Day 22. Weights Only (5.9927)

Day 22 of 22

...You know you're supposed to do A and you end up doing B...

T

oday was a weights day. The third this week. On Tuesday I worked my arms. Thursday was chest. Today was supposed to be back exercises and I knew it but when I got into the gym, I did arm exercises. I was half-way through when I realized I goofed. Oh well, I'll back exercises on Monday.

Bicep Curls: 7kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Tricep Presses: 14kg x 25 reps x 3 sets.

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: 10 reps x 6 sets - Left/Right

Squats: 10 reps x 6 sets.

Long-term average is now 5.9927.

Posted 2009/02/28 at 17h44ET in Exercise.

Hairspray (2007)

Hairspray. Feature film. (2007, 117 mins) IMDB

...When your hair is that big, you probably do need hairspray....

H

airspray is a musical set in the early 1960s in Baltimore, USA when racial segregation existed (thankfully it was finally destroyed). It's a time when music was evolving and TV was growing and popular. A time of B&W TV and only a handful of stations to choose from.

Since it's a musical, there are lots and lots of song and dance numbers. That's a given and this film is loaded with them, but unlike the hay-day of musicals with Astaire, Kelly, Minnelli, there are no grand dance numbers. The emphasis is on the songs. There's a campy, in the period style, not big theatrical numbers.

The film starts when our hero wakes up at seven in the morning to go to school and she sings and dances through the entire process.

Since it's a musical, the chance there is a love story in it is good, and there is, but it's not the central plot of the film, but part of it.

I was surprised to see John Travolta in drag as the mother to our hero. He wears not just women's clothes and makeup and wig, but a fat suit. Even with the alterations, we know it's him.

Christopher Walken plays the husband and father to our hero. I'm sure Ebert will say warm things about him. The best scene I thought was a number with Travolta and Walken.

I've seen better movies, seen better musicals. It has moments of charms, moment of laughs and indignation, but I never got into the story and rally wasn't taken in by the songs. Maybe I expected more.

Posted 2009/02/28 at 17h44ET in Movie Commentary.

Movies Watched in February 2009

1. 2009/02/01 The Visitor. Drama. (2007, 104 mins.) ***½
2. 2009/02/02 Vacancy. Fantasy. (2007, 85 mins.) **½
3. 2009/02/02 The Racket. Biographical. (1951, 88 mins.) ***
4. 2009/02/03 We Own The Night. Drama. (2007, 117 mins.) ***½
5. 2009/02/03 Gaslight. Drama. (1944, 114 mins.) ***
6. 2009/02/04 Hello, Dolly!. Musical. (1969, 146 mins.) **
7. 2009/02/05 Hello, Dolly!. Musical. (1969, 146 mins.) **
8. 2009/02/05 World Trade Center. Drama. (2006, 129 mins.) **
9. 2009/02/06 War of the Worlds. Drama. (2005, 116 mins.) **
10. 2009/02/07 The Smallest Show on Earth. Comedy. (1957, 80 mins.) ***
11. 2009/02/07 Message in a Bottle. Drama. (1999, 131 mins.) **
12. 2009/02/08 A Sound of Thunder. Action. (2005, 100 mins.) *
13. 2009/02/08 The Ox-Bow Incident. Drama. (1943, 75 mins.) ****
14. 2009/02/09 You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Comedy. (2008, 113 mins.) ***
15. 2009/02/10 Diminished Capacity. Comedy. (2008, 92 mins.) **
16. 2009/02/10 Becoming Jane. Drama. (2007, 120 mins.) **½
17. 2009/02/11 The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Drama. (2008, 90 mins.) **½
18. 2009/02/12 Suburban Girl. Romantic Comedy. (2007, 97 mins.) *½
19. 2009/02/12 How About You. Comedy. (2007, 100 mins.) ***
20. 2009/02/13 The Squid and the Whale. Drama. (2005, 81 mins.) ***
21. 2009/02/13 Numb. Comedy. (2007, 93 mins.) ***
22. 2009/02/14 How To Rob A Bank. Drama. (2007, 81 mins.) *
23. 2009/02/15 His Kind of Woman. Crime. (1951, 120 mins.) ***
24. 2009/02/16 Trouble in Paradise. Romantic Comedy. (1932, 83 mins.) ****
25. 2009/02/17 It's A Free World. Drama. (2007, 96 mins.) **½
26. 2009/02/18 Wah-Wah. Drama. (2005, 97 mins.) **½
27. 2009/02/19 War, Inc.. Comedy. (2008, 107 mins.) **½
28. 2009/02/20 Rushmore. Comedy. (1998, 93 mins.) ***
29. 2009/02/20 Steel City. Drama. (2006, 95 mins.) **
30. 2009/02/21 The Hawk Is Dying. Drama. (2006, 106 mins.) **
31. 2009/02/21 Ying Xiong. Action. (2002, 93 mins.) ***
32. 2009/02/22 Made of Honor. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 101 mins.) **½
33. 2009/02/22 Le Procès. Drama. (1962, 116 mins.) NR
34. 2009/02/23 Untraceable. Film Noir. (2008, 101 mins.) ***
35. 2009/02/24 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Historical. (2007, 166 mins.) ***
36. 2009/02/25 Firewall. Thriller. (2006, 105 mins.) **
37. 2009/02/26 Lars and the Real Girl. Drama. (2007, 106 mins.) ****
38. 2009/02/27 Red Eye. Thriller. (2005, 85 mins.) **½
39. 2009/02/27 Hairspray. Musical. (2007, 117 mins.) **½
40. 2009/02/28 The Prisoner of Zenda (1952). Drama. (1952, 0 mins.) **
41. 2009/02/28 The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). Drama. (1937, 101 mins.) ***

Listed 2012/04/02 at 03h14ET.

Red Eye (2005)

Red Eye. Feature film. (2005, 85 mins) IMDB

...Women as the hero in thrillers seems much more common these days....

A

nother thriller. This one unique and interesting, for the most part, but a small film and short.

Lisa is a hotel manager for a swank establishment in Miami. Rich and important people stay there and she knows them and they love her. Whatever crisis may arise, she knows how to deal with it. Her father lives in a swank house in town and loves her. So, we have our hero.

An important US government official is coming to stay at the hotel. A group of bad guys, we never get to know them except for the leader, wants to kill this person. Enter the leader to blackmail our hero and aid in the assassination.

This thriller happens on a commercial airplane. Reminders of FLIGHT PLAN and AIR FORCE ONE. Our hero is flying from Dallas to return home in Miami. It's a red-eye flight, hence the title. This fact means her father needs a reason to be up during the night instead of asleep in bed. He's watching some TV marathon.

While she's away, the government official is arriving.

Until the first nasty confrontation with the villain, it's all setup and that means there needs to be someway to create interest. The film follows a familiar story line. Our hero is in a rush to get on the plane which is delayed and there are lots of anxious phone calls from her father and the assistant manger back at the hotel. For the most part it works, but it drags on and on because there isn't a lot to this movie. Few characters. It could have been written as a play.

Act I is the setup and getting our characters onto the plane. They spend too much time introducing minor characters before the plane takes off. That's why I say it drags, but since there's not a lot of meat to this film, they needed something to film and even then it's short at 85 minutes including all the credits.

Once on the plane where into Act II. Off the plane we're into Act III.

Bad weather is used to heighten the plane ride as scary and dangerous. That seems very typical. Rain and storms are common in a thriller.

It's on the plane when our hero and villain sit side-by-side. Call it movie magic that two strangers would be seated side-by-side.

He wants her to call the hotel and move the assassination target from one room to another. It's never really explained why they want it, other than to get the target. Given what we know later it doesn't make a lot of sense. The bad guys fire a shoulder launched missile from a boat at the hotel room. They almost get the target. But if that's the killing method, you don't need to worry about what room the person is in. Just change the angle to aim for the room.

Once the plane lands in Miami, our hero stabs the villain in the throat with a pen and makes a run for it. While he's injured, he's able to run after her and a chase ensues. She frantically gets in touch with the hotel to save the target and rushes to be with her father who was threatened with death if she didn't co-operate.

The climatic scene has the villain arriving at the her father's house. Fights and chases and shots and so on until she shoots him and we're done with the story.

Everything that happens in the film is setup. Too much setup.

While this film is not as predictable as many so-called thrillers, it's not completely satisfying because the threat and menace isn't fully developed. I expected something more elaborate for the assassination attempt.

And, for the second night in a row, another Canadian starring in a Hollywood film. The list of such is long.

Posted 2009/02/28 at 17h44ET in Movie Commentary.

Lars and his Real Girl (2007)

Lars and his Real Girl. Feature film. (2007, 106 mins) IMDB

...So glad I watched this film....

I

just finished watching this movie. I'm trying to collect my thoughts and they are all over the place. Too many.

If you haven't watched the film, stop reading this entry and watch it right now. Don't wait. Even if it's two in the morning and you have to smash the window of a store to steal a copy of the DVD, do it. At your trial, your defence will be simple: watch this film.

I don't often watch previews for films but I remember watching one for this film and it stuck. That doesn't happen often. I clearly remembered the premise of the movie but I thought the lead actor was the goof-ball Arquette and the film was a silly romp. It was neither. That tells you how misleading previews can be.

Ryan Gosling plays Lars. Yes. Another Canadian, among many, who has a leading role in a Hollywood movie, although this film surely must be classified as an independent film.

We first see him on a cold, quiet day staring out the window of a simple building. The look of the film is rural, small town, of a simpler time. I thought perhaps it was set in the 70s based on the look and feel but that's not possible when later a character manipulates a colour-screen computer to browse a web site. The set design, locations, characters, costumes and weather all reminded me of growing up in Ontario, and in fact that's where the film was shot.

Lars stares out the window and watches as a young woman, Emily Mortimer, runs from her house to his door. He backs away from the window as not to be noticed but she knows he's there. He opens the door to her. She wants him to come to breakfast. It's Sunday. Have some food. Get out and enjoy life. Reluctantly he agrees but first he must go to church.

At church we see how painfully shy and reticent he is, socially awkward, but we don't know why. We learn he has no girlfriend, people like him but he doesn't want anything to do with them. Keep it simple and short. It's also where we meet Margo. She clearly likes him and wants him to like her, but he can't even say hello or enquire about how she's doing.

When he returns home after church, instead of going into the house as promised to have breakfast, he runs into the garage away to be alone. It's where he lives even though he owns half the house with his brother. We learn later his parents are dead.

What I've written so far covers the first few minutes of the film. From the start of the film I was intrigued about what would happen since I knew the bulk of the film would deal with a new girlfriend--a real size, anatomically correct doll. The doll being a woman for sexual pleasure. When would she appear and how and what would be the consequences? Nothing that followed was predictable and I was intrigued even more. So many predictable angles about a sex doll never happen in this film and it was refreshing.

Suffice it to say Lars has issues and once that's established, his new friend enters the pictures. A lifeless doll whom he calls Bianca. She has dark, long hair. Lush ruby lips. Melons for breasts. To him she's Bianca. Part Brazilian. A missionary. A church going person. All of it the creation of Lars and all of it seeming real.

His brother and sister-in-law are dumbfounded. They don't know what to do except to see a physician played by the adorable Patricia Clarkson.

What follows has to be viewed and enjoyed.

There were moments where I laughed, moments when I cried. Moments when I did both and wasn't sure what was the right response.

The doctor suggest they play along with his delusion and they do. (An attempt to do otherwise by his brother doesn't work.) What's surprising is the whole town plays along and the result is far reaching than you'd expect. Bianca takes on her own life as she volunteers at the hospital, goes to church, attends parties. It's quite remarkable what happens in this film.

Act III arrives when Lars discovers or decides that Bianca is terminally ill. Once you understand what happens to get to that point, this switch and turning point is completely natural. At some point there would have to be a change and this was it.

We never see Lars taken away to the looney bin. Never see him ridiculed or heckled or harassed and all of that is refreshing. Those types of responses represent cheap drama, melodrama, and we are spared it.

In part, what builds our interest is questions on why is he like this and can he be cured? Can he be healed? That is his arc and since this is a film, the answer is yes. And since it's primarily a comedy, the answer is definitively yes, even if life doesn't work that way.

In the third act, he buries Bianca in a full funeral that is entirely believable. A minister speaks of how Bianca touched everyone in front of a packed church. Nothing the minister says from his pulpit isn't anything but the truth.

Our hero finally grows closer to Margo and the film ends with the notion they will get married and live happily even after.

It's a feel-good movie with laughs but also thought provoking and hopeful. I'd like to live in that movie with those people.

I almost groaned early in the film when he said he had to go to church. Another bible thumper, or so I thought, but it's exactly the opposite. During the sermon we hear about the main force of Christianity: to love one another. It's something I find lacking from the bible-thumpers who spout off on TV and the internet. In this film the Church plays a small, but positive role in the film.

The whole notion of reality and delusion is one subject of this film. As it relates to an individual and the people around him and even the church.

I'm glad I watched it, in fact I loved it, and hope others do.

As you watch the film, pay attention to the weather. At the start of the film there is chilly late fall days with no snow on the ground. As we move forward, winter has arrived. Snow is everywhere, but late in the film, spring arrives, it's still early, but the snow is almost gone, water flows and it's no coincidence.

Posted 2009/02/27 at 19h14ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 21. Cardio Only (5.9918)

Day 21 of 21

...One of those days where I definitely didn't want to go into the gym. It happens....

I

dreaded the thought of going to the gym. No particular reason, but I went. It was a cardio day and if I was feeling more determined I might have done 30 minutes on the elliptical machines. Instead I did a slow walk for 30 minutes on the treadmill. I hardly worked up a sweat.

One of the easiest workouts in a long time, but it was a workout.

Posted 2009/02/27 at 19h14ET in Exercise.

Web site update.

...When coding a web site or a program, there's always room for improvement, updates and changes....

T

o date I've posted fifty-five entries in the category of movie commentary. Until yesterday, if you clicked on the Movie Commentary link you would go to a page listing all 55 entries one after another. The page was obviously too long and too slow to load.

The solution? Clink on the same link and see a list of each movie with a link to the individual movie commentary. Now it's most reasonable to view and navigate.

I suspect as other categories grow in size, the same procedure will have to be used.

In the process of making these changes to the code that underlies the web site, I realized two other things I should change or update. I've added them to the list--a list that keeps growing.

Posted 2009/02/26 at 17h27ET in JamesPiper.com.

Day 20. Weights Only (5.9909)

Day 20 of 20.

...Weights only day...

I

t'll be three straight weeks tomorrow. 21 days and counting. The average is not 5.9909 and still climbing.

Weights only day with leg squats and lunges.

Bench Press: 9kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Inclined Bench Press: 9kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Forgot to use a heavier weight. Next time.

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: 10 reps x 6 sets - Left/Right

Squats: 10 reps x 6 sets.

Lots of stretching.

Posted 2009/02/26 at 17h53ET in Exercise.

Firewall (2006)

Firewall. Feature film. (2006, 105 mins) IMDB

...It's hard to find a good thriller these days, so much has been done....

F

irewall is a thriller wherein robbers use computers to rob a bank of $100 million. Physically it's the only way to rob a bank of that amount of money. Remember GOLDFINGER?

Firewall is also a computer term used in computer security. It's a commonplace word yet not fully understood and never explained or used in the movie. Odd given that's the name of the film.

Harrison Ford plays the VP of Security at a bank based in Seattle. They didn't do a very good job of setting the location. At the beginning I thought we were in NYC. Later it's obvious it's the west coast and more specifically British Columbia. Constant rain plays a large roll in this movie.

That reminds me of an early scene in the movie. It's pizza night. Our hero calls his wife to say he'll be home a bit late. He calls around five in the evening yet it's pitch black outside. If it's that dark out then it's winter and there is no sign it's winter. Just something that struck me as I watched.

Firewall is also a term used in fighting forest fires which is relevant when living in BC. Lots of forest fires. A firewall creates a patch of land devoid of burnable material. It's set deliberately to stop the advance of a fire. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea why I just wrote that but there it is.

The film is classically structured. Set-up. Inciting incident. Act I ends. Act II. Act III with climax and resolution.

In the setup we learn our hero is a whiz when it comes to computers. How? People come to him for answers and in seconds, with a few keystrokes, the problem is solved. You have to love movies where anything is possible. We also learn that his job is risk management. It's to stop hackers and others from trying to gain access to the banks computers.

He's also the dutiful father with kids he loves and a wife he loves and blah-blah-blah. Quite a typical setup, yet it's important because his wife and two children are held hostage.

It's always a challenge to write these set-ups because nothing is happening. The filmmakers want the audience to see a caring, loving husband and his beautiful family. Someone worthy of respect and caring otherwise the rest of the movie is meaningless. So, we get an overdose of sugar and it's not interesting. The solution? Have it in the morning when everybody is rushed to get somewhere. That is, it's chaotic. Second. The teenaged daughter is insolent to everyone around her and the younger brother is rambunctious. That's fine, there's a level of conflict, but we've seen it so many times as to be boring. Literally boring and predictable.

The solution is a different story based on the same premise, but more on that later.

So. We've set up a family. Now we need a bad guy. He's played by Paul Bettany. If you watched THE DA VINCI CODE, you'll remember this actor. He plays the leader of the group involved in robbing the bank. The first step is to kidnap the wife and children. They are held hostage in their own home.

There was an interesting moment when the criminals begin to setup shop. An image includes shoving boxes of frozen TV dinners in the freezer. That's planning. They did their homework. It got me thinking about some of the tactics hostage negotiators use to wear down their adversaries. Cut off the electricity. Bring a gas-powered generator. No water. Bring lots. No food. Bring a freezer filled with frozen food. And a microwave oven. All of it powered by your own generator. Just a thought.

The bad guys have set-up shop in the home where the family is captive with no where to go. Enter our hero and the realization about what is happening. He spends the rest of Act I asking what the bad guys want, but we already know. They want to use his security access and knowledge to rob the bank of $100 million. Take the money in $10,000 chunks from 10,000 different accounts. You do that and we'll leave.

There are all sorts of issues to overcome. Security cameras a the bank. A computer system that has changed because a convenient bank merger taking place. A co-worker who is on our hero's ass.

What follows from that point is predictable. I wasn't surprised by any of it.

I was interested in the fact they used clearly recognizable images on the computer. There are two aspects of this. First, so many movies use Apple computers. So many Apple computers you'd think they were the number one seller, but of course that's not the case. Most people, like me, use computers with Intel processors and Microsoft operating systems. It's just the way. That's especially true in businesses such as the setting for this movie. Second, the programs and images shown on movie computers are stylized and created for that movie and don't exist elsewhere. In this movie, what we see does exist. I can use it. You can use it. That adds a level of realism and believability. It may seem like a small thing, but in this type of movie where the essence of the robbery is that it could really happen, it's important. And yes, this robbery could happen.

Now for the rewrite. The film as it exists is entirely predictable and therefore devoid of tension, devoid of suspense. Suspense isn't just anticipation of what will come, but what might come. Despite the fact the writer et al have brought new ideas, based on technology, to create a story, the formula is the same. Even if we know what will happen in the end, and we do, the how is then the question, but even here the how isn't spectacular.

How to make it better? The wrongly-accused story. Same hero with less emphasis on the family although it's exists. He has the same job and function. The villains want and do steal $100 million dollars but our VP Security is the one blamed for it all. How does he prove his innocence? He does he catch and trap the villains?

Same premise, but different story. It's more interesting because the solution is less clear. It's more interesting because the obstacles he has to overcome are more challenging. He'd be taken to worlds he's not used to. That's a movie I'd like to write and watch.

A couple of more thoughts.

Virginia Madsen. Yummy.

Set-ups. If you're going to use "the gadget" to solve a problem later in the film then it's got to be setup or so the thinking goes. Hence, the interference with the boy's remote control device on video screens and the reference to the dog's collar. Both were set-up early in the film and used later. I don't agree or disagree with this logic except to say it depends. Most of the time it has to be setup because "the gadget" used to save a character in a scene is new to the audience, but if it's something we'd expect in a given situation that no set-up is required.

Posted 2009/02/26 at 17h53ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 19. Cardio Only (5.99)

Day 19 of 19

...Oops....

I

realized today I made a mistake in my calculations. It's true 30 straight days of exercise will bring me back to a long-term average of 6 days a week. Exactly 6.000 days a week. I'm on day 19. 11 more to go, but when I hit 30 and take off the 31st, I'll be back below 6 again and the streak has to start over. In fact it's not 11 days to go but 30 days from today. Ugh! Since I want to keep my average at 6 or more, I'll do it. I've done it before. The only potential problem. Easter holidays when the gym is closed. Can't go in. Ugh again. But I think I'm okay. Those holidays are some time in April. I think. Seems to me the dates change every year unlike Christmas which is always December 25th.

Anyway, since yesterday was a weights day, today was a cardio only day. I did 30 minutes on the elliptical machine and burnt 495 calories. That was a good workout.

Posted 2009/02/25 at 19h04ET in Exercise.

The Assassination of Jesse James… (2007)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Feature film. (2007, 166 mins) IMDB

...Why do directors these days they have to make long movies?...

J

essie James, an historical figure, is a name I recognize as a Wild West outlaw type, but know nothing beyond that. I imagine many people can relate. How is it he's so famous?

I'm sure in my youth I've watched films where he was portrayed but I can't recall. I certainly never read anything about him that would bring about the fame. It has to be films. His name repeated in awe or in fear or both in the way other historical figures are immortalized. Cleopatra. Napoleon. Caesar.

In looking briefly at a bio of Jessie James there is nothing to admire. He killed at least seventeen men. Robbed banks and trains. He was a thug, a criminal. He died, as it should be, young--thirty-four years old--yet the name persists.

For whatever reason he's famous, but the second name in the title of this film, Robert Ford, is a nobody, that is until this film--a film that focuses on the decline of Jessie and his gang and his ultimate death by gun shot. Ford pulled the trigger.

I could use the word legend in describing James but I'm torn. On the one hand, he's mythical and mystery in the way legendary figures are, but he's scum and to my mind legend connotes admirable qualities. Criminals like him shouldn't be admired, but that's too naive. Politicians lie and cheat, and after they've died, we name parks and schools after them, Shakespeare writes plays about them and Hollywood makes movies.

That James should be killed, a wanted man, in his home, with his wife in the other room, and live on in stories, while his assassin is ridiculed and eventually murdered, even sentenced to hang for the shooting, is the ironic aspect of this true life story. It's the reason, I suspect, this film was made because it reflects on today's society.

People want fame and riches. That's what Ford sought in killing James, amongst retribution for his humiliation, and he had it for a moment, but instead of peace and happiness, it led to misery. That's the film in a nutshell but it takes two hours and forty minutes to tell it. Too long.

The director was in love with long panoramic shots of the sky filled with clouds. One is enough. Two, three, well...self-indulgent comes to mind.

Beyond the few scenes with horses and revolvers (six-shooters), there isn't much about the film that fits into the typical Hollywood Western. It's not an action film and we know a part of the ending based on the title. It's a film about James's decline and the arc of Ford.

Ford and James are the one-two, two-one characters of this story, yet Casey Affleck was nominated in the supporting category for the Oscars. The last twenty minutes of the film focuses on his life after he shot James. The film ends with his murder. That's a supporting role? Go figure.

One final note. The film includes a voice-over narrative that reminded me of a PBS documentary or the narrator from the television series THE WALTONS. I say again, it's not an action film. Think. It's cerebral.

Okay, it wasn't a final word. I should mention the editing and filming. Part of the reason the film is long is a choice of the director to have long takes. In one scene a group of local police ride in on horse to surround a farmhouse where one of the gang members is living. The camera sits by the house watching as they appear in the horizon and proceed down a snow-covered field. No cuts. It's the kind of style David Lean is known for and from another era. Today films don't hold the camera for very long. The mantra is cut, cut, cut. In the climax of BAD BOYS, the cuts happen every second! The rhythm is like a swaying metronome.

Posted 2009/02/25 at 19h04ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 18. Cardio & Weights (5.989)

Day 18 of 18

...The StepMill machine is a killer....

F

or a change of pace and to save time, I did 15 minutes on the StepMill at level 7 for 15 minutes. Sounds easy doesn't it? Try it! Before my injury I in the summer, I was on the machine a couple or more times a week and even then it was tough. Today brought back memories.

That was the cardio portion of today's workout. Then there were weights.

Bicep Curls: 7kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Tricep Presses: 14kg x 25 reps x 3 sets.

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: None--see StepMill.

Squats: 10 reps x 6 sets. Just part of the routine now.

Long-term average is now 5.989. 12 more days to go. It won't be long.

Posted 2009/02/24 at 19h27ET in Exercise.

Untraceable (2008)

Untraceable. Feature film. (2008, 101 mins) IMDB

...How do you stop a serial killer when you can't trace him?...

D

iane Lane plays an FBI agent working as a cyber-crime specialist in the Portland field office. At the start of the film, she's settled into her cubicle with an array of computer technology in front of her and she tracks down everyday hackers. She's a whiz and makes it look easy. We get to met her team of cyber-sleuths which includes Tom Hanks' son.

I was fascinated by the technology and suspect what happens in the movie world happens must faster than in real life and may not be within the capabilities of law enforcement. Call it the Hollywood licence to add sex appeal.

With the initial introductions done, the inciting incident arrives in the form of a new web site streaming video of a cat being tortured and killed. When she tries to shut down the offender's site, tries to trace the offender, she can't do it. Her superior isn't too concerned about a cat dying and not much is done. That changes when, instead of a cat, the next live video is a man captured, tortured and killed. We're into Act II.

Act II is about the inability of the FBI and Portland police to find this murderer. He brazenly flaunts his web site for all to see and people watch. Millions watch. To add a wicked twist, as the viewer count increases, the speed of death increases. This creates a dilemma for the police. They want the publics help in finding the killer, but in making their plea, they are promoting the site. Ouch.

One victim after another is tortured and killed for the world to see. Each method different from the previous one. The death of the men is show in great detail, yet, the most disturbing images for me was the cat even though we don't see the details. Call it theatre of the mind. I did not like the fact they would kill a cat in a movie, but they did.

The last person to die is one of the FBI agents. He is placed in a tank filled with water. As more people watch, more acid drips into the tank and drop by drop the man is dissolved. Before he dies, he blinks out Morse code to give our hero a clue about who the killer is. The clue leads to a revelation about why he was killing these people--they were all connected to his father's suicide.

His father walked out to a bridge with a handgun. A TV helicopter captures the images and broadcasts them where it's eventually made available to everyone who wants to watch online.

In Act III, the police know who they are looking for and go after him. There is the dead-end searches of his house etc and to add a final twist, the killer captures Lane and ties her up for the next killing. It looks like she's done for because, again as the Task Force watches the live feed, they don't know where it's coming from. They don't know where she is or he is, that is, until her colleague from the Portland police recognizes the basement as Lane's own basement. They rush to her house. Call that a convenience, but it doesn't matter. Lane is able to get free of her bonds, grab her pistol and shot the killer. And a quick fade out. No denouement when there should have been.

The getting free part is an even bigger convenience because all the previous victims were securely bound and couldn't get free.

I want to say I enjoyed this movie, but that's not the right word because there are some disturbing images--images I don't like to think about or see. The right word might be entertained, interested, intrigued, satisfied with the ending. For the most part.

While there are many similarities to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and this film brings a new spin on a serial killer, UNTRACEABLE shouldn't be put on the same shelf.

In the features, some of the producers and screenwriters give some interesting insight into the development of the screenplay. Here's the gist of it. Two non-writers get an idea for this screenplay and write a spec script. Somewhere along the way it's sold and a professional writer is brought in to rework it and makes some significant improvements. One being the killer's motivation and backstory. Someone also added the notion of the web site being untraceable and hence the title.

Posted 2009/02/24 at 19h27ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 17. Cardio Only (5.9881)

Day 17 of 17

...It doesn't always go as planned...

I

had planned a cardio and weights day, but changed my mind. Cardio only. 30 mins on the elliptical machine which was a strong workout. Instead of weights on Mon., Wed. & Fri., I switched it to Tue., Thur. & Sat because of time and scheduling issues.

My long-term average is now 5.9881. Getting oh close to 5.99 exactly and eventually 6.00.

My body doesn't feel the worse for wear with 17 straight days of exercise and workouts.

My weight is down to 93.8 KG. Two days at that number so I must be doing something right.

Posted 2009/02/23 at 20h12ET in Exercise.

The Trial (Le Procès) (1962)

The Trial (Le Procès). Feature film. (1962, 116 mins) IMDB

...A serious film...

M

aybe I haven't seen enough movies to truly appreciate this film--at least the narrative, not the film composition. As I watched the film I was frustrated by the set-up. It lacked specifics, but maybe that's the point. There are no specifics about what is accused of, but the lack of specifics made it seem more like a game than a serious threat.

Consider THE WRONG MAN--a 1956 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Peter Fonda as a family man who is wrongly accused of a series of robberies. In that film we clearly emphasize with the plight of Fonda's character because it's specific and real. We see him in jail, we see his accusers, we see the biased jurors. In short, we see a man in an impossible situation. In THE TRIAL, Perkins is arrested, but never taken to a jail or police station. He's free to wander around the city.

I never once related to his quest to free himself of these accusations--unknown to him and us. Perhaps that's the point. The absurdity of the system. I don't know.

The film is shot in what looks like Eastern Europe and perhaps the system in the film is a totalitarian government. Just a guess.

I suppose readers of Kafka's book, upon which the film is based, would bring a better appreciation of the narrative.

There were moments that in the film that reminded me of CITIZEN CANE. In the bedroom scene at the start of the film, characters are in foreground and background and both in focus. That's the famous deep focus of CANE.

I didn't like the fact the dialogue of the characters, other than Perkins, was at time mumbled and hard to hear. The audio could have been improved, or at least add English subtitles, that way we can read what was said.

Another film it reminded me of was THE THIRD MAN. Orson Welles starred in it, but didn't direct. Vienna of THE THIRD MAN was filled with bombed out buildings, rubble pilled around. While we don't see pilled rubble in this film, the buildings (factories, apartments) look as if they had been bombed at one point. There is a brief chase through an underground tunnel. There are the shadows of a man running down a street at night. I would guess Welles stole those ideas from THE THIRD MAN.

The film has many interesting visualizes. The set design and production design are unique and could studied at length. The lighting and cameras shots are equally provocative and different, but all these important elements don't matter if you're not interested in the story.

It was a much different film than I had imagined.

Posted 2009/02/23 at 20h11ET in Movie Commentary.

Made of Honor (2008)

Made of Honor. Feature film. (2008, 111 mins) IMDB

...Filmmakers keep searching for the new romantic comedy formula....

M

ADE OF HONOR fits the bill of a romantic comedy. The twist? Our hero is the maid of honour to the woman he loves. Yes, a man is a maid of honour. He wants to marry her but before he can propose, she returns from a trip to Scotland to announce her engagement to a Scot.

At the start of the film, he's a rich womanizer with a series of rules about dating women like: never see the same woman twice in a week. Okay, except, he's not terribly likeable as a result and he doesn't deserve the love interest. That's a fatal flaw in a romantic comedy. The filmmakers try to spin it by saying he realizes the error of his ways, but I never bought it. And it's never adequately explained why after 10 years of being friends with this man, our love interest would suddenly be in love with him especially when he knows his reputation of sleeping with every woman he can. The love between them doesn't seem strong and so when they do end up together at the end, we don't feel it. We're not routing for it and not happy to see it.

There are some funny moments, but not many. The Scottish angle I'm sure is there to create opportunities for humour, but it's a peach tree in November--nothing left on the tree.

And yes, it's predictable. For example, there is a Highland Games sequence. When it comes time to toss the telephone pole (caber tossing), the director telegraphs what's coming by showing parked cars in the background.

Posted 2009/02/23 at 20h11ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 16. Swim (5.9872)

Day 16 of 16

...A rare two days in a row in the pool....

S

ince it's Sunday, it means it's a cardio day. Normally I might do 30 minutes on a cardio machine, but today I decided to swim laps in the pool.

The pool was open for lane swimming from 16h to 17h. That's a better time than Saturday or Friday and I may switch to swimming on Sundays. Plus, there was the added advantage of fewer people.

Anyway I swam 30 laps. All breaststroke. Easy to do, but a workout.

My long-term average is up to 5.9872. I am getting there.

Tomorrow is a weights and cardio day. It will be long workout.

Posted 2009/02/22 at 18h58ET in Exercise.

The Hawk Is Dying (2006)

The Hawk Is Dying. Feature film. (2006, 106 mins) IMDB

...The film is dying...

W

hen I saw Paul Giamatti starred in this film, I had to watch it, which meant I wanted to like it, but couldn't. I've been trying to figure out why and don't have any concrete reasons.

Was the narrative arc too weak? Maybe.

Whatever it is, something was missing or wrong.

I know I didn't like the handheld camera shooting--the sort where the camera shakes in all sorts of directions, even when a character isn't moving. I don't like that style and wish directors would stop using it. But that's not the reason I didn't enjoy the movie.

For whatever reason I didn't get into to it.

It's possible that our main character played by Giamatti isn't developed enough. We don't get to know enough about him. We learn more about training hawks than we do the character. I didn't mind the heavy-handed exposition on training and caring for hawks, although it could have been done differently. Very few know much about falconry so it had to be explained.

The film is about Giamatti character who is obsessed with training a wild hawk.

We first meet him at an auto mechanic type shop where he deals in the front office with customers. Later we learn he owns the shop. He's not married, no children and is generally pissed off at life. The entire setup for the film is weak as to who is who and what they are doing. It isn't entirely clear.

Middle-aged men who are pissed off at life, the world, their careers, their family seems to be a common angle in films these day. Willy Loman lives.

Yes, the setup of this film doesn't work. After the start of the film, we learn he previously had a hawk who died. He died because he wouldn't eat. Apparently hawks who don't want to be kept, would rather starve to death and do. But perhaps our hero didn't know what he was doing and killed the hawk. I'm not sure.

The biggest problem, however, is the fact we never learn why he is so obsessed with this hawk. Nothing stops him from being with the hawk--not even the death of his nephew. The film seems to be more about hawks and falconry with a weak narrative thrown over it to make it seem like a movie.

By the end of the movie, he has the hawk eating. He has triumphed, but it's such a weak triumph. He's done something predictable and not terribly challenging. And what did he gain in the process? Pride? Self-satisfaction? The chance to tell everybody who doubted him: See, I told you. What can we take from that?

As for the hawk, we see him with our hero being cranky--flying at him, clawing and pecking. This happens over and over and over and we don't need to see it that many times. The arc of the relationship between the two should have been longer. The feeding coming earlier, other successes.

Finally, our hero isn't very likeable. He yells and screams at his sister. He's anti-social. Selfish. We just don't care if he succeeds or not and that's important.

Posted 2009/02/22 at 18h35ET in Movie Commentary.

Ying Xiong (2002)

Ying Xiong. Feature film. (2002, 93 mins) IMDB

...Visually stunning, but still a movie to hold a series of fight sequences....

H

ERO or YING XIONG is a Chinese martial arts film where instead of hands and feet and whatever gadgets or weapons marital arts experts use, the combatants use swords, fly in the air, slow time and otherwise defy the known laws of physics.

It's a movie filled with a simple narrative designed to hold a series of fight sequences. It's filled with epic battle scenes and wondrous shots filled with colour and majesty. While the film uses CGI, there are scenes with hundreds of real men in ancient Chinese battle gear with swords, bow & arrow, shields, and the images are spectacular, but it's still a film about a bunch of fight sequences. No ordinary fight sequences, but still lots and lots and lots of fighting.

I say a simple narrative because it is. An assassin arrives at what looks like the Forbidden City in Beijing to meet with the current emperor or king or warlord--take your pick. The assassin tells the leader how he killed this assassin and that assassin and so on. With each recounting of what happening, we flashback to the fight. But there's a twist. The assassin is lying and the king tells him so which means we get another version of fights with the other main characters. Why do this? So five characters (three men--Nameless (Jet Li), Broken Sword, Sky and two women--Moon and Flying Snow) can have fights over and over. Fights where one kills the other, but since it didn't happen that way, they can live to fight in the next sequence and the next. A small cast instead of many, many characters who are killed off one by one. Do you see how that works?

A common ploy to create twists in the film is to use deception or misinformation. At the start of the film, the Jet Li character is portrayed as a hero to the king, he killed three assassins, but as the film progresses, we learn it was a ploy. Jet Li is also an assassin. He wants the king dead and concocting this plots gets him in position to do just that--something he couldn't do otherwise.

Some people love this type of movie. I liked the visuals, but I was bored with the fight sequences and bored with the simple narrative. To keep myself interested, I listened to the English overdubbed dialogue and compared it to the English subtitles. There's a big difference. The dubbed version was written to sync with the character's lips who are speaking in Chinese. It meant a lot of rewrites. Whoever was responsible for the dubbing version deserves an award because it's not easy to do. It's a bit like doing a NY Times Sunday crossword a hundred and fifty times.

Posted 2009/02/22 at 18h35ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 15. Swim (5.9863)

Day 15 of 15

...I'm liking swimming as an exercise....

I

have been keeping the streak alive. 15 days in a row. I'm at the half-way point and I will reach 6.00

I did 30 laps in the pool. Most of them the breaststroke. I can do lots and lots of laps with the breaststroke or sidestroke. Not so with the front or back crawl. Those are more like sprints.

I tried half-a lap doing the butterfly stroke. That's intense--very intense--but I was getting the hang of it. Still a bit uncoordinated. I had the arm movement down and I was going forward, but I wasn't matching it up with my legs. I'll try again next week.

I'm thinking of swimming twice a week because it is a good cardio workout and easier on the joints etc. We shall see.

Posted 2009/02/21 at 19h33ET in Exercise.

Steel City (2006)

Steel City. Feature film. (2006, 95 mins) IMDB

...Another film set in a rust-bucket town where young uneducated, adults have few choices....

T

he first ten minutes of this film is so confusing I almost turned it off. Why? It was disorientating. We see a series of cuts (forward and back) with a great number of characters, none of whom we recognize except for John Heard. It was impossible to make sense of anything that was happening. I know what they were trying to do. They tried to evoke interest by setting out a calamitous event, to raise our curiosity and interest, but instead of doing that, they created confusion.

Fortunately, the confusion stops as the narrative straightens out and we can begin to recognize all the various characters.

The film takes place in any of numerous rust-bucket towns in Ohio or thereabouts. A working class town with few employment options. People aren't educated enough to get very far.

There's a father and two sons. The father neglected his family when the sons were growing up. The wife left and remarried to a black police officer.

The father is in jail, but for the longest time, the story never tells us all the details. We have to assume or guess.

The film focuses on the consequence to the younger son since he's father was arrested. They lived together in a small, dirty house. The son washes dishes in a restaurant to make a living but obviously hates it and gets fired.

With no income or money to keep the house, the water and electricity are turned off and he is evicted. With only a truck filled with personal belongings, he has no where to go. His mother won't or can't take him in. His uncle does him a favour and lets him stay, but he wears out his welcome.

He has fights with his older brother who is an irresponsible, lying, womanizing drunk. We see him lose his wife and child, about to lose his job in a steel plant.

John Heard as the father is completely not right for the role. He plays characters with education, with money, with status. I never once believed him in the role.

The son shows an interest in becoming a cop. The only reason, I suspect, is it's a job. By the end of the movie, he's gone through academy and a posting, yet we never see any of this.

The film's big secret is the event that resulted in the father being arrested. We never learn all the details about what happened other than there was a car accident and some woman died. Then, in a scene in the jail cell where the father and son talk, the big reveal: the son was driving, not the father and therefore the son should be in jail, but if the son was convicted, he wouldn't be able to become a cop. This aspect of the story was hinted at during the confusing first ten minutes of the story and by this point it loses any power it has.

The way the story is shown is definitely how it might happen in real life, but stories aren't real life. The writer/director of this story made bad choices. Perhaps he saw CRASH (the Paul Haggis film) and wanted to follow that line, but there's a difference. In CRASH each scene stands on its own. There's something compelling and different in each scene. Further, we know what is happening in the scenes, but later when they come together at a different level, we are impressed and taken away with the power of the story.

In this film, we are confused and bored and yawn and under whelmed. The story would have been better told with a straight narrative where the son is looking to be a cop, then we see the accident, then the conspiracy and cover-up and so on until we reach a conclusion. That would have been a much better film to watch because there would have been something at stake. Instead we see a son who takes action not by choice, but by necessity.

The writer perhaps thought the big reveal, the sacrifice of the father at the end, was poignant and significant and a twist to jolt the viewer, but it doesn't work.

Posted 2009/02/21 at 16h22ET in Movie Commentary.

Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore. Feature film. (1998, 93 mins) IMDB

...Not your typical high school with teenagers movie....

I

saw this movie ages ago when it first came out and I didn't remember anything about it. Nothing. Not one scene. Not one line of dialogue--although I read that the line "Yeah, I was in the shit." was ranked in a Top 100 list of movie lines. The shit in this instance was Bill Murray's character confirming he was in Vietnam, in battle, in the shit.

The title of the film comes from the name of a high school. Rushmore Academy. It's a private school with wood-panelled rooms, carved stone walls, uniforms, all male. It seemed right to me because that's the sort of school I went to. St. Jerome's Private High School. All boys, wore uniforms, almost all the teachers were male. However, my high school was rundown and would close in 1990. The public high school they show, the type often seen in movies and TV seemed alien to me because it's not what I experienced.

The story focuses on Max Fischer. He is unlike his fellow students in many ways. He wears a full uniform with blazer and tie--the only one to do so. He's active in every extra-curricular club possible, but not much of an athlete. He writes plays. His father is a widower and poor--a lifetime barber content with his space in life. The only reason Max can afford to attend the school is a scholarship based on his playwriting and that scholarship is in jeopardy early in the story because he has neglected his school work in favour of other activities. He's flunking out and it isn't long before he's expelled and forced to attend the dreary public school.

Thankfully the film doesn't take the obvious route of him being bullied or humiliated at the public school. The focus is on Rushmore.

Bill Murray is a father and business owner. He runs some type of steel fabrication operation. He has two sons attending the school. They are both jocks--vulgar and stupid. He's wife cheats on him. He's completely disinterested in life--just going through the motions. It's an early version of the role he played in LOST IN TRANSLATION.

Early in the film he gives a speech at the school. Nobody could care what he says except for Max who jumps to his feet at the end to applaud and clap. The two hit it off. They become friends.

Olivia Williams plays the lovely young school teacher just arrived from somewhere else. By coincidence, Max meets her and falls in love. He spends a lot of time trying to win her over even though he's 15 and she's 25 plus. He does stupid things in his attempt to win her over like faking an injury to garner sympathy. And, since she's into aquatic life (a tic of Wes Anderson), he plans to build a giant aquarium on the baseball field. He proceeds as if a construction manager and gets into more trouble with the school.

To complicate matters, Mr. Blume (Murray) meets and falls in love with Miss Cross. The love triangle is set and it break-ups the friendship.

Max gets around on a bicycle. Blume drives a Bentley. There's a scene, during which they are at war, were Blume cuts the lock on Max's bike, sets it on the road and drives over it.

In Act III, Blume begins the process of divorcing his wife, but the relationship with Miss Cross doesn't last. Max realizes he can't have a relationship with Cross. He turns to an Asian classmate who liked him and whom he ignored.

The film ends with the opening night production of one of his plays. It's a gritty, action piece set in Vietnam complete with miniature helicopters and planes flying past in the background. Explosions. Gun fire. Quite a set design and production for a high school performance.

As far as high school, teenager movies, this film is far better than most, but I can't say I laughed a great. No, but I was interested in what this goof ball would do next.

Posted 2009/02/21 at 16h22ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 14. Weights Day (5.9853)

Day 14 of 14

...Putting back weight exercises for the back....

A

weights only day. I probably should do some cardio. Maybe in the future I'll do 15 mins on the StepMill machine. That deceptive looking machine is quite a workout.

In the past I did vertical and lateral back exercises. Instead of free-weights, I use the machine. I figured I should get them back into my routine and started today. I kept to a light weight--you never want to start hard on a new exercise. It's a good way to get injured and take steps back instead of forward. I can increase the weight later when I've gotten used to it.

And the second time I did squats. I'm getting used to it. Don't feel it in my butt at the moment.

Lateral Back 20 kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Vertical Back 20 kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: 10 reps x 6 sets - Left/Right.

Squats: 10 reps x 6 sets.

Long-term average is now 5.9853. 16 more days to go. I've done two weeks in a row so far.

Posted 2009/02/20 at 17h49ET in Exercise.

War, Inc. (2008)

War, Inc. Feature film. (2008, 107 mins) IMDB

...Where do you draw the line when writing a satire?...

W

ar, Inc. is a satire of Dick Cheney, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the private companies earning billions in the process.

Dan Ackroyd plays the Dick Cheney-type character--former US vice-president, runs a private company making billions on the war. He hires Cusack to kill Omar Sharif (Yes, they used that name), a political leader in a fictional country that has a green zone like Baghdad but people like Afghanis. The leader dresses like the president of Afghanistan. Cusack plays an efficient, but troubled assassin. He used to work with the CIA, but is in the private sector now.

Unlike a lone wolf assassin, Cusack goes to the country under a cover. He will run a trade conference that promotes American businesses. There's humour in that setup because the conference makes no sense given the bombings and shootings happening all around. That's a sample of the satire.

His sister, Joan, plays in the scheme as his secretary. He has an office where at the end of each meeting he hands out gift bags. Everybody has to get a gift bag.

When he arrives in this country, he meets Marisa Tomei who plays a high-brow print journalist. She is completely against the war, while Cusack is ambivalent because he likes the money he's making, but in meeting her, he loses focus. He's infatuated with her while she's interested in getting a story which leads to a great deal of onscreen time between the two.

In another example of humour, he explains he knows such-and-such because he's trying to be culturally sensitive to the locals. When he finishes his speech, the camera focuses on an American labourer constructing something for the conference. On his back is a large tattoo that reads: Fuck Haji! So much for cultural sensitivity. (If you're not aware, Haji is often a name given to a Muslim man who made the pilgrimage to Mecca.)

While he's trying to get somewhere with the reporter, he's also tracking the movements of Omar Sharif. He has many chances to kill the guy but doesn't. It seems he's growing a conscious and by the end of the movie, he abandons the assassination and warns his target. His focus is on the man played by Ben Kingsley who is running the whole show. It seems they worked together at the CIA which includes a ridiculous subplot where Cusack's wife was killed and his daughter taken away.

Cusack isn't just an assassin with a rifle or gun, he's also hand-to-hand combat fighter. There's a seen where the posse attack him in a bathroom. It was fun to watch Cusack fight off five guys and leave them behind. Reminded me of a similar scene in TRUE LIES. Why does it work? We want to see these cretins get the shit kicked out of them.

There's another subplot to complicate matters. Hillary Duff plays a teen pop-star, but instead of being American she's Arab or Muslim or both with dark hair instead of blonde. The lyrics to her songs are dreadful and maybe they were meant to be. (I want to blow you...up.) The double entendre.

The Duff character is surrounded by white rap wannabes who are abusive and boorish and well they all seemed alike that it was impossible know who was who.

This entire pop culture subplot was dreadful and clichéd. It ties back in the end with Cusack when it's revealed she's his lost daughter. Well, there were lots of funny moments in the early part of the film, but I guess if you're a Cheney type, you probably weren't laughing.

There's another aspect of the war played out here: foreigners who are kidnapped and beheaded, the event recorded on video. Our reporter who wants a story travels to a bombed out city where she is captured and Cusack comes to save her. Here's an example of satire that doesn't work. It's not the least bit plausible and it's too raw to be funny. It's one of the challenges of writing satire--how far do you go? In this film, they went far and further and it doesn't seem they left anything out.

While it's not a great movie, it is worth watching particularly if you like the idea of ridiculing Bush and Cheney.

Posted 2009/02/20 at 17h49ET in Movie Commentary.

Day 13. Cardio Only (5.9844)

Day 13 of 13

...Cardio only day. Let the muscles from weight training rest....

T

hirteen days in a row now. 17 days to go. The long-term average is 5.9844.

I wasn't in the best mood for going and forced myself to go otherwise I might have easily skipped going. When you start that you end up missing more and more days. You have to be disciplined in you want to lose weight and stay in shape.

Today was a cardio only day. 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. RPM 75. Burnt 485 calories. A good workout. Lots of sweat.

Tomorrow will be a weights and on Saturday swiming.

Posted 2009/02/19 at 17h17ET in Exercise.

Wah-wah (2005)

Wah-Wah. Feature film. (2005, 97 mins) IMDB

...What the wah-wah?...

A

nother British film loaded with character actors. You've seen them all before even if you can't put a name to them or even remember what movie you saw them in. It's just the way it is.

It's 1969 in Swaziland--way down in the southern end of Africa. It's still controlled by Britain, but by the end of the movie Princess Margaret will have arrived to preside over its independence. Unlike say A DRY WHITE SEASON, this film doesn't focus on blacks. It's about the English living in this foreign country. How they bring their pretensions and funny language (e.g., toodaloo). Wah-wah is a general mimicry in a derogatory of this pretentious language and the class ranks in which it exists.

There is a father (Byrne) who is a respected British gentleman and a drunk. A drunk who can't remember his violent and outrageous behaviour from the night before. In the morning he begs for forgiveness and will mend his ways. Over and over.

He has a beautiful wife who is cheating on him at the start of the film. Leaves him and her son shortly thereafter and tries to return when her lovers departs to Peru.

Then there is the son. Abandoned by his mother, ignored by his father. Shipped off to boarding school. Even though he spends a great deal of time on screen and has lots of lines, we don't really get to know him. He seems to be coping and responding to what is happening around him. The best we see is he makes a stage and puppets and acts them out. And later has a role in an amateur production of CAMELOT. Maybe they want us to think he's gay, but there's a girl he kisses and yet there's no plot between the two. He spots her one day, than another, and finally they kiss during the open night performance. No drama there.

Neither father or son cope well with the loss of mum. It seems worse on the father, because it's after the break-up that we see him as a drunk. The worst sort. But I ask you, do we really need to see this? It's been done, and done. What is the point? It's ugly. It's not something I'm interested in watching.

The exact same father was shown in "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" as played by Woody Harrelson. I suppose this aspect of the film was a big turn off for me. I know I started to tune out.

Further. What's new and interesting about a bunch of snobs fucking around with other people's husbands or wives all the while saying wah-wah? Nothing new there.

While the movie is set in Swaziland. It doesn't become part of the story to the extent we feel we're there. There are the moments at the end, but by that point it's too late. Since it's not based on real events, the story is entirely made up, I don't know why they chose that location? There doesn't seem to be any reason for being there. It could have easily happened in any number of locations. Did the producers get a deal if they produced the film in South Africa? I wouldn't be surprised.

In Act III, there's an attempt at a reconciliation of the mother and father, but the father finds out he has terminal brain cancer. Not long to live.

And the film doesn't know where to end because it doesn't know what it's about. There's a triumph with a stage production of CAMELOT in which the son performs. That's a good way to end. But no. We have to show the independence ceremony when the country was never part of the story. Finally, the father is buried and people mourn. Make up your mind.

While I know I'm being harsh, it's because the film was muddled and trite. The acting was fine and believable--even the dialogue, but give us more. Give us some real drama and humour. I suppose you could say it was melodramatic. That's probably a good word for it.

Yet, I'll probably use wah-wah. I like that concept.

Posted 2009/02/19 at 17h17ET in Movie Commentary.

Proceeds on Life Insurance

...What is your proceeds of disposition on a life insurance policy?...

T

he following circumstances result in proceeds of disposition for a policyholder and therefore a potential capital gain: (a) full or partial surrender of the policy, (b) a policy loan, (c) policy dividends, and (d) certain transfers of ownership of the policy.

The full surrender of a life insurance policy results in a capital gain equal to the policy's cash surrender value (CSV) less its adjusted cost base (ACB). Where there is a partial surrender, there is a pro-rated capital gain if the total CSV exceeds the ACB.

Loan amounts received from the insurer under the terms of the policy are included as proceeds. Loans and debts with third-parties are not included, nor is the assignment of the policy as collateral for a loan or debt.

Policy dividends are included as proceeds; however, where the dividend is used to pay premiums, the amount is not included.

With certain exceptions, the transfer of a policy to another owner is a disposition with proceeds equal to the CSV.

Posted 2009/02/19 at 17h17ET in Estate Planning.

Day 12. Weights Day (5.9835)

Day 12 of 12

...Trying new exercise gives new feelings to muscles....

N

o cardio today. Weights only, but the leg lunges and squats are a bit of cardio. It gets the blood pumping.

Someone suggested I should do leg squats. Similar to leg lunges, but with a different motion. I don't use any weights. Not at the moment. So I did six sets with 10 reps. I can feel it and I'm sure I'll feel it even more tomorrow morning. I imagine my legs and butt will feel a bit sore and stiff and well I've been there before with leg lunges. Same deal. Once I get to the third workout with them, it won't be an issue.

Bicep Curls: 7kg x 25 reps x 3 sets (One 7kg dumbbell for each hand)

Tricep Presses: 14kg x 25 reps x 3 sets.

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: 10 reps x 6 sets - Left/Right.

Squats: 10 reps x 6 sets. Yep, I can feel it.

Long-term average is now 5.9835. 18 more days to go. I've done 12 in a row so far.

Posted 2009/02/18 at 18h01ET in Exercise.

It's a Free World (2007)

It's A Free World. Feature film. (2007, 97 mins) IMDB

...Add another anti-hero to the list of anti-heroes, but unlike Newman or Nicholson or Brandon, we don't like her one bit....

A

ngela is no angel. At the start of the movie she works for a temp agency that goes to Eastern Europe to find people who want to work in England. The recruits pay money, get terrible transportation and roach-infested rooming, crappy jobs and eventually go back home the worse for the ordeal. Meanwhile the recruiters have pocketed substantial income. It's a modern day slave trade.

Angela worked at this agency until shortly into this film she is fired. The inciting incident. Since she's good at this job, she realizes she can start her own agency and with the help of roommate she does just that. Over night The Angie and Rose Agency is created.

She talks with immigrant workers about working. She talks with businesses about hiring them and before you know it, the business is a success. They even come up with a way to make even more money. Rent a house for 250 pounds a month and rent out four rooms for 50 pounds a week. The math is staggering.

But it can't all go well.

The first bump in the road is her son. She's a single mother. Her son is 11 years old and lives with her parents. He's also violent--broke a fellow student's jaw. While she says she cares about her son, she never spends any time with him except when meeting with school officials over disciplinary matters.

In the first half of the film, while she's a leech and manipulative, she carries on her business within the law--that is she only deals with legal workers. Workers from EU countries with the right paperwork, but an Iranian man changes that.

He comes to her for work, but she flatly refuses because he's an illegal immigrant. In that lowbrow accent she has, she tells him to bugger off, but when she sees where he lives with his wife and two daughters, she decides to help. The next thing you know she's arranging for illegal passports and work for these men. They want the job and she wants the money she gets for each worker.

Now there's even more money coming in.

Her roommate was with her when the workers were legal, but the next step is too much and they split. Angie is on her own.

Time for more trouble. A construction site where she placed a number of workers isn't paying her which means she can't pay the workers. The workers are upset. There is no resolution from her point of view except to say: I'm sorry. That isn't good enough for these Polish workers.

One night while she's watching a movie with her son, he goes to answer the door for a pizza delivery and doesn't return. (The son is only there for plot purposes otherwise he's out of the picture). She can't find him. After a quick search of the neighbourhood, she is greeted by three masked men. Men who weren't paid. They beat her up, steal her stash of money and demand future payments to clear the debt. They also threaten harm to her son.

Because she has gotten herself into illegal activities, she feels she can't go to the police. She has to make the money somehow and travels to Kiev in the Ukraine to sign up recruits who will work in England. It's were the film started in terms of what she was doing with her previous employer. What's interesting is that in this final scene, we see a middle-aged and desperate woman meet with Angie. The woman has high hopes of a great new life in England. We know what she doesn't know. It's a scam. Angie listens and smiles and takes the wad of money from the woman.

There was a moment of hesitation as if Angie was touched by the woman's story and would make an excuse that she's not appropriate, keep your money, but no. Angie is ruthless and we really hate her. The movie ends on that note. I thought there might be a change, but it didn't come. Under the circumstances, a change of character, of heart, wouldn't be realistic.

While Angie is the protagonist of this story, she is an anti-hero. There isn't much we like about her. She lies. She cheats. She's selfish. She has no qualms with taking money from people who have no money. And if she wasn't threatened, she never would have made good on the pay the workers didn't get.

She is probably a sociopath--someone to stay clear of except it's not always easy to tell when you meet one.

Posted 2009/02/18 at 18h01ET in Movie Commentary.

ACB Of Life Insurance

...What is the ACB of a life insurance policy?...

M

ost people consider permanent life insurance a tax-free investment vehicle with a death benefit. In many cases that is true; however, there are instances where a taxpayer receives, or is deemed to have received, proceeds of disposition (POD). The result is a capital gain if the proceeds exceeds the adjusted cost base (ACB) and any selling expenses.

The ACB of a life insurance policy is defined in subsection 148(9) of the Income Tax Act.

While there are a number of factors that go into determining the ACB of a life insurance policy, the two main factors are: premiums paid and something known as the Net Cost of Pure Insurance (NCPI).

The premiums paid under the policy increase the ACB and over the life of the policy this amount grows. Where the policyholder receives a dividend from the policy and apply it as a premium, that premium is not added to the ACB.

The NCPI is the amount at risk for the insurer times a mortality factor. The calculated amount reduces the ACB. As the insured person ages, the mortality factor increases and so does the NCPI.

Early in the life of the policy, the ACB is usually positive since the premiums exceeds the NCPI. As the insured person ages, the NCPI grows faster than the premiums and the ACB approaches zero.

The ACB cannot become negative.

The good news is the insurance company will provide with the ACB amount.

The bad news is that depending on what that amount is, proceeds on the policy may give rise to income taxes.

Posted 2009/02/18 at 18h01ET in Estate Planning.

Day 11. Cardio Only (5.9825)

Day 11 of 11

...A cardio only day....

I

sn't take long for the days to add up. Eleven days in a row now. Nineteen more to go. The long-term average is 5.9825.

Today was a cardio only day. 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. RPM 75. Burnt 490 calories. A good workout. Lots of sweat.

Posted 2009/02/17 at 17h58ET in Exercise.

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise. Feature film. (1932, 83 mins) IMDB

...There certainly is trouble in paradise...

A

must see film.

If the same film was made today, shot for shot, you would enjoy it and not know it was from 1932. It stands up even if the film stock could use a restoration.

It's the dialogue. The romance. The acting. The compositions. The film is a tour de force. And did I mention it was made in 1932? It's hard to image how it could have been improved.

There is a three-act structure to the story which is crisp and lean. The film shows how images can set a scene quickly and completely. It is an example of what film can do.

The story is straightforward. A suave and charming crook is in Venice. He robs a fellow of his wallet and cash right in the man's hotel room. He pretends to be a baron and is in love with a woman who pretends to be a countess, but like him, she's a crook. In a hotel scene where they are to have a romantic dinner, we and they realize they are both crooked and thieves and madly in love.

Flash forward to Paris where we met the second woman and the third leg of this love triangle. She's Madame Colet. She's fabulously rich, owns a prominent perfume company. She spends money as if it were sand to brush off your body after a day on the beach.

Enter our two crooks who want to rob her blind and who come into her employ as secretaries.

They wait for the big score but before that arrives, the man from Venice recognizes our thief and he must leave or be thrown in jail. He and his lover will escape to Berlin with whatever they can take, but not so fast. He's in love with the beautiful and rich Madame Colet.

There are scenes in this film that last no more than one second. That's what I mean by lean. There are no cheats. A one second scene tells us so much.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE is a students of filmmaking should watch over and over because there is so much to learn from it.

My few words here have only gave an overview.

There is, for example, a scene where Gascon and Colet embrace and kiss. We see different shots of the moment, but most of what we see isn't direct shots of them especially not even a close-up. Instead, we see a reflection of their embrace on a bed. That's filmmaking.

Posted 2009/02/17 at 17h58ET in Movie Commentary.

Exempt Policy Status

...Thinking of buying permanent insurance?...

T

here are, broadly speaking, two forms of life insurance: term and permanent. With permanent insurance, sometimes called whole life insurance and other variations, the premiums paid to the insurer create an investment fund for the policyholder. The fund earns investment income and is generally not subject to federal or provincial income tax provided the policy qualifies as an "exempt policy" under the Income Tax Act.

The rules on what is or isn't an exempt policy are complex and best left to the insurer; however, before signing a policy be sure the agreement specifies the insurer will monitor your policy's status and they will ensure it maintains its exempt status.

Why do this? If your policy loses its exempt status it will be subject to income tax and would therefore create a significant tax problem.

Posted 2009/02/17 at 12h06ET in Estate Planning.

Day 10. Weights (5.9816)

Day 10 of 10.

...Another weights day...

T

oday was Family Day in Ontario. A holiday. Many people didn't have to go to school or work and hundreds of them came to the gym today.

I like going in the middle of the afternoon because that's when the place is the least busy. It's busy in the morning as people do their workout before going off to work. Many mothers and non-working women come in the morning. There's usually lots of mothers and their toddlers. Then there's the lunch crowd. And the big load is just after work starting around 16h30. Nope. The best time is between 14h and 16h. Except today.

I went at 13h. As I drove up I saw the parking lot was jammed full of cars--not a good sign. Then when I stepped into the lobby, I thought I was entering an airport terminal on the busy day of the year. Then when I got to the exercise room, the long row of elliptical machines were in use--except one. It was a different model than the one I use and when I punched the buttons to set the time etc. it seemed to work but then crapped out. It kept asking me to re-enter data. The machine was broken. There was another available. The same model. I entered the same data and this time it worked. The other one was definitely broken.

30 mins on the elliptical machine and it said I burnt 475 calories. I believe it. RPM was 70 to 75. Lots of sweat. A cardio workout.

Then the weights.

Bench Press: 9kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

Inclined Bench Press: 9kg x 25 reps x 3 sets

I've been doing these chest exercises enough over the last while that I'm going to increase the weight level the next time round. The weight is too easy. That would be on Friday.

Stomach Crunches: 25 reps x 6 sets

Leg Lunges: 10 reps x 6 sets - Left/Right

Doing six sets instead of three.

Lots of stretching.

One of the support staff says there's three things you can do for exercise: push ups, leg lunges and squats. It's old school, but effective. No special equipment required except good shoes. Good shoes area a must. Don't skimp.

I did one squat as she suggested just to see what it's like. I could feel it in my butt. That would see to be a good exercise to do with my leg lunges. Because you're working the large muscles with the squats and lunges, it's also a cardio activity. It will get your heart pumping.

She also thinks six or seven days a week is too much. I'm in a rut where it's hard not to do as much as I have been doing. I don't want to stop my trend because I want to get to 6.00. Another 20 days. I know I can do it and will. After that I'm not sure. Maybe rest on Sundays. Maybe.

Posted 2009/02/16 at 19h10ET in Exercise.