In a struggle to be happy and free

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Sucker punch

I went to see Sucker Punch with Rustin and Grant this weekend. A few people have asked me how it was and my answer was, “It was exactly what I thought it would be.” You could take this as a sort of “damning by faint praise” but that’s not how I mean it.

20110404_sucker_punchLet me tell you about the film.

We meet a young woman and her sister, and they’re crushed because their mother has died. Their step-father is not very nice. He clearly can’t wait to get his hands on them. Making matters worse is that his deceased wife left him nothing. She left all of her possessions to her daughters.

In trying to protect herself and her little sister, the young woman mistakenly kills her sister and finds herself in a Dickensian asylum for the mentally insane. Her step-father doesn’t want the truth of his indiscretions to come out so he pays off the asylum administrator to shut her up permanently. She learns she’s been scheduled for a lobotomy in just five days.

She’s determined to escape before she’s subjected to the procedure. Then things get weird.

The young woman, whom we now know as Baby Doll, undergoes some sort of psychotic break and through her eyes, we see the asylum has changed. The administrator is now also running the place as a brothel, and she has the ability to put men into a trance by simply dancing for them. While dancing, she’s taken another step away from reality through a series of fantasy ‘missions’ she must undergo to make her escape.

Back in the brothel, she shares her plans with four other inmates and they agree to a plan by which they can all escape. The plan involves collecting four items, each in a separate mission.

Frankly, I’m conflicted about the film. In general, as a film, it’s not very good. Let me break it down into three parts.

The story

The story is merely a means to link the fantasy missions. Further, the more you think about the story, the less sense it makes.

The women

The ads for the film make it pretty clear that you’re going to see plenty of short skirts and stockings. If you enjoy those things, the film certainly delivers…particularly Baby Doll’s combination of a short skirt and stockings.

The action

The fantasy missions are an inventive mixture of genres. One involves the women crossing a WWI no-man’s land, entering the enemy’s trenches to find the command post, and stealing a map. In this world war gone mad, it seems that the war has gone on for decades and there’s nearly nothing left on the landscape. Even soldiers are in short supply so the bulk of the enemy forces are dead soldiers reanimated with clockwork mechanisms powered by steam. How’s that for a twist?

Baby Doll looks out into no-man's land.

Baby Doll looks out into no-man’s land.

Another mission involves an air-drop from a B‑25 into a castle where they must kill a baby dragon. Things go awry when the women wake the mother dragon and they have to deal with her and the force of armoured mediaeval warriors are attempting to breach the castle gate. Part of the battle involves the dragon attacking the B‑25.

I found the missions a great deal of fun both with the action and the inventive mixing of genres. This alone made the film worth watching.

The downside is the story, as I mentioned, which is nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for the fun. But still, part of me wonders if there might be more hidden in the multiple layers of reality. Probably not, but it holds together just well enough to make you wonder of there’s more to it. That’s perhaps the most amazing accomplishment of the film.

I can’t recommend it without conditions, but if the women, the action, and the mind-bending settings appeal to you, it’s a fun two hours.

Stills and marquee poster © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Theft and property

I rented a movie the other day. For the zillionth time, my senses were assaulted by a movie industry ad telling me not to steal their products:

You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag, you wouldn’t steal a television.

Downloading pirated films is stealing, stealing is against the law. PIRACY, IT’S A CRIME.

It always amuses me that those who download the movie will not see this ad. Only the people who haven’t done what they’re trying to tell us not to do will see the message. Talk about poorly targeting the appropriate demographic!

We all know that stealing is wrong. Stealing a car, handbag, or television is clearly wrong. The ad is clearly trying to equate the stealing we know is wrong with downloading films. They do this because we don’t see the downloading of a film as being wrong in the same way as stealing a television. The reason is because one is tangible property and the other is intellectual property. We don’t see them as the same because they aren’t the same.

With how easy copying has become in the past two decades, the entertainment industry is at a disadvantage in a way that the automobile industry is not. If I go to a car dealer and steal a car, not only do I have something I haven’t paid for, but the dealer no longer has what I’ve taken. If I download a movie for free, I have something that I didn’t pay for, but the movie studio isn’t missing any property. They don’t have the money I should have paid for the movie, but they’re not missing a DVD or a film print. This is how intellectual property differs from tangible property.

I read an interesting comment on a news story about intellectual property theft. It said that we tend to look at theft from the thief’s point of view. They took something that doesn’t belong to them, therefore a theft has occurred. The comment writer suggested that we instead look at theft from the owner’s point of view. In the case of intellectual property, the thief makes a copy, but the rights-holder/owner is not deprived of any property. The writer suggested that unlawful enrichment isn’t what defines theft, but rather the victim being deprived of the property that has been stolen. This doesn’t happen with illegal downloading, and therefore it’s not theft. It’s copyright infringement and still illegal and wrong, but it’s not stealing in the same way as taking a car.

Although it was only a few lines long, the comment was a real eye-opener. It was one of those rare times when someone else crystallizes your thoughts so clearly that surprises you, and leaves you wondering why you didn’t see it so clearly yourself.

In this case, it’s a subtle distinction, and that’s why I think it eluded me. Make no mistake, I’m not claiming that this distinction makes illegal copying okay. It doesn’t. But calling it ‘stealing’ is a strategy on the part of the entertainment industry. It’s also entirely disingenuous and purely manipulative if you follow my line of reasoning.

I wondered to myself whether I was subscribing to a distinction that isn’t really there. Theft is a concept deeply enshrined in the law so I decided to see what the law had to say about theft.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, Part IX (Offences Against Rights of Property), statute 322, theft is defined in this way:

322. (1) Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent

(a) to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it, or a person who has a special property or interest in it, of the thing or of his property or interest in it;

(b) to pledge it or deposit it as security;

© to part with it under a condition with respect to its return that the person who parts with it may be unable to perform; or

(d) to deal with it in such a manner that it cannot be restored in the condition in which it was at the time it was taken or converted.

I’m not a lawyer, nor to I play one on television, but every one of the four subsections references how the rightful owner no longer has the item in question. It’s not just about the unjust enrichment of the taker, but depriving the owner of the item is a requirement as well. I’m the first to admit that my interpretation of the statute may be incorrect. If it is, I hope you’ll enlighten me!

If I am correct, downloading a movie isn’t theft, but copyright infringement … and copyright infringement is not merely a type of theft. They’re entirely different things. Both wrong, but different from each other just as tangible and intellectual property are both property, but different from each other.

Grease: the sing-along

Have you heard about this? Grease is back in theatres. It’s not just being re-released as an old film making the rounds. They’ve made a pseudo-karaoke movie where the lyrics appear on the screen so you can sing along even if you don’t know the words by heart. It’s retitled Grease: The Sing-Along and the crowd is encouraged to sing along with the movie.

The idea doesn’t really grab me, but the marketers behind this are geniuses. With the success of Mamma Mia!, they could see there is a market for an event where the audience participates by singing along. The film already exists and the cost involved in adding the subtitles is pocket-change compared to staging a new live show or a new movie.

It may not be a blockbuster, but it’ll certainly turn a tidy profit.

A funny thing happened in 1977

I still remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. My sister and my brother-in-law took me to the beach that day. As usual, I wanted to go home about an hour after we got there. Despite this, they continued to take me with them when they went and I love them for putting up with my bullshit. My brother-in-law decided that he’d take me after we got back from the beach. My sister warned me that the film started a bit slowly but I might like it anyway.

Later that day, I saw it for myself. I still don’t have a clue what my sister meant about it starting slowly, for goodness sakes! The only negative aspect of the entire experience was that we had one of those people behind us. A guy brought someone with him, much as my brother-in-law brought me. This guy, unlike my brother-in-law, thank god, said, “Oh, watch this scene! It’s so cool!” before every cool scene. I don’t like that kind of thing now, and I didn’t like it when I was ten years old, either.

Despite the peanut gallery behind us, the film was a revelation to me. Sure I watched Star Trek on television, and I liked it just fine, but this … this was something entirely different. Star Wars to made me realize that I was a science-fiction nerd.

It didn’t take long for science fiction in general, and Star Wars in particular, to creep into my preferences and habits. I watched more Star Trek on television. It didn’t have blasters, but Kirk had a pretty cool ship. It would do. Space: 1999 had a delightful European flavour and the coolest ships to ever grace the airwaves. I bought Star Wars cards and relished the single sticker in each pack. Coincidentally, just last month I found a clipboard with a few stickers on the back. I haven’t seen it in at least a decade. Really.

In the meantime, science-fiction came with me to school. I stuck a bunch of Star Wars stickers on my desk. As you’d expect, my teacher was far less excited about it than I was. I was crest-fallen. Not only did I have to make the coolest desk in the class crappy again, but I didn’t think those stickers would be usable again after I removed them. It was worse than that, in fact. I has to scrape them off and there wasn’t anything left of them afterward.

When the first Star Trek movie came out in 1979, I went to see it. I wanted to go so badly that I went by myself. My dad drove me and picked me up when it was over. I remember it was raining. The rain may have actually been the tears of Jesus because rather than being better than the show, it was worse. Much worse. Back to Star Wars I went, though Wrath of Khan more than made up for it a few years later.

The height of my prestige came near the end of grade five. The grade six teacher, Mr. Mancuso, wanted to take me to his grade six class for ten or fifteen minutes. I didn’t like the sound of this one bit because some of those grade sixers were mean. Oh, the stories I could tell you! He told me that he was trying to draw R2-D2 to show his students how, and he just couldn’t get it. He wanted me to come and show them. Me!

So I went. It was like being ushered to the big leagues on a sedan chair … carried by wookies! Damn straight. When I got to the grade six class, I saw Mr. Mancuso’s drawings on the chalk board and it was obvious that he was clearly out of his depth. He got the droid’s cylindrical body right, topped with the dome-shaped head, but that was it. Poor R2’s legs didn’t even reach the ground, and at this point Empire hadn’t been released so we didn’t know he could levitate. It was like R2 had undergone an amputation. See? I told you those sixers were mean. I fixed the drawing and went back to my class. Afterward, there was no happy ending in which the grade six class accepted me. Don’t expect any of that hollywood crap, because it’s not coming.

What happened was Battlestar Galactica came out. Yea, it was obviously derivative, but I didn’t know what that word meant at the time. Glenn Larson is largely a hack, but I was eleven years old. I took a real shining to the Colonial Vipers. Sure X‑Wings were cool, but they looked so damned fragile. The Vipers were compact and bad-ass in comparison.

Back in the grade five doldrums, Miss Campbell gave us an art assignment involving drawing a tree. I can’t remember the specifics, but I knew what I would do … and it would be glorious. Nothing like the drawing I planned had been submitted as an art assignment. That’s quite a boast for a boy in grade five, but it was more true than I could have imagined. As I said, I can’t remember the specifics, but the centrepiece of the drawing we had to create would be a tree. I could do that. I drew a tree right in the centre of the page. It was firmly rooted into the ground at the bottom of the page and the very top of its branches reached perhaps ¾ the way up the page. There weren’t many leaves, but that was by design.

To the left of the tree I painstakingly rendered a beautiful Colonial Viper flying into the scene. To the right of the tree I drew an X‑Wing Fighter flying into the scene. Yea, I know that if they were both entering the scene from opposite directions, they’d collide, but this wasn’t entirely representational. You’d understand if you could see it. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive.

The spacecraft weren’t just flying into the scene. They were shooting … at the tree. As a result, the tree was on fire, which is why there were so few leaves. The flames engulfed the tree and leapt skyward to the top of the page. I was so pleased with my handiwork. You want a tree, Miss Campbell? There’s your tree. But I was going to give her so much more, and she would be so impressed! When I handed it in, I must’ve been grinning like the Cheshire cat, though I didn’t know what that was at the time, either.

But of course you know what happened. I tried to fly too high, and the sun melted my wings. Miss Campbell wasn’t impressed. Not only did I get a very poor mark, but she even included a note on my report card about how I brought science-fiction into just about everything. For goodness sakes, she wrote it like my doing this was a bad thing! Happily, I eventually found balance. The shift started sometime in grade six, when girls stopped being so damned objectionable. It was a tug of war through grades seven and eight. Those girls were increasingly compelling, but Empire had just come out! Fate can be cruel.

By high-school however, things were on their way to working out and when I got to college, I’d struck the correct balance. You might think it took me a very long time to figure it out, but these things take time. As a measure of my success, the people I’ve known only as an adult are surprised at how nerdy I was. I don’t claim to have shed it entirely, (yea, I can hear you giggling) but I get the impression that they not only can’t imagine I was so nerdy, but they can’t imagine anyone could be so nerdy.

We all have our challenges.


I watched Eragon yesterday. I’d recommend you not make the same mistake.

What surprises me the most is the talent in the film. Headlining are John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, and Rachel Weisz. Why would they ever agree to be in this disaster? Something very significant must have changed between the time they signed on and the film was released.

What I can say in the film’s favour is that the production values are head and shoulders above the sword and sorcery films I watched back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, a bigger budget and slick CGI doesn’t make a film good.

Do yourself a favour and pass on this film.

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