October 02, 2012 20:58Infantilize This!
It comes as no surprise to informed insiders (and, let’s face it, everyone else in Canada who was just speculating blindly) that Justin Trudeau is announcing his candidacy for leader of the federal Liberal Party today.
This question is, is he ready? He’s only forty years old.
Well, as it turns out, I have an answer to that pressing question. And the answer is, “Fuck you.”
Exactly how old do you have to be these days to not be treated like an infant? Who decided the world needs to be run by a bunch of supposedly learned geriatrics who consider anyone not wearing adult diapers to be a silly child, unready and unprepared to step onto the world stage? Like these wizened elders have done such a great job running the planet. Last I checked, they’ve fucked up pretty much everything.
Let me do some fact checking and tally the numbers again. Yup, everything. Well and truly fucked. Good work, you old bastards.
It wasn’t always like this. In older, better days, life didn’t begin at forty. It ended.
You don’t have to go too far back in history to find a time when forty was your life expectancy. If you made it past that, you were living on borrowed time. And if you were going to get anything done, you had to move your ass and get to it. I don’t just mean starting a family. I’m talking about nation building. Back in the day, kids would routinely ascend to the throne in their teen years and be put in charge of entire empires. Alexander the Great spent a decade conquering the entire known world and was done and dead at thirty-two. These days, Alexander the Third of Macedonia would be stuck serving mochaccinos at Second Cup, hoping his Baby Boomer boss would hurry the fuck up and retire so he could get a promotion.
Yes, I blame the Baby Boomers or, as I call them, The Worst Generation. It’s all their fault. It always is. I come from the generation behind them, the X-ers, and living in their wake has involved eating lots of shit. They did all the fun drugs in the ‘60s, we got the “Just Say No” campaign. They fucked everything that moved in the ‘70s, we got AIDS paranoia to sexually terrorize us out of getting it on. In the ‘80s, they made boatloads of money, while today we get to live our peak earning years in a depression with mountains of student debt and 0% interest rates that make saving money fruitless. Come the ‘90s, they were still holding on to their sweet high-paying careers while the rest of us were wasting the energy of youth slogging away in the same entry-level positions we’d been holding for years. Come the new century, they finally started to collect their fat government pensions. By the time they finally die off, that fund will have been tapped dry, leaving us to live off our own savings that will still be drawing 0% interest if the Boomer-run central banks have their way.
So yeah, if a forty-year-young kid wants to step up and make a bid for the top job, good luck to him. I hope he smokes the grey-haired competition by using every advantage available to him. Not just the Trudeau dynasty name, but the vast youthful power of the Intranets, with its series of tubes, and The Twitter, and the Book of Faces, and The Google. May he employ such technology to run rings around the old farts while they’re still looking for their StairMaster’s “on” button.
August 16, 2012 14:09Blood Sport
I know, I know. After nine solid years of at least monthly blog entries, I’ve suddenly skipped a couple of months. Call it my summer vacation -- seventeen days of which were spent (or wasted) watching the summer games. I’m more of a winter games guy, and I’m not usually drawn to the spectacle of people running and jumping and lifting heavy things in the July and August heat. But after tuning in to see what Danny Boyle did with the opening ceremonies, I was hooked by the craptacular spectacle of it all and couldn’t turn away. By the time the key allegorical centrepiece was over -- a tribute to industry’s triumph over the natural world as I interpreted it (suck it, nature!) -- I was hooked. Then it only got more awesome with Paul McCartney singing the interminable “Hey, Jude” while Ringo Starr sat at home, watching it on the telly, crying into a pint, and mumbling “I wuz a Beatle, too” to himself. This was followed by a solid hour and a bit of international athletes in The Parade of the Silly Hats. Marvelous. But I can’t say I really cared for the queen’s lauded acting debut opposite Daniel Craig as James Bond. They could have done so much more with the concept. It’s James Bond fer chrissake. He’d totally give Liz a good shag for Queen and Country, but mostly for Queen. Mr. Bond, you disappoint me. After nearly sixty years On Her Majesty’s Secret Service you deserve to get In Her Majesty’s Secret Orifice. Just close your eyes and think of England. And if that doesn’t work, just close your eyes and pretend Helen Mirren is still playing Her Royal Highness.
The Olympics are all about blood, sweat and tears. Emphasis on the blood. Sweat and tears are fine, but they’re just salt water and they don’t sell as many tickets. I was struck by how bloody this round of the Olympics were -- like somebody decided they needed to compete with The Hunger Games for the attention of the next generation of sports fans. There were all sorts of open wounds and gushing crimson to behold, whether it was judo competitors bleeding all over each others' nice white robes or an eight-lady pileup on the streets of London when some runners hit a particularly slick patch of wet road. When there were no open veins or spurting arteries to behold, the commentators all seemed to take particular delight in describing how painful every event was. Whether it was chucking a javelin or rowing a boat, they wanted us to know that every muscle in these seasoned athletes was screaming out in unspeakable agony from the moment they did a few warm-up stretches to their post-games shower and oily rub-down. And let’s not remind ourselves of the brutality of having to lug home all those impossibly heavy medals in their carry-on luggage. Michael Phelps apparently gave himself a career-ending injury trying to carry his haul onto the plane. Why else would this be his last Olympics?
Yes, it was the Torture Porn of sporting events. At least, that’s how it was promoted by our media. Perhaps it was their way to reassure fat, unhealthy North Americans that they really wouldn’t want to be fit and trim anyway. Look at the horrible agony these poor specimens have to put themselves through in order to have a slim shot at a hunk of metal that will often be won or lost within ten seconds flat following years or grueling training. Would you want to put yourself through anything resembling that in order to lose a few pounds? I didn’t think so. Now go support our nation’s competitors by having another Big Mac. Did we mention the 2012 Olympic Games were sponsored by MacDonalds, the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions?
May 31, 2012 19:09Defeat Is Mine!
It’s good to be back in the student-protest hellscape of Montreal. I’ve been back for quite awhile now, but blogs have to take a backseat to important springtime activities like digging up the backyard, burying the evidence, and planting the vegetable garden over it. Thankfully the police are too busy pepper spraying kids and arresting random passers-by to come snooping around with intrusive search warrants and a backhoe.
Yes, there have been a lot of muddy pits in my life lately, but enough about the Writer’s Guild of Canada Awards -- which I lost. Or won, if you tally the results by how many Steamwhistle Pilsners I drank at the open bar before they shut off the taps for the evening. What I really want to discuss is only tangentially related to The Industry, so I’ll skip the gory details of my crushing and utterly expected defeat and dish on some other (quite literal) dirt.
The hardest decision I had to make concerning the awards ceremony was not what to say if I had to get up on stage, but what shoes to wear. I ultimately wore my “dress” shoes, which could always be relied upon to look respectable, hurt my feet, and cut into my ankles by the end of the night. I really wanted to wear my more comfortable shoes, which were new enough and nice enough to see me through an evening populated mostly by writers (rarely noted for their fashion sense), but they were still caked with mud from the graveyard.
On the way to Toronto, I spent a couple of days in Port Hope visiting my cousin. The graveyard in question wasn’t a long commute -- it was just across the street. The colonial-era church was undergoing renovations and they had hardly broken ground on the expansion when they discovered the bodies. This happened the day before I arrived. The police had already been on the site, making sure the corpses in question weren’t recent and worthy of a homicide investigation. Most of the graves on the grounds were pre-confederation and it turned out there may have been rather more space devoted to the dead than previously thought. The north side was still an active cemetery, but sections closer to the church itself must have become overgrown long enough ago that no one who remembered where the original parishioners were buried was left to say, “Hey, don’t dig there.”
Not long after I unpacked, I couldn’t resist the urge to go Scooby-Dooing around the grounds, looking to see if I could spot something nice and morbid in the newly opened graves. You never know. Sometimes when they disturb and move skeletal remains, they miss a finger or a toe. I wasn’t looking for a souvenir, I was just being nosey. Kind of like the history-nerd version of the rubber necks you see driving past car accidents at a snail’s pace, just in case they get an opportunity to see a bit of blood on the pavement. Or a head.
The truth is I rarely pass up the opportunity to explore vintage or forgotten graveyards, or go spelunking in ancient tombs and catacombs. I like to think this makes me an Indiana Jones type of guy, but I expect I’m more akin to the Cryptkeeper. I’m rarely been more pleased with myself than when I’m doing something like sitting in the stifling humidity at the very bottom of the pyramid of Menkaure, in the depths of an ancient burial chamber.
Okay, yes, it is rather ghoulish. But if I were really going to go full-ghoul, it turns out I don’t have to go all the way to Egypt. Or even Port Hope. I can just go out my front door and take a not-very-taxing stroll to the scene of Montreal’s latest grisly murder. Pick through a few garbage bags and you too can come across a headless, limbless, partially cannibalized and post-mortemly sodomized torso. If that’s too much trouble, you can just wait around at one of our federal party headquarters for a unique campaign contribution to show up courtesy of Canada Post. A lot of Canadians would give an arm and a leg to see some political change in this country. It seems our newest top-billed serial killer, part-time porn star, and failed reality-show contestant, Luka Rocco Magnotta, would gladly give both. Just not his own.
After seeking fame and/or infamy for so many years, Luka has finally hit the jackpot with an international manhunt. And just in time too. Montreal was suffering from such a wealth of good press lately, we really needed to balance things out with a spectacularly vile murder that would grab headlines around the world. And because this is such a multi-media era, you don’t have to be satisfied with the hyperbolic news media reports. You can read all about it online, watch editorial videos on YouTube, or simply go watch the murder and dismemberment for yourself. It’s out there on the interwebs. And it’s not even particularly hard to find. Enjoy!
Meanwhile, this particular morbid ghoul will go back to appreciating death, dismemberment and other atrocities from antiquity. I always prefer to be separated from my horror by a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand years. Not a couple of kilometres.
April 18, 2012 19:20Adapt And Survive
The big release of this pre-pre-summer movie season has been The Hunger Games. Ever interested in how books are translated to the screen, I decided to take a day out and give Suzanne Collins’ novel a quick read before heading off to see the film. I’d been told by a number of people that it was basically just a knock-off of Battle Royale, but I went into it with an open mind to see for myself. And you know what? It turns out everybody was wrong. It’s not Battle Royale at all. It’s Battle Royale for chicks. Big difference.
So how do you rewrite Battle Royale for chicks? Apparently all you have to do is spend a lot of your pages talking about food, fashion and makeup. And when it comes time to have your deadly teenagers pitted against each other, you skimp on any details involving the weaponry. A spear is just a spear, a bow is just a bow. If you’re feeling particularly descriptive and want to get all adjectivey, you can dig deep into your meticulously researched notes and specify that it’s a SILVER bow. That’ll paint a picture. Now shut up about the tools of death and tell me about the cupcakes again.
Oh, and if you want your Battle-Royale-For-Chicks book to be a huge whopping success, make sure you throw in a Twilight-style love triangle in which the sullen, plain-Jane has to decide which of the two smitten hunky dreamboats she should choose. Decisions decisions. Have another pastry while you think it over.
As we’ve seen with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, when you adapt beloved books in this era, you have to be a little more slavish to the source material than Hollywood has been in the past. Out of necessity, there will have to be a few embellishments and a number of edits to keep the running time reasonable. But gone, it seems, are the days when producers would pay top dollar for a popular series of novels -- let’s use James Bond as an example -- and then proceed to throw away everything except the title and a few character names. The fanbase for these books is considered to be much of the core audience, and you want good word of mouth to carry your box office. If the opening-day fans tell all their slower-out-of-the-gate fan friends that their favourite book got butchered, you’re going to have a much harder time making it to nine figures. And you might as well forget about the rest of your trilogy (The Golden Compass, anyone?).
After studying the book-to-screen process for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the art of adaptation can be summarized in four simple words:
Lucy Mancini’s giant vagina.
Not the four words you were expecting. Obviously. If you thought I was going to go for something trite like “Keep it simple, stupid,” you haven’t been reading my blog for very long. So who is Lucy Mancini and why is her vagina so huge you might ask. Allow me to illuminate.
Check any list of the greatest movies ever made and opinions may vary, but certain staples always make it into the top ten no matter who you talk to. Citizen Kane is invariably right near the top, Seven Samurai will reliably make an appearance, and The Godfather will more than likely snag one of the top three positions. Worthy choices all, and I’m very fond of each of them. Only one of the three is based on any sort of source material, and that’s The Godfather. The film, famously directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was adapted for the screen by Coppola himself, and Mario Puzo, author of the original best-selling novel.
Born in 1920, Mario Puzo grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York. He probably saw enough crime there to tip him towards the mobster genre when he became a novelist and screenwriter as an adult. Although he worked on some decidedly non-mafia-esque projects, like the scripts for Richard Donner’s Superman movies, much of his output was decidedly mobbed-up. Based on his association with the massively successful Godfather film series, Puzo became a well-known writer who is remembered, more often than not, as a great author.
The fact is, The Godfather is a pretty shitty book. It’s a sleazy little potboiler, full of sex and violence that was destined for the best-seller list because of its lurid content that was seen as rather exotic in its day. If the movie is any good at all, it’s due to the considerable talents of Coppola (already, at this time, an Oscar-winning screenwriter of Patton) as the principal translator of Puzo’s source material. I hold this example up as the finest work ever done in bringing a book to the screen because, remarkably, it’s an utterly faithful adaptation of Puzo’s literary bowel movement.
How is this even possible? Compare the two. The characters are all the same, what happens is virtually identical, even much of the dialogue is directly quoted. So why is the book junk and the movie genius? Context. Although the same things are said and done in both versions of the story, their meanings are completely different from one to the other.
This is best illustrated in the key scene following the failed assassination attempt against Vito Corleone. A response to the crisis must be agreed upon. The hotheaded son, Sonny, wants to hit back hard and kill their enemies. The thoughtful adopted son, Tom, cautions against going to war and wants to lie low. Michael, the enigmatic youngest son, speaks up and surprises the room by offering to broker peace talks that would see him personally assassinate their two main antagonists. The scene is nearly identical in the book and the film and yet they are worlds apart.
Michael’s moral downfall, as he gives up a promising future to tow the family line, is an American tragedy in the film. It’s an upsetting failure that robs the Corleones of legitimacy for at least another generation, and it weighs heavily on everybody. In the book, however, Michael’s fateful decision is seen as an American inevitability. Michael is a mafia thug at heart, and he was just kidding himself that he could be a war hero, marry well, and live an honest life. His moral degradation is of no consequence because he’s only being true to himself. In the movie, Sonny mocks Michael’s earnest decision to kill in the name of the family business. He doesn’t see his little brother as the capable, ruthless mob boss he will soon become as a direct consequence of this moment. In the book, using the same words, Sonny is merely teasing Michael because he’s actually quite delighted that his brother has given up his pretentions and come to terms with his true nature.
The actions are the same, the words are the same, the themes are completely different.
But adaptation isn’t just about finding what you really want to say within the original source material -- material that may be at odds with what you want to do with your screen story. It’s also about editing. Specifically it’s about cutting away the dead weight that distracts from what you’re trying to accomplish.
Like Lucy Mancini’s giant vagina.
I’m enough of a Godfather geek that I will occasionally take a couple of days out to watch all three films in quick succession. Yes, the third one too, which could never hope to live up to the first two, but is more worthwhile than the needless critical vitriol would have you believe. As a fanboy, I like to mine new content from these familiar films by tracking the arcs of some of the lesser-known characters that more casual viewers wouldn’t normally notice. Minor players like Michael’s enforcer, Al Neri, or the aforementioned Lucy Mancini who appears briefly in parts one and three. You may remember her as the girl Sonny Corleone is having it off with in the bathroom during Connie’s wedding. She’s barely a blip in the film, but she’s a much more substantial character in the book -- to no good effect.
Lucy Mancini’s subplot concerns her involvement with Sonny, and what happens to her after the bloody hit that abruptly ends their relationship. We’re told that the main reason she’s carrying on an affair with such a brutal Mafioso thug is because he’s an oversexed Sicilian with an enormous cock. The only cock, in fact, that’s big enough to make an impact inside her cavernous genitalia. Lucy, it seems, was born rather, um, shall we say, loose.
After Sonny’s untimely demise, Lucy is left with no one to fill the void, so to speak. Ultimately, she departs from New York and the main plotline, but we keep following her story nevertheless. Much of the final third of the book is devoted to Lucy’s journey of despair until she encounters a doctor who is abreast of a radical new surgical technique that offers vaginal tightening. After doubts and reassurances, Lucy goes under the knife and eventually allows her doctor pal to test drive the post-recovery results as they become lovers -- something made possible by her sparkling new vagina that is a testament to the wonders of modern medical procedures.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, all this shit really is in The Godfather. And did I mention this whole plotline goes nowhere and has no impact on the main narrative at all? It eats pages and pages and pages of the book and accomplishes nothing other than to make it even more trashy. I have a theory that Mario Puzo just happened to read an article about vaginal-tightening surgery in the late ‘60s and decided, almost at random, to throw it into whatever he happened to be work on at the time to pad out the page count. It could just as easily have ended up in the first draft screenplay for Superman or Earthquake if he’d read that article a decade later. The thing is, if he’d put it in a first draft of a screenplay, Lucy Mancini’s giant vagina wouldn’t have lived to see the second draft. In a novel, however, that shit made it to print.
Judiciously, Francis Ford Coppola cut the subplot from the film adaptation. I’m willing to bet it was the first cut he made, probably while he was still reading the book. Although Lucy Mancini did make a cameo in The Godfather Part III, details of her vaginal woes were never mined for any Godfather projects, which I find particularly telling since Coppola, ever determined to strip the original book for every nugget of potential plot, went back and used one chapter of exposition as the basis for half of the entire film of The Godfather Part II.
When books get made into movies, I always hear a lot of pissing and moaning about the stuff that was skipped or left out. And yes, sometimes it really is a case of Hollywood butchery. But let’s not forget that there are other examples where judicious omissions not only make for a better film, but make for a classic movie in light of some pretty sub-par source material. Adaptations are made not just by what you put in, but what you leave out. So let us be glad we never had to go to the theatre and be subjected to Lucy Mancini’s giant vagina. Or Tom Fucking Bombadil for that matter.
From my vast paperback collection: a first print edition from Fawcett (1970). Note the lack of the iconic puppeteer hand and marionette strings that would become the instantly recognizable logo for the franchise once the first movie was released a couple of years later.
March 19, 2012 22:45Here We Go Again
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come out and say it.
I’m up for another Writers Guild Award for animation writing, dammit.
I know it’s my own stupid fault. I like to put myself in the running with a token script each year if something qualifies, but the first couple of times I was a finalist it happened a decade apart. It’s only been a few years since my 2009 win for Ricky Sprocket, so now I’m feeling greedy. Plus I’m always disconcerted whenever my token attempts to promote my writing pay off.
I find shameless self-aggrandizing to be tedious and a tad tacky. It’s a hard thing to avoid in our look-at-me culture, especially when it comes to the awards any industry likes to give itself. It’s all about telling people who don’t normally give a shit that we did a great job at something they’ve never thought twice about.
I still have those what-do-you-do-for-a-living conversations where I end up explaining that yes, cartoons have to be written by somebody and no, I don’t draw them myself. I once sat though one of my episodes of Pucca that has no dialogue for the first few minutes and the people I was with starting wondering aloud when the part I wrote would begin. It was an uphill battle to explain that I wrote down everything that was happening on the screen, whether the characters were talking or not. The animators don’t make it up as they go. Somebody has to tell them what to draw, just like that same somebody has to tell the actors what to say. Regular civilians don’t seem to understand that, and they don’t particularly care. As long as Homer goes “D’oh!” and Shaggy goes “Zoinks!” they’re content that all is well in the world.
Now that I’ve opened up this can of worms for myself, I’m faced with a bunch of irritating tasks I never look forward to because they only play into my general self-promotion phobia. Doing something as simple as writing a 75-word bio for the award ceremony program is like pulling teeth. Not necessarily my own teeth, but somebody else’s who doesn’t want to have their teeth pulled and can run really fast. It’s difficult and exhausting and involves a lot of wrestling on the floor and eye-gouging to secure the necessary level of cooperation. Or picking a headshot for the event. Is there anything more narcissistically cringe-worthy than going through every photo taken of you in the last few years and trying to find the one that least resembles Nick Nolte’s California Highway Patrol mug shot?
And then there’s dragging my ass to Toronto, something no Montrealer does with any relish. I’m trying to convince myself that there are good reasons to go. Like the Stream Whistle pilsner, or the Creemore beer, or the open bar at the awards. That’s about it, really, since I predict a crushing defeat. It’s not my turn to win another one.
But you never know. After a road trip and a lot of schmoozing, they might give me something to take home, other than a hangover. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, you can watch my nominated episode of Kid vs. Kat via the copyright-infringing miracle that is YouTube.
February 29, 2012 23:59Leapt Yearly
Four years. That’s about how long it takes me to watch 1000 new movies. I’d just passed the 4000-film mark the last time leap year rolled around. A few days ago, just in time for leap year 2012, I hit 5000. That’s 5000 different feature-length movies of any and all genres. Multiple screenings and shorts don’t count.
For the occasion, I had an appropriate movie all lined up. I figured The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. from 1953 would be the correct choice. It’s not that I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan, but how many films can you name off the top of your head that have “five thousand” somewhere in the title?
The good thing about keeping a list of all the movies I’ve ever seen is being able to keep track of the specifics of the wheres and whens and what I need to see next. The bad thing is the time and commitment it takes to be accurate. Despite my best efforts, I managed to screw up the pomp and circumstance of my major milestone. After watching Theodor Geisel’s tribute to the nightmare of piano lessons, I went to add it to my voluminous list only to discover I’d already seen Dr. T. at a film festival years earlier. What was worse was discovering I’d also miscounted, neglecting to add Tanya’s Island to the total after a recent screening.
Yes, Tanya’s Island. I’m sure you’re familiar with this Canadian oddity from 1980 featuring Vanity before she was Vanity, running around naked on an island until the notorious and somehow inevitable ape-rape sequence caps off the it-was-all-a-dream chestnut. No? Well trust me, if you want to see 5000 different movies, you’ll end up scraping the bottom of the barrel eventually. There are only so many timeless classics to be had. Then you have to start racking up the numbers with pure, unadulterated shit.
This past week, I was in the middle of my Alfred Sole film festival, seeing all the movies he ever directed. It wasn’t terribly challenging, there are only four of them. The good one -- Alice, Sweet Alice -- and the other three: the porno, Tanya’s Island, and my accidental 5000th feature film, Pandemonium, an occasionally (some might say rarely) amusing horror-spoof comedy from 1982 starring a surprising number of talented people who would go on to do much better work once they made it past this crappy part of their careers.
Oh well. I’ll try not to screw it up for number 6000. As for poor Alfred Sole, beaten and abused by the film industry, he left us with one quite interesting thriller before moving into production design. That’s where he still slogs away to this day, far from the withering attention of the suits who like to make sure promising young filmmakers churn out pure, unadulterated shit for the rest of their careers. I can’t imagine who they think they’re targeting with this sort of junk cinema.
Oh, wait. Yes I can. Me.