Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Bean to Pick with Starbucks by Lannon McGregor

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I woke myself from a short sleep to greet Monday with saggy, heavy eyes. The morning air was topped with a crispy crust of fog with a mist and cloud-filled center.

Habit forced me to stop for my usual Starbucks' fix. Lucky for me, I had half a dozen Starbucks' outlets to choose from during my five-minute walk to the Sky Train Station in downtown Vancouver.

While I was waiting for my Venti Americano (aka extra-large coffee), I impulsively grabbed a bottle of water and paid $1.99 for this 'seemingly' normal beverage.

Now, allow me to confess: I am not known for "paying" for water. Call me crazy, but I believe the freshness of water tastes just the same from the tap as it does bottled (aside from the general smug feeling one gets from the obviously elitist choice to pay for water), and such was the case with my purchase of Starbucks' "Ethos" water except Ethos had a promotion which spoke to my innermost humanity.

After looking at the heart-tugging, subliminally prompting, (the image was of clearly thirsty Africans) and reading the "Help the World", or some equally similar hippie-bullshit promotion, I assumed that my Ethos water-purchasing-coins would contribute to implementing change in an otherwise, impoverished country.

And then I scanned the information on the back label which read:
... only 10 cents of my $1.99 contribution would go towards building wells for villagers in Africa...
and, I've gotta tell you, I was appalled. Here's a company which can afford to put two outlets directly across the street from each other, but can't afford to dish out more than 10 cents per bottle towards the promoted charity? Yet somehow they can justify charging two bucks for a bottle of water, by disguising the sale as a lame-ass excuse for a humanitarian mission instead of as the marketing ploy it is? I mean 10 cents? C'mon! That's not even 10% of the proceeds yet the charitable aspect is 90% of their campaign to sell the product. It's ridiculous to think we have to pay as much as $2.00 for water just to get a company to take some responsibility in helping someone.

This whole scheme is marketing at its best. We are always force fed guilt like it's our job, as middle class working stiffs, to help the poor whom these corporations are generally getting rich from. Why do we have to buy a happy meal from billionaire corporations like McDonalds just to encourage their (tax-deductible) charitable contribution of 10 cents to Childrens' Hospital?

Corporations are the only groups with the means to help and provide REAL change, yet time and time again they are ignoring their obligations by constantly passing off the responsibility to their consumers by using these charitable marketing schemes to play on our compassion.

The funny thing about it is, I passed a homeless man on the way in who asked me for change and I told him to get a job. Had I given the clearly, alcohol-dependent man the $2.00 I spent on the water, at least I would have been giving to a more immediate cause, rather than having my money sucked into the vacuum of a faceless corporation. After all, everyone's gotta drink something.

On the plus side, I am glad to see Starbucks do SOMETHING for a country they have been raping for all these years. I wonder how much those Ethiopian bean pickers make per hour?

I wonder if it's more or less than a bottle of Ethos water?

I hear it's awful hot over there...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Mohawk Lodge By: Lezah Williamson

Every so often I'll hit upon my latest fave song: currently it's Wear 'em Out by The Mohawk Lodge.

Dave comes by lots of compilations and British 'best of...' Cds, so I was just assuming that this group was from some distant realm. Well, I am happy to say I was wrong, and very pleased to learn that my new fave hails from my own backyard, Vancouver!

They're connected to Black Mountain and have released material through them; their debut, Wildfires, was described as 'dirty folk', but their latest is more blue collar indie/soul/rock. The band's Ryder Havdale describes them as "reformed math rockers trying to write '80's hits".

They've just completed both a cross-Canada and short European tour this fall.

Although they have no show dates currently posted, they are certainly one to put on your 'watch' list...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flight of the Conchords By Lezah Williamson

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I read recently that in tough economic times, comedies become more popular.

Sadly, the quality of most comedies these days hasn't become any better than it was were our economy stronger. In fact, there is only one comedy out there in TVland right now that is any goo. But the great news is it's brilliant. Wednesday evenings on the Comedy Network you can tune into Flight of the Conchords, probably the best show on TV today.

Based on the life of two band mates who have relocated from New Zealand to New York, Flight of the Conchords offers both comedy and songs (a combination that usually does nothing for me). And the actors Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement aren't too hard to look at, either.

Their lives revolve around their low rent apartment, meetings with their manager (who seems incapable of getting them any gigs), their one fan, and Bret's ever-changing status as a band member. The twosome bill themselves as 'formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo'. Together, they have won a Grammy (2008, best comedy album), created a radio series for BBC Radio 2, been named to the list of top five new TV shows for 2007 by Time magazine, and still tour and perform at various venues (this year, they were on the main stage at Sasquatch Festival, and did a free show a Amoeba Records, to name but a few).

Not to be missed.

Image from Wordpress.

Bowie/Glam Night

On Thursday, February 5 at Celebrities Nightclub (Davies Street, Vancouver) you can step back in time and celebrate the best music of the '70s and '80s - Bowie, Glam, New Wave - it's all there for you to hear and dance to!

Promoter Vernand Goud pays hommage to the late, great Vancouver hotspot, Luv-A-Fair once again with Luv-A-Fair #4 - Bowie/Glam Night. I attended Luv-A-Fair #1 and #3, and the word is obviously getting out: the attendance at #3 had pretty much tripled from night #1.

So, this is obviously a case of be there or be square!


images from ibabuzz and ellenthegreat

Alive and Kicking - Psychedelic Furs, Part II 2008 Christine Albrecht

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Peter Gerstenzang, (Feb/02/06), had written a piece entitled New Days for Psych Furs' Butler for the Rolling Stone magazine.

Surely, life just keeps getting better for our favourite gravelly-voiced frontman Richard Butler.

Richard Butler fronted the band, Psychedelic Furs who sung Pretty in Pink which was used for the 1986 movie of the same name.

The band originally assembled in the late 70's, and continued until 1991. Artistic disagreements led to the band's semi-demise.

The '80's were the glory years for the Furs; Heaven, along with Pretty in Pink kept the Furs on the airwaves. As a lover of all things Richard, I faithfully attended his shows, but in 1994, when he came out with LoveSpitLove, I found my Real Richard - brilliant.

By 2000, LoveSpitLove was no more. Interestly, LoveSpitLove was on many movie soundtracks and televisions soundtracks and I am curious if that is when Richard decides to venture on to something new?

In 2001, the Furs rejoined and have been playing ever since with the likes of the: Violent Femmes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, X, and Franz Ferdinand which would indicate the Alive and Kicking moniker is very appropriate.

In early 2006, Richard released the critically acclaimed solo album entitled Richard Butler,which held a collection of songs dedicated to his and his friend, Jon Carin's deceased fathers (Both Doctors.)

Richard Butler was originally trained as a visual artist, and his recent works have receive much world attention. He has had gallery openings in New York, Miami, Florida and Florence. One of his paintings is his CD's cover art; but that is for you to figure out.

I had formally noticed that in 2004, the Furs have had an extensive tour schedule; Richard has recently released the song Work it Out (written by Vince Clark of Depeche Mode) for the children's show, Johnny Bravo (and perhaps as a keepsake for his daughter, Maggie Mozart Butler, 11, in 2008).

In August 2004, a book about the Psychedelic Furs was released, entitled Beautiful Chaos.

Present bandmates in the Furs are: Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass), John Ashton (guitar), Frank Ferrer (drums) and Amanda Kramer (keyboards).

Butler, (June 5, 1956) presently resides in New York with his wife and daughter.

Updated according to the ever resourceful Wikipedia, PLEASE keep it honest.

Images taken by image.listen and Susan Strange

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When The Night Hits Top 10 on Much Music

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No, this isn't a selfish plug for some new project of mine, it's all about my friend and record label protégé Aaron Nazrul, who is making serious waves with his music lately. Back in September Aaron made an amazing music video for When the Night one of the songs from his album Butterfly Man (produced by my uncle Simon Kendall, executive produced by myself). It's a classic East Vancouver block party video featuring all of our friends from the neighbourhood, filmed in the back alley behind his house. If you want to see how we party in Vancouver, you can watch the video on YouTube:

But the real news is that Much Music is now playing the video on rotation, and it has hit the Top 10! For those of you outside Canada, Much Music is our version of MTV, and is a very big platform for Aaron to get his music out. He is currently in the number six position, ahead of: Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, and New Kids on the Block! How did he get there? People can vote for their favourite artists on the web, and I'm hoping all of you will take a moment to vote as well. You can vote as many times as you want and you can vote from anywhere in the world, so let's get him to Number One! Visit the Much Music website to vote.

Aaron and his band are currently on tour in Central America, playing gigs as they cruise from country to country in their tour bus Winnebago. If you want to check out his album or (heavens!) buy it, you can get it from iTunes or order by mail from my website (click "Butterfly Man" under Discography, left side of page):Order Butterfly Man

As for me, I'm writing from NYC, on a short sojourn between gigs on my US tour. I had the singular honour of spending election day here in the States with a great group of very talented people at the Hip Hop Boot Camp in Ashland, Oregon, part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I was pretty proud of my American kin for the history they made that day, plus the entire boot camp experience was amazing.

The festival brought together seven hip-hop theatre professionals and seven professional Shakespearean actors for a series of skills-trading workshops and performances. Apparently some people high up now believe hip-hop is the future of Shakespearean theatre. You don't have to convince me...

In the past three weeks I've performed in New Orleans, Boulder, Worcester, Mass., and at Penn State University. But colleges are off over US Thanksgiving, which means so am I. So I'm just visiting friends here in New York for a few days and relaxing (I know, sounds unlikely) before heading onward to gigs in Portland, Oregon and Birmingham, Alabama (which they pronounce with extra "Ha-yam", not "Birming'm" like in England). Then I go home to Vancouver for the holidays, and spend a few months regrouping before the next round of touring.

I have some exciting projects coming up in 2009, but until I see the ink dry on the paper I'm hesitant to announce anything, so for now stay tuned, and don't forget to lend Aaron your vote.

Can we get him to Number One?

Yes we can.


Read Shane's bang-on review of Butterfly Man Here

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Transporter 3 Movie Review By: Ian Albrecht

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Just so you know, my youngest son has decided to start posting his reviews of music and movies on Swanktrendz. Due to his young'ish age - Go easy on him (or Mama Bear will roar, heh!). Actually, I warned him he was on his own and he has to take the good with the not so good (responses to his writing). Given he is an official 'tween', I think he's doing all right. Enjoy!

Although I was initially excited at the prospect of seeing the third installment of the Transporter movie trilogy, I couldn't help but come away from the theatre feeling largely underwhelmed.

The main character, Frank Martin, (played by Jason Statham)

receives his latest assignment involving the delivery of a 'package' from "Marseilles to Odessa on the Black Sea." However, Martin's European 'delivery' is not without (predictably) at least one 'twist'. Furthermore, his usual 'delivery' method is hampered by his being outfitted with a wrist device that will ensure explosive death and destruction if Frank ventures beyond 75 feet of his vehicle.

Unfortunately, this 'twist' immediately brought to mind the movie, Speed, as the underlying premise/theme is similar. E.g.: If the main hero alters/changes his course, in opposition to the villain's projected demands, the outcome will be life-threatening mayhem.

I openly admit that Jason Statham did an excellent job despite being given an average script; containing some gad-awful dialogue, as well as plenty of clichés reserved for "bust 'em up/bang 'em up" movies. Moreover, Statham's acting should be noted for his having to respond to (with a straight face) his co-star, villain, Robert Knepper as Johnson. But more about Knepper, later.

Of course there is the standard love interest between the Prime Minister of Ukraine's daughter, and our hero, Frank. Despite how important her character is to the movie's central plot, (her role is played by Natalya Rudakova) ... I could NOT recall her character's name! I had to google both the character's and actor's name (which turns out to be Valentina). This does not bode well for any actor attempting to make her mark in the 'biz'. As well, despite her character's important addition to the plot, as well as to the "twist", Rudakova did not leave any impression that would make us

a) want to know her name or

b) care to learn who was performing the role

.François Berléand, once again played Inspector Tarconi, (Frank Martin's sidekick/closest thing to a best friend) and, once again, Berléand did a solid and consistent job at injecting some humour and the occasional dramatic urgency into an otherwise, lukewarm role.

The main villain was one of the 'worst' villains I've seen, and I did not buy into/believe in his character for one minute, I would label his acting as "old school"; as in, I would liken Transporter 3's villain to the original Joker from the black and white television series, Batman.

Overall, the plot for Transporter 3 was dull, been-there-done-that, and simply pathetic (with exception to anything being blown up, or any computer generated excitement.) Then again, these effects should be a 'given' in any action movie genre.

So, why do I say pathetic? When the audience is thrown subplots, or extra information that is even more unbelievable than the movie's, "Villain character's" acting... Well? What would you call it? For example, the police department and the government learn the villain's real name and location, and rather quickly, in the movie! At least in other espionage/action flicks, the bad guy will toss out a couple of red herrings to keep the 'good guys' and audience wondering what's going to happen next. I was able to predict this movie's plot and ending, but it's times like this when I hate to be right.

I guess the most intense guessing, wondering or predicting I did during the 90 minutes was... trying to figure out when the movie was going to end?

Is this movie worth spending cash at the box office, or is it a wait-for-the-DVD type of flick? Definitely a wait for the DVD, as it is the most disappointing movie of the trilogy and will, no doubt, go straight to video within three months. 1.5/5 (and the half point was strictly for the guns, explosions, and computer generated effects. And, 1 point to Jason Statham for doing a good job in a stinker of a movie).