Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The latest novel in the Randall Moore book-of-the-month club: Barney's Version.

Mordecai Richler was around for a long time in Canada. He has become so engrained in our culture that we are forcing kids, in school, to read the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. When I was in school, I resented the "forced to read" portion of English class, and I managed to get by on the tests and the book reports without ever reading the book itself. It was only years later, after my Dad gave me a copy of the Incomparable Atuk, that I developed an appreciation for the works of Mr. Richler, and set out to read Duddy Kravitz on purpose. Turns out it was a fantastic book, and I immediately regretted not having read it while in school. Same goes for Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Lord of the Flies, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver's Travels, King Lear, and countless other books I thought I was too clever to actually read. Kids - when they give you a book in school, read it. It might actually be very good.

Richler was still going strong toward the end of his life, and his last book, Barney's Version, is one of his best. It takes place all over the world, but remains centred in Montreal. Many characters from Duddy Kravitz keep showing up, including Kravitz himself, who we get to see now as an older man, still running his scams, still being a fairly despicable human being. But he shows up maybe three times in the whole book, and is incidental to the plot, at best. This story centres around Barney Panofski, a bitter old man who is telling the story of his life. His old friend turned sworn enemy, Terry McIver, has written his own memoirs, in which he accuses Panofski of murder. Barney won't take this lying down, so he is doing the same - hence, Barney's Version. Throughout the book, he is constantly forgetting things, or at least remembering them wrong, and so there is this great device richler uses where Barney's son, who is editing the memoirs for his father, puts corrections in footnotes at the bottom of each page.

It's a wonderful story told by a gloriously bitter old man. Barney pines for his third ex-wife, hates McIver with a passion, and writes bitter, angry, anonymous letters to various people and institutions. These letters, while malicious and in some cases quite vile, are at the same time cheeky and hilarious, and show us Barney's true colours. While he is not a very likeable guy, he is also not detestable, and he is a character that we identify with, whether we want to or not. His story takes us all over the world, from his time in Europe with his best friend, Boogie, and his then-friend McIver, to his aging days as schlock-TV producer here in Canada, working on a show called McIver of the RCMP. Other friends crop up throughout the book - a Hollywood movie producer, a famous artist, a dead feminist icon who happens to be Barney's first wife, and his best friend Boogie, who although he has few moments in the book itself, is the central character in the story. You see, it is Boogie that Barney is accused of murdering.

Not just accused, mind you, but actually arrested and tried for the killing. But since there is no body, and Boogie was a notorious gambler and flake and drug user, Barney remains convinced throughout the book that he will show up somewhere and clear his name. But this never takes place, and by the end of the book, we're left wondering a little - did he actually do it? The final few pages of the novel are what really struck me. I finally understood that the main gist of the whole read was one of absurdity, as when Barney's lawyer pulls a stunt in the courtroom that I once saw on Matlock, an urban legend courtroom trick, or the final sentence of the book which is the biggest urban-legend-come-to-life moment I have read in a book, possibly ever. At first, it made me annoyed. All this, great read and a fantastic novel, boiled down to a third-grade punchline? But on closer examination, it merely reinforces the bizarreness of Barney's life and the absurd nature of the book itself, an undertone that was difficult to pick up most of the time throughout the novel. A great read, I highly recommend Barney's Version, a classic in Canadian literature.

This made me laugh.

When I created my no-snow petition yesterday, I did so on this online instant-petition site called You go there, you fill in two fields, and boom. You have a petition. Here is mine, once again, so you can add your signature to this incredibly worthy cause:

When you go there, and sign it, you will receive this email, which is what made me laugh the most:

Thank you for signing the "No more snow!" petition at website.Your signature is valuable and makes a real difference. Please encourage others to sign the petition as well. To do that, just forward the text below to everyone who might be interested:------- FORWARD THIS TO YOUR FRIENDS -------Hi,I wanted to draw your attention to this important petition that I recently signed:"No more snow!" really think this is an important cause, and I'd like to encourage you to add your signature, too. It's free and takes less than a minute of your time.Thanks!---------------------------------------------Once again, thanks for signing the petition!Sincerely, -iPetitions Campaigns Teamp.s. If you would like to start your own free petition, you can do so here:

This is a terrific service provided by ipetitions! They add legitimacy to MY petition without even knowing what it's about! MY signature is valuable and makes a real difference! That's true! It does! The only way to avoid the snow is if people like me sign the petition I made! Now, tell your friends! Let's turn this petition into one of those internet chain letters, one that will bring you bad luck or kill a small child in Guam if you don't sign it, and thereby people will be encouraged to sign it and send it to ten friends...I can't wait until I see my own petition showing up in my own inbox accompanied by photos of cute little kittens that are soaking wet. They've even given you a template for the email you can send! This would be all well and good for a petition about Dafur or Tibet. But this one? I will post the link once again so you can see the petition, sign it for yourself, and share in my amusment over the emails we will all receive!

Go now! Or kittens will die!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bee Movie! I miss Seinfeld. Out today - Paramount (*******7/10)

I have heard many people complaining about Bee Movie. How it was too adult for kids and too kiddy for adults and so forth. But I disagree. Bee Movie is a Seinfeld movie. Jerry Seinfeld was having dinner with Steven Spielberg, and he said "wouldn't it be funny if someone made a movie called Bee Movie, and it was all about bees?" And there you have it. Seinfeld is about the only guy in Hollywood not named Spielberg who has that kind of clout. Hey, wouldn't it be neat - and it's done. And I'm glad it was done. This movie is good. It's funny, it's smart, and kids will like it whether they understand it or not. I watched it today with the two kids. One is thirteen and one is eight, and both had a lot of fun watching it. In fact, the 13-year-old is watching it again, a couple of hours later, with his mom upstairs right now.

The fact is, it is not too adult for kids. For four-year-olds, maybe. But even if you're eight, you will get it. My younger step-son pestered me with questions through the entire movie. What's a writ? What's litigation? What's a class action? And you know, although he did not understand those terms while watching the movie, he does now. And that's a good thing. The premise of the story is that bees can talk. They have always been able to talk, but they are prohibited from talking to human beings because it's a bee rule never to do so. But when Barry B. Benson (I think that's his name) decides he does not want to work for the honey plant for the rest of his life, and talks to a human being, it sets off a chain of events that leads to him suing humankind over honey. There are some hilarious laugh-out-loud moments in the film. The Larry King piece is hilarious, the Winne the Pooh bit as well, and the scene where he first talks to the woman is one of the funniest I've seen in an animated movie.

The real stroke of awesomeness in Bee Movie is this - it is, actually, a B-Movie. It has all the earmarks of a B-Movie. The big dramatic but obvious finish, the campy dialogue, and Ray Liotta. Casting Ray Liotta as himself in this movie was a stroke of genius. The ultimate B-Movie actor in a B-Movie called Bee Movie. Get it? If only Bruce Campbell had showed up as well. Some serious voice talent does appear, however. Sting plays himself, as does Larry King. Oprah plays a judge, and John Goodman, Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Rip Torn and Kathy Bates all make appearances. Of course, however, the real star is Jerry Seinfeld, who does the voice of Barry. It gives the whole movie this absurdist feel, as though you're watching a Seinfeld episode re-enacted by bees. Even Michael Richards appears, to give more Seinfeld flavour to the experience. And this movie also has the best use of the Beatles' song Here Comes The Sun that you are likely to hear in a film. It's done by Sheryl Crow, and it doesn't quite compare to some other covers. (I personally love the version done by Alison Moorer, as well as a reggae classic cover by Peter Tosh.) But it fits so well with this movie. This is a great movie. It comes out today courtesy of Paramount.

South Park: Imaginationland! Out today - Paramount (****4/10)

The original South Park movie, Bigger Longer and Uncut, was a masterpiece. I truly mean that - it was the best musical I have ever seen. The political anti-censorship message was brilliantly delivered, the characters made great sense and there were endlessly quotable lines throughout the film. Since then, the guys over at South Park seem to be on autopilot. Every now and then they come out with another great episode - The Tom Cruise in the closet episode was classic. The World of Warcraft episode was classic. But for the most part, the show has been running on empty. And this new DVD, ostensibly a movie called Imaginationland, is really a DVD release of three back-to-back episodes that make up one whole 70-minute piece. And it, like most of South Park these days, is not very good.

Oh, there are some quality moments only South Park could deliver. Cartman's quest to get Kyle to do some very dirty things to him is memorable. Butters, as usual, has some quality moments. But mostly Trey Parker and Matt Stone just come across as bitter, malicious people bent on being mean to any public figure they can think of. Al Gore, Kurt Russell, and so many more get skewered. And they also REALLY seem to hate their main competition, Family Guy. They make several references to Family Guy sucking, most notably mocking the idea of a Star Wars parody (which Family Guy did to great comedic effect on the Blue Harvest DVD, available now). Perhaps that is because the South Park guys truly have been surpassed when it comes to offensive humour and belly-laughs-per-episode.

The plot here is that the kids end up in Imaginationland, a place where every creature ever imagined by a human being congregates. Superman, Jesus, Santa, Zeus, Strawberry Shortcake, Luke Skywalker, Aslan, they're all there. And Butters is left behind when Stan and Kyle return to the real world. Then, bizarrely, terrorists attack Imaginationland, and only Butters can save the world. The military starts plans to nuke Imaginationland, and Cartman takes his fight with Kyle to the Supreme court. all of this could work, and like I said there are good moments, but what the South Park guys have forgotten is that just being mean to public figures is not in itself funny. (The Michael Bay bit and the M. Night Shyamalan thing were very well done.) But those moments are few and far between. Imaginationland comes out today, courtesy of Paramount, and it's a reminder of how far the South Park boys have fallen.

Lil' Bush Season One. Out on DVD today - Paramount (***3/10)

Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States is an interesting concept. It takes George Bush, as a small child, fills him with delusions of grandeur, pairs him with playmates such as Lil' Rummy and Lil' Condie and Lil' clever nicknames for Cheney, I suppose. He lives with his president father and his ugly mother, and he sows the seeds of a future disastrous presidency as he makes his way through school. There is a Lil' Hillary Clinton, a Lil' Bill Clinton, a Lil' Barack Obama, pretty much a "Lil'" every major political figure in the U.S. and the world, up to and including Lil' Kim Jong Il. No attempt is really made to have any kind of continuity, and I suppose that's rather unimportant when it comes to a show like this one. Things take place that are occurring today, and then things that occurred during the presidency of Bush senior take place, and that's about it.

Which is the real, irritating part about Lil' Bush. There are some good lines and good jokes, like Haliburtonland in Iraq, and Lil' Cheney bites the heads off chickens, Lil' Condoleeza Rice is in love with Lil' Bush, Lil' Tony Blair is effeminate...but so what?Three good lines per episode is not enough to make this show good. Simply referencing George Bush and mocking his attitude could sustain you for one half-hour episode. Making Lil' Jeb Bush a neanderthal with the IQ of a toad and talking about Lil' Rumsfeld's father beating him could, if done right, sustain you for a second episode. But it does not a whole show make. At some point, you want the show to be what it ostensibly is - political. In the end, it feels far more like a show that merely takes the name of the current U.S. president and then makes him look stupid. That, any comedian can do. That, is easy. George W. Bush is the most easily-mocked public figure of the past fifty years, outside maybe OJ, and yet this show is content to do simply that. Make the easy Cheney-is-corrupt jokes, and the Bush-is-stupid jokes, and the Clinton-is-a-horndog jokes, and that's it.

Please. Haven't Clinton-likes-breasts-and-interns jokes left the realm of topicality eight years ago? There is so much the Bush administration, and the Bush cronies, do every day that is worth skewering, that it's very disappointing when you don't see that happen. And by the way - where is Lil' Karl Rove? Shouldn't HE be the one biting the heads off chickens while Lil' Cheney shoots people in the face? I see why this show was picked up - the idea has tremendous potential. But none of that potential is fulfilled here. Season One of Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States comes out today courtesy of Paramount.

The Mod Squad! Season One, Volume 2 out today - Paramount (*****5/10)

Boy, did I ever miss out when I was younger. Or, more accurately, by being born too late. I did not get to see Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Syd Barrett, The 13th Floor Elevators or the other cultural icons of the sixties do their thing. I never got to see the Beatles perform, I was nowhere when JFK was shot, I was unable to experience Paul Henderson's goal for myself, and I missed out on The Mod Squad. Well, thankfully this fine show was preserved in a sixties time capsule for me by the good people at Paramount and released today in a glorious 4-disc DVD box set! The main thing I took from this show was that at one point, Clarence Williams III was a major star of a major show. Was this a major show? I don't even really know. Oh, he's still around, playing bit parts in movies such as American Gangster and ridiculous parts in movies such as Half Baked and Reindeer Games. But he is the only cast member I recognize. Michael Cole looks a lot like Roger Daltrey to me, which was likely a perfect casting choice for the time, but I don't see his name in the credits of any movie since 1992's classic Triple Impact. And Peggy Lipton was definitely hot in 1969, and she has kept working over these past 40 years, but in nothing significant enough that anyone would have seen it.

The main premise of the show is that three "street kids" are recruited by the cops to work undercover, rather than go to prison. They are continually referred to as kids, despite the fact that Michael Cole was clearly 48 at the time of filming. I guess he paved the way for the likes of Luke Perry in later years. The "kids" talk jive to one another, and at the end of each episode, ruminate wisely about the events that have just taken place, and how those events may well shape the rest of their bright futures. I assume this show was a fairly big one , simply because in later years Claire Danes was recruited to create a movie version of the program. Much like Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, and every other movie based on a TV program, The Mod Squad movie sucked.

But watching this show reminded me of the old days. Days when I would come home after a night out and sit by the TV, watching The Simpsons late, and afterward a program called Funky Squad. Does anyone remember this show? It was clearly something that CTV had dredged up from the 70s, and was also an obvious parody of The Mod Squad. Since I was rarely in a straightforward state when I watched this program, I can't recall if it was good or not, but I do remember finding it hilarious at the time. If there is one show that is ripe for parody, it's The Mod Squad. It just isn't ripe for a Hollywood movie ripoff. The Mod Squad, Season One, Volume 2, comes out on DVD today courtesy of Paramount, and it contains some classic episodes, like When Julie's Mom Comes To Visit, and The Crime Ring That Extorts The Parents Of Young Babies.

Petitions are awesome!

Doc and Woody have decided to start a petition to make sure we have enough snow in Ottawa this year to break the record of 444 centimetres. We all know nothing is quite as effective as an on-line petition, and so the idea here is that with 1,000 signatures, the clamour for a record-breaking winter will not be ignored. I say screw that. I will not enjoy breaking the record for snow, any more than I will enjoy breaking my back shovelling it. And because the only way to fight a powerful on-line petition is with another on-line petition, here is mine: No more snow!

Sign it now!

Look! I have a poll.

I have figured out how to make polls! Fill in my poll! It's right there -------------------------->

New release movies Tuesday March 11th.

No Country For Old Men. (10/10) The best film of the year. The Academy finally got one right. In fact, this is the best movie in ten years. Don't rent it, buy it. You can watch this one four times the week you pick it up. Absolutely amazing.

Dan in Real Life. Steve Carrell doing more of his low-key comedy stuff. Could be decent - also stars Juliette Binoche, Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), Dianne Weist, and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)

Bee Movie. Jerry Seinfeld's first attempt at creating a movie, this one a cartoon for kids starring an enterprising bee. From all accounts, it's geared a little more toward adults than really young ones, but I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Hitman. Timothy Olyphant is Agent 47...who doesn't need a name, apparently, or a raison d'etre...he's one of those movie hitmen who is groomed for murder and has no emotions or weaknesses...except fot that one woman. It seems familiar to me, somehow.

August Rush. A young boy is drawn toward New York City by music he hears in the sky, where he will find the parents who were separated from him years earlier, and along the way might discover his inner musical genius. The songs that attract him must all be Emerson Lake and Palmer tunes.

Neverwas. (4/10). Aaron Eckhardt teams with Brittany Murphy in a movie too old for kids and too young for adults. A mythical land of Neverwas may or may not exist...the only redeeming feature in this film is Ian McKellan, who plays one of the most entertaining and charming lunatics since Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.

Sleuth. Here is the tagline, cut and pasted: A millionaire detective novelist matches wits with the unemployed actor who ran off with his wife in a deadly seriuos, serioulsy twisted game with dangerous consequences. Deadly sriuios, serilisly twisted? These seems like some mustwatch.

Nancy Drew. It took people this long to make a Nancy Drew movie? Really? The character has been around to be exploited for years...what about the Hardy Boys? Do they get no love? I would like to see a Hardy Boys movie...Shia LaBoeuf as Frank, James MacElroy as Joe...Jonah Hill as lovable meathead Chet...get on this, Hollywood! They can fight terrorists or something, what with the lack of smugglers these days.

Also out:

Appleseed Ex Machina
Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation
Global Warning, A
Lake of Fire
South Park: Imaginationland
Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Storm Warning
Tom & Jerry Tales: Vol. 4
You Move You Die

Neverwas. Out today - without Ian McKellan, this would be awful. (****4/10)

Neverwas is a movie in the tradition of Hook and Bridge to Terabithia, where fantasy and reality intersect in some bizarre way. It stars Aaron Eckhardt, Brittany Murphy and Ian McKellan. This film was made in 2005, never hit the theatres, and finally gets it’s first release, courtesy of Alliance Films, on DVD today. It’s the story of an imagined land called Neverwas. Like Narnia or Oz or Middle Earth, Neverwas exists only in a children’s book written by Nick Nolte. The star of this book is Zachary, Nolte’s son. While writing the book, Nolte is losing his mind, and gets sent to a mental institution. For the next few years, he made life very difficult for his family before dying a strange and unpleasant death. The movie picks up about thirty years later. The book is now a worldwide classic, and Nolte’s son is a grown man (Eckhardt). He is now a psychiatrist, who takes a job at the institute that once housed his father.

There are some other big names here. Notably Vera Farminga, who starred as the psychiatrist in The Departed and has become one of the most respected actresses in the business. But then, this film was made in 2005, before she was famous. And although the credits use her name, she has one line in the movie and maybe six seconds of screen time. Which indicates something about the film. Neverwas was made three years ago, but released only now. And they put a famous name in the credits, even though that person had very little to do with the movie. Maybe they are trying to compensate for something? Hide something? Like the fact that this movie is not very good? Well, it isn’t. In fact, it would be quite terrible without one key ingredient. Ian McKellan.

I like Brittany Murphy, she has a very charming and childlike innocence about her, which works well in this film. She plays a reporter who is doing a story on the phenomenon of Neverwas and the enigma that was it’s author. I also like Aaron Eckhardt, who has the sort of cocky arrogance that works in Thank You For Smoking, but not here. The two are supposed to be some kind of meant-for-each-other couple, but does that ever feel flat, and leads to a painfully contrived oh-my-god-she’s-really-a-reporter-and-I’m-furious scene. Then there’s a maudlin, staggeringly stupid scene where Eckhardt reveals that he BLAMES himself for his father’s DEATH! But thankfully, right when each of these terrible scenes gets so obnoxious that you want to give up on the movie altogether, here comes Ian McKellan again, and things pick right back up.
McKellan plays a patient at the mental hospital who believes that he is the king of the actual land of Neverwas. He is magnificently looney, a wonderfully deranged old man he maybe telling the truth? Is Neverwas...actually real? I won’t reveal the details there, but the journey to that point is terrific. Without McKellan, this movie would be incredibly awful. But whenever he’s on the screen, the film has a certain electricity which is well worth watching. McKellan is one of the greatest actors working today, and although he will likely be remembered for playing Magneto more than any other character, he has done wonderful work in many fine films. And some otherwise horrible ones, like Neverwas.

It’s clear why this didn’t get a theatrical release. It’s too old for kids and too young for adults and too cheesy for cynical teenagers. And what happens to good movies that are too old for kids and too young for everyone else? They go direct to DVD. Apparently, so too do the bad ones.

No Country For Old Men - out today. Best movie of the Millenium. (**********10/10)

The Coen Brothers have collaborated on twelve films in their illustrious career. There have been some interesting misses (The Ladykillers, The Man Who Wasn’t There) and some terrific movies (The Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?) And there have been three absolute classics. They are Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, and now No Country For Old Men. This is an absolutely brilliant film, taken very literally from Cormac McCarthy’s absolutely brilliant novel. This may well be the best movie the Coens have done, and that’s saying a lot - Fargo was the best film of the 1990s.

Tommy Lee Jones plays sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a backwoods country sheriff who is smart and determined, but he is long on wisdom and short on solutions. There is a slight echo of Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo, an officer of the law who would seem less than brilliant to those around them, yet we the audience get to see inside their head a little more and we can see that their outward appearance is deceptive, and that they are in fact very intelligent. He is the centre of the movie, but, this movie is not about Jones. Javier Bardem gives one of the creepiest performances in recent memory as a maniacal killer named Anton Chigurh. He has a strange, Beatles-type moptop haircut, and he is cold, emotionless, and single-minded. His performance in this movie is as scary as any turned in by the other masters of the creepy of this generation - the Christopher Walkens and John Malkoviches of the world. But this movie is not about Bardem.
Josh Brolin is the main character in the movie, Llewellyn Moss, a man who stumbles across the aftermath of a bloody shootout in the desert. There are bodies everywhere, and two trucks still sitting in the middle of the desert. Brolin finds massive amounts of heroin, which he leaves there, dozens of guns, some of which he takes, and two million dollars. He takes all of that. His performance is also single-minded in the film, he is a good ol’ boy, a tough Vietnam veteran who believes he can take on anyone and anything. His undoing proves to be a seemingly unnecessary act of kindness - he goes back to the site of the carnage to bring water to the one man who is still clinging to life. Why he does this is simply an extension of his character. He is that determined, that headstrong, and that committed to whatever it is he is doing. And in this case, he is doing what he believes is the right thing. But, this movie is also not about him.

This movie is about No Country For Old Men. That is, it is about the country. The end of the country and world that we all know, and the presentation to us of a world that is completely alien to us. You could call the film a western, in that it takes place in the west. Desert scenes and cowboy hats and gunfights and strong characters who come to a head with each other at various points in the movie. You could call it a thriller, in that the bad guy might get the good guys, the good guys might get away, there are chases and battles and guns and violence and tense moment after tense moment. It could almost be considered a black comedy, with certain scenes having a bizarre comic effectiveness. I’m not even sure if it was intentional or not, but in particular one scene where Bardem blows up a car outside the pharmacy. You may have seen it in the trailers. The car blows up, and the glass window outside shatters, the pharmacy descends into chaos, and people begin running everywhere in a panic. Bardem, on the other hand, just keeps walking. Straight toward the back, no reaction at all, totally unconcerned with the chaos, and determined to complete his task. It comes off as something out of Buster Keaton, the stone-faced man who doesn’t know he should be ducking for cover because he is too preoccupied with whatever is going on in his head. And in many ways, No Country For Old Men could qualify as a horror movie as well, thanks mostly to Bardem. He moves slowly, purposefully, and relentlessly toward the man he means to kill, almost like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.

Bardem’s portrayal of the psychopathic killer is bone-chilling and fantastic, but the movie doesn’t really delve into him at all. It’s treatment of Chigurh is almost clinical, in that we watch his evil acts with more of a sense of dispassionate astonishment than a sense of moral outrage. We are just amazed that someone like this could exist in our world. His scene with an old man in a gas station is one of the most tense in recent memory, and contains some of the best dialogue in the Coen’s repertoire. Woody Harrelson makes a brief appearance as a man sent after Chigurh by his bosses, and his time on screen is almost anecdotal as well. In the end, we don’t really get to know any of the characters, even Brolin. There is no character development to speak of, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. And the one character we do get to know a little, Tommy Lee Jones, is pretty well the same man at the end of the film that he was in the beginning. His voice-over to open the movie is one of the best I’ve heard since Morgan Freeman’s in the Shawshank Redemption.

Also anecdotal are Stephen Root as a crime boss, Ana Reader as a woman by a pool in a hotel, and Kelly MacDonald as Brolin’s wife. In the book, Reader’s character has a much larger part, but the end for her is the same. MacDonald is great in her small amount of screen time, and her final confrontation with Chigurh is as chilling a moment as any I’ve seen. The photography of the country is unbelievable, making that scenery itself a character in the film, just like the Coen’s previous best work, Fargo. The movie deals with many moral questions without delivering answers. The choices men make, the questionable morality of each character, the inevitability of fate, and ruminates endlessly on human nature. Sometimes this rumination comes directly from Jones’ words, other times out of the camera as we are left to ponder the consequences of the previous scene while the next one begins to play out. No Country For Old Men is bleak, entertaining, and virtually flawless. Cormac McCarthy wrote a tremendous novel, which was translated into a brilliant screenplay, which was then transformed into an absolute genius movie. To say something is as good as Fargo is something I might have considered ridiculous five years ago. No Country For Old Men is as good as Fargo. And therefore it is better than any other movie of the past ten years. Rent it, buy it, whatever. Just do it now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ass painting! In full this time...

To mark the one-year anniversary of my Asspirations Of An Intern art exhibit at the Parkdale Art Gallery, the guys from Spectrum Sound and Vision have released a full, 15-minute video to youtube. The link is here:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm dreaming of a white April...

I just finished shovelling my driveway. I had to do it an hour earlier than I otherwise would have, because of the time change. I had the kids out there helping for a bit, my girlfriend made an appearance to finish things off, and between us we got it done in just under two hours. In the end, we decided that the best thing to do would be to create a shovelled area on the driveway that was just barely big enough for the car to slip in and out. It was important to be able to get the car out today, you see, because Jen had run out of coffee. So now I can go to Tim Hortons and get her some coffee, and some hot chocolate for the kids. So now I have a narrow tunnel between two skyscraper size mountains of snow in which to get in and out of the garage. So now I can go to the video store to rent some video games for the kids. I liked it better when we were snowed in. Although I did get to meet several of my neighbours, people I had never talked to before. A guy stopped by in his car. He had just come in from Jamaica or some tropical place this morning, and was wondering where on the street he could park his car so he would be able to shovel and then get into his driveway.

Everyone waved as they drove by and saw us struggling with the snow. There is some kind of neighbourly camaraderie that is forged in the aftermath of a snow storm. It's a strange one, though, because although we are all working toward a common goal, it is motivated entirely by self-interest. Our common goal is the removal of snow. Our self-interest dictates that the snow we are working toward removing is only that on our own driveways. Once we are done shovelling there, we are done shovelling. No one is truly interested in banding together to attack the snow as a neighbourhood, merely in acknowleding the battle against a common foe. This is fine. I would help little old people, if I saw those around, but I act for the most part in a selfish manner. If you look young and able-bodied enough, I will merely wave, and we will silently and briefly commisserate over our shared toil and misery. As I drove to Tim Hortons, I saw the various methods of snow removal that were under way. Some had snowblowers, others had shovels, and just about no one had a garage they used. I might be the only person in my neighbourhood who keeps his car in the garage. Everyone else's must be filled with snowshoes and skis and bikes and barbecues and tool benches and so forth.

Because everyone's car was on the road. Of course, they had to shovel the end of the driveway, so they could drive the car out, then they parked it on the road while they shoveled the rest of the driveway, then they returned the car to it's prior location, this time entrenched in an impenetrable fortress of snow several metres high. In some cases, the walls on either side were too high for people, thanks to prior snowfall and poor driveway design. I saw one guy on Castlefrank Road taking one shovelfull of snow, walking across Castlefrank when traffic permitted, and throwing the snow onto the snowbank by the sidewalk. By the time people read this post on Monday afternoon, he might be halfway done.

But I made it to Rogers video, and now that I'm back with the games the kids picked, I can relax at the computer, write on my blog, and watch the video games in progress. I am currently watching the game my 13-year-old stepson chose. I'm not making this title up: Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None: The Video Game. I saw this and I had to laugh. Cabin fever must not be contained to this part of the world, there must be a stifling of creativity and a shortage of imagination the world over. There are no original ideas left. I suggested to the boy that perhaps he would like to read the book itself as well. I got it from my bookshelf and handed it to him, it's not that long. "That seems like work" he said, and settled down to play the video game, all the while pestering me with questions about the book in order to better understand what he was doing in the game. In fact, that's still going on now. Was there a barrel of flour and a scoop in the book? I don't remember. READ SOMETHING. You're snowed in, what better way to spend a snow day than reading by the fire?

I am looking forward to the day when he will be the video game character Emma Bovary, attempting to distance herself from the advances of Rodolphe Boulanger, in order to gain enough hit points and power ups to be able to once again attain the affections of Leon least Don Quixote would make a fine video game. I'm sure glad I could shovel out eleven feet of snow from my driveway for this, it's a fine way to spend an afternoon. And some day I will hear of an original idea for a video game, or perhaps watch a movie that isn't a remake or a sequel, a TV show that isn't a rip-off or a spin-off, and perhaps one day this boy will read a book that isn't about dragons. Then again, perhaps one day I will get over my selfishness and help my neighbour shovel his driveway. Actually, no. Screw him, he has a snowblower.

Manufacturing Consent. I like this man Chomsky. He could end up really being something. Out now (********8/10)

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media is a movie that was released in 1992, but has only now come to DVD. I have been waiting to see it in at Rogers Video for a few weeks, but it has always been out when I went in. It could well have been the same guy hanging onto it for three weeks, because there is an awful lot of stuff on this two-disc set to get through. Chomsky, for those who are unfamiliar with his work, was (and perhaps still is) the leading intellectual in the world in terms of political criticism. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky turns his genius toward the media, and attempts to show how media, as a corporate entity, can't help but be biased. The film is a Canadian documentary that follows Chomsky as he put out his book of the same title in 1992. It follows through on many of Chomksy's key points. One of the major examples of media bias he looks at is genocide. Specifically, the genocide that took place in Cambodia in the 70s. The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were real enemies. They were officially sanctioned enemies, they could be looked at as evil and their actions despicable, and the media (he looks specifically at the New York Times) covered those atrocities every day. While at the same time, a similar genocide was taking place in East Timor, where Indonesia had invaded, and hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered. But there was virtually no coverage at all in the American media of that genocide, because the Americans (and Canadians, in point of fact) were involved. We were both supplying weapons and supplies and ammunition to the Indonesians so that they could kill more Timorese. There was money to be made, you see.

By the way, of you can find it, a great book to read is a Canadian publication called Inside The East Timor Resistance, written by Constancio Pinto and Matthew Jardine. It contains a preface by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta. You can actually read the entire thing on line here:,M1

I think you can at least cut and paste that link. Full disclosure - my uncle published that book - but it was the first book I ever read about real things that happen to real people that affected me in such a devastating way.

Anyway, back to Chomsky. The documentary is terrific. It is very in-depth, it is three hours long, and every minute is fascinating. Yes, Chomsky is wordy, and yes, he might be a bit difficult to understand for a while, but if you pay close attention to what he is saying, he makes absolute sense. He suggests that the media, by deciding which genocide to cover, which war to cover, how to portray that war, are complicit in events such as genocide the world over. Of course if the American or Canadian people could learn on TV or in the paper how their country, and by extension themselves, were helping to eradicate an entire population, they would not stand for it. Or at least, we hope they wouldn't. I thought I would throw this in here - there are many famous figures that show up in the film debating various subjects with Chomsky as he went on tour, and I was pleased to see Peter Worthington, then-editor of the Ottawa Sun, appear in one of those debates.

And the bonus features are a must. A retrospective on the film including a 2007 interview with Chomsky, where he reflects on the changes since the film was made. Perhaps many of us know that media have changed drastically since 1992. If not the message, certainly the mediums. Or media. Well, you know what I'm saying. I'm not Chomsky-level articulate. The best of the special features is a complete debate about the Vietnam war from a 1969 episode of William F. Buckley's show Firing Line. Buckley, who died just a few days ago, was perhaps the most articulate and intelligent defender of the right in American politics in the media age, and watching these two intellectual titans go at each other for half an hour is an amazing thing. This DVD is worth it just for the bonus features!

The Chomsky-Buckley debate is also available on youtube:

In a bizarre way, Buckley was actually the forerunner of Bill O'Reilly, and this clip is the funniest thing I have seen on Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report in a long time:

If you don't rent Manufacturing Consent, I understand. It isn't for everybody. But if you don't watch that Colbert clip, you won't laugh as hard as I did just now.

MR. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. We get the where's the story? Out now. (***3/10)

I like Dustin Hoffman. We all do. Dustin Hoffman is likeable, and one of the greatest actors of the past 50 years. However, late in his career he has had some trouble choosing good movies. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is one of them. Visually, this movie is very impressive. Hoffman plays Mr. Magorium, the proprietor of a magical toy store where kids congregate every day to experience wonder. And there certainly is wonder aplenty in the ol' Emporium. Dinosaur skeletons that play fetch with frisbees, slinkies that are too nervous to come off the table, magical balls that never stop bouncing, and dozens of other really neat toys. The store itself appears to be alive, some kind of entity unto itself, and it is a very impressive beginning to the movie. But then, when the movie needs to rely on characters and a plot to move things forward, it stalls. In fact, it pretty much comes to a dead stop.

It isn't Hoffman's fault. He is obviously having a lot of fun playing the titular character, and he enjoys himself thoroughly in a role that's more reminiscent of watered-down Marx Brothers schtick than Willy Wonka. The dialogue in his scenes is delightfully inane and whimsical, and the kids loved it. It isn't Natalie Portman's fault either - she is perfectly cast as the girl who works at the counter of the store, who has magic in her heart...and Zach Mills is terrific as a young boy named Eric, who appears to be some kind of child genius with no friends, who serves on the de facto board of governors for the Emporium. Mills is a great surprise. His face is so expressive, and he handles his adult lines with great dexterity and real charm. But all of this fills up ten minutes of screen time. Then Jason Bateman shows up. He is stiff as a board and very unconvincing as an accountant brought into the store to put the store's papers in order. This leads to a few great scenes with Hoffman, but it also leads to that most-obnoxious of movie questions - will he learn to loosen up and take life less seriously? All that would take would be one game of checkers...

And therein lies the biggest problem with Mr. Magorium. All it takes for Bateman to see the light and embrace the magic and lose the suit-attitude is to put on a hat with the kid. Natalie Portman yearns for something more than her job as a clerk in a toy store. An amazing toy store, to be sure, but she is still in retail when she dreams of being a concert pianist. And the prevailing thought here is that this sadness she feels can be resolved if she takes over the store from Magorium and becomes the owner. Umm...sure. So, she wants to be a concert pianist, and not work at the toy store any more, so the way to make her pleased with her life is to - tie her to that same store for the rest of her life? This is the sort of idea the movie is quite pleased to trot out at the right moment in the plot. None of it is cohesive, none of it rings true, and in the end the "wonder" of the story is dulled by the predictability of the characters and their actions. Even the kids, who just wanted to watch the cool toys do cool things, got pretty bored toward the end. I don't blame them. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was done at the fifteen minute mark.

The Nines! Good...good...good...oh. Out now. (******6/10)

Ryan Reynolds has saved some tragically bad movies from being...well...tragically bad. Most notably Van Wilder and Waiting, where his sense of comedic timing and his fantastic delivery elevate those two movies from the level of "awful" to the level of "not awful". Since then, Reynolds seems to be attempting to distance himself from the funny-guy roles, like Van Wilder, and he seems to be willing to take just about any movie that won't force him to smirk and say clever cute things to clever cute girls. The latest movie is called The Nines, and it is weird. Reynolds plays three different characters. One is a David Caruso-type actor who plays a cop on TV. Another is a writer for TV shows, and the third is a video game programmer. But still, somehow, all three characters are part of the same guy, and...well, you'll have to see the whole movie to understand. Melissa McCarthy also plays three characters, including herself. Hope Davis appears as three people, as does Elle Fanning, the younger sister of Dakota Fanning. Sometimes she's a mute little girl, sometimes she isn't...although imdb and don't have this listed, I'm convinced she was the little girl in the overalls in Kindergarten Cop.

This movie really does keep you guessing right up until the end, but it's the end that sinks it. It won't make you feel cheated, like the end of Perfect Stranger (which I just finished watching and which made me very angry, so I thought I'd mention it), but it certainly isn't the big bang you would hope for and expect from a movie this complex and layered. There are some great moments in the film. When the Caruso-cop character has a Robert Downey type meltdown, tries to buy crack, hires a hooker to show him how to use crack, and then starts imagining his other personalities, it's hilarious and a lot of fun. Another scene where the TV writer attacks his network executive, it is also a lot of fun. Hope Davis is good, although she keeps playing a woman who is supposed to be incredibly hot. And while she is certainly attractive, she is an eight, not a ten. Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls) is terrific as a woman who figures in Reynolds' life in the biggest possible way in each of the three scenarios.

The Nines is well worth your while if you are into the supernatural side of life and you don't mind a fairly boring ending. Or, if you are desperated to find out what happened to the little girl in the overalls from Kindergarten Cop. Otherwise, it's just kinda neat for a while.