APOCALYPTO AND LOU MARSH


Greetings,

While trying to finish up lots of odds and ends before Christmas, I saw one of the most controversial films of the year – Apocalypto. It’s Mel Gibson’s latest blood-soaked opus that finally answers the question – how violent was pre-Conquistador Central America? The answer, at least according to Mel?

Pretty damn violent.

The verdict? Actually, surprisingly positive. While it’s hard to separate Mel Gibson the man from Mel Gibson the filmmaker nowadays, and it’s tempting to call his movie-making a grotesque cross between early Peter Jackson gore-fests and historical revisionism on par with D.W. Griffith (does anyone remember The Passion of the Christ? Of course you do, what with the cat-o-nine-tails whipping and nasty anti-Semitism), Apocalypto is actually worth seeing. It’s actually pretty awesome.

First off, the good. Mel deserves a lot of credit for making a film that features entirely First Nations actors and is almost fanatically obsessed with authenticity. The film looks incredible, right down to the details of the Mayan civilization and the use of ancient Mayan in the film’s dialects. This is cinematic realism at its most intense and visceral; Mel pushes the boundaries so far with this film that you wonder, especially during the scenes in the Mayan capital, if this is as close as you can get to the real thing.

Now, the bad. Mel – hardly a filmmaker known for subtle, nuanced portraits of characters – once again falls into the trap of the black-and-white motif. All the captured villagers, led by Jaguar Paw, are innocents, while the Mayans (in an eerie and obvious nod to today’s decadent, post-Classical America) are evil incarnate, their ways of ritual sacrifice sick, twisted and naive. While a civilization rots, the aristocracy feed off the blood of innocents while the desperate masses, terrified of the future, beg for deliverance on the backs of the dead. Sound vaguely familiar?

Note on the violence part: the film’s not as violent as Braveheart (does anyone remember the battle of Stirling scene? Hello knifes to the eyes!), but be warned. The ritual sacrifice scene is pretty horrendous, although it pales in comparison to the pit of bodies Jaguar Paw ends up falling into (not for the faint of heart).

Overall, it’s worth seeing. Just don’t get too caught up in the violence.

SPORTS CHALLENGE: The Globe’s Stephen Brunt this weekend talked about who’s up for the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s sports athlete of the year. This year, as 2006 comes to an end, has been a great year for Canadian athletes, one of the best in a long time (if not the best ever). And, as the Globe rightly pointed out, there’s no shortage of contenders. The Globe put four principal contenders out there: Cindy Klassen, Steve Nash, Justin Morneau and Joe Thornton.

Thornton has no chance in this field in spite of his NHL MVP award and the Art Ross Trophy last year (I mean, Canadian and good at hockey, damn that’s a stretch…). Justin Morneau may have pulled off the American League MVP and had a fantastic year for a small-market squad like the Minnesota Twins (thereby assuring he will likely defect to the Red Sox, or worse, Yankees, in a few years), but he’s not the first Canadian to win a baseball MVP award. No, the two greatest of them all this year were easily Klassen and Nash.

So who’s worthy here of the prize?

On paper, it’s easy to give this to Nash. Two straight MVP awards in the ego-driven, sometimes-insufferable NBA (hey, I live in Toronto, I call it as I see it), a great person and true team player whom has turned the Phoenix Suns into one of the league’s best.

Still, it shouldn’t go to Nash.

Cindy Klassen became Canada’s most successful Olympian ever this year. Winning five medals at Turin was an amazing accomplishment to watch (and believe me, I watched, did I ever, covering the Games was made all the better because of her) and she really was the big feel-good story of the Turin Winter Olympics. She did something remarkable, broke new ground in speed skating and Canadian sport in general and did it all with grace and humility. She deserves this entirely.

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JOINING THE Y & THE SPY WHO OPEN SOURCED ME

Greetings,

Well I’m joining the YMCA Exercise and Recreation Centre near work. I’ve decided that this is the best way to shed these extra pounds I’ve been carrying around for far too long. I’m tired of it.

You see, part of the problem for me is I hate the gym. I’ve never been a fan of gyms. Not because I don’t like what one does there, I actually enjoy physical exercise, but gyms just don’t do it for me. There’s a lot of reasons why; the quiet-yet-ever-present sizing up of each other, the intensity of everything, the fact it feels like going to the gym equates to more work – something I’ve already got plenty of in my life, thanks. If I exercise, I want it to be at least marginally enjoyable.

So, the Y has basketball, volleyball, soccer, floor hockey (sweet Jesus, that’s so awesome!) pilates, yoga and other activities. I’m sold, sign me up!

OPEN SOURCE SPYING: The NY Times is running an excellent piece on the scarily out-of-date technology that runs the digital infrastructure of American spy agencies. Yikes.

NEVER GONNA LOSE MY FAITH


Greetings,

Well, who knew? Even a twice-scorned, mildly bitter at the Liberal Party of Canada former party member like me felt a tinge of what drew me into the party in the first place Saturday night. It felt, aside from the obvious tension between Chretien and Martin on stage, as if, for the first time in years, if not decades, the Liberal Party found redemption in the election of a candidate that represents idealism in the party – Stephane Dion. It was amazing. It was wonderful to see. It was unity on stage. It was even emotional to see Dion, a total professional constantly being underestimated by his detractors and keeps beating them back, act humbly and graciously towards his fellow candidates. Hats off also to Ignatieff, who delivered the speech of his life in defeat.

More than that, it’s a huge change to a party that really doesn’t cope well with internal changes to party leadership. I’m so glad Dion is party leader; finally, for the first time in a very long time, the party went for a candidate that isn’t about just naked grabs for power or pragmatic aims.

He’s not a perfect candidate by far, no doubt. The Quebec issue is very scary for this Dion-led Liberal Party. It’s a huge risk to elect a guy who’s hated in Quebec for the Clarity Act, although one could make similar arguments about Chretien.

But for the moment, this is a potentially great moment for the Liberal Party of Canada. Even I was happy to see the party finally united after so many years of brutal, terrible bickering.


BOBBY: On another note of political figures, I saw the movie Bobby today. I went in expecting Emilio Estevez to deliver a remarkable film on the tragic end to one of America’s greatest “what if?” figures in political life.

In all honesty, I really didn’t like this movie.

Let me be totally fair up front: Estevez’s goals with this movie are laudable. He’s trying to portray a mythic-like figure in American history and put it in the context of the turbulent lives of Americans in 1968. More to the point, he’s not a bad director; he does have a good sense of pacing and understands how to work a scene. Also, the insanely huge all-star cast (minus Ashton Kutcher and Lindsay Lohan, both of whom really need a swift boot to the ass for their moronic, sophomoric turns in this film) fills their roles competently and well for the most part (including Joshua Jackson, who plays the part as if he’s Pacey from Dawson’s Creek stuck in a time machine, and Nick Cannon, who doesn’t preen for the camera for once).

The problem is the film is wildly inconsistent and atrociously written. I don’t use the term “atrociously” when describing most films’ writing, but the dialogue is shockingly bad, full of brutal cliches and hackneyed sub-plots that go absolutely nowhere. In fact, the best performance of the film has to be Kennedy himself, who appears in real archival footage several times in the film. Watching Elijah Wood and Lohan act together is one of the most painful experiences I’ve seen on film in a long time.

Some sequences are laughably written and unintentionally funny. The end, while devastating, is the best part of the film – slightly askew film angles of Kennedy’s assassination shot with film recorded at slower speeds. Too bad we never even get a remote idea what the motivations of the assassin, Sirhan B. Sirhan, ever were and instead just see him as a crazy man in just two shots in the whole film. Bad move, Emilio.

Overall, I’d avoid Bobby. It’s a kind, sentimental portrait of a great man, but the film is hardly worth your time.

WAITING ON THE GRITS TO CHANGE

– CP
Greetings,

I used to be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. I served on the Executive of my campus club, went to many Liberal events, served the party to the best of my inexperienced ability. It was definitely a changing moment for me as an individual to be involved in Liberal politicking back in my student days; I saw the best and worst of politics in Canada and saw how strangely addictive (and insulating, it has to be said) the political game really is here in Canada. I learned a lot, especially some hard lessons about the lengths some people will go to achieve their goals (and making sure you remember what got them to the top in the first place).

Truth be told though, as a journalist, unless you cover a beat entirely divorced from your politics, it’s risky to openly declare your alliances. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

More to the point, though, as much as this convention is good political theatre and makes for amazing television (ergo, the blanket wall-to-wall coverage the event is getting on the major networks), I can’t say I’m really all that passionate over who wins this race.

Let me be clear (to quote a certain someone’s catch-phrase): I admire many aspects of the Liberal Party. I’m not fed up with the party’s guiding principles, the volunteers, the efforts to make for a strong, united Canada. The party’s got a lot of things going for it – in theory.

Still, as far as I’m concerned, the Liberals at the top of this most nasty game (not the grassroots folks, most of them are good, hard-working, decent people who at least give a damn, and I do mean that sincerely) have to prove they’re ready to get over the divisive, vicious, alienating Martin-Chretien wars of the past before a lot of people are willing to come back on board to support and work for them. It will take years, maybe even decades, before the party can truly say it has shed itself of the damage those disgusting, internecine battles did to the party.

Candidates-wise, I’m partial to Stephane Dion, mostly because he exemplifies what it means to be good in government: he did his job well and passionately, he was distinctly non-partisan and he was a good Liberal soldier from Day One. While I very much respect Michael Ignatieff’s intellectual abilities, the man makes me very nervous when it comes to his Ivory Tower-esque arguments in favour of torture or the war in Iraq. Bob Rae would be my second choice, mostly because he’s brilliant, has humility and is willing to concede his own mistakes for the NDP government back in the early 1990s (and because a lot of people, including many Ontarians, are starting to see that to blame Rae entirely for the economic horror of the early 1990s is lazy and unfair). Gerard Kennedy is a much, much-needed injection of fresh blood into the federal party, but he’s too green and not ready yet.

I do like Ken Dryden and Martha Hall Findlay a lot; while they’ve got no chance at this point, Dryden is a great Canadian and a proud Liberal. Findlay could be a great choice for leader in several years – first, she needs to get elected and build a national profile.

So, good luck to everyone. Hope it’s been fun so far (and Howard Dean’s speech was awesome, wasn’t it?) for the delegates and whomever wins on Sunday will immediately begin the process of healing the deep wounds the Liberals still obviously have.