Movie Theatre

Hot Coffee. Is justice being served?
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hot coffee poster photoSPOILER ALERT! I’m about to tell you the entire movie, but you should watch it anyway.

CAUTION: CONTENTS HOT!  Everyone has seen this warning on their coffee cup.  Ridiculous, right?  Frivolous, right?  Everyone knows that coffee is hot.  Do you think you know about the lawsuit that triggered this warning?  Think again.

Stella Liebeck of New Mexico bought coffee from McDonald’s.  She was sitting in a car, holding the coffee between her legs (no cup-holders in the car), when she spilled it in her lap.  She suffered third degree burns on her legs that required skin grafts.  During her lawsuit it was discovered that McDonald’s policy required franchise owners to keep their coffee temperature at 82-88 degrees C or 180-190 degrees F.  Water boils at 100C or 212F.  It was also discovered that McDonald’s had over 700 reports of similar incidents and had done nothing about it.  Mrs. Liebeck was awarded $2.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages.  This amount was later reduced in a private settlement.    Soon after the verdict was announced, a concerted media campaign started, making Mrs. Liebeck and her lawsuit a national joke.  The terms ‘lawsuit lottery’ and ‘jackpot justice’ were kicked around.  So began the battle for so-called ‘tort reform’ that would cap the damages that juries could award.  BTW, McDonald’s now keeps their coffee at 77C or 170F.

Nebraska couple Lisa and Mike Gourley were pregnant with twins.  Without going into the medical details, through the malpractice of Lisa’s OB/GYN, one of the twins was deprived of oxygen in the womb and suffered severe brain damage.  In the subsequent lawsuit the jury awarded the Gourleys $5.6 million for lifetime care without knowing that the Nebraska State Legislature had capped damages for all civil cases at $1.25 million, which the trial judge imposed.  Appeals to the state’s Supreme Court confirmed the cap amount as constitutional, shifting the financial cost of caring for the boy from the doctor’s insurance company to US taxpayers through Medicaid.

Seeking to ensure that state supreme courts continued to provide pro-business decisions, the US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), launched a campaign to elect pro-business judges to courts throughout the country.  They started with the state of Mississippi and Justice Oliver Diaz, considered to be pro-plaintiff, who was up for re-election in 2000.  The USCC spent a great deal of money in a negative campaign against Diaz and in favor of his opponent.  Diaz had to get a co-signed loan to finance his own campaign.  Amazingly, he won.  Almost immediately however, he was investigated and charged with accepting bribes (the loan), and tax evasion by federal prosecutors from the Bush administration.  He was eventually acquitted on all charges but it took 3 years to clear his name.  Under the taint of past indictments, he lost a re-election bid in 2008.

Many corporations seek to avoid lawsuits altogether and so have written into the fine print of employee and customer contracts, a mandatory arbitration clause which prohibits public lawsuits, and imposes secret arbitration by a judge hired by the company.

Nineteen-year-old Jamie Leigh Jones signed just such a contract with KBR/Halliburton before she went to Iraq.  When she arrived she found that she was not housed in the promised female barracks, but was instead housed with men.  In less than a week she had been gang-raped and then after reporting it, locked in a shipping container for her ‘protection’.  As of 2011 she had been fighting for 4 years to have her case heard in open court.

But that’s the US, right?  That couldn’t happen in Canada, right?  It’s true that judges aren’t elected in Canada, but you should probably still investigate before you have to go to court.

A middle-aged nerd reads “Fangirl”
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The Fangirl Book Cover

Upon a recommendation from a colleague, I recently checked out Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I have been reading a lot more typically “young adult” fiction these days – more on the science fiction end of the genre (you know ….for “research”. ‘Cause it’s my job.  That’s the reason …let’s go with that).

This is the first YA book that I have read that isn’t filtered through some kind of genre (like sci-fi) that I am already on board with. This is a story – at least on its surface – about girl who goes to university and finds some friends and falls in love. There is not a spaceship or hobbit or tough-as-nails-gumshoe anywhere to be found. There are some vampires, but they’re strictly fictional creations within the book.

These fictional vampires were an easy entry point into the book for me, though. Cath – the book’s protagonist – is seriously devoted to a Harry Potter-esque series. She is so devoted, that she spends most of her spare time writing internet fan fiction that rewrites and reimagines this already existing literary world.  There are a lot of talk about how Cath is a nerd.

Nerd culture, and its wackier, flashier sibling fangirl/fanboy culture, fascinates me. I like a lot of things that are typically get hung with the nerd tag. I played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid. I watched Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously. I am still obsessed with following far too many obscure music genres. I have said, on occasion, that I was “into” zombies WAY BEFORE The Walking Dead. I work in a library.

Star Trek Season One on DVDSo yeah …I might be a nerd. But I am not a fanboy. The closest I ever got was with the original (in its original run) Star Wars series. Man, did watching the first Star Wars movie change my childhood. Before that, it was a mix of a lot of things: cowboys, soldier stuff, superhero stuff (Ghostrider meant something as I learned how to ride a bicycle). But after Star Wars, everything was Star Wars.

This obsession didn’t end until Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker finally was cool, but the ewoks …not so much. The point is, though, this single minded obsession did end.

I have friends and peers who maintained their allegiance to the Star Wars universe for much, much longer. They still own the toys and tie-ins. They were excited for (and still defend, if without much enthusiasm) the prequels. I have friends who are still REALLY INTO horror culture. It is more than the movies. They love and live the books, the magazines, the art, the music, the toys (again, with the toys).

These friends – these fanboys and fangirls – take this nerd love to another level. I suspect that I am too much of a dilettante to really devote myself to one aspect of popular culture. But I also wonder though if anything else has been conspiring to keep me locked at my nerd level. I sometimes think that it has something to do with maturity. My Star Wars buddies manage to keep their Star Wars love reasonably under wraps these days. Careers and houses seem to be more common topics of discussion. My horror aficionado friends work the horror beat professionally – it is now a job for most.

IPrincess of Mars Book Cover think I’m just an old-school nerd. I am reminded of an essay Patton Oswalt wrote a few years ago. Oswalt (who is close to my age) laments how easy it now is to access nerd culture. Back in the day, it was really hard to track down older Husker Du albums or vintage John Carter of Mars books. Today, the internet makes it real easy. Oswalt worries that it may be too easy. If culture is now so accessible, will we continue to strive to make something new?

Rowell’s Fangirl addresses this question too. Much of the narrative focuses Cath’s fan fiction - that often maligned genre of storytelling. This conflict: Cath’s talent writing new fiction centred around the characters and books she loves versus developing an artistic voice of her own, also mirrors her own transition from a teen into an adult.

I do not mean to suggest that those who might identify as a fangirl or fanboy are arrested or immature. I honestly admire the dedication needed to REALLY commit to that one geeky thing. And, in many respects, it has been these fanboys and fangirls who made it possible to aging closeted nerds, like myself, to come out in public again with our Star Trek wallets and Superman pins.

I remain uneasy though. We will see what happens to today’s Doctor Who obsessives. Perhaps you can be an functioning adult AND a functioning nerd.

Family Movies – Feb. 12 & 26
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Dufferin Clark Library’s Family Movie programming continues throughout the winter! Every other Wednesday evening, starting at 6:30 pm, we will screen a movie that the whole family will want to see, and we’ll offer juice and popcorn to snack on. We hope to see you there!

akeelah and the bee  February 12 - Akeelah and the Bee (PG) 116 min

  A young girl from South Los Angeles tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee.








turbo  February 26 – Turbo (PG) 96 min

“Turbo” is the story of a garden snail with an impossible dream: to win the Indy 500. When a freak accident gives him extraordinary speed, Turbo sets out to try to make this dream come true.




Science Fiction Done Right
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Her poster1 202x300 photoSo I saw her a couple weeks back. I think that it might just be  - despite a number of other very fine candidates (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity, Drug War etc) – my favourite 2013 movie. And I left a little surprised on how much I loved it. Really, the Coens tackling the early 60s N.Y. folk scene, or poor Sandra Bullock surviving space against deep odds in a film by the guy who made Children of Men, are EXACTLY the kind of movie nerd movies this movie nerd loves.

Nope. A bittersweet story about a guy who falls in love with his computer operating system is the flick that did it for me this year. This premise is certainly quirky and (almost) too clever by far. This description fits any movie made by Spike Jonze.  A movie about some folks who manage to literally get inside actor John Malkovich’s head for 15 minutes? It sounds crazy and fun, sure, but it also has a lot to say about identity, celebrity, the artist, sexual politics, and a whole lot more.

Similarly, while her’s premise is wonky and off-kilter (seriously …the protagonist falls in love with an operating system!), it also serves as a honest meditation on loneliness, love, and technology. I completely bought the love story.

But it wasn’t the love story that is making the movie stick – it’s the science fiction. On a first pass, the idea of a lonely man developing a connection with the personality behind an electronic device does not seem that far-fetched. Many of us are already spending much of our time connected to our computers and mobile devices – with or without actual real, live people on the other end. Going into the movie, I assumed it depicted present day.

star wars movie poster 1977 1020189548 193x300 photoIt isn’t, but this isn’t immediately apparent. Cues that it takes place sometime in the future (I can’t recall if there is some sort of date stamped in the beginning) are subtle: the clothing fashions are similar to ours, but high waistlines, bright coloured shirts, mustaches everywhere suggest that it is not precisely our time. Joaquin Phoenix’s character works as hand-written letter-writer, penning love-ladden letters for people far too busy to write these letters themselves. I doubt this service exists, but I could see it existing.

That her offers a vision of a future I could see existing, makes it – for me at least – the very best kind of science fiction. I don’t want to get into some sort of semantic argument about whether her is soft science fiction or hard science fiction (okay…I do want to get into this argument here but I won’t …all right …it’s obviously soft sci-fi. But that’s all I will say. Plus, I have already picked at this scab already in an earlier post).

her is the best kind of science fiction because it has tries to predict what the future might genuinely become. It’s tricky. It can’t just take place in space. Gravity isn’t science fiction because it takes place in present day. Star Wars isn’t science fiction because it really doesn’t depict what our future will look it. It is just some other galaxy far, far away. I doubt anyone takes anything useful away about robots, intergalactic travel, death stars, or whatever.

her is the best kind of science fiction is the way that the novels by Philip K. Dick are the best kind of science fiction. A lot of Dick’s writing is out there and freaky, but it usually never leaves the world of “maybe this could happen”.

My favourite Dick novel is A Scanner Darkly. In the future, society undercover narcotics cop Agent Fred is chasing down ‘Substance D’ – a new drug that messes with reality and identity.  In this pursuit, he takes on the role/identity of Substance D drug user/dealer Bob Arctor. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of Substance D is that it can split the mind into different hemispheres or identities. Soon enough, drug cop Agent Fred is chasing down drug user Bob Arctor. It’s a trip.

770511 300x202 photoAgain, A Scanner Darkly offers a glimpse into a near-future, with equal measures fantastic and believable. I love my space laser fights as much as the next nerd, but sci-fi that includes the possible truly elevates the genre.

Unfortunately, the Vaughan Public Libraries does not have a copy of the Dick’s novel (there are many others to try though). That said the movie adaptation is excellent. Or maybe check out the graphic novel version.


The Company You Keep
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The Company You Keep poster photoRobert Redford heads and directs an all-star cast telling a story that brings the audience back to a time in American history that many would rather not talk or even think about.  It is the early 1970s.  The war in Vietnam is dragging on with no apparent end in sight.  Student protesters are becoming dissatisfied with their ineffective peaceful tactics for ending American involvement.  A radical and violent movement forms to bring the war to domestic soil.  They are dubbed The Weather Underground, and they become notorious for a series of bombings of domestic government targets throughout the country.

In this story, a cell of this movement has committed a bank robbery in Michigan in which a security guard was shot and killed.  Three of the members of the cell believed to be involved were never caught and remained at large; that is until one of them, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), decides to turn herself in after 30 years, and is arrested on the way to doing just that in Albany, NY.  A local reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), begins poking around the story and soon discovers that a local lawyer, living under the alias Jim Grant (Redford), is actually another wanted member of that cell and exposes him in print.  This sends Grant on the run, not to escape, but to seek a third member of the cell, Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), who he believes can clear him in the robbery and murder.

Reporter Shepard pursues him to Michigan, followed closely by the FBI.  While there he meets the policeman that headed the investigation at the time, Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson).  He also meets Rebecca Osborne (Brit Marling), Osborne’s adopted daughter, who turns out to be a key figure in the story, and not just a source of information.

While we’re on the subject, I have a real problem with the casting choice for the character of Rebecca Osborne.  At the time of production and release of this movie, Brit Marling was no more than 30 years old, while the facts of the story put her character much closer to 40 than 30.  The producers made no attempt to depict her as the age she realistically ought to have been.  They made a weak attempt to rationalize this by giving Shia LaBeouf the line, “You’re older than you look.”

Call this a political opinion if you want, but the whole tone of this movie really bothers me.  It presents this group with great sympathy when they were really little more than domestic terrorists, using the violence of the government as a justification for their own violent behavior.  Call yourselves a political movement and you can rationalize almost anything.

As I said at the start, this was an all-star cast, with appearances by Sam Elliot, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Jackie Evancho, and others.  BTW, Harry Potter movie fans will recognize Brendan Gleeson as none other than Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody.

Top Ten Season: the best music of 2013
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I love top ten lists. I love reading them and I love talking about them.

And as much as I love reading and talking about them, I love making them. I do it all the time. Like …quicky – my Top Ten Stephen King novels:

  1. salems lot 178x300 photoSalem’s Lot
  2. The Gunslinger
  3. IT
  4. The Stand
  5. Misery
  6. The Running Man (as Richard Bachman)
  7. Different Seasons (just ‘cause of the movies it gave us)
  8. Carrie
  9. Four Past Midnight (for “The Langoliers”)
  10. The Shining

And I don’t even like Stephen King books that much anymore.

What’s great about loving top ten lists is that it is also one of the great things about this holiday season. With 2013 ending, everybody is offering up their top ten picks for best movies, plays, TV show and anything you can consider listing. I’m in top ten heaven.

My real time to shine is my 2013 Music Top Ten List. I have been making these for years – it started back in my working-in-a-record-store days. Here is my top ten list for favourite 2013 albums.

  1. Rokia Traore – Beautiful Africa
  2. Deafheaven – Sunbather
  3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
  4. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
  5. Savages – Silence Yourself
  6. Flaming Lips – The Terror
  7. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
  8. Christopher Owens - Lysandre
  9. ShadFlying Colours
  10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Lots of these albums have gotten all kinds of top ten press and coverage. The Vampire Weekend topped plenty of media lists, like Popmatters and what-have-you. The new album is a great step forward for the band.  I have long loved the Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, Shad, and Neko Case – these are either consistently great albums or even career best for all. I also get REALLY excited for any band that redefines the metal genre. If anyone is even remotely interested (and everyone should be) in black metal, then listen to the Deafheaven album immediately.

beautifulafrica 300x272 photoBut I am in love with the new Rokia Traore album. I have been crazy about African music for some time, but I only now feel that I know something about this type of music. I am particularly interested in music from Mali. For whatever reason – and I am sure there are plenty; I just haven’t done enough research yet  – musicians from Mali are making the most exciting music. Check out recent albums by artists like Amadou & Mariam or Vieux Farka Toure. It is amazing, exciting stuff – music that mixes African traditions with modern sounds.

Beautiful Africa accomplishes this blend of styles – with so much more. It is happy at times, sad at others, angry when it needs to be. Traore recorded this album in the Uk, with a producer who has worked with artists like PJ Harvey. It is immediately obvious that the album is filtering traditional Mali music through a Western rock music prism. I mean, Traore – in addition to her wonderful, soulul singing voice – plays a mean, gritty guitar. This album is the perfect introduction to African rock.

The Vaughan Public Libraries has three copies to borrow!

Knuckle: Twelve Years, Three Clans, One War
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knuckle1 photoWhen I popped this DVD into the player, I was expecting to be taken on a journey into the underground world of bare-knuckle fighting in Ireland.  I expected it to be brutal and compelling; difficult to watch, but impossible to turn away.  It was all those things, and much more.

The Irish Travellers are an itinerant people of ethnic Irish origin, who maintain a set of traditions and a distinct ethnic identity.  They live mostly in Ireland as well as having large numbers in the United Kingdom and in the United States.  It is to this world we are introduced.

There is a feud between two Traveller clans: The Quinn McDonaghs and their cousins, the Joyces.  It seems that all the clans within the Traveller community are related to each other in some way, by blood or marriage or both.  There were two separate incidents between the clans that have provoked a war of words, curiously conducted through an exchange of videotapes and DVDs.  When words aren’t sufficient they resort to fists.  Yet it isn’t mere brawling.

Even though this is a blood feud, there is a strict set of rules for conducting the bouts, referred to as “fair fighting”.  Hands can be bandaged or bare, no gloves.  You must use closed fists.  No kicking, gouging, biting, holding, or butting.  You can be disqualified by the two neutral referees for breaking those rules.  Bouts run continuously, without rest until one man is knocked out, or concedes, or they both agree to stop, in which case it is considered a draw.  It seems pretty clear that the feud is superimposed over top a much older bare-knuckle fighting tradition, and is used, at least in part, as an excuse for staging the bouts.

The principals in this documentary are James Quinn McDonagh, his younger brother Michael, and Big Joe Joyce, head of the Joyce clan.  It opens with James training for a fight with Paddy “The Lurcher” Joyce, who James dispatches in under 15 minutes.  We aren’t spared the brutality as we watch James bust up The Lurcher’s face pretty badly.  James seems to be a reluctant warrior, but tends to get caught up in the idea of family honor, and cannot help but rise to persistent challenges.  Michael is more enthusiastic about fighting, but much younger and less skilled than James.  As a result he finds himself overmatched in a bout with a much larger man.  He resorts to biting and is disqualified.  Joe Joyce is a hard-as-nails man in his 50s and seems to be unwilling to let any slight to his family pass, no matter how small.

This documentary was shot over 12 years, 1997 to 2009.  It follows the evolution of the feud between the Quinns and the Joyces, as well as a separate feud with a clan called the Nevins.  As we watch we see in James a man increasingly reluctant to fight, and the most willing to bury the hatchet.  Michael grows into a skilled fighter looking to redeem himself after his humiliating loss.  Joe Joyce cannot seem to let go of the past and even finds himself, as a grandfather, in a bout with one of his many enemies.  It is a riveting glimpse into life in a little-known world, and I must confess that I found myself caught up in the excitement.  Dana White of UFC himself could not hope to put on such a show.

The British Aren’t Coming, They’re Here! part 4.
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The final instalment of my series on English actors in American TV series looks at a show that explores the existential threat of global terrorism.

050113 homelandseason3deetsfeat 250x250 photoHomeland.  The main character, played by London-born actor Damian Lewis: Sgt. Nicholas Brody, USMC.

Long-missing and presumed dead, incredibly, Sgt. Brody is found by a Navy SEAL rescue team in a hovel in Iraq, filthy, with long, matted hair and beard.  The country is overjoyed with the news of his rescue, and he is given a hero’s welcome upon his return to the United States, though at first he feels anything but heroic.  The reunion with his wife and children is awkward, to say the least, as they too had given him up for dead and had begun to move on emotionally.

The one person who finds his rescue too good to be true is CIA agent Carrie Mathison, powerfully portrayed by Claire Danes.  She suspects that he has been turned by his captors and is a potential serious threat to national security.  The problem is that Carrie, who has a reputation for aggressive, even reckless actions, is not trusted by her superiors.  She is humored reluctantly by her boss and mentor, Saul Berenson, played by veteran actor Mandy Patinkin.  Things are further complicated by the fact that she is hiding a serious mental illness, bipolar disorder inherited from her father, which at times causes her to seriously doubt her grasp on reality.

Homeland is a show where the male lead does not clearly dominate.  One might say that Brody isn’t really the main character at all, but instead that place is reserved for the frenetic and intense Carrie.

Damian Lewis, English-born of Welsh ancestry, is a veteran actor who has appeared on stage, screen, and television in a variety of roles in Britain and the United States, including an adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, and the acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers.

Family Movies – December 18
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Dufferin Clark Library’s Family Movie programming continues throughout the winter! Every other Wednesday evening (except January 1, 2014), starting at 6:30 pm, we will screen a movie that the whole family will want to see, and we’ll offer juice and popcorn to snack on. We hope to see you there!

The last movie of 2013 is

Santa Buddies Cover December 18 – Santa Buddies (G) 88 mins










When Puppy Paws, the fun-loving son of Santa Paws, gets tired of the North Pole, he finds Budderball on Santa’s naughty list and figures he’s just the dog to show him how to be an ordinary pup. But when the magical Christmas Icicle starts to melt and the world begins to forget the true meaning of the season, it’s up to Puppy Paws and his newfound Buddies to save Christmas.


Peter O’Toole 1932-2013
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l of arabia otoole photoWow. So I just read that Peter O’Toole has died.

When I worked at a record store, it always seemed a little ghoulist when – after a very (or even slightly famous) pop star died – there was a massive run on purchases for that artist’s work. I swear that when Michael Jackson died, it saved more than a few financial quarters for the musix biz that year.

Really? NOW you need to own Thriller?

For some reason though, I am more forgiving when a movie icon passes away. Perhaps, there is less connection with actually owning a piece of that actor’s work. Sure, tonight might be a nice evening to settle into Lawrence of Arabia , or Becket, or Lion in Winter - all these of these films are well worth your time.

MV5BMTUwMzA4MzY2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzYyMDQyMQ@@  V1 SY317 CR30214317  202x300 photoBut this year, I finally got around to seeing My Favorite Year. It might be a little dated (it has one of the Perfect Strangers - no, not Balki) and possess that certain 80s “feel”, it remains a fun, screwball romp of a flick. And O’Toole is fantastic. These classic, classically trained British actors really could play brilliant, sophisticated drunks. He is portraying a superstar actor – perhaps somewhat past his prime – and he is utterly convincing. This was a movie star.

So much to rewatch …Ratatouille! I keep having to remind myself that he’s in one of my go-to Pixar movies! Man, I would see almost anything he appears in.

Seriously, borrow Troy - he’s the best thing in it.