Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of the Legion 2015

My final blog tradition of the holiday season is to make a list of what I thought I said best in the past year. So here are my picks. And many thanks for visiting The Legion over the last 12 months. I hope you found something worthwhile and will keep coming back in the future.

Happy New Year!

The Glacial Pace of the CRTC

John Hunter


The Copy Cats

Rachel and Caitlin Save Hollywood

Scooter: Saviour of Squirrels


Behold The New Flesh

The Burka Revisited


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 408: Star Wars Begins

A long time ago, in a studio far, far away, a bunch of people got together to make a movie. 

A lot of it was made up of stuff nobody had ever tried to do before. A lot of it was the same old things that had been seen and done a thousand times before. 

Its leading players weren't bankable stars. Much of the crew was green and untried. And while some, as on every film set, dreamt what they were doing would find an enthusiastic audience and great financial success, I doubt even any of those foresaw the force of nature they were collaborating to unleash.

As hard as it may be to believe these days, there was little or no advance publicity for "Star Wars". I went to see it on its opening weekend knowing nothing but what I could glean from the poster. Some kind of hero with a gleaming sword, a damsel in distress, robots and some kinda cool looking war in space.

It just seemed more interesting than whatever else was opening that weekend.

But from the first frame, you knew it had something special. 

Something that has made fortunes for a couple of generations and will for generations more. Something that has become culturally iconic and important. Something that his given birth to philosophical treatises and textbooks filled with semiotic insight most probably to the surprise of those who made it.

To them, as it was made, it was just a movie. A movie with deleted scenes, alternate takes, different angles, and bloopers the audience was never meant to see. A movie with characters who would never be turned into action figures, effects that didn't work and audio that needed to be fixed in post.

All of these have been gathered over the years by filmmaker Jamie Benning and augmented with commentary by the movie's cast and crew into what he calls a "filmumentary", meaning that while you are watching the original film, you are also seeing all those things which were excised or augmented to create the final product.

"Star Wars Begins" is a remarkable achievement in documenting the creative process, of exposing the fact that great films are not the work of genius artists that spring fully formed to the screen. 

They're ideas that get revised and re-imagined by a lot of different people doing the best they can under less than perfect conditions. 

This is a documentary well worth a couple of hours of your time, whether or not you have seen the latest incarnation. This is where and how it all began.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

@jamieSWB - Star Wars Begins - The Complete Filmumentary from Filmumentaries - Jamie Benning on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 407: Giving It Up For Christmas

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, at its core its an embodiment of the Christian tenet better known as The Golden Rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". An opportunity to share material goods, kindness and empathy to all those around you.

That's why the so-called "War on Christmas" with its politically correct restrictions on whether its okay to use certain greetings and edicts to refer to lighted foliage as "Holiday Trees" doesn't make any sense when you really think about it.

Not only does The Golden Rule do no harm to anyone, it's written into the holy texts of every other religion supposedly snubbed or marginalized by those who celebrate Christmas.

And for non-believers, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any atheist who disagrees with showing kindness to others.That trait is pretty much who we are as people.

Christmas is just the time when the proof is most obvious. 

Recently, the faith based UPTV network decided to try an experiment to see just how prevalent the desire to give of ourselves and be kind to others was. And this was the result... 

Moving closer to home, my favorite airline always goes out of its way to show their appreciation of those around them at Christmas. What they've done in the past has become hard to top. So this year Canada's Westjet decided to try even harder, setting the 2015 bar at providing one Christmas miracle for each of their 12,000 employees...

So you see, for all its religious connotations, the true meaning of Christmas is simply a reminder to share some of the good in each of us with someone else.

And if you can't do that -- well, instead of pissing on somebody else's party, why not just suck it up and take Sponge Bob's advice...

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lazy Sunday #406: The Big Short

Writing movies is hard. Making them made is harder. Getting people to pay to see something they’re repeatedly told is complicated and hard to understand is nearly impossible.
So smart writers avoid writing about complicated things that are hard to understand.

Unless they’re really, really smart writers. Writers like Michael Lewis.

The first Michael Lewis book I read was “Moneyball”, a book so good it made you want to bite your arm. A book that deserved to become a movie. And one that didn’t for more than a decade because it was literally too “inside baseball”.

Imagine pitching a studio exec a story about people who spend all their time crunching baseball stats. Imagine finding an audience that wanted to see a movie about baseball stats.

Pitch “Hulk smash”. They get it.

Pitch “It's about getting things down to one number. Using the stats to find value in players that no one else can see” -– and their eyes have already glazed over.

As they expect the audience’s eyes to glaze.

Don’t even get me started on how hard a pitch for “The Big Short” a book about the subprime default swaps that cratered the mortgage market in 2008 would’ve been.

But Lewis and his publisher kept making the rounds and people smarter than most of the gatekeepers kept reading his books and one of those people finally used her actress star power to put Michael Lewis’ writing before an audience.

In 2009, Sandra Bullock brought another Lewis book “The Blind Side”, this one about the intricacies of the college football draft, to the screen. And Hollywood finally got what he does. He shows that all those supposedlynunintelligible numbers are describing people.

“The Blind Side” won an Oscar and a ton of Critics awards while (perhaps more important) pulling in 10 times as much as it cost to make at the box office.
Hollywood finally realized Michael Lewis must be onto something.

In 2011, another actor, Brad Pitt got “Moneyball” made, earning six Oscar nominations, garnering more critics awards and taking in more millions at the box office.

Which brings us to “The Big Short”. Opening this weekend with a cast of not one, not two -- but four A-list actors who could all open a major studio film on their own.

And again, getting past the gatekeepers because one of those actors (Pitt) can call his own shots.

This is the season when adults go back to the movies. And there are great films like “Spotlight” and “Carol” and “Creed” and “Trumbo” and “The Hateful Eight” that anybody calling themselves an adult should see.

But for my money, “The Big Short” should be on top of that list.

Forget that it’s about something complicated and hard to understand. Because it’s not. Those numbers being thrown around all come down to people. And if there’s one thing actors know it’s that people go to see movies about people.

So for your viewing pleasure on this Sunday, I append both a trailer for “The Big Short” plus a roundtable of three of its cast along with Lewis and director Adam McKay describing why they became a part of it and why the gatekeepers were so wrong for so long.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

“The Big Short” – Trailer

“The Big Short” – Roundtable

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Lazy Sunday #405: Afterglow

I don’t ski.

One reason is that I grew up in the flattest part of Saskatchewan. Didn’t see my first hill until I was 12.

The other is that later in life I learned to ski.

Oh, I’d claimed I could ski before then. Lied to a casting director to get a part I wanted. I’d seen people ski. Didn’t look that hard.

Felt a little different standing at the top of a slope with boards strapped to my feet. But just in time, the director decided he needed somebody in my onscreen super-cool ski party to drive a snowmobile and I actually did know how to do that.

Even that guy who fell halfway down Everest didn’t kick out of his bindings as fast.

But I eventually did learn to ski. Fell a lot but completely embraced the thrill. And my last night on the slopes I fell in love with night skiing.

All of us who work with light have a special affinity to those situations in which light becomes magical and there was something about the moonlight, the snow and run lights reflecting on ice crystals in the air that made the experience unforgettable.

Next morning I took a tumble that put my back into agonizing spasms for weeks and ended any chance of my becoming the next Warren Miller.

But I’ll never forget that night and that quality of light and continue to bask in its afterglow.

Recently the people who make Philips televisions created a film expanding on the magic of night skiing to sell their new line of LED televisions. And it’s equally as unforgettable.

It’s also fittingly called “Afterglow”.

If you don’t ski. This might convince you it’s time to start.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

The full film by Sweetgrass Productions can be found here.