Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time, you are relentless in your forward pace

I have blatantly ripped off the title of this piece from one of my favourite webcomics and so I apologise if you're looking for the antics of Ethan, Lilah, Lucas and Zeke (come home, my robot future-overlord!) and you've stumbled here instead. You're welcome to stay, but I, uh, don't have any comics. So, umm, yeah. Coffee?

I feel compelled to write a year-end blog, though I have no expertise in anything. I couldn’t' even name 10 new songs, let alone pick 10 of my favourite. Perhaps I'll start with my myself, as narcissistic as that might be. In January, I resolved to do a few a things, so let's review:

1) Be (more) Green and Glamourous.
- Have recycled myself and have taught other to recycle as well, especially at work. I was most proud when this year's Christmas saw more gifts "wrapped" in reusable gift and felt bags than in paper and ribbons; those that were wrapped in paper had real cloth ribbons that were ironed and put away to be used again next year. Baby steps, people, baby steps.
- Also, this year, I bought two sets of heeled shoes for work, one pair of mary-janes and one pair of ankle boots. Both have been worn regularly and both have not resulted in sprained ankles.
…I consider this resolution a success!

2) Be less needy and needed.
- This was much more difficult than anticipated. Being less needed, okay, done. But I crave human companionship and so being less needy was really hard. By about June, I was in seriously withdrawal. My coping mechanism kicked in and I decided to spread my neediness around, so it didn't seem quite so desperate. The result is a standing cooking date, movie night, book club (x2), games night, West 50 half-price apps and WoW appointments. I feel better.
…I consider this a half-success.

3) Spend less money.
- I have done pretty well with this one. with one exception… we'll talk about that in a bit. I have taken to "renting" free library movies and books without a hitch. I've also borrowed TV series on DVDs from friends and asked for them for any special occasion. Thankfully, I have been able to give up cable and haven't felt it at all.
- On the Internet-front, I downgraded by Extreme high-speed to Express and also renewed my WoW account, so that all evened out. I also use my Internet more, to download things I would normally spend money on.
- Entertainment: I have taken to eating at home much more, have been diligently packing my lunches and trying not to eat out more than twice a week. I also discovered Cineplex movie coupons for half-price through CAA and made some smart choices about Empire coupons that should help save money here on in. Vacations were kept on the cheap (NYC for a grand? check!) and books to a minimum.
- Clothes: Oh, how I tried, but oh, how I love new clothes! I like trying it on, I like buying it, I like making room for it in my closet, I like throwing old stuff… I like it all! What does this mean, poppets? I have tallied my receipts and 2009 saw me spend almost $2000 on clothes/shoes/jewellery/purses. whew. Now, most of it was spent in one big lump-sum after I got my promotion so I could stock my clothes with the appropriate threads (you can't be a pseudo-manager in a sweatshirt, right, DK?)
…I think, in the grand scheme, I may have simply broken even. But I'm okay with that.

4) Make more lists: done! I mean, this blog is a list!

5) Write more: epic fail. I have blogged less, written creatively less… Hell, I've even shortened my reviews. Uncool.

Resolutions: I'm happy with them, overall.

As a year, 2009 was a roller coaster. I had such highs and such lows and barely any breathers in between. I've had friends move away and different friends move home; I've had family triumphs and family devastation; I've had it all. Was the year a complete disaster? No… but it wasn't a resounding success either. Here's to 2010 - may it bring more joy than sorrow, more wealth than debt and more good than bad. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now Playing: Sherlock Holmes

Yet another diversion for the quest... Sherlock Holmes. Oh come on! You can't judge me! Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law AND Rachel McAdams? Please. Besides, my coupons for Empire don't activate until January, so I can't watch the rest until then anyway. Take that.


On to the movie.

I was, as I'm sure many were/are, about the Guy Ritchie treatment of a literary classic. I mean, RDJ? Really? He's not even English! There's also the boxing and the love interest and the questionable personal hygiene. I decided to shelve my reservations until I watched the movie.

I needn't have worried. In a weird alignment-of-stars kind of way, Ritchie's gritty directing style really brought out the lowlights that made 19th-century London so distinct. The cast is very believable, especially Mr. Law as Dr. Hotson.. er, I mean, Watson, Dr. Watson and his fiancée, Mary, played capably by Kelly Reilly. There was suspense, sleight-of-hand, brushes with the supernatural… basically all the Holmes-ian hallmarks. And RDJ? Despite not being English, he was actually very good indeed. He may need to work on his "trademark" sarcasm, as I sometimes find it bleeds through all his characters and gives them an air of sameness; however, it wasn't too distracting or out-of-place, so I can forgive. A definite popcorn-muncher that's worth not only the price of admission but battling through the hordes of Avatar-watchers as well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Now Playing: It's Complicated

Rounding out the Musical/Comedy category: It's Complicated. You know my prejudices, poppets, so you know I did not expect much from this movie at all. I will admit to being mildly surprised. While still not a theatre indulgence, this is definitely a worthwhile rental. Streep and Baldwin are perfectly matched as the divorced Adlers; Martin (who seems to have gone a bit overboard in the Botox department) and Bell are good foils to their crazy.

I will admit: I laughed, I cringed, I talked back to the screen. Basically, the hallmarks of a good comedy. It was solidly acted and directed; I just cannot reconcile paying full movie-theatre prices for something just as easily enjoyed at home. At any rate: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Now Playing: Nine

Back on the quest! Next up: Nine.

I was actually quite looking forward to this movie (once I figured out that I hadn't already seen it). It wasn't just the sexy costumes, the singing and dancing, the Fosse-esque look of it all... no. It was primarily the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Is there anything this man cannot do? No. there isn't. He sells everything. It's hard to believe that it was less than two years ago that he chilled me to the bone and here he was again, warming me right back up. I think I may love him. Oh yeah: Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Fergie, Sophia Loren and Kate Hudson co-star. They were all sexy, sophisticated, beautiful... all in all, one of those heart-pounding casts. Moulin who? Seriously - where the Rouge was campy and fun, Nine was passionate and full of prima donna, operatic drama. Sure, it's a musical. But it's a story first.

Now, let's talk a little about the singing and dancing, given the nomination. Holy moley. That Be Italian number was a show-stopper. I mean, my god, they even choreographed sand. Sand! I haven't seen anything like it. I haven't seen the Broadway version, but I'm sure I'd love it. Kidman, who usually does a passable signing job, was definitely out-sung by her counterparts, especially the buxom, vampish Fergie. We needed more of her.

All in all, a fabulously entertaining movie. I loved it. An enthusiastic 4 out of 5 stars.

*********
Also watched this weekend: 500 Days of Summer. Ahh, romantic comedies… how I think they're such a waste of time. So, with that gross bias duly disclosed, let's talk about 5DoS: meh. Really. About the only good thing to come of it is Tom's (completely justifiable) breakdown where he yells "well, I get a say and I say we're a couple!". Although, why anyone would want to be in a couple with the aloof and cruel Summer Finn is beyond me. Sure, she has those creepy-huge blue eyes and is totally cute… but she's like an ice maiden, playing with poor Tom's heart and treating him like nothing more than a vibrator with a heartbeat all the while knowing how much he loves her. It's disgusting.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's talent is wasted in this movie that will do nothing for his career; Zooey Deschanel plays the same part she plays in most of her movies (you know, shallow, unlikeable, etc.). Everything else isn't really worth commentary. 2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Now Playing: Brothers

So, I get easily distracted from the quest... but it's not my fault! With five of the ten best movie noms not coming out until Christmas day (or later), I had to watch something. Enter, Brothers, an American remake of a Danish film. ...I may just watch the original.

I can see why the film doesn't get a nod, but the acting does; and while Tobey McGuire is definitely front and centre, I thought Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman were excellent as well. All very nuanced performances, with lots of wordless drama. Also, let's not discount the young, and very talented, Bailee Madison. Watch for Miss Madison in the future... there's this one scene at the dinner table, with Madison and McGuire staring at each other in a test wills was so tense, I started biting my nails. Literally. This little actress brings a maturity to this role that I haven't seen since a certain Miss Paquin stormed onto the movie scene.

I thought the ending let a LOT to be desired - I know life is open-ended and rarely do our stories end with neat little bows, but we should have gotten something else. Actually, now that I think about it, the whole movie felt as if something essential was missing: like ice cream with no salt, one can't really pinpoint what's wrong, except to say that something definitely is. A good rental, I think. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Now Playing: Avatar

Back on track with GG quest: Avatar. Clearly, this movie is technical wizardry. Clocking in at almost 150 minutes, it's all in 3D, has seamless CGI that actually made me forget that these weren't people in latex-makeup and was simply visually stunning. Movie of the Year? Hellz no.

This is the kind of movie that should have been released in the summer blockbuster season. It's an action movie, pure and simple. An amazingly beautiful action movie, but an action movie nonetheless. Lots of things go boom, the plot is thin and Michelle Rodriguez has a gun. See? Action movie.

And the plot is thin, cliché even. It's like every oppressor/oppressee movie ever made. Take a little Last Samurai, a little Dance with Wolves and a sprinkle of Blood Diamond, et voilà: Avatar. Movie of the Year? I repeat, hellz no.

What I wish had happened was that James Cameron had simply signed up to make the World of Warcraft movie. With only some minor tweaks (i.e. longer ears on the Navi, a different colour scheme for Pandora), this could have been night elves versus Terrans. Just look at the cover art for the game (left)! At the very least, I hope that the same tech team can be brought on board for WoW. I mean, if Avatar can get a MotY nod, then WoW, with its FAR superior plot and characters should be a shoe-in.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

*********

Also watched two DVDs for the quest. I usually don't review DVDs, but these are special circumstances. So, brief reviews.

Hangover: really? I thought I Love You, Man was much funnier. There were only a few places I actually laughed out loud. The whole thing was totally over the top, relied on gross-out moments for humour and asked its audience to be as stupid as its characters (a hard feat). The revelatory moment was so silly (I kept asking why didn't he think of that in the first place? What new information has he gotten that triggers this brainwave?) The trailer was funnier. I wouldn't even rent it. 2 out of 5 stars.

Julie & Julia: I have been wanting to see this this it came out. I thought the way the movie bases itself on two books and manages to weave the two together into a cohesive whole was pretty compelling. Meryl Streep is genius... is there an accent that woman can't master? It was made all the more appropriate by the fact that I was doing my holiday baking while it was on. I liked it so much, I watched it twice. In the same night. 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Now Playing: Invictus

Slight detour from the Golden Globe quest. I wanted to see Invictus long before award season rolled around for a number of reasons: Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes; I like a good civil rights movie; I'm kinda in love with Morgan Freeman. Thus, this afternoon found me at one of my local theatres playing hooky from my own syllabus. It's not a total digression, though; Freeman is nominated in the Best Actor category.

You know what makes this movie so good? It's real. You know, real people, real wars, real history. It's no surprise that I think Mandela is one of the best humans. Ever. Francois says it best: "I'm thinking how a man can spend twenty-seven years in a cell and then come out ready to forgive the people who put him there." Yeah, that's kinda what makes his great. No wonder they let him have a say in casting himself.

But on to the movie. Having watched The Road and Precious, I feel like this year we're all dealing with the economy by watching (and needing?) feel-good movies that are all about triumph over adversity. Where The Road uses a could-still-happen post-apocalyptic world and Precious is all about a may-have-happened Harlem teenager, Invictus is about a really-did-happen sporting miracle that just happened to bind a wounded country together... if only for a moment. Freeman is his usual amazing self; yet, it's Damon's authentic performance that surprised me most. Add to it the plethora of smaller parts (from the township kids to Brenda to the security detail) that added tonnes of subtle layers without distracting from the central plot: winning the rugby World Cup. I may be biased, but I loved it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Now Playing: Precious

The road to Oscars begin with the Golden Globe nominations. When I took stock of how many movies I'd already seen that were nominated, I was pretty disappointed, in both the list and myself. I've only watched one, have nine to go and that doesn't include movies that are up for non-best-movie spots. Time to get started.

First up: Precious.

So, this isn't the feel-good movie of the year. Synopsis: barely literate sixteen-year-old, physically and emotionally abused by her mother, is suspended from school because she's pregnant for the second time by her father. I'll give you a moment to digest all that. ... okay? Precious, stoically played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is the kind of girl that breaks your heart. Like any sixteen-year-old, she too dreams of being rich and famous and in love and beloved. Her opening sequence, featuring a fairy godmother, grabbed me by throat and the film just didn't let go from there on in. I can't talk about the plot without saying that, like life, it has it ups and it has its downs. So, just when things look like they're getting better, they get worse; and just when you think you should just kill yourself, hope shines through.

Mo'Nique has a particularly standout performance (wait for Oscar nod and possible upset). I wouldn't necessarily say you have to run out and see this movie. But I will definitely recommend it for a rental. In fact, this movie may be best digested at home, without floodlights to break the stun lock that the film keeps you in. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Shadow of the Wind by Jorge Ruiz Zafón

I have taken far too long a time to finish The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Let's put all my cards on the table: I don't really read genre fiction or mysteries. TSoTW is like a fantasy mystery. So, yes, it took a while before I actually started reading it. Too bad for me. From the first line ("I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time" -p.5) to the last (Soon afterward, like figures made of steam, father and son disappear into the crowd of the Ramblas, their steps lost forever in the shadow of the wind - p.487), the novel basically drags you into "bewitched" Barcelona, and holds you captive, unable to look away from the grotesque story unfolding before you.

The story revolves around Daniel Sempere, a young boy who discovers that book at the tender age of ten. You know, that book: the one that makes you see the world in a whole new way, the one that you’ll hold every other books up to as a standard, the one that stays with you long after you’ve put it down. For Daniel, that book is The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. In his quest to find every book that Carax has ever written, he stumbles upon a decades-old plot, sinister enough to involve the devil himself, which would see every last copy of Carax’s work incinerated. He is quickly pulled into a drama full of twists and turns, of clandestine meetings and dripping dark rooms, of love and betrayal and hatred.

Zafón’s writing simply oozes with heartbreak and longing. Reading it was like watching an intense Pasodoble full of passion and drama. This is the kind of book I wished I had saved for riding a train through the midnight countryside of Spain; helpfully, it includes a walking tour of all the places in the book, so when I do visit Barcelona, I feel, somehow, prepared for its tragically romantic façade.

Clocking in at just under five hundred pages, filled with dense writing, this is not a novel for the casual reader. It is, however, a novel that satisfies every appetite when finished. A high recommendation.

Now Playing: The Road

So, yesterday, in what seems to be a disturbing emerging Yuletide tradition, I inflicted The Road upon myself. Two years ago, almost to the day, I had finished the Cormac McCarthy's novel by the same name, and thought it would be a great movie. I hadn't realised it at the time, but the book would become my go to recommendation for reluctant male readers. Thus far, I have converted at least four non-readers and am satisfied with that stat.

On to the movie. Casting Viggo Mortensen was genius. I felt some trepidation when I read the rest of the cast; it was full of big names and I thought, "Uh oh, I hope this story doesn't become less about the Man and the Boy in order to accommodate all these egos." I shouldn't have worried. John Hillcoat focused his lens right where it needed to be: on Father and Son. But let's talk about those surprising, almost-cameo-like, appearances of familiar faces. Robert Duvall almost stole the movie as the Old Man (much like the Old Man in the novel almost stole the book); Charlize Theron did some of her best work in those abbreviated, often wordless, flashbacks; and I was thrilled to see Michael K. Williams, whom, as you know, I love and adore. Not to forget: Guy Pearce, Garrett Dillahunt, and (the wonderful) Molly Parker. The acting, suffice it to say, was stellar.

I am disappointed that it wasn't considered for a Golden Globe this year. This is one of the faithful adaptations to a novel I've seen in a long while, especially in terms of look and feel. Some scenes seemed to be plucked from my brain and splashed on to the screen. Out of necessity, there is much more dialogue in the movie than in the book; however, it certainly seems appropriate and well-done. The intensity of the novel is the one thing I really worried about: how would it translate? ...Boy, did it ever. I felt like I watching a horror movie (which, in many ways, is exactly what the book was like), complete with eye-and-ear-covering. It didn't help that I knew something bad was going to happen and that I just couldn't remember when. The scripting was great.

So I don't know what else you could want from a movie: good cast, good script, great cinematography... I recommend this one highly. 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

boom goes the dynamite

Save me from menopause!

Last night, like a dutiful daughter, I went to the 'rentals to continue the 29-year tradition of decorating on the first Saturday in December (and mark the twentieth anniversary of eating pizza while doing so). I showed up at 1930, arriving directly after the staff Children's party, with a change of clothes. I noticed that everything was basically done, with only a few tree trims and some rejigging of the North Pole (apparently, Dad did not remember the "story" and the elves were all just placed willy nilly!). So I did what I could to finish it off and at around 2145, the three of us sat down for pizza; LilBro had long fled the building. I have no idea how we got to this place in the conversation, but we were discussing trees when Mom says: "if it were up to me, I wouldn't even put up a tree!"
I say: "You mean, you wouldn't decorate for Christmas?"
She says: " I didn't say I wouldn't decorate; I said I wouldn't put up a tree."
I: "Why not? what's wrong with a tree?"
She: "A tree is for children. Everyone here is grown up now. There's no need for a tree."
I: "Where would you put the presents? and who just puts up decorations and no tree? I mean, you can put up a tree and no decorations, sure."
She: "oh, you've been to everyone's house? you know that no one ever puts up decorations with no tree?"
I: "No, but I've never seen a house decorated that had no tree. Besides, it's tradition. You might as well say we won't go to Midnight Mass anymore."
She: "Oh, so if we have no tree and presents then we don't go to Church? We can't just celebrate religiously?"
I: "I don't think Jesus would begrudge us a tree on his birthday. besides, it would be weird, to go to Midnight mass and then come home and just go to bed."
She: "So Midnight Mass isn't worth going to without gifts, is that it?"
I: "No, Midnight Mass and opening presents afterwards and calling family until 4am... that's tradition. That's what makes it special.
She: "Church is special on its own. I don't like that you think you go to Church just for the gifts."
I: "I didn't say that. I said that decorating and Midnight Mass and gifts and all that are all part of what makes Christmas special."
She: "Well, Christmas isn't about gifts!"

…What just happened? Christ, I don't care about gifts! I would rather spend the same money and buy myself stuff, but instead we do this whole exchange thing because it's tradition. And tradition is what binds families together. At least, our family. Honestly, I was pretty close to just going back to my own home after that stupid exchange. Why do we do anything, if not for tradition? Why do I go over to decorate a house I don't live in? Or bake cakes when I'm diabetic? If it wasn't for my Dad who just whispered, "Don't worry, your mom is a little cranky these days. Don't take it personally." I would have spent the night in the comfort of my own bed, TYVM.

God. Conversation with my mother has become like negotiating a minefield. Save me.

Friday, December 04, 2009

harbinger

One day, a hundred or so years from now, someone will write a paper about the absurd statistics and anomalies that, with a century of hindsight, clearly paints a picture of what went wrong. Like how crime rates can be predicted by birth rates twenty years previous. On that day, in the twenty-second century, a studious little environmental ethics major (yes, they will have many of these, if we keep on our current course) will read an obscure report that says " home policy premiums have risen 5 to 20 per cent and that in 2009 almost 41 percent of the claims reported are water-related and that the cost of the average water-related claim is now almost $12,000 – up 25 per cent since 2007. Although not all claims made sought compensation, applying the $12,000 average claim cost to the 113 August 4th flooding claims results in a total cost of $1,356,000." They will read this and think "why didn't anyone see it? A rise in flood claims has got to mean a rise (even if minute) in water levels. Shouldn't they have thought of this as a harbinger of the much worse things to come? Shouldn't they have recognised this as a tipping point?" In a passionate outburst during her seminar, this student will express much of these observations and her colleagues will all shake their heads. Clearly, our ancestors were idiots, they'll think. And as they get ready to head to the pub to discuss ancient Marx theory and the Bush dictatorship, they'll don their masks as much for the oxygen as for the delightful side effect of covering the rank odour of sewage and algae that permeates the campus. After all, that's what happens when everything is at the new sea-level and old infrastructure now floats on top of stagnant sewage water. Yes, poppets, humans really are that dumb.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Now Playing: Ninja Assassin

I'm not sure what I expected from Ninja Assassin before I walked in. I knew the Wachowskis were involved, so I guess I expected some cool action (check). I had heard that the lead actor was all the rage in Korea, so I certainly expected some hotness (omg, check). With such a cheesy title, I definitely expected lots of blood (check check check). So, what do I rate a movie that meets (but does not exceed) my expectations? Hmm - a tough call this. It was a fun movie, for sure. The fight scenes were simply superb. AND a cameo by the keymaker didn't hurt. I guess it just wasn't revolutionary enough or philosophically mind-blowing enough or edge-of-your-seat enough to deserve any higher than a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

DVD: Battlestar Galactica

Okay, so not only am I a bad blogtress for not posting on here at least once a week (remember when I wanted to post once a day? ahh, the ambitions of youth…), I'm also way behind in things I wanted to share with you, poppets! I have no excuses, other than to say my new job actually makes me earn my paycheque and slacking is not something that comes easily here.

Anyway, on to the point of the post: Battlestar Galactica. All right, so I was late to the party. In fact, the party was well over before I even arrived. I watched all four seasons of BSG this fall, in rapid order, and I've got to say… it was frakkin' fantastic. Seriously. Maybe even better than - dare I say it? - ST:TNG! *gasp* Having recently rewatched all seven seasons of TNG, I think I may have to say that, yes, BSG is a far better show - in terms of acting, production values, plots, all of it. It never becomes kitsch, there are no musical numbers and any humour is like the kind we find in life - incidental. I have no idea why BSG failed the first time around, but I can see why it was such a success this time.

If you're scared off by the sci-fi aspects, don't be. Again, any sci-fi is incidental. This is high drama, political intrigue, covert espionage… this is an epic mystery that just happens to be set in space. If you're not hooked after watching the three-hour opening mini-series … well, I can't imagine such a scenario, so I can't devise a consequence. BSG is full of characters that you love, you hate, you despise… mostly, though, it's full of characters that grow and I can't think of a better compliment than that. It also has a depth of characters from which to draw, allowing secondary personnel to move to the forefront and become integral to the tapestry of the show and then fade away again - all without feeling forced or contrived. The plot itself was tight: I didn't find a single shark-jumping or island-moving moment (I'm looking at you, Lost); it was neat, clean and well-played.

Finally, the acting. Wow. Everyone - and I mean everyone - really checked in when they signed on for this show. Standouts for me were Tricia Helfer (6), James Callis (Baltar) and the dynamic duo of Mary MacDonnell (Roslin) and James Edward Olmos (Adama) - these guys really stretched themselves. I think one of my favourite line uttered on a TV screen has to be: "No. Not now. Not ever. Do you hear me? I will use every cannon, every bomb, every bullet, every weapon I have down to my own eye teeth to end you! I swear it! I'm coming for all of you!" … damn! I won't tell you who says it, but I think you'll guess who's capable before season one is done. Seriously - the acting was just brilliant.

Go watch it. I think it's some of the best TV ever made.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Now Playing: 2012

You see, poppets, somewhere in the cold caverns known as my heart, there is a warm, mushy spot reserved for crazy, popcorn-munching, landmark-decimating movies. Also, somewhere in there, is a tiny crevice kept aside for John Cusack (he shares it with his sister, whom I adored in a certain muppet movie). Never have these two phenomena had cause to overlap... until today. I give to you: 2012.

First of all, and let me clear about this, this movie is the disaster to end all disaster movies. You want earthquakes? It has earthquakes. You want volcanoes? Ditto. Tsunamis? check. In fact, it had just about every natural disaster that would make for scary moments in there, except tornadoes (but there is a joke about it!). And that's not all. I mean, what disaster movie would be complete without the obligatory obliteration of beloved man-made structures... so, as a gift to you, 2012 includes the destruction of the White House, the Vatican and Las Vegas. Finally, what disaster movie would be complete without a few noble sacrifices, and 2012 does not fail us here: it comes complete with the US President staying behind to join his late wife, the dalai lama ringing the last two gongs and, of course, a brilliant third world scientist who is sacrificed by a greedy politician. All this, for the low, low price of one admission.

So, really, what was wrong with 2012? Well, for me, it all comes back to the screw upon which this movie turns: an ancient Mayan prediction about planetary alignment and catastrophe. ...really? I kind of wish they would have made a joke about that instead and had this all happen in 2013 or something. Alack. So, from the get-go, I was sceptical. Then there's John-Cusack-as-action-movie hero... in a word? No. Just... no. Finally, there's the absolutely unbelivability of the Chinese actually helping us out in a time of crisis. I mean, that stretches anyone's suspension of disbelief to a snapping point. So, while the action was unrelenting and the CGI simply fantastic, 2012 never rose, in my humble opinion, to anything higher than a case study in blockbuster entertainment.

I think this movie would have done much better in the lazy, hazy days of August, when our brains are soft and all we want to do is chill in an air-conditioned movie theatre. I also think we could have used some Will Smith. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the end approacheth

I happened to be reminded of my new year's resolutions this past week and am a bit disappointed in myself. Sure, I went more green and, with the help of a new work wardrobe, have definitely upped the glam factor. Less needy and needed? Check, with two nights a week dedicated to having my cell set to vibrate. Spend less money? Weelll… not so much. Though there have been responsible purchases (e.g., new work wardrobe) and preapproved expenditures (NFLD, NYC, etc), there have also been an exorbitant amounts spent on outside food. The biggest disappointment this year, however, has been my writing.. or lack thereof. Blog posts dwindled, fiction writing was nonexistent and the familial memoirs I had thought to get started on never emerged. I know, I've been busy. Still, I feel like I need to make more time to do this. Sometimes I can feel my writing skills leaking out of me and I'm afraid - deathly afraid - that I'll never get them back.

I'm thinking I will try and roll all three of these things together, maybe have memoir blogs and fiction posts. To do so would mean to wear my heart on my cybersleeve… and I think I may be too chicken shit to do that. We shall see if a backbone emerges in the next few months.

On a completely unrelated note: I watched Drag Me to Hell recently. In a word? Don't.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

sunny days

All I need to take the edge off a rough week is a lime-green trench coat, Dior shades, Muse in my ears and a sunny walk to work. I miss this commute.

So, what's a rough week? #3 threatens to go above my head for a vacation approval when all I said was that it would be tight. #5 can't understand that her hours being cut isn't a personal punishment but a fact of the times. #6 - my favourite - is being sent back to her home position at the end of the year due to budget glitches. #4 is a two-faced keener who only looks like he's doing a lot of work, but is really as lazy as they come. and #2? Well, she's eighteen months away from retirement, so she is just refusing to keep up with the system as she doesn't see the point. sigh.

Those twelve minutes of walking with a purpose through construction zones and past fenced-in-parks are the best twelve minutes of my entire week.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

DVD: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer & Angel

Let me set my cards on the table, poppets: I hate Angel. For a long time, I thought I just hated David Boreanaz; alas, no. I should have clued in since I do like Angelus (he's awesome) but it took me until Bones to realise that David is not the issue. It really is stupid Angel and stupid soul, which he treats like some sort of curse (which, technically, it is) and who whines a whole lot… Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Rewind to May 2003. I was graduating from my undergrad, fretting about being a grownup and, to make matters worse, Buffy was off the air. I was late on the Buffy bandwagon, only being enticed by Spike in the fifth season. I have since re-watched Buffy (twice) and am a complete and total convert. A few gush-worthy notables: the witty scripts, the creativity (hello, musical!), the character development and, of course, Spike.

I decided to watch the last season of Angel, but I remember being bored and not caring. It's not my fault: I had no investment in these characters; their lives (or, more appropriately, their deaths) held little meaning for me. Worse, the one character I did like (Spike) was completely emasculated in order to keep the other ensouled vampire in the spotlight. All in all, a forgettable experience.

Which brings us to Summer 2009. I want to watch Buffy (yes, again) but I think "this time, I'll give Angel a go" too. You know, watch all the episodes in their original airdate order. This sounded like a great idea on paper. What I didn't foresee is the limited stamina of my companion in this journey or the horrible, dragging nature of Angel, especially when held in direct comparison to Buffy. I was not looking forward to watching Angel's season 5 without sweet, sweet Buffy to cut the bitter dregs. How Angel had higher ratings than Buffy, I'll never know.

What a delicious surprise to find that Angel5 is the probably its best season. Discuss. Of course, if you haven't done the watching and you'd like to still be surprised, stop reading and check back in after you've done so. For the rest of the class: sure there's Gunn's amped up lawyer-brain, which just made him sexier (if possible) and Wesley's distinct turn-for-the-darker… but is it just me or was trading Fred for Illyria the cleverest thing ever? I can't say I had any love for the awkward-Texan, perpetual-damsel-in-distress Winifred Burkle, but it wasn't just the death that made me happy (and what a beautifully acted death scene it was). No, it was the wonderful blue-tinted goddess that took her place. I love that Whedon kept the actress for this whole new character, adding a poignant layer of torment that we would otherwise have lost. It's too bad she's only in the last 5 episodes of the series - she was almost worth slogging through the other 100+ episodes. Also: love love LOVE her "training" exercises with Spike. Fun!

Was it worth it? Hmm… I suppose, just so I can bash Angel with some credibility. As for Buffy.. I'm sure I'll return to Sunnydale again.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Now Playing: Zombieland

In the spirit of things, I went to see Zombieland on Halloween. Fresh of the tenth anniversary viewing of Frenchie Fright Fest, I felt I had girded myself sufficiently to watch undead mayhem. Turns out, I shouldn't have bothered. Zombieland is more buddy movie than horror, more RomCom than suspense and definitely funnier than billed. I mean, does anyone see zombie-Bill-Murray coming? I know I didn't.

There's really not much to type about. I laughed, I got scared, I found the ending way too open-ended. Typical Zombie flick. I did enjoy some new stuff I hadn't seen before:
1) Interactive titles: what a far cry from the fifties and their entire credits rolling at the beginning of the film on a static screen. I also enjoyed the recurring (and interactive) "rules for survival" that pop up throughout the movie.
2) No over-the-top explanation for how the zombies happened: there were mad cows, then mad burgers and then mad humans. Nothing too sinister or creepy about that.
3) The most unlikely hero who never does get buff or mean or even confident. He totally illustrates that the human insitict for survival is in all of us, even the dweebs.

It was fun - a worthy addition to any Zomie Fest. 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I have been nursing The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields for at least six weeks, reading it on trains and at physio, picking up (and finishing) three other books (see below). It is a good Canadian read, full of immigrant experiences and various landscapes. The characters are quite well-rounded as well, having unique voices that are distinctly discernable, even when conversations have no speakers identified. I don't know if it's a life-changing book - I much preferred Shields' Unless - but it is a meaty read… perfect for university discussion groups.

What I really enjoyed was the pseudo-biographic voice this was written in. It's clear that there are real people upon which these stoes are based, but the narrators are often unreliable, albeit in a benign fashion. Take Mercy's characterisation of being "obese" and "taller" than her husband Cuyler and compare it with her photo which shows her as no more than chubby and decidedly shorter. I don't think Daisy is trying to change the truth on purpose; she, like most of us, sometimes has trouble with "getting things straight." In many ways, I sympathise. When I think of my Nana, I always remember her as a big, imposing woman with a stern mouth and quick eyes. In reality, she three whole inches shorter than me and is about as average in size as it gets; she doesn't so much as have a stern mouth as she does a stern constitution and her eyes, even at 72, are still quick.

In many ways, TSD is a master class in genealogical fiction. You know, the kind of fiction that permeates all our families, with different members of that family passing down their version of the truth. I come back to my Nana: war-hero, housewife, entrepreneur, saint and sinner. If I had the guts (and talent) to write her biography, I can't imagine that I would end up anywhere near the truth; though, it would make for an interesting read.

At the end of it all, I'm glad I took so long to read through it. It's an excellent plane/train read and I hope you try it sometime

***

The other books I waded through at the same time:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: thought it has a great cover, it's still VicLit. Snorefest.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick: I shouldn't say I've read this; I'm still reading it, but not being a big Sci-Fi reader, I do find it a bit hard to get through. The plot, however, is enough of an incentive.

The Shadow and the Wind: haven't finished yet. More on this later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

senior's discount

Four days into my new "senior librarian" (read: manager of small branch) position and I'm still a little lost. Here are a few examples:

1) It's my second day and I'm sitting in my office ordering supplies for my (new-to-me) office. #3 knocks politely and asks if it's okay with me if she takes dinner fifteen minutes early and comes back fifteen minutes early. uhh, yes? Like what do I care? Instead I say: "Sure, just write it in the schedule we everyone knows where you are… or aren't :)"

2) Locking up after my first night shift, a tardy patron has kept us to 2106. I'm getting my coat on, when #1 comes in and says in hushed tones "is it okay if we all leave?" uhh, yes, definitely. It's past 9pm; you are no longer paid to be here. Go. "Absolutely; I'm right behind you" to which #1 replies that she'll wait for me but will let the pages and part-timers go.

3) Various circulation functions which I can't even reproduce here, because they're just that much of a blur. Add to this, I can't read their schedule at all - I mean, it's still done in pen! Have these people not heard of computers?! This will change. ASAP.

4) I set up "getting to know you" meeting with each staff member for next week. Thus far, I've been asked if this is an "appraisal", whether I'll be using the "interview" (which it most certainly is not) to determine tasks and duties, will this be a paid meeting, will HR be in attendance… people! Stop being so scared! I just want to know who the heck you are, what the heck you do and how the heck I'm going to help you do it. Yeesh.

At least I have an office that actually gets radio reception and I'm expected to basically hang out in it. Every time I even broach the circ desk with an offer to help clear holds or check in the four tranship boxes, I'm shooed away. I've yet to figure out if I should be insulted or not. So, the customers are happy I'm here, the staff hasn't mutinied and I still get an hour for lunch. So far, so good.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a week in NYC

So, umm, I've been away. I was so busy getting ready for the trip to New York (amidst other insanities) that I didn't even have time to be excited in blog form. Sorry poppets. I'm a bad blogtress.

Yeah, I went to NYC (6 days, 5 nights) with AnCe, Nish and Kaylee. Here's the rundown: four shows (Il Barbiere di Sivilgia, Lion King, Giovanni Allevi, Chicago), three museums (Frick, AMNH, the Met, Guggenheim), $400 in shopping, several fabulous meals with some fabulous people (the Russian Tea Room being the spectacular cherry on top) and very little sleep. Throw in a couple visits with the family and one drunken debauchery and it seems I have done everything I've wanted to do in the Big Apple. We were right on top of the 57th/7av Subway station, so there was much subway action (in fact, I completely avoided the yellow cabs and made the most of my $27 weekly pass).

It was a whirlwind. It was fantastic. It was just what I needed.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Now Playing: Whip It!

I went to see Julie & Julia on Monday. After many weeks of successful procrastination by Jadek, he finally got his way: it was no longer playing. le SIGH. Instead, I saw the poster for Whip It, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut that was actually getting good TIFF reviews. I demanded (read: pouted until I got my way) to see this instead. I'll admit, there was no real arm-twisting. We went in.

First of all, I find it altogether disturbing that Ellen Page is a 22-year-old who can play 17 and look too young for the part. Seriously, will she ever be allowed to play anything but a teenager? Seriously.
So, the movie was pretty cute. It takes place (mostly) in (mythical?) Bodeen, Texas: where mother-daughter pageant brunches are real neighbourly with the Oink Joint, where there are short-bus expresses to the Big City Austin, where a girl named Bliss could never dream of becoming tattooed, hard-nosed, roller derby poster-child Babe Ruthless. Wait, strike that last part - that happens. And yes, you can see how this story will unfold a mile away, right down to the cliched "two big events on one day… which will she choose?" moment. But, you shouldn't watch this movie for its plot.

Acting was pretty solid, with Juliette Lewis and Kristen Wiig playing the most fun parts. Marcia Gay Harden is her usual awesome self - talk about underusing talent, though. Lots of people you recognise: Jimmy Fallon, Eve, and Zoe Bell among them. And while it does paint roller derby as a lot more princess-like than it really is, there's plenty of blood and broken noses too. This is a good, light, cotton-candy flick; perfect for girls night in or a Tuesday night. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 02, 2009

chicken shit

So, tomorrow I get back in the driver's seat for the first time since Quinn's demise. For those of you who know me, either via blog or in-person, I think it will come as a surprise that I'm a little nervous. Actually, a lot nervous. In all honesty, the thought just about fills me with dread. I keep thinking stupid questions: have I forgotten how to drive? will my reaction time be slower? am I going to become that person, the one that develops a tick or who can't drive over 40 kph?

Under advisement from my doctor, I actually contacted the EAP - you know, talk to a shrink about my hangups. I'm rolling my eyes even as I type this. Rationally, I know this is all pretty dumb. It's not like I was even permanently injured or something. I mean, post-traumatic stress syndrome? That's for war vets and rape victims, right? Not for car accidents! Certainly not for car accidents from which you walk away. And yet… there it is: little dagger-winged butterflies in the pit of my stomach, getting agitated every time I think about getting behind the wheel.

I hate that she ruined my long weekend, killed my car, scarred my left arm and permanently changed the way I sign my name; I hate that, on top of all this, she's shattered my self-confidence and robbed me of my independence. I hate this new weakness.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

karma

I have always held close the belief that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. A corollary to that is when bad things happen to you, good things will happen too, just to balance it all out. This may be why I'm a little (shamefully) relieved when I don't win on my weekly lotto ticket; I mean, can you imagine how much bad luck you'd need to even out a thirty million dollar jackpot?

So, almost three weeks ago, when I got rammed by that drunk bitch, I had thought I was evened out at the scene, what with being able to walk away from that complete wreck with only bruises and nerve damage and no life-threatening injuries. But no. In a strange parallel, yesterday, it was made official: I am now the Senior Librarian of the Unkillable Branch. This location has been threatened with closure for the past fifteen years, but the community is too strong and they simply will not let it go. As a result, they're looking for someone to come in there and convince the City to leave them alone, once and for all. How are we going to do that? No one knows just yet, but they're hoping I'll be able to come up with something.

That's a lot of responsibility for a newbie. Generally, positions like this (senior librarians in a location with no manager on site) are reserved for the veterans. I'm thrilled people think I'm up to the task. I'm also nervous as all hell (in a good way, mostly, like the first day of school). And it didn't really help that before they officially offered me the job, they sat me down for an hour-long debriefing of all the "challenges" I would face upon arrival. "We want you, we really hope we don't scare you off" they kept saying, and they didn't… but they did scare me, if only a little.

So! Here's to new challenges! To looking at problems as opportunities! To being mistress of my domain!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Now Playing: 9

I don't really know how to review 9 ... it's ... different. But in that good, creepy, exciting way that Tim Burton has a knack for bringing out in himself and, apparently, in others.

Spoilers abound, dear readers.

Okay, the premise: post-apocalyptic world, where a war between humans and machines have resulted in every living being destroyed and the sky to be permanently blackened. If that doesn't sound familiar enough to you, the machines themselves seem to be kissing cousins of those other machines. There endeth the parallels. Instead of humans, we have rag dolls (that look hella like a certain game) fighting against the Beast, which seems bent on their destruction for no good reason I can think of. The beast is easily disposed of but not before it awakens its master, a mono-red-eyed monster which sucks the soul out of each of the dolls and just keeps coming at you, in terrific movie-monster fashion. Five of the nine dollies die, but it's okay because 9 finds a way to release them from their machine prison. The end, which confuses me even now as I type this, is vague to say the least.

I don't know what all this means. When in doubt, I will fall back on my Lit Crit / Religious Studies roots and start dissecting. 1 is a thinly veiled religious figure, complete with pontiff-esque hat, who originally leads the dolls to "sanctuary" (sidenote: the sanctuary is none other than the Notredame, complete with famous stain-glass windows and Quasimodo's bell tower). They are mercilessly pursued by the Beast, who is working to raise his master. 1 continuously berates 9's path, saying his "dangerous science" will "only lead to catastrophe". And while 9's initial action does awaken the Master/Machine, it is his actions that also bring about its destruction and the redemption of his friends. Sort of like every Grecian epic ever written. Then there's the penny over the dead 2's eyes, which is clearly an allusion to the Charon's fee for ferrying the dead over the Styx. So, clearly there's some deep imagery here. I just don't know how to connect it all together.

What's the message? Beware technology? I can hardly believe it, considering the movie itself is a result of some amazing technology, at least in terms of visual rendering. And the visuals are stunning, with each frame just dripping in detail and minutiae. Is it the dependence on machine to perform inhuman acts, thereby quashing our innate sense of compassion? Perhaps. The invention of the Gatling gun made it easy to decimate dozens of men in a way that hand-to-hand combat never could, save only for the nightmarish consequences of guilt and remorse.

In the end, I don't know. But it was still a fantastic movie. Isn't it enough that I'm even pondering these questions? 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

a little help

Things I've learned in the last 13 days:

1) Shock is a powerful numbing agent. Also: always go to the hospital if you find yourself in an ambulance.

2) Anti-inflammatories + muscle relaxants = twelve-hour death-like sleep.

3) I do not own enough stretchy-pants.

4) The opposable thumb - you know, the digit that separates us from 99% of the other species that inhabit this planet - is truly the wonder behind our evolution. Try, if you can, to live one day without using one thumb (just one) and marvel at the inability to do the simplest of tasks. Never has a juice bottle seemed so daunting.

5) The measure of your friends is found in your times of need. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the amount of work and time people have put in for me. Thank you for taking out my garbage, putting away my dishes, making me food, taking me grocery shopping and, most importantly, keeping me company.

6) Mom can still wash my hair and then put it into braids as efficiently as she used to when I was six years old. She can still cook the best "sick" food and never forgets which pills I should take when.

7) Dad always comes through. Always.

Friday, September 11, 2009

for what it's worth

...Quinn had over 11K in damage done to him. As the insurance adjustor succinctly put it: "no wonder you feel like crap."

I'm going to miss my little car. We had some good times. This is such an ignominious end.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

screaming tires, busting glass

How I hate being a statistic.

Sunday night, 10pm. LilBro and I are on our way to meet up with Nish downtown. We're on the road for less than a Linger, when we get smashed into by an SUV. My little baby goes sliding, almost into the cars who were waiting for their red to turn green. I was driving through a major intersection, I had a green. The SUV was driving on the same street, opposite, waiting to make a left. She decided she could beat us through the intersection, gunned in through and plowed right into me. Good thing I caught her in my periphery and braked, or she would have hit me square on my door (and not just taken off the entire driver-side front of the car). Pain, blood, hard to breathe. LilBro asking me if I'm okay. I watch as he gets out and starts going ballistic on the teetering blonde who gets out of the SUV. I try to ask ask him to get back here, but I can't catch my breath. I put my arm out of my open window and grab his forearm. She attempts to get back in her vehicle and move her car; LilBro tells her in no uncertain terms to get her ass on the curb. I tell him to call 911. Before we can tell the operator where we are, a police cruiser is there and an officer is telling LilBro to calm down. Fire show up next and ask if I can move my legs; I say yes, I think so. They ask me to climb out the passenger side if I can; my door is too mangled to open, but they will cut it out if they have to. I climb out and the fireman says I'm lucky, a half-second further into the intersection and I wouldn't have walked away. I'm still digesting that when EMTs show up and scoot me into an ambulance. The officer asks me for my ID and stuff; I hand it over and ask about the other driver, I can't see her. He says not to worry, he'll get all the info from her and give it to me.

Mike the Russian, as he introduces himself to me, asks me about my injuries; I tell him my head is sore (but no headache), my right-hand thumb hurts and my stomach really hurts. He says: "head's fine, you just bounced it off the door frame, no blood; thumb, you probably dislocated and relocated it, it will be very sore, ice it; stomach, bruise, seatbelt burn, no internal injuries. Your left arm has a lot of glass, but we'll remove it, you won't need stitches ." ..what? Left arm? I look down and I can't see anything wrong, except that the pan below it is a dark, sticky red. He pours a gentle saline solution and the pan becomes a diluted pink. He tweezes a few of the larger shards out of my arm and fat drops of blood pour into the pan. All on the other side of arm, the side I can't see. Then I remember I put my arm out of my window... and I hadn't had it rolled down when we left. All that glass was somewhere in my car or on my person. That's when it hits me and start to cry. LilBro says I'm done the worst of it and now's not the time to start crying. It's a verbal slap. I stop. Mike asks if I'd like to go to the hospital: I have no concussion, no life-threatening injuries, but if I want to speak to a doctor, they can take me. I say no, it's okay (I'm remembering another trip to hospital, and I want to avoid that). They drive us to the police station, which I suddenly realise is right at the intersection. No wonder the officer had been there in less than thirty seconds!

We wait for almost two hours at the station, give our statements twice. I keep finding bits of glass everywhere: in my hair, on my clothes, in my mouth. They let us go and we go out to the parking lot, where my wrecked car is hooked up to a tow truck. I'm a little nauseated by the sight of my blood coagulating into stiff rivulets on the driver's door. He says we have to pay him $210 in cash to take the car in; I don't even have a my bank card with me. He drives us to my place to get my wallet, to a bank to get money and drops us off at my place again, before heading out to put my car at a collision place. LilBro sits me down in the bathroom to tweeze the last of the glass out of my arm before he applies polysporin and reapplies the bandage wrap. Little splashes of blood drip into the waste-basket. i still don't know what this arm looks like. Sleep.

I feel awful the next day: bruises like an upside-down seven cross my entire torso, my neck, left shoulder and back are too stiff to move; my right hand has swollen to double its size and is a mottled purple; an accidental brush with the pillow to the bump on the left side of my head results in stars exploding; my feet are bruised; and the lacerations on my arm are clearly still bleeding, I can see spots through the wrap. I'm taken to my parent's place, where I get to see the extent of my injuries for the first time. it's not pretty. Mom checks over all the injuries, applies appropriate salves, plies me with anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and painkillers. I sleep a lot.

Next, we have to deal with the administrivia of injury: insurance, doctors' reports police reports, lawyers, work, ... *sigh* I plan on sleeping a lot over the next few days.

BTW: this post took over two hours to type.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

je ne sais quoi

How to spend a random weekend, à Montréal.

1) Travel by train. Not only is it a green way to travel, it's much more luxurious than a bus AND you get better leg-room. If you can finagle free tickets, all the better. Travel express and take a good book. If you happen to take a bad book by mistake, write a vitriolic review and at least save someone else the displeasure.

2) Get picked up by one your favourite people. Spend the afternoon in their kitchen while they fuss about and feed you to bursting. Visit more favourite people. Perhaps even put together some furniture while your hostess takes a well-deserved nap. Get serenaded by a twelve-year-old playing Mozart and play Scrabble into the wee hours.

3) Meet your bestie at the Gare-Centrale, but not before you receive an exasperated "Ontarienne" remark from a local. Check in to your five-star hotel, with its luxury bed, on the 22nd floor. Stroll about downtown, taking in the campuses, stores, and random events. Is it drizzling? That's okay, stroll about anyway and build in some chatNchill time. Just be careful not to get too comfy, or the night will slip right by you.

4) Go to a bar, order pitchers of sangria for really cheap and drink the night away! If you can make friends with the teenagers sitting next to you, that's great; if they think you're only 21, even better. Stumble back to your hotel and chat until you fall asleep, mid-sentence.

5) Get picked up for brunch in a BMW convertible, thumbing your nose at the supposed-VIPs who wanted you to move for their tinted Chrysler. Eat a delicious salmon concoction before spending the afternoon strolling about Rue Saint-Denis, drinking hot chocolate, eating poutine and buying vertical plants. Get dropped off at the Gare-Centrale, fresh bagels in tow, and double-kiss your way to the platform.

6) Board the train, buy a Caesar and toast your way home.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Shack by William P. Young

or: How not to read a book

1) Do NOT skip reading BOB (aka, back of book). Bob is full of vital information like "what this book is about" and "who else likes it"
… if I had checked with Bob, I would have known that there wasn't a single publisher review or serious critic who had anything nice enough to put on the book jacket. Instead, they settled for people like Wynona Judd. Seriously.
…if I had checked with Bob, I would have realised that this book isn't about the brutal murder of a daughter and the family's ability to cope with it but more about how God can help you cope with it. This this isn't a work of fiction so much as it is a work of philosophical theology.
…If I had checked with Bob, I would have realised that I would not like to read this book.

2) If a book takes a serious left turn before page 69, stop reading it. I mean, if you feel like you've been tricked into reading a romance when a book advertised itself as a thriller, you're probably going to hate it. So don't waste time finishing it like I did. Oh, and I did. Even when it was clear that I had blundered my way into an evangelical text that said it had nothing to do with Christianity and yet set up the Holy Trinity as fact, I should have known I was going to have issues with it. Even when I cringed at the forty-second time the narrator erupted into tears. Even when it was as plain as the nose on my face that I was not going to get the satisfaction of finding the sick pervert at the end and having him beaten to death / incarcerated for life / tortured by eating ground glass. Hell, even when I realised that this stupid man was actually going to forgive the psycho, I kept reading. Why? Who knows? It wasn't like the writing was compelling. Or the story. I shall chalk it up to sheer stubbornness.

The thing is, I like me a good discussion about God. I'm a big fan of stuff that makes you question your convictions, because, really, if your convictions are breakable, they probably weren't very convincing. But I hate books/songs/people that want to talk about "something" and then start talking about God. Clearly, Young wants to be accessible to other religions, but by making his book about the Holy Trinity (which features an injured-at-the-wrist Jesus) you can't help but think he's only serving to say that all religions are welcome but only one religion is right. I felt like I'd been trapped on the train with a Jehovah's Witness as my only company. I felt like I'd been shafted, conned. I wish I'd never bought this stupid book and inadvertently supported this ridiculous man and his ridiculous notions.

If you haven't read The Shack, don't!

PS: it's good to see that though we differ in many ways, I am not alone.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book was supposed to be Augusts' Book Club read, but summer happened, and so it pushed back to September.

Quite appropriate, since September has been linked in my mind inexorably to the smell of books, pencil shavings and plastic binders. Anyway, PotB is fascinating: despite being a Librarian, I hardly ever think of a book as an artifact in and of itself. Brooks is able to bring life into inanimate objects, telling the story of a book through the imagined life of its unplanned guests. While some of the back stories do stretch the imagination (a slave who knows how to read and write in the 15th century? a surprise Jewish lineage at the eleventh hour? hmmm…), most of them are plausible enough, at least for anyone who can tamp down their inner cynic. Also, the main character (Hanna Heath) was a little too contemptuous for my tastes, so I was quite happy to see her narrative broken up by the narratives of far more intriguing voices. The dedication says it all - anyone with a passion for books will enjoy this sumptuous novel. If there were ever heroes in history, they are those that strive to preserve our human stories at all costs.

***

For the librarians.

I'll be the first to admit that I fell into my profession rather than chose it. Loving books and being an avid reader does not mean you ever think you'll be a librarian. Then again, as I found out within two weeks of starting my first professional job, no one really knows what a librarian does anyway. I've always liked looking through used books and wondering where they'd ventured in life. I used to do this with library books too, especially travel books, but I soon realised questioning random stains can only lead to terrible results. A few years ago I started a project whereby I would purchase a used copy of a book I loved, re-read it and then leave it in a conspicuous place (local coffee shop, upper level of a Go train, university reading room, etc.) - I confess that I have stopped tracking them, but the idea is still one that I enjoy. The last book I did this with was left on the GO train (one of my favourite spots) and the last time I tracked it, it was in Colombia! This practice got to be expensive and time-consuming so I started a new project this year - I leave sticky notes in books. Sometimes they're little comments about what I thought was interesting; sometimes it's a recommendation to another book…I read a library copy of The Road and on the back cover, I wrote out a quote from Le Petit Prince. The idea of having a conversation without ever speaking is really, well, cool to me.

I sometimes wonder about librarians whose profession is more like a vocation: the first librarians who used camels to share books all over the Arabian desert; the librarian in Basra who risked her life every night to transport as many books as she could carry from her library to her home in order to avoid them being shelled or incinerated. For a long time, libraries were looked upon as a place for the elite to get access to books; this is why the archaic term "patron" was used for a library-card holder and has been dropped to reflect the far more inclusive culture that are fostered at public libraries today. Librarians have always been looked upon as gatekeepers of knowledge. This isn't true - or at least, real librarians don’t want it to be true. Gatekeeper implies that we would deny access to anyone. Rather, librarians have always been about information dissemination: whether you want a cake recipe or the latest fiction bestseller or instructions on how to make a pipe bomb, libraries will have the answer and librarians will help you find them. Moral debates about the kinds of information have always been a part of our profession, more so in our post-911 paranoid society. Despite the images of be-bunned shushers, librarians are the radicals in our ongoing struggle to keep information free and accessible and usually the strongest voices that fight for individual freedom and privacy. Book banning is only a precursor to book burning and I would sneak about in the dead of night to save books from that horrible fate. Would you? If so, perhaps you're a librarian at heart as well. Sometimes, I wish we all were.

Monday, August 24, 2009

ngoma

While I know that the Ex signals the end of Summer, I've never looked upon it with mixed feelings. For me, the summer has always been too long and I liked being headed back to school. In fact, I looked forward to, like dessert after a delicious meal. This year is no exception. In my librarian years, the summer represents a fun, but exhausting, time of year: in July alone, we offered 38 programs with 2,504 kids in attendance.

I've been going to the Ex for fifteen consecutive years and over time, the focus has certainly changed. In my teens, we bought the play-all-day pass and rode the roller coasters until my dad said it was time to go; later, unchaperoned, we stayed as late as Mississauga Transit would allow us. We once rode the Doppel Loopin seven times in a row. Good thing too, as the next year, they had shut it down for safety reasons. There are no more roller coasters at the CNE. As we got a bit older and the exuberance of youth faded, we stated wandering into the buildings. As a kid, I didn't understand why you'd pay to go onto fair grounds and then just shop. As an adult, that's all I do. This year, we only stayed eight hours (as opposed to our usual twelve), but we still hit every outlet in the place. $112 dollars later, I has fifteen new tops, a new skirt, six pairs of earrings and a hair clip. I love this place.

The other thing we discovered upon entering the buildings were the indoor stages. We're no strangers to concerts at the Ex: we had seen I Mother Earth, Econoline Crush, Treble Charger and this wicked Alanis impersonator who made both Nish and I second-guess her identity. In the International Building, they have a small stage as well, where local ethnic groups often perform. one year, we watched our friend's belly-dancing troupe perform.

This year, we watched Ngoma, a dance-and-drum team from the Jane-Finch area. Watching these tiny kids (one couldn't have been a day over six) drum their little hearts out was a little inspirational; I must admit to getting a little verklempt. The "maestro" had some serious patience, often having to give individual direction to the smallest of the bunch. More girls than boys in the group took care of the "girls don’t' drum" mystique too. I kept thinking that this is the sort of activity that our youngest kids need: healthy outlets for creativity and energy. For all the teachers of the world who volunteer their time and talent - thank you.

On a side note: what is it about drums that make my heart beat faster and my breath come a little shorter? I have never been to Africa, and yet I can almost feel the place pulling me there, with wide savannahs providing cool green shade on hot days. The throb of the afternoon sun matching the rhythm of my heart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Now Playing: Inglourious Basterds

Ahh, Tarantino. That man knows how to make a good movie. And Inglourious Basterds is absolutely no exception. Right from the first scene, there's tension, drama, laughs and blood. What else would you expect? Here's what not to look for: historical accuracy. Oh my god, don’t even bother. Nothing about IG is accurate, but really, who cares? Valkyrie was supposed to be accurate and it stank up the place. This way, knowing that everything is completely and utterly fabricated, you can actually be held in suspense. Would Shoshanna be successful? Which of the Basterds would survive, if any? Can they kill Hitler before he kills them?

As for the casting, it was all excellent. Brad Pitt is only a little distracting, but I thought he would be very distracting, and he wasn't. The runaway star of this movie was Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa, bar none. That man single-handedly made me laugh at his excellent (if macabre) sense of humour, feel admiration at his impeccable social etiquette, crave his sharp wit and deductive mind and, with swift cruelty, feel like a terrible human being that I ever saw anything cool in him. Perfect Nazi officer.

What can I say? It was very very entertaining. It looks like this summer Blockbuster season came late, but thank goodness it showed up at all. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

ladies night

All I need to reaffirm that I'm exactly where I should be in life is to go out with my girls. See, this is what happens. I stay at work and I get all caught up in being this big work success… you know, senior this and manager that. And suddenly, that becomes this all-consuming force, and I get all down and depressed because I'm still "just" a librarian doing way more work than I should be doing. On Friday, I had the opportunity to hang out with my work mentor and she (the ball-buster that she is) had some choice words for me. Most of them reading something like "you make it too easy for everyone else to succeed - just stop" and "it's your fault no one knows you're bitter - you haven't told them yet" … she's great. With that in mind, I have decided to let it go.

Fast forward a couple of hours and I'm sitting in a bar west of Queen West with my fellow SociaLits. We're talking about boys and trips and work and I'm thinking, you know what? I'm doing well here. I travel lots, I go out lots, I have a good job that affords me my own place and I'm in fairly good health. So, maybe someone two years younger than me (and with a great deal less experience) gets promoted over me - it's probably time I left this sandbox anyway. Currently, I'm doing the job of two librarians and picking up the slack of a senior who hasn't quite grasped the idea that being a senior means doing a lot of the crap that no one else wants to do (that's why she gets paid more than me). It will be interesting to see how the void gets filled when I leave. And it is a when. If I don't get a position as a promotion, I'm willing to go laterally to get away from this insane workload.

All these thoughts swirled about me as I'm getting ready to go out and I had to make a conscious effort to tamp them down. As I'm chatting it up with AnCe, Nish and Senator, I get flashes of what life could be like: I could be working at a way higher-paying job, but then too burned out to actually go out; I could be working at Customs but then be working the 1600 shift and thus processing pax instead of sipping Brazilian cocktails; I could be working at a job that I adore (mmm, Maypole…), but too poor to afford cocktails or condos and be truly miserable. No... employment, in context of life, is pretty good; if I could just stop playing the ranking game, I'd be self-actualised.

Anyway, the evening ended on a bittersweet note: bitter because Nish became ill and had to be escorted home early by Senator; sweet because AnCe and I gorged at a Demetre's. All in all - I love my ladies. I bet they don’t even know the depressing Friday night from which they saved me.