Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Not Forgetting Sarah Marshall anytime soon.

A couple of nights ago, Team Awesome went to see an advance screening of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." What little information I could find about the release indicated that it was made by the "guys who brought you 'Knocked Up' and 'The 40-year Old Virgin'." Since I really enjoyed seeing both of those movies, this one had some expectations to live up to.
And it did. Sort of.

Allow me to explain.
There has been a bit of a viral marketing campaign appearing on street corners and on the TTC, running ads about how much Sarah Marshall sucks, and how "I am so over you, Sarah Marshall." Here's an example:

A better ad that I could not find an image of was the "I am so over you, Sarah Marshall." Based on the choice of phrase on these posters I was expecting a sort of 'disastrously immature campaign of emotionally masochistic demonstrations of 'moving on' with the goal of regaining lost love.' Well, I was only partly right.

After being dumped by his five year girlfriend, now a famous actress, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) sets out on a campaign of debauchery to try to ease his aching heart. He whirls through a series of intimate encounters: ranging from the humiliating to just plain strange. But hey! At least he's getting action, right? Well, Peter admits to his brother-in-law that he is still feeling depressed and uncomfortable, as well completely heart-broken. So, he figures that the best cure for his melancholy is to do the one thing the two of them always talked about doing: take a trip to Hawaii.

Well, as any RomCom veteran should know, it just so happens that the (in)famous ex-girlfriend has also decided to do the whole 'Hawaii vacation' thing- with her new beau, an outrageous British rock star (played by the scene stealing Russel Brand- just wait for the serenade). Of course, awkwardness and hilarity ensue.

In between scenes of emotional breakdown, Peter makes some new friends: a newly-wed husband who experience failure anxiety during sex because of his sense of spiritual cleanliness; a surfer-dude who suffers (albeit unknowingly) from anterograde amnesia; a massive native Hawaiian; and others. Of course, among the 'others' is the new love-interest: free-spirited Rachel (played by Mila Kunis).

I'm pretty sure that you can figure out the rest from there: Boy goes on vacation to forget lost love, encounters lost love, pines, gets comforted by new friend, realizes new friend is hot chick and promptly falls for her...blah blah blah...just wait for the dinner scene, because it is great.
That said, here are the (IMHO) highlights:

The Good:
  • Full frontal male nudity. There's no better way to combine humiliation and anguish than to have a man dumped while he is butt-naked;
  • The music. The soundtrack is good, the original soundtrack is fantastic. I can't do it justice by trying to describe it here;
  • Ridiculous segues from drinking with the buddies to crying alone on the balcony. Well, not so ridiculous;
  • Rachel's fight with her ex-boyfriend. It's funny and very effective character-building;
  • The dinner scene. Fantastic. It's too bad it comes so late in the movie;
  • And, a vampire puppet rock opera. 'Nuff said
The Bad:
  • Marketing really did not do a good job on this one, as I was expecting something else before I could get comfortable with this story.
  • Too long. The movie is 2 hours, where there could have been about 20 minutes less.
All said, if you liked Knocked Up, you'll definitely enjoy this one. The humour is very similar, especially considering the number of appearances by actors from other Apatow productions. It's a very funny movie, just get ready to be in there for a while.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Boring? Surely Not Canadian History!

Part 1: Wherein your author rants about the geopolitical relevance of Canadian history.

I was speaking with some work colleagues the other day, and the conversation turned towards my area of historical specialty. I did the usual "I studied this in grad school", which leads to "so I am very knowledgeable of A, B, and C", which is why today I am doing (X). Usually, turning to this area tends to be a bit of a conversation killer. My area of specialty is rather esoteric, so most hear about it, nod their heads, agree that it is quite interesting and that I must have done a lot of work, and then: silence.

This time, however, a rather interesting remark was made: "well, it makes sense that you don't do Canadian history, because it is just so boring." I was more than a little taken aback. First, I thought I had made it clear that although I am not a Canadian-ist, I am very familiar with Canadian history. I have studied events in Canadian history for the purposes of comparative analysis, as well as for case studies. So in a way, although I may not identify as a Canadian historian, I certainly do believe that there is merit to the study.

My response to the statement was a little long-winded, but I'll summarize it here: Canadian history is more than just about Canada, it is a case study of modern state building. Now, a quick definition for a "State": a political entity with clearly defined geographical borders, autonomous authority over that territory, and effective power with which to coerce its population. "Modern States", IMHO, are characterized by a central government with a complex bureaucracy, having the power to levy tax(es) and legislate policy. In Europe, the "Modern State" GREW out of the ancien regime. Parliamentary democracy and bureaucratic institutions came about through a slow trial and error process.

Canada, on the other hand, came into existence with the entire arsenal of a modern state. Parliament and various federal ministries came into being with the ratification of a single document, the BNA Act. Now, quibbling about the nature of the ruling British authority aside (not to mention the transfer of power from the colonial office), the Canadian state came into existence with all of its modern machinery intact.

This is different from the experience of the United States (equally interesting, but different) where the people making up a territorial region chose the incarnation of their state, and determined its structure and powers.

Is Canadian history boring? Certainly no one who has studied any of it would say it is. I think, however, that the intent of the person from whom the original statement emerged was to conflate uninteresting and irrelevant into one term: boring.

As far as the relevance of Canadian history is concerned, I tend to think that it is more relevant than the histories of most other nations. This is not just because I am both Canadian and an historian. If you just look at Canadian history "from afar", you are looking at the colonial and post-colonial experience of the people living in Canada. The fact that Canada came into being with a fully-formed modern State, and continues to exist today is incredible considering the problems that the nation has had to face: uniting an ethnically and religiously divided population, as well as uniting and maintaining control over a vast geographic area.

I think that if you want to find out what has gone wrong in other areas of the world where a post-colonial modern state has crumbled, it is more than useful to compare that story to the Canadian one. By understanding what went right in Canada, and what made the Canadian state as successful as it has been; one can gain a useful understanding of the problems facing other regions and other peoples today.