From the archives: April 2004

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Fifteen Minutes Keyboard Rambling

Tuesday, 13 April 2004 — 10:54pm | Jazz, Music, Pianism

So for the first time this playoff season, I miss a Flames game, and it turns out to be a very watchable 4-0 drubbing in their favour. But if they keep on playing like this, I will have plenty of chances to watch them again.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is running a massive online poll in preparation for a future television feature, asking: Who is the Greatest Canadian? I may be alone in this, but my pick is Oscar Peterson. It really comes down to this: who, as a person, would I most like to be? Among the profiled suggestions, it has to go to the greatest jazz pianist of all time and all time yet to come. But lest that be the only consideration, let’s keep this in mind: who else, of everybody there, so completely and singularly defines his art? In hockey, you have cultural icons over several generations – Richard, Gretzky, Howe – even Paul Henderson is listed entirely on the basis of his goal in the Summit Series. In politics, you may have Pierre Trudeau, but by no means was he the sole contributor to everything significant in Canadian governance today; think Diefenbaker, MacDonald, Kim Campbell – well, not Campbell, unless you are the National Geographic Society. International war and peace? Dallaire, Pearson, the list goes on. Literature? Richler, Findley, Atwood – as much as they all stand out, none of them can claim to dominate the field. Even when it comes to music, as much as we all like to quote Leonard Cohen and put our heads on Paul Anka’s shoulder, there’s a world of difference between the talent that distinguishes them in the oversaturated history of popular music and the kind I’m talking about.

But Oscar Peterson: he’s a giant among giants. When it comes to musical-technical prowess, you have Glenn Gould, who basically defined how to play Bach – and he is why one should fall short of calling O.P. the greatest Canadian pianist, period – but the latter did define how to both play and arrange the likes of Berlin, Gershwin, and Rodgers. From the age of fifteen he was already an established Canadian entertainer, performing on the CBC as well as his own Montreal radio program, “Fifteen Minutes Piano Rambling”. As far as Canadian contributions go, look no further than his Canadiana Suite. There’s an anecdote that when he was young, Oscar listened to an Art Tatum record for the first time and was so intimidated he took a month off the the ivories; call it transitivity, but that’s what it’s like to listen to him today. Sometimes it’s easy to pick up a book, admire a visual work of art or listen to a recording and tell yourself, “I can do that.” With Oscar Peterson, no you can’t.

When it comes to other Canadian heroes, I would mention former Scrabble World Champion and overall freakishly good player Joel Wapnick, but sadly enough, competitive Scrabble’s cultural penetration has insofar been rather limited. He does play the piano, though. But if we are looking simply at cultural iconism, one can’t ignore Lucy Maud Montgomery, who put Prince Edward Island on the map, and the unlisted Tim Horton, who puts coffee in me to this day.

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What do you mean we traded Gilmour?

Friday, 9 April 2004 — 10:27pm | Hockey

It’s been a long time in the making, but the Calgary Flames have finally won a playoff game. Watching the Flames not only play a game in the month of April, but emerge victorious, is both surreal and unfamiliar. In a sense, there is something nostalgic about cheering for the red and white and not feeling embarrassed about it afterwards. In another, there is a bit of disappointment in no longer justifiably being a hockey geezer making fun of his own city in the name of the good ol’ days, or not knowing who any of these new guys are. When Vancouver seems like an old team by comparison – you mean Linden is still in the NHL? – it can be safely dubbed a problem. At least there aren’t any Bures around to spoil our fun this year.

The dichotomy presented by Games 1 and 2 of the Flames-Canucks series is this: if you don’t kill penalties, you don’t win. Lest I make an inverse error by saying that killing penalties is a sure path to victory, I will only posit that it follows the contrapositive is true: if you won a game, you probably killed some penalties. Case study: tonight’s 2-1 victory. Good job, Flames.

Assigned reading this week: Ross Prusakowski, last year’s resident Calgarian sportswriter for The Gateway not named Joel Chury, will doubtless have a few words to say.

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A Better Tomorrow: Zero Mission

Wednesday, 7 April 2004 — 6:09pm | Adaptations, Film, Video games

Alas, it appears that my personal ambition to direct the world’s first A-list movie based on a video game may be in jeopardy. John Woo, who has emerged the Hong Kong to Hollywood transition with only mild vocational injuries compared to the likes of, say, Tsui Hark, has optioned the rights to Metroid. John Woo will never read this post, but here are some comments regardless.

Metroid is a unique challenge in that the games are a series of solo pieces with no character interaction – just a silent heroine running around exploring a mysterious and atmospheric sci-fi environment and shooting up silent enemies. The plots are voyages of discovery, an expository technique that does not transfer well to a film placed in front of an audience with no control over what is going on.

This is an opportunity to establish a video game movie renaissance – though I suppose “renaissance” falsely implies that game movies have ever been worthwhile – not unlike the market’s current saturation with comic book adaptations. The reason why the comic book movie is such a popular genre right now is because for the most part, the material is treated with respect and visual acumen; let’s ignore the Halle Berry pseudo-Catwoman for a second. Marvel Comics saved itself by entrusting its franchises to the likes of Sam Raimi and Ang Lee, directors with a track record of knowing a thing or two about visual communication. This is why the hottest comic book property in development right now is Batman Begins: Chris Nolan knows how to make a movie. John Woo is the first really estalished director to attach himself to a video game franchise, so this opportunity had best not go wasted.

The other reason for the success of the current rebirth of bringing comics to film, regardless of how watchable the films are themselves, is because the showpieces in the genre capture the colour and vibrance of the comic book medium without treating comics as silly, juvenile or inferior. If something is to be stylistically faithful to its source material, it must respect its source material’s medium and adjust accordingly. For instance, The Lord of the Rings worked on the basis of taking a fantasy world very, very seriously.

Yet some frequent mistakes on the part of comic book movies are similarly in need of being rectified, should Metroid go ahead. We are essentially talking about an adventure starring a solo costumed hero, so there are two approaches. One, the 1989 Batman route of diving right into the hero’s mission and carrying it through the entire movie, with only passing connections to the hero’s origin. This is the preferred route. The danger with the second approach – the Superman and Spider-Man method of focusing on the origin story for half the movie, and leaving fully-fledged good-evil conflicts to future instalments – is that it tends to result in movies that are heavy in the first half. Superman and Spider-Man delivered their best in the origin stories, leaving paper-thin hero-villain conflicts underdeveloped. This basically ruined the first X-Men, but thankfully, X2 picked up the ball. However, Metroid does not have the guarantee of a sequel. If there is no attempt to gamble on a multi-part franchise right from the beginning – and there probably shouldn’t be one – we need to see Samus make it all the way to Mother Brain in the span of two hours. The titular character of Daredevil made it all the way to Wilson Fisk in ninety minutes, origin story included, which killed any prospects of developing either a story or a franchise.

Now, nobody pretends that in the public at large, the Metroid franchise is intrinsically a ticket-selling franchise. In terms of name recognition, it is equivalent to a Hellboy or Punisher at best. That should give Woo some room to manoeuvre when striking a balance between an atmospherically faithful adaptation (i.e. not Super Mario Bros.: The Movie) and making a coherent film. However, everything about John Woo’s development as a director since his entry into the American system rings alarm bells about his possibly ending up with the equivalent of a Hulk on his hands, a movie that moves in the right direction but goes further than what a mainstream audience can handle, and stumbles into the gap. Mission: Impossible 2 is one such red flag.

Metroid is one of those projects that needs to be a success. Having Woo’s name attached indicates potential, but that also represents a potential danger. Let’s see how this all unfolds.

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Pi/30 radians of separation

Wednesday, 7 April 2004 — 5:12am

Heads up, readers, because here comes one of those rare posts that drops all intelligent analysis in favour of linking to things that are relevant to no one but myself. This is the closest your favourite Café Canadien will ever get to what one typically expects of a blog; any closer, and I might get some on me. Think of this as a way of restoring the local signal-noise equilibrium in the negative direction for a change, given last week’s sudden explosion of thoughtful debate at Points of Information.

I swear I’m not stalking people I knew in junior high, but they keep popping up all over this little hole in the luminiferous cyber-ether they call the Internet. Most of these appearances are in the form of blogs; there’s Néha Datta, who inexplicably uses the handle “ironparrot”, a remarkable convergence of time and space that I discussed back in July. At some point, I should ask her about it. There’s Lev Hellebust (Bratishenko?), the other guy who attempted Tolstoy in the fifth grade besides yours truly. I’m not sure if he legitimately made it through War and Peace, because I sure didn’t. What he did legitimately make it to was Yale. There’s Jess Harvey, an aspiring film actress and damn good singer who is listed on IMDb, though her profile there lacks a corresponding photograph of her button nose. Then there’s Sri Gupta, who can probably be best described to my U of A readership as Anand Sharma minus the politics and the lanky cousin, and plus an obsession with gluing googly eyes to cottonballs. He ran for and lost the position of Vice President of my junior high’s student council the same year I ran for President under the furniture slogan “Nobody Beats the Nick” and was soundly trounced. It must be clarified that said council was a pretty boring affair anyway, given how it never engaged in decidedly fun activities for all ages like separating powers and abolishing attendance requirements.

There are more, but let us save them for another post, another day.

The most interesting find, however, was what I turned up at the site for the As Prime Minister Awards, an essay contest of sorts about student visions for Canada that I inconveniently forgot to enter last year, however much of a novelty it would be for a computer engineering student to be recognized in such a capacity. Here is a video of semi-finalist Josh Kertzer, who beat me out for the Y-chromosome half of the high school valedictory in my graduating year; he mentioned the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in his address, which made everything okay. It gets better. A fellow semi-finalist at the competition was UADS debater and outgoing Dance Club co-director Anastasia Kulpa, whom I assume speaks excellent French despite never having heard her. But lest that be the limit of the CUSID crossover, here is none other than Saskatchewan muppet Erin Weir, also known as the reason why Wascana is the only place in the country where I would even for a moment consider voting NDP. Make sure you watch his interview all the way to the end. Also there is CUSID VP Atlantic Patrick LeGay, with whom I am not personally acquainted, but hopefully will be by the end of the year given that we are on the same executive.

Mr. Kertzer, if you ever read this, do yourself a favour and join the Queen’s Debating Union. Then I can lump you in with these other hacks.

And now for something completely different. Congratulations are due to Ben Milder, founder of The Tolkien Trail and its messageboard Entmoot, at which I am still a co-administrator whenever I feel like it. Unlike the authors of certain blogs you are reading, he was accepted into nine colleges including Harvard, Yale and Princeton. It’s a bit scary to think that I have been acquainted with this guy since he was about thirteen, and he’s one of those rare types that did not suddenly stop being a genius.

That was a lot of links, Mr. Peabody.

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Stop the presses

Monday, 5 April 2004 — 8:12pm | Literature, Studentpolitik

2002-2003 Students’ Union President and professional troublemaker – er, “active citizen” – Mike Hudema has written a book, entitled An Action a Day (Keeps Global Capitalism Away), handled by Toronto alternative publisher Between the Lines. Now he can say that he literally wrote the book on absurd media stunts that are actually pretty good at drawing media coverage, but not so good at achieving any real political dialogue. The book, which will be released on 1 May, consists of “fifty-two tried and tested actions,” one for each week. Naturally, I’m hoping that such favourite hits as storming Anne McLellan’s office and eating federal ballots made the cut.

Hudema is no Mario Savio, but one can’t fault him for trying, aside from the fact that student revolutions stopped being cool thirty years ago. Even the kind gentleman from the Students’ Union at Thammasat University, the core of the Thai democratic movement in the 1970s, was quick to point out that most students are more interested in their degrees than political protest. Mind you, what activist initiatives like those conducted under the 2002-2003 SU accomplish is often analogous to being really noisy and bugging the neighbours, followed by celebrating how much news coverage you got for bugging said neighbours, so further glorifying it is probably not the most neighbourly thing to do.

In any case, I do intend to get a hold of An Action a Day for review purposes. It’s actually quite funny to see Mr. Hudema encourage people to buy something.

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