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Now 326 articles and reviews, in six categories.

Movie Reviews (85 reviews)
Book Reviews (42 reviews)
CD Reviews (51 reviews)
Concert Reviews (18 reports)
Restaurant Reviews (59 reviews)
Random (71 articles)











Movie Reviews
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Now 85 movies, organized by movie title.

0-999A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

50 First Dates (2004)
300 (2007)
A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004)
A Man’s Gotta Do (2004)
American Wedding (2003)
Bad Boys 2 (2003)
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Big Fish (2003)
Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Casino Royale (2006)
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
The Company (2003)
Crash (2004)
C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
Les Dangereux [French language] (2002)
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Dear Frankie (2004)
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Dirty Pretty Things (2003)
Le Divorce (2003)
Dodging The Clock (2005)
Dogville (2004)
Elizabethtown (2005)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Finding Nemo (2003)
The Forgotten (2004)
Freaky Friday (2003)
Frida (2002)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Garden State (2004)
Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)
Head in the Clouds (2004)
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002)
Hidalgo (2004)
The Hulk (2003)
Ice Age (2002)
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
The Italian Job (2003)
Kalamazoo (1987)
Kill Bill - Vol. 1 (2003)
Kill Bill - Vol. 2 (2004)
Kinsey (2004)
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Lara Croft - Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
The Last Samurai (2003)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Lost In Translation (2003)
Love and Magnets (2004)
Maria Full of Grace (2004)
Matchstick Men (2003)
Ma vie en cinémascope (2004)
Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
My Date With Drew (2005)
Le Nèg’ [French language] (2003)
The Omen (2006)
The Pianist (2002)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Pollock (2003)
The Princess and the Warrior [“Der Krieger und die Kaiserin,” German with English subtitles] (2000)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Ray (2004)
The Rocket: The Maurice Richard Story (2005)
School of Rock (2003)
Seabiscuit (2003)
Séraphin, Heart of Stone (2002)
Shrek 2 (2004)
Sin City (2005)
Stage Beauty (2004)
Superman Returns (2006)
Super Size Me (2004)
The Terminal (2004)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Thirteen (2003)
Transamerica (2005)
Troy (2004)
Uptown Girls (2003)
La Vie en rose (2007)
La Vie secrète des gens heureux (2006)
The Village (2004)
Whale Rider (2003)
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

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50 First Dates (2004)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/50firstdates/

A cute, light comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. With a movie set on the island of Oahu and filled with music by Bob Marley and the Beach Boys (as well as a funny little love song co-written by Adam Sandler, à la Wedding Singer), it’s hard to go wrong. Cute trained animals help, too.
The premise is this: Henry is a total womanizer. He works as a veterinarian at an aquarium in Honolulu and his thrill is to romance female tourists who come his way. There are no strings attached, of course, as they all go back to the mainland once their vacation is over. But one day, while having breakfast at a diner, he meets Lucy. They have breakfast together and the chemistry is so strong that they decide to meet again the next day. But when Henry walks up to her that day, she has no memory of him whatsoever and has him thrown out for harassing her. It turns out that a little over a year before, Lucy suffered serious head injuries in a car accident and she has lost her short term memory: all her memories from before the accident are intact, but every day after that she has to start over, forgetting at night what has happened during the previous day. In her mind, the date is always October 13th, 2003, her father’s birthday. And her father and her brother play along: they help her bake a cake (they throw out the leftovers every night), they have her paint a mural on a white wall (which they paint white again every night), they rewrap the present she gives her father, which is a copy of The Sixth Sense that they all watch together and Lucy never fails to be blown away by the ending. They even had hundreds of newspapers printed with the date of October 13th and they give her one every morning. There are a few days when she does find out the truth, and she is of course completely devastated to find out that her life is a setup, but she has forgotten about it by the next morning. So Henry is in quite a bind, but he decides that he loves her so much that he tries to make her fall in love with him again every day. To try to help her remember him, he makes her a videotape explaining what happened to her and who he is. But even when she watches the tape every morning, she doesn’t remember him and so their relationship is progressing much more slowly than Henry would like... He is considering leaving Hawaii for a year to sail to Alaska on his boat. He thinks that since Lucy can’t remember him, she won’t miss him, but would he miss her too much? Would their relationship survive?
Like I said, a movie set in Hawaii is almost always a pleasure to watch, and this is no exception. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why I don’t just move there. Chances are, I could still work for a Canadian translating company through the internet, no green card needed. ;o) One complaint, though, and if I’ve said once I’ve said it a thousand times: it annoys the heck out of me when a clip shown in the preview isn’t actually in the final version of the movie. If it ain’t there, don’t tease us with, people! Anyway, I think that the release date of the movie, although timed with Valentine’s Day, was a bit unusual, because it feels more like a summer movie than a winter one. And although it is coproduced by Happy Gilmore, it is not all crude humor and the feminine side of Flower Films balances it out. The cast also includes Sean Astin with a lisp, Rob Schneider and Dan Aykroyd. It is obviously a light-hearted film, meant to make you laugh and entertain you rather that make you think, but I do have to say that there were a few parts that were actually very moving. The ending is also quite cute.
All in all: Go see it on a Tuesday or rent it, but see it, it’s fun. ;o)

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300 (2007)
http://www.300ondvd.com/
I was a little scared to see this, since I didn’t like Gladiator or Sin City, and it’s said to be a mix of both. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
It’s the story of how 300 Spartan soldiers defended their land and their people, faced with an army of tens of thousands. Those Spartans were true warriors, not only physically, but mentally. They stood up for their freedom and braved an army that seemed overwhelming to others.
It’s based on historical facts, but embellished with Greek folklore – and amazing imagery. That’s probably what you’ll notice most, the beautiful drawing-like photography that made this movie stand out. (On a side note, it makes blood and gore go down much more easily, almost like it was a cartoon and therefore couldn’t affect you as much as seeing it happen with real people.) Also, the soundtrack is amazing. Finally, someone uses metal correctly on the big screen! The actors give good performances.
The odd thing is that, even though the movie is about war and ends in death, I would say that’s it’s like a feel-good movie.
All in all: The best epic in a long time!

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A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004)
http://www.alovesongforbobbylongmovie.com
One of those small-budget movies you hardly hear about, even though it stars John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson. The latter plays Purslane Hominy Will, who returns home after her mother’s death expecting to reclaim the home she grew up in, on the outskirts of New Orleans. She is surprised to find out that two men live in it already, and that they have no intention of leaving. Bobby Long (John Travolta), an alcoholic ex-literature professor, and his protégé, Lawson Pines (played by Gabriel Macht), were friends of the deceased. So Purslane finds herself living with two strange men in her late mother’s house, in a town she barely remembers but in which everyone knows her, as she is herself struggling to figure out who she is. These living arrangements take their toll on each of them in different ways.
While the characters may not seem too attaching in the beginning, they grow on you and you discover that there’s a whole lot more to them than it first appears. The setting is almost magical, it actually made me nostalgic even though I’ve never been to New Orleans. The soundtrack is really fantastic, too. All the actors give really great performances; Scarlett Johansson even got a Golden Globe nomination for her role. And speaking of nomination, I would like to nominate the opening scene “Most disgusting big toe in the history of movies.” Those who have seen it will no doubt second me on that. Don’t let it scare you away though, you’d miss out on a good movie.
All in all: Go rent it, especially if you haven’t heard about it yet.

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A Man’s Gotta Do (2004)
http://www.filmillawarra.org.au/amansgottado.html
I attended the screening of this Australian movie with the director, Chris Kennedy, in the room. And for the record, he told us himself that John Howard, the lead actor, is sometimes not understood by his own fellow Australians, so it would therefore not be surprising if we had trouble with his accent. ;o)
Eddy (John Howard), a burly man of about forty, makes an honest living as a fisherman. But he also moonlights as a hit man to make some extra cash. He realizes that his relationship with his 19-year-old daughter Chantelle (Alyssa McClelland) is becoming increasingly strained, especially after her Russian fiancé abandons her. So in an effort to reach out to her, he decides to read her diary – well actually, he has his young accomplice Dominic (Gyton Grantley) read it to him, because he thinks it isn’t right for a man to read his daughter’s diary. Then his wife (Rebecca Frith) decides that she wants to have another child. So Eddy does what a man’s gotta do to keep his family happy, even though it is mighty hard for a hit man to acknowledge his feelings, much less talk about them. And since this is a comedy, things go wrong and secrets spill out with hilarious results.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It is very funny, even if you were to disregard John Howard’s brutish ways and mumbled accent. The dialogues are very good and the actors all did a wonderful job. Based on this, Alyssa McClelland probably has quite a promising future, as an actress and maybe even as a singer. The cast was really wonderful and the script was great. There were a few moments when one of the actors suddenly started speaking to the camera in confidence, which did seem to break away from the format of the rest of the film, but it served a comedic purpose.
All in all: A must-see for all comedy lovers.

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American Wedding (2003)
http://www.americanpiemovie.com
“The thrilling climax to the American Pie saga.” Well, thrilling... I wouldn’t have gone that far. I did like the first two movies, but this one seemed a little forced. The dynamics were different, the jokes were very repetitive and over-the-top, the puns really predictable, the embarrassing moments even more far-fetched than in the first movies. The producers seemed to think that the target audience had gotten dumber in the past few years and would only be satisfied with stupid jokes. Stiffler is cruder than ever and the character is so stereotypical that he doesn’t seem real anymore. Also, the guys don’t hang out as much this time and the girls are almost reduced to secondary characters. AND there are at least two extremely important characters who don’t even make an appearance for the entire movie! Um, hell-o? I can understand Nadja not being there, but these two were just as central to the franchise as the other people and they don’t even show up at their friends’ wedding? Heck, Stiffler showed up and he wasn’t even invited! Even Stiffler’s mom wouldn’t miss it! So where are Mena Suvari and Chris Klein, people?!
There were definitely a few laugh-out-loud moments, but most jokes were either too crude or too stretched out. Like the scene in the gay bar: It was mildly funny in the beginning, yes, but as the minutes dragged on and the gay stereotypes kept multiplying, it just got really old really fast. By the way, Jim is learning fake dance moves AND he’s learning the lady’s part, so there no way he can dance like a pro at his wedding reception. Of course, it was nice to see more depth to the main characters, although as long as we were getting to know them more it would have been nice to figure out how two students fresh-out of an American college can afford such a swanky wedding. And as an assistant florist, I can tell you two things: 1) A gang of butch football players can’t make floral arrangements that nice, even with a gay man’s help; 2) Tulips don’t last that long. However, the Sahara and Desert roses are real and they are a perfect choice for a wedding. In case you cared to know. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a pun on Sting’s song (Desert Rose) or not.
All in all: I guess if you saw the first two movies and liked them, you should see this one as well, but be warned, you will come out disappointed. And don’t bother staying in the theater when the credits roll, there aren’t even any bloopers at the end (even though Entertainment Tonight got a hold of some of them).
Also, there was a couple behind me who had brought their four-year-old daughter with them to see the movie: the DCP should take her away right now, she’s probably scarred for life thanks to them; this movie is totally inappropriate for children, I don’t know what those people were thinking.

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Bad Boys 2 (2003)
http:// www.sonypictures.com/movies/badboys2/
Just to clarify things: This IS the second Bad Boys movie, not the third one like a surprising number of people thought (I’m really not sure why they were under that impression; maybe Will Smith’s action movies are all starting to look alike...).
Well, this is what summer movies are all about. A lot of action, some comedy, pretty girls and cute guys (this is the best I’ve seen Will look, ever ;o). Also, and this is surprising for a sequel, the plot was really detailed. Actually, it was almost too detailed: The movie is two-and-a-half hours long. So Mike and Marcus are still part of the TNT (Tactical Narcotics Team) and this time they have to gather enough evidence to finally arrest the biggest kingpin in town, a ruthless Cuban drug lord who is threatening to overtake the ecstasy distribution market. And Mike is also dating Marcus’s sister, who just happens to be an undercover agent working on the case, but Marcus is unaware of all of that for the moment. This is actually a good thing though, because the whole team is dealing with anger management issues (“Woo-sa!”) and he would definitely flip if he found out.
The movie has some very funny moments, including the fact that the Boys still haven’t learned the words to the “Bad Boys” theme song, as well as a hilarious quid proquo in a high-tech equipment store and a very badly-constructed pool. There was also a riveting car chase involving a big truck that was delivering a dozen cars to a dealership but which has been car-jacked by the bad guys, who are now proceeding to push the cars off the speeding truck one by one to deter the policemen following them on the interstate. Damage: 22 cars and a boat.
However, I would have to say that there is way too much gratuitous violence in this movie for it to be believable. Cops, even bad ones, just don’t nonchalantly shoot people at the alarming rate that these two do. I’m sure Michael Moore would have something to say about that, it seems there are guns and blood and dead bodies (or at least pieces of them) at every twist and turn of the plot. And cops don’t pick up a dead man’s finger with their bare hands upon discovery, there is such a thing as latex gloves and plastic bags to collect evidence and, um, not disturbing the scene of a crime before at least taking a picture of it or something. And you don’t broadcast a confidential videotape being used as evidence in a sensitive case in the middle of a VCR/TV showroom. The whole thing ends in a big showdown in Cuba, blowing up a perfectly good villa and tearing through a shanty town in jeeps before finally making their way through a field of landmines. Please, as if! I was willing to go along with it for a while, but two-and-a-half hours of completely unrealistic cop behaviour, even by Bad Boys standards? Like John Stossel would say, “Gimme a break.” There is a huge difference between being unprofessional in an “I’m Will Smith, I like to defy authority and I look cool doing it” kind of way and this “We’re technically cops, but we shoot first and ask questions later” manner.
All in all: If you are prepared to disregard the fact that these cops rush into things head first and are killing all their suspects as fast as they can, then you might actually really enjoy all the action and have a few good laughs along the way. Good summer movie to get your mind of things.

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Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/benditlikebeckham/
The reason that it took me so long to go see this movie is actually that I hadn’t realized it had come out already (even though I had seen the preview a long time ago and had decided to go see it)! It’s a foreign movie and I’m not even sure it has been translated into French, which would mean that it only played on one screen across the province, so that could explain the lack of advertising for it. Although it was a HUGE hit all over the world, so I’m pretty sure something is wrong with advertising here. Anyway... [September 20th, 2003: It turns out that I just saw the movie for rent in French, so that can’t be it!]
It is the story of Jess, an 18-year-old Indian girl living in England who idolizes David Beckham and who plays soccer (excuse me, football!) in the park in her spare time. She is then spotted by Juliet, an English girl her age who convinces her to try out for a spot on her football team. Even though Jess is actually quite talented, she has never played on a team or even trained before. The experience is new to her and there’s a good reason for it: her traditional Indian family is completely against it! Can you imagine a good Indian girl running around in shorts and chasing a ball while guys watch her? So she must pursue her passion in secret and she does not dare tell her family that her dream is to play professional football like Beckham. Juliet also has a few family issues of her own, including the fact that her mother thinks that she is a lesbian because of her interest in sports (“All I’m saying is, there’s a reason that Sporty Spice is the only one of them without a fellow!”).
Of course, her family eventually realizes what’s going on and they forbid her to play, forcing her instead to learn how to cook the perfect Indian dinner in the hopes that she can one day make a good wife. Jess is devastated and she doesn’t know what to do, follow her heart or please her family. One day, she learns that an American scout will be at the match to watch her team and offer a few girls a chance to play professionally, but it happens to be the same day as her older sister’s wedding...
All’s well that ends well though, when it becomes clear that her family isn’t trying to hold her back but to protect her, and when Juliet’s mother finally decides to take an interest in her daughter’s passion for football. And Jess does eventually manage to bend the ball like Beckham. I have to admit that I found the romantic involvement of both girls with their coach a bit hard to believe. Also, Juliet’s mother has that scary patch of wrinkly skin right in between her breasts... It actually worries me! I realize that they portrayed this woman as a caricature (bleach blond woman in her forties wearing tons of makeup and dressing in revealing clothes with very low-cut blouses), but I’m not sure if this was really meant to be funny (think There’s something about Mary) or if it just happened to be there. But it’s definitely something you notice! And the people in the audience were laughing.
All in all: Lovely movie, a little foreign without being too far from our world, giving us a glimpse into Indian music and culture (kind of like a “My Big Fat Indian Wedding”!) as well as feminine football, and let’s face it, it’s a feel-good story. I recommend that you rent it. Don’t forget to watch the ending credits, they are hilarious!

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Big Fish (2003)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/bigfish/site/index.php
This is truly one of the best movies of the year. It is a tall tale filled with circus performers, giants, witches ... and big fish. It is a story of relationships between fathers and sons, of family dynamics in general, the story of two men’s lives. But more than that, it is a metaphor for living life to its fullest.
Edward Bloom, a man from a small town in Alabama, likes to tell tall tales. His favorite is the one about the day his son Will was born: Edward was trying to catch the (very) big fish that had been in the river for years. Many fishermen had tried to catch it before, but none had been successful. Edward thought he could do it that day and he used his wedding ring as bait, because he thought that the gleam would attract the big fish. He was right about that, but he hadn’t thought his plan through, because once the fish swallowed the ring, Edward realized that it had swallowed the symbol of his love for his wife. The story of how he got it back is a tall tale indeed. Edward’s stories charm everyone he encounters, everyone except his son Will, that is. Will knows that on the day he was born, his father was actually working as a travelling salesman and was on the road in Wichita. His father tells the same stories over and over again, exaggerating and elaborating more and more each time. Will wishes his father would just stop living in a dream world and he finally decides to cut off all contact with him. A few years later, however, his mother calls to tell him that his father is dying of cancer and that the doctors can’t do much more to help him. So Will and his pregnant wife come back to his childhood home to help. Will doesn’t quite want to make peace with his dad until he stops telling his stories, but Edward lives to tell them. Will is then forced to separate fact from fiction, to tell apart his father’s great feats and great failings. Along the way, he realizes that there may have been more facts than he thought in his father’s stories...
This movie is filled with tall tales, fairy tales, adventures, and it is an absolute delight to watch, sometimes downright hilarious. The moments of whimsy and fantasy, however, are brought to a screeching halt when we are confronted with the harsh reality of losing a parent. It is a movie about how to live your life, to enjoy it, to dream big and to remind us to have fun along the way. It’s not that Edward Bloom didn’t like the small-town reality of his life, it’s that he liked to embellish it, to make it more exciting and magical. Sometimes stories are more beautiful and more fun than truth. The characters in this movie were fantastic, they truly came to life, they had personality and were attaching. The cast is amazing: Edward Bloom is played by both Ewan McGregor (when he is young) and by Albert Finney (as an older man); Sandra Templeton, his wife, is played by Alison Lohman as a young woman and then by Jessica Lange; Billy Crudup plays Will; and Danny DeVito is the ring master of the circus. The director was especially well chosen because Tim Burton’s movies are the kind of stories that Edward Bloom likes to tell. The sets, costumes and special effects are breath-taking; the score is wonderful; the stories are amazing. Even the ending, with Edward Bloom dying, is uplifting.
All in all: You have got to see this one, it is definitely worth your time.

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Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006)
http://www.brawlhunter.com/allianceatlantis/bonCopBadCop.asp

This is the movie that beat all the records! (Better than Les Dangereux and Séraphin, for those who read my reviews in alphabetical order rather than chronological order.)
It is the story of David Bouchard and Martin Ward, police officers from Quebec and Ontario respectively, who must collaborate on a murder case when the victim is found on the border between the two provinces. The murderer is actually a serial killer obsessed with hockey; the two policemen must find him before he kills anyone else, while getting over their differences.
Well, my major complaint is that this movie was publicized as being strictly a comedy. Wrong! It’s a detective movie, with violence, blood and explosions, and certain parts are funny. Once you know that, you’ll appreciate it more. Of course, some scenes are hilarious, mainly the ones with Louis-José Houde playing the coroner. Just the preview is funny as heck. I also really liked Colm Feore’s stuck-up attitude (he plays Martin Ward) and Patrick Huard’s smooth macho stereotype (as David Boucher), who does whatever he wants. The actors are all really good, including during the dramatic scenes (watch Lucie Laurier especially).
The film is in two languages, sometimes with subtitles in French or in English depending on the version – if you are not fully bilingual, don’t hesitate to use those subtitles.
All in all: It’s a very good police comedy (is that a term?).

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Brokeback Mountain (2005)
http://www.brokebackmountain.com/splash.html

It is the story of two cowboys who meet while herding sheep in Wyoming in 1963 (even though it’s shot in Alberta). They unexpectedly fall in love, but because of society’s norms, they then go their separate ways, marry women and have children, and even though this is meant to be a subplot, it does take over. The two men’s love is too strong to be forgotten, though, and they continue to see each other once in a while, never daring to make their union public. Before you know it, twenty years have passed and both men’s lives have changed, although their love remains.
This is the much anticipated Ang Lee film about a pair of homosexual cowboys (but it’s more than that). It stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, both of whom put on extraordinary performances. Heath actually has a pretty good Southern accent, even though he mumbles most of his dialogue. The movie also stars the wonderful Michelle Williams (who fell in love with Heath during filming) and Anne Hathaway (she’s no princess anymore).
I have to say that this is like Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, in the sense that it’s a film where talented actors put on incredible performances (three Oscar nods) and do their best with a script that ultimately leads nowhere. The action is slow and, even though it’s interesting, you come out of the movie theatre thinking that the movie didn’t really end, because nothing much happened. But it’s a visually stunning film (because of the scenery, I mean, although two cute guys like that certainly aren’t hard on the eyes either). There is some nudity, yes, but not all feminine for once; actually, if you don’t blink, you’ll even see Little Heath (which isn’t so little). Thankfully, it’s not all pointless nudity, some of it is even tasteful. And it’s a strong movie, because a lot of the action is non-verbal (cowboys aren’t known for being that talkative, anyway). It paints a good picture of what life in some rural parts of the United States was, and probably still is.
All in all: If you know ahead of time that it’s one of those films with a disappointing ending, you might enjoy it more than if you’re actually waiting for something to happen. It’s actually good, as long as you like the kind of movie that asks more questions than it answers.

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Casino Royale (2006)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/casinoroyale/site/

This movie is based on Ian Fleming’s first novel about James Bond. It starts before Bond is a “00” agent and shows his first mission (the series is being rebooted, so to speak).
Bond starts off in Madagascar, where he must find a terrorist. You will see the man who should earn the Oscar for Best Stuntman, if there were such a prize; the stunts are actually performed during an on-foot chase, and they will have you on the edge of your seat. Without spoiling too much, from there, Bond realizes that the small-time terrorist has ties to Le Chiffre, a banker to the whole world’s terrorists. He is betting their money in a poker game at a casino in Montenegro, the Casino Royale (grammatical mistake, I know). Bond knows that if Le Chiffre loses, his entire network will be destroyed, thus dealing a major blow to terrorism. M therefore assigns Vesper Lynd to the case, to help Bond in his mission.
I know that Daniel Craig got a lot of flack for doing this movie, because fans thought he wasn’t up to the challenge. However, I would say that he’s an even better Bond than Pierce Brosnan. He’s a different type of Bond, you see, someone a lot more suave and cool, without all the idiotic puns and light-hearted dialogue. This movie is a lot darker than the others, in the sense that it is more realistic. It is plot-driven and doesn’t rely on gadgets or famous Hollywood actors to get by. It is by far the best Bond movie of the past decade. And Daniel Craig is an amazing Bond.
Judi Dench is great as M, as always, and Mads Mikkelsen does a fantastic job. Eva Green is also good and is more than simply the love interest. As always with Bond movies, the theme song is fantastic, the opening credits are noteworthy, the stunts are incredible, it’s an experience in itself. There are perhaps a few parts of the movie where things get more confusing, but most of it works itself out in the end. And there are definitely a lot of cool or funny moments, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself (I hate spoilers). The only thing I will say is that you get a look at how Bond came to be the man we know today, but in this movie, he hasn’t yet acquired a taste for his famous shaken (not stirred) martinis. He actually invents a whole new drink, but you’ll probably never hear about it again.
All in all: A must-see; it’s a really, really good Bond movie.

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Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/charliesangels2/site_index.html
The Angels are back and cooler than ever. More skin, more action, more celebrities. Which should be a good thing, right? Well... the storyline seems to have suffered a bit. A lot, actually, but I don’t want to give away what’s left of it. Whereas the first movie was a comedy that didn’t take itself seriously, the second one appears to have become one of the movie they were making fun of. The stunts are more unbelievable, the skin more unnecessary, the plotline just perfunctory. I’ll admit that seeing a celebrity pop out of nowhere is somewhat cool (Bruce Willis, Pink, the kid from Holes, etc.) and we were all looking forward to Demi Moore. Her role was somewhat lighter than I had expected, maybe because most of it had already been given away by the media by the time the movie came out (maybe that’s what happened to the plotline?). There is a nice return of Creepy Thin Man, though, who still hasn’t lost his hair fetish. I will say that the characters are more developed, we get a lot more background stories on them. Also, the movie was supposed to be called “H.A.L.O.” at first, and after watching it I can’t possibly imagine why they decided to change it to “Full Throttle”, HALO should have been too good to miss. Then again, it is a nice summer movie if you just want to relax and since I saw it at $5.50, I’m not going to complain. I’ll also always be partial to Drew Barrymore, so there’s no way I would completely demolish her movie (she was also the producer). And don’t forget to stay for the bloopers at the end!
All in all: Guilty pleasure ;o)

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The Company (2003)
http://www.sonyclassics.com/thecompany/

This is the movie produced and co-written by Neve Campbell, a Canadian actress who used to be a ballet dancer. She is in the movie, but she’s not really the star; the true star is the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, a famous ballet company (hence the title). The film is about the life of a company and its dancers during a season; it was stitched together from actual events instead of being fabricated, from the dances to the speeches to the characters’ love lives. It’s more like an idea of their life instead of a story with a plotline. Even the home video really did feature the dancer Trinity and the wedding shots were from Suzanne’s wedding. You really get a behind-the-scenes look at all the work and the endurance, the discipline and the sacrifice needed to be a ballet dancer and to produce such beautiful shows. The song Funny Valentine is what ties the story together: it represents the solos as well as the underlying love story and is performed in many different ways throughout the film. The omelette scene is really touching and there is one of the cutest kissing scenes I have ever seen.
One of the shots that will really stay with you is the one where two dancers perform outdoors and a fall storm starts; they decide to keep on dancing, even though they almost get upstaged by the storm. The audience stayed to watch them. If you watch the movie, you might also want to know that the snake dance was actually performed without music (that was added later).
This film is a bit more like theatre than a movie, in a good way. For example, the dances were usually filmed in one take, with many cameras, because they are very physically demanding and a ballet dancer can’t perform over and over the same evening. The characters are very real, and that’s because the 45 dancers in the movie are from the Joffrey Ballet and play themselves. The choreographer Robert Desrosiers also makes an appearance as himself, while James Franco and Malcolm McDowell were part of the five-actor cast. Director Robert Altman also brings a lot to this movie with his experience. Neve Campbell trained with the dancers and it shows in her performance. She even broke a rib shortly before filming and had to perform all the dances anyway, just like ballet dancers often perform even though they are in pain. She fit right in and was given no special treatment by the rest of the cast, so she really was one of the dancers, which really shone through.
All in all: A different kind of movie, a must for all ballet lovers and for those who want a love story that isn’t mushy as well as a dose of reality.

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Crash
http://www.crashfilm.com
With an A-list cast, including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Esposito, Matt Dillon and Ludacris, this is writer-producer Paul Haggis’s directorial debut. It is the story of how different characters collide in each other’s lives: the rich housewife and her DA husband, the two carjackers, the old Korean couple, the Persian store-owners, the television producer, the two policemen, the Mexican locksmith, the detectives who are lovers… They all affect each other in different ways, not just because of their role in society but also because of how they are perceived by others, because of the color of their skin and their occupations.
It is a movie about human relations, about racism, preconceptions and narrow-mindedness, but also about hope and love. The cast is really wonderful and they all put on fantastic performances. The storyline is great and this movie not only makes you feel, it also makes you think (in a good way, I mean ;o).
All in all: Rent this one, it’s definitely worth seeing. But find someone to talk to after, you’ll need it.

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C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
http://concours.canoe.com/concours_crazy/

It’s a family story that stretches across twenty years, from 1960 to 1980. It is set in Quebec, but it could happen anywhere. It’s about a family of five boys, whose initials form the word “crazy”. We mostly follow the journey of the fourth one, Zachary, born on December 25th with a gift from God (according to his mother and Mrs. Chose, who sells Tupperware). This young man must face who he is, which is even harder with his father being so conformist. He must also accept his family, his brothers who are all very different from one another (from the bookworm to the bum), his parents, his cousin Brigitte, his girlfriend Michelle and his religion. Adolescence, basically.
It’s true that it must have been extremely difficult to admit to being gay back then, but even now, despite all the progress, mentalities haven’t completely changed. But the film isn’t only about that, there are also moments of fantasy and of comedy, moments made to remember the seventies and family reunions, adolescence and first loves, tobacco and drugs, music and especially relations between parents and children. It’s a touching movie, even for those who have not been through similar situations.
I also have to mention that the soundtrack of this movie is truly superb, it even makes you feel like finding a certain Patsy Cline album.
The movie was chosen to represent Canada in the 78th Oscar race, so it’s definitely worth checking out. [April 2006: It didn’t win the Oscar, but it did get 11 Genies and 14 Jutras; it also made a return to the big screen by popular request, after the DVD came out. A first!]
All in all: A must-see.

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Les Dangereux [French language] (2002)
http://www.christalfilms.com/fr/content/view/full/89
The French Canadian movie with the biggest budget ever and a box-office success to match. So I was expecting a lot, maybe too much, which means that I was disappointed.
Roxanne Labelle, a Québec singer with an international career, gets kidnapped. Her kidnappers contact her father, Paul Labelle, who is also her manager, and they ask for a million dollars as ransom. It just so happens that her father has debts with the mafia and he owes them money as well; it is therefore very important for him to free his daughter in time for her to give a performance that very evening at the Molson Center, which will enable him to get more money in his bank account. He now has to find someone who will be ready to risk his life to hand over the ransom to the kidnappers... And what a coincidence, one of the young accountants who work for him, Francis Jobin, discovers that a massive amount of money has been embezzled from Roxanne’s bank account. When he informs his boss of this, hoping to move along his career, he doesn’t have a clue that it’s actually his boss who did the embezzling! Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Paul Labelle decides to send Francis, who knows too much, hand the money over for Roxanne’s release. He also hires two hit men (Dirty Henri and Tiger) who have to follow Francis and kill him once he hands over the money and then bring Roxanne back to her father. The story gets even more complicated: Francis also has to take care of his brother, who threatens to kill himself, while he unknowingly dodges the hitmen’s bullets. Roxanne, on the other hand, has to make do with the fact that of her three kidnappers, one is completely incompetent (he goes by the name of Bing) and another one (Rachelle) is a big fan of hers and keeps asking for her autograph, even though she is bound and gagged. The other kidnapper, the mastermind (Boiteuse), isn’t evil but has slight pyromaniac tendencies. And we musn’t forget Johanne, Paul Labelle’s ex-wife and Roxanne’s mother, who wants her alimony.
I found this movie a little too exaggerated. Of course, there were funny moments, but I thought it was a bit incoherent on the whole and without general purpose. Some moments reminded me of Amélie, like when the movie suddenly stops for the narrator to introduce a character. I more than loved Amélie, but this time I thought that it lacked originality because the plagiarism was too obvious. Some moments were too far-fetched, for others the comedy was too light. Even the explosion didn’t impress me. But as I said in the beginning, it’s possible that I had that impression simply because I was expecting too much.
All in all: You should see it only in one of these two situations:
1) You have an interest in French Canadian movies and you want to see this one so that you can understand what everyone was talking about; or
2) One evening, when you have nothing better to do, you’re flipping through the channels on TV when you stop on TQS and that parody of American films happens to be the movie that’s playing.

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The Da Vinci Code (2006)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thedavincicode

Yes, you heard what all the other critics had to say about this, as well as the infamous Rotten Tomatoes rating for this movie. But I disagree. Granted, I’m the only person left in North America who still hasn’t read the book. Of course the plot of the book would be better; there’s no way you can adapt the whole thing to a movie. I still feel that the screenwriters did a good job. The movie raises the same theories as the book and stays true to the essential (or so I’m told by friends of mine who have read it). And I did not feel that the pace of the movie was too slow (if anything, I sometimes felt that the characters were moving too quickly – like how do you get on a bus in London when you don’t have any pounds with you?).
Some people say it’s controversial, but they’re mostly conservative extremists who never bothered to look into how the Bible came to be. The Da Vinci Code is fiction and was never presented otherwise. Jesus could have been married, for all we know (what, you think he can walk on water but don’t think he could have had a wife?). Those are theories that have been around for decades and that many people accept.
Alright, so I won’t bother summarizing the movie for you, you probably know the gist of it unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years. I thought the actors did a really good job (some did a great job); the special effects were good and not overused. It’s like a really good treasure hunt.
All in all: I really liked it; you should see it even if you have read the book (and if you haven’t, then what the heck are you waiting for?).

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The Dark Knight (2008)
http://thedarkknight.warnerbros.com

Finally, a movie so good I’ve seen it twice already, including once in IMAX. This long-awaited sequel to Batman Begins did not disappoint (I was almost afraid it would, because the publicity campaign, parts of which were almost underground, was so cool that the hype it created seemed hard to live up to).
In this installment, Gotham has a new villain, the Joker, who starts by messing with the mafia to make his point and then goes after Batman more personally. Meanwhile, Batman is hunted by police, since vigilantes are outlaws.
One of the reasons this movie works so well is because the series has been rebooted and is much more realistic (and less campy) than before. Of course, this also makes it much darker, as Batman was originally intended to be, so under no circumstances should you take your young children to see this. I love the fact that Batman has an expert (Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman) to help him with all the gadgets, because Bruce Wayne and Alfred couldn’t possibly do it all themselves. I also love the bad boy image Bruce Wayne has (it makes for good laughs, even though I love Adam West’s interpretation).
As far as story-telling goes, this is a masterpiece. The opening scene puts you right in the middle of the action and has your full attention immediately. Even though the movie is long, its pace is relatively even, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested the whole time. And the soundtrack is genius.
Of course, kudos go to Heath Ledger. This movie showcases his master thespian skills, and the Joker was by far his best role yet. There were times when I could hear Cesar Romero in his laughter (but a much darker version of it, of course). In and of itself, his performance is worthy of at least being nominated for an Oscar. That being said, because of his untimely death, I think he might just win the award (and Michelle Williams will accept it on his behalf, just watch). Also, despite how much I like Katie Holmes, I have to say that Maggie Gyllenhaal does an incredible job with the role, and I liked her interpretation better. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman are as good as ever, and I still love Michael Caine’s Alfred. Oh, and Aaron Eckhart was awesome as Harvey Dent and Two-Face (the special effects on the latter were amazing – I couldn’t have asked for better).
I just wish Batman’s absurdly deep voice weren’t veering into campy territory.
All in all: A fantastic movie, which I’d see again anytime.

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Dear Frankie (2004)
http://www.miramax.com/dearfrankie/
Set in Scotland, this movie is about a single mother, Lizzie (played by Emily Mortimer), who’s raising her son Frankie as best she can by keeping a father figure in his life. She protects him from the truth by telling him that his father is a sailor and that his ship is at sea, that’s why he can’t be with them. So Frankie, who’s deaf, writes letters to his father; Lizzie secretly replies to those letters and buys foreign stamps to mail them, making Frankie think that they are from his dad. One day, however, a ship comes into port and her name is the same as Frankie’s father’s ship. Frankie of course expects his dad to finally be there for his soccer game the following Saturday. So Lizzie hires a man (played by Gerard Butler) to pose as Frankie’s father for the day, but she gets more than she bargained for…
This was a lovely film, one of those "we don’t need a big budget simply because our plot is good enough" treasures. The story is very interesting and it feeds you little pieces of information to keep your attention. It is touching, but not in a kitsch way. It makes you laugh and some parts may make you cry. The actors are all really good, including the children. And you have to expect a Scottish accent, obviously, which I thought was charming.
All in all: A lovely film that I absolutely recommend.

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The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
http://www.devilwearspradamovie.com

The Devil Wears Prada, or yet another reason why Meryl Streep should get one more Oscar. The woman can do everything! Drama or comedy, she not only pulls it off, she does an amazing job every time.
This movie, based on the book based on a true story, stars Anne Hathaway as a young aspiring journalist (Andrea) who lands a coveted job at Runway magazine, the biggest fashion reference around. Her boss, the most powerful woman in the industry, is demanding and unapologetic beyond belief (hence the title). Andrea has to learn fast and conform to the fashion world, but she starts to loose her identity (and her friends) in the process.
It’s a very funny movie, with a plot that’s actually quite good. The actors are really great, and there are cameos by real celebrities in the industry. You actually realize that the fashion industry influences us a lot more than you’d think (just listen to Meryl explain to Andrea how the latter was able to buy her cerulean blue shirt). The trailer for this, which pretty much showed the first ten minutes of the movie, was a good way of explaining the premise without giving too much away.
All in all: A really good fun movie.

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Dirty Pretty Things (2003)
http://www.go underground.com
Audrey Tautou’s first English-language film. I was hoping it would broaden her audience a bit, but this movie is dark and bizarre and won’t actually appeal to a wide audience.
It is the story of two illegal immigrants in London: Okwe is from Lagos (Nigeria) and was a medical doctor back there, but in London he is a taxi driver by day and works at the reception desk at the Baltic Hotel by night; Senay is a young Muslim woman from Turkey and works as a maid in the hotel. They are both living and working clandestinely in England and must therefore watch out for immigration authorities. One evening, Okwe discovers a human heart blocking the lavatory in room 510. Calling the police is out of the question because his illegal status would be discovered, so Okwe talks to his friend who works in a hospital mortuary, but no one has reported a body with a missing heart. This leads Okwe to believe that the heart must have belonged to an illegal immigrant, which would explain why the death went unreported. After a little digging around, he discovers that his boss, Sneaky, is in the trade of organs on the black market: immigrants sell him one of their organs, usually a kidney, in exchange for a passport and a new identity. Sneaky tries to convince Okwe to become the surgeon who removes those organs, since the current “surgeon” is obviously not qualified for the job, but Okwe refuses to have anything to do with it. That is, until his friend Senay becomes so desperate for a passport that she decides to sell her own kidney for it...
I have to admit that I don’t like the way the movie was advertized. The only person on the publicity poster is Audrey Tautou and even then she looks much different than she ever does in the movie; the other characters were completely left out of the shot even though the story is more about Okwe than about Senay. Also, if you were trying to get rid of a body without alerting suspicion, why would you flush the heart down a toilet while disposing of the body someplace else? Why wouldn’t you just leave it in the body and then get rid of all the evidence? Or heck, while you’re at it, why not sell the heart on the black market along with the kidney?
The actors themselves did a very good job though, Audrey Tautou is always a pleasure to see and Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an excellent performance as Okwe. And of course, the story may not be that far from the truth since the illegal trade of organs on the black market is an existing problem. The movie also opens your eyes to the fact that there are some very qualified professionals out there who are stuck driving cabs and cleaning rooms, simply because the government makes it near-impossible for them to practise their trade here (and then they complain that we don’t have enough doctors...).
All in all: A somewhat unusual film with a dark subject and dark images, but if you don’t mind seeing a kidney on screen you could enjoy this one. The ending was also surprising, but in a somewhat good way. Rent it if you feel like something different.

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Le Divorce (2003)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/ledivorce/
It’s funny because this is the second movie in a row that Kate Hudson made that starts the same way: cartoon drawings of the characters on a white background, with a soundtrack of old French songs. Coincidence, or conspiracy? ;o)
Well, Roxanne (Naomi Watts) is an American poet living in Paris with her husband Charles-Henri (who is French, obviously) and their daughter Gennie. When Roxanne becomes pregnant again, her sister Isabel (Kate Hudson) comes to live with her to help out. And just as she gets there, Charles-Henri leaves his wife for another woman. Roxanne is opposed to divorce for many reasons, moral as well as practical, not the least of which being that in France, custody of the children is usually awarded to the French parent. This means that Roxanne would probably get to spend very little time with her children, even though she has no plans to leave Paris. She would also have to divide her property with her husband, property which might include the portrait of saint Ursule that her parents have lent her and that has been in her family forever but which people now believe to be an authentic de Latour. Meanwhile, Isabel thrives in Paris, gets herself a job with a friend of her sister’s, starts going out with a young Parisian (a big-haired Romain Duris, who was in L’Auberge espagnole) and she also becomes the mistress of Roxanne’s uncle-in-law (Thierry Lhermitte). Furthermore, we find out that Charles-Henri’s new love interest, Magda, has a jealous husband who seems quite deranged and keeps trying to approach Roxanne. The two sisters must now figure out the meanings of L’Amour and Le Divorce, Parisian style (I’m not giving away the ending).
There is a very good mix of French and English in this movie, there are subtitles in the original version but I would be curious to know how that came out in the French translation. And since the movie was shot in Paris, for once it is real French, not the butchered French that Hollywood usually serves us. Kate Hudson still has a strong accent, but I’m pleased to say that her French got a little better since Almost Famous. And Naomi Watts is actually quite good in French. However, there are many stereotypes in this movie, both about the French and the Americans, but I do have to admit that one or two of them seem to be true. You probably won’t be able to look at Kelly bags and silk scarves the same after that. I also have to wonder how a poet and an artist, who say they are not making that much money, can afford such an apartment in Paris and such expensive luncheons all the time. By the way, there is an Amélie in this film as well, were it only briefly. ;o)
I would have to say that the plot, overall, seemed a little unbelievable, more the kind of thing that you would find in a paperback novel than in a movie. But then again, this was based on a New York Times best-seller, so that probably explains it. I also found it surprising that they had so much trouble casting an actress to play Roxanne; apparently, all the Hollywood actresses who were approached turned the role down because they would have to look pregnant for almost the entire movie and they didn’t want to appear unattractive. Am I the only one who thinks pregnant women are beautiful? Especially Naomi Watts, she looked superb and her acting was wonderful as well. But then again she’s Australian, not Hollywoodian, and I hope she stays that way. There are also small roles held by Leslie Caron, Stockard Channing and Glenn Close, all of whom seemed delighted to have a trip to Paris in exchange for a little acting. And the French songs aren’t all old, of course, there’s even Carla Bruni’s latest hit single [review written in 2003] (and it is rare for an American movie to have so many foreign-language songs on their soundtrack).
All in all: I really liked this movie, it was light without being too airy and I recommend it. Don’t forget to stay for the closing credits, they are original.

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Dodging the Clock (2005)
http://www.allianceatlantisvivafilm.com/synopsis.asp?TitleID=81559
A French Canadian movie on an interesting subject, i.e. the reaction of men when faced with fatherhood. Sébastien has recently become a father, Paul (a bit self-obsessed) panics at the idea of his girlfriend being pregnant, and the last thing Fred wants is to have a baby with his girlfriend. All those girlfriends realize, at about the same time, that they’re sharing their lives with… cavemen. The soundtrack is almost entirely made up of songs from the 1980s, which symbolise the fact that the guys are still thinking like teenagers.
It’s from the same producers as Québec-Montréal, and it shows, in the sense that the characters seem to be dropped on the screen from nowhere and that the movie ends without a real conclusion. I think it’s a shame to rely so heavily on stereotypes and to avoid actually digging into the subject. Men are not cavemen who play baseball while waiting for the next hunting trip. The male characters talk to each other in a superficial way, while the female characters are not developed, and forget about the relationships. So even though the subject is interesting and parts of the movie are hilarious, you’ll come out of it feeling a bit disappointed.
All in all: Good, no more.

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Dogville (2004)
http://www.tvropa.com/Dogville/
The story is set in the Depression era’s rural Colorado. Nicole Kidman plays Grace Mulligan, a woman who is on the run from the mob. She comes into Dogville looking for shelter and meets Tom Edison (played by Paul Bettany), the town’s self-proclaimed moral guide. Tom convinces Dogville’s fifteen inhabitants to let Grace stay with them and hide from the mob if she can win them over in two weeks. So she sets out to do good deeds and to help each household with their daily chores: she reads to old Mr. McKay who’s blind, she babysits Chuck and Vera’s children, she helps with the Henson’s store, she weeds old Ma Ginger’s gooseberry bushes, etc. She does all the things that the inhabitants didn’t really need, but wanted done. Soon though, they all come to realize the power that they have over Grace and she sees that their help has a heavy price... They know that she cannot leave the town because the gangsters would find her, so they begin to take advantage of her and of her situation. She cannot fight back but still hopes against hope to see the good in each of them emerge.
This movie, written and directed by Lars von Trier, is one of the most unconventional movies of the year, a masterpiece that most people are going to hate. The story is classically told, with an introduction and nine precise chapters; there’s also an omniscient narrator explaining what’s happening on screen. The most surprising thing about this movie, though, is the set. It is all shot on a soundstage set up as if for a play rather than a movie: the houses consist of chalk lines on the floor with simple writings next to them (“Chuck and Vera’s” inside Chuck and Vera’s house, “Old Lady’s Bench” next to the old lady’s bench, “Gooseberry bushes” next to the outline of three bushes on the floor, even “Dog” next to the drawing of a dog in white chalk). There aren’t even doors on these houses, although you see the actors mime opening the door when they come out of a house and you can hear the noise of the door opening and closing. The changes in weather and daytime are conveyed through simple, but efficient, changes in the light onstage. This really lets us see how small the town is and how all the action happens right in the center of it; there’s nothing to experience anywhere else. The characters themselves are more interesting than endearing. But whereas the setting is deliberately artificial, Grace’s journey seems incredibly real.
It’s a movie about human nature, about how you can’t know what your true nature is until you have had complete power over another human being. Although it was a bit long, it was a dark comedy that was different, original and experimental. Just when you think you know where it’s going, there’s a twist that gives you a whole new perspective on the matter. It is a film not about Americans but about humanity in general, a film that demands to be seen if not necessarily liked. All of the actors give very good performances, especially Nicole Kidman.
All in all: A must see. You’ll walk out of it feeling almost like you have just read a good book, it is a film of ideas and a refreshing change from most movies made so far.

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Elizabethtown (2005)
http://java.europe.yahoo.com/uk/uip/elizabethtown/home.html

It is now official: Orlando Bloom is fully capable of having the lead in a movie where he does not play a period character – and he’s quite convincing, in fact. Here, he plays Drew Baylor, who loses his job and his girlfriend the same day, and then learns that his father has died, which makes him postpone his suicide plans. He goes to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to bring back his father’s body, and he visits his extended family for the first time in a long time. Kirsten Dunst plays Claire, a quirky flight attendant he meets on the way. An unexpected love story ensues, as the two find that the chemistry between them is undeniable. Their lives become intertwined as Claire decides to help Drew heal. She ends up making him the greatest road-map ever: 42 hours and 11 minutes of music and pictures, accompanied by detailed directions to lead him along the way and show him the beauty in little things.
Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer have supporting roles, to the public’s delight.
This Cameron Crowe film will give you the same feel-good after-effect as Almost Famous – not a sugary, sappy, “that was cute” kind of feel-good, but a deep-down, to the core, “I’m going to be smiling about this for days” kind of feel-good. It’s about family, music, roadtrips, and the myriad of other wonderful things that make up life. The actors’ great performances must be mentioned here. Kirsten Dunst was considered for the role of Penny Lane in Almost Famous; even though she didn’t get it, it’s obvious that the director saw her talent and kept her in mind for this film. She lights up the screen, as always. Orlando Bloom also gives an incredible performance and there is great chemistry between the actors. The dialogues are clever and will bring you some laugh-out-loud moments. And, as is always the case with this director, the sound track of this fictionally autobiographical movie is fabulous.
There’s also a lesson to be learned, since this film proves that a person’s worth is not defined only by their successes, but by their greatness. Just because you are the cause of the most monumental failure in your industry’s history doesn’t mean your idea wasn’t great (you’ll have to watch it to get this ;).
All in all: Another must see. It’s really not as light as it looks.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
http://www.eternalsunshine.com
(And for kicks: http://www.lacunainc.com/)

I just saw this again and I can’t believe I didn’t find the time to write about it the first time I saw it. It’s one of the most intelligent and original movies out there. Joel realizes one day that Clementine, his ex-girlfriend, has had him erased from her memory. Out of spite, he decides to erase her from his memory as well, so that he won’t have to deal with the pain of a failed relationship. He goes to the clinic that performs this procedure and soon, he is getting rid of everything that reminds him of Clementine. But as the staff starts the treatment and his memories begin to slip away, Joel regrets his decision, because he’s losing all the beautiful memories he had of her. He tries to stop things while he still has something to hold on to Clementine. There are certain twists and turns that I won’t spoil for you.
It’s a wildly imaginative film, with beautiful shots that are impressive and well executed. Characters end up the size of children (with huge furniture), there are books where pages are completely blank, things that disappear as they are forgotten… Not only are the special effects fantastic, but the line between reality and things that are happening in Joel’s mind is sometimes really thin, and the contrast is well exploited. The opening credits are actually 18 minutes into the film, to outline a difference in time and memory. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet both give excellent performances, and Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo have great supporting roles. The characters are real and raw. It’s a movie that makes you wonder, that makes you remember your own Joels and Clementines.
All in all: Absolutely brilliant. Another one of those overlooked gems.

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Finding Nemo (2003)
http://www.pixar.com/featurefilms/nemo/
The biggest-grossing movie of the year and biggest grossing animated movie of all time [review written in July 2003]. Just for that it should be worth seeing, so you know what’s going on at next year’s Oscars (we know it’s going to be nominated because of the new Animated Movie category and the fact that they now have to fill those candidate spaces). In a nutshell: Papa Fish and Mama Fish just got a new home (with an ocean view, what else) where they plan to raise their 400 offspring once all those eggs hatch. But then a big sturgeon swims by and makes a meal out of Mama Fish and 399 of the eggs, scratching the surface of the last one. This results in a deformity in Baby Fish, Nemo: one of his fins is much smaller than the other and it is therefore harder for him to swim than it is for a normal fish. Also, this experience has made Papa Fish completely paranoid about what dangers might be lurking out there just waiting to harm his son. So Nemo isn’t allowed to do... well, anything. One day, sick of all this overprotectivness, he swims out further than is allowed and gets caught by a dentist living in Sydney, who puts him in the fish tank decorating his office. So Papa Fish, braving all his fears, makes his way to Sydney Harbor to save his son, with the help of an Angel Fish suffering from short term memory loss. The special effects used to represent the Harbor are very impressive. They all make new friends along the way and they discover two things: Nemo isn’t as handicapped by his fin as he thought, and Papa Fish has to ease up a bit on his son and let him discover the world.
Here’s what surprised me: even though it is an animated movie that children will enjoy, I think that adults will enjoy it a lot more than them. The message of the movie is aimed at adults, the jokes are aimed at adults (like the sharks that seem to have their own AA thing going on, or the hippie-granola sea turtles riding the EAC), even the characters seem to appeal more to adults. And you won’t ever look at seagulls the same way again.
All in all: You have got to see this at some point.

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The Forgotten
http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/theforgotten/
The preview made it look really good. A mother whose son died is suddenly told that her son never existed. All her pictures of him are gone and no one, not even her husband, remembers the boy. Her psychiatrist tells her that she made him up. But she doesn’t believe him; after all, she has nine years of memory of this child. So she sets out to find out what is going on. Another man’s daughter died with her son; the man doesn’t remember either child at first, but then she finds evidence that the daughter did exist and the man not only suddenly remembers, but helps her in her investigation. All while both of them are on the run from – get this – National Security. And next thing you know, witnesses get sucked into the sky, as the two parents start to think that maybe their children are still alive (why else would people try to cover up their very existence, right?).
The original idea seemed quite good: a woman is told that her child never existed, that she made him up. It’s interesting; you want to know what happens. But then this happens. With what they dare call a surprise, twist ending. Yeah, my ass. It wasn’t credible, and even if it was, it really wasn’t worth it. This is a case of good actors giving good performances and doing the very best they can with a bad script and an incredibly disappointing ending. Even the alternate ending on the DVD wasn’t any better.
All in all: There’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Don’t waste your time with this one, it’s not worth it.

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Freaky Friday (2003)
http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/liveaction/freakyfriday/html/index_flash.html?
I hadn’t gone to see that one at first, because even though it seemed like a good story, I was afraid that the previews had given away all the best parts. Then, a friend of mine assured me that no, the movie still had a lot of good moments to offer. And... it turns out that she was right! ;o) It is not just aimed at a young audience, it is actually fun for the whole family (wow, I sound like a paid commercial here!).
A mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her daughter (Lindsay Lohan) are fighting constantly. The daughter, Anna, feels that her mother’s life is perfect and that her mother doesn’t understand her. She also resents her widowed mother’s upcoming wedding to the man Anna fells is trying to replace her father. The mother, Dr. Tess Coleman, feels that her daughter isn’t trying hard enough in school, that she is making bad decisions in choosing her clothes, her friends and a potential boyfriend (Jake), and that her music is taking up too much of her time. So the meddling owner of a Chinese restaurant they go to decides to fix their problem and curses them: their minds are now in each other’s bodies and they have to walk a mile in each other’s shoes; the curse will end only when they feel selfless love toward one another. So through awkward quid proquos and hilarious situations, the two experience a newfound respect for each other and see each other in a more comprehensive light. It turns out that the mother’s life isn’t half as easy as it seems but that her daughter’s happiness is the most important thing to her, and it becomes clear that Anna truly is trying her best to succeed and that she is quite a good judge of character after all. Of course it ends well, it is a Disney movie after all.
I don’t want to give the best moments away, because then I would be doing what I don’t like previews to do. I will say that the music is actually very good (it turns out that the daughter’s band, Pink Slips, is extremely talented and you can’t help but wonder what they are still doing in a garage instead of getting gigs and auditions more often). It is interesting to me that the music played such a big role in this movie, because of course it couldn’t have come out the same way in the book that it is based on. Again, this is another book I’ve never read, but I can’t really imagine how all these scenes were written out in the first place, I don’t know how they could have seemed so alive and funny. I particularly loved the scene where Jake sings outside the window (and it turns out that he really does love Anna for her mind, with the results that you can imagine).
All in all: This is much better than it looks, go see it if you’re in the mood for a cute comedy, it’s very funny! (Although you have to realize that the idea isn’t new, so you might experience some déjà vu).

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Frida (2002)
http://www.miramax.com/frida/
“Journey into... the mystery... of a woman... who was desired by men... and by women... for her passion... for her art... for everything that was... Frida.” Frida Kahlo was a political and artistic revolutionary, not just in Mexico but affecting the entire world as well. A debilitating bus accident early in her life left her crippled, her back, ribs and leg broken and her lower body impaled on a metal rod. She would spend the rest of her life in pain as a result, but this is what allowed her art to be what it is. It was during her recovery, as she lay immobilized in bed, that she began to paint to pass the time. She later met with renowned artist Diego Rivera so that he could appraise her work, and the two eventually fell in love and married. Theirs was a marriage based on loyalty if not fidelity, as both were prone to take lovers; Frida actually often stole her husband’s lovers. Many trips influenced Frida’s paintings and her style, then new and unique, is now legendary. She was the first Latin American artist to have one of her paintings hanging in the Louvre. As her health worsened, she turned more and more towards art to let out her pain and the work she has produced is unsurpassed to this day. She was also active in politics, giving a voice to the Mexican people during the Revolution and giving asylum to Trostky as he fled Russia.
This movie is the wonderful story of the woman who is now the world’s most famous and intriguing female artist. Frida was so shocking because she was openly honest about who she was and defied all conventions in order to be herself. Her work was also brutally honest and the movie lets us experience all of it. The sights, sounds and colors of Mexico bleed through the screen. This movie won the 2003 Academy Awards for Best Makeup and Best Music. The special effects are also breathtaking and literally make the paintings come to life. Special appearances by Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Geoffrey Rush and Edward Norton. Salma Hayek, who has the title role, fought for almost seven years to make this movie come to life, and it was worth every minute. Now one of my all-time favorites. Oh, and the website in itself could be enough to seduce you. Just click on http://www.miramax.com/frida/.
All in all: If you know who Frida is, or if you would like to learn more about her, you will absolutely love this movie.

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Gangs of New York (2002)
http://video.go.com/gangsofnewyork/
We all heard the hoopla over this movie. It was released later than planned, it was Daniel Day-Lewis’s come-back, Leo’s first big role since Titanic (well, unless you count The Beach, but then again who does?), it was a big-budget Scorsese film. Well, that’s almost three hours of my life I’ll never get back. Don’t get me wrong, the costumes are great, the background and sets are great, the actors all do a good job. But I was bored out of my mind almost the entire time, squirming on my couch trying to get comfortable and wait either for the action to pick up or for the movie to end, whichever came first. They spent too much time explaining little things when a quick reminder, at most, would have done the job (like if I see John C. Reily in the beginning of the movie fighting alongside Priest Vallon, and then again 15 minutes later looking exactly the same even though 16 years have passed, I don’t need a complete rerun of the fight with close-up on Reily to realize who he is, thank you very much). Sure, the ruthless stories about Old New York, the Immigrants vs the Natives and the Five Points are interesting, but do we need three hours of them when we can guess the ending anyways? The fade-out from 1860 to 2000 is very well-done and the end-credits are original, and one of the very good things about the end-credits is that the movie is finally over.
All in all: Don’t waste your time with this one, go rent Frida instead (or Catch Me If You Can if you needed a dose of Leo, now that was a good movie).

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Garden State (2004)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/gardenstate/
Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an aspiring actor in LA and is strung out on Lithium to keep him from feeling anything. When his mother dies, he goes back home to New Jersey, "The Garden State," to attend the funeral. That gives him the occasion to see his father (Ian Holm), who is also his psychiatrist and who he hasn’t spoken to in nine years. He also meets up with his high-school friends, who are now a gravedigger in the Jewish cemetery (Peter Sarsgaard), a millionaire who invented silent velcro and a knight in a medieval restaurant. Large decides to stop taking the drugs, to see what will happen. He also meets Sam (admirably played by Natalie Portman), a quirky compulsive liar who inspires him to start living.
This low-budget movie was written and directed by Zach Braff himself. He did a wonderful job; the script is unusual but very entertaining. The comic moments make you forget that this is actually a drama. The characters are extremely interesting and have all these layers that you keep discovering throughout the film, as you find out more about their history. The actors did a fantastic job, Zach Braff and Natalie Portman especially. It’s good to finally see Natalie in a role that showcases her talent. The dialogues are pretty insightful and as I said, there are some very funny moments. The soundtrack is also excellent and very present throughout the movie. It’s a film about getting through your early twenties and enjoying life in the moment, about not forgetting to laugh in between bouts of crying.
All in all: An excellent movie, a quirky almost art-house feel while remaining funny and down-to-earth enough to interest everyone. You have got to see this one.

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Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)
http://www.girlwithapearlearringmovie.com/
The story is set in the Netherlands, in the town of Delft (population of 25 000), in the year 1665. Griet, a young girl of 17, has to find work in order to help her family survive. She becomes a maid in the house of Johannes Vermeer. She helps with food preparation, laundry, taking care of the children and also cleaning Master Vermeer’s studio. The family lives with the latter’s mother-in-law as they try to maintain their bourgeois lifestyle with only the meagre income from Vermeer’s paintings. He must rely on commissions from his patron to make a living from his art. Griet is a quiet but hard-working girl and she is determined to do the best she can in life. As she has an instinctive understanding about art and color composition (she arranges vegetables in a serving plate for optimal viewing pleasure, she very quickly learns how to mix colors for painting and she can see three colors in a simple cloud), Vermeer opens up to her and shows her the world in a different way. Soon, a tension develops between them, as they come to realize that they have feelings for each other but that their union could never be. Meanwhile, Vermeer’s patron also takes a fancy to Griet: he wants to takes her to his bed, but Vermeer refuses; they reach an agreement, that Vermeer will do a portrait of her for him. Griet, of course, is uncomfortable with all the attention and she knows that nothing good ever came from a simple maid posing for such an artist. She doesn’t have a choice, however: she needs to keep her job so she must obey her master while keeping up with her housework, but at the same time she has to hide it from her mistress, who would be furious. Something is missing from the composition of the painting and Vermeer finally decides that the addition of his wife’s pearl earring on the subject would be perfect; but of course his wife can’t find out that her jewellery is missing... And one of the children soon senses that something is going on...
This movie is quite accurate historically and the story is entirely credible, but it is still fiction. Vermeer’s life was reconstructed from notes gathered from birth certificates, his marriage licence, legal documents (such as sales notes and letters of debt), and his patron’s will. For those of you who want to know, he spent all his life in Delft. He and his wife had 11 surviving children and he died at the age of 43, probably from a heart attack attributed to stress (he went into debt as the war between France and the Netherlands caused the collapse of the art market and the family’s ruin). His studio was in the house he lived in, his mother-in-law’s house, and it is likely that most of his work was done there. Only 35 existing paintings are attributed to him. I loved the amount of research that went into making this movie (and into writing the novel on which it was based). We see some of his paintings throughout the film and have some background information on them. I actually hadn’t realized just how dependent on their patron artists were. Also, the studio Vermeer works in matches exactly the backgrounds in his real paintings. So, on this background of facts from Vermeer’s life, we see the (fictional) story of the girl who inspired his most famous painting. The setting is fantastic: the costumes, sets and accessories give an incredibly real feel to the plot, it seems that we really are living in 17th century Europe. It is almost like a fictional documentary, everything about the living conditions is exposed and brought to life, from the butcher’s shop to vegetables and food preparation in general to doing the laundry to part of the sanitation system. And Griet’s hands are very dirty and damaged from her work, the makeup job on that is excellent. The actors are also wonderful; Colin Firth plays Vermeer, Scarlett Johansson does give an amazing performance as Griet, and Essie Davis (as Vermeer’s wife) should get an honorable mention as well.
All in all: A beautiful movie, with a delightful blend of fact and fiction; a must-see for a quiet evening.

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Head in the Clouds (2004)
http://www.sonyclassics.com/headintheclouds/
I attended the world premiere of the movie! (*Happy dance*) The movie is set in Europe in the ‘30s and ‘40s, after a very brief glimpse at one of the characters in 1924. In 1933 in Cambridge, Gilda Bessé (Charlize Theron) meets Guy (Stuart Townsend) when she hides in his dorm room one night. He quickly becomes infatuated with her but, although she does like him, she has no intention of abandoning her hedonistic lifestyle for him. She then moves to Paris and Guy eventually joins her there, in the apartment she shares with Mia (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish model studying to be a nurse. Gilda has become a fashion photographer and lives more freely than ever. The three of them live a seemingly ideal life for a while, but soon the idealist Guy and Mia decide to go to Spain to fight against the fascists while Gilda is reluctantly left behind in Paris, even though she has made it clear that she loves both of them. Then World War II breaks out and Paris is occupied… Life will never be the same for them again.
Wonderful actors with good chemistry (not hard to do for Charlize and Stuart, as they are a couple in real life). Also, David LaHaye and Karine Vanasse both have roles in this movie, although Karine’s role is small and David plays a less than likable character. The sets are good, even if one has an obviously fake background (it was probably shot in the Old Port of Montreal, though, so the background had to look more like Paris). The costumes were very nice and the soundtrack was lovely. I also loved how the shots were interspersed with actual footage from the War and the real announcements that were made on the radio during that time. Beneath its appearances of a fictionalized documentary, it is a movie about the paradox of living life to the fullest and taking advantage of each opportunity, versus having your destiny set in stone already. And it turns out that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive…
The title comes from the fact that Gilda seemed to remain oblivious to the war, as if her head was in the clouds, but in the end she was probably more aware of it than anyone.
I hesitate to give more away, as this is still supposed to be somewhat hush-hush. But let’s just say that it does drag on for years and years, without much action in between and with characters who hardly change, even physically, from a decade to the next. There didn’t seem to be a strong point in the plot, no edge-of-your-seat moment, just some going along with the characters. The dialogue is very funny in parts, though.
I didn’t think I had time to build it up that much in my mind, since I hadn’t even seen a preview when I attended the premiere, but maybe that’s what just happened. Famous actors, Quebec actors, shot in Montreal… maybe I did build it up too much after all and that’s why I was a bit disappointed.
All in all: A good movie. Not impressive in a Schindler’s List way nor touching in a Life Is Beautiful way, but good.

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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002)
http://www.tiscali.fr/events/folie/

Audrey Tautou plays Angélique, a 22-year-old art student whose future looks very promising. She falls in love with a cardiologist in his forties, Dr. LeGarrec, who is married and whose wife is pregnant. The beginning of the movie gives us a look at their relationship, from Angélique’s point of view, who sees Valentine’s hearts everywhere. She has flowers delivered to him at his private clinic, she paints a portrait of him for his birthday, she can’t wait to go on a trip to Florence with him, she waits patiently for him to leave his wife like he promised, ... Meanwhile, her friends (the girl with whom she works and the guy who is in love with her) can’t help but tell her how unhealthy this relationship is, because this man says that he loves her but he is still with another woman, and since they’ll have a child together, he may find it impossible to completely cut her out of his life. One day, one of Dr. LeGarrec’s patients accuses him of having assaulted her, which destroys his reputation. Angélique holds that against this patient so she pays her a visit that same evening, and the patient is found dead the next morning... Dr. LeGarrec finds himself under arrest on murder charges.
Then, the movie rewinds, almost literally, and we rediscover their relationship, but this time through the eyes of Dr. LeGarrec, who sees anatomic hearts everywhere. But it turns out that their relationship isn’t exactly what Angélique has let us think... The cardiologist truly loves his wife and can’t wait for the birth of his child. Actually, he only rarely thinks about Angélique. But the evidence condemns him: his wife finds the painting Angélique gave him, she suspects that he’s receiving gifts from another woman, she even finds the key that Angélique gave him so that he could come into her house without having to knock. Could it be that the cardiologist doesn’t have anything to feel guilty about? What game is Angélique playing, exactly?
I liked the parallels made between the heart (red and cartoon-like with little cherubs floating around it) and the other heart (the anatomical organ), between a character who has a broken heart and another one who fixes sick hearts.
The more movies I see staring Audrey Tautou, the more I think that Amélie was the exception and that in reality, this girl has a mean and selfish side to her... The fact remains that she is a good actress. By the way, if you ever receive, as a wedding gift, a rare desert plant that has to live under a glass jar in very controlled conditions to survive and that it means the world to you, take care of it yourself, don’t trust anyone else with it, no matter how responsible they look!
All in all: A very good movie, that starts like a light romantic movie but that quickly turns more interesting and that has an ending that will turn your blood cold... If you feel like something different, go rent it!

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Hidalgo (2004)
http://hidalgo.movies.go.com/main.html
As I said in a previous review, I like horses and I like movies based on true stories, so this one is a no-brainer... But wait a minute - is it really a true story, as it is marketed to be? I don’t think so. While Frank T. Hopkins really did exist, the tales he tells in his autobiography seem to be tall tales instead of facts. No record exists of him in the American army, there is absolutely no proof that he knew Buffalo Bill or anyone else, for that matter, and even the 3000 mile race across the Arabian Desert seems to have been made up! (Just so you know, if it really had been 3000 miles, he would have ended up in Romania instead of Syria.) Check out http://www.thelongridersguild.com/independent.htm for more details about that.
Now, for the movie itself... Frank Hopkins is a cowboy of mixed blood (Sioux and Caucasian); he has been emotionally scarred by the battle at Wounded Knee and is reduced to re-enacting it, in a very unrealistic and unethical manner, in a travelling show. His trusty mustang, Hidalgo, is advertized as being the hardiest horse in the world. In 1890, this catches the attention of the Sheikh of Arabia, because he believes that his own pure-bred stallion is the hardiest horse in the world and his honor rests on that. He gives an ultimatum to Hopkins, telling him to either cease to promote Hidalgo in that fashion, or to come and take part in the annual 3000 mile race across the Arabian Desert, to see if Hidalgo really is hardier than his own stallion. Hopkins accepts the challenge, eager to prove that his horse and himself really do have the will and the stamina to win the race. So he crosses the ocean to go to North Africa, meeting an English Lady who is going to enter her own mare in the race, hoping not just to win the money prize but also to get exclusive breeding rights with the Sheikh’s stallion if she wins. Of course, all of the locals in the race, most of whom have royal blood, encourage him to drop out; they don’t like seeing a horse of mixed blood compete against their own pure-bred Arabians. When he doesn’t, they decide they’ll have to take matters into their own hands and keep him from crossing the finish line. Long story short, after facing jaguars, locusts, sand-storms, the Sheikh’s daughter and many angry men, Hidalgo and Hopkins finally get within sight of the finish line, along with the Sheik’s stallion and the Englishwoman’s mare... Now, according to Hopkins’s autobiography, the race took him about 68 days and he ended it one or two days ahead of the closest rival; of course, this being a movie that wants to create a little suspense, they cut it a lot closer in that version (and no, I don’t think that I gave the ending away, it is a Disney co-production after all).
The cast in this movie is very well chosen. Viggo Mortensen makes a good cowboy and has a nice Southern drawl. One thing that you should know before seeing the film, so hopefully you’ll enjoy it more: Omar Shariff actually plays the Sheikh. I hadn’t recognized him, seeing as how he wasn’t smack-dab in the middle of a Siberian landscape. The images were amazing: seeing desert scenery on a big screen was really impressive, and I loved the type of colors that were used during the “dream” sequences. The special effects were quite good as well. I liked how much effort was put into visual details. For example, there was obviously a lot of research into the props and costumes, both on the American and on the Arabian side. Also, even though the cowboy wasn’t quite as sunburned as you would expect him to be, his lips were really parched. Another small detail: Hidalgo has horse shoes, which is quite normal since he was semi-domesticated, but all the wild mustangs appeared to have bare hooves, which is perfectly logical as well - but it must have been hell during casting! One thing that I didn’t like, though: there is at least one scene in the beginning of the movie, during which Hidalgo is being taunted by sailors, that looked like the actors really were taunting the horse. I don’t like that. At all. Also, if your mother was a Sioux Indian, there’s no way you’ll be blond with blue eyes. And Hidalgo gets wounded during the race, but he can soon run without so much as a limp like he’s brand new, even though it seems like his wound was cauterized less than a day before. I know that the race must have been run over a very long period of time, but still, the way that it is shown in the movie is a bit hard to believe. The dialogues are actually pretty good, a few parts will make you laugh outright. And let’s not forget the fight choreographies and actions sequences!
All in all: If you can forget the part where this is supposed to be based on a true story, you will actually enjoy this one, it’s a good action film with a moral ending.

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The Hulk (2003)
http://www.thehulk.com/index_flash.html
At first, like anybody else, I was excited about this movie. Then I saw the previews. Am I the only one who thinks the Hulk looks like Shrek? I mean, this is the Hulk we’re talking about here, not some cartoon character in the middle of a live action movie (if I wanted to see that, I would go rent Who Framed Roger Rabbit or something). So out of principle, I refuse to go see this movie.
[July 2006: OK, I ended up having to see it, all in the line of duty, let me assure you. While I liked the effects used to cut from one scene to another, because they were reminiscent of a comic strip, and while the movie itself didn’t suck, I maintain what I said about the Hulk’s appearance.]

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Ice Age (2002)
http://www.iceagemovie.com/
It took me a while, but I finally saw it. It is Disney-Pixar’s 2002 animated movie about prehistoric creatures living in the Ice Age, with the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary. The story is set 20 000 years ago, as glaciers are moving in from the north, forcing all the animals to migrate south. All the animals except... Manfred, a wooly mammoth who is somewhat of an outsider and does things his own way, as well as Sid, a sloth who is definitely not street-smart, even though his heart is in the right place. Manfred does not want to migrate, and by the time Sid figures out that there is a migration, he doesn’t follow suit because he really doesn’t know which way is south anyway. He decides to stick around Manfred, whose size and might scare away predators. The two then come across a baby human who has been separated from his family by an angry pack of saber-toothed tigers. Sid finally convinces Manfred to help him reunite the baby with his “herd” of humans, but they are soon joined by Diego, one of the tigers, who tries to charm his way into their inner circle but who actually sees the baby as a tasty meal. The unlikely trio then journey together to the human village in order to return the baby, all the while periodically interrupted by Scrat, a hilarious and endearing prehistoric squirrel whose mission in life is to bury his acorn, catastrophic consequences be damned.
The animation was really fantastic, as we have come to expect from the Disney-Pixar team. The story-line was a bit unlikely, but hey, it’s a cartoon. The scene with the foraging dodos was absolutely hilarious, although I would like to point out that the reason these birds are extinct isn’t because of the Ice Age but indeed because of human poaching. Also, Sid may be a bit lazy, but he is WAY too fast for a sloth, even a cartoon one. But once you get over those details, the rest is smooth sailing. And Scrat never ceases to amuse me, right down to the very last scene of the movie.
All in all: You have got to see this one, it’s a classic.

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I Heart Huckabees (2004)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/huckabees/
This movie stars Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts as well as others, and Tippi Hedren has a small role. After a series of coincidences, Albert starts to ask himself deep philosophical questions and seeks the help of a team of existential detectives. They spy on him (in a very obvious way) in order to discover mundane details about his life, things that would give them clues on how to answer his questions. And since we are all connected, the people in his life become important characters: Brad, who took his job; Brad’s girlfriend, the Huckabees model; the tall dark stranger he keeps bumping into; his Other, the firefighter; the detectives and their nemesis; even Shania Twain. And there comes a point when the student may teach the masters a thing or two… The quirkiest part of the movie is when people start decomposing images in their mind, but everybody can see it; you’ll never look at Dustin Hoffman’s nose the same again.
It’s an existential comedy about the meaning of life, where Kafka references are thrown around, poems about the fight against urban sprawl abound and big orange plastic balls are useful therapy tools. It also shows the most disgusting love scene ever. It’s a weird movie, but it remains down to earth enough to appeal to a wide audience. It is extremely original, I don’t recall anyone treating this subject before, much less in this light-hearted way!
All in all: Watch this one if you want to see something different, but be aware that it may not solve all of your existential issues (although you could benefit from it).

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An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
http://www.climatecrisis.net

This is the Al Gore movie about global warming. It’s a documentary mostly made up of excerpts from the lecture he gave all over the world (and he’s a very good orator). It is interspersed with other footage on the same subject (global warming, or how he became involved in trying to fight global warming). That gives an interesting rhythm to the movie and it keeps the viewer’s interest. The fact that Al Gore has a very good sense of humour also helps.
What I liked the most about this documentary was how accurate it was. A recent article by the Associated Press quoted climatologists and other scientists who confirm that all the important information is in the documentary, and that it is all accurate. The movie dispels the notion that scientists are divided about the importance (or the existence) of global warming: All scientific articles point out how important global warming is and how humans are the culprits this time. It is only articles in the general press that are confusing the public about this issue (sometimes on purpose).
It is an enlightening movie, that not only educates about global warming but that gives you tools (along with the website) to help you fight it.
All in all: If you are planning on spending the next 15 to 20 years on Earth (or if you know anyone who is), then you don’t have a choice but to see this movie. Spread the word!

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The Italian Job (2003)
http://www.italianjobmovie.com/flash/index.html
I just saw the re-release, since I didn’t have the chance to see it the first time around. But it was definitely worth it. A group of six men pull off a “job” in Italy (so far, no surprises here). The job is actually a heist in Venice, which involves stealing $35 millions worth of gold bars from a private home, right under the nose of the owners. I won’t give away how they do it, but it is worth seeing. I also love how they used Venice to conduct a high-speed boat-chase through the canals. Unfortunately, one of the robbers (Edward Norton) turns on his friends and kills their mentor, played by Donald Sutherland (so don’t go see this movie just to see him, he dies after the first ten minutes; does the poor man do anything other than supporting roles these days?) and Ed gets away. So then the remaining four (Mark Wahlberg, Seth Green, Mos Def and another guy I’m not familiar with) must track him down to get their gold back (it’s a question of principle), and they convince their mentor’s daughter, played by Charlize Theron, to help them out (it’s a question of revenge). I liked the fact that the characters are developed instead of just dropped on the screen, we know about their personal history and their personality, which makes them more believable (even the Real Napster ;o).
The movie includes an impressive three-car-two-motorcycle-one-helicopter chase, the cars being those cute minis we saw in the previews. There is a lot of action, a few good jokes and an all-star cast. The plot is well worked-out, this is one of those action movies that is actually believable and quite interesting as well; the action sequences are icing on the cake and extremely enjoyable. The songs on the soundtrack are also very well chosen. But the ending, both the drop of the climax and the actual ending of the movie, were predictable.
All in all: If you didn’t get the chance to see this one the first time around, go rent it, it’s quite good.

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Kalamazoo (1987)
Warning : Do not read this review if you don’t want to know how the story ends! It’s more of an analysis than a review.

This is a movie by the film-maker Marc-André Forcier, starring Rémy Girard, Marie Tifo and Tony Nardi. As is the case with most films by this author of Québécois cinema, it’s a mix of realism and of imagination, a post-modern experimental film, atypical and hard to classify. It is both a romantic comedy and a surrealist fantasy, but the form itself is conventional (a linear story in three acts).
From the very first scene, where an artist painting a portrait tastes his paint before saying that there is too much red, we know that this movie is different. We are immediately dropped into the action with the characters on screen, Pascal Globenski and Wilfrid the cook, who are talking about Helena. We then see a sort of flashback where Félix Cotnoir (Rémy Girard) is writing a love letter at the wheel of his Checker, which he drives like a god. Cotnoir is a retired botanist, single and still a virgin. He meets Globenski (Tony Nardi), who tells him about the love of his life, Helena Mentana. The woman of Italian descent has gone to Halifax to take the ferry. Cotnoir falls in love with her, even though he has never met her. He then italianicizes his name to Feliciano Montenegro and leeches into Globenski’s life in order to meet Helena. He’s not even surprised when he sees her picture on the book she’s written (Kalamazoo), even though she’s a mermaid. Cotnoir really believes in his life with Helena, he has imagined a complete history with her and he thinks that they have a future together, that their love is mutual.
When Globenski sets sail toward Halifax to go meet Helena, Cotnoir is left on the shore and finds himself face to face with Helena (Marie Tifo), the mermaid, who starts speaking to him with a man’s voice and who displays nonchalant nudity. He takes her back home and every man who sees her falls in love with her; one even forgets how to speak French over it. However, Helena still loves Globenski, and Cotnoir sees this as treason; so he decides to find Globenski and prove to him that Helena is his. They find him, almost miraculously, and they reach the boat by swimming to it; Cotnoir climbs on board, but Helena disappears. The mermaid then reappears to Globenski, telling him that that you always reap what you sow in thought, and then she disappears again. Cotnoir and Globenski start fighting to know who is really Helena’s lover.
They finally reach land at Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. Cotnoir finds Helena again, but this time she has a woman’s voice. Like the other Helena, she has a mermaid’s tail (but hers in made of fabric) and wears ball gowns. She knows that he’s her lover and that she should know him, even though she can’t help but still love Pascal Globenski. Feliciano recites her entire book by heart, he speaks to her as if he had already lived with her, he asks her why she’s changed and he confesses that he’s loved her all his life. She finally finds her Pascal on the dock, as Feliciano, the man made younger by love who has replaced Félix, decides to leave them in peace and sails off. That’s when we realize that the mermaid is on the boat with Feliciano! Pascal then remembers that his Helena is handicapped and that she hides her legs in a mermaid tail, as an eccentricity. He knew it, but he had fallen in love with the mermaid in the meantime, the character from the book, and now his Helena isn’t enough for him anymore.
Feliciano and the mermaid, in the boat, are actually the characters in the books: both the book Kalamazoo, in which the protagonist is a mermaid and all the men are named Feliciano, and the love letters Félix Cotnoir would write to himself, which explains why the mermaid had a man’s voice – it was his own voice. The characters of these fictive writings have mutually created each other, their worlds were colliding with each other and influencing one another. There was his world, where he loved Helena the way he imagined her to be, and her world, where she can’t be faithful to Félix because she also loves Globenski.
The movie ends with the scene we saw at the very beginning, where Globenski is back in Montreal and paints a portrait of the cook, who was Félix’s friend.
The storyline of the movie Kalamazoo appears simple, at least at first, but we quickly realize that it’s actually much more complicated, that there are nuances and meanings that we can only understand at the very end. We don’t know everything that is in the book, but I think that, just like the movie, it is a story that everyone must interpret. There are also several points of view to this movie, each character sees and influences the actions in his or her own way. And those characters are not conventional, we don’t know anything about their past and they are not psychologically defined. We only know what we see on screen, which is to say the strict minimum needed to understand the movie.
All in all: It’s actually a movie that everyone must experience in their own way so that they can draw their own conclusions. Even though it can make the viewer uncomfortable at times, it is an original and non-contrite movie that allows you to dream. But you have to be very open-minded and accept the imagination in this movie, otherwise you might feel like this cock-and-bull story ends rather abruptly!

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Kill Bill - Vol. 1 (2003)
http://www.kill bill.com/
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie (well, the first part at least, as the movie was split into two instalments); I was wondering what he was up to, it’s been a while since the last one... Here’s how it goes: Bill (David Carradine) and the elite female group he has assembled, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or DiVAS), guns down an entire wedding party in a rural chapel, leaving the pregnant bride (Uma Thurman) for dead in her blood-spattered wedding dress. She barely has time to tell Bill that the baby is his before he shoots her in the head. It turns out that she was also part of the DiVAS at one point. An interesting touch: all of the members of the squad are named after deadly snakes; the Bride was Black Mamba [the largest venomous snake in Africa]. Well, four years later, she suddenly wakes up from a coma (and I do mean, VERY suddenly), her stomach flat and a metal plate in her head. And from then on, she’s a woman on a mission.
Her first stop is the island of Okinawa, where she acquires the finest blade ever made by the last of the world's great samurai sword smiths, the legendary ninjitsu master Hattori Hanzo. She then goes to Tokyo, where her first target is O-Ren Ishii, a.k.a. Cottonmouth [big venomous snake of North America and Asia] (Lucy Liu). We’re given a japanimation history of O-Ren Ishii, a Chinese-Japanese woman who saw her parents murdered when she was nine and who in turn killed their muderer at the tender age of eleven. She then became an elite hitman (hitwoman?) and is now the most important kingpin (queenpin?) of the Japanese underworld. The big showdown (a 20 minute samurai swordfight) takes place in the House of Blue Leaves, a restaurant with a cool band where O-Ren Ishii holds court. The Bride starts by cornering Sophie Fatale (Julie Dreyfuss), the personal assistant and close friend of O-Ren Ishii who carried the ball for her, and she makes sure that the poor woman won’t be able to carry anything else. So there are some very impressive martial arts fights between her henchmen dressed in black and The Bride, who showed up wearing an exact replica of the track suit that Bruce Lee wore in Game of Death, the movie he left unfinished when he died in 1973. She then takes on Gogo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii’s private bodyguard, a precocious teenager with a penchant for sadism. Then she takes on O-Ren Ishii herself, in a classic and tragic standoff in a snowy landscape. Lastly, she sends Sophie Fatale to warn Bill that she’ll be coming for him and the other Vipers.
The Bride then moves on to Pasadena, where she takes on Vernita Green, a.k.a. Copperhead [venemous snake of the South-eastern United States] (Vivica A. Fox). This is the funniest of the fights, because the two women call each other names, start to reminisce and stop fighting when Vernita’s daughter comes home from school, at which point Vernita remembers her manners and offers The Bride some coffee. The presence of the little girl at the scene gives The Bride some ironic perspective on her actions but does not deter her and she offs Vernita anyway.
There’s also Daryl Hannah, who plays Elle Driver, a.k.a. California Mountain Snake [you get the point]; she doesn’t have a lot of onscreen time in this movie, but something tells me her number’s up in the next one.
And then there’s the shocking ending (to this volume), which I won’t spoil for you.
I think it’s actually a good thing that this movie is presented in two instalments, because by the end of part one you’re ready for a break.
It is a nice mix of the spaghetti westerns, the Chinese martial arts films, the Japanese samurai movies and the anime that are so dear to Quentin Tarantino. The story is told in chapters that are not in chronological order, another Tarantino favorite (think Pulp Fiction). However, this is the first of his movies that does not takes place in his version of the real world, but in an alternate world similar to that of the fantasy movies he enjoys. The choreography of the fights is fantastic and the soundtrack, as usual, is breathtaking. Part of the movie was shot in Beijing’s Film Studio, which I think is hilarious because now I can say that I was on location before Tarantino had even written the script. ;o)
Overall, I would have to admit that I really enjoyed this movie and that I’m very much looking forward to the next instalment. I liked the code of ethics, the fact that The Bride doesn’t sneak up on her victims but meets them on their own turf, gives them their choice of weapon and fights fair. However, there are a few things that I feel I must point out. First of all, as a biologist, I can assure you that there is not nearly that much blood in the human body. Even if you cut someone’s head off, blood won’t come out of the body that hard and for that long; once the heart stops pumping, that’s pretty much it. I mean, even Anne Rice’s vampires didn’t have that much in them after they’d fed on their victims, so this is a bit ridiculous here. Also, when you’ve been in a coma for four years, there’s no way your body can move that well. Your muscles would have atrophied and you would need a heck of a lot of physiotherapy to get back on your feet; a thirteen hour battle of wills in the back of the Pussy Wagon won’t cut it. And even if some part of your body still moved, you haven’t become paraplegic; there’s no reason for your arms to move normally but not your legs. Finally, if you’re wanted for murder and you’re driving around in the victim’s car, especially one that stands out that much, you’re gonna get caught way before three months!
All in all: Not for the faint of heart, but a must for everyone else. Bloody brilliant.

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Kill Bill – Vol. 2 (2004)
http://killbill.movies.go.com/

I’m going to make this one short and sweet.
This time, the Bride must finish her to-do list, i.e. kill Budd, Elle Driver and Bill (hence the movie title ;o). It’s not that simple, though, because this time, they’re expecting her. She goes to Budd first. He’s definitely not one to fight fair, but that’s where the training she got from Pai Mei comes in handy. Then, she doesn’t even have to go after Elle, because Elle unknowingly goes to her and helps her out with her hit list. There is the mother of all chick fights, which ends in a surprising way; the Bride (whose name happens to be Beatrix Kiddo) does not kill Elle. The latter may or may not be dead, at the “hands” of her own snake, but even if she lives, the bitch will never see Beatrix again. So the Bride tracks down Bill (a.k.a. the Snake Charmer) and, just before she kills him, she realizes that her child (the one she was pregnant with when Bill shot her) is still alive. So there’s some bonding, some good conversation with Bill, and then it’s back to business. While Volume 1 was more reminiscent of Japanese films (with a touch of western), this one is more of a western with some Asian influences. There are a few surprises to this movie, like the fact that the Bride did not get shot at her wedding – it was only a dress rehearsal. And she had Samuel L. Jackson playing the organ. Also, the acting is so good in this movie that I’m surprised it didn’t come up at the Oscars. And it is much less violent than the first (only a few people die, and the Bride kills only one of them).
All in all: Definitely a must-see for all Tarantino fans, and for those of you who want to stay abreast of recent development in the film industry.

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Kinsey (2004)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/kinsey/site/

Professor Alfred Kinsey was one of the first scientists to publish studies on human sexual behaviour. At the beginning of the 20th century, no one knew much on the subject, not really because sexual practises were different, but because no one talked about it. This led to a situation where everyone had misconceptions about sex and wondered whether or not they were normal. Only certain forms of monogamous marital heterosexual sex were acceptable (foreplay was actually illegal in many states!). Kinsey’s own wedding night suffered a bit because of that. And once his students started asking him questions about sex that he could not answer, he decided that enough was enough. He was a biologist by formation and was able to draw many parallels between gall wasps and humans, not only in their hormone-driven behaviour but also in the fact that each one is different. Therefore, despite his strict religious upbringing, he set out to conduct very objective studies on humans, in order to help everyone understand the subject. The studies he conducted shocked his colleagues, and the book he published in 1948 about male sexual behaviour shocked the nation. While it did become a best-seller, the follow-up book about female sexual behaviour was definitely not well received. Because of society’s rigid norms, a lot of his research was misunderstood, but influential nonetheless.
The cast did a wonderful job. Liam Neeson had the title role, while Laura Linney admirably played his wife. The rest of the cast included Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, John Lithgow, Oliver Platt and Tim Curry. I hadn’t realized the impact that Kinsey had on today’s society. I hadn’t realized that many of the things I had learned in some of my classes (biology, ethology, abnormal psychology, sexual psychology), I owed to him. There are a lot of things that we now take for granted, but were it not for Kinsey, our life would be very different.
All in all: A must-see for anyone who doesn’t know who Kinsey is and for those who want a good movie about society’s views on sexual behaviour at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Lady and the Tramp (1955)
http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/animatedfilms/ladyandthetramp/
A little something to break the monotony. I knew the story because I had read the book over and over as a child, but I still hadn’t seen the movie. So when the 50th anniversary edition came out, I couldn’t resist. Sure, it’s a little kitsch (especially with Darling and Jim Dear), and I have to keep in mind that this is the movie that unfairly gave a bad reputation to Siamese cats. It’s full of stereotypes, true. But it’s still the sweetest story and it manages to make you laugh, make you cry, touch you or scare you all within 74 minutes. You’ll recognize the theme song as soon as you hear it, and you’ll enjoy the scene where the two dogs share spaghetti – and their first kiss.
All in all: Fall in love with it all over again, it’s worth it.

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Lara Croft - Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
http://www.tombraidermovie.com/
Forget about guy actions flicks. This is a summer [2003] of the ever-growing trend of ass-kicking chick flicks, who are fantasy to guys and icons to girls. And that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. ;o)
For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, Lara Croft is the most popular interactive video character in history. She is an English woman who was born into wealth and was groomed at the most elite schools in Europe. She speaks several languages and travels to exotic locales around the world frequently. Her cover is that of a prize-winning photographer visiting archaeological sites, but her passion is actually raiding tombs, collecting rare artefacts and throwing herself into one extreme adventure after another. She also spends most of her days training for combat, which makes her a very well-rounded individual, you might say.
In this particular adventure, she discovers Alexander the Great’s Lunar Temple, in which he kept some of his most prized possessions, including a glowing orb. It turns out that this orb is actually a map that leads to the so-called Cradle of Life, the place where all life began. It is further explained that Life was contained in the famed Pandora’s box, but that the only thing left in it is Life’s companion, Death, and that it has the power to annihilate millions of people if it were to be opened. And of course there’s a mercenary going after it, so Lara Croft makes it her business to get to the box before he does and to save the world. The action is set in exotic locales such as Hong Kong, Kenya and Greece.
There are a few things wrong in this movie; for example, if you’re in Shanghai and that you put a tracking device on a helicopter taking off next to you, there’s no way you’re going to be able to track it all the way to Hong Kong within the next 15 seconds. Also, anyone who’s been to the Great Wall in China can tell you that it is absolutely impossible to ride a motorcycle on it, especially in a God-forsaken part of the country-side. Apart from that, however, since the story is based on a videogame, I’m willing to accept a plot that’s a lot more fantastic than realistic, and this movie delivers.
All in all: Great summer movie if you are willing to forget about the laws of gravity for a few hours (and since we know that Lara Croft spends a lot of her time training for situations like these, it may not be so unbelievable after all).

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The Last Samurai (2003)
http://lastsamurai.warnerbros.com/html_index.php

You know what? This movie is two-and-a-half hours long. I was really looking forward to seeing it, so I went on the one free day that I had after exams and before starting overtime at work. I had just enough time to catch the 12:00 show and make it to work by 4:00. So I’m in the movie theater, the movie has been running for about two hours and twenty minutes. Then, out of nowhere, right before the climactic fight, as all the samurais are lining up for battle - a loud beeping noise is heard throughout the theater. We’re all pretty certain there were no beeping warning sirens back in 19th century Japan, and as it turns out it was a fire alarm. So all the lights come back on (and I mean ALL the lights, not just the sconces on the wall), and then we wait. Unfortunately, all but four people in the room were part of a (somewhat) organized group of students, 13-14 years old and extremely rowdy. Then, we were subjected to awful torture, a fate much worse than hara-kiri: they started to sing the Happy Song. Nnooo!!!
Anyway, the theater never started the movie again, they gave us free passes for the next time. But let’s face it, I don’t feel like sitting through another two hours and twenty minutes of film that I’ve already seen just to catch the last ten minutes (even though they were the most important ones, the ending seemed very interesting). So I’ll just review it when it’s out on video, I guess. Until then, don’t you dare spoil the end for me!

December 2006: I finally saw the ending. I have to say that it is a really beautiful movie, with great performances and a good message. It’s definitely worth seeing. But what was supposed to be so surprising about the ending?

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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/littlemisssunshine/

The Hoovers are your typical dysfunctional family trying to keep it together: Richard Hoover is a motivational speaker encouraging people to win, even though he can’t get his own ideas off the ground; Sheryl Hoover just took in her brother Frank, who failed his suicide attempt; Grandpa got kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroine; 15-year-old Dwayne, a Nietzsche fan, has taken a vow of silence until he becomes a fighter pilot; and 7-year-old Olive, even though she is somewhat pudgy, dreams of becoming Miss America. You’ll love them as soon as they’re all at the dinner table. Right before dessert, they find out that Olive has won a place in a beauty pageant. They have to drive 800 miles in their Volkswagen mini-bus to make it to California in time for the pageant. Of course, they have car trouble, and their different personalities clash along the way.
This is by far one of the best movies I have seen this year. It is original and smart. The story is quirky, it will make you laugh out loud or stifle a few sobs along the way. The A-list cast stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell (in a serious role), Alan Arkin, Paul Dano (as Dwayne) and Abigail Breslin (as Olive). They all do an amazing job; it’s really no wonder the film has been winning so many awards at various festivals. There are also a few comments on society, like the fact that beauty pageants force 6-year-olds to act and look like adults, while everyone rewards then for it. I won’t say too much about it, you still need to be surprised when you see it.
On a side note, if they ever make a movie based on the novel Vernon God Little, Paul Dano HAS to play Vernon, that’s exactly how I picture him.
All in all: You have absolutely got to see this movie.

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Lost In Translation (2003)
http://www.lost-in-translation.com/
I’m a translator and a movie buff, so I was very much looking forward to this one. It’s the story of a washed-up American actor, Bob Harris, who is in Japan to do a photo shoot for a whisky ad. He meets Charlotte, a young woman in search of herself who’s not quite sure that her photographer husband is still the same man she married. A combination of jetlag, boredom and anxiety keep them up at night, wondering and wandering through their hotel, often having drinks and cigarettes in the bar when they’re not staring at the ceiling in their rooms. They develop a strange friendship, without clearly crossing the line into adultery, and they spend more and more time together in this land that they don’t quite understand.
Actually, that’s pretty much the gist of it. No clear plotline, no definite satisfying ending, no amazing dialogue (at least not in English). The title comes in part from the fact that there is a lot of dialogue in Japanese in the movie and it is made clear that the interpreters aren’t translating all of it, which creates some communication problems. However, I know that I would get a lot more out of this movie if I spoke the language or if there were subtitles, as I’ve been told that Japanese people who watched the movie laughed out loud during some of the dialogue which I couldn’t understand. It’s lost on most people, really, but it does give you a lot of local color.
By the way, for those who care to know, the sheer pink panties worn by Scarlett Johansson in the opening scene were specially made for the movie, but because of popular demand, they are now available at specialty shops in New York for a mere $60 a pair (still nothing compared to Jessica Simpson’s famous shopping spree, though).
All in all: I’d have to say that I didn’t think it was a masterpiece at all. It was a bit disappointing, actually. I was about as bored as the characters.

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Love and Magnets (2004)
http://www.cinoche.com/films/774

A magnificent romantic comedy from Quebec. Julie (Isabelle Blais) returns home from overseas and spends some time with her sister Jeanne (Sylvie Moreau), who lives with her fiancé, Noël. Jeanne and Noël’s work schedules don’t allow them to see each other, so they resort to leaving each other messages under the fridge magnets. When Jeanne decides to spend the weekend in Ottawa with her lover, the naïve Julie is forced to write the messages for her sister. She decides to rekindle their love, but she gets caught up in her own game when she meets Noël…
It’s a string of coincidences and qui proquos that are believable, of characters that are as eccentric as they are endearing. It is a movie by Yves Pelletier and it’s a romantic comedy, but the script is intelligent, original and very well written. There are references to magnetism and to Vermeer (is it a coincidence that this movie was in cinemas at the same time as Girl With A Pearl Earring?), of thoughts on love and on truth, of characters who are trying to understand and control what happens to them. This movie won three Jutras (best script, best music and best supporting actress). If it’s true that the soundtrack is worth mentioning, it must also be said that the images are really beautiful and the actors are very convincing.
All in all: A very entertaining movie, definitely worth seeing.

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Maria Full of Grace (2004)
http://www.mariafullofgrace.com/main.html
Maria is a young woman of 17, who works in a rose plantation in a small Colombian town. Her working conditions are deplorable and she is not satisfied with her life. She wants something better for herself, even if she doesn’t know what that is yet. One day, she meets a man who makes her a job offer where she can travel to the United States and make a lot of money. She accepts and when she lands in Newark, she has 62 pellets of heroin in her stomach. She eventually does make it through customs, but then the dealers who pick her up in their van might be a more dangerous bunch than immigration officials and police…
Maria, the heroin (excuse the pun) of this movie, is portrayed as a very human person, she has flaws and strength and hope just like the rest of us do. She carries the film not only because she is in almost every scene but because she is believable. The actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno, is captivating and does a wonderful job. Maria has her own grace that seems to carry her through the film, hence the name of the movie. (FYI, Catalina really did swallow the pellets when she was shooting the movie.)
Even though the film is about Maria and her life at the time, it is also a story about drug mules and about what drives them to make those choices, but told from the point of view of the mules themselves. It is also about life for the immigrants arriving in a new place and trying to make a better life for themselves and their family. There is also a character called Don Fernando, who is the one all the Colombian immigrants turn to in New York for help (finding a job, finding a place to live, caring for drug mules who perish on the job, etc.). He is actually based on, and played by, Orlando Tobón, who has that job in Jackson Heights, Queens.
It is not hard to understand why that film won so many awards at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival as well as the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. It humanizes the victims of the drug war as well as the less fortunate in many countries of the world. Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
All in all: A must-see for all citizens of the world.

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Matchstick Men (2003)
http://matchstickmenmovie.warnerbros.com/?fromtout=movies_a1
Nicholas Cage plays an obsessive-compulsive con artist, posing as an antiques dealer, who lives off canned tuna and Dasani water. With his partner, played by Sam Rockwell, he tricks people into giving them a check by posing as a salesperson over the phone, THEN goes to their house posing as an FBI agent trying to catch the so-called salesperson and so tricks the poor innocents into giving him control over their bank account as well. He runs out of medication for his disorder, so he gets a new doctor to help him out. During the first session, he mentions that he has a child he has never met. He tracks down the child’s mother and the psychiatrist contacts her, only to find out that his 14-year-old estranged daughter, played by Alison Lohman, wants to meet him. They meet in a public place and she is extremely enthusiastic about having him in her life. So much so that she shows up at his house unannounced, planning to spend a few days with him. But this totally wreaks havoc in his perfectly organized world. He tries to keep her away from his criminal lifestyle, but she insists on being a part of it. And he bonds with her to a point where he has trouble imagining life without her. Meanwhile, his ticks and nervousness seem to be getting better, but the new medication may not be the only thing responsible for it... He gets his daughter to help him with one of his jobs, a really big one, but then everything gets compromised when the man they were trying to rob realizes what’s going on and tracks them down, putting all of their lives in danger...
The plot is very well written, and there is a surprise twist near the end (though I have to admit that after said twist, the actual ending is predictable). Nicholas Cage may very well get an Oscar nomination for this. It’s also very good exposure for Alison Lohman, a new but extremely talented actress. And it’s getting nice to see Sam Rockwell, who is equally convincing as an actor (though his roles have been somewhat similar so far).
All in all: Definitely worth seeing, I recommend it.

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Ma vie en cinémascope (2004)
http://www.allianceatlantisvivafilm.com/synopsis.asp?TitleID=78223

Alys Robi (born Alice Robitaille) is one of the greatest singers from Quebec and she has influenced the international music scene during the 1940s. She started singing in Quebec City when she was 5 years old, and at 13, she came to Montreal to join “La Poune” on stage. She then joined Jean Grimaldi’s theatre company, before starting her solo career. At the age of 25, she seduced all of America with her latin-beat songs, such as Tico Tico and Besame Mucho. She was an ambitious and driven woman. Her love life had ups and downs: she was first linked to Olivier Guimond, then to the conductor Lucio Agostini, but neither one of those relationships ended the way she had hoped. Struggling with her stardom, her love fiascos and her brother’s ill health, she descended into a manic-depressive psychosis and was committed against her will in a Quebec City asylum. Unfortunately for her, in 1952, patients were still treated in a barely human way and the prescribed treatment was a lobotomy; that’s actually the movie’s opening scene.
Ma vie en cinémascope is Denise Filiatrault’s most personal movie, as she is herself an Alys Robi fan. Producing this was really a labor of love and it shows. Pascale Bussières plays the ambitious and talented singer; she actually sings on the movie’s soundtrack and her voice is remarkable. She won the Jutra for the best performance by an actress in 2004; the movie was also nominated seven times at the Genie Awards. The music is really rousing and the songs will be running through your mind for a long time. It is a very interesting movie about Alys Robi’s life, but I have to admit that it gives the impression of being shown in fast-forward, skipping important parts of the singer’s life and remaining superficial about all of it. We only see milestone moments of her professional and personal life, almost as if the movie were a trailer for itself. She was almost as (in)famous for her stay in an asylum as for her career, and yet the causes of her psychiatric troubles aren’t elaborated on. The ending also leaves a bit to be desired, as it stops in the middle of Alys Robi’s life, who is still alive and whose career isn’t over. It’s also a shame that a woman who is presented as being so independent and avant-gardiste ends up being defined by the men she loves instead of by her own attributes.
All in all: An amazing feat by Pascale Bussières and a must-see movie for anyone who wants to know more about the artist’s life, but you should complete it with some research of your own because it leaves you wanting more.

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Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/monalisasmile/
The story is set at Wellesley in the 1953-1954 school year. It was a time of social change in America: women were starting to have careers outside the home, yet they were still expected to be the perfect housewife and have dinner on the table by five, all while wearing a corset and, I’m sure, sensible white cotton undergarments. Wellesley, one of the most conservative female colleges at the time, gave women a wonderful education while making it clear that they were to become homemakers once they graduated. And yet Katherine Watson, a bohemian from California, wants to teach there more than anything in the world; she finally gets her chance when the college needs a new art history teacher. She starts by following the syllabus that was created by the school, but that proves pointless as the students have already memorized it completely. She then decides to try something different: she shows them modern art and asks them whether or not they think it is any good. Van Gogh, for example, was never appreciated while he was alive, but his paintings are now considered masterpieces. So who decides what is art and what isn’t, what makes a painting good and another one mediocre? This forces the students to think for themselves instead of just conforming to what their textbooks say. Meanwhile, Katherine tries to help one of the students get into Yale’s law faculty instead of quitting school when she gets married at the end of the year. She also refuses to give a free pass to recently married students for missing some classes and not doing their homework. The students are divided over this, however. Some of them love having a strong, opinionated woman as a role model, but others resent her for trying to change their world. Wellesley’s faculty, of course, completely disapproves of this modern approach and makes it clear to Katherine that she has to conform to their image if she wants to keep her job. Meanwhile, Katherine is herself trying to come to grips with her life, adapting to the lifestyle at Wellesley, trying to change the curriculum without compromising her values, and deciding whether or not to accept a marriage proposal.
The movie stars Julia Roberts as well as Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Marcia Gay-Harden, with a small role by Topher Grace and a few promising young actresses. I’ve always thought that Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst haven’t been given nearly enough credit in their careers; I think they should both have received Oscars already. In this particular movie, there is one specific scene that might help Kirsten along. Let’s just hope it rubs off on the other ones! There is also one noticeable scene where Julia Roberts tries to smile through the announcement of her engagement; you just have to see her face, it’s really very funny.
About the soundtrack: I had heard the song Dreams, by the Cranberries, in the previews. Although I love that song, I immediately started wondering how many movies were going to use it on their soundtrack. But I have to say that I didn’t notice it during the actual movie. Come to think of it, I didn’t notice the Avril Lavigne song either. However, there is a really good Elton John song while they roll the credits.
Just to clear up a few things (to address so-called bloopers in this movie): it turns out that there were 28 art history majors at Wellesley that year, so the number of students in the classroom is quite believable. Also, there were actually twelve African-American students at Wellesley that year, so if you see one of them in the background, it isn’t an anachronism! Also interesting to know: Laura Allen, one of the young actresses in the movie, actually graduated from Wellesley. In case you’re wondering, part of the movie was shot on location. I have a friend who studied at Wellesley and was actually mere feet away from Julia Roberts! I have to say that I liked seeing what the campus looks like and learning some of its history, it really is a beautiful college.
Overall, I did like this movie. I liked seeing a part of history and having a woman like Julia Roberts’s character come along and try to shake things up a little. I also liked the fact that the message of the movie wasn’t that women should or shouldn’t have a career or be a housewife, but that they can have the choice: be a career-woman, be a home-maker and raise a family, or do both (“You can bake your cake and eat it, too!”). None of the options is actually better than the other, it’s just a matter of personal preference. And Katherine Watson gets influenced by her students as well, it isn’t strictly a one-sided deal.
All in all: It is somewhat of a chick-flick, in the sense that guys never want to have anything to do with a movie that’s either about feminism or where the main characters are female, let alone both. But I think it is worth seeing. ;o)

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My Date With Drew (2005)
http://www.mydatewithdrew.com
You have to love this story: An average guy, who’s had a crush on Drew Barrymore for almost twenty years, decides that he has 30 days (and a $1100 budget) to get himself a date with Drew. He doesn’t want a relationship, mind you, he just wants to meet her and have a conversation. And as he loves making documentaries, he decides to document all of this with his friends, using a camera from Circuit City that he has to return after 30 days (hence the timeline). Using the “six degrees of separation” theory, he asks people he knows if they might know someone who knows someone who knows Drew. Since he’s lived in L.A. for five years already and is somewhat in the film industry (albeit a very, very small tiny name in the industry), this actually seems to work for him for a while, but his message gets diluted along the way or he ends up in a dead end. He eventually has to go public with his quest, while respecting his dwindling budget.
This is everyman’s quest, something that you can’t help but relate to, and you’re automatically on this guy’s side, rooting for him and hoping that he does get to meet Drew Barrymore. There are some truly hilarious moments in the movie, such as when he makes himself a fake pass to get into an afterparty where Drew is (and now everyone knows how surprisingly easy that is, so my secret is out in the open and I may not be able to use it much longer… oh well, it was fun while it lasted ;o). This guy, whose name is Brian, by the way, turns out to be very lovable, charming and funny, and has a great personality; he seems to be a great catch, as long as you don’t mind hirsuteness too much. And he does get so close to his goal by meeting the right people; it’s amazing to see not only how the six-degrees thing actually works, but also how willingly most people help him once they realize what he wants. This award-winning film is inspirational, it’s about taking risks and trying to achieve your dreams. It’s not just a documentary, it’s a feel-good movie that had me bursting into applause right in the middle of the theater.
All in all: I really loved this one, and you don’t even need to be a fan of Drew like me to enjoy it. As a matter of fact, as soon as I get myself a budget, I’ll start a documentary called My Date With Jay. ;o) [By the time this is posted, you will probably have heard that he got engaged to an ex-Playmate. I would like to point out that I didn’t even know he had a serious relationship when I wrote this. So my two alternate guys, depending on whether or not I want the relationship, are Chris and Ike. Figure it out.]

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Le Nèg’ [French language] (2003)
http://www.christalfilms.com/fr/content/view/full/244
A social drama from Québec as we rarely see them. One evening, in a quiet part of the Québec countryside, a young Black man destroys a small plaster statue of a Negro in an old woman’s garden (think garden gnome here). The woman comes outside with her gun, followed by Polo, her adult son with a mental deficiency. The situation degenerates and a few hours later, the old woman is dead from a gunshot wound and the young Black man is in a neurovegetative coma after receiving a bullet from a police officer who came to the scene. The two detectives in charge of solving the case then question the witnesses in order to find out what happened that night, but none of them seems to agree about the events. And yet, there are many witnesses! There’s Bertrand, the neighbor, as well as Tâton, Canard, Josée and Samantha who were passing through. The most surprising part, or rather the most disappointing, is the detectives’ reaction when they finally figure out what happened...
I found the characters very alive. We learn a bit about their private life and we see the way they behave, which makes them more real; the actors are also very convincing. However, I didn’t understand why one of the detectives had masochistic tendencies (the other one lacked some professionalism, but that was more easily understandable). The other characters, Tâton and Canard especially, are rednecks and narrow-minded like you wouldn’t believe.
I really loved the scenes, extremely original, where we see the story through the point of view of Polo, with the music that he hears and representing each character by one of the plastic figurines with which he is playing. Because, as you have guessed it, even though Polo cannot communicate orally, the fact remains that he has witnessed the entire scene, he remembers it in detail, he doesn’t know how to lie, he plays it over and over again with his figurines, and the detectives are too dumb to notice it!
I realize that this film is a social criticism, that it was made to shock us and to make us think. For that, it was successful, it really got to me. But it mostly bothered me, because when I started watching the movie I thought at first that it was very exaggerated, and then I started thinking that there are probably many people who would still react that way nowadays. And I was ashamed. So I’m a little perturbed by the whole thing, I’m not sure how to react or how to express my feelings to you.
All in all: You should see it if you feel like a small and very original Québécois film, if you want a movie that will make you think a little, if you want to understand why people talked about this film so much when it came out, if you want another point of view about racism.

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The Omen (2006)
http://www.theomenmovie.com

The release date (6-6-6) was very clever. I rarely watch horror movies and I haven’t seen the original, but because I love Julia Stiles, I felt obligated to see this one. And I had someone there to hold my hand. ;o)
When a couple’s child dies at birth, a priest convinces the husband to raise another child, conveniently orphaned the same night, as his own, without telling his wife. All is fine for a few years, but then bodies start to pile up and Damien (demon, get it?) proves to be different from the other kids. Apparently, his 666 birthmark heralds Armageddon (and it’s interesting to see the modern interpretation of that passage of the Bible). The kid tries to kill his mother (but there are no witnesses), and so the dad goes off to discover the truth, along with a reporter who is convinced he’s next on the Devil’s hit list.
There are plot holes throughout the movie, which is even harder to forgive considering that it’s a remake. Like, explain to me how you don’t notice that your child has a birthmark on his head: surely you saw him without hair at some point in his infancy, right? You’re not going to leave him in his hospital hat for 18 months! And the ferry to get to the monastery is downright hilarious, not scary as it was meant to be. There are a few continuity issues as well, but I won’t bore you with it.
Julia Stiles gives a great performance, as always. And Mia Farrow, as the nanny of the Devil’s Spawn, is very creepy. But I have to say that Liev Schreiber was a little too poker-faced. It’s like he was trying to be all serious, because he had a dramatic role, but he barely batted an eyelash when people died around him, including his wife (dropping the phone and falling asleep don’t count).
All in all: If you like horror movies, see it. Otherwise, I think you’ll be disappointed.

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The Pianist (2002)
http://www.thepianist-themovie.com/
The true story of the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and of how he avoided the Jewish deportation and survived World War II in Warsaw. This movie won three Oscars in 2003: Best Director (Roman Polanski), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Adrien Brody), and Best Writing from an Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood). Who could forget Brody’s kiss with Halle Berry as he stepped onstage? ;o)
All kidding aside, this is one of the most realistic movies I have seen about life in the Jewish Ghetto during that time. The images were created not only relying on documentary footage, but also on Roman Polanski’s memories from that time, as he is himself a survivor of the war and escaped the Ghetto through a hole in a barbed-wire fence. Most other movies about the Jewish deportation only show bits and pieces of it, they let you guess how those people died or insinuate that they were killed. But this movie shows everything, from an old wheelchair-bound man thrown from a fourth-floor balcony by German soldiers, to those soldiers randomly picking Jews out of a group of people and calmly shooting them in front of their family. This is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is a real eye-opener. Also, I liked the fact that this movie wasn’t black-and-white in the sense of having characters who were either Jewish and good or German and evil. This was based on a real-life story and just as in real life, there are good and mean Polish Jews, decent and evil Germans. Since this memoir was written just after the war, it was very fresh in Szpilman’s memory and the details are more graphic, the story is more touching and more real to us than some of the other ones that have been told, it seems.
I don’t want to give too much of it away, even though you can guess how it ends since Szpilman lived to write a book about it. He was a celebrated pianist and composer in the late thirties and his music was the last sound heard live over Polish radio airwaves before the Nazi artillery hit Warsaw. He fled back to his home to find his family packing up their belongings and trying to figure out how to get away. They ended up staying in Warsaw but had to move to the new Jewish Ghetto, by order of the government. They had more and more restrictions in their daily lives until one day the German soldiers started exterminating the Jews, either in the streets of the city or by sending them to “labor” camps. Szpilman’s family is sent to the camps but he is spared; he then goes from one hiding place to another through the ruins of the city, trying to escape the Germans and to survive even though there is no food or water anywhere.
All in all: You should see this movie, were it only to find out what the Oscar buzz was about and to get an incredible, almost first-person account of what it was like to be a Polish Jew during World War II. Very good film.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/liveaction/pirates/main_site/main.html
I was a bit skittish about seeing this movie, I was afraid of a repeat of Geena Davis’s stint as a pirate a few years back, or maybe that since Johnny Depp hadn’t made a movie in a while he had to take whichever script was thrown at him. Well, I was wrong - and pleasantly surprised.
In the English colonial days, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is one of the most feared pirates of the Caribbean. Only... he lost his ship (actually, the scene where he disembarks at the dock is hilarious, you have to see it). So there are some people who don’t take him seriously, including the British soldiers at the port. He tries to elude them, giving us quite a few laughs and some cool sword-fight scenes along the way, but he gets caught and is put in jail. Meanwhile, the Black Pearl (the fastest ship in the ocean, with the most ruthless crew of pirates on board) comes into the harbor. The legends tell about the cruelty they inflict on their prisoners and enemies, and apparently no one has escaped them alive (but as Jack points out, then who’s telling the stories?). It turns out that these pirates, led by the evil Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), are after the last piece of a treasure that they must restore to its rightful owner, so they kidnap Elizabeth Swann (the governor’s daughter, played by Keira Knightley), whose necklace just happens to be made of the piece of gold they are looking for. Of course, she has a childhood friend, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who is secretly in love with her, and he decides to go rescue her. But he can’t do it by himself so he frees Jack Sparrow in exchange for his help, since Jack conveniently knows where the Black Pearl is headed (of course, Jack is a pirate as well and he has his own motivation). There’s also a crew of Englishmen, led by Elizabeth’s fiancé, planning to rescue her but trailing behind our two heroes. So it turns out that the evil pirates are cursed: they are ghosts and are unable to live life normally (they can’t feel, eat, drink or die) because they have stolen Aztec gold on which there was a malediction. The curse can only be broken once all the pieces of gold that were stolen have been returned. It’s a long story how Elizabeth came to have the last one, but it’s vital to the plot so I won’t spoil it for you. And it’s just one big adventure from there, with enough twists to keep you interested.
I know this movie was advertized using close-ups of Johnny and Orlando, but there is more to it than that. Although it IS one of the more “sexy Johnny movies” (think Don Juan de Marco; I must have a thing for braided hair, black eyeliner and bandannas...). One of the reasons it is so enjoyable is that Johnny Depp isn’t afraid to make fun of himself or of his character. Also, I would like to report that Orlando Bloom looks SO much better with dark hair than the blond hair he has as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (where he was almost albino-like; he got a tan here in the Caribbean). And then there’s Keira Knightley, who’s on a roll here: she only did one movie back in 2001, and now she has two out this summer [2003], both of which did really well at the box-office, and another one coming this fall. She’s pretty and a good actress with a lovely English accent; she’s on her way up, I tell you. Geoffrey Rush also does an extremely good job of being the evil pirate; it’s a shame this movie probably won’t get taken seriously enough for Oscar nominations. Well, except for the special effects, which are very impressive by the way. [Post-scriptum: For once, I’m glad I was wrong! Five nominations! Johnny Depp took the unlikeliest of roles and turned it into an Oscar nomination. Beat that.]
I think I spotted a few mistakes though, if anyone else saw the movie they can write in to let me know what they think. In the first scene where we see Jack, it looks like he has three braids in his beard, but he only has two in the rest of the movie (or was it only a shadow that made it look like a third braid?). Also, there is a scene where Jack’s hands are bound by handcuffs; he is standing at the top of the mast of a ship and needs a quick way down, and there just happens to be a rope leading from the top of the mast to the dock. So in the next scene he’s got the handcuffs over the rope, he lets himself hang from it and slides down to the dock. And then he’s off running. But how did he get the rope between his wrists without undoing the handcuffs? [Post-scriptum: OK, I got it after seeing the movie again.] Finally, I think there’s a discrepancy between the time it takes to find all the pieces of gold from the treasure and the longevity of a certain pirate.
All in all: Very enjoyable movie, much better than it looks from the previews. It is in the same vein as The Princess Bride, a very funny story with elements of fantasy and adventure that will delight anyone. It ends well, it is a Disney movie after all. And I’m not giving away all the funny moments, but let’s just say that the previews didn’t give them all away either, which is probably why the movie was so good. Go see it!

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Pollock (2003)
http://www.sonyclassics.com/pollock/
I just rented this the other day, expecting a quiet masterpiece because of the nominations at the 2004 Oscars. It’s the story of Jackson Pollock, one of the most avant-garde painters in American history. His style was abstract expressionism and even though that in itself wasn’t new, the artists who were respected for it were mostly European, such as Picasso; local artists were hardly ever given credit for their work. Also, following the Depression era, there simply wasn’t much of a market for them to sell their art, either. Enters Lee Krasner, a pre-feminist artist with connections, who sets her sights on Pollock. She helps him get some exposure and nurtures his creative side, seducing him at the same time, all the while putting her own art on the back burner. Her sacrifices pay off and Pollock catches the eye of Peggy Guggenheim, which eventually leads not only to exhibitions of his work and to his most famous commission, but also to a groundbreaking article in Life magazine in 1949. By then, Pollock has perfected his renowned dripping technique. However, although he earns a good living from sales of his previous work, his self-destructive alcoholism takes a hold of him again and he is unable to produce new art of good quality.
I have to say that the movie disappointed me a little. It’s true that the actors are absolutely terrific; both Ed Harris (in his directorial debut) and Marcia Gay-Harden thoroughly deserved their Oscar nominations. There are also some very good quotes in the movie, like when a reporter asks Pollock how he knows when he’s finished working on a particular painting, to which Pollock replies, "How do you know when you’re finished making love?". Also, we learn that one of the characteristics of Pollock’s work is that he doesn’t use the "accidents" in his paintings like other artists do, he simply denies them. The problem with the movie was basically that it can be a bit boring at times. We don’t quite know where the action is going and unless you’re an art buff who knows the name of every influential American painter between 1930 and 1960, some of the references (and characters) will go way over your head. Some scenes are unnecessarily long; the only ones to liven up the action are when Pollock is actually painting. It does paint a good picture of the artist, though. ;o)
All in all: If you’re going to see it, I recommend surfing through the official website first, so you’ll know more about the production. Otherwise, watch a few of the longer trailers and save yourself some time.

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The Princess and the Warrior [“Der Krieger und die Kaiserin,” German with English subtitles] (2000)
http://www.x-filme.de/html/kuk.html
A lovely German movie staring Franka Potente and Benno Fürmann. Sissi, a young woman working as a nurse in a private clinic, gets run over by a truck. As she is lying on the ground under the truck, she suddenly stops breathing and a young man (who can’t help but cry all the time) then saves her life, but they are separated on their way to the hospital. When Sissi is released from the hospital two months later, he is still on her mind and she decides to track him down, even though she doesn’t know so much as his name. With a little help from the people who witnessed the accident, though, she manages to find out his family name as well as his address, so she goes to his house to talk to him. It turns out that the man (Bodo) is still dealing with the death of his wife which happened a few years earlier, so he does not want anything to do with her, no matter how she insists about talking to him and getting to know him. He is actually planning to rob a bank with his brother and they then want to flee the country. By a weird twist of fate, Sissi happens to be in the bank when the robbery takes place and she in turn saves Bodo’s life after his brother is gunned down by security guards. She then hides him in the clinic she works in as they both try to come to terms with their troubled past and realize that they had more in common than they first thought.
This movie was directed by the same man who brought us Run Lola Run and it somewhat shows through: it’s the same actress, there is a scene where a character runs through the city, the soundtrack is remarkable (in the sense that you will remark it, it is noticeable). It was also original, however, because the action was somewhat unpredictable, you were led to believe a certain thing and then the outcome changed at the last second. I also really loved the scene were the young man exorcises his demons (it was actually slightly reminiscent of Alanis Morissette’s Ironic video clip). There were some very interesting images in the movie.
All in all: Another very nice foreign film, with very talented actors and a good script. I wouldn’t say it’s stellar or anything, but I do recommend it.

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The Princess Bride (1987)
http://www.theprincessbride-themovie.com

Yes, a true classic, the eighties’ answer to The Wizard of Oz. It’s a story about true love, but there’s also fencing, revenge, death, heroes and villains, giants and wizards, humour, magic and danger. Princess Buttercup is separated from her true love, Westley, and she ends up engaged to Prince Humperdinck. She then gets kidnapped by a Sicilian, a swordsman and a giant, as the Man in Black comes after them. They climb the Cliffs of Insanity, brave the Fire Swamp, and go on many adventures as the Prince tries to kill Buttercup while Westley wants to be reunited with her. Yes, the princess gets kidnapped and her true love gets killed, but it all ends up okay. ;o)
The all-star cast includes a 19-year-old Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, Peter Falk and André the Giant. It’s a movie that’s hard to categorize, because it is both a fairy tale and a satire of fairy tales. It is a romance, but it’s also a comedy and an action movie. It wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but it has since become a cult classic, spawning one of the most famous movie lines ever: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You have killed my father. Prepare to die.” There are laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film, but the characters are still very attaching, and you can’t help but become involved in what they are going through. It’s a delightful movie you’ll want to watch many times, words fail me to describe all of its facets. Seeing it again brought back many good memories for me, but even a novice would enjoy it.
All in all: An oldie but goodie. It’s a classic, so if you haven’t seen it already, or even worse, if you’ve never heard of it, run to the nearest video store and rent a copy.

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Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
http://www.punchdrunklove.com/
This is supposed to be Adam’s Sandler’s attempt at a dramatic role. In his defence, I have to say that he does a very good job. His character, Barry, is delightfully neurotic; he keeps having little nervous breakdowns and you wonder when he’s finally going to completely lose it because every little thing seems close to sending him over the edge. But apart from that, he is actually a very good-natured guy, which might seem weird, but it is an actual psychological disorder (maybe that’s why he did Anger Management after...). We do see his work area a lot in the movie, but it’s not quite clear to me what his job actually is. We do know that he starts to buy massive quantities of Healthy Choice® chocolate pudding in order to collect the UPCs; with 10 UPCs he can get 500 frequent flyer miles, and double that amount if he sends them in by the end of the month. He realizes that if he buys $3000 worth of pudding (at $1 for four cups, the cheapest Healthy Choice® product and therefore the cheapest way to get UPCs), he will earn a million air miles and fly for free for the rest of his life. He can even get a tax write-off for part of it. Interestingly enough, this is actually what a man named David Phillips did in 1999, in real life. And just like Sandler in the movie, he started by buying frozen entrées before he realized that the puddings were cheaper. Check out this link if you want: http://www.snopes.com/business/deals/pudding.asp. I wonder if he got any royalties from that? He could probably use the money to buy extra suitcases or something...
Anyway, what happens is, Barry falls in love with Emily Watson (I’m sorry, I forgot the character’s name!), and the more he hangs around her, the more normal he seems to get. There’s also a scheme to unravel involving a woman from a 900 number company who now has Barry’s credit card number and who intends to use it to her advantage. Surprisingly enough, Barry can just rattle off the numbers to his card, as well as his social security number, simply by memory; maybe his problem has something to do with autism, who knows. And there’s something with a harmonium mysteriously dropped off by a cab, I think I missed an important point there because I’m not sure I got it (I know that Emily Watson’s character plays it, but this is all so confusing...).
All in all: The movie itself is somewhat deconstructed, you’re not quite sure where the plot is going. The images are dark, the sound isn’t that good either. But the music is quite good and there are a few “punches” of color here and there, strategically placed throughout the movie. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s the kind of movie that you’ll either love or hate, and you won’t know until you watch it. Personally, I’m glad that I saw it once, but I wouldn’t see it again, I’m not that fond of it.

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Ray (2004)
http://www.raymovie.com/index.php

This is the biographical story of Ray Charles, one of the greatest musicians in American history. He was born in rural Florida and became blind at seven, but he was determined not to rely on anyone and to make his own way in the world. He learned to play the piano and quickly made a name for himself. He was the first musician to combine R&B and country western music; he mixed blues and gospel in a way that had previously been taboo and he also added jazz to his compositions. He was still a teenager when he boarded a bus and went to Seattle, eager to be a part of the local jazz scene. From there, he got his first record deal and was eventually signed by Atlantic Records. Many link the birth of soul music to his 1954 single, I’ve Got a Woman. No one had ever heard anything like it and it helped start not only his explosive career, but also rock ‘n’ roll itself. He also took control of the business aspects of his career like no other artist before him. But he was lured by the trap of narcotics and quickly became an addict. Surprisingly enough, he never missed a day of work and his music seemed to never suffer from the toll the drugs were taking on him. His childhood demons still haunted him, but they fuelled his inspiration in an amazing way. His married life wasn’t the greatest either, for although he married a wonderful woman, he had numerous love affairs while on the road. It was also a time of social upheaval and Ray Charles fought against segregation, even when it meant damaging his career.
It is a complete portrait of the artist that we have here, the bad along with the good. Taylor Hackford (the director) and James L. White worked on the script for fifteen years, with help from Ray Charles himself. The lead role finally went to Jamie Foxx, who gives an incredible performance and it’s sure to get him noticed at the next Academy Awards [2005]. He spent twelve hours a day with his eyes sealed shut, to get an understanding of what life is really like for the blind. He’s got the musician down pat, even imitating his bodily mannerisms, his walk and the way he talks. The fact that he’s been playing the piano since he was three also helps. And although he can do an uncanny imitation of Ray Charles’s voice, it’s actually original recordings that we hear throughout the movie.
Interestingly enough, Ray Charles approved the script as well as the parts of the movie he saw (or heard, rather). He has influenced the music scene in a tremendous way, and his influence is still felt today, after his death. He could make you cry or make you laugh, sometimes in the same song. That’s how he saw life, as a mix of pain and salvation. He said that he “would like for people to know that you can recover from a lot of adversity that you might have in your life if you keep pressing on – if you still feel you know where you want to go. In other words, you don't give up just because you get knocked down a few times.” He was a perfectionist and his self-confidence came mostly from the fact that he was a self-made man, who finally overcame the difficulties in his life.
Although the movie elaborated a lot on the 1950s and the early 1960s, it fast-forwarded through the rest of the 60s and flashed to 1979, with a written summary of the rest. It’s too bad that his entire life wasn’t covered in the movie, because you’re left wanting more. Also, some facts are unclear. For example, just who wrote Hit The Road, Jack: was it Ray Charles and Maggie Hendricks, or Percy Mayfield, as the credits suggest?
It was about time someone told Ray Charles’s story, in the truthful way he wanted it told, even if it sometimes made him look bad.
All in all: An excellent movie, about rock’n’roll and the life of a man, but also about overcoming difficulties and human character. A must-see. And Jamie, start writing that acceptance speech.

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The Rocket: The Maurice Richard Story (2005)
http://www.cinoche.com/films/1373/
I went to see this at the Forum, where Richard used to play. Just for that, it was worth it. ;o)
Maurice Richard worked days in a factory and spent his nights playing hockey. He was eventually invited to the tryouts by the NHL and joined the Montreal Canadiens. Dick Irving, the owner of the team, pushed his players to the breaking point, but that’s what eventually made Richard the amazing player he is remembered as. The Rocket’s success wasn’t due only to his talent, but also to his perseverance and, most of all, to his passion for the game. He led his team to five consecutive wins of the Stanley Cup, a record that still stands today.
This movie is not just about hockey, though. It is also about the great divide between Francophones and Anglophones, which was even more present at the time (in the workplace and in relations between social classes). Both French and English are used in the movie, making the situation even more real. The archive footage interspersed throughout the film (sometimes featuring some of the actors) also lends a hand to setting the stage.
The actors all give great performances, especially Roy Dupuis as Maurice Richard. But as is often the case with biographies, I felt that it didn’t explore the later life of the protagonist (this movie stops after the riots in 1955). I will say, though, that you don’t need to be a hockey fan to enjoy this. Heck, you don’t even need to be a Francophone Canadian to enjoy this.
All in all: A must see. It’s more than a feel-good story where the underdog comes out on top, it’s real and it explores greater issues.

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School of Rock (2003)
http://www.schoolofrockmovie.com/
Finally, Jack Black has his name first in the credits and before the title! Like another critic said before me, “Jack Black doesn’t just steal the show, he IS the show!” He is totally excellent in this.
It’s the story of a man in his thirties, Dewey Finn, who doesn’t have a job because he still has this dream of making it big with his rock band. The thing is, he is actually really talented, but he makes such a spectacle of himself that it’s embarrassing and no one takes him seriously. He is hoping to make it big in an upcoming contest, the Battle of the Bands, where the winning band gets $20 000. This would enable him to finally pay rent with his best friend (who is a substitute teacher) and the latter’s girlfriend, instead of mooching off them. But the band he founded, HIS band, actually decides to kick him out and to hire someone else to replace him. So that leaves Dewey with a dream but without a job. As he is in the apartment, a phone call comes in for his friend, requiring a sub teacher to start immediately, for $650 a week. Dewey seizes the opportunity and takes the job, passing himself off as his friend. At first, he just sits around in this fifth grade class doing nothing and letting the children entertain themselves, but he soon overhears them playing instruments in music class and quickly realizes that these kids have a lot of potential. So he decides to teach them how to play rock and roll. Morning classes consist of Rock History and Rock Appreciation, and during the afternoon they practise playing a song that he wrote. And it turns out that with his coaching, these kids are actually really good. So they decide to go to the Battle of the Bands to try their luck. Meanwhile, school officials and concerned parents start to suspect that Dewey isn’t sticking to the curriculum and that he isn’t even a qualified teacher... And Dewey learns that maybe there’s more to life than rock and roll (although it’s a huge part of it! ;o).
It turns out that Jack Black is an extremely good performer, both as an actor and as a musician. The music, both the songs chosen for this movie and the songs written for it, is excellent. (Okay, I’ll admit I may have been influenced, as I had attended a rock out performance by Hanson less than 24 hours before that, but it was so cool!) It is clever and funny, a really good movie. The opening credits are also cool. I just want to say that I don’t care how good those kids are, they can’t get THAT good in less than three weeks. But just pretend it was longer, for the sake of the movie.
All in all: This movie totally rocks! Stick it to the Man! ;o)

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Seabiscuit (2003)
http://www.seabiscuitmovie.com/
Those who know me can tell you that I like horses and that I have a soft spot for movies based on true stories. So I really liked this one.
The story is set during the Great Depression, as the people in America had lost almost everything they had. An ex-millionaire who is emotionally bankrupt, a horse-trainer without a job, a jockey trying to make ends meet and a horse who can’t race come together to give each other a second chance at life. Which is surprising, because “the horse is too small, the jockey is too big, the trainer is too old, but the owner is too dumb to know the difference!”
This story is very American in the sense that the moral is basically that “even when you’re down and you don’t have two nickels to rub together, all you need is a second chance to make things right so you can start a whole new life for yourself, and where else than in a beautiful country like the US of A can you have the opportunity to do that?” But then again, that is what made the Seabiscuit team famous in the first place: the masses could identify with them and they represented the American Dream. And like I said, it’s a true story. So of course, they all make a big comeback because they took a chance on each other. There’s even a surprising twist near what you think is the end (surprising to me at least because I hadn’t read the book), but even without giving it away I can say that the moral holds true.
The actors are all really wonderful, the narration is well written, the costumes are great, the historical accuracy is there (down to the position of each horse during the races) and I love those old model Ts. ;o)
All in all: I really liked it, and even if you decide that you don’t love it, “you can’t throw a whole [story] away just because it’s banged up a little.” (God, that works on so many levels...)

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Séraphin, Heart of Stone (2002)
http://www2.canoe.com/artsetculture/dossiers/cinema/archives/2002/11/20021119-142517.html
Ah, the Belles Histoires des Pays d’en haut... The first episode of the radio serial Un Homme et son péché was aired on Radio-Canada’s airwaves on September 11th, 1939; the show would air for the next 24 years. The television serial Les Belles Histoires des Pays d’en haut was aired on Radio-Canada from October 8th, 1956, to May 25th, 1970, for a total of 495 episodes. This makes it the most popular television serial ever to hit our screens. The movie Un Homme et son péché first took the screen on January 28th, 1949. But this time, it isn’t the same story that you fathers and grandfathers knew: the emphasis is on the love story and the target audience is widened to the entire family. Cowritten by Charles Binamé and Pierre Billon and produced by Charles Binamé, this classic remade for the big screen stars Pierre Lebeau (Séraphin Poudrier), Karine Vanasse (Donalda Laloge) and Roy Dupuis (Alexis Labranche), surrounded by such actors as Rémy Girard, Robert Brouillette, Céline Bonnier and Benoît Brière. The theme song is by Isabelle Boulay.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Séraphin Poudrier is a grinch of an old man, greedy like you can’t imagine. He lives alone in his house, saving money wherever he can: no lit fire, even during winter, only the strict minimum as food rations, etc., even though his attic is filled with bags of gold! Feeling lonely, he makes an offer to one of the men in the village: he will erase the man’s debts if he gives him his daughter Donalda’s hand in marriage. But Donalda loves Alexis and they have promised each other to get married once he returns from the lumber camps... Donalda therefore has a difficult decision to make, but she finally chooses to sacrifice herself for her family and she marries Séraphin. Her life as a married woman, however, is definitely not what she expected, mostly because she hadn’t realized just how greedy Séraphin was; she’s like a dove who finds herself living with a crow. She then has to take care of the house, but she is forbidden to go in the attic; it’s like a scene from Blue Beard when she’s in front of the door scrubbing the wooden floor. Alexis is furious when he first learns of the union, but he understands the circumstances. He tries as best as he can to convince Donalda to run away with him, but she refuses. Even though she is unable to love Séraphin, she knows that she isn’t allowed to betray him, even with a man she really loves. But Séraphin’s greed goes further than the villagers can imagine...
Although this movie was shot over the course of a year, it was only shot over 38 days. However, the “American style” publicity campaign explains part of its box-office success. It should be said that the producer had to fight for years before he could shoot this movie; most of the people who would have had the money to finance the picture said that the story was too old and some even wanted to change the ending! But you can’t fool around with a story that is so much a part of the Québéc heritage.
Roy Dupuis read the movie’s script and loved the story. “I think it’s wonderful that people still allow themselves to tell great stories. Of course, we need all kinds of movies, but for once we had a great story that was ours, so I was thrilled to be a part of it,” he points out. Karine Vanasse, who plays Donalda, especially liked “the way that Charles Binamé and Pierre Billon wanted to present this woman. At the beginning of the movie, Donalda is filed with hopes and dreams, but at the end it’s something different altogether. And what isn’t easy with Donalda is that she doesn’t express everything either. There are so many silences... And that’s also what’s beautiful. This passion that she feels for Alexis is very strong, but at the same time she makes a choice that is at the complete opposite of what she trully feels. So the challenge was to get the audience to understand how torn apart this woman is. You have to feel all of that, what she can’t allow herself to express with words when she’s with Séraphin, but that you have to feel in the way that she looks at him,” she concludes. As for Pierre Lebeau, he says that he “loved the humanity, but not necessarily in the most noble sense of the term, that Séraphin’s character embodied. We understand that he is a man who suffers, almost pathetically. And I liked approaching the character from that angle. We kept Séraphin’s main characteristics, but I tried to make him a man not only greedy with his money, but also greedy of his feelings and his words. Séraphin speaks almost in a parcimonious manner. For him, the gift of oneself doesn’t exist. So once the first few minutes of the movie were over, my challenge was to get people to stick with this character and, in my humble opinion, I think that I was up to that challenge. [...] The fact remains that all those feelings, fuelled by Séraphin’s coldness and some characters’ vulnerability, is still up to date. Not only is this movie timeless, it is also universal. We often speak of regionalism, but in this case I don’t think it’s a regionalist story. [Rather, it’s] a great historic and romantic fresco.”
I have to admit that while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but see Ovila instead of Alexis. But that being said, I was thrilled to finally be able to know Séraphin’s story in more details and to see it brought up to date in such a way; before, it was only an old story of which I knew the basic plot, but it wasn’t that familiar. I am happy to finally know it; I feel a bit more like a Québécoise now. The images are really beautiful and the movie is very well made.
All in all: A must-see for all Quebeckers and for all those who want to know a bit more about their heritage.

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Shrek 2 (2004)
http://www.shrek2.com/
It’s hard to resist liking that big green ogre with Mike Myers’s voice. And Fiona and Donkey, too. So of course I went to see this sequel on the big screen. It starts off right after Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon, as they get back to their home in the swamp. Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away Land, heard about her rescue and subsequent wedding, so they send word that they would like to receive her and her husband at a royal ball in honor of their union. The only problem is that they think their daughter is still human and that she married Prince Charming. Boy, are they in for a surprise! The King and Queen (well, the King especially) disapprove of Shrek and they try to convince Fiona to leave him and to marry Charming instead. Even Shrek starts to wonder if she wouldn’t be better off without him, because ogres don’t seem to ever live happily ever after in the fairy tales, much less fit in with the rest of society. The plot thickens, as even Fiona’s Fairy Godmother seems to have a hidden agenda in this deal…
It does end well, though, it is a fairy tale after all. I guess that, whereas the first movie was about the pointlessness of vanity, the moral of this one is that you can write you own fairy tales in life and not let society set the ending for you.
The problem with this movie is that it relies too much on parodies and clichés to be truly entertaining. A few parodies scattered in a movie are good (they’re part of what made the first movie successful), but when the entire movie is a never-ending collage of parodies, even of itself, it’s a very different (and unoriginal and predictable) story. Even the soundtrack was remake after remake, which is disappointing knowing how good the first one was. The special effects are amazing, though, to a point where you might just stop following the story and stare squinting at the screen, wondering if it’s a real person or really just a 3-D animation. There is a great new character, though: Puss in Boots, with the voice of Antonio Banderas. I had my doubts about this, but it turned out to be a very good addition. I also liked the hidden reference to the Cameron Diaz - Justin Timberlake romance, when Fiona (played by Cameron Diaz) pines over a poster of Prince Justin, a clear caricature of Timberlake.
All in all: If you liked the first one, and who didn’t, you should see this one. Just don’t expect to be blown away as much as you were the first time.

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Sin City (2005)
http://video.movies.go.com/sincity/
It seemed really good, the return of film noir in a setting both retro and futuristic, in black and white but with a few strategic splashes of color, and of course an A-list cast. Well, what a huge disappointment that was. The plot twists are extremely clichéd and they distract you from the movie. The dark-cartoon-like ambiance is so unrealistic that it almost becomes funny, but the story itself is too boring for you to laugh. Almost all of the characters take turns narrating, so the whole thing seems deconstructed and is somewhat hard to follow. Oh, and did I mention that the story is completely pointless?
All in all: A big waste of my precious and otherwise perfectly good afternoon.

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Stage Beauty (2004)
http://www.stagebeautymovie.com
Set in the 17th century, Stage Beauty offers a glimpse into the life of Edward “Ned” Kynaston, who was England’s most celebrated leading… lady. As in Shakespearean times, women were not allowed on stage and men played all the parts. That is about to change, however, as King Charles II decides not only to allow women to be actresses, but to forbid men from playing female parts. Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is then very affected by the change, because he believes that there is no challenge in playing a man. However, this is very good news for his dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), who really wants to act. She becomes the first actress in England and plays with more passion than the men, while Kynaston and his mannerisms are forgotten by society almost overnight. But Maria then decides to help him become an actor again just as she has to play Othello’s Desdemona, Kynaston’s favourite role to act.
This is a fictionalized account of real events from the time period, based on the diaries of Samuel Pepys. It does a very good job of depicting the atmosphere of the time, while exploring heavier themes than previous movies have done. Kynaston and Maria are both trying to reconcile who they are and what they are allowed to do by society.
While the accents are not always convincing, the performances are really something. There is chemistry between the two main actors (after all, they fell in love while filming this). It is interesting that Billy Crudup put so much effort in this role, a role that most actors would have shied away from, and that he becomes so feminine when in costume. He shows quite an extensive range. Claire Danes is also one of the most talented actresses of her generation. The talents of the cast are showcased more on the stage than during other parts of the movie; it’s probably because director Richard Eyre knows quite a bit about English theatre. The almost-last scene, when Kynaston and Maria act out Desdemona’s murder, is truly something; it’s going to give you goose-bumps, the actors deserve awards for that. Well, the movie actually won the Phoenix Film Critics Society award for “Overlooked Film of the year (2004),” but it should have gotten more recognition.
All in all: A very good movie that didn’t get the recognition it deserves.

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Superman Returns (2006)
http://supermanreturns.warnerbros.com

Superman has been gone a number of years, doing some soul searching. In his absence, people have had no choice but to move on, including Lois Lane (she’s engaged, has a son and has won a Pulitzer for an article titled “Why the world doesn’t need Superman”). Then Superman comes back, out of the blue yonder, and tries to get his old life back on track. Luckily for him, Lex Luthor is ready to start up some major trouble again by taking over the world, so Superman can go right back to fighting his good ole arch-enemy; unluckily for him, Lois has no intention of leaving her committed relationship.
Brandon Routh, who plays Superman, basically does an eerily good job at channelling Christopher Reeve (instead of making the character his own?), but I felt that he spent most of the movie saving people and that the character wasn’t that developed (it could be because he’s been developed in previous movies, though). Kate Bosworth is good, despite a bad dye job and a lack of spunk (she basically plays the damsel in distress). Now, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor… He really steals the show! I loved him as the villain. Just for his performance, it was worth it. And Parker Posey is great as the villain’s girlfriend carrying a little dog the entire time.
I liked the theme song, which thankfully was kept for this movie. They also have Marlon Brando playing Superman’s father, thanks to footage from previous films.
I have to admit that I didn’t like the rubberized Superman suit. And the special effects did not impress me, sadly. For example, the scene where Superman puts the plane on the ground, while it got me clapping in the middle of the theatre, still looked like a drawing. My biggest complaint would be that the casting director picked actors who look like they are fresh out of college (Brandon and Kate) to play people who should be at least in their thirties, whose relationships have been explained in the previous movies, followed by a gap of five or six years before this movie. It just doesn’t make sense for the characters to be younger here than in the first Superman movie!
All in all: I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

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Super Size Me (2004)
http://www.supersizeme.com/
This Sundance award-winning documentary is a look at the legal, financial and physical effects of fast food in America. It is a really great documentary, almost Michael-Moorish in its conception: A gathering of carefully examined facts, pointing fingers at a huge corporate entity and inviting the public to make up their minds once they have all those facts. For example, one in four Americans eats at a fast food restaurant every day (40% of meals are taken outside the home), and 60% of the population is overweight or obese. Did you know that you would have to walk for seven hours straight to burn off the calories from a super sized coke, fry and Big Mac? McDonald’s actually targets children before they can even speak, and they give away more toys every year than Toys-R-Us. By the way, one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. The premise of this documentary is actually very simple: Morgan Spurlock embarked on a very strict regimen - only McDonald’s food for 30 days. There were rules: he would only have food on the menu, including water; he had to try every dish at least once (it took him nine days to try everything); and if he was asked to super size his meal, he had to say yes. He was closely supervised to monitor his progress, as he was routinely examined by a generalist doctor, a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist and a personal trainer. And all hell broke loose. The first few days went relatively well, of course, but then the fast food began to take its toll on Spurlock’s body, which was reflected in his health, his mood and… his sex life. His vegan girlfriend was very honest about that part. The first time he super sizes his meal is also quite a sight, as most of it quickly ends up on the asphalt of the drive-thru parking lot. He ended up almost turning his liver to pâté, put his health very much at risk and gained 25 pounds.
I don’t want to give away all the punches, but I will say that this was very well constructed and it explores issues such as the targeting of children by the media, food preparation in schools, the responsibility of corporations behind the fast food industry, personal responsibility, etc. It was very informative and entertaining.
All in all: A must-see for everyone.

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The Terminal (2004)
http://www.theterminal-themovie.com/
Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) lands in a New York airport, only to find out that his homeland (the fictive Krakozhia) has undergone a coup and that his passport and visa are therefore not valid. He is stuck at the airport terminal for close to a year, waiting it out and learning English along the way. He at first survives on mini club-sandwiches he makes out of saltines and condiments, but he soon finds a way to earn some change in order to buy a Burger King sandwich. With even more money, he can super size his meal. Of course, a stuffy bureaucrat bent on getting a promotion wants him out of the airport, as it is making him look bad. Navorski must use all of his ingenuity and resourcefulness in order to make his life bearable in the terminal. Luckily, he befriends some of the airport staff, who were once newcomers to this country too and who decide to help him when they can, a favor he returns well. Navorski also develops a crush on a flight attendant he sees once in a while, but this is a secondary plotline.
Interestingly enough, this movie is loosely based on the plight of Merhan Karmin Nasseri, who has been living in Terminal 1 of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport since 1988, due to bureaucratic red tape. According to him, the most annoying thing is the noise of suitcase wheels scraping across the tile floor.
As usual, Tom Hanks gives an incredible performance and his character is very believable, even as an Eastern European who hardly speaks English. Even the way he walks and carries himself seems foreign. I found him especially good when he learns that his home country is at war. Catherine Zeta-Jones does a good enough job, but the movie wouldn’t have suffered any had her character not been there; Tom Hanks does a great job at carrying it all by himself. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, who must really be at ease with Hanks by now. Quick fact for all of you: the movie was shot at Montreal’s Mirabel airport, which is very recognizable most of the time. I had trouble picturing it as an international New York airport since it is already quite familiar to me (and quite small). It was an obvious choice as a set, though, because making a movie is less expensive in Montreal to start with, and where else are you going to find an airport empty enough that you can use it as a movie set? (Inside joke to Montrealers ;o)
All in all: Very funny and entertaining, see this one.

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
http://www.terminator3.com/
We all know that the machines were supposed to rise on August 29th, 1997. But they didn’t, obviously. So what’s going on now? Well, in the last movie, they apparently only delayed the inevitable. SkyNet is being created anyway and the machines will launch their attack. So where’s John Connor when you need him? It turns out that he became a drifter, blissfully unaware of that sword over his head, but with no fixed address or job nonetheless, to make him harder to find (hey, having machines come from the future to try to murder twice will do that to you).
Of course, the machines do come back a third time; SkyNet’s tracking system must be more sophisticated than he realized. The new model of robots, the T-X (SkyNet’s most sophisticated cyborg killing machine yet), is sent to try to kill John Connor (not played by Edward Furlong, unfortunately) and Kate Brewster. It turns out that Kate, admirably played by Claire Danes, is the woman who will become John’s wife and also a key player in the human resistance movement. And added bonus for the guys: It turns out the T-X is a super-sexy female robot clad in skin-tight leather for the length of the movie, when she isn’t naked, that is (for the girls: just bear it while rolling your eyes periodically and sighing). So the T-800, played once again by Arnold Schwarzenegger with his accent, is the good robot sent to protect John and Kate as they try to stop the rise of the machines before it happens.
The T-800 does learn some new lingo to add to his repertoire (“Talk to the hand, bitch”). The special effects are quite good, there’s a lot of damage and explosions (try a long chase involving several cars, police vehicles, fire engines and one f***ing big truck that stops for nothing on a two lane street; or a major gun fight in a cemetery, of all places). I couldn’t help but feel that the T-800 is losing some steam, but maybe my expectations were too high to begin with. And without giving anything away, the ending leaves ample room for future instalments.
All in all: If you liked the first two movies, you’ll like this one.

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Thirteen (2003)
http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/thirteen/
An independent film cowritten by a thirteen-year-old, Nikki Reed, about what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world (let’s just say that a lot has changed since our parents were our age), so this movie is at least partly autobiographical. The main character is Tracy, played by newcomer Evan Rachel Woods; Holly Hunter plays her mother, Melanie. Tracy was the perfect little girl, wearing pigtails and playing with Barbies, until she entered junior high. She then suddenly needs to be like Evie, the most popular girl in school, who is snobbish, superficial and rude but who has all the attention and power. Nikki Reed actually plays Evie, this so-called ideal 2003 teenage girl. So Tracy leaves her old friends behind, changes her look and her attitude, and worms her way into Evie’s inner circle. She starts to fail her classes, to lie, to pierce various parts of her body, to mouth off to her mother, to diet, to drink, to take drugs, to dress provocatively, to mutilate herself and to engage in sexual acts just to fit in with this girl, who herself is just trying to fit in the world as she sees it, as a premature adult. Tracy loses the closeness she had with her hard-working mom and shuts her out of her life; she says that she can’t stand her mother’s ex-drug-addict boyfriend or the fact that her mother is a recovering alcoholic, and yet she steers her life exactly in that direction. Meanwhile, Evie manipulates her way into the once close-knit family, bringing them even further apart while finding the motherly love that she never had and that Tracy so desperately needs.
It surprised me that Evie would right away call Tracy’s mother by her first name and that, as liberal as she may be, the woman doesn’t say anything about it. It also surprises me that today’s adults seem to have lost touch with their children in such a blatant way. And that no one seems to be doing much about it, that the media is actually encouraging it, that money and profit have truly taken over for moral standards.
On top of establishing identity and independence, today’s teenagers also have to face a world filled with drugs and alcohol, with unrealistic expectations of sexiness and self-confidence fuelled by the media. This movie explores cliques and ephemeral popularity, as well as hopes of teenagers and the dangers that they don’t realize come with it. The movie is fast-paced, raw, honest and unapologetic, revealing in a truthful light what has either never been shown before, or what adults had never realized was going on. The camera is hyper-kinetic and the movie is shot almost like a documentary. Catherine Hardwicke cowrote the script with Nikki Reed and directed the movie (it was her first time directing); she won the Directing Award for it at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003. All three actresses give amazing performances and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this movie somewhere on this year’s list of Oscar nominees [post-scriptum: yup, I was right, nomination for Holly Hunter as Best Supporting Actress]. Evan Rachel Woods was actually nominated for a Golden Globe in 2004 for her performance. Quickly followed by another swarm of teenagers and distraught parents on the Dr. Phil Show.
All in all: You should see this one if you have teenagers, if you know teenagers or if you’re clueless as to what is their daily reality in today’s society.

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Transamerica (2005)
http://www.transamerica-movie.com/

I finally got around to seeing this; I really wanted to see it before the Oscar ceremony, and I just barely made it. It stars Felicity Huffman as a pre-operative transsexual: she plays a man who is in the process of becoming a woman. She does a remarkable job, let me tell you.
First of all, it is the story of Bree (née Stanley), who finds out that she has a son, Toby. So Bree has to go bail him out of juvie in New York and get back to L.A. in time for her surgery, but she realizes that she can’t just leave the kid behind. And Toby needs the help, because he’s a drug-addict and a prostitute. Since he wants to go to L.A. to pursue a career in acting, they drive down together. But Bree doesn’t know how she should react to him, so she doesn’t tell him that she’s his father – actually, she doesn’t tell him that she’s not a woman yet. They make pit stops at Toby’s childhood home, then at Bree’s parents’ home, even when they have car trouble and money runs out. All the while, we wonder if Bree will make it back for her surgery, and when and how Toby will find out the truth.
Felicity Huffman plays Bree admirably well. Her voice is low and she seems to be only beginning to become comfortable with women’s clothes and mannerisms. It’s no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar for this role. Kevin Zegers plays Toby, Bree’s son; he’s hot, in a jail-bait kind of way, and he does a really good job at portraying the emotional mess his character goes through.
Yes, it is another mismatched pair who goes on a cross-country road trip, but they still had an original take on it. And O.K., there may be a few clichéd moments, like the social comments on Judaism and Christianity, or the fact that Graham Greene pops out of nowhere in New Mexico. But there’s a lot more to it than that. The dialogue is very good, there are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout. The soundtrack was also great, changing in genre as parent and son make their way through America. And it ends well, even though it’s not a typical Hollywood ending.
All in all: A must-see.

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Troy (2004)
http://troymovie.warnerbros.com/
Now there’s a tale of epic proportions! It is an adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, a true classic of literature. In a nutshell, Paris (Prince of Troy) steals Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world, from her husband, King Menelaus. So Menelaus gets his brother Agamemnon’s help and goes to war on Troy, intent on avenging his honor. But Agamemnon has bigger plans, the taking-over of Troy, which would enable him to finally control all the Aegean Sea. Fighting under Agamemnon’s banner are all the armies of Greece as well as Achilles, half-god and the greatest warrior alive. But Troy is a citadel that no one had ever been able to breach, despite hundreds of years of people trying. King Priam and his sons, Prince Hector and Prince Paris, are therefore not overly worried about the outcome: they know there will be many deaths, but the throne itself is safe. This results in one of the greatest wars in history, with some of the greatest heroes in history as well.
I realize that this movie was marketed as an epic love story (there’s even a song by Josh Groban) and a story about war for power and honor, and while these elements are of course part of the plot, I felt that it was mostly about glory, about how posterity will remember people and heroes. For example, Achilles may fight under Agamemnon’s banner most of the time, but in truth he answers only to himself and fights to feed his hunger for eternal renown more than anything else. That aspect came up time and again during the movie and seemed to overtake the love story. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it actually gives us a whole new perspective on these legendary heroes and we understand more of their motivations: they wanted to be remembered.
Seeing it on the big screen really made a difference for me, as some of the scenes were really breathtaking and I don’t know how they’ll cut them down to size to fit a television screen. The panoramic scenes and the scenes with all the extras and special effects were particularly impressive. The fight scenes between two characters as well were nicely done. The costumes were also amazing, from hairdos to clothes to accessories, it was really beautiful to see. I must say though, that the Trojan horse disappointed me a little, it wasn’t quite how I pictured it. Now, the casting was exceptionally well done. Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, was played by Diane Kruger, a German model making her big screen debut. Saffron Burrows played Andromaque and Rose Byrne played Chryseis (whose part was rewritten for this adaptation). Peter O’Toole had the role of King Priam, Eric Bana was Prince Hector, and then of course there were Orlando Bloom as Prince Paris and Brad Pitt as Achilles. Talk about Greek gods (or half-gods)! They all gave really good performances, and I even predict a nomination for Brad Pitt.
All in all: There is some violence, of course, as this is one of history’s greatest wars. But the movie itself is absolutely worth it, go see it.

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Uptown Girls (2003)
http://www.uptowngirlsmovie.com/
First of all, major disappointment: When I’m going to see a movie called Uptown Girls, I DEFINITELY expect to hear, at SOME point, the song Uptown Girl by Billy Joel, especially since the lyrics actually fit the movie. What were the producers thinking! I mean, come on, you missed a really good opportunity here guys!
Anyways, here’s what happens: Molly (played by Brittany Murphy) is the daughter of a rock-and-roll star from the eighties who died and left her with a lot of money, which her accountant “Bob” manages for her. She has no cares in the world and continues to live like a little girl (like a princess is more like it; it turns out that the rent on that apartment, in real life, is about US$12 000 a month). But then Bob skips town with the money and she is left penniless, so she is forced to become more responsible and to earn a living herself. She packs up her stuff, takes her pig Moo with her and goes out into the real world (no, actually she is dragged into the real world by her friends, who offer her two places to stay as well as two jobs over the course of the movie; aren’t pals great?). She becomes a nanny for a little girl, Lorraine, who goes by Ray (Dakota Fanning). This kid needs some help! She is a neurotic control freak and has a phobia of germs to the point where she brings her own soap to public restrooms. She is Molly’s complete opposite in that she grew up too fast and is now, at the tender age of eight, acting like more of an adult than her own mother (who by the way is pretty much absent from her child’s life, hence the nanny). And as you guessed it, the two now help each other become better happier people and act their own age.
I was a little disappointed by the fact that the rising singer Neal Fox (who does live up to his last name ;o) makes a big deal about how he has to do his own thing and how he won’t “sell out” by writing catchy pop tunes or wearing purple instead of earth tones. And what does he do? He writes a catchy pop tune (about a set of 900-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets Molly buys for him), names his album “Purple” and wears a funky purple jacket as his new trademark look. And then he gets famous and somewhat forgets about Molly.
It is a really predictable movie, obviously. I won’t give away anything, but when Ray is missing and Molly decides to go find her, you’ll know where the kid is hiding out before way Molly does. And when Molly has to auction off her father’s guitar collection to make ends meet and an “anonymous buyer” places a bid over the phone, you’ll know who it is right away even though it takes Molly the rest of the movie to figure it out. Not that I want to make Molly seem slow or anything. ;o)
Finally though, the scene (and song) at the end, no matter how cheesy, is absolutely beautiful and makes the whole thing worthwhile; it might even bring a tear out of you if you cry easily at movies, it’s that moving.
All in all: It’s a light comedy, something to watch on a rainy afternoon when you just want to be told a story without thinking too much. And Dakota Fanning never disappoints, the girl is amazing; let’s just pray she grows up right and that she doesn’t fall off the face of the planet when puberty hits, I’d love to see more of her.

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La Vie en rose (2007)
http://www.tfmdistribution.com/lamome/lamome.htm
This is the movie about the life of Édith Piaf. I hadn’t realized how hard she had it: abandoned by her mother, left in a whorehouse by her father, her delicate health leaving her blind for several months as a child, alcoholic, prostitute, street performer, she lost her daughter and, years later, her lover Marcel, she had a car accident that left her dependent on morphine... She died young, barely 47 years old, but she looked like she was 70 because of her life of excess. However, she had a beautiful voice and extraordinary determination.
First of all, I have to say that Marion Cotillard’s performance is truly mind-blowing. From now on, she will be remembered for this role. And she’s going to receive a bunch of awards for it, mark my words. Not only does the makeup transform her completely, but she has adopted the voice and the walk of the famous singer. It’s really something you must see.
The only problem, I think, is that Piaf’s life is presented in a non-linear way, somewhat haphazardly, and the result is that some important events are revealed only at the end, as if they had been forgotten before, and you can lose track of the story on some occasions.
All in all: A truly brilliant movie.

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La Vie secrete des gens heureux (2006)
http://www.christalfilms.com/officialsites/laviesecretedesgensheureux/

As the title (The Secret Life of Happy People) indicates, this is about the hidden aspect of the lives of people who seem so happy and so perfect. It is the story of a couple in their fifties; the husband has an important career and financial success, his wife is a walking encyclopaedia, and their oldest daughter just accepted a prestigious job in London. But their son, Thomas, a shy architecture student, has trouble getting his bachelor’s degree. He eventually meets a quirky young woman, Audrey, who gives him one heck of a ride and who inspire him both in his studies and in his personal life. Of course, all is not as perfect as it seems at a glance...
Well, this is the critics’ curse. The movie is... perfectly adequate. What to say? Yes, it’s good. It’s not excellent and it’s far from being bad. It’s both funny and sad. Nothing really jumped out at me (except the fact that Catherine de Léan will become Quebec’s Audrey Tautou). The actors’ performances are good, the story is good, the sets are nice, and there are interesting developments.
All in all: It’s okay, basically.

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The Village (2004)
http://video.movies.go.com/thevillage/splash.html
1897, Covington Woods, Pennsylvania. A peaceful little village like any other, except... there are no roads leading away from this self-sufficient village. No one is allowed in the woods surrounding it. The reason? Strange creatures live in the woods and would attack you if you were to venture into their territory. The villagers stay in the village, the creatures stay into the woods, and everybody is happy. That is, until some of the villagers start thinking that medicine from the outside world would save lives in their village. The situation becomes even more pressing when some of the creatures start to venture into the village at night and kill livestock, for no apparent reason. One young man, Lucius (Joaquim Phoenix), volunteers to cross the woods in an effort to go to the nearest town and buy what they would need. Lucius is a handsome young man, by far the village’s most elligible bachelor, and he is in love with Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), a young blind girl who can see auras. But the village idiot (Adrien Brody) is in love with her and starts to get jealous of the relationship between Ivy and Lucius. So without giving too much away, halfway through the movie, the village elders designate Ivy to go through the woods and gather medicine, as she is the purest of heart and therefore stands the best chance against whatever might be out there.
Of course, this movie was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a man renowned for his suspenseful story-telling and surprise twist endings. This movie was perhaps a bit simplistic, elaborating on things that needn’t be so detailed while throwing in some unnecessary events. There is at least one loophole in the plot, while the rest of the story leaves numerous hints that gather to help you understand where the tale is heading, maybe a little before you were actually supposed to figure it out. And you won’t help but make parallels between the characters and soccer teams, the baddies wearing red and the good guys wearing yellow, which they view as their safe color. They even surround the village with yellow flags and paint yellow markings, in an effort to keep the creatures away (the latter being drawn to anything red). A good effort was made on the dialogue, where instead of saying "What are you kids looking at?," a character might say "Children, what manner of spectacle has attracted your attention? " And of course there is something gripping about a blind girl making her way through the woods alone with God knows what chasing her (I had a flashback of Blair Woods, actually; and she did start off with two escorts, but they chickened out on her and left her there on her own, which is even scarier).
Now, on the plus side, the A-list of actors all give very good performances, especially newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter, for those of you living under a rock). And I don’t care what anybody says, Adrien Brody gave an excellent performance in this, so stop using him as a scapegoat. There were some very good images as well.
I should just point out the theatrics of the altercation between Lucius and the village idiot when the latter finds out how deep Lucius’s feelings for Ivy are.
On the more negative side, and even here I hesitate to use the term "negative"... Shyamalan’s narrative style has changed a bit over the last two movies, now it’s almost like he’s painting himself in a corner by feeding us little tidbits of information and then he has a lot of loose ends to tie up before the final credits. One of three things has happened here: either 1) M. Night Shyamalan and I are on the same wavelength, as I had guessed the ending just by the previews (I have three witnesses who will testify to this); 2) He has gotten a little lazy and his stories are more predictable or the ending is less mind-blowing; or 3) This has been built up way too much and people are expecting a lot more from this director than is humanly possible, and therefore end up disappointed with what is, after all, a good movie. I think that if we had never seen The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable (never mind Signs), or if we hadn’t known who the director was, this would have been excellent. By now, we are just expecting the unexpected from him anyway, so we end up disappointed.
All in all: It is a good movie, but you will not enjoy it as much as you did The Sixth Sense. Stop comparing it and just go with the flow.

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Whale Rider (2003)
http://www.whaleriderthemovie.com/
This is a co-production of New Zealand and Germany, the action being set in New Zealand. It is based on a popular novel (which I haven’t read ;o).
According to legend, the first man, Paikea, came to New Zealand on the back of a whale. He left a long line of descendants, the Maoris. The first-born boy of each generation becomes the new chief of the tribe. Nowadays, they live in seaside houses and drive cars and motor boats, but the old tradition of the passing-down of chief knowledge continues. However, the current chief’s oldest son, Pourourangi, isn’t much interested in becoming a chief. When he fathers twins, the chief (Koro) hopes he can pass down his knowledge to his grandson, but the male twin and his mother die during childbirth. The female twin survives and her father names her Pai, despite her grandfather’s objections (since she is named after Paikea but is a girl). Pourourangi then flees to Germany, where he lives off his Maori-inspired art and doesn’t have to live around the constant reminder of his wife and dead son. As Pai grows up with her grandparents, she becomes interested in being the new chief, but her grandfather tells her that she can’t be the chosen one because she is a girl and that she is therefore of no use to him. Twelve years later, when Pourourangi announces that he has a German girlfriend and that she is pregnant, it becomes clear that he will not produce another Maori heir. The old chief then decides to teach all the boys in the village the old ways, hoping to find a boy who is worthy of the title. Even though the Pai is denied the teachings, she hides outside the classroom and secretly learns with the boys. She soon knows all the chants and knows the warrior techniques, but the more interest she shows in becoming chief, the more her grandfather shuts her out of the tribe. Despite all of her grandmother’s efforts, Koro refuses to acknowledge that she could be the natural heir. It all culminates the night that her grandfather doesn’t show up to her school presentation, even though she has written him a thank-you speech. At the same time, a herd of whales beach themselves on the village shores and Koro is convinced that this signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe, as he is powerless to help them return to the sea. Only the Whale Rider can do such a thing and sacrifice themselves to save the tribe...
This was a wonderful movie that, as a friend of mine said, really shows us a different way of life. We learn about Maori culture and customs and the meaning these hold for them even though their way of life has changed. Furthermore, the movie was actually shot on the location where the book had set it, with the actual tribe who lives there as extras and their village as the set. The scenery and traditional costumes are breathtaking because they are genuine. The young actress who plays Pai, Keisha Castle Hughes, is a newcomer to the screen but it is as if she had been there her whole life. Her performance is absolutely amazing, she truly has becomes Pai. [Post-scriptum: She received an Academy Award nomination for Best actress in 2004.]
All in all: You should definitely see this one as soon as you are in the mood for something slightly exotic, it won’t disappoint.

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William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
http://www.romeoandjuliet.com/

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been ten years since this movie first blew me away. It was my first taste of Baz Luhrmann, and the first time I saw actors like Harold Perrineau, John Leguizamo and Jamie Kennedy. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet; in my opinion, they are two master thespians who are consistently overlooked (just watch this movie to know what I mean).
This movie is two hours long, as was the original play. What sets it apart from other adaptations of Shakespeare’s classic tale is, actually, the setting. While the dialogue is completely true to the original time period, the tale is set in a modern stylized surrealist world like only Baz Luhrmann can create. There are retro-looking futuristic cars; drugs are associated with Queen Mab; and guns replace swords (wittily part of the fictitious “Sword 9mm” or “Dagger” series, so as to fit in with the dialogue). The balcony scene has been moved to a pool, but the water plays the obstacle between the star-crossed lovers. Verona draws inspiration both from Miami’s South Beach and from Mexico City, with a gas station instead of the market place and FedEx replacing messengers. Romeo has become the antihero archetype, the rebel without a cause who is ultra-romantic at heart. Juliet is in her ivory tower, while the media replaces the chorus, and the police are modern swat teams. The sets and colors are fantastic and exaggerated in such a way that, even if you have trouble understanding all the dialogue, you will be able to follow the story without missing a beat. The actors have made the dialogue their own and give it an intensity rarely seen in more rigid stage productions.
As is often the case with Baz Luhrmann’s films, the soundtrack is mind blowing, and you’ll notice it from the opening scene in this film. The soundtrack combines elements from classical music (like the ending of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde) with songs by Radiohead and Garbage, while remaining tender with the love theme by Des’ree. Everything seems to come alive with the actors, the set and the music. For the most perceptive of you, there are references to other plays by Shakespeare throughout the film (mostly on billboards), as well as to the Globe Theatre. And the “L’amour” sign (copying the Coca-Cola logo) is in two other films by Baz Luhrmann, including Moulin Rouge.
All in all: This brilliant retelling of a classic tale rings true to our times; its originality will take your breath away. This is an absolute must-see and is one of my favourite movies of all time.

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Book Reviews
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Now 42 books, organized by author family name.

Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galgaxy
Mitch Albom – The five people you meet in Heaven
Nelly Arcand – Putain
Alessandro Baricco – Soie
Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Paulo Colhlo – The Alchemist
Arlette Cousture – Les Filles de Caleb, Tome 3 : L’Abandon de la mésange
Dai Sijie – Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Sigmund Freud – Introduction to psychoanalysis
John Grogan – Marley And Me
Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Yuki Inoue – Mémoires d’une geisha
A.J. Jacobs – The Year of Living Biblically (One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible)
Diane Jessup – The dog who spoke with gods
Douglas Kennedy – The Pursuit of Happiness
Stephen King – The Stand
Milan Kundera – Slowness: A Novel
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics
Jean Marcel – Jérôme ou de la traduction
Yann Martel – Life of Pi
Herman Melville – MobyDick
Michael Moore – Stupid White Men (… and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!)
Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveller’s Wife
Amélie Nothomb – Le Sabotage amoureux
Tawni O’Dell – Back Roads
D.B.C. Pierre – Vernon God Little
Jacques Poulin – La traduction est une histoire d’amour
Kathy Reichs – Monday Mourning
J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter V: The Order of the Phoenix
Jonathan Safran Foer – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince
Asne Seierstad – The Bookseller of Kabul
Luis Sepúlveda – The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her To Fly
Carol Shields – Unless
John Steinbeck – East of Eden
Patrick Süskind – Perfume
Michel Tremblay – La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte
Lynne Truss – Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Mark Waid and Alex Ross – Kingdom Come
Burt Ward – Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights
Margery Williams – The Velveteen Rabbit

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Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
http://www.douglasadams.com/creations/hhgg.html

This is the first book in the (somewhat inaccurately named) trilogy of five. It was based on the popular radio series, and in 2005, a fantastic film adaptation was released. The book itself is wildly imaginative and quite hilarious. I’m not surprised it has achieved cult status.
It is the story of Arthur Dent, who wakes up one morning as his house is being demolished. It doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, though, as the Earth is demolished later that day by aliens making way for a hyperspatial express route. Luckily for Arthur, his friend Ford Prefect just happens to be an alien in disguise, so they are able to hitch a ride on the spaceship and survive. The guide to survival is, of course, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which Ford was doing research for. I won’t get into the details of their adventures, but suffice it to say that it is well worth reading. Especially if you want the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. ;o)

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Mitch Albom – The five people you meet in Heaven
http://www.twbg.co.uk/

The book starts with the end, the last hour of Eddie’s life. Each ending is actually the beginning of something else: After his death, Eddie goes to Heaven and he meets a man he knew a long time ago, a man whose life he impacted more than he can imagine… It’s the first of the five people Eddie meets, and each person is there to teach him a lesson he must learn or to give him an explanation he had to hear.
The story isn’t strictly that, since Eddie’s meetings are interspersed with pieces of his life, often seen through his birthdays (which have always been very meaningful). The 83-year-old man, who is in charge of maintenance at an amusement park, is a war veteran and is still in love with his wife, who died thirty years before him. The details about his life only make him more real and they avoid having the author sound like he’s preaching, since the life lessons apply to the character instead of directly to the reader.
The story has an original premise and it is written in an interesting way. I couldn’t help but wonder which five people I would meet and how my actions affect others. It’s a light-hearted book you won’t want to put down. Perfect to start the summer!

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Nelly Arcand – Putain
http://www.seuil.com

It’s a different kind of writing, a sort of stream of consciousness, sentences that run on forever, an author who’s writing for the simple pleasure of hearing herself speak, she’s only doing it to shock people, it has neither a story nor a plot line, no, it’s only comments that seem to come straight from the head of a mental patient, she’s talking nonsense, she’s doing it only to get a reaction out of us, she imagines horrors and scares herself and has a completely deranged vision of the world, it can’t be fun to be her and to think like that, if she even really thinks it, if she hasn’t written it just to be noticed, which wouldn’t surprise me, with her tales of fathers and daughters, of men and women, of youth and old age, from the point of view of a girl traumatised by God knows what, it’s a ridiculous book if you really want to know.
So, if you absolutely insist on wasting your time, you can read it, but otherwise stay away from it at all costs. I don’t understand why the French-speaking world said so much good about this, it’s better not to read anything than to read this.

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Alessandro Baricco – Soie
http://www.gallimard.fr

This is a short book, a very nice summer read. Around 1860, a small village in the south of France thrives on raising silk worms. Suddenly, an epidemic contaminates all the eggs of the area. So, on October 6th of each year, Hervé Joncour must begin the long voyage that will lead him all the way to Japan, in order to buy healthy eggs and to bring them back to his village before they hatch. He always comes back on Easter morning, without fail, and meets his wife before mass. Hervé Joncour then experiences the shock of two worlds, a love affair with a woman he is not allowed to speak to, a civil war in a country far away, the words of a mysterious man who seems to know everything, a woman running a whorehouse in Nîmes who is his only link to the Japanese language... A truly captivating story which reads like a dream.

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Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
http://www.randomhouse.ca/about/anchor.html
This is probably the best popularization book I have ever read – and that’s saying a lot, since I have a scientific background. It is the story not only of how we came to be (humans, Earth, the universe, etc.) but also of how those theories came to be. Even though I thought I knew most of it already, it turns out that a lot of it was never put into the curriculum I went through, for various reasons. I learned a lot and I was quite entertained by the anecdotes regarding inventors and theoreticians. Everything was explained in such a way that it was easy to understand for those who don’t have a scientific background, but it will still have something to bring to those who do.
I really recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in sciences (biology, geology, chemistry or physics) or in humanity. Anyone can enjoy this well-written book.

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Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0451527747,00.html

Yes, I finally read these. Like all children, I had seen the movie, the tv show, the countless adaptations, but I had never read the whole thing. And now I have.
I’ll start by confirming what I learned in my Literary Translation class: So much of the story is based on puns that it is impossible to translate, it has to be completely adapted. So be careful which version you read.
Also, it’s somehow more enjoyable when you don’t actually know that the author, a famous mathematician, was a suspected pedophile who wanted to marry seven-year-old Alice Liddell (a.k.a. Little Alice, the inspiration for the book) and who took pictures of naked girls. So I guess I probably shouldn’t have told you that…
Nonetheless, it is a wonderful book and everyone should read it. I especially recommend Adventures in Wonderland, which I liked more than Through the Looking Glass. It will make you feel like a child again and it is a true classic of literature. It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like I’m repeating things you already know (like falling down a rabbit-hole and eating magic mushrooms) and talking about characters that are already familiar to you (the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter or the Queen of Hearts). The only thing I can bring to the table is how queer people’s behaviour seems compared to today’s standards. I’m not sure if even Queen Victoria behaved like that. You just have to go along with it for the sake of the story and pretend that a seven year old child thinks that way. The story itself is still amazing.

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Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
http://www.livredepoche.com/index.html

It was about time I read this! It is a marvellous book telling the story of how a simple Spanish sheep herder pursues his Personal Legend, his dream and his destiny, in order to go find a treasure at the foot of the Pyramids of Egypt. Obviously, his path will be littered with obstacles and trials, but also signs and encouragement. He meets many characters who will play an important role in his life, mainly the Alchemist, the man able to transform lead into gold… Actually, the goal of the story isn’t exactly the treasure itself, but rather the path that leads to it and the lessons we learn along the way. As you have guessed it, it is not a simple novel, it is also the way that the author chooses in order to teach us life’s great lessons, the things that we should know in order to live happier lives and to be more at peace with ourselves. Sort of like Khalil Gibran, but with a plotline that really links the themes together and a story that whispers to us, subtly or not, life’s great lessons, if we are ready to hear them.
I strongly recommend it; it is a very good read.

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Arlette Cousture – Les Filles de Caleb, Tome 3 : L’Abandon de la mésange
http://www.anel.qc.ca/Repertoire.asp?No=1273

I had been waiting for this one for a long time, as all other female Quebecers I think. It is the story of Élise, Blanche’s daughter and Émilie’s grand-daughter. She evolves in Montreal from the 1950s to the 1980s, as well as in the city’s surrounding areas. She plans on becoming a teacher, like her grandmother, or maybe a farmer, even though she only had her first taste of country living at sixteen years of age. It is the selective story of her life and of the people in it, of her parents, her sister, her husband, her in-laws, her friends… Basically like the previous instalments. So there’s an Élise, and there’s also an Amélie and even a Viviane, which are nice coincidences, I think, because these are all names in my family! I liked the fact that much of the story took place in Montreal, in neighbourhoods that were familiar to me and that I could therefore picture easily. However, I must say that I found the story much more poorly written than what I had been used to reading from this author. As if she had said to herself, "My deadline is getting closer, and anyway this will obviously sell no mater what I write," so here we are with this botched book that looks more like a good draft than a finished product, much less an instalment of Les Filles de Caleb. It’s far from being bad, it’s just a bit disappointing.

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Dai Sijie – Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
http://www.gallimard.fr

The Cultural Revolution in China, 1971. Two young intellectuals are sent to a small mountain village lost in the Chinese countryside in order to be re-educated, bringing with them only their clothes, a violin and a mechanical clock. Forced labour occupies most of their time. One day however, they meet the daughter of the tailor who lives in the next village and fall in love with her, but she chooses Luo over his friend, who narrates the story. The two young men also discover, at a neighbor’s house, a suitcase full of Western books, which have been outlawed by Chairman Mao but which soon become the only thing they look forward to. With these books, they broaden the mind of the little Chinese seamstress...
A classic book that you must read (or at least watch the movie).

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Sigmund Freud – Introduction to psychoanalysis
http://www.bibliomonde.net/pages/fiche-editeurs.php3?id_editeur=115

Here’s something a little more intellectual to sink your teeth into. Freud and his theories are actually much less understood that you would think, because popularization has been somewhat botched: Many people have read excerpts of his books and have repeated the words without understanding them (or without realizing that they were from a book written in 1900 and that Freud modified his theory in 1935, for example). Moreover, these are books translated from German (which was actually Freud’s second language), so the results are more or less acceptable depending on which language you read them in. It’s true that his ideas have been poorly received in the beginning (human beings didn’t like being told that the Earth wasn’t round and that they descend from the same common ancestor as monkeys, so when someone tells them that “the ego isn’t master in his own house”…), but you have to see beyond that. Especially since Freud, a biologist by formation, started doing psychoanalysis out of financial need and never claimed to be the repository of all knowledge!
In this book, written after a series of conferences, Freud explains the basis of psychoanalysis as far as subconsciously deliberate mistakes, dream analysis (the theory that he’s the most proud of) and neurosis are concerned. Of course, he has very high self-esteem, but he still admits that his theories aren’t fool-proof. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. The fact remains that Freud is the first one who thought of looking for the causes of disorders instead of simply relieving the symptoms. He also introduced the idea of the subconscious and of repression, of libido and of transference. All right, the way he tells it, it sounds like intellectual masturbation; he does give examples, but readers who don’t have any formation in psychology will have trouble understanding this book, as the syntax is so heavy (and the numerous typos in the Petite Bibliothèque Payot edition certainly don’t help). The ideas are interesting, but to know more about psychoanalysis, I would recommend either an edited version of this book or a more recent popularization book.

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John Grogan – Marley And Me
http://marleyandme.com /
This is the story of the world’s worst dog. The 97-pound lab doesn’t listen to commands, flunked out of obedience school, destroys property and wreaks havoc on the ward. Yet, he’s the most loyal and good-hearted dog there is.
This story is told extremely well (it helps that the author is a journalist). It is moving, sometimes hilariously funny and sometimes almost unbearably sad, but always entertaining. Marley reminds us how good life can be, and that it should be enjoyed fully, even in the face of adversity. This dog may not have been easy to handle, but he sure made life better in his own way.
I really recommend this book, both to animal lovers and to those who are thinking of getting a dog. It was a fantastic read.

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Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
http://www.powells.com/authors/haddon.html

The story opens with the body of a dog with a pitchfork sticking through it. It is described by Christopher, a 15-year-old narrator with a form of autism (probably Asperger’s Syndrome, although this is never mentioned in the book). While he is extremely intelligent, he cannot recognize human emotion and can’t function in society as a normal person does. He decides to solve the mystery of Who Killed Wellington (the dog) and writes a book about it. He starts investigating, but it is quite hard for him, as his fear of strangers prevents him from speaking to them (try investigating without asking any questions!). He writes in a very distinctive way and you’ll get attached to him on the first few pages. All the chapters are given prime numbers (so instead of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-etc., they go 2-3-5-7-11-13-17-etc.) and the boy then explains why he likes prime numbers. Christopher gives you a lot of insight into his world and the way he sees things: He cannot lie, he doesn’t understand metaphors or jokes, he loves maths, he wants to be an astronaut. He includes drawings and descriptions to help you understand what he says and he talks about a variety of mundane things, from his point of view, as he’s trying to solve the mystery about the dog, as well as the other mysteries that he uncovers along the way. Parts of it are incredibly funny, others are sad, other are very profound; but the strange thing is, because Christopher doesn’t display emotion, readers will find a way to interpret these passages from their own point of view and what is funny to one may be sad to another. So I would say that it ends well, but others think the opposite. Christopher’s voice actually overpowers the plot, but it makes for an incredible and unique read. Even if it hadn’t received awards and been on the best-sellers’ list, I’d still say that you have to read that book. I actually wish I had written it.

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Yuki Inoue – Mémoires d’une geisha
http://www.bibliomonde.net/pages/fiche-editeurs.php3?id_editeur=228
This book tells the memoirs of a geisha and the way she lived her life, with all the changes her profession went through in the 20th century. The details of the daily life of geishas at the turn of the century are very interesting, and I loved seeing the way World Wars had an impact on geishas (even though there is not even a mention of the nuclear bombs of 1945, which I think we all agree must have had at least somewhat of an impact on the country!). We’re really carried away into another world.
However, the French translation (which I read) was more or less good. I realize that it’s hard to translate certain notions, which explains the number of Japanese words remaining in the text and the fact that it seems that a third of the story was written to explain aspects of the culture. But the number of anglicisms in the text (which is surprising for something that was translated from Japanese into French), the typos and the non grammatical sentences make one think that the reviser wasn’t doing his job. As a result, the book lacks seriousness and it is easy to loose track of the story.
So since the movie based on the book will be coming out soon, you can hope that it will be a better adaptation; that will save you some time if you want to know the story.

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A.J. Jacobs – The Year of Living Biblically (One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible)
http://www.ajjacobs.com
This book was unexpectedly funny. A New York magazine editor decides to spend a year living according to Biblical rules – and there are over 700 of them, by his count. Some are relatively easy (like the Ten Commandments), but some are both obscure and near-impossible to observe in modern North America (not touching menstruating women, adorning your door jamb with lamb’s blood or plucking out your eye can be awkward). Not all of the Bible was meant to be taken literally, of course, but no one can agree on which parts should be; that is why there are several groups of hard-core Judeo-Christians who say they follow the Bible, but end up following different parts of it. Everyone ends up cherry-picking their way through it, really, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a good foundation. The book contains spiritual reflections, of course, but even if that’s not what you’re looking for, you’ll really enjoy this one.

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Diane Jessup – The dog who spoke with gods
www.stmartins.com
www.workingpitbull.com
Damien is a feral pit bulldog, one of the noblest breeds known to man. But, through various twists of fate, he becomes the property of a university professor and is used as a lab animal, confined to steel cages and never seeing the light of day. Elizabeth, a pre-med student, comes in contact with the dog and is unexpectedly drawn to his fate. She tries to help him and in the process, he changes not only her life, but her beliefs.
The author, who obviously loves pit bulls, has the gift of writing – realistically – from the point of view of the dog. The story explores the relationship between dog and owner, but also between animals and human kind in general. This tale of love and loyalty will please any animal lover, and maybe warm the heart of others. While the story seems to be stretched a bit too far at times, the book itself is worth the read. It is well written and will be hard to put down.

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Douglas Kennedy – The Pursuit of Happiness
http://www.pocket.fr/pocket/collections/roman/index.jsp

The story is set in New York; it starts in modern times, but we are quickly transported just after World War Two. On Thanksgiving, 1945, Sara Smythe meets Jack Malone, a reporter for the American army. A night of passion and the love of a lifetime follow, but then Jack seemingly falls off the face of the Earth, despite Sara’s daily letters. She loses hope and tries to forget him, in vain. Their paths cross again by coincidence a few years later, as Jack is married and has a child. But they can’t dismiss their feelings and they decide to keep on seeing each other. Meanwhile, McCarthy starts his witch hunt and Eric, Sara’s brother, is singled out for his previous affiliation with a communist party… Fifty years later, Kate Malone has just buried her mother when a mysterious stranger contacts her…
It’s a very well-written book, by a man who loves New York and who is able to recreate the appropriate atmosphere.
I especially liked the character of Sara. I don’t know how representative she is of women of her time (she is quite independent), but I really identified with her. The fact that I write and that, just days before, I had an experience where a guy never called back might have had something to do with it!
I read the French translation of the book and I couldn’t help but notice small translation mistakes here and there. But the book itself is worth the read.

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Stephen King – The Stand
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0881037222?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0881037222&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

This was my first Stephen King read, recommended by my husband. It was excellent.
The premise is that a virus wipes out 99% of the population. The survivors, after their initial shock, try to regroup and start their lives over. But they are all having the same psychic dreams: one about a woman who is 108 years old, and another about the Dark Man. There are two groups of survivors, though. Those you might call good rally behind the old woman and gather in Boulder, Colorado. Those you might call bad fall behind the Dark Man and set up shop in Las Vegas. Of course, the Dark Man wants to destroy the people in Boulder, and therein lays the actual plot of the book.
This book wasn’t frightening like I expected (though parts of it were scary); it was more of a character-oriented story. It was extremely well written, though, and I think anyone would enjoy it.

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Milan Kundera – Slowness : A Novel
http://www.gallimard.fr/collections/folio.htm

Slowness is a quick read. It is very well-written, in a simple and clear style that holds your interest. The story is relatively simple, it is set in a castle converted into an inn, which is hosting an entomology convention. It is chock-full of superb social comments, of course. I was constantly thinking of my previous teacher, Bernard Lévy, as I was reading this. The book opposes the speed and the lack of privacy of the present to the slowness and the art of secrecy of the past. We see that the castle (which was private and where people were discreet) has become an inn where everyone makes a spectacle of themselves.
Actually, even though I liked this book, it wasn’t the ecstasy that I was expecting.

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Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics
http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/
The full title is Freakonomics – A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. This is economy only in the sense that it explains how the world actually works (conventional wisdom be damned) and how people get what they want. Numbers appear to show why the average drug dealer still lives with his mom, for example, but this book is written in such a way that anyone will not only understand it, but find something interesting to take away from it. So don’t let the “economy” part of the title scare you away.
Personally, I have to say that this is the best non-fiction book I have read lately. I was particularly surprised by the impact that Roe v. Wade had on violent crime rates. This book makes sense. It doesn’t claim to explain everything, nor does it have exact data on every subject, but it shakes some sense out of things that you wouldn’t think are related, and it explains things that other experts can’t seem to understand (since they don’t ask the right questions). Like another critic said before me, it’s as if Levitt saw a bunch of scientists fussing around a machine trying to fix it, and he just thought to plug it in. Lord knows we need more people with common sense in this world.
You really should read this book, it’s both enlightening and entertaining.

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Jean Marcel – Jérôme ou de la traduction
http://www.lelibraire.org/editeur.asp?id=29

It’s the story of the life of Saint Jerome, as seen through the eyes of his faithful lion (his own presence is due to an old translation mistake, because it’s actually Saint Gerasimus who had a lion, not Saint Jerome). The story is not told in chronological order, we see Jerome die, then he’s 20 years old, then he’s an old man and then young again; that criss-crossing through time makes for jumps from one topic to another without warning. And even though a lot of research was necessary in order to write this book, there is still a big part of fiction in it and it is hard to differentiate what is true and what isn’t. We see people who were important in Jerome’s life, the women who were part of his entourage, his friends, his enemies, … The lion also describes numerous paintings of the saint, but we never get to see an image in the book; it’s more like an enumeration, a catalogue for the well-informed rather than a book intended for real readers. The book is divided in seven parts (knock yourself out with the meaning of numbers in Christianity), and each part is divided in seven chapters of one paragraph, many pages long. And above all, the style, the way it’s written… it’s so heavy that it’s mind-numbing, you have the read the sentences many times over in order to understand them. The writing is pompous and pretentious, as if the author wanted only to display his erudition. It’s hard to tell what he’s getting at, and on top of everything, it ends abruptly in a way that leaves you really confused. Add to that the few syntax and coherence errors in the book and it’s even more disappointing.
If you want to know more about the life of Saint Jerome and the position of the Church during Antiquity, go right ahead and read this book, but know that’s it’s a really heavy read!

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Yann Martel – Life of Pi
http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=0676973779

Pi Patel is a young Indian boy, the son of a zookeeper and a practising Muslim, Christian and Hindu, to everyone’s consternation. His family eventually decides to emigrate to Canada, but a storm sinks the boat on which they were travelling. Pi finds himself the sole human survivor, stuck on a small lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with a zebra with a broken leg, an orang-utan, a hyena and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. This is the captivating story of how he spent 227 days at sea on that lifeboat and lived to tell the story. Without giving anything away, I will admit that the end of Part 2 seemed a bit far-fetched, although technically not entirely impossible. I definitely recommend this book; if you haven’t read it already you should do so as soon as possible. I’ll warn you right now: Do not wait for the movie; this is the kind of narration that is impossible to translate to the big screen. It is extremely well-written and very entertaining; the many details provided make the story only that much more real. It is also the only English-language book to make into the French-language best-sellers’ list.
Don’t let this wave pass you by, get on board! ;o)

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Herman Melville – Moby-Dick
http://www.online-literature.com/melville/mobydick/
This is probably the most over-rated book I have ever read in my life. It seems that Melville couldn’t decide between writing an actual story or heaping up a bunch of details and “facts” (I use the term loosely) about whales. The narration is heavy, at times I felt like I was hearing the adults’ voice from Peanuts, like a blaring trumpet, without being able to make out any words. Methinks it does not translate well to today’s generations. Not only is the vocabulary completely outdated, but the sentence structure, the references, the characters who speak about themselves in the third person (one out of shame, one out pride) are hard to follow. There’s very little for the modern reader to relate to. As I’ve said, it is heavy reading (it takes a lot of concentration and 100 % of your attention to get through it). The only modern note that I can bring to the table is that it answers one of Dr. Phil’s eternal questions: “You can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” Well, apparently, yes you can, on page 538. Thank God I had the enriched version with footnotes, but even then, it took every ounce of my willpower to finish it.

There are 561 pages in the novel, and the blasted whale only appears in the flesh on page 533. That’s right, page 533. Talk about a lot of build-up! There’s a three-day chase before the climax and a short epilogue after. And you’re left wondering what you just read 500 pages for. So in the interest of saving time (yours, to be precise), I came up with my own super-abridged version. Enjoy.

“Call me Ishmael” – blah blah blah – “Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” – yadda yadda yadda – “Yes, there is death in this business of whaling” (side note: “The world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow”) – etc., etc. Next thing you know, he and Queequeg are bosom buddies and they sail on the Pequod.
Then eventually, Melville actually claims that whales are fish, even though he knows that Linnaeus has been very clear about the fact that they’re mammals. And so we get to the first pep talk, where Captain Ahab tells the crew to keep an eye peeled for a certain white whale. “ ‘Captain Ahab,’ said Starbuck, who, with Stubb and Flask, had thus far been eyeing his superior with increasing surprise […], ‘I heard of Moby Dick – but it was not Moby Dick that took off thy leg?’ ” Aye, aye, t’was! And he’ll go to the ends of the earth to get revenge.
So they break into song and dance (I kid you not), and Melville goes on a diatribe about the color white. After way too many semicolons, Starbuck goes “There’s hogsheads of sperm ahead, Mr Stubb, and that’s what ye came for. (Pull, my boys!) Sperm, sperm’s the play!” [*Ahem* With all this talk of the crotch (chapter 63) and spermaceti whales (“Don’t ye love sperm?”) and “Jerk him off”, you can’t help but think about how queer whale-hunting vocabulary is…]
Then, after some gibberish, Melville tries to give you another biology lesson about whales, their appearance and their behaviour. Finally, he describes the kill and harvesting of the oil in the whale, and eventually gets around to mentioning ambergris. He also explains the laws of whaling, i.e. a fast-fish (attached to the boat in some way) belongs to the party it is attached to, but a loose-fish (which may have been killed by a crew but has since become detached from the boat) is fair game for the first party to come upon it. Of course, once you have harvested the oil from the whales, you have to keep it from going hard by squeezing it in a big tub. So there goes Ishmael: “Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness. Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!” Restrain yourself, Ishmael.
After more biology lessons, Ahab has a new harpoon made specifically for killing the white whale, then he makes a compass. Pip keeps going on and on about being dead of shame. The crew realizes it’s an ill-fated voyage (about damn time, because I could have told you that after the first page of the book). They meet other boats. It seems like they’re just stalling before finding Moby Dick.
Then, finally, “There she blows! A hump like a snowhill! It is Moby Dick!” They fight. They die. The whale keeps going, because hey, it didn’t have any beef with them. And Ishmael, who disappeared from the tale a while back, is only to be heard from again as the sole survivor.


All things considered, if I had to sum up the novel in a nutshell, I would say that it was much ado about nothing.

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Michael Moore - Stupid White Men (… and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!)
http://www.michaelmoore.com

I haven’t mention Michael Moore on my website before. My bad. I practically live for his next documentary or book. Anyone who hasn’t seen Bowling For Columbine needs to stop reading this – right now – and go rent the movie and watch it. Yes, now. I’ll wait.
Okay, so about this book: George W. Bush became President of the United States in 2001, but he wasn’t actually elected. Huh? Well, that’s true. And there are many many other ways the Bush administration is linked to the increase in terrorism, to pollution of the environment, to innocents being killed or executed in the name of justice, poverty, joblessness, etc. And it’s all backed up by cold, hard facts. For example, did you know that airplane pilots often qualify for food stamps because their wages are so low? Do you want to the guy flying the plane you’re in to be focusing on the landing, or on how he’s going to feed his four kids that night? But the book isn’t about blaming a person, or even a single party, for the state of the nation. It’s actually about pointing out flaws, explaining why things got that way and suggesting how we can begin to fix things. All in a satirical, witty and angry way that would be hilarious if it weren’t true. Even if you don’t necessarily care about politics, this book is extremely entertaining. And it quotes all of its sources in the end, so you can do some investigating of your own if in doubt. I hugely recommend this book. Here is an excerpt to give you a rough idea of what to expect: http://www.michaelmoore.com/books-films/stupidwhitemen/onlinechapters/part01.php. Have fun!

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Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveller’s Wife
http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/vintage/

This is one of the most original books I have read in my life, and definitely the most interesting I have read lately. It is the story of Henry, who has a genetic disorder that causes him to spontaneously time travel. He has no control of when it happens or of when and where he ends up. One minute he’s at home reading a book, the next he’s back in 1968, naked in the middle of a museum (you see, only his body travels, not his clothes, so that does put him in some pretty odd situations). It is also the story of his wife Clare, who has known him all her life, since he has time-travelled back to her childhood in his thirties and early forties (of course, he only meets her when he’s 28 and she’s 20, but who’s counting).
The way this story is told, it is entirely plausible and really captivating. You read the first paragraph and you’re hooked. The love story between Clare and Henry is a great backdrop to Henry’s condition (although it might actually be Henry’s condition that is a backdrop to the love story, it’s hard to tell). The scenario is really well exploited and it is a pleasure to read. I had trouble putting this book down (except when I was afraid that something bad would happen to one of the characters, then I had to put it down because I wasn’t ready to read about it).
So I very highly recommend this book, it’s a fantastic read.

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Amélie Nothomb – Le Sabotage amoureux
http://www.livredepoche.com/index.html

A wonderful book written by an Amélie... ;o) As one of my friends has pointed out, this is an author who has a tendency to be quite theatrical (read: drama queen), so of course you have to like the style. But I really loved this book myself. It was a little personal for me though, because it is the story of the three years she spent living in China. And it just so happens that we both went to the same school and that we lived in the same place for the same number of years, in the San Li Tun “ghetto” (but ten years apart from one another). She tells the tale of the rivalry that existed between certain groups of children living in the ghetto; as for myself, I can unfortunately not enlighten you much on the subject, as I was too young to go play outside without surveillance, so I never fought a war against the East Germans. However, we both had a horse and an Italian friend (although my friend was infinitely nicer than hers). And as for the quality of schooling at the lycée, I have to admit that it gets better year after year, but it wasn’t that far from the truth back then I think... Living conditions were hard, that’s true, but on this subject I sympathize more with the adults in the book because that was my most recent experience there. It is a really good book, short enough to be a quick read, which tells the story of a childhood relived through the eyes of an adult, interrupted by deep thoughts on today’s society.
I strongly recommend it.

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Tawni O’Dell – Back Roads
http://www.penguinputnam.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0451212452,00.html

The story is set in the hills of Pennsylvania, an area covered by old mining towns. Nineteen-year-old Harley Altmyer has seen his mother be locked away for the murder of his abusive father. He is now working two jobs to make ends meet, as he has to take care of his sisters Amber, Misty and Jody. But even in their household things don’t go smoothly: 16-year-old Amber is sexually promiscuous and defies Harley’s authority all the time; 12-year-old Misty seems to be keeping a terrible secret; and 6-year-old Jody has a friend whose mother is the object of Harley’s affection. As Harley tries his best to keep his family together and to deal with what happened between his parents, he also begins to realize that things aren’t exactly as they seem.
This book was chosen by Oprah’s Bookclub. The story is extremely well-written, the narration is quite compelling, life on the back roads of these mine towns does indeed feel real to the reader. But the ending is so depressing! It is a very good book that will leave you feeling blue for days because you couldn’t help the characters, who seemed so real to you, straighten out their lives.

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D.B.C. Pierre – Vernon God Little
http://www.faber.co.uk/books.cgi

Vernon Little is a Texan teenager accused of having shot and killed sixteen students in his school. It is absolutely false, of course, but there is only his word against the wrath of a town that needs to punish someone, so he is put on trial for murder. This book being a satire of American society, the trial is a sort of reality show: the telespectators watch the trial live and must later vote for the condemned they feel most deserves to be put to death.
Vernon speaks to us the same way he would speak to a friend, with oral sentence structures and cussing every other sentence, explaining to us his life and his point of view on events. I would speak of this book as a modern Catcher in the Rye: Holden "Vitamin" Caulfield and Vernon "God" Little both have a certain carelessness, a disgust of adults and their hypocrisy, as well as a typical way of expressing themselves. Vernon’s style is only made more attaching by his tendency to misuse the expressions he hears, like when he speaks of a "skate goat" instead of a "scapegoat." He also changes his middle name, Gregory, to suit the situation; for example, when he feels sexually excited, he names himself Vernon Gonad Little. The title of the book is Vernon God Little, partly because he is held responsible for everything, including his own destiny. The paradox is that, despite his Texan teenager way of talking, Vernon’s voice sometimes has an almost poetic style and there are passages where he expresses himself in a very profound and almost literary way.
I absolutely recommend this book, it was excellent.

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Jacques Poulin – La traduction est une histoire d’amour
http://www.ratsdebiblio.net/poulinjacqueslatraduction.html

This book was recommended to me by two people, so it was about time I read it. Of course, I identified with the main character, Marine, who is a translator. She forms a friendship with Mr Waterman, an author whose work she wants to translate and who she happens to meet in a Quebec City cemetery. Their love of words seems to be the strongest link between them, and eventually, a certain complicity is born between the two characters, who often spend their weekends together in a cottage on Île d’Orléans. Together, they try to solve a mystery, that of a young girl who seems to need help...
It’s a short novel, very well written, with details that make you grow fond of the characters. The translation is actually a secondary plot, when the author explains the art of choosing words to create a good literary translation (and since that is what my master’s degree is about, I couldn’t help but agree with what he was saying).
I’ll admit that I would have liked a more elaborate plotline: when I’ve got three characters with only a first name, a last name and a penname in all, I feel like I’m missing something. That being said, I really liked reading this novel.

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Kathy Reichs – Monday Mourning
http://www.kathyreichs.com/mondaymouring.htm

Well, I hadn’t read one of Kathy Reichs’s books before, so it was about time I jumped on the bandwagon. This is another novel starring the fictional Tempe Brennan (who now has her own tv show, for those of you keeping track). Just like the author, she is a forensic anthropologist, commuting between North Carolina and Montreal. And just like the author, she is called in to consult on a cold case where three skeletons are found in the basement of a pizza-by-the-slice joint in downtown Montreal. But in this fictional version, Tempe manages to prove that the bones date from the past 20 years, so the investigation begins to find the identities of the victims – and their killer.
The story is very well written; the book is hard to put down, although that is often the case with police novels’ narration. All the forensic science behind the story is impressive, and it is explained in such a way that the average person will have no trouble understanding what the author is talking about. The characters are also realistic; you’ll have no trouble identifying with Tempe.
Two things strike me here, and they are somewhat antithetic. First of all, I am impressed by how well an “outsider” can understand and appreciate “my” Montreal. It was really great to see my city through the eyes of an adoptive Montrealer. But, second of all, despite how well this Anglophone has assimilated the Francophone culture, there are a surprising number of mistakes in the French passages of this book. Why was there no one to proofread this correctly?
Overall, I really recommend this book. You don’t need to be from Montreal to enjoy it, although you’ll probably want to visit later if you’ve never been. ;)

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J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter V: The Order of the Phoenix
http://www.jkrowling.com/

Ok, I finally finished it. I had been taking my sweet time for two reasons. One, I’ve been waiting three years for this one and the wait for the next one seems comparable, so I wanted to make it last. Two, I knew one of the characters died in the end, and I really didn’t want to get to that part because all of them are so dear to me.
So the book is absolutely amazing, I can’t imagine how I stood it before when each book was less than a third as long, I still didn’t get enough this time (J. K. Rowling could write one as thick as a phone book as far as I’m concerned and I’d still be asking for more). There are a lot of new characters (including one that you love to hate) and we learn a lot more about the characters we already know. The action is amazing, the new school subjects are great, the new creatures are fantastic, I only have good things to say about Harry Potter. Except one thing: there IS one mistake in this book. I don’t want to give any important part of the plot away, so let’s just say that Harry should have been able to see the Thestrals at LEAST at the end of his fourth year at Hogwarts, if not sooner. But apart from that, it’s really great (the reason I’m not elaborating is truly because I would absolutely hate to spoil any of it for you). By the way, look up “quibble” in the dictionary, you’ll laugh about it. ;o)
I’ll admit that I’m going through a bout of depression though, because of the death of a certain character. It was unpredictable and completely preventable. I feel as if I’ve lost this character just as much as Harry has and I really feel awful about that. So if you’ve read the book as well, feel free to call me or e-mail me so we can cry about it together. But definitely read this book if you follow the series (as if I had to tell you!). If you don’t, what in the world are you waiting for to get started!

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Jonathan Safran Foer – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
http://www.jonathansafranfoer.com/
Oskar Schell, a quirky 9-year-old prodigy, lost his father at precisely 10:28am on the morning of September 11th – when the second tower collapsed. He misses his father incredibly, as one would expect. So when he finds an envelope that says “Black” containing a key in his father’s closet, he decides to meet every Black in New York until he finds the lock that is opened by his father’s key. This journey is meant to bring him closer to his father, but it eventually brings him closer to other people and to himself. There is also a parallel with the bombing of Dresden, since two other narrators are Oskar’s paternal grandmother and her estranged husband, who left her when she got pregnant with Oskar’s father 40 years before.
All the characters have so much to say, and yet none of them can communicate it adequately and googolplex things are left unsaid. They end up using notes, radios, tattoos even, but mostly letters, even if they are never mailed. The novel itself records Oskar’s quest, as in it are scattered pictures, Post-it notes, scribblings in every color of the rainbow. The result is that the book pulses with life, even though it is about death.
I have to say this is one of the best novels I’ve read recently, original both in its presentation and in its plot. Parts of it are really funny, but overall, I felt a great sadness after I had finished certain chapters. It’s definitely a book I recommend.

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince
http://www.lepetitprince.com/en/
When I reread this cult novel, for the first time in almost ten years, I couldn’t help but notice the grammatical mistakes. Now that I’m a reviser, it’s harder to miss them. But I’ve decided to let them slide, on account of poetic licence.
Still, it’s a book that doesn’t age and that I’ll never get tired of reading. The little prince, with his naivety which only serves to teach us greater truths, is almost a childhood friend. I’m not about to forget his sheep, his rose with four thorns, his planet (Asteroid B 612), the fox he tamed and his adventures.
It’s one of the rare books that don’t get old, that are still as good when you reread them and that are worth being read at any age.

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Asne Seierstad – The Bookseller of Kabul
http://www.voir.ca/livres/livres.aspx?iIDArticle=27520

The author, a renowned reporter, spent the spring following the fall of the Taliban in Kabul, with the family of Sultan Khan, a bookseller. Through the book, we follow the daily life not only of this man, but of all his family: his wives, his sisters, his brothers, his children. We realize how different and how much harder life is in Kabul; enough to make you ashamed of your little occidental worries, especially when you know that the Khan family is among the richest in the country! Even though the Taliban regime has been abolished, the country is far from being as free as we would think, were it only because of old mentalities. At first, you can’t help but identify with Sultan, who defies the Taliban with his love of books. But then, when you see his mentality and how he treats not only women in general but also other members in his family (he’s the oldest male, and therefore the head of the family), we can’t help but rethink how friendly he is after all. As I said, the story isn’t only about him, thankfully, and you have the opportunity to enter the life of other family members, particularly his two wives, his rebel son Mansur, and two of his younger sisters, one who is getting married and one who is looking for a job. The destiny of Leila, the one with the most education but also the one who receives the worst treatment, won’t leave you indifferent.
I loved the way that Asne Seierstad lets us into the daily life of people who are so different from one another in this Arabic society, but I can’t help but wonder how much fiction is in that book, because she talks about things that she did not directly witness and I doubt the protagonists have been that honest with her… However, it remains an excellent book, very well written, that allows us to travel without leaving our couch. I strongly recommend it.

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Luis Sepúlveda – The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her To Fly
http://www.metailie.info/

A cat, big fat and black, promises to the dying seagull who lands on his balcony that not only will he not eat the egg she has just laid, but that he will also hatch it and teach the fledgling to fly. So Zorbas the Cat, with the help of other cats in the port, must raise Afortunada the Seagull, protecting her and trying to figure out how he can teach her to fly, since he doesn’t have any wings himself. He watches the world of humans and walks in the world of cats, all while meeting other animals and strange characters.
It’s a nice tale of solidarity, a little childish but without being children’s literature. It’s light, you’ll read it quickly and it’s fun. Perfect for the summer!

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Unless – Carol Shields
http://www.randomhouse.ca/

Reta Winters seems to have the perfect life. Three beautiful daughters, a 26-year relationship with their father (and counting), an ideal job as a translator for a famous French author/philosopher, a modestly successful publishing career of her own, a wonderful house, a close relationship with her mother-in-law, ... But suddenly her world is turned upside-down: for no apparent reason, her oldest daughter, Norah, ends up mute and living on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto, wearing a handmade sign around her neck that says “GOODNESS”. She’s dropped out of college and left her boyfriend; she won’t come home, won’t even acknowledge her family’s presence, even though they periodically bring her food and warm clothes. Reta re-examines her life, blaming this turn of events on the fact that Norah realized that women, in today’s world, can achieve goodness but not greatness, as that is reserved for men. She reflects on her life, on the lives of other women she knows, on the lives of women in general, both now and in the past, both factual people and characters of fiction. And all the chapters have an adverb or preposition for a title, as does the book.
True to Carol Shields style, she reflects on every aspect of life, the little mundane routine details that make it so real as well as the bigger events. She reflects on many aspects of the world, gives advice to aspiring writers and writes in a really captivating way. It’s the last book this Pulitzer-prize winner wrote before she died, so somehow that made it even more important to me. I had the privilege to meet Carol Shields in person some years ago and she was a truly wonderful person. A must-read.

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John Steinbeck – East of Eden
http://www.penguin.co.uk/

The Great American novel, without a doubt. It is a story that spans generations, ending in 1918. There’s love, murder, betrayal, courage, money, and most of all, human nature. It is set in the Salinas Valley, in California. That’s where the author was born, and you can tell that he loves his homeland by the way he talks about it. He has a way of making the characters real, of making you feel for them or hate them in a matter of a few paragraphs. The story itself is captivating and all sorts of human truths come jumping out of it. The author goes back and forth between the first person and the third, but without ever losing sight of the plot. Even though it was a thick novel, I didn’t feel at all overwhelmed because it was actually hard to put down. It’s a fantastic novel and I strongly recommend that you read it.

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Patrick Süskind – Perfume http://www.livredepoche.com/
Well, I had been meaning to read that book for over ten years, and I never found the time. When I realized that the movie had come out, it gave me the little push I needed to make a priority out of it (i.e., read the book before seeing the movie).
My only regret? That I didn’t read this earlier. It’s really an extraordinary tale, which manages not only to describe extremely diverse smells, but also manages to make you smell them. It’s like a history lesson where you can explore 18th-century France through your sense of smell, a class on perfume-making that is described in a passionate way. It’s also the story of a murderer who keeps you undecided as to whether you want him to get caught and hung for his crimes. You really feel like you’re there with the characters (and why not, since you smell what they smell?).
I strongly recommend this book, it is unique and worth being read.

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Michel Tremblay – La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte http://www.lelibraire.org/editeur.asp?id=29
A book written in Canadian French, by a Québécois and for Québécois.
It’s May 2nd, 1942, on the Plateau Mont-Royal. The fat 42-year-old woman is seven months pregnant, and six women on her street, all in their twenties, are expecting their first babies. By following the characters (including Duplessis, the cat) that day, we get a glimpse into the lives of all these families and of their guardian angels who knit, sitting on a balcony. This World War Two Montreal isn’t that different from today’s Montreal, apart from the fact that the neighbours seem to know each other better. But we have a pleasant journey with the characters, whose adventures you can follow in the sequels. It’s a book that has made its mark on Canadian literature, not only because of its critics on society, but also because of the style in which it is written, where we find both formal language and spoken-style Canadian French language, that you almost have to read out loud in order to understand. It’s a very good book, that I recommend to all those who want to discover (or rediscover) Québécois literature.

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Lynne Truss –Eats, Shoots and Leaves
http://eatsshootsandleaves.com/

I’ll get out the one negative thing I have to say about this book: In the 2005 edition, there’s a typo in the foreword, on page xi. But have no fear, it is not a punctuation mistake, and the editors have assured me that this will be corrected in later editions.
Overall, though, it is a wonderful book. It has several laugh-out-loud moments, and it remains extremely instructive (with simple explanations and enough good examples to make a point), while also comforting me in the fact that I am not alone. No, ladies and gentlemen, I am not the only one appalled to see a simple plural written with an apostrophe before the “s”. I am not the only one about to go into cardiac arrest when people confuse “their”, “they’re” and “there”. And now, I actually have a punctuation repair kit that I can use to correct signs, in order to be able to sleep through the night. It turns out that I am a stickler.
Here are just a few passages that really hit home.
“For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural ‘Book’s’ with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated. First there is shock. Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger. Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker.”
“The confusion of the possessive ‘its’ (no apostrophe) with the contractive ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian ‘kill’ response in the average stickler.”
“We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation. Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones: dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else – yet we see it all the time. No-one understands us seventh-sense people. They regard us as freaks. When we point out illiterate mistakes, we are often aggressively instructed to ‘get a life’ by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves.”
So in case you haven’t figured it out already, I strongly recommend this book. If you are a stickler like me, you’ll love it. If you can’t tell “who’s” from “whose” and refuse to use semicolons, this will make it all clearer for you. And while we’re at it, my own personal rant: please don’t confuse “i.e.” (which means “that is”) with “e.g.” (“example”); you’d be surprised at the number of Anglophones who don’t know the difference.

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Mark Wais and Alex Ross – Kingdom Come
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_Come_(comic)

A new genre, to broaden my horizons a bit... Although this is a comic book in the strictest sense of the term, it is written almost like a novel, in chapters, with visual narration (and apparently, it has close to a hundred thousand words). The introduction by Elliot S. Maggin alone is fantastic and well worth the read.
The subject matter of Kingdom Come is also much deeper than most people would expect from a comic book. The story is set in the future, when most superheroes have retired; a new batch of meta-humans (their offspring, in some cases) run rampant and are fighting with each other so much that citizens are getting caught in the cross-fire, and the world is coming to an end. So our good ole DC superheroes (like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman) come out of retirement and try to get the situation back under control, with dissention in the ranks.
It is a story about how we must act responsibly, keeping in mind not just our reasons for acting, but also the consequences of our actions on others. It raised the point of whether or not superheroes have the responsibility, or even the right, to protect humankind and save it from itself.
The artwork in this is really superb. I loved seeing how the superheroes I know have aged (gracefully for the most part) and really have more of a human side than we think.
If you want to see what your favourite DC heroes have become, or if you’re looking for an introduction to the genre, read this book (but in the latter case, read the presentation of the characters in the back pages first, otherwise you’ll miss a lot of insider references).

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Burt Ward – Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights
http://www.robintheboywonder.com/
As you may know, one of my cult series is Batman, from the late 1960s, starring Adam West and Burt Ward (Burt was actually my very first crush). So I decided to read this tell-all biography, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the series – and the actor.
Well, this hit the spot. Every other chapter is about some sexual conquest or other, as you can tell by the cover art, and certain parts of it are exaggerated, according to some. But what I found most interesting were the chapters about the series itself: how certain shots were obtained, how Burt ended up doing a lot of his own stunts (and ended up in the emergency room several times in the process), how conditions on the set could be unprofessional, and how it was the best time they ever had. I discovered another side of Adam West. The book also sums up what Burt Ward has done since then.
I have to admit that certain passages made me uncomfortable, especially when I thought about the fact that his wife, his daughter and his co-stars would be reading them, but on the whole, this book was highly entertaining; it was like candy for the Batman fan I am.

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Margery Williams – The Velveteen Rabbit
http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/

Why is a children’s book in my reviews, you ask? Well, since I am a Francophone, there are a lot of Anglophone cultural icons that I was not exposed to when I was growing up. This book is one of them. But I had heard so much about it that I decided to read it, in my mid-twenties.
It’s a good thing I did. This is not just a children’s book, this actually moved me practically to tears even today. It’s about how a beloved toy becomes Real to a child because it is loved, and it’s the story of one toy in particular, the Velveteen Rabbit. It’s a short read, so I’m afraid that I would spoil it for you by revealing any more about it. I could not help but feel for this Rabbit and imagine which toys were Real to me.
It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you have to read this at some point in your life.

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CD Reviews
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Now 51 albums, organized by band name, artist family name or movie title for soundtracks.

Christina Aguilera – Stripped
The Arcade Fire – Funeral
The Backstreet Boys – Never GoneUnbreakable
Bleu – Redhead
James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
Butterfly Boucher – Flutterby
Michelle Branch – Broken Bracelet Hotel Paper
Nick Carter – Now or Never
Cher – The Greatest Hits
Les Cowboys Fringants – La Grand-Messe
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
Gavin DeGraw – Chariot
The Donnas – Gold Medal
Evanescence – Fallen
Aretha Franklin – 30 Greatest Hits
The Fratellis – Costello Music
Frida – Music from the motion picture
Green Day – American Idiot
Hanson – Underneath AcousticUnderneathThe Best of Hanson: Live & ElectricThe Walk
Sarah Hudson – Naked Truth
Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
Kenna – New Sacred Cow
Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin
Malajube – Trompe-l’œil
Maroon 5 – Songs About JaneIt Won’t Be Soon Before Long
Mes Aïeux – Ça parle au diableEntre les branchesEn famille
Raúl Midón – Limited Live Edition State of Mind
The Philosopher Kings – Castles
Pascale Picard – Me, Myself & Us
Daniel Powter – Daniel Powter
Elvis Presley – How Great Thou Art
Lisa Marie Presley – To Whom It May Concern
Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
Kyle Riabko – Before I Speak
Stabilo – Cupid?
Joss Stone – The Soul Sessions Mind, Body & Soul Introducing Joss Stone
Tegan and Sara – If It Was You
Liam Titcomb – Liam Titcomb
Michael Tolcher – I Am
Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (played by Tafelmusik)
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
The Wreckers – Stand Still - Look Pretty

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Christina Aguilera – Stripped
http://www.christina a.com

I have to admit that I hesitated for a very long time before buying this CD. A few years ago [before 2003], Christina was just another Britney, so she was pretty much off my radar screen. Then last year, she changed her look to the now famous two-cent-Jerry Springer-hooker-wearing-nothing-but-two-bandaids-and-a-shoestring look, and on top of that she started touring with Justin Timberlake, two reasons why I had decided not to encourage her. HOWEVER, I got over it and it turns out that she is an extremely talented singer. She has an amazing voice that can give you goose bumps when she really belts it out (as should have been obvious from Mulan) and she had a hand in writing all the songs on this album. I have to respect the fact that she is being more of her own person now instead of the puppet other artists can sometimes be. The songs are mainly about accepting yourself as you are (this coming from the girl who was actually happy about putting on a few pounds after getting on the Pill), healing from wounds inflicted by the past, having fun and standing up for what you believe in. It mostly qualifies as pop music but has a definite edge to it. Fighter is probably my new theme song for the summer.
All in all: A very pleasant surprise.

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The Arcade Fire – Funeral
http://www.arcadefire.com/yope.html

It was about time I got this critically-acclaimed album. I had been hearing nothing but good things about the band for awhile, I loved seeing this Montreal-based band in concert, and now I can finally listen to them any time I want. I especially like Neighborhood #2 (Laïka), Wake Up, Haïti and Rebellion (Lies). It’s alternative music, full of violins, pianos, guitars, drums, accordions and many more instruments. You may have heard some of their songs on commercial radio, but they sound more indie, really. It’s a very modern sound, yet it feels like they’re singing from the collective unconscious or something, it’s hard to describe. There are quiet songs and some that are much more energetic, with original lyrics and haunting vocals.
All in all: If you’re looking for an introduction to The Arcade Fire, run out and get this album. It’s a very good find.

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The Backstreet Boys – Never Gone
www.backstreetboys.com

Finally! *cue angel choir* After friggin’ five years of making fans wait, here is the album I’ve been talking about ever since I started my website (two years ago [in 2003]). So here are my impressions, in chronological order.
First of all, the picture on the cover looks like it could have been part of a photo shoot for Mes Aïeux, which just goes to show that the Boys are getting back to simpler things. Cute detail: The shape of the jewel case isn’t completely standard, it has a more rounded edge and an actual opening mechanism. On the inside is a collage of pictures of some of their fans, with a thank you note to all of them. The leaflet itself isn’t standard either, the layout is different. It has great pictures, but no lyrics. None of their albums have written lyrics, and yet the fans know all the songs by heart within hours of the release. And there are a lot of thank you notes from each of the guys. So we know that Kevin likes to overuse whatever expression is cool at that moment (or should I say, whatever is the sh*t at that moment); but we love ya Kev, no diggity! ;o) Brian has a new perspective on life now that he’s a father, Howie is the same sweet guy as always, A.J. is back and stronger than ever, and Nick is getting all mature on us (right up until his ‘secret’ message at the end: “I didn’t do it.”).
Now for the music itself. If the song Incomplete wasn’t enough to convince you that this band’s style has changed, you’d better brace yourself for the rest of this album. The song My Beautiful Woman (which had leaked on the Internet last year) begins in a way that actually reminded me of The Triplets of Belleville; it’s different, hard to describe, and I love it. All of the songs on here sound less pop and more natural; gone are the days of synchronised dancing and synthesizers; enter the new era of BSB, with more personal lyrics and a more mature sound. It’s real music. Just Want You To Know actually sounds like it could have been on Now Or Never. There are still a few ballads (Safest Place To Hide, Crawling Back To You), but listen to Climbing The Walls, Weird World or Siberia for something a little different (clips are available on www.thebackstreetboys.com).
All in all: They were Never Gone, but man, am I glad they’re Back. ;o)

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The Backstreet Boys – Unbreakable
www.backstreetboys.com

The Intro brings us back to basics by reminding us that this is, after all, a talented vocal harmony group (even with only four voices). Luckily, they make use of that skill on more tracks. Everything But Mine starts off like it’s from an urban music record – which is a good thing. It could actually be mistaken for a track by Kenna. The album itself is more modern overall, and it’s nice to see this group evolve. Inconsolable is what I call a modern ballad; it’s good, but an album needs a little more diversity to be interesting (that was perhaps the flaw of Never Gone). Helpless When She Smiles seems to go back and forth between country and pop, but that’s not a bad thing. You Can Let Go is a ballad reminiscent of Gavin DeGraw. Songs like One In A Million, Treat Me Right and Panic might convert people who haven’t heard them since 2000.
One caveat, though: they once again neglected to include the song lyrics in the booklet.
All in all: Probably their best album yet.

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Bleu – Redhead
www.bleutopia.com

I’m sure you’ve never heard of this one. And yet, it’s worth hearing about. It’s, I guess, mellow urban music, by a singer named Bleu McAuley who writes (or cowrites) his own songs; he also plays the guitar and some other instruments. The song Get Up is really good, with a catchy upbeat rhythm without being pop. Could Be Worse is also quite good, optimistic even though the subject itself isn’t all that great. I love the sound of Somethin’s Gotta Give. There are some that are more relaxed, of course; they’re actually more like what you’d expect to find on the soundtrack of a movie like Garden State. And Watching You Sleep, even though it sounds quite sweet, is actually a little creepy when you stop to listen to the lyrics. Also, You Know, I Know, You Know is somehow different from most songs out there, but it’s really good. Plus, there are two hidden tracks, which never fails to make me happy. ;o) The lyrics are original, and this line always makes me laugh; “I’ll even let you lead/If you think you can dip me.”
Side note: Isn’t this guy cute? Look at the album cover and tell me those aren’t the biggest sideburns you’ve ever seen!
All in all: A talented artist to discover.

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James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
http://www.jamesblunt.com

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the song You’re Beautiful on the radio (I woke up to it one morning and immediately wanted to hear more; I didn’t even think about hitting the snooze button, for once). I still get moved by the gentle guitar, the piano and the heartfelt lyrics. But the album version does have a tiny word that was edited for the radio… The song Wisemen is also getting a lot of airplay, and it’s a little faster; High and Tears And Rain are somewhat in the same vein. Don’t miss Goodbye My Lover, which is one of the saddest songs in the history of the world, but hauntingly beautiful as well. The song So Long Jimmy is actually upbeat, even though the lyrics are sad also. As a matter of fact, I would say that James Blunt writes mostly sad songs, despite the cute happy cover art on the album. That being said, it is not a depressing album.
All in all: If you still don’t know who he is, you have got to buy this album. It’s not often that music that isn’t mainstream makes it big like this.

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Butterfly Boucher – Flutterby
http://www.butterflyboucher.com/

I could tell you that she writes, performs, arranges and produces her own songs, but you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you’ve read enough of my reviews. The first track, Life Is Short, is lovely and sets the tone well for the album. There are mostly strings and percussions (plus crickets and thunder on two tracks – thank you Butterfly for pointing that out in the liner notes). I would say it’s mostly alternative rock, with a few twists. Another White Dash is a little different, maybe more imaginative and almost like something you’d find on a road-trip movie soundtrack. A Walk Outside has original lyrics, mostly about love and music, including “Which came first / the love or the love song?”, “Clever lines and clever lyrics / all boil down to what goes in them” and “Music is in the things that matter / hear it in the kiss we hold”. The slowest song is Never Leave Your Heart Alone (you can probably guess what it’s about by the title). A Beautiful Book has the best lyrics, in my opinion, but I’ll let you discover that one for yourselves.
All in all: A little-known artist who’s absolutely worth discovering. She’s going to go far, I think, because even on this first album you can tell she’s gearing up to follow in Aimee Mann’s footsteps (but with more of an edge).

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Michelle Branch – Broken Bracelet
http://www.michellebranch.net

This is her first album, the independent release that helped get her career started. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this album and Hanson’s independent releases prior to Middle of Nowhere: Some of the songs on Broken Bracelet have been rerecorded on Michelle Branch’s first major-label album, The Spirit Room, and just like MMMBop, songs that were originally relatively slow were later given a new life and new energy. Even the style of music is similar, a young artist writing songs and strumming on a guitar (because even before she wore makeup, Michelle Branch was already writing just about all of her own material, of course). And this album is completely unpretentious; its simplicity is actually quite charming. I especially liked Stewart’s Coat and Paper Pieces (most of the rest were already familiar to me through her following major-label album).
The name of this album comes from the fact that the singer once got a bracelet hand-made by Jewel and it was said that when the bracelet would break off, she would become famous. She wore the bracelet for six months and it broke off after she gave her demo tape to Jeff Rabban, who became her manager and helped create this album.
All in all: A very good acoustic album, about Michelle Branch’s early career. An easy listen.

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Michelle Branch – Hotel Paper
http://www.michellebranch.net

Finally, more Michelle Branch! Another one of those fabulous artists who didn’t sell out, who can write her own songs, play her own instruments, sing with her own voice and who is actually very talented. Her style is in fact similar to Hanson’s, and it may not be a coincidence because she was discovered by a Maverick representative when she was their opening act in 2000. The title of this album came from the fact that while she was on tour for her last album, she wrote down most of her new songs and song ideas on hotel paper.
Are you happy now?, the first single, is fantastic. Upbeat while still dealing with a not-so-upbeat subject. The intro and closure songs are unusual but seem to fit with her style perfectly and I like them. The title song almost has an Alanis Morissette-ish sound to it in the beginning, before turning a little more country and going back to Alanis toward the end. Michelle Branch also has a duet with Sheryl Crow on this album (and don’t forget that she played with Santana last year). There is therefore a good enough variety of styles on this album to satisfy the eclectics out there.
However, I feel obligated to mention a downside: there is one thing on this album which I, as a translator, consider a pretty big mistake (relatively to that one song) that bugs the heck out of me. Song 12, ’Til I Get Over You, has some French lyrics and an English translation on the bottom of the page. The lyrics sound good in the song, but sound is probably what went wrong here in the first place: any Francophone who reads them can tell you that they don’t actually make any sense. She meant to say “Every time you walk away, I pretend that I’m okay” (the correct translation would be “Chaque fois que tu t’en vas, je fais semblant que tout va bien”), but what she actually sings is something that sounds quite similar but that means “Every time that you your go, I claim that you do well” (“Chaque fois que tu ton va, je prétends que tu fais bien”). Michelle, I love you, but when writing in a foreign language, please get your lyrics checked by a professional!
The album on the whole is more grown-up than her previous one. Most of the songs are about the difficulty of relationships and discovering oneself, but they all manage to keep a certain hope and an uplifting quality about them. Her thank you note is short and original (“Thank you to whatever higher power is out there, ‘cause I know you read album sleeves all the time”). The image behind the CD in the case is also original and got a smile out of me. ;o)
All in all: If you like Michelle Branch, you’ll love this one. If you don’t know her, this is a good occasion to do so. If you have heard too many of her songs from the last album played in movies and such over the past year, buy this one, it’s different! (Does it show that I might be a bit biased in her favour? ;o)

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Nick Carter – Now or Never
http://www.nickcarter.com

First impression: Who is this guy who sounds like a cross between Nick Carter and Bryan Adams? Just when you thought he was all grown up, it turns out you haven’t seen the half of it. The beginning of his thank you note in itself shows that. This is much different than what you would expect from Backstreet (even the much awaited next album), but then again this isn’t Backstreet. This is more of a rock album than pop, but with the usual few ballads thrown in. He cowrote most of the material himself. The songs are about the angst of growing up, asserting oneself and, of course, love. Help Me is definitely catchy, as are most of the other tunes; Girls in the USA is almost hard rock, the opening especially. Heart Without a Home, Do I Have to Cry for You and Who Needs the World are quite good as well if you like ballads. Miss America was a little disappointing however (a little too languid for my taste and the lyrics aren’t helping, but then again he didn’t write that one). Is it Saturday Yet somewhat reminded me of ProZac, the group I mean, so it does have a catchy beat, but the lyrics were a little too pop-happy for me, as was I Just Wanna Take You Home. Other songs are a bit darker, though, so it somewhat balances out. It’s an incredible shame it didn’t get more airplay (read: hardly any), because this is definitely better than that other solo album by the curly haired guy from N’SYNC (it’ll be a cold day in Hell before I buy that one). Nick Carter’s music was much more real, without all the artificial music we heard on Justin’s songs, and this album proves that he has the potential to have a long career.
All in all: If you’re nostalgic for the 80s (Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams), you’re going to like this one.

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Cher – The Greatest Hits
http://www.cher.com

I’m talking about the one copyrighted in 1999 (there are so many of her “Greatest Hits” albums out there...). It includes songs as recent as Believe, but also classics such as The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in his Kiss) and I Got You Babe. The variety of the songs is obvious, but then again that had to be expected from an artist who has had number one songs consistently for the past decades, and who doesn’t really show any sign of slowing down. There’s probably going to be as many “farewell” tours as there are “greatest hits” albums. Even though the styles change, the voice is always recognizable and it was fantastic to listen to. If you weren’t nostalgic before you started listening to it, you will definitely be after.
All in all: If you want to discover (or rediscover) Cher, you owe it to yourself to add this one to your collection, it’s a classic that will not go out of style (although there is a more recent compilation album that you should look into).

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Les Cowboys Fringants – La Grand-Messe
http://www.cowboysfringants.com

A good French Canadian group, with real music and intelligent lyrics. The CD case is original, cardboard with red and brown tones, a burlap print and a booklet with all the lyrics (I don’t need much to be happy). There are songs about the privatization of water (I swear), about our time on this Earth, about loneliness, about materialism, a letter to René Lévesque, sad love songs and songs about mutual aid. There are ballads and reels, even a symphony. As for the instruments, we are treated to violins, guitars, drums, trumpets, an accordion, a cow’s bell and more. They even bother saying that a certain person did not take part in the recording of a certain song because it was their day off; it’s always good to have a sense of humour, even on CD cases.
All in all: A good album by a very talented Québécois group.

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Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
http://www.milesdavis.com/
This has been called one of the most influential, best-known and best-selling jazz albums in the world. Miles Davis plays the trumpet on each track, and there are other accomplished musicians like John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. The songs on this album were almost all recorded in one take, by musicians who had never played them before (except the bonus track, which is an alternate take of Flamenco Sketches). Most of them, like Freddie Freeloader, are very laid-back numbers. It is somewhat disappointing, as I was expecting something a little more upbeat. How can a song named after flamenco be languorously slow? Maybe the album title should have given it away.
All in all: As far as my taste goes, this is great background music, but I wouldn’t listen to it if I weren’t doing something else at the same time.

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Gavin DeGraw – Chariot
http://www.gavindegraw.com/

This is a fantastic album. It’s down to earth, yet it has a fresh sound.
You’ll remember the great hit singles Chariot (although the opening notes are more striking on the record than edited by the radio) and I Don’t Want To Be, but I also really like Follow Through. Just Friends is sad, while (Nice To Meet You) Anyway is almost funny, the lyrics are quire original. It’s an overall uplifting record, but without being the least bit tacky. The instruments are mostly electric guitars, keyboards and drums. The artist writes his own songs (a definite plus with me, as always), and they’re heartfelt and original. Most of these songs are single-worthy, actually.
All in all: A wonderful find. You should definitely check this out, it’s one of my favourite albums of the year.

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The Donnas – Gold Medal
http://www.thedonnas.com/

Chick rock at its finest. Well, hard upbeat rock at its finest, with female singers. Electric guitars, bass and drums dominate the sounds, with some hand-clapping reminiscent of the 1960s. The title song, The Gold Medal, is a positive take on a bad break up. I Don’t Want To Know (If You Don’t Want Me) is in the same vein and is a great song to start the album, with a energetic upbeat sound. All of the songs are about being strong and affirmative, even if you feel vulnerable.
This album does have a tendency to be somewhat monotonous, in the sense that all the songs are fast and seem to have the same beat. It’s great if you like rock and roll, but be warned that it’s a particular genre that you should like if you’re going to buy an album like this. You can listen to excerpts on The Donnas’ web site.
All in all: Fantastic rock.

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Evanescence – Fallen
http://www.evanescence.com/

Evanescence shot to superstardom thanks to a few songs on superhero-movie soundtracks, and this band has definite talent. It’s alternative music so it is not for everyone, at least depending on the mood you’re in, but we can all agree that Amy Lee has a superb voice.
You’ll all remember Bring Me To Life and My Immortal when you hear them, and those do give you a relatively good idea of what to expect. Some songs have an angry alternative, borderline punk sound (Going Under, Everybody’s Fool), but some are a lot more mellow and dramatic (My Immortal and Hello, which has beautiful piano accompaniment). This can go back and forth between two extremes in the same song, even. The song called Whisper is actually loud and has an end almost like Hollywood metal. Then again, maybe it’s no coincidence that Evanescence’s songs ended up on movie soundtracks. The lyrics, at lot of which were composed by Ben Moody (the second half of Evanescence) are imaginative and surreal, so their interpretation leaves ample room for subjectivity. Amy Lee’s haunting voice is accompanied mostly by guitars, violins and drums, as well as the occasional choir.
All in all: Don’t get creeped out by the album cover, this one is really good.

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Aretha Franklin – 30 Greatest Hits
http://www.sodamnhappy.com

Well, I realize that it’s hard to dislike a greatest hits album, especially since Aretha Franklin is such a legendary singer. Her voice not only has soul and gospel in it, it has a lot of emotion and always sounds like she’s completely confident. Respect is my favourite track, of course, but Chain Of Fools is also fantastic. The first disc opens with the classic I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) and ends with Eleanor Rigby, which I had never heard before (it’s nothing like the Beatles version some of you might be thinking about). I also discovered a few others hits such as (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’Ve Been Gone and Ain’t No Way. There are of course slower, soulful tunes like Do Right Woman – Do Right Man, and the awesome (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
Of course, it doesn’t cover what she’s done in recent years, but it’s a good start.
All in all: A great collection of songs from a great, landmark artist.

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The Fratellis – Costello Music
http://www.thefratellis.com

Even though the lyrics are dirty and misspelled, the music will have you from track one. One of the songs (the kick-ass Flathead, if I’m not mistaken) was used in an iPod ad, to give you an idea, so most of it is upbeat, fast-paced punk rock. Whistle For The Choir is slower, but still upbeat. Vince The Loveable Stoner is a bit different: it has a little country twinge to it, and the lyrics get more repetitive than in other songs; that being said, it still fits in with the album. Some songs actually remind me of the Beatles (on speed). Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes is the only song that I would speak of as a love song. The rest is fuck-all rock.
All in all: A really great rock record.

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Frida – Music from the motion picture
http://www.miramax.com/frida/

From the very first notes, this smells of Mexico through and through. It uses traditional Mexican instruments and a few traditional Mexican songs, including songs that Frida herself used to love. For example, Chavela Vargas herself, a Mexican icon who was a close friend and sometimes lover of Frida, even has two tracks on it: the first one as was recorded 40 years ago, the second one as she sang it during her appearance in the movie. Salma Hayek also sings a few tracks. The songs that were composed especially for this soundtrack fit right in and one would be hard-pressed to pick them out. The melodies are simple but enchanting. Some songs are upbeat, some are darker and sadder. Burn It Blue, the finale played when Frida’s body is burning in her bed, seems to go right through you and is almost haunting. It is not hard to understand why this album won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Music (Score).
All in all: You may enjoy this more if you have actually seen the movie, but even if you just have a craving for a taste of Mexico this will satisfy your hunger.

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Green Day – American Idiot
http://www.greenday.com

Probably their best CD to date. The title song is head-banging rock and roll, while the single Boulevard Of Broken Dreams is a little more mellow but still electric, and very memorable. The slowest one is Wake Me Up When September Ends, but even that picks up in the middle. The songs are strung up together with very little time in between, as if the band just couldn’t wait to play. The songs are divided in five parts and there are very practical notebook-style lyrics. The album is really meant to be taken as a whole, as there are lyrics repeating themselves from one song to the next. Overall, it has much more of an edge than what I usually recommend, but it’s really good, what I would call upbeat punk.
All in all: You already have it if you like Green Day, but get it if you want to broaden your horizons a little. And leave it lying around on your coffee table, it automatically makes you look cool. ;o)

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Hanson – Underneath Acoustic
http://www.hanson.net

After a long absence from the music scene, the Hanson brothers are finally back! I can’t even believe they made us wait this long! This is an independently-released CD, available at www.hanson.net, drumming up interest for their upcoming spring [2004] album. Here we have the acoustic versions of eight of the songs that will be on the official CD (plus a bonus song). And things are going very well for them: the CD had to be restocked twice so far (all copies had sold out), and their tour was lengthened twice as well, with more possible dates around the world coming up. Way to go guys!
As for the songs themselves: they were recorded during a live performance for the fans during the summer of 2003. As always, the three brothers wrote the songs themselves (with a little help from other artists on a few tracks, such as Mathew Sweet, from Barenaked Ladies, for the title track). They also play all the instruments themselves (guitars, piano, drums, harmonica, etc.) and they sing. And they just happen to be amazing at it! The harmonies, the melodies, the rhythm, the music... Wow! Just wow! The usual variety of tracks is there, from faster (Hey, Love Somebody To Know) to a little slower (When You’re Gone, Misery, Underneath), and some just plain catchy (Strong Enough to Break, Deeper, Penny And Me). I’m glad to see that rock and roll isn’t dead, that some music is still genuine.
Listen to it on a sunny day, to brighten a rainy day, on a car trip with the windows down, on your discman in the subway... Love, love, love! The only downsides: this CD doesn’t include written lyrics, which makes it hard for me as I have a visual memory; and it only has eight tracks, but I could listen to it for hours!
All in all: Hanson are back and better than ever. They ROCK! Can’t wait for the spring album!!!

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Hanson – Underneath
http://www.hanson.net

Finally, the studio album I’ve been waiting to hear for almost four years; you can tell how long it’s been delayed when you realize that most of the copyrights are from 2001 and 2002. Upon hearing it for the first time, half of me was delighted, but the other half of me was in mourning for the acoustic version. Some of the songs definitely have a new sound; it’s amazing how using an electric guitar instead of an acoustic one, even in the background, can make such a difference. There are also some new instruments, like a cello and even horns in one song! The guys have matured and their craft has matured as well, I’ll officially say that they are way, WAY more talented than most bands out there. The songs are still hooky and irresistible, whether we are talking about the fast ones or the slower ones. This being a Hanson CD, there’s a hidden track at the end (two in this case). And of course, this CD has lyrics, extremely useful to me for two reasons: I have a visual memory, and they don’t always enunciate all that well. ;o) Deeper got turned into a duet with Michelle Branch and it is really a beautiful song. Penny And Me is still a favourite, as well as Hey (maybe even more so than that first single, but I’m still not sure if I like the acoustic version better); new songs I love include Get Up And Go, Lost Without Each Other and Crazy Beautiful. The latter surprised me, actually, because it sounded VERY different from the live version I had heard (and seen) out of Taylor; it went from almost Jerry Lee Lewisesque to, in some parts of the song, a sound similar to John Lennon in his post-Beatle days. A song that also really touched me was Broken Angel; it’s one of those sad songs that can be interpreted in different ways, but it won’t leave you indifferent. [Is it just me or does Zac seem to have a lot of sad solos, starting with Lucy in 1997?] Oh, here I am rattling off song titles when all I really want to say is…
All in all: I won’t overanalyze this one because I don’t want to ruin it for myself, but in a nutshell… I L-O-V-E it!!!

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Hanson – The Best of Hanson: Live & Electric
http://www.hanson.net

Hanson’s first live album in seven years shows the evolution of their music. This is a band with over thirteen years of experience in composing and performing their own songs; the fact that they are now producing their own music only adds to their charm. The covers on this album are excellent, almost haunting takes on Radiohead’s Optimistic and U2’s In A Little While. There are also modern versions of old favourites such as I Will Come To You and Hand In Hand, with seemingly effortless jamming in-between songs. And of course, there are more recent successes like Penny & Me and Strong Enough To Break, both of which are very uplifting and were truly meant to be heard live. I also have to mention the fantastic Rock ‘N’ Roll Razorblade, with lyrics telling the tale of being hooked to rock ‘n’ roll music, and the beautiful Underneath, their latest single, which is about the struggle the band went through while creating their own independent record label. Hanson produce vocal harmonies like only bothers can, overlaid with impressive electric guitar riffs, pounding piano melodies and thumping drum beats.
All in all: Live & Electric is far from strictly being a must for the fans; it is also a good starter record for all those who unfairly think of Hanson as a one-hit wonder or who are not familiar with their music at all. This is astonishingly fine indie rock, well worth your time. »cds »»archives

Hanson – The Walk
http://www.hanson.net
http://www.myspace.com/takingthewalk
Now here’s a band that keeps reinventing itself with each new album. You may recognize them, but the sound is always slightly different. The album opens with an intro recorded in Africa – Hanson recorded two African choirs in the making of this album. The first song, Great Divide, is energetic and will capture your attention from the beginning. You might recognize it as the charity single released on World AIDS Day in December 2006 to help fight AIDS in Africa. It has a rock sound mixed with gospel, which is very pleasant. Been There Before is plain old rock (think Michael Jackson when he was still Black), about the love of music; perfect for rolling down your windows on a summer car trip. Georgia is a fantastic ballad that is the opposite of sappy. Watch Over Me seems to be about how we tend to let life take over and lead us along without standing up for what we want and making it happen. Running Man is about the fate of a player; the sound of it slightly reminded me of Bleu, and it turns out that he cowrote the song and plays the guitar on the studio version. It’s one of my favourite tracks of the album. Go is a sad song about a relationship on the rocks, but still offers hope for the couple. Fire On The Mountain, despite the religious undertones, can be applied metaphorically to many situations. Blue Sky, the second North American single, is a really great song, upbeat while still having melancholic passages. Tearing It Down has a great urban feel to it; Something Going Round is as infectious as the title suggests. The Walk, the title track, is a beautiful sad song that seems to be about the need for everyone to take chances in life. It has changed since it was heard on stage a few years ago, but it’s still good. Then, the North American version of the album features the songs Got A Hold On Me (a nice tune that sounds like it could be by James Blunt), I’ve Been Down (which starts and ends a cappella, with a garage-band sound) and an acoustic version of Something Going Round. The previously-released Japanese version had the songs In A Way (with heart-breaking lyrics) and I Am (which is really worth listening to).
The only caveat: a booklet that, as always, could use a professional to proofread it and double-check the colors chosen for the layout (the lyrics to Fire On The Mountain are near impossible to read).
All in all: A long-overdue album, but well worth the wait! Go listen to some clips online, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Sarah Hudson – Naked Truth
http://www.sarahhudson.com

A little-known artist from a big-name family (Sarah Hudson is Kate Hudson’s cousin and the daughter of music producer Mark Hudson, but I promised myself I wouldn’t even mention that in my review… oh darn, too late). She cowrites her songs and actually has a very nice voice; it’s only fitting that her record label is the same as Joss Stone’s. Most of the songs on Naked Truth are what I would call chick punk rock, but there are some slower ones on there too. And Steven Tyler lends his voice to a few songs on the album, which is a definite plus for any new artist. The songs are almost like stories, as if she were singing parts of her diary, usually with a blasé “been there, done that” tone but a very energetic and upbeat delivery (even the song about the wrong guy, called Bad Habit). The title track sets the mood for the album well. I Know is a very good power ballad, while Unlove You is about a relationship that doesn’t seem to end. Ghandi has a different sound and more quirky lyrics (I wanna fly a kite off the wall of China/I wanna go shopping like Winona Ryder/I got two coach tickets on a jet airliner); Fake Rain is probably the saddest one on there. You’ll notice that Sarah Hudson likes to dress provocatively, but in a way that affirms her independence and her free spirit (so don’t let her low-cut tops fool you into thinking she’s another cookie-cutter singer, because nothing could be further from the truth).
All in all: Definitely worth adding to your collection if you like chicks with attitude.

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Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
www.norahjones.com

A classic that I should have reviewed before (but I got it on sale only recently). We’ve all heard Don’t Know Why on the airwaves and we can all agree that her voice is exceptional. While I love that song, I was expecting to hear a little more variety on this album. I was therefore disappointed to find that all the songs sound somewhat alike and are on the same slow beat. Even the lyrics are a bit redundant. So while Norah Jones is a talented musician, she shows only a limited spectrum on this album.
All in all: It is good, but as background music mostly; expect a slow rhythm on the entire album.

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Kenna – New Sacred Cow
http://www.kennaonline.com

The first track requires your complete attention, as it was recorded below usual volume levels (but then again, it fits with the lyrics). The second track, Freetime, has a normal volume and quite a catchy beat, just like Vexed And Glorious. This Ethiopian-born artist was “discovered” by Fred Durst, and the album was produced by Chase Chad of the Neptunes. Kenna’s sound is somewhat reminiscent of Depeche Mode or Duran-Duran, with electronic beats and a modern, original take on 1980s sounds. The lyrics are intriguing, to say the least. They are very repetitive on A Better Control, but that was artistic, and the other songs have more variety. So even though it’s mostly synthesiser music, it’s still very varied, all the songs are like pieces of a puzzle and the album itself is eclectic. Red Man is very upbeat (as are I’m Gone and Siren), while Hell Bent is melancholic (that latter song had been circulating on the net for the better part of two years before the album was finally released). I really like Yeneh Ababa (Rose), maybe because I could see that one in a Zach Braff movie. The title track actually has some soul to it, in the middle of a hip-hop electronica album.
I also feel I must point out the fact that there is a mistake in the data track on this album, where track 6 is skipped altogether.
All in all: While I normally prefer more organic sounds, I enjoyed discovering this artist. I’m sure he’ll come out with a second album eventually, since he practically invented a new genre and already has a legion of fans.

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Malajube – Trompe-l’œil
http://www.malajube.com/
It’s an extremely original record. The song Jus de canneberges talks about urinary tract infections, but you have to read between the lines, otherwise you’ll only hear a series of colors. Montréal - 40 oC is very catchy, it makes you feel like listening to it many times over. I love the opening of Ton plat favori, which is an oldies piano, almost like in old silent movies. The lyrics of all the songs are full of imagination, a little haphazard if you interpret them literally. The recurrent theme seems to be human anatomy and health, especially with the beautiful drawings in the liner notes. The first time I listened to it, I even wondered whether the band members used to study biology. That being said, everyone can find something in there, no need to have a scientific formation (nor a culinary one, with titles like Pâte filo, Le crabe or Ton plat favori). A little disappointment, though: I found this record to be a little short, I would have wanted to hear more of it.
All in all: Without a doubt one of the best Quebecois albums of 2005.

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Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin
http://www.avril-lavigne.com/

Avril Lavigne’s latest album is somewhat angrier than her first one, probably due to her growing up as well as an intensive touring schedule. Some songs have a sound similar to that of the Cranberries or Alanis Morissette. Many of the songs were cowritten with Chantal Kreviazuk, but Avril had a hand in writing all of them. The first thing that I noticed, apart from the overall sound, is that these songs are a lot more hooky, with a chorus that repeats itself through the entire song (that was actually a bit rare in her previous album). Most of the songs are about love gone bad (just one actual love song), with the requisite few about finding yourself, and one that she wrote for her late grandfather. A few do have that hopeful sound and manage to make a bad situation seem almost like a good thing (such as He Wasn’t and Who Knows). Some songs are a bit more relaxed, more serene I should say (like How Does It Feel). And then there’s the sad but angry ones (Together, Nobody’s Home and Forgotten), and the just plain angry ones. All this being said, it is not that different from the first album; there are no radical changes, just some maturing. The artwork on the CD sleeve is very nice and there is a small bonus poster inside. The lyrics are presented in a more readable but less personal way than on Let Go, and while the thank you note is in an original and handy place (in the case, on the surface behind the disc itself), that makes it illegible in some parts.
All in all: Very enjoyable album, proving that Avril has enough talent and originality to have a lasting career in this business. I recommend it.

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Maroon 5 – Songs About Jane
http://www.maroon5.com

I know that this CD has been out for a while, but for some reason I only got it earlier this year [2004]. I wish I had bought it sooner! It is really great music, mostly urban funk mixed in with a few other genres. Some songs are fast, some are slow, some are angry, some are happy or sad, some are love songs, some are about lost love. Most of them are about the ex-girlfriend Jane, obviously. You’re probably familiar with Harder To Breathe and This Love, so I’ll also recommend The Sun, Tangled, Shiver and She Will Be Loved (that last one is a bit different from the others). I like the whole album, actually! It’s great background music for a party, but it’s also great to really listen to. The group had already released one album previously (while they were still in high school) and while it got them good reviews, it failed to generate sales. Now that they’re out of college, these young men have matured and their influences have changed, making for a different and even more acclaimed album.
All in all: A wonderful CD at a very affordable price. Run out and get your copy, it’ll stay in your collection for a long time!

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Maroon 5 – It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
http://www.maroon5.com

Absolutely brilliant. It’s what you’d expect as a follow-up, though maybe slightly more hip and urban. The single Makes Me Wonder is catchy and upbeat (even though it’s basically about a break-up). Little Of Your Time gets your attention right away with a great beat (echoed in Can’t Stop); Wake Up Call achieves the same thing, but with less oomph. Won’t Go Home Without You is a softer, sweeter tune. Goodnight Goodnight is, at first, reminiscent of a certain song by Three Doors Down, but turns out to be much more mellow. The problem with this album is actually that at 40 minutes, I find it much too short. Also, there are no lyrics in the booklet – they probably didn’t have space in there, what with all the pictures of themselves.
All in all: A wonderful follow-up album, by one of today’s best bands (in my opinion).

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Mes Aïeux – Ça parle au diable
http://www.mesaieux.qc.ca

A typically French Canadian band with music you could only find here. The band is made up of five characters (like Québécois Village People), there’s an Indian, a coureur de bois, a priest, an angel and the Devil. It’s more modern than the Bottine Souriante, but it’s in the same vein: story tellers, reels, stories about chasse galerie, … I’ll admit that a few of the songs disappointed me a bit because there was a lounge beat in the background whereas I was expecting a reel, but once you know about it, it’s quite good (it’s more funkloric than folkloric). My favourites remain Remède Miracle and Descendus au Chantier. Even though the themes of the songs are classic, they were almost all modernized for today’s reality; it’s actually current themes on yesteryear music. It’s Mes Aïeux’s first album, so it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with their style, for those who haven’t seen them live or on TV.
All in all: Music that was "hand-carved" by local artists… A likeable group to discover!

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Mes Aïeux – Entre les branches
http://www.mesaieux.qc.ca

Once again, they cover French Canadian legends and melodies, but modernizing them a bit. There are notably La prison de Londres, plus a song about how the devil used to drop in on people’s parties to dance (Le yâbe est dans la cabane), it’s really funny to see how Jesus saves the night. And a song about the Corriveau (La corrida de la Corriveau), finally! There’s a really funny song (Le temps des semences) and one with very original lyrics – actually it’s the fact that they’re written down that is so original, for what it is (Le reel du funk) – and it’s one of the only songs that Stéphane Archambault didn’t touch (the other one being Le bedeau est amoureux, but there are no lyrics). There’s even a song where you have to answer by singing certain lines at a given time, but written to sing by yourself. And, of course, the critics of today’s society are ever present. On top of the official lyrics, there are funny dialogues, for those who bother listening.
On the cover of the album is a giant apple and there are apples everywhere in the CD case, with the mention that the album contains G.M.F. (genetically modified folklore). And the band has a new member (?), Margo the dog. ;o)
All in all: If you like their first album, you’ll like this one.

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Mes Aïeux – En famille
http://www.mesaieux.qc.ca

The third album by this typically Québécois band. Very much the same type of sound as their previous albums, but with a few noticeable differences. My favourite song is by far Dégénérations/Le Reel Du Fossé, not only for the melody, but also for the lyrics that tell of the degeneration of generations since our great-grand-parents. The reel has Russian airs in the beginning that change into a North-American tune later one: very well done. There is also the song Hommage En Grains, which is a funny tribute to poutine. And let’s not forget La Grande Déclaration, a peaceful love song that’s a pleasure to hear on this album. Toune En On sounds a bit like Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite by the Beatles. Other songs expose political corruption, mass culture, drugs and bikers. And, of course, the band members talk about their family that’s getting bigger, hence the title of the album. The songs are as diversified as on their first album, while remaining true to the same sound.
All in all: A superb Québécois album.

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Raúl Midón – Limited Live Edition
http://www.midon.com

I saw him open for Joss Stone and I just had to buy this CD. It contains five songs that he played live, including the title track from his studio album, State Of Mind. He wrote the latter when he first got to New York and felt homesick. You Make Me Feel Alright almost sounds like reggae and it took me right back to his performance, but that’s not to say that someone who’s never seen him wouldn’t be impressed. On If You Really Want and a few others, you can hear the amazing way he imitates a trumpet with his mouth. He only has his guitar and his voice, but that’s all he needs and he makes it sound like two guitars, drums and a trumpet with a singer. Everybody is a song about how each of us can make a difference in the world. He has a powerful voice and a lot of talent.
All in all: An artist worth discovering. You may not be able to find this CD in stores (try Amazon), but look for State Of Mind, that one should be relatively easy to find.

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Raúl Midón – State of Mind
http://www.raulmidon.com/

After seeing him in concert, I have to admit that this album let me down a bit. Even though it’s good, it doesn’t do justice to his stage presence. Overall, it’s a lot mellower than his live album, almost more like background music. The songs are mostly slow and seem like love ballads more than the deep introspections I had come to expect.I Would Do Anything did break away from that format, with more percussions and a faster rhythm. There are collaborations and duets with other musicians, including Stevie Wonder. But it felt like Midón’s skills were not showcased well enough and like the melodies were not varied enough.
All in all: A little blander than I expected. He’s still worth checking out if you haven’t heard about him, especially if you can find a live CD.

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The Philosopher Kings – Castles
http://www.philosopherkings.com

You probably heard the title song (Castles in the Sand) on the radio, and it basically sounds a little more pop than Barenaked Ladies. I’ll admit that most of the other songs on here surprised me a little, basically because of that pop element (well, it’s not pop enough to be confused with a boy band, except maybe for Give Back The Love). Beautiful Creature and Not Enough are a little different, more upbeat and a little more urban. The guitar and the piano on Not That Man are great. And To Be Loved (To Love Back) is more old school.
The band members compose all their own songs and play their own instruments, which is a definite plus, though. But the lyrics didn’t come with the album, unfortunately. At least, there are 14 songs on this disc.
All in all: There are a few good songs, but I doubt I’ll listen to the album a few weeks from now. Good thing I got it for free.

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Pascale Picard – Me, Myself & Us
http://www.pascalepicard.com
Gate 22 has a great, catchy hook that you’ll recognize, but the rest of the song almost seems to be a different piece altogether. That Is the Matter sounds really upbeat, even though the subject matter is grim. Most of the songs are somewhat calm and melancholic, like Smilin’!! , but Annoying is loud and angry. Useless almost sounds country. A nice surprise (to me) is Thinking of It, because it makes me happier each time I hear it.
All in all: A really good, unpretentious Quebec artist; I look forward to hearing more from her.

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Daniel Powter – Daniel Powter
http://www.danielpowter.com

My favourite is the single Bad Day, of course, but I liked hearing the other songs on here, like Jimmy Gets High Tonight and Hollywood. Though Song 6 and Free Loop are more mellow, Suspect rapidly picks up some beat and has a completely different sound. The common thread is the way Daniel Powter sings, almost like someone singing in a hairbrush in front of the mirror (check out the audio clips on his website to hear what I mean). There are pianos and drums mostly, as well as a few strings.
I found the CD liner somewhat incomplete; there is not much information about the songs, let alone lyrics. And the album is quite short (just under 38 minutes).
All in all: It’s a refreshing sound, different than most of what’s on the market today. It’s good, especially for a debut album, but I’ll admit I’m not passionate about it.

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Elvis Presley – How Great Thou Art
I had been looking for this album for a few years and finally found it. For those of you who don’t know it, it is a gospel album (THE gospel album) full of songs recorded here and there and finally put together by Colonel Parker while Elvis was busy making movies. The man can sing ANYthing and make it sound amazing. His religious upbringing really shines through on this one and you can’t help but wonder what he must have sounded like in the church choir in Tupelo when he was young. He is extremely versatile and I don’t think he ever sang anything without mastering it; he even proved he could do opera. You would never guess he is the King of Rock and Roll from this one. Truly an amazing experience (for those who enjoy gospel music). Only Crying in the Chapel was released on other albums as well, the rest are rare finds. I think I only have good things to say about Elvis Presley.
All in all: Wow. Loving it. The King rules.

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Lisa Marie Presley – To Whom It May Concern
http://www.lisamariepresley.com

The King’s daughter finally followed in her father’s footsteps (wonder what took her so long). The family resemblance is striking on the cover picture. The question is, she can talk the talk, but can she walk the walk? Well, she actually does a pretty good job. This album is mainly a reflection/self-analysis on her life, exploring issues such as the death of many of the members of her family, what it was like growing up in the public eye and justifying her actions. One song is even dedicated to her children and the positive effect they have had on her life. Her raspy gros-grain voice actually sounds quite confident. It sounds nothing like her father’s music, but then again it is refreshing to see that she has her own style. I would say it is mostly light rock, with a few angrier tunes and one or two ballads thrown in. It is unpretentious while staking its ground.
All in all: Quite good for a debut album.

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Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com

Yes, this album has been in my collection for years and years. The reason I’m reviewing it here, though, is because this European band needs more publicity. They gave a concert in Montreal in August of 2005 (their only time in North America, as far as I can tell), and they got so little publicity that I missed it, even though I would have been there in a flash.
So, Rhapsody is a metal band – don’t be intimated. They invented a genre called Hollywood metal, basically because it sounds like a soundtrack (a Dungeons & Dragons soundtrack, or maybe a Lord of the Rings soundtrack, although some recent superhero movies have been using similar music).
My favourite on this album is Emerald Sword, with the opening Epicus Furor. There is also an amazing guitar, violin and drum passage on Wisdom of the King. There are electric guitars (listen to Luca Turilli especially), keyboards and drums, of course, but there are also instruments like the harpsichord and the lute, and you would be surprised at the choir of voices and the orchestral sound of some songs. Part of The Dark Tower of Abyss actually sounds like typical classical music. Wings of Destiny is actually much mellower than your stereotypical metal song.
All in all: If you want to discover a new genre, or get an initiation into metal, then this is the album for you.

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Kyle Riabko – Before I Speak
http://www.kyleriabko.com

The intro, Learning To Speak, actually gives you a pretty good overview, albeit superficial; the “outro” doesn’t quite capture the essence of the album, though. My first impression is a male Joss Stone, perhaps crossed with Raúl Midón. This Canadian singer-songwriter, despite his young age, has already toured with such acts as John Mayer and Maroon 5, and is being compared to them as well. It’s a mix of blues, rock, soul and jazz with a dash of R&B (precise enough?).
The song Half As Much is a cool lounge love song. There’s also raging hormones on tracks like the catchy Miss Behavin’. The music is great on Carry On. There’s even a collaboration with Liz Phair on Chemistry, which has a great rock’n’roll beat. The hidden track is just Ryan with his guitar, singing a soft ballad.
All in all: A cool discovery; I really like his sound.

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Stabilo – Cupid?
http://www.stabilo.ca

You’ll remember the single Everybody, with its great lyrics and beautiful guitar riffs. The other songs on this are just as unique. Paperboy is somewhat in the same style, but a little faster. Stone is a little melancholic, but without being overly sad, and the instruments are more present (mainly guitars, keyboards and percussions). There’s also a song about love, titled Enemy, which is short and focuses on voices more than instruments, although it does have a finale without lyrics. My favourite song title is ?.
The only negative points: this album is very short (just under 28 minutes, but then again it is reasonably priced), and it doesn’t have the song Flawed Design. But apart from that, it’s all good (and it’s my own fault for not realizing how long this band has been around already and buying a random album, thinking it was their latest).
All in all: If you haven’t heard of Stabilo, it’s high time you discovered this great band from British Columbia.

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Joss Stone – The Soul Sessions
http://www.s-curverecords.com/joss
http://www.jossstone.com

Hard to believe that these soulful notes come from a shy 16-year-old white British girl. Her singing voice is strong and assured, but she doesn’t have the showiness that Mariah Carey-wannabes have; she won’t use ten notes if one is enough, even though she has the talent to pull it off. She had actually begun writing some tracks for her debut album, but she then ended up working with some of the legends in the business and doing covers of older songs, reinterpreting them in her own way. She has already drawn comparisons to Aretha Franklin, her idol. This record is refreshing, unpretentious and soulful. You can tell that this young singer will be around for quite some time.
All in all: A very good buy, great background music and wonderful for those who want an introduction to soul with a little twist.

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Joss Stone – Mind, Body & Soul
http://www.s-curverecords.com/joss
http://www.jossstone.com

Her second album is in the same style as the first one. It sounds a little more grown up, maybe more professional, because the background music and instruments are more present. Joss Stone had a hand in writing most of these songs (Right To Be Wrong is quite good), and her voice is still as impressive. Don’t Cha Wanna Ride is very uplifting. The song Less Is More has a bit of an edge to it, while Jet Lag and Sleep Like A Child are much mellower and Security has both sounds to it. I also like Snakes And Ladders, and the hidden track is hauntingly beautiful. It’s still the same kind of music as her first album, but it sounds a little different, more mainstream I guess, but in a good way.
All in all: A powerful voice and a great album.

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Joss Stone – Introducing Joss Stone
http://www.jossstone.com

I would guess that the name of this album, which is actually her third, has to do with the fact that she’s reinvented herself. And I really liked the old Joss. Not just the hair (blonde that became red and brown), not just the attitude (somewhat demure before, she’s now got a risqué shot in the booklet), but mainly the soul music. Now, she’s a little more R&B. Of course, the first track (a man speaking) explains all about change and says that you have to have balls to change. Her voice is still as impressive, but the instruments, beats and background vocals are more present. Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now is more reminiscent of the style I associate with Joss Stone, but even that doesn’t showcase her voice well enough. Put Your Hands On Me is more upbeat, as is Arms Of My Baby. Bad Habit is familiar territory, while Proper Nice is different. What Were We Thinking is also great. Most of the other tracks didn’t make that much of an impression on me either way.
All in all: It is somewhat of a let-down for me, as I preferred her previous style. But it’s certainly not bad, and kudos to her for having the guts to reinvent herself.

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Tegan And Sara – If It Was You
http://www.teganandsara.com

Two Canadian chicks who write their own material. It’s rock, but some songs are fast and electric while some are slow and acoustic. I especially like I Hear Noises, Time Running and Living Room. These two sisters’ music is quite original, the lyrics at least, and they’re definitely not mainstream. They’re a really cool band with an unconventional singing style (think more indie rock than major pop). It’s catchy, though, unpretentious and simple. The thank-you notes are original (they just say that they won’t name anyone because they have called them all in person).
All in all: A cool band with cool music, not too well-known yet but that’s part of the charm.

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Liam Titcomb – Liam Titcomb
http://www.liamtitcomb.com

As if the first single (Sad Eyes) weren’t catchy enough, this artist has other great songs all over his album. Not only does he write his own music and play his own instruments, he does it in a very natural and almost organic way, with lyrics that actually mean something. Liam Titcomb has been playing music since the tender age of two and often joined his father on stage; he has participated in numerous festivals and plays the guitar, piano, steel pan and drums. All that to say that he’s very talented and has more experience than a lot of musicians out there. The music is simple, but with great hooks and melodies that you’ll want to hum all afternoon. Check out Counting Headlights and Get Down for something more upbeat, You Could Be The One for something slower, My So Called Life for great lyrics and Rose Of Jericho for a beautiful song written for children sold into sexual slavery.
All in all: Definitely worth adding to your collection. And if you do it now, you can say you knew about him before he got all famous. ;o)

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Michael Tolcher – I Am
http://www.michaeltolcher.com//
He’s one of those singer-songwriters with a great live presence. Mission Responsible, the first track, sets the upbeat tone for the rest of the album. The song Sooner Or Later is upbeat and full of advice, with lyrics that somehow seemed directed at me. He managed to write an entire song about the need to take a cab (Taxi Ride Kinda Night), with a cool showcase finale. I also like Kings in Castles, and the mellow and melancholic Bad Habits. And there are a few songs about love without consequences, namely No One Above and Kiss And Tell, plus the requisite hopeful song, Miracle. He sounds a bit like a more mature Liam Titcomb, except for the song Waiting, which is different because the music seems to take over.
All in all: A simple, organic sound, charmingly unpretentious and worth discovering.

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Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (played by Tafelmusik)
There are a few more concertos on this CD, but I’ll focus on The Four Seasons. They are actually the first third of a series of twelve violin concertos published in 1725 under the name The Trial of Harmony and Invention. My first reaction is to tell you that these are absolutely classic (and classical) pieces. You’ll recognize the melody as soon as you hear it. Of course, you have to use a lot of imagination if you want to perceive them the way they were meant to, i.e. as musical representations of poetic ideas (birds singing, flowers springing up, heat, a rain storm, harvest, snowfall, etc.). Vivaldi actually wrote down what all the different movements represented, so it would have been nice to include that with the CD (hint, hint!). The violins are exceptionally beautiful; there are many passages of rapid string-crossing with the bow and difficult notes to play. It is really a grand and remarkable piece.
Surprisingly enough, Vivaldi was not appreciated as much as he should have been in his time, especially in his home-town of Venice; he died poor and alone. It is only when his works were rediscovered in the 1920s that his music became popular, and The Four Seasons was not even a classic until the 1950s! He is now regarded as one of the greatest composers of his time.
All in all: A very good introduction to classical (and to Vivaldi).

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The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
http://www.whitestripes.com/
The first track, Blue Orchid, reminds me of great basic rock – raw electric guitar and good ole steady drums, with Jack White singing falsetto. It’s got a great beat and I love listening to it. The Nurse seems like it was sing by a lethargic band (yet it’s catchy), while My Doorbell tries almost too hard to be upbeat, but on both, the instruments seem to take the background to the vocals. There’s a sudden change with Little Ghost, a short and somewhat silly country bluegrass sung by Meg White. The Denial Twist has a nice edge to it, a little like Maroon 5 but less elaborate. White Moon is a softer piano ballad; As Ugly As I Seem is also a slow song, though it relies more on guitar strumming. Instinct Blues, as its name suggests, is a nice little blues piece. Then, Red Rain goes into its own little world, but doesn’t break off completely from the rest of the album.
From the band’s fifth album, you can tell how eccentric this ex-couple is. Did you know they still don’t use a bass player? It could actually be a garage band playing on this album. Their music occasionally sounds like something from the 1960s. Some melodies are repeated throughout the album. There’s some blues in there, there’s rock, there’s a little weirdness too. It’s alternative, yet still feels like it could be mainstream if given the chance. It’s too bad that it doesn’t get airplay.
All in all: A very good listen; I recommend you buy it if you haven’t heard the White Stripes’ music.

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The Wreckers – Stand Still - Look Pretty
http://thewreckers.com/
Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp are two singers who actually met through mutual fans because they both sound very much alike. It turns out that their voices blend together so well that they are actually hard to tell apart when they sing. Even the lyrics they write sound alike.
The first song (also the first video clip), Leave The Pieces, is a country song worthy of the Dixie Chicks; it’s about a girl whose boyfriend doesn’t love her enough and is afraid to commit. It’s a really good song. My, Oh My is also a great upbeat bluegrass song, about how things change over time, and you’ll be able to identify with the lyrics. Crazy People is a tongue-in-cheek look at the singers’ love lives. Another very good song is Tennessee. Not all the songs are country, though; Way Back Home, Rain and The Good Kind are a little more pop, for example. The stand-out title song is somewhat sad and introspective, but a very easy listen.
The instruments are mostly guitars, but there are also some beautiful fiddles, even a mandolin and a banjo, and drums.
All in all: A really great album. You’ll probably like this one even if you think you don’t like country.

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Concert Reviews
»»archives

Now 18 reports, organized by artist name.

Aerosmith – December 5th, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Route Of All Evil Tour
The Backstreet Boys – September 13th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Never Gone Tour
The Backstreet Boys – August 5th, 2008 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Unbreakable Tour
James Blunt – October 1st, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Back To Bedlam Tour
Cher – April 7th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Farewell Tour 2004
Evanescence – January 5th, 2007 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Open Door Tour 2004 (Special Guest Review by Josh)
Great Big Sea – November 20th, 2004 – The Metropolis, Montreal – The Beautiful Tour
Hanson – October 10th, 2003 – The Guvernment, Toronto – Underneath Acoustic Tour
Hanson – August 20th, 2004 – Lansdowne Park, Ottawa – Underneath Tour
Hanson – November 10th, 2005 – The Kool Haus, Toronto – Live & Electric Tour
Hanson – July 31st, 2007 – The Guvernment, Toronto – The Walk Tour
Iron Maiden – October 10th, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Matter Of Life And Death Tour
Kamelot (with Epica) – September 24th, 2006 – The Medley, Montreal – The Black Halo North American Tour
Avril Lavigne – September 3rd, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Under My Skin Tour
Maroon 5 – April 11th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Honda Civic Tour
Alanis Morissette – August 17th, 2004 – Saint-Denis Theater – So-Called Chaos Tour
Joss Stone – May 29th – The Metropolis, Montreal – Mind, Body & Soul Tour
U2 – November 26th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Vertigo Tour

»concerts »»archives


Aerosmith – December 5th, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Route Of All Evil Tour
http://www.aerosmith.com/


Mötley Crüe (http://www.motley.com/index.php) opened for that show. It sounded like a really cool idea in theory... right up until the band took the stage. I’m sorry to say, this was probably the worst show I’ve ever seen. Dancers in cages, slutty models, a huge elaborate stage, video screens showing images of horny demons and bloody chickens, an obnoxiously high decibel count, pyrotechnics (i.e. exploding fireworks making me wonder whether the Bell Center has sprinklers) and blasts of flame seemed to cover for the fact that there’s really not much to say about the music itself, much less the performing of it. The band swore a blue streak and kept instructing the audience to get more excited, “you sick motherf*ckers”. Well, when people have to be told to stand the f*ck up or sit the f*ck down by a band that can’t even play an audible melody for an entire song, I’m sorry, but that just means that the band probably isn’t good enough to give their energy to the crowd, and they should just stop wasting our time and get off the f*cking stage already. And without destroying a perfectly good guitar, for Pete’s sake! They’re certainly no Jimi Hendrix. Also, I am completely unimpressed by Tommy Lee; what a listless wannabe. The whole set seemed uninspired and fell flat.

Then there was the intermission, where I breathed in all the second-hand smoke, both from the pyrotechnics and the illegal smokers. And I was bored out of my mind, apart from the two minutes where we were shown the preview for An Inconvenient Truth, which Steven Tyler recommends seeing.

And finally, the lights dimmed again and Aerosmith’s music started playing while various scenes and pictures were shown on the big white curtains in front of the stage (which was much simpler by then, the highlight being the catwalk). Now there’s a band which, even after over thirty years, is still at the top of its game and knows how to captivate an audience. Not only do the songs not age, it seems that the band doesn’t get old either. The arena was almost full and you could just feel the energy coursing through the crowd. Even after the first song, it was clear that Mötley Crüe couldn’t hold a candle to them. Aerosmith really knows how to put on a show, and it’s some of the best rock the past decades have to offer.

Steven Tyler, the icon, is as charismatic as ever, strutting his stuff on the stage, wearing orange pants and a leopard-print shirt, wailing into his scarf-laden microphone stand, blowing into a harmonica and leaning over railings to touch hands with the crowd. Joe Perry is an amazing guitarist, probably in a league all of his own (did you know he even sells his own brand of hot sauce on the band’s website?). It was great seeing how the women in the front rows reacted when either one of them came close or sang to them. Joe Perry actually ended up in the crowd at one point, and although the security guards started running towards him on stage, he got back out all by himself, no apparent harm done.

The band played some of their greatest hits, occasionally with certain little changes (like Cryin’, which was harder rock than its original version). My one complaint is that they didn’t play enough songs, and only had one for the encore! They have so many great songs in their repertoire that you couldn’t help but feel like they had more to give.

Here’s the set list:

Toys In The Attic
Walkin' The Dog
Rag Doll
Love In An Elevator
Cryin'
What It Takes
Baby Please Don’t Go
Can’t Stop Messin’
Seasons
Dream On
Livin’ On The Edge
Sweet Emotion
Draw The Line


*Encore* Walk This Way

All in all: Aerosmith totally rocked the house and put on a fantastic performance. I went there only because I wanted to see them once in my life, but I’m now seriously considering seeing them again next time they’re in town (as long as the opening act is decent).

»concerts »»archives


The Backstreet Boys – September 13th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Never Gone Tour
http://www.backstreetboys.com


The Show

I went to the show with my friend Caroline, who was nice enough to accept my extra ticket, even though she only knew one of their songs. ;o) Even though I had been a fan for ten years, I had never been to one of their shows (shocking, I know!). But now, being in the same city at the same time, combined with affordable ticket prices, sealed the deal. I’m pleased to say that I am no longer a Backstreet virgin. For those of you who are, here is a quick presentation of the members, because I will only be referring to them by their first names after this paragraph: Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Nick Carter.

The first opening act was Casey Brown (who was introduced by Howie, drawing screams from the audience). She got very emotional herself, as it was her last show on this tour. She has a very pretty voice, but on some songs, there was a backup vocal track and it was hard to tell what was live and what wasn’t. However, her acoustic tracks were quite impressive. She plays the guitar (which AJ brought out for her, drawing screams from the audience as well), and she played two songs on the piano. It seemed to be live for those three tracks, and based on that, I would say she’s talented (but the other songs didn’t showcase that as much as her dance moves and big furry boots).

The second opening act was a band called The Click Five ( http://www.theclickfive.com/). They are five guys who look like the Beatles in the early ‘60s, but with a much more modern sound. There are three guitarists, one keyboardist and one drummer. The sound was a bit loud and overpowered their voices, but their energy shone through and I would like to hear more from them.

Pollyanna Dorough, Howie’s sister, was also there to sell her album, but I was disappointed not to hear her sing on stage.

Then it was time for the main event, the Backstreet Boys, who built up tension with music, smoke and a green laser light show, as if the crowd needed to be any more excited. And for the record, although the crowd was mostly young and mostly female, there were many people who did not fit that mould, more so that in previous years, I believe. The audience was standing the whole time, I don’t think anyone actually used the seats that they paid for.

The set was relatively simple, scaled down from previous tours (and I mean all of this in the best way possible). The focus was a staircase, that’s it. Regarding costume, there were only three costume changes throughout the show, and all of the clothes were street wear, so again, things were much more down to earth. There weren’t 20 dancers this time around, just the five guys that we actually came to see. And while they did throw in some great dance moves, they did not rely too heavily on them (though luckily, the hat routine is still a part of the show). The pyrotechnics were present, providing loud and hot showers of sparkles that scared the living daylights out of those of us who were not expecting them. The air was thick with haze after the show.

The Boys did songs from each of their albums, usually grouping them by year of release and sprinkling new songs throughout their performance. They opened with The Call (an oldie but goodie), then Beautiful Woman, possibly my favourite track from the new album, and More Than That, after which they moved on to songs like Shape Of My Heart, Don’t Wanna Lose You Now and The One. Then we had songs from the latest album, I Still and Siberia (with beautiful fake snow flakes filling the arena during the latter). There were classics like All I Have To Give, As Long As You Love Me and I’ll Never Break Your Heart, then I Want It That Way (which got the most crowd participation, with fans singing along), Show Me the Meaning Of Being Lonely, and Larger Than Life. We were treated to more songs from the new album, like Crawling Back To You, Lose It All and a rock ‘n’ roll version of Just Want You To Know with Nick on the guitar, during which they showed the corresponding videoclip on a giant screen. For those of you who are not familiar with it, you have got to see it. The concept is a hilarious parody of ‘80s rock groups. Here is a link to their label’s site, where you can view it in the media section.

We then went back to more serious matters with Drowning, and things got funny again during Quit Playing Games (With My Heart), when a crew member wearing a giant heart costume came out on stage and fooled around with the Boys. Finally, we had the song Weird World, and then Kevin played the piano for Never Gone and Incomplete.

There was some banter between the Boys (all planned, of course), but Kevin seemed more subdued. Nick and AJ made it a point to announce that they were single, which drew much reaction from the crowd. Brian pointed out how Nick would play the guitar for a few songs. Brian also removed AJ’s ball cap while the latter was singing, to reveal a shaved head. This drew applause from the audience, because what every fan wants to see is AJ’s latest hairdo. Since he had been wearing a hoodie when he handed Casey her guitar during the opening act and a cap earlier in the show, his hairdo was still a question mark in everyone’s mind. On a side note, I’m glad that he got to have so much fun with his hair in the past fifteen years, because his receding hairline is one of the sings that the Boys are men now. But I’m sure that if AJ ever goes bald, he can turn it into a sexy thing like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel did, no worries there.

The Backstreet Boys also seem to have a special relationship to their fans in Montreal. I realize that I may be biased, and I’m sure they say something different in every city, but they really do make the audience feel special. In our case, it’s because Montreal was the first place in North America to like their music. Nick did say that this show had the best crowd they had had all tour. The Boys really engaged with the crowd and got them participating and singing along (although not much prompting was needed for that); Brian and Nick also shook hands with fans in the front rows. I’ll admit that I’ll probably never get used to the screaming. This was the most deafening crowd I had ever heard and it was literally painful, I had to cover my ears for fear of rupturing an eardrum.

And finally (I always save the best for last), the encore was the song Backstreet’s Back, and it was probably the most impressive number in the show. The Boys were wearing Habs shirts with their name and their birthdate as a number, prompting chants of “Go, Habs, go!” when the lights came back on, from the guys in the audience especially (I would estimate that it was about a 15% male audience, which really isn’t bad).

All in all: This show proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the Backstreet Boys are great performers and great entertainers. They know their crowd, they know their craft. Their music may not be for everyone, but those who hear them live can’t deny that these guys can definitely sing and pull off some pretty nifty harmonies. ;o)

The Aftershow

I got to meet three of the Backstreet Boys after the show. Kevin and Brian went straight to the airport after the concert, but Howie, AJ and Nick stuck around their hotel, which was on my way home. I figured I’d stop by, and I’m glad I did. And while I was waiting with other fans, The Gazette came out with the review of the show – and a huge typo in the title: “Let’s here it for the Backstreet Boys” (no, I don’t believe it was a pun). I befriended another fan, Mary Ann.

AJ was the first one we met; he came back to the hotel in a cab and told us to wait for a second as he dashed back inside. He came back outside with money to pay the cab driver, who he also gave an autograph to. He signed a few autographs for the fans (his fingernails were dirty, I don’t know if it was leftover polish or what) and went back inside the hotel to pack his bags. He apologized, in the raspy voice of someone who smokes too much, saying that Marcus (his bodyguard) was going to kill him for being this late. He would only sign a few autographs and pose for a few pictures at a time, and because Mary Ann was being so nice, she got pushed aside by other fans and didn’t get a picture with him. AJ took a cab to the airport. And wouldn’t you know it, he had to come back because he forgot one of his bags. So he hung out for a while and smoked a cigarette while security guards kept us away with death glares (there were about twelve of us by then). But then I grabbed Mary Ann and went up to AJ and asked him if he could pose for a picture with her. He said yes, posed for other fans, then I got my turn (one of the hotel security guards said I should have put my arm around him or something, but I’m normally shy and I felt like I was invading his space enough as it was, and I don’t even know the guy, so that’s why I’m not hanging from around his neck). He made maybe three cab trips in all that morning, so he’s a bit disorganized, but based on my experience, he’s the nicest one. ;o)
amelie

Then Nick came out around 6am, made a quick phone call, had a cigarette with AJ, signed some autographs and posed for a few pictures while his entourage piled in his Ford Escalade. And you know what? Nick really isn’t that tall in person. He seemed to be in somewhat of a hurry. AJ also said he really had to get home to his dog because the animal was waiting for him (like the dog actually knows he’s coming home that day; but what can I say, there’s something about guys who turn to mush with their pets). The guys then left for the airport to catch their flights.

Howie finally left at around 9:30 to catch his flight; he quickly got in his Escalade before we had a chance to speak to him. So I looked at his bodyguard and said, just loud enough for Howie to hear through the open hatchback, to tell him we had a great time at the show. And I pretended to walk away. So lo and behold, Howie, realizing that there were just two of us left at that point, graciously opened his door and, looking severely hungover, signed autographs and posed for a picture. We were actually pushed aside by a man, who had been driving by often that morning and making fun of us. And wouldn’t you know it, there he was asking for an autograph. For his daughter, or so he said. He then had to ask me which Backstreet Boy that was, so he would know what to tell his daughter. ;o)

While I am somewhat disillusioned about the afterparty behaviour of the unmarried Boys (unprotected sex and blow with scantily-clad groupies not being my idea of a good – or safe – time), I would like to point out that at least AJ left when things got out of hand and appears to have stayed sober the whole time. Well, he could have gone to a whorehouse to do some lines there, or could have gone to an emergency AA meeting, or anything in between. I’m just thinking that if he was going to fall off the wagon, he would have stayed where the party was. There was also a Paris Hilton look-alike, who apparently was Nick’s “Montreal girl” (or one of them) and who, for some reason, thought she had something with him, but she snapped out of it that morning – and basically snapped, period. She had forgotten her cell phone with Nick’s stuff (which isn’t surprising to me, considering she forgot her handbag and wallet on the sidewalk later), so he had to FedEx it back to her. The entourage seems to be getting a kick out of this situation, though, because they get just as many girls as the actual celebrities. Luckily for them, the legal age of consent in Canada is quite low and they don’t have any remorse about taking advantage of naïve girls. Then again, the girls ought to know that it’s not going anywhere, but it’s mind-boggling to me that some of them still can’t seem to figure that out! And there you go, that was my encounter.

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The Backstreet Boys – August 5th, 2008 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Unbreakable Tour
http://www.backstreetboys.com


The opening act was Girlicious (http://www.girliciousmusic.com). What a complete waste of my time! These girls are in the same vein as the Pussycat Dolls (I would have said the Spice Girls, but even they had some sort of class). They bank on provocative dance moves and sexy outfits rather than actual talent at singing or playing instruments. Of course, with the backing track, it’s even hard to distinguish between what they’re singing live and what’s been pre-recorded... Anyway, not the band for me.

Then, the Backstreet Boys... It kind of got off to a rocky start for me, because I thought to myself, “Oh no, they’ve gone back to all the gimmicks... Maybe Kevin was the one putting his foot down about this on the last tour, and now he’s gone!” You see, the band came out on stage simulating a boxing match – all in an outfit and air-jabbing as they were being introduced. And I must admit that there was a little more dancing than I would have liked during this show (even though I’m glad they kept the hat routine). However, that was the only gimmick, and their outfits after that were usually more similar to street clothes. But they were still closer to their earlier style than on the last tour.

They played a good selection of songs from the Unbreakable album, as well as songs from previous albums – but a more rocked out version of them, which was a nice change. We were also treated to a solo song by each of the band members (Nick and Brian already have solo albums out, while A.J. and Howie are working on their projects). A.J. was having fun with his provocative dance moves during his song (and the audience was having fun too).

The band also thanked Montrealers specifically, since Montreal is the first North American city that gave them airplay. A.J. said that it was thanks to Backstreet fans like us that they’ve been in this business for 15 years and still going. The arena was full, and just about everyone had all the albums (even the first one, and Brian poked fun at it).

Once again, I wish I had remembered my ear plugs (the screams were about as loud as the last time, but it was really the speakers that were the problem – they were so loud that we had trouble understanding what was said/sung on stage sometimes). My ears are still ringing from the show a full 12 hours later.

Here is the set list:

- Larger Than Life
- Everyone
- Any Other Way
- You Can Let Go
- Unmistakable
- I Want It That Way
-
Howie Dorough - She's Like the Sun (song from upcoming solo album)
- Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely
- More Than That
- Helpless When She Smiles
- Trouble Is
- Incomplete
-
A.J. McLean - Drive By Love (song from upcoming solo album)
- Panic
-
Nick Carter - Blow Your Mind/I Got You (medley from Now or Never)
- Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
- As Long As You Love Me
- All I Have To Give
- I'll Never Break Your Heart
- Inconsolable
-
Brian Littrell - Welcome Home (You) (song from Welcome Home)
- The One
- Treat Me Right
- The Call
- Everybody (Backstreet's Back)
-
Encore: Shape of My Heart

All in all: A great show, though I must once again state the fact that I prefer small gigs to full-blown spectacles. The Backstreet Boys haven’t lost their touch, though.

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James Blunt – October 1st, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Back To Bedlam Tour
http://www.jamesblunt.com/


Favourite Sons opened (http://www.favouritesons.com). They had some upbeat songs, like Hang On Girl, but my favourite was Tear The Room Apart. This five-member band set the right tone for James Blunt. Check out their MySpace page to hear some clips.

Now for James Blunt... Here’s a guy who, in one year, went form playing at the Café Campus (300 people) to selling out the Metropolis twice (3 000 people each time) to finally selling out the Bell Center (15 000 people). I would say that James Blunt is a household name now, but my parents still haven’t heard of him, or Joss Stone for that matter, even though they live in London. I should hook them up with the Francophones who haven’t heard of Maroon 5. ;)

James Blunt is unpretentious; he came on the stage wearing faded blue jeans, an armyish jacket and an MSF t-shirt (Doctors Without Borders is his favourite charity; there was actually an auction for a M&G pass before the show, and all proceeds went to MSF). He basically plays the part of the charming, sensitive guy, and he’s not bad on the eyes either. There are actually two sides to him, the bright troubadour and the tearful romantic, but he exploits both of those admirably.

I was a little apprehensive about seeing him in such a big venue, but I shouldn’t have worried – he made the Bell Center seem much smaller than it was. The set was simple, with a big screen on which were projected images like his dancing Monkey King or sun symbols. The screen changed colors and was sometimes used to project video clips as well. They were also two screens, one on either side of the stage, to show what was going on (it’s an arena, and not everyone has binoculars!); you could see the expression on James Blunt’s face and the emotions he was feeling (even that wasn’t visible with binoculars).

He only has one album’s worth of material so far, yes, but he played a few new songs and some covers, which gave us a 90-minute show. There were musicians on stage with him (keyboards, drums, a bass and a guitar); James Blunt himself played the guitar or the piano. The orchestra sometimes left the stage to let the singer have some solos and create a more intimate atmosphere.

James Blunt talked about some of the history behind the songs. For example, he wrote No Bravery while he was serving in Kosovo with the Blue Berets. It’s a beautiful song demanding peace and explaining that war is not worth it, because of all the destruction and pain it causes.

During Goodbye My Lover, he played the song on the piano as a solo, and the audience took over the singing parts (with lighters and cell phones on). James Blunt had tears in his eyes, sitting there playing the piano while we sang. I don’t know if the tears were from the song or from the emotion of having an entire arena sing his song, though. But he got standing ovations whenever he was at the piano, and that performance gave me goose bumps.

James Blunt made an effort to speak in French to the audience, but most of his interventions were in English (which is just fine, since most people there spoke English anyway). On one song, he asked the girls, and only the girls, to sing along, then he cheekily added that he would sing too, since he had a high voice. He jumped off the stage at one point and shook hands with some fans. He also had a good sense of humour, like when he introduced a song by saying that he had never played it before, so he wished himself good luck... and then he forgot to turn on his guitar. So he said, “Remember, before doing a song, don’t forget to turn on your guitar.” ;)

On the new song Breathe, he was almost channelling Elton John; he followed that song with a cover of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, which was in the same style. He also covered Where Is My Mind, by the Pixies, during the encore. There was another new song, 1973, which he described as “a club song that doesn’t quite fit.” The very last song was You’re Beautiful, where he let the crowd sing the “f*cking high” part, but we all knew it and had put the radio edit out of our minds (he approvingly nodded his head).

Here is the set list from that evening:

Breathe
Billy
High
Annie
(a new song)
Cry
Goodbye My Lover
Breakfast in America
(Supertramp cover)
Tears and Rain
I Really Want You
(a new song)
Out of my Mind
I Can't Hear the Music
No Bravery
Wisemen
So Long Jimmy

*Encore*
1973
(another new song)
Where is My Mind
(Pixies cover)
You're Beautiful


All in all: In a nutshell, he delivered. It was an excellent show.

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Cher – April 7th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Farewell Tour 2004
http://www.cher.com


I was probably the youngest one there, but at least I knew the songs. ;o)

The Village People were the opening act. There are six of them (a Native, a soldier, a construction worker, a cop, a cowboy and a biker). And they sang the hits: Macho Men (after asking how many men were in the audience), In The Navy, San Fransisco… I have to say that the music overpowered their voices a bit, it seemed almost like a mechanical routine, but then again I wasn’t even alive in the ‘70s, so maybe the trip down memory lane wasn’t quite doing it for me. They did talk to the crowd a bit and make fun of themselves, like when they asked who in the audience had come to see them instead of Cher, and when a lot of people clapped, they said “Yeah, that’s what happens when there’s no hockey in Canada.”
They then pretended to leave the stage and everyone started booing and complaining, because there was one very important song that we hadn’t heard. The Village People came back out and, laughing, said that they were just kidding and that they wouldn’t do that to us. So they sang YMCA, but not without showing us the proper way to do it first. The cowboy said “We’ve seen some pretty shaky versions lately, so now at your next wedding or bar-mitzvah, you can say you got it from the horse’s mouth.” It turns out that you’re NOT supposed to do the ‘M’ with your hands over your head like a monkey, NOR with your hands over your shoulders like Joan Crawford; you’re actually supposed to put your hands at chest level (only the other letters require at least one hand over your head). Good to know. Check out their website for more info: www.officialvillagepeople.com.

After the intermission, the main event started. Cher, the legend, came down from the ceiling on a chandelier, to the tune of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2 cover). And the crowd goes wild. She gives us her monologue, that lasts about five minutes and gets the crowd laughing. She tells us about how long the tour has been going on, she jokes about her age, she tells us a few stories… Like how her mother always told her to wear clean underpants in case she got into an accident, and one evening one of the cables from the chandelier broke at the beginning of the show, so she thought that that qualified as an accident, but unfortunately her mother had never told her what to do if you’re not wearing any underpants! She also told us that when she does something stupid, she talks to herself and says “Cher, you stupid b*tch!” and she asked us if we ever did the same thing (which we all do), but then she wanted to make sure that we used our own names, though, not hers. ;o) She then introduced the show (“Ladies and gentlemen, and flamboyant gentlemen, and boys and girls”) and didn’t really say anything after that.

A Cher concert isn’t really about the music, it’s an event in and of itself. One might think she’s a bit full of herself from seeing one of her shows, but the fans love it. She relies heavily on props and video montages and extravagant costumes, from the skimpy to the exuberant, with wigs and head-dresses. There were huge panes of fabric to hide the chandelier, she had an elephant as a prop, she changed wigs and costumes every five minutes, and she kept us distracted when she wasn’t onstage. The video montages included her television appearances from the ‘60s to Will And Grace, clips from her movies, video clips, interviews, etc. There were also dancers doing their numbers and practically stealing the show. Those people belong in the Cirque Du Soleil, they were not just professional dancers but also acrobats, they dangled from silver hoops and climbed along strips of fabric, it was really something. So the dancers are amazing, and the musicians and back-up singers are also fantastic, really. And there are tons of stagehands to make sure everything goes smoothly, and they were very needed, especially right before the encore, when a technical problem prevented the fabric from parting to reveal the chandelier a second time.

Cher sang most of the hits, like Song For The Lonely, All Or Nothing, Bang Bang, a quick version of The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), All I Really Want To Do (her first number one record), Gypsies,Tramps And Thieves, Strong Enough… There was also a montage of I Got You Babe. I even heard If I Ccould Turn Back Time a second time (?) before she left the stage. She came back to do Believe as an encore, but she didn’t do all the songs on her set list. The whole show lasted just under an hour and a half, so there weren’t that many songs, really. The whole thing actually felt rushed. And there’s a back-up music track, so although Cher sings her own parts, it’s not all a live show. It was somewhat obvious when she took the mike away from her mouth and the background vocals were still going. But she’s a great performer, very energetic and with a great voice. Even forty years after her first number one hit, she hasn’t lost it.

All in all: I’m really glad I got to see it once, but overall it’s not really my kind of show; I tend to prefer performances that are more about the music than the frills around it. I have to say that I was a bit far from the stage and off to the side, though. Let’s put it this way: If I ever got front row tickets, I would go again; otherwise, now that I’ve seen it once, I’m good.

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Evanescence – January 5th, 2007 – The Bell Center, Montreal – The Open Door Tour (Special Guest Review by Josh)
http://evanescence.com/


Seldom does a fledgling band reconstitute itself after the departure, over the course of three years, of three of its five members, including a principal songwriter. Yet Evanescence appears to have done just that, and showed no signs of wear as they graced the Bell Center to kick-start a cross-Canada tour. As they launched through a set dominated by tracks from their album, The Open Door, the crowd (which seemed very close to capacity) responded with enthusiasm and gratitude to the parade of heavy-hitters right up front. Sweet Sacrifice, Weight of the World and (from their debut album) Going Under were precise; the band sounded well-rested and quickly found their voice.

Their voice, of course, is Amy Lee, who was charming and evasive as she pirouetted through the stage fog in her customary multi-colored and frilly skirt. Her vocals occasionally showed some strain, but the crowd was very forgiving. “Go easy on me,” she said with refreshing humility as she took to the piano for a solo performance of Good Enough, which earned the crowd’s admiration. At other times, she seemed more like a banshee, her ghostly wail on Weight of the World echoing through the Bell Center. Her song-choices seemingly underlining themes of devastated relationships (with men or with God, alternately), she hit plenty of striking notes during super-powered deliveries of debut album material Haunted and Whisper.

The rest of the band’s performance was admirably tight, especially given that some songs were being performed live for the first time. Guitarist John LeCompt seemed to finally get noticed by the crowd as he stepped up to growl the male vocals on Bring Me To Life. Terry Balsamo, guitarist and new songwriting-talent, showed no signs of letting last year’s stroke slow him down as he tore through his guitar lines with gusto.

After briefly disappearing after a performance of Lacrymosa, Amy Lee returned to the piano to perform the song she claimed she was “contractually obligated” to do, and proceeded through a version of My Immortal that sounded fine despite seeming a bit tiresome for her. The concert ended on a stronger note when, to the audience’s surprise (and delight), she ended with their first live performance of Your Star, a demanding song that was handled with care.

Here is the set list:

Sweet Sacrifice
Weight of the World
Going Under
The Only One
Cloud Nine
Lithium
Good Enough
Snow White Queen
Whisper
Call Me When You're Sober
Imaginary
Bring Me To Life
Haunted
All That I'm Living For
Lacrymosa


Encore:
My Immortal
Your Star


Special guests Stone Sour (http://www.stonesour.com/), fronted by vocalist Corey Taylor (more famous for his metal growls as the lead singer of Slipknot), were disarmingly happy with the crowd. Taylor’s positive-but-tough dialogue with the crowd reached for every positive-reinforcement button it could, calling the crowd his family and praising Montreal, Quebec and Canada at different points in their set. Particularly well-received was a pair of short acoustic songs Taylor delivered solo – in stark contrast to the head-banger numbers that had the general admission folks jumping.

Opening act The Black Maria (http://www.theblackmaria.com/) were impressively energized, delivering a short and powerful set that got the crowd to take notice immediately – I suspect they sold more than a few albums, and were a rare instance of an opening band having a clear command of the full arena.

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Great Big Sea – November 20th, 2004 – The Metropolis, Montreal – The Beautiful Tour
http://www.greatbigsea.com


The first opening act was Liam Titcomb (http://www.liamtitcomb.com), who looked older than his seventeen years. His song Sad Eyes had been playing on the radio for a while, but I hadn’t remembered his name. Let me tell you, that’s about to change: He’s an extremely talented and versatile musician, with great stage presence, and he’s got potential to go far. He was practically auctioned off by Alan Doyle to any willing females later in the show, and if he had been over eighteen, I would have probably hit on him. ;o) He sang Sad Eyes, but also sang Counting Headlights, That’s All For Now and Rose Of Jericho. That last song was especially beautiful, and let me tell you the story behind it. It was written for the children around the world who are sold into sexual slavery. The rose of Jericho is a plant that can dry up and stay like that for years, but once it’s submerged in water, it starts to grow and bloom again. It’s a metaphor to show that these children, although awfully scarred by what they have been through, can heal and recover if they receive the help they need. Liam Titcomb encouraged us to make donations to various charity organizations helping children affected by war and slavery. The second opening act was Jimmy Rankin (http://www.jimmyrankin.com), with songs from his latest CD, Handmade. It was great to see another artist with a vision bigger than his music; he was promoting World Vision and asking us to make donations to the organizations that evening. He gave a good performance, the crowd even asked him for an encore. Now, for the pièce de résistance: As lead singer Alan Doyle says, "Great Big Sea is not a band you just go and see, or a cd you just listen to. Great Big Sea is something you have to do." Their music is folk, it’s pop, it’s powerful, it’s funny, it’s melodic, it’s traditional with a modern twist, it’s everything and it unites all sorts of diverse people. They have guitars, fiddles, flutes, harmonicas, percussions, an accordion, a Celtic bodhran, you name it and one of them can play it. And let’s not forget the vocal harmonies, people. This group from Newfoundland is a true gem, and you should definitely catch their show next time they’re in your town (with a Canadian tour every two years, it’s not that hard to do). The band now has five members: Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Bob Hallett, Kris MacFarlane and Murray Foster. Their shows are extremely energetic and the crowd sings along, claps and dances. The fans actually get more excited for the traditional songs than for the modern ones.

The first thing the band said was that they would play all the hits, in honor of Montreal giving them such a warm welcome. And the day after was their day off and they couldn’t think of a better place to spend it. So the hits they played, to the crowd’s great contentment: Donkey Riding, Something Beautiful, The Night Pat Murphy Died, General Taylor, Consequence Free, Mari Mac, Hangin’ Johnny, Excursion Around The Bay, Lukey, Fast As I Can, The Old Black Rum, I’m A Rover, Sea Of No Cares, Helmethead… all the great ones. There was also a lot of banter and engaging with the crowd; they made an effort to speak French, even though pretty much everyone in the place spoke English. The funniest part was the public service announcement, asking all big people to take responsibility for watching out for a smaller person, so that they could still see the stage without getting crushed by the bigger people. The concert was very energetic. There were two encores, of two songs each, and even then the crowd didn’t have enough of them.

(Oh, and I have to say this: we bumped into Justin Trudeau upstairs, and he’s just as cute in person as he is on tv).

All in all: They rocked. Go see them as soon as you have a chance. If you’re looking for an introductory album, get Road Rage.

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Hanson – October 10th, 2003 – The Guvernment, Toronto – Underneath Acoustic Tour
www.hanson.net


Underneath Acoustic (including shipping + handling): $18.78
Ticket to Hanson concert (including convenience charges): $38.25
Round trip bus ticket to Toronto, student fare: $102.37
Disposable camera (including development): $25.89
Hanson in concert: PRICELESS ;o)


The Introduction

If I say Hanson, most of you will immediately think: MMMBop, 1997, kid band. But the truth is, you’ve probably never heard of them after that, right? You don’t know what kind of music they are playing now, do you? Well, that’s what I’d like to change.

For those of you who were wondering, yes, Hanson are still very much active in the music industry these days. They have all grown up (so don’t be thinking they’re still little boys with long blonde hair and chicklet teeth, because they’re all legal adults with short hair now). And their music matured, they have more of an edge, deeper voices and a lot more experience. Just for that you should give them another chance: You couldn’t sum up, say, U2's repertoire with only a few songs, could you? The same is true about Hanson, the music you heard isn’t the music they’re still doing. And I think that any band who writes and performs their own material, especially with lyrics that have a meaning and layered musical arrangements like that, deserves respect. They already have twelve years of experience in the business, so just give them another decade and they’ll be the next U2 (in my humble opinion). ;o)

So why aren’t they on the radio, you ask? Well, their last album came out in 2000 and it was very different from Middle of Nowhere (the album with the bright yellow and orange cover). Therefore, most music programmers were reluctant to give them a chance on the airwaves. Also, since it wasn’t the style that people expected, they lost some of their fanbase. But they managed to build a solid reputation as talented musical artists among all the critics as well as their peers. Unfortunately, no airplay means no new fans, so their fanbase is still pretty much composed of people who have liked their music for the past six-seven years (yes, we’re the proud and the few). And you should see how much the band appreciates their fans!

When they came up with the songs for their new album, their record label was less than enthusiastic. After over a year of frustration, they finally dropped their label and have gone independent, creating their own record label (3 Car Garage Records) and producing only songs that are dear to them. Their latest album, Underneath Acoustic, is the acoustic (duh) version of some of the songs that will be on their next official album, due in the spring of 2004. They have released it through their own website, http://www.hanson.net. By the way, it is actually cheaper, including shipping and handling, than a store-bought CD. The three brothers (now 22, 20 and almost 18) are currently touring to drum up some interest for their next album, after a three-year absence. This tour actually had to be lengthened twice, due to popular demand. If you’re interested, here are a few titles of their new songs you might want to check out. In theory, they might be on the net somewhere, but since I support this band, I would ask you NOT to download an entire album for free; you can always come over at my place and listen to my CDs. The new single is Penny And Me, you might want to check that one out; there’s Strong Enough To Break that’s in the same taste. Also, if you want to rock out some more, I suggest Rock And Roll Razorblade, or maybe Hey (a little lighter) or End Of The Line; on the slower side, I like Down, also Deeper (which is a love song, actually), or maybe Misery or Next Train. And they collaborated with Matthew Sweet from Barenaked Ladies on the title track. So if you’re interested in reading the following article/rambling, you should know that for once it’s not a rant, but a rave! (Sigh ;o) Word of warning - this is pretty long, for two reasons:
1) I have to explain a few inside references to my audience, most of whom are not fans (lack of exposure, I say!)
2) I’m writing this also for myself, to remember, so I’m not doing much editing.

The Story

I have just spent a remarkable 24 hours. I got up at 5:00 am on Friday, October 10th, 2003. Left my apartment around 6:15 to go to the subway station. The sun wasn’t even up and there were no cars out, yet I was surprised at how many people were in the subway at that ungodly hour. So I got to the bus terminal around 7:00 (day break), got in line to buy a round trip ticket to Toronto (again, why are there so many people out?). Got on the bus, which left at 7:30 and was full, by the way.

The trip itself is about seven hours long, a little less if there’s no traffic. The discouraging part is when you get to Kingston and the bus stops for a half hour, and you’re barely half the way there. But it’s all good, I had my Hanson CDs to keep me busy and get me in the mood (This Time Around, Underneath Acoustic and the fanclub membership CD). I slept for maybe an hour, but there was too much sun to sleep any more. The trees were amazing, the leaves were just starting to change colors. Eventually, an apple, a sandwich and a Honey-Oats bar later, you get to Scarborough and you realize you’re getting close. Then you see the Toronto skyline, which is quite impressive when you’re coming from that direction on a sunny day. So you get in the city and you have another beautiful glimpse of the CN Tower from the corner of University and Richmond. Then you get to this God-forsaken little bus terminal with a few lockers and a dingy bathroom. Got myself a locker, then a cab, and off I went to 132 Queen’s Quay East, also known as The Guvernment, for the HANSON concert. Yes people, I went all the way to Toronto for a Hanson concert! ;o)

OK, just so we’re clear: Isaac (Ike) is the oldest at 22, then Taylor (Tay) is 20 and Zac is almost 18. That way you’ll know who I’m talking about even if I don’t refer to them as Big-Hanson, Medium-Hanson and Little-Hanson (right Caroline? ;o).

Got to the end of the line, came back to the front to take pictures, then to the back again to get in line, behind a really friendly girl named Libby and her friend Jackie. She was lucky enough to have gotten a meet-and-greet pass for before the show and since Zac’s birthday was coming up, she had the great idea to get him a card and had a bunch of fans sign it so she could give it to him (we all had the same reaction: “Zac, you’re supposed to be twelve! What do you think you’re doing, turning 18 on us and dating a college girl?”). A quick inspection of the area revealed that there weren’t really any restaurants around, but there was a Loblaws a block away which had a bathroom we could use. It was actually very nice weather for waiting outside this time, sunny and warm (about 22oC), extremely nice for this time of the year and a welcome change from the cold and rainy weather I had at the last Hanson concert. As I was standing in line on the side of the building, I got wind that Ike and Zac both showed up in a cab and came in right through the front of the building, even though their tour bus was already there.

As we were waiting and passing the time, we were near a little metal door on the side of the building. And lo and behold, we could hear the guys rehearsing in there! Even through the door they sounded amazing. One of the young fans behind me, Sarah (twelve years old) was getting all hyper and actually managed to pass a note through the door. Then she kicked the door, hard enough to stop rehearsal. She shoved the door, only to be shoved right back by someone inside, someone we choose to believe is Zac (who has a history of inflicting bodily harm on people, i.e. Rob Schneider, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Green...). Avril Lavigne’s sister also attended, apparently. The line eventually got more than twice as long.

Finally the doors opened (a little late, past 6:30 pm, but it was probably barely 6:00 pm Hanson Time, I swear these guys are always late...). By the way, did you know that you’re not allowed to bring any food in, not even a bottle of water?! Freaks! (Although it does limit the number of bathroom trips.) Eventually we went in, opting for a place not that close to the stage but at least centered, where we could see everyone. In theory.

So the show started late as well (past 7:00 pm), but there was no opening act, so we only got Hanson (which was a good thing, I don’t think any of us wanted to see another act at that point, especially since we knew the show had to be over by 9:00 pm). And those who have been to their shows know that they put on a very good performance, without any intermissions. There were the usual pointless screams beforehand (people, if it’s just the prop man checking the instruments, please don’t scream at him! “Hey look, it’s Stage Man! Woo-hoo!”). Then they came out on stage.

There was a lot of screaming, but I’ve heard worse actually, so it wasn’t that bad. I don’t think it came close to the record-breaking 140dB Toronto gave them six years ago (which Taylor couldn’t help but mention to egg us on). I always think it’s funny because I’ve never been a screamer. Anyway. Then there was the expected rush towards the stage and we were all packed pretty tightly. Even more tightly if a really good song was played, or if Taylor wove his hands around; and if someone came back from the front, everyone in the back would just push forward even more once they were through (only two girls left, people, not twenty! Crush the people in front to a pulp, why don’t you!). It’s actually too bad, because some people could get really hurt that way, and the band shouldn’t have to be the ones trying to restore order so the people in front don’t get crushed against the stage (some actually had to get pulled up and out by security). But that’s the crowd effect, I guess. At one point though, two tall guys blocked my view of Zac, so I missed part of his performance (yes, I did say two GUYS in the audience, there’s more of them than you might think!). And Hanson really do look good in person. ;o)

The thing that is the greatest at Hanson concerts is unfortunately the thing that cannot be described on paper but must be felt: the atmosphere. The energy. The sound. The harmonies. Their talent, their passion, their love for the music and for their fans. And the response of the fans to the music and their energy. I have been to other concerts but it was never the same. Even non-fans who end up at their shows can’t help but be impressed: even if they don’t necessarily like the type of music, they realize that Hanson are extremely talented and are great at what they do. They’re really one of those bands that sound better live, I think, and that’s saying a lot. I’m not sure how much time they spend rehearsing (despite rude interruptions by fans kicking the doors ;o), but it must be a lot because they are extremely tight and they know what they are doing. They’re prepared for anything, like when a string broke off of Isaac’s guitar, the instrument was replaced within two verses. Also, they are very versatile with the instruments they play: I have only seen Isaac play the guitar, but Zac plays the drums, tam-tams, piano, guitar, castanets and harmonica, while Taylor played the piano, the guitar, the harmonica and the tambourine. The guys are just pure energy when they’re on stage, and Taylor still gets a kick out of working the crowd; I think he actually likes the screaming.

The first song they sang was Strong Enough To Break, which is off their latest CD. There were many other songs, some of which I forget, but they played If Only, Where’s The Love (which got the crowd all over the place, it ruled), Runaway Run, Underneath (title track of this album), Rock And Roll Razorblade, Hey, MMMBop (still a favorite, and you haven’t heard that song until you’ve heard what they do to it live and acoustic with their post-2000 voices!), With You In Your Dreams (for which they got the audience to participate, and boy did we ever!), Penny And Me (of course, first single off this album), River and a few from 3CG... They each had a solo as well. Zac was on the piano, but I didn’t know his song (Lulla Belle?), all I know is that he was good. Then Isaac was on the guitar giving a kick-ass rendition of Hand In Hand. Taylor jokingly complained that it was hard to follow that act, but then he got on the piano and sang Crazy/Beautiful in such an amazing performance that we were all in awe. It’s such a shame that there is no recording of this performance! They also did a few covers, one which they were playing at a show for the first time, Ain’t No Sunshine, and also Gonna Make You Love Me More (there’s some fans talking about Lost Without Each Other and Teach Your Children, but I’ve never been good with song titles...). And then there was Rip It Up (Little Richard cover). They really played it out, including our participation with snapping fingers and two sets of (semi)complicated hands claps. Everyone was totally into it and it was so tight! Our mouths were gaping open at how well they played it, I can’t even describe it in words, it was without contest THE best version I have EVER heard in my LIFE. I wish I could play it over and over again (I just downloaded the Little Richard version off the internet, but it doesn’t even compare to what I experienced last night!). Their last song was This Time Around, which was the title track from their last album (they played innocent, all like “Um, you guys might know this one, I think...” even though it was a pretty big hit) and they had us all singing along. There was also a (very short) encore which consisted of a few a capella verses of Weird.

Just for the cuteness factor: Ezra (Taylor’s son, almost a year old) was there, in his mother’s arms, wearing headphones to protect him from the loud noises but clearly enjoying his daddy’s (and uncles’) performance. She always brings him to the shows and dances with him the whole time. He is just cute as a button! (Well, with parents like his, it would have been unusual if he had come out any other way!)

As we got out after the lights came back on, Libby had to go, but my bus wasn’t for hours still so I stayed near their tour bus with (a lot) of other fans and we waited under the full moon. Eventually Jessica (their sister) came out, then Zac, a while after that Tay carrying Ezra and followed by his wife Natalie, and lastly Ike. We could catch glimpses of them through the bus windows, between the blinds. Then the guys came back out to sign a few autographs, so all the girls scrambled to get close to the barricades and screamed their names and pleaded with them, it was a little unnerving actually, I felt really mature all of a sudden. I was only a few feet away from them, but there were so many people in between us that I barely got a chance. I did get Taylor’s autograph though, he’s such a sweetie. ;o)

Then they got back on the bus and we moved out of the way so they could leave (around 10:30 pm). So a fan and I shared a cab (her to go to Union Station, me to the bus terminal after). And who does the cab catch up to after we drop her off? Hanson! On University Street, their red tour bus and little white trailer! ;o) Then I got to the bus station. And just so you know, there are actually two bus stations in Toronto: Arrivals, and departures across the street. For future reference, the arrival terminal is under lock and key from 10:00 pm until 7:00 am, so lockers aren’t accessible then. My bus was at 12:30 am and I HAD to be on it, otherwise I was in for a rough night without even a book to read. I panicked for a moment, then found someone who worked there, explained the situation, and he was nice enough to call security, who in turn was nice enough to unlock the door for me so I could get my stuff. Torontonians are SO nice!

So then I was able to cross the street and go into the actual bus station (where, surprisingly enough, lockers are not accessible 24 hours a day either). The place actually looks like an airport lobby, only smaller and not quite as well organized. The gates are all outside (under a covered area), so you have to wait for your bus in this sort of parking lot/loading area, in the way of the other buses, with the car fumes (and the cold weather in winter, I imagine). My bus was supposed to leave at 12:30 am, but around 11:15 pm I took a look outside and realized that there was already an impressive lineup, so I got in line as well. The line grew and grew, blocking the path of a few oncoming buses, and it grew and grew again. I guess this was because of Thanksgiving weekend, although I’m told that buses to and from Toronto are always full. Eventually there were enough people there to fill four buses (that’s my rough estimate). So they put the first bus in around 12:00 am, going to downtown Montreal only (with the required pit stop in Kingston and one stop for the driver at a McDonald’s on the way); I got on and we left early, me still on a high from the show and my head still full of music.

I slept most of the way, I wasn’t very comfortable but I was very tired so it wasn’t a problem. So we eventually passed by the Imperial Tobacco Company at 5:40 am and got to the bus station soon after that. Less people on the subway at 5:50 am on a Saturday, but still more than I would have thought. Then I got back home before the sun even came up, around 6:20 (I was lucky with the subways). Kermit was still awake, that’s how early it was. Now I’m typing this before I forget, while the sun comes up and tries to chase away the fog.

»concerts »»archives


Hanson – August 20th, 2004 – Lansdowne Park, Ottawa – Underneath Tour
http://www.hanson.net

Also check out http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/hanson/artist.jhtml for some video clips.


Alright, here’s the second Hanson concert review on my website. They played Lansdowne Park at the Super Ex in Ottawa on August 20th, 2004. In Canada’s capital for the first time ever!

I got there at 8:20 am (my father dropped me off) and there were fewer people there than I had expected, I was 8th in line. I met the girls in front of me, most of who were from Montreal. Some had come from the Toronto show the previous night and had been sleeping on the pavement since 5:00 am. I always loved how easy it is to bond with the people in line with you at a Hanson concert, I’ve never experienced that with any other artist, even with the general admission shows. I bonded mostly with Ismaelle, who’s actually from Saint-Eustache, and with her friend Nathalie, from Québec City. There were also her friends Émilie and Carole-Anne.

The concert itself was free with the purchase of a ticket for the fair grounds ($10), and you could get access to the floor at the show by purchasing a bracelet for $10. The salesmen must have taken pity upon us because they sold us the bracelets at 10:30 am. We then made our way to the ticket booths and waited for them to open at 11:00, and we bought our ticket. The fair grounds opened at 11:30 and we then made our way inside. We wandered around the fair a bit, trying to figure out where we were supposed to line up for the show later that day. No one seemed to know, but the "official" people all told us we had to go underneath a gate to get to the floor, which we all thought was really appropriate, as the name of Hanson’s latest album is Underneath. We found where we thought was the most likely place and also located where the tour buses would arrive.

We went around the fair, exploring and looking for something to do. We saw various booths, a tank with live sharks, the petting zoo (ponies, cows, goats, even monkeys and a kangaroo). We eventually made our way to the bus area, only to realize that the buses were already there. We saw Jessica (Hanson’s sister), Natalie (Taylor Hanson’s wife) and Kate (Zac Hanson’s girlfriend) hanging around outside. There were only six of us then and because I spoke English, I was delegated to go near the buses to see if it would be possible to say a quick word to the guys. So I felt like a complete intrusive idiot and needless to say that I was (politely) turned back, because apparently the guys were still asleep and a busy schedule ahead of them that day, including a conference call.

We didn’t have anything better to do, so we hung around on a patch of grass at the far end of the parking lot, in the shade, making ourselves comfortable and having a picnic of bagels and candy. Eventually, we saw Taylor come out of the bus for a minute. So we timidly waved at him and he waved back when he saw us. Zac also stumbled outside, looking very sleepy. We then saw Ezra, who is still cute as a button and now has red hair. And he’s walking like a pro already (though he did take one spill, but hey, that happens to the best of us). He walked around the parking lot and actually waved at us (so we waved back, of course), and he tried to make his way in our direction. He started screaming bloody murder as soon as he was pulled back, by his mother once and by his aunt Kate another time, who promptly handed him to Zac. We also saw Diana (Hanson’s mother), who seemed to enjoy the fair. We were then joined by another two girls from Montreal.

Zac made his way to the venue (the entrance was through the underground garage, halfway between us and the buses). He really looked like he had just rolled out of bed, poor guy, rubbing his eyes and all. Ismaelle said hi to him and he mumbled something in response. She asked him if he was tired and he smiled at us and said that he was OK. Taylor and Ike then went inside the venue; they said hi and said that they’d be back later. They eventually came back out and went to the buses to change. Strangely enough, Ike was limping at that point, which we all noticed and we all went "Aaawww" at the same time, as if he were five years old and had hurt himself.

We spoke to a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen, who asked us a few questions about ourselves and about what it’s like to be Hanson fans. And for the record, the article she wrote, while expressing a valid point of view, pretty much sucked. She managed a few factual errors while talking about us and she didn’t even say a word about the interview she was lucky enough to conduct with Hanson, let alone review the show. I could have written the same thing from where I was standing, but she had an interview for God’s sake! And not one word about the music! Here are the pic and the article, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Well, the guys came back out and Zac was wearing his famous Generic Drum Corps t-shirt, which pretty much made my day (well, up to that point, but it was just getting better and better). And Ike wasn’t limping anymore. We then got closer and watched the guys do some interviews, one for The New RO (tv station), the one for the Ottawa Citizen and another one, as well as a photo shoot for the articles. Taylor was acting like quite the fashion model, maybe unconsciously though. He took out his ponytail on camera and shook out his hair while twirling the elastic around his thumb, then he took off his jacket and casually slung it over his shoulder, very carte de mode Mr. Taylor. Nathalie from Québec only had her passport as a piece of paper, so she wrote "Thanks for Underneath" in it and held it open so the guys could see. Taylor saw it and mouthed "You’re welcome" to her, which totally made HER day!

After the interviews, the guys made a move to go back inside, but Tay remembered that he had promised us to come back, so he borrowed my pen (well, my sister’s pen actually, let’s give her credit for lending it to me!) and signed Ismaelle’s ticket, then he wanted to sign my paper but it was floppy and he had trouble writing on it, so I turned around and he leaned it on my back while he signed it. Then THAT made my made my day up to that point, it was my little split-second teeny-bopper moment ("OmiGod! Taylor touched me!" ;o). So for the record, Taylor really is a nice guy, the Ottawa Citizen reporter somehow forgot to mention that part (those who have read the article know what I’m talking about). He left after that, one of the bodyguards (I guess) motioned for him to go and he pointed at him while giving us a lop-sided smile, as if to say "I don’t really want to leave but I have to because he’s making me," which is a very diplomatic way of cutting it short with the fans while still being nice to them.

Then we decided to make our way to the lineup for the show, so we took out last bathroom trip and quickly ate a hotdog. Near the stand were Diana, Kate, Natalie and Ezra, the latter enjoying cotton candy. I’m glad that he got to enjoy the fair a bit. We then went to stand in line for the floor entrance at around 5:00 pm. They were supposed to let us in by bracelet order, but of course that never happens. Luckily for the first eleven of us, we were conveniently located near the door, so we were the first group of people to go in. However, I had number 8 and when I got to the floor in front of the stage, the girl next to me was number 228. Oh, the unfairness of it all. But I won’t complain, because I’ve never been closer to the stage in my life, and I ended up smack dab in front of Isaac (dreamy sigh ;o).

I was in the second row of people during the first act, which was Michael Tolcher and his band. He’s a really talented musician, I strongly recommend attending one of his performances. He has charisma and a lot of charm, on top of his talent (William the guitarist also). I especially liked his cover of What’s Up.

Then I somehow got pushed back to the third row during intermission, but they were rows of standing people, so I really wasn’t that much further, I think that the people were just packed more closely together. And finally, Hanson took the stage.

So they did a lot of songs from previous albums, they actually sang Cried live for the second time ever (the first one had been the previous night in Toronto, at the fans’ request, and it was pretty much all the fans could talk about in Ottawa that morning). Michael Tolcher joined them onstage and accompanied them on the guitar. Ike and him stood back to back and did a really sexy jam at one point. It was really great to see the guys, Ike really (well, I had a better view), genuinely smile as he was conferring with the other musicians and having fun onstage, he also threw in a few of his signature jumps. Everyone onstage also did a sort of side-by-side cancan synchronized step thing, it was really hilarious. And that Taylor, I swear if he got paid a penny every time he says "yeah" and "ooh," he would be a millionaire – oh wait, he kind of does and he probably is. Well, was, anyway, before they went independent. Which I still maintain was a good move!

Zac and Ike were the two who did solos that night. Zac started by grabbing a guitar, standing in front of the microphone and dedicating his song to his girlfriend Kate, who had to leave after the show and would not be able to join him on the rest of the tour. He sang a really beautiful love ballad, I think it was called Need You Now. One idiot female in the crowd actually yelled "I love you Zac" while he was singing, but she got death stares from everyone else in the crowd I think. Then Ike came back out and sang a song that all fans had heard about but hadn’t heard yet (not in Canada anyway), it was Call Me, which is a really great song and I can’t wait to hear it on the next record. The one in Toronto the previous night had been Sorry (For Being Me), which I’m also looking forward to.

Then all three came back out with the musicians and continued the slow rhythm with the song Underneath, then they kicked it up again. They jammed on some of their older songs and did different takes on them, which was really interesting to hear. It’s funny how different songs can sound with just a few changes. They also covered Gimme Some Lovin’ and Long Way To The Top. The encore was In The City. There were a few guitar picks thrown, but although I touched one, I got savagely scratched and some other lucky b*tch got it. ;o) I’ll point out, though, that after the first 20 minutes or so of the concert, the crowd eased up a bit, we didn’t get squished and I actually moved back up to second row.

I hated myself at that point for not having brought a camera, as it turns out that they were allowed and that I had never been so close to Hanson, in daylight or during a show. As soon as someone invents a time machine, I’m gonna fix that. Well, after the show I lost track of Ismaelle and Nathalie, so I checked out the merchandise booth, manned by Jessica as usual (I hope they’re paying the poor girl adequately!), but I didn’t buy anything. Between us, Hanson has some really cool merchandise, but it’s expensive. At least the CDs and concert tickets aren’t, that’s the important thing.

I then met up with Émilie and Carole-Anne and Claudia, a reporter for HTP magazine. We went outside and bought some old-fashioned lemonade to rehydrate ourselves and we made our way to the buses. Zac came out first, he went to his bus and then came back out to sign autographs. He signed one for everyone who asked (including me) and took the time to pose with everyone who asked and even had conversations with the fans and spoke in one person’s cellphone; it was really nice of him to take the time to do that, he’s a really sweet guy. Émilie told him that he should stay with Kate forever, so he looked a bit embarrassed and then said, "I think we should leave that between me… and me." What strikes me is the fact that the guys always thank the fans for being there and for supporting them.

Eventually Ike came out, again with a limp. Maybe it’s just when he walks uphill? He went to the bus as Zac was still there chatting it up. After a while, Ike came back out and made his way towards us. He asked if anyone had a pen, so I offered mine, but he gave me an apologetic look and said, "No, I meant like a sharpie or something." Well, so-rry (for being me ;o)! Luckily, someone else did have one (Lord knows why he didn’t, he should be used to this by now!). He also started chatting with people, signing and taking pictures. He insisted that his limp isn’t from one of his rock-and-roll jumps. Well, what else could it be? I mean, side note to Ike here, that was a plausible excuse, now we’re stuck thinking that you’re either doing it for sympathy or that you hurt yourself doing something either illegal or very kinky, or both. Next time, go with the rock-and-roll jump, honey, it’s the perfect cover! Anyway, he gave everyone autographs and talked with us. He actually had a pretty funny conversation with the girl next to me, who looked him straight in the eye and asked him if he had gotten her last letter, as if she were his best friend or something. Now, that kind of freaked me out a little bit, but he just made a weird face and then continued talking like that happens all the time. She said "I wrote this one for you at the last show, not for the three of you this time, just for you, and I wrote your name on it." To which Ike said, "What, you wrote I’m lame?" So she goes "Yeah, right, I wrote ‘Ike, you’re lame’ on it!" "Well, I don’t know, that’s what I heard!" Then she said that she’d make sure he got it, apparently she had kept copies of it and would just send him another one. Now I’m curious to know what that was about. Ike also said that he can’t smoke his cigars much when he is on tour, because it affects his voice and so he can’t smoke them every night when he’s playing, although he has been known to do that on occasion. Eventually Taylor, Natalie and Ezra came back out of the building, and Taylor stayed to sign and take pictures as well.

Although the show itself was shorter than most Hanson shows (they skipped some songs on their set list), I had a really great time and I really got to see them up close and actually exchange a few words with them, which was fantastic. I didn’t wait for their buses to leave because it was 11:20 pm, I was 20 minutes late to meet my parents (and I suddenly felt like I was back in the second grade), so I went back to the front entrance to meet them, but it turns out they were 40 minutes late. Some fans and I joked around because we were talking about keeping in touch and someone said "Call me!", so we started playing the air guitar and singing "Just pick up the telephone and/ Call me", from Ike’s song.

All in all: A great time was had by all.

»concerts »»archives


Hanson – November 10th, 2005 – The Kool Haus, Toronto – Live & Electric Tour
http://www.hanson.net


So, it was the same as last time. I left early, but this time I met two fan friends on the way, Sarah and Valerie – it was a complete coincidence that we met on the subway, as they had decided to go just the previous night. So yeah, we took the bus to Toronto, same bat-time, same bat-route, but the bus filled up along the way more than last time. We ended up at the same dingy terminal that’s closed at night.

Moises, who I had met last time and who just happens to be Sarah’s boyfriend, met us at the terminal in Toronto, and we all took a cab to the venue (which was in the same building as last time, but a different room). Some girls had camped out for over a day. So it was like Groundhog Day for me, I was having major cases of déjà vu, but in a good way.

We waited outside. There should be a law against general admission shows in the winter. It was 5oC, windy with occasional precipitation. It could have been much worse, of course, but it got friggin’ cold standing there for five hours (thank God I had taken my winter coat out for the occasion).

I met up with Caroline L., who had gotten a meet & greet pass, so she took a letter on behalf of the Quebec Street Team. I also met up with Ismaelle, Émilie and Claudia, who I had met in Ottawa on the last tour (we’re a small community, we all know each other by now it seems ;o).

Finally, it was time to go in. It was a half-hour late, as usual, around 7:30 pm. So I rushed through coat check and got in the audience (I ended up about 6 rows back, which really isn’t bad). Of course, some girls had to start a shoving match. There was the usual “I have to go in front to get my friend ‘cause she’s drunk” and the Blonde Bitch who pulls your hair if you’re in front of her. It’s just a running gag by now: Some fans will show up drunk and push around, then security will have to pull them out, confiscate cameras and be completely flabbergasted by the intensity of the fans. Every single time. Blonde Bitch was removed from the premises, though, so there is some justice in the world.

The first act was AM Glory ( http://www.myspace.com/amglory). For those of you who haven’t heard, here’s the really cool thing that Hanson are now doing: They’re having a local independent band open for them in every city. All bands who want to apply send them an mp3, and three finalists are chosen by staff members at hanson.net as well as by local DJs. Then fans vote for which band they prefer, based on the three mp3s provided.
So AM Glory are five cute guys (if I do say so myself): Two guitarists, a singer, a bassist and a drummer; they were all stuck at the front of the stage, as the back was full of instruments for the following acts. They were quite good and were visibly excited to be playing for that big an audience; they actually took pictures of the crowd to remember the moment, as girls shouted “Take it off!” in their direction. The songs I liked most were Breathe and Alien; the band is much more energetic live than on its album. At the end of their set, the band invited us to hang at the bar with them (which seems to be a prerequisite at general admission shows).

After an intermission, the second opening act, the Pat McGee Band (http://www.patmcgeeband.com), came on stage. They are travelling with Hanson on this tour; there are drums, keyboards, guitars and singers. They were very, very good. They did a wicked cover of No Woman No Cry. They also commanded us for being hard core fans for standing outside in the cold (that meant a lot, believe me). They had to fight a bug that flew onstage and wanted to hover near the mike. They also had Joe from the merch booth come out and play the last song with them.

During the second intermission, there was another shoving match between two fans, both of whom were removed by security. Miraculously, the shoving pretty much stopped during the Hanson show, even though we were still packed like sardines. By then, I was feeling cold and tired and my feet hurt and I had a headache and I was nauseous (regular fare for a field trip like that), so I wasn’t quite as into it as I should have been.

Finally, the guys walk out on stage around 10 pm. I was confused for a moment as Taylor took a seat behind the drum set and Zac went to the piano, but my eyes were not deceiving me and it was all good. They started with two covers, In A Way and a fantastic version of Desire, by U2.

They took their regular instruments and played Hey. I finally got to hear it live, and just for that, it was worth the trip. They rocked out and they were so tight and so into it, it was amazing. The crowd participated, mostly to sing the chorus and shout out “Hey” at the right time. That was one of the highlights of the show, as far as I was concerned. The two musicians accompanying them deserve a hand, too, they were extremely good.

They did an acoustic version of Strong Enough To Break, then announced MMMBop by saying “We’ve done this one a few times over the years, sing along if you know it”. It sounded great acoustic, and they held the mike over the audience for the chorus. They totally updated Weird and Dying To Be Alive, they played Rock ‘N’ Roll Razorblade perfectly. Crazy Beautiful was the way it was meant to be sung, like I remembered it from the acoustic tour, even though it is no longer a solo. There were no solos during this show, actually.

Ike admirably fought off the tenacious bug which had come back to the mike, but he did so without missing a single note or a word, and still looking cool. He could do this in his sleep, I bet, after thirteen years of performing… My pastime is now looking at the faces Ike makes when he’s playing his guitar, he just gets so into it! Especially when he breaks a string, but that is always remedied very quickly. And he does that little Ray Charles impression, but I’m no sure he means to. And there’s always the eye twitch, which is so endearing. Ike, if you’re reading this, suck it up.
Oh, and the fans sang happy birthday to him every time the lights went down, even though it was a week early.

Hanson also played other hits, a lot of which are on the album that they’re promoting. But since that album was a best of, they spiced things up by throwing in a lot more covers, to keep us entertained. I still say they should have an album of their greatest covers. This time, we had Feeling Alright (which was referenced in Penny And Me), as well as the most amazing three-part a capella harmony of Change In My Life, which symbolizes the birth of rock’n’roll for them.

During the encore, they put up a small Canadian flag on the stage. They sang two songs, which was much appreciated. Here is the set list, in case anyone wants to consult it:
1) In a Way
2) Desire
3) A Minute Without You
4) Hey
5) Thinking of You
6) Can't Stop
7) Weird
8) Believe
9) Hand in Hand
10) Strong Enough to Break *acoustic*
11) MMMBop *acoustic*
12) Change in my Life *
a capella*
13) Every Word I Say
14) Dying to be Alive
15) If Only
16) Long Train Runnin (Without Love)
17) Where's the Love
18) Crazy Beautiful
19) Rock n Roll Razorblade
20) This Time Around
Encore:
21) Feelin Alright
22) Look at You

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hanson are way better live than on their albums, and that’s saying a lot. They’re the best live band I’ve ever seen, and by now I’ve seen quite a lot. I wish everyone I knew got the chance to go to one of their concerts once in their lives, to know what I’m talking about, because words can’t describe it and their videos, as good as they are, don’t do them justice. It’s an experience, it’s really great rock’n’roll (more so now than before), and they’re more skilled every time I see them. Do check them out if they come near you next tour.

As we were leaving the venue, we were handed a CD sampler featuring songs from Hanson and other independent artists, to promote independent music. So here are the bands I haven’t already mentioned: The Hero Factor (http://www.theherofactor.com), 28 Days ( http://www.28-days.com.au) and David Garza (http://www.davidgarza.com).

The show ended just before midnight, so I rushed through coat check again and, out of principle, made my way to the tour buses. I got to see Penelope, Taylor’s baby daughter, in Natalie’s arms; I didn’t have see her very long, but my basic impressions was that she seemed very cute and, in my opinion, not dressed warmly enough for a Canadian November. I also saw Libby and her friend Jackie, who I had met the last time I was in Toronto. I told you, it’s a small world, but it gets good to see those people once in a while.

I then realized that I would have to make a choice: Either stay and see the band, or take the last bus to Montreal. So, since I did not want to spend the night in Toronto, I bid adieu to Ismaelle, Émilie and Claudia and looked more intensely for Sarah, Valerie and Moises. When I couldn’t find them, I decided to go back to the terminal by myself. The cab driver was very nice, he spoke French and liked Quebec. I did some Hanson promotion while I was at it. ;o) I got to the terminal and immediately got in line for the bus, where I realized that Sarah and Valerie were already there. Like the previous time, the bus was full, but it stopped in Kingston to change drivers, and then at Kirkland to let some people off, so we got to Montreal a little before 7 am. I won’t give out as many details this time, since you know the routine. And, since Kermit croaked last Valentine’s Day, she wasn’t there to greet me when I got home.

All in all: Once again, totally worth it. I just wish they came to Montreal on the next tour, it’s a hassle going all the way to TO just for a concert.

»concerts »»archives


Hanson – July 31st, 2007 – The Guvernment, Toronto – The Walk Tour
http://www.hanson.net
http://www.myspace.com/takingthewalk

Pictures owned by hanson.net.

This show was different. Why? Partly because my fiancé, Josh, was coming with me all the way from Montreal to attend his first Hanson concert. But also because this time, I had won the privilege of meeting the band and interviewing them before the show.

We got to the venue around 4:30pm (doors were to open at 7pm, but I had to be there early because of the meet & greet privileges). I went to the front door to get my pass and to meet the other girls who had received a meet & greet. The tour manager then told us that because the band had scheduled an appearance at MTV Canada from 6pm to 7pm, the meet & greet would be held after the concert. This worried me a little, because these things can end late and we had to be on the last bus back to Montreal, which leaves around 12:30am, sometimes as early as 12:00am.

My fiancé went to dinner with a friend and I waited around at the venue (in the shade, because it was getting really hot by then). The other girls and I were discussing that we weren’t exactly feeling fresh and that we might have to keep our arms down when we met Hanson, but then I reasoned that they wouldn’t smell any better than us after the show, so it wouldn’t be that bad. As the security guards started getting there, they hummed MMMBop to annoy us (but we knew they were in for a pleasant surprise). The doors opened a bit late, as usual, but this time it was the venue having a problem with the scanners. When it was fixed, they let the meet & greet people go in first, so that we got to be close to the stage as is normally the case in those situations.

The opening band, DB Clifford (http://dbclifford.nettwerk.com/), was there to promote their first album, Recyclable. I say “band”, but DB Clifford may be a solo artist, since the official website does not seem to include other band members. Also, they had to stay tame and got only a keyboard (played by DB Clifford, who almost knocked it over by balancing equipment against its leg) and a bass. Since Hanson were doing an acoustic show (supposedly because it was too short notice to organize an electric one), two musicians were absent from the usual DB Clifford line-up, probably to avoid too much contrast between the two bands. The music was still quite good. There was a Beatles cover (Come Together) that I have to admit I didn’t really like, but you might want to check out the official site with clips from the album.

I had heard security guards at other Hanson shows take one look at the crowd and exclaim, “I’ve seen mosh pits where fans were calmer than this!” I have to say that this show didn’t seem so bad on that front, even though there were a few interventions from security. It didn’t bother me, though, because I got to be in front of the barricade, were I had room to breathe and an amazing close-up view. I even got to sit! I was allowed to take pictures only for the first three songs, though, so I may be the one audience member who has the fewest!

amelie

amelie

amelie

amelie

Hanson came on at 9pm, which actually means that they were relatively on time, for once. Before the screaming from the audience had a chance to die down, they launched into a kick-ass version of Great Divide. They then played Georgia. To introduce the third song, Strong Enough To Break, Ike said “The last time we were in town, we played this song off the album”. The last time they were in Toronto, though, it was to promote Live & Electric (in 2005), and the song is actually from Underneath (2004, when the band was in Toronto the time before last). It was also on L&E, in all fairness, but I thought the introduction sounded a bit inaccurate anyway. We then sang along on Deeper, and ended up singing the chorus by ourselves. Taylor then fooled around with the piano a bit and broke into a jazzed-up Look At You, from their 1997 album. They’ve been playing that one for a long time!

When came the time for the solos, Zac walked up to the piano and announced that normally, that was the time when he played The Walk, but that tonight, he had gotten a special request. “This one goes out to the Twins”, he said as he broke into On The Rocks, an unreleased song of theirs from the DVD of The Walk Acoustic Live. The lyrics actually reminded me a bit of The Walk, while the melody had a little John Lennon feel to it. It was played meaningfully, with a lot of feeling. It really is a beautiful song. Taylor then got to the piano for his solo, which was a cover of Elvis’s Love Me, to the audience’s delight. The man’s got soul! He turned it into a little blues number, almost; it was a fantastic cover, but it was quite something on its own, too. Ike then grabbed a guitar for his solo. The mike was off at first; he tapped it a few times and yelled, to no avail. It was then turned on by one of the roadies, though, so Ike proceeded to say that Toronto was an awesome place. He reminded us that he had played Cried for the first time here, so there would be another first: he played A Minute Without You as a solo for the first time. That was one of my favourite songs from Middle Of Nowhere and it brought back a lot of good memories to hear it again. When he sang “All my thoughts are filled with you”, he pointed to the audience on “you”, which made a lot of girls scream. The girl behind me still had her sign that said “Zac, will you please give me your drumsticks”, even though Ike was clearly the only one on stage... She did get a stick in the end, though. The security guard also had to give a white rose to Ike from another girl, who couldn’t get his attention.

All three band members then got back on stage and introduced Go by saying that it was about something you can’t get. They reminded us that it had been ten years since the first album came out, so it was sort of an anniversary year, as the audience cheered. They launched into MMMBop, where we sang a verse and the chorus for them and finished the song a cappella with them. The band then played Yearbook, which was another first in honour of ten years. The song really picked up in the middle and got quieter again in the end. They then announced that they were going to take us back further than 1997 and sang Never Been To Spain, a song that I seem to like more and more every time that I hear it.

On Where’s The Love, the band finished singing a cappella once more. They then started to play Been There Before, which is about loving music. The audience started doing the background vocals and the “na na na’s” while the band sang the lyrics. It was then that I noticed that Ike’s guitar face, in that moment, was just like my fiancé’s guitar face. ? For those of you not familiar with the lingo, urbandictionary.com defines “guitar face” as “The act of making an unusual face while playing the guitar. The look typically resembles a look of pain, intense ecstasy, or sometimes even plain old gas. E.g., Man, that solo was sweet, but he had total guitar face going on.

For This Time Around, Taylor split the audience in two: half repeated “And we won’t go down” over and over, while the other half sang the chorus from “You can’t say”. As the band then started Something Going Round, Taylor said “Ladies, start shaking it” as he grabbed his ass. The song was really great. Ike then mouthed to Zac “really loud”, and they broke right into Lost Without Each Other with Zac banging on the drums; Taylor then joined him on the piano. The guitar solo from the electric version of the song made way for the piano on the acoustic version, thus managing to keep all the intensity of the music that would have been impossible to achieve with only an acoustic guitar. Zac stood up on his seat and jumped off of it for the finale, like a true rock star. The guys then came down from the stage and shook hands with people in the front rows – and wouldn’t you know it, because I was so busy taking notes for hanson.net, I missed it! When I lifted my head, it was practically over and they were getting back to the stage to leave.

The encore (at 10:45pm, since I was worried about the time) was the a cappella Change In My Life, which gave the band the occasion to showcase their vocal harmony. Before leaving the stage, they announced that they intended to come back with a full band. ?

Here is the set list:
Great Divide
Georgia
Strong Enough To Break
Deeper
Look At You
Watch Over Me
On The Rocks
(Zac solo)
Love me (Taylor solo; Elvis cover)
A Minute Without You (Ike solo)
Go
MMMBop
Yearbook
Never Been To Spain
(cover)
Penny & Me
Where’s The Love
Been There Before
This Time Around
Something Going Round
Lost Without Each Other
*Encore* Change In My Life (a cappella; cover)

I met up with security once the show ended (around 11:00pm, after a quick kiss to my fiancé), as I had been told to do by the tour manager, to go backstage for the meet & greet and the interview. The security guard escorted me deep into the bowels of The Guvernment (the place is like a maze!). We found the room where the band was, only to be told that it wasn’t time for the M&G yet (Ike, who had changed, cracked open the door and, when I said that I was the reporter for the show, said that I had to meet with Rebecca and that she would arrange all of that). So we went back to the concert room, where I waited behind the fence a bit while the M&G winners were on the other side. Security eventually checked the girls’ passes and let them through (I had to explain several times why Lindy and Amanda were coming in with us, even though they hadn’t received their pass yet, but we made it).

We then waited in one of the first rooms I had passed before; it was big, but had a secluded area with stuffed benches that had seen better days. We waited for a while, then Hanson’s tour manager (who I assume is Rebecca) asked me to come along with Group A (i.e., the first half of the M&G winners). We went to the door (which just led to a bigger room), and Hanson came our way. The manager wanted us to move to the other room at first, because the second group was close to us and she figured we needed space, but Taylor said, “They can watch.”

Most girls went to Taylor and Ike, and Zac was on my side. So I said, “Before I forget, a friend of mine asked me to give you this” as I handed him the yellow bag with the Led Zeppelin T-shirt. We kidded around a while about the way I said it (Oh, so you can relax now? – Yes, my job is done. – You are officially off the hook.). We spoke with them for a while as they signed stuff for us (when Taylor asked what I had brought to have signed, I said that I’d rather have a picture, since we were short on time, but then he said that they would do both, so I pulled out my notepad). Zac signed first, then Ike signed and switched with Taylor, who asked my name – I had to spell it several times, he seemed quite baffled by “Amélie”, but he got it right in the end. Someone had brought the Hallmark card that plays MMMBop when it’s opened to have it signed, and they remarked on how good the sound quality was (but it will probably fade by the time everyone looks at the signatures a year from now!). I then took two pictures of that group.

The first group left and was escorted outside. Then the second group came to meet the band (we moved a little to the right, closer to the benches, because we had to get out of the hallway and also, the light was better). I seemed to be close to Zac most of the time, and not only was he in a great mood, but he had also realized that even though I was nervous, I wasn’t freaking out and I was capable of talking to him like a normal person. Zac got another T-shirt, and Ike got some Mike & Ike’s. Very original. They also signed stuff for the group, and I took two pictures.

amelie

After the second group left, the tour manager took two pictures of me with the band. I said it was better to take two, because I tend to have my eyes closed on pictures. Taylor said I should work on keeping my eyes open, smartass ;). It’s not as easy as it sounds, though! Then, he apologetically looked at me and said that they were probably going to have to cancel the interview, because it was late already and they had “such an early call time tomorrow”. I panicked a little (can you imagine?!?), and said that I could keep it short, like 3-4 questions, and I really wouldn’t take up much of their time. Taylor and Ike seemed to hesitate (and the tour manager couldn’t do much, as it ultimately was not her decision). But Zac thankfully intervened and said to his brothers that surely, they had time for a quick interview (thanks, Zac!). They eventually agreed, with more prodding from Zac and assurances on my part that I was also on a tight schedule and could not afford to make this last very long (as I had to take the last bus to Montreal).

We went up the step to sit in the little area with benches again. Zac was next to me (to my left), Taylor was across from me and Ike was on a bench to my front-right. Zac brought up the bus again and asked at what time it was leaving; I said that it was between 12:00am and 12:30am; if I missed it, I was stuck. He asked what time it was and I said that it was past 11:00pm already, so they agreed that it could be done but had to be quick.

I asked my first question (which really was my second, but I had to chop some things out to fit the time allotted).

Amélie: The song The Walk suggests that it’s about taking chances. What chances have you taken that have inspired you to write this album? [They look confused for a moment, as they try to figure out how to answer this.]
Zac: Well, we took a chance with our record label, by becoming independent; that was definitely a big chance. It gave us a degree of stability, but it was also a big risk. Actually, a lot of things aren’t necessarily about taking a chance, but about trying to do things with passion and conviction. It’s about putting yourself out there as much as possible.
Taylor: Everyone takes chances in life.
[I assure them that I’m almost done writing. Zac reassures me, acknowledging that it’s difficult to write down everything that quickly, and I concede that I haven’t perfected my shorthand yet.]
Isaac: And no one else can live your life for you, so you have to go out there and do it.

Amélie: Taylor, where the Taking The Walk podcasts left off, we saw that you had a deviated septum and that it was affecting your voice, but you sounded better tonight. Can you fill me in on what has happened on that front since then?
Taylor: It turns out that I had mono, and other things as well, but I did have the surgery after all.
Ike: It just got to the point where he wore himself down.
Zac: He pushed himself too much.
Taylor: I had the surgery for my septum, and then I took a break to make sure I got some rest. We had been going really hard [and pushing ourselves]. But now, so far, I’m doing good.
[I then ask him to confirm the next sentence, because I had misheard it and did not want to misquote him.]
Taylor: At this point, there is nothing that isn’t normal wear and tear.

Amélie: Ike and Taylor, now that you have young children, can you tell me what are the challenges of raising a family on the road? [They seem a little confused, so I clarify.] I mean, you can’t exactly take your kids to the park, because you’re at the venue, working. They don’t really have play dates...
Taylor: Well, they have play dates with roadies [laughs]. It is challenging, of course. But we have to decide on our priorities. We either give them a “normal life”, or we’re together. We’d rather be together, even with the ups and downs. We think it builds character. Our main focus is to give them attention, to tend to their needs. We put them first.
Ike: And we have really great wives.
Taylor: Yes, our wives are the rocks.

[Ike then says I should ask them one last question. So I skip what was to be my fifth question and go straight for the one I know all Canadian fans want answered.]

Amélie: You mentioned, during the live chat after the SETB screening at Concordia, that you were planning on coming to Montreal. You’ve also done a lot of Canadian press these past two days. [They nod emphatically.] So does that mean that there are more Canadian dates in the works for the full tour?
Taylor: We do have more plans.
Zac: We were just talking about this today, that it’s been a long time since we came to Montreal. There might be some Canadian dates in the second half of the tour. Ike: Well, in the second or probably third leg of the tour.
Taylor: It’s a challenge; there are so many places that we want to go to.
Zac: It’s not like we can always go to every place we want to go. We have to turn to our agent.
Ike: It’s about where we can go, not where we want to go.
Zac: We’re usually brought [to a show] by companies and promoters. But we know we have a fan base there, and we want to keep that relationship going.

[They ask if they have answered my questions adequately; I say that they have.]

As we are leaving, I tell them that the show was great, and that my fiancé also said that he had enjoyed it; as a matter of fact, he thinks that The Walk is their best album yet. They thanked me for the compliment. And then Taylor actually congratulated me on my upcoming marriage. He asked when it is scheduled for; I reply that it will be next summer (it’s all still relatively new). Then everything turns into a blur as we repeatedly shake hands and we keep thanking each other. It was almost like they were surprised that I hadn’t been too clingy and now, they felt bad leaving and wanted to make sure that everything was okay. But I had to go too, and their evening wasn’t over, as there was still a roomful of VIPs to attend to.

I remembered to give them the message from the MTV Canada VJ they had spoken to earlier that day (they had told her to come backstage after the show and say hi, but when she got there, the wait was too long to get in, so she said to tell them “hi” and “thanks”, but that she was leaving). The band seemed a little surprised (but in a good way) that I gave them the message.

All in all: They are the nicest band out there, as far as I know, and it was a dream come true to meet them and have a bit of a conversation with them.

»concerts »»archives


Iron Maiden – October 10th, 2006 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Matter Of Life And Death Tour
http://www.ironmaiden.com/


The opening act was Bullet For My Valentine; I won’t review them, though, because I missed the beginning of their set (I had a salsa class earlier that night).

I wanted to see Iron Maiden live after translating their last tour documentary. I felt like I had gotten to know them a little, and I had some background on their music. Also, I was dying to see Eddie. So when I heard they were coming to town, I just had to go. And that made my boyfriend, Josh, very happy. ;)

The band spoke in French a lot (well, Bruce Dickinson did), but they spoke in English too. After The Longest Day, when they said that their album was #2 in Canada, everyone started cheering. Then, they added that in Quebec, it was #1 – the crowd went absolutely wild. The band explained that since we liked the album so much, they were going to play all of it – in order. It’s the first time I’ve been to a concert where that happened, but it was actually pretty cool.

The set was pretty nifty. The main focal point is all the lights: I’d never seen so many on one stage, and the fact that they all move is even more impressive. The background changed every once in a while, and it depicted different war scenes (which is a recurring Maiden theme). The song lyrics are often social comments on the subject. Like Josh says, “Iron Maiden is the thinking man’s KISS”.

There was the equivalent of girls screaming at a show, except it was mostly guys (so it was screams, roars, whistles, it just wasn’t high-pitched like the girls do). And that pretty much answered my question as to whether or not guys were capable of demonstrating the same kind of emotion as girls do when they really like a band. Yes, guys do the same. You just need to get them to the right show.

There was a sea of arms in front of the stage; everyone was pumping their fist in the air, it was really something to see. There was no mosh pit to speak of, since Iron Maiden isn’t really that kind of band, but there was a lot of crowd surfing. The band asked us to clap our hands on several occasions. Unfortunately, no one could keep a beat, so any hand-clapping stopped relatively quickly (I guess that’s the difference between metal fans and rock fans ;).

I couldn’t see the drummer, Nicko McBrain, at all, he was completely hidden behind his drum set (but he did come out at the end). I could see Steve Harris, though, and Janick Gers played the guitar like a madman, doing the whole windmill arm thing and swinging his guitar around to the point I thought he would break it on the stage (but he didn’t; I guess all his moves were very calculated).

After the band had played the album, they played some of their hits. They introduced Two Minutes to Midnight by asking what time it was, and saying “Oh, there’s two minutes left?” The crowd caught on and started cheering.

I also got to see Eddie, on two occasions: at the end of the show, he came out of the giant tank onstage (which had appeared during Iron Maiden) and looked all around with his binoculars (we looked right at each other when I was looking through binoculars as well). He then came back onstage during The Evil That Men Do, and this time he was walking around. I really like this mascot, for some reason, and so did the crowd.

Here is the set list (again, thanks to Josh for providing it):

Different World
These Colours Don’t Run
Brighter Than 1000 Suns
The Pilgrim
The Longest Day
Out of the Shadows
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
Greater Good of God
Lord of Light
The Legacy
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden

*Encore*
Two Minutes to Midnight
The Evil That Men Do
Hallowed Be Thy Name


All in all: It was a great concert for me, and a good introduction to a live Maiden show. Some fans were a bit disappointed that there weren’t a lot of hits, but I still think it’s cool to actually have a band play a whole album (especially when they’ve been playing hits for decades already, it gives them a break).

»concerts »»archives


Kamelot (with Epica) – September 24th, 2006 – The Medley, Montreal – The Black Halo North American Tour
http://www.kamelot.com/


The Medley is a great venue, especially now that it’s smoke-free (but they should refrain from opening the doors to the parking lot when the tour buses are running, since all the fumes go straight into the venue). The balcony was closed, though, and I must be getting old, because I quickly get tired of standing now.

We French Canadians love our metal. The spectators’ shirts read like a who’s who of metal.

The Montreal band Sequence (http://www.sequencemusic.net/) opened the show. They’ve been described as an avant-garde progressive death metal band, which is about as accurate as it gets. One of the lead singers roars into the microphone every once in a while, and everyone head-bangs along. They are actually pretty good, for what it’s worth, but that’s not why we were at the show. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised to see a band take the stage at exactly the time announced (I think I got used to the rock’n’roll stars being fashionably late).

Epica (http://www.epica.nl/) took the stage after them. I wasn’t really familiar with this band, but I’m now a fan. Simone Simons does most of the singing, while Mark Jansen’s official task description is “guitars, grunts and screams” (meaning he also roars into the microphone on occasion, without his shirt if he feels like it). But Simone Simons’ voice is really amazing. I’m not sure that operatic is the right word, but it is both delicate and powerful. And her red hair is fantastic: it stays beautiful and sleek despite all the head-banging, although her male counterparts’ hair just gets tangled. She could be a spokesperson for any shampoo company – but again, the greatest thing is her voice, and also her stage presence.

Epica actually had the most impressive drum set I’ve seen in my life (Kamelot used it as well). There was a bar frame around the regular drum set, where five cymbals were suspended – and the drummer was really good.

Finally, there was Kamelot. The lead singer, Roy Khan, has short hair, so he isn’t expected to head-bang, but his band members don’t get out of it that easily. This group puts more emphasis on melodies than voices, compared with Epica. Apart from the drummer, who had a fantastic solo, the band has impressive guitar and bass players as well. Their power metal even had me head-banging. The keyboardist also got to show off his skills, notably during a solo where he got inspired by classical music. There was one member who confused me (I’m not even sure she’s a member), it was a girl in costume who walked out on stage three times and randomly sang a few lines, before walking away again.

I got to sing along with the crowd on one song, even though I didn’t know the lyrics at first, because Khan got all the fans to sing with him on Forever. Simone Simons also came back on stage to sing The Haunting with Kamelot (you can watch the videoclip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6waMVBYa2g to have an idea of what I’m talking about). That was a fan favourite, as was Farewell. And near the end of the concert, Roy Khan disappeared from the stage and surprised us by reappearing sitting over the ledge of the balcony above us. He sang a beautiful song with French lyrics, Ne Pleure Pas, which I really liked.

Here is the set list (thanks to Josh for supplying it):

Lights
Soul Society
Edge Of Forever
Center Of The Universe
The Spell
Abandoned
Moonlight
Forever
Keys Solo
The Haunting
Memento Mori
Drum Solo
Farewell
Karma
Ne Pleure Pas
March Of Mephisto


All in all: This was actually a good introduction to metal concerts for me, because even though I didn’t know these bands, I still appreciated their music. Of course, the genre itself wasn’t new, that helped a lot. I had a really good time at the show.

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Avril Lavigne – September 3rd, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Under My Skin Tour
http://www.avrillavigne.com/home.php


First of all, who are the freaks who decided that you may bring a bottle of water in the Bell Center, but not the cap that goes with it? The only reason for that is that they hope you’ll buy one of their own bottles, but I will never bow to their outrageous demands that easily! From now on, I’m bringing extra caps hidden in my bag for just that purpose! So there! And as for how my story goes… I was very careful not to spill a drop for about 20 minutes. I took a few gulps of water to get the level down so that it wouldn’t spill over. I went to the bathroom to empty my bladder. I went to my seat, carefully stepping around people and keeping my bottle upright. Then I sat in my seat, tilting my bag and spilling water in my lap. Story of my life. It looked like I had had a little accident, so I spent the first set with my hands in my lap trying to cover the wet spot. Whoever had bought the seat next to me didn’t show, so there weren’t too many witnesses I had to get rid of.

The crowd was mostly made up of young girls accompanied by their parents, teenage girls and groups of guys.

The first act was Butch Walker (http://www.butchwalker.com). He’s an artist with a lot of integrity and some memorable stage antics. His latest single was the song MixTape, which you can listen to on his website. It’s a good song with a very sad videoclip. Butch himself seems to have eclectic taste (always a plus in my book), what with his weird tattoos and his habit of having a glass of red wine amidst electric guitars and drum sets when he’s not writhing on the floor. He’s very energetic and has a bad habit of cussing in front of all the small children in the audience. He is outspoken about Bush (“A president I can’t stand”) and lip-synching (“I’d rather sell one copy of my album than 3 million copies of an album on which I didn’t sing any of the songs”). He did a hard-rock kick-ass cover of Kelly Clarkson’s song Since U Been Gone to prove his point, although I believe he may have gotten her confused with Ashlee Simpson. This native of Atlanta, Georgia, says he has grown fond of Canada during this tour, which the Canadian audience just ate up. My opinion is that he was talented, but not overly so (although he’s still worth checking out).

After the intermission, Avril walked in, pretty as a picture. She was very happy to be back in Canada. She was wearing army pants, a pink belt and a black t-shirt, with her long wavy hair its natural color, a huge smile and her engagement ring clearly visible. She was somewhat of a punk/death metal wannabe, but with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. She was wearing red devil horns that light up, along with most of the audience (who also had green and blue light thing-a-magigs – glowsticks? If you know what those are called, please email me!).

She played all her hits (Sk8er Boi, etc.; I’m not gonna name all of them, you got my drift) and she was even more electric and energetic live than on tape, with a more apparent punk vibe. She started Nobody’s Home by playing the acoustic guitar alone on stage; her band kicked in halfway through, and she finished the song alone. She also plays the piano beautifully (the massive instrument seemed to appear out of nowhere, when it was dark and our attention had been diverted by a chandelier lighting up above the stage). It turns out that her voice is even better live than on her albums, she’s a very talented singer. She’s also just a ball of energy, which is probably why she stays so thin. ;o) Some of the guys from the crew made her laugh towards the end of the show; apparently, she wasn’t expecting them to run out on stage in their underwear and to start wrestling! The encore was a cover of Blur’s Song No2, with Avril doing a kick-ass job on the drums plus Butch Walker and another unidentified male singing. They then launched into Complicated and the crowd got really into it.

All in all: The show itself seemed a little short, but it was very enjoyable and reaffirmed how talented she really is.

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Maroon 5 – April 11th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Honda Civic Tour [I know, I know: The band sold out >:o( ]
www.maroon5.com


I got to meet up with two friends I had met at a Hanson concert last summer, Ismaelle and Émilie. It was good to see them again, even though we weren’t sitting together.

The Donnas (www.thedonnas.com)were the opening act. I hadn’t heard their music before, but I’m glad I got to see them perform. They are a hard rock chick band, very energetic and very cool. Two fantastic guitarists, a crazy drummer and a great lead singer. They talked to the crowd a lot and introduced their songs. I ended up buying their album, Gold Medal, and I hope that it stands up to their performance; I’ll give my verdict in the review. They were outside the merchandise booth to sign autographs, but the line was really (really) long and I left it to make it back to my seat before Maroon 5 came on stage. The Donnas are a really great live band, for sure.

Then the second part of the show started. That’s almost how it felt, the opening act went on so long and was so good that I had to snap out of it and remember that I was there for Maroon 5. The music starts. Oh yeah, that’s right, Maroon 5. Finally! The curtains are drawn and the lights behind it changed colors along with the music; we could see the band’s shadow, it was like a Chinese puppet show and the tease went on for a long time. Then the curtains finally parted to reveal a backdrop of thousands of light bulbs (think Chicago), the colors changed with the beat of the music and made psychedelic patterns, like a screensaver but way cooler. There was also their logo, a big white ‘M’ with the bottom part, ‘v’ (for 5), illuminated in red. I don’t think there was a single butt in its seat during the show. It was a bit weird to see that band, a group of filthy-looking guys with holes in their t-shirts, get Bell Centre-sized reactions.

The lead singer, Adam Levine, sounded a little different in person (a voice slightly higher-pitched than on the record, and he sang a little through his nose… I may be the only one who was a bit disoriented?). They sang all the songs from their album, plus two new ones (Wasted Years and I Can’t Stop Thinking About You), as well as a few covers. Their songs were a bit different than on the album. They were recognizable, of course, but the beat was faster, because of the setting I guess, so even the usually slow and melancholic songs weren’t slow nor melancholic. The show was very energetic, the crowd sang This Love with a little help from the band (and in the Bell Centre, that was really something). There were only about 15 songs, which is understandable because they were promoting their first album, but we were left wanting more.

A young girl had a sign that said “Adam Levine, marry me, I’m Jewish”. Adam pointed it out during the show and we saw it on the giant TV screens on each side of the stage. He said that unfortunately, he was not officially Jewish since his mother wasn’t of Jewish descent, but that if the girl didn’t mind that, then they should get married right away. ;o)

Adam Levine also introduced (most of) the band members during the show, but it was like there was not that much organization, he didn’t talk to the crowd that much and we didn’t know how far into the show we were until we hit the encore. That last song was with Ryan Dusick, the drummer, who had injured his hand and had to be replaced for the show. Luckily for us, his voice was intact and he sang a kick-ass version of Highway To Hell, which was actually the most energetic song of the show. It also makes you wonder why he doesn’t sing more on the album…

All in all: A really great concert, but it went by too fast. For future reference to the band members: More songs, more talking to the crowd, and no hiding Ryan until the encore before unleashing him in front of a mike.

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Alanis Morissette – August 17th, 2004 – Saint-Denis Theater, Montreal – So-Called Chaos Tour
http://www.alanis .com


OK, so I attended the sold-out Alanis Morissette concert at the Saint-Denis Theater on August 17th, 2004.

The first thing that I noticed was the diversity of the people attending: males and females, from the ages of 12 to 62, ripped blue jeans to work suits, flowing skirts to tight pants. I don’t think that there are many artists out there who have that wide an audience. At some point during the show, someone even lit a joint, just to tell you how informal the whole thing was…

And I’ll get something off my chest right now: The guy sitting on my left had won his ticket and basically, he hadn’t bathed or changed clothes in a week, he smelled like he had thrown up on himself and he was drinking beer the entire show, so the smell was pretty bad and I tried to lean to the right as much as possible. But when the air-conditioning was on, he was mostly downwind, so that was good. Anyway…

Alanis came out with her glitter-covered electric guitar and put all of her passion into singing. It was really something to watch all the emotions on her face as she sang her songs, she channeled different feelings from each one. Her band, although very talented, mostly stood back and let her be in the spotlight.

The songs she chose were clearly recognizable, but she had a new take on them, like an acoustic Perfect and an electric rocked-out Not The Doctor. Surprisingly enough, though, about half of the songs were from the Jagged Little Pill album and only a few were from So-Called Chaos, the one that came out this year (unfortunately, Knees Of My Bees wasn’t one of them). She did play Uninvited, though. Clearly she stuck to crowd-pleasing tunes rather than what might have been her own personal favorites. She truly did engage the crowd, though, and she got numerous standing ovations during the show; the only way to get the audience to sit back down was to just start playing the next song. Many times also, the audience would erupt into applause as soon as they recognized the song she was starting.

The audience really participated a lot as well, by clapping hands in beat with the song, by singing with her and, during the song Ironic, by pretty much replacing her as she held out her microphone for us to sing. She did joke around with some of the lyrics, for example when she sang "It’s like meeting the man of my dreams… And then meeting his beautiful… HUSBAND," to general laughter and applause. The hand clapping itself was fantastic, it has got to be one of the greatest feelings in the world to be standing in a room full of people, clapping hands to the rhythm and singing along with Alanis Morissette to songs like Ironic, Hand In My Pocket and You Learn.

All in all: It was a fantastic show, I recommend of her concerts to anyone (I certainly do, yeah / Swallow it down / What a jagged little pill!).

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Joss Stone – May 29th, 2005 – The Metropolis, Montreal – Mind, Body & Soul Tour
http://www.jossstone.com


I went to this with two friends. Joss Stone is an artist who attracts fans of all ages (there were people from 6 to 60 years old), and I was surprised by the number of obviously gay men in the room. She’s not Cher, you know! But she’s fantastic.

First things first: The opening act was Raul Midón (www.raulmidon.com), a Black musician originally from Florida. It turns out that he’s blind, but that wasn’t obvious to most people when he took the stage. He was led there by someone, and he had a knap sack in which he kept his water bottle. He only has a guitar, but he makes it sound like he’s got two guitars and a drum, and he does a wicked imitation of a trumpet using just his mouth and the microphone. He also has a fantastic voice and a lot of stage presence. His new album, State of Mind, came out this month [June 2005]; he sings a track with Stevie Wonder and has the same producers as Aretha Franklin. He really has a lot of talent and I think you’ll hear more from him soon. He said that he would sign CDs for people and that anyone who could read what he wrote could come on tour with him. When he left, he pretended to wave to the back of the stage instead of to the audience, to make us laugh.

Then we waited for the main event, as a microphone on which hung a pink scarf was brought out on stage. Two guitarists, one keyboardist and one drummer started rocking out. Then, three back-up singers took their place; they warmed up a little with soul and blues and then sang “Are you ready – Joss Stone” in harmony. She finally came out on stage, barefoot; she is a simple girl, but she looks drop-dead gorgeous.

She sang songs from both of her albums (but not Dirty Man, unfortunately, despite requests from the audience). She egged us on to sing along with her, even having us sing some of her parts (“It’s easy to sing, it’s ‘Ow-ow-ow’; come on, put some feeling into it, pretend you stepped on a nail or something!”). A little girl of about six had climbed up on the side of the stage (with her father’s help) and Joss was great about it, she had her sing into the microphone and got us clapping for the girl. She finally gave her a head hug and comment on how good the girl was.

She threw daisies into the crowd for Less Is More, and she saved the last one for the little girl. She changed the rhythm of a few songs, she even scatted on one of them. She’s full of energy, it’s really something to see her live. And I’m sorry if you missed her show, but she’s way better live than on her albums, and that’s saying something. When she really belts it out, she’s just like a little White Aretha Franklin, like she was touched by God while singing Gospel. She never lets that loose on her albums, but that’s a shame because she is truly amazing and I wish you had experienced it. Her voice is very powerful and beautiful and without a single false note; she didn’t falter and held the notes forever. There came a point when she didn’t even need the microphone anymore.

Joss Stone is still a shy teenager, though. She laughed a lot and always giggled when the audience said they loved her, breaking her concentration. She kept thanking us for singing along with her and said we were sweet, with her lovely British accent. And I’m not sure people realize how beautiful she really is.

There were two encores, but the show was actually shorter than we thought, about an hour long. On the way out, we realized that Corneille had been in the audience. He was being interviewed as he left (one wonders why the reporter didn’t interview Joss Stone instead).

All in all: Joss Stone is an amazing performer with a beautiful, soulful voice. She’s going to go far. Make sure you catch her show next time she’s in town.

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U2 – November 26th, 2005 – The Bell Center, Montreal – Vertigo Tour
http://www.u2.com


I was really lucky to get a ticket, let me tell you that, as both shows sold out within hours. And even though I was too far from the stage to see Bono’s facial expressions, I feel very privileged to have attended the show. The Bell Centre was packed to full capacity, even the sections behind the stage were filled with people. Two sold out shows like that… U2 is the biggest band on the planet right now.

First of all, Montrealers The Arcade Fire (http://www.arcadefire.com/flash.html) opened the show (as if U2 weren’t cool enough, I actually saw The Arcade Fire the same night; I’m still pinching myself). Any band that walks out on stage with, among other instruments, an electric guitar, a drum set and a violin automatically has my attention – and these guys didn’t disappoint.
The eight of them started with the song Wake Up, with Win Butler singing the lead; it’s a song that showcases their eclectic talents and creates an impact on the crowd. Eventually, Richard Reed Parry went on a percussion rampage around the stage with Will Butler (Win’s brother), who then walked around the circular catwalk set up for U2. They spoke in French a bit to the crowd, then explained how glad they were to be back home after touring for almost a year.
They played eight songs in all, each one sounding different but equally good. They included Haïti, Neighborhood #2 (Laïka) and Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), and they closed their set with Rebellion (Lies), the crowd singing along.
The sound was a bit too loud and prevented people from hearing the lyrics properly, but the show itself was very good and the band was the perfect opening act for U2. Bono actually said that they were “the most amazing musical thing we’ve seen in a very long time”, and the song Wake Up is what was playing on the speakers before the main act took the stage.

During both shows, people in the rows around me got up a surprising number of times, either to go buy drinks or to use the restroom; it always put a damper on things, since all the seats are so close together.
And by the way, to the woman in the 218 Red section, seat F21, and her friends – learn how to behave in public before you go out again. Your freedom ends where other people’s freedom begins.

Then there was what seemed like a long intermission, and the lights dimmed as the crowd started to roar. This is what big rock concerts are all about.
And let’s say this once and for all… Although Bono is the only name people seem to remember and the only face they instantly recognize, there are three more members in the band: guitarist and singer The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton (they’re the ones who make Bono sound so good ;o).

As I have mentioned, there was a circular catwalk stage set up, with a circular platform at one end. There were lights on the edges of the stage. And spectators were packed everywhere on the floor around it, some waving Irish flags. Everyone was singing along, because as most people know, this band’s songs have flat-out become anthems. Columns of light shone around the stage as U2 appeared. Bono was on the far edge of the catwalk, while the rest of the band was on the smaller circular stage. Obviously, Bono is the front man, but I owed it to the other members to acknowledge what an integral part of the band they are.

They started with City of Blinding Lights, then broke into Vertigo (with lights on the floor around the stage spiralling red) and Elevation. The Edge also used the catwalk a lot and showcased his amazing guitars riffs. They played almost all the great hits, including Sunday, Bloody Sunday that was turned into a medley with Father Abraham. They also sang a few verses from In A Little While. I’m still a bit disappointed that they didn’t do Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, but hey, it was still great.
The lighting effects were amazing; not just the running spirals on the stage during Vertigo and all the other catwalk light effects, not just the curtains of light strings used as screens, not the actual projectors, but the way they combined and the way it all looked effortless – it was impressive by its sheer effect, not because it tried to impress. The band also interacted with the crowd a lot. Bono spoke a bit of French: “Vive Montréal! Vive les Habs! Vive U2!”
Then he said “Ce soir, j’ai une annonce très importante: U2 va venir vivre à Montréal!”; I’m not sure if it was true that they’re actually going to move to Montreal, but man did the audience love it!

Regardless of what my sister says, I applaud a band that uses their celebrity to serve society. Bono talked a lot about www.makepovertyhistory.com, he said that the band had just spent a day talking to politicians in Ottawa (Layton, Harper, even Paul Martin [booed by the crowd when they heard his name], who hears more and more about the cause each day – Bono encouraged us to write to him and to tell him that it was important, that we could make things change within a month – and he also went to Gilles Duceppe’s office, who was at the show, by the way). Bono spoke about ending poverty, about respecting human rights, about different creeds coexisting. The band showed the text of the Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme on the big screen, the crowd just ate it up. He told us the story behind Miss Sarajevo.

Apparently, Bono thinks that Canada is a great country because we have big dreams and big ideas, because we want to make changes in the world. He spoke about different things (how, in the last ten years that his father was alive, every conversation began with “Would you take those f*** glasses off?!” and then he did take them off for Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own; how someone who is very close to them had just had a baby boy, and he personally thought that the baby should be named Bono, but it looked like it was gonna be Paddy, so he sang Original Of The Species for him; he also dedicated a song to a friend who had died eight years before).

Bono took pictures of the crowd with a spectator’s camera (which may or may not have been planted, but who cares), he touched the hands of the lucky ones close to the catwalk, he shone a big projector’s light on us towards the end of the show (I now know it’s a staple at U2 concerts).
There was a problem with the lights on the catwalk at the end of the show, which Bono pointed out while showing that he still has a sense of humour about things like this. There were two encores, the second of which was acoustic.

Here is the set list:
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
Elevation
I Will Follow
Still Haven’t Found
Beautiful Day
Original of the Species
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Pride in the Name of Love
Where the Streets Have No Name
One

Until the End of the World
Mysterious Ways
With or Without You

Stuck in a Moment
Yahweh
Bad


All in all: A once-in-a-lifetime experience, an amazing show, a band with great showmanship. Long live U2.

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Restaurant Reviews
»»archives

Now 59 restaurants, organized by city and by name.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

- Amelio’s
- Asha Restaurant
- L’Avenue
- La Banquise
- Le Bilboquet
- Blanche-Neige
- Burgers & Benedicts
- Café El Dorado
- Calories
- Le Camélia des tropiques
- Chez Cora
- Chine Toque
- Chu Chai
- Le Dieu du Ciel
- East India Company Restaurants
- El Zaziummm
- Frite Alors !
- Jardin Nelson
- Kelsey’s
- Lotté Furama
- Masako Sushi
- Mister Steer
- Odaki
- Oyster Shack
- La Paryse
- Le Percé
- Le Petit Alep
- Le Petit Medley
- Pho 198
- Pho Lien
- Les Plaisirs du Palais
- La Popessa
- Le Sainte-Élisabeth
- Santropol
- Schwartz’s
- Souvenirs d’Indochine
- Verses Bar
- Zorba’s Remezzo
- Zyng

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
- The Works

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Richtree Market Restaurants


Los Angeles, California, United States of America
- 101 Coffee Shop
- California Pizza Kitchen
- Hollywood & Vine
- Houston’s
- Kung Pao Kitty
- Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
- Sandbags

Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
- Sansei (Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar)
- Wailana Coffee House


London, United Kingdom
- Bramah Tea & Coffee House
- The Coach and Horses
- The Rajdoot

Windsor, United Kingdom
- Castello


Rome, Italy
- Blue Ice
- Florian’s Cafe
- Taverna Pretoriana
- La Tavernatta


Athens, Greece
- Plakiotissa


»restaurants »»archives


Amelio’s
201 Milton Street
(514) 845-8396
It’s easy to miss this restaurant as you walk in the McGill Ghetto, but it would really be a great loss. It’s a small, cozy restaurant with exposed brick walls; it has a certain Mom & Pop feel (because Amelio himself is making pizza dough in the back) and it is always full of people around dinner time.
They serve some of the best pizza in Montreal, and their pasta also has a good reputation. The pizza crust is thin and crispy, but still chewy around the edges. You can have it made in whole wheat, too. Try the White pizza (which is actually a five-cheese pizza); it’s well worth it. The vegetarian pizza is also a favourite of locals. All pizzas are served with salads, while the pasta dishes come with a basket of warm Italian bread. You have to bring your own wine, though, but that can be a good thing. And the service is excellent. Keep in mind that they deliver, so if you happen to have a craving when there’s a really long line, you still have that option.
Payments are cash only.
All in all: The best pizza in Montreal, in my opinion. You should definitely try it.

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Asha Restaurant
3490 Du Parc Avenue
514-844-3178

This place was a great surprise. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t be fooled. The décor in this small restaurant is quite nice, and the service is friendly. A nice touch is the box of paper tissues available, for those of us who get runny noses when they eat hot foods. And the food does stay hot, as it is set on quaint little warmers on the table. The menu is also quite diverse, with enough explanations (littered with typos and grammatical mistakes) to understand what dishes with foreign names are made of. There is also a map of India and a short history in the menu (though the French translation is truncated).
The papadum has a wonderful taste of cumin and other spices, and keeps you satiated until the food arrives. The samosas are good starters, but the onion bhajis are really delicious. The eggplant bhaji was surprisingly good (this coming from someone who doesn’t usually like eggplant). The polao rice was a little dry but tasted wonderful, as did the naan bread. The tandoori chicken was really good, and the beef curry was fantastic. You should also try the coconut chicken.
The restaurant also delivers and offers discounts for students.
All in all: I will definitely be going there again, the food was really great.

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L’Avenue
922 East Mont-Royal Avenue
(514) 523-8780

It’s one of the coolest restaurants of the Plateau, known for its breakfasts and one of my favorite restaurants in town. You can admire the chef from the front display window. They serve a bit of everything and portions are generous. I absolutely recommend their blended exotic fruit juices. For brunching on weekends (since there is no lunch offered), get there early, there’s a line of people waiting (but it’s worth it). Try their sautéed strawberry or blueberry crêpes, they’re exquisite. The potatoes are fantastic (and the hamburgers look great). And whatever you do, don’t miss going to the bathrooms, they’re absolutely brilliant (I’ll let you discover them). [July 2006: They renovated the bathrooms, and they are decidedly not as nice as before. The light is red instead of black, gone are the disco balls and the waterfall urinals, the tv screens are on the wall instead of on the floor… So, if you saw the bathrooms before, you’ll be disappointed.] [July 2009: The bathrooms have been renovated again. It appears the restaurant does this periodically, presumably to keep things fresh for customers.]
At worse, if the line is too long, there’s the El Dorado right across the street, where you’ll probably see David La Haye having brunch. It’s also a very good restaurant, I’ll review it one of these days.
All in all: Try it out.

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La Banquise
994 Rachel Street East
(514) 525-2415

It’s a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, but they’re expanding and renovating, and it’s known all over town for its poutine. There are over 20 kinds available, priced between $5 and $10. You’ll probably feel silly going there and ordering a traditional poutine, though. They also have other dishes, like burgers and sugar pie, but after a poutine, you might find it hard to even look at a dessert. The portions are generous and the food is really good.
The restaurant itself is colourful and cheery, with eclectic tables and chairs. Don’t hesitate to ask for a clean fork and more napkins. There’s a terrace in the back where there are usually few customers. And the place is open 24 hours a day, for the night owls out there. The music is usually good.
For those of you who are curious: the name “Banquise” (which means “ice floe” and therefore doesn’t seem appropriate to poutine) was actually chosen because, back in the 1970s, the place was known for its ice cream. The poutine is a more recent development. If you’re lucky, the owner will be sitting at the counter, and this nice lady will tell you everything you need to know about her restaurant.
All in all: A must for good poutine and eclectic charm.

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Le Bilboquet
1311 West Bernard Avenue
(514) 276-0414

I’m not sure if it’s really a restaurant, but in any case, that’s where they serve the best sorbets in Montreal. And there are also sandwiches, cake and, of course, ice cream. But I’m recommending it especially for the sorbets, all home-made. The best ones are grapefruit and pear, but the coconut one isn’t half-bad either. There’s always a certain featured frozen dish; this summer [2005], it’s the Banquise tropicale: three scoops of sorbet (mango, coconut and pineapple) in an ice bowl, served with a pineapple-chip umbrella, pineapple leaves and a pineapple slice. And like I said, this establishment is a master in the art of ice cream-making, so those of you who are neither diabetic nor lactose intolerant should go ahead and stuff your faces. The portions are generous, I actually recommend ordering your frozen treats in a bowl instead of a cone, otherwise you’ll end up with your hand all sticky. And you can order pints of ice cream to go.
All in all: A must during a summer in Montreal. Waiting in line is worth it.

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Blanche-Neige
5737 Côte-des-Neiges Road
(514) 738-3251
http://www.blancheneigerestaurant.com/

The name of this restaurant comes from the mural of Snow White (Blanche Neige in French) and her seven dwarves on the party wall. It’s been open since 1959, so it’s entirely possible that the mural has been there since the beginning. There are juke boxes at each table near the wall, and even though the list of songs is interesting (nothing from after the 1980’s), you’ll lose your quarters in them, they don’t work anymore.
The restaurant, which delivers, makes real pizzas served with a ball of dough in the center, and good club sandwiches. It is also known for its breakfasts (two eggs, roast potatoes, a choice of bacon/sausage/ham, toast, a slice of orange and a cup of coffee) for $1.99. Plus, if you’re out late in the neighbourhood, it’s the best place for poutine at 2 in the morning.
All in all: If you live in the area, go have breakfast there once in a while, it’s almost less expensive than making your own at home.

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Burgers & Benedicts
2313 Sainte-Catherine Street West
(514) 228-5210

I just discovered this restaurant, purely by coincidence. It’s absolutely delicious!
It is know for breakfasts and hamburgers (hence the name, no surprise there). There are many dishes made with eggs and a lot of interesting breakfast ideas, of course, but for hamburgers, I highly recommend it. So far, they’re the best I’ve eaten in Montreal (it doesn’t beat the restaurant The Works in Ottawa, but we’re getting there). I tried the mango burger; I ended up with sauce everywhere, but it was really worth it. The fries tasted like real potatoes. They serve the best chicken Caesar salad in town [that was the first time I ordered it; the second and last time, the chicken was overcooked, the croutons were soft and the lettuce was rusty; it was like a completely different dish]. The pancakes are also really good! The Hungry Man Pancakes are excellent, for those with a (very) big appetite. And the strawberry French Toast Flambées are orgasmic. [But watch out for desserts and drinks involving mangoes: the latter are frozen, not always defrosted, and have a starchy aftertaste.] There are Jewish references in the menu (like Bubby’s Breakfast, or eggs with latkes), so there’s a good chance that the meat is kosher, but I didn’t ask.
Oh yes, the bathrooms have hand dryers with air jets as strong as those in the basement of the Eaton Center, they move the skin on your hands! But they dry really well.
All in all: A great discovery, I’ll go running back as soon as I’m done digesting. [Update, July 2009: The quality of the food has really gone down. The orange juice is horrible, the Hungry Man Pancakes should now be called the Hungry Boy Pancakes because they shrank, and the food just isn’t what it used to be.]

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Café El Dorado
921 East Mont-Royal Avenue
(514) 598-8282
http://www.cafeeldorado.ca/eldohtml.html

I told you I’d review it one of these days! So, it’s a great place for brunch. It’s on the Plateau, it’s hip, it’s full of miscellaneous people, it’s in front of L’Avenue (which comes in handy on days when the line of people gets too long in front of one place or the other). But it has its charm.
Many breakfast dishes are served with a small traditional plate of beans, but the best are definitely the small pancakes served with eggs and bacon (especially the blueberry pancakes). There are tons of other dishes too, but I always order the little pancakes… You can also have lunch or dinner there, or have coffee (roasted on the premises) or a drink. In the summer, the place becomes an indoor terrace once the big windows are open. And don’t be surprised to see David La Haye, he’s always there. ;o)
All in all: Excellent restaurant, which you should discover if you don’t know it already.

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Calories
4114 Sainte-Catherine Street West
(514) 933-8186
This is probably the best dessert place downtown. I counted 28 cakes in the display window last time I was there, but there are over 50 kinds available in all (you can even order whole cakes for takeout). There are also a few salads and sandwiches in a corner of the fridge, but let’s face it, no one goes to Calories for the salads.
The cake I usually swear by is the banana-chocolate, it’s really heavenly. I also tried the Reese’s Pieces cake, which I strongly recommend as well. And their cheesecakes are also excellent. Plus, you can have ice cream on the side of your dessert... The thing that I only now realize, though, is that they have little to no lactose-free fare, because everything has either cheese or whipped cream or butter frosting. Only the poached apple pastries seemed lactose-free. But their desserts are worth a little Lactaid. ;)
All in all: An excellent place for a treat after dinner. Just make sure you can walk home after, because the food is really rich. [Update, 2009: The place is now under new management and has undergone a makeover, to mixed reviews. I’ll let you know what I think when I have the chance to go again.]

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Le Camélia des tropiques
5024 Côte-des-Neiges Road
(514) 738-8083

A little jewel in the neighbourhood, this Vietnamese cuisine restaurant would benefit form more publicity. The décor is simple but elegant, quaint while remaining modern. The small room quickly fills up in the evening. The service is efficient, and the prices are quite reasonable.
As soon as you arrive, you get a small basket filled with shrimp chips. You would need to go there several times to go through the menu, which has tables d’hôte and dishes that are increasingly interesting and unexpected. The duck with cashews is really delicious, with an exquisite sauce, vegetables chopped in small artistic pieces and marvellous coconut rice. The «Camélia Special» chicken is a little surprising, but also very good. For dessert, there are fried bananas, as always, but also caramelized bananas or green tea ice cream.
All in all: A very good restaurant, for Vietnamese cuisine that is slightly more refined.

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Chez Cora
1425 Stanley Street
(514) 286-6171
http://www.chezcora.com

There are many locations, but this one is the best (quality varies greatly from one to another), both for the food and for the interior (the hens are all over the place, but the walls are a nice yellow, there’s a brick fireplace and a great view of the courtyard). That being said, even there, the quality of the food seems to be slipping.
I last went there on a Saturday morning, before there was a line-up. I ordered the Omelette 10 étages, but the cheddar was grated and left dry on top, instead of being melted in the omelette. The buckwheat crêpes were not fully cooked, so they were definitely not as good as usual. I do want to stress how good this place usually is; they have an amazing choice, excellent crêpes, beautiful fruit platters, French toast, eggs, etc., all in the cutest menu ever. But I’ve had several negative comments recently, and yes, it does seem that the quality is slipping. Cora should go check out the franchises; she might not like what’s going on.
All in all: It’s going to take more than one negative visit to deter me from Cora’s, but they’ll have to improve a little if they want to stay on my good side.

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Chine Toque
4050 Sainte-Catherine Street West
(514) 989-5999
This place is slightly fancier than most joints in Chinatown, but not overly pretentious. It doesn’t have chopsticks on the tables, but the food is not overly Americanized. The wont-ton soup is really good, with its hand-made chicken dumplings in a clear chicken broth with green onions and shredded cabbage. The spring rolls, although flatter than expected, were quite good, but what stole the show was the citrus dipping sauce served with it (which we kept as an accompaniment for the rest of the meal; it’s very good drizzled over steamed rice). The dish I would most recommend is the pepper chicken with crispy spinach; the chicken itself was a little spicy, but was offset by the sweetness of the paper-thin crispy spinach leaves that melt in your mouth (those who know what I’m talking about will be glad to have found a place that makes them; those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you really have to taste them). The crispy sesame beef is also excellent; it’s very fried, yes, but the sweet sauce with sesame seeds just has you going for more. There are a lot of dishes on the menu, and portions are generous, so I doubt you’ll leave the place hungry.
All in all: A very good Chinese restaurant, which I recommend to anyone who wants something a little different than what most places offer.

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Chu Chai
4088 Saint-Denis Street
(514) 843-4194
http://www.chuchai.com

This is a vegetarian fine cuisine Thai restaurant. For the curious among you, “Chu Chai” means “Victory”. The particularity of the place is that they make pseudo-meat from soy and seitan, but it really looks, tastes and feels like real meat. It can be a bit expensive, and there are few choices for those who don’t like spicy dishes. However, the food is good, and the service is both fast and friendly. I tried the ginger “pork” the last time I went; it was good, but I’ll admit that I found there were too many big pieces of celery and mushrooms. The rice was a bit dry, but you just have to pour a spoonful of sauce from your main dish onto it and it’s excellent. For dessert, I had a Black Dream, which is actually a small store-bought chocolate cake, with a slight cherry taste, but unfortunately, it was served with small bitter grapes full of seeds and with inedible skin. Well, when in doubt, there’s always good old fried bananas, mango sorbet, litchis, etc. The most interesting part, actually, are the specials on take-out dishes, which you can choose in a buffet at the counter.
All in all: You should try it, but my second meal there was not as good as my first.

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Le Dieu du Ciel
29 Laurier Avenue West
(514) 490-9555
http://www.dieuduciel.com/objet/accueil.html/

They changed the decoration inside, but you can still find your way around. The place is especially known for its beers; the micro-brewery has actually won the second prize in an international contest. If you’re a beer lover, you’re definitely in the right place; they always have at least a dozen. As for myself, I don’t know much on the subject, but it’s worth going to see their online menu if you feel like it. Their sandwiches are also very good, as is their plate of cheeses. The menu rarely changes, but that’s the way we like it! Also, if you look carefully, you could see Isabelle Blais at one of the tables. But I was going there way before her! ;o)
All in all: For a good beer or an evening out with friends, or also for a quick meal, it’s ideal.

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East India Company Restaurants
3533 Queen Mary Road
(514) 344-2217

I had loved this Indian buffet before (when it was called Raga), but I decided to go again now that it’s under new management. Well, it was nothing like before, but not in a good way.
It has been renovated to fit more people, and while the decorations are more thought out, it was already falling apart (tiles were missing from the wall, tables were rocking, the utensils are cute but impractical, and the plates are too thin and light and move when you eat off of them).
The buffet really wasn’t that great. The basmati rice was undercooked and dry, the butter chicken was lukewarm, the chicken tikka masala was good but very tough, the chickpea curry was bland (but almost everything else was too spicy), the melon wasn’t ripe; only the masala fish received compliments at our table. Naan bread has to be ordered separately, but there’s no menu to tell you that. At least it was good. As for the drinks, my fruit-juice cocktail was bitter, while the coconut-milk and tropical juice frozen drink was very good.
All in all: If you want a good Indian buffet, forget about that place; go to Buffet Maharajah instead. [Update: This restaurant is now closed, thankfully.]

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El Zaziummm
1276 Laurier Avenue East, at (514) 598-0344
4581 Du Parc Avenue, at (514) 499-3675
There are several locations; the inside of the one on Laurier is more decorated, but the terrace of the one on Du Parc is great, with mariachi musicians in the summer. I think that there’s another location on Rosemont, and the Zazz-Bar is on Saint-Denis.
It’s Americanized Mexican cuisine, dubbed « crazy Mexi-Cali beach cuisine”. The service can be slow and the dishes are a bit expensive, let’s admit it, but you should see the enormous amount of food passed off as a single portion. And anyway, no one goes there for the prices, they go there for the décor and the ambiance. It’s one of the most eclectic, hippest and coolest restaurants in Montreal. There are tables with a beach setting (complete with sand and everything) under glass, an old bathtub, retro ultra-chic bench seats, with any- and every-thing on the walls and music ranging from old rock to rap to Latin music. It’s always full and the people are loud, it’s really a party restaurant. If you want a table, you might need to make reservations.
There are also theme nights, like tarot or dance. And if you walk in wearing a sombrero, you get a free dish.
I should say that the menu, while extremely interesting, is sometimes difficult to read, especially since the lighting is sometimes bad. But the dish that has made the Zaziummm famous is the Monster: a sandwich with chicken breasts, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, guacamole and house mayonnaise, served with excellent fries and some lettuce. If you manage to eat everything on your plate, you get a 10% discount and a t-shirt that says that you ate the Monster. But as for me, I can barely finish the Mini-Monster, so... The dessert menu is not very elaborate, probably because very few people actually make it to dessert. However, the cocktails are excellent! And you end your meal with little “Dubble Bubble” gums served in a seashell.
All in all: A must on the Montreal food scene.

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Frite Alors !
1710, Saint-Denis (but there are many other locations)
(514) 842-9905
http://www.fritealors.com

Probably the best Belgian fries in Montreal, served in a paper cone and with a choice of sauces… Try the pistou rosé, which is a mix of mayonnaise, dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and garlic, it’s really good. However, there are very few choices for those who don’t like mayonnaise, which is a shame.
As for the main courses, it’s mostly sandwiches and hamburgers (the patty is a bit dry), but you can also order buffalo and horse meat, tartar even. At your own risk!
The restaurant itself is decorated with a minimalist tintinomaniac influence. When the Christmas decorations are still painted in the front windows in May, that’s proof of a certain casualness, no one can argue against that! And the state of the bathrooms was deplorable (not quite like Trainspotting, alright, but let’s just say you didn’t feel like hanging out there too long!).
All in all: A must for good fries, and you might want to sample the unusual meats, but don’t expect too much from it otherwise.

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Jardin Nelson
407 Place Jacques-Cartier
Montreal
514-861-5731
http://www.jardinnelson.com

This restaurant is remarkable for its superb terrasse. Not only the building themselves, topped with creeper plants and flowers, but especially for the impressive inverted umbrellas which allow patrons to stay dry even if it rains. There is a small orchestra playing live music while we eat. It is a really enjoyable place, be it for brunch, a pitcher of sangria or dinner.
The menu is impressive. All the dishes look very good, but the place is known for its thin crepes. I tried the Crepe Nelson, a happy mix of apples, cinnamon, bacon and cheese, covered with maple syrup. I would say it could use a little less sugar and cinnamon, but it’s very, very good. I’ll try the duck crepe next time.
The rear terrasse fills up quickly, so it’s a good idea to make reservations.
Also, keep in mind that it’s a bit expensive, because of the location, but it’s still more affordable than most restaurants in the Old Port.
All in all: A very nice place, where I would readily go again to continue exploring the menu.

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Kelsey’s
7265 Galeries d’Anjou Boulevard
(514) 352 -7655
http://www.kelseys.ca/

An American-style restaurant, a bit like the Cage aux Sports but with more class. So it’s a restaurant where you can have a family dinner or meet friends to watch the hockey game. The fish-and-chips looks authentic – minus the mushy peas, okay, but there’s beer batter for the fish. The cracked peppercorn hamburger is really good, it’s served with two fried onion rings and basil mayonnaise, I strongly recommend it. The fajitas are also good, there’s no guacamole but they are served with rice, so it’s almost as authentic. The dessert menu looks good, if you’re still hungry (the servings are generous).
All in all: You have to drive to the outskirts of town to find one, but with a car, it’s worth your while if you like hamburgers and pepper (and if you don’t mind being asked for ID in your mid-twenties ;o).

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Lotté Furama
1115 Clark Avenue (2nd floor, “Salle Magnifique”)
(514) 393-3838

That’s their official name, even though the sign outside says “Restaurant Furama” and the one inside says “Restaurant Lotté”. The waiters speak more Mandarin than English or French, but their eagerness to please compensates. The restaurant is big enough to seat 350 people, and the customers are mostly Asian (which is reassuring when you want authentic cuisine).
For dim sum for lunch, it is THE place to go. The choice is impressive, the prices are reasonable (it’s more expensive if you order from the menu), and it’s real Chinese food (except for the pieces of sausage in the sticky rice wrapped in a leaf, but it’s still really good). The pork dumplings are fabulous, and so are the shrimp and coriander dumplings. The rice noodles were a little bland, but all the rest was good. The food is brought out on little carts, but you should know that the same cart may roll by only once, so if you see something you like, make sure you grab some. For dessert, don’t miss the fried dough filled with red bean paste and sprinkled with sugar!
All in all: A great Chinese restaurant for dim sums. Ideally, avoid going there on weekends between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, it’s going to be completely crowded. [Update, 2009: Unfortunately, this restaurant is now closed. Quality had become unpredictable, so customers were staying away. As a replacement, though, let me suggest Maison Kam Fung for dim sum – you won’t be disappointed!]

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Masako Sushi
5050 Côte-des-Neiges Road
(514) 735-8118

This little jewel of a sushi bar is hidden in Côte-des-Neiges, just next the Queen Mary intersection. The owners are actually Cambodian, but they felt that they could do better with Japanese food in Montreal. This casual but nice restaurant was just what I needed for my first official all-sushi meal. There are other dishes, of course, and they smelled quite good as the people at the next table were eating them, but that’s not what I was there for.
We started with a beautifully presented dish of Eye of the Dragon rolls, a Masako specialty. By that, I mean that theirs are way better than the ones from other restaurants: They were out of this world! The outside is a thin, crispy tempura crust, while the inside contains rice, salmon, red roe, carrots, green onions, etc., and the sauce is absolutely delicious. I don’t think I’ll be able to go there again without ordering it.
The unagi (eel) nigiri (served over a clump of rice) almost melts in your mouth, while the maguro (tuna) nigiri is surprisingly spicy. The unagi (again, eel) ura maki (inside-out rolls) were very good as well. The Dynamite rolls had a surprising texture, because the sweet potatoes were both crispy and chewy; those were also a little bit spicy. I really liked the fried chicken nori maki (i.e., the stereotypical sushi rolls we are used to seeing, nori being the algae it’s wrapped in); it’s a great alternative for those who are not used to regularly eating raw fish. The Rainbow rolls are great. You should also try the Tropical rolls (which contain mango, strawberry and avocado with the fish), the Unagi BBQ rolls (unagi with avocado, in an inverted roll with rice on the outside and sesame seeds sprinkled on it) and the dessert sushi (nori, rice and fruit, fried in tempura and drizzled with honey and sesame seeds). And one of the great things about Masako, compared to some other sushi bars, is that you can actually bite through the nori relatively easily, so that you can eat the maki in two bites while holding everything together with your chopsticks without making a mess.
The service is great and really friendly, which made for quite a pleasant dining experience. You can have dinner for around $25 per person, which is a good price for sushi.
The restaurant also has take-out and delivery, if you’re interested.
All in all: I am SO going there again. [Update, 2009: This restaurant, which was our favourite place for sushi, has unfortunately closed. The location wasn’t the greatest, I suppose. I am now mourning the loss of their wonderful Dragon Eye rolls with their amazing sauce.]

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Mister Steer
1198 Ste-Catherine Street West
Montreal
514-866-3233

This place is a diner-style joint that hasn’t been updated since the 70s (at least).
The menu is a complete mess, but you’ll manage to find some kind of burger to your liking. Keep in mind that they really come as pictured, so if you get one of those plates with two burgers, you’ll be missing top buns for some reason.
The burgers themselves are good, but not remarkably so. They are easily recognizable by their patties, which are almost spherical. This creates a problem, since all the condiments have a tendency to fall out of the burger as the bun disintegrates. That being said, the one with caramelized onions is a good find. The curly fries, a house specialty, are sometimes excellent, sometimes soggy, sometimes overdone. And just about every dish comes with a salad starter, but it is really just iceberg lettuce and grated carrots from a bag.
All in all : The burgers are decent, but I’m still looking for the best in Montreal (I refuse to believe this is it).

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Odaki
3977 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
(514) 282-1268
http://www.odakisushi.com/
This Japanese restaurant has an all-you-can-eat option, which is less expensive on nights other than Fridays and Saturdays. The food is therefore very affordable, especially if you have a big appetite (but don’t leave any food in the plates); you can order several times during the meal, so pace yourself. It’s a really good introduction to Japanese cuisine, sushi in particular, and also a great place for the connoisseurs. It might be a good idea to make reservations, as the restaurant can fill up pretty quickly.
The décor is really great, modern and nice without being overly fancy. The open-kitchen concept and the sushi bar allow you to watch your food being prepared. As an appetizer, don’t miss the peanut-sauce dumplings, which are really out of this world. Also, the chicken teriyaki and the beef teriyaki are fantastic, served really hot and not too sweet. The sushi is really great. There is a lot of choice, and the ingredients are well-chosen. The tempura veggie maki sushi was really good, a must if you go there. The usual kamikaze, rainbow and California rolls are on the menu (and are excellent), as is the unagi. The pickled ginger was also particularly tasty, and the reason I mention it here is simply that I found it noticeably better than in other places I had tried.
All in all: An excellent restaurant which I will no doubt be visiting again sometime soon.

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Oyster Shack
1242 Bishop Street
Montreal
514-395-1888

This restaurant recently opened [2008]; I heard about it and thought my husband would appreciate it, since he loves clam chowder. It turns out that their specialty is clam chowder poutine, which he liked. Most of the menu is seafood, which diners declared “good seafood for Montreal”, but there are still a few options for people who don’t like fish too much (though there is something to be said for the battered catfish and chips). The Cajun chicken appetizer is very good. I started with a Caesar salad, which was excellent. I then had the lamb shank in a mushroom sauce, with mashed potatoes and green beans. My first reaction was close to an orgasm after I tasted the potatoes. My second reaction was to realize that the entire plate, although very good, was too salty. For dessert, the chocolate mousse was exquisite.
Now, for ambiance, it’s hard to see where this place stands. The upside-down boat awning, the name and first floor suggest somewhat of a kitsch restaurant, as did the music. We sat on the roof-top terrasse, which is really just a wooden deck wedged between two buildings and overlooking a parking lot – and yet it was not at all unpleasant. The hum and rattle of the concealed air-conditioning machine was distinctly present throughout the meal, but it actually made me feel like I was on a boat with a loud engine. As the evening wore on, the place seemed to become fancier, with a huge table set up outside and a more bistro-like feel on the second floor, with classier music and white cloth napkins.
All in all: It wasn’t what I expected, but it was a nice find nonetheless.

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La Paryse
302 Ontario Street East
Montreal
514-842-2040

Rumor has it that this little restaurant serves the best hamburgers in Montreal. This might be true: they’re the best I’ve had in town so far. The problem is that I keep comparing them to the burgers at The Works in Ottawa (and Ottawa still wins, hands down).
That being said, the burgers at La Paryse are excellent. The bread, sprinkled with poppy seeds, is sweet and delicious. The burgers come garnished with tomatoes, pickles (which I remove), mushrooms, slightly caramelized onions, lettuce, mayonnaise and spicy mustard. Mine also had mozzarella cheese and bacon. The patty is thin, but good. And the whole thing is really very, very good. It still has that problem inherent to most burgers: once you remove the toothpick, everything starts to fall apart, and you end up needing a wet nap. But there are two napkins at each setting, which helps a bit!
As a side dish, I recommend the fries (which you will smell as soon as you walk in): they’re excellent, without a doubt! But avoid the lemonade (it’s an artificial, diluted citrus drink, where you have to imagine the lemon). However, the vanilla milkshake is exquisite, and the serving size is very generous.
All in all: An excellent choice for hamburgers.

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Le Percé
9 Vincent d’Indy Avenue
(514) 735-1923

It’s the only restaurant in the area and the only customers are the neighborhood’s residents and students. As soon as you step in, you’ll feel like you’re in the 1970’s, there’s brown everywhere, and the furniture and wood paneling haven’t changed in 30 years. There’s a painting of the rocher Percé, but that’s the only link with the name of the establishment. The owner stares at you from behind his register, a big gold chain hanging around his neck and a ready smile. The food is a bit expensive for what it is, but there’s a bit of everything (pizzas, sandwiches, salads, pasta, brochettes, etc.). However, it’s not a five star restaurant, far from it, don’t expect too much. There are incredible spelling mistakes in the menu. And don’t order rosé wine, which is actually a mix of house red and white wine (I saw it with my own eyes).
All in all: If you’re in the area and that you have to eat, go there (you don’t have a choice). Good also if you suddenly need to be in a kitsch-1970s restaurant. Otherwise, it’s not worth the detour.

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Le Petit Alep
191 Jean-Talon Street East
Montreal
514-270-9361

This family-run restaurant is the casual version of the fancier Alep next door (you can order from the Alep menu even when seated at the Petit Alep, but the latter’s menu is so diverse that I don’t feel the need to do so). It serves amazing Middle-Eastern cuisine at reasonable prices. The wine selection is quite impressive and the service is super friendly.
For starters, I recommend the Vegetarian, which is a dish big enough to share that contains a "best of" the appetizers: a ratatouille-like dip with eggplants, great hummus, muhammara (an excellent walnut-garlic spread mixed with pomegranate molasses, which is both spicy and sweet), vine leaves, lentil rice, a pastry filled with some kind of cheese and almonds, etc. It’s really fantastic. Also, the mini pitas are free, and there are water bottles on the table (which is helpful when the spicy stuff hits you).
Other winning starter dishes include the fattouche salad (romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and pita mixed with a strong garlic-lemon dressing) and the tarator chicken (a spread of chicken in a tahini and lemon sauce). As for main dishes, don’t miss the terbialy (a filet mignon kebab in a spicy sauce).
If you still have room for dessert, the atayef (walnut-stuffed crêpe with orange water, though there is a ricotta version) is excellent. If you’re in the mood for something different, try the hétalié (milk pudding served with rose syrup and New Guinean vanilla ice cream) or the amazing five-spice sherbet.
We all shared dishes around the table, and this is the first time I remember going to a restaurant where every single dish was empty by the end of the meal.
All in all: In a single meal, this has become one of my favorite restaurants. I look forward to many more meals there.

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Le Petit Medley
6206 St-Hubert Street
(514) 271-7887
http://www.lepetitmedley.ca/

Yes, finally a review of the Petit Medley. It’s more a bar than a restaurant, but there is food there: crudités, nachos, wonderful home fries (try the garlic-curry sauce), chicken skewers, pizzas, etc. Don’t you dare take the table in the south-east corner, though, it’s mine! ;o) Admission is free early in the evening (the kitchen closes at 9:00 pm), and you can have dinner while still hearing each other speak. Then, the lights dim, people start pouring in and it becomes a bar, with good music and a dance floor. Sunday nights, there is French-language improvisation upstairs, which is usually very entertaining.
All in all: Highly recommended for an evening out with friends.

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Pho 198
5193 Côte-des-Neiges Road
(514) 345-8887

Yes, there are Vietnamese restaurants everywhere in Montreal, and even everywhere on Côte-des-Neiges. So why is this one different? Because it’s one of the best. The décor is very modern, colourful and fun while still being minimalist. There are a few Asian artefacts, plus the kitsch music, but each table has a pot of utensils and orange plastic chopsticks, and many elements seem to be straight from IKEA. The front display window opens in the summer, so it’s like a giant indoor terrace, very pleasant. The food is good and inexpensive, servings are generous and service is fast. Actually, waiters always have a smile and are very friendly. And there’s Americanized bubble tea.
All in all: If you feel like Vietnamese food, go try it out.

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Pho Lien
5703-B Côte-des-Neiges Road
(514) 735-6949
This Vietnamese restaurant is without a doubt the best in the neighbourhood (some would even say the best in town). There’s a terrace in the summer, which is pleasant despite the noise of Côte-des-Neiges. It gets full very fast in the evening, but tables free up relatively quickly, and it’s worth waiting for a bit.
The restaurant specializes in Tonkinese soup, but I also recommend it for its delicious spring rolls served cold, which are thin, transparent rice pancakes filled with vermicelli, vegetables, meat, a shrimp and a mint leaf. It’s so good, and everything is fresh. I’m salivating just writing about this now. The meat dishes with noodles are also delicious; I tried the grilled pork last time, it’s really excellent, and the chicken is good too. The pineapple chicken in a spicy sauce was very appreciated (despite the few small bones left in it), but even a spicy-food amateur should look out for the hot sauce bottle on each table. The prices are very reasonable, too; you can have a meal for under $10.
All in all: It’s the best Vietnamese restaurant I know, I strongly recommend it.

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Les Plaisirs du Palais
4977 Queen Mary Road
514-343-0333

I’m classifying this as a restaurant, even though it’s really a bakery – pastry shop – chocolate shop. Actually, they serve simple meals, such as croque-monsieurs, quiches, sandwiches and salads. Plus coffee, juices and sorbets! But the real specialties are those advertised. I especially recommend their millefeuille with custard, which is probably the best in Montreal. The crust is perfectly flaky, and this pastry has the advantage of being cut with a fork without completely being squished together. It’s absolutely delicious! The place is perfect for a quick but healthy meal or to treat yourself a bit.
All in all: I’m going to find excuses to go eat millefeuilles there more often.

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La Popessa
3801 Saint-Denis Street
(514) 982-1717
http://www.popessa.net/

Yes, there are several establishments, but this is the one I always go to. Whatever you do, do not be put off by the cafeteria concept; you’d be missing a really great meal. And one’s always afraid of not finding a seat, but a table always frees up in time. If you’re going with a big group of people, though, it might be a good idea to have one or two people keep some seats while the others order the food.
It’s fast food, but it’s high-end fast food. The restaurant specializes in pasta: you choose from among thirty sauces and many kinds of pasta. One of the chefs prepares the whole thing in front of you, and it’s really impressive to see. They clearly have experience, and they like to show off.
The name comes from the fact that, about a century ago, a woman cooked for Pope Pius XII, pasta in particular. She was such a good cook that the Pope would only eat her dishes. She earned the nickname “la Popessa”. Some of the restaurant’s dishes are based on her recipes.
All in all: An excellent restaurant to discover and rediscover.

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Le Sainte-Élisabeth
1412 Ste-Élisabeth Street
Montreal
514-286-4302
http://www.ste-elisabeth.com
This has got to be one of the most charming pubs in Montreal. In the winter, there is usually a fire roaring, and you can take a seat in one of the comfy couches on the dimly-lit first floor. In the summer, I always sit on the terrasse, which is one of my favorites. The climbing vegetation, trees and mood lighting are both unexpected and perfect. There are propane heaters for when it gets too cold, and second-floor windows overlooking it for those of us who dream of warmer days during the winter months.
The food is simple (chicken wings, pizza, etc.), but most people go there for drinks : beer, a pitcher of sangria, a nice cocktail in a tall glass. So it’s another glitch in my restaurant reviews, in the sense that it’s really a bar, not a restaurant. But it’s a place I really like, so it deserved a spot here.
All in all : A great place to hang out in Montreal, particularly on summer nights.

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Santropol
3990 Saint-Urbain Street
(514) 842-3110
http://www.santropol.com

This restaurant is known for its enormous organic sandwiches (mostly made with cream cheese, but with herbs, fruits, cold cuts, etc.), with homemade black bread. The fair-trade coffee from the brûlerie with the same name is also worth the trip. You can consult their menu online.
The décor is lovely, with big posters (for sale in the gift shop), stained-glass windows, wood with paint chipping off, sheets of metal with cool designs, etc. The terrace in the back is superb, with plants and a waterfall that are simply heavenly. But look out for the neighbourhood cats: they’ll come beg for a few bites off your plate.
What’s interesting to note is that the Santropol has a (social) conscience: a certain part of their profits is given to charities that fight hunger, in Quebec and in the rest of the world. They support artists. All the dishes and drinks are fair trade and organic. I’m loving this. And wireless internet access is free, if you need it.
All in all: The best granola restaurant in town.

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Schwartz’s
3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
(514) 842-4813
http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/

Although Ben’s was actually the place that introduced smoked meat to Montreal, Schwartz’s is THE institution known for it since around 1930. It hasn’t moved (nor expanded) since then. All meat is smoked daily, using traditional methods. Although it’s a greasy spoon, everyone who’s anyone has been there: Céline Dion and Jean Chrétien, sure, but also Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie and the Rolling Stones have all enjoyed a meal there. The line-up can get pretty impressive, because I don’t think that there’s anyone in town who hasn’t had lunch there. At least there’s a menu outside (with a few translation mistakes, granted), so you can decide what you want, but some items would need a clarification by the staff. The combo plate, for example, is actually a steak with smoked meat.
The classic order is a medium smoked-meat sandwich, fries and a cherry soda. Add one of their huge pickles if you feel so inclined. The meat overwhelms the rye bread, but that’s a given. They have different kinds of meat, but stay away from the so-called “stuffed” chicken sandwich, which is actually made with slices of processed chicken – quite disappointing. But the turkey was good, as far as I can remember. Their fries are heavenly, though, the thin home-made kind, served piping hot.
If you get the chance to sit at the counter, enjoy observing the staff as they run around to fill everyone’s order. The way they handle glasses or slice bread is impressive in itself.
All in all: Definitely a landmark in Montreal, and probably the best smoked meat in North America (but the fact that it is internationally known makes me think it could give European smoked meat a run for its money).

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Souvenirs d’Indochine
243 Mont-Royal Avenue West
Montreal
514-848-0336

This is an Asian restaurant (mostly Vietnamese), but one step above the usual fast-food places. The décor is great, be it inside or on the terrasse.
For starters, I recommend the green papaya salad with beef. It is surprisingly spicy, but very good (the beef is exquisite, actually). The spring rolls (with peanut butter sauce) are also excellent, as are the imperial rolls. For main dishes, the ginger chicken in a cocotte is very good, but the best is the coconut rice. The duck with cashew nuts is delicious, as are the grilled salmon and the fried noodle dishes. The choice of desserts is respectable, mainly because it goes beyond the usual fried banana: sorbets and exotic ice creams, candy, nougat, almond cookies…
All in all: We keep coming back for more. A real treat!

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Verses Bar
Nelligan Hotel
100 Saint-Paul Street West
(514) 788-4000
http://www.versesrestaurant.com

I went to the bar, not the restaurant, but I decided that it was worth being mentioned here. The bar is located on the rooftop, with a nice view of the Old Port of Montreal (you can see the Notre Dame Basilica on one side and the river on the other). Really, to take a little break in the afternoon (and get a little sun), there’s nothing better. The cocktails all look delicious; I ended up ordering a Caribbean martini, which is a mix of coconut Bacardi, pineapple juice and cranberry juice. However, I have to say that their mojitos are not very sweet...
The ambiance is great, the weather’s nice, it’s hot (but there’s a little wind), everyone is happy, life is beautiful. The only cloud on the horizon: the wasps, which are attracted by the flower pots and the sweet cocktails. Oh well. Then again, that’s hard to avoid on a terrace, even on the fifth floor apparently...
All in all: If you want to have a drink on a summer afternoon, I strongly recommend the Verses Bar.

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Zorba’s Remezzo
5719 Du Parc Avenue
(514) 271-5520

As the name suggests, it is somewhat of a Mediterranean fusion restaurant. Souvlakis, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, steaks, pasta, you name it they have it. So it seems perfect, there’s something for everyone. But the food really isn’t extraordinary; the only really good thing seemed to be the fajitas, but then again every place seems to have the same recipe these days. The recent upgrade may have helped the look of the place from the outside, but the recipe changes weren’t the greatest idea; the loukoumades, which a friend of mine used to swear by, were a little disappointing. The paint job had been botched indoors, the plants were either fake or dead, and the place was severely understaffed. And the bill was a bit high.
All in all: If you’re on Du Parc and get hungry, go to El Zaziummm instead, now that’s worth it.

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Zyng
1625 De Maisonneuve Street West
(514) 842-9763
http://www.zyng.com
There are many locations across North America, but the first one was on Saint-Denis Street in Montreal. Zyng is a concept. This Asian grilling restaurant is casual but still has a nice décor. It offers a wide choice of dishes and meals-in-a-bowl, including many where you can choose your own ingredients. The food is fresh and healthy (no MSG!) and is prepared on a grill in an open kitchen; the prices are very reasonable. There are styles of dishes from all over Asia. It specializes in noodles, but the menu is quite varied. There are also a lot of Asian-inspired North American dishes as well.
I had noodles with an orange-ginger sauce, which were a little spicy but very good. The General Tao chicken came beautifully presented, even though the vegetables were a bit cold. I have to admit that the service was surprisingly slow on the night I was there, but that isn’t always the case (and we didn’t make a big deal about it, since like my friend said, the waiter was so cute that he should have been on the dessert menu; at least, he was friendly and had the decency to apologize).
All in all: Definitely a good place for those who want noodles which are out of the ordinary and affordable.

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The Works – Ottawa, Ontario
(613) 748-0406
http://www.worksburger.com

This was worth mentioning because I’ve just had one of the best burgers in my life. The catch is that this restaurant is in Ottawa (three locations in all, but I went to the one at 143 Putman Ave, on the corner of Beechwood, in New Edinburgh), so unless you feel like going on a road trip for a great burger, you’re out of luck. Just keep it in mind for the next time you’re in our nation’s capital.
This self-called gourmet burger bistro cooks with the freshest ingredients and is the kind of relaxed place that likes to poke fun at itself. Your choice of patties is ground beef, organic ground beef, chicken breast, ground turkey, vegetarian, Atlantic salmon and Portobello mushroom cap; all are cooked over an open flame when you order. The average waiting time is 20 minutes, but it is well worth the wait. The choice of burgers is very impressive (I counted 76 in all) and there is something for even the most delicate palates. They range from the Plain Jane (burger, lettuce, bun) to combinations such as the Spartacat’s Special (fresh avocado, strip bacon and Gouda cheese), the Sk8er Boy (strip bacon, creamy peanut butter and Jack cheese), the Peace Train (French Brie, American Jack, Swiss Jarlsberg and Canadian Cheddar), the Henry Burger (a pun on the fancy French restaurant of the same name, this burger is served open-face with peppercorn and field mushroom gravy), the Electric Blue (chunks of walnut, hunks of Gorgonzola blue cheese and a smattering of Dijon-Haze) and the Kamikaze (Jalapeno, Chipotle & Banana peppers with their own ‘Hotter Than Hell’ sauce and Cheddar). There are just too many to name them all, but the combinations are amazing.
They also have fries, of course, as well as fantastic onion rings that come stacked in a mighty impressive tower, and delightful sweet potato strings. The variety of their milkshakes is quite something (38 flavors in all). They also have desserts, such as the small Cathy’s Golden Nugget (“for the choc-o-holic with the need to survive the walk home”). And let’s not forget their “Overpriced Grape Juice: Our House Wine is aged to perfection in a trailer down by the river”. I’m not sure that’s meant to be taken seriously, though. A nice touch is that their sodas are served in a measuring cup, with ice and a straw.
All in all: If you’re ever in Ottawa, don’t miss it. Otherwise, check out their website for a menu, it might give you some ideas for things to try at home.

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Richtree Market Restaurants
BCE Place (Heritage Square)
42 Younge Street
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 366-8986
http://www.richtree.ca
There are several locations in Toronto, plus one in Ottawa and one in Mississauga. It’s a market-style restaurant, open from breakfast to dinner, where there are a multitude of food-stations specializing in different types of dishes: sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pasta, soups, grills, seafood, Asian cuisine, sushi, pastries, crêpes, coffee, etc. You’ll have to wait in line for a table, since it’s so popular, then you are given a plastic card that is swiped every time you order something. You eat at your table, then hand over your card at the register and pay on your way out.
The downside is that the place is so huge that you can easily become disoriented, and it’s near impossible to see all the little booths where you can order food. Also, cutlery can be hard to find. But on the plus side, everything looks delicious, and the food is fresh and custom-made in front of you when you order it. Of course, you can also order take-out, which means you can skip the line outside. Keep in mind that there is a service charge and a food tax added to your bill.
If you go for dessert, don’t miss the crêpes, which are excellent. I had one stuffed with mixed berries and drizzled with maple syrup. There were more choices of fruit, like peach and banana, and different sauces, like cream, caramel or chocolate. There is also a wide selection of ice cream flavours to choose from.
All in all: A really great culinary experience. I highly recommend this place for those of you visiting Toronto.

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101 Coffee Shop
6145 Franklin Avenue
Los Angeles, California
323-467-1175

This joint was named after the 101 highway nearby. It’s known in L.A. for its breakfasts and late-night eats, though it has a wide range of lunches and dinners. The service can be great or not, depending on whose shift it is. The décor is straight from the 1970s, complete with wood panelling and family photos from the era (and I’m not sure it’s ironic). You might see celebrities, but even if you don’t, it’s a great place to people-watch.
The freshly-squeezed orange juice is wonderful, they are generous with the eggs, they have great sausage patties, the bacon is just the way I like it, the pancakes are near perfect, and the muffins are really good. I’m told the milkshakes are worth the detour, and apparently, they have the best catfish in town. Prices are affordable, too.
All in all: It’s a good breakfast place, but probably not worth going across town for. »restaurants »»archives

California Pizza Kitchen
8000 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
323-654-0162
http:// www.cpk.com

This chain of restaurants serves some of the best pizza in the States. It’s all about the quality of the crust and the originality of the toppings.
However, to my great dismay, the chicken-rosemary-new potatoes pizza is gone from the menu! And the five-cheese and tomato pizza wasn’t as good as I remembered. Luckily, though, the Thai was as good as ever (chicken, peanut sauce, mozzarella, green onions, carrots and bean sprouts). The Italian and the Hawaiian were also quite good.
I have to say I didn’t care much for the bread served before the meal – it’s a good effort to keep customers happy, but the bread isn’t that great, it’s a little heavy before pizza, and it’s not like we have to wait that long anyway.
The service was great, as always.
All in all: It’s still one of the best pizza joints out there.

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Hollywood & Vine
6263 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
323-464-2345
http://www.hollywoodandvine.us/

This nice restaurant is at the famous intersection in L.A. The service is very friendly and fast, while the décor is quite nice without being overly fancy.
Try the Counter Club Special: half a sandwich, choice of soup or salad (the latter was very good, made with simple greens and a great dressing), plus a cookie. As far as sandwiches go, I recommend the Meatloaf Patty Melt, which is a slice of meatloaf, caramelized onions and cheese, on crispy toasted bread; it was excellent. For soups, the Roasted Corn Chowder was great; it contains crab and chives on top of the corn.
All in all: It was a very good restaurant; I’d gladly go there again.

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Houston’s
202 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California
310-576-7558

This restaurant was rated #6 on GQ’s list of the 20 best hamburger joints in the United States (that list was also mentioned on Oprah). And let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint.
This somewhat upscale establishment with an industrial atmosphere serves exceptional food. The hamburgers are $15-16, but they are well worth it. The meat was cooked to perfection, but even the bun was wonderful, really. Sides include fries, of course, which are thin and crispy, but you should try the couscous, with almonds and herbs, which was fantastic. I had the California Burger, which has Monterey Jack cheese, arugula, tomato, red onion and avocado. The toppings kept sliding off, but it was without contest the best burger I’ve had in a long while; it was absolutely delicious and well worth the detour. There are many other dishes, too, and you can even order off the menu. It all looked good, but I was there for the burger.
The service was great, friendly, efficient and fast.
All in all: Well worth it if you are at (or near) the Santa Monica Pier.

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Kung Pao Kitty
6445 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
323-465-0110
http://www.kungpaokitty.com/

As the name suggests, this is an Asian restaurant with a good sense of humour. The ambiance and décor are quite nice: high ceilings, red walls with gold appliqués, art and paper lanterns (only downside: the occasional incense can be too strong). It’s a notch above most restaurants in the area, but without veering into the overly-priced eateries. The service was very friendly, and the menu was inventive. It has some standard dishes, of course, but also some specialties (check it out online). A good thing to know is that the food is MSG-free; also, it has no fillers like bean sprouts and such, only tasty morsels of meat and vegetables. There are many vegetarian options, too.
The Kung Pao Chicken was delicious, with a spicy kick. The Cashew Chicken was extremely good too, with sweet onions, green bell peppers and some mushrooms. You also get a lot of rice for the price asked. And they deliver.
All in all: A great find!

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Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
1514 Gower Street (on the corner of Sunset)
Los Angeles, California
323-466-7453
http://www.roscoeschickenandwaffles.com/

This is a hot spot in L.A. (an institution, even), so try to go early or late (to avoid standing in line too long).
The first-timer should definitely try the Southern-style (fried) chicken with home waffles, topped by a butter ball and syrup – it’s sinfully delicious. The locals swear by other dishes with gravy, giblets and biscuits. The chicken omelette was surprisingly good also. And they serve the best lemonade in L.A.!
You might also want to keep an eye open for celebrities when you eat there. For example, I saw Little Richard having dinner, dressed in his signature suit, with gold-sparkle shoes and all. He said “Thanks so much, babe!” to his waitress as his left on crutches.
All in all: A wonderful greasy spoon. I’d love to go there again.

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Sandbags
9497 Santa Monica Boulevard
Beverly Hills, California 90210
310-786-7878

This chain of restaurants creates gourmet sandwiches and salads at everyday prices (the location I went to was just off Rodeo Drive, and the change in prices was very welcome). The name stands for “Sandwich Bags”, as each order is served in a paper bag, even if you don’t have it to go (it’s a little wasteful, but a good concept).
The walls were covered with paper bags autographed by average Joes as well as celebrities (Jamie Lee Curtis, Jessica Alba, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, etc.).
All sandwiches look very appetizing. The Incredible Sandbag (turkey, cream cheese, sprouts, avocado, bacon and mayo) was very good. The grilled lemon chicken salad was also great (try it with the Thai dressing). It’s all conveniently priced at $6.95. They also serve sides, such as pasta salad or Kettle chips. And all orders include a free cookie for dessert!
This establishment has gotten good Zagat reviews consistently for the past few years.
All in all: It’s a great place for a quick and tasty lunch.

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Sansei (Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar)
Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (3rd floor)
2552 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii
808-931-6286
http://restauranteur.com/sansei/

This is a casual atmosphere restaurant where prices vary (tip: if you order dinner before 6pm on Sunday or Monday, you get 50% off sushi and food! The same is true after 10pm on Friday and Saturday). The cuisine is Asian fusion (Japanese-inspired Pacific Rim cuisine). It is worth knowing that this restaurant has received several prices.
The duck eggrolls were very good, served warm with sugar-cane mustard and plum sauce. The lobster and blue crab ravioli were surprising, but were set off nicely by the truffle-butter sauce. As for the sushi, you have to try their special mango-crab salad handroll (including greens and peanuts), which is served with a sweet Thai chilli vinaigrette. It was like nothing I had tasted before, in a wonderful way. The Hawaiian rolls (fresh Hawaiian Ahi tuna, cucumber and avocado) were simple, extremely fresh and set off with a little wasabi. The Rainbow roll had a special touch too, as the ahi and avocado around it were local (I’m not sure about the salmon). I also tried the Caterpillar roll: this budget-buster is unagi rolled inside-out, wrapped with avocado and topped with masago and unagi glaze. It was very good, although the sauce was a little sweeter than desired. Presentation was excellent, though.
For dessert, there is fried ice cream that is covered with tempura, a welcome change from the American classic. I also tried the Brown, which was basically a chocolate liqueur cocktail with a hint of Bailey’s and vanilla, along with Godiva white chocolate poured in a martini glass. Delicious!
All in all: If you’re in Honolulu, wandering around Waikiki Beach looking for a good place to eat, you’ve found it! It’s an experience you won’t regret. Just be aware that the tip is included in the bill and can be relatively high.

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Wailana Coffee House
1860 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii
808-955-1764

This family restaurant is one step above a diner, with the same warm atmosphere. It serves breakfast 24 hours a day, at affordable prices (unlike the restaurants in certain close-by resorts). Lunch and dinner are also available, of course, and come with an all-you-can-eat salad bar. It serves a mix of American food and Hawaiian specialties.
For breakfast, the scrambled eggs could use some improvement (they are somewhat too runny, while certain spots are dried up completely). The bacon and sausages are good, though. The best breakfast dish remains the pancakes (all-you-can-eat in certain menu options), which are served hot and accompanied with your choice of three syrups: berry, imitation maple and – the Hawaiian specialty that I’ll have trouble living without once I finish the supply I brought back – coconut. That’s right, coconut syrup to pour on the pancakes! You might as well order those hotcakes plain, though, because any other variation on the menu implies only that the special ingredient is put on top of the pile, not actually in the pancake batter itself.
As for the service, what it lacks in speed, it makes up for in friendliness.
All in all: One of the best (and most convenient) breakfast places in Waikiki.

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Bramah Tea & Coffee House
40 Southwark Street
London, U.K.
Tel.: 020 7403-5650
http://www.bramahmuseum.co.uk


Okay, so it’s not exactly a restaurant. But it’s a really great place to have high tea in London, UK, at a decent price (everything is relative, of course; it’s about £9 per person).
So about Bramah and tea… It’s at 40 Southwark Street (London Bridge Underground). You don’t actually have to visit the museum that covers "400 years of English tea and coffee culture" in order to enjoy taking tea there. The tea room is the kitschiest thing you ever saw, pink walls with vintage posters and granny knick-knacks all over the place, but it does have a certain endearing charm. There is a wide selection of teas available, including Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon. English tea must infuse for five minutes before it is ready to drink, so that is strong for most North Americans but I recommend trying it once to get the full experience. Of course, there’s always hot chocolate is tea isn’t… your cup of tea. The point of high tea, though, isn’t just the tea itself but also the accompanying food. Start off with some cucumber sandwiches, then choose from scones, crumpets (an unfortunate food with a funny name) or toasted tea cake (somewhat like sweet English muffins that have raisins in them), all with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and then top it off with a piece of cake. As you can tell, this ceremony is almost a meal in itself, and it comes served on a genuine cake stand.
They also have a selection of teas and coffees (and accessories) for sale; check out their website for more details.
All in all: It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in London!

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The Coach and Horses
5 Bruton Street
Mayfair, W1J 6PT
London, U.K.
Tel.: 020 7629 4123

I believe this is the address, but at worse, it’s right across the street from Stella McCartney’s store and that’s at 30 Bruton Street. And with this picture of the pub, you can’t miss it.
So it’s a lovely, charmingly minuscule building in Mayfair. There are a few floors, so if you go on a quiet day you’ll get a table. I tried it for lunch and loved it. The fish and chips are a specialty, of course, but they do have house sandwiches that are quite appetizing. There are hamburgers, pasta and pizza, but there is also fancier fare. The pub has a quaint, laid-back atmosphere and affordable food. It’s also within walking distance from attractions such as the Wallace Collection.
All in all: If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, stop by, it’s worth it.

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The Rajdoot
49 Paddington Street
London, U.K. W1U 4HW
020-7486-2055

This is the best Indian restaurant I’ve tried so far. It’s very hard to beat London’s curries, though, so they had an advantage to begin with. I tried the chicken korma, which is a very mild curry (since I don’t like spicy foods); it was excellent. I tried the chicken tikka mosala, too, which was fantastic as well. The nan bread is to die for, and the sag aloo (potato and spinach) was really good, and that is saying a lot, since I’m not usually a fan of cooked spinach. The meal was amazing, you’ll have to take my word for it. Make sure that you go with friends, so that you can share dishes (otherwise, you’d really be missing out).
There wasn’t a crowd when we went; we were able to sit outside and the weather was just perfect. The tables looked somewhat close together inside, though, so it might be quite busy around dinner time.
All in all: Fantastic Indian restaurant.

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Castello
4 Church Lane
Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1PA
U.K.
Tel.: 017 5385 8331
http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/eating_out/castellos.html

One of the many restaurants and cafes just outside Windsor Castle. It’s an Italian-style restaurant housed in a small building that dates back almost 600 years. The atmosphere is almost home-style, which can be quite refreshing when you’re travelling (but locals like the place too). They are known for their pizza; their pasta is also good, although it’s drenched in a little too much olive oil for my taste. There’s meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, as well as daily specials. The service is also very friendly.
All in all: If you’re ever in Windsor and famished after visiting the castle, give it a try. Hopefully, by now they will have stopped using the same knife to cut both onions and the lemon slices for your glass of water.

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Blue Ice
122 Via Sistina
Rome, Italy
39-06-42011029
http://www.blueiceitalia.com

This chain of stores has the best gelati and granite I’ve ever tasted. There are several locations, but the one at Via Sistina seemed to have the best selection.
The strawberry and the lemon granite are heavenly (but the mint one was not to my taste, because it is flavoured with candy-mint syrup instead of real mint). The gelati are also wonderful. A good combination was the cinnamon (an Italian specialty), coconut and pineapple. One of the main differences between this gelati and ice cream, besides the use of skim milk, is that it is all made with real ingredients: real pieces of coconut and pineapple, for example, as opposed to artificial flavour.
Also, a good sell-factor was the selection of soy-based gelati as well as sorbets, which were dairy-free. The sorbets were made in such a way that the texture was very close to the gelati – they are probably more whipped than North-American sorbets. Once again, they were bursting with real fruit. The melon was particularly good, as were the watermelon (with real watermelon seeds in it!), the peach and the strawberry.
All in all: It is going to be very hard for me to go back to my normal life in Montreal without my daily Blue Ice. Please, someone, open a franchise! Or start making iced treats this good!

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Florian’s Cafe
9 Piazza dell’Indipendenza
Rome, Italy
39-06-4451737
http://www.florianscafe.com

This cafe has a nice atmosphere (in a historic building) and great food. The four-cheese tagliatelle were wonderful, even though the taste of blue cheese was pronounced. The pizza was disappointing to our North-America palates, however: the dough is paper-thin and soft, so even though it tasted like a Carr’s water cracker, the whole thing was quite watery and didn’t hold together at all. But it was wonderful to watch the chef spin it over his head to stretch it before putting it in the wood-burning oven. For dessert, you absolutely have to try the Sicilian canolo, which has chocolate dough and the best ricotta filling ever, a little cinnamon and two candied orange peels.
All in all: You are warned about the pizza, but for pasta and dessert, I definitely recommend this place.

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Taverna Pretoriana
46-48 Via Palestro
Rome, Italy
39-06-4450273

This small, unassuming restaurant has a nice terrace in a quiet neighbourhood. It offers very good food, at prices that are quite competitive, and super-friendly service.
The bruschetta was wonderful, with fresh basil and olive oil blending perfectly with the tomatoes. Be sure to try the penne alla vodka, which has perfect tomato-cream sauce – they were really out of this world. The spaghetti carbonara also was very good, though I would have preferred less fat in the pancetta. The veal marsala was remarkable for its almost sweet taste. For dessert, the strawberries with lemon were very good – not too acidic, not too sweet, perfectly fresh. I also had a glass of complimentary limoncello, which capped off the meal nicely.
All in all: I would definitely go there again if I ever go back to Rome.

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La Tavernatta
147 Via Sistina
Rome, Italy
39-06-4741939
http://www.tavernettasistina.it

This quaint restaurant is bigger than it looks from the outside. It gave me the impression of an Italian a href ="#blancheneige">Blanche-Neige, but with a much better wine selection.
A practical touch is the fact that the menu is translated into many languages, so you’ll have no problem understanding it. However, the translator assumed that the readers would have no knowledge of Italian cuisine, so certain dishes are described in English instead of having an Italian name where appropriate (for example, the average reader will know what carbonara pasta is, and is actually more confused by a description that does not include the word carbonara).
I had the pappardelle alla pecorara, which were very good, though some of the meat still had small pieces of bone and it could have used fewer red pepper flakes. The bucatini all’Amatriciana were also very good. The downside, as with most Italian restaurants, is that you have to pay for the bread basket even if you don’t want it, and don’t bother asking for tap water, because bottled is all you’re going to get. (Why is it that in a city with so many free public fountains that have such perfect water, restaurants still charge you for it?) Also, a 12% service charge is automatically calculated into the bill, so keep that in mind before you give any tip beyond your total.
All in all: The food was good, but expensive, and there are better places in Rome.

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Plakiotissa
7 Dionyssiou Aeropagitou Street
Athens, Greece
30-210-9227295

This restaurant has a lovely outdoor terrace at the Plaka, in Athens. Keep in mind that the pigeons can get quite pushy for your scraps, though. The interior of the restaurant is a bit small, but if it’s open, the second floor offers more privacy. The service is good, and the fact that the waiters speak some English makes up for them being a little short with some customers in a hurry.
The Greek salad is very good, though it only had two olives and could use more feta. The chicken souvlaki is also very tasty, as is the gyro. The potatoes and rice were perfectly cooked and seasoned. As far as drinks go, be aware that they are pretty much exactly as described – this means that the orange juice is freshly squeezed, yes, but the melon juice is somewhat unimpressive, and the lemon juice is plain lemon, not lemonade. I had to mix in quite a bit of sugar to make it drinkable.
All in all: A nice place for a leisurely lunch in Athens.

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Random
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Now 71 articles, organized by topic.

Activism
- The Meatrix
- Are You Listening?
- Kyoto (2006)
- Global Warming 1
- Global Warming 2
- Global Warming 3
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- Activism Issues

Articles
- The Collector’s International (Montreal, October 2004)
- Salon du livre (Montreal, November 2004)
- The Grande Bibliothèque (Montreal, May 2005)
- Interview with Marie-Claude Pelletier (Les Effrontés) (Montreal, May 2005)
- Critical State (Montreal, 2006)
- The differences between Quebec and France in regards to linguistic borrowing (based on On n’emprunte qu’aux riches, by Chantal Bouchard, 1999)
- Food vs fuel

By now, you all know about my diatribe about independent music. So here are three articles, for your reading pleasure. Personally, I recommend the third one, but the second one is interesting if you have the time to read it (Bernard Lévy gave me an A for it).
1- Short and pro-Hanson militant version (September 2004) [636 words]
2- Long version, fruit of research and embellished with examples (November 2004) [2183 words]
3- Synthesis version, published in H.Notes (Issue #35, February 2006) [885 words]

And an audio document: this is a class project, a report (in French) about university hazing rituals (about 6:20 minutes); it can’t be that bad, since it got an A from Dominique Payette.

Comedy
- Jerry Seinfeld – Place des Arts, Montreal – June 3rd, 2005 – The 2005 Tour

Conferences
- Patch Adams – Université de Montréal, Montreal – April 5th, 2005
- James Kakalios – The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books – McGill University, Montreal – November 9th, 2006
- Keynote Speakers David Suzuki and Al Gore – Less Talk, More Action: A Youth Summit on Climate Change – Palais des Congrès, Montreal – March 22nd, 2007

Events
- The Backstreet Boys at Musique Plus (Montreal) – Promoting Never Gone – June 19th, 2005
- Premiere of Crash Landing at the NFB, Montreal – September 27th, 2005
- Screening of Strong Enough To Break at Concordia University, Montreal – March 23rd, 2006
With an update from the spring of 2007
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Cinéma Impérial, Montreal – October 31st, 2006

Exhibitions
- Robert Frank: Storylines – Tate Modern Museum, London – Oct. 28th, 2004 to Jan. 23rd, 2005
- Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes – Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal – June 4th to September 18th, 2005
- The Magic of Lanterns – Montreal Botanical Garden – September 9th, 2005 to October 31st, 2005
- Guided tour of the Hbc Gallery – Montreal
- Butterflies Go Free – Montreal Botanical Gardens – February 21st, 2008, to April 27th, 2008

Finds
- Name That Film
- Recycled printing paper
- Ethical fashion in Montreal
- Censorship in the media
- New Music
- Lactose-Free Ice Cream
- Jeans
- 1-second film
- Makeup remover
- Greenfeet
- Knitting

Musicals
- Elvis Story – Saint-Denis Theater, Montreal – May 11th, 2005
- Mamma Mia! – Place des Arts, Montreal – July 12th, 2005
- Cats – Place des Arts, Montreal – July 16th, 2006
- Cavalia – Cosmodôme Street, Laval – October 3rd, 2006
- Chicago – Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto – November 25th, 2006

Oscars
- February 29th, 2004 – 76th Academy Awards
- February 27th, 2005 – 77th Academy Awards
- March 5th, 2006 – 78th Academy Awards
- February 25th, 2007 – 79th Academy Awards
- February 24th, 2008 – 80th Academy Awards

Rants
- The reform of the French language
- Opening the bus doors
- Snow removal on the sidewalks

Recipes
- Raspberry Lemonade
- Blueberry and Lemon Verbena Sorbet
- Impossible Tart
- Saffron-Scented Pear Upside-Down Cake
- Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- Beet Cake with Mascarpone and Lemon Icing
- Brownies (with Carrot and Spinach)
- Pear and Autumn-Vegetable Soup
- Rachael Ray’s Vodka Cream Pasta
- Szechuan Orange Pork
- Coconut Rice with Ginger

Theater
- Shakespeare in the Park – Old Port of Montreal – July 21st, 2004
- By the Bog of Cats – Wyndham’s Theatre, London – December 28th, 2004
- A Comedy of Errors – The Globe, London – July 24th, 2006
- Le Malade imaginaire – Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Montreal – December 15th, 2006

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Activism

"The Meatrix," a militant and hilarious model of animation
http://www.themeatrix.com


It’s one of the great successes in the history of movies produced in Flash: "The Meatrix", spoof of "The Matrix" uncovering the abuse of agricultural business, is a short film published online on November 3rd, 2003, and it has already been seen by more than 1 600 000 web users across the world. Created by Free Range, an American communication agency located in Washington, D.C., this particularly funny and well-produced parody stars pigs, a bull and a hen. Its creators, fervent adepts of "Web Activism," have produced this film for free to promote the ideas defended by GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment), an American association campaigning in favour of a lasting agriculture. Let us mention that Free Range, a group of "creatives with a conscience," counts organisms such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International among its customers.

The title comes of course from a pun on the word "meat." Leo, the nice pig, lives a happy life in his peaceful farm, until the day when, in front of his widened eyes, appears Moopheus, a huge bull dressed in a long black coat. Moopheus reveals the existence of the Meatirx to Leo. In his deep and controlled voice, he tells the pig, "Take the blue pill and stay here, in your fantasy world, or take the red pill and I will show you the truth." The brave pig swallows the red pill and immediately finds himself thrown into a strange universe: a dark factory in which are parked dozens of pigs. "Welcome to the real world," says Moopheus to the frightened pig; "this is the kind of place where most milk, eggs and meat are from."

Moopheus then explains to Leo how this situation came to be. He also tells him that it is possible to resist. That’s how, at the end of the film, the spectator is invited to click on the link to the GRACE association. Since 1996, this association for the defence of the environment campaigns mainly to erase industrial-sized agricultural exploitations, to replace them with a profitable-sized agriculture that would be lasting, economically sound and environmentally friendly. For them, the adventure of "The Meatrix" is only beginning. "Currently, we are improving the guide to eating right, and the link to it appears at the end of the film," explains Laura Giannatempo, member of the association. "We are also collaborating with associations from other countries, with the goal of creating specific pages pointing to ‘local’ sites, so that web users can support farmers from their own country. We have already launched a Canadian version of ‘The Meatrix’ and we are about to go online with an English version. A Spanish translation is also underway." A series of excellent news for animation fans and militant ecologists the world over!

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Are You Listeing?

In this time of complacency about music and its diversity, of rampant corporate mergers and public apathy, a group of independent artists has gotten together to rise against The Man and give music a future. Their website, www.areyoulistening.com, is a place where artists and fans alike can come together and discover new music; it builds a sense of community by enabling communication between them. Music lovers will be pleased, and independent artists can then stand on their own two feet by being exposed to new fans.
Spread the word!

While we’re at it: here is the link to a very interesting podcast, it’s an interview with the band Hanson that focuses on independent music (Sept. 30th, 2005). Also, click here to see the first eight minutes of their upcoming documentary, Strong Enough To Break, which should be released in 2006.

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Kyoto (2006)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the environment is important and that, despite many promises, numerous countries (including Canada) are still not abiding by the Kyoto Protocol. I therefore encourage you to go sign the petition addressed to the House of Commons and to the National Assembly of Quebec (http://www.sauvonskyoto.org/).

And while we’re at it, let me remind you that you have the moral obligation to see An Inconvenient Truth and to log on to http://www.climatecrisis.net.

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Global Warming 1

If you want to help do your part to reduce global warming, the WWF has a website (http://wwf.ca/HowYouCanHelp/SaveOurClimate/flash.html?sid=SympMSN&bid=728x90&cid=coalAction) dedicated to the cause. Of course, you should also buy the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth, out now.

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Global Warming 2

As you all know, global warming is causing temperatures to rise, which is causing polar ice to melt – and polar bears depend on that ice for survival, as it is both their breeding ground and their hunting ground.

Here are a few facts:
- Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate as the rest of the world.
- Since 1978, the surface area of ice in the Arctic Sea has shrunk by more than 8% per decade.
- Greenland’s massive ice sheets hold enough water to raise sea level by approximately 7 meters (23 feet).
- Over a million species worldwide could be forced into extinction by 2050.

Here’s a link to a petition to Prime Minister Harper, so that you can help protect polar bear habitats and slow down global climate change in general.

Equally important is reducing greenhouse gas emission. Here is a link to another petition that might help.

Of course, feel free to visit the following websites:
- The Petition Site
- Care 2

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Global Warming 3

Here’s a website that is designed to help you reduce your CO2 emissions. You’d think that most people would be doing it already, but it’s unfortunately not the case. Why is this website backed by celebrities, you ask? The celebrity spokesperson (who lends his/her mouth) is the privileged vehicle that breaks through the wall of indifference of media news rooms. So even though we shouldn’t need them to get the message across, it seems to help. I hope you check it out.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Here is a very interesting article on human rights versus fanatics, more precisely in regards to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is an advocate of freedom of speech whose life has been threatened on numerous occasions – and the Dutch government, which had promised her protection, has suddenly changed its mind. It’s a must-read.

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Activism Issues

Here’s a website (http://www.participate.net) that deals with a broad range of activism issues. I first heard of them after watching Fast Food Nation and wondering what we can do to change the situation. I encourage you to check out the website, regardless of your favourite cause.

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Comedy

Jerry Seinfeld – Place-des-Arts, Montreal – June 3rd, 2005 – The 2005 Tour [very original!]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Seinfeld


In the Wilfrid Pelletier room, did you know that the sprinklers don’t even reach the balcony seats? As if us in the nose-bleed section could roast to death and it wouldn’t matter. The layout to get to the balcony is really complicated and you can tell that they saved the budget for those who had better seats. The bathrooms are really something, with cement walls and the coolest stainless steel sink you ever saw.

When I took my seat, they were playing Frank Sinatra music, so that we could pretend to forget that the show was starting late. The opening act was Mario Joyner, who actually appeared on Seinfeld. He was very funny; he started with jokes about hotels and cell phones, then questioned himself about prostate cancer screenings (Why is it that doctors still use their fingers? Why have there been no medical advances in that area, when they can operate on an eye with a laser from another room?). He also recommended that we date people half our age (well, as soon as we’re old enough for it to be legal) and talked about his mid-life crisis, which consisted mostly of dating young women and driving sports cars, so it was more like a mid-life Christmas as far as he was concerned.

Then Jerry Seinfeld took the stage. He’s Seinfeld, we love him, he knows it and he loves it. I could almost see his facial expressions from my balcony seat. He recycled some jokes from his appearance on Oprah, but he’s a very funny man, with a very recognizable voice and a particular sense of humour. More than other stand-up comedians, he has a way of stringing his jokes together in a perfectly logical, smooth-flowing way. His set was an hour long, but it felt much shorter.

He could have talked about anything, he’s Jerry Seinfeld. And he managed to do a decade-long show about nothing, so… we knew it was going to be good. He didn’t disappoint. He talked about cookies, humans, beds, weight, weather, cell phones, gyms, coffees, funerals, medication, the Home Depot, CinnaBon, voices, relationships, the fact that our life sucks, the relationship between “great” and “sucks”, inappropriate thoughts, asses… His kids, his wife, his mom in Florida… He mentioned that the *69 service on the telephone is hostile toward the caller. Also, how can that number go unnoticed by an entire organization? Are these the same people from junior high? And what did they come up with for three-way calling?

This man is hilarious, you’ve got to love his take on things, the ways he talks about them in such a matter-of-fact way. These are the same reflections that we sometimes have ourselves, but he takes them one step further. It’s stand-up comedy about life.

And of course there was the encore, when he answers questions from the audience and anything goes. He makes no excuses about the fact that he owns many Porsches and he fed us other tidbits of personal info.

All in all: I’m extremely happy that I got to experience this once in my life.

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Conferences

Patch Adams – Université de Montréal, Montreal – April 5th, 2005
http://www.patchadams.org/home.htm


A colorful character walks into the room under a thunder of applause. He’s wearing an oversized orange shirt with checkers, baggy pants with wild patterns, a mismatched tie, one pink sock and one purple, an earring, and his hair is in a ponytail. The roots are white but the length of it is dyed in blue. His face still looks young beneath his mustache. He sets down his raincoat with the weird patches and his pair of clown shoes; he quietly stands aside as a student comes up to the microphone to introduce him. In a nutshell, it seems ridiculous to introduce him with words, instead of with laughter, a painting or music, because words aren’t enough to describe who he is and the inspiration he gives. He is Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams.

The first words out of this extrovert’s mouth are “Hello, I love you, friend.” That is what he thinks would best sum him up, and he isn’t wrong. The poster guy for holistic medicine starts his conference, about medicine and humanism. His idea is of “medicine for fun, not funds.” After his graduation from med school in 1971, he founded the Gesundheit Institute in Virginia. In the following 12 years, he treated 15 000 people. The patients, as well as 20 adults on staff and their families, lived in a six-bedroom house. Do the math. And not one of them ever quit. There are now 1400 applicants to become part of the care delivery staff, even though the foundation can’t yet afford to pay them (which means that all employees would need a second job to support themselves).

Dr. Adams says that he never disliked any of his patients enough to give them psychotropic medication. His house is like a community and everyone has a sense of belonging; the only rule is that physical violence is never to be used (he wouldn’t even use it to defend himself or someone he loves).

A doctor should treat patients as if they were their family members. Then they’ll do right; they might make mistakes, but they’ll do right, because they’re doing what’s right for them. Patch Adams also believes that doctors are confronted with human suffering each day and that they need not only the right to make mistakes when treating patients, even though they do their best, but also the right to apologize when this happens. Therefore, at the Gesundheit Institute, doctors do not have malpractice insurance. And they care for everyone, without discrimination.

This family doctor is appalled that med schools do not teach love or compassion, or even wellness. No importance is given to complementary medicine or healing arts, which in a way is holding back the entire profession. Patch Adams is thoughtful and a good listener, so he takes time to talk to his patients: a typical patient-doctor interview with him lasts 4 hours, as opposed to the usual 10 minutes in the profession. He finds out a lot about his patients, about who they are as humans. He gives them 100% of his attention and is not in a hurry. The patients’ reaction is always positive, because everyone wants interaction. We all want to feel valued and accepted. And sometimes, that’s all we need.

He believes that loving is the most important thing in life. The two main questions he asks his patient are “What is your philosophy of love?” and “How do you carry it out?” And interestingly enough, most people don’t know how to answer that, they only know about their troubles. They know about alienation and meaninglessness, but they don’t have a vitality for life. Which, in many cases, is why they need someone like the exuberant Patch Adams in the first place. To him, loving people is heaven; that’s why he’s not tired, even after working 7 days a week, almost 24 hours a day. He is 60 years old and still has no plans for retiring.

“If you only have a week to live, I’m your man!,” the outspoken doctor says. He makes everything funny and treats weirdness with weirdness. He’s had barf-alongs with bulimics, for example. One’s mindset affects their health greatly, and loneliness is actually the most painful part of a disease. That is why he teaches compassion.

His plan is to have a hospital that is a service, not a business. He would pay each employee $300 a month, regardless of whether he is a surgeon, a cook, a nurse or a janitor. That would eliminate the hierarchical segregation of the hospital staff and would foster a feeling of community. In 1971, when he created the Gesundheit Institute, he thought it would take him four years to collect enough funds to build the 40 bed-hospital. Almost 35 years later, he just got enough money to start on his project.

One of Patch Adams’s most interesting ideas is that the health of the individual equals the health of the society. For example, there is no future for our species if we live in a society where a ball player makes more money than a school teacher. That has to change. The violence in our society is one accurate symptom of its health – or lack of it. To him, depression is a healthy response to our society, because love has almost no part in it. He also says that he’s always had trouble conforming to society.

Then came the part of the conference when the audience could ask questions. The conference had already gone on longer than planned, but Patch Adams was in no hurry to leave and the audience just wanted for him to keep on talking. He would like to start a school where love would be taught as a subject, which is just what a young dreamer in the audience (who had been to several of the doctor’s conferences) wants to do. Love should be made a topic of conversation. After all, a relationship alone eases suffering.

As a doctor, your job is to be next to suffering and to be compassionate towards your patients. As a human being, you don’t “believe” in compassion, you make compassion. You make who you are in every moment. Love is bigger than all the suffering.

He reminds the audience, a lot of whom are med students, that instead of simply treating symptoms and trying to help the patient cope with them, they should actually be striving for mental health, a concept that isn’t even taught in med school. Help patients (and people) love life. The doctor’s own love strategy is gratitude. Gratitude for everything. And it’s important to show it in your gestures! Be positive and be grateful, because you are lucky.

We briefly spoke about euthanasia, as we were wondering what he thought of it, especially with the Terry Schiavo case in the news. He is for euthanasia, and after a quick survey of the audience members, it turns out that most people are. No one really wants to live if they can’t control their body and if they have to rely on others for everything. Most of the people in the room would want to be put out of their misery, so why is the law so different from what the population wants or thinks?

He is outspoken about how he disagrees with Bush’s policies, especially those having to do with war and terrorism. He thanked Michael Moore for the seven minutes of film (Farenheit 911) where you can see George W. Bush’s reaction when he finds out that the World Trade Center is under attack – and he continues to read My Pet Goat with children in a classroom, with a vacant look on his face. Bush eventually went to war and invaded Iraq. But what would happen if we decided to invade a country with love instead of bombs? What would a love invasion look like and what would happen? Should we send food, medical supplies, clowns? Patch Adams has experience with Clowns Without Borders himself and he has been on many humanitarian missions around the world. [He jokingly said that the quickest way to end violence, though, would be if all women in the world decided not to have sex until the men stopped fighting; that would be fixed within a week.]

And of course, with mass media today and corporate ownership of the media, we are being distracted from what is really important. All we hear about is the Michael Jackson trial, and how Britney Spears may or may not be pregnant and whatnot, but we don’t hear about African countries torn apart by civil war or poverty in our own backyards.

Eventually, the conference ended and Patch Adams stayed to do a book signing. I couldn’t resist and I bought a copy of his book Gesundheit! (Bringing good health to you, the medical system, and society through physician service, complementary therapies, humor, and joy). When he asked me my name, I said “Amélie” and he said “Like the movie?,” so I answered “Yes, exactly like the movie.” He didn’t realize how true that was! And I told him that I would definitely be more careful about what I taught my children.

Patch Adams teaches rather than preaches. He explains his views in order to help you make up your own mind and do what you feel is right. As soon as he starts speaking, you feel at ease, like you’ve always known him. He is not only one of the most inspirational speakers I have heard, he is also one of the most inspirational human beings.

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James Kakalios – The Uncanny Physics of Superhero Comic Books – McGill University (Montreal), MacDonald Harrigton Building – November 9th, 2006, 6:00 pm
http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/seminars/SPS_kakalios.html
http://www.physicsofsuperheroes.com/


This is for anyone who likes physics, superheroes or a good laugh. Most students wonder when or how physics will apply in their everyday life and lose interest. But if you show them an image from a superhero comic book and explain the physics behind it, you’ll have their full attention – and they’ll never ask when they’ll use it in real life (maybe their plans after graduation include Spandex and capes, who knows).

Professor Kakalios uses physics to explain how Superman could leap over very tall buildings (depending on Krypton’s size and density, Superman could react differently to gravity on Earth). He explains how Gwen Stacy, Spiderman’s girlfriend, died when she was thrown off a bridge by the Green Goblin, thus ending a decades-long debate in the comic-book world. The Flash can run at super-speed and pluck moving bullets out of the air while respecting physics (as long as you accept that he has a super-power in the first place, of course). Even Magneto has powers that he’s unaware of.
But there are also some superhero bloopers – like the fact that Cyclops’s head should snap back every time he uses that ray of his.

This was a fantastic lecture. Professor Kakalios is highly entertaining and can easily keep the audience’s attention, while teaching in an interesting, innovative and funny way. I wish more universities would offer his class (currently offered at the University of Minnesota), or one based on it.

All in all: A really great event. If you can’t make it to one of his lectures, then consider reading his book, The Physics of Superheroes.

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Keynote Speakers David Suzuki and Al Gore – Less Talk, More Action: A Youth Summit on Climate Change – Palais des Congrès, Montreal – March 22nd, 2007
http://www.youthactionmontreal.com/
The Concordian interviews David Suzuki
The Concordian recaps the conference


The 4 000-capacity room was filled. Unfortunately, it was not a stadium, and everyone was sitting at the same level. That means that the people in the back probably couldn’t see much. And they were so far back that I’m sure there was a time delay between what they saw and the moment the sound finally got to them. And for future events, it would be a good idea to have professionals proofread all documents, English and French, before having them printed (I’m a stickler, sorry).

The event was hosted by Juno-award winning artists Sarah Harmer and Sam Roberts, who each started by singing one of their songs. Alain DeSousa said a few words; he is the Mayor of Saint-Laurent and a member of the Executive committee responsible for economic development, sustainable development and Montréal 2025. We were also addressed by Amanda Aziz, Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students; by the Honorable Claude Béchard, Quebec Minister of the Environment; and by Steven Guilbeault, Director of Greenpeace Quebec. The latter was clearly very at ease with the crowd; Amanda Aziz did quite well also; the Honorable Claude Béchard, although he had some interesting things to say, should consider taking some English lessons to perfect his accent if he insists on giving speeches in that language. Of course, the directors of Youth Action Montreal, Mohamed Shuriye and Peter Schiefke, also spoke to us, since they had organized the event.

Somehow, even though the conference started a half-hour late, everyone managed to have Dr. David Suzuki on stage around the appointed time, 4:00pm. Dr. Suzuki is a wonderful speaker, who knows how to get his point across to the audience while entertaining everyone at the same time. The British Columbia native wrote over 40 books and received 18 honorary doctorates for his work with the environment. He is also a broadcaster and an internationally respected geneticist. He reminded us that global warming has been on scientists’ minds for decades already, and it’s about time we do something about it. An interesting point was the document he showed us, dated from the 1980s and signed by just about every Nobel laureate alive at the time, and that states clearly that mankind is headed to its doom if nothing is done about global warming. So it was a warning to humanity, and yet no one reported about it – not a single media outlet – because apparently, it wasn’t newsworthy. So what, we care about what Paris Hilton did on her last birthday and about the fact that Anna Nicole Smith is still dead, and no one talks about the actual issues?
Dr. Suzuki also mentioned the first time that he met Al Gore, about 10 years ago. The latter was the first politician, in his opinion, who not only understood what was going on with the environment and had seen it first-hand, but who also knew what to do to change it: Get the population to care, and political decisions will follow. It turns out that Al Gore also had a key role in getting the Kyoto protocol accepted by most nations who took part in the fateful negotiations.

Vice-President Al Gore came on stage soon after Dr. Suzuki. Keep in mind that he is currently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize [which he received later in 2007], and he actually knows what he’s talking about. He entertained us by telling a funny story, and thanked everyone for allowing him to give his speech in his native language, English (probably not realizing that the vast majority of the audience was Anglophone). As you might have guessed from watching An Inconvenient Truth, he is a very good orator. The only negative comment I have about his speech is that a lot of it was recycled from the movie, which was somewhat of a letdown since just about everyone in the room had seen it. But there were some updated data and new slides, though. The message was the same: The power is in our hands. We can turn things around, but we (the population) must act now.
He was later given an honorary doctorate by Claude Lajeunesse, President of Concordia University. On a side note, I have never heard students from any establishment boo their president in such a fashion. There were also four hecklers who interrupted Al Gore (ranting about what sounded like overpopulation), but they were booed by the rest of the crowd and were forcibly escorted out by security. “Merci, gendarmes”, as said Mr. Gore.

For those of you who want to help improve the situation with the environment, here are some websites you can visit: http://youthactionmontreal.com/1-campaign (the One Percent Campaign organized by Concordia University and which should be emulated by other universities); http://quebec-vert-kyoto.org/ (the website of the Coalition Québec Vert Kyoto); http://www.davidsuzuki.org/ (the David Suzuki Foundation, where I encourage Canadians to Vote for the Environment); and http://www.climatecrisis.net/> (where you will find tons of information and tips to do your part).

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Events

The Backstreet Boys at Musique Plus, Montreal – Promoting Never Gone – June 19th, 2005
http://www.backstreetboys.com


From a block away, you know something big is happening. Fans are pressed up against the Musique Plus windows, trying to see inside. Girls are crying because they couldn’t get in, others are trying to bribe security to let them through.

Armed with my trusty press card, I walk in and take my place near the stairs, just behind the small stage. It’s not the greatest spot in the room, but it sure beats being outside. Two girls need to go pee, but because they have been waiting over 13 hours already, they don’t want to loose their spot. The crowd heats up the room – literally. The fans start chanting “Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys” and sing the choruses of their favourite songs.

Finally, the studio managers show up to give out a few guide lines and to let us know that the Boys will be there in five minutes (they are late already, of course). They tell the fans when to scream for the camera (as if they wouldn’t do it anyway), and there’s one last sound check. The girls with the meet & greet passes come down the stairs and the countdown starts.

The screams get deafening, some fans start crying from the emotion. The Backstreet Boys are making their way down the stairs. Fans hold up posters with their favourite band member’s name, a phone number for Nick, a marriage proposal to A.J. Their entourage, including Brian’s beautiful wife who somehow looks even more stunning in person, looks on proudly from the staircase.

They take their seats and Kevin announces that it’s good to be back. They’re looking forward to their next stop in town, on September 13th, for a concert. A.J. removes his sunglasses; for a second, I was expecting a new eyebrow piercing or something, but it seems the tattoos on his neck are the latest thing he’s had done. The host says that Backstreet’s back and the screaming starts all over again, making it very hard to even hear the rest of the interview.

The Boys say that over the break, they have missed not only each other, but the fans as well. Brian was the first one to talk of a new album and tour; he was quickly joined by A.J., after their appearance on Oprah, and the rest of the band was quickly convinced. “Never mind the naysayers,” explains Nick, “we’re in this for the long haul. If we had listened to them, we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have.” They never disbanded, they just needed a break. They say that when on tour, some things will never change. They still pick on each other all the time, Nick especially. They cohabitate and over twelve years, they have evolved as a group and as a family.

They are asked which artist they would take voice lessons from and which they would give voice lessons to, if they had the chance. They say they have a lot of respect for vocal harmony groups, such as Boys II Men and The Temptations. They tactfully decline to name anyone who would need voice lessons, though.

When a fan asks a question in French, Brian playfully pretends he understood and starts answering, eliciting laughter from the crowd. They are asked which fashion choice they regret. Nick immediately redirects the question to Howie (what did I say about him picking on people?), then says he was just kidding. Not surprisingly, the answer comes from A.J., who confesses to once wearing a pair of faux fur camo pants, which are thankfully locked away in a vault where they will never see daylight again. Nick says that he himself has no sense of style, as visions of his fugly shirts dance in my head (that’s an inside joke to fans, but for the rest of you who need the Cliffsnotes version, “fugly” stands for “f*cking ugly”).

As they cut to a commercial break, they show an old video clip of the Boys. They do a few vocal warm-ups, as the studio managers warn the crowd to keep it down, as it is very hard even for the interviewer and the Boys to hear each other. According to her, that much noise makes them look like a gang of boobs on tv (her exact quote was “une gang de tatas à la tv”, which got her the evil eye from some for her choice of words). The fans around me repeatedly ask for the guys to turn around in order to see them (as we are all standing behind them), and they are rewarded with screams of joy when they so much as glance in our direction. A short clip from We’ve Got It Going On makes the crowd sing along, but then when the notes from Incomplete fill the room, there is more screaming than singing.

When the cameras start shooting again, the host wants to know how success has changed the Boys, if at all. Kevin replies that they are from small towns and had humble beginnings, so they did get some big egos when they first became successful. But now, they have more perspective and they keep each other in check. They know that the only reason they got his far and got to experience so many things is because of their fans, not themselves. Their fans got them there. Montreal was the first place in North America to accept and love their music, and for that they’ll always be grateful; they thank the fans in the room, to the sound of more screaming of course.

The host then says that they’ll play a game. Traditionally, the Boys always sing a song when they visit Musique Plus. This time, a fan in the audience is going to read lyrics from one of their songs, while they have to identify the song and then sing it. There are three songs and Brian and A.J. figure it out first, Brian actually gets really excited when they get it right. They have amazing voices and the a capella act alone would sell out the Bell Centre (in my humble opinion). They hold the notes for the longest time when they sing Incomplete.

The Boys are impressed to know that even though there are only 350 people in the room with them, Musique Plus got over 16 000 requests for passes, and the crowd outside is quite impressive. They of course remind A.J. to be careful when he gets out, so that he doesn’t get his foot run over again (it never fails, anytime he’s in town people remind him of that). He says that he will be very careful, as he doesn’t want it to happen again, while Brian makes fun of him by singing “I don’t want to drag it on” from Incomplete.

Howie then tries to answer the next question (“How have the fans changed in the past five years?”), but he can barely be heard over the noise of the fans, to a point where he was interrupted by Kevin who hadn’t realized he was talking. A.J. jokingly tells him that he’s not allowed to speak at all in this interview, but then all the Boys handed him their microphones, to make sure we can hear him. He says that it’s good to see the fans’ familiar faces in Montreal; Kevin notices that there are new faces and Nick says we are all pretty.

The next commercial break gives them a chance to get their makeup retouched. They are again asked to turn around by the fans, so Brian does several 360s to indulge them. The camera then goes to two fans outside, Nicholas and Élise, who are going to be let in for the rest of the show.

The host talks about the song Never Gone. It turns out that it had been running in Kevin’s head since 1991, after the death of his father. He had the music, but he had trouble writing the lyrics. Words didn’t come easily to him on this very personal subject, and of course he wanted things to be perfect because this song was for his father. He finally teamed up with Gary Baker to write it, and it became the title track. He had tears in his eyes just talking about it.

Howie then says that, among the more mature songs on this album, Weird World is very meaningful to him because it was written for the post-9/11 world. They’ve all grown and are tackling more adult subjects, which their fans can now relate to.

The Boys again mention how close they are. Nick tries to kiss Howie on the cheek, while A.J. pretends to throw up at the sight. They are each other’s missing link, and the fans were their missing link as a group.

There are also a lot of men coming out of the closet, so to speak, about being fans. Now that Incomplete is out, suddenly they admit to liking The Call and so many other hits. Just the previous day, when the Boys were on a flight from L.A. to Toronto, one of the flight attendants caught Brian coming out of the lavatory and told him that himself and his friends had seen the band on the morning show. They had told their wives that they were going out for breakfast (and not bowling like the interpreter said), but they actually all went one to one guy’s apartment to watch them on tv! “Well Hallelujah, finally!” says Brian.

Then another question from a fan, who says that since everyone is always asking them questions, she would like to know what they would ask the fans. So they ask which song from the album should be the next single. All of the fans scream out their own favourite, but the winner seems to be Weird World, closely followed by Beautiful Woman.

Another fan asks Brian how becoming a father has changed him and how it influences his song writing. I think he’s going to be getting that question until his son Baylee turns 18. Brian answered that he hopes it has changed him for the better, as his son has done nothing but influence him. His own father showed him that it was important to work hard and to provide for his family, and that is what he wants to teach Baylee. The most important people in his life now are his wife and his son, and he would take being Baylee’s hero any day over being a popstar. He would like a whole slew of children, but he has to check with “the missus” on that, as it’s not entirely up to him. Fans wished him a happy Father’s Day.

The next commercial break allows Nick to wave at us. When the cameras start rolling again, they show an old clip of the Boys, causing them to laugh over Nick’s old haircut (henceforth referred to as The Curtain or The Banana Peel). Kevin says that Nick’s hair is much better now, and I think we all agree.

The conversation then moves on to the Boys’ respective charities. Their causes are a way for them to give back to society, in thanks for what they have been given. Even though Kevin’s Just Within Reach foundation has been dismantled, he is still active about the environment and he has also gotten active in cancer research, becoming the new spokesperson for Provectus Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company that is searching for a cure for cancer. Howie of course has the Dorough Lupus Foundation, which is raising awareness for lupus. Nick’s Ocean Campaign was shut down with Just Within Reach, but he is still involved with the ocean and has another project in the works. A.J.’s J.N.N. Foundation is doing better than ever, covering not only diabetes and AIDS, but also drug and alcohol addiction as well as keeping music in schools. And Brian’s Healthy Hearts Club for Kids now has two branches, one that raises awareness and one that helps with surgery funding.

The host, after a relatively bad translation, announced that the show was almost over, drawing “Aawws” from the crowd. After the last commercial break, the Boys announced again that they would be back in September. When asked what would make this tour successful in their eyes, they replied that it already has been successful. They actually thanked Musique Plus for having them on. The host wants to know how they’ll prevent burn-out on this tour, how they’ll prevent getting sick of each other. They say they’ve been together for twelve years and they just keep things in balance, using yin and yang and, of course, the Force. ;o)

They signed a few quick autographs and were escorted outside for a photo opportunity, before leaving the premises in a convoy of black SUVs. Long live the Backstreet Boys, and if all goes according to plan you’ll get a concert review next fall.

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Premiere of Crash Landing at the NFB, Montreal – September 27th, 2005

It’s a documentary from Production Érézi, a company often making movie about ideas, that deserve to be seen but that unfortunately aren’t commercial successes. This movie is about Canadian soldiers coming back from the front lines suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their body came back, but their souls stayed in combat, seeing bodies on the ground and hearing canons fire. The worst in all of this is that the Canadian government does not recognize this syndrome and gives no resources to the soldiers to help them live again, and actually fires them! The soldiers are left to fend for themselves, after serving their country.

The movie follows in more detail the stories of five soldiers: Georges Dumont, Marc Hamel, Nathalie Gagnon, Leandro Azavedo and Stéphane Grenier. Their testimony and the atrocities they went through expose the taboos in the army, such as the fact that a psychological wound isn’t considered a wound and that a soldier would never admit to being wounded anyway, for fear of being labelled as a coward and a weakling. We share the daily life of these soldiers and we realize that we have to stop neglecting PTSD. Their depression and their distress are real. We even question ourselves on the validity of sending soldiers to war. And especially, we become linked to these soldiers who endure their wounds everyday without getting help from anyone.

The soldiers who participated in the documentary were at the premiere, which gave them the opportunity to see the movie, and also to see how touched the audience was when they saw what these brave soldiers are going through. But it wasn’t easy for them: Stéphane Grenier waited outside the projection room, Leandro Azavedo had to step outside on more than one occasion and Nathalie Gagnon relived all the emotions that she shows onscreen. Marc and her have broken up (which probably means that there is no hope for the human race); Marc’s new girlfriend supported him as best she could, probably understanding him better after seeing the documentary. As for myself, despite everything I would have wanted to say to them, I didn’t even speak to them, I still had trouble finding my voice even though I’ve seen this movie too many times to count.

The French version of the movie will air on Radio-Canada on November 11th, 2005 at 9pm and on RDI on November 12th, 2005, at 10pm.

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Screening of Strong Enough To Break at Concordia University, Montreal – March 23rd, 2006
http://www.strongenoughtobreak.com
The Concordian
H.Notes


This documentary was created by Ashley Greyson and produced by Hanson. It was supposed to be about the making of an album, but it quickly turned into more than that. It became a film about the state of the music industry today, about how some record executives may be good at making money, but they don’t know sh*t about music. Their corporate nature prevents them from nurturing their artists’ creativity. So Hanson, after fighting with their label for over two years, finally decided to break their contract and to create their own independent record label. They now have complete control over their own music, and their first studio album broke all previous records by becoming the number one independent album of all time.

I won’t spoil all of the good parts for you, but some moments are really hilarious (watch for a point when one of Island/Def Jam’s executives is at a loss for what to say over the phone and goes on for literally almost thirty seconds saying “Huh… Well… Huh… You know…”). There are one-liners that fans will repeat for years to come (“Ike, just get the pickle out of your bootie and sing!”). Of course, the music is just great. But I wish I could have a word with Taylor about his choice in footwear… The one downside is that the images are sometimes overexposed (on purpose, but it’s hard to see at times). It’s nice to see that there are many entertaining and meaningful moments that were not shown in the preview. Even knowing what Hanson had been through, it was sometimes hard to watch for me; I just felt like reaching through the screen to give them a hug and tell them it was all going to be okay. It must have been incredibly frustrating for them to pour everything they had into making a record, just to be told by their label executives that it isn’t what they’re looking for. Luckily, you will all get the opportunity to see it, as the DVD version (with bonus scenes) should be released late this year.

Hanson fans will get a little more out of this, obviously, were it only to get a look behind the scenes and to confirm some rumours. But people who are not Hanson fans will appreciate this as well, because it’s not strictly about a certain band, nor is it about the people who try to help them make their album (there are appearances by Matthew Sweet, Glenn Ballard and Carole King, to name a few) and those who try to control them (*cough* Jeff Fenster *cough*); it’s about the music industry at the turn of the 21st century.

This documentary was very well received where it was screened, including in Montreal. This was the first screening in Canada, but after about 40 screenings in colleges and universities across the United States, the film was actually added in the curriculum of USC and NYU for music students.

After the screening, there was a live chat with Hanson to discuss the documentary and their career these days. I’ll give you a quick summary of what they said (responding to questions from the audience), paraphrasing if necessary.
- We are passionate about independent music. That is why we are promoting www.areyoulistening.com, where independent artists can come together.
- We are planning to release an album in the next year, and we will come to Montreal to promote it.
- The biggest challenge of having our own record label is to keep the balance between being an artist and being a CEO. Time management is also an issue.
- We view SETB as a tool to encourage and educate students to have passion about music. That is why we chose to screen it in colleges instead of in movie theatres. It has been shown in over 40 schools in the US so far, and once in Canada today; we hope to have more screenings in the future.
- We do not have a vendetta with Jeff Fenster. He is simply a lawyer who should not be working in music.
- When we were making the album Middle Of Nowhere, most of our problems were growing pains and working with a major label for the first time. With Underneath, there were far greater issues.
- A lot of our fans are peers, in their early twenties. But we do have new fans all the time. We hope that one day, people will be able to say “We’ve been fans for 30 years.” We want to be a part of people’s lives.
- We want to make people feel, and to establish trust with our fans. Bands that just want to “look cool” usually some up with empty lyrics, and that’s not what we’re about.
- We have been overwhelmed by the response to SETB, both by our peers and by professionals. It has been added to the curriculum in USC and in NYU. We hope to release the DVD in the next year, with new content.
- We were being too nice to the executives in the early stages of making the album (with Island/Def Jam). But we’re not too nice anymore. That’s why we became independent with our own label.
- We have the same view on music as before, even though we are in charge of our label. We just want to make every album our best.
- There is a bit of a turf war with independent artists, some of whom are fighting to know who’s cooler than who. In our opinion, that’s just as bad, or even worse, as a large corporation homogenizing music. Artists should be working together to spread great music, whether they’re independent or not. Being independent does not make it good; it’s just that independent artists are some of the best and they can help lead the way, if they don’t fight with one another.
- The radio is not our primary focus; we’re not driven by money. Fans solve the problem by telling radio stations what they want to hear. Our primary focus is to build trust and passion with our fans, to increase our fan base and to let radio respond to that.
- For an artist, a song is a vessel to express ideas (much like a book for an author), but we can express deep personal thoughts as well. There are three of us writing, so we have lots of perspective to draw from.
- The name of our label is 3 Car Garage Records. We started as a garage band, and there are three of us, so it seemed like a logical choice. Also, we believe that you should be able to make it happen musically anywhere, even in a garage, whatever the kind of music you’re playing.
Then the band thanked us for coming to the screening. They apologized for not being able to do the video chat, as was originally planned. They hope that the film had sparked something in us.
They said that we all have a role to play in supporting music we are passionate about, were it by buying records or going to concerts. We are the ones who can create change.
They then thanked us again and assured us that we would see them in Montreal, while the audience applauded.
*Rock Goodnight!*

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Update on Strong Enough To Break, spring 2007

The documentary Strong Enough To Break is now available on iTunes, for free.
You can also check out the making of the new album, Taking The Walk. Sign up here.

For those of you who want background info, here it is. ;)

Strong Enough To Break documents Hanson's three-year struggle with their former major record company, and their eventual decision to part ways and start their own independent record label (which lead to a Billboard #1 Independent Album). The film reflects the current state of the music industry. It shows the difficulties faced by any musician in this world where the music company directors have law degrees and MBAs but have never touched an instrument in their lives, yet they try to tell musicians which direction to take their music in order to sell albums. It's about how much some people don't get the music and about saving the rest of us who really live for it. Strong Enough To Break was screened at college campuses across North America and incorporated into curriculums at a number of schools, including USC and NYU. It was also honoured at the Hollywood Film Festival in October 2006. I’ve written an article about it on the website, which will give you even more details (it’s in the Archives, Random, Events section). The downside of this episodic release (13 episodes in all) is that it tends to break up the rhythm. But like I said before, every music lover can find something in that documentary, regardless of what kind of music they like.

Then, the video podcast series Taking The Walk actually documents the making of The Walk, the new album released July 24th in North America. You can also check out the album’s MySpace website. Just don’t mind the typos. ;)

I’d also like to remind you about the song Great Divide, which was released on December 1st, 2006, for charity in honour of World AIDS Day. The song was inspired by Hanson's recent trip to Africa, where they witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. The song is available on iTunes, with all proceeds going to HIVSA, an African organization in Soweto, South Africa, working to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The song and accompanying video can be experienced at http://www.flashenhanced.com/hansonecard/hanson.html. »random »»archives


The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Cinéma Impérial, Montreal – October 31st, 2006, 8:00 pm
http://www.rockyhorror.com/main.php
http://www.rockyhorrormontreal.com/
http://www.rockyhorrorcostumelist.info/


This well-known musical has the longest theatrical run in history (it has been shown continually since its release in 1975). It bombed back then, but midnight screenings have since become popular and have gathered a huge cult following. Most of the audience wears costumes (especially those worn by characters of the movie), but anything goes, lingerie especially. At the screening I went to on this occasion, there was a guy wearing high heels, stockings and a thong – and nothing else. And small-chested girls wearing pasties, and big-chested girls wearing push-up bras.

There’s always a costume contest at the Montreal showings (prizes are usually movie paraphernalia). At the 8:00 pm screening, the biggest injustice was that the two ninjas didn’t win anything, especially when the ice-skating twins from Texas won. But all costumes were great, as were the performances given by the costumed. It’s always such a riot!

As a line from the movie says, one of the most important things at a Rocky Horror screening is the anticipation. People in the room chanting “Rocky” or “It doesn’t rain in the f*cking car!” (the latter, sadly, was left out of this year’s festivities). Even before the movie starts, everyone is hysterical. We all fidget and double-check that we have all the props/ammo necessary.

In case you don’t know, the props are one of the most important things about the show. They vary from city to city, but the staples are usually rice (to throw during the wedding; but it was banned from the Impérial this year), a water gun (to spray water AFTER Brad and Janet get out of the car), newspaper (to cover your head when it rains), a light (either a lighter if it’s legal in the theatre, or a cellphone, flashlight or keychain light; you use it right after the rain, just get your cue from the song), noisemakers, toilet paper (you throw it either when Brad says “Great Scott”, in which case it works better with Scott brand, or when Frank unwraps Rocky), a toast (you throw it when Frank proposes a toast), and cards (again, follow Frank’s cue in the song). Of course, this messes up the venue considerably, but at the Impérial, people usually respect the history and mess up floors instead of chandeliers or walls. But you’ve never seen so much toilet paper piled up in a single room before, I guarantee.

And of course, the big advantage of seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a theatre, as opposed to in your living room, is the entertainment. Not only are there actors on stage re-enacting the movie (and putting their own twist on it), there is also someone doing voices and saying certain lines during the movie to make everyone laugh. It’s as if this movie had been made with certain pauses in dialogue, so that an outsider could ask funny questions and get hilarious answers when the dialogue picks up again. Some of this dialogue is the same year after year, but some of it is changed to keep up with the times. For example, there was a reference to the McGill Redmen hazing. Only one line was booed by the crowd, when Frank’s lifeless body floating facedown in the water was compared to Steve Irwin (previously, it had been “Waiter, there’s too much Curry in my soup!”, which was much funnier).

And the crowd pitches in, too. There’s the usual name-calling (every time someone says the name Brad, you answer “Asshole!”, and when they say Janet, you say “Slut!”). Some bolder audience members also throw in a few lines during the performance, or interact with the screen (like by pretending to be hit by a pitchfork thrown towards the bottom of the screen by a character in the movie). And let’s not forget the Time Warp, which you are free to dance at any time during the movie (but it’s better to dance when the people on screen are dancing, in my opinion). It’s a simple dance, explained in the course of the film, but basically you jump left, take a step right, and do pelvic thrusts, with gusto please.

It is really hard to explain in words what a Rocky Horror Picture Show experience is like, especially since it changes a bit from year to year, even from one show to another during the same season. It’s one of those things you just have to be there for.

All in all: An absolute must at Halloween, and a must for anyone who has never experienced it before.

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Exhibitions

Robert Frank: Storylines – Tate Modern Museum, London – Oct. 28th 2004 to Jan. 23rd 2005
http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/frank/


Robert Frank is one of the world’s most important living photographers. He was born in Zurich in1924. He has traveled in Europe and South America, but he’s perhaps best known for the pictures he took while traveling in the United States. They were published in 1958 in a book called The Americans and they caused quite a stir, mainly because they showed the country in a less glamorous way than people had expected. Jack Kerouac said that it was as if Robert Frank had "sucked a sad, sweet poem out of America." There are pictures of Robert Kennedy and Jackie O’Nassis, taken at a democratic convention in 1956. But the most memorable pictures are of dime-store waitresses and funeral attendees, the real people of the country.

This is quite a complete exhibition, showing pictures from Peru (1948), from Paris and London (1949-1952), a series depicting a Wales coal miner (1953), the American pictures from the mid-fifties, as well as more recent work such as film stills, Polaroids, short films and collages. There are very good explanations throughout the exhibition, both about the pictures themselves but also about the frame of mind the artist was in at the time and the way the pictures were received by the critics. Very well done.

If you’re ever in the Tate Modern Museum, there is one thing you should know and two things you should see (as far as I know, they are there on a permanent basis).
You should know that the museum was built in part of a central that produces electricity. So the architecture is really special, the hall is huge and there is echo like you wouldn’t believe (it may be hard to hear over the whirl of the turbines, though).
The first thing you should see is the huge dresser than contains artifacts found on the banks of the River Thames a few years ago. There are pieces of porcelain, animal skulls and teeth, nut shells, pipes, and yes ladies and gentlemen, mobile phones and accessories.
And the second thing you should see is in the still life section. It is a flat screen tv that shows, in a four-minute clip, the decomposition of a bowl of fruit. A real-life still life. It starts off a delicious, edible fruit, then they turn brown, mold starts to grow, fruit flies get to it, it collapses onto itself, mold spreads around the bowl… It’s one of the most fascinating, yet disgusting things you’ll ever see. And it’s like a car accident, you just can’t help but look. Definitely very cool.

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Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes – Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal – June 4th to September 18th, 2005
http://www.vaticanmontreal.ca


If you feel ready to face crowds and the staff’s slight lack of organization, think about walking through the renovated crypt of Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. For $15, you’ll get an overview of the papacy from its beginnings (with Saint Peter) up to the election of Benedict XVI. Many works of art exhibited here are outside the Vatican for the first time, and one is even exposed here before it is seen in Rome (it’s the small case that was used to produce the white smoke during the last papal election). The oldest artefacts are from the 3rd century, but most are less than 500 years old (which is still impressive).

At the exit, you are invited to touch a bronze cast of the hand of John Paul II, which was created for the occasion. The exhibition itself includes all kinds of objects: mosaics, busts, tiaras (including the one given to Pie VII by Napoleon), chalices, patens, processional crosses, capes, letters, you name it they got it. Certain scenes have been recreated, like the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling by candlelight. Films and music help set the mood throughout.

I have to mention the lack of details in a few places, especially toward the end. They just exhibit an object, without giving precisions about it (What period is it from? What occasion was it created for, by whom and for whom? Why is it important?), and you are left to your own devices to try to understand.

Count on at least an hour and a half to cover all twelve rooms.

All in all: A must-see. Enjoy it, it’s not everyday that the Vatican is in North America, much less in the Old-Port.

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The Magic of Lanterns – Montreal Botanical Garden – September 9th, 2005 to October 31st, 2005
http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin/propos/lanternes.htm

This year, the eagerly awaited exhibition chose to represent the kingdom of birds as a main theme. The phoenixes are the stars, but there are also many roosters, storks, ducks, peacocks, swans and even parrots, owls and penguins. There are more than 130 birds in all, with an exhibition of cages in the Friendship Hall. There is also another series of lanterns that we see every year, but they don’t loose any of their charm. All are designed in Montreal and are hand-made in Shanghai.

The path in the middle of the rocks is unfortunately closed, and some fences are less than safe. The terrain is somewhat dangerous at night, let’s admit it, because it’s hard to see where you’re going and to get good footing, especially in the middle of a crowd.

You have to see this in the evening, of course, and the Garden is exceptionally open until 9pm. However, unless you really want to be shoved one way and the other in a human ocean, go on a weekday evening (if possible, at another moment than when the crowd comes out of the Olympic Stadium, especially if the Als took a beating).

Despite all of that, the lantern exhibition is a must every year.

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Guided tour of the Hbc Gallery
The Bay, Sainte-Catherine Street W. in Montreal, 5th floor
(514) 281-4777

http://www.hbcheritage.ca


The small museum summarizes 35 years of history. The Hudson Bay Company was founded in 1670, and its evolution traces Canada’s history.

In the 17th century, two Frenchmen, Radisson and des Groseillers, discover that one can get an abundance of furs in the land located north and west of the Great Lakes. France and the United States refuse to help them exploit this resource. Finally, Prince Rupert, a cousin of Charles II of England, gives all the land irrigated by the Hudson Bay to “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay.”

During a century, the Hudson Bay Company (Hbc) does business out of forts and posts, where natives come to trade their furs for manufactured products like knives and glass beads. The trading posts stretch west to Alberta. The Gallery has a recreated décor from the fur-trading days, and it emphasizes the daily life of the “allant et venant” (literally, “coming and going”), the men who took the furs from one post to another. There is also an interactive game where you can load a miniature canoe without tipping it over, like they had to do. You also learn a lot about the quality of pelts, and there’s no need to like fur to be interested.

In 1821, the Hbc merges with the North West Company, which was its most successful rival. The resulting company has ramifications into British Columbia, the Great North and Montreal.

In 1869, the Deed of Surrender forces the Hudson Bay Company (which owned almost an eleventh of the world’s surface, according to some) to sell some land to settlers. But this actually helps it to diversify its services: Settlers pay cash (and not in pelts, which are not as much in demand at the time) and they need a lot of products, from food to clothing and furniture. The Hbc therefore specializes in retail sales and modernizes its stores at the beginning of the 20th century. The Gallery on Sainte-Catherine Street has actually recreated the décor of a store around 1896. The Bay has recently acquired stores like Zellers and Home Outfitters.

These days, the Hudson Bay Company is the most wide-spread store franchise in Canada, fulfilling 2/3 of Canadians’ retail needs. It is therefore an example of a company that has not only contributed to building our country, but that has been able to grow with the times and to adapt itself to the needs of the population. Let’s just hope Target doesn’t buy it…

Entrance is free and the tour, guided or not, is interesting. There are also such galleries in Toronto and in Victoria. Think about dropping by on a rainy afternoon!

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Butterflies Go Free – Montreal Botanical Garden – February 21st, 2008 to April 27th, 2008
http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/insectarium/insect.htm




This year, most of the butterflies come from Africa, but we still have many staples from South America and Asia (like the blue Morpho helenor and the white-and-black Idea leucone, respectively). However, while the short identification guide we are given is quite helpful, no African butterflies are on it. After a closer examination, only four African countries participate… Well, on the plus side, all the butterflies are fair-trade, this year.

The greenhouse where the exhibit is housed is still as nice as ever, and it’s quite pleasant to spend a few hours there at 26 oC during our Canadian winter. Avoid crowds if you can, and try to go in the morning, because according to the knowledgeable staff, that’s when the butterflies are most active.

I know most people know this already, as it is repeated throughout the exhibit, but it clearly needs to be said again: do not touch the butterflies. That is for their own good, because even the lightest touch can deteriorate their wings (as evidenced by many specimens in the greenhouse). You’d be surprised how many people you’ll catch harassing the insects anyway (and parents, please supervise your kids – they are your responsibility).

Of course, on occasion, a butterfly will choose to land on you. In that case, just enjoy the moment and wait until it flies off by itself. I had a blue Morpho on my shoulder for a while, it was quite nice.

All in all: Even though tickets are more expensive than they used to be, this is still a must during late winter in Montreal. I absolutely recommend it, even if you’ve been before. There are new specimens all the time, and taking a camera along makes it even more fun.











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Finds

Name that film

Here is a document that will bring you hours of fun – and frustration. You have 60 images from famous movies, but altered in such a way that the actors are invisible and you can only see their clothes. You have to type in the original English title of the movie, but there’s a catch: the spacing, commas and dashes have to match exactly what the computer program has in mind. So even if you know what the movie is, you still have to figure out how to write the title the right way, and it’s harder than it seems. Please take a look, you’ll like it. I know a few people who’ll get number 19 right away!

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Recycled printing paper

I have discovered a brand of printing paper that is 100% made out of recycled paper. This means that no trees were felled in the making of this paper. The ecologist in me is in heaven! It’s the same color and the same quality as ordinary paper, and it’s $6.50 at the University of Montreal’s bookstore (it’s available in other stores as well). The brand is NewLife DP100, by Family Rolland Recycle. I am not paid in any way for this plug, but when I find something I like, I want to tell everyone!

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Ethical fashion in Montreal

I think it is worth mentioning another way that you can profit from ecology, durable development and fair trade in Montreal. You can start by visit the website http://ethiquette.ca, known as “The Responsible Consumer Network”. I think it’s great, so I’m spreading the word.

In the fashion department, two stores opened their doors this year (2006), Crazy Lily (http://crazylilyfr.ethiquette.ca) and Rien à cacher (http://rienacacherfr.ethiquette.ca). They both only sell ethical fashion and nothing else. Crazy Lily only deals with Quebecois creators who make their products locally and in good working conditions. You can find there, among other things, Montréalité t-shirts (http://www.montrealite.com). As for Rien à cacher, they sell products from all over the world, but only brands that are ecological and “sweatshop-free” certified.

I’ll also mention American Apparel (http://www.americanapparel.net), which has many stores in Montreal since last summer (2005). They make all their clothes in Los Angeles, in good working conditions. Yes, it’s a little expensive and you have to like layering, but the cotton is so soft!

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Censorship in the media

The human tendency is to think that we are aware (especially when we have the tools to be aware). But the media choose the information they air and adapt it to their structure, while trying to sell it and not having the time or the resources to conduct thorough research. And on top of that, of course, the government sometimes has its own input on the stories that are published, especially in the United States, where the most important politicians often own media empires.

So I invite you to check out http://www.projectcensored.org/censored_2007/index.htm, where you will find 25 stories that were not treated in the media last year [2006], even though they all deserved to be explained to the general public.

And while we’re at it, I’m sure that you’ve all heard, here and there, bits and pieces of information that led us to believe that the attacks of September 11th, 2001, were planned by the American authorities rather than by foreign terrorists. I’ve been told about the film Loose Change 2 (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7866929448192753501&q=loose+change+2), which summarizes and explains very well these theories, and which raises even more theories that I wasn’t aware of. Of course, we can’t know how realistic the theory of a conspiracy is, but I recommend that you watch this movie, were it only to know that the controversy is about. The link I’m giving you is to version 2 of the English-language film, which is about 90 minutes long (and much more complete than version 1). The links to the translated versions (including the French one) are in the menu on the right of the video’s page. I’m not giving them directly, as I find it fishy that there are 10 minutes missing from the translated versions.

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New Music

First, if you want to hear music according to a certain genre on an internet radio station, go to http://www.live365.com/index.live. You’ll hear songs that you like and discover new ones, according to your selections. You can also create your own broadcast!

Secondly, you can also discover new artists based on your current tastes. Go to http://www.pandora.com/, where you can type in a song title or an artist name, then find more music similar to that. Enjoy!

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Lactose-Free Ice Cream

A major breakthrough: Chapman’s has started marketing lactose-free vanilla ice cream! That’s right, lactose-free! I can’t tell you what a relief and a joy it’s been for me, to once again eat ice cream and enjoy every bite of it. Look for a white-and blue package with a butterfly on it.

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Jeans

The ultimate jeans store! Coming from me, that’s saying a lot.

I’ve been looking for a nice pair of jeans seemingly for ages, without luck. My challenge: My hips are much wider than my waist, which makes it extremely difficult for me to find anything that fits. Of course, add to that the usual problem of pant legs always being slightly too long, and keep in mind that no one feels like spending another $10 to $20 per pair of pants to have them tailored.

I thought I had found a solution to the first problem: Gap Curvy jeans. I lived in those for a year, but then they stopped making the colors (washes) I liked. They also changed their collection somewhat; most of it was pre-worn-out already, which I hate in a new pair. So it became hard to shop at the Gap and I once again had problems finding good jeans.

Then (*cue angel choir*), my boyfriend took me to Pantalons Supérieur (Superior Pants Co. with a typo in the French name, I know), located at 69 Ste-Catherine East (514-842-6969). I walk in and say that I’m looking for a pair of jeans, but I don’t know what exactly. The guy there takes one look at me, walks over to a shelf, pulls off a pair and hands it to me. “Here, try these.” And wouldn’t you know it, they fit like a glove! I then tried on a pair with a slightly different wash, which was what I had in mind at the time. Then, the guy takes the length of the leg and, while I change back into my own clothes, he has it hemmed right then and there, and presses the bottom.

All in all? I got the perfect fit, tailored on the bottom, for $49.99 plus tax. All in under 10 minutes! This is my new favourite store!

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1-second film

I encourage you to find out about the 1-second film, a collaborative art project whose proceeds will be donated to charity.

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Makeup remover

I rarely talk about makeup (because I rarely know what I’m talking about when it comes to that), but I recently discovered a makeup remover that works wonders on waterproof mascara. It’s Lancôme’s Bi-Facil, which removes makeup very easily and is extremely gentle on your eyes. I totally recommend it.

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Greenfeet

Greenfeet (www.greenfeet.com) specializes in eco-friendly ware. I bought a stainless steel bottle there and am quite satisfied with it. There are numerous other household items that appeal to me as well. I definitely recommend this online store!

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Knitting

Ariadne (www.ariadneknits.com) is a company that sells yarn and knitting accessories, as well as gives classes and workshops in the subject. I bought some amazing red yarn for a scarf, and I’m looking forward to buying online more often – though for in-person buying, I always go to Mouliné (www.moulineyarns.com), who have a great selection and very helpful staff.

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Musicals

Elvis Story – Saint-Denis Theater, Montreal – May 11th, 2005
http://www.elvisstory.com/


I went to see this show with a friend. We were probably the youngest ones in the room, but it didn’t matter. We were happy to see it a second time, before the magic ended. An Elvis show given the Joe Esposito seal of approval, that’s something. It was basically the same show than in Québec City, with the same ingenious and well-made set, the same video and the same voice, the same Martin Fontaine. And I have to say that even a bad seat at the Théâtre Saint-Denis is better than a decent seat at the Bell Centre.

The whole thing starts with a video montage and That’s All Right Mama. The audience took a bit of time before getting into it, but it happened eventually. For the fans who know more, some aspects and important moments of Elvis’s life are simply skipped over. But after all, it’s called “Elvis Story,” it’s not supposed to be a complete biography. The songs and the extras’ costumes really make you feel the atmosphere of those days. Martin Fontaine still has the same wonderful imitations of the King’s voice and mannerisms. And his charisma is undeniable, he really embodies the character, you catch yourself wanting to touch him when he’s walking in the audience.

The intermission came too fast; Elvis left us while singing Love Me Tender in such a convincing way that the woman next to me cried a few tears. The intermission itself was thought out, you hear songs that were popular when Elvis was in the army, before the show starts again with his return.

The most impressive number is, without a doubt, Elvis’s beginnings in Las Vegas: the music from Space Odyssey 2001, the lights, everything impresses. But let’s not forget Jail House Rock, which is also really something. When Martin Fontaine play Elvis in Las Vegas, with his white suit, he has as much fun as we do, maybe more; he even kids around singing “I hope this suit won’t rip” when he does the split.

You can see right away that Elvis came to love more extravagant shows, and the video montage explains how he got to that point. The set for his comeback, “Elvis” written in big red letters, is simple but it still suffices to impress the audience.

And there is one difference with the show we had seen in Québec: there’s a new song at the encore, the remix of A Little Less Conversation by JXL, which has been a big hit these past few years. Very entertaining!

All in all: It has been announced that this show will play again in Montreal during the summer of 2006, so if you still haven’t seen it, be sure not to miss it!

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Mamma Mia – Place des Arts, Montreal – July 12th, 2005
http://www.mamma-mia.com


I saw this on opening night at the Place des Arts. Once again, I was the youngest person in the audience, and from what I heard others says, I was the only one who was seeing this show for the first time. This musical really stars songs instead of people or actors. It’s a big trip down memory lane for ABBA fans, and a fun ride for the rest. The story is simple: A young girl is about to get married on a Greek island and decides to invite her father. The only problem is that she doesn’t know who her father is. So she finds her mother’s diary and gets the name of the three possible dads; she invites each one and signs the card in her mother’s name. All three come back to the island and run into each other, with funny results.

Lauren Mufson, who played Donna Sheridan (the mother), was really amazing, while Bekah Nutt, who plays her daughter, Sophie, was also very good but in a more subdued way. The sets were simple but very creative; decorations could be used many different ways in order to represent different places and different times. Some songs were turned into really elaborate and uplifting numbers (Take A Chance On Me, Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes It All), while others seemed thrown in there just for good measure and felt rushed.

I had heard that this was the most successful musical in the world, so I may have built it up too much in my mind before I went to see it, because I was left a little disappointed. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good or anything, but…

All in all: It’s not really the amazing musical it’s cracked up to be. It’s an entertaining, feel-good show, definitely worth seeing if you’re an ABBA fan or if you like musicals. But if you don’t fit into those two categories, don’t bother (listen to the album instead).

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Cats – Place des Arts, Montreal – July 16th, 2006 (matinee)
http://www.reallyuseful.com/rug/shows/cats/


This show has been wowing audiences for 25 years already. Now that it was finally in Montreal, I just couldn’t miss it.

The music was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which means that it was brilliant. The funny thing was that in some songs, you could recognize a few bars from The Phantom of the Opera, which was a little weird since that’s not the musical we were seeing. And it is based on works from T.S. Eliot, some of which I had read, so again, it was weird to see them brought to life in that setting with no prior warning.

The set was nice, but it’s really about the choreography, the lights, the costumes and the music. I was a bit disappointed to find out that there was no plot (well, Grizabella gets a new life and you get to see some cool cats, but that’s pretty much it). I’ll admit that the fact that it was mostly songs strung one after the other made it slightly hard to follow for me, and I felt like it left me hanging because I was really expecting a story.

The songs are still really good, especially Memories and Jellicle Cats (although you never do get a proper definition of what a Jellicle Cat is, just that they’re very small).

And all the actors did a very good job, especially Angie Smith as Grizabella and Ryan Richardson, an understudy who played Mr. Mistoffeelees to perfection.

All in all: Once you’re properly warned about the lack of plot, you should have a good time enjoying the songs and dances.

And a side note that has nothing to do with the show itself: I wish they would do a better job translating their program into French!

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Cavalia – Cosmodôme Street, Laval – October 3rd, 2006
http://www.cavalia.net


I love horses, so it’s somewhat of a wonder that I hadn’t seen this show before. This is probably the best example of ethological training in the world, where horses are free to do what they want, but choose to cooperate with the humans and achieve a state close to symbiosis with them. The trainers only use body language, hand signals and small sounds to communicate with the animals. And keep in mind that there are 50 horses, all stallions (harder to train) and geldings.

The only complaint I have about that evening wasn’t actually about the show itself, it was about the two women sitting next to me: They insisted on narrating and commenting aloud on every single thing that happened on the stage, the entire time (Oh, did you see that? Such a beautiful horse! How impressive! There’s water on the stage! Look, now he’s standing up on the horse! Oh, there’s a woman riding, it’s a girl, see? It’s unbelievable! Look, there’s snow falling – no, it isn’t – I think it’s foam – no, like when you do dishes – look, it’s melting, it is foam, I tell you!).

The show starts with the entire cast on stage (the humans, I mean), and then the youngest horses gallop across the stage. I say stage, but it’s actually about floor level and filled with sand. Then the curtains on the stage rise and a girl interacts with a horse over the sand and a small pond. The backdrop is actually a giant screen, where the projected image changes to fit the mood. There are some numbers where the horses “dance” freely, some where they are ridden (with saddles or bareback), and other numbers where the focus is entirely on the acrobats (I hadn’t realized how skilled they were nor how big a part they had in the show, but they are Cirque Du Soleil-worthy). Most notably, in the first part of the show, there is Faiçal Moulid walking and flipping over backwards on a giant ball.

My favourite number was the one called Fly (La Vida), where two riders put on a show with two aerialists. The water that was previously on stage has long been absorbed by the sand, so the arena is completely theirs. That is followed by a number where two white horses, ridden by two women with the same costume, take the stage and mimic each other’s movements, as if they were in a mirror. They also walk backwards or sideways, to impress the crowd. Then, against a Roman backdrop, three riders ride two horses each, by standing with a foot on each of them, at full gallop. This is really impressive, much more than words can say. Luckily, the Cavalia DVD is now available.

There is a half-hour intermission after that. Each of the sets lasts for an hour, but time really flies. The first number of the second set is a dance number where the horses play second fiddle to the human cast. There is also a number with dancers held by ropes which are being pulled, it’s really breathtaking. At one point, fake autumn leaves fall on the first few rows of spectators, and there is also snow (which is actually foam, as the two women discussed extensively), and the entire audience gets some.

The number that stayed with me the most of the second set is the trick riding. The set reminds us of the Far West, and riders gallop by on their horses, each time riding in a more incredulous position and showing off different tricks. There is another number with bungees and riders. And one where six riders on white horses go through an elaborate series of figures, always in sync. Then, Frédéric Pignon, the master trainer, comes back onstage to work with one horse first, then two, then three. What they do is really impressive, and there’s a fair amount of teamwork, even though one of the horses acts like he’s being left out.

I also want to point out that there is a live band throughout the show; it’s not a pre-recorded track. This allows them to improvise depending on the horses’ reactions (or on whether or not an acrobat can perform a trick exactly as planned).

All in all: It was absolutely amazing; I really recommend it to everyone. It’s true that tickets aren’t all that cheap, but at worse, there’s always the DVD. ;) And the show is making its way to Las Vegas, like a lot of Quebec shows these days...

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Chicago – Princess of Wales Theater, Toronto – November 25th, 2006 (matinee)
http://www.mirvish.com/Chicago/
http://www.chicagothemusical.com/


I’ll admit it right off the bat: the reason I wanted to see the musical live is because Kevin Richardson was in it. The fact that he was scheduled to reprise his role as Billy Flynn in Toronto (after doing it on Broadway, in London and in San Francisco) just as my boyfriend and I were thinking of visiting a friend who lives there sealed the deal.

The story is set in the late 1920s in Chicago, Illinois, as Roxie Hart dreams of making it big in the jazz clubs, just like Velma Kelly. They both end up in prison for murder and all looks lost, but with the help (and charisma) of lawyer Billy Flynn, Roxie gets a lot of publicity for that, and she intends to milk it for all it’s worth.

Brenda Braxton (Velma Kelly) and Bianca Marroquin (Roxie Hart) both reprised the roles they had in the 2003 Toronto engagement of the musical. They gave excellent performances; it’s no wonder they won awards for their interpretation of these roles. Kevin Richardson had no trace of his Southern accent, but his voice was just as remarkable as expected. Even the two guys with me admitted that he was a really good actor (especially when you could see his facial features with the binoculars); he has a quality reminiscent of Christian Bale. He’s more suave than Richard Gere, and a much better singer. Other great performances include Ron Orbach as Amos Hart and Carol Woods as Matron “Mama” Morton. Ms Woods and Mr Richardson both proved they can hold a note for a really long time.

Overall, I felt that the stage version was less detailed than the movie, but funnier than I remembered. Velma Kelly had a less prominent role on stage, so it felt like a few pieces were missing. On the plus side, the live band playing the music on stage was excellent, led by Vincent Fanuele. There wasn’t a lot of space up there, but somehow, everyone managed to act out their scenes without being in each other’s way. Cell Block Tango was very well executed; All I Care About was funny and drew laughs from the audience, but the best number in the first act was We Both Reached For The Gun. Mister Cellophane was just as poignant as in the movie, but there was more interaction between Amos and the crowd. Razzle Dazzle and Class also got great reactions from the audience.

All in all that jazz: A really great performance. I encourage you to see it, especially if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

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Oscars

February 29th, 2004 – 76th Academy Awards

Ahh... the 76th Annual Academy Awards... The Oscars... the one award show I live for! ;o) Sunday night was spent in front of the TV, watching the Oscars, in awe as always and taking notes for all of you people! (Malcolm in the Middle will forgive me, I hope; that’s what reruns are for. Well, that and TiVo, but I don’t have TiVo, so...) They were a month early though, I’m not sure why. But February 29th is a pretty unique date, I felt like I had gained a day, so might as well enjoy it.

The Oscars start not at the award show, but on the red carpet. Who’s wearing what (or as they say in the business, who’s wearing who), who’s with who, who says what to whom... Diane Keaton was in a suit with gloves, as always. Heath Ledger hadn’t shaved and he was wearing a bad pair of sunglasses, looking a bit like a shmoe next to Naomi Watts. And from now on, when people ask me what I mean when I say that Johnny Depp CAN look unattractive, I will refer them to pictures of that night. Nicole Kidman looked stunning as always, so did Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts. Uma Thurman, on the other hand... it wasn’t quite Björk’s swan, but still. And talk about Liv Tyler’s hair and the big glasses that were on and off and on and off... The producer this year was Joe Roth and people were expecting something fresher and younger than in previous years, but the only thing I noticed was the use of Madonna’s song Everybody Comes To Hollywood in the beginning, nothing much to report. Oh, and Keisha Castle-Hughes got to meet her idol, Johnny Depp; he was very nice to her and it seemed like a great moment.

So, the Award Show itself. First of all... thank God Billy Crystal was back as host! (Steve Martin is good, too, but Billy Crystal really is the greatest host in my opinion, and he didn’t disappoint.) The introduction started off quite well, with very funny spoofs, especially of the LOTR trilogy: first Billy was in a movie theater eating a box of Cracker Jacks and the prize inside was The Ring. Then he was transported into the movie playing on the screen, where he did spoofs of all the big movies of the year. I almost died laughing when he was Gollum in a scene of Return of the King; then in the battle scene with the olliphants, he was Legolas shooting arrows, and out of nowhere, Michael Moore pops up to warn the hobbits to stop, that they are fighting a fictitious war with fictional characters - and he promptly gets squished by an olliphant. Billy Crystal’s jokes were funny as always, poking fun at actors and movies without going over the top or being disrespectful. There were a few references to The Passion of the Christ (which you can expect to get some nominations next year); it opened on Ash Wednesday, did well on Thursday and had a Good Friday. Also, the Oscars are being simultaneously broadcast in Aramaic. There were of course jokes about the 5-second delay all around (put in place to avoid a repeat of Janet’s exposed nipple; even Jamie Lee Curtis was asked by officials beforehand if she intended to expose herself or not). And then Billy joked that LOTR was nominated for 11 Oscars - one for each ending. He also did voice-overs supposed to represent what people in the audience were thinking: Julie Andrews ("That sunburst nipple ornament is killing me!"); Julia Roberts ("Don’t hate me because I’m rich."); Oprah Winfrey ("Girlfriend, you wanna talk about rich? "); Charlize Theron ("Mrs Billy Crystal"); the actors were very good sports too.

And now for the awards themselves. In the interest of legibility, I will not use complete sentences in presenting them, I’ll just do it line by line and write anything relevant after them. Hold on to your hat, here we go!
- The first award of the evening, Best Supporting Actor, went to Tim Robbins for Mystic River. He used his acceptance speech to speak out against violence and to encourage victims of abuse to seek help. That was a very nice thing to do and a (somewhat) surprising change from the anti-war speeches; I don’t think it was about the 5-second delay, though, it was probably just that he did enough speaking out this year.
- The award for Best Supporting Actress went to Renée Zelwegger for Cold Mountain; I haven’t seen the movie yet, but since she’s been nominated for three years in a row, we all knew she had it coming, regardless of who else was nominated in that category. By the way, while on the subject, I would like to point out that I predicted Holly Hunter’s nomination for Thirteen, aren’t I good? ;o) - Best Animated Film: Finding Nemo. Again, I called it (were it only because there weren’t too many movies to choose from. But it was a good movie). And I am more than thrilled that there were only three nominees this year. It is a cool award, but when there’s pressure to nominate five animated movies, you just end up feeling like you have to nominate everything, including the cartoon drawing your neighbor’s kid made in preschool last Tuesday, so that’s not any help and it’s not Oscar-worthy. But all was good this year.
- I hadn’t seen any of the documentaries or short films (except Gone Nutty, which was on the Ice Age video), so I won’t be of any help here, sorry.
- A special award went out to Blake Edwards, who was introduced by Jim Carrey. You could tell that it was a dream come true for the latter and they both had a blast onstage.
- Best Sound Editing: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Sure, OK.
- Best Foreign Language Film: The Barbarian Invasions. Go Canada! Totally earned it, of course, and no, I’m not biased at all. ;o) The acceptance speech drew much laughter when it made a reference to LOTR, saying "We’re grateful that it wasn’t eligible in this category. " (See later in the text for more details). Denys Arcand only said "I’m out of time, as usual" because the music had already started rolling. :o(
- Best Cinematography: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Again, sure, OK.
- The award for Best Original Screenplay went to Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. We saw it coming, but we were happy for her. She was the first American woman to be nominated for an award in that category. There are now three consecutive generations in her family to have received Oscars, plus of course her cousin Nick Cage. Talent or influence? I heard that one of the other nominees found Seabiscuit’s head in their bed that morning... (I can steal Billy Crystal’s bit, right? ;o)
- Now, for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King... It was nominated for 11 Oscars - and it won all of them: Best Sets, Best Costumes, Best Special Effects, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and finally Best Movie. I have to admit that it felt almost like an obligation, like "Let’s give them all of it ‘cause it’s their last movie in the trilogy, their last chance at this and we owe it to them," it wasn’t even surprising anymore in the end. I liked the movie of course, but it could have given someone else a chance... It is now tied for most awards with Titanic and Ben-Hur, but as far as I know it’s the first time that a movie that had so many nominations actually won all of them. And 11 is no small feat! Billy Crystal kept joking that there was no one left in New Zealand to thank after all those acceptance speeches.
- Then, Best Lead Actress... This award was presented by Adrien Brody, who was extremely funny as he paused for breath freshener before announcing the name of the winner, hoping for a repeat performance of last year’s little stunt with Halle Berry. Well, the award went to Charlize Theron for Monster. Saw it coming a mile away, she absolutely deserved it, kudos to Charlize for her amazing performance. She was gracious enough to give Adrien a small peck on the lips for his trouble. Her acceptance speech was also very good, she didn’t forget to thank her Mom or her boyfriend, and thankfully she did point out how Christina Ricci had been overlooked. Again, while on the subject, I’m proud to say that I also told you how talented Keisha Castle-Hughes was in Whale Rider. At thirteen, she is now the youngest actress to be nominated for an award in this category, and this was her first acting experience!
Finally, the Best Lead Actor award went to Sean Penn; again, he had it coming, he had earned it and it was nice to see him go home with the award after his fourth nomination.

There were of course some very touching moments during the acceptance speeches. I already mentioned Charlize who thanked her Mom for sacrificing so much to help her achieve her dreams, but there was also the man who said to his wife, "I wrote it to you once in the 8th grade and now I can say it in front of everyone: I love you." Aawww!

I would like to point out that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl actually got five Oscar nominations. Not so shabby for a summer movie about ghost pirates, right? ;o)

Also, one the funniest moments of the show was the comedy bit with Jack Black and Will Ferrell singing the words they invented for the tune that plays when they’re trying to cut your acceptance speech short, entitled, You’re boring. Both have very good voices and are very funny. They could be hosts eventually!

And my own personal rant, that I’ve been going on about for years and now that I have a space on the web to express it, here it goes: the following are the new award categories that should be created ASAP.
- Best Performance by a Newcomer and/or Best Performance by a Minor (under 18). This would accomplish two things. First of all, it would free up some space for other deserving actors and actresses in the main categories. Second of all, it would ensure that talented actors aren’t overlooked just because they’re young or aren’t making a gazillion dollars a movie yet. For example, people like Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst or Evan Rachel Woods could finally be recognized, and Keisha Castle-Hughes would have actually had a chance at an award.
- Best Dubbing Actor/Actress. Because let’s not forget that the majority of people don’t see movies in their original version, and the actors who do the dubbing have a really hard job (conveying the same emotion as the actor onscreen while standing alone in a small room with just a microphone) and they don’t get any recognition for it.
- Best Subtitling/Dubbing. Again, people see movies in other languages and someone has to do that translating; by personal experience, I can tell you that it ain’t easy and that these people get very little recognition, although some of them do deserve some kind of award and it IS their translation that can earn a nomination for a movie. After all, there is already an award for best adaptation; this would just be taking it one little step further.
- Finally, an award for People Who Haven’t Yet Received An Oscar But Who Deserve One, Based On Their Career So Far. That way, people like Tom Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio would get the award that they have been overlooked for the past ten years. Also, the Best Lead Actor Or Whatever award wouldn’t end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t deserve it for the particular movie they were nominated for, but who ends up receiving it because the members of the Academy feel bad for not handing it out before. For example, sorry to be putting anyone down, but Kim Basinger actually won for her role in L.A. Confidential, and I’m sorry but there was absolutely nothing outstanding about her performance, even I could have pulled that one off; she just got her Welcome Back award instead. And when Nicole Kidman (The Hours) won over Salma Hayek (Frida), that was the same thing: for those particular movies, Salma should have earned it, but because Nicole had been overlooked for so long she’s the one who got to go home with it. Same thing for Denzel Washington. The list goes on. They’re extremely talented actors and I have nothing against the fact that they have an Oscar, I’m all for it even, just not for the movies they were nominated for that particular year. Sorry.
Of course, that would be in the ideal world where people don’t complain about award shows being too long. Although in my opinion, it went pretty well this year.

Then the post-Oscar parties: not the Vanity Fair, In Style, or any of those, because I don’t know what went on there. But the Oprah show shot in the wee hours of the morning after that. It was the only show to ever broadcast from the Oscar stage (apart from the Oscars, obviously). A basic recap of the evening’s events, Julia Roberts and Cuba Gooding Jr. as guests, as well as an exclusive behind the scenes look at what goes into the making of the award show. Also, the best-dressed and worst-dressed list on any entertainment news program is needed to round off the day.

A-dee-dee, a-dee-dee, a ... That’s all, folks! ;o)

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February 27th, 2005 – 77th Academy Awards

Too long to watch, the Oscar ceremony? Not this year! The 77th edition of the American ceremony, which rewards exceptional achievements in the motion picture industry, went according to schedule.

Hosted by the comedian Chris Rock, the ceremony had a different format from previous years, as many awards were given out prior to the event. Also, in some cases, all the nominees were already onstage before the award was given out, and in other cases, the presenters were actually in the audience and the thank-you speech took place in the aisle instead of on the stage. All these measures were very efficient to reduce the duration of the ceremony. And Chris Rock was very entertaining.

The big winner of the evening was the movie Million Dollar Baby, which received four awards: best movie, best director (Clint Eastwood), best lead actress (Hillary Swank) and best supporting actor (Morgan Freeman). The prize for best lead actor was awarded to Jamie Foxx for his performance in Ray, and the best supporting actress was Cate Blanchett for her role in The Aviator.

The short animation film Ryan, from Canada, earned Chris Landreth a statue as well.

Finally, Béyoncé Knowles sang three songs, including one with Josh Groban (a song by Andrew Lloyd Webber, composed for the movie Phantom of the Opera). One of the songs was from the movie Les Choristes and was therefore in French. Yes, Béyoncé has an absolutely incredible voice, but I couldn’t understand a single word of her French!

Go check out http://www.oscar.com for more information.

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March 5th, 2006 – 78th Academy Awards

I recently found out that members of the Academy are not required to see all the movies that are nominated before they cast their votes – and many of them don’t. So how unfair is that? A person can be nominated and not have a chance because voters don’t feel obligated to see the movie. Someone else will win just because he has more pull.

This year, the show opened with a montage of previous hosts explaining why they could not host this year’s ceremony (Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, for example, were both “busy” in a Brokeback Mountain tent; I just love people who can poke fun at themselves). Then Jon Stewart came in and dreamt that he was in bed with Halle Berry, then woke up next to George Clooney. It was really funny, and he continued to deliver great material throughout the show (including a hilarious montage of “gay” lines from old western flicks). There were a few sponsorship spoofs, like ads made to sway the vote for certain actresses instead of others. While this was funny, I’m sure some people will argue that it went too far.

The order of the presentation of the awards was different than usual; while the first award was for best supporting actor, things then moved on to visual effects, animated films, short films, costumes and makeup; the best leading actress award came in eighth place. The award for best cinematography was in between best actor and best actress. I don’t know if the Academy intends on keeping that order, but it seemed a little hap-hazardish to me.

George Clooney won for best supporting actor; the first words of his acceptance speech were “Well, I guess this means I’m not winning for best director.” Then Ben Stiller presented the award for special effects – he was dressed in a green unitard, pretending that the people watching on tv would not see him because he would blend in the background. It was absolutely hilarious, although it went on maybe a bit too long. King Kong won the award. The best animated film was Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Finally, the entire world knows about this wonderful alternative to Barney! The makers of that movie all wore matching bow-ties, much like one of their characters. The winner of the award for best costumes was Memoirs of a Geisha. After that, Will Ferrell (whose name was misspelled) and Steve Carrell presented the award for best makeup, both doing a very funny dialogue while wearing a ton of obvious makeup. The winner in that category was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The best supporting actress this year was Rachel Weisz, for her role in The Constant Gardener. Then, a woman who was one of the winners of the award for best short documentary (A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin) thanked the Academy for seating her next to George Clooney at the luncheon, drawing laughs from the audience. The best documentary was March of the Penguins (no surprises there), and all recipients walked out on stage with stuffed penguins; good thing they came prepared. The award for sound mixing was presented by Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, who walked out to the sound of the theme from Speed. They gave the award to the crew from King Kong. One of the winners thanked his mother for her unconditional support; she had only questioned him once by asking if he was sure that he didn’t want to be a doctor, but after tonight, he’s probably more convinced than ever! Go Kiwis!

Lauren Bacall presented an award, and had everyone on the edge of their seats because after a few sentences, her speech slowed down and she seemed to become so disoriented that I know refer to this episode as “the Lauren Bacall death scare”. I’m sure anyone who’s seen it will agree (I honestly thought she was going to keel over right there, live at the Oscars). But she pulled through just fine, thank God. Then, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin gave a very fluid and excellent performance, with over-lapping dialogues, about the fact that life is many things at once; they presented the honorary Oscar to Robert Altman. After that, Jennifer Garner walked out on stage to present and she almost pulled a Carrie Bradshaw when she tripped before getting to the microphone. Luckily, she didn’t fall and had the grace to add, with a smile, “I do my own stunts.” It was a very nice save. There was also Dustin Hoffman who, when he presented, congratulated everyone who didn’t win by saying that they had all done great work; his words sounded so heartfelt that it was extremely touching.

The best song was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”, from Hustle & Flow; this means that some hip-hop group now has more Oscars than Martin Scorsese, can you believe it? I still like “In the Deep” better, for what my opinion’s worth.

Finally, best leading actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, for Capote. I’m glad he finally has some recognition, because he’s been a very good actor for a long time, but he always ended up with small roles in big movies, or big roles in small movies (usually playing the bad guy). But now he’s a household name. His speech was good, too; he thanked his mother, who raised her four children by herself. And Reese Witherspoon won the award for best actress, for her role in Walk The Line (excellent movie, by the way). Her speech was also very good, and she thanked her parents for supporting her and being proud of her no matter what she did, whether it was making the bed or making a movie.

The best adapted screenplay was Brokeback Mountain, and the best original screenplay was Crash (I called it!). The best director was Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain; again, no surprises there. The surprise came when Jack Nicholson presented the award for the best picture. You could see that he was surprised himself, as was most of the audience, that Brokeback Mountain didn’t make it. Instead, Crash won. So it’s really a good surprise, hopefully more people will see the movie. It actually came out in 2004, so I’m surprised that it was nominated for the 2006 Oscars (instead of the 2005), but at least now, people have heard of it. Some people say that Brokeback Mountain didn’t win because the average Academy member is a 65-year-old man who somehow isn’t ready to be comfortable with homosexuality yet. But then, can you explain to me how “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won for best song?

The ceremony ended at 11:30pm Eastern Time, which means that the timing was quite good this year. I’m wondering why they felt it was necessary to interrupt the very last speech, then. And I’m a little disappointed that Jon Stewart wasn’t more present in the overall broadcast (although his jokes were).

You can find a complete list of winners on www.oscar.com.

As for the dresses… Some people looked particularly good (like Jessica Alba, Keira Knightley and Reese Witherspoon), some were marching to the beat of their own drum (Helena Bonham Carter), and others (like Michelle Williams) looked like they were playing dress-up. This year, Charlize Theron wore a dress that you’ll either love or hate, with a huge pouffy bow on the shoulder.

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February 25th, 2007 – 79th Academy Awards

As the celebrities started to crowd the red carpet, it was somewhat obvious that a big red bow was trying to choke Nicole Kidman. And Penélope Cruz wore a dress that looked like a giant feather duster. Neither woman was her usual stylish self. Anne Hathaway was trying to look nice as she saluted her mother, and Jennifer Hudson probably wished she had left her bolero at home. Abigail Breslin was wearing something tasteful, meaning that she wasn’t trying to look older than she was. Jessica Biel looked somewhat underdressed. But Cameron Diaz was wearing a beautiful white dress and nice green earrings, although she looked a bit dishevelled. And Lisa Ling “lowered” herself to covering the Oscars, a weird career choice after all those great stories for National Geographic.

The preshow started with a short introduction, which was actually a Happy Feet spoof that then tied in with the other nominated movies. This was followed by a montage of the nominees on a white background, answering random questions or just being themselves; it was a good introduction and showed that this was the most international Oscars ever. Ellen DeGeneres celebrated the nominees instead of just the winners, which was a welcome change. She pointed out various nominees and actors in the audience. She broke the ice well, she made people laugh and she was entertaining. And like people say, it’s not long speeches that are a problem, it’s the boring ones.

Once again, the order of presentation of the awards seemed random; even the screenplay awards, and the awards for actors and actresses, were separated. I wish they would go back to the old format, really.

First, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig presented the award for Art Direction, which went to Pan’s Labyrinth. Maggie Gyllenhaal had handed out some Oscars previously, namely the Technical Achievement award as well as Scientific and Engineering award. Will Ferrell and Jack Black then sang in the defence of comedians and poked fun at actors, who were good sports. They were joined by John C. Reilly, and the three of them presented the award for Best Achievement in Makeup, which went to Pan’s Labyrinth once again.

Abigail Breslin and Jayden Smith presented Best Animated Short (it was the perfect choice for presenters). Jayden almost presented the following award before announcing the winner for the first one (everyone laughed, including his parents). The Danish Poet won for Best Animated Short, and West Bank Story won for Best Live-Action Short.

We were then treated to a “choir”, Elements & Motions, who did the sounds to various movie clips; it was very impressive. Steve Carrel and Greg Kinnear then presented the award for Sound Editing (as the sound was cut off, which was pretty funny). Letters From Iwo Jima won that one. Jessica Biel and James McAvoy presented the award for Sound Mixing to Dreamgirls.

Rachel Weisz presented the award for Best Supporting Actor (which was actually BEFORE the award for Best Actress!); she did it twice, once with clips. Alan Arkin won. Despite how much I loved Little Miss Sunshine, I wish Djimon Hounsou had won. Eddie Murphy apparently left the ceremony at that point, thoroughly pissed off that he didn’t win (what class).

A dance troupe, Pilobolus, recreated moments from movies, shadow-puppet style: it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.

We heard the nominated song Our Town (from the movie Cars), by James Taylor and Randy Newman (who was nominated for the 17th time). Melissa Ethridge sang I Need To Wake Up (from An Inconvenient Truth) right after.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore then got up on stage and announced that the AFI has gone green for the first time with these awards; tips to have an eco-friendly award party are on http://www.oscar.com. They weren’t even presenters, they just talked about the environment, which I think is pretty cool. Then Ellen recycled some jokes from earlier in her career.

Cameron Diaz then presented the award for Best Animated Feature to Happy Feet. The creators thanked all the men in the audience for wearing penguin suits. ;)

Ben Affleck introduced the Best Screenplays category (people forget that he won the Oscar with Matt Damon in the same category). There was a nice montage of screenwriters in movies. The award for Best Adapted Screenplay, presented by Helen Mirren and Tom Hanks, went to The Departed.

Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt presented the award for Best Costume Design. They started by talking to Meryl Streep, still in character from The Devil Wears Prada (she played along beautifully). Then, the Academy used real live models presented the clothes, instead of relying on sketches. That was a stroke of genius! Marie Antoinette won in that category.

Tom Cruise presented the Jean Hersholt award to Sherry Lansing, for her involvement in cancer research after her film-making career (she was CEO of Paramount for twelve years and was extremely successful). She was wearing a very pretty dress that was red fading into black.

Gwyneth Paltrow, in a simple but elegant dress, presented the award for Best Cinematography to Pan’s Labyrinth. Naomi Watts and Robert Downey, Jr., presented for Best Visual Effects (Rob poked some fun at himself and his chequered past). Not surprisingly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest won in that category. Catherine Deneuve and Ken Watanabe introduced the Foreign Language Film with a montage of foreign films from the past decades. Then, Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett presented the award for Best Foreign Language Film to The Lives of Others.

Ellen DeGeneres led the dance troupe in projecting an image of Snakes on a Plane, which is the closest that movie will get to the Oscars!

George Clooney presented the award for Best Supporting Actress to Jennifer Hudson, who was clearly moved (and who had thankfully shed her bolero by then).

Ava Green and Gael Garcia Bernal presented the award for Best Documentary – Short Subject to The Blood of YingZhou District. Jerry Seinfeld presented for Best Documentary Feature (with a comic twist, of course). An Inconvenient Truth won, so there is still justice in the world! Al Gore got to go on stage as well and pleaded once again for the fate of the planet. He did not announce his candidacy to the presidency, though (personally, I think him and Barack Obama would make a kick-ass team).

Clint Eastwood introduced the Scores, with another montage. Céline Dion sang the world premiere of I knew I Loved You on stage. Clint Eastwood then presented the Honorary Oscar to Ennio Morricone, then translated his Italian thank-you speech into English (ending up with a somewhat shorter and summed-up version). Penélope Cruz and Hugh Jackman presented the award for Best Original Score to Babel.

The president of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences, Sid Ganis, spoke during a montage honouring the Academy’s preservation and educational work. He explained it all in less than 60 seconds.

Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire then presented the award for Best Original Screenplay to Little Miss Sunshine. Therefore, once again, there is justice in the universe.

J-Lo (who is herself “an excellent reason to get HDTV”, apparently) introduced the three songs from Dreamgirls. The cast singing them had a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony!

John Travolta and Queen Latifa presented the award for Best Original Song to Melissa Ethridge (I Need to Wake Up), which was really cool. Some people were surprised that none of the songs from Dreamgirls won, but once again, that’s what happens when you enter more than one song per movie: the vote is split! You’d think they’d have learned from Cold Mountain...

Will Smith then introduced the montage of American movies.

Kate Winslet presented the award for Best Film Editing to The Departed. I have to say that I’m both surprised and disappointed (and perhaps outraged?) that Children of Men didn’t get it.

Jodie Foster then led the reflection on artists who died this year (including her friend Maggie Stone, who had passed away two weeks before).

Ellen DeGeneres then made a joke about it being the end of the show and that she made it on time (it was then 11:52pm).

Philip Seymour Hoffman presented the award for Best Leading Actress to Helen Mirren, who referred to it as a gold star and thanked the Queen. That win was to be expected, but any one of the nominees would have deserved the statue. Kate Winslet, by the way, is now the youngest actress to have five nominations.

There was another commercial break. And they aired the same ads all damn evening! It was all about Rogers and McDonald’s and whatnot.

Then, there was a glitch in the matrix when the Oscars picked up again and used the same music a second time, while Ellen DeGeneres was vacuuming. Reese Witherspoon presented the award for Best Leading Actor to Forest Whitaker. Peter O’Toole was snubbed again, though I have to admit that Forest Whitaker did put on a great performance in The Last King of Scotland (and also gave a great speech).

Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas all got up on stage to present the award for Best Director! Martin Scorsese finally got his Oscar, to a standing ovation! He gave a nice speech. Jack Nicholson hugged him on his way out (he’d been standing backstage for awhile, waiting to present).

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson then walked out on stage to present the Best Picture award (well, Jack told Diane to do it, then he announced the winner). The Departed won, while the camera was on Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson hanging around backstage. Martin Scorsese thanked Leonardo DiCaprio, among others, for working on the movie with him.

Ellen DeGeneres, like Jon Stewart before her, seemed to fade in the background a lot, even though she was funny when she was there. I wish we had seen more of her.

And that was the recap. For more information, pictures and videos, please visit http://www.oscar.com.

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February 24th, 2008 – 80th Academy Awards

Yes, I go back for more every year, even when I haven’t seen half of the movies nominated. I’ll skip the red carpet, since the only things that caught my attention there were Amy Adams’ purse (a mesh accessory that was actually empty) and the time Gary Bussey practically mauled Jennifer Garner. Anne Hathaway had a beautiful dress, even though the train might have been a bit unpractical. Jennifer Hudson was ill-advised again this year, though.
The opening sequence of the show startled me a little. Was it supposed to be in 3D? If so, was I supposed to have glasses somehow? The opening credits dragged on for no reason – and then they wonder why the show ends so late.
The host this year was Jon Stewart, who usually does a great job. He talked about the cancellation of the legendary Vanity Fair after-party, in so-called solidarity with the writers (who were on strike until very recently). Of course, as he said, a better way to show solidarity would be to actually invite some writers to that party!
Also, to my surprise, the movie Norbit was nominated for an Oscar (best makeup). It’s rare to see a movie nominated at both the Razzies and the Oscars! Jon Stewart said it was a good thing, because all too often, the Academy ignores movies that aren’t good. ;)
He also talked about the upcoming elections, of course, where it seems that we should examine all the candidates and then pick the Democrat we want to vote for. Normally, when we see a Black man or a woman President, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty, because that’s how a movie establishes that it’s the future.
Jon Stewart’s 10-minute opening was entertaining and funny.
Jennifer Garner, looking fabulous, presented the award for Achievement in costume design to the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Then, there was a break for commercials. Before each of those breaks, we were shown a montage of previous ceremonies, which was very interesting.

George Clooney then introduced a retrospective about the Oscars. Jon Stewart made another appearance. Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell presented the award for Best animated film of the year to Ratatouille – a sure thing and well-deserving film. Katherine Heigl, acknowledging her nervousness, presented the award for Achievement in makeup, which went to La Vie en rose (Marion Cotillard got more emotional, in her seat, then the winners).
We then heard the first performance of the nominated songs. It was Happy Working Song from Enchanted. The movie has three nominated songs this year. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: don’t nominate more than one song, you’ll split the vote! Is no one reading my reviews?
Thank God Jon Stewart made an observation about the catty remarks regarding outfits – let’s see if it makes a difference in Monday’s coverage of Oscar night. Doubtful, but at least he tried.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson presented the award for Best visual effects to The Golden Compass. Then, Cate Blanchett gave the award for Achievement in art direction to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. And Jon Stewart gave kudos to Cate Blanchett for all her acting this year.
Jennifer Hudson presented the award for Best supporting actor, after a short retrospective, to Javier Bardem. He gave quite a nice speech, in which he was very grateful, and he dedicated the award to his mother.

After the commercial break, Keri Russell introduced the second nominated song of the evening, Raise It Up, from August Rush. It was a good song, especially given that one of the star singers was only 11-years-old.
Owen Wilson presented the award for Best live-action short film to Le Mozart des Pickpockets.
Then, Barry the Bee (Jerry Seinfeld), from Bee Movie, presented the award for Best animated short film to Peter & the Wolf. The winners came onstage with the Peter puppet from the movie, adding a nice whimsical note to the moment.
Alan Arkin, after a retrospective, presented the Best supporting actress award to a clearly shocked Tilda Swinton, who gave an interesting and funny speech.

Jessica Alba had presented the scientific and technical awards earlier in the month and gave a short recap.
Josh Brolin and James McAvoy, after a little banter, presented the award for Best adapted screenplay to No Country for Old Men.
Then, in an interesting clip, the President of the Academy, Sid Ganis, explained the process of choosing nominees and winners for the Oscars.
And Miley Ray Cyrus presented another nominated song, That’s How You Know.

After the commercial break, Jon Stewart announced Dame Judi Dench and Halle Berry, but it was Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill who walked out on stage, to do a comedy routine and present the award for Best sound editing to The Bourne Ultimatum (also known as Bourne Nausea in the Front Row). The award for Best sound mixing went to the same movie.
Forrest Whitaker then presented, after a retrospective, the award for Best leading actress to Marion Cotillard. It’s the first time that I can remember when a nominee, let alone a winner, was a foreign actress, nominated for a foreign film in a foreign language! She totally deserved it, though. She was very touched and thrilled, and she expressed herself very well in English. As she was getting off the stage, she then burst into tears in Forrest Whitaker’s arms.

After the following commercial break, Jon Stewart was playing a Wii tennis game with the 11-year-old singer from an earlier number. When the show resumed, Colin Farrell slid to the podium and presented the song Falling Slowly, which became my personal favourite of the evening.
Jack Nicholson (with a pair of glasses with darkened lenses, but not his trademark sunglasses) presented the Best picture retrospective, which was clearly made for widescreen, because I couldn’t see the full title nor the year the films were honoured. Renée Zellweger presented the award for Best film editing to Christopher Rouse for The Bourne Ultimatum. It turns out that his father also got an Oscar, 48 years before, and he was honoured to join him.
Jon Stewart then tried to catch the mike before it disappeared, and joked about the winner, since it was really anyone’s guess.
Nicole Kidman (with a bit too much necklace), who was introduced as “the star of the 2010 untitled Nicole Kidman project, according to the IMDB”, presented the honorary Oscar to production designer Robert Boyle. The 98-year-old gave a humorous and thoughtful speech.

After the commercial break, Jon Stewart joked that because of a small technical glitch, they had to start the broadcast all over again. That would have been a good time to include Whoopi Goldberg in the hosts’ montage (she is a four-time host and was the first woman to host the show solo).
Penélope Cruz, since she speaks four languages, presented the award for Best foreign language film to The Counterfeiters, from Austria (the director accepted the award).
Patrick Dempsey presented the last nominated song, So Close, from Enchanted.
John Travolta then danced onto the stage to present the award for Best original song – it went to Falling Slowly, from Once. Didn’t I call it? ;) Glen Hansard gave his speech, but the wrapping-up music started as Marketa Irglova got to the mike, and she wasn’t able to say anything.
Jon Stewart asked about a parked plane on La Brea with the landing lights on, and John Travolta ran up because apparently it was his (this was hilarious).

Right after the commercial break, Marketa Irglova got to come back and say something, because she was rudely cut off before. I’m glad Jon Stewart made that executive decision, because the poor woman would have been haunted by it for the rest of her life.
Cameron Diaz then presented the award for Achievement in cinematography to There Will Be Blood.
Hillary Swank presented the in memoriam montage, which ended with Heath Ledger, who went before his time.

Amy Adams presented the award for Best original score to Atonement.
Tom Hanks then introduced soldiers, who presented the award for Best short-subject documentary to Freeheld. The clip had been taped in Baghdad, so they had the envelope early. It’s nice that the troops were included in the broadcast.
Tom Hanks continued by presenting the award for Best documentary feature to Taxi to the Dark Side.

Harrison Ford, being very serious, presented the award for Best original screenplay to Juno. Diablo Cody, who used to be an exotic dancer, hasn’t completely lost her exotic ways, judging by her dress. She gave a good speech, and I’m glad she won, because her screenplay was brilliant.
A classy-looking Helen Mirren presented the award for Best leading actor, after a retrospective, to Daniel Day-Lewis, who was a shoo-in. This guy comes out of the woodwork every once in a while, does a movie, gets an award for it and goes back into obscurity. It’s the perfect career.

Martin Scorcese presented the award for Best director to the Coen brothers for No Country for Old Men; they gave a very good speech.
Finally, Denzel Washington presented the award for Best picture to No Country for Old Men.
Jon Stewart came onstage one final time. There was no final joke, just a goodbye. Just like the last time he hosted, I feel that he was relatively absent. He’s a funny man, and I understand that the ceremony is not supposed to be a stand-up comedy routine, but I wish that a host that good would be more present.

There was nothing much that made this ceremony stand out. No controversy, no big surprises, no block-buster movies that everyone saw. It was somewhat ho-hum. Let’s hope for something with a little more oomph next year.
Also, I wish they would just once and for all decide on a logical order in which to present the awards! It changes from year to year, the official website gives a list of nominees in a equally random order, and then the list of winners is in a different order still! It’s mind-boggling every darn time.

As always, you can get more information and watch videos at www.oscars.com, and you can also check out www.oscars.org.

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Rants

The reform of the French language

The reform of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française was established in 1990, but it’s only 15 years later that we really hear about it. It affects notably the plural of composite nouns, verbs ending in “eler” and in “eter”, accents, simplification of double consonants and the hyphen. Over 2000 words are affected by the new spelling.

We’re not told exactly what’s changing, it’s not explained in the media. There’s a list on www.orthographe-recommande.info, but here are some specific examples. “Prunellier” becomes “prunelier” (like “noisetier”); “porte-monnaie” becomes “portemonnaie” (like “portefeuille”); “chariot” becomes “charriot” (like “charrette”). The reform doesn’t draw the same reaction from everyone: While the general population remains indifferent, language specialists either scream bloody murder or joyously embrace it.

We are told that it is to simplify French, to eliminate useless exceptions, according to Aurel Ramat (author of the famous Ramat de la typographie). But the rules of the past participle don’t change; there are in fact many exceptions that don’t change. The plural of “pou” will always take an “x”, not an “s”. So, why change some particularities and not others? Learn your language, good grief! Yes, French is hard, but that’s what a Bescherelle is for! “Gout” instead of “goût” is ridiculous! “Relai” instead of “relais” looks naked! “Ognon” instead of “oignon”, how ugly!

Yes, it’s true that the old spelling is still accepted and the use people make of it will determine what happens. It could take a while, it took 185 years for “françois” to become “français”. The new spelling is starting to be accepted by word processors and is taught by some teachers. But I have a visceral reaction when people change my language. Hence this rant about my new pet peeve. Stop changing spelling! The evolution of language is for words like “courriel” (email), not to change what some people have trouble with, for God’s sake!

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Opening the bus doors

Why do people have so much trouble opening the doors of STM buses, when there’s nothing simpler? They forget to walk down on the step and get frustrated when the door doesn’t open. They forget to wave their hand in front of the motion detector and get frustrated when the door doesn’t open. They forget to press on the bars and get frustrated when the door doesn’t open. They’re all frustrated, it’s always the bus driver’s fault, it irks them for the rest of the day. Every damn time. Even though the bus is covered in clear instructions. Even tough the doors have been opening the same way for years. Even though any idiot who’s ever taken the bus in Montreal should know what to do with their eyes closed and their thumb up their ass. They annoy me, these people, what’s their problem! I sometimes have to reach over their shoulders to open the door, not just for them but so I can get off before the Apocalypse too. I don’t have all day to stand there and wait to see whether the little lady or the little man can open the doors through sheer telekinetic powers, come on!

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Snow removal on the sidewalks

Winter is officially here in Montreal. That means that once again, it’s pedestrian hunting season for snow removal operators. It’s as if they were getting bonus points for knocking us down. I mean, really, do you realize how fast they’re going on those little snow plows used to clear the sidewalks? I have had to literally jump out of their way on several occasions – because they just don’t stop for anyone. Last year [2007], one was going so fast that when it hit something on the sidewalk and abruptly stopped, the driver ended up with a concussion and a bloody nose from smacking into the windshield. That’s a sign he was going too fast, people!

I can understand wanting to go fast to clear more sidewalks in less time, sure. But when there is any obstacle – including pedestrians who are trying to deal with the snow, just like everyone else – these operators should just slow the heck down!

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Recipes

Raspberry Lemonade

You can use frozen raspberries for this recipe, but I recommend fresh raspberries if they’re available. This lemonade is made to be very sweet, so it’s important to serve it over lots of ice; you can also add mineral water. And if you’re feeling overzealous, freeze raspberries and lemon zest into ice cubes to decorate. ;o)

5 cups of water
2 cups of granulated sugar
3 cups (1 frozen box) of raspberries
2 cups of lemon juice (6 big lemons)
1 cup vodka (optional)
Lemons and raspberries to decorate

In a saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, while mixing to dissolve the sugar. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add the raspberries. Cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Pass through a sieve and refrigerate until mixture has completely cooled.

Add the fresh lemon juice and the vodka. Pour into a pitcher filled with ice. Add lemon slices and fresh raspberries.

– Yields about 12 portions –

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Blueberry and Lemon Verbena Sorbet

I once ran out of lemon verbena while making this and I used fresh mint leaves instead; the result was delicious. You could also use raspberries or blackberries, keeping in mind that raspberries may require sweeter syrup. You might want to keep a few leaves and berries for decorating.

1 lb (3 cups) of blueberries
2 tbsp of lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups of fresh lemon verbena leaves

Stir together the sugar and the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved. Let it boil for one minute, then add verbena leaves and remove from heat immediately. Cover and let syrup cool for a few hours, then refrigerate until completely cold.

Process the blueberries in a food processor until smooth, adding a few tablespoons of water if necessary. Stir in lemon juice. Pour the syrup through a sieve and into the blueberry mixture; discard the verbena leaves. Process once more.

Pour mixture through a fine sieve and into a large bowl or an airtight container. If you own an ice-cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, place bowl or container into the freezer and mix every half hour with a fork, until frozen (at least four hours).

Enjoy. ;o)

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Impossible Tart

Here’s one of my mother’s recipes; I rediscovered it recently and I decided to share it with you. It’s very good, extremely simple and inexpensive.

4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup of margarine
½ cup of flour
2 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of grated coconut
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Mix all the ingredients (if you have a blender, blend them a few seconds; otherwise, mix them by hand in a big bowl). Pour it into a deep, greased 10”x10” dish (that’s the original recipe, but it also works great in a big oval dish). Bake at 350 °F for about 1 hour, until the center becomes firm.

The flour will sink to the bottom to form the crust; the coconut will rise to the top and become the garnish. The center becomes an unctuous filling. That’s why it is called Impossible Tart, because you mix a bunch of ingredients, and it becomes a three-tier affair on its own. It’s like a coconut clafoutis, basically. ;o)

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Saffron-Scented Pear Upside-Down Cake

I made this really simple cake recently, and it was so good that I decided to share the recipe with you. If you don’t have a spice grinder, don’t sweat it, I’m sure you can even use a knife on a board. And I used an electric beater with the regular attachments, no harm done. The original recipe called for buttermilk instead of milk.

1 pinch saffron threads
1 cup sugar (¼ cup + ¾ cup)
¼ cup butter, softened
2 pears
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¾ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350oF. Grease an 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Pulse saffron and ¼ cup of the sugar in a spice grinder until well-combined. Put butter and saffron sugar into the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Using a small offset spatula, spread mixture into prepared pan.

Peel pears; halve lengthwise and core. Using a sharp knife, cut pears lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices. Arrange pears decoratively in pan over saffron-butter mixture.

Whisk together flour, remaining ¾ cup of the sugar, baking powder, ground ginger and salt in a large bowl. Whisk milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in another bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking. Stir in the crystallized ginger.

Spread the batter over the pears. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Place serving platter upside-down over the cake pan and flip to unmold the cake. Peel off the parchment paper.

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This recipe reminded me of one of my chocolate cake recipes, which calls for some mashed potatoes (it makes the moistest cake ever). I thought you would enjoy this one.

1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
½ cup milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
2 cups finely shredded zucchini
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup sliced almonds (optional)

Custard sauce:
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups milk
3 eggs yolks
3 tbsp butter
a dash of almond extract

Preheat oven at 325 °F. Grease and flour a 10-inch fluted tube pan.
In a bowl, beat sugar, oil and butter. Add eggs, milk and vanilla; mix well.
Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in zucchini, chocolate chips and almonds.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 55-60 min or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 min; remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

For the sauce, combine sugar, flour and cornstarch in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, about 2 min. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of mixture into egg yolks; return all to pan, stirring. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 2 min. Remove from heat; stir in butter and almond extract.
Serve warm.

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Beet Cake with Mascarpone and Lemon Icing

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 pinch of salt
4 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
2/3 cup apple sauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 ¾ cups raw beets, peeled and grated (about 4 medium beets)
1 cup (250 g) mascarpone cheese
zest of a lemon, grated or finely chopped
¼ cup honey

Preheat the oven at 350 °F. In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a big bowl, mix eggs, vanilla and flour. Add the apple, the applesauce, the oil and the beets. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just homogenous.

Pour into two 8-inch greased and floured cakes pans. Bake in the oven 30-35 min, until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Put on a wire rack and let cool 10 min. Unmold and let cool completely.

With a wooden spoon, lightly beat mascarpone cheese, then add the lemon zest and honey. Mix well. Spread half the icing on the first cake. Put the second cake on top and cover with the rest of icing. To taste, garnish with chopped pecans and beet leaves.

To make beet leaves, finely slice a raw beet with a mandolin and brush both sides with maple syrup. Put on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silpat. Bake in an oven preheated at 300 oF for 25-30 min, or until the slices are crispy. Immediately put them on a wire rack to let them cool.

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Brownies (with Carrot and Spinach)

These brownies fool everyone! You won't believe how scrumptious they are (or how good they are for you) until you make them yourself. Just don't serve them warm—it's not until they're completely cool that the spinach flavour totally disappears.
To purée the vegetables, just steam until tender and then put then in the blender.
This recipe was created by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry Seinfeld’s wife). She has a cookbook called
Deceptively Delicious, which is basically about sneaky ways to hide vegetables in food without affecting its taste. It’s meant as a tool for moms with picky kids; that being said, I’m actually considering buying it (even though I don’t even have any kids yet), just because I have my own issues with vegetables. All the recipes, including this one, are low in fat.

3 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup carrot purée
1/2 cup spinach purée
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. trans-fat-free soft tub margarine spread
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup oat flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Coat an 8" x 8" baking pan with cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or over a very low flame.

In a large bowl, combine the melted chocolate, vegetable purees, sugar, cocoa powder, margarine and vanilla and whisk until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Whisk in egg whites. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into 12 bars.

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Pear and Autumn-Vegetable Soup
(Serves 6)

It’s perfect for the season. The original recipe called for a turnip instead of a potato, but I don’t like turnips, so I took some liberty here. Also, you can add ¼ cup of heavy cream to the soup before serving, if you feel so inclined (I declined, because I’m lactose-intolerant). And the pear garnish is strictly optional.

2 medium Bartlett pears (about 8 to 10 ounces each)
4 small Bartlett pears (about 6 ounces each), peeled, halved and cored
1 sugar pumpkin or butternut squash (about 1 lb), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 potato (about 3 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 sprig fresh sage
1 ½ tsp coarse salt
½ tsp freshly-ground white pepper

Preheat oven to 200 °F. Using a mandoline, cut the 2 medium pears lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pears are dry, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on sheet on a wire rack.
Place the 4 small pears, the pumpkin, the potato, the sage and 1tsp of salt in a big stockpot. Cover with water (at least 4 cups). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20-30 minutes.
Pour mixture through a sieve into a bowl, reserving broth and discarding sage. Purée solids in a food processor or blender, adding up to ½ cup of reserved broth as needed. Return purée to the pot. Stir in 3 to 4 cups of reserved broth to achieve desired consistency. Bring soup to a simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in remaining salt and the pepper.
Serve garnished with dried pear slices.

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Rachael Ray’s Vodka Cream Pasta

This recipe is both the easiest and the best pasta recipe I have. The vodka evaporates, so it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it might seem in the recipe. I’m sure you could replace it with white wine, too.

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 oz)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 oz pasta, such as spaghetti or penne
½ cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic and shallots. Gently sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, to develop sweetness. Add vodka to the pan and reduce by half. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta al dente.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss pasta with sauce and basil leaves.

Serve with a salad and crusty bread.

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Szechuan Orange Pork

This is a delicious recipe that I recently discovered; try it with the coconut rice. Yes, you need a wok, but I’ve decided that it’s worth the investment, even for an electric wok (purists will frown upon it, but don’t let that discourage you).

1 lb (500 g) pork filet
1 egg white
1 tbsp + 1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp orange zest (julienne-cut)
1 clove garlic, thinly chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, thinly chopped
½ red bell pepper, cubed
½ orange bell pepper, cubed
1 tbsp water

Sweet-and-sour Sauce:
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 tsp Asian pepper sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp orange juice
¼ cup Triple Sec
1 tsp sugar

Cut the pork in cubes ½-inch wide. Place in a bowl. Mix the egg white, 1 tbsp corn starch, water and soy sauce together and add to pork while stirring.
Mix the sweet-and-sour sauce ingredients and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok on high. Let excess sauce drip off pork and add in wok. Sauté until it is pink inside, about 3 min. Remove from wok and set aside. Wipe wok.
Add rest of oil in the wok. Sauté the orange zest for about 30 sec, then add garlic and ginger. Stir together. Add the bell peppers and sauté until they are golden and soft, about 2 min.
Put the pork back in the wok with its drippings and bring to a boil. Stir together water and remaining 1 tsp corn starch, then put in wok while stirring. Bring to a boil and cook until sauce thickens. Serve immediately.

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Coconut Rice with Ginger

Here is a recipe that I just recently found – where had it been all my life? It’s amazing!

2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ tbsp fresh ginger, minced
¾ cup long-grain white rice
½ cup coconut milk
1 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup raisins (optional)
½ cup shelled pistachios (optional)

Heat the butter in a one-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until aromatic, about 2 min. Add the rice and stir until the rice is well coated with butter, about 1 min.
Add the coconut milk, water, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 20 min.
Let the rice stand for 5 min, then fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Stir in raisins and pistachios, if desired. Correct seasoning if necessary.

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Theater

Shakespeare in the Park – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Old Port of Montreal – Summer 2004 season
www.shakespeareinthepark.ca

I attended the July 21st performance of the Répercussion Theatre, in the Old Port of Montreal. It is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, now set in New France with words in French and a bit of Cree as well as English, and music from the ‘60s. Hermia’s costume is actually a cross between a pouffy 17th century dress and a miniskirt! The characters quote the Beatles, Elvis and Little Richard, among others, and there is a spoof of the movie Shakespeare in Love. Because of course, the search for love and its idealism has always been one of the main themes in plays and songs. So don’t go there expecting pure Shakespeare, this is more about having fun and laughing out loud.

The play was very well put-together; the set and costumes were especially well thought-out considering the fact that this play is outdoors and rarely stays in the same location more than two days (although one of the actors did accidentally knock down a projector light while making his way offstage). The actors were also amazing; special props to Emily Shelton (Hyppolita and Titania), Amelia Sargisson (Hermia), Amanda Kellock (Helena), Paul Van Dyck (Bottom) and Lita Tresierra (Lead Fairy and Troubadour) for her superb voice. My complaint would be the fact that the microphones used did not work well all the time, there is some room for improvement there.

If you have a free evening, I definitely recommend catching one of their performances, it is well worth it. Check out www.shakespeareinthepark.ca for more details; they are playing until mid-August [2004; they play every summer].

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By the Bog of Cats – Wyndhams Theatre in London – Nov. 19th, 2004 to Feb. 25th, 2005
http://www.theambassadors.com/wyndhams/t_sp_p1425.html


This play by Marina Carr stars none other than Holly Hunter, in my humble opinion one of the most talented actresses out there. The Oscar-winning actress leads a cast of eleven and is directed by Dominic Cooke. This was probably second nature to the actress, as she had played the same role in 2001 in San Jose.

It is the story of Hester Swane, who lives in a small bog in rural Ireland. The place, as you have guessed, is called the Bog of Cats. Hester is a headstrong woman with a strange connection to this land where she has spent all her life. She was abandoned by her mother when she was young, her brother died under mysterious circumstances and her life is about to dramatically change yet again. The play opens in the hour of twilight when you can’t quite tell if it’s dawn or dusk. Hester buries her childhood friend, the black swan who died from the cold. A ghost suddenly appears to claim her life, but when she tells him that it is dawn, he apologizes and says that he’s early, he meant to come at dusk. So much for starting your day on the right foot… It turns out that today is the wedding day of Hester’s lover and the father of her nine-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, he’s not marrying Hester, but a woman half her age. He wants to take her daughter away from her and has also bought her house on the bog, where he plans to move with his hew bride, therefore forcing Hester away from the bog that is so dear to her. She is still in love with him and has no intention of leaving the only place she’s ever know all her life, especially since that would mean leaving her daughter behind. The latter is a bit confused by the situation but is very accepting of her father’s fiancée, making Hester a bit jealous. Everything seems to conspire against her and she has to stand on her own if she is to stand at all.

The play is a cornucopia of supernatural elements, including the black swan, two ghosts and a strange old blind woman who goes by the name of Catwoman and who has the power of foresight. She’s the one who tells Hester that she will die on the same day as the black swan unless she leaves the bog.

The set is simple but very effective: a backdrop of ice, a grave with dirt for the swan, a cut-out for the house, a caravan for, well, the caravan, and a table with chairs. Simple changes of light convey everything you need to know (night and day, a fire burning in the distance, dream and reality).

Holly Hunter gives an amazing performance, especially in the final climactic scene (I saw the December 28th performance, but I’m assuming she does it well every time). Man, she has a set of lungs on her! I still get chills thinking about it. The play itself is very good, the plot is interesting and all the actors are wonderful, but Hunter especially. Even if you don’t go along with the supernatural that permeates the bog, you can still believe in this story about destiny and human strength.

All in all: Definitely worth it, especially in a beautiful old theater like that. But you’ll come out of the play so depressed that you may decide to throw yourself in front of the train in the Underground on the way back from the theater, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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A Comedy of Errors – The Globe Theatre, London – July 24th, 2006
http://www.shakespeares-globe.org


A Shakespeare play in Shakespeare’s Globe in London… What more could you ask for? Well, maybe a seat where the view of the stage isn’t obstructed by a column, but really, it was still better than standing. The more sensitive out there might consider getting a cushion, or even one of those cool portable seats with integrated backrest.

The costumes were very colourful and the set was great, considering the limitations of that stage (but then again, there’s a balcony over the stage which isn’t used to seat the royal family anymore, so they might as well make it part of the play!). The sound also carries quite well in the theatre.

The actors hired to play the two sets of twins looked alike, especially the ones who played Antipholus. They gave incredibly good performances (all of the actors, not just Antipholus).

The story was a little hard to follow in the beginning, despite the prologue, but that’s because I’m a visual person, so hearing Shakespearian verses isn’t as effective as reading them. It did get easier as the play wore on. That’s why I chose to see a comedy based on qui proquos instead of a drama! The fact that is was partly a gestural comedy also helped, of course. And there was a small orchestra for music, ambiance and sound effects.

The play had been slightly updated, and there was a little improvisation, but it remained true to the original.

All in all: A very good performance. If you’re ever in London during the summer season of the Globe, don’t hesitate to go, it’s worth it.

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Le Malade imaginaire – Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Montreal – December 15th, 2006, 8:00 pm
http://www.tnm.qc.ca/


This play was so well received by the public that there had to be encore presentations in December, for the second time. That worked out really well for me, actually, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see it.

This play by Molière (directed by Carl Béchard) starred Alain Zouvi and Pascale Monpetit in the main roles, i.e. respectively Argan (the hypochondriac) and Toinette (his servant). We are reminded of the poor opinion Molière had of doctors, with pretentious scholars more worried about looking smart than about their patients’ health. Bleedings, purges, expensive and inefficient remedies, that’s what summarizes the treatments of the times (according to the author). We also follow the story of Angélique (Argan’s daughter), who is in love with poor Cléante but promised to a doctor, as well as the story of Belline, Argan’s second wife, who is hoping for the latter’s death so that she can inherit his money.

Alain Zouvi gives a really breathtaking performance; he is excellent in this role and plays it to perfection. I could say the same about Pascale Monpetit, who is having a ball with the role of Toinette, to the delight of the audience. The other actors were also excellent. The costumes were brilliant, the music as well. The set was simple, but practical and ingenious.

I should also mention that the theatre itself is beautiful; it’s a place that is small and charming, combining Renaissance-style seats with bare-brick walls. It’s really a special place, full of personality.

All in all: A very good play, with truly excellent performances.

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