Variant Edition | This Column Has Seven Days #124 // Summer Formal
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This Column Has Seven Days #124 // Summer Formal

Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.

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It’s been a little while longer than I promised last time. Between my brother’s wedding and the full-on work explosion that was the end of the school year my pop cultural consumption was way, way down. But now it’s summer and I’m back into the groovy, ginchy swing of things! So as not to overwhelm I’ve lined up a few pint-sized selections for this week’s column, ranging from formalist sci-fi adventures, a Hollywood classic, a Bollywood blockbuster, and gently broken music. Let’s get down to business.

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Jeff Lemire makes comics that are worth reading. His Essex County series is an award-winning slice of small-town Canadiana; Underwater Welder a ghost story about fathers and sons; The Nobody a re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ classic The Invisible Man. In each of these works, Lemire’s artistic vision shines through; the art rough but evocative, the dialogue sparse but effective. With Trillium, Lemire uses his considerable skills to create a sci-fi story that stretches not only the boundaries of space, love, and time, but also the structure of the comic book medium. In the first chapter of the collected Trillium, readers meet Nika Tensmith, a botanist on the edge of space who is researching a mysterious white flower that could be the salvation of what’s left of the human race in the year 3797. She’s in a race against time, as she needs to figure out how to negotiate with the planet’s intelligent life before The Caul (the disease the flowers might cure) catches up to her ship. Then, the second chapter introduces William Pike, a World War I veteran who goes on an expedition to find the lost temples of the Incas in 1921 — using the exact same page and panel layouts as the first chapter. Nika and William meet through a rip in the fabric of reality, and as spacetime unravels and recombines so does the comic book page. The way Lemire plays with the format don’t distract from the story but rather add to the sense that something grand and wonderful is happening, even if that’s just two people who find each other despite seemingly impossible odds. The art is some of Lemire’s most fully-realized and epic work, with beautiful watercolour-esque work from colourist José Villarrubia. Trillium is wonderful as both a formalist exercise, sci-fi epic, and love story. That’s a rare feat, and a book that should be cherished.

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The Barefoot Contessa is one of Hollywood mogul Joe Mankiewicz’s most highly-regarded films. It’s an extravagant picture that bites the hand that feeds it, skewering show business and the people that are drawn to it. The Contessa of the film’s title, Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), is a former nightclub dancer who became a movie star, gave it all up to marry a rich Count, and tragically dies shortly thereafter. The film is lavish on the surface but sometimes empty at its core, an unintended echo of the industry it’s portraying. Its best moments, though, are when Gardner is paired with Humphrey Bogart. As Harry Dawes, a veteran filmmaker who directs Maria her first big break, Bogart leans heavily into the wry and sarcastic, but he’s also warm and compassionate towards Maria. Whenever the two are together, the film crackles, not with sexual or romantic tension (unbelievably for a movie of this era, Harry and Maria are nothing more than friends) but because each actor elevates the other’s performance. The Barefoot Contessa is an uneven film, but it’s beautiful to look at and driven by Bogart and Gardner’s undeniable screen chemistry. Well worth watching, in my opinion.

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The 2011 Hindi film Singham is about as subtle as your average Michael Bay movie. In fact, it’s probably less subtle than that. But it also has Ajay Devgn bodyslamming a gangster out of the window of a spinning van. Subtlety, in other words, is sometimes overrated. A remake of the 2010 Tamil film of the same name, Singham is about a good cop, Bajirao Singham (Devgn) who is basically a folk hero to the people in his small village. But eventually his path crosses with the notorious big-city gangster Jaikant Shikre (the brilliantly over-the-top Prakash Raj). Singham holds Shikre to the standard of the law; Shikre pulls some strings and gets Singham reassigned to the big city, where Singham discovers that the corrupt police force is basically meaningless. Which means, of course, that in order to stop Shikre once and for all, Singham is going to have to work…outside the law. The action sequences in this movie are worth the price of admission, and the icing on the cake is watching Ajay Devgn try to play light romantic comedy moments (he is not good at it, but in the most delightful way). Singham is an unapologetic action movie that turns the adrenaline up to eleven and rips off the knob. It’s on Netflix. Watch it and thank me later.

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Aimee Mann’s new album Mental Illness is the best thing she’s done in years. It’s a tongue-in-cheek title that still manages to hit the nail on the head. I’ve been a fan of her achingly beautiful voice and artful songwriting since she was featured on the Magnolia soundtrack 20 years ago. The songs on Mental Illness are like some of Magnolia‘s best songs (especially “Wise Up”), but even more quiet and bittersweet. Even the upbeat sounding songs are studies in the ways life can let one down. My favourite track “Patient Zero,” about an artist who travels to Hollywood only to be beaten down and betrayed by the system, is a bleak toe-tapper. The album features other fantastic artists, with songs co-written by Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick, as well as musical contributions by the great Ted Leo. The ship is clearly steered by Mann herself, though; her lyrics are character sketches and meditations on the human condition brought to life by her unmistakable voice. Aimee Mann’s been making music for 35 years and it seems like she poured all her experience and art into Mental Illness.

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That’s all folks. Until next time, stay cool and dry. Like a potato, or a priceless work of art. I’ll see you in seven days.

AUTHOR: Devin R. Bruce
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