Saturday, September 23, 2017

Staples St. James Moves to former Sears Home Store

The recent closure of Sears Home store at St. James and Ellice triggered almost immediate renovation. At the start, it looked like the property would be sub-divided as the old Sears location was fairy sizeable since it sold appliances. In August the first of the two places put up their signage and it is open now. Spirit, the seasonal Halloween store will be open through till October selling costumes and the like. Obviously, a temporary store and it might be a good candidate for the always end of season Bomber store as well.

The big news is that other spot is leased to a more prized catch. Staples has moved from their St. James Square location down the street to1450 Ellice, Sears Home's old location. The store has already had a soft opening and the official opening this weekend.

Staples in St. James has always been a fairly busy store and the new location will bring more parking and situate them on a busier corner. The old location has papered over windows. I suspect it won't remain empty for long.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes Champions Again!

All season long the Winnipeg Goldeyes have been playing well, putting up wins, being entertaining as can be and affirming they are the best of the best in American Association ball. Frequently this year they have had "wow" moments in Shaw Park and throughout the league. Ultimately, the great play led to another play-off run where the defending 2016 Goldeyes champions would once again play their rivals the Wichita Wingnuts.

Goldeyes have become comeback specialists in play-off baseball. Game 4 in the series was a marathon 17 innings assisted by luck from an umpire's call and amazing pitching. Game 5 was delayed a day for weather and probably to rest two extremely weary teams. The result was of the one day wait was a 6,300 crowd with standing room only. This was a huge improvement over the lesser crowd on Monday's game 4.

In the game 5 final, the Goldeyes bats came alive and the big hitters sent the score into the stratosphere. Crowd favourite Reggie Abercrombie played a very big game. Edwin Karl as pitcher kept Wichita off the scoreboards. Ultimately the score would end 18-2 and the Goldeyes would be able to rush into the field in front of a hometown crowd claiming victory. It was a first in 18 years at their downtown location.

Back to wins are never easy and Winnipeg Goldeyes found new ways to stay alive several times over the course of the season. It takes a lot to have a winning formula, It is built with coaching and management, great players, fans, supporters and community and business support. Congratulations to the champions of the the 2017 American Association of baseball!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes to Play Championship Game

It has come down to Game 5 in the championship of the American Association of baseball. The Winnipeg Goldeyes, defending champions from last year, played Monday night against the Wichita Wingnuts down 2-1 in the best of five series and in a must win situation. The Fish didn't disappoint. It was the bottom of the 9th, two out and Casey Turgeon up to the plate with Wes Darvill at second base hoping to be the tying run in a 3-2 game,

The pitch came and Turgeon swung and it appeared to a ground out. The Wingnuts came out on the field jumping up and down thinking they had won the game. It was not to be. The umpire had called balk and the last pitch didn't count and a clearly dejected Wingnuts had to head back on the field. With no time to even think about it, the inning continued and this time, Turgeon blasted it and brought Darvill in for a run tying the game.

The incredibly exciting Goldeyes had done it again. They had taken the game to extra innings. What happened after that was history making baseball. Just as the Winnipeg Jets game ended in overtime shoot out down the street and people were headed home, the Goldeyes were battling it out with the Wingnuts in front of 3.500 fans for three more hours!

It was around midnight that social media picked up the fact that game was still on and people started to watch on streaming video from the league's website. The excitement grew as inning after inning went by and clock ticked close to 1 AM. It was then that Goldeyes finally got a walk that advanced them to home plate and they took the game.

Tuesdays thundershowers have postponed the final to Wednesday, September 20 at 6 PM. The forecast is for sunny and 19 C.

The Goldeyes have been playing inspired ball all season and never say never. It has been a wonderful season and it comes down to game 5. Go Fish go!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wholesale Sports to Close Winnipeg St. James

After 30 years in business in western Canada, Wholesale Sports is closing all 12 stores in four provinces including Winnipeg's St. James location. The Calgary-based sport, hunting and fishing store says 545 workers will lose their jobs. It is a tough business and only recently Cabela's was swallowed up by Bass Pro Shops.

The Winnipeg location down the street has a property developer in Winnipeg who was planning some enhancements to the site but now they will have a major vacancy with the closure. Still, now with St. James Street roadwork nearing an end, the site could prove lucrative for another business.

Wholesale Sports has been around since the 1970s but the Winnipeg location is a more recent arrival. Online sales from companies like Amazon continue to change the market for bricks and mortar stores. Some stores have thrived while others have shown significant weakness in the last years. Department stores and big box stores have proved to be vulnerable.

It is sad to see a Canadian retailer fail and lose jobs. Winnipeggers have till December to shop as the store liquidates stock.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Many Fest 2017

Many Fest comes quickly after this long weekend but it a good chance to spend some time outdoors and attend one of the many events downtown along Broadway between September 8 and 10.

This year's outdoor movie on Sunday at 8 will be Sing, the animated musical that broke office records in 2016. It is sure to be a favourite of families. People should bring chairs and blankets.

Surrounding the movie will be the food trucks for Food Trucks Wars. There will be something tasty for everyone.

This year will have to two stages set for music running continuously from Friday till Sunday. Check programming to see when you favourite act is performing.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries will be setting up the Farmery Estate Brewery Wine & Beer Garden. Farmery will have their full selection available for outdoor festivities.

For the runners is the 10 and 10 run. It is kind if misnomer because there is also a 30 km race in addition to the 10 kms and 10 miller and the shorty of 5 kms.

In addition to the runners, expect lots of cyclists for Cyclovia who will be doing multiple rides downtown along Broadway and drives to and from the site. There are plenty of kidzone activities throughout the festival area

The Farmer's and Artisan market runs both Saturday and Sunday.

Many Fest encompasses a lot and is the perfect city event just as everyone is getting back to fall schedules but when warms days and pleasant evenings are still rule.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Whitey's Closes in Grand Forks

In 1925 Edwin "Whitey" Larsen started Whitey's started a bar. Problem was it was Prohibition and illegal. This did not stop him so under authorities noses in East Grand Forks, Minnesota and using smuggled in alcohol from Canada, he operated his art deco styled dining, drinking and gambling den. It is hard to say when they first Manitobans entered the bar. It is quite possibly the suppliers such as the Bronfman family from Brandon and later Winnipeg who plied whiskey south of the border.

Grand Fork was the good sister and East Grand Forks was the naughty sister across the river. In the 1930s, a stainless steel horseshoe bar was built and it remains in the bar today and will beyond the closure. It has gone through a fire, flood and a relocation farther up the street over the years on Demers.

The two Grand Forks are separated by a bridge that crosses the Red River. Even after Prohibition ended, North Dakota to the west was more proper with drinking age of 21 and Sunday closures and no lotteries. Minnesota was 19, open Sundays and had lotteries. Things have evened out. The drinking age everywhere is 21, both are open Sunday and lotteries are available everywhere.

In 2011, Whitey's had a near death experience when business dried up. Despite having Cabela's across the street, foot traffic had collapsed and the long recession hastened a sale. From that near closure, it became a steakhouse and seafood place. However, for Grand Forks people who lived increasingly in the suburbs, the destination was a bit far for fare they could find at Columbia Mall environs.

A week ago, the bar closed and patrons came to say goodbye. It will continue as a restaurant owned by a Fargo-based restaurant group. Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews intends to occupy the space. They presently have a stripped down version of the restaurant on South Columbia nearer to the University of North Dakota than to Columbia Mall. It seems uncertain whether the old Sickie's will continue or not. Its present location has seen an Arby's, Padron Chile and Sweet Burrito in short order.

The old horseshoe bar is said to be a centerpiece to Sickie's new location. The food served is 50 burger and 50 beers. That is presumably one at a time. Good old fashioned burgers have made a comeback.

Winnipeggers continue to shop in Grand Forks although most might be surprised to find this and other places closed. This past year Columbia Mall saw Macy's, Zales and Yankee Candle store close among others. Nearly 1/5 of the mall and 12 stores have shut down as of the beginning of June. The mall still draws 25% Canadians but 11 new strip malls have gone up in Grand Forks which also affects traffic patterns.

People still go out for dinner and drinks so it remains to be seen whether Whitey's transformed into Sickie's will work. As mentioned it survived Prohibition, burning down in the 1940s, flooding in 1997 and near death experiences till now. Will anyone from Canada even recognize Grand Fork this fall?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hyatt House Hotel Coming to Seasons of Tuxedo

There hasn't been too much detail but this much has been confirmed, Hyatt House Hotel will be building sometime in the near future at Seasons of Tuxedo in front of Cabela's. This land once was brought before council and was listed on the website of the developer as the future home of Lowe's Improvement.

Lowe's is now being constructed further down Kenaston near Scurfield and should be open in a number of months. It is difficult to say why Lowe's chose one site over the other. They are now the owners of Rona so that might have been the reason they held off. However, the situation will now be that Rona is across the street from there new Lowe's location. Same owner.

The new Hyatt House will be the second hotel to be built between Portage Avenue, Pembina Highway and the Perimeter Highway in five decades. The first hotel is the Hilton across the street near the Outlet Collection mall. Even now, it is near ready to swing the doors open. Construction continues apace on other stores, restaurants, care dealerships in the overall Seasons of Tuxedo area.

Hyatt House is considered an extended stay hotel which is suitable for business people who might be in Winnipeg working on projects as so often happens. It is ideal for the movie industry where you might have crew or actors put up for weeks at a time. According to specs of Hyatt House, the hotel comes with a convenience store and bar restaurant although final designs have not been presented as of yet.

The entire stretch of Sterling Lyon Parkway has gone from industrial/warehousing to retail/residential and created an entirely new neighbourhood. The absence of any hotels for the southwest quadrant of the city for decades has been a real problem. It is unlikely we have seen the last of hotel announcements for the area since the one category missing is a hotel for families visiting with the intention of shopping and visiting for leisure.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Movie Review: Logan Lucky

Director Steven Soderbergh announced a few years ago that he was to retire from making feature films. His reasoning was simply burn-out. During his hiatus he did re-edits of famous movies and did some experimental work in television as well as some off-Broadway plays. His commercial success over the years with Erin Brockovich and Ocean's 11 was well established but he also won the Oscar for directing Traffic. So what drew the director back? Apparently, it was the script Logan Lucky from Rebecca Blunt who Hollywood Reporter says does not exist. It could be Soderbergh himself, his wife or neither.

Logan Lucky is at its heart a heist movie centered on NASCAR with Soderbergh acting as director, cinematographer and editor. It is an ensemble cast of Hollywood elite. Comparisons to Ocean's 11 are inevitable but the story is less glamorous and more redneck as it follows some West Virginia losers in their quest to rob a NASCAR race of millions. Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a man who has lost his job and custody of his child to ex-wife played by Katie Holmes. Consoling himself at a bar with his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War very with a prosthetic limb, they have a run in with British NASCAR driver played by an almost unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane.

From this encounter, they decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Memorial Weekend of the Coca Cola 600. Jimmy knows something of the track's internal workings because he was involved in building it. The two brothers along with their sister Mellie (Riley Keough) enlist the help of safecracker Joe Bang played by scene stealer Daniel Craig. There is little doubt that come Oscar time, Craig should be considered for best support actor. The performance is that...bang on.

The rest of the story is a rollicking, full of twists, good times movie and is funny, fast paced despite the two hour running time. There some cameos of some NASCAR drivers for sharp eyed fans. The daughter of Jimmy Logan is played by Farrah MacKenzie and she is one to watch in the future. Hillary Swank plays an FBI agent on the case of this down south robbery but she can't convince anyone of her theory. It is all very clever but not in the way more sophisticated or glamorous heist movies of the past. Only a few strands in the fabric at the very end keep the movie from flawless. However, the humour in the story, the ensemble cast and the direction make this movie and original summer hit.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trans-Canada Brewing Opening Soon

The number of brew pubs in Winnipeg continues to rise and more and more different areas of the city. The Trans Canada Brewing Company is set to open soon on Kenaston next to Mercedes and across the street from Goodlife Fitness. The building is a former industrial building being converted into unique retail and seems to be well matched for a restaurant as well.

Beer will be brewed and food will be served through Timmy Tom's Pizzeria. A taproom store will also be onsite.

The population in the immediate area is bursting at the seams. The Seasons of Tuxedo site has an enormous residential component on either side of Sterling Lyon Parkway. Meanwhile, further down that same street are seniors resident and other multi-unit homes going up at a dizzying pace.

Beer consumption might not be going up exponentially but people are looking for specialized tastes and are prepared to pay for them. Add a social atmosphere and the crowds will roll in.

The length of Kenaston from Sterling Lyon to Scurfield is a continuous line of retail and commercial businesses. The large business park across the street and behind Trans-Canada Brewing lacks restaurant choices. This should help in that regard,

Look for Trans-Canada Brewing to open soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Movie Review: Detroit

Detroit's decline as a city cannot solely blamed on the outcome of the 1967 Detroit Riots but a great of the damage done then ha never been repaired 50 years later. The city reached peak population in 1950 and has dropped ever since. However, following the riots, the white population hit the exit in a panic. It was that frantic.

Racial problems have marked Detroit since World War 2. In 1943, the race riot left 34 people dead and massive destruction in the poorest neighbourhood.  Whites and blacks attacked each other even as the city geared up war production in the city. Southern blacks, Appalachian whites, Europe migrants were brought together by industry but distrust, unfairness and outright racial hatred resulted in the riot and it never went away.

The end of the war and continued industrialization should have helped one of the largest cities in the U.S. but it did not. The Big Three auto makers ramped up production but it all went to the suburbs. Detroit as a city could not annex nor bring in these suburbs into the fold because of Michigan law. Black people were often now allowed to buy property in the suburbs or faced huge opposition.

By 1967, Detroit as city still simmering with racial tension. Only now, it was marked by how many young black men were being sent to Vietnam which was grinding on and ending with funerals on a fairly steady basis. Discrimination by a mainly white and rather brutal police force was the spark to what would become one of the longest and deadliest riots in U.S. history.

It is the 1967 Detroit Riot that forms the basis of a movie simply called Detroit. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), the events surrounding the Algiers Hotel incident are examined.  Shot in cinema vérité style, documentary footage is woven into a script by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker).  A police raid on an illegal black bar known as a "blind pig" and the brutality of their action leads to violence and Molotov cocktails on the street. Utter chaos ensues as the city burns and people die by the score in the mayhem. Will Poulter (We're the Millers) plays Phillip Kraus, a racist cop amidst the first days of the riot who shooter a looter in the back.

By the time the National Guard arrives, the city is a shambles and yet things grow even hotter as rioting continues. The Detroit Police continue their crackdown on African Americans. Away from the area of the riots, the city begins to go into hiding mode. It is where we find two friends Fred played Jacob Latimore (Maze Runner) and Larry played by newcomer actor Algee Smith from a singing group that seeks refuge after their concert at the Fox Theater was cancelled due to the curfew. They end up at the west side Algiers Hotel where they flirt with Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and Julie (Hannah Murray), two white women from Ohio.

The group meets at hotel Annex and meet Vietnam veteran Greene played Anthony Mackie. Over the course of the evening talk turns to the riots and in an act of reckless teen tomfoolery a young man named Carl (Jason Mitchell) fires a starter pistol out the window which brings the full force of a unrestrained law enforcement down on everyone in the hotel annex

The dramatization of what happened is harrowing. Torture, brutality, sexual assault all occur as those in the Annex of the Algiers Hotel are lined up in a hallway and threatened with death. The last main character in the story is Melvin Dismukes played by John Boyega (Star Wars: Force Awakens) who plays an armed security guard who gets caught up in the series of events when he arrives at the hotel with the law. Already a body lies dead in the corridor as proof on the Detroit's Police to find the person who was shooting out the window. Detroit Police, Michigan State Police and National Guard are all present in the hotel at different times during the interrogation and several gunshots are fired by law enforcement. However, it is Kraus played by Will Poulter who leads the chain of events.

By the time the night is over, three men from the hotel lay dead and the rest of the movie follows the arrest, trial and eventual acquittal of the police suspects and the security guard. The performances by the actors makes the horror very real. Come Oscar time a real case can be made for Oscar nods for John Boyega, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie and Will Poulter.

One danger in the dramatization of a real event is to substitute the movie for some of the facts that actually happened. Case in point is Detroit officer Kraus is an amalgam of possibly two officers. He doesn't exist. The movie admits they have dramatized the events as there are parts of it that only a few people will ever know what really happened. I questioned to myself why the people lined up never admitted to seeing the starter pistol that Carl had. They all seemed prepared to go the grave with that information. The real account was that those being held did tell police about the pistol. It didn't matter. More people died even when that information was conveyed.

The end of the movie mentioned what happened to some of people after the Algiers event. What was missing was what happened to Detroit. Forty-three killed, 1,200 injured, 7,000 arrested and 2,000 buildings burned to the ground. Fifty years later Detroit is still wounded and with it, a lot of America.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2017 Canada Summer Games

In 1967 the Canada Games were created as true multi-sport young amateur event held every two years. It alternates between Summer and Winter games. The young artist program runs alongside the sporting events. Surprisingly, Winnipeg has never been host city to the event. Manitoba has been ably represented in the past by Brandon for Winter 1979 and Summer 1997.

The Forks will be central location for the celebrations, broadcast booth and artist performances. The sports themselves will be played at various venues including the newly minted Sport for Life centre in the Exchange area. Some sports will be played in Gimli and Kenora as well. It has been decades in the making but Winnipeg's ability to carry off Canadian and international events, an army volunteers, fan support and sports and recreational legacy venues makes it a natural as a host city.

This year's games run form July 28 to August 13, feature 16 sports, 250 events, have 4000 athletes and nearly 20,000 visitors and is expected to bring in $150 to $160 million in revenue. All sports will streamed and Canada's English and French channels TSN and RDS are running 40 hours each of broadcasting.

The Canada Games is an athlete friendly event and the village at the University of Manitoba will make them feel at home while The Forks will make them feel like celebrating with their families and fans. The artists attending will find a receptive audience as people migrate from the Fringe Festival and first week of Folklorama to sporting events. If this summer has seemed busier than ever from beaches, to theatres to festivals to concerts, it is. Many Canadians have stayed home this summer even with a surging dollar.

The new Winnipeg sign at The Forks will have a lot of pictures taken in front of it even if it has its critics about how original it is not. Word has it that even some major construction projects on central routes will take a break to allow for smoother flow. We'll see about that. However, if there is one thing that is a guarantee, it is that Winnipeg will do this big event well.

Welcome athletes, families, friends and fans!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Panhandling in Winnipeg

It is hard not to notice that it is growing, expanding out in every direction and not very passive. Near every shopping area, intersection and street are people begging for money. Unpacking your groceries, you are likely to have someone come up to you and ask for money just as you place your cart back and get the loonie in your hand.

Many people can be kind and generous but a commute home is running the gauntlet. Worse is that someone's generosity could lead to harm as a result of traffic involvement, overdose or any other number things. It has happened. A man was killed by a bus while panhandling downtown in the last few years. Overdoses are up and deaths have climbed in cities across North America.

Drug use has been fairly permissive for decades but fair to say the death tool has risen. There are many factors responsible for this. Individual and societal causes have resulted in more people living on the streets. No single reason stands out as the driving force as to why so many end up on the street, so many begging, so many with mental and physical problems and so many dying.

The reaction of people to the rise of panhandling has generally been mixed. We have numerous agencies who receive cash and food donations. Beds and clothing are provided. Street patrols assist people on getting care for health and safety. Generosity comes from many people in the province. Government, non-government, churches, business, family and individuals are key to a civil society.

The reaction to panhandling is usually counter to what our good nature is. Fear, distrust, anger, disgust and a whole host of other emotions run high. Why? I expect it is because experience makes us jaded pretty quickly. Very early in our lives we discover that some people take things from us, toy with us and may even be a danger if we don't use common sense.

I've been attacked myself walking to University of Winnipeg in the past a few years despite trying to avoid a conflict. Race, gender, age are irrelevant to me in certain areas where steering clear seems a safe policy. I don't need another black eye thinking I'm safer than anyone else. The casualty of aggressive panhandling is people's trust. And with good reason. Even a hero of Winnipeg street people ending up attacking someone who was about to give him food.

With that in mind, what can good people do to help those in need while at the same time not contribute to growing panhandling numbers in the city?

1. Don't give change out in the streets ever. EVER. It isn't safe. It isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for them.  If you feel guilty and think you are helping, you are not. If you feel it is a toll to pay for your safety, it is not making you or the next person safe. If you think it goes to help that person, it is not. It is an excuse to bypass social and health services, family, friends and anyone else who could make a difference. It could be just the right amount of money for someone to end up dead which should weigh more heavy on people's consciousness more than anything else.

2. Contribute money to where it can help, has been proven to help. Give money, food and clothing to shelters and food banks. Volunteer. Mentor. Help to a woman's shelter, a food bank or substance abuse program goes a long way. Giving money on the streets keeps people from seeking that help and enables the disconnect.

Every dollar someone gives on the street continues the cycle. The police won't remove people who passively panhandle. And the ones that are more aggressive only sometimes end on the wrong side of the law. On and on it goes. If panhandling was not successful, it is hard to imagine someone standing at various intersections or weaving in and out of traffic for no reason.

This does not solve the problems of poverty and people should not turn a blind eye to it.  Still, it is important to know that giving money on the street is not a good harm reduction strategy. Do your part elsewhere and keep your head high knowing you are making the right decision.

As for myself, I contribute every month to the Winnipeg Foundation with the intent of creating an endowment for an inner city school. I also contribute to health and social services every year as either a volunteer or with money. I'm not rich. In fact my job ends after nine years and I will taking over as a business person. If I seem calm about it, I do feel a little scared of the jump into unknown. I should do alright, maybe better than alright. However, I don't forget there are people who have great obstacles beyond my own. I'll try to help. Will continue to help.

Let's try to do it the right way and put money where it can make a real difference.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

In 1967 Valérian and Laureline were introduced to French audiences as a science fiction comic. The series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières ran until 2010 and was very influential in science fiction around the world, notably with Star Wars and The Fifth Element.  Valerian and Laureline are classical heroes and partners as well as a couple in a universe that spans time and space. Their adventures fall into the opera category of science fiction since their story is a saga combined with rollicking action.

The only thing holding such a story back from a Hollywood treatment was how big the special effects budget would be. French director Luc Besson had longed to do a movie based on the comic but in many ways felt it couldn't be done until he saw Avatar directed by Canadian James Cameron. He felt it pushed everything to a higher level and it pushed him to improve a script treatment he had already written of the material.

Still, it took till 2012 for Hollywood to announce the project was in development and Besson in 2015 in his first tweet indicated he would be directing. The movie would be a U.S./France co-production handled by Besson's own EuropaCorp production house and STX Entertainment and have a budget of $180 million. To get the film tax credits for producing the biggest film in French history, Besson convinced the French government to allow it to be filmed in English. The change in law netted not only the tax credits but a $50 million investment by the Chinese in Besson's film and more in his studio. Chinese money is awash in Hollywood.

Luc Besson is not ordinary director. His cinéma du look style is completely recognizable in the work he does. It is a spectacle over narrative that is a visual treat. The Fifth Element encapsulates a lot of that style. In addition to his artistry, Besson has become a full service studio producing such European movie successes as the Taken series. The business side of things allows Besson to pick work as a director that appeals to him such as Lucy in 2015 that starred Scarlett Johansson.

In 2015 a series of casting announcements were made as it was revealed that Dane Dehaan (Chronicle) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) would star as Valerian and Laureline. The cast was rounded out with Clive Owen as Arün Filitt and Rihanna as Bubble. It is difficult not to contrast the casting with Besson's other sci-fi movies which included Scarlett Johannson in Lucy and Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element.

A lot depends on our actors making us believe and while relative newcomers can do this, a veteran performance by Bruce Willis can offer gravitas where dialogue might fail you.  The only way that Dehaan as Valerian or Delevingne as Laureline could stand out is with a total buy-in on what the extravaganza. It is possible for a young actor to do this. The best example is Milla Jovovich in the Fifth Element. She learned 800 alien words and was adorable in emotional and physical length she went to make the audience believe.

It is hard not to think Dehaan is channeling Keanu Reaves. You can actually hear it in the voice. As for Delevinge, she in great in action but her emotional range never takes off because the script hold her back. The proposal of marriage by Valerian to Laureline, a demonstrated Lothario, seems destined for failure although their work partnership seems to be a confident one. And what work they do. As human agents of space and time, their adventures are a visual and action packed treat. Seeing this movie in 3D is entirely appropriate.

The cinematic spectacle and action keep people from focusing to heavily on the rough patches. Rihanna's role is an amazing dance filled with costume changes but the dialogue is a bit wooden. Her sizzling performance though with accompaniment by Ethan Hawk is a highlight.

It is all quite the spectacle and like The Fifth Element might take a few times to catch all the Easter Eggs and tidbits tossed into the mix. For example, there is a lift right from the Taken series of movies staring Liam Neeson which director Besson is connected to. Good luck is the key to finding it.

The aforementioned Chinese money and international release may produce a sequel for this movie unlike The Fifth Element. If this the case, the relationship between Valerian and Laureline needs more definition and for heaven's sake, don't leave her name off the title. It was after all the full title of the comic. And ultimately, it was Delevinge as Laureline who drove the back half of the movie past the finish line.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Winnipeg Fringe Festival July 19 to July 30

It is hard to believe as Winnipeg Fringe Festival begins Wednesday, July 19 that this is the 30th year of the summer theatre program. In 1988, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre became the only regional theatre to run a fringe and over the years it has become the second largest in North America with 170 companies performing. It is the second oldest after Edmonton which was founded in 1982.

It has come a long way since the inspiration of Edinburgh Fringe which is the granddaddy of them all. Canada now has more fringe theatre festivals than anywhere else in the world and attract artists from many countries. The acting companies are picked by lottery, are unjuried and can keep 100% of box office.

What does this mean for Winnipggers? It means that much of the downtown centered around Old Market Square and up and down three streets near RMTC's building there are thousands of people adventuring out to see a wild and woolly variety of theatre performances. Reviews by media, on social media or friends and family telling each other results in many sell outs.

There are times when Winnipeggers get down on themselves but Winnipeg Fringe is one of those times we do it better than almost anyone. The downtown is alive and well and there is something for everyone.

Here is to 30 more years.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sport for Life Qualico Training Center

It is worth noting that the gigantic new sports facility built in downtown Winnipeg and just completed this week has taken years to get done, caused controversy every step of the way, cost millions and will be probably be a legacy facility in much the same way as the Pan Am Pool, Pan Am Stadium and Shaw Park are today.

In 2010, the Manitoba Sport Federation had no choice but to move from its Main Street offices when Wawanesa Insurance announced that they needed the space for their expanding downtown head office. The MSF dreamed of a high performance center but the cost of land and the desire to stay central made them look away from a high profile street such as where they were. To that end, they looked at the Exchange district to a building abandoned in 2008 with the demise of the garment industry.

At 145 Pacific Avenue, two older buildings were acquired and the better preserved building constructed in 1913 was renovated to serve as the new Sport for Life Centre. The 84,000 building housed a sports medicine component, some elite training, sports offices plus the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. This was to be phase one with phase two to come when money was raised.

Alas the next door building was structurally unsound so the city granted a demolition so long as it didn't become a surface parking lot. This was the common thing for property owners to ask for: demolition and then a surface lot forever. After the sport building went up, it came as no surprise to anyone that the flattened area beside became a parking lot.

City Hall eventually called Sport for Life on this and said if they were going to use the site next door for a parking lot that they should not be exempt the landscaping required by law. The centre wailed at the rules that had been bent for them for five years and said they were just about to start phase 2 and should not have to do work that would be bulldozed later.

Unlike other developments that promised to get work under way and didn't, Sport for Life began construction two years ago and took this long to get done. The 124,000 square foot addition was so large that it spanned across Martha Street towards the Ukrainian cultural center. Combined with street and sidewalk improvements in the Exchange area, the size and the scope of the project is quite awesome.

The $23 million dollar building leveraged a need for facilities for the upcoming Canada Summer Games and now contains three full basketball courts, a three lane track, a public gym, 88 underground parking spots, aerobics and high performance training rooms. All three levels of government contributed to the centre as well as private donors.

The Canada Summer Games will see both basketball and volleyball played there. However, as a legacy facility of the games, it will be years of trained athletes who will benefit from the 200,000 square foot combined space of a building.

Winnipeggers are right to hold doubts about promises made on projects. We often see lengthy delays, cancellations or requests for ever greater amounts of public money to see things get completed. We see grabs made for surface lots and then shrugs of shoulders as years go by as people squat on the land. Seems always easier to knock down a building rather than finding a surface lot to use.

There are always complaints about lack of parking or traffic but in the case of the Qualico Training Centre, it probably gained more more spots from the renovation. As far as traffic goes, we need better ways of getting people to and from places they need to go so that it is convenient and affordable. That is achieved either by having amenities close by or have transportation systems that move a lot of people.

The Sport for Life centre will make it easier for people to not have to head down to the University of Manitoba every day. More bus routes head downtown from every direction of the city and this should ease travel down Pembina.

It took 12 years to get this project done and sometimes it looked like it was going to fall short and that the city was once again going to end up having knocked a building down and accomplished nothing. In this case, something special happened and should be producing great things for years to come.

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Soca Reggae Festival July 14 to July 16

In summer it sometimes seems that The Cube at Old Market Square has something every weekend. And indeed Jazz Fest and Fringe Festival occupy the area for weeks between the both of them. There is one other festival though that has consistently used Winnipeg's downtown site and that is Soca Reggae Festival.

For the last 12 years, Soca Reggae Festival has brought the sounds of calypso, reggae and Trinidad and Tobago's soca music to Winnipeg. This year's featured guest are Everton and Isha Blender in their first appearance in the city. The shows begin on July 14 at noon and run to Sunday at 10 PM. Food trucks line the street leading into festival grounds and the price range up to $10 in evening. Caribbean vendors are also present.

There is a beverage center to enjoy alcohol but Soca tends to attract a lot of families during its run. In the evenings though, the shows are high energy. Guests are told to bring lawn chairs.

Soca Reggae Festival is another reason to get out and enjoy live music in Winnipeg.

Friday, July 7, 2017

2017 Winnipeg Folk Festival

Since 1974 the Winnipeg Folk Festival has been one of the most looked to events of the year for outdoor live, immersive, multi-staged, camping music festivals in North America. Coming on the heels of Country Fest in Dauphin a week earlier and Jazz Fest weeks before that, it has been important for the festival to go beyond in what it presents. The entertainment dollar has a lot of competition.

Folk Festival is a very family friendly event which can't be said about about a lot of music events. They try to present a lot of firsts for artists as well as bringing in established and favourite artists like Bruce Cockburn, Feist and Bare Naked Ladies. And let's not forget about the attraction of Bird's Hill Park. The camping and music inside a naturally beautiful area is an extremely enticing formula. The Festival didn't get to go 44 years by not having some gifts from the start.

The Folk Fest started Thursday and runs through the whole weekend. Some people went up Wednesday including many on bikes. Site improvements have helped create an intimate environment for everyone including vendors and sponsors.

The weather can be a challenge but this weekend looks to be perfect for for one of Canada's greatest music festivals.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Garrick Centre Suddenly Closes

It has been sad days for live music venues. On Thursday, it was announced that the Garrick Centre was under new management and was closing. Since 2000, The Marlborough Hotel has owned the building and it has been connected via a walkway to the hotel. The former four-plex movie theatre closed in 1999 as The Garrick.

It had been originally a movie theatre since 1921 but took the form it is now in 1968 when it became a duplex theatre of just 1500 seats total. The concept started in Canada in Moncton in 1915 and took years for the rest of North America to catch up but in a nutshell it was two screens, one staff. Also, the concept allowed the owner to have flexibility to carry over a movie longer if the local audience warranted it while keeping the other screen open to new releases. The biggest example of this trend was in Winnipeg taking to Phantom of the Paradise which ran from 1974 to 1975 in defiance of what the rest of the world thought. Garrick two showed the movie over and over until it became legend.

In 1979 the theatre became a four-plex and remained that for 20 years. Unlike some other movie houses that deteriorated, The Garrick was always fairly sumptuous. It was with some relief that 1 year after closing that the Marlborough Hotel and Conference and Entertainment Centre was born with the Garrick Centre handling musical booking.

The theatre after $1.5 million in renovations converted to three auditoriums and hotel pool and waterslide. Garrick One was a 600 seat theatre, Garrick Two was a 550 seat music hall, Garrick Three was the poll, and Garrick Four was a 250 seat lecture hall.

A wide range of musical acts performed at The Garrick Centre over the years but it takes dedicated effort to bring acts to town and the takeover of the Burton Cummings just steps away has seen a great influx of performers move there. Also, musical acts moving to casinos in Winnipeg has to be taken into account.

So many live music venues have closed with independently owned hotels closing or moving to different entertainment or uses. The Royal Albert, Montcalm, Lo-Pub and Osborne Village musical haunts are all no more.

The big question is what is meant by new management of the Garrick Centre. Could it mean more of it used by the hotel? Could it mean the hotel itself might be changing?

I was less familiar with the Garrick as a music hall but appreciated the niche it served. I mourned the loss The Garrick because it was a superior movie hall consistently. I still see movies regularly but I find entertainment is so fragmented that how people experience things is part of the problem. It would seem like music should and will find a new place in society given the right places to play of the right size and economics. Tens of thousands are in Dauphin this weekend paying to be there for four days for Country Fest. It is proof that people will still dig deep. But who and how will small artists be nurtured in live performances in the future.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dauphin's Country Fest June 29 to July 2

Canada's oldest country music festival gets underway Thursday June 2 and runs through the Canada Day long weekend till Sunday, July 2. This year's featured artists are Keith Urban, Johnny Reid, Luke Bryan and Manitoba's won Doc Walker.

Over 4000 campsites and 14,000 people per day attend the not for profit festival in Dauphin in western Manitoba. With three stages, music is going on all over the site attended to by 2000 volunteers.

Nearly every famous country act has played in Dauphin over the years and the party atmosphere makes it a sell out on a routine basis. This year's top talent should once again make it a packed event and with Canada Day falling right in the middle of the weekend, it should be a great time for celebrate the country's birthday.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Academy Lanes To Close in July

Uptown Lanes 1969, Academy Lanes to Close July 2017
Uptown Theatre was built in River Heights in 1931. Lest anyone think it was done without controversy, in typical response of the neigbourhood people on Ash and around said no. The Depression was just a year in and building following World War I was filling in a good portion of eastern River Heights. Kelvin High School (first called Kelvin Technical High School) had just been built in 1912. The next 15 years or so saw a continuing push westward so that Academy Road and Kingsway saw much construction all the way to present Beaverbook Street. In 1927 my own house on Kingsway had been completed.

The need for some commercial development along Academy Road was seen as essential. Banks, bakeries, grocery stores and the like were very much needed when people still mostly got around by streetcar and public transit. The Ford assembly plant on Portage Avenue built in 1915 was producing Model Ts and by the1930s everyone was driving their Model As. However, each neighbourhood needed to be somewhat self sufficient since there was no such thing as a mall back then. Eaton's downtown department store was built between 1905 and 1910 and Hudson's Bay was built in 1926 but they were far enough away that they didn't make sense for daily shopping.

And so it was that Academy Road saw a commercial side from Ash Street to just beyond Niagara Street. Neighbourhead movie theatres abounded in those years. TV was not yet invented. Heck, radio only started in Winnipeg in 1923 and by 1927 only broadcast 40 hours a week and was silent some nights. The idea of a movie theatre in the neigbourhood was was a sound one considering the era.

Still, River Heights got upset back then but were pushed to come to a deal and that is what they did. The deal hinged on a parking lot on Waterloo and a more shallow footprint on Ash Street. The city was asked to come up with a name for the new theatre and the public chose Uptown. The 1600 seat Moorish style movie house was a posh affair and the fifth in the neighbourhood chain of the Miles family.

The theatre became famous for sneak peeks of big movies that were coming. There were a lot of westerns and cartoons for the growing of the population of River Heights. Mostly double features on second run movies was what Uptown showed and this was a successful formula for 30 years. All that then came to and end in the 1950s with the arrival of TV.

By 1960 many families in Winnipeg had turned to TV and old city theatres started to close by the score. And so it was at Uptown. In 1960 it saw a second life as Uptown Bowling Lanes run by the same family who had owned the movie house. Uptown was the largest Brunswick lanes 5 pin bowling alley in the city.

By the early 1970s, the Saturday youth bowling league was bursting to the seams. Almost every kid bowled but by 1982, it was a little harder to draw people in. Brian Britten leased the alley from the Miles family and began a 35 year run which introduced glow bowling and made people believe in birthday parties and fun group events. The re-named Academy Lanes was joined by Billy Mosienko Lanes and Academy Lanes West as a family enterprise.

Meanwhile, the building still owned by the Miles family sought to develop the surrounding land they owned. In 1985, there was a threat to knock down the building but an agreement was made to allow a two floor addition to the east side of the building for commercial use. The west side parking lot became home to Eyelet Dove, Laughing Giraffe and Paper Gallery which stood together for many, many years.

Academy Lanes announced its closing for July of 2017. The building owner has surely another announcement pending about what is to come of the building.