After living for a year in Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island's rugged outer shore, we decided to fulfill another dream and move to the downtown area of Vancouver. These are the adventures, in words and images, of a couple of retirees now based in Lower Lonsdale.

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Monday, 29 December 2014

The Hobbit: Peter Jackson's Back Story Boondoggle

Many years ago now, a friend lent me a slim volume entitled ‘The Hobbit’. I was enchanted by its simple yet enjoyable story. I was further delighted to discover the weighty three-book sequel, ’The Lord of the Rings’, which expanded the Middle Earth universe and populated it with a richness and depth that, at times, seemed almost too much.

Having just watched the final episode of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, I simply had to put words to paper to express my dismay.

If I had to come up with two words that fit how I feel about this series, it would be "wretched excess". Jackson has taken a simple children’s story, complete with a talking dragon and singing dwarves and turned it into a concoction of bloated back story, choked with characters from later books, or even from out of thin air, all floating along in a miasma of computer-generated nasties.

While the Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) deviated quite obviously from the books, to include Marvel Comic-type Middle Earth superheroes that could surf down stairs on a shield, or an elephaunt’s trunk, whilst firing an imponderable number of perfectly aimed arrows etc, there was simply so much material available in the books that the overall end product still redeemed itself fairly well.

Not so here. Here, it is as Bilbo describes in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’: "Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." Too right!

Let us put aside for a moment the sheer volume of violence throughout the three movies, and especially during this last installment – which has become ever more realistic as CGI has matured – not to mention that the battle scenes seem to get more and more unrealistically choreographed and presented, and dwell on the characters.

We seem to have gained quite an amount of excess baggage in the character department, and those additions apparently demand a remarkable amount of screen time. Take, for example, Thranduil, King of the Grey Elves. Prettiest man I ever saw ridin’ a reindeer! I’d say he is a major character, with attendant screen time and lines galore. So, OK, he is the father of Legolas. Mentioned in that context four (4) times in LOTR. Never mentioned in The Hobbit (TH).

The Lady Galadriel also has some pretty dope scenes in last Hobbit flick too; she does a major one where she channels her glowing-blue Goth Bitch Elf thing… wicked! Hey, good ol’ Saruman is also in that scene… Odd that neither are even mentioned in the TH.

Rabbit-Man Radagast: mentioned once in TH as Gandalf’s "good cousin who lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood". Yet here he is, fleshed out, or should I say thatched out as a major supporting character.

For sheer screen time, let us not forget the fabulous ‘Legolas & Tauriel Show’! Now there’s a subplot to end all subplots. Legolas, is a character from LOTR, and not present in TH. Here, our Sk8er-boi elf refines his body-surfing and fighting legerdemain, skipping merrily from orc head to orc head, unleashing arrows from a self-filling quiver… and yes, his hair is perfect!

And wait, he’s teamed up with Tauriel, a stunning elf-lette who promptly abandons him and falls for one of the dwarves. Good grief! BTW, Tauriel… in neither TH nor LOTR. Just sayin’.

Then we have a retinue of baddies!

Azog the Defiler, an evil-looking goblin is the main protagonist. Well, he is mentioned in TH as having killed Thorin’s dad. And he is in the LOTR Appendices.

Bolg, of whom we see even less in the movie, actually rates four mentions in TH.

Then there’s the failed comedic duo of The Master of Laketown and the clottish Alfrid. Master of Laketown scores one mention, Alfrid: sorry, zip, just a figment of Jackson’s imagination, and an astonishingly bad one at that.

Jackson, in a vain attempt to somehow expand the 65-odd remaining pages of the story into a last blockbuster movie, has padded everywhere. Long, long moments are repeatedly shown of Thorin’s descent into destructive and divisive avarice, then followed by a long, long, long sequence where he finally realizes his folly (whilst sliding over the event horizon of a golden black hole). Cinema at its best, doncha know?

But the violence, the violence! It’s everything you could wish for (and then much, much more). There are despicable nasties of every type and size: orcs, trolls, goblins, death bats, whatevers, and whole armies of them. There’s even at one point – fuck me – giant sandworms from Arrakis! I kid you not, although Gandolf – looking rather apologetic and embarrassed – solemnly intones, "Were-worms" (or some such).

Can you say "extravaganza"?

The good? Well, we saw it in 3D IMAX and I have to say that they’ve fine-tuned the 3D experience quite a bit. The colours don’t seem so dulled any longer, and the out-of-focus peripheral vision issue seems to be minimized somewhat. Unfortunately, the trolls who cleaned the glasses had still to nail the job, and we had filthy glasses we had to deal with before the show.

Taken purely for cinematic art, and studiously ignoring any knowledge of the story’s origins, the trilogy is a ripping good yarn, with fine actors, such as Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen anchoring the cast. Billy Connolly is a lovely comic addition as Dáin, replete with an immense pig for a steed.

I suppose that we will now be treated to the inexorable follow-on "extended" versions of these three movies. And since the storyline is already strained to the point of snapping, I surmise that all of the additional probably 50-60 minutes (per movie), will be more bloated backstory and feeble additional attempts at romance and frivolity. Gosh, I can hardly wait.

You know, it would be an interesting exercise to have someone drastically re-cut the three films to include only material that follows the book. I bet you’d get a snapping good 90-minute to 2-hour movie.

The bottom line: If you’re a fan of the movies of LOTR and not worried about the tenuous connection to the original book, then by all means, see this trilogy. If, on the other hand, you treasure the integrity of the book, please spare yourself the grief and take a pass.

256 Shades of Gray: It's Just Black and White

I'm one of those old school photographers. Now 65, I grew up on black and white (hereafter referred to as B&W) photography, developing and printing in a home darkroom. And while I "discovered" slide film and went off on a psychedelic super-saturated Fujichrome 50 binge, I always had a deep love for B&W rooted deeply inside me.

Having shot colour for years (almost exclusively), I started to get back to B&W after I began using digital full time in 2000. The ability to shoot RAW images that would capture all the information (including colour) meant that I was also free to process after the fact as B&W.

As the hardware has evolved, so has the software, and having such tools as Nik's suite of tools, especially Color Efex Pro 4, and Silver Efex Pro 2, so now making really quality replications of what we could do with film and paper.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Xmas party of Digiital Fluency, the company with whom I work on the Lower Lonsdale website. The theme of the party was the 1920's, and many of the participants came dressed appropriately.

I wandered among the young crowd, enjoying some wine and conversation, and as I went, I grabbed candid portraits of the group.

Just recently, I processed some as B&W images.

Hope you enjoy them.




Saturday, 6 December 2014

What'd He Say???

A couple of days ago, I went and visited my kids in Langley, and we went and saw a matinee at the IMAX of Christopher Nolan's new movie, Interstellar.

Nolan's movies have, for me, pretty much all been winners, from the early, and wonderfully convoluted Memento, to the stark beauty of Insomnia, and his (pardon the pun) magical The Prestige. Then along came the marvelous mindfuck of Inception, with its stories within stories. The trilogy of Batman flicks are very enjoyable too, especially if one likes oodles of violence and explosions etc, and are certainly the best portrayal yet of the famed comic book caped crusader.

I managed not to watch any trailers, or other promo material of Interstellar, wanting to see it without bias. I did, however, see a Youtube video about the sound design of the movie, and one complaint that seemed to be common from reviewer comments was that the dialog was difficult to hear and understand in much of the movie.

This is a movie that is literally made for IMAX presentation, and the visuals are truly stunning. I won't spoil it for those who have yet to see it, but the story is an interesting one and although parts of it seem derivative, it does have some unique aspects.

But... I have to admit that I agree with those who complain about the buried dialog. The Hans Zimmer score is all that we've become used to, epic and powerful, but holy shit, the level at which it cranks out of the surround sound speaker arrays is astonishingly out of balance and in some scenes, you need to be able to lip read to understand the dialog.

Add to this that the sound effects are also pushed to punishing levels in the mix and you are left straining through a good portion of the 2-hours-and-46-minutes of the film, especially in the action sequences, of which there are many.

Nolan's retort to these complaints are that he intentionally mixed the movie this way to tell the story primarily through the visuals, saying he "[doesn't] agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions — I try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal — picture and sound."

Bottom line: if you are a science fiction aficionado, or a follower of Christopher Nolan, see this film. And if you want to know what the hell they're all saying, get the DVD when it comes out and watch it with the subtitles. :)

Over and out.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Lighting the Abyss

Last night, I went out to the Capilano Suspension Bridge to shoot the Canyon Lights. There are a number of very cool "trails" here, including the suspension bridge itself, the Treetop walk and a Cliffwalk.

The bridge is over 400 feet long and spans the Capilano River, 230 feet below. It also sways as you walk on it, and can be quite exciting for those challenged by heights.

During the holiday season, the place is lit up with thousands of lights which apparently took eight people two months to install!

Just across the bridge is a pond that reflects the lights suspended above, and although the thin coating of ice on the water marred the reflections a bit, it is still quite lovely.


The Treetops Adventure links eight huge Douglas Fir trees with suspension walks that connect to platforms around the trees. At over a hundred feet above the ground, it affords a remarkable view of the surrounding forest and the myriad lights.

One thing I found annoying is that many people don't see the poorly placed and poorly lit 'Exit Only' sign for this walk and you end up having to squeeze by them on narrow, swaying walkways as they traverse the loop in reverse.

From the treetops, you can see over the canyon to the giant, brilliantly lit trees and the cliff side that is bathed in light that changes colours.

Just back across the bridge, I tried out the Cliffwalk which is suspended out from the cliff over the abyss below.

This, as they say on their website, is "not for the faint of heart", and shuffling along the very narrow walkway, with virtually everything down on all sides, I was quite glad that it was so dark. I'm not sure how well I'd do on this during daylight hours. While I don't have vertigo (which Marcelle does suffer from), I am not fond of heights. That said, it is a spectacular attraction.

Quite the place... I look forward to going back and doing more photography theatre during the day as well.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Snow LoLo

This past Friday night, we had snow here in LoLo (Lower Lonsdale), a quite rare occurrence for the west coast. And because it is so rare, at least certainly at the lower elevations, I naturally had to get out and photograph it.

And what better place to showcase this inclement white blanket than over at Lynn Valley? The contrast of the soft, cold covering against the beauty of the Seymour River, the snow coating its boulders and the surrounding foliage of the rainforest is without doubt, picturesque.





Later Saturday afternoon, I walked down to the Quay and looked for images that combined the snow within the cityscape. Here and there, splashes of colour peeked out in the late afternoon light.


The Chiba Gardens afforded me a few interesting scenes with the golden Japanese Maple leaves strikingly juxtaposed against the snow.



On the Spirit Trail, a design in the gravel retained unmelted snow that in the late afternoon's oblique, golden light had a lovely graphic quality.


Behind the Quay, snow covered the ground, as couples, bundled up against the cold, viewed the sun setting behind the horizon, silhouetting the downtown skyline.


Well, that's enough, thank you very much, I think I can do without any more snow for this season. After all, that's one of the reasons to live on the west coast, isn't it?


Sunday, 23 November 2014


Today, just before lunchtime, Marcelle exclaimed that she had forgotten that we had tickets to a concert downtown at 2pm. Yikes! We hauled ass, stuffed a couple of Cliffs' Bars in our pockets and made a dash for the SeaBus, and thence to downtown Vancouver.

As we exited the Skytrain at the City Centre station, a man was industriously feeding a large population of flying rats that strutted about importantly with their heads bobbing back and forth in a cartoonish manner, obviously taking a break from their busy statue-fouling activities.


The concert was at the Orphium Theatre, a venue to which we had not been before, and what a beautiful hall.


The orchestra was all young people from the Vancouver Academy of Music, and they were very, very good. They played Schubert's Unfinished Symphony by themselves, and then were joined by the Vancouver Bach Choir for Mozart's Reqiuem.

While I found the Schubert piece not to my liking (I had trouble trying to find an overall structure to it), the Requiem was magical. The addition of the choral element just fills the sonic space and there is nothing like hearing a good, large choir. Magnificent!


The four vocal soloists were obviously well respected and talented, but I have to admit that the constant vibrato of this type of singing just grates on my ears and nerves. I wish that they could simply sing pure, unmodulated tones, with maybe the odd vibrato, but there it is, in your face on virtually every note. I guess I'm just a rube, but hell, I know what I like and what I don't.

For me, the only thing that marred the event was that the couple in front of us had a young girl of about 3 or 4, and it was simply not possible for her to sit still for the almost 2-1/2 hours of the concert. There was a constant movement of her and the parents trying to control her that was astonishingly distracting. I ended up closing my eyes for a good portion of the music.

Now, as a parent, having raised three of the little blighters myself, I agree there is a fine line of trying to introduce your child to cultural events, but sometimes, I really wish there was a specific section for parents with small children. As my ex used to say, "If you want to make an impression, always take a child".


Concert over, we headed back to the Skytrain to the SeaBus and were able to go right onto our bus at the Quay that then dropped us off right in front of our door. I love living in this city!


Return to the Valley

Yesterday, I returned to Lynn Valley to check out some of the Lynn Loop trail. I say 'some' because I wanted to stay on the portion of the trail that is adjacent to the river.


I started at the Headwaters area and walked up and across the bridge, where the river, swollen with the recent rains, plummets over the rocks in silky curtains.


Looking downstream from the same vantage point on the bridge, the picture is quintessential Pacific Northwest: the year-round greenery, the moss, the milky blue-green water, the water-smoothed boulders and the slight fog hanging in the air.



I'm always captivated with the flowing waters, and, as you may have noticed, Dear Reader, I just love showcasing it in long exposures to give it that "angel hair" look. Every once in a while, I try to shoot with a fast exposure, to try to freeze the moment, but this is somewhat problematic with the overcast light and low ISO settings (I try to always shoot at ISO 100).





Turning back, I walked back along the Varley Trail again as I wanted to revisit some of the places I'd seen before in order to capture some video. I'm working on a film short that will explore the North Shore, including the Quay and some of the places within a short drive from Lower Lonsdale.




Here and there, sprays of colourful leaves contrast themselves against the darker background of the forest, shining like beacons as the wayward sun breaks through the clouds to spotlight them.



Feet sore, legs tired, but with my soul enriched, I turned back to the car and home. What a magical place we live!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lynn Valley Spendor

I finally got out to the Lynn Valley area today, to explore the canyon. My plan was to do the "Lynn Loop" trail, but apparently, I stopped too soon on the road and ended up on the Varley Trail.

A mere 45-steps down from the car, I was beside a river that simply bowled me over with its beauty!

I followed a well-traveled and worn path that parallels the river, along boardwalks and gravel as it snaked through the quiet forest. At points, the path is thoughtfully held down by the roots of the adjacent trees, lest it slither off in another direction.

Through the riverside foliage, the Seymour River rolls over its stony bed, it's blue-green waters creating a susurration of voices that fills the ears, and loosens the heart.

It is a cool, heavy overcast day, with infrequent, light rain, but this is the best way to see the Temperate Rainforest, with everything glistening with moisture, the colours of the green foliage and mosses so saturated.

Today, I am shooting long exposures on a tripod. The use of a variable neutral density filter (VND) allows me to use shutter speeds of about 8 to 15 seconds, which yields the delicious "Angel hair" water that flows across my sensor during that multi-second exposure.

Finally, I come to a good access down to the riverbank, and from here, I can see up and downstream for some much closer views.

I love the colours of the different rocks, especially when they are wet. Some are so pronounced that they naturally deserve a portrait by themselves, like this handsome red/orange specimen below.

At my feet, fallen leaves have been washed against the rocks by the passage of the previous higher water. Their warm tones juxtapose against the cool-toned rocks that hold them prisoner.

Further along, the colour of a dying fern catches my eye and I pose its lovely decaying form against the backdrop of the river.

As the path momentarily weaves away from the water and back under the canopy, I take the time to admire the lush carpet of tiny plants that cover the logs and forest floor.

Heading back to the car, I see an iconic moss-covered tree set against a curve in the river.

There are quite a few, marvelously place benches along the Varley Trail, and I took the opportunity to sit for my own portrait.

This is a visually stunning, deeply satisfying Pacific Northwest destination, and I can hardly wait to explore the area further!