Friday, February 27, 2015

A STAR HAS FALLEN

They will be toasting him tonight. At Starfleet Academy, at various military outposts on various grimy worlds way out there at the edge of the galaxy half forgotten, and of course on that great ship; old and battered but more storied than any other, they will be toasting him. Officer, Friend. Legend.

They will not be toasting him on his homeworld. Such affection may not be considered logical. But they will acknowledge him, they will have a place for him, if not for the memory of his companionship but for his achievements He was not always one of them, not purely, but through his actions he proved himself and proved his worth to this most prosaic of cultures

It will not be just Starfleet and Vulcan that will miss him, that will acknowledge him. All over, on many worlds in many languages, they will know him. They will know about the one who was different, the one who was conflicted, torn between two kinds of existences, two kinds of reality. The conflicted one,  who like them in all their various ways was not perfect, was not well defined, who could not be categorized; yet he still moved forward, he still found a way to succeed, who defied both sides of his own nature to become not one thing, not one or the other, but who became himself

That is what they will remember, as they move their own lives, trying to find who they are, trying to find their niche and sometimes failing, trying to deal with all those who demanded of them "Who are you, what are you, which one are you" They will think of him and how he just became himself

And that self became a legend.

Leonard Nimoy was not Spock. He told us so. But then later on he knew that he was. He told us that as well. He was a man of may talents, a man of many things

But he was Spock. And Spock was more than the pointed ears and the raised eyebrows. He was a character torn between two destinies. And through the long on screen life of that character came to realize that his destiny was his own. That his flaws made him stronger than his strength and damn, he had some kind of strength

A star has fallen today. But there is no void in the galaxy. Because that star's gravity was so great, its affect will be felt for a long long time

RIP Leonard Nimoy. You will live a long time in our minds and our hearts and we shall be the ones who will prosper






BLITHE SPIRIT: WHAT I LEARNED FROM NOEL COWARD

Noel Coward was a pretty smart fella. And also a pretty talented one. Playwright, composer, singer, actor, director, raconteur, he may have been the guy for whom the term "rapier wit" was coined.

This past weekend we attended a new production of Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It is a comedy of manners involving a married couple, a deceased wife, a medium, a seance, a clumsy housekeeper and a rather impish ghost. It is damn damn funny but there were lessons to be gleaned from it. So here is what I learned from watching Blithe Spirit

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR: In the story, Edith and Charles are a happily married couple. Urbane, sophisticated and as dry as their martinis, they are the quintessential Noel Coward couple. Lots of silk with some lumpy gravel underneath. They have both before been married, Charles first wife, the young and vivacious Elvira, having passed away several years earlier. As the play opens, the couple is hosting an evening of entertainment and Edith pesters Charles for details about the dearly departed Elvira and their relationship. Yeh, that's a problem. The entertainment, you see, is going to be a seance

THE SEANCE OF SILLY WALKS: The medium who the couple invite to their country estate is called Madame Arcady. Not only have the guests in the story come to see Madame Arcady, but so have we. You see, in this production, Madame Arcady is played by Angela Lansbury. Yes, that Angela Lansbury. Ms Lansbury has been in the acting game a very long time. She achieved her greatest amount of fame in Murder She Wrote, playing an elderly character. The actress we saw on the stage is supposed to be 89 years old. Yeh, right. Her delivery was a sharp and perfectly timed as you could want and for all Coward being a writer of incisive language, the physical was not lost on Ms Lansbury. As Madame Arcady enters her trance to perform the seance, she is overtaken by a series of jerky, staccato movements that propelled her across the stage. At one point she hooked one leg over the other and began a series of long limbed glides. Yes, it was the seance of silly walks

THE GHOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST DOESN'T ALWAY MAKE THE BEST HOSTESS: Let's cut to the chase. Quite against her will, Madame Arcady manages to conjure up the ghost of Elvira. At first, she can only be seen by  her husband Charles. As hilarious as Angela Lansbury was, Jemma Rooper as Elvira is a standout. She is a very bratty ghost, quite enjoying Charles discomfort and taking every opportunity to indulge in a naughty, cheeky haunting.

TWO WIVES SOUNDS GREAT UNTIL YOU REALIZE THAT ALL MORMON MEN ARE PROBABLY INSANE: Ok, this is not your normal polygamal arrangement. A wife and a ex wife, one of whom is dead. And you are the only one the dead one can see. That sounds perhaps a bit kinky until you realize that the dead one wants you dead as well, so you can be together forever. Yeh, there may be a flaw in this plan

THE AFTERLIFE MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The wife and the ex wife together .. but both now dead. Yeh, two ghosts. Oops. They can now see each other and they both see you and Charles, you gots some splaining to do. This isn't till death do you part, this is we're dead, live with it .. or not. It gets confusing. But pretty hilarious

IT WAS THE MAID, IN THE PARLOUR, WITH AN ECTOPLASM: In this very strong cast there was one more standout, Charollette Parry as Ruth, the maid. At first we were completely entranced by her fine sense of physical comedy. A tiny woman of limited words who moved way too fast, when reminded to slow down, she affects a kind of slow mo Frankenstein shuffle. But there is more to Ruth than hilarious slapstick. Trust me, it's always the servants

And the final lesson gleaned from Blithe Spirit:

Whenever Angela Lansbury walks on to the stage, you damn well better applaud


Sunday, February 22, 2015

AND THE ENTIRELY SUPERFLUOUS AWARD GOES TO ...

"Do not judge lest ye be judged." So it sayeth in the Bible. But hey kids, it's Awards Season so strap into your glowinthedark fake sealskin corset and high heeled combat boots, grab your bags of swag, rehearse your spontaneous inappropriate comments and let's collect some trophies

The Oscars, the Grammies, the Junos, Screen Actors, Golden Globes, Raspberries ... it's an orgy of judging art

It's an interesting yet dangerous enterprise, judging art. Judge is not only subjective, it is often designed to be subjective. Art is personal, for the person who creates it and for the person who appreciates it. You look at a painting or read or poem or hear a piece of music or watch a movie and you may say "I don't like it" You mean even say "That sucked" But you're not really judging it, you're reacting to it. You are engaging in the art and even a negative response is still a response, you are reacting to the art, through your experiences and your preferences and it's personal.

That is how art is supposed to work

Yet we have this need to qualify things. "Is it good? Is it awful? Is it great? Is it the best, yeh that's it, is it the best"

Well, is it? How can we tell. How do we access a film, a book, a TV show, a song to determine if one is better than the other. There is something about us that makes us ask these questions For some reason we're not always satisfied that we just like something, that it moves us, that we react to it, we still need to know if it's good

I'm not sure where this comes from. In sports there has to be a winner, Olympic athletes refer to the bronze medal as the "second loser" although they have "beat out" at least dozens of high caliber athletes. 

Then there's school; You get an A, you get an A -, you get an A + ... all of which is pretty much bullshit when you think about it, this shaving away at a label to make it seem more less important to some tiny degree

Can a movie really be better than another movie? Or do you just like it more. 


We like to think that we can judge a movie, or a song or a TV show, on technical merits. Lighting, editing, direction. Sometimes these things are indeed quantifiable. But it still make a difference to whether or not we like it. I've loved some movies that I know, on a technical level, are not good; many of Audi Murphy's westerns (though not all) where cheap, carelessly made B films that I still can enjoy. 

There are also many technically well made movies that do nothing for me. The films of Tony Scott, like Man on Fire and Vengeance, are beautifully shot, well edited and often well acted, but I'd rather watch Audi Murphy where the same outfit over a month of screen time, I just don't find those films engaging

So it seems that even we can apply standards to a work of art, it's still very much subjective. So how do we explain all these awards, how do we explain this judging

I have some personal experience with this. I've been judged and I've been a judge ... but not in the legal sense, or the biblical one

I have entered several competitions, a few for poetry but many more for videos that I've helped create or have fully created. I've won badly and lost well .. or something close to that. I've been critiqued and assessed, and some of it made sense and some of it did not. Generally when I've made these videos I made them for myself, I tried to make the best video I could but I always tried to keep the judges preferences out of it; when I didn't that's usually when I fell on my oh so artistic face

Many people create a video then "shop" it around to competitions. I've rarely done that. Usually I create a video for a competition, be it the films I made for the St Lawrence College video awards, the music video I made for the Moby Hello Future contest; the short film I made for the Amplify Me festival, or an unintentionally creepy short I created for a one minute film fest, I need to be inspired to make fictional videos. I'm a corp video dude at heart and although I'm a writer, I still need some sort of spark to make an "artistic" video. Competitions and contests are a good spark

I've been on the other side of things as well. For many years I judged the St Lawrence College Greg Awards. If you take the judging seriously, it's not an easy thing. Going back to judging technical aspects, you'd think it would be easy: Best Audio goes to the film that actually used a lavalier mic on the interview subjects ... except you learn that after that film used it, the lav broke and no one else had access to it. OK, that probably is not the case with Oscar nominated movies but it just goes to show that nothing is black and white. Unless you made your movie in black and white, for which I would give you artistic kudos ... .unless you had an issue with your camera and you had no choice but to make it black and white

See, it's complicated.

These big televised award shows, well clearly, artistic merit or even technical competency may not be the most important criteria for awarding prizes. Do you smell it? Yes folks, that's the smell of money. To quote an old pop song "all that cash makes a succulent sound"

In that sense, the Grammies may be the most straightforward of all the big award shoes. Money, baby, money. No matter what they tell you it's pretty clear that those who sell the most, win the most. And we want to celebrate this commerce to such a degree that we will keep creating redundant categories so you can win even more awards. Album of the year, record of the year, recording of the year, song of the year, biggest bank account of the year ... you get the idea.

The Oscars are big more complicated. It's not always about money. Certainly in the last few years the Oscars seem to be going about avoiding movies that are sure to make a lot of money. They're probably still embarressed from giving Titantic all this awards. So we gets lists with movies like Birdman and a Boy's Life and Dallas Buyers Club and Silver Linings Playbook.

On the surface, acknowledging and rewarding more "independent" movies seems a noble thing. But it could also be an image-correcting process. As Whoopi opined when the first black actress won an Oscar "We're going to be alright" (or something to that affect) Hollywood is this entirely insular world where their own self image may trump their desire to actually reward movies for being .. you know .. good.

I love Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance in Winter's Bone is still something that gives me goosebumps. But Silver Lining Playbook? One of those films that after watching it you remark "Well, that was a movie"

I think we should give awards to awards. Like Best Redundant Award. Or Best Image Correcting Award. Or Best Award for Something About Which No One Really Gives a Fuck

I'm writing my acceptance speech now

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD: CIRQUE DE SHERWOOD

Sometimes it's good to go into something with very few expectations. Such is the case with The Heart of Robin Hood, currently running at the Royal Alexandria Theatre


Now, I am of course familiar with the Hood, from movies, TV, comics, anime etc but I can't recall every seen him strut around the stage. The Hood's previous appearences in media have covered a broad spectrum of presentation, to action to historical drama to comedy. This presentation clearly falls into the last category


The Heart of Robin Hood is hilarious. There are many laugh out loud moments in the production and a lot of the humour edges into Monty Python territory; a few time if I closed my eyes I swear Michael Palin was on stage. What makes it Monty Python is that the humour is mixed in with some rather realistic representations of life in the middle ages; there is torture, murder, death and a bounty put on the head of children. Yet, it all remains really funny

Really


There have been Robin Hood musicals before but this is not a musical .. well it is ... but it's not. There are one of two occasions where the characters sing but most of the music is provided by the fine roots band Parsonfield. They are an active part of the production, appearing on stage. At one point, when a villain is just bent on hanging someone it is suggested "take the band" Very Monty Python

Parsonfield and their music serves as a kind of Greek chorus but the play employs another classical theatre device, the narrator. Christian Lloyed plays Pierre, Lady Marion's music instructor. In more classic theatre devicery (yeh I just typed that, live with it) Pierre (as well as Marion) have to go in disguise and pretend they are other people which leads to much jocularity


Lloyd is very very good as is everyone in the cast. Paul Essienbee is a standout as Guy Gisborne, being incredibly malicious and hilarious at the same time. Izzie Steele plays Marian and infuses the character with strength and is more than up to the physical requirements of playing the classic "woman disguised as male" role


Another important character in this production is the stage, and the staging. The Hear of Robin Hood is presented on a stage with a huge ramp that starts up at the lights and slopes down to the floor. The actors run up and down this ramp, representing moving from one location to another. Openings can appear in the ramp and sections slide out of it, allowing characters to walk out over the stage below. This is particularly effective when representing characters residing in castles or looking down at the populace

The set also included a huge "oak tree" hanging from the ceiling, extending well out into the audience and another tree on stage proper where Robin hangs out and has his morning latte. There is also a "pond" on stage that characters fall in and out of, it has real water in it. There is another opening in the stage, a hole that opens up and which characters are generally tossed in to at their demise. The chant of "into the hole, into the hole" became a common refrain


This is an incredibly physical production. Cirque de Soleil is living in Sherwood Forest. There is ribbon work, there is a hoop and there is an genuinely hilarious scene where a "dead" character is manipulated like a flesh and blood marionette .. and oddly, it isn't Marion ...

I'll give you a minute

There is a lot of stuff happening in this play or, as they say, a lot of "business" Sometimes that makes for an uneven production but it all works here. Mostly it works because the play does not at all take itself seriously. It's a lark and it makes for a great way to pass a couple of hours

So the next time you're in the woods, keep an eye open for gender bending Ladies, archers in the trees and acrobats with serious knife skills












Saturday, January 3, 2015

DR SEUSS: ACTION HERO

There is a movie about to be released called Blackhat. It is directed by Michael Mann (yay) starring Chris Hemsworth (yay) but following Mann's recent annoying trend (it appears to me) of shooting on digital video; the guy who once had some of the most luscious cinematography (Thief, Last of the Mohicans, Heat) in film (boo)

The film looks like an action film. Hemsworth stripped to the waist with a pistol in his hand etc

All I know about this movie is what I've seen in the trailers. And in one of those trailers we here a character speak this line:

"We need a blackhat hacker name Hatthaway"

So, directed by Michael Mann, script (apparently) by Dr Seuss

A blackhat hacker named Hathaway said
You'll not shoot me with a gun, Sam I am,
you'll not shoot me with a bow
you'll not shoot me in my head,
if you load up a cannon
you'll not shoot me in my bed

I'll hack and hack your phone
I'll hack you porn and hack your home
You'll not shoot me with a Sam I Am
or I'll hack you to your bones"


Yay. Can't wait

Friday, January 2, 2015

I THOUGHT THE PANDAS IN TORONTO LIVED AT THE ZOO

I guess it makes sense to write my first post of 2015 around the thing that has been the center of Collette and mine's attention for the past few weeks

This thing, right here


This is Panda. Panda is a nine year old border collie. She came to my attention through a high speed and efficient form of wireless communication ... not Blue Tooth or the interwebs but the DPFN ... the Dog Park Friends Network.


A friend of mine told me the story of this woman who had an elder border collie looking for a new home. We were not actively seeking a new dog but my buddy knows that I won't let any dog, especially a border collie, go to a shelter. He told me that this indeed was the case with Panda. Her owner had to find her a home or it was a shelter


As my buddy informed me "You're the border collie guy, I thought of you first" So I contacted the woman and she told me a story. Panda lived with her dam (mother) who is around 13 at this time. The woman had lost her husband and she was finding it too difficult to manage both dogs. The momma dog is very anti social and can't really be taken to dog parks so Panda was not playing much.

And the woman lived with both dogs in an apt and could not give Panda much attention So Panda taught herself to pee and poop in the shower. Yeh .. I know. That had me cocking my head spaniel style .. "Say what?"


She said the situation was dire. She had to rehome Panda immediately.We weren't sure we wanted an older dog, Terra responds well to younger dogs though she was raised with Hayley who was considerably older.  I did inform the owner about Border Collie Rescue, a terrific organization dedicated to rehoming BC's. They have a foster network who care for the dogs until they find them homes.




I was told that BC Rescue had no foster homes for Panda but may have a home for her in a couple weeks. We agreed to take her in on a temporary basis. She is a sweet little dog. She is very very affectionate. But there were issues right away. She was extremely dominant with Terra. Very very dominant. She was limiting Terra's movement in the house, trying to sequester her out of the living room and away from us. Terra was definitely taking the submissive role. I've taught her not to scrap in parks and walk away from the fight but now the fight was in her own house.


Some of this behaviour I corrected by doing what Terra should have been doing; I was putting Panda down. As soon as she snapped or lunged at Terra I just took her collar and put her down. This seemed to work, it certainly established my dominance and Panda was learning some limitations. The biggest issue though was around food

Terra has been in the homes of other dogs, I've boarded dogs here, usually she will eat some of their food but generally does not freak out if they ate hers. Never really had any problems. But Panda had a different approach. She tried blocking Terra from eating her own food and Panda would frantically eat her own food if Terra even looked in that direction. Food hoarding. I was quickly realizing that I may have not gotten the full story on this dog


Terra's reaction was quite strong and in some instances quite sulky. Except in the park. In the park both dogs were great. They would chase the same ball and never get into disputes over it. One would usually defer to the other and let her pick the ball up. They walked side by side on leash without any issue. So that gave me hope


Over a week or so the work we were doing with Panda, putting her down, separating the food areas, giving Terra precedence by letting her be the first in and out of doors, started to work. Panda was not quite and dominant and Terra began to relax. The food remained an issue and still remains. It's getting better but Panda gets frantic over her food when Terra is nearby. We have separated them at feedings but that's not the way I like to run the house. So having them in the same room but around the corner and feeding them at the same time, that seems to be working


I have been in contact with Border Collie Rescue and the story I was told by Panda's owner does not match theirs. They do not have any homes in mind for Panda and they weren't even posting her for adoption on their website. And they are very puzzled as to why Panada had to be let go with such urgency, as am I. I told them that I don't want Panda to go to another temporary home, that would not be fair to her, she is settling in here and the routine is doing her good.

We want to keep Panda. She is loving and sweet, has good energy. I suspect I know why her owner wanted to dump her. I am hearing a cough from the dog that makes me think she has a heart condition. If that is true it means a lot of expense to deal with it. Well, we've been down that road before. If we can get the food situation under control .. and it's getting better .. Panda will be ours. I agree. Collette agress

Terra may have a different opinion








Monday, December 29, 2014

IF YOU GO INTO THE WOODS THERE MAY BE SINGING

So I'm having this weird kind of affair with Rob Marshall. It's been short yet intense and it has led me to others but neither one of us are upset by that

Yeh, let's clear this up

Rob Marshall is a movie director. I have seen four of his movies. Three of them have been musicals. Two of those musicals were my first exposure to stage musicals, one of which I later saw on stage. The third musical is, I believe, an original movie and it led me nowhere

Rob Marshall's film version of Chicago is one of the best contemporary movie musicals. Yes, even better than the film adaptation of Les Miz. I saw the movie a couple of times, enjoyed both viewings tremendously and last year, finally saw the stage version here in Toronto. I enjoyed the play very much and I still love the movie.

See, I saw Les Miz on stage maybe five times before I saw the movie. I had not seen the stage version for a long time and I enjoyed the movie. We saw the new Toronto staging of Les Miz about a year after seeing the movie. I sort of remember the movie. It's like that

Rob Marshall's movie Nine is a musical version of the Fellini film. I never much cared for Fellini and, with the exception of one or two musical numbers in Nine, didn't much care for that either. If it became a stage production maybe I'd see it but motivation would not be strong

Last night Collette and I went to see Rob Marshall's movie Into The Woods. It's based upon a rather famous Stephen Soundheim musical which I've never seen. I've seen a stage version of A Little Night Music which I enjoyed and stage and movie version of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum both of which I adored

Oh yeh, he also did something called Westside Story. Only ever saw the movie. It works.

But I have never seen the stage version of Into the Woods and knew very little about it. When I saw the trailers for the movie I didn't even realize that it was a musical. Isn't it interesting how they seem to hide that

Collette and I are quite fond of reworking fairy tales and have seen many movies and TV shows (Once Upon A Time, Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman to name a few) and enjoy the idiom So off we went, into the woods

I can only speak about the movie version here. I understand that changes were made from the stage play (often there are) but I can't comment to that

What we saw I loved. This movie does more than twist your favorite fairy tales. It's funny, it's dark, it's hilarious, it's harsh, it's at times even moving. It's a rather complicated plot to unravel but all your faves are here: Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunsel. How they come together and fall apart is usually surprising and very entertaining

The score is very strong, the lyrics are clever and insightful and compelling; there are no songs here likely to be made into pop versions but the melodies still work, tying themselves together in some surprising ways

This is more operetta style, with the bulk of the dialogue expressed as song. There are a couple of show stoppers; Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as a pair of prince brothers pretty much steal the show and there is a lovely and moving foursome with two adults and the two children in the cast

There are some big names in the cast: Johnny Depp as the Wolf does his Johnny Depp thing, being appropriately creepy and displaying a quite serviceable voice. Meryl Streep has a solid voice and has some strong moments but her Wicked Witch character is, a times, a bit muddled. And Tracy Allman is Tracy Allman and that is always good.

Emily Blunt and James Corben, as married bakers whose story is at the heart of the stories are very very good, Corben in particular displays a broad range from comedy to empathy, always remaining steadily in character

For me, the revelation in the cast is Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. She has a voice as good as many stage performers I've seen and her performance is rock solid. Her Cinderella is a transformative character of course but Kendrick uses her skill as an actor, more than her wardrobe, to express these changes

This will not be a film for everyone. It's point is to challenge you and it does so. Soundheim piles his lyrics into his meters and you better pay attention. But it's funny as hell, it's unpredictable and it gives you much to think about

It's dangerous in the woods. And it's also pretty damn entertaining
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