Poor Jasper Avenue, Rossdale Land Sale, Star Wars in Edmonton

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

A new vision for Jasper Avenue

Back in May 2009, I attended the first open house for the Jasper Avenue New Vision project. Then in November of that year, a more in-depth open house was held at Enterprise Square. Six years later, only a tiny portion of that vision has come to life between 100 Street and 102 Street. The original project was meant to cover Jasper Avenue between 97 Street and 111 Street. In theory that work will still get done, but don’t hold your breath! Already the City is conducting public engagement on the rest of Jasper Avenue, west of 109 Street. I guess that makes sense, given how long it has taken them to get to this point, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could finish the original project first?

Cyclist, Jasper Avenue, March 22. 2015
Cyclist, Jasper Avenue, March 22. 2015, photo by More Bike Lanes Please

Here’s what a recent Edmonton Journal editorial said about our city’s main street:

“Pity poor Jasper Avenue. It has always been the canary in the recessionary coal mine in our city — it can go downhill very quickly when the economy softens. The signs are there already, bringing back echoes of Edmonton’s bad old reputation as Deadmonton.”

In general I agree with Paul who wrote in response that “the sense of doom and gloom is overstated and unhelpful.” Yes there are empty spaces along Jasper Avenue that badly need to be filled, but there are plenty of examples of positive changes to the street too.

Filling those spaces is important but it’s not enough. What Jasper Avenue could really benefit from is a reduction in traffic lanes and wider sidewalks throughout, not just around 101 Street. Here’s what I wrote back in 2009:

“Almost every feature of Jasper Avenue is geared toward vehicle traffic. Any redevelopment needs to shift the focus to pedestrian traffic.”

Sadly, not much has changed.

Rossdale land sale to the Province

Council voted this week to move forward with negotiations to sell a block of land in Rossdale to the Province for about $13 million. The land, located southwest of 96 Avenue and 105 Street, is considered “surplus to municipal requirements” and is currently vacant park land with just four houses. The Province wants the land so that it can “restrict development on these lands to protect the view corridor to the legislature from the bridge crossing.”

The problem is that the City’s West Rossdale Urban Design Plan aims to “create a complete, mixed-use, highly liveable, walkable, and sustainable community” that could be home to 4,500 people. Council feels that the money isn’t the problem anymore (the $13 million is apparently market rate) but they are concerned about fit with the urban design plan. If the Province won’t allow any development on the land, that could be an issue.

The West Rossdale plan does include a recommendation to “reserve and enhance view corridors” so that part is aligned at least.

Star Wars in Edmonton

Forget Christmas, Star Wars is what everyone is talking about right now. And that means the media are looking for local angles to basically tell the same story as every other news organization in the world right now: people are excited for this movie! And why not, the reviews sound incredibly positive.

South Edmonton Common’s Cineplex theatre is one of six across Canada offering a Star Wars movie marathon where fans can watch the original six films before seeing the new one. Good luck getting tickets though, as well over 6000 tickets had already been sold at the southside theatre by Monday. Still, five of the theatre’s sixteen screens will be showing the new Star Wars movie. On Friday, The Force Awakens will play 103 times in Cineplex theatres throughout Edmonton.

So we know it’s going to be a big deal. If you’re going to wait a few days to watch it, then you can read about it in the meantime. Here is 5 ways to “find the Force” from an Edmonton Star Wars superfan, and of course there are interviews with lots of other Star Wars superfans. Here’s a sneak peek at the movie from an official Star Wars artist who lives right here in Edmonton. Even Paula decided to write about Star Wars this week! If you’re looking for a primer on what happened after Return of the Jedi, read this.

May the force be with you!

Zip.ca is better offline than online

zip.ca A few weeks ago, Sharon and I signed up for the free trial at Zip.ca, which is Canada’s equivalent to Netflix. We rent movies fairly regularly, usually at the local Blockbuster. The appeal of Zip.ca was the larger library of titles – Blockbuster’s selection is pretty limited. When our free trial expired at the end of last week, we decided to pay for the 1 DVD plan which costs $5.95 per month. Why? Not because we fell in love with Zip.ca, but because it will save us money.

You can fairly easily break the Zip.ca experience into two parts – the online part and the offline part. The former is where you search for titles, select the ones you want to rent, and pay for your account. The latter is receiving the DVDs in the mail, watching them, and then returning them. In my experience thus far, the online experience sucks and the offline experience rocks.

Where should I begin with the website…it’s slow, awkward, confusing, and worst of all, it’s inconsistent. Depending on where you are on the site, you’ll see either the old look:

Or the new one:

The logo, navigation, colors, and page width are all different between the two – it’s very annoying. Another thing that bugs me about the site is the rating stars (sometimes they are yellow, sometimes they are red, sometimes mousing over them changes them, etc). Like everything else, they are confusing and seem inconsistent.

zip.ca Thankfully, the offline experience is much better. Our DVDs arrived quickly, and the packaging was simple and effective. It’s lazy but quite enjoyable to have movies simply arrive at the door! Sending them back is a breeze too – just stick them in the already prepared envelope and drop them in the mail.

New releases at Blockbuster cost $5.97 to rent, and “favourites” cost $4.19. Then on top of that you’ve got to factor in gas prices and the fact that they may not have the movie you’re after. For $5.95 at Zip.ca we get two movies with free shipping, and as many additional movies as we want for $2.49 shipping and handling provided we only have one DVD out at a time. Combined with the larger selection of movies, it’s simply a better deal.

Rob recently wrote about Zip.ca at Techvibes, pointing out that the four-year-old company recently shipped its 10 millionth DVD. Quite an accomplishment, I agree, but Zip.ca is still no Netflix.

Until something better comes along however, I’m happy enough with Zip.ca.

The Dark Knight

There’s no question that the must-see movie of 2008 is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It took in over $150 million in its opening weekend, breaking the records for the opening day and opening weekend, and also the opening weekend for an IMAX film. It has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.6 out of 10 rating at IMDB. The Dark Knight is pretty much the only thing people are taking about lately when it comes to entertainment.

the dark knight

I’ve seen the film twice now. I saw it in IMAX at midnight on Thursday the 17th (technically the 18th) and again at 10pm in the normal theatre on Friday. I had advance tickets for both, but of course still lined up three hours ahead of show time to ensure good seats. As most of my friends know, I had been looking forward to The Dark Knight for months. I tend to have one movie a year that I really want to see, and this year that was The Dark Knight. So I had high expectations going in, and thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

Yes, Heath Ledger is fantastic. His performance will be talked about for years to come, even if he doesn’t win an Oscar for it. Yes, Christian Bale once again proves he can play both the troubled caped crusader and the billionaire playboy at the same time. Aaron Eckhart surprised me with his performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman are all spectacular as you’d expect. And even Maggie Gyllenhaal was pretty good, though I agree with Sharon that almost anyone could play the role of Rachel Dawes.

The action sequences in the film are amazing. Even the second time I couldn’t believe my eyes! There are car chases, explosions, daring stunts, and much more. And a main character dies. There’s a definite wow factor in the movie.

I think there are a few things that take The Dark Knight from great to superb. One is the cinematography. Nolan and his team always seem to pick the most interesting perspective for the shot, and the lighting is appropriately eerie. Another thing is the pacing – neither time did it feel like I had been sitting for two and a half hours. The cuts seemed natural and appropriate. A third thing is what I’m going to call “attention to detail”. Everything looks so great in the film! I think Nolan’s desire to avoid CGI and go for the realest shot possible definitely made a difference.

As for IMAX versus regular screens, I have to say that the IMAX does indeed make a difference. It felt like we were going over the edge of the building when the camera did, and the sound and vibrations from Batman’s Tumbler were definitely impressive. If you can, see The Dark Knight in IMAX.

In the theatre on Thursday, a group in front of us started talking about the Batman movies of the 90s. One girl asked how the story in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fits in with the previous movies. Her friend stood up, and very strongly said “as far as you’re concerned, the first Batman movie ever made was Batman Begins. Forget about the rest of them.” I couldn’t agree more. Nolan has definitely created something special.

Can’t wait for the third installment now!

Selling seats to an experience: The Dark Knight in IMAX

After reading some early reviews of The Dark Knight today, I started thinking about the movie business again. I also came across this Techdirt post, which reiterates that the movie business is not selling movies, but selling seats to an experience. Here are some of the things I’ve read about the film:

“The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It’s full of surprises you don’t see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams.”
– Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“I have been given the go ahead to review The Dark Knight, but this is the type of film that I need to see at least two or three times before attempting such a task. The film is so very expansive, so incredibly epic…If you don’t see this movie in IMAX than you haven’t seen the movie.”
– Peter Sciretta, /Film

“‘Batman Begins’ follow-up is a faster-paced ride that will have you wanting to buy a ticket for the next showing when you leave the theater…Do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX.”
– Larry Carroll, MTV News

Most articles I’ve read say the the film really should be seen in IMAX. Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to make everything in the film as real as possible, and “is the first Hollywood director to shoot key sequences of a major feature in IMAX” according to Wired. So today I bought two tickets to the midnight IMAX showing.

I happily paid $30 today for the IMAX tickets, because I am looking forward to the experience. Yes I think the movie is going to be awesome, but it’s the better experience that really has me excited. And I’m really just talking about the screen and sound in this case…imagine if the entire moviegoing experience was better! Too bad Hollywood hasn’t yet figured this out. I hope Nolan rubs off on his peers.

And yes, I still think simultaneous movie releases could work with an improved moviegoing experience. I’d love to buy a copy of The Dark Knight on my way out of the theatre, thank you very much.

Why July 2008 will be the greatest month ever

Is there any doubt that July is going to be the greatest month ever?

July 2008 will be the greatest month ever!

July 1: A brand new, 6000-square-foot Apple Store opens in West Edmonton Mall.
July 11: The iPhone 3G goes on sale in 22 countries, including Canada.
July 18: The movie I am most looking forward to this year is released: The Dark Knight

Oh yeah. July FTW!

Movies on flash memory cards

movies A couple days ago I came across this article at CNET News.com about a company called PortoMedia and their plan to make movies available on flash memory cards. I’ve touched on the subject before, but for a different reason that PortoMedia seems to be interested (I was interested in the small form factor). They see flash memory cards as an alternative to Internet delivery:

PortoMedia is setting up kiosks that will let consumers download movies to a flash memory key or portable hard drive.

The kiosks will be packed with hard drives that can hold 350 to 5,000 titles. Users then plug in a memory device from the company, enter a PIN code, and buy or rent a movie. When consumers get home, they simply slide the memory device into a dock connected to a TV.

Evidently they have come up with a proprietary USB interface that can load a high-definition movie onto the memory card in less than 45 seconds. There are some big advantages to this model:

  • Reduced cost as packaging and shipping associated with DVDs is no longer required
  • More selection – you aren’t limited by shelf space with a kiosk like Blockbuster is
  • It can happen sooner than Internet delivery (because most of us still have fairly crappy connections)

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the company plans to use DRM from Microsoft to protect the movies.

PortoMedia did a trial run last year, and plans to go live with the service in four U.S. cities sometime in Q2 2008.

Read: CNET News.com


helvetica Last night I went to see Helvetica, the feature-length documentary about typography and the most famous typeface of them all, Helvetica. I had been looking forward to the film for quite some time, and was really excited to hear it was coming to Edmonton. The event was put on by the Alberta chapter of The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.

Every review I had read about the film had been glowing, so my expectations were pretty high. The film wasn’t disappointing, but I have to admit, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting either.

I think I was anticipating something like Freakonomics but for typography, a fun and interesting look at the impact of Helvetica on our daily lives. Instead, the film focused more on the history of the typeface, and really only discussed the impact of Helvetica on the design industry. Designer Paula Scher made the bold claim that Helvetica caused the Vietnam and Iraq wars, but that was a close as we got to the impact outside the design world. There were one or two segments with company logos, but the discussion of corporate adoption of Helvetica was fairly limited.

All of the people interviewed in the film were in some way involved in the design industry. I think it would have been much more interesting (and entertaining) to have balanced the interviews with some “outsiders” who could comment without really having a position. The designers seemed to either love or hate Helvetica.

That said, as a documentary about a typeface, Helvetica was quite good. A little long for those of us who are not enamored with design, but still quite good. I particularly liked graphic designer Michael Bierut, who always had the funniest comments and anecdotes. Without his segments, the movie would have been seriously lacking in the chuckle department.

Bottom line: if you’re interested in design, you’ll probably enjoy Helvetica. Otherwise, you might want to think twice.

I'm Batman! No, I'm Batman!

Post Image As you may know, I absolutely loved Batman Begins. I walked out of the theatre totally amazed, and I still have no problem watching the film again and again. Not even Katie Holmes could drag the movie down! Needless to say, I am really looking forward to The Dark Knight.

I was less impressed with Superman Returns, but I have to admit it wasn’t so bad the second time I saw it. I think Bryan Singer’s interpretation of Superman threw me for a loop at first, mainly because I’m a huge Smallville fan and was totally immersed in that world at the time. It’s not as high on my list as The Dark Knight is, but I will definitely check out Superman: Man of Steel.

So, I’m a fan of both Batman and Superman. Should be no surprise then that I’m also interested in the Justice League of America movie. That’s right, another big screen flick with Batman and Superman.

  • 2007/2008 – Smallville Season 7
  • 2008/2009 – Smallville Season 8 (possible)
  • July 18th 2008 – The Dark Knight
  • June 2009 – Superman: Man of Steel
  • 2010 – Justice League of America

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Within two or three years, we’ll have two different actors playing Batman, and two different actors playing Superman. Three if you count Tom Welling in Smallville.

Will simultaneous Batman/Superman franchises work? More specifically, simultaneous franchises with different actors and directors?

Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan have created an awesome Batman. Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer have done a pretty good job themselves with Superman. You don’t want to mess with either of those. Now, if the JLA movie was co-directed by Nolan and Singer, perhaps you could have Bale and Routh in the movie. Same characters, same actors. But they aren’t directing the movie – George Miller is. Which means he’ll have his own vision, and will most definitely want his own actors. I think that’s gonna be strange.

I would love to see Batman and Superman together in the same movie a la JLA, but I really hope Warner Brothers rethink their strategy here. If they release JLA so close to the Batman and Superman sequels, audiences may feel overwhelmed. More importantly, it could seriously damage the momentum that Bale and Routh have going with the characters.

Obviously Bale won’t be the last actor to portray Batman and Routh won’t be the last actor to portray Superman. You’d think they could have some time to own their respective roles, however! Introducing two additional actors in the same roles just doesn’t seem fair.

And yes, I realize that Val Kilmer and George Clooney each took on the role of Batman in a period of two years, but that was with the crap Joel Schumacher was peddling. Make no mistake about it – Nolan’s Batman is an entirely different animal.

Maybe all three movies will kick ass, who knows. My guess however is that even if all three are great movies, either Man of Steel or JLA will suffer at the box office.

A 75th Birthday Tribute to John Williams

johnwilliamsTonight I went to the wonderful Winspear Centre along with Dickson and Sharon to enjoy the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performing some of the more famous works by John Williams. It was the first night of the ESO Robbins Pops, and it was a great show. Conductor Bruce Hangen from the Boston Conservatory was on hand for the evening, and he shared some short video clips before most pieces of him talking with John about the music. It’s really quite amazing how much John Williams has accomplished in his career. From Wikipedia:

In a career that spans six decades, Williams has composed many of the most famous film scores in history, including those for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Harry Potter. In addition, he has composed theme music for four Olympic Games, numerous television series and concert pieces.

Sadly, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park were not performed, but the rest of those themes were, along with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Amistad, Catch Me If You Can, and Saving Private Ryan. With four of the fourteen pieces they performed coming from Star Wars, you might say that was the theme for the evening, and it was complete with storm troopers, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader. Yes, they actually had people in Star Wars costumes! (UPDATE: Here are some photos.)

Another neat thing about the evening was that Bruce got the audience to sing happy birthday to John on camera! As a thank you for allowing ESO to perform his music (some which hasn’t been published, like Jaws) and for allowing the interview clips to be shown, John will get a copy of our birthday song.

During the interview clip for Schindler’s List, John said he looked at the film and was deeply moved. When he went to talk to Steven Spielberg about the music, the conversation went something like this:

John: This film is incredibly moving, you truly need a better composer than me.
Steven: I know, but they are all dead!

I really enjoyed the show, and hearing the music definitely makes me want to watch the movies again. I had forgotten how perfectly frightening the music for Jaws is! And when they started to play E.T. I couldn’t help but smile – it was like I was transported back in time! E.T. was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, and it still is. The music just gets me every time I hear it.

Happy Birthday to you John Williams! I hope you continue doing your thing for years to come.

Read: Winspear Centre

Bring Helvetica to Edmonton!

Clearly I need to redeem myself after my last post, so here’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while. I really, really want to see the documentary Helvetica. Never heard of it? Here’s the description:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

It’s fascinating to me how widespread the typeface has become. I also find it hard to grasp just how much of an effect Helvetica has had on my life. It’s one of those things that is easy to overlook. A documentary about a typeface might sound odd at first, but I think it’s a great idea. From the Director’s Statement:

Why make a film about a typeface, let alone a feature documentary film about Helvetica? Because it’s all around us. You’ve probably already seen Helvetica several times today.

The film has been screening around the world since the premiere at SXSW back in March. Had I been paying attention, I would have gone down to Calgary to see it when it played there in May. Just a few days ago it played in Vancouver. Richard Eriksson who I met at Northern Voice went to see the film there on Tuesday, and he said it was great. There are screenings listed right through November, but Edmonton is not on the list. I can only hope that we’re included in the “lots more” down in the coming soon section.

So for the Edmontonians reading this – would you go see Helvetica if it came to our city? If so, do you “work with a film festival, museum, cinema, or arts group” or know anyone who does? Let me know! I’d be happy to do whatever I can to help bring the film to Edmonton.

Read: Helvetica