farm upstate. Davis believes she still has fresh material to offer, but for industry standards, she’s old news. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle”

COVID-19: U.S. Decision To Defund World Health Organization Is Hypocritical

With the U.S. case load and death toll from the pandemic having exceeded 1.8 million and 105,000, president Donald Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. would be severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO).

As you can see in this CBC report, the decision was criticized by the president of the American Medical Association, who said it served “no logical purpose”. No surprise there, as logic isn’t exactly a core value of the MAGA Republican movement led by Trump. Instead, the president is engaged in a desperate/craven effort to resurrect his political fortunes in light of his administration’s failed response to the pandemic.

While WHO might make for a convenient scapegoat (in the minds of Trump supporters, anyway) the organization, as it is currently constituted, is in pretty much a no-win situation.

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REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of

Stephen McHattie and Lise Houle in Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland.

Twelve years ago, Pontypool pulled the rarest of feats. It was original for a zombie movie and intrinsically Canadian (the disease was transmitted via language). Something you may not have noticed is that there was a post-credit scene, featuring the leads as different characters: Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, two shady types looking for adventure. I completely missed that until re-watching it for this review.

The promise of the little-seen sequence is fulfilled in Dreamland. Director Bruce McDonald reassembles the Pontypool crew (actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, scriptwriter Tony Burgess) plus a couple of ringers (Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis) for a surrealistic noir. Not Twin Peaks-bonkers levels, but pleasantly weird. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of”

REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge

With a batting average higher than most of her French-Canadian counterparts (including the likes of Dolan, Arcand and Falardeau), supporters of Canadian cinema would be well served by paying more attention to Anne Emond.

The writer/director has delivered three searing dives into the female psyche (Nuit # 1, Our Loved Ones, Nelly). Her newest film, Jeune Juliette, has a much lighter tone, but the lead is just as complex as the previous ones. OK, maybe not Nelly Arcan, but she’s on a league of her own.

The Juliette of the title (Alexane Jamieson) is a teenager enduring the worst high school has to offer: Loneliness, bullying and the petty behavior from others students who perceive her as overweight. Even though their casual nastiness leaves a mark, Juliette is also aware that she’s smarter than her classmates and it’s a matter of time until she leaves them behind. She also has a sturdy support net: Her doting dad, a sympathetic brother and her best mate, Leanne. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge”

COVID-19: U.S. Death Toll From Pandemic Hits Grim Milestone

Some time this Memorial Day weekend, the United States’s death toll from the pandemic will surpass 100,000. The infection total, meanwhile, is approaching 1.7 million. Both are stark figures that have attracted attention world-wide, and generated a ton of political controversy and economic turmoil domestically.

When I spoke with Simon Enoch, Saskatchewan head of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in late March for an article on  neoliberalism and COVID-19 that ultimately ran in mid-May, one topic we discussed was the “perfect storm” of factors that were likely to see the pandemic blow up in the U.S.

“Even if it’s sort of rickety, Canada at least has single-payer socialized medicine where there’s a large degree of coordination across provinces and federally,” Enoch said during our interview. “The patchwork privatized system down there is just ill-equipped to deal with something of this magnitude. The fact you’re going to have people who think they’re infected but for financial reasons can’t seek care… it’s going to be an absolute disaster.”

Continue reading “COVID-19: U.S. Death Toll From Pandemic Hits Grim Milestone”

COVID-19: A Tale of Four Countries (Germany, Sweden, Russia, Brazil)

On April 17, I did a blog post looking at how four countries besides Canada and the United States were doing in their struggle against the pandemic.  Here’s an update on their situation. As with us and our southern neighbour, it’s a bit of a good news/bad news story. First, the good news.

Germany On April 17, Germany’s case load and death toll stood at 143,685 and 4352. As of today at noon, the totals are 178,170 and 8213. As I noted in my previous post, while Germany hasn’t necessarily outperformed other European countries such as France, United Kingdom and Italy with infections, its death toll continues to be much lower, which has been attributed to a younger patient population and vigorous testing and contact tracing to limit the chance of an outbreak. Now, Germany is taking tentative steps to reopen its society/economy although the government remains alert to the possibility of future outbreaks.

Sweden On the good news/bad news scale, Sweden falls in the middle. Again, as I noted in the earlier post, Sweden has differed from most countries around the world in handling the pandemic in that it didn’t impose as stringent physical distancing and lockdown measures. Conservative pundits have held Sweden up as an example of how a country can balance public health and economic concerns.

Continue reading “COVID-19: A Tale of Four Countries (Germany, Sweden, Russia, Brazil)”

Saskatchewan Environmental Society To Host Webinar Series On Climate Change

Hopping Through The Looking Glass Of Climate Change (photo credit: Wascana Centre in Regina March 8, 2016)

The COVID-19 pandemic may be dominating the news cycle these days, but it’s only a “symptom” of a much broader challenge we face in the coming decade related to the deteriorating state of our environment and climate change.

With everyone practicing physical distancing and society largely shutdown, our fossil fuel use has plummeted, with predictable results — predictable in the sense that there’s been a sharp reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air and water pollution.

While a welcome reprieve from our head-long rush toward climate chaos, the effect is only likely to be temporary, as once the pandemic passes, pressure will ramp up for a return to “normal”.

In the midst of this nature enforced time-out, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society is taking the opportunity to host a series of 11 free webinars on Saskatchewan’s current reality with respect to climate change and potential opportunities for the future.

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COVID-19: Reality Continues To Trump Powerful Political & Economic Interests

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in mid-March, the projected death toll with physical distancing measures in place was between 100,000 to 240,000. In early April, a more optimistic figure of 60,000 was put forward.

That was based on a University of Washington study.  Whether that figure was ever realistic is hard to know. But in the month since the study was released numerous parties in numerous ways have undermined the effectiveness of physical distancing guidelines. As a result, the U.S. has blown past the projections contained in the model with the infection/death totals standing at 1,333,540 and 79,252 as of noon today.

Since the pandemic started, the idea has been floated that, based on the usual pattern of a typical flu season, the virus might subside over the summer before perhaps returning in the fall. But a recent epidemiological report suggests that might not be the case. If that’s true, who knows how high the death toll might climb in the next few months.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Reality Continues To Trump Powerful Political & Economic Interests”

REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’

It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.

Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.

The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them.

Not even close. Joan is told she has breast cancer, a diagnosis that sends her on a medical journey involving surgical procedures and chemotherapy. Tom wants to be supporting, but he’s mostly adrift, facing the certain possibility of another devastating loss. Dealing with debilitating treatments and the likelihood of death, Joan doesn’t have the energy to be reassuring and despite of their best efforts, the marriage struggles mightily.

Written and directed by Lisa Barros D’sa and Glenn Leyburn (responsible for the excellent Troubles dramedy Good Vibrations), Ordinary Love goes for naturalism while taking full advantage of Neeson and Manville’s acting abilities, without realizing both approaches are incompatible. Fox example, the moments of intimacy between Tom and Joan are beautiful, but in real life, no one is nearly as articulate.

While this is a story we’ve seen before (in a nutshell, it’s a year in the life), there’s a sliver of an idea worth exploring: One faces sickness alone, regardless how well-intentioned those around us are. The movie never digs deep into the subject and goes back to the tried and true relationship drama.

Ordinary Love is perfectly sturdy, but it’s hard to shake the idea it could have been more than that. If that doesn’t float your boat, in a couple of months Liam Neeson will become an Arizona rancher taking on cartel assassins. I’m not even joking. Two and a half feisty planets (out of five).

Ordinary Love is now available on VOD.

REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle

As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.

Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.

The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible. Continue reading “REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle”