Thursday, December 28, 2006

Orhan Pamuk

It looks like this ish of The New Yorker is a keeper. This (his Nobel lecture) is the first thing I've read by Orhan Pamuk, and it has me curious to read more. (h/t to DV)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes has a reputation for being unduly "cool" (due chiefly, I think, to fiction like Flaubert's Parrot). Even Salman Rushdie (no slouch among the ironically detached) had to admit his favourite portion of A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters was the half-chapter essay. I'm fond of Barnes's fiction and his essays. I think of them as the products of a gifted man working diligently to tease apart The Big Problems. And I'm grateful to anyone who takes a sincere crack at the task.

Don't miss this essay in The New Yorker.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Boxing Day Tidy

One of the great delights I've had as an author has been selling copies of my book to members of my church. If you're coming to this site for the first time, my "Greatest Hits" are linked to on the sidebar under "Another Shot of Whisky". Now that I'm paying attention, I can see I haven't added anything to it in a while (although "I'm listing" is current). I've got some faves from the past year, too.

Here's a piece on "The Book Store Lady", an old friend I remember fondly.

Anybody remember that guy who wrote an autobiography that turned out to be a load of crap? Anybody recall Michael Chabon coming dangerously close to pulling the same stunt?

Apparently Playboy, or Hef, celebrated some sort of milestone this last year. My thoughts about it all are here.

My Ode To The Home Stereo, and a follow-up (sniff). On a tangential note, it looks like we survived The Day of the Beast.

Some thoughts on this mortal coil as well as vocation, identity & heredity.

And no list would be complete without a link to my favourite band.

Merry Boxing Day!

Friday, December 22, 2006

New Archie = New Coke?


Every five years or so I'll go ahead and make the purchase. I'll reach past all those candy bars and breath mints, I'll grab the Betty & Veronica Double Digest, and I'll add it to the pile of groceries. I suspect it's weirdos like me who are keeping the Archie empire alive. You could almost imagine some suit at Archie clicking through a powerpoint: "If enough adults make enough ironic purchases every five years or so, our projected revenues should total..."

A dismal future, to be sure. So why not tweak the brand? Play a bit with the storyline, mess with the look, try to pull in a younger audience? What is there to lose?


Okay, this "Wal-Mart Discount Coloring Book" aesthetic wasn't quite what I had in mind. The Dan DeCarlo years at Archie were the empire's aesthetic zenith, and influenced a number of 80's New Wave artists, including my personal faves, Los Bros Hernandos. I daresay a score or more of current comic book artists would love to do some Archie mash-ups. Hey, what's this Manga I keep hearing about? I thought it performed some pleasant mischief on Star Trek -- anyone up for Anime Archie?

As usual, where paid artists fear to tread, internet pranksters happily dive in. I'd say this cat's got the right idea. And I'm always keen on a Frank Miller send-up.



Links from Drawn!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

WP's Internet Tootjes (Christmas Goodie Bag)

My brain is rather scattered this Christmas, so here are a few miscellaneous links I've enjoyed, plus one unsavoury box of CrackerJack:

So you consider yourself a rock critic in the tradition of the great Lester Bangs? Well, bollocks to you, chump, 'cos you ain't. Here's why.

Aren't you glad you're not J.K. Rowling? This summer our family listened to the first two Harry Potter books in their entirety while we were on the road. I thought they were both terrifically entertaining, and that Rowling was a novelist of uncommon care and discipline. She knows exactly where she's going with this story, a refreshing anathema in this day of "I sit back and let the characters write the novel." So back off, King and Irving: let the lady get some sleep!

Cracker Jack Alert: The Lord appears before Frank Schaeffer, and says, "Ya ****ing ****!! Ya just don't ****ing git it, do ya? **** ****ing ****, but you are one sorry sack of ****!! Drop and gimme 20 before I **** your **** with a ****er and ... (etc., ad nauseum)." Need to recover from that last link? Try this.

Allow me to extend to my friends and family in Alberta the most welcome Christmas present I could possibly offer -- an admission: I'm actually enjoying Stephen Harper as PM. I'm not at all sure I could say the same if he were to ever gain a majority, but as minority leader he's quite refreshing. Quick political analysis: if Michael Ignatieff had won the Liberal leadership, it would have been irrefutable proof that God is on the side of Harper's Tories. "Merry Christmas, Stephen! Here's your majority!! Ho, ho, ho!!!" The way things are, at least I can say my gimpy "What do I believe in?" faith is still standing.

And finally, courtesy of Jim's meme, here's my desk:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Baked Ham

Never done one of these before.



Any tips you'd care to share?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Big Night, Part 2

Here's a shot of me on-stage:



No wait, that's Jack. Here we go...



Hmm. Looks like an acting class or two might just loosen up my body language a touch. Either that or a gut-full of hooch and methamphetamines. Or not (see below).

Taking "Buk" With a Pinch of Salt -- or Grace

Some 12 years ago, I submitted my first and only “professional” book review for a trade magazine. I doubt the author in question ever caught wind of it, but I was quietly positive. I was given $50 for the privilege, and allowed to keep the galley proofs. A week later, I got a phone call from my editor. The author had committed suicide, and for some obscure legal reason the publisher was asking for all the proofs to be returned.

This depressing little scene comes to mind after reading Michael Blowhard's appreciative appraisal of Charles Bukowski. “If Bukowski's short stories were given to English 101 classes to read, many more boys would become interested in literature than generally do,” says MB, and I wholeheartedly agree. Any young punk with an abundance of testosterone and a perceived shortage of luck will find “Buk's” poetry and prose immediately infectious. And as a happy consumer of said poetry and prose, I don't mind admitting it's possible Bukowski's spirit flits through and touches down in some of my own writing, as well.

HOWEVER ... I can't say I'm too broken up over the possible shortage of young dudes infected by the Bukowski lit-bug, because the young guy I almost reviewed was an outstanding example of someone who'd been a touch too infected. Prior to him, I'd befriended two others. All three of these guys (at different times) took out rooms in a hotel located within beer-can-tossing-range of the Scott Mission on Spadina Ave. They collected a sheaf of impressive “bovver boy” stories. And they eventually relocated from their seedy Spadina digs to the Queen Street Mental Ward, where they struggled to recover from alcohol induced depression.

Young guys and writin' – where does indulgence end and wisdom begin? If there is a dividing line, it's a difficult one to discern. But there is no mistaking a pup who's drowning in the distant end of the “wisdom” side. He's usually trembling in a chair and quoting Nietzsche to the nearest Candy-Striper.

I've been on the receiving end of these quotation sessions. They're quite an ordeal, especially when you care about the person in torment. When pushed, I might toss back a few quotes of my own (Dostoyevsky, for instance, understands where they're coming from), but mostly the best you can do is sit and nod, and silently hope your friend will regain an even keel and return to a more benign point of view.

Having christened myself after an alcoholic beverage, I certainly wouldn't forbid a feisty young lad from reading Bukowski – or Nietzsche, or Ayn Rand or any other chest-thumping yahoo with a flair for words. But I've also grasped for “praedjer”, or “preacher”, so I say go on and read Buk, but make it a point to seek out and read alternative writers with a capacity for the generous invitation.

When I was a pup, I was fortunate to be steered (by women) toward women writers with just such a gift: Madeleine L'Engle and Carol Shields in my early years; later it was Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg; more recently it's been Annie Dillard and (I'm going male, now, but he's significant and wholly unique among male writers) Czesław Miłosz.

I think these writers have one thing in common: they assert that the greatest risk a human being can take is committing to Love. You commit to it, you cultivate it, you even cast some of it upon the waters and hope for the best. When it returns to you, it will almost certainly take a form you never expected. If you're observant, you might just recognize it when it finally knocks on your door – but odds are you won't. Most of us don't even recognize the love in ourselves. But Love is there, regardless.

In the remote chance that some young punk with attitude could give a shit what I think, here's my nickel's worth of advice: be reckless on the page, but don't be afraid to invest a little care in your life.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Big Night

Many years ago (half a lifetime, in fact), I worked for a Mennonite bi-weekly. Since I was low guy on the totem pole, one of my duties was editing first-hand reports of church functions. Every single one of these reports concluded with the words, "A good time was had by all." Drove me bonkers, those words did.

Here's a shot of Friday's festivities. This is the Nick Adams contingent, and their lovely spouses (including mine, getting the laser-focussing treatment):


And here's another shot of my lovely wife, entertaining the troops. Also pictured is the back of Roar's head.


So far the only pictures I possess of that evening are the ones I had the presence of mind to take. I shall Flikr the others and post a link, once they come into my possession.

Oh yeah: A Good Time Was Had By All.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cleared for Lift-Off

Today is the official launch of Youthful Desires: I launch the book at my place of employment, Cafe Rhythm & Books in Cannington, Ontario, at 8:00 tonight.



Anyone who sticks close to my side is likely to get a splash of Lagavulan (16) in their proffered cup. I'll try to post a few pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Child's Christmas In Eaton's


I loved Eaton's when I was a kid. Their Christmas Catalogue was like an artifact from an untouchable civilization, filled with details that seemed at once accessible and beyond reach. Where could we find this happy family, and their dark, romantic home?

In 1975, my father would drive the family to Winnipeg, park the Impala in the Parkade, then ask me the time. If my watch was running, I was allowed to head for the third floor, where the books were. Eaton's had an impressive science-fiction shelf -- I could burn over an hour just perusing the tawdry covers, nevermind the contents. Meanwhile, my father was dragged by my younger brother and sister through every aisle of toys on fourth, while my mother spent some much needed alone-time, browsing for necessities. We'd meet an hour later at the Parkade exit.

All our family pets came from Eaton's. In 1977 we were given a pair of hermit crabs, purchased on the fourth floor. I once bought a gerbil there that lasted less than a week. We buried the blighter in our garden, then drove to the city and told them our tale of woe. We were refunded the full three dollars, thanks to their unheard-of refund policy. My parents still have the Matchbox collector-case I purchased with the dead gerbil money.

My mother introduced us to the pleasures of the seventh floor. Eaton's reserved their penultimate floor for damaged furniture and remaindered goods (their eighth floor -- accessible by stairs only -- was reserved for the truly weird stuff: a surplus of pet rocks, and the like). At Christmas, they erected a bunch of plywood and fibreglass sets depicting common fairytales, each animated by some sort of electrical motor and pulley system. Whoever created these sets paid just enough attention to detail to keep a kid mesmerized -- again, we were looking at something that was clearly possible, but just beyond our own capacity to execute.

Darth Vader made a guest appearance at Eaton's in 1978. My mother took me out of school (I met my grade 8 teacher some years later, and he still recalled her note: "I'm kidnapping my son for the day"), and drove me out to see this costumed dude. I joined a queue of two dozen or so lads like myself. Then someone started the music, and out came Vader, striding malevolently between home furnishings and kitchen ware, and wheezing mightily in order to be heard through his plastic mask.

I got his autograph.

Ten years later, I put on a shirt and tie and worked at a photofinishing joint in the mall attached to Eaton's. I found a new excuse to visit the seventh floor: the elevator girls. Eaton's elevators weren't the modern, heat-sensitive button type: these required a lovely girl to sit on a tall stool, and politely ask everyone to step to the back. Then she pushed or pulled a lever, and up (or down) went the elevator.

There was one girl in particular who caught my eye: a blond Ukranian of Dan DeCarlo proportions. She also had that DeCarlo smirk, and the heavily-lidded eyes that suggested an incomprehensible worldliness. By this time seventh floor had been converted to sporting goods; my sock drawer had an abundance of white athletic tube socks that year.

Nothing came of my friendly chit-chat with her, except for an extended conversation the night I bumped into her at a local watering hole. I learned three things that night: 1) it's possible to mistake sheer boredom for aloof sophistication; 2) she didn't remember my name because there were better dressed fellas from the financial district who made a similar habit of visiting the seventh floor; 3) her French boyfriend was willing and altogether capable of reducing me to a smear of foie gras, and there he was now, coming in from the parking lot -- with his three muscular, French buddies.

There were other Eaton's pleasures. I dropped coin on my first cologne at Eaton's. I bought some swanky neck-ties there, too. A girlfriend gave me one of my nicest sweaters -- purchased from the first floor, no less. Then there was the basement, where all the reduced-reduced priced goodies were allocated. In the middle of all these single shoes and un-bagged underwear sets was a Malt Stop. This was a common gathering place for the University crowd (the U of W was just up the street). One winter morning I was having coffee with a friend, when we spotted a fur-clad woman approaching the Malt Stop. We recognized her as the mother of one of our wealthier classmates -- a woman of cultivated tastes. She ordered the nacho chips, with jalapenos and cheese sauce.

I was sad when Eaton's finally tanked. I was still young enough to treat the place like a Destination: a store where I bought what Christmas presents I could, before calling it a day. And it seemed to me that my classmate's mother had the last word on what was so wonderful about that place: you could be surrounded by a million things you might never be able to afford (including the elevator girls), but anyone could put down a fiver and get the nachos and cheese.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

O Christmas Meme, O Christmas Meme

Picked this up at Andrew's Place (some of you who read my other (belated) blog will recognize a few answers):

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? -- I'll have just a splash of Egg Nog with my bourbon, please.

Does Santa wrap presents, or just stick them under the tree? They're wrapped.

Coloured lights on tree, or white? White.

Do you hang mistletoe?
This house holds three gorgeous ladies; since I don't lack for kisses, and I'm stingy about others wedging in on Papa Dawg, the answer is NO!

When do you put your decorations up? The day of the local Santa Claus Parade, when the Lions Club starts selling trees.

What is your favourite holiday dish? *Pfft!* Pad Thai, of course!!

What is your favourite holiday memory as a child? The Christmas Eve service at church, which was typically dominated by cutesy kiddie fare. Our family passed out the gifts that morning (a trait common to most of my friends' families, too), so we were more or less played out and in a good mood by evening. We sang our songs, recited our Bible verses, then received enormous goodie bags ("tootjes" in plautdietsch) from our Sunday School teachers. The one time of the year I ate Cracker Jack.

When did you learn the truth about Santa?
Age three. My parents said it was a good story that other families liked to tell, and encouraged me to pretend, but to refrain from pissing in other punch bowls. (If anyone wants me to recycle my "Ag-Claus-tic" anecdote, just give me a nudge.)

Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve? A few. We get up early on Christmas morning. Heck, we get up early every morning...

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? I don't. I stay as far away from the action as possible.

Snow: love it, or hate it? Since we got snow tires, love it.

Can you ice skate? Helloooo! Canucklehead typing -- and skating, thank you very much!

Can you remember your favourite gift? I liked 'em all, but the one that stands out is an early Lego Lunar Landing kit. Very blocky, pre-Star Wars construction. Loved it.


What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Paying attention to family, and living in the hope of something larger. And remembering that the people Christ called his brothers and sisters were a devilishly "diverse" bunch.

What is your favourite holiday tradition?
My mother pulls out all the stops and puts on an incredible chocolate fondue.

What tops your tree? An angel.

Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? So long as kids are involved, giving.

What is your favourite Christmas song?
This year it is the mournful Civil War-era hymn I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”


Candy canes? By now I dislike them almost as much as I dislike Cracker Jack, which I consider the poor cousin to ...

My favourite Holiday Dessert: PoppyCock Here's how you make it:

1 cup pecan halves
1 cup almonds
8 (plus) cups popped popcorn
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cream tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Toast the nuts, pop the corn. Melt the sugar, butter, syrup, cream of tartar -- bring to a hard boil. Remove from the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla, then pour it over the popcorn and nuts. Press the mess into cookie sheets, and let it cool. Or just eat it hot -- whatever you can endure.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Isn't there a better name for this?

As a parent, I've been slow to declare a prohibition on toys of just about any stripe. When I was a kid, the only toy denied me was the G.I. Joe "action figure" -- because our family was Mennonite (i.e., pacifist) and G.I. Joe was, you know, General Infantry (although whose army allows their infantrymen to look like this? No matter: I've let go of all the bitterness and disappointment. Really, I have).

Having said that, my wife and I adamantly refuse to buy, or allow our daughters to buy, Bratz. Honestly, why didn't the marketers just cut to the chase and call their demon-spawn Slutz? Do the guys who dream these things up even have daughters? Or did they sacrifice them as babies before a glittering Maserati?

Anyhow, it's nice to know I'm not alone in my abhorrence. (h/t to Michael Blowhard)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Scary Mary" Poppins

I laughed, but the hairs on the back of my neck actually stood up the first time I saw this "trailer" for "Scary Mary" Poppins:



h/t to BoingBoing.

Maximizing Bond

I finally got to take my wife to the new James Bond. We had a hoot -- the thrill factor has indeed returned to the franchise. I have to wonder who's responsible for the difference in pacing and tone, since this is (apparently) the same director who gave us Goldeneye.

As we drove home, I commented that this was the first Bond movie in which the audience got to see a great deal more of Bond's bod than they did either of the Bond Girls'. "You say that like that's a bad thing," said my wife. Ahem. Yes, well ... where did I put those 12 lb dumbbells?

I'm not sure which of the New Yorker critics made the analogy, but he said the movie was all protein, no carbs -- and he said it like it was a good thing. If we can just ignore the mechanics of the movie, which were more proficient and engaging than they'd been for the last score of Bonds, and focus on what the Bond franchise excels at -- the superficial -- I think this Buff Bond is telling. He still wears tailored suits, but they're the flashy Italian kind, not the stolid lines from Saville Row. And he's more likely to wear a close-fitting short-sleeved shirt or even (*gasp*) a T-shirt than he is his trademark dinner jacket and bow tie.

Early in the movie, when a tubby, Hawaiian-shirted tourist mistakes Bond for the hotel valet and tosses him the keys to his car, Bond cheerfully hops to, and rams the tourist's Rover into a line of freshly alarmed cars. And it struck me: this is the Maxim Bond. I don't know if Maxim is still the "premiere men's magazine" it was five or six years ago. My sense is its heyday has come and gone, which would make its former audience the ideal Bond demographic -- young guys who don't want to be mistaken for the valet.

Expensive "casual" clothing, gadgets you can purchase at the mall (cell phones figure prominently in this movie), Bond girls who are either married and available for the night, or married to their jobs and available for a vacation only ... the flash in this movie is almost within grasp for the post-Maxim reader. If you're a man of a certain age, you don't really attend a Bond movie to see the girls -- you can get "better" on the internet. You attend to put yourself in his shoes for an hour or two, and consider for a moment what you could take from the movie to add to your own bachelor pad, to make you feel sexy and dangerous. Unlike the last few Bonds, this movie gets the surface right.

And with that observation, I shall stop -- lest I make that sound like a bad thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Youthful Desires and the Cost of an Autograph

I've received a few requests for autographed copies of Youthful Desires -- a flattering thrill for Yours Truly! ("Elvis remains in the building, his head too fat to get through the door!") Thank you, mes amis.

There are two ways this can be done:

Option A.: The Book, legibly autographed on page v., and mailed out to you.

Option B.: a bookplate (5 X 10 cm.), custom designed by Jessica D'Eall and personally signed by Yours Truly. It looks something like this:



Thanks to the current rate of exchange, Option A. costs you $25 -- American dollars, if you reside in the US of A, and Canadian dollars if you reside in Canada (international orders, please e-mail me for specifics).

But Option B. is the real bar-GOON: if you've already purchased a copy through Lulu, I will happily mail you the autographed bookplate free-of-charge. (Option A. customers get the bookplate thrown in. If you don't want that blank, let me know.)

Send me an e-mail, and we can exchange snail-mail particulars.

De-Lurking Myself

I seem to have missed "De-Lurking Week", but I appreciate the concept so I'll oblige and play catch-up.

First of all, here's Terry Teachout's belated review of The Big Lebowski -- a Coen Brothers' phenomenon (for the most part, they tend not to make just plain movies). I don't qualify as a Teachout "lurker", because the man is on my sidebar of links, and I on his -- civil acknowledgement all the way around. But I frequently consider commenting on his material, only to lose the urge once my fingers start typing. Today that ends. I have to disagree with Mr. Teachout's final word on the Coens'; their films may frequently portray a nihilistic point of view, but their ever expanding ouevre contains enough contras and variety to indicate another, larger aesthetic (and world view). Good luck, though, trying to nail it down on their behalf. On that point, I'll simply parrot The Dude: "That must be exhausting."

In my recent kvetching about the state of television, I kept looking for an opening to introduce Denis McGrath's blog, Dead Things On Sticks (h/t to Scott). McGrath isn't just "in the biz", he's writing for Canadian television, which gives him quite a unique perspective on the whole unruly shebang. He's got worthy things to say about non-Canucklehead entertainment issues, too: here he makes a pointed distinction between Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. And here he is, demonstrating more patience than I have, and expounding on When Good Series Go Bad. If this kindles your curiosity, here's his list of his recent favourite posts. If I were a producer, I'd greenlight this guy and give his series a Deadwood-budget-times-two. Then I'd kill it young.

I occasionally hint at my capacity to brood over, if not actually commit to Deep Thoughts. To that end, when I was an earnest young Mennonite I frequently took a hearty stab at "dialoging" with people from "other faith perspectives" (every once in a while my gammy leg gives out, and I find myself falling into that temptation yet again). I'd like to think I'm learning to listen. But mostly I'm just lurking. This cat is more avowedly Anabaptist than I am -- and he's British! He's also unorthodox (a trait I'm typically drawn to) and a practitioner of Aikido. I trained in Aikido for one brief, ineffective year and promptly quit after a Russian black belt dropped me on my noggin. The fault was entirely my own. The first thing you learn in Aikido is how to fall. Then you learn it again and again and again. I decided I didn't want to learn with my head anymore, and took up Tai Chi instead (FWIW, neither of these "martial arts" is likely to be effective in hand-to-hand combat -- unless you're Russian).

And finally, a Prajer link to the blog of Mary Scriver -- PrairieMary -- is long overdue. I hardly know where to begin the recommendations: this entry appealed to me (contains the word "dialogic"!); anything she has to say about the Blackfoot (sorry, PM, but I'm north of the 49th) should be listened to -- start here; and I am of course drawn to her Manitoba musings. This woman pretty much embodies my ideal of a writer: her craft continually demonstrates the virtues of focus, patience, discipline ... and irreverence. A very winning package, believe me. Or don't: see it for yourself. Now. GO!

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Prajer Production Mantra: Kill 'em Young

A continuation of my thoughts re: Battlestar Galactica, etc.

My grade nine teacher's singular rule for essays was, "Essays should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject." (The year was 1979, for those of you keeping track.) As a lad who, um, appreciated the "subject matter," you can believe I took his advice deeply to heart, and didn't always meet the "coverage" requirement.

I am still talking about essays, here.

I was more attentive as a university undergrad, but my proudest day was when a prof returned an essay with the comment, "This is a well-written essay that covers all the necessary points. Still, it comes in at 200 words less than the minimum requested." BOO-yah!!

Unfortunately, if I'd padded that sucker with 200 more words, she'd have given me an A+, instead of a mean A. Am I crazy to think I did that woman a favour by cutting down on her marking time? I should have been awarded an A++ for that little feat, but she clearly had a different standard in mind.

It seems to me most television viewers hanker for that extra 200 (plus) words, so we get behemoth franchises like M*A*S*H, post-Shatner Star Trek, The Simpsons and West Wing, to pull just a few examples from recent memory. There is unquestionable entertainment value to be gleaned from long-running programs: consider the soaps, or (closer to my heart) comic books. DC and Marvel usually coax a few dollars from my wallet every year with a short storyline that takes an acceptable risk. But the operative words in that last sentence are "few" and "short" (and maybe "acceptable").

M*A*S*H is the example that today's television writers love to kick around. The Ivy League writers for The Simpsons and The Family Guy have made it the butt of their derision, but the deeper truth is these jokers silently hope their franchise will "suffer" the exact same fate. In fact, The Simpsons is already there; it's outlasted M*A*S*H and it's at a point where its cultural relevance can be summed up by one word: "D'oh!"

The first four seasons of The Simpsons, though, were pure magic. Actually, the first two or three seasons of M*A*S*H were pretty special, too. Prior to 9/11, The West Wing was frequently fun to watch, though nowhere near as startling and delightful as its predecessor Sports Night had been. Sports Night was phenomenal, juggling dicey issues like racism, politics and professional compromise, adolescence and adulthood, responsibility vs. a sense of play. Then it began to look like it might devolve into a Friends-type "Who's dating whom?" fest ... and they killed it!! BOO-yah!!!

I whiled away many a pleasant hour on the post-Shatner Star Treks, but I don't waste my time seeking out the re-runs. Just try to wrestle the remote from me, though, if I've tripped across City On The Edge of Forever, Spock's Brain, or any of the episodes from The Original Series. TOS: four seasons ... and they killed it!

Someone once advised, "Leave an audience wanting more." But I think when it comes to television, the better maxim is, "Kill 'em young." Everybody wants more, all the time -- that's just the pre-condition of North American it's a free market and I want it NOW life. A little withholding of gratification goes an incredible distance in this atmosphere. We don't need the next Sopranos: we need the next Deadwood, Carnivale, Futurama or Fawlty Towers.

But if you're a TV producer and it looks like someone just might be proposing the next Sopranos, I say go ahead and give it the green light ... then kill it young!!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: A House Divided

We're halfway through the third season of Battlestar Galactica. My friends love it, my wife loves it, and the critics love it, too. But I'm afraid I've signed off, thanks to three words that appeared at the end of Season 2:

"One Year Later..."

Well, here's three more words for you: Jump The Fucking Shark. Geez, did that move ever piss me off! And since you asked, I'll tell you why: because there's no end in sight.

First of all, I'll acknowledge the obvious: 100% of the TV writers out there are looking for the goose that lays the golden eggs, and when they finally find it, 99.9% of them want that goose to live into a ripe old age. These people live from project to project, pouring their creative energies into one dead-end concept after another, and when one finally grows a shaky pair of legs the writers find themselves creatively sprinting from one episode to the next, hoping against hope to sustain interest, to increase the flow of advertising bucks, to generate ever larger audiences. They will work a concept to the point of exhaustion, then work it a little further, then take an absurd risk to keep it going because once the money starts coming in they know it's too good to be true. It will dry up someday. It could be they'll pay off the mortgage with this project; more likely, the gig will close by the end of the season, and they'll be knocking on producers' doors with their briefcase full of untried concepts.

I've got a lot of compassion for these people, but when my interest in their personal story eclipses my interest in the story they're selling, we have a problem. Enter: Galactica writer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore -- an interesting guy. He has a restless but surprisingly direct intelligence. He was responsible for some of the better episodes in the Star Trek franchise, and I'm curious to see what his next project will look like. I'm just not interested in Galactica anymore, because it has taken on a drearily familiar shape. As with its contemporary 24 and The X-Files before them, Galactica has hooked the viewer, and is gearing up to play it past exhaustion. Viewers of Galactica are going to have to brace themselves for one grim revelation after the next, each one suggesting the potential for coherence and resolution, in a creative environment where, in fact, neither is a possibility.

If the viewer has the stamina of, say, a Northern Pike, this is a game that could stretch for seasons on end. I'm too old to play the Pike ("Jackfish" is what we call 'em on the Prairies). I've got the fight of a Bass: I'll sure let you know when you've hooked me, but if you don't reel me in nice and quick, I'll be off before you know it.

The Post-Mortem: (for those one or two readers who might not have seen the conclusion to Season 2, Spoiler Alert) "One Year Later..." was a distasteful, downright campy act of disrespect to the viewer's intelligence. First of all, it transformed the preceeding two episodes into a trivial, 90-minute red herring. Laura Roslin's dark night of the soul, in which she struggles with whether or not to rig her re-election, has no real point to it. The writers could have let Baltar win the thing without her hand-wringing, because her moral qualms and near moral failure add absolutely no narrative currency to the story's "conclusion".

Secondly, "One Year Later..." is a high-school English Class exercise. We all did it with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. We even subjected the classics to a Monty Python "one year later" treatment. Similarly, Galactica. Poofy hair and floppy guts (I shudder to think what a naturally athletic guy like Jamie Bamber had to eat to resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy), and feisty, once-single women who have become married, embittered shrews ... "Will this be on the test, sir?" Gimme a break.

End Spoiler

Seems to me this was roughly the same stunt that lost me as a viewer of The X-Files. Chris Carter cooked up a season-closing cliff-hanger in which Fox apparently committed suicide, because he was now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that all his sleuthing for extraterrestrials was based on a fraud. The problem for me was a) I didn't for a minute buy that Fox might possibly be dead because b) the viewers had seen countless little flashes that indicated he was pretty much on the right track.

The whole stunt screamed of desperation, and only gave credence to Stephen King's ascerbic dismissal of the show as "a five-year cock-tease" (some three flaccid years before Carter was finally forced to put the series to bed). I'd have thought Moore was above such pedestrian carny stunts, but I'm clearly wrong. Not that Moore will lose any sleep over my disaffection. My wife still watches the show, thanks in large part to this "cognitive dissonance" that Adam Rogers is so fond of.

To my mind, the real television triumph is Deadwood. Three seasons -- or three-and-a-half, if you include the two forthcoming feature-length TV movies -- and that's all she wrote. It was gritty, had no shortage of gravitas or humour (an ingredient the Galactica stable seems oblvious to) -- in other words, plenty of that thar "cognitive dissonance" we seem to enjoy. And it quit before Al Swearingen morphed into Dr. Claw.

However, do keep me posted -- I always appreciate attempts to woo me back into the fold. But, most importantly, be sure to wake me up when it's over.

The Wilhelm Scream

This is one of those little bits of information that has probably altered the way I shall see movies from this day forward. A nice montage of the Wilhelm Scream is here.



Links from bOing-bOing

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Soundtrack for the Post-Farewell Ride Home Alone

I asked DV for his soundtrack for the ride home alone, after dropping off his daughter. He obliged, and here it is. It is, typically enough, a class act through and through. I only hope I can muster up such composure and aesthetic heights when it's my turn to drop one or the other daughter off at her adult destination.

I do, however, have a soundtrack I play after I've delivered my wife to the airport, for yet another one of her international jaunts. My feelings about those trips are intensely conflicted. On the one hand, she (and by extension, the three of us at home) are incredibly privileged to have her see and contribute to such worthy work in such needy places. On the other hand, it takes a hell of a toll. The summer before last, she visited a site in post-Tsunami India. She came back on my 40th birthday with some incredibly moving stories, but just this spring she let me read her journal from that visit. One year later, I'm reading for the first time her account of a "Grieving Circle", held by a seaside community. Terrible, beyond heart-breaking stories come out, then one young man staggers in from outside. He's drunk and he's raving. Someone translates his ravings for my wife. His young wife was giving birth to their first child, a daughter. Both were swept away.

This story has silently sat in the pages of my wife's journal for the last year, like a tiny, horrible bomb. Who knows what else she's seen? And yet, of the two of us, she is undeniably the most spirited, the most optimistic and the most uplifting. She is my hero.

Every time I drop her off at the airport, I have to stave off my "Dear God, what if something finally happens to her on this trip?" thoughts. No easy task, and the ride home takes exactly 55 minutes. For the last two-and-a-half years, I have used that 55 minute ride to play Contraband by Velvet Revolver at a volume that drowns out the road noise, and the noise in my head.

The album is horrid. It is self-pitying, it is frightened, and it is frightening. Whenever I play it I picture a room full of Richard Bransons cooing into the cauliflower ears of Scott Weiland and Slash and all the other GnR survivors, saying things like: "You poor, coddled, drug-ruined pussy-hounds. Life is so unfair. Now just sing into the mic and tell us how you really feel." The end result is thunderously loud and just self-indulgent enough to distract me from my worst fears -- at least for that crucial hour before I get to face my children again, and muster up what's really there, to be a man and do what has to be done before I crawl into a bed that's too big for me.

Every time I'm fallin' down
All alone I fall to pieces
-- meh. It ain't Shakespeare, but it sure does the job.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1985

1985

1. The Color Purple
2. After Hours
3. The Falcon and the Snowman
4. Prizzi's Honor
5. Ran
6. Witness
7. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
8. Lost in America
9. Street Wise
10. Blood Simple

I haven't seen The Color Purple, but I've read the book. When you travel in certain circles ("liiiiiii-brul!"), that book is referred to with the sort of frequency (and insistent reverence) that other circles reserve for the Bible. I'm not quite so fond of the book, but I think Alice Walker did exactly what she set out to do: write a fairy-tale version of her grandmother's life. It still stretches the boundaries a little too far for me to keep with it: I can't quite make the journey from the book's grim beginnings to the final pages where everyone's sitting around the table, taking a toot and waxing blissful philosophic. But maybe The Color Purple is America's Les Misérables. If that's the case, a more current translation of Hugo's classic is long overdue.

But let's talk about movies. After Hours is a funny movie, but not in a "ha ha" way. I originally saw it with the crowd it was made for: college kids. Snickers and cynical guffaws were abundant in the early minutes (I delivered a few of them myself), but gradually slacked off as the movie continued. The group I was with repaired to a cafe afterwards. Everyone agreed we'd just seen a comedy, but no-one was entirely certain what to make of it. I probably saw it once a year for the next five years, and I have only one fixed opinion of it: there will never be another Peggy Lee song used more effectively than Scorsese's framing of "Is That All There Is?"

Fast first impressions: The Falcon & The Snowman -- one of Sean Penn's more memorable turns as a weasle. I took a date to see Prizzi's Honor. That's not the worst choice I've made for a date movie, but it's pretty close. And I didn't agree with the critics, either. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome -- oog. I can't believe this movie came from the same guy who brought us the first two Max movies. He removed the teeth and claws before he released the tiger the third time out. Lost in America -- I laughed when the biker flipped David (Brooks) the bird, but that's where it ended (also kinda cute to see Linda (Haggard) stupidly losing the nest-egg on "22" -- the magic number for the young refugee couple in Casablanca). As for Blood Simple, I grant the Coen Brothers the sort of prestige that some people give Robert Altman, so I will save my thoughts on this and other movies in their ouevre for later.

We're left with Ran and Witness, my two favourite movies that year. Witness has drifted somewhat from my favour since then (I giggled the first time I heard John Waters' response to people censoring his early work: "Well, who do I have in my corner, whenever I encounter something that's just too much for my sensibilities? Who's going to save me from the barn-raising scene in Witness?"). And I saw Ran after visiting an eye-specialist following a hockey injury. I had those eye-drops that stretched my pupil to the max, and saw this whole movie in horrid, hazy glow. It's a gruelling, bloody, epic retelling of King Lear, and it's every bit as horrific and moving as a viewer could expect from Kurosawa.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1983 & 1984

1983

1. The Right Stuff
2. Terms of Endearment
3. The Year of Living Dangerously
4. Fanny and Alexander
5. El Norte
6. Testament
7. Silkwood
8. Say Amen, Somebody
9. Risky Business
10. The Return of Martin Guerre

Of the bunch, the two I'd see again are Terms of Endearment (Larry McMurtry rules!) and El Norte. In 1983 a common rite of passage in small Canadian universities was a humanitarian trip to the coffee fields of Nicaragua or El Salvador. I was too fiscally minded to add an extra few hundred bucks to my mounting school debt, so I stayed home and watched this movie instead. The filmmakers try to cram every possible illegal immigrant experience into the film's two-and-a-half-hour running time, and they pretty much succeed. The story works as an emotionally compelling melodrama, because it is personal and not overtly political.

1984

1. Amadeus
2. Paris, Texas
3. Love Streams
4. This is Spinal Tap
5. The Cotton Club
6. Secret Honor
7. The Killing Fields
8. Stranger than Paradise
9. Choose Me
10. Purple Rain

I somehow doubt Mozart was the giddy frat-boy we see in Amadeus, but historical accuracy is beside the point. This is a personal exposure of Solieri's jealousy eating him alive. Again, there were moral currents to the story that set off depth charges for a churched lad like myself. I loved it. I loved Solieri for saying everything I was too timid to say. And I loved the music and the spectacle for transporting me to a place where Solieri's message had to be heard above it all. It seems fitting that this movie was released the same year as The Killing Fields -- Dith Pran's closing line, "There is nothing to forgive", pretty much sums up my personal ideal.

This Is Spinal Tap -- a little of my public love for this movie is here.

I loved The Cotton Club. Was there a story involved? I can't remember. But I have no trouble recalling Gregory Hines tap-dancing with a couple of old-timers, and a very young Tom Waits looking like he was having fun.

I didn't much like Paris, Texas (though Ry Cooder's score for it was a treat). And Purple Rain? One of the year's ten best movies?! Methinks a certain popular reviewer has a very soft spot in his heart for a certain Appollonia Kotero....

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1981 & 1982

1981

1. My Dinner with Andre
2. Chariots of Fire
3. Gates of Heaven
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
5. Heartland
6. Atlantic City
7. Thief
8. Body Heat
9. Tess
10. REDS

Between 1980 to 1985 I probably saw more movies than I've seen since. Were this my list, not Ebert's, you'd see Alien, First Blood, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Victor/Victoria and Sean Connery's High Noon set in space, Outland. I saw that last one twice in as many days, the second time ensconced in a row of female classmates who shrieked at the sight of the strangled man whose tongue resembled a blue tennis ball. Yep. Definitely Outland.

Yahmdallah calls REDS a "spinach movie", and that's how I'd categorize most of these movies (with some obvious exceptions). The same bunch who attended that Outland viewing attended Tess (we were supposed to have read the book for school). Typical high school senario: endless chatter and ham-fisted flirting. But both genders were silent when Natassja Kinski bit into the strawberry.

I saw My Dinner With Andre and Gates of Heaven several years later, when I could almost qualify as a young man. Both of them left a deep impression on me. In the former, you had a conversation between two people trying to come to grips with the cosmos; in the latter, you witnessed (among many, many other sights) two children facing their genetic destiny. I saw both of these films on VHS. Both of them forced me outside, where I could walk and weep.

Chariots of Fire -- if you grew up in Evangelical circles, you HAD to see this movie. You didn't have to like it.

Atlantic City -- anyone who's lived in Toronto for a few years has seen this movie after staggering home and shutting down the subway (at 11:30 p.m. -- tres provincial, is our Toronto). CITY TV mogul Moses Znaimer is the would-be Polanski-esque gangster in this flick, and his station broadcasts this movie every three weeks. For all I know, it's a great movie; I've usually drifted off after the lemon scene.

Body Heat -- about 30 minutes into this movie, William Hurt is jogging by the sea. He shuffles to a halt -- a sweaty, worked-out mess -- and lights a cigarette. So too, this movie: it hits the sweet spot so hard, it is a verifiable hazard to your health.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
-- I don't really want to comment on this film. Lucas and Spielberg got all the elements so fantastically right, they felt the obligation to try again. And again. And again?! Say it ain't so, and leave it alone.

1982

1. Sophie's Choice
2. Diva
3. E.T.
4. Fitzcarraldo / Burden of Dreams
5. Personal Best
6. Das Boot
7. Mephisto
8. Moonlighting
9. The Verdict
10. The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time

In the summer of 1983 I vowed never to see E.T. So far, so good. However, I'd very much like to see The Weavers, Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams.

My thoughts on Das Boot are here. And Mephisto is a terrifically disturbing film. A rich, successful artist is such a rarity, how could a mediocrity not sell out once the opportunity is finally presented to him ... by the Nazis?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1980

1980

1. The Black Stallion
2. Raging Bull
3. Kagemusha
4. Being There
5. Ordinary People
6. The Great Santini
7. The Empire Strikes Back
8. Coal Miner's Daughter
9. American Gigolo
10. Best Boy

Saw most of Ebert's picks for this year, some of them only once, back in the day. The Black Stallion might be worth another visit. The only recollection I have of that movie is, "This sure ain't Star Wars."

In that same vein, I went with a grade nine classmate to see Kagemusha because the movie's ad campaign went something like this: "GEORGE LUCAS PRESENTS KAGEMUSHA: THE SHADOW WARRIOR!! ... (a film by akira kurosawa) ...." I expected a big screen version of Shogun, minus Richard Chamberlain; what I got was my first exposure to AKIRA KUROSAWA -- in lurid colour, no less. The nightmare sequence where Kagemusha is tormented by the ghost of the man whose identity he's assumed was particularly disturbing. When Ran came out some years later, I was among the first in line.

I've seen Raging Bull a bunch of times, to the point where I'm disinclined to see it again. This movie is a visual stunner (including the plus-sized DeNiro), and the acting is downright feral. But I can't help thinking, "This is a young man's film." A brilliant young man, to be sure. Scorsese seems to be staring hard at bad decisions driven by untamed ego -- youthful decisions, the sort that are given a pass when a man chooses the path of maturity. If you like your movies to be moral fables, this is the one to watch.

Being There: Peter Sellers used to claim his unique ability as an actor was to disappear. For those of us who grew up watching the Pink Panther movies on TV, that claim was a little hard to swallow. This movie went a long way to supporting his self-assessment. Brilliant.

Ordinary People: People were blown away by this movie (me, too). There were only two conversations that took place afterward: either you discussed the psychologically perceptive script, or you discussed the acting talent. No-one suspected Mary Tyler Moore had this role in her; everyone wanted to see what the cast members -- particularly the kids (Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern) -- would do next. Of the bunch, Sutherland remains the most interesting one to watch. As for Hutton and McGovern, well ... funny how these things go, isn't it?

The Great Santini -- a theatre friend of mine once said his fondest dream would be to cast Robert Duvall as King Lear. Duvall's bullhorn stylings in movies like Gone in 60 Seconds would make this casting call look dubious, but another look at The Great Santini (particularly when contrasted to The Apostle) reveals an actor of substantial range and subtlety. Hey, I'd pay money to see a Duvall/Lear.

And finally, to complete the year's circular theme: The Empire Strikes Back: Lucas's greatest crime was to follow up Star Wars with a sequel that improved on the original. My take: Lucas had women of strong character on his payroll, including his then-wife Marcia (editor) and screenwriter Leigh Brackett, who looked at his typing, identified the emotional heart of the matter, then took the appropriate care to frame it properly. Alas, this was never to occur again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Thanksgiving Soundtrack

A belated happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I hope today's weather for all of you is sunny and cheerful, encouraging you to walk off some of yesterday's turkey, Grand Marnier Apricot Sausage Stuffing and Pecan Rum Pie (waiting for that recipe, DV).

This week was just another week for us Canuckleheads -- stuffed to the ribs with predictably overwhelming ordinariness, plus one or two surprise bonuses. In my case, a friend from the prairies came for a visit. We both grew up in the same small town, and have known each other for over 35 years. Our conversation is a dialogue that began in his farm yard in 1969, and continues to this day. We reserve small talk for each other's children.

Anyhow, the soundtrack to the dialogue was chiefly what you see to your right "On The Platter". I have to say that Janiva Magness and John Hiatt do not deliver music that encourages conversation; their vocal delivery is so immediate and compelling, it can actually stop conversation. They're best played in the car, when you drive solo and require some gentle prodding of those emotions glowing in your gut. Of course, once that takes flame, the impulse is to share, share, share so I play them as I prepare supper and pour the wine. Ms. Magness is a recent discovery, and she is all boozy, lusty, blues -- Do I Move You? has such direct appeal, I'm afraid to sing her superlatives lest I start sounding like a stalker.

John Hiatt is someone I've followed since I saw him on the Slow Turning tour. He reassembled The Goners for Beneath This Gruff Exterior, and this album takes its place behind Bring The Family as the Hiatt album I am most passionate about.

James McMurtry made a suppertime appearance. I love Childish Things -- McMurtry's vocal delivery brings to mind Lou Reed at his absolute best, when he's pinned down the humanity and the humour of his beloved weirdos, and brought just the right telling details to the surface to suggest the unfathomable depths below. McMurtry produces literate and un-snarky songcraft -- a brainy rarity that is wholly welcome.

Dianne Reeves -- this is actually her soundtrack to Good Night & Good Luck, a movie I've not yet seen. When I first played the disc, I posted the original album cover art, but it bugged me to see David Strathairn's mug where her beautiful face ought to be. (I've nothing against his acting, which I suspect is note-perfect for the film. But this is about Ms. Reeves' music, and she should be front and centre.) This album is 50s era club singing, which I've always been fond of. Her vocal quality is similar to Ella Fitzgerald's, but her stylings are more in sync with Sarah Vaughn or even Dinah Washington. The opening track, Straighten Up And Fly Right, is a brilliant start: Ms. Reeves takes a song that is usually played as an ironic lark and draws out just enough tension to suggest a seriousness and moral ambiguity that might be lurking beneath the jaunty lyrics. The disc has been in continuous play for the last four weeks, and is likely to stay there for the next four.

As August came to a close with its short nights and dreams deferred, and September hove into view with its schedules and goals, I found I had a real hankering for the music of The Alan Parsons Project -- particularly Sirius / Eye In The Sky, a pair of songs that always struck me as cool, cynical and depressing in a bad way. And yet there I was, in the mall's music store, leafing through the "A" file, then (with a shake of my head) the "P" file. I'd pull out the most recent "best of" compilation, consider its physical heft and debate the merits of its possible purchase. I knew I'd regret it if I bought it, but would I be able to shrug it off as a "lesson confirmed", or would the purchase nudge me further down the slope of indulgence and self-loathing?

Fortunately, Yahmdallah came by with the cure: he recommended The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. If the Alan Parsons Project were to take a hit of goofy gas, then step off the plane in Tokyo and start playing, they might sound like this. Trust me, it's a good thing -- The Flaming Lips serve up a warm-hearted, esoteric goofiness that begs for repeated spins.



Finally, there were those hours that called for music without words. For that, I resorted to Summer Sketches, by the Bill Mays Trio, and New Dawn, by Dominic Miller and Neil Stacey. All in all, a fabrujous soundtrack for someone who wasn't celebrating Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1979

It's a shame this year doesn't have any entries by Robert Altman (God rest his soul). Or maybe not. When it comes to Altman, I think the films that work (Vincent & Theo, The Player) are breath-taking; the ones that don't (pretty much the rest of them -- though I still need to see McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville, and a few other uncontested "greats") are indulgent, odious and usually both. In the end, he was a big man and a rascal, who didn't seem the least concerned with the negative opinions of pissants like myself. I'm sorry he's gone.

1979

1. Apocalypse Now
2. Breaking Away
3. The Deer Hunter
4. The Marriage of Maria Braun
5. Hair
6. Saint Jack
7. Kramer vs. Kramer
8. The China Syndrome
9. Nosferatu
10. 10

Apocalypse Now -- my experience(s) of this film are on record here.

Breaking Away -- You won't often hear me moaning, "They don't make movies like this anymore." But in this case they really don't, and I wish they did.

The Deer Hunter -- I thought it was brilliant the first three times I saw it. Then I read Goldman's Bambi comparison. Then I saw it again when I was 21. Now I'm not so sure. But it's worth pointing out that this is effectively the first year American movies tried to go back to Vietnam.

Hair -- I had a grade nine classmate who saw this movie more times than I saw Star Wars. She grew her hair out and stopped bathing; the most embarrassing thing I did was jump around my back yard, waving a large stick. But this is indeed an infectious movie.

Kramer vs. Kramer -- Saw this movie only once, back when. I remember thinking Streep was impossibly mean and confused; Hoffman was impossibly quick to adapt; and the kid was impossibly cute. I might think differently if I were inclined to seek it out.

Nosferatu -- this is the Herzog version. A local TV station once ran this movie, then the original, back to back. There are some differences, to be sure. But I expected substantially more. I'm not sure why Ebert is so fond of this particular exercise in homage.

Update: "It seemed as though there would always be another Altman film to look forward to." Michael Blowhard suggests he might be the prototypical Altman loon "profiled" by The Onion, and gives a stirring farewell consideration to the man and his unique ouevre.

Console Wars: Part One(?)

Last Thursday, just before the release of Sony's Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii, I was gearing up to prognosticate the "winner". I wrote a few paragraphs, then promptly quit. I was creeping toward genuine analysis, and when I realized going further would require some basic groundrules, or even (*gasp*) a little research, I headed for the exit.

I could not, for the life of me, see the appeal of the new Playstation, and simply assumed this was true across the board. I've always maintained that "realistic" graphics do not make for better games, and that the game industry has, with precious exception, become moribund and unimaginative. Any console focussing on graphics and sound was focussing on bells and whistles, and fated to limited success. Because Nintendo seemed to be pushing its console just outside the envelope, while Microsoft and Sony were keeping their's tucked safely in its folds, I picked Nintendo as the winner.

It's still too early to declare a fast winner, but my instincts re: Sony were a tad off the mark. The first round of PS3s disappeared like so many Tickle Me Elmos, and it's likely to sell in decent numbers until Microsoft releases its next generation of xBox. When I asked my 18-year-old nephew about this consumer response, he acknowledged the craziness of it all. He figured his current PC could be upgraded to PS3 status with less than $300 worth of new hardware, while the PS3 pricetag is nearly $800 before taxes. Still, he had to admit his first instinct was to line up with his buddies and shell out the extra bucks.

That urge is not altogether foreign to me. But when it comes to spending money on digital entertainment, I'll sit out the "wars" and wait for a clear winner -- or, more likely, reluctantly choose a platform that appeals to my current life parameters. I'm too old and too happily married and much too pleased with family life to waste time charting possible trends in the wi-fi world. Based on this, this and this, it's possible Nintendo will score a little more cash from our family budget in the next few years.

Or maybe it's just a matter of which customer line I'd prefer to join (cartoon link from the bro).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Southwest Turkey Chili

One reason why I prefer the Canadian Thanksgiving date over the American is its proximity to Christmas. It's nice to have at least one month sitting between the Thanksgiving feed bag and the December graze fest. It's not like I'm slimming down in that solitary month, but at least my pancreas is getting a bit of a break.

Still, I'd gladly pull up a chair at Darko's this week. For his (and your) turkey left-overs, I provide you with the recipe for Southwest Turkey Chili, from the out-of-print Aqui Recipes, Vol. 1 by Rob Francis, with improvements by DV (left-over roasted chicken works well, too):

3 Tbsp Olive Oil
3/4 Cup Carrots, diced
3/4 Cup Celery, diced
3/4 Cup Zucchini, diced
1/2 Cup Red Onion, diced
1/4 Cup Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 tsp Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Chipotle chiles, minced
1 tsp New Mexico chile powder
2 tsp Cumin, ground
1/2 tsp Black pepper
1/4 tsp Salt

1 1/2 Cup Black beans, drained
1 1/2 Cup Chicken stock (low sodium)
1 1/2 Cup Tuscan tomatoes, strained
1 tsp Oregano
3 Cup Turkey, diced
2 tsp Hershey's real chocolate

Heat the oil, and saute the next 11 ingredients until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, black beans, turkey and chocolate and let it simmer for 20 minutes before serving. My daughters like it like this, but adding a little of the right hot sauce to your bowl doesn't hurt it any, either.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1977 &1978

My daughters are home from school today, thanks to one of those curriculum-based "holidays" instituted by the school. Yesterday, when we discussed the potential activities for today, we considered heading out to see Flushed Away. I've seen just about everything the Wallace & Gromit team has produced, and I'm sure I'll enjoy this movie too. But as we talked, I had to put a muzzle on my inner child; like everyone else this weekend, he wants to take a date to see the new James Bond.

"Hard to believe," I said, while staring wistfully at my older daughter, "but before you came along, your mother and I went out to the movies every week. Left work, met for a quick beer at the pub, then dashed across the street for a show."

I don't make a habit of this sort of reminiscing (for what it's worth, this week has been an abnormal slog for the lot of us). And I mention it only because responding to this list has made my recollection of the past look downright dubious. Off to the movies, at least once a week? Plus movies on the VCR -- often on Friday, Saturday and Sunday? How is it possible I missed so many ostensibly great movies?!?

These lists have been, as the politicians are fond of saying, "humbling". But since I've already outed myself as a dilettante, I might as well keep going.

1977

1. 3 Women
2. Providence
3. The Late Show
4. A Woman's Decision
5. Jail Bait
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
7. Aguirre: Wrath of God
8. Annie Hall
9. Sorcerer
10. Star Wars

Let's start with the obvious -- 1977 was the year I first went to the movies. Just go here if you don't already know my Star Wars story.

Close Encounters -- saw this way back then, too. First impression: this sure ain't Star Wars. Second impression, 20 years later: what, exactly, was the big deal over this movie? The first three seasons of The X Files were an enormous improvement on the entire concept (but then I've always been partial to paranoia).

Annie Hall -- wow. Woody Allen discovered his swing and knocked it out of the park with this one. This really should have made it to my Fifteen Favourite list (maybe I'll just quietly remove Gidget...).

Aguirre: The Wrath of God -- my favourite Herzog movie. Unfortunately, you'll see exactly why this is so when we get to 1982.

1978

1. An Unmarried Woman
2. Days of Heaven
3. Heart of Glass
4. Stroszek
5. Autumn Sonata
6. Interiors
7. Halloween
8. National Lampoon's Animal House
9. Kings of the Road
10. Superman

Interiors -- the final scene where the sisters artfully arrange themselves for the camera got me giggling. I don't think that's the response Woody was hoping for.

Halloween -- when I was 16 I attended a Halloween party, and this was what we were watching. At 16 years old (in 1981) that moment when Jamie Lee Curtis runs from room to room and discovers all her dismembered friends was, I thought, sufficiently scary. I watched it again last year and was struck with two realizations: 1) by today's standards, this movie has a leaden and ineffectual pace; 2) the young and adorable Ms. Curtis was (by today's standards) a thick-ankled lass!

National Lampoon's Animal House -- I'm setting myself up for a fall, but here goes: First of all, I don't mind admitting this is a truly entertaining flick. But that's part of my problem with it. In 1979, in my suburban grade nine classroom, every single one of my male classmates had seen this film and memorized swaths of its dialogue. They also committed to memory every word uttered by Cheech & Chong ("Dave? Dave's not here!"). Throw in Saturday Night Live and you had a three-cornered template for life. In Grade Nine. In the suburbs. I've gone back to the old neighborhood and caught up with most of my friends from that single year, and I can't help but get a little depressed by what a corpulent, brain-dead bunch they've turned into. Maybe there weren't the proper parental checks and balances to prevent this outcome. And maybe your grade nine class was different. But I think this movie had an undue influence on these feckless kids of bourgeois privilege.

Superman -- I've always had problems with this character. He's only compelling when he's Clark Kent. Otherwise, he's Steve Austin (the original, mind) with a cape.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Youthful Desires UNLEASHED!


That's right: buy now and avoid the rush! (The next thing I'll be unleashing is a host of promotional e-mails, so brace yourself.) I should add that I rated the book "suitable for teens" so that my storefront and the sample pages are accessible to everyone. But I think it's only fair to say the book contains some rather salty material that parents (I hope) would filter or (better yet) discuss with their teens. Exercise your own discretion, or drop me an e-mail of inquiry.

Excerpts:

Footnote To A Bread Recipe

Kissing Einstein


Tar And Feathers


Mike Mentzer, R.I.P.

Youthful Desires

The Spirit of '76


Christian Punk


"Nullus est liber tam malus ut non aliqua parte prosit" -- Pliny The Younger