July 22, 2010

Derek Webb takes to the Streets

Nashville singer-songwriter Derek Webb has crafted a lovely acoustic cover of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" for a unique project called "Democracy Vol. 1".

Webb was part of contemporary Christian band Caedmon's Call and left to pursue a solo career. His most recent album, Stockholm Syndrome (2009) caused controversy among the Christian music industry for its explicit lyrics and content. 

July 20, 2010

Mind Games

What’s the most tenacious parasite? An idea. Only one idea from human’s brain can build cities.
One idea, can transform the world and re-write the rules. That’s why, I have to take this. 

This line, spoken by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), drives the concept of "Inception", an intriguing, suspenseful, and delightful sci-fi romp and certainly one of the most unique films of the decade. The movie is an excellent companion to "Shutter Island", DiCaprio's other 2010 outing, wherein he plays yet another tormented widower.

Much is being written about the game-changing special effects and that "Inception" will be another high water mark in the tradition of "The Matrix". All true...However, it the relationship between Cobb and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) that is the heart of "Inception"; what drives the protagonist to behave the way he does and it explains his motivations and purpose.

Most films you see are instantly forgettable. "Inception" is impossible to forget, as it winds its way into your mind (like those worms in "The Wrath of Khan") and plants itself into your subconscious. There's a lot going on in this movie--probably too much for just one viewing and its non-linear, multi-layered story telling is both apt and rapturous. Although I am biased, DiCaprio anchors this film in a way that really needed to happen. I have read that it was DiCaprio who pushed Nolan to increase the emotional core of the film and the actor's instincts were on the mark. Layers of dream scapes, floating bodies, and collapsing worlds mean little if you do not care about the people inside them.

Here, Nolan has crafted a taught and riveting narrative that keeps you watching and listening. I pity anyone who left to go to the washroom. Missing just five minutes of the story  is enough for some serious knowledge deficit. The film deserves an Oscar nod for film editing, as it is a pristine, fast, and sleek cut of an ambitious idea.

One reviewer called the last shot in the film a joke on the audience by Nolan and that many have booed the ending. I wholeheartedly disagree. The ending broke my heart, as I believe it was intended to. Nolan respects his audience too much to merely wink at them and mock their attention. Audiences members who booed have been sadly induced to cynicism by years of pap from such filmmakers as Shyamalan and the b-level movies that pass for horror these days. Rather, Nolan provides a clue to his motivations in the last heart-wrenching scene between Cobb and Mal in their apartment. It is the most moving and important scene in the film and shows how strong of an actor DiCaprio really is. It delivers a critical revelation that is both devastating and revelatory. The "was it?/wasn't it?" ending is the perfect way to leave this fantastic tale of digging into your subconscious...

July 14, 2010

A spoonful of love

The late Zalman "Zal" Yanovsky (pictured at left) is best known and celebrated worldwide as the guitarist for The Lovin' Spoonful, that great 1960s band known for such hits as "Summer in the City", "Do You Believe in Magic", and "Daydream".

But for Kingstonians, Mr. Yanovsky is the beloved co-founder of Chez Piggy, the city's most celebrated restaurant. Chez Piggy opened in February 1979 and was packed from the start. Tucked away in a courtyard "The Pig", as it is locally known, is such a part of Kingston that life without it would be a lesser life indeed. A meal on the Pig's patio in the summer is a rite of passage, and decades of Kingstonians, RMC cadets, and Queen's students have celebrated life's most important moments amidst the thick stone walls of the 1812 livery stable.

By the early 1990s Yanovsky and his wife, Rose Richardson, realized that there was demand for a bakery to satisfy the restaurant's and their customers' desire for good artisan bread. They launched Pan Chancho in 1994 in a small red-brick store opposite St George's Cathedral. It was a  foodie destination, for great breads, cheeses, and other European style foods.

Pan Chancho was so successful that it was obvious the cramped quarters were not sufficient. The couple found a beauty of a limestone building on lower Princess St that was built in 1833 as a bank. It was vacant after numerous tenants, including a hamburger joint. After a nearly miraculous renovation the new 10,000 square-foot home opened in March 2002. It remains a beacon for regional foodies and is one of the veritable gems of the city.

Tragically, Yanovsky passed away suddenly in December 2002. His beloved Rose succumbed to cancer in March 2005.  I cannot say I knew Zal personally, but I  met him on numerous visits to his businesses and he always left an indelible impression. He was an ebullient and boisterous character, full of life and clearly passionate about food. My impressions of Rose was that she was the quieter but solid presence in his life; the ideal ballast for his exuberance. Together they created some real magic that lives on in these two marvellous entities that house their spirit.

We just finished watching the cancelled 2005 ABC series "Invasion" and it was quite intriguing. I was sad to see it end so abruptly. Set in the Florida Everglades the story follows a blended family as they recover from a hurricane and, later, the apparent invasion of a foreign entity into their lives. Conceived by Shaun Cassidy (half-brother of 70s icon David Cassidy), the show was unjustly canned after being poorly managed by ABC. A similar fate had befallen other sci-fi jewels such as "Firefly" (2002) and "Surface" (2005).

Like Whedon had with "Firefly", Cassidy's ace in his hand was to centre the story on a family. In Whedon's story the family was a crew on a space freighter, while Cassidy took a very contemporary occurrence--a blended family--and stuck them in the midst of chaos here on Earth.

As Cassidy says in an interview on the DVD the reality is that the family are going through the chaos of the conflict inherent within families that have two sets of parents. Both Whedon and Cassidy anchor their fantastic stories around realistic characters. Most importantly, you care about what happens to each member of the family; a deft result of pathos, something so few blockbuster movies ever seem to remember to include (yeah, I am talking to you "2012", "Transformers 2", "Wolfman", "Clash of the Titans", etc).

While cut down this series is worth watching. With 22 episodes the creators have enough room to develop robust story arcs and the show's mythology. It's far less pretentious than "Lost" and equally engaging, although the last episode's riveting cliffhanger ending will break your heart since you know you will never know what happens. Full marks go to the cast, led by the exceptional William Fichtner ("Prison Break"). 

July 13, 2010

Hot time, summer in the city

With the temperatures soaring it has been mighty nice to have a little outdoor escape hatch, in the form of our cute, albeit rickety, rear deck. The deck faces east and we can see the curved white roof of the K-ROCK Centre hovering above our grocery store (green roof).

The afternoons are blissfully shaded and we have a great breeze because of the nearby waterfront and our height on the second storey. 

In the distance to the left (north) you can see the red roof of Fort Frontenac (c. 1783) that is the home to the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College.  On the other site of the fort is the Cataraqui River, which drains into the St. Lawrence River.

25th anniversary of Live Aid

July 13 marks the 25th anniversary of Live Aid, which is hard to believe. It was a great gesture of consciousness- raising and fund-raising about the plight of the starving in Ethiopia. It was an event that completely caught my imagination and stirred my sense of justice. I was all of 13. I remember hanging out to watch the broadcast, which was a massive technical feat at the time. The concert was live in London (UK) and Philadelphia (USA) and telecast around the world.

There were many memorable acts, some of whom I had heard of thanks to my mom's impressive record collection; notably Queen, David Bowie, The Police, and many others. But for me, Live Aid will always be about U2's 12-minute version of "Bad", a song that just seemed to say it all and Bono's famous leap off the stage to save a girl in the audience from getting crushed.  Ignore the godawful mullet and enjoy a superstar band emerging before your eyes in one of live rock's greatest performances (plus a hilarious VCR recording blip).

You can also enjoy a quick clip of Bono on July 9 reminiscing on the event here.