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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Riddle is solved

Chaos down to 8.3lbs this January from 18lbs (last March 2009). We have chalked this up to rigid proportion control which was started by Mr. Hippo last spring. Now the truth is revealed. The cat has Type II Diabetes. It was quite shocking to see her weight plummeted a further pound over the Christmas holidays. Then the tell tale signs of increasing voiding and drinking emerged in early January. A quick blood test confirmed the results and now she is has started a regime of insulin injections administered by me. Her kidneys are fine but I think she has suffered a little neuropathy as her gait is visibly altered. Her energy level however has increased noticeably since the insulin was started.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Looking for a refund on my Avatar ticket.

You may not be able to ignore the phenomena of "Avatar". The dedication of Cameron to this movie and the expertise of its execution are a credit to movie making. The movie generated the most amount of employment in Hollywood during a time of recession and now likely will generate the most revenue as well. These factors alone may be enough to secure a Best Picture Oscar.

I went into this movie with very low expectations. There has been so much publicity about this movie and how it may represent the future of movie making. One should always be skeptical when such hyperbole is spouted. Is Avatar the future of cinema? Certainly not the future I would have anything invested in. It is an imperfect offering of the 3D age.

The critique about a "1st draft script" was well justified. Stereotypical characters fill this movie : gun/violence loving military man, plucky army chick, greedy corporate type, noble savage. Sadly, even the gimmick of 3D adds no further dimension (no pun intended) to the members (chief, shaman wife, rival warrior) of the Na'vi tribe nor to the other members of the human cast either.

The dialogue is similarly unimaginative. The single moment of humor and wit lies in the name of the ore that is so precious: Unobtainium. Movies like Avatar are about the spectacle, that WOW factor. The thoughts, ideas and indeed the inner world of our characters should be demonstrated with actions. Instead, James Cameron reverts back to the "voice-over" from our lead man Jake. Very lazy storytelling.

The plot is equally unoriginal. A "white" messiah infiltrates the natives, thinks he can win them over, the baddies come along and our white messiah (painted bright blue now) comes to the rescue of the natives. You've seen this before in Dances with Wolves, Dune and even to some degree with District 9. That last movie at least had an interesting twist in its narrative. So Avatar is just another movie about the white man's guilt from plundering the riches of North America and destroying the native American culture. Yawn.

So, even with low expectations, I tried to enjoy the movie. This is movie that was suppose to be about the awesome experience of 3D. Like Jake being connected to his avatar via the pod, the audience should be similarly immersed into the world of Pandora. Our neuro-cortex would be bathed in the detail and colours of Pandora's fauna and landscapes, especially its extraordinary airborne mountains.

Even taken at its most superficial, the film doesn't offer is any real imaginative leap. Like most "Eden" fantasies (think Jurassic Park), we do encounter dragon-like dinosaurs, sabretooth like mammals, massive awe-inspiring trees with the weird insects. The film doesn't glow as its visionary palette is both conventional and narrow. Remember the visual effects of Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the soft hues and lighting effects that highlighted each scene. Cameron should be taking lessons from Peter Jackson here.

The 3D capture also can't seem to keep up with the action. The movements are often blurred and the motion is somewhat jarring. This unfortunately, all combines to create a nagging low level of nausea which started about 30 minutes into the film and culminated with a not unsubstantial retro-orbital headache by the end.

Perhaps the real innovation of Avatar is in the future of gaming but it certainly offers nothing to narrative cinema, creative storytelling, imaginative dialogue and thoughtful exploration of humanity.

I have no doubt that many will see Avatar more than a few times. I also have no doubt that many more such 3D spectacles are in the works. To avoid disappointment in enjoying a 3D spectacle, I would recommend you wait for a better production. Visually, the world of the Pandora is all undeniably dazzling. Ultimately though, it seems a soulless one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A fun movie and a fun weekend.

I was downtown with a colleague of mine (Red) to attend a conference on malpractice yesterday. It was well attended by nurses, doctors and lawyers. This type of conference usually leaves me feeling sick to my stomach and suffering from an paranoid that lawyers (and sometime patients) are always out to get doctors. I was most surprised to leave the conference without the need to reach for some Maalox or Ranitidine or a glass or two of wine. I am beginning to understand that providing a reasonable standard of care for patients particularly with regard to good communication and documentation go hand in hand with making a defensible case. More importantly, it seems that the MORE OB program may be part of the key to correctly systematic errors.

Dinner consequently at Nota Bene was a delightful experience as usual. Crispy chicken skin, Japaneses seabreem with shitake mushrooms, truffles and quail's egg, B.C. Black Cod with Chinese mushrooms and vegetables. My colleague shared the appetizer but had chicken breast and creme caramel.

Mr. Hippo is still recovering from his cold and is finally on antibiotics after more than two weeks of coughing and sneezing. Most surprisingly, I am still well. This weekend, we watched a really really fun movie for both the young and the old: The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I hadn't read the Roald Dahl book as a child but I suspect this delightful story had been adapted to the screen with the usual quirky Wes Anderson humour. The "dysfunctional" family theme of Wes Anderson's cinema is present once again....along with a lots and lots of hi jinx. In a world overwhelmed with CGI, this use of old school stop animation and nostalgic storybook atmosphere was a most welcomed change. The excellent voice performances of Clooney, Streep, Gambon and Schwartzman further animate the surprising adventures of Mr. Fox and his family and friends. I didn't just want to watch this movie, I wanted to climb in and play in it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I hadn't seen Fiddler on the Roof on the stage. I thought I remembered all the songs. However, I was left in tears by the end of the second act. Life for the Jews of Anatevka is hard and bitter but yet they managed to find some joy and celebrate it.

I too have made my own joyful discovery in Mr. Harvey Fierstein's performance. He inhabited Teyve, the milkman so completely I forgot about Zero Mostel's voice from the soundtrack and Topol's film role. This is not to diminish the efforts of Mostel or Topol but really to demonstrate the power of Fierstein's stage presence. His swagger, his personality, and in short his joy de vive enchanted the audience at the Canon Theatre.

There were also many strong performances from the remainder of the company particularly the daughters of Teyve. Mazel Tov to all.

In a second Jewish feature this week, I saw the Coen brothers' film "A Serious Man". Now, I have only recently become a fan of the brothers. A Serious Man follows the very ordinary troubles of Larry Gopnik in 1967 Midwestern America: his wife leaves him, his son is experimenting with pot, his brother freeloads off him, he agonizes about getting tenure, etc. He struggles to find meaning in his life and consults no less than three rabbis.

There is no discernible plot but that really isn't the point. Seeking to understand why we make the choices we make, what choices do we have, why things happen to us, how should we behave, and how to cope with the absurdity of human existence....that is just a slice of this black comedy. I also suspect the film is highly autobiographical (the Coens grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota) and highly reflective of the Jewish life in 1960s Midwestern USA.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Winter....really in 2010

Every year for the last few years, I have travelled out west to Winnipeg to see my in-laws. And every year, I seem to pick the frostiest part of the winter season to make the journey. Yesterday for instance, the temperature was -45 degrees Celsius with the wind chill. To be truthful, I don't think I could really tell the difference between -20 and -30 degrees Celsius. Cold is cold.

There was relatively no issue with checking in, my carry on baggage or security check in despite the new security relations stemming from the attempted Christmas Day bombing. However, I was taking a domestic flight. So, what's there do in Winnipeg? Relax in the great indoors, catch up with your in laws, drink, eat, drink, eat, watch a few films, catch up on my sleep....the best kind of holiday.

There is much to be said for seeing your in-laws once a year. Lots of merry making and lots of food and lots of stories. Mr. Hippo's father (Hippo Sr.) had news from his trip to Trinidad. This was his first visit back since he first left the island nation for England more than 50 years ago. He returned to bury his brother whom he hadn't really spoken too for many years too.

More surprisingly was the discovery of a nephew that Hippo Sr had never knew of. This boy was not only his brother's son but his cousin's son i.e. the nephew was also his second cousin. Many family secrets had been uncovered recently by another cousins' attempt to construct the family tree. For example, one uncle had fathered children with two sisters.

Secrets run in all families. This year, I discovered an estranged cousin of my mother's uncle who now resides in New Zealand. She has made contact with a few other family members including my sister. All this family time has peaked my interest into constructing my own family tree.