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