Just forget the words and sing along

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Athabasca All-Candidates Forum

During the last federal election, I got a lot of shit from one of my learned colleagues for not attending Athabasca's all-candidates forum. As I blogged at the time, I had some problems with the all-candidates forum. Problem the first was that it was not an open forum. It was being held by an anti-war group called the Athabasca Peace Initiative, and they made it clear that they would be asking all the questions at this forum. When asked about why they were doing this, they responded that, “It's important the right questions be asked,” which I found a little insulting. Problem number two was that not all the candidates were coming. The Conservative, Liberal, and Green candidate all chose not to show up. So it was just the NDP and the fringe parties. Lastly, it was at the same time as the Magnificent River Rats meeting, and we were deciding on ticket prices for that year's festival.

So, I could cast my vote on ticket prices, or I could watch some anti-war activists beg the Christian Heritage Party to bring the troops home. I chose River Rats.

But here we are now, 2.5 years later, and in the throes of another federal election. Athabasca's all-candidates forum had a format I was much more agreeable to. Rather than being held by a specific group, it was being hosted by a group of concerned individuals who just felt Athabasca had to had one. Only four candidates are running in Fort McMurray – Athabasca this time out – Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, and Green – and only the NDP candidate chose not to come out to the forum. And yes, it was an open forum, so all could ask questions, and they were even planning to have some meet-and-greet time before and after the forum so you could talk to the candidates one-on-one.

Before we get to the show, though, just want to take a moment to talk about the riding's NDP candidate, Berend Wilting. With the surprising surge in popularity of the NDP, there seems to be a lot of growing anger towards the NDP here in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. At least in this part of the riding, Wilting hasn't done any door-knocking, declined all interview requests, and is doing no campaigning whatsoever. There's a lot of angry and frustrated NDP supporters out here, and it'll be interesting to see how it affects the NDP results on election night.

The three players at tonight's forum were:

Monday, April 25, 2011

The New Weird Al Album!!

Wow, what a difference a day makes!

As I reported back on Thursday, there was a bit of a kerfuffle between "Weird Al" Yankovic and Lady Gaga.  In case you don't want to go back and click on that entry, here's the Coles Notes.  Weird Al had an idea for a parody of Born This Way, Lady Gaga made him write and produce the whole song before signing off on it...and then she said no.  Weird Al was grumpy that all his hard work had been for naught and was getting ready to release it as a free download.

But then, on Thursday afternoon, the whole story came out.  Turns out Lady Gaga...never heard Weird Al's parody.  Her manager was the one who said "She wants to hear the whole thing first," and her manager was the one who ultimately said, "No."  Once Weird Al posted the song online and told his story, Lady Gaga finally heard the parody, loved it, and officially gave it her thumbs up!

So that means, Weird Al's new album is on track!  A release date of June 21 has been announced, and Weird Al has revealed the name of his next album!

Get ready for...the Alpocalypse!

Oh, and if you don't want to wait until June 21, you can buy his Lady Gaga parody, Perform This Way, on iTunes TODAY!! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Weird Al Don't Get As Much Respect Anymore

Most people who know me will tell you that I'm one of the biggest "Weird Al" Yankovic fanboys in the world.  Therefore, there's three little words that always gets me tingling:  new Weird Al.

Today, on YouTube, Weird Al posted a brand new parody...a spoof of Lady Gaga's Born This Way which he retitled I Perform This Way.  Weird Al also added the disclaimer that this song will NOT be on his new album. 

As the story goes, Weird Al wanted to get Lady Gaga's approval for the parody. Weird Al doesn't need to get approval, he just does because he's a nice guy like that. However, rather than just a description of the song or a copy of the lyrics, Lady Gaga insisted on hearing the song fully produced before signing off on it. So Weird Al did. And then she said no.

So, Weird Al's being miffed stems from the fact that he poured a lot of hard work into this, and he doesn't want all his hard work to go for naught because of it. Never mind that now he's looking for a new song to parody to be the lead single on his new album. So, he's posting the song to YouTube, and he'll be making it a free download at his official website in the weeks ahead.

Why am I sitting here rehashing this tale? Just go to Weird Al's official blog, and read the tale in his own words.

Sadly, though, this is starting to become par for the course for Weird Al. Let's flash back to five years ago. Pretty much the same thing happened. The lead single was going to be You're Pitiful, a parody of James Blunt's You're Beautiful. But, James Blunt's record company stepped in at the last minute and forbade it's release, fearing that the parody would damage Blunt's image. Blunt himself was cool with it. So, Weird Al made it a free download at his website...where you can still download it today!

Or heck, back in 2003, with Weird Al's album Poodle Hat. The lead single was Couch Potato, a spoof of Eminem's Lose Yourself. While Eminem reluctantly agreed to the parody, Eminem vetoed the music video. Eminem's argument was that he already mocks himself though his "Slim Shady" persona, so no one else has to. But still, with music videos still being the biggest part of Weird Al's exposure, it was a devastating blow ot Poodle Hat's sales.

Weird Al just doesn't get the same respect he once did. Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, when Weird Al did a parody of your song, it was taken as a badge of honor...achievement unlocked...a sign that you had made it! Now, though, it's starting to be seen as embarrassment...a dark spot...a chip in the original aritst's carefully constructed image.

As for my thoughts on the song...meh. It's not one of Weird Al's stronger parodies. Even in his original blog entry, Weird Al talks about making it kinda because everyone expected him to.

Oh, well. When You're Pitiful was barred from release, Weird Al came back and did the much more kick-ass White n' Nerdy. So I'm sure whatever replacement Weird Al cooks up will be better.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

History Repeats, As Always

I was leafing through the paper the other day, and I found this article that caught my eye.

It looks like Jasper is going to get a Tim Hortons

Reading the article, I was instantly taken back to around 10 years ago, when it was announced that Japser would be getting a McDonald's.  There were mass protests.  People did not want it in their backyard.  It opened up anyway, and closed down after two or three years.  The official reason for the closing was the labour shortage...they couldn't find anyone to work there. 

As I'm sure you know, Jasper is a favourite place of mine.  I've been going there on vacation ever since I was a kid.  And Jasper has always prided themselves on being less commercially-developed than Banff.  I last went to Banff a couple of years ago.  And yeah, Banff really is for tourists now.  Big chain stores on every corner.  Throngs of tourists crowding the streets.  I was camping with my parents, and we needed some propane for the BBQ.  No one in Banff carries propane anymore, as very few people come to Banff to camp anymore.  We wound up going all the way out to Canmore to get propane. 

But Jasper, on the other hand, has fought very hard to retain their small mountain town charm.  There's hardly any chain stores.  The only major fast food chains that come to mind are A&W and KFC.  They've managed to protect themselves, and keep their small business community thriving. 

That was part of the reason of the protests against McDonald's all those years ago.  McDonald's is the ultimate symbol of commercialization...of course they didn't want it in their backyard.  Tim Hortons, though, while not as global as McDonald's, it is a big chain moving in. 

Jasper has to face pressure, though, right?  They have to feel the pressure to become as commercialized as other places in order to start brining in more money.  But then it can be argued that, with the focus on small business, you have the potential for more things like boutiques which bring in higher-end stuff. 

Oh, well.  I'm sure that Jasper getting a Tim Hortons is inevitable.  After all, one of the big selling points of Rocky Mountain tourism is to provide that Canadian experience.  And, according to the TV commercials, what's more Canadian than a cup of Tim Hortons coffee? 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Let's All Go to the Trailer Park!

A couple of new movie trailers have gone online in the past few days, and I feel all compelled to share my thoughts on them.

First up, time for the reboot of one of the first science-fiction franchises, Planet of the Apes.  To borrow one of Charlton Heston's lines from the original, Rise of the Planet of the Apes shows how we maniacs blew it all up.  So I guess that kind of makes it a remake of the original series film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which tackled the same material.

*sigh* I gotta tweak my blog format so I can get wider movies in here.

My first thought: this is the first time I've ever seen a special effects company get top billing. Weta Digital, of course, became the kings of motion capture technology when they gave us Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Andy Serkis, who played Gollum, dons a motion capture rig once again to play Caeser, the first ape to gain intelligence and lead the uprising. James Franco plays the scientist who starts granting the apes intelligence.

Is it just me, or does it seem to be following a zombie movie formula, with intelligent apes instead of zombies?

August 5 is when this hits theatres, and I'll probably check it out.

Next up, we have the new trailer for Cowboys & Aliens. I'll admit, the first trailer didn't quite capture my interest, but this one gets me jazzed. It's got a great pedigre behind it. Jon Favreau (the Iron Man movies) directs, with a script from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the Star Trek reboot and the first Transformers movie), based on the graphic novel of the same name. Daniel Craig plays a man in the old west, who wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is and a strange device attached to his wrist. Apparently, he's a wanted man, and when he's being apprehended by a posse, aliens show up and start abducting people. Now, our hero must lead a ragtag band of western archetypes to save those who've been abducted. Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde are also in this one.

It hits theatres July 29.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reflections on Mainframe

So I've been watching a lot of Mainframe cartoons lately.  Shadow Raiders is the first TV show where I bought every episode on DVD, and a few weeks ago in the city, I got the new Shout! Factory release of ReBoot:  Seasons 1 & 2  . Mainframe was once the kings of the computer animation for television.  In fact, that was their intended purpose.  When they were first founded in the early-1990s by Gavin Blair and Ian Pearson (still best remembered as the computer animators who did the legendary music video for Money for Nothing), their goal was to be the first studio dedicated to producing computer animation for television.  And it was a goal they achieved when ReBoot premiered in the fall of 1994.

Throughout the 1990s, Mainframe RULED Saturday mornings.  Their programs were noted for their strong sense of character, and focus on character development...something necessitated back in the day, because computer animation was still ungodly expensive, so the cast of characters had to be kept small. 

What added to the pride was that they were a Canadian company, completely based in Vancouver.  They had great exposure here in Canada, as most of their programs were co-produced by YTV, and therefore shown on their network. 

In the late-1990s/early-2000s, they had the reputation of being the most prolific computer animation studio in the world.  They changed owners a few times in the past decade and started getting out of the TV show business.  They go by the name Rainmaker Animation now, and they've dabbled in some special effects work, with the odd straight-to-DVD movie every now and then. 

But back in the Mainframe era, they were kings.  I thought I'd just take a minute to ramble off some reminiscings about their shows.

ReBoot (1994 - 1996; 1997-1998; 2000) - And this is the one that started it all!  The first computer animated TV show.  That alone would have assured it of cult classic status, but what really helped it out was that it was one of the first TV shows that was filled with incredibly subtle references to...well, everything, from computer programming to cult classic films.  It was your fairly standard hero fare.  Set inside a computer, it focused on Guardian Bob (your anti-virus program) and his battles against the virus Megabyte, who set out to conquer (and infect) the whole computer.  As awesome as the first two seasons were, season 3 was where things kicked into high gear, as Bob was seemingly killed by Megabyte, and Bob's kid sidekick Enzo was forced to grow up before his time and become the new Guardian.  With season 3, they also moved from ABC to the Cartoon Network, so the stories became darker, grittier, and more adult.  This program is truly deserving of its cult classic status. 

Beast Wars:  Transformers  (1996 - 1999) - Mainframe's next production was the beloved 1990s revival of the Transformers franchise.  The heroic Maximals, led by Optimus Primal, crash land on a mysterious planets with the evil Predacons, led by Megatron.  Transforming into animals to protect themselves from the unstable Energon radiation, and Maximals and the Predicons did battle with each other over the Energon reserves as they tried to unlock the secrets of this mysterious planet.  Strong character development, coupled with strong serialized storytelling, and some nerd-tacular references to Transformers lore made this a great addition to the Transforers canon. 

Shadow Raiders (1998 - 1999) - Still my personal favourite.  Set in a distant star system, four planets that have been at war with each other for generations must finally put aside their differences and band together to fight of the devourer of worlds known as the Beast Planet.  Season 1 focused on the political machinations of forging the Alliance, season 2 was a tip of the hat to Battlestar: Galactica as our heroes uncovered ancient technology to turn their planets into spacecraft and fled across the galaxy with the Beast in hot pursuit.  Even though it only lasted 26 episodes, I am constantly amazed at the incredibly rich and detailed universe they were able to create.  And great characters, too.  Based upon the short-lived toy War Planets

Weird-Oh's (1999) - Mainframe's first attempt at producing a comedy, focusing on some surreal characters as they raced their surreal hot rods and had all series of wacky misadventures.  I actually lost interest in this one about three episodes in.  It was apparently based on a series of novelty model kits from the 1970s. 

Beast Machines:  Transformers (1999 - 2000) - The follow-up to Beast Wars, as the battle moved back to Cybertron and Megatron has become absolute dictator of all.  The Maximals, now a perfect fusion of technology and organic beings known as "technorganics," seek to liberate Cybertron.  Darker and grittier than Beast Wars, but more introspective and philosophical as well, and that's where it lost people. 

Action Man (2000 - 2001) - Extreme sports star Alex "Action Man" Mann is captured and experimented on by the evil Dr. X.  Escaping from Dr. X's lab, Alex is now imbued with the AMP Factor...a power in which, under extreme stress, he can calculate the most mathematically improbably scenarios and make it happen.  Now, in addition to his extreme sports activities, Alex is also a secret agent,  on the mission to apprehend Dr. X.  If you ever wondered what a Saturday morning cartoon based on The Matrix would be like...you've got to watch Action Man.  Alex's handler with the shadowy government agency dedicated to bringing in Dr. X was very much based on Morpheus...large African-American, dark trench coat, dark sunglasses, speaking in cryptic hints.  And at each episodes climax, when the AMP Factor kicks in, everything turns to that green falling text, like in the climax of The Matrix when Neo finally accepts that he's the one.  Seriously.  This got dangerously close to being The Matrix:  The Animated Series.

Spider-Man:  The New Animated Series (2002 - 2003) - And here's where Mainframe peaked.  They got the contract to do a Spider-Man cartoon.  Officially designed to pick up on the continuity of the 2002 Sam Raimi film, and with Ultimate Spider-Man creator Brian Michael Bendis on board to run the writers' room, this was a really good addition to the long-stranding series of Spider-Man cartoons.  It ran on MTV in the States, and was therefore allowed to be a little more adult. 

And yeah...I stopped following Mainframe religiously after this.  They didn't do much more in the way of TV shows, and they began shifting their focus to straight-to-DVD animated movies.  For TV series, they did a couple of Hot Wheels cartoons...they did a couple of Halloween specials based on the Scary Godmother books....and that was about it.

Nope, for most of the 2000's, their bread-and-butter was straight-to-DVD movies.  They got the license from Mattel to pump out the Barbie straight-to-DVD movies, and it's something they still do to this very day under the Rainmaker name.  They did a Popeye straight-to-DVD movie, they did an Inspector Gadget straight-to-DVD movie.  I kept saying I'd rent them some day, but I never did. 

And yeah.  What was once the most prolific computer animation studio in the world has just kind of faded away.  But their great cartoons will live forever.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Museums is Awesome

So, the provincial government made an announcement back on Thursday that made me a little bit giddy and I just had to blog about it.

The Government of Alberta has pledged $340 million to build a newer, bigger, better Royal Alberta Museum.

Here's the Edmonton Journal article making the announcement.

This new museum will be built right in downtown Edmonton, just behind city hall.  It'll be a 5-storey building with twice the display space of the current Royal Alberta Museum.  And I think this is an idea that is well past its due.

It's too bad that the images released are just placeholders, and that the province will be launching an international design competition for the new museum.  I really like this idea of a gigantic atrium/entry hall with a dinosaur at the top of a grand staircase.  Designers, take note!

Now, as I said, this is an idea that's well past its due.  I like museums, and there's a lot of good ones in the province that are run by the provincial government.  About four years ago, for my summer vacation, I hopped in my car and drove down to Drumheller to see the Royal Tyrell Museum, because it had been so darn long since I had.  And I loved it.  That is a great museum.  It's very interactive, very educational, and it really is designed to fit in with the landscape. 

In fact, I brought my voice recorder with me, and I produced a whole podcast live on location at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  Click here to download it!

About a year and a half ago, I got together with my folks, and we journeyed all the way to the southernmost corner of the province to see the famous Remmington Carriage Museum in Cardston.  Yeah, I know, a museum about horse-drawn wagons, how many stagecoaches can you see?  But, seriously, it is an amazing place.  Very informative, and a whole lot of fun. 

And, again, as I've blogged several times before, the restaurant in that museum made the best damn burger I've ever had. 

Compared to all this, our little old Royal Alberta Museum started lacking.  Last time I was there was in 2008.  I took February 29 off and decided to do something memorable to commemorate Leap Day, so I went to the Royal Alberta Museum.  I know, I'm a wild man.  As I blogged at the time, you can tell that the museum is a product of its time.  It has that real "fortress of knowledge" motif that was popular in the 1960s.  Just one look at the exterior, and you can imagine scientists inside, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and narrow ties, smoking pipes and trying to figure out a way to beat the Commies to the moon. 

Some of the exhibits are showing their age.  The giant, fiberglass dinosaurs, brand-new when the museum opened in the 1960s, are starting to look worn out.  The Natural History area, with its taxidermy animals in elaborate dioramas, just had a gigantic renovations, and was looking really good.  But it was still lacking...not quite up to the "Royal" name. 

Of course, there are some cynics to the project, and they have good reason to be cynical.  As you may recall, it was called the Provincial Museum of Alberta, and the Queen made it Royal when she visited in 2005.  Back then, Ralph Klein announced the $340 million renovation to the museum.  But, construction costs rose out of control, and when Ed Stelmach came to power, it was dismissed as a Klein legacy project and put on the back burner.

And now, Stelmach has made this announcement in the waning days of his premier-ship.  I'm sure the new guy might dismiss this as a Stelmach legacy project and shuffle it once again to the back burner. 

One thing that has me cynical is something you might think would make me giddy.  Stelmach also announced that a portion of the building would serve as the Edmonton terminal of the long-dreamed-about Edmonton-Calgary high speed rail link. 

I love trains, and I've long believed that a high-speed rail link from Edmonton to Calgary makes all kinds of good sense.  However, is it really a good idea to toss a train station into a museum?  It's a blend that I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around. 

And the question is arising now of what'll become of the old Royal Alberta Museum.  There's already been some talk of converting it into the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor.  That's an idea I can get behind.  Did you know that Alberta currently does NOT have an official residence for our Lieutenant Governor?  It was demolished in 2004, with the plan to build a new one for the centennial.  But the plans for that new one befell the same fate as the original museum plan.  So,  yeah.  Out Lieutenant Governor deserves a place to live. 

It's time build a kick-ass museum truly deserving of the name "Royal Alberta."  So, when the new guy comes to power, I hope we all write him and hold him up to this.