Sunday, December 20, 2015

Slow down

If it's the weekend before Christmas then the Great Iqaluit Exodus must be well under way. For all my theories that there would be fewer people flying out this year due to the high cost of plane tickets the lines at the airport were biblical. There were pictures on Facebook and Twitter of the security line stretching out the front door of the airport and down the steps. Nothing quite like having to wait outside in -20C weather.

This is our 11th Christmas in Nunavut and I think we've been out three, maybe four times. And as we get older it's becoming harder and harder to muster the will power to brave airplanes and airports during holidays. I had no shortage of complaining in my social media feeds the last couple of days about people travelling. And yes, it would be lovely to see some friends and family or go some place warm. Today we got hit with the annual cold snap that Iqaluit gets every year around Christmas. It was -56C when I woke up this morning and apparently it was below -60C for awhile this morning. So yes, going to Cuba or somewhere might be nice.

But this morning after I got up, Cathy and I spent the morning in the living room. The dog was being a nuisance, but a charming one (he begged to go outside, discovered it was "oh my god" cold and promptly headed back inside in something under 60 seconds). After that I set up the Apple TV to stream Christmas music from my computer. Soon enough photos started streaming across the TV from past vacations in Hawaii, California, Australia....I mean, it's not the same as being warm, but it's a nice reminder.

Cathy sat on the couch reading a book on her iPad and drinking her coffee. I was in my chair (until Boo stole it when I got up to get coffee) reading Molly Crabapple's autobiography 'Drawing Blood". (initial review - Molly Crabapple was braver and more fearless at 17 than I have been at any point in my life). We both glanced out the window at different times, admiring the light that you get at this time of the year, but pretty much vowing that this was a jammies day and that neither one of us was going outside, although Boo made liars out of us, but only for moments.

Honestly, it was as relaxing a day as either one of us has had in weeks. The last six weeks or so have been stressful. We've both been in to work on weekends trying to catch up on stuff. A weekend of sloth is a nice treat. A break over Christmas where we can spend many days reading or rewatching movies or TV shows - we're currently binge watching Fringe - will be a much needed break.

Oh, and I got to see Star Wars on Thursday, so that was good. I won't write about that yet, but the moratorium on my thoughts about that are probably going to last until next weekend. At that point, I figure nearly all my friends will have seen the movie, so talking about it is fair game.

Last Five
1. Hotel plaster - Nicole Atkins
2. Disaster button - Snow Patrol
3. Set our running - Neko Case*
4. Cold cold heart - Norah Jones
5. Drop the bombs - Matt Mays

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


I confess, when I found out my brother-in-law was getting into the tonic water business, my reaction was "ooooookay. Sure." And then he named it Third Place Tonic, which is weird thing to call your product, but ok (there's a story behind it, honest).

I did not see the demand for high end artisanal tonic water. I'm pretty sure the last time I had tonic water was in Sri Lanka when a group of us went on a quest to find some to use with the rather large bottle of gin we'd acquired.

Then again, I'm not much of a drinker. Or entrepreneur, apparently. Because Danny has been having just a wee bit of success with it, judging by this CBC story and this story from the Overcast. Oh, and here's their website.

Now, ordinarily getting some positive write-ups in the local press doesn't mean success. Except everything I've heard says they can't keep the stuff in stock. They bring it to some high end restaurants in town and it sells out. They bring it to a few cafes in town and it sells out in days. I have friends who have tried it and are converted to the religion. I have another friend in San Francisco who is desperate to try and get a few bottles.

So maybe this is a thing. I've been away from Newfoundland for 10 years. The place has obviously changed. I'm still floored any time I read articles in national publications discussing St. John's food scene as one of the best in Canada. So high end tonic water is now a thing.

And, you know, good on him. This is probably the third most interesting thing that's happened to Danny this year, what with the birth of his first daughter (and my first niece) Charlie, and also becoming seriously ill last summer. So if the good news and bounce back from a rough summer is in the form of expensive tonic water, more power to him.

While it's not tonic water, we have our own new business opening in Iqaluit that has people excited. A new restaurant is opening, well, any day now. And of all the kinds of restaurants that could open here in town that I think would be successful - fish and chips, Italian, Indian, etc - I would not have picked barbecue. And yet, Big Racks Barbecue is gearing up to open. It's eagerly anticipated, to say the least. I have at least one friend who is going to kick in the front door and demand ribs if they don't open up pretty soon.

I'll let you know if it's any good as soon as we try the place out. New restaurants are rare beasts in Iqaluit. Other than some food trucks (oh, and Starbucks), I think the last new restaurant to open in town was Yummy Shawarma, and that's been open for at least three years now.

Entrepreneurship is not something I think I'd ever be particularly good at. Too risk adverse, I suspect. Although I was oddly spit-balling a few ideas if I ever felt the urge to blow my life saving and Cathy lost her mind and let me do it.

First idea is a pet store. Not one that sells cats and dogs, although I would work with the local shelter. But a store that sold decent pet food and supplies, and maybe had some pets like fish, birds, hamsters, etc. Of course, I'd have to check to see if you could ever bring those kinds of pets into Nunavut. I vaguely recall the Government of Nunavut having laws against bringing non-native species into the territory. I think they turn a benign blind eye to it, as there are certain plenty of cats, and some hamsters, ferrets and other critters. And while Shih Tzus are technically dogs it's hard to look at them in quite the same way you would look at a husky.

So yeah, I think it could do ok, actually, if you could overcome some of the logistical challenges of getting certain things like goldfish here safely.

Second idea is a proper bakery. NorthMart has one, but it's very bland. There's I Like Cake, but they sell mostly, well, cake, cupcakes and cookies. I mean a place that sells bread, bagels, croissants...that sort of thing. Something like Georgetown Bakery in St. John's. God, I miss that place.

My plan involves flying back to Newfoundland and kidnapping four grandmothers, maybe stop off on the way back in Quebec and grab a couple from there, and then bring them here and let them bake up a storm. Old fashion three-bun loaves of bread like your nan used to make. I'd even call the place Nan's Bakery. Oh, and throw in some bannock for good measure.

You'd be fighting people off with sticks. You start selling hot, fresh out of the over homemade bread up here and you would do quite well.

Anyway, if anyone wants to steal one of those idea, go right ahead. I'll certainly give you my money...

Last Five
1. Star witness - Neko Case*
2. Bad blood - Post Modern Jukebox featuring Aubrey Logan
3. Field behind the plow (live) - Stan Rogers
4. Water in hell - Broken Social Scene
5.  The ocean (live) - Tegan and Sara

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Recent geekery

Some random thoughts on recent geek TV and some little sci-fi movie coming up...

1. Jessica Jones - First of all, let us take a moment to appreciate the miracle that we were able to watch this show at all. Nunavut based internet is a horror show...unless you're on Xplornet. I was ready to light up Xplornet earlier this year because of the truly dumbass way they were handling a transfer to a new system. But now that it's all settled down, it's working pretty good. We were able to stream all 13 episodes with no problems, and it didn't destroy our bandwidth cap of the month. Miraculous.

As for the show itself, feminists are going to be writing doctoral papers on that show for years. I don't mean that as a bad thing. Every time I read a review or a commentary it points out a new level to the show that I missed the first time around (I'm a middle-age white male living in Canada. Let's say I have a privileged existence). But there's a lot of smart feminist commentary going on there, but that in no way becomes preachy. It's a well-acted, mostly well written show that's deservedly making a lot of year-end lists.

I said mostly...I can find a few flaws with it. At 13 episodes it did feel a bit dragged out (Kilgrave gets away one two many times). I think 10 would have been a rock solid series. While they established early on why Jessica didn't want to take cases while dealing with Kilgrave, it still would have been nice to have seen her do more detective work. But it's nitpicks. I thought Marvel/Netflix would have a hard time topping Daredevil, or find a better villain that Wilson Fisk, but Jessica Jones is easily that show's equal.

Looking forward to Luke Cage. If Jessica Jones has smart things to say about feminism, I suspect that show is going to have interesting things to say about race.

2. Supergirl - Pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum. If Jessica Jones is entertainment for adults, with mature themes, some deeply flawed and unlikeable characters (including the heroine), Supergirl is all sunshine and inspirational. It can be a bit...cloying, at times, and I could do without everyone telling Kara that she's awesome, but it's mostly harmless and enjoyable. Also, Melissa Benoist is some of the best super hero casting I've seen so far, including the movies.

But I do wish it would...settled down a bit more. It still feels a little over-eager and earnest. I wish it would relax and get comfortable in its skin. The Flash, which is by the same show-runner, is much more comfortable in its super-hero universe. Supergirl is still trying to figure things out.

Although the episode I watched this week, which was kind of meh and felt very much like a "we need to make a cheap episode because we have some expensive special effects ones coming up" had at least one deeply cool moment that I didn't expect. A big reveal at the end that had me laughing out loud (and deeply confusing Cathy). I do love it when these shows actually seem to love the source material and play with the comic book universe as opposed to kind of reluctantly acknowledging that yes, these characters come from comic books.

It's my favourite reveal of the year. Maybe even better than King Shark's cameo in Flash, which had me laughing for a solid five minutes.

3. Dr. Who - Thank God. After a couple of deeply mediocre seasons with only a few really good episodes scattered throughout, a really solid season with only one real clunker and one episode - "Heaven Sent" - that people are going to be talking about for years.

I'm also really growing quite fond of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Last season I think they were still trying to figure out what kind of Doctor he was going to be. I like the aging rock star thing they went with this year. And with due respect to previous Doctors, who were good, Capaldi is a much better actor. It comes from the extra years of experience.

Also, it was a decent send off for Clara, with some nice misdirection along the way. Cathy, and a few other Whovians I know, hate Clara. I never minded her. She's the only companion to graduate to being a pseudo Time Lord. I like that.

Now to wait for the Christmas special with River. It looks fun.

4. Seriously, Showcase and Space are airing Childhood's End and The Expanse against each other? Two of the biggest sci-fi TV show events of the year, and this is the plan. Dead clever, that is...

5. The Librarians - Which is mostly harmless, although there is the bizarre thing where I'm kind of meh for the first 35 minutes or so, and then it gets really fun in the last 20 minutes. They really need to work on that. Oh, and more John Laroquette. Man, he walks on the screen and just steals the room. The rest of the cast really need to step up their game, especially when he's on screen.

6. Finally, I'm pleased to say that with the new Star Wars coming out next week I know virtually nothing about it. This was a very conscious decision made ages ago to pay very little attention to the movie. I watched a couple of the trailers, but I've avoided most of the speculation online, and as the movie launch date has drawn closer, stayed away from the promo campaign now in full swing.

There are two reasons for this. Although I normally don't mind being a spoiled a bit by movies (just because I know something happens doesn't mean I know why it happened. That's the interesting part), I thought going into a new Star Wars completely free of any knowledge might be a refreshing experience.

And, I admit, part of it was sheltering myself and managing expectations. I'm in the long list of people who were desperately disappointed by the prequels. Consider this part of managing expectations. The less I know, the less likely I am to be pissed off if it's bad. And considering JJ Abrams has made plenty of things that have pissed me off (ie. the last two Star Treks. Mercifully, I bailed on Lost after the first season, so I didn't waste about 100 hours of my life on the rest of the show.)

So we'll see. It's supposed to be opening in Iqaluit on December 18 and I'll try and get tickets for opening night. I hope it's good, but if it's not, I'm going to be ok. Probably.

Last Five
1. I can't hear you - Dead Weather
2. See me, feel me - The Who
3. The sick bed of Curchulainn - The Pogues*
4. Eddie's ragga - Spoon
5. The other side - Ron Sexsmith

Friday, December 04, 2015

Sinking feeling

Way back when I used to review movies for The Muse and The Express I remember that it was always easier to write about movies I hated. Probably not much of a surprise for people who knew me back then. Let's just say I had negative energy to burn and it was easy to sit down at pound away at a keyboard about why the movie was so very, very offensive to me.

I mean, nothing I wrote ever topped my friend Andrew's review of the movie Ski School, which he called Ski Sluts throughout the review. A review so singularly vicious that the local cinemas pulled The Muse's movie review passes for two years. But, you know, I had some game. I could bring the pain when I had to.

But it's not like I want the movies to be bad. I recall someone giving Siskel and Ebert grief, saying how hard a job could it really be to sit in a movie theatre all day and watch movies. Until they pointed out how many hours of their lives they had wasted watching absolute dreck by people not even trying to make something useful. I believe Siskel said it damaged the soul after awhile. I can believe that.

So yes, it's easier to hate on something bad...but I'd just as soon be challenged to write something good about a great movie.

I've also been pretty good at watching movie trailers and getting a fairly accurate vibe on if I'm going to like the movie. For example, I saw the trailers for the Fantastic Four earlier this year and was immediately filled with dread. I really, really wanted that movie to be good, because I have a great fondness for the characters. But it just looked so...wrong.

And wouldn't you know it. Terrible movie. One of the worst reviewed ones of the year.

I was feeling apprehensive about the latest Bond after seeing the trailers, and I was right. I was feeling underwhelmed about the last Hunger Games after the trailers, and I was spot on with that one (the series ended on a decidedly "meh" note). I really try to go into these things with an open mind and not pre-judge. And I can be wrong - I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be terrible based on the trailers - but not very often.

So when we had a tale of two trailers the last week or so - Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs. Superman - I had very different reactions.

Captain America...sign me up. Nice emotional context, some big fight scenes to look forward to and everyone looks so relaxed and comfortable with their roles at this point. It's like the latest instalment from old friends. I could be wrong, but I think that's going to be a movie I'm going to enjoy.

I've yet to see a trailer for Batman vs. Superman that does not fill me with dread. I don't want the movie to suck. I want a good movie, so they go and spin off, maybe get a fun Justice League movie, maybe get a really good Wonder Woman movie...

...but man, it just looks awful.

It just looks so dark and grim. No one ever cracks a smile. It looks like everybody is just massively full of their own self-importance. It looks cool but it doesn't look fun.

The two best online comments I've seen so far.

1. That Jesse Eisenberg appears to be playing Lex Luthor as if he was Mark Zuckerberg doing too much cocaine at a party. Sounds about right.

2. Someone else said the movie looked like a 90s DC comic, a comment that chilled me right to the bone. Sure there were good DC super hero comics in the 90s. But it was the decade of Knightfall (Batman gets his back broken), Death of Superman, polybags and foil covers. It was a decade where gimmicks and stunts covered up the fact that the art and stories were often not very good.

That's what I'm afraid what we have with Batman vs. Superman. Dark, grim, flashy, cool moments and utterly lacking any substance. Say what you will about Marvel movies, they're fun. I really doubt this one will be.

I hope I'm wrong. Got the funny feeling I'll look back on this in March after watching the movie and see that I was eerily psychic.

Last Five
1. Downtown - Matt Mays
2. 19th nervous breakdown - Rolling Stones
3. Sick of you - Cake
4. By Bye love - The Cars
5. Gimme something - Ryan Adams*