Sunday, May 23, 2010


"Snooks" is cool-guy lingo for "sonic dematerializer," a "next-gen weapon" that provides the premise (such as it is) for the recent film The Losers. The Losers is based on graphic novels by Andy Diggle, but as far as I can tell the slang "snooks" is wholly an invention of the film.

According to the movie, snooks are the weapon of choice of modern-day bad guys because they are environmentally friendly. The film's arch-villain, played by Jason Patric, says they "produce no pollution - they're pure destruction" and so are highly sought-after by eco-terrorists. When asked about other next-gen weapons, Patric airily asks, "Have you heard of deep-space tachyons? Singularity events? No?" and he arches an eyebrow to let us know that if we don't have the science, there's no point trying to explain.

Me, I'm so old school that when you put "graphic novel" and "sonic dematerializer" together I think of Madame Castiofore, the glass-shattering opera singer in Tintin. On its own, "sonic dematerializer" makes me think of that gizmo that dental hygenists use if you forget to floss. I seem to recall in the 1960s series The Prisoner that Number Six was kept in The Village by means of a sonic weapon of some sort - they make for excellent low-budget special effects because all you have to do is shake the camera a little, have the actors grab their ears, and then have something vanish. In fact, the mad scientist in Help! tries to get Ringo's ring off with a sonic dematerializer, causing his pants to fall down and fuses to blow. (When the fuse blows John Lennon says, "My god! What's your electricity bill like?" and the scientist's assistant, Algernon, says, "Well it's sort of a long counterfoil...")

All in all, the destructive power of sound seems pretty last-gen to me (maybe even retro-gen). But I like this word snooks. Snooks even sounds like a good nickname for the old prima donna.

The idea that the next generation of terrorists is going to require environmentally friendly bombs is just, well, delightful. It's a great shame that the movie was so dumbed-down that they made no attempt to explain how the arch-villain would wield a singularity event as a weapon, not to mention how he'd harness the elusive tachyon. All we see of the snook is an island that gets obliterated, and you think you could do that for less than $1 billion cash.

By the way, The Losers is a really bad film with really good acting by everyone in it. It's a great shame that so much talent wasted nearly a year creating such a bag of crap. I saw it only because I thought there would be superheroes.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ending Wagner

At the very end of the Ring Cycle there is a brief moment when we see that the age of the gods is over and the age of humanity is beginning. It only lasts a couple of minutes but it is of vital importance to the piece - all the fighting of the gods leads to this, the making of humanity. After 17+ hours, the audience can finally exhale. The leitmotif that plays at the end makes this very clear. A production that doesn't recognize it makes a big mistake. I know - I saw one once: it was a deflating experience.

At the end of The Flying Dutchman, when the young woman Senta is shot dead, the music suddenly changes from dark and menacing to romantic and optimistic. It only lasts a moment, but that music ends the opera. It is clear that Wagner intends that Senta and the flying Dutchman are both saved by her death: he has been cursed to immortal life on the sea, and can only be saved by a woman who promises and delivers on loving him until her death. She promised him her love, and continued loving him until her death.

It is unfortunate that the COC production of The Flying Dutchman, mounted in 2000 and currently being revived at the Four Seasons Center, misses the ending - either misses it, or handles it so subtlely that the audience misses it. Senta just falls down dead, and the Dutchman walks up a staircase holding her wedding veil, but that's it.

I can see that it's difficult to do justice to these brief but monumental Wagner endings, but opera productions must.


Meddling with the Most Vulnerable

In all the newsprint spent on Harper's controversial G8 maternal health plan, I can't find mention of a very important implication of the Conservative decision to not fund abortions: how organizations that support abortion will be funded.

George Bush was explicit about it. He prohibited US funding of international groups that performed abortions or provided information about abortion. Harper's decision could have the same effect, depending on how it's implemented.

Say you have a poor country and there's an organization that provides maternal health services - it could be a clinic or a hospital or a group that covers several facilities. Say their services include family planning and/or abortion. Are they still eligible for funding under this plan?

Does someone work out what percentage of their budget is related to abortion, and then Canada asks some other country to fund that portion? That seems unlikely. But if not that sort of scenario, then it seems we must be disadvantaging organizations that support abortion. That's not just wrong; it's immoral.

It's beyond belief that a country that provides free abortions to its citizens would use its foriegn aid policies to prevent poor women in Africa from having abortions - especially since abortion is needed even more in poor African countries, where poor women have less control over their bodies and it is estimated that a third of pregnancy-related deaths are due to botched abortions.

Foreign aid is a tricky business. One of the reasons that sub-Saharan Africa is still so poor is the mess we've made with our foreign aid-slash-meddling. Just think of this scenario: there's a village with a maternal health clinic that's funded with western money, and now that clinic has been told that it won't be funded unless it ceases performing abortions - or even giving advice about them. Thanks to George Bush wooing the evangelical vote, that went on for eight years. Thanks to Stephen Harper wooing the evangelical vote, that might be about to start happening again.