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Judge Diane Wild's Blog
• Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Would I lie to you?
Because someone asked if I was joking about the jalapeno in the A Place Called Chiapas review:
Here he is with his friend Marcos. I know, I know. An open note to all Mexicans: feel free to come to Canada and buy a stuffed moose in a Mountie uniform.
When it's good, it's very, very good
Recently I was blown away by an episode of my current TV obsession. I love House. Its appeal to me goes beyond rational thought ... which I suppose could be a definition of love. And like true love, I am not blind to its faults, but they don't take away from the attraction. It's generally formulaic. The writers tend to be better at witty, intelligent dialogue and creating the character of Dr. Gregory House than overall plot, medical realism, and secondary character consistency. It neglects intriguing characters played by strong actors in favour of more screen time for those who look like they stumbled in from The O.C set. But the dialogue and the central character, played to astonishing perfection by Hugh Laurie, are more than enough to make this my favourite show since the early seasons of The West Wing. Even so, I didn't expect that it had “Three Stories” in it.
Talking with a friend after that penultimate episode of its first season, I mentioned it was now on my list of best episodes of any television show. “What else is on your list?” my friend innocently asked, causing me to stammer and backpedal and say, well, I don't have an actual list, you know, but “Three Stories” is on my hypothetical list.
Which of course got me to mentally compile an actual list. Here's the disclaimer: this is not a Critic's Best list, it's a very incomplete personal favourites list, only taking into account shows I've seen recently on TV or DVD so I don't have to reach back into unreliable memory, and not taking into account the many worthy shows I simply don't watch. If there's a formula to these favourite episodes, it's their ability to break free of formula using a combination of humour and emotional depth, culminating in an unexpected revelation. So here's my top four, in chronological order:
1. Sports Night: “The Apology”
2. The West Wing: "Two Cathedrals”
3. Scrubs: “My Screw Up”
4. House: “Three Stories”
"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." - Rudyard Kipling
Or maybe it's just the jet lag ...
Sometimes random thoughts swirl together in my little brain and try to collide into one cohesive idea. This time, my Unified Theory of Nothing Much brings together travelling, relationships and Venn diagrams, with movies making a cameo appearance. I have discovered my ultimate answer to life, and it's not 42. It's exploration.
I just got back from a vacation in Spain, whose historic Muslim influences most fascinated me, despite my having no ties to Islam. During the trip, I reluctantly ended up in a partly intriguing, partly agonizing two-week conversation about relationships, especially what draws us to people we may be incompatible with. That reminded me of a decade-old conversation with a former boss, who drew a Venn diagram for me to show his view on relationships: that we can only connect with others in the place where our experiences and interests intersect with theirs. But that doesn't work for me.
Maybe we need the commonalities to make us comfortable, but comfort is overrated. I think we need the differences to keep us interested. I'd hate to travel in a world full of Canadas, much as I love my country. I'd hate to live in a world full of Dianes – as would you all – or be romantically involved with my male equivalent. I want people and experiences to challenge me, expand my world, prove my preconceptions wrong.
Exploring the differences, the otherness, of another culture, another language, another person - that's where the joy of life lies for me. Maybe that's why I choose to travel to destinations where I can't blend in and don't speak the language. It's not that I don't want to travel to England or more extensively in the United States. I do, very much. But my list of dream vacation destinations is far longer than my available vacation time and money, and the top of my list has always been dominated by non-English locations with cultures more different from my own. I'm blindingly pale, reasonably tall, and Canadianly reserved, yet I've been drawn to Latin countries over the last several years. In Spain, I didn't quite feel like the glow-in-the-dark Amazon woman I did in Latin America, but I was never mistaken for a local, and I struggled with the language more after encountering a mixture of Catalan and Spanish. Plus a short foray into France brought to light my pesky brain's binary language switch – English and Other – that had me throwing out long-forgotten French words while trying to speak Spanish.
And because everything in life relates to movies, my general movie theory fits into this Unified Theory, too. Movies bring us into a different world, and foreign film DVDs let us explore at least the tone of different cultures without leaving our living rooms. It's unwise to rely on fiction for facts, but I like to use film as a way of heightening the anticipation of travelling. Before leaving on this recent trip, I requested a Pedro Almodovar movie from the DVD Verdict list – not because I thought I'd really learn more about his country, but to get a little closer to it in my mind before I stepped on the airplane. Now it's time to catch up on that and the other million and one reviews I'm behind on ...
"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is, and why it exists at all." – Stephen Hawking
Spanish dilemma (aka Le Dilema)
In two weeks, I'm off to Spain for two weeks, and the anticipation is killing me. I love travelling. I do not, however, love flying. I'm not scared of it, exactly, though during take offs and landings I have a slightly obsessive need to stare at the wings and will them not to fall off. But I find flights painfully boring, and this one is a mind-numbing 12 hours long, not including stopovers. I hate being trapped in those seats designed for people with retractable legs, and I can't sleep, and there's only so much staring at the wings I can do before I feel silly. Since my travelling companion has the ability to become comatose at will, I have to find other ways to amuse myself. You can't rely on the in-flight movies – the last one I saw was Biker Boyz, which I could have happily lived the rest of my life without seeing. I get queasy if I concentrate on reading or doing crossword puzzles for too long, plus the stale cabin air turns my normally calm self into Attention Deficit Diane. I need an entertainment plan.
I have a couple of hefty paperbacks to bring and a gorgeous wood-bound notebook I can use as a travel journal and even to draft a Verdict review or two. Tonight I ventured into my closet to dig out my first-generation Discman, which I haven't used since, oh, 1990, when I realized that I really, really want an MP3 player. I just got my brother one for his birthday and he's tormenting me with stories about how much he loves it. It would take up no room at all in my carry-on. I could listen to it at work. I could take it to the gym (assuming I can drag myself there). I could find all kinds of uses for it in my everyday life, so I can absolutely justify buying one for the trip. But. When comparison shopping, I realized that I could pay just slightly more and get a portable DVD player, which would also play MP3 discs. I could get through my backlog of movies and bring one killer music disc instead of a sad little selection of CDs for the Discman. Two entertainment birds killed with one stone. And yet, I cannot even slightly justify the purchase of the DVD player apart from this trip. A few times a year, maybe, I would use it. Plus I would still want that MP3 player when I got home.
Hmm ... DVD player or iPod? Or – here's a crazy thought – I could save my money to spend on the actual trip.
"It is odd how we sometimes deny ourselves the very pleasure we have longed for and which is finally within our reach." - Cynthia Rylant
My nationality is never a conscious part of my identity until I'm away from Canada, or dealing with an international audience over the Internet. For example, I get a kick out of the current Jury Room discussion poking fun at Canadian accents. For the record, we don't have an accent. Everyone else in the world does.
Actually, there are a variety of regional accents in Canada, but I'm always pegged as American by Americans. That is, until I say “zed” instead of “zee” or “tuque” instead of ... well, I don't know, what else do you call the knitted winter hat?
But I do have an “accent” in writing. One great thing about being Canadian is that we can pretty much spell however we please, picking either the American or British standard depending on our mood. I grew up spelling colour and centre and defence and cheque, but tyre and programme are just wrong. I should be used to switching allegiances since I've had to use Canadian Press style with some jobs, American Press style in others, and now U.S. spelling with DVD Verdict reviews (but dammit, I'll spell how I want on the blog). Problem is, the more I switch between the two, the more I get confused. The -our and -tre endings are easy, but organize or organise? Gray or grey? I don't know anymore what's natural for me, which means that nothing's natural anymore. I'm grateful for Canadian broadmindedness, which extends beyond gay marriage and decriminalizing marijuana possession to encompass something close to my heart – institutionalized lax spelling.
“Exile gives perspective, making every emigrant an anthropologist and relativist. To have a deep experience of two cultures is to know that no culture is absolute, to discover that the seemingly natural aspects of our identities and social reality can be arranged, shaped, or articulated in another way.” - Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language
A gift of Fry & Laurie
My friend William's birthday is coming up. We've known each other for almost 20 years, which could have been two decades littered with the ghosts of presents unwanted, except we share the philosophy that gifts are optional unless you feel inspired. And I was inspired this year, thanks to my DVD Verdict duties.
I made an offhand mention of Stephen Fry's novel The Stars’ Tennis Balls in a recent review. (I just discovered the book is titled Revenge in the U.S. – not only is that too bland for Fry, but it ruins the review's already lame joke.) It’s a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo set in the dot com age, and it occurred to me that William loves the original Dumas story and is a computer geek, so he might get a kick out of the Fry version. There’s also the danger he’ll hate it because of that familiar-but-not quality, but life's all about risk, isn't it? Fry has written a few witty, literary bestsellers. This is not one of my favourites. I liked it fine until the gory revenge scenes towards the end - I don't do well with gore. But William and I are not alike.
So after picking up The Stars' Tennis Balls, I got the idea of a theme present, and also bought him a copy of The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. Yes, that Hugh Laurie. It has been aptly described as James Bond meets P.G. Wodehouse. It’s not my typical reading material, but I'm glad I stumbled across it. It's hilarious and gripping and even sweet and thought-provoking - plus, the humour is very Lauriesque and I’m a fan.
A bigger fan now that I've seen his brilliant performance in the TV show House, as a snarky doctor with a heart of snark. What’s even more impressive is that it’s a completely different kind of brilliance from his likeable idiots of Blackadder or Jeeves and Wooster, which is different again from the brilliance of A Bit of Fry & Laurie, their hysterically odd sketch comedy show. It’s extremely unfair. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry possess far too high a percentage of the available creative talent in the world. Accomplished actors and writers both, who between them dabble in directing and music. I can tie my shoelaces in pretty bows. I would hate them, only I love them.
Anyway, to make the present complete and the theme obvious, I added a bit of A Bit of Fry & Laurie (which the BBC really needs to release on DVD. Please?). I could have picked Blackadder or Jeeves and Wooster or Peter’s Friends, but with this, it’s right there in the title, so William doesn’t even have to read the credits to understand my thought process. Not that he’ll be impressed, but at least he’ll understand.
Oh, and shhhh, his birthday isn’t until April, so he doesn’t know about this yet. Wait ... this isn’t public, is it?
“We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and banded which way please them.” - John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
In defence of the trivial
It's been a rough couple of weeks - not for me personally, but for people I work with and admire greatly. My day job is with a health care organization that is under scrutiny after a top-level firing, patient deaths, and horrendous infections. Our dedicated, talented health care workers are forced to work under difficult circumstances, and the consequences of inevitable mistakes can be tragic. If I misplace a comma, people don't die. I can only imagine the pressure and empathize with those involved.
Because our jobs also involve keeping tabs on media coverage, the water cooler talk among my communications colleagues and I has been the spate of incredibly sad national and local news over the last few days: four Mounties die in the line of duty; a 5-year-old girl thrown from an overpass by her father; a young gas station attendant killed after trying to stop a fill-and-dash driver.
So, after another depressing day of media headlines and postings about flesh eating disease and plans to heal a sick health care system, I headed home excited about what awaited me: Bringing Up Baby, the latest treat from DVD Verdict. A fix of Cary Grant and the prospect of writing a review of one of my favourite movies plastered a smile on my face the whole way home. Plus my favourite tv show featuring my favourite tv doctor, House, is on tonight. Does my joy over a silly movie and flawed television show make me feel shallow, after the life and death stuff I left behind? Nope.
Entertainment is important. I mean, obviously entertainment serves to distract us from the blacker moments of life; just because bad things happen doesn't mean we have to perpetually wallow in the darkness. But can I really say entertainment is important? Sure.
On September 11, 2001, I was the Living section editor for a newspaper in Mexico. The planned feature story had to be scrapped, but what to put in its place? Page after page of analysing death and terrorism followed by, what, a feature on the latest movie release? My job felt very insignificant that day. The section cover ended up being a pastiche of the entertainment industry's response to the tragedy – the Latin Grammys ceremony cancelled (Mexico, remember – they'd care), the Emmys postponed and toned down. Not important stuff in itself, but it started me thinking consciously about how crucial the very existence of this other world is, this fictional world of movies and books and television.
I read, I write, I watch movies and television to transport myself into another life. Mostly because one life just isn't enough, and I can live vicariously through fictional characters. Sometimes, like with 9/11, to transcend the bleak realities of life around me, and sometimes to get another perspective on reality. I don't just watch these zany paleontologists and dedicated doctors, I enter their world, along with the worlds of determined female boxers and crazed Hollywood moguls and whimsical Scottish writers and depressed wine lovers and on and on. It enriches me. It helps me understand more fully the world outside myself. It allows me to imagine and to empathize.
"One's own sorrow, how bearable, how understandable, but the misery of another person, a separate being, how unimaginably terrible, of what unseen quality, unknown duration, inconceivable anguish!" - Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Beautiful Visit
So what's this blog thing?
I never thought I’d be a blogger. I wouldn’t leave my diary open on the coffee table, either. Plus, let’s face it, I’m not that interesting – who wants to hear my random thoughts? On the other hand, I’m seduced by the cool factor; our Verdict leader has created this great new feature and I want to play. And it’s another venue to write about some of my favourite things. So I’ll give it a try. I’m not going to be deep or esoteric or any of that hard, personal stuff, but I might use it to indulge the lighter side of my passion, the fluffy, trivial things that make movies so much fun for me.
"The inconsistency doesn't matter; I myself manage to hold large numbers of wholly irreconcilable views simultaneously, without the least difficulty. I do not think others are less versatile." - Salman Rushdie, Shame
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