Saturday, September 29, 2007

Talking head, sleeping audience

For anyone who's interested, I'm pegged to chat about The State of Book Reviewing – cue thunder – in the Toronto Star tent at Word on the Street tomorrow.
Bring a pillow.

ADDED: Apparently, it's being officially billed as "Book Reviewers: Friend or Foe?" So come see the face of the enemy! Bring the kids!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

First they came for my toy soldiers, then they came for my kleenex

Mark Steyn is in a huff that the objects of one of his favourite masturbatory fantasies are being re-assigned, thanks to the utter worthlessness of the reputation of U.S .military might post-Iraq.
It's been a while since I played with G.I. Joe. [I kind of doubt that, but anyway...] At my age, it tends to attract stares from the playground security guard. Nevertheless, I vaguely recall two details about the prototype "action figure": 1) he was something to do with -- if you'll pardon the expression -- the U.S. military; and 2) he had no private parts. Flash forward to 2007 and this news item in Variety about the forthcoming live-action G.I. Joe movie: "While some remember the character from its gung-ho fighting man '60s incarnation, he's evolved. G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international coed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer. The property is closer in tone to X-Men and James Bond than a war film." Golly. So much for my two childhood memories: 1) he's no longer anything to do with the U.S. military; and 2) the guys with no private parts are the execs at Paramount and Hasbro who concluded that an American serviceman would be too tough a sell in the global marketplace. "G.I. Joe is not just a brand that represents the military," says Brian Goldner, Hasbro's chief operating officer. "It also represents great characters." And who says you can't have great characters based in Belgium?
Mark, I get your point about making G.I. Joe non-U.S. – although, hey: reap the whirlwind and all – but please stop mentioning the private parts....

(And notice how in the the first sentence I quote, Steyn refers to the toys in the singular form. Kind of ups the ewwww factor, like he's a gym teacher with a favourite.)

Bonus: Mark Steyn in full battle gear:

Billy Connolly and the art of the digression

Because I'm on a comedy kick, and because I mentioned Billy Connolly, and because I've got fuck-all else, here's Connolly on the nature of existence:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Clich├ęs do come true (it can happen to you)

It's sad, really, that at the moment I'm finding the best music to listen to while careening home from work on my bike is Master of Fucking Puppets. It just keeps happening.

There is no implied ironic devil salute when I'm doing it – I really do love the record, it's just a little isolated as far as my usual listening habits go – though every once in a while, I feel as though Andy Frost is about to yell out: "Ladies and Gentlemen: these are your Toronto Maple Leafs!" (Yes, I know: "Enter Sandman" is not the real 'tallica ...)

The stuff is unbearable on the way to work, however, when I usually listen to standup comedy – my own private morning drive show, except it's Richard Pryor or Billy Connolly instead of two wieners in implied Hawaiian-print shirts giggling over Lindsey Lohan and setting off a-hooga horns between repeat playings of the hot new Don Henley single.

ADDED: On this morning's private morning drive, I listened to David Cross do a bit about how much he hates doing "Morning Zoo" shows with the two ker-aaazeee DJs; he specifically notes the presence Hawaiian shirts and the extra-stale Monica Lewinsky jokes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Word of mouth disease

Some new self-promotion on the right. This kind of thing may become more frequent in the months to come.


Lieutenant George: I don't like blowing my own trumpet.
Captain Blackadder: You might at least told us you had a trumpet.

Speaking of which, have you read this thing on agents, yet?

Or this thing, about hating the literature you are forced to study in school, only to discover it on your own later? Someone should compile a list of literary works you need to revisit after school, and those you were right to hate the first time through.

Another problem with EngLit, at least at the high school and early undergraduate level, is that there is rarely any differentiation made between works that are still interesting on a literary level, and those that are merely historically interesting or significant.

Or maybe, as the writer suggests, it's just that teenagers hate to be told. I had no time for The Great Gatsby – granted, I was getting it from a teacher whom I still hold up as a model for piss-poor English teachers everywhere – but I had a great time, even in Grade 9, with all the dirty double entendres in Shakespeare. Still do, actually. (As the German flying ace shouts, in another episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, apropos one of the pillars of English comedy: "Zexual innuendo!")

ADDED: The cover showing at the right – which, though an early version, will likely be very close to the final – was created by the estimable Phil Rudz. I love it, and would welcome any and all comments and suggestions, either by e-mail or in the comments below.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shitface baby one more time

Beating up on Britney is child's play. The only appropriate response is horror, sympathy... oh, alright, and some dark-hearted laughter.


My wife calls this "the greatest indie film ever made." That "huh?!" she keeps doing is as disturbing as it is funny.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Sting

I swear to god: a hornet climbed into my pants yesterday as they were drying on the line. It must have fallen asleep until I, unaware of its existence, put the pants on.

Stinging my leg was its last act on Earth.

I'm all for cheap laughs, but come on....

Monday, September 17, 2007


Turn those frowns right side down, it's Giller time!

"I'd make comic faces and stand on my head and grin at you between my legs and learn all sorts of jokes. Wouldn't stand a chance would I?" - Joseph Cotten in The Third Man

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Billion dollar babies

In the bathroom of a bar on Bloor St., I saw an ad for – I think – the Woodbine racetrack and casino. It depicts a yuppie-looking guy in a suit jumping up and down for joy; in the foreground is a woman's hand holding a pregnancy test showing negative.

The tagline is something like, "It feels as good as this."

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy and/or defensive, when I think about my kids, I always assume I'm the one who won the jackpot. (Aaawwwww...)

(Actually, the real winner was the woman with the pregnancy test – she narrowly missed getting stuck with a real shithead. Fuck more wisely next time, my dear.)

ADDED: Speaking of children, the new Harry Potter movie is pretty good. No, really – it is. It a little draggy, and the entire story could have been told in 1/3 of the time (basically, Voldemort is gathering his army... still gathering... wait for it...), but it was one of the first Potters that held together as an actual movie. Certainly a hell of a lot better than the molasses-paced book, in which Rowling started to think of herself as, as one wag put it, "Melville for pre-teens." Obviously, it helps to watch it with a member of the target audience and on the IMAX screen, but still.

The newest additions to the "slumming respected English actor" league in this one are Imelda Staunton, who does a great job with what she's got, and Helena Bonham Carter, who just sneers and looks crazy for the 5 minutes she's onscreen. Most of the rest just stand around and look serious. Sadly, David Thewlis has about one line in the entire thing. I still keep waiting for Thewlis to break down and start ranting at Potter about the Book of Revelations.

By the way, I'm reviewing Thewlis's first novel for the Toronto Star soon. Keep watching the skies!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sid Vicious sells phones

The Solo Mobile ad, which Thursday hung high above the crowds inside Downsview Station, depicts a tearful woman wearing a series of buttons, one of which reads "Belsen was a gas," a reference to Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp used during the Second World War.

(Cue the "punk still has power to shock" articles, illustrated with pictures of Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Joel "The Hitman" Hynes

Below is a little taste of the Joel Thomas Hynes interview in the Fall 2007 issue of Atlantic Books Today (not online, as far as I know).

He comes off a little too WWF at times, or like a rapper looking for beef, but all the same it's great to hear a Canadian writer talking like this.
Response [to Right Away Monday] has been fantastic in the Atlantic region and a lot of Canada, but I've gotten slammed here and there because the book is dark at times and the subject matter is not exactly geared toward Oprah's Book Club. But in the end I couldn't care less about the response, because that's not why I write. I write because it's there in me and I have the ability anbd I'd likely go mental if I did anything else. I'm not writing a sentence hoping some conservative, petty dickhead sub-contracted by the Globe and Mail is going to get what I'm talking about.


Well, there's CanLit, and then there's literature. Meaning there's a lot of shit out there that's muddying up the bookshelves, and a lot of timeless, raw, and passionate writing that gets overlooked because of who the publisher is or because of markjeting ability or because the world has gone so fucking convervative out there that people don't want to see the bad stuff, the controversial, the dark stuff written down. It's the age of Prozac and everybody wants a happy ending.
I'm not sure the world has gone so conservative – culturally, morally, and economically, things can get fairly frontier-town out there, and that's not such a good thing – but it's true that Canadian publishing seems to represent a virtual (and occasionally literal) de-linking of a huge chunk of society from the rest the rest of the world, a perpetual High Tea held on a floating barge that's slowly taking on water. I've watched a lot of people in books – writers, editors, publicists, booksellers, myself – voluntarily and somewhat subconsciously adopt a kind of narrowed cultural vision in order to survive/thrive in the business. It's too easy to over-generalize these things, or to see dark conspiracies where there are only clusters of like-minded dullards (see: Henighan, Stephen), but there really are moments, when handling the "hot new" historical romance bringing us the latest in liberal humanist piety, when I just know that more than half the people responsible for bringing the book into existence – including, in some cases, the author – would rather watch Terminator than anything resembling a Merchant-Ivory film.

It's a small point, but a significant one: when the cloaks of Literature are donned, we must all become little Oxford dons and laugh with our mouths closed tight. One mustn't love; one must appreciate. One mustn't hate; one must scorn. And above all: one must keep the faith. Not real faith, of course, just a kind of vague belief that culture is good and books are important and the dance of the seven veils that is the modern world must be pooh-poohed in favour of eternal truths – truths that can only be accessed by writing like the love-child of Lewis Lapham and Isabelle Allende.

All of this sets up people like Hynes to over-react, to go out with both guns blazing, just so that they don't get mistaken for one of the dullards. (More of the same here.)

It all adds up to a funky situation. (So get up, get up, get get, get down, most CanLit's a joke in your town....)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dead man gawking

I thought for sure I'd made my first-ever film festival celebrity spotting tonight on the bike ride home from work: for about three seconds, I was sure that was Chris Penn hailing a cab on Harbord....

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Welcome back, you crazy, drunken....

Of all the indignities Ms. Winehouse has suffered through this year, none compare to the double-shot of Jools Holland and a cameraman with a roving eye:

I overindulged on the album earlier in the year, but that song is one I can still sit still for.

Beethoven's goblins

from Howard's End by E.M. Forster:
"No; look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back," breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right. Her brother raised his finger; it was the transitional passage on the drum.

For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they began to walk in a major key instead of in a minor, and then--he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts of splendour, gods and demigods contending with vast swords, colour and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle, magnificent victory, magnificent death! Oh, it all burst before the girl, and she even stretched out her gloved hands as if it was tangible. Any fate was titanic; any contest desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded by the angels of the utmost stars.

And the goblins--they had not really been there at all? They were only the phantoms of cowardice and unbelief? One healthy human impulse would dispel them? Men like the Wilcoxes, or ex-President Roosevelt, would say yes. Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might return--and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall. Beethoven chose to make all right in the end. He built the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and of death, and, amid vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.

Helen pushed her way out during the applause. She desired to be alone. The music had summed up to her all that had happened or could happen in her career.

Big toys for little boys

from Canada's weekly Pravda:
"The kids love it," said Bdr. Simon Gedeon as he demonstrated how to load a 30-pound bullet into a C1 howitzer.

Reminds me of something...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Faster pussycat, kill, kill!

Barbara Amiel on dogfighting:
Farewell procedure, what about the crime? In gladiatorial human sports such as boxing, wrestling and especially mixed martial arts, there's a good chance of injury and, occasionally, death. I find such sports sick-making, but participants enjoy themselves. I have no idea how dogs feel about fighting. They get terribly mutilated or killed, but this "sport" is apparently enjoyed by huge numbers. Just because many of us find it distasteful and brutalizing does that justify outlawing it?
Good to know that other people's schaden is a lot more freude than mine will ever be. The entire column is a masterwork of overclass derision disguised as a simple libertarian desire for fair play and justice. Plus, she unsubtly implies that there is a comparison to be made between the trials of Michael Vick and those of her husband – which I am happy to make if she is.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Annotated Northwest Passage

My review of Scott Chantler's oldey-timey graphic novel in The Star.

Prepare for a sweeping generalization: most graphic novels are only "for grown-ups" in the same way that Casino Royale was the Bond movie "for grown-ups."

That is, yes... but not very.

Blah blah blah Maus blah blah Seth blah blah Adrian Tomine blah blah Frank Miller blah blah.

At least I finally got to use that Bruce McCall quote, a personal favourite.

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...