Tag Archive | review

Apiecalypse Now Pizza & Snack Bar – review!

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A while back, the Apiecalypse Now! bakery storefront on Markham Street shut down to refocus. At a new location, the Apiecalypse Now Pizza & Snack Bar had its grand opening on May 30th. I braved the lineup and grabbed a couple of slices as I was briefly in the ‘hood, but decided to drop back in yesterday for their first regular day of business and sit down for a quiet slice.

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I am so pleased this new space has a little seating, in the front window nook (this picture was taken from there). It’s nice to have a sit and watch Bloor Street go by, with Christie Pitts park in the distance. The store is counter service, and it’s almost impossible to make a decision considering the amazing offerings of treats like donuts/cupcakes etc, plus the range of pizza slices. Throw the option of a Grains Grains Grains sub into the mix and it’s paralyzing. Deliciously paralyzing.

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I have tried the BBQ Buffalobotomy, the Slayer & the Mac & Charlie. Not only do they have some of the best names ever for their slices (I am quite fond of the Weakerthans nod with ‘Reunion Tour’), they’re filling, flavourful and fantastic. All but the Reunion Tour use Daiya cheese, which I’m okay with – but some folks aren’t partial to it. I wish I’d gotten to try the ‘meaty’ Pig Destroyer Destroyer, but the slices I’ve had have used soy curls to my tastebuds’ pleasure. Below, the BBQ Buffalobotomy (L) and Slayer (R).

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And, um, best condiments ever? I put hot sauce and nooch on almost everything, so I’m the #1 fan of this.

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Not only are there terrific pizza slices and treats, but you can grab merch (buttons, mugs), Go Max Go candy bars and jars of the wonderous Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, there’s also a soft serve machine, with vanilla and chocolate available!

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We’ve been spoilt with it at Bunners in Kensington Market for a while, but I do really like the option of all sorts of great sauces and sprinkley things. I got a sundae rather than a cone, so I could have peanut and fudge sauce with Oreo crumbles on mine. I’d like the soft serve to be creamier, but it was great all the same. I should’ve gotten vanilla/choc swirl!

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I’m looking forward to seeing how this great little place develops, and if they will integrate any of the bakery’s cooler offerings (like the great sauces, dressings etc especially) in the near future. I have also heard talk of testing a gluten free crust, so I hope that appears soon – I love gluten, but would like to eat there with my vegan allergy-ridden pals.

Make sure to stop by and grab a slice/treat/sundae to take to the park, or order a whole pizza even. I think I will, next time.. Basically, just say FUCK YES to this amazing new vegan place.

Hours for the store are:

Monday — Closed.
Tuesday–Saturday 1200-23:30
Sunday 1200-20:00

Accepts debit and cash. (And possibly credit? I didn’t check.) And no delivery – yet? 🙂

Book review – “The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farmed Animals” by Jenny Brown

Cover of "The Lucky Ones"

Cover of “The Lucky Ones”

I’ve had a tough time getting through non-fiction of late. I attributed it to my overall lack of interest in reading due to general malaise etc, but really when I look at it, I just crave something that will pull me in and keep reading, and much of the non-fiction I’ve read of late (ie. the past year or so) hasn’t had a strong enough narrative to do that.

Jenny Brown’s book is a memoir as much as it is the story of getting the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) up and running. She speaks about her experience with bone cancer as a young girl, her struggles with adapting to a prosthetic leg, and her gradual shift from typical American meat-eater (“We eat animals simply because it’s what we’ve always done”) to passionate advocate for animals, and vegan (“We can become prisoners of our earliest indoctrination or we can choose to look critically at our assumptions and align our lives with our values”). I really identified with much of what Brown went through in her ‘awakening’, let’s call it – and also her current approach of educating visitors about the marvels and personalities of farm animals, and what they also suffer through in the farming system.

As I was reading through her ‘transition’ chapters, much of it hit me really hard. From her initial backlash against the system “I wore my impatience on my face and slathered my care and chest with bold messages: ‘Meat is Murder! Fur is Dead!’ I was a bitter proselytizer, which was neither pretty nor effective”, to the realization that no matter what, she’d never be able to take part in the system again after what she’d seen going undercover in farms/stockyards “I loved cheese omelets, but now I was haunted by the image of the critters I’d gotten to know, and I knew I’d feel complicit in the ruthless treatment of cows and chickens if I consumed their ‘products'”.

I have never gone undercover to see what factory farming is really like, because I’ve seen enough to know. I know that I don’t need to bear witness anymore, and it’s actually really upsetting for me (ask Adam, he’s seen me balled up on the couch in a crying jag after seeing just a few minutes of footage) – I’ve never watched anything like Earthlings, either. I just can’t. That’s why I really appreciate the approach that farm sanctuaries and animal advocates like Brown have – show what the animals are like, and capable of, and tie it implicitly to their treatment within the animal farming system to hopefully bring people to make a connection between their food/clothing/products and these animals. “For those of us who claim to love animals, we have an obligation to examine what they must endure for us to enjoy such products.”

It’s also why I appreciate that in the book, while there’s some tough information to swallow as far as how these animals can be treated, Brown talks a lot about these animals and their behaviours, personalities and quirks. There are some times where it can be tough to have people listen to tough information – “faced with uncomfort able truths that involve their participation on some level, people can become very defensive” – that can be a hard balance, getting your message across without scaring people off.

While it’s obviously preaching to the converted having a vegan like me read a book like this, I think it’s always important to remember the reasons why I make the choices I do, and not just for the awful truths, but for the wonderful reasons that Brown talks about a lot when she speaks generally of animals, and of the animals she cares for and is friends with (now at WFAS, and in her time at Farm Sanctuary). I think some of these quotes I picked out highlights that.

It makes me sad how so far removed people are from the reality that bacon came from a sentient animal who lived a life of deprivation, pain, frustration and fear, all for food we have no nutritional need for.”
“But amazing as these facts are, I wonder should they even matter? Must animals be intelligent for humans to have compassion and empathy toward them? To be spared misery?”
“Their faces may not express emotions the same way ours do, but it’s hard to miss bliss when you see it.”
“All of the animals I love with, from our dog Carli to our rooster Rod, want the same things: companionship, pleasure, good food, room to explore, and the freedom to spend their days as they wish.”

I really admire the work Brown’s done leading up to opening WFAS, and the passion and drive that she and her husband have to keep it going, especially constantly welcoming visitors to engage and inform them. That’s amazing. I’d love to visit WFAS myself, some day. Until then, I would encourage anyone to read this book! Omnivore, vegan, vegetarian – it’s a great and inspiring story about a person that has been through a lot, and used that to connect with her passions and values to do something fantastic. It’s a light read, with a very informal tone and some great anecdotes, and doesn’t get preachy too often. I’ll leave you with this quote from Brown:

“What will matter, what in fact always matters, are the values we uphold and the principles and possibilities we stand for. What will matter then, and what matters now, are the quality of the love we share with the world and the statements we make with our choices and our lives.”

Snowpiercer – a vague review/more like a really enthusiastic recommendation

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The most brutal enemy that we can face is ourselves, and Snowpiercer lays out that struggle bare. Post-apocalyptic class struggle on a moving train with heavy dashes of action, fighting, violence and even touches of (somewhat absurd) humour at times make a package that is hard not to enjoy. There’s no hand-holding explaining of the plot, but instead you’re made to understand as it unfolds with dialogue and metaphors all around. You know enough about the characters to feel for them, root for them or against them. You are caught up in the fight from the tail of the train forward with everyone else.

I went into this movie really knowing the bare minimum other than “generally gritty sci-fi action post-apocalyptic excitement” – which I think helped greatly so I could get caught up in the ride, so to speak. I don’t actually want to spoil the movie with plot points, which is why I’m keeping this review fairly vague (if you’d like to read more specific/spoil-y stuff, then Rotten Tomatoes has all you need, and the Filmspotting podcast has a good spoilerish discussion). Here’s some awesome stuff that might entice you:
– Gritty underbelly of the lower class
– Dystopian future
– Humans fucking shit up for themselves and each other in big ways
– The fight for equality
– Weird protein blocks to chow down on
– How the hell does life on a constantly moving train work anyhow
– Intense and crowded fight scenes
– General ultraviolence
– Getting attached to characters when maybe you shouldn’t
– Set/costume design and direction that make sci-fi a pleasure to watch, and you’re never taken out of the atmosphere that’s generated by that.
If any of this sounds awesome to you, you’ll be enthralled and entertained with Snowpiercer, and I encourage you to check it out on the big screen if you can! It was so, so good and I want to watch it again to revel in the detail/build up of story.

A long time ago, we used to be friends.

Last year, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter to raise $2 million dollars so he could make a movie to wrap up the story of our favourite teenage detective. They exceeded that expectation & then some, raiding over $5.5 million, with almost 100,000 backers. I didn’t back the project because I wasn’t financially able to back then, but at the rate it was quickly funded, I knew I could spend my dollars in the cinema this year. And that I did! A few months ago I decided to start rewatching the series along with Adam, who’d never seen it. We got through season 1, and then Parks & Recreation took over our viewing lives – oops! So we did the highlights of season 2, and then got about halfway through season 3. (It didn’t end up affecting Adam’s viewing of the movie too much). So come last Thursday, I was pretty excited to get to the cinema and see what Veronica and her Scoobies (see what I did there?) had been up to. 

So far, the ratings have been pretty decent. You can read some reviews here to compare to mine, which is more of a personal reactions/thoughts compilation and entirely biased by me being a huge fan of the show. Here’s a good one at Wired,  and a couple at the Mary Sue – one from a newbie, and one from a fan. [Edited to add an excellent review from Linda Holmes at NPR that covers many issues I have.] Naturally all have spoilers. Which reminds me –

In case you haven’t seen the movie and care about these sorts of things, I will be talking about spoilers below, so don’t scroll beyond the pretty picture! You’ve been warned.

9 years after we left her in California, Veronica Mars is finishing up her law degree in NYC, about to take the bar. She’s got some fancy career prospects on the line, and lives with her boyfriend Piz who’s now working for NPR. Peachy keen and hunky dory! Then her stupid butt ex-boyfriend Logan gets accused of murder (again.. yep!) and she’s drawn back to Neptune to initially “help him find a good lawyer” but instead ends up slipping into those old comfortable PI shoes (to go with the comfy nostalgic purse we see reappear) and staying longer and longer to help Logan, disappointing Piz to the point of him breaking up with her (not to mention blowing a job offer in a huge way). This was one of the big disappointments of the movie for me – not that I can’t buy Veronica is obsessed with the investigating, and to another extent Logan, but that Piz really got the raw end of the deal with losing the woman he loves – and her not seeming too heartbroken over it, honestly. That’s a bummer. But I guess I’m just “Team Piz” and not “Team Obligatory Psychotic Jackass” 😉 Beyond this, I’m Team Veronica – and although she admits that the life of a PI is obsessive and she’s an addict, I think a lot of her decision to eventually stay in Neptune was also due to her reconnecting with Logan. I wish it’d been a decision without involving either Piz or Logan, but then where would the romantic drama be, eh?

Beyond this, I really enjoyed the movie. It was a great old-school mystery with many layers, as VMars plotlines have always tended to be – and Veronica latches on, gets in deep and won’t stop until she reaches the conclusion. Of course, it’s complicated because Logan has been implicated in the murder of his girlfriend. That guy just trails tragedy ’round, eh? Helpfully, this coincides with the Neptune High 10 year reunion! Lots of familiar faces all around. This is where a lot of nostalgia (and a heaping of fan service) comes in – it’s basically watching a bumper episode of VMars rather than a movie that stands on its own. I kept thinking about how the tv series & movie relate to each other and how a VMars newbie might interact with the movie & its tone (knowledge of the characters being implicit to understanding their relevance of appearing). It reminds me a lot of how Serenity followed Firefly – and how so many people saw & loved Serenity as its own thing, and then sought out Firefly to watch afterward.

As a low-ish budget movie, this did feel like TV made big rather than cinema. But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment in the least. At every appearance of a familiar face, no matter how little their role, I felt joy and connection to the story of old and the one I was currently watching. I loved seeing where Wallace & Mac were at, and that they are still so close to Veronica – Wallace’s reactions to Veronica asking for help were priceless. It was amazing how Dick is the same person, and was hilarious comic relief (along with James Franco’s terrific cameo). When Veronica visits Leo, my head just about burst with how awesome their interaction was (Leo’s SASS!!). Madison Sinclair getting her stupid face punched. Veronica schooling Cliff on law! Principal Van Clemmons, bless his face. There were a lot of HOLY SHIT moments, like Deputy Sacks 😦 And WEEVIL 😦 😦 The shock of Keith being only just pulled out of the car accident. Gia being shot. Oh my gosh. I’m also still trying to get over the weirdness of Logan in that uniform..

I really loved the little throwaway mention from Leo that he thought Veronica had joined the FBI – definitely fan service there, considering the context – this ‘trailer’ for Season 4 of Veronica Mars, the ‘FBI years’, which of course was never realised due to the show being cancelled. In another life, indeed.

Veronica’s sarcasm and fierce personality were still on fire here, despite coming 9 years on from when we saw her last – I appreciated that. I appreciate that she admits she’s flawed but she just wants to do what is right. I think that if she’s working with her Dad again – and maybe Mac?! – with the benefit of some life experience and amazing law school education, she’s gonna be brilliant. I suppose we’ll see.  The movie gives an overall sense of foreboding as far as the feeling of Neptune – cops planting evidence, lots of corruption, rich kids still in a position to get away with shit. This didn’t wrap up neatly – I can see they’re maybe angling for a follow up movie to deal with the corruption in the Sherriff’s office, considering Weevil’s bad turn at the end. As damaging as it might be for her personally, Veronica’s choice to stay in Neptune at Mars Investigations will likely be better for Neptune overall. (And maybe, just maybe.. we can get a sense of how Duncan’s doing with his daughter Lilly? There’s got to be a way he and Veronica have kept in touch.. )

I am really itching to rewatch this as soon as possible, to relish in the details, as well as finish up season 3!

Toronto After Dark 2013 – 3 film reviews

I attended a few screenings at this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival, now being held down at the Scotiabank Cineplex rather than up at the Bloor (a bummer, as the Bloor is walking distance for me!). I was a little underwhelmed this year, unfortunately – but ended up on a high note with the film I saw last night, Willow Creek. Read on for my thoughts on what I saw (remembering these are my own thoughts, and I’m not a professional film critic, thanks).

Odd Thomas

This is a sort of the Sixth Sense meets Dead Like Me with a dose of Supernatural mash-up. Yelchin is a fine lead, and Dafoe made a great straight man. Addison Timlin, cast in the romantic partner role of Stormy, seemed to have fun with the sassy, care-free character. And there was a nice surprise cameo from Patton Oswalt.

As far as story and flow, it felt a little like extended TV episode in its scope – stretching a little too far for its own good, this would have done better in the arc of a TV show. Script-wise, I was disappointed in the role and portrayal of women, overall – it got worse the more I pondered it. Young, beautiful and scantily clad in general, no spectrum to show me it wasn’t just a male gaze operating, and there was something real and important going on with these women. Female characters weren’t shallow, but still defined mostly by their relationships to men in the film, which genre films sadly often lean toward.

3 out of 5

Last Days on Mars

The casting and production behind the Last Days on Mars was really strong. The writing was pretty solid even, with a nice balance between characters (male and female). There was drama, action and suspense, none of it trite or really boring. But the story just wasn’t anything groundbreaking – alien life infecting humans, it just happened to be on Mars. I suppose a change of scenery was nice, but it didn’t make the movie really pop out for me. The cinematography was well done, despite some dark & confusing moments in the fight scenes (I felt that was pretty realistic though – I don’t expect well-lit disasters as the backdrop to a fight, in this instance).

What frustrated me more than anything, and actually impacted my enjoyment of this film more than anything else was the terrible, terrible sound mix. Sound effects and score were very often mixed louder than the dialogue which meant that I missed out on a lot of little details of conversations and the marks were missed when it came to the emotion and gravity of some moments because of it. So, despite strong casting and terrific acting, those people were let down by a technical failure. If it was just this particular copy of the film, I hope it’s going to get fixed if this gets a wider release.

2.5 out of 5 (it’d be just 2 if it weren’t for the strong cast)

Willow Creek

Although this is another found footage film, I was interested after watching the trailer, and the idea of them searching for something that’s so pervasive in cryptozoology – everyone knows of the Bigfoot myth. In his introduction, director Bobcat Goldthwait actually spoke about his initial intention to make a Christopher Guest-like comedy surrounding it, but after visiting the area and meeting the locals felt that a suspenseful found footage movie would work far better.

It’s got a slow burn – you see the couple arriving up at Bluff Creek/Willow Creek where some famous sightings have occurred. They interview locals (many of them actually real people, not actors) , drive around and visit locations on the road and in town and generally give you a sense of the setup of what they’re getting into. Some people don’t believe at all, there’s some quirky locals who do, and then there’s some sinister undertones of don’t go out there, it’s dangerous (and not just because of bears/mountain lions).

Eventually once the couple heads out into the more remote areas, the tension starts building. Even though it’s ‘found footage’, the edits are done pretty well and there’s a particular scene in their tent that is focused on just them and their emotion/reactions. There was one point where I was SO tense I had my hands up to my face, and the look on the two main actors faces was amazing, pure terror. (It helps that Goldthwait actually had them out in the middle of the bloody forest in the night – I’d have peed my pants.)

It leans heavily on the imagined terror – not actually seeing any monsters – and it does it well, especially with sound. (Incredibly well in the frightening climax at the end). There’s a little humour in the film (moreso in the earlier parts, but still present), which balances things nicely. The scenery is beautiful, and the shaky-cam effect isn’t too problematic as with most of the found footage genre. I’d say if you like to be scared, you should see this film! It’s not terribly unique but it’s a good watch.

4 out of 5

Recent game plays – board game snippets

I’ve played a decent amount of new (to me and to the market) games in the last couple of months, so here’s a little bit about some of them (mostly because I’ve remembered to take photos of these!).

La Boca: I know I mentioned this back in my SdJ post, but I wanted to bring it up again as I’ve played it a couple of times since I first tried it. It’s still wonderful fun, but I’ve discovered that if you play with more than 4 people it can drag a little and there’ll be downtime due to the amount of pairings that can come up for each round.

 

Tweeeet: My friend Kris got this beautiful limited edition game about birds gathering food & travelling. It’s best with 6, as then you can split into two teams of three. Each type of food will let the birds move a certain amount of spaces to pick up another type of food; the idea is to get from food nubbin to food nubbin without running out & without blocking your team mates (but blocking the other team) and get to a predetermined nest first. The board is a series of strips that are added as you move (and taken away from the back as you progress forward), which is a cool way to have forward movement without a huge board, I really liked that. Although very light on theme, there’s a great strategy to work on with team mates to ensure success, and really – look at these beautiful pieces! It’s a joy to just sit and play 🙂

 

Targi: Rather than having a board, you create the playing area with cards in Targi, a great little 2-player worker placement game. The frame of cards around the outside tracks the progression of the game (and also allows you to perform the action on there if you place a worker on certain cards), and the cards in the middle will either be goods or ‘tribe’ cards – the latter you build in front of you to create a tableu worth a various amount of points. The strategy is pretty decent in this, but there’s a lot to the part where you have to try and place your workers in the best place possible each round, but also think on your toes for a plan B or plan C when your opponent takes the spot you really wanted. I love it!

 

Diavolo: This had my brain hurting about 15 seconds in. I’m usually okay at quick reaction games but this is really friggin’ devilish! You will toss all the components on the table – one die will give you the conditions on which you’ll look at the numbered dice, and when you have the ‘answer’ (for instance, largest sum of what coloured dice) means you’ll make a grab for a little imp of that colour. Miss out on an imp? Lose a gem. I lost gems pretty quickly, ha! Maybe next time i’ll try and ramp up my brain with coffee beforehand.

  

Banana Matcho: Zoch, known for bringing terrific kids games to the market, make sure you have ridiculous banana-squeezing dice-rolling fun with this. The premise is simple – one person is rolling the monkey dice and trying to get to three monkeys and squeeze the banana before the other person rolling at the same time gets a set on the dice with fruit symbols (various combos are worth different amount of points, but you want to get points before the monkey roller squeezes the banana!). I love that this keeps two people involved in the game at once – and even though it’s a light dice-rolling game every time I’ve played it it’s had a table full of adults shouting with excitement.

 

Game of Thrones LCG: Sat down to a 4-player game of this a while back, and despite the “thrown in at the deep end” feeling you get when you’re not familiar with the decks in this game, especially with many expansions (I don’t think I even saw my whole deck that game!), it was still a great, deep game. Unlike other deck-based games there was a pretty neat component in the role selection at the start of each round, which allows for a little benefit depending on what you pick, and certain pairings between players are created depending on where you’re placed on the board – you’ll either benefit from leaving a player alone that round, or from going at them. As this was the first time Adam & I had played and the first 4-player game for our fellow players, it did stretch out time-wise.. but I look forward to visiting this again to see what some of the other decks are like (I was the Greyjoys, would like to give the Starks and Lannisters a go!).

 

Ave Caesar: A fun, light Roman-themed racing game. It’s a simple form of gameplay – you play a card (value 1 through 6, randomly drawing three to start the game with and topping up as you go) to move around the track. But there can be bottlenecks where you can block people from getting past you, and there’s the requirement that you must take a pit-stop in round 1 or 2 to give an ‘Ave Caesar’ to the emperor. You also have a limited deck of cards, so you need to make sure you have enough points to get you around the track 3 times and over the finish line! I scraped in with the win in this game, despite being blocked at a bottle neck for my second-to-last round. Good times!

 

Bruges: We have an advance copy of the English release of Stefan Feld’s Bruges – I didn’t get to play this at the Gathering of Friends so i’d been waiting until this past week to try it, and overall I really love it! It’s a simple game of rounds of taking actions, light strategy and some luck due to card drawing. The little bit of luck can be hard to mitigate which is my only gripe about the game – I’ve played twice and some aspect of the game has been tough to accomplish due to not getting the right types of cards. Despite that, there’s a lot of variety in what you can do, and the huge pool of cards (of which only some are used in each game) means a great deal of replayability. This is most definitely the most I’ve enjoyed a Feld game since Castle of Burgundy – I believe it’ll be out this September in stores!