Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 Films in Reflection

So 2009 was a big year for movies. We saw huge films being released all year long. According to Box Office Mojo here's your top ten highest grossing films:

  • #1 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $929.4
  • #2 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Fox $887.6
  • #3 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: $835.0
  • #4 Avatar: $745.1
  • #5 2012: $734.3
  • #6 Up: $683.0
  • #7 The Twilight Saga: New Moon: $665.4
  • #8 Angels & Demons: $485.9
  • #9 The Hangover: $459.4
  • #10 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: $412.7

As you can see, 3 of the top grossing films are children's movies, 6 if you want to count the ones geared towards teenagers. So once again, the old adage claiming that kids rule the box office rings true.

Of those movies listed, I saw two of them, Avatar and The Hangover, both of which are actually decent movies. 2009 was a decent year for me and the cinema as well. Being that at my job I get to go see movies for free, I definitely took advantage of this through and through on a regular basis and saw some really fantastic movies.

So in order to do up a blog entry, I'm going to resort to stealing. Just like Mr. Ebert does every year, here are my top 10 films of '09 in no particular order:

  • #10 The Hangover

This was probably the best comedy I saw all year. Zach Galafinakis really stole the show and the constant 180 turns the movie made were hilarious. From start to finish, The Hangover was awesome.
  • #9 The Men Who Stare at Goats

Loosely based on an actual military organization, Men Who Stare at Goats follows the story of Ewan Mcgregor who plays a reporter disillusioned with life who gets tangled up in the Iraq war with a 'psychic warrior-monk' played by George Clooney. This was a really underrated movie that I positively enjoyed. I was the only person in the theatre laughing his ass off too. If you like Clooney you're not going to go wrong with this movie.
  • #8 Zombieland

A close second for funniest movie of the year. I love survivalist zombie fiction, and this was a really good comedic take on that genre. This well cast, well acted, over-the-top violence, plenty of gun action mixed in with a fair clip of slapstick comedy movie was one of the funnest movies this year. Plus it had Bill Murray.
  • #7 Is Anybody There?

This light-drama starring Micheal Caine flew so far under the radar I count myself lucky as to having seen it at all. Basically, Micheal Caine plays a retired magician suffering from senility in his old age. This was a touching film that deals with moving on in life. I can't really explain it much further than that, but it was definitely one of '09s best. If you're walking through a movie store and see this on the shelf, be sure to give it a shot.
  • #6 The Road

I'm a real sucker for the post-apocalyptic genre, and this will go down as a shining example of how to perfectly portray a dying world. It's long, quiet, filled with lots of contemplation, and sometimes makes you feel a little sick to be human. It's not for everyone, and I don't think I've left a theatre feeling more depressed, but this was an excellent movie. Unfortunately it'll never get the recognition it deserves because it's just not a hollywood style movie.
  • #5 Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino rarely puts something out that I don't like, and this was no exception. The punchy dialogue, the shocking violence, the zany characters, Inglorious Basterds had it all! There wasn't a single moment of this film I didn't enjoy. Not only that, but for a change the characters actually spoke the language they historically should have been speaking. Nothing kills the immersion into a movie for me more than when I start wondering why every foreign character talks in english.
I saw this one about a month after it came out, and I knew going in I'd love for the reasons people who told me about it hated it.

"It's too long! Everyone talked in french! There's was almost no action!"

Perfect, just perfect. Another Tarantino flick for me to adore over the years to come.
  • #4 District 9

This was unlike any other science fiction I've seen. The setting of the movie as well was fantastic, and rarely do movies actually have such insane gritty realism. If you haven't seen District 9 yet, go now! Sci-fi has been all Star Wars and space battles lately. District 9 was a rare gem that shows just how different, and relevant the science fiction genre can be
  • #3 Star Trek

Action packed, good bits of dialogue, some comedy, and an amazing cast. There's nothing more I can say.
  • #2 Away We Go

A bizarely cast movie starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, Away We Go is about a couple who are looking for somewhere to live and raise their soon-to-be-born child. It had a nice, evenly paced story with lots of different elements and chances to get to know the characters. It's geared directly towards the hipster crowd so I understand why it didn't appeal to a major market, but I can say that is far better than the usual 'couples movie' you might find at the rental store.
  • #1 One Week

I absolutely loved this movie! Some of my family described this as "...another low budget Canadian film..." But these days it seems that low-budget indie films offer their audience far more story, depth, and enjoyment than anything coming out of mainstream Hollywood. This was about a cancer-ridden man who buys a motorbike, abandons his fiance, and drives across Canada. It was hilarious, touching, and really sad all at the same time. One Week might be a little tough to rent at your average store, but if you see it, check it out.

And yes, despite the fact I said these were listed in no particular order, One Week is my top pick for movies of 2009.

So, did you see any really amazing movies this year?

k-os - 4 3 2 1

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Review: Avatar

For lack of anything better to do, I went and saw Avatar this past Christmas.

Actually, I saw it twice over the holidays. Not because it was that good that it needed to be seen more than once, it just sort of happened.

This was my first ever 3-D movie experience, and I figured this would be the movie that would make or break my support for 3-D movies in the future. The technology has been around since the 50s, and recently took a huge step forward leaving those funny looking red/blue glasses in the dust, and replacing them with some newer slightly tinted glasses.

Personally, I think it makes the entire theatre look like it's filled with Buddy Holly wannabes.

Avatar was cool. Visually speaking, it was amazing. I wasn't completely blown away by the gimmick of 3-D, and I think it probably would have been just as fine to see in 2-D. 3-D was okay, and sometimes the images really 'popped' and were amazing for a few split seconds, but to summarize, I'm underwhelmed. Fantastically shot and rendered movies are still fantastic; 3-D visuals or no.

As for the plot: pretty hum-drum. The movie vilifies humans (A.K.A. North America) as greedy, planet destroying monsters who are raping and pillaging a beautiful alien planet (A.K.A. The environment). Put simply, Avatar is a cowboys versus Indians scenario, in the future, featuring robots and tall blue cat-people.

Avatar is a straight up visual experience with just enough plot, and characters just interesting enough, to keep you invested during the 2 ½ hour film. If you like science fiction, fantasy, and action, this movie will be right up your alley.

If you like 3-D, despite the extra cost, it's worth checking out. But if the novelty of seeing some arrows and dirt fly by is lost on you, you're not going miss much by seeing it in 2-D.



This will be chalked up as a major visual spectacle for very good reasons. It had a passable plot and was good enough to pay altogether too much money to see it twice.

Also, there's naked blue alien women. Captain Kirk would be all over this.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Merry Christmas and stuff

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Ram Jam - Black Betty

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Presents

At my staff Christmas Party I won a $350 Gift Card to Costco, so this weekend I went to buy myself all sorts of new things. Since I'm such a good person*pause for laughter* I spent a good 80% on myself.

The number one purchase was a brand new record player!

Holy Smackers this thing rocks! Not only that, but it fits perfect on top of my early 90s stereo system. So I spent all weekend listening to my records, all of which I haven't heard in over a year, and the first time ever in stereo surround sound!

The best record I re-discovered: Winds of Change by Jefferson Starship

There's one track in particular, I'll have to double check, named Out of Control that was fantastic! The mixing was amazing, and once or twice I had to check over my shoulder because I thought people were in my house talking behind me.

The second thing I bought was a Russian flag sweater. I was going through this big stack of sweaters with different countries and when I found Russia's the first thing I thought of was a guy shouting “Soviet!” which gave me a chuckle, so I bought it.

Glory to the motherland!

I wore it out to drinks with some friends, and afterwards one girl apparently tried to throw down on some Canada versus Russia at the Olympics trash talk, but was shocked to discover that I'm not actually from Russia.

The real kicker is that we discussed how I'm not from Russia and why I bought the sweater right in front of her. I guess she was distracted by the bright red colours and thoughts of Cossacks dancing.

It's okay, I understand how that could be distracting.

Then I bought buffalo seasoned chicken strips. Because chicken is delicious, and spicy chicken uber-delicious. To cool myself down after the spicy chicken I bought ice-cream.

Finally, to prove I'm still a man, which I swear I am despite needing to cool down after eating spicy food, I bought an electric shaver. Yes, I know real men should be shaving with razor sharp bowie knives, but gosh darnit, I don't want to end up looking like Danny Trejo.

So, has anyone treated themselves to some wicked presents this year? Or are you the giving, philanthropic type?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sweatshop Union Live

This past Tuesday evening I got to see one of all-time favourite groups, Sweatshop Union, live in Grande Prairie.

Even Santa came out for the show

They're a hip-hop crew out of Vancouver who don't really range too far out of the bigger metropolitan areas in B.C. and Alberta. I never imagined I'd get to see them without at least 5 hours of driving, so imagine my surprise when I'm sitting at home (probably playing Playstation) on Sunday night and my roommate bursts in the door and announces:

"Dude, Sweatshop Union is coming to Fred's THIS TUESDAY NIGHT!!!"

Boosh! I'm there! Especially since this turn of fortunes means that they're performing live at this little bar that's just three blocks from my house! For the next two days I thought of nothing but Sweatshop.

Long story short, the show was completely wicked. The little dance floor was packed, I got to see them perform only mere away inches from the stage, and there was dancing and singing all night long. There's no better way to see your favourite musicians than in a little bar surrounded by a little crowd of thirty people who love the band just as much you.

Afterwards I met a few guys from the group and it didn't go over quite as I had imagined:

I bought a T-Shirt and their new album "Water Street" to commemorate the best Tuesday night ever.

On the topic of Water Street, it's great continuation of Sweatshop's music legacy and message of anti-corporatism and humanism, and with 23 tracks of awesomeness, it's a must have for anyone who likes music with a message.

So, the Sweatshop Union show in Grande Prairie gets two huge thumbs up. Best of all, I know they'll be back, and next time I want to get that bar balls-to-the-walls full!

Malajube - Montreal -40°C

Monday, 14 December 2009

It's Cold

Apparently northern Canada gets cold. What's up with that?

Yesterday's low, -42 Celsius, that's -43 Fahrenheit

This morning it's -40 C, same thing Fahrenheit. I'm looking forward to the high of -37 we've been promised around 1'clock, that'll be an amazing reprieve of practically tropical temperatures

To illustrate just how cold it is, let me regale you with a tale.

Yesterday my car(Glenda) miraculously started. I forgot to plug it in Saturday night, so the thing was hard frozen, even the foam in its seats were completely solid. But I left her plugged in for the entire afternoon and evening of Sunday, and around ten at night Glenda sputtered to life. So we left her to idle for almost an hour to ensure that it would run the next day.

So, as expected, despite it being 40 below Glenda roared alive this morning without a problem. Once more, I left her to idle and warm up for a few minutes so I didn't destroy the engine, and soon it was time to drive to work.

I would have liked to unplug my car, which to some degree I did. Since everything was frozen harder than a diamond in a ice-storm, instead of the block-heater's plug nicely coming out it quite literally snapped right off.

Fantastic! Now I get to try and strip rock hard frozen wire and put a new plug on my car! I forgot how much fun winter is.

Oh well, at least it isn't windy. Although everything's just frozen solid and frost-bite sets in on bare skin in less than five minutes, I can handle it. If it were windy though, I'd be losing it.

Tomorrow's forecast?

41 below zero.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

One Year Anniversary

It's officially been a year since I started blogging regularly (actually, 13 months). There's one entry from back in 2007 that doesn't count since this blog was originally started as part of a class assignment.

I made a list of goals, some of which were achieved, some of which I gave up on quickly, and others that I'm still striving towards.

Some of these goals were:

  • Post decent music videos
This has been somewhat accomplished, and I've only missed maybe 4 weeks of new videos. One hitch though is that you can't always post the vids you'd like because not everyone wants their videos embedded. That's really too bad because lots of new bands I've discovered have some awesome videos I want to share, but whatever, it's their loss.
Keep to a bi-weekly schedule

Most of the time this isn't a problem. I try and stick to a Monday, Thursday update schedule. There've been times when I only do one entry a week though, other times 3 entries. There've been entries that I can't wait to post, and there're days when I have absolutely no clue what I'll write about. Coincidentally, some of those happen to be my best works (in my opinion).

  • Post Etch-A-Sketch doodles
I'm a big proponent of Etch-A-Sketch. It's lots of fun, and people get a kick out of it at parties when I doodle something. I intended to regularly post photos of doodles I made, but that didn't pan out because I found it was incredibly hard to get a good picture of a sketch.

In its place though, I started painting. I've come a long way with my paintings, but they're good fun. Here's an interesting fact: I haven't kept a single piece of anything you've seen on here because I always mail them away to friends and family, or given it away for charities or contests. People say I should start doing it for money, but I couldn't charge people for something I don't take seriously.

  • Create an Arts and Culture Forum
What I'd really like to have a blog like Jeff Vogel's (video game designer) whose readers debate amongst themselves. You fantastic readers of mine do this, the only difference is that there are 13 people subscribed, plus you folks from Facebook who swing by on a regular basis, whereas Jeff designed ten or so critically acclaimed computer games whose die-hard fans number in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands and read his blog religiously.

But don't worry guys, I've got a big project coming up. It's going to rock your world!

  • Music Reviews
I review lots of books and movies, but not music. I intended to do it quite often, but only once did I follow through. The thing is that I'm not going to review music I download because I'd feel guilty about it, and I'm more liable to drop $100 on books I've never read than music I've never listened to.

Next year's goal is to review at least ten new or small-time albums

That's about it! I've learned a lot over this past year of blogging. Some of the big ones being that shorter blog entries (unlike this one) do better than long ones, people like pictures, and asking readers for input actually gets some of them to offer up input.

So, for anyone else who blogs, how did the past year go for you?

Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced?

Monday, 7 December 2009

(Review) Pirate Radio

This is well overdue review of the film:

Pirate Radio

It takes place in 1966, during a period in time in which the BBC did not play rock and roll for more than one hour per day. The catch though, there was tons and tons of great rock'n'roll coming out of Britain that deserved its fair share of airplay. To fill the void, several entrepreneurs took ships out to sea to broadcast whatever the hell they wanted into England outside of the law's reach.

This the cool piece of rock'n'roll history that Pirate Radio covers.

Well... it tried to cover, but failed miserably.

It's got a really neat-o cast featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, and many others. The soundtrack was also wicked, and that was about the film's only saving graces.

From start to finish, it feels like several short stories loosely strung together. Plot devices are scattered willy-nilly throughout the film and addressed in a non sequitur manner. Sometimes it seems like scenes in the movie are put there just for fun. And don't get me wrong, these weren't bad, but they lacked coherence.

And the ending of the movie was just terrible. I liked where they were going with it, but it was awful. The movie flailed around for a good hour, and the last twenty minutes was where things really fell apart.

I'm a little biased because I've read a lot about what really happened back during the golden age of actual pirate radio. But the true-life story of Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station this movie is based on, is far more interesting than the fictionalized version.

Overall, Pirate Radio gets a:


It loses big points for being a badly constructed movie with poor character development and a trite, unsatisfying plot.

I gave it points though for the soundtrack, and their accurate portrayal of geeky radio newspeople and burnout disc jockeys.

According to wikipedia, as well a few other sites, there was a lot of footage cut for North American release of this movie. I'll give it another chance when I get the UK version, which as I understand is better and fills in some plot holes.

In the meantime though, I'm looking forward to seeing my first ever 3-D movie, Avatar!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Pages of Time

On my recent vacation to the exotic wilds of Manitoba, I found someone's school photo in a used book I purchased.

Check that hair! Apparently that's the style all the young ladies were rocking in '88. Anyway, as you can see there's something written on the back, click for a larger image to read it for yourself, but here's a transcript:


There's your second picture, hopefully your third will be bigger.
Well, have a good career in Nova Scotia, and when you get here, you have to write in my yearbook again. Other stuff has has been whited out!! Sorry.
Grade 10 '88-'89
Luv, from Deidra"

I showed this to tons of my friends, and debate raged as to the relationship between Deidra and Edwin. Some thought that perhaps Edwin was an older boy, grade 12 to be exact, and he dated Deidra, a young grade 9 girl, and then when he graduated he moved away and she went on to the next grade, left behind, and most likely heartbroken (we can only assume).

Then came the mystery of where she was from. I purchased the book this photo was tucked away in in Grande Prairie(GP). There's a last name on the photo that I covered up, but Diedra's surname is the same as few business owners here in GP. We can assume from these hints that she may have been from GP when this photo was taken, but the confusing part comes from this line here:

“Well, have a good career in Nova Scotia, and when you get here, you have to write in my yearbook again.”

"When you get here,”? Sounds like she may actually be living in Nova Scotia. Perhaps she was dating Edwin, moved to Nova Scotia ahead of him, and when he graduated from his highschool in Grande Prairie he moved out to be with her.
Obviously, she just mailed this photo out to him while he was living in GP. He then used it as a bookmark, and left that book at his parents house when he moved away. Fifteen years later, Edwin's elderly mother sold his books to the local used bookstore, where it sat untouched until I found it. The novel was L. Ron Hubbard's 'Mission Earth' if you're curious by the way.

To settle the debate, we decided we would use the modern miracle of the internet and play CSI to find Deidra. And of course, where does everyone go to stalk people? Facebook. We found her there, and from what we could tell, she does in fact live in Nova Scotia! Here's what I sent to her:

“Strange story:
I purchased a novel at a used book store, and lo and behold, I happened to find a photo of a young lass by the name of Deidra. Just because we've got ample time to fool about on the internet, we figured we'd see if we could find the girl in the photo that I've attached to this message.
Is this you in the photo? Might I inquire as to who Edwin is, because there's quite raging debate as to the nature of your relationship to him.”

and she replied back the very next day with this:

“First of all, who are you? I don't remember any Jake Hammell, and what novel are you talking about? This is quite awsome because Edwin was my bestest friend in the whole world and we lost touch with one another, if you see him tell him to do this facebook thing to me, its been 26 years.”

26 years!? The plot thickens... 26 years means the last time she saw him was 1983, which means Deidra and Edwin must have been penpals for some time. Presumably she was was 15 or 16 in this photo, so drop another five years and the last time they saw each other was when she was 10 or 11! They weren't dating at all, they were childhood friends! Probably of the neighbour variety.

Since then I haven't sent Deidra any messages, nor has she sent any back. The chances of me running into Edwin are slim to none, and I'm not really interested in personally looking up these people to create some heartwarming reunion.

And so the mystery of Deidra and Edwin was solved to the point of which I no longer cared to figure it out anymore. The moral of the story is that Facebook is F'n creepy, and you can stalk people through generations of separation.

The End

Joel Plaskett - Through & Through & Through