Friday, March 27, 2015

Rattling In My Brain Pan: The Nostalgia Circuit

I've been reminiscing with Joel how, back in '77 between viewings of Star Wars, I'd mull over the little visual garnishes George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie lavished on that movie. Like this turrety thing -- I don't think it had more than 15 seconds of screen-time, but that was more than enough to spin the wheels of a 12-year-old's imagination throughout the weeks and months that buffered visits to the cinema in the shabby end of town. What the heck was that thing? Why was one Storm Trooper in white, the other in black? Were the black Storm Troopers even more bad-ass than the regulars? Etc.

The creative relationship between Lucas and McQuarrie was long and productive (longer and more productive, alas, than George's marriage to Marcia, who was almost certainly his best editor), and did more to get bums in seats for the increasingly dismal sequels that followed. In hindsight, the movie trailers that preceded these dud spectacles are finally the most potent distillation of what the Lucas/McQuarrie collaboration did best: suggest something fabulous up ahead. Once the lines got filled in with plot and exposition, the magic disappeared.

Which leads me to this week's discovery, via Boing Boing, of this fan's hand-drawn Star Wars animation short.
With fab poster!
Artist Paul Johnson produces a stunning mash-up of '80s anime and Star Wars, which, with its attention to detail and its absence of wooden dialog, perfectly captures what's been missing from this movie franchise: the suggestion, and formative exploration, of unplumbed depths and drama.

Matters Star Trek: over at Grantland Dave Schilling wonders if Idris Elba mightn't save Star Trek 3 from self-destructing -- a question that strikes me as so wrong-headed, I hardly know where to begin addressing it. Look, Elba is a beautiful man and terrific actor -- but so is Benedict Cumberbatch, and his best efforts did little to save the second movie from its compound defects. The most accomplished actor in the world can't take a dud role and pull an entire movie up by its bootstraps. And if you think Elba is the exception to the rule, just watch his thankless turn in Prometheus.
"I'll let my flaming little buddy here do all the emoting."
I've changed my tune somewhat on this business of "saving" Star Trek (as I am prone to do). We have a bold new look, and a brave new timeline -- now's the time to launch a corresponding television series, focusing perhaps on the crew of the USS Defiant, or some other Constitution-class starship, so that personnel from the Enterprise can drop by for the occasional tie-in episode. Because doncha know: Star Trek has been, and always will be, a concept that works best as television.

Admiral Archer is ready for his close-up.
And finally, UHF -- the only Weird Al Yankovic feature-length movie ever made, turns 25 this year. The AV Club provides an epic (and how!) oral history of the film. I found it all engaging, but if it's too much for the casual reader, just skim to the (dependably entertaining) Emo Philips bits. Example:

Interviewer: How did [real-life shops teacher Joe Earley] feel about your portrayal of his . . . name?

Philips: Well, you know, how would Alexander Graham Bell have felt if he had met Don Ameche? I'm assuming very flattered.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Culling and Mulling

This weekend we move my mother-in-law from her three-bedroom apartment, into a single room at the retirement home across town. Her destination is a lovely facility on the riverbank, with a robust culture of kinship and care. It's a good move -- which is not to say it is an easy one.

Our house has taken aboard some items, including several large boxes of family pictures. My wife will sort through them in the weeks ahead. Most of these photos are fated for the curb, and the keepers will be arranged in a book my mother-in-law can leaf through at her ease.

So many typical family shots, with the subject's face at the dead-centre of the frame. Rookie mistake -- even though my father-in-law, the usual camera wielder, did indeed have an aesthete's eye. He painted canvases, and he knew how a picture ought to be framed. But when it's a shot of your grandchild, you don't do the mathematics of what makes a good composition. You put the kid's face in the centre, right where his or her being resides in your own heart.

These boxes and boxes of photos, just a shard of the legacy of the woman who provided the template of how to mother daughters. Hold their hair when they puke into the toilet, clean their faces with a cool wet washcloth; you may be an introvert, but go jump in with both feet when the nine-year-old needs a song-and-dance partner for the music festival; pour tea, and listen to the inevitable adolescent stories of heartbreak and misunderstanding, etc.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Musical Maundering

I don't need to say it, but I will: I'm still listening to a lot of Devin Townsend.* One of the benefits of discovering and getting excited by someone so prolific is encountering the early stuff for the first time.

"Say, girls: have you seen the Casualties of Cool CD? Girls?"

I've tried to draw out and savour this joy by restricting myself to a "new" album every six weeks or so. Unfortunately for me, DT's management just yanked the bulk of his earliest material from eMusic. And, frankly, that's also unfortunate for Townsend & Co. The pattern I'd fallen into was downloading an old album of his, getting hooked, then ordering the CD so I could add it to my wall of plastic and grok on the art, etc. That's a double stream of cash that has now been reduced to a single. Perhaps I should thank him.

Speaking of "grokking"...

The last artist to hit me the same way was Steven Wilson, via his original band Porcupine Tree. His new disc Hand. Cannot. Erase. is getting a fair bit of play, also. He's taken a morbid real-life story and used it to launch typically beautiful and haunting reveries exploring his usual concerns: the tension between privacy and isolation, connection/disconnection with would-be intimates, family anxieties -- the usual ball of wax-and-thorns.

It works -- splendidly, of course -- but I tend to return with more frequency to his Porcupine Tree stuff. Signify is still a record I can listen to from beginning to end, and experience the shivers as the final track ("Dark Matter") reaches its apogee. What can I say? My aural development is arrested and remains most pleased with Wilson's early metal-techno-prog hybrid.

Wait: that's not Townsend.

An early contender for the Spring Cleaning Soundtrack is So Delicious! by The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band (homepage).

As big & damned as you can handle.

It's catchy, bluesy and boisterous stuff. Steven Horowitz (PhD) gave it a lot of thought -- possibly too much, but his ruminating certainly gave me a nudge in the right direction, and I've been enjoying the music ever since.

This sort of thing happens in Toronto, apparently.
*DTP's most recent is getting a lot of play, somewhat to my own surprise. It's a double-album, the first disc continuing in the vein of Epicloud, the second reprising the Ziltoid story-line. I listened to both, and initially preferred the first disc over the second. When I saw the band perform I was surprised by just how much material they chose from the Ziltoid disc -- and further delighted by its lavish technical virtuosity. I then bought the three-disc collection, and have been listening to the script-free version of Ziltoid ever since.

Sculpture in the top picture, "The Tree of koo-SANZH" (tree of cussing) by the younger, shared with permission.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Harrison Ford Shines Light On Leonard Nimoy

Harrison Ford's recent brush with the final curtain (I'm happy to hear he's safe, and wish him a speedy recover) put into perspective a few of my feelings about the late Leonard Nimoy.

There was a moment in the late-70s, early-80s when Ford offered an aspirational image to a late-adolescent boy. As a Star Wars besotted teenager I understood myself to be in league with the whiny-bossy, perpetually clueless Luke Skywalker. I also understood that Luke envied, admired and had a "won't you be my older brother?" crush on Han Solo, because I had the self-same crush.

I took fashion cues from Ford's "Decker" in Blade Runner.

I knew Ridley Scott dressed him up, but Ford wore the clothes -- so I frequented Goodwill stores and scoured the bargain racks at the back of Le Chateau, taking my best stab at the look.
I also slouched.
I cheered when Ford strode across the silver screen again as Han Solo in the first movie entirely devoted to the role: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. And for a few years following, if Ford was involved in a project, that fact alone was enough to generate interest.

But, after a while, that stopped being the case.

There were a number of reasons for my growing antipathy, and his public persona as someone who, at the very best of times, could be prickly and often worse certainly didn't help matters.

It's easy to understand and even sympathize with Ford's attitude -- shut up with the Star Wars, already. It's more difficult to understand where Leonard Nimoy's even-keeled equanimity came from.

To say nothing of his good posture.
Did Nimoy ever have a "get a life!" moment? It's possible, even probable. Still, it's telling that Shatner was the one who jumped at the chance to play it for (very nervous) laughs. In the same SNL skit, he also claims the show was "something I did as a lark." Again, coming from Shatner, it's convincing. Nimoy could never pull that off, because the truth was evident from the start: he took the show, and his role in it, very seriously.

He appeared to parlay that seriousness into a cautiously-tendered respect toward the show's fans. No easy feat, that, but I think the fans reciprocated in kind. Nimoy's non-Trek related ventures could be pretty flaky at times -- endearingly so, because, hey, we're kind of a flaky bunch ourselves, aren't we? Then there was the rigorous conceptualism of his photography. The man's artistic yin-and-yang seemed just as dramatic as his signature role, and just as winning.

I have a friend who encountered Kim Cattrall when Sex & The City was in the ascendant, and Catrall's star had gone super-nova. He surprised her by complimenting her work in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. She, in turn, surprised him with story after story about what a mensch Nimoy had been on-set. For her (then for my friend, and finally for me) Nimoy was a surprisingly open, fundamentally decent guy -- the sort of person we'd like to be remembered as.

Anyway, the best piece I've read so far is Matt Zoller Seitz' careful parsing of Spock's (yes: Spock's) subversive Jewishness. Reading MZS, one does flinch somewhat at McCoy's "green-blooded hob-goblin" barbs, much the way we now flinch at Sinatra's on-stage "watermelon" joshing with Sammy Davis Jr. It's worthy thought-provocation, even if at times MZS's prognostications ("as if Wagner had momentarily been claimed for the chosen people") stretch credibility.

But then, what do I know? I am not Leonard Nimoy, a self-described "secular Jew."

I just aspire to be.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Changes To The Game

Sunday night's hockey game got off to a stellar start, for Yours Truly. After four scoreless years of playing with the same group of guys, I managed to get past the goalie twice, within the first ten minutes.

The first was the direct result of a terrific pass, from a guy who loves to play the game and not just launch a personal showboat every few minutes. I'd say it was almost impossible to fail that quality of pass, but the truth is I've messed up plenty of passes just like it. But not Sunday.

The second goal, however, occurred on one of my exceedingly rare break-aways. I doubt anyone, besides the goalie, was more surprised than I was to see the puck reach the back of the net.

After that, things deteriorated to my usual level of play. At one point I took the puck away from a guy -- he's a year or two older, an accomplished player who was, I imagine, a scrappy defence in his youth. Anyway, it clearly pissed him off to have someone who plays so pitifully make a monkey out of him. He got grabby and threw everything he had to get the puck back, or at least mess up my break. It was the latter, and we both wheezed off to our respective benches. I could tell, then, that I'd strained my lower back, and it would hurt a lot worse the next morning.

Then I stopped a slap-shot with my right shin.

So, yeah, I woke up in sad shape. As I made the morning coffee, I told my wife that playing poorly and having fun was preferable to playing well and getting hurt.

It's been a curious experience watching my game (slooooowly) improve. Right from the start, it was evident there was nowhere for me to go but up. The first few times I attempted a break-away, some young whipper-snapper would swan in from behind me, gently pluck the puck away from me and take the action to the other end of the rink. Eventually, that stopped -- not out of any personal resourcefulness I'd developed, but out of pity from the other guys. "Catch your breath, fellas, let 'im go. He just shoots at the goalie's chest, anyway."

So I concentrated on shooting where the goalie was not. That resulted in shots spectacularly wide of the net. But gradually I collected more and more ringers -- off either post, or the crossbar. It was only a matter of time before I hit net. Sunday night was the night.

I've improved in other aspects of play, also. No point exploring any of that any further, as it's been so incremental as to be unnoticeable to anyone but myself. But I do notice it, and it's one element that keeps me coming out on Sunday nights when the wood-stove and a dram of whisky ought to have the deeper appeal to a guy my age.

For most of the rest of the guys, these games are just the opposite: a determined fight against decline. Professional athletes die twice, but amateurs die thousands of times as the years wear on. Sunday night's goals, the clutch -- and the inevitable change-room drubbing that followed -- felt like an initiation into a rather morbid fraternity.

I'm not sure how I feel about that -- besides really, really sore, of course.