Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 515: The Wild Canadian Year

Canadian film-makers are forever trying to think up new ways to show Canada to the world. An interesting phenomena since most of the world and even a majority of Canadians haven't seen it in the first place.

We have huge expanses where nobody lives or that only see a human presence on very rare occasions. Many of these are locales of such stunning beauty and grandeur you'd think they'd draw crowds larger than those that flock to the Great Pyramids and Taj Mahal.

But the blessing in our disinterest in these places is that they teem with wildlife.

In honor of our just completed 150th birthday, a celebration that saw such things as a giant rubber duck being towed to various urban locations, the Documentary division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation dispatched more than a dozen camera crews under the supervision of film-maker Jeff Turner to spend more than 800 camera days recording what goes on in these remote places.

The shoots took place during all four seasons, producing a remarkable five part series entitled "The Wild Canadian Year".

If you haven't seen it, or just want to have your breath taken away once more, the entire series can now be found either on its own YouTube Channel or here.

In addition to episodes for each of the seasons, there's a great final hour documenting how the whole thing got made.

But Turner and his crews weren't happy just documenting what they saw. They wanted to find yet another way to show Canada to the world. And they did that by including 360 degree cameras in their arsenal.

These astounding scenes not only take you into the Canadian wilderness, they make you feel like you've been abandoned there. For no matter where you look as you swing from horizon to horizon, there is nothing to suggest any other human being is within miles of you.

This is amazing footage worth visiting whenever you feel the walls of your apartment or the banality of an urban landscape closing in on you.

It just might just be the best thing we did to mark our 150th year and watching it will go a long way to helping you...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 514: A Stand Up Guy

A few months ago, a friend of mine decided he wanted to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

Now, this is a bright, talented, intelligent guy with a Masters in Languages and a very successful career in another branch of the show business. Maybe it was some kind of bucket-list, mid-life crisis thing. I don't know. But he wanted me to accompany him to a local open mike night and critique his work -- so I did.

And as a result, I ended up meeting a bunch of young comics just starting out and was reminded of the comedy scene in Toronto when it was just a gleam in Mark Breslin's eye and whoever conceived the Just For Laughs festival still hadn't put that first bottle of seltzer down somebody's pants.

On one level, those who do stand-up comedy are no different from those who choose to become actors, singers, writers or directors. There are some who are hugely talented but adrift. Some with little talent but lots of drive. All trying as best they can to find their voice and a way to entertain an audience.

But on another level, stand up comics are very, very different. I've always looked on them as the professional wrestlers of legitimate show business. The kind of people instilled with a clarity of purpose that would give a Jesuit pause and the courage to go out night after night to get a steel chair in the face.

There is simply no one braver than a stand up comic. As the saying so aptly goes -- "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard". And stand ups face their own agonizing version of death every time they step onto a stage.

Through little more than dumb luck, I saw some of the best comedians ever to come out of Canada take their first baby steps. Jim Carrey. Mike Myers. Ron James. Brent Butt. Howie Mandel. And the list goes on.

But perhaps the bravest of them all was Mike MacDonald.

Mike stared down depression and a bi-polar condition long before he ever stood in front of an audience. And he continued to fight those demons as he built an astonishing list of classic routines that were funny as hell.

Later he battled Hepatitis C and performed the super-human feat of rebooting his career following a liver transplant, going back on the road while struggling nightly to remember the intricate, nuanced jokes that had once rendered audiences helpless with laughter.

Much of that is covered in a Marc Maron WTF podcast from last Summer and well worth a listen here. Mike's portion begins about 40 minutes in.

Mike died last night back home in Ottawa, leaving fellow comedians stunned. To many of them, Mike was a giant, both as a talent to emulate, a mentor and a friend.

And those, like me, who saw him perform remain awed by the ability he had to make us laugh.

Whether you had that good fortune or not, Mike left a raft of great routines, TV specials and more to keep us laughing for a long time to come.

Here's a taste.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 513 Tattad Tattad

All week long I've struggled with what I wanted to write this week. The winning of an Oscar by an old pal and creative partner had me leaning in that direction.

Tonight's pending Canadian Screen awards seemed worthy of mention.

And in the midst of it all was International Women's Day and there are few guys who love women as much as I do. Heck, half my career was founded on cleavage.

Therefore -- lots of things worth celebrating in the best sense of that word.

But then I noticed a trend that I've been aware of for pretty much all of my life in Canada. We have trouble truly celebrating significant moments here -- with real Joy.

I don't mean that we don't know how to party or share a lot of laughs, because we're spectacular at that. But somehow, when it comes to really embracing the inspiring moments, we tend to go in a different direction.

The very day J. Miles Dale and his talented gang of Canadian creatives snagged the Best Picture Oscar for their beautifully made and spiritually uplifting film "The Shape of Water", the CBC was working hard to tarnish the achievement by insisting the film didn't really understand the disabled.

Meanwhile, virtually every nominee in the feature category of the Canadian Screen Awards can be described as dour, depressing or at best -- heartbreaking. Nothing that encourages people to line up at the box-office and lay down some hard earned cash for an evening's entertainment.

Meanwhile, International Women's Day was marked by Canadian film execs eulogizing the career of Telefilm Exec Carolle Brabant for revolutionizing how Canadian film success is measured -- meaning she stopped equating it with entertaining audiences or earning money.

In other words, they were appreciative of her adding additional years to their inability to actually reach an audience.

Now, trust me, I know that financial success isn't everything in the world of film and that celebrity is shallow and fleeting. But to quote writer Mickey Spillane -- "I have no fans. You know what I got, Customers".

Customers are what "The Shape of Water" will have for generations. Few, if any, of whom will ever catch one of tonight's Canadian Screen Awards nominees unless they're afflicted with insomnia and watching TMN at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Other nations celebrate the joy their cinema inspires in its people. Those sappy montages from the Oscars are one example. For another, search Youtube for clips from the Bollywood Film Fare awards which fill stadium sized arenas with rabid movie lovers.

Therefore, I offer the following lesson in learning how to find the joy in making films your country can embrace. It's a musical number from the Bollywood hit "Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-leela" basically "Romeo and Juliet" in Hindi.

It also allows women still celebrating International Women's Day the opportunity to shake their booties and objectify a guy for a change.

And if any of this upsets you -- I was probably influenced by a rogue element of the Indian government.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 512: The Dog Photographer

I've written before that I own a dog who hates to have her picture taken. I don't know why. Every other dog I've spent time with just kinda sees a camera and assumes an "aren't-I-cute" pose.

My theory is that she was once part of a litter of puppies much sought after because her mom and dad were both champions. People came and took pictures and one by one all her brothers and sisters disappeared. Ergo -- Camera = Vanishing without a trace.

Now and then, somebody at the dog park catches a great shot of her. Usually when she's too exhausted from playing with her pals to notice her picture is being taken.

But even with dogs who love to be in the spotlight, it's hard to capture an image that resonates with the true character of the animal. Some gifted photographers manage to do it now and then. But only one has done it continuously for decades.

William Wegman.

For more than 45 years and using barely more than his own pet companions, Wegman has managed to corner the collective imagination when it comes to depicting the relationship/similarity between dogs and those who love them.

There is simply no one better.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Being Human With the Dog Photographer from Great Big Story on Vimeo.