Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rob Ford Apology Redux

I'm looking forward to Mayor Holyday. Scratch that - I'm hoping for Mayor Holyday. Apology text lifted from If you want me to have lifted it from the Post or the Sun, then just go ahead and do so.

Good afternoon everyone. 

Not worth disputing. There's no way to tell if he sincerely hoped everyone listening was having a good afternoon or not, and the turn of phrase is well-established enough that it contains no hidden meaning. And if I was about to try and slide out of some unpleasantness, I'd do my best to wish glad tidings upon all those present.

I was elected two years ago by the people of Toronto to do a job. We have accomplished a lot in the past two years. 

The 'we' is unspecified, let's assume he's referring to his supporters on council and give it to him.

But, that job isn't finished yet. 

According to the judge, at least Ford's part in that job is finished in two weeks or so. Of course, everyone has the right to an appeal, bringing us to...

I respect the Court's decision that was released yesterday. My decision to appeal is not a criticism of the Court. But, I feel it is important to work through the appeal system so I can continue to do the work I was elected to do.

Let's be fair; he accused left wing forces in toto of wanting him out of office (and presumably getting him in court in the first place), but that doesn't mean he doesn't respect the Court's decision. In fact, saying he disrespected it at this point would pretty much be suicide and no lawyer in their right mind would allow him to say it while remaining his lawyer. "So I can continue to do the work I was elected to do" could be disputed by a few former members of Ford Nation who elected the tax cutter, not the football coach, but we can hope that he's got a solid mandate that he's shared once or twice with the rest of the world.

This entire matter began because I love to help kids play football.

Here, I start to lose consciousness. One could say that the entire matter began when Ford ignored

When this came to Council for the vote in question, I felt it was important to answer the accusations that had been made against me. I was focused on raising money to help underprivileged youth. I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain. And, the City had nothing to lose.
But, I respect the court's decision. Looking back, maybe I could have expressed myself in a different way.
To everyone who believes I should have done this differently – I sincerely apologize.
The people elected me to bring respect for taxpayers back to City Hall, and I will keep working to do exactly that for as long as I can – or, until the people elect someone else to do the job.
Thank you. Unfortunately, that is all I can say at this time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Romney Story

There's something scary about watching the losing party in any election; it's all dressed up and nowhere to go, literally. People throw things, cry, or just stare at the walls like they can't believe it.

The photos in this collection are lifted from which looks less and less like a cheap shot the more you look at the photos. It was an ugly election and I have no idea what's happening next to break (or reinforce) the gridlock. I was not a fan of Romney & party and still found the photos disconcerting as hell. A cautionary tale about hubris, maybe. Not that a winning party ever experiences hubris, of course.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Unsigned Painting - Part Two

Continued from The Unsigned Painting - Part One

Things to consider;

1. Why did Hettie think I'd elbowed my way into Amanda's party, and who erroneously told her that I had?

Amanda's parties were notoriously informal, just an excuse to smoke, drink and eat whatever party food could be acquired on short notice (most often tapas, Danish open faced sandwiches, dumplings and kimchi in a weird cross-cultural smorgasbord). They worked on an open-invitation model - somebody told somebody else it was happening, all were welcome (with one noted exception in this case). Hettie might simply have thought I'd heard about it and was going to show up as usual.

2. Who was the original person who was supposed to tell me not to show up?

No idea. Hettie seemed to be acting on third-party information or didn't want to take the rap for ratting somebody out.

3. Why was I re-invited (or invited for the first time, having never heard about the initial invite to which I was scrubbed) by Amanda's sister Carla?

Again, no idea. Carla always liked me, or liked the idea of Amanda and I together, and might simply have done it for old-time's sake. I don't know if she talked to Hettie, or Amanda, or whoever was supposed to have reported Your Presence Is No Longer Required to me in the first place, leading to...

4. Why, four years after the initial Michael and Amanda cuddly couple-time, was I a factor at all?

I didn't want to be a factor. I honestly had nothing against Amanda and wished her nothing but well, but our last few meetings had been tense and I felt firmly in her remember-when file rather than an active friend. I had meant something to her at one point, to whatever extent her consciousness allowed. That point seemed impossibly far away - the changes between 17 years old to 21 years old carried a great deal of weight, at that age at least. Time gets lighter (or faster) as those numbers increase, writes the guy with a greying beard in 2012.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury Dies - June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury is gone. Norman Wilner's take on it is pretty much in line with mine, save for a different source. I read S is for Space in a grade-school classroom in 1976 or so and I've never been without a copy since. If I can ever write something as indelible as his material was to me, I'll die a happy man. There is no parallel for Bradbury at his best and he will be missed dearly. 'Conspicuous in his absence' doesn't do him justice, today.

June, 2012

Project - 'I Am Change'

A moment of former film-student geekery, if you please; when Coppola made One From The Heart remotely, everyone thought he was nuts. He allegedly directed the film from inside a trailer away from the action, watching everything on a video feed and cutting scenes on the fly. He believed that instant feedback video and online editing was the future of cinema (this was in the early 1980s, incidentally) and some Academy award winning film in the future would be directed by a 12yr old girl with a camcorder.

He didn't predict YouTube exactly  (although a few people suggest that he did), but the idea that the technology would eventually put consumer/amateurs on par with studios to create a workable product was dead on. I was still cutting 8mm film by hand in my first year of film school (1988), and had use of a broadcast-quality Betacam if I signed it out and left a damage deposit. Even in adjusted dollars, that damage deposit could buy me a cheap (yet broadcast quality) HD camera at the Best Buy of my choice today. Or I could just shot it with my phone (also HD) and cut the footage with freeware. It's great, but to anyone who screamed in frustration at sprockets, it's scary, kids.

The 'I Am Change' project was put together by the Kiwanis club in Hamilton. The participants range from 11 to 18 years old (with a 2 year you sibling in somebody's arms) and it was storyboarded, shot and recorded entirely by the cast. It's worth checking out. Good effort, strong message and kudos to Kiwanis to help it to happen. New times, new syntax. Nicely done.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Withnail & I & Zombies

Quoth Dr. George, June 2nd, 2012:

"Withnail & I. In 1993. Withnail is a lonely yet content middle school theater teacher. I is a barely employed actor working bit parts in soaps and the occasional commercial. A random encounter, followed by a series of unpredictable and wacky events, finds them on the road to Monty's farm house. But what they find when they get to the once idyllic English countryside will change their perceptions of themselves, as friends and as men, forever. Run with it, lads. My vote's for Zombies."

Quoth Burton:

"If Bruce Robinson hadn't sworn never to touch those characters again, I'd pitch that to his agent. And Withnail is a zombie, obviously, having drunk himself to death approximately four hours after the end of the first film."

Quoth me:

"Monty is long dead, but his obese, mostly-decayed bulk roams the countryside. His ragtag band of suspiciously well dressed, former Eton-attending zombie-chums are surprisingly tolerated by the still-living, not-infected Penrith inhabitants because the Monty Unholy Army only seeks out sensitive young gentlemen. I is still on his radar, but a well placed blunderbuss shot to his crotch dampens Monty's ardour.

Withnail is bitten early in the film but it causes relatively little change in his demeanour. Years of bitterness at not being a well respected actor have shot his digestive system (ulcers) compelling him to become vegetarian. He has no appetite for brains. They band together to defeat the zombies, steal their booze and good clothes, and barter the newly found swag into earning enough dosh to put on Hamlet. Withnail will be Gertrude. I will play The Dane. The half-animated corpse of a local barmaid will play Ophilia, in chains.

Oh, and Danny the drug dealer? Immune to the zombie virus due to overmedication back in the day. Now runs a small Bed and Breakfast in Chichester. Abstinent for decades, he keeps in touch with the boys by cell phone and promises them cake and tea if they make it out alive.

Fit Basil Fawlty into this script somewhere and damn. I'll invest in it."

June, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Darkness, Visible

I’ve been thinking about the devil recently, both as a broad concept of evil and a solid personification of same. I’m not a big fan. He might have great connections and a large part in some of the most fun activities around, but by the time you realize that those glorious fireworks are starting to feel a lot like shrapnel you've picked up on the fact that the devil is a micromanaging power freak extraordinaire; sweetness and light when you’re in his corner and diabolically malicious when you try to squirm out from under the thumb.

In his defense, he…well, really, there’s no defense. That’s the ‘fallen’ point of being a fallen angel. It takes great effort and imagination to get tossed out of heaven, and even if the transaction was delivered with a diplomatic “You’ve got a lot of valuable talents, but I’m just not seeing the synergy I was hoping for” epistle from The Almighty in a divine conference room with complimentary coffee and cinnamon buns on the table, it’s still gotta hurt when you’ve hit bottom.

The standard Judeo-Christian line is that everything was created by the deity in a state of perfection, but everything can be corrupted. Guess by who. Upon his rather undignified expulsion from heaven to the less cushy digs of hell, the devil decided that there’s nothing touched by grace which can’t be enhanced with a few soot-stained fingerprints here and there (his, specifically) and he’s been doing his Yang best to pervert the divine Yin ever since. Read the book if you need a refresher; you can even choose which book. Most religions have a similar heaven & hell, falling from grace story and a few really get their teeth into it.

I’m not going to tinker with undeclared, they-might-be-the-devil theories, tempting though they might be. Freddy, Jason, Jigsaw, Hannibal Lecter, Michael Meyers, Leatherface and the entire cast of the Hostel films are all deeply flawed souls but they’re not the devil individually or as a unit. I never bought the idea that Marcellus Wallace is the devil in Pulp Fiction, while some theorize that there’s a soul in his briefcase and the bandage on the back of his neck covering the mark of the beast. James Mason isn’t the devil in The Verdict despite surface similarities and Jack Warden referring to him the Prince of Darkness, and the actual Prince of Darkness doesn’t even appear in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (it’s more anti-matter than anti-christ). Dennis Hopper’s indelible Frank Booth in Blue Velvet comes close but doesn’t quite get the satanic cigar.

Max Von Sydow is probably the only actor who has played both Christ (The Greatest Story Ever Told) and the Anti-Christ (Needful Things), in performances running slightly against the grain; his Jesus is appropriately reverent, if a touch creepy (strange line readings and impossibly intense blue eyes) and his devil is warm, friendly and utterly charming until he convinces you of the merit of bludgeoning somebody to death for his entertainment. He also pitches a magnificently petty hissy fit when asked why he doesn’t simply kill all the local townsfolk in one fell swoop: “Because I can’t work miracles!” he bellows. “I'm not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I'm just one lonely guy…”

One New York critic opined that “It’s too bad Father Karras died at the end of the movie. I know some kids I’d like him to take a look at.”

Peter Cook, bless his cirrhosis-laiden soul, was a far better comedian than conventional actor and his devil in Bedazzled just phones it in. To be fair, that might have been his intention all along; once somebody’s sold their soul, their demands are probably garden variety desires and vices (power, money, or the hoochie-coochie-coo of their choice) and the devil’s simply too bored with it all to put much effort into it.

Laughing with you or laughing at you doesn’t matter. As long as he’s laughing, it’s all good by him.

Constantine was a high-budget, solid moneymaker that nobody seemed particularly enthused about upon its initial release. Matrix fans were disappointed that Keanu Reeves wasn’t doing his cyber-messiah shtick and fans of John Constantine’s exploits in Hellblazer (the original UK-centric comic series) didn’t appreciate his relocation from grungy London to the seedier parts of LA. I was unimpressed at the time, but it stuck with me. Locale aside, it holds onto the freaky spirit of the comic and tweaks its Thatcherite satire into a deadpan acceptance of the occult by somebody who’s no longer frightened or impressed by it (Reeves’ Constantine is dying of lung cancer but looks like he’s fighting a migraine and the legions of hell pale in comparison). There’s a great sequence where he successfully interrogates a demon by threatening him with exorcism and salvation- what could be more unappealing to a diabolical entity?

When lucifer shows up for a tete-a-tete before dragging Constantine to hell, he looks like the sort of guy you wouldn’t want to chat with at a dinner party. There’s an unholy vanity about him; his hair is well combed, if rather greasy. He has a fondness for white suits, but can’t keep them clean. It’s a nice shorthand for

Christ said Judge not, that ye not be judged. The Anti-Christ says Hey, we’re here, let’s cut out the middle man and save a little. Be my guest. Judge away. Treat yourself. The sacred and the profane have been fighting it out ever since.

Mortensen nails the concept of The Beast as an all-out beast. His satan is straightforward and not at all charming. He’s been sulking since his expulsion, unpleasantly indifferent to mankind. He appears as a vision to X, who wisely tries to walk away before he quietly mentions that “I could lay you flat and fill your mouth with your mother’s own feces. Or we could talk.”
Just as wisely, she decides to talk. The Prophecy shares it’s rogue angel angle with Constantine, and satan is more interested in nailing Gabriel than with the lot of mankind. “I’m not doing this because I love mankind or care about you, but earth under Gabriel would be another hell, and that’s one hell too many.”

Bill Murray, Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Daniel Day Lewis, James Woods, Gary Oldman, and Donald Sutherland have never played the devil. They should all get a chance. (Woods did voice Hades, Lord of the Underworld, in an otherwise uninspired Disney cartoon of the Hercules legend, but he really needs to sink his teeth into a traditional old nick). Tim Curry looks great in red with matching horns in Legend, but he’s not 100% diabolic. DeNiro is a quietly prissy dark lord in Angel Heart, but his alleged secret identity is telegraphed to the audience far too early for any real effect. Ray Walston is great fun but not remotely close to scary in Damn Yankees, and let’s not even dignify Harvey Keitel’s riff in Little Nicky.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Unsigned Painting - Part One

You've not been writing.

I've been busy. And occasionally performing at Caplansky's Storytelling on Sundays.

What's your material?
Stories. Some from the blog.

But you're not writing.
Nothing has come together in a full stream. Nothing that isn't ancient history at least.

So publish it anyhow. It's still a story.

"Holding hands
That's a gift of our landscapes
For the heart is always
That one summer night
You stretch it from face to face like chewing gum..."

- Rickie Lee Jones, from The Magazine

 When I was 21 years old, I was uninvited from a going-away party that I had not been invited to in the first place. This type of thing occurs so rarely to anyone on God’s Green Earth that attention must be paid to the few times when it has actually occurred.

Hettie was an actor, a singer, a flamenco dancer, and all around dilettante. She had been inseparable with Amanda since the 11th grade or so and had been witness to the on-again, off-again dating that Amanda and I had played with from the last years of high school into the first year of university. 

Talented, Hettie was. Tactful, she was not. When this fact was pointed out to her, she blamed it on syntax (her mother tongue was Spanish) and the ever-popular I’m European, we don’t have the same hang-ups as North Americans. Hettie had actually been born and raised in Newmarket, but her parents had inevitably expressed the same sentiment and la tuerca did not fall far from el ├írbol.
I liked Hettie. During an off-again period between Amanda and I, Hettie had once suggested (without malice) that Maybe she’s just sick of you, Michael. You’re a nice guy, but she might still get sick of you. I love her, but even I get sick of her sometimes. Then it changes. People just get sick of each other. It’s nothing against you.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Ashes (fiction)

"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."

 - Matthew 10:29 - 33 (King James edition)

"Calling and calling, so cold and alone
 Shining 'cross this dark highway
 Where our sins lie unatoned."

- Bruce Springsteen, My Father's House  (from the Nebraska album)

Pete’s going to sit in the booth across from the TV and order roast beef on a kaiser with fries and a beer. I’ll bring it over to him myself and ask how he’s doing and he’ll say that he can’t complain and leaves it at that. He’s done this almost every day for as long as I’ve owned the place and mostly he leaves a pretty good tip. Sometimes I think that the sandwiches and beer are the only things he eats. Davey sometimes asks if he wants to play pool because he and Pete played a lot back in school, but he always says no.

Pete used to be one of the go-to guys at McBride’s warehouse. He probably didn’t do anything heavy, maybe he just ran cheap booze across the 401 from Michigan or held onto bags of cash that had to cool down before finding their way to a bank or a seller. The work was steady enough that he kept an apartment in that building next to McBride’s house on the other side of town. It was a perfect arrangement- McBride liked keeping people close, maybe keeping them one favour behind.

These days, McBride’s is a completely legit grocery business with some restaurant supply on the side.  That said - Bridey was a bulldog if you got him mad way back when. He laid down the law on a bunch of those little places north of town off the highway, you’d have buy your chips and peanuts and snacks through McBride’s or your windows would get broken and your power would get cut off so you‘d lose everything in your fridges. He offers a good enough price if your fingers end up in all of his pies, and he’s done just fine by me since I inherited this place.Say what you want, but in this business it’s like everybody’s a crook, and there are worse guys than Bridey.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Our Visit (fiction)

“So runs my dream; but what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.”

- Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam’, Part LIV,

It was the first winter after their migration, when the air was so dry and cold that you couldn't make snowballs after a blizzard. We suspected that they were somehow to blame. We knew very little about them. The only source of news in our small town was intermittent reports over public radio when stations were allowed to broadcast.

When five of them arrived at the old store on a windy Saturday afternoon, it was the first time any of us had seen them in person. Marjorie and I were stocking the shelves while Uncle Wallis sat on a chair near the electric heater, working on the accounts. They were traveling in one of the original deep-green vehicles you don’t see any more, when they were still adjusting to daylight. At the time, black cars made them lose their balance and red cars hurt their eyes.

Two females and three males unfolded themselves from the auto, all of them dressed in heavy yellow greatcoats for the cold. We’d seen photographs and were prepared. They looked different, but weren't exactly frightening. You might even think they were human from a distance, but as they came closer you’d notice their crooked style of walking and the sharp angles of their shoulders and hips.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I was helping Anton move. He had been living in the basement of a house that was allegedly close to York University (“One bus away!” the landlord had told him, neglecting to mention that the bus was hourly and didn’t run after 7pm) and was moving further south to Yonge and Sheppard where a combination of three buses could get him to class faster than the one he'd used before.

He’d had an amicable breakup with his girlfriend Carla (who was also helping us move) and had enlisted me by saying “Mike, I’d like your help on Saturday. It’ll involve lifting and carrying and nothing else. Probably can't even afford to give you pizza. I can maybe manage some stolen booze.”

He wasn’t kidding. His landlord had proven to be an interesting variation on the absentee landlord model; he wasn’t around often but had sent legions of relatives to watch over the house in his absence and collect fees above and beyond the agreed-upon rent.

“The water heater had to be replaced,” explained one uncle, “and it’s a lot of money. But it’s only going to cost you two hundred bucks. You’re welcome.”

Anton's basement apartment included the water heater. He had not noticed any maintenance. “It looks the same,”he said.

The uncle shrugged. “The insides. All new. When you were out.”

“Then why do I still barely have hot water?”

A brief pause. “But it’s good water. Good. Better.”

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A man of wealth and taste

It’s hard to play a villain at the best of times; the balance between charismatic and reprehensible (or downright terrifying) is difficult to maintain. I was indifferent to Inglorious Basterds but can’t quite forget Christopher Waltz’s friendly, occasionally charming and utterly evil Nazi Col. Landa. Delve into the classics and find Anthony Hopkins and Alan Rickman playing Hannibal Lecter and Hans Gruber with such delicious zeal that most audiences became rather attached to them and secretly hoped they’d get away with their villainy.

Less so for Lecter than Gruber, to be fair. One can imagine Hans Gruber being the best financial advisor in the world if he was on your side (he’d simply shoot any trader who didn’t generate the returns he wanted), while Lecter would be a charming travel companion with his affinity for polite behaviour and penchant for eating the rude waiters or tour guides you encountered. But Gruber would eventually feel overworked and convince you that your money was also his money (most likely at gunpoint), and Lecter would find himself peckish some afternoon and crave a snack (most likely you, if you weren’t fast enough). 

Not all villains come across as party animals; evil plays frighteningly well when banal if you’ve got the right actor. Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men blends into the background (bad haircut notwithstanding) , waiting to be not-noticed enough to seize his prey unnoticed. Bounce back fifteen years or so to see Kevin Spacey’s John Doe in the largely overrated Se7en as a rather plain penalty-and-repentence type with an unfortunate gift for creative set decoration and loud voice when he wants it (his “DetecTIVE!” line carries more weight than you’d like it to).

Good villians of any stripe are hard to come by, so the recent BBC series Sherlock has restarted the game from a new angle without sending the Baker Street Irregulars into a boycotting tizzy. A modernized chestnut remains a chestnut, but that doesn't mean the series is unnecessary. The update to contemporary London is done with a little more wit than expected and the characters are riffed-upon in a way that doesn’t entirely betray their originals. People forget that Dr. Watson had been a solider (in Afganistan, yet) and Martin Freeman brings a weary PTSD aura to Watson that isn’t without a streak of humour.

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