Category Archives: Literature

Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle

Sigh.

I kinda feel sorry for Robyn Doolittle. She’s an excellent reporter for the Toronto Star, but sadly her name is most associated with Rob Ford.

Crazy Town is a book about our mayor, his family, and his problems. Crazy Town at times is extremely hard to read. We’ve lived through this drama for the past three years (longer, if you include his time as councillor). We’ve seen the insanity.

Reliving it is not something you really want to do. However, Doolittle does add some interesting new revelations into her book that make it quite interesting.

For non-Torontonians, I think it is a must-read. Anyone outside this city who has seen a few tidbits of who Rob Ford is, should really see the disaster he has put upon Toronto.

Born Standing Up and The Jerk

Steve-Martin-Book-Cover-webI decided to read Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up. The book focuses on Martin’s career as a stand up comedian. It’s a strange thing to think of when it comes to Steve Martin, as he stopped performing stand up comedy before I was born.

The book starts at his young days learning the craft while working at Disney Land in the magic shop, and slowing follows his career.

The book is more than just a plain telling of his story, one that I don’t think had been told before, but instead Martin is writing a how-to for stand up comedians. Martin began, not as a comedian, but an entertainer, and through much of his early career, that’s how he saw himself. As an entertainer, his comedy act was able to take on elements that really pioneered a new kind of comedy. He incorporated magic, banjos, fake arrows through his head, and even tours of the theatre’s vicinity with audience in tow.

Steve Martin talks about how to build up one’s material, and how to master it through performance. He worked hard, and long to get where he ended. Much like The Beatles who mastered their craft while playing hours on end in Hamburg, Martin would play hour long sets to three people with ten minutes of material. There he mastered his craft, eventually taping his shows so he could listen and evaluate and help his comedy evolve.

If you know anyone who says they’re a “comedian” and by that they mean they play a tiny club in Toronto and no one laughs, buy them this for their birthday.

The book inspired me to rewatch The Jerk. Apparently much of the film is based on Martin’s stand up act. It was my second time viewing the film, and it didn’t seem to hold the same appeal it had during the first viewing. I won’t say I was bored, the film kept my attention, but it wasn’t as funny as it was the first time, unlike The Three Amigos, which I could watch a hundred times (and probably have).

In Review

Going through my old blog posts to see how it looks with the new theme. It all seems to be working well, but I came across a lot of posts that are a month in review. I had set up a goal for how much media I’d consume in that year and tracked it. I liked that. I’m going to start doing that for the rest of the year. So here are my goals from July 9-December 31…

Books I’ll read (5):

Films I’ll see (20):

Albums I’ll buy (20):

Concerts I’ll attend (15):

Plays I’ll attend (3):

Bond 01: Casino Royale vs. Bond 21: Casino Royale

I’ve decided to slowly read all the James Bond novels, then rewatch the film, review the two.

casino royale 02

The first James Bond novel is “Casino Royale,” while there are numerous films based on this novel, I’m going to focus on the Daniel Craig one. The novel isn’t very good. It’s a quick read, that’s certainly positive, however the negatives are great in this book, such as numerous chapters devoted to informing the reader how to play baccarat, something that’s never interested me. To the point that when I think of baccarat, I think of the scene in A Hard Day’s Night where Paul’s grandfather steal’s Ringo’s casino invite.

The book’s portrayal of women… well Vesper… the only woman, aside from a brief mention of Moneypenny, is ridiculously patronizing. Worse still, the character of Vesper is so one dimensional and serves no purpose in the plot, other than to be the traditional damsel in distress. Passages such as these show how little Fleming cares to include women in his macho fantasy.

She kept on patching up the edifice of her deceit until Bond wanted to spank her and tell her to relax and tell the truth.

Or even better:

“Now in order to tell the difference between good and evil, we have manufactured two images representing the extremes – representing the deepest black and the purest white – and we call them God and the Devil. But in doing sober have cheated a bit. God is a clear image, you can see every hair on His beard. But the Devil. What does he look like?” Bond looked triumphantly at Mathis.


Mathis laughed ironically.

“A woman.”

Worse still, this macho hero, James Bond is a wizard at the casino table, and supposedly one of the world’s best spies, but he gets himself kidnapped pretty easily. There’s a quick car chase which gets his car destroyed and him kidnapped by the Soviets. There he’s only saved from torture and death by pure luck. Then the book carries on for way too long as it follows his recovery. We have chapters dedicated to his hospital stay with no apparent reason. We learn he’s been a dick to Vesper this whole time and won’t let her see him… why she cares, I don’t know, but he continues to treat her like garbage for no real reason. Then she takes him on a romantic getaway.

Bond goes to the beach, Bond swims, Bond gets naked. Bond comes back to the hotel. Bond and Vesper eat. Vesper mothers Bond. Bond is a dick. Bond wakes up the next morning. Bond goes to the beach. Bond goes skinny dipping. He decides he’s going to propose. Bond catches Vesper making a phone call. Their relationship ends. A stranger comes to the hotel. Vesper thinks the stranger is after them. Bond doesn’t believe her. He leaves. She continues to fuck him… you know for Queen and country1. Stiff upper lip! The stranger comes back. She panics. He tells her he was going to propose. Bow chicka bow wow. She kills herself. Bond calls her a “bitch.” The end.

Casino-Royale-casino-royale-25397045-1152-864

I didn’t realize the film follows the story of the book so closely. While the film starts quite a bit before the book, giving the viewer much more information about Le Chiffre, the main antagonist, the book delved into this weak plot to gamble him bankrupt, and suddenly he wouldn’t give a shit, and surrender himself… what? Well, that’s in the film, too. The difference being that while the book is dry and boring, the film is exciting and interesting. They were able to tell the story in a manner that really sold the film. It’s still a weak story, but it’s presented in a “flash boom bang” way that keeps you interested.

While the book goes to pains to trap Bond by stopping the chase, getting out of the car, dispatching a carpet of nails from the trunk and watching his car speed over it. In the film, you’re in the middle of a high speed chase, then you see in Bond’s car’s headlights is Vesper tied up and gagged in the middle of the road. You see Bond’s car flying off the road and toppling. It’s little things like that which make it so much more worthwhile.

In addition in the book there’s a much better and convincing reason for Vesper’s death than the book. The line “the bitch is dead” still seems uncomfortable and forced, as if his love is suddenly gone. In the book I never believed Bond loved her, but in the movie they actually seem to have a connection. Also, Bond isn’t a dick. Sure he’s a mechanical killer, but he genuinely cares about Vesper as you can see when he comforts Vesper.

Next time: Live and Let Die

  1. Yes, I actually looked up the publication date of the book (1953) and the start of Elizabeth II’s reign (1952) to make sure it wasn’t for King and country. []

Sherlock Holmes

A new Sherlock Holmes film comes to theatres, and since I hadn’t seen the original of Guy Ritchie’s variant of Sherlock Holmes, I figured time had to come to watch it.

It’s hard not to compare it to Sherlock, the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, but it’s also stupid to resist it. Both are reimaginings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character, and they’re both completely different in every way. While Sherlock is modernized, Sherlock Holmes are contemporary to the book. Sherlock is about Holmes’ mind, and Sherlock Holmes is an action film.

I cannot dismiss Sherlock Holmes as simply an action film, however. There’s a lot more to the Holmes character than just running around and punching others, as the trailers would have one believe, but the intellect, and resourcefulness of Holmes does not come across to the audience in the film. The audience does see the workings of Holmes’ mind, but it’s never anything that a slightly astute person could conclude on their own.

Whoever thought Ritchie was the person to helm a Sherlock Holmes film, obviously never read the books, and it seems that Ritchie had just finished OAC English, and was eager to show his knowledge of elementary symbolism. Yes, I get it, a crow is there, someone will die.  Wow, a crow representing death, that’s so clever little high school boy.

The special effects are jarring, as the majority of many shots are CGI, and look obviously like CGI. It removes one from the story.

I’ll still go see the sequel, as I’m not paying, apparently, and it’s a communal gathering with friends, but honestly, I look forward to New Years Day when I can watch the new episode of Sherlock.

You Are A Cat

There’s this awesome dude named Sherwin Tjia who throws awesome events in Toronto and Montreal (sometimes in Ottawa). He’s organized slow dances, and crowd karaoke, and strip spelling bees, and cardboard fort building nights. The last might have been my favourite, because of who I met there, though the spelling bees have boobies.

This weekend he launched his new book called You Are A Cat. It’s a sendup of the Choose Your Own Adventure books all ’80s children knew and loved. However, it’s different than the ’80s books from what I remember. As a child I don’t remember those books having much in the way of heavy subject matters, but Tjia’s book certainly does. The protagonist, you, a cat, gets to choose what cat-like activities you wish to enjoy.

You live with a dysfunctional family, and while you as a cat do not necessarily understand all the nuances of their lives, the reader can certainly understand it.

Where the book lacks is in the character development. The reader1 only gets a very brief glimpse into who these people are, and the heavy events in their lives. As a cat, you’re obviously an observer of these events, but as a human reading the book, you do want to know more about these decisions. During my reading I mostly stayed indoors, as I found the humans’ lives to be the most interesting.

The good thing is I know I have another few reads of the book, where the adventure will be very different.

  1. Too passive of a word, the picker? []

#Rocktober 30 volume 23: Canzine

This month I turn 30. To mark such a remarkable event, I’m spending every day of October drenched in awesome-sauce.

Went to Canzine. It was fun. Got a copy of Static Zine volume 2, and bought one of Aviva’s killer cookie stuffed cookies. I also bought a present for Violet.

#Rocktober 30 volume 14: Rob Benvie, Matt Murphy, Different Skeletons, and Queen’s Park

This month I turn 30. To mark such a remarkable event, I’m spending every day of October drenched in awesome-sauce.

Last night I went to a weird alley in Kensington which in turn led to a staircase up to a strange bar I’ve never been in.  It was a packed house where Rob Benvie of Thrush Hermit fame was to be reading from his new novel. I didn’t quite understand why the place was so packed, but I quickly found Natalia and Tim and hung out with those two for a while. After hanging around for a while, we spotted Val, in the audience, and chatted with her. Turns out she’s in a choir called Choir! Choir! Choir! who were performing that night. In addition, about 70% of the audience were also in Choir! Choir! Choir!

Benvie read a portion of his book, and I still hate being read to. It’s this weird problem I have, nothing against his prose. As he was finishing his reading, Choir! Choir! Choir! made their way up on the stage, and packed it like sardines. Suddenly the bar seemed empty. They performed two songs from the 1990s (when the book is set), one I didn’t recognize, and “Waterfalls” the TLC song, not the Paul McCartney song.

After that Benvie read more from his book, and shortly afterwards, a new band took the stage featuring Matt Murphy of Super Friendz/Flashing Lights fame. They played a handful of songs that were okay, but didn’t sound too tight. There was a large amount of feedback, leaving much of the audience with fingers in their ears. Who goes to club shows without earplugs? It really wasn’t anything special.

From there I had a quick walk up Augusta to College where I went to Rancho Relaxo. Closing the night at Rancho was Different Skeletons, a band featuring three awesome dudes, two of which are named Daniel. Unfortunately there were still two bands playing sets, and they both kinda sucked. So I spent those hours talking with Different Skeletons, their ladies, and other assorted friends.  Most of the time was with Julie and (drummer) Dan1. I’ve known Juile for years now, and about a year ago, she and Dan had a party at their place. I was chatting with Julie in the hallway, when Jamie walks by. Turns out that Jamie and (guitarist) Daniel’s band Fat City had lost their drummer and now formed Different Skeletons with Dan. It was slightly to weird to see two very distinct aspects of my life merge in an unexpected way, but it made for more opportunities to hang out with friends.

Different Skeletons then set up their gear on the dance floor, and performed a set which was sloppy at first, but got much better as the band went on. Dan’s drums were super loud, being immediately beside the audience, but fortunately ear plugs were invented. At first you couldn’t hear Jamie’s guitar, until about halfway through his songs2. The performances got better until their poorly attempted cover of Joel Plaskett’s “Nowhere With You.” All in all a fun set.

After an hour or two of goodbyes, I realized that the TTC was closed, and I didn’t want to cab back home, so I started walking east along College. From there I went to Queen’s Park. The Legislature is beautiful at night. I wandered the grounds of the Legislature and looked at the many statues in Queen’s Park.

From there I continued walking east, until I collapsed in my bed.

  1. Julie pops up from time to time in the site header, she’s the cute super-skinny girl. []
  2. Jamie and Daniel swap guitar and bass, playing one person’s songs, then the other’s. []

A novel roundup

It’s been a month since I last posted (other than yesterday’s debate review), but I’ve read a lot of books in that time.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I learned a lot about Tina Fey’s life, for one, I learned that she has a big scar on her face. When she first started discussing it, I assumed she was joking, apparently she actually has a big scar on her face.

Definitely a lot of laughs in this book, but also a lot of insight into Fey’s mind. This was the first book I read on an iPad, as such I highlighted some of my favourite text.

Donna was an enigma wrapped in bacon wrapped in a crescent roll.

 

I never went to summer camp, as I was neither underprivileged nor Jewish nor extremely Christian, nor obese.

A childhood dream, realized (not the one where I’m being chased by Count Chocula)

It’s the same reason I don’t get Hooters. Why do we need to enjoy chicken wings and boobies at the same time? Yes, they are a natural and beautiful party of the human experience. And so are boobies.

My proudest moment as a child was the time I beat my uncle Pierre at Scrabble with the seven-letter word FARTING.

HA!

Red Snow by Susumu Katsumata

This collection of short stories didn’t thrill me, actually this one I disliked very much. The stories were dull, and seemed to have no point. I actually gave up on this one after about a hundred pages.

The drawings weren’t anything to keep me interested, and with lackluster stories, there was nothing to keep me, not even the tasty teas at Broadview Espresso.

I need to kill space so that the bottom of this image doesn’t overlap the next title.

My Most Secret Desire by Julie Doucet

Julie Doucet’s My Most Secret Desire is a series of short stories about her dreams. Much like Red Snow, the art wasn’t anything that appealed to me. Her giant-headed humans were awkward and the backgrounds were too detailed that they took away from the foreground.

Her stories were interesting at first, but they got to be too much of the same as the book went on. Her most interesting dreams were the ones where she was a man, mostly because the absurdity of them.

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

I adored this book. It’s the story of a couple in California who go their separate ways as she moves to New York.

It’s a sad tale of the man of the couple trying to figure out what to do with his life, and how to learn to relate to others.

He’s absolutely hopeless in all areas of his life, and has a sense of entitlement.

It’s a good 20-something coming of age story.

500 Years of Resistance by Gord Hill

This book is touching on an extremely important subject, which overshadows all the other books in this list. 500 Years of Resistance is the story of the First Nations’ resistance to the European invasion which nearly wiped out the people and cultures.

While it could be an extremely depressing story, it instead turns to show you the resilience of the a people. However, while Chester Brown’s Louise Riel told the story of of the Manitoba Metis so very well, this one in only 80 pages tells 500 years of history. Each story is a glazed over too quickly to give the reader any meat.

Overall, I would definitely suggest someone read this, but warn that the reader might then want to go and find more material to further their understanding of the events.

Bible Camp Bloodbath

Last night I read Joey Comeau’s Bible Camp Bloodbath, a tale of murder and death. I’ve long been a fan of Comeau’s work with Emily Horne called A Softer World, but I’ve also enjoyed two of his novels, Overqualified and One Bloody Thing After Another.

One of my favourite parts of this novel, is the blurb on the back, which reads:

Bible Camp Bloodbath is a story about a boy named Martin. Martin is going to Bible Camp, and he’s going to make a lot of new friends. He’s excited, too, but that’s probably because nobody told him what the book is called.

The book isn’t as funny as his previous horror novel, but it’s still got a few laughs in there among the blood and gore. While the previous one was more of a proper novel, Bible Camp Bloodbath reads like a ’70s low budget horror flick. It’s definitely a worthwhile read, and you’ll blow throw it in a few hours.