Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My brain is fried

Christmas is kind of a mind-numbing time of year for me already, so the addition of a sinus cold and a dreary, slushy city has done me in, thinkin' wise. In the meantime, here's some stuff from smart people:

From Pandagon - Part two of Dennis "Why yes, I am twice-divorced, what does that have to do with the quality of my marital advice?" Prager's piece on wives "submitting" to their husband's sexual "needs" gets taken apart by Jesse. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl. And no, it's not satire, though you'll desperately wish it was.

From Failblog - Step One: Cut a hole in the box. I can't tell if this accidental or not. The facial expressions are priceless, either way.

Tributes to two awesome women that we sadly lost over the holidays: Eartha Kitt and Majel Barrett-Roddenbury (please ignore the terrible Star Trek puns and the fact that they overlook Barrett's role in the original Star Trek pilot, where she played the second-in-command to Captain Christopher Pike, until some network exec noticed that she had a vagina and would, like, menstruate all over the controls, and then probably made some "red alert" crack that he would later repeat over and over again to his wife to the point that she wondered whether to stab or poison him.)

Dinosaurs discuss zombies versus vampires.

Sarah Haskins of Target:Women made my holidays that much brighter with her piece on my absolute least favourite holiday advertisements - "Ladies like shiny things!" aka jewelry ads.

Ah, the meds are wearing off. Back with more later.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow survival tips for the uninitiated

So, you're a Wet Coaster, and yet - snow. INCHES of snow. Yes, plural. Which has melted and then frozen again, creating this product called "ice", instead of just melting and going right into the ground where the green grass and flowers grow.

I feel your pain. I too was once brutally exposed to this thing called "winter". Repeatedly. Sometimes on purpose. And yet, I survived. And you can too, if you follow some simple survival tips!

Tip #1: How to walk on an icy sidewalk
This is all about centre of gravity. You need to keep your weight over each foot, eyes on your path,taking small deliberate steps and do not, under any circumstances shuffle your feet. If you are doing it correctly, random passerbys will think you are an elderly man walking through a minefield. They may point and laugh, or perhaps offer to walk you across the street.

Careful. CAREFUL! That's it...

Tip #2: Driving in snow


Okay, fine. You may have to get somewhere (work, school, driving random passerbys to the hospital after they point at you, laugh and slip, cracking their tailbones) and the buses are probably a)running late and b)being driven by people who also don't know what do to in the snow.

The weakest of the herd are left to succumb to the cold.

So if you must - go slow. No, slower. No - SLOWER. Theeeeerrrrre. Thaaaaaat's iiiiiiit. Be as gentle on the pedals as a newborn baby...that you step on...

Tip #3: Dressing
In the temperature adjustment system, the people need to present two separate, yet equally important groups: the layers who protect against cold and the accessories that keep in the heat. These are their stories. (dunhk duhnk).

Toques may look dorky, but you know what else looks dorky? WHEN YOUR FROSTBITTEN EARS FALL OFF. Put it on. And the scarf (extra long so it can wrap around your face) and gloves and at least an extra two layers under your jacket. (bomp bomp)

So that's it! Three simple ways to survive the unbearable cold snap MINUS temperature that has afflicted the Garden City, even if it lasts for, like, a whole TWO WEEKS...or more! (duh duh).


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A tale of three Punishers

One summer, my older brother worked at the local video store, and would come home from late shifts with as many seven-day rentals as we could watch before his next shift, which meant staying up all night with our shared love of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude van Damme, Steven Seagal, and all the other heavy hitters of the “martial arts and/or-guns and/or plot plus lots of explosions” genre of the 80s and 90s.

This is also known as the greatest summer of my life.

It was also the summer that introduced me to the action stylings of one Dolph Lundgren, whose career can be accurately summed up here, or humourously summed up here. And it just so happens that, among my favourites of his many movies is the original Punisher. (Yes, I have more than one favourite Dolph Lundgren movie. Red Scorpion and Universal Soldier are the others, in case you were curious. And I know you were.)

It’s a dark movie - so dark they dye his hair black, which makes the normally blond, blue-eyed Swede look like he has, like, consumption or something. But he’s supposed to be dead inside, anyway (figuratively, not literally) (although a zombie Punisher would just be so much awesome that my head would asplode) so it only adds to the gloomy, morbid atmosphere of the film. Which is essentially about a guy who (spoiler? Maybe? Although you probably know this already if you’re at all interested in the film) takes the law into his own hands after his family is killed by the mob. Literally into his hands, with fists and guns and explosives and swords and knives. And sometimes his feet too. Awesome.

So I was more than a little excited when I was wandering around some European mall in 2004 and saw posters with a dark-haired Thomas Jane and the familiar skull symbol. This excitement was tempered half a second later when I realized that right next to that poster was one with John Travolta (entry #2 in “embarrassing crushes from Floyd’s youth”. Entry #1 can be found in this post). But still, I held out hope, even in the face of the dismal opening and turrrrible reviews. After all, I have liked unpopular, ill-received films in the past.

I finally rented it a few months ago, mostly fueled by the knowledge that a third one was in the works, with every major player (actors, director, writers) from the 2004 version unceremoniously dumped. I needed to know – was it really so bad?

Let me put it this way - if one measures the quality of a movie as being inversely related to how angry it makes me when I so much as think about the fact that it even exists, then the 2004 version of The Punisher is the Worst. Movie. I have ever seen. (I am not even going to link to its IMDB page, out of spite.)

The director, Jonathan Hensleigh, apparently blames this on having only $15 million and 50 days to shoot the movie. The director is an idiot. The problem with this movie is that it forgets the very simple, but necessary, formula of any action/revenge movie:

WBGD<WGDTBG. In plain language: what bad guys do must be exceeded by what gets done to bad guys. If the bad guy kicks a puppy, he should be hit in the face with a bat.If he attempts to rape your best friend and then insults and threatens her, he should be shot. If he kidnaps your daughter, you should slaughter of all his minions, accept his challenge to a knife fight - even though you know he will cheat - and then impale him with a steampipe with such force that it propels him backward into a live generator. It's simple math, people.

(Note – I’m about to get SPOILER-RIFFIC right here. It shouldn’t matter to anyone, though, ‘cause if you’ve seen the movie you won’t care, and if you haven’t seen the movie, do not make my sacrifice in vain by going out to rent it now).

So when the 2004 movie had the Punisher’s ENTIRE EXTENDED FAMILY - down to his second cousins and third aunt twice removed, including young children - BRUTALLY MURDERED ON-SCREEN, it upped the ante significantly in terms of what the bad guys did. Even by action movie standards, these were terrible, terrible men, whose actions went well beyond the comfort zone of what the audience expects. (Aside – and spoiler - Stallone did this with the most recent Rambo – having the bad guys be really, terribly graphically, evil - but then he spends the second half of the movie disposing of them with arrows, a machete and 10 glorious minutes behind a Gatling gun. Again - just do the math.)

So of course, when the Punisher gets hands on a member of the mob family behind this, surely he must exact a terrible, bloody and graphic revenge, right? Right? RIGHT?

Well, only if by “terrible, bloody and graphic revenge” you mean “pretend-tortures him with a popsicle in a scene played for laughs”. And it certainly isn’t what I meant.

Okay, but that guy was just small potatoes, right? And the play-torture was a way to get him to come around to the Punisher’s side, so that the Punisher could get really awesome, gruesome revenge on the real bad guys, right?

Sure, if by “awesome, gruesome revenge” you mean “tricks villainous John Travolta into killing his equally villainous wife and best friend.” Again – no, not what I meant. Tricks the bad guy to kill the other bad guys? Tricks him??!! Dude, this movie is not called The Trickster. It is not called The Manipulator. It is not called The super-dangerous guy who has a lot of guns and righteous anger, but would rather fool people into committing violence than resort to violence himself. Honestly, Dolph Lundgren would have turned in his grave. If he were dead. (Which he isn’t, since he’s currently in pre-production of The Expendables which features a cast that gives me a gore-gasm just reading it: Sly Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li.)

Not to mention that, just in case we forgot that these guys had massacred dozens of innocent people right before our eyes, we are reminded of how bad they are halfway through the film when they corner one of the Punisher's neighbors and tear out his facial piercings. Oh no! Shooting children point blank was one thing, but now you've gone and pulled out some guy's nose ring. On purpose!

So when the Punisher drags John Travolta behind his car and sets him on fire in the end, it's just waaaaaay too little, way too late. He should have done something like that to EVERYONE. For Travolta, it should have been even worse. The Punisher should have ripped out Travolta’s still beating heart, and stuck a popsicle in there, and said “I always knew you were cold-hearted” and then beaten him nearly to death with his own heart and then taken the popsicle out and eaten it to keep him cool as he burned Travolta alive, piece by piece, on a bonfire made up of the variously mutilated bodies of all the bad guys who worked for Travolta. And then he should have stabbed him in the eye with the popsicle stick. If that’s too much for you to stomach, Jonathan Hensleigh, than maybe you shouldn’t have made the bad guys do such terrible things. Maybe they could have just threatened his dog and stomped on his azaleas. Then your stupid movie would have made sense.

Man, I am just getting angry all over again.

So it was with a little bit of nervousness that I dragged DD to the theatre last night for Punisher: War Zone. I was hopeful, what with the new cast, including the awesome Ray Stevenson (if you see one new series this year, see Rome), Dominic West (if you see two new series this year, see Rome and The Wire) and Julie Benz, who, strangely enough, plays essentially the same role in this film as in the most recent Rambo (and, if you see three new series this year, see Rome, The Wire, and Dexter). The director, Lexi Alexander (Yes! A woman! Who made a film! Her vagina didn’t get in the way or anything!) was a bit of an unknown factor…

…but not any more. Because the movie? Is flat out awesomeness from start to finish. There are stabbings, and slashings, and explosions, and fisticuffs, and so many bullets that even John Woo is all “What? So many bullets!!”. The bad guys are bad, and they do crazy bad things, and then the Punisher kills them in new and interesting ways, and at the end of the day WBGD<WGDTBG and all is right in my world.

If I had to pick one word to describe my reaction to the film, it would be gleeful. This movie made me so goddamn happy, I just wanted to fly down to L.A. (the city) and give L.A. (the director) a big ole sloppy kiss for bringing some cheer to my holiday season. Unfortunately, with the movie not doing so well at the box office (I guess not that many of us want to start the holiday season with exploding drug-running parkour guys) a sequel is likely out of the question - although if Twilight is any indicator, even surpassing all box office expectations isn’t good enough for a female director to keep her job. Sounds to me like the studio heads need a little...punishment.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The wacky, wonderful world of Canadian politics

I’d been working on a lengthy, verbose and profanity-ridden post about the single most exciting thing to happen in Canadian politics since that time I played touch rugby on the Hill with Peter Mackay, but then I realized that the entire situation, like most things in life, is best summed up by a single moment from The Simpsons:

And then I continued with my regularly-scheduled verbosity, regardless.

I mean, seriously – Harper goes in with the promise of a more open, cooperative Parliament, ready to work on the pressing economic concerns of Canadians, and he follows through how? By proposing to limit the rights of civil servants to strike and women to sue for pay discrimination, and trying to effectively gut his opposition financially*, of course. What, you were expecting actual substantive solutions to an impending crisis?

But what an amazing moment – not only for the unprecedented levels of cooperation between three different parties, but also for the incredible learning opportunity this presents. I am far, far from an expert, but all those years on the Hill taught me a thing or two, and still the nuances of this situation are fascinating, and not just for giant dorks like me.

And, unlike what Harper and the Conservatives are claiming, toppling the government and setting up a coalition in its stead is not at all undemocratic. It’s a very intentional feature of our Parliamentary system, and would feature a government that, with the Green Party’s support, represents the majority of Canadian voters (almost 8.5 million between the four parties, compared to the Tories’ 5.2 million).

Some people may make a big deal about the Bloc having signed on to support a Liberal/NDP government (the term “unholy alliance” being used) but I don’t personally have a problem with this. The Bloc are legitimately elected Members of Parliament, and while I may not support their ultimate goal, they are representing the interests of their constituents, as they should. This is how Parliament works (or is supposed to work), and Harper himself has counted on their support in the past to keep his government going (and to try and form a new one – hey, it’s just like now! Only with the roles reversed! Almost like the shoe is on the other foot! Or the pot calling the kettle so power-hungry that they’ll get into bed with socialists and separatists!)

Predictions? I think Harper will ask the GG to prorogue until January, and that she will take his advice. From what I’ve read, constitutional experts disagree on the most appropriate course of action, and there’s no direct precedent, but I think she’ll want to take a moderate path and give the government a chance to present their budget.

I also think the coalition will take down the government on the budget. The Conservatives are in a bit of a no-win situation here – you simply cannot please everyone with your budget, especially people who are looking for ways to criticize you. Add in a recession and you are screwed (pronounced “scru-ed”). However, Jean can decide to dissolve Parliament, or decide to let the coalition form a government, or she may decide to take all the party leaders into her office for a stern talking to (“Can’t I ever leave you kids alone? I go to Eastern Europe for a week and all hell breaks loose. Now, you all start behaving or I am going TURN THIS COUNTRY AROUND RIGHT NOW.”)

Whatever the outcome, though, it’s nice to see the top headlines a) about Canadian politics, b) interesting, and c) in a “this is history-making and thought-provoking” way, not a “oh man, what are those idiots up to again” way.

*As for the ranting about how the Bloc, Liberals and NDP are being whiny, greedy babies throwing tantrums at being cut out of the public trough: vote subsidies encourage voter turnout, represent voters proportionally and are a progressive way of ensuring a healthy democracy by keeping multiple parties competitive. Not bad for $30M every couple of years, eh?