Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 459: And The Winner Is...


It's Oscar Night! Oh boy!

And yet -- despite the fact I've seen pretty much all of the nominated films, scripts and performances this year and found most of them damn worthy of recognition -- I won't be watching the ceremonies.

Put my choice down to simply not wanting to participate in the sideshow.

For while the Academy Awards used to be about celebrating cinematic excellence, they've devolved into an evening of extremely wealthy and successful people championing their own social issues.

And I have no doubt many actually passionately care about whatever it is they'd rather talk about than the movie they were in. I just don't have anymore interest in which "victims" of whatever "oppression" they want to talk about.

To my mind, we've reached a time where most people don't honestly care who you tell people you are. They care about what you do. 

Which brings me to something that happened in Canada this week.

After more than a year of Canadians pleading with the government to include Yazidi women in their much ballyhooed refugee policy, the Feds finally agreed to bring in 1500 of these ISIS victims.

For those not paying attention -- in September of 2014, ISIS thugs committed the largest mass kidnapping in human history, capturing 5000 Yazidi women and girls, members of a peaceful non-Muslim sect in Iraq that had never gone to war with anyone.

Those women and girls were forced to become sex slaves. Any who resisted were brutally murdered.

Anybody with half a heart would've thought they'd be the first we'd want to offer the safety and freedom of Canada. But they weren't.

And instead of getting on my own soapbox about all that, I want you to see a different side of this story -- previous captives and their Yazidi sisters who have picked up guns and are taking the fight back to ISIS.

So you can spend 3-4 hours tonight listening to people asking you to stand up for (insert their victim here) or join some kind of Hollywood "Star Wars" concept of resistance...or... you can take 40 minutes to watch real victims who are doing something to take care of their oppressors once and for all.

Talk is cheap. Actually doing something -- not so much.

Enjoy Your Sunday.



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chris


There are actors around whom you can build a show, a movie, even a television series. Every now and then, one comes along with enough talent to allow you to build a world. Chris Wiggins was of the latter group.

I can't remember when I first met Chris. To be honest he'd been a fixture on Canadian television since my childhood, starring in episodes of "Last of the Mohicans", "R.C.M.P", "The Unforeseen" and just about every other CBC drama, including "The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar" which won him a Canadian Film Award as Best Actor in 1969.

His voice was just as pervasive in commercials and a raft of animated series like "Captain America", "Spider-Man" and "Rocket Robin Hood" as well as more than 1200 radio plays.

Around the time I started acting professionally, Chris had his own series, "Paul Bernard, Psychiatrist", a remarkably creative 5 day a week 2 hander.

The first show we worked on together was the CBC series "The National Dream" though we didn't have any scenes together. He was Donald Smith, one of the driving forces behind the construction of the first railway to link Canada from coast to coast, while I was some Ontario farm boy drafted to fight in the Riel Rebellion. But at one point in the story, the visuals cut from Chris to me and I felt like I'd finally "arrived" as an actor.

We worked together many times after that, often in animation. In Nelvana's first animated film, "The Devil and Daniel Mouse" Chris was the Devil and I played the rodent.

He wasn't the kind of actor who talked craft a lot or worried directors about motivation or what his best side might be. He just turned up on time and did the job. One of those classic journeyman performers who'd do his take, then sit nearby reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle until the next set up was ready.

Then he'd step in, matching exactly the energy, focus and performance as if no time at all had passed.

He was the only actor director Stefan Scaini and I even considered for our first Christmas collaboration "The Silent Bell", a seasonal charmer that won a bunch of awards and returned every Christmas for a couple of decades largely on the basis of a wonderful performance from Chris.

Where I got to know he and his talents best was on the "Friday the 13th" series. Jack played Jack Marshak, an expert in the occult whose primary practical responsibility was to explain the "mystic shit" that went on each week, so our series leads John Lemay and Robey could go about fighting the weekly mayhem.

During the entire run of the show, I can't recall him ever asking for an explanation of whatever made-up supernatural powers were at play. He just made it real. By the end of the run, he was an integral part of every episode.

And if any of the above gives you the impression Chris Wiggins was some kind of Thespian drone, you couldn't be more wrong. He was always charming and fun to be around, laughing and sharing anecdotes about the famous and infamous in the biz whose paths he had crossed.

One of my favorites was about receiving a call from a cleaning lady while he and his beloved wife Sandra were on vacation. One of the pipes in their home had sprung a leak. Chris told the cleaning woman where to find his address book and the number of their plumber.

A couple of weeks later, on some film set, he was approached by Christopher Plummer wondering why he'd been pestered to fix the pipes at Chris' place.

Chris Wiggins passed away yesterday in a small town care home far from the bright lights of show business, ending a long struggle with Alzheimer's.

In many ways his final moment reflected his life, just quietly going about the business at hand.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 458: How To Lose Weight In 4 Easy Steps


There was a noticeable fitness uptick in my neighborhood this week. Instead of it being just me and the dog wandering empty streets at sunrise, there are people in day-glo sweats and polyester now jogging alongside us.

The die-hard, ride-all-winter cyclists who had the bike lanes all to themselves, now have to get around a block long Peloton of newcomers. And the parking lot at the local pool and gym is now full before the breakfast drive-thru at Tim Horton's has backed up all the way to the street.

Some of that you could put down to the weather around here finally warming up. Some of it probably indicates how many want to fit into last year's shorts or bikini for March Break. But I'm betting a good chunk of this is the result of Valentine's Day.

And I'm not talking about all that chocolate and candy.

While gym memberships skyrocket at New Years as everybody and their chubby brother decides this is finally the year they'll get in shape, Valentine's Day is when a lot of people realize their body image needs some attention.

Some of that's the result of a comment from an otherwise amorous partner to be sure. "Honey, when did you start getting out of breath during foreplay?"

But much of it's because a lot of people got dumped on February 14th.

Statistically, V-Day is the most likely day for someone to seriously examine their love life and decide to move on.

Many of those left behind might initially have wondered if they should've gone with the more substantial rose bouquet instead of hoping a single flower would come off as more romantic. But a whole lot more quickly realize they figured the relationship would take care of itself and kinda let it -- and themselves -- go a little.

If this is ringing true over at your house, Sparky, allow me to offer a solution...

Whether or not tightening up what you let go slack is the real problem, the following short film written by Aaron Bleyaert and directed by Ben Berman should offer an insight.

Ultimately, time changes everything -- as long as you're willing to embrace the change.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday #457: Five Star



Television wants us to believe that football is over. 

The Super Bowl is over. The flurry of million dollar commercials is over. The Lady Gaga tour is almost sold out. It's done! Okay! Change the channel and go back to watching "The Walking Dead" where the serious head injuries will continue. Mostly to those still watching it.

But the reality is that the football season never ends. And it's not just guys like me trying to get over Super Bowl XLIX. 

Teams are already gearing up for next year. Stadiums are being refurbished. Coaches are being hired. Players are having injuries repaired, being released from contracts or negotiating their renewal. 

And in High Schools across America, 17 and 18 year old kids are deciding what college will best prepare them for a career in the NFL.

Can you remember what career decisions you were making when you were 17 or 18? If you were like me, you were pretty much consumed with buying a car and trying to get laid. Yeah, you might have an idea of what you might want to do (operative words "might"). But were you capable of navigating all the possible scenarios that might help or hinder reaching that goal?

Thinking back, I also remember some of the real stars of my high school. The young men and women everybody knew had a special talent and a golden future. We had the best basketball player in the city. A couple of singers as good as anybody on the radio. A guy so smart our "Reach For The Top" team won the Provincial championships.

After Grade 12, I never heard about a single one of them again.

We all make decisions that seem small and insignificant in the moment, not realizing until decades later how much they determined the ultimate pattern of our lives.

That's basically the theme of "Five Star", a sports doc by filmmakers Ryan Booth and Henry Proegler that follows a decisive few days in the life of a 17 year old kid in Nacogdoches, Texas, pressured to make a decision that will impact everything that follows in his future.

Whether you can't quite give up on the world of football just yet, are wondering what will happen to your kids as they enter their final semester of High School, or are simply a fan of wonderful documentaries -- "Five Star" is definitely worth a half hour of your time.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Five Star from Hank & Booth on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 456: Scorsese NYC


A couple of weeks ago, Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, published what pretty much amounted to an open letter in the Globe and Mail newspaper entitled "Dear Canadian Filmmakers: It's not about you. It's about us" basically challenging homegrown cinema artists to do -- I don't know, maybe just something different.

I believe I speak for myself and many others either making or trying to make movies here when I say, "This gives us a laugh".

In his effete throwing down of some kind of gauntlet of self-interest, Bailey, like many in the business of supporting and promoting the Arts in Canada, reveals not only how little he knows about how the films he'd prefer to see get made; but of his own part in the annual regeneration of the kind of movies he doesn't much want to see anymore.

For it is Bailey's own TIFF that has devolved from an invigorating film festival that once championed up and coming Canadian talent to one striving to be seen as the first Studio stop for American Oscar contenders; while the majority of Canadian filmmakers are relegated to being second or third class citizens in their own country.

Indeed, it is film programmers such as Bailey who have gotten us where we are "creatively", eternally providing a pulpit for and thereby suggesting up-and-comers imitate either the dense vacuity of Atom Egoyan, the cheap patina of class inherent in the Robert Lantos imprimatur or the eternally ill conceived and unrefined first drafts or first edits that typify Paul Gross.

If Bailey really wanted better movies, he'd stop programming the annual failures of those who regularly account for the lion's share of government funding (the only real film financing in this part of the world) and get his movie scouts out to find people trying to do something better -- or at least more interesting.

Before I get all Greg Klimkiw on everybody's ass, the above rant was inspired by a short film on Martin Scorsese's work in this month's Filmmaker Magazine.

Included with the text is a Leigh Singer video essay offering a staggering insight into the Scorsese filmography, the city where half of his films are set and how both combined to give us not only endlessly original and re-watchable movie experiences but an undeniably clear and focused body of work.

It's also a reminder that the Scorsese Oeuvre was created not by Pauline Kael or the programmers of the New York Film Festival and Museum of Modern Art. 

They were made by a single artist given the freedom to follow his inspirations, surround himself with other independent artists and do the work that artists do. Uninfluenced by those given to navel gazing or striving to one day collect an indexed pension.

Singer's video is a reminder of what's possible when a filmmaker is not required to define or divine the goals of bureaucrats, but work his own magic.

Enjoy Your Sunday.