Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Curse Of The Overly Helpful Neighbour

Some links before getting started. Norma wrote about various issues. Yesterday having had been a Friday, Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday. Eve had some news. Shelly had an installment of an online novel. And Ivy asked what you would eat.

Onto today's mischief, bringing back a familiar fellow entirely in love with himself.

Director Announces Latest Overblown Project; Reporters Make Unanimous Eye Roll

Los Angeles (CP) Reporters were summoned to the office headquarters of Digital Domain for an announcement by director Michael Bay, who has a long standing habit of making over the top explosion filled pointless popcorn films like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and the Transformers franchise. The quite egomaniacal director, who is in the midst of multiple projects, had yet another new idea for an upcoming film. Real reporters were filed in with the fawning entertainment reporters, those halfwits and buffoons who have no idea how stupid they are. This reporter found himself wondering what he could have done to merit such punishment from his tyrannical editor (editor: damn you, enough with your complaining asides! You ran over my foot with your car!).

This reporter sighed with dismay, knowing that his tyrannical editor might not be able to fire him (thank you so much, iron clad contract), but still had the power to send him out on pointless garbage assignments like covering the press conference of a hack director so in love with himself that he had full length mirrors out on stage for every single press conference. And sure enough, as this reporter came into the auditorium with other reporters (real and entertainment reporters alike), there was the standard mirror set up right by the podium.

An aide announced her boss, and lo and behold, there he came. Michael Bay, in his standard appearance, stepped out on stage. The slightly dishevelled hair, the day or two of stubble, the jeans, sports jacket, and shirt without a tie look that he favoured. He walked out with that big, vacant looking grin, waved to the reporters, seemed entirely oblivious to the raised middle fingers coming from the real reporters, and walked to the podium. And true to form, he looked himself in the mirror, smiled again, and faced the crowd. This reporter felt the seventh eye roll of the day start to take form beneath his eyelids (editor: does that mean your eyes were closed? Were you sleeping during a press conference? Answer the question!)

Despite the tyrannical editor not having the self awareness to actually grasp that this reporter was not asleep (editor: stop insulting me!), this reporter was indeed paying attention, and glancing at his watch, wondering when this latest exercise in Michael Bay self glorification would end. Bay spoke up. “It’s great to see you all out here today! Of course you had to come, because I’m Michael Bay, and everyone wants to know what Michael Bay is up to! You know, it’s not exaggeration when I say I’m the greatest director of all time. I don’t know why the Oscars don’t see it that way, but I’m pretty sure that all of my upcoming films are going to rectify that in a big way. And that’s why I’m here today. I have a big announcement about a new film that I’ll be directing down the line.” He paused, smiling again in that same vacant way that made one wonder just how many squirrels were running around in between his ears.

And then he continued. “A friend of mine up north of the border told me a story. Of a heroic character who was misunderstood. A bright and polite and capable man, always handy, always there for you. And yet there were many who felt a deep and overwhelming hostility to this man. They found the politeness to be... grating. This man spent many years doing commercials, and over time the hostility grew to the point that the company realized they had to pull the ad campaign. I am speaking, of course, about The Canadian Tire Guy.”

There was a murmuring among some of the reporters. This reporter, being Canadian, knew the infernal demonic Canadian Tire Guy all too well. For eight years until 2006, Ted Simonett had played the overly helpful neighbour in a series of commercials infesting the television airwaves. His fingernails-on-the-blackboard cheerful neighbourhood busybody was known for turning up in the garages and yards of literally everyone within five kilometres of his home and going on and on about whatever piece of crap he had just bought from Canadian Tire. The Canadian Tire Guy was, essentially, Ned Flanders without the religious pompousness and speech impediments.

Bay continued on. “I thought there was a real story here. A misunderstood hero who had garnered the distrust of his community by trying to be helpful but who, in a terrible turn of events, could be the one person they could count on. And that’s the kind of film I wanted to make. I thought of calling the film The Canadian Tire Guy, but as we all know, that title won’t fly in big parts of the Flyover part of America, where they think a mile high wall of permanent snow starts the moment you reach the Canadian border. So the film I’ll be telling is going to be set in a fictional town. It could be Canada, it could be America, who knows, and who cares? The point is the hero of the story, and a man cast out by his community for being too helpful and too much into everyone else’s business. We’re talking about an epic disaster film for the ages, a film with blizzards, snownadoes, explosions, more explosions, and avalanches, and only one very resourceful hardware store loving guy able to save the day. If he can persuade his neighbours that he’s there to help.”

This reporter actually heard the eye rolls of every other real reporter as he rolled his eyes. An egomaniacal director like Michael Bay was actually using a commercial campaign as inspiration for a feature film? Bay seemed to ignore the eye rolls. “I thought of having the original Canadian Tire Guy, Ted Simonett, come out and play, well... himself. I mean, he’s an actor, after all. I was told though that he’s living under an assumed name after lots of hate mail, pies in the face, death threats, and vows of eternal vendettas came his way while that ad campaign kept going on and on and on and on. So he declined. So I went in another direction for casting, and slightly changed the name. Ladies and gentlemen, starting out our cast...”

“Let me guess. Shia LaBeouf?” this reporter asked.

“No, but he is in the cast, no thank you for interrupting,” Bay replied, and flashed his usual dimwitted grin yet again. “Ladies and gentlemen, playing the central role of Theodore Sedgwick, I give you Mister Nicolas Cage!"

Cage came out on stage, waving and drinking from a bottle of Scotch. His hair weave was even stranger than usual, and he was sporting a few days of stubble.  “Hello there!” he said, a bit unsteady on his feet. “It’s going to be a whole lot of fun playing this character, the hero, the main man, daddy-o!” This reporter wondered how drunk Cage was, let alone if he had learned a single thing from playing the lead role of an alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas.

Bay grinned as Cage stood by him. “And of course in a film like this, we have to have a love interest. Only they don’t start out that way. See, she finds Theodore to be just as grating as everyone else in town, but when he steps up and plays the hero, she starts thinking differently. Ladies and gentlemen, in a casting coup reuniting Nic with his leading lady from Leaving Las Vegas, playing the local mayor Alison Parker, I give you Elisabeth Shue!”

The actress stepped out on stage, looking a bit wary. “Hi, um, I sort of got roped into this whole film without really thinking things through. Please don’t think less of me.”

Bay laughed. “What a sense of humour! Now then, we’ve got a father and son dynamic in this film. It seems the two Sedgwick men don’t see eye to eye on much these days. Young Brad Sedgwick just wishes his dad was less of a busybody. Theodore wants his son to show more interest in hardware goods. Playing Brad, I give you Shia LaBeouf!”

Shia LaBeouf came out on stage, waving in that vacant way suggesting very little was going on in his head. “Hello! Shia is pleased to be part of this film project! Shia needs the money to pay off some fines and his lawyers after some legal troubles! Shia shrugs off legal troubles!” He took his place by the others. This reporter sighed with dismay, and contemplated banging his head against a wall.

Bay grinned again, and said, “And playing the part of the easily annoyed next door neighbour Larry O’Neill, I chose someone else I haven’t worked with before. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tim Allen!”

The comedian, once the star of Home Improvement, and really only capable of playing himself, came out on stage, smiling in that goofy and baffled way. He waved to the crowd. “Hi! You know, I could have played the lead in this, but really, I’ve already kind of played the annoying tool obsessed guy once, so that would be typecasting myself. Instead I get to play the guy on the other side of the fence. Only as I recall, Wilson wasn’t so easily annoyed by me. I mean, Tim. The guy I played. Right. Because as we all know, stand-up comedians can’t respond to any name but their own when they actually act.”

Bay looked dazed for a moment, as if like a deer caught in the headlights. “Note to self: rename the Larry O’Neill character to Tim O’Neill,” he muttered to himself and continued.  “And playing the film’s paranoid survivalist villain Dirk Van Zandt, I give you one of my favourite actors, my go-to guy, the one, the only... Steve Buscemi!”

Buscemi walked out on stage, a mix of his usual creepiness and a bit of shame in his face. “Someone please break me out of my contract to work for this guy. The man’s a hack!”

“Steve, you’re such a kidder!” Bay said with a laugh.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the main cast for Snowpocalypse Now, soon to go into production. Francis Ford Coppola can kiss my ass if he thinks he can prevent me from using that title.”

With that, Bay left the stage with his actors. This reporter shared mutual grumbles and sighs of dismay with other real reporters. Entertainment reporters, meanwhile, could be heard uttering phrases like “film of the century” and “wow, did you see that cast?” like the blithering idiots they are. This reporter wondered how long he would continue to be in journalistic purgatory (editor: I hate you. Your next assignment is going to involve you getting infected with the Ebola virus).

That long, huh?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From Captivity To Freedom: The Great Escape

“We have in effect put all our rotten eggs in one basket. And we intend to watch this basket very closely.” ~ Von Luger

“Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.” ~ Ramsey

“Afraid this tea’s pathetic. Must have used these wretched leaves about twenty times. It’s not that I mind so much. Tea without milk is so uncivilized.” ~ Blythe

“Blythe’s not blind while he’s with me. And he’s going with me.” ~ Hendley

“I haven’t seen Berlin yet, from the ground or the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over.”  ~ Hilts

“If you’re asking me how far a commanding officer is allowed to go, or dare go, or should be permitted to play God, I can’t answer you.” ~ Bartlett 

The 1963 war drama The Great Escape adapts the story of the true escape of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war from Stalag Luft III, a German POW camp in what is now Poland, during the Second World War. Adapted from the book written by Paul Brickhill, one of the members of the escape, the film weaves together one of the best casts assembled for a film. While certain names are changed, other characters are composites of several people, and there are dramatic licenses taken (such as the fact that there were no Americans in the camp at the time of the breakout in reality), the film takes great care to present the details of the escape as accurately as possible. It comes from director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, Gunfight At the O.K. Corral, Hour Of The Gun).

In 1943, the most troublesome Allied prisoners of war are being brought to a newly constructed prison camp, headed by a Luftwaffe colonel, Von Luger (Hannes Messemer). He meets the largest group of arrivals personally, informing the senior commander, a British group captain named Ramsey (James Donald) that they should give up their attempts to escape. Among the early arrivals in the camp are two Americans,  Hendley (James Garner) and Hilts (Steve McQueen). British servicemen include Blythe (Donald Pleasence), Cavendish (Nigel Stock), Macdonald (Gordon Jackson), Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum), Ives (Angus Lennie) and William Dickes (John Leyton). The Australian Sedgwick (James Coburn) and a Polish pilot, Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) are also among the early internees at the camp. An additional arrival turns up courtesy of the Gestapo, Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), a British pilot with a reputation for masterminding multiple escapes and a chip on his shoulder where the Nazis are concerned.

The prisoners settle in after some first day escape attempts. Hilts and Ives get tossed into solitary confinement for their initial escapes and get to know each other during their time in what’s referred to as the cooler. Bartlett begins making plans to engineer a mass escape and takes stock of the particular skills of the prisoners within the camp. Some he knows, others he makes their acquaintance, and it’s his concept that leads to the digging of tunnels. Bartlett not only wants to escape- he wants to open a whole new front in the heart of occupied Europe and make life hell for the Germans.

The screenplay by James Clavell, W.R Burnett, and Walter Newman adapted the book recounting the events of the escape. They chose to make composites of certain real men while telling the story, as well as producing a screenplay that would be a star vehicle for some of the lead actors. There are aspects of the film that didn’t happen in real life. The fact that many of the prisoners were Canadian, for instance, is not touched on, and the nationalities of the three prisoners who did make it all the way to freedom were in fact Norwegian and Dutch. The sequences involving an airplane and a motorbike were also dramatic license for the story. The screenplay does honour the details of the escape by 76 POWs though, and grounds itself in strong characterization. There’s also humour added into the mix of the screenplay where appropriate, as well as the swinging back and forth between despair; while the ending might seem initially downcast, the very last moments of the film bring an optimistic tone of defiance and resilience that makes it work beautifully. We get to know the characters gradually as the film unfolds and as they get to know each other, and that’s one of the strengths of the screenplay.

Sturges filmed both on set and locations in Germany – the camp interiors and the tunnel sequences are all done on set, while the exteriors of the camp were erected near the studios. Local villages and towns also featured prominently in location shooting. The set construction by the crew particularly pays off- the interiors of the prison camp huts look as Spartan and of the time as you would expect, and the tunnels feel claustrophobic- very fitting considering one of the chief diggers is secretly terrified of closed in spaces. The exterior construction of the camp also has an accurate feel- it looks much like we would see in World War Two POW camps, barbed wire and all. The place has an oppressive, dreadful feel. The uniforms, props, and various other equipment are very much of the time, giving the film an authentic sense of time and place. Sturges also brought composer Elmer Bernstein in for the score. Bernstein, who had composed works such as The Ten Commandments, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Magnificent Seven, and Thoroughly Modern Millie among his many credits throughout his career, composed one of his finest scores for the film, with cues that mirror the themes of the film- oppression, defiance, hope, and exhilaration.

The casting is impeccable, one of the finest casts ever assembled. Hannes Messemer might be the commander of the camp, but he’s not unsympathetic as Von Luger. He’s a disciplined man, trying to keep a camp of POWs under control, trying to be cordial, all while not crossing the line. The actual man the character is based on survived the war, and the testimony of former POWs that he had treated them fairly and within the rules of the Geneva Conventions saw the officer freed. Von Luger doesn’t particularly seem that much of a believer in the Nazi ideology, starkly seen early on during his interaction with a Gestapo officer, who’s clearly a die-hard supporter. He also doesn’t care for the mistreatment of prisoners. He might be a hard man, but there’s an underlying decency in the man, and that’s what Messemer brings across in his performance.

Donald Pleasence gives his best career performance as the soft spoken and calm mannered British officer Colin Blythe, a detail oriented headquarters officer who by a trick of fate has ended up a POW. His skills make him a masterful forger, a vital skill for an escape attempt. Pleasence brought experience to the role, too- he spent a year during the war as a POW in a German camp. Blythe is tremendously sympathetic as a character; as the story unfolds and he faces an unexpected obstacle, Pleasence plays to that sympathy in his performance. Blythe and Hendley find themselves unlikely roommates, and gradually friends. One of the finest moments in the film is the decision Hendley makes to see Blythe out to freedom, and it speaks to the fact that they’ve become such good friends.

Charles Bronson also has the best performance in his career as Danny Velinski, the Polish pilot who is one of the two “tunnel kings” along with Dickes. The two characters are already friends, and do much of the advance work deep in the tunnels, which has involved frequent cave-ins as they’ve worked. Midway through the film, Danny reveals his deep fear of closed spaces to Dickes. It’s a crucial moment for the character and the actor (it seems Bronson had claustrophobia issues himself) as his desire to be free clashes with the fear, and his admission that he worries freezing up in the tunnel will put others in danger. Considering the actor later ended up getting known for playing a lot of tough guy roles, having him admit to a vulnerability that would be understandable to many people is a good measure.

James Donald had a tendency to play authority figures throughout his acting career on stage and screen. He was one of the featured players in The Bridge On The River Kwai, King Rat, and Lust For Life. He plays the senior officer Ramsey with the cool British reserve you would expect of the character. Ramsey is based on the actual senior officer in the camp, an experienced escaper who didn’t take part in the escape and yet had to be briefed in on what was going on. Ramsey comes across as calm under pressure, a steady leader, somewhat pragmatic and with less of a chip on his shoulder than Bartlett where the Germans are concerned.

James Coburn as Sedgwick is one of the quiet pleasures of the film, a charming Aussie who’s the chief manufacturer in the escape attempt. The character’s capable and resourceful, making use of whatever supplies can come his way to aid in the escape. And he shows resilience and calm under pressure as the film unfolds- out on the run and on his own, he shows wisdom in the choices he makes, and takes things in stride when a rather startling event unfolds around him.

Richard Attenborough became well known to audiences in North America because of his role as Big X, aka Roger Bartlett, based on the real mastermind of the breakout. Bartlett is ambitious in his plans for the escape, a resolute leader, decisive, organized, and someone who pays close attention to detail. He also bears a grudge against the Germans, who haven’t been appreciative of his previous escapes, and there’s the sense that the character is out for some payback as much as he wants to get to freedom. He’s not as calm as Ramsey, but we can believe the character as a leader of men.

James Garner is one of the great treats of the film, a charming scoundrel whose skill is at scrounging for the needs of the escape. A skilled pickpocket or negotiator, Hendley is gifted at smuggling what needs to be smuggled, charming, easygoing, and a good liar. The audience might suspect he’d be a pretty good used car salesman- but under the charm is strongly held principle and integrity (which of course would disqualify him from that job). His decision before the escape to help Blythe reach freedom is a clear mark of how decent Hendley is, and Garner plays these qualities throughout the film.

This film solidified Steve McQueen’s status as a superstar in the world of film, and it’s a compelling, tremendously likeable character. Hilts is based on more than one pilot, and is a defiant and irreverent man. When he’s not breaking out of the camp during earlier attempts, he’s an irritant to Von Luger and the guards in general. Of course he ends up spending a good deal of time in the cooler, but solitary confinement doesn’t break his spirit, it just strengthens his resolve. Events lead him to consider the benefits of the larger escape attempt and play a pivotal role in it, and once on the outside, Hilts finds himself on the run, with trouble circling in from all sides. The character is a standout in a film filled with standout performances.

The Great Escape is one of those classic films that never gets old with repeated viewings. Its characters have depth and complexity, and it’s not all black and white as a POW film- the jailer is not entirely without sympathy. The film has a good sense of humour, paces itself well, lets us get to know these men, and then unleashes them in a bid for freedom. While the events that play out don’t go according to plan, there is still resilience in the spirit of the men, and the result is a rousing, tremendously satisfying film. It is a personal favourite film, and a true classic.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Road Warrior In A World Of Fire And Blood

From 1979 to 1985, Australian director George Miller wrote and directed three films set in a post apocalyptic wasteland, the original Mad Max films featuring Mel Gibson as the loner anti-hero in a brutal Australian landscape where roving gangs kill others for as little as a tank of gasoline. After Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Miller had a hand in writing, producing, or directing a diverse set of projects, including Dead Calm, Babe, Babe Pig In The City, Happy Feet, Happy Feet 2, Lorenzo’s Oil, and The Witches Of Eastwick. The notion of making a fourth film in the Mad Max franchise dates back to 1998, and is now out in theatres, with a new actor in the title role.

The distant future where civilization has collapsed is the setting for the story. Max (Tom Hardy) has fallen into the hands of the War Boys, a group of bloodthirsty soldiers working for the ruthless zealot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). One of the War Boys is Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a soldier suffering from illness and seeing Max as a way to prolong his life- Max is a universal blood donor, so Nux is using him as a permanent living blood bank, strapped to his car. The other key player is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a driver working for Joe, ferrying fuel. However, she’s changed course, instead taking Joe’s five wives to safety in a heavily armoured rig. Joe regards the women as his personal property, feels the fact that they are gone is a personal affront, and sets his forces to hunt them down. Along the way the paths of Max and Furiosa cross, and the reluctant loner finds himself drawn into helping others.

The road to making the film was an exceedingly long one. Miller mused upon the idea of human trafficking as a central theme in the film, but 9/11, logistical problems, and then the troubled issues in Gibson’s life thwarted the film for years. Many thought the film would never get off the ground, and considering how many issues got in the way, that would be understandable. Finally filming got underway in Australia and Namibia, done in an old school style strongly based in real action and less reliance on digital effects. The storyline is rather like a Western, with the villains brutal and ruthless, and the reluctant protagonist drawn out of his own shell and back to doing the right thing. Bringing in a fellow protagonist who’s just as strong willed was a deft touch- Furiosa is fierce and determined, seeking some measure of redemption. In striving to save these women- and bringing Max out of his post traumatic shock- she’s the driving force of the story in a way that is more compelling than if we had Max on his own saving the lives of the women. That would have been the typical man saves the women in distress story so typical of a traditional Western; written this way, a strong willed woman takes the initiative, and it makes the story all the better for it. There's also social commentary amid the furious breakneck speed chases- the notion of zealots willing to sacrifice themselves in pursuit of an afterlife in paradise rings true to the state of the world today.

Miller’s filming style for the original films returns here as well. Digital effects are used, but used only when needed- Miller has said why special effect a scene when you can do it for real, and that reflects itself in the way he shoots furious action, dynamic cross country races, and the ferocious energy of the film. Camera angles are at strange angles, showing us people seemingly inches from death (one wonders how the insurance people signed off on this).  Cinematographer John Seale, whose resume includes Witness, The Mosquito Coast, The English Patient, Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, and Dead Poet's Society, came out of retirement to shoot this one, and his camera work is astonishing. Such is also the case with the look of the film. The general look to the War Boys fits the zealot-cult aspect of the story, as well as the marauding biker gang theme of the films. The customized vehicles have such a rich variety in their looks- dangerous vehicles in many ways, very fitting with a post apocalyptic kill the other guy first world.

The cast are all well chosen. Hugh Keays-Byrne played a role in the first Mad Max, and his new role is a fierce one. Immortan Joe is a madman, a ruthless monster with no shades of grey. A zealot and a tyrant, he takes any measure of disobedience personally, which drives him throughout the movie as he seeks to reclaim what he believes belongs to him- those five women who he seeks to breed a male heir with. He's also charismatic enough to get people to believe in the afterlife he promises them- all so he can use them for cannon fodder or human shields. Monster though he is, he does make for a formidable villain.

Nicholas Hoult is unrecognizable largely as Nux, but the character changes through the film. The actor, who's turned up in the last two X-Men films as the young Beast, starts out as a loyal soldier, though things change, and he switches sides, an interesting turn of events. The reasons for the shift in loyalties ring true, though, and the character's compelling to watch. Hoult conveys the aspects of the character in just the right way.

Charlize Theron is in many ways the driving force of the film as Furiosa (I love that name). She seeks redemption by saving the lives of these women, even though that puts her in direct peril. The character is haunted by her own demons, yet still pushes forward, willpower driving her on. It's such a strongly written character, and Theron works wonders with her, making her a character the audience can't help but be drawn to. She's a lot like Max- anti-hero, scarred and damaged, and while the characters don't fall into the romantic or even friends angle that a different director would take, the two work well together. 

Hardy is an inspired choice to take on the role of Max. He spends the first part of the film wearing a partial mask (echoing his performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises), and doesn't say a lot. He's isolated himself from society, and we can pretty much see that this is a man who's dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Max has lost a lot, seen horrors on the open road, is reluctant to help- and yet has a conscience that makes him help. Furiosa draws him out of his shock, back into doing the right thing. He fits the role well.

There's a moment of conversation that stands out for me. Max tells Furiosa at one point that "hope is a lie." It's understandable given what he's been through, and yet not quite fitting with who he is. As dark and bleak as the world of this post-apocalypse is and always has been in these films, there's also been the sense to them that there is something better out there, over the horizon, far from marauding gangs. It's a contradictory moment... but full of meaning. It's been thirty years now since the last Mad Max film, but Fury Road was well worth the wait.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Truly The King Of The Blues: The Thrill Is Gone

"Thrill is gone
The thrill is gone away
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone away

You know you done me wrong, baby
And you'll be sorry someday

The thrill is gone
It's gone away from me
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone from me

Although, I'll still live on
But so lonely I'll be

The thrill is gone
It's gone away for good
The thrill is gone, baby
It's gone away for good

Someday I know I'll be open armed, baby
Just like I know a good man should

You know I'm free, free now, baby
I'm free from your spell
Oh, I'm free, free, free now
I'm free from your spell

And now that it's over
All I can do is wish you well."

"As long as people have problems, the blues can never die." ~ B.B. King

It wasn't unexpected, but the best blues musician of all time passed away on Thursday evening at the age of eighty nine. A lifetime of performing the blues, well into the late years of his life, connecting with audiences, the influence he had on blues and rock and roll, the music he leaves behind. I never met him, but when I heard the news yesterday morning, it was as if I'd lost a friend.

B.B. came into the world as Riley B. King in the Mississippi Delta in 1925. His early life was hard and rural. Music first seriously came into the picture during Army days in the Second World War, listening and being influenced by jazz and the blues. Professionally he started out in gospel before shifting into the blues, picking up the nickname along the way. From the 1950s on, he was on the road, rarely letting up, building a following, becoming a giant in the industry, playing with a wealth of other musicians through the decades, his own style influencing their own. U2, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and many more learned from his playing style.

He played a Gibson guitar he called Lucille, and man, could he play. He sang and played- though rarely at the same time, moving from lyrics into bars with that guitar, improvising and bringing out a sound that was all his own. Rolling Stone designated him the third greatest guitarist of all time behind Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman; I would place him at first, but that's personal opinion. He could hypnotize an audience with his music, particularly that signature song The Thrill Is Gone. There were times he was perfectly happy to let Lucille speak for him.

He was acclaimed critically and commercially through his life. B.B. would acknowledge that the blues came out of despair, but he could bring many moods into the music. Over the course of his career he won fifteen Grammys, sold over forty million records worldwide, was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and had one of his albums of particular historical significance, 'Live At The Regal' preserved in the Library of Congress. 

As strong as his music was, he a gentleman and a humanitarian in person. He would encourage young people to make positive choices. In the early Eighties he donated over eight thousand recordings to the University of Mississippi, an archive of blues music for scholars. A museum bearing his name can be found in his childhood home town, telling not only his story but the story of the Delta blues. And in 2005, the Mississippi House and Senate designated a day in his honour. The great musician had never stepped into the state Capitol until then. He described it later as his proudest moment, saying, "I was in Heaven. I was so happy I that I cried."

I've loved listening to this great musician, and regret that I never did get the chance to see him live. The blues might be best heard when you're feeling down, because it lifts you up, and that's what B.B. did. Even late in life, he was on the road, performing, getting in front of audiences, playing for President Obama, drawing in his listeners, telling stories, playing the blues, raising spirits. His impact on music and culture is huge. The world's a lesser place with this great man gone.

I leave off with three of my favourite songs by the great man:  Lucille, The Thrill Is Gone, and a live rendition of  Love Rescue Me with U2.

Rest in peace, B.B., you were the best.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Does The Scam Artist Rabbi Do Bar Mitzvahs?

Some links before getting started today. Norma had some news. Lena featured interviews with Norma and Lorelei. Parsnip had photos. Maria featured a TV show from the past.

They are the accursed pestilence walking the earth. They never give up. They never go away. They spam us relentlessly, even in posts titled All Spammers Should Be Dropped Into Sulphuric Acid. They try selling us Gucci bags, life insurance, death insurance, insurance against insurance agents, and toffee. They send us endless email pleas that end up in our junk folders trying to scam us. Yes, the spammers and scammers.

In recent days my photoblog and a number of photobloggers I follow have been subjected to a spammer trying to spam cars and car accessories. It's the exact same message over and over, with spam links embedded in the punctuation (the insufferable twits are learning new tricks). The spam somehow gets past the usual filters into my blogs... where of course I remove it and dump it into spam folders where it belongs.

And then there's this recent scammer message that turned up in my junk mail, from a scammer identifying himself as Rabbi Peters. It is as follows. Commentary afterwards.

Dear Sir,

My name is Barrister Saviour Peters. I was a personal lawyer to a gold dealer, who died as a result of a car accident few years ago, (May his soul Rest in Peace).

I have been searching for his family member or relation in overseas for so long after his demise but to no avail until I came across your contact on the internet during my continuous search bearing the same sure name as his which will help you stand in a better position as next of kin through my help as his then lawyer to make the claim without hitch or obstacles.

I hereby seek your consent to present your name to the security company, so that you and I can inherit this fund and the gold which was also  deposited  through my assistance. Note you will stand to be compensated with a handsome reward after every change of ownership and claim is successfully made in your name.

The  value  of the money was  Fourteen Million United Stated Dollars which was the  contract sum  deposited by him before his death. Kindly get back to me for  more details about this case.

Best Regard,
Saviour Peters

Well. Now this is a new trick from those pesky scammers hailing from certain parts of Africa (Nigeria, I'm looking at you. Why? Because you're the usual suspect in these things. Don't give me that look, mister! Do I have to come over there and get medieval on you?). Passing themselves off as a rabbi. Usually it's the daughter, widow, personal masseuse, mistress, congregation member, or concubine of the dearly departed resident government minister, general, warlord, deposed president, or witch doctor from whatever part of Africa we're not paying attention to at the moment. Instead we've got a rabbi.

Oh, right, a rabbi who calls himself by the title Barrister Saviour Peters. So the rabbi is also a lawyer, or so he'd like us to believe. Granted, I haven't been in many synagogues, but I somehow doubt a real rabbi would be referring to himself as a saviour.

So our not so good attorney-rabbi would like us to believe that his client, a former gold dealer who just happens to have my name, died in a car accident and may his soul rest in peace, blah blah blah. And what if I suggested that this fictional gold dealer (and that's what he is, fictional, because we all know there's no gold dealer in this story you're trying to pass off) was not resting in peace? Would that eliminate my chance at the millions you're waving in front of my face?

Yes, the fourteen million United Stated dollars you mention in this little scheme of yours (with lots of capital letters where one doesn't need them). If you were a real attorney (which you are not), you'd catch that little misspelling of the world's most powerful country, not to mention understand that this scheme, if it actually was real (and it's not, Nigerian scammer, it's not) would be in a word... illegal. Why don't you try this scam on some of the five million other people you've sent this to? Maybe somebody named Jethro will buy it.

Well, I have to give the scammers points for imagination. This is the first time I've seen them bring the fake rabbi angle into their scams. Too bad we can't go all Old Testament on the scammers and throw them into a fiery furnace. Come on, it would be a service to humanity!

Okay, if not that, can we give them all the Ebola virus?

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Day In The Life Of A Maple Leafs Fan

Some links before getting started. Norma had a Mother's Day post. Shelly also had a Mother's Day post. And so did Eve. Cheryl had a post on local crime. And the Whisk had a fun fact.

I return my attention today to the point of view of those deluded fools, fans of the perennial disappointment otherwise known as the Toronto Maple Leafs, who of course have spectacularly blown this last season, as usual. While other hockey teams are in the playoffs, they're busy playing golf. Their fans deserve every bit of scorn they get.

9:25 PM. At home. Jack and Harry and me, we’re ignorin’ the playoffs while havin’ a beer. I mean it’s not as if our Leafs are in the playoffs after the season our boys had, right? But we’re gonna set that right, man. We’re gonna get past the conspiracy that made our boys have a bad season. We’re gonna steal the Stanley Cup tonight. Leafs Nation, boys!

12:43 AM. In the car with Harry and Jack. Two blocks away from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Operation Take The Stanley Cup Back ready to go. Me and Harry and Jack have been workin’ weeks on this plan. And it’s gonna work. Sure, some Toronto fans have tried this before, but they weren’t us, am I right?

12:53 AM. Making our insertion into the Hall. You know, boys, that Ocean’s Eleven crew couldn’t have planned this better. Of course, we’re going after something lots more valuable than whatever the **** they were goin’ after.

1:03 AM. Run, boys! Run! We got the Cup! We got the Cup! Sure, there’s plenty of those alarms goin’ off behind us and those security guards are hot on our heels, but what can possibly go wrong now?

1:05 AM. Hustlin’ in the fan. Drivin’ outta here at full speed. Fortunately we put some mud on the plates, so it’s not like anyone can trace the plates, right? Yeah, man, we worked out every single detail on this plan, and it’s gonna work!

1:13 AM. Far enough way. Okay, boys, let’s slow down. Can’t get stopped by a cop for speedin’, right?

1:36 AM. Back at my place. Pullin’ the van into the garage. Boys, let’s get the Cup inside and get settled in. Lots more to do tonight.

1:45 AM. Got the Cup set up on my dinin’ room table. Looks pretty good there, don’t it boys? Yeah! Leafs Nation, baby!

1:53 AM. Okay, boys, time for the call to the media. Somethin’ to get our statement out there. List of demands. If the NHL ever wants to see the Stanley Cup again, they’ll bow to our wishes. Yeah!!!

2:01 AM. Puttin’ in a call to one of the local channels. Claimin’ responsibility for the Great Stanley Cup Liberation of 2015. Yeah, and here’s what we’re demandin’ the League do. First off, this year’s playoffs are over. Right now. Every other ****in’ team is out. As of right now, the Leafs are named 2015 Stanley Cup champions! Yeah, baby! Leafs Nation! Second, retroactively the Leafs are gonna be named Stanley Cup champions every single year since 1967! Sure, this has done before... don’t interrupt me! Third, we want forty eight ticker tape Stanley Cup parades for the Leafs with every single player who ever played for the franchise who’s still alive to make up for the forty eight parades we haven’t had since 1967.... well, not Tie Domi, because that guy’s a mouthy ****in’ bastard.

2:04 AM. ....and twenty seventh, we want free Timbits for everyone on the parade route. Not just single Timbits! Boxes of twenty! You got all that? You tell ‘em that if they don’t do what we say, we’re gonna have the Cup melted down! Yeah! Leafs Nation, baby!

2:35 AM. Me and Harry and Jack are gulpin’ champagne. Hey, boys, the Cup hasn’t had Toronto champagne drunk from the top in a long while. Why don’t we remedy that?

2:37 AM. Champagne tastes even better when it’s drunk right from the Stanley Cup.

5:53 AM. Wakin’ up with a hangover in my easy chair. Hey, boys, wake up! Mornin’ news ought to be coverin’ our big heist all over the place. Any luck, the League’s already agreed to our demands.

6:03 AM. The Great Stanley Cup Liberation’s all over the news. Police haven’t got much to say. Yeah, that’s ‘cause they’re all quakin’ in their boots right now scared that we’re gonna melt down the Cup.

7:15 AM. Still wonderin’ when the League’s goin’ to come out and capitulate to our demands. By the way, what the **** does capitulate mean?

10:46 AM. Me and Harry and Jack are gettin’ worried. Why aren’t we hearin’ anything about the NHL giving up and agreein’ to what we’re demandin’? Guys, I don’t know about you, but worrying makes me hungry. Gotta get some grub. Who’s for pizza?

11:05 AM. Knock at the door. Hey, boys! Pizza’s here!

11:06 AM. Openin’ the door. Cranky lookin’ cop standin’ right there. Hey, you’re not the pizza guy. The stupid ****er says his name is Lars Ulrich. I ask him why a Metallica drummer would dress up like a cop.

5:53 PM. Wakin’ up in a jail cell. Harry and Jack are with me. Geez, my head hurts. What happened, boys?

5:55 PM. Jack and Harry finish tellin’ me that the cop, some mouthy bastard Mountie, hit me square in the face and knocked me out. Then a whole buncha local cops swarmed in with him and arrested them. Geez, boys.... at least tell me the NHL gave in and carried out our demands.

10:48 PM. Well, we can see a television from our jail cell. Our arrest is all over the news. That Mountie’s the toast of the town as far as the NHL is concerned. The Leafs organization is denyin’ they had anythin’ to do with this. Harry and Jack and me are annoyed. Boys, don’t worry. We’ll get a lawyer. All we need is a jury of twelve Leafs fans, we’ll bawl our eyes out and express despair over the last forty eight years. We’re home free. Leafs fans understand each other’s pain, am I right?

Nothin’ to worry about. And trust me when I say this. Next year is our year, boys. Leafs Nation! The Cup’s gonna come home to the Leafs at last! Yeah! I mean, it’s not as if God or fate or some kind of hex could have this much against the Leafs, right? Am I right?

Of course I’m right!