Friday, December 29, 2006

The king of slop

Been thinking a lot about Michael Jackson lately. For obvious reasons, he is a bit of a pariah here in North America. However, like David Hasselhoff, for some reason he is still huge in Europe.

While in London earlier this month, we watched some of the World Music Awards. Michael was being given some lifetime achievement award. Beyonce, acting like his press agent, was the one who gave him the award.

As he came out to accept the award, the crowds were screaming like it was 1963 and these were the Beatles. On youtube, there are dozens of uploads from people who were there recording this with their cell phone.

Later in the show, he then sang a song...sort of. They had a choir of children on stage (very bizarre considering Jackson's many allegations) and the song We Are The World was playing. Jackson came out and sang along with the record. Literally, you can hear Bruce Springsteen or Willie Nelson singing while Jackson interjects by singing along at certain points. It was like really lazy karaoke. Most of the time he was just walking around the stage shaking hands like a politician.

The other reason I was thinking about Jackson was Coglero recently emailed me asking for ideas for the ultimate 80s compilation CD. The 80s were a funny decade as there are so many one hit wonders and totally obvious overplayed songs that most 80s CDs are kind of boring. Seriously, do you really need to hear Soft Cell's Tainted Love or The Human League's Don't You Want Me? And why does all 80s compilation CDs have to include Jackson's own Billie Jean when there are much better songs of his from the 80s.

Top 5 Michael Jackson Songs
1. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
2. Beat It
3. Man In The Mirror
4. I Just Can't Stop Loving You
5. Smooth Criminal

Plus most 80s compilation CDs always ignore some of the great rock and roll from that era. David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen all had great music throughout the 80s. Or they include the obvious songs from some of the new wave bands like Duran Duran's Hungry Like The Wolf or The Reflex when Rio and New Moon On Monday are much better songs and do not feel so dated. I couldn't really help with ideas for the Ultimate 80s CD as I would purposely ignore alternative stuff like The Smiths and The Cure and since a lot of the new wave from that era feels so "20 years ago", I really could not include that kind of music either.


Thursday, December 28, 2006


So Gerald Ford is dead and I still do not know about his place in history. Anytime a person dies, one must feel some sorrow and look back fondly at that person. However, Gerald Ford PARDONED Richard Nixon. Let's think about this for a second, a president of the United States either committed or had people commit illegal activities. And the person who takes over for him lets him get away with it.

In a television broadcast to the nation, Ford explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country and that the Nixon family's situation "is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."

During his tribute to Ford, current President Bush (who knows a little something about illegal activities) mentioned that Ford "helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency". Rather ironic that Bush made these statements considering that in a 2004 interview with Bob Woodward, Ford said that Bush "made a big mistake" with their justifications for the Iraq war. What is even more interesting is that these anti-Bush comments did not come to light until after Ford died. Apparently, Ford requested that Woodward not publish the interview until Woodward had written a planned book about Ford or until he died.

Anyway, getting back to Ford's pardoning of Nixon, a lot of political pundits believe that Ford doing that is what cost him the re-election. He ended up losing to Jimmy Carter in 1976. However, some believe that it wasn't really Ford's idea to pardon Nixon in the first place.

You have to remember that Ford's ascension to the presidency was a rather bizarre one. Spiro Agnew was Nixon's original Vice President. He resigned, while in office, after he was charged with tax evasion. Nixon than nominated Ford to take over as VP. Soon after taking over that role, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig advised Ford that Nixon was probably going to end up taking the fall for the Watergate scandal. In other words, Ford would soon end up being the 38th president of the United States.

According to Bob Woodward's book Shadow, Ford becoming President and the pardon of Nixon was part of a backroom deal between Ford, Nixon and Haig. In the same conversation where Haig advised Ford about what was going on with Watergate, he also advised the three options there were to protect Nixon from jail time. (1) Nixon could pardon himself and resign, (2) Nixon could pardon his aides involved in Watergate and then resign, or (3) Nixon could agree to leave in return for an agreement that the new president would pardon him. It looks like Ford went with option #3. Interestingly enough, Ford's first press secretary and close friend Jerald terHorst resigned his post in protest after the announcement of President Nixon's full pardon.

Top 5 most famous guests of the Betty Ford Center-Rehab Facility.
1. Elizabeth Taylor
2. Jerry Lee Lewis
3. Mary Tyler Moore
4. Johnny Cash
5. Chevy Chase


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Modern times indeed

So the magazine Rolling Stone has released their Top 50 Albums of 2006. There was a time when a top 50 albums list would either be stuff I already have, stuff I want or stuff I was never interested in getting in the first place.

This list kind of makes me feel old. I literally own one album on this list, Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. But then again, I only own four albums that were even released in 2006, the others being The Who's Endless Wire, Katie Melua`s Piece By Piece and Neil Diamond's 12 Songs.

What kills me is that most of these groups I have never even heard of. Phoenix? Rhymefest? Wolfmother? There are even albums by artists I've heard of that I didn't even know were releasing an album. Fats Domino, Lindsay Buckingham and The New York Dolls all have albums on the list and I am so out of the loop, I wasn't even aware.

The #1 album on the list appears to be the unanimous #1 on a lot of people's lists. Bob Dylan's Modern Times. I have heard most of the tracks and it really rocks.

Top 5 Bob Dylan Albums
1. Bringing It All Back Home
2. Highway 61 Revisited
3. Blonde On Blonde
4. Blood On The Tracks
5. Another Side Of Bob Dylan

I may have to pick up that new Dylan CD, but right now I am in the middle of CD hell. Since J-Mac and I moved to this new house, we have never got our CDs in order. We have 1000s of CDs, from every genre from classical to jazz, rap to rock. I can't get them into any semblance of an order. I try putting all the rock in one area, jazz in another...but then what do I do with all that celtic stuff that J-Mac has? Seriously, what do you do with Clannad? As I write this, I just found J-Mac`s The Comedian Harmonists!!!! Where do I put that! (actually THAT one is easy...jazz). Anyway, getting these in order has been a project that has been ongoing for about a week. I may have to quit my job in order to get it completed.


Monday, December 25, 2006

The king of them all, y'all

He was known as The Godfather Of Soul, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business and Soul Brother Number One...James Brown has died at the age of 73.

The man`s music has influenced everything from funk to disco to rap. He was still touring endlessly and had an upcoming 2 night gig at Casino Rama in early January 2007.

I have mentioned before that I have seen him in concert at the Blues Fest in Ottawa. It was entertaining, he did all of his obvious songs (including the shtick with the cape) and I was certainly glad I was able to see him at least once. However, he was in his late 60s at the time and the show felt almost over-rehearsed like he and his band had done the same show thousands of times. So here is some footage of James Brown at his best.

Top 5 James Brown Songs
1. Please Please Please
2. Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine
3. Papa Don`t Take No Mess
4. I Got The Feelin`
5. Night Train

I do always find it interesting when famous people die on Christmas Day. Like that somehow has more special meaning than if they had died on June 11. Off the top of my head, the most famous people to die on Christmas Day were former baseball player and manager Billy Martin, singer/actor Dean Martin and Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin. Looking at that list, yeah, clearly there is no meaning behind dying on that day.

Happy Holidays to everyone.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

More trailers!

To follow up that exciting Die Hard trailer from earlier this week, the folks George Clooney and director Steven Soderberg are about to release another sequel to Ocean's Eleven. Here is the trailer for Oceans 13.

The trailer looks good. The movie damn well better be good as Clooney et al pretty much owe us after that debacle they called Ocean's Twelve. That sequel started off as good as their version of Ocean's Eleven but once Ocean's wife Tess (played by Julia Roberts) has to pretend to actually BE Julia Roberts in front of the Bruce Willis, the movie really lost me. But I love Clooney's Oceans 11. It is funny, it is exciting and actually is a remake that improves on the original.

Top 5 Steven Soderbergh films
1. Out Of Sight
2. Traffic
3. Ocean's Eleven
4. The Limey
5. Erin Brockovich

Don't get me wrong, I like Frank Sinatra's Oceans Eleven...but I didn't believe it for a second and the actors seem really bored (or just on a permanent hang over).

Another trailer that has me excited is for the film Transformers. I had been hearing whispers about this movie for about a year but I hadn't really given it much thought. I remember the cartoon, it was the first big cartoon that I remember after I became to old to really care about cartoons anymore. Anyway, this Transformers seems to be aiming at an older audience than the cartoon. The tone seems to be a mix of the Terminator films and the Stephen King short story and subsequent movie Maximum Overdrive (the film version was actually directed by Stephen King!!!).


Thursday, December 21, 2006

My favourite trilogy

No, this is not going to be about Star Wars, Indiana Jones or (god forbid) The Lord Of The Rings. This is actually about Die Hard. I always liked the first Die Hard movie due to that great performance by the bad guy Alan Rickman. To me, the second one in the airport was even better with more action and a plot that was a little more complex. And then the third one which turns the previous two on its head by not making it at Christmas time, having most of it during the day and making you think that it has something to do with the events from the first Die Hard...when in reality, it doesn't!

The reason I bring it up is that there is now a trailer for the fourth Die Hard entitled Live Free Or Die Hard.

This trailer is pretty cool as it is all action with a little bit of talking at the end. Just what you want from a John McClane movie. I am a little concerned about this film as it is directed by Len Wiseman (you know him as his only other movies are the Underworld movies, plus he is married to Kate Beckinsale).

However, despite what is essentially a no-name director, the bad guys are played by Timothy Olyphant (you know him from Deadwood) and Jeffrey Wright (you know him from the remake of Shaft). This should be enough to make the movie great. The one thing that the Die Hard franchise has always understood more than any other franchise, a good bad guy is the key. This fourth Die Hard certainly continues the trend. It is not out till late next Spring...but I am already pumped.

Top 5 Non Die Hard Bruce Willis Films
1. Pulp Fiction
2. 12 Monkeys
3. Sin City
4. The Fifth Element
5. The Last Boy Scout


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The underbelly of UK telly

TV is rather funny in the UK. Watching on satellite, we could still watch some North American based shows like CSI, Frasier and The Daily Show With John Stewart.

The UK produced shows all seem to be crime dramas. Gritty, dirty crime dramas. The one that seemed to be most of interest was Torchwood. A futuristic crime drama that is a spin-off from Doctor Who featuring Scottish-American actor John Barrowman. It is hard to tell whether he speaks with an american accent faking an english accent or the other way around. However, like the film Minority Report, it seems to take place in the near future with some cool special effects but the background still looks like current day Cardiff, Wales. As the show is co-produced by our own CBC network, it is sure to be premiering in Canada soon.

Of course, our Welsh hosts were rather befuddled by some of the North American shows we watched while at their house. We showed them an episode of Frasier. It was an episode where Frasier, Niles and his father were in the back of a cab and the cab driver went into labour. Pat commented on how cheap the sets looked in comparison to UK produced shows. He asked me where the show was filmed, I told him it was meant to look like Seattle but was shot on a soundstage in Hollywood.

Of course, my favourite british TV show will always be Fawlty Towers.

Top 5 Fawlty Towers Episodes
1. Communication Problems - Selectively deaf Mrs. Alice Richards, a woman with the power to annoy everyone and anyone, has chosen to stay at Fawlty Towers, to the dismay of Basil (John Cleese) who fails to cope with her repeated phrase "What?". When she loses some money she makes everyone's life hell until it turns up ... or is it hers?

2. The Germans - After a heavy blow on the head during a fire drill, Basil finds himself unable to stop himself mentioning 'the war' when a group of German tourists come to stay at the hotel.

3. Gourmet Night - Basil is trying to climb up the social ladder, and with it, the hotel. When VIPs of Torquay visit for a gourmet night, Basil's new Greek chef gets drunk, and once again teetering on a nervous breakdown, Basil tries desperately to repair the situation...

4. The Wedding Party - Basil is disgusted when two young lovers, Alan and Jean, begin 'hanky-pankying' under his very nose while checking in. He becomes convinced that they and two other guests are engaged in sexual misbehaviour, along with Polly (Connie Booth). Meanwhile circumstances conspire to put him in apparently compromising situations whenever they are around.

5. Waldorf Salad - Two demanding guests check in after 9 p.m. after a gruelling journey from London. They want to have a proper meal but unfortunately the chef stops at 9. Basil tries to convince the chef to stay, but having failed to do so, tries to cook the meal himself.

When UK television gets really interesting is at night. The channels are filled with quiz shows. Not game shows, but call-in quiz shows with names like It's Your Call and Quiz Call. The host talks to the camera and gets people to call in, pay 75p (about $1.50) and guess answers to questions like "Name an occupation that begins with the letter T". They have 6 predetermined answers, and callers have to guess what one of the six are. If you are correct, you can win around 200 pounds ($400). I found some clips on youtube of the most famous of the hosts of these shows Greg Scott, you have to see it to believe it.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Justice Is Served

Are you like me? Are you frustrated by the CRTC regulations that prevent us from watching full episodes of TV shows on the websites for NBC, CBS and ABC? I have been told that websites like youtube do feature some episodes but it is impossible to find.

However, here is a website called Peekvid that has links to websites such as youtube so you can watch entire episodes of TV shows. Plus it is categorized by tv show in chronological order so you can watch whatever you want. Obviously, not every show is on there. Nor is every episode on there but with episodes from shows as wide ranging as 24, How I Met Your Mother and certainly will be able to find something you may have missed when it was originally broadcast. I plan on checking out all of the first season episodes of The Office later today.

If you are looking for something new on that website, may I recommend Justice. This show is already hanging on by a thread having been moved three times, put on hiatus and been destroyed in the ratings. Some call it a legal show for the CSI generation. Personally, I think it is better than any of the CSI shows. The show is your basic legal drama, as this firm called Trott, Nicholson, Tuller & Graves take big name cases in the Los Angeles area. The show has a gimmick that at the end of the show, they show you who actually commited the crime (whether it was the defendant they had or someone else). Therefore, you, as the audience can truly decide whether "justice" has been served.

However, that gimmick is not the reason to see the show. The reason to see it is the lead actor Canadian Victor Garber. His performance is probably one of the best in TV drama right now. What is interesting is that his character doesn't actually try the cases, he is more the figurehead of the firm that is an expert at dealing with the media and ensuring that his clients get off. As an added bonus, the show takes shots at Nancy Grace. Plus, it has the coolest theme song on TV. Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon.

As a tribute to "anonymous" who commented on my Mandy Patankin blog is my top 5 list. Justice features the actor Victor Garber who was in Titanic. Titanic was the second "water based" movie by director James Cameron. The only current director who has done more "water based" movies is Wolfgang Peterson.

Top 5 Wolfgang Peterson movies
1. In The Line Of Fire
2. Das Boot
3. Outbreak
4. Shattered
5. The Perfect Storm

Unrelatedly, is your office like mine today? Everyone is talking about the Justin Timberlake/Andy Sandberg Christmas song from this weekend's Saturday Night Live called D*** In A Box.

The volume is kind of low on this, a better version appears on SNL's own website under Featured Videos.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Our final time in the UK at Heathrow Airport

So, we're back from merry old England. Our final moments in the UK were a real kick in the ass. Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport and it certainly showed as we flew out of there on Saturday night.

People were milling around was impossible to walk anywhere. The funniest part was we had some garbage to throw out before we got on the flight and because of the threat of terrorist bombing, the airport does not have a single trash can anywhere. We literally had to hunt down a janitor and put it in his refuse bin.

As we lined up for the first time on the second floor of the airport..we began to see the magnitude of people who were travelling out of there. Our passports were checked five times before we got on the plane. They were then checked another three times after we landed back in Toronto.

The flight home featured three movies. The first was horrible, My Super Ex-Girlfriend with Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson. The story made no sense in the first place, unless you are one of those parents-basement-residing-losers who wonder what it is really like to have sex with a female super hero. The movie starts off funny with Luke Wilson playing the same type character he did in Old School who meets Uma Thurman who in reality is a super hero named G-Girl. When he dumps her for being too needy...she seeks vengeance on him. At about half way through the movie is when I officially gave up on it. No joke, G-Girl throws a shark at Wilson and his new girlfriend in their apartment. Seriously, she threw a LIVE SHARK. I have heard of jumping the shark when it comes to television shows but this was the first case I can remember of a movie throwing the shark.

Top 5 Uma Thurman Movies
1. Pulp Fiction
2. Beautiful Girls
3. Gattaca
4. Kill Bill, Vol. 2
5. Mad Dog And Glory

The second film was The Devil Wears Prada. I understand the book was a huge success, but I had never read it. I am guessing the book is different than the movie. The movie really makes Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) fairly sympathetic and almost the movie's hero. The movie's actual hero is Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) comes off as whiney, self important and ungrateful. Interestingly enough, this film has gone on to be the most financially successful of Streep's career.

The third film was Edward Scissorhands. Apparently Air Canada has started showing old films on their international flights. It was a good movie to be on as it helped me sleep for a couple of hours. More posts of our tales from Wales coming later.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Here Comes The Rain Again

So our trip to the UK is about complete. After having spent the first three days in London, the rest of our time was spent in Wales. Each day was action packed with trips to the capital of Cardiff (the capital of Wales), a train up to Bath, England and much time spent in Caerphilly, Wales where J-Mac's cousin lives.

Each day was filled with a lot of culture shock, so much so, it reminded me of that Jerry Seinfeld American Express commercial about his time in England. It is not on youtube, however, go to this link and you can watch the full length version.

Aside from the fascinating castles we visited, my favourite part of the trip was filled with visits to pubs. As a north american, if you have never been to a pub in the UK, you really haven't been to a pub. The difference is so pronounced that I will never refer to these places in North America as pubs. I will either refer to them as ''pubs'' (complete with the little rabbit gestures with my hands) or simply Disneyland.

It's not just that the quality of beer is is better here but I can get over that. It is just the whole process of eating and drinking in a pub that is so different. Assuming that the pub actually serves food, there are no waiters there. You simply note your table number and order food from the bartender. There is no need to tip as you do not tip bartenders when ordering food or drinks. You simply pay the amount, grab your drinks and a table runner will bring your food.

My favourite pub was in Cardiff called The Old Arcade. No joke, it was the best hamburger I have ever eaten. It wasn't even close!!! I don't know what the second best burger I have ever had was but this was certainly #1.

Another pub I enjoyed was The Globe in London. This place was nothing special but the atmosphere was just perfect. People simply grabbing a pint at their local establishment. And that is the other part that kills me, there are pubs everywhere. Walking distance no matter where you live. Just this very second, I walked out of the house, took two steps out the front door and took a picture of the pub near by. In Toronto, an excursion to the pub means grabbing your friends, figuring out what pub to go to, which one has good food, making either driving or TTC plans to get becomes a whole procedure. Unless you are really lucky you don't have a local ''pub''. I have to admit, I am quite sad to be leaving the pub lifestyle here.

Thursday night was the last time we were in Cardiff...I took a quick trek to Virgin Records as I wanted to buy some sort of CD here. Live At Leeds by the Who would have been good as Leeds is in Wales, however, I picked up Quodrophenia instead.

Top 5 Who albums
1. Who's Next
2. Tommy
3. My Generation
4. Quodrophenia
5. Who Are You

Of course, the title of this blog refers to the ever present rain here. Not that it is constant...but no matter can rain at any time. Literally, every day we have been has rained for at least parts of it. The only true sunny days were yesterday and today (so far).

I hope to post some pictures once we get home late tonight.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Down to London

Okay, i have been in the UK for four days and I have learned alot. The first three days were in London, England and let me tell you...everything you have heard is true.

Top 5 True things about London
1. Everything is ridiculously expensive here. The cost of eating and drinking is reason enough to make you go on a diet.

2. Traffic is a nightmare. Do not even bother driving or taking a taxi anywhere. It just isn't worth it. There are too many cars on the road to make it worth the bother. The tube (subway) is the only way to get around.

3. Drinking is a rampant disease in the UK. Our first night in London, thanks to the time delay from North America, we found ourselves in Leicester Square around midnight. The amount of drunks who were bumping into us our couples simply making out based on the amount of alcohol they consumed in the middle of the street as we struggled to pass by was incredible.

4. The most underrated landmark of London is the Globe Theatre. We walked by there and I was in awe. This was the home of Shakespeare's theatrical work. English language drama and comedy started right here!!! Yes, I should have been more awestruck by Big Ben or The Tower of London...but it just did not hit me vicserally like the Globe Theatre.

5. Yes, there are pubs everywhere. Really, don't like the looks of the pub in front of you? Walk a block and you will find yourself choosing between numerous other pubs. I just wish I could sound like I come from there. Not necessarily that I want the British accent...just that I could say "cheeers" or "ta" without sounding dorky.

As of last night, we are staying with J-Mac's cousin in Caerphilly, Wales which is a suburb of Cardiff. The local beer is Brains Beer which is quite good. The SA Gold is my current favourite. Our current plan is to stay here till Friday. That morning, we will by flying off to Glasgow. We will then return to London later that weekend for one last night before flying home. Considering the prices in London, we will probably be eating at Burger King and drinking the ever present rain water as the cost of living in London will probably not have improved.