Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Notes from a Brat: The Military Boot

An important element of growing up a military brat is getting to understand a sense of community. Though I lived in a German town, two actually, for a few years, my other 'postings' had me a denizen of Canadian military bases: CFB Greenwood; CFB Borden. With my family I lived in PMQs (Private Married Quarters). My school chums and friends and I were all "dependents" (offspring of fathers and/or mothers in the armed services). In a sense, we were of similar blood, and disciplined behaviour was expected of the offspring -- one would think.

We lived in a protected community, of sorts. Admittance to the base was for authorized personnel only. An exception to this was for "Armed Forces Day", where the general public was allowed to visit the airfield to take in displays of various military flying machines and support equipment; certainly for Greenwood, as it was an air force base.

We "protected" kids lived a pretty charmed existence; lots of athletic fields and tennis courts; cheap movie theatres; ice rinks; swimming pools (don't mention "The Bardia"!); and, certainly in the case of Borden, wonderful woods, and an awesome "dune" sea (I wonder if that water can I buried is still there).

So, why would fellow brats jeopardize this standing by causing more trouble than what is usually expected, and tolerated, from young people? These kids would always get into trouble, and would be known to the base's MPs (Military Police), not to mention the population as a whole. Set one fire too many, smash too many windows, or mimic your favourite film or television JD, and your family's right to live on the base might be reviewed and re-evaluated.

It happened. And we were not surprised.

"The _____s got kicked off the base!"

We kids and teens would look down on this family. To us it was the ultimate brat humiliation as the news was big news in the community. Of course, what getting ejected from PMQs really meant was that it was the parents who paid the price. Off-base housing was more expensive, and involved a potentially long commute to work. For young Jim or Jane, it meant having to possibly make a lot of new friends in the dreaded and looked down upon civilian world. (The humiliation!)

When I lived in the German towns I made a point to behave myself. I'm guessing my father issued me at that time, no doubt while laughing, some sage advice: "Whatever you do, don't get into trouble with the Polizei."

This then denizen of Der Schwarzwald was a 'good' kid.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Directing at the Toronto Docklands (Repeat)

A Forever Question: SNL SOS?

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Has Saturday Night Live ever been at least mildly funny?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Fun: The White Shadow Opening (Repeat)

Not only did I enjoy watching The White Shadow almost every week from 1978 to 1981, but it ended up the last dramatic television series that I made a point to catch.

Ken Howard played high school basketball coach Ken Reeves, a Caucasian lead to a supporting cast of mostly black and Hispanic actors. This mix helped make for some outstanding television. No hollow praise, no "best show ever!" rubbish, none needed, the episodes ran proof week-to-week of how the box can supply not just entertainment but social commentary.

The character interplay was part of the fun of The White Shadow. Understandably there was no profanity, but the subject manner was often bold; especially for the time.

Sunday Fun fact: three of the basketball-playing actors went on to have successful careers as directors: Thomas Carter (Swing Kids); Kevin Hooks (Prison Break); and Timothy Van Patten (Boardwalk Empire).

Saturday, March 27, 2021

This Full Frame Goes Wide (Repeat)

"You bought that on Blu-ray?", I threw back to my Star Wars fan buddy. "The original Star Trek series?" He nodded gently as though he understood clearly that his sneaky move was easy to understand. I stunned: "I don't even have that show on Blu-ray." (I don't have Star Trek on any format, including paper prints.)

My friend of fine and broad tastes had a quip on the Blu-ray's quality, over and above the stunning image: "It has black bars on both sides of the picture."

I explained to him something very familiar to me as I worked for years in film/television 'imaging': "It's like that because those shows were shot full-frame; full-Academy. To tell you the truth, most widescreen feature films, the ones not photographed in 'scope', were shot full-frame; they just put a mask on the top and bottom of the image to create a 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 widescreen format . . . when they were aired on television, the prints were commonly shown full-frame which is why you'd sometimes see a microphone drop in from the top of the picture." (Flicks photographed via that method would involve the camera operator composing for the intended widescreen. His/her camera eyepiece would have finder markings for the 1.66:1 and/or 1.85:1 aspect ratios.) Movies shot in "CinemaScope", or other "scope", would have special prints struck for television's then 1.33:1 aspect ratio. An exponent of this method was what is referred to as "pan-and-scan", which often involved a simple shot-by-shot repositioning.

The point of this article is that I always want full frame, certainly on old television programs. The camera operator composed the shot for the then television broadcast ratio. And I want that.

This morning I learned that the superb 1973-74 British television documentary series The World at War has been released in its original screen ratio. (Its first Blu-ray release from a couple of years ago has the ever luscious 16:9 aspect ratio.) This new release is for Region-2 only but maybe it'll see Region-1 so I can consider buying the set.

There's something else I could grab on Blu-ray....

Friday, March 26, 2021

Space Force: From the Files of Donald J. Trump (Repeat)

U.S. president Donald J. Trump announced today that he wants to build a sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces. He calls it "Space Force". (No doubt he wants an exclamation mark as part of the name. "Space Force!")

Exclamation mark or not it sounds an awful lot to me like an old ZIV television program.

Space Force

Television Production

... A touch of procedural such as Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt, combined with the rocketship excitement of Men Into Space.

"Stories of the American men and women who face unknown enemy interstellar forces -- drawn from the top secret (but available on Twitter) files of Donald J. Trump!"

Back to Earth:

United States Space Force

the U.S.S.F.

Wait a minute....that won't fly.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Mike Stoklasa on George Lucas and Star Wars (Repeat)

"I'm not convinced that George is this genius filmmaker that he's always been portrayed as being. I see him as a guy who had a neat idea to make a space adventure movie in the spirit of the old Flash Gordon serials. Modernize it a little, make it share a lot of visual elements with World War II, add some mythological elements and call it Star Wars. Then get a whole other bunch of people to make it work somehow . . . He works best when other people take his ideas and work with them. When he writes and directs, it's disastrous."

I agree with the above in whole and in parts. George Lucas has been elevated by many Star Wars fans as being the great being. The human being is humble, often repeating the down-to-Earth line: "People, it's just a movie." Indeed it is....they are. But this is not to take anything away from Lucas, and contrary to what impression Red Letter Media's Mike Stoklasa might convey in the above quote, the Star Wars creator slaved at his writing desk for thousands of hours over a few years to come up with the universe for his "Flash Gordon-like space movie". He had advice and feedback over his push to come up with a story, the story, but it was good old creativity's hallmarks: blood, sweat, and tears. (And in Lucas' case, a lot of self-inflicted hair snipping.)

Distillation is part of creativity.

The first Star Wars movie, Star Wars, no "A New Hope" crap, was the result of a creative mind; not to forget a hard working writing hand of limitless stamina. Many other creative minds added layers of essential brilliance: Taylor, McQuarrie, Dykstra, Mollo, Williams, and many more. (The film's opening title crawl was 'translated' by filmmaker Brian De Palma and film critic Jay Cocks from Lucas' unwieldy and rambling original.) Let's not forget the talented cast. Not to be forgotten on the casting note: Lucas spent hundreds of hours picking his cast, taking the care to see how they played off one another. (He had taken the same approach with American Graffiti. Also to remarkable effect.)

Filmmaking is a collaborative art. Of which Star Wars is a wall-poster illustration.

As for the bit: "When he writes and directs, it's disastrous." Watch THX-1138, American Graffiti, and, of course, Star Wars. So much for that theory. When it comes to speaking of the "prequel films", of which I will not speak in the conventional sense, Stoklasa is bang on with an explosive force to match the destruction of the Death Star.

DVD: The Endless Summer

The Endless Summer

A Film by
Bruce Brown

Monterey Media, Inc.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

DVD: The Dam Busters

The Dam Busters

Directed by
Michael Anderson

Film Movement LLC

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Canadian Cinema That You Need To Know (Live!)

An old film pal friend of mine alerted me today to an upcoming special live streaming chat on YouTube. "Canadian Cinema That You Need to Know" is a series presented by the group Movie vs. Film, and in this segment the special guest will be film critic and journalist Geoff Pevere, who will discuss five outstanding Canadian films: Goin' Down The Road, Mon Oncle Antoine, My Winnipeg, Hard Core Logo, and Videodrome. I've seen them all and would agree with the esteemed Mr Pevere on their inclusion here.

The question of why this country has not had its own distinct film industry will be addressed. The first-crack answer is that Canada suffers a terrible brain drain in this area. With no real industrial platform to make movies, created in part by the incessant bleeding of talent, the business is, at best, scattershot.  A low production output doesn't encourage any serious financial investment. Industrial output requires industry. It's a vicious circle. Not to be forgotten is the hard cold fact that Canadian banks, very wealthy Canadian banks, play a safe game: investing in real estate, often offshore. Film production and distribution is high risk.

I'll be interested to hear what Geoff Pevere has to say on the issue. But no doubt he'll be most articulate supporting why his film picks are good films....not just good Canadian films.

Live at 11am on Thursday, March 25th:

"Canadian Cinema That You Need To Know - A LIVE Film Talk With Film Journalist Geoff Pevere"

If you miss the live presentation, you can watch it after as the video will still be active.

Vic Fedeli's Inability (From February 14, 2019)

An open question:

Why does the current Minister of Finance of Ontario not answer a direct question? Vic Fedeli, the right hand puppet of Ontario premier Doug Ford, resorts to slogans when 'answering' simple, easy to understand, honest questions from top-notch journalists.

Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda had a good one for the minister. Not a direct answer was heard. Paikin asked again. The same non-answer. A slogan. ("Fifteen billion!")

Cynthia Mulligan of CityNews asked Fedeli a question yesterday during a news conference. One would expect an answer, but Ms Mulligan got none. "You didn't answer my question." The Minister of Nothing Much gave the same sloganized response ("Twenty-three thousand!"), then walked from the podium. A job well done.

Ontario's Conservative government is demonstrating how it's done. Funny, considering they keep reminding us, over and over again, how dishonest the previous Liberal government was.

Ya get what'ya pay for, folks!

Monday, March 22, 2021

William Shatner Still Commands

I saw the tweets today saying that Canadian actor William Shatner turns 90 years of age today. He is, quite simply, the coolest man in the galaxy.

He's also a fellow Montrealer.

A Forever Question: By Any Other Name

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Is "Conservative" a euphemism for "toilet plunger"?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A British Warship Leaves HMNB Portsmouth (Repeat)

Sunday Fun: The Kids in the Hall Opening (Repeat)

Front of house admission: I never found The Kids in the Hall particularly funny -- what I saw of it. Not so for some friends of mine when the show originally ran (1989 - 1995). "Did you see the Kids last night?..."

A coproduction of the CBC and HBO, the shows were recorded live-to-tape in front of a studio audience here in Toronto. Some segments, generally location shoots, were produced on 16mm film. Torontonians will readily recognize locations done for the opening title sequence.

The show's major exec was none other than Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels, who also functioned as fellow Canadian to the Kids: Dave Foley; Kevin McDonald; Mark McKinney; Bruce McCulloch; and Scott Thompson (to me the funniest of the bunch).

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

More Ten Best Film Music Composers

Further to my blog post from yesterday, Ten Best Film Music Composers, some points:

Miklós Rózsa. How could I forget him? (I wrote the above piece while watching the latest installment of Kim's Convenience. That series has really gone downhill in the script department.)

David Shire, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Victor Young were excluded, but I was limited to ten names.

James Horner was not on there as I felt he would fit comfortably on a "fifty best" list.

Leonard Rosenman would be in the top twenty.

Hans Zimmer? Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da,


Postscript: A few years ago I worked with a woman who was from Hungary; as was Mr Rózsa. We were talking about people from that country and I mentioned the composer's name. She said: "Yes, Rózsa Miklós." She knew about him.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Ten Best Film Music Composers

I have no idea who Screen Rant contributor Jake Dee is, but after reviewing "The 10 Best Film Music Composers of All-Time Ranked" I've come to the conclusion that he does not know much about the history of film scores and film composers.

The 10 Best Film Music Composers Of All-Time, Ranked

These 10 great music movie composers have scored music to some of the biggest, most well-known movies in history and worked with the best auteurs.

Of course it's subjective. Here's my list. I built it, and not necessarily with importance to what composer is in what position exactly, based on the following criteria: productivity; range; longevity; not falling into a comfortable groove; the ability to write a tune when necessary....

1. Jerry Goldsmith
2. Franz Waxman
3. Max Steiner
4. Alex North
5. Bernard Herrmann
6. Elmer Bernstein
7. Ennio Morricone
8. Henry Mancini
9. John Williams
10. John Barry

Some of the greatest composers to have scored films, and to have written some of the greatest scores, were not included since they did not focus on a career in the biz: Sergei Prokofiev; William Walton; Leonard Bernstein; Aaron Copland; ....

Monday, March 15, 2021

A Forever Question: Screeners!

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question." 

Sir. Why don't "movie screeners" screen us from bad movies?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

An Hour to the Abyss

My wall clock uttered 7:50.

When I turned on the tube and tuned to the Premier League match, 'they' were at the half-time discussion. Oh, perhaps I misread the Premier listings yesterday, and the game actually started at the usual 7am.

It was time to do some errands. Before popping my phone into my jacket I took a look at the display....

"It's a few minutes past twelve...."

My wall clock uttered 11:05pm.

Sunday Fun: It's Garry Shandling's Show (Opening) Repeat

Yes, it was indeed Garry Shandling's show (1986 - 1990). And it was brilliant. In late 1987 I would be sure to catch It's Garry Shandling's Show on Sunday evenings on Toronto station CITY-TV.

The series with a broken fourth wall was entertaining in its conceit: Gary Shandling is a television sitcom character, and he knows it. He would pop out of character (or was it into character?) and address the audience, sometimes making them part of the story. (This hater of sitcoms likes a sitcom that pokes fun at the form; or tries to improve on it.)

The theme song too was different, and memorable. Its title will come as no surprise: "This is the Theme to Garry's Show."

I'm going to take the present tense of the title, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and make it present again: Track it down....

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Kim's Convenience (Repeat: From May of 2019)

Sitcoms are my least favourite form of television. Which does not explain my almost reverence for All in the Family (1971 - 1979, CBS).

I decided to check out a few episodes of Kim's Convenience. My exploration took place at my convenience over a couple of months. The CBC sitcom premiered in October of 2016 and finished its third season a few weeks back. As I write this I'm checking out a back-to-back episode run. (It's a lead-in to tonight's NHL playoff game 7 of the series between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues.)

"Kim" is the surname of a Korean Canadian family who run a convenience store here in Toronto, Canada. The mother and father are immigrants from South Korea; their son and daughter are Canadian born. Needless to say, this dichotomy is a wellspring or springboard for much of the story material.

Recently I read some reviews in order to contaminate my own still formulating opinion on the series. One comment I found interesting said that Kim's is more pleasant than funny. I would agree. Spot on.

Six episodes should be enough; that's about half of a television season here in Canada.

The series does not work. As fine as the cast is they are not supported. The producers and writers must know their aims but it's clear they have no idea how to get there. And they probably drive to the corner store.

Some Inconvenience

On Monday, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) announced it has cancelled the option of producing a sixth season of the half-hour sitcom, Kim's Convenience. Five years is enough, for many television series (and five years is five too many for most television series).

Last night I made a point to watch Kim's, knowing that it's in its last few weeks. The episode was as bland as the two I'd seen earlier this season. As a matter of fact, last year I watched a few installments and noticed how it was a step down in quality from the year before that.

Five years is fine. There are enough good shows featuring that fine cast of characters to satisfy a rerun schedule after the first-run closes its doors.

Advice: If the CBC, or another agency, revives Kim's Convenience at some point it would probably benefit the series to lose the "Handy Car Rental" stuff. As a friend of mine said recently: "It's not particularly interesting."

Again: It was a fine cast.

Monday, March 8, 2021

A Forever Question: Bounce the Ball

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Why is basketball referred to as a sport when it's actually a game?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sunday Fun: The Flash (1990) Opening (Repeat)

Soon after arriving back in Canada after spending a few weeks in England, I heard chatter about a television series that had premiered while I was away: The Flash

Back then it was possible to have a series sneak up on you. Given that I left dramatic television programs in my past, not being up to speed just compounded the surprise for me. (My forward scanner needed a replacement vacuum tube.)

I tried a couple of episodes and was impressed with the show's scope. (The new Flash series looks exactly like what it is: a low budget television series, but with lots of CGI -- the CGI package deal so prevalent in TV today.)

The opening titles, complete with Danny Elfman's Batmanish theme music, are pretty propulsive. (At the time I felt the "starring" bits were a little goofy.)

I'm guessing The Flash has its fans, even though the series came and went in a flash -- just 22 episodes.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Unways, An Experimental Film Short from The Funnel


In February of 2017, I wrote a piece on my experiences with Toronto's experimental film collective, "The Funnel" (1977 - 1989). My involvement with the group was from sitting in front of a screen during late 1984 and early 1985. Those twice-weekly screenings were more than worth my time, but for some reason, probably because I was in my first year of film school at that time, I did not become a member or get to know any of the gang.

One such (filmmaker) gang member was Paul McGowan.

While looking up "the funnel toronto" on YouTube last evening I stumbled upon the above short, Unways. Immediately I spent fifteen minutes sitting in front of my monitor screen soaking up the filmmaker's early-1980s Super-8 effort.

It was time well spent, as I became immersed in Mr McGowan's film; losing myself in its hypnotic flashes, its fixed stare looking down the length of a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway train car. In some ways, Unways reminded me of Jonas Mekas' hypnotic 12-minute flickerama, Notes On the Circus (1966).

Paul McGowan enlisted the help of Funnel stalwart John Porter in execution of the time-lapse photographics, and for the fine audio track build, he worked with T. Michael Cluer. 

I wish more Funnel shorts were on YouTube.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Could Be: A. Trump; A. Scheer; D. Ford; J. Kenney (Repeat)

Wear - a - Mask (Repeat)

Early yesterday afternoon I took a walk to pick up some things and was amazed by how few people were wearing face masks. Perhaps one in ten citizens wore one. We are not back to normal. Certain businesses were allowed to open here in Ontario this week with some conditions. Unfortunately too many folk think we're back to normal, even with all the education through social media and media services asking us to don proper gear at this critical time.

It reminds me of what my late father would say from time to time....

Monday, March 1, 2021

A Forever Question: Peak Your Everest

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question." 

 Sir. Why does Mount Everest sound so British when it's not in Britain?