Sunday, January 28, 2007

This is CNN

Edward R. Murrow would be rolling in his grave if his consciousness hadn't been transferred to a robot body

America’s most trusted news source. How is that measured? How can they be sure? I don’t exactly know. If anyone is giving credibility to CNN (or any other major news outlet), then they’re insane. In a world where:

- The U.S. is engaged in a war they so obviously lied their way into
- The U.S. wishes to provoke another war with Iran
- The President of the U.S. has demonstrably violated the Constitution on multiple occasions
- Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons
- Climate change is quickly becoming irreversible
- People paying into social security will soon be outnumbered by those taking advantage of it
- The world’s supply of fossil fuels will be exhausted within my lifetime
- Galactica is close to finding Earth
- Small handful of corporatations are increasing their control over the world's disparate media outlets
- Wealth is being increasingly concentrated in the hands of a shrinking minority
- Billions of people live in poverty, some of whom are dying from a lack of potable drinking water and hunger

CNN has, over the past couple weeks, had the following items at the top of their page. Again, consider the context I have laid out above when reading these headlines and ask yourself if these are at all pertinent to our current societal discourse.

12.9.06

"Anderson Cooper: Man, my laugh is annoying"
“Gunman felt cheated over toilet invention”

12.10.06
NASCAR champ breaks wrist in golf spill

12.12.06
That Osama, Obama thing nothing but B, S
Lohan: I haven't had a drink in a week

12.14.06
A Mustang wagon?!? Say it ain't so

12.15.06
Is the Brangelina baby cuter than a panda cub?

12.17.06
Pet-cassos demonstrate their technique
Tail-wagging artists put paws to canvas

1.3.07
Baby pandas! Baby pandas! Baby pandas! (note: Yes, this is a headline)
Britney's Vegas new year didn't stay there

1.4.07
Rush hour! Baby can't wait, born on interstate

1.9.07
Suzanne Somers' Malibu house burns

1.11.07
Walrus does sit-ups, can't reach his toes

1.16.07
Is there any limit for 'American Idol'?

1.18.07
E-mailing during sex: Technology gone awry?

1.24.07
Freaky-eel-looking-bulb-headed shark in Japan

1.25.07
Incredible blinking Pelosi clocked at 85/min.

Ooh, now there's some serious journalism for you!

Note that all of this is merely a sample of the idocy that is displayed daily by CNN. Keep it in mind, is all I ask.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

This is Both Tasteless and Offensive

It’s time for the first installment of my new series, “Who Will Die First?”. Our first contestants are none other than America’s dad, Andy Griffith, and Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas.

The winner of Round 1 will go on to face Mickey Rooney in the semifinals

To our parents, Andy Griffith is the warm-hearted father they never had; a dad who solved vicious rapes and murders in small-town America while taking them fishing on long, midsummer afternoons (at least that’s how I think the show went). For us, he’s the crotchety old defense attorney with more ingenuity than MacGuyver. And for people younger than myself, well… they have no idea who he is.

Just keep cuttin', Floyd. Andy will have your kiddie porn ring busted in no time.

If a woman looks at this image for more than six seconds, she will be impregnated

Kirk Douglas, on the other hand, is the guy who looks like Michael Douglas, but with a better chin. He also portrayed one of the greatest humans to ever live, Spartacus, in a movie whose title escapes me (little known fact: Spartacus’ real name was Leonard Goldstein). He then went on to portray a Viking (seriously, why don’t they make any more Viking movies?). Even after having suffered a stroke a few years back, the bugger keeps on ticking.

"You see Opie, the killer left one of these cards at each murder scene."

Which of these men – one a sheriff in America’s heartland, the other a gladiator who defied an empire – will die first? I’m gonna buck the trend here and go with Griffith, even though he is ten years Douglas’ junior.

This photo was taken three weeks ago

Like I say, Douglas has staying power. I mean, he made it to 90 after a major stroke… why not a few more? Andy Griffith on the other hand… when was the last time you ever heard of that guy? Also, I figure if he were still in decent shape they’d be making Matlock TV movies, yet I haven’t seen a single one.


Oh, you keep laughing, Griffith

So, there’s my prediction. Start saving for your commemorative Andy Griffith plates today.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Friends Now Have an Average Age of 52

Not to be gay, but I thought this looked particularly nice.

I’m often asked just why in the world I came up here. On days like Saturday, one remembers that the sheer vastness and remoteness of our pristine north (or south, if you’re living in, say, the Yukon) is hard to ignore. Sure, I wasn’t ready for the rocks through the car window, the “Mr. Smithers you fucking white cunt” and the nauseating smell of Flin Flon (I keed, I keed), but I was hoping for some ice fishing and damn it, I finally got a bit of that in this weekend.
The day started innocently enough with an early morning phone call from one of my colleagues. Let’s cal him, oh… Roger (because, you know, that’s his name). This was surprising to me, given that Roger the night previously likely drank the equivalent to three mickeys of rye. Being a Newfoundlander of some age, Roger is no stranger to the booze.

One Roger P. The height of healthiness!

Myself, along with Roger and George (the latter of which regular visitors will be familiar with) had planned to visit Rob out in his cabin this weekend. Before I continue, I should say that the very act of visiting Rob’s cabin is the whole reason to go out there. This man, another teacher at the school, is the former VP here in Sandy Bay. To get to his cabin, you drive for a half hour through a winding winter road (that is to say that in the summer it’s just an unpassable strip of mud in the wilderness) and across a lake. I guess to write that down and then read it back it doesn’t sound like much but, brother, it sure the hell was an ordeal.

Observant readers will wonder how Rob gets across when there is no ice. The answer is, literally, a homemade hovercraft. Don’t forget that on his way to and from school, Rob is doing this every fucking day. Yep, that’s the kind of people we’re dealing with.

Yep, that's remote. And, note the 1949 Bombadier that Rob picked us up in to cross the ice.
Extra note: George is drilling a hole to make sure he won't die if he drives his truck across the ice.

Rob has been living out in his cabin, near as I can tell, for most of the past quarter century. It is insane. It’s a one-room cabin, a few bunks, a kitchen, TV, satellite Internet, generator outside… probably some other stuff. It boggles the mind to think that a normal, well-adjusted person has been living like this, literally, for decades. Rob was the VP. He teaches computers now. There is nothing in his behaviour, conversation, attitudes… nothing that would betray the fact that he is, essentially, a hermit. I am also boggled by the fact that he makes this insane odyssey every day. To see him in the morning, you would not know that he just went through it and has to do it all over again at 4:30.

The cabin in question. Note that it is unsafe for human habitation.

At any rate, that was Saturday. Sunday I had the pleasure of driving out to the junction (that is, the end of the 120 Km of gravel where the road to Sandy Bay meets the “normal” highway) to pick up none other than Mrs. Buz Trevor, George’s mother. She will be staying the week and lending her expertise and experience to the school’s library. Oh, and after George and I picked her up I drove back the 120 Km. All in all a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, eh?
You kids still think being a hermit is cool? It's not always drugs and naked ladies!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This is a Prequel

There's the Mike you all knew and loved... what happened to that Mike?

Maybe Tara, Sarah, Kristina, Steph or any other Western Visual Arts grads who are reading this can back me up when I say that in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre, sculpture was probably the most ignored medium. I can count a number of accomplished painters, printmakers and… drawing-type people, but few of us really took to sculpture (not that there weren’t some people who made some excellent 3D art in that building). I count the high costs associated with pulling it off successfully as the barrier (I’d definitely say my greatest unrealized ideas for projects were sculpture-based) rather than the facilities and sculpture professors, who were excellent.

Nevertheless, generally accounting to scheduling needs, I found myself taking a few sculpture classes over the years. They suck, man. Each project can take you back dozens – nay, nearly a hundred dollars if you want to do it right. And if you want to half-ass it, you can always go the messy and time-consuming papier mache route. If I want to look back at my university career and feel that it was a depressing waste of time during which artistic vision took a backseat to more pragmatic needs, I need only think of every single fucking sculpture assignment I ever did.

In order for my coming story to make any sense, I’ll have to outline the way in which my 4th year sculpture class was set up, scheduling-wise. Basically, the 4th year and 3rd year sculptures were the exact same class, except 4th year was divided into two half-year courses for some reason I’ll never understand. And if you got under 70% in the first half, you wouldn’t get back in for the second. Thus, I found myself in early December just barely scraping by, desperately hoping to grab a 70 so that I could… well, graduate.

Our professor, the inimitable Colette Urban, gave us an assignment at the end of the first semester in which we had to involve our bodies (those of us from the VAC know that sculpture is always billed as “Sculpture and Performance” for some reason). These can be difficult, as you’re really having to put yourself “out there” to really get a decent mark. My 2nd year body-related project is a story for another post. If you are lucky.

Desperate to get a 70, and with time and money running low, I took a look around the shop (managed, as always, by the esteemed Doug Mitchell). There I saw two planks of wood measuring 4X4 feet, as well as a roll of saran wrap that was basically as tall as myself. It took me a minute, but I figured that if I attached the wood together (creating a plank 4X8 feet long) and put a bubble of saran wrap over it, I could encase myself inside, attach the shop vac, and create an airtight seal around myself as I rested on a bed of wood. Maybe it was a commentary on our consumerist society? Shit, I dunno. I figured it was good enough for a 70, at least.

I spent an evening or two in the shop getting things ready, making sure to keep the plastic airtight. If this scheme was to fall apart, that was the one thing that would throw the whole damned thing off-course and send me packing for a “victory lap”. I taped the plastic to the wood, cut two holes (one for air and one through which to insert the shop vac) and… went home to enjoy a few Lakeport Honeys (my drink of choice at the time). Tomorrow would bring with it either victory or defeat, and my half-assery assured neither one.

Upon completing an assignment, we spend 1 or 2 classes (3 if you’re with Dave Merritt – Oooh, I went there!) critiquing the class’ work. This particular class had only 6 people, so we managed to get things done in one evening. Given that this was the bi-annual “involve yourself in the project” assignment, there were some interesting entries.

Eventually my turn came. The moment of truth. I had no less than Justin Min himself, brother to the delightful Emily, to work the shop vac. I climbed into my little bubble of saran wrap, making sure to bring with me my trusty roll of packing tape. From the inside, I took a few minutes to seal the plastic from the interior and, placing the end of my breathing tube in my mouth, gave Justin the thumbs up.

Brilliant? You tell me. Wait... don't.

The deafening roar of the shop vac was followed by an intense pressure spead across my entire body. Like a vice, the plastic pressed against my chest, restricting my breathing; it clung to my forehead so tightly that I began to feel light-headed; movement in my extremities was out of the question. Beyond my wildest dreams, my lame-brained, half-baked sculpture assignment had succeeded!

With this under my belt, I managed to pass 4th year with flying colours, go on to Education at Queen’s and begin my illustrious career here, teaching in the Far North of Canada. So, basically, I should have taken Andrew’s long-standing advice and shat on a board. Also, Chris Burden’s idea of jacking off under a ramp while gallery visitors pass overhead isn’t too shabby, either.

Once in a lifetime comes an artist as genre-defining and genre-defying as myself. Also, I'm about to pass out here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back in Action

I saw the new Bond over the Christmas break and it would be remiss of me not to remark upon it. So, I’ll just do that.

First, a general impression. Casino Royale is a pretty kickass movie, but not quite a genuine Bond film as I’ve come to expect one. After the success of the last one, Die Another Day, the producers took the unusual step of overhauling the whole franchise. Even though DAD had been the highest-grossing Bond film of all time (Each Brosnan Bond was more profitable than the last), they decided to change the Bond actor and the tone of the whole operation. Coming off a huge bomb, I could understand; but taking a chance on a property that was still pulling in ever-increasing amounts of cash? Quite the risk.

Casino Royale, I like. It’s got some kickass action sequences (most of which are concentrated in the first half of the film), a good baddie, decent enough plot. In spite of this, though, I find something lacking. I mean, where’s my space laser? What about Q? How come Bond’s car doesn’t shoot stuff out of it? Quite deliberately, these elements have been avoided and I can’t say that I’m particularly thrilled about it.

One of my favourite moments in the recent Bonds came at the start of The World is Not Enough. Bond is piloting a boat that turns into a submarine and, while avoiding some flaming debris, runs it underwater. Cut to a shot of a submerged Bond, straightening his tie. I mean, come on! That’s awesome, but if they’d tried it in Casino Royale Daniel Craig would have been laughed off the screen.

Much is being made of Craig being a “gritty” and “darker” Bond with the unstated implication being that this is a good thing. I don’t get it. First, who the fuck wants a gritty Bond? I want a goddamn Bond who wears a suit and tie and shoots people, and then says something clever that relates in some way to that person’s death (“Maybe he should have ordered the lobster” if he throws a guy into a tank of piranhas). I don’t care how realistic that is, damn it. Bond films have almost always tended towards outright fantasy, and I don’t see why all of a sudden people want them to be realistic. Go see the Jason Bourne movies if that’s what you want.

Holy Christ! Bond's hair is messy and he has dirt on him! Not since Eisenstein has the world of cinema been thrown for such a loop.

They also talk about making Bond more human. Well, Christ, the whole appeal is that Bond’s not human, he’s superhuman. Has anyone’s complaint been that they want a more average and relatable portrayal of Bond?

Related to this, I’m also not sold on Craig as Bond. Sure, he seems a competent sort of action hero, but… James Bond? Bond is supposed to have a more pronounced sense of humour, and he’s definitely not supposed to fall in love (once, and that is it). I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one though, since all the promotional material for the film stressed that this character was Bond “before he was Bond”. I take that to mean that he has learned from his experiences in this film and that, by the end of the movie and into the rest of them, he’ll be the same old guy we’ve always known. The final scene, in which he greets the Mr. White character with “the name’s Bond… James Bond” seems to indicate this might be the case.

Now, onto some random thoughts.

- They do a good job in this movie of making the nameless little henchmen in the movie seem like genuine physical threats to Bond. I’m thinking particularly of the bomber at the airport who gave Bond a pretty rough go while fighting in the tanker truck, but there are others.

- The foot chase in Madagascar at the start is really excellent. There will never be a better foot chase in any movie ever. Again, they do a good job of making the bad guy here seem pretty competent in the way he is able to jump and climb his way through the construction site while Bond is left busting through walls, climbing ladders and using his brain while he chases him.

- There sure the fuck were a lot of cell phones being used in this movie. They could really have cut down on that, but I guess some company had a new phone to sell. On that note, Bond actually says the brand name of his watch? Pretty tacky.

- Like I said, all the good action is crammed into the first 45 minutes or so. After that, it’s a good long while of poker playing. This I do not mind, but then they try to break it up by cramming in not one but two action scenes in between hands. Especially in the case of the poisoning, these seemed really tacked on.

- I like how they gave Le Chiffre that screwed up eye. It’s not in the book (evidently), so I like how they went the extra mile to give the baddie some sort of physical deformity. At least some of the old Bond is still kicking (prior examples include diamonds embedded in face, metal teeth, midget, bullet in brain, scar on face, prosthetic hands, really tall black lady).

- You know, I thought I would hate this, but I didn’t really mind the way the movie saves the gunbarrel bit till right at the end of the first scene. I look forward to a traditional one next film, but it works here.

- I can see how space lasers and volcano hideways are probably going to be out of the next couple Bond movies, but now I wonder if Q is going that way, too. I mean, certainly if he was to appear in the next one, he couldn’t be the jokey, cantankerous Q we’ve always known. If the next movie is to be anything like Casino Royale, Q will clash entirely with every other scene in the rest of the movie. Also, the idea of having a scene where some guy shows the main character all the gadgets he will be using is in itself pretty outdated and makes for some poor storytelling. I like it, of course, but I can see the arguments against. The obligatory banter between Moneypenny and Bond might also fall victim to the same reasoning.

- The Brosnan Bonds had a few recurring characters working alongside M at Mi6, none of whom make an appearance in this one. Given that they brought her back, I’m a tad disappointed to see them gone.

- The whole idea of Bond falling in love has been done to death, especially in the last 3 Brosnan movies (Paris Carver was supposed to have been an old flame; we were to believe that he was getting close to Elektra, moreso than usual; Halle Barry’s character was supposed to be his “equal” that he felt something for). I feel odd to say that I long for the days of Roger Moore where, clearly, Bond was in it for the sex. I’ll give this one a pass because, ostensibly, this is Bond before he’s Bond, and maybe he’ll learn from this encounter that he’s not supposed to fall in love? Time will tell.

Yeah, cause I want to find out how Bond feels about this woman

- It was cool to see Felix Leiter for the first time in a while. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him.

- I love the way the movie ends with the Bond theme. I mean, they don't even try to redo it for the 21st century; near as I can tell, it's the exact same arrangement (including bongos, for Christ's sake) as the original from 1962, only re-recorded. That's commendable.

- The opening titles over the song are fucking awesome. The whole card motif is just great; it makes silly things (Bond shooting his gun and then a heart flies out of it) seem kickass. Then you’ve got the whole spiral motif (like on the backs of cards) going nuts, and the weird little designs on face cards, roulette wheels, targets, etc. It’s brilliant. To top it off, the arrangement of the title song uses the orchestra a lot more than the radio versions you might have heard and really takes the song from “meh” to “huh” territory. I am still unsure if these ones beat the Goldeneye titles though, which I was floored by when I saw the movie as a kid.

- Then you have the score. Oh, I could go on at length about the score. And I will. The composer, David Arnold, is one of the few things that were retained from the Brosnan era. Listening to the music, though, there are very few stylistic elements that have carried over from his old work. You can really tell that Arnold stepped up to the plate and changed his whole game for this movie.

Die Another Day, the last Bond movie, was Arnold’s third. By that point he was going insane with the techno and the electronic manipulation. At certain points in that score, he wrote the music backwards, had the orchestra play it that way, and then reversed it all for the movie. It’s nuts, and I had the impression that if Brosnan had stuck around for a fifth, his stuff really woulda been interesting and off the wall.

Brosnan didn’t, of course, so Arnold was forced to abandon the style he’d been developing for a while and start all over again. Listening to the album it’s a bit sleepy, but it totally works in the movie. Part of the problem is that a huge portion of the movie is either talking (all romance-like between Bond and Vesper) or poker playing. I guess I could be wrong, but this sort of thing doesn’t exactly lend itself to the most dynamic and in-your-face music, so Arnold keeps a lot of his stuff pretty low-key. It’s serviceable, at best, and I can’t fault him for writing to what’s on the screen.

But then you have the action scenes, and that’s when things get more interesting. Starting with the track Backseat Driver in Tomorrow Never Dies (played over the car chase in the parking garage where Bond’s controlling the car with the remote in the backseat), Arnold began making this sort of… signature chase sequence music. You can definitely trace a line from that to the boat chase music in The World is Not Enough through to the hovercraft chase music in Die Another Day (with honourable mentions going to the bike chase in TND and the ice palace chase in DAD). These tracks are always the highlight of Arnold’s Bond scores, and I was eagerly awaiting the next iteration in Casnio Royale.

Regrettably, however, there are no vehicle chase sequences in this movie. Thus, the momentum Arnold had been building on the vehicle chase music has been stopped dead in its tracks (the closest we get is the stuff accompanying the foot chase, but that’s about that). This is especially a bummer because these parts are also where Arnold tends to let loose with homages to old Bond scores (which I particularly enjoy). Oh well. Maybe next time.

Submarine car. Suck on that, Aston Marin that is in the movie for 30 seconds.

One good thing to mention is that Arnold comes through with more plodding, protracted overlong action sequence music. These sound like negative adjectives, but I must say that this stuff has grown on me over the years. In the tradition of Submarine from TWINE and Antonov in DAD, Casino Royale brings us Miami International. Like the first two tracks, Miami International is ridiculously long (over 12 minutes). When you first listen to it, you hate it. Gradually, however, you begin to really warm to it and enjoy the way in which tension is built up over… well, a long time (and I suppose it’s not Arnold’s fault that the action sequence lasts 12 minutes). I’m no music-type person, but all of these tracks sound the same: they start slow, have a slow build (with the same descending three-note motif introduced in the pipeline scene in TWINE), and then gradually build to this massive climax in the final few seconds. You will also notice that the titles to all three of these tracks are rather prosaic, giving away no more than the location in which the action takes place (A submarine, an airport, etc.). I think the name Miami International is Arnold’s way of indicating that this track is placed firmly in the lineage established by Submarine and Antonov.

You can come up with your own caption for this one.

- I am curious about this evil organization alluded to towards the end of the movie. I am desperately hoping that it’s SPECTRE, but I don’t think the producers actually own the rights to that (or even Blofeld) anymore. Perhaps this is for the best, however, since Dr. Evil has pretty much ruined the character of Blofeld for the average moviegoer, so a bald guy heading an organization that fights Bond might just be laughed out of the theatre. For the record, though, I am rooting for SPECTRE.

- I am concerned about the precedent set by this bad guy. I mean, he’s just a lowly terrorist financier. Where’s the nuclear blackmail? I fear that the next guy might be some drug lord or some other bullshit.

Anyway, that’s it for me and Casino Royale. I’m sure you haven’t read this far, and, hey, no harm done. It’s good to get that out of the system either way. All in all, I would say that of the Daniel Craig Bonds, Casino Royale is definitely the best.