Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Will he pick it or won't he?

From a committee hearing at the Quebec legislature

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Start Trek transporter: hours of fun

The ultimate conversation piece... if you don't mind the conversation happening when your guests leave your apartment and say things like, "What's up with his Star Trek transporter thing?" and "Loooo ser."

(I still enjoy it, though.)

Movies: Casino Royale (2006)

To say that Casino Royale (2006) is the best James Bond movie or that Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever would require me to review all the old Bond movies to compare. So, I'll make a lesser claim and say that Casino Royale is a very good movie.

In the film, James Bond is promoted by the British Secret Service and sent to stop terrorist/warlord financing by finding the guy who invests their money. The investor makes a bad stock market investment and decides to try recoup the lost moneyat a high-stakes poker match at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond joins the game (with government money) to try to beat the financier, make him broke and force him to rat out his terrorist clients in exchange for government protection.

Here are some reasons I liked the movie.

The chase scene: Done entirely on foot. No cars. It is one of the best chases I've seen in a movie. Lots of crazy jumping, leaping, sliding and shooting.

Simple gizmos: Bond's most important gizmo is is GPS-enabled mobile phone. No rocket launchers under his hood or lapels that shoot poison darts.

Simple character: The other Bond movies presented him as a smooth-talking man-of-the-world, who happens to be an MI6 agent. This movies makes it clear that Bond is smart, but not entirely comfortable in high society.

Evil-character not so evil: The bad guy in this movie is weird, has a scar and is married to a hot chick. But he doesn't own an island or have an intercontinental missile hiding in a dome somewhere. He's just a guy who wants to make some money and tries to do so in the stock market and in a poker game. Sure, he is willing to kill a few people along the way -- but not entire civilizations.

Old-fashioned editing: Scenes fade into one another, which helps make the movie feel like one from the 1960s. Also, the movie is more quiet that usual. They don't plaster every moment of every scene with incidental music.

Bottom line: Unfortunately, the movie goes on for too long and does that stupid "you think it's over... well it's not over yet" thing. Nonetheless, a very enjoyable movie, which happens to be a Bond film. Daniel Craig's Bond is different from Connery's ladies-man, Moore's aristocratic pris, Dalton's sour-puss, or Brosnan's charicature of Moore. The new Bond is more like Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer.

Can't wait for the next one, which is something I haven't said about a Bond movie in 20 years.

New Quebec rating: 8/10

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A primer on Canadian nonsense

Tonight on CBC, the bald anchor moderated a panel discussion about Prime Minister Harper's support for a Commons resolution stating that "Quebec" is a "nation". The bald anchor asked his guests, "Is this Meech and Charlottetown all over again?"

It angers me when journalists and politicians use shorthand expressions. It leads to the opposite of clarity and is confusing to people who were born more recently than them.

What exactly did the bald anchor mean? Did he mean, "Will this discussion lead to a proposed constitutional amendment?" Or did he mean, "Will this discussion lead to a divisive debate?" He didn't specify and the talking heads didn't ask him to clarify. And that is why discussions about "recognition of Quebec as X" drive me crazy.

I won't bother mocking Quebec nationalists who have to contort themselves into pretzels to explain how Quebec nationalism is an inclusive civic nationalism while rejecting Canadian inclusive civic nationalism. Instead, here's a primer for someone who arrived in our country last week and is trying to get some sweet, sweet context in 10-steps:

1. Municipal, provincial and federal governments in Canada all want more tax money and jurisdiction for themselves because they think they can do a better job than the other levels of government.

2. Some governments don't like that they are limited by pesky parts of the Constitution of Canada that protect citizen rights.

3. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country. It lists which powers are for the federal government and which are for the provincial governments. It also lists citizen rights, which limit government power.

4. Any federal or provincial law that violates the supreme law will eventually be ruled unconstitutional by the courts and rendered null and void. Darn that pesky Constitution!

5. Politicians in the Quebec government know that, like every other government, they cannot enact extremely crazy laws related to, say, language because it might violate the supreme law (the Constitution).

6. Politicians in the Quebec government also know that they can pass more of the laws they want by amending the Constitution to (a) shift the balance of power from citizens back to provincial government and (b) shift the balance of power from the federal government to the provincial government.

7. All talk of Quebec being "distinct" or "a nation by virtue of its language, culture and so on" is related getting more jurisdiction and power. (See point 1.)

8. A House of Commons resolution recognizing Quebec as a nation is legally meaningless (which the secessionists will no doubt state at nauseum in the coming weeks).

9. Prime Minister Harper's goal in putting this resolution forward is to convince secessionists that Commons recognition of Quebec as a nation is more awesome than the Richard Donner director's cut of Superman II so that said secessionists might decide to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada in upcoming elections.

10. The Commons resolution will be poo-pooed by secessionist leaders who will try to convince their flock that this resolution is "not enough" and "meaningless" and that secession is required. Or they might argue that this recognition proves Quebec is a "nation" and that secession is required to fully exercise its national mojo.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

One year after I wrote how great it would be to see Superman II as it was orginally intended, it is here. (Review to follow.)

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

UPDATE: The movie is way less campy and much more like the first movie. The added scenes with Marlon Brando add a lot to the film both because of his acting and because of the father-becomes-the-son / son-becomes-the-father religious symbolism stuff. There are also a several other new scenes and plenty of scenes that were removed.

I will also enjoy the Donner/Lester version of Superman II because I saw it when I was a kid and memorized dialog and watched it dozens of times. But this new Donner version is the better movie, by far.

Vermont Toy and Train Museum

If you are in central Vermont, visit the Vermont Toy and Train Museum.

The museum has a satisfying collection of artifacts from our youth.
  • Rows of lunch boxes from the 1970s and 1980s
  • Board games affixed to the roof
  • Action figures behind glass
  • A playable Atari 2600 and Star Trek themed pinball game
The highlight was seeing my brother's old Head-to-Head electronic baseball game, which was made by Coleco.

Seeing the game behind glass validated its worth to me. Which is what all museums try to do, I guess. Put something out of reach and behind glass and people want it.

Here's some stuff for Star Trek people.

By the way, the museum is located in a strip mall. Then again, then entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame is in a food court. Here's the info if you want to go. It is near Woodstook, Vermont, which is a nice village town.

Vermont Toy and Train Museum
Route 4
Quechee, VT 05059
Phone: 800-438-5565

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Movies: The Departed (2006)

When a movie gets great reviews, it means I have to like it or else I'm dumb. I thought about this as I started watching The Departed (2006). But I quickly forgot about that I thoroughly enjoyed the next two-and-a-half hours.

Here's the premise: DiCaprio and Damon are new recruits for the Massachusetts state police. Damon moves up quickly. But we learn he is really a mole for Boston organized crime bad guy Jack Nicholson. Meanwhile, DiCaprio is recruited by the investigative unit headed by Martin Sheen and Mark Walhberg to be a mole to arrest the self-same crime chief. Two moles. Opposite roles.

The premise is good, and the rest of the film is even better.

Alec Baldwin has some great lines as a lead investigator who knows taking down Nicholson won't really have much effect on crime but plays along because it's his job. Wahlberg's psychoanalysis of DiCaprio during his job interview is a highlight. Nicholson is allowed to be Nicholson. Sheen's role is limited, but his genuine care for his mole DiCaprio acts as a great counterpoint to Wahlberg's in-your-face attitude.

No spoilers on how the movie ends. But it will keep in intrested and alert until the end. Go see this one.

New Quebec rating: 4.5 / 5

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movies: The Queen (2006)

The Queen (2006) tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, her family and her prime minister during the extraordinary week in 1997 when Diana died.

The Queen's instinct is to not comment on Diana's death, because it is a personal family matter for her grandchildren and the Spencer family. Instead, the royals remain at their Scottish estate away from their televisions and, therefore, underestimate the sadness of the British people, which is fed by non-stop media coverage of Diana's death.

The prime minister, only a few months into his job, understands the mood of the people and speaks eloquently about Diana. As Tony Blair grows more popular, the public opinion reveal that 25 percent favour an end to the monarchy.

The Queen's confidence in her instincts and understanding of her people is shaken. She begins to watch some of the coverage on Diana's life and begins to buy into the Diana myth, in spite of her family's private behind-the-scenes dealings with Diana in the past. The Queen eventually follows her prime minister's advice -- a reversal of the traditional role of the queen who advises the prime minister -- returns to London, and speaks to her people. She regains her popularity and saves the monarchy.

In the final scene some months after the week Diana died, she reveal to the prime minister in their monthly private meeting that the day will come when the people will turn on him, as they turned on her. He won't see it coming and it will happen suddenly and without warning.

The messages of this movie aren't subtle: elected officials understand the people more than old royals; officials from both sides distrust one another; traditions should change with the times.

The Queen has such a recognizable face being on the money and all. Yet I bought Helen Mirren's performance. The pacing of the film was good. Never got bored. Good flick.

New Quebec rating: 3.5/5