May 2012

The prodigal blogs!

Truly, April was the cruelest month!

May 9, 2012, OTTAWA — It's hard to believe how far I have fallen as a blogger, personal and otherwise.

I have been extremely busy, but more than a month between entries is really kind of pushing it; "they" say (and I am inclined to believe 'em) that consistency is one of the most important elements when it comes to building a readership. But, past is past and I can only promise to (try to) do better in future.

But as I said, I have busy with other things. The driving gig alone saw me hit Montreal 13 times in the span of two weeks, along with a trip to Trois Rivières in the same period. And I've been struggling to get back on schedule with the Mystery Ghost-Writing gig, as well as engaging in a long-form debate about socio-biology (I am, largely, fer it) when time allows. The latter may show up here in one form or another one of these days.

And of course, I continue to pretty up True North on a weekly basis while also trying to give sweet Raven the attention she deserves.

And I have, finally, finished a review of the conclusion of Ottawa indie cartoonist Von Allan's children's fantasy, Stargazer. I bought the book back in December, if memory serves, finally read it about a month ago, and have (yes, 'finally') finished typing up my thoughts. (And Von, if it's any consolation, I bought a copy of Eddie Campbell's The Years Have Pants (review of that coming ... whenever) in January and haven't read even half of it yet. Of course, if you'd comped me, I would have felt obliged to be speedier ... But I digress.)

A black and white comic book featuring three pre-pubescent girls in the role of unlikely heroines, Stargazer features a Magic Doorway in the tradition of Alice's rabbit-hole and Narnia's wardrobe (and the Starship Enterprise's warp drive, for that matter).

What I called a "gentle adventure" in my review of the first volume of the story, proves in its second and concluding chapter to be considerably more than that.

What seemed to be turning into an exercise in that hoary old "And then she woke up!" cliché becomes something very different — and very memorable — by the time the story is over.

A little rough-hewn, Stargazer nevertheless has considerable virtues. This story of friendship and loss just might be a gateway drug to comics for that young boy or (especially) girl in your life — but keep a kleenex handy. My full review is here: The monster, the robot and the Artifact".

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April 2012

 

The poet had it right:
 
April was the cruelest month
 
 
   
 
Image by the Phantom Photographer.

 
 

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March 2012

Marionettes much more than mere muppets

But Ronnie Burkett's Penny Plain disappoints

March 23, 2012, OTTAWA — I did something I seldom do Wednesday night: went out to the theatre. To the National Arts Centre, no less, having spent a full day's wages on the tickets to take the chance — as the artist put it during a post-performance question and answer session — of being badly disappointed, but guaranteed a unique experience.

The show was Ronnie Burkett's seventh, Penny Plain, and it is one that will never show up on video. Burquett is the singular artist and craftman who has made his career as a marionette artist: he writes the plays, builds the puppets and performs every part.

Burkett's craft is an ancient one and, like other ancient arts — fairy stories, for instance, or poetry — one often perceived as belonging to that oft-maligned, low-status realm of "children's work" (never mind that there is nothing inherently inferior in art meant for children; that is an argument for another time). But Burkett's stories are not intended for children, nor is his love for the art and the craft of puppetry a childish one.

His latest show is not his best, but if you get the chance to see Penny Plain, you should. The technical achievements alone are worth the price of admission. My full review is behind the link: Housebound apocalypse less than the sum of its parts.

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Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, reviewed

'Midnight in Paris' poster

March 14, 2012, OTTAWA — It seems like the American cinema comes up with a good time travel film of a certain kind once every decade or so — Peggy Sue Got Married and Pleasantville come immediately to mind, as does Groundhog Day, in its own way.

Not strictly-speaking science fiction, these movies are more like fables, presenting time travel as an arbitrary fact which allows their protagonists to learn some life lesson, sometimes leading to acceptance of what is, more often leading to some sort of important life change.

That grand old man of American cinema, Woody Allen, is the latest to offer us a nostalgia-steeped visit to the past, along with a cinematic love-letter to a city that is not New York (for a change), but Paris. Paris now and, especially, Paris then.

The Oscar-winning Midnight In Paris has become Allen's most financially successful movie. Though flawed, it is the work of a master-crasftmen that tells its slender tale with style and efficiency, generating laughs and dramatic tension despite its decidedly old-fashioned pacing.

Does it deserve its awards and critical acclaim as Woody Allen's return to form? Click here for my full review (yes, with spoilers), Twilight of an auteur.

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The Ballad of Saddam Hussein (and me)
      — Sung to the tune of Joe Hill

Sigmund Freud
Siggy says: "I give up. Vut do you zink it means?"

I dreamed I shot Saddam Hussein,
Left a flechettte in his eye.
But that arrow only slowed him down,
Saddam he didn't die.
Saddam he didn't die.

It started when he walked by
With his ageing Labrador.
That vicious mutt leaped for my throat,
But I blocked him with my arm.
I blocked him with my arm.

The humiliation of his dog,
Angered Saddam, you see.
Right then and there, like Daffy Duck,
He swore revenge on me.
He swore revenge on me.

So I shot him in the head,
The bullet pierced his brain.
Though he collapsed upon the floor,
The wound only made him mad,
It only made him mad.

When I saw that he was coming to,
I kicked him in the side.
He rolled away and called his dog —
The chase was on again.
The chase was on again.

While making plans to kill me off,
He rubbed his hands with glee.
'Twas not only me he wanted dead,
He had a list of enemies.
A list of enemies.

The last I saw, he stood in a line,
Protected by robots.
He was going to torch my house,
And things seemed pretty dire.
Things seemed pretty dire.

Heart-breakingly, I then woke up,
With no resolution found.
For all I know, Saddam's still there,
Plotting my demise.
Plotting my demise.

But that isn't why I will never be president (of anything).

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February 2012

So a man walks into the office ...

February 9, 2012, OTTAWA — I got to the office early yesterday, because I thought I might need to spend some time debriefing the boss on the Great Big Gaping Hole now grinning from the rear left door of one of his vehicles — the one I had been driving the day before.

I'd parked my bike at the lot, picked up the van that was waiting for me and shucked my leather jacket in hopes of cooling down a bit before I had to greet my passengers. (Wednesday was not nearly as cold as I expected, so I'd worn a much heavier sweater than I ought to have. I digress.)

I fired up the van, confirmed it was fully fuelled and that I had a spare bottle of washer fluid; tuned the radio to CBC in both Ottawa and Montreal and adjusted my mirrors; set the beast in gear and headed on in, secure in my knowledge that I was without blame, but still, just a little insecure about what the boss was going to say about his mangled vehicle.

The SUV was still where I had left it on Tuesday, the guts of the rear door exposed the world, like bones and tendons stripped of skin. I couldn't help taking another look, rubber-necking at my own misfortune.

It being afternoon, the office was a little cramped. The number one and number two guys were at their desks, the day-time dispatcher — let's call him Normand — was at his, and a couple of my fellow drivers were hanging around.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," I called out as I slipped through the swinging gate.

Normand looked over at me, smirking. "Hey, Geoff," he said with obvious delight. "You're supposed to bring the whole vehicle back with you, not just part of it!"

"Hey man! It's in the back!" I said, referring to a dinner-plate sized scrap of metal that had once been part of the vehicle's door.

I took a look at Ahmed, my boss, and was pleased to see he was smiling, but was distracted when Charley, an older driver, asked me, "Geoff, do you live in North Gower?"

"Uh, no," I said, "No, I live in the Glebe. Why?"

"Oh," he said, deadpan. "I thought I saw your sweater in the garbage."

"My sweater!" I thought wildly for an appropriate response, but was too taken aback by the non-sequiteur insult to do anything but sputter while the office rocked with laughter.

Grinning, I shook my head and approached the boss' desk to explain just what had happened.

So what did happen? Click here for Dump Truck Horror on Autoroute 40!

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Young Geoffrey now pushing 50

February 6, 2012, OTTAWA — Thanks to those of you who wished me a happy anniversary of birth — it was.

The whole week was a good one, the highlights including an outing in Gatineau Park on snowshoes (I am the bigfoot-like creature in the photo at left), finally getting out onto the canal and dining Sri Lankan style.

And also, a Mysterious Ottawa Valley Apparition, caught on camera by the one and only Phantom Photographer, who was able to attend this year's Winterlude opening ceremony, while I laboured on this week's edition of True North Perspective.

Cut to spare those uninterested in my personal blatherings. If you want them, or the striking photo of the Ottawa Valley's no-longer mythical Dance of the Winter Turkeys/Danse des dindes d'hiver come to spectral life, click here.

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January 2012

Well of good intentions slakes no thirst

Cover to Well of Sorrows, by Benjamin Tate

January 12, 2012, OTTAWA — I hate coming down hard on books by relatively unknown writers; given my 'druthers, I'd much prefer to pass over them in silence. At the same time, if a writer goes to the trouble of sending me a review copy (even an electronic copy), it seems disrespectful to ignore it.

So I've struggled with this review, and not only because I have been "friends" with the author (or rather, with his pseudonym) on Livejournal for a while, but because it became clear in the reading that Benjamin Tate's heart is very much in the right place.

Well of Sorrows tries hard to play with, and even to reverse, many of epic fantasy's tired tropes. The protagonist is more peace-maker than warrior, and in plays of scenes of glorious battle we are given the blood and the shit and the brutality of hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately, good intentions alone don't make for good art. Well of Sorrows suffers from shallow characterization, structural confusion and world-building that is not remotely convincing. Click here for my full review (hardly any spoilers).

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Blistering Barnacles! The Adventures of Tintin reviewed!

January 6, 2012, OTTAWA — Remind me, please, if ever I get the urge to spend good money on a "major motion picture" from out Hollywood way, that I shouldn't get my hopes up too high.

My girlfriend and I decided to ring in the new year by doing something we've never done in the nearly two years since we became Involved. You guessed it, we decided to go out to the movies, that time-honoured North American tradition.

For quite different reasons, we both had an urge to see Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and so we set out this past Tuesday night, one of the coldest of the winter thus far.

I don't think I'm committing any spoilers in saying that we were both disappointed. Not an awful movie, but not a good movie, either. It looked good, had a few laughs, but if you are among those who want some story to go along with the eye-candy, you'd be out of luck. Billions of billious blue blistering fight scenes! Click here for my full review!

 

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