Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi

Spoilers for people who have not watched yet.

In 1977 I saw Star Wars 13 times from May through till the fall in different theatres all across the city starting with Grant Park which at the time was a single screen. By the end, I think I saw it at the Kings, Odeon, Park and few other theatres in between throughout that summer and into fall.

Unlike many others, I already knew something about Star Wars because Marvel Comics began releasing monthly comic 1-6 starting in April a month before Star Wars premiere. Jamie Rae at Sir John Franklin Elementary School picked up a copy and Nieman's Pharmacy on Corydon and passed it to me. I thought it was good but it was the first time I read a serialized comic covering one story. And to be honest I had been spoiled by Charlton Comics with their 7 issues of Space: 1999 based on the TV series. I had found that comic to have artwork and stories more matching my impression of the TV series.

I was nevertheless intrigued by this new Star Wars world and excited to find it was coming to theatres in May. At 12 there were many movies I could not see unless with an adult. I had seen Rocky only six months before and remembered the elation after in regards to the story, acting, music and spirit. I was not able to see movies like Jaws a year earlier because of parental accompaniment rules. This was also true of Godfather movies 1 and 2 in 1972 and 1974.

So there I was literally trembling with excitement as I watched Star Wars for the first time at Grant Park. The musical fanfare of the 20th Century logo followed b the caption: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away drew me in. And then ta-da! The epic John William's score exploding on screen with an opening crawl introducing us to the adventure followed by a space battle the likes of which we had never seen before.

I have been a Star Wars fan ever since but not an uncritical one. The writing in sci-fi has to be authentic in that you believe that you are inhabiting the world where the story unfolds. Special effects can't come to dominate over story and character. Humour is important but if too cutesy it can be downright insulting or plain annoying. Striking a balance is never easy.

The re-booted Star Wars franchise starting with The Force Awakens was an exciting romp introducing new characters with old and leaving many fans quite happy including myself. Some critics were less impressed calling it a re-hash which it was with nothing new to add which wasn't true.

In the long wait for the second part of the trilogy, a Star Wars stand alone episode Rogue One told a story separate from the main story but familiar with canon. It was better received by critics and fans alike most mostly did not involve characters from the main Star Wars stories as the main protagonists.

The architect of the now Disney-owned Star Wars stood content to leave the writing and directing duties to someone new. Rian Johnson, who achieved fame withe movie Looper and directing episodes of Breaking Bad, was tasked with taking the franchise to new levels. To critics he achieved all of that and more if reviews are to be believed. To fans, many have come to feel that certain storylines have been abandoned as quickly as they were introduced. A dissonance has emerged that is the opposite of what we normally see. Fans love and critics hate. However, in the latest Star Wars outing many critics have been favourable and some fans ambivalent or even hostile.

First, I'd like to say I enjoyed The Last Jedi but even as I watched wondered if Rian Johnson actually liked The Force Awakens. The reason I say that is because certain storylines and characters were struck down down in the course of the film. The fact that this is the second of a trilogy means that there must have been some sort of agreement from decision makers including J.J. Abrams that this was the way to go. A director of the third movie was already removed over creative differences in favour of a return of Abrams so the idea of some sort of continuity obvious exists. But how do you achieve that unless you walk it back and explain what actually happened.

Here is what is good about The Last Jedi. Daisy Ridley remains a compelling screen presence. As Rey her interactions with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) drive the story. As for Mark Hamill, this was a great opportunity to see him in action again. Like Harrison Ford's return in the previous movie as Han Solo, it was good to catch up on an old character and see them fit in as comfortable as an old glove. It was quite the moment when we saw Luke enter the cockpit and look around remembering much like Han did when he found the Millennium Falcon.

This was Carrie Fisher's last movie as General Princess Leia Organa. Her death shortly after the flight home from filming meant we'd never see her act in another Star Wars. That is sad because her role in this new trilogy has gotten richer and her performance after so many years away from the screen better. Producers had planned for her to be in the third movie but that obviously will not happen now.

I waited a bit to write this review. As an acknowledged Star Wars fan, it was important to realize that some movies are critic proof. They will score big box office and the critics be damned. And the ones that critics like go on to be little watched Oscar winners. It seems that never the twain shall meet. However, it should be noted that the Last Jedi critics and fan ratings are almost identical which shows sometimes convergence.

Critics have rated The Last Jedi high and the fans have mounted a backlash. The box office decline is substantial into second week. Disney will likely earn back all the money spent and then some but direct Rian Johnson has had to comment on the fan reaction.

The reaction to Finn (John Boyega) and new character  Rose Tico 's (Kelly Marie Tran) off ship adventure to find a codebreaker DJ (Benicio del Toro) and Poe Dameron's (Oscar Issac) mutiny against Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) have been particularly polarizing.

I suspect the movie will have to be re-watched a number of times (if people give it the chance) to see how they feel about it without the benefit of the 3D and at their own pace before we get a full measure of things. The Empire Strikes Back left fans uncertain as well till it was seen in the context of the full original trilogy. In other words, we might have a different view when the third movie comes out.

Star Wars fans have long been abused. The original Star Wars has been tampered with so much and George Lucas himself has been responsible. The who shot first scene in the cantina between Han and Greedo is particularly perplexing. Of course Han shot first. However, the scene has been altered. Lucas has not released the original film for preservation to the National Film Registry and subsequently, we don't have the 35 mm print to work from. It is selfish and cruel in terms of history. Fans has been subjected to poor copies in terms of colour or digitally altered versions but never a clean copy of the film of 1977.

If fans feel fit to backlash, it is because it is a love-hate relationship. At the moment, many feel director Rian Johnson is trashing their history with Star Wars. Or as Kylo Ren has said about history: "Kill it."

Given the billions Disney paid for Star Wars, I suspect they will take note. If they are not afraid, they should be as Yoda once said to Luke.

I have not given up on the movie series yet but here are a number of things that could have been done to make this movie outing better. It may not be too late to fix some of them or delve deeper for answers in third movie. Not as easy task as it is both simple and complex at same time.

Notes for improvement:

* Movie length. Longer does not equal better. Tighten it up. Some of the set action pieces would be good to trim. Often it feels they are included not to further the movie story but to drive game sales. Just off the top of my head the entire bombing mission on a dreadnought could have been dropped. The idea of dropping bombs downward in space was insulting and stupid. I realize sci-fi takes liberties with hearing the ship in space as well as faster than light speed but Star Wars at least acknowledges gravity and vacuum in space, right?

* Movie characters. There are a lot. Rian Johnson's solution was to kill a lot off and blow them into space (more on that scene later). The director also killed off other characters such as Snoke before we even understood how the First Order came about and how he emerged as leader and seduced Kylo Ren to the dark side. Fans have hated this because why introduce such a villain and not flesh it out more. Even as characters die (more on Luke later) the director adds DJ and Rose Tico. Hard to follow so many characters or know why you should even care.

* The lack of revelation. If we isolate Luke as main protagonist, the first revelation in the first movie was that his father was a Jedi warrior and this propels him to follow in his father's footsteps. The second movie's revelation is that Luke's father turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader. The third movie's revelation was two-fold in that Luke had a sister and it was Leia. Also, Luke sensed conflict in his father and hoped to turn him back to the light and end the Emperor's reign.

If Rey is the protagonist in the new trilogy, the first revelation is that she possesses the Force and is somehow connected to Luke Skywalker. The second movie indicates there is no familiar connection. Skywalker asks: Who are you? It is later revealed she is the daughter of scrapdealers and created her own mythology of waiting on someone's return.

Now that is either some classical misdirection or the worst opportunity blown ever. Couple of possibilities where they could have gone. Rey is daughter/grand daughter of Ben Kenobi. Probably a bit of reach given Ben's death and years since past then. Better: Rey is daughter of Snoke which would have had nice symmetry with Kylo Ren being son to Han and Leia.

As for Snoke, some wags suggested he could have been a deformed Mace Windu. Bit of a reach there but possible. In any event, better than saying Rey is no one.

* Plain Silly There were a few moment but by far Leia flying in frozen vacuum was awful. And lazy. And nonsensical. The scene shows Leia outside the ship frozen, weightless and dead. Somehow she is alive and able to get back to the ship presumably with the Force. I'm prepared to suspend belief a great deal but that was a ridiculous moment.

All my commentary about what was flawed has not put me off this Star Wars or the franchise. They have made bad choices in the past such as the Star Wars holiday TV special or Jar Jark Binks. George Lucas was a visionary for his space opera but he could err when it came to size and scope of his work. The writing could be clunky, the humour hit and miss, the special effects amazing and overwhelming and the characterization bang on or off. More uncomfortably, he kept changing his work without realizing how polarizing it could be. How dare he keep messing with our memories? Spielberg is guilty of this as well by turning guns into walkie-talkies in E.T.

There will be no perfect Star Wars. I can remember how much controversy there was over Leia saying "I love you" in Empire Strikes back but it had to be seen in the context of Han saying "I love you" and getting the same response in Return of the Jedi. This is the point of a trilogy of having a beginning, middle and end. Some people are great at the beginning, some great end at the end while most struggle with the middle. George Lucas had a strong beginning as did J.J. Abrams. Irvin Kershner gave a textbook example of how to do a second movie in Empire Strikes back with a solid script by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett.

The creator has to know the beginning, middle and end of the story...the bones. But how the meat of the saga is filled by the collaborative effort of all involved in the film. While some creator know how to begin a story others collapse just short of the finish line. J.J. Abrams did this with the TV series Lost which failed to pay off in its finale. The movie goer may not be able to judge The Last Jedi as solidly as they might until the third and final part of the trilogy is told.

I think there is no danger of that The Last Jedi will be the the last movie because of box office. It should do well in the overall world market to make Disney very happy. Hollywood has always been focused on the box office and that is why they've focused on franchises to deliver the goods time in a time out. While some critics have waxed poetic on Rian Johnson and some fans have made a call to arms, I am left awaiting the third chapter to the story because I find it impossible to totally assess this latest effort. I liked it a lot but still have so many questions about the direction and choices made.

Until then I remain a Star Wars fan but am awaiting the pay-off in the third chapter.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Boston Pizza Charleswood Now Open

They had a soft opening last weekend for invited guests but even throughout this past week there have been worker doing finishing touches. Still, the open now sign is affixed to the Charleswood location of Boston Pizza.

It took a number of months in the fall to construct the building but having the doors open before Christmas will likely drive traffic for months to come.

Once known at the Forest Park Mall, the Charleswood Shopping Centre fell on tough times as it lost anchor tenants. After substantial changes, it went from enclosed mall to connect box mall and eventually added popular Tim Horton's and now Boston Pizza to its streetside parking lot.

For a long time Charleswood was underserved for restaurants. A few restaurants associated with hotels and a few Greek places, a Sorrento's,  a couple of take-outs and a Robin's was the hallmark of the area. That has changed.

It is tough being in the hospitality business but there is room for in Charleswood for some more if space was even available. Young people have routinely had to leave the neigbourhood in the past to be able to sit down and have a bite and a drink and watch a game.

With the Boston Pizza's opening, the Charleswood Shopping Centre is more or less fully leased and has a vitality now that was missing as little as 10 years ago.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

FreshCo Coming to Winnipeg

Sobeys announced this week that it will turn about 1/4 of their 255 Sobeys and Safeways in Canada into FreshCo stores. The announcement comes on the heels of continued loses financially and with cuts to employment. Stores have also been closed in several markets. The increases in minimum wages in Ontario and Alberta has the company spooked as well.

To counter the fact that Sobeys often has a competing store of Safeway almost directly across the street in some cases (Kenaston being a prime example), the company is looking to remedy that fact. Rather than close even more stores and inviting more competition from Save on Foods or Red River Co-op, the company is looking to brand some of the stores as FreshCo.

FreshCo is the offspring of Price Chopper and most of the Ontario stores once carried that banner. Winnipeg's Price Chopper was sold to satisfy federal government rules on competition. Northwest Company shut it down in favour of Giant Tiger. It was once thought though that the Winnipeg store might one day carry the FreshCo banner,

The sharing of one flyer between Sobeys and Safeway has become as untenable as when Best Buy and Future Shop did the same thing. Eventually, the consumer asks why go stores that list the same prices and are in proximity to one another.

The solution it would seem is to have FreshCo cater to local ethnic groups and tastes and offer different things than what Safeway and Sobeys does. Given the loss and incompetency of the merger, it would seem some haste is required in righting the ship. There is probably a market for low cost, targeted marketing in fresh food, frozen items and ethnic specialty items. The timeframe is closing as Amazon-owned Whole Foods is likely to expand again soon and more national ethnic food stores look at making a splash in Winnipeg.

Expect to see FreshCo some time in the new year.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Giant Tiger Now Open at Stafford

The closure of Price Chopper brought sadness to many when it happened earlier this year. It was a favourite for restaurateurs and those looking for fresh produce in their regular food purchases. It became an orphan in the Sobey's purchase of Safeway when the federal government ordered the divestiture of some stores for the sake of competition. In Winnipeg that meant four Safeways were sold as well Price Chopper. Red River Co-Op bought four stores getting back into the grocery business after decades on the sidelines and the North West Company bought Price Chopper.

For some time Price Chopper continued operations but it was the odd duck in the North West operation. In Canada the historic company dominates the north with Northern stores. In more recent years, it holds the master franchise agreement for Giant Tiger in Western Canada.

Co-Op stores found out just how aggressive North West Company is on expanding Giant Tiger when they went to re-sign the lease on the newly acquired Main Street store. The owner of the building said no thanks and sent them packing with little in the way of explanation. That was kind of bewildering as a grocer is a prime long term tenant to have. Moreover, Co-Op offered to buy the site which could have proved lucrative as well.

In the end it was Giant Tiger who kicked Co-Op to the curb. The new store there is open and while not completely a grocery, it offers a general merchandiser where there was none. It will be up to residents to decide whether they are better served than they were in the past.

It is difficult for some not to think the fix was in for Price Chopper. It is prime property on Pembina Highway at the entryway to suburban neighbourhoods. As the kind of store it was, it was always going to be kind of a niche. It wasn't surprising that an announcement came saying it was closing. But lo and behold, the owners North West Company has Giant Tiger to salve the wounds. This wasn't announced till later though.

This past Saturday Giant Tiger opened to fanfare at 677 Stafford. Expectations are that it should do great business where it is located. At just under 20,000 square feet, it joins 240 other Giant Tigers in Canada with a growing number in the west.

The neverending underpass construction along Pembina Highway still has a long way to go. However, Giant Tiger should be able to weather the long wait and be successful where it is. They occupy a part of the market that Zellers was just able to hold onto and where Walmart, Superstore or Target wanted to go. They have become a Canadian success story.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Cheesemongers Fromagerie Coming to Corydon

There are cheese lovers everywhere and Winnipeg has a selection in farmers markets and specialty stores all over the city. In the last four years Cheesemongers Fromagerie has been making itself with in the Winnipeg cheese world. Without a permanent location, they have been selling their wares where they can. The two women running the company have trained all over the world and their carefully curated and developed products have been winning fans.

The move of a longstanding business on Corydon Avenue on the corner of Licac and Corydon crated some buzz as soon as it became available. Winnipeg Vacuum moved onto Broadway leaving their awning covered yellow brick building empty and ready for someone new.

As some citizens of the city have pointed out, there is paper in the windows at 839 Corydon and what it says Cheesemongers Fromagerie Open December 2017.

A grocery store is next door and this would be a good one stop shop. Coyrydon is already a very walkable place and now you can get your charcuterie platters soon and check out their tasting room.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jews in Manitoba

Asper Jewish Community Campus
The Jewish population in Manitoba is small. It accounts for a little over 1.6% of the overall demographic in the province today and was no higher than 3% in the 1930s. This would be pre-suppose that the Jews of Manitoba were in decline. However, that would ignore the vibrancy and resiliency of the community even now. Without doubt Jews have grown up in both Manitoba and particularly in Winnipeg to be an example for what other faith, ethnic groups and peoples wish to achieve for themselves and the place they live.

It is disheartening to hear that the University of Winnipeg radio stations has been sanctioned for anti-Semitic broadcasts back on November 11. The university has responded accordingly and suspensions have been instituted. Quite rightfully some students are wary if not fearful that incidents are increasing. Statistics Canada verifies that this in indeed the case. Manitoba has had fewer of these reports but it is still a worrying trend.

What accounts for the increase? It is possibly because of an overall rise in intolerance. There is an echo chamber of voicing one's view and having it reinforced and then dismissing or blocking any other world view. The insularity and isolation in much of the Internet may be linked to this movement. President Trump himself calls news critical of him "fake news" while news that cheerleads is considered real news.

Here in Canada the online conservative forum Rebel Media stepped afoul on the issue of white supremacy but also had contributors who took shots at Jews. This reached a head this year with departures of numerous conservative commentators who had grown uncomfortable with the extremism.

Racism and intolerance exists in Manitoba. We have a long way to go. But we have also come a long way. For the Jewish people, they have built a real community that is part of the overall once. The Jewish community campus brought education, fitness, history and culture under one roof and shared it with all. It is important to note that doing this posed challenges for the Jews here. They had various political stripes, intellectual pursuits, schools, synagogues and neighbourhoods. As the community nears 150 years in the province, there is strength together but room for disagreement and varied passions within.

The outright ugliness of what is happening outside of Manitoba should not penetrate what many in this province have been trying to achieve in all these years: a prosperous and tolerant society. So what is the real news? The Jews of Manitoba are your neighbbours. And good ones. They are among many other neighbours both old and new that are part of our overall community.

Don't let hatred be a defining feature of what Manitoba is. The problems that exist can be solved with determination rather than extremism. Our strengths come from the fact that we are maturing as a city and province. Attack one of us and you attack us all. The Jewish people in the province should know we have their back.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Metro Winnipeg to Close

In a whirlwind it is over for the free newspaper Metro Winnipeg. This morning it was sold by the Toronto Star along with over 20 other newspapers to Postmedia, owner of the National Post. Immediately, Postmedia announced the shutdown of the majority of those paper including Metro Winnipeg.

Most of the newspapers are in Ontario and around 250 jobs will be lost as a result of the closure. It is uncertain how many jobs are affected in Winnipeg although to be sure there will be a number of full-time jobs gone.

Metro was not a detailed newspaper but it had few local and outside the region stories that made it a quick commuter read. It also ran ads that did not appear in regular papers about local activities

It is uncertain if Metro Winnipeg ever made money and to sure it was a long reach for a Toronto Star publication  reaching into Winnipeg's market. However, since Postmedia owns the Winnipeg Sun, the addition of Metro meant the company would own two newspapers in the same market. Obviously this could not stand.

Postmedia shut down Metro to bolster The Sun. It could not be anymore plain and simple as that.

It remains to be seen if Winnipeg Sun will ultimately be saved by the move. Postmedia has been aggressive in removing staff and it is a wonder how the put the paper out. Truth is that all newspaper companies have been. One wonders in five years if there will be any print media left and if any local content will be produced.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Manitoba Clinic Building Opening Soon

Corner of Notre Dame and Sherbrook
It is hard not to be impressed with the construction of the new Manitoba Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre. For those that travel down Sherbrook or Notre Dame, it looms from a great distance but up close looks more attractive than renderings of what it would look like showed. At 10 floors. it fills up the space occupied by a Shell gas station completely. The basement and first floor house a variety of health related services while the the next three floors provide parking.

The floors from 5 to 10 will house the Manitoba Clinic doctors and specialists offices. The old yellow building built in 1955 was to be demolished for the CancerCare expansion but that appears to be on hold now. The Manitoba Clinic is one of the largest and oldest private health clinics in Canada with a variety of doctors and specialists working of that location. Latest numbers are around 75 physicians.

The Manitoba Clinic started as the MacCharles Surgical Clinic in 1936 and became the Manitoba Clinic in 1946. It moved to the present Health Sciences campus in 1955 and was hugely influential on the development of appointments at the hospital. The Manitoba Clinic along with other clinics in the city represented in many cases family dynasties in the healthcare field.

The entrance to the clinic will face back towards the hospital in part to assist in drop off and pick ups. Still, the building despite the lack of Notre Dame doors has an attractive street presence in part because of the windows and its design.

The views from those windows is a full city view looking east and an airport view looking west. It is nothing short of spectacular.

It is important to note that Manitoba Clinic is private and yet is an important part of the HSC campus which includes the University of Manitoba medical, dental, nursing and other heathcare schools connected to the various hospitals comprising the downtown space.

The old parking lot which raised its fees to cover the costs of the new building kicked off some controversy. However, unlike the other parking lots of the campus, this one is not a hospital lot and paid for by the doctors themselves.

Parking is always going to be an issue of one of the larger hospital campuses in Canada. This will always be the shortcoming of a central location. However, if transit options become more attractive, it could also make for an even busier hub in years to come.

No word on when the grand opening of the Manitoba Clinic will be but expect a big announcement soon with even more details about its history and function.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder

The first thing to know when seeing the movie Wonder starring young breakout Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay is that the source material in a children's book by R. J. Palacio of the same name. The 2012 book itself is inspired by singer Natalie Merchant's song Wonder from 1995 about a child with a congenital disease. The song by the former 10,000 Maniac's lead singer will be featured in the movie.

Keeping all this mind, it is important to know that although the movie co-stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, the story is about the child not the adults. They are support players in this story and there is an expectation of the audience that they will regress to when they were kids and follow along on that basis.

There have been other movies about facial disfigurement such as 1980's Elephant Man by David Lynch or 1985's Mask by Peter Bogdanovich. This is the first that covers the years of a child who despite modern medicine and multiple surgeries will still go through life wanting to cover his face so as to not have people see.

Jacob Tremblay (Room) plays Auggie who is about to enter middle school for the first time after being homeschooled by his mother Julia Roberts. At 10 years old, he has undergone quite a lot of surgery with his face being noticeable still for disfigurement. In public, he has taken to wearing a space helmet so as to cover himself and to stay in fantasy somewhat as a Star Wars loving kid.

Wonder is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (Beauty and the Beast 2017) is a novelist himself, and he shares writing credit for the movie with Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad. An adaptation can be hard by Chbosky was chosen for his ability to capture a story so that it can be presented on screen. To that end he does the job well.

As Auggie arrives at school, he finds understanding staff in the form of teachers and principal but it is the kids that he has to find his way with. To that end, there is a bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) and a would be friend Jack (Noah Jupe). The story of how Auggie overcomes the challenges in likely to bring a few hankies out of the audience.

There are other moments that offer some poignancy. Auggie's sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) has always had to step aside as her brother's 27 surgeries since birth have been an emotional focus of the family. However, she is about to enter high school and is heartbroken about a rift with her friend and trying to find her own way to shine. She does this by discovering a love for theatre and as a result re-claims her friendship with her friend and finds a love interest in a boy for the first time.

Julia Robert and Owen Wilson playing parents have truly supporting roles. However, they help form an understanding of the family that has survived on hard work and love. Still, the movie is not about them. Title cards separate the story into sections that are the point of view of Auggie, Via, Jack and Miranda. It is about the kids.

Wonder is at its best when exploring not just Auggie's worldview but his sister's and their friends. The message of kindness radiates through without it seeming to be insincere. This movie is a family movie and may be just the right tonic for superhero and animated movies because of the dose of reality it brings. By the way, has guest appearances by Chewbacca from Star Wars so be sure to look for them.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mr. Mike's SteakhouseCasual Coming to Winnipeg

Many keep asking what the development around Kenaston and McGillivary is as they drive by. The answer is at least two restaurants, one with a drive-thru. No word yet on the drive-thru but the stand alone restaurant is Mr. Mike's SteakhouseCasual. They are shooting for an April opening but might sneak open a bit earlier.

The Burnaby, B.C.-based chain has been expanding rapidly in western Canada and has already opened up two locations in Manitoba in Winkler and Dauphin. The location in Winnipeg will be 5,200 square feet.

The restaurant started in Vancouver in 1960 and had gone through a few changes but it aims to occupy the market that is less expensive than what The Keg owns. They also serve burgers, pastas and salads but alas, no salad bar anymore.

The Linden Ridge Shopping Centre also has Lowe's Home Improvement store opening soon. It has taken a long time to get the mall nearly fully leased. It would seem that some time in 2018, the last areas will be completed for development since the land became available in the 1990s.

Mr. Mike's fills a void in the price friendly restaurant market and should do well in Winnipeg.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Big Business Pot Stores in Manitoba

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is a major corporation in Manitoba albeit a Crown Corporation. The government of Manitoba knows that the federal government has set a deadline for legalizing marijuana and they know they can't drag their feet forever. The Pallister Conservatives are caught in a quandary. They morally don't want to legalize but can't remain with a ban if the country won't prosecute usage. They didn't want to simply let Liquor and Lotteries take over the whole thing, another moral quandary, because it would against their business principles. Instead, we get this hybrid system where the Crown has the monopoly on distribution and instead ships out to big private stores.

The government doesn't really want to work with mom and pop businesses. The initial roll out for all this is for big corporations like Loblaw's, London Drugs, Shopper's and others to get the first crack at the licenses. Municipalities get to decide if they even want a store in their area. Presuming there are licenses left over then maybe a mom and pop store can apply. However, it is possible that one or a few companies could simply get licenses all over the province and then the government says that it is enough. Only problem is if the companies that gets the bulk of the stores aren't even based here then profits on sales are funneled out of province.

The minister in charge seems overwhelmed with his portfolio and wasn't even aware this was a problem. He was dismissive of one store wanting to be able to retail in Brandon saying it doesn't cover Manitoba. Why would a small business worry about the whole province when it wished to serve its local community?

To put this in perspective, it is like when they video rental business got started. Mom and pop stores abounded. They were in charge of sourcing their own material and setting up their own retail business. The movie industry was regulated via the censor and classification board of Manitoba but business was allowed to buy from who they wanted and sell where they wanted.

Now pot is different in that local communities can say no to a store plus zoning will keep them away from schools and only adults can enter them. However, after that, why does distribution have to be done by the Crown? Can't the province regulate distribution as well as retailing? Why own any part of it? The system in place now is like if the province was responsible for all the videos coming into the province and distributed them and they only let Blockbuster sell them. What? How is this good for small business?

 I sympathize with small business people on this one. They have been at the forefront of moving this along and now big corporation are moving in and saying only they can do this.

The NDP is not much help in this. Their solution is distribution and retail should all be government and union controlled. No business at all, please. Were they in government they'd probably nationalize and unionize production as well.

The Conservative complain even today that federal Liberals are anti-small business. Well, the feds left the pot in their corner and what do they do? They went big corporation and big government on it.

To do this right, the government should simply allow wholesalers and retailers know they will be regulated, taxed and expected to obey provincial and municipal laws on age, zoning, security and separation of a store from food, liquor and cigarette retailing. There should be no restriction on number of licenses. Let the retailers sort it out.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Encore+ Canadian YouTube Channel 2017

It really hasn't gotten the big splash it deserves but this week Encore+ has begun as a YouTube channel devoted to Canadian content. It is digitally re-mastered TV and film production covering kids, drama, comedy and documentaries produced by and for the Canadian market.

Some of these programs are still seen on cable in Canada, some on pay services such as Netflix or CraveTV. This will be the first time they are for free and in support of the people who created these programs. The channel is a creation of the Canadian Media Fund and supported by Google Canada, Bell Media, Telefilm Canada, Deluxe Canada and Broadband TV (BBTV).

This is an experiment to see if catalogue material from the vaults of Canada can find new audiences or bring back old audiences and be monetized to benefit the creators of the material.

In the next few years, it will harder to find free or less expensive material to view as Netflix, Disney and others create their own paywall media and increase the price to see it. YouTube itself is increasing how it monetizes itself and original material can make contributors rich with advertising and sponsorship.

There is a hunger out there for quality material from years past. In fact, the hunger is so great that people will seek it out even if it is of low video and sound quality just because it isn't available except on unauthorized downloads or streaming.

Free high quality material that is binge worthy and might even be family approved that actually might help pay the creators should and ought to be a no brainer.

Ultimately, people will make their choice on what is uploaded and so far there is 300 videos up covering various TV shows and movies.

Here is what is up so far.


Due South
Mr. Dressup
Da Vinci's Inquest
The Littlest Hobo
Are You Afraid of the Dark
Little Mosque on the Prairie

There is also French material as well going up such as Degrassi Junior High in French and Due South in French.

Many TV movies and films are also going up.

Safe to say this changes many things for Canadian catalogue content. There is no telling how much library material could be up for free on YouTube as a result of this. So little media splash for it as well. I suspect most people will discover the channel purely by accident.

Best Canadian entertainment story for a long time. Everyone should push for their favourite old show to be uploaded here in re-mastered format.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Joy Coffee Bar Coming to Charleswood

3311 Roblin Boulevard on the north side of the street has had a few different businesses in it from imported foods to book store. Now it is getting a coffee shop. Joy Coffee Bar is set to open soon. The business has been running as a mobile service but now will have a bricks and mortar location.

A Starbucks is just down the street as well as a few restaurants on the south side but in recent years there has been nothing on the north side of the old Charleswood downtown.

There isn't a lot of foot traffic in Charleswood in that people roam the streets shopping. Most retailers and businesses are destination businesses in that people drive to them for the purpose of patronizing them.

There has been a revival of coffee house culture in Winnipeg as bar scenes have dried up. For people who just want to meet up and enjoy the company of others without alcohol, there were restaurants but not so many coffee places.

It remains to be seen if the mobile business will continue but the coffee bar itself looks to open soon. It is probably too late to get a tiny patio up but that might be fun in the new year too.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Movie Reviews: Bad Moms Christmas

The first Bad Mom's movie in 2016 was a silly romp of outrageous humour and vulgarity. It was also a huge hit thereby opening the door for a sequel. The film has Mila Kunis, Kristin Bell, Kathryn Hahn as Amy, Kiki and Carla hosting their moms at Christmas. The moms played by Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon drive the girls to distraction as they once again try to achieve the impossible of being supermoms over the holiday season.

The underlying sweetness of Bad Moms and the over the top belly laughs of antics mixed in with a little bit of wish fulfillment and romance is what drives the story. Scott Moore and Jon Lucas (The Hangover) return as co-writers and directors of the film.

Despite average reviews for the original movie and a third place finish for the opening weekend, Bad Moms built in the days after toe become a box office hit and a fan favourite. Somehow the movie struck a tone for women feeling stressed, alone and under pressure trying to fulfill roles in their busy lives. The idea of friendship and a key group of people being in it with you at the same time was a winning formula. The excesses, profanity and general silliness was beloved because it encompassed a longing in the audience for a closeness where you can drop the veil with your buddies and be yourself.

Christmas and one's own mom visiting is definitely ripe material for comedy. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathrn Hahn continue to have very good chemistry and their antics elicited raucous laughter in the theatre. The humour of Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon is more one note with Baranski having the best role of the three. Some sections of the movie fall flat such as the carrolling scene until it gets a lift from a cameo by Christina Applegate reprising her role from the last movie.

The danger some Hollywood movie do is repeat the same joke in a recurring theme. For example, the ongoing joke that Christine Baranski's character mistakes Jess (Jay Hernandez) as the help. The joke works best when there is a twist on it. For example, Kathryn Hahn's ongoing joke about waxing women's nether parts gets a twist when a male stripper Ty (Justin Hartley) comes in to the salon for a wax. This is when the movie is at its most outrageous funny and at the same time sweetest.

It is hard to compete with the winning formula of the first Bad Moms but it will probably be a welcome laugh for the audience to revisit favourite characters again in a holiday movie. Without a doubt, expect to see a third outing from the Bad Moms.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fort La Reine Ghost Walk 2017

Another year has passed for Fort la Reine's annual Ghost Walk in Portage la Prairie. It occurred over the past two Saturdays between 6 and 10 PM and entertained families with spooky but not overly terrifying attractions. It was an all ages event for Halloween and a perfect event for little kids and families in general.

Many of the 28 buildings comprising the heritage village just off the Trans Canada Highway were decorated with Halloween themes and lit up. Executive Director Tracey Turner was also able to show off the main gallery and offices which were renovated to provide handicapped accessible doors, washrooms and hall for Canada 150 celebrations.

Staff, volunteers and performers provided entertainment over the sprawling complex and a vendors village occupied the back end of the of the village. Lighting was provided by Jim Dobbin and his team over and Q One Technologies.

This was the first time the event spanned two Saturdays. With so few Halloween events that are family friendly, expect this one to grow each year and attract people from Winnipeg to Brandon to come see Portage la Prairie.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Central Canada Comic Con 2017

C4 is back for the Halloween weekend running this Friday through till Sunday. The success of the con has reached a point where nearly 70,000 people will attend often in costume over the three day run. The expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre has allowed Manitoba's biggest convention to really spread out and cover much of the third floor and a large part of the second floor. There is probably something for everyone at C4 from guests from TV, film, comic artists, wrestling stars, cosplay, gaming on board and networks.

The con is organized along alleys with costume artists in one area, celebrities in another and vendors in in several areas, etc. Ken Shamrock of UFC fame is a guest this year which will appeal to those who love mixed martial arts. John Rhys Davies from Lord of the Rings/Indiana Jones is attending as well as Denise Crosby Star Trek/Walking Dead. In recent years the guest area has been reduced somewhat. The availability and cost is a huge issue despite Winnipeg's large attendance. Moreover, the timing of Winnipeg's convention in prime time in the filming season of many actors. They are sometimes not available at all.

The things that has exploded at C4 is the gaming. BASELAN, Fusion4 and Twin Eagles have three day gaming events separate from the con but part of the con experience. Separate tickets are required for these events which have grown to become the biggest in western Canada.

The most exciting thing for most people in attendance is people watching. There are some great costumes that people make time and effort to wear at C4. Seeing some of your favourite comic artists, celebrities and shopping around on the Halloween weekend has become quite the tradition.

I have suggested areas where C4 excels in and where it could use help. Think no one would disagree that crowd management especially on Saturdays could be better. The first floor meeting rooms represent more opportunities in the future for programming for artists and for activities. Calgary's Comic Con has a lot of free arcade stuff that would be awesome. They also have more celebrity guests. The Calgary con has only 20,000 more people but also runs an extra day. Of course, Calgary would probably die for how much network gaming takes place in Winnipeg.

C4 in Winnipeg will continue to evolve but for now it is the best chance to dress up and celebrate comics and pop culture and wrestling. And thankfully, it looks like the weather will improve just in time for the fun. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Winnipeg Can't Do

List of things Winnipeg Can't Do.

Please feel free to add any.

Can't open Portage and Main because it will slow traffic

Can't make buses safe

Can't drive without hitting pedestrians

Can't make proper bike lanes

Can't synchronize lights properly

Can't stop firefighters and paramedics from hating one another

Can't build big city projects without being way over budget and an RCMP investigation

Can't put WIFI on buses

Can't stop or even investigate bike theft

Can't stop using drugs

Can't stop people from disappearing

Can't stop geese from ordering us around

Can't get round the week construction or any that falls outside of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday

Can't stop walk on motions at city council meetings

Can't get city managers to tell council what they're doing

Can't stop police shifters

Can't stop trees from dying

Can't prune trees

Can't re-plant trees

Can't contract out garbage properly

Can't close small schools

Can't put indigenous casino in city

Can't develop Kapyong Barracks

Can't widen Kenaston

Can't re-route trains to airport area

Can't get Uber

Can't get taxi numbers up

Can't get taxi drivers who know the city

Can't get proper traffic circles

Can't get a waterpark

Can't get quiet cargo jets at night

Can't rely on police to give timely Breathalyzer to other police

Can't get firefighters to tell city hall that prime minister is visiting

Can't get any more malathion

Can't get clear water

Can't change one way streets back to two way

Can't get emergency care south of the Assiniboine

Can't do anything on old fort site except build a parking lot

Can't do diagonal parking

Can't get meters to work in the cold

Can't learn know your snow zone

Can't stop construction at Sherbrook and Portage taking place for 10 summers in a row

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Upper Crust Bakery Charleswood Closed

In 2012, the Upper Crust Bakery took over Oma's Bakery at 3416 Roblin Boulevard. Before that it was Roblin Bakery and Pastry. This week the closed sign is up and the windows have papered over. The Upper Crust had been owned by the Pesticelli family who also owned the original Upper Crust in Selkirk, Manitoba. Pretty much every day people driving down Roblin would see people in the bakery making purchases. It seemed the last remnants of a downtown Charleswood that used to have bank branches, a meat shop and a bakery would end forever.

Fear not. A sign has gone up and a website declares that S Square P√Ętisserie will be opening in that location soon. They call themselves A Little Taste of Paris in Winnipeg.

Sophon Chhin is the owner and head pastry chef at S Squared P√Ętisserie and had been looking for a location for sometime. His specialty is desserts and in particularly Macrons. The ship is still being worked on so Charleswood will have to wait and see what emerges in the days ahead.