Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Downfall Of An Egomaniac


Egomaniac Director And Star Meet Subject Of Film; End Up In Hospital

Calgary (CP) Reporters were summoned to the Alberta city this week at the behest of an all too familiar self absorbed and self described “cinema auteur of absolute brilliance”. Michael Bay, the narcissistic director behind such explosion extravaganzas as Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and the Transformers franchise, has been busy as of late preparing a flurry of films for eventual release. Usually these events are held at his offices at Digital Domain in California; instead, the director invited reporters from real media outlets and of course hordes of entertainment reporters to Alberta.


This reporter was among them. His cranky editor (editor: stop calling me cranky!), fresh from a stay at St. Mungo’s Asylum For The Perpetually Insane (editor: it was a four week break obliged on me by the newspaper publisher! Not an insane asylum! Blessed Tranquility is a place of healing therapy and yoga and scented candles and singing kumbayah!), had assigned him remotely to go along. I say remotely, because there is now  a restraining order against the cranky editor forbidding him to be in the same room as this reporter after all those numerous death threats (editor: shut up!) over the last couple of years. And so this reporter was sent by a cranky sounding email dispatching him to the latest in a long line of tedious press conference by a demented egomaniac.


And so after an uneventful flight to Calgary, this reporter found himself among other real reporters and a horde of entertainment reporters in a large assembly hall at the airport terminal, where a Digital Domain aide informed us that four buses would take us out to the site of the press conference itself. This reporter, eager to be as far away from those vacant headed entertainment reporters, got on the bus containing all of the real reporters. Four entertainment reporters managed to get on board as well. The entire trip to our destination, we real reporters could hear them prattling on about nonsense, such as what Selena Gomez might be wearing on the weekend, which Kardashian was going to end up the subject of yet another sex tape release, and, to use direct quotes, “who’s this Elvis Presley guy anyway?”


The bus convoy arrived at its destination in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A limo had joined the convoy, and had stopped as well. When this reporter got off and looked around, he recognized the spot, because he had been here before. It was the entrance driveway leading to a wooden structure among the trees. That was the building that housed the headquarters for one very particular detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

It was the workplace of the legendary (and grouchy) Inspector Lars Ulrich.


At this point, with entertainment reporters getting out of their buses, gushing about what this was all about, the limo opened up, and two men got out. Both were instantly recognizable, both inspired cheers from the entertainment reporters, and both garnered eye rolls and sighs of dismay from the real reporters. The aforementioned Michael Bay, who never saw a reflection of himself he didn’t like (editor: stop making fun of him! He’s a magnificent director!) was the first. The other was his frequent film collaborator, actor Nicolas Cage, waving and carrying a bottle of Scotch.

Bay and Cage approached the group. Bay was smiling in that delirious, demented way of his, acting as if the world was his proverbial oyster, looking just as you’d expect- the stubble, the dishevelled hair, the casual wear topped by a blazer. Cage looked like he’d just crawled out of bed, and was stumbling a bit. This reporter wondered how much he’d been drinking.


“Hello, everyone!” Bay called, waving, smiling. “Thanks for coming all the way out here for a great announcement today. But of course it’s great. It’s a film directed by me, after all, and as we all know, any film I make is by definition outstanding.” Bay went on and on, praising himself. This reporter noticed movement up at the detachment, with a familiar figure emerging from the front door. It was the aforementioned grouchy Mountie. Even at a distance, he didn’t seem pleased to see so many potential irritants at his proverbial doorstep.

Bay was carrying on. “You know, I’m a great director. Everybody says that to me. I say it to myself when I look in the mirror seventy eight times a day. I don’t get why the Oscars seem to overlook me, but hey, if you can manage to finally award Leo with a Best Actor, that means surely I’m long overdue for Best Director and Best Picture and sweeping every single award, right?” The entertainment reporters were gushing and cheering. The real reporters were shaking their heads- most had already seen the Mountie making his way down the driveway and hoped he might pick up the pace.


“Which is why we’re here,” Bay said. “I want to tell the epic story of a brave, fierce, heavy metal drummer who seems to spend a lot of time in this sideline gig of being a lawman. Which is why I’m going to be directing this man, my buddy Nic, as the lead in the blockbuster movie about Lars Ulrich! Isn’t that a great idea?”

“You do realize Nicolas Cage is twenty years too old for the part?” this reporter asked. “And that he doesn’t look anything like the actual Lars Ulrich? What with having a lot less hair than the actual Lars Ulrich.”

Cage looked offended. “Hey! Don’t make fun of my hairline!” (editor: yeah! Stop making fun of his hairline!)


This reporter pressed on. “And you do realize, Mr. Bay, that the heavy metal drummer Lars Ulrich is not the same person as the RCMP Inspector?”

Bay looked confused. “You must be mistaken. They are clearly the same person.”

The real reporters sighed, shook their heads, and rolled their eyes. This reporter shook his head. “Mr. Bay, the drummer is a good twenty years older than the Mountie, and they look nothing alike. But why don’t you ask the man himself?”


At this point, the entertainment reporters noticed the approaching Ulrich. “Look!” one of them called out. “It’s Lars Ulrich! Metallica must all be here!” Bay and Cage turned as the inspector stopped before them.

Ulrich clenched his fists. “What are you doing here?” he asked Bay in a low, growling voice.

Bay grinned, clapping him on the shoulder, completely oblivious. “I’m making a movie about you! With Nicolas Cage here playing you! We’re talking bombs and explosions and hot babes waxing cars and more explosions and Aerosmith doing a theme song with Metallica and a villain who keeps getting mistaken for Justin Bieber just because they share the same name! Maybe I can get Bieber to play that part, wouldn’t that be fun? But the real crux of the matter, Lars baby, is that I want to find out what it is that makes a heavy metal drummer want to spend his off time hanging out in Canada and being a lawman.”


“I am not that Lars Ulrich,” the inspector muttered in a tone that made the real reporters back up.

“Are you sure?” Cage asked. “Because you look just like him.”

“Oh, this guy! What a kidder!” Bay laughed. “Of course you’re that Lars Ulrich!”

At that, Ulrich struck, throwing a punch that sent Bay flying into Cage, sending both tumbling over. Cage was momentarily more concerned about the Scotch emptying into the roadside gravel. “My Scotch! My beautiful Scotch!” He didn’t have more time to object, as the inspector started chasing both Bay and Cage off the road. Reports later had it that he’d beaten up both of them in Tombstone Canyon and left them whimpering, bleeding, and suffering from multiple contusions. They were airlifted out by helicopter to a hospital in Calgary, where both are in body casts, out of action for the time being with multiple broken bones.


Ulrich himself returned to the detachment, where real reporters were still gathered with the entertainment reporters. After throttling three dozen of the latter for asking where the rest of Metallica was and sending them to hospital, the Mountie faced the former, who assured him that they knew he was not a drummer with Metallica. He sighed with a tone of dismay. “You know that. I know that. What is it about idiots like that director who can’t tell the difference?”

This reporter suggested that perhaps their parents had been breeding too close to the gene pool, and that kicking the crap out of them was therefore justified. The inspector grunted in agreement and went back to his detachment. This reporter mused that breeding too close to the gene pool might provide a satisfactory explanation for his cranky editor (editor: hey! Shut up or I’m tossing you into that Tombstone Canyon!).

Dear readers, you read it yourself: the cranky editor threatened this reporter once again (editor: I hate you! Oh, I hate you! I want you dead! Dead! D-E-A-D! Dead!)

This reporter thinks his cranky editor needs a few years at St. Mungo’s Asylum For The Perpetually Insane.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Murder Among Two Lifetimes


“The man I bought it from explained to me that when a man gives it to his wife, they become two halves of the same person. Nothing can separate them... not even death.” ~ Roman Strauss

“Well, I’m not going into hiding, Mr. Baker. I’m just getting married.” ~ Margaret Strauss

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” ~ Gray Baker

 “Karmically, self-defense is quite cool.” ~ Cozy Carlisle

“Oh, and you don’t have to worry about forgetting her name. She’s already forgotten it for you.” ~ Pete

“This is fate we’re talking about, and if fate works at all, it works because people think that this time, it isn’t going to happen.” ~ Madson

“Grace? That’s what the teabag says? That my name is Grace?” ~ Grace

“I’m not looking for Miss Right. I’m looking for Miss Right Now.” ~ Mike Church


Dead Again is an unlikely mix of genres, bringing together elements of romantic fantasy and the supernatural with a good deal of film noir influences in this 1991 film from director Kenneth Branagh. The director stars in dual roles opposite his then wife Emma Thompson, who was also playing a dual role in a story that combines the mystery of an amnesiac woman with the notion of connections to past lives. With a good supporting cast, the film is quite entertaining, romantic, thrilling at times, stylish, and clever.


The film opens with newspaper headlines through the opening titles, detailing the 1949 murder of Margaret Strauss (Thompson), a classical musician stabbed during a robbery at her home. Her composer and conductor husband Roman (Branagh) is arrested and put on trial in the months that follow. Found guilty, he is sentenced to be executed. Before his execution, he is visited by a reporter, Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), who was acquainted with the couple.


Forty years later, an amnesiac woman (Thompson) has turned up at an orphanage, unable to speak, and plagued by nightmares. The priest who runs the place calls in a private detective who grew up in the orphanage, Mike Church (Branagh) to determine who she is. Church asks his friend Pete (Wayne Knight) to publish her photo in the newspaper to see if her family is looking for her. An antique dealer, Madson, with a sideline in hypnosis, approaches Church with an offer to help, and the first session determines that she can in fact speak- and is able to relive in third person the story of Roman and Margaret. It seems the tragedies of the past are coming back into the present through past lives.


The story is by Scott Frank, whose other work includes Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, Heaven’s Prisoners, The Wolverine, and Logan. The story weaves back and forth between past and present, primarily acting as a mystery, with elements of the familiar private eye genre as a strong influence. The cynical detective, the mysterious woman, the oddball characters, these are all aspects that nod back to the Forties era of hard boiled private eyes in cinema, as does the somewhat dark sense of humour throughout the film. And the narrative weaves in a love story (two, actually) and more to the point the unusual premise of past lives influences the current day, particularly in the sense of the inevitability of fate.


Branagh was already well established as a Shakespearean actor and director on stage and screen at this point- his masterpiece adaptation of Henry V was two years behind him when he directed this film. It has a theatrical quality in its pacing, fitting Roman’s character, since the man is a composer of dramatic opera. The theatrical quality carries over in the rest of the film, as the mystery unfolds, and particularly in the climactic aspects of the film, and Branagh’s directing style plays to that. I particularly like the use of black and white for those scenes set in the past (which mostly unfold in flashback through hypnosis) and colour for the present day sequences, as well as how he uses several scenes that are extended single take scenes. 


The production values are particularly effective in the past sequences, with a palatial residence well outfitted to look like a place out of the 1940s, or a masquerade party at the time looking quite at home in the past. And one of the prevailing visual themes- scissors- are carried over into the present in a creative way. Branagh uses some actors to play smaller parts in both past and present, including his frequent music collaborator Patrick Doyle, whose score for this film mixes together romantic, mysterious, and highly theatrical themes along the way.


The cast are exceptional in their roles. Hanna Schygulla appears mostly in flashbacks as the Strauss housekeeper Inga, who escaped from Germany with Roman and her son during the darkest days of the Second World War and has been loyal ever since. She has to play the character with a certain degree of distance as the film goes along- the audience isn't meant to get inside her head.


Another character who spans both past and present is Gray Baker, played by Andy Garcia. When we first meet him, he’s a young reporter with a cynical world view, fondness for smoking, and a womanizing attitude. This carries over into his interactions with Margaret and Roman, as he doesn’t show much respect at all for boundaries. Garcia makes him thoroughly jaded in his performance, and when we see him in the present day, he’s a wreck of a man, ruined by smoking, but still as jaded as ever. His present day appearance could be said to be the best cinematic argument against smoking.


Robin Williams gets a cameo appearance as Cozy Carlisle. Where Baker is jaded, Carlisle is bitter and acerbic in a way that makes the reporter seem happy. A disgraced therapist who comes into the plot as the subject of a routine search by Church early on, he’s a man with little in the way of scruples, no ethics, unconventional ideas, and the source of much of the dark humour of the film’s present day sequences. Williams gives the character a bleak, serious air in the way he plays it- Carlisle’s not a pleasant person, nor does he pretend to be.


Wayne Knight is best known for a couple of roles, the opportunistic hacker Dennis in Jurassic Park and as the perpetual irritant Newman in the Seinfeld series. Here he plays a very different character as Pete Dugan, the newspaper staffer who’s best friends with Church. He’s loyal and friendly, a genuinely likable guy, with an ironic sense of humour and something of a speech impediment. Knight gives the character a lot of levity as he goes along.


Derek Jacobi is a frequent collaborator with Branagh, having had co-starred with him in films like Henry V and Hamlet, as well as being in the cast for Branagh’s directed Cinderella. He gives the role of the antique dealer Madson a dry air. When we first meet him, he’s hypnotizing a woman at his shop for one reason, while gathering information on potential jackpots for himself. It’s a bit underhanded but amusing, the act of a grifter, but a good way to introduce a character. Madson explains his interest in past lives and how they can influence present day actions. Past life regression through hypnosis is key to unlocking the secrets of the story, and the actor plays the character with dignity but secrecy, playing things close to the vest.


Emma Thompson gets the challenge of two roles- Margaret Strauss in the past and the woman known as Grace in the present. Her Margaret is playful but professional, quickly falling for the conductor Roman, and the bond between them becomes believable as their story unfolds. Grace is a different story- she starts out as plagued by nightmares, in a vulnerable state, not knowing who she is or what’s happening to her. And yet under that, as the story goes along, the actress gives Grace a different kind of playfulness, mixed with uncertainty as she falls for the private detective who’s trying to determine what’s happened to her. The chemistry between the actors, in both eras, works very well indeed.


Branagh also gets to play two roles, giving Roman a certain amount of distance when we first meet him- we’re meant to wonder at his guilt. The character has his stormy, frustrated side that seems to fit in with his composer profession. Mike Church is a different character altogether, a private eye who tends to see the worst in people. He’s a cynic, but not above taking in a stray- a true cynic might be inclined to leave the amnesiac in a mental hospital, but he doesn’t, so this cynic has principles. Branagh plays the two characters in different ways, and Church, who finds the supernatural idea of past lives to be laughable at first, must come to terms with the idea of it as it becomes less implausible and fate closes in on him.


Dead Again got mostly positive reviews and box office at the time, and the film itself is stylish, moody, smart, entertaining, and dramatic, fitting the acting credentials of its leads. It’s a well paced film that skilfully goes back and forth between past and present, giving two lead actors the chance to play two roles across two lifetimes. It’s a hidden treat you might not know of personally, but it’s well worth seeing.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Day in The Life Of A Cat

And so it is the cat's time to have her say. Your Grace? The floor is yours. Along with everything else...


7:19 AM. Waking up. Dreamed of being in a vast field of catnip. Pure heaven. Why can’t dreams like that come true?


7:21 AM. Sitting on the back of the couch, staring out at the lawn, taking in the breadth of my domain. Those flying lunches are picking around at the grass. Ah, if only the door were open. I would be stalking you right this very minute.


7:28 AM. The staff comes down the stairs. Well, it’s about time, staff. I see you’re presentable for the work day. But first you must feed me breakfast. To be followed, I suppose, by your eating your own breakfast, but priorities first! Which means my breakfast.


7:30 AM. The staff has put down a bowl of tuna, with a side bowl of milk, and despite the many times I have personally pointed this out, a bowl of those field rations. Staff? Kibbles are what we feed dogs. Do I look like a dog to you? Of course not. Dogs slobber all over the place and knock things off coffee tables accidentally with their wagging tails. I am a cat. We push things off the coffee table deliberately.


7:31 AM. I have settled into eating my breakfast with peaceful contentment. I will leave those field rations aside as a back-up in case I get hungry later in the day and the staff is not home yet.


7:34 AM. Watching the staff with precision and purpose while she eats breakfast. No real reason why, just making her think there’s some reason I’m doing this when it’s nothing more than playing around with her head.


7:46 AM. Delivering a head bonk to the legs of the staff while she’s on her way out. You won’t catch me trapped outside for hours on end today, staff. I prefer the indoors, with some outdoor access. It would be nice if you left the door ajar for me to come and go as I please, but as the old song goes, we can’t always get what we want, right?


7:47 AM. Sitting on the windowsill watching the staff drive out onto the road. Okay, so....  a few hours to myself. Just how much trouble can I get into today?


7:53 AM. Looking out onto the lawn, brooding. Somewhere in the distance I can hear the barking from that annoying mutt down the road. Probably chasing his own tail again.


8:06 AM. Musing on the meaning of life. Is the universe is a ball of string theory valid?


8:18 AM. Sitting on a windowsill at the back at the house. Gazing out over my lawn. Movement at the treeline. Hmmm, what’s that?


8:19 AM. The movement makes itself clear as the intruder emerges. It’s that foul mutt. I deliver the icy cold glare of contempt and derision. Leave now, or face my eternal wrath.


8:20 AM. Despite my expectations that he’d walk up to the house wagging that tail of his, the dog withdraws back into the woods. Good riddance.


8:37 AM. Launching an assault on the scratching post. Doing so releases some of the dormant catnip in the carpet on it. This, of course, unleashes a catnip frenzy in me. Before losing temporary control of my senses, I must say, I cannot be held responsible for what happens next.


8:54 AM. Lying on the floor. Coming down from that catnip frenzy. I have succeeded in knocking over the scratching post. I am now slightly knackered. I think a nap would be called for at this particular moment. Yes, a nap would do quite nicely indeed.


12:07 PM. Waking up from my nap. Big stretch. Post catnip frenzy naps do seem to be long naps, but hey, like I always say, you can never have too many naps.


12:09 PM. Despite my reservations, I help myself to some of those field rations.


4:02 PM. Too early for the staff to be home yet. Another hour or so. Unless something happened like a fire alarm going off requiring the evacuation of her building and an early return home. Or, on the other hand, a flood that I was completely unaware of washing out the only bridge between here and town which would mean it might be days before she gets home, in which case I will be quite displeased.


5:17 PM. The staff walks in the front door. I deliver a head bonk to the leg as a means of greeting her. Well, there you are, staff. I was beginning to think you’d never get home. Now then, I have been all by myself all day, and I am long overdue for being spoiled.


5:20 PM. The staff readjusts the fallen scratching post. Yes, well, it’s a lot easier for a cat in a catnip frenzy to knock that over than it is for a cat who’s come down from one to set it back upright. Besides, that’s what you’re here for.


5:49 PM. In the kitchen supervising the staff. Looks like she’s getting dinner ready. I approve of this.


6:38 PM. Dinner time. The staff has made lasagna for herself. Since pasta’s not that good for me, she has given me a plate of ground beef. This pleases me greatly. I don’t get what humans see in garlic or onion anyway.


7:03 PM. Supervising the staff while she does the dishes. I’d help, staff, really I would, but I lack the opposable thumbs to hold dishes, and I don’t like putting my paws into hot water anyway. Or cold water for that matter. Let’s just say that my paws and any water don’t really mix that well and leave it at that.


8:11 PM. The staff is reading in the living room. I choose this moment to break out into the beginning of a sprint through the entire house at breakneck speed.


8:14 PM. Have returned to the living room after four complete circuits of the house, including the basement. The staff looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. My mind is perfectly sound, staff, I assure you. 


11:35 PM. The staff is off to bed. Very well, staff. I will stay down here for now, but do keep the door open. I like being able to walk all over you at four in the morning, and that’s hard to do if you’ve closed the door on me.