About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sun TV News and Americanized Canadianism

One of the outstanding traits of Canadian culture has always been our ability to ape American culture in our own inimitable fashion. Sure, Canadians like to constantly point out that they are not Americans or bash American ignorance of our country on national TV.  We knock 'em, but deep down inside, we really actually want to be as much like them as we can. It's all part of our Canadian little brother inferiority complex. So one of the great Canadian traditions of the media age involves taking quintessential piece of ol' Red, White and Blue to the south culture and attempting to make it our own. 

I remember when I was a kid, I enthusiastically tuned into the first episode or The King of Kensington. "Finally", I thought, "Our own version of All in the Family.". Sure, our version wasn't as funny. Or funny at all, really. It didn't focus on any of the hot button social issues like the ground-breaking US show did. Nor did the titular character of King of Kensington make racial jokes that came off both as funny to bigots and as satirical to liberals . Oh, well at least main character was fat like on All in the Family .  At least Larry King (no relation) also had the same kind of living room and chair as Archie Bunker did.

The important thing, really, was that we were trying.  We'd get better at it, really we would.

Over the years, Canadian culture has not disappointed on that front. We've seen Canuck takes American genres like the sitcom, the cop show and the late night talk show. We've also seen Canadian versions of Who Wants to be A Millionaire?, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and, of course, that Holy Grail of Americanized Canadian TV, Entertainment Tonight Canada. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting to see the premiere of Law and Order: Toronto or CSI: Vancouver of The Dartmouth Shore or the Real Housewives of Trois-Rivieres  anytime soon. But there was some exciting and intriguing when Quebecor Media Inc's announced its plans to launch a so-called "Fox News North".

Sun TV News Channel hit Canadian TV screens April 18, 2010.

The moniker "Fox News North"  does Sun TV a disservice. The newest all-Canadian 24 hour news channel is clearly taking on something much more ambitious than just creating a Canadian Fox News. Sun TV seems to be  part of a larger and nobler endeavor to gradually transform not just Canadian news or even Canadian popular culture but, rather, Canadian political discourse and ultimately, the very nature of Canadian culture and society itself.  It'd be nice if what was something a little more American is the gist of the idea.

American politics is now, and has been for some time, predominately right leaning. Most of the current political issues are defined by Republican talking points and Fox News. Even the American lamestream liberal biased media give a great deal of lip service to right wing concepts like the nanny state, big government and the dangers of secularization, gay marriage and legal abortions. The United States does have a socialist President from Kenya, sure, but he is constantly under attack in both the right leaning and liberal biased media. And, yes, you've got your alternate viewpoints on MSNBC, The Daily Show and HBO's Real Time but all those guys just come off as elite dissidents in the grander scheme of things.

So if, as is Canadian tradition, we want to be just like our southern big brother then we need to not just imitate Fox News but we must also imitate the entire right-leaning American political process.

We have seen our first  first baby steps in this direction over the last couple of Canadian elections.  There have been an increasing amount of US politics-inspired attack ads (who knew that Michael Ignatieff could be shot from so many unflattering angles?).

Canadians have long been complaining of dull and uninteresting elections that do not offer the kind of high stakes drama that we see in every US election cycle. What we Canadians seem to want is a little bit of American right-wing-brand polarization, fear, and intolerance.

Thankfully, Sun TV News is here to help Canada realize that ambition. They are pointing the Canadian political discourse along in the right direction just in time for the Canadian election coming up on this Monday, May 2.

"The greatest place on earth" . Good start. That's some good ol' US style rhetorical right there, that is. It's also a good start in that Sun TV News is laying out all the issues in vague generalities that are both hard to pin down and argue with.

Promising, yes,  but let's get a little more specific, okay?

Now we're talking: elites and a mainstream media that doesn't "get it". 

The real coup-de-grace, though, is the part about how political correctness has "run amok".  It's the perfect Rovian approach: it suggests that some intellectual liberal elite is attempting to box in ordinary people by setting the tone and guidelines of all debate in the country. Meanwhile, it is a tactic that is at the same time cleverly hiding that the fact, it is Sun TV that is, setting the agenda by creating the convincing notion that the populace is being controlled and lied to by a social and political media elite that just doesn't "get it".

Well, Sun TV definitely gets it.

On the surface they are off to good start. The sets are vaguely (but only vaguely) reminiscent of the Fox News sets and much of the graphics follows the red and blue motif favored by Fox News. Okay, well they've got the living room and the chair that looks like Archie Bunker's anyway.

Mr.Lilley has a great deal more to construct than just his set.
Moving on.

The fledgling network has two types of programming. One is their Straight Talk shows. These are opinion shows as opposed to their Hard News. The Hard News shows are supposedly opinion and bias free. Fox News makes similar claims all the time. I have to be able to tell the difference. One of Sun TV's Straight Talk Shows is Byline, hosted by Sun newspaper columnist, Brian Lilley.

I wonder how well this particular Sun TV News commentator will be able to get some good US style moral outrage and intolerance going?

Well, on April 22,  Mr.Lilley opened his Good Friday edition of Byline with the following promising editorial statement:

"It’s one of the holiest days of the year.Yes, you know it, it’s Earth Day, the day we all head out into parks and worship the Earth goddess Gaea. Most of you had the day off, it’s an official holiday. The United Nations has even proclaimed it. That makes it real. Of course I’m joking.. ."

Joking? Dude, WTF?!

If you're gonna go for this American style right wing discourse, ya gotta go all the way.  Anything else is well...polite...and...far too Canadian. We're trying to ditch that shit, remember?

You opened up with some beautiful slams on the secularization of a religious holiday mixed with some perfectly valid sweeping generalizations about Earth Day and a nice little shot at the United Nations to boot. You know, I hear stuff like that and I temporarily forget I'm watching Canadian TV. Suddenly the unthinkable is happening: I'm actually hearing an American right wing political argument about my own country.  That puts you right where you want to be, Mr.Lilley. Then you have to go and derail everything with a nice and cliched Canadian statement like  "Of course, I'm joking".

Yeah. Yeah. I know. I understand the issues you're up against Mr.Lilley. Canadians are not used to having such intolerance thrown at them. Well, they certainly won't get used to it when you keep back tracking with a "I'm joking" line. No reactionary atmosphere in that direction, sir.

And, yes, I also understand that in Canada you are up against way more picky hate speech laws and CRTC regulations that Fox News, for instance, never has to contend with. Well, screw 'em. Break those politically correct rules made by the elite that supposedly does not speak for your viewers. Let them come after you. It's only going to embolden your cause.

You are on crusade here, Mr.Lilley.  Part of being just like our bigger meaner brother means that we must reach a point in our politics where, silly as it may sound now, the Canadian right will set the agenda. That way they will define the rules of the debate and come out on top of every single issue.  You need to start that process by remaining totally unapologetic in your intolerance.

Go for it. That's what you're here for isn't it? 

But don't take a commie pinko canuck's word for it. Take a look at The Master.....

Notice how even in the face of an embarrassing apology, Sean Hannity is still able to maintain a nice light air of morally superior arrogance?  I would study that classic Hannity smirk intensively if I were you. Mr. Lilley.

I shouldn't be so hard on the man. Mr. Lilley's comments did start to pick up as he went on.

He continued by saying "....Earth Day isn’t a real holiday". Ooh, nice try at a classic misdirection joke but the damage has already been done. You still seem a bit on the wishy-washy side for a conservative commentator.

Mr. Lilley stuck with it. He went on to ask, "But why do our officials, our school systems and our culture, celebrate this while trying to reduce Easter to 'Spring spheres' and bunnies completely devoid of religion."

Oh, yeah, that guy can obfuscate with the best of them. While hitting on the hot button issue of the secular liberal influences on our school system and our culture, Mr. Liley deftly distracts most viewers from making the connection that Easter eggs and bunnies are already to Easter what Santa Claus is to Christmas: secular as hell.

Mr. Lilley, after a few opening stumbles, is in good from now. He goes on to drive the point home.

Says Mr.Lilley, "there is a push to downplay Canada’s Judeo-Christian heritage." because that is "the way the chattering classes would like it to be" despite the fact that "...our Christian heritage is still with us in our laws and our symbols....Canada has Christian roots." (his complete text can seen by clicking here).

Then Mr. Lilley then really nails the argument: "Canada’s constitution recognizes the Supremacy of God; our national anthem sings of God and the French lyrics even refer to carrying the cross. Look at our national symbols from the national coat of arms to provincial coats of arms or the provincial flags.There are crosses everywhere....They are part of our heritage and we should celebrate every bit of it.".


When do we get start attacking the lack of prayer in our schools?  What about teaching evolution? When do we get to start condemning that?

The strongest part of Mr.Lilley's arguments is that these kinds of talking points that have already proven themselves successful in the US.  Fox News and even the lamestream liberal-biased media in the US have devoted great amounts of air time to issues like the secularization of Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Canadians watch tons of American TV and thus are already familiar with the debate. It becomes very exciting when you think about it. Canada is going to get to have its very own War on Christianity lead by a secular socialist elite just like they have in the US.

It reminds me of the little wave excitement that grips most good Canadians whenever there is a Walmart or a Home Depot or a Best Buy or a Starbucks opening in their neighborhood. Watching American TV, Canadians have already collaterally absorbed these company's multi-million dollar advertising campaigns aimed at the US market. There is instant brand recognition before the first Canadian advertising penny is spent. Hey, Krispy Kreme opens a store in Toronto and there are line-ups around the block.

American companies, American political issues, same deal.

Sun TV News has got one guy who doesn't even need the work of the US advance publicity team.  When it comes to reactionary commentators, the man is a power house. He can both create and deliver the whole message himself, thank you very much.

His name is Ezra Levant.

Ezra Levant has been well known as conservative commentator in Canada for some time. He's written for the Calgary Sun, The National Post and is known for his many Internet (in his own words)" rants".

In 1995, he wrote an editorial in the Calgary Sun about the Quebec referendum in which he argued in favor of Quebec separatism. His argument was that Quebec leaving Canada would lead to an end of the Canadian policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism and thus, in turn, end the government's bowing to "special interest groups".

That in and of itself is impressively intolerant right of the bat, I gotta say. However, in the great Canadian tradition, Mr.Levant was not truly recognized as being an important pundit until he made his mark you-know-where....

Now we're cooking with inflammatory statements.

The ground work and the role model for the part Mr.Levant will playing in the Americanization of Canadian politics is clear.

Mr. Levant, in fact, is on the record as saying that he published the Danish cartoons in question to exercise, "....our inalienable right to as free born Albertans to publish whatever the hell we want no matter what the hell you think." and that he reserves the right to "...publish it for whatever offensive reason I want.".  Exactly.  Don't ever let the issue of free speech vs hate speech get the least big complex there, pal.  Be sure that the argument remains simplistically black and white and is all about you and your sense of self-righteousness.

Hmmm....just throwing this out there, Mr.Levant, but Mr.Beck's show has recently been canceled, leaving an opening at Fox News....

It seems that Mr.Levant was only too happy to pick up the Earth Day bashing torch originally carried by Mr.Lilley earlier that evening on Sun TV....

Oh, yeah! Cut, baby, cut!

We sure as hell are outta Mr.Lilley's conservative amateur hour now. Mr.Levant is a man that most definitely understands the medium of television. You don't just talk about doing the most offensive thing to liberal environmentalists (like, say, "Saint Suzuki"...I think I get that, BTW, it's some kind of a facetious comment on Dr.Suzuki's holier-than-thou attitude, right?).

No. Don't say it. Do it.

A flamboyant visual stunt like that is guaranteed attention. It will get your opponents fired up into an outraged emotional state. Once they are in that state, you can debate them on your level where you are more likely to come on top.  At Fox, they call that O'Reillyism 101.

In fact, I bet all the tree-hugging liberals out there were so incensed that they even forgot about the fact that Green Party leader Elizabeth May beat Mr.Levant to the punch about five years earlier...

Most political commentators would have left the issue there. Ezra Levant is not most political commentators.

A bit later on the Earth Day edition of The Source (Mr.Levant's daily opinion show on Sun TV News), Mr.Levant followed his outstanding stunt with an editorial on environmentalism in general and on the animal rights movement in particular.

Mr. Levant made perhaps the most apt comparison out there in the conservative sphere today. He made the case that giving animal's rights can lead to animals being treated better than people. Case in point, he said (and, of course, I'm paraphrasing -if anyone out there has video of this part of the show, I will happily post it) that another person who believed in animal rights was Hitler.


The always apt comparison of big government liberals to Nazis works every time. Who cares if the comparison is tenuous and historically debatable? Putting Nazis and liberals in the same sentence is conservative gold, period.

Indeed, if Mr. Levant has learned anything from his US counterpart....

All Canadians should be really excited now.

The prospects of our nice polite reasonable left leaning little country transforming into a  far superior US type right-leaning polarized and intolerant society are better now than they've ever been.

It's not just about the advent of Sun TV either.

In addition to the American style political attack ads, there are other signs of our country's potential cultural and ideological shift. We've already started adopting some of very important American lexicon and symbols, for instance.

Canada has long since adopted the Bush administration catch phrase "Support our Troops". The yellow ribbon, a United States Army symbol dating back to the 19th century, is beginning to slowly edge out our traditional red poppy as a symbol for honoring Canadian troops and veterans.

We have seen this Americanized version of Canada take hold in our country before. It has happened with American popular culture, American sports, American businesses and soon it might happen with American politics.

So just how long much longer till this wondrous transformation takes hold?

Well, we are on the eve of a national election. The speed and progress of the Americanization of the Canadian political system will very much be determined by the outcome of Monday's election.

So if you'd like to have an influence on the Americanization of Canada, do so in the Canadian favored American way.

Get out there and vote.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Weekly Goofy Movie Clip "Thunderbirds! The Musical!"

Thought Dire Straits did this first?


British pop star Cliff Richard and The Shadows did the first ever supermarionation rock video back in 1966. This is from the movie "Thunderbirds are Go!" , the feature film based on Gerry Anderson's enourmously popular Supermarionation TV series, The Thunderbirds.


Available in glorious mono.

Stay tuned for another Goofy Movie Clip next week.

Same bat time...ish.

Same Bat Blog.

Friday, April 22, 2011

10 of My Fave Easter Flicks

Lucas will eventually get around to this version...

10. Night of The Lepus (1972)

Giant killer rabbits terrorize rural America. Yep. That's your basic premise of Night of the Lepus.

Originally, titled Rabbits, the studio got spooked that audiences would find the premise of a horror movie about giant killer rabbits silly.


The movie was retitled Night of the Lepus so as to keep the true nature of the monsters mysterious. The studio must have been banking on the assumption that horror movie audiences did not have even the most rudimentary grasp of Latin or scientific terminology.

Another key studio marketing strategy relied on hoping  that anyone who saw the film would never speak to anybody about the movie ever.

Night of the Lepus is Deforest Kelley's only non-Star Trek role between the cancellation of landmark cult SF series in 1969 and the actor's death in 1999.  And the poor guys doesn't even get top billing.  Whether that's sad or not depends on which camp you fall into regarding opinions on Night of the Lepus.

There are three basic attitudes towards the low-budget 1972 movie: "Night of the Lepus is an awful horrible movie.", "Oh, man, that's so bad it's hilarious!" and "What is Night of the Lepus?".  Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is for sure. When you are dealing with a movie that attempts to make giant bunnies terrifying, you cannot fault director AC Lyles for not taking risks.

Night of the Lepus is a favourite of the MST 3000 and Riff  Trax crowd. My personal feelings about are closer to theirs.

I never associated Night of the Lepus with Easter until a few years ago when the now defunct cable network Drive-In Classics, ran it on Easter Sunday.  Now it joins the ranks of biblical movies, chocolate rabbits and bonnets.

This is how they sold the movie:

And this is what the movie actually was...

9. Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1972)

Easter is about chocolate. Some might say it is about the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps those are people who have never tasted chocolate.  Some of my strongest memories of Easter involve not only chocolate but also of massive amounts of over indulgence in chocolate.

Aside from being a great musical with lots cool looking watered-down-for-mainstream-America type hippie images, Willy Wonka does speak to issue of excess consumption. It does, in fact, speak very strongly to many of the more negative personality traits, like overindulgence that children have an unfortunate tendency to develop early in life.

I'm really glad I did not see this movie till I was like 12. Younger than that, I would have been haunted by nightmares of those freaky Umpa Lumpas ironically punishing me every time I'd overindulge for years to come. That's what happens when you mix a Catholic upbringing with exposure to massive amounts of TV and movies.

The messages of the Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory aside, I'm still trying to devise a way to construct a a pool filled with chocolate that will one day occupy the middle of my living room.

8. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

It's part of a long lost world now but back in the day every TV station (all five of 'em) would program pretty much every Hollywood biblical epic ever made every Easter. By the age of 13,  I could have written a PHD thesis on the religious epic genre.

I have never really embraced religion in any form (even surrounded by it as I was in those days) yet I always loved watching those movies on TV. Part of it is, I'm sure, that they were associated with the end of all those bleak and long lasting Montreal winters. They were also associated with the onslaught of more chocolate than any child should eat in a lifetime.

I also remember almost always watching those movies on days off from school.  I don't think the nuns teaching religion in my Catholic elementary school could have come up with any better associations to make with the good book.

In the days of five channels, no VCR's and not much cable TV, your TV choices were limited anyway (especially in the years where the super nice spring weather hadn't quite hit yet by Easter).

I always liked The Greatest Story Ever Told. One reason why was on account of its all star cast approach to the New Testament. In the early 70's when this movie first aired on TV, it was a casting approach that was that was still in vogue in the days of blockbuster Hollywood disaster film. In my mind: crucifixion, skyscraper on fire, same deal.

The Greatest Story Ever Told boasted a cast that was very much on my TV watching filled childhood radar.  It included The Invisible Man as Herod, Kojak as Pontius Pilate, Cornelius as Matthew, Blofeld as Satan (hello typecasting!), Illya Kuryakin as Judas, Commander Koenig as Caiaphas and, best of all, the The Omega Man as John The Baptist.  There was an earlier biblical movie called The King of Kings that starred Captain Pike as Jesus. If they coulda just got him in there then The Greatest Story Ever Told would had have an absolute perfect all star cast.

Actually, the only guy I didn't know in the cast was the actor playing Jesus.  I had no idea at the time but that part was played by Max Von Sydow. My ignorance of the great Swedish actor no doubt stemmed from the fact that CFCF 12 in Montreal was not running Ingmar Bergman's greatest film all that much in the early to mid 70's.

The role was Von Sydow's first English language film. It also marked the earliest signs of a bizarre career arc for Von Sydow that would include Persona, Strange Brew, Hour of the Wolf, Flash Gordon, The Exorcist and Conan The Barbarian.

And just imagine Von Sydow in this one....

7. The 10 Commandments (1956)

Okay, technically, this is a Passover movie. For some reason, though, it would always air around the same time as all the Easter movies.

Not sure what that's about....

This Easter Saturday, in fact, ABC will once again air the 55 year-old four and half-hour Moses movie in prime time, just as they have been doing for at least 40 years now. It must still get killer ratings.

The story of Moses is probably the biggest common denominator of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Chuck Heston as Moses trades in "Damn Dirty Apes" for "Damn Dirty Egyptians".  Actually, when you think about it, there are some interesting story arc similarities between the character of Taylor in Planet of the Apes and that of Moses in The 10 Commandments. Both arrive in a strange land in a vessel while they are in a nascent state, both are unjustly imprisoned and enslaved, both are treated very differently when the revelation of their true identity comes to light and both escape from an unjust and oppressive society.  However, Moses leads all of the Israelites out of slavery and Taylor merely escapes the apes with the nearest chick he can find, leaving all of his fellow still-imprisoned humans behind. So I guess you could say that one is a little more selfish than the other.

I have very strong memories of every part of this movie yet I can not possibly imagine being able to sit through the whole thing at a young age. I must have seen it in sections on different Easters. With movies in general back then you had to wait through alot of talking without the benefit of a fast forward button before you got see any exciting stuff.  That principal is true to the extreme in Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical classic. I think it's like two hours before we get to see Moses turn his staff into a snake. Then it's like another two hours before we get to see the parting of the Red Sea. Then it's like still another yet another hour at least before we see my  personal fave moment of the film. It's the scene where God, masterfully played by animated fire and an actor with the deepest voice working in Hollywood at the time, burns the Decalogue into solid rock.

The scene that follows, though, is a bit of a downer. It's the scene where Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and presents The Ten Commandments to the his people. Of course, in Moses' absence, the Israelites have taken to dancing around, laughing and worshiping golden calves.

I saw this scene again recently and the only thing that stood out in my mind when watching it again after so many years was "Who does this guy think he is?!".  I mean, here you've got all these people blowing off a little steam after 40 years of wandering in the desert. Seriously, watch the scene. All they are doing is dancing and laughing. And, well, yes, somebody made the extremely gauche choice of putting a Golden Calf in the middle of the party. That still doesn't make up for Moses acting like such a buzz kill.

Heston's Moses comes off as an arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous bossy-boots. A bunch of people are just having a little fun and then the ol' wet blanket shows up. He immediately starts yelling at everybody. Man, I could not believe the kind of accusatory loaded hyperbole that start coming out the guy's mouth: "Thou shalt be punished, thou are heathens, thou shalt feel the wrath of the Lord Thy God" and stuff like that. I'm not a Ten Commandments geek so I can't quote the film verbatim of the top of my head. Anyway, you get the idea.

Whoa, whoa. Turn it down a notch, pal, they were just doing a bit of incredibly tame 1950's dancing.  As if that weren't enough, Moses then goes and enlists God himself to literally reign down fire and brimstone on the crowd. The whole thing is kinda the biblical equivalent of the grumpy old man downstairs calling the cops to break up your "loud" party at 9 PM.

My tempting a fate of burning in a blasphemer's Hell for all of eternity aside, I think the problem with that scene is that it just has not aged well. For one thing, Heston and his over-the-top hammy melodramatic performance actually achieves the unthinkable: makes Moses too angry, too distant and, yes, too unlikeable as a character. The other problem is that, for a modern audience, the Israelites are really not doing anything that bad. The sexual carrying on is only implied subtly (really frakkin' subtly implied) and, even so, we don't really look at that kinda thing in same light in 2011. In order for that scene to work for a modern audience you'd have to bring Moses down about 20 notches from Heston to like, say a Kevin Spacey or maybe a Jeff Goldblum. In today's era of cinema violence and torture porn, the party would have to be totally sick and disgusting. Like the sinners would have to be like raping puppies while mainlining crystal meth crack cocaine made from the severed arms of dead babies. Then you'd get a 2011 audience on board with Moses. 

Or you could go a totally different way...

6. Excalibur (1981)

Many of you may be wondering what the Easter connection is to the film Excalibur, John Boorman's wonderfully lyrical and majestic 1981 take on Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur or (for those of you non-medieval literature geeks out there) The Legend of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table.  The connection is pretty simple: the film was released in April of 1981 and I saw it for the first time right around Easter.

Too personal a connection to count, you say?

Okay. Well, part of the story of Excalibur follows the Quest for the Holy Grail. Jesus drank from the Holy Grail at the last supper. That was was when again? Oh, yeah, two days before he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Too contrived to count, you say?

Man, there's just no pleasing you, is there?

Whatever the connection, Excalibur is one of my favourite movies ever, Easter or not. It is also one of the most wonderfully mythological films in ever.

There are many great elements that contribute to Excalibur's success, not the least of which is the film's incredible cinematography by the late great Geoffrey Unsworth. Unsworth gives Excalibur its lush forest greens, dramatic red fires and bleak winter greys. Many of the those colours can also be caught in the amazingly shiny and reflective armour that the knights wear and as well in the equally shiny and reflective mystical sword of the title (shooting all that silver must have presented Mr.Unsworth with a few challenges too). Unsworth's cinematography defines the visual mythology of Arthrur's mystical world with aplomb.

Excalibur is also aided by Boorman's meticulous direction. On the DVD commentary track, Boorman describes how the film was shot over a period of months from winter to summer. The film had to be meticulously scheduled so as to keep up with changes in Irish seasons (Excalibur was shot entirely on location in Ireland).  All that scheduling work paid off. The seasons almost become another character in the film. There is one scene in the film, for instance, that captures spring incredibly. It is a scene that happens right after Arthur wields Excalibur as king for the first time. He and his knights ride through the country side amidst budding trees and flowers while Carl Orff's incredible Carmina Burana plays. There is an amazing tracking shot of Arthur as he rides under some budding trees while the wonderful white pink buds fall all around him.  To borrow from Shakespeare, a thousand words could not capture the essence of spring as well.

Excalibur also benefits from a great cast that includes a young Helen Mirren, early film appearances by Gabriel Byrne and Patrick Stewart, and, making his film debut, a very young Liam Nesson.

Excalibur is one of those films that I've decided to cave in on and, yes, replace my DVD with a new Blu-ray disc. It is so incredibly visual a movie that it was practically made for that awesome format.

I plan on watching the Excalibur Blu-ray every spring.

5.Watership Down (1978)

The UK release poster

I know that it's no Hop but Watership Down is still up there amongst the greatest of bunny. It represents a type of film that is almost as rare as a Belgian Hare in southwestern Luxembourg: the dramatic animated feature film that is not Japanese and does not involve superheroes.

The film is based on Richard Adam's 1972 bestseller of the same name. The story follows a small young rabbit named Fiver. Fiver has been getting disturbing visions that the rabbitts' warren will be destroyed (I can't possibly imagine how that could come about in the late 20th century). Fiver and his brother Hazel attempt to convince the other rabbits that they must leave the warren immediately. However, the reigning political body of the warren can not be convinced to do such a thing just on the basis of "visions".

It doesn't seem like that hard a case to make to me. You'd think that someone at some point would say, "Wait a second here. We live a world of sentient intelligent talking rabbits and you're skeptical about 'visions'?  I mean, c'mon, think about it. Our entire culture and society is clearly the basis of an allegorical cautionary tale. How could you miss that?".

Alas, nobody says that.

So Fiver and Hazels leave the warren on their own. Watership Down is not a feel good "little cute animals endearingly survive a great adventure" Disney type movie. Nor are the bunnies wise cracking carrot chomping lovable scoundrels that can easily outwit hapless hunters.

This is real life, silly.

All bets are off. Anything can happen to the rabbits of Watership Down. Killing animals dramatically is most certainly not off the table in this story. While not as powerful as Adams's original novel,  Waterhsip Down is still an amazing animated feature.  It is an all too unique compelling and very serious animated film about talking animals.

The US DVD release takes kind of a different approach.

In the U.K., Watership Down is a little more culturally entrenched. There are follow-up books, a TV series and even merchandising. On this side of the pond, Watership Down is now largely forgotten in the mainstream. While it has produced some great movies, I just wish that the Pixar-Disney CGI juggernaut of fast-paced kids' movies filled with clever one-liners and/or musical numbers didn't so completely dominate the family film genre.

Just imagine if all the incredible animation resources available today could be put behind making another film like Waterhsip Down.

4. Ben Hur (1959)

Knock. Knock.
Who’s there?
Ben Hur
Ben Hur who?
Ben Hur for four hours watching this movie.

Sorry. This blog was temporarily taken over by a six year old boy.  A six year old boy from 1959.

For people my age, particularly guys my age, the first association with Charlton Heston is not with guns, right wing politics or that ambush interview in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. No, for us, Charlton Heston’s most famous line is not “From my cool dead hands!”, but rather“Take your stinkin’ paws off me you damn dirty apes!” (or, for those of us who like to be a bit more arcane, “Soylent Green is people!”). Heston’s right wing gun politics would not really be known publicly for at least another 10-15 years. In those days, unless your name was Jane Fonda, nobody talked about or even cared about actor’s political viewpoints.

The Charlton Heston of the late 60’s and early 70’s was the star of such neato cool sci-fi movies as Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man and Soylent Green. If you were an 8-12 year old boy in that era, Heston was definitely on your radar. Throw in an Airport ’75 and an Earthquake! and it made for Chuck being a pretty friggin’ cool dude (just an aside but it's unthinkable today that you'd see an action sf blockbuster with a love-handled male star in his 50's playing the lead).

Like any good Heston fanboy of the era, I made it my business to get know as much as I could about Chuck’s other movies. Ben Hur was a no-brainer. All it took was two free hours on consecutive afternoons in April. Anyway you slice it, four hours of Roman era biblical history and not a gorilla soldier, mutant vampire or futuristic riot in sight is a lot to ask of a nine year-old kid (or, I think, anybody watching the movie past the year 1965). 

Seeing Chuck as an action adventure hero, as I did then, the film's now famous chariot race did not disappoint. Even today, the chariot race in Ben Hur is one of the greatest sequences of pure cinema that anyone has ever shot. Another standout was the attack on the slave ship, parts of which still come off as pretty hard-edged, even by today’s standards.

Back in the day, I think I would have liked the scene better if Ben Hur were racing chariots against Dr.Zauis and General Urko but, hey, you can't have everything.

3. Jesus de Montreal (1989)

Quebec cinema is an amazing thing. There is a rich and colourful history of cinema here in this fascinating little cultural niche that is totally unique in North America.

Quebecois cinema has  its own distinct industry, its own blockbuster hits each year and its own star system. All of this for a population of just seven million or so people. That would be like an entire film industry that caters exclusively to the population of New York City.

It’s a feat that English Canadian cinema had only managed to replicate in the tiniest of ways. And as long as English Canada remains 10% of Hollywood’s domestic market, I doubt it will ever get there. Were the official language of The United States French then the situation would most likely be reversed. Also if that were true, we’d living in a mind-bogglingly different world that would have to be subject of a series of no less than seven alternate history novels.

But I digress.

Quebecois cinema also boasts its own collection of great auteurs. Among those is Denys Arcand  (Mr.Arcand’s unsuccessful attempts at wading into the waters of English language cinema notwithstanding). Arcand also has the distinction of being the very first director mentioned in this blog that I used to run into while working out at the Westmount YMCA.

Arcand's highly acclaimed 1989 film, Jesus de Montreal, is one of this best. It is a film that, among other things, beautifully captures not just the look but also the feel of my beloved hometown.

Jesus de Montreal follows the story of a struggling up and coming Montreal actor who takes on the role of Jesus. However, he is not playing Jesus in a major movie or even on stage; instead he is playing Jesus in an outdoor staging of the Stations of the Cross, an annual event held near the giant cross on top of Mount Royal in Montreal. This actor, however, makes the production his own by enlisting the help of his avant-guard theatre pals. One of these guys is played by the legendary Quebec/Canadian actor/writer/director Robert Lepage.

Turns out that Stations of the Cross on the mountain becomes one of the city’s hottest shows. I think you really have to have lived in Montreal a long time and know the culture pretty well to really appreciate some of Jesus de Montreal's satirical humour.  The scene that features well known and somewhat flamboyant Montreal entertainment critic Francine Grimaldi (playing herself in the film, natch) going on the radio and saying, “The show to see this year is the Stations of The Cross on the mountain” is particularly sublime.

The film becomes an art imitates life examination of spirituality in a secular society. The Catholic Church has a particularly notorious history of social and political repression here in Quebec. There are few places in the world that have seen as quick and complete a rejection of religion in the space of one generation as has been seen in La Belle Province. I have friends who were very well educated in the Quebec private school system, people with University degrees who seriously have said stuff  like, "The stations of the cross. What channel is that?" or "The Ten Commandments? Is that a thing from the bible?".The number of practicing Catholics in Quebec has been decimated over the last 50 years or so.

If the Christian Right in the US had any idea that such politically endorsed socialist secularization was happening on the same continent as them, they’d have invaded Quebec years ago.

Jesus de Montreal is a particularly prescient examination of the spiritual void left in such a society. Arcand does out rightly advocate religion any more than he out rightly advocates secularization. Like many great artists, Arcand skillfully lays the ideas out and leaves them open to interpretation. Perhaps his most succinct visual achievement on this front is when we see a woman who was previously seen singing hymns in a brightly lit ornate church. Later in the film she can be  seen doing the exact same thing as a busker deep in the fluorescent lit bowels of a Montreal Metro station. As the Jesuit priest who taught me film criticism would say, "It's all there.".

For the curious, the latter scene was shot in Place St. Henri Metro station. It's a station I walk through regularly to teach my improv classes at The Montreal School of Performing Arts. I think of that scene in Jesus de Montreal each and every time I do so.

2. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1980)

"He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

 For me, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at the very top of the Python cannon (and one of the best comedy films ever made to boot). Running a close second in great Python achievements is Life of Brian. Holy Grail is, on the whole, a funnier film. However, not that that really matters, but as a story Holy Grail is a bit disjointed. Life of Brian holds together much more strongly as a story and is, I suspect, more appealing to non-Python fans (though my experience with Monty Python is that you either love it or it leaves you cold –rarely is there a middle ground).

Life of Brian was controversial in its day, though not as much as you might think. The satirical British film was more often than not dismissed by religious officials rather than condemned.  That’s the double edged sword of using comedy as social, political and religious satire. Through humour, you can land a critical point about, in this case, organized religion in way that you just can't an intensely serious argument. The downside is that it is very easy for those who are the subject of your humorous criticism to merely dismiss your point as silly jokes made just for laughs.  Look at current example of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart is one of the few media figures that can, in one succinct hilarious line, completely negate a week’s worth of repetitive Republican talking points. However, people like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is quick to categorize Daily Show as being “just for yucks”  and made for an audience of “stoned slackers”.

The exact same thing played with Life of Brian during its initial release. Many religious officials, particularly those in Britain (where oddly, the movie was more controversial than in the bible belt of the US –evidence that Americans are just not into British pop culture, no matter what) dismissed Life of Brian as “sophomoric” and “silly”.

And well religious officials should do so. Life of Brian (as many of the Pythons have pointed out over the years) is not a satire of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, but it is, instead, a satire of Christianity and organized religion in general. And in the case of organized religion, you better dismiss it, pal, ‘cause this is a movie that satirically nails your ass to the wall.

Any time Jesus is depicted on screen or referred to in Life of Brian (which is not much, really), it is done in a totally non-satirical and reverential manner. The scene that depicts the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, opens with a shot of Christ that could easily be right of Cecil B. DeMille. The satire starts when the camera pans over to a bunch of classic Pythonesque dimwits way far away from the mount, mishearing and misinterpreting the sermon in the dumbest and most asinine ways possible. It’s quite a funny scene and it in no way makes Jesus Christ as the object of satire.

There is another scene in Brian that is both a searing ironically satirical indictment of organized religion and just plain frikkin’ hilarious in its own right. It goes something like this:

Brilliant, hilarious, and organized religion’s Kryptonite. It also makes a point that few secular criticisms of religion ever make. Brian's followers are so dying to follow something or someone to point of absurdly funny obsessiveness.  The point being that people, for whatever reason, want and need religion. It's an idea that is rarely pointed out. Bill Maher, for instance, spends almost all of his film Religuous dismissing and talking down to religion but never once gets into why it exists in the first place. Monty Python in Life of Brian, on the the other hand, nails the idea a few really funny lines.

Of course, there are also many moments of just plain straight ahead funny comedy for comedy's sake too. Like this scene:

Life of Brian also has a much more satisfying ending than the Holy Grail. Holy Grail ends on a conceptually hilarious yet emotionally disappointing note.

The first time I saw Life of Brian, I found the concept of closing the movie with people being crucified singing a Disneyesque happy song to most incredibly brilliant thing I’d ever seen in my whole entire life. Not to mention that it appealed to my angry discontented anti-social 16 year old sensibilities no end.

When you think about it, isn’t people singing “Always look on the bright side of life” (or “death” as the lyrics change to later), while being crucified kinda really in essence what the concept of the resurrection is all about in the first place?

It’s just not the way The Church has been telling us to interpret The Crucifixion for the last 2011 years. That point, of course, brings up back to the real object of satire in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

1. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Like the story of Christ himself, The Last Temptation is a movie that, in its time, was dismissed, condemned and unjustly persecuted. In reality, The Last Temptation of Christ is a deeply spiritual and reverential film. In fact, the film never even purports to be scripture. It is also one of Martin Scorsese’s most over-looked and underrated films.

I remember when this film came out. There were protests everywhere it played. The screening I went to had private security. Every one's bags were searched. Some fanatic in Toronto (and elsewhere I’m sure) threw a bottle of black ink on the screen of a cinema running the film so as to keep them from showing it for a whole 24 hours.
The film had a great opening weekend, though, that I'm sure the cinema in question covered the cost of a new screen in no time. All the publicity the protesters were getting was undoubtedly driving the high grosses at the box office.

Before we get into the subject matter of The Last Temptation of Christ, the controversy and the real meaning of the film, let's get into some background, shall we?

I was raised Catholic.  I don't practice anymore. I am not religious. I have a hard time buying into the concept of the God described in the Bible. Don't get me wrong. The Bible has a lot of great moral lessons and messages in it but it's not exactly consistent on that front.

God in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, is described by and large as well, kind of a jerk, really. He likes to test his followers faith by inflicting horrific suffering on them or by asking them to kill their firstborn son, just to see if they'll actually do it. God always seems ready to reign down stuff like droughts, floods and plagues on anyone that does not follow his rules. His rules include stuff like not worshiping other gods, honouring the day of the week He's set aside for himself, always capitalizing pronouns that refer to Him, and absolutely no using His name in vein. Man, that's one insecure all powerful being. He sounds more like an abusive parent than an all knowing deity to me.

Um, have you ever thought about seeking out a good therapist, Christianity?

At the same time, though, I can not completely rule out the existence of a powerful force in the universe that we don’t understand. I just do not at all agree with the way that traditional religion, particularly the Christian one, has defined it. Some would call that atheism, some agnosticism, some spirituality, some blasphemy, and some new age mumbo jumbo.

I call it what I believe.

Nonetheless, when you are brought up with Christian (and Catholic in particular) the story of Jesus and the Bible in general has a way of sticking with you. If nothing else, Jesus still represents a powerful mythology. Christian mythology is a major major corner stone of our society and culture, including pop culture. Many of my liberal open-minded friends like to say stuff like, “Yes. Christianity is important. Just as all the religions of the world are important.”


How many epic fantasy movies have you seen that have powerful underlying Hindu allegories?

Have you ever seen a horror movie where they call in an Imam to deal with a case of demonic possession?

How many movies about the Buddhist Festival of Vesak are released around the holiday season each year?

Our culture, pop and otherwise, is a Judeo-Christian society, baby, with one big emphasis on the Christ, even for the secular.

It's because Christianity matters that The Last Temptation of Christ matters.

The film is my personal favorite Jesus movie. It’s about a billion times more real and emotionally powerful than any of the old school Hollywood fare like The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings. Jesus in those films comes of as this perfect yet ultimately dull non-character carefully designed not to offend anyone.

The Last Temptation of Christ is also a much better Jesus movie than the preferred cinematic treatment of the Son of God of the more religious. Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of The Christ. That's the current film that seems to be the most popular with Christians these days. I still do not understand why The Passion of The Christ remains popular and praised while The Last Temptation of Christ remains condemned and obscure.

I had many more issues with The Passion than just the alleged antisemitism that got all the media attention. To be sure, the case of the presence of antisemitism in the film can certainly be made (particularly the shots of the scowling Pharisees that kinda look like something right out of a Nazi propaganda movie).

Antisemitism is just one issue in The Passion though. Satan, for instance, is played by a lithe woman with flowing unmistakably feminine movements but at the same time as an unmistakably masculine voice.  Kinda homophobic, no? Homophobia, BTW, being Mel's other big agenda. 

Then there’s the violence. The scenes of Christ being beaten by a particularly sadistic Roman guard puts The Passion up there with Hostel and Saw as one of the best torture porn movies ever made. If any of those horror films had the same level of brutal violence that The Passion has, the same people that love Gibson’s Jesus movie would be screaming.

By far the very worst thing in the Passion of the Christ, though, is that Jim Caviezel speaks Aramaic with an absolutely atrocious American accent.

Many of the criticisms of The Last Temptation of Christ is that it was fiction and from the Bible. That depicting Jesus a man who struggled with temptation just like anyone else was was an unacceptable interpretation of scripture. At the same time, The Passion of  The Christ is not based exclusively on scripture. Much of the more violent elements of the film are derived from meditations by German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich written in the 17th and 18th century. That's not exactly scripture either.

So I just wanna get this straight. Alternate interpretations of scripture are bad when they depict Jesus as having human temptations but are okay when they are antisemitic, homophobic and gruesomely violent?

The biggest bone of contentions with Last Temptation seemed to be with a sequence that saw Jesus coming down off the cross to get married and have children with Mary Magdalene. Jesus does not seem to have inherited his dad’s ability to perform immaculate conceptions so that, of course,means that Jesus would have had to have sex in order to father a child. But, and this is part most of the condemnation skips, this all happens in a vision from Satan...the most evil being in the universe.  Like, really, how much more evil can you get than attempting to manipulate the Son of God out of his destined role of Messiah by tricking him with visions of sins of the flesh? Would you also object to showing Darth Vader in Star Wars destroying a planet full of innocent people in order to demonstrate how evil he is?

That may well have been the argument Nikos Kazantzakis, author of the brilliant and superior novel on which the film is based, made as well.  He may well have brought it up when the Greek Orthodox Church ex-communicated him. I'm pretty sure that Kazantzakis would have left out the Darth Vader reference, though.

My biggest issue with the those who protest, condemned, dismissed and ultimately called for the censorship of The Last Temptation of Christ is that they didn't even seem to have seen the film. I remember seeing the stories on TV and reading the interviews with the protesters in the papers at the time. It was patently obvious that very few of them had actually seen the movie. They had been told to hate it by the religious establishment and the media.

Imagine if a bunch of atheists showed up outside churches to protest Christianity. Imagine if they threw black ink on the Bible and it turned out that they had never even read the good book in the first place. How exactly would that go over?

I understand that The Last Temptation of Christ may offend some people's beliefs. At the same time, some of the Christian beliefs, particularly those towards homosexuality and sex in general, while we're at it, offend me. So let's call it even.

That's what tolerance is all about, Charlie Brown.

What I love about The Last Temptation of Christ is that if present spirituality is a struggle. Jesus was the Son of God but was also human (kinda a tough premise to get your head around, really). He had human weaknesses. He was subject to temptation. What human out there, with nails hammered through their hands and feet, hanging from a cross, vision blurred on account of all the blood in the eyes from the crown of thorns on their head, dying a slow painful, horrific death, would not at least momentarily reconsider this whole messiah plan?

Scorcese’s direction is dead on when it comes to conveying the emotional and spiritual challenges Christ must face in a remarkable reboot of a classic story.

That kinda stuff don’t come easy.

I can identify with that.

Happy Easter!

Good luck with those eggs everybody....

The reboot everyone is waiting for...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Back in the New York Groove

I visited New York City for the first time in December 1980. Regular readers of this blog may remember the story. 

In the 31 years that followed, I have had the opportunity of returning to the Big Apple many times. Sometimes it's been for shows, sometimes for meetings, sometimes for romantic liaisons, sometimes for a short vacation, sometimes for long vacation and always, no matter what the real reason for the visit, it has always most definitely been for fun.

And NYC is very fun...especially when you don't actually live there.

The purpose of my my most recent pilgrimage to The City That Never Sleeps (I'm gonna run out of synonyms for New York City before this blog is done, I know it) was photography.

No. Not my photography, silly. Sure I planned to take a few snapshots here but, no, this trip was a photographic expedition for the wonderful love of my life and uber-talented photographer extraordinaire, who is known is this blog as IS.

I was along for the ride this time around: on hand to help lug equipment, provide psychological security (about the only kind I can provide, really) and get lost whenever I might start to get in the way.

It turned out to be the one of the best New York excursion in recent memory.

Here are some random highlights...or all the stuff I could come up with some good lines for...

April 13 

4:50 PM
Driving into Manhattan. Hey did you know that the George Washington bridge has an upper and lower level that take you onto different parts of the island? Did you also know that it's possible to miss both of them and get completely lost?

6:05 PM
While walking to shoot a fog-filled Central Park with IS,  I noticed these signs posted everywhere that said "Do no honk. $350 fine.". This is a new municipal initiative that earns the City of New York an estimated $29,516 every 12 minutes.

9:02 PM
Return to the hotel. The hotel has got really nice TV service: HD and tons of cable and movie channels to chose from. TV service rarely turns up in hotel reviews but it should.

Anyway, I turn right to Fox News. See, I only ever see Fox News in short out-of-context clips on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and every program on MSNBC. So whenever I'm in the US, I watch as much of it I can so that I can get a "fair and balanced" perspective.

When I was studying Communications as Concordia University, I took a couple of courses in propaganda. After 20 minutes, I came to the conclusion that the producers at Fox News must have taken the same classes.

April 14 

1:25 PM
Iron Man and Spider-Man were making a personal appearance together in Times Square. They had a staff of people stopping tourists from taking pictures that was roughly the size of the Roman Fifth Legion. See, the idea was that you had to pay to take pictures of or with the two hugely popular superheroes. Though, I'm not sure what kind of a profit margin Mr.Parker and Mr. Stark would have after paying the salaries of the aforementioned huge staff whose only job was to stop people from taking photos in the first place. Kind of a meta situation, really.

And while I'm over-thinking it, you know, I can see Pete needing the extra cash but this appearance had to be purely a 100% ego trip thing for Tony.

This they let me take a picture of.

3:15 PM
Went to the east side of Central Park to photograph the 107th Infantry Memorial. The 107th Infantry were from New York and fought in World War I. It's rare, for some reason,  that you see The Great War commemorated in the US. I try and document every one I stumble across.

There were a group of German tourists also enthusiastically taking pictures of the monument while I was there. Amazing what a difference 93 years and the completion of reparations payments can make, huh?

The artist was one of these guys.

Barry Julien holding unknown award.
5:45 PM 
 Remarkably, the very popular late night political/social satire show, The Colbert Report, has three ex-Montrealers on its writing staff. There's Eric Drysdale (who I don't know so well but have met a couple of times at Just For Laughs), there's former writer for The Onion, Dan Guterman who I know pretty well from back in his local stand-up comedy days and another guy I got to know almost as well during my comedy club appearances with The Vestibules and On The Spot Improv. He is the show's Emmy Award winning head writer,  Barry Julien. All three guys are very funny and totally deserve to be there.

Thanks to Barry, I got tickets to the April 14 taping of The Colbert Report.

It's actually quite a modest little studio.

I gave  myself more than enough time to take the subway from Columbus Circle (where I was doing some shopping at the time) to the 50th street station, near the Colbert studio in the Manhattan neighbourhood known as Clinton. However, I ran into my usual NYC subway mishap. I got on an express train by accident. No trip to New York would be complete without that particular public transit mix-up.

Fortunately, the express train only took me two stops too far. So I managed to get off and get back on the non-express train back in the other direction. That took me to the 50th St. subway, no problem. However, it left me with only 15 minutes to walk eight blocks and have dinner. I stopped at a corner grocery store and bought a ham sandwich. I rushed down to the studio while shoving the sandwich into my face.

Next time I should try eating it .

7:34 P.M
After an almost 90 minute wait, the taping is about to begin (being part of a live studio audience takes a lot of patience, in case you didn't know).

Before the live taping of each edition of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert comes out to do a Q&A  with the studio audience, "out of character". "Please tell me you know he's doing character.", says the warm-up comedian before introducing the show's host. It is a wry reminder of Mr. Colbert's notorious appearance at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in 2006  for then President Bush.

Mr. Colbert takes the stage to wild applause and cheers. He begins the Q&A.

Mr.Colbert is man after my own heart. To the best of my knowledge, he is the most smarty-pansted comedian working in TV today (just for the record, elementary school teasing aside, I consider the term "smarty-pantesed" to be a compliment). Mr.Cobert (and his writer's) humour is always very smart and very crafty. If The Daily Show (Colbert's sister political satire show) can be accused of occasionally leaning on Frat Boy type humour amidst its political comedy, then The Colbert Report can equally be accused of leaning on Chess Club humour in the same manner.

Stephen Colbert is also one of the few late comedy hosts that, like me, comes from a sketch and improv background (the sketch and improv part, that is, not the late night comedy host part) rather than a stand-up comedy one. While some of the very funniest people I know are stand-up comedians, stand-up is comedy discipline that has a very different vibe than sketch and improv comedy.  Sketch and improv comedy is closer to theatre than stand-up is (he said unbiasedly). That difference in approach makes for a unique and fresh TV host in the person of Stephen Colbert.

Back to the Q & A.

I'm dying to ask Mr. Colbert if his killer version of Rebbecca Black's otherwise forgettable pop song "Friday" will ever be available on iTunes.

Seriously. I'm dying to download it.

However, Mr.Colbert seems to favoring the ladies tonight so I don't get the chance to ask my question. During one of his answers to a question I don't recall, Mr.Colbert manages to somehow work in that the first Peter Jackson blog on the making of the upcoming Hobbit film was posted that day. He talks about how seeing the photos of the sets for the new Tolkien screen epic have made his day. Then I had a sudden revelation. Watching the The Colbert Report regularly, I pretty much could tell that Mr.Colbert was a geek. It's pretty obvious. However, watching him live at the taping, seeing everything he had done and talked about  up to that point, thinking about his "Tolkien Off" with James Franco the week before and watching him steer and unrelated conversation to The Hobbitt.  I come to the conclusion that the guy not just a geek but that he is a Major Geek.

We have more in common than I thought.

This is the second time I've been to a Colbert Report taping. The one thing that you never can see watching the show at home is how good Mr.Colbert is at connecting with the studio audience, talking to them, getting their energy up and generally working the room.  It makes a huge difference towards the live audience's energy in the studio and, ultimately, to the show that you see on the air each night.

8:07 PM
They have to stop tape for Mr.Colbert's third line flub of the night. He turns to the studio audience and says, "We'll just to pick that up again, fix it in post, and no one will ever know that I screwed up...as long as none of you blog about it.".


I'm amazed that the man can stumble in the middle of a show and still have an audience cheering and applauding for him. If ever you are watching The Colbert Report and you hear sudden huge laughs followed by an applause break in an unlikely place then there's a good chance that is where Mr.Colbert fumbled during the live taping. The studio audience is so supportive that they go nuts when Mr.Colbert finally gets the line right.It's an extraordinary thing to be able to have an audience that behind you, even when you're totally messing up.  Not an easy skill to acquire and it sure don't happen over night.

It reminds me of a story I once heard about Picasso. Pablo was on the beach one day and he was approached by this woman who was a huge admirer. She asked him to draw something for her. He took out a piece of paper, did a quick drawing and handed it to her. The woman said, "But it only took you five minutes to do this".  Picasso replied "No, my dear, it took me my whole life to do that."  Same deal with Colbert and his ability to keep an audience totally behind him, no matter what: he's been working at his whole life.

By the way, Mr. Colbert, feel free to quote me on the part where I favourably compare you to Pablo Picasso.

Mr. Colbert would probably be the first to point out that Yoda is a Tolkien ripp-off

8:39 PM
I start walking back to the hotel after the taping. It's  pretty much on the other side of midtown Manhattan. During the walk, I notice that there seem to be way less stores that sell CD's, DVD's, Blu-Ray's and books around town.

Must be a lot of early technology adapters living in the city.

April 15

6:02 AM 
Head out to the Brooklyn Bridge for a sunrise shoot with IS. Walking to the 59th street subway, I come to the conclusion that the homeless people in Manhattan are like moose when you're camping: you only see them in the very early quiet hours of the morning.

3:43 PM
Visit the house in Greenwich Village that stood in for Carrie Bradshaw's impossibly inexpensive upper west side apartment building in Sex and The City.  It is in a very nice location on a picturesque quiet street. It  also seems to have a ton of people showing up to photograph it at any given time of the day. The day I was there, I was the oldest and most male person among them. 

Note the "No Trespassing" sign. I wonder if they get a lot of visitors?

The Jedi shtick never really worked in these shots.

6:06 PM 
6 degrees Celsius, 20th floor rooftop terrace bar. Ideal location for late afternoon drinks, isn't it?

It is also the best vantage point for IS to get some outstanding Empire State Building shots.  The terrace we were on had a bunch of outdoor space heaters (I can hear my dad on that one now, "What are you? Trying to heat all of New York City?").  They didn't really keep us warm enough. In a back-up effort to keep all of the clientele warm, there were these hooded fleece robes that you could put on over your clothes.

With all of the Friday Happy Hour businessmen wearing the robes over their shirts and ties, I couldn't help but think that we had stumbled into some kind of Hogwart's Reunion.

11:37 PM
While watching Fox news back at the hotel, I caught myself thinking "You know Bill O'Reilly is actually pretty reasonable". I knew then it was time to start watching something else. I flipped over to Sy-Fy. They were running a marathon of the original V miniseries. I realize that I had forgotten how good the original was and how less good the remake was. I made a mental note to seek out the miniseries' again. Coming soon to a blog near you....

April 16

7:08 AM
After seeing it on TV and in movies for years, I finally finally got a chance to go running in Central Park. I was on the lookout for Nazi war criminal dentists for the rest of the day.

11: 37 AM 
58th st. and 5th ave: I am the only person in a huge throng of people that recognizes Peter Jacobson. Woah. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be hip.

Coming soon to a Geek Night near you.
1:17 PM
No trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the one of the city's largest electronic stores, J&R Electronics in lower Manhattan. While there, I stumble across the DVD of the 1945 movie serial The Royal Mounted Rides Again. I had previously believed the serial to be unavailable. Not to mention the super bonus score, that it was on sale too. I have now have the complete set of every Mountie adventure movie serial ever made.

I resolve to finally move ahead with long planned live Mountie Action Adventure Cliffhanger improv show.

2:54 PM
IS and I have our only Classic New York Moment this trip.  The NY subway Saturday schedule had been changed on account of construction and maintenance work. Long story short: some trains aren't running at all while others are running as express trains only that will take you about 2-3 boroughs away from where you want to go. It's all very confusing for us non-New Yorkers.

You can just make out "upstairs" in the 14th street subway station.

After we've been staring at an NY transit map for a particularly long time in the middle of the 14th Street Subway Station, an NY MTA employee walks by us.

The conversation goes like this:

MTA Guy:  Lost?
TB & IS:  Yeah.
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs (indicating to a subway platform above us).
IS: Can we get the A train up there?
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Is it the express train or the-
MTA:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Will it take us to-
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Yeah, okay, but I just want to know if-
MTA Guy:  Hey, did you hear what I just said? Go upstairs.
IS:  But-
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
TB:  What if we went upstairs? Would that help?

The MTA Guy glares at us as we go upstairs.

That, for me, is the quintessential New Yorker stereotype; they are nice enough to take the time out to stop to and help you out but they will do so with as much of a dick about it as possible.

For the record, the train we wanted was, in fact, upstairs.

9:30 PM
A torrential rainstorm and record high 40 MPH winds in midtown Manhattan make for an interesting 11th Anniversary night on the town for IS and I.

April 17

8:17 AM
Sitting in the Starbucks at 55th and Lexington. As I type away at my laptop, I realize that I will never finish this blog before I leave. In fact, I'm now writing this two days after I got back home and I'm still not finished.

I've come to the conclusion that blogging and short fun filled trips to NYC don't mix.

All times referenced in this blog are approximate and, more than likely, completely made up.