2010: A Cinematical Retrospective

Oh hello,

I'm just sitting at a six-years obsolete computer, drinking coffee, firing off emails, and generally slacking off on my last day of 2010 (pronounced "twenty-ten," because it sounds more futuristic and therefore awesome). And seeing as I have just over 12 hours of free time before I have to start committing to my New Year's resolution--whatever that may be--I figure it wouldn't hurt to rattle off my lists of whatever burned down the (movie) house this year. Beware of spoilers, naturally.

So, without further ado:


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Twelve


Dinner had just taken a potentially disastrous turn, although only one of its five participants were aware of this fact.

As well, "just" was debatable, as David was certain the stimulant now coursing through Richard's body like cholesterol in a fat guy's bloodstream had almost certainly been in the man's system for an hour. To add insult to injury, its effects were so glaringly obvious David was shocked he hadn't noticed it until mere seconds ago. Richard's face was flush, his cheeks flooding with red and sweat beading on his brow, and his friend thought it very unlikely that the paprika Alex had sprinkled over the potatoes could provoke such a physical reaction.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Eleven


A brief introduction to Alex's sisters:

Alex's parents, the Prochnows, were an active couple, and fertile to say the least, the three girls having each been born within a year of one another. David's late in-laws were also quite insane--or so Alex had deduced in her early teens, noticing the painfully alliterative similarity between her name and those of her sisters, Alice and Alyssa. 

Taken by themselves, these monikers were mundane, even pretty. But with the three sisters a grade apart in that acme of  childhood cruelty known as elementary school, Alex quickly realized it probably wasn't a good idea to name one's children after reading a baby names book on acid which, she also deduced, her parents very likely did.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Ten



In and around 5PM David descended the basement stairs to find Richard tooling around at the computer, his leg jiggling as though it belonged to a rabbit with ADHD. The wayward schoolteacher had multiple tabs open on the web browser, alternating between flipping through Facebook, performing various Google searches of--David hoped--an innocent nature and, oddly, looking at a long-range weather forecast. He turned with a start as one of the lower stairs creaked with David's weight.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Nine


His stomach gradually and painfully tightening into a ball, David pocketed the misplaced baggie of fertilizer, tucked the twelve-pack of pop under his arm, and stepped out onto the damp driveway to face his wife. Alex was now standing, the strains of Richard's off-key tenor ("TEENAGE AMBITIONS YOU REMEMBER WELLLLLL...") emanating behind her from the depths of the house. When the barely-resonating warblers were suddenly silenced by the screen door swinging home with a muffled click, Alex crossed her arms and David knew it was time to come clean.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Eight


Alex paced about the kitchen, humming a tuneless tune and absentmindedly tossing a rather large PEI potato from hand to hand. The boys had been gone for well over an hour, would likely return shortly, but in spite of the time elapsed she hadn't yet had the slightest idea how to break news of her discovery to the two of them.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Seven


When still in school, David had spent a laid-back evening--another Saturday, by coincidence--watching the men's Olympic curling finals in the company of two other friends. The night, with its subdued atmosphere and general pleasantness, was one he remembered fondly and as often as he could: lager sipped without any sense of urgency, chuckles at the expense of a melodramatic CTV announcer, and a total absence of tension. On more stressful days, David focused all his mental energies toward projecting himself back to that evening--a crystallized moment, one that needn't even be augmented by nostalgia.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Six


David and Richard's travails in the grocery store were the definition of mundane, especially in light of their near-collision mere minutes before. Stirred if not shaken, the two wound their way through the aisles, David heaping maybe a little more than what he needed for that evening in Richard's arms as a sort of forced penance. As expected, Richard retorted with accusations of emasculation and sexual inadequacy, to which David replied with strategically timed rolls of the eyes--normal guy stuff.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Five



Richard's Car: A Shitheap's History.

Discovered nestling against the fence at the rear of an Orleans used car lot, the Geo was Richard's most prized possession, purchased after a particularly rewarding night at a casino. On a streak at the baccarat table--aside from dropping in at incredibly inopportune times, Richard was also proficient in styles of poker rarely seen outside of the Sean Connery Bond films--he pledged, quite loudly, to purchase no small number of drinks, an elegant yacht and "...a bag of Goddamned gold."

The following morning Richard awoke to learn that not only had he spent a fifth of his winnings on Singapore Slings and a month's worth of scratch tickets (the winnings from these in turn amounting to $5.75), but the original amount wouldn't have bought a decent motorboat, let alone a satchel of Spanish doubloons.

Nonetheless determined, he had a friend drop him off at the car lot and, after a disturbingly short period of time, departed in the driver's seat of his new means of transportation. Asked later how much he had haggled down from the asking price, Richard responded, "Haggled?"

For Richard, buying the Geo was as though some hitherto unseen chains had been removed, allowing him to pursue any exploit or misadventure on his own time, rather than having to wait up for somebody else. For most other people riding shotgun, it was a death-trap in waiting, a jalopy in dire need of maintenance or at least an oil change. Its brakes were intermittently responsive, its muffler was in dire need of its own muffler, and it accelerated at such a rate that it could go from zero to semi-guided missile in thirty seconds flat.

With this in mind, it was with great reluctance that David persuaded Richard to take their heated discourse to the road. Being stuck in tight quarters with his friend was the least effective way to cool the air but David wanted both Richard and his cache of illegal stimulant off the premises. Thus, he was riding shotgun with a man in possession of a moderate quantity of cocaine, down a busy city street regularly patrolled by police squad cars, and in a speeding wreck-in-waiting nearly two decades past its inspection date to boot. Strategic thinking, to say the least.

The above concerns were but a portion of the anxieties ricocheting off each other in David's mind as the Geo careened through the 417 highway underpass and sped through a yellow light. Pressed against his seat and clutching the passenger door handle in a death grip, he stole a look at Richard, who was grinning from ear to ear and enthusiastically bobbing his head to the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man."

"I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his serrrrrvaaaannntts," he intoned, drumming on the steering wheel in beat with the song. When the final repetition of the chorus kicked in he cast a glance in David's direction, the lyrics dying on his lips and his brow furrowing as he caught sight of his friend's borderline-terrified expression. "You all right, man?"

"Please slow down," Richard murmured, now eyeing a public works truck and imagining a variety of scenarios involving the term 'pancaking.'

"I'm going to be blunt: your near-constant state of panic is really harshing my groove," Richard confessed, his features emoting what resembled, and probably was, sincerity.

"Do people still say that? I know it sounds petty but I like to think idioms have evolved since the mid-70s."

"Hey, fuck you, man!" he said, hurt. "Criticize my lifestyle all you want but I like to talk five minutes without you going all Leonard Maltin on my vocabulary."

David shrugged half-heartedly and said, "Forgive me. My fear of dying in a speeding car wreck tends to bring out the pettier aspects of my personality."

"Oh, come on. What doesn't bring out your petty-bitch? You saw me barely five seconds this morning before telling me to screw off." Richard paused to turned down the car stereo so he wouldn't have to shout. "Bitch at me all you want for my taste for the powder--"

"'Taste for the powder'? Is that even a proper phrase?" David interjected with a muffled tone.

"--bitch at me all you want, but at least save it for something that matters instead of erupting every time I lift a finger. I swear, sometimes you're like a ticking time bomb of impotent rage."

David took advantage of Richard's lessened assault on the gas pedal and pried himself away from his seat back. "Excuse me, I didn't invite myself over to your place for an overnight stay. I didn't bring a drug dealer's stash of cocaine along for the ride. And most importantly, I'm not playing it off like it isn't any big thing." He sighed and gave into g-forces again. "And let it be known how much of a favour I'm doing you by not telling Alex--not now, not ever."

"Excommunication from the Merrick household? Fuck me, I didn't even have to tear up a picture of the Popeohshit." Richard slammed on the brakes, throwing Richard nearly two feet forward in his seat and turning several loose items from the hoarder's nirvana that was the Geo's back seat into low-flying projectiles. The car stopped a metre short of the public works truck, leaving both men shaken and nearly speechless.

Richard, as was to be expected, was the first to speak. "Huh, look at that. We nearly died."

"I swear to Christ, being within ten feet of you is tantamount to courting death," David murmured, shaken.

"I'm rather proud of me, too," Richard replied, popping a stick of gum into his mouth as he pulled off to the side of the road to collect himself. That accomplished, he sighed and looked around the mess that constituted the interior of his car. "Where we going someplace?"

"Grocery store," David breathed.

Richard cocked an eyebrow. "There's a grocery store around here?"

"Three blocks ago, actually. I'd be more pissed at you missing the turn except I'm too distracted by our recent near-death experience." He exhaled and grabbed a stick of Richard's gum. "That and I don't think I told you where we were going in the first place. I figure my getting pissed would be a dick move at this point."

Richard nodded. "You're learning well," he said, and with David turned his attention to the cars passing them by.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Four


Richard ran a towel through his still-damp hair as he descended the basement steps. He caught sight of David sitting at his desk, staring at the screen with a vaguely bemused expression and mumbling an indistinct melody. He had seen his friend in similar states before, a sort of "Dave-land" where anything fun or even mildly stimulating was prohibited for the sake of whatever obligation he currently had. Knowing no such level of concentration, Richard attempted a conquest of his own--


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Three


The man-child gone for the time being, David swept Richard's bag to the floor and flopped onto the cracked yellow leather of the chesterfield, burying his face into the cushions to let out a prolonged, muffled moan. In less than ten minutes his Saturday tranquility had been utterly shattered, its shards trampled upon, melted down, and then skillfully blown into a glasswork manifestation of chaos. Richard had that effect.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - Two


A few grumbled curses later, David stepped through the front door, Richard following a few feet behind, overnight bag slung over his shoulder.

"At least do me the courtesy of wiping your feet," David mumbled, whipping his slippers off his feet with a couple light kicks.

"The lack of faith in your fellow man is startling," Richard replied as he trod through the foyer and into the living room, mud-stained New Balances still clinging to his feet. "Good morning, Alex."

Alexis Merrick, professional grad student and David's better half, was stretched out over a pair of bean bag chairs in front of the TV, stirring the contents of her own cup of tea with a measure of disinterest and leafing through a European history textbook. She wasn't expecting the sight of a partially-unshaven Irishman heading her way with arms spread in expectation of embrace at any point in her day, this implying the opposite of a do-nothing Saturday, and so her response was less than enthusiastic.


Saturday: An Ottawa Story - One



Late that Saturday morning David Merrick strolled out onto his front porch, intending to finish the crossword he had started in the kitchen five minutes previous. Plopping onto the threadbare couch stationed in front of the living room window, he crossed one leg over the other and touched the semi-scalding mug of tea to his lips, observing October weather at its finest: overcast, accented by light wind blowing around the leaves that weren't rendered too heavy by the misty rain now in its second hour of falling. For most, dreary; for David, a welcome reprieve from a nearly month-long heat wave. He took in the autumn air, exhaled, and touched pen to newsprint.


Tangent - New Design!

Aw Hell yeah, Ash Tree Lane has a new look... cobbled together from various templates. Hopefully future Blogger updates will allow me to upload a personalized background photo but I think this is fitting for now.

Soon: actual substantial updates!


Review - The Suburbs

Written and Performed by Arcade Fire
Produced by Arcade Fire and Markus Dravs
Recorded under Merge Records

Note to self: Thursday evening does not qualify as "early next week." Daniel, you lazy ass.


So, yes, over two weeks after its release I am finally reviewing Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. My reason for delaying this long is, in my opinion, far more valid than the one I have for this week's procrastination: I had to let this album become ingrained in my head. One usually has to listen to an album two or three times before the songs come into their own and stand apart from one another. This is no different for me and my two week delay allowed The Suburbs to ferment, so to speak.


Review - Summer Music Roundup

My media purchasing habits tend to come in phases: in my first year of university I amassed a stack of new DVDs; during my second year it seemed I was purchasing every awesome comic collection I could get my hands on; with the following summer and this past school year I went on a book-buying spree. All three of these crazes have come and gone much to the chagrin of my bank account (as well as the mother who partly finances me). More recently--as in, from the beginning of May onward--I initiated the next iteration, that being music.

Though I adore music to the same degree as any other art medium (which is to say a lot), I tend to be behind the times--and yes, this is coming from a newspaper arts editor. I never listened to Arcade Fire's magnificent 2004 debut, Funeral, until last summer, nearly five years after its release. My intense Tool, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails fandoms began a decade after each band's formation and, at most, a full year before their next release. And of course I'm still consuming David Bowie and Pink Floyd long after both artists were in their respective heydays. As such, my music spree has been somewhat of a catching up game--and, again, at the expense of my savings and my mother's love. Thus, I dedicate the rest of this post to briefly reviewing some of the albums I dropped cash on in the past three months, roughly in order of their purchase.


Musing - These Shoes are Made for Walking, Pt. 2

And here we go again. I don't know how long these pedestrian tales (no pun intended) will continue, given that I've taken up bike riding in the last hour or so, but I have at least one more anecdote to put down on proverbial paper. Today's is a sort of blast from the past, thankfully sans Brendan Fraser.

I apologize in advance for this entry's lack of pictures. In an entirely unsurprising turn of events no photos of Brantford's north end can be found in a Google Image search, and I'm too lazy and bereft of transportation to take another stroll and snap some pictures. Thus tonight's post may seem aesthetically drab. Then again, I did decorate my previous entry with photos of Brantford's most dilapidated buildings, so I'm not exactly operating at a loss.


Musing - These Shoes are Made for Walking, Pt. 1

In the words of Aaron Lewis of Staind, "It's been a while." I figure once I get back to school and take up my editorial position proper I can return to posting on this blog on a regular basis (as if I ever did). Though I can't pinpoint why, I find that Ottawa breeds a better writing atmosphere than Brantford. Maybe it's due to its greater number of Starbucks, thus affording me more opportunities to sit by a window, sip on a chai latte, jab away at my laptop keyboard and generally put on airs.

However, this and--hopefully--the next few posts centre on my hometown of Brantford, where I was born, raised and spent the first 18 years of my life. Specifically, I'm going to use up bandwidth by prattling on about the series of long, sweat-producing walks I've opted to take over the past week. Being on a two week break from work I have more time in the day to putt around and cross half the length of the city just for the Hell of it. I wouldn't label myself as a "pro walker," but I've been strutting my stuff for so long that the actual mental energy I expend while on a stroll amounts to "Is that a car? Shit, better get back on the sidewalk." This being as such, my mind wanders and I ponder over any number of things. What follows is a relatively brief summary of where I've gone on my walks and what I've thought during.


Analysis - Let's talk about Close Encounters

In the fall of last year I embraced a rejuvinated sense of scepticism after reading Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. With this healthy dose of incredulity I ended up reassessing and ultimately discarding some of the beliefs I had entertained if not necessarily clung to over the years, UFOs and alien visitations among them. While in recent years I wasn't as die-hard a UFO nut as I was in Grade 8--when I actually did a school speech on the topic--I nevertheless enjoyed pondering and casually researching the subject. UFO and ET-related flicks make up the core of my cinematic preferences (although the actual film E.T. is exempt, thank God), and I've had my fair share of late nights discussing this shared interest with my friends around the dying embers of a campfire. Scary nights, come to think of it.

With the knowledge that I'll now regard such stories with a big shaker of salt comes a sense of mild disappointment: yes, the concept scared me a little--a mixture of wonder and the uncanny and heavily fueled by the works of H.R. Giger--but I enjoy being scared. Quite frankly, it's an incredibly sensous feeling, and a sudden injection of fear does a fine job of keeping my ego in check. And nothing quite compares to walking back home alone in the wee hours in the morning, constantly checking over one's shoulder, wary of a flicker in the shadows or a spine-chilling sound or, most of all, an ethereal glow on the horizon.

Strangely enough, my increased scepticism coincides with ever-ascending appreciation for a certain film that, considering its subject matter, I should probably appreciate less: Steven Spielberg's 1977 epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


Review - Fall on Your Knees

Written by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Published by Vintage Canada

If taking a Canadian literature course this year has taught me two things, here they are:

1.) The "Canadian experience" cannot be examined holistically until one rejects the notion of a homogenous culture and recognizes that it is comprised of a wide variety of diaspora and traditions.

2.) Canadian literature is fucked up.

I don't mean to bash my Home and Native Land with the second point, or suggest that those who provide Canada's literary output are themselves dysfunctional; no country ever fully works out its issues. But we Canadians seem to have a knack for piecing together narratives rich, fascinating and macabre. Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees is no exception to the rule.


Review - The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by William F. Finkelstein, based on the earlier screenplay by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner, Brad Dourif

Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans is an archetypal example of Absurdist cinema. Its characters are constantly seeking clarity, fulfilment and answers and never truly obtain them. It has one of the most unexpected "happy endings" I've ever seen a flick end on and yet one that still leaves its titular character spent and looking utterly lost. His last word to the camera is not so much a word as it is a syllable, a single, knowing "Heh" uttered possibly to himself, possibly to whomever is watching.

It is also incredibly absurd. In its nearly two hour running time there was no shortage of moments where I couldn't decide whether to gasp or burst out laughing, though most of the time I instinctually ended up doing the latter. Its latter half is rife with hallucinations, ranging from a pair of placid of undeniably sinister-looking iguanas to a dead debt collector's breakdancing soul. In fact, I have my doubts that the aforementioned obscenely happy ending isn't some massive drug-fueled delusion. As blasphemous as it sounds, I've never previously seen any of Herzog's films but I have a funny feeling the man likes to fuck with his audience, because that's the distinct impression I got from watching this film.