Saturday, February 2, 2008

Funniest thing I have seen in...weeks. Maybe months.

Last week, Doc was talking about the Jimmy Kimmel show, and how his girlfriend, Sarah Silverman,who I think is the funniest woman alive, was going to surprise him somehow on his birthday. We imagined it would be something offensive and yet funny. You know, "I have herpes", or something of that nature. Doc just sent me the link to the video of the actual surprise, and it is far funnier than anything we could have imagined. SO worth checking out:

Watch it! Hilarious!

Friday, February 1, 2008

BlacKout. Why the big K? (******6/10)

BlacKout is about an event we likely all recall. That giant blackout that turned off the power across Ontario and upstate New York a few years ago. I remember exactly what I did. I got a couple of girls from work to come home with me, we grabbed ice bags from the store in my building, we filled the tub with the ice and the beer that was still in my fridge, and we waited. Our phones were dependant on power, so we didn't call anyone, we just waited. My roommate came home. Then the girls from downstairs came up. Then the two college guys from across the hall came over. Then other girls we knew just arrived from nowhere. Somehow the word was out, phones be damned, that our place was the central gathering point. People had beer, put it in the tub, and we had a great time out on our balcony and around our house for an entire night. This good time was aided by a small act of violence. When Dave from downstairs came up carrying his guitar, and set it down for a moment, we hid it in the ceiling until the next day. We were pleased to have a small party, but we'd be damned if it would turn into a campfire kumbaya party.

In other parts of the country, things weren't so orderly. In particular, a neighbourhood in New York City called East Flatbush, where the tension boiled over into violence, looting, and a vey scary night for everyone in the area. BlacKout tells their story, and it is out on DVD this coming Tuesday courtesy of Paramount and BET. Most exciting for me was seeing that Melvin Van Peebles was in the film. Van Peebles (and yes, he is Mario's father) is a cinematic legend, the man who almost single-handedly created the "blaxploitation" genre in the 70s with his film Sweet Sweetback's Baadaasss Song. He certainly hasn't done much of note recently, and I'm just glad to see that he's working. By now, he is playing George, who is in his nineties and is the super of a building in East Flatbush, the building that is central to the movie. The movie deals with several couples, a mother and son, three old ladies and a few other individuals who live in that building, and what they do during the blackout. Believe me, it is much different from what I did.

BlacKout (I don't know why I'm still putting that big K in there. I still don't get the big K) plays like a second-rate Spike Lee film. Specifically, a second-rate Do The Right Thing. Very very similar films, in that Do The Right Thing was centered around one day, in that case the hottest summer day of the year, and BlacKout is centered around one day, the day of the...blackout. Also similar in that it follows many people around, and their stories intersect with one another without building to any kind of massive cheesy ending where every story comes together. They just exist on their own, and in relation to one another, and it is quite good. Second-rate Spike Lee is not really a put-down. Few films could match the tempo, the dialogue and the feel of Do The Right Thing. For example, Disturbia was a second-rate Rear Window, but it was still pretty good. Comparisons to Do The Right Thing I think are unavoidable with this film, but if you can watch the whole thing while constantly thinking of Spike Lee's masterpiece and still enjoy it, the film maker here (in this case Jerry LaMothe) has done something impressive. BlacKout is good. It just isn't classic.

The Good, the Bad, and the Stupid Comedians: Best of Comedy Central Presents (******6/10)

I just received a DVD called The Best Of Comedy Central Presents. It's eight comedians, each doing a half hour stand-up show on Comedy Central Presents, and brought directly to DVD as a collection courtesy of Paramount. It is hit and miss, much like most comedians. It's presented in a three-hour, uninterrupted show, broken up by the outros to comercials and the intros back from commercials. You would think Comedy Central could take this stuff out, just like they have taken out the commercials themselves. It's just distracting and breaks up some fine performances. And some lousy ones. I would recommend the disc, But I would recommend selecting just the individual performances of the good comics, and leaving out the other ones. These are the eight comics:

Lewis Black. Unfortunately, the DVD starts with his show, and it is the best one on here. I am just an enormous fan of Lewis Black, his delivery is superb, his material is smart, and no one delivers a punch line quite like Black with his pointed finger and his growly, focussed anger. Hilarious stuff, but I would have liked to see this one close it out. It starts off the DVD at it's highest point, and it's tough to get better from here. This is one of the classic Black bits, the one about seeing a Starbucks in the same building, only across the street, from another Starbucks, and how that clearly signals the end of the world. Amen.

Dane Cook. The DVD goes from the high point to the low point. I still don't get Dane Cook. I think maybe the appeal of Cook is that...he is kind of attractive? For a comic? Most of them are fairly ugly. Cook is muscular and good-looking enough to be cast as Jessica Simpson's love interest. And Jessica Alba's. And, one can only assume, soon enough Jessica Biel's and Jessica Rabbit's and maybe Sarah Jessica Parker's. In this one he imitates an alien from Alien, a snake...none of it is funny, it goes on too long, and I just don't get it!

Jeff Dunham. If there is anything that smacks of "dated", it's vaudeville routines. Second only to vaudeville is ventriloquism. Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist. He is a fairly good one, although he tries to go too fast and slips up every now and then. His material might seem clever and racy, and he can get away with it because it comes out of a puppet and not him, and he just has to look shocked at what the puppet says, but after watching the rest of the guys on this DVD, there isn't anything that shocking about what his puppets say. For his act to work, he should be far more offensive, and I just don't think he has it in him. Pretty boring.

Jim Gaffigan. A pleasant surprise for me. Jim Gaffigan is very funny. I had not seen him before, and his material is very clever, very well-worded, and delivered in a great, almost-incredulous manner. The biggest surprise on the disc, I have seen Gaffigan in small roles in a movie or two, but never doing stand-up, and he is a welcome inclusion here.

Mitch Hedberg. I have always liked Mitch Hedberg. His delivery is stoner-slow, not Steven Wright slow, but laid back and solid. His material is very good, and just about every line he says is funny. The best bit in this set is about his neighbour who would bang on the wall when he played his music too loud. And Hedberg yells back "go around!" Every line is great, and his delivery may just be the best of the bunch. But I still prefer Lewis Black. Because I love him.

Demetri Martin. Again, a guy I have never seen before doing stand-up. In fact, I had never seen Martin before, anywhere. And he's pretty good. He uses props, but not Carrot-Top type obnoxious props, just a big paper pad like the kind your boss brings to your board meetings, and a few well-placed surprise "guests" toward the end of his set. Not classic material, but worth watching once. Also a very laid-back kind of comic, real smooth delivery and some good material.

Carlos Mencia. Again, a guy I just don't understand. What is the appeal of this man? I guess it's the fact that he will cross all lines, insult every race, say terribly shocking, politically incorrect things? But...if he is constantly telling you how controversial he is, if he hits you over the head with the fact that he insults, really. Everybody. Ummm...we get it. Get on with the funny stuff. But he doesn't seem to have much funny stuff to say. He appears to have no original material at all, so he just insults people and stereotypes groups. Frankly, I don't mind this kind of humour if it is done with wit and inciciveness, a la Sarah Silverman, but Mencia isn't even close to that level. Skip him.

Brian Regan. It seems sad to me that the Comedy Central people chose to end this DVD with the most bland and blase of all the comedians. Better than Dane Cook, better than Carlos Mencia, but nowhere near as good as Hedberg or Black. Very run-of-the-mill routine, mostly about food, and with a few very good jokes here and there. Sort of a let-down. I would watch him, but I would watch him first.

In fact, here is the order in which the comics should have been presented:
Brian Regan
Jim Gaffigan
Demetri Martin
Mitch Hedberg
Lewis Black
No Cook or Dunham or Mencia. Just those five, and that way you start slow, move up, come down a little again, then hit the big ones to close. That is how I recommend setting up your DVD player for this one. In this order, well worth it!

A Gearhead, I am not.

I don't know anything about cars. At all. Oh, I could change a headlight in any car, or wiper blades on any car, or check the oil or thetire pressure and all that back ten years ago when I worked at Island Park Esso. However, I could no longer do that with any car, what with the computer chips and the engine parts and the difficulties involved. I have to take my own car into the shop to get my headlights replaced. That is because KIA has constructed my car such that a portion of the engine must be removed in order to get to the headlights. Modern convenience, this is! Anyway, the point I am making is that knowing how to change a light bulb and knowing stuff about cars is totally different. In fact, I was fired from that job at Island Park Esso because I wasn't sure which car was a Mustang and which one was a Tempo. They looked pretty similar to me, and they both said Ford. I'm fired! And when it comes to motorcycles, I know even less than I do about cars. I know they have two wheels. Cars have four. Yep.

Which is why I found it odd that Doc and Woody would ever want to send ME to check out the new motorcycle that Gearhead is providing for Toys For Boys. First of all, I was certain that at 6:30, when they sent me off, the store was closed. I mean, it was 6:30 in the morning. Clearly no store is going to be open then, and since I knew they opened at 9:00, there would be no one in to let me poke around. The guys seemed to think that there would be some kind of preparations being made for the day. But that would involve people getting there at what - 8:30? 8:45? It's not like they have to go in and build the motorcycles before the store opens. So there I am, not wanting to leave the car idling for two hours, standing outside Gearhead at 7:00. And how do I describe the motorcycle even if I can see it? Again, I have absolutely no knowledge of these things. "Yep, it has an 8-ball logo. Mmm-hmm. Sure is black. Looks pretty cool, handlbars and engine and everything." That's about all you could have got out of me there.

So now I'm freezing. Standing outside in the cold, waiting for employees who may, (or, more likely, may NOT) show up before our show is finished. And I can't see in anyway. There are blinds. Of course, I heard on the radio some time later that Doc just thought it would be amusing to have me standing outside in the cold. Haven't I already done that? Doesn't this seem pretty old at the moment? Whatever. Finally, Doc tells me to try the door. In fact, as I recall, he suggested that I was an idiot NOT to have tried the door already. Why, because I think that a darkened store room in a clearly empty building will just leave their door unlocked? Because it's National Help Yourself to a Motorcycle day? So I try the door. Go figure, it's locked. Amazing! And then...the alarm goes off. A piercing siren that emanates from inside the building, but still so loud that I can barely here Doc on the phone. Although I could hear just enough to understand that he was calling me a bonehead. Me. A bonehead. For trying to force the door at his insistence. Having called me an idiot for NOT trying the door. If Dr. Phil ever wants to showcase a real psychologically abusive relationship, he needs look no further than the Doc and Woody show in Ottawa.

So now I'm stuck. I can't just take off. I mean, this was on the radio. It's not like anyone will not know it was me who set off the alarm. I thought about calling the security company, but I couldn't figure out the phone number from outside the building. So the only thing left for me was to wait until someone DID show up. I must say, the response time was pretty good. Security was there quickly, and they seemed fairly satisfied with my explanation. After all, I was still there, I wasn't inside the building yet, and the "keyholders" were on the way. The keyholders of course, were the owners of Gearhead, Dan and Mary. Who were very nice about the whole thing. They were a little grumpy, it was a little early for them, but they let me into the store and showed me the motorcycle. And gave me a pamphlet about it, so I would know more. And let me sit on it and rev it up so I could get a feel for the power of the machine.

It turns out that the bike is a Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle with blacked-out body paint, a blacked-out engine, black-out wheels, and blacked-out bars. The 2008 Vegas 8-Ball™ is ominous in every sense of the word. But along with all its primal appeal, it is packed with an equal amount of raw horsepower and road-ripping performance, in the form of Victory’s own 100-cubic-inch Freedom® V-Twin™. This is what I learned while I was at Gearhead. It is also what I cut-and-pasted from the Victory Motorcycles website. Which is available at one click from the CHEZ website. Which indicates to me that the entire excercise was, well, an excercise in futility. But it was not without a little more drama. While I was revving up this monster of a machine, I was amazed to see the power of the exhaust, as it pushed debris around the floor with the greatest of ease in a swirling maelstrom, and then blew an entire display board right off the wall. With a thundering crash, dozens of bike parts (which I was later told valued a combined...several thousand dollars...) came flying down onto the floor, and scattered about the shop. I quickly shut off the engine, and I was lost for words. How does one apologize for the destruction of the property of a man who I just got out of bed with an alarm?

In the end, Dan and Mary were very nice, and there was little real damage, so they let me get out of there quickly, once we had replaced the pipes on the walls and cleaned up the mess. They left me with a loot bag full of stuff - information on the motorcycle, motorcycle magazines I will likely never read, a keychain and a Gearhead shirt and hat that I am wearing right now. Just as I was getting tired of the Dewalt hat I started wearing at the last Toolfest I did, I now have a new hat I can wear until I get tired of this one. I felt kind of like a poser in the Dewalt hat, since I have very little personal knowledge of tools, or of Dewalt products. People would ask me if I was in construction, or if I was a Matt Kensith fan. Until recently, I had no idea who Matt Kensith was. The idea that I would wear a hat advertising a product simply because I was a fan of the Nascar driver who was sponsored by that product always made me smile. I have no concept of tools, any more than I have a concept of motorcycles, or cars, or by extension, NASCAR. So now I will wear my Gearhead hat proudly for a good long time, once again posing as a man who knows manly things about manly stuff.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Jewish Americans (*******7/10)

Paramount is releasing The Jewish Americans, a PBS documentary, on February 5th (this coming Tuesday). Like most PBS documentaries, it is very long, very methodical, and extremely informative. It is six hours of information, which is just about enough time to cover 350 years of Jewish history in America. The two-disc set even has space for a few DVD extras, which are not terribly enticing, especially after sitting through the other six hours. It tells the history of Jewish people in many ways, and of course much attention is paid to anti-semitism. One of the most amazing things I learned in watching the film was that it was the mob hanging (following the wrongful conviction) of a Jewish man named Leo Frank that spurred the resurrection of the KKK. I must admit, I have rarely thought of the Jews in the same context as I have thought of black people, in terms of racism throughout history. Of course, the holocaust is the most horrific event perhaps in the history of mankind, but when I have considered Jewish people in North America, their battle against racism did not seem to me to be on a level with that of the black people. It's stories like the one of Leo Frank that make us realize that the difference is not so great.

That attitude changed for me a few years ago when I watched an excellent documentary, The Life And Times of Hank Greenberg. (I highly recommend picking this one up - it's available to order at stores that sell movies for like 6 bucks.) I have always been very excited to learn about the history of baseball, and as a child I used to take out the giant book of baseball from the library once a month and marvel over the stats put up by the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Hack Wilson and of course, Hank Greenberg. 183 RBIs in a season! 58 home runs! Of course, with the advent of the steroid era in baseball, those numbers no longer seem astronomical, but I was a child before the steroids. When I watched that documentary, the idea that he was comparable to Jackie Robinson in any way was ridiculous to me. In fact, I wasn't even aware that Hank Greenberg was Jewish. But in many ways, he broke a barrier in baseball much the same way Robinson did. The crowds and the other players taunted him and berated him and showered him with anti-semitic vitriol.

And "The Jewish Americans" talks about Greenberg too. The fact that he sat out a game on Yom Kippur, something that was considered heresy by the baseball fanatics, drew all kids of ire from the anti-semites. The fact that he returned the next day to hit two home runs and win the pennant for the Tigers made him a hero to Jewish Americans everywhere. Other Jewish heroes touched upon include Irving Berlin, Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, and countless others. Modern Jewish celebrities make appearances - the best one is Jerry Stiller (father Costanza on Seinfeld), and the worst one is Liev Schrieber, who really drones on and on about yay America. Skip his segment. The Jewish Americans is an impressively researched, gigantic achievement for PBS, and it's something well worth watching for anyone interested in history. Not just Jewish history, but the history of immigration, racism, popular culture, and the United States. But be warned. It IS six hours long.

Jakers! Slightly more interesting than Zoiks! (****4/10)

Jakers is something that appears to have been delivered to me by accident. I may well have ordered it by mistake, in fact. You see, I order movies from a few companies so that I can watch them and review them before they come out on DVD. And sometimes I will order something I have never heard of, in the hopes of finding a hidden gem. Like, King of Kong. Or The City of Violence. And sometimes I find something much worse than a "gem", like Dragon Heat. In this case, I was simply completely wrong about what it might be. However, since Paramount had sent me the DVD, I felt obligated to watch it and review it anyway. Jakers! Treasure Hunt on Raloo Farm will be released on Tuesday, February 19th. So here goes:

Jakers is a series about a small pig named Piggly-winks, and his friends, which are a very small cow and a very large duck. (They are all the same size. I am assuming that as the main character, the pig is drawn to scale, and the sheep are about the same size as he is, but he is not yet a full-grown pig, so I will assume that he is merely a pig the size of a sheep, and therefore the cow is smaller than usual, and the duck is larger. Got it so far?) I have no idea what Jakers means. But every now and then it is something Piggly Winks says, so I think it is the equivalent of Shaggy's "zoiks" on Scooby Doo. The set-up of each episode is an old man pig talking to his grandchildren piglets, reminiscing about the times when he was their age. Only, when he was their age, he looked very cute as a piglet, and his own grandchildren are comparatively unattractive. Piggly-Winks is not the only character with a catch-phrase. The cow, whose name escapes me, has a catch phrase that escapes me too. But that's because I can't understand what he's saying. It sounds like "jerry-mac". But that doesn't make much sense, so I think I'm hearing it wrong.

Jakers is an Irish kids series, which means the characters all have Irish accents, and that's pretty funny. This particular DVD, Treasure Hunt on Raloo Farm, features four episodes. The first episode concerns a treasure hunt. You see, Piggly-Winks father wants Piggly-Winks to do the chores, so he sets up a treasure hunt. Piggly-Winks is so excited at this treasure hunt that he doesn't even realize he's doing the chores until he's done! And the duck says "that's a right bonny pa you got there", or something to that effect. But I beg to differ. If the father was willing to spend that much time laying out a treasure hunt for his son, he could very easily have done the chores himself in that time. So the son doing the chores is unnecessary, and therefore cruel. I mean, Piggly-Winks could have just been left alone to play his space-alien game, and all this could have been avoided. Furthermore, this is psychologically abusive to the child-pig. It's kind of a Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence scenario, where you trick someone into doing your own work. Work you yourself could easily have done. A bonny father? Hardly. A cruel and deceitful taskmaster, perhaps.

The second episode is called Our Dragon's Egg. The kids find an egg. It is bigger than the chicken eggs. So they assume it is the egg of a dragon. Spoiler alert - it's a swan. I hope I gave you enough warning with that spoiler alert. I don't want to ruin the end of this thing for anyone. Well, I'm going to assume very few four-year-olds read my blog, but you never can tell. I am also going to assume that most people who read my blog have totally lost interest in the adventures of Piggly-Winks at this time, and they have stopped reading by now. So I am going to include a list of people I don't like right here, because no one is likely to ever read it. Karl Rove, Julia Stiles, Keanu Reeves, Dick Chaney, Pierre Polievre, Patrick Swayze, Michael Buble, Michael Irvin, Fred Phelps, and Colonel Sanders. And that concludes my review of Piggly Winks and his livestock-related adventures. Jakers!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who would win...Lennox Lewis or Roger Daltrey? Johnny Was (****4/10)

In a boxing ring, Lewis. Singing Won't Get Fooled Again? Daltrey. Acting in Johnny Was? Neither, really. Lennox Lewis plays a rastafarian DJ, running a pirate radio station in a slum apartment in London, right above Vinnie Jones' flat. Eriq LaSalle (from ER) is a violent heroin dealer, also a Rastafarian, living downstairs from Vinnie Jones' flat. And Roger Daltrey plays the ringleader of a former IRA bombing organization. You see, Vinnie Jones used to be in the IRA. And he was a chemist...of some kind. He and his partner Flynn made bombs. Now Jones has been laying low in London for several years, hiding out and leading a quasi-normal life. Then Flynn breaks out of prison, and comes to hide out at his flat, which causes problems with the drug dealer living downstairs. Some stuff happens, a lot of it is violent, and then there is a conclusion to the movie, as there is in most movies.

Lewis, as a Rastafarian DJ, is less than convincing. I guess all you need to be a Rasta is the vocabulary. He says all the right things. "Jah", "I and I", and "Haile Selassie". Apparently these are the only things he is able to say, because Rastas never have more than an eleven word vocabulary. His Jamaican accent is halfway decent, but his character is amazingly unconvincing (especially at the end of the film, when he shows up in a location he couldn't possibly have known about, and does something that seems totally inexplicable). Daltrey is in the movie a bit less, and all HE has to do is look mean and talk tough. Which he does fairly well - at least he doesn't have to fake a British accent - but again, his character is fairly implausible, and does a few completely inexplicable things as well. The least Johnny Was could have done would have been to put some Who songs on the soundtrack!

Johnny Was is so standard, so cookie-cutter, that they seemed to think they could just cram anyone they ran across into some of the bigger roles. Perhaps they were fans of boxing and the Who, and just wanted to work with these people. Also occupying a major role is Samantha Mumba, a hottie who is one of the biggest singers in Ireland. Also, not an actor. She plays a former nurse who is now a junkie, and she also is never convincing, and she also does some things that are inexplicable. The only actor in the movie who is convincing is Vinnie Jones himself, and even HE does some inexplicable things. Which is not to say the movie doesn't make sense. It plods along, going from plot point to plot point, and you always know what's going on. It isn't confusing. It is merely the actions of the characters themselves that make no sense. No human being in the situations they are in would do the same things these characters do. Example: Roger Daltry tells Flynn he will transport him to a safe house. So he arranges to meet him at a deserted warehouse. But really, he wants to kill Flynn. And in order to do so, he has installed a sniper in that warehouse before Flynn got there. And then, instead of just having that sniper kill Flynn, which is why he's there, Daltrey walks in with a massive machine gun, and announces that he is there with the intent to murder. Not only does that make the sniper totally useless, but one would question Flynn's judgement for attending one of those deserted-warehouse-meetings to begin with.

Johnny Was is not a painful watching experience, just a profoundly dissatisfying one. Not only is it powerfully unoriginal, just about no one in the film is an actual actor, and you can see it right away. As for Daltrey-Lewis, I will give the acting title to Daltrey, simply because he is adequate. Lennox Lewis is not adequate. He is bad. For the best Roger Daltrey movie, check out "The Kids Are Alright" or "Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who". At least he is good at playing himself. For the best Lennox Lewis movie, check out "ESPN Sports Century". Don't check out "Johnny Was".

Once. It is not enough. Watch this twice. (********8/10)

Once is a film I watched yesterday, as my girlfriend lay around sick after she got home from work. I wanted to watch 12:08 East Of Bucharest, but she was not awake or feeling well enough to pay attention to subtitles. Which was fine. Once was in English. Only, once it began, I still needed to put on subtitles until I got used to the accents and the Irish brogue. Since most of the movie is music, the subtitles became fairly funny. There would be instrumental parts that still, apparently, needed subtitles, so the screen would say "note note". Well, it would have little pictures of musical notes, but I can't find that emoticon. I suppose this was for the hearing impaired who may watch the film. My advice here is that this film is NOT good for the hearing impaired. Most of it is music, and it's the music that carries the movie. The main character is played by Glen Hansard, the vocalist and guitarist for the Irish rock group, The Flames.

The Flames must be very good, and I plan to pick up one of their albums to find out, because Hansard is fantastic in this movie. Not just as a musician and singer and songwriter, but as an actor as well. He is effortlessly charming, and totally believable as a man hurt by a former lover. His co-star, Marketa Irglova, is terrific also, and the chemistry between the two is palpable. Once is as simple as movies get. There is a connection between two people, they come together through music, and they do some stuff. That's it. There really is nothing more to the film, and the songs aren't Bob Dylan-earth-shattering material. But the songs are perfect for the film in that they are simple, they drive the story on their own, and the movie gives them plenty of time to be felt. Each of the songs in Once is very good, and each one is given it's full three minutes of screen time, in what could easily have been cheesy Patrick-Swayze-on-the-beach-type 80s montages. But they aren't. It's the simplicity of the shots along with the simplicity of the music that works. There is one long tracking shot of Iglova walking down the street for four minutes while the song plays. And it really works.

The ending frustrated my girlfriend a bit, but then, so did the rest of the movie. I give her a pass on that one, she's sick. The film is so full of goodwill, it's so charming and heartwarming, that no healthy person could really hate it. For those of you who have seen Lost in Translation, Once is as close to that film in tone as any other. It is not as good, but few films are. It is funny, it's sweet, and it's immensely enjoyable without resorting to the big finale where they record an album and land a gig, and then the screen fades out as they play Wembley Stadium or anything pretentious like that. There is also none of that irritating will-they-or-won't-they get together garbage that comes from sitcoms like Friends and such. It just is what it is, and what it is is terrific.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Some funny stuff. Not a lot of funny stuff. (******6/10)

The Real Dirt on Farmer John is a documentary that has appeared in video stores recently, and it's pretty good. Not great, but good. You see, it's about fifty different things, and any one of those things would be interesting, but none of them are delved into with any huge depth. Farmer John Peterson is a real farmer, raised on a farm in small-town-USA, who turned out a bit different from his neighbours. A man who took over the family farm in the 60s, and invited his new friends to stay there and help him work the land. This turned into sort of a hippy commune at the time, while still working as a fully functioning farm, the hippies were actually pitching in as farm hands, lifting the hay bales and turning the soil and doing the grunt work. Peterson was able to embrace the cultural climate of the 70s, which meant he had a lot of friends, but none among his conservative, old-school farming neighbours. Peterson became a pariah in the community. Rumours of murder and Satan worship...why did I capitalize Satan as I would God, I wonder...hedging my bets, I guess. Anyway, these rumours abounded.

Peterson went on to become a playwright, an actor, a painter, an artist in all types of materials, an ecologist and an pioneer in both organic foods and farming co-ops. But through it all, he remains, at heart, a farmer first. All these things are dealt with in a tight 82 minutes, which is why I say I would have liked to see more on each of these topics. The film also touches on the demise of the family farm, the urban sprawl that has taken the place of the food we eat, the tough times for American small business and farm industry, and the problems inherent in the American economic system, as they relate to farming. Not only that, but the film has time to fit in a few rays of hope and a few potential solutions to these problems, many of them possibly coming courtesy of Peterson himself. An eccentric man, a fascinating story, but one that I would have been happy to watch for two hours, rather than just over one.

Come on, Alberta. Get on board.

The dicsussion on banning drive-throughs here in Ottawa stemmed from a similar discussion in Edmonton, and a few in B.C. the main reason for wanting to do so is simple. Drive-throughs contribute to climate change. There are days where I can't even get into the Tim Horton's parking lot on Hazeldean to park and walk inside to get coffee. The main reason is that the drive-through line is so long, it is out into the street, and you have to wait in that line until you can get to the parking lot and go inside. And the main reason that people go through the drive-through is that it truly is much faster. Every time I go in, I am waiting in line, inside, at the counter, and by the time I finally get my two coffees, the car that was at the end of the line when I parked is long gone. This is because Tim Hortons, like most other drive-through restaurants, caters primarily to the crowd that come to that window, and not to those who wait inside. Which is both good and bad. It means people are not idling their cars as long, but it also means that far more people are idling their cars.

My dad just proposed a novel solution to the problem - octagonal Tim's, where there are eight drive-through windows and there are virtually no wait times at all. No parking lot whatsoever, just a pile of drive-through windows. Less idling that way! Which is great, but when I think about the parking lots we have at Hazeldean and Castlefrank, or the one at Centrum, it strikes me that there is no one in Ottawa capable of planning and building a shop such as this without causing massive traffic jams and accidents. Maybe a hexagon would work best. Seriously, however, what amazes me is that this idea is being considered in Edmonton. That means there are people in Edmonton who are concerned about global warming. And Edmonton is in Alberta. Which means there are people in Alberta who are concerned about global warming. None of those people, however, is in the provincial government, it would seem.

The global warming deniers have a hard time standing on facts. So the newest thing that I hear a lot is "what difference does it make if Canada signs on to Kyoto - if we don't do something about China, the world is screwed anyway. So let's just not try." Right. Now, there is a similar argument circulating in Canada, which goes something like this: Ontario, B.C., Quebec and Manitoba are all backing the proposed carbon-trading program. But why bother when, without Alberta's co-operation, the whole point is moot? Yes, Alberta is our biggest-polluting province. And of course they do not want to sign up for carbon-trading or cutting emissions, because money is more important than life. And the federal government is not about to do anything about it, because they too would rather have Canadians fat and happy with 55" TVs for ten years than have Canadians slightly less fat and happy with 52" TVs for the next thousand years. But rather than throwing in the towel, sigining up on our own and saying "well, we did what we could", why are the other provinces not putting more pressure on Alberta? Like why aren't the other countries of the world putting more pressure on China?

Fifty years from now, do we, the residents of Ontario, really want to say to our grandkids "well, we did what we could. We instituted a carbon tax, and banned drive-throughs, and created an idling by-law. But Alberta screwed us, and that's why polar bears are extinct and you live in a cave." Why wouldn't we exert as much pressure as is humanly possible on the one province that can make a global difference, and force them into working toward the greater good? For that matter, why don't we do the same with Stephen Harper? Alberta will never comply with anything environmental so long as the current government keeps it's own head in the sand. It seems to start from the top down, so let's put the pressure on from the top down. It's a lot easier to get your drive-through donuts when the top's down. And we don't want to wait until you can drive with the top down in Ottawa in January. I am done with the top down analogies. I'm starting to make myself cringe.

This is what is wrong with the Genies.

The Genie Awards celebrate what is best in this year's Canadian film. Much like Canadian music regulations, a lot of criteria must be met in order to consider a film "Canadian". Juno, the surprise hit of this year, was directed by a Canadian, starred Canadians, and was, for the most part, filmed in Canada. However, the financing came from an American company, and therefore it would likely not be eligible for any Genie awards. It was not submitted this year, most likely because it was known that it would have been turned down. But there were still some major films who were allowed in. Eastern Promises, Away From Her, Shake Hands With The Devil, and so forth. But here is the biggest problem I have. If we are celebrating all that is Canadian, why don't we simply do...that? For example:

Best director nominees: David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises), Denys Arcand (Days of Darkness), Roger Spottiswoode (Shake Hands With The Devil), Sarah Polley (Away From Her), and Bruce McDonald (The Tracey Fragments). OK. All great Canadians, all great nominees. But wouldn't this list look better were Jason Reitman, son of Canadian legend Ivan Reitman, on it for Juno? Best actor nominees: Claude Legauly (3 Little Pigs), Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her), Marc Labreche (Days of Darkness), Roy Dupuis (Shake Hands With The Devil), and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises). Wait! Viggo Mortensen is American. did he get in there? Well, he was in a film (about the Russian mafia in London) that qualified as Canadian. To take nothing away from Mortensen - his was the best performance I have seen all year - where is Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl? Well, that FILM wasn't Canadian, even though Gosling is. So, you get an American actor nominated in the Canadian film awards, and he will likely win, taking away a richly deserved Genie from Gordon Pinsent.

Supporting actor nominees include Armin Mueller Stahl (who I think should get the Oscar) and Danny Glover. Mueller-Stahl is German, Glover is from San Francisco. And here is the problem. Frankly, I don't care who is from Canada and who isn't. I just want to watch the best performances by the best actors and best directors, regardless of their origins. But if the Genies want to be so fiercely pro-Canadian, why not do away with the rules, for the most part, and honour the Goslings, Reitmans, and James Camerons of the world when they do somthing great? Sure, keep your rules in place for the best picture award. That's an overall award, and I can understand some sort of regulation there. But why leave out fine directors, fine actors, fine cinematographers simply because they worked on a film that was financed by, say, MGM or Fox, and not Rogers or Jean Coutu? Then the Genies would go to the truly deserving. Like Jim Carrey in the Number 23...or Pamela Anderson in Borat...or...never mind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SAG awards...sagging.

The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, is very often a more accurate representation of true acting prowess than are the Oscars, and they have announced the recipients of their annual awards. The reason they tend to be more accurate is that it is actors nominating and voting on actors. And who should know better than your contemporaries and peers? Although one wonders if it is only serious actors who are allowed to vote, and whether Rob Schneider and his ilk have a part to play here as well. Which would be kind of like Eddie "1/8" Gaedel being asked to pick the greatest baseball player of his era. I assume many of you are unfamiliar with Eddie Gaedel. If you really want to look up my obscure reference, check it out here: . Anyway, I have culled the list down to only those categories I care about. Because otherwise I will spend a lot of time irritating myself.

Category: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: GEORGE CLOONEY / Michael Clayton – “Michael Clayton”, DANIEL DAY-LEWIS / Daniel Plainview – “There Will Be Blood”, RYAN GOSLING / Lars Lindstrom – “Lars And The Real Girl”, EMILE HIRSCH / Christopher McCandless– “Into The Wild”, VIGGO MORTENSEN / Nikolai – “Eastern Promises”
Winner: Daniel Day Lewis.
Verdict: The more I hear about There Will Be Blood, the more I want to see it. Daniel Day Lewis is like the modern Marlon Brando - he takes a movie once every five years, and every time he does, he's the best actor on Earth. Apparently for his role as Bill The Butcher in the Scorcese flick Gangs of New York, he actually spent time learning how to butcher meat with a real butcher. That's dedication to one's craft, especially once you see the movie and you think "why would he bother doing that for such a small part of his role?" I think he's likely a shoo-in for the Oscar and whatever else there is to grab this year.

Category: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: CATE BLANCHETT / Queen Elizabeth I – “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, JULIE CHRISTIE / Fiona – “Away From Her”, MARION COTILLARD / Edith Piaf – “La Vie En Rose”, ANGELINA JOLIE / Mariane Pearl – “A Mighty Heart”, ELLEN PAGE / Juno MacGuff – “Juno”.
Winner: Julie Christie.
Verdict: Well deserved. Julie Christie really did give the best performance of the year as an alzheimer's patient in Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent seems to have been shut out of all the best actor categories in all the award shows though, and I thought he did as good a job as Christie in this film. I would have liked to see Naomi Watts nominated here also, for Eastern Promises. She was fantastic.

Category: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominees: CASEY AFFLECK / Robert Ford – “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford”, JAVIER BARDEM / Anton Chigurh – “No Country For Old Men”, HAL HOLBROOK / Ron Franz – “Into The Wild”, TOMMY LEE JONES / Ed Tom Bell – “No Country For Old Men”, TOM WILKINSON / Arthur Edens – “Michael Clayton”.
Winner: Javier Bardem.
Verdict: I would really have liked to see Armin Mueller-Stahl nominated for Eastern Promises, and I would also have liked to see him win. Javier Bardem seems to have all the buzz around him, and I expect he will win at Oscar time also. I will hold off judgement until I see No Countr For Old Men. Which is next on my to-do list.

Category: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominees: CATE BLANCHETT / Jude – “I’m Not There”, RUBY DEE / Mama Lucas – “American Gangster”, CATHERINE KEENER / Jan Burres – “Into The Wild”, AMY RYAN / Helene McCready – “Gone Baby Gone”, TILDA SWINTON / Karen Crowder – “Michael Clayton”.
Winner: Ruby Dee.
Verdict: Once again, comedies are under-represented in the major acting awards. You just can't be funny AND really good. Although I would have liked to see some love for McLovin, or for Paul Rudd in Knocked Up. Even Katherine Heigl could have merited consideration for that one. Oh, right. This category. Ruby Dee was terrific in American Gangster, but she was so overshadower by Denzel, and he was not nominated anywhere. Maybe because he already got his gangster Oscar for Training Day. I think this was a pretty weak category this year.

Category: Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominees: 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Hairspray, Into the Wild, No Country For Old Men.
Winner: No Country For Old Men.
Verdict: No quibbles with the choice of the winner, but these nominations? Come on. Hairspray? John Travolta in a fat suit? No. 3:10 to Yuma? No. There were two great actors in that movie, Crowe and Bale, and that's it. Even Peter Fonda was a little cartoonish. American Gangster yes. Fantastic cast. But where was Eastern Promises? I don't think I have seen such a solid cast in a long time.

That's it for the movie stuff. The rest was all TV, and I just didn't watch enough TV to care. But I had to add these next two categories in, just for sheer amazement factor:

Best stunt ensemble for a TV series: 24. Here are the stunt men and women:

Jeff Cadiente*
Terri Cadiente
Troy Gilbert
Tracy Hite
Dustin Meier
Erik Stabenau
Justin Sundquist

* Stunt Coordinator

Best stunt ensemble for a motion picture: The Bourne Ultimatum. Here are the stunt men and women:

Evangelos Grecos*
Jeff Imada*
Miguel Pedregosa*
Gary Powell*
Darrin Prescott*
Scott Rogers*
My Rachid Abbad
Don Abbatiello
George Aguilar
Brian Keith Allen
Guimoar Alonso
William Anagnos
Roy T. Anderson
Scott Armstrong
Luis Miguel Arranz
Chris Barnes
Randy Beckman
Said Belaamim
Nikki Berwick
Michael Bornhütter
David Bosch
Tim Buchanan
Paul Bucossi
Peter Bucossi
Mike Burke
Bruce Cain
Chris Cenatiempo
John Cenatiempo
Nick Chopping
Bob Colletti
Chris Colombo
George Colucci, Jr.
Gil Combs
Aris Comninos
Ben Cooke
Benito Benitez Crespo
Eugenio Jimenez Cubillo
J. Patrick Daily
Juan Carlos Delgado
Kelly Dent
Jacob Dewitt
Miguel Diaz-Aboitiz
George R. Doering Iii
Levan Doran
Norman Douglass
Geoffrey Dowell
Ben Dimmock
Georg Ebina
Rick English
Peter Epstein
Jonathan Eusebio
Roy Farfel
Adil Farsi
John Favre
Victor Fernandez
Frank Ferrara
Stephanie Finochio
Dean Forster
Glenn Foster
Tanner Foust
Marvin Francis
Jeremy Fry
Tim Gallin
David Garrick
Andy Godbould
Eduardo Gomez
Mohamed Gouyd
James Grogan
Tarik Hadouch
R.D. Hansen
Eugene Harrison
Franklin Henson
Adolfo Heredia
Rob Herring
Cort Hessler Iii
Donald J. Hewitt
Don Hewitt, Sr.
Jery Hewitt
Jorge Huergo
Jason Hunjan
Rob Hunt
Rob Inch
Rowly Irlam
Martin Ivanov
Victor Ivanov
Keone Kim
Adam Kirley
Mike Lambert
Joanne Lamstein
Abdelghani Lasfer
Derek Lea
Maurice Lee
David Leitch
Antonio Lemos
Samir Machtioui
John E. Mack
Steve Mack
Guillermo Maestre
Stephen Mann
Paul Marini
Erik Martin
Boris Martinez
Santiago Martinez
Anna Mastroianni
Darren Maynard
Nick Mckinless
Jeffrey Medeiros
Erol Mehmet
Andy Merchant
Milesy (Peter) Miles
Lee Millham
Gareth Milne
Lee Morrison
Mark Mottram
Dino Muccio
Ray Nicholas
Brian Sonny Nickels
James O’dee
Chris O’hara
Shawn O’neil
Mick O’rourke
Oscar Outerino
Janet Paparazzo
Jesus Silva Pascasio
Peter Pedrero
David Pope
Greg Powell
Dominic Preece
Susan Purkhiser
Eva Raboso
Markus Ranglack
Buster Reeves
John Roney
Markos Rounthwaite
Allison Ryan
Johan Saentz
Ignacio Garcia J. Sanchis
Lutz Schleisner
Kevin Scott
Gordon Seed
Terry Serpico
Diz Sharpe
Matt Sherren
Nicola Short
Dave Shumbris
Keith Siglinger
Craig “Frosty” Silva
Jorge Silva
Tony Van Silva
Peter B. Simpson
Brian Smyj
Mark Southworth
Marvin Stewart-Campbell
Matt Stirling
John Street
Gary Tacon
Alberto Zapata Tatje
Roy Taylor
Shawnna Thibodeau
Arran Topham
Mustapha Touki
Greg Tracy
Manuel Valle
Aaron Vexler
Vincent Wang
Dave Ware
Dean Watt
Reg Wayment
Ronny Wechselberger
Donna C. Williams
Jose Zorrilla


Credit where credit is due.

I have spent some time of late complaining about the gas companies and the people who show up at my door and who phone me. I finally worked out my gas provider dilemma, and all it took was the faxing of one company's bill to the other company, three calls to Enbridge, four calls to each of the gas providers, and then two more faxes. So, piece of cake. Done and done. Now, I discovered I was receiving two Enbridge bills at the same time every month. The first time I figured the second bill was the set-up fee for my new house, and I ignored it. This time, the two bills together added up to considerably more, and put me into the red, into the overdraft on my account. Now I knew something was amiss. I called Enbridge. The guy said he could see the charge for my current bill, but there was no way of knowing where that second, larger, amount went. I would have to call my bank, he said, and ask them what account the second charge had gone to.

I called my bank to ask them what account number my direct deposit had paid into. The bank said they couldn't figure that out from their end, I would have to call Enbridge. So I called Enbridge back. By now, I was fairly steamed. I was planning on being on the phone for the rest of the day, at this point, and maybe I would have to get in my car and physically go to the bank, and then go to Enbdridge, and then to the liquor store to drown my sorrows. But all of a sudden, the skies cleared! I explained to the lady on the phone at Enbridge what my situation was. I told her what her colleague had earlier told me, and what my bank had told me. Within thirty seconds, she had located the reason for my second billing! She was very contrite as she explained that although my contract with my previous house had been terminated, a glitch in the direct payment system had continued to take the money out of my account for that house. So, Enbridge was in fact being paid twice for the same property. She apologized profusely, and suggested a few possible solutions to my problem.

Enbridge now owed me a little under 250 dollars. They can't, apparently, put the money directly back into my account the same way they take it directly out. They can either credit that payment to my next bill, or they can send me a cheque. Since the second withdrawal had put me into the red, I can no longer make my mortgage payment. So, I definitely need the cheque more than the credit. She explained that any cheque under 250 gets automatically approved, and would be sent off right away. Anything over that amount would have to be approved. Judging by my own office, approval for something of that nature might take four months. So although I was ready to complain about the fact that their overbilling had put me into overdraft, and I was incurring interest and fees that I ordinarily would not have incurred, I didn't want to do that since I needed the cheque right away. She was so helpful with all this, so polite, and seemed genuinely concerned with my situation. I had phoned in a rage, but I was now placated. She gave me her name and serial number, so I could double check on the situation today or tomorrow. I have kept it. Now, every time I phone Enbridge, I will ask for Nancy, whether it's pertaining to this particular situation or not.

It's so nice to get a competent person on the phone, made even nicer by the fact that you don't expect it. You expect surly, curt, barely-trying-at-all service, like I got when I first called Enbridge. You don't expect someone to care about your problem and attempt to resolve it. I'm not sure how these call centres could seek to hire employees of this nature. My suspicion is that the next time I have to call for any reason, Nancy will have found a job in a bank or the government, or something that pays more, and I will have to deal with the surly folk once again.

On another bright note, I realized that the energy-efficient measures I have taken with my house are working - my old place was about half the size of my new place, and their bill was about 50% bigger than mine!

Some bad news and some good news.

As I sat here this morning, enraged at the premier of Alberta for saying screw the environment, and a little ticked off at the premier of BC for NOT saying screw Alberta, I did a little research. Global warming, environmental research, and such like. You see, while just about every province has pledged to cut emissions in a fairly substantial way, two provinces really stand out. BC, because they have made an extra pledge, to REALLY cut emissions, maybe even enough of a reduction to make a difference in time! And Alberta, who have said they are going to look into the possibility of reducing emissions and greenhouse gases by almost 2 percent by the year 2512. Or something like that. Good work, Alberta. And the BC premier says "well, their province believes that's the right way to go". Come on man! Say SOMETHING about the fact that Alberta is completely counteracting your own goals and targets. SOMETHING!

Well, here is somwthing I found as I was searching around. This is a letter that became public yesterday - a letter from the upper management at Shell Oil to the employees, with the goal that it be leaked to the media. But it's worth reading, and it's perhaps a sign of hope? Here it is:

From: Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive
To: All Shell employeesDate: 22 January 2008
Subject: Shell Energy Scenarios

Dear Colleagues

In this letter, I'd like to share reflections about how we see the energy future, and our preferred route to meeting the world's energy needs. Industry, governments and energy users - that is, all of us - will face the twin challenge of more energy and less CO2.
This letter is based on a text I've written for publication in several newspapers in the coming weeks. You can use it in your communications externally. There will be more information about energy scenarios inthe months ahead.
By the year 2100, the world's energy system will be radically different from today's. Renewable energy like solar, wind, hydroelectricity and biofuels will make up a large share of the energy mix, and nuclear energy too will have a place.
Mankind will have found ways of dealing with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will have reduced the amount of energy needed to power buildings and vehicles.
Indeed, the distant future looks bright, but getting there will be an adventure. At Shell, we think the world will take one of two possible routes. The first, a scenario we call Scramble, resembles a race through a mountainous desert. Like an off-road rally, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of "more haste" will often be "less speed" and many will crash along the way.
The alternative scenario, called Blueprints, has some false starts and develops like a cautious ride on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technical innovation provides for excitement.
Regardless of which route we choose, the world's current predicament limits our maneuvering room. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to population growth and economic development, and Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.As a result, society has no choice but to add other sources of energy - renewables , yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.
In the Scramble scenario, nations rush to secure energy resources for themselves, fearing that energy security is a zero-sum game, with clear winners and losers. The use of local coal and homegrown biofuels increases fast.
Taking the path of least resistance, policymakers pay little attention to curbing energy consumption - until supplies run short. Likewise, despite much rhetoric, greenhouse gas emissions are not seriously addressed until major shocks trigger political reactions. Since these responses are overdue, they are severe and lead to energy price spikes and volatility.
The other route to the future is less painful, even if the start is more disorderly. This Blueprints scenario sees numerous coalitions emerging to take on the challenges of economic development, energy security and environmental pollution through cross-border cooperation.
Much innovation occurs at the local level, as major cities develop links with industry to reduce local emissions. National governments introduce efficiency standards, taxes and other policy instruments to improve the environmental performance of buildings, vehicles and transport fuels.
As calls for harmonization increase, policies converge across the globe. Cap-and-trade mechanisms that put a cost on industrial CO 2 emissions gain international acceptance. Rising CO2 prices accelerate innovation, spawning breakthroughs. A growing number of cars are powered by electricity and hydrogen, while industrial facilities are fitted with technology to capture CO 2 and store it underground.
Against the backdrop of these two equally plausible scenarios, we will only know in a few years whether December's Bali declaration on climate change was just rhetoric or the beginning of a global effort to counter it. Much will depend on how attitudes evolve in Beijing, Brussels, New Delhi and Washington.
Shell traditionally uses its scenarios to prepare for the future without expressing a preference for one over another. But, faced with the need to manage climate risk for our investors and our grandchildren, we believe the Blueprints outcomes provide the best balance between economy, energy and environment.
For a second opinion, we appealed to climate change calculations made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These calculations indicate that a Blueprints world with CO2 capture and storage results in the least amount of climate change, provided emissions of other major manmade greenhouse gases are similarly reduced.
The sobering reality is that the Blueprints scenario will only come to pass if policymakers agree a global approach to emissions trading and actively promote energy efficiency and new technology in four sectors: heat and power generation, industry, mobility and buildings. It will be hard work and there is little time.
For instance, Blueprints assumes CO2 is captured at 90% of all coal- and gas-fired power plants in developed countries in 2050, plus at least 50% of those in non-OECD countries. Today, there are none. Since CO2 capture and storage adds cost and brings no revenues , government support is needed to make it happen quickly on a scale large enough to affect global emissions. At the very least, companies should earn carbon credits for the CO2 they capture and store.
Blueprints will not be easy. But it offers the world the best chance of reaching a sustainable energy future unscathed, so we should explore this route with the same ingenuity and persistence that put humans on the moon and created the digital age.
The world faces a long voyage before it reaches a low-carbon energy system. Companies can suggest possible routes to get there, but governments are in the driving seat. And governments will determine whether we should prepare for a bitter competition or a true team effort.
That is the article, and how I see our challenges and opportunities. I look forward to hearing how you see the situation (please be concise).

Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive

This is great! So...wait a minute. Shell Oil, the giant conglomerate oil company, can see this clearly, but the province of Alberta remains stuck with their head in the oil sands? Things may be looking up just as they are falling down.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Another language barrier.

The kids have become very enamoured with Guitar Hero III, and are showing an unprecedented desire to learn about music and to hear new things. This has made me excited, and I have attempted to encourage this newfound appreciation at every turn. Today, I made up a CD of all songs from Guitar Hero III so my step-son could listen to it in the car as I drove him home from his babysitter's. I tried to include his favourites - Holiday in Cambodia, Paint it Black, School's Out. I think every kid loves School's Out at some point in their lives. I can remember discovering that song when I was about his age, and I insisted upon playing it every time school ended for the year. I played it all day, and then pretty well forgot about it until the next year. I think for most kids, their involvement with Alice Cooper both begins and ends with School's Out. I was fortunate enough to become interested in his other works later on in life, and discovered the pleasures of Only Women Bleed, I'm Eighteen, Welcome to My Nightmare, and Billion Dollar Babies. I think he may still be a little young for that stuff. But perhaps the seeds have been planted, and he will discover it as I did, six or seven years from now.

Then, I realized I had miscalculated. Although I own every song on Guitar Hero, I still download the songs illegally, since it is faster. (Of course, I download only songs I already own. Is that any less illegal? I am going to assume it is, and thereby avoid fines and prison time.) One of the songs I dowlnoaded was the Charlie Daniels Band's The Devil Went Down To Georgia. In the middle of the song, the phrase "son of a bitch" comes through loud and clear. Our 8-year-old is always quick to point out curse words in songs, whether they are actually there or not. He will say things like "that sounded a lot like the S-H-I-T word!" Which always makes me smile a little inside. The S-word, I get. But if you're spelling it out, you clearly know the word. You know what it sounds like, and you know how to spell it. And yet, you are still offended when you hear it. This time, he said "that was the B-I-T-C-H word!" Which was a level of spelling even beyond the usual. But I understand, to a degree. He knows he is not supposed to be hearing these words, and he knows he is supposed to be offended when he does, so he reacts accordingly. Frankly, there are worse words in most songs, I feel. Holiday in Cambodia, for example, contains several references to Pol Pot. If you are trying to shelter your child from the evils of the world, I would think you would rather have them hearing swear words than learning about the man behind the Khmer Rouge and the ethnic cleansing of up to 1.7 million people.

But then, they are not my own children, so I go by the rules laid out by their mom. And those rules are no swearing, and no teaching about genocide. Our 13-year-old, however, is learning about the holocaust in school, and so we have had several guarded conversations on the subject. But this instinctive aversion to swear words is OK for a child. I don't think it is OK for an adult. At a certain point, the instinct to become offended by things will hamper your development as a human being. Which is what has happened to people like Michel Thibodeau. At this point, people like M. Thibodeau are not only instinctively offended by certain things, they are going out of their way to BE offended by those things. His bus driver said "good morning", not "bonjour". So he is pushing to have all bus drivers be bilingual. This is, of course, just as ridiculous as that police guy. But apparently, they are everywhere.

What irks me the most is when they give their statements in English to the papers. If they speak English, why be concerned about the language in which you are served? I am bilingual. I like being bilingual because if I am put in a situation where I am being served by a unilingual francophone, I am still able to communicate. I have chosen to be bilingual so that I have an easier time in Canada, wherever I may be. In various jobs, it has been easier for me to serve francophone customers because of the ability to speak French. As far as I'm concerned, being bilingual is desireable, and it is a courtesy to others. But the only others to whom it is a courtesy are unilingual people. If everyone was bilingual, there would be no need for people to speak both languages, right? It's a self-defeating premise. If everyone, in all of Canada, spoke both languages, there would be no need for one or the other, or for bilingualism at all - anyone could be served in English anywhere at any time. Or in French.

So attempting to regulate and enforce bilingualism, in Ottawa or anywhere else, is also self-defeating. It strikes me it is up to the consumer to become bilingual if they want to be served in one language or another, and not the store owner or cop or bus driver or airplane flight attendant. (This is the same guy who sued Air Canada - and WON - because he couldn't order a 7up in French. I looked it up - 7up, in French, is 7up.) It's a sad way to view the world, and frankly, a childish one.

Dragon Wars! Also known as D-Wars! Also known as garbage! (***3/10)

I was excited for Dragon Wars. As those of you who read my blog regularly know, I have a serious affinity for the terrible monster movies. Mammoth! Megalodon! Ice Spiders! Well, I am sad to say that Dragon Wars does not achieve even that level of camp. This movie was apparently made with a budget of 70 million dollars. Which means the special effects are very good. Too good, in fact. The dragons (which are really snakes and flying things and walking things) are not campy because they look real enough. But this begs the same question I have asked of countless multi-million dollar movies. If you are going to spend 70 million bucks on a film, why not leave out just one of those monster-attacking-a-city scenes and spend that extra million bucks on a real screenplay, and maybe decent actors? When you have no story, you have no movie, no matter how spectacular these effects may be.

I am currently sitting in my basement, trying to avoid Maury Povich. Today his episode is about girls who used to be geeky and ugly, with self-esteem issues, and boys made fun of them. Now, several years later, however, these girls have blossomed into good looking, slutty strippers and porn stars, with self-esteem issues, and they want to rub it in the face of the boys who formerly rejected them. And for some reason, none of the guys say things like "yeah, I'm still not're a hooker." So I am downstairs watching Frank Capra's briliant Mr. Deeds goes to town. Gary Cooper beats Maury Povich, hands down. And Maury Povich beats Dragon Wars, which is still on my mind. I just looked up the budget for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. It cost $806,774. Frank Capra was very worried at the time, as he had gone 5% over budget in crafting this classic. I then looked up the budget for that Adam Sandler remake that sucked so much. It was shot for a mere $50,000,000. I am trying really hard to figure out why. Since there were no real special effects, and the script was stolen from an essay written by a ten-year-old for English class, I can only assume that Winona Ryder earned $3,000,000, John Turturro earned $2,000,000, and Adam Sandler earned $44,000,000 for his role in the film. And $1,000,000 was spent on sandwiches.

That is a movie that certainly proves that big budget does not translate to better quality. Which brings me back to Dragon Wars. The movie is...I guess...about a young boy who walks past a box in an antique shop of some kind, and the box opens and turns blue, and then the proprietor of that shop (played by Robert Forster, who had his chance at a career after Tarantino cast him in Jackie Brown, but wasted it on movies such as this one) tells the boy that he is the reincarnation of a Korean dude. Then he tells a story about a Korean legend where a bad guy wants to be a dragon and a good guy needs to protect a girl who is pregnant with a child that will be needed to turn the bad guy into the dragon, but for some reason the bad guy wants to kill the girl, even though she has the child inside her, and instead the good guy and the girl die, and are reincarnated as this boy and some other girl. In modern Los Angeles. So, years later, the boy has grown into an impossibly handsome young reporter, and the girl is of course gorgeous. And works somewhere. Maybe.

Anyway, then some snakes show up and eat some elephants at the zoo, and start wrecking the city. The only way to stop them is to go to some cave. But they don't. They are taken by the snake and then have a big fight with some bad guys and some flying beasts. Then another snake shows up to attack the evil snake, and they have a big battle, full of snake-on-snake violence. Then some weird stuff happens, the old man is never heard from again, and a glow of light takes the heroine away. Sounds dumb, no? Well, I have included only the smartest parts of this film. How this film got it's 70 million dollar budget is beyond me. Don't you have to show someone a script, or have good actors in place, or something to justify that kind of money to a studio? Apparently not. And why, you ask, would I even bother writing about this garbage movie? Well, because no one ever, I assume, has used the words "crappy Korean monster movie" in the same review as the words "Frank Capra". Until now.

Love Lies Bleeding...and so, too, does my desire to watch Christian Slater movies. (*****5/10)

Christian Slater once made an excellent movie about a young couple on the run from thugs, called True Romance. It was an excellent movie for a few reasons - Christopher Walken's amazing "eggplant" scene with Dennis Hopper, a cast that included Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rappaport, Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn, some great core performances by Slater and Patricia Arquette, a Sonny Chiba triple-bill at a movie theatre, and a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino. Love Lies Bleeding is similar in two ways. It involves a young couple on the run from thugs, and it involves Christian Slater. Clearly attempting to cash in on the cult status of True Romance, Love Lies Bleeding stopped thinking after coming up with these two similarities.

Not that the two-lovers-on-the-run theme hasn't already been done to death. Can you really beat Terrence Malick's masterpiece "Badlands"? Or "Bonnie and Clyde", or two Godard masterpieces, "Breathless" and "Pierrot Le Fou"? I will say no. Even True Romance was not in their league. (Although it could have been. I blame Tony "remember when I directed Top Gun" Scott.) And Love Lies Bleeding is considerably lower on the totem pole of lovers-on-the-lam. I'd say, right between that Drew Barrymore made-for-TV remake of "Guncrazy" and the dreadful early Renee Zellweger vehicle "Love and a .45". The two young lovers in this case are played by Brian Geraghty, who is less than average, and Jenna Dewan, who is ridiculously hot but sub-par as well. She looks more cut out for a horror movie, and she may well have believed she was acting in one, with all the panting and the screaming and the running and the car that won't start when you need it to start and the neck-stabbing.

I have researched Jenna Dewan. Because she is so hot. She was in some movies I have managed to avoid - Step Up and Take The Lead. Also some sit-coms I have managed to avoid - the Friends spin-off Joey, and something called Quintuplets. Apparently, her biggest moment of stardom came when she was rumoured to be involved romantically with fellow dancer Justin Timberlake. You see, she is a dancer. Not an actress. And dancers CAN make fine actors - Christopher Walken started out as a dancer (and is still awesome - see Hairspray, the Weapon of Choice video, or...True Romance). But Jenna Dewan is not yet one of them.

Anyway, these kids find a stack of money that isn't theirs, it's Christian Laettner's. I mean Bale's. I mean, Slater's. And he comes after them. He is a DEA agent, you see, but a corrupt and mean one. Slater must have taken over-acting lessons from Gary Oldman in True Romance, because he plays just about the exact same character here. He relentlessly pursues this couple across the country, never explaining to his superiors where he is or why he's there, and the young couple are continually avoiding the embarrassment of telling anyone about this maniac who's after them. If they just turned to the cops and said "hey, I just saw a DEA agent murder a hotel porter", they could have saved themselves a lot of grief. But they don't, and they run, and they become more in love than ever, and eventually they confront Christian Slater and his henchman in what Roger Ebert refers to as a "smoke and fire factory". One of those factory that's all steel gradings and grids, and there is a lot of smoke and fire, but clearly nothing is being made there. If such a factory did exist in real life, and all that was going on inside, there would likely be a product coming out somewhere, and there would also be employees working inside.

But I digress. The point I am trying to make here is that this entire movie is a cheap ploy to get people to rent it simply based on the poster or the DVD case. Christian Slater? Young lovers on the run? I saw a movie like that once, and it was really good! Yes, you have. But this one isn't. Leave it on the rental shelf, and pick up that other direct-to-DVD movie where Sam Neill appears to be riding a dinosaur.

Sunshine! Lollipops and Rainbows! Or, just Sunshine. (********8/10)

As a film nerd, there are certain movies people assume I have seen. They will quote these movies to me as though I will automatically know what they are talking about. "You know the guy who plays Bob Slydell in Office Space"...or "remember that scene in Pink Flamingos..." and nine times out of ten, I have indeed seen the movie. However, I am still missing out on a few. One of those films is Trainspotting. Oh, I have had opportunities. In fact, I actually own a copy, but ever since I got it I just haven't had a chance to watch it, or haven't been in a mood to see it. And I know I should, and I know it will be good, and I love the rest of Danny Boyle's stuff. He is the same guy who directed 28 Days Later, one of the most original zombie movies in twenty years, and now Sunshine, a movie I can describe only as breathtaking. It is available on Blu-Ray, and although I just watched it on regular DVD, I must say that if ever a film was created for Blu-Ray and HD, it is Sunshine (or maybe that Planet Earth box set).

As I watched Sunshine, two movies came almost immediately to mind. Event Horizon (although Sunshine was much better) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (although Sunshine wasn't nearly that good). The main reason was that the first half plays very close to 2001. The talking computer that guides the ship, the incredible visuals of outer space, and the tense moments on spacewalks outside the ship itself. Then there is a moment that ranks up there with that "open the pod bay doors, HAL" moment in 2001. "There is enough oxygen on the ship for four people, right?" I won't explain it. Those of you who have seen the movie will understand, those of you who have not ought to see the film. From that turning point on, the end of the film is very reminiscent of Event Horizon, again because of the visuals and because of the chaotic way in which it is filmed.

This is the only truly weak point of Sunshine, the chaotic nature of the ending. It is not bizarre in the same way the ending to, say, a Bergman film is bizarre. There IS a conclusion, it DOES make some sort of sense, but it is not that well thought out. If you pay close attention, and watch a few more times, then you end up with more questions than you had before. If you don't pay close attention, and you just let the visuals overwhelm you until the credits roll, you won't understand what's happening at all. But this is a minor quibble, since the visuals are the main reason to watch. Cillian Murphy is terrific, as usual. He and Danny Boyle are one of those actor-director duos who are springing up everywhere now. (Cronenberg and Mortensen, Tarantino and Thurman, Lynch and Dern, Burton and Depp, etc...) And they do their best work together.

For a list of the best actor-director tandems of all time, check out this blog, I think it's pretty good:

Sunshine is a brilliant movie, and if you don't mind a little bit of abstract art, you will thoroughly enjoy it. And if you have Blu-Ray, that also is a must when you're renting.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, as told by Richard Dreyfuss. (********/10)

In 1974, Richard Dreyfuss was a relatively unknown actor. He had appeared very briefly in The Graduate, and Valley of the Dolls, and had managed to score a starring role in American Graffitti. But his first truly challenging role came as the title character in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Ted Kotcheff's Canadian film adapted from Mordecai Richler's classic novel. The novel itself is one that took me an awfully long time to read. I started it in high school, just like everyone else in Canada. And, just like 99 percent of the people who are forced to read certain things in school, I had no desire to read it at the time. So I read chapters one and two, and then followed along in class just barely well enough so I could fake the book report when it was done. I never read any of the rest of it. Then, about ten years later, when I was moving for about the fifth time in my life, I rediscovered all the books I had carefully avoided reading in high school. And I sat down and read them all - the two that really stuck with me were The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

In the intervening years, I have endeavoured to read as much Mordecai Richler as possible. (I highly recommend The Incomparable Atuk, an absolutely hilarious satirical tale of an "Eskimo poet".) What I love best about Richler is his satirical style, the way he is able to turn even the sutlest of phrases to change what could be a harsh sentence into a funny one. In the movie version of Duddy Kravitz, that satire is a little tougher to find. Richler was actually nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay, and he really did do a great job adapting his novel to the screen. The movie helped to revitalize Canada's film industry (for a time) in the 70s, and brought critical acclaim to Richard Dreyfuss. He went on to roles in Jaws, Close Encounters, and dozens of other huge movies. Kotcheff went on to direct Rambo: First Blood.

Dreyfuss really is great in Duddy Kravitz, in that he makes what is really a rather unlikeable character strangely compelling. Duddy Kravitz, both in the book and in the movie, is not a likeable human being. He does some pretty awful things to the people closest to him, but somehow the novel and this movie are both able to find some kind of humanity and sympathy for Kravitz. Randy Quaid is excellent too, in one of his first ever film roles as Duddy's simple and suffering right-hand man Virgil. And for the first time the film is available on DVD, courtesy of Alliance Atlantis. It gets released on Tuesday, and I certainly recommend picking it up. Not for the sense of Canadiana it inspires, but for the quality of the film. Unless you're still poisoned against it from being forced to read the novel in high school.

All-Stars...does anyone care any more?

I sat last night watching the NHL All-Star game and getting progressively more bored. The excitement! Tomas Kaberle went 4 for 4 in the accuracy shooting competition! 4 for 4! Just the fifth player ever to be perfect! Tomas Kaber...OK, I just didn't care. And not because Kaberle is a Leaf, but because watching players shoot at targets in a net is just plain boring. The excitement heated up a little with the hardest shot competition. It's kind of neat to watch the biggest guys in hockey take their wind-up and smoke one at the net. But there is no one in hockey right now that has that crazy hard slap shot that is the stuff of legend, a la Al MacInnis or Bobby Hull. So you see that Zdeno Chara has the hardest shot among players who were elected to the All-Star game, slightly harder than Vincent Lecavalier, a guy who might try five slap shots in a season. My eyes are slowly closing, and my lids are so very heavy.

But then, finally, the excitement was here! The very first All-Star Shootout Goal Attempt Fancy Shot Competition. Or whatever they called it. Players were chosen and then sent out to attempt a shootout goal, trying to be as creative and exciting as possible. The first guy (I can't even remember who he was) goes up there and...shoots. Nothing interesting or fancy, just a shot. The crowd boos. The next attempt, he tries something neat. Maybe. I don't remember. Then Martin St. Louis comes up, and he tries a cool shot. He fails miserably, and doesn't even get a shot off at all. But at least he was trying something cool. The second shot, he comes flying in backwards. He's going to try something we haven't seen before! It's coming, here it comes...nope. The goalie comes ELEVEN feet out of the crease and POKE-CHECKS him. What? How can you ever try anything cool when the goalie is going to come out and poke-check you? Finally, it was the "final", between Alexander Ovechkin and Ryan Getzlaf, and Ovechkin won by actually trying an awesome move. Flipping the puck up in the air, spinning around 360 degrees and swinging at the puck like a baseball. Of course, he missed by about four feet, but at least it kind of looked neat. By now, I was in danger of losing vital signs.

Then Ron McLean interviewed Gary Bettman, and for some reason Bettman told a nine-minute story about how a radio station tried to prank call him, pretending to be Prime Minister Paul Martin (a timely story if there ever was one). But the prank call didn't work, because Gary Bettman knows what Paul Martin sounds like! Haha! This may have been the most boring nine-minute story I have ever heard. I was jolted out of my coma an hour later, when my girlfriend flipped over to the biography channel and put on Brian Wilson's biography. Now THAT's interesting.

I love the idea of this shootout goal competition, but there has to be some incentive to do an actually exciting attempt, one that might make a highlight reel. Of course it's inspired by the NBA slam-dunk competition at their All-Star weekend, and Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Dee Brown and Dominique Wilkins are still featured on highlight reels because of their spectacular dunks. (By the way, having Dominique Wilkins as a judge for the shootout goals was a great idea - but who the hell was that actor on the left?) But nothing these players did will make any highlight films beyond this afternoon. In fact, I think only one guy actually put the puck in the net! Perhaps a way to tweak it next year would be to have the goalies be in on it - you shoot against your own team's goalie or something, and you do something together. Have teammates help you in some way. Use props if you want to. Last time I watched a slam-dunk competition, (which may well be seven years ago), the guys who were competing could have some help from teammates. And there was no goalie. Do something. Keep me awake next year. And don't interview Gary Bettman. I can't afford to slip into another dangerous coma.