Friday, 30 October 2009


The AV Club started it, so I'm adding my contributions. What are yours?

Clay's All-time Scary Movies list, in descending order of terror:
  1. Eraserhead / Dead Ringers (tie)
  2. Audition
  3. The Exorcist
  4. The Vanishing (Dutch version)
  5. Ils (remade as The Visitors, with Liv Tyler) 
  6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original)
  7. The Orphanage
  8. Night of the Living Dead
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. Let the Right One In
  11. Psycho

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Extraordinary Canadians, both Living and Dead

Oh, if only.

If there were power in "hear hears," solemn nods and sensible sweaters, then the crowd assembled in the basement of St. Brigid's church earlier tonight could truly move mountains. See, this was the last night of the Ottawa International Writer's Festival, and to send it off in style we (yes, I was there, too) were treated to a panel discussion featuring four bona fide heavyweights of the Canadian and international literary scene: Mark Kingwell, Daniel Poliquin and Jane Urquhart, moderated by his former Excellence and, for one brief shining moment years and years ago, personal correspondant, John Ralston Saul.

Yes, it was indeed a tweedy crowd. But it had assembled in the basement of St. Brigid's (though given that the heat was off you could call it St. Frigid's) to hear the authors discuss their respective entries in Penguin Canada's new biography series of "Extraordinary Canadians." With 18 Canadians profiled thus far, you could make a joke that it's a pretty short list. But the subjects in this first go-round are indeed impressive and the matching of authors with subjects is apt. Also innovative is the approach: the subjects must first be dead and their stories can take no more than 200 pages, perhaps Penguin's nod to our shrinking attention spans.

In the series we have Margaret MacMillan profiling Stephen Leacock; Nino Ricci looks at Pierre Trudeau; Adrienne Clarkson takes on Norman Bethune.  For our purposes, Mark Kingwell took on Glenn Gould, Daniel Poliquin smoked a pack with Rene Lesveque and Jane Urquhart went to the strawberry social with Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Sweaters and chinstrokes aside, it was a fascinating evening. The discussion started off with each author commenting on the relationship between the biographer and subject - whether, for example, the author actually liked the person he or she was writing about, and whether or not their opinion of their subject changed over the course of the work. By the sounds of it, each author had a difficult relationship with their subject. Jane Urquhart was the most vocal about her difficulties spending time with Montgomery via her extensive and intensely private diaries - an experience she likened to spending time with a relative you don't really like. Yet each author expressed a deep respect for their subject as well, if only because their subjects themselves had the same difficulties relating to themselves or their times. In Montgomery's case, the international acclaim she achieved through Anne Shirley brought her no closer to being accepted into her Presbyterian society, an acceptance Urquhart says she desperately craved. In Gould's case it was the need to control his image, his surroundings and his art to preserve his aesthetic vision. I found Mark Kingwell's comments the most interesting, if only because I was already a big Gould fan and most familiar with his (and Kingwell's) work. I also found Kingwell's take on Gould - about whom he had little prior knowledge - to the be most interesting. As befits a professor of philosophy, Kingwell viewed Gould as a philosopher whose art was an invitation to his aesthetic vision. With Gould, Kingwell says, art and thought are one and it's only through careful, attentive listening that you can begin to understand what the man was trying to say.

I also got some Christmas shopping done.

And to think, Smithers...

" laughed when I bought Ticketmaster: Nooobody's going to pay a hundred-percent service charge."

"It's a policy that ensures a healthy mix of the rich and the ignorant, sir."

Well, consider me ignorant; because after paying Ticketmaster service fees twice, I sure as hell ain't rich.

See, here I was, ordering tickets over the phone for two different concerts. The first, in November, is to see The Sunparlour Players. The second, in December, is to see Finest Kind at their annual Christmas concert.

Both are at the Black Sheep Inn. Tickets for both are available through TicketWeb.

Seems simple enough.

And yet.

Follow me as I relive the painful and expensive ticket purchasing experience!

"Hello, my name is Josh*, thank you for calling TicketMaster."

I thought this was TicketWeb. I'm confused. But let's proceed.

"Ok. I'd like to order some tickets for two different concerts, please."

"Ok. What's the first one?"

"Sunparlour Players at the Black Sheep, Nov. 14."

"Ok, one second. I have to log into my system first."

Odd. I'd have thought you'd have done that already. Anyway, onward...

"Ok, here it is. How many would you like to buy?"

"Two, please."

"Ok, I have to mention that for this purchase there will be a service charge of seven-fifty."

Jesus. That's half the price of a ticket.

"Ok, fine. But before that, can I order the other tickets?"

"Um, I actually have to complete this purchase first. Your credit card number, please?"

---Some time passes, in which our protagonist provides his address, credit card number, email and phone number----

"Ok. Can I order the other tickets now?"

"Yes. But one second. I have to switch into our other system. What was it again?"

"Finest Kind at the Black Sheep. December thirteenth."

"Yeah, it's not coming up on my screen."

"But on the site it says they're both available through TicketWeb"

"Yah, well, some are TicketWeb, some are TicketMaster."


"I hope the system picks this up, otherwise I'm going to have to ask you for your address and credit card again."

Seriously? The system doesn't know who I am now?

"Yah, sorry about this. What was your address again?"

---Some time passes, in which our protagonist provides his address, credit card number, email and phone number----

"Ok. For four tickets, the service charge for this purchase will be thirty-five dollars."

No, no it won't. This is one purchase, not two. It's only two because your stupid systems don't talk to each other. That's not my problem. It is, however, my money.

"Ok. Thank you."

Ticketmaster, you are pure, concentrated evil. 

I tried finding that Simpsons clip on Youtube, but only found something close in Spanish. For some reason Fox doesn't care about Simpsons clips on youtube, provided they're in Spanish.

Enjoy. I know Ticketmaster will.

*Not Josh. I can't remember the guy's name. Nor is this a complaint against Josh. He was as much at the mercy of his systems as was I. Poor guy was probably just starting his shift, too.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

(Yet another) TIFF Dispatch: Valhalla Rising

"These aren't pacifist vikings."

And with that intro began my highly anticipated trip through Valhalla Rising, the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn (the latest from Danish wunderkind behind The Pusher trilogy) and starring Mads Mikkelsen, also known as Le Chiffre from Casino Royale.

The story is simple. Essentially it's an exploration of the nascent culture clash between Pagan and Christian Danes. I'm not really up on my Danish history, but if Valhalla Rising has any ring of historical truth to it, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark centuries before Hamlet's uncle slipped into mommy's sheets.

Centuries before designer teak furniture.

Yes, even centuries before LEGO.

In Valhalla, Mikkelsen plays One-Eye, a man so dangerous he's kept chained to the rocks by his own tribe, let out only to fight intruders and dispatch of them in the most brutal fashion possible. And oh, fight he does. We hear the wet crunch of every bone as it cracks beneath One-Eye's club. His only human contact is from a small boy who feeds him some filthy-looking sludge between the bars of his cage. Once One-Eye earns his freedom (the details of how escape me now), he and the boy set forth to return to his homeland.

It's here that he encounters a group of Christian vikings, intent on taking their crusade to the holy land but not terribly skilled in navigation. Somehow (again, the details escape me) their boat ends up somewhere that looks like North America, where against their better judgement they must rely on One-Eye and his youthful companion to either find Jerusalem, build a new Jerusalem, or get back into the boat and start again.

Things don't really go well.

Valhalla Rising has lots to recomend it - the stark Scottish scenery makes what I can only guess is a great stand-in for Denmark some time during the Dark Ages - some scenes will chill you straight to the bones. Mikkelsen is a brooding, brutish presence whose silence (he has not a single word, let alone line, in the film) makes him doubly threatening. And hey - who can argue with Vikings? I did, however, find the pacing as tedious as the translatlantic boat ride and after a while found myself not caring if any of them really made it back home.

Need other opinions? Here's The AV Club's take and here's the TIFF page

NEXT UP: The Ape

Thursday, 8 October 2009

TIFF Dispatch: The Invention of Lying

I'm going to play around with the order here, seeing as The Invention of Lying is now playing and a review after the fact probably won't be of interest to anyone except me and the people from the future who read this blog as some sort of archaeological evidence of what people did to pass their time in our era.


"I just thought of vanilla and skunks."

Perhaps the biggest (and most amusing) lie in The Invention of Lying is that screenwriters (and writers in general) enjoy such a high profile and are held by our culture in such high esteem. What's not a lie is that Ricky Gervais is not attractive. He knows it. We know it. And he puts this shared (if unacknowledged) understanding at the heart of The Invention of Lying, inviting us to go along with him as he exposes the uglier points of our collective humanity.

Wait. Let me back up. In case you're still unfamiliar with the premise, Gervais has invented a world where no one has ever told a lie. It looks just like ours - actually, it looks like a small town in New England where they take pictures for LL Bean catalogues. It's not that people are exceedingly honest by choice; no, they're simply incapable of lying.

Early on the premise does offer up some genuine laughs as Gervais presents a variety of everyday scenarios where it's very, very common to lie. When he shows up for a date with love interest Jennifer Garner, for example, she bluntly declares "I don't find you attractive." Their waiter greets them with a deadpan "I'm embarrassed I work here." TV ads for Coke reveal "it's really just sugar and fizzy water, but we'd like you to continue drinking it." The rest home where Gervais' mother lives is adorned with the sign "A Sad Old Place Where Old People Come to Die."

And so on.

Things get really interesting (and the film gets its title) when through some unexplained synapse malfunction, Gervais - having lost his job as a screenwriter and behind on his rent - tells the bank teller that he has more money in his bank account than he actually does. From there we follow along as his newfound ability first presents unlimited opportunities for selfish fun (To a gorgeous blonde he says "The world will end unless we have sex right now.") through to his, seemingly inventing religion in a hilarious echo of Graham Chapman's "I'm not the Messiah" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The film does follow some rom-com conventions - we don't know why Gervais finds Garner so desirable, for example - we're just expected to go with it, and the film does bog down in the third act as you sense the gears winding down. But it also contains some amusing cameos - watch for nearly unrecognizable Edward Norton and Rob Lowe delivers a pitch-perfect performance as a smarmy climber and Gervais' chief rival for Garner's DNA. "I don't understand you," he declares flatly. "And I fear things I don't understand." There's a question at the film's heart - are we really as ugly as all that? In Gervais' willingness to mine his self-loathing for comic gold the answer, sadly, may be "yes." What you'll gain from it as well is a new appreciation for the ways white lies, embellishments and selective omissions keep us from killing each other, or in some cases, ourselves.

Oh - nearly forgot to mention: The Invention of Lying is brought to you in part by the fine folks at CVS/Pharmacy, Budweiser and Pizza Hut.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

TIFF Dispatch: The Damned United

Long time no post. Been otherwise occupied with my other calling - namely, tagging photos over on Flickr. But now that Michael Sheen's face is in all the popup and banner ads on all my favorite Web sites, it must mean that The Damned United is quickly approaching its U.S. release date.

This was, I think, my first gala premier - meaning there would be a good chance of seeing some of the principals involved in making the film, and I was not disappointed. Festival CEO Piers Handling (at least I think it was Piers Handling - balcony seats at Roy Thompson Hall are serious nosebleed territory) introduced Tom Hooper, the director, who subsequently introduced Michael Sheen - he of Frost/Nixon and The Queen - and who plays Brian Clough, the main subject of The Damned United.

"I wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the country, but I'm in the top one."

There are (at least) two ways to watch The Damned United. The first is to enjoy it as a straightforward accounting of the managerial career of Brian Clough, the football manager who took sleepy Derby County to the top of England's Premier League and who for 44 fateful days helmed the famed Leeds United following the departure of Don Revie, who had taken Leeds to the top of English football in what Clough saw as an ugly, brutish style.

Taken at this level, the film succeeds marvellously - the period detail is perfect, the pitches are soggy and the players - even those playing for Leeds - are a scraggly bunch who despite their champion status still travel by bus. The Barclays Premier League this is not. Jim Broadbent is a hoot to watch as the crusty Derby owner who's content to keep the team playing (if not exactly winning) and Timothy Spall is equally impressive - as always - as the late Peter Taylor, Clough's right-hand man and talent scout.

The other way to watch The Damned United is as a character study of a brash, overconfident and driven man who's convinced that there's no point in playing the game unless you can beat the best and be the best. It's hard to argue with Clough's philosophy of the game - "Football is a beautiful game. And it should be played beautifully," he tells anyone who will listen. Clough is talented, hardassed and convinced of his own greatness, even if he's not always sure of his next move. Still, you want him to succeed - he clearly loves his players and he does bring out their best. But his decision to take the Leeds job without Taylor and his subsequent failure reveals his flaws as well.

Clough is often referred to as "the best football manager England never had," and it's not hard to see why. A pre-credits postscript recounts his continued success while his predecessor Revie fades into obscurity.

Whichever way you choose to watch The Damned United, you're bound to enjoy it. GOAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Salvation in shag carpeting

Coupons to the Home and Design show say "YOU MUST TAKE THIS TO THE EVENT FOR REDEMPTION"

how good can these fixtures be?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

More Corn!

DSC_1342, originally uploaded by claydevoute.

These were at least 10 feet high if they were an inch.