Saturday, February 25, 2012

Breaking patterns

So I've been in an odd head space the last couple of weeks. Honestly, the arse end of February can't come soon enough for me. I had a January-February about 20 years ago where my great-grandmother died, my girlfriend of three years dumped me, my dog died and I was failing courses at MUN left, right and centre. This month isn't at that epic level, but there have been moments where it's felt like it.

It is, of course, a mild case of depression. I thought I'd felt depressed before - there are times when most of my teen years felt like one big wave of it - but I think this is something quite different. I mean, it's nothing like this, which is almost biblical in scope. But I like to think beneath the cynical, snarky exterior beats the heart of a generally upbeat grumpy bastard. So this has been something a bit odd for me. Hell, I'm sure that my mere ability to properly articulate that something feels a bit off probably means it's not that severe. Cathy, not being a stupid woman, knows there is something wrong, but I'm really unable to articulate it, other than I just don't feel right. As I understand, this is not uncommon for people feeling depression.

It comes and goes, but I'm discovering the one thing that does seem to help is going to the gym.

Which is odd. Never been a big gym person. I'd said since the beginning of the year I was going to have to go back as my weight ballooned up to levels I've never reached before. Clearly steps were going to need to be taken. I went once before our emergency trip back to St. John's and it remained as unpleasant an experience as I recalled from previous attempts, but resigned myself that I was going to grit my teeth and deal with it.

Except last weekend, I was feeling awful and decided I just need to get out, do something just so I could feel...different. So I went to the gym and worked out (30 minutes on an elliptical on a high difficulty setting, 30 minutes on weight machines) and I just felt better...well, I did once the dizziness stopped. Best I'd felt in days. Went back the next day just to see if the process could be duplicated, although my muscles were informing me that this was a tremendously bad idea. Still, I'll take muscle pains over sitting in a scatter-brained funk.

It's funny, I didn't go Monday and by Tuesday afternoon I was clearly in a bad mood again. Went curling that evening, made sure I ran around the ice a bit, in a better mood after the game (it helps we played a fun team, and that we won for the first time in ages). So whatever endorphins are being released from running around, it seems to help the mood and allow me to think more clearly. If I can have that and lose about 50 pounds (to start with), I'd be all right with that.

I am, perhaps, too much of a senditary person. The north can really bring that out in you if you're not careful. If it's -50C outside, as it was earlier this week, going outside and doing anything seems like an act of madness. Going to work takes significant will power, let alone any kind of physical activity. But I've always been a person who is just as happy to twack away in front of a computer than going and doing something.

So that's got to change. Pretty sure I've said that before, but I think there's a little more at stake this time. It's one thing to put on weight, even though you know it's bad and that given your family history at some point in the future it's going to come back and bite you on the ass. It's something else all together if you're in a funk, not thinking straight and you know the one thing that has worked so far to change that is going to the gym for an hour.

So away we go...

Last Five
All from "The King is Dead" by The Decemberists

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The guy in front

So, funny thing...I went to a press conference and I had this guy sitting in front of me.

Yeah, so that was unexpected. Went to the press conference, grabbed a chair and next think I know the prime minister of Canada is sitting in front of me. Gotta confess, the urge to noggie him just hit me and was almost overwhelming there for a few minutes. Thankfully it passed. I suspect that goes into the books as one of those "five seconds of amusement, several years of pain" ideas.

So yeah, there he was. Oh, and for the person who asked on Facebook, no, he didn't smell evil. The woman speaking is Nunavut's premier, who is a touch on the short side.

This is actually the first time I've been around this prime minister. I've meet/been around two previous ones - Martin and Chretien - but never Harper. It's interesting in that he really does not come across well in photos and video. In person he didn't come across as stiff and awkward. There was a warmth and charm there. It's very odd. Something clearly gets lost in the transition from real life to video.

The other amusing thing was after the press conference myself and the people I went to the press conference with were stranded because none of us had our cars today. So along walks the mayor, notices we're waiting for a taxi and offers a lift. So we all climb into her pick-up and get a ride. She was also apologizing for the dog fur as I was climbing over a piece of baleen from a whale that she had in the back seat. Gotta love the north...

Last Five
1. Missionary man - Eurythmics
2. The crooked line - Elvis Costello
3. Whose gonna ride your wild horses - U2
4. Prison grove - Warren Zevon
5. You won't succeed on Broadway (if you don't have any Jews) - Spamalot Cast Recording*

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eskimo Pop

On a scale of 1-10 how wrong (with 10 being deeply, catastrophically wrong) is it to order this t-shirt from Threadless to wear around town?

Last Five
1. Lines on palms - Josh Pyke* (seriously the album "Memories and Dust" is well worth buying)
2. Rock problems - The Hold Steady
3. The spell that you cast - Elvis Costello
4. Immersed (live) - Allison Crowe
5. Green onions (live) - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Funny women

This is a touch dated, but I recall thinking at the time that I wanted to write about how stupid it was, but couldn't figure out how to do it. Then inspiration struck...

The story in question was this particular idiot, Edie Brill. Eddie got himself in some trouble recently by saying that women aren't particularly funny. Which might be fine if he was another shmuck mouthing off online. The problem was he was (note the tense) the comedy booker for the David Letterman Show. His comments didn't go over well, as he is now the ex-booker.

I understand he's talking about professional comedians here, but there is the implied statement in there that women overall aren't very funny. It's not the first time I've heard this and it is, of course, insane. I wouldn't have married Cathy if she didn't have a sense of humour. And if I had to pick the three funniest people I know, two of them are women.

The one guy is Seamus, who is actually a semi-professional stand-up comedian. He's performed at Yuk Yuks, made it to standup finals in Newfoundland, carried a notebook to jot down ideas (probably still does) and worked to polish his set. He could actually be a very, very good stand-up comedian, but in order to do that you have to actually suffer years of rejection and torture before making it. I think he ultimately took a look at that and decided it wasn't the life for him. Which, you know, fair enough. For every Chris Rock, Louis CK and Patton Oswalt there are thousands of stand-ups who go nowhere, no matter how much sweat they put into it.

But he's a hell of a funny guy. He quoted me one of his routines, which bombed because the audience was totally wrong for his humour, and he had me crying I was laughing so hard.

As for the women, well, first we have Andrea...Andrea has been killing me for years. Whenever I go back to St. John's these days, time conspires against me and I don't have time to visit everyone. I always make time for Andrea, because she's brilliant. It's just dry, sarcastic humour, but it's awesome stuff.

We became friends during the mid-90s...I've never been much of a drinker, but I still liked going to bars for the social aspect. I loved going out to bars with Andrea because she would sit on her favourite stool at the Duke, men would buy her drinks and then she would just eviscerate them...I mean it was a Masters class in male ego destruction (if I'm honest, it probably was indirectly responsible for my miserable luck with trying to ask women out at that point in time because I just assumed they could all do what Andrea did). And they would keep coming back for more. Several times a night, some idiot would buy her a pint, she would take it, they would hit on her and then she would crush them with her wit. I would just sit next to her, keep my head down and try not to fall off to stool from laughing so hard.

It's always been that way. She's smart, quick and priceless. Last week was a pretty miserable week for me and a lot of my friends. It was genuinely hard to find some laughs. After a funeral service and an impromptu wake on Middle Cove Beach, several of us retired to the Ship for a drink. During the course of chatting, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Are you working tonight?
Andrea: Yeah..
Me: So who's playing?
Andrea: Some fucking wanker DJ playing with his Macbook on a stack of milk crates...
Me: (head on the table laughing)
Andrea: And the only thing worse than the DJs are the crowd of assholes they attract. Is it really so hard to find clothes that fit? The guys all wear baggy shit and the girls are barely wearing anything. Christ...

On a bad day, where humour was scarce, God love her for finding a laugh...

I'm going to hold back the name of the other person, just because she works in the courts. But her stories from the courts crack me up. I can't even relate them because I'm reasonably sure I could get her in trouble. But whenever I need a laugh I can just ask her how court was and she can reliably relate something that seems too impossible to be believed.

A recent example.
Me: How's court today?
Her: The usual band of miscreants. The courthouse smells like chip fat and Belevedere tobacco.


Her: I am an evil bitch who takes joy in the suffering of others. It's a career strength.


Me: Dealing with any criminal retards today?

Her: Alleged criminal retards...

I seriously pity anyone who has to go up against her in court. Again, smart, quick, devastatingly cutting and absolutely hilarious. I swear to God, if I ever get back to writing again seriously, there is a TV show waiting about her court adventures that would be some bizarre mutant hybrid between Republic of Doyle, Night Court and Ally McBeal...

Could the two of them be stand-up comedians? Probably, but it would be a serious waste of their gifts.

Look, if you're saying you don't know any funny women, then you just must not know many women or have your head up your ass. Men should be frankly scared of how funny women are.

Lord knows I should be, but I'm normally too busy laughing to be too worried...

Last Five
1. Nothing more to say - Joel Plaskett Emergency
2. Firecracker (live) - Elton John and Ryan Adams
3. Amazing Grace (live) - Ani DiFranco
4. Long time comin' - Bruce Springsteen
5. The boy who could explode - Matthew Good*

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In requiem: Glenn Banfield

I've been straining my brain trying to figure out exactly when I met Glenn Banfield...certainly it was at Bitters, the grad pub on MUN campus. It was either in 1996, before I went to South Korea, or later in 1997 when I came back. But the one thing that is for certain is that it was during a trivia night, and I wasn't in a good mood.

The mid-to-late 90s were not a great time for me, for a host of reasons. I was in a pretty negative head space and my normally sarcastic and bitter personality was amplified. But doing trivia night at the grad pub was a chance to get out and socialize. And one of the night's I went there, Glenn was tending bar.

I honestly don't know if Glenn was good for bar sales. He was sarcastic and quick witted and more than once there was a mocking of alcohol selection, if not with words, then with a look. Glenn as a master of the mocking look. And in him, I saw someone not entirely unlike me. I recall, when going to the bar and ordering a soft drink (I didn't drink back then), getting a look. I think I complimented him on his superior sarcasm and mocking abilities. And with that, a bond was sealed. It was not that he wouldn't mock me from then on. He did...frequently and often (I showed up at his apartment last October wearing wearing a kangaroo leather hat. I swear, his eyes got bigger when he saw it. It was entirely too easy). But I think he knew that I respected the ability and I understood the craft involved with being that particular kind of funny.

But here's the thing...when you're that type of personality - sarcastic and bitter, cynical and grumpy - you reach an age where you have two choices. You can stay that way and deal with the consequences, which often results in being more alone, and driving away friends. Some find it charming and amusing when you're younger, but as people get older it can wear on them. Or you can change. The hard edges wear away. The core lurks there and can come out...Glenn could still freeze people with a mocking glare. But I think he got softer, less grumpy.

I am fairly certain if he heard me say that, by the way, he would cheerfully tell me to go fuck myself.

Unsurprisingly, I think this entirely coincides with the appearance of Susy in his life. Full of energy, a bright smile, huge heart and simply one of the best laughs around. I know a lot of people didn't get it when they first started going out. Glenn was the grumpy one, Susy the one who seemed to glow when she laughed (a favourite Susy memory: the opening cartoon for Monsters Inc which involves birds being silly. Susy lost her shit, laughing so hard that the rest of the audience start laughing because she was. It was also my first date with Cathy). But here's the doesn't matter how or why something works, just that it does. And it did with the two of them.

Besides, sometimes we also dig too hard looking for stuff. He made her laugh. I'm not sure how much more complicated it was - or needs to be.

Glenn hadn't been well the last couple of years. Every time I saw them Glenn was doing his best to carry on as normal, but you got the feeling normal was becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Still the raised eyebrow was there if you said that he felt was particularly foolish. Although new, to me at any rate, was the genuine affection that he spoke of Claire and Sam, their niece and nephew. He was in awe of every little thing they did. I hung out with them in October, and he was showing me YouTube videos of people test firing guns (Glenn loved guns, but in a very respectful and historical way). Things weren't going great then, but they still thought he would get better.

Cancer took my friend at an offensively young age last week, depriving us all of a man never afraid to speak his mind, who was sometimes sarcastic and grumpy, but never for a second did I think his heart wasn't in the right place. And depriving my Susy of many years of laugher far, far too soon.

Rest in peace, my friend...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Republic of Doyle, Season 3, episode 6

So, let's try some writing again before this becomes one of these things were I get out of the habit. Although honestly, this is the first day I've felt half way human. The last week has been absolutely brutal. I've actually written something about the last week, but I'd like a friend of mine, who has had a far, far, far worse week than me, to take a look at it before I post it.

Anyway, onto more frivolous matters, this week's Doyle episode.

Not exactly a secret that I had mixed feelings about the first four episodes of the season (I missed last week's, although I heard it was all right). The problem was that they were slipping back into lazy habits with some of the characters. Plus bringing back annoying ones. It felt like a show slipping back into its first season rather than striking forward into its third.

This one had a bit of this as well, diving back into the Jake/Leslie storyline, but considering she spent most of the season pissed off with him it had to be dealt with at some point. What brings them together is perhaps the stupidest armour truck robbery in history, coupled with criminal so stupid I actually have no problem they're from St. John's. The city is not exactly filled with criminal masterminds.

In subplot #2, Dez bumblingly tries to figure out what to do with the hot med student and fails to understand that med students basically don't sleep or have a life for about 6 years. In subplot #3, we find out at least partially what's going on with Kathleen, Mal's daughter. Short answer, she's a skank. As I noted before, Mal's a nice guy. Crap dad, but nice guy.

The main story was actually pretty straight forward. Dumb criminals (I mean, seriously dumb criminals) rob an armour truck. Leslie and Jake just happen to be there, intervene and then get stuck in the back of the truck.

The fun thing isn't the plot itself at this point. What is fun is the Leslie/Jake interaction. There's some seriously sleezy attempts on Jake's part to win her over. It's hilariously awful and she's having no part of it right up until he gets shot. But the dialogue really works between the two of them and there is nice chemistry between the two of them.

It's also nice to see that Jake wasn't in charge when they were trapped in the van. She's a cop, she's the one that's in charge and she let's him know it. Although the line about how good a shot she is would be more impressive if she actually managed to hit someone when firing at the crooks. The scenes between the two of them are the highlight of the show, even if you have to accept the fact that the cops in St. John's are deeply stupid (of course they would never think of going to the apartment of one the crooks, even after he's been identified. Only Jake and Dez would come up with that idea). Then again, it's not like Doyle has ever really portrayed the cops in town as being anything other than marginally brain dead.

So yeah, that worked. Not the greatest mystery of the week, but I'll take a slightly dumb, but amusing, mystery if the actors are crackling, which Jake and Lelie were this time around. This has been a decent turnaround season for Leslie, considering how awful last season was for her. Pity about the reset at the end, but hardly unexpected. Tune in next time when Jake will do something stupid with another woman and Leslie will walk in during an unfortunate moment, leading to a Three's Company situation...

As for the Dez subplot, it was all right. Cathy was cracking up, but a little Dez bumbling goes a long way for me, and this evening there was a lot of Dez bumbling. But it did give a few amusing moments, including the scene where Jake tricked him into being handcuffed to the bed.

As for the Kathleen is a skank subplot, well, it did give Rose something to do, offered up one crackling piece of dialogue and managed to make Tinny look sympathetic. So I guess it worked, although it would be nice if Mal would clue in at some point the spectacular amount his kids are fuck-ups.

Quotes of the week:
"I'll do worse if you don't shoo"
"Did you just shoo me?" - Leslie and Jake

"Where's Jake. It's the second Friday of the month"
"Oh my God, half price whiskey tasting..." - Mal and Rose, beginning to realize there's something deeply wrong if Jake isn't around.

"I didn't do anything wrong."
"I don't care. That's irrelevant information. Go. Now." - Kathleen's latest winner and Rose, laying the smack down.

"I'm trapped in the back of an armoured van with you and I'm lucky." - Leslie

"I should have gotten shot a long time ago." - Jake

"Honestly, I like you better half naked, but that jacket looks good on you." - Jake

"Walk it off. Oh, and for the record, I'm glad you're not dead." - Mal, father of the year.

"Sleep well, son, because I'm going to murder you when you wake up. Stop being an idiot." Mal, father of the year.

Last Five
1. Miles to go - Allison Krauss and Union Station
2. Some boys - Death Cab For Cutie
3. Rise up with fists - Jenny Lewis*
4. Lonely lonely - Feist
5. Grey day - Madness

Monday, February 13, 2012

Potter review

(Still dealing with a few personal things. In the meantime, a post I've had banked since around Christmas for a rainy day....)

One of the gifts Cathy and I received over Christmas was the last Harry Potter movie. We're apparently difficult to buy for (I'm not. I'm dead easy. I have a list on Chapters. Go forth and buy from it), but movies are normally a safe bet. I have no idea how many movies and TV shows we have, but it must number close to a thousand at this point.

It's cold and dark up here and there's crap on TV. We need to be entertained.

So on a lark we decided to do a Harry Potter movie marathon. All eight movies over two days. Given that they all clock in around 2.5 hours, that's a lot of Potter in a short period of time. So I decided to do a list of the best to the worst of the movies. Although I will say this much... The Deathly Hallows Part 2 got screwed at the Oscars. This isn't an exceptional Oscar season by any means...there's no Schindler's List or anything out there. And much in the same way that Return of the King got a ton of Oscars as much for the achievement of the whole Rings saga, I think Deathly Hallows Part 2 deserved some Oscar nods.

It really is an incredible piece of work when viewed as a whole. In particular, after a Best Movie nomination, Daniel Radcliffe deserved a nod for Best Actor, Alan Rickman for Best Supporting Actor, David Yates for direction and Steve Kloves who adapted all but one of the Potter books to the big screen.

Anyway, after watching all eight, here's where I would rank them...

1. The Prisoner of Azkaban - The first movie really to transform the series from adaptation of the books into a movie that stands on its own. The first two movies were slavish devoted to the books, which is nice and all, but at some point what's on the page doesn't work on the screen. Azkaban picked the stuff that worked, dropped stuff that didn't, often to the horror of fans, and grabbed things that were fun in the books (the Knight's bus, the whomping willow) and played with them. It's the first Potter movie that felt like a movie.

Also helping was Alfonso Cuaron's creative directing and visual flare. It's a genuinely fun and thrilling movie. The only strike against it is the fairly lame looking werewolf. It may be the lamest werewolf in cinematic history.

2. The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - It's no easy thing to end an epic series on a satisfactory note, which Yates managed. Not too many people walked away feeling they had been cheated or that they hadn't landed the ending. Especially powerful was the five minute sequence in which Rickman all but steals the movie away from the rest of the cast, changing everything you knew about the rest of the series. You know it's good when the worst you can say is that it felt like they rushed the end a bit, that you wish they had managed to find a way to put that Voldermort vs. McGonagall fight in the movie. Oh, and the idiotic decision by the studio to convert the last movie into 3-D. A movie mostly shot at night or in dark places when 3-D movies make everything about 30% darker. Fortunately, not a problem on DVD.

3. The Order of the Phoenix - It's one thing for Rowling to write two of the series great villains with Delores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange, quite another to have Imelda Stanton and Helena Bonham Carter just take them over and give them dimensions not seen in the books. They are tremendously fun bad ladies. Whether its Delores in her terrifying pink or Bellatrix terrifying madness, they are memorable villains. Oh, and to balance things out, another of Rowling's great characters makes her debut with Luna Lovegood.

Phoenix also has one of the best final third of the series, with the battles between Dumbledore's Army vs the Death Eaters, the Order vs the Death Eaters and wrapping up with the best fight of the series, Dumbledore vs. Voldermort. Oh, also throw in the best musical score, outside of the main theme in the entire series and Radcliffe's best acting. If there's a drawback it's that as one of the largest books of the series, it really did gut a lot of fun stuff in the book (the Weasely's departure from Hogwart's is not nearly as much fun).

4. The Half-Blood Prince - Oddly, the most human and fun of the series, despite the thoroughly depressing ending. Wisely deciding to forgo all the flashbacks to Voldemort's childhood, the movie instead focuses mostly just on the kids at Hogwarts and with all the drama that comes with being 16 years old. Funny (Hermione: [snaps her fingers] Hey! She's only interested in you because she thinks you're the Chosen One. Harry: But I am the Chosen One. [Hermione smacks him on the head with the newspaper] Harry: Sorry... kidding!) and heartbreaking (Hermione's reaction to Ron kissing another girl) it's enough to make you wish more of the movies had time to squeeze these moments in.

Unlike the Order of the Phoenix, the last part of the movie isn't nearly as entertaining. The fight in the cave is kind of blah, a big battle at the end of the book is cut from the movie and the reveal of who the Half-Blood Prince is, which you would think is a big deal as it's the name of the movie and all, is just kind of dropped there at the end with no emotional weight at all.

5. The Philosopher's Stone - It's easy to look at the movie's faults - the fact the kids really didn't know how to act, that director Chris Columbus seemed terrified to cut a single scene from the book lest rabid Potter fans kill him in his sleep, making the movie awkwardly paced - than it is to focus on its many successes. The superb casting, the fantastic musical score, the whole scale creation of a new world on the big screen that had previously only existed in people's imaginations...none of these things were easy. Columbus does a workman like job, but like any good workman he set the foundation, allowing others to build and develop on what he created.

6. The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 - It's not so much that the movie is bad, it's just that this movie had the least to work with. The first half of Deathly Hallows is some of Rowling's weakest writing. It's all set-up for the big finale. It's the movie people had to get through to get to the good stuff. Yes, there's fantastic and heartbreaking moments, like Harry and Hermione in front of his parents grave or what happens to Dobby, but too much of the movie feels like the book - lost in the woods.

7. The Goblet of Fire - If I praised Azkaban for transforming the books into a movies at last after Columbus's very dry recreations of Potter's world, then this movie fails that test. Of all the Potter movies, this is the one that feels like it has the least amount of heart. From the terrible way Fleur Delacour is treated (one of the few instances of women looking weak and helpless in the entire series), the aggravating without any charm of Rita Skeeter (and none of the comuppance of the book) and the fact that most of the characters look bored and tired, it's the most lifeless of the series.

8. Chamber of Secrets - Widely regarded as the weakest of the books, it's also the weakest of the movies. What was magical in the first movie looked kind of done over the second time around. And while there's improvement in the kids' acting, it's not until Azkaban that they truly look comfortable in front of the screen. Also, Kenneth Branagh is such a fantastic actor that he had no problem making Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the series most annoying characters, really annoying on the big screen. Nearly every scene he's in is unwatchable.

So there you go. I've probably been a bit harder than required on the last two movies, but really, they do leave me kind of cold. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am in the comments.

Last Five
1. Perfect symmetry - Keane
2. You're missing - Bruce Springsteen
3. What's my name (live) - The Clash*
4. Lamb on the lam - Band of Horses
5. Pleased to meet you - Wolfmother

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

No Doyle

No Doyle review this week. Cathy and I are back in St. John's for personal reasons and reviewing TV shows is pretty low on the priority list right now. Blogging resumes on Sunday. Doyle reviews continue next week.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Graphic review

Time for one of my infrequent graphic novel reviews. Nothing quite like a nice batch of them showing up from Chapters to put a smile on my face. And just so that people aren't completely lost, I'll mention whether or not I think they're suitable for general readers or the more dedicated fan. They're also not going to be huge, lengthy reviews...more of a general overview.

1. Captain America: The Trial of Captain America - When it's all said and done writer Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America is going to go down as one of the best the character has ever had. Well plotted out, dramatic, espionage with a ton of action and good use of supporting characters. Aside from massively overblown events like the Death of Captain America, the series has held up pretty well.

But it's been struggling for awhile now, pretty much ever since the Reborn (when the original Captain America got better after being dead. It happens) series. It's just not felt as tight. As if Brubaker had a story in mine, completed it, but is still sticking around. That coupled with the inability to keep a regular series artist is really dragging it down. I'm collecting the series on momentum as much as anything else, and that only carries you so far.

I can't really recommend it, for either hardcore of casual fans.

2. Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream - I'm a huge Warren Ellis fan and will buy anything he writes. Having said that, Ellis does misfire from time to time. Welcome to one of the misfires.

This is his take on Conan the Barbarian. But since it's an original character - meaning he doesn't have to worry about what the copyright holders think - and he's with an small independent publisher, the violence is completely over-the-top. Which is fine because I knew that going in. It's when Ellis tries to wedge in conversation about the changing of the world and the harsh realities of technology into the mix that it really goes off the rail. It actually feels clumsy, which Ellis never is.

I love his work, but his heart wasn't in this and it shows. Not recommended for casual or hardcore fans.

3. FreakAngels, Volume 6 - It's the sixth and final volume of the FreakAngels series, so if you haven't been reading it, I'm not sure I can recommend buying this one book. But I do recommend going and getting the series. And in case you weren't sure if a series about 12 strange British kids who destroy the world (or think they do) and what happens next, you can actually read it online, for free, here.

This really is Ellis in better command of his considerable storytelling abilities. It's fun, clever, has plenty of laugh out loud moments and Paul Duffield does a good job on the art duties. I recommend the series for both casual and hardcore fans.

4. Jim Henson's Storyteller - For those of you with a good memory, once upon a tim Jim Henson did a network TV show involving puppets trying to tell classic stories. It was quite good and entirely too smart for network TV, which promptly cancelled it. This book is a collection of stories and fables with the Storyteller recounting the stories to his dog.

Like any anthology, there are hits and misses. For example, I have big crush on Colleen Coover and her artwork, so her story "The Milkmaid and her pail" is simply gorgeous and a ton of fun. "Puss in Boots" by Marjorie Lui and Jennifer Meyer is beautiful and touching. But others fall kind of flat. But for the most part, it's still a fun little book, pretty kid friendly and reasonably priced. Recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

5. Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne, Volume 1 - With a title like that, how can this book be anything other than awesome? I picked this book on a lark after reading some online reviews. Good move on my part.

In the 1920s, under mysterious circumstances Nikola Tesla created a robot with an artificial intelligence who then proceeded to have all manner of adventures over the decades. Including fighting Nazis. One of the book's blurbs said imagine taking an Iron Man suit and sticking Indiana Jones inside it and you have an idea of what the book is about. I'd throw in a bit of Hellboy for flavour. Oh, and the art is lovely too. A perfect match for the kind of swashbuckling action/adventure story being told.

It's just a hellacious amount of fun - Nazis, giant Nazi robots, giant ants, wandering pyramids and an explanation as to why Stephen Hawking is a bastard. Irresistible. Go and buy it now.

6. Hitman: Tommy's Heroes - This is volume 5 of 7 for the Hitman series, so buying this book alone is going to leave you just a touch confused. But the series as a whole remains one of my favourites from the 90s. Tommy Monaghan is, well, a hitman. Kills people for money. But this the DC Universe, which means he has super powers (x-ray vison and telepathy) and he'll only kill bad people or super-villains (and the occasional escapee who gains powers from the nearby nuclear power plant).

So yeah, it has it's deeply silly moments. But it also hits on writer Garth Ennis usual themes of loyalty and friendship. This volume features Tommy and his friend Natt dealing with the fallout of a screw-up when they were soldiers during the Gulf War (accidentally killing SAS is a bad idea), an attempt to go to Africa to try and do the right thing (and make money) and a bit of an origin which is, of course, quite tragic.

It also has, no kidding, one of the best Superman stories ever written. Go figure. Recommended for hardcore fans.

7. X-Factor: Scar Tissue - This is volume 12 of the series and it's buried in X-Men storytelling, so really, if you're not already reading it, or the X-Men titles you're going to have a hard time understanding what's going on.

Having said that, it's still a fun little title. Writer Peter David is one of the most unappreciated writers in Marvel's stable. All he does is consistently write a good book, come up with clever ideas and juggle a large cast. It's good enough that I have all 12 volumes of the series at least. Recommended for hardcore fans.

8. Chase - I bought this because it was one of those cult classic series of the 90s that DC launched and promptly cancelled. It's being reprinted now because the co-writer and artist on the series is J.H. Williams, who is one of the hottest writers and artists being published now. This came out when he was new and relatively unknown.

Wish I could recommend it, but it's a clunky series and you can see flashes of what Williams ended up becoming, but he's not there yet. And while the character of Chase - an investigator with the Department of Extranormal Affairs which monitors super hero activity - is interesting, the stories do nothing for me. The whole book is kind of all over the place. Not recommended.

9. Batgirl: The Lesson - Let us ponder for a moment, the general idiocy of DC Comics editorial decision making policy. This trade features a new Batgirl, Stephanie Brown. She's had a trouble past, what with being the daughter of one Batman's villains, became a super hero called Spoiler, became Robin, died, then came back (it happens) and took over the role of Batgirl, an identity that everyone opposed her assuming, including the previous Batgirl, Barbara Gordon.

Yet the series was tremendous fun. She's smart, determined, trying to make amends, occasionally screws up, but learns from her mistakes and tries to do better. And the dialogue just crackles, no other word for it. Barbara Gordon acts as her mentor, also known as Oracle. She's in a wheelchair, yet is also smart, determined and highly dangerous. The series was beloved by many, but especially women, who loved the two leads. It was a girl friendly comic. It was a comic that showed people with a disability can be strong and make a difference.

So naturally DC cancelled the series during it's massive reboot last fall, got rid of Stephanie altogether, cured Barbara and made her Batgirl again, succeeding in pissing off just about everyone.

sigh The Lesson is the third and final volume of this series. Buy it after you've bought the other two. Enjoy this fun little book. Then curse DC. A lot. Highly recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

10. Batman: The Black Mirror - Speaking of weirdness, there's a couple of things off the top you need to know. First, Batman is in the story, but not Bruce Wayne. At the time, he was dead (he got better) so this Batman is Dick Grayson, formally Robin, stepping into he breach. Second, it features a character I have literally wondered what had happened to him for 25 years - Commissioner Gordon's son, James. And third, this is quite possible one of the best Batman stories I've read in years, if not decades.

What we have here is several stories - a broker selling Batman villain gear to the rich, how a killer whale got inside a bank, a Joker story - all mixed together with the larger story of who is James Gordon and is he as dangerous as some people think he is.

Scott Snyder puts together a hell of a story, ably assisted by Jock and Francesco Francavilla (Jock is going to win awards for the cover he put together featuring the Joker). It's the easiest thing in the world to not expect much from this story. It's not the "real" Batman, it's as much a character piece for Commissioner Gordon as it is a Batman story. But it's a hell of piece of work. Christopher Nolan, if he was doing a fourth Batman movie, would rob material from this. It's that good. Highly recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

Last Five
1. Nutune - Drive
2. I was meant for the stage - The Decemberists
3. Panama - Van Halen
4. Hallelujah (live) - Leonard Cohen *
5. Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) - Arcade Fire

Thursday, February 02, 2012

By air or by sea

If you were to ask people in Nunavut nagging inconvenience (not to be confused with actual major life and death issues like the high suicide rates, for example) the quality of internet services available in the territory would certainly make most people's top 5 list.

For example, I'm watching a friend of mine, who lives just up the road, venting on Facebook as I write, about her internet speed this evening. Her download is 40.4 mbs, and her upload is 127 mbs. For those of you with any tech savvy living down south, you're probably doing a spit take. But numbers like that, even for those on "high speed" internet are quite typical. She's also probably paying more than $100 a month for that with harsh limits on how much she can use it before the rather severe financial penalties kick in for exceeding it.

But what's interesting is in the last few weeks, we're seeing a bit of a battle for what the next generation of internet servicing the north is going to look like.

In this corner we have Doug Cunningham who is pitching, no kidding, a $600 million fibre-optic cable stretching from Tokyo, Japan to London, England via a route that takes it through the Canadian Arctic. And since it's going through the arctic, well, why not connect it to a bunch of communities along the way, giving the north it's first real taste of what people down south take for granted.

I have to admit, the first time I heard this my finally tuned Sprung Sense went off. Sprung Sense is something all Newfoundlanders have, whose name comes from the disastrous Sprung Greenhouse. Basically, it's the ability to spot a businessman who is pitching something awesome, that people in an area really want, but may well just be someone looking to get a hefty government loan before vanishing into the woodwork and screwing everyone in his wake. Over the decades, Newfoundlanders have had ample experience in dealing with con men promising the moon and the stars, before fleeing with taxpayer dollars.

I'd never heard of Cunningham before and the fact he was talking about running a cable from St. John's to Iqaluit by 2013 and there had been no discussion that I had heard of regarding an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement (Article 26 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement) which people here A. Take very, very seriously and B. Aren't normally completed in a few days (try years) my Sprung Sense was going off like crazy.

Except maybe there is something to it. Telesat, who supplies satellite internet to the north now (My internet is through Telesat) comes out today at the Northern Lights Trade Show and says it's willing to invest $40 million. So I guess they're taking Cunningham somewhat seriously.

Of course, $40 million sounds good, until you realize they're saying $160 million is needed, so that governments will have to pony up the other $120 million. And, oh yeah, that will double capacity over the next 10 years. If you doubled capacity tomorrow it still wouldn't be nearly enough, so I'm not exactly wowed by plans to double it over 10 years.

Although at least there are plans floating around. I should be happy for that much. At some point there has to be a commitment to improve internet services in the north. By air or by sea, I don't care. As long as it happens soon and as long as the improvements are significant.

Last Five
1. Black helicopter (live) - Matthew Good*
2. Threshold - Beck
3. Before destruction - Spoon
4. Sun in the empty room - The Weakerthans
5. Albatross - Fleetwood Mac

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Review: Republic of Doyle, Season 3, Episode 4

I've made it pretty clear over the past couple of seasons of Republic of Doyle that there is no character I hate more than Garrison Steele. I mean, Jake's ex-wife Nikki is just awkward because it's no easy thing to write an ex-wife as a regular character of a TV show because most men don't have much interaction with their ex-wife. And Tinny is just being screwed by the writers who have never been able to figure out what to do with her.

But Steele is just such a....douchebag. Which is fine. You want to introduce a reoccurring pompous douchebag as a character, go crazy. But the problem is, the main character knows he's one, the audience damn well knows he's one, but no one else on the show can spot the blindingly obvious. Which makes them deeply stupid. And it's kind of hard to like anybody on a show with a douchebag and a cast of idiots.

Even if he got some kind of punishment at the end of the show...maybe. But no, he walks away smelling like roses and leaving the lead, who we like, frustrated and annoyed. I can only assume Victor Garber is a drinking buddy of the producers, or has incriminating photos, or possibly a summer home in Newfoundland, which are the only conceivable reasons they keep brining him back.

As it stands, this was the least annoying appearance on the show, which is pretty much the way of saying I've just had my least painful root canal. I guess the advantage is that at least he got punched a bunch of times. He didn't die, though. Pity. Maybe next season, and I'm sure they'll torture us again with him then.

Steele is back and is, well drunk. He's drunk pretty much most of the episode, actually. He's also in trouble with two different groups of people trying to kill him. And rather than doing the sensible thing like stepping out of the way and letting them actually do it, Jake agrees to help Steele...for a cut of his next book.

What follows involves more drinking, something rotten in the state of Denmark...literally as it turns out, and an angry porn producer. On the upside, at least the plot wasn't riddled with holes. On the downside, it wasn't very funny, and unless I missed something I have no idea how Jake knew where the stolen item was and, of course, Garrison Steele was in it.

In subplot #2, we have Jake dealing with the fall-out with sleeping with his ex. Again, no idea why this story was introduced, at all other than for a brief scene with Mal reminding Jake that the ex is not the one he's in love with, and to get his act together. Fine enough, but I'm not really sure why we had to drag back the ex, who was so nicely barely around in the second season.

In subplot #3 Tinny's mom returns from Alberta. Now, as likeable as Mal is in the show, and he's kind of the heart of the beast, there really is something to be said for his parenting skills when Jake is clearly the one who appears to not be a total fuck-up. Christian fought a drug problem and lies like he's breathing oxygen. His daughter appears to have shitty taste in men, had no problem abandoning her daughter for a couple of years, and is carrying around a gun.

If nothing else, they finally might be able to make Tinny sympathetic and give her something to do. I guess we'll find out what's happening next week.

Despite Steele not being as annoying as he could have been, I'd still call this a miss. Four episodes in and the show is batting 500.

One of the comments on my review last week indicated that I might be too hard on the show and I should just roll with it and accept it for the genre show it's aiming for. Which I understand, really. I'm not comparing this to The Wire or The West Wing or anything. The acting and production values of the show are pretty good, all things considered. The problem is the really inconsistant writing. It's always been my problem with the show.

I don't understand how they don't see the massive plot holes in some of the episode's this season. I fail to see how they can't grasp just how bad a character Garrison Steele is (note, I'm not shitting on Victor Garber who is, by all accounts, a hell of a nice guy and unfortunately a really good actor, because he succeeds too well in making Steel so annoying).

It's the deeply erratic writing, which is capable producing belly laughs one moment, and head-smackingly stupid ones mere seconds later, which is really stunting the show. Maybe if they brought in some outside help. Nothing to kill the local flavour or humour, but perhaps just point out when they've done deeply off the rails. Which seems to be happening again.


Quotes of the week:

"You love? Like a human?" - Jake to Steele

"It would be different if she was the one, but we both know she's not." - Mal, to Jake about Nikki

"I'm like the Banksy of Newfoundland."
"More like the Bellhead from Outer Cove." - Des and Jake

Last Five
1. You don't see me - Keane
2. Picadilly sand farewell - Ron Hynes
3. Hold my hand - Gramercy Riffs*
4. Runnin' with the devil - Van Halen
5. When I grow up - Garbage