Wednesday, August 22, 2007


After slagging off Cars, I feel like I should give Pixar props for their latest movie Ratatouille. The reviews have been all positive so what more can I add?

Well, this: there's something really fantastic about the fact that they make you care about Remy and all the other rats individually, but when you seen them scurrying en masse, it's so completely creepy that it turned my stomach. Now that is impressive visual filmmaking.

That's all.

Scott Pilgrim

In other Canadiana news, I've recently read the first three volumes of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim comics from Oni Press. They feature slacker/bass player/moocher Scott Pilgrim and his friends in Toronto as they play in a band, meet new girl and boyfriends, break up, rollerblade through wormholes and have epic hand to hand battles to the death.

The plot involves videogame logic and manga inspired violence but overall, there's a sweet silliness to the characters that is very compelling. My favorite might be Kim the drummer who hates everyone and tries to gain sympathy from another character by telling her that she was "scrap booking" on a Saturday night (she wasn't, really). Scott's wry gay roommate Wallace also ranks highly (he and Scott's new girlfriend have a friendship based on a shared hatred of Scott's ex-).

And again, sounding like a lost Torontonian, I love the background touches of Canadian bands on t-shirts and posters, fight scenes set at Casa Loma or Honest Ed's, and late night discussions at Pizza Pizza or The Second Cup. They've even namechecked the Pacific Mall.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TV: The Pick-Up Artist

I'm ashamed to say, I read this book called The Game by Neil Strauss in the past year or so. The reason? Curiosity. I think I read a New York Times article by Strauss about a guy named Mystery who runs seminars on how to pick up women. And his course of study is based on sociological studies and millions of attempts. Yes, millions -- through the internet, apparently there is a whole subculture of guys who try to talk to women and then post about their success or failure, leading to dozens of other guys to try out the same line on women in a different city or club. (The sociology is all about proximity studies, coming off as non-threatening, etc.)

Oh, and just to make me seem less sick, I should point out that mostly these guys are super shy and just trying to figure out how to talk to a woman and maybe get a phone number. (Strauss' book has more about sex and drugs as he joins this subculture and the group gets crazed [mostly because their girlfriends dump them {duh}].)

The funny thing about all the stuff they teach is that they sound like how Julie and I socialize at weddings where we don't know anybody. Be nice, be different, don't linger.

Recently, one of my favorite TV critics (yes, I have them -- I also like the New Yorker's Tad Friend and Nancy Franklin [who seems really sweet in a special feature on the DVD of I Know Where I'm Going]), Heather Havrilesky of Salon wrote positively about a new show called The Pick-Up Artist, a reality competition featuring Mystery, aka Erik von Markovik.

It's pretty entertaining. The casting of the loser guys is great and they're problems are nicely diverse: "Needs to shed frat boy image" "talks too much" "too nervous around women" "way too energetic." There's also a guy who loves to breakdance at inappropriate times. But one thing that I really enjoy is the fact that Mystery is from Toronto, and I think some of the contestants are, too. The Canadian accent and the overall vibe reminds me of some friends from Toronto. The hidden camera scenes of the guys striking out in bars is also very amusing.

Anyway, there's a video highlight reel on the website (important for those of us without cable -- the show is on VH1).

Friday, August 17, 2007

China's outdoor exercise equipment

In Peter Hessler's Letter from China in the Feb 13 & 20, 2006 New Yorker, he writes:
Not long after I mobed into Little Ju-er, Beijing stepped up its campaign to host the 2008 Games, and traces of Olympic glory began to touch the hutong. In an effort to boost the athleticism and health of average Beijing residents, the government constructed hundreds of outdoor exercise stations. The painted steel equipment is well-intentioned but odd, as if the designer had caught a fleeting glimpse of a gym and then worked from memory. At the exercise stations, people can spin giant wheels with their hands, push big levers that offer no resistance, and swing on pendulums like children at a park.
We found this equipment in other cities as well, including near the first place we stayed in Shanghai. Julie and I kind of liked it; like a playground for adults while the kids played next door.

Here's the video:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Elvis Costello

He wants more of your money. Yep, Elvis Costello is at it again.

I've discovered this neat little audio newletter called a "podcast" and found one with Elvis C. talking about "The First Ten Years." It's pretty interesting but then it turns out that it's promoting yet another series of reissues for his albums. The end of each episode has featured a sneak peak at the reissue of My Aim Is True -- 26 never before released tracks! An entire live show from 1977!

As much as this has me curious, I have to admit that I feel like EC may be an acquired taste and the labels are basically fleecing the same people over and over again. Let's see how this works:

Elvis C. releases music on large pieces of plastic with grooves. Fan buys, enjoys.

Perhaps fan even buys a copy on tape for the car.

Possibly, in the 1980s, the fan buys a copy on compact disc, a format that will never degrade!

But wait, Rykodisk then bought out the rights to the early albums and produced beautiful repackagings with lots of bonus material -- b-sides, unreleased tracks and expanded liner notes.

Oh no! Rhino records then acquired the rights and put out super deluxe versions with even MORE tracks and new notes by Elvis Hisself!

And now Elvis C. is signed to Verve/Universal (the same as his wife, Diana Krall) and here comes the ultra deluxe version!

How many copies of My Aim Is True can you have? Five maybe. But how many copies of Goodbye Cruel World do you need?

To be honest, if there is an extra cds worth of material accompanying King of America I might have to get that one again.

Meanwhile, check out the podcast (I found it on iTunes).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nixon and Mao by Margaret MacMillan


I'm still posting about China. Lots of material to get to yet!

One of the books I read before going was Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World. Okay, to be honest, I read some chapters and skimmed a lot of the middle.

It's a good book, and the writing and research are both solid, but it covers a lot of old ground. That is, if you know something about the Nixon presidency, there are passages that won't tell you much; similarly about Mao and the two main lieutenants on either side, Kissinger and Chou En Lai. That said, if you know nothing about any one of these men, there is a chapter in this book that will very readably get you up to speed on the man's history up to 1972.

The ultimate disappointment is that the "week" didn't change the world -- the idea of the week did. Once Nixon said he would go and committed to it, the balance of power and trade began to shift in the world. On the actual trip, some amusing things happened, both sides were gracious at high levels and extremely curious at the level of ordinary Chinese and Chinese and American journalists. These make for some interesting anecdotes, but the truth is, Mao was in bad shape, he met Nixon one day and the rest was sight seeing.

When we were in China, someone told us a story about a tree that Nixon planted on his visit. Chou En Lai picked it out especially for the President and Nixon ceremoniously plunked it down in a hole in a park as a symbol of the growth of Sino-American friendship. It died. The person who told us the story implied that there was something about Nixon that killed the plant.

Another story is that Mao was getting extremely irritable throughout the meeting and finally asked Nixon if he minded if he (the Chairman) smoked. Nixon said, Go right ahead, and Mao proceeded to chain smoke two or three packs.

Anyhow, and good book on a particular historic moment, but better suited for those with less knowledge of either side (MacMillan is Canadian and maybe the book's audience lies in non-American, non-Chinese readers).

Friday, August 03, 2007


I was just praising Austin for something this morning -- "Hey, you're a really good boy" (I think he was sharing with Mari -- and then he said:

"I'm as good as the ocean gives shells to the shore."

It really threw me for a loop. Maybe he'll grow up to be Seamus Heaney. (Or maybe he'll grow up to be Jim Morrison.)