Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Early Summer Bittersweetness of Being

It's the beginning of the summer and my spirits are a bit higher than usual.

Anthony Pyor has finally responded to me after 10 years and seems to have gotten over what grievance he has with me. While it would be too much wishful thinking to hope that I can could chat with him like before, at least he's restarted his Wulf stories and I can enjoy some more of the fantasy erotic adventure you'll ever going to find online. It's at  and while it's definitely not to every taste, it is still a fun series of sexy stories with good humour and wild adventure that deserves a look for anyone who wants to learn how good original online erotic fiction can get.

Furthermore, this is the first week on CBC Radio One's summer schedule and that means a whole new batch of facsinating summer shows like Babel about language usage in Canada, The Invisible Hand about economics for the ordinary person, Metamorphosis: a biography version of the Late Show without the dying part, Fear Itself about the aspects and of course the international radio documentary showcase, Global Perspectives with this year's theme being "Old School, New School." For all, I know, this could be the last summer for such great shows, so I hope you might find them as interesting as I do.

Of mixed elements is that Obama's healthcare law survived the US Supreme Court and while he could have sold the whole thing much better and gone to Canadian style single payer coverage, this is still a feather in his cap to fight with for his re-election campaign. The bad news is that VIA is cutting back on passenger service, even in the busy Quebec-Ontario corridor, but at least I can still use it comfortably enough to still get to  Brantford for my parents or Toronto for whatever.  That frustrating part is that other nations are building up their passenger rail service like China and Europe and we are giving up on ours even when it makes so much economic and environmental sense to use the trains more with them being largely faster and energy efficient.

On the movie front, the upcoming movie, Ted, has a fresh status and a favourable critical consensus statement on Rotten Tomatoes and I couldn't be happier in that regard.  Unlike a dumb mashup premise like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer, Ted feels more natural as a creative film fantasy concept that actually asks a really good story question: what would childhood magic be like if it continued straight into adulthood?  The fact the teddy bear being alive is no secret gives the whole story a fun new element that gives its coming of age theme that much more punch.  Just check out this trailer for an inspired if rather proudly rude film

While Magic Mike is looking promising, Ted will be the first film I want to see while Amazing Spider-Man looks like it has justified the character's movie reboot with style and intelligence this Monday at Rainbow at 8:00.

All in all, these are just small developments, but the positive one are interesting enough for this time of year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Brave girl film with an prejudiced burden DreamWork's heroines don't have.

I saw Brave last week and while it is not not one of Pixar's better efforts compared to their daring and beautiful films like Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up!, it's a decent effort with a special twist for an adventure film.

However, the opening act is basically a standard "You Go Girl" plot where an athletic girl defies her society gender role constrictions to beat the pants off anyone who dares to push her around. If there is one thing that Pixar used to be known for doing, its to take the less travel road for stories and create fresher plots that challenge what stories American animation and film could tell.

However, the film quickly redeems itself when the lead character makes a terrible mistake to get her way with her mother, forcing them to go on an quest together to undo it and learn to understand each other along the way. That is writing more worthy of Pixar; the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship in a classic fantasy adventure story is, for better or for worse for Western culture, fresh story material. From then on, the story has considerably more charm and thrills for a meaning story.

However, my new top tier movie blogger, Scott Mendelson, is on the money that this film is rife with weaknesses.  For instance, the older Disney animated feature, Mulan, handled the matter of gender roles with much more nuance to the point where it doesn't need to be so blatant as Brave's two competing monologues of mother and daughter. Instead, the title character takes action for a purpose that seems to be a familial purpose, but has also shows a subconscious need to be more.  Maybe Mulan has to deal with the usual Disney elements of its time like obtrusive comic relief like Eddie Murphy's Mushu and musical numbers, but that girl's actions carry the film in a way that feels thematically whole and credible.

Furthermore, that fact that Pixar has to resort to making Merida in Brave a princess is a lamentable surrender to one of the oldest role stereotypes for animated fantasy films.  Again, Mulan didn't need to be one in her story, even if she is now lumped into the rest of the Disney Princesses marketing campaign. We know Pixar has the talent to create something more, but they didn't and so, the company's artistic spirit is compromised yet again.  As noted, the blow is not fatal with the film's second half redeeming a lot, but this company is supposed to be better than that.

Finally, Mendelson noted that there is a repellent sexist cowardice with too many film pundits about the market potential of a girl centered adventure story with the boy audience. As he notes, there was no such fuss with Mulan's box office potential 16 years ago in 1998 and you'd think the spectacular success of this year's The Hunger Games with Katniss' adventures in the story would prove the point.  Heck, I remember when I was 8 years and I lived to watch the Wonder Woman TV series in the late 1970s and that was when the idea of active female action heroes was still a relative novelty to a degree. Why is it that people are reverting to the most mealy minded prejudiced idiocy in each medium?  The basic truth is that you have a female character in a well written and produced action film/TV show and boys will jump at it, especially older ones who could enjoy watching a pretty girl kick butt on top of the action.

This is another reason why my favour is to DreamWorks Animation now.  For one thing, the original director for Brave, Brenda Chapman, was fired midway through production and replaced by a male director. As such, there at least some suspicion that this film proceeded in part because Pixar didn't want to make themselves a big PR target for killing a female centered project and the film suffered for it..  By contrast, DA treated Jennifer Yuh Nelson with more respect making Kung Fu Panda 2 and the company was rewarded with the #1 animated film worldwide and the biggest money making film directed by a woman.

Furthermore, DA has steered clear of the princess cliche, except in the Shrek series where it is sent up for all its comedic worth.  Otherwise, their finest full fantasy films haven't resorted to that stereotype: the Kung Fu Panda franchise has Tigress and Viper, fierce and self-confident martial arts warriors who are definitely not royalty and neither bow to any male or need to give a speech about their need to live their own dreams. Likewise, How To Train Your Dragon has Astrid Hofferson and Tuffnut, equally mighty young warrior proteges who are ordinary viking girls who live a feminist empowerment dream in a story world that believably gives them a place.  Heck, Monsters Vs. Aliens has been described as the most successful superhero movie with a female lead with Susan, an ordinary modern woman turned heroic giant who learns to love her strange new life with fire and inner strength.

Take all that together, and you will know what DA understands and Pixar doesn't.  Now, let's see if Warner Brothers will too as they consider finally giving Wonder Woman a chance to shine on the big screen with as her brothers (Superman and Batman) in the DC Universe.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Fall of Pixar and the Unsung Rise of DreamWorks

Like most animation fans, I had a great respect and admiration for Pixar Animation Studios at least as far back as their first feature film, Toy Story, in 1995. For 15 years, they had an almost unblemished record of artistic excellence other film studios would sell their soul for.

This especially with the period of 2007 to 2010 when they took marvelous artistic gambles with such seemingly unlikely story material like a culinary talented rat in Ratatouille, a largely silent post-apocalyptic robot love story in Wall-E, a high flying adventure with a geriatric hero in Up! and a grand conclusion to Woody and friends' adventures in Toy Story 3. Each time, they dared and hit the bullseye perfectly each time.

For all that success, Pixar paid the price for that track record and arrogantly betrayed its artistic principles in 2011 making that sorry dreck called Cars 2. As such, they underperformed in the box office for the first time in over a decade and AMPAS gave it the Oscar snub it deserved. John Lasseter can deny it all he wants, but the sole reason for sequelizing their weakest film can only be for the $5 Billion in toy car merchandise from the first film. I don't care if that film is really popular with children, Pixar is a company that was supposed to be better than that, but they threw away a film standard of excellence matched only Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) in Japan for mere money.

Now, their reputation is indelibly tarnished and their newest film, Brave, which could have been welcomed as an experiment in a new direction, now can only look like an attempt to return to their previous standard.  Given the fact that film is rating only 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is shockingly low for Pixar, it appears their self-inflicted wounds are not healing for some time.

That's why I am as annoyed as Scott Mendelson when he reads how people complain Brave is as bad as DreamWorks Animation. As Mendelson notes, DA may not have gotten all the kudos Pixar has, but it has grown to become a real artistic competitor with a largely steady determination to become far more than what they began as since 2008.  Although their work has been more inconsistent over the years, it still has become a company that has been working hard to become better with brilliant films like the Kung Fu Panda series and How to Train Your Dragon.

Heck, their Madagascar series is a shining example of the studio's maturity.  Yes, the first film was a rushed attempt to head off Disney's The Wild, and its Tomatoscore of 55% is deserved, but the series has steadily improved with the second film's 64% and the current one with 75% as it found its own voice and heart.

Unlike Pixar, DreamWorks Animation has never had the opportunity to rest on their laurels even after it won the first Animated Feature Oscar in 2002. As an independent company, each feature has to be a hit or they are sunk.  However, for this struggle, DA has learned from its mistakes and has grown into a fine company that is still trying for be more than merely Jeffery Katzenberg's grudge work against Disney.  While they did sink into a nadir with 2007 with some bad film and alienating Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit), they ultimately dug themselves out with superb films any studio would be proud of.

The end result is that while I look forward to seeing Brave and the rest of Pixar's future projects, DreamWorks Animation is the company I root for as I eagerly await for Po and Hiccup's new adventures from a company that has earned more respect than too few people seem to recognize.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Late Spring Political Follies.

Whether we wanted it or not, this is turning out to be a busy time in Canadian politics, both on the provincial and federal levels.

We have Harper's Omnibus budget bill passing and the country will be experiencing its fiscal vandalism in short order, especially with the elements that were less obvious like killing the Fair Wages Law and the gutting of environmental research budgets, which are likely breaking the law for keeping them so quiet..  This going far beyond cost cutting to a level of injustice guided by blind ideology we're going to have to endure for years.

On the provincial level, we have this relatively petty political stare down with the Liberals and the NDP that could result in a unwanted snap summer general election that is not likely to change anything significantly, or worse put Hudak and his Harrisites in the driver's seat.  Considering they are still clinging to moronic policies like privatizing our public electric system, they are still as much a danger to this province as under Harris. At least I know the upcoming by-election will be a real scrap now with a Liberal majority government being the prize.

At least my party leader, Thomas Mulcair, is proving himself to some real bite on the political scene.  He's able to get real support about his warnings about Canada's dutch disease and he's got the NDP in a polling tie with the Tories.  However, with Justin Trudeau mulling over running for the federal Liberal leadership, there will be a divided opposition that may regretfully require a political merger after all.  As much as that would be the death of Tommy Douglas' dream, the soul of the nation is in the balance and difficult choices may need to be made short of getting proportional representation by some miracle.

Oh well, less than a week to go and likely on to the silly season.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Mother's Visit

Finally a belated family duty done yesterday as my mother came to call to take care of her Birthday/Mother's Day gift.

On the whole, it was a very good day with a stop at Gift of Art (One of the best independent downtown stores in London) for gifts for a friend and Father's Day and having a nice lunch at the Central Library's Little Red Roaster.  If my power cord didn't malfunction for my netbook and any of the public wi-fi links were strong or stable enough, it could have a completely good time at that particular moment in all respects.

However, the best part was taking her to see The Avengers movie on its last day at Rainbow Cinema. My mother usually has to be all but pushed to see fantasy and action films.  Really, she came of age of big films like the James Bond series, The Dirty Dozen and Sam Peckinpah's stuff like The Wild Bunch and movie action still throws her? Interestingly enough, full fantasy world films like The Lord of the Rings seem beyond her, but superhero films, with its fantasy elements placed in a contemporary world setting, feel reachable to her.

Regardless, it was fun explaining the various elements of the Marvel Universe in the film to her.  I loved having to comment to her like when Loki makes an appearance in Germany with great lines like "Remember, he's the God of Mischief and he's out to make some right now" or explaining why the Hulk could not lift Thor's hammer in the helicarrier fight or the happy fellow during the end credits. She did say it made the film much more understandable to her, which means that a trivia track on the home video releases in September is called for her if her reaction is typical.

All in all, it was a better day than I had hoped.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A friend's online literary return, but so far, also his silence.

I just learned from a good friend (On my end anyway), Anthony Pryor, that has brought back his excellent Wulf Archives stories back officially. 

These are the best erotic online sword and sorcery fantasy stories you are ever going to read.  He started them in the early 1990s to prove to the readers of the infamous newsgroup that it is possible to have sexual explicit stories that written well with engaging plots and characters.

If you read these, you'll know he made his point beautifully with enthralling tales that went beyond simply the sex to embrace something much larger.  If you need proof, read "Heart of the Lion" and you'll first enjoy a thrilling war story that begins with what would have happened in the Anglo-Zulu War if the sides had roughly equal military resources and firepower on a fantasy context.  More importantly, you'll grow to like the lead character and what happens next becomes that much more bracing an experience.

That being said, I used to treasure talking to him, but I'm afraid during a visit at his home in Portland in 2002, I'm afraid I must have annoyed him seriously, because afterward, he stopped communicating with me. I never even heard a reason for his problem with me, leaving any idea to my specific misdeed as a glorified guess. 

That really stung and I can't seem to make things right.  Even this notice he sent seems more like an accident with a mass mailing on an email list he couldn't be bothered to specifically edit out his invitation to communicate concerning me.  I just sent an apologetic reply written as well as possible last night. I have received no reply yet, which suggests that the ice age between us is continuing.

I must say this is a painful thing and all I can hope is that he's simply responder right now and other matters of wishful thinking.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

It's funny how people can come to the wrong conclusions when they learn about bizarre and large scale crimes.  It's apparently in human nature to focus on the unusual kinds of misfortunes that draw your attention and reflexively.

To be sure, Luke Magotta deserves to be called "The Canadian Psycho" for his brazen and grotesque crimes and the idea that a crook like Christopher Husbands could be allowed to escape house arrest to shoot up the Eaton Center food court is a damning failure of our justice system. However, people killed in auto accidents and kitchen mishaps each year than criminal attacks and there is no panic about them.

It seems like there are too many people and institutions who have a warped sense of moral priorities.  Leaving aside certain governments for now as too obvious examples, there is the Vatican whining about the "harm" a book about a nun's personal thoughts about sex. The fact that church persistently covered up child molestation by their priests for generations means that that organization has no right to dictate sexual morality to anyone.

All a matter of perspective I guess.