Friday, March 7, 2008

Best bathrooms in Ottawa? How about the worst? Vote now!

The Ottawa Sun reported today on the findings of some website called the Powder Room, which ranked the public restrooms in Ottawa.

This is terrific. So...if you are running around in Ottawa, and desperately have to go to the bathroom, try to hold it until you can get to the Chateau Laurier, who I'm sure would be thrilled to usher you into their luxurious bathroom facilites, at which point you can just go ahead and continue with your shopping.

Wouldn't a better study be to show the worst public restrooms in Ottawa? That way, when you are going to attend a certain location, you will know for a certainty that it's a good idea to go beforehand? I go to the Broadway in Barrhaven a lot, and they usually have quite a good bathroom. However, I was in there the other day and the toilet paper dispenser was broken. So I had to reach inside the mechanism, tearing off one small chunk after another, pants down around my ankles, until after about twelve minutes I had enough paper to actually wipe, at which point my hands were torn and bleeding. A horrible experience, out of character for an otherwise excellent public bathroom. But there are some real dives around town.

I remember in the old days of the Great Canadian Cabin, we would go there every Friday during university. I stopped going, and haven't been back since, largely because of their bathroom. They had this theory, the owners did, that if there was never any toilet paper, and the taps didn't work, that people would eventually stop using the bathroom and they would save lots of money on toilet paper and water. They actually went so far as to hire people off the street to go to the bathroom on the floor of the room before they opened for business every night, just to give everyone an extra incentive never to go in there. There is certainly a chance that their bathrooms have been fixed up since then, but that was always the benchmark of horrible public toilets to me. There are pubs and bars in town that are dives, but there is a certain character to those. Puzzles, The Carleton Tavern, the Dominion - all have a certain amount of character, and a solid vibe. You don't expect them to have spotless cans. But when a bar purports to be something classier and "upscale", whatever that means, it can't have a disgusting can.

Randall Moore has been going on for weeks about the Elmdale Tavern, how they're now hosting plays and have a new bathroom. I make fun of him for it, but that actually does interest me. A new bathroom really means that I am more likely to stop in there the next time I'm in the area for a beer. That's what we really need to know - which bathrooms are terrible, which are good or passable, and which ought to be condemned.

Muffin's radio debut.

Muffin made an appearance on the Doc and Woody show on Wednesday. She was there to share some dog food with me, to celebrate the new Ellen DeGeneres line of foods-you-can-share-with-yer-pet. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the food did not arrive. Nor did Tony D, which was too bad since I wanted to see if Muffin would bark while he was singing. We have researched her papers, and discovered she is indeed a toy poodle, and not a bichon frise, whatever that is. Also, we discovered she is in fact 15 years old. Which, if the dog-years math is correct, makes her 105. Still rather spry for such an old woman.

When my girlfriend found out she was 105, rather than 91 as we had originally thought, she felt bad. She's been (as have I) expecting Muffin to run up the stairs on her own, and complaining when she sits at the bottom and waits to be picked up. I found this amusing. Had I KNOWN you were so old, I would have helped you. Like, if you had a grandma who was 105, you would help her up the stairs. But if she was only 91, do it your damn self, grandma! Apparently, these dogs can sometimes live to be 18, which would be 126 in dog years. Which means Muffin could have three years left. It also means that perhaps people should re-think this whole "dog years" thing. People don't live to be 126. Perhaps five years to each human year would be more accurate than seven. We can see that Muffin's vision is starting to go a little bit, and she's getting a little bit of arthritis in her back legs, but those are some pretty insignificant infirmities for someone over 100 years old, I think.

On the way back from the station Wednesday, it took me a couple of hours to get home, what with the blizzard. After about an hour, Muffin started to whine in her cage, so I took her out and let her sit in my lap, just like I was Britney Spears. The lady at Tim Hortons gave her a Timbit, but she was fairly disinterested. Now every woman at work is wondering why Muffin isn't making another trip into the station. I tell them it's because Randall was mean to her, but really it was that long trip in and the long trip home that did her in. She didn't move at all for the rest of the day, having expended all her energy running into every studio and office in the building on Wednesday, and then being subjected to Rush songs on the way home. That would make any dog whine. Although she seems to like Aerosmith. Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Pistol Whipped! Seagal is BACK! This is so good. Out now (**2/10)

Too often, people underestimate the contribution Steven Seagal makes to popular culture. Too often, we (the general population) dismiss him as just another washed-up action movie star who has faded from the public eye. Oh sure, we hear his name every now and then, just like Jean-Claude Van Damme. (Who, by the way, has just announced that from now on, he will be accepting only those movie roles that he really likes. This was on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen.) We also hear Chuck Norris' name bandied about, thanks to the Chuck Norris list that has been circulating on our emails for so long. Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits. And that sort of thing. But Seagal eschews that kind of publicity. He doesn't need viral marketing to make his star shine brighter. He believes that he is perfectly capable of maintaining his own legacy on his own terms. And he is absolutely right. He IS capable of maintaining his own legacy. The legacy of terrible acting in poorly-written films that involve broken arms and explosions.

Steven Seagal is so much more than a movie star, and so much less than an actor. He is a time capsule. He has created some of the most timelessly awful things ever committed to celluloid, such as On Deadly Ground, Half Past Dead, and Black Dawn. Although the case could be made - if Black Dawn went direct-to-DVD, did it ever get committed to celluloid? No matter. Seagal achieved his greatest fame in the late 80s and early 90s with such brainless action fare as Above The Law and Under Seige. And in doing so, he achieved that most prized symbol of artistic freedom - autonomy. He has enough money and enough experience and enough cachet to be allowed to make his own movies exactly the way he wants. And he knows only one way to make a movie - breaking arms and blowing stuff up. So he does. Three to four times a year, the latest Seagal direct-to-DVD action flick hits video stores, mostly unannounced. A nice surprise for that masochistic action fan who just can't get enough of the now-pudgy arm breaker. Note to potential consumers: If you have upgraded to a hi-def television, the sight of Seagal in widescreen HD could frighten your children.

Seagal is a time capsule. All his direct-to-DVD releases blend together, since they are all virtually identical, and they could be thrown into a melting pot and spit straight back out into 1991 without missing a beat. In 1991, you could make lots of money at the box office without making lots of sense in your movie. Sure, Die Hard would make more money, but you couldn't lose with Fire Down Below. However, while movies have moved past that point, Seagal has not. He has stuck to his guns, and he remains there, at the periphery of our consciousness, clinging to that last bit of fame he still has, making the same movies he made when he was thirty. He is now 57 years old, but he isn't slowing down one bit. If people liked this in 1991, they will come around and start liking it again. But the thing is, he now has to do it himself - produce, direct, star. In 1991, others were doing that FOR him. And they were BETTER. So he struggles along, making movies that get worse and worse, and never really attempting to do something good. He clearly has a casting couch, a place where women come to break into the movies by appearing in his films, and they do so on that couch...why give that up now?

Then, here comes Pistol Whipped. Wait! Maybe he gets it! The movie opens with something unique in a Seagal movie. He is sitting with a priest (who serves as a narrator), and the priest explains everything. "You're a drunk, a bad father, a gambler, a disgraced cop who stole money, and a bad person". Wait...Seagal is playing a loser? A bad guy? Almost...Bruce Willisish? Maybe he is willing to shift his paradigm after all! He is still clinging to his image - he's almost 60, yet in the movie he has a 12-year-old daughter and a 30-year-old ex-wife. So, at best he's playing a 40 year old? But he's a loser. This is new! Then we find out that of course, he is not a loser, he's actually a very good guy, and my hope is burst. He still does not get it. He is still incapable of understanding that broken arms and explosions do not a movie make. There is a shootout on the street where millions of bullets are used, and no one gets hit. Like an episode of the A-Team. There is a cemetary shootout and car chase, both in slow motion, where people use gravestones as shields. Only John Woo can stage a slo-mo shootout, and no one can make a slo-mo car chase interesting.

There is a gas leak in a hearse. Seagal shoots the hearse. It explodes like the oil truck in Terminator 2. Perhaps they are now packing hearses with napalm and nitro. The female love interest (there has to be one) is Renee Goldsberry, who is useless, even next to Seagal. I couldn't figure it out. She's not an actor, she's not a martial artist or fighter, she isn't a porn star...why is she there? My girlfriend helped me out with that one - she was the only woman they could find who was willing to kiss Seagal on camera. And, we can only assume, on the couch. Lance Henriksen gets second billing here, because he's the only other name anyone knows, and he IS in the film for at least forty seconds.

Much like Seagal's other fare over the course of his career, Pistol Whipped is so aggressively awful it is entertaining. I love this movie more than most, simply because Seagal might finally be trying to break the Seagal mold a little. But even in doing that, he fails so magnificently that it's entertaining. And that's what makes Seagal the greatest under-the-radar pop culture figure in the world today. His aggressive refusal to conform to movies as they changed, and his stubborn refusal to accept suggestions from anyone but Seagal. He is the pinnacle of aggressive mediocrity, and even when he tries to do something different, he can't over-ride his basic nature, which is to appear heroic and break arms and blow things up. Continuity, common sense, plausibility and quality are all concepts that take a back seat to the ethos of 1991. And so we, the audience...get Pistol Whipped, both figuratively and literally.

Too funny.

I was watching Pardon The Interruption last night, and they were interviewing Warren Sapp following his retirement from football. Did anyone else know he retired? No, I guess it was kind of overshadowed...but how fitting that Sapp retired on the same day as Brett Favre. The two of them were the best show in sports whenever they shared the same field - laughing and smiling and joking with each other through the entire game. It always became a little game-within-a-game whenever Tampa Bay played the Packers, as Sapp tried to tear Favre's head off, and then Favre would slap him on the back and complete a 50-yard pass. Even more so in the playoffs, where they each won a Super Bowl on their way to the hall of fame. Anyway, Wilbon and Kornheiser on PTI were interviewing Sapp, who's as charming and funny and self-effacing as ever, and when the interview was over, they played Sapp's favourite clip from the show. The trampoline bear. When I searched for it on youtube, apparently it was everywhere. I don't know how I missed this, it is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. So I thought I would put it up here, because I think some of you guys may not have seen it either. And don't worry, animal-lovers, the bear was OK.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

30 Days of Night. Out now (******6/10)

There have been hundreds of movies made about vampires. Vampires themselves have become so pervasive in our culture that movies no longer need to explain them. The rules are set. A vampire bites you, you become one. You kill them by stabbing them with wood through the heart, or by getting them into the sunlight, or by throwing holy water on them or by hiring Wesley Snipes. Therefore, it is fairly difficult to make a vampire movie that has a fresh, new concept. And 30 Days of Night does not try to do so. On the surface, it appears to be a very by-the-numbers vampire flick. One with a neat premise - in Alaska, there is an entire month (30 days) where there is no sun. As such, creatures who are light-sensitive, such as vampires, would be free to roam around all day every day and destroy all the people in a small Alaskan town. And this is where the movie begins. Another great thing about vampire movies is that you never need to question the motivation of the bad guys. They're vampires. Vampires = bad. Bad = killing humans. No more questions.

So, in that sense, this is a vampire movie. The creatures can't handle UV light, and they are in town simply to hunt and kill all humans. Never mind why. No one cares, least of all the humans who are being hunted. However, no wooden stakes through the heart for these baddies. No, the only way to kill them, other than sunlight, is beheading. Which leads to some pretty gory ax-to-the-throat scenes. So...are these really vampires? 'Cause...they kinda are, and kinda aren't...again, who cares? Not the people. They just want to hide and run and then, eventually, as all people do in films like this one, kill all their enemies. Josh Hartnett plays a cop in this small Alaskan town, reprising his standard Pearl Harbouresque role as the smiley hot guy love interest, the poor man's Heath Ledger. The director is David Slade, who did an excellent but very hard-to-watch pedophile-related movie recently called Hard Candy. (It stars a diabolical and creepy Ellen Page before Juno.) And the de-rigeur hot chick is played by Melissa George. At the beginning of the film, she is fighting with Hartnett and racing to catch a plane away from Alaska. Do we wonder at all whether she'll make it to the plane? Or patch up her relationship before the movie ends? Do we care? Make with the quasi-vampires already.

And they do. Ben Foster (Russell Crowe's right-hand man in 3:10 To Yuma) has a creepy turn as the foreshadower of the invasion, and the creepy bad guys show up 19 minutes in. There is a genuinely startling rock-paper-scissors scene, a painful oh-it's-grandma-smoking-the-weed scene, and someone uses the phrase "coked up on PCP". I don't think it was meant to be ironic. Snow, it turns out, is a terrific canvas to better show blood spatter - Dexter would be in his element here. And this movie is definitely gory, sometimes gross, often creepy, but somehow rarely scary, if at all. Once we have seen the vampires in all their glory, there isn't much to frighten us any more. In fact, the last half hour of this almost-two-hour movie has less in common with horror movies than it does with old westerns. This town ain't big enough for the both of us, and that sort of thing. And that's the real problem with 30 Days of Night. It is too long. There are some genuinely tense moments, some terrific shocks and some great ideas. But by the end, we have either guessed the ending or we no longer care, and we're kinda glad the whole thing is over. My fingers are tired. I'm glad this review's over.

Slipstream. Umm...what? Out now. (****4/10)

Anthony Hopkins should feel good about his new movie Slipstream. He directed the film, as well as starring in it, and I am going to go ahead and assume that it turned out exactly the way he wanted it to turn out. That is, weird. I respect the fact that as long as his movie fit his vision, he didn't care at all whether the rest of us got it or not, and even may not have cared if we enjoyed it or not. Slipstream seems to be about a movie script-writer whose mind is going, and who lives half in reality, half in his mind. Somehow, when I watched the trailers, I got the sense that this movie was about time travel. Maybe it was supposed to be about time travel, and I just didn't get it. Hey, for all I know, this film could have been about a rabbit and a butterfly. Frankly, there's no good way to tell. I have the sense that if I watched this film five or six times, I would be able to figure out what's going on. But I don't feel like doing that. Frankly, I don't feel like watching it twice. I also have the sense that if David Lynch was allowed to make an entire movie while on PCP, it would look something like this one.

It's OK to make a movie that doesn't make perfect sense. Look at Lynch - Mulholland Drive, for example. And some of the greatest films are almost as bonkers as this one. Like, Weekend, for example, or Fellini's stuff. But you have to either go all out, or wrap things up in some way. Slipstream starts out with a bunch of scenes that don't fit together, a series of weird moments, one after another, slight changes in scenes that seem to indicate there is something bigger going on...and all of a sudden we've hit the 40 minute mark. And we still have no idea what's happening. At all. Then things start making a little more sense. But by then, no one cares. We've completely given up on trying to make sense of anything, and when stuff sort of starts coming together, we just want it to wrap up and the movie be over. And this one never really comes together at all. Individually, each scene is likely compelling. Hopkins is quite good at creating a memorable image, or phrase, or moment. But taken collectively, this is just too much for your average viewer. Or your sub-par viewer, or your above-average, gifted viewer. Any viewer.

There are some great performances in here. Hopkins is terrific, and John Turturro is awesome fun as a maniac movie producer. The film also stars Camryn Manheim, Christian Slater, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeffrey Tambor, and in the most bizarre cameo of the year, Kevin McCarthy as himself. For some reason, Slipstream continually refers to the 1956 classic horror film Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. And Kevin McCarthy, who was the star of that film, shows up as himself, now at age 84, in order to sit in a car with Hopkins. Since the movie ended, I have been trying very hard to understand the references to Bodysnatchers, but I have yet to figure it out. And I'm not willing to watch it again to help me understand. Slipstream is a ballsy film to make, it's as experimental and avant-garde (if that's even a real term) as anything made this year, but it doesn't work. When it was over, I suspected that it was a movie designed specifically to confuse me, rather than to make me think. It's like having one of those magic-eye pictures, the ones you stare at for a long time until you see a sailboat or a tiger or whatever. Only, this one has no underlying picture. So you can stare at it for as long as you like, but you'll never see anything. And you will be frustrated and angry.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brett Favre.

I hated myself last night. I had been convinced that the story I saw last week about Brett Favre's retirement being posted on the Packers website had just been a big mistake, and that there was no way he was going to retire after that unbelievable, MVP-calibre season he had last year. Furthermore, he is a guy who has weighed that question a lot over the past few years, and it seems to be a decision at which he would not arrive lightly. Therefore, when I heard the announcement yesterday, I knew it was final. Now, I am the biggest Favre fan in Ottawa (likely not the world - there are bigger fans in Wisconsin, I am sure. Also, there's John Madden.) And yet, right after I heard the announcement yesterday, I hated myself. The reason I hated myself was that horrible thoughts flew through my head right away. Why would a guy, coming off a major career resurrection, still one of the top three quarterbacks in football, an MVP candidate who went all the way to the NFC championship hang it up? It's basically the second "prime" of his career! Who else has a career with two "primes" of such magnitude?

Well, here's the answer that immediately flashed across my brain. Roger Clemens. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro. Lance Armstrong. Crap. And I remember thinking "why couldn't these guys leave well enough alone? Had they retired, got out before the steroid thing hit big, there would be no controversy and no one would care!" I lamented Roger Clemens being boneheaded enough to stick around long enough to be caught. And now...this is the first thing I think when my hero retires? Oh my God what if he was on steroids? I had many childhood sporting heroes, but I certainly didn't think anything cynical like this when Rickey Henderson and Clyde Drexler and Dale Hawerchuk retired. And let me state, for the record, that I do not believe for one second that Brett Favre has ever used steroids. I believe that this man's personal integrity is above reproach. But why would the thought ever cross my mind?

The answer is sports in general. Nothing shocks us any more. Nothing would shock me when it comes to steroids, unless someone discovered that Roger Maris used HGH in 1961 when he broke the home run record. Sports has made a cynic out of me, it has destroyed the illusion I had of supermen when I was a child. It's not just steroids either. It's Chris Simon, and Pacman Jones, and Michael Vick and Tony LaRussa. In short, it's the absence of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Brett Favre. Favre was my hero because when I, as a twelve-year-old Packers fan, watched him play the game, I felt his joy. When I watch Peyton Manning complete an impossible bomb to Marvin Harrison, I might be on the edge of my seat cheering, and I applaud the skill it took to make the play. When Favre gunned a ball between two defenders that hit Sterling Sharpe on the run at 90 miles an hour, leaving him untouched as he raced down the sidelines for a touchdown, I was there, in the play, with him. As he jumped into the arms of Dorsey Levens before Sharpe even reached the end zone, I was jumping too. I was pumping my fist, as he did, and his elation was mine as well.

That is what is missing in sports today. Oh sure, some players still have it. Manny Ramirez has it. Alexander Ovechkin has it. LeBron James has it. But those players are not Favre. All they really have is the joy. The unbridled enthusiasm that any kid would have if he got the chance to play that game at that level. Favre was that, and so much more. He was the heart and soul of his team. He was the guy who could lift his entire team onto his back and MAKE them win, and have an absolute blast doing it. He was the guy who would never, ever take a play off, much less a game, and perhaps the only quarterback in memory whose toughness was never questioned. Mental toughness, physical toughness, and the emotional toughness to never quit loving what he did for a living. And now that he is gone, my mind immediately leaps to steroids and controversy. I am ashamed of myself, but more so, I am ashamed for all of sports. Screw you sports. Without Brett Favre, is there any reason to continue watching at all?

The Onion movie trailer

Doc just sent this to me, and I laughed very hard. So, in the interests of others laughing very hard, I will post the link here. Watch it, and laugh very hard with me.

At first, I thought that perhaps Steven Seagal had developed a Shatner-esque ability to laugh at himself. However, upon closer examination, these are scenes from other movies. Specifically, the dreadfully entertaining Belly of the Beast, and the criminally overlooked Into The Sun.

Kids' books shouldn't be so time consuming.

The kids are on diverging paths. Last week I found my 8-year-old step son reading a book from my bookshelf. He's 8, he orders Captain Underpants books from school, and he's going through my George Orwell section. He picks up Animal Farm and sits down to read. It was a bit of a struggle. I found him in the middle of chapter two, however, and he was really working to read and understand it! He had some trouble with a lot of the words, and so when I showed up he had a lot of questions, but I thought that was great - it's not a bad idea to hit up some classics at an early age. And although the language was tough for an 8-year-old, he really understood the larger concepts in the book. At the same time his 13-year-old brother was reading kids' books. He has been really into this Eragon trilogy, and he has been bugging me to read the books as well. This seems to be quite the phenomenon. We have given him the first two books, Eragon and Eldest, for Christmases and birthdays and so forth, and there is currently a 42-person waiting list to read the third book at the library. The first book was made into a very lousy movie starring Jeremy Irons that we saw a few months ago, but the books are fairly good.

So while the younger one was reading George Orwell, I delved into a children's book beside him. And Eragon is not bad. The story is interesting, the writing is decent. (The grammar, however, is not fantastic. If that's the style, I have no problem with it, but there is some awkward sentence structure where sentences end in prepositions that the author has thought of.) The basic premise of the novels is pretty much identical to Lord of the Rings. Even the characters are incredibly familiar. There are elves who use magic and dwarves who fight with axes and magicians and dragons and so forth. The star of the books, Eragon, is a 15-year-old kid who finds a dragon egg, and discovers that he is a Dragon Rider, and he and his dragon Saphira are called upon to defeat the evil empire, an empire that is led by a Darth-Vader type that through two books I still have not encountered, named Galbatorix. There are several plot points that are deliberately withheld for a long time, so the Luke-I-Am-Your-Father moments have more resonance, and we want to keep reading because we really do want to know what happens next. As far as kids' books go, this one is pretty good, especially considering the fact that the guy who wrote them started the first one when he was 15.

There is some stuff that will irritate adults reading it. Scenes from movies that are quoted, fairly bizarrely, in the middle of the novels. ("Barges? Barges? We don't need no stinkin' barges!") And the books are way too long, and that fantasy stuff seems to me to be the kind of stuff where once you've read one, you've read them all. But come on! The guy's fifteen! I remember reading Gordon Korman books voraciously as a child, and the idea that he had written many of them at the same age I was at the time was inspirational to me. It didn't really inspire me to write, per se, but it did inspire me to read a whole lot more. But I don't think kids' books need to be this long. I have read the first two books over the last week and a half, and they are both 600 pages plus, big heavy tomes that are daunting for me to even begin. But, the fact that they have kids reading them energetically is a good thing.

Just a thought - these fantasy type books that involve dwarves. "Dwarf" is a term used to describe human beings. Dwarfism is an actual condition, and we see and know dwarves. Like Peter Dinklage, the magnificent actor who starred in The Station Agent. So why, in this easily-offended culture, are people not protesting this? If, instead of "elves", the stories starred "midgets", wouldn't that make people angry? Midgets, specifically? Somehow, dwarf seems to be a word that gets a pass.

Taxes! Dollars! I'm sleepy!

I researched the deadline for contributing to RRSPs in order to make my contribution before the deadline for this year's taxes. March 1st, apparently, was the very last day I could do this. I have had a ridiculously busy two weeks, and so I left it to the very last minute. But, my bank was open on Saturday the 1st, so I went in that day to make sure I got the contribution in on time. But I was wrong. It turns out that when February has 29 days, the deadline is no longer March 1st. It is February 29th. Something to remember four years from now. So I missed the boat, yet again, on contributing to my RRSP before I did this year's taxes. But I went ahead and did my taxes anyway. In fact, I had two years' worth of taxes to do, since I found out I didn't do last years' either. I was told that H&R Block charged like 40 bucks to do your taxes. I thought that was a great idea, since I always use that tax software, that costs like 70 bucks. So to save some time and money, I went to H&R Block last night.

I always feel very good about paying my taxes. I watch the money leave my hand, knowing that it goes for the greater good. Maybe this year because of me, the head of a federal advertising agency can afford that more-expensive wine with his meal. If I had a really good year, financially, perhaps he can even take some clients out to the luxury box at the next Senators game! And if I did really well, my money could well be spent to purchase the vote of an independant MP in order to sway the government into another election. And election that would alsouse up my money. Boy, do I feel important when I pay my tax. I sure can't wait for the next election, because nothing fills me with a sense of power like the times when the government creates plans. Plans that I like. Using my money. Perhaps enough plans that I might vote for them, based on what they have done with my money. This is the greatest moment in democracy, when my vote is purchased from me with my own money, such that I can give more of that money to the same party, and eventually they will use that money to purchase my vote again come the next election! The power I wield is too much for just one man.

So, chest swelling and head growing, I sat down with the H&R Block woman for my twenty-minute meeting. It was already an hour past my bedtime, so I was thankful that this process would go quickly. Maybe the government would take more of my money than I had already paid, which would be great because then I would personally be contributing to, say, reducing hospital wait times from eight hours to seven-and-a-half. Now, if only I could have done something with my tax dollars to reduce the H&R Block wait time. I had two years to go through. I had two T4s and two T5s. I was there for three hours. That's no exaggeration. Three. Hours. I don't even know what was going on, I was drifting off and desperately trying to keep my eyes open. Then I got the good news - I was getting money back! BOTH years! For 2006, I got 60 bucks back, which meant that I owed H&R Block eighty dollars. For 2007, I was getting substantially more back - One hundred and twenty bucks! Which meant that for that year, I owed H&R block twenty dollars. Wait...what? I get back 60, it costs me 80 to go through the process...when I get back 120, it costs me 20. And it turns out the process is far more painful and long than actually doing my taxes myself.

So I left, with my 49 dollar cheque in hand, and vowed to do my taxes myself from now on. It might cost 70 bucks to buy that software, but at least I can do it on my own time, instead of hours after bedtime, and I can do it in far less than three hours. By the time I left, I was exhausted and starving. I had to eat, and didn't have the energy to cook anything, so I figured I would hit McDonalds on the way home. There was no one else there. Inside, or at the drive-thru. Anywhere. It still took them seven minutes to acknowledge my presense, and then another eleven to serve me my Big Mac. That's no joke, I was at McDonalds for eighteen minutes. For a Big Mac. When I got home, I discovered that my Big Mac was in fact a Big Extra. I figured I don't care, I'm just so hungry and tired I'll eat whatever. I bit into my burger hungrily, and gagged. Not only was it not a Big Mac, it was also not cooked. At all. It was a completely raw burger crammed into a bun. No ketchup, no onions, nothing at all, but a raw burger and a bun. I gave up on life. I went to bed. I was starving, exhausted, and at this point very angry. But at least I was 48 dollars richer.

Inspiration hits me!

I have been inspired. Reading an interview with Moby in the latest Spin magazine, I had something of an epiphany. Moby, some of you will recall, is that bald-headed techno that an oxymoron? Techno musician? Anyway, he's that guy. He says that it amuses him to illegally download music. In fact, he downloads tons of it. But the only music he illegally downloads are his own tunes, because he has this perverse desire to see the music downloading police show up at his house and kick down his door to fine him for stealing his own tunes. I found that hilarious. So I decided to do something similar. I am going to start a grow-op. I will convert my basement into a massive hydroponic greenhouse, and build a huge operation. When the power company monitors my consumption, their red flags will go up and they will begin investigating me. The police will stake out my house as I bring plant after plant out of my basement and take them away in garbage bags in my car. And, eventually, they will kick in my door and confiscate my entire crop of...daffodils.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

New DVD releases today - Tuesday March 4th 2008.

Into The Wild (8/10): Emile Hirsch is magnificent in Sean Penn's wonderful new film about aguy who does something we've all thought about doing at one time or another. Giving up everything he has in life to just disappear into nature. Only, unlike Thoreau and other naturalists, he went all the way. Terrific film.

Awake (4/10): Hayden Christensen is not a good actor. Jessica Alba is not a good actress. Awake is not a good movie, despite the involvement of Terrence Howard. And yes, Jessica Alba has her standard walking-around-in-her-underwear scene that we have come to know and love.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: Dustin Hoffman continues taking kinda bizarre roles in films, this one a freaky kids-candy-store movie (not the creepy kind. Well, maybe a little.) Natalie Portman also stars.

Redacted: An Iraq war movie that actually got BAD reviews. And yet, for some reason, that didn't translate into big box office. No big stars, and subject matter that needs to be handled brilliantly to be effective. And, with Brian DePalma directing, there is a chance that it is.

The Kill Point: John Leguizamo and Donnie ("the other") Wahlberg star in the story of a bank heist that...oh never mind.

Things We Lost In The Fire (6/10): Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro carry this film, which is hit and miss. Worth watching just for the scenes between Del Toro and David Duchovny, as well as the scene where he attempts to kick heroin. The title of the movie has nothing to do with anything. Although they do mention it once in the film.

Human Giant Season One (7/10): New sketch-comedy TV show that has it's ups and downs, but has moments as good as anything SCTV ever did. Very offensive language and subject matter.

The Love Boat Season One Volume One (2/10): This old show would have received zero out of ten stars if there wasn't a stoner market out there. It is hilarious how bad this show really was. Concentrate very hard on the laugh track.

My Kid Could Paint That: I am very much looking forward to this film. A bonkers documentary about the rise and fall of a FOUR-year-old painter. Her parents have sued over this documentary, after inviting the film makers into their home to shoot it.

Pistol Whipped: Pistol Whipped! Of course, you know I would find the most important DVD release of the week, and here it is - the latest Steven Seagal direct-to-DVD arm breaking thriller! Seagal! Thriller! Lance Henriksen! Lance Henriksen, it appears, has no career left. You can tell, because he is in a Steven Seagal movie. I am SO looking forward to this.

Collector's Editions and box sets:
- Mrs. Doubtfire Behind the Seams edition
- 12 Angry Men 50th Anniversary Edition
- TCM Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 (The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Night Nurse, Three on a Match, Female) worth it just for Norma Shearer's performance in The Divorcee.
- Magnum P.I. Complete Eighth Season!

Also out today:
101 Dalmatians

American Poop Movie, The

Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief

Horton Hears a Who!

Kill Your Darlings

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Operation Filmmaker

Strawberry Shortcake: Big Country Fun

Thomas & Friends: Engines and Escapades
Thomas & Friends: Trackside Tunes

Looks like this is a pretty weak week for DVDs. Get Into the Wild, and 12 Angry Men. And, if you're a masochist or have a higly-developed sense of irony, Pistol Whipped!

Jeff Healey.

With the sad passing of Jeff Healey on Sunday, I have received several emails. One of the great Canadian musicians, one of the true class acts in the guitar world, and a fine man. He had one platinum album, his debut, which took off after people saw him in that Patrick Swayze Roadhouse movie. The cancer that killed him was a disease he had since birth, the same cancer that caused him to go blind as an infant. He was 41 years old. One of the emails I received, from Richard, asked if I would post a link to the video of Angel Eyes to my blog. And it turns out that I am that easily influenced. Well, for Jeff Healey I am.

Here is another link to a video of Healey doing While My Guitar Gently Weeps:

I don't know if he would want to be remembered with that hair - so try to concentrate on the guitar and remember him for that.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Human Giant Season One. (Paramount) Out Tuesday March 4th. (*******7/10)

Human Giant will seem very familiar to a lot of people. Anyone who has grown up with Kids in the Hall, or if you're in Britain Monty Python, or maybe SCTV, will feel like they have been watching Human Giant for years. It is another of those sketch-comedy shows which hits and misses with just about equal regularity. It's an MTV show that comes out on DVD courtesy of Paramount this Tuesday. It stars Aziz Ansari, a very good stand-up comedian, Rob Huebel, who has appeared on Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Paul Scheer, who was in School For Scoundrels. There is some inspired comedic writing in this program, and also some intriguing mis-fires. Lowest on the comedy metre are bits like "Shutterbugs", a recurring piece where the guys play agents to toddler-actors. One funny bit has a tiny George Bush and a tiny Osama Bin Laden starring in a movie together. But overall, it's a weak sketch. The funniest sketch involves some guest stars, like Rob Riggle from the Daily Show. It's called The Illusionators, and is basically a send-up of the David Blaine-Chris Angel style magic shows. It works every time, and it's fantastic.

Season One contains the first eight episodes of Human Giant, and a full disc of bonus features that is almost as good as the show itself. This is worth checking out for any sketch comedy fans. But be warned - it is decidedly filthy, with very offensive humour. Which I think makes it all the better.

Awake. Well, not me, after ten minutes of this movie. Alliance Films, this Tuesday the 4th of March. (****4/10)

The basic premise of Awake is a good one. A man is going in for open heart surgery, and the anaesthesia does not work 100% properly. You see, he is awake during the entire surgical procedure. He can't move a muscle, he can't speak, but he is aware of his surroundings and he can smell and feel and hear everything that is going on. Which leads to a very intense scene when he first realizes that he can hear everything that's happening in the operating room, and he can feel the incisions. The scene is fairly graphic, in a surgery-channel sort of way, and my girlfriend couldn't watch. Which means she missed the best seven minutes of the movie. The rest of the movie is maudlin, phony, and fairly irritating. And I blame two people in particular. The Star Wars Guy and the Bikini-Chick. Those two people are the stiff-as-a-board Hayden Christensen, and the sweet-as-pie-with-giant-eyes Jessica Alba.

The DVD cover for Awake has a quote from Frank Scheck, movie reviewer for the Hollywood Reporter. He says "Awake does for surgery what Jaws did for the beach". If he means it will make people afraid to go under the knife, he is wrong. If he means it will send people screaming in droves from it, perhaps he is right. In fact, based on that logic, Awake does for Hayden Christensen movies what Jaws did for the beach. Maybe, just maybe, people won't go back into the theatre for these things for a long time. Hayden Christensen is just painful. At best, he is a third-rate Christian Bale, which works fine for the acting-is-not-required Star Wars roles, but rarely is effective elsewhere in the movies. And Jessica Alba has the appearance, the charizma and the acting talent of a ridiculously attractive cabbage patch doll. Which makes these two the least believable screen couple this side of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Oh, they do the standard movie scene where he pulls her into the tub with her clothes on - get it? They are in love, and that's what people in love do...

At any rate, while he is aware of his surroundings but unable to respond, Christensen hears a plot to kill him! An evil scheme that involves his murder while he is having a heart transplant! But how is he to stop it? Well, it turns out, he isn't. He must hope that his loved ones piece things together before he comes out of his coma. And in the meantime, we watch him wander around the hospital in a completely ineffective out-of-body experience. Meanwhile, characters become their own narrators so that we know exactly what is happening. Dialogue like "OK, now you do exactly what we discussed. Take this syringe that I have prepared for you, put it into the heart he is about to receive, press down on the plunger, and then when the heart is placed in his chest, he will die, and we will collect the money. And remember, the reason we did this is..." If I was planning to kill someone for any reason at all, and I was conspiring with someone else, I don't think I would have to explain the entire plan to that person more than once. But, it sure helps us (and Christensen) know what is going on!

Awake has seven minutes which are intense, exciting, and terrific. They occur when Hayden Christensen is in a coma and can't act, and Jessica Alba is fretting in another room and isn't a part of the scene. The other 77 minutes of this movie are either poor or awful. I suggest avoiding all the minutes in this film.

Things We Lost in the Fire. Out Tuesday March 4th (Paramount). (******6/10)

Halle Berry is an over-rated actress. And she is under-rated as a hottie. I can't say enough good things about how gorgeous she is, and yet I can't seem to find too many nice things to say about her acting. Oh, she's passable enough. She can be quite good, and in some movies, almost great. But Charlize Theron or Cate Blanchett she is not. But she has managed to do a great job with her career, and has recently landed meaty acting roles like the one in Monster's Ball and this one here in Things We Lost in the Fire. Benicio Del Toro, on the other hand, is over-rated as an attractive guy, and under-rated as an actor. He is fairly ugly, it seems to me. Not Steve Buscemi or Ric Ocasek ugly, but certainly he is no Scott Baio. However, he has been able to translate his unique looks and remarkable acting into similarly challenging roles, like Fenster in The Usual Suspects, and great roles in Traffic, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, Sin City, and now Things We Lost in the Fire.

All of which means that Things We Lost in the Fire is only as good as Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro can make it. When that means it's as good as Halle Berry, it's decent, even good at times. When that means it's as good as Del Toro, it has moments verging on brilliant. However, that is all there is here, which leaves a lot of bothersome moments. Berry plays a woman whose husband (David Duchovny) is killed by a random act of violence. Del Toro is Duchovny's childhood friend, a friend who is a heroin addict. He has never met any of the family, or the other friends, since he wouldn't be seen by anyone until he was clean. But now, with Duchovny's death, and Del Toro's attendance at the funeral, bridges are gapped and amends are made. This all leads to him moving into his friend's house, with his widow and young children. There are some strange moments. Like, when Halle Berry takes her kids swimming, and wears a really awesome string bikini. If it's going to be just you and your kids, would you really wear a Hawaiian Tropic Girl uniform? Well, I have dated some women who would, and it's Halle Berry, so who cares? Bring on the string.

The main problem with Things We Lost In The Fire is that it is strangely unmoving. There are scenes which should be heart-wrenching that end up being barely compelling. Maybe because the director seems to insist on focussing on characters, one eye at a time. You might not notice that the first time you see this film, but now that I've mentioned it, you will be irritated by this quirk. Oh yeah, there's that one eye again. The scenes between Duchovny and Del Toro are terrific. They have a very convincing last-friend-on-earth vibe between them. And the scene where Del Toro goes through heroin withdrawal is as good and as harrowing as some other classics, like the one in Trainspotting or the wonderful acting job by Frank Sinatra in The Man With The Golden Arm. At one point the little girl says "do you ever feel like you're inside a movie? I do. And it's a sad movie." And that is the biggest problem. You always feel like you are watching a movie. The scenes are very realistic - people are incapable of expressing their emotions or voicing exactly what they want to say. Which is very real. However, it does nothing to move the film along, and a lot of motivations go unexplained and we are never really able to understand.

Things We Lost In The Fire is very up-and-down. When it's on, it's fantastic. When it's off, it's tepid and obvious. Unfortunately, it's more often off than on.

Into the Wild. Out Tuesday March 4th (Paramount). (********8/10)

Into the Wild is a terrific film. Sean Penn has now directed his first truly excellent movie, and Emile Hirsch has served notice that he is one of Hollywood's next major acting stars. Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a young college graduate with his whole life ahead of him, who decides to go ahead and live that life. Only, his idea of living that life is much different from his family's idea of living his life. In fact, it's an idea far more in keeping with Henry David Thoreau's idea of living life than it is for most of us. However, whereas Thoreau invented a large portion of his masterpiece, Walden, and did not necessarily spend several years of his life living in the woods at Walden Pond, McCandless really did this. He really did leave after graduating school, gave up all his money and his car and his family, and headed out across America to live in Alaska. Into the Wild is the story of that journey.

And it is a fascinating one. Along the way, Christopher does away with all his identification, changes his name to Alexander Supertramp (no connection to the band), and meets dozens of interesting people. Among them are Catherine Keener, who is terrific, Vince Vaughn, who is reliably great, Kristen Stewart, who is ridiculously hot, and Hal Holbrook, who is magnificent in the role that got him nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Of course, the scenery is beautiful, since this is the story of one man and his desire to be completely alone in the wild. But the dialogue is real and poetic, the actors all deliver first-rate performances, and the message really hits home. That message is not necessarily about the freedom that comes with abandoning all of one's possessions and doing away with conventional society and a "normal" life. In equal measure, it is about the consequences of doing exactly that. The effect that McCandless' disappearance had on his entire family, in particular his sister. And the effect that he has on all those he meets. This bright, engaging, attractive young man makes friends extremely easily, and creates lasting relationships in just a few short days.

However, he is doing it in large part because he is running away from that most lasting Relationship of all, Family. And toward the end of the film, he says to Holbrook "the joy of life doesn't come from human relationships". But that is the fundamental flaw in McCandless' philosophy. HIS joy actually DOES come from human relationships. Of course, by the time he reaches this epiphany, it is too late, and he has set forth on a journey where he discovers himself, and answers all his questions, too late. I don't think it's giving too much away to say he dies at the end - the trailers said as much. But as with most really good movies, it's the journey that makes them worthwhile.