Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Stories. Stories can be true. Stories can be fiction. If true stories are told often enough, over a span of time, they often become fiction. They can become a myth.

One such story was the Battle of Thermopylae, where, among other things, 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persian warriors until finally succumbing to the numbers. This is a true story but over time it became mythologized. Graphic artist/writer Frank Miller, a man who may well be a genius, wrote a book about the battle, well a book inspired by the battle. A book which I have never read. But eventually a movie was made based upon the book .. a movie where some of the Persians were monsters, there were witches and every Spartan warrior had such well defined six packs I'm sure their wives washed their clothes on their stomachs.

I grew up with the legend of the Spartans and that battle, there have been movies made about it in the past, some B movies, usually entertaining. Then there is "300" ... a B movie so horribly acted and poorly written that, during the viewing, I was convinced it was a comedy .. then I just became bored with it

Now we have the movie "47 Ronin" starring Keanu Reeves. A movie already on its way to becoming a huge financial failure and one for which I have yet to read a positive review. 

Like the Battle of Thermopylae, the story of the ronin is based on history, Japanese history of course, and has become so beloved there that it has entered into myth. Essentially it is a story of honour and vengeance: A medieval lord is tricked into offending a high court official, perhaps attacking him, an error so massive that he is forced to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. The lord's samurai become ronin, masterless, scattering across the land in shame. They want the shogun to believe that they have lost their honour but in fact it is a ruse; for two years they plot their vengeance, defeating the court official in a legendary winter battle. And although the ronin were justified in their quest for vengeance, in that their lord had been set up, they have no choice to eventually kill themselves.

This story has been fictionalized many times in Japan. The version most familiar to me was the movie Chushinguara from 1962

This movie, although it has the requisite spectacular battle scenes, focuses very much on the questions of honour and loyalty. Most of the movie is an intense drama of manners, basically, where the code of bushido is shown as entirely unyielding, even when treachery is involved as in the case of the lord, or when vengeance is justified as in the case of the ronin, the only possible outcome is death; and death by seppuku is seen as a kind of grace.

The new version of the ronins story is .. well .. different. If you've seen the trailers it's not giving anything away that, like "300", this version of an historical event has gone the fantasy route

I entered the movie theatre with some trepidation; was this going to be another "300"? The answer is no. Ronin is better made than 300 in almost every regard. It is better shot, the special effects are much better, it is incredibly more well acted and although the fantasy elements do occasionally seem awkward and forced, I was very happy with movie, irregardless of the terrible press it's getting

This is almost like a tale of two movies. Great liberties have been taken with the original story, that goes without saying. But we still have a benevolent lord betrayed by an evil lord, we have the seppuku, we have the samurai forced to become ronin, and we have the vengeance.

As I mentioned, the acting in this movie was very strong, the cast is mostly Japanese, in fact Reeves is the only gaijin in the movie. The cast is very very strong, with standouts being Hiroyuki Sanada as the leader of the ronin, Tadanobu Asada as the evil lord, Min Tanaka as the wronged lord and Ko Shiasaki as his daughter. The scene of Tanaka's suicide is very powerful, virtually void of dialogue as well as gore (a departure from most Japanese movies) and filled with the stoic, repressed emotion, that only a Japanese actor can seem to achieve.

But there is more to this story than that. We have good old Keanu. He plays Kai, a halfbreed who is much more than that. He is a halfbreed raised by mystical warriors who live in a forest where the ghosts of old people and abandoned children reside. These warriors worship a giant buddha, they make magical swords and they seem to be at least half bird. Right, here we go

Kai leaves this magic land and ends up in the court of our soon-to-be-slicing-his-guts-open lord. He is not a samurai but the lord favors him for his near magical abilities and the lord's daughter favors him for .. um .. er .. other abilities

Kai's abilities will come in handy, the evil lord is after his land and his woman and has in his employ a rather sensuous witch, a shape changer adept in the use of poison and ensorcelling and who has some very interesting hair; like Medusa meets Vidal Sassoon

47 Ronin is almost like two movies: The tale of the ronin, bound by their codes to both seek vengeance and to pay the price for it and the story of Kai, an outsider who rejected the magic of his youth and finds his place in the world by using it. The two stories don't always mesh perfectly but the strong acting and the beautiful cinematography hold it all together.

I still don't think the story of the ronin needs witches and dragons but this movie still maintained the rigid integrity of the original; men trapped in this code, a sense of honor that seems designed to lead them to ruin and a sense of loyalty that is blind and powerful and beautiful in its determination. I also very much respected and was surprised by the fact that this fantasy movie remained true to the ending of the original story.

The movie "300" was box office gold and has spawned a sequel. "47 Ronin" seems fated to sink quickly and leave an oil slick on the water .. and there is no honor in either of those fates.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Thirty eight hours without electricity. Or heat.

No internet, no DVD player, no furnace. No hidden cave filled with high tech crime fighting equipment ... OK, that may be some other guy

But you get my point

This was our experience during this week's Ice Storm. And yes, you Kingston dwellers, I know that ain't nuthin, I know that you all suffered through 32 years devoid of power or heat and beset by zombie Art Undergrads .. yeh you is all soooooooooo tough

But still

We got through the experience just fine and many were worse off than we. Having 40 pounds of blankets on your bed and a border collie made our first night quite comfortable.

As for the border collie in question, she seemed to think the whole thing was quite grand. This is a dog who takes a nap in the yard when it's below zero with snow on the ground. I think she was enjoying not have the TV or internet to distract us from what's really important .... ahem, that would be Miss Terra herself

Due to the severity of the weather I wasn't able to walk dogs so Miss Terra was denied going with me to the Dogtown park with all her buddies .. OK maybe not buddies but those other dogs whom she has learned to tolerate. I also didn't want to take her to the other parks we normally visit, places where she would catch frisbees, balls, sticks, small children with pizza smeared fingers ... Even the snow was coated with ice and I did want her running and jumping, she is a smart dog but the lure of anything airborn bleeds the caution out of her.

Instead, I took her down into the "green belt" that runs in the ravines behind my house. On her own, just going through the woods, Terra is surprisingly cautious. It was actually pretty beautiful, with the ice coating all the foliage

Terra of course saw all this snow and ice as just the perfect blanket on which to enjoy a natural "snack"

I know the situation was serious for a lot of people. Having no heat in - 12 C temps is not funny. Not to mention the icy roads and all the traffic lights out ... I went up to Finch and Dufferin, a very major intersection, three lanes in every direction plus left hand turn lanes and there were no police on duty to direct traffic. The police reasoning behind this ... they didn't want to get tired. Awwww. Guess they need to save up their baton swinging energy for the next G-8 summit

But let's not get all political. Back to some purty pictures

We got through the whole thing quite well and I'm thankful that Mayor Rob Ford was on duty to take care of us. When it's cold, Rob is your man. He's quite good with a lighter ...

Here's a little video, shot on the fly with our compact Panasonic Lumix cam, with which I took the pics as well
Toronto Ice Storm Dec 2013 from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Toronto is a city on a body of water. In fact, it's on a lake, a rather huge lake, a lake that some people would call Great.

This lake is filled with animals, bass and perch and trout and eels and lots of other things ...

Recently, however, new species of animals have been spotted by the lake: sharks and sting rays and jellyfish .. oh my

What is this the cause of all this: Pollution? Red tides? A sea life Diaspora?

Um, no ... all this sea life is by the lake, not in the lake, it's in the recently opened Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Collette and I have been excited about this place even before it opened. We've been to Seaworld and Bush Gardens in Orlando; we stayed at a hotel across the road from Seaworld and in five days we visited three times. We've also snorkelled on barrier reefs in Costa Rica and Belize so yeh, we is kind of into fishies

The aquarium is laid out as a kind of journey, as you walk through the building you pass through different marine environments. You start off in Canada, with a 665,000 litre tank filled with various Great Lakes fish; it's like Bass Pro Shop on steroids

From the Great Lakes you go through Canadian oceans; on the video you'll see a shot of the Pacific kelp bed tank, they have a simulated tide in which the fish hold themselves still as the motion bobs them up and down ... like couch potato fish. From the Atlantic, they had a display of lobsters, they came in more colours than I had anticipated

From the Canadian gallery we entered Rainbow Reef, representing tropical environments one would find in the Indo-Pacific regions. As I said, we've swam on some tropical reefs we recognized some of the fish, such as tangs and clownfish, lion fish and trigger fish

We did not, however, recognize the exotic creature below ...

Turns out this a sea mammal called Trudy .. well I don't know if that was here name, but she is one of the keepers at the Aquarium. Many of the exhibits feature regularly scheduled feeding "shows" where a diver is in the tank feeding the animals with another keeper outside to give you the highlights of the exhibit and answer questions.

The next exhibit was called Dangerous Lagoon; I was looking forward to this one as it seemed similar to something we had seen at Seaworld in Orlando. A moving sidewalk, they claim the largest in North America, takes you through a tank that hold 2.5 million litres of water and hundreds of animals, including 14 species of shark.

It's an immersive experience, you move through the tank, it's like a tunnel with the tank actually arching over you, where animals swim across, over your head, kind of makes you feel prey and yeh, couple of times I may have prayed just a bit

This "shark" tunnel compares very well to the one in Orlando, it may even be longer and it was exciting as the sharks swam by you, only inches away

Mind you, not all the residents of Dangerous Lagoon were so dangerous, and the survival of these other animals spoke to the dedication of the aquarium staff to keeping everyone well fed

One of my favorite exhibits was Plane Jelly. It was all things jelly, all the time. It featured an enormous glass wall, stretching far above my head, where Pacific Nettle jelly fish floated by you in enormous numbers; it was almost hypnotic and I was pleased to see that the aquarium had built benches where one could lose themselves in this jellyfish limbo

On our way to the next exhibit, Collette and I encountered an amazing animal that neither of us had before seen, even on TV, nor even heard of. The Leafy Sea Dragon. It's related to the Sea Horse but it was like something out of a fantasy movie or fairy tale; people stood there, transfixed, watching this delicate lacy looking creature float around

We ended our visit by going upstairs, where you could look down into the huge tank that is Ray Bay. There are ray in there, which you are encouraged to touch as they swim by and sharks, which you are discouraged from touching. All the rays in the aquarium have had their barbs shaved up ... huh ... are they Jewish?

Think about it

There is a lot more to this place than I've covered here. We spent about three hours there. You can whisk right through, but it's like a zoo, you can spend a lot of time just watching the animals interact.

If you're planning to visit I have a few thoughts:

TICKETS: Buy your tickets online. When we visited on the weekend, the line ups to purchase tickets were out the door. You can buy tickets for a specific day or, for a few dollars more, buy tickets that can be used on any day up to a year from the day of purchase

FOOD: This is the one area where the aquarium is rather weak. There is a single cafeteria with way too little sitting. The food is pizza and hot dogs and wrapped sandwiches, more snack than meal.

WATER: They don't sell bottled water but there are fountains in the bathrooms and in the cafeteria so just a bring a bottle you can fill up

CROWDS: As I said, the place was busy and I expect it will be on most weekends for some time to come. Generally the crowds weren't too bad but they did bottleneck in a few places, give yourself some time to let the crowds ebb so you can concentrate on the exhibits that most interest you

In general we were very pleased with our visit, this aquarium stands up very well to Orlando and Bush Gardens, falling down mostly in the food dept. Unlike Orlando Seaworld and the one in Niagra Falls it does not have whales or dolphins but that also means it does not have the shows featuring those animals and for that, I am glad

Well, you may get the chance to see a whale, a huge white crack snorting whale .. but that would just be our mayor

Here's the video
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada: First Look from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Friday, December 6, 2013


I have never used this space to talk much about my business or my work, this is more a space to opine (and opine and opine and opine) about my personal life but let's be honest, work and personal often intersects, these days more than in the past, I think. So let's take a dip into Vic's pool of working/not working/gigs old and new.

I recommend floaties .. and a dive mask .. and a full wet suit .. and a dry suit .. and sonar ... and a spear gun ... ok just dip your feet in the pool, you don't need all your toes anyways

A couple of years ago I made a decision to change my career path .. yeh right, editing live event videos at home in your underpants is a career ... I was making a decent living editing these videos but the business changed; I was working harder to make the same amount of money as once I did; when you work on a flat rate basis, that means you are no longer making a profit

Beyond that, I really wasn't satisfied doing that work, I'd been in that aspect of the business for a long time and although I could throw a tub full of philosophical ramblings in here, I had become bored. Couple that with the fact my profit margin was diminishing, it was time for a change

I'm quite lucky that I have a wife who is beautiful and intelligent and employed and incredibly dedicated to her work and I am equally thankful that she is rewarded for that. And I am speechless when this beautiful smart dedicated woman says stuff like "You need to stop doing that, you aren't happy, take some time, explore something new"

Yeh I know, I don't understand why she's with me either

So I decided to do two things: Move away from live event videos and get back to promotional videos which have always been my interest in this business. I also wanted to pursue the other side of the video world, the fictional side.

I also wanted to do more camera work, I've worked primarily as a writer and editor for about 25 years and I have these things in my closet with lenses and they keep crying for me to take them out to play ...

Over the past year or so I've done a couple of promo videos and made a few "creative" videos that I've entered into various film festivals with varying results. I enjoyed both endeavours but finding the commercial work has not been easy, could be something about living in one of the busiest production markets in North America. And also a city where they churn out graduates of video production courses like Tim Hortons makes donuts. And like Tim Hortons these eager grinning grads go cheap, way too cheap

That means, there's a lot of competition in this town

Making the film fest videos was fun but I found if there wasn't an actually film challenge, some kind of brief, I couldn't motivate myself. And there hasn't been an interesting challenge in a while

So I've decided to refocus my efforts; I seem to have this degree in Promotions, I almost mistook it for toilet paper but hey, maybe it has some value; I've begun my own campaign to promote myself on the commercial end of things.

One of the tools I'm employing is a website that I've designed. I am not actually advertising her but if interested check this out and tell me what you think. Opinions welcome, as long as said opinion Oh wow Vic that is the greatest thing ever and since I will never again view that level of magnificence, please gouge out my eyes ...

Or whatever you feel

I have problems loading the site on Safari, other browsers seem ok, let me know how it works


So, although I'm still in the video business, I've tried to expand my horizons as well. I've always said that if I have an interest or a passion, something I've carried for years, and if I get an opportunity to purse it, I would.

One of my longtime passions is dogs. I've never professionally worked with dogs but it's something I've long time thought about. There are many many businesses here in Toronto that provide dog services and a huge client base.

I call that an opportunity and I could no longer ignore it

For the past few months I've been working as a dog walker for a company called Dogtown. This is not dogwalking as I've seen it; either leash walking dogs on the streets or taking them to public dog parks. This company owns their own "park", a fenced in private lot dowtown My job is to collect the dogs, take them to the park and play with them for an hour...

Yeh, for me that's torture

And of course I have my own personal assistant, Miss Terra. She may not like sharing the back of the Subaru with up to 10 dogs but she thinks this private dog part thing is pretty cool

Here's a little video; please not all footage and pics shot with an iPod Touch
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