Sunday, 30 August 2009

Too Many Notes?


The woman in the photograph is legendary Canadian author Alice Munro, whose latest book of short stories, Too Much Happiness, according to Harriet Zaidman, has padded narratives, underdeveloped secondary characters, and too much description.

Now, this view of Munro's writing would be perfectly valid if it weren't inadequate. Zaidman is, as the review states, "a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg." This means that she is asked, and asks, the following two questions:

1. "What is the plot of this book?"

2. "What is this book about?"

Zaidman is, as her review clearly indicates, not a fan of Alice Munro's writing by the way she neatly separates "Munro's fans" and "others who enjoy the short-story format" into two distinct camps. Fans of Munro's work, she implies, are those who enjoy padded narratives, underdeveloped secondary characters, and too much description; those that dislike Munro, she indicates, do not.

Zaidman's concerns regarding one story (and, it would seem, the entire collection) are as follows:
"Though she needs to provide some history to move a short story along more quickly, Munro's characters, especially the secondary ones, are not active enough within the plot to be persuasive."

While it isn't known which level of schooling Zaidman teaches at, she has, in essence, decided to analyze Munro's writing as if it might be taught in a high-school English course, giving it a failing grade for not adhering too closely to any one plot, having too many characters, and going off on numerous tangents-- which makes it difficult to boil down in a book report or, heaven forbid, an essay.

However, Munro's stories are not "plots", in the "A follows B follows C" regard; rather, they are worlds. Zaidman is of the impression that every character in a short story must contribute to the plot in some significant, life-altering way, which makes me wonder how Zaidman perceives the literature she, presumably, deals with day-to-day as a teacher and librarian.

Is the nice lady that was behind you in line at the candy store when you were 5 the key to your life's inner workings? Of course not, and she need not be: many people drop in and out of our lives without reason or significance, and, as Munro creates whole worlds within her short stories, her characters can as well.

Zaidman appears to have written her review of Too Much Happiness as if she were recommending it to a high school student, which is a noble argument in its own right; however, in doing so, she has focused on simple elements like plot and tension, instead of taking into account the wholly immersive experience Alice Munro provides.

In a way, it reminds me of what Emperor Joseph II -- who fancied himself a bit of a musical talent -- said to Mozart after hearing one of his new compositions:

"Too many notes."

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Late Show with David Letterman: Too Smug For its Own Good?

Last night (August 28th), I watched the Late Show with David Letterman in anticipation of Imogen Heap's performance on the program. I recently reviewed her latest album on this blog, and Heap rarely makes appearances on TV, so I thought I'd give it a go.

As is the case for most late-night talk shows these days, the featured musician was the last guest of the evening; despite Are You Being Served? running simultaneously on PBS, I decided to stick around for the entire show.
"Hey, it's David Letterman," I figured. "It can't be that bad."

Not so.

When it came time to turn the TV off, I was left with an overwhelming sense of frustration, disgust, and, most strongly, bewilderment. How could it have seemed so promising and turned out to be anything but?

Letterman started off the night with a decidedly half-baked monologue that ran the gamut from fizzled one-liners, a pathetic excuse for comedy involving a fallen flashlight (was it planned? We'll never know and, quite frankly, I don't want to) and repeated jabs at an audience member, who took the whole thing in miraculously good stride while Letterman mocked the fact that the man hadn't chosen to wear a jacket and tie to the taping, settling for an M&M T-shirt instead.

"The guy was in an M&M t-shirt and acted like I was the jerk!" Letterman said, while the audience member waved his hand repeatedly at the camera, presumably hoping to be featured in a viral video or something.

The show's attempt at comedy continued with a segment inspired by the Obamas' summer vacation to Martha's Vineyard and titled "Memorable Moments in Presidential Vacations". It seemed rather pointless until the final photograph-- President Lincoln at Six Flags theme park in 1864. Oh.

If that wasn't enough, "Memorable Moments in Presidential Vacations" was soon followed by a cheerless segment called "Men & Their Vegetables", where Letterman showed pictures of various large vegetables held by men up to the audience and, on occasion, impersonated them (the men, not the vegetables, which would have been far more interesting).

The first guest of the night, Artie Lange-- who has a segment on "The Howard Stern Show" (scraping at the barrel's bottom, are we now, Letterman?)-- talked about dating a 25-year-old girl (he's in his 40s) and complained that she wants him to go on hikes, when he would much rather be an "indoors" guy.

Next up was the "comedian" Todd Barry, whose routine revolved around criticisms of his grandmother's Italian cooking and, to quote the recap, "Californians [sic] sense of superiority when it comes to Mexican food." Maybe it's a New York thing, but I certainly wasn't laughing.

Finally, Imogen Heap-- the reason I was watching-- came on. Here's what happened, courtesy of YouTube:



"Our next guest is, uh, a gifted singer-songwriter from England-- well, aren't they all," Letterman opined, before making a feeble attempt at retracting his comment. Heap performed, and although her nerves clearly showed at the beginning of "First Train Home", she was considerably more confident by the song's end.

And what does Letterman say?

David: Yeah. Yeah. Pretty nice. Cool. How're you doing?
Imogen: [unintelligble]
David: (points at keyboard) Oh, that is great. What is that deal?
Imogen: Oh, it's uh-- I was kind of joking that it's my, my Twitter--
David: Can I do a thing on that? (presses keys) Am I contacting someone from space?
(audience laughs)
David: Well, there? Did you hear that? That's me! Yeah, how about that.
Bandleader: You just Twittered Ashton Kutcher!
(audience laughs)
David: Do you live in London?
Imogen: Yeah, I do.
David: Could I come there and have dinner?
Imogen: Of course you can.
David: I'd love to.
Imogen: I can cook for you. What do you like to eat?
David: I don't care. Whatever you got, I'm there.
Imogen: Okay.
David: I'm there, dude.
(Imogen frowns)
David: Imogen Heap, ladies and gentlemen!

So, in the end, what is one to make of all this?

Letterman, presumably intending to attain the same sort of immortality as his late mentor Johnny Carson, has, contrary to his best intentions, not aged gracefully. His jokes are, in an effort to stay hip and attract the prized 18-34 age bracket (which moved on to Craig Ferguson a long time ago), the same sort of bizarre, irrelevant humour that is found in the comic strips of many university student-run papers. In a sense, he's like Royal Canadian Air Farce, a show that, in an effort to remain current, found itself relying on the same old stale jokes, reheated over and over until they could no longer pass as entertainment.

One wonders if, given the fact that his stint on the Late Show is nearing its 16th anniversary, Letterman isn't considering following in the footsteps of Jay Leno and being replaced with a younger host.

But where would Letterman go, if such a change were made?

In what is undoubtedly a survival of the fittest (and funniest), David Letterman seems like the proverbial Hare, starting out at top speeds but choosing to take a nap towards the end of the race, figuring that no-one can possibly toss him from his coveted seat as the king of late-night television.

If I were Letterman, however, I wouldn't be taking a nap.

I would be looking over my shoulder.

Saturday Spotlight: Regina Spektor

In celebration of having gone to see 500 Days of Summer earlier this week (which I loved), this Saturday I've chosen to feature Regina Spektor, who has two songs--"Us" and "Hero" (which I could only find a live version of on YouTube; apologies in advance) in that film.

Spektor, despite having only officially released five albums' worth of songs, has written, demoed, and performed live hundreds more. Her music is funny, touching, thoughtful and quirky, often within the same song.

Her audience grew with Begin to Hope, an album she released in 2006. It featured some of her "poppiest" work yet, but still retained her gift for lyrics and music that are intelligent, sensitive, and, above all, unique.

Here's a live version of my favorite song from Begin to Hope, "On the Radio".



Her most recent album, Far, was released this year. Spektor stopped by the Late Show with David Letterman to perform its lead single, "Laughing With", a few months ago. (I originally had the Good Morning America performance on here instead, but it was taken down for some reason; not to mention that the GMA clip had a really annoying host in it-- here you practically just get Regina, which is nice.)




Spektor's had her music featured on many tribute albums and soundtracks, including a cover of John Lennon's "Real Love" and a beautiful original of hers, "The Call", which played towards the end of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.



And here's "The Call":



Until next time,

Paul

Monday, 24 August 2009

Review: "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus

Just when you thought she was going country, Miley Cyrus (perhaps at the behest of her management) goes in the opposite direction with "Party in the U.S.A." A release from her upcoming EP The Time of Our Lives, Cyrus seems determined to distance herself from Hannah Montana as quickly as possible.

She has tried to accomplish this by declaring herself a fan of Jay-Z and Britney Spears in the same song (let's just be thankful she didn't name-check Radiohead too), but, regardless, retains the wholesome image that has been the mainstay of her image thus far. It's a catchy tune that stands no chance of survival once summer ends, and Cyrus' range is as limited as ever-- the few moments where she actually seems to sing without the use of studio support are, to be frank, painful.

Judging by this song's very high position on the Billboard charts, the fact that The Time of Our Lives will be exclusively sold at Wal-Mart stands no chance of discouraging the EP's sales. It seems like Cyrus has another hit on her hands, but, of course, hit songs do not equal artistic integrity in my books.

Unless she pulls a Lady GaGa and does this song acoustic. Which seems as likely, quite frankly, as Elvis returning from the dead.



Sunday, 23 August 2009

Review: Imogen Heap, "Ellipse" (2009)

On her third album, Imogen Heap has taken all the aspects of her musical personality-- the soul-baring singer-songwriter on her debut, I Megaphone; the multifaceted, multi-talented producer and artist of her "Hide and Seek"-spawning second album, Speak for Yourself; and as one half of the group Frou Frou, along with Guy Sigsworth-- put them in a blender, and flicked the On switch.

The result is Ellipse-- and, yet, as one makes such a statement, Ellipse is simultaneously something so singular, so musically engaging, that it is, quite simply, its own musical being.


The album opens with the driving "First Train Home", also its lead single, where there's the urgent desire to leave a party you've grown weary of, and ends with "Half Life", a beautiful piano-centered track where Heap, surrounded by chatter, sings "I knew that I'd get like this again/that's why I try to keep at bay".

Ellipse sparkles with these lyrical connections; of particular note is the link between "Wait it Out" and "Earth", which seems to question a relationship between two people in the former track and, not finding any answers, tackles the relationship between Mother Nature and humanity on "Earth", written (quite likely) from the perspective of the planet itself, trying to find an example to go on.

"Earth" is one of the highlights on the album for this reason, along with the highly original take on one's feelings towards their own imperfections in "Bad Body Double" and the stunning "Canvas", whose accompanying video, once seen, expands upon the song's already-rich visual imagery.

The video for "Canvas", which is not a single, raises the hope that more videos of non-single tracks from the album will be made. Personally, I'd find a video of "Bad Body Double" particularly fascinating, given the narrative possibilities evident in the song itself.

Musically and lyrically, the album is excellent; one only needs to listen to "Tidal", with its racing melody and relentless beat, for this to be evident. There is the occasional slip-up: "2-1"'s epic imagery is stalled momentarily by the frankness of its opening lines, and it seems Heap sings "I swear I'll let it rip" on "Little Bird", but other than that, the album's lyrics are the best of her career.

With any luck, Heap will have a few more Grammy nominations (and, with any luck, a win) to add to her already impressive list of credentials come January 2010. But, even if Ellipse ends up somehow short on the awards front, its creator-- and any listener-- can take immense comfort in the fact that Heap has produced what isn't quite as immediately arresting as "Hide and Seek", but is a mature, thoughtful, accomplished work that, like a fine wine, gets better and better on each listen.

It's a remarkable achievement.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Saturday Spotlight: KT Tunstall

Welcome to the first of many Saturday Spotlights! Each Saturday, I plan to showcase an artist I love, in the hope that you'll come to appreciate them too. To get us started, here's someone you might have already heard of: KT Tunstall.

Tunstall has been one of my favorite artists, hands-down, for quite some time now. Yes, she's the woman behind "Suddenly I See" and "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"-- but whether or not you like her more radio-friendly tracks, gems like "Beauty of Uncertainty" are guaranteed to blow you away.



Tunstall is also a talented interpreter of other artists' songs, taking, say, "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 and making it wholly her own. Prepare to be amazed.



Perhaps most astonishing is that she's taken on several Bob Dylan songs and managed to infuse them with her own style. First, "Simple Twist of Fate":



And her incredible cover of "Tangled Up in Blue".



To end the post on a funky note, here's her cover of "Walk Like an Egyptian" by the Bangles.



Until next time,

Paul

Friday, 21 August 2009

Review: A Prairie Home Companion (2006)


When I first saw A Prairie Home Companion, back in 2006 -- it was in theatres then -- I knew it was a great movie, a funny movie, a movie with heart.

I knew it was one of the two great performances of Lindsay Lohan (I'll bet you choked when I just said that, didn't you), along with Freaky Friday and, if a third were to be included, Mean Girls.

I knew it was a great film; Roger Ebert thought so too, and included it as one of his Great Movies, giving it 4 stars out of 4.

What I didn't know was how sad it was. Wait, scratch that-- not exactly sad, but peaceful. Peaceful, in the sense that things were great, that things had gone on for as long as they could have and maybe, by a stroke of luck, a little bit longer than scheduled, but now, right now, now was the time to wave goodbye. To lower the curtain. To turn your radio off, and leave it off.

You see, for all its folksy trimmings, for all the charm it exudes, A Prairie Home Companion is, at its core, a film about one and one thing only.

Death.

(I understand your confusion as to why I began this review on such an ominous note, but I hope you'll forgive me; things will become clearer as time goes on.)

Why death? Why death, in a film that, by watching the trailer, you'd think was worlds, universes away from the subject?

Robert Altman, despite having two other movies in pre-production when Prairie Home Companion was completed, knew, somehow, some way, that this would be his last film. It was to be originally called The Last Broadcast-- a title rejected because executives wanted to capitalize on the appeal of the radio show for which the film is named. It was a good choice; The Last Broadcast wouldn't be sufficient. It would be too obvious. It would give the game away.

So much, so much meaning, so much significance is packed into the film that it took a second watch, this time just a few days ago -- August 21st, to be exact, when I was channel surfing and it just so happened Bravo had it on -- to truly appreciate its brilliance.

I'd been listening to the soundtrack and read Roger Ebert's reflections on the film. In a way, I knew what to expect. I knew that Altman died later the same year, on Nov. 30th, and that alone was enough to clue me in that A Prairie Home Companion was a sort of elegy.

In the film, the elegy is for the last broadcast of the titular radio show; afterwards, the Fitzgerald Theatre, where it is recorded with a live audience, will be demolished. However, the show's host, Garrison Keillor (playing himself, in a sense) has no desire to let the audience in on this fact. The show must go on. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, to quote Macbeth, a work of art very much about death and remembrance as well, in its own way.

Something Shakespearian seems to have contributed to the Dangerous Woman (Virginia Madsen)'s characterization; she flits in and out when one least expects it-- I spotted her in the background of a scene when I saw the film again and was ecstatic I'd done so-- and seems to appear to certain people; to all others, she is invisible. (Madsen wrote an excellent reflection on the film that everyone considering watching the film, or that has already watched the film, should read.)

Detective Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) takes an especial interest in her, and develops a sort of crush on the Dangerous Woman. We learn that her name, as an angel, is Asphodel, but that, on Earth, she died in a car accident while listening to the radio show and realizing a joke Keillor told wasn't as funny as she thought.

"What was the joke?" she asks, when she gets a chance to meet him.

"Two penguins are standing on an iceberg," Keillor says. "The first says "It looks like you're wearing a tuxedo." And the second one says "I can't imagine why I wouldn't be.""

"And that's funny?" she asks.

"I guess it's funny because people laugh at it," he says, and is called back on stage. Meanwhile, the Dangerous Woman sits on the edge of the set. Her expression is indecipherable, but we know she's contemplating what Keillor's just said.

We get a similar look when Guy Noir makes a pass of sorts at her, asking, in essence, what she would feel if she were kissed, being an angel and therefore not of earthly body.

She pauses to think, her expression not giving anything away.

"I would feel love," she says, and startles Noir into colliding backwards with a hatstand.

These little moments make the film what it is. Guy Noir makes a toast with stage manager Molly (Maya Rudolph) to happy endings, using champagne he finds in a theatre minibar. "The Day is Short" is performed onstage while a cast member is found to have passed on in the dressing room. The same cast member's body exhumes post-death gases while cowboys Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) stand outside the door and talk with Noir, adding a sort of dark humour to the scene.

There is darkness, but not a lot of humour to Tommy Lee Jones's performance as the Axeman, an executive that has come to end the show and arrives towards the end; by this time, we can only shake our heads despairingly at his ignorance of the show's impact. The Dangerous Woman appears in the luxury box he's been given, later on. A lot of death there.

Death, yes, but also life: Molly is pregnant, and the youngest in the Johnson family tree, Lola (Lindsay Lohan), makes her stage debut when it is discovered there are six extra minutes of airtime left in the broadcast. Excited, she races downstairs to grab her notebook full of poems and songs (mostly about suicide), but the song she wants to sing ("Your Barn Doors Are Open", I believe) is on a piece of paper she drops on the way upstairs.

The only song she can think of singing is "Frankie and Johnny", and she does an excellent job. It precedes a section where Lola's mother Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and her sister Rhonda (Lily Tomlin) perform "Goodbye to My Mama", a song so beautiful that even the Axeman weeps; of course, Dusty and Lefty bounce on after and sing the ribald "Bad Jokes", ruining the moment. We see the Axeman's reflection twice on the glass of the box while they perform, showing he is of two minds.

He makes up his mind, in the end -- the Fitzgerald is demolished; we knew it would happen. What's far more interesting is the epilogue, set in a nearby diner: Keillor, Noir, and the Johnson sisters are discussing a farewell tour, to visit all the towns they didn't get to visit when the show was on the air. Lola rushes in and out -- she works in finance now, and reveals the shabby state of her mother's assets before she leaves -- dressed in black, as if for a funeral. Dusty and Lefty come in and sit at the bar. Noir can't stop staring, puzzled, in the mirror by the table.

The Dangerous Woman enters, after a long shot of her walking, in the rain, past the glass windows of the diner. Everyone can see her, although Noir and Keillor are the first to notice, judging by the order the four turn around. She smiles and moves past the camera -- there's a closeup of her trenchcoat's left breast pocket -- then the image fades.

This is the end, aside from a joyous singalong of "In the Sweet By and By" over which the credits play. Perhaps the Angel of Death has come to remind the cast that the show is better off without a farewell tour? We'll never know.

I'd like to end with Roger Ebert's review, quoting a conversation between Keillor and Lola:

"I'm of an age when if I started to do eulogies, I'd be doing nothing else," he says.

"You don't want to be remembered?"

"I don't want them to be told to remember me."


This is an illuminating conversation, and sets in motion the attitude the cast has towards this, the last broadcast-- a title that, as I've said, would make the film too obvious an elegy. The best remembrances are understated, celebratory, and not without a laugh-- or two, or three, or four.

A Prairie Home Companion is one of those remembrances.

Review: Julie & Julia (2009)

I saw Julie & Julia on a dismal, wet Wednesday (I was going to have my wisdom teeth taken out the next day, and what better way to celebrate, I figured, than two hours of food-inspired film before entering a surgery-imposed fast later that evening?) and loved it. However, before sitting down in the theatre (which was practically stuffed to the gills, by the way), I wasn't quite sure if I would. More on that later.

The film, adapted by Nora Ephron (she directed as well) from Julia Child's memoir My Life in France and Julie Powell's Julie & Julia, juxtaposes the modern-day struggle for accomplishment of Julie Powell, slaving away in the offices of a company hired to redevelop the Ground Zero space after 9/11, with the similar, but unique, struggle of Julia Child as she settles in France with her American diplomat husband (Stanley Tucci).

This combination was greeted, when I first heard of it, with a very appropriate "What in blue blazes is Nora Ephron thinking?! Julie and Julia? How can she possibly pull this off?"

To my surprise, she did.

Ephron smartly chooses to introduce Julia to the audience first, in a gorgeous sun-dappled Paris, then, once we've grown accustomed to her (in a portrayal by Meryl Streep that may seem like a caricature at first, but when an actual real-life parody of Julia Child pops up later in the film, you appreciate how bad it could have been), she sends us into the not quite as peachy 21st- century existence of Julie.

Julie, out of most of her friends, is the only one that hasn't been really successful (a fact cruelly reinforced by an article one of these friends writes; Julie agrees to be interviewed thinking it's about "turning 30" and is dismayed when the article paints her as the member of a "lost generation" instead). This same friend starts a blog about her relationship with a millionaire, prompting Julie to start a blog herself.

She and her husband Eric (a charming Chris Messina) debate topics for said blog until they hit the jackpot: Julie will cook her way through the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.

"Is it crazy?" she asks him later, fretfully, in bed.

"Yes," he says.

From this early conversation, we get the impression Eric is some sort of saintly one-dimensional figure, but Ephron knows, from reading the source material, that he has his own crosses to bear, and they become evident in a scene which reveals his growing frustrations with Julie's constant meltdowns. Although a good deal of screentime is given to the titular women, they are surrounded by friends and, most importantly, their husbands.

Julia's husband Paul, like Eric, seems to be eternally content, but when the couple has to leave Paris and Paul goes under investigation for possible Communist ties, we really bear the full force of Stanley Tucci's portrayal: there is so much morebeneath the surface than we could possibly have known.

In a way, this film reminds me of The Devil Wears Prada and Evening, two films Streep previously starred in. Devil Wears Prada has a similar theme-- that of female accomplishment-- and also starred Tucci; Evening had the same sort of past/present structure this film has, but it had so many characters (and subplots) fighting for screentime that it didn't succeed, on commercial or artistic levels.

Julie & Julia has success on both of these levels, as it's currently the second-most popular film in Canada at time of writing, and, unlike G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (currently at number one), has a witty script, two artfully balanced plotlines (in screentime and tone), surprisingly deep performances by its main cast, and, of course, lots of delicious-looking food.

Those looking for a narrative "junction" at the end of the movie, similar to the ending of When Harry Met Sally (a romantic comedy Ephron also directed), will be disappointed. But Julie & Julia is not, despite the flimsy trailer, a romantic comedy by any means. It is a movie about accomplishment and finding one's way in the world, and displays a maturity that is refreshing in a summer of half-baked plotlines and bludgeon-like humour.

That, and so much more, is why Julie & Julia is what it is: an undeniable success.


So, what do the critics say?

Roger Ebert's review was mixed, and the reason I wasn't so sure I would like the film as much as I did. Granted, he's not right on everything, and I'm glad I watched it myself.

Ebert's primary concern is, like many other critics, the character of Julie Powell. He says:

"Amy Adams could make anyone lovable, but with Julie Powell, it’s sometimes a stretch. Julie is so single-minded about her obsession that it comes to dominate her married life. Having cooked a few of Julia Child’s recipes myself, I doubt there are many you can start on after getting home, some nights, as late as 8 or 9. The dinner bell seems to have rung at the Powell household after midnight, although the wait was mellowed by a remarkable number of martinis."

He-- again, like many critics-- has clearly not taken the time to read either Julie Powell's book or the original blog. This is understandable, as all journalists have deadlines and can't, as much as we'd like, research a film to its full extent. However, reading the original blog shows that Powell did start on many of these recipes at as late a time Ebert suggests, and completed them as well.

His second concern is with the husbands:

"Both husbands are, frankly, a little boring: They’ve been assigned their supporting roles in their marriages and are reluctant to question the singlemindedness of their wives."

But they do-- and thank heavens they do, because otherwise they would be disappointingly one-dimensional. Granted, the film is called Julie & Julia, not Eric & Paul, but Ebert seems to suggest that Ephron gave the husbands with very little depth, which they have. They're just mostly on the sidelines, like so many of the characters, because if every single one were to enjoy the exposure that Julie and Julia receive, the film would be an Evening-style mess.

Roger Ebert gives the film 2.5 stars out of 4; reading Katrina Onstad's review for CBC Arts online, you get the impression Onstad would have given it as low a score as possible.

I've chosen to discuss her review for two reasons: one, it is perhaps the most negative review of the film I've seen (if anyone finds more negative reviews than hers, please link to them in the comments), and two, it is full of a wrath and anger that, from reading Onstad's other reviews, you would never have guessed she possessed. It's, to be frank, troubling.

Onstad says of Julie's character:

"Powell is a pain in the a** – a whiny, volatile personality prone to anguished, food-throwing fits over trivialities. She b****es about her job and her unbelievably awful, status-conscious “friends.” (There is a bizarre luncheon, a kind of Sex and the City inversion, where every one of Julie’s friends belittles and attacks her for her lack of accomplishment. Sisters!)"

1. Powell throws a fit over food once in the film (although, if you'd only seen the trailer, you'd think she did it more often); the other food outbursts are justified, because she either scalds her hand on a hot metal pot or resolves to try again the next day. Did Onstad not notice this?

2. Onstad seems to believe that Powell has no right, like an ordinary person, to complain about a job that, from reading the blog, was very, very stressful. Onstad, I believe, would fare similarly if she had to deal with the post-9/11 anger and frustration of people directed at her person, day in and day out. Julie & Julia is not a romantic comedy, and Julie Powell complained in real life, so film-Julie is allowed to complain too. It's being true to character.

3. Onstad mentioning that women should support each other regardless of whatever occurs-- and the mention of Sex and the City-- seems to further my suspicion that she regards Julie & Julia as a romantic comedy. People do have egos, and being in power only builds those egos up. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as it's said.

Ever the malcontent, Julie shrieks at her saintly husband, Eric, about every “obstacle” in her path, from deboning a duck to having to live in a rundown apartment in Queens. The solution to her malaise is to cook her way through Julia Child’s book and blog about it."

4. Eric, as the character himself states in the film, is not a saint; he, in fact, "hates it when [Julie] calls [him] that", and saying Julie "shrieks" is a disservice to the character when she merely expresses concerns. In fact, when the time to debone a duck actually comes, Julie does it calmly and succinctly, with Eric nowhere in sight. It's the last recipe she tackles in the movie, and thus is a showcase of how her character has grown, not her ability to whine.

5. I will agree with Onstad that, on some level, Julie's solution to escape her situation is to blog, but if you believed what Onstad writes, Julie decides to blog about cooking on a simple whim, rather than on a suggestion by her husband that she blog about what she loves. Which is, of course, food.

Onstad's attitude towards the film in general can be summarized in the following excerpt:

"Powell is a contemporary e-brat who won the blog-fantasy lottery at 30 – blog equals book deal equals Meryl Streep movie; take that, Diablo Cody! Meanwhile, Child is a woman who worked diligently at her profession for years... . It took Child and her co-authors years to finish the opus cookbook...

In contrast, Julie Powell barfs out her nightly ramblings on boeuf bourguignon etc. in a voice that’s typical of the blogosphere – at once superior and self-loathing; unflaggingly narcissistic – and hits Send... The generation gap is wider than the Grand Canyon; on one side is hard work and artistry; on the other, entitlement."

6. Powell is a "contemporary e-brat who won the blog-lottery fantasy at 30"? I wonder what Onstad, who also writes in a blog-type setting online, thinks of herself as. Is being published in the New York Times an indication of, and I may be taking this a little far, sainthood?

7. Do I sense resentment in Onstad's voice at Powell's success? Reading the blog itself, I have come to the conclusion that, rather than being "barf", Powell's writing is well-constructed and very descriptive, possibly an indication of the fact that she was honing her skills by working on a novel before deciding to blog. Concerning the "generation gap": it's the 21st century, Katrina Onstad; how else is a person supposed to get their voice out there? Calling the town crier?


Despite what Onstad (and, to a far, far lesser extent, Roger Ebert) thought of Julie & Julia, I felt the film was a success on many levels and had excellent and subtle characterisation.

It's a feast of a film, to which my only response is, as both Julie and Julia would say...

"Bon appetit!"

And so it begins.

Greetings all! Welcome to Paul's Winnipeg! Grab a comfy chair and your choice of beverage, and settle right in.

I'm your host, Paul, ready to take you on a journey through music, film, books, thought... and, of course, life in the mysterious city we know as Winnipeg.

In case you're wondering, the title for this blog comes from Guy Maddin's movie My Winnipeg. I figured that, if that was his Winnipeg, I can have my own. Sure, it's probably not as surreal or weird as Guy Maddin's Winnipeg, but hey, what is?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Hope you enjoy!