Saturday, March 1, 2008

We have a winner!

People very often ask me what is the worst thing Doc and Woody have ever done to me. And up until now, there have been a few events contending for top spot. Frankly, most of the stuff is stuff I'd be curious enough to try on my own after a particularly good Saturday night. So it usually comes down to the Super Bowl trip where I got no tickets, the Rush concert I was forced to attend, or the time I ended up in the hospital after being hit in the junk. But we have a new champion today, and that is what the boys did to me on Friday. Apparently, February 29th is international bachelor's day. Which does not mean that it is a day for bachelors. Oh no, far from it! It is a day where women are supposed to ask the men to marry them. Those men who, like me, may be dragging their feet. Now, as soon as Doc started talking about this, I clammed right up. I was not about to participate in this talk, I was certainly hoping it would just blow past, and with any luck my girlfriend was not listening at home, or she would be on me all day about it. I was a little irritated that Doc would even bring it up at all, knowing full well that Jen wants very much to get married, while I want very much to live common-law for the rest of our lives.

So he gets Jen on the phone. I should have known something was up. I saw him talking on the phone on the couch by the bathrooms earlier, and I never clued in. He never does that. Even when he has to call his wife or anyone else, he uses his cell phone in the studio. There is never a reason for him to get up and walk anywhere, especially to use the phone. Something secretive was happening, and I didn't even notice. So when she appeared on the phone in the middle of the story on girls-asking-guys-to-marry-them-day, it should not have come as a surprise. But it sure did. And when she did indeed ask me to marry her, I had no reason to believe it was anything but real. In fact, she has threatened to do much the same thing in the past, and it would have surprised me very little had she set this up herself! So when she said "will you marry me", I was still trying desperately to figure out how to get out of this. I couldn't very well run to the bathroom, or fake a sudden illness, I had to answer, and fast!

As I said after, it was kind of like being on the jumbotron at a baseball game. When you have gone to all that trouble of having "will you marry me Jill" put up on the scoreboard, and the camera pans to you in the crowd, and the Goodyear blimp circles overhead with pre-programmed "congratulations" signs ready to go, you kind of have to say yes, don't you? There is really no escape at that point. Jill may well kick Gerald right in the knee once they are out of the baseball game, but at that moment, she has no choice but to say yes, kiss Gerald on camera, and bask in the cheers of the fans for that short time. I did say yes, although I must say that I made no plans to kick my girlfriend in the knee at a later time. I was still too stunned to figure out what was going on. I did, however, make plans to let the air out of Doc's tires and step on his neck at a later date. So imagine my relief (and Doc's) when Jen responded to my "yes" with a very quick "haha just kidding". This saved Doc's tires and neck, and staved off, at least for a while, my heart attack. It did not, however, save my neck, as I was still in trouble when I got home. Say yes, say no, apparently any response is preferable to a very long pause where nothing is said at all.

I must congratulate Jen, however. This was one of the best-executed pranks I have ever had played on me, and she was very good at it. Extremely convincing, totally malicious, and in the end, completely hilarious.

Garfield minus Garfield...

My buddy Mark Richardson just sent me this link. It's Garfield comic strips with Garfield taken out of them. Which leaves Jon Arbuckle alone in the comics, which makes me laugh even more. As the website says, "the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life". Enjoy!

http://garfieldminusgarfield.tumblr.com/

Friday, February 29, 2008

Senators! What now?

Last night we had a Toys For Boys event at Philthy McNasty's in the Centrum Plaza in Kanata. This is where the Toys For Boys party itself will be held this year, and it is a fine establishment, with good food, cold beer and smoking hot waitresses. Just what you want in a sports bar. And of course, they were carrying the Senators game. It was on pay-per-view for the rest of us. And who wants to spend $9.95 or whatever it is to order a game on pay-per-view when the team is clearly going to lose anyway, and the hockey is not good, and the team sucks? I will guess nine people. You have to go to a bar. Philthy's is giving us a major prize in Toys For Boys as well - dinner for two before every home game and then season tickets to every home game in the Philthy's suite, whatever that is. But Senators' season tickets? That's a pretty suite prize! Ugh. Even I am cringing at what I just wrote. But the point is, at least it's season tickets for next year. This year couldn't look much worse at the moment.

A lot of people asked me last night what I thought of the Paddock firing. Of course, it was more than expected. It was almost anticipated. Murray will be able to snap this team out of their slump! He'll be the tough-guy coach we need...3-1 Flyers. Spezza looked to be playing with more fire, at least. Well, until he was ejected. Jason Spezza. Ejected. What a strange rule. But I really started thinking about the Stillman-Commodore acquisition before trade deadline day. I thought long and hard, during several discussions with Ottawa fans. And all of a sudden, I couldn't make any sense of it. What we've done here is sacrifice youth and a small part of our future - Corvo and Eaves will both be good players in the NHL for several years - for an incremental improvement in the short term. Sure, Stillman is better, this year, than Eaves. And Commodore is a better fit, and more needed, this year, than Corvo. But if that was the only move you were going to make, then...why bother? Sure, it makes the team incrementally better, on paper at least. But they needed to get massively better in order to actually be considered a contender for the Stanley Cup. And if you sacrifice the future for short-term results, you have to have the cup as your immediate goal, no?

So shouldn't the Commodore-Stillman deal have signaled more things to come? And not Marty Lapointe more things, but get-rid-of-Emery more things. The way it looks right now is that we've sacrificed some of the future in order to get to maybe the second round, if we're lucky, this year. There had to be more going on at the deadline than there was, or we lost Corvo and Eaves for no reason. Well, according to TSN last night, there was. A deal fell through between Ottawa and Chicago. Or, perhaps, Chicago never even entertained the idea, which is entirely possible as well. The idea was that we would give them our two goalies for their two goalies. Gerber and Emery for Nikolai Khabibulin and...are you ready for this? Patrick Lalime. We must be pretty desperate to get rid of Emery if we're willing to take Lalime as the replacement. Khabibulin obviously being the key player in the deal. But of course, it did not happen, nothing happened, and we will continue to watch a team play poor hockey down the stretch, maybe end up with the sixth or seventh or even eighth seed for the playoffs, and with any luck get out of the first round. That's it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Olympics...what I really meant to say.

I keep seeing protests in the news. Protests at the site of the Vancouver Olympics which are coming up in 2010. The native protesters in Vancouver want one thing, and that is to create awareness of the fact that the land upon which the Olympics will be held was stolen from them. Of course, so was the rest of the land in Canada, but it is still a valid point and a reasonable protest. However, there is not much they can do except create awareness. And so they have. Well done, mission accomplished, keep it up. It's not like they will get the Olympics to switch venues, it's not like they will create any actual change, but if awareness is the goal, then they have certainly done what they set out to do. However, I have seen very little protest over the Olympics coming up, this year, in China. Of course, it isn't Canada, and we're going to see a little less of that protest here than we are our own homegrown protest. But what have I really heard about it? Steven Spielberg has pulled out of the pre-Olympic production because of China's human-rights history. That's about it.

There is a fantastic article at the end of last week's Sports Illustrated. It's written by S.L. Price, and it's basically an indictment of new IOC head Jacques Rogge for never speaking out about the issue. China's bid for the Olympics was accepted based on the expectation that they would improve their human rights record in the years leading up to the event, and during the event, and the years following the event. This has not been done. It has been seven years since China was awarded the 2008 Olympics, and if anything, they have become worse. In their zeal to appear squeaky-clean to the world during this massive event, they have imprisoned at least 25 journalists and 49 bloggers who have dared to speak out against the Chinese government. Of course, in the world of today, we can find out about this. All we need is the ol' internet. And so the "world" knows all about this. And yet? Nothing. I hear nothing. In 1980, the Americans led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics as a protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. (And, really, just an extension of the cold war.) Has any country talked about boycotting these Olympics?

No. The main reason being this: China is now one of the biggest, most influential economies in the world. And they are only going to get bigger over the next few years. And what country would boycott these games, risking the wrath of the Chinese, and by extension risking future trading opportunities with this booming country? None. Not only that, but several countries have forced their athletes to sign contracts banning them from making any kind of political statements while they are in China. One of those countries was Great Britain, which then had to recant the contracts when public outcry made that position untenable. Can you imagine other countries doing this in past years? Jesse Owens in Berlin - that moment is gone. Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968? Gone. These are some of the most powerful moments in Olympic history, and they would be censored. Not even by the Chinese, who seem willing to censor just about everything, but by their own countries!

When the Olympics were held in Seoul in 1988, South Korea had been given a similar ultimatum. And the Koreans complied. They became a better country, and they held their most successful election ever just before the games began. China has not done the same. And I can just imagine the glossing-over that is going to be done in this country. When we watch this on TV, we are going to see Scott Armitage and Chris Cuthbert and James Duthie and their ilk doing fluff pieces all over China. Here is a really neat temple. And here is the Great Wall, which is still breathtaking. And here I am in a genuine junk on the river! No offense to those particular broadcasters, but I don't think their bosses will let them do anything more than that. China has said that it will not censor anything at all when the foreign reporters arrive in their country for the Olympics this year. That may be so. Maybe not. But I don't think it matters. I don't think there's any Olympic broadcast outlet in Canada that has the balls to put the real China on TV.

Olympics. I already hate them, but now...

I already hate the Olympics. Oh, I like some of it. I like certain events, and I enjoy cheering for Canada, and I love the "Olympic Moments" that get shown on sports highlight shows for years to come. Not like there has been a great Jesse Owens type moment since the 30s, but some have come close. No, I hate the Olympics themselves. The people who run them, the way they are run, the self-satisfied smugness of the entire process. Now, the new guy, Jacques Rogge, is far better than his predecessor, but there is still an overall feeling to the Olympics that bugs the hell out of me. The idea that nothing on Earth equals an Olympic gold medal in the field of "achievement". I would beg to differ. I would suggest a Nobel prize or a Pulitzer or a Victoria Cross are at the very least equal. Further, I would say that not all Olympic gold medals are that impressive. A decathlon medal? Not equal to a badminton medal. A marathon medal? Not equal to a mdeal in skeet shooting. And trampoline? Synchronized diving? Bridge? Yeah, that's what the Olympics needs. More events. Like card games. Can't do chess, I guess. It would take too long. Maybe this year they could add that speed-chess thing I see old men play in the park in movies.

Or perhaps tire swing, marbles, monkey bars and BigWheel. Cram those all into an event with trampoline and call it the Playground Pentathlon, at which point the guy who cries the least over all five events is named the winner. Oh - not the monkey bars. Too close to gymnastics. How about four-square? This is really why I hate the Olympics. Because I really don't want to watch Brian Williams go through his whole CBC announcer thing, and then kick it to Chris Cuthbert, who has some kind of in-depth back story about a Canadian synchronized trampolinist who has an outside chance at the bronze medal in today's event...I don't want Canada to win that event. I don't want us to win a medal in bridge. The only reason I am not embarassed by our success in curling is that the players can drink while they curl. I want to see medals in running, biking, kayaking, weight lifting, javelin, long jump...you know, sports. I've been sidetracked here. I started to get carried away with my disdain for the Olympics, so I will start a new post to say what I actually set out to say. Ignore this.

The Loooove Boooaaat! Season One, Volume One. Out Tuesday the 4th of March. (**/10)

Two stars for most of us, nine stars, perhaps, for the stoners. You remember your uncle, who used to get drunk at every family occasion and make joke after joke, where the punch line to every single one of those jokes was "rectum? Damn near killed him!", and who would then walk around saying things like "wow! Is that a wedding cake or the Eiffel tower?" and then he would laugh uproariously at his own jokes? Remember that guy? Imagine being trapped in a room with just him. Now, imagine that various actors, like John Ritter and Suzanne Somers and Scott Baio walked into the room. And you thought - oh, thank God! They can save me from uncle Jasper! Now imagine that instead of saving you from Uncle Jasper and his sense of humour, they found him hilarious, and joined in! Now, imagine you were trapped there for a full hour. That is what watching The Love Boat is like. It may be the worst TV show of all time. Which is why I say that stoners may well enjoy this. It is bad enough to be absolutely hilarious in the right...frame of mind.

Aaron Spelling has built quite the empire out of some pretty awful shows. But none were worse than this one, the TV show where old-timers went to die and new, up-and-coming actors like Scott Baio went to launch their careers. There were three stories to every episode, each story starring actors who I guess were known at the time. Like the mom from Family Ties, or the old dude from Empty Nest. These stories would kind-of intertwine, in that all the characters were on the same cruise. There was a captain for the ship, Captain Stubing, who obviously employed the same philosophy to piloring a ship as did the captain of the Exxon Valdez. That is, he is never seen at the actual helm (it is possible that at the time, Aaron Spelling could not afford a wheel for the show). Rather, he is often seen fraternizing with women and at the bar and at his "captain's table" in the dining room. There is Julie, the cruise director, whose function seems to be holding a clipboard. And possibly flirting with handsome men. There is a guy named Gopher, who wears a sailor's uniform, but I have no idea what his job might be. There is a ship's doctor. I think his name is Doc. But I don't care.

Wikipedia says that The Love Boat holds the distinction of being one of the very few hour-long TV shows in history to have a laugh track. This is true. And if you're going to hang your hat on something...even the laugh track, however, is bad. (Or funny, if you are a stoner.) Tha laugh track actually sounds like that nervous laughter that comed from all those around Uncle Jasper when he stars whipping out his poorly-remembered and horribly executed one-man "who's on first?" routine. hahaha Uncle Jasper...I have to go...stand over there...now...hahaha, very funny though...hahaha. This is the laugh track, as though even that studio audience is embarassed that they are there, but they figure that when the sign lights up, they may as well play along - they're there anyway. Which is really why I think this series might be perfect for stoners. Once they've hit play, the show's on anyway...and the remote is so far away...and at least Jaclyn Smith is there...

Just as a curiosity, this is a fairly impressive list here of all the guest stars that have appeared on The Love Boat. I still don't recommend getting the series - ever - unless perhaps you are a rabid Charlene Tilton fan. Or a stoner.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_guest_stars_on_The_Love_Boat

Scared Sacred. And irritated to sleep. Out now, (****4/10).

Scared Sacred is a documentary that tries very hard. Too hard, in fact. And it has a laudable goal and premise. But then it tries too hard. That goal and premise is that the guy making the film, a guy with the delightfully clever moniker "Velcrow Ripper", wants to tour the "ground zeros" of the world, and find something "sacred" at each location. This is commendable, and could have made a very deep and moving film. He tours the World Trade Centre, of course, as well as the Khmer Rouge mine fields in Cambodia, Hiroshima, war-torn Afghanistan (pre- and post-9/11), the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal India, Bosnia, Israel and Palestine. In each place, he interviews local people who have managed to rise out of the crisis to do amazing things, or at the very least adopt a changed yet hopeful world view out of such horror. Again, this goal is commendable, it's laudable, it's even glorious when it works. And Velcrow Ripper should be congratulated for even making the attempt.

When this film works, it's magnificent. There is a man who, as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, planted land mines all over Cambodia. Now, as an adult, he scours the countryside for those very same land mines and de-activates them, one at a time, up to 100 each day. This is an incredibly compelling story, and an amazing story about this one man. The Afghani musician who was banned from performing or even listening to music by the Taliban, but who got around it by filling his house with songbirds, is also wonderful. And the spirit of the people in Bhopal as they create clinics and band together as a community to help those injured by Union Carbide is heartwarming. But the problem with the movie is that more often than not, it doesn't work. And the main reason is the film maker. Velcrow Ripper comes across as one of those new-age spiritualists who has read three books and begins to think that he is on the same spiritual plane as the Dalai Lama, or the resurrection of Gandhi. After each powerful interview, his voice appears, narrating, saying incredibly cheesy and painful new-age gobbledygook. It's not only intrusive, it's distracting and counter-productive.

He needs to realize that the story is not about him. It is not about his desire to become at one with nature, or his efforts to find the sacrosanct heart of a tragedy that happened to others. And it isn't about his personal musings, which may as well be Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, they are so lame. No, this movie should be about the people he interviews, the tragedies that have affected humankind, and the people who have managed to rise above this heartache. But it becomes a movie about this one man and his quest for spiritual satisfaction, a quest that is punctuated by his inane dialogue and cheesy, obvious musings. Velcrow Ripper should be commended for making this film, but the next one should be edited and, if necessary narrated, by someone else.

Maxed Out. On DVD now (*******7/10)

I used to work at a store in Ottawa that bought and sold used CDs and DVDs. There was an individual who used to come into the store and use it as basically a pawn shop. This person had three giant box sets that would get about 100 bucks from us, and then return six days later to buy them back for 400 bucks. This happened maybe seven times in a year. When debt hits you, you do silly things. That's $2,100 you are losing, every year, just to hang on to your treasured possessions. And why are you losing that two grand? Because you are in debt. That's right, the less money you have, the more you get charged for it. My bank has this interesting policy. If I can keep $1,000.00 in my account all month long, I don't have to pay bank fees. However, if I dip under that $1,000, I then have to pay fees. 30 bucks worth or something. So...I get charged 30 bucks for not having enough money? For a long time, I thought, well, 30 bucks, whatever. Who cares about 30 bucks? But then a realization dawned on me - the biggest problem with charging me 30 bucks for not having money is that the bank is actively turning around and giving that 30 bucks to the guys who have lots of money.

So, it costs me 30 bucks more to be poor than it would to be reasonably well off. And further, it costs me sixty bucks more to be poor than it would to be rich. Because the rich guy is getting my 30 bucks. That means that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" is not just an expression. It's an ideology. And although it is likely worse in the U.S. than it is here in Canada, the culture of debt by no means stops at the border. This is something as dangerous to Canadians as it is to Americans. Maxed Out is a ne documentary, on video store shelves right now, that examines the practices of credit card companies, their lobby groups, and their connection to the U.S. government. (For example MBNA, who is the largest contributor to George W. Bush's campaign, and also the credit card company that was allowed to write the new bakruptcy legislation that was passed by the Bush government in 2005.) We all know the American economy is about to become absolutely disastrous, and a big part of that reason is that credit card companies have so much power. And because Bush passes legislation based on lobbyists, rather than common sense or compassion.

Maxed Out is a solid companion movie to last year's excellent In Debt We Trust. There are problems with the movie - some of the economic and legal jargon passes too quickly, without enough explanation - but it's still worth while. I know many people who have had credit card debt sneak up on them and overwhelm them, and this is really a story about those people. The credit card companies, of course, want people NOT to be able to pay. They charge 21 percent interest to rich people, 45 percent interest to poor people - poor people, they say, are a greater risk. Well, sure. So you charge them MORE? For being poor? Well, in point of fact, those poor people are the ones that make the credit card companies their massive profits. This is why you see so many credit card applications and booths on University and college campuses. Free T-Shirt just for filling out the form? Super. Credit card companies don't go after people who come out of high school and go straight to work - those people can likely pay off their balance all at once. No, they go after the college and university students who are young, dumb, and who have no actual income. Maybe they work part time, but they don't make enough money to pay off that $300.00 night at the bar in one chunk. And before long, they are making the minimum monthly payments, having maxed out their card, and VISA just watches the money roll in.

Or, they kill themselves. Maxed Out follows the stories of three families who lost a family member to suicide over credit card debts. It's a scary world, and there are so many documentaries that point this out. I realized something here though. Has there been a documentary on any facet of anyone's life over the last seven years that hasn't mentioned George Bush? Negatively? Is there anything in his entire presidency he's got right? I have compiled a list of recent documentaries on various subjects. Let's see how they view Bush.

Iraq War and War on Terror (anti-Bush)
Why We Fight
Iraq in Fragments
Fahrenheit 9/11
No End In Sight
Iraq For Sale - The War Profiteers
Uncovered
Unconstitutional - The War on Our Civil Liberties
The Fog of War
Rush To War
21 Days to Baghdad

These are just the one's I've seen. There are probably many more.

Health Care (anti-Bush)
Sicko

Economy (anti-Bush)
In Debt We Trust
Maxed Out
The Corporation
Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Political Machinations and Electoral Fraud (anti-Bush)
Unprecendented
The Hunting of the President
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
Fox News: Fake and Biased
Noam Chomsky: Distorted Morality

The Environment (anti Bush)
An Inconvenient Truth
Everything's Cool
This Is Nowhere
A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash
Who Killed The Electric Car?

Now, again, these are just the ones I've seen. There could be more. And not all of these movies focus on Bush as the biggest problem. Although many do. But they all make mention of how his policies, on everything, adversely affect America, and by extension, the world. There are probably more, I just can't think of them now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Here is the problem with movies.

The top ten box office movies worldwide in 2007:

#1 - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
$961,002,663
# 2 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
$938,467,860
#3 - Spider-Man 3
$890,871,626
#4 - Shrek the Third
$797,750,521
#5 - Transformers
$706,471,251
#6 - Ratatouille
$620,551,046
#7 - I Am Legend
$578,395,259
#8 - The Simpsons Movie
$526,561,901
#9 - 300
$456,068,181
#10 - The Bourne Ultimatum
$442,894,042


Of those top ten, only two were excellent movies - The Bourne Ultimatum and Ratatouille. And three of them were downright awful. Shrek 3, Spiderman 3, and Pirates 3. Here are the top ten box-office movies in North America:

Spider-Man 3
Shrek the Third
Transformers
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I Am Legend
The Bourne Ultimatum
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Alvin and the Chipmunks
300


Only one of these movies (Bourne) was excellent. And National Treasure was even worse than awful. There are four movies on the list that are the third installment in a series, one that is a fifth installment, one that is a sequel, and one that is a remake. That leaves Alvin and the Chipmunks, 300, and Transformers as the only "original" movies in the top ten. And, if you consider the fact that both Transformers and The Chipmunks were children's cartoons made into major movies, then 300 is the only "original" entry on this list. I have further investigated the top movies, worldwide and in North America for this year. 50 movies earned more than 100 million dollars worldwide. Of those 50, eight were great (No Country For Old Men #50, Atonement #46, Sweeney Todd #39, Juno #31, Superbad #29, Knocked Up #24, American Gangster #19, and Ratatouille #6). Of the 50, fourteen could be considered candidates for "worst movie ever" (Pirates 3, Norbit, I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, National Treasure 2, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four 2, Wild Hogs, Rush Hour 3, Mr. Bean's Holiday, Evan Almighty, Resident Evil 3, Saw IV, Alien vs. Predator 2, and The Heartbreak Kid).


I have found 17 movies this year that were made for budgets of more than 100 million dollars. Ghost Rider, Transformers, Pirates 3, Spiderman 3, Shrek 3, Surf's Up, Fantastic Four 2, Ratatouille, Evan Almighty, Die Hard 4, Harry Potter 5, Bourne 3, Rush Hour 3, American Gangster, Beowulf, The Golden Compass, and I Am Legend. Here are the budgets for the best movies of the year: Juno - 7 million. Michael Clayton - 21.5 million. No End in Sight - 2 million. In The Valley of Elah - 23 million. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - 30 million. Into the Wild - 20 million. In The Shadow Of The Moon - 2 million. Rescue Dawn - 10 million. Sicko - 9 million. Knocked Up - 27 million. Superbad - 17 million. Atonement - 30 million. I couldn't find No Country For Old Men's budget. And three of those brilliant movies listed lost a substantial amount of money.

Here is a good article, sent to me by Steve Colwill:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-goldstein27feb27,0,2056109.story?track=ntothtml

I tried!

I'm sorry, TSN. I tried. I really did. And I know there has been a precedent set for your endless trade-deadline-day coverage. I am fully aware that one of the most popular websites on the internet was that one where you could log on and see the webcam that showed cheese aging. Which was great - it was like paint drying, only slower.

http://cheddarvision.tv/

And now, I am pleased to announce that I have found something that happens in real time, even slower than watching cheese age. TSN's Trade Deadline Spectacular. Thirteen hours. Thirteen, full, hours. And yes, there was lots of movement on Trade Deadline Day. Teams want to beef up for that playoff run and mortgage their future on a rental player. Other teams try to dump players that will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. So what do we get? We get Hal Gill traded from the Leafs for two draft picks. And I'm thinking gee, I wonder what Darren Pang has to say about this? Boy, I sure hope that Bob McKenzie who I don't dislike at all weighs in. Of course, things don't start happening until later in the day. Which means for the first three out of eight hours we're still talking about Vinnie Prospal and his trade, which happened the previous night.

I'm sorry, Sportsnet, I tried. Lord, how I did try! I made every effort to enjoy your equally pain-inducing Trade Deadline Day Festival. And the fact is, the last few years have seen a massive amount of player movement at deadline day, but that doesn't stop the TV from being staggeringly boring. Because that player movement sucks. And what sucks even more is watching the Nick Kypreos-type analysis. Sure, it's kind of fun to watch him struggle through his limited vocabulary to come up with some sort of insight that is beyond the range of the average seven-year-old, but come on! Who out there is a big enough hockey fan that they're sitting on the edge of their seats watching intently as they wait to see if their team is mentioned? Oh - he said the Leafs again! Oh...Wade Belak. Hey - Leafs! Oh...Chad Kilger. Meh.

There were 25 trades yesterday, and 45 players switched teams. Of those 45 players, four were interesting. Cristobal Huet leaving Montreal in exchange for a draft pick. I don't think many people saw that coming. Also, Brad Richards traded to Dallas, and Brian Campbell going from the Sabres to the Sharks. Not huge moves, any of them. But kinda interesting. And at least it gave those hockey pundits something to jaw about. Who won these trades? Who lost? Who has improved the most? How does the Matt Cooke trade affect the Canucks? I am not a pundit, but I know the answer to that one. Not at ALL. Here's the thing, and I'll take that particular trade as an example - the key guy in that trade was Pettinger. And we won't know how good a move it was until three years from now. Hey Sportsnet! How about running a three-year, non-stop Trade Deadline Day Festivity, so we can actually see the real results of these trades? Couldn't be any more boring. And the one name that was biggest, the one trade with the most significance - Marian Hossa going to the Penguins. And that happened at (I saw on the TSN Countdown Clock) 2:59. Trade deadline was 3:00.

So here's a thought, and I know they don't read my blog and they won't listen to me - but NHL GMs, if you want anyone to care about Trade Deadline Coverage on television, make the big moves early! If you're going to trade a Hossa, do it at 8 a.m. so the pundits have something to talk about for the next eight hours! Do us all a favour. This left a precious one hour, the after-the-deadline wrap-up-hour, to discuss the various ramifications of the Hossa trade. One hour, to talk about one trade, and that was the most exciting hour of all. As a Senators fan, I was waiting with bated breath all day, hoping to hear that we had made a deal to land Mario Lemieux and resurrect Terry Sawchuck...and we got Martin Lapointe. Which is nice, but doesn't fix any of our problems. (Despite what that delightful Matthew Barnaby had to say. Matthew Barnaby?) Clearly, the Ottawa problems go pretty deep. We have now played the two most boring teams in hockey in back-to-back games, and we have been outscored 9-0. It may well be time to panic. But it's too late to panic now. You had eight long, boring hours to do it yesterday!

Doin' my part for the hemisphere...

http://www.chez106.com/station_info/morning_show.jsp

That is the link to the videos of me eating bugs. Eating bugs, Doc would have you believe, is environmentally friendly. Now, he has not so far been able to connect the dots for me on that one. The prevailing wisdom in the room over the past two days is that eventually, we here in North America, and indeed the rest of the Western Hemisphere, will be forced to eat bugs thanks to a food shortage. I see. So eating bugs is not, in and of itself, environmentally friendly. Rather, (and this is the part I think they missed out on) eating bugs is a warning, a wake-up call. It's a way of saying "you will have to subsist on mealworms and crickets if you don't start pressuring the government to save the environment". However, I feel this is somewhat of a defeatist attitude. In a way, forcing me to eat bugs as a "public service" is another way of saying "we're already screwed, environment-wise. No point in continuing to try to save ourselves, just start learning to eat bugs and wear more sunscreen."

I find this to be a terrible attitude on the part of Doc and Woody. The only thing worse than the "we're already screwed" attitude is the "weather goes in cycles all the time, we're in no danger at all" attitude. Perhaps in some small way, the videos of me eating mealworms and crickets might be a wake-up call to some out there. This is where we are headed when farms are over-run, and crops start to fail, and chickens and beef are scarce. Bug-eating. Perhaps this might be the kind of low-brow wake-up call that the feds need. Maybe, just maybe, this video will be sent to our environment minister John Baird (who is a very super individual, I recently heard on the radio) and make him think "oh right...the environment". Then again, the videos don't use fun words like "boondoggle". Who doesn't love that word? But really, John Baird and I are a lot alike. He (I heard recently) has done a huge service to Ottawa, as the environment minister, by single-handedly crushing the most environmentally-friendly transit plan we had. And I, as the Doc and Woody show's environmental activist, did a huge service to our entire hemisphere by single-handedly crushing and then eating a cricket, the most environmentally-friendly meal there is.

I would just like to point something out here - when seal meat arrived at the station, in a tin, already packaged and ready to eat, and I ate some of that, there was somewhat of an outcry. I was sent, via email and on my blog and in phone messages, videos and letters pleading for the seals and decrying the seal hunt and so forth. By eating some seal, I was part of that problem, it seems. (Frankly, I was just glad the meat was going somewhere and not wasted.) However today, when I ate live bugs, nothing. No outcry, no complaints, no outrage. Yet another way I would argue that "cuteness" plays a much bigger factor in PETA's agenda than "cruelty". Because really, what's more cruel than eating something alive? Oh yeah - ignoring the environmental crisis. You're welcome, hemisphere.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

DVD releases today - February 26th, 2008.

Beowulf (5/10): Meant to be seen in 3-D, the animation seems strange on a regular TV. Lots of yelling and flexing, no story to speak of (although I assume we all know the story, having read Beowulf in school). If watched the right way, this is hilarious. Cynical Cinema today, 3:20.

Darjeeling Limited: Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman. This is directed by Wes Anderson, the guy behind The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, one of my all-time favourites. Could be very good.

30 Days of Night: Vampire movie set in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun, or, in this case, 24 hours of darkness. Getting very mixed reviews ranging between "worst movie ever" and "best movie ever". Who knows who's right?

Death At A Funeral (7/10): Movie that would be average at best without the diminutive Peter Dinklage, who is proving to be one of the finest actors ever to be unfortunately typecast as a dwarf. With him, this movie is good. Cynical Cinema Thursday, 3:20.

Goya's Ghosts: Sort of a biopic, sort of an historical epic about the Spanish painter Goya, as played by Stellen Skarsgaard (Ronin, Exorcist: The Beginning). Also with Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem.

Silk(3/10): Absolutely awful. Don't let the trailers fool you, there is nothing worth watching in this movie. I hate Keira Knightley. Cynical Cinema Friday, 3:20.

Slipstream: Anthony Hopkins does strange time-travel as he plays a screenwriter with a messed-up mind. Hopkins also directed.

Day Zero: Explores the thoughts of three young men in New York City as they prepare to go off to war. Mixed reviews, mostly poor.

Darkon: Here is one I'm actually looking forward to watching. A bunch of geeks are followed in this documentary about something called Darkon, which is a role-playing game of some kind, like Dungeons and Dragons. Could be the next King of Kong.

Bloody Aria: An opera singer runs through the woods to escape a lecherous professor, only to find herself captured by those guys from the Hills Have Eyes...right.

Francois Girard En Trois Actes (8/10): Great look at the behind-the-scenes of some great stage productions. But you have to be bilingual to truly appreciate it.

El Cid (8/10): The Charlton Heston magnificent sweeping epic about the Spanish hero El Cid is finally on DVD. This will be the best movie you can pick up today. Alliance has created a massive 3-disc box set for the film, with tons of extra features. Cynical Cinema tomorrow, 3:20.

Turok - Son of Stone (4/10): Ridiculous cartoon adaptation of the video game. Bloody, gory, nonsensical, and a cartoon. Not for young kids. Or adults.

The Fugitive, Season One Volume Two (8/10): David Janssen in the original, excellent TV show. Numerous guest stars, including the fantastic Jason Robards. Cynical Cinema Monday, 3:20.

Also out:

Highlander: The Source
Justice League: The New Frontier
Jesse Stone: Sea Change
Barbie Mariposa
Comanche Moon - The Second Chapter in the Lonesome Dove Saga
Life After Tomorrow
Margaret Garner
Newhart - Season 1

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar recap.

Much as I hate actually sitting through an entire Oscar telecast, I feel as though I really ought to. As a film buff, and a watcher of popular culture, and a radio guy, and...so on and so forth. I managed to catch three wretch-inducing minutes of a special being run by CTV earlier in the day. It was an Oscar special centered entirely on...Ben Mulroney. And it wasn't that awful Mulroney-on-the-red-carpet thing, it was even worse. It was the story, the behind-the-scenes of the Mulroney-on-the-red-carpet thing. Interviewing Ben, as he recapped his favourite moments from previous Oscar years. Gushing over Clive Owen and his performance in Closer like a teenage girl would approach Justin Timberlake. Asking people the old stand-by question "who are you wearing", and having them stare back in confusion and say "I don't know...whatever was on the floor of my bedroom?" and consistently irritating me with the question "would you like to talk to Canada?" If Ben Mulroney is Canada, I hereby renounce my citizenship and begin plans to move to Stompin Tom Connorsburg.

But there are moments that make the Oscars worthwhile. Like watching a New Jersey Devils playoff game over the last six years, you know you are going to be bored 90 percent of the time. However - maybe, just maybe, Scott Stevens will catch someone with their head down and the entire viewing experience will all of a sudden become worthwhile. So the Oscar ceremony is like one monstrous four-hour neutral zone trap, with the occasional flash of "oh, THIS is why I'm watching". And last night was no exception. I like Jon Stewart as a host, and he seems to have found the middle ground between just-edgy-enough to be actually entertaining and not-so-edgy that he won't be invited back. I like the presenters when they don't have any kind of schtick planned, and they just act like...themselves. And I like seeing people who have never been to the Oscars before and will never win one again pick up those statues. Unless those people are Cuba Gooding Jr. I hate Cuba Gooding Jr. I saw him in a flashback last night and my stomach clenched into a ball of rage.

One of those moments that loosened that rage-ball somewhat last night was seeing Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova win for best original song for the movie Once. Hansard saying they shot the movie on hand-held cameras in three weeks for less than $100,000.00 was fantastic. Hansard is the front man for the rock band The Frames in Ireland, and Irglova is a quality singer-songwriter herself. These are two people who will never again have a moment like that one, and they were so enjoyable as they stood up there on the stage. I felt awful for Irglova as the orchestra played her off the stage just as she approached the mic to say her little piece, but Jon Stewart brought her back on after the commercial to do her thing. Short and sweet, just like their movie. And frankly, I had been irked all evening as the best songs were performed, since Enchanted had three of the five nominations, and I really thought Once should have all five. Once was a movie with the seven best songs of the year, and they were the most deserving winners of the night.

Also deserving were the Coen Brothers, for both the director award and the best picture, No Country For Old Men. I would like to think that on some level, this was the Academy trying to make up for awarding the best picture award to The English Patient over Fargo in 1996. A horrible injustice, corrected slightly here. Although, No Country For Old Men was definitely, in my opinion, was the best movie made this year. Javier Bardem was hugely deserving of his supporting actor award, although I would have liked to see him appear more menacing in his acceptance speech. Or at least with the same haircut. Same goes for Daniel Day Lewis, who was not nearly evil enough in accepting his award. That was the one category that was pretty much a foregone conclusion, and his was the only Best Actor nomination I had not yet seen this year. There Will Be Blood is currently the number one most-anticipated film for me for the rest of the year.

A fairly big shock in the best actress category, although more for reasons of obscurity than quality. I thought the Academy would just pay lip service to Marion Cotillard's sublime turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. After all, it isn't even in English! And then they would give the award to Julie Christie, who is very good in Away From Her. But I was pleasantly surprised when the statue went to the woman who was, in fact, most deserving this year. Julie Christie was very good in Away From Her, but Cotillard was absolutely magnificent in La Vie En Rose. Make no mistake - Edith Piaf is a heavy role to undertake, and to pull it off as well as this is no minor achievement. Also nice to see was Diablo Cody winning best original screenplay for Juno - and Jon Stewart's jokes about a former stripper who took a substantial pay cut to work in the movies. My money would have been on Brad Bird to win for Ratatouille, but then I have yet to see Juno.

I'm not so sure about a few others. Adapted screenplay for the Coen brothers? Sure, No Country For Old Men had an absolutely brilliant screenplay. But it was so similar to Cormac McCarthy's novel that all the Coen brothers had to do was cut a few scenes and basically re-type the entire novel. No real complaints with Tilda Swinton winning best supporting actress for Michael Clayton, she was amazing, but I thought Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone was the best of the year. Overall, no real problems, the thing went smoothly, and boy am I glad I have a PVR. Three and a half hours of that would have bored me to tears. Fast-forwarding to the parts I cared about was far easier. And I went out of my way to skip the red carpet stuff. That might be the worst hour of television every single year. Especially when it involves Ben Mulroney, and who are you wearing? The Oscar telecast is terrible, but this year they made some informed decisions. Way to go, Academy.

Jimmy Kimmel's response to Sarah Silverman's video.

Sarah Silverman's video was one of the funniest I have seen in a long time, but Kimmel's video response is just about as good. This aired last night on the Jimmy Kimmel show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lcmNaXmjvs

Ben Affleck or Matt Damon? Either way, it's darn funny. Don Cheadle? Funniest thing of all.

Television will never die. Perhaps it should.

Doc tells me that The Wire is a fantastic show. He and his wife are currently making their way through the entire series (which just ended, by the way). However, this may well be one of the best shows on TV, but they are not watching it on TV. They are watching it on DVD. That is more convenient. And I get that - the only reason I ever watched Lost or Prison Break or what have you is simply because I stumbled across the DVD box sets. But the desire to continue watching those series on actual television seemed like a lot of work. So I lost interest. Rogers On Demand has some fairly good series, and I watch a few of those, but you would have to have On Demand to be able to watch them at your own convenience. So now some of those shows are being brought to regular TV. Shows like Dexter, which I really enjoy. Now Dexter is on network television! Everyone can see it! But...it's network TV. So it's censored. Which means - no swearing. That's great, a show about a serial killer who kills other serial killers gets to keep the blood! Drill bit through the eye, cool. Severing of limbs, cool. Blood spatter and spray from arteries, check. The word sh*t? Cut. Goddamn? Gone. Nipples? Oh, lord no.

But then again, I am realizing this makes a little bit of sense. There are so many swear words attached to regular television that adding more would just be overkill. I know this because I spent a good portion of the weekend, and much of the past week, swearing my head off at television. My girlfriend is into some new shows. As I watched a portion of Dancing With The Stars, my knowledge of pop culture was tested. (To be fair, I was reading a book while the Dancing With The Stars, past and present, were on Oprah.) And my girlfriend got fairly testy as I kept asking "which one is the celebrity?" when the pairs hit the Oprah stage. (When Emmitt Smith was up there, I knew. But I asked anyway, just to be obnoxious.) Dancing With The Stars should be where actual stars go to die, along with shows like The Celebrity Apprentice and Flava of Love and whatever else there may be. I just watched some of The Love Boat (also on DVD) and Doc assures me that the guest stars on The Love Boat were, in fact, there to bury their careers. The Love Boat and Hollywood Squares. Both terrible shows, both watched by millions because there was just nothing else on.

Now, however, these shows do not exist to bury careers, they exist to resurrect, and in some cases (Tila Tequila) to create careers. No "celebrity" will go gentle into that good night any more - not if they can hit Dancing With The Stars or Circus of the Stars or what have you. Still terrible shows, only with a massive amount of choice. There are so many other shows to watch! How do these shows get such high ratings? And other shows inexplicably get high ratings as well. My girlfriend is into the Sex And The City rip-off shows now. The Lipstick Rainforest and Cashmere Cosa Nostra or whatever. She insists that these shows are NOT at all like Sex and the City. You see, whereas Sex And The City was about four very successful women living in New York and talking dirty to one another, these shows are about four successful women living in other cities and talking dirty to each other. And some are not even that successful! I have always been a hater of Sex and the City. For everyone who said it was a smart show, that the writing was ingenious and clever, I disagreed vehemently. The writing was obvious and annoying, and Sarah Jessica Parker is as irritating as anyone ever put on television.

And for all those (mostly women) who hold up Sex and the City as a post-feminist masterwork, full of female empowerment and being a revelatory experience in that four single women comprise the heart of the show, I say this. Listen to women reminisce about Sex and the City. No, more than that, ask them this question: "Who was your favourite on Sex and the City?" Those exact words. Nine times out of ten, I think you will get one of these responses. "Oh, I love Mr. Big. Or I love that Aidan. Or I was a big fan of Captain Gigantor and Admiral Sweatyarms." The women who watch the show, much like the women who populated this show, identify themselves and those they are watching with the men they date, more so than with the women they are. How very empowering for women. Now, more shows feed us the same crap. And the shows that could actually be considered empowering for women are cancelled. Shows like Commander In Chief, which was actually smart, actually well written, and actually post-feminist, gone after one season.

And so we slap ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves for creating important, genre-breaking television shows, and for liking those shows. Just not liking them enough to keep watching them. But we liked them, we paid lip service to them. And now if we really want to actually watch them, there is always DVD where we can catch up after they are cancelled. In the meantime, we don't need to pay attention to the good stuff, because there is another episode of American Idol or America's Next Top Model or The Tyra Banks Show...OK. I would recant all my previous statements if television would just do away completely with Tyra Banks.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

El Cid! Finally available (1961). Alliance Films, Tuesday the 26th. (********8/10)

There were certain roles in the history of movies that could be played only by Charlton Heston. Moses, Ben-Hur, Michaelangelo, and El Cid. Heston was never much of an actor when it came to emoting. He was quite the actor, however, when it came to puffing out his chest and speechifying. He was also very adept at looking heroic, twisting his face into furious and righteous anger, and talking justice with his deep, powerful voice and square, stoic chin. Very good stuff, these Heston epics. I'm going to go ahead and assume that everyone has seen The Ten Commandments, because it's all over TV at Easter time. I will also assume that everyone is aware of Ben-Hur, because it is one of those all-time classics that is on TV so often that it is difficult to miss. Perhaps the same goes for The Agony And The Ecstasy. And I will further make the assumption that virtually no one has seen El Cid, since I have never come across this epic on television or in the video store. The reason it hasn't been in the video store is that it was not available on DVD. Until this coming Tuesday. El Cid is being released by Alliance Films on DVD in a glorious three-disc set this coming Tuesday. And it is a must-have for any epic film buff.

This is one of those sets that comes with everything. A booklet detailing the massive preparations for shooting this massive epic. A comic book from the 60s that takes us through the entire El Cid movie, such that we don't even have to watch the film if we would rather take ten minutes to flip through a comic book. And it also has a written introduction to the film by Martin Scorcese, and a bunch of postcard-sized movie posters that nerds like me enjoy putting up on their walls. The El Cid posters are now up beside the similar ones I got in the special editions of The Good The Bad and The Ugly and To Kill A Mockingbird. The three-disc set includes some very cool special features - interviews, behind the scenes stuff, and an endurance-testing feature-length commentary. El Cid is more than three hours long, which means the commentary involves talking for more than three hours straight. That must have been tough.

El Cid is the true story of a Spanish hero named Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, who managed to unite Christian Spain with the Muslim Moors in order to repel an attack against Spain by an evil warlord, Ben Yussef (played wonderfully by Herbert Lom). It is the sort of role Heston was born to play, and the supporting cast is good as well. Watching a young Sophia Loren in the role of Heston's wife, as they go through a love-hate relationship, certainly lends credence to the idea that she really didn't start getting really hot until she hit her forties. Sure, she's attractive in this movie, but the Sophia Loren I think of is far better looking, and also far older. I could go through the rest of the excellent cast too, but there are way too many to mention. In the 60s, you see, there was no CGI, and therefore when you see a crowd of thousands of people, or a battle involving thousands of soldiers, it is actually thousands of actors and extras, and not computer-generated! And that really makes a difference, much as some technophiles would have us believe it does not. The musical score is terrific, and the panoramic battle scenes must be seen in HD or at the very least on a large television in widescreen.

El Cid is not quite the cinematic achievement that are some of Heston's other best works. It does not quite reach the heights of Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments. Director Anthony Mann, while he was a very capable director, never really lived up to his promise, and this may be his best film. (Also excellent were The Bend In The River and Winchester '73.) But really, El Cid bears the imprint of Saumel Bronston, the producer, as much if not more as it does the talents of Anthony Mann. Bronston followed up the massive production of El Cid with a few great films, such as King of Kings and The Fall of the Roman Empire, and for a few years was the king of the sweeping cinematic epic. Heston will always be the number one star of the biblical epic and this kind of gigantic film, but Mann will never be considered among the greats of the genre. That title could well go to David Lean, the man behind Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago. (This run of three consecutive movies is likely unparallelled in the history of cinema. Perhaps only Francis Ford Coppola comes close, with The Godfather, The Conversation, and The Godfather Part II.)

El Cid is not an all-time classic, but it certainly bears watching. And this three-disc set would be a fantastic addition to the collection of any true movie fanatic. Don't miss out - it gets released by Alliance Films on Tuesday.

Francois Girard En Trois Actes. Merveilleux si vous etes bilingue. Coming out Tuesday February 26th. (********8/10)

Alliance Films is releasing Francois Girard En Trois Actes this coming Tuesday. I think the main reason for this is likely because they are releasing "Silk" the same day, and that movie may well taint the legacy of Girard. It is, without a doubt, the worst movie he has ever done. He has done some good ones (The Red Violin) and some great ones (Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould). And now, a really terrible film. But Francois Girard en Trois Actes is worth watching. Far more so than Silk, anyway. It deals with three massive stage productions put on by Girard, who has been a brilliant director of both stage and screen. These productions are "Le Proces", "Lost Objects" and "Sigfried". There are interviews with dozens of people who are either involved with the projects themselves and also outsiders who just admire Girard's talent. Atom Egoyan, maybe the most celebrated Canadian film director of them all, makes several appearances, and his entire interview is available on the DVD as a special feature. So too is the interview with Martin Scorcese, an interview that is both informative and fun.

Martin Scorcese is without a doubt the most interesting interview subject for any documentary about film. He is so passionate and excitable that he can create interest in anything, even if it's something we would never have considered cool to begin with. (His personal documentary, A Journey Through American Films With Martin Scorcese, is a must-watch for any film buff.) But Francois Girard En Trois Actes is about stage productions, not film. And it would definitely help to be bilingual to watch this documentary, since so many of the interview subjects are francophone. It's a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes of a stage production, and how massive an undertaking it really is to put on an opera or a play. And that really is a huge job. Francois Girard En Trois Actes. Disponible Mardi aux magazins qui vent les DVDs. Just don't rent Silk.

Silk. Movies are not supposed to get this boring. (Alliance Films) Out this coming Tuesday, February 26th. (***3/10)

My girlfriend watched the trailers for "Silk" and was very excited to watch it. I thought it might be good too - I like Francois Girard, the director. He's done some quality films, like The Red Violin and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. (The representative Canadian film, in that it stars Colm Feore as a Canadian icon.) And as Girard is a Canadian director, and he used Canadian people in the production, this film qualifies (yay!) as "Canadian" in the arbitrary terms that make a film eligible for a Genie. And when a film qualifies as "Canadian", yet has international stars and opens to a wide North American release, it has a leg up in terms of the Genies. There are always five nominations for "best picture", and if we're lucky, two of those films will have been recognized outside their own province. This year, Eastern Promises and Away From Her are the two movies that were bigger than "Canada" that got Genie nominations. And Silk was bigger than "Canada". It stars Keira Knightley, it has a much bigger budget than your standard Canuck flick, and it received international distribution.

This should have been a red flag for me. A movie that was actually seen? AND it's Canadian? It should be a lock for the Genies! And yet...nothing. I've checked - it is eligible. But for a film like this NOT to get nominated for the easiest awards in film to win - it must REALLY suck. And it does. It REALLY sucks. At first I thought it might just be my aversion to Keira Knightley. I really dislike Keira Knightley, thanks mostly to her incredible chemistry-free performances with Orlando Bloom in them Pirates flicks. But I have always blamed this on Orlando Bloom, who is an actor I dislike even more than Knightey. In watching Silk, and Knightley's profound lack of chemistry with Michael Pitt, I realized it may be more her fault than Bloom's. But in this case, I blame Francois Girard even more so. The movie opens with Michael Pitt saying "boy, I sure love this woman" or something like this. I paraphrase. And that is what we have to go on. We don't really see them falling in love, or even really being in love, we are just supposed to take this at face value. They are in love. OK? Now, proceed with the movie.

And the movie does indeed proceed. Slowly, languidly, as though it is building to something. And then it never gets there. 57 minutes in, and we still haven't seen the things that made the trailers so interesting for my girlfriend. You see, Michael Pitt needs to travel to Japan, because his small village is dependant on silk. And there is some kind of disease wiping out the silk worms. So he must go to Japan to collect silk worm eggs, bring them back, have them hatch, and then they can begin the work of spinning silk again. Now, I'm no biologist, but it seems to me that if you have thousands of untainted silk worm eggs, and those hatch silk worms, could those silk worms not breed, and create more eggs, and thus be self-sustaining? Why would Pitt need to leave his wife for six months at a time and go BACK to Japan for more eggs every year? This is not explained. But it doesn't matter. Because the silk worms are not the story. The journey is the story. The journey to Japan, and then the journey back again.

And that journey is explored. Again and again. With long camera shots of the countryside and the scenery all over the world, which are great. And then with long shots of hands touching other hands, hands scooping water, and the back of guys' heads. Those are not OK. They are boring. Especially since there are so many of them. And they last so long. I guess that Pitt takes a lover in Japan - we are to assume this, although any actual contact with any woman does not happen until the movie is more than an hour in. In the meantime, we are supposed to believe that Pitt has fallen madly and obsessively in love with a Japanese concubine because she...smiled at him over tea? So, he continues to return to Japan, searching desperately for this woman because...it was really good tea? If you're going to spend hours filming hands and heads and scenery, why wouldn't you spend at least three minutes showing WHY this man decided to have an affair? Or showing that he actually loves his wife? Three minutes, that's all I ask. One less picture of a horse, and you're there. Movie stays the same length, and we might actually care about someone.

There is no sense of connection between ANY of the characters in this movie. Every time we got to one of those long camera shot scenes, and we knew the actual plot wouldn't begin again for seven minutes, we were on the fast forward button. Toward the end of the film, a little bit of stuff starts to happen. I wouldn't go so far as to call it action, but at least it's...stuff. There is a really painful reading of a "sexy" letter from Japan, Keira Knightley falls ill. And we yell at the movie - "just die already"! But everything is so drawn out and slow that it takes another half hour of our life. This movie is painful, irritating and completely inert. There is no reason to watch, and no reason to enjoy it.

Death At A Funeral (Alliance Films) Out this coming Tuesday, February 26th. (*******7/10)

Death At a Funeral feels so "indie" that it makes me cringe. However, it makes me cringe with laughter, and that, I think, is OK. It's a British comedy in the grand tradition of low budget British comedies, the idea that humour can be found in even the least-likely-to-be-funny situation, in this case a funeral. Rupert Graves and Matthew McFayden star as Daniel and Robert, brothers who are hosting their father's funeral. There is of course a good deal of sibling rivalry, but they are attempting to set this aside in the interests of their family, and specifically their mother, who is grieving with them. Many other interesting characters show up, including wheelchair-bound, angry old men, drug users, creepy stalkers and the standard cast one would expect from a British comedy such as this one. People get accidentally "dosed" with hallucinogenic drugs, they strip naked, other people end up with poop on themselves, and the standard funeral-comedy pratfalls ensue. If such a thing exists.

Overall, there is not much new about this film. It is well-written, but not exceedingly so. It is well-acted, but none of the performances are earth-shattering. Well, except for one. Once again, I am absolutely blown away by the talent of Peter Dinklage. Dinklage is probably best-known as the children's book author who beats up Will Ferrell in Elf. He is a dwarf, and is therefore typecast. Hollywood is very good at casting regular actors as tiny people, (think Martin Short in that god-awful movie Clifford) but there is little they can do to cast dwarves as regular-size people. But Dinklage has a massive talent, and it would be great to see him in roles other than that of a little person. But of course, this won't happen, so he must wait for appropriate roles in order to shine. The first of those roles was in the terrific film The Station Agent in 2003, a role which resulted in a lot of critical acclaim for Dinklage, but a very small audience. He was wonderful in that movie, and he is, once again, the best part of Death At A Funeral.

He plays the former lover of the deceased old man, and attempts to blackmail the brothers into giving him some of the inheritance money. Either they write him a cheque, or he will show everyone the salacious pictures of their homosexual relationship. This leads to many standard comic pratfalls, including another accidental drug-dosing. I won't ruin the film by explaining how it came about, but the scene where Dinklage emerges from the coffin in the middle of the service is one of the funniest I have seen in a long time. My step-son made me rewind and play it several times, it's that good. Death At A Funeral would be an extremely standard indie British comedy were it not for the talents of Dinklage, but his involvement raises the level of this movie from merely "standard" to "quite good". Perhaps some day the movie industry will find a way to get Dinklage more involved in feature films, but I don't think that's likely. I think the best we can hope for is that his talent, now so well recognized, will be the catalyst for film makers to start writing parts designed specifically for him, and perhaps we will see dozens more excellent indie films with real roles for Dinklage and other dwarves in the near future.