December 29, 2013

Alfie's Favourite Things, 2013...

Yet again the year is winding down and I am behind on movies -- so while I still haven't seen Philomena or 12 Years A Slave or American Hustle or Before Midnight, there have been great flicks and other pop culture hits this year. 

Here are my faves, leave yours in the comments so I know what to focus on next!


With honourable mentions to Gravity, World War Z, Now You See Me and The Way, Way Back, the film that touched me the most this year was Bridegroom, which I wrote about here. This sweet and smart and sad documentary was about a young gay man who has to deal with the death of the love of his life… and then the shunning by that man's family. True and touching and a must-see.


I wrote about four of my favourites here -- and yes you should absolutely read them all. 

My #1 favourite of the year was Hellgoing,  the collection of short stories by my fellow Canadian Lynn Coady. These unforgettable and uncomfortable tales of people's love and loneliness and missed communication range from the timid to S&M -- these are smart touching stories that will make you squirm.

Most memorable were tales of a young nun charged with talking an anorexic out of her religious fanaticism, which looks at the distance between practicality and blasphemy, and the story of a shy bride-to-be with a thing for nocturnal bondage who can’t seem to stop bashing herself up in the light of day. Shocking and touching stories.


This year outspoken Dixie Chick Natalie Maines brought out her folky solo debut Mother, consisting mostly of cover songs from Pink Floyd to Patty Griffin and I love it. I listen to it obsessively in the car. Best track of the album -- and of the year -- is her version of Jeff Buckley's "Lover, you should've come over."

Other great albums were Elton John's lyrical The Diving Board, Cher's diva-tastic  sadness-tinged Closer To The Truth, and Celine Dion's surprisingly edgy Loved Me Back To Life. And yes I realize how truly gay this list is.


Disclaimer - I am behind on Breaking Bad (way behind, full series behind)… but this was the year I got totally hooked on soap-tastic Scandal, binge watching seasons one and two and now obsessively waiting every Thursday for new episodes.  

Other great series were modern classic The Good Wife, Downtown Abbey, Kevin Spacey in Netflix's addictive House of Cards, my perennial favourite The Big Bang Theory, and uber cool Orphan Black. Too much TV, too little time...


Standout episodes and other favourites… the Cory Monteith tribute episode of Glee, the song Wake Me Up by Avicii, Stephen Colbert's version of Daft Punk's song Get Lucky, Jimmy Fallon hosting SNL, Celine Dion's underrated Breakaway single, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globes, Jennifer Lawrence becoming a superstar, Allison Janney in The Way Way Back and Mom, and Beyonce breaking the internet with her surprise album release on December 13th.

What were your favourites of 2013?

December 27, 2013

Sherlock Lives!

Two of my favourite TV shows - the BBC's soapy period drama Downtown Abbey, and the BBC's contemporary Sherlock Holmes remake Sherlock, return in January after long hiatuses.

I have loved Sherlock Holmes books, stories, and movies since I was a kid, and this series may be my all time favourite… the Robert Downey Jr movies are fun but more James Bond-ish, and CBS's Elementary series has its moments but also has its formula and pales in comparison.

In true Sherlockian style, Holmes died at the end of season 2 (as did his arch-enemy Moriarty)… but of course now almost two years later he returns for season 3… here is the preview, and I can't wait!

December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas… 
Happy (Belated) Hanukkah… 
Happy Solstice.. 
Joyous Festivus… 
Happy Kwanzaa…

and Happy (Early) 2014!

December 20, 2013

4 of 2013's 5 Best Books...

While I work away on my best-of list for 2013 (and by "work away" I mean 'think about starting'), it occurs to me that his has been a really great year for books.
Here are four of my five favourites from this year... I highly recommend them all… my favourite will be in the next post… and in the comments tell me your faves from 2013!

Every decade or so, Tartt re-emerges and drops an amazing read in our laps… this one is about young Theo Decker, who emerges from a terrorist bombing motherless but in possession of a prized painting. Worthy of the many comparisons to Dickens, The Goldfinch is packed with adventure and ideas, and populated with colourful characters… it is about loneliness and isolation, survival and reinvention. Fascinating and suspenseful, it also holds to the unwavering belief that art can save us by lifting us above ourselves. Excellent book.

The Cuckoo's Calling got little notice at first, then it was revealed that the true author was Harry Potter author JK Rowling and it became a smash… and in her characteristic generous nature Rowling gave her resulting windfall to charity. The book itself is a thoroughly modern mystery, planned to be the first of a series, about a supermodel's death, and the down-on-his-luck grumpy PI who is hired to figure it out. It is fast and entertaining and I am already looking forward to the next instalment. Best compliment I can give is that I stayed up way too late on a work night to get to the end.

In the last few years I have devoured 23 of Sue Grafton's books, starting with A Is For Alibi and up to this fall's W Is For Wasted. Each is a mystery featuring California detective Kinsey Millhone; they are soulful meditations on friendship and self-awareness and life and loneliness and human nature. Okay I make them sound artsy and esoteric, and there are flashes of that, but these are simply really good reads from a really great writer. The only sad part is the countdown is on to the end of the series: X, Y, Z...

The second book from an author who was on the list last year, Gifts Not Yet Given is a collection of short stories, a format which unusually doesn't hook me, but these did. I did a full review here; have stories are  The Stepping Stone about a geeky son and his mother from hell, Holes about a life devastated by disease, and the title story about a family still struggling with a choice long in their past.  These stories are original and intriguing, and the characters are strong and flawed, loving and broken.

December 16, 2013

Another reason to love Jennifer Lawrence...

Here's yet another reason to love Oscar-winning super-talented actress Jennifer Lawrence, currently on screen in the Hunger Games sequel and coming this week in American Hustle

December 13, 2013

Most Fascinating!

Barbara Walters just announced her most fascinating people list of 2013, and as usual it's a testament to her senility.

Here are highlights of her list - Edward Snowden, Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Prince George, those Duck Dynasty people, Robin Roberts, Miley Cyrus, and a #1 "most fascinating" to be named next week.

Knowing this is not a popularity contest, it is one person's take on most fascinating, still… Kimye?

In no particular order, here is my Kardashian and Kanye free list, cuz they are many things but not really that fascinating…

1- Miley Cyrus - a child star gone wild, Miley showed us that it is not Gaga who is the next Madonna, is the artist formerly known as Hanna Montana -- onstage antics, vulgar dance moves, outspoken opinions backed up by acclaimed and successful music. She got everyone talking, and her music outshone Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

2- Disgraced Canadian Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin -- as crooked unelected politicians they represent so many others who are narcissistic and think they are above the law... and may bring in a new era of transparency and accountability.

3- Jennifer Lawrence - great actress, got an Oscar this year and ruled the box office with The Hunger Games movies, is outspoken and smart and fun and a new unscripted 'real' type of superstar.

4- Vladimir Putin - for the anti-gay laws he enacted and the violence he condoned, a reminder of the cruelty in our world towards anyone who is different. And the need for everyone to evolve.

5- Diver Tom Daley - at age 19 is honest and brave, and his coming out got the world talking -- both positive and very negative.

6- Pope Francis - for bringing the church beyond the age of the Inquisition and showing us that religion is about love not hate. There's a reason the conservative wing of the Republicans hate this guy.

7- Diana Nyad - out swimmer who showed us to never give up -- in 2013 on her fifth attempt and at age 64, she became the first person confirmed to swim from  Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage.  

8- Alec Baldwin - the talented actor saw 30 Rock end, had a new baby, and went on two separate homophobic rants, despite being an ally of the community - whether a generational anger management issue, or whatever, he got us talking about liberals and homophobia -- and saw his MSNBC talk show cancelled after two weeks.

9- Jeff Bezos and his Amazon drones - cuz the idea is creepy and awesome.

10- Rob Ford - Toronto's alcoholic crack-addicted lying mayor is a high profile train wreck and national disaster… and showing the world that Canada's not so boring after all!

December 11, 2013

Tina Fey + Amy Poehler = Awesome

Love Tina Fey love Amy Poehler… love them on TV, in movies, on chat shows, loved Fey's book, love how gay-friendly they are, and especially loved them as co-hosts of last year's Golden Globes!

Apparently lots of people loved them on that show, as they signed up for two more years, starting in a few weeks with the January 2014 show (awesome silly commercials now playing).

And much as I have a love-hate relationship with Entertainment Weekly magazine, I have subscribed for as long as its been around (awesome iPad editions by the way), and was thrilled to see Fey and Poehler "take over" the new issue.

I can download my issue Thursday night… can't wait!

December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Gay Rights Activist

As the world's leaders gather in South Africa today for the funeral of activist, politician, hero, and icon Nelson Mandela, millions around the world are reflecting on how he changed the world and touched our lives.

In addition to his breathtaking activism in ending apartheid in South Africa, and promoting forgiveness, tolerance and equality everywhere, what I have learned from internet reading over the past week is how much Mandela was an activist for lesbian and gay equality as well.

Mandela made a point of identifying LGBT issues as an integral part of the civil rights movement. Mandela saw that all forms of discrimination are connected. 

Some of what he did:

1- Led South Africa to become the first country on the continent to ban antigay discrimination. Mandela was a vocal supporter of antidiscrimination protections from when he became president, and the country  banned discrimination on 1998 (something the US has not yet done).

2- Was a leader for marriage equality well before it was popular. Mandela never had to evolve on marriage equality… he supported it 20 years ago, and South Africa become the first country in Africa and fifth in the world to recognize marriage equality in 2006.

3- Walked the walk --  Mandela didn’t just pay lip service to LGBT issues. He was willing to appoint gay people to high positions at a time when the country was far less accepting. Among his early appointees was E Cameron, who has risen to become a judge on South Africa’s highest court... how many openly gay justices are there on the U.S. or Canadian Supreme Court?

As Kevin Cathcart of Lambda Legal said, “Every one of us who continues the fight for equality and civil rights in our own communities labors in the shadows of this man.”

RIP Mr Mandela...


December 8, 2013

R2D2 Geek Alert...

Yep, I bought them…. R2D2 cuff links… 

the only question was really whether it was these or the Darth Vader ones… R2 wins!

December 6, 2013

Best Bar Mitzvah Speech Ever?

I hardly remember my Bar Mitzvah -- it was a long time ago, I was chubby, insecure, with braces and a bad stutter, and my Hebrew was shaky at best… so yep I blanked the whole thing out. I do remember some very delicious almond sugar dessert squares...

For the uninitiated, a Bar Mitzvah is when a Jewish boy turns 13 and theoretically or religiously becomes a man; in the religious world it invokes taking on responsibility in Jewish culture, becoming a full-fledged member of Jewish society, following the 613 laws of the Torah, and have moral responsibility for his own actions;  in our typical North America society it involves a year of Hebrew study, a lot of sweat, a major speaking role in Saturday services at synagogue , a lot of gifts and 'gelt', and a kosher catered lunch at the synagogue.

I don't remember what I said or did at my Bar Mitzvah, but I know it didn't compare to this kid… err, the newly anointed man, Duncan McAlpine of Portland. Watch in awe…

December 3, 2013

3 To Read...

It's a chilly winter wonderland up here in the great white north, so the perfect time to curl up with a good book (or Kindle or as with me, iPad)...

As I tend to read when I travel, and I travel two to three weeks a month for work, and on top of that I have weird dysfunctional sleep habits, I tend to read a lot, always have. 

Here are some recent faves… in the comments let me know what I should tackle next...

Best known as the sister and writing partner of the iconic Nora Ephron, with this book I discovered the voice and talent of Delia Ephron; her essays and observations range from fun fluffy bits on food to touching sorrowful pieces on her sister's illness and death. 

There is some sibling rivalry dirt which is fun to read, and essays on her failed marriage and her successful one, her troubled relationship with her mother, and her love for her dog Honey (a Havanese like Alfred!)… from frilly to serious, this is a really smart touching read.

I discovered Sue Grafton's alphabet mystery series in a reader comment on this blog, and in the couple of years since then have devoured them all, from A Is For Alibi to the new W Is For Wasted

Each is a mystery featuring California detection Kinsey Millhone, but they are also soulful meditations on friendship and self-awareness and life and loneliness and human nature. Okay I make them sound artsy and esoteric, and there are flashes of that, but these are simply really good reads from a really great writer. The only sad part is the countdown is on to the end of the series: X, Y, Z...

My Sprocket Ink bloggy buddy Lance Burson has published his second novel, and Soul To Body is a gem… short, sweet, and in places not so sweet; this is a family drama with an edge.

Newly widowed Jake is dealing with his loss and struggling with raising his teenage daughter by himself; before he can find any sense of equilibrium a new woman enters his life, and everyone has to navigate this changed world...what he thinks vs what his daughter thinks vs what friends and family think are a central theme as Jake tries to figure out the right way to grieve and to move on, if such a thing exists. You will come to care about this guy and his choices and his life. Read Soul To Body.

December 1, 2013

Today Is World AIDS Day...

World AIDS Day. December 1.

Today is World AIDS Day. 
Since 1988, December 1st has been a day of thought and fund-raising for the fight on AIDS... though it gets less press now, AIDS is still real and out there and impacting lives.

  The 2013 theme for World AIDS Day is “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.”

AIDS has killed over 25 million people, and over 33 million are currently affected. There were almost 2 million new infections last year. 
Are people complacent? Even though there are effective treatment options now, the ideal of course would be to not need treatment.

To learn more about Worlds AIDS Day click here: AIDS Day.

I am going to make a donation to The Canadian Foundation For AIDS Research this week (CANFAR), and encourage everyone else to do the same with their local organization.  Every dollar helps, every second counts…