Saturday, March 28, 2015

A VERY OFFICIAL PANDA

It's been a few months, now, that we've had Panda

When we first got her, it was an emergency foster situation. Her owner could no longer keep her and was considering putting her in shelter. Well, folks, that ain't gonna happen. So we took her in and I contacted Border Collie Rescue who's mandate it is to find BC's forever homes

Trust me, it was hard slogging at first. Panda went to war with Terra, this dog has been through two years of unsettled environments and I think she just saw this other dog as an obstacle she needed out of the way. She was very aggressive towards other dogs as well, in dog parks, and exhibited the aggressive side of herding towards humans

Yikes

We worked and worked to make her settled and comfortable and to give her the structure, routine and positive reinforcement she needed. And it worked. Panda has become a settled, calm, very affectionate dog. A few issues to work through but they can be bettered. And Panda and Terra have become comfortable "house sisters"



Now that her anxieties have faded she has emerged as a smart, energetic, uber affectionate little girl. This is her home, we are her family and that knowledge has allowed most of her nervousness (where the aggression came from) to settle







We knew that we were going to keep Panda. We all put in too much work. Besides her aggression issues there was the food issue in that, in my opinion, her owner was giving her the wrong food. And there was food hording issues. And the issue of her having had to train herself to poop in the bathtub because she didn't go out enough ...


We knew that we were going to Panda. She has become our girl. This is her home. She loves it here and we love her. We informed her owner of that. But today, it became official. Border Collie Rescue contacted me to let us know someone was looking to adopt Panda (I had no idea her owner still had her on the site) Emphatically, without thinking about it, I told them No, we are keeping Panda.

So there is no doubt. Welcome home Panda

















Monday, March 23, 2015

SPACE OPERA: IT AIN'T OVER TILL THE OBESE SPACE ALIEN INTONES

So, my last post was about a movie called Jupiter Ascending, not a terribly great movie but an example of a sci fi sub genre called space opera.

One of the best movies I've seen this year was Guardians of the Galaxy, also an example of space opera.

So .. you see this is where this is going .. time for my list of favorite space opera movies.



So, to start let's define my space opera. Or my definition of space opera because, let's face it, it's all about me. Unlike outer outer space movies which I also posted about, Space Operas can take place on planets, the more planets the better but they should also have a strong space component, ideally traveling through space in some sort of ship. They need aliens, the more the better and the aliens could be good bad or both. Space Operas are adventure stories with a strong action component. A typical space opera plot device is the innocent planet bound hero(ine) who becomes exposed to, and involved in, some greater galactic story. Space Operas do not all have to employ this device but there should be good guys and bad guys and some sort of resolution

Space operas saw their screen debuts in the form or the old movie serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, were our square jawed clean cut American hero finds himself thrust into the broader galaxy to fight monsters and squirmingly ethnic alien bad guys. 

This post will focus on movies, not TV, except in those cases where the two are interwoven, such as a movie spun off a TV series.

I will not be discussing novels except perhaps to identify the source of a movie. I was, and still am, a big fan of literary space opera; fave authors of the past would include Edmund Hamilton, Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett and C.J. Cherryh. Contemporary authors would include the Iain M Banks, Peter Hamilton and Dan Simmons. But that is a post for another day, let's get to the movies

As always this is in no way intended to be a definitive list. I can only comment on movies I've seen and naturally it's just my personal preferences. These are my faves, not necessarily the best. If you hang in till the end and no of some movies you'd include on the list, please leave a comment and let me know.

This list is not necessarily in any kind of order.

STAR WARS:


Maybe the most significant space opera of a generation. For the sake of this post I will be including all three movies, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (and yes, there are only three, any thinking to the contrary would indicate your need to seek immediate psychiatric aid) so as to avoid redundancy.

These movies contain all the classic space opera elements: Luke Skywalker is a farm boy mired in his dull planetbound life who soon finds himself in the middle of a gigantic intergalatic turmoil. There are aliens, robots, space ships, many planets, heroes, villains, action .. and that most important, I think, of all space opera elements: sense of wonder. This is a phrase coined, I think, by the great Golden Age space opera author Jack Williamson. As we follow Luke on his journey across the galaxy to save the galaxy we experience that sense of wonder, a bit of wide eyed open jawed "holy spaceballs will you look at that"

STAR TREK:


I'm using here an image from the current J.J. Abrams Trek movies but I will be referring to all the films. Some are certainly better than others, my faves are both Abrams movies, Wrath of Kahn and The Voyage Home but I want to consider the entire franchise

Trek represents an important sub genre of space opera: military space opera. We still have our aliens, our ships, multiple planets but sense of wonder is often replaced with sense of paranoia and planetary alturism. Trek, of course, created one of the greatest aliens of all time: Spock and his inner conflict over his duelling human/alien identities, his conflict of logic vs emotion, is one of the greatest fictional creations in contemporary TV/film. Often copied, rarely duplicated

The best Trek movies, whether they be old or new, besides being action oriented, also include a true sense of humour. Much space opera is quite ernest and quite dour but as in most entertainments, humour elevates the art form

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY:


Speaking of humour ... this is a rather classic space opera that distinguishes itself from many others by levels of humour that range from slapstick to satire to parody to innuendo. But everything else is here. Earth boy Peter finds himself thrust into the greater galaxy; there are ships, lots of aliens, many planets, heroes, villains etc etc. In Rocket and Groot, two of my fave onscreen aliens and its planetary set pieces are some of the best I've seen. There is some nods to very classic space opera like Flash Gorden and Buck Rogers but as Rocket said "There ain't no thing like me except me"

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS:


Speaking of humour ... this is a space opera that is actually a homage to a western, Magnificent Seven, that itself was a remake of a Japanese samurai movie, Seven Samurai. Battle is a bit of a parody, with lots of tongue in cheek humour that is smart enough to never take itself seriously. But as a B movie, it works quiet well. A sentient starship, a communal alien and lots of action and planets. And John Boy. What more could you ask for

THE LAST STARFIGHTER:


Another space opera with many classic components. Lonely Earth boy, dreaming of something more finds it in the guise of a galactic war, one that can only be won with his help. The twist in this movie is that the hero is identified as the Savior of the Galaxy by his propensity for video games. Fairly cutting edge at the time and sort of prophetic if you've seen footage of military pilots operating drones

SERENITY:


Like Star Trek, this is a movie with origins in television, specifically the short lived series Firefly. It will add something if you've watched the series but it is not strictly necessary. This one does not follow the "innocent thrust into the galaxy" format. It involves a civilization of many worlds, Star Trek like conflicts, a band of scruffy space pirates and a young woman (the always worthwhile Summer Glau) with a big secret. Lots of action, dollops of mystery and some entirely unique dialouge that suggests a rich and deep culture by the incomporable Joss Whedon

STARSHIP TROOPERS:


The film adaption of one of the most famous space opera novels by Robert Heinlein. This is military sci fi with, under the direction of Paul Verhooven, a large dollop of social commentary. On the surface, hardcore stuff here: Evil bug like aliens, ardent undermanned human space marines, xenophobia, paranoia and a few other noias that don't come quickly to mind. Amidst all this Verhooven takes some broad shots at class structure and the economics of war

THE FIFTH ELEMENT:


This is a sort of hybrid movie with strong space opera elements (elements, see what I did there?) We have threads of tomb raiding, cyberpunk, dystopia ... but lots of aliens, starships, action and for once, some actual opera in a space opera. Lots of  humour here, some satire and just the wonkiness one would expect in the best Luc Besson movies.

GALAXY QUEST:


This is, of course, a flat out comedy and a tribute to Star Trek but it still works as a space opera in its own right.  Military starship, aliens good and bad, planets, action ... this movie works because it is more tribute than spoof. At the heart of it the film makers actual enjoy the art form which it parodies and the actors understand that; they are not afraid to drop their parody veneers and let their characters have a moment. And yeh, it's pretty damn funny

ALIENS:


Whereas Ridley Scott's original Alien was a haunted house horror movie transported to a spaceship, James Cameron's sequel certainly bridges more into space opera territory. Whereas most of the action does take place on one planet we have the baddest of all bad aliens, a strong military component, the suggestion of events affecting a larger universe of some totally kick ass action. So, like Fifth Element, a bit of a hybrid but it wears it's space opera roots proudly, I think

CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK:






Thus far, only one of the Riddick movies that qualifies as space opera. It is such a space opera, I think, that it may not have a very broad appeal. It celebrates it's grandly realized galactic civilization, its many alien cultures and its involved back stories. Although Riddick is certainly no wide eyed innocent (part of this character's appeal is his badassery) he certainly discovers that he has a grander scheme in the galaxy than previously thought. The art design here, at times, verges into the rococco which I found also in Jupiter Ascending. I love "futures" that hint at the past, some classic space operas have the hero handling a sword as well as a ray blaster and we find that sensibility in this movie as well

JUPITER ASCENDING:


As I noted in an earlier post, this is not a great movie. There are some real problems here and overall I would not reccomend it. But it hits all the space opera points so well I have to include it on this list. Human (or is she) Jupiter Jones leads a mundane miserable life until she finds herself taking a pivotal role in a grand galactic schemes. Aliens, space ships, ray guns, planets that include (ridiculously) Jupiter, villains that are too villainous for us not to laugh at, it's all here. Hey, as a kid I devoured space opera novels that were far from art, so flawed as it is, this movie hoves true to the art form


That's my list at this point. The success of Guardians and the attempt of Jupiter Ascending shows that space opera is alive and well. And of course, more Trek and Star Wars movies to come. So keep your hand on your space blaster, always have your mix tape at hand and look to the stars

And again, if you have a movie you think should be on the list, please use the Comments section to let me know













Thursday, March 19, 2015

JUPITER DESCENDING

OK kids, today's lesson is all about falling. Both literally and figuratively. And all found in the  film  Jupiter Ascending, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers

In the movie, Mia Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a Cinderella like Earth girl who "hates her life" and wishes for something bigger. As it turns out, as she is to learn, her actual life is so big, she kind of owns the Earth.

Also turns out that there are aliens who are humans who are sort of related to Jupiter who don't want her to own the Earth. So they try to do bad things to her. Like throw her off buildings. A lot. Jupiter falls. A lot

I don't know if anyone keeps these stats but it may be fair to say that Mila Kunis probably spends more time falling than any other actor in any single movie.

Luckily for Mila's character there are other aliens who were hired to find her for the aliens who don't want her to own the Earth but who decide that maybe she shouldn't be thrown off so many buildings and every time Jupiter falls, they catch her

The principle catcher in the movie is Cain (can there be a more overused surname in an action movies) a human-wolf hybrid planned by Channing Tatum. Cain is actually an interesting character, a former space commando now disgraced and turned bounty hunter who only needs to find a pack in order to find himself

What he falls is a cute Earth girl. Falling. So he catches her. He catches her because he wears a pair of anti-gravity boots. Jupiter calls them flying boots. No, Cain tells her, they are contra gravity boots that use displaced vectors off of objects to propel him. Bullshit Cain, they are flying boots

Well, to be accurate, they are like flying power skates. When he uses the boots, half the time Cain appears to be air skiing, the rest of the time he appears to be speed skating. In the Canadian version of the film Cain will be played by Wayne Gretsky. No, Tai Domi, because Cain can fight

The boots are a problem. They look ridiculous. Every time Cain is ardently fast skating to try to stop Jupiter from falling I giggled out loud. And I can accept a lot of inaccuracies in sci fi film but dude: When you are in open space, millions of miles from anything what the hell are your contra grav boots pushing against. Five minutes for icing and a totally fucking ridiculous idea

Tatum is good in the movie, as is Kunis. And there is the always reliable Sean Bean. He plays another former space commando who has retired to Earth to raise bees (I'm not making this up) The bees like Jupiter, they recognize that she is a queen and the swarm to her (not a bad concept actually) Silly bees though. They never do try to catch her any of the times she is falling

There are several villains in the movie, most of them related to one another and all of them somehow related to Jupiter. The main bad guy is Balem, scion of the most popular family in the Galaxy. He does not want Jupiter to own Earth because he wants to own Earth Not because he thinks Earth is pretty or that Earthlings are cute or even that he is addicted to Krispy Kreme donuts. No, Balem wants to own Earth because, well SPOILER ALERT he saw Soylent Green as a kid and thought, hell, there's an idea.

Thing about it. I'll give you a minute. Long enough for the space Zamboni to do a pass

The reason why Balem wants the Earth is another ridiculous idea that absolutely tortures our suspension of disbelief. Balem is also a problem because his portrayal bye Eddie Redmayne make the flying boots and treating humans like cattle seem like brilliant pieces of writing. He stinks. That's all I can say about it. He chews so much scenery he probably shits drapes

Jupiter Ascending is a big, good looking, nicely designed piece of space opera. It is chock full of plot and characters and make up and special effects and things happening. And falling. It's the kind of movie that if you poke it too much it falls apart. It is wonky and filled with nonsense but if there was some emotional connection, if there was an over riding sense of humour it could still work

The Chronicles of Riddick was such a movie. An elaborate, highly stylized space opera jammed full of story and back stories and larger than life characters. It is far from a perfect movie but for me it worked, held together by a compelling character, some well designed set pieces and an absolute conviction by its film makers, a vision if you will, that if you are able to not look at the thing too closely, it takes you on an entertaining ride

The Wachowski brothers did not seem to have that conviction. And this is where the other kind of falling comes in. These are the guys who made Bound, and the Matrix and Cloud Atlas. For me, pretty high mountain peaks. But they're also the guys who made Speed Racer. Free fall times kiddies, pack your parachutes

There are some things that work in this movie. The design is pretty yummy, the space ships and costumes and sets have a lovely, Victorian, roccoco feel that is like future Gothic. As I said, there are some good performances. And some tasty little notions like Cain's need for a pack and bees sense Jupiter's royal status

But damn, there is just a lot of flat out stupidity as well. Those fucking flying boots. And a sequence where Jupiter has to have her Galactic royalty confirmed on a bureaucratic planet; suddenly, from Gothic space opera we are shoved into out takes from Brazil. It's like we just landed in another movie not another planet. It sticks out and it makes no sense whatsoever. That, combined with Redmayne's annoyingly over the top performance almost makes me think the film makers was going for a spoof or a satire. If so, it doesn't work because it is not at all consistent.

There is also a problem with the titular character. As I said, Kunis as Jupiter aquits herself pretty well. She is largely low keyed and her comedy delivery is proven. And although Jupiter gets to have her moment of vengeance on Balem but overall she is just too passive. Her lovely, large doe eyes mostly watch stuff happens. The choices she makes are largely chosen for her and although she gets to kick a little butt it is indeed far too little and far too late. Guess all that falling just tuckered her out

The Brothers don't seem to know what kind of movie they were making. Sure, you can combine sci fi and romance and fantasy and adventure etc etc. But it has to have a direction. Space operas like Chronicles of Riddick and Guardians of the Galaxy knew where they were going so even if the road got a bit bumpy, we did not require a crash helmet to survive the road

Jupiter Ascending is so bumpy you don't need a helmet you need .. you guessed it .. flying boots

And a net. To catch that damn chick.







Sunday, March 15, 2015

YAY SPRING .... SORT OF

It's springtime! Or close enough. After the winter we had, we will take it

Yay, spring. Warm temps, melting snow, soft breezes and .. oh yeh .. mud

Mud. And two border collies.


This is what spring means when you have border collies. OK, dogs in general, but this long haired, mud running, mudpuddle rolling border collie .. times two






And this is what spring means when you have two border collies


Yeh it ain't pretty, you may want to look away



It doesn't get any better




So yeh. Spring, Yay.



Monday, March 2, 2015

TUNNEL? WHAT TUNNEL

"Good day Mr Kellar, welcome to the 156 1/2 Precinct of the Oblivious Police. Please take a seat"

"I can take it? For reals? Um, it's kind of sucky, do you have a couch? Can I take a couch? A nice recliner? Maybe a lovely ottaman. With a capital A. A Turk, I mean, not the footstool, always wanted my own Turk, just to ask him in Turkey, what do they serve for Thanksgiving Dinner .."

"Mr Kellar we are authorized to use deadly force"

"For you protection?"

"For you being a smart ass"

"Fuck, I'm doomed!"

"Mr Kellar we're here to talk to you about the tunnel"

"The tunnel? Look it's not my fault Ok, my Mother ran a hot dog stand, inside a train tunnel, in Bangcock ..."

"Mr Kellar I have taken out my pistol"

"Slow down Bubba, you should at least buy me dinner first"

"Mr Kellar we want to talk to you about the tunnel, the one we discovered in the woods near York University, near the Rexall Centre, where they will be staging events for the Pan Am Games"

"The events are staged? I knew it! That's the only way to explain Togo Togo winning the Team Synchronized Duct Cleaning Event three games in a row"

"Mr Kellar have you ever before been shot in the scrotum?"

"No"

"Huh, I find that surprising. Now, let's get back to the tunnel"

"Which tunnel"

"The tunnel you dug in the ground"

"I never dug a tunnel"

"Mr Kellar we have you on video"

"Do I look good? Sexy? Would Brad Pitt gouge out his eyes in envy?"

"You look like you were digging a tunnel"

"Which tunnel?"

"The tunnel you dug near York University"

"York has a tunnel?"

"It does now"

"Wow, classroom shortage eh"

"Mr Kellar why did you dig that tunnel"

"Did you want me to dig a tunnel? You're a little obsessed about tunnels. Have you ever seen a therapist?"

"Mr Kellar you may have to see a doctor"

"Why is that?"

"Because I may shoot you in the scrotum"

"Wow, been a while since you dated eh"

"Let's get back to the tunnel"

"We're going to a tunnel? Can I take my chair? After all you gave it to me"

"Why did you dig the tunnel"

"For my own personal reasons"

"So, Mr Kellar, let me get this straight, you go on to public property, you spend several days digging and excavating and hauling dirt and running heavy equipment and digging this huge tunnel and you tell me you did for personal reasons and you expect me to just let you get away with that?"

"Yes"

"Ok then, you are free to go"

"Awesome! Can I take my chair?"

"Mr Kellar I'm loading my pistol"

"I see, well I'll leave you two alone, should I dim the lights?"

"They don't pay me enough to do this job"





Friday, February 27, 2015

A STAR HAS FALLEN

They will be toasting him tonight. At Starfleet Academy, at various military outposts on various grimy worlds way out there at the edge of the galaxy half forgotten, and of course on that great ship; old and battered but more storied than any other, they will be toasting him. Officer, Friend. Legend.

They will not be toasting him on his homeworld. Such affection may not be considered logical. But they will acknowledge him, they will have a place for him, if not for the memory of his companionship but for his achievements He was not always one of them, not purely, but through his actions he proved himself and proved his worth to this most prosaic of cultures

It will not be just Starfleet and Vulcan that will miss him, that will acknowledge him. All over, on many worlds in many languages, they will know him. They will know about the one who was different, the one who was conflicted, torn between two kinds of existences, two kinds of reality. The conflicted one,  who like them in all their various ways was not perfect, was not well defined, who could not be categorized; yet he still moved forward, he still found a way to succeed, who defied both sides of his own nature to become not one thing, not one or the other, but who became himself

That is what they will remember, as they move their own lives, trying to find who they are, trying to find their niche and sometimes failing, trying to deal with all those who demanded of them "Who are you, what are you, which one are you" They will think of him and how he just became himself

And that self became a legend.

Leonard Nimoy was not Spock. He told us so. But then later on he knew that he was. He told us that as well. He was a man of may talents, a man of many things

But he was Spock. And Spock was more than the pointed ears and the raised eyebrows. He was a character torn between two destinies. And through the long on screen life of that character came to realize that his destiny was his own. That his flaws made him stronger than his strength and damn, he had some kind of strength

A star has fallen today. But there is no void in the galaxy. Because that star's gravity was so great, its affect will be felt for a long long time

RIP Leonard Nimoy. You will live a long time in our minds and our hearts and we shall be the ones who will prosper






BLITHE SPIRIT: WHAT I LEARNED FROM NOEL COWARD

Noel Coward was a pretty smart fella. And also a pretty talented one. Playwright, composer, singer, actor, director, raconteur, he may have been the guy for whom the term "rapier wit" was coined.

This past weekend we attended a new production of Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It is a comedy of manners involving a married couple, a deceased wife, a medium, a seance, a clumsy housekeeper and a rather impish ghost. It is damn damn funny but there were lessons to be gleaned from it. So here is what I learned from watching Blithe Spirit

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR: In the story, Edith and Charles are a happily married couple. Urbane, sophisticated and as dry as their martinis, they are the quintessential Noel Coward couple. Lots of silk with some lumpy gravel underneath. They have both before been married, Charles first wife, the young and vivacious Elvira, having passed away several years earlier. As the play opens, the couple is hosting an evening of entertainment and Edith pesters Charles for details about the dearly departed Elvira and their relationship. Yeh, that's a problem. The entertainment, you see, is going to be a seance

THE SEANCE OF SILLY WALKS: The medium who the couple invite to their country estate is called Madame Arcady. Not only have the guests in the story come to see Madame Arcady, but so have we. You see, in this production, Madame Arcady is played by Angela Lansbury. Yes, that Angela Lansbury. Ms Lansbury has been in the acting game a very long time. She achieved her greatest amount of fame in Murder She Wrote, playing an elderly character. The actress we saw on the stage is supposed to be 89 years old. Yeh, right. Her delivery was a sharp and perfectly timed as you could want and for all Coward being a writer of incisive language, the physical was not lost on Ms Lansbury. As Madame Arcady enters her trance to perform the seance, she is overtaken by a series of jerky, staccato movements that propelled her across the stage. At one point she hooked one leg over the other and began a series of long limbed glides. Yes, it was the seance of silly walks

THE GHOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST DOESN'T ALWAY MAKE THE BEST HOSTESS: Let's cut to the chase. Quite against her will, Madame Arcady manages to conjure up the ghost of Elvira. At first, she can only be seen by  her husband Charles. As hilarious as Angela Lansbury was, Jemma Rooper as Elvira is a standout. She is a very bratty ghost, quite enjoying Charles discomfort and taking every opportunity to indulge in a naughty, cheeky haunting.

TWO WIVES SOUNDS GREAT UNTIL YOU REALIZE THAT ALL MORMON MEN ARE PROBABLY INSANE: Ok, this is not your normal polygamal arrangement. A wife and a ex wife, one of whom is dead. And you are the only one the dead one can see. That sounds perhaps a bit kinky until you realize that the dead one wants you dead as well, so you can be together forever. Yeh, there may be a flaw in this plan

THE AFTERLIFE MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The wife and the ex wife together .. but both now dead. Yeh, two ghosts. Oops. They can now see each other and they both see you and Charles, you gots some splaining to do. This isn't till death do you part, this is we're dead, live with it .. or not. It gets confusing. But pretty hilarious

IT WAS THE MAID, IN THE PARLOUR, WITH AN ECTOPLASM: In this very strong cast there was one more standout, Charollette Parry as Ruth, the maid. At first we were completely entranced by her fine sense of physical comedy. A tiny woman of limited words who moved way too fast, when reminded to slow down, she affects a kind of slow mo Frankenstein shuffle. But there is more to Ruth than hilarious slapstick. Trust me, it's always the servants

And the final lesson gleaned from Blithe Spirit:

Whenever Angela Lansbury walks on to the stage, you damn well better applaud


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