Friday, November 25, 2016

Gimme

It's been a nutty week, so I'm asking for a gimme. Here is a collection of 21-year-old infantryman Victor Lundy's sketches from WWII -- enjoy.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sharon Jones

The album cover for 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007) was my first exposure to Sharon Jones.


I had yet to hear a note of her singing or the Dap-Kings' playing, but even so: what was there not to love about this album? A gorgeous woman in a retro-frame that called to mind the soul and funk legends of yore -- the material within was either going to be a failed pose (in which case, thanks for the eye-candy) or a triumphal delivery on its promise.

The album delivered, and how. Listening to the music prompted further meditation on the cover. How old was this woman? I'd never dare to guess, her performance made the task too formidable. Her voice suggested experience beyond the merely mortal, even as the energy behind it was the very essence of youthful vitality.

Jones and the Kings got better with every album. The shows were another reality altogether. People who went to see her were glad they did. A consummately generous performer, gone at 60.

Too generous to be chasing after crowns -- Aretha may be the undisputed Queen of Soul, but Sharon Jones was surely its most spectacular ambassador. You know where to find her stuff. Give it a spin, won't you?

Friday, November 18, 2016

We Stand On Guard: The Ugly Canadians

My first thought when I heard about We Stand On Guard (story by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Steve Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth) was: "We've got John Milius' Red (White & Blue) Dawn for Canucks -- finally!"

Also: Wolverines are pussies.
My first thought once I'd finished was, "Yikes -- does the world really need this right now?"

We used to be friends...
Vaughan's story is high-concept at its highest: the United States of America finally invades Canada for its abundant freshwater resources. Small cells of anti-American resistance fighters still exist, but they are few and far between and vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Enter: the villains.
The characters are quick studies, all animated by understandable motivation(s). The story zips along, once you start you don't stop until it's finished. And when it's finished, it is finished -- my pet peeve with comic writers is their pecuniary devotion to sequels and the like. Not so here -- the well was deep, but now it's dry.

The art is top drawer. Skroce and Hollingsworth obviously revere Geoff Darrow, but where Darrow would never leave a frame until persuaded there was absolutely no room for any whitespace S&H judiciously ease back on the hyper-articulation.

Maybe this isn't the best example...

Naturally, the American invaders are a hateful, entitled bunch. And when the story begins the Canadian resistance fighters are sympathetic, by virtue of their being evident victims. But by story's end it is apparent that they, also, are hate-full. The wry, belittling generalisations we Canucks currently make of our Yankee neighbours and their quirks and foibles are given just the slightest of tweaks to express unfettered, seething contempt. It all amounts to a nihilistic thrill-ride, which has limited emotional cache for this particular reader.

But is it ART?

Shortly before 9/11 Art Spiegelman lamented that the advent of the "graphic novel" had removed some of the tawdry, trashy element to comics-making that he used to revel in. Post-9/11 Spiegelman followed that observation with a bit of agit-prop that, I thought, was a little too elevated to really penetrate the nervous system.

"Elevation" is certainly not a characteristic of We Stand On Guard -- in many ways, particularly in its framing of our shared humanity, this extended pamphlet expresses a rubbishy glee akin to the leaflets of Jack Chick.

Purgatory ain't for heroes -- but Hell is!
To which I say, hey, if agit-prop is your thing, the worst we could do is go ahead and call it "art."

Given current events, the social media platforms I take part in anxiously press me with Maya Angelou's words, "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet." Closer to (my) home we have the late Leonard Cohen: "Love's the only engine of survival."

Whether or not we "need" agit-prop, it seems the world in its current state is keen to produce it.

Just remember: what he said.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doctor Strange

"...take away seven, carry the two..."
Two observations made during the car-ride home:

1) "That was the best 3D movie I've ever seen!"

I agree. I thought of others that have qualified, in their day -- Mad Max, Para-Norman, Tron, Polar Express, that James Cameron Ayahuasca movie, etc. Most are competently framed movies with occasional scenes of 3D virtuosity. This was a movie of nearly constant 3D virtuosity, with some moments that fell back to mere competency.

2) "That was the best Marvel movie yet!"

I had to mull that over, before finally agreeing with it. The hitch was, it's the best Marvel movie largely because of the 3D razzle-dazzle. Anyone who sees it in 2D or on the home-screen will likely be underwhelmed. Immersed in 3D, the viewer is more in tune with what the good Doctor is experiencing. Non-immersed viewers will be quicker to notice the usual Marvel deficiencies.

Rachel McAdams does a terrific job of a role that was probably the emotional lynch-pin of the script she signed off on, but became something lesser during shooting. Tilda Swinton . . . if she's ever dropped the ball on a film, I've yet to see it. Similarly, Chiwetel Ejiofor. As for Benedict Cumberbatch . . .

. . . who assigned him the American accent? If he opted for it himself, I can understand -- it's catnip for British actors, just like "the" British accent is for American actors.
Voice coach: "NOT 'terrr-ibly' but 'TED-ah-blee!'"
My favourite on-screen Brits are the ones who never lose -- not completely -- the accent, no matter who they're playing. Anthony Hopkins is stellar at this -- he can be Richard Nixon for nearly four hours, and we ignore the British inflections because this man is taking on the persona of another. It's actually less distracting if he keeps a little Brit-tonation. Jeremy Irons, Bob Hoskins -- one eulogy for Hoskins elicited my hoots and howls by praising his ability to put on an American accent. He had impressive means of persuading you he was a particular character, but burying his native Cockney inflections with a phony accent was not among them.

Anyway, Cumberbatch's "American" accent was flat enough to bring back painful reminders of my former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Perhaps Strange was among the brains that drained south of 49 when he took office? Regardless, if Strange were to "acquire" a British accent for the next movie, I would not protest.

Where Doctor Strange succeeds spectacularly, however, is with its introduction of the Meta-verse -- the Marvel Plot-Randomizer that allows the characters and storylines to be reborn every few years. In the hands of Marvel Inc. it's a clever money-making ploy. As represented in this movie, it's surprisingly awe-inspiring.

Go see it -- in 3D. That is all.

For Yahmdallah Bjornickerford. RIP, TLD -- another blog bites the dust. Happy trails, amigo!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Post-Election Cast-About

I think another friend called it better than I did: "The worst person for this job is the one who will get the job." A safer bet I could not have made.
Either way, it goes to some joker...
For those of us unshakably predisposed to pessimism, the genuine delight we experience when proven wrong remains among the greatest of life's joys. I'm hoping I'm wrong about a lot of things -- the wronger I am, the more rapturous the next four (or more!) years will be.

It is in this admittedly sour, yet sincere, spirit of the liberal ideal that I cast about looking for people keen to make the argument -- to persuade me, in other words, not through insult and invective, but through a (relatively) dispassionate line of reasoning.

These are increasingly rare creatures, to be sure, but they do exist, and I am grateful to and for them. Two of the better examples of people applying themselves to the argument are Sax von Stroheim, blogging at Uncouth Reflections, and Robert W. Merry, writing for The National Interest. Further consideration: here is the President Elect's (for real) to-do list for the first 100 days -- give it a look and see if you can't name one or two potential influencers.

Anyway, I remain unpersuaded -- I'm convinced this guy's a disaster for everybody, including especially himself. But prove me wrong -- please! Nobody would be happier.
"Waauugh!"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Talking to the kids

"Well, you called it." My first e-mail of the day, from a dear friend who is the most hooked of political junkies.

I called it. Yeah, maybe. But when I woke up yesterday and confronted the headlines I realized I hadn't truly expected to be right. I went to bed expecting my existential dread to return to a low boil in the morning. I woke up to discover there was a level of heat I'd lost touch with.

I was still trying to put it all into manageable perspective, when the younger daughter (newly 18) came into the kitchen, in tears, with two questions: "What happens now?" and "How can anyone listen to what comes out of that man's mouth and still put him in charge?"

Difficult questions both. I did the fatherly thing and dodged them.

I said I wasn't sure yet of the data, but I suspected most Americans did not vote. The data that was in said very clearly that the majority of those who did vote, did not vote for that man. Also: Americans have a longer and more complicated and indeed more painful history with Ms. Rodham-Clinton than the one my daughter's Facebook feed was presenting.

All this was to say that most Americans, including many who did vote for that man, were better-than-okay people.

I also said that political arguments are usually driven to polarities that simplify life in unhelpful ways. Before she was born there was a moment when I woke up to discover that Canada might, in a few days' time, not be Canada any more. The thought caused me a great deal of anxiety, until I heard someone on the radio say, "Political theory and argument exists in a realm way beyond our back-yards, and our passions expand to meet those borders. It's important to return our gaze to the window that looks onto our back-yards, and to take confident steps into the immediate neighborhood, and reconnect with the people of our communities, to keep our passions in check, and to keep our shared sense of humanity sustained and healthy."

"So make sure you have a good breakfast," I said. "Be kind to yourself. And make a point of being kind to someone else. Every day's a gift."

I was tempted to go full Kung-Fu Panda . . .


. . . but of course there's also this exchange. So it goes.

Friday, November 04, 2016

A Modest Proposal

I think it's safe to say: nobody is going to be happy with the results of this coming November 8. Not one single person in the entire world.

If I'm wrong -- if you're a person who, as the clock ticks past Midnight, Central, November 8 and closer to the Midnight of the Soul, November 9 -- and you can search your heart and say, "That glowing feeling, right there, that's close enough to genuine joy that I am made bold to say, 'I feel happy'" then I urge you to get dressed, leave your abode and seek immediate fellowship. You have spent too long removing yourself from the crush of humanity to (I'm just guessing here) nurse wounds that cannot be properly addressed without the balm of companionship. Go to church. Go to temple. Go to AA Agnostica. Go.

Now to the rest of us: have you wondered what the Universe has been trying to tell humanity in the Year of Our Lord 2016? If you don't already know, I'll tell you, and you'll slap your forehead:

Love your artists.

Man, somebody has got to help us get through this -- who else, but they? And they're dropping like flies.

When my girls were reading on their own and discovering authors they loved and followed I urged them to write fan letters. "Authors need to hear you love their books!" I said. Needless to say, their favourite authors are still waiting on those letters, because what does Dad know?

I might as well admit, I've been poor follower of my own advice. I've sent some letters, sure, but I could send more -- a lot more. So this is my public declaration of purpose: I will be putting actual pen to actual paper, and sending letters of appreciation and encouragement to authors, playwrights, performers of every conceivable stripe -- you name it.

We've got to keep these people upright. Because they're the only people left who are keeping us upright.