Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lazy Sunday 360: Pancakes

Sundays are holy to me. Not so much in the religious sense but as a sacrosanct day of rest. A day to step back. Smell the roses. Do what I want rather than what the world might expect or require.

And like any good day, Sunday starts with a good breakfast. The rushed coffee and bagel, the omelette that accompanies an early meeting are nowhere to be found.

I make pancakes.

And I’m good at pancakes.

A pancake just says, “Savor the flavor of the day and its possibilities”.

And pancakes are as easy to make as they are to eat. If something about them seems bland, maybe the following will help you to better…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 359: Johnny Express

Oh, please.Throw the wine into a go cup and head to Walmart.They have cupholders in the cart for a reason, you know!

I’m a huge fan of buying things online.

I think I got that way after moving from a big city to more rural surroundings.

In most cities you can usually find whatever you want with minimal effort once you get to know the place. But as places get smaller, you tend to have to drive around a lot more to find something that isn’t a Big Box staple or only appeals to your particular lifestyle niche.

You save time, money and the impact of your carbon footprint by searching online and having it shipped to your door (more often than not free of charge).

Last week I bought something from China that arrived in less time than parcels took when I was a kid after you ordered stuff out of the Eaton’s catalogue.

It arrived in great shape, exactly as ordered and transportation didn’t cost me a penny –- though I did wonder if the environmental impact of air freighting something from Hong Kong might be a little more serious than if I’d spent an afternoon driving from mall to mall.

But online shopping appears to be the way things are going. And while I don’t understand the economic models or what it likely means in the long run for brick and mortar stores, the price of real estate and careers in retail, it’s sure as hell convenient.

I’ve also gotten to know some real nice people who work for the Post Office, UPS and Fedex, who I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. And being greeted by my overly enthusiastic dog seems to perk up their day as well.

There’s also a kind of magical excitement about opening the package, hoping what’s inside matches the quality and promise of what was advertised.

I also love buying books and software that don’t even get shipped but just instantly download to your hard drive or Kindle – even if that’s not as much fun for the dog.

I hear that if you own a 3D printer you can just type a few lines and make your own car parts and heart valves, although I’m certain you still need some outside assistance having those installed.

Perhaps the day is coming when we won’t have malls, or aisles of products to choose from or even trucks to bring purchases to your door.

To be honest, what I’ll miss most is the thrill of seeing one of those packages coming up the drive. Although Korean filmmaker Kyungmin Woo has a decidedly different take on that…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mothballing The Sweater

The word Fan derives from fanatic. Because when you are a fan of a particular sports team, a true fan, you live and die with them, relish their victories and endure their defeats.

Yes, they often disappoint, even embarrass. But that’s the trade off that comes with the commitment. And in those times when they disappoint, you find a reason to keep loving them, to support, to hope they’ll one day find their way.

But sometimes…

This morning, Toronto Maple Leaf forward Phil Kessel, bemoaning his team’s dramatic slump and his own month long scoring drought, wondered aloud, “Oh my God! Who did we piss off?”

Well, I’ll tell you, Phil…

Me.

Maybe the hockey Gods too. But mostly it’s been me.

A couple of weeks ago, the Leafs fired their coach. Not an unusual occurrence for this continually mismanaged team. But one with an unusually cruel twist.

Randy Carlyle was fired while standing at the bedside of his dying brother, over the phone, because he wouldn’t drive 5 hours to Toronto where he could be fired in person.

Yeah, I know. Life’s tough. Professional sports is tougher. Suck it up, Buttercup. It’s about what’s best for the team and winning.

I also know that the prime driver of sport is that it’s supposed to build character.

Odd how character seems to so regularly desert those in the front offices who manage teams filled with athletes of character.

We’ve seen that in the way Major League Baseball looked the other way on Steroids to bring their game back from a strike that was also caused by executives lacking in character.

We’ve seen how the NBA overlooked criminal activities. The NFL has done the same, adding the ongoing medical mistreatment of their players to their exemplification of character.

But what the Leafs did was personal. I’ve lost two brothers. Both younger than me. It’s a special kind of pain. I can’t imagine dealing with it while the people who were supposed to have my back decided that was the moment to pull another rug from under me.

That takes a very special flaw of character. A failure of humanity .

So, my Leaf sweater has been put away for the rest of this season. Maybe longer. I honestly don’t care how far they fall or who in the corner offices suffers for it.

I’ll feel bad about players who deserve better, the same way I feel bad about a dog with a sorry excuse for a master. But the ones with character will find a way to be traded or exercise their free-agency options.

Yeah, Toronto’s a nice city and a terrific place to play hockey. But there are lots of nice cities. Many where being a person of character appears to matter more.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 358: Night Will Fall

Alfred Hitchcock in 1939

It’s been a rough week for free expression. One in which all of us have had to ruminate on our willingness to accept images and ideas we find troubling as well as what we do to end violence in the name of any –ism, be it religious, political or the simple opposition to something we find alien or out of the norm.

This is far from a new struggle. The tough part is we’ve sometimes had the perfect opportunity to take a hard look at such evils and opted to protect ourselves from the pain instead.

In the spring of 1945, the advancing Allied armies in Europe came across a town called Bergen-Belsen, discovering the massive horror of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution”.

After seeing footage from embedded photographers of the concentration camp, the British government commissioned a documentary to tell the world of its horrors.

Alfred Hitchcock volunteered to lead the team, overseeing the script and recruiting the best combat cameramen from all the Allied nations. What Hitchcock delivered was one of the most powerful indictments of inhumanity ever seen.

And it was never released.

There are many theories on why that happened, from a concern over how it might hamper the reconstruction of Europe to Britain’s own problem with Palestinian Jews clamoring for a homeland.

Now, 70 years later, film-maker Andre Singer has revived Hitchcock’s project with his new documentary “Night Will Fall”.

Using footage from the original film combined with interviews with the men who shot it, camp survivors and some involved in its suppression, Singer has created a powerful indictment of not only the danger of blind dedication to any ideology but the greater danger that comes from those who shush or scold others into silence.

The film will receive a Global broadcast on January 27th. HBO in Canada.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Never-Ending Sideshow

I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs for as long as I’ve known what the words hockey and fan meant. Yesterday the team fired it’s third coach in four years and thus the decades long sideshow of disappointment threatens to continue...

Sometimes being a Leaf fan is hard and unfathomable and –- well, like this:

One day a fourth-grade teacher asked the children in her class what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up -- fireman, mechanic, businessman, lawyer....

However, little Paul was being uncharacteristically quiet, so when the teacher prodded him, he replied, "My father's an exotic dancer in a gay cabaret and takes off all his clothes to music in front of other men and they put money in his underwear.

Sometimes, he will go home with some guy and stay with him all night for money."

The teacher, obviously shaken, hurriedly set the other children to work and took little Paul aside, "Is that true about your father?"

"No," the boy said, "He plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it's too embarrassing to say that in front of the other kids."

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 357: Yearbook

Okay, time to shut the party down and get back to work.

Fun as the holidays were,it’s firmly 2015 and the first official day of nose to the grindstone is Monday.

And if most of you are anything like the so-called journalists of the so-called Main Stream Media, you’ve spent the last few days downloading new productivity apps and boning up on the Life hacks that will give you more time to work more productively.

Allow me to remind you of the Writer’s unspoken code: Less is more.

Your script can always be shorter. You don’t really need that cop character who’s only in one scene even though he has a wonderfully ironic sense of humor.

The same way you’ve been de-cluttering your closets this weekend, you need to remove everything that doesn’t move things forward or enrich character.

By following these simple tenets, many writers have managed to make a living. And in the process have discovered that sanding away the unnecessary in your own life, you get to its inherent truth.

No better illustrated than by way of Bernardo Britto’s 2014 Sundance Film Festival winner for Best Short Film – “The Yearbook”.

Hack away and be productive on Monday.

Meanwhile…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

We made it through another one. And by now you should know the best way of getting through midnight –- imitate the New Year Baby…

Get Drunk

Get Noisy

Get Naked

In whatever order you choose.

Celebrate the best of 2014 and look forward to the promise of 2015.

And should the morning find you a little the worse for wear, pick one of the five hangover cures illustrated below. One of them will have you back among the living in no time…

Monday, December 29, 2014

Save Country Music

Sometimes the things you love go sideways. Sometimes a hero rises to make things right again.

I grew up around country music. The first records I bought were by Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. Elvis and the Everlys came along to seduce me away, but they still had country roots, so I wasn’t really cheating –- and then something went wrong.

Country became sequined suits and big hair. Lounge Lizards in Stetsons and an endless stream of songs about big trucks.

Thank God, “The Beatles” arrived about the same time.

I mostly left Country behind. But something of what it had been still flowed through my veins and drew me to Leon Russell and the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles.

Then sometime in the 80’s, New Country arrived. The sequins were mostly retired and there were artists singin’ my life and tellin’ stories corporatized Rock and Boy Bands could never understand.

I saw some great concerts over the next decade or two. Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, McGraw, Faith, Reba, Paisley, Strait –- and Brooks and Dunn.

Brooks and Dunn owned me. They had a musicality and a creative range that was constantly new and surprising –- and inspiring. Other people must’ve thought so too –- in 20 years, they charted 30 number one singles and sold tens of millions of albums.

And then –- they suddenly retired. While still on the upswing. Garth had taken a powder a couple of years earlier. Strait followed them last Summer. It was as if the good were gettin’ while the gettin’ was still…

And all us Country fans secretly knew why.

There was still a lot of great talent around. But the airwaves were dominated by real little trucks, cold beer, short shorts and sugar shakers. Every group that couldn’t make it as a Ramones cover band was suddenly hot in Nashville, all of them singing virtually the same song.

Tom Petty dubbed Country. “Bad Rock with Fiddles”. And he wasn’t wrong.

The Joker had Gotham by the throat and Batman had been paid not to show his mask on Music Row.

And then Ronnie Dunn decided he’d had enough. He hadn’t brought the magic of Country to millions only to see it pissed away like a warm Coors light.

He turned against the very industry that had made him rich and famous:

“I did it for 20 years, and I learned the mainstream way of doing things was just where ideas go to die… It got to the point where everything we thought was fairly innovative, we would get cut off at the pass. So it’s time.”

Time to kick some ass. Time for a grown up to take charge. Time for Music to matter more than money.

Ronnie Dunn’s first salvoes in his one man revolution were fired this week with a fantastic Facebook page entitled “Save Country Music” that illustrates the genre in all its artistry.

And he’s released a breathtakingly innovative album, “Peace, Love and Country Music”.

Here’s the first single. Despite the powers that be in Nashville it’ll probably still be number one before your New Year’s hangover has lifted.

Country Music has a champion. Garth’s already heard the call and kicked his walker to the curb. Artists like Eric Church and Zac Brown are cheering and I’m thinking you will be too.

This is what it means to care about what you do, to be a grown up artist and a grown damn man…

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 356: The Year In Review

Whatever Stephen Hawking might have to say, the best explanation of Time that I’ve heard came from Burton Cummings of the “Guess Who”.

It went something like “Time speeds up as you get older” and that was based on his experience that at Age 5 it took forever for his next birthday to come around because the wait amounted to a high percentage of the time he’d been around. But when you hit fifty that waiting time has been reduced exponentially.

Maybe he’s right or maybe I just got too busy to notice much else, but 2014 seemed to fly by. CNN is wall-to-wall this morning with panels of missing airplane experts, and I couldn’t turn it off fast enough, the cloying banality of their months ago search for MH370 still feeling like it was only yesterday.

I’ve reached a point where I neither compile or read year-end “Top Ten” lists anymore, mostly because they’ve stopped listing the films, books and music I thought were exceptional in favor of stuff I found ground-breaking when it first came around in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

Us artist types (or maybe our publicists and critics) appear to have the worst grasp on how we got where we are creatively.

But that doesn’t mean that 2014 didn’t hold a lot of stunning moments, inspirational people and events that touched us all.

This is the best compilation I’ve found of what the year we’re about to vacate brought to our attention.  I’m not sure if it’s a fond reflection or encouragement to hurry up and move on.

I hope 2014 was special for you on some level. Mostly I hope that whatever dream or desire went unfulfilled will come to fruition in 2015.

Thanks for dropping by The Legion this year. I hope you’ve found enough worthwhile to come back as we move into the future.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!!!

santa gif

Bless us every one…

The Silent Bell

29 or 30 years ago I was writing and story editing a new CBS espionage series called “Adderly”. I had never worked so hard and couldn’t imagine having time to do anything else but catch some extra sleep.

Then I got a call from a guy I’d never heard of named Steve Scaini, who had an idea for a short film. A Christmas special for CBC. I tried to plead that I was up to my eyes in spies and international intrigue. But Steve persisted and I agreed to meet him.

What intrigued me most in our first meeting was that despite CBC being in one of their “we’re so broke we have no money for shows” periods, Steve had found a pocket the network didn’t know they had. A pocket with just enough cash to do a real-low-budget half hour.

I liked his idea and we both had a couple of other things in common, a huge love of movies and a particular affection for films by Frank Capra.

Both of us wanted to make the kind of “feel-good” features that Capra made famous.

So I said “yes” and a few weeks later “The Silent Bell” went into production and made it onto TV screens a couple of days before Christmas.

It won some awards and did well with audiences. So well the network had us do another real-low-budget Christmas special a year later. Then one for Easter and a couple of just generally Capra style feel-good stories, “The Silver Cloud” and “Calendar Girl”.

29 or 30 years later, Steve and I are still trying to make that “Feel-good” feature and might finally do it next year with “Ghost Train” .

But “The Silent Bell” still has a special place –- especially at Christmas.

I hope it fills you with the Spirit of Christmas and makes you feel good too.

Silent Bell from Spellboundfilms on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe

Like most people, I was introduced to Joe Cocker via the documentary feature “Woodstock” which, as a teenager, I must’ve seen a dozen times. I loved that movie so much I even bought tickets for my parents to see it with me.

Joe Cocker was only on screen for a few moments. But the performance was indelible, one of those explosive instances when you were treated to not only all the fiery possibilities of rock n’ roll but the birth of new star.

His was an energy so raw and emotive that you wondered how anybody could sustain it for a full set, let alone a career.

Around the same time “Woodstock” was affecting the culture, I was finishing theatre school, under the tutelage of a teacher who engrained a serious work ethic in his students.

Decades later, Bruce Springsteen would define his own approach to performing as a simple understanding that somewhere in his audience was somebody seeing him for the first time and somebody seeing him for the last. Both deserved the best show he could give them.

I learned the same thing. You gave 100% every night, no matter what. There was no such thing as a small audience, a matinee full of doddering Seniors or being down with the flu, dog-tired or bored with the show.

100% every time you stepped on stage. Joe Cocker embodied the code completely.

There’s probably no better example of that than a film he made a year after “Woodstock” entitled “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” a Rock-doc chronicalling what has often been called “The greatest Rock Tour of all time”.

It features Cocker on the road with Leon Russell, a band that would form the core of “Derrick & The Dominoes” and the likes of Rita Coolidge working as a back-up singer.

Late in the film, after dozens of electric Cocker performances, the camera follows the band into their dressing room. People laugh and joke, pass around bottles and joints, ready to kick start the after-party.

Cocker sits alone, drenched in sweat, sopping it up with a towel, unable to speak or engage anyone. Utterly spent.

I’d never seen that level of commitment and doubted he’d make it to 30.

But he did. And although I never got to see him in his prime, sometime in the 80’s he played a small nightclub in the North end of Toronto.

I made it to the remote (at least for me) location a couple of songs into the first set and opened the door to see a much depleted Joe Cocker on the tiny stage, backed by a disinterested band, playing for a bunch of drunks wrapt in conversation and oblivious to the legend onstage.

I stayed for one song, watching a man whose talent had been diminished terribly by alcohol and drugs struggle to perform, his once awesome engine running on little but fumes. Not wanting to witness the train-wreck or be left with my illusions shattered, I left to make the long, cold journey home.

Cocker would later get his demons enough under control to record several more hits and thrill live audiences. Perhaps an example of learning to give 100% off-stage as well as on. Or maybe realizing that Life is short with little of it is spent in the spotlight.

Joe Cocker died today at the age of 70. Some say it was a result of lung cancer and others that he passed from nervous exhaustion.

Part of me hopes it was the latter, a fitting end for a man who not only blazed in like a comet but had the courage and fortitude to relight his fire when it threatened to go out.

A moment from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”…

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 355: A Christmas Carol

Everybody has a Christmas Carol they love. And one they can’t fricken’ stand!

With the favorites you can find yourself immediately transported from the most dire mood or circumstances to one of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Your tune just so fully embodies all that the season stands for.

But the same Carol that says it all for you brings out the Grinch in others. And with everybody and their chipmunk putting out a Christmas album, the song might work but the rendition doesn’t.

Past Christmases here at The Legion, we’ve hosted Christmas concerts of our favorites and posted those submitted by readers.

What we’ve never done is offered 20 different versions of the same Carol – because – y’know  - that could get tedious.

Unless…

It’s done by the irrepressible Anthony Vincent, the voice of Ten Second Songs. This may not be your favorite Christmas Carol. But I’m sure there’s a version in here that’ll put you in a Christmas mood. If only for ten seconds.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Great Dictator

This is a story of how far Hollywood has fallen. How far it has strayed from the true spirit of cinematic artistry. How much it has become the purview of the bureaucrat and the bean counter, given to making the safe choices and decisions that don’t make any waves.

As the story goes, Charlie Chaplin and French writer/director Rene Clair sat next to each other at the New York Museum of Modern Art screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi Classic “Triumph of the Will”.

When the film ended Clair was in tears. Chaplin was beside himself with laughter and immediately set to work writing “The Great Dictator”, his satirical take on Adolf Hitler and his Fascist minions.

His film would see Chaplin producing, writing and directing as well as playing the dual roles of his Hitler character, Adenoid Hynkel, and a Jewish barber who lives in Hynkel’s fictional dictatorship of Tomainia.

Chaplin, though beloved worldwide, was no fan of Fascists. And they didn’t have much use for him either. After seeing the comedian mobbed by fans during a 1931 visit to Berlin, Nazi supporters dubbed him “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” even though Chaplin wasn’t Jewish.

Most of Hollywood was aware he was out to skewer the Fuhrer and German diplomats and distributors made it clear to several studio heads that the vast German market might become unavailable to Hollywood should Chaplin’s film be released.

But Chaplin had his own studio and wasn’t swayed by entreaties from other moguls. Despite being English, he also didn’t give a moment’s thought to the British government’s decree that his film would not be shown in the UK so as not to upset international relations.

He simply ploughed ahead. Filming began in September of 1939, one week after War had been declared and was completed six months later. It was Chaplin’s first all-talking film and editing and post production took up the entire Summer of 1940.

During this time, Chaplin worried that audiences would not be interested in an anti-war comedy during wartime. But stories of Nazi atrocities against European Jews continued to bubble in the public consciousness, so he persevered.

The film was released in October of 1940 and became not only an instant hit but the largest grossing film of Chaplin’s career. Even in the midst of the Blitz, more than 9 million tickets were sold in England alone.

According to a recent BBC documentary “The Tramp and The Dictator”, Chaplin also personally dispatched a print to Hitler and the real life dictator was confirmed to have screened it –- twice.

Today, the film retains a 92% “Fresh” rating and a 95% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1997 as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant".

Consider this next to today’s decision by Sony to shelve the Seth Rogan take on another great dictator “The Interview”. It’s a telling indictment of how the entertainment industry now operates.

Chaplin would not be laughing. And sadly, neither are we.