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This week I found something new to obsess over: a little movie called Eagle vs Shark. I wasn’t feeling well one night, and Donovan went and got a movie from the video store and some treats for me.

Now, you have to be careful about movies when you’re sick. Once when I had the flu, I decided to watch Moulin Rouge. Oh boy, not a good idea what with all those flying crane shots and crazy makeup and actors getting right up in the camera. Freaking nauseating. So when I read the back cover for the DVD, and it said “Eagle vs Shark is the tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love; through revenge on high-school bullies, burgers, and video games,” I thought, oh geez, is this going to be all dark and disturbing? The last thing I need to remember what an ass I was in high school.

But apparently it was up for the big awards at Sundance, so we gave it a go. From the very beginning, it reminded me a lot of Napoleon Dynamite in terms of style and pacing. Reading the critics on Flixster (via Facebook) and the roundup on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems a lot of people are reminded of Napoleon Dynamite, producing plenty of back and forth on which is the better movie.

Both movies have plenty of plot similarities: obnoxious anti-heroes who make art in the lead role (Jarrod, Napoleon), quirky families (including the quirk of selling stuff), rural, kinda desolated settings, and heroines who try to love the idiot anyway (Lily, the girl with the glamour shots). There’s even a nerdy sidekick (Mason, Pedro). But is the fact that the two have similarities in style necessarily bad? Hell, I’d love to see more movies that mine the quirks of everyday people for laughs, rather than the fart-jokes-and-boobies school that seems to rule American comedy. It’s easy to see where Taika Waititi drew inspiration from for Eagle vs Shark (Napoleon Dynamite came out in 2004; Eagle vs Shark in 2007), but it’s pretty insulting to say that he simply set out to make the New Zealand version of the first film. And if anything, he improved on the elements of quirky comedy – the supporting characters in Eagle vs Shark are played with some heart and sympathy, not just for laughs.

But let’s get to the meat of it: the nerdy heros and heroines. The other theme of criticism centers around the fact that Jarrod, the surly, mulletheaded object of Lily’s affection, is a geek who is not only utterly without social skills but at times, treats her incredibly badly. Furthermore, she’s a “doormat” who just takes it. The critics point to the fact that she endures his aggressively anti-social behaviour to win him, but why is he worth the winning? Maybe it’s because his faults – his complete lack of self-awareness, his laughable fighting skills, his clumsy attempts at romance “Hey, pretty good sex last night” – make him utterly fascinating. Jarrod fucking lodges himself in your brain and won’t get out.

And on another note, since when are drop-dead good looks, good social skills and good self-esteem (or accurate self-concept) prerequisites for love? If that were the case, most of us would be walking around lonely. While it’s never really explained why Lily develops such a crush on Jarrod (he’s a regular customer at the burger joint where she works) on his outward looks and manners alone, she does find something tender inside of him. “I’m a loser, aren’t I?” he says, to which she replies “It doesn’t matter.” And isn’t that what we all want, to be found out and accepted anyway? Jarrod isn’t deliberately malicious, he’s just clueless. Lily is a little passive, but she’s kind and caring. Does being mean or weak make us unworthy of love?

Of course not. In most movies, the nerd needs to have a makeover (remember the “red dress” scene in She’s All That?), or be visibly softened up at least (Pretty in Pink?), before they can find love. Here, there is just a subtle shift towards maturity and a kind gesture to indicate the beginning of true love.

I slammed out of the house on Saturday morning. I didn’t really know why I was so angry. Aside from the usual irritations of living with my family – slob uncle, living in one room with clutter everywhere, the endless waiting to get the hell out – there was realy nothing that should have been making me so mad. It was exactly what Holly Golightly called “the mean reds.”
The rain and low, claustrophobic clouds did not help my mood. I defiantly refused to carry a brolly.
So as I’m speeding away from the neighbourhood on the bus, I get to thinking “Why am I so pissed off?” And it came to me – it’s a direct effect of a bad, stupid book. Characters that are annoying, a story going nowhere, and a writer whose paragraphing habits, once noticed, are working my nerves.
Why not just say what you have to say in one paragraph?
Are you trying to stretch out this book?
I think that is the idea.
And so forth.
I recognize the effect that Watermelon by Marian Keyes is having on me now, because I remember how reading The Devil Wears Prada a long way back made me tense and irritable too. I went around for a week after reading it with a complex of insecurity and hostility. The insecurity came from reading designer names on every other page and endless descriptions of what people were wearing. The hostility came from the meanness of the Anna Wintour character and the utter stupidity of the whatever-her-name-was assistant main character. By the end of the book, I really hated them all and all their bloody clothes.
Same with Watermelon, which concerns the tedious travails of main character Claire. The hook is her husband leaving her just after she gives birth to their baby. She flees London for the bosom of her wacky Irish family. Oh, they’re so wacky. The meat of the plot concerns Claire’s recovery from the blow of abandonment and her tentative romance with some studmuffin named Adam. I really hated everyone in this book. Claire is kind of a gormless character – we don’t really get a get a handle on her as the book “develops”. Her lover Adam is oddly hostile for fling material. And when the husband, an accountant named James, wanders back into the plotline, he is so indifferent and uninteresting that I couldn’t help by wonder why he was there. Romantic tension? Hardly.
I think this book was written to antagonize me. Personally.
I finished it, though – and I want my damned $12.99 back. But alas, it would probably fetch 50 cents at a thrift shop.
But, I don’t want to write off Ms. Keyes completely – Rachel’s Holiday was quite good (and is about the same family!), and so was what I read of Sushi For Beginners. It’s chick lit for sure, but Irish so characters have names like Clodagh and Fintan. So that’s okay.

I read a review of this book a few weeks ago and thought it would be a perfect gift for the husband. He’s all about recognizing the little-known, underappreciated actors who appear in actual movies and not just tabloids. Except Donovan seems to know the names of all these people, the movies they’ve been in, and assorted anecdotes about their careers. We’ll be watching something like A Night at the Roxbury and making comments like “Hey, isn’t that Jennifer Coolidge playing the cop?” (You may know her as “Stifler’s Mom”), “Dan Hedaya just kills me,” or “Lochlyn Munro seems to get more roles than anyone else who was on Northwood, doesn’t he?”
Of course, when I gave him the book, Donovan thanked me, then looked at me real hard and asked “But this is really for you isn’t it?” And I must admit that I do have a thing for the anonymous yet hard-working actors of the movie world. I have a crush on Steve Buscemi, for gawd sake. (He gets a two-page spread in the book.) Character actors rarely hit that Big Box Office status (Philip Seymour Hoffman, congrats on your ascendancy), but they fill in the colour of celluloid action and often do very interesting work while they’re at it.
Hey! It’s That Guy! draws mostly on its website content to profile character actors. It organizes the people by the movie habitats in which they are found, such as Army, Office, Suburbs, the Backwoods, and The Hideout. Plus, for the true character actor groupie, there is an interview with Stephen “Ned! Ryerson!” Tobolowsky and a page anointing the late J.T. Walsh as The Patron Saint of Character Actors Everywhere.
Yes, that’s right, I have a crush on Steve Buscemi.
However, since I wondered why some of my favourites – such as Christopher McDonald of Grease 2 and Happy Gilmore and everything in between fame – were not in the book, I visited Fametracker.com. Despite some of the content being pretty old in some places, the site has some good snarky fun writing. I especially dug the Fame Audit and Celebrity vs. Thing sections.
It’s so much fun just watching movies at home. You can spew all kinds of useless trivia, drink $2 beers instead of $5 pops, and dissect inane plotlines to your heart’s content.
I am feeling wistful, yet depressed. There’s been another delay on the apartment front and we may be here for a few weeks more. I think my movies must miss me too….

It’s not as if I’ve been in the best of moods lately – and I won’t bore you with the details of why – but I’m in a better one now, thanks to seeing The Producers tonight. First of all, it’s a musical and I reckon it would be pretty hard not to be cheered up by singin’ and dancin’. In fact, even if I were watching Grease 2, quite possibly the WORST musical ever made, it would cheer me by virtue of its sheer audacious badness and clumsy double-entendres. Michelle Pfeiffer’s echo chamber solo of “Cool Rider” while straddling a ladder? The bowling alley production number of “We’re Gonna Score Tonight”? Adrian Zmed? I like the way musicals try. Even their misguided efforts can make you smile goofily and forget your own un-art directed life.
But The Producers is nothing at all like Grease 2 (except that both are musicals) because it takes totally inappropriate subject matter and makes it funny. Which is why it’s funny? No, in lesser hands, a musical about making a bad musical about Nazis would be just stupid and offensive. As the whole theatre roars at the set piece “Hitler in Springtime” I’m thinking to myself, “Should I be laughing?” There’s such a weird feeling of roaring out loud when something really shocking appears on the screen, such as a dance formation in the shape of a swastika with a gay Hitler and showgirl played by Uma Thurman emoting from the centre.
(I’m just waiting for the Google searches that come out of that paragraph. Drop the Hate, losers!)
In the beginning, The Producers does feel very theatre-like because you have to get used to the exaggerated characters and set-like sets. And on into the first musical number it starts to feel like something out of the old Hollywood “let’s put on a show” musicals when Nathan and Matthew waltz down the streetscape and get into a cab complete with one of those fake backgrounds of other cars on the street. But once I was in, I was completely suckered in to the world on the screen. It’s pretty darn rare for a movie to hoover me in, body and soul, and let me forget about all my usual neurotic annoyances.
I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, now that you want to go see it too, all the details of the storyline and the cameos. My only advice is to stay for the credits.
I’d also like to send out a big Thank You to Miss Angie, for the swell New Year’s Party last night. You were a darling hostess.

I’m really excited that the new Capote movie is opening today, but I’m really pissed off that I just read a review in the newspaper and it told me exactly what the end of the film was! I mean, it’s not as if anything in Truman Capote’s life was a big secret, but does the reviewer really need to go ahead and tell me what the event is that marks the end of the film? Here I was all excited because Philip Seymour Hoffman (the man who mouthed the phrase “Little Lebowski Urban Achievers”), all-around brilliant actor, is playing one of my very favourite writers, and now all I can think about is the stupid spoiler Sun critic ruining it all for me. Thanks a lot, hack. “Spoiler alert” much?

Some books that have jumped off the shelves and into my arms in the last week or so:

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
I was browsing Macleod’s Books one sunny lunch hour and there it was, Garcia-Marquez’s masterpiece lying on top of the other books on the shelf. Macleod’s is the sort of used bookstore where the shelves are packed tight and books are stacked in front of shelves, on chairs, and on tables – in a word: dangerous. I was helpless when it pleaded “Take me home. You know you’ve read me. You know you love me.”

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray
Killing time a couple days later in the recently created used and bargain books section of the The Granville Book Company, I came across these two irresistible books.
Regarding The Last Picture Show, I never saw the movie but completely adored this book during an obsessively-reading-Larry McMurtry phase. You may know him as the novelist who writes about the Old West (Lonesome Dove and Buffalo Girls, the best novel ever about Calamity Jane) and pre-modern Texas in Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show. It’s a very moving novel about teenage longing and small towns and football. Avoid the sequel Texasville. It might have had a great ending, but I never made it there.
My grade 9 social studies teacher had us watch Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon during a unit on the French Revolution. A girl who had multiple mental health issues got upset about a scene in a brothel (Kubrick liked boobies I’ve noticed) and went home and told her mom. The next day, we watched the rest of it but our teacher had to keep a finger poised on the fast forward button. Remember those? Until I saw the book on the shelf, I had no idea that Thackeray had written it. I devoured Vanity Fair a couple years ago when I stopped being intimidated by its thickness and started being hungry for a sprawling, blockbuster pageant of a Victorian novel. I hope Barry Lyndon is just as good. Thackeray was brilliant at creating fascinating stories starring really, really unlikeable characters. Romping scoundrels, yeah!

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Speaking of unlikeable characters, this quintessential novel of the 80s is full of them. Captains of industry, trophy wives, vengeful DAs, southern mistresses, opportunistic politicians, paparazzi, and English journalists. Robust language and a page turning story about the deep divide between the haves and have-nots in Capital-ist City. And only $0.10 at a thrift-store sale!

Some books, you just need to have around to take a bite out of now and again. These are 3 of them, plus one that piqued my curiosity.
A while back, on that book meme we were batting around, I wanted to know who you plan to read the complete works of one of these summers? I’d like to hang out with Edith Wharton.

“There are Strange Things done in the Midnight Sun

By the men who moil for gold,

The arctic trails have their secret tales

that would make your blood run cold…

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

was that night on the marge of Lake LeBarge,

I cremated Sam McGee.”

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

As I was reading this to my 5-month old nephew the other week, it occurred to me that this poem makes a very strange bedtime story. Sam McGee dies in the first few verses and makes his buddy Cap promise to cremate his remains, so as not to be buried in the frozen ground of the Arctic. Cap hauls the corpse over the trail trying to figure out a way to dispose of the body. He chances upon an abandoned marge stuck in the ice at Lake Lebarge, lights a fire in the ship’s old boiler, tosses in the body of Sam McGee, and leaves so that he doesn’t “hear him sizzle so.” There is a surprise ending straight out of magic realism.

Still, the poem has this intoxicating rhythm that makes it vivid and funny. I used to be able to recite the whole thing by heart and performed it a couple times as a dramatic monologue (in my former life as a teenage theatre geek.) It isn’t hip or modern – some people don’t like sing-song rhyme – and it deals with death and fighting the elements and trying to keep a promise because “the trail had its own stern code.” Those grizzled prospectors wanted Gold! but they also had their honour.

The edition I have is published as a children’s picture book with gorgeous illustrations by Yukon artist Ted Harrison. When the wee babies get older, I’ll keep telling them Sam McGee, and throw in “Jabberwocky” and some of those violent old Norse folktales to boot. Gibberish doesn’t get much better than “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.”

A lot of children’s literature, folk tales, fairy tales and fables are actually quite violent, no news there. Is it a recent tendency among adults to try and sanitize all that so that the kiddies don’t hear so much about the Troll under the Bridge eating the Billy Goats Gruff – couldn’t they just go and have nice picnic instead? I don’t know much about children – probably because I don’t have any – but I wonder if “protecting” kids from bad things in children’s books desensitizes them to all the sick shit they will face later on?

Similar to how before I had a bus knitting project and a home knitting project (in the mad rush to make Christmas gifts), I am now reading two very different books. The Orchid Thief is my all-absorbing read for the train. You may remember that the movie Adaptation is the story of trying to write a screenplay of this wide-ranging nonfiction book. Every time I pick it up, I am completely and utterly enthralled by Susan Orlean’s attention to detail and skill at describing the personalities of the orchid world. John Laroche (played brilliantly by Chris Cooper in Adaptation), his thefts and attempts at breeding ghost orchids, and court case forms a central thread to the book. But I also loved the way she describes topics such as Florida history, real estate schemes, Victorian adventurers and orchid hunters, the subcultures of people obsessed with smuggling and collecting exotic plants and animals. I am not even finished the book yet – the latest chapter deals with the history of the Seminole Indians and a famous warrior named Osceola. Somehow, Orlean manages to tie all these stories, characters and places together under the theme of orchid collecting.

A while back, I picked up a collection of essays she wrote on how people around the United States spend their Saturday nights; it was called (of course) Saturday Night. Again, a fairly simple topic that she absolutely explodes into brilliant pieces on spending Saturday nights in a homeless shelter, serving steak dinners, cruising and clubbing with teenagers in Beverly Hills, preparing for a dinner party in New York society hostess’s apartment, zydeco dancing, a Miami diet center on Super Bowl weekend, and guarding a missile silo in Colorado. And there is even a chapter on watching TV.

The other book, my Home book, is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Would you believe I have never read it, never been assigned to read it? You’ve probably all read it, so I don’t know what else I can say about it, except that every time she writes about her hopes for after the war and growing up, it just hits me hard knowing that this brilliant writer never got that chance. I think the most interesting parts are her writing about the daily irritations of living so closely with the eight other people in the Secret Annexe, the daily irritations that anyone can remember from being 13 or 14 with adults who label you spoiled, lacking sense or lazy when you’re just trying to live and figure out who you are. And yet after she writes about the hardships of living in an attic with your parents and others for over a year, she also thinks of the people who had already been frog-marched to the concentration camps and thinks about how fortunate she is to be in hiding with friends bringing them food and books and treats, at their own risk.

I am a lucky girl indeed. I probably covet too many handbags and shoes but my life is filled with small luxuries. In no particular order: rice crackers, sashimi, books, DVDs, wine, computer, dinners out at romantic Italian restaurants, Fluevog boots, knitting supplies, and a really kickass set of dishes.

Speaking of books, Freedom to Read week is coming up soon. As writers, we should be especially grateful to live in a place where we can still write about challenging and controversial topics in the face of so much spin and bullshit and lies. You know what I’m talking about. Wink, wink.

See you in the cafes.

I haven’t been updating as often as I would like to this week. Yesterday afternoon, another little person came into my life in the form of Kase William Owen. Luckily, this little nephew of mine is also a very good looking kid, because there is nothing worse than an ugly baby everyone has to pretend is cute. And while I’m on the topic of Seinfeld, the line he used in one of his standup routines plays in the back of my mind: “They’re here… to replace us.”

Last night after we came back from the hospital, I finished A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle. I have been hearing great things about Oh Play That Thing, so I had to read this one first. I was trying to find a review link for the latter book, but the stupid Globe and Mail Books website makes you pay to access their archives! Boo! And its not like Amazon needs me to direct anyone to their site.

Anyway, A Star Called Henry is just one of those incredible stories, told by a storyteller whom the reader can trust to take them somewhere. And the language! Reading his work, especially an epic tale like this one, you see how much language and images can be played with – without feeling “overwritten”. There is a real sense of sweep here, as Henry grows up in the slums of Dublin, becomes an IRA revolutionary in his teens, and… I won’t give away the ending.

Its cool how a writer can create such a strong fictional character and surround them with true historical figures. I have to respect the amount of reading and research and travel that goes into a novel like that. Then again, it also makes me ball up my fists and despair of ever having that kind of creative power and craftsmanlike discipline.

At the very least, I am grateful for a room with a door that closes to write in, a place to be surrounded by books and implements of possibility.

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