"I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore."

There’s virtually nothing I could say about the documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop (imdb | rotten tomatoes) that wouldn’t be too revealing. All I’ll say is: watch it. Soon. I feel like it should have won the best documentary Oscar last night; I haven’t seen Inside Job but I feel like it’s the same documentary that’s been made two or three times over the past couple of years.

Speaking of the Oscars: apparently The King’s Speech makes for some yummy bait. Obviously it was the favourite for best picture, and Colin Firth was all but a lock for best actor, but…best director? Really? Tom Hooper over Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, David Fincher and the Coen brothers? While Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle didn’t even get nominated? Please. Shoot Colin Firth in a rotating hallway or pinned to a canyon wall and we’ll talk.

"Because if I were lying I wouldn't have used the words 'suicide mission.'"

Apparently in the mood for dippy movies lately, we watched two that were completely different in our eyes, but surprisingly close in the great Rotten Tomatoes race.

The Expendables (imdb | rotten tomatoes) scored a 41% on RT, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how. It was atrocious, absurd, wooden, disjointed, aimless schlock, interested only in stunt-casting. We stopped watching about 2/3 of the way through.

The Losers (imdb | rotten tomatoes), on the other hand, was much better. Silly comic book nonsense to be sure, but at least clever at times and seemingly in possession of a plot to call its own. And yet it scored 48%, only marginally better than The Expendables and not at all in line with our level of enjoyment.

If you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill and the choice between these two poorly-rated films, I would strongly recommend the latter. The former will only make you dumber.

The beat and the pulse

I don’t know who pointed me to Said the Gramophone‘s top 100 songs of 2010 mix, but…thanks guy/gal. Among the 70 or so songs that I didn’t already know and/or like, I fell for the following:

  • Austra . “Beat and the Pulse”
  • Basia Bulat . “The Shore”
  • Beach House . “Zebra”
  • Blue Hawaii . “Blue Gowns”
  • Eternal Summers . “Bully in Disguise”
  • Frog Eyes . “Flower in a Glove”
  • Iron & Wine . “Walking Far From Home”
  • Khaira Arby . “Khaira”
  • Laura Marling . “Alpha Shallows”
  • Lykke Li . “Get Some”
  • Maison Neuve . “Under Skies of Fire”
  • Ô Paon . “Sainte Patronne de Rien Pantoute”
  • Surfer Blood . “Swim”
  • Warpaint . “Undertow”
  • Zola Jesus . “Lightsick”

I think I’ve fallen hardest for the Khaira Arby song. The first time I listened to it I hit ‘repeat’ about four times. But the Iron & Wine, Maison Neuve and Basia Bulat songs are catching up fast.

Happy valentimes!

[Editor’s note: yes, I know I misspelled ‘Valentine‘. It’s a pop culture reference. Youtube it.]

I am indifferent about Valentine’s Day. I have no particular reason to hate it, other than that it’s a fake holiday invented to sell more stuff. Still, that doesn’t make me hate it any more than, say, Easter. But it’s not a big deal for me. Nor, before you jump on me with the obvious point, is it a big deal for my wife. Her birthday is less than a week before Valentine’s Day, and that’s the usually where I focus my energy, so Valentine’s Day usually consists of her cooking a simple yet awesome dinner (as she is doing right now) or an extravagant feast (as she did last year), and me sending her a card like this:

Not to worry, though, this isn’t going to be some Oatmeal-inspired screed against V-Day. I actually appreciate the occasional reminder to stop and consider how good I have things, including the lady in the kitchen.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me who my best friend is, and my answer is that I don’t really have one. I never have. I’ve had lots of close friends throughout my life, but never someone who I would say I was closer to than anyone else, and who would say the same about me. I’ve has periods where that happens, but then university ended or people moved or jobs changed and I wouldn’t say that anymore…which I guess makes them not best friend material, else distance and upheaval wouldn’t change that. The friend who asked me, who I would say I’ve been as close to as any of my friends over the past six years, has a best friend who remains her best friend even though they’ve been separated for years by thousands of miles. I can say that I have very few people who I intimately trust and who I think — against logic and instinct — would put my own well-being ahead of even their own. But the majority of those people are family, who would be excluded from the category of best friend, funny scenes from I Love You Man notwithstanding.

But that leads me to an obvious answer, which I didn’t come up with immediately, probably because it’s not a typical answer: my best friend is my wife. Of course she’s my best friend; I can’t imagine marrying someone who wasn’t. Most people’s best friend is someone who gets them, and who shares a lot of their interests and worries and ideals, and who they want to hang out with all the time. I guess in many cases that person isn’t their spouse, but for me it is. We’re different in little ways that make it fun, like her appreciation  — and my profound hatred — for the 80s, but she’s inevitably the one I want to share a beer with after work, and talk to about heavy shit, and jet off to New York with for the weekend.

So: forget Valentine’s Day. It’s tired and boring and meaningless outside of Hallmark’s ledgers, and I could say it to anyone without it meaning shit. Instead, let’s see if I can start a new trend.

Happy Best Friend Day, baby.

The promised land

Last night we wedged ourselves into what might be my favourite place of the trip so far, and we’d been to some pretty fantastic places. The Pony Bar showed up near the top of BeerAdvocate‘s NYC beer bars, and last night we found out why.

As it turned out I never did sit down in the place. There was only one stool available at the bar, so Nellie sat and I stood. It started off a little crowded and ended up very crowded by the time we left, so a table never presented itself. Just as well — we found there was an advantage to the spot we had. Meanwhile, the music was tailor-made for old guys like me…Jane’s Addiction, Bob Dylan, Heartless Bastards, CCR…so good.

There was a board over the bar with twenty featured taps. Every time they changed a tap one of the bartenders would ring a bell, the crowd would cheer and then — depending on the new entry on the board — clap or boo playfully. One of those bartenders, Mirjana, became our buddy for the night and took great care of us. I don’t know how we always get adopted by great bartenders, but I’m not complaining either. Especially since at least one of the beers was comped.

We ended up drinking twelve beers between us (Chelsea High + Dry porter, Avery Out Of Bounds stout, Davidson Bros. coffee stout, Abita Turbo Dog, Long Trail Hibernator, Sly Fox O’Reilly’s stout and Magic Hat Circus Boy for me; Weyerbacher Fireside ale, Magic Hat Circus Boy, Barrier Bulkhead red, Southern Tier IPA and Firestone Walker Double Jack double IPA for her) and an amazing plate of sausage & pretzels. All that, plus a tshirt for Nellie, came out to $81 before tip. Incroyable.

Despite that, the twelve beers weighed on us and I knew we’d need a little extra grease in our bellies to be functional the next morning, so…back to Shorty’s for more sandwiches! It was an early evening by NYC standards, but mainly because now (the next morning) we’re up, showered, fed, packed and about ready to head to the airport. What a great wrap-up to a superb trip.

Now then…here’s hoping that EWR doesn’t screw us on the trip home.

J'aime l'houndstooth

First of all: dinner last night. Holy crapmonkey. The Strip House was incredible. Drinks at the bar. Corner table with lots of space. Maybe (but probably not) Uma Thurman sitting a few tables away. And of course, the food: scallops and rib-eye for me, crab cake and bone-in filet mignon for Nellie, all paired with a Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. We managed to avoid dessert…not that we had room for it. It was a great call; too many New York steak places are stuffy holding pens for old men, but this one was a nice mix of great red meat and laid-back vibe. Thus sated we took a cab (by the way — cabs here are so cheap compared to Toronto!) back to the hotel.

Today, having slept in once again, we got up and subway’d it down to Greenwich Village for breakfast at Gottino. What an awesome spot: eggs and toast and piles of prosciutto and white wine and espresso and nice people and walls stacked full of food. Another win for the eat.shop NYC guide.

Speaking of the eat.shop NYC book, it also pointed us to Meg Cohen Design in SoHo, where we bought two scarves and had a great chat with Meg. We did a little more shopping in SoHo (including a visit to M0851…which we seem to visit in every city) and wandered around Nolita and the Bowery, struggling to find a place that was open before finally happening on Sweet Revenge, which bills itself as New York’s only cupcake, beer & wine bar in New York. Uh, universe: why was I not aware of this place until now?!? Delicious, fun and filling enough that we didn’t need a dog from Gray’s Papaya after all, so home it was.

Tonight our plan is to hit another recommended beer place: The Pony Bar.

Double shot of culture

Our first full day in New York was our attempt to wrap up some unfinished business. In our previous trips we’d visited several museums but not the Met, or the Guggenheim, and that seemed like a miss.

Our dinner last night was quite late so we slept in, then took the subway up to the upper west side and walked through Central Park to the Guggenheim. Before checking it out we had an excellent lunch at The Wright, the restaurant below the museum. We then went through the museum, which was great…short, lots of good paintings, and obviously very interesting architecture.

After walking up and down that big spiral we were ready for dessert, so we stopped at Cafe Sabarsky, where Nellie had strudel and I had klimttorte, both mit schlag. Our strength (and sugar levels) thus restored we walked down Fifth to the Met, and spent a few hours soaking up the culture. My favourites, predictably, were the giant Rothko paintings. Our feet were complaining a bit at this point, so we walked back across the park and took the subway back to our hotel to relax for a few hours before another late dinner.

Delay us, do we not drink fast to make up for it?

So, let’s see…since we got to New York less than twelve hours ago we:

  • spent an hour getting the hell out of Newark airport, and another half an hour getting into Manhattan and to our hotel
  • got our asses very quickly to Shorty’s, a bar around the corner from the hotel where I had my first Philly cheesesteak sandwich (delish!) and we tasted several great beers
  • checked into our hotel, which has surprisingly spacious (for New York) rooms and great views
  • went to see Al Pacino in Merchant of Venice, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Which was fantastic. And it was a little weird to be in the same room as Mssr Pacino, even if it was with a thousand other people.
  • had dinner at Riposo 46, a wine bar on 9th. Nellie loved the prosciutto-wrapped truffle-oil-drenched asparagus, and I loved the sausage margherita flatbread, and we both loved our wine selections.

Seriously, we could go home right now and call it a good trip.

Large single-book-bound collection of stamps, anyone?

A few weeks ago my wife was watching an episode of Community and one of the characters said something that kind of made me feel old, but mostly made me realize that technology has created a gap in my vocabulary. Here’s the line:

Jeff: How old is he again?
Annie: 30-something I guess. He has a land-line and uses the word album.

So, in addition to the fact that we still have a land line — though we probably wouldn’t if our building’s intercom didn’t require one — I noticed they categorized the use of the word ‘album’ as something 30-somethings say because they haven’t adapted to the iPod generation yet and still think of music as LPs. Which I found odd. Maybe some people do that, but that’s not why I say it.

Yes, I say album.

Assuming that the writers assumed It’s not that I grew up using records. My dad did, and my brother had a few, but I started with tapes, then went to CDs, then ditched CDs for MP3s. Probably earlier than most people, actually. But I did always refer to collections of music by the media in which they were distributed…a new Van Halen tape or a new Soundgarden CD.

Yes, I listened to Van Halen.

Anyway, I stopped equating collections of music to the distribution medium once I stopped buying CDs six years ago. Without a physical medium to refer to when a band released a new collection of music, I couldn’t think of a better alternative than to call them albums. What else was I supposed to call them?

And it’s not as if the concept of releasing/purchasing music in batches went away…music is still released to physical and online stores in named collections, awards are still given for ‘best album’, and so on.

So, I’ll continue to refer to new musical releases as albums, until the day when record labels (yeah, uh…why do we still call them that?) let bands release songs one at a time as they feel like it, and the whole silly setup starts to make sense, and the anachronism dies. Like photo albums.

And yes, I used to have photo albums.