Saturday, December 29, 2007

Voice of Kevin



I’ve been a Kevin Smith fan since “Dogma” erupted on the screens and created such a controversy ( I still say it’s quite stupid to denounce a film you haven’t seen…), and remained just as appreciative of his work even for the much maligned “Jersey Girl”. Not that I refused to see the light, but because I genuinely liked the film. I like it even more since so-called hardcore fans of Mr. Smith seem to be in increasing denial of the film’s very existence; the man himself appears to mourn it, instead of celebrating the tremendous pleasure he experienced in making the film (“Blowjobs all around” was the expression he once used, if memory serves).

Released in 2004, “Jersey Girl” centered on a Ben Affleck-played entertainment hot shot that goes back to Nowhereville USA, after the loss of his wife while giving birth lead him to a very public meltdown. It was nowhere as bare-bones as “Clerks”, or as teen-oriented as most of Kev's other offerings, which is one of the reasons it was lambasted by critics and ignored at the Box-Office. The more I see how everyone treats this cute little dramatic comedy, the more it reminds me of the painting “Voice of Fire”.

American artist Barnett Newman, caught in the cultural shift created by Jackson Pollock, the Beatles and Stanley Kubrick at the turn of the 60’s, produced in 1966 a very infamous painting, which consists of a unified blue canvas with a large red stripe running down the middle. And that’s it; no psychedelic stroke of brush or special “effects”. Where things get really weird is Canada’s National Art Gallery buying the thing in 1990, to the tune of 1.8 million of tax payer’s dollars. That wasn’t a typo – 1.8 million fazools! Canadians understandably reacted badly to the acquisition, prompting a still strong debate on what constitutes art, and why should the people have to pay such hefty sums for it. One provincial Prime Minister at the time declared that had he known the federal government was so gullible, he would’ve painted a red stripe on his barn and collected the money. The Gallery’s director retorted that unfortunately for him, Barnett Newman thought of it first.

Of course “Jersey Girl” isn’t “Citizen Kane”, and nobody should’ve expected Kevin Smith to become Orson Welles (although he has in some ways, and I’m not talking about his girth).What he did was leaving the “anal” side of his work behind, and trying to mature. “Jersey Girl” is a love letter to his own wife and child, which also gives audiences a few pounds of solid gold; George Carlin as a sarcastic-yet-warm grandfather, Mike Starr and Stephen Root sharing hilarious chemistry, J-Lo dying only five minutes into the movie, Ben Affleck back where we like him and Lips Tyler (err, Liv..Sorry) in a shower scene. But above all, it was a cute little dramatic comedy. Sit back and enjoy, or at least have the decency to respect the maturing of an author.

The one big argument naysayers will dish out to my point is that the price tag of $25M was way too high for a simply cute film from an author of which we expected other things. Shouldn’t we all put our little filmed love letters on YouTube and collect that money, will they say. And to that, I can only retort one thing – unfortunately for them, Kevin Smith thought of it first.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: You Kill Me


2007 Dark Comedy
STARRING Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Phillip Baker Hall, Dennis Farina
WRITTEN BYChristopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
DIRECTED BY John Dahl

A weird experience is it to watch "You Kill Me". No flashy star, no provocative visuals of blood or anything remotely disgusting, no torrid erotic scene, and no true "action". Yet it is one of the more enjoyable and entertaining films I've seen this year.

The dark comedy follows hitman Frank Falencsyk (Sir Ben Kingsley), an enforcer for a low-level mob gang in Buffalo (Yes, Buffallo...I didn't know they had mobsters there either...). When Frank sleeps through a crucial hit because of his bad drinking habit, he has no choice but to go away for a while, and join the AA, ultimately finding himself on a strange journey to redemption.

The comedy of the film doesn't so much provoke belly laughs as it does a certain awe at the clever writing and unusual acting. A drunk hitman attending AA meetings could easily make a film tilt into either tasteless farce or just plain creepy fare. But casting makes the film work on a very special level, one where you actually hope Frank will achieve his goal of sobriety in order to go back to killing people. A level where you're a drawn to the hero's journey for not knowing where he'll actually end up. It takes quite an actor to pull that one off. As for the love interest, never does the straight-faced Tea Leoni display the usual damsel-in-distress syndrome that so many other actresses would have, but instead acts like a genuine and natural new girlfriend, one who takes interest in her man's job and talents. Kudos as well to Luke Wilson, who brings his usual but lovable nice-guy-next-door charisma, and Bill Pullman in a surprisingly nuanced turn for a part normally reserved to character actors such as Christopher Lloyd.

The short running-time is quite perfect to avoid a boring and over-drawn movie, but it still feels like some of the situations and supporting characters could've benefitted a little bit more development. As if the writers were focusding and moving the script along, sacrificing a little research and depth along the way. Still, Sir Ben makes you forget about all that with his incredible reactions to some priceless moments.

You Kill Me is far from the kind of entertainment mass audiences are usually looking for, but it's still surprisingly accessible for such a storyline and characters. It ultimately feels like a David Mammet movie written by Aaron Sorkin, with a more amateurish take. A romantic comedy for GUYS, if you will...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TV REVIEW: Slings and Arrows - Season 2

2005 Television Comedy
Starring: Paul Gross, Mark McKinney, Stephen Ouimet, Martha Burns, Geraint Wyn Davies, Colm Feore

Created & Written by: Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney

When was the last time a TV show left you in complete sweat and out of breath? One of the many strengths of "Sling & Arrows" is it's short run -6 episodes only- which lets the viewer know that the story IS moving quickly to its climax. And the viewer gets all the more involved in it. helped along by a charismatic cast and insane situations.

The season picks up, quite unconventionally, as the end of the previous one's storyline, where the cast is bidding farewell to its nerve-racking Hamlet. Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) hasn't even stepped out of the theater that he is challenged - 3 times in a few minutes- to face his "black beast" - the cursed "Macbeth". To make things even harder, his former (dead) mentor insists on tagging along, his Prima Donna star turns the cast against him, and only one man is available to direct the festival's other big play- the very misguided Darren Nichols (played to furious hilarity by Don McKellar). If that's not enough, a spot of mismanagement by Richard (Mark McKinney) is quickly bringing the entire festival to an end.

Although much of the core cast remains the same (with a newly famous Rachel McAdams returning to finish her character arc), new additions are brought in to even greater cast perfection. The usually cheesy Geraint Wyn Davies brings such a spot-on malevolence that the inevitable confrontation with Geoffrey would've made William himself proud. Not to mention the criminally underrated Colm Feore (who is, let's be franc, piss-out funny!) and the welcome appearance of Gilbert Blythe himself, Jonathan Crombie.

The producers and writers not only remained bold in casting and themes, they made a point of not dragging their feet in first-season acclaim. The story quickly picks up and moves along in any and every direction, to such a pace that by the fourth episode, one feels taken by Prospero's tempest, looking for a foothold and some breathing space. For it achieved in 6 hours what American networks wouldn't have in 24. So little time, and so many memorable moments and lines that a second viewing will be most welcome - after a bit of rest...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Forced Evolution

Imagine you're back in 1946. The world is emerging from a big twisted mess, and Radio is the only source of constant entertainment around to divert yourself. But no - Radio writers, the people who write your favorite radio soaps, plays and shows in general, are going on strike. You're not financially savvy enough to know why, you just want some entertainment at the end of a long day. Whaddayoudo? Your turn to that new thing, the tube thing. And it's so much fun, you won't even come back to radio when they settle their petty little dispute.

Growing up in the early 80's, outside of town, there wasn't much to do. Go outside and mow the lawn, or watch TV. Shows would offer you original episodes for a few weeks, than go into last season's reruns for 10 or 12 weeks, and then come back to finish off the current one. We didn't mind, there was nothing else. Nintendo was even started yet, much less the Internet.

Cut to 2007. Networks have a new trick up their sleeves - Reality Shows and Hiatus. Your favorite show will run for 6 weeks, then go on hiatus for 12 while being replaced by a bunch of jerk-offs stuck in a house together for everyone to witness their every bitching session. And those shows cost next to nothing to produce. The result is people loosing interest in their favorite show, thus losing interest in television. Why invest yourself in Hiro Nakamura's quest for Surperhumanship for a few episodes every 3 months when you can "Facebook" the night away while downloading your favorite episodes of the hit Japanese cartoon you can't watch on TV? And when you're done with that, there's monsters to wreak havoc on in your newest video game, complete with iPod to listen to at the same time - to provide your very own homemade soundtrack. And hey, have you heard of that new thing they just got out on the market - "books"? That Potter kid really made those popular in a flash!

In their unrelenting efforts to capitalize every penny, American TV networks haven't yet noticed they've already killed the very medium they're trying so adamantly to milk out. What wisdom is there in letting a strike bring the final blow? I'm no economist, but I feel giving them an increase percentage on Internet streaming and DVD rights would probably be nothing compared to seeing Reality programming on every network all the time. Unless it's late at night - infomercials own that slot...

Imagine if some Norman Borlog had been quick enough in 1946 to come up with a scheme to have Radios provide the sound for TV shows. Turn your radio into a whole new experience - combine it to the new medium called television. Instead of letting said novelty evolve by itself and take the whole market away.

The new millennium has let the door wide open for television networks to incorporate the new technologies and mediums, and keep running the table well into the next generation of entertainment. But instead, they let the gaming and mobile industry slowly fuse with the Internet, making the "Boob Tube" more and more obsolete, and quite frankly boring. And that goes for the Motion Picture industry as well - it's not the crappy $150M borefest of a repetitive surperhero movie that caused the deepening of the Box Office slump - it's all "Halo 3"s fault. Well, if it is, maybe someone should take a cue from it...
At the end of the day, the Strike of Doom might be responsible for reverting an entire genreation back to arts & crafts and spending quality time with friends and family. Might not be a bad thing after all...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

TV REVIEW: Slings & Arrows - Season 1

2003 Television Comedy
Starring: Paul Gross, Mark McKinney, Stephen Ouimet, Martha Burns, Rachel McAdams, Luke Kirby
Created & Written by: Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney



The huge, main and irrefutable difference between American sitcoms and British comedy is that the "Brits" limit one aspect of it, in order to blow the roof on others. It usually plays only for 6 to 12 episodes a "series" but defies conventions, blows its nose at profitability, and exudes complete ingenuity of content.

Canadian television often tries to imitate completely one of the two. Slings & Arrows manages the unthinkable feat of bridging the gap. 6 episodes, an unusual "mélange" of laugh-out-loud funny and character-driven drama, and it's just a whole guilty-pleasure load of commercial fun.

Series stars a deliciously exuberant Paul Gross as a washed out stage actor, forced to take over the Shakespearean company of his recently deceased former mentor. His task: mount a festival-closing Hamlet, in less the 5 weeks, with an action-movie star as his lead, no budget, and against corporate hands trying to turn the whole thing into a theme park. Oh! and he just recovered from a much-publicized mental breakdown.
Trying to 'explain' Hamlet is already no small task, but the series succeeds with brilliance in not only exploring the makes of it behind the curtain, complete with jabs at corporate America and stings at Hollywood, but in incorporating the bard's numerous themes and characters into its very fabric. Gross' colorful Geoffrey embodies the Danish Prince, a man in the edge of insanity, stuck with visions of his annoyingly dead father figure. The company's sponsor, and American tough broad, reeks of Lady Mcbeth's evil trickery -and dialogues ("Are you a man" she asks her accomplice and honorable man of a Brutus). The mentor hismelf, before becoming an all-Canadian haunting to his pupil's Hamlet, starts out as King Lear, driven to madness by his "children". And the central play's couple, half of it played by a pre-fame and spot-on Rachel McAdams, brings the Romeo & Juliet theme to sweeter yet compelling levels. The rest of the cast and support players compose many microcosms of unforgettably well written moments of dialogue, courtesy of "Kids in the Hall" graduate Mark McKinney, himself part of the cast.
When all is said and done, "Slings & Arrows" will rival in Television history with high-level gems the likes of "Blackadder" and "Fawlty Towers", all the while remaining truly Canadian in essence, and completely accessible to anyone out for a good time in front of the tube.

DVD REVIEW: Long Way Round

2005 Documentrary
Starring : Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman
Directed by: David Alexanian, Russ Malkin

I was intrigued from the start at Ewan McGregor, major and rightly so movie star, for wanting to undertake something so unglamorous as a round the world trip in bike. And being a big fan of the man, I made a point of checking out the ensuing DVD, expecting a bit of a bore still.


The first two episodes, which concern only the preparations and not the trip himself, left me physically and emotionally drained. The two adventurers, McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman (son of renowned director John Boorman) are human and devoid of hypocrisy or flashiness that it leaves you with nothing but their pure passion and investment in their quest. Such that from the get go I was swept along, and felt quite heavy-hearted when it was all over.

The basic premise of this series is that, as mentioned, McGregor and Boorman make a round-the-world trip on "motorbikes", from London to Russia, then with a quick plane fare pick up in Alaska all the way to New York. A third motorist accompanies them with a camera (a poor lad who confronts the same hardship as the two "heroes"), while a support crew follows in trucks on easier roads. What comes of it is anything but a Bike trip. It is a journey to the end of a man's expectation and understanding of himself and his planet. The things they see, people they meet and obstacles they overcome makes the viewer rediscover life with ever maturing eyes.

The visual quality itself is nothing short of an accomplishment, given the difficulty level of filming from a motorcycle in terrains that would bring any grown man crying on their knees. Breathtaking imagery and editing are equalled only by the most engaging and exciting soundtrack I have ever heard attached to a simple documentary.

Highly recommended to absolutely everyone. It plays not only as a documentary, but as a dramatic comedy as well as reality show. Quick tip for enjoyment - resist the urge to watch it all at once. It really IS draining. And for those who fall for it as much as I did, a second series has just started airing in the UK, called "Long Way Down", about this time a trip to South Africa.

5* out of 5

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where were you?

Where were you when the bombs happened? In Jericho’s (my current favorite TV show) universe, 15 years from now, that will be the ultimate –and only- Where Were You question, one to overshadow 9/11 or Princess Diana’s death or Britney Spears’ VMA performance.

In the real world, that one catalyst event is or course 9/11. At least here in North America. So come every September 11th, I always run into a bunch of people asking me that question – where was I? What was I doing right before I heard about it? It IS a horrible and unforgettable event, but in all honesty, I hardly remember what I was doing. It always takes me a good long minute to recollect I was nursing a spectacular hangover, and I was just lying on my couch, trying to find a channel that didn’t broadcast smoking towers. If memory serves, it took me about 10 channels to realize something big had happened.

Again, it IS a horrible event that I always regard with sadness and seriousness. But it didn’t happen with all the confluence of the place, smells, lighting, mood and everything else that just wraps up around the event to make it into a time-frozen image in my mind. I’ve only ever had three of those moments, in my entire life (one of which ain't any of your business, a'ight???).

The first one happened in early 1990. Bear in mind that it was before the Internet, or Eminem, or American Idol. The SNES was reigning king of game consoles, Indiana Jones was still after the Last Crusade in some theatres, and Nelson Mandela was finally getting out of Prison.
I was visiting one of the Province’s prominent newspapers on a school trip, and I was just like a kid in a candy store! All the things I learned, I could write a whole darn book with (if you’re hooked on the Astrology section, don’t ask me how they do it, you’ll regret it). At one point, we get into a room where some kind of machine (again, before the Internet) would receive pictures taken by news agencies around the world. The tour guide is babbling away, and I’m just subtly looking at the day’s arrival, when the machine starts humming and loudly buzzing at the same time. The teacher snarls at me, my best buddy elbows me, I’m frozen on the image arriving and the guide is smiling – The buzzing indicated something that HAD to go to the editor right away. The picture takes it’s time getting out. It’s long, it’s huge, it’s black & white. There’s a hand, in the air, followed by a face, a huge smile, more hands and faces, and…a big piece of a broken wall.
Right before I became a man, I saw, arriving in Canada, the first picture taken at the fall of the Berlin wall. For kids today, that wall means nothing. For previous generations, it was a watershed moment that signalled anything being possible in the new decade.

I was in a newsroom when the wall was taken down.

The second moment emanated from a personal event. I was just finished with a very gruelling shift at work, and a bunch of colleagues decided to go for a beer (in my case, it was never just A beer). My wife was at home waiting for me, but I was a grown man, and could do whatever the heck I wanted to wind down. So the pals and I are walking the few hundred yards from work to brew when my cell phone rings. My wife had to call me to tell me the news, ‘cause we were always working or sleeping and hardly had time for long conversations. She had to call me to tell me she was pregnant. We’d been trying for almost two years, but nothing was happening so we both just forgot about it. I hadn’t even noticed the recent morning sickness or the increasing amount of food she ingested. My wife had to call me to break the news. I turned around, stopped at the flower shop, and made for home as fast as I could (I didn’t know that up to the third quarter you could still…oh never mind).

I was on my way to grab a beer when I learned I’d be a dad. I didn’t grab it, not then, nor after, never. I stopped drinking completely for the sake of my wife and kids. Where were YOU when something affected you enough to change your entire life around?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Away From Her

2007 Drama
Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson, Alberta Watson, Thomas Hauff, Katie Boland, Deanna Dezmari, Nina Dobrev, Grace Lynn Kung, Melanie Merkosky
Written by: Sarah Polley, based on the short story The bear came down the mountain by Alice Munro
Directed by: Sarah Polley

Most movies who deal with a striking illness such as Alzeihmer's usually do so by focusing on the disease and overly dramatic consequences for the patient. First-time director Sarah Polley chose to underplay the ailment in her movie Away From Her, by focusing on a journey undertaken by two lovers at the end of a 45 year marriage.
The story concerns Canadians Grant and Fiona, living in rural Ontario. Grant used to be a teacher, whose indiscretions were forgiven by his wife providing they move away and start a new life. But reaching an advanced age, Fiona starts loosing her memory, to the point where she can barely venture out of their house without forgetting where she lives, and so Grant reluctantly agrees to let her live in a specialized center. Fiona knows the only way to live out her remaining years in peace is to let go of her memories, while Grant slowly realises he must not only let go, he must mourn as well.

Polley, a former child-star whose own journey in life and art allowed for a vast array of experiences, displays bravery in her debut by casting almost exclusively elderly actors (one of them unknown outside Canada), and tackles the subject with uncensored honesty. Grant can't understand why even an illness could make his wife forget 45 years of matrimony, and expresses so. The exploration of the man's own condition and soul bring the narrative into the unease of such a man's true loneliness, and the extent to which he is willing to go to let his wife be happy.
Casting, which so often makes or breaks such a storyline, is again as brave as any, and rightfully so. After viewing, one can hardly imagine anyone but the glassy eyed Gordon Pinsent to BE Grant, in a sober and gut-wrenching turn. His own work is matched with gusto by a glamour-less Olympia Dukakis, who brilliantly conveys that her character's own deadlock can only be solved by joining Grant out of his. And the still stunning Julie Christie shines as bright as ever, even though it brings a certain disapointment when flashback scenes use alternate actors on artificially vintaged film, instead of keeping the film's realism with genuine archive footage.
Some of the photography does point out the director's relative inexperience behind the camera, which is more than made up for by the intuitive pace, mood and uncommun sincerity of the film. Ms Polley may just be learning how to shoot a story, she definitely mastered how to tell one, as witnessed by the intruiguin back-n-forth narrative drive AND by a somber and minimized score that maintains the level of emotion from start to finish. Such that one hopes the young lady will stay behind cameras a little longer, if only to challenge other filmmakers to be as bold and uncompromising.
****1/2 / *****

I'm a Frog, You're a Frog, Kiss me

I always like when I read or hear someone referring to us French Canadians as Frogs. Not that I encourage it. But it always seems to be THE most offensive thing anyone can say to us, and thus used only by safely-hidden message-bloggers or radio-show callers. Even Conan O'Brien, who demonized us in almost every possible way when broadcasting from Toronto for a week (I'm surprised he didn't blame us for 9/11) stayed away from the touchy slur. Th funny thing is, nobody outside our borders know what it means, and where it comes from. How can you really be offensive if you don't know what the offense is?

Most people who think they know relate to France's love of frog legs as a delicacy. I can assure you, the only contact I've ever had with the amphibian is the squishy sound they used to make when hiding in the tall grass while I was mowing the lawn.

You have to go back beyond colonial times, in an era (some say hasn't psssed yet) when France and England couldn't stand each other. The sentiment obvisouly traveled to their New World colonies, where their war was valiantly upheld. When a loosing France conceded its America colonies to the King of England, he gave us an incentive - we get to keep our culture, language and laws. The object was to gain our loyalty, which we did give - when the 13 New England colonies revolted and asked our participation, we refused. When they invaded, we turned them back. But that wasn't enough for the English loyalists to tolerate us - we still hated each other. They had the number, and thus the right to bully us.

Now, keeping our culture means our heritage and symbols as well. The most obvious one, if you intend to remember your French ancestry, is the French Royalty emblem, the Fleur de Lys.To a casual observer who knows not of the flower reference, it might very easily look like a frog seen from above. Hence the racial slur, which English colonials took to calling us for a long while.
I for one never shied away from the symbol, nor did the rest of our nation since we made it into our national flag. It doesn't really indicate to us that we look like a green marsh-dwelling amphibian whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Jim Henson's. It means that whoever uses the slur has little to no understanding of European history and culture.
To really offend us, use something that is indeed indegenous to us only, as MIcheal Moore did (in the highly underrated and hilarious gem Canadian Bacon) - pea soup-eaters, Poutine-makers, Bonhomme-worshippers. At least those are slurs both offender and offendee can understand. And truly hate each other over.
For anyone curious of this article's title, it refers to a politicaly-charged humourous song of the 70's by Quebec singer Robert Charlebois.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Can I kick the damn ball?!?!

I always thought the constant nickname of "Charlie Brown" my dad used to give me as a child was because I loved peanuts so much. I realized the true reasons as I grew into adulthood - I AM Charlie Brown. Not in every aspects mind you (although I haven't got much left scalp-wise), but mainly regarding that football joke. You know the one - Lucy constantly tricks Chuck into thinking she'll hold the football for him to kick, and takes it away at the last second, leaving poor baldy flat on his back.

Justin, my son, has started special pre-school, to get a kick-start on his development. He's only four, and autistic, so cutting the chord is pretty rough for a stay-at-home dad. But I figured it would be beneficial for the both of us to let him be carried to school by the special transport offered to us - a middle aged (oversized) lady in her minivan carrying 5 other special-needs children. Which IS beneficial on all counts - the school is pretty far and I work the previous night, and Justin gets to meet other kids like him, so I could use the help. There's the football, ready to be kicked.

The lady pulls up to the house first morning. No child seats. Justin's 4, and wide as a 2 by 4 - seen from the side. If you want a special seat, the lady says, it's your problem. I don't like to argue, and I don't mind. Better use mine since I know where it's been. And it's the law anyway. So I take it out of my car and bring it over. Football. Me. Kicking. Yay.

Too big. What? The seat's too big, she says. Well, it fits in my Hyundai Accent, it'll fit in your big minivan (I strenously overcame an urge to point out SHE fits in the damn van). But alas...as the poor woman installs said seat, she breaks a nail. And so refuses the seat. Let me copy/paste that so you can enjoy reading it again. she breaks a nail. And so refuses the seat. A fat middle-aged lady's manucure is prioritary to my child's life. I lost my big sister in a stupid car crash, I'm not loosing my son that way. Not today. So I'm taking him to school myself. Now THAT is the insult - the woman loses 1/6 of her paycheck.

As I get back home, my wife calls from work. Seems a disproportionate passed-her-prime "driver" called and yelled at her because I won't let my child ride without a child seat. Now, Chuck's getting pissed. Ring-ring, quick call to her boss. No sir, we don't have to put him in a child seat. The law says so, I retort. What puts you above it enough to tell me my son's life isn't worth it. Because, says the former heavy-weight thumb wrestling champ at the other end of the line, we need express confirmation from the school board to do that, and they say the car's seat and belt are quite enough.

You know the one hair that lies on Chuck Brown's head?? It's falling off too.

Ring-a-freaking-ding, quick call to the school board. The transport supervisor can't take my call, and returns calls only within 24 to 48 hours. Mind you, once I called the local Autism Aid society and asked them to call her, she calls right back. What makes you so special, am I asked, to want something the other kids don't have. Steam vegetables don't melt butter that fast. As I prepare to let her know what sound a sardine last hears before dying, she gives it up - the school board is supposed to give seats for parents who ask for it, but I didn't, so it's my problem. Fatty Arr-don't-Buckle never said that, I argue. Well, we'll talk to her. Don't worry. Don't worry??? My son is worth less than a manucure to the woman in charge of his safety, and all I get is Don't Worry?

Flat - FLAT I say - on my back. After 4 years of special expenses, sleeplessness, frustration and let's be honest, loneliness (everybody loves a special child, no one wants to care for him), I really thought I'd catch a break from an organisation who's purpose is to give me one, the school system. I really thought I'd get to kick that damn ball THIS time.

Only three words can rightfully conclude my day. Oh Good Grief.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Drop of The Wop

Quick question - Who killed the Red Baron? (No Red Baron isn't a Hip Hop band nor a brand of Vodka...Looky here if you don't know who he is )

The answer isn't clear or simple, since few (or none at all) who were there are still with us this day, and it all happened too fast and in confusion anyway. There is a much simpler answer to the question Who was RESPONSIBLE for his death. And that, my friends, is Wop May.

I was jumping on my seat like a puppy for a danish slipped under the table when I heard about movieland FINALLY addressing one of my greatest heroes. Of course movieland had to cut my sugar-fuelled jumping short. The man who brought Baron Manfred Von Richtofen to his doom isn't even mentioned in the new biographical movie.

Let me put it in context for you. A Canadian bush pilot of many quasi-legendary accomplishments, Wilfrid Reid May cut his flying teeth when joining England's newly formed RAF during the Great War in 1918. Recruited by and for his school friend Roy Brown's 209th Squadron, May flew on patrol where he was simply to "watch and learn" should a fight erupt. One quickly did on April 21st, as the 209th engaged a group of Fokker Triplanes. Wilfrid did stay outside the skirmish as told, but so did one triplane flown by an equally inexperienced pilot. Oh what the heck, thought May, and went right for his counterpart. Said opponent happened to be the young cousin of Baron Von Richtofen, who after spotting the dogfight applied is usual strategy - waited for Wop to appear in trouble before chasing after him for a quick kill. The Canuck didn't need convincing to tuck tail and run, followed by the Baron and...Roy Brown. So adamant was the German legend to save his cousin's honor that he never saw Brown behind, nor the heavy Australian anti-aircraft crew standing nearby on a too-close-for-comfort ground where is "prey" had led him. Whether or not he did realize the set up, the bullets never gave him time to run. The Red Baron, days before begged by his superiors to retire in full glory, had finally become a casualty.

Credit for the money shot was and still is disputed between Brown and the Aussie crew, while Wop never sought any of it. He relinquished his commission from the RAF a year later, as a decorated Captain, and came back to Canada, where history was waiting for him to be made repeatedly.

I dare you to tell me this isn't major Box-Office material. Yet no Canadian TV series, movie or feature-lenght documentary has even tried to touch this mythical ace. The Baron, however, is once more being given the whole nine yards by his homeland, in a movie due out early next year.

SO when I read that not only is Captain Brown depicted as an evil jerk-off of a killer (played even more insultingly by a Brit, Joseph Fiennes), but Wop wasn't even deemed remotely important, I got into one of my fits that only a fresh batch of Lasagna can calm me down from. WHAT THE HELL DID WE DO TO MERIT THE SILVER SCREEN'S COMPLETE DISRESPECT AGAIN AND AGAIN?

The uncle of a former flame was kidnapped by rebels in a small African republic some years ago, while on a mission of mercy. Of his own account, the faces of his captors became tortured with shame once they realized they hadn't gotten themselves an American as intended, but a Canadian. We are known in many-many parts of the world as a peaceful, generous and respectful nation. So why are we more and more the butt of the jokes in American Sitcoms and movies, and completely discarded in European screen arts?

Because we don't go after credit, or honor, or glory. Because we laugh at a joke, even when at our expense. Because our sensibility isn't keenly tied to our hypocrisy. Because we turn the other cheek too easily. Is all of that reason enough to spit on one of of the greatest bush pilots to ever grace the air of his skills? If he had worn a cookskin cap and died while killing hundreds of Mexicans, would his memory be treated better?

Let me at least forgive the Yanks a bit, with NASA's touching homage - naming a rock on Mars' Endurance Crater after my hero, in 2006.

Got curious? Learn more about Wilfrid Reid "Wop" May HERE

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Hardest Part

Regarding Rescue Me's Season 4 finale

Those who had some experiences on the stage and/or screen (and bona fide actors) will know what I'm talking about. For those who don't, you'll probably look a little closer next time you go to the movies or watch TV.

Many acting school-of-thoughts train thespians to use "Sense Memories" when it's time to convey a particular emotion, any emotion, especially on stage. You get to a point where your character has to have a reaction, and you need to push yourself to react, so you take a deep breath and bring to the forefront of your mind the memory of a really emotional moment in your life, one that will give a reaction proper to what you need to exude. Your character's wife leaves him, you think back when your mom told you that some nice family brought your hamster with them to the countryside.

But what happens when you don't have a point of reference? When don't even know what kind of sense memory can make this look good?

The hardest part of being an actor is death. Of course, everyone knows how they WANT to die, and think they could act it out if needed. But really, what IS dying? What do you see, what do you feel? How do you not make it look cheesy and over the top? And can you know what your talking about, when you've never been through it, and anyone who did can't quite relate it to you?

Edward Albee's Zoo Story was my own and only experience as such, where my character of Jerry culminates his vengeful harassment of a poor stranger with the final insults of forcing the man to kill him. So I was kind of lucky, cause in my view, the only way for him to die was in the darkness of a blood-chilling laughter. But even then, I burned the midnight oil more than once trying to figure out how to pull it off. Lucky as well for being young; I wasn't rehearsing for things soon to come...

I hate Charles Durning, that old bastard. Good hate that is, as I just love every single one of his performances. Well..the one's I've seen. Typical Durning was his turn in "Rescue Me", which came to a fourth-season end this week. I hate his patriarch to Dennis Leary so much that I devoured each of his too rare appearances in the show. Especially his very last scene. The cheesy setting of father and son attending a ball game was eclipsed by Durning. They talk, they make jokes, the bat cracks. Tommy (Leary) gets on his feet in cheer, but dad stays sitting, bows his head to look at his belly and wipes some crumbs off it. Keeps his head there, and folds his arms. No extravagant gesture, no warning sign, no dramatic or comedic moment. An old man, who had fought against life for all too long, simply rests. And never wakes up. Nothing left for his son to do but put his arm around him, and lean on him for the rest of the game, without any sound save for the ironic-yet-pertinent Let The Good Times Roll. One of the greatest death scenes I've ever viewed.

The hardest thing for an actor to do is die on screen or stage. What must it be like when you reallly ARE near the end of your run? My hat off to you, Mr Durning. May this last scene be an echo of how peaceful your own final rest will start out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We'll be Watching



I guess in the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty much your average big doofus of a movie geek. As Roger Ebert perpetually reminds his readers, a movie review is only one man's opinion. So when news comes of someone adaptating one of my beloved books of comics, I go through one of the standard reactions; either excitement, worry, or murderous freaking rampage. Sometimes though, I just don't care. And that is where my own opinion merits me new-ass-tearing threats.

Especially when it comes to Alan Moore. I have to admit, I only learned that name a few years ago. What can I say, I've never been a Brody-Brucely comics geek. So back when I was Assitant Manager in a movie theatre, his name came up with one of our new release, From Hell. I never read the book, and didn't care much for the movie. My boss did, however, so one night, as a joke, I tore up a customer's ticket while referring to the thing as Like Hell. "If looks could kill" is an expression I fully learned that night...

I almost wanted to discover Moore's work when I heard of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but then I saw the movie. I still say Paramount owes my 13 bucks back! I did get a renewal of curiosity with V for Vendetta, which I enjoyed tremendously as a nice piece of entertainment. But I heard about the author's disdain, and kept my distance.

So when some message boarder ranted his indignation about a Watchmen movie, I couldn't care less - I was done with Moore, as far as I was concerned. But for some reason I really still can't explain, I became more and more curious with reading that one, once and for all, and find out why that nut job was being so protective of it.

Zach Snyder comes along. Good reviews from the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and 300 wasn't on my plate yet. So I gave up --this'll be another Like Hell. Moore will pop another vein in his forehead. Why bother?

Jackie Earl Haley is announced. Yeah? To play Rorshack. Hold the phone...who's Rorshack??? What kind of "superhero" would give himself the name of a psych test??? Oh what the heck...let's read it. Nothing good on TV these days anyway!

I have to say Murderous Freaking Rampage is on stand by...If Snyder messes this up, I'm just one plane ticket away... How in the name of Holy Bruce Campbell is he going to either match or improve something so utterly perfect as it is???

The point of all this little tirade, is I found a little amateur video today, made by some F/X creators who needed a project to showcase their work. They pulled off Rorshack's opening voice-over with a definite and terribly cool Sin City feel to it. If Zach follows the path (which 300 hints he probably will), I might very well have a new set of raspberries to throw at George Lucas...

Take a look for yourself. If you read the book, I dare you to tell me it ain't a huge mouth-waterer! If you haven't read it, my GOD! what HAVE yo done with your life???

video

Friday, August 31, 2007

Offended or Offender?

About maybe two years ago, when I received confirmation that ( as I suspected) my cute little boy is afflicted with autism, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver (forget Ripley - her Tombstone will read Gwen's Galaxy Quest line My TV Guide interview was 6 paragraphs on my boobs and how they fit into my uniform!) talked to a magazine about her experience researching her role of an autistic woman for Snow Cake - and dared mention that those people are great fun to be with.

It didn't take long before someone reacted overtly and publicly with indignation. I made the unwise move of engaging via a movie message board such a person, who claimed high and dry that Mrs Weaver was a liar and didn't know what raising a "poop flinging" autistic child was like. The one thing I learned from that mostly fruitless exchange is that Autism exists on many different levels. Some need more care and attention than others. Some will seem devoid of any emotion and interest. Some are like Justin. My son. I won't launch into a psychoanalysis of the little one, but let's just say he IS great fun, and I'm endlessly proud of him.

Cut to last week. One of the very few and rare TV shows I allow myself to follow is Dennis Leary's Rescue Me, about a Firefighting Irish in post-9/11 New York. One of the many story lines in the series has womaniser Franco in love with a woman who has a mentally challenged brother. We don't know what he has exactly, we just know he's..well..slow. From my and others' point of view, "Richie" is most likely autistic.

So imagine my surprise when this little turd of a message board crusader launches into a multi-paragraphed bashing of the show for its portrayal of what he called "mentally ill" - I don't consider my son ill in any way, douche bag - as a disgusting and demeaning cliche. Richie, it so happens, has great comedic timing; he's really funny. NEVER, in any scene, did I see actor Cornell Womack fall into vaudeville and goof out in character. He shows tremendous reserve, great complexity, and he STILL manages to be funny.

Which begs the question. If Justin, whose temper tantrums can shatter nerves with the best of them, and whose constant unrelenting energy -especially when using my bed as a trampoline- would rival any Olympic athlete's stamina, were to be portrayed AS IS on television, he would be far more clichéd than Richie. Would the gentleman, and that lady before him, be even MORE offended??? Of course they would. But why? Because they don't know what they're talking about? Never, will they answer - everyone knows someone who knows someone who had a child with a deficiency. So again, why???

Because what offended Mr Marsh - yeah, I'm using your name dip shit - and that lady, and legions like them is SEEING a mentally challenged character on their beloved Idiot Box. No one, who was pampered into thinking that "not normal" is not good at all, wants to see that. So from the gentleman's remarks, I should be ashamed of loving and caring for my son, and publicly at that. It's what I call the Ostrich syndrome; if you hide your head in the sand and ignore it, it'll go away and can't affect you in any way.

Creating the character of Richie was a risk for Leary and writing partner Peter Tolan. But they took the risk because they believe the Ostrich Syndrome is an hypocrisy that deserves to be shattered. Leary, who cracked me up to the point of tears in The Ref, gained a few more notches in my book of respect. If you can't deal with it, don't blame the people who try to. THAT, Mr Marsh, is the greatest offense. And YOU should be ashamed.

And by the way, Snow Cake, from my hands-on experience - 90% accurate. AND it's a great movie. Beat that with a stick.
video

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yes, THEY almost got the part

Randal McMurphy


Before Easy Rider came along in 1969, Jack Nicholson was niched for a decade in Roger Corman-land. Four Oscar nominations later, he won the golden guy for a role that would pretty much define the rest of his career, that of McMurphy, the violently exhuberant inmate of 1975's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. No question that even without that role, Ol'Jack would still have made it as one of Hollywood's sacred monsters. But without him for that movie, would IT have made it on most everyone's perpetual top-100 list? See what you make of who almost made the cut.


Kirk Douglas
The story goes that Kirk "discovered" the novel and had it adapted for the stage in order to play McMurphy. Owning the movie rights didn't help him much, since no studio would come near it. You'd think that having sonny Micheal take up the producer's mantle would help the old man, but ultimately THAT's what cost him the role - being too old. No one disputes the Oscar worth of Kirk, but the fact is he came from a different generation of actors, and would probably have portrayed the aggressive inmate TOO aggressively or classically- Not the establishment hating pothead who turns the asylum upside down.


Burt Reynolds
Bare in mind that in 1975, Burt was just starting to be Burt; after spending the 60s guest-starring on television, he was just just becoming a fan-favorite thanks to Deliverance and The Longest Yard. However improbable, had he won an Oscar instead of Jack, would he have strayed in the part that truly made him Burt, The Bandit? Think about it...No Smokey, no Cannonball Run and no Starting Over. On the othe hand, no Cop and a Half and a whole string of 80s cat-litter worthy B-listers that could only be stopped by P.T. Anderson and the awesome Boogie Nights. As for McMurphy...meh! He just ain't off-the-wall and wacky enough.


Marlon Brando
Don Corleone? Col. Kurtz? Terry Malloy? Forgive me for insutling the Great (big) One, but I just don't see it. Being only 33, the image of Brando I grew up with is of a fat and bitchy old Prima Dona. Granted, that's close to what Nicholson has turned into lately, but still... Jumping around, raising hell with his water canon? nah...I don't buy it.


James Caan
Now honestly, THAT I would've liked to see. Although Sonny Corleone's death is one of the more memorable of modern Cinema, we just don't get enough of him, period. I wanna see Sonny get into a pissing contest with Louise Fletcher -You get close enough and *Badaboum* you got blood all over your nurse's uniform! If they made him an offer, they should've made one he couldn't refuse...

Gene Hackman
In the words of Bill Lumberg, hum...yeaaah...Hackman is incredibly versatile. Or at least WAS back in the 70s. Now he's just overexposed, so I can't get enough perpective to envision it. Besides, Popeye Doyle was a bit of a McMurphy himself, and can provide a heck of a car chase. Although, If it had been enough to keep him from turning Lex Luthor into a spoiled brat with too much time on his hands, then maybe...


If it was made today...
On-the-nose casting would put smart money behind Sam Rockwell or Johnny Depp, although green-thinking Studio Suits would definitely push for a Frat Packer, one of Judd Apatow's buddies or -God Forbid- Adam Sandler. MY dream casting would put Simon Pegg in the rebel-rousing seat, alongside Gary Farmer as Chief Bromben and Angelina Jolie slithering her way into Nurse Ratchett's outfit. And maybe Matthew Lillard as Billy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

10 Movies About One Plot






Volume 1- Forced Back on the Saddle

When you're done reading the following plot outline, put your reading on pause and try to think (I said THINK, not Google) on how many films you can name off the bat that follow the same general story.

A former pro, the best at what he does who unwittingly fell on the wrong side of the tracks, is forced back into the game for one more round by a shady and powerful character.

How many did you get? Okay, hotshot. Compare them to mine (in no particular order)

Hudson Hawk
A career thief recently released form prison is blackmailed by power-hungry billionaire into stealing Leonardo DaVinci's formula for turning lead into gold.
How many Hollywood studio suits still bang their heads on the wall for giving Carte Blanche to one of the day's big cash cows for his (or her) own personal vanity movie? RKO's won't, cause Citizen Kane brought them down. But whoever wrote a blank check for Fire Down Below, Harlem Nights or Waterworld must still be the laughing stock of the business. Hudson Hawk proudly joined those when Bruce Willis thought it'd be a hoot to write himself an Arsene Lupin meets Indiana Jones movie. Then cast Andie McDowell and Sondra Bernard, and gave director duties to a guy who later offered us such "gems" as My Giant and Because I Said So. The result was a $65M mess (remember, this is 1991 Dollars) that raked up $17M. THAT's why Willis never tried his hand at writing again - sometimes you have to know your place, and stick to it (I'm looking at you, Edward Norton).
**/*****


The Longest Yard - and its two remakes
A fallen football star, imprisoned for a car-wrecking bender, is firced by the warden to train inmates and throw their exhibition game against the guards.

The fact that the original was released a little after my birth weights less on my appreciation of it than the fact that in those days, movies and their stars were a different kind of fun. Here we have a prime Burt Reynolds, fresh-off facing wild locals in Deliverance, who heads a story not of morality and justice but fighting the man, as America still felt the impact of the Vietnam war. Plus, you get Richard Kiel in butt kicking mode, and watch The Bandit himself total a Maserati (which was fished out and sold for $7k on the sole fact that it was in this movie). There's very little to say about the Adam Sandler remake, except that it stars Adam Sandler. Instead of Burt. *cough* The other remake, 2001's Mean Machine, is much more worth the viewing effort. Replacing football with Soccer in order to "Britify", it puts real-life former soccer player Vinnie Jones (just as Reynolds used to play Football) along then-up and coming bad ass Jason Statham in a more subtly humorous take on the story. ****/*****



Escape From New York

A special-ops veteran fallen on hard-times is forcably recruited to breal out the US president from inside the Manhattan Island prison.

In my own personal opinion, and God knows I've made many blacklists for saying so, Snake Plissken is what George Lucas didn't have the balls to make Han Solo into. Of course, Lucky Lucas ain't John Carpenter. Add a dash of Lee Van Cliff with Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes and sexy-as-ever Adrienne Barbeau, and you have one of the 80's finest cult classics ever to be faced with the inevitability of a crappy remake. As if Carpenter wasn't used to that by now... ****/*****


Gone in 60 Seconds (the remake)
A legendary car thief, retired at the request of his mother, has to pul-off one more huge job to save his brother from a vicious crime lord.

In a time when we weren't fed up with Nic Cage's character of Nic Cage, Dominic Sena's re-imagining of H.B. Halicki's carwreck-fest was just a complete package of guilty pleasures. You have Frank The Rabbit as a clueless geek. You have Vinnie Jones silently but efficiently putting foot to ass. Giovanni Ribisi unshaven. Angelina Jolie in leather pants. Christopher Eccleston asking if he's an asshole. The Holy Grail of cars, Eleonore herself, burning rubber like no one else's business. And Robert Duval, the only actor who could in such a film deliver the line "A Jackal tearing at the soft underbelly of our fair town" (you have to respect the guy for pulling that one off). Here's a tip from a DVD nut - the Director's cut has one simple scene switch that changes Ribisi's character dramatically, and makes him more of a bad ass than a stupid git. ***/*****


Commando

A former special-ops Marine is blackmailed into assassinating a South-American president or else lose his daughter.

One of the great personal shames of my life was that, as a young hormonal teenager, I would watch this movie over-and over again without ever getting tired of it. When I mentioned that little trivia fact to my wife later on, she looked at me funny, which I understood when I caught a late-night showing on TV not so long ago. This movie alone could serve as proof that without James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger would still be pumping iron in his basement. Bad acting is an understatement. Story is a term I wouldn't really use to qualify what ever goes on in this movie. So many goofs you actually have to wonder if anyone bothered to look in the camera while filming. AND, really, we're expected to believe that a pudgy mustachioed bad guy is a match for the Terminator? If that's not enough, why not cast Dan Hadaya as a South American dictator, or Alyssa Milano as Schwarz's daughter? Plus, if anyone can tell me where to find one of those magic Porsche that get un-dented when you flip it, I'd pay big bucks for that... */*****



Running Man

An Army veteran locked-up for a massacre he tried to stop is forced by a shady TV exec to compete in a deadly game show.

Hot on the success of the above-mentioned Commando (success is a big word...it raked in $37M on a $10M budget) and the respectably entertaining Predator, Hollywood was stumbling on itself to cash-in on The Governator's popularity. The result is a Vintage Stephen King story (written as Richard Bachman) stripped of it's darkness and pessimism to fit the man of the hour. Aside from Yaphet Koto who always manages to amaze and Richard Dawson not shouting "Survey Said" , this is the quintessential eye-candy with little to no quality in terms of story and characters. Heck, it even had NFL great James Brown as a skunky firebug. If that doesn't say it all, what about those yellow cushy pyjamas Arny wears? It should be noted that nine years later, director Paul Glaser added insult to injury with the Shaq vehicle Kazaam. Paul, buddy, do yourself a favor and learn to spell A-L-A-N S-M-I-T-H-E-E. **/*****


Ocean's Twelve

Master thief Danny Ocean and his crew must delay their retirement when their biggest mark and a playboy rival blackmail them into a thieving contest.

Yes, I know it's the sequel to a remake. But it's still highly entertaining even though it follows the same story line as the other movies listed here - The Night Fox (a sadly underused Vincent Cassel) blackmails Danny Ocean into one more theft job, to see who's the best. Using this tired plot might be why so many people snickered at it compared to the genuine fun of the original. Still, it offers the very welcome encore of seeing 3 generations of great actors having a blast with and against one another. Besides, how can you not smile at a movie where in order to fool everyone including Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts' character has to personify...Julia Roberts! Paging Dr Freud, Dr Freud please report to Mr Soderberg. ****/*****


Blade Runner
If it wasn't for the fact that most companies who bought product placement in this movie didn't exist anymore only a few years after its release, Blade Runner would still be a very actual movie. If anything, it remains a jaw-dropping Sci-Fi thriller, complete with a dark technocratic vision of the future that puts Johnny Mnemonic and other pale copies to shame, and Rutger Hauer at the very best he would ever be. Heck, how many films can boast to have made Sean Young almost sympathetic? I have to confess I've watched the movie in its entirety less often that the one finger crushing scene, where for once Harrison Ford can't manage to overcome his adversary no matter how much he grunts and grimaces. *****/*****


Rocky V

Fallen former champ Rocky Balboa must decide between family and honor when his protege bullies him into one final bout.

Okay, So I defended Ocean's Twelve for using a tired plot in order to stretch the original's appeal. But come on - how much juice can you really extract out of the same fruit? Not much, as Sly proved when mounting a fourth sequel to what MGM proudly calls "The Greatest Underdog Story" (and I don't mean that flying pup creepily voiced by Jason Lee). Stallone tried to bring a twist to the tried-and-tested tale by having his Rocky fight the climactic battle on his own terms and turf. Did it help make a good movie? No. Do we care? Not really. Unless you shelled out to see it in theatres. In that case, shame on you, you're the reason he made a sixth! -kaboom!-


Sexy Beast

A retired safe cracker is fetched by his former boss' pitbull to come back home and perform a big one.

I am continously baffled at how Ben Kingsley manages to follow every Gandhi in his resume with four Bloodraynes. Still, when he gets the right role in the right movie as is the case here with Don, he scores right off the charts. Jonathan Glazer's feature film debut offered much more though, namely making Ray Winstone into a household name outside UK. It's a movie where humour is neatly unseperable from brutality, and where tough guys are such that the Sopranos would probably try to stay away. A very British take on the Mob world, reminiscent of The Long Good Friday. *****/*****





Those are the ten titles that jumped to mind most strongly when sitting down to write. Any other that you can think of, post them down on the comments section. We'll have a barbecue with them all.