The Corin Tucker Band: Neskowin

At the risk of being melodramatic, the breakup of Sleater-Kinney was the worst event in the history of the human race. On the one hand, The Woods was probably the high point of their excellent career, and an perfect note to go out on. But on the other hand, what if they’d gotten even better? Or just stayed awesome?

My pain was soothed by Wild Flag, starring Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, whose debut album was rocktastically outstanding, but what I really wanted – nay, needed – was the return of The Voice.

(If anyone starts talking about televised singing competitions, they will be mocked, scorned, and excommunicated.)

Hearing Corin Tucker sing is one of those religious rock & roll experiences like no other. There’s power, emotion, energy, and fun. While her first album as the Corin Tucker Band was nice, it wasn’t what we expect – or demand – from Corin Tucker. Kill My Blues is much closer to what we want, and need, from the beautiful wailing banshee.

(Now if only someone could persuade Wild Flag and the Corin Tucker Band to merge and form a supergroup of some sort…)

 

Bonus Corin Tucker: Sympathy is one of my favourite Sleater-Kinney songs, and this performance is wonderful:

Posted: October 22nd, 2012
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Godspeed You Black Emperor: Mladic

For the first time in ten years, there is a new album by Godspeed You Black Emperor. This is a pretty big deal. Godspeed largely changed the way I listened to music, moving my horizons beyond 4-minute alt-rock pop songs. (which is a simplification of my tastes at the time, but we’ll let it go for the sake of brevity) Listening to Godspeed lead me to Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Do Make Say Think, Mono, and others, but there’s only one Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Mladic isn’t entirely new – they were playing it on their tour last year – but it’s an amazing start to the new album, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

Posted: October 16th, 2012
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Stars: Through the Mines

I’ve been a fan of Stars for a long time, ever since I saw them opening for St. Etienne. I wasn’t a huge fan of their last couple albums, but so far I’m loving The North. In particular, Through The Mines, which is a lovely, poppy Amy song.

Posted: October 16th, 2012
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Dredd aims low, gets the job done

(Disclaimer: Due to the delayed start time – the film didn’t get rolling until after 1am – I’d lost a fair amount of enthusiasm by the time I got into the theatre. That may have made this a grumpier review than I’d have liked.)

Despite spending more than two decades of my life reading comic books, I don’t know much about Judge Dredd. I know he’s an icon, and many great British writers and artists have worked on his books, but they’ve had limited availability in North America. I read a Batmand-Dredd teamup book once, but that’s about it.

I’m not sure, after watching Dredd, if I know anything more. This is a film that seems largely removed from the source material: Outside of the concept of a paramilitary police force and a post-apocalyptic future, there’s not a lot here that say “Dredd!” beyond some occasional scenery and a few sci-fi props. This story could translate to present-day reality without losing much.

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Posted: September 7th, 2012
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Coming Soon: The Toronto International Film Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival  is kind of like Christmas if you love watching movies, standing in line, and not sleeping.  I’ve been seeing more and more films at the festival over the past decade; last year, I dove in and got a 50-film pass. It was insane. I almost died.

This year, I went with a much more manageable 40-film package. My week is mostly planned, though I’m still contemplating some changes or additions. Here are a few of the things I’m particularly looking forward to.

But first, a caveat: Expectations are meaningless. Last year, I was looking forward to seeing Hick, because it had a solid cast and an interesting story. It turned out to be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. On the flip side, I had no expectations for The Loneliest Planet at all – it fit in my schedule, and kind of looked interesting – and was one of my favourites of the entire festival. I may be cursing some of these choices a couple weeks from now. Read more »

Posted: August 31st, 2012
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What car commercials can teach us about bicycles

How do you get more people to give up their cars and ride bikes?

Danish cycling advocate Andreas Rohl attended the Ontario Bike Summit last week, and as a representative of a city with quite a lot of bicycle usage, he had a few things to say on the subject. In the National Post, he said:

“I like to say we have no cyclists in Copenhagen. We have citizens who use bikes to get from A to B.”

And he told The Globe & Mail:

“I think the main thing is treating cycling as nothing special.”

The idea of the bicycle an instrument of pure practicality is a growing one. It comes up a lot on Copenhagenize and other urban cycling blogs. A bicycle, the argument goes, is merely a tool for getting from Point A to Point B, and anything else – equipment, type of bike, clothing – is entirely beside the point. We shouldn’t call people cyclists, because no one needs to be identified by their transportation tool. And while I can appreciate the logic and intent of this extreme utilitarianism, I am nagged by this thought: Have these people never seen a car commercial?

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Posted: May 2nd, 2012
Categories: Cycling
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Game of Thrones 2.4: Bad Boys

I’m not a terribly squeamish person when it comes to violence in my entertainment. I’ve seen a lot of Takashi Miike films, I’ve read American Psycho, and I enjoy some brutal violence and gushing blood when it’s presented the right way. I don’t think any behaviour or act is truly out of bounds in fiction, though its relevance or usefulness to any given story may be questionable. I’m a fan of chasing characters into trees and then throwing rocks at them – whether physical or emotional – because that’s where drama  and character development happen.

That approach is on display in most of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, where most of his characters are tormented in one way or another in the course of each book. But while Martin’s books are full of unpleasantness, it never overwhelms the story, often because the truly awful scenes seldom happen on-camera. In the television adaptation, though, Game of Thrones seems to be pushing much of the horrid behaviour up-front; the second episode spent nearly half its time abusing female characters in a variety of ways, and the fourth episode, The Garden of Bones, loosed a staggeringly sadistic scene upon a couple of nameless prostitutes.

Is there any question, at this point, that Joffrey Baratheon is a horrible person? He’s selfish, arrogant, and cruel, and it’s been demonstrated many times: the incident with Arya and the butcher’s boy, Ned’s fate, cutting out tongues, and having his fiancee beaten. In this very episode, we see him tormenting Sansa as punishment for her brother’s recent military victories, and we can be quite sure he would have done worse had Tyrion not arrived.

So why, then, was it necessary to follow that up with scene in which Joffrey orders two prostitutes – naked, of course – to beat and torment each other?

I enjoy Jack Gleason’s performance as Joffrey, but it’s not a subtle character: He’s a sadistic asshole. If you have been watching Game of Thrones and have not yet realized that, you either haven’t been paying attention or you are also a sadistic asshole.

For some reason the writers of the show felt we needed one more scene of Joffrey being horrible, one more example of a powerful man abusing anonymous women. When he mistreats Sansa, we can at least view the events through her eyes, understand what is happening in a different way; the scene between Joffrey and Sansa in the first season finale, where she finally realizes her fair prince is an inbred monster, is one of my favourites of the series, and the first time I really appreciated Sophie Turner’s work.

But when Joffrey has the prostitutes beat one another under threat of death, nothing new is learned, nothing is gained. There’s no insight into Joffrey’s character – he’s still a dick! – and neither woman will ever speak of the event, nor will we ever see the consequences of it for them. It’s little more than sadistic voyeurism, an attempt at shocking the audience with another act of cruelty in a series that’s already full of them. The  producers of Game of Thrones have assumed Joffrey’s position in their creative capacities, committing acts of cruelty and violence simply because they can.

Posted: April 23rd, 2012
Categories: Books, TV
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The Office solves a problem no one had

Finally, The Office got around to answering the question that was on everyone’s minds after Andy’s  reunion with Erin: What’s going to happen to Jessica?

To be fair, the more prevalent question was probably “Jessica? Who’s Jessica?” Or possibly “What’s the name of that woman Andy was dating?”

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Posted: April 14th, 2012
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Game of Thrones’ Women Troubles

If you set your story in a medieval-style world, are you obligated to treat your female characters like crap?

This is the question Game of Thrones struggles with, both on page and on screen. Westeros is unquestionably a male-dominated world, but George R.R. Martin has created more intelligent and interesting female characters than the average fantasy author, and for the most part he manages to treat characters of all genders terribly at one point or another.

But sometimes, the misogyny inherent in the world he created piles up too high, as it did in The Night Lands, the second episode of the second season.  In it, we see the following scenes:

  • The men of the Night’s Watch crack jokes about Craster’s daughter-wives, and rejecting a plea for help;
  • Theon explains how awesome he is while treating a woman like crap;
  • Littlefinger explains the fate that awaits one of his whores if she can’t cheer up;
  • A pirate agrees to fight for Stannis as long as he gets to fuck Queen Cersei;
  • Shae is made a pawn in the machinations between Tyrion and Varys;
  • Theon arrives home in the Iron Islands and fondles a nice lady who offers him a ride to his father’s castle;
  • Cersei finds herself increasingly powerless as Tyrion asserts his power and Joffrey does things behind her back;
  • Melisandre fucks Stannis.

Not all of these scenes feature full-on misogyny, but even the strong female characters are poorly treated; at best, their more interesting characteristics are overwritten by the role they must play for their men.

When Theon’s would-be lover is revealed to be his sister Yara (Asha in the books, which is one of the more puzzling bits of re-naming), there’s little sense that she enjoyed the joke she was playing on Theon, and it’s left to their father to explain how badass and powerful Yara has become in Theon’s absence.

Yara was an opportunity for Game of Thrones to toss some of its cliches on their heads: She appears as yet another submissive plaything for Theon, another chance for him to boast about how awesome he is, but then – bam! - she’s not. She’s having him on, egging on his chauvinism only to emasculate him later – both my making him recant his own flirtations and by being the true, Iron-born “son” his father really wanted. But on screen, Yara merely moves from being Theon’s plaything to her father’s, never showing any personality of her own.

(Perhaps I should bet my prejudices out of the way here: I alternate between loathing and boredom towards Theon, and generally skim any of the Iron Islands chapters. The entire Greyjoy storyline has always seemed like a diversion keeping Martin away from the good stuff.)

Stannis and Melisandre is a much more interesting scene, and it might not have bothered me so much if not for the rest of the episode. After all, we always get the sense that Melisandre is manipulating Stannis in one way or another, and it’s strongly implied that they have some carnal knowledge of one another. But she’s barely been introduced into the series – though I must admit it was a hell of an introduction – and already she’s been turned into a woman who uses sex to get what she wants. Last week she had some mean mojo going, but this week her strategy is based around showing her tits.

The scene between Littlefinger and his whore is particularly egregious, since it’s a creation of the TV show and didn’t need to be present for any faithfulness to the book; at least, it didn’t need to happen here and now.

Todd VanDerWerf at the AV Club sees this all as a thematic issue: “The monarchy of Westeros runs through men, and in many cases, maybe that’s a terrible idea.” But that’s hardly a subtle notion that needs more emphasis in the series: From day one, whichever medium you choose, women have been treated terribly by men. In the very first episode, Daenerys is sold by her brother to a warlord who rapes her. (Then, largely off-camera, she falls in love with him. It’s one of the worst bits of characterization in the books, and it’s redeemed only by the fact that Daenerys becomes totally awesome and badass later on.)

More importantly, all these men-treat-women-badly scenes emphasize the point of view of the men. What are Yara, Shae, or Ros experiencing in these scenes? We don’t know, because they’re props for the men. The scene in Littlefinger’s brothel might have been an opportunity to reflect on the woman’s role in Westeros, but it was just another showcase for a man of power being ruthless and cruel.

The TV series seems to be supporting the male-dominated political sphere: It’s early yet, but I’m concerned by the rise to prominence of Robb Stark, and the corresponding demotion of Catelynn. In the books, Robb’s adventures and victories occur largely off-screen, explained by letters and word-of-mouth. It’s a clever way for George R.R. Martin to subvert  traditional, male-dominated fantasy literature: Robb may be running around with his trusty pet wolf, winning battles, waging war, and falling in love, but the truly important work is being carried out by his mother: Forging alliances, negotiating deals, ultimately going rogue in her own fashion. And ultimately, Robb is the one that fucks it all up.

But so far in season two – that is to say, in the first episode, as neither character appeared in the second – Robb is calling the shots, and Catelynn falls into line. Robb’s confrontation with Jamie Lannister is far more generic, and more forgettable, than Catelynn’s similar scene at the end of the first season. Robb is being established as the new hero of the series, but the Action Hero was never meant to be the star of Game of Thrones.

(Granted, we’re only on the second episode, so I’m happy to be proven wrong.)

I really don’t know how The Night Lands came about, or what the writers were trying to accomplish. If VanDerWerf is correct, and the episode was a deliberate commentary on gender – and I suspect he must be, because it seems unlikely all the storylines would correspond like this by accident – it was a failed one. This isn’t an episode about male-female power dynamics or the flaws of a patriarchy. It’s an episode in which men treat women poorly-to-horribly with few repercussions and no attention given to the character of women themselves.

It’s all the more disappointing because we know Game of Thrones has some fantastic female characters and actresses. The first season had great scenes for Catelynn, Daenerys, Arya, and even Cersei; the second season has great promise with the debut of Melisandre and, at some point, Brienne. Martin has crafted an amazing tale of outcasts – cripples, bastards, broken things, and women – who rise above the roles society has chosen for them.

But for one episode, Game of Thrones decided to set all of those things aside. The Night Lands wasn’t just unpleasant; it was shallow and unimaginative.

Posted: April 9th, 2012
Categories: Books, TV
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Parks and Recreation 4-14: Operation Ann

Parks & Recreation defines its characters extremely well. Everyone has a role in the dynamic of the show, and while the nature of comedy & drama demands those roles be stretched and challenged from time to time, the show always knows what its characters are about.

The major exception to this rule is Ann Perkins. Ann started off as a plot device: She wanted the pit behind her house filled in. She volunteered to help Leslie get it done, and followed her through all the bureaucracy and crazy shenanigans that involved. Along the way she and Leslie bonded as friends, and Rashida Jones settled into the role of playing straight man to Amy Poehler’s insanity.

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Posted: February 3rd, 2012
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Battlestar Galactica 1-11: Colonial Day

My Battlestar Galactica retrospective kind of disappeared for a few months; partly on account of me being lazy, part of which, perhaps, was that I wasn’t looking forward to writing about Colonial Day. It’s not that it’s a bad episode – I had a lot to say about Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down, one of the worst of the series – but it’s a dull, perfunctory episode.  It does one important thing – make Gaius Baltar the new Vice President – and throws in some meaningless conspiracies and a couple of fistfights. But as I watched it this time, I found it was notable for the many things it didn’t do.

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Posted: February 2nd, 2012
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The Wisdom and Impact of Before Watchmen

There was a time when I would have been genuinely offended that DC is publishing new Watchmen comics. Watchmen is one of the greatest comics ever published, a masterpiece of cohesive writing and art, and an massive influence on superhero comics. Publishing prequels or sequels seems inherently wrong, a line that everyone knows you shouldn’t cross lest you risk being struck down by the vengeful gods Alan Moore might talk to.

But the more I think about it, the less it bothers me. Read more »

Posted: February 2nd, 2012
Categories: Comics
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Midnight in Paris and the terrible power of nostalgia

For most of my life, I’ve been the biggest Woody Allen fan I know. I’ll defend his body of work until the cows come home, and sing the praises of everything from Annie Hall and Love & Death to Sweet & Lowdown and Deconstructing Harry. I adore his scripts, themes, and general philosophies, as well as his ability to get the best out of any cast, no matter how naturally talented they may be.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that I find myself annoyed by the accolades bestowed upon his latest film, Midnight in Paris, up to and including three Oscar nominations. It’s a fine film, and easily one of the best he’s made in the past ten years, but seems grossly out of place when talking about the best films of 2011.

In other circumstances, Midnight in Paris is the sort of film that gets nominated for awards because the filmmaker’s never won anything. But Woody Allen’s already won three Oscars personally, was obviously the main factor in Annie Hall‘s Best Picture win, and been nominated 17 times, so there’s no danger of him dying without achieving the proper amount of recognition and respect.

But Midnight in Paris is all about nostalgia, and it’s fair to say that nostalgia – both for the era depicted in the film and the days when Allen was a great filmmaker – has played a part in generating affection for for the film.

Perhaps you’re nostalgic for the time Woody Allen made consistently good movies on a regular basis. Depending on your tastes, that could be the seventies (Sleeper, Love & Death, Annie Hall, Manhattan), the eighties (Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, Crimes & Misdemeanors), or even the nineties (Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Sweet & Lowdown).

It’s fair to say, however, that no one will ever be nostalgic for the Woody Allen films of the 21st century. He’s made some good films (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, and yes, even Midnight in Paris), but they’re outnumbered by the forgettable (Whatever Works) and the downright awful (Curse of the Jade Scorpion).

Midnight in Paris marks a return to form for Allen, but only by the standards of our lowered expectations. It has many of the hallmarks of a great Woody Allen film, but also the flaws of a filmmaker who didn’t bother to fully develop his ideas or characters.

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Posted: January 24th, 2012
Categories: Movies
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The Fake Oscars of 2012

Tomorrow morning, the Oscar nominations will be announced. It is possible I will respond by swearing at my computer, television, or the bird outside my window.

It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point that my tastes rarely line up with the Oscars. I wasn’t offended last year when The King’s Speech won everything, but I was still disappointed that Black Swan was more or less shut out.

So before disappointment can set in, here are my picks for the best films & performances of 2011. Nothing is listed in any particular order, beyond the fact that they were listed in the order I thought of them. These aren’t any sort of attempt at predictions, and any resemblance between my list and reality is purely coincidental, and possibly a cause for concern.

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Posted: January 23rd, 2012
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Parks & Recreation 4-11: The Comeback Kid

Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and his claymation.

One of the things I love about Parks & Recreation is its sense of continuity. The writers have created a mythology for Pawnee and its citizens that makes everything just a little bit more real, albeit also more ridiculous. Running gags like the terrible history of Pawnee, often depicted in its murals, absurd media personalities like Perd Hapley, and the utter horribleness of the library show up in bits and pieces; while any given bit may or may not be a winner, they have a cumulative benefit to the show.

For instance, when you watched Season 3′s Ron & Tammy Part Two, you probably noted Ben Wyatt’s preference of calzone instead of pizza, and how absolutely everyone thought that was a terrible idea. Maybe you didn’t come away from the episode thinking “Hey, I hope Parks & Rec explains more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food,” but then, BAM, this week comes along and gives you even more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food and how it’ll lead to financial and personal success, and it is awesome.

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Posted: January 13th, 2012
Categories: TV
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