Monday, March 27, 2017

Saskatchewan, the Sask Party government, the City of Saskatoon, and Libraries

Here is the letter, with links, that I sent yesterday to Premier Brad Wall, Minister Don Morgan, and my MLA Eric Olauson. I have added a couple of things as a postscript at the end:

Dear Premier Wall, Minister Morgan, Mr. Olauson,
First, please let me quote Minister Morgan from the news the other night: "With the internet, people are using E-readers - they're not going to the library to buy a book; they're getting it online. A lot of libraries that they belong to give them some free e-books as well, so I think that is the future of libraries across North America."
This is so insanely wrong-headed, so completely against the facts and research, that I can't help but wonder if this was a last minute decision to make it look like you all are tough on big spending. A last minute decision done without any actual research of your own.
Libraries these days are far more than places to borrow books. They are important to people without the resources to buy books, yes (incidentally, Minister Morgan, you borrow books from a library. You don't buy them), and interestingly, the people without the money to be able to purchase books are very often the people who also don't have the money to buy e-readers. These same people are also often the ones who don't have a computer at home and use library computers for school research, for replying to emails, for filling out job applications, and more. Libraries also host community functions, improve digital literacy, and are in general an important centerpiece for the community. Especially for people who are from a lower socio-economic situation than any of you or of me. Which also brings to mind people who are homeless, or near as such, who often use libraries for shelter of a sort. Some libraries, like Edmonton's main branch, even have social workers on hand to help clients such as that: Edmonton is a fine example of a city that invests in its libraries in order for them to maintain their relevance, rather than writing them off due to out of date early 20th century thinking.
I'm linking to a couple of things about public libraries, and while I fear that your lack of attention to detail regarding your initial decision means you're going to just gloss them over, I would encourage you to have a closer look. Libraries are an important locus for the community, be it a large city or a small town. It encourages literacy and is there as an important resource for all citizens. I ask you to reconsider this wrong-headed and destructive decision.

Neil Gaiman on libraries

Pew Research Center on libraries

Economic Impact of the Toronto Public Library on the City of Toronto

Postscript: The cut for libraries in the province's cities is 100%. No more funding. Now, I don't want to let city hall off the hook, which is why I have included them in the header at the top. The main branch downtown is a decrepit concrete monstrosity, left behind in an age when a lot of cities have been doing important and interesting things with their central libraries. But it's still there, still important to the community, and deserves better.

I'm also adding this link about the federal budget and libraries, supplied to me by my wife, an academic librarian.

People in Saskatchewan, please take the time to contact your MLA, the premier, and Minister Morgan. They've done a lot of ugly things with this budget, but for me this one stands out.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Movies of 2016

I saw 70 movies this year. As usual, the majority of them were from the comfort of my couch, but I’m pleased to note I did get out to see 25 of those on the big screen, down from 30 last year. As with previous years, movies I saw in the cinema are marked with an asterisk (*).

Also in keeping with previous years, if I saw a movie from 2016 that I know I would not have been able to see in 2015, I include it in my estimation of my favourite films of the year. Movies from 2014 and before do not receive that consideration, although I still list them here. Obviously, the only movies listed are ones I saw for the first time. Just because I’m happy to go back to the well with, say, Casablanca or Last of the Mohicans, doesn’t mean I need to mention them here.

There were lots of outstanding television shows this year, which also cut into my movie watching time. But I did see more this year than last, which is a good thing. It’s unfortunate that American films were so prevalent for me this year, but part of that was just availability as well as timing. Here’s the breakdown for that:


Canada - 2
China - 3
Hungary - 1
Indonesia - 1
Ireland - 2
New Zealand - 2
South Korea - 2
Thailand - 1
Turkey - 1
UK - 8
USA - 47

Eleven countries. This is not a good trend. Last year I also saw films from 11 countries, and in 2014 from 16 countries. There were no Iranian films this year, none from Japan, from any South American countries, from Australia, from France, or Spain, or Germany, or Russia, or anywhere in Scandinavia. This is a shame, and I will have to make an effort to fix this. Some from these countries are already on my horizon, so I’m hopeful for 2017.

Anyhow, on to what I saw this year, accompanied by a brief note about the film. Keep in mind I’m not engaging in film criticism here; I already have enough writing on my plate without getting into more than the already overload of extra time involved in just putting together this list.

*The Revenant (2015) USA - Better, again, than a lot of my friends thought (looking back to last year and Hateful Eight). I appreciated it a lot more for the quieter scenes, though, rather than things like the bear attack.

Band of Robbers (2015) USA - A fine bit of fan fiction about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as adults in the here and now. Clever and funny and loopy.

Sicario (2015) USA - Would have been on my top ten from last year if I’d seen it then. Outstanding look at the ethical dilemmas of the war on drugs.

*Hail, Caesar (2016) USA - Funny and rousing and dark, not the light Coen Brothers movie so many people thought it was.

Room (2015) Canada - Powerful, and one of the few times in my life I’ve felt a movie lived up to every aspect of the book.

*The Lady in the Van (2015) UK - This could have gone so wrong, been one of those clever movies with a goofy character, but no, instead it was a smart meditation on how we treat others, how you don’t have to actually like someone to give them respect.

Finders Keepers (2015) USA - Bonkers documentary populated with people who should not be in real life, should instead be in a Coen Brothers movie.

*10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) USA - A pretty decent thriller that nicely ramps up the tension until a rather ridiculous ending. John Goodman is outstanding.

Brooklyn (2015) UK - A nice love story and period piece, quiet and thoughtful.

*Eye in the Sky (2015) UK - Terrific movie about the moral quandaries of war and the use of drones. Not loud and obnoxious, but rather filled with quiet, dread-filled moments.

Hush (2016) USA - A terrific thriller/horror about a deaf and mute woman living in the woods and having to fight off a very nasty stranger.

*The Jungle Book (2016) USA - Wonderful, and a rare movie that’s worth seeing in 3D. Some tremendous voice casting, the kid who plays Mowgli is outstanding, and Favreau does a fine job telling the story. Also, the CF effects are eye popping.

Beeba Boys (2015) Canada - A decent gangster movie about IndoCanadian gangs and crime. Not perfect acting, but enjoyable. And the primary colours at the start were stupendous.

*Everybody Wants Some (2016) USA - Hilarious, and a wave of nostalgia that hit me like a tsunami. Even better, as much as this movie is about young and horny men, we did not detect misogyny, nor anything rapey. This was a movie involving mutual consent, a fine line to walk.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) China - Doesn’t hold a patch to the first movie. The stunts and wire work are frenetic, not graceful, there is too much CGI, the bad guy over the top.

The Irish Pub (2013) Ireland - A quite lovely documentary about, well, Irish pubs. The characters who run the pubs make this well worth seeing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) Thailand - Uncle Boonmee is dying and spending his last days with family, and is visited by the ghost of his dead wife and his long lost son, who is now in the form of something similar to Bigfoot. With glowing eyes. Not an easy movie to explain, and probably not easy to digest for people used to a steady diet of Hollywood storytelling. But still, a wonder.

White God (2014) Hungary - A marvelous and disturbing film, a strange fantasy about what goes wrong when we turn on our best friend.

*Captain America: Civil War (2016) USA - Probably the best Marvel movie, especially in the quiet spy movie moments, rather than the action-adventure spy movie moments.

The Witch (2015) USA - Man, did this movie ever freak me out. A fine horror film with a whole lot of veracity in its historical detail.

*The Nice Guys (2016) USA - Very funny movie, a slightly more sour (and yet sweet) Rockford Files for grown-ups.

The Champions (2016) USA - A moving doc about Michael Vick’s fighting dogs and what happened to them after.

Mustang (2015) Turkey - This is a beautiful film, the story of the irrepressibility of a group of sisters and how society and family contrive to beat them down, steal their independence and strength, and how while some can be taken, never all.

The Good Dinosaur (2015) USA - Perhaps a trifle from Pixar, but still an excellent trifle.

The Mermaid (Mei ren yu) (2016) China - Another Stephen Chow film, who I believe is one of the funniest filmmakers working today. But this film takes his bizarre non-linear thinking and storytelling to lengths his previous films have not. And yet I still was in tears time and again, laughing harder than I have since, well, since Chow’s last film.

*Finding Dory (2016) USA - Fun, and while a little superfluous at the beginning, the new characters who come in partway through make it special.

Blackhat (2015) USA - Michael Mann may not always make a good movie, but he will always make a good looking movie.

Midnight Special (2016) USA - By the same director who made the excellent Mud, this was the second-best SF movie of the year, with an as-usual great performance from Michael Shannon and another from Joel Edgerton as a friend who has committed himself as deeply as possible.

The Look of Silence (2014) Indonesia - I can’t believe it took me this long to see this disturbing, deeply unhappy documentary about the killings in the Communist purge in 1965 Indonesia. And of course, I’m doing it backwards, since I now need to see The Act of Killing, done by the same people and about the same topic, two years earlier.

*Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016) USA - I read the book when it came out and was so pleased they turned this into a movie. Three boys, sometimes two, did a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over the space of many years, a labour of love that saw them grow into adults before it was finished. Such a great story, and a very enjoyable film.

*Ghostbusters (2016) USA - I had fun, and was pleased with the decision to remake this with female leads, but wish they had taken the time to do something a little more original, something with a fresher storyline.

People Places Things (2016) USA - A romance that doesn’t pander, a lead with a fun and fine sense of humour, appreciated by his (gorgeous, delightful, delighted) twin daughters, and relationships that are real, complicated, worth delving into.

*Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016) NZ - One of my favourite movies of the year, deep and sad and happy and funny and silly. Taika Waititi just keeps getting better and better, and this film made me happy in so many ways.

The Finest Hours (2016) USA - A fairly decent movie, based on a true story, of lives saved by undermanned Coast Guard in the 1950s.. It hits all the beats, is a feel-good film, but of course feels formulaic.

*Star Trek Beyond (2016) USA - I enjoyed some of this, which is a huge step up over the last Trek movie. So it’s good news I’m not getting angry just thinking about it right now.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015) USA - Another fairly decent movie, based on a true story, that hits all the beats and has good performances. But as with all Ron Howard movies, it has a basic stodginess to it, Hollywood at its most Hollywood-like.

Jurassic World (2015) USA - Blah. I had such high hopes, seeing how the raptors were trained, but it didn’t work out so well. So-so.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) USA - I thought this series started off fairly well, but, while I thought the last book was a mediocre mishmash, this is more of a disaster. Ick.

*Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) UK -  Like many biopics, this takes liberties with some of the story, changes things up, narrows the story to make it flow a bit better. But it’s great fun, Streep is incredible as the title character, High Grant is better than I’ve seen him in many years, and there is a moving, if unconventional, love story here.

The Lobster (2016) UK - The coldness and distance the characters can be a bit off-putting, but this is a remarkable movie, with a bizarre conceit that says a lot about individuality, about love and about relationships.

Sing Street (2016) Ireland - Delightful, from the director of Once. The story of a boy in ‘80s Ireland who gets sent to a rough and tough religious boys’ school, meets a girl, and decides to impress her by starting a band. Even though he’s not a musician. I would say one of my favourite things about this is the trip the viewer takes through different fashions and styles related to the music of the era, but that would give short shrift to the brilliant characters.

*Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) USA - My favourite animated film of the year. This was glorious and absolutely beautiful.

*Hell or High Water (2016) USA - There’s a lot of beauty in the aching destruction of a livelihood and the loss that inhabits this film. Couple that with intelligent directing and some magnificent performances and you have one of the best films of the year.

Boy (2010) New Zealand - Taika Waititi is fast becoming one of my favourite directors, and I’m so pleased I was finally able to see this, the movie where he really started to make him name as a feature film director.

Life, Animated (2016) USA - A tremendous and moving documentary about a young man with autism who learns to connect and communicate with the world via Disney animated films.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) USA - All I can say is I’m glad I saw this while on a flight. Man, what a dog.

*Dr. Strange (2016) USA - An enjoyable MCU movie, as most of them have been. I will note that it rises above most strictly based on the fight going forwards in time while the world goes backwards around them. Very well done, very smart.

London Has Fallen (2016) USA - We only watched this because a high school classmate of my wife plays the Canadian Prime Minister. He dies early, which doesn’t explain why we watched all the way through. I guess because even a mediocre movie is hard to shut off.

*Arrival (2016) USA - One of the two best SF movies of this century (the other being Children of Men, natch), and a moving story about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love. In this case, even when we know where those sacrifices will lead.

Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro (2016) USA - An excellent little documentary about a WW2 soldier who brought a camera with him to war, and was given permission to use it, and the access non-military photographers were not afforded.

Anthropoid (2016) (UK) - Equal parts every day war thriller and thrilling assassination plot film. The final sequence is as tense as anything you will see.

Sea Fog (2014) South Korea - As with pretty much all South Korean films, you’re bound to be fooled if you think this is going somewhere conventional. An outstanding and, unsurprisingly, upsetting thriller.

*Fantastic Beasts and Where to FInd Them (2016) UK - Meh. I enjoyed some aspects, but never felt the magic of even the most mediocre Harry Potter film.

FInding Vivian Maier (2013) USA - Another excellent documentary, of finding 100,000 or more photographs taken by an insular nanny who had shot amazing street photography her whole life.

*Moonlight (2016) USA - The best film of the year is also one of the quietest. A wonderful meditation on sexuality and identity, on family and friendship, and such a beautiful film, too.

Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) USA - A good documentary about the TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. An intriguing glance back at a time many of us forget about.

Sour Grapes (2016) USA - Interesting documentary about a scam involving high-priced wines going for auction, sometimes for millions of dollars.

A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman (2015) UK - A decent documentary about Aardman Animation, home of Wallace and Grommet.

The Wailing (2016) South Korea - A sprawling, strange film that starts as one thing and becomes something else, with plenty of stops in between. But in the end, a very satisfying and thrilling horror movie. As with pretty much all excellent Korean films, you’re never completely sure where you’re at.

Spectral (2016) USA - Famously shelved by the studio and picked up by Netflix, this Aliens ripoff/homage is actually not too bad, although the character development of the grunts is just about nonexistent. But still tense and exciting and enjoyable.

Ip Man (2008) China - I don’t know why it took me so long to watch this martial arts biopic, but I do know I will soon watch the sequels.

For the Love of Spock (2016) USA - A decent documentary about the life of Leonard Nimoy, by his son.

*Rogue One (2016) USA - A better Star Wars films than any we’ve seen in many years. And I appreciated the unremitting bleakness of things, even with the frequent leavening of humour. I did not, however, appreciate the two CGI characters; frankly, it would have been better to see them as different actors.

*Loving (2016) USA - The best of the two Jeff Nichols films of the year. There is a quiet moment, one line spoken by Joel Edgerton’s character in response to a question by his lawyer, that is the most emotional and most devastating line spoken in movies this year. The sequence that follows, images laid over top of the presentation to the Supreme Court, include a remarkable moment involving a rope being tossed over a tree branch that made me gasp in fear, and then smile with delight.

Magnificent Seven (2016) USA - A decent remake. The think I liked the best was the fact it was all people of colour (plus the woman) who survived at the end. I also liked that this wasn’t a gore fest, even though there were a lot of deaths.

Money Monster (2016) USA - An okay film that tries to be more than it really is, I think. A message movie with a conventional plot and predictable twist, plus a George Clooney performance that was dissatisfying.

*Fences (2016) USA - Tremendous performances, and very moving. My only qualm was that this felt stagey, given to us not far off from is origins as a stage production. There is a verbosity to the type of character populating a movie like this, and that eventually serves to distance me, at least when watching it on the screen.

Don’t Breathe (2016) USA - Tense and thrilling, and I enjoyed all the telegraphing, the camera swooping in constantly and showing us something that we therefore know will be used later in the film. And Stephen Lang, as the blind vet with the dark secret, is as always a marvel. But the films sometimes gets too caught up in itself, and also goes to the well too often.

*La La Land (2016) USA - My gripes? Ryan Gosling is not a very good singer, and I wish we had a Gene Kelly equivalent in a movie like this to give us the muscular dancing a film like this deserves. That said, I loved it nonetheless. Much about this movie felt right, and the looks given at the end packed almost as much emotional punch as anything I saw this year.

Run All Night (2015) USA - Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bruce McGill and Nick Nolte (uncredited) all play roles you've seen them in a thousand times before. Watched it on cable early morning of December 31 after the dog had woken me up. You'll note I don't list any of the female stars of this movie. There's a reason for that.

Top Ten

1. Moonlight
2. Hell or High Water
3. Arrival
4. Sing Street
5. La La Land
6. The Witch
7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople
8. Loving
9. Mustang
10. The Lobster

Honourable Mentions

These were all movies I liked enough to at least consider adding to the top ten. The likelihood of all of them fitting at one time or another on that list, depending on the vagaries of my mood, is small of course. Sicario would have been on my top ten for the year before, but I made an illogical and arbitrary decision to not include it on this year’s list, in spite of what I said earlier. Kubo and the Two Strings, Eye in the Sky, Everybody Wants Some, Midnight Special, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Wailing, and Hush all received closer consideration for inclusion.

The Revenant; Band of Robbers; Sicario; Room; The Lady in the Van; Finders Keepers (my favourite documentary of the year); 10 Cloverfield Lane; Brooklyn; Eye in the Sky; Hush; People Places Things; The Jungle Book; Captain America: Civil War; The Nice Guys; Everybody Wants Some; The Mermaid (Mei ren yu); Midnight Special; Finding Dory; Florence Foster Jenkins; Life, Animated; The Wailing; Fences; Don’t Breathe

Addendum: Edited because not only did I miss a movie, but that movie was an easy choice for my top ten.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

My Worst Flight Story

Rather than clog up a friend's Facebook wall, I thought I would share this here, in this (more than) fallow space.

When the boys were little Jo was flown to Windsor, ON, for a job interview. Deciding I wanted to tag along, I booked a flight via Air Miles (the boys would stay with their grandparents for what was a long weekend). Because U of W booked Jo's flight, I wasn't able to book on the same one. Instead, I was able to book so we arrived close to the same time, in Detroit. From there we were renting a car to drive South to Canada (yes, really).

We flew together to Minneapolis, then connected on two different planes, which departed 10 minutes apart. My seat partners were an elderly couple flying to Pennsylvania, me on the aisle, she in the middle, he at the window. The husband needed oxygen to get through the day, but couldn't fly with the bottles, so he had a rental waiting for him on the other end. In the meantime, we played crib and chatted a whole lot. We being the wife and I, since the longer he went without oxygen the more difficult he was finding his day.

But then, a giant storm blew in over Detroit, and we spent time going in circles, or what the pilot called "punching holes in the air." This kept on for 4 or 5 hours until he announced we were going to be forced to land.

In Saginaw.

When we got on the runway we were the 4th or 5th large plane on the tarmac, waiting for a small airport to get the staff and equipment in to be able to handle the thousands of people that might be getting off there. This was pre-9/11, but there were still security requirements, which meant we couldn't leave the plane. There was no more food, no more water, a couple on the plane had were coming home from China where they had adopted a toddler who, I am always happy to remember, the people on the plane were happy to chip in and entertain.

These were also the days before ubiquitous cell phones. I managed to get up to the cockpit to talk with the pilot and co-pilot to ask if they knew where Jo's flight was. They didn't know, of course, but said they would find out. An hour or so later, the co-pilot made an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, if Derryl Murphy is still on this plane... what am I saying? Of course he's on the plane. Anyways, can he come up to the cockpit?" Everyone laughed, I went up front, and when I got there he dialed a number with his own cell phone. When someone on the other end answered, he handed me the phone. It was Jo, using a phone that belonged to a guy on her plane.

Yes, she was still on the tarmac, but we couldn't figure out who's plane belonged to whom. We were pleased to be able to talk with each other, that we weren't both off somewhere even more distant. We hung up, sure we'd get together soon.

But then I watched two planes take off, and then it was announced that our own flight crew was over hours, and we would have to get off. When the airport crew got around to us. Over a thousand people, and our plane was almost the last, I think. By the time we got in, all the pizzas they had brought in to feed us were gone (I've never seen so many pizza boxes in my life), but I did score a bottle of water and two lousy cookies. Everyone I asked was no help about Jo, couldn't tell me anything about her flight number, and she was nowhere in the horde of people. And so I resolved to stay there until I could figure out where she was. I called her parents, asking if they'd heard from her, which was a sure way to get them worrying, as of course they had not.

There was a bus going to Detroit, but I chose not to take it, in case Jo was still going to arrive. After the bus, there were still hundreds of us, and it was like Dunkirk. Cabs and private vehicles of all types (I remember an old rusty Chevy Suburban, for instance). I insisted I would stay at the airport all night if need be, but they were shutting down at midnight, and so I was a part of the last crew of 9 who left. In a stretch limo, of all things. A glorious ride.

They sent us to a hotel they'd assured us was ready to take us, but that wasn't the case. There was a dentist convention in Saginaw, and there were not a lot of rooms to be had.

Now, I don't know if you've been to Saginaw, so if you haven't, let me tell you there is no There there. Everything seemed far away from everything else, freeways and stores and hotels and whatever, all spread out. And when we got to the hotel, as noted, they had to rooms. But they were hard on the phones, calling around, trying to find us places to stay.

In the meantime, word had gotten around that Jo and I had lost each other. As I sat in the lobby, people would walk by at 2 or 3 minute intervals, each one of them saying the same thing:

"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


"Find your wife?"


And on and on.

I made another call to Jo's parents, and they still hadn't heard from her. I told them what was happening up until then, then went back to sit. As I was sitting, one of the desk phones, in between an out-going call, rang, and the clerk who answered said "Who? No, I'm afraid we don't have anyone here by that name."

I jumped and took the phone from his hands, knowing absolutely it was for me, and sure enough, it was Jo. She was in Windsor, had caught a ride with three women who had rented the last car at the airport, she had thought I had flown out, and they had let her ride even though she only had a few bucks Canadian on her (the cab ride from Detroit airport to Windsor was also a challenge, but she managed it). She said she would tell the hotel about me arriving the next day, I wished her luck for her interview (without a change of clothes, without most of her toiletries), and that was that.

A few minutes later they hustled us out to a bus to take us to another hotel. When it was full, the driver tried to shut the door, but a woman forced her way on, said her husband was already on the bus, and she wasn't "going to end up like him." Pointing at me. We all laughed.

The next hotel had a brand new desk clerk and a late night security guard. She booked us in slowly, nervously, but she managed, while he wrote down wake-up call times. I think I managed about 5 hours sleep that night, and shared a cab back to the airport with a couple of other refugees the next morning.

At the airport all of our luggage was piled in a small mountain, and I picked through and found mine and Jo's. Then I stood in line and quickly got on an empty flight to Detroit, had Jo's bags retagged for me (really different before 9/11).

What worked for me didn't work for others, though. One person was flying to Europe, but the domino effect of this storm meant the only flights available for her to get to London were via Seattle and Asia. And then I met the older couple. He had spent the night feeling like he was drowning, they were going to miss their granddaughter's wedding, but they were carrying on. I think it was going to take three connections to get to Philadelphia. He certainly looked awful.

Added fun: The rest of the day. My rental car was there for me, but when I got to Canada Customs I discovered they didn't like Canadians renting cars in the US and bringing them to Canada. I almost lost my shit at the agent, he called his supervisor, and I was allowed in but advised to not do this again. Then I got to the hotel and they had no idea who I was, and of course I couldn't get a hold of Jo. I showed them my driver's license, which had the same home address as was listed on the booking, and eventually they let me in. Where I fell asleep, but forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and was awakened by housekeeping, because I didn't hear them knock.

We don't book flights like that anymore.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Movies of 2015

I plain old forgot to come here and update this earlier in the year. Oops.

Didn't see as many films in 2015. Partly this was because I've been busy with other things: writing, the boys, life in general. Partly it's to do with more TV shows of quality being available. Shows like Happy Valley, Jessica Jones, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

Anyhow, in 2015 I saw 60 films, although a few of them were shorts, including some seen at Saskatoon's Fantastic Film Fest. That's down 10 from last year, but I saw 30 in the cinema (denoted with *),  up from 27, although again, some were shorts.

It doesn't feel as if I was quite as international last year. 11 countries in 2015, 16 in 2014. I must fix that for 2016. Here's that list:

Argentina - 1
Australia - 2
Austria - 1
Canada - 2
France - 1
India - 1
New Zealand - 3
South Korea - 2
Sweden - 2
UK - 8
USA - 37

Anyhow, here's what I saw last year, followed by my personal top ten of the year. I do count some movies from 2014 in my final assessment, depending on whether or not they were possible to see upon release.

*The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) USA - A couple of nice moments as well as tremendous emotional anchoring by Martin Freeman as Bilbo couldn’t save this unholy mess of a movie. I used to think there was plenty Jackson could do with the battle scenes, since in the book Bilbo took a knock to the head and missed pretty much the whole damn thing. But no, the battle (aside from the funny but not clever injection of Billy Connolly) was interminable, the changes made bothering even me, definitely not a purist.

Rich Hill (2014) USA - Disturbing and so very sad, and yet some moments that were remarkably uplifting. These kids have been given the short end of the stick all their lives, and yet they still work to get by.

Pride (2014) UK - Very enjoyable, with an excellent cast. As usual, I sometimes find myself wishing these movies based on real people and events wouldn’t feel the urge to create fictional characters to add to the group, but happily some of the characters were actual people of the events.

Housebound (2014) New Zealand - The funnest and funniest horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time. At least until the other horror movie from New Zealand I saw this year. Some nice twists and turns in this one.

*The Babadook (2014) Australia - Creepy and powerful, and a reminder that horror films often seem to be the places where you can find the strongest female characters, those who have the most agency.

*Wild (2014) USA - A nice vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, this is an emotional film that almost teeters over the precipice once (the two hunters, who may or may not be threatening to be worse) but pulls back and, again, gives the character agency.

*Wild Tales (2015) Argentina - Hilarious and horrific in equal measure. The wedding sequence is quite rightly the one most people talk about.

Force Majeure (2014) Sweden - Another funny and slightly disturbing film, this one about uncomfortable dynamics in a family after the husband turns tail and runs in the face of a possible disaster. Cutting and sometimes vicious, too.

Atari: Game Over (2014) USA - An intriguing little documentary about the mystery of cartridges for one of the worst games ever made (ET for Atari) being possibly buried in a dump, and the archaeological detective work done to find them.

Big Eyes (2014) USA - Tim Burton, exhibiting a (slight) return to form after a rather horrific spell. Perhaps it helped that there was no Johnny Depp in this one.

*Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) USA - I enjoyed it well enough, but in the end it’s a big, noisy, flashy, expensive mess, and reminds me how tired I am of the stakes always being upped in these movies so that the end of the world is always what’s on the line.

*Ex Machina (2015) USA - An excellent little film, more about character and the philosophy of what it means to be human than it is about the explosions and adventure that so often marks current SF films. Although, as noted below, explosions and adventure don’t have to be a bad thing.

*Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Australia - A remarkable, explosive, adventurous film that is also very subversive. Make no mistake: Max may be the title character, but he is not the main character. This is a film about and driven (sorry) by women.

Selma (2014) USA - A decent historical film that wisely picks a smaller slice of time rather than the broader sweep of the entire civil rights movement.

Korengal (2014) USA - A follow-up (I hesitate to say “sequel”) to Restrepo, another excellent documentary about life for soldiers deep in enemy territory in Afghanistan.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) UK - Violent and cheeky and a whole lot of fun. Probably my favourite (big screen) comic book adaptation of the year.

*Spy (2015) USA - Very funny, and who knew Jason Statham could be as hilarious as he was here?

Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014) South Korea - A good (but not great) Korean film, which feels odd to write, because Korean films very often blow me out of the water. Still worth seeing, though.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014) USA - Sad and sometimes difficult to watch, a nonetheless somewhat uplifting film about the power music has to keep Glen Campbell’s life and deteriorating health on a temporary even keel.

*Inside Out (2015) USA - Another triumph for Pixar. Simply lovely, and so very moving.

*Slow West (2015) New Zealand - A film about the American west made in New Zealand by a Kiwi director. The best western I’ve seen in ages, this one lives up to its title, a slow burn leading up to a horrific, nail-biting climax. And then, the perfect finish.

*Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015) USA - The best of the lot, and how does the 5th movie in a series get to be that way? Great fun.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) New Zealand - One of the funniest movies I saw this year, a mockumentary about vampires.

Kill the Messenger (2014) USA - A decent movie about the true events surrounding the reporter who uncovered the CIA’s involvement in arming the Nicaraguan rebels and coke smuggling, and the efforts made to smear him.

’71 (2014) UK - Thrilling and tense and sad, about a British soldier trapped behind “enemy lines” in Northern Ireland and trying desperately to get to safety. Had one of two great turns by Sam Harris that I saw this year, the other being in the MI film. Watch for him.

*Ant Man (2015) USA - I think this was the best superhero film of the year, although, again, it doesn’t hold a patch to Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Tig (2015) USA - Another moving documentary, this one about the comedian Tig Notaro. Even though I knew what was coming, her final performance is awesome and brave and inspiring.

Locke (2013) UK - Finally got to this one. Tom Hardy to me is a cipher: I’m never sure what he really looks or sounds like, and playing a Welshman in this just adds to it. Excellent film.

It Follows (2015) USA - An excellent horror film, although I would like to see a sequel that deals with the disposability of sex workers on the street, because the ending surely doesn’t, even though it leaves the question wide open.

Lucy (2014) France - Blah. Quite lousy, a sign we should allow fewer ten-year-olds access to screenplay writing software.

Rosewater (2014) USA - A good, heartfelt film. Especially nice that Jon Stewart didn’t inject himself into it.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) USA - An appalling (in a good way) documentary about the shit show that arose from a movie that, no matter what the hopeful folks say, was likely going to remain a shit show, just of a different type.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) USA - Very good documentary, frightening to see the control exerted and the abuse given.

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) UK - This was much more fun and clever and suave than I anticipated. Not a classic, but it stood up well.

*Mistress America (2015) USA - Another enjoyable Noah Baumbach film, although I did prefer Frances Ha from 2012.

*Mr. Holmes (2015) UK - Ian McKellen is wonderful as an aged Sherlock Holmes. The central mystery is not world-shattering, but it still means very much.

The Lunchbox (2013) India - Not only an astonishing look at one small aspect of a very different culture, this is a very sweet love story.

*Cop Car (2015) USA - Kevin Bacon as a cop in a fair amount of trouble, and two young boys are a part of why he’s in trouble. Extremely tense thriller.

*A Way Out (2015) USA (Short)

*Goodnight Mommy (2015) Austria - Horrific and frightening thriller/horror, I only felt let down by the little sung coda at the very end.

*Heir (2015) Canada (Short)

*A Hard Day (2014) South Korea - Proving once again that some of the best thrillers come from South Korea, this is an excellent film that has a very funny and very tense set piece involving a remote-control toy car and a dead body.

*Green Room (2015) USA - By the director of the also-brilliant Blue Ruin, this is another great thriller, a very tense movie involving a punk band, neo-nazis, and Captain Picard.

*The Stomach (2014) UK (Short)

We Are What We Are (2014) USA - A decent horror/thriller about a very dysfunctional family.

*The Martian (2015) USA - A top notch science fiction film with a very likeable main character.

*The Walk (2015) USA - An all right movie with astonishing special effects, best served if seen in 3D on the big screen. But the story itself was captured much better in the documentary Man On Wire.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) USA - Not as appealing a documentary as I would have hoped. The music selections are largely drawn from the sort of thing only obsessive completists would want to hear.

*Bridge of Spies (2015) USA - Not the highest calibre Spielberg movie, but still very good. A spy movie of a different sort.

Jupiter Ascending (2015) USA - Ick. Much like The Fifth Element, this felt like a movie based on the dreams of a 12-year-old, except it made even less sense.

Kung Fury (2015) Sweden (Short) - A crazed, deliberately mediocre-looking homage to bad ‘80s cop shows and ‘70s martial arts flicks. Hilarious.

Beasts of No Nation (2015) UK - An excellent film made for Netflix, with a great performance by Idris Elba.

*Spotlight (2015) USA - Outstanding. At the end my wife said to me, “It feels like I’ve just read a really good book.”

Back in Time (2015) USA - A fun if light documentary about the making of Back to the Future.

*Remember (2015) Canada - A decent thriller about two elderly men and the effects of the Holocaust, but the ending borders on ridiculously unbelievable. Both Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau are excellent.

*Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) USA - Fun. Felt like a Star Wars movie should. Which may be partly because it matched a lot of the first film beat for beat.

*The Big Short (2015) USA - Tremendous and funny and not afraid to deal complicated ideas to its audience, even when it tries to explain them.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) USA - A so-so film based on a very funny book. A shame Paul Newman couldn’t have made this with Redford, instead of Nick Nolte, although even then I question whether or not it would have really worked.

Trainwreck (2015) USA - Very funny, very NSFW.

*The Hateful Eight (2015) USA - I know a bunch of my friends weren’t fans of this, but I really enjoyed it. Some neat twists and turns, as is Tarantino’s wont.

A few movies came close to making the top ten. As always, a list like this might change depending on my mood. I could see adding The Big Short, Housebound, Bridge of Spies, What We Do In The Shadows, Beasts of No Nation, Ex Machina, The Babadook, Rich Hill, Korengal (my favorite documentary of the year), '71, or Force Majeure to the list. And yes, that's eleven more movies right there.

1. Spotlight
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Martian
4. Slow West
5. A Hard Day
6. Inside Out
7. Green Room
8. Mr. Holmes
9. Cop Car
10. Wild Tales

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Interviews with Trapper Bud

For the past two or three years, as many of you know, I have been tweeting the diaries of Bud Murphy, my grandfather, who spent a decade, starting in 1929, trapping with his father in the Northwest Territories. When I finished with those I dove right into the diaries of his dad, Matt Murphy, who went up for one season in 1925/26 and then again when Grandpa went with him.

I've also been putting up photos, not only ones that were taken by Grandpa, but some that have been passed on to me by others, and tweeted great information and questions and answers from readers, people who have turned this project in family history into a crowd-sourced project of local history. A wider scope, with Grandpa and then Matt still at the center of the view, has opened up tales and vistas I did not think possible, and I am grateful every day for the opportunity to share and to sometimes have that spirit of sharing reflected back on me and my family.

Heck, I even sometimes get phone calls from a gentleman who knew my great-uncle Neill, and we chat about his own time in Yellowknife and the people he knew.

Today, I'm pleased to be able to share another level of that history with you.

Somewhere between 1984 and 1986, after my grandmother Elda Murphy died, my father George and I sat down with Grandpa and interviewed him, on tape. I've been sitting on these tapes all these years, and found them (at least, I hope I found all of them. Can't be sure, and you'll see why in a moment) at the same time I found the diaries.

But tapes that are 30+ years old are not guaranteed to work, and I didn't want to just throw them in the one tape deck we still have in the house and discover I had created a disaster. I also had an old computer and didn't want to digitize things and, again, discover that I'd caused even more problems. So I researched what was the simplest way to turn these tapes into digital files, and then, about a month ago, I bought a new computer. Then I bought the cord to move the interviews from the deck to the computer, brought the deck upstairs, hooked up everything...

...and still almost screwed up. Badly.

Two tapes went into the Tape A spot, but both got chewed up.

The good news, though, is these tapes weren't the interviews with Grandpa. No, they were music, both by friends (and so still irreplaceable). I grabbed a third tape and put it in Tape B, and everything worked.

And so, fingers crossed and breath tightly held, I put in the first tape, hit play on the deck and record on the computer, and watched (not listened, since it was transferring in silence) as steady lines turned into jumping sound waves. Everything seemed to be working.

And so, lucky me, lucky family, lucky you. What we have in the following link are four separate files, all from the same interview, my Dad and I sometimes asking questions for clarity, but mostly listening to Grandpa talk about his time in the NWT.

I do warn you in advance, though, that it's Amateur Hour at the Murphy household. This was all done on a Toshiba boombox I had had since I was about 15. No external mic. Whenever a tape ended I would jump up to flip it over or put in a new one, but Grandpa would not stop talking. Sometimes I'm able to reel him back, sometimes not. In the meantime, there's a fire crackling in the background. Sometimes (including early on) the phone rings, or the dog barks, or my mom interrupts. But really, not only are you hearing the history involved in Grandpa's early life, you're also witnessing the chaos of a suburban Edmonton home in the mid-80s, so think of that as a kind of history as well. Less interesting, frankly, but it's still there.

Finally, let me state what a joy it has been to sit and listen to Grandpa's voice again. He died in 2004, and while I could hear his voice in the back of my head when I was inputting his diary entries, this is definitely different. The discovery and recovery, even though I knew the tapes existed, has been a real thrill. My regret now is that I didn't do the same with my other grandparents, and I hope that at least some of you, as you read this, will feel the spark to go out and start collecting your own family history.

Part One is here.

Part Two is here.

Part Three is here.

Part Four is here.

You can access all four in one place here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

@TrapperBud and his Brush With Death

Today in the mail I received a package from my parents, an old brown envelope addressed to Grandpa as “Mr. Cyril M. Murphy, Whitelaw, Alberta, Can., postmarked Mar 17 1941 at 11pm at the GPO on New York, NY. It has a 3 cent stamp on it that, for some reason, is Canadian, a red King George VI from 1937 (I’ve done some research). Also stamped on the envelope are the words “POSTAGE DUE 6 CENTS.” Worthy of note is the fact the enveloped has been opened with a letter opener, pretty much a tool of a bygone era these days.

Inside the envelope are two stories, likely not the original contents, both of them attempts by Grandpa to tell the same story. These are a part of the @TrapperBud legacy, one I am keen to share, but clearly too long for Twitter, and so I have turned to this blog as a home for this story. The one I have transcribed below is likely the final draft, as the other has scribbled-out words as he corrected himself while writing, and I will supply footnotes to indicate when the stories diverge. He was operating on memory here and made a small dating error, it seems. But read and enjoy and don’t get too caught up in small details.

Mr. Cyril M. Murphy
Whitelaw, Alberta, Can.

The Stampede of Caribou*

I was a Barren Land trapper for ten years and during that length of time I had several narrow escapes from death, one of which a large herd of stampeding caribou took part in.

My father and I had been on Artillery Lake for four years and as the fur had not been very plentiful the last couple of years we decided to move to new trapping grounds. After much scouting around we made plans to settle on Back River about one hundred and fifty miles North East of Artillery Lake.

We left Artillery Lake on the fifth of May 1933* with our dogs and a canoe on the tobaggan with about four months supply of food. We travelled on the ice as the big lakes do not open until the end of July in the north. We arrived on Back River on the eighteenth of June, still on ice. After a hard pull for the dogs for fifteen miles over bare ground we arrived at our previously picked out camping place.

It took us about a week to get our camp into* shape for the winter and then came the task of getting our wood supply. It took us about a month of hard work to get what we thought would do us for the winter. The only wood that is available* in that country is small green willows about one inch thick and they are found only along the edges of the small creeks.

As we were short on food it was decided that I should take the canoe and the Johnson Outboard motor and make the trip to Reliance, two hundred and fifty miles south. The ice was just breaking up* in Aylmer Lake which delayed my start until the fifth of August. This lake was the beginning point of my trip as the Back river was too shallow for travelling on by canoe and engine.

With food for a week, a small tent, my rifle and sleeping bag I started out to walk the fifteen miles to Aylmer Lake, where the canoe and engine had been left. As I came up over a ridge about five miles from the lake I saw a herd of about five thousand caribou feeding along the base of the ridge. These Caribou come from the North East by the tens of thousands about the end of July and move on to the South West, making a big circular tour and come back through again from the North East about the last* of September.

Not needing any meat at the time I never bothered to take my rifle from the case which was an oversight* on my part which I regretted very much a few minutes later*. Suddenly I saw two bulls jump into the air, which is common of Caribou when something startles them. Thinking nothing of it, as I thought it was me they had spotted I kept on walking, but instead it was a couple of big grey Arctic wolves out after a caribou dinner.

Immediately all of the caribou stampeded and as they were coming straight towards me I did not have time to pull my rifle from its case. The only chance for my life that I could see was to make a run for the nearest large rock, which was about fifty feet away. When I got closer the rock looked pretty small but I couldn’t get any further as the leading caribou brushed my clothes as I fell on my face behind the rock. They came thundering on, some going on either side of my shelter but a large number jumped over me and the rock.

It seemed hours that I lay there tensely waiting to be trampled to death by thousands of hoofs, but it was only a few minutes until they had all passed. When I finally stood up I was shaking so badly I could not steady myself enough to put the rifle to my shoulder to fire at the wolves which were only two hundred yards away, still chasing the caribou.

That was the closest call to death I ever had in my ten years I was trapping in the N.W.T. and I don’t want another like that.

* The other version does not include is name and address

* No underlining in the other version

* He says twenty fifth in the other version. Going back to the diary doesn’t really pin it down, but it seems to be between the two dates

* “In” shape in the other version

* He doesn’t say “available” in the other version

* He doesn’t say “up” in the other version

* He says “end” instead of “last” in the other version

 * He writes “an oversight” in tiny script above the sentence, a late addition in the other version

* After “oversight” he writes “which I was to regret a few minutes later” in this version

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Which I Discuss Traffic Issues With the City of Saskatoon: A One-Way Conversation

Edited, to add the City's response and my own response to that, down at the bottom.

I've written a couple of letters to the city's Contact Us website. Here's the first one:

On June 16 just after 7pm it took me 15 minutes to drive from the Lawson Civic Centre to the SW corner of the mall at Primrose and Warman. The traffic was horribly backed up, and the surprise came at the end when I reached Warman and found that the right lane was closed just before the corner, forcing those vehicles to merge into the left lane. The only reason for this was to keep people from turning right onto Warman, which was already blocked off and therefore there was no way to turn right. As soon as we got onto Warman southbound, it was two lanes again. So my question is, why not just put up signs advising drivers that they won't be able to turn right at Warman, instead of blocking traffic? Are Saskatoon drivers illiterate? No, scratch that, I've seen how Saskatoon drivers behave, and this is entirely possible. However, I think your construction and engineering teams are giving us short shrift. If someone is already on Primrose with the intention of turning right on Warman, and if they don't pay attention to signage, they won't be turning right whether or not your Traffic Flow Incoveniencing Device is in place or not. In the meantime, the rest of us - already weary from the closure of the University Bridge, the closure of Warman Road, the decrepitude and soon-to-be death of the Traffic Bridge, non-stop potholes and who knows what other road construction - would appreciate the chance to be treated like adults who can sometimes make intelligent decisions and not have to deal with seemingly-deliberate attempts to stopper traffic flow for no better reason than "we have this neat electronic sign that we paid for and therefore should use it as often as possible." I thank you for your attention to this matter, as well as your patience with my rambling.

And here's a second:

Well, after yesterday's email to you folks (unanswered, by the way, but I accept that it has only been 24 hours: an eternity in this digital, everybody-hooked-up world of ours, but barely an eye blink for a governmental bureaucracy), it turns out that the electronic sign on Primrose was indeed moved. Good news! Sadly, though, the sign was only moved about 5 meters or so. This time (about 6:15pm), Warman Road north from the SW corner of Lawson Heights Mall was open so that people turning right could do so, but since one can also turn left from the right lane, there are many cars in that lane anticipating they might be able to do so. And again, since there are no signs anywhere between the Lawson Civic Centre and the corner, this comes as a surprise to those drivers. Although today allow me to offer kudos to Saskatoon drivers, who did a much better job of handling the surprise zipper merge. I can't speak, however, to how those drivers handled their dismay or even anger on finding there was again no apparent reason for this traffic blockage. Warman Road going south has no construction at this moment, tonight the road going north was also open, so again it seems the only reason this electronic traffic sign and accompanying pylons are in place are to a) aggravate local drivers, and/or b) get some usage out of an expensive sign that was just going to be sitting around anyhow. For your benefit, I have taken a picture and tweeted it to @cityofsaskatoon via my @derrylm account. You can see it here: I will be back in that area tomorrow, and do so look forward to seeing where the sign has been moved to then. Perhaps in the middle of the intersection? 

Then today I heard from Chris, with City of Saskatoon Transportation:

Good Morning Mr. Murphy,

Thanks for the emails and your sense of humour.

Warman Road is being re-surfaced so that is the reason for the lane closure. I know it can be confusing when a lane is closed down and you see no personnel around but it could be the crew contracted to do the work isn't at that specific location at the moment you drive by. The lane restrictions have to remain as the condition of the road is unlikely in a safe driveable condition.

The sign should be in the same place today unless, due to your picture showing it's [sic] awesomeness, someone has come and stole it.

 Thanks for your patience as the City tries to get as much road work done as they possibly can over our short construction season.

Have a good day,

To which I responded:

Hello Chris, and thank you for your reply.

The electronic sign was gone today. While it is possible the sign was moved by someone human, I worry that it may have arrived at some form of self-awareness, and respectfully request you have someone check the manufacturer's label to make sure it doesn't say Cyberdyne Systems. If it does, then I know a fellow with a nice facial scar who might be able to send me back in time to last autumn in order to try and stop this asphaltocalypse.

In the meantime, while the City was good enough to place signs up in advance telling drivers to get into the right lane this time (as opposed to the right lane being closed without signage the past two nights), there were no signs telling approaching drivers that, even though there was one lane open going southbound, we fools coming off of Primrose would not be allowed to turn left onto Warman. It was like the people in charge of signage felt it would do us all some good to receive a surprise, today's surprise being that in order to go left you had to turn right and then drive a very long distance in order to double back.

I suppose, though, this made as much sense as the electronic sign (Cyberdyne Systems T-300) blocking the road when there was no actual construction going on at the time. I understand the need to do the road and bridge construction now (8 months of winter, 4 months of construction are the two seasons, I know), but, at the risk of sounding like the classic definition of insanity (yet another side bar: Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result), I only ask that the drivers be warned so that we can make decisions about how to get where we're going in advance of arriving at the point of no return.

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