Thursday, April 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Small Things

As I was driving to church this morning, there was a lane closed in the road coming towards me for a bicycle race, or so the signs said at any rate. At first, there were no bikes in sight, but after a bit I saw some school age children peddling up the mild grade on Boudreau for all they were worth. Some of them had better bikes than others, and some of them were clearly more competitive or better equipped; one little girl not only had the drop down racing handlebars that were standard issue on the ten-speeds of my youth, but also had the additional posts facing upwards for further positioning options. One young lad had a number written on his arm in black marker, which made me wonder if I had wandered into a mini-triathlon of some sort, an "Ironkid", if you will. As I approached the Fountain Park Pool and saw more kids, including some running ones, I felt sure this was the case.

As I watched them running and biking, I had to wonder what would push a kid into that kind of competition. I mean, I swam competitively as a child, and largely enjoyed it, even if I wasn't too serious about it. But I enjoyed the meets and even training, as a lot of my friends were there. But triathlons are heavy duty, and I had a hard time picturing a 7th grader watching grown men and women pushing themselves beyond the limits of human endurance and collapsing in tears at the side of the road and then saying, "Hey, I want to try that!"

I was still stuck in my reverie when a girl of perhaps ten came peddling along. There was nothing extraordinary about her bike or equipment... except for the pinwheel she had jammed into her handlebars.

She had a big smile on her face as she peddled her way up the hill, and she singlehandedly made my morning. Fenya is close to that age, and I am sure that she would have second thoughts about putting something that 'childish' in view of her classmates, but this girl clearly didn't care. She had her pinwheel, and she was happy, and it was spinning so hard I could see the stick bending in time to the whirring and clacking.

Back in high school or junior high math class, I once became entranced with a wooden ruler I had perched on top of my pencil through the binder-ring hole in its centre, and was slowly turning it, trying to keep it as level as possible. The teacher came up from behind me, grabbed the ruler and put it firmly on my desk. That's fine, I was clearly day-dreaming, but I thought her comment, "small minds are amused by small things" was a bit out of line, and I still do.

There were a number of supportive adults spectating and volunteering along the route, clapping and cheering on these young triathletes, and I hope some of them enjoyed seeing that girl and her pinwheel as much as I did. I think if more of us allowed ourselves to appreciate or be amused by small things, whether they are miniature tri-athletes or their pinwheels, we might be better off.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Save Us From the Time of Tile

(Alternate title: A Bit of a Caulk Up)

Funny story about the backsplash mentioned in yesterday's post; because the laundry tub sink is so deep, we hadn't really given any thought about one until we were testing the faucet, and the subsequent wall wiping made it clear this would need to be addressed.

The quickest solution to this, taking into consideration my total lack of experience dealing with tile and grout and the like, was to purchase 4 of those peel-n-stick mosaic thingies from the store and trim the two pieces behind the faucet a bit to account for the back of the sink being about two inches higher than the side. Unfortunately, the side piece wouldn't fit snugly into the corner due to the slope on the rising back edge of the sink.

It is easy enough to cut out a 3" strip or even a single rectangular piece from the mosaic grid, which is what I ended up doing, but that left about and inch-and-a-half of empty space that would look pretty fugly if I just tried to caulk it up.  I took one of the single square pieces from a peice I had previously trimmed for the back wall, locked it in the vise-grips in a piece of newspaper to prevent scratching, and used a cutting wheel from the Dremel to cut off the lower right corner, then a grinding head to buff out the resulting black mark.  Feeling very smug, I smooshed it into place with some caulk and there you go!

THEN I had to go and spoil it all by taking the final 9" x 12" sheet, peeling off ALL the backing instead of just the bottom third.  While I stood there with it flat in my palms and pondered the best way to get around the enormous faucet to the wall behind it, the middle sagged, my palms instinctively slapped together to prevent the glass from falling to the cement floor, and smack, the two sides were comPLETELY and irreversibly glued together.  

I uttered a carnal verb with about 22 Fs in it, angrily threw the now USELESS paperweight that HAD been an elegant handful of tile mosaic into the trash like it was an NCAA slam dunk competition and stormed off to Rona to buy a replacement, asking Audrey if she could kindly scrape away or smoosh in the caulk patiently awaiting for the tiles to descend into it. 

Thankfully, the lineup at the cash registers was pretty modest, and in no time at at all, I was headed home, and salved my bruised ego by putting on my sunglasses and turning the music way up with the windows open.  15 minutes after getting in the door, the backsplash (such as it is) was complete.

As lessons go, $10 is a small price to pay for such a reminder about the right way to go about things.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BatCan Returns

I can't think of anything more boring to read than a home reno post, even the continuing origin story of BatCan, but continuing work in this direction added up almost the entirety of the weekend, so I feel obligated to record it. Besides, I am so far out of my comfort zone with most of this stuff that it has occupied almost all my mental bandwidth anyhow, so trying to redirect it is probably pointless.

And there was definitely some progress made! Scott walked me through the paint purchasing process over the cell phone Friday morning, so the incredible panoply of choices even before venturing into colour didn't quite give me an anxiety attack. In keeping with the Bat-theme, we had agreed on a light grey for the walls. I had a pretty clear idea in my mind, but I didn't see too much point in asking the young lad behind the counter if they had the kind of grey used in Batman's costume, but not the movie Batman, and not actually the current dark grey comic incarnation either, but ideally the grey used in the Neal Adams stories he drew for writer Denny O'Neil, or in the apron I got from Tara on a previous birthday. I pictured such a conversation being dissatisfying for everyone involved, and decided to forego it entirely, perhaps bookmarking it for the next Edmonton Comic Expo.

Resigning myself to the swatches, I tried to make up my mind on the shade I was coveting before looking at the name, and it's a good thing too. 'French Silver' was not at all right, but no one on my crew had any problem referring to it as Batman Grey instead.

Friday was spent prepping and priming so that the helpers arriving Saturday morning could get right into painting. I did make enough headway to head out to Tara's that evening for supper though; Fenya was staying the night so she could help out at a banquet at the Leduc Legion Hall and get some kitchen/serving experience in hopes of making herself a bit more employable for the summer, and it was also an excuse to belatedly observe Audrey's birthday with some ridiculous but tasty chocolate mustaches on a stick that my sister provided.


After Glory, Audrey and I got back to Edmonton around ten, it was right back to work, and we managed to get everything primed before staggering off to bed at half-past twelve. Glory was a little dynamo, but paid for it the next day with a degree of morning lethargy somewhere between Rip Van Winkle and Lazarus.

Saturday saw Mike and Pete come over to assist, first with the plumbing, which went completely rogue and caught poor Mike completely unawares, nearly drowning him. Thankfully I was close enough to the main feed to turn it off before tragedy struck, and Mike took the whole affair in his usual easygoing manner, claiming his drenched t-shirt was actually 'refreshing'.

Pete and I got the first coat of Batman Grey (see how much better that sounds) on all the primed walls outside the now dampened BatCan, and just managed to get a first coat on inside before lunch, aided by a fan that dried things out a bit. After lunching on some burgers, I went in to get the second coat on while he and Mike very graciously built the two IKEA-esque cabinets we had bought for bathroom stowage.

By 4:00, with both cabinets built and two coats of Batman Grey everywhere that needed it, we found ourselves unable to continue; until the second coat was fully dry, we couldn't even tape the borders of the planned feature wall (in a darker grey formerly known as Ash Grey but renamed Cape Grey for the duration), let alone paint that wall, and the same went for the frame for the suspended ceiling. They had certainly earned the opportunity to put their feet up and have a few items from the Big Rock Barn Burner pack I had purchased for the occasion, and that left me obliged to host, so it really worked out rather splendidly.


The next day, a survey of weekends between now and G&G X saw me sadly foregoing worship services in order to get more done, starting with the feature wall. Despite my best efforts, the taping failed to give the crisp border between Batman Grey and Cape Grey I desire , which was due in no small part to my poor mudding job in the corner, but also due to stringing the green tape out in one 8' long streamer, instead of the recommended series of one foot sections I only learned about from the Painters's Tape website after I was done and was searching for how long after painting I should remove the tape. (In case you are wondering, the answer is as soon as you are done painting, to reduce the possibility of the dried paint tearing or chipping unexpectedly.)

After church, Audrey and I went to Rona to buy the paint, trim and other sundries needed for the completion of the room. We quickly popped the door off its hinges so the girls could paint it and the door and window trim, which they took to admirably, and the fashionable painters caps were just icing on the cake. By the end of the day, they had taped and painted one side of the door and all the trim, while We also got two coats on the feature wall, insulation in the attic, a peel-and-stick backsplash installed,and had hung the mirror, towel and t.p. holders, and most importantly, the iconic Jim Lee Batman poster.

Just before bed, I got the first coat of light grey on the concrete floor; the official name is Morning Mist, but I have a hard time coming up with an alternative name for it, as I find myself stymied by what I perceive to be a tint of lilac, a colour well outside the Bat-ouevre.

There is still a fair amount to be done, and little time to do it in, but progress is still being made, and with a little luck, it will be presentable for Glory's belated birthday sleepover this Friday, and we can get the tools, supplies and everything moved out of the basement to facilitate construction back out of the living room!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday: That's About the Sighs of It

(Originally posted May 25, 2009, this post from a simple morning encounter when Fenya was 10 years old (where the hell does the time go, seriously?) remains one of my favourites.  I hope she doesn't find this recollection or raw sentiment too embarrassing, but this, too, is part of a father's role; sorry kid!

They say bloggers need to be content with the notion that they are writing for an audience of one, and going back to this post both justified and invalidated that position: I'm glad I captured my thoughts on it shortly after it happened, and I've received some lovely comments about it as well.)

This morning, as we all went about our morning ablutions and general ante meridiem routines, Fenya wandered into the kitchen with no shirt on.

This is not really a big deal; so much not so, in fact, that it took me a moment to notice. With four people sharing a single bathroom, modesty is something we have never really bothered with in our household, frankly. When you gotta go, you gotta go, and if that means stepping over someone on the biffy whilst en route to the shower, so be it. Many are the bedtimes where I have been bowled over by 1-2 clothesless children screaming "NAKED HUG!" at the top of their lungs, and we wouldn't have it any other way. The girls are still discreet in public and self conscious enough not to streak in front of the living room window, and they generally refrain from naked hug charges while company is over, and that sort of thing, so it has never been a cause for concern.

I know it can't last, and that the time for casual household nudity will draw to a close, and that's fine. Fenya has already started to ask that I wait for an answer before entering her room, which probably has more to do with her beginning to wear a training bra than any kind of shame about nudity. Her appearance in the kitchen this morning sans blouse really drew it into sharp relief for me though; there are probably not a lot of sunny mornings left where she will drift into the kitchen with no top and casually feed the dog, and I probably won't even notice the change until it has come and gone.

With a little luck, my children will keep a certain degree of childish outlook throughout their lives, much as I have tried to do. I worked with a fellow years ago, who maintained "Maturity is not acting like an adult, it's knowing when it's appropriate to act like a child." But childishness and childhood are very different in my estimation. Time is running out on so many things; things like a trip to Disneyland, funny faces, being dropped off at school within sight of their friends, general silliness, stuffed animals, naming and anthropomorphizing everything they come across, talking to animals like they are going to respond in kind, asking questions and not worrying about looking foolish, singing along with music or shows, et cetera, et cetera.

I can get pretty maudlin about matters like this. It is so vitally important to me that my kids look back on a childhood full of love and fun and support but most of all childishness, and I wear my heart way out on my sleeve in this, as I do in so many things. So much so, in fact, that I have started to withhold what I am actually feeling at times like these so I don't inadvertently make my daughters feel guilty about growing up!

And so it was, when Fenya stumbled into the kitchen this morning, wearing just her jeans, as she collected Nitti's water dish and brought it over to the sink to refill, and I looked but I didn't see her. I saw sand dropping through the neck of an hourglass, and every grain was a diamond of exquisite clarity and brilliance and I thought briefly about how best to catch them, when Fenya interrupted me.

"Daddy? What's the matter?"

I thought about telling her, but again, she already knows that as much as I love to watch her grow up, I miss the child she was yesterday, and just how selfish do I need to be anyways? Moments like these are like the chalk mandalas they draw in far flung monasteries, full of effort and detail and beauty, but ultimately ephemeral, like childhood itself. I'm still learning to enjoy the flower where it grows, rather than picking it and taking it with me.

I smiled and said, "Nothing, I was just thinking."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Make Room!

Unbeknownst to me, the lads (led primarily by Scott) conspired with Audrey over the holidays to arrange construction of a second bathroom in our basement. The hand was tipped a little before Xmas in order to give the planners an idea of what they were working with, but I was still surprised on Christmas Day to receive an assortment of Batman-themed washroom accoutrements from the girls. Apparently they had decided that since the basement has been known colloquially as The BatCave since time immemorial, it made sense for the theme to run to the basement facility. When we finally set up a date to begin construction, I entitled the email invitation "BatCan Begins".
It is important to note that I am a long ways removed from Red Green and his ilk, and not just because I happen to be lazy; I am not a particularly handy individual, lacking not only the tools and skills needed to be a successful renovator, but also the courage to try and fail. I don't even watch the renovation shows so many others commonly refer to!

Thankfully project manager Scott was able to come up with a simple plan very quickly, and was prepared to do the wiring and electrical work that I find most daunting, while foreman Jeff has a tremendous amount of skill and experience in both framing and drywalling, having done two of his own basements and numerous jobs for others.
There were still a handful of 1s rolled during the day, some in planning and others in execution ("Oh, hell, did I say 74 inches? I meant...") but nothing that required the undoing of any previous steps, and all things that could eventually be worked around, often facilitated by a brief bit of groupthink.
Earl and I largely hauled things around and did what we were told, while Pete and Mike assisted Jeff and Scott more directly as needed. I take quite easily and naturally to a support role in such endeavours, and was happy to make multiple trips to Rona for supplementary supplies, and to grill up Polish sausage and pork chops for lunch and supper. From each according to their abilities, right? Earl's blog post has a great assortment of work-in-progress pictures.
It was about a 12 hour day of more or less steady labour, interrupted only by meals and the intermittent palaver about the best way to proceed, as well as the occasional annoying question by myself. It could not be helped; for me, the act of turning a seemingly random assortment of lumber, drywall and copper pipe into not just a room, but a bathroom, one of the most challenging renovations, was nothing short of a miracle. It was old hat to most of the lads, but to Earl and I, it was a feat of prestidigitation verging on the supernatural.
In the end, where there was once a basement space accumulating clutter, there now stood a better than 6' x 6' room, including a flushing toilet (with an ironic incontinence issue I am assured will be sorted out directly), pipes ready for the laundry tub sink, a simple, 2-bulb light fixture and additional outlet, and with a working door to enclose the works.
Today Glory and I managed to cut and affix the final few pieces of drywall needed and tidied the place up in anticipation of what I understand to be a fairly demanding step: drywall taping and mudding.
At the supper table last night though, I struggled to express to my friends just how wondrous such an achievement was to my eyes with a toast, telling the assembly that in a few days, coworkers and associates would ask me what I had done on the weekend. And how I would be humbled and amazed to tell them that my friends gave up a day off in its entirety to toil like Moses' kin under the whips of the pharaoh in order to make my homely house a little more hospitable.
And when these others ask what I could possibly have done to deserve such friends, I would have to liken it to the grace spoken of in scriptures, and tell them that no one could hope to earn such fellowship, but only hope to repay it with the most sincere gratitude, and also in kind, with time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Nothin' Goin' On But the 'Rents

(Originally posted May 10, 2009; John Goodman continues to be awesome to this day.)

This is not a movie review, but I watched Speed Racer with my family the other day. I have never seen the cartoon it is based upon, nor, to the best of my knowledge, have any of my friends. The extent of my Speed Racer experience was limited to hearing the theme song on the "Saturday Morning Heroes" CD at Games Workshop and seeing it mocked on "Robot Chicken". Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much.

Which was good, because I didn't get a lot either. Don't get me wrong, I see what they were shooting for, and it was a very clever homage to innocence and simpler times, despite its theme of corruption and intoxicating over-the-top visuals, and it was fun. Seriously though; I have never dropped acid, but if I did, I hope it would be as deliriously colourful and creatively realized as some of the scenes in this movie. But just past the middle of the film, I'll be damned if John Goodman (who can't redeem every movie he's in, but you can see him hefting like Atlas every time without fail) doesn't go and drop in one of the best parent speeches I've seen in a long time.

Speed is leaving home against his father's wishes. When we see his brother Rex doing the same thing years earlier, to work for another racing team, Pops Racer (Goodman) tells him, "If you go out that door, don't bother coming back." When Rex dies in a suspicious crash a short time later, it's a pretty bad scene at the Racer household, with super-size servings of guilt and misplaced feelings of responsibility. Speed's departure is shot in the exact same way as his brother's, so you are waiting for the inevitable replay. And it doesn't happen.

"I didn't lose Rex when he crashed," Pops confesses, "I lost him here. I let him think that a stupid motor company meant more to me than he did. You'll never know how much I regret that mistake. It's enough I'll never make it again. Speed, I understand that every child has to leave home. But I want you to know, that door is always open. You can always come back. 'Cause I love you."

Out of a lot of other mouths, these words drop to the floor like lead weights, but not Goodman. He plays the melodrama straight, no chaser, and it works. And he's not finished:

Pops Racer: I couldn't have been more proud of you, son. Not because you won, but because you stood up, you weren't afraid, and you did what you thought was right.
Speed: It didn't amount to anything. It was completely meaningless.
Pops Racer: How could it be meaningless? I saw my son become a man. I watched a man with courage and integrity drive the pants off of every other driver on that road. This is not meaningless. This is the reason for a father's life.

When a popcorn film based on a ludicrous premise, written by the same guys who brought you the Matrix sequels (and, to be fair, The Matrix) can throw something like this into the mix and make it credible, it's not just a surprise, it's positively staggering.

Whatever my occupation may be at any given time, being a father is the most important job I will ever have, so anytime I catch even a glimmer of a similar sentiment in a medium that typifies most dads as bumbling morons, if not outright selfish ingrates, I sit up and take notice. I certainly wasn't expecting to sit up in Speed Racer. What a pleasant surprise! A dad who has humility enough to recognize a past mistake, honesty enough to admit it, and courage enough to let his son go, with the assurance that he is loved and can always come home. And this is after beating up a ninja, no less. Although there might not be as much competition as I would like, Pops Racer strikes me as one of the great movie dads.

I realize this probably seems a bit incongruous, what with it being Mother's Day and all, but hey, parents, we are all in this together. We had a great Mother's Day here, with my Mom and Dad and sister coming out for brunch and me making mimosas and eggs benedict for everyone and chilling out all afternoon.

I am so grateful for not only my mother, who set a great example for me as a parent, but also my wife, who sets the bar for me now with our own fantastic children. These two women who make me think of something my favourite writer, Andrew Vachss, said once:

"Mother is not what you are, it's what you do."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Crime/Fighting - Netflix's Daredevil, Reviewed

(As always, spoiler-free!)

I never intended to watch all 13 episodes of Netflix's Daredevil over a single weekend.

It is clear to me, now at least, that my attempt to bolster my lack of self-control when it comes to compulsively completing ongoing narratives by leveraging my 16 year-old daughter was somewhat ill-considered, as we co-enabled our completion of the entire series before bedtime Sunday.  Thankfully, our various commitments over the weekend prevented us from truly binge watching, peaking instead at 5 episodes watched on Saturday.

The fact that both of us felt compelled to finish this initial arc in such a short span of time is probably testimonial enough, but in the event you are on the fence about watching Netflix’s first collaboration with Marvel Studios, let me try to give you an idea what to expect.

Daredevil is significantly darker than any Marvel offering to date, with both language and graphic violence being quite a bit more explicit than the movies.  This is wholly appropriate, given the comics transition in the 1980s (under Frank Miller) from a ‘tights & fights’ offering to a gritty and noir-influenced crime drama that just happened to take place in the Marvel Universe, and centered around a former Spider-Man villain, the Kingpin.  Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb had stated that the goal was to end up somewhere around a ‘PG-15’ rating, and I think they were spot on: no f-bombs or nudity, but there is what feels like an appropriate amount of cursing, given the circumstances, and they do not at all sugar coat what it looks like when someone is beaten to death (or thereabouts).

The casting of Charlie Cox as blind attorney Matt Murdock and his vigilante alter ego Daredevil caught me by surprise, but he brings the goods, balancing rage with compassion, Matt’s love of law with his ruthless application of justice, and his tremendous special abilities with an almost tragic vulnerability.  Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) enters the story as a victim, but Karen Page's need to set things right and prevent others from being hurt drives the story forward, putting the inevitable love interest potential on simmer, rather than boil, and keeping her from just being a damsel in distress.  Matt’s law partner and best friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, is portrayed by Elden Henson, who brings a lot of humour to the role, as is natural.  He is also quite convincing in the scenes where he has to portray an effective and committed lawyer, and is quite a bit more capable and less hapless than his comic book counterpart.

These three roles form the tripod that the series rests upon, and it is exceptionally stable.  When they come into opposition with each other, the effects range from unsettling to completely heartbreaking.

In terms of acting, however, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk (never actually referred to as the Kingpin) is absolutely spellbinding.  They take their time in revealing him, and make it very clear early on that he is a ruthless and intelligent crimelord, leading an unlikely alliance between Chinese triads, Russian mobsters and Japanese criminals presented as yakuza, but who are more likely the infamous ninja clan The Hand from the comics.  At a little more than 6’3” and having putt on a little weight for the role, D’Onofrio has both the imposing presence and compelling charisma Fisk’s portrayal requires, and when he finally allows himself to supplant his reason with rage, it is terrifying.

But far more telling than this is the considerable vulnerability and shyness he brings; the furtive glances, the uncomfortable way his mouth moves when he is trying to actually converse with someone as opposed to simply giving orders, the uncertainty when he is dealing with an attractive woman.  When Fisk’s tragic backstory is revealed, viewers are forced to reconcile the relentless monster he is with the tortured youth he once was, humanizing a character who does some truly inhuman things, and D’Onofrio swings between these disparate elements with ease and grace.

Great work is also done by Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Ben Urich and Scott Glenn as Matt's blind warrior mentor Stick, but even among these worthies, D'Onofrio is a stand out.

Having a villain motivated by something outside of wealth or power can make for a compelling story, and the multiple elements and perspectives about what is best for Hell’s Kitchen leaves Daredevil having more in common with HBO’s brilliant The Wire than most of the superhero television that has preceded it. 

They also make effective use of flashbacks to flesh out the backstory for both Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, similar to Lost or Arrow, making the 13 episodes feel less like an origin story than a tipping point in the lives of two dangerous men.

Some of the best moments in the series are Matt’s sessions with Father Lantom, a somewhat familiar face in Marvel Comics (Cloak & Dagger, Runaways), both within the confessional and over the occasional latté, about the nature of good and evil, and how far a good person should go in bringing justice to someone who has set themselves above it.  The 2003 Daredevil movie with Ben Affleck lost a lot of us (myself included) very early in the film, when the title character not only callously allows someone he has been fighting to get run over by a train, but taunts them about it.  Heroism is almost completely absent from the film, whereas Netflix’s Matt Murdock wrestles with his conscience throughout the movie in true Catholic fashion, along with his guilt at involving those he cares for in his battles, and moral conflict is the order of the day.

For most of the episodes, Daredevil would not appear to casual viewers like it is based on a comic book: the classic costume is absent for almost the entire series, with Matt choosing a black bandana mask and sap gloves instead for his violent interactions with NYC’s underworld.  The villains don’t wear masks or even have colourful nicknames, so Leland Owlsley is a corrupt accountant instead of a violent gangster called The Owl.

The fight scenes, however, more than make up for this.  Powerful, fast, imaginative and acrobatic, they combine graceful martial arts like tae kwon do and capoeira with the sweet science of boxing, liberally salting both with mixed martial arts and straight-up brawler moves like head butts.  Brutal but captivating and effective, and I hope the producers of CW’s Arrow are prepared to up their game, especially after watching one action sequence from an early episode in a hallway that runs over four minutes long with no obvious cuts.

Overall, the series keeps up a steady pace, especially considering that Matt Murdock has neither body armour nor healing factor, and actually needs to heal between some of his battles.  During one of these recoveries, however, things slow down a little too much, although they use this time very effectively in terms of exploring conflict between the main allied characters.  Had I been watching an episode a week like a saner person, this might have been more noticeable, but with the next installment waiting immediately after the conclusion of the current one, it was pretty easy to overcome.

Speaking of pacing, some will undoubtedly (and understandably) find it regrettable that the iconic costume barely appears in this series, but at least it looks good when it gets there.   It takes a lot of cues from Chris Nolan's Dark Knight armour as well as Captain America's suit from The Winter Soldier.  The trademark DD from the comic version is missing, but the point of this costume is not branding, but protection, intimidation, and symbology; a guardian devil for Hell's Kitchen.

Fan Service
I actually missed Stan Lee’s cameo, as it was done with a photo on the wall of a police precinct, and there are very few overt references to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of some clippings referring to the Battle of New York (which I had hoped would be from the Daily Bugle), but linkages to both the comics and future Netflix series are there:
  • Fogwell’s Gym, where Matt surreptitiously works out, comes straight out of the pages of Daredevil #1.
  • A poster in the gym shows Matt's father, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, fought Carl ‘Crusher’ Creel at some point, probably prior to his becoming the Absorbing Man on Agents of SHIELD.
  • Roxxon Oil, most recently seen in Agent Peggy Carter, makes a brief appearance as Marvel’s ominous and often evil Big Oil outfit.
  • A red-hooded warrior with a hooked knife on a chain is a direct reference to not only infamous ninja clan/death cult The Hand, but a visual callback of Frank Miller’s depiction of their exotic weaponry from his run on the comic three decades back.
  • After Vanessa describes a former lover's outfit to Fisk, he replies, jealously, "A white suit and ascot?  That's a bit much, isn't it?", belying the fact that the comic book version of the Kingpin dressed just like this for years.
  • A college flashback shows Foggy chiding Matt about his relationship with “that Greek girl” can only be a reference to the infamous assassin and occasional love interest Elektra.
  • The window sign across the hall from Nelson & Murdock, Atlas Investments, shares a name and logo with Marvel’s predecessor, Atlas Comics.
  • Underworld haberdasher Melvin Potter has a board on the wall displaying the logo he wears in the comics as villain The Gladiator.
  • In addition to some weaponized sawblade designs on his workbench, Melvin also appears to have some prototype extendable legs for Stilt Man in his shop.
  • Paper packets of heroin have a snake sigil known as ‘Steel Serpent’ which is likely to play a role in Netflix’s upcoming Iron Fist series.
(Once you’ve seen the series, you can look up even more easter eggs here!)

Response to the Netflix Daredevil series has been very favourable (9.3 on iMDB, with over 20,000 raters), and demand apparently crashed their servers this weekend.  Many people are calling this their favourite Marvel iteration to date, and I do have to agree that a street-level crime drama/adventure like this is far, far better served on the small screen than the silver.  With 13 hours to outline motivations, highlight future tensions, identify both internal and external conflict, a far more robust story can be told in this television format than in the two hours or so provided by a movie.

Daredevil is one of the first comics I collected as a teenager, starting with the re-relling of his origin in issue 164.  The dichotomy of lawyer by day, vigilante by night, and one man’s struggle to balance out these two disparate approaches to the singular goal of justice, was as intriguing and compelling to me as the outlandish characters he fought.  Charlie Cox and company have created something that draws a bit more heavily from the darker and grittier iteration of the character so prevalent in the ‘90s Marvel Knights era, but still do justice to the character, and without losing sight of Daredevil’s core morality.  

The showrunners, including Whedonverse alumni Steve S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard, have woven together threads from a brilliant comics heritage and the best of modern televised storytelling to create a tapestry accessible to not just comic fans, but everyone who likes their TV a little darker, but not completely without hope (Walking Dead, I am looking at you!).  I give Daredevil my highest recommendation, whether you binge-watch it, or view it at a more reasonable pace.

The best part about Daredevil, to me, is how much they didn’t do: no mention of ol’ hornhead’s greatest nemesis, Bullseye, no sign of Elektra, no overt superpowers.  There is tremendous potential to be explored here, not just in Miller’s defining run, but in subsequent works by Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker; I would love to see the trial of White Tiger played out on screen, combining a terse courtroom drama with costumed characters battling it out behind the scenes. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t take too long before announcing a second season of Daredevil.

Netflix’s next Marvel venture is the much lesser known AKA Jessica Jones, about a woman with super powers who finds she can’t cut it as a costumed hero and becomes a private investigator instead.  This will be followed by bad neighbourhood good guy Luke Cage (Power Man) and then kung fu adventurer Iron Fist.  Eventually these characters should find themselves drawn together in a Defenders series, similar to how the MCU movies culminated with The Avengers (perhaps with Rosario Dawson’s nurse character Claire Temple serving as the Phil Coulson of Hell's Kitchen?), but current rumours have these shows coming about a year apart. Perhaps Joss Whedon, loving television as he does, might consider taking a turn at the wheel of one of these, now that he is wrapping up his involvement with Marvel movies after Age of Ultron.

Either way, we will need to be patient, but given the care and quality that has been applied to these properties, I'm certainly willing to do so.  Besides, to tide us over we have the Avengers sequel next month, Ant-Man in July, and Agents of SHIELD in the meantime (with a possible spin-off in the works).

It’s a great time to be a Marvel fan, even on the darker side of the street.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Man Without Fear, TV Season Without Waiting - Netflix's Daredevil

I don't know if the Netflix model really works for me, but I recognize I may be the anomaly in this instance.
With episodic stories, I fully believe that anticipation adds to the enjoyment, that the delay increases the gratification, if you will. We don't watch a lot of TV, but we are committed to what we watch, and are practitioners of the increasingly outmoded concept of 'appointment television'. In between episodes, I thrive on the water cooler talk and speculation.
During the first couple of seasons of Lost, I would tell people who hadn't seen it how new and intriguing it was, and how tantalizing it was to have so little an idea of where the series was going. Some listeners would check out an episode, but still others would say, "Sounds cool; I'll wait for the DVDs and watch it all at once."
To me that's like saying, "here, instead of a gourmet meal, please take this George Jetson protein tablet; it will address your metabolic needs while swelling to an appropriate size to ease your hunger. Then we can proceed straight to dessert, enjoy this delightful tiramisu, and be finished our meal in about fifteen minutes."
Full marks to efficiency, but none for style, none for enjoyment, and very little for a sense of community. Netflix, the one-time mail-based but now internet centred movie and TV subscription service, has taken binge watching to the next level, by providing full seasons of quality, original content all at once. No re-runs, no sweeps week, no water cooler talk, just the option of watching one episode right after the other. I don't know if it's for me, man.
On the other hand, I've been waiting for a decent adaptation of Marvel Comics blind superhero Daredevil since I was 14 years old, so I wasn't about to let Netflix's take on Matt Murdock and Co. pass me by, now, was I? All 13 episodes dropped tonight and I had a chance to watch the first one before I got chased out of the rumpus room in favour of dance practice.
Based on pedigree (Marvel Studios, two former Buffyverse producers) and casting (Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin and Charlie Cox as the title character), I was eagerly anticipating this show. The advertising campaign teased out just enough information to set the tone and let fans know that both Daredevil and the Marvel-ised Hell's Kitchen where he hangs his horns would be treated with a gritty respect.
First impressions validate the claims. There is slightly less humor here than in Agents of SHIELD or the Iron Man movies, but it is still there. Thor doesn't sail by an open window, but the realtor leasing a law office to Matt and his partner 'Foggy' Nelson mentions how the alien invasion depicted in The Avengers has depressed prices in the area to the point where two neophyte attorneys can afford it.

On the action side, they waste very little time getting physical, pitting Matt against some human traffickers. The costume choice is less red and devilish and more Dread Pirate Roberts, a look that hearkens back to not only the Frank Miller/John Romita Jr. "Man Without Fear" comic miniseries, but also an old Lou Ferrigno Hulk TV movie. Up until this battle, I considered the high-water mark for fights and stunts to be CW's surprisingly excellent Arrow, but there is a real chance they have lost the belt to Daredevil. Athletic, kinetic, just acrobatic enough to be fun and shot with pleasing clarity, I am looking forward to seeing more in the ensuing episodes.
The writing is good, dialogue suitably comic-ish without being corny, and they tie up loose ends without being pedantic about it. The tone is far darker than Marvel's previous offerings, with not just the terror of human trafficking laid bare, but bloody murders and ruthless extortion. One of the more chilling elements contained no violence at all, only the threat of it against a loved one as a means of leverage; for this reason, my youngest is going to sit this series out for the time being.
Charlie Cox (Stardust) is an interesting choice for Daredevil, but makes for a brilliant choice as blind attorney Matthew Murdock, investing the character with both the compassion and suppressed rage that makes the character so compelling.
The first episode lays out the framework for what feels like it will be a fairly large and comprehensive story, and D'Onofrio's crimelord Wilson Fisk (sometimes known as The Kingpin) is not even seen, only heard, and referenced with noticeable fear by underlings and colleagues. They are building up anticipation for an eventual reveal that I am certain many people will reach in the wee hours of tomorrow morning.
I have no idea how long I will take to get to episode 13, but when I do, I'll be sure to post my impressions.
In the meantime though, practice is done, so it is time for episode 2... and maybe just one more.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Path Less Listened To

(Originally posted May 5, 2009, this is not necessarily an excellent or insightful piece, but I only recently discovered an actual music video for the song referenced below and could not resist updating it.)

Me old china, Island Mike (aka in the comments section), and I have a longstanding and willful misunderstanding of each others' definition of musical value. It has provided us both with a lot of entertainment over the years, or I have really missed my guess and it has been driving him completely mental ever since I once referred to him as a 'musical Nazi'. Maybe it only provides entertainment for one of us at a time, I dunno.

I have, on occasion, characterized him as a reactionary, hidebound dinosaur, revelling in the glories of ages long past, a musical conservative with about as much inclination towards experimentation as the caterer for the Leduc Alberta Wednesday Night Lions Club. He, in turn, has regarded me as a shallow, musical dilettante, prone to auditory self-injury, who is about as discriminating as Paris Hilton's social secretary and who displays a horrifying tendency to tolerate admittedly bad music simply because it is fun or danceable, which is ironic and (perhaps even horrifying) when you consider that I dress out at more than an eighth of a ton, and am hardly light on my feet.

That said, I appreciate all music much more because of Mike. He schooled me up on the blues roots of bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin that I might have dismissed as the sole provenance of the kids in school who majored in shop class and wore lumberjack shirts instead of jackets. He and my friend Rob taught me the joy of liner notes, and the subtlety needed to appreciate quality session musicians. In exchange, I exposed him to things like Suicidal Tendencies (through the Repo Man soundtrack), Sinead O'Connor, Yello and most recently, Corb Lund. I have much wider parameters than he does in terms of listenability, but he is unequivocating in his criticism of dishonest or lazy music and musicianship. Our "What is best in radio, Conan?" discussion continues unabated to this day, and leaves its smoldering hoofprints in the comments section under my post "In Defense of 80s Music".

Driving home tonight I heard this band, Christian Hansen & The Autistics, and their song "Cocaine Trade". I am still not sure if he is referring to cocaine or disco in the chorus:

"Oh my god, it's comin' back, comin' back
It was lame the first time 'round
Oh my god, it's comin' back, comin' back
I can't stand to hear the soooouunnd"

... but I am leaning towards disco, and for a song that opens with the word "Cowbell", that is ironic and funny, and it made me think of Island Mike immediately.

I also read an article about the band and it's founder, a former folk singer who still hasn't made up his mind whether or not he hates dance music or not, but who hasn't let that stop him from playing it. They are an Edmonton group who were the Sonic Band of the Month in February, and have started to get a little traction and I wish them well. There is no motion in the 'video' (snort) link below, but it provides an opportunity to hear the tune without endless radio scanning, and it may bring you a smile.  Yes, rufus, perhaps even you.

(Update: the group moved to Toronto in 2012, have dropped 'And The Autistics', were active as recently as January, but are not yet massive.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Best Calgary Breakfast: OEB Breakfast Co.

Our timetable didn't let us traverse the Icefield Parkway either going to or coming from Banff, but coming back by way of Cowtown enabled us to have brunch at OEB Breakfast Co. (824 Edmonton Trail NE) for the second time in a month.


When we visited Calgary earlier, I had Googled the best breakfasts in Calgary, and OEB had shown up in the top 3 of almost every list, and topped some. And why not? A locally-sourced, chef driven breakfast and lunch menu, featuring dark-yolk Omega-3 enriched eggs grown by two barns full of their own chickens makes this tiny diner a highly sought after spot for early day sustenance.


And by highly sought after, I mean be prepared to wait; we got there before 11:30 on a Thursday and were told the wait would be 45 minutes to an hour. I was parking the car, but was delighted that Audrey made the call she did. They take your mobile number with an app (that you can download with your smartphone, you know, if you are on a data plan), and text you when your table is ready. With an occupancy of only 50 people and a growing reputation, such a demand is hardly surprising. In the meantime, we gassed up, found a nearby spot, propped the iPad up on the dash of the Flex and watched the first third of The Grand Budapest Hotel.


About an hour later, we wer,e at last, seated at our table. Like a lot of other legit diners, OEB (which stands for Over Easy Breakfast, btw) isn't much to look at it, both from the outside:


Or seated inside:

(Quaint decor, but it is pretty hard not to see a cockeyed alien in that picture once you turn the reflected lights into a mouth, isn't it?)


As long as the place is clean, I don't much care if the joint is crowded and chairs unupholstered, provided the food is good. And brother, the food is good. There are plenty of variations on your classic omelettes, eggs Benny, pancakes and what have you, but their signature dish is a breakfast poutine called Soul In A Bowl, which Fenya ordered.


Soul In A Bowl starts with seasoned diced potatoes seasoned twice fried in organic duck fat, to which are added Saint Cyrille cheese curds, slow cooked bacon lardons, two eggs poached the way you like 'em and brown butter hollandaise.


There are quite a few variations on this dish, some without eggs, some with added elements such as duck confit, or the scallops I had last time; Audrey tried the Chasing Chicken, substituting pulled poultry for the lardons, and served in one of those delightfully old-school take-out boxes that are such a novelty here in Canada.

I tried my hand at the Croque Madame, a type of inside-out breakfast Monte Cristo, featuring roesmary ham, fried potatoes and flor di latte mozzarella all served on sourdough rye and topped with two sunny side eggs and brown butter Hollandaise. I don't normally truck with breakfast sammiches I can't eat with my hands, but I'm glad I made an exception for this; heavenly!


Glory, one day short of becoming an official teenager, had what may have been the largest dish on the table and indisputably the richest: two glistening slices of French toast stuffed with New York style cheesecake glazed with Bailey's crème Anglaise. Everyone I've described it to calls it heart attack on a plate, but OEB calls it 'Sweet Dreams are Made of These' - I suppose you'd have to call that a draw, then, wouldn't you?


We've never had cause to partake, but OEB not only has an espresso machine and lattes available but they are also licensed, so if you have cause for an early morning Irish coffee or Mimosa, they are able to oblige you. I settled for a caramel latte instead. The servers are knowledgeable, friendly and as quick as they can be in such a crowded environment, but everything about OEB is worth the wait.


The diner is just a few blocks south from Peter's Drive-In, another Calgary standard, and easily accessible from the Deerfoot and Trans-Canada. Do yourself a favour the next time you have an opportunity to brunch it up in Cowtown, and get in line for OEB; you will be glad you did!



Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mountain Castle Getaway

Somehow my intermittently frugal nature and inability to resist a bargain has brought our middle-class household to the lap of luxury.

We had decided early in the year that we would take a vacation during spring break, the first time we have ever done so. We didn't really have the wherewithal to fly anyplace, so Audrey and I began looking at drivable alternatives. Our recent stay in Calgary was nice, but there is more for us to do there in the summer, and besides, we had just been there. The same could be said of Drumheller, and the warm winter left us apprehensive about snowmobiling around Revelstoke.

The two of us had talked for years about staying in one of the theme rooms at West Edmonton Mall, and taking in the waterpark, GalaxyLand, mini golf and the other attractions, but there was a concern that the girls might find it a little too 'cheesy'.

I don't know how we got onto thinking about the Banff Springs; we had spent our second anniversary there two decades ago during a 'bed & breakfast' sale and loved it, but the handful of times we had looked in the intervening years it had become unfeasible, possibly due to its purchase by the Fairmont hotel group from Canadian Pacific. Surprisingly, however, when I checked their special offers page, it looked like we perhaps could pull it off, so we immediately conspired to do so.

We elected to keep our destination a secret from the girls, partially out of our delight at surprises and also as a means of managing expectations. They knew only that we were leaving Monday and returning Thursday, and that we were driving, and to bring a swimsuit.

After dropping Nitti off with friends, we got on the road mid-morning, grabbed a bite at Peter's drive-in for a late lunch, and turned west on the Trans-Canada Highway. Audrey had told the girls we weren't leaving the province, and they aren't terribly familiar with the highways in the region, so speculation as to our destination ranged from Canmore to Lake Louise to Crowsnest Pass.

Once we passed Canmore, I told them that our first stop was the Upper Hot Springs in Banff, which is why we had told them to bring their swimsuits and leave them accessible. Pulling off the highway into Banff, I confessed we would be staying there as well, but evaded Fenya's inquiry as to precisely where.

Given my reputation as a deal-seeker, it's possible they were expecting to stay in a budget motel or even a hostel, but after our dip in the hot springs, as we drove down Spray Avenue and the towering Banff Springs Hotel began to loom over us, Fenya asked, "Is this one of the same chain as the Hotel MacDonald?" and I replied that indeed it was.

After a brief pause, Glory said, "But that's not where we're staying, right?"

"Actually," I said, "it is."

I'm profoundly grateful at how excited they became once I confirmed we would be lodging in what effectively amounts to a mountain castle. Both girls are keenly interested in the past, in a way that I never was as a child, and all of us have a tremendous appreciation for the mountains. I don't think either of them had any notion about what differentiates a luxury hotel (having had zero exposure to them!) and in truth, I only had the foggiest idea myself.

Thankfully I had joined the Fairmont President's Club (free) which meant they were expecting us at the curb with our keys and room number already sorted out. I had fully intended to drop off the ladies and then go park the Flex, but the valet option was only a little more than self-parking, and I didn't want to postpone our arrival any more than absolutely necessary, so I opted in for the additional service, and a polite young man whisked our ride off to the parkade.

In booking our room, there was nothing available in the original building that had two Queen-sized beds, so I had resigned myself to staying in the Stanley Thompson wing, an annex that used to house the hotel staff and was once called the Manor Wing. The default option offered no view, but for another $25 per night we could upgrade to a suite that did, so that was an easy enough choice to justify; after all, when could we expect to be back here again?

In most instances I am of the mind that the size and quality of the room is only of minor importance, since, ideally, all you would be doing is sleeping there. However, on this vacation, the accommodation was also the destination, so a slightly larger room, divided into living and sleeping areas, was ideal.

With our luggage in tow, we made our way from the traffic circle to the Stanley Thompson wing, bypassing the lobby entirely, and descended three floors to room 1107. We entered into a tidy suite, with two queen beds behind a sliding door, a decent sized washroom with two sinks, and a living area furnished with a couch, two comfy chairs, a desk and an office chair. Four bathrobes monogrammed with the Fairmont "F", an initial very suitable for our family and doubly so for Fenya, hung in the closet.

We didn't spend too much time in the room initially though, as we immediately wanted to get the lay of the land. After exploring our wing of the hotel and its attendant lobby and common area (with two billiard tables, a number of sitting arrangements and an immense oaken table), we got directions to the conference centre so the girls and I could do some 5-pin black-light bowling while Audrey took a shower and got a little reading in.

It's a somewhat convoluted route to get from the Stanley Thompson wing to the pedway, but as expeditious as it might have been to simply step outside and cut across the traffic circle, who could pass up a chance to meander the storied halls of such a legendary edifice?

The next day we spent a fair bit of time exploring the hotel, from the Alhambra room and it's expensive bronze gates, to the fossiled stone stairway outside it.

Also a good spot for a Lumiere impression, if you are so inclined.

Then we went through the baronial elegance of Mt. Stephen Hall.

Reproductions of armour and weapons abound, making it a wonderful venue for history nerds like ourselves. It could be a great place to hold a gaming convention...

A story persists that a bride's dress brushed a candle way back in the day, and in stamping out the flames, she plummeted down a stone staircase in the lobby to her death. Her ghost is rumoured to dwell there still, so it was decided we needed to get a picture of the 'Bride's Staircase', even though neither of the girls was comfortable miming out a falling pose.

There had been some sort of event the night before in the ballroom that had not yet been cleaned up, so the doors to it were closed. Our thinking was, though, that if they truly wanted to keep people out, they would have locked those doors, and since they hadn't, we entered to explore it and the attached conservatory.

I'm very glad we did, as I had never set foot in those rooms before, and they offered a spectacular panorama of the surrounding mountains as well as a period elegance in the decor. It was easy to imagine listening to a live orchestra in the ballroom like they had in the 1950s, or an elegant tea in the conservatory.

Riverside Hall is still one of my favourite parts of the Banff Springs Hotel; spacious, brightly lit and offering an immense view of the Bow Valley.

A wonderful place to sit and take in the view, but also suitable for dancing.

The castle theme extends to many of the appointments and decorations, such as the tapestries that decorate most of the halls. Audrey felt compelled to open most of the cupboards and armoires we encountered in our wanderings, and many of the furnishings are reproductions of items from European monasteries.

We only ate two meals in the hotel itself, partially to stay on budget and also to make the best use of our time. For breakfast on the first morning, we partook of the buffet in the Bow Valley Grill, which may be the best breakfast smorgasbord I have ever encountered; Full continental with bagels, pastries, porridges, hot fruit compote and cold cereal, but also a full omelette bar, trays of eggs Benedict, two types of sausages and bacon, pancakes, waffles, hot and cold smoked salmon, etc.

For supper on our last night we ate in The Waldhaus, built out of the former golf clubhouse and styled like a Bavarian hunting lodge. Venison, schnitzels, spaetzle, and an enormous appetizer tray of sausages and cheeses were chased down with huge steins of German Dunkel and cider. Having given up sweets for Lent, I elected instead to finish things off with a glass boot filled with Big Rock's Oatmeal Raisin Stout.

For me, it doesn't really get much better than drinkable souvenirs and our waiter complimented me on my choice of dessert.

We had brought along a fair amount of dried fruit and jerkies and the like, and the day we went to visit the Cave and Basin, the historic site that really kicked off National Parks in Canada, our simple, in-room breakfast was more than sufficient to our needs, and helped offset the decadence of some of our other meals.

We spent a fair bit of time exploring the luxurious shops on the lobby level, found a few things on sale and discovered that the President's Club membership also entitled us to a15% discount on most items, and netted a few souvenirs there as a result, including a book detailing the hotel's history. A new shop, L'Occitane en Provence, had their grand opening that Wednesday, and not only were the girls one of the first customers (which entitled them to a nifty little bag full of expensive lotions and...I dunno, skin maintenance items?), but Fenya got to participate in the ribbon cutting.

It was a bittersweet excursion in some ways; keenly aware of being middle-class in an upper class establishment, and bidding farewell to childhood, as Glory's 13th birthday loomed at the end of the week. Also, with Fenya entering grade 12 next year, we may only have one more spring break left to us as a family, which is, frankly, a somewhat daunting prospect to consider!

Still, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, whether walking through the elegant halls in our borrowed bathrobes and then swimming in the outdoor heated pool as snow fell upon our heads...

Or simply catching up on some reading in a tranquil spot...

Or trying our hand at some pool in the Stanley Thompson lobby area...
We made the most of our temporary exposure to "the good life", fully recognizing that, in our case, that good life is due to our ability to truly enjoy each other as a family, wherever we might happen to find ourselves. If we are careful, there is no reason for this to ever change, which hearkens back to the hotel's motto, Semper Eadem, which translates as 'Always the same', because some things should never change, no matter how they might grow.