Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Last Digital Picture Transition Show is On.

Well, it's been anticipated for some time, but Rainbow Cinema London is now starting its transition to digital projection while the Hyland Cinema is still fundraising for similar expensive and short lived equipment.

As I noted before, I am not fan of this kind of change that primarily benefits the film companies who are saving a bundle in film processing and physical distribution, but they have the cinemas over a barrel.  So, I only hope they will not be upping ticket prices for what amounts to glorified digital projection TV. 

 For the Hyland, I just hope they can keep going at all since they don't have access to the chain discounts for such equipment.  Maybe the ease of getting more obscure films quicker and cheaper might work in its favour, but it's a longer shot than they deserve.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Compliance, the film and the need for challenging art.

There's one more chance to see the film, Compliance, at the Hyland Cinema tonight and I have a tough time deciding what is harder to get through: the film's story or the reactions of audience, both local and elsewhere, to this film.

For those who need a summary, the film depicts an barely fictionalized actual crime when a fast food restaurant manager got a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer who has a complaint that a young female employee has stolen something.  Without asking one meaningful question about the caller's credentials or the evidence against the girl, the manager unthinkingly follows his instructions to detain and then strip search her.  This leads to her being sexual humiliated by the staff and the manager's fiance who unquestioningly follow the instructions of this voice on the phone.  Only after the janitor walks in on this does anyone realize that this is a sick hoax and the police are left to investigate this disgusting crime that has happened more than 70 times in real life.

From what I heard, this film has sparked vociferous complaints at film festivals and the Hyland staff has had complaints and demands for refunds for a film that dramatizes a true event.  From what I gather, it was the film's disturbing sexual nature which too many are apparently making them write off the film as a kind of badly written pornography, as if the film ratings signs on the poster and at the ticket counter was not warning enough.

However, the fact is that the events of this film happened in real life and here is a 20/20 report that depicts this crime with the actual security footage.

As you can see, Compliance is hardly making up any of the core details such as the perversity of this crime that actually happened, including the follow-up interview by the former manage who is caught in a open face lie about her complicity.

So why are people complaining?  This film is the definition of a challenging work of art where your assumptions about human nature of purposefully questions. It has been said that art should be asking questions, not bellowing answers and there is a need to depict this crime in drama that simply seeing the security camera footage cannot show.

For instance, drama is needed to show the full perspective of the people involved, including their emotional responses and perspectives.  Like the famous Milgram experiment that showed what too many people are capable of when faced with authority, we need artist creations like this to ask where fully grown people doing all this abuse at the orders of a unknown stranger of the phone. With drama, we get to see a greater element of the setting of the crime and the mentality of people in such a environment that could have encourage people to act like this.

As Roger Ebert has noted in his review, "The walk-outs aren't because it's a bad movie, but because it's all too effective at exposing the human tendency to cave in to authority."  In other words, this film is rubbing people the wrong way because it is touching on an inconvenient truth that they don't want to face. 

I myself found the film rough going, but a worthwhile experience to learn about human gullibility and the fallout of it and I hope that I could react better in that situation. I would have hoped  all the patrons of the Hyland Cinema in my city could appreciate a film brave enough to do that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bad Propaganda and Worse Overreactions

Behold,the "courageous" director, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula
It's been more than a week, but that moronic video, The Innocence of Muslims, is still causing trouble, even after some Americans were killed in a mob storming of the American Embassy in Libya, including the US Ambassador,  Christopher Stevens, who was perhaps one of the most savvy about the region in America's diplomatic corps.

And all of this for a piece of stupid propaganda that the cast have claimed was created under false pretenses. The fact that the creator has is a meth dealer and is now in hiding after causing this bloody furor is enough proof of how much of a sniveling coward he is.

Considering what we know that  the US Government has commissioned in the past through the CIA like the first film version of Animal Farm would never make something this ridiculously heavy handed and shoddy.

In this case, the CIA apparently underwrote this British animated film to adapt the classic George Orwell novel behind deep cover under the noses of the British animation studio to make it feel legitimate. As it is, the only point that could feel like blatant manipulation with the happy ending at the end to further the propaganda point while the filmmakers could believably claim that they were wanting to make the depressing story bearable to a general audience 

Furthermore, if you want to see how the US really handles propaganda nowadays, click here to see the classic Canadian documentary film, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the MediaThis is truly how the US, and most of the Western powers handle such media control and never trying for an emotional response without a real discernible goal.

On the other hand, seeing those rioting thugs blaming the innocent in the name of Islam is hard not to see them as bloody idiots.  For instance, how many people would have heard of the film without this violence and what do they really expect the US government to do about a private citizen's constitutionally protected stupidity? Furthermore, the calls by these mobs for the US to have the filmmakers put to death is so despicable just like when Sudanese mobs once in 2007 demanded a British teacher be executed for letting her students call a teddy bear, "Muhammad". Emotions are running high with image of Muslims going wild yet another insult and attacking all the easy targets when a hour's research about the USA and its free speech laws for private citizens could have told them otherwise. The mobs who attacked the Germany and British embassies because of this American film further encourages the raw feeling and easy condemnation.

Yet, I know this fuss is created by a very small portion of the Islamic community, many of whom are no doubt horrified at both the violence, the fanaticism and how it makes their religion look.  Furthermore, I am aware that this is just the latest excuse by a hardline core leadership who regularly search online and media for any excuse like this to further their political agendas with a religious veneer.

And the worst part is that the only way to beat this will be education, savvy foreign policy by the Western powers and patience to try to curb the worst of this to develop a real understanding.  Unfortunately, that is going to be quite an uphill battle for some to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

9/11 Anniversary Thoughts

In retrospect, I should have had my musings the September 11, 2001 attacks on Tuesday, but I didn't think that I had anything to contribute. However, I have reconsidered even if we should also commemorate Augusto Pinochet's bloody, and US supported, coup, which also happened on September 11, but in 1973. 

When I first heard about them, I thought the first collision was a pure accident like when that B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.  However, the clear weather of that day and the second plane hit the other World Trade Center tower made horrifically clear that this was no accident.

When that revelation sank in, I had only thought, "Please, let these attacker be another Timothy McVeigh." That is, I was hoping that a native white American militia organization was responsible for this horror like they were in the Oklahoma City Bombing, because if it isn't, then President George W. Bush would able be exploit this for anything he wants to do. Unfortunately, it turns out that Osama Bin Laden was responsible, and Bush and his cronies got to pursue anything they wanted.

I was actually hoping that this incident could have led to Bush and company reexamining US foreign policy to realize what provoked this.  Yes that was a naive hope, but it was all I had to cling to.  Instead, we were subjected to deceptive blandishments like "They hate our freedom" and stupid appeals to shop

That has led to among other things, the glorified gulag of the Guantanamo detention camp, making a volume of lies and exaggerations for the 2003 Iraq invasion and the draining chaos that followed including the sickening abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. You know, there was a time when the US was famous for their comfy POW camps that were better quarters for many enemy soldiers than their own side's barracks. Furthermore, that policy paid off in World War II with encouraging surrenders, minimizing inmate trouble and getting them to blab any secrets they had. It's just like Bush and company ignore American history and simple common sense from that to do something right in a war.

Finally, whatever the other causes of our economy's turmoil, the trillion dollar public expense has got to have been a contributing factor to our biggest trading partner's troubles.

After all, only a ideological idiot like Bush and his gang would cut taxes during a war; however, I would just love to see what they could have done if they had the chutzpah to do a war bond drive like they did in World War II like this cartoon.  This may be violating Godwin's Law but a big reason why Nazi Germany never went for war bonds was that they didn't wanted the German public to have a safe means of criticizing their policies by boycotting them.  Regardless, Bush and co. were in no mood to listen to basic sanity anyway.

So, that's at least part of the legacy of 9/11, an attack we are all still paying for in all the miserable ways.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts on DreamWorks Animation's 2013 feature film slate

DreamWorks Animation has announced their upcoming slate of films and so far, it's largely more proof that it has become truly the most exciting American feature animation house in my eyes.

For instance, whereas all Pixar has to offer next year is a Monsters Inc. prequel, Monsters University, while Disney Animation Studios will be offering a more promising film with Frozen, DreamWorks will be offering three films next year.  Better yet, in defiance of the stereotype of the company, two of them are original and another takes a revisit of another Jay Ward classic series from his Rocky and Bullwinkle franchise.

The first film will be The Croods about a prehistoric family searching for a new home.

Seeing the initial images, I can see that  most of the characters have designs that will have to grow on me and the initial premise sounds a lot like a human version of Disney's mediocre 2000 attempt to enter the computer animated feature field, Dinosaurs. Like the reptiles and lemurs in that film, this family will be forced to make a hazardous migration after a natural disaster for a new home.

However, the film is going to be co-directed by Chris Sanders of Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon and co-produced by Kristine Belson who produced the latter along with Jane Hartwell who produced the first and best Shrek film.  That is a crew pedigree that is enough to convince me that something special out of this familiar premise.

The film, Turbo, is going to be quite a narrative stretch for its next film and a challenge to see if it can be worthy of DreamWorks' new standard

Obviously, the idea of a snail gaining superspeed and wanting to become a racer owes more than a little inspiration from Pixar's Ratatouille with a rat who dreams of being a Haute Cuisine chef.  However, whereas Remy the Rat is able to strive for his goal in secret, Turbo the Snail is going to have to do this in public in the competition since it would hardly be dramatic if he participates in hiding purely for his own personal satisfaction.  That alone will be intriguing to see this bizarre situation and how the macho racing world would react to this snail.

The main pitfall is that Ratatouille was written and directed by Brad Bird, one of the greatest animation directors of our day.  While the film will be co-written by Robert Siegel who wrote the great sports tragedy film, The Wrestler, the fact is that the director, David Soren, hardly has the career experience and reputation to encourage me.  However, since Bird has abandoned the animation field, then I hope Soren and other newcomers are ready to take his place like DreamWorks Animation has shone so far.

The final film of 2013 will be Mr. Peabody & Sherman, yet another adaptation of Jay Ward's classic cartoons. In this case, Mr. Peabody's pet boy will screw up with WABAC machine and the pair have a big repair job to the timeline.

So far, the track record of Jay Ward film adaptation's has been disappointing with the first George of the Jungle film having a Rotten Tomatoes score of 56% while The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle has 42% and Dudley Do-Right with only 14%.  It seems that so far, nobody has really been able to emulate Ward's intelligent manic wit even with his daughter, Tiffany Ward, as executive producer.

However, this film will be directed by Rob Minkoff whose track record includes
The Lion King and the fantasy premise of fouled up history can at least provide a fertile ground for an wacky story like a more erudite version of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  If Robert Downey Jr. had stayed on the project as Peabody, then this would be something to really be confident about.

The big question however will any of these have the kind of soul that  How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda?  Will any of these touch into something deeper that I must experience again?  Madagascar 3 managed to do that this year, seeing Alex and friends come to learn what home really is after all their adventures and finding that they have become more than ever thought they could be. That is an artistic magic that Pixar's Brave had to struggle to achieve until after its first third while Laika's ParaNorman got it in an entire different way.

Regardless, I see DreamWorks striving forward from here with real artistic gambles.  Whether they work out is going to be an experience I look forward to next year.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Summer films of 2012 2: The Other Superhero Films

Now that digital projection rant is out of the way, it’s time for some more thoughts about the summer movies, in this case, the remaining superhero films.

The other two superhero films of the summer of 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises,are entertaining enough in their own ways.  

I was as doubtful as most people at the idea of rebooting the Spider-Man franchise so soon, but this new film was more than adequate of getting the bad taste from the last Sam Raimi movie out of our mouths with all the executive mandate interference that killed it off. For one thing, Andrew Garfield was surprisingly good as the title character with his feeling of youthful impetuousness that temporarily hid his heroic nature. That helped the character get away from Tobey Maguire’s forlorn everyman style into a more individual creation.The problem is that while Garfield hides it well, the fact remains that is he is 28, which was older than Maguire in his first film.  The fact that the film tries to hide with an youthful athleticism with the skateboarding just seems seems to make the matter more obvious.

For his part, director Marc Webb still weaves a fun fast paced story that captures more of the spirit of the comic in his own way such as capturing Spidey’s agile and banter filled fighting while restoring fun details like the superhero’s mechanical webshooters. That last part is more significant than you might think; it helps make the character feel special on his own talents than just the luck of how he got his powers.  Furthermore, it makes him more relatable in that you know you can’t have his powers, but you can imagine having his wristguns. 

Yet, Webb’s deviations are surprisingly worthwhile such as focusing on Peter’s unwanted conflict with Capt. Stacy instead of J. Jonah Jameson. It allowed the story to have a fresher feel and enables to us to see Spidey’s relationship with law enforcement instead of the well trodden idea of idea of media hostility. On top of that, just the story’s focus on one supervillain this time itself is refreshing with Webb understanding the basic genre mistake from Spider-Man 3 and steering sensibility clear.

Unlike most people, while I found The Dark Knight entertaining enough in 2008, I thought it was harmed with a concluding act that felt more tacked on than anything. I felt much the same way with The Dark Knight Rises with writing that felt relatively disjointed and illogical compared to The Avengers’ trim narrative. 

On the plus side, Tom Hardy is fun as Bane, the mastermind revolutionary with the physical strength to match, although the whitewashing of a Hispanic character like him from the comics into a Caucasian is uncalled for, a racist Hollywood practice that Grace Randolph can explain better than I can. On a better note, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is enjoyable as the young detective who subtly acts as and becomes one of the central Batman characters in spirit while Anne Hathaway creates perhaps the best modern Catwoman ever. The action is reasonably well done, except when Bats and Bane fight, which seems too stiff even for the factor of Bruce injuries while the vehicle combat is as wild as ever.

However, I have a hard time seeing a Batman who simply gave up his war on crime just because of Harvey Dent’s fall considering how Bruce Wayne’s obsession with justice is such a central part of his character. Other stories like the comic series, The Dark Knight Returns, and the pilot TV episode of Batman Beyond provide more believable reasons like the death of his second Robin and when he had to resort to a gun during a heart attack in the field respectively.  Also, the idea of how Wayne lost his money doesn’t feel real to me, in no way could Wayne be held legally liable for trades that were obviously conducted during a terrorist raid on the trading floor.  Finally, the big plot surprise about Bane’s “trigger man” didn’t seem like much of one to me: the character in question was obviously benefiting step by step with Bane’s plot and it’s just a matter of paying attention. 

All in all, these films don't hold up against The Avengers, they certainly show that the ignorant condescension of the genre like Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin from 1997 is gone.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Digital cinema, a problematic transition

A film projector, cheaper and can be used for decades .
A typical digital projector, with an average usage of 5 years.
Before I move on to my further ruminations about this summer's films, it would seem more apt right now to comment about a looming technological business move in the movie theater business that is really hitting home in London; the conversion to digital film projection.

Apparently, Rainbow Cinema and Hyland Cinema are the final cinemas in London, Ontario that still primarily use 35 mm film stock for their projectors, and the former is apparently the last in whole Rainbow Cinema/Magic Lantern chain to not make the transition that the film companies are forcing on the industry.  However, the Hyland is an independent cinema and is not eligible for a corporate subsidy available to the chains to make the transition and now has to raise the $100,000 necessary for the projectors themselves through a public fundraising project.  So, if you like great films that often no other cinema here shows in this city regularly, the Hyland needs your help now.

For myself, this is a bittersweet transition on top of the financial element. For one thing, there some actually upsides in this move.  For one thing, Rainbow will be abandoning 3D projection once it makes the change and it can't happen too soon with nobody justifying the gimmick to me outside of DreamWorks Animation's great films like How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar 3.  In fact, that has been a selling point for Rainbow to have a haven where people can see a film "flat" and for a lower ticket price. Furthermore, there will be the advantage of not having to deal with the inevitable scratches and other signs wear and the threat of mishaps like film breaks and fouling.

However, this still seems a stupid move for the film companies themselves. Yes, they will save a bundle from striking prints and delivering them around, but they are still changing the fundamental nature of the experience.  Digital projection is essentially a video projection, which makes the whole show essentially a  something like DVD at home.  In that case, when you make the viewing feel more like just like doing something you're already doing at home, the very point of going to the movie theater is diminished in the first place. When that happens, what's to prevent more people from just cutting out the middleman and wait for home video?

Essentially, all the movie theaters will have to compete against home viewing are newer films and a darkened room to see them without distractions. Yet, I go to the movie theater for the opportunity to get out of the house for something special and the cinemas will have to work harder to provide that and that's not having to deal with probable upgrades every 5 years while film projectors can last 30-40.  That will raise prices itself on top of the expense of this transition and that will harm the industry more. If digital projection could allow to ease the delivery expense of content, then maybe that would be worth if they could combine more variety with other suggestions I've heard like bringing back film shorts as a regular part of the programming.

All this is not even accounting for other costs like the projectionists losing their jobs in favour of this glorified projection TV, leaving less chance of a skilled expert to handle the situation if something goes wrong.  Then there is the problem of long term film preservation, the last use of film stock.  On that issue, Pixar found itself learning the limits of digital data storage the hard way when it started working on Toy Story 3 and found that their old files of their character from Toy Story 2 were essential inaccessible because they were outmoded with their current tech and they had to start from scratch.  When Pixar, the supreme masters of digital content gets caught short neglecting their own library storage like that, imagine what librarians and archivists have to deal with on far lower budgets?  It worries me that how our films could run a risk of having to be reproduced ala kinescope: filming the content from a video display with a huge loss of picture quality like TV producers had to do before videotape. That is a terrible step back we don't need.

I know the film theaters don't have any choice about this, but this is still a sad time for an industry and for its viewers in the long run.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer of 2012 Movie Thoughts, Part 1

Well, the summer is almost over and we're in one of the North American film market's dump months.  With that, a few thoughts about some of the better films this season would seem in order, which I'll be doing over multiple posts.

With Rainbow Cinema having a fun Movie Bingo incentive program and growing to treasure talking to the evening staff of  the Hyland Cinema, I think I've been seeing more films this summer than usual and enjoying myself with something of a relatively reasonable price to escape to for about two hours from my worries.

In the interest of disclosure, I am one of those weirdos in some eyes whose first resource for films I want to see is Rotten Tomatoes with all the anticipatory drama seeing where a film's critical approval score is going to land. Mind you, I don't always let it be the final word for all films, but I would typically rather have critics determine most of what I see than advertisers.

The summer movie season got off to a great start with The Avengers. This is the most finely crafted superhero film I have ever seen, easily topping even the first Christopher Reeve Superman film. Director Joss Whedon managed to put together all the fruits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's previous films into a delicious artistic salad that perfectly balances all the superheroes' presence well. To have that arrangement in a exciting story that feels so true to the best of superhero comics with all its wonder, wildness and sheer scale is a testament to what a great artist who loves the comics can do . While I was drawn most to Chris Evans as Captain America with his heroism of a good man out of his time, Mark Ruffalo deserves all the kudos he's gotten for getting Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk down perfectly in live action film for the first time.

While the paucity of female and non-white characters in the cast is a legitimate concern, that is the price of keeping to the source material and an opportunity to redress by perhaps adding new Avengers in later films like Carol Danvers aka "Captain Marvel", Banner's cousin, Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk and Monica Rambeau aka Pulsar.  In other words, this should be an opportunity to let a sequel serve in the best way: to address the original film's problems and improve the series artistically.

Another film I immensely enjoyed was DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.  I have been lukewarm about this franchise of DA's, but this film overcomes a relatively standard comic action first act to create a moving story about home and how the search for it can change you like you'd never expect.  Furthermore, this film takes the sequel and uses it in the best way possible, taking the conventions of the series and thwarting them in a meaningful way, such as the circus act the characters develop and what happens when the Zoosters finally make it back to the Central Park Zoo.  Finally, as much I look forward to not having to pay a premium for 3D presentation with Rainbow converting to digital projection, DA's films will be only the regret I will have with them making the gimmick serve a real artistic purpose. The main act of the circus in London proves that point brilliantly with a unspectacular show that will leave you awestruck, not just for the visual, but in how you're rooting for the animals to hope against all hope, and find that their efforts are paying off. For myself, I had never heard of Katy Perry before, but the film's use of Firework alone in the London circus show is enough to get me interested. 

As for comedy, I've always had the least luck with this genre.  The exception include, Ted, an intriguing fantasy comedy about a raunchy living teddy and his relationship with the man who wished him alive as a boy. This film is a wildly audacious comedy that plays with a logical story question that has never been really addressed in an adult oriented film, "What if childhood magic continued into adulthood?"  Even better, the characters here largely act like believable people under the circumstances, unlike in The Campaign, where what political satire there is nearly buried by Will Farrel's usual doofusness. That gives the story a vital believability that gives the weight as an intelligent fantasy exploring all the implications.  The idea of a living magic teddy bear becoming a celebrity alone is a joy to watch, especially when you see the young toy match barbs with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

Truly, this film deserves its success as biggest comedy of the summer even while I hope they don't sequelize it; it told the story with all the logic they can use with it and the studio should stand on their hand and let director Seth MacFarlane work on new ideas.

For all this, I have seen films that were a mixed bag to say the least.  This summer, one of the most obvious is Battleship, based on the classic naval guessing game.  I imagined this kind of source material would allow for much story potential and I unfortunately was proven right.  This film has a terrible opening with an unlikable jerk of a lead character who seems able to get into serious trouble and can still become a US Naval officer.  Compared to that ridiculous idea, the alien invasion plot is feels almost logical, but that turns out only feel terribly mundane, like a soggier version of Independence Day.  Only the idea that the aliens lost their main communications equipment and have to improvise with some Terran radio telescopes feels any close to creative here even as the trapped sailors fight with a homage to the game.  Only in the final third of the story, when the the sailors have to resort to the retired USS Missouri and its veteran crew does the film truly come to life with some moving moments and wild action while the sidestory of the hero's girlfriend and her double leg amputee Marine patient finally justifies its presence. However, this just creates a film best left for rental on DVD where you can get to the chapters worth your time and that's not what a truly watchable film is supposed to be.

That's the films that got me the early months, I'll be touching on the films in the later summer months next time...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

CBC Summer Shows Review.

The summer is nearly over, and so one of my favourite parts of it is coming to a close, CBC Radio One's summer programming.

For years now for me, CBC's summer radio shows have been a fascinating listening experience give its radio network an enhanced variety that is lamentably missing through its regular season, and its looming budget realities mean the situation is hardly going to improve. As it is, the shows have had to be fewer original series and more repackaged reruns like Vinyl Cafe Stories and The Current's reruns of the concluded season's theme of  stories like Gamechanger.

But as it is, there still have been enjoyable shows to listen to of varying quality this summer and a few thoughts about them is in order:

The real treat has been The Wildside, an enthralling fun show about adventures in the Canadian wilderness.  The story in the first episode about Wes Werbowy,  the wilderness consultant who survived a polar bear intrusion into his tent with an impulsive punch on the nose got me and kept me listening with growing pleasure. That was followed up with great anecdotes and interviews from people like a woman who had to stop a walrus from trying to mate with her canoe and crushing it, a man's whose wilderness jog was joined by a non-aggressive pack of wolves for a stretch and two girls who were attacked by a belligerent grouse that had to be peppersprayed.  All told with good music tracks played, is the epitome of fun summer radio.

Babel was an intriguing summer show about the use of English, especially from an immigrant point of view.  English has been described as one of the most difficult languages to learn with its myriad of words and language rules that are rife with exceptions and this show is an enlightening reminder about that kind of perspective about its challenges from the newcomer.  In other words, it's like the old show, And Sometimes Y, from a non-native anglophone perspective that a whitebread guy like me could bear to understand.

Metamorphosis struck me as a somewhat sunnier version of The Late Show considering the stories are predominately not obituaries. Unlike Gordan Pinsent's wizened drawl, Richard Syratt has a wry tone with a touch of gravel that allows for a welcome neutrality. The stories thankfully have variety like, Jose Prado, the Colombian double arm amputee charity case who fouls up horribly is a standout with others who have cleaned up their lives like Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel, a mother and her son's murderer who managed to make peace. The whole series give a fun mix of about how people cope with mistakes and misfortunes that is an inspiration and eyeopener.

Trailbreakers: This series has some interesting profiles of Native American community leaders who are advancing their people like encouraging business, political activism and broadcasting. However, the show feels disappointingly conventional compared to the early Native American show, Revision Quest, starring Darrell Dennis with his comedy sketches and his overall sense of humour to give the real story about his people.

Fear Itself has a quirky series about human fears, but I couldn't get into that. I prefer stories to enlighten and inspire me and there's enough fear in my life without going out of my way to explore more. Don't get me wrong, the show is interesting in and of itself, but it was not something to get me to archive the podcasts like other shows like Know Your Rights.

The Invisible Hand on the other hand was a show you can't approach ignorantly. As David Bush noted in Rabble.ca, the host, Matthew Lazin-Ryder, has a neo-conservative bias that colours the show to say the least. For myself, I was suspicious from the start about with the first episode being about, price gouging such as using the example of selling ice during a major community disaster. Listening to his case about priorities and his claim of how banning price gouging leads to dangerous shortages sounded maddeningly simplistic; for instance, there is no mention of intelligent rationing such as what Canada and the US imposed during World War II with their ration cards.  The show was still interesting, but it shouldn't in part be because it is a ideological minefield to beware Lazin-Ryder's agenda, even if he is at least rational enough to address real issues like global warming in the context of economics.

Global Perspectives manages to largely avoid the occasional dryness with the international documentaries with the "Old School, New School" theme such as an old shop with changing hands both in generations and in perspective to getting modern kids in China interested in Peking Opera.  It's a pity that the show is not podcast, but its episodes are available on its website.

If you like good radio, warts and all, then check out these shows and experience Canadian aural experiences that only CBC Radio One can provide. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Animation Realignment

Well, DreamWorks Animation has finally done it and is moving to Paramount from to 20th Century Fox, apparently for the attraction of a better cut in digital distribution

For myself, I am conflicted about this move; I thought the arrangement of American animated feature films currently has been rather ideal with each of the major studios being comfortably staked out in their own niche in the animated feature film.  For most part, all of the major players have been able to co-exist and tap into a ready market with films that have been general profitable for all.

Furthermore, although the newer players like Blue Sky (Ice Age, Horton Hears a Who) and Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me and The Lorax) have been wildly inconsistent in their film quality while Pixar has regrettably declined themselves in recent years with Cars 2 and Brave, it has been beautiful seeing DreamWorks Animation firm itself up as a pillar in this artistic golden age while new players like ILM (Rango) and Sony getting the hang of it.

Now, Fox is going to have DreamWorks and Blue Sky, the 2nd and 3rd biggest North American players in the field while Paramount has been encourage with Rango's commercial and critical enters the field with its own animation department.  As it Fox is going to have to juggle two proven animation studios to distribute and promote them both fairly and adequately. I just hope each will be able to strive for their own vision, I do not want DA to compromise on its hard won artistic excellence, nor do I want Blue Sky to be subsumed themselves, even if the Ice Age series is running out of artistic steam.  

Furthermore, I hope Paramount will be willing to look at its own history and learn from it so they don’t repeat its abysmal treatment of the Fleischer Brothers when it forced them to imitate Disney when they were making their own mark with sexy urbane fair like Betty Boop.  This when they were pushed into making features like Gulliver's Travels when they were far from ready, only to have them ultimately fail and close the door for everyone outside of Disney for decades. 
All that eventually accomplished was to frustrate and drive a wedge between them, destroying a superb studio and force Paramount to take it over as Famous Studios.  

Furthermore, all that came out of that effort was an animation studio that drove into its grandfathered properties like Popeye into the ground and created nothing but repetitious childish piffle like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Baby Huey. Heck, their Tom and Jerry knock-off series, Herman and Katnip has been derided as the most sadistic cartoon series of the Golden Age of American Animation and the main inspiration of the comically gory parody, "Itchy and Scratchy" in The Simpsons franchise. Just see an example of the former and one of the latter and decide if in content they are really any different in spirit.

Now, the rest of this year feels so promising with Hotel Transylvanias trailer feeling so charming while DA’s The Rise of the Guardians and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph trailers seem to be  carving out their own niches for so much fun. Meanwhile, Tim Burton will get a chance to recover his artistic reputation with his animated remake of his Frankenweenie, even though I agree with some critics that the stellar Paranorman could have taken it on.

All I can say is that there is a welcome feeling equalibrium so that has even allowed Studio Ghibli through Disney to improve their market presence with the Secret World of Arietity.  I just hope as DreamWorks, the company that helped make this flowering possible, prepares to change its partners that this realignment will be allowed to continue for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Changing Perspectives of Films and their Times.

It's interesting how a view of a film can shift over the years.

For instance, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane has finally been toppled after decades on top of the British Film Institute's Top 10 films of all time list in favour of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.  It certainly shouldn't be a surprise apparently since it had been rising in critical favour for decades. For myself, Citizen Kane is an interesting film with its wit and a bleakly satiric look at the American Dream at its materialistic worst with bold cinematic techniques to tell that story.  By contrast, Vertigo does have the virtues of nightmarish surrealism and it's own bleak tragedy of obsession, even when it's for the truth, to make for a interesting film experience.

Now, Mike Nichols seems to inspire similar reassessments such as with the great film critic, Roger Ebert, changing his tune about The Graduate. In 1967, he praised the film to the skies with his affection for Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock and then thirty years later, sympathizing for the ostensibly villainous Mrs. Robinson dealing with Ben who Ebert now calls an "insufferable creep." Yet, he still likes the film, but more has a museum piece of  whose time has passed, except for Simon and Garfunkel's music, which contrary to his first review, turned out to be not "forgettable" at all.

For myself, I can never have Ebert's perspective reviewing Nichol's greatest films considering he first saw them in the 1960s when they shook up the Hollywood film with their bold content for their time.  I can only rely on a historical perspective and appreciate them in that context, but my own perspective and my tastes in film will reflect my time on a visceral level I just can't shake.

In that regard, I finally got myself to see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Mike Nichols' 1966 mega-successful adaptation of  Edward Albee's classic play. This was a film with such raw content that dealt a heavy blow to Hollywood's stifling Production Code and paved the way to more freedom for American film, if imperfectly.

However, for all this appreciation, I can't escape the fact that the film was almost unwatchable to me. The whole story about this bitter couple continually sniping at each other and sucking a young couple in repellently divorced from any real humanity or character logic. At no time do Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's characters seem to convey one gram of warm or humanity, but carry on as nightmare caricatures of domestic emotional hell.

Furthermore, the younger couple seem to act with any feeling of basic common sense or self-preservation. After all, when someone visits a couple who are sniping at each other so hatefully that the husband brandishes a rifle at her, you'd expect any visitor would practically be running for the door.Yet, these twits stay after all and get sucked into their vicious mutual emotional torture. So, I'm expecting to be interested in seeing two emotional sadists wreak havoc with their drunken idiocies while two young nitwits go along with all this, even to the point of taking a ride with them to a bar to make it a public spectacle?  Yes, by the end, there is a shocking revelation that can give the main couple's turmoil a bit of perspective, but it is far too late in the story for me to care.

I've read that part of the appeal for its time was not only the lure of the forbidden with the rough material, but also two of the biggest stars of that time indulging in such wild antics that were once thoroughly hidden behind closed film doors.  As it is, I've grown up in a time when such material is now commonplace for TV movies and the simple shock value has long since faded. As much as I bet Albee's original play has a more nuance tone that can be properly toned for today in the confines of the stage, this film just feels like a gleeful sledgehammer that had already flattened the play's possible subtleties for a generation that was perhaps not ready for them in that medium.

Christopher Reeve, an actor's actor.
Then there is also the fact that this film was a star vehicle for Burton and Taylor.  For myself, I try to avoid seeing films because of the actors, but I first grew to like film like Star Wars and Superman where the larger story is paramount and the actors playing it who best suited to it was all important.  To me, Christopher Reeve is my ideal; a relatively unknown actor hired to play the Man of Steel, but had to do so in the shadow of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in third billing. Yet, Reeve is the one who proved himself brilliantly in a fantasy role that could have been hopelessly silly, but made it feel so warmly believable and appealing on its own terms.

Since then, and helped along by being bored to tears with Star Trek: the Motion Picture's glossy, but crashingly boring tale I look to story and the skill telling it above all else. Then again, I am also someone who consults the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes more than any publicity or advertising for films to see.  I'm not immune to good marketing such my interest in the upcoming animation film, Wreck-It Ralph, with its enthralling trailer, but that is balanced against the suspense to waiting for its RT score to say whether it lives up to it.

With that in mind, I plan to be writing reviews of older films on top of other subjects for this blog to see what a modern perspective can bring and see what I can discover.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Prohibition, A TV documentary review

When it comes to American history, few American documentary filmmaker on TV can match Ken Burns.

His film have a powerfully engaging effect that seems to work best with his own voice when he has the least amount of material work with.  For example, for events that occurred before the advent of film, such as The Civil War, he is able to create evocative scenes with paintings and landscape shots that seem make motion almost superfluous.  That is further enhanced with great actors reading the writings of great historical figures like Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln, Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass and Julie Harris as Mary Chestnut.

Last night, I had a binge of sorts watching Burns' documentary of last year, Prohibition.  As usual, it was an insightful look at one of the United States' most disastrous constitutional mistakes when it tried to ban the sale of alcohol.  Starting from a well meaning activist urge to control the social problems arising from America's obsession alcohol,  it blew up into a national imposition arising from a toxic mix of nativist prejudice and ethnic anxiety, dosed with a jigger of self-righteousness fueled with political savvy as the 18th amendment of the US Constitution..

From that supreme act, you will find a intriguing story of how good intentions created some of most serious blowback as organized crime instantly took advantage a ready market created by the draconian in definition Volstead Act that was enforced by underfunded and undermanned Prohibition Bureau under an underenthusiastic political leadership.

Against this, you have colorful tales of bootleggers, rumrunners and gangsters of which Al Capone was simply the most self-grandizing of the bunch.  Opposing them, you will understand how that side was hardly much better, especially when the head of the bureau, who was willing to encourage the trampling civil liberties in her methods as part of regular business, was willing to directly interfere with the 1928 Presidential election by spewing religious hate, a sentiment in principle shared by that other supporting group, The Ku Klux Klan.

Furthermore, you will see how this conflict infected much of American society as alcohol became the ultimate forbidden fruit, leading to a widespread attitude of secret defiance that became fashionable to a self-destructive degree. In fact, the social activism dedicated to ending prohibition is a real eye-opener like the well to do society lady, Pauline Sabin and the mayor of New York City, Fiorella La Guarida.

The only major disappointments is that I wish Burns could have focused a bit more on some of the well meaning and famous heroes of the era like Izzy and Moe and Eliot Ness and his Untouchables.  However, the tragic story of that rural enforcer in the mountains who did his duty and pay for it with his life goes a long way about the era's costs.

Furthermore, I wish Burns could have drawn the obvious parallels with the current narcotics prohibition which is proving not much less self-defeating and ineffectual itself. As much as I am a teetotaler, this series becomes a intelligent fable on the perils of social reform overreaching itself and making things worse in the long run.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A few concerns about the film, The Greater Good

Tonight, there is a screening of a film at the Hyland Cinema called The Greater Good, which is apparently a biased screed against vaccination with token pro-vaccination views to hide it.

This kind of hysteria hardly new, in fact it stretches further far back than Dr. Edward Jenner, who developed the first effective and relatively safe inoculation against smallpox in 1796. Priests called vaccination "sinful" as it thwarted the will of God and there are the usual claims that it doesn't work and there are harmful side effects.

 However, after a period of calm, we have this current situation at least sparked by Andrew Wakefield, in 1998 who published a medical study in medical journal, The Lancet, that claimed that MMR vaccine, which protects people against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), causes autism.  Since that article, Wakefield's falsehoods on this subject have been publicly exposed which led to his medical license being revoked by the General Medical Council in May 2010 and the article completely retracted as a fraud that same year.

Still, we are seeing with this film that the hysteria is self-sustaining with this film's trailer painting vaccination in its animations as a kind of plague, regardless of their claims of "balance.

Furthermore, the blatantly manipulative footage of forlorn kids and weeping parents of rare adverse effects apparently has no counterbalance of parents who have children struck down by easily infectious diseases like whooping cough. All we have for that side is apparently health authorities to have to resort to saying the facts in the abstract.

Vaccination programs require a critical mass in the population in which there are enough people immunized to prevent such diseases from spreading generally.  In short, if there too many people who surrender to this ignorance about a well tested public health measure, whole populations will be needlessly at risk from potentially diseases, such has happened in various times in history as such as with whooping cough is currently an epidemic in the US state of Washington.

I don't necessarily disagree with all the film's intended positions; I don't like the corporate influence on health regulations, and the idea of vaccination research being so heavily in private hands with the expected conflict of interest. In fact, I shudder if there is no equivalent of Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, who refused to knuckle under corporate pressure to allow Thalidomide on the market, to prevent a similar disaster as what happened in Canada.  At the same time, I of course want every effort made to minimize and/or eliminate adverse effects from vaccinations, but we have to recognize the bigger public health picture.  After all, traffic laws are technically an impingement on personal freedom, but it's better than risk life and limb on the roads without regard to public safety.

As for myself, I'm not in the mood to dignify this argument by seeing this film tonight, but if you want to see it for yourself, may I suggest you can also watch a hopefully more impartial documentary on the subject from the acclaimed PBS news series, Frontline, "The Vaccine War."

Pardon me if I sound strident, but one of the worst experiences I had as a kid was when I was laid up with the flu and I had to get dressed and get to school for a math test. The experience of seating in a separate desk, spraying mucus all over it while trying to think coherently is something I never want repeated.

Since then, I've made it a point to be literally first in line for the annual free flu shot at the Middlesex-London Health Unit headquarters and I can't understand why there are people who willing to take that once of prevention. When you combine that with hearing stories of parents who are putting not only their own children, but others as well as risk and my anger at such fearful selfishness flares.

Just want to get this out of my system before this film gets into others'

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Reexamination of my Opinion and an Apology to Don D'Haene

A few months ago, I posted an article responding to Don D'Haene, which in retrospect was over the top and overly nasty.

I wrote that rant seething with anger, feeling personally insulted in my perception at Don singling me out and belittling my concerns in my review of his performance. I tried to give my response articulately and with evidence to support my arguments in an intelligent and nuanced manner after a few days of cooling off as opposed to quickly posting a hasty flame email.
With a cooler head with a few month's distance, I realize that I still got excessive in my writing and I regret the vitriolic tone and the ad hominem nature of the piece, such as the Lincoln Perry reference. I realize that I messed up both as a commissioned writer of theatrical review for The Beat with my earlier mistakes, and as a person with my emotions getting the better of me.

In other words: Don D'Haene, I am sorry I lost my temper in writing and attacked you.

Regardless, to both you and Mr. Richard Young, thank you for your time in what had been a very rewarding experience writing for your magazine and website. I just wish I could make amends to undo the hurt feelings on both sides.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Following a Powerful Historical Story in Sound.

It's funny how Germany's history in the first half of the 20th century is so fascinating a morbid sense to see a nation so steeped in militaristic nationalism that they help plunge the world in such destructive agony in the first World War and then go collectively insane in World War II. 

For myself, I found listening to a whole list of history audiobooks from Audible.com cover much of that history with such enthralling narratives and there are still holes to fill with more to listen to.

It all started with the classic book, The Guns of August by  Barbara W. Tuchman  where you will follow how Europe's nationalistic rivalries exploded into an war led largely by arrogant idiots like Joseph Joffre who kept with stupid doctrines long after they have proved self-destructively useless until it was almost too late and weaklings like General Moltke who nervously fiddled with vital military plans and senselessly stuck with them even when the tragedy could have been avoided.  However, it followed through and reading about Belgium and the price it paid for its independence is powerful listening as the conflict that drowned it become something much worse in scope. Meanwhile in my reflexive interest in Britain's role in this rolling disaster, I never thought I would be rooting for General Douglas "Butcher" Haig and Lord Kitchener, but reading the moronic blundering of John French screwing up the British Expeditionary Force to the point of utter destruction you are drawn to the competent no matter their subsequent history.

After that, I couldn't resist listening to all of Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich Trilogy (The Coming of the Third Reich The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War) to listen to an comprehensive survey of Nazi Germany as a kind of grand historical horror story.  It starts with the trials of the doomed Wiemar Republic and how it provided the fatal precedents that Hitler exploited to the hilt.  Still, listening to the final book is almost impossible to get through entirely, the depravities inflicted in Eastern Europe, especially in the Soviet Union, beggars the imagination even when you know about the death camps that came later.

After that, The End by Ian Kershaw is the natural followup to learn why did Nazi Germany fight to the absolute bitter end. In that book, there is a perverse fascination to learn of a nation being ground into oblivion with such hopeless fanaticism for a future Hitler refused to contemplate and his people feared more than anything else.

Finally, I'm listening to Exorcising Hitler by Frederick Taylor to learn what happened to Germany afterward to answer that necessary question: what happened to a country that paid such a crushing price for following a leader's grandiose dreams in the face of all conscience and reason.  The answer I got is an intriguing mix where a punitive moral idealism and a pragmatic appreciation for the greater good for a nation that eventually came to a real moral reckoning on its own by its next generation.

All in all, it's been an intriguing trip and The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor will likely be next.

As modern history goes, it's well trodden ground, but it's a journey that is still powerful to follow myself.