Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Road. (the book - the review)

Cormac McCarthy is, I would hazard to say, the best writer in the world today. Certainly the most consistently excellent. Following the success of his previous works - All The Pretty Horses, No Country For Old Men, etc. McCarthy comes up with his most bleak, depressing, horrifying, and fantastic book yet. The violence of his previous works is replaced here by a sense of foreboding and grim reality that somehow doesn't make you put down the book, even though you feel like you should. Of course, there is still some violence, but it isn't bad-ass, or matter-of-fact, or allegorical, it's an unfortunate necessity. The Road is the story of a man and a boy. I read in a Rolling Stone interview with McCarthy that he wrote the novel thinking of himself and his son, and it shows. It's the kind of thing most of us don't think about - if my son and I were two of the last people on earth, and there was no food left and we were going to starve to death, would I be able to kill him and then myself? Most of us don't think that way.

The man and his boy are walking. They are on a road, after some undefined apocalyptic event. They scrounge for food wherever it may be left, and avoid the Mad-Max type of gangs of roving marauders and cannibals. There are pretty well no animals or plant life left on the planet, and they must make do with whatever they are able to find. And that's it. 300 pages of that. Which seems like it ought to be the most boring book ever written (or at least the most boring since The Stand.) But it isn't. It's engaging, bleak, horrifying, and in the end, strangely affirming and uplifting. I started reading it on Thursday before I went out to do the 24 hours outside, and I brought it with me. I didn't want to put it down. In the end, it was far too cold to concentrate on a book, so I had to wait until today when I thawed out to finish reading it. Randall said that when he read it, he had to take a few breaks, simply because of the bleak and harsh subject matter. I found the same thing, but for me a break didn't last long as I depserately needed to finish the page and the next page and the next one...

McCarthy's style is strange, and slightly different from book to book, so it's always difficult to get the rhythm at first, but once you have that rhythm down, you will find he is the best writer working today.

American Gangster (*********/10)

There is a bit of controversy over the shutout of American Gangster at the Oscars. It was not nominated for best picture, and both Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington were shut out of the nominations for best actor. I understand the snub of Crowe. (Frankly, he deserves it more for 3:10 to Yuma than he does for this movie.) But the only reason I can think of for snubbing Washington is that he is too tailor-made for this part. You forget that he is an actor, because you're watching Denzel Washington. As though it were a reality show about his life. If Denzel killed people and ran a drug empire and married Miss Puerto Rico, this would be exactly what his life would look like. The one role he has played to which I could compare this one was in Training Day, and he won the Oscar for that one. And here, he is better. That really is the strength of American Gangster, the performances.

Not just Washington, but Russell Crowe is reliably terrific as the cop tracking him down, and the supporting cast is remarkably good. The RZA, of the Wu-Tang clan, appears here, and as soon as I saw him I thought "oh, no! A rapper in a major role means this movie will start to hit Seagal territory in parts". But the RZA is good. So is Armand Assante, who I love, and Josh Brolin as a crooked cop. Cuba Gooding Jr. is in the film also, and I absolutely hate Cuba Gooding Jr. However, he has maybe five lines, total, and wasn't around long enough to irritate me. I also really like the inclusion of Clarence Williams III as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson. Johnson was a real-life legendary gangster figure in New York, and he was the subject of the under-rated 1997 movie "Hoodlum", where he was played by Lawrence Fishburne in one of the best roles of his career.

In American Gangster, Bumpy dies near the beginning, and his right-hand-man, chauffeur and gopher, Frank Lucas, is left a little adrift. Frank is played by Denzel Washington, and he has few choices. Now that his mentor is gone, he can either leave town and go back to his family, or work for someone else, or take matters into his own hands. Of course, he chooses the third option and rises to power as the number one dealer, importer and gangster in New York. He manages to exist on the periphery, away from the other gangsters, the corrupt cops, and the good cops. One of those good cops is Russell Crowe, who has been blackballed by his police department for being a good cop. In a few scenes very reminiscent of Serpico, he is left hanging because the other cops in the department feel that if a cop won't take money, then he of course would turn in cops who do. But of course, it isn't black-and-white. Washington is not all bad, Crowe is not all good, which of course happens in any great movie. And a lot of bad ones.

What really sets American Gangster apart, aside from the fantastic actors doing fantastic acting, is the style. Ridley Scott has managed to make some of the most visually appealing movies in history. (Check out his early work, like The Duellists, or Alien). Sometimes that goes off the rails and the movie suffers for the stylish makeup - think Hannibal, or Black Hawk Down. But in American Gangster, Scott seems to treat the whole movie almost like a period piece. Of all his movies, this one feels the most like The Duellists, both in it's theme and it's style. It moves along at a crackling pace on the backs of Washington and Crowe, and although it runs more than two and a half hours, you never have a sense of the time passing. Tremendously engaging and fantastically done.

American Gangster hits stores February 19th, courtesy of Universal.

24...well, 17...hours of homelessness.

It's done. I finally have some feeling back in my face and toes and fingers and the small of my back. I am finally able to type again, now that I can feel my fingers. I attempted to recap my street sleeping experience last night, but I was unable to move fast enough over the keyboard to do so. In the end, I sissied out a little. Due to a medical emergency at home, I had to leave the Operation Go Home tent at 9:00 yesterday morning, instead of staying right up to 4:00 like the other guys. And I will admit to being a little relieved when I was able to go home and go to the medical clinic (not for me - although I considered receiving medical attention while I was there). It meant I was still awake most of the day, and I was still awake when I went to pick up my step-son after school. But I was so tired and still so cold that I was not going to be cooking supper that night, so we stopped to get fast food on the way home. But the other guys who managed to tough out the night stayed right until the bitter end, and believe me it WAS bitter.

Joining me over the last two days were Chris Day of CTV, who joined me as the only people to have done this for three years. Or, put another way, the biggest maniacs. The new-meat maniacs were Pierre Belanger, chairman of the board of directors for Operation Go Home and all-around nice guy, Shaun Vardon, board member for Operation Go Home and employee of the Ottawa Senators, and Jeff Morrison, who was representing the Centretown Community Health Centre. Tracey Tong, a reporter for the Metro, showed up later on in the evening and stayed for a few hours, but was not sleeping there all night with the rest of us. Which makes her the smartest of the bunch. The dumbest of our bunch was either Jeff, for not bringing a sleeping bag at all, or Chris, for telling Jeff he didn't have to bring a sleeping bag. (Either way, it was dumber than me bringing my child's sleeping bag.)

This was the coldest of the three nights we have done this. Minus-25 overnight, and the wind was brutal. I am not too clever a guy, and I had assumed I had a sleeping bag. But since we just moved, I could not find this sleeping bag. It turned out that it was still at my mother-in-law's house, so I picked it up on the way to the event. It is the same sleeping bag I used to take to cub camp when I was a kid. I believe it was a hand-me-down from my mom, who got it as a hand-me-down from her dad...I think it is more than eighty years old. And far too small for my grown-up, adult, chunky frame. Also, the zipper is broken. Which meant that I had to desperately hold the bag closed during the -25 degree overnight. And in getting into the bag, a small portion of my skin at the top of my butt crack became exposed. And then frostbitten. I'm still having a little trouble sitting down.

Adding to my misery was the fact that, at about 3:30 in the morning, I was hit with severe diarrhea. Severe. I leapt up and went searching desperately for a bathroom. But at 3:30 a.m., not many bathrooms are available for use. I was on the verge of squatting down in an alley somewhere, but with minus 25 temperatures, I thought that would likely make things much worse. Finally, McDonalds gave in to my begging and allowed me to use their bathroom. I went back about five times in the next two hours, and they finally gave up on trying to keep it locked, so they left it open so that I could run in and out all night. Which meant that others could come in as well. I had left my jacket, wallet, cell phone, gloves, everything basically, on the counter while I was in the stall. Twice, while I was doubled over the toilet bowl, others came into the bathroom to do drug deals. Both times, they left my stuff untouched, and both times they seemed rather unconcerned that some guy was in the stall next to them while they exchanged money for drugs.

In the end, the event was a success. I think if we did the same event in the summer, we would raise far more money, because people would be out on the patios and they would stop by to talk to us for a longer time and give more money. But at the same time, the awareness raised by doing this in frigid temperatures is far greater than it would be were we doing it in more balmy temperatures. Lots of people stopped by and dropped 5, 10, 20, even 100 bucks in our box, and I think we managed to raise a fair amount to kickstart the campaign. But really, it was not about the money on this first day, it was more about the awareness. People were stopping to find out about OGH, and that was a good thing.

I'd like to put this out here now, since I know there is a lot of backlash against programs such as this one. A woman came by early in the morning on Friday, and complained to Mr. Belanger that the new Operation Go Home drop-in centre had been moved to a new location. You see, that new location was near her house, and she was concerned because now there would be street kids in her area, and those kids could possibly lead her own kids into a life of drugs and living on the street. She seemed oblivious to the fact that when she moved, she was moving also a block away from the mission. Now, Operation Go Home was overrunning her neighbourhood with street kids! Think of the property values! Come on. The responsibility in keeping one's children away from drugs and poor lifestyle decisions rests almost exclusively with the parents, and a good home life is immeasurably more influential over children than the pull of having no rules and lots of drugs.

Of course, there are also those who complain that some kids from good families who make the choice to go out onto the streets. This is true. Another woman came by to complain that OGH "enables" those kids. They seem to really think that because there is an organization out there that helps kids get jobs and documentation and education that they are encouraging them to hit the streets. This is just a bizarre and flawed argument. I received an email from a woman whose daughter is out there on the streets, and she has tried to get into contact with her through Operation Go Home, but has been unable to do so. Therefore, she feels, OGH is not doing anything helpful. Again, this is flawed logic. Even a child that comes from a home with no abuse, who just leaves because he or she does not want to follow rules, can't be forced to go home. Street kids with addictions are like adults with addictions. They can only be helped if they want to help themselves. And street kids have a variety of addictions. Very often, of course, it is drugs, but they are also addicted to the lifestyle. The community, the street "family", the freedom from rules and discipline. This can be a powerful pull in itself.

But what would you have OGH, for example, do in this situation? Tie up the kid and deliver him or her back to the parent in a sack? The way these people think is "they made their own decisions, let them deal with the consequences". So...if you call OGH and say "Shirley Jones is not homeless. We are a good family and she chose to be out there." What do you want them to do? Deny those particular kids the services they offer the "genuinely" homeless? No food for you at the drop-in centre, no help finding a job, no help finding documentation or housing? And then what? The kid will have no one enabling them, and they will have to go home to find these things? Look, they left home because they didn't want that in the first place, and again, they can only be helped if they want to help themselves. If you deny them this small modicum of help, one of two things will happen. One, they will get into a worse situation and become bigger addicts and turn to crime and possibly be arrested or even die. Or two, they will suffer unimaginably for a few months, possibly turn to more drugs or crime, and after hitting rock bottom, they will be forced to return home, at which point they will have far more problems than when they left, and there is a real possibility that home will be much worse than before.

I have two step-sons. If, God forbid, either of them decided to leave our good home for a life on the streets, would I want people to deny them any help because it may or may not force them back home? Because they left my house, I want them to suffer as much as possible? Hopefully if their life is absolute hell, they will realize that home is better and come home with roses in appreciation for what we have here? I don't think so. At all times, the main thing for a parent should be the best for their kids. And the best for their kids, even if that kid has left what we believe to be an idyllic life, is not bullying them back into that life. That might be a part of the attitude at home that led them to leave in the first place. Or it might not. Either way it's the wrong response. If my step-son was out there, on the street, I would want him to have every opportunity to leave that lifestyle when he decided he wanted to do so. And I would love the fact that an organization like OGH was helping him with two meals a day along with the other kids who had no choice but to be on the streets. And I would hope that at a certain point he did decide to get a job and get a house and get his life together, whether that was with my help or without. It's a pretty selfish attitude when you think that your kid is unable to exist independant of you. Or that you don't WANT them to live independant of you. In the end, what you want is for them to end up happy, for them to realize their potential and their aspirations, and that's what OGH does for the homeless kids of Ottawa.

A lot of people stopped by and complained that their tax dollars were going to enable street kids. In fact, the one lady was angry that her own tax dollars were going to an organization that helped her daughter choose to be homeless. I will stress this again. Operation Go Home does NOT enable. They educate, guide, and provide somewhat safe haven. Which is what we should all want for the kids on our streets. And they are NOT government funded, which means that your tax dollars are NOT going to this organization. Only direct donations help, and only direct donations keep the program afloat. Here is where you can make a direct donation.

www.operationgohome.ca

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Operation Go Home.

At 4:00 this afternoon, I will be engaging in a shameless publicity stunt. Along with Chris Day of CTV, Pierre Belanger, the director of Operation Go Home, and a few others, I will be spending 24 hours outside. The idea is twofold - to raise awareness of the plight of homeless youth in Ottawa, and to kick off this year's fundraising campaign for Operation Go Home. OGH is an organization here in Ottawa that helps homeless kids get back on their feet and hopefully leave the lifestyle that they have got themselves into. When a kid has no home, and no papers, it's tough for them to get a birth certificate, which they need to get a SIN card, which they need to get a job, which they need to get a place to live, and so forth. Operation Go Home helps with stuff like that. They also give the kids a place to hang out during the day, some breakfast and some classes where they can learn what they need to get a job and to get ahead in their education. OGH is not funded by the government, so all the money they get to help these kids comes from people in the community, which is why we do events like this one.

The reason this is a stunt is because we are not living like actual homeless kids for this 24-hour period. As of 7:00 in the morning, the kids are able to go inside at the OGH drop-in centre and get warm. But overnight, very often they have to sleep on the streets. Even in weather like it will be tonight, they need to huddle together for warmth and find a sheltered location to get a little rest. These kids are not able to go to the shelters that are set up in Ottawa, because there is not a youth-specific overnight shelter in our city. If they try to go to the adult ones, they are victimized and attacked, and so they stay away from those locations. Very often, they are able to sleep inside, when one of them is able to get an apartment for a time, and a bunch of them are able to hang out there. But when that is not the case, they are outside, under bridges and over heating grates, desperately trying to keep warm. We will not be under a bridge, we will be out in the open on that little mall strip where the Sugar Mountain is downtown.

So while our night will actually be worse than it usually is for the homeless kids in Ottawa, it is still just one night. After 24 hours, we get to go back home to our houses, to our beds, to our baths, and warm up and get the cold out of our bones and reflect on our time outside, a luxury not afforded to those who have nowhere to go. Many of these kids have had abusive home lives, and can't return to their homes. Others are hooked on drugs, and are unable to get out of the destructive lifestyle. First and foremost, they have to want to get out of this lifestyle, which can be a tough thing. They are a family out there on the streets, they watch each others' backs and they are fiercely protective of everyone in that little family. Which is more than many of them have had in their lives up until this point. That means they have a hard time leaving that, even though they know eventually life on the street will destroy them. In the past couple of years, two of the regulars on the streets in Ottawa have been murdered, and this must hit home for the rest of them. It means they band even closer together as a community, but hopefully it also means that some of them are motivated to kick their habits and get clean and get jobs and apartments, and leave the life behind them.

There are, of course, other kids who come from decent homes, who choose to leave home and live out on the streets, the pull of this lifestyle appealing to them. Operation Go Home tries to reunite them with these families, and get them off the streets and out of the destructive cycle, but it is not always possible. The other street kids talk about these weekend warriors, and view them sometimes with sympathy, sometimes with contempt, but they are basically decent kids who want to make everyone feel like they are part of something, a community or a family of outcast youth who make the streets their home, 90 precent of the time, it is not by choice. what OGH does is provide those kids who want it with a way out, and every year when we do this 24 Hours of Homelessness event, we get to meet many of the success stories that have come from the good work of OGH. Last year I met a girl who managed to get clean, get a SIN card, get a job as a waitress and was now in an apartment, going to college and really doing well. There are dozens of kids who have been helped by this program, and they are the ones who make me realize what good work they do.

The fundraising campaign kicks off today at 4:00, just off Rideau Street at the mini-mall beside Sugar Mountain in the market. If you're in the area, stop by and drop off a couple of bucks, it is certainly going to a good cause. Here is the website for more information:

www.operationgohome.ca

The King of Kong. (********/10)

Yesterday, I had a conversation with Christian, one of our tech guys. He was wearing a Splinter Cell hat, and I asked him if that had been a Tom Clancy book before it had become a Tom Clancy video game. This led to a very long discussion about the four different Splinter Cell games, their story lines, which ones were most interesting, which were bleak, and what other PC games were similar. Something called Day of Sex. Or Deus Ex. I couldn't tell, Christian talks very fast. Now, during this whole conversation, I had very little idea what he was talking about. I have never played any of these games. But I was very interested. Clearly, this is a man who is very into these games, and listening to someone discuss something they love is always a good conversation. And sure, it's a little nerdy. But there are an awful lot of people who are similarly nerdy about these very same games. So it's a little nerdy, it's not scary nerdy.

I went home yesterday and watched a movie about the scary nerdy. The crazy, over-the-top, maddeningly geeky world of video games. And not Splinter Cell or Day of Sex or Doom or Grand Theft Auto or whatever. Old-school games. The ones I have actually played at some point in my life at some arcade during lunch hour in Grade 7. Pac-Man, Q-Bert, and of course, Donkey Kong! There is a guy, apparently, named Billy Mitchell, somewhere in the United States, who is an absolute legend in the world of old-school arcade games. He is the first man ever to have a perfect score in Pac-Man. He is the world record holder in Donkey Kong. In fact, he holds down five spots in the world records of video games. He is the Tiger Woods, the Michael Jordan, the Babe Ruth of arcade games! And these are not my words. These are the words of the twenty or thirty people who still inhabit this arcade game world, to whom Billy Mitchell is an absolute God.

And Billy Mitchell apparently sees himself as some kind of deity also. During the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, he compares himself to the Red Baron. (Richtofen clocked 89 kills in WWI, the closest pilot had 24. Mitchell is that much better, says Mitchell.) The fact that his numbers are wrong is irrelevant. So don't bother pointing that out to me, I am already aware of the story of Billy Bishop. However, Billy Bishop is a very apt comparison to Billy Mitchell in this movie. There was intense controversy in World War I when Billy Bishop claimed to have taken off in his plane before dawn, conducted a solitary raid in German territory, and claimed to have destroyed several planes on the ground before getting shot at and returning to his base. These alleged kills added to his total, but they happened in very suspicious circumstances, and many people believed that Bishop had invented the story. And in the King of Kong, Billy Mitchell makes a very similar claim, that causes enormous controversy. I won't divulge the details, because I hope you watch this movie.

Mitchell also makes other bizarre claims. He says that whatever he says will be controversial, like the abortion issue, because he is just that huge and that important in the video game world. You roll your eyes and sigh, until you realize he isn't bluffing! To these other weirdos, his word is like that of God himself! The nerds in the arcade compare him to Tiger, Jordan, they suggest that he should be the next one on a Wheaties box, that he should have Olyumpic medals, and they ALL call him the most luminous superstar. One guy compares him - quite seriously - to a Jedi. I couldn't make this up. And why? Because in 1985, Billy Mitchell set a record in Donkey Kong that, like Joe DiMaggio's 1941 hitting streak, was believed to be unassailable. This is a record that will never be broken. But wait! Maybe someone has a lot of time on their hands and wants to make a run at it? Well, lo and behold, here comes Steve Wiebe, a teacher who happened to have a lot of time on his hands.

Steve Wiebe breaks Mitchell's record. He sends the videotape of the record-breaking game to the world authority on video games. The world of nerds goes nuts! (I must say though, that compared to these arcade guys, Wiebe seems like the most socially well-adjusted person on Earth.) So what happens? Billy Mitchell, God, has been taken down! Well, we had better make damn sure. So - again, I am not making this up - the video game authority sends two "judges" to Wiebe's house, where his Donkey Kong game is set up in his garage. They force their way into his garage, and dismantle his machine! I won't explain any more about this movie, because, again, I really hope that people watch this film. I will say this - the Mitchell - Wiebe showdown is billed by the geeks as Mantel - Maris, Yankees - Red Sox, Lakers - Celtics, and Darth - Luke. I will also say this: Seeing a name appear on the screen beside the words "Donkey Kong expert", as though that is this gentleman's actual job, is hilarious.

The best line in the movie:
"We don't see too many DDGs in here."
"DDGs?"
"Drop Dead Gorgeous. Uh, girls."

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters comes out on Tuesday, from Alliance Atlantis.

Rocket Science (*******/10)

Rocket Science is another in a seemingly endless series of teenage-angst indie artsy movies. It comes on the heels of Rushmore, The Squid and the Whale, Thumbsucker, and many others like it. These movies all have common plot points and characters. The central character is usually a young man who is having trouble with his adolescence, and who has one major flaw that is holding him back, or causing him grief. In the case of Thumbsucker, that one problem is fairly obvious. In the case of Rocket Science, it is a painful stutter. Hal Hefner has a habit of stuttering. The characters that surround this main character, especially his family, are usually quirky if not outright lunatics. No exception in Rocket Science, as Hal lives with his older brother, a creepy weirdo who also happens to be a kleptomaniac. His mom chases away his dad, then hooks up with the weirdo judge who lives next door, then chases HIM away. That judge has a strange, quiet, homosexual son, who seems to be Hal's only friend. That is the major failing of Rocket Science. The movie is not content to simply make Hal's family a bunch of freaks, so is EVERYONE else in the movie.

Hal is pretty much an outcast at school. A realistic one, in that no one is giving him wedgies and cramming him in lockers and so forth, they just ignore him. One day, a young woman approaches Hal and recruits him for the debating team. Hal is taken aback, what with his obvious disability when it comes to speaking. But this is the first girl, we would assume, who has ever talked to him, and he immediately falls head over heels in love. This girl, Ginny Ryerson, is a master debater. Apparently, in high school debates, the best debaters talk at one million miles an hour. This makes sure that no one listening to those debates has any idea whatsoever what they're saying, and the judges I guess assume that they are being eloquent and brilliant, and give them points. Or something. This motormouth thing caused me to really dislike Ginny right from the start. You understand why Hal is so into her - she's hot, and she talks to him. But for the movie watcher, she is irritating, and you really don't want her to be the heroine of the picture. It comes as a big relief when she does something really heinous, so you can hate her for her actions as WELL as for her personality.

Ginny's family are strange, hardcore, uptight weirdos. The family across the street are even stranger - their son is a cross-dressing, sexually twisted little pervert, and his parents are similar. The first time we meet this family, we see the parents engaged in some kind of bizarre sexual therapy that involves playing The Violent Femmes' Blister In The Sun on the cello. There are two big problems with Rocket Science. First, there is just too much weird surrounding this kid, and he seems like the normal centre of the movie in comparison. And second, his stuttering makes it tough to sit through certain points. You constantly root for him to break out of the stutter and just spit out his thoughts, and when he doesn't, it's a little painful to watch. But all that aside, this movie is actually very good. The dialogue is clever, crisp and moves along at lightning speed (except when it is being stuttered), Reece Thompson is excellent as Hal, and the ending is tremendously satisfying in a very non-Hollywood sort of way. If you can get by the stuttering and the weird, you will really enjoy this very smart movie.

Rocket Science comes out this coming Tuesday, from Alliance Atlantis.

Heath Ledger's five best movies.

It took me a while to warm up to Heath Ledger. He threw me off early as the latest Hollywood pretty-boy, with films like Ten Things I Hate About You and A Knight's tale, but over time I grew to appreciate his talents. It's awfully sad that, at age 28, he died in his prime, as he was making a case for being one of the best new actors in the world. Here are five Heath Ledger movies that are well worth watching:

5. The Patriot. Ledger plays Mel Gibson's son, in this civil war version of Braveheart. Not a great movie, but there are some seriously great scenes, like the one where the cannonball takes that guy's head off (best seen in HD) and the scene where Gibson rescues Ledger from a group of soldiers as though he were Rambo.

4. The Brothers Grimm. Ledger and Matt Damon play the title characters in a bizarre but often entertaining take on the fables that made the Brothers Grimm popular. They go from town to town as hucksters, pretending to rid towns of evil spirits and ogres and goblins and so forth, until of course they run into a real evil spirit. Again, not a great movie, but some solid moments.

3. A Knight's Tale. Mostly lame movie with a fine performance by Ledger as a young, poor nobody who wants to ascend to the top of the world through jousting. A fine classic rock soundtrack and the gorgeous Shannyn Sossamon make the movie more bearable, but Ledger somehow rises above most of the cheesy teen-movie type dialogue and scenarios to show that he is a fine actor.

2. Candy. A harsh, freaky story about two junkies who are addicted to heroin. Abby Cornish is also great in this one, and Ledger gives the finest performance of his career as Dan, a poet who can't separate his love for heroin from his love for Candy (Cornish). Geoffrey Rush is terrific as the man who both enables the couple by providing them with the drugs, and then tries to help them when it is obviously too late.

1. Monster's Ball. Not Ledger's best performance, but the best movie he in which he appeared. Halle Berry's best performance, however, and Billy Bob Thornton does some excellent work as well. Ledger plays his son, and the hatred between the two causes some serious tension and great dramatic moments.

Not included are Brokeback Mountain, which was overrated, and Ten Things I Hate About You, Ledger's first starring role, because it was dreadful. Also good: Ned Kelly and Lords of Dogtown.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscars! The slightly less trustworthy awards!

I must say first, that this post is being created for more of an informative reason than for anything else. Although I have managed to suffer through just about every film nominated for a Golden Raspberry award, I have yet to see several of the Oscar nominees. Since my movie reviewing is confined largely to DVD viewing in the comfort of my own home, I have not yet seen Juno, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Sweeny Todd, Michael Clayton, In The Valley of Elah, Into the Wild, Gone Baby Gone...and several others. Therefore, I am not qualified to comment on most of the categories. I have about two cents worth of opinions to add, but that's it for now. Maybe in a few weeks, when I have seen everything, I will add to this post. Until then, for informative purposes, here are the nominees:

Category: Performance by an actor in a leading role.
Nominees: George Clooney in "Michael Clayton". Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood". Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street". Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah". Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises".
Who should win: I have seen only one of these performances. But I find it hard to believe anyone could have done a better job than Mortensen in Eastern Promises. The only one I could see beating this one is Daniel Day-Lewis, since he is always the best actor going, whenever he decides to work every five years.
Who was missed: I really think Russell Crowe deserved a spot here. Sure, 3:10 To Yuma was an action movie, a popcorn western, but he was absolutely electric. Also, his co-star in that movie, Christian Bale, certainly merited some consideration for Rescue Dawn. And Gordon Pinsent was fantastic in Away From Her.

Category: Performance by an actor in a supporting role.
Nominees: Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men". Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War". Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild". Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton".
Who should win: Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of these movies. I have no idea who should win. I do, however, have a sense that Javier Bardem will win, since he has the most hype on him and his movie is getting the most hype at the right time.
Who was missed: Steve Zahn in Rescue Dawn.

Category: Performance by an actress in a leading role.
Nominees: Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age". Julie Christie in "Away from Her". Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose". Laura Linney in "The Savages". Ellen Page in "Juno".
Who should win: Julie Christie. Her performance as an elderly lady afflicted with Alzheimers was both heartbreaking and realistic. The best acting role of her career.
Who was missed: Naomi Watts in Eastern Promises. Somehow, this sensational acting job got overlooked.

Category: Performance by an actress in a supporting role.
Nominees: Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There". Ruby Dee in "American Gangster". Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement". Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone". Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton".
Who should win: Again, I don't know. I have not yet seen any of these. Based on the buzz and the nature of the role, I would put my money on Saoirse Ronan.
Who was missed: Christina Ricci...Black Snake Moan...yeah. OK, she wasn't a supporting actress, I just wanted to mention her. This is a pretty thin category this year.

Category: Best animated feature film of the year.
Nominees: "Persepolis". "Ratatouille". "Surf's Up".
Who should win: Ratatouille is the best kids' animated movie of the last five years. Surf's Up was cute, but not that good, and Persepolis is fantastic but won't appeal to enough voters. Why only three nominees each year in this category? Maybe because there are only six movies that qualify every year. And if you didn't cut it off somewhere, you would have to include huge bombs like Happily N'Ever After.
Who was missed: Well...nothing. There were only two great animated movies made this year.

Category: Achievement in art direction.
Nominees: "American Gangster". "Atonement". "The Golden Compass". "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street". "There Will Be Blood".
Who should win: Ummm...who cares? When was the last time you rented a movie because it had "Oscar Winner - Best Art Direction" on the DVD case?
Who was missed: Again, who cares?

Category: Achievement in cinematography.
Nominees: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". "Atonement". "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". "No Country for Old Men". "There Will Be Blood".
Who should win: I don't know. Still haven't seen any of them.
Who was missed: Rescue Dawn.

Category: Achievement in costume design.
Nominees: "Across the Universe". "Atonement". "Elizabeth: The Golden Age". "La Vie en Rose". "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Who should win: I don't know.
Who was missed: No one, really. This is a category that really honours "best period piece", and there haven't been that many great ones this year.

Category: Achievement in directing.
Nominees: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", Julian Schnabel. "Juno", Jason Reitman. "Michael Clayton", Tony Gilroy. "No Country for Old Men", Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. "There Will Be Blood", Paul Thomas Anderson.
Who should win: It seems likely that the Coen Brothers will win this one. Hollywood loves them, and they were pretty well shut out for their previous masterpiece, Fargo. (They did get a screenwriting Oscar for it, but no direction or best picture or anything else it deserved.)
Who was missed: David Cronenberg. For the second straight year he was not even nominated for yet another masterpiece. Mortensen got his best actor nomination as a "sorry we missed you last year", why not Cronenberg too? I would also have liked to see Sarah Polley get a nomination for Away From Her.

Category: Best documentary feature.
Nominees: "No End in Sight". "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience". "Sicko". "Taxi to the Dark Side". "War/Dance".
Who should win: No End in Sight was a fantastic look at the mismanagement of the war in Iraq. It would be ironic if Oscar didn't honour Michael Moore this year, because he is "too political". And this one won instead. But it shouldn't. Sicko was the best documentary of the year, and Moore will always be able to make the most informative and entertaining documentaries out there.
Who was missed: The Ralph Nader doc, An Unreasonable Man.

Category: Best documentary short subject.
Nominees: "Freeheld". "La Corona (The Crown)". "Salim Baba". "Sari's Mother".
Who should win: Has anyone seen any of these? Will anyone see them? If a tree falls in the forest...and a movie wins an Oscar but no one ever sees it, do you still get a trophy?
Who was missed: How would anyone know?

Category: Achievement in film editing.
Nominees: "The Bourne Ultimatum". "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". "Into the Wild". "No Country for Old Men". "There Will Be Blood".
Who should win: This is a category only other film editors will care about. I should leave the choice up to them, because I assume the rest of us won't care.
Who was missed: I'll leave this up to the film editors as well.

Category: Best foreign language film of the year.
Nominees: "Beaufort" Israel, "The Counterfeiters" Austria, "Katyn" Poland, "Mongol" Kazakhstan, "12" Russia.
Who should win: No idea. I have seen none of these films, and I have rented every foregin film to come through my local video store.
Who was missed: The Host (Korea).

Category: Achievement in makeup.
Nominees: "La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald "Norbit" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount): Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Walt Disney): Ve Neill and Martin Samuel.
Who should win: I'm sure we'll all be huddled around our TVs on Oscar night with bated breath waiting on the results of this one. Norbit? Pirates 3? Oh God, who cares?
Who was missed: La Vie En Rose was a good movie. What's it doing in the "worst of the year" category?

Category: Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score).
Nominees: "Atonement" (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli "The Kite Runner" (DreamWorks, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Participant Productions, Distributed by Paramount Classics): Alberto Iglesias "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) James Newton Howard "Ratatouille" (Walt Disney) Michael Giacchino "3:10 to Yuma" (Lionsgate) Marco Beltrami.
Who should win: 3:10 to Yuma. The score was perfect - a throwback to the old western Morricone-style soundtracks, never invasive, and always moving the action forward.
What was missed: Sunshine.

Category: Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song).
Nominees: "Falling Slowly" from "Once" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and: Marketa Irglova "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz "Raise It Up" from "August Rush" (Warner Bros.): Nominees to be determined "So Close" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz.
Who should win: Once. The song is great, the movie is terrific. The others I haven't seen.
What was missed: I don't know. Can't be much, if Enchanted has eleven songs in here.

Category: Best motion picture of the year.
Nominees: "Atonement". "Juno". "Michael Clayton". "No Country for Old Men". "There Will Be Blood".
Who should win: According to most, No Country For Old Men ought to be the favourite. Juno is this year's Little Miss Sunshine, and those rarely get real consideration for best picture. Michael Clayton will go the way of the other George Clooney movies of recent years - Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, and it will not be a winner.
What was missed: Eastern Promises and The Hunting Party.

Category: Best animated short film.
Nominees: "I Met the Walrus". "Madame Tutli-Putli". "Même Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)". "My Love (Moya Lyubov)". "Peter & the Wolf".
Who should win: Again, who has seen these? And therefore, who cares?
What was missed: Umm...same question.

Category: Best live action short film.
Nominees: "At Night". "Il Supplente (The Substitute)". "Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)". "Tanghi Argentini". "The Tonto Woman".
Who should win: Again, who cares?
What was missed: An opportunity to create the category "best films seen only by friends and family".

Category: Achievement in sound editing.
Nominees: "The Bourne Ultimatum". "No Country for Old Men". "Ratatouille". "There Will Be Blood". "Transformers".
Who should win: Let's give it to the Bourne Ultimatum. They deserve something for making a really good movie. And four, maybe five more people will rent the movie if it has this Oscar.
What was missed: Another twenty minutes of our life that we could have spent reading instead of watching an insipid Oscar telecast.

Category: Achievement in sound mixing.
Nominees: "The Bourne Ultimatum". "No Country for Old Men". "Ratatouille". "3:10 to Yuma". "Transformers".
Who should win: Apparently, this is not the same category as sound editing. For some reason. Let's give this one to 3:10 to Yuma. They deserve some Oscars too.
What was missed: The difference between sound mixing and sound editing.

Category: Achievement in visual effects.
Nominees: "The Golden Compass". "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End". "Transformers".
Who should win: This is really an award for "biggest budget". So, Pirates, I guess.
What was missed: Other crap. Like Ghost Rider.

Category: Adapted screenplay.
Nominees: "Atonement". "Away from Her". "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". "No Country for Old Men". "There Will Be Blood".
Who should win: Sarah Polley for Away From Her. No Country For Old Men (I just read the book) is already pretty easily set up for the screen. Away From Her would have taken an enormous effort and a lot of intelligence to adapt to a screen version.
What was missed: Eastern Promises.

Category: Original screenplay.
Nominees: "Juno". "Lars and the Real Girl". "Michael Clayton". "Ratatouille". "The Savages".
Who should win: Ratatouille. Writing a screenplay that is both intelligent AND appeals to kids might be the toughest thing to do, especially when you can make a kids' movie with no intelligence and almost no effort at all. Ratatouille deserves serious credit here.
What was overlooked: The Lookout.

That's it, in alphabetical order. I will revisit this a few times as I actually watch the movies that have been nominated. This is more than I can say for many of the Academy voters, which is why I still consider the Golden Raspberries to be more honest and accurate representations of moviedom.

Razzie Awards...the one set of awards you can count on.

The Oscars are more hype than substance. The best picture winner is rarely the best picture of the year, the best actor and actress are rarely the most deserving, and the whole thing is more based on marketing and promotion than it is on straight-up merit. That being said, it is far better than say, the Grammys, in that at the very least Oscar winners are good movies with good performances and less attention is paid to box-office receipts than is paid to critical acclaim. Whereas the Grammys and other award shows of a similiar nature pay more attention to sales than they do to quality. Which is why Nickelback cleans up at the Junos. So I would certainly give the Oscars more credit than that. But the only awards you can truly count on for being bang-on are the Razzies. The annual awards for the absolute worst in movies are great, for a few reasons - they get to be as mean and politically incorrect as they want to be, they don't have to take into account the pedigree of an actor, and they have way more movies to choose from than do the Oscars.

This year, I have already made my own list of the worst movies out there. While I would never bother comparing my list of the best to the Oscar nominees, I would certainly do so for the Razzies, since I feel they have more credibility. I chose Norbit, The Reaping, I Know Who Killed Me, the Number 23, Because I Said So, Wild Hogs, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Rush Hour 3, Epic Movie, Georgia Rule, Spiderman 3, Happily N'Ever After, Pirates of the Carribean 3, Premonition and Resident Evil as the worst of the worst. Having recently watched Good Luck Chuck, I would gladly add that one to the list as well. So here is the Razzie list:

Category: Worst leading actor.
Nominees: Eddie Murphy as Norbit in Norbit. Cuba Gooding Jr. in Daddy Day Camp. Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider. Jim Carrey in The Number 23. And Adam Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Who should win: Nicholas Cage. Eddie Murphy was awful as Norbit, but we'll get to him later. Adam Sandler was certainly bad in Chuck and Larry, but not Ghost Rider bad. Jim Carrey took a chance with the Number 23, and it failed miserably. And Gooding is just a bad actor. Always. He will never be good. But Nicholas Cage in blockbuster, big-budget movies, is the worst actor alive. He is fantastic in little, small-budget flicks (Leaving Las Vegas, Matchstick Men), but the bigger the budget, the more he sucks. Add to that the fact that he was especially bad in Ghost Rider, and you've got one of the worst of all time.
Who they missed: Seann William Scott in Mr. Woodcock.

Category: Worst leading actress.
Nominees: Lindsay Lohan as the stripper in I Know Who Killed Me. Lindsay Lohan as the clean-cut high school student in I Know Who Killed Me. The four female leads in Bratz. Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck, Awake and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Elisha Cuthbert in Captivity. And Diane Keaton in Because I Said So.
Who should win: Lindsay Lohan. For either role, but really the clean-cut student role is even more bizarre than the stripper one. One of the worst performances in movie history. Elisha Cuthbert was just in a bad movie, Diane Keaton had absolutely nothing to work with in Because I Said So, and Jessica Alba has always been useless as an actress. I was mercifully spared Bratz, but I can only assume that it had four of the worst-written female roles of the past decade. No matter how bad they were, they could not be Lindsay-Lohan-in-I-Know-Who-Killed-Me bad.
Who they missed: Ironically, they missed another Lindsay Lohan performance, this time in Georgia Rule.

Category: Worst supporting actor.
Nominees: Eddie Murphy as the old Chinese man in Norbit. Eddie Murphy as the fat lady in Norbit. Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Carribean 3. Rob Schneider in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. And Jon Voight in Transformers, September Dawn, and National Treasure 2.
Who should win: Eddie Murphy. Although Orlando Bloom has been consistently awful in the Pirates movies, and I have not been able to understand how he gets cast in the roles he does, because he is so awful, it is more a mis-casting issue than it is a bad acting issue. Eddie Murphy cast himself, therefore he should know better. Both these roles are heinous and offensive, but the fat lady role is on the screen most often, therefore it is most offensive, therefore it is the worst. Jon Voight was irrelevant in his movies, and Rob Schneider is just bad always.
Who they missed: Dan Fogler in Good Luck Chuck.

Category: Worst supporting actress.
Nominees: Jessica Biel in Next and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Carmen Electra in Epic Movie. Julia Ormond in I Know Who Killed Me. And Nicolette Sheridan in Code Name: The Cleaner.
Who should win: Jessica Biel. She is truly awful in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. In Next, she just has to deal with bad dialogue and a badly written character. In Chuck and Larry, her supposedly smart lawyer would have to be staggeringly stupid to do what she does. Carmen Electra is merely a passing character in Epic Movie, which makes her fairly irrelevant as a supporting actress.
Who they missed: Eva Mendes in Ghost Rider.

Category: Worst screen couple.
Nominees: Jessica Alba and Dane Cook in Good Luck Chuck. Jessica Alba and Hayden Christensen in Awake. Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Any combination of Bratz characters. Lindsay Lohan and Lindsay Lohan as twins in I Know Who Killed Me. Eddie Murphy and Chinese Eddie Murphy in Norbit. Eddie Murphy and fat Eddie Murphy in Norbit. Adam Sandler and Kevin James in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Adam Sandler and Jessica Biel in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Who should win: Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd in the Fantastic Four are the most boring, irritating, and terribly unconvincing couple since Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Carribean.
Who they missed: Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Carribean 3. Also, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spiderman 3.

Category: Worst remake and/or rip-off.
Nominees: Are We Done Yet? (Rip-off of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.) Bratz (Remake of the TV show...I guess). Epic Movie (Rip-off of...everything). I Know Who Killed Me (rip-off of Saw, The Patty Duke Show, and Hostel). Who's Your Caddy (rip-off of Caddyshack).
Who should win: Epic Movie. This movie does not just directly quote every movie it is supposedly spoofing, but it also offends every movie they even mention. Beginning to end, extremely horrible.
What they missed: Underdog.

Category: Worst prequel or sequel.
Nominees: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Daddy Day Camp. Evan Almighty. Hannibal Rising. Hostel Part III.
Who should win: I'm so happy this category exists. In a lot of ways, the category honours the worst films that are sequels in what was already a fairly horrible series. Like Alien vs. Predator, Daddy Day Care, Hostel...In this case, Evan Almighty should win. Even though Bruce Almighty wasn't the giant bomb that the others were, the sequel is a colossal waste of time. Yet it still had the temerity to call itself an "epic movie". Garbage.
What they missed: Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Carribean 3...

Category: Worst director.
Nominees: Dennis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). Roland Joffe (Captivity). Brian Robbins (Norbit). Fred Savage (Daddy Day Camp). Chris Siverston (I Know Who Killed Me).
Who should win: Chris Siverston. Roland Joffe just picked a genre that is almost impossible to do well. Brian Robbins I give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Eddie Murphy was forcing all the action to suck. Dennis Dugan was given a dreadful script and a ridiculous concept. Chris Siverston could have done something with the crap he was given. Something. He could at the very least have coaxed a passible performance out of Lindsay Lohan. But he didn't. He sucks.
Who they missed: Whoever directed Epic Movie. And frankly, I don't care enough to look up who it was.

Category: Worst Screenplay.
Nominees: Daddy Day Camp, I Know Who Killed Me, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Epic Movie, Norbit.
Who should win: Epic Movie. The others were bad, sure, but Epic Movie didn't even try to be funny. I could have written that screenplay in less than an hour. All you needed for this one was to have watched twenty movies. Ever. Then you just copy them. And add puke jokes. Sorry, not jokes. Just add puke.
What was missed: Good Luck Chuck.

Category: Worst excuse for a horror movie.
Nominees: Captivity. I Know Who Killed Me. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Hannibal Rising. Hostel Part III.
Who should win: I Know Who Killed Me. It's just so bad.
What they missed: Hallowe'en, the Rob Zombie remake.

Category: Worst picture.
Nominees: Bratz. Daddy Day Camp. Norbit. I Know Who Killed Me. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Who should win: Norbit comes awfully close, but I Know Who Killed Me is the worst movie in ten years.
Who they missed: Epic Movie.

There we go. That's the most honest, complete list you will find at award season. The Oscar nominations are out today. I will do the same for the Oscars, although there will be more movies they missed and more performances that need to be acknowledged. Until then, avoid these movies!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lowest on the totem pole. Or, I see my office and I want it painted black.

I am clearly the lowest man on the totem pole on our show. This was hammered home to me today when Doc made me take off my clothes to go get an autographed Sens jersey from his car. It was cold, I froze, I ran there, I took the jersey out, I ran back, I put my clothes back on, and went into the studio with the jersey. This was fine. Until I saw Doc go home. Back to his car to go home. With the jersey back into the car. This was definitely indicative of the fact that I am at the bottom of the barrel in terms of rank and respect. But I've known that for some time. Then I realized that the Doc and Woody show itself occupies the bottom rung of the ladder when it comes to the office. You see, it was minus-one-million degrees today. And our studio is mostly windows, which means that it was incredibly cold. We could see our breath and my skin froze to the doorknob. There is a thermostat in the room, but it is for show. We cranked it up. Nothing happened. We cranked it up more. Still nothing. Finally we gave up and put it back to where it normally is.

Then, at 9:00, as I was leaving the studio, the heat cranked on! It turns out that it is set to operate only once 9:00 hits. Before that, it is actually only for show. You see, 9:00 is when the real people arrive at work. (Office people, and people with ties.) It turns out the rest of us can just suck it up. Also, a couple of weeks ago, the decision was made to repaint the studio. It turns out that the main reason was that a new boss was coming to town. One of those out-of-town bosses who sees the CHEZ studio once every two or three years. And since he had never seen it before, it was quite likely that he would go on a firing spree when he saw that the walls were beige. Or something.

So we decided to do our part, and cleaned out our shelf. Cereal boxes from 1997, tons of absolute crap that has accumulated over the years. We are obviously a very lazy and messy bunch - there was stuff from many years ago on media formats that no longer exist. And tons of it! Now, it turns out that the repainting won't take place for some time, so it is likely that this pile of crap will sit in it's pile for several more months. Well, it's likely that at some point Doc will get annoyed with it and make me carry it all out to the dumpster. But I, being the laziest of all, will wait until I am told to do so. The room, when it finally does get painted, is scheduled to be painted black. I get it - it's CHEZ, our colour is black, this makes sense to the same people who get us the black car to drive around in. However, a few of us thought it might seem ominous to have a black office. And that it may create a fairly foreboding and oppressive work environment. We will have to wait and see if this is true, if and when it happens. However, when we raised these concerns, the response was - oh, come on! The studio is all windows!

As I mentioned earlier, our studio is, indeed, all windows. Which is fine, according to the people who decided to paint it black. Oh, man! If I was the Ottawa Sun, I'd be making all kinds of Rolling Stones references in here. But I am not. So the people who make this decision are there from nine to five. When the light shines bright in the studio. We, on the other hand, are there from 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. In the dead of winter, it is still pitch black outside through most of our show. But again, we are low men on the totem pole. And if I am the low man on the totem pole on the show that is low man on yet another totem pole...then I am somewhere beneath the ground, I think. Doc has always said that radio DJ, in the entertainment industry, ranks somewhere between mime and cruise-ship-magician. My status, in the insular world of my own radio station, must therefore be somwehere between the lady who waters the plants and the mice who inhabit the studio down the hall.

Torture! No, not the kind that comes with watching the Senators recently. The American waterboarding kind.

So a manual has been made for Canadian diplomats. In this manual there is a list of countries that are suspected of engaging in torture practices. Some of those countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan) saw their names on the list and said "well, of course we do". Other countries, however, got their non-torturing panties in a bunch. The Israelis were furious! Torture! Never! They said. They wrote an angry letter. That letter was placed on a pile on top of the angry letter received from the U.S., who were equally, if not MORE offended than the Israelis for being placed on the "suspected of torture" list. This quickly led to some serious backpedalling from our government. A contrite spokesperson said that she did not realize that some of our most valued allies had been placed on this list, and a review would be done. This is either, I assume, because "allies" is more important than "truth", or because she was afraid of being captured and waterboarded.

Sick of the A-channel.

I was flipping to last night's dreadful Ottawa-Philly game, and it was made even more irritating by the A-Channel. They had a viewer's poll up, one they kept referring to during the game. The question was "what Senator player has had the most ice time this season?" Ummm...shouldn't that be just a question, like for a prize or something, not a poll? Are the viewers actually deciding this for themselves? The viewers, in the end, decided that Daniel Alfredsson had the most ice time this year. They presented this poll "result" later in the game. Then never told us who actually had the most ice time this year.

Watch out for explosions!

Since 9/11, airport security has been tightened and regulated with iron fists all over the world. I have given up many a dangerous item before I boarded a plane, hair gel and nail clippers both. I don't know if I feel any safer, but I definitely have longer nails than usual when I land, having been unable to clip my toes during the flight as I am accustomed to doing. Also my hair is messier, since I have been unable to sneak into the bathroom to gel myself up before that final approach. The idea here is that containers of liquids of a certain volume are prohibited. Ell, liquids and pastes and so forth. And the idea behind THAT is that your bottle of water may not in fact be water. It might be liquid explosive of some kind! Or poison! So they take it away. And they take your shaving cream and your peanut butter and your whiskey. That way, you get through security and buy more whiskey, only now it's at the duty-free shop, and you buy another bottle of water, only now it costs nine bucks.

But what happens to all that potentially explosive stuff that has been confiscated? It turns out that most airports just throw it in the garbage. Not the bomb-disposal garbage or an incinerator or anything, just a regular metal garbage dumpster, which could easily withstand the force of an explosion should that shampoo bottle be actually filled with nitroglycerine. But Ottawa is different! We have things figured out. We make USE of tht leftover stuff, and give it to the foodbank. Which is great, I think. But assuming that the hair gel and conditioner are being confiscated because they are probably explosives, I would advise staying away from the food bank. Little do you know when you open that jar of peanut butter that you are likely spreading C4 on your toast. Keep watching Ottawa for the explosions that are sure to rock the city in coming weeks as people get their nitro-water from the airport.

Worst sports weekend ever.

I was sitting in Broadway on Saturday evening. My girlfriend works next door, and I was meeting her there for dinner after my live Bell World event. We had our dinner, and decided that watching the hockey game would be a good idea, and an even better idea would be not to get up for it. So we remained seated at the bar, playing that trivia-on-TV game with Mike, a yuong guy sitting next to us. When the hockey game started, I began to ignore the trivia game, since, well, there was hockey on. On the TV beside the Senators game there was the Habs game. So, after three minutes, I was terribly bored with the Ottawa contest and began to root for the Habs. Then, after three minutes of that snoozefest, it was back to the trivia. It's one thing to be shut out by Tampa Bay, it's another thing to look so bad in doing so! What a boring game! On the plus side, the beer was flowing freely and I didn't worry too much over the score. It was easy to push out of my brain until I saw the "highlights" Sunday morning. Oh, and Montreal lost and the Leafs won. Bad night for hockey.

The following day, we were nursing hangovers and settled in for more sports on the couch. I cheered lustily for the Chargers, although I had given them little chace to beat New England, especially with Philip Rivers hurting and LaDanian Tomlinson hurting and Antonio Gates hurting. They put up a game battle, but it was not to be. That's fine. After all, it's New England. The game I was really all about, however, was my Packers game. During the commercials, I would switch to the Senators game, because I was hoping to see Steve Downie get some retribution for that hit on Dean McAmmond. Bobby Clarke and Steve Downie sure are a match made in heaven, eh? Jason Blake says Downie should have been kicked out of hockey for the McAmmond hit, so Downie sucker punches Blake while he is being held by a referee. Clarke says that's how the game should be played. If you say something bad about someone, you should expect to "pay the price", and of course Downie should sucker punch Blake. After all, his words hurt his feelings.

By this logic, Downie should have expected to get kicked in the face with a skate against Ottawa. After all, when you leave your feet and try to end someone's career...in the pre-season...you should expect to "pay the price". So, taking Downie and Clarke's words to heart (and words hurt feelings, you know), there should have been some fireworks! A slash to the neck, or a vicious boarding penalty, or a broken foot courtesy of a well-aimed hockey stick...oh, no, wait. That was Clarke, not Downie. At the very least there should have been some fisticuffs. There would at least be a fight, right? No, as it turned out, there would not even be a hockey game. Ottawa has not looked that bad at any point this season, losing 6-1, not even noticing Downie, and barely showing up at all. And this time, there was no free-flowing beer to distract me.

Then, of course, the end of the Packers game. I watched every snap of this game, and (former Renegade) Lawrence Tynes sure looked like he would end up the goat. After he missed that 36-yard field goal at the end of regulation, and the game went into overtime, and the Packers won the coin toss, I started printing up my Patriots-Packers Super Bowl party invitations during the commercial break. As I was about to press "send" on my mass email, there's an interception. And Tynes redeems himself by somehow willing the ball through the posts from 47 yards. Season over. Game over. Super Bowl party cancelled. I just don't think I have the heart for it. I had trouble sleeping last night, and when I woke up my girlfriend was passed out on the couch, and figure skating was on TV. The perfect end to the worst sports weekend of all time. Not that figure skating is a sport.

I'm totally going to do everything Oprah says.

For a while, I have been resisting the Planet Earth DVD series because my girlfriend keeps calling it "that thing I saw on Oprah". In the past, I can remember moments where I was reading a book, and someone said "oh, are you doing the Oprah book club thing?" and I stopped reading it for a while. I was in the middle of Anna Karenina, and I put it down for three months until it was no longer associated with Oprah. I stopped reading Sidney Poitier's autobiography on the bus after a few too many Oprah-related comments, and I finished it quickly at home. Both great books, both in the Oprah book club. Is it a book club? Book-of-the-month or something? I don't even know from watching her show, I just know from people talking to me. At any rate, Jen has been bugging me to get this Planet Earth thing, but every time she says "Oprah" my skin crawls and I shudder and I don't rent it.

But I finally caved, and I must say that I seriously recommend Planet Earth. I have managed to rent discs 1, 2 and 5 so far. These are some of the most amazing DVDs I have ever watched. I have always had a testy relationship with nature documentaries. Most are boring for 58 minutes, and then there is a cool two minutes in there where things eat other things. But with the unbelievable camera work in this series, there is nothing boring going on at all. Disc one has an aerial shot of African dogs hunting impala, and because of the height and the distance they are able to capture the hunt in it's entirety. The dogs split off into groups, herding one impala toward the others, running full speed and then breaking off one by one to go to their assigned locations from which they can make the kill as a group. It's just a breathtaking piece of film making, and the rest of the series is just as good. For more information about Planet Earth, you can visit the Oprah's favourite things like. Oh, she's American - favorite things.

http://www.oprah.com/presents/2007/holiday/gifts/gifts_oft_350_107.jhtml