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Sunday, February 27, 2011

A nobody's predictions of Oscar winners

Here is a layman's perspective (mine) on who will, and who should, win Oscars in major categories during the 83rd Academy Awards tonight. 

Actor in a Leading Role

• Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
• Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
• Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
• Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
• James Franco in “127 Hours”

My guess for winner: Eisenberg. Besides, it would be kind of tacky for a co-host of the Oscars to win a major award this early in the list.

Who should win: Firth. I haven't even seen the movie, but I'm hearing he's great in it and I believe it.

Actor in a Supporting Role

• Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
• John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
• Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
• Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
• Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

My guess for winner: Bale. Because the Academy is perhaps afraid he'll have a temper tantrum if he doesn't win.

Who should win: Rush. Just because he's Geoffrey Rush. And if he can play a pirate that well...

Actress in a Leading Role

• Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
• Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
• Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
• Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
• Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

My guess for winner: Portman. Her performance was so over-the-top that it may have confused the Academy into thinking it was brilliant (not to say it wasn't pretty good).

Who should win: Williams. For no other reason than that she dragged me into Dawson's Creek, and I didn't mind drowning.

Actress in a Supporting Role

• Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
• Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
• Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
• Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
• Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

My guess for winner: Bonham Carter. Because she's the only one I've heard of aside from Amy Adams.

Who should win: Bonham Carter. Because her shoes are cool.

Foreign Language Film

• “Biutiful” Mexico
• “Dogtooth” Greece
• “In a Better World” Denmark
• “Incendies” Canada
• “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

My guess for winner: Incendies. I've heard only amazing things about this film.

Who should win: Incendies. Because I love when Canada competes in a foreign language category.

Best Picture

• “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
• “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
• “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
• “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
• “The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
• “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
• “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ce├ín Chaffin, Producers
• “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
• “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
“Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

My guess for winner: The Social Network. Do half a billion people use True Grit? Exactly.

Who should win: The King's Speech. I haven't seen the movie, but I really do want to hear what the King has to say (there's a lot to be said for good promotion).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Supply and Demand: A real Gashole

For any of you who may be thinking the conflicts in northern Africa (ie. Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in case you've been living under a rock) aren't going to affect you here in relatively cozy Canada:

You're wrong.

Aside from the fact that, at this rate, Africa could become a fully-democratic power with more than a billion people  (compared to about half a billion in all of North America), the result of the anti-government fighting across the big pond will likely hit you all on this side of the planet right where it hurts the most: the wallet. 

The civil uprising in oil-rich Libya is making investors nervous which is affecting the price of crude. Which will inevitably mean you will pay more at the pump.

Yes, I'm talking to you, guy with the eight-seater SUV that requires 100L of fuel. Actually, you probably don't care because you're driving a $45,000+ vehicle. Maybe I should direct this warning at the sedan/compact car driving individuals who chose their car for economy and/or environmental reasons.

Two days ago it cost me (actually, my wife-to-be) $60 to fill up my four-cylinder Hyundai. What? 

That price will only shoot up. 

Is fuel production/supply really decreasing in Libya as reports state? Who really knows for sure, except those who are producing it. But it's a great excuse for the oil giants to adjust prices in their favour. For as long as they want. 

Anyways, if you need gas, now's the time to do it before the ripple effect puts a ripple in your wallet.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

City vs. Country (Or, Concrete vs. Cornfield)

Now that I've experienced living in the 'city' (ie. anywhere south of Hwy. 7) and the 'country' (ie. anywhere north of Hwy. 7), I feel I have earned some authority (from myself) to offer observations on both.

Here is my unsolicited report on how I see the city and country (and how I think they see each other).

On people... 

The country: Everyone knows who the 'town crazy' is.

The city: No one knows who the official 'town crazy' is, but it's a daily competition.

The country: People will smile and say "hello" as they pass you on the sidewalk.

The city: If someone on the sidewalk makes eye contact, they may want something. Possibly your wallet.

On traffic... 

The country: Cars with smiling drivers will stop almost anywhere to let pedestrians cross 'major' roads.

The city: If you like danger and/or pain, go ahead and cross a major road when you're not at an intersection.

The country: Traffic jams are caused by slow-moving tractors.

The city: Traffic jams are caused by slow-moving tractor-trailers.

On nightlife...

The country: "Nightlife? You mean like them raccoons getting into my trash?"

The city: "Nightlife? What night? I don't remember it at all. What time is it?"

On dating... 

The country: Your mom knows a nice girl down the street you can date.

The city: Millions of people to talk to, but people go online to find a date (in the country).

On transit...

The country: A 'bus' is a luxury that comes only twice a week. People schedule their shopping trips around it.

The city: If transit stops running for 20 minutes, it makes national headlines.

The country: Good luck finding a taxi after 6 p.m.

The city: Good luck not getting run over by a taxi after 1 p.m.

On politics...  

The country: Residents complain after a bylaw is passed. 

The city: Residents complain before a law is passed, but it usually gets passed anyway. 

On gossip... 

The country: Don't go out for groceries without being prepared to talk to at least four people about the local 'news' of the day. 

The city: The local news of the day is available in 32 newspapers. 

The country: Everyone knows who Ms. Brown has slept with.

The city: Ms. Brown is sleeping with someone right now on the sidewalk. 

On development... 

The country: "We all want a new grocery store (to compete with the other one) as long as you don't build it anywhere near our homes or on precious farmland."

The city: "There's a spot over there that's still grass. Get it."

On farming...

The country: "Farmers Feed Cities". 

The city: "Cities Subsidize Farmers". 

Monday, February 14, 2011

My (somewhat) restored faith in the music industry

Thank you, Grammy academy, for (somewhat) restoring my faith in the music industry.

While thousands of teenaged girls waited to high-five to Justin Bieber's big wins, the pop sensation was snubbed.

Instead, the best new artist nod went to a jazz singer who many people have never heard of  – Esperanza Spalding (further solidifying my belief that if you give your kid an unusual name, they will do well at something).

Apparently Bieber fans immediately went to town on Spalding's Wikipedia page, but the harsh words were quickly removed.

Let me just say, however, I have respect for the Biebs; for a teenaged boy from small-town Ontario, he sure handles the spotlight well. And he performed just as well, if not better, than the other big stars on the 53rd Grammy Awards Feb. 13.

The kid exudes class, and I'm sure he wouldn't have approved of his fans trash-talking his competition.

I was also very pleased to see another amazing but not-yet-mainstream musician, Ray Lamontagne, be nominated in the best song category, although he lost to the country band Lady Antebellum. Little did I know until I just did a search, but Lamontagne actually won for best contemporary folk album. If you haven't listened to him, I suggest you do – he's awesome live and recorded.

I would have much preferred to see his non-flashy style of performance during the Grammy show, as opposed to an alien emerging from an egg to confuse the audience.

It was also nice to see Canadian living legend, Neil Young, win his first Grammy (really Grammy academy? Young's first win? Talk about overdue).

Going back to the start of this blog entry, where I thanked the academy for somewhat restoring my faith:

Despite the unexpected Grammy wins, I still can't help but feel the music industry is stuck in a rut, and needs to explode into a new direction. The 70's had disco, the 80's had new wave, the 90's had grunge, the 2000's had... hmmm.... that's debatable. But so far this decade? I have no idea. A second-class version of Madonna dominates the charts. Not pointing any fingers.

But at least on Feb. 13, 2011, song won over show.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You can't lead people who won't follow you...

I'm writing this as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is addressing his people regarding his decision not to step down.

This, despite three weeks of heated protests which continue, calling for his resignation because of decaying quality of life for citizens.

People have died in these protests. The country is in turmoil.

But Mubarak won't give up his big, comfy seat.

I find this ridiculous from an everyman perspective.

Imagine being a top boss in a corporation, with a staff of 100 people under you. Productivity is down, morale sucks, people are writing nasty things about you in intra-company emails.

Your response? Send out the hounds to discipline the culprits.

Sounds logical, unless the removal of those responsible just makes the situation worse.

Soon, employees are vandalizing your car, harassing other management figures, setting fire to your office, putting rat droppings in your lunch meat.

Your response? I am not resigning. I am a leader.

You can go on all day about how much you've done for the company in the past. You can call a meeting to try to rally the troops.

But the fact remains, you aren't liked and things will not improve until you swallow your ego and move aside for fresh blood.

OK, I realize my office analogy is far off from what is actually happening in Egypt, but the point is: If I was that big boss with 100 people under me that wanted me gone, would I want to stick around?

Quick answer is no thanks.

Substitute the office of 100 employees for a country of about 80 million, and the situation is a lot more intense and dangerous. I realize Mubarak must have some support left, but even if only 10 per cent of the population wants him out, that's still eight million angry people.

Does he expect by appointing a vice-president and 'delegating' some power to him, people will be happy? No, Mubarak, they want you out. Period.

Is he hoping the whole thing will blow over? Forget it. It's too far gone and there are too many eyes on the issue now.

Remember, this development didn't happen overnight, but the media attention did. I mean, he's been president since 1981, he's had his chance to win favour from the populace.

(On another note – Egypt's president has been elected by popular vote since 2005. In that election, Mubarak won 88.6 per cent of the vote. If the people wanted him out then, they obviously didn't speak loudly enough.)

In any case, there will likely be chaos and unrest in the country until the guy is out. That's a lot of potential violence until September, when an election is scheduled. Mubarak has said he will not run in that election.

But there's no telling who will fill Mubarak's shoes when the people do get their wish.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adding more discussion to the Pot

So we've now probably all heard about the pot-smoking members of a church who challenged that Canada's pot laws infringe on their religious freedoms. 

Rightfully so; the law is the law (the two men already face pot trafficking charges).

Let me just say, I've never smoked pot – at least intentionally. I've been to parties and concerts where pot smoke was more abundant than air and I probably got second-hand high.

In fact, I can recall one outdoor Neil Young concert in the late 90's during which I was dancing shirtless by the end of the night – probably as a result of the sweet smoke hanging above me. 

I'm not telling you about my general avoidance of weed smoking because I think I'm some kind of saint, or above those who use pot. I'm just saying my direct experience with the bud is very limited and it will likely stay that way (I'm afraid it would make me lazier and cause my clothes to smell funny – also, I can't afford the extra snack food). 

But it doesn't mean I don't understand why the next guy might want to indulge. 

At first, I admit I was even kind of annoyed that this case even made it to court. The claim seemed a bit ridiculous to me – trying to play the religion card to trump the law. 

But after reading more about the Church of the Universe and its rules (which are essentially don't hurt yourself and don't hurt anyone else), I began to think differently. 

It's not that I'm suddenly a marijuana advocate. 

But these church members seem to genuinely believe in the 'power' of pot.

And why shouldn't their church be taken seriously? What is a church if not a place where like-minded people gather to get closer to God?

These members just happen to believe pot, a product of the earth, helps them achieve that closeness to the Almighty. 

I was also initially concerned that its members may be buying from outside dealers, therefore fuelling the drug trade, but the church website suggests it is involved in the entire process from production to distribution: 

"The Sacred Herb, God's Tree of Life, Marijuana of the Assembly of the Church of the Universe is considered KOSHER which is to say that God’s Tree of Life is a Holy Sacrament in the Church and as such it  is imperative that our Holy Church Sacrament, God’s Tree of Life, Marijuana, by all its names and terms of endearment, be grown by our own Herbalists/Farmers, and distributed by our own Church Clergy."

So you be the judge. Do these guys seem genuine, or is this all a smokescreen to use and deal marijuana?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fear and Loathing in... Mexico

Let me start by saying, I've never been to Mexico.

But I'd like to go someday. Really.

The resorts, the food, the history, the tequila... all intriguing to me.

But I admit I've fallen victim to traveler's anxiety.

As a member of the media for several years, I sometimes take certain reports with a grain of salt. But it's getting harder and harder to ignore the stories about Canadians who have visited Mexico and have died there from accidents or otherwise.

Here are some of the latest casualties and near-casualties. 

I realize thousands of Canadians probably travel to Mexico every year without incident. So percentage-wise, your chance of running into danger is likely very slim.

And I also realize people get injured or die from violence/accidents regularly in Canada. But would I travel to another country thousands of miles away to potentially get hurt in a place I really know nothing about? No.

It's not just me that's concerned. While doing some research on the subject of travel to Mexico, I noticed Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is advising against Canadians heading to Mexico/United States border areas unless they really have to.

Foreign Affairs further advises that those travelling to Mexico "should exercise a high degree of caution due to a deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country."

It's usually a different experience from being at a resort, and hiring a guide to go into the main cities. For example, during a trip in the 1990's to the Dominican Republic (a Canadian teenager died there recently, reportedly at the hand of other Canadian tourists), my brother and I decided to hire a 'tour guide' to go into town.

Turns out our guide was also apparently a pimp (we said no, but we had to say it several times for him to leave us alone).

Anyways, my point is: When you go into an unknown city, you always assume some risk. When you go to a resort, you don't expect much danger.

Unless of course the place explodes. Just saying.

Luckily for me, I can't afford to travel right now, so it's a non-issue. But if I were looking, I'd bet there are deals to be had if your destination is Mexico.

And hey, if you've been there recently, and you had a good experience, please let me know so I can share it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Derby stole my girlfriend (Or, how I stole my girlfriend from derby)

When my girlfriend first told me she was involved in roller derby, she paused to see if I'd flee.

Apparently, this fact had intimidated other potential suitors prior to her good fortune of meeting me.

I suddenly realized I was dating Kiss Kiss Bang Bang of the (now defunct) Bay Street Bruisers.

Kiss Kiss? Roller derby? Cool, I thought. Very cool.

I will be cool by association.

I do admit I was skeptical of this sport at first, as my only knowledge of it had been gleaned from television in the 80's. I had memories of big, scary women elbowing each other in the face and knocking opponents over the guardrail.

Well, real derby isn't like that, as it turns out. Elbowing is frowned upon. The skaters actually practice drills. They exhibit sportsman(woman?)ship. They play hard, hit each other cleanly (most of the time), and then go for beers after the game.

Many, many beers.

I went from sort of pretending to really like derby to actually really liking it rather quickly.

So here's me: not too flashy, not very loud. Pretty much the exact opposite of roller derby.

My girl, now going by a different derby moniker (which I won't mention in this post), is more outgoing and vocal than I am – much like derby. Opposites attract, as they say; so myself, Kiss Kiss and roller derby soon settled in for a threesome.

However, before long, I learned the meaning of 'derby widow'. That is a man (or woman) whose partner is involved in derby.

The term has some merit – with the derby games, the practices, the fundraisers, and other miscellaneous commitments (sometimes I just didn't ask), I didn't get to see Kiss Kiss very often in our early days.

Not to mention most of those derby-related tasks fell on weekends, the only chance I had to see her. You see, Kiss and I met through modern technology; we were residing about 100 km apart. But I drove south and then rode the rails every weekend to see her – now that is old-fashioned romance.

So I was really a third wheel. In fact, Kiss even broke up with me briefly so she could be with derby exclusively. Derby, you greedy bitch, I thought to myself.

That situation has since been remedied. I got tired of the train and just up and moved to the city. (Now I'm unemployed and spend my time blogging.)

The girl formerly known as Kiss Kiss still ignores me at times in favour of derby, but at least now I understand why. Derby is sexier. And to be fair, she met derby first. So it was really me that was the mister-ess.

However, the love triangle continues. And I get to take pictures of the whole affair.

Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

That being said, I will be shooting photos of Toronto Roller Derby's season opener between the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and the Death Track Dolls this Saturday, Feb. 5.

Tickets are going fast. Or so I hear (read).

Oh, and the league is fighting service cuts to the bus that gets skaters to games and practices, so ride the bus to the match to show support.

Oh, and there's beer for sale at the game. Did I mention that? If you miss that beer, there will be more beer during the after-party, you can bet on that.

I'll have the pictures to prove it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kerouac, we need you now.

The present-day world needs an intervention.

It regularly injects routine and always snorts the bottom line.

Creative sparks are often snuffed out by responsibility and expectations. Artistic expression lives in fear among the towering skyscrapers.

Fun and adventure are on the brink of being outlawed, free spirit and spontaneity bordering on politically incorrect.

Conformity threatens to push the world's inhabitants into one entity sharing the same thoughts and ideals.

However, it's not too late to curb the world's addiction to getting drunk on its own versions of success.

Society needs to pick a dot on a map and go there – for no other reason than to see the world outside self-imposed boundaries, to soak in the unexpected, to interact with the unlikely.

The world could use a lesson from Jack Kerouac.

For those not familiar with Kerouac, he was a father of the 1950's Beat Generation and the author of On The Road, which has become a bible for the free-spirited. (Proof that while he is dead, his legacy isn't: a movie is currently being made based on the novel.)

Although struggling with his own demons, Kerouac hit the open road for many months and learned about what life truly has to offer between pay stubs and appointments.

If he could somehow communicate with us at this moment, Kerouac might pass the world a drink and repeat one of his greatest quotes, "I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life."

The world needs another Beat movement. Not a chaotic challenge of authority, but a journey of discovery reminding us we're human and still have the power to be amazing and amazed. To remember how to read between the lines and see beauty in the cracks of existence.

My God, Kerouac, we need you now.

(I can't wait for the movie.)