Friday, March 28, 2008

More advertising.

I am a corporate whore. Which is fine, it's kinda what I agreed to when I signed on. I travel to various locations in order to sell people goods during live commercials, goods which on occasion I would not personally endorse or purchase. But that comes with the territory of being in radio, and it is how I manage to feed and clothe myself and my family. However, this blog, having been hijacked to some degree several months ago by the CHEZ techies, is still advertising things I don't even know about. I was to understand that the ads placed here --------> to your right, were a punishment I was forced to undergo for a short period of time, having screwed up a bonus code or two. I was led to believe that for a short time advertising would run on my blog, simply to make me feel as though I was paying some kind of penance. However, this seems now to be an interminable arrangement, one over which I no longer have control. As I type this, I can see the banner advertising "vote for the seven wonders of Lanark County!". I have been trying to make up my mind as to whether I endorse this at all.

I have tried to go to the website by clicking on that ad, to find out more information about the seven wonders of Lanark County, and the options from which I have to choose. I have, sadly, been unable to do so, as that website seems to no longer exist. The Lanark Country Tourism website is down! Alert the ... Lanark County web department? But they are paying to advertise with our website still, and although I do not see any of that money, I would hate for them not to get their money's worth. So I have some suggestions as to what the seven wonders of Lanark County might be:


1. The world's eleventh-largest road apple! Visit the farm of Herb and Judy! See the eleventh-largest cowpie ever recorded with a conventional measuring device!

2. The measuring device! See the tape measure that was big enough th measure Herb and Judy's 15-inch cowpie!

3. Henrietta! Come visit the cow that was responsible for the expulsion of the world's eleventh-largest cowpie! She seems unfazed by the recent publicity!

4. You Kill 'Em We Grill 'Em Meats! The place where Dr. James Naismith once ordered the finish-it-and-it's-free eleven pound possum! Did he finish it and get a free meal? You'll have to visit to find out!

5. The chrysanthemums of Sally and Bobby! See the flower bed in front of Sally and Bobby's house in Carleton Place, the house once owned by Jeff Brown of CHEZ 106, the flowers once watered by his tears when the Leafs missed the playoffs yet again!

6. Haystack No. 4! Still preserved and untouched since the days of the building of the canal, visit the haystack where Colonel John By lost his virginity to an ancestor of Avril Lavigne's!

7. Maple Syrup! That's it...maple syrup.

Soon, perhaps, the Lanark County Tourism website will be up and running again. At that point, perhaps you could go there and vote for some real stuff. Until then, here is the actual Lanark Country website:

http://www.county.lanark.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=2072

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rent-A-Goalie Complete First Season, Out Now from Alliance Films. (********8/10)

Canadian TV does three things well. Mockumentary style crude stuff, like Trailer Park Boys. Sketch comedy, like Kids in the Hall. And small-town eccentricity stuff, like Corner Gas. Anything that is not comedy, Canadian TV does not do well. Anything not comedy-related, sucks. Rent-A-Goalie is a comedy show, and it does not suck. It is actually quite funny, and I'm amazed I haven't watched it before now. A Showcase original series, Rent-A-Goalie came out on Tuesday from Alliance Films. The premise is the best part of the show - a guy named Cake runs a goalie-for-hire business out of a little coffee shop. That is the greatest premise for a show since...ever? There is a rotating roster of goalies who are rented out to rec-league teams and others that are short a goalie for a particular game. Christopher Bolton plays Cake, the man running the business, both the goalie one and the coffee shop. This show is hilarious, and just as foul-mouthed as Trailer Park Boys, the Showcase showcase show. It's bonkers in that it really hits the cross-centre of both hockey culture and coffee culture.

In the first season, there are some great guest stars, NHL stars like Phil Esposito, Tiger Williams, and Darryl Sittler. There is also some great eye candy in the shape of Inga Cadranel, who plays Francesca. Francesca is the daughter of Cake's business partner, an old Italian man with possible mob connections. The first season begins with Cake and Francesca having sex, and then the tension escalates between them...I won't go into great detail here, but the first scenes where Cake describes his sexual conquest to his business partner, and then the scene where he discovers it's in fact his daughter, is even more politically incorrect and funny than one could imagine. The great thing about Rent-A-Goalie is the fact that with characters named Puker, Short Bus, S**t Pants, and others who get compulsively naked and fart constantly, the show is still somehow understated. It isn't all fart jokes and gay jokes and cheap comedy, it's actually well-written and funny only when it has to be. The best thing about Canadian TV comedy is that it doesn't follow the pattern of regular sit-coms, where jokes are forced in at the end of every sentence and scene.

Foul language, coffee, violence and hockey...it doesn't get much more Canadian than that, and shows don't get much weirder, funnier or better than Rent-A-Goalie. This is a series well worth buying, renting, watching. Glorious Canadiana!

Reneriders! Roughagades! Whatever, football is (almost, kinda, in a way, possibly) back!

I like these guys. Jeff Hunt, the guy who made the 67s viable once again. Roger Greenberg of Minto, John Ruddy of Trinity Development, and William Shenkman of the Shenkman Corporation. Three of the guys with community ties and massively deep pockets. And Hunt, who is a guy with community ties and a terrific acumen running a sports team. This is tremendously exciting for me, and I think for most people in Ottawa. Football! Again! Maybe! Yes...there's a hold-up. As Randall said this morning, our city council is not competent enough to run a lemonade stand. So leaving a potential football team in the hands of this group is a scary proposition. They could very well bog down on the details of this thing. They could argue for the next seven years about how many bolts are to be used in the construction of the new stadium, and the seven years after that coming to a consensus on the number of nuts. I would suggest that we, the people, could come up with an appropriate number of nuts who should be on city council...zero. Randall suggested a bloodless coup this morning. I am in agreement, except perhaps the bloodless part.

It really si rich when Marianne Wilkinson and Maria McRae and Jan Harder, three of the Brazil Nuts in the mixed-nuts bowl that is our city council, call out the mayor as incompetent and suggest they would be willing to take over some of his duties. Not that I am defending the mayor here, he has his own problems and many of them, but this is tantamount to the pot calling the kettle black, or Louie Anderson calling John Goodman "fatso". But now we have to cross our fingers and hope. Hope that this council can get over themselves and speedily approve everything it takes to get us a football team. Hope that Clive Doucet and his Glebite cronies aren't able to hold up this proposal singlehandedly. Hope that many people are filled with confidence, the same confidence with which I am filled, in this new potential ownership group. And hope that whatever petty concerns and personal idiocies our councillors have are set aside for the time being in order to move on this football thing and make it happen.

Randall was right about one other thing this morning. The only way we can ensure this will happen is to talk to our city councillors. All of them. Or maybe yell at them, or slap them until they understand. And if you're against the return of football, as some in the city are, then do the same. Not that I really believe our city councillors hear what we say, or care what we say, but at the very least they care about being re-elected. And even the worst ones won't screw things up if they figure their spot on council is on the line. Here are the email addresses of Ottawa city council - be sure to write in capital letters so they know you are YELLING this at them.

Councillor Georges BédardWard 12 - Rideau-Vanier Tel: 613-580-2482 Fax: 613-580-2522 Georges.Bedard@ottawa.ca

Councillor Michel BellemareWard 11 - Beacon Hill-Cyrville Tel: 613-580-2481 Fax: 613-580-2521 Michel.Bellemare@ottawa.ca

Councillor Rainer Bloess Ward 2 - Innes Tel: 613-580-2472 Fax: 613-580-2512 Rainer.Bloess@ottawa.ca

Councillor Glenn BrooksWard 21 – Rideau-Goulbourn Tel: 613-580-2491 Fax: 613-580-2531 Glenn.Brooks@ottawa.ca

Councillor Rick ChiarelliWard 8 - College Tel: 613-580-2478 Fax: 613-580-2518 Rick.Chiarelli@ottawa.ca

Councillor Alex CullenWard 7 - Bay Tel: 613-580-2477 Fax: 613-580-2517 Alex.Cullen@ottawa.ca

Councillor Diane DeansWard 10 - Gloucester-Southgate Tel: 613-580-2480 Fax: 613-580-2520 Diane.Deans@ottawa.ca

Councillor Steve DesrochesWard 22 - Gloucester-South Nepean Tel: 613-580-2751 Fax: 613-580-2761 Steve.Desroches@ottawa.ca

Councillor Clive DoucetWard 17 - Capital Tel: 613-580-2487 Fax: 613-580-2527 Clive.Doucet@ottawa.ca

Councillor Eli El-ChantiryWard 5 - West Carleton-March Tel: 613-580-2475 Fax: 613-580-2515 Eli.El-Chantiry@ottawa.ca

Councillor Peggy FeltmateWard 23 - Kanata South Tel: 613-580-2752 Fax: 613-580-2762 Peggy.Feltmate@ottawa.ca

Councillor Jan HarderWard 3 - Barrhaven Tel: 613-580-2473 Fax: 613-580-2513 Jan.Harder@ottawa.ca

Councillor Diane HolmesWard 14 - Somerset Tel: 613-580-2484 Fax: 613-580-2524 Diane.Holmes@ottawa.ca

Councillor Peter HumeWard 18 - Alta Vista Tel: 613-580-2488 Fax: 613-580-2528 Peter.Hume@ottawa.ca

Councillor Gord HunterWard 9 - Knoxdale-Merivale Tel: 613-580-2479 Fax: 613-580-2519 Gord.Hunter@ottawa.ca

Councillor Rob JellettWard 19 - Cumberland Tel: 613-580-2489 Fax: 613-580-2697 Rob.Jellett@ottawa.ca

Councillor Christine LeadmanWard 15 - Kitchissippi Tel: 613-580-2485 Fax: 613-580-2525 Kitchissippi@ottawa.ca

Councillor Jacques LegendreWard 13 - Rideau-Rockcliffe Tel: 613-580-2483 Fax: 613-580-2523 Jacques.Legendre@ottawa.ca

Councillor Maria McRaeWard 16 - River Tel: 613-580-2486 Fax: 613-580-2526 Maria.Mcrae@ottawa.ca

Councillor Bob MonetteWard 1 - Orléans Tel: 613-580-2471 Fax: 613-580-2511 Bob.Monette@ottawa.ca

Councillor Shad QadriWard 6 – Stittsville-Kanata West Tel: 613-580-2476 Fax: 613-580-2516 Shad.Qadri@ottawa.ca

Councillor Doug ThompsonWard 20 - Osgoode Tel: 613-580-2490 Fax: 613-580-2530 Doug.Thompson@ottawa.ca

Councillor Marianne WilkinsonWard 4 - Kanata North Tel: 613-580-2474 Fax: 613-580-2514 Marianne.Wilkinson@ottawa.ca

Why is this such a big deal?

I recently went to the book store, to find a book to read while I drank beer at the bar waiting for my girlfriend to finish work. I chose a biography of Leni Riefenstahl, the 1930s-era Nazi propaganda film-maker and director who created some of the most amazing documentaries with some of the most amazing footage in history. (Her film Olympiad is still the best Olympic documentary of all time - Jesse Owens winning all those medals in the face of Hitler - and her film Triumph Of The Will is still one of the most chillingly visual pieces of propaganda of all time - a Nazi rally in1933.) On my way to the cash, however, I grabbed two more books. Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama, and Living History, by Hillary Clinton. I wasn't even sure why I had decided to grab them, and I never really gave it a second thought until now.

The real question is, why is this election such a big deal? Why are the primaries such a big deal? Even here in Canada, people talk about this race more than they do our own elections. And what do we care who becomes the next president down south? Normally, I am not even aware of primaries. Oh, I remember Howard Dean and his ill-fated screaming fit, and I remember being vaguely disappointed in John Kerry being chosen to run for the Democrats, but really I paid no attention until a candidate was chosen. But not this time, not this year. Why? It's easy to suggest that the main reason is that a black candidate is facing off against a female candidate, and no matter who wins that Democratic primary it will be historic for the United States. Sure. This is a little true. But does that really matter in Canada? I mean, we've had a woman as our Prime Minister, (even if it was only for eleven minutes). So what's the big deal to us? The black guy? Well, again, it partly is. But there is something much bigger going on than just a charizmatic African-American and a determined woman running for the job of Most Powerful Person On Earth.

And that thing is George Bush. This upcoming presidential election will not, by a long shot, be the most important one in American history. In fact, at best it is the third-most important election in our lifetimes. The most important being the 2000 election won by Al Gore, the second being the 2004 election won by George Bush. The disastrous resluts of those two elections have had repercussions we grasp only now. And, had Gore become president, you know, as he was elected to do, we might not realize how now how important that election really was. Does anyone doubt that Gore would not have invaded Iraq? Or that the world would be miles ahead now in terms of environmental policy? Not that it matters. But the point is that this current, upcoming American election is going to be the biggest one of our lifetimes in terms of the number of people who realize that it really matters. Because all of a sudden the world realizes just how bad the world can get when there is a terrible American preisdent. Bush, and his administration, showed that 7 or 8 people, full of hubris and near-sightedness, when elected to the most powerful position in the world, can quickly ruin that world for everyone.

And so now, we watch the American race with renewed interest. We realize that it was seven or eight people who created the disastrous horror show that is Iraq. It was seven or eight people who made the decision to completely ignore any kind of environmental reports, to repeal the estate tax, to re-write bankruptcy laws to favour credit card companies, and instituted dozens of plans that made rich people, including those who work at Haliburton, richer, and quickly left the American economy - and therefore, to some extent, the economy of the rest of the world - go down the crapper. Spending trillions of dollars on a stupid war doesn't help either...so this next president will have that weight on his (or her) shoulders. People know how bad a bad choice can be, not just for the U.S. but for the rest of the world, and they are therefore invested in the process. And so am I. I have begun reading Obama's book, and it's wonderful. In fact, I got so into it yesterday that I completely forgot who he was, that he was running for president, and was completely absorbed in the reading itself. A fantastic book on race relations and his relationship with his absent father, it's one of the most compelling books I have picked up in a while. I will likely finish it today, at which point I'll be picking up that Clinton book.

These people fascinate me, this race fascinates me, and somehow I feel as though the outcome of the American presidential race will affect me more than the next federal Canadian election. After all - what will we get here? A Conservative minority that bullies it's way, as best it can, into Republicanesque fiscal policies, or a Liberal minority that backs it's way through slightly less scary social policies. I don't know how much difference there really is. But in the States, there is a difference. I think at this point it's a foregone conclusion that Obama will get the Democratic nod, and so the race will be between him and John McCain. McCain, who will run on his "I don't care how long it takes, we will never leave Iraq and we will probably invade Iran and possibly North Korea and Venezuela and Sweden or whatever" platform. And Obama who will run on his "I'm the new face and I represent real change" platform. And a guy like that comes around once in a lifetime. And when he does, we can only hope that the people doing the voting are smart enough to see that he's the only real option. For their own good, and the good of us all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New releases on DVD Tuesday March 25th.

The Mist (5/10): Thomas Jane fights off giant bugs, other people in this adaptation of Stephen King. Campy fun, better than most Stephen King movies, but it is no Shawshank Redemption.

The Kite Runner (8/10): The adaptation of the brilliant book about a boy in Afghanistan who has a chance at a form of redemption later in his life for actions that ruined him as a child. Heartbreaking.

I Could Never Be Your Woman: A very cranky Mother Nature decides to meddle in the romance between a single mother and the much younger man with whom she falls in love. Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd. This could very well be an awful movie.

The Shepherd: Border Patrol: Jean-Claude Van Damme is still alive! And he has announced that he will no longer star in movies that he doesn't approve himself. Whether that decision was made before he made this one or not is immaterial. Van Damme, direct-to-DVD? Spells "suck" to me.

April Fool's Day: A coming-out party...I guess for debutantes...turns deadly! A twisted killer stalks young hot women...what a novel idea for a movie.

Wristcutters: A Love Story: Zia, distraught over breaking up with his girlfriend, decides to end it all. Unfortunately, he discovers that there is no real ending, only a run-down afterlife that is strikingly similar to his old one, just a bit worse. Could be an interesting indie film.

Almost Heaven (5/10): A Canadian movie that gets it's release on DVD, finally, today. Donal Logue and Kristy Mitchell are charming, and she is very witty and attractive, but that's about it.

Our Very Own (4/10): Small-town people do small-town things...for an hour...then spend half an hour getting ready for the return to her hometown of 70s actress Sondra Locke. Good performances, not much going on.

La Florida (5/10): Canadian movie that was made in 1993 and gets it's release today. Margot Kidder has a bit part, but Remy Girard and Marie-Josee Croze carry the movie. Him by being a very convincing actor, her by being almost naked the whole time.

The Legend of Black Scorpion (7/10): Hong Kong kung-fu epic that's based on Hamlet. Some good dialogue, great performance from Zhang Ziyi, and some above-average swordfighting scenes. Well worth it.

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains: President Jimmy Carter ignites a firestorm of controversy when he tours the country to promote "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," a new book that questions Israel's policies towards the Occupied Territories.

Living and the Dead, The
Max Rules
Mr. Hell
Sasquatch Gang, The

The Mist. Monsters aren't terribly scary. Humans are scary. Out now. (*****5/10)

A movie based on a Stephen King novel is not always an indication that good things will happen. Most of us remember most of the movies based on his books as complete train wrecks. Dreamcatcher, Needful Things, Maximum Overdrive, Cujo...all awful films. There have been only two really successful movies based on King’s works - The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. (Although I didn’t like the Green Mile much, at least it wasn’t Graveyard Shift.) Both of those films were directed by Frank Darabont, who seems to do his best work when he collaborates with Stephen King. (He was also the screenwriter for The Fly 2 and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Which were as bad as Needful Things.)

The Mist is their third film together, and it does rise a little bit above the other King movies, but does not approach the quality of say, Shawshank. The biggest problem with the movie seems to be, remarkably, a disconnect between the writer and the director. Stephen King is successful because he understands that the scariest thing in the world is other people, far more so than any monsters or spirits or bugs that might hide in the mist. But Darabont is so intent on showing the dark side of human nature and the evil that resides within men that he is too anxious to show it. The premise of the story is that a mist descends over a small town, and there are horrible creatures that hide within that mist and kill people when they venture too far into that mist. A bunch of people are trapped inside the local grocery-hardware store, and they begin to self-destruct. Apparently, as far as this film is concerned, these people are so ready to turn on each other that they do so within one minute of the mist descending. They are instantly transformed into idiots, maniacs and evil-doers, in the time it would take normal people to finally understand there was anything wrong.

And am I the only one who notices that Aaron Eckhardt and Thomas Jane are the same person? Jane is the star of The Mist, a father who is protecting his young son at all costs against the creatures outside, and more importantly, the religious fanatic nutjobs inside. He is, for all intents and purposes, Aaron Eckhardt with less smiling. They are the same person, and I will not believe otherwise until I see them in the same movie together. In the same scene. I like Jane, and in this film, he is pretty good. So is Toby Jones, as a supermarket employee who looks like Andy Warhol but is able to channel his inner Rambo when the situation calls for bloodshed and firearms. This occurs almost right away, and the first monster attack comes early. It isn’t terribly scary, but then the monsters aren’t supposed to be the scary part of the story. It is the people.

The problem is with the people. Their conflicts feel forced, since they seem to go against what one would assume about human nature. No matter how much your neighbour might hate you, if you are put in a situation where creatures are attempting to eat you, you would try to get along with that neighbour, no? And if thirty people tell you that something in the mist is eating people, your first reaction is not likely to be "this must be an elaborate practical joke being played on me by everyone". It would more likely be something like "there might well be things in the mist that want to eat me". So the whole human-emotions-at-their-basest theme becomes a little comic bookish. There are also some cheesy, irritating speeches about the nature of humanity, which seem to have a greater purpose, but nothing really rings true.

The people in the store have been trapped there for two days. Two days, and already they have split into two factions. The reasonable people who want to work to get out of there, and the far larger group of people who listen to the horrible bible-thumping religious zealot woman and decide to sacrifice children. This could work if it was done better. But it isn’t. The Mist has two things going for it. First of all, it does what good horror movies are supposed to do. Which is to make some kind of social and political commentary out of the horror. That comment here is basically that if you scare people enough, you can get them to do anything and follow anyone. I wonder what that’s directed toward? And secondly, the ending. Although it doesn’t save the whole movie, it certainly comes as a surprise, and you can definitely chalk it up among the most shocking endings to a movie.

One more thing - if you’re going to have creatures from "another dimension" that "cross over into our world", wouldn’t you expect those creatures to be something cool that you’ve never seen before? If they were just giant locusts and pterodactyl-men and monster spiders, wouldn’t you think someone had created them here? Just a thought. The Mist comes out today, courtesy of Alliance Films.

The Kite Runner. Out today. This movie will rip your heart out. (********8/10)

The Kite Runner was one of the best books of the past few years, and now it is a great movie. If you have read the book, you know what takes place in the movie, and make no mistake, it is devastating. That being said, it is definitely worth watching. A young boy named Amir lives in Afghanistan with his father and their servants, one of whom is his best friend Hassan. They do everything together, including the big kite competition. Once a year, every child in Kabul gets a kite with razor wire and competes to cut the wires of the other kites. The one who is left at the end of the day is the champion. This is a big honour, and Amir is eager to impress his father Baba, who seems to favour Hassan for being more manly. Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul, the boy who always brings home the big prize - the last kite to be cut.

On this particular day, however, a horrific event will change their lives forever. Hassan, who is Hazara, is assaulted by a group of older, racist boys who hate all Hazara. Amir witnesses the assault, but does nothing to prevent it. He is so ashamed of himself that he attempts to drive Hassan and his family out of the house. Many years go by, and Amir and Baba flee Afghanistan when the Russians invade. They make it to Pakistan and eventually to Cailfornia where Amir graduates from school and gets married. A phone call from Afghanistan plunges him back into the life he left behind, when Rahim Khan, a friend of the family, calls Amir and tells him "there is a way to be good again".

Amir returns to Afghanistan, now run by the Taliban, a brutal regime that includes public stonings, racial intolerance, and the worst kind of oppression. His mission is to rescue a young boy, Hassan’s son, from the clutches of one of his childhood tormentors. I won’t explain the details of that rescue attempt, because I hope people will watch this movie and I don’t want to play spoiler. The only spoiler here is this: This movie will break your heart. It is devastating and sad and incredibly powerful, as is the book. If you choose one over the other, choose the book, because at least you can put it down for a while.

The other reason to choose the book is that so much more can be included in a novel than in a film. While reading, you understand all of Amir’s emotions, all of his thoughts and innate prejudices, and you sympathize with him a little more. In the movie, although he is just a child, you watch his actions and you hate him. If the movie was able to explain a little more in depth what his motivations were, it would be a little easier to stomach. You might still hate Amir, at least when he is a child, but at least you understand a little more. But The Kite Runner is a very good movie, and even without that extra detail it is an incredibly powerful piece of cinema. The performances by the children are outstanding, especially Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as the unfortunate Hassan. I certainly hope these kids get a chance to appear in other movies, perhaps movies that aren’t so soul-crushing. The Kite Runner is great, and it comes out on DVD today courtesy of Alliance Films.

The Legend of Black Scorpion. Out Today. Hamlet goes Crouching Tiger. (*******7/10)

Asian cinema loves the Shakespeare. Akira Kurosawa based half his work on the works of the bard, most notably Ran (King Lear) and Throne Of Blood (Macbeth). And of course, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from others in terms of stories and structure, which means that his stories, and the Asian movies that accompany them, are hundreds of years old. He wrote a play called "Hamlet" that was based on the legend of Amleth, as told by the thirteenth century scholar Saxo Grammaticus. The latest movie from Alliance Films, The Legend of Black Scorpion, is a re-telling of Hamlet. Therefore, the story is about 800 years old, and it feels that way, as it should. Black Scorpion does not credit Grammaticus in the credits, but then, neither did Shakespeare.

The Legend of Black Scorpion features the incomparable Zhang Ziyi, one of the most beautiful women in all of Asian cinema. (You might remember her from such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers and Hero.) One complaint I have with this film is that she doesn’t fight. I love watching her fight. The Emperor of China has been murdered by his own brother. That brother has usurped the throne, and taken the former Emperor’s wife as his own. The old Emperor’s son has been banished, since he is the only one who could topple the current empire and lay a legitimate claim to the throne. But when that young man fights through traps and assassins to reach the kingdom, things get all weird. And Shakespearean.

You see, this young man was once in love with the Empress. He wanted her for himself, but his father married her instead, and now she lives with the uncle who murdered his dad. They seem to still be in love, but there is another woman at the palace that he runs around with while he is waiting for his chance to take the throne, and, by extension, his step-mother. And aunt. Hmmm. How very Shakespeare. This nephew is an actor more so than he is a fighter, and he puts on plays for the amusement of the court, plays that are pointed and directed at his murderous uncle. In true Shakespearean style, these plays are carried out with all the performers wearing masks. There is some great dialogue, especially a speech about wearing a mask and acting and swordfighting. Which is really what the movie is all about.

Well, that and jealousy, betrayal, and the inability to contain one’s inner nature. There are some really cool fight scenes. Not as cool as the ones in Hero, but above-average, even for Hong Kong martial arts cinema. We are not sure whether or not we like the Empress, at least until the end of the film, and even then it’s ambiguous. There are relationships between other characters that add a lot to the movie, especially the relationship between Yin (one of the Emperor’s advisors) and his son. It reminded me a lot of the relationship between Robert The Bruce and his father in Braveheart. The old man wanting to be diplomatic, the young man headstrong and uncompromising. And yet, willing to defend his father to his last breath.

And there are a lot of last breaths in Legend of Black Scorpion. After all, it’s Hamlet. Anyone who has any knowledge of Hamlet or of Shakespearean tragedy can probably guess how this film is going to end, so it really won’t come as a surprise. But I would caution against skipping out too soon, before the credits begin to roll. The final shot in this movie is magnificent, a beautiful shot that caps everything so well it would be worth watching even if the movie was bad. But it isn’t. The Legend of Black Scorpion will not end up being a Hong Kong classic, but with good swordfights, solid acting, great dialogue and the incredible ability that Chinese directors seem to have of using colours effectively, it is well worth renting. The Legend Of Black Scorpion comes out today, courtesy of Alliance Films.

Almost Heaven. Out today - a little slice of Scottish Canadiana. (*****5/10)

Donal Logue is a pretty funny actor. He starred in one of my favourite films, the very-underrated Tao of Steve, in 2000. In that movie, he played an overweight, lazy slacker who still somehow managed to score every hot chick he came across. It was a great movie and a great role, because he was so slovenly and yet charming at the same time. And on some level, in some weird way, it absolutely made sense that he would be able to have sex with all these women. In the new film from Alliance Films, Almost Heaven, Logue plays a similar character. He is a television director who can no longer get work because he’s a drunk. One of those lovable, one-day-at-a-time, funny drunks, but I guess drunk enough to not work in Canada. So he gets sent to Scotland, to produce a fishing show, in a village where half the people are alcoholics, and the others still drink with breakfast. And although he’s a drunken slob, fat, who clearly pays no attention to his personal hygiene, he is still fighting off women at every turn. If there is a hot woman in this movie, there is a scene where she tries to sleep with him. It made sense in the Tao of Steve, it doesn’t so much make sense here.

So Logue goes to Scotland to film this show, and he has to do it with...his ex-wife! Hilarity will ensue! Anything that can go wrong will go wrong! There are no fish for the fishing show, people fall in the water, drunks fall over...it’s basically a sit-com for an hour in the middle. A very low-budget sit-com, where some of the scenes look like they were printed on the first take to save some money. Which doesn’t really hurt the film, in fact it adds to the small-town feel of the piece. Although therein lies a problem - the movie doesn’t feel to me like small-town Scotland. It feels like small-town Canada. Which is kind of a problem. The whole town feels like it was picked up in Scotland and dropped right into the middle of the prairies, such that half the actors seem like extras from Braveheart, and the other half think they are in an episode of Corner Gas.

Somehow, although Logue being a drunk is the central theme of the movie, and the question of "will he be able to overcome his problem and become successful" is the recurring theme, his drinking never really seems to actually be a problem. We see him take a drink, we see him get kind of tipsy, we know he is drinking because he gets other people to take his urine test for him, but it never appears to affect his work. The worst thing that happens to him is he sleeps in and misses breakfast a few days in a row. He falls for a local girl played by the gorgeous and charming Kristy Mitchell, and they have the inevitable fight that leads to the inevitable reconciliation, but it all feels strange, because a girl that hot and that smart and witty and together would be able to find a guy who wasn’t a fat ugly drunken slob. One would think. Logue’s small amount of charm in the film is not enough to justify his landing the best looking girl in the movie. This would be kind of like watching The Princess Bride, only Cary Elwes doesn’t get the girl because she’s fallen for Andre The Giant.

All this being said, Almost Heaven is almost good. As far as Canadian indie movies go, it’s sweet, charming and at times a little funny, thanks mostly to Donal Logue and Kristy Mitchell. Outside those two, there is very little to recommend this movie on any grounds. It’s a story we’ve seen before a hundred times, and it goes through the motions until it is over. Only Mitchell and Logue rise above. Almost Heaven comes out today courtesy of Alliance Films.

Our Very Own. Out today. Small town life is boring (****4/10)

Our very own is a movie that comes out today courtesy of Alliance Films. It stars some young up-and-coming stars, and it’s set in a small town in the 70s. It’s not much of a town, and unfortunately it’s not much of a movie. This is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone, and the only thing for teenagers to do on a Saturday night is get in a car and drive around, gossiping. These kids go to Nashville for a really big night out, and you think they are going to take in a show, or hit a bar, but their idea of excitement is sneaking into a hotel and riding the elevators. There are cartoon bullies who harass the good kids, there is a greasy spoon diner where everyone hangs out, and every family has their issues. In short, it’s the same small town that has been used in every movie since Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands and The Outsiders. It is the ultimate Small Town U.S.A.

Which is irritating, on the surface, because we’ve seen it so many times before. We have seen hundreds of films set in this very same small town with these very same characters. But in the end, it is a decent fit, because the main thrust of the movie requires the town to be this small and this boring and this predictable. You see, that small town is Shelbyville, Tennessee, the home town of Hollywood 70s superstar Sondra Locke. Several people watched this movie with me. None of them had ever heard of Sondra Locke. So for those of you unfamiliar with her work, think of every Clint Eastwood movie made between 1971 and 1985. She was the love interest. The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Gauntlet, Every Which Way But Loose, Bronco Billy, Sudden Impact...in fact, without Clint Eastwood, NO ONE would have heard of Sondra Locke. They were together for a fairly long time, but never married. Yet somehow this movie mentions her four hundred times without a mention of Clint. Seems strange.

But she is an ideal star for a movie such as this one. Just like John Malkovich was an inspired choice for Being John Malkovich, Sondra Locke is the perfect 70s star for Our Very Own. This town is so small and insignificant, you see, that the possibility that Sondra Locke might return for an afternoon at a horse show is enough to send the town into a frenzy of gossip and preparations. Or, at least, the teenagers. The dream here, of course, is that they will be spotted by their famous ex-pat, discovered, and whisked off to Hollywood to become stars themselves. And once again the movie retreats back into that familiar formula. The dreary hopelessness and tedium of small town life, the dreams to get out...it’s all too familiar and it’s all too boring. Some fine actors give fine performances but that’s all this movie can manage. It’s fine. It’ll do. And that’s all.

La Florida. Out today - best be bilingual. (*****5/10)

The longer the winter drags on here in Ottawa, the more people will think about packing up and moving. And where do Canadians go when they want to escape from the cold? Why, Florida of course. Of course, most Canadians who do so wait until they are quite old. Hence, the snowbirds. La Florida is about a man from Quebec (Remy Girard) who decides to make that move while he is still young enough to make some money while he’s there. This 1993 Canadian movie is just now receiving it’s release on DVD, today, from Alliance Films. It is the story of a Montreal man who uproots his family, buys a motel in Florida near the beach, and fixes it up. In order to make his business a success, he must contend with cartoon rival motel owners. Especially one guy, who is a former enforcer for the Canadiens. This guy walks around talking evil, laughing evil, staring evil, and he has a lackey who jumps around him like that little dog used to jump around the big dog on the Looney Tunes.

Not only does this entrepreneur have to deal with rival businessmen, but he has to keep a lid on his rebellious son and slutty daughter. This girl wears next to nothing all the time, and has several boyfriends and parades herself about all over the Florida beach. She is certainly hot, but in the time I have spent in Montreal, I can attest to the fact that there are NO girls in Quebec who wear slutty clothes like this and there are NO girls in Quebec who are as flirtatious as this and there are NO girls in Quebec who would give themselves over so freely to a handsome stranger. I know this because when I was in Quebec, I WAS that handsome stranger. And I tried and I tried...well, maybe I just wasn’t so handsome.

When watching La Florida, I thought "Oh my God! THAT’s what happened to Margot Kidder!" But then I realized that it was filmed in 1993, and 15 years have passed, and Margot Kidder could still be anywhere. Another unsolved mystery. OK, for those of you who are going to tell me where Margot Kidder actually is right now, she is currently alive and well and in post-production on two films, A Single Woman and Universal Signs. Margot Kidder lives on! In La Florida, Kidder plays Vivi Lamori, the evil, conniving mother of a man who is attempting to buy out the motel from under our protagonists, the Lesperance family. There are several groups attempting to drive the family out of Florida, where motels are popping up everywhere. Lots of stuff happens, some of it funny, some of it dramatic, some of it boring.

To truly appreciate La Florida, it would be best to speak both French and English. Either way, you are going to have to deal with some subtitles. The film is in both languages, and when they speak English, the French subtitles appear on the screen whether you want them or not. And if you don’t speak French at all, the subtitles can be very distracting, since the English and French then appear at the same time, and take up half the screen whenever the characters are speaking English. There are some pretty good performances, mostly from Remy Girard, who plays the patriarch of the family, and also from Marie-Josee Croze, (seen most recently in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) who plays his daughter. She really has nothing to do in the movie except wear almost nothing and look hot...but she does it well. La Florida is tremendously Canadian, fairly generic, but has moments that are truly fun and interesting. If you’re bilingual.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Southland Tales - It's likeable, but I sure don't like it. Out now. (***3/10)

I tried. I really, truly tried to like Southland Tales. I liked The Rock in it. That's right - The Rock, the wrestler, I liked him. I liked Seann William Scott - Stiffler from American Pie, the guy who has only ever played a drunken frat boy, I liked him. I liked Bai Ling -the Chinese actress who was recently busted for shoplifting. I also liked Jon Lovitz (Newsradio), Cheri O'Teri (irritating name), Christopher (there can be only one) Lambert, Justin (my music is obnoxious) Timberlake, Mandy (look how big my eyes are) Moore, Sarah Michelle (I have two first names) Gellar and John (remember me) Laroquette. I liked them all! I liked the camera work, I loved the layout of the scenes, I enjoyed seeing what was coming up next. I was desperate to like Southland Tales. The movie begged me to like it, and I said OK movie, I will try my very best to do so, just don't let me down. And the movie did not let me down. But I can't recommend it because it is awful.

Here is a plot synopsis, as best I can make out. Perhaps once you have read this you will understand. World War 3 has begun. There have been nuclear bombs set off in Texas, so the Americans have responded by bombing Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Korea, Afghanistan, and possibly Belgium. The US army is running out of oil. It is the near future, but George Bush is still preisdent. (In fact, at one point they use actual file footage of Bush speaking.) As the oil runs out, a mad scientist invents a way to get energy directly from the ocean. He is either bent on world domination, or he's crazy, or he's just a nice old man with evil advisors. Still don't know. The Rock shows up on a beach. He has amnesia. He is a famous actor, but he doesn't know that, and he hooks up with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is a porn star. He has a wife that he has forgotten, however, and she is Mandy Moore, who is the daughter of the man who is running for vice-president of the US in the elections on the Republican ticket. There are cameras everywhere, and one of the major election issues is bill 69, which would restrict the ability of the government to invade the privacy of people. Take a breath for a moment.

We continue: Seann William Scott is a cop who has a twin brother who is a left-wing extremist, and he has kidnapped his twin in order to pose as him in a large conspiracy that will see him, posing as his brother, commit a double murder with racist overtones, that will be filmed by The Rock before he finds out who he really is, and this will be released to the media to discredit both the cops and the Republicans all at once. There is musical montage, a music video, a song-and-dance number, a soap-opera going on in Mandy Moore's family where some people are sleeping with some other people, there is a world domination theme, there is drug trafficking, somehow related to this machine in the ocean that produces energy and also perhaps some variation on Soylent Green. Everything in the country is sponsored by either Hustler or Budweiser, and the grand finale of the movie involves a giant Zeppelin, a riot, a fireworks display, a rift in the space-time continuum, and a flying ice cream truck.

So...yeah. Southland Tales is about all of this, and none of this. The movie is two and a half hours long, and to cram all this stuff in and make us care, or understand, it would have to be eleven hours plus. There is just way too much going on. And yet the movie seems to have a rather laguid pace, like it isn't hurrying anywhere. It feels good to watch it. It is visually impressive. The writing is very good. There are some great lines, and great moments. The little old lady from Poltergeist is in the movie, and she has a great moment at the bottom of a staircase straight out of that movie. The little old smart guy from The Princess Bride is in it a lot too, and he throws it to that film with the word "preposterous". Kiss Me Deadly, the classic 1955 film noir, is playing on the TV in the porn star's room. The porn stars have their own TV shows and energy drinks. There are so many cool actors doing cool things. Justin Timberlake is awesome. And yet - there really is no movie here. You can sit there for two and a half hours. You might be entertained, you will be mildly stimulated, and you may even think you are enjoying yourself. But when the movie ends, you won't know what it was about, you won't care, and six minutes later you will have forgotten everything about the film. It's heavy on style, but the substance is almost non-existent.

Revolver...out now, makes little sense...skip it. (****4/10)

If a movie is going to be confusing, that is fine. If you have to watch that movie a second time in order to fully understand everything, that is fine. If you need a third or fourth viewing, I'm OK with that too. However, these movies rarely do great at the box office. Most of their money is made on DVD, where people can watch the film over and over in order to understand what's going on. This worked very well for The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Memento...all great movies, all difficult to follow, all requiring at the very least a second viewing. But that is the key. If you are going to make a movie like that, make it worthwhile. Make it entertaining enough and cool enough and mysterious enough that people want to sit through it a second time. If you put a lot of effort into making your movie actually make sense, then you should make sure people will watch it enough to actually make sense of it. This is the problem with Slipstream, it is the problem with Southland Tales, and it is the biggest problem with Revolver.

Jason Statham stars in Revolver as a man who has just been let out of prison. He tracks down the guy who put him behind bars, Ray Liotta, and goes after him. Then he finds out that he has only three days to live, and meets two strange men (Big Pussy from The Sopranos and Andre 3000 from Outkast) who blackmail him into doing some bad things. Or are they actually bad things? Statham is the ultimate B-level star, a guy who will never make the jump to Bruce Willis status, but remain forever mired on a Jean-Claude Van Damme level of celebrity. The Transporter movies, Crank (where he has one day to live), War, just about everything he has done has made money, but they are, make no mistake, B movies. As is Revolver. Ray Liotta is a B-level actor as well. Some say the ultimate B-movie actor. And this movie is B class all the way. But it is trying SO HARD not to be. It tries SO hard to be the next Memento or Fight Club. Mystery upon mystery, layer upon layer, enigmas and red herrings and twists and turns and revelations. All the while, Statham does a voice over that smacks of self-satisfaction, analogies to chess and The Art Of War and philosophy and Machiavelli. However, these references are not nearly as smart as the makers of Revolver think they are.

And in the end, the movie does not sustain enough momentum to make it worth watching again. The end screwed me up the first time. I kind of got it, but not fully. And yet, the movie itself was not compelling enough to watch it again. His motivations seem clearly explained by his chess-related voiceovers, but if you look a little below the surface, nothing he does makes any sense, if he is as smart as he seems to think he is. Then there are these weird "artsy" animated bits thrown in, I can't imagine why. This film is so self-satisfied and so obnoxious that even if the ending baffles you, you will never go back to check it out yourself. This movie is not smart, it is not deep, and it is not good.

Enchanted! I (kinda) am! Out now, fer da kids. (******6/10)

The beginning of Enchanted stressed me out a lot. It is painfully irritating in that Disney princess kind of way. The girl is singing in her hut in the forest, she's a poor working girl who is friends with all the woodland creatures. The chipmunks and owls and foxes and such are not eating each other, because they are busy helping her sew her dress. She sings about the man she wants to marry, and True Love's Kiss or something like that. Then she meets the man, of course he is a prince, she will never have to work again and he rides away with her on his white stallion. NOW she'll be able to buy all the dresses and diamonds she wants, and tell commoners like herself what to do. What a life! What a dream come true! Now, I must say that I knew a little about Enchanted already. I knew that this was supposed to be a satirical moment in the film, and as satire, it was terrific. That song is as good as the songs in Spinal Tap for dripping with sincerity while at the same time oozing ironic excess. The beginning WAS beautifully done. But that didn't stop it from irritating me with the familiarity to all other Disney Princess motifs.

Then the real movie begins. The wicked step-mother (because in Disney all girls marry princes and all step-mothers are wicked. Or evil. But mostly wicked) would have to give up her throne if her step-son married, so she banishes this girl to...real-life. Manhattan, specifically. I think Moose Jaw would have been much funnier, but I guess it's less familiar and Disney is all about the money. Which, I realized, is why this movie is a family movie. I don't think I have ever seen a movie that cries out for an R-rating as much as this one. And I mean that with dripping sincerity while simultaneously oozing ironic excess. And it's not that I want to see Amy Adams naked. OK, it's not just that I want to see Amy Adams naked. It's that so many scenes cry out for nudity, violence, and most of all swearing. When Amy Adams emerges from a Manhattan sewer in her ridiculous princess wedding dress, and runs afoul of various angry New York residents, the proper response is not "are you OK", it's "are you f-ing mental, you lunatic?" When the prince shows up and follows her through the city, attacking people with his sword, it would be far funnier if he actually stabbed people and maybe killed a few. And when Amy Adams comes out of the shower and is caught in a compromising position with Patrick Dempsey by his girlfriend, some nudity would have been a propos.

But I digress. The important thing here is that Enchanted shows that in the real world, a Disney princess would be less a princess than an idiot. And I'm begging for the destruction of the princess myth, the ethos that creates gold-diggers at a young age! Amy Adams is terrific as the wide-eyed, totally clueless roses-and-fairies-and-bunnies princess who is totally lost in the real world. The main problem with the movie, however, is that she never knows she's lost. She has no idea that she is a weirdo, and no one seems willing to fully point that out to her. The songs strike the right note of sugary-sweet parody, but the movie falls short. Mainly because insteand of crushing her spirit and showing her that she is an idiot, it does the opposite. As she goes around in the real world, SHE changes the WORLD. Example: Patrick Dempsey's girlfriend catches him with a naked hot chick. She is furious, and runs off. But when flowers magically show up at her office along with tickets to...a ball...she forgives everything and looks the other way. Why? Because she is being treated like a princess! And she LOVES it.

So...this is what a princess does. She gets dressed up in fancy clothes. Attends fancy events. Has things bought for her and receives compliments about her loveliness. And this movie, rather than mocking that concept as fully as it ought to be mocked, reinforces it. It shows that being a totally shallow, substance-free woman is the ultimate goal for everyone, and it can change the world! One pom-pom and Singapore Sling at a time. All that aside, I did enjoy the movie. There were some good moments, including one with rats and cockroaches and pigeons, and the songs were absolutely perfect. If they were meant to be ironic. But boy, what I wouldn't have given for an R-rating. Or Abel Ferrara as the director.