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Wolfville, Nova Scotia



Chris Campbell


Melancholia is quite simply a film about depression that blends a person dealing with depression that expands out to the actual destruction of the Earth by another planet. Neatly divided into three parts with a super slow motion collection of set pieces at the beginning followed by two named parts (Justine and Claire), it dives deep into the end of the world as it puts the characters through stresses that reveal who they really are. It’s beautifully shot and well-acted and I saw it twice in the theatre and thoroughly enjoyed it both times.

I was hesitant in seeing it since I’ve found Lars Von Trier to be provocative to the point of distraction which also happened with this film, but the content and reaction to the film made me want to see it and I’m glad that I did. Europa was the first film by him that I saw and it was a great art-house experience for me and this seemed to be in a similar vein. His documentary The Five Obstructions is also one of my favourite films about the filmmaking process, so maybe it wouldn’t be as frustrating as the last Von Trier film I saw, which was Manderlay.

Visually Melancholia is quite stunning with seamless special effects. After seeing it I thought of how it touched on similar themes as The Tree of Life, but with a much darker view of the universe. A version of Malick’s film made by an atheist. While there is the overwhelming nature of the end of the world approaching (it’s not a spoiler since you see the end in the first 10 minutes of the film) what is fascinating is watching the characters deal with impending disaster. The first part of the film is the wedding of Justine which is a family disaster that sets the stage for the dynamics of the relationships between the key characters. After that disaster comes the second section which removes all the supporting characters from the mansion as the sky fills with the planet Melancholia.

The wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is carefully organized by Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but Justine is late and constantly subverts the precisely-timed events that make up the reception. We know that this is not going to end well and the transition between Justine’s part of the film and Claire’s occurs when Justine's depression becomes incapacitating. Claire has to take care of her sister and things only get better when it starts to become clear that the world is going to end, which seems to comfort Claire as she embraces the approaching destruction while Justine finds it more and more difficult to deal with.

There are all sorts of metaphorical levels and details with allusions to other films and filmmakers, but it keeps the focus on the characters who provide a nice counterpoint to the much larger events happening outside of their control. The little visual nods to other films are touches that add texture to a film that inverts the disaster movie by staying with the people instead of the events. It’s bold and ambitious and it worked well for me and seeing it on a large screen was great in seeing the smallest concerns combined with the existence of all life on Earth. This is the type of film that makes me love going to the theatre

Big Day Downtown 2011

Chris Campbell

Last year I was lucky to be one of the bloggers chosen by the Downtown Halifax for Big Day Downtown where people were given $100 to spend and write about the experience. My first Big Day Downtown was a lot of fun and this year the twist is that you need to try something new. They kicked things off with a packed reception at the newly opened dessert bar The Middle Spoon on Barrington with lots of local bloggers enjoying the sweets and fancy drinks. Halifax and the surrounding region has quite an interesting blogosphere.
Not wanting to wait very long with a $100 card burning a hole in my pocket, I asked my son John if he would like to come to downtown Halifax to try some new things. So on the afternoon of Friday, August 19 we got in the car and left Wolfville for Downtown Halifax.

Just Us! Coffee

Snacks at Just Us!
Our first stop was at the Just Us! Cafe on Barrington to have a bit of a snack and plan the day. The something new part was having John with me since it wasn’t my first time at the cafe. But I did try a cinnamon bun there for the first time (it was delicious) and had a cup of strong, dark coffee to go. John had a Propeller Ginger Beer along with a ginger cookie. All this cost just $10.58 including the tip, which left $89.42 to spend.
Wandering down Barrington scouting out other places to go in the afternoon sun it made me realize that there are a lot of business in the downtown area. While Freak Lunchbox is quite tempting and there would definitely be candy that was new to both of us, it’s a relatively familiar place, so we decided to pass by. We sat down outside in the sun and John suggested going to the Discovery Centre to check out the exhibits there, but since we came in to the city late in the afternoon there wouldn’t really be enough time to do it justice. One thing that John did want to get were some new headphones which lead us to Scotia Square.

The Source

Looking in the guide to downtown shops we saw that there was a Source on Duke Street, but it didn’t seem familiar. Wandering over it became obvious that it was in Scotia Square, where I’ve enjoyed a few suprisingly affordable meals in the excellent food court (the highlight is Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine). So in we went to The Source and looked at headphones which just happened to be on sale. After some thought and comparisons John decided that he wanted some new earbud-style headphones. He chose ones that were hot pink so they’d stand out. With the tax the heaphones were $11.95. Now the remaining funds were $77.47 as we went back out into the sunny afternoon and walked back up Barrington in search of stuff for me.

The North Face

The North Face
One of the shops that opened recently downtown is The North Face, which sells clothing and outdoor equipment. I’ve liked their clothes and bags and was keen on seeing the store. It was compact with friendly and helpful employees. There were some great clothes and neat bags (but I probably have too many bags for different things, so that wasn’t really an option) as well as a comprehensive range of colourful sleeping bags as well as tents. Maybe some footware? I’m ok for outdoor shoes and sandals, but new socks would be perfect. Looking through the different styles some solid hiking socks stood out which cost $20.50 after tax (leaving $56.97). Then it was time to go to another outdoor store on the same block in Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Mountain Equipment Co-op

MEC Bike Sign
Last time for Big Day Downtown one of the stops was Mountain Equipment Co-op, so there needed to be some justification for returning. The big change in the store is a renovation and the expansion of the bike section which includes selling bicycles in addition to the parts, accessories and clothing. The staff are serious outdoor adventurers and have solid, practical advice that helps you make the right choice for any activity. While I very much want to get a new bike from MEC, that would go over budget, but there are many affordable things related to biking in the store. One thing that I’ve never used while biking are gloves. After a few recent long bike rides I noticed that my hands were sore, so perhaps gloves would solve this problem. There are a range of gloves available, so I tried a lot of them on and eventually settled on some fingerless gloves made of a light and comfortable material. The cost of the gloves came to $21.85 which brough my remaining funds to $35.12.


I lack drawing ability, so I don’t usually go in to DeSerres on Barrington to buy art supplies. But I remembered that they did have a range of Moleskine notebooks which I love. Maybe there would be a notebook that would be good for John? We went in to the clourful store and looked around at notebooks and found a small music notebook. Since John is writing music and practicing playing the piano, it seemed a logical choice to buy a Moleskine Pocket Music Notebook. It’s the standard small notebook Moleskine with 8 staves ready for music to be composed within. After paying $19.55 for the notebook we were left with $15.57 on the card.

Burrito Jax

Burrito Jax Sign
By now we both were hungry and one place that we haven’t tried, but heard nice things about was Burrito Jax. Would I be able to find good veggie options there? The answer was an emphatic “yes”! The restaurant is compact with music playing and limited seating, but burritos are designed to be mobile and with the lovely weather it was nice to walk around outside with a delicious meal in my hand. I had a veggie burrito stuffed with just about everything (when presented with options I just kept saying “yes”) and John had the pulled beef burrito. Our meal ended up costing just $14.59 which brought the remaining money down to just 98 cents, so it was very close to meeting the goal. Burrito Jax doesn’t take credit cards, so I couldn’t use the card to pay for it, which meant that there was some money still left on it for a future, bonus adventure.

AlFresco FilmFesto

AlFresco Screen
The final thing for this Big Day Downtown was always going to be seeing Groundhog Day as part of the Summer of Murray program of the AlFresco FilmFesto (organized by the Atlantic Film Festival). It’s a wonderful outdoor screening of films during the summer. This year they’re celebrating their 11th year with 5 films all featuring Bill Murray. We arrived early on the Waterfront beside the Seaport Farmers Market and set up our chairs as the space in front of the inflatable screen filled with people. I’d been to AlFresco before, but on this day I was sharing John’s first screening of one of his (and my) favourite films with Groundhog Day. For all of the AlFresco screenings the weather was amazing and it was no exception for this screening. It got a little cool, but with the right clothes and some fresh popcorn it made for a perfect end to the day. I picked up a t-shirt for John and me and paid the suggested donation of $5 for admission for a great night of entertainment with hundreds of other people outside.

Discovery Centre

John Plays the Slap Organ
The $15.57 remaining on the card needed to be spent, so a week later on Friday, August 26th John and I went to the city again to learn and have science-based adventures at the Discovery Centre. The admission for John and I was just perfect for using up the remaining money on the card, and we went in to explore the exhibits with the new theme of Too Small to See. We looked at carbon nanotubes, assembled a molecule by working together, and magnified all sorts of things to see what they looked like up very close. In addition to the exhibits that change, there are a range of permanent activities that are a lot of fun. We made giant bubbles, went in to the Ames Room to have some optical illusion fun and John played the Slap Organ. It was fun to go around and learn about science in a interactive way in the heart of downtown Halifax.

AlFresco FilmFesto 2 - Rushmore

Bill Murray Chair
Since we were already in the city, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see another film outside, so we set up our chairs again for the final AlFresco Summer of Murray screening and watched Rushmore. We were hoping that Bill Murray would show up to sit in his reserved chair, but it remained empty. Seeing Bill Murray would have definitely been something new. It was the first time that John had seen Rushmore and he really liked it. It’s one of my favourite films and seeing it on a big screen outside with a appreciative audience was quite amazing and a perfect end to the summer and my second Big Day Downtown.
John and I thank Downtown Halifax for the opportunity to explore and enjoy the downtown and to share it with you. We’ll definitely be back for more fun.
What adventures have you had downtown in Halifax?

The Tree of Life

Chris Campbell

Tree of LifeTerrence Malick makes unique and beautiful films with deliberate rhythms and a tantalizing (or some would say frustrating) ambiguity. With The Tree of Life he constructs a film that is both epic and intimate, almost an inverted version of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that is built around emotional moments that occasionally expand to form an entire universe. It's ambitious, but also casual and funny. I've seen it twice and enjoyed it both times as it made me think and connected to me on several levels.

Just as the world that surrounds us is open to opinion, in the discussions I've read about the film and had with people, there is a wonderful diversity of interpretations. Overall it's fairly simple, but the ways that everything connects and the small details are lovely. A discussion is like remembering things that have happened to you. Small clues or gestures that you have forgotten can change the way you see things. There is very little dialogue in the film (most of it is in the trailer), but there is a startling economy to the construction of the film, almost as if it were maple syrup boiled and distilled down to the sweetness.

While there is narration, it's sparse and it provides an occasional nudge in one interpretative direction or another. Very few characters even have names, but it doesn't really matter as we easily can figure out who they are. The film is incredibly beautiful and is shot fluidly with mainly natural light. The moments are perfect and combined with the editing, sound design and music it's breathtaking at times. But this is a bit like talking about an amazing meal. It's the experience and not just the ingredients that make it special. It's social and nourishing and personal. How can you review that?

Malick directs his actors (both experienced and new) in a way that feels like a documentary. Much of what happens is internal. Maybe they are thinking something and maybe they aren't. But we fill in the gaps and the emotions that they may have difficulty in expressing. Brad Pitt is great as the strict father who is filled with regret as he tries to figure out the world of nature and men. Jessica Chastain is angelic as the mother who provides joy and the way of grace and wonder. Hunter McCracken plays Jack as a boy (Sean Penn is the man) and most of the film consists of memories of his childhood and the relationship with one of his brothers and his parents.

Plot-wise there is a traumatic event that happens off camera in the first few minutes. It's never fully explained, but it echoes throughout the entire film. The economy of storytelling is amazing and it provides an emotional punch to kick things off before a slight digression to witness the creation of the universe and the emergence of life. It sounds ambitious and it is, but it somehow remains remarkably human and personal with enough spaces to allow for reflection and connections with our own lives. It may not be for everyone, but it was one of the best films I've seen in the past decade. I may even see it again in the theatre.

Reading Things With Instaper

Chris Campbell

One of my favourite ways to read things is with Instapaper on my iPhone. Marco's program is simple and easy to use and it makes me think that I would like it even more on an iPad. Instapaper is one of those apps that you may think that you don't need until you start using it and then it becomes part of what you do.

The key to a compelling app is that it needs to disappear. Any good tool enables you do to things. If you think about it too much, it's not working. Instapaper really effectively gets out of the way. It helps you read things later and it does that smoothly and efficiently. I started using Instapaper with my iPod Touch since you can't always depend on reliable WiFi access everywhere. So as long as I kept it synced there would always be something to read when I had some time.

Reading in an RSS feed reader or a web browser can be a good experience, but the nature of reading on a laptop means that you can be distracted by other things. Jumping around between different things isn't conducive to long-form reading, so changing modes to an iPhone or iPad can make a big difference. Switching modes makes it more fun and more casual. It's closer to the mode of a book or a magazine. What you're reading is the only thing on the screen so it allows you to disappear into the writing and that's a very good thing.

Instapaper also plays very well with others. The basic sharing functions are usually mailing something to someone, but within Instapaper there are many possibilities for all sorts of workflows. Wherever I see something online now if it's longer or if I don't have time to read it, I'll Instapaper it. (If something becomes a verb it's a very good sign.) It's easy to get things into it and it's really easy to get things out of it as well. There are buttons for sharing in ways that I use often. The basic method is to email something, but that only scratches the surface. I can select a few sentences and post them as a quote to my tumblelog on Tumblr (or send it to the Tumblr app). I can send it out to Twitter with Twitterrific or Birdhouse. I can bookmark it on Pinboard (or have it automatically added to Pinboard) or I can add something as an OmniFocus task.

Now most of my online reading happens through Instapaper or through things saved there. It's powerful, subtle and essential for me. It's like a customized version of the web that always provides interesting things to read.


Source Code

Chris Campbell

The essential element in cinema is the reorganization of time and space. In the hands of a skilled filmmaker it makes you look at the world differently. In Moon Duncan Jones took a simple concept and made a film with a depth and heart that transcended the idea. At the core of both Moon and Source Code are explorations of identity and choice. Moon was one of my favourite films of the year when it was released. With a low budget, economical style of shooting and a great performance from Sam Rockwell it was a solid 70s style science fiction film. Now with a bigger budget and a larger cast Duncan Jones is back with Source Code which has a similar feeling.

Apparently the screenplay for the film was around for a while as one of the hottest unproduced screenplays of 2007. On paper it's a challenging concept and it could have been kind of a silly film with explosions and cardboard characters. Duncan Jones gets great performances from Jake Gyllenhall and Michelle Monaghan as well as the always reliable Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright. While the trailer lays out the whole concept of the film, the way that it's revealed is much more interesting. The location is established (a Chicago commuter train) and the characters. Then, after 8 minutes comes the first twist and the template is established. Kind of like variations on a theme.

The title assigned to the military operation - Beleaguered Castle- is far more compelling and intriguing than the title of the film. The name is a variation of Solitaire with 8 rows of cards. These little geeky touches are scattered throughout the film and are fun without being distracting. While the name Beleaguered Castle sounds plausible (a logical name for a military operation) it is also quite evocative, which encapsulates the way the entire film works.