An Expensive Undertaking

Posted in Editorial with tags , on April 21, 2012 by JonH

You may or may not know, but the RogoHagan house has recently been undergoing some renovations to the bathroom in the southeast wing. This is an expensive undertaking; as such, in a bid to raise money to finish the job, we’re selling the naming rights to this unique space. Normally called “The Jon” we’re willing to officially name it after YOU if you’re the highest bidder!

Imagine coming over and going downstairs to visit “The Neil” or “The Bob”? How about “The Jimmy” or “The Frank”?

Carpe diem! Act fast as I’m sure someone is going to jump on this opportunity to see their name enshrined for all posterior posterity.

This could be your’s!

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Flush thine integrity down the toilet all ye that enter politics.

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by JonH

Based on the 2008 play Farragut North by playwright Beau Willimon, The Ides of March is a political thriller that follows the tension developing between an idealistic deputy campaign manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), and the equally idealistic candidate for whom he works, Pennsylvania governor Mike Morris (George Clooney).

Morris is on the hunt to become the democratic presidential candidate and is leading the polls by a slim margin as he and his opponent Arkansas senator Ted Pullman head into Ohio. While campaigning to win the Buckeye state each man is also trying to enlist the support of North Carolina Democratic Senator Franklin Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) and the 365 convention delegates that back him. An association with Thompson would all but seal a victory for whomever he sides with. The rub is that Thompson wants a backroom deal that guarantees him a plum seat in the new administration. The notion of Thompson selling his endorsement to the highest bidder rankles Morris, but nevertheless doesn’t dissuade Morris’s campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) from encouraging him to strike an accord with Thompson.

As the campaign hits its full stride, Meyers gets a call from Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) to meet. Meyers is well aware of the optics in meeting with the enemy camp, but curiosity (and hubris, Zara would later go on to say) gets the best of him. The meeting is a Machiavellian stroke of genius for Duffy as the meeting goes onto have much deeper implications for a number of people on Morris’s side.

Throw an intern into the political mix as Meyers becomes sexually involved with a young woman named Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and complicate it by making her father the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and things really start to unravel for the “good” guys. Through his relationship with Stearns, Meyers discovers a side of Morris that threatens to jeopardize each of their careers.

As both Meyers and Morris become embroiled in an ever deepening game of cat and mouse, which begins to erode all of the noble ideals that each man stood for at the beginning of the film, each must decide just how far they’re willing to go in order to maintain their tenuous hold on the prospects of power.

The film alludes to the day when Caesar was betrayed by his trusted aide Brutus, and much like that plot the film incorporates multiple characters and many threads of narrative. Unlike the death of Caesar, though, the film does not coalesce into a dramatic conclusion underscoring the death of a political man, but the death of man’s integrity when entering the political ring.

The Ides of March is a great story that provides a decent level of intrigue. The acting is believable and Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Stephen Meyers’ gradual evolution (or de-evolution, as some might say) is remarkably seamless. I do, however, find the movie a bit jaded. I prefer to believe that some politician out there is going to come along and really knock everyone’s socks off with a great mix of ideas and integrity. Someone who is willing to let go power if he or she is unable to execute their mandate. This person just hasn’t made it onto the scene yet.

If you like movies that are story driven, this is worth seeing.

If you like my opinion regarding this movie (aw heck, even if you don’t) why not share it with someone. That sure would be swell.

The Movie(s)-A-Month Club

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2012 by JonH

January is always a good time to start something, make a resolution, a positive change, (a move out of your parents’ basement), that sort of thing. It marks a proverbial rebirth. A time to shed your former self and become the man or woman you always knew you could be.

For me, it marks the ideal time to think about the movies I want to see in the next 12 months.

(Actually, I’m not normally that organized, but my resolution is to be. And it’s all about baby steps, right?)

I like to think that I’ve got diverse interests when it comes to movies. I’ve enjoyed some artsy flicks just as much as I’ve been bored by some action movies. I’ve been surprised by Ryan Reynold just as I’ve been disappointed by Daniel Day Lewis (not really), and I’ve been rendered speechless by movies like The Human Centipede and the Twilight series, and moved to blather on endlessly by movies like The Fantastic Mr. Fox (sounds strange, but read the review).

Anyhow, here’s my list of movies to see for 2012. For each month I’ve included some runners up, if you have the dough. I’d love to hear from all of you regarding what you think. Do my choices suck? Do you agree? Are there other movies to consider?

Without further ado, here you go . . .

January: A Dangerous Method

January’s runner up: Coriolanus

February:
February’s runner up: Lock-out (Sweet, a story about a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules)
March: Goon (Love the stereotypes: notice Liev Schrieber saying, “eh.”)
March’s runner up: Snowtown


April: Cabin in the Woods
April’s runner up: Intruders
May:
May’s runner up: Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, ’nuff said.)
June: Prometheus
June’s runner up: Jack the Giant Killer
July:
July’s runner up:
August: Paranorman

August’s runner up: Total Recall (Redemption for Dick?)
September: Argo (The story is about six Americans held hostage in Iran in the late 70s. Hmm, sounds kind of like the Canadian Caper).
September’s runner up: Dredd I have faith that Karl Urban as Judge Dredd will be able to redeem this comic book cult classic.
October: Cloud Atlas All I could find was a cover of the book, which itself was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award. This would seem to be no small feat. We need more thoughtful scifi movies. Here’s hoping.
October’s runner up: Frankenweenie T.B. again . . .
November: Skyfall (Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem are in this? Hmm, should be cool.)
November’s runner up: Rise of the Guardians (Santa and the Easter Bunny kicking behind.)
December: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
December’s runner up: World War Z

If you like this list, please share it! (Even if you don’t like it, share it!)

First Class Prices on a Steerage Budget

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on December 28, 2011 by JonH

I love the idea of exposing people to science, but at $16.95 a pop maybe the Telus World of Science in Edmonton should consider exposing more than just the well to do ones to it. And, deal of deals, for a limited time, smack another seven bucks on top of that and you get to see a woefully sparse exhibit of Titanic artifacts (French or English audio tours are also available for only three bucks). Chuck another ten on top of that $26.95, and TWOS will throw in the Imax film. Despite the price, it sounded fun. We packed up the gang and off we went.

Unfortunately, my wife said we couldn’t afford first class treatment–we needed to feed the baby, so she cheaped out and went steerage. I didn’t want to break a twenty, so we skipped the audio and video components of the tour, packed baby Auggie into his wheels and rolled on in.

The exhibit started off with each person given a “boarding pass,” which outlined information particular to a specific passenger that had sailed aboard the Titanic on its fateful voyage.

At the end of the exhibit, we were told, we could find out “whether we lived or died.” This was followed by having our picture taken in front of a green screen, which would be later turned into a picture of the gang in front of the Titanic’s grand staircase (ours to keep for only ten bucks). The guy snapping our group’s shot was friendly enough, but had no interest in having his picture taken. After shifting us into the proper position he snapped the shot and ushered us into the first room.

This room, much as you’d expect, contained information on the ship itself, where it was built, some schematics, and information on the ship’s Captain Edward Smith. Most peculiar was how the captain was described as “quietly flamboyant” sparking speculation that he had a very keen fashion sense but kept it to himself.

The second room was arguably the most satisfying in that it had the largest collection of recovered pieces, including coins, bills, stamps, stone and glass ware, postcards, and fragments of the ship itself.

There were two halls leading to the final three rooms. The first depicted what the accommodations were like in steerage and the second featured a model of one of the automatic doors that would have been used to isolate that section of the ship should its structure be compromised.

The third room was perhaps the eeriest in appearance and mood. The room was dark and featured a rather large chunk of ice that people could reach out and touch. Against one wall were words emblazoned on a large vertical banner describing how following the post-collision inspection, the Titanic’s designer Thomas Andrews was reported to have said to Captain Smith that damage this extensive meant “sinking was now a mathematical certainty.”

The second last room featured general descriptions of the kind of men that ran the Titanic’s huge engines and displayed a few tools that they would have used. Closer to the exit of that room were a series of dishes and a large ship’s whistle accompanied by photographs of how these items were found. Considering the environment these artifacts were in prior to being recovered, it’s amazing to see their present condition.

The final room had a list of all the passengers that survived and of those who died. This was where you would find out the fate of the person whose name appears on your boarding pass. (Mine corresponded to a Mr. Francis Davis Millet.) In addition to this list, there were stories about some of the passengers who were supposed to be onboard but didn’t make it for one reason or another. This room also contained one of the most interesting artifacts contained in the exhibit: perfume bottles, which were reputed to still contain the scents that they encapsulated from decades before.

Before we knew it, the tour through the exhibit was over and we were shelling out more money for souvenirs (the aforementioned green screen photo not the official chunks of authentic Titanic coal.)

All in all, the Titanic exhibit was a bit disappointing in that it seemed too short, thinly populated in terms of artifacts and rather text heavy. More importantly, however, is the cost of the whole thing. At just under fifty bucks for two people, the Telus World of Science is charging first class prices and making it difficult for those of us on a steerage budget to attend.

The exhibit runs until February 20, 2012.

Don’t let this story sink, share it with your friends and family!

They should take this on the Road (almost)

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , , , on December 21, 2011 by JonH

What would you get if you put former American President Jimmy Carter, a devout and unabashed evangelical Christian, in a room with comedian Penn Jillette, an equally devout and unabashed atheist?

I couldn’t tell you, but I bet it would be fun to listen to the results.

What I can tell you is that reading both Jillette’s book God, No and Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis one after another provides a unique introspective opportunity.

With Jillette’s book I got exactly what I thought I was going to get: funny, often hilarious, observations about life (don’t miss the penis/blowdryer story) and a scathing, if not a bit hackneyed, criticism of religion. He also offers a variation on the Ten Commandments from the atheists perspective, all of which are not as irreverent as you’d think.

Words like “endangered” and “moral crisis” in the title of book can really set the stage for what’s coming. They’re powerful words, which need to be backed up with a powerful argument. And coming from a devoutly religious writer, the stereotypical arguments like how gay marriage is eroding family values, or blatant pro-life rhetoric just isn’t going to cut it. The argument needs to be something refreshing; something that comes from an unexpected source, and something that reveals a plot, equally as insidious (please note the sarcasm) as religious folk would have us believe the acceptance of gay marriage and abortion is. Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis does just that. It’s refreshing insight from an unexpected source that discusses how the religious “Right” is pushing its mandate on government and how government is embracing it.

The interesting thing about Carter is that despite being an evangelical˗˗people I normally find to be overbearing and domineering in their beliefs and their desire to proselytize˗˗is remarkably grounded, respectful in his approach to a number of issues, and has a healthy level of skepticism when it comes to government and even when it comes to what his church is telling him. (It could be argued that skepticism implies a renunciation of “faith” and that because of that Carter is exemplifying something borderline hypocritical, but that would need a bit . . . or a lot of fleshing out.)

Jillette, on the other hand, is overbearing and domineering in his beliefs and his desire to proselytize. In addition, I get the sense that he would say he’s not remarkably well grounded (all you have to do is imagine him floating naked in a simulated zero g environment, and then read about it, to realize it’s not just a pun) and that respect for some things (i.e. religion) isn’t at the top of his list. Jillette’s skepticism, unfortunately like that of a lot of other self-proclaimed atheists, comes across as cynicism. He is funny, though.

While the reversal of attitudes between these two men is not staggering, it is intriguing. In the end, both books served a purpose: Jillette’s entertained me, and Carter’s opened my eyes. Both are worth the read, but do yourself a favour, and read them one after another.

Art Clarke’s Unceremonious End to Childhood

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , on December 9, 2011 by JonH

Be forewarned: what you’re about to read contains spoilers, but will make you want to read this book.

You know Arthur C. Clarke might be venturing into murky waters when he starts a novel with the epigraph, “The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.”

Despite this declaration, which I’ll get to later, the themes Clarke explores in the novel Childhood’s End can be arguably thought of as his fantastic fictional response to the seemingly insane age the book came out of.

Written in 1953, it’s difficult to read Childhood’s End without thinking of the Cold War. I can only imagine that for people living in the fifties the threat of nuclear annihilation was a very real thing. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had occurred only eight years earlier and the effects would have been fresh in most people’s minds. Just how top of mind it was, I can’t say; but, with footage of those old timey nuclear detonations, it’s easy to imagine that the threat was seemingly ever present. The idea of something coming from elsewhere to rescue us from ourselves was an escapist fantasy that would have resonated in the world of fiction.

Childhood’s End starts with two men on either side of the Iron Curtain hurrying to outdistance one another in a race to develop the first space bound rocket. In the end, neither succeeds as their attempts are overwhelmingly overshadowed by the arrival of giant silver ships which descend into the atmosphere above many of the Earth’s major cities. The Overlords have arrived, and nothing will ever be the same again.

They quickly and effectively abolish war, famine, disease and Spanish bull fighting (No joke. They loathe animal cruelty.) They provide humanity with everything it needs to live long and prosper. Trouble is without any hardships our creative instinct and desire for progress apparently begins to wane. Like our aforementioned rocket builders, you can’t help but think what’s left to do? These guys have done it all. Existential crisis? I’ll say. That’s the downside to having all of your problems solved.

Since their arrival, the Overlords have remained squirreled away in their ships, functioning as benign and indirect rulers of the earth talking only with one man, Rikki Stormgren, a high ranking official from the United Nations. The self-proclaimed supervisor of Earth, an Overlord named Karellen, tells Stormgren that humanity is not ready to see the Overlords but that they will introduce themselves in fifty years time when mankind has become sufficiently used to their new lives.

As the novel progresses we discover that part of what the Overlords are interested in is telekinesis and that they themselves are part of a larger plan involving a much more powerful entity called the Overmind. The Overmind uses the Overlords to protect mankind from itself, and as midwives, of sorts, to usher in the evolution of Homo sapiens. Our evolution is, however, into something completely unrecognizable.

Even though there are no main characters in Childhood’s End, there is one in particular that plays a critical role and that’s Jan Rodricks. Thanks to the effects of special relativity, Rodricks finds himself back on Earth 80 years in the future after having stowed himself away onboard an Overlord spacecraft, traveling to their home world and back again. Nothing is the same when he returns. The discussion of Rodricks’ experiences is remarkably poignant in its brevity and this is what makes the character so memorable for me; it’s the end of mankind and Clarke gets right to the point and doesn’t mince words. This could be construed as a detraction, but I have to say given the fact that I now have a three month old son in addition to an 18 year old, how everything unfolds in such a cold and detached manner evoke seriously morose feelings. I like it when a book can do something like that.

Clarke, one of the big three of science fiction at the time (the other two were Asimov and Heinlein) didn’t often delve into areas of pseudoscience or stray too far from hard sci-fi, but A.C does in Childhood’s End, and this is murky territory for him. Despite his desire to make clear his incredulity regarding telekinesis at the outset of the book–this is what the epigraph underscores–telekinesis functions as an effective catalyst for the transition and evolution of the children of the human race. They are evolving from physical beings into pure mental energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This, in my mind, provides the fantasy nature of the novel—the part that seeks to provide an escape to the concerns of nuclear annihilation. Maybe it was this opinion, rather than the use of telekinesis, that Clarke sought to distance himself from.

Childhood’s End is an ambitious novel, well-worth the read.

Nothing like curling up with a good book when it’s cold outside.

Posted in Book reaction/review with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by JonH

Dan Simmons‘ novel The Terror gives the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845 a fictional twist as desperation, mutiny and supernatural horror conspire against the men aboard the ships HMS Terror and HMS Erebus.

The story is told from the perspective of various crew members, focusing primarily on Captain Francis Crozier and Dr. Harry Goodsir, and often switches from present to past tense. Simmons goes to great lengths to articulate the emotionally and physically draining circumstances of the crew of both ships as they go about trying to survive in a nightmarish and oddly beautiful landscape.

The Terror is a monster–not just in terms of page count (over 700), or story development, but in terms of sheer psychological breadth. From desperation, starvation and exhaustion to momentary elation, cannibalism and latent psychic abilities, this novel covers a lot. Unfortunately, there were a few times the story felt like it was a dragging, and two plot elements did get under my skin somewhat; however, in spite of these, The Terror is a good read as it manages to evoke a palpable sense of dread throughout.

The first area of concern was Simmons’ need to create a fictional Inuit mythology to describe the existence of the monster (Tuunbaq). I would have preferred he take a preexisting element of Inuit culture and twist it for the sake of the story rather than creating something new. Sure this is manipulative, but it deepens the story in my mind when readers are inspired to further research an element and they discover that it’s steeped in an existing mythological narrative. In this case, it would have deepened my understanding of Inuit culture if the Tuunbaq was an actual mythological being (albeit, perhaps not as evil). The second cause for concern was the need to incorporate psychic abilities as a plot device. Funny how it works in a book like Arthur C. Clarkes’ Childhood’s End, but stumbles here. Without divulging too much, in my mind (ha, pun), this came precariously close to the contemptuous need for a “solve all” device used in poor science fiction novels that I can only describe as a cheap out.

As far as characters go, even though there a lot of them, each is well thought out and offers something unique to the story. Obviously, the major ones are fleshed out and given ample chance to develop, but even the minor characters are dealt with sympathetically and given a voice which helps propel the narrative forward. The standouts amongst all of them, though, are Francis Crozier, the Irish born and bred captain that takes over command after Sir John Franklin is no longer available to execute his duties; and Harry Goodsir, the de facto expedition’s doctor.

Crozier is a strong willed leader that skirts the delicate balance of what his men need and what they want, but he’s not without his flaws. In a navy consisting mainly of British born and bred officers, Crozier is at a disadvantage because of his Irish heritage. In fact, underneath it all, he’s the quintessential outcast who yearns for escape. Despite his genetic shortcomings, Crozier rises to every occasion in a believable and heartfelt way.
Goodsir is initially one of four medical practitioners aboard the two ships. Treated with contempt by Sir John Franklin, who refuses to acknowledge the anatomist as a doctor, referring to him only as mister Goodsir, the deaths of the other three doctors makes him the go-to guy for all things medical. Goodsir is a gentle and moral man whose admirable defiance in the face of certain death illustrates his growth throughout the narrative.

The chief antagonist is the Tuunbaq, a ravenous beast whose lust for blood is never sated and whose origins are shrouded in mystery. The Tuunbaq stalks and kills the men of the expedition , but seems to have some sort of relationship with the indigenous people of the North. The Tuunbaq, however, is not the only thing that threatens the crew. In such a desperate time, the possibility of a mutiny is never far from becoming a reality, and this is never more so than when Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey is on the scene. A despicable and vicious man, Hickey, at times, makes the beast seem tame in comparison. After being caught in the hold satisfying certain urges with the giant idiot Magnus Manson, Hickey’s menace begins to cast an ominous pall over the crew and his deliberate manipulations lead to dire and inhuman consequences.

Another character central to the story is the young Inuit woman the men call Lady Silence. Found without a tongue, Silence is allowed to roam the two ships almost unhindered and is the only key to understanding and surviving the Tuunbaq.

Whether you love them or hate them, throughout the novel Dan Simmons creates characters you can really sink your teeth into. His descriptions of those that struggle to support and protect one another provide vivid insight into the psychological lives of desperate, but not inhumane, men that makes you identify with them more so; his descriptions of the levels of inhumanity that some sink to is an entirely different matter.

Despite some minor misgivings, The Terror is well worth the read.