Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Basterd Does It Again

I went and saw Inglourious Basterds Thursday night and loved it. Funny, strange, dark, twisted - in other words it was standard Tarantino fare.

Tarantino seems to be making a career out of creating all the films he wanted to see as a 15 year old. This time around, it is the pulpy WWII flick. Like an idiot savant, he focuses his skills and abilities on products of sometimes dubious merit but he does it with such verve and originality that it leaves you wanting more.

The more I watch his flicks, though, the more I realize Tarantino's limits. I don't think we will ever see a mature, adult movie from him. While I can accept that - his work is so much fun that I will always make a point of watching it - I do wonder what would happen if he tackled a more adult storyline with actual characters instead of comic book archetypes. If only he used his talents for the forces of good and all that. . .

Of course, watching this movie reinforces all that is wrong with movie age rating systems. This movie is rated 14A, meaning anyone can go to it as long as they are accompanied by a guardian. This is a movie where people are scalped and swastikas are carved into people's foreheads (actually creepily funny in the context of the film). While there wasn't an overabundance of violence, what violence there was was graphic and nasty. Still, you can take your 6 year old to the film if you are so inclined.

Imagine if Tarantino focused on naked bodies rather than naked aggression. They'd immediately slap an 18A on his flick to keep impressionable minds from being corrupted by the naked body. Bizarre and hypocritical just don't go far enough to describe the current situation. We've created a system that rewards selling violence to children.

I'm not getting all prudish. I'm not saying Basterds should be kept from teenage eyes or anything. Far from it. Basterds is exactly the sort of movie I would have searched out as a teenager so how can I argue against teenagers today watching it? I'm just saying that something is seriously out of whack when this movie passes the censors without issue while other less violent fare has to jump through hoops only to get slapped with an 18A (even worse if you were in the States, the dreaded NC17).

I'm thinking there should really be two ratings - 14A and G. The 14A would be restricted to people 14 and above. The G would be open to everyone. Simple as that (well, I guess you can keep another rating around, like X, for the outright pornographic stuff). Not only would it be more honest - teens are going to find this stuff anyways - it would be easier to regulate. I don't see what we gain by creating these arbitrary layers for teenagers (14A, 18A, R). All it really does is make stuff seem more exotic (and attractive) than it really needs to be. Have some faith in these kids to make decisions. They might not always make good ones but with practise they will make better ones. Right now, we don't allow them the chance to make decisions. We keep everything away from them and then, at some arbitrary point (like an 18'th birthday) we tell them to go nuts. It's a wonder they don't turn out worse.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A new Elliott Smith tune!!!

I've been on a bit of an Elliott Smith kick lately so I was glad to check this out. It's pretty good.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reason #153 why Toronto is a cool place to live. . .

The carillon at Metropolitan United Church:
If the church is open and you hear the bells, go up and see the carilloneur. He'll talk to you about the instrument, let you ring a few bells and then take you up to see the actual bells. It's amazing and well worth the long climb up a very narrow spiral staircase.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Photography / No More Boring Rocks

I like to play around with cameras. Yet another surprising revelation, I know. Would you also believe that I kind of like books?

I never really did much with cameras until I was in my early twenties. I don't really know why. It just wasn't my thing. Then, sometime around 1998, I picked up a nice Olympus point and shoot to take with me on my first big trip outside of Canada and the United States. I loaded up on lots of film, poured over my Lonely Planet guidebook and headed off for 9 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca.

The trip was amazing. It was the gateway drug that has kept me wandering around and around. The pictures? Uh. Um.

Let's see, it went kind of like this. I took 9 rolls of film down there and pretty much filled them. I got them developed as soon as I got back and started showing them to my parents and sisters. First up was a boring picture of old rocks. Next up was another boring picture of old rocks. With the pattern set, I continued through 9 rolls of really boring pictures. Kudos to my parents for not falling asleep halfway through.

What did I do wrong? No people. No action. No thought given to composition. No thought given to much other than a lot of thoughtless snapping. I guess I figured having a nice camera would automatically equal nice shots.

It doesn't.

So, I worked at it a bit. My next big trip was to India and Nepal and I made a point of trying to do a better job. I tried to overcome my fear of shooting people (something I still haven't cured myself of, but more on that later) and I came back with some nice shots. Sure, there were still issues but this time I took some shots I actually liked. Actually, I just found the box where I stuffed all those pics and now I'm dying to get a good scanner to digitize them.

After that, I made the move to an slr camera and took an introductory photography course. That's when I realized there was a whole lot more to this photography thing than seeing something nice and pressing a button. I'm not saying I use the rules of composition all the time, but at least I have an idea of what should be done.

As I said, I still have a bit of a problem with taking shots of people or, more specifically, taking shots of people I don't know. I was thinking about this the other day when I chanced upon WNYC radio's street photography contest ( Going through all the entries made me wish I was more comfortable taking shots of people. I love the spontaneous nature of a lot of this work. There's a vibrancy there I'd love to capture. Check out the site. All the videos are short and I think there's a lot to learn. If you only watch one, watch the winner, Joe Wigfall. His thoughts on art are pretty inspiring. If you watch a second, watch Bruce Gilden's and tell me what you think. I'm caught between being creeped out (popping a flash in people's faces just seems wrong) and a strange sense of appreciation (he is chasing his vision and doesn't seem to get beat up for it).

Anyways, watching these videos makes me want to try some candid street shots. Actually, this takes me back to the photography course I took. One of the assignments we had was to wander around downtown Toronto in the evening and take pictures of various street scenes we chanced upon. No one passed the assignment. We were all too timid and wound up doing everything possible to avoid taking pics of people, missing the whole point of the assignment. I'm thinking a do-over may be in the works.

In other camera news, I've begun to covet old soviet rangefinder cameras. I started looking at them on the lomo website ( and I'm intrigued. Almost enough to make me consider playing with film again. Almost.

(While we're talking about photography, check out to see how good photography is done. I bought a couple of prints from her at last year's Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibtion.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One thing that puzzles me. . .

It is kind of funny. The thing that amazes me, though, is that the Inuit have a word for people with unwiped bums. That kind of implies that this unwiped bum thing happens quite often. I guess in a land with no trees, it's hard to find some good two-ply.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Weekend in Sarnia - music, friends and chess

I spent a great but far too short weekend in Sarnia. Lots of visiting, some chess and some great music. Next time, I need to stay longer.

Ezio, one of my oldest friends and one of the most talented musicians / painters / artists I know.

My friend Adam got some local students to paint the wall out back of his music studio.

Ezio's cat will only drink out of a mug.
Did I mention that I love my new camera?

Canuck Book Revisitation 1 - Generation X by Douglas Coupland

You know what? I don't remember actually loving this book when I first read it. I liked it a lot and tore through it quickly but I didn't love it. I think it was just too dry, too mannered. I mean, all it is is a few people hanging out telling stories to each other.

What struck me most this time around, with a decade and a half of separation is how much this book is a product of its time. This book is the literary equivalent of all those jaded, talky GenX movies I once loved - Slacker, Before Sunrise, Clerks. Young people talking. And talking. And talking. Some coupling, but that just fuels more talking.

The second time around? I think I like it even more. It's a strange book - one that is almost too cute with it's constant slogans and definitions in the margins - but it works. Maybe it's just me. As I mentioned, I do have a weakness for all things talky and nineties.

Of course, there is an irony here because, while Coupland got so much right in his book, the reality of the X generation didn't play out the way he envisioned. Instead of backing away from consumer society, the X generation wound up embracing it with gusto. They may have tried to dress up their consumerism in layers of irony and detachment but it didn't keep them out of the malls. Sigh. . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A plan is hatched. . .

I've been thinking about how to approach the 3'rd Edition of Mr. Mutford's wonderful Canuck book challenge. As before, it is 13 Canuck books in a year.

Usually, I take the piecemeal approach, going from book to book on whims and flights of fancy with no though really given to common themes or ideas. Canadian literature is such a varied beast that I could take this approach again without fear of overlap or repetition.

This time, though, I want to take at least a little bit more disciplined approach. Nothing too rigid - I'm still not up to doing one from each province and territory as a number of people have done - but I do want to give my attempt at the challenge a little more shape and substance.

I'd originally thought of doing a short story collection theme. I love short stories. Canadians tend to write great short stories. It almost seemed like a perfect plan until I remembered one small detail - I have a hard time reading a story collection cover to cover. I find it easier to do than reading a poetry collection but it's still not something I look forward to. Sure, sometimes a collection will strike me the right way and I will tear through it (Alissa York's Any Given Power and David Bezmosgis' Natasha and Other Stories are two books that I raced through) but they are the rare exceptions. Right now, for instance, I've been rotating through short story collections by Alice Munro, Annie Proulx and Flannery O'Connor.

Instead, I've come up with a better plan, one that expands my horizons in an entirely different way. I'm going reread 13 of my favourite Canuck books.

I know what you're thinking - how does rereading books expand my horizons? Isn't that kind of a cop out? Well, no. You see, I almost never reread books. I have this compulsion that I must always search out something new. I just don't have time to go back over books I've already read. So I fill my shelves with new conquests while my old favourites sit around neglected.

Going back to 13 of my favourites should be eye opening. Will I like The Watch That Ends the Night as much as I did in university? Do Russell Smith's novels hold up over time? Will I fall in love again with Alayna Munce's When I Was Young and In My Prime?

I'm actually quite excited about this. I keep thinking of books I need to add to the list. So many possible books are out there - Clara Callan, A Fine Balance, The Edible Woman, Turvey. I could go on and on if it weren't so late and I weren't so tired.

First up is Douglas Coupland's Generation X. Oddly enough, this isn't a book I remember falling in love with. I liked it, sure, but it certainly didn't knock my socks off. That said, it is a book that intrigues me greatly. I'm curious to see how it holds up nearly two decades later.
(I came close enough to doing the short story thing, that I even started making a stack of books for the challenge.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A real smrt teechur

Ok, one last kick at the cat. I couldn't pass up watching Arlen Specter's town hall meeting (if you don't know or don't care why this is interesting, I envy you. Sadly, my OCD works against me). My favourite moment was when a teacher got up and demanded that Specter move to have all bills and laws written in a language that is at a junior high school level. As if multi-billion dollar laws concerning the lives of over 300 million people can all be written with the simplicity of a Dick and Jane book.

. . .

Actually, I was going to spew and sputter but I just don't have the heart. When the teachers start asking for us to dumb things down, I give up.

NEWS! - Americans Already Have Socialized Medical Care!

(Take that Sarah Palin and your insidious wink!)

So I'm watching CNN (a really bad morning habit) waiting for my blood pressure to reach a suitable boil. I used to think CNN was a great network. To put things in perspective, I also used to think Kiss was one of the greatest bands going. Oh, my prepubescent self, where have you gone?

So, I'm watching CNN and trying to keep from screaming while the American people fritter away any chance of having a more fair health care system because they would prefer to repeat slogans and talking points than doing anything so old fashioned as actually thinking.

Anyways, I'm watching CNN and watching people stifle debate in the name of freedom. Wrap your mind around that, why don't you. Nothing has changed. Much like the McCarthy infected 50's we are quickly learning that, while America talks about all sorts of freedoms, they still aren't ready for free thought.

As I said, I'm watching CNN and it hits me! Right in the middle of a segment about how expensive a hospital visit can be, I'm confronted with the reality that Americans already have a socialized medical system.

What? How can this be?

Well, the head of the hospital was quite up front in saying that those $200 000 medical bills you hear about contain a number of hidden costs that go into running a hospital. One of the biggest costs? Covering the costs of the uninsured and the underinsured. That's right, the ones with health care are being forced to pay for the care of those without health care. Almost sounds like socialism. The only difference is that it is the hospital deciding how much to charge and not the government.

Of course, the head of the hospital was much less up front about what part of the bill was profit. I guess those sorts of details don't show up well on the tv screen.

ps - Anyone else mystified by the Americans that are protesting against government run health care while taking advantage of a government run health care program, like those for seniors or veterans? The head spins.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It worked!

Finally got blogger to cooperate.

These ladies were feeding the pigeons. I've had a hard time disliking pigeons ever since I read Superdove.

This is all that's left of Sam's. Sigh.

Such a great venue.

No Pics for You

I was going to offer up some pics I took yesterday with my new toy camera but blogger seems to be acting up. I really love this camera. I went for a wander downtown and took a bunch of photos using its manual settings. Very fun.

In lieu of pics, I will offer up this link:,,20295839,00.html

For some reason, the Canuck brain tumour lady didn't mention this benefit of American health care. Go figure.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Perplexing News Tidbits

According to a news headline, the North Korean captives were fed bad food. First, you are a captive. Second, you are in a country that exists in a state of perpetual famine. For some reason, I don't think foie gras was in the cards.

As for the tragedy in Pennsylvania, the winner for most ridiculously obvious interview quote goes to Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt, who said "I think he went in with the idea of doing what he did." Maybe I'm a naive Canuck, but I kind of figure if a guy goes into a gym with a bag full of guns, it's not likely he's there just for the pilates.

I think the 24 hour tv news cycle, with it's need for constant drama and headlines, is actually making us dumber.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Dance of the Happy Shades

Is there anything better than waking up late, stretching and then lying in bed reading for a while? I don't think so. Especially today while I unwind from last night's shift. While nothing catastrophic happened, the shift was one of the busiest weekend shifts I've ever worked. Huge crowds all day (and evening) from Caribana combined with construction related delays made for a draining stretch of continual motion and scrambling. The only benefit was that time really flew. I just had no time to watch the clock.

Anyways, back to the reading. It's probably no surprise I have a teetering pile of books on top of my bedside table bookshelf. Today I pulled out a nice old edition of Alice Munro's Dance of the Happy Shades and read the stories "The Office" and "An Ounce of Cure".

The stress seeped out and was replaced by awe. I know. I know. It's almost a cliche to marvel at Munro's stories. Her work has been canonized and so lauded that to say anything other than "Alice Munro is a great story writer" would seem almost sacriligous. Inevitably, one has to wonder if she is really that good? Or is she getting a free pass because of her reputation?

We have this tendancy to elevate certain books and writers to positions that become almost untouchable. Often, this is earned - there are writers who deserve to be looked upon as masters in the same light that we look upon masters of music or the visual arts. The problem is that when this happens, many readers start to turn away. You hear so much about how great these books are that they become a chore more than a pleasure. How often does one really pick up Ulysses for fun?

Some of it goes back to school and the books we were taught. Often books seem to be taught because they are ostensibly "great" with little thought given to whether they would interest the young reader. Do that enough times to young readers and they soon develop a conditioned reluctance to reading the greats.

I'm not suggesting dumbing down the reading list. To the contrary, I think people should be taught good books as soon as possible so that they start to expect and even search out good books. It's just that more attention should be paid to which books are selected. My favourite example is Laurence's The Stone Angel. I'm still trying to understand the logic behind putting that book on the curriculum. I mean, I guess it counts as CanCon and maybe the school boards get a good discount from McStew but come on! How many teenagers are really that concerned with the recollections and ruminations of an old woman? Teach the Diviners if you want to teach Laurence. Teach Richler, Atwood, Cohen, Birney, Callaghan, MacLennan. Teach younger Canadian writers like Lynn Coady or Michael Redhill or Lisa Moore or Douglas Coupland. Teach books that will inspire and excite. Teach books with bad words and grand ideas. Teach books that were banned for bad reasons. Teach books that will captivate - offer up the gateway drug to a lifetime of reading. Teach anything but The Stone Angel.

. . .

Um. . .

I think I might have slipped off topic. I rant therefore I am.

Reading Munro this morning was a great way to start the day. Each story is a gem but to describe them would require delving into all the cliches about her work that we all know by now. She is truly a master. Just don't tell anyone, lest it scare them away.

(For any fans of The Stone Angel out there, don't take offense. I think it is a very good book. It's just not a book that should be taught in high school.)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A quick test of a new toy

I bought a new point and shoot camera yesterday. I wanted something more advanced then the 5mp Nikon I've had for a long time. I looked at a few options but settled on the Panasonic DMC-LX3, a p&s that has a wide range of manual functions and a really nice wide angle lens.

I snuck out of work for a short walk around downtown last night and took a few pics to get a feel for it. I don't think they turned out too bad.