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20 Feet From Stardom (Film Review)

Film, Music

The best documentary of the past year, according to the Oscars, is 20 Feet From Stardom, the story of the men and women behind the greatest musical artists of our time: the backup singers.

Living in relative obscurity, these (primarily) women are the voices that we all know and love from our favorite records, but know nothing about them, and too often, never give them a second thought. The most poignant and true line of the film is when someone states that the backup singers are so important, to the point that when people hear their songs on the radio, it is the backing vocals they often sing along with, not the lead singer. And this couldn’t be more true. The backup singers sing the hooks, the parts of the song that we love and remember better than anything.

201In 20 Feet From Stardom, we are given the stories of some of the most famous singers of all time, if we only knew who they were. It is absolutely incredible to see and hear the lists of songs that these women sang on, and helped to make great. The film does an incredible job of letting us know how important they were to the great days of soul, R&B, and rock n’ roll music, and giving us their resumes of what they have accomplished over the years. It is also incredible to find out how only a small handful of people were the same ones on hit after hit, songs that we have sung along with on the radio for years.

These women were blessed with some incredible vocal talents, and the innate ability to listen to a song, and figure out what their parts should be, and how to harmonize perfectly along with them. This has created some incredible music, as many of our favorite songs would be nothing without the backing vocals. It is very interesting to see why their careers were as backing singers, and it is for a number of reasons. Some prefer to remain in the background. Some tried to have solo careers, but were victims of timing, or the industry, or bad contracts. Some couldn’t dedicate the time or ego to being a solo artist. The reasons are all over the place, and it is kind of sad to know that some of the greatest talents of our time were stuck singing “Oooh”s behind some of our favorite artists.

One of the more interesting tales is that of the famous Rolling Stones song, “Gimme Shelter.” One of their better songs, it is so inspired due to the wailing female voice that delivers some of the more poignant lines in the song. The story of how it came to be is amazing, and simply gaining an understanding of how important the female voice is to that song is what makes the storytelling in this film so memorable. It does its best to put a name and a face to the voices we all really do know.

As expected, 20 Feet From Stardom is chock full of great music. From Motown, to David Bowie, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, it is all there.

This film is an excellent view into the lives of the backup singers. The hardships and the successes, the moments of glory on stage and the great tales of the recording studio. It is very humanizing, and makes us want to hear more from these great vocalists. It does a great job of letting us see behind the scenes in to the music industry, and why none of these women really “made it,” as we would typically describe making it. From the start, it is very interesting, and the movie never really lags in its story. We go from the origins of the backup vocals around the time of Motown hits, to the golden age of rock and roll, where they were given more freedom and leeway. We get to see their reactions to suddenly going from being singers, to being sexualized on stage, to forgotten and replaced by emerging recording technologies. It is a sad story, but one that allows us to see the strength and glory of these women and their accomplishments.

For fans of documentaries, and of music in general, 20 Feet From Stardom is a must-see. You may never listen to your favorite songs the same way again.

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Ride the Divide (Film Review)

Film, North America, Sports, Travel

Scrolling through Netflix, I came across a documentary that labeled itself as a scenic journey for riders trying to complete a grueling bike journey from Banff, Alberta, to the US-Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains. I liked the sounds of it, so I gave it a watch.

Ride the Divide is about an annual race that takes riders across the Great Divide in North America, through one province and five states. While they are trying to win the race, they are more trying to simply complete it, something that very few riders have managed to do. The journey is 2,700 miles, and the majority of the riding is done alone, causing the race to be more than a physical journey, but a psychological one as well.

ride2The film itself is an interesting premise, but they miss the mark on many of the things that could have made it incredible, and encompassing of the epic journey these riders undertook.

While we hear a lot of the harrowing trails they needed to ride along, the constant threat and sightings of bears, we don’t get to see any of it. The camera team is only in one truck, and we catch up to riders now and then, seeing very little of them actually riding the challenging trails. The use of a GoPro is only used for a brief moment, and it is perhaps the highlight of the film. Instead of hearing about the stories of the ride, we crave actually seeing them ride, something that the documentary filmmakers severely lacked in the production of this film.

Occasionally we will hear call-ins from the riders, and they tell us about their day. But still, we don’t see anything about it. We hear about their falls, and their emotional and physical trauma that they are suffering through just to make it to the end of another day. But we don’t see it. And this is the greatest failing of Ride the Divide. We hear the stories being told, but there are very few visuals to go along with it.

There is some incredibly beautiful scenery to be seen in the film, as the Rocky Mountains provide some of the most breathtaking sights on earth. Typically, this is with a rider stopped, on the phone, or talking to the crew. Rarely is it us watching the rider gallantly plodding onwards in their quest to complete the race.

The race begins with about 15 riders, and by the end the number dwindles down to about five remaining, the ones that actually complete the race. Yet we know very little about any of them, right from the beginning of the film. So we are essentially following around strangers that we know nothing about, and only get the smallest glimpses into their actual lives. When someone else drops out of the race, the viewer will ask themselves, “Who?”, as we are unclear on who is who, which one of them was the one to drop out. This is another shortcoming of the film. There is a very human story here about perseverance and dedication to something, but the filmmakers again fall flat in telling the story.

I wanted to love Ride the Divide. The idea of the race is incredible, but since we are shown so little of it, it becomes difficult to understand how difficult the race is. Most of the footage we see is of the riders along flat areas. Seems easy enough, right?

This film suffered from a shortage of cameras, and probably a shortage of funding to get it done. There could have been so much more to be done here, to be told. These people are driven by something that the normal person doesn’t understand, yet we get nothing about these stories that would help pull us into the story. I wanted so much more.

Ride the Divide doesn’t really appeal to many groups. If you are a mountain bike enthusiast, there probably isn’t enough about the bikes or the terrain to keep you interested. If you are into the human aspect of the story, there is very little of that as well. If you want to see beautiful scenery, there is some of that, but you could find that with a quick Google image search and save yourself an hour-and-a-half.

While the idea for this kind of film is definitely there, the follow through for the film isn’t, and what we get instead is tepid story telling and not nearly enough footage of what we are told is an extremely challenging course. Overall, this film is pretty disappointing, and could have been so much more.

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Bachelorette (Film Review)

Film

Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that the majority of people will be comparing Bachelorette to two highly successful films of a similar nature: Bridesmaids and The Hangover.

In order to enjoy this movie, you might as well end the comparisons there. Sure, there are little bits of each of those films interspersed into this one, but it is a different movie, and does not really try to be either one of those, but something on it’s own. There is even a message in this movie, if you care to look for it.

The raunchy comedy stars a really strong cast of Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, James Mardsen, and Adam Scott. The women have been friends since high school, and are brought back together for the surprising wedding of Wilson, whom they all assumed was the least likely to be the one to get married first. Each of the bridesmaids are forced to look at their own lives, which are in various states of disrepair, and they each fill a archetypal role within their group of friends.

bachelorette2Dunst plays Regan, the alpha-female who thought she had done everything right in life, but was still not engaged to her never-present med school boyfriend. Regan is angry and terrifying, becoming the Bridezilla even though she was only the maid of honour in this wedding. She wants to ensure that everything is perfect for her friend, even though she has constant doubts about her own life, by seeing her friend get married first. She has a darker past, as do they all, and her perfect exterior hides secrets such as bulimia. Dunst is quite strong in this role, again showing the promise she had as an actress not so long ago. It seems like forever ago that she was one of the hottest actress on the planet, and seemed like she would be lined up for life with great roles and awards forever.

Caplan, always darkly humorous in whatever role she undertakes, plays a promiscuous party girl who never really sorted things out in the 15 years since high school. Her life is pretty rudderless, and she still pines for the boyfriend she had back in the day. This leads us to several scenes with her and Adam Scott, who are always great together. If you haven’t seen them in the great show Party Down, you are missing out. Caplan has her own issues, such as never getting over an abortion she had to have when she was 16, and a little bit too much love for cocaine.

Isla Fisher plays a role that is fairly similar to the one that she plays in Wedding Crashers, only more extreme. She is a hard partying girl, and as flighty as they come. Her air-headedness provides a good number of the laughs in the film.

The girls main purpose in the film is to try and fix their own lives, while trying to save the wedding dress that they ruined after the bachelorette party, where they indulged in a lot of champagne and a lot of cocaine. They are three hot messes, and they need to fix what could be the biggest mistake of their friendship. They are not good people, but don’t try and come across as such. They are mean to one another, mean to other people, but that is what makes them succeed as friends. They have bonded over their cruelty, and their us against the world mentality.

If you are expecting a comedy that is as slapstick or laugh-out-loud funny as Bridesmaids, you will be disappointed. Many of the other reviews of the film that I have read make this direct comparison, but because the subjects are similar, does not mean that the comparisons need to be made. Bachelorette is much darker than those films, and the humour comes across as such. It is less needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the street, and more insulting strippers and doing so much coke that putting two people in one of your best friend’s wedding dresses seems like a good idea. It is less attacking fountains, and more overdosing on Xanax. The lives of the girls are pretty grim, but that is the point of the film. It is having a dark past, and moving past it, to try and be a better, happier person.

The three main stars are what make this movie so enjoyable.

The three main stars are what make this movie so enjoyable.

I quite enjoyed this film, because of the darker humour, and because of the women in the three lead roles. They were all pretty great, in my opinion, even if you found it hard to like them because they are such messes, and because they are such bad people. But I liked them because they were deplorable people. It works, and Caplan, Dunst, and Fisher make them all work.

If you can forget about making the comparisons to the other pre-wedding films, there is something quite enjoyable about Bachelorette, and it is well worth a watch on Netflix. You may not laugh out loud, but there are definite humorous moments throughout the film. I’d say it is worthwhile.

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Suits: Season 3 (TV Review)

Television

There is little doubt that Suits is an entertaining show to watch. There is no arguing that perhaps Gabriel Macht (playing Harvey Specter) wears a suit better than anybody else (seriously…that guy can wear a suit). And there is also no arguing that there is always plenty of intrigue on the show, both inside the firm and outside it, as Harvey and Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams) have tackled all sorts of cases through the episodes.

suits3But I felt that at the end of Season 2, the show fell off a little bit, and got confused as to where it was going. They created an intense, but difficult-to-follow plot revolving around the power struggles within the law firm. Eventually this led to a merger, that become even more complex and convoluted. They slowly backed away from the cases that were happening in the real world, instead focusing primarily on the politics inside the luxurious offices of the law firm with the ever-changing name.

Therefore, I went into Season 3 with a little bit of hesitation, wondering which way the show would go from here. Get back into the courtroom? Or stay within the walls, and see how this whole mess shakes out?

In Season 3, they do a little bit of both, much to my relief. While the entire third season focuses only on one primary court case, there is the interest that comes from that. There are still many power games being played within the firm, with new wrinkles added, like Mike and Rachel hooking up at the end of the second year, but they seem much simpler to follow this time around, which makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience, in my opinion.

Aside from the fact that the whole premise for the show is, in fact, kind of ridiculous (are we really to believe that one of New York’s top law firms would be alright with having a fraud who never even went to college working for them? Not likely. It seems like it would be incredibly simple for someone to check in on Mike Ross and realize that he never went to Harvard, or any law school for that matter), if you buy into it, you will enjoy it.

While Mike is not the most interesting character of the group, his relationship with Rachel does provide some interest to his character. Harvey is still the star of the show here. He carries each episode, and even though he is kind of an anti-hero, he is the one that we will end up cheering for when all is said and done. We want Harvey to do well, even though he has had nothing but success in his life. Normally, we would want that type of person to fail, just so they know what it feels like, but we want Harvey to keep winning. At everything. During the third season, he develops a little more, and even shows some vulnerability, but at the end of the day, he is still the Harvey that we have adored for the first two seasons of the show.

suits2The secondary characters continue to grow in Season 3, as well. Specifically Donna (Sarah Rafferty), the fierce, but ever-loyal assistant of Harvey’s. She has always had a smaller role in the show, but seems to take on more in this season, and her moments are always some of the best ones. She is terrifying and incredible at the same time, and it is great to see her develop more as a character. We even get to see her engage in a romance during the season, which shows us a little bit about Donna outside of the office.

Louis Litt (played by Rick Hoffman) continues to annoy us, but in a good way. He, as usual, is caught deep in the shadow that Harvey casts across the entire office, and is always playing catch up. He has some of the funnier scenes in the season, and even gets to continue to develop a romance that he started before. There are light moments in the show, and they usually revolve around Louis. Such as a mock trial based on ownership of a cat. But Hoffman manages to continue to have us sympathize with Louis, and despite his numerous failings (and he has several this season), we want him to do well.

For those who have already enjoyed the first couple of seasons of Suits, there is no reason to stop now. Season 3 continues to roll along, and I may argue that it is superior to Season 2. If you have not yet watched the show yet, it is a good place to go to watch men pound their chests with their massive egos, and banter in the board room while wearing expensive suits, and fierce women trying to make their way in the male-dominated world of law. There is some humour, some quirkiness, but mostly, just some sound storytelling that has simplified itself and returned to the entertaining tales it originally spun.

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Sherlock: Season 3 (TV Review)

Television

After burning through the first couple of seasons of Sherlock, I was excited to find out what would take place in the third. Specifically, as with most viewers, to find out how our hero survived his plunge off the building at the end of the second season, after the death of Moriarty. Sherlock leapt from the building to save his friends, and survived. But how?

This is just one of the mysteries unveiled in the third set of three episodes in the great British crime drama. And the writers went with unique ways of explaining, or not explaining, how it came to be that Sherlock is still alive.

The third season is not dissimilar to the first two, in that the structure of the show is the same, but it feels like season 3 offers something quite different. There is less focus on individual cases, and the writers used interesting techniques to tell the story. My favorite episode was S03E02, in which Watson is getting married. This causes great anxiety for Sherlock, as he is the best man, and needs to give a speech. His speech is, as one would expect, quite memorable. In this episode, there are stories that stop and start, some seemingly for no reason, yet everything is tied together beautifully at the end of the episode. It makes for a very fun, and entertaining wedding, all while hearing the stories of Sherlock and Watson, and solving a crime at the same time.

sherlock6The show remains serious, but fun. This can still mainly be attributed to the acting performance of Benedict Cumberbatch, who is still just as great as Sherlock as he always was. This is a role that he truly owns, and one would hope that it will continue for a few more seasons. We definitely haven’t got tired of him yet, or of his oddities and selfish shenanigans.

Not to spoil anything, but there is even a time when Sherlock gets himself a girlfriend! So, he is human after all.

While Netflix teases us saying that the third season is more than three episodes long, it really isn’t. There are three short behind-the-scenes featurettes that follow the main episodes of the show, giving it the appearance of a longer season. Which is too bad, because I wanted more, since there is a nice surprise twist at the end of the final third season episode. I guess we will be stuck waiting until Netflix releases whatever comes next for our heroes.

With such easily digestible seasons, there is no reason not to watch Sherlock. It can be equal parts fun, gritty, humorous, and dark, all guided by the wonderful Cumberbatch. For those who loved the first two years of the show, keep on going through season three. You will not be disappointed.

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Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Food, North America, Travel

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.

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Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

Golf, North America, Sports, Travel

The City of Edmonton operates a few of their own golf courses sprinkled throughout the city, and while we may think of them as being run down, neglected courses, this is not the case.

The Millwoods Golf Club is a nice course inside the city, and one that is perfect for beginners, given its wide open fairways and lack of hazards throughout the course.

millwoods2The course is located just past the Millwoods Park, a popular destination for families in the area during the summer time. But the course is tucked away behind all the picnics and screaming kids, and offers a nice, secluded area to play for the day. The clubhouse is warm and friendly, housing a great staff that is very kind and helpful. It is nice to see a clubhouse where the people inside know things about golf, and care about the sport, making them able to either help you with any questions, or joke around with you. There were no surly teen workers texting away to be seen here.

The rates at Millwoods are very reasonable. I paid $56 for 18 holes and a power cart, which is a great price. I did receive a $10 discount on my green fees as they had recently aerated the greens (which ended up being fine, it did not affect my terrible putting one way or another).

At the first hole, there is a starter who is there to tell you when to go, and she did a good job of making sure all was in order. She will also offer you a complimentary bottle of water. This was welcomed, since it was one of the smoking hot days of the Edmonton summer in which we decided to play there.

As I said, the course is very wide-open, which is perfect for the golfer who wants to play, but doesn’t want to lose 10 balls over the course of the round. Even with my impressive hooked shots, I didn’t lose a single ball during the day, which is always nice. The rough is not too surly, and can be fairly forgiving if you are not dead-on with your tee shots.

millwoodsOne great thing about this course was that it wasn’t very busy. Granted, I golfed there during a weekday, but at one point, the beer cart girl told us that we were the only people on the back nine. This is always nice, allowing you to play at your own pace, and not feel the pressure from the people behind you. We started behind a foursome, but with the starter being sure to space things out nicely, we never ran into them again, and never needed to wait for them at another hole. This freedom makes for an extra relaxing day.

The views on the course are not the most beautiful you will find in the city, that is for sure, but this is a public course that serves the purpose of letting people play golf in a relaxed environment on a not-overly challenging course.

The greens were the roughest part of the course, as they had been recently aerated, leaving them hard and fast. As I mentioned, my putting is atrocious, but the speed of the greens often made them difficult to read. Aside from that, they are pretty straightforward, with very little break on the majority of the holes.

In all, for the price, Millwoods golf course is a great place to play. Higher end players will be able to put up some of their career best scores, and newer players will be able to play without absolutely lighting up the scoreboard.

I would definitely recommend Millwoods Golf Course, especially for those who live close, on the south side of town.

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Three Day Road (Book Review)

Books

For too long, I looked at my new copy of Three Day Road, as it sat in the pile of books that I want to read over the summer. Over and over again, I read the back of the cover, interested in what it was saying, but never taking the plunge to opening it, and starting to read it. I’m not sure what was holding me back. It seemed like the book would be too heavy, or too intense, or maybe the blurb was just a tease about the story of the First World War.

Regardless, I finally did open Three Day Road, and only a couple of days later, I have finished it.

32Joseph Boyden has created a wonderfully crafted narrative that intertwines the story of three First Nations people before, and during the time of the First World War. The story in Three Day Road is engrossing, graphic, and tragic.

Two main perspectives are used to narrate the story: Auntie Niska, one of the last Cree women to live off the land in the old ways, tells the stories of her life while she paddles her Nephew, Xavier Bird, down the river after he has returned home from the Great War crippled, and addicted to morphine. Xavier provides the second voice in the novel, telling the incredible tales of himself and his best friend, Elijah Whiskeyjack, as they volunteered to join the war effort, and then go to Europe to experience some of the most horrific battles that the war had to offer. Xavier is haunted by what transpired in the trenches of Europe, of what he had to witness, and of what he saw happen to his best friend, Elijah.

The war tales are brilliantly written. They provide excitement and suspense, but Boyden does not hold back on his violent descriptions of trench warfare, or of the sniper warfare that Xavier and Elijah embark on. Their exploits lead them to becoming decorated soldiers, well respected among their peers, but Xavier is forced to watch as his best friend in the whole world deteriorates before his eyes. Riddled with addiction, to drugs, and to killing, Elijah transforms as the war wears on. Xavier must acknowledge these changes, and recognize them in himself as well.

Can people not only survive the war, but survive it with a part of their soul still intact?

Boyden takes us on a journey that visits the most infamous/famous battles of the war, specifically from the Canadian perspective. We go to the Somme, to Vimy Ridge, to Passchendale. Xavier and Elijah are a part of a very strong unit, one that is a victim of its own success, being continually sent somewhere new after doing well. The only reward for being strong soldiers is more work, which leads to more problems, and more death.

33The storytelling of the novel is a central way in which the plot is advanced. Niska tells stories of her youth to Xavier, in hopes of making him feel better upon his return home. Here we learn of the changing world in which these First Nations people lived. The birth of the residential schools, the atrocities that happened within, the separation of the old ways and the new. Niska is brave and strong, living off the land as her ancestors had done, rarely feeling the need for the city living that had been brought to them by the British and the French. In her tales, Niska also describes the childhood of Xavier and Elijah, the blooming of their friendship, and their lives together.

Xavier himself tells the stories of what lead them to the war, and many of the descriptions of the events that transpired during those terrible years. He tells these stories to the audience, but not to others, as he is the quiet one, often wanting silence more than anything, especially from the constant ringing in his ears. He also tells stories to Elijah to pass the time during the war. The stories of when they were younger, and more innocent men, before they had come to Europe to experience all of the terrible things they had to.

The final set of stories are those told by Elijah to Xavier, as he becomes more prone to sneak off in the night to hunt the Germans. He returns with stories that horrify Xavier, and lead to the slow downfall of the man, and friend, who is perceived as a war hero.

Three Day Road is a story that describes the savagery of the war in perfect detail. There is blood, and guts, and it is not pleasant. This is not a sugarcoated version of what transpired in those trenches, but an honest one. He does not restrain himself in describing the explosions of blood, or the random limbs found on the battlefield. It is how our characters are able to deal with these atrocities that truly drives this novel forward. There are the small things that the men cling to, in order to keep them human. And there are the things that are done that are barely human, but either keep them alive, or keep them sane, or make them think that they are staying the same.

This novel is about coping with brutality, and how to survive it.

It is also the story of the First Nations, and their forced transitions into the world of the Europeans, and of the army. There is the desire to be seen, to be respected, all while trying to maintain who they are, and where they came from. The traditions are thrown in direct conflict with the modern, and Xavier spends much time trying to strike a balance between the two.

This is a highly entertaining read, and one that is wonderfully written, and full of drama to keep you turning the pages. There is not just one solid story here, but three. The story of Niska, the story of Xavier, and the story of Elijah. They are all three very rich characters who are developed incredibly well by their actions, and by the stories that they tell.

I enjoyed this novel so much, that even before completing Three Day Road, I had already ordered another Boyden book, to read more about the cultures, and the deep characterization that he is able to create.

Joseph Boyden is already a great Canadian author, one who has piled up the awards and prizes for his work. Upon completion of Three Day Road, I can already understand why.

A definite great novel to put on your personal reading list. Just don’t let it sit for as long as I did.

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Sherwood Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

Golf, North America, Sports, Travel

Sherwood Golf and Country Club is a 9-hole course located in Sherwood Park, Alberta, just off Wye Road on Range Road 233.

The first indication I got of the quality of this course was the very poor signage leading up to it. There is nothing on Wye Road indicating a course coming up, and I passed the exit I needed (also, I hate the road signs in Sherwood Park, so hard to read from a distance). Once you are going down the Range Road, you will come to a strangely placed roundabout, which finally provides the first indication of the course. The course itself isn’t viewed from the road, but the big, dusty parking lot is, and the shanty/clubhouse is sort of seen from behind the poorly organized cars in the lot.

Inside the plain clubhouse, the service is quite slow, as the employees seemed to get confused quite easily. While our tee times were approaching, the girl at the counter took several minutes to figure out that she didn’t make a tee time for the group in front of me in the first place, probably why she was having trouble finding it for them. So, eventually she decided to make them a tee time. Makes sense. It took a while for me to simply pay for my round. There was a distinctive lack of friendliness from her as I paid.

That was the worst part about the round. Poor signage getting there, and poor, very slow service inside. Aside from that, the round started promisingly.

sherwoodThere is a starter on the first hole, but he seemed equally as confused as to who was up at what time as the people inside the shop, so he was not exactly needed. We worked it out with the other players, and got our round underway.

The course itself it quite nice. The holes are generally well taken care of, and the greens were in great shape. There was a couple spots of standing water from the rains the day before, but nothing serious. There were also a couple of muddy places that really needed some work, but generally, the fairways were nice, the rough is definitely not too intimidating, there is a decent number of white sand bunkers along the way, and some nice rolling hills on a couple of the holes.

They really pack people in there with their tee times, however, which causes waits at nearly every hole. They should consider expanding the time between players, so you won’t need to have three groups waiting on a par-5. The player skill level, from what I saw, was not the highest at this course, so you could be stuck behind the group that takes three shots to get it past the tee boxes (not that my game is anything to write home about). This level of player probably comes from the very reasonable price of $26 for nine holes.

The difficulty on this course is not high. There are hazards, like some forest, many bunkers, and the occasional water that pops in and out of the course, but they are not crippling, and are generally pretty easy to avoid. I managed to play the whole round while only losing one ball, a rarity in my game.

There are definitely issues at Sherwood Golf and Country Club that could easily be fixed. Some signs, a competent and organized staff, a little more love on fixing the parts that need repair, a couple of extra minutes between tee times, and maybe a net that protects drives from the highway on hole #2. It doesn’t take much of a slice to send a ball screaming into the traffic, which is dangerous for everybody involved.

If you are a drinker, the advantage of a nine-hole course is that the beer cart girl is much more present than on a full course. During our round, she came by three or four times, which is great. She was very friendly. The marshall will typically do a couple of laps as well.

I don’t think that I would go running back to this golf course. It is decent, but I feel that there are better options out there, for a similar price. There are parts of the course that look really nice, and you can tell where they put all of their money in. The green on the ninth hole has a nice little bridge leading over water to it, which looks great. Many of the later holes are lined by massive houses, which gives the impression of the country club feel, and makes the course look that much more impressive. But, probably not enough to get me back.

mlb

2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

Baseball, Sports

With the season half over, I went back over my preseason picks for the order of finish in each of the divisions. Sometimes with deep regret (sorry for picking the Rays to win the AL East), and some with some satisfaction (dead on in the AL Central). Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen at the outset of a season, but there are always strong indicators.

If you want to check out my original article, the 2014 MLB Predictions, find it here: http://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/2014-mlb-predictions/

There is some wisdom in there, and some foolishness. Here are a few thoughts on what I had guessed, and ideas for the second half in each division.

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AL East

Preseason Prediction: Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees

  • I stated that I had considered picking the Orioles to win the division. Looks like I should have done that.
  • I still believe the Yankees could finish last here. Injuries are going to catch up to them, as are the underperformances of some of their big names. Sad to see Jeter go, however. As much as I despise the Yankees, he has been nothing but class for his entire career. Nothing bad to say about him, he is one hell of a competitor, and a great baseball player.
  • Do the Red Sox have it in them to turn around a terrible first half of the season? Yes and no. They will be able to make up some room, but I don’t see them getting back into it, even for the wildcard at this point. They are perhaps a third place team this year.
  • As usual, injuries are going to derail a Blue Jays season. So much promise, so little delivery. That’s what happens when you have a roster full of Band-Aids. Too bad, they can be a really fun team to watch when they are mashing like they can.

AL Central

Preseason Prediction: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins

  • So far, I have this division picked exactly right.
  • I don’t see much changing here for the rest of the season. The main question is if the Royals can push for one of the wild card spots and end a playoff drought that has lasted since 1985.
  • The Indians are a solid ball team, but they are just the picture of mediocrity. At .500 thus far, they will probably continue that pace until the end of the year.
  • I think everybody and their dog picked the Tigers to win this division again. The talent there compared to the rest of the division is miles ahead.

AL West

a'sPreseason Prediction: A’s, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Astros

  • Fairly surprised the Rangers are this bad. Sure, they are riddled with injuries, and that is impossible to predict. But they are just bad. Do they become sellers now?
  • The A’s are just a very good baseball team. Difficult to name a bunch of their players, but they make it all work.
  • A lot more competition from the Angels than I suspected. Trout is an absolute beast, and he is dragging the old guys along with him. Improved pitching has helped them out a ton. Who knew.
  • The Astros are going to be very good in a few years. They are a pretty exciting team, and there is an absolute ton of young talent there. Watch out for the 2018 Astros!
  • I think the A’s hang on to the division, and the Angels will now grab that wild card berth.
  • I love seeing the Mariners doing so well. It has been a long time since they have been a decent club. They will probably stay in the fight for the wild card until the end.

NL East

Preseason Prediction: Nationals, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Marlins

  • Well, my top two seem about right. I think the Nationals hang on and take the division. They are too good, there is too much talent there. I think the Braves will fade a little bit.
  • My order for the rest was messed up. I mentioned that the young Marlins had the potential of being really good, and I should have gone with that feeling.
  • It is impressive how inconsistent the Mets can be. They are definitely a third place team.
  • The Phillies are really bad at baseball at this point. So old. If I was their GM, I would be trading everything that wasn’t bolted down and loading up on prospects to build for the future. The Nats and Braves are going to be good for a long time, and Philadelphia needs to get on board with the youth movement.

NL Central

cardsPreseason Prediction: Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers, Cubs

  • I still think I could be right about this when it is all said and done. The Brewers were a huge surprise out of the gate, but I don’t think they can sustain that, and they will continue to fade as the year progresses.
  • The Pirates have started surging, and it is nice to see that they are now a team that won’t completely fold up when they have tough stretches.
  • This is definitely the toughest division, with the top four teams all within 3.5 games of one another. It will be tight right down to the end. There are massive benefits to winning the division instead of being faced with the one game playoff, but I don’t think the depth of the Cardinals will be beaten here.

NL West

Preseason Prediction: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies

  • Shame on me for picking Arizona to finish second in the division. They are terrible, and their manager is going to be the first one fired this season. The team is a mess.
  • I still think the Dodgers will prevail over the Giants in the division. They have a ton of depth, and they will probably do something ridiculous at the trade deadline to get another highly paid superstar. Maybe another pitcher. Would make them very scary in the playoffs.
  • Holy hot and cold, Giants. No way that they are as bad as they have been over the past month, but I don’t think they are as good as they were earlier, either. They will fight for the wild card.
  • This is a two team race. The Padres, Rockies, and D-Backs are out of this one.

Overall, I’d say I did alright with my choices. Could have been better, could have been worse. There were some serious blunders, but that happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

Playoff Predictions

nats
AL Wild Cards
: Red Sox and Royals. Nope and maybe? I’ll stick with the Royals grabbing one of them, with the other going to the Angels.

NL Wild Cards: Braves and Pirates. Hmm. I’ll stick with the Pirates, and go with the Giants getting the other one.

AL Champion: A’s. I’ll stick with the team with the best record in baseball right now. They do have questions, but they are just solid all around, and this could be their year. They will have serious competition from the Tigers and Angels, however.

NL Champion: Nationals. Hard to argue against the might of the Dodgers. But I will stick with the Nats.

World Series Champion: Nationals. Sure, why not?