Friday, February 26, 2010

Spotlight Poetry #1

The following is a poem by the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic and newcomer Merrick following the strict guidelines of Spotlight Poetry. The subjects for this piece were 'Ant' and 'Generations'.

Toiling in a hill built
________on the fallen bodies
_________________of brothers

For the good
________I work

What I make with bleeding hands

____Are you worthy of our toiling?

____Did you choose this path?

Grown to gather,
________do I understand my

I saunter to and fro,
_________mind racing
______________to one thought

I watch as many sweep away from

The good dead for all to live
________________from small ant
________________________to father
____________________________to Queen

______pass unseen

Spotlight Poetry is a form of under-the-gun collaborative writing exercise created by Merrick.

Monday, February 22, 2010

OLYMPIC SPIRIT: An Interview with Torchbearer #035

As most know, the Olympic Games have been going on for a week now in Vancouver. The Canadian one. It's a bit of a big deal, and for those who live with the Games on their doorsteps... it's a HUGE inconvenience.

Seriously, the things are impossible to avoid. Walk down any street and you're inundated with red and white and maple leafs and rings. Even a simple drive downtown ends up taking an hour longer than it should. Feels like we're in a police state with an overdrawn bank account.

And despite my best efforts to the contrary, it's impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. So then when I had a chance encounter with Olympic torchbearer Jim Hubbeard, it was too perfect a chance to simply pass up. Without further ado, here's an interview with Torchbearer #035!

TRENCHCOAT ANTI-CRITIC: Can you tell the readers a little about yourself? Are you a sports fan in general, or are the Olympics a special exception?
JIM HUBBEARD: When it comes to sports I used to prefer to play rather than watch, but as I grew older and unable to play, I became much more enthusiastic about watching sports. That being said I've never been following sports so closely that I know all the players names and such. I've always made it up in my mind that I wouldn't be one of those guys who couldn't miss a game on tv; except when the Olympics are on. I do become a crazy fan who dons his Canada jersey and follows as closely as I can.

TAC: How did you become a torchbearer? Were you approached, or did you apply?
JH: The torchbearer story is actually quite awesome. I remember going into the Petro Canada and getting torchrun entrance forms with my dad in 1988. I was supremely disappointed when I wasn't chosen. From that day it became a dream of mine. I was sure that I was going to marry Elizabeth Manly when I grew up. Thus began my obsession with the Olympics.

I resigned my self to the fact that Elizabeth Manly was too old and out of my league.

When I saw on that there was a possibility I could become torchbearer, I spent some of my icoins to enter. I received an email that I had made the first round and that I needed to write an essay about living green. It was awhile after that when I received an email that I was selected to be a torchbearer. I didn't totally believe it until Coke followed up the email with a phone call.

TAC: When and where did you do your run with the torch?
JH: I carried the torch in Maple Ridge on February 8.

TAC: Can you talk about the experience leading up to the run?
Getting up at 4:30 in the morning to meet with the other torchbearers and the organizing comittee was not much fun, but the gushing they all did over us made us all feel as though we were the athletes. The emphasis that was placed on us carrying the torch really brought how much of an honour this really was.

When they handed us our torches before we got on the bus, it was all that many of us could do to keep from crying. Even the older men were welling up. I don't know how else to describe it.

TAC: What can you tell the readers about your experience on the big day?
JH: I know there was a some controversy about the opening video and the torch run in Germany, but the movie was definitely not anti-Semitic. It too brought tears to our eyes. Once the first torch bearer stepped off the bus we could all hear the cheers from the crowd. A surge of pride filled that bus.

When I was called to get off the bus I felt like a rock star. There weren't as many people there, but it was so surreal. People were getting poictures of me with the torch before it was lit.

I even had people ask for my autograph!

As I watched the "party buses" come closer, my excitement began to grow to an overwhelming level. I kept asking my self if this was real. An actual dream of mine was coming true! After the buses passed amidst the hugs and even kisses from the dancers, I could see the lights from the cop cars flashing and the security guards running around a little flame glowing in the distance.

This is where you could queue the cheesy inspirational music for the movie (I think Kevin James could play me!).

When that flame lit my torch, it was a feeling of exhilaration I can't really describe. To some of my friends it was no big deal that I was doing this. I can't understand how they could be so passive. This was one of the most amazing events that has ever happened to me (besides marrying my wife and having our two kids) and as I started to run it really hit me; I was carrying the Olympic flame! Me!

I cried as I ran (well, hobbled more than ran. I'm fighting Mitochondrial disease and Arthritis in my lower spine). That moment I was the one who was bringing the Olympics to Vancouver. The flame that was started by the rays of the sun in Greece was now erupting from my torch above my head. There are no words that can ever truly convey the feeling that washes over you.

TAC: Reportedly both Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman have participated in the torch rally. So too have several former Olympiads. How do you feel to have been a participant in an event with such people as peers?
JH: To put it simply, it is an honour to be put in the same category as these people. It is the closest to an Olympian I will ever be.

TAC: Do you have any reflections on the event now that your part in it is over?
JH: One thing that we were told was that we were carrying a symbol of peace. A flame that brought nations together. What more can I say?

TAC: What are your thoughts on the Olympic Games so far? Is it going how you thought it would be? Any surprises? Any predictions?
JH: I am very proud of our athletes.

Alexandre Bilodeau started a wave of gold from the podium that has really brought out the patriotism of our country. As for predictions, I keep that to myself. I will say that I am surprised at the lack of respect some players have shown for their particular sport and fellow athletes. I was not happy that the US beat us in men's hockey, and I feel the referee's were turning more than one blind eye, but I will also say that Miller had an awesome
game for the US.

What is it about these athletes that gives them the arrogance to step on the gold medal podium and whine that they didn't win? That is the surprise for me. My kids
(they've been watching with us) were surprised at this childish behavior and that says something that a high fuctioning autistic 10 year old boy and a 8 year old girl can see this behavior is wrong, but coaches are promoting this.

8 years old. Enough said.

TAC: There has been some controversy over the 2010 Olympics. From the massive debt-load, to the protesters. What's your opinion on said controversy? If you could, what would you say to protesters?
I am a very big supporter of the games, but I do think some things have been handled very badly. I wont try to say I fully understand the difficulties because I'm on the outside, but hosting the games and other major events that involve the country are kind of a necessity.

We have to showcase ourselves on the global stage as a marketing tool. That being said, I think the politicians are awesome at ignoring other areas that need attention. No matter how I answer, I'll probably tick people off so I'll stop now.

TAC: What do you think will be the legacy of the 2010 Olympics? How will history remember these three weeks?
JH: I think the great finishes we have already seen are pretty self explanatory.

TAC: Any closing thoughts?
JH: I hope your readers know that I mean no disrespect in regards to the two answers above. I'm just a huge fan of the games and my country.

A huge thank you to Jim Hubbeard for being game for this interview.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Brief History of Anime

The subject of Anime has held a certain fascination with me for a long time now. I grew up with the 1980s revision of Astro Boy and Sailor Moon was a guilty pleasure. In 2000 I had a false start and pretty much wrote off the whole thing as animated soft-porn with action. A couple years later, at the urging of my Anime-nut roommate, I gave it another go.

And I discovered an entirely unique approach to movies that blew my mind. Animated movies aimed at adults? With intelligent writing and strong thematic exploration? Why the hell don't more people know about this?

Anyways, here's a quick rundown of the history of Anime.

1947-Tezuka Osamu publishes his first comic book, New Treasure Island. It’s a runaway success. Unlike his predecessors and peers, who mostly drew in a two dimensional perspective and approached the stories almost like a stage play, Tezuka uses cinematic techniques such as dynamic angles to more effectively tell the story. Oh, and this version practically had nothing to do with the original, save for loose inspiration.

1947-1956-Tezuka is the most popular comic book artist in Japan. He radically and forever changes the look of all comics in Japan. Due to the sophistication of the themes and stories in Tezuka’s comics, many people now read them well into adulthood.

1956-Seeing Disney’s success in America, Toei Productions founds Toei Animation to make animated theatrical features. It follows the Disney formula closely, using old Japanese folk tales as source material and giving the protagonists cute and funny animal companions.

1962-Tezuka Osamu (Remember him? Yeah, he's totally a name you should remember.) founds Mushi Productions to make modern, fast-paced fantasy animation for TV.

1963-Mushi Productions’ first series, Astro Boy, is an instant success. By the end of 1963, three more television animation studios are in production and Toei Animation opens a television department.

1963-1988-Anime in Japan continues to climb in popularity. Some children shows like Astro Boy and Transformers (Yeah, those robot guys are Japanese. And you thought that "It's probably Japanese." line from the '07 movie was nothing more than a cheap gag.) reach North American television to a warm response, but Anime aimed at more mature audiences is only available as bootleg copies.

1984-Nausicaa is a smash success in Japan. Isao Takahata, the producer, and Hayao Miyazaki, the director, found Studio Ghibli for the production of their personal theatrical features.

1988-Akira is a financial and critical success not only in Japan, but also in North America. It introduces mature anime into mainstream America.

1992-In response to the highly successful Super Sentai port (the Power Rangers franchise), North American networks port over Sailor Moon for the young female audiences.

1994-Studio Gibli’s Pom Poko is submitted as Japan’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the Academy Awards.

1995-Perfect Blue, the film set having been destroyed by an earthquake, is made instead as an Anime. It is met with critical acclaim. Ghost in the Shell is released simultaneously in the States and in Japan. It is initially more successful critically and financially in North America than it's home country. Actually sounds like a good article, come to think of it...

1999-The Matrix, conceived as a live-action Anime, becomes a smash success in North America.

2000-Darren Aronofsky buys the remake rights to Perfect Blue so he can reproduce the underwater screaming scene for his film, Requiem for a Dream.

2003-Spirited Away, the highest grossing film in Japan (animated or otherwise), wins the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. As a companion piece to the upcoming Matrix Revolutions, The Animatrix is released, and is kind of a big deal in certain circles.

2004-The highest budget Anime to date, Steamboy, is released. This also marks the return of Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo. Sadly, the film is a financial and critical disappointment.

2005-American produced Avatar the Last Airbender bears a striking resemblance to Anime stylings. Of course, this isn't the first to use this style, but it is certainly among the most prominent.

2009-Ponyo, the latest film by Hayao Miyazaki, is released. This is despite stating his intent to retire after Spirited Away.

Well, that's about it for now. Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Nothing is as divisive as popular media.

It seems new fights explode every week. Fresh battles in a war between countrymen, each side viciously holding ground like hungry rabbits fighting over a limp carrot. On the left, patriots scream for blood over the cancellation of the latest Joss Whedon vehicle. On the right, a lone warrior in a cotton-weave fortress begging the masses to just “Leave Britney alo-o-one!”.

Think of the weeks following Transformers’ release in theaters. You could hardly walk ten blocks without getting caught up in an exuberant “Best movie ever!” or the mournful cry of “Michael Bay just raped my childhood!”.

But I’m not here to debate Transformers. And I’m not here to talk Michael Bay because, frankly, that’s an article for another day. I’m here for Twilight.

Since my first video I’ve had several requests from an old friend to do this. Honestly I was reluctant, but I finally caved. Yes Chloe, this article is your fault.

Now, anyone could rant about sparkling vampires. That’s too easy, and that’s not what I do. No, I’m here to navigate the no-man’s-land between pop culture and counter-culture. I’m here to defend Twilight to those who’ve written it off.

Here’s quick refresher to those who’ve forgotten, tried to forget, or simply ignored. The Twilight franchise focuses on the dangerous-but-sexy romance between a vampire and a girl on the cusp of adulthood. The series of books are pretty much the Harry Potter of vampires in terms of franchise success and age demographic.

Bella moves to a dreary small town. While attending the high school she falls for bad-boy hunk Edward, who turns out to be a little long in the tooth. In fact, his entire family is a little long in the tooth. Eddy lets Bella into the fold, and they have fun. There’s some fighting with bad vampires, but everything turns out rosy in the end. Oh, and there’s a baseball game in there somewhere. And brooding.

New Moon is more of the same, but with werewolves and 72% more shirtless men. Oh, and the evil vampires get some screen time.

Despite what you’ve heard to the contrary, Twilight and New Moon are well-paced, fun, and overall solid adaptations. Look, these films aren’t masterworks destined to stand as testament to artistic expression. They don’t delve into the mysteries of the human condition or reinvigorate the craft, but the filmmakers achieved everything they set out to achieve. The actors give solid performances, the script’s cleanly written, and the story is told effectively. The films deliver mindless entertainment. What else can really be asked?

As a side note, the first in the series set box office records for a movie with a female director and starring a woman. Somewhat sad we still have to make the distinction, but score one for gender equality, I guess.

There are two common complaints I want to address.

The first complaint: Bella is a selfish and weak female character who sets unrealistic expectations for relationships, and relies on those around her, mainly men, to save the day when she gets in over her head.

This is a legitimate point.

That said, a case could be made about the nature of the story being told. The Twilight saga is in no small part a coming-of-age tale. Characters in this kind of story generally begin as weaker or with unrealistic expectations over their place in the world but grow to become more rounded human beings.

In the meantime, parents should probably have a discussion with their daughters about how relationships actually function in the real world. And maybe a quick history lesson about the Women’s Lib movement.

I do have to give some credit to the franchise, though. There are several strong, well-rounded female supporting characters in the film.

The second complaint is, of course, the franchise’s watering down of the vampire mythos. Specifically that the franchise takes away all the negatives associated with being an undead creature of the night and then gives them a few superpowers to boot.

Part of what tempers the seductive quality of vampirism is the weaknesses that goes along with the lifestyle. To take these flaws away, it could be argued, takes away much of what defines a vampire.

For the uninitiated, here’s a rundown of some of the weaknesses vampires are missing in Twilight: direct sunlight (instead of bursting into flame, they get all sparkly), Italian cooking (garlic), cramped sleeping arrangements (no signs of any coffins so far), and the need for regular blood bank withdrawals (they’re vegetarians because they only drink the blood of animals… wait…).

What are we left with? According to Edward, as a vampire he has no immortal soul (because vampires have always been such devout Christians).

Of course, this isn’t the first time vampire mythology has changed.

You don’t have to dig very deep to find vampire-like creatures in the mythologies of China, Greece, Africa, North America, and practically every country in the world.

For our purposes, we’ll define a vampire as something that’s generally supernatural in origin and feeds on the blood or life-force of people for sustenance or in order to gain immortality.

In 18th century Europe, vampires would be described as decaying and fat from their blood feasting. They would sit up and moan when staked.

Looking to North America, you’ll find the Ojibwa, Cree, and/or Montagnais peoples’ Wendigo, a cannibalistic creature with a gaunt, emancipated appearance. One myth has a Wendigo trapped and burned alive by the very people it hunted, exploding into thousands of mosquitoes upon its death (ah, mosquitoes, natures little vampiric menace).

In Malaysia a woman who died in childbirth would come back as a Langsuir, a creature who would possess its victims and suck their blood from the inside until death. They were hideous and rotting with claws, red eyes, and holes in the backs of their necks.

The Indian goddess Kali was sometimes depicted as a ruthless being with fangs who drank blood from skulls.

In China, it was enough for a corpse to be jumped over by a cat and it would rise again as an undead creature, feeding on the lifeblood of the living.

The Russian church was so powerful that simply defying it in life was enough for a man to become a vampire in death.

I’m barely scratching the surface, but in the interest of brevity, let’s move on to the Dracula lineage.

Ah, Dracula.

His legacy really is what people are upset about with.

I don’t think there’s anyone who’s not aware Bram Stoker is responsible for the accepted modern vampire mythos. Most people are also aware that Stoker took a great deal of inspiration from the historical figure Vlad Dracul, better known as Vlad the Impaler.

Anyways, lets look at some of the rules and implications that come from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The good Count, as long as he continued to drink blood, was immortal and ageless. Garlic, holy water, and crucifixes were all disliked, but not deadly. Once a day Dracula needed to sleep in dirt from his own country; hence the whole coffin thing (which would have dirt in it). He could make people into ghouls as well as into other vampires. At will, he could transform into creatures including a bat and a wolf. Perhaps most surprising: direct sunlight was not deadly.

I’ll just let you take in that last line for a second; direct sunlight couldn’t kill Dracula.

No, sunlight didn’t become weaponized until the first film interpretation of Dracula, 1922’s Nosferatu. It’s interesting to note also that the vampire of the film was implied to be a plague carrier and was about as far away from handsome as you can get.

A later adaptation, 1931’s Dracula was the version that really planted the seeds for the darkly charismatic vampires we’re familiar with. There were some elements of this in Nosferatu, but it was really the later Dracula that spawned the sex appeal.

As the 20th century rolled on, writers and filmmakers picked and chose the rules that suited them and adapted them as they saw fit. The coffin was kept, but the dirt was abandoned. The shape shifting was restricted to bats. The dark sex-appeal moved more and more to the center stage. The overall vampire power-set really got ramped up, giving them superpowers rivaling many comic book heroes.

These days it seems like your average vampire has super-strength, super-speed, flight, heightened senses, immortality, eternal youth, and the ability to turn into a bat at will.

Where do I sign up?

Twilight’s diversions from the accepted vampire norm aren’t the first and are certainly far from the most dramatic changes our favorite creatures of the night have gone through. From the wild abandon of Lost Boys to the deformed monsters of From Dusk Til Dawn to the tortured souls of Interview with a Vampire, the genre has seen dramatic fresh blood, so to speak. This is just the latest in a long tradition of reinvention.

Without reinvention and new ideas, anything will grow stagnant and die.

Even if you are still dead-set against Twilight and its ilk, there’s another way of looking at this situation. The success the books and films have had have turned the spotlight towards vampires again. As a result we’re getting a whole slew of fresh genre offerings, and not just aimed at Twilight’s audience either.

Sure, Daybreaker’s wasn’t the antidote purists were hoping for, but it was a step in the right direction.

That antidote was the recent Swedish Let the Right One In, which has been hailed by many critics and filmgoers as the best vampire movie of modern times, if not of all time. It’s listed as the only bloodsucker movie on IMDB’s list of the top 250 rated films of all time, and is one of only 3 horror flicks with a mention.

If you’re looking to the bookshelves, there’s the new Dracula The Un-Dead, the first official sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. By all accounts, it’s average, but I’d expect it’s a welcome counterpoint for those who want something darker than pretty faced vampires.

The point? I’m fine with giving credit where it’s due; to the Twilight saga for its part, large or small, in keeping the bloodline fresh.

Until next time, I’m the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Coming Soon: Olympic Spirit!

I had the opportunity to interview Jim Hubbeard, Olympic Torchbearer #035. Expect it in the next couple of days.

I'll be honest, this post is mostly an excuse to post a picture of me holding the Olympic Torch.

-Trenchcoat Anti-Critic