Archive for January, 2010

The Book of Eli

Posted in Review with tags , , , on January 30, 2010 by JonH

In a clever bit of marketing, the word ‘Believe’ fades in around the letters e,l,and i as the title The Book of Eli fades out during the film’s trailer, but I can’t help but think it would have been more appropriate for the word ‘Belie’ to appear, as in ‘fail to fulfill or justify (promise or hope).’

Not that I disliked the movie – in fact there are some very good aspects to it, most namely Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman – it’s just that I was a tad confused by it.

On one side there is a mysterious traveler named Eli (Denzel Washington) who has the world’s last bible in his hands. He hears voices directing him to walk west to deliver the Word of God to the one place where the people will know what to do with it. Apparently, he’s been walking for 30 years, so he must have come from the east coast. All we know about Eli is what he tells us and what we see, and at one point we’re given a glimpse of an old name tag in his bag: “Hi, my name is Eli” suggesting the stereotype of a humble man being the only appropriate prophet for the word of God.

On the other side, there’s Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a well read despot bent on finding a more divine mode of manipulating the people of the town he rules over. In ham-handed fashion, when we meet him he’s reading a book about the Italian fascist Benito Mussolini. Carnegie has been looking for the book that Eli carries for a long time.

“It’s not a book! It’s a weapon. A weapon aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them,” Carnegie yells at his right-hand man when the latter questions why all of the effort for just a book. But if it smells like rose and looks like a rose, it must be rose. But if it fits all the criteria and it isn’t, well then it must be a metaphor.

In some ways The Book of Eli is a modern adaptation of the Adam and Eve allegory, but with a twist. Eli’s book is the metaphorical apple, its knowledge is sought after, but forbidden to all but those God decrees as worthy, and Carnegie isn’t one of them; neither, if you recall, were Adam and Eve. But it was the latter, who were originally tempted, manipulated, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say controlled by the serpent; this, as we have seen, is Carnegie’s intention: control. Like the serpent, Carnegie is silver-tongued. His intention is to whisper the words from the bible into the ears of the people of his new towns thereby subjugating them. He said as much. But he needs the book to get the words.

The twist is that this time God got it right. He guarded the knowledge by entrusting it to a protector, Eli. And Eli is a fierce and jealous protector. In fact, he is so much so that he turns old testament on anyone that gets in the way of his objective and spills blood – loads of blood – to keep it from the unworthy.

In this context, the story of faith transposed over an apocalyptic world presents a fresh perspective on a tired genre. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see it through. The film has some symbolism (what’s with the cats and the apparent epiphany that Carnegie’s right-hand man has?) but not enough to bolster the foundation of the retelling of the Adam and Eve tale.

This leads me to another possibility. Maybe The Book of Eli wasn’t intended to be a modern adaptation of the birth of man and I’m way off base. If so, then the movie is even more flawed, as there are just too many questions left unanswered. The biggest one being why would Carnegie need the book in the first place? His rule seems fairly secure. Why not continue with the way things have been? If this is the case then the limited symbolism and implied metaphors are all for not, and the film fails to fulfill or justify hope or promise. Everything falls apart, and The Book of Eli becomes merely a spaghetti western set after an apocalypse.

In the end, no matter my take on The Book of Eli things look shitty in the movie much as they do sometimes in the real world (minus the sepia images of a post-apocalyptic world running amok with cannibals), but it’s good to know that even in that bleak future pouty-lipped babes exist and Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman still kick ass.

The Insider

Posted in Review with tags , , , on January 26, 2010 by JonH

Back in the latter part of the twentieth century we all suspected that smoking was not good for you and that corporations were evil, but we had no proof . . .

What we needed was a story about the nefarious actions of an unscrupulous corporation that is confronted by an employee whose complicity has driven his conscience to a breaking point. Have the corporation then fire that employee, throw in a confidentiality agreement, a gag-order and maybe even a few death threats, and you’re getting the making of a pretty good story. Add a third character to the mix whose unrelenting quest for the truth is borderline pathological and the story enters the realm of Hollywood.

Michael Mann’s 1999, Academy Award winning movie The Insider is based on the real-life story of biochemist, and former big tobacco executive Jeffrey Wigand’s (Russell Crowe) divulgence of incriminating evidence to 60 Minutes’ producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). The evidence brings to light his former employer’s bid to make cigarettes more addictive and to refine what in big tobacco parlance is simply referred to as a “nicotine delivery system.”

Oh yeah, and Wigand’s information comes on the heels of the seven big tobacco CEOs feigning innocence regarding the health implications and addictive qualities of cigarettes during congressional hearings on the matter.

At the outset of the film we meet the two central characters. Wigand just got canned and is heading home – obviously bearing the burden of the secrets he’s agreed to keep quiet in exchange for, among other things, continued medical coverage for his family, while Bergman is on location in the Middle East being led with a hood over his head to a secret meeting with a high ranking Hezbollah official to discuss an appearance on the news show 60 Minutes. It’s at the beginning that the two characters are shown in their purest form: one is willing to suffer in silence in order to provide for his family; the other is willing to do whatever it takes to get the truth. As you can imagine, the plot unfolds when the two meet.

Themes of truth, manipulation, integrity, fear, and bravery are prevalent throughout the film, and Mann shows a deft touch in dealing with each of them. The corporation’s blatant manipulation of Wigand is coercive, but far subtler is Bergman’s deferential manipulation of Wigand, which, in the end, gives them both, what they want: the truth.

The story is bookended by each man’s struggle with revealing that truth. At the outset it was getting Wigand to speak with Bergman. Once he agreed, the piece was shot, produced, and ready to air, but was prohibited from doing so by CBS executives citing the threat of potential legal action from Brown & Williamson lawyers for tortious interference on Bergman’s part for encouraging Wigand to violate his nondisclosure agreement.

In the end the story was broken by The Wall Street Journal. Once it came into public light 60 Minutes then ran the full exposé.

With the exception of Diana Venora (the woman that played Wigand’s wife, Liane – who I found to be overly-dramatic), the acting is top-notch. Watch for Christopher Plummer, he is exceptional as Mike Wallace. Pacino and Crowe are spot on and each actor’s characterization draws you in with the plausibility of their actions. The only other drawback, as far as I can remember, was the sound track. I found that oddly lacking.

Community Newsletters

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags on January 21, 2010 by JonH

It’s natural for some people to want to get more involved in a new community when they first move in. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to join the executive or to attend community league meetings. However, a convenient way to contribute is through the community newsletter.

More personal and less expensive than a newspaper, a community newsletter has the potential to be a great forum. Indeed, a highly specific forum to discuss ideas and decisions that impact the community in some way. More generally, it can be used as a way to understand the community a bit better and to document the history of how it is evolving.

It’s a great opportunity for people to reach out and explore where they live and the history of what makes their community what it is. The newsletter is an historical document of sorts and by sharing our insights and opinions we make that history much richer.

Let me tell you a bit about our house and our experience in our community.

Like other houses on the block, our house was built in 1954. We bought it during a seller’s market right when prices were at their apex. The previous owners, an affable couple in their eighties, bought the house in the fifties off of a man who owned it briefly after it was apparently used as a show home.

The couple made home-made wine, and from what I could tell they enjoyed it. I mean this with the utmost respect, but whenever we would come over to have another look at the place – and we did a few times because this was our first big purchase as a couple – each had a small glass of wine on the go. Considering how spry the husband was when he showed me around the house maybe a glass a day is the secret to vitality. At any rate, they told us they enjoyed entertaining – excellent, I thought to myself, this is a tradition I can easily continue as my wife and I enjoy doing the same thing.

Prior to buying the house we looked at a number of others, but we kept coming back to this one. The community was established, well maintained and despite the fifties era décor in the house, the previous owners had managed to cultivate a home that was imbued with a
warmth and lived-in-feel that we had yet to experience in our extensive search for a home.

Even though we weren’t expected to take possession for a few months, on the night that our offer was accepted my wife and I joined the old couple for an official welcome-to-thehouse, treat-her-well sort of symbolic transition. It was a brief event, one that involved them asking if they could leave a few things behind after they moved. Of course, we said.

Although, there was no wine involved we walked away with a warm feeling confident that we’d made the right choice. This would be our new home.

When we finally took possession we found the few things the couple left behind: a fully furnished third bedroom replete with impossible to peel wallpaper emblazoned with giant flowers and dusty rose walls; a completely furnished basement with a shuffle board printed on the linoleum, an ancient stereo system, an acoustic guitar and a banjo, a stack of records and a giant picture of the husband as a slightly younger man tending to his guests behind the bar, which hung, appropriately enough, behind the bar for a year after we moved in.

Talk about the history! We couldn’t be happier.

Probably not the way to Bring in the New Year: A Reader’s Opinion on The Oilers/Osteria de Medici Restaurant Affair

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , on January 4, 2010 by JonH

This may or may not be the place to air my opinion on the matter of the Oilers/Osteria de Medici restaurant and owner Maurizio Terrigno fiasco but I’m going to do it anyway. Please note – I am not a professional writer by any sense of the imagination so beware – this is just my opinion.

Imagine this: It’s New Year’s Eve and the Oilers lose to the Calgary Flames 2-1. They’ve decided to book a restaurant in Calgary to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their wives and girlfriends rather than coming back to Edmonton and doing it here.

The restaurant must be one that was suggested to them or suggested to whomever did the planning for the outing, so I’m assuming it’s a good one and most likely an expensive one.

The owner must’ve been very excited to have an NHL team eating (and drinking) at his establishment on New Year’s Eve. I know I would’ve been! Not only for the notoriety but also the income.

Let me tell you a story about the absolute last thing that I would ever do as a restaurant business owner.

Imagine the scenario – An NHL team came to my restaurant and ate and drank the night away, probably sharing a lot of laughs and good times, good food and good company. They were probably treated with respect and gave respect in return and then their 5 digit bill arrives…

Now I don’t know the whole story (no one does except the Oilers and the restaurant owner Maurizio Terrigno) of exactly what happened but from what I’ve read, and I’ve only read one article in the Edmonton Journal written by a Calgary writer. Obviously, I don’t have all the facts so I’m going to make some assumptions.

From what I understand, when their bill arrived, someone realized that the drinks were a lot more costly than the team originally thought. Now I can’t imagine how this could’ve happened because as far as I understand, most restaurants have a menu with set prices. So my assumption would be that the arrangement with the team dinner planner and Terrigno was not very clear and was misunderstood by both parties. I’m guessing that Terrigno arranged with the team that, for that night, they could just pay for the bottles of booze rather than each shooter/drink individually because I believe that was the dispute. That the team thought they were going to be billed for bottles rather than individual drinks.

A spokesman from the Oilers is quoted as saying, ‘the restaurant’s claims are false, and the team simply paid an amended bill with tip. They were expecting to be charged for bottles of liquor, rather than for each shooter.’

If this is in fact the case, wow, how could this misunderstanding possibly have happened? (That’s a huge misunderstanding!)

Back to the original point of my ‘story’.

So I’m a restaurant owner who has an NHL team eating in my establishment on New Year’s Eve and they have a 5 digit tab and then they dispute some of the charges. Fair enough – we’ve all done this. Terrigno decides to adjust the bill for the team (I think that’s his way of admitting that he screwed up) and everyone goes on their merry way.

Either that night or the next day, Terrigno isn’t happy about something and decides to phone Sherri Zickefoose, writer for the Calgary Herald, to tell her about his idea for a front page story. And then he goes on to complain about everything that supposedly transpired on New Year’s Eve with the Edmonton Oilers. Everything from the tab dispute and how the Oilers handled that and even what kinds of drinks they were having.

This article showed up as front page news of the Edmonton Journal on Saturday, Jan. 2/10. Shame on you Edmonton Journal for first of all, entertaining the idea that this was a newsworthy story to begin with and then making it front page news!

If you’ve seen the article then you’ve no doubt seen the attached picture of Terrigno holding the tab. He looks a bit like a whiner and definitely not a business man to be taken too seriously. Perhaps he’s just looking for attention and this is the only way he could think of to let people know that the Edmonton Oilers went to his restaurant. (Secretly he knows they’ll never go back but he needed people to know that they were there.) He doesn’t strike me as an extremely intelligent person.

As a future restaurant owner, I would be delighted to have an NHL team come to my establishment and I would never, ever in a million years, air publicly any type of dispute, whether it be a regular average Joe or an NHL hockey team!

The article refers to Osteria de Medici as a ‘high profile Calgary restaurant’ and now I’m very curious to see if this advertising style works. Will people continue to frequent this establishment or will they choose some other place to spend their money because I’m positive there are better places to go eat in Calgary.
I for one, will never go there. If anyone mentions to me that they’re going there to eat, I will do my utmost to dissuade them. I’ll even search out other fine places as suggestions to them to ensure that they don’t visit Osteria de Medici!

Back to the article, Terrigno is quoted as saying, “They went ballistic. They wanted a discount because they are the Edmonton Oilers. Wherever they go, they get a discount. It was a disgusting display.”

First of all, I don’t believe that they said that. I’d have to hear them or one of them saying it out loud for me to believe it. And if this is in fact true, my guess is that the Flames and other teams as well, would have the same expectations. Secondly, what’s really disgusting (in the true sense of the word ‘disgusting’) is the Calgary Flames jumping the queue for the H1N1 shots. Now that’s disgusting.

Maurizio – what you’ve displayed here by your comments (besides the fact that you actually contacted a reporter) is your business acumen. This group of folks, who just happen to be a hockey team, just spent $12,000.00 in your restaurant and this is the way you treat them?

My guess is that none of them will ever go to your place again. Or their families. Or their friends. Or, hopefully, most Edmontonians.

To Sherri Zickefoose, the Calgary reporter who wrote the story – you talk about ‘the shooters bearing suggestive names’, what are you trying to tell us there? I think I may need it spelled out. Does that mean that not one Calgary Flame has ever had a ‘blowjob’ (shooter name) or ‘Sex on the Beach’ (another drink name)? Really? Or are you saying that it’s only the Edmonton Oilers who have those drinks?

Referring to another quote made by owner Maurizio Terrigno, “It’s uncalled for. Don’t let alcohol be an excuse. These guys were rude and belligerent and I want everybody to know it.”

Maurizio, you’re supposed to have a course called ‘ProServe’ under your belt as a restauranteur who serves liquor in his restaurant. If you do have it, didn’t you learn how to treat customers who’ve maybe had one too many? I think you may need a refresher course.

As far as ‘donating the money to a relief fund’, what money is that? The whole $12,000.00? I don’t believe that you’re that generous – sorry.

Maurizio, you should’ve shown more class.