Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 514: A Stand Up Guy

A few months ago, a friend of mine decided he wanted to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

Now, this is a bright, talented, intelligent guy with a Masters in Languages and a very successful career in another branch of the show business. Maybe it was some kind of bucket-list, mid-life crisis thing. I don't know. But he wanted me to accompany him to a local open mike night and critique his work -- so I did.

And as a result, I ended up meeting a bunch of young comics just starting out and was reminded of the comedy scene in Toronto when it was just a gleam in Mark Breslin's eye and whoever conceived the Just For Laughs festival still hadn't put that first bottle of seltzer down somebody's pants.

On one level, those who do stand-up comedy are no different from those who choose to become actors, singers, writers or directors. There are some who are hugely talented but adrift. Some with little talent but lots of drive. All trying as best they can to find their voice and a way to entertain an audience.

But on another level, stand up comics are very, very different. I've always looked on them as the professional wrestlers of legitimate show business. The kind of people instilled with a clarity of purpose that would give a Jesuit pause and the courage to go out night after night to get a steel chair in the face.

There is simply no one braver than a stand up comic. As the saying so aptly goes -- "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard". And stand ups face their own agonizing version of death every time they step onto a stage.

Through little more than dumb luck, I saw some of the best comedians ever to come out of Canada take their first baby steps. Jim Carrey. Mike Myers. Ron James. Brent Butt. Howie Mandel. And the list goes on.

But perhaps the bravest of them all was Mike MacDonald.

Mike stared down depression and a bi-polar condition long before he ever stood in front of an audience. And he continued to fight those demons as he built an astonishing list of classic routines that were funny as hell.

Later he battled Hepatitis C and performed the super-human feat of rebooting his career following a liver transplant, going back on the road while struggling nightly to remember the intricate, nuanced jokes that had once rendered audiences helpless with laughter.

Much of that is covered in a Marc Maron WTF podcast from last Summer and well worth a listen here. Mike's portion begins about 40 minutes in.

Mike died last night back home in Ottawa, leaving fellow comedians stunned. To many of them, Mike was a giant, both as a talent to emulate, a mentor and a friend.

And those, like me, who saw him perform remain awed by the ability he had to make us laugh.

Whether you had that good fortune or not, Mike left a raft of great routines, TV specials and more to keep us laughing for a long time to come.

Here's a taste.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 513 Tattad Tattad

All week long I've struggled with what I wanted to write this week. The winning of an Oscar by an old pal and creative partner had me leaning in that direction.

Tonight's pending Canadian Screen awards seemed worthy of mention.

And in the midst of it all was International Women's Day and there are few guys who love women as much as I do. Heck, half my career was founded on cleavage.

Therefore -- lots of things worth celebrating in the best sense of that word.

But then I noticed a trend that I've been aware of for pretty much all of my life in Canada. We have trouble truly celebrating significant moments here -- with real Joy.

I don't mean that we don't know how to party or share a lot of laughs, because we're spectacular at that. But somehow, when it comes to really embracing the inspiring moments, we tend to go in a different direction.

The very day J. Miles Dale and his talented gang of Canadian creatives snagged the Best Picture Oscar for their beautifully made and spiritually uplifting film "The Shape of Water", the CBC was working hard to tarnish the achievement by insisting the film didn't really understand the disabled.

Meanwhile, virtually every nominee in the feature category of the Canadian Screen Awards can be described as dour, depressing or at best -- heartbreaking. Nothing that encourages people to line up at the box-office and lay down some hard earned cash for an evening's entertainment.

Meanwhile, International Women's Day was marked by Canadian film execs eulogizing the career of Telefilm Exec Carolle Brabant for revolutionizing how Canadian film success is measured -- meaning she stopped equating it with entertaining audiences or earning money.

In other words, they were appreciative of her adding additional years to their inability to actually reach an audience.

Now, trust me, I know that financial success isn't everything in the world of film and that celebrity is shallow and fleeting. But to quote writer Mickey Spillane -- "I have no fans. You know what I got, Customers".

Customers are what "The Shape of Water" will have for generations. Few, if any, of whom will ever catch one of tonight's Canadian Screen Awards nominees unless they're afflicted with insomnia and watching TMN at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Other nations celebrate the joy their cinema inspires in its people. Those sappy montages from the Oscars are one example. For another, search Youtube for clips from the Bollywood Film Fare awards which fill stadium sized arenas with rabid movie lovers.

Therefore, I offer the following lesson in learning how to find the joy in making films your country can embrace. It's a musical number from the Bollywood hit "Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-leela" basically "Romeo and Juliet" in Hindi.

It also allows women still celebrating International Women's Day the opportunity to shake their booties and objectify a guy for a change.

And if any of this upsets you -- I was probably influenced by a rogue element of the Indian government.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 512: The Dog Photographer

I've written before that I own a dog who hates to have her picture taken. I don't know why. Every other dog I've spent time with just kinda sees a camera and assumes an "aren't-I-cute" pose.

My theory is that she was once part of a litter of puppies much sought after because her mom and dad were both champions. People came and took pictures and one by one all her brothers and sisters disappeared. Ergo -- Camera = Vanishing without a trace.

Now and then, somebody at the dog park catches a great shot of her. Usually when she's too exhausted from playing with her pals to notice her picture is being taken.

But even with dogs who love to be in the spotlight, it's hard to capture an image that resonates with the true character of the animal. Some gifted photographers manage to do it now and then. But only one has done it continuously for decades.

William Wegman.

For more than 45 years and using barely more than his own pet companions, Wegman has managed to corner the collective imagination when it comes to depicting the relationship/similarity between dogs and those who love them.

There is simply no one better.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Being Human With the Dog Photographer from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 511: Never Die Easy

The latest version of the Olympic Games wrapped up last night, and given that they were happening half a world away and broadcast live in the middle of the night, I didn't think I'd pay much attention.

But I did. As surrounded as they are by corruption and nationalist bullshit, I love the Olympic Games. Even sports I wouldn't normally a) pay any attention to or b) remotely understand.

I've never been much of an athlete. I played baseball and hockey, curled a little, wasn't bad at tennis or bowling and was absolute crap at golf. But I've always admired those who dedicate their lives to something like conquering the half-pipe or mastering the bobsled run.

So I lost a lot of sleep over the last few weeks and in that twilight dream-state when one of those "aren't the games grand" commercials was on, I got to wondering if there was a sport I could've excelled at that might have won me a medal of some kind.

Or at my age -- is there one I might still attempt to share in the "thrill of victory or the agony of defeat".

And maybe there is...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Never Die Easy: The Dag Aabye Story from Justin Pelletier on Vimeo.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 509: Joy & Heron

With the stories on the News endlessly dark and Winter sticking around too long. There's a need for a moment that simply cute and cuddly...

Enjoy your Sunday...

JD.COM 'Joy & Heron' from Nylon Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 508: Make An Impact

It's Super Bowl Sunday. Meaning at some point there will be a discussion of inspiration speeches. What do coaches say to their thoroughbred millionaire players on the eve of or halfway point of the big game?

These speeches are often replayed, paraphrased or parodied by leaders hoping to inspire any group of wannabe achievers from cub scouts to Fortune 500 Vice-Presidents.

A good percentage of any training of professional athletes is set aside for improving character. And who among us doesn't want to be a better person -- or at least imagine scoring the winning points in a championship game.

The inspirational speech has always been a required moment in any movie about football. Knute Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" probably started that trend in "Knute Rockne: All American and since then we've had too many to count.

My personal favorite is delivered by Al Pacino in the best football movie ever written by John Logan and Oliver Stone, "Any Given Sunday".

At least it was until I ran across this one by Rick Rigsby, a former coach and Chaplain of the Texas A&M "Aggies".

These are words that apply to anybody in any endeavor whether or not you've ever laced on a pair of cleats.

It'll make you a better person, no matter who wins today.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 507: Imagination: Tom Wallisch

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

Actually, I'm not.

Because I can say with complete certainty that this week's short film contains more creative ideas, interesting camera work and the sheer joy of life that can only be found in Canada -- than anything you'll find in all the films funded during the past year by Telefilm Canada and/or any other purveyor of Government funded ART.

Enjoy Your Sunday...
Imagination: Tom Wallisch from The North Face on Vimeo.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 506: Alive

I grew up in a place that was little more than earth and sky and a well defined horizon marking where one ended and the other began.

Where I live now is endlessly amazing and I often wonder -- "How did I get so lucky?".

I'm sure a lot of us feel that way about the places life has taken us and where we are or who we've become.

This is where I live. Feel free to try and top it.

And enjoy your Sunday...
ALIVE | Canada 4K from Flo Nick on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 505: The Story Machine

Writers often speak of "feeding the machine". Film and television production in particular often has the feel of a runaway train. There are schedules to be met, time is of the essence and little or no time can be spared for the thoughtful consideration of plot twists and character development. They need the pages on set -- yesterday.

That machine has different variations in the publishing of everything from novels to daily newspapers, even greeting cards have to get the Christmas season covered by early July, if not sooner.

Writers constantly bemoan their deadlines and the lack of sympathy they receive for having to do the intricate work of story creation under such pressure.

And that's not hard to understand. As technology pushes our lives to a faster pace to keep up with business competitors, travel schedules, family demands and just about every segment of our lives, we're all short of time.

And what little time we do have is seldom given over to reading a story. In airports, coffee shops, buses and commuter trains around the planet, you seldom see people with a book or reading from a portable device.

We play mindless, repetitive games. We surf Facebook, looking for worthy nuggets of anything amid mindless, repetitive posts about things we rarely care much about. 

Where is the content that might enrich those few moments of free time we manage to find?

Well -- a French company called "Short Edition" may have found it.

This week at CES, the Computer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, they unveiled a device they've been testing in France for the last two years. It's a story vending machine.

The user simple presses a button indicating how many minutes (one, three or five) that he has to spare. Then the machine dispenses a story of that can be read in that length of time. 

In an unusual twist, the story costs the reader nothing, but the writer is still paid. What's more the machines are calibrated to suit their location. One in a children's hospital will draw from a database of stories for kids for examples. Those in railroad stations and airports might dispense content for travellers to particular destinations.

There are a myriad of algorithms for all manner of demographics to find just the right tale from a current database of 85,000 stories.

Those who access a story invariably share it with someone else at their location, who invariably shares it with someone else, creating discussions and interactions you will never get from a session of "Angry Birds" or scrolling a Twitter or Instagram feed.

Until a Short Edition machine turns up near you, you can sample some of the stories dispensed here. Or you could see the reaction of the first North American to buy one for his restaurant. Francis Ford Coppola, a guy more than familiar with feeding stories into other story machines.

I think these things are going to be very popular and maybe even help one of you to...

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, January 08, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 504: What if.....?

The arrival of each new year brings with it intentions among all of us (whether ascribed as resolutions or just a to-do list) to make this the year we finally accomplish something specific.

Maybe it's something big. Maybe it's small but of personal import. Maybe it's a desire to just do what you normally do or be what you normally are -- only a little better than before.

For those of us who write fiction, that process begins with the question that leads to any story -- "What if...?".

Some of us work harder at crafting "What if?" than others. But nobody goes as far or as deep or as detailed as Randall Munroe, the guy behind the "What if" blog, which you can find here.

An example of this process is in the video that follows.

Imagine yourself making this kind of commitment to your germ of an idea/intention/whatever and...

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 503: Fake News

According to several media reports, "Fake News" is the most hated phrase of 2017. Mostly, I would presume, by members of the media.

I'm not exactly sure when I started ingesting news reports with a grain of salt. But it might've been near the start of my acting career, when a play I was in garnered a less than glowing review from a prestigious newspaper. I asked the show's director if there might be some truth in what the critic had written.

His response was along the lines of -- "Kid, I don't believe what they put on the front page. Why should I take anything in the entertainment section seriously?".

It might've been the first time I considered that journalists might not be telling me the truth.

And after decades of seeing films and TV shows I was involved in depicted as something they weren't, misquoted, flat out lied about and spun to favor competition that bought more ad space, I can tell you that in my experience news is often fake.

What's more, if you spend any time in the company of journalists and get enough drinks into them, many will freely admit to tales they've completely made up. Sometimes they're those speculative headlined pieces based on suspicion rather than fact and intended to do little more than pull in a few more readers or viewers.

Sometimes, they're floating fictional balloons to try to get somebody upset enough to confirm or deny whatever they can't nail down on their own.

And sometimes, like everyone of us, they simply misinterpret what they've seen with their own eyes.

Any cop will tell you how unreliable eye-witnesses can be. People witnessing the same bank robbery will claim there were anywhere from one to five robbers, dressed in suits or camo gear, armed or unarmed and from a variety of races.

It's apparently just the way the human brain works. In stressful situations, we not only take in what our senses are telling us, but are simultaneously spinning through some internal card file of possible options, outcomes and explanations while constructing a story of what happened should we be required to explain it to someone.

In other words, pretty much every anecdote in our personal story file is, from its inception, a turd we're already polishing to make it more dramatic or funnier or show ourselves in a different light.

To be clear, everything we see or read has already been coated with a small patina of "fake".

How else do you explain the inhabitants of Canadian filmmaker Jay Cheel's documentary "Twisted", which explores events that either did or did not take place at the St Catherine's Can-View Drive-In in 1996?

Some of what follows is fake -- but what?

Enjoy Your Sunday...

TWISTED from Jay Cheel on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 502: Out For Delivery

When I was a kid, everything Christmas was delivered to your door. We lived in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan, far from stores and those city sidewalks where silver bells rang on every corner and shoppers rushed home clutching their packages.

A couple of months before the big day, the Sears and Eaton's Christmas catalogues arrived and everybody took turns leafing through the super-colorful pages and circling what they wanted in the hope that Santa or somebody else in the family would take notice and order it for you.

My dad worked as a station agent for the CPR back then and as Christmas got closer the freight shed was stacked higher and higher with cardboard cartons containing somebody's Christmas. Make that everybody in town's Christmas.

Bulky grey canvas bags stamped "Royal Mail Canada" piled up there as well, along with whatever boxes rolled in on the Greyhound or Saskatchewan Transport bus.

But those packages contained more than just Christmas presents. There were frail wooden crates of Mandarin oranges direct from Japan, heavy as a brick fruit cakes and burlap wrapped wheels of cheese, not to mention metal barrels of beer and wooden boxes ringed with steel strapping that held wine and other spirits.

One Christmas, a St. Bernard puppy arrived on the baggage car and stayed with us for a few days until the road to his new farm home could be plowed after a blizzard.

But we weren't completely backwoods and pioneer-timey. We had television and saw all the big Christmas specials with Bob Hope or Perry Como as well as the Christmas parades from far flung metropolises.

There were Christmas movies too. Not a lot. But you could count on "It's a Wonderful Life" and Alistair Sim's Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" making at least one appearance.

We're back to Christmas arriving in packages nowadays. Some days, I've seen as many as six trucks parked on my street as drivers in brown or blue or whatever they slept in last night hustle parcels to doorsteps.

My own place was so busy one morning, the dog gave up the "Danger, Intruder!" bark-fest intended to strike fear into couriers and just pretended she didn't hear the doorbell.

We've got Christmas movies up the ying-yang too. Sometimes 4 or 5 a night. Most of them feature stars you've never heard of or thought were long dead basically beating you over the head with the sentiments of the season while doing their best to get you reaching for a Kleenex.

In the end, the overwrought repetitiveness tends to numb viewers (or me at least) to the true message of Christmas.

Much of that has been remedied by filmmaker Ethan Milner, who turned his gaze to the return of the delivered Christmas and crafted a terrific short film entitled "Out for Delivery".

Please take a half hour break from the holiday as its envisioned by Hallmark and Lifetime to watch a terrific little movie that shows what the day is really about.

Merry Christmas from The Legion.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...

Out For Delivery | Short Film from Shades Mountain Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 501: Earth Vs The Flying Saucers

When I was about 7 or 8 I went to see a movie that marked me for -- if not Life, the balance of my childhood. It was called "Earth Vs The Flying Saucers" and if you've ever stayed up past midnight, I'm sure you've seen it.

It's trashy and stupid and wholly representative of what passed for movie science fiction in the 1950's.

Six or seven years later, middle of Summer in Saskatchewan, I was flopped on my parents couch watching it again, wondering what exactly had freaked me out. And then something totally freaky in the real world happened...

An RCAF jet came screaming over our suburban house rocketing for downtown. A minute later, another one almost tore the shingles off our roof as it tore after it.

I ran outside to see what was going on to find a couple of my friends looking pale and shaky and asking, "Did you see it?"

They didn't mean the jets. They were talking about what the jets were chasing -- a UFO which had apparently streaked across the prairie skies a couple of minutes earlier. Somewhere in the North end of the city, the air raid sirens that had been stuck up around town around the time of Cuban Missile Crisis went off.

This frozen shiver went through me. And then the siren cut out. False alarm.

But my friends had seen something. A lot of people had. Including the pilots of those jets. But by next morning there was nothing on the radio beyond an apology from the nearby air force base over a "low flying training exercise".

I've always wanted to believe in UFOs. But more often than not their sightings get blamed on swamp gas, weather balloons and too much Tequila.

But the stories continue and with the arrival of YouTube, entire channels of UFO footage have become available. Sometimes the witnesses are airline pilots or people who seem eminently grounded and respectable. Most often, however, they look like the guys you see getting arrested on "Cops" and the spaceships bear an uncanny resemblance to Christmas lights and pie plates.

Then yesterday, the New York Times published a story about a couple of Navy pilots who'd encountered "something unexplainable" off the coast of San Diego in 2004. It's one the Pentagon itself has been investigating for the last 13 years and has finally decided to make public.

Now, I don't know if this is the final step in preparing us for the official verification that aliens have arrived or just another unexplained mystery. What I know for sure is the video of the event is a lot more plausible than anything else I've seen so far.

Enjoy Your Sunday...