Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NOAH: THEY DON'T MAKE THE BIBLE LIKE THAT USED TO DO

So, since Christmas, Collette and I have watched two biblical epics this year ... and that's more than we've watched in the last ten years or so

During the Christmas break we decided to clear about 10 hrs from our schedule and watch a remastered Blu Ray version of Ben Hur. OK, it didn't take 10 hours to watch it, we paused it to make popcorn


Now I'm sure if this movie actually qualifies as a biblical epic. It tells the story of Judah Ben Hur, an Israeli noble during the time of the Roman occupation and the rise and subsequent persecution of the christians. Hur, played by Charleton Heston, finds himself on the wrong side of both these events and in one of the movie's pivotal scenes has a personal interaction with Christ

More recently Collete and I went to the theatre and watched an unabashed biblical epic, Noah, starring Russel Crowe

Noah tells the story of ... wait for it .. Noah and the Great Flood and the Ark. Yeh, consider that a spoiler. 
Noah is a very Old Testament movie, filled with violence and chaos and magic and implied incest. The world of Noah is chaotic, it's a world created by a deity and then abandoned by said deity because humans were acting, well, like humans and kind of not paying attention to the big invisible dude in the sky
We all know what happens then. Yup, go get your snorkel and your floaties


The movie is kind of packaged as a visual spectacle and it has some of that. The scenes where the animals make their own way to the Ark and the initial moments of the Flood are handled extremely well. But there are also some visual moments that seem jarringly inadequate; important characters in the story are a group of angels who have been cast down to earth by their creator (yeh this guy is cranky what can we said) and quite frankly, their depiction seems like something you'd see produced in a high school media class. Actually, they reminded me a lot of Ray Harryhausen stop motion work from some of his minor B movies back in the day


Yes that thing pictured above is a Fallen Angel, one of the Watchers who help Noah build the ark. Yes, it's a rock monster.

Noah tries to tackle some of the issues that his story floats upon: The question of who gets to live and who gets to drown; the obsession of a single man that on one hand allows him to save his family and all the animals on the other planet and on the other hand gives him license to put said family in some very personal danger


Ben Hur is a story built upon the back of some very big events: The Roman occupation and enslavement of an entire culture and the coming of the Messiah. The movie starts out with a very old school, very heavy handed telling of the birth of Christ. It is onerous and clumsily staged and sort of reminded me of those old NFB documentaries we were shown in school

I almost stopped watching the movie right there but once we get past that, we are brought into the store of Ben Hur and his friend the Roman Centurion and his family who are put into some very real personal danger. What makes this movie work is that we are told about these momentous events by following a man and his love and regret and growth, Heston's incredibly dedicated performance and a script that allows him to grow, keeps us in the story


Noah works best when it keeps us following the characters and their growth. There are some absolutely stunning performances in the movie from Crow (one of the best things he's done) to Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, to Emma Watson in one of the best things she's ever done


Ray Winstone plays the movie's counterpoint to Noah. He is a king, an ungodly (literally) king who challenges Noah's right to the land, his right to the Ark and his right to select who is to live and who is to die. The king is big and gruff and menacing and expresses himself largely through a series of grunts .. a perfect Ray Winstone character


In some respects this character is presented as a villain. We know this because he likes to hunt, kill and eat animals (sometimes without the need to cook them) and this behavior seems to shock the Noah family. I think Vegans and/or PETA influenced this script. That is not the only reason why I kind of emphasized with the king; Noah is so fucking sanctimonious that I really hoped Ray would cut off his body parts and use them as movie snacks

In Ben Hur, once we get past that awkward pretentious opening, the story concentrates its strong characters and their reactions to all these big events that have gotten a hold of them. Noah has a lot of preaching to do and it does so in the same kind of awkward, NFB inspired set pieces as the opening of Hur but it keeps doing so, all the way through the movie

Trust me, these scenes are squirmingly awful

Ben Hur stood up quite well decades after its initial release It's an old school movie to be sure but the performances are powerful and the story telling straight forward and compelling. Noah has some very effective moments but the film making is, quite honestly, wonky. Hey, I like wonky. I adore the movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou but that film is wonky beginning to end. Noah kind of morphs in and out of its wonkiness, it's as if the prime director and the second unit director really never met each other .. or read the same script


Noah is a movie you may want to catch some time in whatever format you watch movies at home. The performances really are great. But it does not benefit from a "big screen" showing. Though it's always pleasant to hear Ray Winstone grunt in Dolby sound surround






Tuesday, April 15, 2014

THE NEWEST WEDDING DESTINATION

Ok this one is strictly for the Game of Thrones fans

Westeros is a place of magic and beauty and gosh, they do enjoy their weddings ...

Currently Lord Tyrion is struggling, as Master of Purse, to balance the kingdom's budget.

Well, I was I have a degree in Advertising and I was in the wedding business for years so I came up with a way to help out the Imp and Westeros

So I came up with a little "pitch" video

Friday, April 11, 2014

YOUR REALITY IS BEING PACKAGED

You know what packaging is.

When you want to buy a single pen and you go down the pen aisle in the office supply store and you are face with this huge wall of ... stuff. So colorful, so beladen with stickers and titles that you barely know at what you are looking. You take one down to see if it's a pen at all let alone the kind of pen you want you the package is huge in your hand, a big piece of cardboard surrounding a bulking blister of plastic in which the pen resides, looking small and fragile and very much like some deprived prisoner in the high tech prison of some future dystopia

Damnit, all you want is a pen. So you purchase the thing and take it home and you really want to write something with that pen but now you have to free the prisoner. It ain't gonna be easy pardner. You have to rip that cardboard to get at the blister then fight your way through all that plastic

You will need a knife. And a chainsaw. And a plasma torch

Damnit, all you want is a pen

That, my friends, is packaging

And that is how most of our electronic media is now being presented to us: Packaged. Heavily packaged. So much plastic and cardboard and stickers and titles, it's difficult to see exactly what is being packaged in the first place

Be it that missing airliner of the death of finance minister Jim Flarety, our reality is being packaged. And quickly. Flarety died the day before this post was written and already this morning the fact of the man's passing is wrapped in several layers of packaging: Music, graphics, still, motion graphics, voice over clips ... Oh, were you people looking for a pen? Here, look here, look at all our shiny packaging, your pen is here!

This is how it works: Once upon a time you could go to the media store and there weren't that many shelves; a shelf for paper, a shelf for radio, a shelf for TV. And on those shelves, there weren't that many products. The paper shelves were usually full, lots to choose from there. But for radio and TV, not near as much. No need for a ton of packaging, take your time, browse

Much different today of course. Lots and lots of shelves, the paper section is diminishing but the electronics area, well aren't we a boom business. Lots of need for loud, huge packaging to capture our attention. And not just to bring us to a single electronic station, but each story itself is being packaged as most new media allows us to focus in on a single item

Gosh, however will we get our message to people? Will we work hard, due our due dillegence, dig and investigate and disill and try to get to the meat of the story .. or shall we just invest more time in packaging than we do on reporting. Yeh, let's do that, we don't care how good the product is, we just need to get it viewed

I don't have a lot of time for packaging. And what these purveyors of media porn don't seem to understand is, all this choice that makes them so frantic to get my attention, means I can choose not to even touch their packaging. I see that big blister of package, think about how much time it would take me to get to the product and I just move on to the next shelf

And of course,  you are browsing right now. This post is a product. The product is my observation and my opinion. It's no more credible or relevant than any other but I want you to look at it nonetheless. So it's been packaged, in the form of this blog

I know,

All you wanted was a damn pen




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A SLOW SWIM THROUGH THE AQUARIUM

Another trip to the aquarium, another video and of course more pics from Collette


On our previous visits, the octopus in his cylindrical tank was rather lethargic, this time he was quite peppy, I suspect it's some kind of union contract thing


No visit to the aquarium is complete unless you go through the tunnel that winds its way through the gigantic 1 million litre that is filled with sharks and fish and rays .. oh my!


On my end I decided to do something different with my footage this time around. My new camera records HD video in a variety of formats and frame rates. Standard video frame rate is 30 frames per second (fps), cameras like our Nikon DSLR can recored at 24 fps, the frame rate of film, trying to achieve a more "film like". Whether or not this is so, is a debate for another time


My Sony can also record at 60 fps, double the frame rate of normal video. The advantage of this frame rate is for slow motion. In my editing program I can "slow" down any video, but it is not always successful; without more filters and other work, the slo mo can come out jerky. Recording it at a higher frame rate, in theory, allows you to slow down the video and keep it sharp and smooth.


I have found that shooting at the camera's highest quality setting, at 60 fps gives me an incredibly sharp image with excellent overall saturation. This time I decided to edit the entire video in slow mo. All the shots in the video below was rendered from 50% to 30% of the normal speed.

So here is Ripley's Aquarium slowed down .. take your time. Enjoy it

Ripley's Aquarium: Let's Go Slow from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.





Sunday, March 30, 2014

CHICAGO: SHOW BIZ IS MURDER

The women are beautiful, the women are sexy, the women have spunk and humour and they can sing and strut and dance. They want to be stars, for a period of their lives they are stars and their desire to remain stars drives their every action. Their personality and talent and sexiness means that we want them to be stars as well, we follow their journies and we root for them

Oh yeh. One more thing.

The women are murderers

This is the world of Chicago, the Tony award winning musical currently running in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre.


This play has been around a long time, it has been to Toronto before, but Collette and I have never before seen it. I did see the screen version many years ago; I enjoyed the movie very much and vowed that if ever returned here, we'd see it

Est voila

Chicago is the story of Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly, two showgirls during Prohibition era Chicago who gain fame not for their gams or their voices, but for the murders that land them in the Cook County jail. Velma is the elder "stateswoman" riding her tabloid fame to an acquittal and vaudeville tour .. both elements highly hopeful. Her reign as Chicago's most darling murderess is spoiled by the arrival of Roxy; younger fresher and with the blood of her lover fresh on her hands

Both women are represented by snake oil salesman (they call him a lawyer) Billy Flynn, who promises to get the women off their charges and on their way to fame. As he sings in his first solo, Billy does everything for love ... love here defined as 5,000 dollars

The play follows the two women in their quest for an innocent verdict and fame .. whichever comes first.

I remember Chicago the movie as being sexy and the stage version definitely does not shy back from that. The dancer's outfits seemed to have been designed by the strip club outlet of Victoria's Secret and the choreography is by Bob Fosse .. don't really need to say anything more


The play is way funnier than I remember the movie being; the film went for more pathos, there is some of that here, particularly in the character of Roxy's cuckoled husband and a Portugese showgirl/prisoner, but mostly the show goes for laughs and it gets them easily.

Bianca Marroquin as Roxy is a revelation; the woman can sing and she can dance but she is also an incredibly gifted physical commediene. Her facial expressions and body gestures are hilarious, she's like Lucille Ball in heels and stockings ... but with a better singing voice.

Equally effective and physically gifted is Terra MacLeod as Velma. She knows how to play to the back of the house, she has legs that go on for a month or two and her timing is impeccable. When the two women perform together you understand what the term "showstopper" means

The real surprise here is Elvis Stojko as Billy Flynn .. yes that Elvis. The figure skating Canadian dude.  His Billy is oily and arrogant, he wears his vintage suits with aplomb and there is an awful lot of strut in his walk. His singing voice is perfectly stage worthy and he uses it with a lot of confidence


C. Newcomer takes the small yet important supporting role of gossip columnist Mary Sunshine and turns it into something .. memorable. Trust me on this. One of the most surprising soprano's you've ever seen

As I noted this a Fosse choreographed show so the dancers are an important part of the production. They play multiple roles, are almost constantly on stage, and provide laughs, vocal support and sex appeal with such aplomb I swear the stage was melting


If the skilled and sexy dancers melt the floor, Carol Woods, as the jail's matron, blows the roof off with the most powerful voice in the cast. She also holds her own quite well in the comedy department.

The two performers who bring a touch of pathos to the show are Thomas Bevan as Roxy's sad sack husband a character so unremarkable he refers to himself as Mr Celophane and Naomi Kakuk as Hunyak, the one showgirl/murderer who does not live long enough to be a star and who's only command of English is the phrase "not guilty" and that, and not enough funds to hire Billy Flynn, does not bring you justice in Chicago

There is some social commentary here, about the pay for play legal system, about fame, about what our culture sees as important but that's all in the background; in the foreground is a hilarious, beautifully danced, well acted musical with a lot of moments and numbers that had the audience belly laughing and  cheering.

Chicago has come to Toronto. And it shows us that in the Carl Sandburg's city of the big shoulders, show biz really is murder




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

YOUR TRAGEDY HAS BEEN SCRIPTED

So today, as I'm puttering in my office, I'm flipping through the channels on my TV as I'm looking for something inane to watch, to have on as sort of background noise

Well, inane I found

It was one of those satirical mock news shows, like Stephen Colbert or John Stewart. Like those shows, they were using an actual well known news story as the jumping off point to poke fun at modern journalism

The stor was the missing Malaysian airplane. The one about which we know little: Someone on board deliberately (they think) shut off communications and diverted the plane from its original course. Beyond that there a few salient facts

But here on this satire show the hosts were mulling over theory after theory, flinging all kinds of speculative crap against the walls and not caring if any of it stuck. The "experts" they assemble are just journalists with no background or credentials and generally just yelling and wildly gesticulating over one another not to make a point, but to just gain face time on TV.

Chuckle chuckle

The "host" of the show is an actress and she does a great job of playing the role of what a female news anchor should not be; emotional, weepy, responding to tape of a mother crying and wailing by pressing her hand to her chest and staring out at the audience to say "It just breaks my heart" As if any journalist, of any gender, would make such a proclamation

Guffaw guffaw

The scene with the mother is real; she is at a press conference, surrounded by what appears to be hundreds of camermen as she is encouraged to ramp up her grief; this is TV mother, your words are not enough, could you possibly throw your hands up and toss your head back and maybe scream for us? The woman does indeed do this and the camearmen crush around her, enveloping her, literally knocking her off balance. As the poor woman is pushed to the floor the cameras follow her down so that she completely disappears

Back to the set of the fake news show the anchorwoman does not take this opportunity to critisize the media for not only ramping up the emotion but disregarding the mother's emotional and physical safety. Instead, sticking to her script, the actress presses both hands to her face, readies herself for her close up by biting her cheeks to get the tears welling and proclaims "Oh the tragedy of it all, that woman's scream will haunt our viewers for a generation to come"

Holy shit, some venomous, acid blooded satirical master penned that scream. Chortle chortle

I admired this show. By taking everything to a ridiculous level, by presenting journalists as profit whores who's only interest is to keep eyeballs on the screen with wild speculation, by outright lies and by doing what a journalist should never do .. by telling us how to feel about a story instead of us giving us data so that we can sort our our own response, and by encouraging real journalists (ie the cameramen and reporters at the conference) to influence the course of the story .. this brilliant satire shows us how a news program can go terribly terribly wrong

Golf claps all round

And the title of this clearly fake, satirical, made up TV news program? CNN

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ashes Linger

Ashes fall. Sparks rise upwards

I walk here where I have always walked. The place is always the same. It always changes

Dry pavement under my feet; rain slicked with street light calligraphy captured within; carpeted with brown leaves; hemmed by dirty snow

The place is always the same as it changes

I am changed as I remain the same

I walk forward into the wind; it pushes against me as I move into it. It pushes me back as I move forward

Time rushes towards me. I move into it. It pushes me back

I duck my head, hook my thumbs into the pockets of my jeans. I don't close my eyes, I want to feel the wind against my face, cold and sharp and filled with the scents of rain and snow and ash

Ashes fall

Wind skirls the ash around my legs. I walk through it. As I walk through the ash it is light and alive and it moves around me it swirls around me it touches me it embraces me it brushes against my face

As I move on I leave the ash behind. It settles behind me. Quiet. Still. With time it will show no evidence of my passing

Time rushes towards me, I feel it against me, it touches my face. It lays silent behind me

I hunch my shoulders and brush the hair out of my face

Sparks rise upward

Bright and sharp and twisting I smell the fire and the heat but it does not touch me, I do not feel it. It surrounds me. Swirls around me. Barbs of lambent light that etches shadows across my face.

I do not close my eyes

I pull my collar up around my throat. I walk on

This place is changing, it will always be here. Time pushes against me, it flows around me, it pushes past me

Behind me it is still and quiet with ash

I wait for the rain to come. To wash away the ash, sparks falling and dying in the rain.

I pull up my hood and turn my head slightly. Cold rain stings my face. The rain smells of ash

I walk on.

This place is always the same as it changes




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