What we’ve been watching lately
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
There are various greeds. if you turn your back on something you wanted, you don’t deserve to call yourself greed. that is why death is as wrong as possible. greed is perpetual mourning. a mirror in every corner of the world, reflecting the land back on itself. the sky faces the land. all things face each other in the perfect clam, brought together. greed the pearl, the magnetic. layers of aragonite and conchiolin secreted to form your body. opaque in the endless sleep of my gut. if my dreams are neither past nor future then i cannot lose you. if my dreams are neither past nor future then i can still find you.
—Lily Wang is the author of Saturn Peach.
Best Leftovers Ever!
Trapped in a Food Media Fever Dream
Something is wrong on the set of Best Leftovers Ever! Billed as a show in which “home cooks compete to transform leftovers into delicious creations”, it sounds, at best, like an admirable attempt to inspire viewers to minimize food waste, and at worst, like a harmless but forgettable cooking competition. Instead, it offers something more uncanny, unsettling, and unhinged.
From the first notes of royalty-free, upbeat guitar music, the show embraces you like a party host squeezing your hand while staring into your eyes with a panicked smile. You are blinded by the overbearing brightness of the studio set: turquoise polka dots punctuate 10-foot tall set pieces fashioned into cartoon takeout containers, the neon green judges’ panel glows with an alien sheen, everything is yelling at you.
Our judges appear to have been given the sole direction to amplify their personalities in inverse proportion to their celebrity status. If their smiles are big enough and their exclamations loud enough, they can’t be ignored: they will become household names. The only judge who knows how to cook is drunk on her own sense of power and expertise, while the other judges appear to be passing a mickey back and forth underneath the table (which may explain the spontaneous songs, open mocking of contestants, and deranged chants of “FRIDGE! FRIDGE! FRIDGE!”).
Though the winner receives $10,000, the true stakes of this competition seem higher. The show’s kitschy comedic energy may try to hide it, but as their sweat beads under the lights, you worry that these home cooks’ ability to turn day-old casserole into restaurant-quality dishes may determine whether or not they leave this studio alive. And what, or who, is in that casserole? The producers laugh maniacally. Send help.
—Tago Mago is a performing person with food opinions from Toronto.
Sound of Metal (2019)
On a recent Saturday night, I drew the curtains, turned off the lights, and hid my cellphone. I pretended I was at The Bytowne—an Ottawa indie theatre that opened in 1947 and went out of business last month—sitting in a stiff, hard-backed chair up in the balcony, instead of the soft green couch that takes up most of my living room. I rented a movie, the first new release I watched since Trolls World Tour went straight to VOD during the first lockdown, when we all thought this would take a month or two, maximum.
The first scene of Sound of Metal depicts an environment I am well-versed in: a smelly basement punk show with a shy crowd and an aggressive band. Riz Ahmed (hair bleached, shirt off) bangs a building, ferocious beat on the drums as Olivia Cooke (eyebrows bleached, black cropped shirt on) wails into the microphone, rips a heavy chord on her electric guitar, and presses her foot down on a fuzz pedal, hard.
Watching the scene, my heart panged for an experience I thought I’d grown to loathe; being at an awful show, listening to a band I don’t really like, speakers too loud, in a crowd of people I’ve seen around for years yet still didn’t know. I’d wake up the next morning with my ears ringing a long and sustained high note, an involuntary soundtrack that doesn’t leave for days.
Normally, I’d wait outside the theatre for the bus #14 to take the usual late-night ride home; debating what I’d just seen if I was with a friend, headphones cranked to the max if I was alone. Now, I shut the TV off after the movie and walk only a few feet to my apartment’s other room before falling into bed. What I’d give for my ears to ring again.
—Alanna Why is a pop culture and fiction writer from Ottawa, Ontario.
The Scary of Sixty-First (2021)
Red Scare fans be like (adds Los Angeles Apparel tennis skirt to shopping cart): I’m so close to figuring out the truth about the pedophilic billionaire class, I know it.
After plugging in my European Film Market login details, graciously provided to me by a Parisian film exec with whom I occasionally cam for cash, I eagerly refreshed the Berlinale webpage in anticipation of the premiere of The Scary of Sixty-First. Despite being a world premiere, an occasion traditionally associated with excitement and glamour, Dasha Nekrasova’s demonic, amphetamine-fueled directorial debut was actually well suited to the depraved COVID release landscape, fitting in nicely with the now abject familiarity of my laptop (and growing Vyvanse dependency).
Engaging with the dialectics of apophenia, Scary captures the obsessive, pattern-seeking logic of the web and personifies it in two young women desperate to uncover the “truth” about Jeffrey Epstein and his elite cabal of pedophiles. If this dynamic sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard, for better or for worse, an episode or two of Red Scare; the popular podcast (co-hosted by Anna Khachiyan and Nekrasova herself) situated within an emergent class of pseudo-political pundits somewhat embarrassingly known as the “dirtbag left”. Strikingly similar tonally (Anna K makes an appearance, along with both R and F slurs), Scary reproduces the intoxicating, boundary-pushing affect of Red Scare, swapping the ambient intimacy of the parasocial for the histrionic unease of the paranormal.
Though reactive, the conspiratorial mode depicted in Scary is not entirely illogical. Paranoid as they are, the characters find both intentionality and purposeful humanism within the otherwise absurd, irrational, and meaningless world of late-capitalism. As finance-backed violence and networked power produce equal parts angst and anesthesia, world-building in this schizophrenic, conspiratorial mode seems not entirely unreasonable, and in some cases (as evidenced in the growing landscape of podcasting) functions as an antidote to the atomization of neoliberal individualism (until, of course, it meets its logical conclusion in ISIS merch). While the Red Scare sign-off is infamously “see you in hell,” Scary makes it abundantly clear we’re already there.
—Nicole Richardson is a sporadic writer and full-time film scholar living in Toronto with her cats Melfi and Carmella.
What is the little animal in all of us, wanting to be? I can’t name it. It doesn’t have to be named. It can be referred to, given a pet name, a referential so often necessary for language. But these little animals have their own names; they keep them close, tucked behind ears or in the twitching of whiskers, but if we look close enough, we can see them. But the gap in understanding, in naming the name, is a valley. A valley unfamiliar and still home, its green a green we know, its shapes shapes we know, its sky the same sky that is everywhere. It is not uncanny, no, but it unsettles all the same, the little stories in this valley made up of these little animals, with their own names and voices and rituals. If you, a new and newly named animal, set foot in this space, how would you proceed? It is a question that takes a lifetime to answer. So to justify its existence the little animal in us thinks not of curiosity or community or camaraderie but of work. The little animal can live because there is work, important work, work that is necessary and yet should not be a necessity to its right to live. The little animal walks the fields and sees the sun and the trees and the grass and the river and the sheep and the dogs and the ducks and the hens and the cows and the humans and all the other animals and thinks I. A question punctuates every step into the unknown: what am I, a little animal, doing in this world? All the other little animals in us are asking this question. They are all trying to provide an answer. They work with and against and for each other in the ways only they can offer, but all are watching the same sun set behind the trees and the grass and the river. In that way the little animal thinks it is right to live and keep living. The little animal wanted to be and it was. And that’ll do.
—Terrence Abrahams is always a Libra and often a poet.
Love At Large (1990)
Alan Rudolph’s use of color and camera movement demands the big screen—New York’s Quad Cinema hosted a retrospective in 2018 that thrilled this viewer—but his fondness for loners proves spiritually appropriate for at-home viewing after dark. The characters in his noir-besotted Love at Large (1990), a spectacular showcase for the director’s trademark air of melancholic voyeurism, exist in their own little silos of disappointment and contemplation.
The assignment given to private-eye hero Harry Dobbs—the secretive Miss Dolan hires him to tail a man in glasses who appears to have two separate families—is just one link in a chain of following, snooping, and pining from afar. The movie’s objects and settings underline this sense of transient spectatorship: binoculars, payphones, used cars, parking garages, motel rooms.
Rudolph stations his odd-duck characters in these liminal spaces and observes their unsettled states: Harry can’t sleep; Stella Wynkowski, another sleuth, is being hounded by an aggravated ex; Ellen McGraw has eyes for one of her husband’s farmhands and peers out at him from the kitchen window. Love at Large operates on a wavelength of nocturnal poignancy, with people coming and going at all hours, aching for connection but rarely feeling content. Harry and Stella first form something like a real bond in a domain of utter impermanence—an early flight during which multiple Bloody Marys are consumed. (At a time when regular bar-going has only recently started making a gradual return, Rudolph’s drinking marathons summon a vicarious pleasure.)
In an oeuvre full of marvelously contradictory personalities, the burly, gravelly-voiced Harry Dobbs holds his own—here’s a detective who doesn’t particularly enjoy delivering bad news or prying into people’s lives. On breaks from his dirty work, he entertains himself with mock play-by-play for his handheld golf video game. He is a charmed creation and—this is crucial at the moment—good company.
—Danny King is a writer and editor based in New York.
Sometimes when I was young and would find stray strands of my hair on the floor, I’d flinch with disgust. A part of me, apart. I’d react the same to dust, knowing it was made up of dead skin.
I often forget my skin is alive. Sometimes I scratch it in my sleep and it cracks and bleeds and I wake up and twist my neck like a swan to look back at myself in the mirror and inspect the damage. And then my skin heals and scars and fades all by itself, without me telling it to, because it is alive; I am alive.
Sometimes I fold my body in half to look at the hair on my shins and it looks alien. Sometimes I pluck it or wax it or shave it so I can be happy for a little bit as a skinned little thing. And then the hair grows back in shards.
If you had to choose, would you prefer to jump or crawl out of your skin? Sometimes nothing is scarier than a live body, dripping and hairy.
—Sennah Yee is the author of How Do I Look? and My Day With Gong Gong.
Vermithrax Pejorative is so fucking sick to me. Mouldering, always shedding scales and teeth. She lurches painfully on her wing tips. Her movement was modelled on the skeletal structure of the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, a fossil from 145 million years ago. It feels that old. Hundreds of people worked on building and animating dozens of machines, puppets, and robots to make this feeling possible. A new type of stop-motion was invented so the dragon would blur; post-production alone lasted eight months for a crew of 80 people. The effort shrinks everything around it. The landscapes diminish too, pulling wide and craggy. They leave people picking over the surface of the world like needlepoint. If you have a carriage, you’re the king. The dragon feels like a dying god.
I can’t get over how good this movie looks and how so many genre-defining fantasy films that came after failed to carry some of its strongest visual sensibilities into the digital age. I know computers can still make purple and orange! I know they still have contrast in there! Would it kill someone to rotoscope in some sparks or a cool beam of light? It’s funny to feel nostalgia for old film stocks and practical effects while watching a sword and sorcery movie. One type of magic has to die so that another kind of power can horn in and take its place. Dragons, magic, or the church: to the king, they’re just different tools for hoarding power. He comes on his little cart and pretends he killed the dragon, sticks his swords in its flyblown guts and waves. I don’t know. I’m googling photos of dinosaur skeletons.