Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fight or Flight

So on Monday an airline war broke out, resulting in a seat sale unlike anything that's been seen in Iqaluit in years.

And social media immediately broke out into outrage. In fact, it's safe to say you've never seen so much anger and seething rage over a seat sale.

So in one corner we have the usual gang - First Air/Canadian North. In the other corner a new airline that is in the process of starting up - Go Sarvaq.

Go Sarvaq is a bit of a weird airline. They're working with another airline, Flair Air, and booking seats on those planes when they fly in. I don't pretend to understand all of it. And they had a rocky start. They originally were Fly Sarvaq, but had to change their name due to the government regulations. Their website didn't work for weeks, and people were calling to reserve tickets, but often weren't getting responses back. All of this and the airline is scheduled to start next month.

So a shaky start, sure. On the upside they announced an introductory fare of $499 each way to either Ottawa or Halifax. So that got a lot of attention. And people were eager for some competition. I understand for the average person a $1,000 return plane ticket does not sound like a fantastic deal, but considering the average plane ticket for the last two years has been around $2,400, then yeah, saving $1,400 is a pretty good gig.

(Caveat: Airline tickets are never that straightforward in Nunavut. There are all kinds of discounts. Government of Nunavut employees get them, teachers do, Government of Canada employees, staff of Inuit organizations, Inuit beneficiaries. You have to be special not to qualify for one. But even with those discounts, tickets are still around $1,500-$1,800, which has gone up).

So when Go Sarvaq finally got their shit together, and their website up and running and booking tickets, Canadian North/First Air reacted pretty much the way you expected. Except they didn't. Most people expected them to match Go Sarvaq's fare. They actually undercut it - $399 each way or $798 return. But even that was weird because when you went to book a ticket, the final return fare was $740.

To put that in perspective, we've lived in Iqaluit for nearly 11 years now. Only once have I seen a seat sale better than that, and it was a 12 hour flash sale for around $650. This one is going to last a couple of weeks. And just when people are booking their summer vacation plans.

The howls come from the fact that is not even a remotely subtle attempt at bankrupting Go Sarvaq before it gets going. And let's be clear, it is. You can talk "protecting your market share" or "being competitive" all you want, but Canadian North and First Air are essentially the same airline at this point, what with the highly unpopular codesharing and all.

Also rubbing people the wrong way as both airlines crying poverty just a few months ago when called before the Legislative Assembly to explain why tickets were so expensive and the quality of service in decline. Now, magically, a few months later they can apparently cut ticket costs by two-thirds in advance of one of their busiest times of the year.

There have been a lot of people pleading on Twitter and Facebook that people should bite the bullet, spend the extra couple of hundred dollars on Go Sarvaq. That if the First/Canadian succeed in bankrupting Go Sarvaq then plane tickets will bounce back to their old $2,400 levels pretty quick. I'd argue that's not true. I'll bet money they go higher as they try to recoup money lost in their little war to drive their new rival out of business before it finds its feet.

(Also, it should be noted, it's not as simple as battle over the Iqaluit-Ottawa route. Canadian/First also fly into other communities, Go Sarvag doesn't. That affects the economics of things as well)

I'm pretty pissed with Canadian/First. Standard business practice and all, but they're trying to protect their fiefdom and it's not a particularly enjoyable feeling being the serf when you're trying to book plane tickets. My only gripe with Go Sarvaq is the terrible roll out they had. They got a little too eager to announce, didn't have things in place, and didn't communicate what was going on very well, which gives me pause about them.

But I think Go Sarvaq is just the harbinger. Even if they hadn't entered the competition between Iqaluit-Ottawa (and good for them adding that once a week Iqaluit-Halifax route), I still think competition is coming. Iqaluit's sparkly new airport opens next year. And when it does I will not be the slightest bit surprised if WestJet, Air Canada or Air North takes a crack at the route. The other two Northern capitals have multiple carriers beyond First Air/Canadian North. It's only a matter of time before it happens in Iqaluit.

Then things will get interesting. And hopefully a little cheaper. And hey, if you ever wanted to come up and visit us, now's the time.

Last Five
1. Open all night (live) - Bruce Springsteen
2. This sad song - Alison Krauss and Union Station
3. It's hard to be a saint in the city (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
4. Bluish - Animal Collective
5. Twined and Twisted - Valerie June*

Monday, April 04, 2016

Review: Batman vs. Superman (possible spoilers)

There are two things to consider when reviewing Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, beyond whatever marketing genius came up with that horrific title. The first is if it is a good movie, plain and simple. The second is if you're a geek, how much are you going to love, or be pissed off by, some iconic characters that you may be heavily invested in.

The answer for neither is particularly good.

First, the movie itself. Zach Snyder is a director that does have chops. 300 is still a hell of a movie. But since then...not so much. Sucker Punch was a mess, but that's fine. Every director is allowed to have one of those. Watchman was ambitious but also a mess and I'm not sure was ever really filmable.

Man of Steel was where Snyder's worrying trend of uneven movies really crystalized. That Snyder is a director with style, that he can film a memorable scene or put together a breath-taking image is without a doubt. That he could film an action sequence is also without a doubt. But that he could put together a coherent narrative into a well edited, fun movie went pretty much out the window.

Man of Steel was a choppy movie, a little too in love with its disaster porn movie, with elements that were either badly thought out (the entire Krypton sequence) or filled with plot holes. And that continues on into B vs. S.

Again, Snyder can put together some beautiful sequences. Martha and Thomas Wayne have never been so loving murdered on the big screen before (It's 3D gun porn). There are a few sequences of Superman rescuing people are certain lovely to look at even if you hurt your eyes from rolling them so hard as they hammer home the Christ symbolism more in this movie than they did in Man of Steel.

But the pacing and editing of the movie is all wrong. Some of that can be blamed for trying to set up about a half dozen spin-offs from this one movie (Justice League, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and probably a Batman spin-off). Avengers: Age of Ultron had to do this as well and it frequently didn't work well either. But the franchise had earned a degree of....leniency. If it was occasionally frustrating, you tolerated it because the characters are so fun.

The DC franchise has earned nothing at this point. And if the last Avengers movie was unsubtle at promoting its future franchise movies, B vs. S is about as subtle as an atomic bomb (literally). it really does screw up the narrative flow of the movie badly. There are scenes that are so unnecessary - a Batman dream sequence, Wonder Woman looking at future Justice League

Not helping this is bad editing. The first half of the movie, which is primarily set up, still manages to have some weird and jarring edits. By the time we reach the end, and have gone through the big action sequences the editing has become almost incoherent. Snyder is falling back on old cheats. Lot of filming in the dark and many quick edits to indicate that something is happening even if you can't really understand what that is.

And I'm going to throw one final shot here...while Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the movie (she is literally the only charming or fun aspect of the movie), other woman don't fare so well. They tend to need rescuing or get blown-up to service whatever the men need doing in the movie. I mean, Lois Lane getting rescued once is a tip to the comics. The number of times she needs it in this movie is just sloppy writing.

Are there good things? Sure. A Batmobile car chase is quite good as long as you don't think about certain troubling aspects. The actual Superman/Batman fight is really quite good and pretty much the highlight of the movie. And while you might not like how dark it is shot or even the theme that DC/Warner is going for in these movies (Gods walk among us, basically), they are committed to the vision of it.

Because there is a good story buried here. That yes, after the events of Man of Steel, Batman would be traumatized and horrified by one person having that much power and being unaccountable. That he would take steps to make sure that if necessary he could stop Superman. That there should be discussion about what a Superman would mean to the world. There's a really good narrative there if you stripped this movie down to its skeleton and rebuilt. It just got in its own way.

For The Geeks
The other question is how true these characters are to what we're familiar with. Marvel's not perfect, but they put characters on the screen that are relatable and pretty true to what comic book fans are familiar with. In some cases, they hit it out of the park as they did with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. So have DC/Warner managed to do the same here?

It's a pretty mixed bag. So let's get onto the good first.

Gal Gadot is a spot on choice for Wonder Woman. She doesn't have much to do in this movie, but she pretty much steals every scene she's in. Whether it's looking exotic and the most beautiful woman in the room at a party, or her little dig at Bruce Wayne at sharing or her looking scary and fierce as hell in the final movie fight, you'll be lining up to see her movie next year. I have no idea why they're setting it during World War I, but I'll be there to find out. She's the highlight of the movie.

Ben Affleck got a lot of crap for being cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and, you know, the man has a rep. And it's not like he's had the best of luck at starring in blockbuster super hero movies before. But there's a legit argument to be made that he's the best Batman to grace the screen so far. The Batman of the 80s and 90s had little to do with the comics and more to do with the 60s TV show. And they really haven't aged well. Christopher Nolan's movies are much better, but even they appeared to want to have a step removed from the comics.

That's not the case here. Affleck is a solid Bruce Wayne. He has the playboy business man who drinks too much down pat, with the passion and barely controlled rage of the Batman. There's weariness after fighting the battle for 20 years, there's compassion and, thank god, brains. One of the things that previous movies tended to miss is that Batman is also the world's greatest detective. He actually does detective work here, so it's nice to see.

The fault here, and it has nothing to do with Affleck, is the astonishing cavalier attitude towards life Batman has. Batman does not use guns. It is a central aspect of his character. A gun took his parents lives, as we are lovingly shown, repeatedly, and in slow motion. He hates them. And yet, he has quite a body count at the end of this movie, and in no small part by shooting bad guys with his plane or car. That doesn't even count a dream/vision sequence where he uses machine guns to kills people.

It shows such a fundamental misunderstanding of who the character is supposed to be it's kind of breath-taking. Snyder clearly loves Batman: The Dark Knight Returns given all the references he has to it scattered throughout the movie. But he neglects one of the big ones: where Batman takes apart a gun and chastises a group of want-to-be followers, calling it "the weapon of the enemy".

I don't know. Maybe in America where you're allowed to openly carry guns to church it's now ok for Batman to shoot people and for Superman to be Christ. But it's kind of sad if that's the case.

And, ah, Superman. I've never liked the Superman as a messianic figure. And I've certainly never cared for how it's been hammered home, both in the last two Snyder films and even Superman Returns. I like him more as an immigrant, just trying to figure out his place in a new world and trying to help. That's an interesting take. Superhero as Christ is just boring.

But even if we can say that's just a matter of personal taste, Superman shouldn't be a grim, dour character. He barely smiles in the movie. You can see why some people find him terrifying because of the way he acts. One scene sees a large group of people die and he doesn't act with outrage or sorrow. He just....stands there.

Superman is a character of hope and somehow everyone involved with this has misconstrued this as meaning he has to be an angry, resentful messiah. Somehow Superman as a tortured asshole is the acceptable version and I don't know why. Maybe it's easier and cooler.

I put up this link last week on Facebook and said it was my Superman. So is this one. Or this one (scroll down until you come to the Hitman scene). Or this one if you want a scene emphasizing a more religious Superman.

There are so many good instances of well written Superman (Morrison/Quitely All-Star Superman, Busiek/Immomen Superman: Secret Identity). It's only laziness and a desire to be "cool" that screws it up. I genuinely don't think Snyder likes the character very much, or if he does it's to be used as a punchline.

DC also goes dark/grim and gritty when they're in trouble. It's been their default mode since the mid-80s, when they had classics like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. And given the hammering they've taken from Marvel the last 10 years both in the comics (Marvel outsells DC by about 50% these days) and in the movies (Marvel is averaging 2-3 hit movies a year while DC was trying to figure out what to do). That's fine to an extent. But Marvel puts out movies that are fun. No matter how serious the material is, like Winter Solider, there are still fun moments. There's not one laugh line in B vs. S. It's all dark and grim and not all fun. For more than two hours.

But it is, I guess, very cool.

But cool isn't going to cary these movies as far as they might think. We'll see. But if these movies don't do as well as expected, which seems to be the case with this one, it's because fans want better than what they're getting. DC and Warner might want to take that advice to heart and stop doubling down on Snyder (and Goyer, the co-writer). They have a vision. It's occasionally pretty to look at, but not enjoyable to endure over two hours. It's time for a change because I love these characters. I'm just not sure the people involved with making these movies do...

Last Five
1. Enough of the night (live) - Jackson Browne
2. Take me with you - Tori Amos
3. Before the Earth was round - Ok Go
4. She's a rebel - Green Day
5. Dance all night - Ryan Adams*


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bring on the Trump

Cathy and I have been married for more than 10 years and together coming up on 15. So I like to think we're reached that comfortable state in any marriage where I can say things I know will bug her just for the amusement of the reaction.

Oh, come on, we all do it. She does it to me as well...

But my go to for about 7-8 months now is this phrase: "You know, I kinda hope Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination." This get me icy glares, and threats of divorce. If I'm feel particularly suicidal, I'll mention how I wouldn't mind him becoming president. That's generally good for a death threat or two.

Look, when I started cracking these jokes last summer I thought, along with every pundit in the Western hemisphere, that Trump would flame out in the Fall when the competition for the nomination heated up and all of his many, many character flaws and policy inconsistencies would come out into the light of day and that would be that.

If you ever wanted proof that it is possible to sell your soul to the devil for power, Trump is presenting a good case for it. It's the only explanation I have for his popularity at the moment.

But here's the thing, I really do want him to win the Republican nomination. And it's not because I think he would make a good president...let's be serious here. And it's not even for the amusement value that comes from being a smug Canadian watching the US blow itself up during what will surely be the weirdest election campaign in my lifetime.

No, I want it because I think Trump finally, finally might blow up and destroy the Republican party. And thank god for that.

I've linked to this before, but I always liked John Rogers blog piece from back in 2004 called "I Miss Republicans". And I agree with most of that piece. There's nothing wrong with people going "Whoa. Hey hey hey...have we thought this all the way through? Figured out what might happens and how much it's going to cost?" Nothing wrong with those people. They're good folks to have around. And I really do try to at least understand, if not agree with, both sides of an argument.

The current Republican party is about 95% batshit crazy. If you think climate change is a conspiracy, hate all Muslims as a matter of course, think unlimited assault rifle access is a good thing and oppose abortion no matter what the circumstances, up to and including incest and rape....then you, my friend, are part of a political party that has taken leave from reality. Or are at least part of a reality that I would prefer not intersect with mine.

And if you believe all those things and think Trump is just the man to get you all of those things, well, I'm not sure there's a word to accurately describe that level of delusion.

So yeah, bring on Trump. Make him the Republican nominee. I think he effectively destroys the Republican party, which I think is long past due. That party's more sane elements need to either control the lunatic fringe of their party, or walk away from it. Blow it up real good.

But yeah, I think Republicans stay away in droves from the polls in a Trump vs. Clinton race. Democrats would probably take back the Senate, maybe even make some serious headway in the heavily gerrymandered House. So yeah, bring him on.

And yes, there's always the risk that Trump becomes president. That Clinton continue her streak of being a really shitty campaigner or that Saunders wins the Democratic nomination and the US has a little brain fart over that.  I could almost go for President Trump because I think the 2020 election would be a horror show for Republicans and Elizabeth Warren, who I'd actually prefer to see as President, would win in a landslide.

But the amount of damage that nimrod could do in four years....no, I just can't go there.

But no, let's roll those bones. Let's take a chance. Let's cheer for Trump. Even if my wife murders and divorces me...possibly in that order.

Besides, I'm still half convinced after the election he's going to announce this has been all one big prank and unveil the reality program to end all reality programs....

Last Five
1. Wrecking ball - Spirit of the West
2. Amazing Grace (live) - Ani DiFranco
3. Backstreets (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band*
4. The freezedown - Gramercy Riffs
5. Never tear us apart - INXS

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New airline...

Flying into Iqaluit has almost always been a horror show. It's bloody expensive, and getting a meal and a slightly higher baggage allowance only goes so far in taking the edge off when you see how much it costs. Even using special codes, tickets are still around $1,500. Without them you're looking at a ticket closer to $2,400.

So it's hard to get out, but it also hard to get people to pop up for a visit. I mean, you might have friends and family who love you, but you can got to some pretty interesting places in the world for $2,400. My parents have never been up for a visit. Cathy's are coming up in June, but it took about 90 minutes on the phone with Aeroplan to find dates that worked.

And before you roll your eyes and go "pffft, typical Aeroplan" it was mostly First Air and Canadian North's fault. They're computer systems don't play well with Aeroplan, timing out and crashing on a regular basis.

Earlier this week there was a contest that CTV ran in conjunction with the Northern Lights trade show that offer three nights in Iqaluit with accommodations included. That contest went viral pretty quick in Iqaluit, with everyone sharing it with friends and family down south. I've got a bunch of friends I hope win it.

However, this evening we got news that might change things a bit in Iqaluit. Might. At that same trade show a new airline, Fly Savaq, announced they were going to start flying into Iqaluit. Twice a week from Ottawa and once a week from Halifax.

More competition against the other two airlines is good, especially since with codesharing they're essentially the same airline. But what's caught people's eye are what they're charging for a ticket - $499 each way, taxes and fees included. Now, that's the introductory price, so I'm sure it will go up. I'm also sure by this time tomorrow First Air and Canadian North will match it, trying to crush the competition in the bud.

It pretty much worked with Air Canada. Not sure it works as well with Fly Savaq. There's a lot of anger directed at the other two airlines. People are going to throw their business at them just our of irritation. I know we will. We're flying down on a Friday this summer, so we'll probably give them a try. I won't be flying back on a Monday, but oh well. I'll have done my part to support airline competition in the North.

Does this mean I'm expecting friends to suddenly fly up and see us? Well, no. Probably not. $1,000 still isn't exactly chump change. But hey, who knows. My friends are weird, anything is possible....

Last Five
1. Slow and steady - Of Monsters and Men
2. Forest Serenade - The Joy Formidable
3. Shadow of a man - Bedouin Soundclash
4. Talk tonight - Oasis*
5. To much love with kill you - Queen


Monday, January 18, 2016

46

So, another trip around the sun successfully completed.  My 45th year wrapped up quietly this weekend, with a day spent at home putting together some birthday Lego, walking the dog, going out for a pricey supper and just generally relaxing around the house with Cathy and doing some reading, when I wasn’t cursing on making mistakes with the Lego.
So how was 45? Pretty good, over all. Let’s sum up a few high and low points.
  •  Things with Cathy and I are still rock solid. All marriages have highs and lows, but I think the last year was mostly good. And hey, we celebrated being married for 10 years. The only time it had the potential to get a little stressful, I gave the heads up that things were going to get hectic for me last fall, and that she might need some extra patience. And she did. So yeah, I’m pretty happy there. Still the smartest decision in my life.
  • We also celebrated 10 years of living in Nunavut. It's not always the easiest place to live; there are times when you can get deeply, deeply frustrated. But there's no question that our lives have changed for the better in the 10 years we've lived here. Let's put it this way, there's no question we're in a much better place living in Nunavut than if we had stayed in Newfoundland. And given that Newfoundland is sliding into what I think is going to be a solid decade of economic horror, I don't see us moving home anytime soon
  • A couple of very nice trips made the year good. Three weeks in Europe, including 15 on a Viking River boat from Budapest to Amsterdam, then a few extra days in Amsterdam and a few more days in London. That’s a pretty good, albeit in very expensive, vacation. Although I really should get around to writing my review of the Viking boat, because we always get questions about what the cruise is like.
  • I also went to New York for a week, which I’ve already written about extensively. That was good. Also the last time I’m likely be there for a long time given how bad the Canadian dollar is right now.
  • And everything else was fine. I think when you get older you appreciate less drama, or at least work hard to purge unnecessary drama from your life whenever you can. I’m healthy, Cathy’s healthy (well, the usual complaints, but we’re use to them by now), most of my family and friends are healthy. It may not be an action packed life of excitement, but it’s a good one. If nothing else, writing a post like this is a useful reminder how rare and lucky a set of circumstances that can be. So I’m going to pause and enjoy that.

In terms of, “well, bollocks” moments for my 45th year.
  •  My weight crept back up. I’m not back to where I was when I just turned 42 and was at a record bad weight for me, but I’m closer to that than when I was 43, and managed to drop down to a weight I hadn’t seen since my 20s. Some of it was a series of nagging injuries that made working out uncomfortable. But let’s be honest, part of it was me being lazy and slipping out of my routines. So I’m back to trying to eat healthier and going to the gym 3-4 times a week again. I doubt I’ll ever get back to 182 pounds, which is where I was when I was 43, but a lot of friends and family were worried about me at that weight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was apparently a rumour going around town that I was sick, because I had dropped so much weight so fast. On the upside, I’m in better shape, just carrying more weight than I would like.
  • I don’t discuss work on the blog, for obvious reasons, but it was a stressful and occasionally frustrating year.  But again, an upside, it was a year where I worked with the same organization for the whole year.  And that’s not nothing. I still get mad when I think about the previous job. So yes, some challenges and frustrations. But that’s work.

So what do I have planned for 46? I like make plans at my birthday rather than on New Year’s Eve.
  • Continue to eat better and exercise. Be content that the weight is not going to fly off like it did last time, but don’t get complacent about it either. Ideally I’d like to be back around 200 pounds. That was a comfortable weight for me…and didn’t freak people out.
  • Read at least 25 books this year. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider all the graphic novels, magazines, newspapers and web articles I read, finding time for 25 novels can be a challenge. I’ve already finished “Career of Evil” by JK Rowling (Well Galbraith, but it’s Rowling) and I’ve started "Ancillary Mercy" by Ann Leckie. After that it’s back to The Expanse series.
  • Write more. I’m doing a little better on the blog, but I still need to write more. I’m actually debating pitching stuff to some of the geek blogs. They pay is utter shit, of course. I attended a panel on geek journalism when I was in New York and they all said “You better love it, because you’re going to find it hard to make a living off of it.” Fortunately, I don’t need to. So maybe try and do some geek writing for my own amusement. We’ll see. That one is still rattling around in my head.
  • Continue to try and be awesome to Cathy.
  • Try and spend less time on the computer. That may be counter-intuitive to the doing more writing, now that I think about it. How about “waste less time on the computer”? That’s better.
  • And go on a decent vacation. Alas, nothing as epic as last summer. It was...pricey. But we were celebrating our 10th anniversary, so it was allowed. I think this summer is going to be Southern Ontario (I've never been to Niagara Falls) and then we're debating either going to Chicago for a few days and trying to get tickets to Adele or taking a quick jaunt through New York state and Vermont and hang out in Montreal for a few days. Also planning on going to St. John's during the summer for the first time since 2007. So that'll be fun. Assuming the weather doesn't suck.

How grown-up can you be with Stitch, Yoda
and Dr. Who Lego
It’s funny, I got asked when I turned 46 if I feel any older. Given that I was putting together a Dr. Who Lego set at the time, I’m going to go with “no”. I have no more secrets to staying young than anybody else. But the combination of exercise, eating a bit healthier, going on cool vacations, enjoying and demanding sloth time (I’m an introvert. I desperately need down time), and being comfortable in my geekery is working well for me. I don’t feel 46. Hell, there are days when I’m geeking out over something (on the weekend it was the announcement of a second season of Jessica Jones and a possible new Punisher series, both on Netflix) I’m not entirely sure I’m 16.
Then I look over and realize Cathy’s talking to me, and since a girl talking to me at 16 was deeply unlikely, I guess I am somewhat of an adult.
I seem to have found what works for me. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good most days.

Last Five
1. Galician Overture - The Chieftains*
2. Hey, Snow White - The New Pornographers
3. Empty threat - Chvrches
4. El Besu - The Chieftains
5. This is our perfect crime - The Von Bondies

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The balmy north

You can get weird weather living in the North. This time last year we were in the middle of an epic cold snap. It had been weeks of temperatures in the -30C range, and that's before you added windchill. Windchill would put it into the -40C and -50C without much effort. Since schools closed when you got Extreme Wind Chill warnings (-50C in case you were wondering) there were a lot of closures...and grumpy parents. On one particularly horrific day, temperatures dropped to -44C with windchill at -67C. I used that day to horrify Americans in New York last October to explain just how cold it could get where I live.

It was a long, hard cold winter. By many accounts the coldest one Iqaluit had seen in decades.

So what do you do to follow that up? Well, how about a day in the middle of January where it was....+1C. Which is what the temperature was here today. Seasonal norms are between -24C and -31C in case you were wondering. Or as I told friends in St. John's, it's roughly the equivalent of waking up this morning and discover it was +30C. That would freak out people.

It certainly was freaking out people here. Normally when you get temperature spikes like that in the middle of winter you get something truly horrific. I remember the last big one we had, back in 2008, I think, when it hit +3C at the end of February. On top of that it was pouring rain and 90 km/h winds. So when everything froze a day or so later Iqaluit was a skating rink for weeks.

But today it was fairly...civil. We had some high winds. Pangnirtung got smacked around quite nicely with winds hitting around 110 km/h. We had some moments of unpleasantness, but nothing epic. I spent the day walking around in a Spring coat. Environment Canada has spent most of the last few days trying to figure out what exactly they should be warning us about. They knew something was coming, and I think we got warning for just about everything. Environment Canada - good for predicting cold, clear and sunny weather in the Arctic, but not much else.

The worse we had to deal with were flights being cancelled. Probably because of the winds, but also I suspect the airlines couldn't believe that something evil wasn't going to happen in town when they were halfway here, meaning they would have to turn around. Its meant no mail in days and NorthMart looks like it had a run on it as if the zombie apocalypse was underway. No fit fruit or vegetables to speak of.

However, we did get this...

Photo: Nick Murray/CBC North
That's what the light looked like in Iqaluit around sunset today. There's no filters on that pic. That's actually what it looked like when you were outside. It was surreal. It was also freaking out a lot of people. Which I think is completely reasonable.

This being Iqaluit, the temperature is dropping to about -22C tomorrow. So that's some whiplash. Also, if you're married to someone who does not handle sudden temperature and pressure changes well because of her arthritis, this all well and good to look and, put it sucks pretty much for her. The warm temperatures were nice and all, but I think we'd both like something seasonal and stable.

Last Five
1. 2 -1 - Imogen Heap
2. Morning light - Eskimo Joe
3. My heart will go on - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
4. Nature of the experiment - Tokyo Police Club
5. Armagideon time - The Clash

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Force Awakens

At some point, and I think the point is when a movie makes $1.7 billion dollars in less than a month, it's safe to take the cone of silence off Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be lifted.

A few of my friends haven't seen it yet. If you're one of them and you've wander here and don't want things spoiled, feel free to drift away.

So, first things first...I liked the movie. I liked it quite a lot. Is it the best Star Wars movie ever? Well, no. I would put it third behind A New Hope and Empire. It's certainly not the best movie of the year, as an over-excited critic of the Toronto Star wrote in his review. I haven't seen some of the major contenders like Spotlight and the Big Short yet, but I can say with certainty it's not better than Mad Max: Fury Road.

But it's a good Star Wars movie. It's been a long time since we've had one of those. I had to see The Force Awakens a second time because I'm pretty sure I was holding my breath for most of its running time the first time through praying it wouldn't start to suddenly suck. And it didn't. There were wobbly moments, like when Han, Finn and Rey gather at the bar. That just felt a little flat and draggy to me. And the big Super Weapon was almost as stupid as Star Trek's Red Matter (almost, but not quite. Do not get Abrams to head your weapons development program).

But there are so many other genuinely great emotional moments - the first time you see the Millennium Falcon, the great swooping chase scene through wrecked imperial Star Destroyers, Han's "Chewie, we're home", "The Scene" (which I will not spoil here, but had me muttering "Oh no. This is bad. Very, very bad."), pretty much anything Rey does, but especially the first time she fires up a light sabre. I remember saying to Cathy "I feel a great disturbance in the Force. As if a million geek girls squeed at once and said 'I'm cosplaying the shit out of that.'"

It's good fun. It's obviously very retro, and deliberately so. Look, you don't hire JJ Abrams to give you something you've never seen before. His whole career has mostly been about taking other people's properties and making tweaks to them. Fox wanted him to do something like the X-Files, so he gave them Fringe. Super 8 was updated Spielberg (not good Spielberg, but he tried). Star Trek. Ok, Lost was its own thing, but I've never been so glad to bail on a show after its first season given how frustrated I've heard so many fans get over that show.

So yes, get Abrams to do his own take on A New Hope. Which was needed for the franchise. Desperately.

It's interesting to hear George Lucas snipe at the movie, basically complaining that it's too retro and he would have done something new and different. Which is not necessarily a wrong point of view to have. Episode 8 is going to have to do something different. It can't just be a retread of Empire. Which is why I'm so very, very glad Abrams is not directing it given what a disaster Star Trek: Into Darkness was.

But here's the thing about Lucas sniping...he couldn't have done that "new direction". I'm sure he had ideas, but I guarantee you, it would have been over-produced, with actors who would have been miscast and given no support and dialogue that you would need a jackhammer to chew through. Go take a look at Lucas filmography on IMDB. He's literally directed nothing of any value since the first Star Wars.  He's been involved with creating nothing worthwhile since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He'd never be able to admit that, of course. Not with that much money and ego.

Lucas is practically the poster boy for catching lightening in a bottle. He's the father of this series. I will grant you that gives him a wide latitude to express his opinions. That doesn't mean they're right. Lucas is more a clever marketing genius than any kind of cinematic one at this point.

The Force Awakens had to be the way it is, with so many retro touches and throw backs to A New Hope to ease the mental trauma so many Star Wars fans had from the prequels. Honestly, if The Force Awakens had been as bad as the prequels (I rewatched them for the first time in years in the weeks before The Force Awakens. There's maybe half a good movie in there of the three of them) then I think we might have had to put a couple of million people into counselling.

The people behind the scenes remember that it's not all big flashy CGI battles we love about the movie. There's probably never been a better space battle than the one that opens Revenge of the Sith for spectacle. And yet it's hollow and boring. All CGI flash and no heart.

No, the folks with The Force Awakens remember to bring the fun. And there's a ton of it in there. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments (my favourite remains the Stormtroopers turning around when they hear Kylo Ren's temper tantrum). The dialogue is really good and, as an added bonus, the acting is also quite good. I say added bonus because most of the Star Wars movies have not exactly had Oscar calibre performances.

The other way you can tell the movie is good is the fan reaction. The prequels often lead to spirited defence and trying to explain how they are probably, somehow, better than what they appear to be (they weren't). Or discussions on which order to watch them to cause the minimum psychological damage. With this one, there are fun cartoons on the internet. The relationship everyone wants to see isn't Rey and either Finn or Poe, but Finn/Poe (these shippers are hardcore. Don't mess with them). There's analysis about how Kylo Ren is actually a symbol for over entitled fanboys. It kinda works.

And, as an added bonus, when there was a distinct lack of Rey toys (because who buy toys with a girl character) #wheresrey? trended and shed a ton of light on the general stupidity in the toy industry when it comes to how they market and sell to women.

Oh, and a Men's Right's group claimed they cost Disney millions by boycotting the movie because none of the new characters are white males, which makes them feel persecuted. Which was good, because it brought together millions of people of different races, religions, sex and countries to mock some genuinely deeply stupid people.

So yeah, a good movie. A positive movie. A nice step forward for the franchise and fandom as a whole.  I worry that Disney is going to milk this to death, a similar worry I have about Marvel movies, but that's a worry for another day. At least with The Force Awakens, they managed to land a good movie, against all odds and ludicrous expectations. Not perfect, but pretty damn good.

And that's good enough for me.

Last Five
1. My winding wheel - Ryan Adams
2. I feel fine - The Beatles
3. If it works - Tokyo Police Club
4. Rains on me - Tom Waits*
5. The western isles - Josh Rouse