Archive for July, 2010

RUSH into your weekend

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on July 24, 2010 by JonH

Ever since Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, I’ve been a fan of film makers Sam Dunn and Scot MacFadyen, and their latest is no exception. With guest commentary from a variety of people both celebrity and regular folk, Beyond the Lighted Stage chronicles the origins and the development of one of Canada’s, and arguably the world’s, most iconic rock bands, Rush.

Presented in 14 chapters with titles like “The Suburbs” and “Finding Our Way” to “The New Guy” (a moniker that two thirds of the band still use to describe Neil Peart), “Terminally Unhip”, and “Revenge of the Nerds”, the documentary is an insightful and thoughtful look at how the band grew from its first gig in the basement of a Willowdale church they called The Coffin to incipient success with their first two albums, a dramatic drop in popularity with their third, and an equally dramatic rise and breakthrough with their fourth, the classic, 2112.

“I believe when people step back and actually really look at who the great bands were they are one of those bands. But somehow they were never popular enough to get commonly name-checked as one of the great bands of all time. A lot of the other stuff has been over-explained. Zeppelin has been over-explained. The Beatles have been over-explained. It doesn’t tell the whole story. And you could say, ‘why was this band marginalized? What was it?’ It doesn’t matter. At some point they’re there and somebody has to explain why they’re there.”

This is the question that Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins plants at the outset of the film, and I found myself coming back to it time and time again as I watched. I couldn’t help but think that these guys are the antithesis of rock stars. There’s no drama with the band, no whacked out egos, no addiction issues. In fact, they all seem pretty level-headed, and relatively unaffected by fame. Indeed, one of the most profound moments in the documentary is bassist Geddy Lee’s comment on the bands decision to slow down after the intensity of recording one of their most musically challenging albums up to that point, Hemispheres, and the difficulties that their chosen craft was having on their families: “We were trying to remember music is just one of the things we had chosen to do with our lives, not everything.”

The documentary shows the band is focused, but not consumed by their vocation. They write and play music that they want to and have survived and maintained their integrity even when things have gone sour (i.e. the album Caress of Steel, the aforementioned third album).

In a time of gimmicks they didn’t seem to have one, and despite the band’s purported inability to dress themselves in anything considered remotely fashionable, it didn’t seem to bother anyone other than the critics.
Speaking of, even though their music was more or less critically panned, it resonated with those that mattered most, the fans. Even with the lofty lyrics that Peart penned they never came across as pretentious. They never assumed they were above their listeners. They just wrote and played what moved them, and in turn moved their fans.

Beyond the Lighted Stage goes a long way in showing the three men that make the band up and the relationships that they’ve forged with one another over the years. Guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee are as close as you could possibly imagine two friends to be and their playfulness never seems forced, only natural. Neil Peart, the band’s drummer, maintains a friendly disposition tempered by a healthy suspicion of fame, and the adulation it can elicit in some. To a degree, he is aloof, but he opens up somewhat in discussing how he deals with the deaths of his daughter and wife. Lee and Lifeson obviously both respect Peart’s nature, and all seem to have a harmonious relationship with one another. This is really hammered home in the segment entitled, “Dinner with Rush at a Hunting Lodge.”

In the end though, besides being a very close band, what these guys do is rock. With some great live video shot of them playing various locations you can’t help but think these guys have seen it all. In the words of Jack Black: “Rush is just one of those bands that has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce. A lot of bands, they’ve only got so much in the bottle. They use it up sometimes in one song. These guys were the real deal. Their bottle was so big, and so filled to the brim. They were shaking it literally for decades and still there was sauce coming out.” And the filmmakers show us that in spades.

Reality in Two Parts: What’s a Top got to do with it?

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by JonH

Here comes that spoiler warning:

The story revolves around Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a dream stealer, or extractor, who has been unable to see his children or even return to his country because he’s been on the lam for a crime he did not commit.
A wealthy businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a job, which, if he can pull off successfully, will guarantee that his charges will be dropped.

Saito’s corporate rival, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite), runs a company that’s on the verge of becoming too powerful thus having the potential to wipe Saito out of business. To prevent this, Saito wants Cobb to perform the act of inception, or planting a thought, into the mind of Fischer’s son, Robert (Cillian Murphy) that will convince him to dissolve the company once he takes control.

Problem is inception is very difficult to pull off because the subconscious has self defense mechanisms in place, and besides it has long been thought to be impossible. Nevertheless, driven by the opportunity to get home, Cobb puts together a team to do the job.

The manipulation of reality is not the only primary theme in this movie. It also addresses the notions of guilt, and obsession. Cobb is driven by a guilty conscience for past actions, and he’ll stop at nothing to try and atone for them. Ariadne (Ellen Page), the architect, is the only member of the team that is aware of Cobb’s obsession, as well as his inability to control his subconscious projections of his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard). When Cobb goes into another’s dreams he carries a totem that used to belong to Mal that helps him distinguish whether or not he’s in a dream or in reality. The top spins without stopping, he’s in a dream. If it topples, he’s awake.

My only real issue with the movie is that the journey into inception involves multiple layers of dreams, some of which become tedious in the painstakingly slow motion shots they’re presented in, or equally as tedious in the over-the-top-James-Bond-type-fight sequences they portray, but overall it’s the overarching themes that intrigued me. The nature of reality is one of those big issues that is always entertaining to talk about, and to be able to see someone’s visual representation is even better. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is equally effective in conveying the uncertainty that reality can sometimes present.

The film purposely leaves a level of ambiguity as to whether or not the team achieves its goal, and it does so in a predictable, but nevertheless satisfying way. That’s why the discussion of our conception of reality has been discussed for ages. Director/writer Christopher Nolan doesn’t come down on either side of the fence. He uses the idea of Cobb’s totem to ask the question has Cobb come full circle and now occupies the same fate as his wife, or has he really broken free of the illusion of dreams and managed to return back home after such a lengthy absence?

Reality in Two Parts

Posted in Review with tags on July 21, 2010 by JonH

Part one:

Like the Matrix before it Inception deals with the lofty theme of the nature of reality, but it does so in a way that’s even more insidious and disturbing than a world controlled by machines.

But before I go any further, bear in mind that I’m going to be talking about what can be construed as critical parts of the movie, so if you choose to read on you’ve been warned . . .

The nature of reality is something that people have thought about for ages. Plato described it with his parable of the cave where people could only understand the world around them by shadows cast on a wall. Centuries later, while trying to determine the fundamentals of the world around him, the French philosopher Rene Descartes spoke of an evil genius that created an illusory world for us to inhabit. Despite the malice that such an entity would have in creating this fictitious world, Descartes took solace in what’s called his cogito argument, which basically stated that since he could think, he existed: “I think therefore I am.”
His thoughts are his own making his subjectivity the one thing that’s not fictitious.

Inception turns this notion on its ear.

Don’t get me wrong the movie’s not bogged down in philosophy–it’s actually billed as a heist movie—but it plants some pretty serious seeds, and if you’ve seen the movie that’s a pun.

The reality being manipulated in Inception is much more than someone creating what the dreamer perceives in his or her dreams, it’s about planting thoughts, and ideas so deep in the dreamer’s subconscious that upon waking they believe these thoughts to be their own.

Questioning the genesis of our own personal thoughts and where our inspiration comes from is a bit disconcerting.

Part Two, coming tomorrow: What’s a top got to do with it?

Trust can be a Fickle Thing

Posted in Review with tags , on July 12, 2010 by JonH

I haven’t read the books nor have I seen any of the movies.

That is, until the other night.

I think it was probably because my wife and I had spent the previous three evenings watching the final season of one of our favourite television shows that I was defenseless. I suspect that it was due, in part, to the fact I had something that occupied my time and engaged my imagination.

But now it was over. I had nothing and I needed to fill the void.

That’s when wifey suggested we go see a movie.

She had done this once before to great success, so I trusted her. We jumped into her car and drove off to North Edmonton Common to see Eclipse.

I have to say, the foundations of the trust I once had in my wife’s taste in movies has been shaken. I think she knew that I was vulnerable, and she took advantage of me. She knew that under regular circumstances (i.e. I hadn’t spent the three previous days with my eyeballs glued to a television screen—much smaller than a movie screen, so not as cool, right!?) I wouldn’t have willingly gone to see this movie. But obviously these weren’t regular circumstances, and now I just don’t know if I can trust her movie choices ever again. I suppose to be fair after her first selection so many months ago I should say she’s now one and one.

Eclipse is the third instalment of the hugely successful Twilight series. It tells the story of Bella (Dopey), Edward (Pasty) and Jacob (Wolfboy). Three people with different (I’ll say) backgrounds.

Here’s a quick summary:

Pasty and Dopey love one another, but Pasty is conflicted because she also loves Wolfboy who, in turn, loves to run around shirtless.

Incidentally, I asked my wife why Wolfboy and his brothers run around shirtless, and she said, “it’s because they’re shirts rip when the turn into wolves.” Fair enough, but why does their sister always seem to have her shirt on. She didn’t have answer to that one, but I suspect her shirt is made of the same material the Hulk’s pants are made from.

Anyhoo, Pasty’s family has a long running hate-on for Wolfboy’s family and the feeling is reciprocated. “Never the twain shall meet,” said Kipling, but my guess is he wasn’t thinking of this movie when he said it. And much like the circumstances that brought me to the theatre to see this movie in the first place, strange things are afoot for both families. Yes sir, strange things. You see, someone is trying to kill Dopey. (Apparently, wifey says, this is also the case in the first two movies.)

In order to save the girl that Pasty and Wolfboy love so much they must unite their families against a common foe: an army of angry looking metrosexual ravers. The ravers are newly minted vampires and thus, we’re warned, very strong. Perhaps too strong for the united families we’re led to believe, and the drama unfolds.

What I thought:

Eclipse is very definitely not cutting edge cinema. The character development is flat and the primary theme of abstinence is dealt with in a juvenile fashion. Evidence for the former is primarily concentrated in the character of Bella, played by Kristen Stewart, and her father, played by Billy Burke. Ironically, with the exception of the evening that Bella and Edward spend together in his house when she becomes aroused, Bella responds to every situation like she’s on Quaaludes. Her father is no better. He reminds me of the authority figures that all commercials aimed at children seem to include: cliché and bumbling adults that fall victim to the much smarter children. Look no further than the discussion he tries to have with Bella regarding sex when her virginity comes up (which, incidentally, is not nearly as funny as the masturbation discussion in the Transformers’ movie, but nevertheless still elicited laughs from everyone around us in the movie theatre.) This dovetails into the issue that the movie posits for abstinence as a virtue, and ultimately how the message falls short because the delivery is too immature. Pasty won’t turn Dopey into a vampire, much less sleep with her, until they’re married because, well because, he’s traditional we’re told. There’s nothing immature about being traditional, but plenty immature about being vague, especially in story-telling.

Incidentally, the biggest thing that creeps me out about this story is that no matter how you slice it Edward is 108-years-old and Bella is only 17. I wonder what sort of strange relationships will run amok in the final movie . . .

I was Lost, but now I’m Found

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , on July 11, 2010 by JonH

It’s really all a bit of a blur, but by their count there were 121 of them, each lasting, give or take, 45 minutes.

And I, like millions of others, saw every one of them. That means 5445 minutes, or 90.75 hours, or even more distressing, almost four full days of my life went into this.

And just after midnight on July 7 when Jack’s dad walked out into the great unknown it all came to an end.

Of course, I’m talking about the television show LOST.

Now I didn’t watch them one season after another. No, my method was much worse. Rather than watch one episode a week every week for a season, taking a healthy, and much needed break every eight months (or however long a season runs), I plowed through these babies like a drunk binge drinking at a wake. I somewhat dimly recollect the image from the first season of Jack opening his eyes as he came to in the bamboo field after Oceanic flight 815 first crashed on the cork, er . . . island so long ago.

I was instantly hooked.

When I got the first three seasons from my buddy Sheldon, I would wake up in the morning after going to bed only a few hours earlier, and watch episode after episode, my eyes red with exhaustion. However, what I soon learned was that the story wasn’t unfolding, it was becoming more and more complex, more convoluted. The Others, the black smoke, the damn shark with the Dharma project stamp on its dorsal fin . . . I could only dig deeper.

I began to call in sick from work. They wouldn’t miss me. Not today. The previous episode left too many questions unanswered. The next episode, I was sure, would answer them. Work would wait, and much to the concern of those around me, so would bathing. I was on a mission to delve further into the recesses of my imagination to cook up even crazier answers to the twists and turns the plot took.

Now that it’s over, it turns out it wasn’t that complicated at all.

Sure there were a lot of elements to the story and even more characters to keep tabs on, but if you view the story in the context of an even older story things begin to make a bit more sense.

Distilled to its lowest common denominator, LOST outlines the conflict between Jacob and his brother. One represents faith; the other represents curiousity. When viewed in this context, it becomes eerily similar to the allegory of Adam and Eve conflated with the story of Lucifer’s fall.

Like Eve, Jacob’s brother is curious, and like Eve he wants to eat the apple, or in his case, leave the island to find knowledge. We’re told that if he leaves the island people will just cease to exist. That’s bad. Jacob, however, is more like Adam. He is conflicted when it comes to not following the rules (i.e. playing the game his brother finds on the beach, following his mother despite knowing the truth about her). In season six, their mother tells Jacob’s brother that he was the one chosen to protect the island, but, much like Lucifer who was God’s number one, falls from grace and is cast down when he asks too many questions. In Jacob’s brother’s case he is cast into the heart of the island, thus corrupting and transforming him into the smoke monster.

In keeping with the show’s other prevalent theme of alternate realities, Jacob brings people to the island under the pretense of showing his brother that not all people are corruptible. By doing this he’s attempting to create an alternate history, one which gives humanity another opportunity to avoid the judgment of original sin.

But, in a second twist of Judeo-Christian folklore, Jacob is also dead, but still able to affect outcomes from beyond the grave. He is doing this by simultaneously searching for a suitable candidate to take over as the island’s protector. A leader. By finding a suitable protector, one that can continue to keep his brother from leaving the island (i.e. eating the apple), the successful candidate (Spoiler alert: Jack) will keep Jacob’s brother from committing the sin of leaving, and therefore damning mankind to death as a penalty for the sin of knowledge.

Jacob’s brother’s inability to leave the island would be tantamount to Eve’s inability to eat the apple.

No apple=no sin=no death.

And this is what the end portrays with Jack’s eyes closing in the last episode much as they opened in the first. But the credits don’t role. Instead we see all of the significant characters gather together in a church, smiling, hugging, talking, and laughing, as Jack, the protector of the island, watches his father, Christian Shephard, open the door to the church as the sun shines in.

Why Does The Cove get a Rise out of Hockey Players?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on July 5, 2010 by JonH

At the end of my review of the movie The Cove I mentioned that it was due to be released in Japan towards the end of June, and that we should watch out for some fireworks.

Well, according to writer Shingo Ito in an article published in the Edmonton Journal, the fireworks were less than dazzling:

“About 30 protestors, mostly right-wingers, briefly skirmished with supporters of the film ahead of its first commercial showing at a Tokyo theatre where police were on guard.”

I thought for sure that there would be a bigger stink, but what I can’t figure out is why hockey players, specifically, “right-wingers” comprised the largest group of protestors.

“‘Watching movies is an individual right,’ said Kunio Suzuki, who slightly cut his face in the skirmish. ‘If you criticize the film, watch it first.'”

Suzuki, himself a left-winger, had this message for the right-wing protestors:

Moon

Posted in Review with tags , on July 1, 2010 by JonH

In a bid to make my movie reviews less voluminous (see heading one: coils, and use your imagination), I will be, from here on in, getting more to the point.

Here goes: With the exception of Gerty, the station’s robotic/computer assistant (voice-over by Kevin Spacey), Sam has been alone on the moon for a long time, so long in fact that his mind may be starting to play tricks on him.

Moon is a clever film which tells the story of Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, an employee of Lunar Industries, a mining company that has figured out a way to extract, and transport Helium 3 from moon rocks. With the acquisition of clean burning Helium 3, mankind is no longer reliant on fossil fuels, and the new fuel has become big business.

Sam is eager to get back to Earth to see his wife and his daughter, but just as he’s finishing up his three-year-contract with the company and preparing for his final two weeks at the station an accident occurs that changes everything. Revealing any more than that would require spoiler alerts, and I don’t want to go there.

Even though the movie utilizes them, it doesn’t rely on special effects. For the most part the sets are simple, but not austere, and the technology posited isn’t too scifiish. The movie is primarily story-driven and that’s what makes it so satisfying. Sam Rockwell plays his character so convincingly that you’re drawn in and sympathetic to his circumstances. There are enough twists to make the movie engaging, but they aren’t so convoluted as to make the movie difficult to comprehend.

This movie should not under any circumstances be confused with the movie, New Moon, which is not a sequel, and which by no means should be considered clever . . .

Unless, of course, you have a highly developed sense of irony.