Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ma ville ce n'est pas une ville, c'est l'hiver

With the latest snowfall on Toronto, the sound bites on the news have included such predictable laments as "I should be in Barbados" and "I hate winter." I have repeatedly defended Mel Lastman's enlistment of the army to dig Toronto out of a record snowfall a decade ago but it is hard to tolerate the whining and negative attitude towards winter in this city.

Christopher Hume's article covers many of the thoughts that have been running through my head. However, I would still like to rant about people who insist on wearing Fall jackets in -25C weather. Every day, I see at least two or three pedestrians inappropriately dressed for winter, and it makes no sense. There are many fashionable winter coats; technical puffy coats, polished wool pea coats, classic shearling coats - all would be more useful than a leather jacket or a wind breaker and just as stylish. Even if it is a matter of cost, I think any winter coat is worth the investment since Torontonians experience at least five months of inhospitable weather every year.

Perhaps Torontonians fail to see the appeal of winter because we have limited access to fun winter activities like skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling. Still, the complaining about winter has to stop. Lastman's enlistment of the army was a one time transgression but winter bitching has become a seasonal past time and doubly embarrassing to be sure.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ain't what it used to be

I just love Michael Imperioli's look on "Life on Mars". That 1970s porno dirt bag look; you can just smell the cologne layered on sweaty polyester. Unfortunately for the show's ratings, Imperioli's amazing mustache has not actually compelled me to watch it in action. Too often, I hear that the American version of "Life on Mars" pales in comparison to the British original. So, I figure, what's the point?

Speaking of weak remakes, I always disliked Michael Bublé's "Feeling Good" because it was such easy listening crap that had potential to be more interesting. Thanks to Errol Nazareth on CBC Radio's "Metro Morning", I found out that Bublé's song is actually a remake of a Nina Simone song. Hearing Simone's version of the song shocked me; I actually like it alot.

Pair up Simone's song with Imperioli's photo and I've got myself a good time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prelude to a lynching

We knew that Iceland's economy was in the crapper when we decided to take advantage of a seat sale from Icelandair and book an island vacation. Then, we find out today that Iceland's coalition government has collapsed. There is already a move to form an interim government until elections can be held in May.

Hopefully, this will quelch Icelandic rage until the elections, lest the locals turn on Canadian tourists, especially a particular group of ethnic people that will include at least one Jew.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter has its uses

In the past 10 years, I've skied a handful of times but I had only "snowboarded" once. I use the quotations because my experience consisted of relieving a tired friend of her snowboard rental then rolling in the snow for the next hour because I had no idea what I was doing. For the brief seconds that I was in a vertical position, I felt like I was rushing recklessly to my doom. In comparison, skiing was the safer and more productive choice.

I was put off snowboarding until Dangard Ace recently alerted me to a Blue Mountain special offered in conjunction with National Ski & Snowboard Week (January 19-23, 2009). A beginner lift, lesson and rental package for $39 was an offer that I could not resist and I decided to give snowboarding another chance.

As is usually the case when I sign up for outdoor adventure lessons, I was tutored by at least one Red Bull-toting jock who was contemptuous of my inability to roll forward onto my board. After one painful crawl down a bunny slope made up entirely of unsuccessful attempts to stand up on my board, I decided that flipping myself onto my stomach to push myself onto my feet would be a more productive strategy. A more helpful coach then taught me how to hop to a forward facing position once I was on my feet. After learning how to brake - always a useful skill - I was able to glide down the slope, making 'S's all the way.

Snowboarding seems to be synonymous with risky behaviour. Whereas I can be conservative and slow in my skiing, snowboarding requires a full commitment to a wider turn radius and faster speed in order to stay upright. Having learned the basics of snowboarding, the adrenaline rush has now become enjoyable as opposed to bowel-emptying.

As I relaxed in the waters of Le Scandinave Spa that evening, I found myself visualizing carving snow instead of enjoying the beautiful surroundings and the therapeutic waters. On the long ride home from Blue Mountain, I was mentally correcting my positioning and posture. I asked Joe that night when we can go snowboarding again. This sounds like the start of an addiction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A good start and good bye

It would be an understatement to say that I am not familiar with American presidential inaugurations. Today was my first complete viewing of an inauguration ceremony and the only one that I cared enough to watch live.

Regardless of my ignorance, I think political pundits will agree with my assessment that President Obama gave a beautiful speech. His acknowledgment of a hard road ahead, the need for cooperation between people of different backgrounds and a lengthy appeal to other countries are, I think, unprecedented in the history of inaugural speeches (correct me if I'm wrong). Obama's description of America as a "patchwork" society is almost, dare I say, Canadian in its attitude; an appreciation for the various colours rather than painting everything red, white and blue in one fell swoop.

When Obama first appeared in the hall leading out to the steps of the US Capitol, I had to catch my breath. I believed that I had experienced a saturation point on all things Obama and yet, seeing him walk calmly and confidently out got me excited all over again. It is a testament to the man's ability to connect with the average person that I felt like I was watching a friend when Obama flubbed the oath of office; I felt worried and protective. Thankfully, it was clear when Obama began his speech that he would be just fine.

As the speech continued, my gaze drifted momentarily to George W. Bush. It occurred to me that Bush's eight years of power were wasted in such a ridiculous fashion that the man should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Instead, I will have to be satisfied with Bush being ostracized by his own party and sent into exile to Dallas, Texas. I would pity the man if I thought he had an inkling of what an embarrassment his terms in office have been.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mid-season TV news bits

  • Nathan Fillion is back on TV in ABC's "Castle" starting March 9, 2009. It is purportedly a "witty drama" and Fillion's character is "out of control" so let's hope this is more fun than Fillion's previous vehicle, "Drive" and lasts longer than "Firefly" (sob).
  • Harrold Perrineau is listed as a cast member in a new cop show, "The Unusuals". This can only mean, at the very least, less of Perrineau's character, Michael Dawson on "Lost". Personally, I want to see a violent end for Michael followed by cast-wide amnesia regarding his existence hereafter.
  • Joss Whedon's latest foray into television, "Dollhouse" will premiere on Fox on February 13, 2009. Whedon fans, being the pessimistic sort prone to rallying around a cause, prematurely campaigned to save the show back in May. One has to wonder what kind of sadistic delight TV executives take in causing Whedon fans to jump at the shadow of cancellation while continuing to inflict "Heroes" on us long after any fan has ceased to care for it.
  • Warning - "Battlestar Galactica" January 16 episode spoiler: Really, did anyone shed a tear at the death of Lt. Dualla? How else is Lee going to live happily ever after with Kara? Then again, I applauded when Cally Tyrol flew out into space. I'm a terrible person - long live the Cylons!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Practice makes perfect

Writing a blog usually has be to a reward unto itself because there is no prestige to aim for nor loot to be had ... until now! Canada Writes '09 is a speed writing contest hosted by Brent Bambury on the CBC Radio show, "GO!"

Contestants are invited to send in their most entertaining 200 words in one of five categories: song lyrics, movie pitch, rant, ad and blog! Shortlisted writers will compete live on the air, whipping out 200 words in one hour, on April 18. Up for grabs is a Macbook for the ultimate winner and an iPod Touch for the runner-ups.

I feel somewhat qualified for this competition since I have a blog and regularly whip out entries over my lunch hour, plus I am actually a fan of "GO!" having attended one of their live tapings.

Readers of this blog tend to be writers of their own - it's an incestuous community. I encourage everyone to enter the contest by February 7. Good luck and godspeed your typing.

Friday Night Play List: Easy Peasy

I'm pretty tired from fighting off a cold for the past week so here are a pair of my favourite movies of all time.

Fight Club (1999) - Edward Norton has never been better as a contemporary everyman suffering from insomnia brought about by modern malaise and the absence of emotional release. Norton finds salvation in increasingly ambitious levels of violence with soap salesman, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). The take home message for me was to find a good, all-consuming hobby. Still, blowing up some corporate art and a Starbucks sounded fun, too. One of my favourite lines in cinema is uttered by Helena Bonham Carter with Pitt postcoital, "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school." It was a line reluctantly chosen by Fox studio heads over the alternative, "I want to have your abortion."

Out of Sight (1998) - Directed by Steven Soderbergh near the end of the ten year drought that followed his breakout movie, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight was overshadowed by the success of Erin Brockovich two years later. The fact that Jennifer Lopez stars in the movie has also been a deterrent for many potential viewers, but it is an unwarranted fear. Jennifer Lopez is actually likable and believable as a US Marshall with an undeniable attraction to Jack Foley, a career bank robber played by George Clooney. The chemistry between Lopez and Clooney is amazing and makes every risk the characters take to spend some time together understandable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I got what I wanted

Just over a week ago, when Edmonton was experiencing record lows of -50C, I did the unthinkable and complained to a friend in Edmonton about how boring -4C weather in Toronto was in comparison.

It is currently -30C with the windchill. You're welcome, Toronto.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Night Play List: Lonely guy seeks emotional bond

It occurs to me that I am betraying my age with my mostly dated music suggestions. This week and maybe hereafter, I am going to provide a movie double bill instead because I am more current on film than I am on music. Listed below are two recent releases about lonely men loathe to leave the comfort of their routine.

Ghost Town
I am a fan of Ricky Gervais's TV shows ("The Office" and "Extras") but his foray into movies prior to Ghost Town were cameos without a context for his brand of humour. With Ghost Town, I feared that Gervais would be made cute and cuddly as payment for a starring role. The trailers did nothing to appease my fears, attempting to make Ghost Town as innocuous as possible. Having finally seen the movie, I am happy to say that few compromises were made; Gervais is the same hilariously inappropriate asshole he always plays. Kristen Wiig's latest version of her sedated psycho character is also worth seeing.

The Wrestler
I think it is fair to compare Mickey Rouke's turn as a wrestler past his prime to Heath Ledger's Joker in that both actors disappear so completely into their roles that you forget that you are watching a performance. Rouke's honest and raw depiction of a likable man who is a failure outside of the wrestling ring is very watchable, in spite of the depressing subject matter.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

One is not like the other

I was listening to CBC's "The Current" on the January 7, 2009 when host, Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed two Canadians on opposing sides of the Gaza conflict. Eva Bartlett, a native of Fergus, ON, is volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza City while Gilbert Zamonsky of Toronto is volunteering with Sar-El Canada.

The interview with Bartlett was what one would expect: a first hand account of the physical devastation of the bombings and the emotional strain of "life under siege" in Gaza. It was the interview that followed with Zamonsky that made me angry.

After listening to the audibly exhausted Bartlett, it was hard to take Zamonsky's flippant tone. Zamonsky cheerfully identified himself as a snowbird enjoying the sunny climate of Israel and justified his work repairing Israeli tanks because it "turns (his) crank". It was frightening to hear the disconnect in Zamonsky between his work and its contibution to the killing of people when he happily described sending repaired tanks "back to work".

To her credit, poor Tremonti tried repeatedly to corrall Zamonsky back to the realm of sympathy or even sobriety, bringing up the rocket attacks on Israel and prompting Zamonsky to reflect on his beliefs but to no avail. The tactless man equated the tank depot to a retirement resort where they "treat (him) well" and he can hang out with friends. Zamonsky then reduced Israel's reason for being to a place where "Jewish people can feel comfortable." Only when Zamonsky reflected on vengeance did he cease being glib, chillingly referring to the recent bombings on Gaza as "payback".

If Israel is getting flack from the rest of the world for their recent bombardment on Gaza, they are not helped on the PR front by boorish mouthpieces like Zamonsky. Sar-El Canada should be embarrassed by their representative and "The Current" needs to mete out more balanced representation of two sides of a never-ending conflict.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Racist dance extravaganza

The promotion for NBC's "Superstars of Dance" (Mondays at 8pm) started in December and it made me giddy with anticipation.

"Superstars of Dance" is, according to their website, "equal parts sporting event, rock concert and artistic exhibition" featuring solo, pair and group performances from eight countries: Ireland, India, USA, Argentina, China, Russia, South Africa and Australia. The judges, who ultimately determine which country carries home the Miss Universe-like trophy, are also representatives from those countries.

Based on the dancers selected to represent each country, I knew that the racism would be scintillating. China is represented by a team of acrobats: a ribbon dancer, a whip dancer, and the Shaolin monks. Even the Chinese dance judge is a Shaolin monk. Whether ribbon and whip acrobatics could be defined as dancing is debatable but few would classify kung fu as dance. South Africa has every Black dance that a limited imagination could produce: hip hop, Afro-fusion, jive - though, the Gumboot group performers are unique to Africa. And the poor Russians present a dance repertoire seemingly dictated by the Communist culture committee: Bolshoi ballet, ballroom and Cossack style.

Then there is Ireland, whose solo, duo and group contributions are all Irish Step Dancers, as if the Irish are incapable of separating their arms from their torso whenever their legs start moving. Of course, show host, Michael Flatley may be to blame for this limited Irish dance representation. The original Lord of the Dance is looking wider than he used to but just as tanned and slick as ever. If only he would break out the string head band and chest baring leotard to join his countrymen, then the show would be complete.

The most unfortunate thing about "Superstars of Dance" is how badly the dancing is showcased. The lighting is ineffective since it usually fails to highlight the dancers. Instead, atmospheric, multi-colour lights seemingly camouflage the dancers and distract from the performance. The camera work is equally hideous, sometimes choosing to focus on the faces of the performers while leaving the actions of the lower body to the imagination. Other times, the camera is seemingly mounted on a competing dancer, swaying violently back and forth, and flying around the performer(s). The production values turn the broadcast into amateur night on the local cable channel.

The only reason I know dance can be showcased better on TV is thanks to excellent shows like "So You Think You Can Dance?" Surprisingly, "Superstars of Dance" executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller are also "two of the masterminds" behind "SYTYCD?" It is only reasonable to assume that Nigel and Simon's unnamed compatriots at "SYTYCD?" prevent the show from turning into the hot trash that "Superstars of Dance" is proving to be.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Shoot more zombies

New Year's Eve usually forces lame friends, who would otherwise leave a party at 10pm, to stay at least until 12:15am. This past New Year's Day, a group of us, four to be exact, stayed up until 8:30am because we were full of adrenaline and fearful of zombie attacks thanks to Valve's Left 4 Dead.

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative first-person shooter that takes place in a post-apocalyptic environment over-run by aggressive zombies à la 28 Days Later. Players operate as a team of four and co-operation is key as some zombie attacks require assistance from team member to ensure survival.

Left 4 Dead was perfect for New Year's Eve for a number of reasons. In a sleep deprived state, the game's simple controls are easy to master; friends can jump in and out of the game without an extensive tutorial. Plus, the forgiving health meter means that constant vigilence is not necessary, though death is only a temporary penalty. In contrast, a game of Rainbox Six would not have lasted past 3am due in equal parts to frustation and frayed nerves.

In keeping with the New Year's theme of self-improvement, Left 4 Dead also schools players on the merits of co-operation. That friend who insists on going rogue without notice will soon receive a tongue lashing from a Smoker or get a strip torn off of him by a Hunter so you won't have to; laugh as the maverick begs to be saved. And friends who insist on hogging targets will feel the burn of friendly fire if they step between your gun and a zombie.

For all of the reasons listed above, Left 4 Dead should prove to be a better game to play online with friends and strangers than, say, Team Fortress 2. Too often, PC games encourage an 'every man for himself' scenario, much to the detriment of all players involved. Finally, here is a game that will act like Mary Poppins towards unruly children, but with a stick instead of a teaspoon of sugar.