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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
(Caution: May contain spoilers and spoiler-like substances.)
You may or may not have heard of this one. Those of you who follow Cannes would have. It won the Palme D'Or this year, but the crowd reaction was that of loud boos and raucous cheers.
I have to admit, I didn't quite know what to make of this one. For the first half hour, nothing really happens. Then it goes into this sequence about the origins of the planet and evolution, and there's this bit with dinosaurs…it goes on and on and on and on, and I was fast-forwarding and thinking "Oh my God, this will never end!" The plot did get going eventually, and progressed nicely right up until about 45 minutes left, and then it virtually screeched to a halt again. I couldn't quite figure out what the kid's problem was anyway.
There are ties to the story of Job also that I couldn't quite get at first. Sure, the film is partly about the grieving process and why bad things happen to good people. This is brought together at the ending, when it seems that grace wins out over nature, but I think A Serious Man did a better job of navigating this theme. "Receive with simplicity everything which happens to you."
There's quite a bit of raw emotion in the screenplay. I kind of felt bad for the actors because the characters are virtually unplayable. Sean Penn has said so himself: "The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that same emotion on screen. [...] A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact."
From a technical standpoint, the cinematography is incredible. I haven't seen anything quite like it, except in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alexandre Desplat's score, although a bit high-brow, also brings it together nicely. And readers of my movie reviews know that screenplay, score, and cinematography are the three main ingredients to a good film. So, needless to say, I'm counting myself among those who enjoyed it. But, Terrance Malick also takes being poetic and preachy to a whole new level, so be forewarned.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
So three weeks ago, I visited Victoria, B.C. for four days and during that time, I tasted 61 different beers in pursuit of the very best that Vancouver Island had to offer in terms of local beer.
Keep in mind that this competition should be taken with a grain of salt for many reasons, including:
1) Some beers were tasted on site and others were tasted using market samples, and often in differing packages
2) Beers tasted were in different sample sizes, glasses, and temperatures.
3) Only beers good enough to be identified as finalists were revisited later
4) I don't normally taste very much craft beer, but I know what I like.
That said, here are the competitors:
Canoe Brewpub, Marina & Restaurant
Beaver Brown Ale
Red Canoe Lager
River Rock Bitter
Siren's Song Pale Ale
Summer Honey Wheat Ale
Crooked Coast Amber Ale
Fat Tug IPA
White Bark Ale
Gulf Islands Brewing
Salt Spring Island Heatherdale Ale
Lighthouse Brewing Company
Race Rocks Amber Ale
Riptide Pale Ale
Phillips Brewing Company
Amnesiac Double IPA
Hoperation Tripel Cross Belgian IPA
Instigator 2010 Doppelbock
Krypton Rye PA
Longboat Chocolate Porter
Skookum Cascadian Brown Ale
Slipstream Cream Ale
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub
Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale
Casked Nut Brown Ale
Extra Special Bitter
India Pale Ale
Jameson's Scottish Ale
Lion's Head Cascadia Dark Ale
Tsarist Imperial Stout
Appleton Brown Ale
Buckerfield's Extra Special Bitter
Old Towne Lager
Pandora Pale Ale
Riley's Scotch Ale
The Moon Under Water
Lunar Pale Ale
Moonlight Blonde Ale
Vancouver Island Brewing
Double Decker IPA
Hermann's Dark Lager
Piper's Pale Ale
Sea Dog Amber Ale
Spyhopper Honey Brown
Fortunately, there was no beer in that list which was bad enough to be singled out as undrinkable, but there can only be one winner. Here are the finalists:
Summer Ale - The Moon Under Water Brewpub
This one has only been out for a few weeks. I come never to expect greatness from a seasonal beer, but this one is different. You can never go wrong with Saaz hops, they have a place in any beer. It's a bit wheaty at first, but that goes away after the third or fourth sip. It's also just a little mouthcoating and the bitterness lingers a bit more than I would expect from something which is supposed to be a light beer. However, with a 4.2% ABV, you'd have no problem putting away 3 or 4 during the summer. The unfortunate bit about The Moon Under Water is that it's a bit out of the way and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the food and the beers are both good.
Driftwood Ale - Driftwood Brewery
Driftwood is a place that's serious about its beer. It's a lot smaller in scale than its more established neighbours over at Vancouver Island Brewing and Phillips Brewing, and it seems they don't do as many tours either. But Kevin and Tim over there were nice enough to show us around, even though it looked like there was a lot going on at the time. Their flagship brand, Driftwood Ale, has a nice aroma of fruity hops and good quality bitterness that lingers slightly on aftertaste. Aside from that, it's fairly clean, clears quickly, and pretty dry. Something that's refreshing and easy to drink.
Farmhand Ale - Driftwood Brewery
Honestly, I've never had a bad Belgian ale. I'm convinced that the secret to this gem is good yeast. It reminded me of Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde at first...it doesn't kick your ass, take your name, and get you drunk like La Fin Du Monde, but it is still a little stronger than most at 5.5% ABV. You'll get oranges/coriander and cloves/spice on the nose which might convince some of you amateurs that it's closer to Rickard's White or Hoegaarden. It's more grainy/more wheaty than those two and clears more quickly as well. Maybe a little heavy for the style, but I think it works for them. Very slightly drying on the finish. I think this one will satisfy the trendy beer drinker who enjoys all the weird fruit-infused shit that passes for craft beer these days, and the beer snob/Bavarian purist of 1516 at the same time. That means this one's a winner.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
In just six days, we'll be treated to the twelfth feature film produced by the studio that makes critical and financial hit after hit. I'm talking, of course, about Pixar Animation Studios, and its latest work of art: Cars 2.
Last year, when I was doing my countdown of Pixar's feature films, I was asked if I could pick one from the library to watch, which one would I watch? Well, I chose Cars. I said it had a children's literature charm to it, despite not being terribly insightful and having braindead voice acting. However, I picked out a few more themes since then: the contrast of small town vs. big city values and some social commentary on transportation infrastructure, to name a couple. But, in short, I like it because it's fun.
I have some questions about what goes on in the Cars universe. Since many of the places in Cars resemble real settings (Peach Springs, AZ = Radiator Springs,) and the characters resemble real car models, my theory is that the characters live in a parallel dimension which is ruled by sentient machines. The machines control fully automated factories which produce the cars. How, then, are the insects portrayed as VW bugs, and why are there children? How do cars grow up? Why are the tractors and farm equipment portrayed as farm animals? These are the questions I ask myself as I lay awake at night.
Anyway, in my blog post last year, I speculated as to whether or not Pixar had jumped the shark, based on the success of Toy Story 3. Now, I have some reservations about the Cars 2:
1) In my review of Cars, I said "That Mater character really grated on my nerves by the end." Mater was around a little bit too much when I felt more of the focus needed to be on Doc and Sally, but he was still a supporting character. The way I read Cars 2, however, is that Mater is central to the plot, and it looks like Lightning is the supporting character. If this is true, it's going to drive me nuts. Your comic relief CANNOT be central to the plot and he cannot be one-dimensional. Otherwise, you end up with a Star Wars Episode One Jar Jar Binks disaster. Dan L. Whitney is the perfect voice for a backwater hick, but I have to question whether he has the range to carry a Pixar film. And while we're at it, let's talk about Owen Wilson, who was just as bad. I don't so much mind Lightning as a character, but it seemed like Owen was just going through the motions. Just listen to every time Lightning laughs; it sounds so forced. In fact, Mater actually carries Lightning through more than a few scenes. Granted, Owen was going through a serious bout of depression at the time...
2) I have to wonder if they made this film to renew all the merchandising licenses. I called Cars "Pixar's shill film," and even if you go into a Disney Store today, you'll see Cars shit everywhere. Literally, everywhere. And literally, shit! They sell Cars potty chairs and Cars diapers at the Superstore by my place. I'm dead serious. Do you see WALL-E diapers anywhere? No, you don't, even though in the grand scheme of the film, it kind of makes sense! Even Up has diddly dick for merchandise. (Granted, nobody wants to play with misanthropic old man action figures.) Cars merchandise had sales of $1 billion a mere 5 months after the film was released, so who can blame them for trying, right? They also need to promote a new theme park.
3) I think this movie panders to a small demographic. Cars was made five years ago, and its target audience was boys age 1-10. That means a sizeable chunk of Cars' original audience may be too old for this one. The Toy Story franchise was so successful because there were a lot of things to keep the adults into it, and the 3rd film also had nostalgic value for many. Cars, on the other hand, is a good movie to park your kids in front of to keep them busy for a couple of hours while you did something else. However, since the merchandise has managed to hold its own, that leads me to believe that the franchise has renewed its audience through DVD sales.
4) Doc Hudson is not in this one, and that's going to hurt this film more than you can imagine. Doc was the voice of reason who kept this film down to earth. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of over the top car jokes and a big race at the end with no emotion. Cars would have been an epic failure without him. I suppose Slinky was back for Toy Story 3 despite the noticeable difference in voice (Jim Varney vs. Blake Clark), so who knows.
5) John Lasseter was brought on as co-director very late in the game. This leads me to believe that this one suffered from the same quality issues that Toy Story 2 initially suffered from. I suppose that Toy Story 2 became infinitely better once Lasseter took over, but at the same time, Pixar could use the fresh blood. I think a lot of people thought that Lasseter was too complacent with Cars, and in some ways, it comes off as a pet project. And since Cars 2 was conceived by Lasseter when he was in Europe promoting the first Cars, this one could also have that pet project feel. Besides, the guy doesn't even need to direct anymore...he's the head of two animation studios. Why not hand it over to the next director in line?
6) The setting is one of the most appealing aspects of the film, and the real heart of the film is with the bygone town on Route 66. Radiator Springs will be mostly gone in Cars 2, as the settings include 3 different countries. So it's still very much a story of setting, but the focus will be more on the culture shock aspects. Who knows, they might find a way to make it work, but you certainly can't rest on the characters, like the Toy Story sequels did. Woody and Buzz have become timeless, classic characters. Lightning and Mater? They're more like flavours of the week.
So there you have it. The expectations for Cars 2 are very much dialled down, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Contrast that with Toy Story 3, where the expectations were sky high and were exceeded. Fortunately for the Pixar awards shelf, Dreamworks is putting forward Kung Fu Panda 2 and Warner Bros. is sending out Crappy Feet 2. Not exactly the best of efforts from either studio.
I'll be back with my review in a week or two.