The Worst Movie I Ever Saw…

My Year of Flops

Scribner, ISBN 9781439153123

In stores October 2010

I love movies; I always have.  I love going to the theatre; I love watching them on TV.  When my family got its first VCR it was a life-changing event; when we got cable and I could watch TMN my sleeping habits changed.  I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of movies, many more if you count ones I started to watch but couldn’t be bothered to finish. Because some movies are so bad that they’re just a waste of time… but some are also so bad that you never forget them.

I like to think that my tastes have matured over the years, that the movies I choose to see now are better than the ones I chose when I was a kid.  I saw a lot of bad movies growing up because a) I would watch almost anything and b) there are so many movies that are just no good.  But the funny thing is, often it’s those bad movies that stick with you, refusing to be forgotten as they deserve to be.  Ski School 2, Blame It On Rio, The Last Boy Scout… all horrible movies, but each of them has a place in my heart, even if I wish they could disappear from my memory.

Nathan Rabin, the Head Writer for The Onion’s A.V. Club, must be some kind of soul brother to me, because in his new book My Year of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure, which reprints columns (and adds new material) in which he revisited famous and infamous movie flops with an eye to rehabilitating their reputation where undeserved, and confirming their atrociousness if deserved, he clearly has a soft spot for movies that, if not successes, are at least noble attempts to tell a story through the magic of cinema.

Rabin takes on notorious flops like Heaven’s Gate and The Cable Guy as well as personal disappointments such as Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, and although he can be cruel, snarky, and very funny (he does work for The Onion, after all) his goal is never to just kick these movies while they’re down–his stated goal is “to fight our cultural tendency to associate commercial failure with artistic bankruptcy.”  Or, to personalize his mission: “When I look at failures, cinematic and otherwise, I see myself.  I welcomed the opportunity to provide a sympathetic reappraisal of some of the most reviled films of all time.”

This isn’t one of those books that warns you which movies to stay away from; in fact, I’ve now added some of them to my list of movies I want to see.  Like The Island of Dr. Moreau, if only to see Val Kilmer’s impersonation of his co-star Marlon Brando.  Or Ishtar, which Rabin decides is a “secret success” rather than a true flop.  And that’s because Rabin looks at these movies with a fresh eye, informed by thoughtfulness and not a little bit of hindsight.

If you love movies, and always adored Joe vs. the Volcano, no matter what everyone else said, this is the book for you.

By the way, I would have to say the worst movie I ever saw was Yor, the Hunter from the Future… what’s yours?

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Vol.6)

At midnight on July 19th it truly was Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour.

To celebrate the midnight release of the final Scott Pilgrim book there was a huge party, courtesy of The Beguiling, that unofficially closed down Markham Street in downtown Toronto.  There were bands, video games, a costume contest and the man of the hour – Bryan Lee O’Malley – signing until the wee hours of the morning.

The Scott Pilgrim series began in 2004 with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. O’Malley has written 6 amazing comic books and on Monday night unveiled the final volume. Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year old with a rating of awesome. In order to win the heart of his girlfriend Ramona he must defeat her 7 evil exes. He’s also in a band.

Not only is Scott awesome, he also lives in Toronto. He and his friends ride the Rocket, hang out at Sneaky Dee’s and perform live at Lee’s Palace. Whether O’Malley likes it or not, Scott Pilgrim has become a Canadian icon.

And next month Scott Pilgrim will meet the world on the big screen played by another Canadian icon, Michael Cera. On August 13th Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright) will open nationwide to a growing fan base.

But the question remains: will Scott defeat Ramona’s final evil ex? Find out in Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour available in our Graphic Novel/Comic Book section!

*Photography courtesy of Karin Stonehouse. Thank you:)

Where in the World Were Carnarvon and Senegambia?

Place names change for many reasons (Berlin, Ontario became Kitchener during the First World War for patriotic reasons; Peking became Beijing to reflect the official Chinese dialect) and while we still remember and use many of the old names, many more have become obscure or entirely forgotten.

In Whatever Happened to Tanganyika: The Place Names That History Left Behind, Harry Campbell reminds us of dozens of these names that now only pop up in stamp collections, old atlases, or in our memories: from countries that changed their names postcolonially (Ceylon, Belgian Congo) to places with similar names scattered across the globe (Guinea, Georgetown), adding bits of history, conjecture, and humour along the way.

This is a light-hearted but informative book that is a lot of fun to read.  Being a map addict for many years, some of these stories were already familiar to me, but Campbell has added a few new examples to my corpus of useless knowledge.  For example, I knew about Memel, but “Neutral Moresnet” between Germany and Belgium was new to me.

An old song asks, “Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”  Campbell must agree, because Constantinople isn’t one of the place names he examines.  But there’s plenty of other great stories in this book, and with short chapters, it’s perfect to dive into at your leisure, and maybe impress your friends with the story behind The Islands of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (maybe they’ve unknowlingly holidayed there).

* By the way, Carnarvon now goes by the Welsh spelling of Caernarfon, and Senegambia was, as you might expect, a combination of Senegal and Gambia, independent nations now, but tied together by geography and, for a brief period in the 1980s, politics.

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

Every year around this time we’re inundated with stories about conspicuous consumption, waste, and how Western society has forgotten the True Meaning of Christmas™.  In the United States “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year, is too often accompanied by stories of fights breaking out over Tickle Me Elmo dolls or stampedes at department stores resulting in loss of life.

In Scroogenomics, Joel Waldfogel, an economist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, addresses these issues, but his arguments centre around the wastefulness of Christmas gift-giving from a purely economic point of view.  In his opinion, there’s nothing inherently wrong with spending billions every year on gifts, as long as we’re getting full value for our gift-giving.

Waldfogel’s argument centres around the economic notion of “value destruction”.  In the case of Santa Claus, Waldfogel argues that “his tornado of giving does a perennially poor job of matching stuff with people.”  When we make our own decisions about purchases, we do a pretty good job of matching value to our needs and desires, while “the process at Christmas… has givers shooting in the dark about what you like”.  This is the reason we regularly receive gifts that we would never purchase ourselves.  But someone paid $50 for a sweater that I’ll never wear, which decreases its actual value to near $0.  That, the author argues, is the true waste at Christmas-time.

It turns out that the United States is not even the worst offender when it comes to Christmas excess–it actually falls in the middle when adjusted for the percentage of income spent on holiday gifts.  Some of those Europeans who like to deride the U.S. for its excess are even worse!

It turns out–not that surprisingly–that grandma is worse than just about everyone at finding a gift that you’ll appreciate to the full value of its cost.  But it’s not her fault–she rarely sees you, doesn’t know you that well, and when she gives you a horrible gift, you lie and tell her you love it.  She doesn’t learn to be a better gift-giver because you allow her to believe she’s done a good job.  But she probably hasn’t: value destroyed.

Waldfogel advocates a couple of solutions since it’s socially painful to let grandma know that her gift was a waste of money: 1) encourage the use of gift cards, which allows  recipients to make their own decisions and maximize the value of the gift, and 2) expand the use of charity gift cards, which enable the recipient to donate the amount you’ve given to them to the charity of their choice, since studies show that we “would like to give more to charity, if only we had the money.”

Obsolete by Anna Jane Grossman

Obsolete, An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By is a neat little collection of anecdotes and short essays about the demise of everyday objects, ideas, and behaviours.

obsolete In this anthology we encounter witty odes to relics of bygone eras, such as that of the after-school special, milkmen, and the office Rolodex, and predictions of soon-to-be extinct phenomena (bald spots, apparently!).  The often sarcastic tone Grossman uses is a perfect foil to the nostaligic sentiments that typewriters and polaroid cameras typically evoke.

While the subjects in the book are at once familiar and surprising, the most interesting entry in the encyclopedia is, of course, on the subject of books.  Any booklover can identify with the shudder of panic that runs through them with news of a publishing house closing, an independent shutting its doors, or yet another volume of a feeble attempt at regurgitating a much loved classic with the inclusion of incorporeal beings (I’m looking at you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).  Admittedly, Grossman is mostly concerned with the switch from paper to electronic books, although she does quote some rather distressing statistics about just how few books people are reading these days, in any format.

I’m not convinced that Grossman is right about books becoming obsolete, although she’s definitely spot-on about bellhops, getting lost, short basketball shorts, and tonsillectomies (definition: “an operation that resulted in a strict diet of ice cream“).  For all our sakes, I hope she’s wrong, because without books, there would be no books like this one.

Come find a copy in our Trade Department.