Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Jam.

(Picture found conveniently via Google image search. Thanks to whoever made it.)

My sister and her friends do this cool mixtape thing where they create themed playlists and send them to each other. OK, I guess that’s not so much a “cool mixtape thing” as much as it’s just a mixtape. Well, whatever. I thought it was pretty cool and when I was asked to come up with one with the theme of “summer music,” I was more than happy to play along.

Part of the fun is that you have to explain why you’ve included each of the songs. Since this is all done digitally with the aid of Megaupload, the explanations are usually included in the .zip file with the songs. I say usually because I’m putting my explanations here. I am naming my mix “Summer Jam,” so that image up top is my album cover. Theoretically. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my mixtape:

1. Beheading of a King – Prelude

This is an instrumental track that I think works well as an opener. It’s nice and heavy and brisk, which sort of sets a tone for the rest of the “record.” The briskness, that is. I don’t really have much of an explanation behind this song, I just think it’s a good opener and I’ve listened to a bunch of Beheading of a King this summer.

2. The Suicide Machines – New Girl

Back in the summer of 2000, I got a demo disc for my Sega Dreamcast that included a demo of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It was the opening level of the game, you had to skate as Tony Hawk and “New Girl” was the only song that played. This has had the unintended effect of forever linking this song and that game to summer in my head. Which is fine, it’s a fast, fun skacore song that was nearly the opener on this mixtape. I think it’s a very summery song.

3. Breathe Carolina – Down

I am an unabashed fan of covers. I also really like a lot of dance pop. “Down” is the first song off of Punk Goes Pop 3, a record of covers by “punk” (well…) bands. I tend to like the Punk Goes albums a lot. “Down” is unbelievably catchy and fun. It’s one of two “club” songs on here and you kind of have to have club songs on a summer-themed record.

4. Set Your Goals – Summer Jam

Fun pop-punk song that is pretty much just included as a title track for the mixtape. I like Set Your Goals a lot, though.

5. Old Man Markley – Do Me Like You Do

I saw Old Man Markley play with NOFX back in June and was completely blown away. They’re just a super fun, fast country band with a punk feel and attitude. They were amazing live and I walked straight to their merch table and bought Guts N’ Teeth, the record that includes this song. It’s very different from the rest of the mix, but it’s still very good.

6. A Day To Remember – NJ Legion Iced Tea

Part of me is getting really sick of A Day To Remember, but this song rules. I think it’s the best song they’ve ever done and it’s the song that made me start listening to them. Well, besides their cover of “Since U Been Gone.”

7. August Burns Red – Internal Cannon

August Burns Red is one of my favourite metal bands going and Leveler is right up there amongst my favourite records of this year. They’ve become a band I associate with summer so I figured I should have them represented here. “Internal Cannon” works for me.

8. Teenage Bottlerocket – Skate or Die

I suppose I can’t say that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater makes me think of summer and then ignore a pop-punk song about skateboarding, can I?

9. Major Lazer – Mary Jane

This would be the second of the “club” songs on the mix. The lyrics really aren’t anything I can get behind, but like most of Major Lazer’s work, this song has an incredible beat and oozes style. Really fun and very summery.

10. Sum 41 – Summer

Too literal?

11. Goo Goo Dolls – Long Way Down

Even if this wasn’t a song that I thought was really great, a song that I started listening to last summer after hearing a cover by a different band that would turn out to be one of my favourite bands ever (more on them in a bit)… I have to include this simply for being on the soundtrack of Twister. Have to.

12. NOFX – Mattersville

NOFX is my favourite band and there is pretty much no theme you can ever give me that I won’t be able to link them to somehow.

13. The Killing Moon – You Oughta Know

Another Punk Goes… cover. This one is off of Punk Goes 90s, is the only The Killing Moon song I’ve ever heard and is really great. I like this better than the Alanis Morissette original, which is a great song in its own right. It’s a fair bit darker than anything else included here, too, which is a nice change.

14. Ace of Base – Cruel Summer

I love Ace of Base. This is, again, maybe going a little too literal with the songs, but oh well. Also: another cover!

15. Goldfinger – Superman

Another song from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack and, in my opinion, the greatest ska song of all time. I almost forgot to throw this on the mix. What a disaster that would have been.

16. Haste The Day – When Everything Falls

My favourite song by one of my favourite bands (the one mentioned earlier via Goo Goo Dolls). The first time I ever heard this song, it was summer. That’s good enough for me. It’s a perfect record closer unless I decided to put a bonus track on here.

Which I did.

17 (Bonus). Rebecca Black – Friday (Dubstep)

I unironically adore this version of Rebecca Black’s awful original. I found it on YouTube in the days after the original “Friday” came out and thought it was just great. And really, what is summer if not one giant Friday? Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend (weekend).

You can find a link to my Summer Jam mix below. Obviously I do not own any of the songs or the pictures contained in this post.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A great record tinged with sadness.

I first saw Beheading of a King play at a Misery Signals show in 2010. I really like Misery Signals, but I only went to the show because my friend's band was playing too. I also ran into the show promoter when I had $10 in my pocket and no real excuse to not buy a ticket. It's still the best show I've ever seen in this city. Misery Signals was great, Structures was really good and my friend's band wasn't even half-bad. Beheading of a King (BOAK) stole the show. They were fast, they were creative, they were loud, they had a great singer (Matt Paquette; there is a video from his YouTube account of him singing “Hallelujah” at the end of this post) and they were bone-jarringly heavy. It was a hell of a first impression.

About eight months later, the great singer hanged himself. He was 20. It was upsetting and sad for all the reasons it's always upsetting and sad when people are driven to suicide. It was confusing for all the reasons it's always confusing when young people achieving success in something they love commit suicide. As a selfish music fan, it was disappointing because it meant I wouldn't get to hear any new music from BOAK or Matt Paquette anymore.

Turns out, the selfish music fan was wrong. BOAK reshuffled their lineup, with guitarist Rick Patenaude taking over vocals, and and forged on. They're currently on a tour that brought them to Toronto last Wednesday; I wasn't able to make the trip and I wish I could have. They've also released a new record titled Quasar: Preserving Legacy, a seven-song EP that was recorded with Paquette.

From the moment the record opens, it's clear that this is a special band. “Quasar” displays all the creativity and brutal inventiveness that made me fall in love with BOAK last spring. “Bible Crumbles,” a song that was on their previous, self-titled EP but is re-recorded here, opens with Paquette viciously screaming “you know me” as the rest of the band kicks in. “Reclaim This Gold” builds itself into a desperate frenzy. Each song packs a devastating-yet-catchy punch, expertly toeing the line between layered complexity and overly cluttered.

Context matters as much as talent, though, and this record exists as a tribute to a fallen friend. What was once envisioned as a testament to BOAK’s musical well-roundedness is now a great record tinged with sadness. Quasar: Preserving Legacy is just as much about the love Patenaude and the rest of the BOAK boys feel for Paquette as it is about being an excellent piece of music, and that’s what makes this a truly special record.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Countdown: The X-Men movies

1. X-Men: First Class

And we have our winner.

You know, for a long time I had no intention of seeing X-Men: First Class. The third movie sucked and Wolverine was a fun movie that relied heavily on the title character. A character that would not be in First Class. I hadn't seen anything with James McAvoy. Having not started watching Mad Men, January Jones only existed to me as the girl from the third American Pie. Almost all of the male roles seemed to have been cast from a “Hannah Montana Boyfriend Catalogue” to the point where one of them was actually Hannah Montana's boyfriend in that movie. It was coming out the same summer as Captain America, a movie I was seeing opening weekend no matter what, and I cared so little about First Class that I didn't even both to watch a trailer.

Then a funny thing happened. Some years ago I signed up for the Rotten Tomatoes newsletter for whatever reason. For years, that thing went straight into my junk mail folder. The weekend X-Men: First Class came out, the newsletter happened to be sitting in my inbox. Without thinking, I read it and noticed that the new X-Men film was getting really good reviews. I said “what the hell, it's only 10 bucks, let's go see it.”

And I absolutely loved it. Walking out of the theatre, I wondered aloud if it might be even better than X2; having rewatched both now, I don't think it's even close. For a movie I had zero expectations for, I was blown away.

This movie belongs to McAvoy (Charles Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (Erik, or Magneto to most) in the same way that The Dark Knight belonged to Heath Ledger. Both leads are just wonderful. The screen crackles with the energy they bring to their roles. McAvoy's Charles is a quick-talking idealist recruited by the CIA to help stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, who is also excellent) while Fassbender-as-Erik is a lethal, James Bond-esque killing machine driven by vengeance against Shaw. Charles and Erik cross paths while both are attacking Shaw, Charles with the CIA and Erik by himself. There aren't many surprises in the plot the rest of the way: the two find and train fellow mutants into the X-Men before separating over ideological differences. But while Wolverine abused plot twists, First Class succeeds without them with a simple rule: if McAvoy, Fassbender, Bacon or any combination of the three are in a scene, the scene is probably working.

That's not to say that this is a flawless picture. Shaw's fellow villains are woefully underdeveloped. Two of them are nothing but a depiction of a mutant power and the third, Jones-as-Emma Frost, is almost solely sex appeal and bitchiness (to be fair, Jones is pretty great at both of those things). The mutants recruited by Charles and Erik are almost all exceptionally lame. Darwin, whose power is “adapt to survive” (wait, that's an actual mutant power?) gets the old black-guy-dies-first slasher movie treatment. Angel is boring to begin with and annoying after she decides to be evil and attack her friends for no real discernible reason. Banshee, a character that is really cool in concept, is completely atrocious. He's by far the worst of the Hannah Montana Boyfriends, all shaggy hair and pouty lips and doing his damnedest to rip off Chris Pine's voice in Star Trek. Havok is pretty harmless and Beast has some great moments and then other moments where he's upside down grooving to 50s music.

There are more good characters than just Shaw, Charles and Erik, though. Wolverine shows up for a cameo, which was a really nice surprise. I really liked Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt as CIA agents, and Jennifer Lawrence's turn as Raven (Mystique) really grew on me during my third viewing. She's the emotional centre of the film, a character who just wants to belong and fit in but can't because of her mutation. Eventually she splits from Charles, her oldest friend, to go with Erik, who promises to never judge her. The decision feels completely natural and organic, even though it's foreshadowed by three movies with Mystique at Magneto's side.

X-Men: First Class is set against the real-life drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's an interesting backdrop, one that doesn't lend itself well to surprise endings but it's neat to see the way the mutants intersect with “history.” Both the Russians and Americans turn their aim towards the mutants, who hadn't yet been revealed to the world, as Erik implores his fellow mutants to join his side and fight the humans. In fact, the scene where Erik murders Shaw, finally getting his revenge, is the best scene in any X-Men film. Better than Cyclops fighting back tears in the White House after Jean's death in X2, better than Magneto playing chess in a park at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand alone after his best friend's death, better than the opening credits of X-Men Origins: Wolverine with Logan and Victor fighting in history's great wars. Erik telling Shaw “for what it's worth, I agree with every word you said” and then launching a Nazi-branded coin through Shaw's skull is absolutely chilling.

It all adds up to a movie that, while dropping in quality any time McAvoy, Fassbender or Bacon isn't on the screen, completely smokes all of the X-films that came before it. I think it holds up well against The Dark Knight as the best superhero movie ever made. Most impressively of all, it's singlehandedly made me excited for more X-Men movies. X-Men: First Class is just a great, great film.

Countdown: The X-Men movies

2. X2

If X-Men changed the game for superhero movies (and it did), X2 changed it again in a different, more important way. With X2, it was suddenly possible for the genre to deliver real, actual good movies. Hell, it was expected. X-Men paved the way for superhero movies to take our money every summer. X2 let them do more than just take our money every summer. It raised the bar.

So it's a little disappointing to revisit this movie and see it hasn't entirely held up. Some parts of the film are downright painful (such as Pyro attacking the police offers outside of Bobby's house). Too many of the characters are still handled poorly. For example, Cyclops gets to exchange quips with Wolverine at the beginning before immediately being captured. He doesn't appear again until the climax when, under brainwashing, he attacks Jean briefly. And I do mean “briefly,” as he quickly overcomes his brainwashing to help Jean limp around for a few minutes.

But X2 is just such a vast improvement over its predecessor on almost every level imaginable. Wolverine is much better and far more consistent, even with the presence of a botched love subplot with Jean (Wolverine telling Cyclops “Jean chose you” at the end of the movie is so ridiculous, because it's never made apparent that Jean or even Cyclops take Wolverine's love interest seriously; the whole thing seems to be made up in Wolverine's head. Barely any screen time is devoted to the love story and it only serves to further a really annoying trend in superhero films, where the main character has to have a love interest, regardless of how it fits into the story. But I digress...)

Rogue is both better and less important than in X-Men, relegated to the B-squad with Iceman and Pyro. Professor X gets kidnapped and taken out of the picture yet again, which is a little frustrating, but his captive scenes are riveting (the little girl in these scenes is excellent). Mystique is worlds better in X2, a well-rounded villain showing both creativity and cunning. Magneto isn't the main villain, but by siding with the heroes we get to see his point and motivation. He's handled a lot better this time out, too.

Even the action is improved. The assault on the school is stunning, as is the climatic battle at the military base. Lady Deathstrike is really only here so that Wolverine can have an adamantium-based villain to fight and thus is a lame duck character (oh come on, who do you really think is going to win that fight?), but the effect of liquid metal pouring out of her eyes is chilling. And the opening scene with Nightcrawler attacking the White House both impressive and a great way to introduce a new character. Nightcrawler is a really nice surprise here, a tortured character that draws the audience's sympathy. Wolverine may be the star, but Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the movie's heart.

Brian Cox's performance as Col. Striker is absolutely show-stealing. He's the most hateable villain in an X-Men film yet. Striker is so evil, hypocritical and outright wrong that even Magneto plays hero to stop him. He even looks like my jerk of an ex-boss! The best part is Striker doesn't get to repent, he doesn't show remorse and he's so absolutely convinced that he's right, the only fitting end to his arc is being left to die by literally everyone.

X2 isn't perfect, but its ending just might be. After Jean sacrifices herself to save the others, an emotionally-destroyed Cyclops, with a pained look on his face that makes you wonder why they didn't bother using him more in the rest of the movie, stands alongside his teammates as Professor X explains to the president the importance of humans and mutants working together. It's a poignant and fitting end to a really, really good movie.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Countdown: The X-Men movies

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

It’s funny: X-Men: The Last Stand is insufferable for many reasons, one of which is entirely too much Wolverine. Yet this movie has even more of him and it’s totally watchable. Weird.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the first in a proposed series of prequel movies to flesh out the primary characters in the first three X-Men movies. That may not end up happening, but this movie does an alright job of digging into Wolverine’s past. The film shows us everything from his childhood to his lifetime as a soldier to love interests to, yes, the moment where adamantium is bonded to his skeleton. Hugh Jackman plays the title character for a fourth time and yet again does a pretty good job with the part.

This movie belongs to Liev Schreiber, however. Schreiber plays Victor Creed, better known to most as Sabretooth (but never referred to as such here) and is Wolverine’s half-brother/rival. There isn’t a single scene he doesn’t steal, and he quickly wipe’s Tyler Mane’s disastrous turn as Sabretooth in X-Men completely from memory. The “bag lady claws” are kind of lame, I suppose, but Creed oozes with swagger. I also quite liked Danny Huston as William Stryker, though that may have been because I’m a Danny Huston fan. In fairness, Huston isn’t nearly as good here as he is in Boogie Woogie, nor is he as good as Brian Cox is in X2 at the same role. But Huston does add a certain little something to the movie even without being flawless.

Other than Schreiber, Huston and Jackman, there’s not much positivity to go around for the rest of the cast. Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit is just plain annoying and I really hated Kayla Silverfox (played by Lynn Collins). Ryan Reynolds, another actor that I really enjoy, is barely used at all. I liked Kevin Durand as The Blob and Dominic Monaghan as Bradley, but both suffer from the same fate as Reynolds and rarely show up. John Wraith felt like a character who was only on the screen so often because he was played by a famous person (

Large chunks of the plot are largely ridiculous and the action is almost uniformly unsatisfying. Everything with Kayla was painful to sit through, particularly the escape sequence towards the end where she helps a bunch of mutant children escape from captivity. Patrick Stewart’s de-aging effects make him look a little too much like Jar Jar Binks, which is a lame payoff to the escape. There’s also a subplot after Wolverine bonds with the adamantium where he escapes the facility and finds a well-meaning elderly couple that help get him back on his feet. They’re cute, but they’re killed off within five minutes of screen time, rendering the whole affair completely absurd. Their murder is immediately followed by a cringe-worthy action scene where Wolverine propels from an exploding motorcycle onto a helicopter flying above him. It’s worse than it sounds.

The big reveal of Deadpool as the final enemy for Wolverine to battle would have certainly been a lot better received if he had been named anything other than Deadpool. What’s presented is a pretty cool concept for a character, but it’s just not Deadpool. It would have been nice if we had gotten that monstrosity earlier in the film because it really deserved more than a five-minute fight scene before getting its head cut off.

Still, even with its problems, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is surprisingly fun. Schreiber is a show-stealer and Jackman was born to play Wolverine. More importantly, the movie doesn’t need to be anything more than what it is: a fun, if mindless, action movie with plenty of Wolverine escapades. Works for me.

Countdown: The X-Men movies

4. X-Men

Good lord, look at that poster. A movie that is ostensibly a metaphor for race relations and civil rights has a tag line of “trust a few, fear the rest.” Really? That’s the message you want?

This is the movie that “started the revolution,” if you will. Sadly, it hasn’t really held up well over the years. The appeal here is pretty much “holy crap, they actually made an X-Men flick.” Eleven years later and we’ve seen plenty of X-Men flicks. Oh well, what can you do? What we’re left with is a standard, if kind of cool, summer tentpole picture.

The biggest crime this movie commits is in assuming that everyone is quite familiar with the source material. I had a friend who once suggested to me that comic book movies were made solely to please comic book fans. Outside of lip service, this is demonstrably false, but if one was really committed to that argument, this is the movie to make it with. The primary characters are Rogue and Wolverine, the new recruits to the X-Men. Everyone else has an established role and motives, but the audience really only gets in the heads of the two “new guys.”

This would be fine except that Rogue really, really sucks in this movie. That’s not necessarily a problem, because most of the X-Men pretty much suck in this movie, but Rogue is the main character. The entire plot revolves around her: Magneto and his Brotherhood (made up of Mystique, Toad and Sabretooth) intend to use Rogue to infect humanity with radiation that, apparently, dissolves people into water. So they kidnap Rogue and Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey have to go save her. Watching this, I thought “that’s stupid, save the people instead and let Rogue die.” And Rogue was my favourite character in the cartoon, so that’s not a great sign.

See, Rogue isn’t written like she is in the cartoon or comics. Instead, she’s shoehorned a little too hard into the role of audience surrogate. I understand that, because you can’t really have Wolverine be the super-cool bad ass and be audience surrogate, but in forcing Rogue to play that part, almost everything cool about her character is stripped away. The Rogue we get isn’t indestructible and can’t fly. We get a Rogue who takes everyone else’s energy and develop crushes on the cute boy in her class.

Wolverine is perfectly fine as super-cool bad ass and it’s easy to see why he’s the default favourite character for almost everyone watching this movie. Unlike X-Men: Volume 1, he has plenty of importance in the story, but the movie isn’t completely oversaturated with Wolverine the way X-Men: The Last Stand is. It does get a little comical watching Wolverine storm out on the team; it probably only happens once or twice, but it feels more like 20 walk-outs in a 100-minute movie.

Everything else here is either really under-developed or outright bad. X-Men starts the annoying habit in the movies of removing Professor X as soon as they can. Cyclops is completely useless and only acts as a foil to Wolverine. Storm and Jean are basically just there. Mystique is done pretty well and Ian McKellen is a fun Magneto, but Sabretooth and Toad range are laughably bad at best. The radiation effects are unintentionally hilarious.

The movie itself feels very small in scope next to, well, all of the superhero movies that came after it. The action sequences are really basic. But in a way, there’s something really endearing about the simplicity of this movie, and that’s probably it’s greatest strength. It’s fun to go back to the summer of 2000 when this was a mind-blowing film. It’s simple and small and has plenty of bad to go around, but X-Men is pretty cool nonetheless.

Countdown: The X-Men movies

Lists rule, don’t they?

Over the last week I re-watched all of the live-action X-Men films, an act inspired by watching the first volume of the 90s X-Men cartoon. This is the film franchise that is largely responsible for the 2000s boom in superhero movies. X-Men came out in 2000 and by the end of the decade a superhero or comic book property attached to a movie had basically become turned into a license to print money.

Unless you were the poor soul trying to get Jonah Hex made, that is.

For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting a countdown-style list of the X-Men movies, from worst to best. Also, posters!

5. X-Men: The Last Stand

A complete and utter mess. I’m not specifically opposed to killing off important characters in movies. Hell, I’m all for it if the movie is going to do it well. X-Men seems, on paper, like a property that is just aching for some of the big guns to die. Look at the poster above; there are nine mutants on it, none of which is Magneto or his Brotherhood or even one of the Morlocks that start following him throughout the movie. That’s also not counting any of the non-mutant characters and it doesn’t include Iceman or Colossus. That’s a ton of mutants. The easiest thing to do would be to criticize this movie for having too many mutants.

The problem isn’t “too many,” though. The problem is the way everything is handled. Cyclops and Professor X are killed off in short order. Mystique is depowered early on. Rogue and Magneto are depowered by the end of the flick. Rogue is a lot less important than she was in the first two films, as is Iceman. Angel and Colossus rarely show up and don’t have much to work with when they do. The Morlocks are just generic bad guys; I don’t even think Callisto’s name is given.

What this boils down to is writing. The entire creative team changed between the second film (which was mostly consistent with the first) and the third. In the process, characters like Rogue and Iceman, the main “kids” in the first two who had plenty of screen time, are shoved aside here. The worst part is that they’re not really replaced. Ellen Page’s turn as Kitty Pryde is fun, but much like Angel and Colossus, she isn’t around all that much. The lack of consistency in the writing abruptly drops characters we’ve grown to care about and half-heartedly replace them with new characters.

Mostly, though, the movie is just streamlined to be even more Wolverine-centric than the previous two. Wolverine is the “only one who can stop” Jean. Of course. There he is leading the X-Men into the final battle. Even at the beginning of the movie, he has no interest in being a leader. What the hell?

Another problem with the movie is too much happens. Most Kitty screen time is dedicated to Iceman and Rogue getting jealous in a subplot that is barely touched upon. Rogue and Iceman were one of the main storylines in X2 and yet here they’re swimming upstream. There’s an entire, awful subplot with political leaders, too. Josef Sommer, playing “The President” (not any specific president mind you, just The President) gets this really horrible bit where he stares straight into the camera and starts rambling threats to Magneto. It’s pretty surreal, actually, and ripped straight out of a bad 1980s action flick. The camera doesn’t move and he doesn’t move his eyes away from it. It’s the low point in a movie full of them.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The moustache.

By the time I took high school civics in 2004, Jack Layton was already leader of the NDP. I feel bad for saying this today (of all days), but I thought Layton was kind of annoying and much preferred Paul Martin of the Liberals and Stephen Harper of the Conservatives. Martin won the Canadian federal election that year; Harper placed second and Layton finished a distant fourth (apparently I was not alone).

Fast forward seven years to the spring of 2011 and Jack Layton singlehandedly carried his beloved NDP to a second place finish. The NDP had never finished better than third in the history of this country. It was a stunning result. Layton and the NDP leapfrogged the Liberals (then led by Michael Ignatieff) and made a real charge at Harper’s Conservatives. People started to believe. They had never believed in the NDP before. Not en masse.

Layton lost his battle with cancer this morning. At 61, he’s inarguably gone too soon. He had more work to do. He revitalized a party and became the face of left-wing politics in this country. Now the already-fractured left doesn’t have a single leader in sight, let alone a personable one like Layton. It’s probably not appropriate to start talking about political repercussions on the day he died, but there it is. This country and its politics were far better off with the moustache.

The most amazing part of the NDP’s rise was that it was solely because of Layton. Many Canadians (too many) aren’t quite familiar with our voting system here; most people think they’re voting for the prime minister on election day. In fact, unless someone lived in the riding of Toronto-Danforth, they weren’t actually casting a vote for Layton. Since a lot of people don’t know or understand this, they go to the voting booth on election day thinking that they’re voting directly for who becomes prime minister.

Five million people voted for the NDP on May 2, including me. Most of them were actually voting for Jack Layton. This was most noticeable in Quebec, where the NDP made its biggest gains, when people like Ruth Ellen Brosseau – who had never set foot in the riding she was elected and spent part of the campaign in Las Vegas - got elected for no other reason than people believed in Layton.

Over the years Layton became the last charismatic Canadian politician on the landscape. This year we were burdened with the borderline-robotic Harper and personality-vacuum Ignatieff. Layton, with his cane and his moustache, was the only likable guy in the bunch. It says wonders that so many Canadians, a country that hasn’t ever really been friendly to the NDP, converted at the drop of the hat for Layton.

Goodbye, Jack. Thanks for making us believe.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Chris Drury broke into the NHL in 1998-99 and by the time he won his first Stanley Cup two years later, he was already one of my favourite players. He was such a determined little guy who always seemed to come up when it counted. Wendel Clark was practically a god in my house in my early years, so it’s easy to see the draw to Drury.

He won the Calder Trophy for best rookie in 1999, beating out fellow Colorado Avalanche Milan Hejduk (who would later lead the NHL with 50 goals in 2003) and Ottawa Senator Marian Hossa (who would later take out Bryan Berard’s eye… no, I’m not bitter). Drury’s 44-point freshman year may seem a little light to newer fans, but you have to remember the landscape of the late 90s NHL: Hejduk led all rookies in 1999 with 48 points. Woof. In four years with the Avalanche, Drury scored 85 goals and 222 points, adding 25 goals and 50 points in the playoffs.

Those Avalanche teams were stacked to all hell. As good as Drury was (he quickly picked up a reputation for being clutch; of those 25 playoff goals in a Colorado jersey, 11 were game-winners), he was permanently slotted behind Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg at centre. Forsberg was frequently hurt so Drury got plenty of chances, but you knew he wouldn’t stay in Denver forever. He dropped from 65 to 46 points in 2001-02 (though for reference, Jaromir Jagr led the league in 2001 with 121 points; Jarome Iginla led in 2002 with 96, and Jagr tied for fifth with 79) and that pretty much sealed the deal. By the start of the next season, Drury was off to Calgary. This began one of the few times in my life that I actually liked the Calgary Flames, a one-year feat for which Drury was solely responsible. It didn’t last; the Flames were looking to build off of Iginla’s monster 01-02, and when he fell back and Drury put up only 53 points, Drury was shipped off to Buffalo.

In 03-04, Drury’s first year with Buffalo, he fell under the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career. After the lockout, however, Drury became a Buffalo legend, scoring 67 goals in two seasons and co-captaining the Sabres back to relevancy for the first time since Dominik Hasek was in town. But then came the summer of 2007 and The Contract. Drury signed a gigantic five-year, $35.25 million contract with the team he grew up cheering, the New York Rangers. The Rangers also signed fellow midget Scott Gomez to an even bigger deal, and Drury’s old Buffalo co-captain, Daniel Briere (yet another tiny forward – Gomez is actually the tallest of the three) left the Sabres for the Philadelphia Flyers. Drury’s contract seemed especially exorbitant on paper, considering that he had never hit 70 points in a season, but that’s just how valued his leadership and two-way abilities were.

Drury got to fulfill dreams with the Rangers: he captained his childhood team while wearing no. 23 for his childhood idol, Don Mattingly. The Rangers have been a team of status for my entire lifetime; even when they were bad, that’s where the stars played, and the brightest stars wore the captain’s “C”. Messier, Leetch, Jagr and then Drury. Drury even captained the United States team in the 2010 Olympics, where they won the silver medal.

But New York was the beginning of the end for Chris Drury. He fell just shy of 60 points in both his first two seasons as the Rangers struggled to find roles for him and Gomez. Then the wheels came off in 2009-10; even as he was being named captain of Team USA, he was being demoted to the fourth line in New York at age 33. Seeing hockey players fall off the face of the Earth in their early-30s used to be commonplace and sometimes still is, but Drury was different and it felt weird to watch him struggle for the first time. Last season he was plagued with knee injuries and played only 24 games, scoring five points. The Rangers bought out the remaining season of The Contract in July and today Drury announced his retirement.

I guess time eventually gets the best of all of us.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

X-Men: Volume 1

There’s no real way to say this other than to just say it: Fox Kids completely and utterly ruled. At any one time, Fox Kids was broadcasting Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, The Tick, Spider-Man, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Taz-Mania and X-Men. And that was just in 1994. I watched Fox Kids for at least the last half of the 90s. You were getting two hours an afternoon and four hours on Saturday mornings before the grown-ups wanted to come along and watch Ricki Lake or whatever. It was the best.

While I’m unfortunately no longer a child living in 1994, DVD box sets help me to prolong having to grow up and be more interested in Jersey Shore than Big Bad Beetleborgs. In 2009, Buena Vista started releasing the full X-Men series under the Marvel Comic Book Collection line. Within ten months, Buena Vista had put out five volumes of the two-disc sets. There were five seasons of X-Men, but instead of releasing the show in a season format (as most television shows are), Buena Vista opted to divvy up the show’s 76 episodes in roughly equal chunks for each volume.

I can kind of see the point in this, as even with season three’s 25 (!) episodes, no one is going to pay more than $30 for X-Men DVDs, and the final season only has 10 episodes. At the same time, some of the episodes are aired out of continuity order, and releasing by volume pretty much forces you to buy all five. For example, the first season is contained in its entirety on X-Men: Volume 1, but after the very satisfying season finale, there’s three extra episodes that starts off the next season. It prevents each set from standing on its own.

The main X-Men team here is made up of Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit and Jubilee. The characterizations are a little mixed. Professor X seems to show up only when the rest of the team is at an impasse and the plot needs to continue. Cyclops is constantly yelling at everyone, especially Wolverine and Gambit. Beast is removed from the team in the first two episodes to serve a prison sentence (he gets out by the end of disc two), though he’s portrayed as very noble throughout. Morph is another character who starts with the X-Men, but he gets killed in the second episode before any real conclusions about him can be made.

Jubilee acts as the audience surrogate, a young teenager who is new to this whole superhero thing and the world the X-Men live in. Despite having the most useless superpower of the team, she’s surprisingly effective in the role. Jean is absolutely useless, basically serving to illustrate how high the stakes are for our heroes. She’s constantly shown as still learning about her powers, which puts her far behind the curve of everyone save Jubilee. Jean is frequently shown trying to use her telepathy to help the team, only to collapse in screaming pain.

Surprisingly, Wolverine is almost as big a whiner as Jean. Even though he gets an entire episode to himself (“Cold Vengeance”) and even though he’s everyone’s default favourite, he doesn’t actually do anything especially interesting throughout the set. In fact, it isn’t until the opening episodes of the second season (and the final episodes of X-Men: Volume 1), after Morph is brought back, that storylines with Wolverine finally start to heat up. Plus, by then, the writers had long given up on a failed attempt to get over “I go… where I WANNA go” as a catchphrase for him.

Storm and Rogue compete for the most character development. Storm gets an episode dedicated to overcoming her claustrophobia (“Captive Hearts,” though her claustrophobia comes back up in “Slave Island”) and another episode dealing with her past and the best villain on the set, Shadow King (“Whatever It Takes,” the last episode on the set). Rogue gets two episodes dealing with giving up her powers to be normal, only to change her mind when she realizes how much good she can do with them (“The Cure” and “Come The Apocalypse”). Rogue emerges from X-Men: Volume 1 as the best character, the one X-Man with both the best and most tragic mutant powers. She’s also aided by a teased relationship with Gambit, who oozes charisma and is by far the coolest character.

Magneto, the X-Men’s default archrival, isn’t utilized too much. He shows up in three episodes and we get both his backstory and mission statement, but in the finale of season one (“The Final Decision,” which is an interesting title for an episode where the Sentinels try to wipe out all of humanity…) he’s shoved aside fairly quickly so we can get to Master Mold, the “final boss” of the season. Apocalypse shows up for the two Rogue-centric episodes and is sufficiently evil. The viewer is left wanting more from both Magneto and Apocalypse in season two. Mr. Sinister shows up at the end of the set as well and Cyclops actually gets to yell at him instead of his teammates. Sinister seems like evil incarnate until Shadow King’s appearance in the very next episode. Sabretooth is definitely the most disappointing villain of the X-Men: Volume 1, but part of that is probably related to his being tied to Wolverine.

Part of me wishes this two-disc set wrapped up with “The Final Decision,” which really is a satisfying finale. But the other side of including three episodes of season two to make the viewer want to watch the next volume is, well, I really want to watch the next volume now. And you know what? I think the 1994 version of me would be quite pleased with that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talent shows. defines talent show as “a theatrical show in which a series of usually amateur or aspiring singers, dancers, comedians, instrumentalists, etc., perform in the hope of gaining recognition.” Talent shows are a stable of every small town community fair, every grade school, every local bar scene. The talent show was, in many ways, the precursor to reality television, so it makes sense that so many reality shows in the past few years have been gussied-up talent shows. Somewhat famously, Trivium frontman Matt Heafy was recruited by original vocalist Brad Lewter after Heafy performed The Offspring’s “Self-Esteem” at a high school talent show in 1999. Lewter left the band soon after, leaving Heafy to the dual duties of lead guitar and vocals.

Trivium released Ember to Inferno in 2003; Heafy was barely 17. Ember to Inferno was very rough and unpolished, sounding more like a collection of demos than a real record. Ascendancy came two years later and was a marked improvement. The band had added a second guitar player and changed bass players. The result was a more full, complete sound and one of the best metalcore records of the 2000s. Everything was massively improved over the previous effort, but you could clearly see how one record led to another. 2006’s The Crusade is where things sort of went off the rails for Trivium. Rather than continue to evolve their existing sound, the band morphed into a Metallica clone. The Crusade had several excellent songs, but was plagued by inconsistency and an uneasy feeling of listening to people cosplaying with instruments in their hands. Or, in other words, just about every talent show I’ve ever been to.

Trivium quickly gave up that direction and basically decided to show off how well they could play their instruments. 2008’s Shogun was a super-bland record that had one really good song, “Down From The Sky,” and a whole bunch of the most blatant musical masturbation this side of prog rock. The most remarkable part of Shogun’s boringness was how “epic” Trivium tried to make it. This only served to bloat the experience; of the 11 songs on the record, not a one was contained to less than four minutes, with the title track leading the way at nearly 12 minutes of forgettable riffing.

In Waves, released earlier this month, brings yet another attempted stylistic change. Heafy and fellow guitar player Corey Beaulieu went around telling everyone that would listen: we’re going back to the Ascendancy sound. Things are going to be simpler. We kicked out the founding drummer because of creative issues. This is our best record yet.

And here’s the problem. No, it’s not that In Waves isn’t their best record (which it isn’t). It’s that this is a group of young men who haven’t grown out of the talent show mentality yet. That’s not a condemnation of them as people, it’s a condemnation of them as a band. Heafy’s a very nice, humble guy, but he can come off as especially eager to please. Despite all Trivium’s success and fans, every new record feels like Heafy is still the 13-year-old playing in front of his high school, trying to show off for the cool kids.

In Waves does have some bright moments. The title track is pretty weak, but the album leads off with “Capsizing The Sea,” a really good instrumental that makes “In Waves” work a lot better than it does otherwise. “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind” fits right in with anything off of Ascendancy. “Forsake Not The Dream” possibly sounds the least like a Trivium song of everything on the record. But for all the ballyhoo of cutting back to their roots, In Waves really just sounds like a stripped down Shogun.

(And it’d be really great if Trivium could start coming up with better song titles. They’re not like Fall Out Boy, whose dumb song names stemmed from Pete Wentz’s overly self-aware cleverness. But shit like “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind” are just awful titles, and they only get worse when you realize these are actual lyrics from the songs.)

In Waves isn’t really a bad record, and Trivium certainly isn’t a bad band. But you get the feeling they’re never going to write another great record until they move on from the talent show.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I started listening to hair metal and mid-90s dance pop in grade 11. It was a weird year. I’d just moved from the only city I’d ever lived in and I was in the middle of a two-year span of hair growth. Maybe something in me wanted to listen to other people with big hair. I’m not sure. I just know that I was 16 years old when I discovered Warrant.

Warrant was a band that came along at the end of the hair metal phase, which is too bad because it deprived them from a lot of recognition they should have had. They were very much in the Poison mold – pretty blonde lead singer, stupidly catchy hooks, arena-ready rock anthems. I really like Poison, for the record, but they certainly were never going to be considered in the same light as a band like Motley Crue, who were darker and grittier and preferred their candy to be up their nose or in their arms, not in their choruses.

But Warrant was more than a lame knockoff of a lame knockoff of Motley Crue, and the reason for that pretty much began and ended with Jani Lane. The aforementioned pretty blonde at the front of Warrant, Lane looked very much like a Vince Neil or a Bret Michaels or even a David Lee Roth with more hair. The difference was that Lane singlehandedly drove his band. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on your perspective. I wonder what Jani’s perspective was.

Lane wasn’t so much interested in the fame and the fortune that came with the gig as he was in writing songs. There’s so much more emotion in the lyrics of a song like “I Saw Red” than in most of the other power ballads that Warrant’s contemporaries were putting out.

The problem for Warrant, and Lane in particular, was twofold. The first problem was popping up just as a little band called Nirvana was about to change mainstream rock for everyone. Second, they were a hair metal band and the music industry’s powers-that-be expected hair metal songs. Lane wrote “Cherry Pie,” Warrant’s answer to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, in roughly 15 minutes. He would regret it forever.

“Cherry Pie” led to millions of dollars for Warrant but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t an artistic failure. Lane was forever tortured by the way the executives were right, the way the masses ate up a simple, stupid song about sex, the way his joke song overshadowed the rest of the record, such as the wonderfully subtle “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

More, it ensured that no one would ever take Warrant seriously again. They would forever be the “Cherry Pie” band, the group who had a video too sexist to air in Canada. Jani Lane was branded as a joke and he came to hate his success.

All he wanted to do was write songs, and his greatest success became his greatest failure. That’s a sort of torture that only the most cruel of men would wish on even their greatest enemy. Jani lived with that for 22 years.

Jani Lane died last week. I hope he found peace with himself before he passed.

Goodnight, sweet prince.


Sometimes, the best things happen to you when you least expect it.

Last year, a couple of us got together and decided we wanted to go to the Warped Tour. None of us wanted to take a day off of work, so we decided to pile into a car and drive the seven hours to Montreal. One of the people who was going to come with us backed out and our driver filled that seat with some girl he knew. “Metalface”, he called her. Because she had piercings, you see.

I made fun of her the entire way. She laughed and smiled and covered her mouth when she was smiling or laughing too much.

The trip itself, objectively, was something of a disaster. The car was much too small for people of our size. The hotel we booked “forgot” to save a room for us, instead preferring the man who had to keep going back to the ATM for more cash and the woman who escorted him back and forth, making sure he didn’t run with her money.

We left that hotel and scrambled to find another. We did, and it wasn’t as bad as the first hotel, but it was still only marginally bigger than the car, and the driver decided to go for a shirtless run through Montreal at 4 in the morning. The five of us may have gotten eight hours of sleep between us.

We got up and lathered ourselves in sunscreen and navigated a subway system that operated in a language most of us hadn’t spoken in nearly a decade. We made it to the Warped Tour. Every Time I Die played yet another set that was better than the previous time I saw them. I felt like the world was about to end every time Whitechapel used a bass drop. Sum 41 was cool to see because they were popular when I was 13.

I made fun of the girl the entire time. She still laughed and smiled and covered her mouth.

Despite our lack of sleep and our exhaustion from standing around in the sun all day, we drove back that same night. The driver cranked the air conditioning so he wouldn’t fall asleep and talked to me about fuel efficiency. I wasn’t really listening. I kissed the girl instead.

We made it “Facebook official” a month later and a few months after that, she dropped her entire life to move away with me while I chased something of a dream. I still think that was an incredible leap of faith, but God am I ever glad she made it. How do you repay someone for that?

But that’s the thing about Erin. She would never expect me to do that. All she wants is for me to be hers. In return, I get to hang out with the coolest girl in the world, someone who loves Mortal Kombat and gets excited for video games, someone who loves Breaking Bad just as much as the X-Men cartoon, someone who’ll hop on a plane with me and go on whatever adventure I talk her into. Today is our anniversary and God help me, I know it’s presumptuous but I can’t fathom not sitting here one year from today, waiting for her to come home so we can read comic books together.

I’m so fucking lucky.