Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tonight on CBC's "The FIlmmakers": Double Happiness

Episode five of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's ongoing series The Filmmakers is "Double Happiness". It starts at 8:30pm. The feature film Double Happiness is on at 9pm.

I should give the flick another chance. I first saw it at the Toronto's Bloor Cinema back in 1994. As I departed the theatre with a friend we bumped into my neighbour; she was leaving with a friend who happened to be Chinese-Canadian, the kind of viewer that filmmaker Mina Shum wished to capture with her film about the lives of two young Chinese-Canadian women. Well, during our discussion it became clear that none of us liked the film -- it did not even ring true for a certain viewer.

The film did get accolades at the time of its release.


John Waters Make Trouble

Much of what filmmaker John Waters says makes me laugh. Much like Woody Allen. (Much of what they say rings true.)

In 2015 Mr Waters delivered a commencement speech to graduates at the Rhode Island School of Design, and his patented sense of humour, at times subversive, helped propel his life advice to viral status.

I, of course, was not surprised.

Courtesy of John Waters - Make Trouble (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). Some:

"Okay, I'm supposed to inspire you. How's this? Somehow I've been able to make a living doing what I love best for fifty years without even having to get a real job."

Close to home:

"A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say 'get in', and off you go. And then the confidence begins."



Friday, August 18, 2017

Among the Brats - A Force From Canada

Over the years I've found out just how many Canadians in the arts come from a "military brat" background -- specifically, a dependent of a father who served in the Canadian Armed Forces (Royal Canadian Air Force / Canadian Army / Royal Canadian Navy).

We are a proud bunch. "We"?....

* Bryan Adams (musician)
* Douglas Coupland (writer/artist)
* Michael J. Fox (actor/activist)
* Tom Green (comedian/actor)
* John Kricfaluci (animator/writer)
* Ann-Marie MacDonald (writer/actor)
* Simon St. Laurent (arts entity)


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tomatoes on the Wall

Rotten Tomatoes dot com has a list of the top 100 films of all time. I saw a news piece on the telly about what films made the list. Scenes from Orson Welles' 1941 masterwork Citizen Kane played as a background for the story. What struck me about seeing Kane in that context was how modern, or recent, it looked. Some folk could be forgiven if they thought it was a new movie, or television series, for that matter, that had been shot in black and white, and not a 76 year old picture.

Citizen Kane was not only influential because some people say it was but its DNA strands are in so much of what has come along since 1941 (even when filmmakers are just copying the copyists).


The top ten portion of the Rotten list, picked from a large field (critics average):

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Citizen Kane (1941)
3. The Third Man (1949)
4. Get Out (2017)
5. Mad Max: Road Fury (2015)
6. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
7. All About Eve (1950)
8. Inside Out (2015)
9. The Godfather (1972)
10. Metropolis (1927)


My top ten list would include numbers:

1.
2.
6.
10.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

News of the King's Death

On the news this morning was a trivia-bit reminding us that Elvis Presley passed on forty years ago today. 'They' say that you remember where you were and what you were doing when you hear a certain piece of news.

I was sitting in a friend's luxurious basement rec room watching the colour console television. (He was upstairs with his family at that moment.) On the tube came CFTO news. The breaking headline was "the King is dead".

At the time I was into 1950s pop/rock, so the story carried some resonance for me.

That was forty years ago?


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Those Magnificent Brats and their Base Theatres

One of the great things about growing up a military brat is having ready access to the "base theatres". These movie theatres, at least during the years I was a brat, are almost repertory, or "second run", houses. For me, the mix of pics was movie bliss. I will go into more detail in a future article.


From May 2, 2016:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (From a Dependent Brat)

The Astral Theatre in CFB Borden, Ontario, was a veritable movie funhouse of eclectic and varied flicks, old and new. In essence it was a rep cinema. Most new and big releases, and anything of prestige, were on the other side of the base at the mighty Terra Theatre.

One of many films I saw in or about my thirteen year had a very special trailer. A preview which ended up haunting me: Triple Avalanche of Terror

The hook was a certain sustained shot that was more important to me, ultimately, than the variety of quickly cut clips that followed. This affecting scene -- shot in a mental institution, apparently -- was the real keeper. While substantial image grain danced before our eyes, an ominous voice-over explained that 'this man watched Triple Avalanche of Terror and went insane'. (Really? Seriously.)

A straight-jacketed wretch squirmed as two attendants hovered over, comforting him as he did the bit of business taught in acting school when one wants to evoke "crazy". "No!...No!!..."

As advertised, in order to watch the film one had to accept an insurance policy before entering the theatre. Cool. It's not something I'd want to have to cash in, but cool.

I bought it, the preview, that is, so much so that I knew I had to see the film, even though it was to be a midnight presentation. Oh, no.

As we left the theatre after watching the now forgotten feature presentation, my friends and I discussed the trailer, that spooky trailer. One friend, Glen Scott, seemed to know that we'd been had:

"It's a publicity stunt!

"It's a publicity stunt!", he reiterated as the rest of us, in his eyes, were overly concerned that we too would go insane.

But, we all agreed: Must see movie.

This is where trouble followed.

The next day I raved enthusiastically to my mother about the nerve-splitting trailer I had seen, and in the process I let it out that the anticipated movie itself was to be shown as a late-late show. She wasted no time in saying "no". When the day got closer, I asked again:

MUM
No.

ME
Mum, I wanna see Triple Avalanche of Terror!

MUM
I told you, you're not seeing it.

ME
Why not?!

MUM
Because...I don't want you prancing about at all hours of the night.
Now that's final.

("I guess I'm not going to be seeing Triple Avalanche of Terror.")

I wish I had possessed the verbal wit of Family Guy's "Stewie": "How dare you deprive me of some devilishly gruesome entertainment. I shall be forever stunted by your absolute malicious disregard for my personal development!"

I didn't get my mother's reasoning. Geographically speaking, the Astral was not far from Elm Street, our street. The route consisted of a quick walk to School Street, then along Maple Drive; up a little further was the palace of dreams.

How was the Terrible Avalanche, you ask? The next day I asked Glen what he thought. After all, he and the gang were allowed to walk about at all hours of the previous night.

"It wasn't very good."

Of course, to a pre-teen, that was code for: "It was awesome!" Either that, or I was becoming concerned for Glen's sanity.

"Carry On Camping is on this Saturday?" I was allowed to see that one, however. Not a lot makes sense when you're a kid. (Those of you who have seen that British comedy classic, or just about any Carry On movie, for that matter, will know what I'm getting at.) Now I know why Camping was acceptable fare: It was shown during regular business hours. The prevailing issue wasn't so much one of content.

The Astral, along with all the PMQs (houses) on Elm, School, Hemlock, and Maple Drive, is now gone as that part of CFB Borden was razed a few years ago, but my memories of that special dream-maker always remain strong -- even if a certain title is missing.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jetting into the RCAF

Canada's military (the Canadian Armed Forces) is looking to replace the CF-18 fighter jet, which has been in the service of this great country since deliveries began in 1982.

The CF-18 was selected to replace the Canadair-built (Lockheed) CF-104 "Starfighter". By 1987 the changeover was complete.


From September 20, 2015:
Notes from a Dependent Brat: CF-104 "Starfighter

Writing my recent piece (here) on the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) Canadair CC-106 "Yukon" transport aircraft stirred up more memories regarding my "brat" past: Memories about RCAF Station/CFB Baden-Soellingen (4 Wing).

Back in those days, the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s, the RCAF's main front-line jet fighter/interceptor was the CF-104 "Starfighter". Built under license (from Lockheed) by Canadair at its Cartierville Airport plant in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Laurent, the "one-o-four" went on to enjoy a long life with Canada's Finest Service; eventually being replaced by the CF-18.

With such a high-performance aircraft, especially one originally designed for high-altitude interception but re-geared for a low-level strike and reconnaissance role, there were bound to be more than a few accidents. During the years I lived in Iffezheim, West Germany, 'we' lost several 104s from 4 Wing. The most memorable incident happened in July of 1969 when two collided over the countryside. I remember vividly my father darting off for two weeks as part of the recovery/investigation team and, upon his returning, with redundant bags of sugar and other such foodstuffs, him recounting the commotion at the crash scene when they arrived: "It (a farmer's field) was crawling with Polizei". Apparently the two jets "locked wings" which sealed their fate; one pilot managed to eject while the other went down with his machine -- some of what my dad described about the impact site was pretty gruesome.

There was another: Soon after I got to school one morning my teacher told the class that a Starfighter had crashed not long after we had been bused in. (My family and I lived off-base, and not in the local "PMQs" [Private Married Quarters]. I have long been thankful that my parents wanted to live with the Germans, and not in a semi-sheltered environment called "Kleinkanada". There were lots of Canadian kids in my neighbourhood -- offspring of other smart parents.) If I remember correctly, that pilot managed to eject safely from his aircraft, despite the fact that he was in "take-off" mode.

Perhaps my fondest memory regarding the CF-104 Starfighter is of the machine's sound; that sound. One would hear the roar of jets in formation, and look up to see whether they were Canadian or German -- the Luftwaffe, too, operated the Starfighter. One beautifully sunny day my Grade 2 school teacher walked us out to the airfield; why exactly I did not know -- I'm sure Mrs. Gunnery said something, but I could not have been paying attention (surprise?). Upon taking position at our stations my school mates and I looked off over the flatness of the strip to the horizon. Suddenly there were several descending trails of black smoke which, of course, I was familiar with; moments later I noticed a series of landing lights seemingly suspended over the field. Suffice to say the 104s were flying very low, just over the deck, as they raced past us: What a noise! I love jets, and the racket they make, but really!

Ah, yes. The blessedly interesting life of a brat....

Stay tuned, Brat Fans, for my next blog posting. Same Brat Time; same Brat Channel!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

First Name Origin: My Name

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone about the origin of my name. "My parents gave it to me." No reaction.

I got serious and looked it up.

"Simon" is Hebrew in origin. Its meaning: "To be heard."

My parents must have known something.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Adulthood Can Be

For most, adulthood involves being an adult about it. But for filmmaker, writer, and comedian John Waters adulthood is:

"I'm so lucky to be having a happy childhood as an adult."


Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Waters Quote on Life

Filmmaker, author, and comedian John Waters is someone I admire; he designed a career and built it a brick at a time -- never deviating from the blueprint.

The man is sharp:

"Life is nothing if you're not obsessed."


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Motivation Question

Yesterday I posted a quote from Apple cofounder Steve Jobs.

What separates the 'talkers' from the 'doers'? Free admission: I fit comfortably into both camps.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a certain line from people who want to do but don't: "I have nothing to say."

Perhaps that is the key to motivation -- or lack of motivation.

Mr. Jobs had a lot to say; and he knew he had a lot to say.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Steve Jobs Knew the Deal

The late Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, and its later rejuvenator, was aware of the why and how of his own mega success:

"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: that everything around you that you call 'life' was was made up by people no smarter than you . . . the minute you understand that, you can poke life; you can change it, you can mold it, embrace it, make your mark upon it. Once you learn that....you'll never be the same again."


Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Endings of Memory

Divine Trash, Steve Yeager's 1998 documentary on filmmaker John Waters, is fine. The articulate subject talks about how and why audiences remember a given film's punchline. This theory readily applies to Waters' own 1972 frolicker, Pink Flamingos.

Here are some movies which contain some of my favourite endings. I spent little time doing intra-neural research but here's a starter pack:

* Bicycle Thieves (1948)
* The Time Travelers (1964)
* Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
* Chinatown (1974)
* Papillon (1973)
* Nights of Cabiria (1957)
* Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)
* King Kong (1933)
* Slacker (1991)
* Pink Flamingos (1972)


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Trek to Possible Blu-rays

Yesterday I wrote about not looking for but finding the Battlestar Galactica miniseries on a heavily discounted DVD set:

BSG Miniseries from the Discount Bin

Today, while listening to the radio, I heard a brief story which mentioned that Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered thirty years ago next month. Thirty years ago. I remember that night well. Two friends came over and we watched the horrible two-hour opener, "Encounter at Farpoint".

I doubt I will have the spunk required to generate a 'ST:TNG, 30 years celebration' piece when the proper time comes.

This all reminded me that when I was reading a media magazine a few months ago, I happened upon a piece about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans demanding a Blu-ray up-rate job -- just like what Next Generation had received. Because that series was post-produced electronically on video (in order to save money overall and to allow for more visual effects, and at a lower cost than what the original series had been saddled with), the drawback was that in order to release the series on a high-definition format, all the camera rolls, of visual effects and general live action material, had to be re-transferred --- this time around to HD instead of the original production's 1-inch or Betacam "standard def" process. To boot, the visual effects elements all had to be re-composited. Keep in mind that there are seven years-worth of episodes.

The decision to 'reprocess' Next Generation for high-definition cost Paramount's home entertainment division a lot of money; man-hours and time. As the reader can imagine, even for those who don't know an original camera-negative from a Panaflex, it was quite the effort.

The article about DS9's hoped-for Blu-ray release stated that sales of ST:TNG's Blu-ray set have been "underwhelming". (The fact that it's not a very good series might have something to do with it. Fans-only.) Deep Space Nine's fan base, however rabid, is too small to warrant a whole series up-convert. (A friend of mine loves that series, but he admitted to me recently that his DS9 DVD set is most sufficient.)

My guess is Paramount will not discuss the issue of further archival Star Trek Blu-ray releases. It's a numbers game. And a certain precedent will close the tables.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

About "Last Night"

This is perhaps the most time-sensitive posting I've done.

At this very minute the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is running Don McKellar's 1998 apocalyptic film Last Night. The image quality is terrible. The best way I can describe it is that it looks like "up-resed" Pixelvision.

I worked for years in film and video "imaging". What happened to the interpositive? Or the cut negative? Did they meet their untimely end?


BSG Miniseries from the Disount Bin

This non-collector of DVDs has been known to grab select titles if they are marked down to a reasonable price; like $2.

"Battlestar Galactica - the miniseries." Why not. A friend brought it over to the house a few years ago; the best I can say is I made it to the end.

When I get some free time I'll give it another shot; although, it doesn't look good. On the DVD back screams New York Magazine: "Superior to the original."

That's like claiming that Lost is superior to The New People.


Tonight, on the CBC: The Filmmakers - S01, E03

On July 22nd I posted this:
CBC Tonight: The FIlmmakers - Atom Egoyan

E02 (episode 2) was last Sunday night; the featured Canadian filmmaker that night was Sarah Polley. I missed it. Polley is a fine filmmaker, "Canadian" or not. I've seen her three feature-length films: Away from Her; Take This Waltz; and Stories We Tell. (Just Waltz was weak. It's what I refer to as a "Make Work Project".)

Tonight, at 9pm, is E03: "Last Night - Don McKellar"

Something my brother said to me a few years ago: "McKellar is really talented!" (Expletive deleted.)


A Purrfect Relationship

Yesterday I read an article on how the domestic cat is one step away from world domination. Of course they are everywhere, even on the high seas.

There is some debate among those who study cats in an academic way as to how humans and cats have learned to get along with one another. There are other animals that we have managed to domesticate but the cat is the least afraid of us.

There is one thing that cats are unarguably not afraid of: our pocketbooks.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Forest of Crackerboxes

Whenever I see pictures or video material of Toronto's downtown skyline I get sad. (Sorry, I needed to use a catching word.)

All those condominium towers; up and going up. The image almost looks like a deliberate composite showing what the city skyline would look like if "things" got out of control.

Well, they have.

A few months ago I came across some pictures I took of Toronto when I was on one of my visits to the Toronto Islands. That volley was snapped in September of 1990. If it weren't for the fact that the CN Tower and the Skydome were there in the photographs, I would not recognize it today.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - ST:D

Today, on the Toronto Star's website:

Star Trek: Discovery was delayed to protect quality, says producer

Which, based on many, many precedents, could very well translate as: Nobody has a vision, except the show's first executive producer (Brian Fuller), but he was turfed because a committee with a new vision came along, and many people were replaced, with new people taking over who have no clue as to what Star Trek is about.

A real cynic might say that the line from new Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman is code for: "It's a dog, folks, but we can't admit that to you."