No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Conrad's Comeuppance

Conrad Black is smug, snotty Lord who knows, without question, that he is better than you.

His privileged upbringing, his years at Upper Canada College, his almost astonishing business success, all this has done nothing to disabuse him of the notion that he is way, way better and smarter than you. His upper-crusty bombshell of wife certainly didn't change his mind on the subject. Nor, is it likely that his current trial - in which Black is charged with defrauding his own company and its investors of $60 million - likely to de-smug him.

This is, after all, the guy so desperate to lord it over others that he willingly gave up his Canadian citizenship when Jean Chretien threatened to block Black's appointment to Britain's House of Lords. Since being charged with crimes that could merit some serious prison time, Black has quietly requested he be given that citizenship back. Who, after all, wouldn't rather spend all that time in a Canadian prison rather than an American one?

It does raise the question of whether we want him back, though. This is a guy who writes long and ponderous articles, books and what-have-you on Franklin Roosevelt, on the rightness of the Right, on his own innocence. And he's a newspaper publisher who took pains to sue journalist after journalist for libel when they wrote unflattering things about him, even in jest.

He's a wank, to be sure. When his company, Hollinger Inc. first caught wind of the possible fraud and ousted him, Black, actively disregarding a court order, had his secretary help him box up the contents of his office and sneak it out the back door. And while fellow businessmen like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are donating their billions to address poverty around the world, and others like Izzy Sharp and Peter Munk donate millions to hospitals, museums and cultural institutions in Toronto, what did Lord Black of Crossharbour do with all those allegedly ill-gotten gains? Threw the wife a lavish birthday party, took a trip to Bora Bora, bought the wife a whole lot of shoes.

It's a sad end, though, to a remarkable story of success and excess. Black may be a boring writer but he was endlessly interesting to write about (providing you could handle the inevitable lawsuit). In the end, he'll likely be brought down the testimony of David Radler - a friend a colleague of almost 40 years, with whom Black bought his very first newspaper way back when. There's something poetic in that. Not quite as poetic as his wife, the well-travelled Barbara Amiel calling one of the reporters covering her husband's trial a slut. Babs, on her fourth husband - each one richer than the last - was a journalist too. Though, not, presumably, a slut.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More than Guinness

It's St. Paddy's Day!

For those of us not so inclined to the Guinness and even less inclined to green beer (sacrilege, in Ireland, by the way), here are some Irish-y diversions to make your day a little greener.

Irish Books by Irish Authors

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Poverty, death and drink haunt this memoir, which recounts McCourt's days growing up in Limerick. What could be just bleak and depressing is elevated by McCourt's sustaining humour and eloquent style. Early on, he describes Limerick in a passage so evocative you can smell the tweed and desperation.

A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man by James Joyce
Yes, Ulysses is the masterpiece by for Joyce neophytes, start out with Portrait. His dense, complex language is still present and accounted for, but this much shorter novel has a more discernible plot and more reasonable length. Joyce takes work, and he's well worth it, but why not ease in?

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
This might not feel like an 'Irish' story at first (though Swift was born in Dublin, he spent much of his life in London), but have another look at the story of the Lilliputians; it's the Catholics and Protestants writ small.

A Little Theatre

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
See a bad production of this minimalist play and you'll want to kill yourself rather than wait another fucking second. But a great production, or even a quite read, can bring out the pathos, the absurdest humour and the commentary on the human condition.

While you're in a theatrical mood, throw in a little Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw - Irishmen both.


For me, it's all about Yeats. In honour of the day, here's a touch of Irish nationalism, courtesy of W.B.:

EASTER, 1916

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Friday, March 16, 2007


After the veritable box office frenzy of The 300 last week, this week looks a bit, well, spartan. The 300 took in $70 million last week, and this week's top contenders won't come anywhere close to that number. They're a sad lot - a new Sandra Bullock, a new Chris Rock and a horror flick about ventriloquist dummies. Don't get me wrong -those dummies are scary as hell. But wasn't this already an episode of Buffy?

Based on previews and reviews, Rock's latest - I Think I Love My Wife - looks likely to continue Rock's Pootie Tang, Head of State craptacular streak. Seems like Rock should stick to movies where he is either an animated character (Madagascar) or hanging out with Adam Sandler. Or better yet, find a way to bring his incendiary, hilarious stand-up persona to the screen.

Which leaves us with Sandy Bullock. Premonition looks bad. Bad, bad, bad. Poor Sandy. Oh Sandy, how we love you in romantic comedies and hate you in everything else. Let's skip this week's offering and take a look through Miss Bullock's back catalogue for the real gems:

The Best of Bullock

Miss Congeniality
The quintessential Sandy. Goofy, funny and a splash of sexy. Plus, it has one scene that sums up the Bullock appeal perfectly. Gracie walks out the airport hangar post-makeover to the guitar riffs of Mustang Sally. Perfect hair, tight dress, saucy attitude- the girl is smokin'. Until she promptly trips and falls flat on her face. A quick comedy recovery and she's captured the elusive beautiful goofball essence that was so popular in the 1950s but which lives on almost exclusively with our Sandy. With a brilliant supporting cast - Michael Caine, Candice Bergin and William Shatner (William Shatner!)- this one's a high point.

Knowing their previous and subsequent careers, who would have though Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves would makes such a compelling, convincing and downright sexy pair? In her most successful early film, Sandy drives her part beyond the pretty-girl-in-peril sterotype to someplace funnier, warmer and way more interesting. Plus, the bus has to go fast or it'll blow up. Cool. C'mon - admit you love it too. You know you do.

While You Were Sleeping
As gentle as Speed is adrenalin-charged, While You Were Sleeping gives us the befuddled everygirl Sandy, lonely and wounded but not so wounded that she can't find true love in the end after some cute and gently embarrassing adventures along the way. Think of a cute puppy with a sore paw. That's Sandy in this flick. Pair her with the undeniably puppyish Bull Pullman and this movie has the potential to be too sweet to bear. Yet, somehow they pull it off. I think it may help that we are all transfixed by Peter Gallagher's eyebrows.

Supporting Sandra

She's barely in it, but as a viperish political wife, Bullock shows a side we've rarely seen. And looks damn good doing it.

Only for Serious Sandy Fans

Forces of Nature
She's pretty good as the flighty party girl who nearly derails Ben Affleck's wedding. The movie's not so good though. And it has Ben Affleck

Two Weeks Notice
Hugh Grant plays yet another riff on his charming rake persona (the one that replaced his bumbling good guy persona after the whole Divine Brown incident). Sandy's flustered and neurotic and little Diane Keatonish (in both good and bad ways). The movie is intermittently diverting and there's a hint of some chemistry between Hugh and Sandy - which seems both bizarre and fitting if you think about it.

Hope Floats
The plot has some potential - dumped on TV for her trashy best friend, Birdie uproots her daughter and moves back home with mom in dusty smalltown Texas. But the plot meanders and drawls, like a lazy Texas afternoon. Harry Connick Jr.'s pretty good as the high school pal who never quite got over his crush on our heroine. And it's just way better that Speed 2, the movie she agreed to make to get the greenlight to make this one.

28 Days
Nope, not the one with the zombies. This dramedy has party-girl Sandy drying out in rehab. Too earnest by half, the film's not so great. But it's got Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West and Steve Buscemi. I'll watch almost anything with Steve Buscemi. Even Armageddon. And that has Affleck in it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

300 sets of finely chiseled abs

The weary hubby and I went to see The 300 on Saturday. It's a rare occurrence, since the weary hubby and I are usually far too cheap to splash out on an actual movie theatre showing of anything not involving hobbits. The ads looked intriguing, so we checked it out.

And, oh boy, was that a lot of man flesh. Remember Troy, where the filmmaker spent a lot of time lingering over Brad Pitt's oily be-toga-ed body? Multiply that by 300, with smaller togas. And remember in Alexander, where the filmmaker made a point of showing off some Rosario Dawson nipple? Multiple that by a harem, add in a weird oracle and even a queen.

Lots of nip. Lots of abs. Lots of graphic violence in the arty, graphic-novel sense of the term.

It was interesting, actually, to see a movie that sometimes felt like a fueled-up blend of Troy and Sin City, without all the ponderous plot of the former and with fewer bright yellow characters than the latter. Author/artist Frank Miller's visual influence was perfectly clear and livened things up considerably. That said, The 300 is not a film that puts a whole lot of emphasis on plot - or much stress on your brain. Its plot is a bit like Gladiator light. Which doesn't mean it isn't a whole lot of fun.

One of my favourite lame running jokes with weary hubby (I have a great weakness for lame running jokes, weary hubby is slightly less fond): Every time we see Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers I ask 'I wonder if there are any good fight scenes in it.' Given that half the movie is devoted to the Battle of Helm's Deep, I amuse myself every time. The 300 goes one better - it's all fight scene - epic, violent, gory, filled with death rattles and strangely subdued amounts of blood.

Weary hubby left wanting to see it again. I left with a new appreciation of Spartan abs.

It's Madness, I tell you!!

I know almost nothing about college basketball.

I know that almost everyone hates Duke (kinda like almost everyone hates the Yankees).

I know that UConn and Syracuse, both former winners, are sitting out of the tournament this year.

I know that Oral Roberts University is in this year, which makes me snicker because I can't believe that a university named after a wacky evangelist even has a basketball team, let alone a good one.

I know that 'Gonzaga' is fun to say.

And that's about it. But a few years ago, in one of the random, flukey occurrences that make true sports fans crazy, I managed to win my workplace NCAA tournament pool on the first try.

Since that time, I've become something of a devotee. I have to admit that the one-and-out structure makes for really exciting games. My basketball knowledge is still virtually nil. I still like to say 'Gonzaga'. So, when it comes to March Madness, I don't have the kind of incisive sports tidbits you may have some to expect (or even the annoying but ironically ill-informed know-it-all-ishness you may also have come to expect) from me. But I do encourage you to print yourself off a bracket, hunker down for some games and enjoy.

Hello Again Pittsburgh

So it was a ploy for a new arena and a better tax deal, and more importantly, it worked. The Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh and will still be barely solvent even with all the new goodies. Best of luck, Mario, best of luck.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bye Bye Pittsburgh

It's looking more and more like a sure thing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are almost certain to leave Pittsburgh for good, the victim of on-going financial problems and a legacy of management instability. And the guy making the call to pull out of Pittsburgh? Only the greatest player ever to wear the black and yellow (black and gold is it? Whatever they're wearing these days). Yup, St. Mario, who swooped into buy the team a few years ago and who fans hoped would return the Pens to their former glory. Lemieux did his best. He even came out retirement to try to sell a few tickets. He drafted the hottest young player in a decade - possibly the best of this new era - and it still wasn't enough. The Penguins renaissance? Well, it ain't gonna happen. Or, at least, it ain't gonna happen in Pittsburgh.

The only real question that remains is where will the Penguins go? Not to Hamilton - the Leafs aren't ever going to let that happen. Not to anywhere in Canada, sadly. Not while Bettman's in charge. So where? The latest name to hit the papers: Las Vagas. 'Cause who doesn't want to watch hockey in the middle of the desert? Kansas City and Houston have also made overtures. Big hockey towns for sure.

Of course, it's possible that this really is just a whole lot of posturing to get a sweet new Pittsburgh arena and a better deal on taxes from the city and the state. I don't know though. All those Pittsburgh hockey fans may want to get used to cheering for the Flyers. (Shudder!) That's could be the worst fate of all.

Is American Idol racist?

That's the questions many headlines have posed this week. What, just because there's never been an Asian or Latino Idol winner, the show is racist?

No, not exactly.

Producers of Idol have been facing charges of racism this week, but not for a lack of diversity among their winners. Let's face it - Idol producers cast a diverse set of finalists, and its 'America' decides who wins and loses. So the fact that winners have come from just two races (and highly disproportionately from the South, if you want to know the truth) isn't really in the hands of the producers. What the Idol producers decide is who gets kicked off the show for contravening the rules. And it's in these murky waters that the producers find themselves struggling this week.

A few years ago, a busty singer with a big, big voice by the name of Frenchie Davis made the Idol finals but was kicked off the show when producers found out she had posed topless for a soft-core porn site. Fast forward to this week. One of this season's top 24 competitors, one Antonella Barba, had some fairly explicit pictures of her own pop up on the web. Unlike Frenchie, Antonella can barely string two on-key notes together. Unlike Frenchie, Antonella has been allowed to stay on the show. Unlike Frenchie, Antonella is white.

Hence the hubbub. It looks like an open-and-shut case of preferential treatment for the slender, pretty white girl. Until you look a bit closer. Frenchie, you see, was paid to pose for those photos. When she filled in her Idol background check, she didn't disclose that she had posed for, and been paid by, the site. So she was kicked off for lying - or at least the that's the party line. Antonella, on the other hand, seems guilty of some bad judgement. The photos online were posted by an ex-boyfriend, scanned from a cheesy calendar she had made for him. Antonella was not paid to pose for them, nor has she financially benefited from their release. So she has bad taste in guys but she didn't lie to producers about her background. And so she stays. And sings. Badly. And those folks agitating for a second chance for Frenchie - now staring in Rent on Broadway? Well, they're going to be waiting an awfully long time.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Blogger MIA

Sorry for the lack of posts. I was sick. Then busy and still sick. Then lazy. Back now.

What's happened since I've been gone?

The Academy Awards, that's what. Pretty predictable all around, with the exception of Eddie Murphy losing out Best Supporting Actor and that bizarre sci-fi shrug Jennifer Hudson was wearing on the red carpet. Otherwise, it was pretty much by the numbers. Scorcese finally got his Oscar. Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren won in a walk. Jennifer Hudson did not mention American Idol and did not thank Simon Cowell. Ellen was okay but pretty much harmless and toothless. It was interesting to see how much the audience at the Kodak preferred her to Jon Stewart last year - who was freaking hilarious but clearly over the heads of a large segment of the audience in the theatre.

So what happened to Eddie? Well, first, Alan Arkin is a well-respected, pretty-darned-fine actor, so it may be that the voters just preferred to give it to him rather than Eddie. But why? Dreamgirls backlash? It didn't hurt J-Hud and she was up against Cate Blanchett for Pete's sake. Norbit backlash? Lots of folks have suggested that the big ad Norbit campaign, which heavily featured Eddie in lots and lots of latex may have hurt his Oscar chances. As in, the Academy didn't want reward the guy the same week he plastered on billboards in a fat suit. I don't know. I tend to think that Eddie just burned a lot of bridges. This guy was the biggest star in the world in the 1980s and he had an ego and entourage to match. Then, as the Beverly Hills Cop money dried up he stayed just as big an asshole - even more - and refused to play the game by the rules Hollywood expects. I think people just don't like him much. And that's why he lost. And do we feel the least bit sorry? Not me. Anyone who dumps his pregnant girlfriend on TV and then publicly questions paternity? He deserves a whole other kind of award.