Haiku Corner

Twelve seeds taking charge
Bringing Bracket city down
Million next year

Submit sports haikus to sports@thevarsity.ca

TV Party

Not getting MTV in Canada can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are for the most part spared some awful reality-TV shows (see the last “TV Party”), and yet another outlet for Top-40 heavy-rotation videos. On the other, there are a few really good reality-TV shows out there, and some kick-ass cartoons, like the Canadian-made UnderGRADS.

Written by then 18-year-old Pete Williams, who also voices the four main characters, UnderGRADS is a show about undergraduate life at fictional State University and nearby Tekerson Tech.

If the fact that the premise is close to home for most Varsity readers isn’t enough reason to watch, the skill with which the show is written and executed makes it worth viewing. Though it succumbs to some coming-of-age, cheesy teen-movie/sitcom archetypes at its lowest points, at its peaks it is funny, intelligent, and scathingly relevant. Plus, its animation and audio recording are done in Toronto—hurray for CanCon!

The series was born when Pete Williams sent in his concept to an MTV contest soliciting ideas for a new series. After it spent some time in Development Hell, it finally hit the airwaves down south last year and has recently been picked up by Teletoon in Canada. Due to its “mature” target demographic, you’ll have to stay up late Friday through Monday night to catch it at 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

UnderGRADS is a visually impressive and eye-catching show, alluding ever so slightly to anime and manga character styling. This is contrasted with the surprisingly versatile voice work of Pete Williams. If not the next Mel Blanc, he is at least convincing in his various characterizations. One would be hard-pressed to tell the voices didn’t belong to separate actors if not prompted beforehand.

What is most impressive about the show, though, is its fusion of nerd-aesthetic with pop-cultural relevance, as filtered through the unique tastes and biases of the show’s creator. The jokes and issues will resonate with any student, but creeping in at the edges are obscure sci-fi and 80s cross-references. In fact, though it is not immediately evident on first viewing save for one character’s nerdish fascination, Star Wars is one of the constant underpinnings of the show, and rarely has the momentous trilogy been so referenced and mocked without descending into terrifying depths of geekdom.

So do yourself a favour, and check out some quality Canadian animation. And while you’re at it, check out the website at www.undergrads.tv; DECODE Entertainment, the Toronto-based animation house which produces the series, is also a digital media company that creates websites. And who knows—if the show garners enough viewers, it might be

A sweeping success

You have to expect that when two of Canada’s premier funnymen get together, the double entendres will be flowing like Niagara Falls.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that when Leslie Nielsen and Paul Gross begin discussing the beavers that populate Men With Brooms—a film first-time director Gross also co-wrote, starred in, executive produced and contributed a song to (“Kiss You Till You Weep”)—they hold nothing back.

“I don’t feel that I’m carrying any particular torch, that I have any obligation do to anything [Canadian],” Gross says. “I like seeing beavers. They just make me laugh.”

Gross, who won two Geminis for his role as Constable Benton Fraser on Due South, explains that the beavers were originally going to be frogs until he saw the frogs falling out of the sky in Magnolia.

“Do you have control of your beaver visions, or do they come up into your mind all the time now?” asks Nielsen, who plays Gross’s father in Men With Brooms.

“I’m overrun with them,” Gross replies.

“Overrun with beavers?”

Gross explains, “We said, ‘We’re going to need some smoke stacks painted in here, and we’re going to have this storm you’re going to have to put in, and now we’re going to discuss the beaver shots.’ And it just became this farce. One of the [special effects] guys says, ‘Well, [beavers are] a little bit easier to work with because they’re [furry] and they’re wet.'”

Men With Brooms is the story of Chris Cutter (Gross), a former curling star from the fictional Ontario town of Long Bay, who disappeared 10 years earlier, throwing away a chance for his team to win the “Golden Broom”—the Stanley Cup of curling. When the team’s coach dies, his will asks Cutter to reform the team so they can finally win the Golden Broom.

“I’d like to think it’s because the movie is wonderful,” says Gross, letting out a huge burst of laughter, in answer to why Men With Brooms has been receiving so much attention. “It started fairly early on, talking with Alliance Atlantis as the distributor. Then I guess as the movie got closer and closer to being finished, they felt they had something they could take out in a broader way.”

Although the film had a budget of $7.5 million—an impressive sum for a Canadian feature
—Gross says the cost of actual shooting was much less.

“As [Men With Brooms producer] Robert Lantos expressed it, ‘It’s the amount of money that a Hollywood film would normally pay for a trailer.’ So it’s astonishing,” says Nielsen.

In response to the ongoing debate between commerce and art, Gross points out that all filmmakers want their films to succeed commercially. “[Movies] are extraordinarily expensive things to make, even the cheap ones,” he says. “If they don’t pay for themselves, eventually no one will give you the money to make them.”

“The same thing happens on honeymoons,” Nielsen deadpans.

“That’s so wrong,” chips in Gross, 42, who is married to actress Martha Burns and has two children.

Neither Gross nor Nielsen knew anything about curling before they began making Men With Brooms —Gross and co-writer John Krizanc even read a “Curling for Dummies” book. And while curling might look like shuffleboard on ice to the uninitiated, Gross says it’s actually quite difficult and required training.

“It’s really hard on the muscles that connect your penis to your butt, that stretch,” says Gross.

Gross gets slightly more serious when asked if he felt obligated to put Canadian references in the movie. “I do think Canadian iconography is really fun. I mean it’s sort of humourous and melancholic all at the same time,” says Gross. “The beaver is just a weird national symbol. I think it was Margaret Atwood who said that the beaver is the perfect symbol for Canada because it is the only animal that when faced with a mortal peril will chew off its own testicles and offer them up to its assailant. We’re a funny, odd, odd, complicated country.”

The road to nowhere

“Flying over here, after we’d been flying for about four hours, I got up, wandered around, and looked out the window.” Novelist Mary Lawson pauses momentarily, sighs, and makes a grand sweeping gesture with her arm that indicates the entire landscape from Labrador to Victoria is included in her next statement. Lawson recently returned to Canada from England to promote her first novel, Crow Lake. She sits across from me in the Consort Bar of the King Eddie Hotel, where we sip tea and talk about what it’s like for a Canadian novelist to imagine Canada.

“A thousand miles of white in either direction…and I asked the stewardess, ‘Do you have any idea where we are?’ not knowing what route we had taken. She said she didn’t know but would ask the pilot. She picked up the phone on the bulkhead and said, ‘A passenger wanted to know where we were,’ and then she said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell her,’ and hung up the phone. The stewardess turned to me and said: ‘He says we aren’t anywhere, really,’ and I thought: I’m home!”

And so it is. Canada, otherwise known as Nowhere. Yet it’s a nowhere that Canadian writers have been populating with mythical towns and people since this country found its own voice in literature. Margaret Laurence had Manawaka; George Elliott Clarke—Whylah Falls; Alice Munro—Anytown, Ontario. Now Lawson has Crow Lake, the mirage just northwest of New Liskeard, Ontario.

Crow Lake is the mythical hometown of Kate Morrison, the novel’s narrator. Kate, her younger sister Bo, older brothers Matt and Luke, and her solemn but loving parents live happily until a tragedy leaves the Morrison children orphaned. The events following the death of Kate’s parents are the meat of the novel.

Kate, now in her late twenties and an assistant professor of zoology, must re-examine her origins in order to locate herself in the present day.

Told retrospectively, Kate’s confessional manner is at first jarring, since she proclaims that she hates revealing details about her past, then proceeds to do just that. It soon becomes clear, however, that Kate has unwittingly undertaken a quest of self-discovery and we’re along for the ride.

Kate constantly refers to “The Pond,” a place for the Morrison children to escape to, which exists as a place of her own where no one can find her. More importantly, it has strong symbolic value to the novel. It is where Kate first witnesses the life cycle occurring and is the birthplace of her interest in biology.

At the pond, she encounters creatures that rely on the surface tension of water to exist, an idea that very subtly directs us to consider the surface tension between characters in the novel. Not only is it a place of regeneration, but it is the locus of Kate’s history, safe from the toxic world beyond the perimeter of Crow Lake. Its pure, healing quality is reminiscent of Eden or the forest in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

For her scientific research, Lawson spent time in the University of Toronto’s zoology department. Professors Deborah Mclennan and Hélène Cyr advised Lawson on details surrounding the academic life in that particular discipline, as well as allowing her to sit in on lectures and knock around the wet-labs.

“They were fantastic,” she says of the professors. “I could never have had the feeling of authenticity without looking around the zoology department, seeing the wet-labs, talking to them about how their days are made up.”

At its worst moments, Crow Lake suffers from weak characterization. Peripheral characters, for the most part, come off as types or clichés, rendering them and their dialogue a little hard to swallow. I’m thinking of Kate’s boyfriend’s parents, whose sitcom-quality performances are stilted and distracting, adding little or nothing to the story.

At its finest moments, however, Crow Lake successfully evokes the themes of knowledge of the self, the relationship between people and the land they inhabit, and, in true Canadian fashion, “the bush garden,” as Northrop Frye would have put it. Lawson also skilfully
renders tiny but important details about life in a small town, drawing on the experience of having grown up just outside Sarnia in a place called Blackwell, Ontario. Otherwise known as Nowhere.

Hot Wax

N.E.R.D
In Search Of
Virgin

I’m at a loss for words. I have never heard anything like N.E.R.D before. In a world of stagnant hip-hop (the funk experimentation of Outkast aside) N.E.R.D is like a breath of fresh something. I don’t exactly know what to call it. N.E.R.D (No-one Ever Really Dies) are the The Neptunes, arguably hip-hop’s best producers (Ludacris—Southern Hospitality, Britney Spears—I’m a Slave) taking their own turn behind the mic. With In Search Of, N.E.R.D have produced some of the most beautiful and innovative beats imaginable, blending hip-hop, funk, psychedelic, thrash and live instrumentation. The album’s weak point are the lyrics—the rhymes are juvenile, but strangely fitting. I really don’t know how people will react to this album. As for me, I’ve been listening to it over and over trying to decide if I like it. This could be the year’s Stankonia, or a total bomb. I’m curious to see what happens.

Rating: V? VV? VVV? VVVV? VVVVV?
Sho Kosugi

The Ataris
…anywhere but here
Kung-Fu Records

According to legend, this band’s success was due to some crafty work by one of the fearsome foursome back in 1999, who slipped their demo tape to the Vandals after a show. Three years later, they find themselves finishing their fifth album under the auspices of production man and Vandals guitarist Warren Fitzgerald. The album stands at twenty-one songs and just under forty minutes of power-pop punk. Supporting bands like Blink-182, Lagwagon and Mad Caddies should give you a good indication of what they sound like. Their lyrical content, if you can stomach it, is punk-pop gone soft and gooey with songs about love gone wrong, how could she do this to my heart and why do I miss her so…who knew punk had feelings?

Rating:VVV
Chunger

Mi6
Lunchbox
Kung Fu

Although the pop/punk scene has been completely destroyed by the majors, there still exists a stable underground culture of purists who haven’t traded it all in for the bright lights and flashy tour busses. Mi6 know what real punk’s about. They keep the flame alive with songs that are primal yet intricate, upbeat yet introspective. OK, they’re feeding off a structure that was invented almost two decades ago, but it works perfectly, so why fuck with it? With one listen, you instantly know that there is still a future for punk with harmonic sensibility, and it doesn’t involve fat cheques and losers who think Good Charlotte invented mohawks.

Rating: VVVV
Keith Carman

Belvedere
‘Twas Hell Said Former Child
The Union

This Vancouver group were once little more than pop/punk jokers who were playing the biggest gag on themselves, but they’ve obviously been paying attention to the scene as of late. And they’ve managed to wrangle some of that intelligent influence into their own sound, creating tunes that are somewhat poppy, but now feature good wanky solos, an emo lyricist’s sensibilities and a smidgen of a hardcore beat (not sound…beat). Upbeat, fun and a vast improvement, this is a welcome addition to the Canuck punk scene.

Rating: VVV
Al Gaunt

Bodyjar
How It Works
Nitro

Quite possibly Australia’s finest export, Bodyjar blow goofball bands like Frenzal Rhomb out of the water with powerful, straight-ahead pop/punk that isn’t afraid to show its teeth. Upbeat, introspective songs fill this disc to overflowing, and it’s virtually impossible to get most of the melodies out of your head after Round One. Solid production only serves to enhance an already impressive package. Tracks like “Not The Same,” “Clean Slate” and “Feed It” feature driving rhythm, intelligent lyrics and wicked vibe. And the best part is that this Fat-sounding band is on Nitro, giving both parties instant cred.

Rating: VVVV
Mike Knight

Richard Hell
Time
Matador

Someone once said “If you don’t now, you never were.” Well, here’s your last chance to catch on before you’re lost forever. Compiling some of Richard Hell’s lost work with a couple of live performances and pre-released gems, Time is probably the single most essential punk album anyone remotely interested in the term should own. The precursor to all forms of glam rock, punk or indie, Hell (a seminal member of the Neon Boys, Heartbreakers and Voidoids) certainly has creativity that exceeds ability, but so did Johnny Rotten and Kurt Cobain, and I bet you own their shit…

Rating: VVVVV
Keith Carman

In the City

Goin’ out in style!

Before you pack up your beer bong and collection of unused condoms, you might want to pop into Hart House tonight, March 21, for Latin funksters Pedras Da Rua. Presented by Hart House Music, Pedras da Rua is an eclectic band that merges Brazilian bossa with funky rhythms. Led by Louis Simao and David Gouveia and featuring Venezuelan beauty Eliana Cuevas on vocals, the press release assures that “this group will ignite your senses!”
It all gets down around 8:30 p.m. in the Arbor Room, and as we all know, it’s FREE! Call (416) 978-8668 for any more details, but what the hell could you want to know? We’ve told you everything!

Getting artsy
in the ‘burbs!

The University of Toronto at Mississauga (otherwise known as UTM or Erindale College) is hosting “Spirit of Expression,” its first annual arts festival, this Friday, March 22 at 6 p.m. Held in the Student’s Centre (the Blind Duck Pub to you alkies), the festival will be a one-day event promoting arts at one of our two favourite satellite campuses. Comprised of works submitted by both U of T and Sheridan students, you’ll get to experience music, dance theatre and fine arts for, like, zero bucks! For more info, visit http://www.erin.utoronto.ca/festival/main.html. Thank you very much.

Free flix

The New Filmmakers Project 2202 is all set to show you their stuff. The official screening of a collection of three short films will take place at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave.) Friday, March 22 at 4:30 p.m. That’s tomorrow…a Friday. Date night. And a free flick. It’s like they’re begging you to get it on at Innis! Films include Scott Christie’s In Briefs, Lauren Dimonte/Louise Chalebois’ Tricky Nicky and Colin Turner/Amanda Serio’s A Better Life, all of which were given rave reviews in our U of T Film Festival review. Need more details? Visit http://filmboard.sa.utoronto.ca.

COLD PRESS

Reading Joan Barfoot’s latest mystery novel, Critical Injuries, one can’t help but recall Shakespeare’s famous words: “All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and their entrances/ And one man in his time plays many parts.” However, in Critical Injuries, we see Barfoot’s characters before the entrance and after the exit, backstage, struggling to decide which costume to put on next.

At its heart, this novel explores the nature of change, of constant metamorphosis and the myriad possibilities that lie within each moment. Young adult Roddy and middle-aged Isla’s lives become inextricably linked during a botched robbery. For a time, both are suspended from the metamorphic process of life, left to contemplate the relationship between thought and action, word and action, and the relationship from one moment to the next.

With Critical Injuries, Barfoot also explores the relationship between fact, fiction and fiction-making. Characters often find themselves looking to television or film for answers or commentary on their situation, relating themselves to plots and characters they’ve experienced before. Of course, this eventually leads to their realization of the disparity between real life and fiction. The effect is like having Barfoot by your side, nudging you with her elbow and pointing at her own processes, subtly, and with astute cleverness.

Barfoot’s characters and their emotions are palpable. They are as physically nondescript as the town in which they live, but contain an emotional geography that is rich, lush and complicated. Using Shakespeare as an example is not without reason. Characters transcend spatial, temporal, and physical details, leaving nothing but intense raw emotion.

Perhaps the most brilliant achievement in this novel is its masterful pacing. Characters’ emotional lives, whole histories, are subtly fed little by little.

Stories within the larger story are told, without the reader ever feeling like they’re being assaulted with obvious exposition. With the suspense and intrigue of the best mystery novels, Barfoot leads us along an emotional expedition towards a conclusion Aristotle would have been proud of: one that is both inevitable yet wholly surprising.

Rating: VVVVV

SAC tickets slapped on the wrist

In a tiny boardroom in the converted observatory that now holds the student government, students squeezed in to hear about the electoral offences of the two parties running for the leadership of the Students’ Administrative Council.

“Take Back SAC” was reprimanded for putting up unauthorized posters in a Trinity residence. They were given five demerit points by the election committee for the offence. Members of the “Take Back SAC” campaign challenged the penalty, saying it was unfair to punish the ticket for an offence that might have been committed by any number of people unconnected to the campaign.

“How many degrees of separation does it take before we don’t have responsibility for it?” demanded Forrest Pass, but the committee upheld the decision, saying, “Whoever put it up is considered a non-arm’s-length party.”

Next up was the “We the Students” poster violation. They had previously been penalized eight points for “multiple violations in different locations” at the Erindale campus and were penalized again on Monday for postering illegally on TTC bus shelters on the St. George campus. Although they initially appealed the ruling, they rescinded the appeal after the ensuing debate became lengthy and inconclusive. Kylie Thompson was accused of consorting with the Gargoyle to produce an article where it appeared she was the only candidate to respond to questions sent by email to her, Jesse Thompson and SAC president Alex Kerner. The committee asked everyone but the defendant to leave the meeting when others kept interrupting with their version of events. Thompson emerged with a big smile, announcing, “It’s been dismissed.”

Alex Kerner was penalized 19 points for involving himself in referendum questions. Lily Wong, a St. Mike’s candidate and another candidate from Erindale were disqualified from running in the SAC election on the grounds that they were not currently full-time students.