Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Times

Some Links

Yes, yes, some links from today's New York Times. But before that...

Funny how this so-called paper of record didn't mention Earth Hour...

It really needs an overhaul of its philosophy for news. When many large corporations sponsor an event, you should cover it to an embarrassing level. It sells papers, and warms the hearts of readers.

OK, enough of that.

The links:

  • The 87-year-old artist of Mad magazine's back page fold-ins is profiled. The best part is the online feature that allows you to fold 23 illustrations. Really, it's awesome. (And I use "awesome" sparingly.)

  • See the first bullet: Really, that fold-in feature is awesome!

  • I always read Frank Rich's Sunday column. Rich takes down Hillary Clinton, who he doesn't care for as the Democratic Party's nominee, for her "Bosnia fairy tale" story (hmm, Bill Clinton didn't call Barack Obama's stand against invading Iraq a fairy tale, did he?).
What's particularly good is that Rich brings up Clinton picking a campaign song that was "an Air Canada advertising jingle sung by Celine Dion."

And the video evidence from Bosnia, here for your enjoyment:


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Come On, Let's All Feel Warm Inside

If you picked up today's Saturday Star, then you were lambasted as I was with reminders that tonight, between 8 and 9 p.m. ET, it is Earth Hour.

Instead of making me excited about the event, the Star's decision to run a front-page article that tied into Earth Hour in nearly all of its sections left me puzzled. It's not that I read the Star to find out the news; I read newspapers to do that. But it'd be nice if the Star would have taken away less space from its "articles" and played down the significance of this event because really, it's complete crap.

Earth Hour is for people to feel self-righteous. They shut off their lights for an hour, and wham!: They're helping out the environment.


No, not really. Choosing to go powerless for a single hour on a single day is the type of stupid event that allows the oilman to feel good about himself when he says his favourite movie is An Inconvenient Truth. The truth is that the other 8,759 hours each year most people spend not giving a shit about the environment renders Earth Hour all but meaningless. A platitude with a nice ad campaign.

What will I be doing during Earth Hour? Because I'm against this self-congratulatory act for doing the bear minimum, I really have no other choice but to leave my lights on, let my faucets run, and because the two gasoline canisters I filled last night seemed to have gone flat (gasoline is carbonated, right?), I'll be pouring those down the sewer drain.

At least when my Earth Hour is over, I won't have delusions that I've changed the world for the better.


Friday, March 28, 2008

The Leafs

As They Say, "It's Official"

Last night, the Leafs slim chance to qualify for the playoffs ended, unsurprisingly.

I wrote here a number of times that the Leafs wouldn't qualify. Their inconsistent play and losing streaks at the beginning of the season did them in. There were also injuries, but that's part of any NHL team's season.

I'm going to the team's season closer at home next Thursday. If he plays, it may be Mats Sundin's final game as a Leaf. I hope it isn't, but now, that's the only significance of that game.


House Cleaning

A Note

I just spent some time doing some house cleaning. First, I gave this place a fresh colour scheme; I was getting a bit tired of the old. Second, I've updated the Seal of Approval to the left, with, I hope, the most up to date web addresses I have. There were several additions, too.

I'll be back for a bit more tomorrow or, I guess at this hour, later today.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Concert Post

Foo Fighters, Satuday March 22, Air Canada Centre

I haven't been to many concerts this year; partly because there haven't been many that have interested me, and partly because I haven't been able to justify the cost. Saturday night's show at the Air Canada Centre, with Against Me and the Foo Fighters,was only my second concert this year.

Last year, I saw Against Me play The Guvernment, which was a great, sweaty show. And yes, you can use "great" and "sweaty" together like that in a sentence. But taking a band who has mastered the club show performance and putting it in an arena sometimes isn't flattering. This wasn't a problem for Against Me, whose music transferred easily to the ACC; their 45-minute set wasn't like many opening acts where you're left trying to make out the minute-hand on your watch.

When Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo came out, they played a couple of songs before Grohl addressed the crowd. He told us that we were lucky: we'd be getting the best Toronto show ever (I'm sure he says this every time).

Grohl said he could give us the 'bargain bullshit show' or he could give us the 90-minute-plus show, or the two-hour show, or the two-hour plus show. From the time the Foo Fighters came on stage to when they left, a bit more than two hours passed.

Almost everyone in the band had a solo, even a triangle solo:

Before the band abandoned the main stage, for another one at the east end of the ACC to play an mini-acoustic set, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, came out to play "YYZ" with the Foo's drummer, Taylor Hawkins. I won't pretend I don't hate Rush, but for one night, I could stand them.

All in all, a fantastic show and worth the $73 tickets.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Free Ferris

Can't Go Wrong

Joshua Ferris published a short story in the last issue of Tin House. It's a fun read, and it's completely free, here.


Review 032008

Lush Life, by Richard Price

Every writer knows the key to storytelling is execution. Writers who fail to execute a story strongly often turn to cheap tricks including high-concept ideas (i.e. implausible stories) and twist endings that muddy the conclusion. Richard Price resorts to none of these in his new novel, Lush Life.

The plot is simple (although I'm oversimplifying when I say): it's about a young, white man on a night of bar-hopping with two buddies who is shot dead when a mugging goes south in the Lower East Side of New York City. It's the type of story that could be 'pulled from the headlines' although, outside of New York, it'd make a better news brief. With this simple set-up, Price builds something much wider in scope.

Price follows the investigation of detectives Matty Clark and Yolanda Bello, which is never a straight line, A to B.

Price follows one of the survivors of the mugging, Eric Cash, a never-will-be aspiring novelist stuck working at Café Berkmann.

Price follows Billy Marcus, the grieving father of the dead victim, Ike.

Price follows the shooter, Tristan, and his accomplice, Little Dap.

Price follows the Quality of Life Task Force, a made-up name police force that prowls the streets to essentially fill quotas.

It may seem that there's a large, complicated cast: there is. But Price gives the reader characters who are distinguishable from each other without relying on archetypes. Price's research is evident to the point where he may be writing of real people, of a real crime.

If Price was writing Lush Life for the aspiring writer, say Eric Cash, then he gives two important lessons: the first, execution, as mentioned above; the second, writing great dialogue. When Matty and Yolanda interview Eric about his night out with Ike and another character, Steve Boulware, Price is able to mask exposition and add humour to the story:

"What did you guys talk about?"
"Me? I didn't say much. But they're all irons in the fire, like, apparently Steve had just gotten a callback for a movie, right? His first callback, you know, like next stop the Oscars, then it's Ike's turn, gonna start up some online literary magazine, raise money for a documentary, we're all gonna collaborate on a screenplay, la-la, la-la, the usual bullshit." Matty and Yolanda solemnly nodding, neither of them wanting to stem the flow.
"Anybody have problems with anybody?" Matty asked.
"You mean between them?"
"Between them, you, anyone else..."
Eric hesitated. "No."
"What was that." Yolanda smiled.
"What was what," he said, then, "I just get so fucking tired of hearing all of that, you know? Everybody's big plans around here."
"I have mine too, you know. I just don't..."
Eric's hypocrisy is cause for a laugh, and Price isn't concerned that his story's survivor sometimes acts as a coward and is a criminal himself.

Another fantastic passage, is Matty giving Billy Marcus an example of how an investigation can unfold:
"We'll go up there, he'll give us his partner, we'll pick up his partner, his partner will say D-block's a lying motherfucker, will say, 'Look at me. I'm two twenty-five and ripped. I never had to use a gun in my life,' but he'll also tell us something, like the only guy he knows uses a .38, does inside-the-building holdups, is some character, let's call him E-Walk. OK. Let's go find E-Walk. Problem is, E-Walk is a solo operator, but E-Walk, it'll turn out, will know this other stickup team we never even heard of. Go track down those boneheads. Only problem with those guys once we find them is that one was locked up at the time of the homicide and the other was in the hospital. But! The one in the hospital? He'll know a guy uses a .38, sometimes works with a partner, except that guy, it'll turn out, is a light-skinned Dominican, looks almost white. But. But. But. The point of which is to say, Billy, that with your son, it'll have to do with luck, and it'll have to do with just plugging away, plugging away ..."

And that's how the crime is solved in Lush Life. If this book was an episode of Law & Order, the plot would be too basic, too, seemingly, conventional. The writer would have to throw in a political scandal or the death of a lawyer or some other 'TV' coincidence. Price is confident as a storyteller that none of that is needed. Just as the detectives in his novel plug away in their investigation, it's Price's persistence that makes Lush Life a satisfying novel.

Reading Price's novel reminded me of the TV series, The Wire, a show Price wrote for; Price's 1992 novel, Clockers, served as inspiration for The Wire. Being reminded by the best police procedural TV show ever produced isn't a bad thing, but early on, that feeling of Lush Life just being The Wire: The Novel was gnawing at me. That feeling however faded.

There are similarities between this novel and that TV show, most notably the strong dialogue and that the audience is shown a story through the eyes of the police and the criminals; it's not so much the good guys and the bad guys, because Price doesn't write black-and-white heroes and villains.

Lush Life, however, has its own world; is its own story. A fantastic one, too, and the most important American novel published so far this year. That's not only because of Price's execution, but also for how he entertains.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vesa Toskala

Worst Goal Ever?

Last night Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender, Vesa Toskala, allowed a goal that will be hard to forget:

There really is no excuse for letting a 197-foot shot get by you, unless of course we're talking Timbits hockey. But the goal isn't the worst ever. The goal wasn't a game-winner, nor was it scored in an important playoff game. It was scored in what essentially was a meaningless game between two teams whose seasons will end in early April. Also Toskala recovered well, helping the Leafs win the game with an otherwise solid 27-save performance.

I doubt many Leaf fans, or hockey fans in general, will forget the goal anytime soon, but it was a fluke no different than if the Leafs managed to make the playoffs this year.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sum 41

The Band Gets Desperate

Yesterday I received this email from the good folks at MLSE:


Sum 41 will return to their hometown to perform live at General Motors Centre on March 19, 2008.

As an MLSE Live Insider this is your exclusive opportuntiy to purchase 2 tickets for the price of 1.
Good thing my name was in all caps, as I sometimes forget it...

But I'm not writing about email style; I'm writing about the sad state Sum 41 seems to find itself in: two-for-one ticket deal? Whoa, I don't think the local polka and folk music festival has an offer so generous.

The cost for a pair, by the way, is $32.50, plus all the bizarre convenience fees Ticketmaster charges to penalize its customers.

I last wrote about Sum last July after the band released its new album that sounded wholly unoriginal. I'm not surprised ticket sales are not great for their tour but I never thought a two-for deal was in the band's future.


Friday, March 14, 2008

SNL Bias

"Saturday Night Live" Turns More Pathetic Denying an Obvious Pro-Clinton Bias

In yesterday's Times, Lorne Michaels, the producer of "Saturday Night Live," denied the accusation the show holds a pro-Hillary Clinton bias. Michaels assertion suggests he doesn't watch his own show.

Video Evidence A. The first Democratic debate:

Video Evidence B. Another Democratic debate:

Video Evidence C. Tina Fey's editorial:

Video Evidence D. The "Obama Files":

Video Evidence E. Hillary Clinton's appearance on the show:

I don't think "SNL" is biased in favour of Clinton because the show's writers and producers do not like Barrack Obama (he too appeared on the show last November). I think the show is biased in favour of Clinton for comedic reasons. Amy Poehler's Clinton impression is dead-on while Fred Armisen's Obama is, like most of Armisen's work, awful, off-the-mark and regrettable to watch.

It makes sense for "SNL" to pull for a Clinton win: Who wants to see four years of Armisen's Obama?


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Review 031208

"Then We Came to the End," by Joshua Ferris

The one thing that's hard to understand about Joshua Ferris's debut novel is how it didn't find a larger audience. "Then We Came to the End" received great critical reception and was nominated for the National Book Award. Still it seems to have been ignored though it's far more accessible than the novel that won the National Book Award, Denis Johnson's "Tree Smoke."

"Then We Came to the End" is the story of a Chicago advertising firm in the midst of the Internet crash, which forces layoffs at the firm and creates an almost anything-goes atmosphere. Ferris writes about a large cast, and the personalities and roles he captures are recognizable to anyone who has worked in an office, or at any job for that matter. While the novel is without question an 'office' book, Ferris's greatest accomplishment is to take the specific actions of his characters and make them feel universal; somehow we've experienced, or can believe, the world Ferris has created.

When Ferris spends pages (and pages) on chair politics, the reader who has spent any time sitting at a desk in office knows it's not a ridiculous premise:
"Are you absolutely sure that this is the guy who took your chair" [Marcia] asked the production peon. The production peon said no, he wasn't sure of that at all. Marcia had no idea whose chair she had. It might have been hers, it might have been Ernie Kessler's, or it might have been the chair of some indeterminate third party. The only person who knew for certain was the office coordinator, who owned the master list (of chair serial numbers). Marcia returned to her office beset by the high anxiety typical of the time.

The passage above gets across two things in Ferris's novel: first, his willingness to entertain ridiculous office behaviour; second, Ferris's humour. The novel, just less than 400 pages, is propelled by the author's ability to make the reader laugh - out loud, too.

And that may be a reason to stick with the book even if you find the first-person plural narration hard to get accustomed to. Ferris opens the novel, "We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen... " And he continues that way for most of the novel. There's is one significant, well-writen interlude narrated in a close-third-person. After a bit, 'We' becomes unnoticeable; it seems right.

One complaint about "Then We Came to the End" is that if people want a funny satire about an office, they're better off watching "The Office." That would be a legitimate complaint if Ferris was trying to write "The Office: The Novel." He's not. "Then We Came to the End" is an office satire on a much larger scope. But whereas "The Office" keeps you watching because of the uncomfortable awkward behaviour of some of its characters, Ferris keeps you reading because he reminds why you stuck with that job even when you told everyone you hated it.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not Happening

Talk of That is Only Fantasy

Right now, the headline on TSN's homepage reads: "Never Say Never."

Aside from the unimaginative reliance on a cliché, I have another problem with the headline: it refers to the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.

The story goes that the Leafs, winners of seven of their last 10 games, have a chance of making the playoffs. Sure, they're six points back and have to win, um, all their remaining games to qualify, but yeah, the Leafs have a chance.

Reality: No, the Leafs missed the playoffs back when the team suffered losing streaks in October, November, December and January. The Leafs played poorly then so they won't play at all in the playoffs.

The Leafs making the post-season is not a card in the NHL's deck this year. The team may even make it close, but that's part of the Leafs play book: how can they crush our hope if they don't give us a reason to hope?


Coming Dreck

The Upcoming Film Season

I'm interested in seeing some of the comedies expected to be released later this year, but I'm sure the majority will be painful, must-miss movies.

But there's one movie I know I will skip based on the horrendous trailers, and that is "Iron Man" (I know: not a comedy, but I think watching it would force a considerable amount of unintended laughter):

Did you actually watch that? You're crazy.

And if you're feeling more crazy, watch the new "Wanted" trailer, another movie that doesn't benefit from its preview:

Wanted Exclusive Trailer

Add to My Profile | More Videos

Just: Why?


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chip Kidd

The Designer's First Novel

I haven't read designer (now designer-author) Chip Kidd's first novel, "The Learners," which was recently published. Heck, I haven't even read a review. But The Bat Segundo show spends forty-five minutes with Kidd discussing his novel.

An excerpt from "The Learners" can be found here.

And because novelists must do all types of wacky things to get people to buy their books, below is a video Kidd has produced in support of "The Learners." It's bizarre enough to warrant hitting play.


"Vantage Point"

"Ugh..." with Vomit

Last night I saw "Vantage Point," a movie directed by Pete Travis ("Should Be Unemployed in the Future") and written by Barry Levy ("I'm a Hack"). The film is about a group of terrorists who kidnap the President of the United States. The gimmick of the movie is that at the start of each scene, the 'clock' on the story is reset to the beginning. The audience endures every moronic twist and cruddy line ("Oh, my god!" is used at least three times; "Jesus Christ!" at least once) again, and painfully again.

"Vantage Point" is the kind of bad movie where you wonder if it were not an American production, and was somehow produced in an oppressive society, would the movie's filmmakers be gathered and shot after its release into theatres. It is that bad.

"Vantage Point" has several problems other than the ones I have already mentioned:
  • in order to give the film a realistic, insider feel, the screenwriter completed barely-surface-scratching research on the Internet (at one point Dennis Quaid refers to the President as 'POTUS' as if the audience should give the film points for using this well known abbreviation);
  • the acting is horrendous (see Quaid and Matthew Fox's performances - one is plain awful, the other seems to be playing Dr. Jack Shephard);
  • the character who kidnaps the President only does so because his brother is being held hostage - the message being that no person would actually commit this crime unless he was being forced;
  • Forest Whitaker - just everything about him in this movie;
  • the number of time inconsistencies and the lack of logic overwhelm intelligent audience members to make them want to vomit.
At the end of "Vantage Point," the President is saved. Shit, did I just purposely give away the ending, giving you no reason to see this dreck? I hope so.

But I should add: the ending I gave is the one my friend and I chose when we walked out on "Vantage Point." There was probably some twist at the real end, like the handing out of medals.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Review 030108

"Election," by Tom Perrotta

One could be excused if he was a bit exhausted from reading and watching the U.S. Presidential election. It seems to have started once upon a time, long ago, and it's not yet near finished; we haven't even hit the conventions! How does a person take a breather from the endless front-page stories and top-of-the-hour news reports about McCain, Obama and Hillary? One way is to read Tom Perrota's 1998 novel, "Election," a book about the silliness and seriousness of a high school election.

What makes Perrotta's satire not just a hilarious breather between today's election campaign but also required reading for an election news junkie, is that it's a decade-old novel that seems more relevant now than when it was first published.

"Election" is narrated by several characters, chiefly: Mr. M, the teacher who will go on to rig the election; Paul Warren, a popular athlete in the school and Mr. M's hand-chosen candidate; Tracy Flick, the school's most ambitious student and seemingly the most qualified candidate; Tammy, Paul Warren's sister, and the third candidate, who is running to spite her brother who stole her best friend to be his girlfriend and campaign manager.

Perrotta weaves each of these narrators' stories seamlessly, avoiding the clichés that a lesser writer would rely upon, and creates an election narrative filled with what someone finds in today's election: smear campaigns, sex scandals, and power brokers. Switching through each narrator allows Perrotta to push the story further scene by scene. The effect is to hook the reader, and "Election" at 200 pages, can be read easily in one sitting.

Beyond crafting a novel that looks simpler than it was to write, Perrotta provides humurous observations throughout. Mr. M describes the speeches he had to approve before the candidates spoke in front of the school:
Tracy Flick focused on herself, of course, her many talents and accomplishments, her proven ability to lead. Paul outlined a misty vision of a new kind of school, a cooperative, productive place without cliques or outcasts, an oasis of learning where students were equals in one another's eyes and teachers functioned as guides and helpers rather than narrow-minded disciplinarians. It was inspiring enough, but utterly beyond anything he had the power to achieve as SGA President.
Perrotta might as well be writing about Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. Tracy Flick sums up the race: "Competence vs. Popularity. Qualified vs. Unqualified." And remember, "Election" was published a decade ago.

For skeptics of this year's election, Perrotta gives us the third candidate. Tammy Warren's speech includes this uplifting commentary:
"You think it really matters who gets elected President of Winwood? You think it will change anything around here, make one single person happier or smarter or nicer? You think the food will taste any better in the cafeteria?....
"My opponents have a lot more experience than me," she continued. "But since it doesn't really matter, you might as well vote for me. Your lives won't be affected one way or the other."
"Election" is also about the characters outside of their campaigns. Here, Perrotta is equally up to the task to be satirical about everyday life. Mr. M reflects on his marriage after he has committed adultery and been caught:
There was no alternative but to go home. I needed to shower, put on some fresh clothes, maybe try to explain myself to Diane. But what was I supposed to say? That our marriage had become a weary farce, our efforts to produce a child heightening rather than relieving the staleness of our union? That making love with Sherry had turned me into a different person, someone endowed with a vision of a new and better life, even if that vision seemed already to have gone up in smoke? My wife wasn't a morning person on the best of days, and I didn't figure she'd be too keen on hearing any of this before her first cup of coffee.
It may seem long until Nov. 4 when we'll finally learn who the new President of the United States will be - assuming there is no results dispute like in "Election" - but Perrotta's novel should recharge the energy of even the most weariest of election observers.