Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movie Review: Power Rangers

Power Rangers is the third film installment of the popular kids program Power Rangers that ran on the FOX network from 1993 and now continues 24 years strong. The series used footage from the Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger that aired on Japan's Asahi network produced by Toei Studios. How the 16th season of a longtime running show featuring superheros became a sensation in North America is very much owed to Haban Entertainment, an American/Israeli company that would purchase Japanese entertainment product and dub it for the English world-wide market. Along with Bandai Entertainment that did merchandising such as toys, it was a formidable enterprise.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a TV series featured five teenagers given powers by the wise Zordon to combat a extraterrestrial threat in the form of the evil Rita Repulsa.  The California setting interspersed with Japanese shot action and fresh faced American actors made for great kid entertainment.

The TV series spawned a movie in 1995 called Might Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie featuring the TV cast. It did well enough at the box office but the critics were fairly negative. A second movie was released in 1997 called Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. It fared worse in critical response as well as box office and the show retreated back to its TV stronghold.

The nostalgia for 1990s entertainment inspired the original producer Haban to re-imagine a new Power Rangers franchise and a number of producers and writers passed through the development stage. There are five writers listed which is not usually a good sign. Eventually, John Gatins (Real Steel) was listed as final writer and Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) was director. It is obvious both were chosen for the fantasy. teen and superhero characteristics of their other Hollywood fare.

A new group of actors was enlisted to suit up for the Rangers and some cameos of old cast were sprinkled into the story. The selection of some name actors cast such as Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) as Rita Repulsa and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as Zordon generated excitement. For Cranston it was a return to the Rangers as he voiced Twin Man and Snizard from the original series.

The 1990s Power Rangers was shamelessly kid fare but today's audience while nostalgic now look for something more in their movies. Dacre Montgomery playing Jason the Red Power Ranger, Naomi Scott as Kimberly the Pink Power ranger, Becky G as Trini the Yellow Power Ranger, RJ Cyler as Billy the Blue Power Ranger and Ludi Lin as Zack the Black Power Ranger all have back stories. They are all high school students sentenced to detention.

The audience might feel that there are several lifts from a number of movies and they wouldn't be wrong. However, the young actors tasked with carrying the story are likeable and relateable. The plot of the story is that the previous Power Rangers who were humanoids died defending the earth 65 million years earlier. In the re-imagined movie version, the teenagers are all drawn to the same site where they discover coloured coins that give them powers. While this is happening, a fishing boat pulls up the body of Rita Repulsa who is not quite dead from her last battle.

The fun in the movie is watching the teens figure out their new powers and learning something about themselves and what being a Power Ranger is. The audience learns one of the heroes in on the autism spectrum while for the first time in the genre, one of the five is openly gay. Training of the kids if done by android Alphas 5 (Bill Hader) while a pixelated Bryan Cranston as Zordon tells the recruits they will never get their armoured suits if they won't work together.

Meanwhile Rita (Elizabeth Banks) is tearing up the kid's hometown of Angel Grove creating the moment when the teens become true Power Rangers working together. At this point the movie is a special effects extravaganza marked by the Go, Go Power Rangers song in the background. The Rangers ultimately have to use Zords and Megazords to fight Rita and the forces she sends against our heroes.

Enjoyment of the Power Rangers movie will come from not thinking too deeply on it. If it has a failing, it is that is a whole bunch of things wrapped up in one story.  However, if the audience is set for silly fun, a little nostalgia and a lot of action, they are likely to be entertained by what the new teen Power Rangers are doing. Bring your popcorn!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Movie Review: Goon: Last of the Enforcers

Goon was a top box office success from the moment it was released in 2012. It beat out American competitors from opening weekend and generally garnered positive reviews. Based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith, it tells the story of what it was like in minor league hockey in Canada. The book was picked up by Jesse Shapira and David Gross and adapted for the screen by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, noted comedy performers in TV and film. Baruchel would also act in the film.

The plot of the movie followed sweethearted Doug played by Seann William Scott (American Pie) being enlisted as an "enforcer" to the local hockey team after protecting his gay, loudmouthed brother Pat (Jay Baruchel). As a goon, Doug is there to protect Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin, C.R.AZ.Y), a big league prospect demoted to the minors due to a hit sustained from Ross the Boss Rhea played by Liev Schrieber (Spotlight).

The first movie culminated in Doug earning the respect of Laflamme and his teammates and the affection Eva played by Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs The World). It also had him knock out Rhea in the moment everyone was waiting for.

Despite the sheer violence and vulgarity of the film, it succeeded with great writing and acting and felt authentic in its treatment of the subject. Filmed in Portage la Prairie, Brandon and Winnipeg had a passion within it that resonated throughout every scene. Naturally, it was a hit in Canada. Unnaturally, it warranted a sequel. It is rather unheard of for a English language movie to be successful and appear to be franchise material.

The premise of Good: Last of the Enforcers is that Doug (Scott) has retired early as the result of injury at the hands of another enforcer Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell). Now married to Eva (Pill) who is pregnant with their first child, he sells insurance which is a tough adjustment. It is especially hard when the man who knocked you out of the game becomes captain of your team. Motivated to make a comeback, he seeks out Ross the Boss (Liev Schreiber) to give him tips to re-join his beloved Highlanders as a goon.

Jay Baruchel returns as screenwriter with Jess Chabot (Just for Laughs: All Access). He also is back as brother Pat to our hero Doug. However, for the first time Baruchel takes up the role as director. It is an interesting choice because action is as important as the comedy in Goon. A lifelong Montreal Canadiens fan, Baruchel wanted to achieve a certain authenticity in everything about the story and how it looked and felt. Many former NHL players appear in the movie lending it weight in the realism look.

Many of the actors who appeared in the first movie reprise their roles. Foul mouthed coach Ronnie Hortense (Kim Coates), star player LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) and Eugene Levy as dad Dr. Glatt. Elisha Cuthbert is new. She join as Mary, sister to Eva (Alison Pill). Interestingly, Cuthbert and Baruchel used to co-star in the the program Popular Mechanics for Kids many years ago.

So how does this embarrassment of riches in comedic and hockey talent stand up? Well, it is rude, crude, super violent but like the first movie tender in all the right spots, down right sweethearted, Baruchel as director shows a flair for action that captures the speed and drama of hockey. As writer, he is able to create believable and enjoyable characters. This isn't a movie that only Canadians will like but it surely will be one that we'll get more than others in terms of inside jokes, music and hockey, hockey, hockey.

Ultimately, the story leads to the fight between the enforcers on the ice. The journey to get there is a laugh out loud fun.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Outlet Collection of Winnipeg Opens May 3

Outlet Collection of Winnipeg has announced that it will open May 3 of this year. They will be holding a job fare to hire 1000 staff members. It will take place Saturday and Sunday, March 25 and 26, 2017, at Delta Hotels by Marriott Winnipeg downtown.

These will be the anchor stores:

◦DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse
F21 Red
◦Saks OFF 5TH
◦Old Navy
◦Winners (Opening September)

Here are the other 45 stores to open:
  • Aldo
  • Ardene
  • Banana Republic Factory Store
  • Bentley
  • Bluenotes
  • Boathouse
  • Bombay
  • Bowring
  • Browns Outlet
  • Call it Spring Outlet
  • Calvin Klein Outlet
  • Chatters Salon & Beauty Supply
  • David’s Tea
  • Dynamite/Garage
  • Ecko Unlimited
  • Famous Footwear Outlet
  • Gap Factory Store
  • GNC
  • Guess Outlet
  • La Vie en Rose
  • Levi’s Outlet
  • Lids
  • Lindt Outlet
  • Lucky Brand Jeans Outlet
  • Michael Hill
  • Mountain Warehouse
  • Naturalizer Outlet
  • Perfumes 4 U
  • Quarks Outlet
  • Roots
  • Samsonite Outlet
  • Skechers
  • Softmoc Shoe Rack
  • Suzy Shier
  • The Body Shop
  • Think Kitchen
  • Tommy Hilfiger Outlet
  • Under Armour
  • Urban Kids
  • West 49

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sunrise Records Coming to Polo Park

There was a lot of sadness when HMV Records announced they were closing. For a time it seemed they were going to big enough and strong enough to last. In recent years they started losing money to changing tastes in how people consume media. Some if due to illegal file sharing but streaming music and video has meant consumers have chosen not to own but rather rent their collections.

HMV had tried to find areas of the market that they could make a profit in such as cultural goods that had a better mark-up. However, the leases inside the malls might have just been too pricey to make the numbers work. In the end, the company folded its tent and called it a day.

Manitobans would remiss if they thought this was the last multi-store record chain in Canada. Sunrise Records has been around since the 1970s and was once thought of as the big five in Canadian retailing along with Sam the Record Man, Music World, A&A Records and HMV. Even Sunrise appeared to struggle and closed the original 1977 built store on Yonge Street in Toronto in 2014.

The downward spiral might have continued save for the fact that Sunrise Records was bought by Douglas Putman, owner of Everest Toys. Instead of closing stores, the new owner started to open stores in Ontario defying the trend. Going against the grain was familiar ground for Putman. As owner of Everest Toys since 1992, he offered traditional quality toys using an online platform and found success in Canada, the U.S.  and beyond.

In 2017, Sunrise had nine locations throughout Ontario when it was announced that HMV would be shutting down all Canadian operations. In the last several days, Sunrise has jumped at the chance to go national and has taken over 70 of HMV's leases including Polo Park Winnipeg.

The re-branding of HMV to Sunrise will be occurring soon. The new company intends to carry more niche market product like vinyl records which is making a bit of a comeback. They also intend to carry more local artists in each market. Like HMV they also will be stocking higher margin entertainment apparel and merchandise.

There is probably room in the market for a music and entertainment store. Like bookstores, there has been a return to old product for the right price and for the niche market. There will never be a return to the grand days when several stores competed on one street for attention. However, well curated and local oriented stores could possibly be the right antidote to an online world.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Shack

Faith-based books and movies have been a factor in the market for a number of years now. The bible has always been ripe material for storytelling and have scored huge box office and Oscars in decades past. At one point, it was part of an overall market but now it has become a targeted niche.

In 2007, Canadian writer William P. Young wrote a story mainly aimed for his six children. He self-published it. As a result of word of mouth in churches all over North America, the book would eventually reach the bestseller lists and 10 million books would be printed. It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling and Summit Entertainment eventually settled on Stuart Hazeldine to bring the movie to the screen. It was likely Hazeldine familiarity in adapting literary material for film such as Riverworld that sold the studio on hiring the British director. John Fusco (Marco Polo) was chosen as writer.

The plot start off as family tragedy when the young daughter of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) is kidnapped and presumed killed during a camping trip in Oregon. Following this, Mack falls into a deep depression until receiving a mysterious letter from a stranger called Papa. The letter asks him to travel to a shack near the camping site where the crime is thought to have occurred. Whatever doubts he has in regards to the letter, he is compelled to go and when he does, he finds a trio of people that shed light on himself and the tragedy of his daughter.

It is this journey that the Christian element drives the story. The trio turn out to be the Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Papa is played by both a woman (Octavia Spencer) and a man (Graham Greene) although it is the female persona that dominates the movie.

Understandably, Mack is skeptical in the extreme and quite angry at God. And so begins a conversation that asks pointed questions about why God lets bad things happen to good people. Worthington and Spencer are very accomplished in making you believe and it is why they do most of the heavy lifting in the story. The actors playing Jesus and the Holy Spirit have meaningful interactions. One particular scene of water walking illustrates this incredible world that Mack experiences.

 Jesus (Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) are largely unknown in North America. In fact, the young Canadian cast that plays Mack's kids have large resumes. It is the scenes with the children and Mack wife Nan (Radha Mitchell) that will likely make audiences reach for a hanky.

Still Mack's anger and the blame he carries for not being there for his daughter when she was kidnapped wracks him at every turn. His determination to judge and punish the man responsible brings him to Sophia (Alice Braga) who represents Wisdom. She offers him the position of judge and presents him with scenarios where he can not judge and will not.

The healing for Mack only begins when Papa shows him that his daughter is happy and safe in Heaven. It is Male Papa (Graham Greene) who leads him to the hidden place where her body is. They bring her back to be buried in a spot in the garden that was prepared as a resting place.

The ending differs from the book in that the man responsible for the death of Mack's child is never found. Forgiveness is given but justice is not talked about. The likely reason for this is that Mack himself has a death on his hands. It is revealed early on that Mack killed his father who was abusive to him and his mother. The central issue of selective justice is just too much for the film to hold up under. So it was not included. What was included was Mack meeting his father in Heaven and both men forgiving each other.

So how does The Shack stack up? It will probably play well to the niche audience it is aimed at. Truly, there will not be a dry eye in the house. The story is tragic and might be too much for young audiences. And yet it will probably bring many families to the theatre. The movie is a slow conversation about love and forgiveness, healing oneself and healing others. Some people will question the accuracy to scripture or attempting to portray God on film. However, the message of God as being all loving is ably played by the actors in the role.

One criticism is the voice-over narration at the beginning of the film by Tim McGraw who plays Willie, Mack's friend. It is an attempt to explain what is about to happen but is a poor tool in this regard. McGraw does fine in his other acting on the film. It was writer and director's choice to also use him to act as narrator.

The Christian message is very targeted and for this reason, it is probably not going to be understood by an audience not rooted in those teachings. It is difficult for even theologians to explain the Trinity. It is even harder for Hollywood. This weekend might reveal the power of the niche market.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Giant Tiger to Open at 1441 Main Street, former Co-Op

The long awaited answer about what is going up in the former Co-Op store is known today. Giant Tiger will be the new store and it opens November 18 of this year.

Co-Op was dumped from the location even after trying to re-new the lease or even buy the property. It was a bit mystifying why a grocery store would be re-buffed in such a way.

1441 Main Street was a long time Safeway before being sold to Co-Op to satisfy federal competition rules. It appeared that the store was doing well but then the announced closure came. It was speculated that Giant Tiger might be the new store coming in but the building sat empty for some time before today's announcement.

It remains to be seen whether Giant Tiger is a better fit for the area but they are a strong company with food and merchandise so this can't be seen as anything but good for local people in the area.

Sears Home Store on Ellice Closing

Sears on Ellice
Hot on the heels of Sears closing a store in Brandon, Manitoba, Sears has announced that the Sears Home store will close on March 12. The 33 employees can apply for jobs at the remaining Sears or take a separation package. Given the precarious position of the department store across Canada and with the former parent Sears in the U.S., it will be a tough decision for many.

The mall area north of Polo Park where Sears home is recently saw the opening of Jollibee's. The insane traffic though hasn't seem to have helped Sears in the least turn things around.

Sears Polo Park and three other city stores remain but the market continues to wonder how long the company will continue in such a decline.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick 2

The first John Wick movie was a neo-noir revenge movie made in 2014 from a script written in 2012 by Derek Kolstald. Thunder Road pictures emerged as the buyer and very quickly Keanu Reeves was attached to star. Not surprisingly, Reeves was able to suggest and have hired people that worked with him on The Matrix movies. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch shared director work on the film although Guild rules only allowed Stahelski to be listed as helmer with Leitch as producer.

It was this core of people that honed the script to suit Reeves. The character remained widowed but younger than the original story and the action was ramped up. Four months of intensive training in judo and jujitsu as well as close quarters combat was added to Reeve's extensive knowledge of martial arts. For the star, it was a return to form after some less well received films of the previous year or two like 47 Ronin.

The plot of John Wick is that he is retired assassin who only left the business when he found a woman that made him want to leave. His wife's untimely death due to illness and the cruel violence against him and the puppy he received from her to love following her death sets him back on a path of revenge. The only clue to his attackers is the muscle car they stole from him and the motivation behind their surprise assault in his home. By finding the car, he can find them and do what he does best.

The return to the criminal underworld sees him re-connect with old friends, acquaintances and enemies. Eventually, Wick discovers it is the son of former crime lord he worked for who was responsible for the attack in his house. The inevitable conclusion to this is a mix of western along with Hong Kong cinema and noir. A violent pastiche that serves Keanu Reeves well.

The catchphrase "I'm thinking I'm back" suggested a future for the John Wick franchise and the box office success of the first film guaranteed it. The plot for the new movie has the antihero once again coming out of retirement to fulfill a blood oath sworn to an associate intending on taking over the assassin's guild. The setting is Rome where deadly killers take on Wick at every turn.

So how is John Wick 2 compared to the first movie? In short: Fantastic. Easily better than the first in many ways which is saying a lot cause the first movie was very entertaining. It is action packed and world building. The brief glimpse of the world that Jonathan Wick occupies is opened up. The guild of assassins that call the Continental Hotel a sanctuary live by code and contract and are overseen by twelve called The High Table. When Wick returns to avenge the death of his dog in the first movie, he opens himself up to assassin Santino (Richard Scamarcio) asking him to honour a Marker for past services that led to his freedom in the first place.

The chance to return to retirement is denied and when he refuses the Marker, his house is blown up and burned down. Thankfully his new nameless dog survives and the two head to the sanctuary of the Continental where Winston (Ian McShane) says that his life will forfeit if he doesn't honour the blood oath to Santino. Grudgingly, he hears what Santino wants done to fulfill the Marker. It is then that he learns he has been asked to kill sister Giana Camorra (Claudia Gerini) of the High Table in the ultimate gambit of sibling rivalry.

As per actor Keanu Reeves wishes to take story international, the setting moves from New York to Rome where Giana head of the Camorra crime family is celebrating about taking a seat at the High Table. She is protected by Cassian (Common) along with a host of other trained killers. Suffice to say, John Wick is able to fulfill is oath but not quite in the way that he or the audience anticipated.

After accomplishing his task, Wick is double crossed by Santini who sets his top assassin Ares (Ruby Rose) after him. A price is set by Santini who unleashed every killer out there looking to cash in. Actors Common and Ruby Rose play their parts well. Rose as a deaf tattooed and androgynous is a particularly compelling villain.

The world building that takes place is almost like a Bond-like attention to tradecraft. In this case: the world of the assassin. At the Continental and its associated businesses, we see Wick pick his clothes, his weapons and his vehicles like fine wines. His character will converse in Russian, Italian or sign language according to he is associating with. He may be a reluctant returnee to the game but he does so with style. And the characters he meets are juicy parts for the actors and actresses playing the roles.

One inspired casting choice went to Lawrence Fisbburne as the Bowery King. It brought Reeves and Fishburne back together again after their Matrix days. Upon returning to New York, Wick is left with no options other than to turn to the crime lord of the streets to place close to Santini to end the life of the man who has placed a bounty on his head.

The rest of the movie rolls along with explosive action, a touch of humour and a few surprises including the mannequin challenge at one point. The choreography is as good as you will see in any fight scene and the gun play and car chases are exhilarating. What makes it work though is that Keanu Reeves at last once more has a role that could and should be as fun for him as it will be for the audience. Without doubt this movie is better than the first and because of that, it won't be the last.

Monday, January 30, 2017

H&M Officially Announce 2nd Store Opening

H&M has officially announced that they will be opening their second store at Kildonan Place in the summer of 2017. This comes on the heels of their 2014 Polo Park store which has met with great success.

The location appears to be across the hall from a large Urban Planet opening in the summer as well. The new wing occupied the old Zellers and Target space in the mall. Also in that wing appears to a Skechers shoe store and a Hakim Optical. HomeSense and Marshalls are the anchor tenants in that section.

This will be H&M's  84th store in Canada and second for Winnipeg. It will employ 35 people.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Kildonan Place - Marshalls, HomeSense Open April 18

Marshalls and HomeSense have set April 18 as the date they open at Kildonan Place. The old Target has been transformed into a new wing of the expanded mall. The new stores will be accessible from inside the mall. A new mall common area being built at the same time as the rest of the mall's renovations..  HomeSense will lease 21,000 square feet and Marshalls has 24,000 square feet. Original draft of the plans listed H&M coming as well but nothing to report on that sore at the moment.

 MasterMind Toys, West 49 and Cutting Edge Cutlery Co. will also be opening in the months ahead.

Nearly all the major malls in Winnipeg have seen major renovations of the past three years. The closure of Zellers, Target, Kmart and some Safeway and Sobey's locations has caused massive changes in the shopping landscape.

Expect a flurry of other mall announcements in the months ahead.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Polo Park Number 16 Mall in Canada

The Retail Council of Canada released their analysis of the Canadian mall market ending in December and one again CF Polo Park ranks high in their top 30 coming in number 16. It is very likely that Sears is the major drag on why Manitoba's biggest mall does not stand higher. The struggling retailer occupied a lot of space but sales, pedestrian traffic and productivity affects Polo park and St. Vital Centre dramatically.

Polo Park is the only mall to rank in the top 30 between Ontario and Alberta. Nearly all the top malls including Polo Park have experienced recent renovations or expansions. In the case of Polo Park, it was the 22 stores added in the old Zellers location in the past 3 years and the several stores added where Safeway once stood. Harry Rosen also had an expensive makeover.

All the top malls were located in urban centers, tourist areas and near mass transit. Polo Park is in the provinces largest city, one of the biggest tourist draws and has a major bus hub. Winnipeg has few high end retailers despite a higher median income than the Vancouver area. This may speak to the city being less of a tourist attraction than the coast.

Polo Park bought the the recently built former Target store north of the Scotiabank movie theatres. Rumour has swirled that Cineplex Odeon has their eyes set on a space in the parking lot for their Rec Centre entertainment complex. The mall seems to be in no hurry to lease the space and a number of retailers have kicked the tires including Nordstrom, Simons and Canadian Tire. In the case of the first two, they might be on Sears deathwatch as the old retailer continues to wheeze to a possible shutdown. The 300,000 stores will be highly sought after.

In all likelihood, Polo Park will rise in the ranks but until the Sears issue is resolved.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cirque du Soleil Under the Big Top Winnipeg

It is hard to imagine it now but just as soon as the snow melts the corner of Kenaston and Sterling Lyon will host another big top event. After the enormous success of Odysseo Cavalia horse show in 2015, Cirque decided that Winnipeg was perfect for the Kurios big top performance of their 35th production.

The production under blue and yellow big top tents kitty corner to IKEA will feature Kurios which premiered in Montreal in 2014. The show will run June 2 to June 25 and is a fantastical steampunk tale. Set in the late 19th century, it is the story of an inventor who creates a machine that that re-invents everything in time, space and dimension. The Seeker as the inventor is called interact with amazing characters in a world that only Cirque du Soleil can present in all its glory.

True North, Jets owners, once again bring the big top to the city. It is the first time that Cirque has done a show in Winnipeg not inside the MTS Centre. However, the Kenaston and Sterling Lyon location has proven to be a winner.

The 2017 year will prove to be a busy one with many festivals, concerts, Canada Summer Games and Canada 150 celebrations. The draw of a big top event will just make it even more exciting.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sears and Macy's Closing in North Dakota

This week the collapse of department stores in the United States hit North Dakota hard. It was announced that Macy's in Columbia Mall was closing and it was announced that Sears in West Acres was closing.

Macy's has been at Columbia at Grand Forks since 2006. Prior to that it was sister store Marshal Fields and before that originally in 1978 a Dayton's. The mall also heard the news that long term tenant Zales Jewelry was closing as well. A huge hole of over 100,000 square combined feet and just under 75 employees have lost their jobs. The last time they had so much space is when Target closed and moved across the street and it took many, many years to bring Scheels Sports in to replace it.

Meanwhile in Fargo at West Acres Mall, the Sear store is slated to close as well. The store has been an anchor at the mall since 1972 and employs just over 50 people. This comes on the heels of the K-Mart closure in October at Moorhead, Fargo's counterpart across the state line in Minnesota.

Sears and K-Mart have the same owner in the U.S. and have been struggling both in the U.S. and Canada. Sears in the U.S. sold off the bulk of their interests in Canada just a few years ago. Macy's is part of a large department store group and  has been closing stores for the last years.

Most of the trouble is being placed at the hands of online shopping and particularly Amazon. However, Sears and K-Mart were losing customers for several years even before Amazon took off. Macy's could be a victim more of changing tastes.

For Winnipegers, it will be a bit shocking not seeing stores they have known for decades. For North Dakota, it will be devastating in terms of the jobs and overall success of these malls.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Manitoba: 2016 Our Not So Horrible Year?

It was a depressing year for some people across Canada and the world. A lot of factors probably accounted for it. Elections don't bring out the best in some people. The economy remains mixed. War mars several areas of the world and refugees suffer for it. A number of beloved artists in literature, film and television have passed away. Many people have had personal family, work and other challenges this year that have left not at their best.

A recent poll asked Canadians how they felt about 2016 and the only place that had signs of positive belief was in Manitoba. So what would account for a annus mirabilis versus a annus horibillis? The poll didn't drill down into why Manitoba polled differently. Did Manitoba suddenly have a soaring economy? No. Did Manitoba have the best year ever for weather? No. We did have a good year in arts and sport. It was another solid year of festivals. But did this all contribute to us being more positive about things than others?

No one can really know all the factors of each individual person in the province. For some who lost a loved one, it could have been a truly terrible year. Lost a job, relationship problems, health issues can all have an affect.

In general though, let's speculate on why Manitoba might be feeling a little better about 2016 and positive about 2017.

1. Economic growth. The province has seen growth that is tangible in that people are seeing construction, new businesses open and more people working and seeing paychecks. RBC confirms they expect Manitoba to take lead on GDP growth in Canada.

2. Population growth. October to this past October was highest growth in Canada for population. People can see it in the streets. It's busy and busy attracts people.

3.Cultural Strength. Most festivals continue to show resilience from JazzFest to Country Fest and from Folklorama to Folk Festival. The organizers, programming, volunteers and attendance made the province attractive for things to do almost every weekend. And let's not forget theatre, ballet and dance.

4. Sports. Jets didn't make the play-offs but the draft produced one of those rare talents in Patrik Laine that excites everyone in the NHL. The Bombers did make the CFL play-offs and had a great final half of the season. We'll be still debating that last field goal attempt for years to come. The Goldeyes won the American Association Baseball championship in a very exciting season! Our curlers always make us proud as well. Lastly, the amateur athletes at every level and age and sport find support and interest from an abundance of Manitobans.

5. Politics. A new mayor of Winnipeg and a new premier of Manitoba took over the province and while there are inevitable criticisms, they remain relatively popular. An initial sense of renewal marks the the beginning of the mandate. It probably helped that there was no spring flooding or extreme forest fire season that would have represented major challenges to government. People seem patient within reason to let the leadership figure out a path in 2017. A new PM federally also seems to remain generally popular early into his mandate.

6. Family. Every year families go through life, death and change but anecdotally, it seemed more people were doing it together and coming together. For decades Manitobans have spread themselves across the continent for opportunities and employment but a lot seem to have been attracted back because of family. It helps fuel much of Manitoba's present optimism.

There are sore points to be sure. The Pas and Churchill had a horrible 2016. Glimmers of hope are there but it was a bad year. First Nations life remains the challenge of the province in terms of making concrete improvements. Deficits. The problems of service, spending and taxation never go away. Crime. Still too much of in Manitoba. Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol plague the province and the county in general. De-criminalizing marijuana is coming but Manitoba still has basic issues with alcohol abuse and with fetal alcohol exposure. It is not difficult to see how some of the bad issues appear to be has linked together as the good issues.

What Manitoba does not appear to be is anxious or overly upset the way other jurisdictions are. That could change but for now 2016 was not bad and 2017 would look to okay so far to denizens of the province.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Amici's and Bombolini Restaurants Closes

At first it was word on the street and then media in print, TV and radio talked about the closing of Amici's and sister restaurant Bambolini after New Year's Eve. To be sure they had a very good run over 30 years and was often remarked as being one of Canada's finest eating establishments by publications who judge these things.

At a combined 170 seats for Amici's and Bombolini and with 30 staff, the restaurants represented fine dining for Winnipeggers for a very long time. Parking was always an issue at its off Broadway location. The restored heritage building that it occupied had no parking of it own and relied on street parking in front of and beside it. In three decades most Winnipeg residents will acknowledge there are more cars and traffic to deal with everywhere we go. It is easy to be discouraged if you are going to the ballet or theatre and you end up parking a great distance in January cold.

Owner Brian Knight acknowledged that a change of location was probably warranted as many as five years ago. However, would have been no guarantee of success. Asahi Japanese restaurant down the street left Broadway for Charleswood and lasted a few years before shuttering. Dubrovnik on Assiniboine shuttered when its land became too valuable. They didn't attempt a move as part of the charm was the heritage location.

There has been a lot discussion about the closing.  Fond memories, worry of an end of an era and speculation on dining and the direction its going have all been hot topics. It's true that it represents an end of an era but that's not the end dining on Broadway dining. It should be noted that right next door to Amici's is Cafe 22 serving Italian dining with lovely windows to the street. While true, it is a different experience it can be said that competition played as much of a role in the closure.

Amici's was open for lunch as well but in 30 years the competition from food trucks on Broadway was legendary. The politicians, lawyers, civil servants and others wander up and down the street for good food experiences. The storefront eateries that have opened have been Starbucks, Tim Horton's, Subway etc. Oh Doughnuts and Fools and Horses have found a niche as well.

In the last five years something else has changed the food landscape. It is the Winnipeg Jets or rather let's say live sports. Many places have changed their dining to a grill or pub style restaurant from casual to fine dining places. In short, the flat screen TV and high definition quality picture and more sports have transformed restaurants.  In some respects, it has killed nightclubs as well because the mingling experience minus the dancing is part of the new dynamic.

In the last 30 years we have seen the evolution of a chain restaurant style that is unique to Canada when compared to the United States. The Keg, Moxies and Earl's have evolved from their more casual counterparts in the U.S. but less white tablecloth than a fine dining restaurants. To be truthful, there are few if any restaurant groups in the U.S. who have carved out this niche. When Amici's started out The Keg was still comparable to more casual fare in the U.S. Since then it is a pricier and more evolved dining room.

Winnipeg has probably never seen a greater time in terms of restaurant diversity than it has now. It is extremely competitive and some locally owned as well as national chains will fall. Just this week Barley Bros at Polo Park Empress announced they are closing and will eventually move downtown. This would seem counter intuitive since their location has parking now and they will move to where parking is not free and harder to find. What it does say is that the market supports one idea over the other and you have to be fleet footed.

Will something move into Amici's old spot. That is very good possibility. The major investment of having a kitchen, washrooms and space laid out has already been made. Everyone should watch the space since the next big thing might be on the way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One A Star Wars Story

It is never easy satisfying the fan base of Star Wars while expanding the fan base.

Warning: Anything beyond could warrant spoilers.

Last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a very good movie introducing new characters and re-visiting old ones. The quibbles from a few fans was that it was a re-hash of the original movie which it so was. Most people didn't care as it was a great romp with an old friend. Still, the hope was the new tales might be told from a different perspective of a much loved as well derided space opera.

Rogue One was to a be movie that was a one-off story that fit the pieces and director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was to ensure it was a more adult story. While some humour was incorporated there was no attempt to embed marketable cute characters into the storyline that appealed to children. The list of writers associated with the story is an indication of struggle.

The visual effects producer for the prequel Star Wars John Knoll series pitched a story more than a decade ago that aimed to tell the story just prior to Episode IV.  By 2014, it was announced that Gary Whitta (Book of Eli) was writing a script. He parted ways after first draft it although he and Knoll share a story credit. Taking over was Chris Weitz, a screenwriter who wrote the Golden Compass and the Twilight series. This became the shooting script and once the movie was made Disney called in Tony Gilroy (Bourne) to help with re-writes and edits.

Sadly, re-writes, over budget and re-shoots are in keeping with Star Wars movies. This is all well and good if it serves the movie but often too many cooks spoil the broth. In this case, the movie is highly entertaining but flawed in ways obvious and in other ways not. The Disney purchase of George Lucas's Star Wars franchise ensured more stories in that universe and different visions of how to tell tell those stories. However, the balancing act often means doubt. Hence, the re-shoots.

In terms of the Star Wars saga, Rogue One takes place literally five minutes before the original movie of 1977. The opening crawl of Episode IV A New Hope is the real spoiler as it states that the rebel ships have scored a victory in an attack on the Empire. In the battle rebel spies stole the plans for the Death Star which was described as capable of destroying a planet. In a nutshell, the story of this new movie is about the spies and the battle that delivered the plans to Princess Leia aboard her ship on the run from Darth Vader.

Rogue One follows a similar path of Force Awakens with female leader a but its heroine in a bit older, jaded and sadder. She doesn't count the days she has been separated from loved ones. In fact, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds it better to think that her father is dead. She already knows that stormtroopers killed her mother as she was eyewitness to it before fleeing and hiding at her father's behest.

Little does Jyn know that her farther Galen Erso (Madds Mikkelsen) has been taken by the empire and forced to produce the Deathstar against his will. Her own life has been marked by a decidedly different turn as she is raised till her teenage years by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), one of the most violent resistance fighters in the galaxy. Eventually, even he abandoned her for her safety but by then she was was too used to living on the fringes and our introduction to her in the story is as a prisoner of the empire. She is no rebel but a mere criminal.

Our first encounter with Jyn is inside an empire prison cell. She is freed from captivity by the rebels intent on using her to locate her father. Her rescuers are rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They take her back to the hidden base made famous in the original movie and leader Mon Mothma (reprised by Genevieve O'Reilly) appeals to her help find and extract her father who apparently lives and who is at work with the empire.

A new villain named Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) from the empire's weapon division is the man who killed Jyn's mother and took her father. While Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin play roles in Rogue One, it is Krennic who is the primary baddie. More on the other two villains in a bit.

Cassian takes Jyn to the planet Jedha to seek out her former protector Saw Gerrera. It is there that Imperial defector Rook Bodhi, a pilot, is being held after delivering information to extremist rebel. Along the way Jyn and her companions pick up a number of people to help them accomplish their mission. Those allies include a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his mercenary friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

If this sounds all a bit confusing, it is. The story jumps to several planets and follows numerous characters both old and new with breakneck action interspersed throughout the film. Contrast with Force Awakens where a good portion of the story takes place on Jakku. The abundance of planets is excessive and for no reason. Much the same can be said about the characters. The screen time for Vader and Tarkin takes away from Krennic who looks weak in comparison. Moreover, Peter Cushing who played Tarkin has long since passed away. He has been brought back to life using a stand-in actor and animated with CGI.

The CGI is very good but extended shots with it focusing on Tarkin feel a bit creepy and unnatural. Just because they could do it doesn't mean they should have. A few other human characters are animated as well but none so noticeable as Tarkin.

The special effects, costuming, make-up, editing, cinematography, sets and score are all not notch. Michael Giacchino's music is excellent and a real credit to John Williams who created as much of the emotional heft in the previous movies as the storyline and acting did. In Rogue One, we have so much action that we don't have nearly enough time to get to know Jyn, Cassian or anyone. Most of the grim story is devoid of any levity at all save the droid K-2SO.

This is a war movie and since the story is Star Wars that is okay. However, war movies with real emotion such as the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now had characters we came to know and follow. Rogue One is an entertaining movie for adults in the Stars Wars universe. However, the talented cast might have been better served with a tighter focus on a smaller group in a bigger war.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jolliibee's Opens Today in Winnipeg

At 7 AM on December 15, Jollibee's will officially open in Winnipeg. This will be the first location for the Philippines-based franchise that rivals McDonald's in popularity in the Pacific. As the representatives of Access Winnipeg, myself and photographer Matraisa Klippenstein joined a very large gathering to see what the new entry to Winnipeg was all about.

The media was invited to preview the Polo Park location on Ellice on Wednesday. Senior executives from Jollibee's were present to oversee the preview and to highlight other cities where the restaurants will expand to. Those cities are Edmonton, Mississauga and Scarborough.

Maribeth dela Cruz, vice-president of Jollibee Foods Corp. North America, told the assembled guests that any question of why they came to Winnipeg was addressed by seeing Filipinos at every turn when she came to the city.

Maribeth dela Cruz
The Winnipeg store at 1406 Ellice will be the first for Canada and 35th for the restaurant company in North America according to Jose Minana, Jollibee Foods Corporation Group President for North America in from California with the opening team. Another Jollibee's at Northgate Plaza at McPhillips will be Canada's second and opens in spring of 2017.

Jose Minana, second from  left about to toss coins and candy with guests
In keeping with a faithful country of origin, a blessing by a priest was read and the Jose Minana, execs and honoured guests threw chocolate and and coins in the crowd.

The Philippines Honorary Counsel Ronaldo Opina and St. Norbert MLA Jon Reyes were among guests which included builders, supplier and media.
Philippines Honorary Counsel Ronaldo Opina

Full staff were in attendance including some managers who are now residents in Winnipeg but worked for a total of nearly a 100 years of experience between them at Jollibee's in the Philippines before emigrating to Canada.

Very experienced managers at Jolibee's Ellice
The one location at Jolllibee's hired 100 staff members for what they believe will be a very busy restaurant for the company.

The Jollibee mascot showed up at the end and a massive bucket of chicken was distributed to guests who exited into a cold afternoon with their Jolly Crispy Chicken.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The De-Malling of the Northgate Mall Winnipeg

The Northgate Shipping Centre on McPhillips owned by a family outside of Manitoba seemed to be content for many years to slowly decline. The closure of the Zellers years earlier left a 120,000 square foot hole. Target snubbed it as a location and there it stood a testimony that the mall had seen better days.

It is difficult to say whether the take-over of the Zellers by Save-On-Foods was the impetus for rehabilitating the mall or whether the owners decided to make a change. Whatever the reason, $20 million has been allocated to de-mall Northgate Mall.

The first step was to find a replacement for the Zellers and that came in the form of the largest Save-On-Foods in Winnipeg. At 65,000 square feet and the added title of International to its names, it carries more products that any of the other stores of that company built thus far.

But that wasn't all.

The next step was to get tenants already on the mall to buy in to the full upgrade and attract new original stores. One of the notable add on will be Jollibee's, a Philippines-based fast food franchise that opens next week in two locations including Northgate. They will be Canada's first.

A new Tim Horton's will also be up to accommodate the coffee lovers of the area.

The enclosed part of the the L-shaped mall comes to an end. In its place will be the first location of Fit 4 Less by Goodlife, the discount arm of Goodlife Fitness. At first it was thought that Winnipeg first location for this division would be the Grant Park Mall but plans have since changed. Grant Park will get a large Goodlife Fitness and the Fit 4 less will occupy 25,000 square feet of Northgate Mall.

The city's only discount theatre Cinema City will continue to be an anchor in the mall and several longtime loyal tenants will get upgrades. Royal Bank, Reider Insurance and Medicine Shoppe pharmacy all factor into the re-furbished mall.

The northeast quadrant of the city has many people living it, lots of traffic down McPhillips but largely absent landlords in the last numbers years. Not a lot of love in terms of investing in the property in compared to Grant Park Mall, Charleswood Mall and along Pembina Highway.

It would seen that Northgate's investment has spurred Garden City Mall to action after years of neglect. Still, it would take quite a bit to beat the millions being spent at Northgate.

It is true that commuters will travel some distance to places like Polo Park but the need of good local grocers, pharmacists and coffee shops is always there. The danger for Northgate was that if they didn't invest, more and more stores and services would have left. Now, they might have the right mix and the un-mall style to rejuvenate retailing in the region. In fact, they have stores now that people will make a special trip for.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Long and McQuade Pembina Highway Opens

This past week saw Long and McQuade make the massive move from their location at 851 Stafford to 1854 Pembina Highway. The massive new store near the University of Manitoba will be an improvement over their rabbit warren old location that was just north of the Pembina underpass.

Long and McQuade started in Toronto in 1956 but one of their first moves of Ontario was to Winnipeg in 1971 when they bought Winnipeg Piano on Osborne Street. It was the third store for the entire company at the time. By 1975, they have moved to Corydon and it was there for many, many years that they supplied and taught so many artists in the province. By 1997, they were bursting at the seams and moved to 651 Stafford until this past week.

The musical instruments and lessons store also has a second location on Wall Street from the time they took over Gorden Price/Mother's Music in 2011. Long and McQuade did a complete reno on that shop in 2014. Mother's will long be remembered for their location on Portage Avenue near the University of Winnipeg before they moved to Wall Street in 1993.

The location at Stafford served the store well but the building was soon bursting again with rentals, repairs and sales work. It was obvious a building that was tailor made was in order.

This week near the University of Manitoba, Long and McQuade has opened their new store and by the looks of it, is a beauty. Anyone driving down Portage Avenue can't miss the pass with huge sign up.

Long and McQuade is all across Canada but this store for Winnipeg has to be the most prominent address they've ever taken up. One can imagine a whole generation of artists will pass through their doors.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

American Apparel Closing in Osborne Village

The American Apparel company went bankrupt earlier this month in North America and various companies are bidding on the carcass but no one wants the stores.

The racy and controversial store has had a home in Osborne Village for years but the closing out signs are in the windows now and the store has a short time to liquidate stock and close its doors forever.

This has created some alarm in Osborne as there are a few empty storefronts already and American Apparel occupies a fairly large space. The vacancy rate is a reflection of high rent on the swishy street. Too few owners of the land, too little give on rent and many larger spaces are now uneconomical. The solution could lay in sub-dividing the space and then a new vitality might emerge.

Osborne Village has succeeded because it a dense area with a main street running through it. This contributes to a diversity in retail and restaurants. Today, competition on Corydon and Sherbrook is something landlords will have to be mindful of.

Osborne Village is experiencing growth in a way not seen in decades. The demise of American Apparel should and could open up opportunities for the street in the days ahead.