Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

My initial draw to this book was the author himself. Following John Green and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel The Vlogbrothers has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a couple of years. When John was in the process of writing The Fault in Our Stars he would post video updates on his research trip to Amsterdam, on his pledge to sign every one of the 100,000 pre-ordered copies of the book (which he completed to the point of requiring occupational therapy), on inspirational notes from his editor, and on his moving experience with one of his dedicated fans, Esther Earl, who sadly died of cancer at the age of sixteen.

I suppose I bought into the transmedia franchise of this self-made celebrity with an adoring online fan community. I felt it created a reading experience that extended beyond the book, to the book's creation and to active reader engagement (a community that extends far beyond my knowledge of mainstream internet celebrity into forums and fan sites and the far reaches of internet subculture). I waited patiently for my pre-ordered, pre-signed copy in the mail... and then I put it aside nearly a year before I managed to peel past the autograph and the dedication to Esther Earl.

The focal point of this young adult novel is Hazel Grace, a sixteen year old with cancer (whom the author swears is not a reincarnation of Esther, but admits she was an influence in the creation of the story). The beauty of The Fault in Our Stars is that it is a young adult book that makes teenage angst not only bearable, but also beautiful. It's a book that centres around teenagers who are truly dying but desire so desperately to live; kids who are facing death by means beyond their control. In the process of losing their ability to walk, to see, and to breathe (depending on their given cancer), and watching their friends disappear around them, they come to terms with their own final days not of youth, but of life. It has enough humour--dark and light--to keep momentum, and only a few eye-rolling moments that are perhaps more clownish than their intent to deflate some tension. Perhaps the most enjoyable part is the book's refreshing honesty as it deals with doubts about life and its meaning. It deals with the parents pain as well, and their perpetual anticipation of the loss of their children. It deals with the pain of a first amorous teenaged affair being the one and only, in a world where dying first is preferable to being left behind by your cancer-ridden pair. The book doesn't pretend to offer answers. It doesn't enforce false comfort. Instead, it acknowledges the simple truth of inevitability, and appreciating the beauty of life in the moment and the privilege of knowing and loving those who love us back.

It was well worth the dive into the world of internet celebrity to find gems of honest storytelling. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: The Book of Awesome

Alright, so this isn't exactly a brand new, unheard of book that is struggling for a review, publicity, or praise, but I have finished reading it, and I felt the need to give it a review. (Admittedly, this draft has been sitting around for a few months. I felt it was about time to round it out and share it).

I followed Neil Pasricha's blog 100awesomethings for a while before the book came to my attention, and perhaps part of the drive to read it was to give some credit to an internet celebrity who rose to mainstream appeal and got a book deal out of his story.

To be honest, while I enjoy the premise, and the endless amount of positive stories about the small everyday things did put a smile on my face, I feel the real depth to this work comes near the very end of the book, where we learn about Pasricha's personal struggles: the falling-out of his marriage, the death of a close friend to suicide, and the adjacent "awesome" entries that are slightly philosophical, looking into time and history and the universe. The most inspiring story relates to the friend he lost to mental illness, and how this friend and mentor inspired positive thinking strategies and helped him find joy in the everyday.

I think what made me appreciate the book a fair bit more was the TED Talk Pasricha offered on The 3 A's of awesome which offered a bit more of his personal story, transformation, and his philosophy. I encourage you to take a look, and see if it deepens your appreciation of the book, beyond a superficial attempt at finding joy in turning over the cool side of your pillow and peeling an orange in one clean spiral.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: A Dangerous Method

A provocative, psychological, historical drama, which dives straight into the birth of psychoanalysis.

I thoroughly enjoyed how every theory blended with each character's ... well, characterization. Every protagonist seemed to be dominated by a particular psychoanalytic force: the id, ego, and superego, as well as the life and death drive, are each enacted through a character. I think the subtlety of the theory through individual character development is stunning, even if the vocalization of the theory may seem a bit too obvious.

As an undergraduate student and as a graduate student, I always had a bit of a fascination for Freud, Jung, and psychoanalytic theory. In my view it was far from the "too textbooky" criticisms that have littered online reviews. The theoretical parts of it didn't extend past what one might learn in an introductory to Psychology, Philosophy, or Literary Psychoanalysis course, or perhaps much beyond the common social understanding of Freud's work.

If anything, the relationships between the characters served to illuminate the theory in a visceral way.

I was completely fascinated by Sabina Spielrein, and was really impressed by Keira Knightly's performance as her character--a strikingly brilliant woman suffering from hysteria as a result of severe abuse as a child, and has since developed unusual preferences for gratification. The complicated tension between disgust and satisfaction, between humiliation and absolute ecstasy, is so challenging to digest.

You can't decide as a viewer whether or not you can align yourself with the main characters, and this imposed distance can be unsettling. There are so many psychological tensions in this film. So many internal battles that each of the main characters has to face. These tensions alone won me over for the movie as a fascinating film.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People

Douglas Coupland must have an insatiable following.

I was thrilled by the concept of an illustrated children's book for adults, with absurdly adult content. I'm still a fan of Coupland's other work; I loved Generation X and Generation A, and I can get on board with Coupland's theories on Marshall MacLuhan.

However, the odd thing about this book was that I had expected to laugh. I expected hilarity. Instead, I felt that the tales were a bit depressing. I'll admit that I'm one for dark humour, even at the most inappropriate occasions, but somehow, the drop-off endings of these morose tales were both unfinished, and unsettling.

I think the review in The Walrus by Emily Landau summarized my concerns best:
"The trouble with these fractured fairy tales, winking allusions, and clever parodies is that the reader can never fully surrender to the child's sphere of earnestness and escape"
Perhaps the reason for this uncertainty was that the book wasn't wholly in the realm of adult or child. If it were more "adult," it lacked some explicit social criticism, it merely presented ideas and abandoned them. If it were more "child," I feel the tales would have allowed for greater absorption into the realm of fantasy.

The premises of the stories were enjoyablethe inappropriate babysitter asking her charges to shoplift, the evil juice box attacking other juice boxes, the living army action figure that tortures his owner/captor, the past-her-prime Barbie ("Cindy" doll) taking revenge on an unpopular girl, and the zombie supply teacher who decides to eat one of his students based on the students' essaysbut nothing was achieved in any tale. There is no conclusion, no cliffhanger, no moral (or amoral) lesson. Simply a snapshot into a horrible, fictional moment, leaving one to conclude that their plots are hopeless, empty, and bound for nothing but continual perpetuation.

Yet the title did not mislead. In fact, it delivered exactly what was promised: these are children's-style tales, which are inappropriate for young people. Yet these tales don't quite make it to their adulthood either. There is no promise of a concluding message or sense of closure. One might presume that's how Coupland thought it should be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Toronto's still groovy... right?

Finally! I got my first subscription of The Walrus in the mail! Complete with exciting photo essays of the boreal forest and other visual delights! With the exception of the photos displaying how Toronto is essentially rotting at it's core... which surprised me, as it's not hard to find a pothole, an illegal collection of garbage bags, or a damaged street sign in any city. Nevertheless, the image of a swan who seems to have made a nest out of garbage in a basement stairwell was pretty funny [Images and editorial here].

Yet I acknowledge that the city has serious urban planning issues... stemming back to it's original conception, not simply as a result of the Harris government's amalgamation in 1997, and poor governing since then. The article chart's a history of bad decisions in nearly all political leaders, provincial and domestic, as well as the decisions of urban planners, since the early 1900s (although largely focusing on the city's stasis in the last thirty or so years).

The article makes some excellent points regarding planning for the future, and spending now to make things better later (and how detrimental Rob Ford's determination to cut spending now might be for the future of the city).

I suppose this article touched a soft spot. I'd like to be proud of my city, rather than feel it must be defended, despite its flaws.

And I suppose that is the point.

Whatever your sentiments, I suggest you go check out The Walrus!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

It creeps, and leaps, and gildes and slides...

The Blob (1958)
Starring Steve McQueen

View it here.

I was constantly entertained with this campy '50s horror/drama flick. There was no stone left unturned in '50s cliches, horror protagonist follies, and ridiculously executed fates for each of the victims. Even the trailer is hysterical.

The Best:
- Opening song: reminiscent of a conga line
- 30-year-old teenagers
- Police's "damn those no-good-punks" attitude
- Scooby-Doo-eqsue delinquence
- When "special" effects take illustrated form
- The final scene (SPOILER): five seconds of dropping a parachuted mound into the arctic, then cut to black

The Worst:
- Stupid children... really, really stupid children
- The easily grasped yet slowly acknowledged solution
- Appearances of The Blob are surprisingly limited

Best Final Quote (SPOILER):
"At least we've got it stopped." // "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold."

The Verdict: Hilarious! 5 Stars (*****)

Find my post on the CINEFILLES blog.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm Reading a Book

Please enjoy the talented musical stylings of internet comedian Julian Smith:

As if Macbeth needs to be more graphic...

Macbeth (2012)
by W. Shakespeare
('The Big Shakes')
"Retold" by M. Powell, Illustrated by F. Daniel**

Macbeth is now brought to you in graphic novel form! Enjoy a concise, brooding yet fast-paced, half-hour read of this literary classic. Even the internal dialogue is drawn in an action-packed way, from crazy slanted angles to deliberately bizzare close-ups. While I've never stared up anyone's nostril, I feel it is often a graphic-illustrator's tactic to symbolize impending doom. Always an interesting perspective. Also, this short but sweet (and slightly hilarious while power-reading
) version of Macbeth also includes some study questions... for the lingering high-schooler who probably hasn't yet realized there are other ways of reading/experiencing their dusty old Shakespeare texts.

I was thoroughly entertained.

3 old witches + 1 bloody dagger + 1 power-hungry homicidal wife = 5 Stars

**[Yes, the cover has a different name for the illustrator. I'm sorry, images were hard to come by. The cover design is otherwise the same, so I'm sticking with it.]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Come on, Vogue...

The September Issue (2009)

An insightful documentary looking into the fashion industry, and specifically the infamous Vogue editor Anna Wintour, inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada.

Remarkably, this documentary resembles the Meryl Streep version on a number of levels. Streep's character was not much of an exaggertation, however we get to see Wintour in a much softer light, someone who is more rigorous for the sake of work, but has a more kind brand of assertiveness towards those who work for her.

Something that struck me about this movie was that the movie focused not on Anna Wintour, but more on her associate, Grace Coddington. They started working at the magazine at the same time, and she seems to have a strong hand in the artistic development of the fashion choices and photoshoot spreads in the magazine.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Enjoying Chocolate Sunday

Luxury Chocolate Show
SUNDAY, October 2, 2011
at Roy Thomspon Hall

Part of the Toronto Chocolate Festival, the Luxury Chocolate Show is definitely a calling for all Chocolate lovers within driving distance of the city.

My perspective on the show is limited, as I was a volunteer for the event, but from what I could tell, it's an event I would definitely go to in the future.

I still enjoyed the free samples, overheared some of the chocolate making shows, watched people getting chocolate massages and chocolate henna, and watched (I kid you not) the 9-1-1 Chocolate Relay between firefighters, police, and securty. (Spoiler: The firefighters won.) The relay was actually quite hilarious and sporting (I'm not the type of person to show up just to drool at men in uniform). I'm disappointed I didn't get a chance to see the chocolate and wine pairings in the chocolate bar and lounge, but It's something to look forward to next year.

With a discounted ticket price of $20 each, if you're a student you may need to budget for this event, but it is well worth it for a full day of chocolate related goodness. Plus, you can get a handstamp and re-enter, if you feel you need a break from sweet food partway through the day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Romance, War, and Writing

Atonement (2007)

Based on novel: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

After developing somewhat of a crush on James McAvoy from X-Men: First Class, I couldn't resist the temptation to purchase the Atonement DVD that I saw on sale the very next day. Not realizing that this movie was based on an Ian McEwan novel (to my shame) I watched the movie first.

Plot (may contain spoilers):

Briony Tallis, a young writer, dreamer, and sister misunderstands the relationship between her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and the well-educated son of the household help Robbie (James McAvoy). She interprets a sexually charged love letter as a sign of sexual perversion, and a hot and heavy library scene as molestation. Later she observes her cousin getting raped by an older man (friend of the family, head of a chocolate empire), and blames it on her sister's love. World War II breaks out, and the Tallis sisters serve as nurses, and Robbie goes to war. As Briony gets older, she realizes the damage she has done both to the life of this young man, and to her sister's happiness. For this youthful folly, she seeks atonement. This burning guilt extends over the course of her life.

Thoughts (also spoilers):

What drives me nuts about this movie is that Briony (the young girl, writer, and subtle protagonist) seemingly knows who the real rapist is, and refuses to see it. She is so emotionally driven, so entirely trusting in her emotional impulses, that she believes she has charged the right man, and has done the right thing. On some conscious level, it seems impossible that she would rather villainize an innocent man out of jealousy than stop a truly dangerous and despicable man (who will later marry Briony's cousin, the girl he raped). Yet, this happens. And this becomes the premise for the entire narrative. The nature of the crime, and the fact that the real criminal not only gets away with it, but somehow persuades the girl into marriage when she is an adult, angers me on so many levels.

Moving on to other observations... the fleetingly heated passion between Knightley and McAvoy is truly impressive. The sense of longing and romantic passion carries across the entire film, stemming from their briefly initiated and quickly disrupted love scene. I'd rather not give away the twist, but suffice it to say there are many levels of heartbreak between lovers, between siblings, and simply between human beings experiencing true human suffering in the war.

The cinematography is notable, including a much discussed five-minute long, single-shoot scene of the beach where the British soldiers are to be evacuated. The light is cloudy, the colour is filtered through a beige-ish screen, and the scene is slow, with the haunting image of a slow-moving, dust-covered, ferris wheel and merry-go-round, underscored by a slow, melancholic melody. Another haunting and beautiful moment is when Robbie is in Dunkirk, and encounters hazy, leavy, deeply saturated green trees and foliage, and underneath he finds dead, uniforned school girls, and as the camera slowly pans out, he sees many more lined up, row by row.


The acting is phenomenal and the scenes are beautiful. The simultaneous timelines illuminate the same scene twice through another character's eyes was incredible, as was the constant jumping back and forth in time, highlighting missing plot elements, and necessary flashbacks.

Atonement is tremendously moving, and while it leaves out no details, it still manages to leave so much more to the imagination.

5 Stars (*****)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Sex, Love, and Copyright...

Starbuck (2011)
Viewed at TIFF
(Lang: French/Quebecois) {chill out, there are English subtitles}
Ken Scott's Starbuck was an ingenious, hilarious film that I recommend everyone see. This All-Canadian film takes place in Montreal. The premise is that a down-on-his-luck meat delivery man, David Wozniak, made money over two years of his youth by donating sperm, only to discover twenty years later that he has fathered over 500 children in the Montreal area. To make matters worse, around 140 of them are filing a class action lawsuit so that he will reveal his identity. David seeks the help of his idiosyncratic lawyer-ish friend to fight his case, and hide his identity from the media, who have labelled him "El Masturbator." David becomes invested in the identities of his children, and seeks a few of them out, only to become their "guardian angels." Realizing the impossibility of his task, but desperate to get perspective on his life as an adult, David manages to learn from and grow with his children. Patrick Huard does a terrific job playing David as the kind-hearted, somewhat simple-minded David, who only wants to do right by his family and his community. I seriously hope this movie becomes mainstream. The quality was excellent, the storyline original, and the unique comedy was refreshing amongst the heavier elements of the plot. 

I Love You Philip Morris (2009)

I am so glad I finally had the opportunity to see this movie. It was screening on YouTube movies for free for a short period of time (lucky me!). I cannot believe this movie was actually based on a true story. Jim Carrey plays Steve Russell, a con man who, in middle age, comes to terms with his homosexuality. While in prison for one of his schemes, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and they immediately fall in love. Steve stops at nothing to exchange letters, visit Phillip's cell, and ultimately build their life together when they get out of prison. There are some surprising twists to this movie, which I might say were not as cleanly orchestrated by the filmmakers as they could have been (unfortunately, to explain this is further would be too much of a spoiler, and then you'd just get upset at me for even mentioning it). Overall, this movie was more of a drama than a comedy, but it carried with it a lot of heart, a lot of love, and some truly funny moments. Carrey and McGregor had an insane amount of romantic chemistry. They were truly believable as a couple in love. I think this may have been the finest acting I have ever seen from Carrey, who has a tendency for hilariously campy overreacting. Carrey plays Steve Russel as a soulful, loving, multi-layered man, albeit compulsive and psychopathic in his scheming, con-artisty ways. I'd give this film 4 STARS, and a definite movie rental this fall.

RIP!: A Remix Manifesto (2009)

View here (FREE)

This documentary is made by a Canadian director, Brett Gaylor, on a well-known remix artist: Girl Talk. This is by far the most entertaining film I have seen to date on Copyright Protection, Creative Commons, and Fair Use issues. With a very clear slant to the Copy-Left, I certainly got a comprehensive perspective into the downfalls of copyright law (which was meant to protect artists) and how a few large corporations (a.k.a. DISNEY) have essentially influenced the development of copyright law to allow large corporations to monopolize concepts that were originally ripped-off from other artists, cartoons, musicians, and authors. This documentary provides a fascinating perspective into how copyright is now stifling future artistic creation, limiting remix culture, fan fiction, and new takes on any literature post Jane Austen. A definite must see for any writers, artists, publishers, editors, or essentially anyone impacted by copyright laws.

The Princess Bride (1987)

Alright, so I bought the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Princess Bride. I never saw this movie in my younger years, but I feel pop culture is constantly inundated with references-to and quotes-from this movie. First, this movie was significantly funnier than I had ever expected it to be: the clever banter and sword-play between the disguised farm boy and Inigo Montoya; the defeating of Fezzik (Andre the Giant); even the"outwitting" of Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) was kind-of a hoot if you recognize the deliberate campy-ness of it all. So, so many popular quotes came from this movie: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die"; "As you wish"; "Inconceivable!"; and the banter about which cup is poisoned and why... oh a treasure! The whole meta-theatrical framing thing [with the grandfather reading the story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage!), trying to convince him it was truly a tale for men, and not just some goofy love story] was cute in a roll-your-eyes sort of way. But, I'm sure if I saw this movie when I was twelve I would have appreciated it more. For the hilarious quotability of this movie.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Misanthropy and Gender-Bending (at Stratford)

Stratford's Summer Shows!

First off, I have to mention that I really admire the Stratford Theare for offering such affordable student rates. If you're 16-29 tickets are only $25! Also, concessions are not nearly as inflated as theatres downtown Toronto (i.e. $2 for a coffee or a chocolate bar, instead of $3-$4). Besides, Stratford is such a cute, scenic little town. If you have the time, it's well worth the day trip outside the GTA.

Misanthrope by Moliรจre:
Viewed: Sept. 1, 2011

Hilarious! Who doesn't love an overly honest, cynical, misanthropic protagonist these days? If you enjoy watching House, and Hugh Laurie's portrayal of him, Dr. House is essentially the modern day token misanthrope who the audience seems to love for his brutal honesty, and whose coarseness is portrayed as more humorous than offensive to the viewing audience. Perhaps that is why I carried a warm affection for the obtuse Alceste (I have a soft spot for the G. House). Alceste, the misanthrope, is critical of 17th century French society for its false niceties and rules of courtesy and social conduct. He is also critical of his very flirtatious beloved. However, his insight and honesty turns into an irrational jealousy of her having several other suitors... only until the audience realizes his suspicions were absolutely true! It was beautifully acted, and very enjoyable. The costumes were stunning, as was the set -- with large chandeliers and authentic looking furniture. Everything was slightly modernized, contemporary to the 18th century rather than the 17th when the play was written. Misanthrope is definitely worth seeing. I highly recommend it!

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare:
Viewed: Aug. 4th, 2011

Always a favourite play of mine, but this interpretation was truly spectacular. The twins were dressed identically in white linen suits. The scene of Malvolio's descent into madness while the disguised fool Feste terrifies him in his cell had the visual slickness of a modern illusionist show. The costumes were fascinating, with some characters dressing in Victorian dresses, suits, and formal attire, while other characters were dressed in entirely contemporary clothing, there was once a 1920's attired tennis scene in Olivia's court, all mixed with the one ridiculous yellow stocking-ed, cross gartered absolutely antiquated Malvolio in exaggerated renaissance attire. Perhaps the more antiquated the costume, the more far removed we ought to feel from that character. When a character is dressed in the lavish robes of Victorian nobility,amongst people in contemporary attire, they ought to seem all the more foreign and ridiculous to the contemporary viewing audience.

There were also modern stage props (a refrigerator and kitchen) and a glass case and a straight jacket to serve as the prison cell for Malvolio when he "goes mad." Perhaps the different mix of costumes from different eras are meant to visually connect the audience on a more personal level to certain characters--we are supposed to associate with the jovial servants, as well as with the contemporary and eloquent protagonist Viola ("Cesario" while in drag/disguise) as she sorts out the madness between Duke Orsino's love for Olivia, as well as Olivia's love for Cesario.

The music was beautiful. The folk songs told by Feste the fool were covered with a modern, sound, particularly the closing musical finale. Sometimes I catch myself singing "the rain.... the rain it raineth everyday" with the subtly Caribbean sound of steel drums and light background sounds humming in my head. An excellent show, and a must see!

When dead chicks come back to life...

A Winter's Tale
Dream in High Park
Attended: Aug. 31, 2011

Shakespeare in High Park has been one of my favourite summer theatre options. Hundreds gather with picnic baskets and blankets, cuddling on grassy hillside amphitheatre seating, and enjoy the starry night sky and the hum of crickets behind the live stage production.

This year they featured The Winter's Tale. I was so pleased by the exaggerated comedy elements, particularly that of the "bear" (portrayed by a young man in a polar bear loin cloth, white furry leg warmers and arm warmers, and a large stuffed polar bear head) dancing out to rhythmic music before taking Antigonus offstage. How can anyone forget that famous stage direction, "Exit, pursued by a bear"?

This play argualby had the most hilarious Hermione portrayal. Usually I see her portrayed as a straight character of mourning mother. The CanStage version had her put on exaggerated facial expressions, hyperbolic fits of anger and grief, and a campy attitude towards her mysterious "statue of deceased Hermione comes back to life" at the end of the play, magically correcting the last of many wrong-doings that set the play in motion.

This play continues until Sept. 4th. Get there early, and be prepared for weather and sitting on the ground. (I'm not kidding about getting there early -- I went on a Wednesday (last night) and arrived an hour and a half early, and spots were hard to come by).

With a suggested donation of $20 (i.e. not obligatory if you can't afford the full amount), I think it's a bargain for the student and the ardent artsy bargain hunter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shake your Fan Fan!

Aug. 28, 2011 - The final day of the convention, and my first experience of the renowned FanExpo was everything I had imagined.

A conglomerate of gamers, graphic artists, storm troopers, anime characters, Hogwarts students, steam-punk enthusiasts, comic book collectors, and every niche nerd market available flooded the convention centre. As long as you didn't spend $80 to get a signature with William Shatner, and then another $80 to get a picture taken with him (after waiting two hours in line), I respect your fanaticism to its core.

While my general impression has been that the FanExpo is a gigantic money grab which takes advantage of the enthusiastic sub-culturist, there were free perks for those who kept their eyes out. For example, you and a friend could get a photo with C3P0 and R2D2 on Tatooine, with the truest of light sabers, a green screen, and a professional photographer, captured and printed right before your eyes. Right? Following that, you could take a fan photo with Chewbacca --a customary Star Wars booth indulgence--and at no extra cost (and I would expect it so ... if you had to pay to take pictures with people in costume at the expo, you'd go home broke)! The HMV booth also had a green screen, and no time at I was amidst the cast of The Big Bang Theory, printed and matted on site. It's like those souvenir pictures taken on roller coasters at amusement parks ... except the picture is the ride, and the memories are free! There were also some free candy giveaways. How can anyone say no to that?

While I may have dropped about $70 on fanfare, $40 went to supporting a truly talented graphic artist, and taking the prints home to enjoy for years to come. (And hey, if the work increases in value, it might turn out to be a sound financial investment as well.)

The giant Lego Hagrid was my favourite feature on the floor--obviously placed to promote the hew Harry Potter Lego video game, but I'll take it. (I'd probably openly play the game if it weren't advertised for ages 5 through 7).

So, with my clear susceptibility towards the Harry Potter franchise, did I go to see Tom Felton (AKA Draco Malfoy) at the FanExpo? Well, for $40, over an hour wait, and no guarantee that I'd get my photo taken with him (and that blissful 15 seconds of side-by-side proximity to go with it)... no, thank you. More often than not, celebrity worship surpasses logic (perhaps it always does).

Thanks to HOToronto Magazine for the Press Access!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"The Plan" and other hilarity in Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under was a fabulous show, and it has come to inspire me. I've only recently 'discovered' it, and have made it through five seasons in only a few weeks!

I think I'm (not so secretly) in love with Claire Fisher (character) as well as Michael C. Hall (actor, a.k.a. Dexter).

I was also inspired by Ruth (Fisher)'s whole sense of loss, and loss of self, and the whole idea of "reconstructing" herself with the weird self-help/cult group "The Plan." As a result, it drove me to write.


The Plan
Construction of
self is noisy,

dusty, visceral.

Make a mess

of it every

chance you


With Love,
Your Contractor.

(Not-So) Brief explanation of photo:
One of Claire's art projects, where she makes a collage of someone's face from different pictures of that person, makes a paper mache mask, and takes a picture of the subject of that mask. This mask/collage is of Ruth. The project itself draws upon themes of identity and the masks we wear, the different fragments that make up oneself, and a whole host of different interpretations. I chose this photo to pair with my poem about Ruth on her hysterical road to self discovery through "The Plan" and it's architectural metaphors for self. i.e.: I find her metaphorical self construction is humorous, as it misses the point -- she spends more time describing the foundational flaws in her "house" than building that "house" and living life. Her dialogue is loose and superficial--So is the poem, but it tries to slap you in the face with that fact. We're all constructed of different pieces, but Ruth needs to, how shall I say it? Get out of her "house" and into the world. (See? I think these things through!)


Architecture of the soul
is only constructed
from life
living & drinking
from the fountain
of flora &


Also, a broken Haiku:

Submit to Fear &
Nourish Hunger. Draw your fishnet.
Net profits magnify.


And finally, my philosophy on writing chance poetry:

everything is a multi-
Pun for the
literal, the
internal, the
etymological, &
the chance anagram.


And on that note, this may be the last of poetry present on this primarily review driven blog.

Coasting on Black Spot Boulevard

Inspired by looking at Kandinsky's "Black Spot I" and by listening to a (near infinite) playlist of St. Germain jazz, I went on a free form poetry spree, writing short, sporadic one page poems on whatever images struck me in the chaotic mess of symbols. Fifteen poems later (some of which are completely incoherent) I felt rather inspired enjoying the abstract flow of interpretation/ideas/images. I've included a couple to share. I realize this is a departure from the explicit "prose" distinction of this blog, but nevertheless, I feel it bleeds into my musings on arts and culture.


Ebb and Flow

with pigeons on
hydro lines and
jazz musicians
seducing backpackers
... and/or housewives
Some things pull us back,
others pull us
forward. Flow draws
us out of ourselves
into a space of clarity
and realization.
Surpass the darkness,
while accepting it.

__We are dancing in unison.



Bright Intrigue
paired with mystery.
Genuine movements
of colour with notes
of ...sweetness? and
harmonies of ...translucence?
Hearts, washed with
seafoam and rainwater,
distract from the flame at centre
Black Spot I does
Not overtake expanding
j o y .



Cigarettes & fire pits
Train tracks and
grassy fields.
Geometry perplexes
asymmetry, and
yet the dissimilar
figures harmoniously
________flora and fingerprints
Electric. Pyrotechnic.



The golden cracks
__the blue surface
Horizon Explodes
__into action,
__breath and
__a cacophony of
_____de Kandinsky

in Black Spot I.


Interpret as you will. If it makes you laugh, than it's intentionally humorous. If it makes you role your eyes, than it's satirical. If it makes you smile, than it's meant to touch you. I latched onto images within the painting, and sounds from the music. Either way, I figure that art should be first personal, and second about sharing, but sharing is an essential component.

What the Pollock?!

AbEx NY at the AGO
Visited: Aug. 24, 2011

Truly inspired by the abstract expressionist paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Not because I am an art junkie, or even an amateur artist, but because I live and love to see the products of inspiration.

Every splash of paint, choice of colour, smear or blot, represents, or hopes to stimulate an emotion. And I believe it.

Occasionally in these works a human-like figure is placed amongst the chaos of colour splashes and shapes, and suddenly a million new meanings and personal interpretations can be drawn from such a subtle addition.

My favourite from the collection was Jackson Pollock's "Stenographic Figure" which, in my interpretation, presents an image of pure chaos of the everyday, being overwhelmed, and forced with the idea of collaboration while feeling truly alone in the struggle (as there is a second, less defined figure off to the right, almost intruding on the figure to the left). That, and of course, a commentary on language, and how it can be reduced to some shorthand symbols. What is language, but a bunch of squiggles inscribed with a meaning agreed upon by a group of people?

This photo was actually my computer wallpaper for a year of my undergrad -- it reminded me of my struggles with language and interpretation and finding meaning in an overwhelming swirl of literary masterpieces. I was taken aback when I happened to see it in the collection, right there before my eyes! I was also shocked at how small it was in real life. So many of Pollock's pieces are large wall murals, but this one was about 15 in x 22 in. [But then again, anyone who's seen the Mona Lisa knows it's not much bigger than two peices of paper (30 in × 21 in).] I know, size isn't everything, but you have to admit that smaller masterpieces don't carry as much of a sense of grandeur as the full wall murals with grand scenes and/or gigantic blends of bold colours, at least when viewing them in person.

If you are in Toronto right now, I recommend you go and see this exhibit. It's only $10 on Weds nights when the rest of the museum is free!

Exhibit runs until Sept. 4.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book a Month Club!

So I haven't read as frequently as I've hoped this year, but nevertheless, as promised, I will review my booklist. (It seems I'm averaging one book per month. I need to pick up the pace!)

The List:
  • Fledgling, Octavia Butler
  • Bossypants, Tina Fey
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Maus I: My Father Bleeds History, Art Spiegelman
  • Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began, Art Spiegelman
Currently Reading: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Next Read: Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Short Reviews:


So a genetically engineered vampire is part black, so she can resist the sunlight, ages at an incredibly slow rate, shows super-human strength, and has lost her memory due to a near fatal attack on her, and her surviving relatives. What is a memory lost vampire girl to do, who is fifty-three years old, stuck in the body of a twelve year old, and can't remember her name? Why, sleep with a grown man and feast on his blood for survival in a symbiotic relationship, of course! Then, she must come to relearn her place in her own "Ina" (vampire) society, whose traditions garner the wisdom of 10,000 years of recorded civilization. She is hated by half of her kind, admired and revered by the other half, and faces constant danger of being hunted down by her enemies, who hope to take her symbiotants with her. There is definitely a lot of action in this book. I get the sense that Butler was envisioning a movie that might come of it some day. This book critiques issues of race, sexuality, political structures, genetic engineering... it's hard to settle down on a main topic. Not as fulfilling as I'd hoped it would be, possibly due to some lack of clarity as to what the author hopes to accomplish, but overall a fun guilty pleasure if you're into the snowball of vampire culture.


Pretty tongue and cheek, but I always appreciate Tina Fey's humour. Don't expect to laugh your way from page to page. However, if you want a comical, self-deprecating account of the life of Tina Fey in short anecdotes, and how she accidentally stumbled upon success despite some humiliating life moments, it's a fun summer read. Admittedly, the back cover had me in stitches, and was the number one reason I bought the book. (Okay, somehow that blurb makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, but let me say that I truly enjoyed reading it, I was just hoping for gut-busting laughter. Life's tough for a comedian. Expectations always run abnormally high for comedic writing.)

Of Mice and Men

It's such a short novella, and a classic that is spoken of so often, that it leaves me wondering if there's a way I "ought" to react to it. I definitely wish it were longer. The ending wasn't wholly surprising, but I realize that's not the point of it. I secretly wish to rewrite it so that both main characters have more of an opportunity for growth. By story's end you realize that's the whole point, this one short story is a repetition of every other job, every other move, every other encounter with new people over the course of the character's lives, with minimal differences from place to place. The redundancy, the stasis, the "plight of the working class" leaving little room for growth, progression, or upward movement.

Maus I & II

What can I say other than horrifying, moving, honest and something I feel everyone should read. But truly, granted, I am not well read on holocaust memoirs, I was surprised by the horrors I had never read about or watched in movies of the same genre. And yet both volumes left the reader questioning the father's story on his account of the holocaust, and how much of the father's role in each account may have been exaggerated. I say this not to lessen the severity of abuses that victims the holocaust endured, but to point out what the son (as narrator) points out on a few occasions -- it raises some amount of doubt in his father's perspective on things, and wants the reader to be aware of the vast differences that can come about from different voices in storytelling. Art Speigelman's account of his own tensions, anger, and resentment for his parents, as well as his admiration for them, seem so genuine, it's hard not to appreciate a work written with such honesty.

Jane Eyre

I'm not far enough to say too much about it. Admittedly I'm reading this because it's one of those classic books you "have to read," and because I'm so interested in reading the Wide Sargasso Sea as a "reimagining of Jane Eyre" in a Caribbean, feminist sort of way. I figure I can't do Rhys' work full justice without reading Jane Eyre first. (And I'm not cheating by watching the movie instead...not until after I finish the book). I have the summer, and I have the time for them both.

And then, I will read V for Vendetta ... just because I need to throw another graphic novel in there... and I loved the movie, and Natalie Portman, of course.

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Also, if you're a literary nut, go see Midnight in Paris, right now!

I'm not a big fan of Owen Wilson, but how can you not fall in love with his character, who romantically longs to live and breathe the air of the writers, poets, and artists of the 1920s? Plus, he goes back in time and gets Gertrude Stein to read his unfinished novel. Seriously? Oh Woody Allen... you warm my heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Octavia Butler... and beyond

Octavia E. Butler, how do I admire thee? Let me count the ways...

My love of Kindred, when read during my undergraduate student, contributed to my choice to pursue grad school. My reading of Dawn made me love what OEB can make science fiction become. (My need to get my hands on the rest of the Xenogenesis series is imminent, but I haven't the patience to negotiate with people online to special order out of print copies).

Right now I'm working on Fledgling. It has been a guilty pleasure, I must admit (which, while it was a self-proclaimed "lark" by Butler, is quickly becoming more and more insightful in my mind). Fledgling is like an amalgamation of Lolita and Twilight (I imagine, having not read Twilight, but being forced to watch the first movie on an airplaine, I think I get the gist). I am having difficulty tolerating the sex between a grown man and a vampire (apparently in her early 50s) stuck in a twelve-year-old's body. I'm still trying to figure out if Butler was gunning for a more powerful overarching metaphor...some sort of critique on race, sex, and sexuality... and gender politics in our society. However, she never seems to settle on an overarching goal. Butler tries to break down every possible socially constructed boundary on sex, intimacy, and racial politics, which, while admirable, leaves me wanting a bit more. In Fledgling, her metaphors and goals seem to be less thought out than in her other works. (But I'll forgive you, Octavia.) Although, I suppose I should suspend judgement until I have completely finished the book.

A more complete review of Fledgling is soon to come!

Today I feel fearless. I've been blogging for years, but this is my first public blog on reading, writing, and words. I will possibly include film reviews. Well, I'm excited. Are you?

Mentioned works:

(Highly Recommended: Dawn and Kindred)