Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 - the films I saw

I took in 59 2004 films, almost in all in the theatre and most on opening night. The films in bold constitute my top ten, excluding documentries. Films with asteriks are the ones that I will not see again. Some of them are terrible.

The hyperlinks are to the Rottentomatoes website. Films are rated out of 100, and only people working as film critics may become offical raters.

In some cases, my ratings coincided with the critics, but in several instances, our rating were incongruent. I liked King Arthur, but the critics gave it 32%. I disliked I Heart Huckabees, but the critics gave it 60%. They gave Closer 68%, but I really didn't care for it.

10-Jan Big Fish
29-Feb The Passion of the Christ
07-Mar Hidalgo*
14-Mar Spartan
20-Mar Secret Window*
21-Mar The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
28-Mar The Ladykillers*
03-Apr Hellboy
14-Apr The Alamo*
16-Apr Kill Bill Vol. 2
17-Apr The Corporation
01-May The Saddest Music in the World
08-May Van Helsing*
23-May Troy
27-May The Delicate Art of Parking
04-Jun Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
10-Jun The Day After Tomorrow*
18-Jun The Terminal
18-Jun The Stepford Wives*
11-Jun The Chronicles of Riddick*
30-Jun Spider-Man 2
01-Jul Fahrenheit 9/11
25-Jul I, Robot*
25-Jul The Bourne Supremacy
01-Aug The Manchurian Candidate
04-Aug King Arthur
07-Aug Collateral
14-Aug Alien Vs. Predator
21-Aug Festival Express
20-Aug Exorcist: The Beginning
27-Aug Hero*
12-Sep Cellular*
12-Sep Super-Size Me
25-Sep The Lobby
25-Sep Arna's Children
25-Sep Rana's Wedding
09-Oct The Forgotten*
09-Oct The Motorcycle Diaries
17-Oct I Heart Huckabees*
17-Oct Team America: World Police*
30-Oct What The Bleep Do We Know?*
13-Nov The Incredibles
13-Nov Finding Neverland
14-Nov Criminal
20-Nov Sideways
23-Nov National Treasure*
26-Nov Alexander
09-Dec After The Sunset*
11-Dec Ocean's 12*
16-Dec Closer*
18-Dec The Flight of the Phoenix*
24-Dec The Phantom of the Opera*
25-Dec The Aviator
28-Dec Man on Fire
28-Dec Dodgeball
29-Dec The Fog of War
30-Dec Dawn of the Dead
The Punisher

There were also many films that I didn't get to see, that I will have to rent.

Starsky & Hutch
The Village
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Shaun of the Dead
Along Came Polly
Mean Girls
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Before Sunset
Napoleon Dynamite
Friday Night Lights
The Door in the Floor
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
Maria Full of Grace
The Machinist
A Very Long Engagement
Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Thursday, December 30, 2004

DVD: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead 4/5

A group of mostly strangers end up hiding out in a shopping mall, amidst a massive outbreak of something that causes people to turn into zombies. At first, there are only dozens of zombies, but soon they horde around the mall in the thousands.

Across the street from the mall, on the roof of a building, Andy, the owner of a gun shop, hides out alone with ten thousands rounds of ammo. He and the shopping mall group communicate with each other using white boards and binoculars to read each other’s messages.

What’s the cause of the zombies? A preacher states that when hell is full, the dead shall walk the earth. Hell apparently gets filled up since people engage in all sorts of lifestyle choices that, while controversial, become more and more accepted by society -homosexuality, abortion, sex before marriage, etc.

The main actors are excellent: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Michael Kelly. Canadian Jayne Eastwood (The King of Kensington) shows up in what turns out to be a Canadian location shoot.

The funny scenes are few but look for one where the shopping mall group asks Andy to shoot certain zombies who look like celebrities, such as Jay Leno and Burt Reynolds.

The film doesn’t end where it you think it does. You have to watch through the end credits to see snippets of what happens next. Among the bonus material is a program that that is worth watching: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed.

This is an excellent film!

Boxing Day exploits

I crawled out of bed and made my way down to A&B Sound on Pembina, thinking it was going to open at 10 am. I got there around 10:10 and was surprised to see a half-dozen souls braving the cold. We began talking and I then realized that they weren't opening until 12 noon.

It was actually kinda fun lining up. The group in front of us were partying it up, getting people to take their photos since they were the first ones in line, etc.

I met four other people. One of them made a hot chocolate run and offered to get me one, which I gladly accepted and paid for. Two of them are engaged and kept on taking turns standing in line as one of them warmed up. After over an hour, I headed back to my car to enjoy the hot chocolate and warm up. I was poorly dressed with no hat or gloves since I didn't expect to be out in the cold. You can tell this was my first stab at Boxing Day shopping.

Toshiba 27AF44 27 in. Direct View Flat Screen Television

I actually wanted a $49 DVD player, but I changed my mind and bought a Toshiba RD-XS32 DVD recorder with a 80 GB hard drive for recording TV or video, etc. And, since my 14 year-old tv at home was losing its color, I opted to spend $298 for a 27" Toshiba 27AF44 flat screen tv. The Toshiba DVD recorder cost $499, and it was truly an impulse buy. One of the guys in the line up was planning on buying one and when I saw the small stack of them on the inside, I decided to buy one, even though I know that Blu-Ray DVD recorders are around the corner and will record way more data.

Toshiba DVD Recorder RD-XS32
Some features:
  • Toshiba RDXS32 DVD Recorder with 80 GB hard drive delivers up to 103 hours of recording
  • Hard drive allows for high speed dubbing; 12X max on DVD-RAM and 24X max on DVD-R
  • Record and playback videos in MPEG-2 digital video on either a DVD-RAM, DVD-R, or DV-RW formatted discs

I have everything hooked up now. My year-old DVD player will end up in the living room for my visiting parents to use. My old TV will go downstairs. And now, I have time to see if I will have buyer's remorse about getting the DVD recorder. I'm not sure how many hours of TV I can record on its 80 GB drive, but I guess I will find out.

What's the difference between Blu-ray and DVD?

Storage capacity 25GB 50GB 4.7GB 9.4GB
Number of layers single-layer dual-layer single-layer dual-layer
Laser wavelength 405nm 405nm 650nm 650nm
Numerical aperture (NA) 0.85 0.85 0.60 0.60
Protection layer 0.1mm 0.1mm 0.6mm 0.6mm
Data transfer rate 36Mbps 36Mbps 11.08Mbps 11.08Mbps
Video compression MPEG-2

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

film: The Fog of War

The Fog of War 5/5

In a year when documentaries made the type of headlines normally reserved for blockbuster movies, The Fog of War stands as one of the best.

The film is essentially about former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and his look back at the World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. His stint as the President of the Ford Motor Company is also highlighted since he went from there directly to the Cabinet of John F. Kennedy as Defense Secretary, after rejecting the position of Secretary of Commerce. In the film, he recounted how he met Kennedy in person but was reluctant to become Defense Secretary since he had nor training it. Kennedy replied that there also was no school for aspiring Presidents to attend, either.

Each chapter in the film is preceded by a “rule” that McNamara expands upon, with eleven in total.

McNamara gets a lot off of his chest, and says a few things that you wouldn’t expect to hear from someone whose career has been built around war and the efficient ways of killing people. At one moment, he asks the question about what makes it moral if you win but immoral if you lose.

Other interesting parts of the film include the story about McNamara meeting a Vietnamese General and clearing seeing that either side did not understand each other. The Vietnamese thought they were fighting the US to stave off becoming a US colony while what they really wanted to do was fight for their independence. Meanwhile, the US saw the war in the context of the Vietnamese becoming a Soviet asset.

McNamara also talks chillingly about how nuclear war was averted in the Cuban Missile Crisis by Kennedy listening to an advisor who told him to get into the mind of Khrushchev to see things from his perspective. Khrushchev was seen as a hero who prevented Kennedy from invading Cuba, which is what Kennedy hoped would happen. The ability to save face essentially saved the world.

It would be fascinating for Donald Rumsfeld, or any seasoned war expert, to watch this documentary then engage in a lively, open discussion about war, and the mistakes that happen. Now in his 80s and long retired from duty as the President of the World Bank, McNamara appears looks back with a sense of wisdom and history that most people caught in the middle of the military industrial complex, can’t relate to, because they are too closely tied to the action.

Reviewer James Berardinelli summed things up nicely, “If one seeks to find an overarching theme, it's that, even when dealing with intelligent, rational men, the baser parts of our nature often come to the fore. And also that we too often don't learn from our mistakes.”

It comes as no surprise that this film was an Oscar at the 2004 Academy Awards for Best Documentry. Director Errol Morris is also well known for The Thin Blue Line (1988) and A Brief History of Time (1991.) The release of the former resulted in the exoneration of man who was on death row.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

films: The Phantom of the Opera and The Aviator

The Phantom of the Opera 2/5

Directed by Joel Schumacher, a successful, mainstream Hollywood director, the latest film incarnation of the The Phantom of the Opera should appeal to the masses, but it left me a bit cold.

Christine, (Emmy Rossum, a chorus girl, is coached into becoming an opera lead by a mysterious, unseen musical genius who lives in the opera house, taking away a job from the obnoxious diva, played by Minnie Driver.

Soon, Christine comes to the attention of the opera house’s dashing young patron, Raoul, who also happens to be a childhood friend. As the two fall in love, the Phantom, her unseen tutor, falls in love with her, as well, and descends into madness, terrorizing the opera house if they fail to follow his written instructions for artistic direction, etc. The Phantom wants her but realizes that he’s in a hopeless struggle for her love. He was a circus freak due to his facial deformities, but managed to escape to hide out in the opera house, thanks to another young actress who became the guardian of the orphaned Christine, years later.

At times, I wished more of the dialogue was spoken rather than sung.

The sets are beautiful, several of the songs are well-known and catchy (if not cheesy), the Phantom’s lair is creepy and elegant at the same time, and there is a sense of gothic style that you would expect from this period piece. Still, the film felt empty, despite dressing up all the emotion in such exquisite splendor and song. See it if you must but don't have expectations of greatness or anything Oscar-worthy like Chicago, a superior film.

The Aviator 4/5

Chronicling the most passionate side of the mentally disturbed businessman, Howard Hughes, The Aviator, focuses on his innovations and business developments as he becomes a powerful aviation impresario, couched with his lapses of mental anguish and its peculiarities.

At the beginning, we see a young boy who looks too old to be bathed by his mother, but nonetheless, that’s what we see. She cautions him on germs and how his safety is at stake. This message is imprinted on his soul and it shapes his life to the extent that his becomes a virtual prisoner of it.

We see Hughes push the envelope and dream up innovations to enable aircraft to travel faster and higher. That part of his legacy, if accurate, was mostly unknown to me. We also see the flip side of having access to a massive fortune and the power that it brings. He buys people left, right and centre. In one scene, he had his people bring a meteorologist from a nearby university to consult him on when and where the clouds would appear that were needed for his film, Hell’s Angels. Upon meeting the professor, he informs him that he’ll double the university’s salary and make him an employee.

Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Howard Hughes was something that I had to warm up to. When the film progressed to the point where he began to sport a mustache, I began to see a resemblance to the real Hughes that was missing. Leo’s voice, however, doesn’t have the proper timbre to mimic Hughes, even with the phony Texan accent. One wonders who else could have played the role.

Cate Blanchett plays Katherine Hepburn, then, an established star. Blanchett’s performance might be nominated for best support actress since she is so convincing.

Other actors who have small roles include Gwen Steffani, Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, and Kate Beckinsale.

Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner.

Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn.

And, we go get to see Hughes pilot the famed “Spruce Goose”, the largest aircraft ever built, as one of the highlights of the film and of his aviation career.

Spruce Goose floats in Los Angeles Harbor on October 29, 1980.

The film ends without taking us to the point where he died in 1976, leaving a few decades for another film, if the rest of his life was interesting enough to warrant another one.

The Aviator is a highly watchable film. At times, watching Hughes meltdown and endlessly repeat himself becomes a bit tiresome, but overall, this is a fine film about one of the most fascinating people from the 20th century.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

new football stadium?

It looks like a toilet lid, but it will contain a waterpark, a football-shaped hotel, meeting rooms for conventions and the new home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football club.

Now, a day after this announcement, comes word that the Winnipeg Convention Centre is thinking of expanding and including its own waterpark.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

film: Flight of the Phoenix

Flight of the Phoenix 1/5

A plane encounters a huge sandstorm and crashes in the desert. The survivors have a limited supply of water and no hope for escape. But, then, someone has an idea – construct another plane using the broken one and fly everyone to safety!

By and large, the characters are not well developed or likeable. Dennis Quaid is once again, the crusty, grim jerk who no one likes. In one scene, we discover that a disgruntled survivor has trekked off on his own, which would result in certain death. This is the obligatory desert movie scene where our protagonist walks out into the blistering heat to find the survivor and return a hero…cue the dramatic music.

Giovanni Ribisi speaks up when all hope appears lost to suggest that he, as a designer of aircraft, can design a new plane that they can construct with the existing tools.

There is a twist involving the aircraft designer who is as arrogant and bullheaded, but also seemingly needy of praise. He clashes with the Dennis Quaid pilot character, but it and the small adventure with the local nomads provide too little spark for this lifeless, predictable drama.

Not a film that I would see again or recommend.

This is a remake of an apparently superior 1965 film of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart, and Richard Attenborough, about a plane that crashed in the Sahara.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

film: Closer

Closer 1/5

This film suffers from a poor script and some sub-par acting.

It starts out promising, appearing to be one of those films where strangers end up having their stories crossing one another with interesting ties emerging.

The most amusing scene takes place where an unwitting and bored doctor (Clive Owen) is chatting up “Anna”, a woman in a chat room. They arrange a liason and two people meet who were never meant to meet.

Natalie Portman’s performance seems too stilted as the film drags on. Julia Roberts looks dowdy and normal, as opposed to her regular glamorous self, but gives a solid performance. Jude Law is wimpy too animated while Clive Owen is downright manical and disturbed, especially as he tries to drag out the truth from his wife about her affair. There's a lot of relationship changing, enough to make your head spin, but it's not credible.

This is one of those films where your impression of it will largely depend on what you bring to it. I found it only mildly interesting at times and not good enough to warrant a second view or a recommendation.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I/ITSEC 2004 Conference, Orlando, Florida

The office sent three of us to the annual I/ITSEC conference in Orlando, for the third time in five years. I/ITSEC stands for the Interservice/ Industry Training Simulation and Education Conference. This event brings together military and civilian members of mostly NATO armed forces with industry and educational institutions to learn about the latest trends in modeling and simulation (M&S), and training, all involving a wide variety of information technologies. This year, 45 countries were represented with 300 Canadians out of 3500 conference attendees.

The Orange Country Convention Centre is comprised of two buildings. This year's I/ITSEC was in the West Concorse. If Chicago’s Sears Tower, 1,454 feet in height, was placed on its side, it would fit lengthwise inside the Orange County Convention Center’s exhibition space... including the antenna atop the Sears tower... the OCCC exhibition hall level is 2,500 feet in length... and all eight halls are contiguous.
The Valencia Ballroom is larger than a football field, including the end zones. This ballroom can hold up to 6,000 people at one time.
More than 50 miles of pilings have been driven into the ground to support the OCCC’s West Building. Ranging in length from 105-488 feet, the 1,105 pilings have been driven under Hall A. The average piling is 170 feet in length.

The Sears Tower held the record for the world’s tallest building for 25 years until the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia were built in 1998. The Petronas Towers are taller only because of their decorative spires, which rise to 1,483 feet from the ground. Nonetheless, the Sears Tower remains the tallest building in the world by at least three measures: 1) the highest occupied floor level (98th floor), 2) the highest skyscraper roof and 3) height to the top of the antenna. Including the Sears Tower antennas, the total height of the Sears Tower increases to 1,725 feet.

Pointe Orlando is an open-air shopping mall, located on the famous International Drive.

It's a lot of fun to walk around. I stopped off for dinner, a movie and a visit to the local book and record stores. One evening, we attended a private corporate event at the Wonderworks building. This is an amazing, upside-down building, chalk full of games of all types, including earthquake and toronado simulators. All the food and refreshments were free and the servers constantly fed us fresh finger food. I rode the rollercoaster simulator with a local businessman. You get strapped into this simulator and the ride follows the virtual rollercoaster displayed on a screen on the inside. It's absolutely insane! You really feel as if you are going through cork screws and the like.

Our hotel, the Ramada Inn, 6500 International Drive.

This is the recreation level of the Orlando Peabody hotel, one of the most luxious hotels that I've ever seen. We sat out here and sipped cool drinks by the pool. We also attended an inviation-only party here. It was wall-to-wall people and endless finger food, including pastas and shrimp. The room also came with a huge outside patio with a small pool and a band playing Caribbean music. Absolutely spectacular.

The Rosen Centre Hotel is an amazingly large, beautiful building. We attended a free reception here one evening. Just walking through this building, you are awed by its size. The hallways alone are massively wide and hold parties. The party we attended was packed, which is not surprising when free refreshments are around. There was another party a few nights later that I missed. It has about 1000 people and admission was free - you simply had to sign in.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

film: Ocean’s 12

Ocean’s 12 1/5

Despite the star power (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Katherine Zeta-Jones), this film is a convaluted mess. You simply can’t understand how the sub-plots work as part of the film.

There’s a scene that is stolen from the 1999 Zeta-Jones/ Sean Connery film, Entrapment, involving bypassing a moving light array security system.

Essentially, the film takes places over three years after the first one. Casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) tracks down all the members and demands payment in full in two weeks, plus insurance. That’s over 190 million dollars.

There is a valuable target, a Faberge egg (one was seen in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy),but an egotistical French jewel thief has challenged Danny Ocean to steal it first, to prove who is the best thief in the world.

Apart from a few laughs involving a Bruce Willis cameo appearance, this film is even worse than the 2001 remake of the original 1960 Ocean’s Eleven.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

tour: MTS Centre (new hockey arena)

Today, a few of us from work attended a document centre presentation hosted by IKON. They fed us lunch in the exclusive restaurant for box suite owners in the new MTS Centre. Following that event, we were led on a tour of the new arena, which opended two weeks ago. Two years in the making, it truly is leaps and bounds better than the old barn in Polo Park.

Events that have already taken place include:
The opening night gala with Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Chantal Kreviazuk and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 16
David Copperfield - Nov. 21
The Tragically Hip - Nov. 23
Rod Stewart plays here March 18, 2005.
34th Annual Juno awards Sunday April 3rd (Broadcast on CTV)

The MTS Centre will host approximately 100 events a year, with 40 of them being Manitoba Moose hockey games.

I didn't realize that the front of the arena, with the beautifal glass walkway, is actually open to the public and constitutes part of the famous indoor walkway in the downtown area. You can walk from the Bay to Portage Place, to the MTS Centre. Winnipeggers love indoor walkways in the wintertime.

There are baffles on the ceiling to absorb sound, to reduces echoes. The private suites, of which there are 50, are not glassed in enclosures. When you look at other arenas, these areas are typically glassed off. Glass reflects sound. The MTS Centre looks like it will be a great place to take in a concert. I took in a Sarah Brightman concert at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (their new arena) and the experience was more concert hall-like than arena-like.

The ice surface is actually 20 feet below street level. You get a sensation that the building is too small from the outside, but it's an illusion.

Some quick facts:
* Site dimensions 300' x 490' (147,000 sq. ft.)
* Building Footprint 131,000 sq. ft.
* Interior Area (all levels) 440,000 sq. ft.
* Club Seats 936 seats
* Lower Bowl 8812 seats
(includes private suites, party suites and club seats)
* Upper Bowl 6203 seats
* Private Suites 1032 in 46 suites
* Party Suites 88 seats in 2 suites
* Centre-Stage Concerts 16,345
* End-Stage Concerts 16,170
* Hockey/Curling 15,015
* Rodeo/Motocross 13,198
* Concert Bowl 2,200 to 8,097
* Women's 15
* Men's 12
* Main Concourse 6
* Upper Concourse 6
* Main Concourse 8
* Upper Concourse 15
* Four (connecting Portage Place, City Place, Somerset Building
and The Power House)
* November 16, 2004

Taxpayers contributed $40.5 million towards the total cost of $133.5 million, so you're a Canadian, you owe it to yourself to check it out. You helped pay for it.

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