Saturday, March 21, 2009

Conspiracy Unveiled!

An ultra-secret conspiracy has been in the making since mid-January. The topic? The 30th birthday of my dear friend, Beatrice.

I forget exactly how the idea of a surprise birthday party came up, but the idea caught on like wildfire among our peers.

We debated various options, worked out details, and planned the event itself, all in complete secrecy. Only a handful of people knew entirely what was going on, but there were also cells of operatives sent out to accomplish small tasks... tasks which, in some cases, left the operatives no more certain of how their mission fit into the whole. (And I got to be puppet master! Mua ha!)

We even planned a red-herring birthday bash for the following Saturday (which happens to be tonight) so that a lack of plans would not make the extraordinarily clever birthday girl suspicious.

And somewhere along the line, we got the idea of having everyone at the celebration wearing matching t-shirts. I researched custom tee printing places (sidenote: Pierre at Daquin Sales is amazing!) and worked up the design myself... a logo of a fantastic statistics pun. We were the "Standard Deviants" who were "95% Confident"! How awesome was that??

All the planning came to fruition on Tuesday, Bea's actual birthday. The tees turned out marvellously, and a horde of 30+ multicoloured tee-wearers descended upon The Standard on Elgin to await the birthday girl and her husband. Brian was in cahoots with the plot, and so he ensured they arrived after giving us lot sufficient time to decorate. I had brought streamers and balloons (I love you, Dollar Store!), and we all got to work in setting up our tables.

With a successfully decorated section of the restaurant, I grabbed a much-needed champagne-mojito (mmm!) and waited. The couple was perfectly on time. We made a ruckus, all jumping up and yelling "SURPRISE!", and Bea was exactly that.

After laughs and hugs, she and Brian changed into their own custom tees (including a cool math-joke on Bea's... B=d/dx(30x)... B is 30! Aaaah, calculus...) and the party was underway. We had dinner and cocktails, punctuated by a hugely successful Bea-themed limerick competition. Mine was unspectacular, but got the ball rolling sufficiently well:

There once was a girl named Bea,
Whose cat climbed up a tree
Since she had her druthers
She bought another
And now, of cats, she has three.

Of course, the limericks needed to be read aloud to a large group, in a restaurant filled with other tables, so that (unfortuntely) prevented the naughtier ones from airing. Nonetheless, the competition was a huge success.

After dinner was drinking and talking, and then more drinking. For better or for worse, Jagerbombs were on special for $4 per, so the waitress was soon bringing tray after tray of those. Things got kind of nutty, as you will see from the Flickr photos, but incredibly fun. The restaurant brought in a DJ at 10:00, and we danced until about 1:00AM. Not bad for a Tuesday! ;-)

Wednesday was a little rough for most of us, though more for lack of sleep than drinking. However, all that planning and secrecy was more than worth it, as Bea herself told us that it was her best birthday yet.

I'm still beaming. :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Air Canada, I despise you.

The utter ineptitude of this airline is staggering. For those of you reading from the rest of the world, you should feel grateful that you do not have to deal with Air Canada's shabby planes, rude service and diabolically useless website.

I was minding my own business, booking a (somewhat) reasonable fare for my trip to Victoria next week. I selected the flights, went through menu after menu of mandatory Air Canada options, etc, then input my credit card info. After I'd put in all the info, including the extra-special-Visa-password, I click the "Confirm Purchase" button. As in, CONFIRM the PURCHASE I'm obviously in the process of making.

Then, instead of being brought to an Itinerary page, the page reloads with an error message: In the four minutes that have elapsed since selecting the flights, the price has jumped THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

As it happens, while I was purchasing the seat, that seat had been bought by someone else. Meaning, Air Canadas' website does not temporarily hold a seat being purchased, even for the standard 5 minutes (which are required to fill out all those damnable fields of information). Those Air Canada cretins built a website in which seats you are purchasing are not guaranteed until the precise moment the credit card is accepted.

(And even then, recalling AC's fondness for randomly cancelling flights and changing itineraries, I suppose the flights aren't all that guaranteed even after purchase.)

Even Ticketmaster holds the seats for you for 3 minutes. And when Ticketmaster is a less barbaric option, you know things are bad.

Air Canada, you have utterly screwed me over. Your useless, needlessly unfair website and unapologetic customer service agents have teamed up to thoroughly sour my mood on my one night off this week.

In sum: You suck, and everyone should be reminded of your suckage. (Not that Canadians ever forget, but we often find ourselves underestimating the sheer scale of the sucking...)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pleasant Surprise

Despite extreme skepticism, I was very much impressed by the movie, Watchmen.

Watchmen, the original graphic novel, is one of the most influential graphic novels of all time, and began the trend of deconstructing the superhero. It is a long, meandering story of people who once were masked vigilantes, but did so for reasons having more to do with their own neuroses than actually saving people. These people are flawed, lost, and extremely human, trying to cope within a context of oppressive normalcy.

The city is, as always, New York, but the USA is not one that we would recognize... it is 1985, the Vietnam war had been won, and a very popular President Nixon is serving his fifth term after having abolished term limits. The Cold War's seething presence permeates every frame, tangibly escalating over the course of the novel.

Within this rich backdrop, the plot begins with the murder of an old man. We soon learn that this man was once a masked vigilante, and has since become an operative for government black ops. His former colleagues, fellow retired masks, work together to solve the mystery, and end up uncovering something much bigger. I will say no more, but suffice to say, the end result is simply brilliant.

Now, the main criticism of the book is that there is a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of extra, "useless" sideplots and information. While I agree that much of what transpires in the book is not totally plot-relevant, I defend the presence of extra material for many reasons. First, it fleshes out the universe in which the plot happens, which is key to understanding the plot itself. Second, many of the subplots serve as fascinating parallels to the actual events transpiring in the story. Thirdly, and most importantly, IT'S A FRIKKIN' CONSPIRACY STORY! If a plot is A to B, B to C, it's NOT a conspiracy, it's a Dan Brown novel. Conspiracies need obfuscation to breathe properly, to mature and strengthen.

Nonetheless, all of these factors combine to make a completely unfilmable movie. Taking a meandering, complex, and morally ambiguous story with utterly pathetic protagonists within a rich alternate universe, and conveying it to audiences hungering for 90-minute vinyl-clad punch-ups simply cannot be done. No way.

Or so I had thought.

The movie definitely trimmed out a lot from the novel, but instead managed to achieve much of the same effect via film-specific methods: music, montages, cameos of era-appropriate celebrities, re-enactments of crucial historic events. For three hours, 1985 was vividly alive to me.

Moreover, the news that the ending had been changed (gasp!) sent off alarm bells to fans everywhere; in fact, the change made sense, and it worked. While I personally prefer the original, the alternative presented by the movie is no less valid.

Also, the actors did an excellent job -- in some cases, they actually gave new depth to the characters. Crudup brought a fascinating melancholy and detached tenderness to the deity-like Dr. Manhattan, and super-genius Ozymandias worked well as a reinvented dandy, rather than an aryan Ken doll. Rorschach, the most cult-favoured character of all, offered the least leeway of interpretation and required the most accurate portrayal, and Haley delivered.

In sum, the movie blew me away. However, I am NOT going to recommend it. Of the 10 people I saw it with, only 3 liked it -- the rest, I'm guessing, had expected glib dialogue, relentless action, and well-defined good-vs-evil plotlines. Watchmen is absolutely not that. Instead, it asks you to involve your imagination in knowing and breathing the context alongside the characters. It shows you flawed, painfully normal humans puttering through their ambiguous, fear-drenched lives. And in the end, it requires you to consider that good and evil are unnervingly relative.