A tragic hero for the modern day screen

There are few well-written, tragic characters on the screen these days.  While we often sympathize with characters who suffer terribly, we feel a familiar pity for them, and only rarely go through the catharsis meant to be induced by tragedy: shedding an embarrassed tear in a movie theatre, or sobbing uncontrollably in the comfort of our own home. We are comforted by this “release” of our emotions, or even by the reminder that our own circumstances aren’t so bad after all.
So what is the difference between tragic characters who are “familiar” and those that tap into true emotion? Do universally tragic characters exist? And what determines whether that character will resonate on a personal level? Going back to the classics, a tragic character is defined by his or her tragic flaw, and also by his or her potential for greatness. They must “fall” from an elevated place in order for the tragedy to be more fully realized. Typical tragic characters from the classical cannon are Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, while more modern ones can be found in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, or in many of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.
One of the best written tragic characters is Shakespeare’s King Lear. With Lear, we feel a deeper sense of pity than with other characters. Perhaps it is his age, or that he was once a great leader who lost it all in the end, including his own mind. Or maybe it is the undying faith of his daughter Cordelia, who even after he exiles her, returns to save her father from the torment of her sisters. This in itself is an indication of the man Lear must once have been – a loving father, a powerful soldier, a husband. Regardless of what it is, this character taps into a different, more profound sympathy that is difficult to put into words.
Even though Shakespeare was writing hundreds of years ago, modern tragedies tend to focus on similar topics: war, family relationships, death, and loss of purpose or identity. Boardwalk Empire, now in its second season, is not a tragedy in the classical sense, but it has its fair share of tragic characters. The most moving of these is Richard Harrow, played by British actor Jack Huston. Similar to Lear, Harrow evokes emotion more deeply than what we are accustomed to. Aptly named, as he is truly harrowing, this supporting character is a young WWI veteran who ends up in Atlantic City after he is befriended by one of the main characters, Jimmy Darmody.
Once a dapper soldier, Harrow is also one of the most recognizable characters, as he wears a mask on half of his face to cover up a tragic war injury. Despite the attempt to make the mask “match” the rest of Harrow’s face, it is poorly made, and his face looks slightly askew. The face plate is held in place by his glasses, and has hair to match his moustache – it is made somewhat ridiculous, evoking even more sympathy for this sensitive young gentleman who fought honourably for his country.
Harrow rarely looks people in the eyes, and struggles to speak, drink and eat, embarrassed by his affliction. Even though he is more comfortable without it, Harrow is fearful of removing the mask because of the effect it has on other people. While sleeping mask-less on a couch in the female protagonist’s home, her children run out of the room screaming in fear.
Yet, we can see that Harrow still cares about his appearance: he dresses nicely, takes good care of himself, and is physically fit. And the only thing he wants out of life is the love of a family. This is where writers Nelson Johnson and Terence Winter have done an expert job in tragic depiction – Harrow travels light, but is never without his talisman. It is an old book, plastered with magazine images of families: wives cooking dinner, children playing with their dads. A woman with which to share his life is Harrow’s ultimate dream, a dream that his friend Jimmy, with his wife and young son, takes advantage of again and again. Similar to Lear, Harrow desires a simple life after all he has suffered. But the audience knows deep down how difficult this will be for him to find, and we see that Harrow knows it when he attempts to take his own life.
It would be very easy to make this character more laughable than tragic; however, Jack Huston is a superb actor who captures the gentle, fragile and kind nature of Harrow, while creating mannerisms that never fail to highlight the difficulties of this man’s life.
It is rare to feel so genuinely for a television character, but Johnson and Winter have managed to achieve this with the character of Richard Harrow. They have written an uncommon tragic hero who is so very real, and who achieves a deeper connection to human suffering. He is just one example of how far television writing has come in recent years.
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Waste Reducing, Appliance Recycling and Living in Containers: Three Green Initiatives for 2012

For many of us, the environment is at the top of our priority list when it comes to lifestyle. And businesses are catching on: people are more in tune with green ideas, and businesses are using incentives such as being carbon neutral as a way to attract customers. Recently, three green initiatives have been getting media attention in Canada, which are not only innovative, but in some cases, have the possibility of changing our culture entirely.
The first idea was presented on Dragon’s Den, and is called Event Water Solutions. This group from Orillia, Ontario has devised an ingenious way to reduce waste from water bottles at events. Essentially, they bring in a large sink system with several taps that hook into a local water supply. To avoid cross contamination, the Event Water staff fills the bottles for event-goers. If clients don’t have a water bottle, they can purchase one from Event Water. As a customer, this is a great way to save money, especially considering that bottled water is more expensive per litre than gasoline (think about that next time you leave your home without your own water bottle!). When questioned by the dragons as to why companies would want to implement something that reduces their profit margin, the team responded by saying, “We’re getting calls everyday”. It may be idealistic, but this could represent a real shift in cultural thinking: it is better to reduce landfill rather than making a quick buck. This is long term thinking rather than short term gain.
Next, we have Unplugged Small Appliance Recycling Program in British Columbia. According to the Unplugged website, in BC alone over 2 million small appliances end up in landfills every year; this means potentially hazardous materials going in to our environment. This recycling program, which has over 100 depots in British Columbia, is the first of its kind in Canada. They will recycle broken or used appliances, from toasters to electric toothbrushes to microwaves. Despite the small fee to cover the costs of staffing and recycling, it is well worth the positive effects on the environment. Visit their website for more information on how recycling reduces waste and energy costs in BC, and where you can recycle your small appliances.
Finally, a green scheme worth considering for long term urban development in Canada is the housing innovation of recycled shipping containers. A recent article on the Yahoo Canada home page describes a single mom in California who built a home out of a shipping container for $4000. She did the renovating herself; cutting out spaces for windows and doors, then adding insulation to both the walls and the floor. This woman, who has gone back to school, chose to live mortgage-free and spend more time with her daughter, while helping the environment by using recycled materials for both the central home and an extension to the space. Although it is unclear how much the land cost to build it on, Lulu has picked up on a revolutionary idea that is getting more and more media attention.
Yet, shipping container living has been around for several years now. In 2006, the History Channel ran a story about “Container City” located in the docklands of London, England.. Here, people can rent out 300 sq. ft. (the size of one container) of live-work space for $80-140 per month. It’s a cozy, but affordable space for people on a budget, especially here in Vancouver where renting 500 sq. ft. can cost upwards of $1500 per month. Built with 100% recycled materials, this Container City is a prime example of how to improve living conditions while being environmentally conscious.
In Canada, we have our very own container architect, Keith Dewey, who is the owner and designer of Zigloo.ca (zigloo.ca). At approximately $150-250 per sq. ft. to build (compared to paying $600+ per sq. ft. in Vancouver), these Zigloo homes are affordable, compact, and modern, and are making use of materials “destined for the scrap yard” as Dewey states in the Vancouver Sun (http://zigloo.ca/vancouver-sun-zigloo-article/). Dewey indeed lives in his very own container home on Vancouver Island, which cost a total of $360, 000. A Zigloo has also been designed for a residence in Squamish, titled the “Squamish Cargospace Living Project” (http://zigloo.ca/squamish-cargospace-living-project/).
Squamish Cargospace Living Project
 This home boasts the following green attributes: geothermal heating, wind power and a water recapturing system. It is unique, yet modern, and is reminiscent of Cam Frye’s super posh 80s home in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Other designs include enviro-friendly items like a green roof. Affordable housing has been on the political table for years in cities all across Canada, so my question to politicians and urban planners is what are you waiting for?
Our country and its people are doing impressive things to help the environment, and these three ideas only have room to grow. You don’t have to live in a Zigloo to be green-friendly, but consider other ways you might reduce, reuse and recycle materials in your life. It is cost-effective and better for our planet in the long run.

80s fashion makes a sneaky comeback

Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar
What is it that makes a decade fashionable? In the 1920s, the style was suited to high rolling gangsters and bootleggers and their mistresses; in the forties we have style icon Katharine Hepburn, with her long-sleeve, elegant dresses. By the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe’s glamour emerged, a dress paired with satin gloves. While the early sixties saw the high-waisted, very feminine skirts and dresses, now picked up as a style by Banana Republic. Several decades throughout the 20thcentury strike me as recognizable, distinguished, and appealing to modern day men and women.  With the popularity of the show Mad Men, based on the advertising executives of Manhattan in the early 60s, the fashion world has taken its proper cues and many people are tuning in to vintage looks for occasions both casual and formal.
However, something more unappealing has made its way back into the fashion industry: the 1980s.
Black sunglasses with neon arms, in the vein of Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder, are given out for free by phone companies; bright yellow, pink, and blue neon clothing abounds in both teenage and adult venues. And then there’s my own recent purchase: a pair of massive, light pink flower earrings (from Aldo) that are strikingly similar to earrings I have in my costume box. They belonged to my mother in the eighties. When I got home and tried them on (they looked hideous), I realized that I subconsciously thought they were cool. This is what the fashion industry does to us, and what it did to us again and again during both the eighties and the nineties.
Anyone who graduated from high school in those decades can attest to the fashion atrocities that have now become their prom photos for life: perms, flower print dresses, the “Rachel” haircut (which was actually really cool at the time, I have to admit), a lot of curls and poufs of hair, usually in the front, held in place by a Goody metal clip and a lot of hairspray. Also, high-waisted, baggy pants are making a comeback, which I will a) never look good in; and b) never fully understand. The only person who could really pull those off was MC Hammer.
Were those other decades truly fashionable in the sense we think they are? Or is it the ability to be picky and only choose the best fashions from those eras that allows them to be timeless? Perhaps we need more distance from the eighties and nineties in order for them to be more attractive. But when an image of Michael J. Fox (as adorable as he was) from Back to the Future 2 comes to mind, I can’t help but think those fads have met their expiry date. My advice to you, which you may or may not choose to take, is always consider this: if I look back at this in 20 or 30 years, will it still look good? However, if you catch yourself buying a scrunchie, it’s already too late.

Royal Engagement Spins Media Frenzy

The engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton was officially announced today, and the media is having a field day. This comes as no surprise considering the Royal Family’s celebrity status both in England and the Commonwealth.  Yet, for a Canadian citizen whose royal knowledge is almost non-existent, I was curious to know exactly what it is that makes this event so noteworthy.
So what do we know? We know they are engaged. We know they are to be married sometime next year. And we know that her engagement ring was Princess Diana’s. We are also well aware of the legacy left behind by Diana, and that her divorce may have been one of the factors leading to Prince William waiting so long to propose. He also said in an interview that he wanted to give Kate plenty of time to “back out”. Although it was said partly in jest, William is no stranger to the attention of the media, and is genuinely concerned for the well-being of his future wife. After all, the constant media attention was one of the things Diana found so difficult about being part of the royal family.
Canadian news sources seem to be focusing on the “Royal Romance” aspect of the engagement, noting that instead of the traditional courtship that precedes royal marriages, William and Kate met conventionally, having gone to university together. It is a modern relationship that took over eight years and a few bumps in the road to reach the engagement. For the first time, the royal couple feels within close reach of the public; they appear to have gone through what many couples go through before they tie the knot. Furthermore, Kate comes from a middle-class family who became self-made millionaires rather than being of royal descent. She is the girl next door and she is on her way to becoming not only a princess, but the Queen of England.
For many people, particularly the British, this wedding celebration will be an opportunity for national unity and a way of bringing people together. It is joyous occasion that will be shared in a very public fashion, unlike most celebrity weddings that are done more clandestinely. It is expected that more than 3 billion will watch the event worldwide. Although I never gave the royal family much thought, the media attention speaks to their popularity, and I look forward to learning more about William and Kate, who promise to be a power-couple like we’ve never seen before from the royal family tree.
Source for photo: http://www.mirror.co.uk
For more information on the royal family and the British monarchy, visit: http://www.royal.gov.uk

The Other Side of Nuit Blanche

Saturday night was the fifth year of Scotiabank’s Nuit Blanche in Toronto. The underlying concept is a great one: from sundown to sunrise, local artists present their talents in various spaces around the city. Major arteries like Yonge Street are closed to automobile traffic and open to pedestrians to roam at will.
One of the luxuries of Nuit Blanche is that you can have a great night at home without rushing out, because you have hours ahead of you to enjoy your Saturday night. However, if you’re going to one of the main events, you still have to wait in line, something I wasn’t expecting.
Our primary destination was a big installation at Bay St. Station we had heard about through the grapevine, so we hopped on the subway with myriads of other people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom had the same idea. When we arrived at the Bay platform, we immediately noticed a queue and jumped in. We were quickly informed that the line started outside the station and that people had been waiting there for two hours. The line stretched through the busy platform, up the stairs, through the turnstiles and up more stairs to the street; although the volunteers were monitoring progress, it was mostly chaotic and it wasn’t really clear how they determined the difference between those who had been waiting diligently and those who just snuck into the queue.
Discouraged, we made our way out to Yonge Street and started walking the festival-like atmosphere of Nuit Blanche. The energy was exciting and we were looking forward to seeing the creative minds of Toronto at work, but we walked for blocks and blocks (all the way to King Street) without seeing much, except for an excess of garbage overflowing from bins, and people being sick on the sidewalk from too many drinks. It looked like some people had interpreted Nuit Blanche as a carte blanche to act like complete idiots and have someone else clean up after them.
To a certain extent, this can be blamed on the public, but on the other hand, why wasn’t the city or Scotiabank prepared for the waste overflow from such a huge event? There should be more bins and workers hired to take care of the job throughout the night. If we were seeing piles of garbage at midnight, I can only imagine what it would have looked like at seven in the morning. All that waste took away from the enlightened atmosphere that Nuit Blanche attempts to create.
Getting home on the subway was quick if claustrophobic, but a friend who took the streetcar was not so lucky. She said it was “horribly busy and crowded” and it took her almost two hours to get home. On a regular night, it would take 40 minutes.
My advice if you plan to go next year is to start early, to map out your routes, and to hit up an area like Queen Street West. For this art fanatic however, the overall atmosphere and organization of Nuit Blanche has a long way to come.

The Drake Hotel, Not Just for Celebrities and Trend Setters

My first experiences with the Drake Hotel in Toronto consisted of waiting in line to pay cover, or waiting in line to get onto the rooftop patio and then paying $15 for a drink. One time we weasled our way onto the patio for a romantic, delicious dinner an hour and a half after we had arrived; another time I brushed elbows with Adrian Grenier of the hit show Entourage as he prepared for his band to play downstairs. I agree that this is a great spot to spend a summer evening, but it doesn’t always seem worth all of the fuss.
Then I was introduced to the Drake weekend brunch by a good friend, and haven’t turned back since. You have a few options as to where you want to dine: there is the Drake Café, located on the west side of the hotel, which has a casual, simple patio; the spacious and uniquely decorated bar area; or the darker atmosphere of the restaurant itself. All dining occurs on the main floor for breakfast, but dinner includes service on the rooftop patio or “Sky Yard”, on fashionable benches covered with pillows, giving it a Mata Hari harem sort of feel, but with lighter overtones.
The nice thing about breakfast is that it is a casual meal, and you usually don’t have to wait in line to get in. We did wait on one occasion, but they brought us melt-in-your-mouth mini croissants with jam, and all was quickly copacetic. They offer healthy options, such as granola and fresh fruit, but if you’re like me, when you go out for brunch on the weekends you want something hearty. I personally enjoy ordering eggs Benedict the morning after an evening of red wine, but they can be a risky choice. Some places will overcook your poached eggs, so that you miss out on that mingling of egg yolk, hollandaise, and ketchup. This is no good. But at the Drake, they always poach their eggs perfectly. And I will make this bold statement, but only because it’s true: the Drake Eggs Caleb is my favourite breakfast in Toronto. It comes with scrumptious smoked salmon, and hand cut French fries that marry exquisitely with the hollandaise sauce. The restaurant also offers unique choices like Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles, which comes with sweet Niagara cherry jam; this may sound like an odd combination, but it works. Especially for hangovers.
One of the most appealing things about the hotel space is the eccentric décor. It is artistic, trend setting, and has a gallery feel to it, which makes the experience one-of-a-kind. In the restaurant area, the walls are covered in life size pictures of a forest, illuminated in a way that reminds me of the Science Center in the 1980s. It works in modern decor because of our environmental consciousness and return to grass roots, especially in Toronto where the eco-friendly population is massive. There has also been a move towards nature in the decorating world, where we are seeing more and more natural wood, deer antlers, and other elements you’d expect to see at a cottage or a ranch.  Some of the decorating choices are really out there; I’m referring to the very realistic reproduction of the upper torso of a man, and his partially bald crown, replete with real hair on both his head and his back. It hits you as you come down the stairs from the patio and/or washrooms, and it is hard to avoid. I’m not completely sold on that piece, but overall, I’d like to get the name of their interior designer. The one recommendation I have for the Drake is to sort out the washrooms upstairs, because the smell was off-putting, and took away from the positive experience of the hotel.
If you don’t get a chance to try the fabulous blueberry scones during your meal, be sure to take some to go. They are a delectable way to reward yourself for being so forward thinking, and going to the Drake for breakfast.
The Drake Hotel is located at 1150 Queen St. W., Toronto. For more information, visit the Drake Hotel website at http://www.thedrakehotel.ca/dining/menu

Why Inception is Worth All the Buzz

Christopher Nolan, known for directing the legendary movies Memento, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight, has done it again with his new movie Inception. The writing, direction, special effects, and ability to create a believable reality within the science fiction genre, make Christopher Nolan a force to be reckoned with, and certainly an Oscar contender.

As a writer, plot is very important to me. One of the most disappointing things about movie-going is to see an action or science fiction movie that lacks a good story. For example, and I know some people will have my head for this, but Avatar, despite it’s amazing special effects and new advancements in CGI technology, lacked an original storyline. I felt like I was watching Fern Gully; it was a recycled plot about the exploitation of natural resources, with a typical “star-crossed lovers” love story.

However, Inception delves into the sci-fi of the dream world in a unique and even realistic way. What the characters deal with psychologically and emotionally is plausible, and the actors do a phenomenal job of unravelling the complexities of coping with the human psyche. There are symbolic elements in the movie to make the story even sharper, such as the “totem” which determines whether you are in a dream or in the real world. The classic representation of the subconscious as the open sea – wild and unpredictable – is also aptly done.

The repetition of phrases and emotion-filled memories replicates what many people experience in the dream state, or when they are dealing with emotional trauma. Further, the use of silence and visual cues, expertly conveyed by the actors, contributes to the overall mysterious atmosphere of the movie, where you are never truly sure what is real and what is imagined.

Although some elements of the plot and action are derivative of The Matrix series, I think of them as more of a commemorative “toast” to the Wachowski brothers, who pioneered so many new ideas and techniques in their movie making. Like The Matrix, Inception explores the choice between living in a world we create through our imagination, or to live in the “real” world, with all of its limitations on both morality and mortality. In addition, Nolan’s film organically creates action scenes; using wires and an infinite number of cameras, characters fight mid-air in a hotel hallway, similar to the subway station scene in The Matrix. This gives the movie a more natural feel than CGI.

The comedic conflict between Arthur and Eames will certainly have audiences laughing out loud, while home-grown Ellen Page delivers a stellar performance as an innocent student whose intelligence and gumption lead her to a better understanding of the human mind than most characters in the movie. To me, Leonardo DiCaprio is a seasoned actor who is as good as it gets, and he lives up to the high standard he set for himself in movies such as The Departed and Shutter Island. Other standout performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from 500 Days of Summer), Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard, are not to be missed.