Monday, May 20, 2024

Oil Country for Old Men - 2024 NHL Playoffs

I don't consider myself a fair-weather fan because it isn't like I cheer for a different NHL team or anything, but I simply cannot be arsed to watch regular season games in pretty much any sport. But tournaments? The games that really matter? I am there every time, and twice for my hometown hockey team.

So I got one of my intermittent Sportsnet subscriptions (and will do so again this summer for the Euros and the Olympics - games where no one gets traded!), dusted off the McDavid jersey I bought last winter and for better or worse, tied my emotional well-being to a bunch of rich athletes whose job it is to chase a rubber disc around a fake pond with sticks while another group tries to murder them.

And to be honest, grit, determination and character is what drew me back to watching the Oilers back in 2006 (Ryan Smyth in particular), and not every player I cheer for brings that to the table. But even guys I feared were old school enforcers like Corey Perry, or potential malcontents like Evander Kane have proven to be great additions to the squad.

Frankly it is easy to like a group led by one of the greatest players in the game today, and even a casual fan like myself can be amazed by the speed and talent that Connoir McDavid brings to the ice - he is simply uncanny to watch.

And likewise Leon Draisaitl, who I keep mistaking for Jake Gyllenhall when they show him on the bench sometimes.

But Nugent-Hopkins, Bouchard, Ceci and especially (playoff goal-scoring leader!) Hyman all add needed ingredients to the cocktail.

I respect Desharnais' size. I love Ekholm's beard, possibly the league's best. And Stuart Skinner adds great, if not always consistent, goaltending that has long been a missing component for my home team.

And tonight, after a stressful seven-game series against Vancouver that featured not one but two elimination games for my team, the Oilers are on to the Western Conference Final against Dallas, who will be even tougher than Vancouver.

Will this next round of playoffs continue to take a toll on my nerves as well as my liquor cabinet?

In terms of self medication (remember kids, it is still medication!), tonight's game required quite a few paralyzers, and the last ten minutes of nailbiting almsot warranted another. But in the end, they were able to hold off a strong team that had already notched a nearly impossible comeback in the same series.

Here's to victory in Dallas on Thursday!

Sunday, May 12, 2024

AB = Abjectly Bewildered

What a gong show my home province is becoming.

I mean, yeah, we have always had our fair share (and a bit) of small-minded folks with big mouths, and the friction between those who want smaller government and less taxes versus those who think paying a little more to give people a hand up is a worthy societal investment has maybe been a little more discernible here, sure. 

But in the past few weeks, the provincial UCP government has taken a really weird and hard turn towards authoritarianism that is becoming really troubling.

First they introduced Bill 18, which will require provinical authorization for federal grant funding to reach university researchers, to ensure compatiblity with "Allberta priorities."

Then Bill 20, which will not only introduce political parties to municipal elections, but gives the provincial government the ability to amend or suspend municipal bylaws and even remove councillors if they deem them unworthy!

Oh, but don't worry they tell us, only Edmonton and Calgary elections will have political parties (for now). Surely this will placate the 70% of Albertans who have made it clearly known they want their local politics non-partisan.

And while there is no direct UCP involvement that I am aware of, I can't help but feel that the police behind this weekend's violent clearing out of student encampments at the Universities of Calgary and Alberta may have the same leather-clad glove on the end of their respective leashes as well.

These were students, protesting what they feel is their institutions' participation in genocide in Palestine. They demanded the university cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and pull all investments from companies that operate in the country - similar to what student protest demanded for apartheid South Africa 30-odd years ago.

For their temerity, they were tear-gassed and driven off with batons. Meanwhile on the QEII highway though, if you want to occupy a rest stop with your white nationalist pals, just hoist up an "Axe the Tax" flag so the RCMP know whose side you're on, and you will be left in peace. Just like the border blockade down in Coutts last year, right up until word slipped out about a plan some participants had to "off the pigs."

What do you do for an encore, my home province for nearly five decades now?

What's that? You're gonna let the Take Back Alberta crowd now sock-puppeting the UCP board advise on health policy and pressure changes to vaccination rules? What the actual hell? It is not bad enough that measles is amking a comeback due to this anti-science quackery, now a Calgary riding association is hosting anti-vaxx celebrities too?

Oh, and apparently our sitting government can now have a 4.5 yr mandate now, pushing the next "fixed" election date 6 months down the road from May to Octoberso it doesn't face too much intereference from wildfire evacuation notices. 

Give me strength. 

It is really bothersome, and moderately terrifying and I am tired of pretending this creeping fascism is just business as usual. And I used to love living here! Now I find myself daydreaming and yearning that the blimps in Blade Runner were real, and that a new life awaits me on the offworld colonies.

Sigh. Hell of a birthday blog, isn't it?

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Bumps, Bruises and Laughs - The Fall Guy, Reviewed

It might be true for cars as well, but some of my favourite movies are hybrids; adept at doing more than one thing. I like sci-fi more than horror, but put them together in The Thing and you have one of my favourite films. I tend to prefer action to comedy, but blend them in something clever like Lethal Weapon and I am likely to be there. 

And director David Leitch has certainly established his action bona fides with Atomic Blonde (and co-directing John Wick), and his Deadpool 2 makes him a dab hand with comedy, but can even he wrangle together an action-rom-com, regardless if it has two tremendously charismatic leads in Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt?

You know, I think he can. We saw The Fall Guy tonight and it ticked all three boxes, pretty much.

My commitment to spoiler-free coverage means I will tell you as little about the plot as possible. I mean, the A-plot, the story driver. There isn't a lot to say about the B-plot either I suppose, suffice to say that my favourite Iron Man writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) gives that angle way more room to play than I expected. Leitch even gets to do some directorial cleverness with the interchanges between stuntman Colt Seaver (Gosling) and director Jody Moreno (Blunt) where no action is even happening. Suffice to say that it is nice to see the characters actually work at earning a potential happy ending, whether they get it or not, as opposed to just letting it happen and having charm and chemistry carry you over the goal line.

The A-plot, well, gosh, it's...it's a lot, is what it is. And maybe it feels a teensy bit contrived in places, but honestly, we've all seen worse. What is critical is that it makes ense in the moment, and carries enough mystery and opacity to carry the viewer from an outrageous, psychedelic fight scene to an over-the-top chase scene that ends up having a fight in it, and so on. All while not only pursuing leads and an emotional reconnection, but also perhap the most elusive cup of coffee ever.

The Fall Guy is a big, loud summer movie, about making a big, loud summer movie, and it reinforces my long-held belief that it is a solid miracle that any movie gets made, ever. And when those movies are both entertaining and good, that is the biggest miracle of them all.

At the end of the day, the mystery is fine, the hurt people reconnecting is great, but to me, what The Fall Guy is about is just how far we are willing to go for the people and things that we love. And one of those things is making (and watching) movies.

When producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham) tries to bring Colt on board after a long absence, she asks him, "What is the message behind all of my movies?"

"That...nihilism is a viable worldview?"

What follows is a great little exchange about the insidious interface between art and commerce where movies dwell, and this, combined with the actual drama of producing a blockbuster movie is what makes it work - in a subtle way, it may be the most metatextual film I have seen since The Lego Movie. And relationships and honesty are at the heart of that part, all wrapped in stunts and laughs like sexy bacon.

Even beyond the stars, there are lots of people to like in The Fall Guy; Aaron Taylor-Johnson is great as Tom Ryder, the Hollywood 'face' that Colt's stunts make look so good. And I am always happy to see Winston Duke (M'Baku from Black Panther), and as stunt coordinator Dan Tucker he gets as many good lines and film references as action gags.

But the action gags alone make it worth seeing this in theaters. If you have any affection for the planning, hard work and artistry that goes into making an epic stunt, there is more than one to enjoy - including one that broke a Guinness World Record. Director David Leitch is a former stuntman, and he and Ryan Gosling have been vocal about this film being a love letter to the stunt community, and also a chance to spotlight the fact that it is well past time that this critical part of cineman be given its own Academy Award category.

The Fall Guy doesn't do a whole lot that is really new, but it is the brightest, loudest, funniest love story you are likely to see this summer...if you are into that kind of thing.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Graveyard Standoff

(What follows is a dramatization of my recollections from a recent Call of Cthulhu session - spoilers for the legendary Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign are contained within!)

"Listen to me," Lawrence Vane shouted, his face dripping. "You can’t just shoot her - that monster is my sister! That is still Eloise!"

The Oxford student pointed behind him to a grey-skinned, bestial creature hunched beside a recently disturbed grave. Pieces of a shattered coffin lid surrounded it, and being on the buisness end of an elephant gun didn't stop it from taking defiant bites from the grisly prize it had torn from the grave.

How did it come to this, thought Bartholomew Jones as he brushed misting rain from his eyes with the back of his free hand. I could be on the savannah, leading pampered Europeans looking to bag a trophy buck or even a lion, but no, I’m looking over the sights of Uncle Dave's Holland & Holland Royal Double at a -what? A ghoul I suppose. A flesh-eating abomination which was a captivating lass when I met her just yesterday...

Vane had brought Jones and his two compatriots, Prof. Greenwald and the bartender Roy Conner, into his trust only the evening before, after dinner at Castle Plum. Lord Arthur Vane, Lawrence's father, had been coy and aloof, but as they returned to the village, Lawrence had confided the truth about the recent deaths in Lower Edale. 

After her 21st birthday three months prior, Eloise Vane had begun transforming at the time of the full moon, and had killed several townsfolk before her family eventually discovered her metamorphosis. Her father and brother had begun sedating her and incarcerating her in the dungeons beneath their ancestral castle during the full moon, but each month, the change is longer lasting and more pronounced.

That same night, Eloise's gaunt but muscular ghoul form had escaped through a hidden passage in the dungeons. The tunnel led her into the family mausoleum, where she attempted to satiate her unnatural hunger on the bones of her ancestors. By the time Jones, Vane, exited the mausoleum and caught sight of their quarry, she appeared to be chasing a townsperson down the road into Lower Edale.

Jones shouldered his immense rifle, and briefly considered letting fly with both barrels, but remembering he had but two bullets in his possession, he opted to conserve ammo. He pulled the first of his twin triggers, the enormous report of the .450 Nitro Express round shocking the others and panicking Lawrence Vane, who turned and screamed in protest.

The shot struck the ghoul below its left shoulder blade, knocking the creature to the ground with what must surely be a killing shot.

But the creature immediately rolled to its feet and loped off in the direction of the graveyard, with no trace of an entry wound.

The three investigators gamely pursued the monster into the church cemetery, Conner gripping his 12 gauge uneasily, and Jones saw Greenwald bringing up the rear. The academic appeared to be on the verge of untethering, trotting along with a giddy grimace on his face, a cigarette dangling from his lips and a bottle of brandy in each hand. Seeing Jones' inquisitive look, Professor Greenwald flashed back a fatalistic grin, and took a long pull from the bottle in his right hand.

Moments later, they'd surrounded Eloise as she prepared to feast, but in the ensuing fracas both Jones and Conner had been bitten by the ghoul, and the American was struggling to avoid going into shock. "Let her feed" shouted Greenwald. "Better dead flesh than ours!"

And so they stood there, eye-to-eye with an unimaginably horrific creature, helplessly watching her charnel feasting while the cold February mist began forming into droplets of frigid rain. As the torn earth around the grave started muddening, Jones pondered his single remaining bullet, not knowing if even it would enough to stop the creature if it attacked, or if he could manage a clean shot past poor Lawrence, still trying to protect whatever of his sibling remained in that gaunt, grey shape.

"What if we just...let her go?" Lawrence queried. "What more harm can she do if she prefers to eat dead things?"

"Don't be stupid," shot Conner, "she's already killed three, and you know she's getting worse."

The brother's shoulders slumped, and Jones struggled to come up with a plan of action, the barrel of his elephant gun never wavering. Conner did his best to keep his shotgun at the ready, but winced in pain as blood poured from the vicious bite in his shoulder. The professor, meanwhile, seemed to be using the two bottles he held to weigh out possible solutions.

Then Lawrence decided for them.

Leaping in front of Jones and thrusting the barrel of the Royal Double into the air, he shouted over his shoulder at the creature that was once his beloved sister, "Eloise, run! Get away!"

The ghoul's head snapped up, and for a moment it seemed she might leap at her brother, either to attack or to aid, who can say. But instead it dropped its grisly trophy and was clearly preparing to flee.

Pulling the barrel away from Vane's grip, Jones stepped into the youth shouldering him aside as he drew a bead on the creature with a coolness of manner and smoothness of motion born out of hundreds of such shots taken in Africa, and pulled the second trigger on his rifle.

The deafening boom of the Holland & Holland forced Lawrence to wince and cover his ears reflexively, so he didnt see the shot hit the ghoul directly in its chest, knocking it on its back. But Jones saw that once again there was no blood, and somehow, impossibly, the creature still seemed to be alive, and struggling to get to its feet.

The hunter looked helplessly to Conner as his comrade fought to overcome his wound and bring his shotgun to bear, but before he could, Delbert strode forward with only one bottle in his hand. 

He had crammed a brandy-soaked handkerchief into the neck of the bottle, and lit the improvised wick with the bright ember of his cigarette. He lobbed the firebomb at the prone creature, and saw it shatter on its chest, enveloping the ghoul in flames.

"Eloise, no!" shouted Lawrence, staggering to his feet and tearing off his jacket. As he moved towards his sister's flaming form, Conner, while yet unsure of the right thing to do, still made an attempt to tackle the youth, but ended up in a heap on the ground instead.

Lawrence flailed at the flames with his jacket, but as they finally subsided, it was clearly too late, and only a charred, barely humanoid form remained.

But as the brother sobbed and the others stood in stunned silence, the charred form slowly reverted to that of the lovely girl they had only hours before. Lawrence draped his jacket over her nearly naked form, and Jones put his hand on the young man's shoulder in commiseration.

"I'm so sorry it came to this, Lawrence," the hunter intoned. "But surely you understand we had no choice."

Vane wheeled on him with red rimmed eyes, full of anger, but his expression softened as he saw Rev. Stratton making his way over to them from the vicarage. He looked deeply into Jones' eyes, before finally letting his chin drop into his chest and nodding in agreement.

"You're probably right," Vane said softly. "But you will never be able to convince my father." He gestured up at the castle on the hill. "You've made a powerful enemy tonight, and I think you should leave Lower Edale straight away."

Jones nodded and stepped away to join Prof. Greenwald in helping Conner off the ground, but Lawrence continued: "And I wouldn't stay in England much longer either, if I were you."

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Audrey's Caʒ Birthday

Caʒ - pron. "caszh", adj.: suggested spelling for the conversational abbreaviation of casual

I recently read a list of conditions a woman declared for any prospective long-term partners, all relating to childbearing and rearing. It included full time off work from knowledge of conception to kindergarten or age 4, a 'push presen't, a babymoon and a few others. And while I was glad she had such a clear set of priorities and laudable dedication to her future offpsring, I was also grateful Audrey never set any such preconditions on our relationship. Which was good, because I don't think I would have met that standard!

We both knew early on that we wanted kids, and when they came into our lives, she stayed home to raise them, but also managed a day home for many years to offset that cost. It was a great fit for her in many ways, and also helped prepare her for her current work as an educational assistant.

Audrey is a very unassuming and easygoing lady in virtually every aspect of her life (I mean, if you want proof, look who she is married to!), and has always valued authenticity over flash, and fun over image.

For her birthday tonight, she could have picked a fancy restaurant or upscale lounge, but she selected a neighbourhood pub in Lago Lindo called The Thirsty Rhino that some coworkers had recommended. And instead of everyone picking a dish, she suggested the three of us share appetizers instead, but wouldn't dream of calling it tapas.

We had a plate of wachos (waffle chip nachos with their own delicious sauce), two baskets of wings (sweet and spicy Thirsty Rhino sauce and dry garlic parm) and pesto fries with parmesan and balsamic vinegar. Audrey spun a wheel of drinks called 'dangles', a variation on shooters served in a rocks glass with ice that you drink through a straw as quickly as possible. She ended up getting us a round of Black Beards, a combination of dark rum, triple sec, orange juice and pineapple juice - very tasty!

Their beer list is not tremendously diverse but they did have a Hop Valley IPA and Guinness on tap. Our server was delightful, their playlist was enjoyably eclectic, and their desserts were pretty creative (a tiramisu affogato and Boston Cream donut-style cake) so I am confident we will be back.

And Audrey's love of authenticity extended into my gift choice for her - a stained glass decoration to fill the remaining empty space in our living room window.

I got it from Winter Arts Glass Studio, a local pair of artisans who work from their home (like, not ten minutes away) and use an automated web form to arrange shopping visits instead of maintaining a brick and mortar store. I loved visiting with Andre and Leslie, who almost had me talked into coming up with an idea for a commissioned original until I saw the colours on that honeycomb piece.

It is a wonderful thing to be married to a wonderful person who will share a romantic fondue with you on your anniversary, but prefers wings and appies and keeping it caʒ for her birthday - thank you and happy birthday Mrs. Fitz!

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Monopolized

Why do I own four different versions of a board game I don't even enjoy that much?

I am referring, unsurprisingly, to Monopoly, a great old board game which, thanks to hyper-competitiveness, player-elimination mechanics and a flurry of house rules so well-eastablished that many players are legitimately shocked when you tell them that no, tax money does not go into the center of the board to be paid out to whomever lands on Free Parking.

The rules as written for the standard game mean the only way to win is to bankrupt every single one of your competitors, a process that is both insidious and tedious, and in addition to prolonging the game past any reasonable length of play, will not endear the winner to any of the 'friends' they were playing with.

And yet, the legacy and familiarity of the game has led me to acquire (some as gifts, I believe) three variant editions of Monopoly - Nightmare Before Christmas, Star Wars, and The Godfather - as well as the original. 

But some unrelated trivia question (was it the Connections game from NYT? something else? damned  faulty memory...) which named some of the familiar properties from the game had recently stumped Glory. When I explained the linkage, she mentioned that she had never once played "Classic" Monopoly, so we busted out the Deluxe Edition from my childhood tonight and had a go. Ah, nostalgia!

The Deluxe Edition is so named because the game box contains not only the original ten pewter tokens, but also a clever but oversized sorting tray that gives the banker a well-organized drawer for all denominations of bills as well as a display rack for all the properties, Newer versions seem to replace this with some sort of rotary filofax mechanism, but both mean a lot less shuffling through the deck looking for Ventnor Avenue or B&O Railroad.

And of course, the properties are all (or once were, at least) actual streets in Atlantic City, the home of the developer of the original Landlord Game that eventually became Monopoly in 1935.

Anyhow, it is still possible to have fun playing Monopoly, if you follow these three simple guidelines:

1) Play the official short version of the game - everyone starts with 3 random properties, you can build a hotel with three houses instead of four, and you play to a time limit.

2) No house rules! I mean if you have some you like, great, but remember, the Free Parking payoff turns the short game into a lottery (hell, you might as well play Candyland...) and needlessly prolongs the regular version. This also prevents "oh, we've always played it like..." discussions.

3) Invite good peeople (mandatory) and serve them liquor (optional, but highly recommended).

We had a great time and many laughs.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Tiki Time at 22

Glory is currently in her third-year clinical placements for nursing school, and it is at least as demanding as the academic side. Last week she got home a bit before 4 pm, started looking up drugs and medications for patient research, took a short break for dinner, then got back to it and stuck to it until bedtime.

At supper, she confessed she had been so busy she had forgotten it was her birthday the next day. I reassured her that everyone gets busy, and most importantly, her mother and I had not forgotten. The next day, having been told by her instructor that she was doing too much, she returned in better spirits, and the two of us set about determining where to go for her birthday outing. 

I asked her what her main focus was for her birthday: the food, the drinks or the vibe. After a thoughtful pause, she chose vibe. I said, "okay, so what sort of vibe - casual, classy, funky, fun, music, country?" She landed on fun, and we both agreed that is a pretty broad category, but seeing Tiki Tiki on Whyte appear on a few "fun YEG" lists, she declared it was "perfect."

I had fond memories of visiting the original with my parents back in the late seventies, in a much larger space that had a separate lounge and a dance floor, where Polynesian performers amazed us with grass skirts, poi balls and even fire.

A resurgence of interest in Tiki culture and drinks prompted the opening of not one but two Edmonton tiki joints last year, Honi Honi Tiki Lounge and Tiki Tiki, and nostalgia led us to the latter.

It is a small place with very friendly staff, great, kitschy decor, wonderful food and most critically, a robust cocktail menu supported by an A-level glassware game.

I went for a classic Mai Tai which ended up being the best one I had ever had, the perfect synthesis of sweet and tart, while all the ladies coincidentally selected the Dole Whip Pina Colada which was also delightful. 

We shared meatballs, sticky ribs and crispy sushi rice for appetizers, then everyone but me selected the Poke Bowl, while I opted for mac n cheese with pulled pork and udon noodles subbing in for elbow macaroni. Mine was great, tremendous comfort food, but the variety of textures and tastes in the poke bowl made it a clearly superior choice, and I would lean towards getting that next time.

All the while, there were ample opportunities to explore the cocktail menu, but a highlight for me was learning they do shareable cocktails 'scorpion bowl' style, so we ordered a Mainlander for all of us. Our server brought a decent sized bowl with a flaming volcano in the center of it to the delight of everyone present. (Video below.) Thank goodness Glory's BFF Brooklyn was able to join us and help out!


Glory had a chance to try a Mermaid juice served in a hefty, glowing fish, while I got to put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up, like in the song.


They brought Glory a complimentary and delicious pineapple upside down cake for her birthday and enough forks for sharing, and to cap things off, I ordered some cinnamon bun wings. I expected wing-shaped pastries with cinnamon and cream cheese icing, but was surprised when they arrived and turned out to be actual chicken wings, albeit dusted with cinnamon and sugar and glazed with icing. There was a lot of uncertainty around this, and despite this paradigm shift being a challenge to wrap a rum-addled brain around, we all agreed they were novel and tasty.


We made the mistake of parking on the street, which limited our visit to two hours (pro tip: if you go, the parking for the tire place next door is open after they close at 5 pm), but that was probably for the best.


All in all, a wonderful night out, and a great way to observe Glory's 22nd birthday!