Hell Runs on Gasoline (2015, Martin Bureau)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is an extraordinary 7 minute film about something I was utterly unaware of: the absolutely insane, free-for-all racing in Saint-Felicien, Quebec. I cannot begin to describe how nuts this race is, or how well this short captures the chaos. Basically, I practically wanted to go for one of these races by the time the film was over. Really cool. 9/10 Read More

Speed Sisters (2015, Amber Fares)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is an entertaining and captivating documentary about the Palestinian women’s car racing team, who supply their own cars, who race against men (and each other) and who practice in empty parkling lots and on local streets. Racing in Palestine is (I believe) unlike anything else in the world, as the races have to be designed for the circumstances, so it’s all about turning around cones and going the correct direction (without signs to tell you which way that is, so the driver has to memorize the route) on an open paved area. The film catpures what is like to Read More

Raptors Best Draft Picks

Categories: Basketball and Sports.

Earlier this season, a click-baity article was published on TSN about the “best” Raptors draft picks of all time, given that this was their 20th season and all. They were, according to the author: Bosh Mighty Mouse Mo Pete DeRozan T Mac No explanation was given for why Mo Pete is considered to be better than DeRozan or T Mac beyond the fact that he played way more games for the Raps. (Does that make him better?) There was also no explanation as to why Mighty Mouse was considered better than T Mac, beyond that the Raptors failed to retain Read More

Classic Trumpet Concerti of Haydn/Hummel (1992) by Gerard Schwarz, Y Chamber Symphony of New York

Categories: 1992 and Music.

The trumpet has always been a jazz instrument for me. I guess that’s in part because I came to jazz before I came to concertos and solo pieces from the classical repertoire and because there really aren’t many trumpet pieces out there. It’s an under-utilized instrument, for sure. The trumpet always sounds regal or martial to me in Classical and Romantic music and I don’t particularly go for that. Prior to 1770, the trumpet couldn’t hit a wide range of notes. The keyed trumpet was invented around then and allowed for the instrument to express a greater range. The result Read More

Your 2014-15 Toronto Raptors

Categories: Basketball and Sports.

Last year, as the Raptors neared setting a record for regular season wins in a season, I wondered which was the best Raptors team ever. A weeks later I concluded last year’s edition ranked among the best. But at the beginning of this calendar year, I was optimistic that we were seeing the best team in the history of the franchise. And now that team has been swept in the most embarassing way imaginable, with the final game looking like a no-contest. This team still set the record for most wins in a regular season (49), highest winning percentage in Read More

Franz Joseph Haydn: Keyboard Works 1773-1779 (1995) by Lola Odiaga

Categories: 1995 and Music.

This is a collection of six of Haydn’s keyboard sonatas (played on piano) ostensibly written between 1883 and 1779. (However, there appears to be some debate.) The sonatas are Nos. 39, 40, 41, 48, 49 and 51, which seems an arbitrary selection. However, the alernative cataloguing of Haydn’s works (really, the standard catalogue) suggests that all but 49 were composed during two particular moments, so maybe that’s why. (Okay, I’ll stop.) The 39th is a gorgeous piece of music. Very, very Classical, but still interesting enough (and clearly difficult) that it isn’t just a simple melody. The 40th is really Read More

War of Lies (2014, Mathias Bittner)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Let’s get this out of the way: This is a student film. The director freely admitted last night that he made this as his graduation “project” for film school.  When he said that before the movie, my expectations lowered considerably. I am always wary of first time directors. And there are definitely signs that this is a first feature: too much use of the static between TV clips, which is such a cliche; awkward pacing; unnecessary scenes; etc. But…and it’s a big ‘but’: This is one compelling film. Here we have an interview with one of the couple major sources Read More

Haydn: Cello Concertos; Pereira: Concertino for Cello (2010) by Antonio Meneses, Northern Sinfonia

Categories: 1760s, 1780s, 2003, 2010, and Music.

This is an odd collection that pairs Haydn’s two most famous (and likely sole surviving) cello concerti with a totally unrelated piece of music by the 20th century composer Clovis Pereira. Grumble. Haydn’s first cello concerto is a fine piece of music but it strikes me as typical of the era (though I don’t really know that). Though the cello is perhaps my favourite orchestral instrument I can’t help but compare this work to what came before – specially Bach’s cello music, which is probably the best ever written (or at least very close to that). This is fine, really, Read More

Super-Cannes (2000) by J.G. Ballard

Categories: 2000, Books, and Fiction.

This is a provocative page turner that raises lots of questions about where late 20th century capitalism is headed. FYI, it’s also the first Ballard novel I’ve read, but I have seen both of the films that were adapted from his books. I found it entertaining and mostly provocative, but I did have a few issues. For one thing, Sinclair is not that likeable to begin with. I hope that was a deliberate choice but there is a part of me that thinks maybe I just don’t like Ballard (if Sinclair is meant to be him). Sinclair reminds me of Read More

The 414s (2015, Michael T. Vollmann)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

Most of the short films I have seen in my life have been fictional. The documentary shorts I have seen have either been borderline features or so arty as to not really qualify as documentary.  And I guess now I know the reason. This is a fine short about the “original” hackers – teenagers who, inspired by what was wrong in War Games, successfully hacked a military base, among other things. But the problem is that it’s too short. I know that might seem an odd thing to say, but this is a story far more interesting than 12 minutes Read More

Thought Crimes (2015, Erin Lee Carr)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is a provocative and morally ambiguous film about the so-called “Cannibal Cop”, the NYPD police officer who was charged and convicted of conspiracy to kidnap women, without kidnapping any women, and certainly without eating anyone. The film is not the best technically made film you will ever seen. The pacing isn’t perfect and some of the shots depicting the porn at issue were oddly distorted. However, this is still a must-see documentary. The film depicts the rather alarming nature of the “trial by outrage” of a person who actually didn’t do the vast majority of the stuff he was Read More

Your 2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs

Categories: 2015, Hockey, and Sports.

[So I accidentally published this before I was done. Um, oops. This is now the complete version.] I watched as little of the Leafs this year as I have since I was 16, more than half my life ago. I did this becuse Burke and then Nonis killed my passion for the team after JFJ made me more passionate (albeit passionate as to wanting him fired). I’m sort of kidding. I was still passionate enough about the Leafs that in late 2013 I began writing a book to summarise my great dislike of Burke’s handling of the Leafs and that Read More

Haydn: London Symphonies (2010) by Les Musiciens du Louvre conducted by Marc Minkowski

Categories: 2010 and Music.

This is an excellent collection of Haydn’s final symphonies, the “London symphonies”. The first (93rd overall) begins with a downright Romantic movement and that first movement plays around with tonality a little bit more than the average classical symphony. A later movement plays with the theme. Very interesting. One of the better of the bunch. It’s worth noting that he didn’t write it first. The second (94th overall) starts off very conventionally. But there’s a reason it’s known as the “Surprise” symphony, and that reason has got to be one of the most shocking moments in the Classical era, perhaps Read More

Heaven and Hell (1980) by Black Sabbath

Categories: 1980 and Music.

I’m struggling here, really struggling. I honestly don’t know Sabbath post 1971. I’ve never gotten around to listening to those records because…well, there’s a lot of music in the world. And I’ve been happy enough to listen to the first few albums. So I don’t know what happened to Sabbath in the late seventies. Certainly there seems to be a consensus that they sucked.And I don’t know Dio really. I know the legend of Dio, but I don’t know him. I don’t know Elf, I don’t know Rainbow, I know maybe one song of his from movies (and honestly I Read More

Iron Maiden (1980)

Categories: 1980 and Music.

My knowledge of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal has been confined to Motorhead and the genre’s influences (primarily Thrash) for most of my metal-listening life. I was aware of its importance but never really had the time to give it much of a chance.The joke in the older metal camp is that Maiden is just faster “Achilles Last Stand” ad nauseum. That couldn’t be far from the truth. In fact, I barely hear the gallop here.Instead what I hear is a band that has managed to almost perfectly united the conventions of mid ’70s metal (especially the guitar Read More

British Steel (1980) by Judas Priest

Categories: 1980 and Music.

I have heard that this was sort of the Black Album of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – the genre’s more popular and most accessible record to date. I don’t know Judas Priest, and I have no idea how much of a departure this was from earlier Priest albums, but it’s certainly sginificantly more accessible than Maiden or Motorhead (also, obviously far more “metal” than the latter). For years I have struggled with purposefully accessible music, wondering if artists sell out when they make their sound easier to access for the public. When I was young the idea Read More

Los Angeles (1980) by X

Categories: 1980 and Music.

In 2010 I wrote the following: On the whole this is a pretty great record and Xene is pretty damn alluring. There is a little too much Manzarek here for my liking. From the liner notes it sounds like the Doors cover and, perhaps, by extension, his involvement, was somehow a condition of the release, which is annoying and also not very “punk.” His organ adds something to their sound which was missing from most punk music of the era, but it is still a little odd that they didn’t seem to know “Soul Kitchen” before they did it. It’s Read More

Haydn: Piano Concertos in D / F (2008) by Ralf Gothoni, Finlandia Sinfonietta

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is a hodgepodge of the 2nd, 6th and 11th concertos for keyboard, all played on a piano (shock horor). (In case you are not a classical music snob and have no idea what I’m joking about: pianos were invented well before this music was written but weren’t very common until shortly after the 11th concerto was composed. Haydn was unlikely to have written for the piano, I’m guessing, until the 1790s, whereas the music on this disc was composed well before that.) The 11th concerto starts the disc. It’s the only one I know of that might have actually Read More

2014-15 NHL Awards

Categories: 2015, Hockey, and Sports.

I watched as little hockey this season as I have since I was 16 (i.e. half a lifetime ago) in part because Nonis was still in charge of the Maple Leafs until very recently and in part because basketball is slowly winning the battle of allegiances in my heart. So I’m not making any post-season predictions this year, though I always get those wrong, anyway. But that isn’t going to stop me from handing out some awards, even though I barely watched any games this year! Doesn’t that make you furious? Automatic Awards Voted on Awards Team MVPs Automatic Awards Read More

The Age of Innocence (1920) by Edith Wharton

Categories: 1920, Books, and Fiction.

Scorsese’s version of this book is, in my opinion, one of his very best films and on the short list of films I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand good direction. This despite Michelle Pfeiffer’s supposedly miscast as the female lead. Perhaps my love for the film version is what made me initially kind of underwhelmed by this novel. It took me a while to really appreciate the claustrophobia created by Wharton’s portrayal of social mores of the era. Perhaps my identification of the actors with these roles is what made me take so long to view these characters Read More

30 for 30: The Two Escobars (2010, Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

This is a fascinating, if a little scattershot, documentary about the infamous Pablo Escobar and the almost as infamous killing of a Colombia soccer player. The film mostly deftly balances the drug and violence problem in Colombia that coincided with (and funded!) the Golden Age of Colombian Football. The only real problem I have with the film is it’s rather naive acceptance of the US position on Colombia, as if Colombia and its drug cartels were the source of this problem, not, you know, demand in the United States. I understand that this film isn’t about that issue, but a Read More

30 for 30: The 16th Man (2010, Cliff Bestall)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

This is not a perfect sports documentary: despite having Freeman as narrator and despite the power of the subject matter, the film feels little too much like your typical talking heads/archival footage documentary. But the subject matter is so powerful that you stop caring about the conventional, paint-by-numbers nature of the documentary. If you have ever wondered about the importance of sports, if you have ever thought that sports don’t matter, that they’re silly, and so forth, watch this film. More than perhaps almost anything else I’ve ever seen, this film captures the power of sports as a uniting force Read More

30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A. (2010, Ice Cube)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

This is an interesting story that I was unaware of (like totally unaware of) but unfortunately it’s made by a rapper who doesn’t know how to direct a movie. Ice Cube has clearly seen a bunch of sports docs he really likes, and he tries his hardest to emulate those films, but he really misses the mark a number of times. He spends too much time as an interviewee, and him and Snoop Dogg have some pretty inane conversations about how cool the Raiders were. He has some really interesting stuff to tackle: the connection between hip music and sports Read More

The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope

Categories: 1894, Books, and Fiction.

I thought I was completely unfamiliar with this story as I had not seen the movie nor did I know anything about the book. However, it turns out that I have indeed seen a smilar movie, Dave! It turns out that story has been used over and over again by various people. I don’t know if this version is the original, though it’s clearly a spin on the “The Man in the Iron Mask” plot from one of the Three Musqueteers sequels. I personally prefer Dostoevsky’s take on this kind of idea – I would be far more likely to Read More

L’age d’or (1930, Luis Bunel)

Categories: 1930 and Movies.

I am an optimistic guy (albeit with a realistic streak, I like to think). I tend to believe that, more often than not a (slim) majority of people will do “the right thing” (as I see it, anyway) and humanity will persist despite our flaws. But every so often I counter behaviour or historical evidence that really challenges my optimism and my general faith in humanity. This is an hour long series of absurdist vignettes by the same people (Bunel and Dali) responsible for “Un Chien Andalou”, one of the great film shorts in the history of the medium, and Read More

Terrible NBA Playoff Predictions 2015

Categories: Basketball, Playoffs, and Sports.

Here are my terrible NBA Playoff Predictions for this year: East 1st Round: Atlanta 4 – Brooklyn 1 Toronto 4 – Washington 3 (swear I’m not a homer) Chicago 4 – Milwaukee 2 Cleveland 4 – Boston 1 2nd Round: Atlanta 4 – Raptors 2 (see!) Cleveland 4 – Chicago 2 3rd Round: Cleveland 4 – Atlanta 2 (I really, really hope I’m wrong) West 1st Round: Golden State 4 – New Orleans 0 Memphis 4 – Portland 3 San Antonio 4 – Los Angeles 2 Houston 4 – Dallas 1 2nd Round: Golden State 4 – Memphis 1 San Read More

King Solomon’s Mines (1888) by H. Rider Haggard

Categories: 1888, Books, and Fiction.

I was only familiar with this story from the ’80s Hollywood version, which I had been told was drastically different from the book. Sure enough, it absolutely was. So much of it is utterly different as to be (nearly) a different story. But anyway… Putting aside the problems we may find in Victorian literature with how it portrays Africans versus Europeans… This was apparently the first “Lost World” novel, and for that I guess I need to acknowledge that it’s a significant landmark. It’s also the only “Lost World” novel I have read (though I have seen plenty of movies!), Read More

Is Alex Ovechkin the Greatest Pure Goal Scorer of All Time?

Categories: Hall of Fame, Hockey, and Sports.

A few weeks ago, Alex Ovechkin joined some elite company, he became only the fifth player in NHL history to score 30 goals per season in his first 10 seasons. More recently, he joined even more elite company, he became only the sixth player in NHL history to score 50 goals six times. Now while the former is a more numerically exclusive group, the latter is obviously the more impressive feat. Now, it’s notable with the six 50 goal seasons, as it was with the 10 straight 30 goals to start a career, that all the other players on the Read More

The Partner (1997) by John Grisham

Categories: 1997, Books, and Fiction.

I only know Grisham from the old days when his novels were constantly turned into “event movies” (or the closest thing we had to those back in the ’90s). I watched many of them, though not every one, and, at least as a teenager, thoroughly enjoyed a couple of them, particularly A Time to Kill and The Pelican Brief. Light spoilers ahead. You have been warned. Maybe films make Grisham’s novels come alive better or maybe my tastes have changed (they absoltely have) or maybe this is just lesser Grisham, but this is pretty blah. Grisham’s prose is admirably economical Read More

Summer of 49 (1989) by David Halberstam

Categories: 1989, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I am not a Yankees fan or a Sox fan but I am a fan of The Breaks of the Game, probably the best book I have ever read about sports. This book is not on that level, but, for someone like me who was not alive during the summer of 1949, and who was unaware of what happened, Halberstam still manages to capture enough of interest for someone like me, who hates both teams, to make this engaging, interesting and even compelling by the end. There’s a host of interesting back-stories and some of the the most interesting information Read More