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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The End of the Madness

Last night my Mad Men marathon came to a conclusion as I screened the series finale, "Person to Person."

What a truly odd show this was, a period soap opera with top-calibre acting and production value, but with a truly languid pace and a meandering, almost directionless, plot. Not long ago I asked if Don Draper would ever learn, and I suppose, in a way, he does; in the final minutes, Don learns he's simply an ad man, and by implication he goes on to create (in the world of the show) perhaps the greatest ad of all time, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," for Coca-Cola. That, at least, is my interpretation of the final scene; others may disagree. One might ask if the show's ending means Don's occasional fumbling toward developing empathy and conscience have all been for naught, that he allows his singular talent to completely define his character. That may not have been the intent of the producers, but thematically I think it's most reasonable conclusion for the audience to draw.

On a human level, then, I believe Don learns nothing; or, if he does learn how to be a better person, he abandons the lessons in order to focus on his career.

On the other hand, maybe I'm being too cynical; "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," is, after all, pretty aspirational on the surface; given the spirit of the era, it's very much a call to world peace, tolerance and diversity. Did Don learn something from the hippie retreat he attends in the last episode?

Or did Don cynically appropriate their look and language to sell what is, after all, a product that's not exactly a health food?

It's impossible to say, just as it's impossible to pin down Don Draper's true identity. The image he projects is as carefully crafted as one of his ads. Maybe we never saw the real man, and maybe that was the entire point of the show.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Fail

I amuse myself each year by filling in an Oscar ballot to try and guess who might win the Academy Awards. This year the Academy handed out 30 Oscars. Here are my guesses for each category:

Best Picture: La La Land (actual winner: Moonlight, after some confusion)
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight (actual winner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land)
Foreign Language Film: The Salesman (CORRECT)
Actress in a Leading Role: Emma Stone, La La Land (CORRECT)
Actor in a Leading Role: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (CORRECT)
Actor in a Supporting Role: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight (CORRECT)
Actress in a Supporting Role: Viola Davis, Fences (CORRECT)
Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea (CORRECT)
Adapted Screenplay: Hidden Figures (actual winner: Moonlight)
Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings (actual winner: Zootopia)
Film Editing: La La Land (actual winner: Hacksaw Ridge)
Sound Editing: La La Land (actual winner: Arrival)
Sound Mixing: La La Land (actual winner: Hacksaw Ridge)
Visual Effects: The Jungle Book (CORRECT)
Short Film, Animated: Blind Vaysha (actual winner: Piper)
Short Film, Live Action: Timecode (actual winner: Sing)
Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America (CORRECT)
Documentary Short Subject: Joe's Violin (actual winner: The White Helmets)
Original Score: La La Land (CORRECT)
Original Song: "City of Stars" (CORRECT)
Production Design: La La Land (CORRECT)
Makeup: Star Trek Beyond (actual winner: Suicide Squad)
Cinematography: La La Land (CORRECT)
Costume Design: La La Land (actual winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)

That's 12 correct guesses out of 30, or a miserable 40 percent, my worst score in quite some time.

As for the show itself, Jimmy Kimmel did a great job, and I hope he returns. I was happy to see the continuation of his long-running rivalry with Matt Damon, and I'm a little surprised that he didn't blame the Best Picture mixup on Matt. That would have been something to see...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Best Pictures, 2017

Leaving aside the question of who will win the Best Picture Oscar at tonight's Academy Awards (everyone says it's going to be La La Land), here are my thoughts on this year's nine nominees, ranked in order from those I liked least to best. I don't think this was a particularly strong crop of nominees, for the record, with only a couple of true standouts.

9. Hacksaw Ridge. There's nothing particularly wrong with this film, but at its core this is just another war movie with nothing novel to distinguish it. Of course the true story behind the film is an amazing bit of history and a remarkable testament to the power of courage and personal conviction, but its translation to film brings nothing new to the table.

8. Fences. An adaptation of the acclaimed play, I would imagine that Fences works better on stage than it does on film. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are great, but I can't help but think this intensely personal drama really needs the immediacy and intimacy of the stage.

7. La La Land. I love musicals, but this left me cold. It's just another iteration of well-worn Hollywood tropes that were overused by the mid-1970s.

6. Hidden Figures. I enjoyed this, to be sure; I'm a huge space buff, and I value any story that reveals more about the early days of the U.S. space program, particularly how the organization dealt with (and was suffused by) the open racism of the day. And the three leads are genuinely terrific. It's a solid story, well told, but it plays out a bit like a television movie-of-the-week...but one from before the amazing television renaissance we've been experiencing for the last decade or so.

5. Lion. I found the first half of Lion both riveting and heartbreaking; it's hard not to sympathize with a helpless little boy lost thousands of kilometres from home through no fault of his own. But once that little boy is adopted by a kindly Australian couple, the drama loses a bit of its momentum. The genuinely moving ending saves it, though.

4. Moonlight. As a privileged white male, it's very difficult for me to truly understand the struggles of the characters depicted in this film - gay black men living in the ghetto, coming to terms with their identities. I appreciate Moonlight's bravery in depicting the raw reality of these struggles, but the presentation is somewhat oblique, leaving me to feel as if this film will resonate much more strongly with people who have had more direct experience living in (or at least near) that world.

3. Arrival. I love Ted Chiang's short stories, and Arrival is based on one of the best of them, so my appreciation of the film should be tempered by that bias. But I think Dennis Villeneuve did a great job of adapting a structurally complex story, while at the same time showing just how frustrating and dangerous a first contact situation could be. And Amy Adams is great, as always.

2. Hell or High Water. This may seem like just another old-fashioned crime caper, but I think it really captures the desperation being endured by the growing numbers of people being left behind by the world's rapidly changing economy. Left without hope for the future by increasingly faceless institutions utterly lacking in empathy, some are driven to desperate measures. The consequences are predictably tragic on both sides of the protagonist/antagonist divide. And the film's final moments are truly haunting.

1. Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck carries the weight of this story on his shoulders, and his efforts are truly stunning. The tale unwinds in bits and pieces, so that at first we don't understand why Affleck's Boston handyman is such a bitter jerk. We learn he has all the reason in the world for acting that way; he's a truly broken man, shattered by the guilt of his culpability for a horrific night that took away everything he loved. In flashback, we see the happy life he once led, the good (if imperfect) man he once was, which makes his loss all the more devastating. And the film actually has the courage to show that sometimes, that which is broken can never be mended. Life goes on, whether we want it to or not. It's a profoundly unsettling movie, and I think that's what makes it great. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Another birthday...sigh. Here I am, turning six, in Leaf Rapids in 1975. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mush, Mush

Here's another photo of the dog sledding race at the Leaf Rapids Winter Carnival, sometime in the mid-70s. That looks like an insurmountable lead to me. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Leaf Rapids Winter Carnival

Back in the 1970s, the Leaf Rapids Winter Carnival featured, among other things, a competitive dog sledding race. I have only the vaguest memories of this event, but it must have been something to see. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the carnival still exists, though I wonder...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Seventh Stooge

Someone should make a 3 Stooges short from the perspective of a medical professional who witnesses, with incredulity, the Stooges' antics. "He should have a concussion!" "Why aren't all of his bones broken?"

I think it would be a riot.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Will Don Draper Ever Learn?

I'm almost through season six of Mad Men, and I must say that Don Draper is one of the most frustrating characters in television. Somewhere in there I'm sure there's a good person struggling to get out, but...he makes the same mistakes over and over and over again.

Maybe his epiphany comes in season seven. Or maybe he'll cheat on his wife, overindulge his bad habits, and come up with one last brilliant ad concept. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

I Ain't Heavy, I'm His Brother

I'm not sure why we did this, but luckily there were no injuries. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Scout

Here's Dad in 1961 as a scout, somewhere in Manitoba. Maybe Dad can identify the place and the car. He would have been 19 years old here. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

ATCO Sunrise

Farewell, ATCO, and thank you for three and a half years of growth, learning and new experiences. On to the next thing! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Cheat

You thought I forgot and
Maybe I did but
You'll never know for sure because I
Can travel back in time and you can't
And now this post was always there all along

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Wigwagging my tongue
Across the wrinkled chocolate strands
Sugary DNA
Impatience strikes
Teeth savage the soft caramel innards
So much more satisfying
Than Pink Elephant Popcorn
The children are vomiting
All over the Midi Mart's gravel garden of northerly delights

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Extra Love

Sylvia surprised me today with an oversized novelty card! I love this sort of thing - almost as much as I love wee Sylvia Boucher! Ooooooooo

Monday, February 13, 2017

Leduc Lightning Storm

One night in the late 1980s, my friend Keith and I visited the graveyard in Leduc; it may even have been Halloween. I shot some photos, including this one; I believe I achieved the affect by shooting the tail lights of Keith's car while jerking the camera. I think it turned out pretty well. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ceiling Cat is Watching U Bark Ur Shin

A couple of weeks ago, Sean barked his shin. So I sent him this ceiling cat meme. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Fireplug

Back in 1986, I participated in a Jostens-sponsored workshop as part of my work on the Leduc Composite High School yearbook club. I think it took place a high school in either Vegreville or Camrose - I'm not sure which. During the event, I noticed this painted fireplug and took a photo. Sadly, I wasn't smart enough to stand to the left or right so that my shadow wouldn't interfere with the image. I wonder if this hydrant is still painted this way? 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Starring Earl as Earl in Toilet Chase

As the video above explains, I'm playing the part of myself as I appeared in Toilet Chase, an unproduced screenplay from the early 1990s. I'm unsure, as of yet, how to critique my own performance, except to say that I need to keep Brendan Hunter's advice in mind: this is a more intimate performance format than some others, so I need to be cautious about overplaying some moments, as I feel I have here. I also noted some engineering issues - I clearly have to figure out how to properly set the microphone, my own position, and my own volume levels.

Even with the hiccups, this was a fun exercise. Wouldn't it be cool if Jeff, Ron, Susan and Allan recorded their parts? Then I could create a real radio play, and the dream of producing some version of Toilet Chase would be reality. Heck, Jeff could animate it! 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Milk Gag

There's a communal fridge at work that contains several cartons of milk, presumably so my colleagues can use it to lighten their coffee. I thought it would be amusing if I bought my own container of milk and then lurked in the coffee room, waiting for someone to appear. Then I would take a hearty swig from the carton, and when they react in horror - "How can you drink from the carton, uggghh!" I'll say "What? I've been doing this since I started here." 

Monday, February 06, 2017

A Graphic Interpretation of The Villain and the Chimp

To my surprise and delight, my friend Jeff has drawn upon his bottomless well of talent to interpret my performance from yesterday's post. I hadn't realized that there was enough meat in my work to create this lively vignette, but I attribute that more to Jeff's genius than my neophyte attempts at acting. Check it out!

This is as good a time as any for a plug for Jeff's work: I've actually commissioned a couple of pieces from Jeff, and I've been absolutely thrilled by the results every time. Jeff consistently performs beyond expectations and has a remarkable gift for taking a client's ideas and turning them into pure gold. I'd say that even if Jeff weren't one of my oldest friends.

Here's the custom playmat Jeff painted for Gaming & Guinness IX. It was a huge hit. Here's the playmat he made for Sean.

I could go on and on, but I really encourage readers to visit JSVB: Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog. Start by reviewing the Showcase section, where Jeff has grouped a small selection of his best stuff. As you'll see, he's incredibly versatile.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Villain and the Chimp

Before you play the video, please read below for context. 

Last Sunday I participated in my very first voice acting class, overseen by the talented and melodious Brendan Hunter, a professional actor and voice talent based in Calgary. Each student was asked to read two parts for a hypothetical Honda Civic radio commercial, the announcer role for that same commercial, and the protagonist of a short snippet of animation.

The video above captures my performance of that third scenario. In this exercise, students were asked to read the role of one of two characters in the scene, and to react to various sound effects noted in the script. Rather than playing off another actor in the booth, we had to imagine how a non-present actor might read the other character's lines and use that to inform our own interpretation of our dialogue. So you'll hear me reacting to lines and sounds you can't hear.

Before the engineer started recording, I informed Brendan that I interpreted my character as a "Disney villain fallen on hard times." Brendan threw a monkey wrench into the works - so to speak - by having students read the part a second time, but this time as a random archetype; in my case, I had to interpret the role as if I were a freezing monkey.

Play the video above to hear how it all turned out!

While I have no illusions about the challenge of turning this into a career, I had a great experience. Brendan is a very knowledgeable and encouraging coach, and I look forward to future classes.

If you're interested in voice acting, I encourage you to visit to sign up for classes. You can also follow Brendan on Facebook at

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Flash Fact

There was a really nice moment in the latest episode of The Flash. Cisco Ramon is speaking to H.R. Wells while they prepare to face the crisis of the week. Things are looking grim (as is usual in the world of television drama), and H.R. wonders why Cisco is prepared to possibly sacrifice his life on H.R.'s behalf, considering they've had a somewhat adversarial relationship.

"You know what I love about working on this team?" Cisco asks. "We invest in each other."

The conversation continues in that vein, with the two men exchanging some pithy dialogue about friendship and family. It's not Shakespeare - far from it - but it was genuine and uplifting, and the kind of teachable moment that I think is popular culture's saving grace and most essential public service.

In the wider world, the reality outside television's box, we invest in each other. Not as much or as consistently as we should, but we invest in each other, and any progress we make is a result of those investments.

In the end, Cisco saves H.R. and the team even makes a friend out of an enemy along the way. I think that's a pretty positive message. It gives me hope that even in these dark times, there are still so many people out there, at all levels of society, who think it's still worthwhile to send out those good vibrations. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Terms of Endearment

Things Sylvia has called me:

  • "filthy animal"
  • "savage"
  • "dirty baby"
  • "filthy baby"
  • "bad baby"
  • "deviant"
  • "psychopath"
  • "deviant psychopath"
  • "monster"
  • "weirdo"
  • "ball of mush"
  • "bad bunny rabbit"
  • "hoarder"
  • "junk collector"
  • "OCD about all the wrong things"
  • "banana"
  • "rotter"
  • "cuddle bunny"
  • "cuddle buddy"
  • "fussy baby"
  • "cranky baby"
  • "Earl"

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Flags on the Border

Here's a photo of the border between Canada and the United States - perhaps between Manitoba and North Dakota? It would have been shot sometime in the 1970s. How peaceful it looks. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Nail Salon

On Saturday morning, Sean and I were running some errands; we spotted a nail salon. A spirited discussion followed: how cool would it be, we speculated, to open up a store called "The Nail Salon," but to make it a place where you could buy all kinds of nails? The storefront and interior would be branded so as to make it seem like a place where you get manicures and pedicures, but in reality customers would only be able to buy nails.

I think this business plan has promise.