Monday, April 30, 2018

Wheelies Roller Rink Set To Close

Today is the last day and probably more profoundly, the end of an era. Wheelies Roller Rink is set to close at the end of the day April 30. At one time the city of Winnipeg had roller rinks spread out all  over the city dating back decades with perhaps a heyday from the 1970s to 1990s. In recent years, it has been on the decline as location after location have been enclosed often to encroaching other enterprises.

And so it goes with Wheelies on Logan. A neighbouring business has bought the property and everything is being cleared out. Could it re-open elsewhere? Possibly. The owner is looking for an affordable 20,000 square foot location but that might be as difficult to find as a unicorn.

What was most attractive for families was the price for roller skating. Even on the last day, the price $2 per person. Hard to match that anywhere aside from the playground but then a playground is not brightly lit and open into a winter night with top 40 music playing and a mix of young, old, girls and boys.

Winnipeg Roller Rink, Saints and Wheelies was all about family time and in an Internet gaming world was one of the few ways to get kids out of the house. It was also one way to get parents forever on the sidelines of sports and other activities out there with them. No doubt this was one of the reasons why rolling skating in a party-like setting has had Winnipeg in its thrall for some long.

In a perfect world, a new location will be found and if not, hopefully, a new business model will emerge that includes a roller rink. In Canada, 5 pin bowling has survived in large part by innovation. Academy Uptown Lanes kept plugging away till they found a new location and business model. They will eventually relocate from Academy Road to Ellice Avenue.

For today anyway remember that bad top 40 song from years ago that will always remind you of the rink. Think back on that first disco ball you saw. Harken on a time when everyone had bad haircuts but that young girl or guy still looked awesome. And shed a tear for when our feet had wheels.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Frankie's Italian Kitchen and Bar Restaurant Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

Construction continues at breakneck speed at Seasons of Tuxedo. This week graders were flattening out towards Kenaston and Sterling Lyon at the corner of the Outlets of Seasons Mall and piles being put down for the new Porsche dealership. Also in the works right on the corner is a new restaurant which will be a fair size at 5,880 square feet and have a 1,700 square foot patio.

The restaurant will be Frankie's Italian Kitchen and Bar which is a group out of Vancouver that has operated there for several years. This will be their third location after Chilliwack. In B.C., jazz and blues performances take place inside the restaurant and there is a strong association with the provincial jazz fests. It is unknown whether Winnipeg will feature live jazz performances at their location here.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served with evening meals ranging from $15 to $30 and dishes from pasta to paninis to pizza.

There are a number of other restaurants planned for the Seasons of Tuxedo site but the focus now seems to be one ones that extend further into the evening as a post movie or Cavalia type of entertainment. Expect to hear more announcements soon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Portage Avenue in 1948 or 1950? Actually 1951!

A busy Portage Avenue in 1948 or 1950? Or later? The reason for confusion is that the Lyceum Theatre on the right is showing a 1948 exploitation film called The Story of Bob and Sally. However, the film may have been actually released a year or two late due to violating Hollywood's productions code. "Hygienic films" were not traditional studio fare but were fictional morality tales to steer people away from alcoholism and abortion.

It is very likely to film took two years to come to Winnipeg. So, if not 1948 when what year is it? Well, the Montgomery Block was still up in 1948.

The above building is the Montgomery Block in 1948. What? This means that that The Story of Bob and Sally couldn't not have made it to Winnipeg that year because in the top picture, the Montgomery Building is gone and construction is well under way on the Toronto Dominion Bank.

The above is the demolition of the Montgomery Block in 1950. Compare to top picture again and it seems highly likely The Story of Bob and Sally made it to Winnipeg in 1951 because the Toronto Dominion Bank Building was well under way with girders up.

Here is what the Toronto Dominion Bank looked like in 1956.

What else can we see in the top picture? We can see Broadway Florists on the left which later was an original tenant of Polo Park. There are also so many people walking the street. Streetcars are still around. It would be five years later that they would be retired. Trolley lines for buses are also quite clear. Parking meters as well. Street lighting as well as traffic lights very restrained. You have to closely to see them.

As far as Portage and Main, you can see some signs but what do they say and mean?

In conclusion, it would seem the top picture is actually 1951.

Thanks to James Falk who finalized the date and time of this picture as it has been listed incorrectly for many years.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Movie Review: I Feel Pretty

Even the earliest silent films have told the story about the protagonist wishing they were someone else. Through the power of the camera, they are transformed into beautiful and more confident versions of themselves. The Enchanted Cottage started off as a play, then 1924 silent movie and finally a 1945 motion picture. Audiences were delighted to see the war wounded man and a plain woman see each other as beautiful. The transformation takes place on camera as well and we see how beautiful the couple are. It is all revealed at the end that beauty is a matter of perception and that real beauty is deeper than that.

I Feel Pretty is a vehicle for the comedy talents of Amy Schumer who has lived her life fearlessly as a stand-up comedian and as an actress. In the movie she plays Renee Barrett, a back office worker for a large cosmetics company who is unhappy about her job, her looks and her lack of a relationship. She does have good friends (Busy Philpps, Aidy Bryant) and initiative but like her spin class, she seems to be cycling in place. In a moment of silly inspiration while watching the movie Big she runs out and throws a coin in a pond and hopes to transform. She doesn't. Or rather, it doesn't happen till the next day when she falls off her bike in class and wakes up and sees a different person.

Unlike The Enchanted College or Big, we don't see our heroine change into anything. She is the same person. What changes is that she feels pretty and confident and acts that way. Of course, since it is Amy Schumer, it is over the top confident. In short order, we see Renee trade phone numbers with a guy (Rory Scovel) and actually call and arrange a date. More importantly, the new confidence inspires the pursuit of a job at head office.

The movie can't be talked about without mention Michelle Williams performance as Avery LeClair. She is practically unrecognizable with the long hair and squeaky voice and no one can tell if she is a hero or villain when it comes to Renee. One thing is clear, Michelle Williams steals scenes that she is in.

Other characters such as Lauren Hutton doesn't have much to work with as the founder of Lily LeClair.  Emily Ratajkowski appears as Mallory, an impossibly pretty girl with confidence problems. Character interactions with Renee shows where the script could use work in showing more human moments. Too many wasted moments mark the film. Thinking on the movie Big which I Feel Pretty shows a clip from, I kept waiting for that moment where humour and creativity combine for that great scene. I doesn't happen.

The audience wants to see Amy Schumer be outrageous and we do get that in a strip scene at a bar but the writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein just have enough to break through to something more extraordinary. Subsequently, I Feel Pretty is likely to do less well that Schumer's previous outings in Trainwreck and Snatched and that's a shame.

 Eventually, Schumer will find a role worthy of her talents.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

River Heights from Air 1960s?

River Heights used to be supplied with steam heat from a plant at Lindsay and Grosvenor Avenue. In the above picture you can see the smokestack. The distinctive Lanark Bays and the horseshoe school of Sir John Franklin Elementary School can be seen in the middle of the picture. The school is now new housing after the school was demolished in 1990.

The installation of the steam pipes in River Heights can be seen in this 1931 picture.

The old steam plant was demolished before Sir John Franklin Community Centre was re-located from Wellington Crescent in 1966. A soccer field took its place and a Winnipeg Fire Department firehall. The famous bus loop of River Heights also occupies that former land.

Today, the old fire hall is a daycare centre as the new fire hall is a few blocks down on Taylor Avenue now.

The heat for River Heights today comes from natural gas although my family home to this day still has the remainders of a coal room and chute to the basement.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Movie Review: Finding Your Feet

Finding Your Feet is a British romantic comedy written by Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard and directed by Richard Loncraine. Unlike the vast majority of films out there, it has an older cast and makes no apologies for it. No one likes dwelling on frailties and aging, it is why Hollywood pretty much is youth obsessed and overlooks a large segment of the population in entertainment.

In the UK, the entertainment industry is somewhat like Canada's in that people move back and forth from stage to TV to film. It happens in the States too but there seems more rigid dividing lines which keep people in their lanes. The cast of Finding Your Feet's experience allows them to capture the character they are portraying in those small moments and in the cinematic ones as well. Too often in the big budget films, character gives way to special effects and a lack of story. The comedic timing of TV is evident everywhere and the choreographed dancing is the stage's contribution and the cinematic moments of a morning swim, the boats on the canal or streets of London or Rome all contribute to the storytelling.

The plot starts off ordinarily enough. Lady Sandra Abbot (Imelda Staunton) prepares for her husband's retirement with a party only to find her husband has been having an affair for a number of years. She leaves in a big blow-up in front of everyone and end up at her sister's council estate with her brand name luggage and an air of privilege despite her desperate situation. The sister Bif (Celia Imrie) is a never married Bohemian who has been estranged from her sibling in part due to the class differences which really never mattered to her. Despite the misgivings, Bif takes Sandra in and upon hearing her sister's weeping in the night embarks to bring her out of her shell and try to live a little.

With some prompting Sandra joins her sister at a community club dance hall. It is where she meets Charlie (Timothy Spall), Jackie (Joanna Lumley) and Ted (David Hayman) who are friends with her sister. She treats them rather disdainfully. Their patience and compassion win the day and Sandra comes out of her shell and re-connects with dancing, something she had left behind in childhood.

The feel good moments of the movie outweigh the dramatic and the highly skilled cast make audiences smile and laugh. If there is a weak area of the movie, it is the dancing. It is also the one confounding aspect of the movie in that the final dance number has no real lead in showing how they prepared for in terms of practice or costumes. It just happens.

Aside from that quibble, the movie delivers the goods with a general good script and solid performances and is the antithesis of what Hollywood generally delivers. A good night out.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Japanese Store Ooomomo Coming to Winnipeg

Ooomomo, a Japanese retailer has confirmed they are coming to Manitoba shortly and maybe close to a deal for Polo Park coming this fall. In 2017, the first location opened in the West Edmonton Mall and a second is shortly following. The company plans are for two dozen or so across western Canada including in Winnipeg.

The success of other Japanese retailers has inspired Oomomo which is Japan's equivalent of a dollar store. The actual price range for products will be about $3 largely made in Japan and high quality given the price.

A market for Japanese products that are cute, innovative and fun had existed for some time and the company would like to see stores in high traffic malls and sell around 20,000 different items. It isn't seen as a direct competitor to dollar stores as the products are so different.

The stores are largely seen as a draw for younger mall shoppers who are less likely to go stores their contemporaries did if they go at all. In this regard, a mall like Polo Park would fight had to attract such as a store as it would for say, an Apple retail outlet. The opportunity to have one of a kind stores like Apple, Disney, Lego is a big draw even in the online world.

Expect to hear announcement of Oomomo's opening sometime in the next while.

Movie Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One started off as a debut science fiction novel in 2011 written by screenwriter Ernest Cline. In 2010, a bidding war by publishers and studios over the completed work saw Random House and Warner Bros. emerge as the rights holders. At that time Cline negotiated for first crack at the screenplay of his own book. The movie was originally set to premiere before Christmas but the fear that the new Star Wars sequel would compete heavily pushed the release to March of 2018.

The involvement of Steven Spielberg immediately makes this movie a tent-pole affair. His ability to direct and produce a movie and the 1980s touchstones the book covers are like catnip no one can resist. Still, because the book has a devoted fandom, criticism can be toxic lest you set a foot wrong. For the most part Spielberg does it right with a script from the creator Cline (Fanboys) and Zak Penn (X Men: The Last Stand) ensuring it would be cinematic.

Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) stars as Wade Watts/Parzival, an orphan in 2045 living in a slum within the United States where nearly everyone escapes to a virtual reality world called OASIS created by the late James Halliday. The real world don't nearly complete with the VR one and people world-wide spend their time there being whatever they want and doing whatever they want leaving only to eat and sleep. Wade within this world is a Gunter, a person in search an Easter egg left by Halliday through his avatar Anorak. Finding three keys and solving the puzzle of each will leave the user as the sole owner of the OASIS, the largest and richest company in the world.

The task is so difficult and the reward so great that the second largest company in the world and owner of much of the equipment used to access the VR world has legions of indentured slaves working to crack the problem. Wade and a few independent others pursue their own leads in Anorak's Quest despite the odds against them. Among this group Wade has a friendship with four but knows nothing about them in the real world. Moreover, it appears OASIS doesn't know the real world identities of its users. This is obviously in sharp contrast to today's Facebook.

Make no mistake though, virtual money is what the game is about and it takes real money to play it. And the real world consequences are being wiped out virtually and in reality. The future in 2045 in megacity Columbus doesn't look all that great. However, the OASIS is shown in the book and Spielberg's movie as a joyful place. The 1980s and 90's music, video games and cultural references is a fanboy/girl's dream. It is hard not to be swept up in the DeLorean, King Kong and Iron Giant parts of the film without smiling.

The creator of OASIS James Halliday (Mark Rylance) is an amalgam of Gates/Jobs/Rainman and we get to see his story and wonder how it went all wrong. Perhaps it was lost love of woman he should have made an effort to be with or the business partner who was forced out over direction of the company. It is for the users to guess in a virtual museum of every memory of the creator preserved and watched over by the Curator.

Our protagonist Wade's main motivation in being a Gunter is to be able to leave the slum he lives in. His High Fives friends inside the game keep him engaged and he even starts to fall in love with one them, a VR redhead called Ar3emis (Olivia Cooke). She brushes him by telling him bluntly that he doesn't even know anything about her except what she wants to reveal. Wade's friend Aech confirms by saying his love interest could be a dude named Chuck.

The consistent failure by Wade and everyone else in the game to even get the first key to Easter Egg makes him go back to the drawing board where he takes a different approach that end ups landing him the breakthrough the find the key. He shares that info with his four friend of the High Fives and together they top the leader board. This draws the attention of the bad guys from IOI whose chief wants to either to get Wade work for him to be crushed underfoot so that his company can rule the world. With the help of a bounty hunter and an assassin, they track down Wade in both the real and virtual worlds.

There are real life lessons and perhaps insights to be made about the type of world Ready Player One is. Critics and fans are likely to love this movie. However, as noted, some fans of the literary work might and will hate parts if not the whole movie for not capturing the essence of the book. To that end, acceptance is needed that to be cinematic and for the sake of time limits of film, things need to be adapted. In today's world 3D is overused. In this movie it is as well done as you will see in film.

Look for some fun parts for The Shining as well as Child Play's Chuckie showing up that really rev up the action. And a Buckaroo Banzai salute that is awesome. Despite amazing box office in North America and especially China, this movie will probably be discovered by more in weeks and months to come. Quite simply, audiences are overwhelmed in much the same way Ready Player One's world is an assault on the senses. The only difference now between the 1980s is that we seem to experience things differently, on different platforms, at different times and less together than ever before.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Ubisoft to Open Studio in Winnipeg

Ubisoft is one of the largest studios in the world in the development of video games with locations in 18 countries. It was founded in France in 1986 and established a studio in Montreal in 1997 with government help. Not often has this type of investment paid off the way it has but in Montreal, the studio has grown to over 3000 employees and is the creative drive behind many of the most popular games the company produces including Assassin's Creed and Far Cry. Quebec fought for and won the location over the company's first choice in New Brunswick.

Today, Ubisoft has five studios in Canada in Montreal, Quebec City, Saguenay, Toronto and Halifax. Ubisoft has closed operations in Charlottetown and notably, Vancouver. At present, there are no studios in western Canada although all four provinces have been lobbying hard for the company's next major investment. That comes to a close today as it will be announced that Winnipeg will be the home to Ubisoft's next studio.

Winnipeg will join the company's world-wide 35 studios and 12,000 employees in producing the popular games that easily out sell the biggest movies Hollywood produces. The attraction to Manitoba likely came in two ways: the first was that the Manitoba tax credit film, media and sound was retained into the future. There was some question why the government of Brian Pallister kept this in the last budget. Now we know. The 35-40% tax credit is a major selling point over the other western provinces. Just ask New Brunswick how they feel about losing Ubisoft to Quebec to know how big landing the company is. The second is: Winnipeg is home to a few winners in software development with Bold Commerce, Skip the Dishes, Invenia and Farmer's Edge. It also as some creative producers in film and TV as well as Red River College to help attract talent. That is nothing to say of the theatre departments of University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba.

It is unknown how many employees will end up working in Winnipeg at this point but recent studio add ons have started at 100 to 125. It is also unknown what projects Ubsioft the company Winnipeg would be working on. Some studios have started off small and have become the creative forces in developing games within their talent pools. It seems likely Winnipeg will start in support of larger operations initially.

A news conference is set for today. More details to follow.

It is now confirmed Winnipeg will start with 100 employees in a five year period at a location not yet disclosed. In Montreal, they have headquarters in a historic building. Given a lot of the movie industry as well as some of the tech sector is in the Exchange, expect to see a first look given to the area rather than building in an industrial park. Ubisoft is accepting applications from engineers, artists and other programmers starting immediately. Total investment announced is $35 million.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sportsnet to End Stanley Cup Coverage If Leafs Lose

It is rumoured that Stanley Cup coverage on the main networks in Ontario is contingent on the Toronto Maple Leafs advancing in the play-offs. Network execs at the highest level met late night in a hotel following the Leafs loss to the Winnipeg Jets March 31st. The game's ratings tumbled as the Leaf's struggled alarming the network's advertisers.

Hockey Night in Canada's main coverage is dependent on the Toronto Maple Leafs doing well. The hosts and game coverage are geared to create the feeling that they are Canada's team even as they play other Canadian teams.

"You can't fault them," said an insider in the network said. "They paid a lot of money to make sure the Toronto Maple Leafs coverage gets the big ratings." At what point in the game senior executives from the network were on the phone arguing with Leaf's management about trying to get penalties and suspension for Winnipeg Jet's star Mark Schiefele over a collision with the Leaf's netminder.

The NHL is also worried about Maple Leaf's performance but have their own set of problems in that a perfect ratings scenario is Las Angeles Kings versus New York Rangers for the NBC network. However, NBC would settle for a Las Vegas Golden Knights western victor as it is a narrative they can sell. Toronto sports teams are always a major drag on American ratings as no one in the U.S. cares about Canadian teams.

The battle between Sportnet and NBC over which teams advance spells bad news for other markets. The NHL has done its resolute best to satisfy Sportsnet where the the bulk of the ratings are and NBC where the future is. NBC coverage also pushes up expansion fees which for Seattle are now $21 million per team.

If the Maple Leafs fail to advance, Stanley Cup broadcasts will drop in Ontario in favour of Toronto Blue Jays baseball which just had their home opener. Sportsnet executives says it is the only thing to do to stop a backlash against the network if Leafs are out. "There is no way we can show Winnipeg Jets games in Ontario," said an insider. "They are many in the network who feel the city should never have gotten a team in the first place. We have covering them. They are a downer for all our staff and fans, The Maple Leafs are Canada's teams. The only reason we cover the Vancouver Canucks is extend the broadcast late Saturday and talk about the Leaks more."

The situation for NBC is more dire. The loss of a few major market teams for the Stanley Cup play-offs means the network will switch to April's coverage of the Waiter and Bartender Games coming in April in Los Angeles. The games hosted by Kim Kardasian are expected to be a big ratings winner but the network is stymied on more coverage as they are obligated on hockey contracts. The only loophole is major market teams failing to qualify.

A final featuring the Winnipeg Jets would likely be pushed to a steaming service on NBC's lower tier or sold off to regional sports networks such as Buffalo and Hartford. In Canada, Sportsnet would a Jets final to Sportsnet 360 which has the lowest cable coverage in the country. "We simply have to have the Toronto Maple Leaf's in the final for the good of the country," said a network official speaking confidentially.