Archive for August, 2010

This ain’t Bugs Bunny and Friends kind of Violence

Posted in Review with tags , on August 31, 2010 by JonH

Watching things get crushed, punched, shot at, and otherwise abused never gets old in the cartoon world. It seems nothing’s funnier than someone getting blown up and then crawling out of the smoking hole in the ground.

Despicable Me is no different in this sense, but while there are plenty of things getting smashed, bitten, struck, twisted, obliterated, and experimented we’re also drawn to it as a tale of redemption.

The “hero” of the story, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), has recently been outperformed by a young upstart named Vector–a villain with not only magnitude, but direction. Vector (Jason Segel) stole the Pyramid of Giza, which he conspicuously hides in his backyard (painted as a sunny blue sky), and Gru aims to outdo him.

In a bid to regain his unofficial title as evil mastermind Gru devises a plan to steal the moon by using a shrinkray. However, an operation of this scale requires money, and Gru’s not exactly flush, so off he goes to the local Bank of Evil (formerly Lehmann Brothers, we’re told) for financing.

Upon meeting the head of the bank, Mr. Perkins (who, incidentally, looks a lot like a Monty Python character), Gru divulges the entire plan to him. Perkins is initially warm to the idea, but is quickly disappointed when he finds out that Gru has yet to acquire the most pivotal component of the plan: the aforementioned shrinkray. Perkins declares Gru washed up and decides to no longer fund him. Gru leaves dejectedly and sets off to steal the shrinkray on his own. Suffice to say he’s foiled yet again by Vector, and his only hope at regaining his reputation as a true evil doer appears in the form of three orphan girls. But things don’t exactly work out as planned.

Despicable Me is the first cartoon feature from Universal Studio’s Illumination Entertainment. As you’d expect, when a company gets into this sort of market, the artwork and computer graphics better be amazing, and they are. The colours and visuals are comparable to releases from industry heavies like Pixar and Dreamworks, and the storyline is engaging.

Overall, the characters are memorable, and the theme of redemption, while often repeated, is not always done in such entertaining fashion.

This movie gets:

Okay, he may not be not be Arnie, but he still has a six-pack

Posted in Review with tags , on August 27, 2010 by JonH

Eight individuals find themselves mysteriously transported to an alien planet where they quickly discover that they’re being hunted by a particularly nasty foe. Armed to the teeth, our “heroes” must set aside whatever differences they may have and learn to work together so they can survive. Despite these differences all of the abductees have one thing in common: an association with violence, and because of that they represent the perfect quarry for the hunters stalking them.

The basic premise is that the hunter has become the hunted. Sound familiar? Well, it should. While entertaining enough, Predators is basically the original slightly modified, repackaged, and then rereleased. The action is what you would expect; the level of gore, surprisingly tame, and some new characters are introduced (if you call big armoured “dogs” characters, that is).

Overall, not quite what I expected from a Robert Rodriguez film. With the exception of Spy Kids, it lacks that grimy look that we’ve come to associate with his other films.

Predators also lacks the imagination of the first movie; and, as far as a series crossover goes it falls a bit short of Alien versus Predator as well. The burning question, however, is what the hell is going on with Adrian Brody? Whether by design or not going from the Piano to King Kong, to Splice, and then Predators can be arguably described as a career in decline. That said, anytime the main character in an action flick quotes Hemingway reinvention of an archetype is in the works.

I guess we’ll see when Predators 2 comes out because it’s safe to say that’s inevitable.

Imagine what you could have done with that two hours . . .

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

Dr. Parnassus, a former monk, played by Christopher Plummer, gains immortality after betting a devil named Mr. Nick, played by Tom Waits, that stories and imagination are what sustain the world, and that more people crave that rather than the base desires offered by Mr. Nick. A wager is proposed and Dr. Parnassus comes out on top. But, as expected in any deal with the devil, the reward is specious.

Time moves on, Parnassus falls in love and has a child, but as his body still ages craves a respite from the progress of time. In order to stave this off, he makes another deal with Mr. Nick. The price this time is the soul of his first-born after the age of 16.

Fast forward to modern-day: completely unaware of her father’s pact with the devil, Parnassus’s daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) is about to turn 16. Accompanied by Percy (Verne Troyer), and Anton (Andrew Garfield), Valentina and her father travel throughout London as a theatre troupe that look to bring people into the Imaginarium, a mirror that functions as a window into imagination. However, Valentina yearns for something different, and she finds it when the troupe discovers Tony (played in various incarnations by Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) hanging by the neck from the underside of a bridge. Tony somehow survives by virtue of the pipe he swallowed.

Like all of Terry Gilliam’s films the Imaginarium is imaginative, but unlike his other films it falls flat. It meanders, and is a bit too self-indulgent. This is all because the portrayal of Tony. With the theme of redemption so prevalent missing that mark with one of the prime characters seems to be anti-climactic. Unless each of the Tonys was meant to be an allegory, the various actors portraying Tony all seem to have a different take on what he’s all about. Ledger’s portrayal is the best. He plays him as a desperate man seemingly eager for some sort of redemption. Johnny Depp is next up, but his portrayal, as it often has been of late, is a variation of Captain Jack Sparrow. Jude Law is a greasier, more playful and innocent, Tony; finally, Colin Farrell is the most insidious, and sleazy Tony.

This pastiche of characterization creates an incoherence that becomes difficult to reconcile. We’re left wondering why Tony was beyond redemption even though he seemed ripe for it, and this isn’t a matter of thinking “wow, I didn’t see that coming”, it’s more a matter of “did I miss something as the movie plodded along that may have explained this?”

An equally confusing element is the role of Tony’s pipe. He’s protective of it and it ultimately spells his demise, but its vacant symbolism was completely lost on me.

Something I always find interesting (in a sleazy kind of way) is when Hollywood uses older women to play young girls. (Think of Megan Fox in Transformers. She’s a high school student?) Lily Cole is 22, but she’s playing a 16-year-old. Why not get a 16-year-old to play the part, you might ask. The casting director would probably respond that Cole had the goods needed to convey what was necessary in the character. The cynic in me would say “goods” loosely translates to boobs. But I digress.

Another thing that struck me as odd are the first few scenes of the movie. They have a distinctly different look than the rest of the film. I’m not sure if it’s by design and for the purpose of achieving some desired effect, but it looks vaguely “CBCish”. By that I mean it looks like Canadian television programming around the time they first began to use video rather than film to shoot.

The Imaginarium clocks in at just over two hours, and while you don’t feel every minute of that time slip painfully away you’ll probably be better served watching one of Gilliam’s other movies like Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Finally, given the fact that it’s Heath Ledger’s final role, the supporting cast and overall execution of the movie don’t make it his most memorable. That said, when Ledger is on screen, he does shine.

Sinking in a Shallow Sea

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2010 by JonH

It’s the 1960s and the British government is suppressing Rock ‘n Roll and forcing deejays to transmit illegally from off-shore locations originally located in international waters. Despite being outside of the government’s jurisdiction, one official, Sir Alistair Dormandy, played by Kenneth Branagh, makes shutting down the station a pet project of his.

Working alongside, or rather underneath, Dormandy is the aptly named Mr. Twatt, played by Jack Davenport, an eager to please government sycophant. Opposing the government’s decree are variety of fun-loving, free-loving, radio deejays led by Quentin (Billy Nighy), the station’s producer.

Billed as a comedy, Pirate Radio is a light-hearted look at censorship. Unfortunately, in dealing with censorship in such a flippant manner, the movie loses some of the dark humour it could have had. Additionally, rather than suggesting a parallel between the government’s desire to suppress what it deemed illegal radio transmissions in the 60s with the recording industry’s current fight against peer-to-peer file sharing, for example, it presents us with a watered down view of the issue of control, which is completely oblivious to a contemporary audiences experiences with the “new” media (i.e. the Internet whereby most things can be viewed by anyone). As a result, the film-makers do little to kindle any passion within the viewer thus trivializing and rendering the movie’s impact as quaint rather than impactful.

Additionally, everything from the sexual dynamics on board the ship to the despotic disposition of the government bureaucrats unfolds in a very juvenile and predictable manner.

Despite an all-star cast that includes, among others, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emma Thompson, the characters are all one-dimensional and devoid of any truly memorable qualities. The biggest problem, however, is that we never get the impression that the music has the power the deejays claim it has. Our only hint as to how the music is affecting the masses are scenes depicting the audience’s titillation with the prospects of one of the deejays saying “fuck” on the air, or with the horribly overdone multiple shots simultaneously appearing onscreen of people dancing. Given the heady era the movie purports to take place in (the 60s), Pirate Radio’s plot and execution is just too shallow to have any impact.

Jurassic Forest Gump

Posted in Editorial with tags , , on August 3, 2010 by JonH

A theme park just outside the town of Gibbons seems like an odd place for this. That was my first thought when I heard that a prehistoric theme park with animatronic dinosaurs was opening about 30 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

My second thought was of that campy mentality where towns strive to set themselves apart by having the biggest (fill in the blank) in the world: Welcome to Gibbons! Home of the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs. I pictured a little cherubic triceratops with a grin and a cape as the mascot, giving the thumbs up to passers-by.

It would be just plain old dumb luck ala Forest Gump if this thing takes off.

I then promptly forget about it until the day before yesterday when my wife announced that we were going to check it out on Monday with some friends of ours.

Despite my earlier thoughts I was still excited.

We drove out past Gibbons without seeing so much as a sign indicating that there was a new theme park in the vicinity. It was only until we got down highway 28A a bit that we came upon a large sign saying, “Jurassic Forest” on the left side of the road.
This is it. We turned left and drove down the road. The next sign was less than inspiring.

But that was no indication of what was yet to come. As we pulled up into the parking lot saw a giant wooden fence with two huge wooden doors as the entrance.

We strolled in past the doors, down the path, and then into the main foyer/souvenir shop to pay. The prices seemed reasonable: 13 bucks each.

As we left the foyer and marched into the sandy play area that separates the main building from the pathways which lead out into dinoland there was a roar in the distance.

“Sounds like the bipedal carnivore of the theropod genus commonly known as Tyrannosaurus Rex,” I said. The women swooned and the men turned green with envy.

Actually, it was more like, “Oh look, a concession booth.”

We walked past the playground, and proceeded towards the wooden pathways which led to the main exhibit: the dinosaurs.

The park sits on 40 acres of boreal forest, and is broken into two one kilometer wooden walkways, which wind through the trees and vegetation of the area. The paths are well laid out with thick rope keeping people from straying onto the dirt and there are plenty of information placards to keep you informed as to which dinosaur you were looking at, and the animatronic dinosaurs are situated throughout. The dinosaurs, much to my surprise, are triggered by sensors and timers not by the incessant yelling of the five-year-old boy named Lucas that seemed to be following us. The dinosaurs’ movements are relatively staid, but nevertheless fairly convincing especially when viewed through the trees. As for the sounds, I can’t say they’re realistic, but they’re effective. Almost as loud as that kid’s.

As we strolled along, I lagged behind somewhat and struck up a conversation with a young woman who was an employee of the park. She was very friendly and quite helpful. She told me that there were 25 employees in total, and that some of them were working overtime. She said that she had walked the loop we were currently on 11 times today, but never hinted that she might not be enjoying herself. Hopefully management is paying better than minimum wage, I thought.

She also mentioned that park officials were hoping to add another loop in the future to display prehistoric mammals. “Cool,” I said. “Have a nice day.” I caught up with my buddy Mike who was taking a picture of a pterosaur.
“Third one today,” he said to me as he snapped a shot of the beast perched on a log. “Must have had a sale on them,” he deadpanned.

Further down the path, Lisa, my wife, seemed transfixed on a specific spot of the forest. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized what she was looking for.

Once she moved her hand you could hear the sigh.

We dragged Lisa away from her perch, and made our way down the path. Much to my surprise we were greeted by a rather sweet smell, and an equally unusual sign.

Obviously, a coincidence but interesting to note nonetheless.

This wasn’t the first sign that presented the uninformed with useful information. As this series of photos attests, it’s good to know that park officials have some people’s best interests at heart:


Towards the end of our visit, while we were looking at the raptor display with another group of people, the woman I had spoken to earlier reappeared, and began telling us that the makers of the movie Jurassic Park used what is known as the Utah Raptor and called it the Velociraptor even though the two were very different in size. “The Utah Raptor,” she said, “didn’t sound threatening enough.”

I stood there jotting down notes, apparently looking very official because she asked if I was with a newspaper. “No,” I responded. “I’m doing a write up for my blog.” She smiled politely as if to say, “that’s nice” and she walked away.

Now with our visit over the only thing left to do was to get back to that concession stand. I had a hankering for a brontoburger, or some velocoveal parmiggiana, maybe a slice of pachyoderm pizza. What was it going to be?

Well, it wasn’t to be anything. All they had were hotdogs, and nobody wanted that.

Given that today was only the park’s fourth day of being open to the public, it was still pretty impressive, and much better than I thought. Sure you could see some of the stands the dinosaurs were perched on; yeah okay, there was still some of the burlap used to wrap them up in lying around; maybe, the souvenir shop was painted in a really drab colour; so they had no decent concession. Sure that kid Lucas had a set of lungs on him; maybe the paths are a bit too narrow; who cares if they have three pterodactyls and only one T-Rex? But, you know what? I would go back. I enjoyed myself, and so did my wife and our friends.

And if you look close enough, you’ll see that kid Lucas in the T-Rex’s mouth.

As requested, here are the admission prices:

Riding to Pigeon Lake: A Masochist’s Journey

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 2, 2010 by JonH

Today (August 1, 2010) marks the one year anniversary of what I thought was going to be my last ride out to Pigeon Lake for at least a 12 month period before making my first trip of 2010 sometime this month with my friend Neil.

But damn my impulsive nature, this wasn’t going to be the case.

One month ago, on July 1, 2010 (Canada Day), I decided on a whim to head out on my fourth ride to Pigeon Lake in the past three years. This marks the first time I’ve done it alone since the week before my wedding. My first successful solo trip, as well as my first run with my buddy, Sheldon, is recounted on his bikeridr blog.

In that article I said that Sheldon and I made the trip in just over six hours. Well, I must have been delusional when I said that because no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to break the seven-hour mark.

Last year on August 1, my third ride out (second with Sheldon), I did manage to chew some time off, but it was still slower than I’d expected. We left at 8:18 am, arrived in Devon at 10:17, meandered into Calmar at 11:28, and hit Thorsby at 1:12. Next up was the entrance to the monkey humps (Highway 616) at 2:06 after which we arrived at the cabin at 3:37. When all was said and done we took seven hours and nineteen minutes to bike almost 110 kilometres.

Considering I’d been biking to and from work every day, I thought I would be in better shape to trim some major time off our previous year’s record, but alas, the difference was minor. In my estimation this was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the oppressive heat—close to 35 degrees. The blazing sun seemed to work in conjunction with my genetically inherited chicken legs; and my knees, which resemble those of an underdeveloped ten-year-old child, quickly made me aware of their concern with having to provide the pivot and primary thrust for my 220-pound-frame. However, what I did not expect was the new and interesting pain that manifested itself further south of my otherwise poultry like extremities.

At about the halfway point (Thorsby Esso) a curious sensation on the balls of my feet began to present itself. This sensation, which at first felt like someone sticking a hot drill into the underside of my foot, soon became even more intense with each pedal stroke. It’s what I imagine having the bones of each of my feet being pulled apart would feel like. Not pleasant, to say the least. However, that said, I’ve been told that my tolerance for pain is low. (As further evidence to this I’ll tell you about my kidney stone some time.)

After a short break, and many attempts to quell the thoroughly insistent burning sensation in each of my feet, we set off for our next objective: the monkey humps. I’m not sure where the name came from, but you can take your mind out of the gutter; suffice to say that it’s a series of hills that all seem to have a general upwards trend.

The monkey humps are arguably the most grueling part of the ride. The road sign says Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is 21 km away, but they’re not easy kilometers. As mentioned, the orientation seems to be upwards, and my knees and butt are sore.

We finally turn left onto 771, and we’re onto the last leg of the trip. Up a little grind and then a good stretch of downhill road where we pick up speed and let our legs rest as gravity takes over. As we begin to go around a bend we can now see Pigeon Lake to our left. We cross over a little bridge and then around another bend with beautiful trees on either side; up past Sunset Harbour we ride hard until we hit the T-intersection. This is where elation begins to set in. We pedal hard up a short incline and at the top you can see a road sign indicating a curve to the right. This is the home stretch, and it’s all virtually downhill from here until the cabin. At this point the prospects of fulfilling my goal of riding back to Edmonton are the furthest thing from my mind.

This brings me back to July 1, 2010. My first solo ride in a while.

And for the sake of comparing this year’s time with last year’s, here they are at various checkpoints:

I left at 8:18 am (three minutes later than last year), arrived in Devon at 10:08 (nine minutes earlier), met and had lunch with my wife Lisa, and my son Justis at the Jim Nelson Memorial Trout Pond (five or six kilometres Northeast of Calmar. Where, incidentally, I managed to choke back half a sandwich, 500 mls of Gatorade, a banana, and a muffin/cupcake in seven minutes, all the while describing my ride up to that point to my rapt audience). I then ripped into Calmar at 11:12 (16 minutes earlier), maintained a killer pace and hit the Thorsby Esso at 12:21 (a full 51 minutes earlier than last year!) I was on a role and feeling pretty good, so I took a 22 minute break. Next up was the entrance to the monkey humps (Highway 616) , but I neglected to mark my time down. I finally arrived at the cabin at 3:24. This was only 13 minutes ahead of last year’s time . . .

However, even though I still struggled with very sore knees and feet, I felt stronger this time than during any other ride. This could have something to do with the fact that I’m down to a trim 210 pounds (well maybe not trim, but getting more manageable). And even though I was unable (or, more accurately, unwilling) to ride back to Edmonton, I’m still looking forward to doing the ride again one more time this summer. Maybe this time I’ll do it when I when I say I’m going to it and I’ll have some company.

Next time out I’ll continue to post my times, and if there are any things in particular that you want to know about the ride, drop me a line.