Sunday, December 31, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 503: Fake News

According to several media reports, "Fake News" is the most hated phrase of 2017. Mostly, I would presume, by members of the media.

I'm not exactly sure when I started ingesting news reports with a grain of salt. But it might've been near the start of my acting career, when a play I was in garnered a less than glowing review from a prestigious newspaper. I asked the show's director if there might be some truth in what the critic had written.

His response was along the lines of -- "Kid, I don't believe what they put on the front page. Why should I take anything in the entertainment section seriously?".

It might've been the first time I considered that journalists might not be telling me the truth.

And after decades of seeing films and TV shows I was involved in depicted as something they weren't, misquoted, flat out lied about and spun to favor competition that bought more ad space, I can tell you that in my experience news is often fake.

What's more, if you spend any time in the company of journalists and get enough drinks into them, many will freely admit to tales they've completely made up. Sometimes they're those speculative headlined pieces based on suspicion rather than fact and intended to do little more than pull in a few more readers or viewers.

Sometimes, they're floating fictional balloons to try to get somebody upset enough to confirm or deny whatever they can't nail down on their own.

And sometimes, like everyone of us, they simply misinterpret what they've seen with their own eyes.

Any cop will tell you how unreliable eye-witnesses can be. People witnessing the same bank robbery will claim there were anywhere from one to five robbers, dressed in suits or camo gear, armed or unarmed and from a variety of races.

It's apparently just the way the human brain works. In stressful situations, we not only take in what our senses are telling us, but are simultaneously spinning through some internal card file of possible options, outcomes and explanations while constructing a story of what happened should we be required to explain it to someone.

In other words, pretty much every anecdote in our personal story file is, from its inception, a turd we're already polishing to make it more dramatic or funnier or show ourselves in a different light.

To be clear, everything we see or read has already been coated with a small patina of "fake".

How else do you explain the inhabitants of Canadian filmmaker Jay Cheel's documentary "Twisted", which explores events that either did or did not take place at the St Catherine's Can-View Drive-In in 1996?

Some of what follows is fake -- but what?

Enjoy Your Sunday...

TWISTED from Jay Cheel on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 502: Out For Delivery

When I was a kid, everything Christmas was delivered to your door. We lived in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan, far from stores and those city sidewalks where silver bells rang on every corner and shoppers rushed home clutching their packages.

A couple of months before the big day, the Sears and Eaton's Christmas catalogues arrived and everybody took turns leafing through the super-colorful pages and circling what they wanted in the hope that Santa or somebody else in the family would take notice and order it for you.

My dad worked as a station agent for the CPR back then and as Christmas got closer the freight shed was stacked higher and higher with cardboard cartons containing somebody's Christmas. Make that everybody in town's Christmas.

Bulky grey canvas bags stamped "Royal Mail Canada" piled up there as well, along with whatever boxes rolled in on the Greyhound or Saskatchewan Transport bus.

But those packages contained more than just Christmas presents. There were frail wooden crates of Mandarin oranges direct from Japan, heavy as a brick fruit cakes and burlap wrapped wheels of cheese, not to mention metal barrels of beer and wooden boxes ringed with steel strapping that held wine and other spirits.

One Christmas, a St. Bernard puppy arrived on the baggage car and stayed with us for a few days until the road to his new farm home could be plowed after a blizzard.

But we weren't completely backwoods and pioneer-timey. We had television and saw all the big Christmas specials with Bob Hope or Perry Como as well as the Christmas parades from far flung metropolises.

There were Christmas movies too. Not a lot. But you could count on "It's a Wonderful Life" and Alistair Sim's Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" making at least one appearance.

We're back to Christmas arriving in packages nowadays. Some days, I've seen as many as six trucks parked on my street as drivers in brown or blue or whatever they slept in last night hustle parcels to doorsteps.

My own place was so busy one morning, the dog gave up the "Danger, Intruder!" bark-fest intended to strike fear into couriers and just pretended she didn't hear the doorbell.

We've got Christmas movies up the ying-yang too. Sometimes 4 or 5 a night. Most of them feature stars you've never heard of or thought were long dead basically beating you over the head with the sentiments of the season while doing their best to get you reaching for a Kleenex.

In the end, the overwrought repetitiveness tends to numb viewers (or me at least) to the true message of Christmas.

Much of that has been remedied by filmmaker Ethan Milner, who turned his gaze to the return of the delivered Christmas and crafted a terrific short film entitled "Out for Delivery".

Please take a half hour break from the holiday as its envisioned by Hallmark and Lifetime to watch a terrific little movie that shows what the day is really about.

Merry Christmas from The Legion.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...

Out For Delivery | Short Film from Shades Mountain Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 501: Earth Vs The Flying Saucers

When I was about 7 or 8 I went to see a movie that marked me for -- if not Life, the balance of my childhood. It was called "Earth Vs The Flying Saucers" and if you've ever stayed up past midnight, I'm sure you've seen it.

It's trashy and stupid and wholly representative of what passed for movie science fiction in the 1950's.

Six or seven years later, middle of Summer in Saskatchewan, I was flopped on my parents couch watching it again, wondering what exactly had freaked me out. And then something totally freaky in the real world happened...

An RCAF jet came screaming over our suburban house rocketing for downtown. A minute later, another one almost tore the shingles off our roof as it tore after it.

I ran outside to see what was going on to find a couple of my friends looking pale and shaky and asking, "Did you see it?"

They didn't mean the jets. They were talking about what the jets were chasing -- a UFO which had apparently streaked across the prairie skies a couple of minutes earlier. Somewhere in the North end of the city, the air raid sirens that had been stuck up around town around the time of Cuban Missile Crisis went off.

This frozen shiver went through me. And then the siren cut out. False alarm.

But my friends had seen something. A lot of people had. Including the pilots of those jets. But by next morning there was nothing on the radio beyond an apology from the nearby air force base over a "low flying training exercise".

I've always wanted to believe in UFOs. But more often than not their sightings get blamed on swamp gas, weather balloons and too much Tequila.

But the stories continue and with the arrival of YouTube, entire channels of UFO footage have become available. Sometimes the witnesses are airline pilots or people who seem eminently grounded and respectable. Most often, however, they look like the guys you see getting arrested on "Cops" and the spaceships bear an uncanny resemblance to Christmas lights and pie plates.

Then yesterday, the New York Times published a story about a couple of Navy pilots who'd encountered "something unexplainable" off the coast of San Diego in 2004. It's one the Pentagon itself has been investigating for the last 13 years and has finally decided to make public.

Now, I don't know if this is the final step in preparing us for the official verification that aliens have arrived or just another unexplained mystery. What I know for sure is the video of the event is a lot more plausible than anything else I've seen so far.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, December 11, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 500: Curiosity Stream

In 1961, Newton Minow, President John F. Kennedy's Chair of the American Federal Communications Commission (the much feared and vaunted FCC) had this to say about one of the major industries he regulated...

"When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland".

The vast wasteland he described is often looked upon now as one of the early "Golden Ages" of television. Many of the shows of that time still run on channels such as MeTV, sell as DVD packages or remain available worldwide on their own YouTube channels.

What's more, the formats and genres they popularized are the same ones we use today -- in another "Golden Age of Television" -- and are found in much of the material produced solely to be streamed instead of viewed on a traditional television.

Newton Minow practically begged the TV industry to produce intelligent, thought-provoking programming. His entreaty did not fall on deaf ears -- screenwriter Sherwood Schwartz immortalized him when he dubbed the boat on his pilot for "Gilligan's Island" the S.S. Minnow.

And those searching for intelligent programming are still giving up on finding it on television. When I went to university none of my professors even owned a television set and the same is true for the handful of them I know today.

But now you don't need to own a television to find intellectually challenging fare. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime offer a lot of great documentary programming. And now there's a streaming entity offering nothing but that kind of content for $3 a month.

Curiosity Stream offers hundreds of hours of high-end documentary content on all sorts of subjects and in all manner of disciplines. It's available on any device on which you want to consume it -- phones, tablets, laptops, desktops or even your television if its connected to a Roku or Apple TV box.

It's one more example of the kind of challenges being faced by specialty TV channels, the industry version of the brick-and-mortar retailer. Why pay three or four times those $3 for a documentary or educational channel packaged with some other channels you have no interest in?

Curiosity Stream may or may not be of interest to you. But it's certainly worth sampling for free for seven days while you decide. You can check the service out here. What follows is a sample of what you'll find.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, December 03, 2017


I've always found those pictures people take this time of year of their pets with Santa Claus were somewhat cute but mostly stupid. I mean, any picture of an animal being coddled or cuddled is heart-warming. But they don't know Santa anymore than what Christmas is. The whole process is forced and fake. And it gives people the impression you oughta have better things to do with your free time.

But this week I got a nice note from my local pet store offering me the chance to support them as well as raise money for a group who trains compassion dogs to assist people with medical issues -- and you end up with a picture of your pet with Santa Claus. One of those win-win all round deals.

And in my case I've also got a pooch who refuses to have her picture taken, so I've hardly got any photographs of her. That's because whenever a camera points in her direction, she immediately shies away, like a canine version of those ancient tribes who believed capturing their image was a way for the photographer to steal their soul.

Nobody's been able to explain why she does this. My own theory is that -- back in the kennel, puppies had their pictures taken all the time -- and disappeared to their new home soon after. So if she wants to maintain the cushy, treat-laden and daily dog park visiting life she has, best not to let anybody have a picture of how cute you are.

Of course I should've listened to my gut because nothing went well. The room was packed with dogs all far more fun than sitting quietly for Santa. And when she wasn't ducking and weaving to avoid the camera, she was trying to escape Santa's many helpers as they offered squeaky toys and snackables to draw her attention where it was required.

It'll be a couple of days before I see the finished product, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Although the experience got me wondering about what draws people to this line of work. And that drew me to a video by Mike Plante about the time his family thought they'd get rich by taking "The Polaroid Job".

Enjoy Your Sunday...

The Polaroid Job from The New York Times - Video on Vimeo.