Category Archives: review

Tell Us About Your Favourite Funny Video

There are some staple questions asked during interviews. “Why do you want to work for us?”, “Tell me your greatest strength”, and “What do you know about our company?”.

Recently, I was asked “Tell Us About Your Favourite Funny Video”, which took me a while to think about. I figured out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be right to choose a video that has a victim. While it might be secretly satisfying to watch someone get maimed while performing the Ice Bucket Challenge, or for a toddler to fall on their arse after being sprung by a fat cat, it might come across as a mildly psychotic choice.

Then I remembered Fenton. The video of a dog that surfaced way back in 2011 (full title: Jesus Christ in Richmond Park).

The video is below. You must watch it, even if you have watched it a thousand times. I am now going to explain, in painstaking detail, why this video is so funny.

An idyllic park in England. Deer graze.
Poor quality, blurred and ultimately mundane footage destined to never be watched again.
The peace is shattered by a man. But not just any man. A British man. A British man, forced to consider his very core values and the very real prospect that he just might be about to make a scene. It’s not fair. For Brits, this type of internal struggle between public decorum and outrage is normally reserved for terrible mistakes in restaurants..
I am familiar with this, because every time Tim Hortons gives me a triple-triple when I ask for a double-double, I drink it anyway while I pretend that I couldn’t be happier – out of politeness.
But seriously, who drinks that much sugar?
“Fenton!”, he yells.
“Fenton!”, he yells again.
And again. But now there is stress in his voice.
A fifth and six time, and there is some serious desperation. He is letting go.
Now a cry for “Jesus Christ!”.
This man has completely forgotten his properness in just 10 seconds inside a serene park. Something that took me 9 years of living in Toronto and taking the TTC to achieve.
A herd of deer tear across the screen, Fenton in hot pursuit and a mortified man…. far behind… but not quite sprinting.
There are no victims in this video.
Some deer get exercise, a dog is thrilled to make some new friends and there is a man who comes of age.

Book Review: Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle

Crazy Town Rob FordCrazy Town is a fast-paced narration of how we got to where we are today under Toronto’s most divisive mayor since the last one. With more detail than can be afforded by the numerous but space-limited newspaper articles about Rob Ford, there are a few more revelations here and everything is helpfully brought more clearly into focus by the background information and chronological presentation.

Crazy Town is sensible and journalistic and, thankfully, lacking in rhetoric and hyperbole. Although the bulk of the content relates to the well-known new coverage, there is room for praise and empathy.

I consider myself fairly up-to-date on the politics of the City of Toronto, but there were details here that I had either missed or never heard, particularly in relation to the history of the Ford family. Information throughout is sourced (only rarely sourced anonymously, but often backed up by others or in one case recently dismissed by Doug Ford, backed up by an audio recording), and cannot be dismissed.

Kultura Restaurant

KulturaIn what seems like a lifetime ago, but was in fact only January, my wife saw an offer on the discount coupon website-come-smartphone-app Groupon. $69 for a “four-course global tasting menu for two”. With a keen eye for a bargain at the best of times, a 60-70% saving could not possibly be ignored. She bought the “groupon” which had to be used by September.

Fast forward to the present. I have just returned home from the worst dining experience of my life. This is not Groupon’s fault, but if this was supposed to be a deal for some kind of intentionally terrible ironic restaurant, where everything goes wrong on purpose, an ill-advised and utterly bonkers themed eatery of some kind, it would have been perfect.

To begin, I have to go back exactly one week to the previous Wednesday. My wife Sara and i made our way into downtown Toronto to Kultura restaurant near the intersection of King and Jarvis. We had an early booking for 5.30pm and we had arrived a little early, so we walked around the block (twice) to kill time. On returning, although dark inside, we saw that there were people at a table, but when I tried the door I found it locked. Shortly, a girl opened it. After asking if we had a reservation (“Yes”), we were told that the restaurant was “closed until friday due to technical difficulties in the kitchen”, which we took to mean that the chef had walked out. Turns out the people around the table were not satisfied customers chowing but probably disgruntled servers and front of house staff. I hope that they didn’t have our phone number or email address, because if they did, they didn’t use them to tell us they were closed and we wasted a journey. I didn’t say anything as she closed the door, partly shocked, partly because I am an archetypical Brit who is culturally predisposed to not making a scene.

Sara contacted Groupon and we were offered the chance to go back. I was less than keen on this idea. They had had their chance. Another of my cultural dispositions (or is it just a character flaw?) is to sulk brilliantly. A McDonald’s once refused me entry when I just wanted to use the washroom because, in that instance, I was not a customer. Nevermind the 100’s of times I had been in the past, such as the time their Kidderminster branch held my 10th birthday party where half the kids in my class came along. Well, I went on to boycott McDonald’s for some 3 years. I digress…

We returned to Kultura tonight (22nd Aug). I was over joyed to find that the door was unlocked and could barely contain myself when we were greeted, taken to our seats and promptly served water and cocktails. I had a B52 Expressolini and Sara had a Sparkling Tropics. We would each have a second, because the website menu and the reservation confirmation both said that cocktails are half price before 7pm, costing $6 instead of $12.

We had arrived at 5.50pm, 10 minute early. There were four courses. Before my first course arrived, our server returned to inform me that I would have to change my second course, as they didn’t have any sushi tonight. I chose something else. After 40 minutes, my first course arrived. It was Beef Tartar presented in what they triumphantly described and I would optimistically describe as spring rolls. I didn’t start my food as my wife’s Oysters had not arrived, but after 5-10 minutes my hunger and preference for warm food out-weighed the remains of my manners. Perhaps, I reasoned, the Oysters were being dredged up from Lake Ontario.

Dishes continued to alternate in this manner for the rest of the night. I would get a course and finish it before Sara would receive hers. It wasn’t until the second course that we realised that this was by design. Everyone was being treated this way, unless both parties ordered the same food, in which case, it would arrive together. I don’t know if they intended for us to share our food or if they knew they couldn’t keep up in the kitchen and to hell with it. Perhaps it is an experiment in a new dining experience where your partner gets to appraise the manner in which you eat while they wait.

The manager had made an appearance at this stage. He seemed to be interviewing someone, perhaps about the Kultura website, we weren’t sure. The manager, even after the interviewee had left, appeared oblivious to the dissatisfaction. The website should have been his least concern.

Averaging at one course per hour, my Tofu Thai Curry (rather than Sushi) arrived, and it was bland. Very average. I’ve had food-court meals better than this. But I was lucky. There are plenty of reviews slagging off the sushi. Sara’s second course was Scallops, which took even longer to arrive than any previous serving. It gave us plenty of time to reflect on the music that was playing. An elaborate mixing desk with two record players was situated behind me, though it was playing a mix CD with about seven songs on it, including an awful remix of Empire State of Mind and some other track that would always skip before the CD restarted. We had heard each song about 5 times by now. I understand it is supposed to be a leisurely experience, that’s what fine dining is. But this was all fine and no dine.

Anyone newly entering the restaurant was left waiting for up to 10 minutes before being seated. People in the restaurant were beginning to get visibly agitated by this stage, albeit in a kind of whimsical disbelief, possibly almost extending to a Blitz spirit. We’re stuck in here, there’s no escape, might as well make the best of it. Patrons began conspiring amongst each other, whispering conspiratorially about how awful it was before quickly zipping quiet when a server would eventually arrive. I can guarantee that if we were in England at this stage, the eventual arrival of each course would be greeted by the sound of jeers and sarcastic applause.

Just as I thought there might be an uprising, complaints started to be verbalised to the staff. A couple beside us complained about the slow arrival of courses. Their “Cornish Hen” then arrived undercooked. They left the restaurant refusing to pay any extra beyond what they had already paid for their Groupon (tax is not included in Groupons and nor are tips or any extras you order, like drinks). As they left, they turned to us and wished us luck.

The third course arrives and Sara has taken the lead! Her Mushroom Orecchiette arrives after another hour or so. We now begin to share food, mostly to relieve the boredom of whoever didn’t get served. This was supposed to be a signature dish. The pasta tasted of old water to me. Sara felt there was too much cheese, and she love cheese. She has Montreal genes in her, for goodness’ sake. There was a bizarre addition of chutney which didn’t so much pleasingly contrast with the cheese as was probably intended, so much as unpleasantly declare war on each other in your mouth.

Mistakes start to happen, perhaps as the staff are now under extra pressure. Two separate tables receive the same course twice. The table beside us (the female has already introduced herself as Claire who just moved from Hamilton) receive one of their second courses before their first course. Claire, upon finding out that Sara is from Toronto, asks her for recommendations for any GOOD restaurants.

My “Cornish Hen” arrives and it’s pretty miserable. The vegetables are overcooked and mushy enough to please a baby. Even as an amateur ornithologist, I am underwhelmed by this sorry bird.

Glorified TimbitsThe longest and most painful wait is for dessert. Sara was served first. It took 50 minutes for the “dish” to arrive. It was 4-5 cinnamon “timbits” with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces which just didn’t taste good. The regular price for this dish is $7. My dessert took an additional 25 minutes. The couple who’d arrived before us were finally leaving. The lady placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder and wished us luck. The lava cake arrived in a plastic container and I have to assume it was microwaved. Banana tempura was overly mushy. Ice cream was simply lame. I tasted each and left it. It was clear we were annoyed at this stage. Our server had made eye-contact with Sara several times over the long wait. She asked if we would like complimentary champagne. I declined. An older couple was sat behind us. They had faces like thunder, but not the temperate kind. They had faces like the kind of thunder only experienced within the red-eye of the planet Jupiter.

The bill arrived and we were told that one each of our drinks had been taken off. The bill was $55 (in addition to the $69 Groupon). Two drinks had indeed been taken off, but we had been charged full-price for the others instead of the advertised half-price before 7pm. Sara mentioned it and they said it was because we had a Groupon. I understand not combining offers, but we should have been told. They offered to make them half-price but I cannot explain how overwhelming the desire to leave was. Charges and tax would have to be recalculated. We had been imprisoned for 3 hours and 40 minutes. We paid the bill, which already included a 20% tip!!!

We have had good experiences with Groupon before, but they need to cancel this contract for the sake of their name. While we don’t blame them, it also doesn’t reflect well on them. Unless you are a sadomasochist or have a twisted sense of humour and more money than sense, avoid Kultura.

My Filthy Closet: Princess Diana’s Maternity Fashion

my filthy closetIn the basement to my home is a closet. A large closet. A filthy closet. To my British readers, this closet is so large it would make an ideal apartment for a first time buyer. Over an unspecified period of time, I plan to try to clear this closet space and I know for sure that, as well as some very strange books, it contains a multitude of oddities.

To begin with, I present to you a book.

First of all, I am greatly amused by the price sticker. It has the name of my bookstore on it, almost 20 years before I ended up working there. Actually, no. First of all, I am greatly amused by the title.

Princess Diana's Maternity Fashion and Nursery HandbookPrincess Diana’s Maternity Fashion and Nursery Handbook. This version is published in 1984 in the USA – note the Americanese spelling of ‘color’. The book opens with the preface which paints a picture unrecognisable today and all the more hilarious for it.

“Both The Prince and Princess of Wales, obviously delighted with their young family, are determined to lead, as far as possible, a normal family life, and they are prepared to break with tradition to do so. Many people say that family life is under threat in the modern world. If so, the example of Britain’s most famous family will surely help to resist it. They can be an inspiration to us all”. INDEED.

“Their practical and stylish approach has also inspired both the dress making and knitting patterns included in chapter four”. Take me to the knitting patterns!! “The Princess’s natural style and flair never waver; they enhance and complement her decided taste and very positive views about clothes. She has lost none of the stylish elegance and naturalness of touch which distinguished her from the outset… Her radiance has been apparent in every picture, and the Princess remains one of the most photographed women in the world”. Especially in Paris. Few women, of course, are subjected to such intense scrutiny as the Princess, but even under the continuous spotlight of public attention she has grown more relaxed and confident over the past three years, and the pleasure and enjoyment that both she and Prince Charles get from married life have been obvious… Charles and Diana’s secure and happy married life will be a source of satisfaction in the years to come, not just to the couple themselves, but to us all”. Now we know who to blame for the trends in divorce rates.

Prince Charles in a dressPrince Charles in a dress, againPrince Charles in a coat that might hide a dress

The book goes on to cover the historical fashions of royals, particularly royal children. Above are a couple of photos of Prince Charles wearing a dress and one wearing a coat that looks a little like it might be a dress. Or covering one. Or covering nothing *shudder*. In any case, these pictures explain a lot.

DancercisesOne third of the way through the book, almost without warning, we are treated to a few lessons in “Dancercise”. I know it looks like an overweight woman has tripped, tried to reach for a telephone to call the emergency services, thought better of it, tried to get up and then begun a combination of praying and diving. But, no. It’s “dancercise”.

Once we have these out of the way, it’s back to fashion for a while. Then we are onto decor. Specifically of children’s nursery rooms. There’s a couple of fairly boring rooms, even by 1980’s standards and there’s another one that I find quite terrifying.

Nursery Fashion

I just hope that the toys from this room never spring to life a la Toy Story. The whole room looks in some way sinister and I can’t help but feel the lion is an evil bastard. The big rat thing carrying food for the lion hoping that he won’t devour her only remaining child. The lion, smashing plates in the middle of the night and locking innocent toys in the camper vehicle, driving around at break neck speed. The shit.

Finally we are onto the knitting patterns. They do not fail to impress.

 

Sailor Costumes

Sailor suits, for making your kids look posh (during the 80’s) but not so much in the 2000’s. Not outside of manga conventions and Japanese pornography, anyway. Knit this. I dare you.

 

 

 

 

nice sweater

And what of this little number? Prince William as a baby is pictured wearing a coat that looks somewhat similar to this, but even the one that he is trapped inside of has a few less garish letter and toy emblems dotted randomly around it. Even a Scouser in the 1970’s wouldn’t be caught dead in this.

This book is a lot of things, but there is one thing it definitely is not.

Timeless.

Hunger Games Movie Review

Mockingjay PinI was concerned. The book version of Katniss Everdeen, is not a likeable character. There are three people that she cares about, and two of those are herself (the other is her sister). Katniss’ self-centred attitude, portrayed in the form of a crippling self-loathing, is all-encompassing. Even taking into account the dystopian nature of the plot-line, Katniss has all the empathy of Saddam Hussein with a migraine.

Katniss of The Hunger Games movie is better portrayed. She is still cold, she is still strong but I found that I actually cared whether she lived or died. There are times during the book, particularly during the long periods of self-pitying internal dialogue, where I actively wanted her to die just so that she would shut up.

There are minor variations in the movie plot, and I enjoyed the politicisation of The Hunger Games, the attempt for Seneca Crane to make his mark as the Head Gamemaker, President Snow reeling him back in to avert an uprising. We are invited into the, almost literally, ivory tower of the Gamemakers’ production room. They smile inanely while inserting “Muttations” into the arena, disconnected from the fact that they are killing the competitors – children, lest we forget. The movie somehow feels more “big brother”, and it better reveals that President Snow is the conductor of The Hunger Games orchestra, even if a couple of scenes in a mysterious Capitol garden feel tacked on.

The “love” between Katniss and Peeta, clearly faked by Katniss in the books, comes too easily. I found myself questioning if she really had fallen for him, and I continued to do so until that conversation on the train back to district 12 and her occasionally distracted looks in-front of the cheering crowds. The strange attraction, the almost forbidden love or at least intense and sudden friendship, between Katniss and Cinna is better portrayed and all the more strange for it.

The overall feeling I came away with was that the behind the scenes political battle to somehow make this film a PG in Canada must have been bloodier than The Hunger Games themselves. (USA is PG-13, UK is 12A). Ratings in Canada have a tendency to be less conservative, but there are difficult deaths, deaths that lack justice, deaths that are psychologically difficult. Parents ought to have a good chat with their kids afterwards, and with the amount of peer pressure to watch this movie, parents are going to be busy.

Book Review: Hunger Games

Mockingjay PinAll the kids are reading it, but the popularity of this book has been late arriving when you consider its September 2008 hardcover release. Perhaps The Hunger Games was a victim of those pages of pant wetting, hormone lathering excitement known as Twilight – the best selling book of that year.

Dystopia is the new ‘vampires’ and so freed from the shadow of Bella and Edward, Katniss Everdeen is our sultry, anti-social hero from Panem, a world of fragmented districts. Every year, two young citizens, one male and one female, will represent each of the 12 districts in a fight to the death presented by a charismatic host and aired on televisions across the world. It might be too much credit to suggest that this is a nod and a wink to our X-Factor obsessed culture.

The narrative moves along at a reasonable pace and, although occasionally cheap, there are  plot twists and devices to keep you guessing. There is occasional gory content that probably makes the book less suitable for the target audience, but on the other hand, many children will likely associate with Katniss Everdeen (or the boy from her district, Peeta). Most of the inevitable kills made by Katniss have a convenient moral context to make them more palatable.  And it’s not like most parents bother to check what their children are reading, anyway. Right, kids?

Unfortunately, the book suffers from occasionally weak writing, both stylistically and in terms of sentence structure. Although Katniss is supposed to be a brooding character and the book is written in the first person perspective, there is a lot of internal dialogue of the “woe is me” variety and not much actual dialogue. This is a shame, because some of the exchanges between Katniss and Peeta, further into the book, are quite amusing and the whining can become tiresome. Unless you are a teenager.

Perhaps I just don’t read enough “YA” (young adult) fiction and I’m being picky. Afterall, Stephenie Meyer said “The Hunger Games is amazing”, and with her level of prose, she should know. Sarcasm aside, Stephen King also enjoyed The Hunger Games. But maybe he was back on cocaine.

The occasional jarring sentence wasn’t enough to prevent me from finishing the book and, oddly, I thought the book suffered less in the latter stages. It also should not be enough to stop you from reading it. Based on the fact that this is a young adult book and not a work of literary fiction, I give it 4/5.

[xrr rating=4/5]

Book Review: The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits…

That full book title? “The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin”.

Well, it is what it is. It’s a book full of tweets, and a small one at that. A pocket bible for the twitterati, in size but certainly not in scope. The 112 pages containing three or four tweets on each, along with the occasional doodle, won’t take you long to read. Perhaps one washroom visit.

Steve Martin is a funny man, and there are some laugh out loud moments. A running theme is that his wife is long suffering in the face of his comical stupidity. While it takes the imagination of Steve Martin to set-up the the context of the mirth, it is often the replies from other Twitter users that are funnier. To demonstrate, “Just saw a duck in the shape of a cloud” is met with the response, “a shotgun will generally have that effect at sufficiently close range”.

[xrr rating=3/5]

Boomerang by Michael Lewis – Book Review

Boomerang is a continuation of the financial crisis story laid-out in The Big Short. But while The Big Short was, for the most part, told from the perspective of those within the borders of The United States, Boomerang covers those counties hurting most: Ireland, Greece, Germany and Iceland.

Calling himself a Financial Disaster Tourist, Lewis visits these countries and speaks to members of government, workers and citizens. As with The Big Short, his writing style, the way he recalls events and conversations, causes the book to almost read like a novel, a work of fiction.

But there is no fiction and, as such, there are many ‘woah’ moments.

Responsibility for the $100 billion in Icelandic banking losses spread across the population equates “to roughly $330,000 for every man, woman and child”.

Anglo Irish Bank lost HALF of EVERY dollar that it invested.

In parts of Dublin, “rents had fallen to less than 1% or the purchase price; that is, you could rent a million-dollar home for less than $833 a month”.

Lewis, by writing in his narrative style, seems to struggle to link the events in these four countries to the national character. He may have a point, or he may simply be stereotyping – his coverage of Germany and their supposed schiesse obsession feels like a bit of a strain, pun excusing.

Nevertheless, the book is easy to follow, informative, quick-paced and, at times, mind-blowing.

 
[xrr rating=4/5]

Moneyball

Hello UK readers! I went into this film knowing how boring I find baseball. Fear not. You don’t really have to understand the sport (or particularly like it) because most of the actual game-play is easy to follow. It will be interesting to see how Moneyball fares at The UK box office. Just as in Major League Baseball, there is a lot of money sloshing around in The Premier League and the basic premise could almost be re-written around a traditional, lower-budget and ultimately mid-table football team struggling to compete against richer teams.

The premise of the film is based around the book of the same title, written by Michael Lewis. His other books, Panic and The Big Short are also excellent, incidentally. The Oakland Athletics General Manager poaches an economist from another baseball team and they begin the process of rebuilding the “A’s” with players they believe to be undervalued due to various biases inherent in the sport. For example, pitchers that throw in an unusual manner or older players assumed to be in decline. For a football parallel, imagine how some managers like Ron Atkinson (for all his faults) began signing black players in the 1980s.

The movie essentially tells the story of the fight between the 150 years of traditional baseball scouting versus the new economic recruiting model known as sabermetrics, but it also manages to capture the romance of baseball – something many UK viewers may not appreciate. But perhaps Brad Pitt may make up for it 🙂

I found the musical score strangely mesmerising. It’s by Mychael Danna, who studied music composition at The University of Toronto. Here’s the trailer:

Now showing in North America, out 25th November UK.
[xrr rating=3/5]