Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 450: Merry Christmas

Christmas seems to have two speeds, incredibly fast or wonderfully slow. 

Some of us have a million things to do. Up at dawn to get the turkey stuffed and into the oven. Opening gifts then a quick shower before church or the trip to Grandma's house. Shuttling relatives. Making time for some quick wine and cheese with the neighbors. Never a quiet moment. By nightfall it isn't just the tryptophane from that second helping making you dozey.

For others, Christmas is just one delight served after another. You just stand back and let the waves of generosity and joy wash over you.

That top speed seems to be how my Christmases happen these days. But when I was a kid it was the other way around. Tripping down stairs in your PJs to see a tree sparkling brighter than you remember from the days before. An empty milk glass and crumb of cookie to prove that Santa had not only been but appreciated the snack you left.

Then opening presents and savoring homemade egg nog, sausage rolls and shortbread.

And then your parents disappeared for an hour to prepare for their high speed version of the day while you played with your new stuff and watched cartoons.

Back in my day, those Christmas cartoons were usually from Walt Disney and if you were lucky included one with a special Christmas message.

Whichever Christmas speed you're travelling at today, take a moment for this one.

Merry Christmas and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 449: The Spirit of Giving Back

This time of year, corporations big and small populate our TV screens and online streams with commercials eschewing the spirit of the season. 

They make us laugh, feel nostalgic or otherwise kindle the spirit of the season -- that Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All thing. 

But at their base, the silent message of most is -- "Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy, come buy something from us".

But there's one that seems to take the sentiments of its Christmas commercials to heart.

I've been posting the annual Christmas commercials from Canadian airline Westjet for several years now as they've taken the spirit of giving back to ever greater heights. Granting Christmas wishes to passengers in flight. Bringing gifts to tropical destinations that have never seen snow. And last year providing a Christmas miracle on behalf of each one of their 12,000 employees.

This year was a tough one for the residents of Westjet's home province of Alberta, ravaged by unemployment and devastating forest fires. So they went to the heart of that devastation to bring a little bit of light and hope.

What follows is a reminder that giving back to those most in need is at the heart of Christmas. What follows is the Westjet Christmas ad and the background of two of the families they helped.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 448: Augie Wren's Christmas Story

At the core of the sentiments of the Christmas Season are stories. The original account of the babe in the manger may have started that because it contained all the elements that run through every Christmas story that has followed it.

The compassion of an innkeeper with no rooms for tired travelers and only a humble stable to offer. A child imbued with all our hopes of the future. Magical occurrences. Ordinary people touched by something special. The spirit of giving, of sharing, of kindness.

Every Christian culture has a special story only told at Christmas. A good king helping a poor man in the snow. A wealthy miser reminded of the redemption in caring for others. A kid who only wants a BB gun.

And then there's Rudolph and Frosty and Honky the Christmas Goose...

The magic that is Christmas almost always comes from characters you'd last expect to embody it, and yet, in doing so, remind each of us that we can be part of the magic too.

One of the oddest Christmas tales can be found in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 Independent film "Smoke", which follows the interwoven lives of the customers and staff of a small New York tobacco store. 

It's a charming little film about the smallest things and how they can alter our lives or the way we see the world forever.

Connected to all of these stories in one way or another is the smoke shop's owner, Augie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel.

As Christmas approaches, one of his customers, a writer, is in desperate need of a Christmas story and Augie commiserates and ultimately shares his own.

It's unexpected -- and special. May it's message touch you this season.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 447: A Christmas Story's Story

It's that time of year again. Lights sparkle from rooftops. Carols are the soundtrack at the mall. And television begins unspooling the films of the season.

This month's issue of "Vanity Fair" features an article on the making of one of those Christmas films -- my personal favorite -- "A Christmas Story".

But while the VF story about "Story" is filled with wonderful anecdotes from the production and initial release of the movie in 1983, there's nothing quite like hearing the broadcast that inspired it from the screenwriter and narrator of "A Christmas Story" -- Jean Shepherd.

During the 1950's, 60's and 70's, Shepherd hosted a nightly show on WOR radio in New York, where he spun semi-autobiographical tales that spawned a rabid fan base who made bootleg reel to reel tapes of them to share with friends around the country.

Originally a chapter of Shepherd's 1966 book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash".  its first title was, "Duel in the Snow, Or, Red Ryder Nails The Cleveland Street Kid". It was immediately excerpted in "Playboy", winning Shepherd a National Magazine Award for humor. 

After that, every year at Christmas, Shepherd would tell the story on his radio show. And on one of those nights, director Bob Clark heard it while driving to a dinner date. Clark reached his destination and then circled the block repeatedly, unable to stop until he'd heard how it ended. He decided then and there it had to be a movie.

And thanks to one of those original bootlegs, now you too can hear the broadcast that inspired one of the most beloved movies of the season...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 446: Johanna Under The Ice

It's cold here today. That kind of damp cold that just pierces you to the core. 

So I decide to stay inside and surf the net, finding a spectacular book of photographs entitled "The Last Days of the Arctic" by photographer Ragnar Axelsson. Sampled above and available from Amazon here which chills me even further.

I hate cold weather. 

I grew up in one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet (Saskatchewan) where you can go 40 or 50 days in Winter where the temperature doesn't get above minus 40 or 50. 

And it's supposed to make you hardy and resourceful and resilient and all those other positive character traits, which I'm sure it does. But it also left me feeling like, "Okay, I've done that. Can we move on? Maybe to somewhere warmer?".

So now I live where it doesn't snow, you only scrape the car windows a couple of times during the dark months and wait for Global warming to finally live up to David Suzuki's dire predictions.

But then guys such as Axelsson come along to remind you of just how freaking pretty frigid can be. 

So, like one of those guys who's afraid of heights but still has to lean over the roof railing of a tall building and look down, I went in search of a cold related video and found what follows...

Not long ago, Finish bicycle racer Johanna Nordblad crashed, badly breaking her leg. Her recovery regimen included cold water therapy which led her to a new sport, cold water free-diving, for which she holds the world record. And that led her to British Filmmaker Ian Derry and a truly remarkable film.

It's cold. And not a dry cold. But it's worth it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Johanna Under The Ice - NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 445: The First Men

Last night somebody on my block turned on their Christmas lights for the first time. Despite the fact that Costco has been selling Christmas stuff for more than a month and all week the nice man from Canada Post has been dropping off Christmas catalogs and flyers, it still seemed too soon.

But it's not. So once again I have to suck it up and do one of the things I most don't enjoy doing -- shopping.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to commerce, spending money or even having to cope with crowds. I just don't enjoy malls that much.

Something about them just -- unsettles -- me. I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe it's that the bookstores are getting fewer and smaller and with way more books about Cats.

Maybe it's that the record store doesn't have listening stations anymore but they have lots of movie loot like "Superman" Cookie Jars and "Star Wars" Alarm Clocks. How did the people who used to sell music decide that the same people looking for tunes by "Aerosmith" or "21 Pilots" would be suckers for "Ghostbusters" T-shirts?

Come to think of it -- maybe that's what unsettles me. That you're no longer a customer with needs and desires, you're just somebody who buys stuff. Any stuff. Even stuff at places like "Lids". Somebody who'll buy whatever they put on the shelf because -- well, because what else are you going to do with your time and money...?

Food courts particularly unsettle me. Food courts are where you always meet people you know. You'll engage in 2 minutes of small talk and then they'll invariably say, "So, you're at the mall" -- pointedly observing that you clearly don't have anything better to do with your time and money -- or perhaps your life.

Filmmaker Ben Keegan perfectly captures my dread of malls in a terrific short film, "The First Men", based on an even darker short story by Stacey Richter which you can read here.

It might even convince you to avoid the mall.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

The First Men from Benjamin Kegan on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 444: Leon Russell

I first became aware of Leon Russell sometime in 1970 or 71 by way of one of the best Rock documentaries ever made, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen". Only later did I learn I'd been listening to him for more than a decade.

The story behind the film is that Cocker, fresh off the success of "Woodstock" and his first two Platinum albums, had just completed a gruelling months long tour of the United States. Arriving in LA, thoroughly burned out and intending to rest through the Summer and maybe recruit a new band for his next LP, Cocker dropped by his agent's office.

There he learned that said agent had booked him on a 52 city tour slated to depart the next week. When Cocker balked, he was told the Musician's Union, Immigration Officers and Concert Promoters would not reacte kindly to his desire to get some rest and he might not be allowed back into the country.

Luckily his friend, well-known session musician Leon Russell, came to his aid; quickly rounding up an assemblage of talent that could not only make Cocker sound better than he ever had before, but offer enough of their own material so the worn out bill topper wouldn't have to carry the load alone.

The result made Rock 'n Roll history and brought Russell to the forefront of American music.

A laid back, easy going and soft-spoken Oklahoman, Leon Russell had begun his career playing nightclubs at age 14 and had played on virtually every Top 40 single recorded in LA through the 50's and 60's, 

Over the years, even repeated bouts of Pneumonia, Brain surgery and a heart attack could not slow his astonishing musical output.

Leon Russell died this morning at the age of 74 leaving an award winning legacy of music across the genres of Rock, Country, Jazz, Bluegrass, Gospel and Blues not to mention a more important one of kindness and concern for his friends.

Here's a taste of "Mad Dogs", Russell's induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and his biggest hit single.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 443: Loose Ends

There's nothing that gives screenwriters nightmares more than the idea that they've left something unresolved.

The process of writing, no matter how organized, plot-mapped, index carded, character studied you are, is always chaotic. Ways to enhance or improve the twists and turns of plot and character you intended constantly spring to mind. 

As the tale unfolds, you inevitably find better ways to tell it. And then when you're done, you go back over the pages time after time, making sure everything tracks, it all makes sense and no one will ever question the logic of the fiction.

And you inevitably miss something.

As a junior member of the writing team on my first TV series, I remember waking up in a cold sweat one morning, realizing that the scene we were shooting that day left something important hanging. Something that needed to be fixed or the entire story would collapse like the house of cards it probably was.

It wasn't a script I'd written. But it was one I'd read a dozen times and a plot hole so big you could drive a truck through it. I raced to work, finding the senior story editor, an experienced Hollywood icon with credits on almost every show I'd ever heard of, calmly perusing the call sheet as he lit a smoke and reeled off the ponies he was picking to his bookie over the phone.

When he finally hung up, I spilled out the problem, my concern increasing because I still didn't have a clue how to fix the problem.

He squinted at me through the cigarette smoke and smiled, "No big deal, kid. Refrigerator moment."

That day I learned that if audiences are caught up in a story, they more often than not don't see the errors and omissions that drive we so-called professionals crazy.

A refrigerator moment is one where a guy watches the show, goes to get a beer while the credits roll, senses something was left out -- and then just drinks his beer and finds something else to watch and/or worry about.

A more nuances version of this is the "hot tub moment", where the guy gets his beer, settles in the hot tub and while recalling the leading lady's cleavage suddenly blurts out "Hey, wait a minute...".

For most people, watching movies and TV shows is just Chinatown -- "Forget it, Jake. It's only a movie." The experience is over. They got their money's worth. Time to move on.

But for us, the nightmare remains. Someday, some Comic Con asshole is going to raise his hand, ask about an episode of some TV series you don't even recall working on and reveal a plot hole so massive it'll be trending on Google and Twitter for weeks designating you as the irresponsible idiot who let it happen.

We've all got 'em. How long did Indiana Jones have to hold his breath to get where that submarine was going? Will Toto still have to be put down now that Dorothy is back in Kansas? Can you really escape the Nazis in Casablanca just by having a piece of paper?

I'm reminded of the refrigerator moment that annoys me the most every time I watch my favorite James Bond film "Skyfall". The entire film is set in motion by the search for a missing file that could reveal the names of every MI5 and NATO agent. But halfway through the film, nobody cares about that anymore because they've got a psycho-killer to worry about.

And maybe that old Hollywood hack whose pony picks I interrupted had the right idea. Maybe showing the audience a good time and giving them their money's worth is a laudable feat in itself. If they want accuracy, they can watch the Weather Channel.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 442: The Bump In The Night

Horror movies just get no respect. From the early days of film they've been outliers, considered at worst pandering to the lowest common denominator and at best a grubby way to make a lot of money.

Like all kids, I was fascinated by monsters and sitting in theatres watching Dracula and Frankenstein gave me a chance to prove I was all grown up and wasn't no fraidy cat. 

And then one afternoon, as a fully formed adult I bought a ticket to see "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on the strength of the audacity of its title alone and realized that Horror in the hands of a master filmmaker has the power to both shatter the psyche and renew it.

What makes so many Horror fans so rabid? They've faced a fear and walk out of the theatre empowered and emboldened by that. All of us remember what it was like to leap off the high diving board for the first time, take on the looping roller-coaster, or finally get up the nerve to talk to that hot girl or guy we're smitten with. The high of those accomplishments is exciting and ultimately life affirming.

But in polite society. Horror still sits on the lowest rung of the film ladder. When I took on the job of writing the "Friday the 13th" series, a lot of my friends thought I must've been desperate for work. And virtually all of the established writers, directors and actors I tried to convince to come aboard refused to sully their careers by having that title on their resumes.

But, as Alyse Wax's recent book about the series "Curious Goods" reveals, the brave band of brothers and sisters who did also felt Horror helped them find their artistic voice.

And yet, the show business desire to be accepted in polite society continues with endless essays on films like "The Witch" demanding that audiences embrace "respectable" Horror films like it or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" instead of whatever Eli Roth or the folks on "The Walking Dead" are rolling out this week.

After all, wasn't last Sunday's premiere of Season 7 of TV's Zombie drama just the ickiest ever? And look at all those Youtube selfies of audiences being traumatized! How awful to treat people that way!


That's the point.

That's why they come in droves.

To paraphrase a well-known politician. "When Horror goes low Audiences go High".

I saw "The Witch" and yeah, the kids and the goat are great. Except those scenes don't build to anything truly frightening and ultimately you're watching Masterpiece Theatre with more suspense and less brocade. 

And while the brocade's better in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", once the literary irony wears off there's not much worth watching.

Horror is not about suspense. And it's not about torture porn or gratuitous gore either.

It's about that bump in the night. The moment when something so out of the ordinary happens that logic evaporates, you're in Tiger Country and the rules you've always lived by no longer apply.

It's about being scared.

And one of the best places to see examples of this are the multitude of Youtube horror short channels like "2SentenceHorror" or "Fuck You Zombie".

You will be frightened.

And it's Halloween weekend, so...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 441: Movies You Can't Make Anymore

"Your head's so filled with thought you can't use your imagination
Like a sky so filled with stars, you can't find a constellation.
And everyone's so sensitive to any bad vibration
You're so impressing, while we're regressing..."

The first time I visited Hollywood, I felt like I'd gone back to high school. The cliques of super cool kids, jocks and brainers determined not to intermingle less cooties might be spread. The desperation to fit in, to be immediately identifiable, to catch the latest trend and flaunt your wealth or status.

And as much as Hollywood films have changed, those traits of the community making them have not.

To be a Hollywood player you always need to keep your thumb on the pulse of the nation and maintain the appearance of one who espouses the right causes, knows what "the other kids" are thinking and champions the next big thing.

Corporations don't give out those six-figure gift bags at the Oscars because they like the kids from Hollywood High. They need their access to the market that will either buy their products or aspire to buy them.

And at their best, movies do change hearts and minds. "To Kill a Mockingbird", "In the Heat of the Night", "Mississippi Burning" and "Selma" revealed garden variety racism as the illogical evil that it is.

Films like "Philadelphia", "Paths of Glory", "The Big Short" and "Spotlight" were all rightfully honored for opening our eyes to the way the world really works.

Game-changing films such as those are rare, however, since most of us buy a ticket at the box office to get away from the real world for a couple of hours and just enjoy some action, adventure, romance or comedy.

And that's where the progressive impulse of the film community sometimes trips over itself and in its eagerness to show how forward thinking it is, forgets what it was really trying to accomplish in the first place while corrupting film memes that audiences have come to love.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't have gotten rid of Stepin Fetchit, white guys playing Charlie Chan or hordes of blood-thirsty savages (of any ethnicity) charging in to massacre our hero and heroine for no other reason than "that's just what they do" and "how else can the cavalry come to the rescue".

But I'm feeling a little like the appearance of championing diversity, gender equality and acceptance of sexual preferences has become more important than actually helping things change.

"Well, I don't mean to piss you off with things that I might say
So when I try to shut my mouth they come out anyway.
Cause when I speak my mind, that's when we connect
Yeah, but that's not politically correct..."

A while ago, some Hollywood bright light had the idea of rebooting "Ghostbusters" with an all-female cast. Maybe not such a dumb idea at the concept level. But then nobody seemed to think it through much further than "let's put some actresses into those grey coveralls" and certainly not as far as "and put in some good jokes". 

The film flopped. Simply because it just wasn't very good. A reality the studio tried to blame on a negative wave of misogyny that was eventually revealed as a pretty much a PR ruse.

Not to be deterred, another studio has embarked on a female version of "Ocean's 11" to be re-titled "Ocean's 8". Again, not a bad idea -- and from my point of view terrific if they keep Matt Damon in the same role.

Somewhere I joked that if this was the latest high-concept formula, I was looking forward to the all-male version of "Thelma & Louise" -- which is probably under consideration somewhere but using Gay or Asian guys instead.

It just seems to me that if we are serious about increasing the work opportunities for artists no matter their gender, race or sexual preference, then we need to play to the strengths of those artists and not just park them in some lame cinematic attempt to appear inclusive.

What's more, we may need to a get a handle on confronting what's a real issue and what's just fashionable in the moment. 

With the passing of Gene Wilder, for example, there was an out-pouring of affection for "Blazing Saddles" a movie most of those praising it would have turned down flatly for its political incorrectness alone and most certainly wouldn't be caught buying a ticket to see it.

That film is just one example of the kind of work you just can't do anymore. Simply because the appearance of doing it is something the cool kids in Hollywood cannot abide.

And the number of those films increases daily. Five examples follow, along with SR-71's performance of the song lyrics included in this post.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 440: Playing Bob's Records

A poster version of the image above hung in my bedroom for a good chunk of my teenage years. But Bob Dylan had been around for a while before I really listened to him. 

He arrived in my world around the same time as "The Beatles" and they and all of the following British Invasion invaders took up most of my time and vinyl budget. 

I was probably only aware of him because I was, at the same time, smitten with a beautiful blonde who ironed her hair just like Jane Asher (McCartney's girlfriend) and sang and played guitar well enough that she got invited to perform at a local coffee houses and every high school Hootenanny.

For those who didn't keep track of the 60's, A hootenanny was the final supernova of the Folk Era, where all these singers, guitar and banjo pluckers would get together for a wholesome sing-song, which always included Bob tunes like "Blowin' In The Wind", "Girl From The North Country" and "Don't Think Twice, It's all Right" -- the last of which always made the goatee'd Assistant Profs get maudlin over their cappuccinos and clutch the suede elbows of their corduroy jackets as they tried to hit on my girlfriend.

But I didn't listen to Bob's records. He was just kinda this folk guy who got lucky by having "The Byrds" record "Mr. Tambourine Man" so he could have a real hit.

But in the Summer of 1965, Bob caused a bit of a scandal by playing an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival. It was in all the papers and had Folk people calling him a traitor and guys like me suddenly paying attention because he'd finally seen the light.

I remember hearing "Like a Rolling Stone" a few months later while listening to a cheap. tinny sounding Japanese transistor radio on a noisy bus. It was longer than every other song on the radio and seemed to be about something more important than all the others too, and I started paying attention.

Around the same time, my friend Marc, who played drums in a band, got his own apartment. Perhaps my first buddy to do so. He also bought a stereo system that filled most of the place and covered the walls by thumb tacking his album covers to the peeling plaster -- which also saved having to build a shelving unit or steal plastic milk crates to store them.

That might've been the first time I ever laid eyes on Bob's actual albums, like "Freewheelin", "Blonde on Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited". It was certainly the first time I played them in full. Both sides.

And when Marc and I picked up chicks and brought them back to his place, I quickly realized that the presence of Bob's records transformed us (in their eyes) from a couple of horny guys into guys who were "sophisticated horny" and deserved a little more attention.

I started to listen to Bob's records more closely. And have continued to this day.

Years later, I met Bob for about ten seconds. I was staying at a friend's house in LA and one morning there was a knock at the door and some scrawny little homeless guy looking for his dog. Only later did I learn Dylan lived nearby and his dog was always wandering off.

This week, Bob was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, which caused another round of literary types feeling betrayed and guys like me knowing our affection for his words had been validated.

And hey, Don Delillo might still have a shot -- just as soon as he goes electric...

Herewith, my all time favorite Dylan tune...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lazy Sunday #439: Dawson City, Frozen in Time

Several years ago, I was approached to write a documentary about a cache of "lost films" discovered during the demolition of a movie theatre in Texas.

In the parlance of film historians and preservationists, "lost films" are those for which there is evidence of their being made -- but no existing prints or negatives.

And they number in the tens of thousands.

A vast majority of the movies made during the silent era are long gone, never to be seen again. They were shot on highly flammable nitrate based film stock and either self-immolated or turned to dust in storage. 

But many did not even get into storage in the first place. After being humped around the country to first run theatres, then second runs and eventually small town mom and pop movie houses, nobody wanted to pay the freight to have them returned to the studio.

So they were simply trashed, while the pristine prints and negatives kept in Hollywood vaults holding one of a kind stories and performances simply rotted away before anyone noticed.

But many of the films trashed in small towns have returned from the dead. The cache I dealt with came from a small town in Texas where the theatre owner, for reasons nobody knows, decided to park the films he was stuck with in a storm cellar in the movie house's basement, a room that turned out to be cold and dark enough to prevent their decay.

It was amazing to sit in a preservation lab and watch films no one alive had ever seen. The Texas collection included several films from the 1930's and 40's made only for African-American audiences, among them one with the only known footage of Bessie Smith singing.  

But the largest collection of lost films every discovered was found in Canada's Dawson City in 1978. Most dated from the Klondike Gold Rush, when boats returning to Vancouver and Seattle were laden with gold and newly rich prospectors and nobody wanted to make space for heavy metal cans of year or two old movies.

Instead they were dumped into the town's old swimming pool, providing the fill to turn it into a skating rink. For decades, more than 500 films, including newsreels of WWI, silent comedy shorts and Hollywood features remained hidden under the ice and preserved in permafrost.

For 50 years, even the residents of Dawson City didn't know that 500,000 feet of lost movie art was under the skates of the local hockey teams they cheered.

And then in 1978, the old film cans were unearthed as the hockey arena was torn down and a foundation dug for a new recreation centre.

A Canadian Forces Hercules was dispatched to carry the thawed but now highly flammable film to the National Film Archive in Ottawa, where the preservation process began.

The story of this discovery, how the films were saved and what they revealed has recently been released by American filmmaker Bill Morrison. It's a fascinating glimpse into a world that was once thought lost and movies that were the building blocks of the industry we have today.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, October 03, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 438: In the Middle of Somewhere

To Joseph Conrad, the work of a writer was simple, "My job is to make you see." 

But sometimes you're somewhere where the beauty overwhelms and words seem inadequate.

Active Pass. Sunset. Today.

And people wonder why Canadians love this place so much.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 437: Live TV

A couple of days ago, the University Professor down the street (and originally Oregon) asked if she could drop over tomorrow night to watch the Presidential debate. Being an academic type, she's never owned a television.

On hearing this, the elderly couple across the way, who've given up cable because "there's nothing worth watching anymore" asked if they could come by as well.

Now I could've mentioned that the debate is streaming online, but the Professor has a cellar of great organic wines and I know the folks across the way have been baking apricot cakes, so why not share my old-timey cable access.

Earlier today, while in a meeting, I realized I was going to miss the kick-off of the Seahawks game. I mentioned it to one of the people present, who promptly offered his iPad, equipped with an app which would make sure I didn't miss any of the action.

There was a time when our Cableco's had a stranglehold on live news and sports, two of the main reasons most people come up with as an excuse not to cut the coaxial media umbilical cord.

But that's just not the case anymore. I watched a chunk of the Charlotte riots this week on a Livestream feed while in the middle of the ocean on a ferry.

As I accessed that link just now, I realized they're streaming the Morongo Pow-wow in their arts and entertainment section, along with the National Book Festival, a Hip-Hop Concert and a lecture by George R.R. Martin from Medill Northwestern University, plus a few dozen other arts related events.

Currently showing on television from the fancy-schmantzy artsy-fartsy CBC -- pictures Vancouverites have taken with their iPhones...

And for that cultural reflection of the nation we pay a billion plus in taxes on top of our cable fees.

This week Youtube updated their own LIVE channel, which you can access by simply going there and searching for "live". Once you subscribe to the channel, you thereafter just click on it from your drop-down list.

That's where you can watch Monday's debate. But if you check out the other offerings, you'll notice something else.

Sunday afternoon used to be the bane of couch potatoes. If you weren't into football, you were pretty much reduced to watching evangelists or infomercials, maybe a gardening show.

It was those hours of television drought that eventually brought forth the 500 channel Universe. And it's the 500 Channel Universe's inability to survive without programming endless repeats of its niche offerings that is driving viewers to look for other options.

Were I addicted to the NFL, which I sorta am, I could get the entirety of its games (live or replay) condensed games, archives and downloads for a price not far removed from what I have to pay to get all the broadcast and sports networks required to follow a full Sunday's football on cable television.

Plus I could watch them at my leisure, not crammed into one afternoon and without clicking back and forth and overworking the PVR while missing a lot while clicking.

But were I anti-football and anti-repeat, I could still go to Youtube Live and find:


European Motorcycle Racing

Australian Rugby

South African Cricket


Clinton and Trump Rallies

Computer Gaming


A Gaming convention

An Electronics Trade Show

Wildlife cams

The International Space Station

And of course -- kittens

Were I to cut my cable, maybe only to make a statement against Cableco's who won't support Canadian content, I might miss the stuff that will tomorrow pass for "water cooler" comment.

But I may just be able to hang around said watering hole talking about things my workmates either didn't know about or wished they'd watched instead of the pictures people took with an iPhone.

And it's definitely a better way to...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 436: Taking Flight

I should've been born closer to the Equator. No matter how long or hot the Summer months have been, I hate to see them fade away.

And (around here at least), they're fading fast. The nights are colder. The days are damper. The dog still wakes me by her clock, the sunrise, but that first light is coming later and later. 

Today, however was a throwback to and we got out early to enjoy it. 

Only to see so few people doing the same.

Oh, they were out there. Talking or texting on their phones. Sitting on their front steps tapping away at a tablet. Cruising through the park, searching for Pokemon.

Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a creative element to many of those activities. But I've begun to wonder what filling our lives with somebody else's imagination does to our own.

Maybe it's no different than me finding a weathered copy of "Tarzan The Ape Man" and spending most of a long ago Summer reading it in a treehouse, while imagining I was in deepest, darkest Africa.

Maybe today's airborne pixels approximate the beams of projector light in the Roxy Theatre or The Broadway that inspired me to seek a career creating the same kind of experiences.

But somehow I don't see kids putting down their devices and then continuing the story, the game or the input they're received in another way.

I hope I'm wrong. But sometimes I think we're losing the ability to imagine, to see a story as parable for something in reality instead of a literal stand-alone tale.

Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell has a wonderful book entitled "The Vanishing Point" which includes a great sequence where a kid in a one room classroom transforms a boring exercise about drawing perspective into an abandoned exhibition of imagination.

I just don't want to see people lose that.

And neither does filmmaker Brandon Oldenberg, who has created a sweet little cartoon about discovering the power of one's imagination and "Taking Flight".

I hope it fires your imagination.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Taking Flight from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 435: Rollergirls

I began my first working idyll in Hollywood the Summer of 1979, after teenage years steeped in images of surfers and muscle cars, the music of "The Beach Boys" and TV shows filmed on the Sunset strip.

Los Angeles was still pretty much like that. Thankfully, the Disco sound that had drowned the surf guitars had finally given way to "The Eagles" and Punk. But otherwise, Farrah Fawcett was still the hottest babe on TV, Disneyland still had "E" ticket rides and the surf was always up.

Beautiful big haired blondes were everywhere. But what I hadn't expected was that many of them had traded their knee high boots and stilettos to move around on wheels.

Everywhere you went, stunningly attractive young women were zooming past on roller skates.

Now roller skating had been relatively popular when I was a kid. But where I grew up, all the streets were dirt or gravel so I'd rarely encountered them. The fad, which had been around since the Great Depression, was rapidly fading out and the big roller rinks where people had still gone to "dance" through the fifties were becoming fewer and further between.

When I'd first moved to Toronto, there was one remaining on Mutual Street. But I only went once. A buddy of mine had just gotten out of jail and arrived on my doorstep with a guy who'd been in for a much longer stretch and that's where he wanted to go to celebrate his newfound freedom.

I got up on skates for the first time there and mostly spent the night hugging the boards as the two Cons tried to pick up girls who could've been their moms and were smart enough to not have anything to do with them.

But California was different. This was a scene revitalized and far removed from the 1940's as well as the Canadian impulse to suggest you better wear kneepads, elbow pads and probably a helmet too.

I also realized that if I wanted to meet any of these bronzed and big-haired blondes, I needed to master the wheels myself. And so I did. And I loved it.

Around the same time, "Dire Straights" released a song called "Skateaway". It was never a hit and probably not even played much. But the pace and the rythmn replicated the skating experience perfectly.

This week, that song happened past me again and brought back memories of a great Summer and a great pastime.

I must leave you now to dig through the garage for a very old set of roller skates.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday #434: Inconceivable

There's a scene in William Goldman's "The Princess Bride" where the arrogant douchebag, Vizzini, finds it "Inconceivable!!!" that the film's hero, Westley, can outmaneuver him in a battle of wits to free the captive Princess Buttercup.

Of course, Westley easily outsmarts him, proving once again that the fatal flaw in people with power is that they always think they got where they are because they're just that much smarter than everyone else.

It's a flaw astonishingly evident in both candidates currently running for the American presidency.

To offer a local example: a couple of weeks ago, Jean-Pierre Blais, the insufferably arrogant douchebag who chairs the CRTC, issued an edict reducing the amount of Canadian participation in Canadian content. And while most of the Creatives in this country found the ruling inconceivable, Blais himself could be found writing letters to craft guilds where he found the fact that they were upset even more inconceivable.

This isn't the first time an arm of the Canadian government has stepped in to gut the country's artists just when they appeared on the verge of making a breakthrough in reaching a national or international audience.

In 1981, the government of Prime Minister Trudeau the first cancelled the film investment program which had kickstarted a thriving film industry on less than 24 hours notice. A move which torpedoed dozens of films in mid-production, tossing hundreds of artists and film techs immediately out of work.

Seven years later, the government of Brian Mulroney promised a ticket levy on foreign product to fund Canadian production and blinked at the last minute when Hollywood studios objected.

In 1999, the CRTC changed the definition of what counted as Canadian content in broadcasting so news and magazine style shows were rendered equal to drama and comedy, drowning dozens of dramatic and comedy projects and costing thousands of jobs.

And who can forget the decade of CRTC incompetence that followed as time and again the needs of both Canadian Creatives and Canadian viewers were pole-axed in favor of ever-growing greed and entitlement within the broadcast community.

I can't count the number of times during that dark time where I attended meetings or conferences where Canadian public officials met Guilds and Unions face to face to insist that they were "on our side" and "things will change" -- and then nothing changed.

So Blais and the other CRTC Commissioners who backed this unbelievably short-sighted decision are no worse than those that have preceded them, appointed by governments leaning both Left and Right.

These are just the self-admiring Vizzinis of the moment.

So how do you get around them?

Well, you can go somewhere else. That works for some. Even worked for me for a long while.

Or you can fight them from here. 


With the same talents they are trying to deny the world that you have.

In my day, that was the theatre. In a time where Stratford and Regional theatres never did Canadian plays and repeatedly hired foreign talent, a community arose that eventually overcame that system, creating memorable work and launching an infinite number of long and successful careers.

There were also low-budget and later direct-to-video movies, all financed and distributed without a dollar of public money. Maybe you didn't make a lot of cash. But you worked and you got even better at what you did. And after a while you had a level of recognition and body of credits that couldn't be ignored.

These days, it's easier than ever to make and distribute something of your own. I know three guys in my relatively small Canadian city who've built their own green screen studios. Dozens more with broadcast quality digital recording, editing and post production systems. Hell, I've stumbled across teenagers who've forgotten more about CGI than I will ever learn.

If the people at Bell and Rogers or Corus don't recognize your value, you don't have to look very far to find people who will. And once you have something finished you'll quickly discover than Amazon and Netflix and their many online competitors, imitators and challengers are far easier to talk to than the gatekeepers at Canada's traditional networks.

And unlike those networks, these new entities actually have money of their own that they want to invest and don't need to go hat in hand to bureaucrats.

A couple of weeks before Jean-Pierre Blais revealed he's not really as smart as he thinks, Canadian cable provider Telus revealed the winning projects of their Storyhive web series competition.

The winner in BC is also called "Inconceivable". Written by Joel Ashton McCarthy, Rachel Kirkpatrick & Mike Doaga and directed by McCarthy -- it's as good as anything you're likely to see from any of the Boys and Girls in Suits networks.

Yes, it's nice to have the public money deals and an often national even if ever-shifting time slot. But the disrespect of what you do that comes with such perks is becoming more and more intolerable and less and less likely.

But you don't need them. 

And as inconceivable as that seems, it's as true as it has always been.

Trust your talent.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lazy Sunday #433: Pachelbel's Cannon

Yes, I'm aware that the correct spelling in the title should only have one "n" in canon, the correct name for a contrapuntal musical composition featuring a lead melody and a following imitative melody, but I'm trying to make a point here.

Johann Pachelbel was a relatively obscure German composer of the baroque era (approx. 1600 - 1750) who probably remained ba-roke throughout his life because his canon was about the only notable thing he wrote.

And even it disappeared for a couple of hundred years until a French orchestra recorded the piece in the late 1960's. That version was picked up by a San Francisco classical radio station in the 1970's and before long there were dozens of best selling versions everywhere.

I first heard it while rehearsing a play in Toronto sometime in the 70's because the director, who loved the tune, had decided it should background a lengthy monologue I had in the final act.

There's a thing about monologues in theatre, especially the long ones in shows that have really long runs. An actor prepares for a monologue the way a long distance runner maps out a marathon. The content and emotion dictate changes in pace, the same way a runner handles hills or being in the middle of a pack. 

But overtime, you can fall into a pattern of making a meal of it for a full house or being tired and speeding it up to get the damn thing over with, which aren't good choices.

So the background music helped me keep track of where I was and I could also place the more emotional moments where the music would swell or soften behind them, helping move the audience in the direction the playwright wanted them to go.

It got so I really like Pachelbel's Canon. Until the run of the play was extended. And then extended again. And extra shows were added on Friday and Saturday nights. Then it became this annoying earworm.

And even when I wasn't onstage, I couldn't escape it. Though I hadn't been aware of ever hearing this 200 year old composition before that play, it now seemed to turn up on CBC Radio a couple of times a week. They even used snippets for transitions on news programs and their jolly little quiz shows.

For all I know, the Program Director had been caught up in the success of the play or had found a version he didn't have to pay royalties on. Whatever the reason, I finally just stopped listening to the CBC to maintain my sanity.

Eventually the show's run ended. But Pachelbel's Canon didn't go away. To this day, I still turn off the car radio if it comes on. And yet, when other music plays, it somehow still seems to be there.

There have been times I've felt like the tormented killer in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart".

And then I learned it wasn't just me. That Johann Pachelbel had managed to use his canon to blow up the rest of music.

Listen and Learn.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 432: Thunder Road

Perhaps it was the lengthy eulogizing which preceded last night's farewell concert by "The Tragically Hip". Perhaps it was all of the passings of icons and friends which have marked 2016. Or maybe it was my own desire to avoid attending an upcoming funeral.

For whatever reason,  I was led this week to a lovely article by Deirdre Sullivan at NPR on the importance of turning up for those things.

I think a lot of people avoid wakes, final viewings and funerals because they're not sure how you're supposed to behave. Everybody grieves in their own way and it's tough to know if you're offending someone by appearing either too upset or not upset enough.

Walking that tightrope is especially tough for those asked to speak at a funeral. Your fondest memory of the departed might actually be the last thing they or their loved ones ever wanted revealed, let alone shared in their darkest hour. 

And appearing too flip or casual can make others wonder if you ever gave a damn about the deceased in the first place.

That fine line -- and what it reveals about us -- has been wonderfully captured in Jim Cummings' film "Thunder Road", this year's winner of the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at The Sundance Festival.

A long-time Indy producer, Cummings became intrigued by a Ricky Gervais quote "It's never too late. Until it's too late. And then it's too late." and decided to try his hand at not only producing an original short, but writing, directing and acting in it as well. 

The final product is not only a brilliant little film, it's touching and hilarious and encapsulates pretty much every emotion everybody feels at a funeral. It's also proof that being compassionate and considerate can be a truly miserable experience.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Thunder Road from Jim Cummings on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 431: Courthouse Comics

Like most kids, I was addicted to comic books. If I went missing, my parents knew I could be found sitting on the floor of the Rexall Drug Store or Larry's Confectionery chewing a wad of Double Bubble and reading the latest from the circular rack.

I even drew my own comics which, since photocopiers hadn't been invented yet, were passed hand to hand among my friends.

Years later, by then an actor, I met a lawyer on a Scottish train who was defending a woman accused of murder and invited me to the trial.

It was a fascinating case, filled with as much emotion and drama as the play I was touring, but with far higher real life stakes. That experience turned me into a more than occasional visitor to courthouses, witnessing human conflicts that informed the fiction I was writing.

A couple of years ago, my experience of comic books and courthouses combined when I was hired to write a comic book  that's now used in every Canadian University and hundreds of American law schools to teach Aboriginal law.

But none of this prepared me for what the creators of Cartoon Network's "Rick and Morty" were able to come up with from a brief Floyd County, Georgia preliminary hearing

The real court transcript can be found here.

But the animated version will make your day.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 430: How Hollywood Uses You to Sell Movies

This week, a fairly crappy movie entitled "Suicide Squad" opened in North America. The reviews and early word-of-mouth on the $200 Million film hadn't been good.

Now in another time or with another movie, that would've been that. Those who had no interest in the film wouldn't have gone anyway. And those who wanted to see it would've gone anyway, or decided to spend their money on something else realizing a poor box office showing would mean it could be on Netflix before Labor Day.

Instead, we heard a lot about mobs with torches and pitchforks marching on Rotten Tomatoes and other movie review sites. The fanboys had been moved to action and were taking to the barricades to save a beloved comic book franchise while convincing the rest of us we just had to see this picture.

But were they? Or was all that entertainment news and social media activity thunk up by some Hollywood publicist to generate interest in a film that couldn't generate any interest in itself.

Well, it just might be the latter -- and no matter which side of the argument you were on, you were used by corporate Hollywood to make sure nobody at the studio loses their swimming pool or Tesla Model X.

And you need look no further than an earlier Summer flop, the "Ghostbusters" reboot to find proof.

For those not paying attention, Sony recently released a female cast version of the iconic 80's film, investing $144 Million in resetting a beloved tentpole.

But reaction to the film's trailer was decidedly tepid.

And some of those reacting negatively used the film to trash the general idea of women ghostbusters or women in general.

Suddenly, a social media storm arose in which many sprang to the defense of a film they hadn't seen while simultaneously defending feminism or damsels in distress -- concepts which don't exactly share the same ballpark.

Supporting "Ghostbusters" became synonymous with being a strong independent woman or an intelligent and progressive man.

But what if that was all a ruse?

What if the whole debate had been a marketing tool to get people to go see a film that everybody at the studio knew was kinda crappy?

Would you feel used?

Well, you should.

Because you were.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 429: The Shining Star of Losers

I was watching the Democratic National Convention this week as Bernie Sanders made an eloquent speech, stoically acknowledging that his run for the presidency had come to an end. TV Cameras panned the tear-stained and disconsolate faces of his followers, none of them accepting the reality that he had lost.

While it's well known that everybody loves a winner and I wasn't personally a fan of Senator Sanders, I couldn't help being moved and I started wondering -- why do we all have such a soft spot for losers?

Being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you'd think that I'd've figured this out by now. 

But I think it comes down to the fact that we've all experienced losing. We've all failed to achieve something that mattered to us. And we all know how much that hurt.

And no matter how much we disliked, maybe even hated, the person we see being defeated -- a part of us shares their pain, maybe even appreciates how hard they struggled or how they hung onto their ideals in the process.

And part of it too is the fact that they tried. 

No matter how often they were knocked down, no matter the odds, they kept trying.

There's something especially admirable in that.

And maybe no better example than a Japanese race horse named Haru Urara, a horse with a pink "Hello Kitty" mask, an unbroken record of losing and a nation of millions cheering him on.  

Everybody may love a winner. But I think we identify more with the losers.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere from The All-Nighter Room on Vimeo.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday #428: Spooks-A-Poppin'

All the kids (and a lot of the adults) in my neighborhood are playing "Pokemon Go" hunting enhanced reality creatures near the local parks and soccer field. It's a fun evolution of video games that's taken most of the country by storm.

And the possibilities this offers for those of us in show business are endless. 

I heard a local DJ map out a version of the game that could be marketed alongside "Ghostbusters". First you'd see the movie and then you'd head outside to hunt for ghosts. When you found one, you'd turn on your mobile phone's "Proton stream" to capture it. But you'd need a couple of other people to launch their proton streams as well (being careful not to cross them) and then somebody else to open up their cell phone "trap". 

Entertainment. Enhanced movie. Community. All combined to create a fun, feel good adventure.

Like a lot of things in show business -- Pokemon Go is copying what's gone before while revealing a wildly profitable future.

Back in my day, we only had movies. But once in a while, somebody like Producer William Castle would come along to sell something like "13 Ghosts" -- where you were handed a special viewer as you entered the theatre which would allow you to see the ghosts in the movie. Ghosts invisible unless you used Castle's special device.

Castle would later go on to make films like "The Tingler" in which seats in the theatre were wired to shock audience members into believing they were being attacked by the titular character.

But these highly successful marketing schemes were really just an enhancement of something that had been going on in movie houses since the 1930's -- "The Spook Show".

I went to my first Spook Show when I was about 12. A local movie house was screening a couple of classic Frankenstein films on Halloween. But there was more to the show than that. 

There was a magician doing spooky illusions, Dracula and the Mummy wandering the aisles looking for victims, and best of all -- between the two movies -- a woman in a cage who transformed into a Gorilla before our shocked eyes -- said Ape then breaking from the cage to chase us all into the lobby to buy more popcorn.

This was a sideshow attraction accomplished with lighting and skrims that's still around today and still sends shocked rubes scrambling for the safety of the midway at its climax.

Over the last while, I've blogged about 3D and VR and other ways films are marketed. And while you might be able to come up with an enhanced reality app for your own film, perhaps the way things are going is actually back where they've been before -- offering audiences something more than just going to the local multiplex to see a film.

Maybe your rom-com should be introduced by a set from a local stand-up comic. Perhaps your audience could have their own laser blasters to fire at the invading aliens in your sci-fi, CGI epic.

And what would be the harm of augmenting your horror film with a live spook show.

It might ensure that you get a longer theatrical run (and more publicity) before you disappear into the Netflix back catalog.

If you want to see the future, it never hurts to glance back into the past.

Enjoy Your Sunday.