Walking with Pride

Sister Twisted, who invited me to walk with her group. (Credit: Toronto Star)

Sister Twisted, who invited me to walk with her group. (Credit: Toronto Star)

Well that was different. Just spent several hours in a misty rain wandering the streets of downtown Toronto, waving at colourful people on the sidewalk while screaming my head off.

Welcome to Pride 2015 in Toronto, folks.

What's a religious theme without my beloved Toronto Marlies?

What’s a religious theme without my beloved Toronto Marlies?

While I have always been a strong supporter of human rights in all forms, I have generally avoided Pride Week in Toronto simply because I don’t like crowds. But this year was different.

This year, I was invited to participate in the parade itself by my friends The Toronto Sisters of JOY (Jubilant Order of York), a group of amazingly loving, life-affirming people who seem to work from the premise that to be heard, you must be seen (my words, not theirs).

The Sisters pose with their banner

The Sisters pose with their banner

How could I say no? Hell, why would I say no?

So, early this morning, I pulled together a costume of sorts (not my forte) and headed downtown to meet with the Sisters and some of their other disciples, and into the parade we went (news video).

Two Sisters plan the next few hours

Two Sisters plan the next few hours

Well, into the court yard to meet, then into the parade to wander like the 12 tribes to search for our place in the parade, to wait in the drizzle to walk a few blocks and wait some more and then past the float until… well, you get the idea.

But once the parade started, it was so much fun. Never have I ever felt surrounded by so much love. Every colour and every letter in the alphabet came out to show their support of just LOVE and FRIENDSHIP. It was amazing.

I am Canadian, too.

I am Canadian, too.

Everyone shouted their support.

Everyone shouted their support.

Drizzly day in Toronto didn't dampen spirits

Drizzly day in Toronto didn’t dampen spirits

And when the parade finally ended, I was ready to keep walking…instead, I went to Fran’s Diner for a late lunch.

I am proud to call myself a friend of The Toronto Sisters and of several communities of people whose only requirement for entry is acceptance. That’s pretty cool.

You’ll see the Sisters a couple of times in this video of Saturday’s TransMarch (language).

I also recommend learning more about the You Can Play Project, which promotes inclusiveness in sport.

Inside definitely Out (a review)

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Earlier today, I had the opportunity to see the latest Pixar movie Inside Out in the company of one of the film’s writers and its story supervisor Josh Cooley (a very nice man). And aside from receiving a lovely lecture about story development at the famed animation house, the connection afforded me an opportunity to appreciate the movie much more than I did on simple viewing.

To briefly bring everyone up to speed, Inside Out tells the story of the emotions that rattle around inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley as she struggles with a move across the country. Although we are introduced to 5 main emotions in Riley Headquarters (get it?)—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear—there is no mistaking that Joy is numero uno in this space.

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) sucks the oxygen out of any room she’s in and proves that even the best intentioned of assholes is still an asshole. Her goal in life is to make every moment of Riley’s life a happy one and is not worried about shoving aside the others (ever so happily) to ensure that.

But where Joy has developed a respectful détente with Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader), she firmly but gently has no use for Sadness (Phyllis Smith), practically ostracising the poor creature to the periphery.

With the upset of the move from Minnesota to San Francisco, though, Sadness seems to want to be more involved and in a fracas with Joy, the two get sucked out of headquarters and into the long-term storage hinterlands of Riley’s brain.

At this point, the story basically turns into the Odyssey as the two emotions struggle to return home before Riley falls completely apart at the hands of the others. (To say much more would be to offer spoilers.)

Joy and Sadness wander the hinterlands of long-term memories

Joy and Sadness wander the hinterlands of long-term memories

The challenge I had was in trying to figure out exactly at whom Pixar was targeting the movie.

Superficially, this is a pure kids movie (ages 6 to 10, maybe), unlike many previous Pixar concoctions, which had elements for both kids and adults. Inside Out doesn’t have the depth of Toy Story or The Incredibles to truly speak to adults, much as the most mature 11-year-old isn’t ready for the adult world.

I’m not saying there aren’t adult-focused jokes interspersed throughout the film, but rather exactly that. They are interspersed, like small granules of sugar designed to feed the parents accompanying the kids to the theatre.

Up talked about loss and aging

Up talked about loss and aging

There is no real adult storyline to this film to touch adults as there was in Up or Wall-E. Instead, the film has sweet, adorable moments of baby bums and first goals that might tug at a parent’s heartstrings but never engage the soul.

But as a friend suggested, it is not strictly a kids flick either because it touches on esoteric aspects of the psyche that kids that age would never be able to comprehend, such as abstract thought and the concept of forgotten memories. The problem is these aspects are more conversations of the mind and not the soul. So even here, the adult is largely passed over unless they have an interest in neurology and psychology.

Wall-E dealt with issues of love and environmental destruction

Wall-E dealt with issues of love and environmental destruction

And as a writer, perhaps the biggest sin with Inside Out is there is no sense of what’s at stake.

Sure, Joy is losing her cool as she fights to get back to headquarters. For her, Riley having a down moment is a disaster.

And Sadness isn’t exactly having a picnic as she is routinely sideswiped or ignored by Joy in their efforts to get home. If anything, she increasingly takes the blame for everything onto herself.

But what’s at stake? What if they don’t get back to headquarters?

Does someone die? Is life no longer worth living?

I don’t know because that was never a question on the table. And without stakes, I find it difficult to root for the hero.

And this challenge is made all the more difficult by the fact that the hero (Joy) is also the villain, albeit passively. She is truly her own worst enemy, and so I quickly find myself irritated by her with no great concerns about the outcome.

The six hour conversation and lesson with Cooley helped me see a lot more of what the writers, animators, editors, directors and producers were trying to accomplish. And that did help me understand the movie better. The thing is, few others were going to get this kind of help.

The movie will do well at the box office. Of that I have no doubt. It is a wonderful vivid distraction for young kids.

But it won’t have the staying power of Pixar’s earlier efforts and likely won’t be spoken of again in a few years other than in possibly hushed whispers.

Whiplash and soul crushing (a review)

Whiplash-Movie-Poster-6

Good guys not only finish last, but they also end up in tears, sitting in abandoned hallways, facing a life devoid of love ones.

Or at least that’s the moral of the movie Whiplash, which tells the story of a young jazz drummer (Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller) attending a prestigious music school in New York. Neiman’s lone dream is to become the next Buddy Rich.

(Warning: The following contains teasers of spoilers…tried my best.)

While practicing late one night, Neiman finds he is being observed by Terrence Fletcher (played by JK Simmons), the god-like instructor of the school’s top band, which has won both national and international acclaim. The interaction doesn’t go well.

But the erstwhile Svengali sees something in Neiman and eventually invites him to join his class, which is where the student begins to see the master less as a dedicated and willful but nurturing teacher and more as the manipulative, malevolent force striving for an unreachable ideal.

Perfection or death is Fletcher’s creed, and if you’re not willing to kill yourself over your failings, he is willing and eager to do it for you. You are using up valuable oxygen.

The beast will be satisfied (JK Simmons, Miles Teller)

The beast will be satisfied (JK Simmons, Miles Teller)

Even in the face of this unending physical and emotional torture, which includes an airborne chair, however, Neiman is willing to sacrifice everything to become the Charlie Parker of the drums. And that sacrifice extends to his budding romance as well as his family.

Nothing will stand in the way

Nothing will stand in the way

But even that is not enough for Fletcher and we watch Neiman self-immolate while the monster emotionally fiddles with everyone’s lives. Unsatisfied with Neiman’s ashes, however, the master lures the student back with a siren song of greatness in a move that only the audience can see is designed to destroy Neiman yet again.

Perfection is everything (Miles Teller)

Perfection is everything (Miles Teller)

But just when Satan achieves his final triumph, he is surprised to learn that his fallen Angel has learned a few things. And this is the ultimate Fall of Man of which we hear in poetry.

The final moments of the film are like watching Luke Skywalker take Darth Vader’s offered hand on the catwalks of Cloud City and unite to rule the Empire, destroying both the Emperor and the Rebellion in one moment.

Throughout the film, the heart palpitates until threatening to arrest from the crushing weight of the increasingly up-tempo music (think frenzied, not dancing) and Fletcher’s relentless pounding on Neiman’s soul. By the end of the movie, you will be exhausted and sated by the ecstasy of what has been achieved.

It will only be later, in the calm aftermath of normal life, that you will begin to understand the dreadful cost of that achievement, not just for Neiman but also for humanity.

If the documentary Blackfish drove people away from marine parks, it wouldn’t surprise me if Whiplash drove parents away from music schools.

Simmons won Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe & SAG

Simmons won Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe & SAG

Simmons won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (and Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG) for his performance as Fletcher, although as crucial to the story as his role was, it could be argued he was a co-lead. And although I admit to not seeing the films of any other performers in this Oscar category, I am surprised the award was given to Simmons.

The man’s performance was quite good—he played Fletcher so malevolently, I would probably take a swing at Simmons if I saw him—but it didn’t feel like the character required a lot of the veteran actor aside from pushing the portrayal beyond anyone’s comfort zone.

Where the film definitely deserved its Oscar and BAFTA wins was for sound. The music was amazing and despite being constantly interrupted, it still managed to deliver its power and its physical toll on mere flesh and blood. Each piece became its own rush toward a climax that never arrived, pushing you until your body screamed for catharsis and was instead met with a cut to the next scene. (Editing was pretty impressive.)

Again, however, despite all of these wonderful facets, it was the moral Fall of Man in the face of all this magnificent music that bothered me. For if nothing else, it made me question the purity of artistic expression and whether it was worth the exorbitant cost of another human soul.

The moment of our greatest achievement, writer/director Damien Chazelle tells us, is also the moment of our greatest loss. I find that sad.

Writing is its own success

(I’m going to post this here, now, so that when I do make it big financially, I can prove I really did believe this while I was still poor.)

A writer writes

A writer writes

If you don’t love writing for the sake of writing, get out. For the sake of your own sanity, do something else.

I would like to make a career of my screenwriting and novel writing, but if I don’t, I will still do it and be glad that I do.

The truth is that the majority of us (like 99.9997%) will never make it big as writers…not Terry Rossio big, doubtfully Damon Lindelof big, nor Nora Ephron big. Hell, I’m not even sure the simple majority (50%+) will even make a livable wage as writers.

But as much as I want to hit it big and spread the gospel of my genius (he says only half-facetiously), I write because I love writing and I don’t know how to not write.

I can do other things to keep food in the house and a roof over my head, but I don’t want to if I don’t have to. It all interferes with my time for writing.

Perhaps this passive approach to accomplishing something with my writing will keep me from making it big. But I prefer to think that by focusing on the joy of writing, the excitement of expressing my thoughts and feelings, I will be happy throughout the entire process, from now to wherever and whenever I end up.

If nothing else, this attitude means that everything that comes down the road is a known positive rather than a potential disappointment.

Good luck, everyone.

Bonus!

Bonus!

Macbeth is the new Game of Thrones?

Who shall achieve the throne?

Who shall achieve the throne?

I hate writer Erin Whitney for little fault of her own aside from the gaping wound that she has rent into my soul with the opening lines of her Huffington Post piece announcing the release of the latest trailer for Macbeth, as performed by Michael Fassbender.

“Imagine Game of Thrones with Michael Fassbender speaking Shakespearean. Then you’ve got Macbeth.”

Her approach is entirely justified for a generation(s) that did not grow up on the works of William Shakespeare​ but instead find themselves immersed in the worlds of George RR Martin and the like.

But it is in pointing out this sad fact—sad to me, at least—that Ms. Whitney has earned my enmity. With all due respect to Mr. Martin, it is his works that should be defined in Shakespearean terms, even if only from a chronological perspective (taste is personal).

[I would also argue that a better parallel is made with either the British or American versions of House of Cards, but that is beside the point.]

Frank & Claire Underwood are Lord and Lady Macbeth

Frank & Claire Underwood are Lord and Lady Macbeth

Please do not take my condemnation and enmity personally, Ms. Whitney. It is not entirely your fault that you tripped this social and literary landmine.

If, however, I might make one recommendation: Get thee to a Shakespearean festival!

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stratfordfestival

Some North American Shakespearean festivals (not a comprehensive list):

Stratford Festival (Stratford, ON)

Bard on the Beach (Vancouver, BC)

Shakespeare by the Sea (Halifax, NS)

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (New York, NY)

Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC)

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Chicago, IL)

Shakespeare for all time (more comprehensive list with links)

Cormorant (poem)

cormorants-flying-over-cross-lake

Strings of feathered jewels—

Kilometre long, wing-span wide—

Swing their way offshore,

Droplets of former slumbers

Cutting waves that break

A mere metre below.

And yet for all the activity,

All the life in motion,

Air remains calm and silent,

Noises of picine harvests

Forgotten echoes of

Never-ending plunder.

Lines cross lines,

Ballets borne on air,

Eddied whorls tipping

Extended wings askew,

Halting premature end

Of missioned journeys.

Home is the current’s flow,

The wind’s dance;

Time’s of no consequence

When birds take wing.

cormorant-flying-2