Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar in 3D: Two Thumbs Up

I saw Avatar this afternoon at the Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond in 3D Digital and give it two somewhat unexpected thumbs up.  I'm now wondering what it would have been like to see in IMAX.  I saw the movie '300' in IMAX only to get dizzy.  Maybe not.

***Minor Spoiler Alert***
The spoiler is that there is no spoiler.  Not really, anyways.  Any number of story summaries in newspapers/magazines or online will tell you about the human (well-played by Sam Worthington) who goes to the planet of the Na'vi (the blue creatures created by CGI) by controlling his human-constructed Avatar's mind and body.  Instead of simply intelligence gathering, he learns their ways, falls in love, and tries to defend them.

I thought a seemingly trite plot-line would extinguish what little interest I had in the movie at the start, but it didn't.  On the contrary:  I was engaged throughout the 2 hour and 45 minute journey unlike many movies in which I've unintentionally fallen asleep before (apologies to Batman Begins, Lord of the Rings).

A word about the 3D movie experience (wearing theatre-supplied 3D glasses, seeing various images extend closer to you than the actual screen): while awesome, it added to without interfering with the story.

So what did it for me?  The story itself.  When I first saw movie advertising showing the blue-creatured Na'vi, I must say, I felt distant from both the movie and the depiction.  Who were these icky creatures?  And why were they so strange-looking?  Certainly, if I were James Cameron, I would have created Avatars that humans could more easily identify with.  Despite the turn-off and various criticisms I've heard, I made myself see this movie to satisfy my remaining curiosity.

And that's when the story-telling took over.  The narrative moved along as it should with normal-time scenes interspersed at the right time with overlayed narrative cutting to visuals, and jumps in time, space and perspective akin to the satisfying layers of a baroque fugue.  The rushes of sounds and grandiose images punched when they needed to.
But the story is not something on its own that people would rave about.  It's the story intertwined with the grandeur of the movie and project.  Immense.  It's both a a world I couldn't previously imagine, and a project I wouldn't know how to really start.

So how do I feel now?  Having "lived" with the Na'vi for about 3 hours, I see movie advertising again, (say, in the following link:
and I now feel empathy towards these blue creatures.  The movie stirred something within.  A tug, a tear.  Some understanding.  Even a musical critique (why were two chords in the background music reminiscent of Titanic? -- surely there are other chord progressions than A minor to G major with C and D as the melody that can sound both grand and ethereal).  It's all good.  The  movie will stay with me.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Creepy Words of Wisdom

We were dropping Darrel off at his new place at Pembroke & Gerard after an interview with a University of Western Ontario Professor who will be writing on Asian-Canadian/American theatre.  Fingers are crossed that 'Thy's' Asiansploitation aritcle will appear in a national academic journal in May 2010.
There was a no-right turn sign from the Gerard eastbound lanes, onto Pembroke south -- which apparently is there to discourage drivers from circling at night for sexual proclivities.  We made the turn anyways, a chain of cars parked along the right side.  We pulled to the left and let Darrel out.
Seconds later, an elderly woman ambles to the driver's window and murmurs with fierce intensity "You're going to be killed."
I shudder, then look at Jeff & Gene in bewilderment, quickly checking for cars that might hit us from behind.  Nothing.  I scan for people on the street for quick movements, things out of the ordinary.  Nothing.  Then I listen for sounds indicative of danger.  Nothing.  I quickly conclude that the woman is creepy.

Note to self:  Darrel has one creepy neighbour.

We drive down the street to Dundas.  And at true the Love Cafe at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne where Juicy Sexy burgers are $5.75, I think to myself, Darrel lives in one eclectic neighbourhood

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

What does Cold Mean?


Is it the scowl from the occasional subway patron standing in the subway car as I rush through closing doors as the chimes are ringing with the attitude 'why even bother' I want to kick in the face?

Or the woman giving me the 'screw off' attitude because my car is behind her parked car waiting for a parking spot at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall on Black Friday two weeks back?

Maybe it's the look of the odd person as I see them rush by looking at the poor guy as if he were invisibly sitting at the College Park entrance to the TTC by the Cinnabon asking for some financial help.

It probably was this up until 2 quick days ago.  Now, the world of cold has changed:  cold is going out for Korean BBQ Night Owl Special at Yonge & Bloor, arriving just as it closes, then charging out into the open -9C air to find the next one.  Only with wind chill, it must have been colder.  I shared my hostility of the cold with the wind as I bundled in long johns, layers, hat, gloves, and ran.  Faster.   ARGGHHH!  Run.  Surface of the face now feels icy.  Turn away from the wind.  Breathe while the air is still breathable as when I face the cold wind it's too cold to even breathe it in.

Then, barely 2 minutes into the walk towards the Yonge & College Korean BBQ (yes, we were on a mission to get some BBQ meat), we spot Popeye's.  "Why don't we..?"  The clear answer was yes.  We charge across the street.  Through the blustery doors.  Out of the cold.  And get some rather hot, oily, delicious, over-priced chicken into the system.

And as the grease solidifies and the cold water moistens the dry passageways, we prepare to leave.  One, two...prepare...breathe...then with a quick goodbye to one friend, we charge into the cold air with a 60 second dash to the nearest subway station.


Now warm.

Be warm.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Would you Show up to a Party Uninvited?


Some exciting news:  Asiansploitation was accepted into the Toronto 2010 Fringe Festival (June 30-July 11).  The sun was shining on a shining group.  I am grateful.  So where's this party?

There's some interesting history with the festival's 1947 start in Edinburgh, Scotland, now the world's largest Arts Festival.  Think freedom.  In its first year, 8 groups came together UNINVITED to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival.  That's an interesting concept.  Showing up at a party uninvited.  I can't picture myself doing this.  I blame my conditioning.  But they did it and kudos to them, 'cuz year after year, the festival grew.  And they decided early that crashing the party would be OK.

Perhaps there's wisdom in this approach.  This was an example of an open system at work in post-WWII.  Like 1960s borders to immigration in Canada and the US helped these countries to quickly grow.  Or why Linux has managed to create even a toehold in the land of corporate systems like Microsoft.  I wouldn't see open is 'the way', but it certainly is one way.  Why limit the fun?  Let everyone in on it, just like the message of survival in the movie 2012.  No need to be tight.  Being free can only create more joy to grow overall societal value.

While I suspect this concept of being completely open and lawless is foreign to organized and planful Torontonians, the Toronto Fringe Festival may have found the perfect straddle the balance fixed and open:  theatre companies put an electronic ticket in the hat (only costs $25), and if picked, get to perform.  That's the closed part.  But, if you don't succeed, you can bring your own venue and perform there.  Open.  What a brilliant straddle.  Now would I bring a venu?  Well -- probably not.  Feels way to hard to do.  So I'm wondering if the openness could be even more open.  If the rest of the city could be more open.  Could we set up shop on street corners.  Or consider using unused condo meeting rooms to host shows and drop-ins.  Or office lobbies that would otherwise sit empty could be open for a few hours to entertain.  Not doable, you say?  Consider what happened for Nuit Blanche when about half of the downtown core felt on display.  It's doable.

It's more the will and desire to turn Toronto the closed, into Toronto the open.  Why rely on a 20% lottery ticket to make or break your day.  Put on YOUR show in 2010.  Or come check out a comedy show.  I promise to recommend a good one.

Reference;  NYTime Article, 2009

Picture from the Brooklyn Museum

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Delicious! Dragon Dynasty Dinner

Restaurant Review #2 Dragon Dynasty (Chartwell Plaza @ Brimley & Huntingwood in Scarborough).  Great time and food.

I've been told by a few people (not too many -- only a few) that I'd make a good food restaurant reviewer.  Don't worry, I won't let it get to my head, only my stomache.  I'll wrap flavours, dishes, price and value altogether and share the experience.  Let's see.

Here's the setup:  a special b'day party for one-year old Abigail who ate none of the delicious food (poor little one).  3 tables.  Banquet meal.  More background:  I've probably eaten around 100 Chinese banquet meals in my life.  Enough to understand what 'standard' is (~10 courses, soup, fish, seafood, vegetable, chicken, cold appetizer plate, fried rice and noodles), and how 'novel' may emerge from this.  So the prospect of a banquet meal brought both familiarity AND curiosity.  It would be an above average Chinese food meal.  Not something I would order at Asian Legend (rice with dishes like 'fish-fragrant' shredded pork and dian xin (dim sum) offerings like soup-filled dumplings or nicely layered beef pancakes...which are great)...or Noble House on Dundas, or New Sky Cantonese food on Spadina.  So my expectations vs. regular Chinese food is already heightened.

First -- I wasn't expecting anything 'novel'.  No expectations.  I'd eat whatever.  Then the first surprise when I arrived:  there were red-dyed boiled eggs on the table.  Sign of a b'day, I thought.  My mom tells me it's a Fukienese/Fujianese tradition, but I'm thinking it could be Cantonese as well.  Different.  In a neutral, different, kind of way.  This was probably a special add-on.  Not something you'd normally order.  Most of the table refused to eat this saying didn't want to stuff themselves on a chicken egg when better foods were coming just around the corner.  My appetite was whetted.

Then first comes the appetizer dish.  Usually a mixed cold meat dish with various elements.  But this was different.  One type of meat only.  Postive different:  roast pork with crispy skin.   I've had this lots of times and many places, and I have to say, this was one of the best crispy roast pork appetizers I've had in the city ever.  Flavourful.  To the point.  With lots of meat.  And the server placed the right combination of meat and crispy skin on each person's plate so that nearly every bite would create the perfect texture to complement the great flavour (chewy, crispy and flavourful all at once).  Joy #1.

Next surprise (and the nicest, biggest surprise) would probably be the soup (see the picture):  crab meat with shark's fin in a base that wasn't the regular thickened soup...this was based on a squash-esque flavour with some unexpected and slightly exotic (maybe a hint of curry) flavour.  Lots of crab; lots of shark's fin.  This was luxurious.  Absolutely awesome.  And different.  Joy #2.

Then dish after dish came out, each one conquered with the same great service:  every plate cleared before and after so flavours wouldn't mix.  Each dish finished so that the space was set and cleared.  We ate.  And talked.  And made jokes.  While we enjoyed dish after dish.  Novel and good.  Vegetable with delicious shrimp/scallop seafood.  Delicious crab.  Good fish.  Joy #3.  #4.  #5.  2nd picture is shanghai bok choy with mushrooms and well-flavoured chicken.  Good.

And just when I was expecting to have the 'traditional fried rice and e-fu noodles' to signify the end of the meal, they bring out a fried 'glutionous' rice dish.  Big joy #6.  Great texture (chewy), and flavour (soaks in the chicken and nicely textured pieces) to create a nice ending to the meal.  I took a lot of pics of the food, but alas, I will share only one.  The crab/shark's fin soup with squash-esque base (I don't know what the base was -- and there wasn't consensus on what it was).  Delicious.

Now -- this isn't to say if you go to this restaurant and order normal food of the menu it'll be this extravant and delicious, but it does show that creativity with fresh ingredients, recipes and attention to service detail can create a magical evening.  Excellent meal.

Link to random site with other reviews on this restaurant:




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