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Elton vs Freddie

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I know the title sounds gruesome, like the name of a horror pic… weird white masks, long claws and blood-dripping knives … but … no.

Horror ain’t my genre (CNN is close enough!) …

But music is.

This past year has brought us two highly-hailed musical icon biopics, although inexplicably neither the (Failing) New York Times nor The Globe and Mail contacted me for my reviews.

Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

Elton and Freddie

By modern musical standards, both Brits are brilliant at the craft of songwriting and music production.

Interesting similarities … British, gay (or bi-sexual), piano players, ultra-flamboyant performers, the same manager for a period of time.

There are a lot of reviews of each of the flicks that dispute the honesty and full-disclosure and timelines of the stories – but you know what? I don’t really care.

Every life is a sh*tshow of interpretation and false-memory and all the bad and good put into a blender of individual perspective (kinda like history in general).

Besides, books do a far better job of relating the nitty-gritty details of a life… movies capture highlights, usually entertain … and in these particular cases, highlight the discography of the musicians. And that’s enough.

I knew of these two artists in the 70’s, and in looking back over time to my formative years … I was all agog over Elton … his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album was a masterpiece encompassing many musical genres.

At the same time, I knew and enjoyed some Queen tunes but Mercury never quite caught me in the same way that John did.

I was Elton’s slave where pop and rock music was concerned. Just to be clear, we never had sex (it never occurred to either of us, go figure).

That was then. This is now.

Today, I’ve switched allegiances somewhat. I haven’t lost my sense of awe in the songwriting of John … but …

… years of listening to the complex orchestral and harmonic brilliance of Bohemian Rhapsody (and to a slightly lesser extent, the larger Queen repertoire) has elevated and shifted my joy of their songs.

But back to the movies themselves.

The flicks took a different approach to the era from which they both emerged… the in-your-face sex and drugs of Rocketman contrasted against the more scratch-the-artist-surface storytelling of Bohemian Rhapsody.

None of us is so naive to believe these were musical angels in disguise … no doubt the sexual encounters and hazy miasma of drugs were large parts of the life and creative existence of both, but brought to the screen far more graphically in the telling of John’s life.

Fantasy scenarios and telling his story through the medium of his songs was a cool and innovative approach for the Elton movie, but somehow it couldn’t draw me in to its narrative in the same way the Mercury one did.

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Ultimately, I think the reason I came away enthralled from Bohemian Rhapsody and not from Rocketman comes down to the main actors.

Elton John’s portrayer, Taron Egerton was always a person, an actor, playing Elton John … he never inhabited the role of Elton. He was Taron singing Elton.

But when I watched Rami Malek … I was taken in, absorbed … and believed that he WAS Freddie Mercury … from his actions, to his voice, to his vulnerabilities.

The movie battle of the musical icons is over in my mind …  Elton vs Freddie brought Freddie as the clear and easy winner. Hail Freddie and Bohemian Rhapsody.

… but …

Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies … in going back to my (long gone) vinyl collection and enjoying the REAL Rocketman, Elton John.

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Oscar and The Side Effects That Might Make You A Better Person

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Frankly Scarlett, it’s almost Oscar time again.

I can’t wait to tear up during the In Memorium section. I love the melancholy, the bittersweet.

I’ve seen slightly more than half the 2019 Best Picture nominees so far, and it’s a rich crop this time around the sun.

But which movie made me a better person?

Aside from the sheer entertainment value of watching a great movie, what are the lingering side effects?

Over the years, I’ve learned not to eat a sandwich in a New York restaurant next to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. I’ve learned that to escape the claws of police after a bank heist, one needs only race across the next State border (why a Canadian should know this is another question) in a depression-era Model T Ford. I’ve learned that a chance encounter with a famous drunken country rocker can lead to untold fame and wealth (but ultimate sorrow).

But should movies have side effects? Not hangovers and tummy aches but … positive side effects?

Of course they should. We pay money to see these artistic creations. There’s gotta be more than awe and catharsis and greasy popcorn fingers.

We often read books with the conscious notion of becoming more intelligent, rounded, complete people. We grow and become better people with each chapter consumed.

Should movies be any different?

Most films are like reading a trashy novel on the beach. Tawdry and easily defecated out the back door of the theatre as we leave.

But … some … some movies are epic and long-lasting, unforgettable, priceless and timeless in their message and format. Like a great song, they get inside your head and linger like the aroma of a beautiful bolognese sauce simmering on the stove.

A couple of positive side effects? Examples?

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I watched A Star is Born where Bradley Cooper (Jackson Maine) knocks Lady Gaga (Ally) out of her sleepy repose:

Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth. And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.

That is a reminder, a reinforcement of a life lesson. The raw ingredients … talent, ability, intelligence are only the first steps to making a statement. Delivering that statement with confidence and balls, courage and sustained effort is what is needed.

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Green Book is a Shakespearean adventure where the “Fool” Bronx-born Tony Lip learns lessons of the world from his “colored” employer Dr. Don Shirley. In turn, Tony reflects back some unconventional teaching moments that inform the life of an “educated” man:

Dr. Don Shirley: Pull over.
Tony Lip: What?
Dr. Don Shirley: Pull over.
Tony Lip: I ain’t pulling over!
Dr. Don Shirley: Stop the car, Tony!
[Tony stops the car and Don gets out and starts walking in the rain]
Tony Lip: What? What are you doing?! Doc? Doc, what the hell are you doing? Doc, get back in the car!
Dr. Don Shirley: Yes, I live in a castle! Tony. Alone! And rich white people pay me to play piano for them, because it makes them feel cultured. But as soon as I step off that stage, I go right back to being just another n****r to them. Because that is their true culture. And I suffer that slight alone, because I’m not accepted by my own people, because I’m not like them either! So if I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, and if I’m not man enough, then tell me Tony, what am I?!

Classic.

The side effect message? To make something special, something great, we have to accept the possibility of setting ourselves apart from our comfortable world. There is a bitter price to be paid for the exceptional.

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How about the flamboyant Freddie Mercury? Bohemian Rhapsody?

Filmmaker Bryan Singer presents Mercury’s father as having been disappointed with his son’s penchant for nightlife and theatricality, urging him over and over again to get serious about his life and follow his refrain:

Good thought, good word, good deed.

Mercury ends up living by his dad’s words, but in his own way. In one scene, the mercurial singer tells a potential manager that Queen is the champion of the oddball: “We’re misfits who don’t belong together, playing for the other misfits. The outcasts. The ones right at the back of the room. Who are pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.” His good thought, word and deed, in other words, is for them — the stigmatized, marginalized and misunderstood.

Finally, eventually, Mercury’s father seems to recognize that his son has lived up to his expectations in their last interaction on screen. Mercury goes home to introduce his family to his boyfriend, Jim Hutton, who remained his partner until the singer’s death from AIDS-related complications at 45, and tell them about his plans to perform in a charity concert (Live Aid) to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

Good thought, good word, good deed.

Just like you taught me, Papa.”

The resulting theme from each of these flicks? The life lesson? The side effect that can make you better?

It’s simple. Occam’s razor simple.

No matter the “size” of one’s existence, greatness is a Herculean struggle. To be better tomorrow than you are today takes effort and strain and pain.

It takes a sizable tub of popcorn to impart these side effects into my brain, because…

… Frankly dear, I do give a damn!

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Our Inner Psychopath

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She felt the warm, wet mascara running down her cheeks.

Wondering to herself why she ever slipped into this narrow black alley at 1:30 in the morning… wondering why she left her friends at the curb as they climbed into a UBER outside the club … wondering how much alcohol she had consumed, how much weed smoked … wondering what gave her the courage, the stupidity, in a blinding snowstorm … to seek out …. eek…. it doesn’t matter what she’s looking for when a heavy quilt-shadow silently creeps up behind her…

Cue the blood spatters and curdled screams… zoom in closely on dark rivers of viscous inky fluid slowly spreading in cloudy storm patterns through the slushy snow on the ground.

And … CUT!

How many people will die on your TV screen tonight? At the local Cineplex?

How much blood and guts will be splashed via XBox or PlayStation by 10 year-olds on a basement couch?

We’re mostly wonderful people and yet, in the books we read, the movies and TV we watch, many feel the strange urge, the inner fascination that draws us with magnetic attraction towards death … frequent, violent, often gruesome.

We know that murder is bad. BAD BAD BAD!!

Irrevocably awful, terrifying and so hard to understand. We know not to do it and we know we’re meant to be really scared of it. Most of us see death as a complicated concept to try and come to terms with at the best of times, but murder?

Is there something wrong that this “entertains” many of us?

It’s the season of love and warm tidings and yet one of the most acclaimed Christmas movies, Die Hard, accumulates a body total of 23 victims by the time the end credits roll. HO HO HO! (maybe one day I’ll actually watch it following It’s A Wonderful Life … Sweet and Sour on the menu)

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It’s confusing because we all know the same results flashing across our TV screens from a war zone in Afghanistan or a mall shooting in Topeka is usually met with our horror, revulsion, and cries of anguish.

So, are we beasts?…. is it simple Schadenfreude…. an inner need to see others’ suffer so that we feel better about ourselves? A similar tale to why we can nastily gossip about the person who just left the room with whom we just smiled and joked?

Do we have an inner psychopath lingering in the deep recesses?

Is it an addictive need for adrenaline, like riding a rollercoaster?

It can’t be a gender thing because women appear to watch and read murder stories in numbers that equal (some studies suggest exceed) men’s fascination.

We are contradictory people, we humans.

We abhor violence, murder, rape, abuse in all its forms … and yet … here we soak up the crime shows, the murder mysteries, the Fifty Shades of BDSM Abusive Behaviour.

We are mostly able to detach and go along for the wild ride with no apparent ill effect. Not totally of course. I still harbour nightmares about the little red-coated girl from Schindler’s List.

It may just come down to the desire for guilty pleasure… the wondrous high of a sweet cinnamon bun, the juiced sensation of diving from an airplane, the taboo notion of being bound and taken advantage of sexually.

I spend my days in a cycle of bemused wonder at the complexity and contradictions of myself and the souls that surround me.

Each day we live adds another perplexing question to the immense wall that will never be totally built.

Even Alex Trebek doesn’t know the answers to ALL the questions.

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Lights… Action… Kiss

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Bolivia.

Sundance: What’s Bolivia?

Butch: Bolivia. That’s a country, stupid! In Central or South America, one or the other.

From a rock cliff high above, an armed lookout signals to Butch.

Butch and Sundance saunter forward on horseback into Hole-In-The-Wall – rugged Wyoming canyons – where turn of the 20th century US robbers and criminals hid away from the law.

The two are the perfect pair: Butch, an independent, unconventional thinker, has the brains and is a quick-witted visionary, disrespectful of both the law and the establishment… Sundance provides the strong, quick-draw, traditional Western hero.

Sundance has heard Butch’s fanciful dreams before, such as his bright idea that Bolivia has better pickings with its silver, tin, and gold mines… and easy-to-rob-banks.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford were the perfect pair that lit up the silver screen in the 1969 bromance Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 

Even more than The Sound of Music, it was a romance that captured my movie heart in a deeply visceral way.

Since then, I’ve sat in the darkness of a theatre hundreds of times, gazing up at the cinematic products of countless directors and actors, consuming truckloads of grease-laden popcorn (in a future life, I may return as a movie maker, or failing that, a movie popcorn critic).

There was no on-screen kiss between Newman and Redford (what mainstream audience in 1969 was ready for the kind of on-screen love that Brokeback Mountain unveiled later) but there was a love connection that even Katharine Ross (Redford’s female romantic interest in the film) couldn’t come between.

……………..

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” ~ When Harry Met Sally

……………..

Movie romance is as common as cheesy love songs in the 1950’s and ’60’s, but just how often do we succumb to their charms?

Most romantic actor combos are sloppy, cliched furballs made from a mixture of lard and lemonade… anything with Matthew McConaughey, Seth Rogen, Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz is a non-starter (I don’t care how good looking they are… and yeah, leave Seth Rogen off that list too!))

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On the other hand, I’ve been charmed by movie romances of a dozen kinds … deliciously sensual pairings such as :

  • Bonnie and Clyde – Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway
  • Benny & Joon – Johnny Depp & Mary Stuart Masterson
  • When Harry Met Sally – Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan
  • Silver Linings Playbook –  Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence
  • Reds – Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton
  • Brokeback Mountain – Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal
  • The Notebook – Ryan Gosling & Rachel McAdam
  • Thelma & Louise – Susan Sarandon & Geena Davis
  • Leaving Las Vegas – Nicholas Cage & Elisabeth Shue
  • And most recently, A Star Is Born – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga

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I’ve come to the conclusion that you could blend Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper with any actor sporting a modicum of acting chops and come out with beautiful chemical burns.

Those chemical bonds that spark a romance between actors channel some vulnerable and magical territory. If it was easy to do, we’d be flooded with a tsunami of unforgettable love stories. Smouldering romance takes great writing and actors tuned to each others’ frequency.

……………..

I wish I knew how to quit you.” ~ Brokeback Mountain

……………..

Most of these flicks have left an indelible impression on me because of their balance, the humour mixed with an underlying sadness or trial that infiltrates and takes up residence.

Movie romance needs to be coddled along with enough tension between the “potentials” that you want to scream out, “oh for God’s sake, just admit to her/him that you love her/him“… that unbearable tension needs to be real and believable, delivered with the possibility that the two may never be together in the end…

The Ending

The flirtation finish, like the final taste of wine in the back of your throat, is critical.

So many movies make it to the final 15 minutes in great shape and then collapse into themselves.

I would have added An Officer and A Gentleman (Richard Gere & Debra Winger) to my list of winners above had the screenwriter not blasted it apart with a corny, cliched carry-the-girl-off-to-co-workers’-applause-into-eternal-bliss-from-her-hell-hole-of-a-life ending. BLAH!!

Titanic lost its sensual sizzle when Kate Winslet couldn’t find a way to share her floating door with Leo DiCaprio. Come on Kate… show us YOU own the Heart of the Ocean.

Blessed catharsis

A smile or a tear explodes inside us when we’ve plumbed the depths of human experience… when Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton finally come together on the train platform in Reds, when Benny and Joon make grilled cheese sandwiches on an ironing board, when Butch and Sundance, or Thelma and Louise plunge forward to their deaths.

When the screen dims … when the theatre lights go up… there should be a lingering silence … a moment or two for the actors, the crew, the audience to absorb, reflect, internalize and feel.

Off in the distance, we finally hear a faint echo from the director, “CUT!”

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I’ve Got A Peaceful Easy Feeling…

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Never won a lottery. NOPE!

Never been to Vegas. Never been asked out by a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model.

So how do I know I’m one of the luckiest guys ever in human existence? Well, lots of reasons but near the top, a mere stone’s throw from the hoodoo peak?

I’ve never once been asked … or tempted… or coerced… to go to WAR.

Never had to defend my home or wife or children with a weapon, other than a flyswatter.

NOT. ONCE. EVER.

In the thousands of years of humanity insanity, how many men can say this? They could almost fit into a historic-timeline broom closet (if the closet was as big as Vancouver Island).

My Ontario childhood was idyllic – riding my banana seat bike with the high handlebars through sprinklers, playing with bugs in the cool grass beneath a huge leafy chestnut tree, licking the drips from orange and grape popsicles, slipping folded newspapers beneath my pant legs for shin protection on the backyard hockey rink my Mom stayed up late to make.

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Armed conflict was a hazy cloud in the rearview mirror… but the memory of recent European battles played a part in my juvenile play.

Yes, I played war with my little buddies. We’d fashion guns out of broken hockey sticks and broom handles to run and shoot and hide… Bang bang, you’re dead (… no I’m not, you missed me!).

GI Joe was a toy superhero.

But I never heard the heart-stopping pounding of exploding mortar shells, the sight of goose-stepping soldiers on my city’s streets, saw the tears of a classmate whose family had just received a telegram from the War Office.

In my earliest youth, war was entertainment.

I’ve watched TV, gone to movie theatres where I’ve munched popcorn, viewing countless masses slaughtered senselessly. Brave, heroic actors shooting pretend guns.

Much of this was what we label “entertainment”.

How is killing others entertainment?

Two of my favourite movies of all time are Schindler’s List and Platoon. Gruesome, vivid stories of World War II and Vietnam. 

Beautiful cinematography, powerful narratives, filled with intense scenes that show me the emotional terror and panic everyday people endured.

Both scared the shit out of me.

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That’s what “real” war movies should do.

War isn’t really John Wayne romantic. War is horror. War kills literally and figuratively (how many vets return home dead inside?).

These were horror movies far scarier than Freddie Kruger and Hannibal Lecter and Chucky combined, because they were (reasonably) accurate portrayals of the misery and wretched fear we naturally feel when confronted with our blood and brains splattered, bowels hanging loose from a belly opened wide like a peeled orange. Screams of pain and cries for Mommy.

When I watch a real war movie, I don’t do it for two hours of fun leisure time like I usually do at the theatre.

I do it as a reminder of the harsh cruelty we are capable of inflicting on one another.

I do it as a time of internal reflection on what armed conflict does to children and families and towns and countries. Orphans and refugees.

I do it as a mental prompt of the efficiency of weaponry and how it shreds a fragile human body like a meat grinder.

I do it as a message to myself to vote for stolid politicians who have the mature judgment and intelligence to work towards peace. One of my most important jobs, to secure the future for the faces of the generations that will follow me, is to select wisely with foresight.

I’ve perhaps not been more aware of my lifetime good fortune than since I began tutoring a young Syrian man. Forced to flee with his family from his home and homeland, his life has suffered huge turmoil. And still he smiles. He’s a gentle man.

He did nothing to deserve the upheaval that came his way. He merely made the mistake of being born in a chaotic region of the world, whereas I made the unintended happy blunder of taking my first breath in a Shangri-la.

War has been his experience, no movie scenes needed for him to feel the terror.

My eyes are open but I have hope.

The peace dividend paid to me in my life has been the greatest ROI (Return on Investment) to which I never had to contribute a cent of my personal fortune.

Simply put, this peace dividend will only increase over time as education standards rise worldwide and women have more power and influence in the running of the world.

Shorter term blips of worry occur the same as they do in stock markets, but the long term trend is always promising.

It’s often said that children are our future. Yes, true. But my firm belief is that women are really our future. Decision-making by women is and will make this planet a safer place.

I don’t buy lottery tickets. No Victoria’s Secret model will ever ask me out. Yada yada yada…

I’m just a lucky guy who still harbours a peaceful easy feeling.

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I’m In The Mood For A Little TeeHee…

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Love to laugh

… I love to laugh …

Remember that little ditty from Mary Poopins?teehee… I mean Poppins

Some people laugh through their noses
Sounding something like this, dreadful
Some people laugh through their teeth goodness sake
Hissing and fizzing like snakes
Not at all attractive to my way of thinking

I love to laugh
Loud and long and clear
I love to laugh
It’s getting worse every year

When was the last time I laughed so hard that I shot a nostrilful of milk across the table?

I’ll bet my Grade 13 lunch mates at Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Hamilton still remember…

Probably the only thing worse than being vomited on (I g-g-gag just thinking…)…. is having recycled cow squeezings snorted over you in a misty white shower while trying to wolf back an egg salad sandwich that your Mom so lovingly prepared.

Hmmmm…. and I wonder why my old buddies Larry or Renato won’t befriend me on FB…. oh yeah, the milk snort shower.

The world has been a shadowy, humourless place in the last 14 or 15 months with DJT (Da Jaundiced Twerp) running our planetary schoolyard. Maybe Orange(head) truly is the New Black.

Ha ha… AR-15’s. Ha ha… #MeToo marches. Ha ha Nuclear threats.  Ha ha Slow WiFi… where is the laughter?

First world problem

Another great Third world problem…

OMG, a great vacuum has sucked up the milk snorting Teehee’s.

Of course I can’t grouse too much because I can’t tell a joke (at least a funny one) if my life depends on it. My punchlines need some IV-administered Viagra…

Yes, it’s difficult sometimes to unearth a good laugh when living in the current version of the dark ages…. I wonder how many standup comedians traipsed the countryside during the Black Death Plague (courtesy of my old Microbiology lab friend Yersinia pestis) that ravaged Europe for 4 years in the 1300’s? So… do all curses come in 4 year stints?

Could Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey or Rita Rudner have made a livelihood while surrounded by the stench of rotting bodies in the streets? It’s hard to hear the giggles over the corpse crowd, the dead silence …”Smoking will kill you… Bacon will kill you… But smoking bacon will cure it.” Cue laughter.

It’s crucial to find humour in the dingy, dreariest of times. Haven’t most of us laughed through our tears at a funeral or at the bedside of a dying loved one as a way to cope with the inner anguish?

I have to find humour in any place that isn’t a mirror ’cause it’s so damned hard to laugh through the crevasses and white hair that accost me like a time thief when I see THAT reflection. All I can say is, “Thank God my eye colour hasn’t changed.

FUN FUN FUN… today I’ll risk my foolish pride by telling you the longest, best bout of laughter I’ve had in 2018 was at the local movie theatre watching…

Peter Rabbit.

Yup, a kids’ cartoon.

I laughed and snorted the whole way through.

I hope the couple sitting in front of me didn’t mind picking semi-chewed specks of popcorn out of their hair when they arrived home after the flick. Hey, it isn’t milk snort!

Peter Rabbit… a beautifully computer-animated version of the classic Beatrix Potter story with some not-so-classic silly voices of Peter, and his triplet sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail (aka James Corden, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, and Elizabeth Debicki).

 

It was clever, and irreverent, often silly but never totally jumped the garden fence into slapstick. It had drama and heartwarming moments, terrific animation, and a gentle love story to complete a great screenplay.

Benjamin Bunny: I’m still so out of shape.

Peter Rabbit: How’s it working with the putting the dressing on the side?

Benjamin Bunny: Good. But, I don’t understand why it’s healthier to drink it all at once.

OK, maybe it was the mood I was in.

Yes, our mood.

I recall gasping in laughter watching Woody Allen’s neurotic-laced Annie Hall the first time through.

On second viewing a few years later, I shook my head, wondering if I was watching the same movie. Where was the incredible humour that had me rolling in the aisle the first time?

Decades back I peed myself through the triad of Monty Python movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life). I can watch them today and come away with contradictory sensations of laughter and absurdity.

Yes, our mood.

Humour isn’t always what is given to us in the moment. Laughter affects our taste buds differently with each serving.

Often, it’s what we bring to the moment in our own mood… where is our tipping point? Today, is our funny bone right at the surface or deeply submerged?

I love it that I can watch CNN in 2018 and shake my head in laughter more often than I frown. Absurdity is such great comedy.

Perhaps the next time I view Peter Rabbit, my mood may be different. I’ll wonder what the hell was so funny.

But today I’m still giggling the same way I did when I was 7 years old and good ole Mary Poppins gave me that first spoonful of sugar laughter….

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A Simple Sunny Day Conversation

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… muddled darkness still filled the winter-chilled room when I slid back into my dream …

William Goldman, Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin sat in a haze of talkers’ block, frustratingly biting fingernails and pulling hair over a discussion of how… how and why they write their movie screenplays.

Yes…

THE William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride),

Yes…

THE Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia) and

Yes…

THE Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, Molly’s Game).

Three spirited and gifted talents, hardworking Jewish folks, mystically wired to type out brilliant lines of cinematic dialogue that the world slurps up like delicious soup from a beautiful pottery bowl in the sunshine.

…………………..

Butch Cassidy: Do you believe I’m broke already?
Etta Place: Why is there never any money, Butch?
Butch Cassidy: Well, I swear, Etta, I don’t know. I’ve been working like a dog all my life and I can’t get a penny ahead
Etta Place: Sundance says it’s because you’re a soft touch, and always taking expensive vacations, and buying drinks for everyone, and you’re a rotten gambler.
Butch Cassidy: Well that might have something to do with it.
William Goldman

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…………………..

Just like in the movies they wrote, the conversation flows like silky sap from maple trees in early spring.
 .

Why do we bother writing if it’ll all just be rain down a drain when we’re gone?’

‘And why am I trying to write lines coming from people who are smarter than me? I don’t think it can be done.’

‘Sure, and why do we make tasty foods to eat when the basic building blocks of healthy life don’t require any flavour, or at least pleasant flavour?’

All so serious.

Nora smiled and sighed loudly. Shaking her head, she tilted up to the royal blue, squinting into the sun beating down on them as they sipped margaritas on Sorkin’s back patio overlooking the resonant Pacific on California’s coast. A slew of gulls squealed and shrieked over the waves.

Guys, this is silly. There is no reason to writing.’

‘There is no reason to life. It just is.’

‘Stop obsessing about why and enjoy the trip, the process.’

You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,‘ she added, not knowing why.

Nora was always so grounded. So sensible. Or maybe it was the tequila-tainted inebriation talking.

But of course, Nora is dead and has access to metaphysical ideas and thought that the rest of us here on earth can’t see yet.

Except dreams.

Dreams allow us that delicious fusion of combining life with death, truth with fiction, oil with water.

…………………..

Sally (on faking orgasms): “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.”

Nora Ephron

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…………………..

People don’t talk in real life like they do in the movies. That’s the beauty of what we do.’

Real people don’t kidnap couples from the side of the road and boldly declare, “We’re Bonnie and Clyde. We rob banks!” Never been said outside of a movie theatre.’

Yeah or … “You can’t handle the truth! Son we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it, you, you lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury, you have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible, to you, saves lives.” ‘

‘That’s true, we can’t write the boring stuff, but we can take conversations and make them sound alive, believable as if it really happened just the way we wrote it. Audiences want to believe’

Believe, huh? No one believes or cares that we wrote crap for years that no producer or studio would touch.

…………………..

NEWSROOM’s Will McAvoy (to college students proudly calling America the greatest country in the world): “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

Aaron Sorkin

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…………………..

Aaron jumped up and after a slight wobble, arrowed himself back into the house, returning just as quickly with a thick, yellowing manuscript in his hand.

‘Look, I wrote this screenplay for Warren Beatty years ago. It’s called Ocean of Storms. It’s embarrassing. There’s no music in this. It’s totally missing any rhythm. I wish I could write it from scratch all over again.’

‘Shit you guys… I’m dead … Sleepless no more… so listen up while you can.’

Nora leaned forward, scanning the faces of both men. Goldman and Sorkin straightened in their leisure chairs, looking all the part of schoolboys in short pants ready to be chastised by the wise schoolmarm.

‘We all want instant perfection. You want a meaning to writing or life? I’ll give you my secret. Free, keep your dimes in your pockets.’

‘You do what you do well and know that it will never be good enough.’

‘You write and you write and you get a teeny fraction better, maybe not every day but at least every year or every decade. And you capture joy like children’s marbles knowing that your abilities and understanding are tiptoeing up a mountain who’s peak is in the clouds and you’ll never see the peak no matter how high you climb because the little secret is… there is no peak.’

‘All you do is keep making the mountain higher and higher like you’re some Godless one who can build their own mountain. And once in a while you stop climbing and look around at the beautiful scenery below because the higher you climb the more magnificent the view becomes.’

‘We’re all a bunch of Shakespearean fools, or insecure Charlie Brown’s. The climber one day stumbles and falls, but the mountain still stands there for others to ascend and make larger.’

The limey margaritas tingled and settled inside in a soft, mellow pillow…

… my dreamy haze was lifting in early morning light as, in a muted unusual moment, all three, the great dialogue communicators, sat quietly, reflecting on a simple, sunny day conversation.

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I … Movie Maker

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MGM Lion.jpg

FADE IN:

Stinky, salty sweat all rinsed away, I was walking out of the gym the other day with my friend Ray.

We were BS’ing as we do, when I said, Ray, if I was reborn, I think I’d grow up to be a moviemaker.

Ray roared a belly laugh when I said that. Ray laughs at most everything anyone says.

People love Ray because he makes them feel good. Ray is ice cream and chocolate and sunshine and rainbows blended in a milkshake. Ray is the puppy dog you always wanted. The world needs more Rays.

I love movie theatres and movies. I love the hush and the darkness and the hot, salty scents and the anticipation of what’s to come.

As a kid, I loved visiting the Capitol and the Palace theatres in Hamilton and the Stoney Creek Drive-In theatre.

I loved watching Bonnie and Clyde and Bullitt and Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music and Fred McMurray in The Shaggy Dog.

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Today I love going to my local movie theatre and munching on popcorn and watching Maudie and Passengers and 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club and Inside Out and Lincoln and The Martian and Julie & Julia.

Even a bad movie inspires me in some way.

Inspiration is my TNT. Inspiration gets me off my ass.

Inspiration made me plant a tomato seed when I was 8 years old. Inspiration made me begin training to complete an Ironman race. Inspiration made me write a song and sing it before an audience. Inspiration made me fly to Peru and learn Spanish on Machu Picchu’s doorstep.

Inspiration is always the first step.

The creative energy and dynamism that comes together in a movie is akin to Elon Musk designing and building a battery-powered car.

I sit in awe. It’s beyond my ability as an outsider to comprehend.

And yet. I feel the welling of inspiration.

It’s the same with most every talent or occupation out there. Watching from the outside, we scan the magic and wonder how anyone can learn the skills needed to make it appear effortless.

And it’s OK to sit in awe. It’s OK to watch in awe. It’s OK to be inspired.

For a while.

But inspiration is only the beginning. Inspiration is the easy part.

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A really robust life is one where we don’t spend all of our time as observers. The noisy magpies outside my office window know it, even though they’re sitting in the tall pine trees observing me.

And so, to that point (and apropos of last week’s blog about TRY), even though I’ll almost assuredly never be a moviemaker, or at least one you’ll ever hear about, I’m signing up for an online course called:

Aaron Sorkin: Screenwriting

It’s on the masterclass.com website and it may be total bunk but I’m innocently optimistic.

I’ve been an admirer of Aaron Sorkin’s for years.

I loved his writing on TV’s West Wing, The Newsroom, Sports Night and in the movies A Few Good Men (“You can’t handle the truth!”), Moneyballand The Social Network.

Sorkin writes rapid-fire screen dialogue like no one else. Sorkin defines intelligent, cutting wit.

West wing

Why shouldn’t I emulate the ones whom I admire and respect?

If I was starting over again, I’d watch movies with a more critical eye, observing and drilling in on the tiny points that make brilliant shooting stars flash in our heads.

Bittersweet background music, or the slight welling of moisture in the corner of an actor’s eye, or warm amber light striking the heroine’s face at just the right angle are those tiny points that transform shitty garbage into golden treasure.

And just as deeply profound lyrics make a song memorable for generations, so too does great film writing.

We’ve become so accustomed to watching great moviemaking and writing that we often don’t appreciate the talent and energy, the drive and inspiration, the millions of tiny details that make us laugh, or cry, or think deeply about something that we never knew existed.

We watch and grow in microscopic increments.

Movies, like books and music and art, are AMAZING human creations that we routinely take for granted. It’s only in the past dozen years or so that I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the skill-set that has us fall in love with a story on screen.

So this week, I’ll begin a minor new adventure as I share some time with Aaron Sorkin.

I’ve reached the scintilla point, an instant in my timeline, where the sense of inspiration is insufficient. The building coitus interruptis feels a need for completion, a release from the energetic tension.

When Ray and I leave the gym exhausted next week, we’ll chew through the headlines of the past week in our banter.

And when he laughs and brings up an intriguing account of someone he met at the brewery pub where he works, I’ll say, “Ray! That’s a really cool story, can I write it into a screenplay?”

FADE OUT.

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Cinematic Prosody… Which Movie and TV Soundtracks Run Through Your Head?

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heart and heaven

It can singe and melt the icy sinews of your heart… or…

… it can feather-float you to the heavens.

I’m talking music.

We all know that the occasions, the special moments of our lives- the melancholy, the joyous, the romantic, the heartbroken – are marked, like scratchy tick marks on a jail cell wall – on our interior core by the music scent wafting through our ears at the time.

But aside from those life-marking events, music is also a crucial ingredient of our enjoyment of the artistic media we consume. And so, I’m pondering today about movie or TV music that has penetrated deeply to our inner core in barely recognizable ways.

You may have already reflected on this and designed your own soundtrack “favourites” list, or perhaps you’ve coasted along merrily, experiencing and enjoying without a conscious awareness.

I bring this up right now because I’ve grown aware lately – almost like the discovery of a hidden cave grown over with vines – that the beginning theme music to the Netflix show House of Cards has me entranced.

There’s a symbolic weight that presses into my chest when it starts up. It needs playing at high volume to feel the mass and ravenous teeth of Jeff Beals’ score.

It grabs on and transfixes me immediately. Just listen carefully to its incessant, droning undertrack of alternating bass notes interspersed by a haunting trumpet line that screams POWER.

It’s like JAWS music – duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn … set to modern political intrigue… what could be more ironic, more iconic than a music score that impels us to think of sharks and dangerous power. It’s obvious if you think about it.

A few years back I took an online songwriting course through COURSERA where instructor Pat Pattison brought to me a new word that has changed my approach to songwriting as well as listening to music.

The word is PROSODY.

Prosody is matching the rhythm and sound in music as you would in poetry. Melodic synergy.

Musically, this means coordinating the meaning and sound of the music to the meaning and the sound of the lyrics… in other words… making musical poetry.

In soundtrack music, the meaning doesn’t always come from words. It’s possible to make the case that the meaning of words are more powerfully affected by the sound of music than by the other way around.

The challenge of writing music that achieves prosody is no easy feat. Most TV and movie soundtracks leave no audible footprints in the sand, no languorous aftertaste.

But there are quite a few notable and memorable movie and TV music themes that invoke the feelings and the emotions that coax a good story into becoming a great story…

GREASE

Rocky is better because of the music, Cheers was better because of it: MASH, The Sopranos, The Godfather, Chariots of Fire, Hawaii Five-O, The Muppet Show, Forrest Gump, Grease were all elevated by the accompaniment of their music theme and score.

Just as an aside, many people might add the multitude of movie scores produced by John Williams to their memorable list.

You’ll remember the Star Wars franchise, the Indiana Jones features, ET and many more, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his over-produced symphonic knock-you-over-the-head scores.

While not bad obviously – he’s made a ton of soundtracks and a ton of money for himself – but they’re not on my list.

I find a lack of nuance and variety in his writing that detracts from the potential, the prosody.

But now that I’ve knocked him down, I have to turn around and resurrect his status because the theme music he composed for Schindler’s List is nothing short of a lifetime masterpiece. I can’t listen to the stream of mournful violin notes without tearing up and envisioning the solitary, red-coated little Jewish girl. Overwhelming prosody.

Strong music themes generating harmonic prosody become a deliciously lingering earworm that when absorbed, bring a flood of cinematic ripplings through our minds, often tied to inner smiles or touches of melancholy. They’re beautiful, disturbing, bliss-inducing, unescapable.

House of Cards means more to me, has a weightier meaning because of the background theme. It makes gravity feel 3 times heavier than normal.

Now THAT’s prosody.

Prosody

Oh Maudie… Story Of A Life

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Maud Lewis painter

Maud’s bent and twisted body – aged from a physically taxing lifetime –  drew in and, softly, expelled its final breath… at last she drifted away in peaceful silence.

I wanted to reach up and hug her comfortingly, consolingly, in my arms.

You see, some smiles are too rare, too precious, to be drained away like a diamond floating softly to the ocean depths, forever lost to this world.

MAUDIE… the movie. I think it could have been called A Beautiful Life.

I’m a bit of a cinephile… or probably more accurately, I’m a popcornophile who takes shameless advantage of moviegoing as an excuse for a salted-maize addiction.

The storylines and sense of transport I feel within a movie theatre are wondrously dreamlike. There’s an ambience of significance and awe in a darkened theatre that I don’t appreciate as fully when I watch films on the home screen.

What’s on this weekend?, I’d say to one of my young buddies.

In what seemed only a few moments ago, I relished taking the Main West bus to uptown Hamilton with one of my boyhood friends like Renato or Jerome – we’d wolf back the scrumptious Cheeseburger Platter at the Arch Restaurant before ambling down King Street to the Capitol Theatre or Palace Theatre.

I’d plunk my 2 quarters down – earnings from my paper route – onto the counter of the outside front booth, and then it was the obligatory pass by the snack bar for some popcorn and a Kit Kat chocolate bar.

We’d sit in the balcony of the cavernous theatre with the ornately sculptured, curved ceiling, before the screen flashed to life like an early summer sunrise, and then, Bridge Over The River Kwai, or Bonnie and Clyde, or James Bond (the oh-so-sauve Sean Connery variety) began.

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The lights slowly dimmed, the curtain accordioned up to the ceiling.

The opening scene of Bonnie and Clyde began with the “click-click” Brownie camera sounds of the opening credits with black x white still photos of Faye Dunaway (Bonnie Parker) and Warren Beatty (Clyde Barrow) slowly fading away into murderous blood red.

To this day it remains my favourite opening montage to a movie ever. Talk about foreshadowing in the first breaths of a film.

As always, I’m in a constant state of cinematic awe over the writing and directing and acting abilities that can bring me so many real and imagined scenarios. I fall head-over-heels in disbelief at the spectacle, as if Santa really and truly does come down our chimney each Christmas.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there because I’m here today to ramble on about a flick that we saw this week in the local Movieplex: an understated, almost unheard of cinematic wonder called Maudie.

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If ever a movie was made that could grab you by the curmudgeon’s heart and squeeze tender, gentle smiles with its story of unconventional love, this one is it.

The camera leads us along the “small” life of Maud Lewis – a severely arthritic woman passing her life in the rural Nova Scotia backwaters – that had my heart twisted in tender tangles.

What sets Maud story apart from the everyday ordinary is her strong will and capacity for painting simple things in colourful Folk Art-style.

Slowly over the years, an appreciative audience for her simple outdoor nature art scenes grows. In the 1970’s, two of her paintings were ordered by the Nixon White House.

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Maud’s tale of dealing with her arduous physical infirmities and the cruelties of the ones who should love her most is filled with compassion and sentiment so heartbreaking and yet still uplifting. Beautiful, touching, but never falling into syrupy or maudlin.

The mixture of movie art with painting art is lovingly expanded by the aching, alluring Maritimes’ backdrop through the seasons of the year, through the seasons of living.

MAUDIE… An exquisite, small film of a graceful, small life, done in a beautiful fashion that, like a tide returning to the eastern shoreline, brings home for me once again the notion that not everyone needs to, or must live life on the grand stage.

Greatness arrives in many guises, some never seen to the outside world.

No. More important to me is the essence of Maud Lewis, the reminder, that the final sketch of our lives surely should be a verb, an activity… not a noun, a passive observation.

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