Monday, May 26, 2014


Ben Stiller is back!  Yes the man who brought us Zoolander and Tropic Thunder has directed a film called "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".  Stiller also stars in it as the title character—a guy who works at Life Magazine on the eve of downsizing, and suffers from a little too much daydreaming and not enough actual life living. 

This film has three big things going against it:

1. Ben Stiller: I personally really like Ben Stiller, but every time the guy tries to do a semi-serious movie or a drama, people just rail on him.  Yes, Zoolander was funny, but can't Stiller ever try to make a serious film without people dogging on him?  "There aren't many laughs," critics moan, but that is the point—he wanted to make a serious film with some funny moments, not a hilarious movie with a couple of heartfelt scenes. 

2. Feel Good Movie: I don't what the problem is with our society lately, but it seems that whenever a "feel good" movie hits the theatres or the DVD shelves, people are bent on knocking it.  This movie is one long "life your life" film, similar to Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button—so if you liked those films, then you will probably like this film too. 

3. Based On A Book (or Story): One of the biggest complaints about the movie was that it was not as funny as the original story, not as authentic as the original story—the original short story that was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1939.  If you can find twenty people who have read that short story, then that is more than I could find—about twenty more in fact.  Just a quick question: have you ever seen a movie that was better than the book?  Ever?  It is pretty rare indeed.  Just enjoy the film for what it is. 

So what is it?  No spoilers, but as far as romantic-comedy-dramas go, this one was a home run for me.  Stiller winds up on an adventure that takes him literally all over the world, and there is some mystery in the script as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed it—the story is outrageous, but that is the point of the film, and for that reason, I give Stiller credit for going "all out" to make a big, wide, loud film.  Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn are terrific. (Sean Penn is always terrific in every film, from Mystic River to Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  Dude!)

If you are looking for a "feel good" movie with some great cinematography of Greenland and Iceland, and some inspiration about rolling with the punches and living an interesting life, I highly recommend this film.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Have you ever been watching a movie and you remember that you have seen that guy before?  In another movie?  I had that experience about three times this past year with Jake Gyllenhaal.  I recently watched a movie called "End of Watch" which is amazing if you like South Central Los Angeles gang-related violence.  And who doesn't!  I went back and looked through his filmography and realized that he has a history of making some really high quality films.  Here are some that I really enjoyed:

Prisoners (2013): I thought this was going to be another "ho hum" crime drama, but with Hugh Jackman, Gyllenhaal and the great actor Paul Dano, it is above average.  It starts out with a predictable "girls go missing" plot, but Jackman takes matters into his own hands while the police (Gyllenhaal) are trying to figure out what is going on.  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, although I have not taken candy from strangers since watching this film.

End of Watch (2012): Gyllenhaal plays a "normal" L.A. cop along with his sidekick/police partner played brilliantly by Michael Pena.  This is a super-violent and scary movie, and I absolutely loved it.  Not for the faint of heart.   Did I mention it was violent?  What I really enjoyed was that the two cops are normal guys—not heroes in the traditional sense of the word.  After seeing this movie I am so terrified of Los Angeles that I don't even want to fly over California on the way to Hawaii.

Source Code (2011): I am a science-fiction fan, and by that I mean real science fiction.  Light sabres and wizards are totally cool, and I am not dissing the wizards.  No spells please.  But there aren't many really good hard science fiction movies.  This is a really good science fiction movie.  Gyllenhaal places a guy on a train, and they keep reliving the same 8 minutes or so.  For two hours.  Okay, it is way better than I am making it sound. 

Brothers (2009): I figured if Gyllenhaal was teamed up with Spider-Man and Queen Amidala, you have a blockbuster right there.  Well, I thought this movie was going to be about some guy who runs away to Afghanistan and the other guy is "making whoopie" with the girlfriend, but that is not actually what the movie is about.  It is a tense, psychological drama and the acting was superb.  The lesson here: don't get caught by the Taliban and have a hunky brother.  

Zodiac (2007): I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  It is long (162 minutes—almost three hours) so you may have to take a break to go to the bathroom, eat food or pay your electricity bill.  But it is worth it—there are some great shots of San Fransisco in the film, and the movie is actually scary (not "gory" but actually creepy and feeling real) plus it is based on a true story.  If you like smart detective movies, this one has some great plot points and will keep you guessing. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Recently the Calgary Human Society rescued numerous dogs in the neighbourhood of Acadia.  This is a really sad story, and many people were shocked that this "house of animals" happens in our city.  All too frequently, we are discovering a house where someone is housing over 50 cats, or a house with 30 or more dogs.  It seems to be that only after abuse or neglect has been clearly established that the authorities can get involved and rescue the animals.

I immediately recognized the Acadia situation—I bought the house right next door to this person and lived there from 2000 to 2006.  Simply put, it was awful.  If I was a renter, I could have put in my notice and left—but I was a home owner.  And as any home owner can attest, you are "married" to the property, at least for a while.  I can say from experience that there are no laws currently on the books that protect neighbours, or the animals, from anyone in Calgary owning any number of dogs or cats.

When I lived in Acadia, there were eleven dogs permanently housed next door.  I know this exact number because I talked with several Animal Services Bylaw Officers during the time that I was there.  

It was very frustrating.  I would never hurt an animal, so I couldn't get mad at the dogs—they were constantly barking, yipping and running around—basically being dogs.  It wasn't their fault.  One dog barking once in a while is no big deal.  Two can be a bit annoying, but hey, life happens.  But eleven?  It was literally a "barknado" of noise—one leaf would blow by and the dogs would wind themselves up into a frenzy.  One dog would excite the others, and it was incredibly loud.  Even when the dogs were all inside, and the windows and the doors were closed, I could hear barks.  I never slept in late during the five years I lived there.  From 7:00 am until midnight, every day, there were dogs scurrying around and barking.  Often they were crated up in the basement for most of the day.  What kind of life is that for these animals?

I don't blame the Animal Bylaw Officers—I asked them what they could do, and they can basically enforce the law.  The law in Calgary says that you can't neglect or abuse an animal.  So the bylaw officer would offer their sympathies to me—I was unlucky.  (Life lesson: if you are ever going to buy a house, peek over the neighbour's fence first!)  However, there was no crime against owning an unlimited number of dogs.  I would stack up the noise complaints, and every few months, they would knock on her door and talk with her.  The bylaw officer would then come over and explain to me that the dogs were all licensed, and that there was no neglect—and then they would leave.  

What can a neighbour do?  I was aware that the situation wasn't good (by my standards, anyway) but the house where the dogs lived wasn't my house.  It was only when there was excessive noise (barking that lasted for an "extended period of time") that I could complain.  I can totally sympathize with the City of Calgary Bylaw Officers—they have to enforce the law as written.   

My contention would be now that this has happened, yet again, I think that most people would agree that we need some sort of common sense legislation.  Whether or not there was abuse or neglect, I think that most people would think it is unusual (and possibly unhealthy to the animals and even other neighbours) to have a certain number of dogs.  Whatever the number is, there is a number in most people's minds that would be "the maximum number" that makes sense.  

Currently in Calgary, there are no laws that prevent any of us from owning an unlimited number of domestic animals (like cats and dogs).  I can own ninety cats if I wanted to.  Farm animals are generally not allowed as property within city limits—I cannot own a cow or a chicken and keep it in my background or my basement.  I can understand why (from a health & safety standpoint, or an ethical standpoint, or a noise / pollution standpoint).  However, dogs and cats are generally exempt from this law.  Why do we have laws for one type of animal and not for the other?  Wouldn't that same logic apply to any animal, if the number is eventually high enough?  Why can I own thirty cats, or eighteen dogs, but not one chicken? 

I am generally not a fan of the government telling me what I can and can’t do on my own property—I should be allowed to stack my entire living room full of old newspapers or empty jam jars if I want.  If I have 800 Sports Illustrated magazines in my basement, I’m not hurting anyone.  That makes sense.  But when there are living, breathing animals at risk, there is a moral responsibility to protect those animals not just from neglect and abuse, but from generally unacceptable living conditions. 

If a cat or a dog owner suddenly dies, the pet living at the house might also die too.  If the owner is gone, the poor animal might go for a week without water and eventually die.  As sad as that is, imagine if you had ninety or one hundred cats all depending on you (and only you) for their lives.  Is this ethical?  Is this necessary?  We can argue that we have the right to do it—but is there not also a responsibility to have an animal’s welfare also taken into consideration?  How many dogs can we ethically stuff into a bungalow?

It's not just the animals who suffer.  I'm sure that the bylaw officers are frustrated—they are seeing people living in dilapidated houses, surrounded by an extreme number of dogs and cats, and yet don't have the legal authority to do anything about it until abuse or neglect is clearly evident.  It's also a drain on public resources to have taxpayer money involved to now inspect and certify that the house where the dogs were taken from is healthy enough for human (and animal) habitation.  And from a property owner and neighbour's standpoint, this is like having a grow-op next door—the house is basically condemned.  Fellow neighbours cannot be happy about that.  It's an eyesore and a drain on the community's property values. 
Montreal has a maximum animal bylaw.  Winnipeg has a maximum animal bylaw.  London, Ontario has a very detailed maximum animal bylaw.  Lots of cities are doing it.

Regardless of what the number is—three animals, four animals, seven animals—we need to at least get the discussion going.  We need a maximum number.  Any number.  Infinity is not an acceptable number of animals to house in a residential property within the City of Calgary.  Having a law would at least give the Bylaw Officers something on the books so that they can remove cats and dogs from an owner when the number reaches a dangerous amount from a sanitary and animal-welfare standpoint.

What can we do?  Write your City of Calgary Councillor and explain that you care about the welfare of the animals, you would like to help give our Bylaw Officers a law with some teeth, and help stop these situations from going south very quickly.  Here is our chance to get involved and voice our concerns.  If we don't, it is a virtual certainty that this tragedy will happen again.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I admit it—in some cases, I am the idiot.  I like to complain that lots of other people are the dummies, but occasionally (very rarely) I am the dummy.
In my defense, I was five years old.  Okay, I guess I should start at the beginning.  We all love our moms.  They feed us, they clothe us, and they yell at us when we throw our sister onto the coffee table and the coffee table breaks.  Do I wish that my sister got in more trouble when she was “on my side” in the back seat of the station wagon?  Absolutely.  No one is perfect. 
My mom gave me some “tough love” when I was five years old, and it was one of the following:

1. A “life lesson” that stayed with me all these years and helped make me who I am today
2. A severe mental and emotional scarring that has haunted my actions ever since

Either way, I have to respect my mom’s decision to yell at a small child.  It worked!  Here’s the story:

Thirty-two degrees Celsius.  The middle of summer.  Sweltering, boiling heat.  The family camper is static on the shores of British Columbia.  My mom, dad, my sister and me are patiently waiting for the ferry to show up.
Well, okay—most of us were waiting patiently.  I was being a jerk.  Did I mention I was five?  I was asking at random intervals where the ferry was, and why wasn’t it here already?  It was totally random—I was asking either every two seconds or every three seconds, depending on my mood. 
My dad finally had enough.  He did the honorable thing and went for a short walk—and took my sister with him.  They were going to walk along the huge lineup of cars and endure the sweaty summer heat just to escape my constant yapping. 
That left me and my mummy.
The mom smokes and has for her whole life.  I used to take the tin foil wrapper and make little miniature trophies for my action figures.  If it was a gold wrapper, then Captain America won the championship for punching Lex Luthor. 
We had a camper that sat on the back of a pickup truck.  My mom was sitting in the camper with the back door wide open, trying to get some peace through nicotine since it wasn’t happening with me.
“Mummy, mummy... I would like a cigarette too!” I yelled from two feet away.
That, my friends, is the correct answer.  Parent of the year award please!
I persisted.  “Mummy, mummy... I want a cigarette!”
I started tugging on her leg.  “Mummy!  MUMMMMMY!”
This went on for five or ten minutes before she finally snapped like a matchstick.
I had never gotten my way before so I stopped in stunned silence.  She handed me a lit cigarette.
You know how Bill Clinton said that he never inhaled?
I grabbed that cigarette with my tiny five-year-old hands and inhaled.  Deep and long.
Then the coughing began.  I’m not a medical professional, but I estimate that my coughing fit lasted between five and seven days.  That’s what it felt like, anyways.  My mum claims that it was thirty seconds, but I seem to remember it differently. 
As I was lying on the floor of the camper, gasping for breath and trying to figure out why adults enjoyed doing this sort of thing, I realized that I needed to drink some water.  I was dying.  This was my last request.  “Water,” I gasped.
So far, my mom has been doing pretty good.  A lot of hard-core disciplinarians are thinking, “right on, this lady knows how to handle the inmates at the prison!”  Well, it gets better.
There was no water. 
She handed me one-eighth of an apple.
Here I was, convulsing on the floor, going into what today we would define as a medical seizure or some sort of demonic possession, and I was sucking on an apple slice.  You know those old “apple ladies” you see at craft stores, that are made out of dehydrated apples?  Well, cut that into eight pieces and that was what I ended up with.  I sucked all the juice out of that apple slice.
With tears rolling down my face, I sat up from the floor of the camper, dizzy and confused. 
My mom got right in my face.
“DON’T EVER SMOKE!  I smoke and I hate it!”  She was crying too.
At that moment, my dad and my sister popped their head around the corner of the camper.  He saw my red face, snot dribbling down my nose, and my mom sitting on the camper couch crying.
“I think we’ll do another lap,” he mumbled and disappeared with my sister for another half hour. 

The moral of the story is that moms are great!  I never started smoking, nor have I had any desire to even smell smoke.  Or even see a cigarette.  Or sit in a parking lot and wait for a ferry.
Thanks mom for dishing out the tough love—I am over forty years old and I haven’t been convicted of a crime even one time!  You must be doing something right.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


There is dedicated fan base in Calgary devoted to hard-core metal.  Bands like Exit Strategy have been going strong for years.  Founded in 2006, Exit Strategy is considered "Deathgrind" metal—it is fast, really heavy and focuses and brutal, intense sound.  

Exit Strategy formed in 2006 and recently released their third album, "The Atrocity Machine".  I had a chance to catch up with founding member and bass player Greg Musgrave.

Q: Greg, you have been in bands for over twenty years.  What is the most enjoyable part about being in a band?

A: My favourite part of being in a band would have to be the live aspect of when you are in a room with a bunch of people that are loosing their shit being your music affects them on such a level that it become a vibe that both the band & the crowd share & is truly one of the most intimate things that I’ve experienced as an artist, which is a large part of why I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. 
Q: What is the least enjoyable part?  Or most difficult part? 

A: Like most things, it’s the business side of things & actually managing & running the band like a business that can be the least enjoyable, while most certainly also being a necessary evil so to speak.

Q: The stereotype of metal fans is that they are loud and dangerous.  I have been to lots of metal shows and the fans couldn't be nicer or more polite.  Does it bug you that metal fans get a bad rap?

A: Yes & no. The metal community has always been a very underground scene, and those who inhabit that scene find refuge among like-minded people who are more than likely not the status quo individual in their workplace or certain social circles. At a metal show they get to tap into that primal feeling that metal brings out in those who really enjoy it & are embraced by those who share their passion. I’ve played hundreds of shows, and I've been to hundreds of shows beyond that, and I can honestly count on one hand the amount of times that a fight has broken out.  Ironically, it’s when some drunken jock asshole has wandered into the wrong bar and starts something with some long-haired skinny kid who he thinks he can prey on; but news flash bucko: metalheads look out for their own, and if you fuck with someone who has nothing to provoke you, and they are in the company of a tight-knit community like the metal scene, then chances are you’re in for a rough night. 

Q: Can you walk us through how you actually go about making a CD?  Let's say someone has written a bunch of songs and can play them - how do they actually go about getting a CD?

A: Good question—and one where the logistics of achieving a recording has changed in a big way over the last ten years. If you are an underground band looking to cut a record, but don’t know anyone and are on a tight budget (which most bands are), there are numerous independent people that record bands for a fraction of the price of going to a professional studio.  Quite often, if you look for people that are within the genre of music that you play, will often get you a result more like what you were looking for just because they understand the genre of music, and they know how to transfer that essence on tape so to speak. For instance, all the CDs that I’ve made over the last 9 years have all been recorded by the band, as we have people within the band with the appropriate gear (and more importantly the know how of how to use it and achieve exactly what we were going for when we wrote the songs). My drummer records bands all the time for a fraction of what you would pay in a studio, and his results are garnishing him more work all the time.

Q: What is the decision-making process like in your band?  What happens when there are disagreements?
A: Being in a band is very much like having an extended family, especially when you’ve been playing together as long as I have been playing with the guys I’ve been fortunate enough to play with. Many times duties are delegated to those who are best suited, and more importantly the most reliable to ensure that those things are done. I’ve been in bands like Caveat & Phantom Limb where I was the key song writer, so I made most of the main decisions & handled pretty much all of the business side of things because (not to sound egotistical), but I am good at it—largely because I’ve been doing it for so long and I know who to contact for shows, merchandise, PR, etc. 

Other times, like in Exit Strategy, many of the members take part in certain duties which make the stress of running a band much less when it’s not falling on one set of shoulders. As for disagreements; were all full grown men, and shit happens sometimes and things are argued about. At the end of the day we are like brothers and we sort things out no matter what, being we are all a part of something that is bigger than one person and you make compromises and figure things out. Luckily I have been working with these guys for so long that we all get along great after all these years as one of the hardest things to find is not only a band of like minded musicians that are musically all on the same page, but personalities that work well together. Personalities & ego are what breaks bands up 90% of the time.

Q: What does the year look like ahead for your band?  Are there any projects, events or shows coming up that you are excited about?

A: Ya, we just released our 3rd album called The Atrocity Machine & have two tours planned—one out west in the BC area in April, and another planned tour in the summer going out to Eastern Canada to promote the album. We are also in the midst of making out first pro video with acclaimed video directer Doug Cook, which is coming along amazing and will be unlike any metal video ANYONE has ever seen, so we are stoked about that. Other than that the axe will continue to grind, as will we.