Monday, July 29, 2013

Now Playing: Wolverine

This weekend, we were able to catch Wolverine, one of my favourite Marvel characters.  Before we went to see it, I had read a number of Facebook reviews, all of which started with an iteration of “well, it was better than the first movie…”; this gives the impression that it wasn’t very good, but at least better... well, hell.  I liked the first movie.  There were some parts that could have used some attention to detail, but it was still pretty entertaining.  This movie, though?  It wasn’t just better than the first movie, it was pretty awesome!

Casting and location were brilliant: the cinematography really benefitted from actually shooting in Japan, with the shadows and the mountains lending an authenticity to the movie.  Jackman has completely made this his role – and after being in SEVEN movies as the same character?  Good luck to anyone rebooting this series.  Yukiowas great, Viper was stunning, and having Famke Janssen come back as Jean Grey was simply brilliant.  A very strong female cast indeed.

The special effects were all very believable, the CGI remaining unobtrusive.  I will lodge a formal complaint here: in order to retain their PG-13 rating, the bloodletting was thoroughly sanitised.  There’s this scene where a sword is pulled out of the abdomen, and it comes away perfectly clean.  I don’t know what’s worse, exposing children to blood or giving them the impression that it’s possible for a sword through the gut not to kill you.  I wish they would release an R version of these superhero movies, for us adult fans.

So, yeah: I recommend it, especially if you’re in to action movies, comic books, or sci-fi.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Now Playing: Despicable Me 2

A slow weekend had us take in Despicable Me 2 while killing time on a Sunday night.  I had really enjoyed the first one and thought the second held some promise.  Alas, like most sequels, it didn’t have the same spark.  The girls seemed watered down, Gru wasn’t evil enough, and while I enjoyed the introduction of Lucy, she wasn’t enough to carry the whole movie.  Minions?  Still awesome. Not too much else to report.

So, yeah, catch it on Netflix.  Better yet, rewatch the first one, which is still LOL funny.  2.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


When I travel, I carry three pieces of what I consider essential clothing:
-    A change of underwear for everyday, including socks.
-    A lightweight quilted shell (doubles as cold-weather guard and a comfy pillow)
-    A black hoodie: it’s a blanket, a coat, an umbrella, a pillow and it covers mild stains (at least until your next laundry stop).
Sure there are things you should carry – Tshirts, travel-size toiletries, scarf – but if any of the above were forgotten, I’d actually buy a replacement.  I crossed this great and beautiful country with my customs hoodie (saved my life); I covered The Rock in my Library Wench hoodie; I took in the majesty of the Grand Canyon in my Jasper hoodie.  The hoodie is indispensable.  And a Canadian winter?  A hoodie is the undergarment, often paired with a down-filled waterproof puffy vest. 

So, I find it fascinating that a piece of clothing as versatile and as useful as a hoodie has become so vilified.  How it could be used as a reason for suspicion, a reason for a bullet in the chest?

The Not Guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial makes me ill.  The blatant racial and sexist profiling (would he have fired if it was a black girl, a white man) is incredible enough; the fact that he was acquitted as having acted reasonably is just downright nauseating.  Since when does suspicion allow you to murder? And is my car or my computer or my home theatre system worth a young man’s life?  There are just so many things wrong with this picture: stand your ground laws, rampant gun violence, institutionalised racism ... and all in a country that prides itself on freedom. 

Where was Trayvon Martin’s freedom to wear a hoodie? Eat skittles? Walk home without being harassed? 

As Elle so eloquently put it:
“The American justice system is still stacked against black people, don't delude yourselves, this isn't a post-racial world unless you're white and privileged. That's not a dig against white people, that's an honest interpretation of our social structure. Institutionalized racism is so much worse because it looks like fairness but it's really just prejudice wrapped in a pretty package. I'd rather be called a Nigger to my face than being lulled into a false sense of security. God, if people only understood that race is a social concept, not a scientific one. The traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin and eye color, or the width of the nose, are traits controlled by a relatively few number of genes. We are more similar than different, there's only one real SCIENTIFIC race and that's the HUMAN RACE! But understanding that takes a little more education and comprehension than the average racist has. There are times when being Canadian feels so damn good. There's racism everywhere, but dear God the systemic racism in the US scares me. Black men in the US pull up your pants, put the blunt down, pick up a book, and educate yourself. This is what the system thinks of you…nothing.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Now Playing: Pacific Rim

Have to admit: I was pretty excited about Pacific Rim.  Not only did it have Guillermo del Toro at the helm (whose work in Pan's Labyrinth and El Orfanato was pretty stellar), but it also involved giants robots and Idris Elba!  It's like the perfect setup for a decent popcorn-muncher.

So, let's cover the good stuff: the special effects were great.  Very believable, excellent physics integration, not cheesy at all.  For both Robot and Kaiju.  Also, love the bringing back of the term "kaiju", which I haven't heard in some time and I think is the perfect shorthand for this sort of monster.  Cloverfield should have referenced it, but didn't (then, that movie wasn't very good).  Also, also: kinda loved the interaction between the two scientists ...and, that's about it.

Frankly, the movie had too many issues.

First, the cast members really looked alike.  I mean, don't they  have brunet(te)s that can kick ass?  They even bottle-blonded the two huge (and obviously dark-haired) Russians.  It was ridiculous.

And then there's the running time: 132 minutes.  That's really long for an action flick.  Fast-paced movies need to keep up a good clip so you don't mired in details (why didn't they detonate nukes on these creatures? why did they think a WALL would stop them? wait, what's that about dinosaurs?)  Somewhere along the line, I got a little, well, bored.

Finally, if they wanted us to care about the characters, they needed to give us more time to identify with them.  The only one that I would have been sad to lose was Miss Mori, but most of that was due to the totally adorable Mana Ashida, with her blue coat and little red shoe.  the rest?  Expendable. 

So, what to rate this?  Well, I wouldn't recommend watching it in theatres (waste of money) and I think watching it at home would actually detract from the movie's best parts: the special effects.  That alone is a 50% fail.  But coupled with its inability to live up to its own hype and for giving away all the best lines in the trailer: 2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Birthday Weekend(tm): The Jesus Year

Amul Butter Girl, who bears a distinct resemblance to me...
This is it.  The big three-three.  You know, even Jesus didn’t live long past this; every year from here on in should be considered a miracle.  As per usual, I set up a weekend full of events.

Friday night was to be spent dancing at Velvet Underground to DJ Bingo Bob.  But Velvet was playing what I can only classify as Italian hip-hip.  Many would disagree, but I’m not a genre specialist.  Then we went to Bovine, but there was a band there that didn’t sound like they were worth the $10 cover charge.  Next up, under advisement from LilBro, was Hideout.  $7 to get in there… okay.  Also band, covering oldies (Beatles, etc.).  Finally, Tattoo Rock Parlour, where knowing the bouncer meant skipping the line and the cover.  Honestly?  Friday night on Queen West has changed and left me out.  I guess I really getting old.  Still, clambered home around 0330, not bad.

Saturday was spent on a deliciously pulled-out couch, watching two weeks worth of TV and eating junk food.  Breakfast in bed, Greek lunch delivery… all good.  Saturnight we had reservations at the 360, the revolving restaurant atop the CN Tower.  Tried to convince Jadek that we should have done the Edge Walk too, but he was having none of it.  Dinner was divine and we spent a very warm evening strolling the deck three hundred metres above ground.  A soft-serve ice cream from a truck capped off that delicious day.

Sunday was brunch at Victoria’s in the King Edward Hotel.  It was everything I remembered and then some.  If you haven’t been, I suggest you go, at least once.  It’s worth every penny: the food is varied and fantastic, the service is impeccable, the atmosphere is rich…just excellent.  What made it more special was the company I kept while there.  After that, Jadek and I took in The Lone Ranger; it was POURING when we exited, so we killed some time in Chapters.

That night, I went to my parents’ for dinner, takeout from my favourite Chinese restaurant: Eddie’s Wok ‘n’ Roll.  They bought me not one, not two, but THREE dresses from NYC, all of which fit perfectly.  And since I had taken Monday and Tuesday off, I was able to extend that birthday feeling all week by wearing a new dress every day.  Fabulous!

On Monday, of course, we were hit by that incredible deluge.  While I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me, it does seem very suspicious that on the back of my miraculous birthday, we get a Noah-like flood.  On Tuesday they called for hail (which, thankfully, did not come to pass).  If I see frogs, poppets, I’m calling in the Apocalypse!

It was a wonderful and eventful start to my mid-thirties.  I am always amazed by indulgences of friends who allow for my birthday to be extended for days and days (and days!)...I look forward to what comes next.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Now Playing: The Lone Ranger

This year’s birthday movie: The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer (who’s he, you ask?  Yeah, you and me both). Also: William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson – both of whom I adore.

I never watched this show as a kid (way too young for that, poppets), so I have no strong feelings either way.  Really, the only things I recognised were the theme song and “Hi, ho, Silver!”  I was a bit surprised they let Mr. Depp play Tonto – weren’t people going to be offended?  Then again, he was always under layers and layers (and LAYERS) of makeup.  The rest of the Native Americans were plays by actual Native Americans, so there’s that too.

The movie was a bit slow to get started – I guess it’s an origin story?  But I don’t see a lot of franchise potential here.  Surprisingly, much of it centred around Tonto, with him providing the frame and narrating the main arc; the Ranger(s)?  almost an afterthought.  There were funny moments, witty repartee, slapstick, and sight gags…but honestly? the story was incredibly sad, I thought.  The betrayals, the unnecessary warfare, the goddamned Gatling gun (that thing has made me weepy thrice now in theatres).  And I’m not altogether sure I’d take anyone under the age of twelve.  It’s being billed a family Disney flick, but it’s way too serious for that.

A watchable 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


I have, what some polite people may call, an eclectic family.  Actually, I have, what I call, a crazy family.  And just when I think I’ve come to grips with my history, something happens to blow my mind.  Way more on that later.

I took a four-day jaunt to visit my family in NYC.  Yes, four days.  I actually don’t like visiting that particular branch, but not for the reasons you may think**.  They’re gregarious, funny, honest, and totally down-to-earth.  I have spent many a hour on the phone with my Aunt, in stitches from her daily commentary on life.  She can’t get through a sentence without swearing – and the kind of swearing that would put a sailor to shame.  I learned so many interesting ways to cuss while in her home.  Her youngest son is only a month younger than me: when we were growing up, we were inseparable.  We played Thundercats with such vigour that we broke beds, bones, and boundaries with equal panache.  He’s now about to be a father, something I can’t even begin to fathom.  My Aunt’s only daughter – whom they always just called Daughter (even in Christmas cards) – is pretty much a loser.  She abandoned her two eldest children almost ten years ago.  My niece and nephew, whose father is an equal deadbeat, were brought up by their uncles and grandmother.  They had a hard childhood and I always worried for them – this was the branch where no one had even finished high school, forget college.  (The boys all landed on their feet, they work crushing hours to make a decent living.)  The elder, my nephew, dropped out of high school.  No surprise.  I am very happy to report that he wrote, and passed, his GED.  He’s a talented boy, a tattoo artist and skateboard designer – but works in a Manhattan kitchen.  The younger, my niece, graduated this June.  With Honours.  Scholarships to schools.  Of course, I had to be there to see her get that diploma.  Not just me, but my whole immediate family.  So, no option for a hotel.  Stayed we did.

It was a lovely ceremony (all the way out in Long Island!), staged in a huge gymnasium for only about 150 kids (but at least 2000 family members).  Graduation is a big deal there.  For this school especially, which had gotten used to a 65% graduation rate before becoming chartered.  This year, they boasted an impressive 95% graduation rate, with almost 80% of those kids getting some sort of scholarship.  Wow.  Her future was bright indeed.


You see, on the surface, this is a feel-good story.  Fighting the odds to be the first high school graduate in her family – with honours in health sciences, no less – surely she would be fine.  But the truth is, this is a story about family values.  A story about the importance of caring parents, strong role models (both mom and dad) and the absolute need for boundaries.  Sure, I’ve gotten into my fair share of mischief.  Who hasn’t.  But I had a strong dad, one with a steely grip on my freedoms – just enough slack to explore but yanked back real quick when something untoward was happening.  Like, when I had a boy in my room and I had closed the door.  Never mind that he was my gay best friend, that we were sitting at the desk using the computer – that was the end of that.  Or how about when I got a henna tattoo on my arm at Canada Day; even after I showed him it was washable, he wasn’t happy until it had all come off.  My mom said it best: you had a strict dad and you didn’t really need one.  My niece does.  But it’s hard to be strict when you work 60 hours a week and are only about ten years older.  Even harder when you don’t live under the same roof.  And my Aunt?  Well, she was never much for discipline anyway.

So now, my niece, whose boyfriend has been sharing her bed for a month, has decided to defer her education (and lose her scholarships).  She’s decided to work as a cashier in the same Manhattan eatery as her brother.  When Dad tried to turf her boyfriend on behalf on my Aunt, my niece left the house and wasn’t heard from until she knew my parents (namely, my strict Dad) was gone.  I’ll give them this – no one ever talks back to my Dad.  He has a lot of authority.  He’s that guy, you know?  Boy, did she need that guy growing up.

I had wanted to help plan her first year away from home, make lists of things she’d need, talk about my own dorm experience and what she could expect.  I wanted to take her shopping in Manhattan – just the girls – and make a day of it.  I guess I had her frozen in my mind as that sweet nine-year-old who was so starved for affection, that she literally clung to me the minute I walked in; who asked quietly if she could sleep with me on the tiny twin bed; who delighted in berry-flavoured sparkly chapstick.  That was my mistake.  Turns out, she’s stubborn, rude, and dismissive – typical teenaged stuff that’s easily addressed by good parenting.  This is what happens when you don’t have parents looking out for you.

Who would have thought a family trip to NYC would become a morality play?

**Why don’t I like visiting?  In short – they’re slobs.  I’ve never been in a house that filthy.  And I genuinely think they try but actually have no concept of clean.  I’m a finicky person and thus entirely uncomfortable staying there overnight.  I’ve been to NYC many times, and am happy to take the E train to Jamaica-VanWyck for a visit.  That’s about all I can handle. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

I went to NYC for a brief 4-day stint for what should have been a joyous occasion.  More on that later.  What does this have to do with Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje?  Well, because of the combined seven hours in delays, I finished the bulk of the novel in an airport.  This was June’s Book Club pick, and since I’ve always loved Mr. Ondaatje’s work, I thought I would cruise through it.  What used to be prime reading time (before sleep, in bed) has now become an abbreviated five-to-ten minutes.  Makes any book a really long read.  I have totally trained myself to sleep – immediately – the minute I’m prone on my mattress.


Anil’s Ghost starts and ends abruptly.  I literally turned the last page and exclaimed, out loud, “that’s it?”  The passengers next to me thought I was reacting to the amount on our meal voucher.  In between, there is the usual poetry, gripping eloquence, dry charm, and almost-hostile affection: who else but an Ondaatje protagonist would stab a long-time lover in the arm and still hope that same lover will pursue?  And how I fell in love with the abandoned Buddhist Grove of Ascetics, with its deep thoughts and slow-moving colours.  If you’re looking for a mystery that solves satisfactorily, don’t look here.  This is a story told in fragments, in brief flashes, that demands the reader to put together the puzzle without a box.  And if you do put it together, neither the story nor the author tell you whether you go it right.

Truthfully, for me, the question upon which this novel turns is this: who, or what, is Anil’s Ghost?
Depending on when you ask me, I’ll answer differently.

When I’m feeling sentimental, I’ll say it is the ghost of her lost cultural identity, epitomised by the struggle of her Sri Lankan heritage to be in harmony with her Western education.  The ghost of her parents and the life and dreams they would have had for their daughter, so blatantly pushed aside for something so completely alien.

When I’m feeling hard-nosed, I’ll say it’s the pressing need for an elusive justice, the desire to find those who murder and obfuscate truth in the pursuit of power, cloaked by bureaucracy.  The ghost of Sailor and his compatriots (Tinker, Soldier and Spy) crying out for vengeance.

When I’m feeling contemplative, I’ll say it’s ghost of history and philosophy struggling through time to remain relevant.  While greed and desecration has been around for millennia, it is the apathy that erodes reverence, not modernity.  It’s just that the tools have gotten so much more efficient, so much more brutal.

And when I’m feeling like a Librarian, preparing for a book talk, I’ll say this: it’s an absorbing read, but not a light one.  If you like complex characters with equally facetted motives, you may like this.  If you appreciate the evocative nature of poetry and the moody ambience of a dark and stormy night, you may like this.  It’s the kind of book made for rainy days and long train rides.  And maybe even airport waiting lounges.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Now Playing: World War Z

This review is so late, poppets.  But many things conspired to get in its way: NYC, birthday weekend(tm), and let's not forget the FLOOD.  Anyway: World War Z, where Brad Pitt takes on zombies.  Go.

Because I’m feeling sickly and because I watched this almost three weeks ago, I can only give you vague impressions.  It was good.  It had its scary moments (but they were less Romero and more 28 days later).  Pitt is his usual goodness; nice to see Mireille Enos on the big screen too.  (Can’t get over how beautiful she looks – why does he always take on such grubby roles?)  All well-paced, acted, etc.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Most importantly, though, it added to Zombie Survival canon.
  1. Duct-taping magazines to one forearms as rudimentary armour against bites? Awesome, low-tech, and easily done.
  2. Get up a staircase and then destroy it behind you.
  3. …there was more, but I can’t remember it right now…
If you’re interested in learning more, check out Max Brooks' Zombie World.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

flash flood -

On July 8, the western part of the GTA experienced an average of 120 mm of rain.  In one hour.  Needless to say, it was a disaster.  I was lucky to be spared the worst of it, only having to resort to garbage bag-clad leggings and clever driving to rescue my car from my flooded garage.  The white Porsche I share a lane with was not so lucky – he was buried mirror-deep in muddy water.

This, of course, on the back of the Calgary-area flooding.  Some time ago, I ranted about the idiocy of humans and the inability of some to acknowledge the obvious.  I mean, if there is retributive karma in the universe, surely it was that macabre sense of humour that flooded Stephen Harper’s riding in Calgary.  In fact, I’m sure he will use this flooding to somehow justify his pulling out of the desertification treaty in March.  So, while I was inconvenienced by a five-hour blackout and a muddy garage, at least I wasn’t in Calgary.

And as I write this, they’re calling for even more rain and a possibility of hail.  Hail.  So, where to put my car now?  Flooded garage not an option.  And outside could mean serious chassis damage.  Yet, even as I type this, I think about my Calgarian compatriots without power and out of their homes for days and feel humble.