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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Queen documentary

Queen: Days of Our Lives“In 1971, four college students got together to form a rock band.”

Queen: Days of Our Lives is a relatively recently released documentary about the band. The core of it is a two-part band history that played on the BBC. The Blu-Ray adds about 90 minutes of bonus material.

There have been many Queen biographies before this one, a number sanctioned by the band. The special thing about this one is that Brian and Roger provided a lot of new interview material for it.

As someone who has seen a lot of those earlier documentaries, not to mention read a number of books about the band, I didn’t learn too many new facts. But I definitely still enjoyed the structure of the documentary. It was well-edited, moving briskly along from milestone to milestone. Aspects of the band’s story that have really been covered to death by now—the early success in Japan, Bohemian Rhapsody, Live Aid—are of course here again, but not especially dwelled upon, as how much new is there to say?

Instead, the insights are more personal. For example, Brian discusses how his father, understandly, was just flabbergasted that his son chose rock music over completing his PhD in physics. And it wasn’t until well unto his career that a huge show at Madison Square Garden really brought home to his Dad that Brian wasn’t wasting his life or his education. Brian still tears up at the memory.

John DeaconJohn Deacon, generally considered the least interesting member of the band, casts a surprisingly large shadow over the production. There is, for example, a fair amount of attention given to “Another One Bites the Dust”, which he wrote. One fact I hadn’t know that came out is that it, and not BoRhap, is Queen’s best-selling song. And one of the extras amusingly relates how, in later years, John kept a full bar behind some of the stage equipment, and would nip back there for drinks when his bass playing was not required. (Which reminds me of another rather humorous anecdote from this, of the very rare occasion where Fred was really too inebriated to perform the first part of the show, and the rest of the band struggled to cover. Of course, Freddie brought it home in the end.)

Of course, the fact that John is alive and yet did not provide any new insights for this project is hard to ignore. Naturally, Mr. Deacon has every right to retire, and doesn’t owe the fans any more than the 20+ years he already gave to a band that, this documentary reveals, he was surprised to find become such a big success. Still, it would have been nice to hear from him. And it is a bit sad to hear Brian comment that “We’ve lost John, too.”

Also clear from this project? “Queen were never cool,” as Roger said. And as a fan from the time, I can tell you, this is true. Except for a fairly short time in the late 70s, Queen fandom was something I tried to keep quiet. Because it was not cool to be into them.

The 1970s were a battle between disco and punk, and Queen were… Queen. The 80s brought Brit pop, but except for a little ill-received (though I liked it) foray into funk sounds, Queen still kept sounding like… Queen. Ultimately, this has made them endure. But at the time, they were about as respected as Nickleback as is now.

Never cool. Just really popular.

Well put-together though the documentary was, I also enjoyed the extras. Some were extensions of was seen in the film, some were additional interviews that didn’t make the cut at all. The only thing I found a bit superfluous were the seven music videos, supposedly “all new”. But many are so close to the original videos, it took me a while to realize they were different cuts (often with more “backstage” views of what was going on).

I live you with a video one of the most delightful extras from the disk: Scrabble Wars.

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Movie review: Religulous

***½ Religulous (September 2008) – Rental
Documentary featuring Bill Maher, exploring religious belief.

She says: Better than I expected. Maher travels the world, visiting some well-known religious sites (the Vatican, Jerusalem) and some less well-known (Holy Land Experience in Floria, a fledgling Creation museum), speaking to all manner of religious people. Yes, he is rude sometimes; he’s Bill Maher. But the only thing that I made me uncomfortable was his associating between Muslims and terrorism. And he does seem to approach the subject with a sincere desire to understand why people believe. I learned some things, the most surprising being the many similarities between the stories of ancient Egyptian god Horus and that of Jesus. And it was hard not to agree with his final conclusions.

He says: Nice to see a documentary that I can agree with.


Movie review: Three movies I liked more than Jean did

Not that it’s that unusual for me to like movies more than Jean, given that:

  1. He gets bored more easily than I do.
  2. Frankly, I usually pick the movies we see.

On the other hand, none of these were exactly “chick flicks”…

*** Waltz with Bashir (May 2008) – Rental
Animated documentary. An Israli man tries to recall the details of his participation in the massacre of Palestanians that occurred during the first Lebanon war.

She says: I’m not sure what this indicates, but I didn’t realize that this was a documentary. I thought all the interviews and such were just a clever way of framing the movie. But, I knew it was based on a real incident, one I knew nothing about. I found this an interesting way to learn about it, with the animated style creating some distance in the disturbing events.
He says: It was all right, but didn’t quite hold my interest.

**½ Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (June 2011) – Theatre
Documentary about Conan O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour.

She says: I’m not a huge fan (I almost never watch his show), but I did get interested in the drama surrounding O’Brien’s removal from The Tonight Show, and did enjoy seeing the preparations and behind-the-scenes look at his tour.
He says: Oh my God that seemed long. [It’s a 90-minute movie.]

*** The Hurt Locker (June 2009) – Rental
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie. Follows the end of a tour of duty for a group of American bomb dismantlers in Iraq.

She says: It was powerful, tension-filled, and therefore gripping, though not altogether enjoyable, given the subject matter. We saw it in Blu-Ray, and the sound and cinematography were excellent. As was the acting.
He says: OK, I wasn’t bored. But it was kind of depressing, and I didn’t understand anyone’s motivations.

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Movie review: Good Hair, Central Station

These two movies have nothing in common, except for having seen both recently…

*** Good Hair (October 2009) – Rental
Documentary. Inspired by his daughters, Chris Rock explores the world of black women’s hair.

She says: As a white girl, I had no idea what black women went through to achieve the look of shiny, full, straight(ish) hair. The expense! The time! The pain! It was really interesting. (Though if expecting big laughs because it’s Chris Rock, you’ll probably be disappointed.).
He says: They spend how much on hair weaves? That’s ridiculous. I’m going to bed.

*** Central Station (November 1998) – Rental
Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira. A middle-age woman who writes (but doesn’t necessarily mail) letters for the illiterate becomes the reluctant custodian of young boy after his mother dies. Subtitled.

She says: It’s a moving story of how this fairly unpleasant older woman is transformed by her relationship with the boy who is left with no one after his mother dies. Great acting, nice cinematography, and enough twists of fortune to keep your attention. (And not really a depressing movie, though you might expect that.)
He says: I was able to get through it, but it was bit too slow and character-driven for me.

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Movie review: Greatest Movie Ever Sold

**½ POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (April 2011) – Theatre
Morgan Spurlock documentary looking at product placement in movies, by trying to finance this movie through product placement.

She says: The meta-nature of this documentary was interesting, but it seemed as though it should have gone further. The movie just seemed to end, without really addressing the questions it was raising.
He says: I think his sponsors got in the way of his message.

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Movie review – Capitalism: A Love Story

Catching up here, since we watched this weeks ago…

*** Capitalism, a Love Story (March 2010) – Rental
Michael Moore documentary looks at the recent financial collapse and questions the economic system that made it possible.

She says: This is Moore’s most radical film to date. Where previous had fairly uncontroversial (to Canadians) arguments that guns are bad, George Bush wasn’t a great President, and America’s health system needs fixing, this one questions the capitalist economic system itself. I couldn’t as easily get on board. And yet, I couldn’t poke that many holes into his arguments, either. Why couldn’t more companies be run as cooperatives? Why do we allow such enormous wage disparities between executives and workers? It definitely made me think, and that’s a good thing.
He says: So he’s like Fox News, at the other end of spectrum.

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Movie reviews: Redefining the chick flick

Though not at all intentional, I’m realizing that the last three movies we watched on DVD all feature strong women characters. Two were even directed by women. Only one qualifies as a “traditional” chick flick. (Also realizing… I’d rather write about this than the election.)

**½ Bright Star (May 2009) – Rental
Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw. Story of the unlikely romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

She says: Surprisingly engrossing for a slow-paced movie in which comparatively little actually happens.
He says: Yeah, that was slow paced. Like, glacial.

***½ Catfish (September 2010) – Rental
Documentary. Nev Shulman’s roommates decide to do a documentary about his long-distance friendship with an eight-year-old artist and her family, which develops in a way none of them expect.

She says: I got very caught up in the twists and turns of this real-life story. The additional interview on the DVD is also well worth watching for those lingering questions.
He says: I was surprised how interesting I found that. I was expecting something different, maybe more terrible, but it was still really fascinating.

*** The Runaways (April 2010) – Rental
Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart. A look back at the story of The Runaways, the first all-girl rock band.

She says: It focuses mostly on Cherie Currie, whose biography this is based on, and secondarily on Joan Jett, the movie’s producer, with the remaining Runaways mostly treated as background players. Though at times you feel an urge to run in and protect these very young women from some of these experiences, overall it was kind of inspiring. Nice music sequences. And a great reminder of how awesome Joan Jett is.
He says: Is it over? I think I fell asleep. I guess I was really tired from the canoeing. How did it end?
She says: Joan Jett became a big star.



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Movie review: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

*** When the Levees Broke (August 2006) – Rental
Spike Lee documentary looking back at Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

She says: This four-part documentary uses copious interviews, mostly with those involved, to tell the story of Hurricane Katrina. You revisit parts you heard about at the time, and learn a great deal that you probably did not. I remain stunned at just how badly the US government treated its own people, at the time, and afterward.
He says: This is a bit of downer.

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Movie reviews: Secret Lives

The similarity in Jean’s reviews here are both due to the same cause: His looking more at the computer than the TV screen. Star ratings are therefore mine, since I actually watched both movies in full.

*** The Secret Life of Bees (October 2008) – Rental
Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah. Young teenage girl leaves her abusive father to explore her late mother’s past with a group of bee-keeping sisters.

She says: A pretty good adaptation of the novel. Performances were good and though the “critical consensus” said it was too sentimental, I didn’t find that to be the case. And I hate sentimental.
He says: I didn’t pay enough attention to have an opinion of this one.

***½ My Kid Could Paint That (October 2007) – Rental
Documentary look at four-year-old painting sensation Marla Olmstead.

She says: Really fascinating documentary. Starts off as a look at the nature of abstract art, taking as a given that even a four-year-old can produce works in high demand. Then a 60 Minutes report on the young artist changes the story: is this really her work, or has her father assisted? Finally, the documentarian, realizing he hasn’t really captured any great footage of her painting (despite months of work on the film) reluctantly becomes part of the story himself, and the story evolves again, to his role and the appropriateness of such a young child getting so much adult attention. So many layers. The DVD includes a worthwhile additional set of follow-up footage, scenes deleted from the original, and additional discussions about the many questions raised by the film.
He says: It didn’t quite hold my interest.

By the way, Marla continues to sell her paintings (she’s now 8), and the movie continues to inspire debate. And more debate.

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Plus ça change

What a day it was. Monday May 11, 1970.

Thirty-five women, with chains hidden in their purses, infiltrated the public galleries of the House of Commons. They shackled themselves to their chairs. During Question Period, they started to shout. The business of parliament came to a halt. It was the culmination of what became known as the Abortion Caravan, a defiant country wide trek aimed at putting the issue of abortion access on the national agenda.It called to mind some of the more audacious tactics of the suffragettes more than fifty years earlier – in the first wave of feminism. But this was very much a “second wave” event, in which abortion on demand symbolized a fight for women’s autonomy on every front.

Listening to a documentary about this on CBC Radio’s Sunday Report a few weeks ago was pretty riveting. First of all, I hadn’t heard of this event before. Secondly, it was quite extraordinary to hear so many women proclaim, so loudly, the importance of choice. Everyone seems to tiptoe around the subject these days. Ssh. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

One of the most striking clips was one of the women speaking with one of the male (of course) politicians—I didn’t catch who. She pointed out he, being a privileged, wealthy man, would be able to arrange for a woman in his life to have a safe abortion, if she wanted one. But other Canadian women, those of lesser means and lower social standing, could not do this.

“So?” he replied.

“I couldn’t believe it, ” she recollected, this many years later. “It was so arrogant, so dismissive.”

Then today, there’s this:

No abortion in Canada’s G8 maternal health plan

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said the government would consider funding family planning measures such as contraception, but not abortion under any circumstances.

“They just reopened the abortion debate,” [Bob] Rae told reporters outside the House of Commons. “We are saying to the countries that are the poorest: ‘We won’t apply the law that we have in Canada’.”

Or to paraphrase, we are saying, “So?”