Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bye 2013. Hello Future.

December 31, 2013

A couple of final things before we show 2013 the door…

First. Follow the link below for a free download of “December 31” from Country music star Levi Lowrey. For my money this is the kind of guy who might just rescue “New” Country from what’s become an endless run of “havin’ a beer in my truck on a dirt road” songs.

December 31.

And finally, it’s already 2014 in most of the World. Being a big fan of fireworks and having had the pleasure of watching the Sydney Harbour Bridge blow up one New Year’s Eve, watching the great cities of the world bring in the New Year with a bang is one of my great pleasures.

This year, Dubai promised to set a world record for the biggest fireworks display ever. And I think they might have just done it.

Here’s hoping that 2014 comes in as big and continues to burn as bright where you are tonight. See you next year.

Log Rolling Out Of 2013

As many do on the last day of the year, I look back on what’s been accomplished, achieved or survived over the previous 365. Recently, that’s led me to publishing my own “Top Ten” list of what I thought was best here at The Legion.

Because –- God knows –- nobody else will…

If there was a theme here in 2013, it appears to have been breaking away from cable and in the process from supporting a Canadian broadcast industry that doesn’t go much out of its way to support Canadians, let alone offer them anything either definitively national or innovative.

But there’s other stuff too. And I hope none are too hard on your head if reading is about all you can handle on the first day of 2014.

Thanks again for visiting so often in the past year. I’ll do all I can to keep you coming back.

In no particular order…

More Reasons To Cut The Cord

A Classy Reason To Cut The Cord

Enough With The Geo-Blocking

More Stuff You Can’t See In Canada

Canadian Artists Matter – Someplace Else

Sometimes Its Not Just A Movie

The Whiff of Desperation

The Knows It Alls

The Cop Who Captured Lee Harvey Oswald

The Impossiblist

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Classy Reason To Cut The Cord

There used to be a lot of Art on television. Networks like A&E and Bravo were once home to classic plays, symphony, opera and dance. Even our national broadcaster, the CBC, prided itself on bringing the best of Stratford, The Canadian Opera Company and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to far flung audiences with little chance to attend the brick and mortar venues themselves.

Not so much anymore.

And even as the debate over unbundling cable begins here, no one is stepping up to offer Canadian viewers a reason to continue it via programming with a little more heft than “Duck Dynasty” or “Real Housewives of Vancouver”.

To date, those who’ve given up on choosing between being challenged on the value of a storage locker or watching reruns of “Flashpoint” for the umpteenth time have had to rely on the likes of Netflix for something new or different.

And while the exponential growth of that company and other video aggregators poses a threat to Canada’s “do as little as possible” broadcasters, a new service has arisen that could be a game changer for many cable subscribers.

Digital Theatre has arrived from the unchallenged home of English language theatre offering classic plays, popular musicals, opera and dance from Britain’s premiere venues.

Want to watch “Macbeth” from the esteemed Liverpool Everyman company featuring David “The Walking Dead” Morrissey? How about the recently acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production of “As You Like It”?

Does your taste run toward David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in the West End production of “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” or “La Traviata” via the Royal Opera Company?

How about brilliantly staged versions of “Merrily We Roll Along” or “Into The Woods”. Or the latest from cutting edge companies such as The Royal Court or Young Vic companies. 

All are now available via an online link and at a fraction of what you’ve been paying for the same thing at your local mutliplex. And certainly more economical than what you have been shelling out for all those bundled channels you never watch.

Unlike Netflix, Digital Theatre charges per selection with options to rent or own in SD or HD. And it’s also available for tablet and mobile platforms.

And while our broadcaster conglomerates argue against bundling in an effort to hold onto the status quo, it’s clear that the audience now has one more reason to opt for a system in which they only pay for what they actually consume and have it available when it works best for them and not some network programmer or sponsor.

One more reason to cut the cord completely –- with many more to come…

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 305: Chess Boxing

“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me…”

Around 1983, Tim “Jesus Christ Superstar” Rice teamed up with ABBA frontmen Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus to create a stage musical entitled “Chess”.

It was a musical version of the Cold War, debuting a year later for what would be a three year run in London’s West End and spawning one massive hit song, the darkly physical “One Night in Bangkok” (excerpted above).

Now, the game of Chess which mimics the strategies and tactics of warfare has long been a cinematic and dramatic metaphor for all manner of conflict.

Except maybe for another oft used cinematic and dramatic metaphor for conflict -- Boxing –- at least until recently…

Perhaps inspired by the Wu Tang Clan’s 1993 hit  Chessboxin’ or a French comic book that came along ten years later entitled “Le Froid Equateur”, Dutch fight promoter Iepe Rubingh staged the first Chess-Boxing match in 2003.

Ten years later it’s become a fast growing sport with International championships in three weight classes decided a month ago in Moscow, a competition made up of, as the song from “Chess” says “a little flesh a little history”.

Now, this may all be simply symptomatic of the bastardization of careers that we’re all seeing, wherein you aren’t just a screenwriter or director but the guy who also has to raise the financing and distribute your finished film.

And I don’t know if other hybrid sports are in our future, such as Sudoku/Baseball or NASCAR/Checkers, but I’m told that Chess-Boxing has revitalized the fading attraction of the sweet sport, with former heavyweight champ Valery Klitschko now one of its leading competitors.

Could be that TSN’s hockey-less future will be saved by appealing to those who get their  “kicks above the waistline, sunshine”.

Here’s how this fascinating new game works. Enjoy your Sunday.

And here’s that signature 1980’s show tune, in case you’ve been missing it…

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Legion Christmas Concert

Every Christmas since this blog launched, we’ve put on a concert. It’s my own nod to the small town celebrations that were a highlight of my prairie upbringing -– and also introduced me to the show business.

We’ve done everything here from reliving one of those school shows to collecting the favorite carols of other bloggers, to parades of lights and mail in requests.  Just punch “Christmas Concert” in the search box above and you’ll be inundated with all things Christmas.

This year, I wanted to offer some new songs of the season along with a couple of chestnuts revitalized by new voices. One of the fascinating things about Christmas is the way we keep re-birthing the spirit of the season.

But then, I think that was the whole point from the beginning.

I hope you like this year’s selections and perhaps discover a tune or two that become part of your Christmas seasons to come.

Thanks to all of you who keep visiting the Legion and growing its reach. I hope I continue to keep you entertained or informed or at least give you some reason to keep coming back.

May this Christmas be the merriest you’ve known and the new year bring all you desire.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lazy Sunday #304: Hope For Paws

Dusty and her friends

This is my sheepdog Dusty playing with a bunch of her pals. Something we do everyday to get us both out of the house and socializing. Me with the neighbors. My dog with her buds.

I’m a big advocate of writers owning dogs. And in some ways, this post is an extension of this week’s ideas for those who are hard to buy for at Christmas. Because you can’t give the writer in your life a better gift than a dog.

And here’s why…

1. It’s well known that when a writer goes to work and gets on a roll, he enters what’s known as an “Alpha state”. Brain waves slow. Awareness expands. Creative energy flows. Fears vanish. You experience a liberating sense of peace and well-being.

Animals, particularly dogs, gravitate to those generating alpha waves, generating their own as well as they curl up nearby to enjoy the same sense of peace and well-being. Their alpha state in turn supports your own. Creative energy expands. You write more –- and sometimes better.

2. Writing can be a lonely profession, especially once you begin to make a living at it. With a dog snoring next to you, you feel less alone, again enhancing the writing experience, making it less a chore, less a thing to be avoided.

3. Much as we writers laud our ability to party, to knock back shots with the best of them and otherwise keep up with our fellow man, we don’t really. Some of us lock ourselves away for days to break the back of a story or overcome that brick wall we built in Act II.

A dog forces you to get out, three or four times a day at least. He could care less about justifying a character’s motivation. He’s more interested in sniffing out who’s been running through the park before he got there or making some squirrel realize he belongs back in the trees. His priorities are not yours and in making them yours for the brief time you’re out for a walk, you let your subconscious go to work on what’s holding you back.

It’s like sleeping on a problem without the need of a nap. You return to your work refreshed, oxygenated and with a few insights you didn’t have before your animal forced you away from the grindstone.

4. The opposite sex is attracted to anyone who exhibits care and concern for an animal. It’s related to that adage that you can judge a person best by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. Just as you think twice of going out with somebody who is nasty to waiters or a store clerk, you feel closer to somebody who’s kind to animals.

I could go on. But then you’d miss the thrill of discovery as a dog enters and then transforms your life for the better.

too cute puppy

What’s more, you can find a dog in any price range and suited to whatever lifestyle or self-image you inhabit.

Often, they can be had almost for free and any dog owner will confirm that some of the best are “rescues”. Dogs who have been abandoned or have otherwise found themselves without a caring human in their lives. Their sheer exhilaration at finding a “forever home” translates into the most powerful of bonds.

Animal rescue organizations can be found in virtually every city or town. Or you can access an organization like “Hope for Paws”, a group who searches out the utterly lost and returns them to the love and companionship they miss more than food or shelter.

At this season of giving, give a thought to giving a home to a creature who will give you so much more in return. You will never regret the decision. It’ll make you a better person and a better writer as well.

Enjoy your Sunday…


Saturday, December 21, 2013

For The Person Who Has Everything Pt.2

http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/TPV3/media/blogs/blog/8/super-rich-toys.jpgWhen you come right down to it, the answer to the Christmas gift buying conundrum, “What do you get for the person who has everything?” is really quite simple.

You buy them something they can’t possibly have –- because it hasn’t even been invented yet.

And thanks to websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, that’s easier than it’s ever been while fitting every budget from workplace secret Santa to those tired of the same old designer bling.

On these sites, you can buy your giftee everything from the latest tech to an organically bound book of poetry to a campaign to stop bullying.

And whether the gift that results from your investment on their behalf is a successful feature film or a cupcake franchise that totally flops, you’ll have given them something nobody shopping at the mall can –- the chance to be part of something innovative and unique.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned making movies and TV shows, it’s that a lot of the people who put money into them don’t really care if they make a truckload of money in return. Some of them don’t even care if the project bombs or isn’t even very good. They just like being part of the ride.

I once had dinner with a couple who had spent years financing failure after failure on the legit stage. They couldn’t have been happier with their terrible investments. The hallway of their home was lined with posters, a literal gallery of inept production.

But each one came with a story of a sparkling opening night, a charming actor who had joined them for lunch or having the only existing reel-to-reel tape of the original cast album.

In a world where it’s getting harder and harder for most people to feel unique, you’ll be offering your friend the opportunity to stand out in a small way, while simultaneously helping bring something unrealized into the world.

And that should make both of you –- as well as the person whose dream you’re supporting feel very much in the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

For The Person Who Has Everything Pt. 1

We’ve all got one or two people on our Christmas lists who are impossible to buy for. Either their material needs are fully met and you can’t afford what they might appreciate – or – you just have no clue what they consider worthwhile.

So for the next couple of days, as the pressure builds to find them something, I’m going to suggest some different approaches to gift giving you might find useful.

First: It’s the thought that counts.

I get a lot of cards this time of year from business associates letting me know that in lieu of the traditional bottle of wine or embossed letter opener, their company has opted to make a charitable donation to some worthy cause. And who can argue with that?

But it sometimes comes off as self-serving (to make the giver look good) and doesn’t really involve or maybe even relate to the person on whose behalf they’re gifting.

A few years ago, a guy I worked with put his own spin on this. He announced he was giving out care packages to the homeless and invited his clients over for a drink. What we didn’t know is that we were doing the distribution and hit the streets with him in search of those in need.

It was a night before Christmas I’ll never forget.

Gifting the person who has everything in this way. Making them a partner in a cause for which you volunteer not only provides an experience they otherwise might never have had. And it tends to recruit them for the cause.

Since that year, I’ve set aside one night prior to Christmas (usually a cold one) to head out with some bundles to warm somebody’s predicament at least a little.

This years package contained a toque, waterproof mitts, thick sox wrapped up in a cheap but cozy thermal blanket with a Tim’s card credited with enough for a hot soup and sandwich combo or enough coffee refills to buy the user a few hours of uninterrupted shelter from the cold.

And the packages handed out this year were multiplied by one of my “giftees” doing the same thing with his kids a few days later.

The Spirit of Giving is what makes Christmas special for most of us. And you might introduce your hard to buy for person to those using foodbanks, trapped in hospitals or otherwise struggling to get by.

And most people, once face to face with a those in need and feeling the personal satisfaction that comes from helping out, tend to find their own way of replicating the experience.

You’ll give someone hard to buy for a gift that keeps on giving for all concerned as well as one the one on your list will never forget.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keith Makes It To 70


I’m old enough to remember seeing the first Rolling Stones album placed in the window of Regina’s Woolworth’s store, the place where all we local hip teens bought all our records.

It was 1964 and while I liked “Not Fade Away”, their first hit in my neck of the woods, I had already taken umbrage with the Tigerbeat and Teenbeat magazine insistence that they were the guys who would knock The Beatles off their perch.

In those days you took sides. Not necessarily in a Tupac/Biggie Smalls way. But you just didn’t buy the records of anybody who threatened your icons.

My ambivalence toward The Stones continued through at least the first decade of their career. While I’d been devastated by the deaths of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin, the overdose/murder of Brian Jones had been of little consequence.

I liked more of their stuff by then, but they were still on my musical fringes, the kind of band you associated more with the darkness of Altamont than the warmth of Woodstock.

Then in February of 1977, Keith Richards was arrested in Toronto, charged with possession of heroin for the purpose of trafficking. His passport confiscated, he was forced to hole up in the city for a few weeks until a legal way could be found to get him home.

It was a bitterly cold winter and I was doing some play at the time that left me dashing for a streetcar I’d have to wait an hour for the next one if I missed it. One Saturday night, worn out from two back to back shows, I missed it.

Seeking shelter, I wandered into a small restaurant to get a drink and a bite. There was one occupied table at the back, a half dozen folks who’d clearly been there a while.

My food came, followed shortly by a froggy voice with a British accent calling from the table, “You eating by yerself, mate?”. It was Keith Richards.

He waved me over with a cigarette, instructing the gathering of wives, lovers and friends to make a place.

He was emaciated, clearly strung out and you got the feeling the others were more dedicated caregivers than acquaintances, making sure he was both protected and –- handled gently.

I missed a couple more streetcars that night, listening to astonishing stories, addled rants and enduring long silences where the looks among his companions telegraphed “Should we take him home now?”, “Is he taking a turn?” etc.

I left first, appreciative of our time together, but haunted by the feeling that the guy was not long for this world, no matter how adept and compassionate his entourage might be.

Keith weathered that crisis, returning to England for rehab a short time later. My next close encounter with him was more than a decade later when I went to see the IMAX Rolling Stone feature “At The Max”.

Two obviously long-time Stones fans sat in front of me, almost as high as Keith had been during our brief encounter. But even they were as astounded as I by the film’s first shot of the band in the wings prior to taking the stage.

The first thought that went through my mind was “My God, how many German sheep hormones have these guys been shooting?”.

Like many of those who have had the pleasure of that amazing concert film, the high point was the Keith’s performance of “Happy” before the Intermission. One of the guys in front of me was so moved, he turned to his buddy and said, “Keith’s so good they should give him TWO songs”. I’m not sure if his pal nodded or simply nodded off.

But again, I departed with the feeling that Keith could not last much longer.

I’m so pleased my diagnostic skills are so sadly lacking.

Keith turned 70 today and threatens to verify the belief of some that after the human race disappears, the planet will be inhabited by two life forms, the cockroach –- and Keith Richards.

And if that’s the case, I for one will be enormously “Happy”.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 303: Singularity

Goodbye world. The universe could be about to collapse on us according to scientists in Denmark. Source: Thinkstock

Apparently –- at least according to some scientists in Denmark –- the Universe has begun to collapse.

Now, if you’ve read anything about the Big Bang Theory, you know a lot of scientists believe that will eventually occur (and use your best Carl Sagan voice here) “in billions and billions of years…”

Only these guys in Denmark have done some calculations and think it might be a whole lot sooner.

Not, as in, take a pass on the Christmas shopping or forget setting something aside for your grand-kids college fund sooner. But sooner.

Now let’s not forget that exactly five years ago today, in 2008, Al Gore assured us that thousands of climate scientists had concluded the artic would be completely ice-free by last Summer. And, well, look out any window in the Northern hemisphere this morning and it’ll give you some idea how accurate those smarty pants scientist guys were.

At any rate, the end is nigh –- or as nigh as it’s ever gonna be for most of us -- and it might be worth your while giving some thought to Life and Death and Eternity and how you and those you love fit into that picture.

But since getting your head around such weighty issues at Christmas can be a bit of a struggle, filmmaker Eric Hurt has done the job for you, in a brilliant short film entitled “Singularity”.

Prepare to be blown away.

And Enjoy Your Sunday…

Singularity from Eric Hurt on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Something For The Weekend

Lovely as the traditions of the season are, let’s all admit, it’s easy to slip into a rut.

But it’s also easy to turn all that around. Some thoughts for the weekend…

Monday, December 09, 2013

Flying This Christmas?

You might want to consider buying a ticket from the airline I take whenever I have the option…

Some airlines claim to be “The World’s Favorite” or promise to “fly the friendly skies” or assure you you’ll “fly with friends”; all hoping to offset the aggravations and annoyances that have become synonymous with air travel these days.

Some offer you a complimentary drink in their lounge, no charge for your first piece of luggage or a free headset for in-flight entertainment.

Others attempt to exemplify the best of their heritage through exotic menu items or flight attendants in traditional dress.

But only one goes this far to let their passengers know how much they are appreciated. For this reason, and many more, you might want to consider a Canadian airline that truly reflects the country they call home.


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 302: Reach Out Worldwide

Often it seems that only in losing someone do we discover how special they really were.

For most, Paul Walker, who died last week, was the star of a phenomenally successful film series that was more about cars than characterization.

Immediately, the media seized on the “lived fast – died young” meme to frame the story of Walker’s life, apparently unaware that he was so much more than a good looking action hero just as the “Fast & Furious” movies were about more than drag racing.

They made a visceral connection with fans who, like the aficionados of martial arts films, know that it’s the action scenes in such films that define and delineate characters. And those fans had lost an icon.

What’s more, the F&F franchise created a family of outsiders with their own special codes of honor and loyalty. And those drawn to that sense of belonging had lost a brother and a friend.

Then we learned that Walker was less about Hollywood success than using the assets success gave him to make the world a better place.

When he wasn’t shooting a film, Walker’s time and energy were dedicated to an organization he’d founded known as “Reach Out Worldwide”, a network of professionals with first responder skill-sets (EMT, paramedic, firefighting, and healthcare) providing expertise when disasters strike.

Designed to quickly respond to need and suffering, ROWW was responsible for establishing one of the first field hospitals in Haiti after its earthquake and to date has responded to earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and tornadoes all over the planet.

And Walker wasn’t one content to be the fund-raising face of the organization. More often then not, his were the first boots on the ground, tirelessly providing aid for disaster victims, many of whom never knew they were being cared for by a movie star.

In the wake of his death, Walker’s family asked that donations be made in his name to ROWW. And if you’re of a mind, you can do that here.

Or you can buy a DVD copy of “Fast & Furious 6” when it’s released next week, as a portion of its earnings will go to funding the humanitarian work Walker supported.

With the season of giving upon us, it might be fitting that we in the business do what we can for one who was part of “La Familia” as the Fast and Furious characters were fond of saying.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 301: Shaybu Shaybu!


Well, this is going to get interesting…

For those not paying attention. This week Rogers Communications, considered by most to be somewhere around number 3 or 4 in the TV broadcast hierarchy in Canada, took $5.2 Billion it had squirrelled away (probably from exorbitant roaming charges) and bought 12 years of exclusive rights to NHL hockey on every conceivable platform.

Almost immediately, a wringing of hands began over what this might mean to Canadian broadcasting as a whole and the venerable CBC in particular.

Y’see for years, CBC, home to Saturday’s “Hockey Night in Canada” twin bill of games and most of the playoffs, has claimed that Hockey and the money gusher attached to it was what allowed them to make “great” Canadian television.

It also allowed them to make fewer shows overall since it had 3 months of Prime Time taken up by the Stanley Cup Finals. Encouraged them to make cheap spin off hockey related reality shows like “Battle of The Blades”, “Last Man Standing” and the soon to debut “NHL Revealed”. Not to mention green-lighting countless documentaries and MOWs about the Canada/Russia series of 1972 and Don Cherry.

Now, it seems, they’ll have to do something else -- as well as find a way to pay for it.

Meanwhile, over at Rogers, a lot of Cancon will almost certainly be shunted aside so that their City-TV channels can broadcast hockey along with the multiple Sportsnets, since Rogers is committed to making every single game played by a Canadian team available nationwide.

Sample hockey schedule.

That means up to seven games on any given night on competing channels and as many as three in a row on any one outlet.

This might strike some as overkill and have others wondering if there are really enough guys living in their parents’ basements in Burnaby and Woodbridge to attract well-heeled sponsors.

But it’s something Rogers had to do since competing (and so much better at broadcasting hockey) Sports network TSN would’ve been the keeper for most fans when cable unbundling begins.

It also prevents fans from opting for the NHL’s online streaming service “Centre Ice” which blacks out games available on local TV since now everything will be available on local TV.

Gee, I wonder if anybody at the NHL realized that Canadians would have no use for their online package anymore, meaning it will have to be funded by 8 guys in Boston, 3 in New York and whoever is watching at Wayne’s house in Phoenix.

Oh, and of course –- Rogers also needed you to be able to access games on your phone so they can sell more of those. And golly, who doesn’t lust for the thrill of end to end rushes on a 3” screen with a virtually invisible puck.

Hey, are we about to see the return of the infamous “glowing puck” of 1994? And if we are, how many Billions will Rogers have to pay Fox for those rights?

Also --  with $5.2 BIG going out the door on this one deal, will we soon see Rogers going back to the CRTC, hat in hand, to ask for some breaks on the money they currently have to spend on dramas and comedies? Or to “pretty please” bump up their subscription rates? Maybe higher charges for data packages?

I’m thinking that this might actually be one of those cases of corporate over-reach that ends up burning the guy with the deepest pockets more than the competition.

Anybody remember what became of the massive deals that were AOL/Time Warner, Daimler/Chrysler, Snapple/Quaker, and HP/Compaq from which all involved are still struggling to recover?

God knows, it could be quite a while before anybody owning Rogers stock sees another dividend check. And what happens to ad revenue when the hockey market is fragmented over so many games, night after night after…

Rogers just might have to feed the beast with new teams and a population as hockey mad as we are. And where would that be?

Wait. I know…

Shaybu, Shaybu.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

For those who don’t speak Russian, the lyrics are as follows:

Shaybu! Shaybu! Victory will be ours!
Shaybu! Shaybu! Guys, we are with you!
If we have to, we’ll score even more!
Shaybu! Shaybu! Russia is behind you!
Shaybu! Shaybu! Guys, you are strong!
We are the Russian team! We are are the Red Machine!