Artists I adore (and you should follow)

barnaby-dixon

Barnaby Dixon – puppetry

As many of you know, I am nutso for puppetry and have somehow managed to know some amazingly talented puppeteers. But as much as I adore my friends, one fellow blows me away not just for his skill as a puppeteer, but also as a puppet designer.

For a guy that looks like he’s 12—I’m over 50, so you all look 12 to me—Barnaby Dixon seems ancient in his craft and wisdom. From the very first YouTube video I watched, he has dazzled me with his love of the art form, his ability to bring the inanimate to life, and his presentation style that draws you in and makes you feel like this is a private conversation. Stellar!

Visit Barnaby’s web site, Facebook page and Twitter account

 

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Baram & Snieckus – comedy

I know, I know. I have to get past my addiction to these beautiful sketch and improv wunderkinds. But I can’t help myself.

Apart, Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are wonderfully funny and vulnerable and endearing, but together, they rocket off the charts.

As I have reviewed previously (see below), Baram & Snieckus are to the modern era what Stiller & Meara and Nichols & May were to theirs, people who express the challenges and wonders of social awkwardness, allowing us to laugh at the things that frighten us in our daily lives.

No one is more neurotic than Matt…until Naomi erupts in her own mental mushroom cloud.

And that this husband-and-wife team are beautiful, friendly, giving, caring people is an absolute bonus.

You can follow Matt & Naomi on their web site, Facebook page or Twitter.

 

See also:

You and Me Both – A revue review

Still Figuring It Out: Baram & Snieckus

 

filippa

Filippa Levemark – visual arts

As a photographer, I adore nature. As a writer, I adore bizarre or interesting juxtapositions. Thus, I had no choice but to fall in love with Filippa Levemark’s work.

With the seemingly simplest of compositions, Filippa combines nature and human infrastructure to powerfully demonstrate that the two worlds are one and the same. Try as it might, humanity cannot hold itself as distinct from the wildlife that surrounds us, nor should it.

Her work is beautifully approachable and yet is rife with meaning, offering depths that may be missed at first glance.

Based in Sweden, my greatest hope is to find a way for her to bring her works to Canada.

You can follow Filippa on her web site, Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

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Irene Carl Sankoff & David Hein – musical theatre

As a student at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre several years ago, I had the great fortune to meet and do improv with a gorgeous and talented actress named Irene Sankoff, a truly giving performer.

Years later, I heard that Irene and her husband David Hein had created the somewhat autobiographical stage musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which played to wonderful reviews in Toronto. What I didn’t realize was that the musical would explode in the theatre world both in Canada and abroad, setting these two up as a creative force of nature.

And just this past year, they have repeated (and likely surpassed) that success with a new musical Come From Away, based on events in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 when hundreds of air passengers found themselves suddenly grounded.

The musical just completed a spectacularly successful run in Toronto and begins Broadway previews on Feb 18 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, where it is sure to sell out quickly.

But like my Baram & Snieckus comment above, what makes these two particularly special is that they are genuinely wonderful people and have such love for their craft and for the people who come see the show.

Recently, on a frigid Toronto morning, the pair brought coffee and donuts to fans waiting for rush tickets to their final Toronto performance (Toronto Star article). The pair and performers from the show entertained the small crowd, singing songs and chatting with the chilled throng. That is simply beautiful.

Follow Irene & David’s adventures on their web site, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Movie Review 360 (or don’t plan drunk)

mr360

Like many of you, I hang with a group of friends who watch movies and then argue in a bar afterwards. And like many of you, all of my friends are “visionaries”.

Over beers, one of my friends said “We should record this”…but whereas the rest of us sobered up, he kept pushing this idea, adding a 360-degree camera to the alcoholic mix.

This past week, Movie Review 360 was born.

Watch two goofballs and a guest (balled, bald or otherwise) talk about the latest releases from Hollywood and Netflix while drinking to excess on a limited budget (we are nothing, if not Canadian).

This week–ably assisted by documentarian Liza Vespi–our thoughts on:

  • Ron Howard’s Inferno
  • Man vs Snake (on Netflix)

Our thanks to Ginger & Russ for hosting us at The Edmund Burke in Toronto.

See also:

Inferno(t) – a review

Man vs Snake – a review

Slaughter Nick for President (trailer for Liza Vespi doc)

Shakespeare suggests Trump is a Dick

rdr

In the New York Times Sunday Review this weekend, Harvard’s Stephen Greenblatt wrote an opinion piece entitled Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election in which he draws parallels between the events surrounding the rise of Richard III and Donald J. Trump. Quite fascinating.

For me, the crux of his analogy is summed in one paragraph:

Shakespeare brilliantly shows all of these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election. Unlike Macbeth (which introduced into the English language the word “assassination”), Richard III does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.

I can definitely see the point Greenblatt is making and there are strong parallels in the story, but I think he missed the mark on the personalities of the leaders in question.

Rather than Richard III as a model for Trump, I would have gone with Richard II.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The great fall and ultimate execution of Richard II was very much the result of his debilitating belief in his own divinity and his completely disconnection from the lives and needs of real people, including those closest to him. In short, he didn’t understand politics and simply felt everyone should get in line because he was the voice and arm of God.

For every man that Bolingbroke hath press’d
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel: then, if angels fight,
Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right.

Richard II; Act III, sc. ii.

He was also surrounded by sycophantic parasites who fed Richard’s ego and grew bloated on everyone’s desire to serve the King. They were ultimately destroyed by this bloat and the belief that they too had divine protection, as though the crown served as an umbrella.

It was Richard II’s blinkered existence and unbridled self-aggrandizement that kept him from seeing the dangers that lie ahead, and the simple solutions that would have averted disaster. If he merely acknowledged the just requests of the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke (eventually, SPOILER ALERT, Henry IV) for his family titles, Richard would have retained the man’s fealty and love, and thus would have kept his throne.

For me, Richard III was too aware of his limitations and was therefore much more manipulative than I believe either Richard II or Donald Trump feel they need to be.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other

Richard III; Act I, sc. i.

For Donald, as for the second Richard, what is the need for manipulation when you speak with God’s voice and rule with His hand?

See also:

Richard II (play)

Richard III (play)

The World’s Worst Juggler (a puppet saga)

Waylon Bitterman

You may have heard me speak previously about the challenges of writing for puppets, which in their finest hour are little more than petulant little shits with diva complexes, who generally view a script as little more than a replacement for toilet paper.

In fact, the only real redeeming feature of most puppets is the ability to shove your arm up their bottoms, in some case, up to the elbow.

In any event, we managed to capture one of these little monsters on video recently, which I present below.

 

To see more of these fetid little creatures, please subscribe to the Lemon Productions Inc YouTube channel. (No, seriously, subscribe to this ruddy thing…I need the work.)

Live, from Judea…

Lorne C

This just in….

Given the success of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, NBC and Lorne Michaels are in talks to produce another reunion extravaganza.

Live, from Judea, it’s the Passion of the Christ 2015th Anniversary Special! #PotC2015

Dinner

That’s right! They’re reassembling the old Not Ready For Christianity dinner theatre gang to remember the Summer of Love, when everyone was into whips and getting stoned.

No word yet on whether J.C. will attend, given his long-standing dispute with some of the former cast members and despite his ability to forgive everyone else.

It is hoped that He and Judas will set aside their differences and reunite for one last performance of their big musical number “Soul Man”.

Soul man

Note: After their acrimonious split, J.C. launched a solo career for which he was crucified so badly that he joined the underground scene.

While heaven knows what the scheduling plans are, it is expected that NBC will slot the special right behind the new television hit Better Call Saul of Tarsus.

Details to come.

 

UPDATE: NBC just announced that the special’s guest host will be Mel Gibson.

Wolf of Wall Street a never-ending bore (review)

Poster math

Layer the stylings of Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas over Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and you have Scorsese’s 2013 treatise about greed in America, The Wolf of Wall Street. Unfortunately, where this should have been a wonderful blending of two great films, it was instead the mutated step-child.

Briefly, the movie follows the adventures of real-life stockbroker Jordan Belfort as he rises from the ashes of Wall Street to lie and cheat his way to fame and fortune from the then despised penny stocks market. Through a haze of booze, drugs and female flesh and relying on balls the size of the tri-state area, he pulls a fleet of nobodies into the middle of the financial maelstrom, becoming everything for which Wall Street is despised. Throw in a little money laundering and he, of course, becomes the target of an FBI and SEC investigation that ultimately brings him down.

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If, from the synopsis, you don’t immediately see the influences of Wall Street and GoodFellas, you’re not really trying or you need to go back and watch them again.

I wish I could say it was just the 3-hour running time that interfered with my enjoyment of the film, but GoodFellas was 148 minutes and Wall Street was 126 minutes. Rather, I think the problem was that it felt like the movie was 6 hours long. Time seemed to drag out as though I was getting a contact high from all the Quaaludes the characters were consuming, but without the peaceful overtones.

I appreciate it was based on the life of Jordan Belfort, so perhaps the screenwriter Terrence Winter felt he had to be careful tiptoeing around the contents of Belfort’s book of the same title. But for the love of God, there was no place that Winter felt he could simply skip ahead?

When Leo DiCaprio would narrate the scenes, in some cases turning directly to the camera to do so, my mind immediately jumped to Ray Liotta in GoodFellas. Never more so than when he would try to explain how Wall Street functioned, almost mimicking Liotta’s explanation of the mob, down to the vocal cadence. The two examples below show both men introducing the troops.

And when DiCaprio would try to rally the troops, he became a bombastic Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), enthusiastically letting people know that greed was good…or in his case, that there was no nobility in poverty. Hell, in his narrative voice-over, he even mentions Gordon Gecko in an obvious homage that simply highlights how pale an imitator this movie is.

So I am left asking what exactly does The Wolf of Wall Street offer that the other two films didn’t.

Wealth, opulence, greed, excess? Been there, done that.

Booze, sex, drugs, violence? Watched that, saw it.

Illicit business, FBI investigations, wire taps? Old hat, nothing new.

Hubris, hedonism, idolatry? Biblical, but done and doner.

It made almost $400 million worldwide and was nominated for five Academy Awards (winning none), so people liked it.

For comparison, Wall Street earned $44 million globally in 1987 and won Douglas the Best Actor Oscar, while GoodFellas managed $47 million in the US in 1990 and won Joe Pesci the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (of six nominations).

DiCaprio has charm…and so did Liotta and Douglas.

Interestingly, I didn’t feel this one had the cinematographic snap of Scorsese’s earlier works…it didn’t feel like the camera was dancing with the actors as it did in GoodFellas.

Maybe it was simply a matter of timing. Wolf showed up just as the United States was truly starting to recover economically from the banking scandals and burst real estate bubbles, and in an almost self-abusive way, Wolf reminds Americans (and the rest of the world) of a time when money was cheap and easy. It’s definitely not a morality play, for no one is seen to suffer for their excesses.

It is the American dream seen through a tumbler of Scotch. The manifest destiny of anyone willing to gamble with the weaknesses of others. A sign that nothing has changed. That nothing ever changes.

Wall Street was a warning. GoodFellas was the rise and fall of Man. The Wolf of Wall Street is a love letter to unbridled greed.

Movie math

Robin

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Laughter has died,

But for a moment,

As the jester reposes

Into tranquility.

Frenzied fantasies

Silenced of a sudden,

Cut off from a world

Unable to keep up.

Rest frightened clown;

Be still and be whole;

Clap hands with peace,

As we clap hands in mourning.

The hurricane is stilled;

Black clouds soften;

Yet we will laugh anew

Bearing scars of ache.

Robin Williams meant the world to me. A supernova of mirth and tears, bravery and anger…and always, just a man.

Today, the man found his end, as so many of his ilk have.

But his legacy will echo for eternity to brighten our nights and nourish our souls.

Sleep, noble prince, assured that we are better for knowing you.