Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dear Mr. Munsch,

The very first book I ever read in Canada was a little something called The Paper Bag Princess. Being an avid reader of Grimm and Andersen, I was beyond delighted- enthralled really - by this plucky princess. I went on to devour everything you'd ever written and your books became gifts for my cousins, my nieces, my god-daughter. I laughed during Mud Puddle, commiserated with Mortimer, and cried bittersweet tears during Love You Forever. When I went away to university I only took three books with me: Oh, The Places You'll Go, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Angela's Airplane. When I went into children's services, the very first book I ever did in storytime? You guessed it: Paper Bag Princess. After it was over, a new-to-Canada mother asked me for the author so she could get a copy for her daughter at home. How circular is life. I have since performed that story on stage, with puppets, with a big book, as a felt story... even on the phone. You have given me so much joy, Mr. Munsch. I can only hope to pay it forward.

I am very sorry to hear of your stroke. I cannot tell you how much it hurt for me to read that you couldn't write any more - actually that you couldn't even construct sentences. I cannot even imagine what that must feel like. I can only hope that you will recover and can continue to do what I can only think you were put on this earth to do - make children (and the rest of us) happy. Thank you for making storytime such an easy endeavour, for helping us attempt a Guinness World Record... most of all, thank you for giving a lonely immigrant girl with a funny accent her first Canadian friend.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Now Playing: Frost/Nixon

Almost done the list of movies! Next on the docket: Frost/Nixon, starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (more on him later!).

The acting is simply stellar. If you closed your eyes while Langella spoke, I think most people would have thought they were listening to the real deal. And Sheen! This guys plays Lucian in the Underworld series, for jebus' sake... would anyone have thought he could have pulled it off with such panache? such conviction? That he could have really held his ground against Langella? Honestly, it was art imitating life imitating art.

The directing was really well-paced too. Considering this was a movie based on an interview, it could have very easily become... well, boring. Far from it. I kept thinking back to that other iconic exchange and decided that we have a new soundbite for our times. Is it ironic that, in fact, the soundbite originates some 30-odd years ago? It didn't help that Kevin Bacon was around, complete with a decorated uniform. Is that guy in very movie, or what?

Being born in the 80's means that the whole Nixon/Vietnam/Watergate is completely over my head. I only know of it vaguely, and that too mostly gleaned from Trivial Pursuit games. So the entire movie, while historic in nature, really did become a spectacle for entertainment. And in the end, that's what impressed me most - the ability to make two guys doing an interview so goddamned riveting. Best movie of the year? Hardly. But definitely some of the best acting this decade. 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now Playing: The Wrestler

My childhood memories are full of good times involving choke slams, crimson masks and men in tights. I shouldn't even say "childhood", since I can clearly remember driving my brother home after we had had watched the unveiling of Kane. Wrestling became a permanent fixture in my life at a very tender age, with the likes of Mighty Igor and Dino Bravo (I am certain Bravo's Quebecois-flag-waving was a portent to our arrival in Canada). I was a Hulkamaniac and a Warrior Fan in grade school, a Rockers and Strike Force follower during puberty and then, finally, I embraced my dark side by forever becoming an acolyte of the Undertaker. All this to tell you that old-school wrestling holds a special place in my heart.

Enter Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The character is some sort of amalgamation of the Heartbreak Kid, Terry Funk and Hulk Hogan. He's tailor-made to be a tragic figure in my world. [I think most wrestlers are - I mean, think about it, it's a short-lived (and short-loved) career full of hard knocks, hard drugs and hard women. It can't be easy to live that life and then become normalised when it's over.] Back to the movie: we find Randy the Ram, 20 years past his prime, in love with an off-limits stripper, estranged from his daughter, trying to squeeze the last of what's left of his fame out of his dried-up husk of a life. He has a good soul (I loved his choice of gift - it was such a classic Daddy moment), but no heart to follow through. You just KNOW this can't be going to good places, but you can't help hoping that it won't.

Rourke really is phenomenal in the titular role: he has the physique, the face and the ring of truth in his voice to have me completely believing in this man. Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei, with one of the hottest bodies, still) lives a life strangely parallel to Randy: she, too, is too old to be doing what she's doing, but does it anyway, because she can't seem to do anything else. The difference lies in her shouldering of her responsibilities and his complete inability to do so. But the surprise of the movie came in the gem that was Stephanie Robinson (Randy's daughter, played very capably by Evan Rachel Wood). In two separate moments, we can see all the hopes and disappointments that children can't help but feel when it comes to their parents: grabbing his arm as they walk through an a abandoned building; repeating that she doesn't care over and over again, even while her tears are still wet on her cheeks.

There are so many great scenes where no one talks at all: Randy at a signing, looking around at his fellow attractions; Cassidy, even with all she has to offer on display, realising she can't hold their attention; Stephanie deciding to catch up instead of lingering behind. In the end, I was left wondering "is he dead?" … and the more I thought about it (as I was brushing my teeth to go to bed), the more I realised it doesn't matter: Randy the Ram has been dead for almost 20 years. Whether Robin Ramsinsky believes it or not, is a whole other story. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now Playing: Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood directed, produced and starred in Gran Torino, a story about a racist Korean war vet living in a now-predominantly Korean neighbourhood. I'm going to be up front about how I'm judging this movie - not for its entertainment, but for its provocative factor.

I could see where this was going the minute he aimed a gun at his neighbours. (Watch the trailer - you'll see it). The story itself is a bit predictable, but I easily forgave it the minute people started talking (more on that below). The only thing that I didn't see coming was the last 15 minutes of the film, but even that - once it got going, I called it. So, don't go see this movie for its storyline - it's not a bad plot, but it's not a particularly good one either.

I've always thought directing and acting in a movie at the same time is a bit difficult. I know Eastwood has done this - and well - before; this time, however, not so much. Sitting through the credits, I asked my companion whether he thought the same thing as I did - that aside from the very natural exchanges between Walt and his Barber, everything else seemed a little... flat. Contrived. The script is actually quite good and the kids had their moments, but something was definitely missing. I think I'm going to have to blame this on the director not being able to coach the right mood out of his actors. I know, I know... Eastwood has directed really well before, so what's different now? Well, he's directed veteran actors before... these kids needed a little... more. So, don't go see this movie for its acting.

Why go see it then? I guess one reason is to see Clint get some of his badassery back while using some of the most racist (and yet hilariously appropriate) language I've heard in a theatre. Another would be to put it all in perspective, as GT is being lumped together with the other big players of the year. And it is with this in mind that I have to - and am compelled to - rate this a 3.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the prince and the papadum

There's this popular sushi house in the neighbourhood. Well, in the driving neighbourhood. I've never been but have heard so much effusive praise, I will admit to my curiosity being piqued. Reservations were made and despite extreme cold alerts, snow squall warnings for much of the area and a car that wouldn't start, we made it. Of course, when we got there, they couldn't find our reservation; and because the place is so packed, they weren't inclined to fit us in either. Man, I had really been looking forward to sushi buffet. I had skipped dinner and by now it had been 8 hours since my last meal. I was unimpressed.

Instead, we ended up at an Indian place. Let's get something straight: despite being Anglo-Indian, I never get cravings for Indian food. I get cravings for my mother's food, but never Indian restaurant food. It always seems very… generic, I guess. And overpriced - when you're paying $2 for a naan bread that costs about 20 cents to make, you know you're getting ripped off. I would have preferred the Mexican place next door, frankly. Also, not being culturally Indian, it's hard for me answer questions about what certain things are called; to this day, I still refer to the "grenade-looking things" when speaking to my mother about certain spices. I feel like an inadequate Indian epicurean.

While munching on lamb gosht and chicken tikka paneer, we chat about a myriad of topics. One of the reasons I like hanging out with Kaylee is she doesn't take things personally, even if something goes against her personal beliefs. Can't say I'm always good at doing that myself and it's refreshing to meet someone else who strives to be the same way. JC and I, being veteran debaters, have been able to do this for quite some time (though, I will admit, if I detect a note of condescension or personal attack, I will likely mirror those back) and it was good to see someone who not only had a different opinion, but who can talk about intelligently. A rarity.
…It was an interesting round-table discussion, featuring an atheist, an agnostic, Church-going Catholic and a self-professed spiritualist. Oprah? Eat your heart out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Batman HUSH by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee and Scott Williams

Full disclosure: big Batman fan, as I'm sure I've told you before. For Christmas, LilBro went off-list and purchased for me the Batman Hush duology. I was elated and stayed up until 6am Christmas morning devouring them. This review will be short; I shall spare you, dear reader, my effusive praise of all things Batman.

Let's chat a little, instead, about the fringes of what makes the Batman mythos so very compelling. At least for me.

1) Most of the rogues' gallery makes an appearance, with all my favourites checking in.

2) Things are dark, things are dismal, things are very very bleak. I love this comic.

3) Superman gets pwned. 'nuff said.

4) We get to listen in to Batman's thoughts (not just his sarcastic humour or his deep timbre - his actual thoughts).

5) The art is fabulous. Not too over-the-top (a la Todd McFarlane) but not too glossed over (a la Batman: Animated series) ... it's just right. Standouts include Catwoman, Ivy and Scarecrow. This is the way I picture my Gotham world.

It really was a pleasure to read; I hope that Loeb/Lee/Williams will continue to collaborate and bring us more Batman-done-right.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I don't think I've taken this long (6 weeks!) to read a book in my life. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, is a wonderfully different story chronicling the life (actually the pre-life as well) of Calliope Stephanides where the discovery she's actually a he shocks the Orthodox Greek family and community in which Cal has grown. So, let's get it right: Calliope is born with a 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, an intersexed person who looks fairly androgynous. She is mistaken for a girl at birth, is raised as one and, upon confrontation, runs away to become a boy.

Truly, I hadn't even read the summary for the book - it is a Book Club pick and a Pulitzer-prize winner, so I read it. Eugenides is a very talented author, effortlessly weaving bland textbook-like facts with macabre humour and dry wit. I was completely pulled into the story and, despite having big breaks between readings, never forgot the brilliant characters. I didn't feel compelled to ever pick up the book; but, when I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would be hard-pressed to put it down. It's a strange reaction, I will admit. Desdemona's weaknesses, Lefty's charm, Tessie's worries, Milton's stubborness, Lina's audacity, Zizmo's malice... they were all distinct voices in what could have easily become a cacophonous chaos. I loved how loose trheads which I thought were simply the reflection of real life came back to finish off in neat little knots.

Some of my favourite passages from the book have nothing at all to do with the story. From "a word on penises" (p. 452) to a "black screen" (p. 59) to "baptism" (p. 221), there seems to be no subject held reverent or off-limits. The book made me laugh and cry and think, sometimes all at once. But be warned, this is not a light read or even an easily-stomached read (and not for the reasons you may think) - but it is a worthwhile read. I do not regret getting it in hardcover.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Now Playing: Revolutionary Road

Number 3 on the Golden Globe list brings me to Revolutionary Road, starring the much-anticipated re-pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Anyone expecting a Titanicesque reprisal may or may not be disappointed. Let's be clear - this isn't a romance. Well, it is a romance, but a realistic romance that quickly leaves behind any illusions of a happy ending. At one point: Frank says, desperately, "we can be happy. I can make you happy here." That's Frank's problem right there - Alice has never loved Frank... she has always loved what he could, one day, be. Therein lies the delusion of love at first sight.

Both Winslet and DiCaprio do an excellent job. Leo is all done growed up, leaving behind his BOP magazine/Growing Pains days with decisiveness. We saw inkling of this intensity during The Departed, but nothing like this. Winslet... what can I say about this lady? I mean, can anyone play disaffected suburban housewife quite like her? Sam Mendes, of American Beauty fame, is able to tease wonderfully nuanced performances out his two very talented leads.

But what's stopping RevRoad from being the best movie of the award-season? I'm unsure. It almost feels too empty. Like the hopelessness and emptiness are too deliberate. There also doesn't seem to be anything new to add to this conversation. I get it: not all women are cut out for the wife/motherhood thing; while they love their children, they may actually hate their lives and seek to escape at every turn. I just feel like we've done this thing before.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. But unless you, too, are feeling a pressing need to feel informed for this Sunday, just rent it. In fact, I think watching it at home may even be more appropriate. 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I hereby resolve…

All right, it's that time of year. You know, when we make resolutions to be better people and then forget about them by Valentine's Day. I shall be a lemming and dutifully make my false promises. They are as follows:

1) Be (more) Green and Glamourous. We've talked about this, poppets, so I shant belabour the point. In short: Recycle; in heels.

2) Be less needy and needed. This year, I am going to try and enjoy my own company more. I have a terrible habit of relying on people's effervescent company to get me through the chores of life (groceries, cooking, shopping). This year, I am going to try and be more efficient with my time so I do these things less often and I will try to do them… wait for it …by myself. I know, I know. It's a lot for which to ask, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

3) Spend less money. I am already on an allowance system ($40 a week) but I have stop justifying out-of-allowance expenditures (e.g. Chapter's is having a sale - these books don’t count in my allowance!). Here's a few things I've done thus far:
- I have taken up a couple of cheap(er) hobbies - baking and decorating. I've also ordered a couple of books (they were 90% off! surely I HAD to get them) on sewing and crafting, so hopefully that will also lessen the amount of time I'm bored (and thereby spend money).
- Cancelled my uber-expensive cable and started "renting" movies from the library.
- Renewed my WoW account: for $90, it sure does provide a lot of hours of amusement.
- Double-duty clothes: my Christmas outfit this year was a tweed suit with two tops (in cyan and black)… all of which translates to three different outfits for work!
- Finally: coupons. It's something I hardly ever paid attention to but now am finding that saving $5 on a meal or 10% off a commodity starts adding up.

4) Make more lists. We all have to embrace our flaws. I am anal-retentive. I make lists. I stopped making them in order to be less controlling and rigid; that just led me to being absent-minded and inefficient. More lists!

5) Write more. Since I can't afford (either in time or money) to go back to school and take a creative writing class like I'd wanted, I'm just going to have to give myself tasks. Oh, how I wish someone would just assign me some exercises! I miss school.

…I think that's enough for this year. I'm not going to make any "lose weight" types of resolutions for one reason only - I don't like to fail. In being greener and more glamourous, in making healthier meals at home and occupying my time, I hope such things will be a positive side effect.

Friday, January 02, 2009


Since we've all just indulged in countdowns of our own, I had thought this was fun to re-do.

Ten random things about me:
10. I sleep with a 5-foot stuffed bear.
9. I was supposed to be named “Danielle” after my grandfather, but my parents thought people would mis-pronounce it.
8. I have asked for (and have received) socks every Christmas since I can remember.
7. I love reading historical romances, but hate rom-coms.
6. I can’t touch-type and can’t type the word “the” without spelling it “teh”
5. I’ve read “Paradise Lost” from start to finish without being assigned to do so.
4. I own a genuine genie bottle
3. I don’t wear any perfume except White Musk
2. My birthmark is a white elephant - and yes, that is why I am so good at ignoring obvious things that need to be addressed.
1. I’m an Anglo-indian, but have no idea as to what are the names of my “Indian” ancestresses.

Nine places I have visited:
9. Amsterdam, Holland
8. "the edge of the world" (aka Queen Charlotte Islands, BC)
7. The Met, New York
6. Calcutta, India
5. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
4. Stonehenge, County of Wiltshire (UK)
3. St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal
2. Gypsy Bakery (Churchill, MB)
1. the top of the CN tower, Toronto

Eight things I want to do before I die:
8. Visit Australia/New Zealand
7. Take a Mediterranean cruise
6. Own/Run a B&B in Stratford, Ontario.
5. Watch all 100 foreign films on my list
4. Skydive
3. Swim the Pacific Ocean
2. Read the Bhagvad Gita
1. Touch the Acropolis

Seven ways for somebody to win my heart:
7. Make me laugh; laugh in return
6. Indulge in my “crazy”
5. Accept my family and their place in my life
4. Don't let me stay angry for long.
3. Hold my hand during scary movies
2. Listen when I talk; remember what I say; apply it to future conversations.
1. Buy me a book; write a note on the inside.

Six things I believe in:
6. Karma
5. Evolution
4. There is a God and She has a serious sense of humour
3. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”
2. "Do or do not; there is no try."
1. The power of desperation

Five things I am afraid of (or nervous about, or cautious about):
5. Cancer.
4. Going blind.
3. Being taken advantage of.
2. Walking on icy sidewalks.
1. Having no one to annoy in my 70’s.

Four of my favourite Items in my bedroom:
4. Boshie Bear, for all his night-time cuddling.
3. "Secret" books.
2. Customised closet: built for me, by me.
1. The humidifier that allows my tropical body to survive in subarctic winters.

Three things I do everyday:
3. Call a friend.
2. Take 50/50 chances.
1. Seek out the advice of those much cleverer than I.

Two things I am trying not to do right now:
2. Give in to my natural inclination for tenacious curiosity.
1. Become a mindless TV addict.

One person I want to see right now:
1. Me, 40 years from now. Narcissistic, I know. But imagine all the stuff I could ask (lottery numbers, stock options…)