Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Let me pose a deep and important philosophical question: What is summer without a foot long corn battered hot dog?

That of course is a purely rhetorical question; summer is not summer without a pogo. And where does one acquire this deep fried, port filled tube of pure love? Of course, at the Canadian National Exhibition

Collette and I always go to the Ex to watch the Air Show at the end of the month and if we can, we go at least one other day, just to take in everything else that the fair has to offer. The Ex is a vast place, I'm not sure how many square blocks that it covers but this year they came up with a couple of different ways to circumnavigate the fair. Some, more successful than others. The swan boat is kind of cute but since the Ex grounds is all pavement, really they should be made into planters ..

More successful was the new Sky Ride. Once upon time at the Ex you could board these little enclosed gondolas that crawled your way over the fair grounds. That ride, the Alpine something or other, is long gone but this year they returned to that spirit with the Sky Ride

Unlike the old ride, the Skyride is more like a ski lift, where you sit in on a bench with a bar on your lap and your feet dangling in the air. It takes about 20 minutes to go across the Ex with a few stops along the way and as you'll see in the video, you get a nice view of the fair ...

Collette may disagree with that last line. She has a very real fear of height and of course over the years I've dragged up to the top of Mayan ruins in Belize, glaciers in Iceland and the Empire State Building. In the long run, she enjoyed all these experiences. How did she find the Skyride? I'm not sure, she's still not talking about it.

After I pried her off the ride we decided that it was not only time to keep our feet on the ground, but being inside for a bit may be a wise idea. Another great thing about the Ex, lots to see both inside and out. We went to look at an international sand sculpting competition: Sand castles made with plastic buckets, this is not

Another one of our favorite indoor activities at the Ex is the Superdogs dog show. Look, this is about as corny as you can get without being in Kanasa, but dude, it's dogs having fun and playing .... good enough for me. This year a young man came all the way from Brazil along with his border collie. Somehow they were our favorites. It was more, though, than our favorite dog, they did a "dance" routine and they showed a level of cooperation that had the entire audience gasping. This was a true partnership each working perfectly with the other, their eyes locked the entire time, the man using simple hand gestures to put his dog through the paces. This is, in my opinion, the ideal of dog and human interaction

Another show that we wanted to check out was billed as an acrobatic/dance troupe from China. They started off the way one would expect, with some clever balancing

From this point it got a bit .. eclectic. A young woman wearing Dominatrix boots turned a traditional Chinese instrument into a fiddle .  . .

... a girl doing creative things with hula hoops ..

... a troupe of girls in traditional outfits that made them appear like real life China dolls . . .

... and two girls performing Romeo and Juliette as a ballet ...

. . . to a final troupe in a variety of costumes that seemed to want to be globally multi ethnic

It wasn't what we had been expecting and it was a bit disjointed but you had to admire the skills of the girls and their enthusiasm and their willingness to please their audience. It was well worth the viewing.

Back out to the midway to try our hand at a couple of games. We like to go shopping on the midway, we find some toy we want and figure out the most efficiant way to getting it. This year we were not shopping for ourselves. We wanted to get a new toy for Miss Terra; so we brought her home a raccoon called (naturally) Rocky.

Her latest victim .. er ... friend

Here's the video

Monday, August 27, 2012


Another year and another journey through the interdimensional-temporal-wormhole-paradigm shifting portal know as Fan Expo. This year they've estimated that 80,000 people passed through the doors at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. I usually feel that these numbers are exaggerated but I was there on Sunday, the last of the show's four doors and it was as crowded as I've ever seen it. Luckily, the Convention organizers foresaw this problem and hired the kind of security detail that could handle this problem ...

Good thing too, because there were fairly unsavory characters from Planet Lego who had wandered through the portal

Yes I know, that last character is supposed to be a "hero" but come on now .. the dude wheres a mask, his underpants over his tights and hangs out in a cave with a bunch of flying rats ... this is the dude I'm supposed to trust?

Mind you, if the angry alien hordes did invade the Expo, there were several opportunities to get the hell out of dodge, but not in a Dodge, a DeLorean ...

There are no shortage of heroes at the Fan Expo and conversely no shortage of alien/monster creepies. It's hard to distinguish the villains from the heroes, especially when they are likely to band together and begin playing video games at any given moment.

In the pics above you may have noted an interesting trend at the comic con this year: Female Thors. I noticed about four. Not entirely unusual for girls to don a male hero's costume but I don't recall seeing this number. Makes one wonder. What is the appeal of Thor for women .. in my household the appeal is a big ridiculously muscled Viking with a beard ... but I don't quite understand the appeal of a woman dressing as Thor. Maybe it's the fact he already has long hair or maybe they misinterpret his war hammer for a kitchen spoon, you know how domestic women are ..

OK for that one, I deserve a lightning bolt up my butt. Or maybe a samurai sword .. and a Predator's finger blades

Besides all the visiting heroes and monsters and anime .. (oh my!) ... many people come to Fan Expo for a different kind of visitation, namely celebrities. In this dimension the clear royalty are Stan Lee and William Shatner, with Patrick Stewart a highly place knight. For these geek dignitaries it is a pay to play kind of scenario ... autographs, pictures, Q&A .. all put or shut up.

Lower ranked nobility however often are happy to grace the peasants for free. The line up to see Gillian Anderson in a Q&A was one of the longest I saw at the convention; some 10 years after The X Files stopped producing new episodes, the series clearly still resonates with people ... as does Dr Who. The Dr's current incarnation, John Barrowman, received cheers worthy of any rock star.

Of course, at the fan expo, one could be surrounded by the biggest stars of ... well other stars .. and not even know it. Always treat everyone/thing with respect.

As you'll see in the video, the biggest adventure of the day was getting out of the exhibition building. 80,000 people with the exact same exit strategy .... I really needed an interdimensional portal. But since I don't, I'll my friends and we'll call a cab ..

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I don't know Tony Scott. I never met him, had coffee with him, bummed a beer off him, borrowed his car, crashed his car after I bummed too many beers and had to make up a story about being attacked by leather clad bears riding unicycles ...

But I sort of knew him. Sort of. Tony Scott was a movie director. He made some famous movies: Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and many others. I've been watching his movies for years.

Yesterday Tony Scott stopped his car on a bridge in California then jumped off it. It was almost certainly suicide; he left a note. Unconfirmed are the rumours that he had brain cancer.

But here's the thing: I didn't really like Tony Scott. As a director. Most of the movies I mentioned are all flash and sound and camera angle and editing, none of which could cover up a lack of story telling, an absence of character development and a dearth of sympathetic characters. His films always looked good, they had good cinematography much of which is credited to him. In his later movies there is so much MTV style editing and cheesy camera effects you barely knew what they were about .. which usually wasn't anything

He directed one movie of which I'm quite fond, The Hunger, early in his career. He produced some movies of quality that were far removed from his own vapid blockbusters, such as last year's The Grey. He also produced a lot of quality TV, such as the series Numbers and the mini series The Pillars of the Earth.

Most of that which he produced he did so with his brother, fellow director Ridley Scott. And this is where the story gets interesting. I love Ridley Scott ... Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Black Rain, Blackhawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood ...

Ridley, like his brother, has a great visual eye. But he also has imagination and heart and passion, an ear for dialouge (or lack of dialouge at times) and a way with actors. I kept watching Tony Scott movies somehow hoping he would follow his brother's lead

It's a weird situation. Tony Scott is dead. Dead by his own hand. It's an awful thing. It is, of course, now particularly awful for those he left behind. I know from experience that suicide has a profound and long lasting affect on those left behind.

I did not know Tony Scott. I did not like most of the movies he made. But I'm sad he was in pain and I'm sad he was gone. I'm sad for those left behind. I'm sad for his brother with whom he worked for so long.

I'm sad that I don't feel worse about it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


As we most summers, Collette have spent a good deal of time enjoying the hot weather and roaming around our city. I always have with me my little Sony HD Handycam.

Over the course of a couple weeks we hit up a few of our favorite tourist traps, either attending a street festival or just taking advantage of the weather we had earlier in the summer

I decided to combine the footage from these separate visits and just have a little fun cutting them together.

So, to the music of The Black Keys, here are impressions of Younge Dundas Square, The Distillery District, Nathan Phillip Square and Harbourfront Centre

Just a little love song from Toronto to you

Monday, August 13, 2012


There has rarely been a movie whose title is not only appropriate to its content, but to the experience of watching it. The Dark Knight Rises, the last move in director's Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is such a movie.

The concept of "rising" is addressed in the movie in several ways and in general it rises above the experience of most super hero movies. The Dark Knight version of the Batman (or as the film points out, more properly, The Batman) distinguishes itself from previous versions for its darkness.The first two installments in the series dealt with some dark issues: Vengeance, political corruption, madness, guilt, fallen heroes ... The last movie, The Dark Knight, ends with some of the major characters dead, a hero fallen, and the series hero, The Batman, transformed into a hunted criminal. Dark indeed.

The new movie starts out just as dark. The Batman is still seen as a villain, Bruce Wayne has withdrawn from the world and we meet Bane, a hulking villain in a mask who seems bent on plunging the world into anarchy.

As the third part of a trilogy, the film has the role to tie up any loose ends and Rises does that fairly effectively but it does more than that. This movie wants to resolve these dark themes, to illustrate how these characters are affected by this dark world. Do they let the darkness consume them, or do they rise above it ..

The theme of rising is quite prevalent in this movie, affecting characters both old and new. Gary Oldman returns as Jim Gordon as well as the impeccable Michael Caine as Alfred the butler. Gordon has to struggle with his darkness; he has kept alive a lie that has affected many people in the city of Gotham and he struggles with to find the courage to rise above this lie, and tell the truth.

Then there is Alfred. Michael Caine's letter perfect performance provides this film with its centre, and its heart, just as it did in the earlier versions. Caine infuses Bruce Wayne's butler with strength and love and weakness and courage and despair, all delivered in a completely nuanced way that never takes him over the top. Alfred's darkness is his love for Bruce Wayne, and his knowledge that The Batman is killing this man; this love is also his weakness and he must rise above both.

New characters have their own journies, their own darkness above which they must rise. Catwoman makes her first appearance in this series as an accomplished jewel thief and street fighter, a woman who will go to any ends to achieve what she wants. As we meet her though, what she wants is to leave behind this life but is she is presented with a quandry: In order to rise out of her criminal life she must commit more crimes, and be part of a darkness greater than any she has ever before been involved in.

Anne Hathaway plays Catwoman and although I have a degree of affection for Eatha Kitt and Lee Merriweather that I'll take to my grave, the bes cat lady ever to appear in a Bathman vehicle. Hathaway infuses her character with just the right amount of sass, sex, toughness and vunerability that makes you anticipate her appearances in the story. The character is also beautifully presented; this Catwoman is not a superhero. She does not wear a mask, she is never called Catwoman, her skin tight leather "costume" is excused as an athletic cat burglar's stealth disguise. And there is a lovely bit of stage craft with said outfit that gives Catwoman her "ears"

Another new character is a uniformed cop called Blake, soon to be promoted to detective, soon to have a profound impact on the story. Blake is played by the always reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an orphan whose childhood was marked by violence, much in the same was as the young Bruce Wayne. Blake rises above his past and his station in response to the violence that the plot drops on to his city. And (SPOILER ALERT) at the end of the film, physically rises into a new role.

The most significant new character in the movie is its villain, Bane. A creature of darkness, quite literally, an anarchist whose mission seems to be to plunge Gotham into chaos and yes, darkness. Bane is played by Tom Hardy, an actor who displayed both tremendous physical and emotional range in the film Warrior. His task here is a difficult one; Bane's mask allows us to see only Bane's eyes and his affected voice reminded me a bit too much of the voice of Goldfinger (I'm not sure if Bane's voice is dubbed by an actor other than Hardy, but Gert Frobe's voice was indeed dubbed, as at that time he barely spoke English). Bane's mask, he augmented voice and his mask reminds me a bit of the character The Humungous from The Road Warrior, especially when he is entreating the citizens of Gotham to rise to violence.

Bane is a character that has literally climbed up from darkness; his legend is that he was born in a prison that exists at the bottom of a deep pit and as a child he climbs out to freedom. Bane has not risen though, he still lives in the darkness and seems to want to spread to everyone he encounters. However there is more to Bane's story than first divulged; although he remains a villain we learn that in his own way he has tried to rise but in a case of misplaced loyalty, he cannot climb above the darkness

Then of course we come to The Batman and Bruce Wayne. And they are essentially separate characters. Michael Caine's Alfred makes the point that The Batman will some day kill Bruce, that the caped persona keeps the orphan in his dark place, in the pit of vengeance into which he was cast by his parents murder. During the film the pit is physically manifested and Wayne must climb out of it, he must face his fears, acknowledge them before he come out of the pit, before he can rise.

Bale does good work here as both his characters. Quite frankly by the second movie I was getting a bit bored with The Batman's Clint Eastwood rasp but it seems more effective here. Whereas Tom Hardy is never freed from his character's mask, Bale is; we get to see Bruce Wayne rise and thereby elevate The Batman as well.

As I mentioned, it is the duty of the last installment of a trilogy to wrap things up. Dark Knight Rises does that, perhaps a bit patly but the ending is nicely foreshadowed so things can be forgiven. Mostly everything in the movie works well. It is a long movie but Nolan's script and his pacing as director keeps things moving right along, a lot of tension is built and there are enough surprises, most of them logical, to make you forget about the clock.

Visually the film has all its ducks in a row but that is not surprising, nor are the excellent performances surprising, all well established by the previous installments in the series. What was surprising was the film's theme and the way it dealt with the darkness that has been building since the first film.

Batman rises. And so do we.

Monday, August 6, 2012


On the stage, in theatre, there are musicals. We all know them: West Side Story, Rent, Les Miz, We Will Rock You ... but there are also what I would call Musical Reviews. These are plays, usually based on a single performer/group, using their music to tell some story but normally, in the second act, becoming a concert by a tribute band; the illusion of the story is tossed aside as the actors-now-tribute-band turns the theatre into a concert venue.

The stage version of The Buddy Holly Story falls into this category as does Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons.

Backbeat, currently showing at the Royal Alexandria, falls into both these categories ... mostly.

Backbeat is a play that entwines several stories: The birth of the Beatles, the short and tragic life of Stu Sutcliffe and a love story, well a couple of love stories. It begins with the earliest incarnation of the Beatles with Paul, John, George and drummer Pete Best. They are yet to be called the Beatles; that name arrives along with Stu, a moody talented artist and John Lennon's BFF. Stu has no musical abilities but John tells him that isn't important ... he'll play bass. In funny scene, John teaches Stu the three strings he will need to press in order to play. Stu asks what he should do with his other hand, the one that is normally on the guitar's neck. John berates him: "What do you need to do that fancy shite for, that's showing off"

There is some friction about Stu's arrival in the band and Stu himself seems unsure about the whole thing but these are a bunch of teenaged boys from Liverpool and being in a band gets you birds, so off they go. The music in Backbeat is completely logical. It comes in the form of the band playing in clubs in Germany and England, recording sessions, and to themselves. The club performances are excellent: Loud and raucous and blistering; American rock n roll played at a breakneck pace. It gives you a sense of what this must have been like; at a time when many British musicians were doing sappy remakes of creaky standard pop sounds, these young Teddy Boys were pounding out music that was visceral and physical .. and loud

We follow the boys to Germany where they play their first gigs in a seedy brothel slash nightclub in Hamburg. It's here that Stu meets Astrid, a German photographer who is more drawn to his artist side than his musician's pose. Astrid is played by Isabella Calthrope and she delivers one of the strongest performances in the piece.

Astrid and Stu is not the only love story in Backbeat, it is also about the love between Stu and John. And it is about the love of music. Some of the most effective scenes in the play involve John and Paul creating their songs; the process is quite fascinating and it is glimpse at the greatest songwriting duo in the history of pop music.

Over all, the cast is fairly strong. Andrew Knott is effective as John, he is particularly good at capturing Lennon's caustic sense of humour but fails at bit at strong expressions of emotion but is mostly very fun to watch. The boys in the band sing their own songs and they are all competent with Daniel Healy as Paul exhibiting a particularly moving voice.

The music is good and, as I sated, appropriate ... except where Backbeat slide from legitimate musical into music review. When the story is ended, bows are taken, the Beatles come back out and start belting out a few songs. The rest of the cast breaks into song and people move through the audience, encouraging dancing and clapping. We've morphed from play to concert and after a couple of numbers you see the cast not as characters or actors but as a fairly run of the mill tribute band. Luckily this does not last long.

Backbeat the musical: Fun and moving. Backbeat the concert: I should have bought a beer

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