Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 355: A Christmas Carol

Everybody has a Christmas Carol they love. And one they can’t fricken’ stand!

With the favorites you can find yourself immediately transported from the most dire mood or circumstances to one of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Your tune just so fully embodies all that the season stands for.

But the same Carol that says it all for you brings out the Grinch in others. And with everybody and their chipmunk putting out a Christmas album, the song might work but the rendition doesn’t.

Past Christmases here at The Legion, we’ve hosted Christmas concerts of our favorites and posted those submitted by readers.

What we’ve never done is offered 20 different versions of the same Carol – because – y’know  - that could get tedious.

Unless…

It’s done by the irrepressible Anthony Vincent, the voice of Ten Second Songs. This may not be your favorite Christmas Carol. But I’m sure there’s a version in here that’ll put you in a Christmas mood. If only for ten seconds.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Great Dictator

This is a story of how far Hollywood has fallen. How far it has strayed from the true spirit of cinematic artistry. How much it has become the purview of the bureaucrat and the bean counter, given to making the safe choices and decisions that don’t make any waves.

As the story goes, Charlie Chaplin and French writer/director Rene Clair sat next to each other at the New York Museum of Modern Art screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi Classic “Triumph of the Will”.

When the film ended Clair was in tears. Chaplin was beside himself with laughter and immediately set to work writing “The Great Dictator”, his satirical take on Adolf Hitler and his Fascist minions.

His film would see Chaplin producing, writing and directing as well as playing the dual roles of his Hitler character, Adenoid Hynkel, and a Jewish barber who lives in Hynkel’s fictional dictatorship of Tomainia.

Chaplin, though beloved worldwide, was no fan of Fascists. And they didn’t have much use for him either. After seeing the comedian mobbed by fans during a 1931 visit to Berlin, Nazi supporters dubbed him “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” even though Chaplin wasn’t Jewish.

Most of Hollywood was aware he was out to skewer the Fuhrer and German diplomats and distributors made it clear to several studio heads that the vast German market might become unavailable to Hollywood should Chaplin’s film be released.

But Chaplin had his own studio and wasn’t swayed by entreaties from other moguls. Despite being English, he also didn’t give a moment’s thought to the British government’s decree that his film would not be shown in the UK so as not to upset international relations.

He simply ploughed ahead. Filming began in September of 1939, one week after War had been declared and was completed six months later. It was Chaplin’s first all-talking film and editing and post production took up the entire Summer of 1940.

During this time, Chaplin worried that audiences would not be interested in an anti-war comedy during wartime. But stories of Nazi atrocities against European Jews continued to bubble in the public consciousness, so he persevered.

The film was released in October of 1940 and became not only an instant hit but the largest grossing film of Chaplin’s career. Even in the midst of the Blitz, more than 9 million tickets were sold in England alone.

According to a recent BBC documentary “The Tramp and The Dictator”, Chaplin also personally dispatched a print to Hitler and the real life dictator was confirmed to have screened it –- twice.

Today, the film retains a 92% “Fresh” rating and a 95% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1997 as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant".

Consider this next to today’s decision by Sony to shelve the Seth Rogan take on another great dictator “The Interview”. It’s a telling indictment of how the entertainment industry now operates.

Chaplin would not be laughing. And sadly, neither are we.

The Narrative

Politicians or the media are often accused of developing a "Narrative" to advance a certain agenda.

This means that their agenda drives what stories are reported or given priority as well as the shading or spin they receive. Stories which counter or disprove the Narrative are downplayed or outright ignored.

That’s because everything within a “Narrative” has to fit with the truth somebody needs you to believe.

To be honest it seems like a lot of work. Especially these days when the endless reach and archive of the Internet makes it easy for somebody with an alternative agenda or truth to counter whatever Narrative is being constructed.

A couple of days ago, Politico, a Washington based media outlet which focuses on the U.S. Congress, lobbying, media and the Presidency published an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama wherein they described racial slights they have endured.

Among these was an anecdote Mrs. Obama recalled about her interaction with another shopper during a much publicized visit to a Target store during her husband’s first term in office.

In the Politico interview, it is offered as an example of what Black Americans still have to deal with in what’s been called a more equal and “Post-Racial America”.

And yet, the same story had a completely different and humorous spin when the First Lady related it to David Letterman in 2012.

Why is a tale that was funny and charming so recently, now an example of what’s wrong with the country?

Surely the Narrative can’t be that desperate for confirmation…

The story begins at 4:40…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 354: Here’s To Waiting…

Surfing in Canada in November…

Recovering from Pneumonia in December…

Some people need to realize they’ve reached an age when it’s better to watch the action with a drink in their hand..

Here’s to waiting…

At least until it’s fricken warmer…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Piper’s Lament

This crossed my path this morning. The writer swears it is true…

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man.

He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.

There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.

I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around.

I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played "Amazing Grace", the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.

When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car.
Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say,
"I never seen anything like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 353: Underwear

I was in a play once where I made my entrance in a kilt, the sight of which unhinged another character so badly he drew a gun on me and demanded “Whatcha got under there?”

My nervous reply was “Underwear…”

He gestured angrily to the kilt, “Under THERE!”

Which elicited the same response, “Underwear.”

Ba-dump-bump!

A cheap laugh to be sure. But nobody’s ever successfully accused me of being above them.

Although most of us wear underwear, for some reason the sight of somebody with their trousers down has been a staple of comedy probably from the time undergarments were invented.

And, of course, the more garish the boxers the less chance the laughter will be brief.

Ba-dump-bump.

It’s as if there’s some special insight into our psyche that is implied by the first thing we step into in the morning.

Guys are always asked “Boxers or briefs?” as if that uncovers some hidden aspect of our personality. But as a guy who alternates and even opts for commando in warmer weather, I have absolutely no clue as to what that might be.

I will admit, however, that the first time I visited a Walmart I noticed a display of boxer shorts under a banner reading “Leisurewear” -- and a little voice inside me excitedly whispered, “These people understand you”.

Somebody who knows a ton about underwear is blogger and entertainer Jenna Marbles, who has spent years explaining the fairer sex to guys –- and probably other women as well.

A couple of days ago, she posted an explanation of the personality traits indicated by different female undergarments.

Since we’re entering the office party season and all that those affairs entail, I thought it might come in handy for some.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Giving Tuesday

It’s perhaps fitting that following the consumer excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there would be a day designated as “Giving Tuesday”.

The concept is kinda like the original version of Boxing Day where the wealthy would celebrate Christmas and the following day box up both the uneaten feast and the items their gifts had replaced and ship them off to those in need.

Maybe with much of the Christmas shopping out of the way, it’s an opportunity to remind yourself of the true meaning of the season and the reality that it truly is better to give than receive.

The cool thing about Giving Tuesday is you’re not required to support any given charity, cause or person in need. You give what you want where you want.

Or you can just give of yourself. Help a sick friend run errands. Take out the garbage for the elderly woman down the street.

Just do something to exhibit that the season has arrived – and maybe continue that spirit for the next three or four weeks to bring some light and warmth as our natural world gets colder and darker.

If you’re short on ideas, Indiegogo has a whole list of great places to start. My personal favorite is here.

And maybe what Westjet has done for its third consecutive year will further inspire you.

No matter what you do, rest assured it will not be insignificant to somebody in need of your gift.

 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 352: The Unheard Voices

Fourteen weeks ago, I wrote a post about the reaction to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

It was based on my experiences shadowing cops while writing and producing the CBS TV series “Top Cops” and my belief that this was an example of the “Killer Cops targeting young Black Males” narrative on social media would ultimately be revealed as false.

I also suggested people wait to hear the whole story before reaching conclusions.

For having those opinions I was widely branded as out of touch and insensitive at best and a Racist at the other end of that scale.

No doubt, I’ll be getting more of the same after what follows. Once people have become invested in a position, it’s difficult to shift their perspective.

But for what it’s worth…

Here we are three and half months later. A Grand Jury has ruled that the officer in the case did not act inappropriately and a St.Louis County investigation has revealed that several witnesses knowingly falsified their statements or went along with the “Killer Cop” narrative for fear of reprisal.

But the narrative continues. And the haters, the race baiters and the media cheerleaders of doom continue to stoke the fire. They all say they’re doing it to create a teachable moment or encourage change.

But I wonder if they’re only listening and reacting to each other and not paying attention to the people who actually live, work and police in towns and neighborhoods like Ferguson.

It’s tough living in a tough part of town. It’s just as hard to be charged with providing law enforcement there. The vast majority in both of those communities just want to get through their day without encountering any more crap than they already have to deal with.

But few in the media and, it seems, fewer with an activist agenda have any time for what those two communities know from experience.

Because what they know doesn’t fit with the accepted narrative and suggests a more complicated path to peace and understanding.

Maybe it’s time those unheard voices got to say their piece.

Maybe it’s time more of us listened.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forgotten Movies

Recently, Esquire Magazine published a list of 15 “Forgotten Films”, movies they felt had been undeservedly ignored and required an opportunity to be re-discovered.

Among them is a film I’ll never forget –- because its failure brought down a Canadian film I was in that barely ran through a projector thereafter.

The year was 1973 and the film on Esquire’s list is “Scarecrow”. It had the finest of credentials, a critically acclaimed director, an experienced writer and producing team, as well as Hollywood’s two hottest stars, 1971 Oscar winner Gene Hackman and 1972’s star of “The Godfather” Al Pacino. 

The Canadian film it impacted was called “The Supreme Kid”, a first feature for its writer/director, a first time producer, not much money and four relative newcomers onscreen.

The film starred Frank Moore, fresh from playing the lead in the Toronto production of “Hair”. Helen Shaver, making her screen debut. A wonderful Vancouver actor, Don Granbury, and a grizzled vet with two features and a CBS pilot under his belt –- me.

Nobody working on “Scarecrow” had ever heard of us (perhaps still haven’t) and we didn’t know anything about their movie. Yet the two films could have been fraternal twins.

Oh, the stories differ, but the themes and milieu are identical. Both were about drifters and the hobo life. Both explored that world by having an experienced king of the road take a young protégé under his wing to teach him the ropes.

Al and I were the protégés. We even wore the same hat.

“Scarecrow” was released first. And it bombed. Ours was ready a few weeks later. But distributors looked it over and said, “Scarecrow didn’t make any money. Why would we take a chance on this?”

So “The Supreme Kid” got a couple of screenings here and there, won some awards at a few European Festivals and then –- it faded away.

I saw “Scarecrow” in a nearly empty Toronto theatre when it opened. I don’t recall the reviews or why the theatre was so empty. Mostly I remember thinking, “We did a scene like that –– and like that –- and like that one too”.

And I was new enough and naive enough to walk out thinking, “Well, they’re kinda the same. But maybe people will like our version.”

And Esquire’s assessment is correct, “Scarecrow” was undeservedly ignored. Along with the rest of the films on their list, it’s well worth your time and attention.

As for “The Supreme Kid”, who knows. Somebody sent me a glitchy VHS copy pulled from a 16mm print maybe ten years after it was made. For all I know it’s the only remaining copy.

I chose the scene below because most of the rest won’t make a lot of sense unless you know what comes before. It’s also because it was the only shoot day during a month of filming in Vancouver when it didn’t seem to be pouring rain.

And it was fun. I hope it’s fun for you too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 351: Zombie Roaches

I finally figured them out.

For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve been confounded by bureaucrats. I’m sure that at a certain level they’re wonderful human beings who enjoy their friends, love their families and when it comes to most things are no different from you and me.

But mostly they’re the bane of our existences, quietly gathering in windowless rooms to construct some arcane policy or design a new form to fill out that will leave the rest of us confused at best and broken of wallet and spirit at worst.

No matter who we elect to govern, they remain, impervious to examination or elimination.

And somehow their numbers continually increase. Even more mysteriously, they thrive while the very industries and enterprises which they regulate struggle or wither.

But a trio of recent events has finally explained they and how they operate to me.

The first part of the puzzle arrived in the form of several videos of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber bragging on how important and integral he was to drafting the US Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”).

Whether or not you embrace the way Americans have chosen to dispense health care, it was still unsettling to watch a bureaucrat relate the process of concocting a law in a manner so obtuse nobody could see its flaws or understand how it really worked.

The impression given by Gruber is that this is the only way the rest of us can be correctly governed. Because not only do we not know what’s good for us, we’d be opposed to such good if the process were open and honest.

It’s like the way Telefilm and the CRTC work in Canada, convincing us high ratings or box office numbers are not the real measure of success and/or that the Canadian broadcast system has the best interests of artists and audiences in its dark and venal heart.

The second piece of the puzzle arrived in the form of a comment by an American journalist outraged at Gruber’s assertion that “You can’t handle the truth”.

He described bureaucrats thus, “They make life more complex. And then they become this leeching new class of people who profit from the very complexity they are imposing on society”.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Why else would somebody sit in a windowless room pushing paper all day –- if there wasn’t ongoing financial security waiting at the end of the process?

You ever notice how hard it is to fire bureaucrats, even when they cost us billions by screwing up? And what else but some kind of sinister manipulation of the system allows that to happen?

Ever notice how the number of Canadian films (for example) decline year by year while the number of bureaucrats supervising their production or financing increases?

It used to be you’d go to film or television celebrations and meet other artists. Now it’s primarily people with government jobs partying beyond the velvet rope.

Part three dropped into my lap today while attending a TED conference. It was a talk about parasites.

Which, when combined with puzzle piece one and puzzle piece two, explains everything.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 350: Burnsy

Every Canadian has gotten a traffic ticket or worse from a cop who looked like Pat Burns. A face that said, “Seen it all. Heard it all. Nothing you’re gonna say or do will surprise me.”

In fact, Pat had been a motorcycle cop for a few years in Gatineau, Quebec before he found his true calling –- coaching hockey. And ironically, he was brought into the game by the same Hockey God, Wayne Gretzky, who would break his heart a decade later.

Burns began his coaching career with the Gretzky owned Hull Olympiques in 1984 and was hired as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens four years later, taking them to the Stanley Cup finals in his first season.

In 1992, Burns came to Toronto to coach the Maple Leafs becoming the match that sparked one of the most explosively joyous seasons in the team’s history.

At that point, hockey crazy Toronto had been without a Stanley Cup run for 25 years. The city had endured a quarter century of defeat and humiliation. Burns put an end to all that with the help of stars like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Felix Potvin.

They got within a game of the final. A Canadian classic showdown with arch-rival Montreal stolen by a blatant missed call on the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky.

As devastating as the loss was to Leaf fans, Burns had given the city back its self respect and no man was more greatly loved among those wearing the Blue and White.

At the time of that Cup run, I was writing and producing “Top Cops” for CBS, a series that dramatized true crime stories. Doug Gilmour’s sister-in-law worked for us and his dog Harley used to come in with her of a morning and curl up on the couch in my office until Doug picked him up after practice.

That led to us calling Pat in to see if we could do one of his stories on the show.

I was expecting a tough, no nonsense intimidating guy. But the one who arrived was funny, personable and engaging. And while we wanted to tell the story of Pat going undercover in a Maximum security prison to bust a drug operation, he demurred, saying it wasn’t that big a deal.

Now even those unfamiliar with prisons knows how dangerous it must be for a police officer to be locked inside, unprotected amid a population where there’s a very good chance he could be recognized.

No matter how much we flattered and cajoled, you could see Burns gently but firmly dig in his heels and we realized that his past life was in the past and all that really mattered to him was the here and now.

A couple of years later, I was sitting behind the Leaf bench in LA as they were getting their butts handed to them by Gretzky’s LA Kings. I began berating him for something and he turned to give me the finger.

I don’t know if he recognized me or not, but Leaf Manager Cliff Fletcher was sitting nearby and when Burns was fired two days later, I concluded that Fletcher had reasoned, “Gee, if one of those idiot fans in LA can see we have a coaching problem, maybe we do have a coaching problem.”

But my intrusion on Burns career didn’t slow him down. He moved on to Boston where he won his third “NHL Coach of the Year” trophy. And not long after he took the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup.

Burns passed away from Cancer in 2010. And tomorrow he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, a city that still loves him more than any coach the Leafs have had before or since.

No matter what some idiot fan in LA might have to say.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Return of the Drive-In Movie

Johnny Rockets Drive-In

Search “Drive-In” on this site and you’ll find out just how much I love Drive-In movie theatres.

They were big when I was a kid and you attended pre-pyjama’d so you’d nod off after the first feature and your folks could steal a little Mommy-Daddy time.

In my teens they were a necessity, for all those reasons that Drive-Ins remain the stuff of legend and burrowed a special place in our now no longer teenage hearts.

But with the rise of the VCR, DVD other new technologies of convenience as well as the changing economics of the movie business they went away.

At one time, there were over 5000 Drive-In theatres in Canada and the US. Barely 6% of them are still hanging on.

And with the advent of cheap HD home screens and Surround sound, not to mention online access to pretty much any genre that used to be the date-movie-make-out-inducing reason d’etre for their existence, nobody believed the Drive-In would last.

But their number is about to double.

The Johnny Rockets hamburger chain has announced it will construct more than 200 new 500-700 car Drive-In theatres over the next three years.

The venues will feature 4K digital projection, high quality sound as well as access to a wider menu than is offered at most theatres and the option to have your snacks delivered right to your car.

All of this is great news for people who love the Drive-In experience. And it could be beneficial to all movie-goers since those audience members who insist on talking, texting, taking a phone call or updating Facebook during a movie won’t be intruding on you anymore.

But it might also be great news for those of us who make movies as well. As late as the 1980’s and early 90’s, it was still possible to finance a genre picture with not much more than Drive-In audience appeal.

Much of the teen horror, low-budget action and cult canon had its origins in cobbling together a deal with Drive-In chains. And who’s to say that won’t be possible with a company that has deep research into the interests of their own customer base.

Links between the makers of consumer products and movies have been around for a long time. And I’m not talking about the free toy promotions that fast food outlets regularly coat-tail to blockbuster features.

Pizza companies have included package codes that access either film downloads or VOD features. A microwave popcorn maker is running one such promotion right now.  So it seems plausible that product placement could easily evolve into direct funding of films that might play into some hamburger chain’s demographic.

What all this underscores more than anything else is that some corporations still understand the profit potential and power of movies and in getting behind a distribution model that works for them, could be creating new markets for us.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 349: Farmer With A GoPro

I grew up in the middle of the Canadian prairies. Farm country as far as the eye could see -– which, given the 360 degree horizon, was about as far as it’s possible to see.

Everybody you knew either farmed or depended on farmers for their livelihoods. Sons of toil raised from tons of soil to sort of quote P. G. Wodehouse.

And although the growing season was short, it encompassed all twelve months of the year.

In Winter, farmers prepared, repaired equipment, readied the seed, stocked up on fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide.

In spring they planted, hoping the last snow had really been the last.

In Summer, they sweated. Praying for more rain or less hail.

In Fall, they harvested 24/7. Wives and kids were pressed into service. Every free hand and each minute counted to bring the crops in before the cold returned.

And all of this took place far from the public eye. Nobody saw how hard they worked or how long –- just so the rest of the world could eat.

A few years back, while visiting Saskatchewan, I noticed that while little about the job had changed, some of the tools had.

Farmers called up weather forecasts on their Blackberries. Supplies were ordered over diner eggs and coffee on an iPad. Tractors now as big as Transformers were tricked out with GPS screens and Sirius radios (tuned to Outlaw Country or the Rider game of course).

Lately, it seems, one prairie farmer also availed himself of a GoPro camera, finally allowing those who’ve never been on a farm in the middle of nowhere to experience how that chunk of the world puts in its time.

It’s really quite inspiring.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The CRTC Blinks

Oddly –- given the wall-to-wall coverage accorded to the recent CRTC/Netflix showdown at the Gatineau Corral, the following has barely raised a Spockian eye-brow in today’s media reports…

Yesterday, speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade, CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais said the following:

“There is one thing I can share: ‘Regulating’ Netflix is the least of our concerns.”

WTF? After all those threats and everything? Really?

“Whether we choose to attack these disruptive services or learn from their success will be our regulatory decision to make and ours alone.”

In other words. The CRTC will do nothing on Netflix, Google, Youtube, Crackle and the rest in the foreseeable future.

Blais then went on to assert that, despite the opinion of many critics, he was not a dinosaur.

Just like Shaw, Rogers and Bell –- who don’t think they’re dinosaurs either.