Friday, January 11, 2008

Mammoth...needs more mammoth.

The same way I have a soft spot for ridiculously bad musical acts like Poison, I also have a soft spot for really terrible movies, like those that star Steven Seagal, and those that involve prehistoric animals terrorizing cities. So on Tuesday, I left two Rogers Video cashiers crestfallen when I rented the movie they wanted to watch that night - Mammoth! You see, there is a comet that crashes into the Earth. And it re-animates a mammoth who resides in the Museum of Natural History. This prehistoric wooly beast then takes out it's thousands of years of anger on the poor, unsuspecting small town in which the museum is located. This is a concept right up there with the classics of the last few years, among them Megalodon, Sabretooth, and Pterodactyl.

But wait - there's more! Not only is there a mammoth on the loose, goring people with it's tusks and stomping them in their cars, but it is being controlled by...aliens! AND, there is a severed hand that also becomes re-animated. Terrific stuff. The one complaint I have about the film is that there is just not enough mammoth. There are some great scenes where you can see just part of the creature, since animating a whole mammoth would have been too expensive, but there is not enough stomping and goring. Too much actual story. Mammoth is great and it stars Tom Skerritt. What more could you want? A fine film, but not yet in the league of Pterodactyl.


I saw a bunch of cars pulled over on the Queensway on my way home today. I kept thinking about it, surmising that they could not be pulled over for speeding. The traffic was such that speeding would have been impossible. There was just nowhere to do it, no stretch empty enough to get up that much speed. The I realized something. Each of the four cars I saw pulled over had their back windows completely covered with snow. And I thought gee, maybe that's the reason. I think that's fairly awesome. Perhaps enough of this and people will also stop driving with their roofs covered in snow, and having it blow off the top of their SUVs, and raining snow and ice all over my windshield from one lane over.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sometimes, you just know.

I realized it the moment it happened. I ought to lose a little weight. It wasn't when I bought two pairs of jeans two sizes bigger than any I have ever worn. It wasn't when I realized that every time I got up from my chair at work, it was two feet lower than it was when I sat down. It wasn't even when I started to sweat while I ate. No, it was today, on my way into the grocery store, when I stepped onto that black mat, with no one for miles around, and both doors opened.

Seal: The other dark meat.

A caller today suggested that seal meat is delicious. This is not 100% true. It is not as horrible as it looks, but I would not go so far as to call it delicious. More like a gamy salmon, I think. This would not have been such a scary thing to do, eat seal meat, had the can not sat open beside me on the desk for an hour before I ate some. It definitely looked unpleasant. It certainly smelled awful. There were bones and chunks of fat in it. It had been home-canned, and who knows what was in there and what process was followed in the canning of the seal. It was sent to us by some friendly listeners in Newfoundland, who had heard us speculating about the taste of seal meat last year. It was intended as a Christmas present, and it arrived today. Of course, I was the guinea pig. In the end, heated in the microwave for thirty seconds, it was not bad, with the texture of deer meat and a hint of salmon-ish flavour. But I knew it must have looked really awful when Randall wouldn't touch any. Normally, no matter what I am forced to eat, if it is actually edible food, Randall will finish it for me. Not this time. So I put the foul-smelling can in the trash beside his desk.

I do love a good complaint.

I also love a ridiculous complaint. Like the one we received today. A woman sent us an email suggesting that we had managed to offend Elvis fans, dancers, lesbians, fat people, bagpipe afficionados and maybe all of humanity within the space of three sentences. How, you might ask, could so many groups be offended within such a short span of time? Well, we set out to do so. Here are the three sentences: (This was Doc, and I paraphrase); There should be no more bagpipes made, since they are bad for the environment and our ears. (This was Randall, and I paraphrase); What's with Ellen DeGeneres and the dancing? (This one, once again Doc, once again paraphrasing); Well, she's a lesbian, they do that...hey, it's Elvis's birthday today, he would have been 63 years old, and if he were still alive today, Dr. Phil would have to come to his house with a crane to rescue him. See? We got EVERYONE.

No matter that Randall and I defended both bagpipes (we like them) AND lesbians (suggesting that one's sexual orientation had no bearing on the fact that one might choose to dance...but that Ellen's dancing is still obnoxious). That went unheard. Now, we did not defend fat people against the charge that were Elvis still alive, he would have subsisted on fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches for the past thirty years, and would be enormous, and would have to have the side of his house removed in order to get out. So we did let down all the overweight people of the world who would be offended by a statement such as that one. It never occurred to me, but I ALSO am overweight. And now, I am retroactively offended at my own participation in such a debasing of fat people. And I am an Elvis lover too. And as such, I am retroactively offended on his behalf as well. It was his birthday! We could have played "Clean Up Your Own Backyard", rather than speculating about his current imagined physical state!

Oh, and dancing. Yeah, I still hate dancing. Both doing it and watching it. But I love complaints. Hey, I just noticed! Anonymous, you' haven't posted mean-spirited comments on my blog in a while! Hope you're back from Christmas vacation soon.

Mouse Hunt. (Not the movie).

Mouse Hunt, the movie, was horrible. This is not a review of that movie. This is a review of the behaviour and bizarre antics exhibited by my colleagues and co-workers, much of which has made me laugh o'er the last few days. You see, in a studio down the hall from us there are two people, and apparently, several mice. The two people, who I will not name, are a very nice woman and a very manly man. Who hunts with a bow and arrow, lives out in the bush with the deer for months on end, and is quite burly. The first time I was called into this other studio, this man had gone home for the day. I was about to go into a meeting, and was called away at the last moment by our HR lady, who needed my help. It turned out that there were mouse traps in this other studio, and one had caught a mouse. Now, these were live traps, so the mice were to be released into the wild outside the studio, where they could die a more humane death in the snow and the freezing temperatures. Or maybe find a hole and burrow until the spring.

So I did my manly duty. I grabbed the mouse trap, released the mouse outside, and went on with my meeting. The next day, as we were finishing work for the day, I was presented with another mouse, again by our HR lady. I found this odd, because now the burly man in the studio down the hall was still there. Couldn't HE deal with this? How did I become the official mouse-releaser of Ythe other studio? I thought perhaps he had to do something else, and so I once again took our little friend outside and released him into the wild. This morning, however, I realized what was going on. The burly man from the studio down the hall came to see me before work, and place a mouse trap, this one full of mouse again, onto the desk in front of me. I opened the door to peek inside to make sure there was indeed a mouse. There was, and I showed him. He jumped back, just as our HR lady did after the show when I placed the (now empty) mouse trap on her desk for re-baiting.

If there is one thing I don't understand it is the aversion people have for mice. Rats I get. I once saw a rat run out of a restaurant and across my shoe on Bank Street at about 4 in the morning and I got freaked out. Spiders I understand. They can be creepy looking, although I have no particular aversion to them either. Snakes, bats, all the things that scare people, I understand. But here's the thing about mice. It's mostly women who are scared of them, and of course some men also. But they would never say so. If you asked them, they would say they love mice. Mice are small and cute, and people (women especially) love small cute things. That's why my 8-year-old step-son can pick up the entire 67's Ice Girl squad in two minutes. So no one will intellectually say that they are scared of mice the way they are about snakes or spiders. But as soon as people are presented with a real, live mouse, they react with shock and terror! They leap back. In the case of our HR lady, they might shriek! Mice are different in theory and in practice.

We had a mouse problem in my house at the beginning of the winter. We went the non-humane route, and laid down lethal traps. We caught about five and then they stopped showing up. My girlfriend was very good about emptying the traps when I was asleep. In that she emptied them and did not wake me up. But afterward, she said she was very sad in doing so, because the mice had these gigantic sad eyes when they were dead, and it broke her heart to dump them in a garbage bag so unceremoniously. I did not have the heart to tell her that their eyes were not normally that big, it was merely because they bulged out of their skulls when the trap snapped down. I think we might use these humane traps next time. And get us some pets for the winter. Mice are still cute if they're in a cage.

Winterlude - can they ever catch a break?

Now, I am no fan of Winterlude per se, in that since I was eight I have not attended any Winterlude fesitivites at all (with the exception of the Randy Bachman show that kicked things off last year, where the Governer General was wearing very tight pants and looking very nice - you can read about it here - But I pull for Winterlude to do well, because it brings in the tourists, the canal is open, everything is nice and wintery and pleasant. Last year, Winterlude got very lucky at the last second when all of a sudden the weather got actually cold and we got actual snow. This year, the thaw is making them worried.

I was making fun of Winterlude a while ago because with 31 feet of snow on the ground here in Ottawa, they were still out there with their snow-making machines in Jacques Cartier park, making MORE snow. Was the massive, record-setting dump we had received not enough for them? Then it seemed as though they had been prophetic, and had done a great job covering their bases when this thaw happened and the snow started to melt. Now, it seems as though it was all for nought as the snow has continued to melt, and the snow they created manually along with it. I guess this year we may have to visit the Winterlude mud sculpture exhibition. In the meantime, my driveway is fully clear of snow, (and I managed not to shovel at all after that last dump), I can see my backyard again, the snowman I built is now a midget, the snow fort my step-son built is now not even a bunker or a foxhole, and I plan to get a little of my spring cleaning done.

Exiled. Requires a commitment. (******/10)

When I started watching Exiled, the latest Chinese action film from director Johnnie To (who is very good), for the first time in a long time I found myself wishing desperately that I spoke Cantonese. I figured that if I spoke Cantonese, I would have some idea what the hell was going on. For the first forty-five minutes of the film, I was basically lost as to the plot. And what was most irritating was that even if I spoke Cantonese, I would still likely not have understood. There was so little dialogue, and so much sweeping camera work that the story is moved along almost exclusively in pictures. Which were impressive. The camera work here is terrific, and in some cases, breathtaking. But that does not tell the story. The movie opens with four guys following a fifth guy into his house, at which point they even up the odds and have a gun fight. When they see this fifth guy's wife and baby, they stop their gunfight, repair the bullet holes in the house, and they all sit down to dinner. What? They go see another guy, then that guy sees another guy, who's talking to the boss who keeps phoning one of the original four seems bonkers.

In fact, I learned more about the plot from reading the back of the box than I did from watching the film. I can only surmise that the blurb written on the back of the DVD case was written by the director himself, or at the very least someone who spoke Cantonese. Because I would be amazed if anyone sitting here in Canada or the U.S. could have figured it out. It turns out that two of the four guys were there to kill the fifth, and the other two were there to protect him. And in order to make sure that his wife and baby are provided for, the fifth man suggests that all five of them pull off one last big score before he is executed so his wife and baby will have something to live on. Again, I got this from the back of the case, and not from the movie itself.

My girlfriend gave up. After half an hour, she was totally lost, and even the occasional brief gun fight could no longer pique her interest. My commitment was a little greater. I figured that if Alliance Atlantis was giving me the DVD to review, the least I could do would be to sit through it. And am I ever glad I did! From the forty-five minute mark on, the movie makes sense. And by the end of it, the whole thing makes sense, and you have forgotten that painful first forty minutes or so. The main reason is the five main actors, who are all terrific. I'm not going to attempt to write their names down here any more than I plan to try to pronounce them on the air, but all five are wonderful. They are so convincing as buddies and equally convincing as enemies. Equal part good guy and bad guy, the killers and thieves with a certain ambiguous morality...I think I have written something a lot like this recently. Sound familiar?

Well, the Chinese certainly love their American westerns, and Exiled is no exception. The main characters are very reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch, there is a scene where a gun keeps being shot away from a soldier that is taken directly from a scene between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (with a hat, not a gun) in For a Few Dollars More. And the final scene is straight out of the Wild Bunch as well. Oops. For those of you who have SEEN The Wild Bunch, that may have given away the ending somewhat. Sorry. The main problem with Exiled is that the second half is far superior to the first, yet the second half would not work at all without the beginning. So you can't just skip to 44:15 and start watching. I give the first half four out of ten, the second half eight out of ten, which overall gives the movie six out of ten. Makes sense, right? Exiled comes out on Tuesday, January 15th.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Mr. Woodcock. Garbage! (*/10)

It's pretty clear that Billy Bob Thornton has two careers. One where he takes roles in serious movies and does a decent-to-good job in movies that are generally decent-to-good. (The Astronaut Farmer, Friday Night Lights.) The other career is the one where he takes roles in comedies, and plays really obnoxious, angry, foul-mouthed, possibly drunk characters, with mixed results. These movies can be fantastically funny, like Bad Santa. Or they can be painful, juvenile and idiotic, like School For Scoundrels or Mr. Woodcock (which is being released by Alliance Atlantis this coming Tuesday).

Seann William Scott also has two careers. One, where he plays a sex-crazed, party-animal frat-boy type, in teen comedies that are decent at best. Like American Pie or Road Trip. The second career is the one where he plays smarmy and wimpy characters in more grown-up comedies that are invariable lousy. Like The Dukes of Hazzard, Bulletproof Monk, Evolution, Dude Where's My Car, and Mr. Woodcock.

This movie is definitely painful. And lousy. And dreadful. And insipid. And ridiculous. And awful. The reason I have found so many synonyms for horrible is that this is the level on which the movie works. You see, Seann William Scott plays a character that was terrorized as a child by his gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton, of course). He grows up to become a self-help guru, and returns to his home town where he discovers that Mr. Woodcock is now dating his mom. And of course, having sex with her, which is apparently the REAL problem. The real problem with the movie is that they think comedy is having people yell synonyms for sex with his mom. Porked! Plowed! Such and such...this is not funny. It is irritating. And so is this movie.

One of the first scenes in this movie is the only funny one. Where Seann William Scott does a book signing for his new self-help book. It's funny because the whole self-help session is idiotic and painfully stupid. The tree of tranquility, the warm pool of security...all that kind of crap. It's reasonably funny. Then the movie takes this abrupt U-turn into idiocy. When Scott finds out that Thornton is nailing, banging, having his way with his mom, he goes out of his way to ruin their relationship. Breaking into his house, (which of course leads to him hiding under the bed while he listens to them have sex), trying to set him up, (which of course turns out badly), and a myriad of other things. Staggeringly simple, terribly written, and horribly acted, and I wonder what happens at the end? Does he learn that Mr. Woodcock is actually a very nice person, and accept his mom's new relationship?

Of course he does. But...where does he come to this realization? Well, the only place that could make this movie any worse. Live, on the Tyra Banks show! The only show on all of television that I hate more than I hate this movie. And I REALLY hate this movie.

3:10 To Yuma (The Remake) ********/10

That's eight out of ten on my randomly-decided-upon measuring stick for movies. The box for the Russell Crowe - Christian Bale remake of 3:10 to Yuma says "The Best Western Since Unforgiven!" This is not true. It is, however, the SECOND best western since Unforgiven. The best one was a little-seen film called The Proposition, starring Guy Pearce, and it was a phenomenal film. What 3:10 to Yuma understands very, very well is the western hero. The greatest westerns all had heroes cut from one of two cloths. Either they were generally decent people who didn't want to use guns but were forced into it, like Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, or Gary Cooper in High Noon, or Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Or, they were tough, rugged frontier men who did not fear death, who were perfectly happy using a pistol, but they had a dark side and were not all good. Like Clint Eastwood in The Good The Bad and the Ugly, William Holden in the Wild Bunch, John Wayne in The Searchers, or Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. True western heroes are never the type that are happy, upstanding citizens who also are great gunfighters who don't fear death and are dangerous to bad guys but perfectly safe to good guys. That hero is the mark of a less interesting western movie. One that can still be good, but never great.

Another thing 3:10 to Yuma gets right is the villain. Yes. I hate it in movies when the bad guy whoots his own man just to prove what a bad guy he really is. And yes, Russell Crowe shoots his own man in the very first scene he's in. But this time, it is with a purpose. It is not an attempt to make him into the personification of evil, he actually has a reason. Both Crowe and Christian Bale are absolutely fantastic in the movie, both playing the western "heroes" with shades of grey. Peter Fonda is fantastic as well, as a grizzled old Pinkerton detective, a standard character in the old westerns - the lawman charged with upholding the law who may actually be more evil than the man he is bringing to justice.

And that is what makes 3:10 to Yuma fantastic. This film really is a throwback to the western tradition of the 1950s when the original was made. That is one reason this is not a classic western. Really, there is nothing new here. This is just a revitalization and a masterful rendition of an old genre. There are two other things (two characters, in fact) that hold the movie back from being truly great - but it isn't really the movie's fault. You see, at the time in the 1950s, these two characters were in many of the westerns. But since then, these characters have become standard in countless movies, and so they seem like cliches. The one character is Crowe's right-hand man, played by Ben Foster. He is the psychotic killer we see all too often in movies, the man who will kill anyone without compunction, but who looks upon his mentor with a kind of respect that borders on worship. The other character is Bale's young son, who is almost cartoonish at the beginning of the film with his bitterness at his father and his lack of respect for his toughness. Of course we know he will respect his father by the end of the film, so it seems like overkill with so much of it at the beginning.

But the best part of 3:10 to Yuma is Russell Crowe. He is magnificent as the outlaw with ambiguous motives, he's absolutely captivating whenever he is on the screen. He is able to walk a fine line between charm and menace, and it's such a magnetic performance that we never lose sight of who he is. A killer and a bandit with some kind of conscience. He makes every scene he's in come to life, and that's almost the entire movie. The gunfights are great - realistic and gritty, if a little stylized. The final gun battle is also the second best since Unforgiven (number two is that final gun fight in Open Range.)

This is definitely the best well-publicized western since Unforgiven, but there have been quite a few good ones in the last few years, for all you western fans - Seraphim Falls was terrific, Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson turned in some great performances. The Proposition was criminally overlooked. Dead Man also, although that may well be because it is just so weird. But definitely worth seeing. And Open Range was a pretty good representation of the genre. It's a genre that has been called dead many times, but with films like 3:10 to Yuma, one can only hope that the next resurrection of the western is coming soon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Resident Evil...can this series get any worse? I guess no. (*/10)

Every now and then I watch a movie I know I will hate just so I can make sure I give every film released an equal chance. One of those movies was Resident Evil: Extinction, which I watched today. The first two Resident Evil movies redefined awful. They made absolutely no sense, and had cheesy special effects, and featured some of the most embarrassingly lazy dialogue ever created for a film. This third one is no exception. In this one, Milla Jovovich returns as the zombie-dispatching hot chick bad-ass. Here's something that irritates me. Zombie movie purists. The people who get angry when you call these creatures zombies when they clearly aren't. You see, the "zombies" in Resident Evil are created by a virus, and they aren't dead people re-animated, they are just sick people. The "zombies" in 28 days later are infected with rage, they are not re-animated dead people. Who cares. If it walks like a zombie and talks like a zombie (aaarrrrrhhgghghhh), then it's a zombie.

Two more things that irritate me. First - when an actress in a movie is naked, but strategic hand placement and sheet placement and objects obscure your view so that you can't see any of the "good bits". If you want to see that actress naked, then this will irritate you, not titillate you. If you don't want to see that actress naked, then that means you don't care if she is naked or not. In which case this will irritate you. Resident Evil: Extinction is R-rated. Why not just go for it? In Resident Evil, not only do they open with this scene, they hammer it home over and over again. You see, Milla Jovovich is a clone. Or something. It doesn't matter. These clones of Milla exist in some kind of embryonic stage, suspended in bubbles of water. As clones in movies tend to be. It would, of course, make sense that these clones be naked. And they are. It would not, however, make sense that they would be covering their own chest with folded arms, each hand placed carefully over a nipple. That does not make sense.

The second thing that irritates me is when people say "lock and load" in a serious manner. Unless it's Steven Seagal. Then it's hilarious. This phrase was immortalized by John Wayne in the movie Sands of Iwo Jima (an average war movie at best), when he used it in a serious manner (going to war) and also a humorous manner (going to get drunk). Ever since, it has been a horrible cliche. It certainly gives one the impression that the screenwriters sure couldn't think of anything original to say, and that at least they KNOW "lock and load" sounds bad-ass. After all, they've heard it in so many other movies. You know the guy in Resident Evil is a tough guy, because he says lock and load before the good guys do battle with some bad crows.

OK. One more thing that irritates me. When nerds on the internet say "the movie stays true to the video game". It's a video game. A movie staying true to it is not likely to be a good thing. Staying true to a book? That could be good. Even then, sometimes it's a bad thing. But when you're lifting a plot from a video game, you are likely to have a pretty thin plot. So you have to juice it up with something else. Like Angelina Jolie's boobs in Tomb Raider, or a bonkers techno soundtrack in Mortal Kombat. Here's the thing. If staying "true" to the comic book, or the book, or the video game is important to a potential viewer, then it is important only to those who have read the comic or the book, and played that video game. Even then, it is likely important only to those who have PLAYED (read: obsessed over) that video game. Which is like four hundred people. Anyone else watching that movie will have no idea what's happening, and will not care at all.

Not that I am reading this about Resident Evil: Extinction. (Although I have read that about Silent Hill, which was a colossal waste of a movie also.) I have no idea how close in spirit, tone, or plot points this film was to the video game. If the video game had only three plot points, which seems likely, then I can only surmise that the movie is extremely close. The world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland (remember - Resident Evil: Apocalypse? Now this is Resident Evil: Post-Apocalypes.) There are a few survivors, one of them is Milla Jovovich on a motorbike who plays Mad Max. Or Kevin Costner from Waterworld. Some evil guys are doing some evil things at the cleverly named Umbrella Corporation. That's it. That's the plot. And even that's not done well.

That being said, Resident Evil: Extinction IS the best of the three films, which is not saying much, I know. It's kind of like saying No Strings Attached is the best N'Sync album. The only way to justify that opinion if someone asks you is to say "well, it IS". And yes, I had to look up that N'Sync reference. Which only makes me hate this movie even more.

Factory Girl...what a waste of time. (***/10)

Until now, I have never seen Sienna Miller in anything except the tabloids. You remember, she was somehow involved with Jude Law in some way, some stuff happened...I can't remember the rest of it. It turns out she is a fairly good actress, I think. Her talent, if she does indeed have some, is totally wasted in the movie Factory Girl, which is currently playing on Rogers On Demand. It's free to rent, but not worth it. This movie is boring, stupid and a real chore to sit through. Sienna Miller plays Edie Sedgewick, the original "it girl" in the movies made by Andy Warhol in the 60s, who was rumoured to have had a relationship with Bob Dylan, and who ended up a wasted wreck of a human being. An interesting story, to be sure, if it wasn't shot like some kind of after-school special.

And there are other actors involved, some of whom are decent and some who are very good. Hayden Christensen is decent, and Guy Pearce is very good, but they are terribly boring in Factory Girl. Christensen plays Bob Dylan as some kind of wax figure who speaks. Guy Pearce plays Andy Warhol as a predatory, evil manipulator. Both portrayals may be accurate in real life at the time, but I have read an awful lot about Warhol, and I suspect there was more to Warhol than just aloofness and callousness. He was likely at the very least two-dimensional. And Dylan was certainly more two-dimensional than Pearce's portrayal in the film. There isn't a single character in the movie I liked. I think we're supposed to like Sedgewick herself, but it becomes impossible because she is such a boring character. From the beginning of the movie to the end, she is such a victim, of Warhol's exploitation, of Dylan's coldness, of drug addiction and of a horrible father. At no point does she ever take responsibility for any of her own actions.

So, the movie would have us believe that this young girl showed up in Warhol's studios, charming and pretty and ambitious. Then she was twisted, tortured, and manipulated into taking drugs, having sex with multiple partners, appearing in demeaning movies and wasting her life. No one cared enough about her to hold her hand and get her out. At no point does she ever try to get out of the lifestyle by herself, she is just forced out when people are tired of her, and then she blames them for turning into this wasted shell of a person. If she was able to take some responsibility for her own actions, she would be a much more sympathetic character. If she ever even questioned what was happening to her, she would be much more sympathetic. But she accepts everything as it comes along, initiates most of it, and then explodes. When she turns her anger toward those who "used" her, it comes off as very strange, since she is now an absolute junkie, completely out of it and lost in the world. Yet somehow now, completely drug-addled, she is able to finally see how these people turned her into that junkie? It doesn't add up.

The Edie Sedgewick story is an interesting one, as are the Andy Warhol story and the Bob Dylan story. But there are better, and far more accurate ways to learn about that scene. There are a couple of books I own on Warhol - Who Is Andy Warhol? is a collection of articles and stories written about him and his art, and is really better for art students and the like. Holy Terror is a better look at the Factory scene, a book by Bob Colacello, who was the editor of Interview Magazine and who followed Warhol closely for a long time. While the picture he paints of Warhol is not always a rosy one, it certainly characterizes him and Sedgewick as far more complex and real than they are in this movie. For good Bob Dylan stuff, check out No Direction Home, the Scorcese documentary, or Chronicles, written by Dylan himself. For Edie Sedgewick, I don't really know where to look. But it certainly isn't Factory Girl. For fans of Sienna Miller's breasts, however, this movie is well worth your while. Please don't watch it just for Sienna Miller's breasts.

Tell me if this sounds familiar...

The Conservative government commissions a panel on climate change. This federal advisory panel is called the Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. (I still cringe whenever "environment" and "economy" are used in the same sentence, as though they need to be balanced in importance.) the Round Table federal advisory panel does what they are commissioned to do. They create a report. This report states that the best, make that the ONLY way to make Canadians, and our worst-emitting companies, change their wasteful ways is to hit them in the pocketbook with a carbon tax. This report is widely considered, by those who care about the environment, to be on the money and extermely accurate. A carbon tax IS the only way we can begin to fix what is wrong, and even then it is only the beginning.

The report is brought to the attention of John Baird, Canada's environment minister. Baird looks the report over briefly, turns to the people who created this report, and says "f*k you." He then looks out the window, at the environment itself and says "f*k you too". He then turns to a five-dollar bill sitting on his desk, points to it with a gun-shaped finger and said "you're still cool". You see, what the poor unsuspecting people who scientifically created this report did not know was that their findings never mattered. Their reasoning, their work, their efforts were pointless from the get-go. The only thing that mattered was the end result. And the end result, little did they know, was NOT "carbon tax". I guess no one knew this except for the Conservatives themselves. So, when the report was presented, the Conservatives said "thanks for the effort, but that wasn't what we wanted to hear". And immediately they tossed the report into the garbage.

You see, the Conservatives and Baird had already decided what to do for the environment. And that was NOT to help the environment. This has been a policy to which they have adhered ever since taking office. What they do is pay lip service to the environment when talking to Canadians, then attend conferences and meetings with world leaders on climate change, and they say "f*k the environment" on a global scale. They are very good at saying "we care about global warming" without saying anything about the subject, and then following the American lead on everything else. Kyoto, etc. The American "the environment is not important to us" lead. They even use American-style talking points! Baird was quoted yesterday as saying the Conservatives' refusal to accept a carbon tax was "not in any way influenced by the oil companies". A CHEZ 106 employee was quoted moments later as saying Baird was "not in any way influenced by facts, science or the truth." OK, that was me. Who is driving the Canadian economy? Alberta. What is driving Alberta? Oil. What is more important than the environment? The economy. Here is a mathematical equation to illustrate:

Saving the environment = carbon tax
Carbon tax = reduced income from oil
Reduced income from oil = lesser economy
Lesser economy = unhappy voters
Unhappy voters = no Conservative majority

Conservative majority > saving the environment.

You see how this math does not really work? If a=b, and b=c, then a=b, right? So how does John Baird arrive at "a is greater than c" when presented with these numbers?

Simplistic, I know. Perhaps a more accurate equation would be
CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY > everything else.

Why, you (a resonable person) might say, would you commission a panel of experts to look into something when you already had a plan of action that had no bearing on the findings of said panel? Then it struck me as exceedingly familiar. This group of experts, commissioned to come up with a plan for the environment, even one "balanced" with the economy had come up with this solution. Even many of the corporate heads of Canadian companies were in agreement - something had to be done here. (Not the oil companies though - and that had no effect on the decision here.) And the Conservatives said "no, we know better than the experts we hired." How very...American. Or, more accurately, how very...Republican American. Or, even MORE accurately, how very...George Bush Republican American. I believe a few posts ago I mentioned the Fred Thompson quote "we'll see who knows more - us or the experts" as sounding exceedingly Republican. And so it is.

So, experts, you say we would need 300,000 soldiers to invade Iraq, eh? We'll show you. We have already decided to send less than one-third of that amount. So, experts, you say independant contractors in Iraq will be a disaster? Shows what you know. We're sending them anyway. And in no way is this decision influenced by Haliburton. So, experts, you say that firing the entire Iraqi army and all the schoolteachers and sanitation personnel in Saddam's party is a bad idea? Well, time will tell, cause we're doing it anyway.

Recent polls have suggested two things. First of all, four out of five Canadians, even Conservative Canadians, would vote Democrat were they residents of the United States. That is, for the most part, because George Bush and his crazy policies have ruined that country, and we are a reasonable nation that recognizes that. Secondly, polls have shown that for most Canadians, men women Liberal Conservative, the environment is the number one issue in the country. Health care is number two, the economy is like number seven. And yet John Baird and Stephen Harper and their government are following the American, George Bush Republican model on so many things, especially the environment. And they are clearly doing it to win votes. But from whom? How can they continue doing these things and expect to win a majority? It seems insane to me. Canadians are reasonable, we are not as easily fooled as America, and we are more well-versed on the issues that face our country. Or at least I'd like to think so.

Celebrities - how interesting.

OK. I understand that being a celebrity, even if it only a D-lister like Erik Estrada or Cory Feldman, will get you laid by a seemingly endless supply of ridiculously hot groupies. I have figured this out. You can look like Rik Okasek or Pete Townshend or Steve Buscemi, and these hotties will still come running because they know who you are! Which is fine. Fact of life, I suppose. And it seems to me that female D-list celebrities could have the same thing happen to them, if they wanted it. I think a substantial line-up of attractive men could be formed if they were going to get a chance with Carmen Electra or Carol Alt or Angie Everhart. But what amazes me is when these celebrities get together. When such-and-such is spotted with so-and-so, and you think, what? Like in high school, where that girl everyone was drooling over was all of a sudden seen hooking up with the fat, acne-riddled captain of the debating team. Well, I WAS a pretty good debater.

So this morning I saw the story that Bryan Adams - washed-up, has-been, fairly ugly rock star Bryan Adams, was dumped by his girlfriend because he was photographed on a date with Catalina Murino, (that girl with the monster rack from Casino Royale). Which was nice. I thought, geez, Bryan Adams managed to score a date with THAT hottie? Good for him. Then I read further, and this jeapordized his current relationship with...Elle Macpherson! Bryan Adams was dating Elle Macpherson. Same Bryan Adams who had Lindsay Lohan breaking a soap dish in his house...well, who couldn't date Lindsay Lohan, I suppose. Then, on the same web page ( I saw Joe Pesci might have some trouble with his fiancee. Has-been, washed-up, fairly ugly 60-year-old Joe Pesci was photographed leaving a night club with four unspeakably hot 20-year-olds. Which was fine. I thought good for Joe Pesci. But then I read that he was jeopardizing his engagement to...Angie Everhart! What?

I either need to spend more time paying attention to who celebrities are dating or, more likely, a lot less time doing so.

My dog is cool, too!

A testament to the fact that having a tiny, cute, dog is not emasculating. Here are Rob Zombie's thoughts on the subject:

This is NOT a New Years' resolution.

I hate the idea of New Years' resolutions. It's always something lame like quitting smoking or getting into shape. And just because it's a New Year, that's the time to begin? I once quit smoking about two years ago. I just got fed up with the habit and stopped. It lasted half of one day, until someone said "oh, you quit because of the day?" I asked what day, and when they said today is National Quit Smoking Day, I bought another pack. I have not really, seriously, tried to quit since. But I am planning to make another go of it, and not because it is New Years. No, I am planning to make another run at quitting because I now have excercise equipment. So if I get into shape but continue smoking, that would be pretty stupid. And I do NOT have excercise equipment because it is New Years. Well, indirectly, I suppose I do.

You see, my girlfriend has wanted to work out for some time. This was not going to happen over the holidays, with the busy time of the season and the massive amounts of food. We don't have any equipment except an old broken treadmill that gets stuck after three steps and two 20-pound dumb-bells. Too light for me, too heavy for her. So we decided on a compromise. We would pick up some excercise equipment for both of us, and that way we might just force each other to stick to some kind of regimen. Now, I don't need help with sticking to excercise. That is the one thing that when I start it for real, I don't like to quit. However, I do need help sticking to the no-smoking thing. And she is the opposite. Therefore, we should compliment each other beautifully in this. She wanted some of those excercisers you see on the home shopping channel and infomercials. I was a little stressed out at the idea of having that stuff in my house, so I suggested we go to Fitness Depot in Kanata and find something she could use that I would not be embarrassed to have around.

Of course, what ended up happening was that I found lots of things I liked, and we got stuff for me and not her. I walked in wanting a bench and a bar. That's it. Simple, easy, nothing fancy. I ended up getting that, but also an ergometer. I used them all the time when I was on the rowing team in high school, and I still remember that machine being the best workout I have ever had. My girlfriend thought she could use that too, so she agreed to picking the machine up, instead of that half-pogo-ball thing you balance upon, or the giant inflatable ball you balance upon...the shopping-network stuff. Of course, by the time we were done in there, we could not possibly fit all this equipment into the car to get it home. The guy at the Fitness Depot was nice enough to deliver it to us when he gets off work on Friday, which means I don't have to start quitting smoking until Friday, which is super.

Now, I know what you're thinking. This sounds suspiciously like a New Years' resolution. But I assure you, it is NOT. It may have taken place in and around the New Year. But the decision was not a snap "I need to better my life" smarmy decision that occured on that day. Furthermore, it is not a "resolution" at all. If my bench and ergometer become another rack for the laundry, so be it. I have invested no emotional "resolve" into sticking with some kind of pre-determined program. There are no "results" I am aiming to achieve. I just want something around that I can use when I get the urge to be physically active while I watch my 1950s musicals and my Cagney movies. Therefore, there is no "resolution" that can be broken.

New Years' resolutions, I feel, are a crock. In the same way Valentine's Day is a crock. Just because you do something romantic with your significant other on Valentine's Day, doesn't mean you love them any more or any less, or that your relationship is better off than it was on the 13th of February. You are simply acting on what is expected. If you're thinking about breaking up, you're still going to do it, only now maybe you wait until February 20th, having wasted 100 bucks on Valentine's Day. Same thing with a New Years' resolution. You make one because it's the "thing to do", but if you're lazy, you're lazy. If you're going to stick with something, you're going to stick with it whether you start in June or in January. What a crock! Now, I'm going to go work out. I need to lose fifty pounds by February 14th so I can fit into my tux for that romantic dinner.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Three for four!

Jacksonville, Seattle, and San Diego came through for me. The Buccaneers were simply worse than the Giants. Woody, with his contrarian attitude, went against me on three of the four games, and ended up 2-2, while I was 3-1. Take that, Woody! Including the junior hockey games, I was five for six. Pretty good. And for my success, I million points on that facebook betting site. Which gets me...nothing. Frankly, I would have liked to see Washington win, since I think they had a great chance to knock off the Cowboys and no chance to beat the Packers. The Giants still have a better chance of beating Dallas than did Tampa Bay, so that pleases me as well.

Yet another Canadian gold medal! What an exciting final against Sweden, Canada almost letting it slip away again. Two Senators wins in back-to-back nights. Bowl games all weekend long. Dr. Phil talked to Britney Spears! Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes! What a weekend of sports! Although I ended up watching just about everything on the PVR early the following morning, since my girlfriend insisted on watching The Kingdom and Shattered and other crappy movies all weekend. Not because the movies were particularly alluring, but because she was so sick of football and sports in general. This is another of God's cosmic jokes. There have been 17 weeks of NFL football. Including the CFL, there has been a run of maybe 20 consecutive weeks where I have wanted to watch football, and I have managed to get some televised sports in 19 of those 20 weeks. So how come Jen gets irritated but is able to look the other way all season long, busy herself with other things while football is on, and yet now, when it is the PLAYOFFS, she reaches her breaking point? So now, when the games are that much more important, it has become too taxing on her to watch football. So I get banished to the crappy TV in the basement while the girls watch Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight on the nice TV.

That's fine. But I better get this coming weekend. The Packers game, anyway. In the end, I don't think this past weekend made much difference. I think all four teams that won this weekend are going to lose next weekend. The Packers, Cowboys, Colts and Patriots should all win their games and move on. I'm sure Doc will ask for more picks on Friday. There they are.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Kingdom - Rambo vs. Osama. Guess who wins? (******/10)

Watching The Kingdom confirmed a few suspicions for me. I have always suspected that everyone the United States trains for any kind of gun-related activity has the capacity to be Rambo. (The CIA, the FBI, the military, mall security guards.) No, more than that, my suspicion has been that not only are they all trained to be Rambo should the need arise, but also that they are all waiting. Just waiting for a chance to break out the headband and the M-16 and take out all their enemies in a hail of gunfire. I have also suspected that the FBI was the only agency in the U.S. with balls, and that they are held back from doing the real work by namby-pamby pansies in the upper echelons of government. No, more than that, I have always thought that were they given the chance, rather than being blocked at every turn, the FBI could have just shown up in Afghanistan and caught Osama Bin Laden within a week.

And now, here comes The Kingdom, to not only confirm my suspicions, but to hammer me over the head with these incontrovertable facts. Which is not to say The Kingdom is a bad movie. It isn't. But it's not a good one either. The thing is, it's two different movies. It starts out as smart as Syriana, and ends as dumb as well...Rambo. The beginning of the film makes you think you're in for an intense, political, smart movie about terrorism and the relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. It opens with a bang, so to speak, as a suicide bomb attack blows up an American softball game in Saudi Arabia. This is truly shocking, with men, women and children all being slaughtered. It's an upsetting scene and a reminder of what terrorism is the world over. Also shocking and captivating is the subsequent torture scene, where the Suadi guard who saved the day by killing the terrorists gets interrogated by his own army. He shot the terrorists, and therefore they could not be questioned. Maybe he is in league with them - making sure they are dead so they can't talk. It is very effective, and promises an interesting subplot. Since American citizens (and one FBI guy) were killed over there, the FBI wants to send a small team of elite agents into Saudi Arabia to investigate the crime.

This takes place in movie world, where the people who are going to be sent in like elite FBI commandos are the same people who make their case during top-level government discussions. Either they are extremely high-ranking FBI officials who still somehow see active firefight duty, or they are elite commando FBI operatives who somehow have access to the brass at the Pentagon and the White House. Either way, it doesn't matter, it's a movie. So Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman and the bizarrely cast Jennifer Garner show up in Saudi Arabia. There is a power struggle going on with the colonel in charge of the barracks that were attacked, the general of the Saudi Army who has assumed control over the investigation, and the newly arrived Americans. This could be interesting also. But it does not last long. Quickly, Jamie Foxx is able to convince the Saudi royal family that the colonel is the man for the job, and that they should be given access to the whole city.

From then on, all subplots are abandoned. That guy who was unjustly tortured? He comes along for the ride. He drives. The power struggle between the general and the colonel? The general just disappears. Now it's just American commando rah-rah guns blazing through Riyadh. All four Americans are Rambo, especially Jennifer Garner, who rescues Jason Bateman from a particularly unpleasant fate in a very commando sort of way. Picture Jennifer Garner, the chick from Alias, cauterizing her wound by lighting gunpowder and then mowing down half of Afghanistan, a la Rambo 3. Are you smiling? Yeah, you should be. It's asinine. So these Americans have been in Riyadh for five days. And they have solved the crime, located the terrorist cell responsible, and killed everyone involved. And America can't find Osama? Geez. I hope they do, because capturing him would obviously involve car chases, rocket launchers, snipers, machine guns, machetes and would make for terrific TV.

The main problem with The Kingdom is that the cartoonish last half completely devalues the otherwise excellent buildup in the first half. The movie promises so much more than it delivers. A better movie of this nature is Collateral Damage, with Arnold Schwarzennegger. Now, I know what you're saying. Really? You're saying. But Collateral Damage was by no means a classic. In fact, I found it awful, you say. That is fine. But at least it delivered exactly what it promised. Terrorists blew up a family. The father of that family went after the terrorists. There was lots of action. The terrorists died. In the Kingdom, we think we are going to get something so much smarter and so much more interesting than Collateral Damage, that when all we get IS Collateral Damage, it's that much more of a disappointment. It's worth renting just for that first half, but prepare for disappointment in the second.

Shattered...the Review (*****/10)

The working title for the new film Shattered was Butterfly On a Wheel. That would have been a better title, because it would have made no sense. The inclusion of the phrase in the movie also makes no sense. The full quote is "who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel", and it comes from a poem by Alexander Pope called "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot", which is a true classic in the world of poetry. In it's context in the poem, it refers to an enemy of Pope's. His doctor (Dr. Arbothnot, it would seem) had warned him about the dangers of composing poems that attacked his peers in society, and so Pope responded by sending him a series of poems that attacked these people. The line, used in it's proper context, refers to a wheel, the medieval torture device, which seems excessive when used to destroy a butterfly, and exists as a testament to the cruelty and excessive nature of one who would do such a thing. As my friend Kent used to say "it's like swatting a fly with a Buick".

In it's context in the movie, the line is meant to be taken differently. Gerard Butler and Maria Bello play a married couple with a charming young daughter, who is captured by a sociopathic Pierce Brosnan, who holds her for ransom. Before long, it becomes clear that Brosnan is not in this for money, but rather for some kind of personal vendetta against this family. He will kill their daughter, you see, unless Bello and Butler jump through all kinds of hoops. It sets up a Sophie's Choice-style dilemma...what would you do to save your child? Would you kill an innocent person? And other such light-hearted fare. The quote from Pope comes up again and again, but it is fairly misused. The idea behind it in the film is that this couple are the butterfly, and are so insignificant to Brosnan that he can toy with them, as he would a butterfly upon a wheel. And he is so cruel crazy and evil that he is willing to toruture them in this excessive way. This seems to be the correct interpretation of the quote. However, the twist at the end changes things, and the quote all of a sudden becomes terribly misused.

Ah, yes. The TWIST at the END. I can't review this movie very well without giving away the ending, and I am tempted to do so because this is one of those irritating by-the-numbers twist-ending movies. I will not, because I'm sure some people will watch and enjoy this. But there have been so many movies made in this style, especially since the success of The Usual Suspects. And there have been many that were better than Shattered. Derailed was better than this movie. Here's the problem with this twist ending. The director paid a lot of attention to the mechanics of the twist. He went into the movie knowing the ending, and made sure that if you watch the movie again, the right things happen at the right time. It all makes sense mechanically. Yes, that guy could have said that thing to that lady while the other guy was over here. Fine. But the emotional reactions of the people involved are not so closely monitored. Knowing what we know (at the end, and maybe quite a bit earlier), the reactions of the key people in key situations are not what they should be. And the contrivances of the plot, which seems (at the end) to have been so meticulously planned out, seem so forced. If one of the characters involved did anything, at certain points, other than what they actually did in that situation, the whole plan could not have proceeded as it did.

I know, this all sounds so vague. If that guy and this guy had talked to this guy instead of that guy...this is because I think people might actually watch the film and enjoy it. And there are some good things to work with here. Maria Bello is terrific in her role as the terrorized mom, and Gerard Bulter has moments of great acting as well. But overall, this is simply an obvious, pain-by-numbers BIG TWIST movie, where the twist at the end becomes the only reason any of the movie was ever made. And that is obnoxious. Imagine...Eric Clapton going through the motions on Layla just so he could get to that piano part.

War! (The Movie). (*****/10)

Jet Li has recently suggested that he will no longer be making kung-fu epics. This does not mean he will not be making movies where he is good at kung fu, because if that were the case he would no longer have a career. No, what it means is that we are no longer going to be treated to brilliant movies like Hero or Once Upon A Time In China. It also means we are not going to see him in decent-to-pretty-good movies like Fearless any more. No, Jet Li has quit the genre that has provided him with his only truly excellent moviesto concentrate on American movies where he still performs martial arts, (wushu, to be specific) only now he will wear normal street clothes and be paired with wisecracking cops. Like Jackie Chan movies, only without the charm, the elaborate stunts or the laughs. These are the films that have made Li a star in America, and not one of them has been very good. Romeo Must Die, The One, Lethal Weapon 4, Kiss of the Dragon, Cradle 2 The Grave? All fairly awful. (I must confess to having a soft spot for Unleashed, if only for Bob Hoskins and Jet Li's surprisingly decent performance.)

So now, having left the martial arts epics forever with the disappointing Fearless, Jet Li brings us War, a movie that sees him performing bad-ass wushu manouevers as he is paired with a wisecracking bad-ass cop, played by Jason Statham. Li plays the assassin "Rogue", not the shape-shifting naked hottie Rebecca Romijn Rogue, but a variation on the theme. You see, Rogue has this habit of using plastic surgery to change his face after every hit, thereby never being identifiable to the cops. This is a device used in many movies. I'm not sure how reliable this method of concealing your identity is. I have seen what someone who undergoes multiple plastic surgeries looks like. They look like Donatella Versace, The Cat Lady, and Michael Jackson. They do not look like Jet Li. Also, it occurs to me that you can still tell that Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson, even if it's the Wes Craven freaky-horror film version of Michael Jackson. In War, the assumption is that plastic surgeons can just go ahead and re-create faces at will. For example, if I wanted to look like Russell Crowe, (and I do), it would be very easy for me to go see Jet Li's plastic surgeon, pay him enough, and emerge with an Australian accent and a penchant for phone-throwing. Tremendous.

Early on in the movie, Jason Statham's partner and his entire family are killed by the nefarious assassin, Rogue. In the scene, Rogue is wearing a mask. I wonder why? A mask? When Jet Li, as Rogue, dispatches people with extreme prejudice throughout the rest of the movie, he seems unconcerned about who might see his face. So why the mask in the early scene? I bet we'll find out later...I certainly hope the reason is that THAT Rogue was a different guy, and at the end of the movie we can still like Jet Li. I don't want to see a Jet Li movie where I don't like Jet Li. That would ruin my good-time movie fun. Also, as one of the entertain-me-but-don't-challenge-me movie viewing mob, I would like a satisfactory ending to explain everything, where all the good guys live and all the bad guys die and the buddies walk off into the sunset together.

I must say the ending of War WAS a surprise to me. However, it was not surprising because it was a crazy twist I didn't see coming, but because I couldn't believe that even this movie would have resorted to an ending this dumb. Even the most bloated, brainless couch potato watching this film would be unsatisfied with the ending. The twist and the finish are so badly tacked-on that they might as well have been one of those it-was-all-just-a-dream endings. And the twists accomplish a few things. First off, they ensure that you will never watch the movie again, because knowing the truth at the end means the entire rest of the movie makes absolutely no sense. Secondly, if you pay close attention to the ending, it creates more plot holes and problems than it solves. And thirdly, it will not even satisfy those good-guys-live-and-bad-guys-die movie watchers. There is nothing wrong with being one of those movie watchers. You don't want to think too hard about a film, you just want to be entertained. That is OK.

However, War has spent so long, through the whole film, catering to that exact moviegoer, making sure that they ARE entertained, that the ending will leave that particular viewer unusually unsatisfied and puzzled. It's like they got to the end and thought "hey, you know what would make critics like this? Making it dark, and strange, and unsatisfying, with a twist - critics love that stuff". Their problem was that they didn't realize that if you are going to do that, you have to be aware of where you are going when you START the movie, and not just tack it on at the end. (This doesn't always work either - as the next review will explain.)

Jet Li is a very good actor and an even better martial artist, but his skills are best used in the martial arts epics. It looks as though Hero will always be his best movie, simply because he has given up on that type of movie, and has resigned himself to doing movies such as War. His wushu skills are still breathtaking, the fights are still awesome, but the stories in these movies are crappy at best, and come out of some ridiculous screenplay machine they have in Hollywood where you feed in the names of the actors and out pops a script. "Jason Statham and Jet Li" whirrr....War! (Well, they were together in The One as well, but this time Statham gets equal billing.) It's depressing. You know that scene in This Is Spinal Tap, where the band is playing the country fair, opening for the puppet show? Because Nigel Tufnel is gone, they have only six songs to play, and once those songs are done they kick into the "jazz odyssey"? Jet Li's recent career move reminds me of this. He has given up being awesome, like Spinal Tap, and has gone ahead with his jazz odyssey. American films.