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Guns and Hollywood: A Horrifyingly Cool Mix

I grew up on a healthy dose of James Bond films. I admired the suave superspy and not only respected his charm and sense of style but also his coolheaded nature in the most daring moments. He’s been the epitome of cool since his debut in the early 50s and still today people revere his taste in cars, girls, and gadgets. And indeed his gadgets, albeit cheesy at times, became his cinematic calling card. But despite the exploding pens and laser-equipped watches, as a young viewer I was always drawn to his most important gadget of all: his gun. Along with Han Solo’s blaster, Dirty Harry’s revolver, and Robocop’s futuristic Beretta, James Bond’s Walther PPK is almost as famous as the character himself. Often Bond and the other well-known fictional characters are seen striking powerful poses with their guns on the movie posters used to promote their films. The characters seem to be in control and their presence commands a silent respect from the audience. They have the gun and they have the power. When the curtains open, the projector begins to illuminate the screen and the specks of dust hover in the theater this admiration remains, but the craving for power grows stronger. As I grew into my teens and my obsession for all things Bond deepened so too did my allure to guns. I never owned a gun, never fired one at the time, and totally understood the consequences of using one, but since it was part of Bond’s identity, and since I looked up to that identity, how could I not crave it? Herein lies the problem. Thousands of Hollywood films feature the use of guns. Often times the repercussions are minimal and the lead character brandishing the gun is an expert with the weapon and has… Read More

BARBARA KAY: The Dog (Bite) Days of Summer

Earlier this month my esteemed colleague at the National Post, George Jonas, wrote a reminiscent column about irascible dogs. Dogs are a suitable topic for the dog days of summer, and – considering the additional time spent out of doors by children with exposed limbs – dog bites an even more timely theme. But, little did Jonas know, not being immersed as I am in the bizarre world of canine politics, that he committed an enormous faux (ahem) paw in his ruminations. The two dogs Jonas singled out as particularly ill-tempered were Soossee, a bitch “of uncertain breed,” but definitely containing some mastiff blood, and Muki, a Rottweiler hybrid, who bit him when he was a child, in the course of a dog fight Jonas attempted to break up. Later in his column, Jonas remarks: “Startle a Spaniel and it may cost you an upper lip; startle a Rottweiler and it’s likely to be an arm and a leg.” He is not wrong, but nowadays it is considered caninely incorrect to “stereotype” any breed, even though stereotyping is just another word for genetic line breeding. A mastiff is a larger version of a pit bull, and Rottweilers are first cousins to pit bulls. The genetic history of both the mastiff and the Rottweiler is rife with “impulsive aggression,” a consistent, often deadly trait, for which the pit bull (sometimes known by its image-laundering alias of American Staffordshire) is the poster canine. Many dog behaviourists (and I) call the cluster of breeds imbued with a genetically-endowed propensity for impulsive aggression – such as the mastiff, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentina and others -  “pit bull type dogs.” Most dogs will not attack humans under normal circumstances. Of those that have attacked humans, 70% are mixed-breeds, and 30% are purebreds. There are about 400 breeds of dog. Of… Read More

Can Comic Book Films Survive the Niche Threat?

The masked superhero visage is anything but an unfamiliar sight in today’s cinema climate. Even before their introductions on the big screen, heroes such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men - and thus Wolverine - to name a few, had become household entities. Be it from the comics, the Saturday morning traditions that continue to this day, or the laughably cheesy TV series and serials, the general mythos behind the popular characters had found a means to weasel itself into North American minds young and old. Naturally the popularity of these characters exploded because of their cinematic adventures, supported by general audiences who had faint nostalgic memories of the costumed figures, as well as the minority of comic book fans whose knowledge of the characters and their universes was infinite. But as these characters move into multiple sequels and reboots, studio executives are beginning to explore lesser-known characters, a decision that is surely exciting for those who still have their noses wedged between the illustrated pages. But, will it move general audiences to fill the majority of their cinema’s seats? In the end this question may not be what matters. It will come down to how the studios market and integrate the newest property in correlation to their older, more developed, and popular cash cow titles. Surely the Avengers would have been a hard film to swallow if Marvel hadn’t taken the time to honour and develop the characters in their own films. Not to mention the story would have been crammed to the point of incomprehension due to the necessity to develop a mixture between the many origin stories and the film’s objective. Characters such as Hawkeye and Black Window would be lost in the mix and would merely muddle the film even more – X-Men: The Last Stand anyone? Luckily, Marvel… Read More

The boundaries of equality

A few weeks ago I called a local radio station to let them know I had stopped listening to their programming. It was too explicit for me, and I expected more from a high-profile station. The producer I spoke with was very interested to know what I meant and asked in particular what I found inappropriate. I mentioned what I saw when I had checked the station’s website that day–its front page showed a picture of a naked woman covered only by her hands. I said I didn’t appreciate the way it turned her into a sexual object. “Oh,” he answered quickly, as if he had heard the concern a few times, “our website has plenty of pictures of men like that as well. We’re not sexist.” I told him I wasn’t worried about whether men and women were objectified equally; my issue was with the vulgarity itself. He continued to explain how many women the station employed, and explained its thorough commitment to gender diversity. It took me a few minutes to convince him that my concern was with something other than inequality. It sometimes seems as if equality, along with perhaps its cousin individual freedom, is the only acceptable barometer of appropriateness in the public sphere. As the radio producer I talked to seemed to understand, most of the criticism directed at the pornographic nature of our popular culture is that is sexist–as if it would be a comfort to women to know that after all, men are degraded just as much. Vulgar language, if it is directed at a certain group in the form of a prejudicial slur, draws quick disapproval from mainstream media, and rightly so. Obscenities that are equal opportunity offenders, however, are mostly acceptable, and as a result common profanities now pervade our popular… Read More

CGI: The Oversaturation That Isn’t Fooling Us

CGI, or computer-generated imagery, has been dazzling filmgoers since the early 1970s. With the sci-fi western Westworld audiences were first introduced to CGI in the form of the two-dimensional and heavily pixilated images as seen through the eyes of the android gunslinger played by Yul Brynner. While the images were indeed crude by today’s standards and expectations, but not void of an inspired style, it was the time-consuming processes developed and employed in the early days of CGI that instilled a respect in the technology. This appreciation wasn’t just in the eyes of the creative geniuses that pioneered and advanced the technology throughout the years, but also in the bewildered eyes of audiences who were captivated by the magic they beheld on screen. And it was magic. The images had convinced us that the moving images before us were real, living things. We believed in what we saw and we were head over heels by the disciplined balance that the filmmakers had achieved. They distanced themselves from temptation and understood the limits of the technology that they had in their grasp. Despite any and all assumptions, the limitations in the early days of CGI did not suppress the ambitions of those using it; the limitations actually forced the filmmakers to focus on the screen time in which the technology could be used and ensure that they delivered. To further the illusion – using Jurassic Park as an example – Steven Spielberg, understanding his constraints after deviating from claymation and embracing CGI as a means to bring his dinosaurs to life, also used puppetry and animatronics to blur the line between the real images in the film and the ones created by a computer. He respected the technology because Jurassic Park was one of the many films in the history of… Read More

Homosexual marriage’s “critical juncture”

It is difficult to say when exactly, but at some point in recent history the nominally-conservative arguments against homosexual marriage became untenable in popular discourse.  In Canada, this seems to have happened at some point between the Supreme Court's ruling in Reference Re Same-Sex Marriage [2004] and the official statutory legalization by the Martin Government in 2005. In the United States, this is harder to determine because the process has been more drawn out, but I would nominate the passage of Proposition 8 in California — not the judicial overturning of the measure, but the actual measure itself.  Whatever the intention of its framers, Proposition 8 was almost instantly interpreted by the public at large as a law that discriminated against a particular group — a major faux pas in contemporary American politics.  While the trajectory of the debate was certainly different, the proverbial turning point in both cases was the legalization of the issue. In its own way, Proposition 8 was to homosexual marriage's opponents what Roe v. Wade was to legal abortion's proponents: a temporary victory which turned out to be a long-term curse.  This is because the debate came to be framed, if it was not headed in this direction already, in the way that the progressive left wanted it to be: namely, a legal issue that could be easily represented in classic cultural Marxist lingo — i.e., as a cause for the liberation of an oppressed group.  Consequently, the entire question became a kind of public referendum that was less about the actual ability of homosexual couples to obtain civil marriage licences, and far more about the social acceptance of homosexuality tout court.  In this way, the debate did — contrary to the insistence of its "nay" side — have a historical analogue in the movement to overturn anti-miscegenation laws.  In that case,… Read More
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