Thursday, June 30, 2011

For all the hoopla at about Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there is a slight undertone of desperation about its 3D presentation. 

Apparently, there is a feeling that if this film does not get a significantly large portion of its box office from 3D presentation, that would be a fatal hammer blow to that "enhancement" to the moviegoing experience. That almost feels halfway believable considering that apparently the box office influence of 3D projection has been on a real decline with the movies.  After all, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides , Kung Fu Panda 2 and Green Lantern apparently have had a shrinking portion of 3D in their grosses and it's impossible to say how many moviegoers chose not to bother seeing a film simply because it's too expensive because of that.  I know, while I reasonably enjoyed Green Lantern as a comic fan, I don't feel an overwhelming urge to see Transformers in all its high budget cheesiness yet again at a more expensive price.

As for the causes, I agree with Jeffery Katzenberg that much of the blame lies with film companies getting cheap and greedy with the gimmick.  That especially goes for the schlocky retrofit 3D processing on regularly shot films, especially bombs like The Last Airbender and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.  All that seems to accomplish is to create a pointlessly more expensive film for a glorified optical illusion that you eventually and subconsciously ignore long before the film is over, provided you don't get eyestrain while you're at it. Of course, that doesn't include the filmmakers willing to produce 3D films from the ground up like DreamWorks Animation and James Cameron with his Avatar.  With them, their films like the brilliant How to Train Your Dragon use the projection process with a real artistic purpose and the results can be spellbinding.

That said, I don't appreciate not having the choice to seeing these films "flat" (no 3D) and the fact that they projected with appallingly low light levels is even more unacceptable. After all, I don't go to films because of the presentation gimmicks, I usually go to them for the stories and that's all that matters in the end. Of course, that criteria is a frustratingly elusive quality for film companies to rely on, so you can understand to a degree why they were hoping for something more reliable to get people to see their movies before they can on their widescreen Hi-Def TVs. But that is not enough in the end, not at the preminium they are forcing the cinemas to charge.

For me, I favour making the cinema going experience more like a grander one that makes the trip worthwhile.  To achieve that, bringing back the film short programming of the 1930s as a regular part of the programming schedule would be wonderful, it would give a fun sense of variety where you are getting more for your money.  Also taking off the premium off 3D films would help ease people's reticence to see film in the theatre, although I highly doubt any cinema companies would touch that option. There can be the option of selling cheap DVDs of the film's special features in its upcoming regular release would be fun;  imagine documentary featurettes for historical dramas, or behind-the-scenes looks at visual effect heavy films that you can enjoy when you get home.  Of course, given all the complaints about rude behaviour with people in theatres, a stricter enforcement of the rule would be welcome, such as that Texan cinema chain, The Alamo Drafthouse, who threw out that obnoxious woman for using her cell phone in the auditorium after repeated warnings and even used the ensuing irate phone call in their advertising.

Most of all, the move to digital projection in movie theatres is nonsensical to the point of being suicidal;  if people go to see something that is practically the norm in their own homes on their TVs, there is that much more reason to stay home in the first place.  Instead, Roger Ebert has the better idea of expanding use of the Maxivision film format; if you improve the viewing experience of movies projected on filmstock, you will provide a reason to see something that videorecording and/or digital project cannot provide.

As it is, as much as I value the option of home video, nothing truly beats the immersive quality of seeing films in a theatre.  There, you are in a darkened room and all your attention is focused on the big screen with a group involvement to share the emotional experience.  While at home, you have all the distraction like books and computers, the movie theatre offers something magical instead.

While that should be enough, I just hope the cinema industry can get it together to give real reasons for people to come, maybe with the measures I suggest above, or perhaps something really creative instead.  Either way, I want my movie theatres and I will mourn the tragedy if they are gone.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Well, Canada Post is back in operation again thanks to the government blunt instrument known as Back to Work legislation.

Let me get this straight, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers pulls a labor action and tries to do it this time with a delicate touch with rotating strikes in an effort to make their point without inconveniencing the citizenry too much and it's Canada Post is portrayed as the victim here even after they killed all service in a lockout, leaving the union to be punished for all this?

Granted, postal service usage is on the serious decline for at least a decade and CUPW is definitely not in a strong bargaining position considering the industry's long term prospects.  After all, the internet is a game changer so obvious that even mentioning it now feels redundant from the first syllable I put down on this matter. Furthermore, the argument that the strike is going to likely accelerate postal service's usage decline has merit as online methods become ever more dominate.  That said, if we want to make that transition as smooth as possible, we are going to have to do a major online connection initiative on the scale of South Korea's efforts, with twenty times the total land mass.  To say that would be expensive would the most obvious of understatements, unless WI-FI connection can gain the equivalent range of terrestrial radio broadcasts.  Until then, there are still rural areas, small businesses and people who want items shipped with a reasonable price with some appropriate patience which need a public postal service.

However, such hard realities do not excuse the Canadian government from blatantly interfering with specific bargaining terms and arbitration methods in the back to work order.  Doing this is the mark of an outrageous arrogance of Stephen Harper more fitting of a dictator.  Given that such tightfisted control of his cabinet is exactly his style of governing, it seems obvious that he now is giving his best shot to apply it to every element of the Canadian government.  Furthermore, big businesses will be emboldened  to really shaft workers with a reasonable shot of getting the same partiality from Harper with an appeal for the "greater good" of the economy while the corporate heads give themselves the mega-salaries they hardly deserve outside of their own minds.

As much as the New Democratic Party of Canada tried to do its best with its filibuster to delay this measure, it became a futile gesture when Canada Post and CUPW walked away from bargaining to try to head off the imposed settlement.  Still, it was at least a symbolic move that had to be made and it's more backbone on the left than I have seen in some time to fight for the working class. That's enough for me to say I am proud to be among their number for the rough times ahead.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

With the upcoming premiere of Cars 2, the saying "Everyone has their price" appears to have been justified again. For Pixar, that price apparently is $5 Billion in movie merchandising alone for the original Cars.

Now, I wonder if Pixar realizes the bigger price they are paying now; Cars 2 currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 45%, the lowest critical rating for the company of all time. Before this artistic debacle (for them), Pixar had a largely unblemished reputation for artistic excellence unmatched by any major film production house in North American in recent decades with their films typically hovering in the high 90%s. Cars was the major exception with only 74% and it was beaten out by Happy Feet for the 2006 Best Animated Feature Oscar. I know Monsters Inc. lost against Shrek in 2001, but that was more for DreamWorks Animation surpassing all expectations that year with their film putting them in the animation big leagues at last.

Now if the Pixar company head, John Lasseter, really went by his motto, "Quality is the Best Business Plan," he would have conceded that Cars was below his company's standards and take the experience as a lesson to see how they can avoid such relative failures in the future. However, for the sole believable reason that this film made a killing in merchandising that they decided to throw away their hard won artistic integrity to the wolves for the craven cash-in this film is seemingly proving itself to be.

I will just love to see if Lasseter will make the mealy mouth excuse that this film is necessary to fund more artistically daring projects, like the upcoming film, Brave. Namely, that would be a bald faced lie considering their previous films like Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up surpassed all the dismissals to become smash hits and classics of American animation. This is a studio with nothing to prove and a shining example of the best of what Western animation could strive for. Now they have thrown away this cherish reputation for the sake of mere money when they have shot for higher ideals and made blockbuster profits.

At Walt Disney himself had the excuse in the 1940s when he had to make his cheapie animated anthology
films like Melody Time and Make Mine Music because his company was hanging by a financial thread above bankruptcy after his best films like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi bombed earlier in the decade. Pixar has no such excuse with it being one of the all time most successful film companies in the world and that makes the very existence of Cars 2 all the more unacceptable.

What I do that is that Jeffery Katzenberg is likely savoring this moment. He walked away from Disney to help create DreamWorks out of spite and through hook or by crook made the first major animation house to rival Walt Disney Pictures by producing a sustain line of animated feature films and ushered in a golden age for the art. Now, his film have artistically been largely relegated in the shadows of Pixar's kudos outside of his Shrek series. Now, with his studio really hitting its stride with more mature talents really creating masterworks like the Kung Fu Panda series and How To Train Your Dragon, he has now proven his company can match them at their best. Now that Pixar has artistically stumbled with this newest film, the face of American feature animation be in for a profound change, at least for a year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just as I suspected, Joe Fontana has put this city in a situation where he would likely have to contemplate selling off the marquee public jewels of the city like Museum London, the Covent Garden Market, the London Convention Centre etc., or admit that his tax freeze policy is impractical.

The city simply mustn't do some glorified garage sale for quick cash.  While an argument can be made for privatizing the public golf courses (an issue which I fully admit my sports indifference), this move would impoverish the city in a more profound way that would hurt long after the money is exhausted.  For instance, Museum London is supposed to be this public resource to celebrate London's arts and history and privatizing the institution would kill that public mandate. 

Fontana is certainly not getting the thousands of jobs he said he would get to compensate for the revenue lost, Bell Canada's arbitrary move of relocating over 100 to Toronto this month makes that obvious.  Even the big train locomotive manufacturer plant is getting under pressure against the company's American plants with the Canadian Dollar being $1.02 to the USD.

Being a former MP for the Federal Liberal Party of Canada, ie. the Party of Slightly Idealized Political Expediency, I would hope that Fontana will simply be able to face reality and recognize his tax freeze is not going to work in the long run.  In lieu of that forlorn hope, I just hope that more City Councillors will realize that same truth and protect what is best for this city.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I was just listening to The Current on CBC Radio One, I just had a dramatic reminder of the threat of the pending Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that has been neogiated in secret by Canada and numerous countries around the world.

Imagine an international treaty that essentially mandates ISPs to spy on your online activities to detect anything that could be simply alleged to be a copyright infringement, and distribute their finding internationally for any complaining copyright owner while you don't have a legal recourse to defend yourself. Furthermore, this treaty proposes that any electronic device such as your laptop, MP3 player etc. can be searched at will at any international border for infringing material by customs personnel, coming or going.

Worst of all, this treaty threatens our sovereignty as it practically mandates tougher copyright law and public opinion while opposition can simply be overruled on the matter because of an international treaty that was deliberately kept secret from the public in the first place. As much as Harper and his cronies are certainly cheerleaders to continue this intellectual property assault on the public good, this means they can be made capable of passing draconian and unfair legislation with the old excuse "We have no choice." This is called policy laundering and it's a fundamental attack on the basic tenet of democracy for the public to have open access and a say on our own legislative process. Furthermore, the treaty has backdoor clauses that can allow it to be modified to be even more draconian, and we the public will have little that the powers that be would consider worthy to contribute in such matters.

If there is any other reason you need to be suspicious of this treaty, it's very secrecy is enough of a red flag. For instance, The University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic filed an access to information request but received only a document stating the title of the agreement and everything else was blacked out. That alone is damning about the risks of ACTA if they have to hide its content that completely.

You're free to read up about this yourself. I just thought I should to remember and act on the advice that it's always the quiet activities that can be the most dangerous.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I never thought I would agree 100% with anything the London Free Press says in their editorials, but their support for the decriminalization of prostitution in the light of the current legal challenge is more on the money than I've ever expected from the paper.

It is the world's oldest profession for a reason and even British Empire in the Victorian era had a booming business despite the notorious prudery of the era.  Like the whole pointless drug wars, especially against marijuana, the only benefits would appear to be politicians going for the easy political score and the law enforcement and corrections personnel who have secure livelihoods keeping this sisyphean struggle going.  After all, the US alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and 30s achieved little than to enrich gangsters like Al Capone and the bootlegging trade was largely killed off when it was lifted.

So, it seems basic common sense that if we cannot stamp it out what appears to be nominally a voluntary action like the sex trade, why not put it out of the open where it can be taxed and regulated. At the same time, I am listening with to a Q interview about a Ukrainian woman crusading against de facto government and business encouraged sex tourism in her country and I know the human trafficking problem as well as the anti-social behaviours, like narcotics and vandalism, reported around prostitution in Canada the laws were in flux in the 1970s. 

Yet, I suspect that kind of behaviour is encouraged when the base activity is stigmatized.  After all, if a person is engaging in some frowned upon activity as it is, they could easy conclude that they might as well transgress in other ways while they are at it. So, if we can bring prostitution into the mainstream and remove the stigma, perhaps we can better encourage and enforce reasonable standards of conduct, much like how the Netherlands appear to have done with managing their vice situations. Yes, I know that there is currently a conservative backlash there against these policies, but that does not mean that that country is not handling the situation better than our own country.

The key problem there is not so much prostitution, but the exploitation of women and the poor where they would have no choice to but to go down these paths for survival. While dealing with that larger problem would be a grander public initiative than Harper and his cronies would ever want to undertake, for both fiscal and ideological reasons, we could still reduce the danger if decriminalization can encourage those labourers to seek help from the authorities without fear of being arrested themselves.

As much as this is a partial solution at best, and I don't partake in it any more than I drink or smoke, it seems that we are not accomplishing any more with this prohibition than what the attempts against alcohol have achieved. So, why not put it out in the open like smoking and regulate and tax it so it might achieve a social good in a roundabout way?

In other words, how about we face reality and make the best of it to curb the worst?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

As much as this might be getting old, Brigette DePape, the rebel Canadian parliamentary page has been given her own chance to explain her reasons for her political gesture in today's Toronto Star, in her own article.

While her audacious breaking of decorum in the House of Commons would seem inappropriate and the it hardly conveys a comprehensive political statement, all the lambasting for her showing "contempt of parliament" for her gesture is as hypocritical as all the editorial dismissal at the many new young NDP MPs in the new parliament.

After all, it was the Harper Government that was formally censured for Contempt of Parliament making a mockery of its pledges of transparency and simple accountability with such incidents like with the Afghan prisoner detainee documents (which it still has not divulged after all this time) and the slashing of the budget of their own finance overseer for the temerity of doing his job that happens to contradict the government's fantasy land budget projections. Those are more serious misdeeds that are bound to get worse now that that fearless Canadian Auditor General Sheila Fraser has retired and bound to be replaced with someone more "tractable."

The treatment of the new NDP MPs is even more repellent in the media with all the sneering at their youth and inexperience. People have been worried about the disengagement of youth from politics for years, but now when we have young people who have shown such commitment to their ideals and their country, they are treated as a collective joke. Yes, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the young Quebec MP who went vacationing in Las Vegas during the election and has little grasp of French, is an embarrassment, but by and large, this youthful group should be celebrated as a beacon of hope of newcomers from various walks of life to invigorate what our Parliament should be. For instance, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, the youngest MP ever elected to the Canadian Parliament, seems tremendously promising as an applied politics student now having an apprenticeship beyond anything he ever dreamed.

Instead of all the dismissal, let us celebrate the discovery of these young people who care so much for their country while realizing that politics is one realm that be the best expression of that commitment.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Well, the Federal Canadian budget has been tabled and the false vague promises and real clear threats Harper and his cronies have made in the last election are coming to pass.

As threatened, they are abolishing the vote subsidy to parties, blatantly giving Tories the advantage in fund raising with a blatant tilt of the playing field and allowing big money to have that much more influence on the reins of power again. 

Furthermore, they want to speed up balancing the budget with obvious plans to eviscerate public services while they are still blindly determined to undermine their own revenues with their ideologically driven tax cuts.  Even worse, the F-35 fighters jets, bought without even a competitive bid and the prison boom they want are mooing all the louder as sacred cows. All the while, our environmental problems just something for them to deny completely while our economy's productivity problem is ignored altogether.

The sum total is the willful rightoid creation of our own social underclass with nothing sufficient for them but the prisons to hold them as the scapegoats they will be.

The biggest surprise, that's also a holdover from the original version, is the small budget boost for the CBC for "quality programming." That is surely a setup for saying later that the CBC failed to deliver and then slash it up using that pretext to say it is worthless.

All in all, Harper's real agenda is coming into sharper focus and Canada's soul as a livable caring nation is going to suffer along with the rest of us.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

My Post-viewing Film Fun

Sorry if this all my blog seems to center around film, but while I try to get some discipline into writing this blog, I have to write what I know and love.

Unlike other people, I cannot turn my mind off after seeing a film and I want more to my experience after I leave the theater.  So as soon as I can get back online, I have a few regular movie relate sites I always go.
  •  Wikipedia: I always go here to see what the film's page has about the work and how they describe the plot as well any information about the details about it.  If I see there isn't enough, then that's a opportunity I treasure to fill in details with the surpreme prize of writing up the plot summary and then step back to see how it will be edited.
  • The Internet Movie Database: This site is often has more opportunities with fun info holes to fill like the plot outline, plot summary and the plot keywords.  The only drawback with this is that edits have to approved by the site management so there is a delay in changes being posted, except for the more wiki oriented content advisory and FAQ sections.  Here, since this site is the definitive online info source for film and TV, adding stuff here feels more substantial and worthwhile. Its message boards are fun as well where I can enjoy reasonably intelligent discussion about the wor
  • TV Tropes: This page is amazingly addictive as a fascinating area where the elements of fiction are catalogued for any work .  Furthermore, since there is no pretense made about objectivity to a certain degree or notability, your personal opinions can play a role in your entries.
  • Review pages: While I consult Rotten Tomatoes for general opinions, I like to read reviews in detail afterward such as the great Roger Ebert, whom while I don't always agree, he is always fascinating to read. There is also Screen-It, a parental oriented review where content elements of a film are listed in intriguing detail without being judgemental.  Finally there is Common Sense Media which has its own take on media including film, but also adds the opinions of parents and kids about them as well.
  • Fan For particular genre films, there is even more imagination possible when the really good stuff inspires fandom to explore the narrative possibilities on their own and create their own magic.
 Furthermore, this can be only the start of the exploration.  For instance, for Kung Fu Panda 2, there is the book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 where I can really explore its creation.

This might be obsessive, but I want more for my movies and I get it through these sources away that mindless watching would never make possible.