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A Feast for the Senses

There seems to have been an influx of amazing books, movies, and music in my life lately – incredible stories, stunning effects, brilliant lyricism, and sheer imagination that just make me want to give humanity a standing ovation. It seems almost unfair not to share the joy with everyone else! If you’re looking for recommendations, I’d highly recommend checking any of these out:
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I’d originally seen The Ghosts of Belfast (“The Twelve” in Europe) last year in one of Chicago’s many wonderful bookshops, and had made a note to order it as soon as I got back home (I’d only taken a rucksack, which was chock-full by the time I had to leave!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be released in Canada for another six months, so I pre-ordered it as soon as I could. The premise captivated me immediately: Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man is haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he killed, and soon realises the only way they will give him rest is to systematically assassinate the men who gave him his orders. What a brilliant premise!

I’d never ventured into the realm of thrillers or crime fiction before, but when it’s mixed with otherworldly elements (and set in my favourite place on earth), it’s the ideal way to start. It took a bit of getting used to a story comprised primarily of heavy-cursing men and politics I hadn’t studied in as much depth as I would’ve liked, but I was soon fully absorbed in the characters, and literally read with baited breath through chilling scenes of a dozen ghosts miming execution around the men Gerry encountered. Neville’s writing is nothing short of brilliant, and imagery of “bruised” and “scarred” landscapes was a literary feast that added to the ongoing air of trepidation. The story is a haunting rollercoaster of suspense, forbidden romance, politics, survival and the supernatural, and ends with an extraordinary twist that’ll make you want to stand up and give a round of applause.

I don’t often watch movies, but last week we saw two that ended up being a couple of the best I’d seen in a very long time. I knew I was going to like Source Code as soon as I heard the premise: an action, sci-fi thriller revolving around a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man, and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. He’s sent back into the last eight minutes of a passenger’s life before the explosion repeatedly until he discovers enough detail to find the bomb, and stop the bomber’s future attacks. Most of you will know that I probably wouldn’t need to even know the synopsis if a movie’s filed under “sci-fi” and “thriller” (Inception and District 9 are some of the best premises I’ve ever seen), and this was just another to add to the list. Great visuals of a city I’d fallen in love with last year combined with great imagination and another excellent twist at the end that left me thinking about it for days. Trekkies will be fans: the story was reminiscent of the Voyager episode Relativity where a character is sent back in time repeatedly to find a bomb and discover the identity of the bomber to stop the destruction of the ship. But this time, “it’s not time travel. It’s time… reassignment.” Epic.

We also watched The Experiment, a remake of a 2001 German movie – a highly intense film about a real-life, controversial psychological study in which 26 men are chosen to participate into the roles of prisoners and guards for 14 days in an environment simulating a state penitentiary that ultimately spirals out of control. I’ve always liked Adrien Brody – he’s had interesting roles in several movies I personally enjoyed thoroughly, but seem to have fallen below the radar of critical acclaim (The Jacket; The Village), but this is probably my favourite performance of his. (Though this may have been slightly affected by his long hair and gorgeous tattoos). When I watched this, I had no idea it was based on a true story, which made the already frightening premise even more disturbing upon discovery, but the psychological aspect made it simultaneously fascinating and thoroughly gripping. Vanessa, this one’s for you!

Lastly, I can’t not mention my favourite album around at the moment. There was a tonne of hype about these guys when their first demo leaked on the Internet, and it started getting national radioplay before a proper recording had even been made! The Vaccines’ album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? is a short punch (less than forty minutes total, which each song clocking in around two minutes) of feel-good, infectious good old punk rock. And the first single off it is so catchy it makes me a)  jump around wherever I happen to be, b) air drum my arms off (or c) a frantic, flailing, highly attractive combination of the two) every time I hear it. We played them on the radio a few weeks ago, and even had people write in to ask for the tracklisting because they liked them so much! Crank it up!

What movies, books or bands are rocking your world lately?

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Imagination: The Catalyst for Change

I’m not the biggest fan of spring in Winnipeg. It comes after about five months of sub-zero temperatures, and suddenly half the snow melts, then freezes, then melts again, leaving the streets covered with a mixture of ice and giant brown puddles (which make getting around gracefully rather difficult indeed). But then, toward the end of March, I’m reminded of the one thing that makes the season bearable: a trip to the art gallery to watch the screening of the previous years’ Cannes Lions Awards. If you’ve never been, make a note on your calendar to absolutely catch it next year. It’s shown internationally, and is comprised of the bronze, silver, and gold-awarded advertisements from across the globe. Thousands of ads from all around the world are entered (24,000 in 2010 alone), and culminate in a festival and prestigious award ceremony celebrating the best of creativity in idea and execution of brand communication. I’ve been going to the annual showing for at least half a decade, and it remains one of my favourite events of the year, purely for the fact that it’s such a testament to imagination. It might seem a little odd to mute and fast-forward ads all year and then pay for a ticket to sit through two hours of them, but it really is more than worthwhile. This year I laughed so hard I cried, was moved to tears and applause, got goosebumps, and was, in one case, eager to find the culprit behind one of the most outrageous ads I think has ever hit television screens! The screening began, surprisingly, with a Canadian winner – an ad for the Vancouver Film Festival, which left everyone laughing and set the tone for what was to be a great evening:

This ad, barely a minute long, entitled “Embrace Life“, was for seatbelt awareness – and the combination of creative ingenuity, effects, music and execution was enough to move me nearly to tears. I could feel my eyes prickling in the same way they do when watching a real feat of imagination – things like this generally just make me proud to be a member of the human race:

The following ad was one of three winners from the same campaign from Volkswagen, revolving around the idea of “The Fun Theory“.  The idea is that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better, being for themselves, the environment, or whatever – the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better. The first ad posed the question: if we could make taking the stairs fun, would people be more likely to do it?  It then showed sped-up footage of construction in a stairwell next to an escalator, resulting in a set of stairs that looked like a giant piano, which actually made music as people climbed. The results? A huge percentage of commuters began taking the stairs. The second ad asked a similar question: if recycling was fun, would more people do it? It showed a bottle bank transformed into an arcade-style game on the street, where people could get points for putting their items into the appropriate receptacles. Again, a huge number of people began recycling – over a hundred used the arcade-style bin one evening, with only two using the traditional bin down the street. The third, entitled “World’s Deepest Bin“, definitely made me laugh – and left me with food for thought – we try to make people change their behaviours all the time, so why aren’t our methods more fun?

If you liked those three, check out the Speed Camera Lottery here.

The following ad made me laugh out LOUD. With a title like “Axe Cleans Balls“, you knew it was going to be a good one:

I thought this anti-smoking ad, entitled “Chance” was excellent. I think it’s from France, but narrated in English – it basically has a cinematic voiceover talking about the one in a thousand/million/billion chance that the solar system came to be, that humans evolved the way they did, that dinosaurs became extinct etc., and ends with a statistic on smoking that really makes you think. Great stuff:

The following ad was incredibly clever: The Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands put together an interactive billboard in Amsterdam to challenge public apathy towards aggressive behaviour on the streets. Public service employees in the Netherlands, such as ambulance drivers, face aggression and violence on the streets more and more often. Onlookers unfortunately do not intervene often enough when they encounter a situation like this. The billboard uses technology to pick up the images of passersby and place them in a pre-recorded violent situation, so they literally look at themselves standing by and doing nothing at the scene of the crime. Very clever stuff:

There was another great series of ads challenging aggression from India with the national “Ring the Bell” campaign, depicted as neighbours in several situations within apartment buildings ringing their neighbour’s bell when hearing sounds of domestic violence. A brilliant campaign to encourage people to take action when they become aware of domestic violence in their neighbourhood.

The following ad was a fantastic idea – targeted to football fans, offering an ingenius solution to the problem of what happens when match day falls on Valentine’s day:

Now, I realise I mentioned an ad earlier that I found one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen sandwiched between two halves of a television programme – and I wasn’t going to just leave you hanging! If you’re curious, check out this French advertisement for AIDS awareness – just beware, VERY adult content – and it’s one of the most NSFW things you’ll have ever seen. 🙂

I also realise that multimedia posts are often a turn-off, but I encourage anyone who loves a bit of creativity to check some of these out. Here’s to the imagination of the human race!

Helplessness Blues

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see
And now, after some thinking, I’d say
I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see

What’s my name, what’s my station?
Oh just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful
And say, “sure, take all that you see,”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see

If I know only one thing
It’s that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable
Often I barely can speak
Yeah I’m tongue tied and dizzy
And I can’t keep it to myself,
What good is it to sing helplessness blues?
Why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf,
I’ll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard,, I’d work till I’m raw
If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore
And you would wait tables
And sing ’round the store
Gold hair in the sunlight
My light in the dawn
If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore

Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen…

The second album is going to be epic. 🙂

That’s Entertainment

At the end of every year, I like to make a visit to a little site called Blurb.com. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a place where you can upload, print and publish professional-looking books. They can be a variety of styles, sizes, hardcover or soft – and at the end of each year, I like to print a copy of my year in blogging. I’ve only been seriously blogging since the latter part of 2009, so the books I have to date may not be the most substantial, but I think 2010 is going to be one I’m excited to add to the shelf. It’ll be a record of an absolute rollercoaster of a year, of new experiences, of firsts, of hopes, dreams, goals, challenges, reflections and observations – but I also want to make note not just of thoughts, but of the day-to-day. Things that filled my days, music I was passionate about, TV that rocked my world, books that changed my life, things that made me laugh so hard my face hurt, words that touched my heart, and moments I want to hold onto forever. Moments that made me feel lucky to be alive. That which inspires passion is important to chronicle. So, some of the things that blew me away this year include:

Creative genius

I’m not a big movie-goer. The thought of going to the cinema fills me more with panic than excitement, and sitting through two hours of having my chair kicked, being distracted by the glare from other people’s phones, and leaving with my wallet $25 lighter isn’t generally my idea of a good time. When it comes to visual entertainment, I’m more a stay-at-home kind of girl. This year has been full of incredibly imaginative movies and TV that have just made me feel proud to be a human being, including the epically intelligent Ashes to Ashes, a series following a gun shot, present-day police officer waking up in the mid-eighties, trying to figure out if she’s gone mad, dead or alive, in a coma, or literally back in time, the finale to which was probably the most intelligent piece of screenwriting I’ve ever witnessed and kept me mesmerised, and firmly on the edge of my seat. Movie-wise, it was the year of special effects and 3D glasses, and the detail in films like Toy Story 3 and Legend of the Guardians was simply breathtaking.

Literary brilliance

Almost a year ago, I made New Year’s Resolutions, and one of them was to get back into reading. I seem to have gone from reading books every day to reading blogs every day, and though I still make time for brain food (I have an entire shelf dedicated to back issues of Psychology Today and Discover magazine), I want to get back into the habit of Real Books. At the beginning of the year, I read Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveller’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, and though wildly different, I loved every part of it. Ghost stories amongst a backdrop of my favourite city, Doctor Who references, two parts imagination, one part wonderfully creepy, this novel had me thoroughly captivated from the start. Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked was an enjoyable, lighter read following dysfunctional relationships and a lifelong quest fuelled by musical passion, I finally got on the Lovely Bones bandwagon, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth completely changed my life, and currently, I’m savouring the final Harry Potter book so I can finally see it on the big screen!

Spine-tinglingly talented musicians

I loved Mumford and Sons the moment I first heard them, and seeing them perform an intimate venue halfway across the country, playing songs that stirred my soul, while proclaiming how humbled and honoured they were to have sold out in a country they hadn’t released any music to yet. Knowing that every person in that space had discovered this incredible music through word of mouth, and became so passionate about it they queued out in the cold and bought so many tickets they had to move venues was just refreshing, and the atmosphere of being a part of something so amazing was just electric.

2010 was also the year of the ‘nu-folk’ movement in the UK, with bands like this taking centre stage, coupled with banjos, mandolins and accordions. Suddenly, countryfolk were as popular as the Black Eyed Peas, and the masses were exposed to real musicianship and literary lyricism. A girl of 20 by the name of Laura Marling exploded onto the world stage with the album I Speak Because I Can – a stunning collection of heart-wrenching, poetic songs tales that delve into haunting stories filled with beautiful words and melody; sounds ranging from the frenzied, supernatural, old-world gypsy-esque “Devil’s Spoke” (with the fabulously determined “all of this can be broken, take your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground“) to the beautiful “Rambling Man” (“beaten, battered and cold, my children will live just to grow old, but if I sit here and weep, I’ll be blown over by the slightest of breeze”) reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. The epic “Hope in the Air” is pure, chilling, sumptuous storytelling at its absolute finest, and continues to give me goosebumps with every listen (“our hearts are small and ever thinning, there is no hope ever of winning, so why fear death? Be scared of living“). Not all is high drama – if you’re looking for something to play your sweetheart one cold winter’s night, try “Rest in the Bed“, and allow beautiful words to express a sentiment of love (“there lies a man of my heart, a fine and complete work of art, here, I his woman, his home, and his heart, and proud to be playing that part“).  If you’re hooked by haunting melodies, exquisite lyrics and truly intelligent musicianship, don’t hesitate another second before adding this to your collection.

Entertainment this year was pretty fantastic, I must say, and 2010 was filled with great, clever imagination from all sides. Here’s hoping next year’s just as stimulating, inspiring, and impressive – full of things that make you proud to be a member the human race.

What were some highlights of the entertainment world for you in 2010?



Acceptance: A small step towards ‘A New Earth’

I’ve mentioned this book for a little while now, and lately, I’ve been making an extra effort to really live out the teachings.  Well maybe not “teachings”; ideas? Concepts? I must admit I was a bit of a new kid on the Eckhart Tolle block, having heard of his huge association with Oprah (is there something wrong with me if I’ve never seen an episode?), and shrugging it off as “another self-help author”, but A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose was introduced to me early in the summer, and with the path I feel I’m being called to be on lately, it was rather aptly timed indeed.

I cracked open the book one night in the bath. I don’t often take baths because I get terribly bored, and I don’t often read in the bath because everything gets terribly soggy, so this was slightly out of the ordinary. However the experience remains ingrained in memory – I’d put some on pretty music, lit some candles, and had the window half open so a breeze seeped in, refreshing against the steam coming off the bubbles. I’d grabbed a bath pillow and began to read. At first, I was a little hesitant. The first chapter was about the first flower ever to appear on planet Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, opening up to receive sunlight, marking an evolutionary transformation in plantlife. A bit New Age, if you ask me, but I kept reading the analogy, in which he refers to human consciousness – a similar transformation, which has already begun, which, if every human being decided to focus on purpose and awareness, be free of the Ego, and of all the self-imposed limitations and negativity perpetual thinking gives rise to, could bring about a “New Earth”.

Once I passed the first chapter, however, I was hooked. I carried it everywhere and found myself sitting in coffee shops nodding along as I highlighted something on pretty much every other page, wishing there was a way I could steal the words away from the page and install them into my brain where I’d forever be guided and reminded. It’s not a religious book, but the author makes reference to a variety of different religions and spiritual practices, not to add to the reader’s beliefs, but to create food for thought, and hopefully, a shift in consciousness.

One of the main notions of the book is that we, as humans, are trapped in our own minds. Our Ego wants to have an identity, whether good or bad, and we are also conditioned to thinking that if we have more, then we will be happy. Along with thinking and wanting more, comes focusing on lack – lack of money, of friends, of attractiveness, of happiness…  “If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. No matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy. You will always be looking for something else that promises greater fulfillment, that promises to make your incomplete sense of self complete and fill that sense of lack you feel within.”

The author explains, in a way different from other books I’ve read, that it’s not the Ego itself that is bad, but our identification with it that causes the most suffering. If we identify ourselves by our jobs, our possessions, even on the flipside, by our suffering or hardship – as long as we perpetuate that identification, we are not simply living in the present and accepting things as they are.  The goal is to raise personal awareness of our behaviour, allowing ourselves to simply be in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in in thinking about and reacting to it, or living by the roles we give to ourselves. And aren’t we all guilty of that?

The way we go about the world is shaped, in large part, by our past experiences, by our inner critic, by our fears and by worrying about what other people think of us. We act differently, though maybe only very slightly, around different groups of people. We may act one way around our partner, another around his or her family, another around our boss, and yet another around our closest friends. We ever so subtly fall into different roles shaped by how we want society to see us, or by past hurts or anxieties. Some may have a heightened sense of Ego, going about the world in fancy suits and filling homes with expensive decor, fuelled by the notion that more is better. Some may have latched onto the other end of the spectrum, carrying the weight of their past hardships or present sufferings with a frown on their face and a cloud over their head. The book teaches it doesn’t matter what identification we have with the Ego, as long as it has an identity. And the only way to truly be at peace is to recognise that, detach from those thought patterns, detach from the material things that are ultimately ephemeral, and detach from worry about things over which we have no control.

I took a LOT away from this book, but most of all, I took away the power of awareness and acceptance.  The moment you notice a pattern of behaviour that is no longer working for you, recognise it, change it, and you are on your way to becoming more enlightened and living a more purposeful existence. Instead of allowing reactive emotions to take over in response to unfavourable life events, accept them as they are. Instead of feeling wronged or holding on to grudges, just let them go. And, though painful sometimes, accepting the path a loved one has chosen even though you may believe it’ll end badly. People ultimately only learn from their own mistakes.  There was a great section about peace vs. drama which is something I think we can all identify with, explaining that though we all want peace, there’s something in all of us that also wants drama and conflict. We’re not acknowledged, we have an argument, we feel wronged somehow, and the mind races to defend itself, attack, or blame someone else.

“Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production? Can you feel there is something in you that would rather be right than at peace?”

The Ego would rather be right than at peace, and the only way to lessen its grip is to become aware of it – the voice in our head that “comments, speculates, judges, compares, dislikes… etc.”  You can catch yourself in these situations, and choose to accept and be happy, rather than insisting at any cost you be right. Since I finished the book I’ve caught myself out slipping into old thought patterns that are ultimately Ego-driven – reacting in arguments, becoming upset over situations I can’t control, worrying about things, and beating myself up. None of this does anyone any good and is never going to pave the way to being at peace, and I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who’s concerned at all about finding happiness, and living a good life of intent, peace and purpose. If everyone lived by the teachings of this book, the world would be a very different place indeed. But as with all big movements, they start with a small step. And if I can introduce someone to this reading material and it impacts them the way it did after it was introduced to me… then I’d like to think this was mine.

Get Your Freak On Friday (quite possibly the best music video EVER)

For today’s Get Your Freak On Friday, I’m bringing you a song from back in 2006 which continues to rock very hard 4 years later. It’s by a brilliant band from the UK called Kasabian, who’ve released all sorts “family-friendly” hits such as ‘Vlad the Impaler’, ‘Club Foot’, ‘(I’m on) Fire’, and most recently the album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum.  Their videos are always stunning, and Shoot The Runner is one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen. Anyone even remotely interested in graphics or animation will just love it.

If you want to play along with GYFOF:

1. Grab the button
2. Paste the button. Somewhere on your blog or even just in your post.
3. Write about a memorable song. Any one you like.
4. Post the link to your post on Tristan’s post’s Mr. Linky.

Enjoy a feast for the eyes and ears… even if you don’t have sound, it’s worth watching for the sheer artistic brilliance. Happy weekend!