Pardon My French: Reviews

The James Street North Art Crawl is a monthly institution here in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, where art, music and creativity are celebrated on the second Friday of every month. Last week I had the opportunity to spend both Friday and Saturday at the Supercrawl, which occurs once a year, usually in September, where artists, performers, musicians and gourmands unite in one big  2-day street festival. The streets are shut down and filled with massive stages, a multitude of food trucks and vendors, and all forms of artistic expression are on display.

One of my favourite highlights of this year’s Supercrawl was briefly meeting a couple of the guys from Montreal-based art collective En Masse, and watching them work over the course of both days. Friday, they had an installation in progress at the Design Annex, and Saturday they  were busy all day creating a giant mural on the side of our popular record shop Dr. Disc. I managed to catch a few shots of them hard at work and was so entranced I kept coming back to see the progress over the course of the day.

I love the idea of having a diverse group of like-minded individuals, all collaborating on one big installation, off the top of their heads. The creativity unleashed is astounding – not to mention the technical prowess involved is top-notch. The group works entirely in black and white, and fluctuates in it’s membership, picking up illustrators here and there, so you never get the same atmospheric quality twice. The eye wanders throughout each piece for hours and continually finds awesome and interesting elements, so random, full of life and unique personality, which all tie in together to form a colossal achievement in unity.  It’s the collective individualities meshing so well that you’d think it was all created by one person that make this form of art so magic. I am both in awe of their talent, and in dire need to jump in and take part. Maybe I need a little more drawing practice first…

Regardless, these guys have transformed part of our downtown and I would love for them to come back and cover some more terrain. If it’s one thing Hamilton’s got – it’s lots of wall space in need of creative expression!

To find out more about En Masse, check out their website (which is currently under construction, so please be patient!).

Join them on facebook and follow them on Twitter to see where they’ll pop up next!

To see more awesome works by En Masse, check out Kirsten McCrea’s article. Great photos!

Life's Too Short

Ever wonder what it’s like to live the life of a showbiz dwarf? Life’s Too Short is the observational sitcom series crafted by the infamously talented comedy duo Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from a concept that Warwick Davis was playing around with – and not suprisingly, it’s an instant smash hit. As a short person (I’m 4′ 11″), I’m overjoyed to see the little things that make us small-statured people crazy (like not being able to reach simple things people who are average in height take for granted), get shown in a whole new comedic light.

Better known for his roles in Return of the Jedi and Willow, Davis originally co-starred with Daniel Radcliffe in Gervais and Merchant’s series Extras, where he shared his real-life stories with the show’s creators in between setups. Gervais and Merchant were so amused by his trials and tribulations that they decided to create a series together based on them, which combined influences from Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and One Foot in the Grave, “but with a dwarf”. From that, comedy genius was born.

Davis plays a slightly off-kilter fictional version of himself – he’s a talent agent for other dwarves (which he actually is in real life), and is quite full of himself due to the illustrious films he’s been in and he arrogantly shows off his memorabilia and tells stories about working with George Lucas, and tries to manipulate situations to fall into his favour. But it’s the awkward moments that he runs into continuously that are flat-out hilarious. When he meets with Gervais and Merchant and asks them to throw a little work his way, they try to avoid committing to anything and are quick to try and push him out the door. Strangers don’t recognize him when he asks for help with something out of his reach and conceitedly name-drops. His wife is annoyed with him and wants a divorce – she changes the locks and he tries to get in through the dog door. It’s beyond fantastic – it’s magical.

The cameos in this show are also what makes it wonderful – Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Carell, Right Said Fred (yes!), and Sting are a few among those who thread themselves in and out of Davis’ life in the show. I wonder who they’ll cast for the next season…

The show first aired on November 10th of 2011 on BBC Two. HBO picked it up shortly after and recently began to air the first series on the 19th of February, 2012. Gervais has recently tweeted that they’ve also been picked up for a second series so that will be in the works in the near future – aiming for Spring 2013. The only thing too short about this show in my opinion, is it’s running time.

Still mourning the loss of “The Chappelle Show”? Comedy Central has a solution to  ease your woes – MadTV’s Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have a great new sketch-com show called “Key & Peele” and it’s already making headlines. Their no-holds-barred approach to shtick comedy is a real delight floating atop the drivel that’s been shoveled down our throats in the past few years.

What makes this show stand apart from the rest is that it’s got a true sense of fearlessness and stark naked humanity. Full of biting satire, bold social commentary, and political critique – no topic is safe from their sharp wit and side-splitting delivery, and what’s best is that they can appeal to most audiences, offering a variety of subjects in their short sketches, stand up, and impressions that never disappoint (a few of which can be viewed already on YouTube). All of this is set in a format similar to “The Chappelle Show”, using a combination of stand up and videos set in front of a live audience, with each segway flowing seamlessly into the next, humor expanding in the process.

It’s rare that I can find a sketch-com show that can actually consistently make me laugh throughout (IFC’s “Portlandia” is also one of those), but Key & Peele have really been able to shake up our perceptions of society and have really done an awesomely adept job with the writing. They’re off to a really great start, and proving themselves as a wonderful breath of fresh air – I’m anticipating more great things from these two in the near future. Finally! A reason to look forward to Tuesdays.

To find out more, check out Key & Peele on The Comedy Network on Tuesdays at 10:30 pm ET or visit Comedy Central’s website in the U.S. or The Comedy Network in Canada.

Last night was the premiere of National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers”, a new reality show about people who are preparing themselves for the eventuality of cataclysmic disaster. The stories revolve around average American families that are spending most of their spare time worrying about the collapse of society as we know it and how they will cope, and what their survival strategies are.

Should we hole up and barricade ourselves with weapons and stockpiles of shelf-stable food, water and seeds? Should we pack a “bug out” pack and take to the streets on foot and forage along the way? Will it be necessary to forge bonds with our communities so that we have a support system to draw upon in the darkest hours? For all of these people, training for the worst is a daily routine. They store items for barter, exercise intensely, and fill every nook and cranny of their dwellings. They have exit strategies, alternate plans, and above all, “lots and lots of bullets”. After all, Mike tells us, “If the grocery shelves are empty, you’re only nine meals away from anarchy.”

What’s interesting is that each family has their own belief of what is about to befall humanity and how they train themselves to be ready when “the shit hits the fan” and their worst fears become reality.  Whether it be a megaquake, total economic collapse, an extreme oil crisis, solar flares that bring on widespread power failures, these people think they have it covered. If society begins to unravel itself, they are willing to fight tooth and nail to survive.  At the end of each segment, an expert from NatGeo makes an assessment of what their chances would be ultimately, and what they are lacking and need to focus on, then revisit each family to update us on how they have improved their strategies.

So what are we really in for? Are these people crazy? Are they wasting their lives worrying about something that may not happen in our lifetime? What’s going to do us in, in the end? NatGeo has created a “Doomsday Dashboard” that follows Twitter trends to show us what is the worst possible catastrophe that everyone is worried about. To see what the current catastrophe that is impending, visit the Dashboard here.

At very least, “Doomsday Preppers” is an interesting watch. And if it all goes down, at least we’ll have a good understanding of what it will take to survive. I’m not holding my breath though – I’d rather enjoy life as we know it and deal with things as they come. To find out more about the show and how you can brace yourself for impending societal collapse, check out National Geographic Channel’s website. “Doomsday Preppers” airs Tuesday at 9pm on NatGeo.

Ughhh…REALLY? I mean – was there a major need for this one? Has the American animated sitcom community really run out of ideas that badly? Don’t get me wrong – the original film released in 2004 was pretty awesome, and quickly gained cult status – but what made it so great was that it stood apart from all the drivel that they’ve been shoveling down our throats these days. Beating the subject to death through animation seems to take away from all that pithy original content and dilutes it to the point where I think they’ve lost the point. Fox, you’ve really blown it this time, and managed to drag the talented Jared Hess and Mike Scully down with you. Bravo, douchebags.

The plot generally continues along the same lines as the original film, set in rural Preston, Idaho, with characters continuing to go about their daily lives, with additional outlandish deviations from reality forcing them into some sort of dramatic action for each episode. This is a cartoon version, after all – you didn’t expect it to be as realistic as the movie in any way did you? Regardless, Napoleon still strives to acquire “sweet skills”, Deb is still running after him, Pedro and Kip continues to seek love on the internet, so not all is lost.

Fortunately, they were able to reprise the entire cast (it would have sucked even harder if they hadn’t), so Jon Heder, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino, Sandy Martin, Jon Gries and Diedrich Bader return with a couple of guest voices thrown in here and there. The debut season includes  Amy Poehler, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Rockwell and Jermaine Clement.

The only saving grace of this new show is that it replaces the atrocity that was “Allen Gregory”, which was merely a half-assed vehicle for Jonah Hill that allowed him to befoul our homes with his uber-narcissistic attitude and self-absorbed smugness. And thank fuck for that – the world is now a better place for it. So I guess we’re going to have to stick this “Napoleon” one out for at least 6 episodes while its airs as a mid-season replacement, and if that weren’t enough, word is that they’ve expanded to thirteen. Alongside the impending demise of “The Simpsons”, Sunday nights will never be the same.

Once a bit-part actor, known for his hilarious rollerskating crackhead prostitute character Terry on Reno 911!, and super gay brother in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, amongst others, comedian Nick Swardson is now on a serious roll. His new comedy show Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time premiered last month on Comedy Central and holy shit – why have they been hiding this guy in cameo roles? First of all, he’s a riot as a comedian – he’ll throw anything at you, so why wouldn’t he prove himself to be an amazing writer? Pretend Time is basically a bunch of super funny little skits, all thrown together in a seamless fashion, to encompass a variety of ridiculous scenarios straight from the horse’s mouth. When I sat down to watch the first episode, within ten minutes I was asking myself how long they would let this guy rule the airwaves – he has a knack for toeing the line in such a way that makes you wonder how sick you are as a viewer – fan-fucking-tastic! Some of my favorite bits include Wheelchair Cat: Trust Fund Kitty, and Garry Gaga, policeman, and brother of the infamous Lady Gaga. And it’s just the beginning. 

I hope they give this guy a major contract so he sticks around for a long time. Not since The Chappelle Show have I laughed this hard, and still find myself quoting from the very first episode; “what can I say – I’m a Gaga.”

Look for the show on Comedy Central on Tuesday nights at 10pm. 

I was a really huge fan of Arrested Development and was incredibly upset when it was cancelled, but creator Mitch Hurwitz is back with a new series called Running Wilde on FOX, starring Will Arnett as a wealthy oil tycoon’s son named Steven Wilde. It’s a lighthearted comedy about how money can’t buy him the one thing he wants – tree-hugger Emmy Kadubic (played by Keri Russell). After spending a few years trying to save a tribe in the rainforest, alongside her activist fiance Andy (played by David Cross), and her daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen), Wilde’s father’s oil company poses a threat to the ecosystem, so Emmy takes her daughter to visit him to see if he can put an end to it and save the tribe. 
Upon viewing the first episode, the show doesn’t seem to draw as much hysterical laughter as it’s predecessor, but leaves a lot of room for growth. It’s written in the same vein as Arrested Development so if you weren’t a fan of that kind of humour, you might not find this show interesting. I found that the contrast between egotism and eco-activism is refreshing, since most other programs on television lately all centre around an increasingly materialistic world. The cast seems promising, and the use of Puddle’s voice as a perspective in narration is a nice touch – since she drives her mother to want to live in civilization again. 
I’m hoping for great things with this show. It’s still early, and it can only get better. With all the drivel that they’ve been touting on television lately, this is a welcome change. 
To view more about the show, click here

HBO’s new Sunday night blockbuster Boardwalk Empire is a dazzlingly beautiful recreation of the an unforgettable time in history. The characters, the clothing, the sights and sounds of the 20’s are perfectly captured and create the best atmosphere for a gripping, thought-provoking drama that will leave you breathless. It’s a world infused with political and romantic entanglements, crime wars and corruption. It’s got everything – action, romance, gangsters – even comedic moments. In short – it’s a television series that puts most other programming to shame and one that shouldn’t be missed. 

It’s set in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the Prohibition Era, and the pilot begins on the very day that Prohibition is declared. Filmed on a custom-built set in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the story is based on the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by New Jersey Judge Nelson Johnson. According to The Wall Street Journal, “HBO built a $5 million, 300-foot-long boardwalk on the waterfront to recreate Atlantic City circa 1920. The set required 150 tons of steel and includes historical elements like the Baby Incubator, an actual nursery where tourists could gawk at tiny, premature infants. The 12 episodes produced for the first season employed more than 300 crew members, 225 actors in speaking roles and 1,000 extras. It took about 200 days to shoot, twice what a standard network drama would take.” The series will go on to describe the events that led Atlantic City from being a simple seaside resort town, to the infamous gambling oasis. 

The best part about this series I think is the main character. Steve Buscemi is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Atlantic City political boss and racketeer, based off of the real character of Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson (1883-1968), who’s rule reached it’s apex in Atlantic City during the Roaring Twenties when the city was notorious for being a temporary refuge from Prohibition. Johnson controlled the bootlegging operations, organized gambling, and prostitution in “The World’s Playground”, and most of his income came from these illegal exploits, making him a formidable fortune. Buscemi plays Thompson to a T, really capturing the spirit of the character, right down to the red carnation we wore daily in his lapel, lording over the City from his suite at The Ritz, the Robin Hood of the 20’s – revelling in opulence and scheming his way to the top, but still taking time to share with the people who surround him. His performance is striking, and unforgettable. 

Martin Scorsese, executive producer of the show, directed the pilot episode and established the look and feel of the show, so that other directors that followed could match it seamlessly. He continues to make casting decisions, and screens all of the dailies and edits. Scorsese will probably direct more episodes once the series continues with appropriate scheduling, but continues to be creatively involved. It’s already been picked up for a second season, since it scored the highest ratings for an HBO series since Deadwood, so we at least get another season of awesome Sunday-night watching after this one. Thank you HBO – this is gonna be one amazing box set once it’s finished – but let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. 

Ahhh…I love the feeling I get when I crack the spine on a brand new Irvine Welsh novel. I know I’m going to have trouble putting it down from then on, right off the bat. Although some of his previous works seemed to have given the impression of slacking on intelligence, dragging his readers through a trench of nearly-listless debauchery, Crime has pulled Welsh back out of the mire, and back into a universe of vivid verbal technicolour. With this latest work, Welsh has discovered a new balance between good an evil, as opposed to sliding deeper into corruption, to create a surprisingly redemptive book that is as compelling as it is disturbing. 

Crime is about an Edinburgh cop named Ray Lennox, who finds himself on hiatus in Miami with his fiancee, attempting to tear himself away from his stressful job, and supposedly trying to take some time to plan his wedding. But he has trouble coming to terms with what he has left behind – an important case that involved a failure to capture a child rapist and murderer. So, as any other Welsh character is wont to do, he turns to booze, drugs and dirty nightclubs to reconcile his woes, causing a rift between himself and his fiancee and delving him into a dark world in which he has very little control. 

The plot unfolds on several levels – Ray keeps revisiting his failure to close the case at work, in the meantime, he encounters a couple of whorish women, one of whom has a young daughter that is being constantly sexually abused by a parade of her pedophiliac friends, who almost mirrors the image of the dead girl that consumes his conscience. But rather than let this one slip between the cracks, Ray ignores the concept of being outside of his jurisdiction, and transforms from antihero to true hero and helps the girl escape an inevitably-horrific fate, taking her with him across the state of Florida in search of a safe haven. At the same time, Ray is trying to reconcile his own torturous past, and understand how to let go, without letting the evildoers get away with it, as well as attempting to figure out who he is. He also has to make an effort to be involved in his own wedding, and appease his bridezilla, on top of it all. Travelling through the everglades, everything culminates into a rollercoaster ride of laughter, tears and anger, as the reader is pulled through a world of corruption and innocence, of deep-seeded evil and redemption. 

Welsh is one of the bravest writers of our time, finding the perfect choice of words to vividly describe the world in which you are plunged, and forcing you to face the beast that is humanity head-on. Who else but Welsh can write about sex, drugs, and pedophile rings and truly show us the wiring behind human actions? To rip apart the psyche and help us understand through soulful dissection what lies beneath the human condition? As I said before, it’s usually very difficult to put an Irvine Welsh book down – and Crime is no exception. It sucks you into the darkest of worlds and spits you back out, but it will never let you feel the same again. 

Watching KISS in concert is everything one expects it to be: a pyrotechnic space-age extravaganza of epic proportions. Massive walls of LCD displays blaring a mixed barrage of live and retrospective visuals, towering flames, sparks shooting out of guitars, larger-than-life costumes. Then there are the required stage antics – tongue-wagging, flying over the crowd, being launched high into the air on raised platforms. There’s no lip syncing here – it’s a fucking kick-ass show. The Molson Amphitheatre was packed with people of all ages, families with kids dressed up and ready to rock – first generation KISS fans passing down the torch to their progeny. The KISS army lives on.

Only Simmons and Stanley remain of the original foursome, but they don’t look like they’re going to tire anytime soon. And why should they? They’ve selling out for decades, becoming one of the most popular bands worldwide, as well as having the widest variety of collectible paraphernalia worldwide – they might even be single-handedly responsible for eBay’s success. Their shock and awe theatrics is what made them their fortunes, and what drives the gravy train. So why is it surprising that they always book boring humdrum acts to precede them to contrast against their flash? And why should it be disappointing that their new album Sonic Boom is exclusively available at Wal-Mart and the audience was subjected to Stanley shamelessly plugging it throughout the show? They’re business men as well as artists – you don’t make an omelette this big without breaking a few eggs. Personally, I’m glad they made it this big and this far – they put on one of the most intense shows I’ve ever seen, and I thought I’d seen everything.

The bottom line is that The Hottest Show on Earth indeed lived up to it’s reputation, regardless of the sell-out tactics. They played a mix of old and new material, and a few poignant covers that had everyone rockin’ out all night. Aside from the bullshit security measures on the way in, and the expected exorbitant food, booze, and shwag prices, by the time KISS built up to a massive crescendo of light and sound, signifying an epic finale, the entire crowd was so caught up in the moment, forgiving them momentarily for their capitalistic sins, singing as one – “WE WANNA ROCK AN ROLL ALL NIGHT, AND PARTY EVERY DAY!” Yes indeed, the KISS army lives on.

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