Monday, August 11, 2014

Thinking about Robin Williams

Robin Williams was one of those performers who, no matter how old you were, was always doing something you could enjoy.

As a child, it was like he was handing me performances - like the genie in Aladdin, or the unforgettable Mrs Doubtfire, or his Peter Pan in Hook - and those performances were just for me. They were so special and bright and full of manic love and joy. His face was childlike with wonder and he invited you inside to show you the new world. And who could forget his amazing voicework in FernGully! Or the look on Alan Parrish's bearded face when he demanded to know, "What year is it?!" in Jumanji.

No one can tell me they didn't want him to invent them some Flubber.

In my teenage years was when I discovered - with rapturous glee - that while being this elfish, charming star of family-friendly films, this manic comedian was also a dirty old man, filled with sex jokes and dirty words and screaming; a bottle of insanity uncorked. That was the day I discovered Live on Broadway 2000. My eyes popped, opening for what seemed the first time, as I wept with tears of hilarity, tipping over and falling out of my chair as I watched the whole DVD in my room at home.

Comedy could be like this? It could open up the brain and just let it rapid fire ideas and concepts for a solid hour? Make you laugh so hard you wept and laughed and needed more?

It was around this time that I first saw The Birdcage. And would come home day after day and manage to catch Mork & Mindy reruns on Foxtel. No matter where I went, no matter how old I was, this man was always making me laugh anew. And for wholly different reasons, I was dying of laughter in Death to Smoochy.

As I got older, I discovered his serious drama and thriller performances. One Hour Photo and Insomnia, Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, The Night Listener and Bicentennial Man, which left me weeping by the end. This man with the rubber, comic face also had this deep darkness that he opened up for you. It was like a door had opened into his soul and you could see everything inside, his soulful eyes guiding you to where you needed to go and that he would be sure to keep you safe on the road.

I'm not going to do him the disservice of saying that every film the man did was wonderful or perfect of joyful. For every great film there were also titles like RV or License to Wed. But these just made you remember the amazing films all the more and appreciate them.

I grew up with Robin Williams guiding me. And I'm not sure where the road goes, now. The world is darker now, O Captain! My Captain!, that your bright spark has gone out. Can't we just go to Neverland? Please?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"I Write Like"

For a bit of a laugh, I used the website I Write Like to see - using their algorithm - which famous author I wrote like. Not wanting to risk that they do, in fact, keep the writing you submit for "analysis", I submitted my previous blog post about Halloween in Australia. This is what it gave me:

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

That's actually a pretty huge compliment, especially given that it was just a blog post. Give it a whirl, it's a hoot.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Costumes, Candy and Jerks

I've noticed, in the past couple of years, that Australia has taken a bit more notice of Halloween as an event. Being Canadian, this made me happy because, ever since I was a kid, Halloween has been my favourite holiday. It doesn't have any religious significance for me, it's fun and it involves a lot of candy. Also, as an actor, any opportunity to wear a costume is a win in my book.

When I first moved here, there was hardly any kind of discussion of the holiday - people barely knew what it was other than vague references from American film and TV - but I had a bunch of friends who were disappointed at the lack of it in Australia. It's a holiday that's whole purpose is fun, so why wouldn't they want it?

Now, sixteen years later, I see Halloween decorations being sold at every dollar store and almost every pub doing some kind of Halloween special - big Halloween balls, Halloween parties that are more than just five people I know - like the real Halloween that I used to know.

Recently, though, along with Halloween's rise in popularity in Australia, have been the people who have been saying things like, "This is 'Straya, we don't do Halloween, that's fuckin' American". And to them, I say, "Shut the fuck up".

This. I hate this. This is a friend's Facebook profile picture right now.

What's it to you if you don't do Halloween? If other people want to, why do you want to shit on their parade? We do Valentine's Day and that means arguably less and is less fun than Halloween. If we have the literally made up by greeting card company holiday, why can't we have the fun, dress up and eat candy holiday? It's not a day off work, it doesn't interrupt your life in any way and people enjoy it. So, you might get some people coming up to you and saying "Happy Halloween" - so what? Are you one of those people who, at Christmas, says "I don't do Christmas. Happy Holidays!" with spite on your face? No? Then shut up! Just wish it back, like a regular human and go on with your day.

I'm Jewish and I don't celebrate Christmas but if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas I'm not going to ignore them, I'll wish it back to them. It's a holiday to them, so why take that away from them? Just to be a dick? Please.

If you don't want to "do" Halloween, then don't, but don't take it away from the rest of us, you Halloween Grinch. Enjoy the candy, enjoy the costumes and shut up - it doesn't mean a thing.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Stand Back Up

I feel weary tonight. Weary and angry. If you're keeping track of how the Australian Federal Election is going, then you'll know why. If you aren't, then that's because the Australian version of Rick Santorum is currently being elected Prime Minister with what appears to be a frightening lead. The man who couldn't discuss the "technical details" of his own (very poor) internet plan. The man who opposes gay marriage. The man whose constant refrain of "Stop the Boats!" spewed from every media mouth. And the people listened.

This day is a sad day and we should mourn. Shame on us. Shame be on our heads for what we have wrought.

But tomorrow, we will stand back up. We will go on as normal. And we will fight. We will sing angry songs. We will write angry words. We will make angry art. Put on angry theatre. Make angry films. Shout with angry voices. And we will be heard.

This man has bamboozled people into letting him run our country. And we will be the laughing stock. But if this greasy prick wants any power, he is going to have to fight us tooth and nail for it. We will not just give it over to him. He has to take it. And I vow not to just let him.

I have my enemy and his name is Tony Abbott.

Sleep well. The fight is ahead of us.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

These People Don't Represent Us

While I don't believe Anita Sarkeesian - the pop culture blogger for Feminist Frequency - is a flawless crusader, I certainly don't believe she deserved the nastiness thrown at her. She fights a battle the deserves as much traction as it can, and that's female equality in video games. While I don't believe, necessarily, in the retiring of certain storytelling tropes - see Damsel in Distress, Damsel in the Fridge - as I believe they are important for some gamers to live out hero fantasies, I understand what she is saying and I support it.

Recently, at E3, there were more presentations for the Xbox One. The internet is still underwhelmed with this new beast for many reasons that aren't for this article. If you want to see some critique, it's literally all over the web. Have at. Sarkeesian had a problem with the fact that, once again, there were no games with female lead protagonists for this next generation of gaming. What followed was an onslaught so nasty it would make anyone cringe. Tweeters told her to "shut up", that she was a "cunt" and that "what did [she] expect, a cooking and cleaning game?" - are you fucking kidding me?

No, really, is this some elaborate ruse that I'm not in on? Because fuck.

She's right, you know. Sarkeesian's right. While we may have games with playable leads such as Lilith, Maya and Gaige (Borderlands, Borderlands 2), the unceremoniously named FemShep - short for Female Shepard - from the Mass Effect trilogy, Samus Aran from the Metroid series, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft, who are unabashedly awesome characters in their own rights, there are by no means enough. Most of them are over-breasted, frighteningly-skinny-waisted ridiculous creations in games with titles like Wet, DoA Beach Volleyball and Lollipop Chainsaw. DoABV is an obvious fan service game that helps to perpetrate that gaming is a Boy's Only club and that ladies aren't welcome, while Wet assures us it's titled as such for the reference to an assassin doing 'wetwork' but let's face it, there's no way it would have a male protagonist, would it?

Now, there are some new ones coming out, like Mirror's Edge 2, Dreamfall Chapters, Beyond: Two Souls, Remember Me and Sanctum 2, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking that the default video game hero isn't still a roguishly handsome, hulky, straight, white male with a bit of stubble and longish hair and a gruff voice. It's terrifying how many games' protagonists that represents. That does not take away that those games are good. I am not saying that. But we need to mix it up a little. Maybe the fact that we have a "default" hero at all is the problem.

Where are the gay heroes? The black heroes? Native Americans? Jews? I would sure love to play a gay, Jewish, black lady.


Special thanks to Caitlin Welsh for reading this and sub-editing it so I didn't sound like (too much of) a jackass.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Back From The Neverhood: Armikrog

I've been playing video games for a long time. Since our family first got a household computer, my brother and I have been playing games on it. We never had a console until Christmas 2001 saw my parents give in and buy us (me) an Xbox. However, I will always look fondly back at those days spent playing those games on the computer, installed in blocks of anywhere from one to six floppy diskettes. Commander Keen, Treasure Mountain, Gizmos and Gadgets, Operation Neptune and many, many more.

Then there came the CD games. Wow. CD-ROM's. They were something else. The games got bigger, better, more intricate. One game that I will always treasure for its oddness and its beauty is the 1996 release The Neverhood, from the creator of Earthworm Jim, Doug TenNapel. This game was a claymation, point and click adventure game that was funny, bizarre, beautiful and difficult. It was a puzzle solver with as much humour and challenge as the first Portal installment. We spent hours on that game, playing it over and over again because the characters like Klaymen, Hoborg and Klogg were so much fun.

That is why I practically screamed with excitement when I saw that the creators of The Neverhood had started a Kickstarter campaign to make a "spiritual successor" to The Neverhood. As if Skullmonkeys hadn't happened.

If you watch the Kickstarter video - and I highly recommend you do - this game looks just as fun and even more bizarre, using the same wonderful claymation techniques that made The Neverhood so awesome. And the voice talent! Veronica Belmont! Jon Heder! ROB PAULSEN! COME ON!

There are some really great rewards on this one, including copies of the game, t-shirts, art books, comic books, soundtracks and - if you've got the dough - a credit in the game as either a thank you or "additional animation". Because they teach you how to animate and then let you animate on the game!

I've pledged and I hope you will, too. Let's get these guys up and rolling!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Streetlight Manifesto Will Have the Last Victory

Streetlight Manifesto probably isn't a band a lot of people have heard of unless they're into ska-punk. They are, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands of all time. Their lyrics are wonderful stories, poems, dreams set to melancholy music that is at the same time both sad and uplifting. I can soundly say that I love everything about them. That is why it breaks my heart when I see all the terrible things they go through.

In 2005, they were robbed twice, the first time in October where $80,000 worth of gear was stolen, and then again in November in Paris, France where they lost, "the one expensive piece of equipment that wasn't stolen in last month's debacle, a 24 track hard drive recorder we've been using to document our live shows".

Since they first signed with Victory records, there had been problems. These problems are well-documented and if you're interested in the history, go to those links and enjoy being saddened by a broken music industry machine. If that's too much reading for you, to sum it up: Victory is being so hostile to their artists, namely Streetlight in this case, that Streetlight is asking people to boycott their music unless bought directly from them. This includes - allegedly (gotta keep things legal) - withholding royalties from the group as well as putting a stop to music releases they have no right to put a stop to. Again, this stuff is well-documented by the band and also RISC Store organizer, Dave.

If you go to the RISC Store right now - the band's personal merch store - you will be met with a friendly pop up window informing you of all the latest troubles. This is only following this one which informed us that lead singer Tomas Kalnoky's 3-piece acoustic trio, Toh Kay's, accompaniment album to Streelight's new record, The Hands that Thieve - entitled, appropriately, The Hand that Thieves - had been cancelled.

I once had faith in the necessity of the music industry; had faith that there was a ladder and prestige in place for a reason. Now all I see are bullies and I can't stand it. If you like the music that these guys are putting out, or even just some of the awesome t-shirts and art prints available at the RISC Store, or if you're a dedicated creative content creator yourself, please, I implore you to support them. They could really use it. I am.