Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bolt 3D

Yesterday I was downtown with P-Doug to liberate some beer from its confinement in cold, sterile pub taps, and we went to see Bolt, the new Disney movie. If you don't know, it's about a dog who is the star of an action-based TV show. Special effects give him his powers, but for the sake of "sincerity" on the show, the producers see to it that Bolt believes it's all real. It's only when he's accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York and has to make his way back (with the help of a fanboy hamster and an initially-reluctant stray cat) that he learns the nature of reality and comes to grips with not being a "super" dog.

The version that we saw, down at the Scotiabank Theatres, was the 3D version. I went in hopeful, but honestly not expecting much. I have to say, I think I saw the future of the movie-going experience yesterday. The 3D is believable, and it's all in fully colour... none of that red and green stuff. It's done with circuluar polarizing lenses in glasses with opposite 'spins', and projection at 144 frames a second that alternate the view 72 times a second, far too fast for the human eye to register. The effect is a completely believable 3D environment -- so believable that I think the highest compliment is that after a while, you don't notice it... you just feel it. Not to give too much away, but there is scene near the end in which a building is on fire and two of the characters are trapped at floor level with a sea of smoke just above them. I'd seen stuff like that in fire prevention movies as a kid, but I never had a full sense of just how horrifying that is until yesterday. In faking it, they made it real for me. P-Doug paid it another fine compliment; he said to me that they never forced the 3D on you. There's only one, tiny, instantaneous "gotcha" 3D moment in the movie; otherwise, they were conservative with the effect. It was there to make a convincing environment for convincing characters, and that's exactly what it should be.

The movie itself is good, traditional pulls-at-the-heartstrings Disney fare. It's worth repeated seeings... but see it at least once. And see it in 3D. Even the flat, traditionally-animated closing credit sequences are given new life with the technique. It gives you an idea of just how much more is possible.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buildings, beer, budgets

I haven’t kept my blog up the way I used to… it used to be partly about recording the little things I did, mostly so I’d remember them more distinctly as time goes on – for me, they tend to blur together into a big common pot of “travel outside the city” or “had a beer downtown” or “saw a movie”. They’re of only passing interest to most people, I know, if that, but I think it’s important to keep it up.

Well, last Saturday, P-Doug and I went out to Streetsville at my prompting. I’d seen a little video of the place from about 1960, and I wanted to compare what I saw with what I remember with what’s there today. As it turned out, we didn’t really stop there; we just blew through on our way back to town.

Where we went first was a service station on the side of the 401 that was in business for about 15 years. I knew it well; the only Wendy’s for miles was there and I got gas there fairly often (yes, yes, pun intended). It closed about two years ago, at the end of September, 2006, and I can remember seeing the notice on my way back from somewhere one weekend, just before it actually closed. I’m not sure why it closed… it was always doing good business.

I was out of gas by the time we arrived and P-Doug volunteered, right out of the blue, to by me a fill-up. I was quite taken by it, since it’s not really the custom on our trips.

We got there and parked just off Argentia and crossed the street to a way through the fence I’d spotted on GoogleMaps. On one of the light poles, there was a cross in purple flowers, and a little shrine to some young driver killed at the spot (presumably). Someone who would always be their “monkey”, according to the writing on the photo. It was heavily wrapped in cellophane against the weather, though, so the sun shining on it made it very difficult to read.

We got to the station and wandered around the gas bar for a few minutes. It was strange to see it without the gas pumps or brand insignia. As is out wont these days, we took 3D paired shots of the place. Coming around to the other side, we saw a beat-up little Chev with Downsview plate frames… we took it to be abandoned, possibly stolen. Then P-Doug noticed a porta-potty. He made a sly joke about it being a cheap TARDIS that I got immediately but laughed at late because it grew increasingly funnier the more I thought about it. We didn’t put two and two together just yet. We headed toward the main building.

As we often do in these cases, we split up. He went along the north side and I went south because I wanted to see the abandoned drive-thru I’d patronized so many times. It was a weird thing to see it boarded up. Took some panos of the parking lot and the building’s main entrance, then we sort of switched sides.

When I came back to the gas bar, I noticed a guy with Sikh head gear wandering around. He’d noticed me, but he took his time coming forward. I hung back, waiting for P-Doug, who arrived pretty much at the same time as this other fellow – the security guard, as I’d imagined – came up. It was a nice enough chat, though I confess the man’s accent made following him unusually difficult. He seemed convinced the government was vastly wasteful, and of course we agreed politely. He struck me as rather starved for attention, for it must have taken us the better part of half an hour to cross the gas bar and finally say our good-byes.

After that, we blew through Streetsville without seeing anything compelling enough to stop for, and made our way down Mississauga Road to the QEW. P-Doug had mentioned visiting the Great Lakes Brewery, and while he waved it off, I felt driven to visit because we were so close, I wanted to see the place, and he’d indulged me in floating around an abandoned gas station and drifting through scenic but unengaging suburbia. It was not easy to get to the place. It’s down right north of the QEW where the street configurations are discontinuous. We did finally get there, sampled a couple of beers, ate a few shortbread cookies, and looked over their visitors’ book. They had people visiting from the States, and even from Britain – one from a brewery over there, which impressed me above all.

Off to Bryden’s. Again, not easy, because the Kingsway North was closed. But we did get there. Had a few pints, decimated a plate of what we mutually agree are the city’s best nachos (the ground beef is done in a jerk sauce whose recipe was given to the bar by the Jamaican aunt of one of the staff, and it’s incredible), took home a glass, entered a contest we didn’t win, and simply enjoyed the place for a few hours. The idea of going to a movie came up and we looked in a handy copy of NOW and P-Doug suggested seeing I.O.U.S.A. at the Carlton, so off we went.

Now that was in an interesting movie. There’s not much point in going into it, except to say it’s about the debt burden of the United States, with a historical perspective, and some ideas about how it can be turned around – and why it must be. They’re showing a condensed, 30-minute version online for free that focuses a bit more closely on the stats – brilliantly communicated using compelling animation sequences – and you really ought to take that in at least. Hey, it’s free, and it’s right here.

Weird dream time again

I've been having a lot of them lately but one this morning was really intriguing.

It was a dream about two 20-something guys, and I had the impression they were kind of small-time hood kinda guys, who, somehow, had managed to snag this diamond about twice the size of the end of your thumb. Just massive. At first they seemed surprised they had it. The ended up holed up in this concrete students' residence, and someone was trying to break in through the door (crowbar, I think). They barricaded it and the guy(s) never got in. They managed to sneak out and get away, and ended up at a sunken-level ranch-style house with these little windows in the downstairs right at lawn level. It was a family residence of one of them, I think. Their pursuers caught up with them again, and either attacked unsuccessfully or overlooked them. They grabbed everything they could that might identify them in case the guys came back and took off, getting away again.

They ended up in at the house of one of their mothers, shaped kind of like the letter G (the street, not the mother). The house was on the inside stem. The neighbourhood knew these guys were small-time baddied but they were kind of heroes, and all the neighbours came out to have some kind of rally in support of these guys and their big score as they prepared to take off for good. There were cops around, but because of the crowd, they stayed back. One of the guys, the one whose mom it wasn't, was really anxious to go, and to force the matter he headed out to the car (already loaded with stuff) and sat in it. This cop leans in on the driver's side, seemingly friendly, and asks if they can have this little leather-padded table to pose the dog on for photos (like I said, it was a dream). The guy somehow suspects that's where his buddy hid the diamond, so he hedges, but the cop sits in the driver's side and starts to drive him away, leaving the police car behind. I had this idea that they found this guy's body three years later, evidently tortured, and the other guy is now living under an assumed name somewhere in the world. The fake cop and his clique got the diamond back.

Sad, but it was really interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

There's No One as Irish as Barrack Obama

Envy, at last

When I was a kid, it seemed there was a lot to admire about the United States. Living near the border, as most Canadians do, I was pumped full of someone else’s patriotic pride every weekend with Schoolhouse Rock. They had the bicentennial, they’d gone to the moon, they had Skylab. Jimmy Carter was president and he brokered the peace between Israel and Egypt. It said, ‘we are influential enough to do this’. He signed deals with the Soviet Union limiting arms. It said, ‘we are strong enough to undertake this’. I didn’t know much about my own country yet, but a lot about theirs, and what I knew of theirs made me want to join. It was an ignorant sentiment, but for what it was, it was sincere.

As I grew up, I learned more about Canada, the things we’ve accomplished that don’t get that kind of press and fanfare, but important, humane, and impressive achievements that should not be forgotten or disregarded, but preserved and celebrated. And I do. Now I know who we are, and I can appreciate and cherish it.

Lately, there has not been so much about the US to admire. I don’t need to go into detail, I’m sure. For some time now, I’ve been thankful there’s a border. It’s been a strange, but pleasant feeling for the world to take some notice of us, our progressive and peaceful ways, and for us to have acquired a kind of cache, the cooler place to be in North America, while the US has grown to seem stodgy and insular, paranoid and conservative. It was getting easy to think the US was just past it.

I think that finally changed last night. For the first time in a long time, I found myself admiring the US… its dedication to its ideals and their realization. The promise was made long ago, but let’s not mince words – fulfillment was a long time coming. Still, people who can still remember things like the murders of Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King also lived to see an African-American elected president. I think you’d have to have a pretty arid soul not to see some beauty, some poetry in that. I don’t care who you are or where in the world you live, that’s got to mean something to you. Something hopeful.

Yes, envy. I said it. Nothing noxious; just enough that it ought to make folks down there feel a little swell of pride. Yesterday saw the biggest voter turnout in a century in the United States. There was a wave of destiny there that must have been like electing Jack Kennedy, or Pierre Trudeau here. It was a sense of really grasping the brass ring again. Not just words and a required election, but a chance to grasp change and hope, just when the US really needs it.

Compare this with last month’s Canadian federal election. A snap election, called by the same government that, just a couple of years ago, gave us regulation to ensure “fixed term elections” every four years (parliaments have a five-year term limit as it is) which it then itself frivolously abrogated at the cost, to a nation on the brink of a recession, of $300 million dollars. A cynical attempt to secure a majority government and five years of power to ride out the coming economic crisis. The result? One of the lowest (if not the lowest) voter turnouts in Canadian history, and yet another minority government, albeit a slightly stronger one. A more lukewarm reception to a more lackluster political event is hard to imagine in a genuine democracy.

So yes, today – if only for today, perhaps – it is easy to envy the United States, just a little. They have big problems up ahead, and the luster may come off quickly, but still, there’s no denying the beauty of the transformation of a nation, moving forward and finally making rhetoric into reality last night. My congratulations to the United States, and welcome back – I hope – to the family of nations again at last.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Slippery People

Slippery People
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate

Please don't grip my stick quite so hard

Yes, clearly, the idea of a firm, muscular beaver sings out to Canadian manhood. One powerful enough to snap your stick sets the heart to racing that much faster.

...Okay, yeah, I'm done. :)