Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rec Room Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

Well, the official announcement has come from Cineplex's Rec Room which has actively seeking a location in Winnipeg for some time. For a while, it looked like they might moving into the Polo Park Target location across from the ScotiaBank Theatre site. However, the complication of the site design made it less than ideal. The other rumour was St. Vital Centre in perhaps the old Sears location but the site was too large and had further complication of two floors and questionable parking.

Ideally, the Rec Room wanted a building tailor made for them covering one floor at about 40,000 square feet. In a perfect world it would be very close to a Cineplex movie theatre. Since Polo Park and St. Vital Centre did not work out the next best choice was a mall and in Winnipeg the newest mall is still actively building. The VIP Odeon and ScotiaBank Theatre are somewhere in the middle along a straight like down Kenaston for those seeking pre and post movie entertainment.

There are a number spots listed on Seasons of Tuxedo's map. The one they seem to be referring to is immediately across from Outlet Collections Mall across Sterling Lyon. Work is to begin soon but the opening will wait to 2019 as million and millions goes into these gaming centers.

The Rec Room will feature restaurants, performance spaces, 110 amusement games, axe throwing, luxury bowling and virtual reality games. At present there are four locations of Rec Rooms across Canada with an expectation of maybe 12-15 nation-wide.

Winnipeg has had gaming centers before but nothing of this scale has ever been attempted. It remains to be seen whether the Rec Room will successful with young adults or not but the investment seems to suggest that Cineplex believes they have a winner.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Toys R Us to Carry on in Canada?

For some time now, Toys R Us has been struggling in the United States. Speculation has been rampant how Canada and U.K operations would fare if the parent went under. Now it is evident that things are afoot.

The 75 Toys R Us in the U.K are biting the dust. Barring a last minute reprieve, they are shutting the doors once they liquidate all their stock. The U.S. operations are indicating they will be shutting down almost everything except for what a potential buyer is willing to keep. In all 800 stores will closed and 200 may be saved only if, and this is the surprising part, if Canada's profitable 75 stores stay open and the head office moves to Canada.

The 82 Canadian stores of Toys R Us are apparently well managed and the jewel of the crown in the company.  The fact that they are thinking that Canada will help save 200 stores in the U.S. is a far cry from when Linens and Things went under and the profitable Canadian operation was liquidated with no thought to preserving it.

In Winnipeg Toys R Us has three locations and their operations continue even though Canada is in creditor protection. A number of companies appear to in the running to buy Canada stores and select locations in the U.S. Make no mistake this will be a devastating loss of about 30,000 workers in the U.S. and a few thousand more in the U.K.

For the sake of the Canadian operations and the possibility of landing the head office of the company entirely, I hope a deal can be made. Some people say that the brick and mortar world of retail is completely gone but there is still evidence that some strong retailers can make it work, especially ones that add pick up and delivery to their service.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Movie Review: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow was originally a spy novel from former CIA agent Jason Matthews about the "sparrow" program that first started in the Cold War. The book tells the story of a young woman coerced into the program in the new Russia by her uncle in state security. She is assigned a CIA agent and told to find a way into his life so that he reveals who the mole is within the Russian government.

The book written in 2013 was well reviewed and unlike a James Bond novel was fairly accurate about how clandestine operatives did their jobs. Matthews also wrote far more graphic sex scenes found in the genre and for additional fare ended each chapter with a recipe. The young woman who was the sparrow also possessed the ability to discern people's emotions through synesthesia. This manifested itself in her seeing colours that revealed someone's state of mind.

Even before the book was published, Hollywood swept in a paid seven figures for it and was commissioned to write a trilogy. The studios got in a bidding war and 20th Century Fox picked up the rights and shopped it around directors till Francis Lawrence came aboard. He then went to frequent partner in his Hunger Games movies Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) and she signed on to portray the sparrow Dominika Ergerova.

In the spy movie genre, women seem to fall into two categories...Bond Women and Bond Imitators. Salt, Atomic Blonde and Black Widow are all versions of Bond where the woman is the action hero. It is only the rare movie that is done as a procedural or biographical movie such a Fair Game in 2010 which starred Naomi Watts.

John Le Carre has been the master of the procedural spy novel and his books have made for captivating TV and movie productions. They, however, have always had a male protagonist and while they've had some interesting female roles, they have not been the lead. Part of this possibly stems from the fact that in most countries, women historically were not allowed into combat. Subsequently, aside from a few exceptions women who acted as spies were overlooked or forbidden under official secrets acts to reveal their involvement. There are few excellent female spy writers out but the audience for their work largely appears to be men.

Jennifer Lawrence is a bona fide movie star. She has been part of big franchises such as X-Men and Hunger Games and she has headlined in films such as Joy and mother! Increasingly, she has taken roles on her terms, embraced risk while empowering her character and herself as an actress. As a result, her work and her choices have had her nominated four time for an Oscar. She won best actress for Silver Linings Playbook in 2013.

The screenplay for Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe. Some of the minutiae of spywork was left off for the sake of the story as well as Dominika Egerova's abilities in seeing people intention read in visualized colour.  Perhaps both of those book related items would be better explored in a long form series rather than a film. At 140 minutes though, it is a long movie with lots of dialogue with a focus on thrills rather than action.

The film starts with two unrelated scenes. The first is introducing Dominika Ergerova as a prima ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet injured in a seemingly tragic accident that ends her career. Even then we see hints of how she is pawed by Russian men who would go further if they could. Lawrence's frozen smile as her bare back is touched reveals all.

Meanwhile in Gorky Park a CIA agent by the name of Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is meeting with a high level Russian mole code named Marble when they are interrupted by police from the vice squad. Nash protects his informant but blows his cover and in one of only a few actions scenes has to hightail it back to the U.S. embassy.

Dominika's uncle Ivan played in a deliciously close resemblance to Vladimir Putin by Matthias Schoenaerts manipulates his niece by revealing intelligence showing her dance partner deliberately crippled her to make room for another dancer and lover. The result of this is that Dominika delivers an epic beating in the showers with her cane before escaping unnoticed. This leaves her and her sick mother (Joely Richardson) even more vulnerable and in desperation, she goes back to uncle for help.

It is at this point, we see how Ivan works in state security. He uses men and women to get close to targets to either extract information or to kill them. He uses Dominika in this case because the target already knows her and of her career ending injury. What happens behind closed doors is that she end up being raped and her attacker is killed by Ivan's assassin. As witness to this her own life is forfeit if she does not agree to work for state security as a SVR agent. She is is sent to State School Four to learn how to be a sparrow. Dominika later describes it as "whore school."

To the movie audience the violence, gore, sexuality and nudity will be too much if they like more PG fare like Black Panther which has only chaste kisses and near bloodless combat. This is a R rated film and they don't get made that much anymore. Some critics will with some justification say it glorifies sexual violence, re-victimizes women and is traumatic in general. The truth is that the "honey trap" used to get information or blackmail suspects in Russia is as old as the country itself. It has not been mentioned anywhere but some even theorize that Donald Trump is not critical of Russia because he is beholden to "sparrows" who were used to bring him to heel.

It should also be kept in mind that the same weekend Red Sparrow comes out that a former Russian agent and woman are poisoned in the U.K. With this all happening and connected to modern day Russia, Red Sparrow seems as current as can be. And while too much for some people, it is based on reality. Who's the say that Matron played by Charlotte Rampling does not exist as a trainer of men and women in using their bodies to gather intelligence?

The issue of the mole in Russian intelligence occupies by both the Russians and Americans. Marble has not re-established contact since his handler Nash escaped back to the U.S. With reluctance, the CIA reactivates Nate and sends him to Budapest to hide in plain sight so that Marble reaches out to contact him. The SVR learns that Nash is in eastern Europe but can't extract him and get the mole's name lest every agent would risk the same thing. Rules for the new Cold War apply: Kill our agent and we'll kill yours.

Despite Dominika's resistance in training or perhaps because of it, she is assessed by her uncle's bosses General Korchnoi and Colonel Zacharov played by Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hands. They decide to dispatch her to Budapest to get the information but her life hangs in the balance every step of the way. It is there that she meets another sparrow who tell her that her life will never be her own lest she find a way to do things on terms.

Our two protagonists meet and do eventually end up together but time is running out for Dominika as it is apparent that Nash will not reveal who the mole is. She has to improvise and offers up a secondary target of a Senator's chief of staff (played with boozy enthusiasm by Mary-Louise Parker) but the whole affair goes badly where both Russians and Americans believe the were played.

The graphic violence and sex are hard to watch at times but Jennifer Lawrence never is. Nudity abounds. The chemistry between the two central characters is hard to measure as so much is happening. It also has to be contrasted with the thought that both are using each other although we don't see what Dominka's final play will be until the end. In short, her solution plays itself out by being hidden in plain sight.

Black Panther is dominating the box office all month and could set even more records. However, if you want something more adult then Red Sparrow might be more to the liking. There are few true movie stars left. Jennifer Lawrence is the one that shine brightest right now. It is interesting to see what she does when she is not a Marvel superhero herself.