Thursday, March 15, 2018

How to fix the Brier

For a lot of years I gave Brad Gushue crap. He was undoubtedly a fantastic curler, but his ability to make the Brier play-offs but being unable to close the deal was frustrating. Even winning the Olympic gold medal....there was an element of luck there and I think he's admitted that himself. Having Russ Howard there to help guide the team over the finish line was always going to be an element to that win. I thought he was going to be one of those players who could never get it done. There are plenty of athletes who, as great as they were, never won championships. Gushue was feeling like that.

But two Briers in a row? No, that cements your ticket into the Hall of Fame. They looked absolutely in control every game I watched. Even the last couple of ends of the Final, when they let Alberta back into it, they didn't crack. Five years ago they would have found a way to choke on it. So congrats to him and his team. It's a hell of an accomplishment.

But the other thing Gushue did last week was express his displeasure at the format change this year. Instead of the standard round robin where you play every team, there were two pools, and then a crossover playdown, then playoffs. A lot of curlers grumbled about it but it was devised so that every province and territory could compete. And to balance things out, a Team WildCard was created. And the old standards of Northern Ontario and Team Canada. So 16 teams overall.

Gushue didn't like the format, didn't like Team WildCard, didn't like Team Canada (even if he was Team Canada) and wasn't exactly subtle in expressing his annoyance about the quality of competition. This was a not so thinly veiled shot at teams from Yukon and, more particularly, Nunavut.

I can't link to them because they're behind a paywall, but News North didn't like Gushue's comments. No less than two opinion pieces politely told Gushue to shove it. That Nunavut has the right to be at a national championship along with every other province and territory. And that the only way Nunavut curling will improve is to go to these events and get better.

Also probably riling them up was curling reporter Terry Jones of PostMedia taking shots at Nunavut being at national events. I mean, every single piece he wrote leading up to and during the Scotties and the Brier contained a shot about Nunavut being undeserving of being there. I'd get annoyed too.

(How can I possibly know this? Because part of my job involves putting together a news scan. Take a guess at how much I love doing this during the Scotties and the Brier when the number of stories featuring keywords like Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut effectively doubles. Also, I fucking hate the band the Arctic Monkeys.)

So, a couple of things to unpack here.

First, good on Gushue for actually having an opinion. He's one the premiere curlers in the country and the world right now. It's easy to be quiet and just take the endorsement money, but he doesn't like the format and has no problem letting people know it. I'm sure Curling Canada would prefer he shut up about it, but he's speaking his mind. I rarely have a problem with athletes speaking their mind intelligently on a subject.

As for Nunavut being at events like the Brier and Scotties...

Look, this sounds a touch egotistical, but if I hadn't gone into semi-retirement from curling a few years (that's another story) I might have been good enough to have been on that team. I was, by Iqaluit standards, pretty good. Teams I skipped won league finals, I won bonspiels, I shot second stones on the first men's team to compete at a national level event - The Dominion (a national championship for "rec league" curlers) and we finished 3-3.

So yeah. Maybe I could have gone to the Brier. That would have been cool. But getting whipped almost every single game (they did almost beat Yukon)? Getting outscored 80-28 over the course of the Brier? I'm not sure how much fun that would be.

I know one of the guys on the team. I really must remember to ask him what the experience was like. Maybe it was a blast and he can't wait to go back next year.

Going to the Brier or Scotties annually is never significantly going to improve teams from Nunavut. The skill gap is simply too vast. There are plenty of logistical challenges for developing curling in Nunavut that I'm not going to get into here. Perhaps they're underway. As I said, I'm semi-retired from it.

But the way you get good is regularly facing high level competition. It's why teams from Europe and Asia come over and play in Canada for six months. Because they get higher levels of competition. They get better by playing better teams on a regular basis.

So how does Nunavut get good? Four players, out of the territory, who travel a lot and play a lot of Ontario and prairie bonspiels. For several years. If you do that, then maybe you get a team that can win a few games and pull off a surprise.

But I can't see that ever happening because I can't even imagine the financial commitment that will take. Your team winning $5,000 at a cashspiel isn't really going to cut it. We're talking, ballpark, $100,000 for four players for a season (and that's probably low). Travel, accommodations, meals, time away from work. And it's not like Nunavut is a cheap place to travel from and live in.

So no, I can't ever see it happening. And I can't see how much benefit Nunavut curlers get from having your ass kicked. And watching adults get whipped isn't exactly inspiring the next generation.

So my suggestions:
1. Nunavut should absolutely send curlers to national events. But they should be the juniors, mixed, seniors and similar championships. That's a good experience and there's less pressure and spotlight at these events than at the Brier and Scotties.

2. If the Brier is interested in my opinion (they're not)....there's a territorial playdown between NWT, Yukon and Nunavut. Winner goes to the Brier. There was a version of this before, but Curling Canada never did enough to support Nunavut teams to go the event, or the other teams were unwilling to go to Nunavut. Help support it financially.

3. Curling suffers a real outreach problem in Indigenous communities. They're trying with their commercials to get more, well, non-white people involved. But a bunch of communities in Nunavut had curling rinks and they were closed due to lack of interest. The ship has probably sailed, but if you're serious about growing the sport, you have to be serious about improving outreach in the North. A Nunavut team of all Inuit players gets more Inuit interested in the sport. Right now it's barely on the radar.

4. At best nobody minded the Scotties and Brier format this year. But nobody loved it. So a Territories team is fine. But as long as we're pruning, get rid of Team Canada. It's always been a terrible idea and they rarely defend the title. Gushue defending this year is an anomaly. Team WildCard actively annoyed me. And, while we're at it, get rid of Northern Ontario. If Nunavut getting a team is annoying to some in Southern Canada, Ontario getting two teams is annoying to most Canadians.

Do that and you're back to an 11-team bonspiel. Delightful.

There you go. I have solved the curling crisis in Canada.

Last Five
1. Behind blue eyes - The Who
2. Arnie's song - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
3. Working on the highway (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band*
4. Dance hall days - Wang Chung
5. No jokes-fact - Hot Hot Heat

Sunday, February 25, 2018

When home doesn't want you

I've been struggling with a couple of blog posts, including a review of Black Panther when I got one of those small gifts from the gods....

A story showed up in my Facebook feed on Friday about the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador trying to figure out why people are leaving the province. And if that seems like a joke, it apparently isn't. On any given day I think an easier survey may well be "On a scale of 1-10 how big of a masochist are you for staying?"

But no, money has been spent, admittedly a small amount by government standards, about why expats leave and what it would take to entice them back. And because I'm a curious sort and was, admittedly, looking forward to leaving some really sarcastic answers in response, I clicked the link to take me to the survey.

These are the first three questions:

Are you:

1. Residing outside of Newfoundland and Labrador

2. Between 19 and 44 years of age

3. Not a full time post-secondary student

I am residing outside the province, I'm not a student, however I'm also older than 44 years old. When I didn't check that button I got "Thank you for completing this survey."

I interpret this as meaning if you're 45 years of age and older, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would like you to fuck off and die somewhere on the Mainland. They don't care why you left, and they certainly don't want you to come back. And they really, really, really don't want you to retire there.

I can almost respect the honesty in that. The province's finances can be charitably described as cataclysmic. When I was in St. John's over Christmas there was the palatable feeling of waiting for the hammer to fall. Open Line shows spoke about when, not if, the province is going to go bankrupt.

I realize that creative political leadership is about as rare as unicorn sightings in the province, but there is again, an overwhelming sense of despair that there is nobody to lead people out of this mess. Not the current Liberals, not the Conservatives and the NDP have never been taken seriously for more than 30 seconds. There is nothing there that passes for leadership.

A few years ago I wrote that I was in favour of a return to Commission of Government, which was a period in the 1930s and 40s when Newfoundland and Labrador was run by a group of commissioners from England. So we have a history of cocking things up and having others clean up the mess. During my more cynical moments I'm in favour of just evacuating the place and nuking it from space. It's the only way to be sure.

(Although if I'm honest, no, that probably wouldn't work. People would land there in protective suits with iodine pills and build cabins by the irradiated sludge that used to be a pond.)

However, I am a kindly sort. Here, for free, is why we left Newfoundland and what they would have to do to get us back.

It should be noted that under current conditions Cathy and I would take a huge pay cut to return. Now, my base salary is standard across Canada. I'd lose certain benefits from living in the North, but that would be the same if I moved to Toronto or Edmonton. So I'm good. However, as a teacher, Cathy would lose approximately two-thirds of her salary. So overall we'd lose about 50% of our income.

Second, there are tax benefits to living in the North. So we only pay GST. That means 5% sales tax vs the ridiculous 15% in Newfoundland. There's a Northern Tax Credit we get each year for helping overcome the higher costs of living. So we wouldn't be making half as much as we have now, it'd probably be closer to 40% of what we make now.

But wait, that assumes we could actually get a job, I might with some dumb luck, but there are no teaching jobs for Cathy and I doubt she wants to spend the next 10 years subbing her way in. If things were bleak for us professionally in 2005 then they extra special grim right now.

I always found it offensive that there is a view that if you're staying in Newfoundland employers can get away for paying you less. "You love this place and want to stay. Let's take advantage of that fact."

"Ok, sure, but you could retire there maybe one day..."

Well, as you saw above, they don't want us to retire there. Because whatever benefits we might bring to the economy with our pensions and whatnot, would likely be more than offset by the impending tsunami of elderly hitting the province that are going to require extra medical and home care. I will bet you money there's a plan somewhere to export elderly people to a third world country, or a consultant's report that reads "A Cost Benefits Analysis for Displacing Older than Average Residents to Temporary In-Transit Ice Developed Accommodations".

Or perhaps just an outright ban on anyone travelling to Newfoundland who is order than 44 without proper documentation assuring that you're going to leave, and not try to retire there.

Plus, by time time we retire we will have likely spent 25 years living in Nunavut. We love don't last if you don't. But when we retire we're moving to a place that has palm trees gently swaying the breeze 365 days a year.

So, to sum up for any Government of Newfoundland officials reading this:

Why We Left
1. Under employed and under payed.
2. Could not envision a future where that would change.
3. Better professional development and personal development opportunities elsewhere.
4. Over-taxed for the quality of services received.
5. Taken advantage of for wanting to stay.

Why We're Not Returning
1. Our life is in every measurable sense much, much, much better in Nunavut than if we were still in Newfoundland. It is a sure bet the travel we've done in the last 12 years would not have happened. Or buying and nearly paying off a house. Or that we're in a good financial position to retire before we're 100.
2. No opportunities for career development that does not involve a 50% pay cut.
3. Significantly higher taxes with services that do not match.
4. Lack of political leadership, Or common sense.
5. The province is doomed and everyone knows its doomed. It's like asking if we would like tickets on the Titanic an hour after it hit the iceberg.
6. They don't want us. Not really.

What You Could do to Entice us Back
1. Find a fountain of youth near Fogo since I'm 48 years old and they don't want me.
2. Import a bunch of Scandinavians to run the place. Seriously, they can really run a country.
3. I got nothing else, really. Because even if a new, magic source of revenue presented itself, I have every faith that the current political leadership in the province would find a way to squander it and fuck it up.

Being able to see the few family and friends that have not fled elsewhere and 10 days of nice weather in September is not the lure it once was, oh government officials.

That's what it boils down to....the Government is asking people to sacrifice a lot to come back to a place that's not functioning, and they not only don't have a plan to fix that, but believe that a cheap survey is a solid way to start.

I'll say now what I've been saying for years....find a place somewhere else and go. Get out while you can. Because it's not getting any better anytime soon.

Last Five
1. Anti-Pioneer - Feist
2. Protest song - Broken Social Scene
3. Somewhere else - Lynda Loveless
4. We are the champions - Queen
5. Walk away - Tom Waits*

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Geek Origins

I'm a fairly huge geek, which falls under the category of the least shocking news about me ever. One day I will do a blog post about my geek office here, in all it's glory. I'm keep waiting because it just needs one or two more things for it to be finished.

I've been saying that for several years now. It's never going to be finished. It will only ever be "done for the moment."

Now the origins of the geekery....that's something a bit more complicated.

Honestly, no one was geeky in my family when I was growing up. I'm pleased that I have cousins who have come after me that are geeks. And if my niece isn't going to be a geek, then she's going to be exposed to it and have the option available to her if she wants to pursue it.

At best the early origins of it come from Archie digests and the comic book publisher Gold Key. They used to print these old UFO and Other Stories comics and digests. I have no earthly idea where they came from. I sincerely doubt my parents bought them for me. I seem to recall them just being there when I visited my grandparents around the bay.
I remember reading this story.

I just did a little research into them online, and there isn't a lot. The Wikipedia article is kind of mediocre. The comics were originally printed in the late 60s, but I doubt that's what I was reading. I think there were reprints in the mid-70s, which was more likely. Back in those ancient days, I could wander down to a convenience store and buy comics. But for an idea what I'm talking about, this article is a good taste. I remember some of those covers and the one page of interior art tripped a memory.

Honestly, I loved those stories. I'm sure I must have bored family with wanting to know about UFOs in the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51 and why aliens kept stealing cattle. I know they probably wouldn't hold up to a reread now, but for a 7 year old, they got the imagination going.

For years I just assumed that age 7 - this would have been in 1977 - was when my geekery exploded. Star Wars came out that year. I'm not sure when I saw it for the first time, but I know I saw it at least three times. And despite having been previous exposed to comics (I think), I mark 1977 as the first year I started collecting them.

And here's where memory gets tricky. The first three comic series I remember collecting (Oh, let's be honest, buying. It's not like I was bagging and boarding these things), were all based are toys and movies. They were Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, and Micronauts. The last two were based on Japanese toys. The first one, well, I think we all know Godzilla.

I would have sworn all three of those comics came out around the same time. They didn't. Godzilla came in August 1977. Shogun Warriors came out in February 1979 and Micronauts came out in January 1979. So I was wrong about the timing. The geekery actually came later than I thought.

But I still have Godzilla. My memory of that is rock solid. Right?

Well, I have a memory of seeing Godzilla movies at the old Capital Theatre in downtown St. John's. I seem to recall my parents dropping me off to watch the movies because they didn't want to see them. But I have no idea how old I was at the time. I keep thinking I was around seven, but I have some difficulty believing they would let me see a monster movie alone at that age.

(Some, but not beyond the realm. My parents gave me a huge amount of freedom at a young age.)

But my first Godzilla comic was #4. It featured Godzilla fighting a monster called Batragon on the cover. And this is my memory: Going into Trans Canada Drugs at the Avalon Mall (bonus points if you remember that drug store), seeing the comic on the stand and begging my mom for the 35 cents for the comic.

Look at that awesomeness. How can you resist that if you're a 7 year old geek. Oh, and thanks to the magic of the internet I can now say the begging probably happened around November-December 1977.

I don't have the comic anymore. Had it for years, when it was basically tattered pages in a plastic bag before finally tossing it.

There's also one funny story that goes with this comic. In 2012 I went to New York Comic Con and one of the artists I was excited to meet was Herb Trimpe. He drew Godzilla back in the '70. Now Trimpe was one of Marvel's big artists back in the day, and it wasn't because of Godzilla. He did a little thing known as drawing Wolverine for the first time. He was actually selling original pieces of Wolverine art at his table which I didn't buy because:

A. I'm an idiot.
B. I was so excited to get him to draw Godzilla. Which he did. And he jokingly cursed on me for making him draw all those scales.

Herb's Godzilla drawing in my sketch book.

And I told him that he drew the first comic I ever bought - Godzilla #4. To which he very gently pointed out to me that while he drew most of the series, in fact Tom Sutton drew #4 and #5.


Trimpe was still awesome. He passed away a few years ago, which shocked a lot of people because he was so energetic and outgoing at cons. It was a genuine thrill to get to talk to him for a few minutes. He also loved baseball and sympathized with my love of the Expos.

This Godzilla series is delightfully insane, by the way. It effectively ruined me for Godzilla for life because nothing was as nutty as this comic. This is a good article explaining why it was nuts, but I think it can be adequately explained by one of the central premises of the comic. That SHIELD, the premiere espionage/defence agency in the Marvel universe, consistently manages to lose a giant radioactive T-Rex. And not it's not like they're tracking him around world or the Pacific Rim. No, the western United States. Could not find him for big stretches. Even at 8 years old I was wondering how hard could it be to find a giant radioactive dinosaur.

I was devastated when they cancelled it. For years I assumed it was for poor sales, but Marvel lost the rights to do the series. However, it was an early lesson on how the people who make the things you love will eventually break your heart.

Michael Golden drawing of Acroyear of
the Micronauts from NYCC 2015,
But by then I was onto Micronauts and Shogun Warriors. Now, you might thing the main premise of these comics was to sell more toys. And I'm sure they did. But Marvel also had another premise - work in their super heroes. So Godzilla featured SHIELD, the Champions, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Shogun Warriors featured the Fantastic Four. Micronauts featured Man-Thing, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and others.

You might have come for the toys, Marvel made sure you left wanting to read their superheroes. Perhaps not surprisingly my first super hero comics were the Fantastic Four. And after that, well, I was off to the races.

The comics vary in quality, looking back. Godzilla is goofy fun. The first 12 issues of the Micronauts hold up surprisingly well, mainly due to Michael Golden's art and a fairly dark sci-fi premise. It's sunk a bit by some very clunky dialogue. And Shogun Warriors, well, I haven't read it in decades.

Which is kind of a frustrating thing for me. Unless you want to go back issue hunting, or digging around on torrent sites for illegal downloads, there's no other way to read these comics. Because of complicated rights issues, they haven't been reprinted. I have a copy of Essential Godzilla, which is a cheap b/w reprint which is nice and all, but I'd love a proper full colour HC. Same thing with Micronauts. Marvel owns some of the characters in the book, Haboro the others. Another publisher - IDW - currently prints a Micronauts comic. It'd be nice if they reprinted those old 70s comics.

As for Shogun Warriors, well, if that ever gets reprinted, I'll be astonished.

But effectively I've been at this for 40 years. Digging up some of this was a nice trip down memory lane, but also a useful reminder that no matter how certain you are about something in the past, odds are you're not remembering quite the way you originally thought.

Last Five
1. Big parade - The Lumineers
2. Love me like a man (live) - Bonnie Raitt
3. Kiss that frog - Peter Gabriel
4. We got the power - Gorillaz
5. Striptease - Hawksley Workman*

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Despite the best efforts of the current president of the United States and the early warning system in Hawaii, I've successfully managed to go around the sun one more time.

Let's face it, from a global perspective all but three day of my 47th year sucked. And they were the three days when Obama was still president. After that, well, we knew Trump was going to be awful but this was a touch beyond most people's worst case scenario. Unless you thought he was going to end the world. In which case, congrats, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

As for things on a personal levels....well, I honestly thought about griping about a few personal things. My 47th year managed to give me a new level of disdain for contractors and insurance companies. The former for managing to spectacularly mess up a bathroom renovation, the later for being not able to master the simple process of taking my money so that my car can stay insured. Those two things caused more than their fair share of stress the last few months.

And I could mope about not being happy with my weight. Right after Christmas Cathy gently nudged me into donating a truly depressing amount of clothing that no longer fits.

But as Cathy says, that's just "Adulting". Everyone has this crap they deal with. And if that's the worse you have, well.....

But I'm reminded of other things. That we had a great vacation, spending time in Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar. They we went back to St. John's at Christmas and I got to spend some quality time with my niece, who has started calling me Uncle Cag, which is just about perfect.

However, there are three specific moments that come to me, and they are small moments. Fleeting, but they stuck in my mind.

1. In the Fall, when all hell was breaking loose around the #metoo movement, Cathy and I were talking about it. We're both on the same page about those men (and more) deserve what's coming to them. But she looked at me at one point and said "You've never been scared to walk alone in a city in your life, have you?" And I had to respond truthfully, "No, I haven't."

Now, it's not like I've strolled solo through the streets of Kabul or anything. But I've walked home from a movie in Iqaluit at midnight. I've walked home from downtown St. John's at 3 am. I've wandered around Manhattan after midnight. Never thought twice about it.

I'm an upper middle class, heterosexual, white male from a Christian background living in a Western nation. My level of privilege is pretty god damn high. Occasionally it's good to be reminded of that and to try and be a better person.

2. When we were back in St. John's there was a Duke night. Which was a blast. My only regret is that we couldn't stay later, but we had a 6 am flight the next morning. There were jokes about just staying up all night, but I said I was getting too old for that shit.

But I was chatting with Jocelyne, who I haven't spoke to in an age, and she was saying how much of a blast her 40s have been. And I was agreeing with her. It was a nice chat about how we were just relaxing and enjoying life more, and trying not to let silly bullshit throw things off course for the important things.

A quick conversation in a bar, but again, a good reminder.

3. And the final one came last week. I was driving to work, running through things in my head when the news came on with the latest inanity from Trump. I just had a moment of exhale. A moment where I went "You're healthy, happy and have a good life. And you're not American right now." I genuinely feel awful for a huge chunk of the country. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as they say. Assuming they make it to 2020 those people are going to be the Hulk by then.

So, what to do for my 48th year?

1. Make my peace about getting healthier. Losing nearly 70 pounds in 2012 was an aberration that had as much to do with my mental health at the time as any diet and exercise regime. Just keep going to gym, eat a bit healthier and let the chip falls where they may. Hopefully not in my mouth.

2. Read more. I'm reading lots of graphic novels and lots of news and magazine stories. But I'm not reading enough books. I'm going to try and read 50 this year.

3. Write more. For a job that involves communicating, it's really killed some of my creative writing. So at least 50 blog posts this year. Many of them may involve comics and movies. Sorry, you've been warned. But we'll see. Maybe I should try some creative writing. My friend Seamus is publishing his first novel this year. I'm tremendously proud of him, but it's also one of those things where "I can do that, I just need the discipline." So we'll see.

4. Restrain the geekery a bit. Seriously. It might have gotten a little out of hand this year. I might do a post at some point showing my current geek den/office/sanctuary. I love it, but I know the effect it can have on others.

5. Be a better husband. That's an evergreen resolution.

There's a lot to look forward in my 48th year. We're in the early stages of planning a nice vacation in Europe. Gods willing and no more hiccups, our mortgage will be paid off. Hopefully we'll catch up with friends and continue to be healthy and happy.

As plans go, it's not dramatic, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Last Five
1. Street fighting man - The Rolling Stones*
2. Fallen from grace (live) - Blue Rodeo
3. The Bagman's Gambit - The Decemberists
4. Parts and accessories - Josh Rouse
5. No one - Ron Sexsmith

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Comic Book Movies 2017

So I've now seen, I think, all comic book movies for the year. I didn't see the latest Transformers or My Little Pony, which certainly have comics based on them, but didn't start that way. And even if they had, I still would have missed them. I'm not sure there's ever been a good Transformers movie (maybe the first one) and My Little Pony just isn't my cup of tea.

It was not a pretty good year for comic book movies. There were also nothing that I would consider an abomination before God (see: Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse). So even the bottom of the list was still a reasonably entertaining movie, if not flawed.

So, here we go. This is my list. Your mileage may vary:

8. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Any other year this is a perfectly fine movie, and it's flaws would be annoying, but not impossible to overcome. But it suffers from not being as surprising, which the first Kingsman was, and from bloat and poor story decisions. The deaths in the first Kingsman were shocking and served the story. In this one they were...actively annoying. Plus they criminally underused Halle Berry.

It really felt like they needed to another pass on the script to tighten it up. But on the upside it was nice to see an actual romance happening in the movie. And the Elton John cameo was pretty fun.

7. Lego Batman

I don't think there all that much wrong with the movie, actually. I just don't think I was the target market for it. Which as a geek who loves comics and Lego may sound weird. But even with all the pop culture references thrown in (I'm not sure how many 7-year-olds are going to be thrilled to see Voldemort and the Eye of Sauron as cameos), it still skews pretty young. And its message is delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Which is fine, it's a kids movie.

But it's telling that we bought the movie but haven't been in any hurry to rewatch it. Batman was a great part of the first movie, but maybe a little Batman goes a long way in the Lego world.

6. Justice League

On the upside, it's not the complete disaster that I thought it was firmly tracking to be. It had every right to be one. Zach Snyder has had virtually no clue how to handle DC characters and his departure from the film for tragic personal reasons should have been one more nail in the coffin. Instead, thanks largely to Josh Whedon's touch, it's a perfectly watchable blockbuster. Deeply flawed, mind you. The pacing is all over the place and Stephenwolf doesn't even count as a F-level villain to rally the heroes to fight. I'm a pretty decent-sized DC comics fan and until this movie I'd never heard of the character. So there's that.

The best that can said for the movie is that it's a soft reset of the DC Extended Universe. Snyder brought the cool, but he never brought the fun. There were a couple of scenes, especially towards the end, that made me want to jump up and go "See, that's who they're supposed to be!" The movie is tracking to be a disappointment at the box office, but it's the first DCEU movie that's given me hope that they're on the right path for future stories. Stick around for both in-credit scenes. One is funny. The other is deeply intriguing.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

If Kingsman suffered from not being a surprise and being bloated, so did GotG2, it just handled it better. The first GotG was such a shock, even to me, that I still can't believe they pulled off a great movie from D-list characters. It's impossible to match the surprise of the first one, so director James Gunn falls into the semi-predictable trap of trying to just give more....all over the place. Scenes run longer than they should, there are too many plots going on and, of course, the ridiculous number of end credit scenes.

Having said that, when it works, it works. Yondu is by far the most interesting character in this movie. The opening sequence is great and the last scene is genuinely moving. And you want to see more of them. Now that the "mystery" of Peter Quill's dad is over with and, presumably, the Infinity Stones storyline, it'll be interesting to see what they do in the third movie.

4. Wonder Woman

I will commit the small sacrilege of saying this is not the greatest movie of the year. In fact, I'd consider it mid-tier Marvel in a historical complex. It's just the minor miracle that Warner Bros./DC finally managed to make a good DCEU movie that kind of makes its accomplishments overblown. So what's my problem with it? Well, the third act is a special effects nightmare, don't get me started on defeating the God of War by beating him up, and I'm still deeply annoyed that they completely cut any reference to the Greek goddesses in her origin. There are two versions of Diana's origin kicking around....that the Greek goddesses gave her powers and life, and that she's a demi-goddess daughter of Zeus. For such a feminist icon character, I prefer the former.

But obviously there's a lot to love here. The relationship between Steve and Trevor is great. The Amazons are spectacular and the No Man's Land Scene remains the most emotionally powerful action sequence of any movie so far this year. And Gal Gadot is a treasure. Wonder Woman's quality and it's success make it one of the most culturally important movies of the year. I'm thrilled it did well and look forward to the sequel in 2019. Mainly because I can't wait to see when they're given more room to cut loose. And hopefully design a non-stupid third act.

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Exactly no one was in a hurry for another Spider-Man after one mediocre (Amazing Spider-Man 1) and two head pounding against the wall pieces of shit (Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man 2). But then Marvel and Sony struck a deal. If you ever want proof of what Marvel does looks simple but is in fact phenomenally hard, compare this movie to Sony's last three failed attempts. Marvel knows what's it doing.

It took guts to go "You know what, you know his origin and about Uncle Ben so we're not even going to mention it." Let's cast an actor who looks like he could be in high school and not attending its 10th anniversary reunion. Let's make Queens actually look multi-cultural. And how about making the Vulture....The Vulture... a scary and culturally relevant villain.

It's a fun movie with a charming cast. Yeah, I'm not overly fond of souping up Spider-Man's suit so that he's Iron Man Jr. at times, but it's a forgivable sin and explained well and funny in the context of the movie. Marvel remembered that Spider-Man is supposed to a fun, lovable loser. You'd think that would be an easy trick to master, but the last three Spider-Man movies say otherwise.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

Look, it's funny. Every review says that this movie brings the funny. Up until now the funniest Marvel movies have been Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel-but-not-really Deadpool. This is funnier than both of them. How you make a funny movie about the apocalypse does take some skill, and director Taika Waititi has it in abundance. Thank god someone watched Ghostbusters and realised that Chris Helmsworth is better as a comedic actor than as a dramatic one. Plus, everyone else looks like they're having a blast.

But the awesome thing about the movie is all the subtle little things the movie also manages to get in there. Hela's rage about how Odin covered up everything the two of them did together to make Asgard. "You never asked where the gold came from!" Which is a lovely shot at colonialism and as Waititi is of indigenous descent, he would know a thing or two about it. And there may well be no spectacularly gay scene this year than Valkyrie strutting across the Rainbow Bridge with fireworks exploding behind her. My sole annoyance with the movie is cutting a scene which shows a woman coming out her chambers.

It's a fun movie, with great action scenes and some subtext. It makes me want to see Waititi do another Thor movie (maybe with a female Thor, as is now in the comics. That hammer is just lying around, even if it's currently in pieces). Can't say I ever thought I would want another Thor movie before this.

1. Logan

For a beloved character Wolverine has had very few good cinematic experiences. The first X-Men was pretty good. X-Men 2 was great. Days of Future Past was pretty good. That's about it. After that most of his appearances have been blah, terrible or frustrating. The Wolverine, for example, took perhaps his best story based on the classic Claremont/Miller story of the 80s and absolutely lobotomised it in the third act. They cut a scene with Wolverine fighting a hundred ninjas, for god's sake, but left in an idiotic CGI fight was a giant samurai robot.

But Logan does a whole bunch of things right, finally, for Hugh Jackman's swan song. It's R-rated so they don't have to play cute with the violence. It does a seamless job of combining genres, which the best super hero movies do. So it's not Logan in the tights fighting bad guys, it's Logan as the ageing gunslinger who just wants to be left in peace, dragged out for one last job.

And here's the amazing thing. Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fully invested in this movie. They know this is their last go at these characters and want to send them off on a good note. So these are their best performances as these characters. Stewart seems to particularly relish being able to curse like a sailor in the movie. But they are left in the dust by Dafne Keen as Laura. That young woman stole the movie clean out from under their feet. If Fox isn't working on a spin-off for her, they're idiots.

Not everyone gets to walk away from a character on a high note. Very few do, actually. But Logan is not only the best comic book movie of the year, it should get Oscar consideration somewhere along the lines. It's the grimmest and most violent of the list, but the most emotional. If you don't well up during the final scene of the movie, then there's no hope for you....

Last Five
1. Wake me up, when September comes - Green Day
2. The complex - Blue Man Group
3. Night windows - The Weakerthans
4. Back at your door - Maroon 5
5. Sherry Darling - Bruce Springsteen*

Sunday, October 01, 2017


For nearly eight years I've been assembling my geek room in our house. This has been a careful process of jamming as much stuff in as I can, but yet still making it look like there is a plan other than "Let's see how much stuff I can put in here before Cathy loses her mind and sets it all on fire when I'm at the gym."

For the most part I think I've managed. There's probably a blog post coming on that at some point showing it off. I figure somewhere out in the world there will be people who will appreciate it. I think there's been a grand total of about three visitors to our house that have looked at my room and went "Cool!" as opposed to "wow" and then looked at Cathy with eyes that conveyed "you let him do that?"

One of the big pieces missing was a proper desk. For most of the last 8 years I've just been using an Ikea table, which has been perfectly serviceable but lacked character. And because it was five feet long, it tended to become a place where clutter accumulated. I have a lot of stuff in this room, but I try not to have a lot of clutter. There's a line there.

But finding a desk in Iqaluit with character is a little difficult. Not much in the way of antique stores. And when we're in Ottawa doing sealift, we are on a timetable. So again, not much time to go wandering around looking for a cool desk. Most of the desks we looked at are crappy computer desks.

Still the lack of desk was bothering me. So after some research on Amazon (Wayfair won't ship to Iqaluit, in case you were ever thinking of using it), I managed to find a perfectly serviceable desk. It has a little shelf unit on the side for keeping things like plants, docking stations and whatever figurine I've bought this week. Problem solved.

Except, of course, there's always a twist when you do these things. I ordered that desk on Thursday and Amazon shipped it at warp speed. It went from BC to Montreal in a night and should be here by Wednesday. On the other hand, the replacement copy of Pacific Rim I ordered will not arrived until October 18. The new desk weighs 30 kg. The blu-ray might weight 500 g.

If you can figure that out, you're doing better than me. I've long lost the ability to figure out Canada Post and Amazon.

Anyway, on Saturday, right before a blizzard blew in, we went to an estate sale for Bryan Pearson.

Before I get too much into Bryan, let me say one thing....2017 is going to be a year of transition for Iqaluit. From now on, new arrivals in town are always going to have a proper swimming complex instead of what used to be at Astro Hill Complex or nothing at all. There will be a real airport instead of the old yellow death trap, where once you cleared security you were put into what was called "the holding pen". Forget there not being a bar or restaurant, there wasn't a bathroom. The new airport might as well be the Taj Mahal in comparison.

And Bryan Pearson is just going to be a story long timers tell instead of the guy at Astro Theatre who would drag kids out of the theatre by their ear for talking or leaving voice recordings for movies playing this week describing them as "pieces of shit, but you bugged me to bring them in, so here they are."

I couldn't begin to do Bryan justice. Start with the Nunatsiaq article if you're curious for more. He passed away a year ago.

So this weekend, they began selling the contents of his house. I heard his house has already sold. Given its condition, location and nature of Iqaluit development, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's torn down and they put a hotel there instead.

Curious, Cathy and I went for a visit. And it was filled with marvelous stuff. I really should have taken more pictures, but it seemed rude. But here are a few things I grabbed pictures of quickly.
It's in beatmax. I desperately wanted to buy
it, but he didn't have a betamax player for

It was a pretty ratty couch. I don't think it sold. I guess
there aren't many Diefenbaker fans in town.

He has several chairs like this. The man loved an ornate chair.

So yeah, just piles of stuff. The cookware he had that was already sold killed us. It was beautiful stuff. Plus they were giving away all his old books, there was a ton of vinyl there and just lots and lots of stuff. It was worth it just to be able to wander through the place.

And there was a desk. This desk. Because of course I bought it.

Sadly, I do not know the history of the desk. I have no knowledge of these things. It could be 20 years old, it could be 50 years old. But it came from Bryan Pearson's house, so the one thing I can be sure about is that it has character.

(Btw, I really recommend the experience of moving a 100 pound desk from inside a house, into your car, and then into its new house in the middle of a blizzard. Because we're dumb like that.)

I still have another desk coming, though. I'll give this one a week or so just to make sure it works fine for me. If it does, I guess the new one on its way will go up on the local Sell Swap. But seriously, I found two desk in three days after searching for years. Bloody typical.

Last Five
1. Burned - Dear Leader
2. Rain and snow - The Be Good Tanyas
3. How bad can a good girl be - Imelda May*
4. In my command (live) - Crowded House
5. Just like me - Brendan Benson

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Roundabout ways

Just after we started vacation in Portugal I read this story and heard about people freaking out about roundabouts. People just don't like them. For years this has baffled me, and I think I finally figured out the reason why. When people here roundabout, their minds go to this.

Look, this advanced madness roundabout theory. Only crazy people design them and utter lunatics attempt to drive them. If the first time you've ever come up to a roundabout and it looks like this, just hit the brakes, park the car, get out and go "nope" as you walk away. Most of the local drivers will probably thank you.

Most roundabouts look more like this.

These are dead simple to navigate. You come up to it, and glance left. If there's a vehicle coming, you yield. If not, head on out, loop around the circle until you come to your exit, then turn off.

Dead simple.

I mention this because for two weeks while we were in Portugal we rented a car (a slightly infamous Volkswagen Pony, which was in the middle of their diesel fuel scandal). I drove through hundreds of roundabouts. I'm not kidding. I put over a thousand kilometres on that car, drove all around the Algarve, and over to Seville in Spain. Hundreds of them. And 99% of them looked like the second roundabout. I ran into maybe a half dozen that were slightly more complex, but still easy to manage.

And look, Google Maps is your friend on these things. "At the roundabout, take the third exit." Ok, don't mind if I do. And if you miss you turn, well, you just keep going around until you find it. Ta da.

And what was the benefit? Traffic flowed. I'm not kidding. We encountered two traffic snarls on the entire trip. One was getting near Gibraltar, and the other leaving the Capo de Sao Vicente lighthouse after sunset. And those were extraordinary circumstances.

It was to the point that on the rare occasion we encountered a traffic light I was actively annoyed. It always significantly slowed down traffic (not helping is that I have the worst luck with traffic lights you've ever seen. I can hit five in a row at 3 am with no traffic on the road).

Look, I've driven roundabouts in Australia. You want freaked out, try hitting three roundabouts in a row less than 10 minutes after you've started in your first left-hand drive car. Did not die. Managed it just fine.

So yes, I'm all in favour of more roundabouts in St. John's. Hell, Iqaluit is getting to the point where there are a couple of intersections that could use them. Build them. Put some nice local landscaping in the middle to pretty it up. Maybe put up a non-offensive statue of some kind.

You drive these things enough and you realize what a pain in the ass most traffic lights are. Europe has the right idea...

Last Five
1. A Reminder - Radiohead
2. Begging Bone - Garbage
3. Genius Next Door - Regina Spektor
4. Reach Side - Kings of Leon
5. Goodbye Earl - Me First and the Gimme Gimmies*