Category: movies

Best of…2015

imagesI was fortunate this year, hitting the century mark (100+) both in terms of the number of books read and movies watched.

I’ve gone through my lists and compiled a roster of favourites–difficult, in many cases, to settle on a definitive order, impose a hierarchy of excellence. Every single selection brilliant in its own right and worthy of inclusion:

BEST BOOKS

Fiction:

Bleeding Edge (Thomas Pynchon)
Purity (Jonathan Franzen)
Stoner (John Williams)
Fat City (Leonard Gardner)
The Book of Aron (Jim Shepard)
Number9Dream (David Mitchell)
Something Rich and Strange (Ron Rash) Short Stories
Gaps (Bohumil Hrabal)
Young Skins (Colin Barrett) Short Stories
The Normals (David Gilbert)
Payback (Gert Ledig)
As Far as the Eye Can See (Robert Bausch)
Cain’s Book (Alexander Trocchi)
The Commissariate of Enlightenment (Ken Kalfus)
Strong Motion (Jonathan Franzen)
All That Outer Space Allows (Ian Sales)
Highrise (J.G. Ballard)
Three Men in a Boat * (Jerome K. Jerome)

Non-Fiction

The Price of Inequality (Joseph Stiglitz)
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Ilan Pappé)
Theodore Rex (Edmund Morris)
Colonel Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible (Charles Eisenstein)
Werner Herzog: Conversations (with Paul Cronin)
Orson Welles’ Last Movie: The Making of “The Other Side of the Wind” (Josh Karp)
Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun (A.J. Somerset)
My Father and Myself (J.R. Ackerley)
When in Disgrace (Budd Boetticher)

467416-hard-to-be-a-god-hard-to-be-a-god-poster-artBEST FILMS:

“Hard to Be a God” (Directed by Aleksei German)
“Amores Perros” * (Dir. Alejandro Inarritu)
“Leviathan” (Dir. Andrey Zuyagintsev)
“Sightseers” (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” (Dir. Jaromil Jires)
“Blue Ruin” (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
“Winter Sleep” (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
“Gomorrah” (Dir. Matteo Garrone)
“Amarcord” (Dir. Federico Fellini)
“Boyhood” (Dir. Richard Linklater)
“L’il QuinQuin” (Dir. Bruno Dumont)
“Time Crimes” (Dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
“The Devil’s Backbone” (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)
“The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” (Dir. Werner Herzog)
“What We Do in the Shadows” (Dir. Taika Waititi; Jermaine Clement)
“Berberian Sound Studio” * (Dir. Peter Strickland)
“2001: A Space Odyssey” * (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
“Chinatown” * (Dir. Roman Polanski)

Honorable Mention:

“Closely Watched Trains” (Dir. Jiri Menzel)
“Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune'” (Dir. Frank Pavich)
“Wild Tales” (Dir. Damian Szifron)
“Satyricon” (Dir. Federico Fellini)
“Ex Machina” (Dir. Alex Garland)
“Land of Silence and Darkness” (Dir. Werner Herzog)
“Stroszek” (Dir. Werner Herzog)
“Nightcrawler” (Dir. Dan Gilroy)
“Her” (Dir. Spike Jonze)
“Maps to the Stars” (Dir. David Cronenberg)

PLAYLIST (Musical Favourites)

Tom Morello “The Nightwatchman” (World Wide Protest Songs)
Ty Segall “Manipulator”
Porcupine Tree “Up the Down Staircase”
Pere Ubu “Raygun Suitcase”
The Stooges “Raw Power”
Paul Banks “The Base”
Merle Haggard “I Am What I Am”
J.D. Crowe and the New South “Lefty’s Old Guitar”

Best Comedy: Bill Hicks “Salvation: Live at Oxford”

TV

“Rick & Morty” (Seasons 1 & 2)
“True Detective” (Series 1)
“The Mighty Boosh” (Series 1-3)

  • Denotes “Previously Read” or “Previously Viewed”

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Enchanted days

fenceThis post is long overdue—hey, what can I tell you, it’s been crazy around here. Like a zoo without keepers.

That nasty bout of sciatica (see: previous posts) threw off my summer schedule and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Summertime (for whatever reason) is the season when I usually bear down; most of the major projects I’ve undertaken in the past decade were initiated from June-August. Who can figure these things? You’d think I’d be more creative and productive during our infamously long Canadian winters but that just isn’t the case. When the days heat up, so do I.

We’ve managed a fair amount of traveling, as you can tell from the accompanying pictures.

A trip to the sand hills (west side of the province, stretching from Leader, almost down to Swift Current) and we just got back from a few days at Waskesiu Lake (Prince Albert National Park) , hanging out with some people very dear to our hearts. Two very different ecosystems—we’re blessed with a variety of them in this big, tall province of ours and Sherron and I are determined to visit as many as we can. I’d really like to get a good look at the huge sand dunes on the south side of Lake Athabasca but that’s way up in the boonies, inaccessible to those whose wallets are on the thin side. I’m drawn to desert climes—there has to be a reason why three of the world’s major religions have their origins in the dry, pitiless environs of the Middle East. Something about a wasteland, something to do with privation, life/existence whittled down to the bare minimum.

While I was prostrate with back pain there wasn’t a whole lot I could manage. I either dozed (I was on quite a few pain killers), watched Adult Swim ‘toons (“Rick & Morty” was a favorite distraction) on a borrowed iPad or roughed out storyboards for a couple of film projects I’ve been pondering for at least ten years. If I had to pick one thing to slot in at the top of my “bucket list”, it would be writing and directing a full-length, independently produced movie. Both of my scenarios could be shot on a shoestring here in Saskatchewan and neither would be over 70 minutes long. If an hour and change was good enough for Val Lewton, it’s good enough for me.

I won’t go into detail, but one of them is intended as an homage to German “Expressionist” films of the 1920s and the other is an end-of-the-world saga that’s also a nod to weird, obscure 1970s flix like Jodorowsky’s “El Topo” and Monte Hellman’s “The Shooting”.

In other words, don’t be expecting to see either movie coming to your local Cineplex or Galaxy any time soon. bark

But I felt it was important to at least get them down on paper so once I was able to sit at my desk again, I typed up my notes and concocted two film “treatments” (30 pages each) that summarized the plots and major characters. Done.

Now I find myself in a strange, unfamiliar place, at least as far as I’m concerned:

I have no pending projects, no looming deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.

My desk is clear.

I can’t recall this happening before. Now what do I do? Aye, that’s the question…and over the coming weeks I’m going to be feeding a lot of ideas and odd notions into the ol’ hopper. Possible stories, short films, visual projects (collages, etc.).  I have no inkling of what I’m going to tackle next, not the slightest clue. That’s exciting. And terrifying. Mostly terrifying. How does a workaholic keep from going absolutely bonkers when he has nothing to engage him? Well, if you’re Sherlock Holmes, you might resort to a seven per cent solution of cocaine. That’s not to my taste but the thought of just sitting around, doodling, allowing my mind to wander holds little appeal either (God knows where it might meander off to). So I think for the time being I’ll be doing what I can to recharge my mental batteries by reading challenging books, watching good movies, feeding my imagination as many words and images as I can. Keeping it occupied, satisfying its insatiable curiosity.

I’m hoping the anxiety I experience as I anticipate the days ahead will fade. It’s important to keep reassuring myself this is not a writing block, this is a fallow period following eighteen months of back-breaking labor on, count ’em, three major projects (including a tribute book I compiled for Sherron in honor of her 50th birthday in June).  No matter what I undertake—a painting, a film, a poem—it will be a creative endeavour, an expression of my spirit. I must have faith that this brief pause is some sort of  object lesson; perhaps it will inspire some humility (wouldn’t that be nice?) or lead to a period of honest, unfiltered reflection. All the masks and pretensions stripped away, a ruthless appraisal of who I am and what I have or haven’t achieved.

If I’m fortunate I’ll come away with a clearer understanding of my purpose, the reason I’m here . ‘Cause Mr. Dylan is right: “It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord/but we all gotta serve somebody”.

Speaking of whom, it’s high time I had a few words with the Boss, got some new marching orders. A whole different job description might be in order.

Just pray I don’t get the sack…

corridor

(Click on images to enlarge)

A belated welcome to 2015

footprintsWell, here it is, another year later…

No, it only seems that long since my last post.

And you know I haven’t been idle. Nossir, not this author.

Besides, judging by the surge in subscribers of late, apparently I don’t need to post regularly. All these new people signing up to my blog and I’ve hardly said a word since Christmas…d’you folks realize the mixed messages you’re sending?

I’ve been in heavy duty editing mode since mid-December, really bearing down on this new novel of mine. Definitely making encouraging progress but refusing to let up until my perfectionism and obsessive-compulsiveness cry “uncle!”.

Just about ready to talk in more detail about this latest project, which has been assigned an official release date, May 1, 2015. Gimme a couple more weeks and I’ll be answering some of the queries regarding the book friends and readers have been zipping my way almost from the moment I announced its existence.

I will tell you it’s yet another departure for me, a “genre” I haven’t tackled before. I like to keep my readers on their toes, doncha know.

During my thirty year career I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, horror, mainstream/literary, western/cowboy, poetry, radio drama, music lyrics…what’s left? You’ll find out in a few weeks.

A fun time over the Christmas holidays–our little family reunited and this hundred year old house literally rocking on its foundations. Made out like a bandit, in terms of Christmas gifts. My tastes are extremely weird and varied, I’m very hard to please but, somehow, folks around me manage. I doff my hat to them. My favorite book I received was Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary–fantastic tome, I “Tweeted” a number of quotes, gems of wisdom and experience. Imagine hoisting a few tall, cold ones with a posse that included Serge, Walter Benjamin, Karl Kraus and, say, Albert Camus. That would make for some memorable bon mots, methinks. And maybe a fistfight or three (Kraus was a notorious prick).

I managed to read 107 books in 2014 (the second year in a row I cracked a hundred). My favorite books in terms of fiction were David Gilbert’s & Sons, as well as a couple of short story collections, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (Brad Watson) and Emerald Light in the Air by the great Donald Antrim. My colleague Corey Redekop asked a number of authors to compile their reading lists for 2014 and here’s my contribution.

Movies I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks: “Locke” (starring Tom Hardy) and “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix. The former was especially good–Hardy carries the film single-handedly, a virtuoso performance.

Music? Mark Lanegan, The Stooges, Wall of Voodoo, The Swans, Jacqueline Du Pre, Gene Autry…the usual mixed bag.

But I’ve taxed your patience long enough.

Before I go, I want to thank the folks who’ve purchased copies of my latest collection, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. The brisk sales have surprised me and I’ll likely have to put in a supplementary order to my printer before too long.

Keep those messages and questions coming (blackdogpress@yahoo.ca) and watch this space for more exciting news in the days to come.

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“The Pact” (Short Film)

My new short film, “The Pact”, now available for viewing on YouTube:

…and be sure to check out the other films on my personal “channel”.

A little of that Christmas cheer

fireplaceGene Autry crooning from the CD player, the Christmas tree filling the house with its pine scent, wood popping in the fireplace…ah, yes, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Those who follow this blog are aware that I love Christmas and still cling to the faint possibility of Santa Claus (hey, the cookies I leave out are always eaten when I get up in the morning, explain that).

This year possesses an extra poignancy, I suspect, because it’s our last Christmas before our youngest lad moves out, leaving us with ye olde empty nest. And a much smaller food bill (but I digress).

Hectic around here, as it is for everybody else this time of year. Trying to finish last minute shopping, get parcels away to relatives and loved ones, keeping the walk shoveled and the house warm during some recent cold snaps.

I’ll probably do a year end review at some point but not on this occasion.

Instead I want to announce a special Christmas treat:

I’ve created, with the help of those over-priced buggers at Cafe Press, some pins/buttons. The button with the smallest print reads “Frustrate algorithms.” Sorry, despite my best efforts, I remain mediocre at taking still photos.

Button

(Click on images to enlarge)

These pins reflect aspects of my personal philosophy, that subversive, non–conformist attitude I’ve had for as far back as I can remember.

I’m giving away three sets of pins along with three personally inscribed copies of my latest book, Exceptions & Deceptions, for the best questions or comments submitted in the next month. Post your remarks, then, if you want to be eligible for a prize, send your particulars (address, etc.) to blackdogpress@yahoo.ca. I’ll make my choices sometime in mid-January and post the names of winners at that time.

Feeling very positive as this year comes to a close. There’s a desire now that I’m fifty to start living a more spiritually and aesthetically fulfilling life, to continue to expand my horizons by exposing myself to smart, daring books and films and music, eschewing the trivial and formulaic. Off with the old skin, on with the new.

“…Identity is the daughter of birth,
but in the end, the invention of its owner,
not an heirloom from the past.”

-Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms & Beyond
(Translated by Mohammad Shaheen)

Diversity is the mother of invention

CliffBurns1A number of things on my plate in the past while, which leads, inevitably, to another long gap between posts.

Starting with the fun stuff, I attended a screening of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Nosferatu” and wrote about it over on my film blog. Some musicians from the Saskatoon Symphony provided accompaniment and, what can I tell you, it was an absolutely brilliant evening. The following day I turned fifty and couldn’t imagine a more fitting way to celebrate.

Yeah, I said celebrate. I’ve hit the big five-oh and, okay, physically I’m not as strong or durable as I was twenty years ago, but mentally and artistically I feel close to the top of my game. Growing spiritually, as well, and that’s an ongoing process. I’m in a good space, some of the fears and obsessional thinking that once upon a time dragged me down are either gone or have eased to the point where they no longer cause the kind of damage they used to. My family played a huge part in that transformation and also the sense that my life and work are serving a tiny role in a Grand Design God-knows-how-many years in progress. My faith life is essential to my entire sense of well-being; without it, I’m a miserable cur, hardly worthy of consideration, barely rating a glance.

In terms of my work:

Researching for the novel, reading reference books and trolling on-line for more info, looking for those obscure little tid-bits that add the perfect dollop of detail to a scene, imparting an authenticity that makes the Reader shiver (love those moments).

I collaborated on a sound collage with my youngest son, Sam. He’s getting to be quite the musician so when my wife asked the two of us to put together an “environment” for a puppet and mask project she’s creating, I was curious to see what we came up with. Turned out to be a weird, ambient piece nearly four minutes long. Now we’re going to edit together a short film using that soundtrack and footage Sherron’s assembled over the last couple of years. Hope to have that done in the next week or so.

What else…well, I’d been giving some thought to writing something for the CBC/Enroute Short Story Contest but every time I checked my well of inspiration, it was dry as fossilized bone. So with the deadline looming I’d pretty much given up any notion of sending anything…until a couple of days ago, when I sat down and started tapping away, managing to complete a tale that adhered to the 1500 word limit (barely) and turned out to be a darn good story. Imagine that—posted it yesterday, just under the wire.

Have to confess, I hate entering or submitting my work anywhere—as an indie, I’d rather publish it myself. But the prize money for a six page story is unbelievable, ridiculous, and the notion of spending two weeks in residence at Banff…how could I resist?

From what I’ve heard, the contest receives between 1800-2000 entries annually, so I’m not holding my breath.

But wouldn’t it be nice…

What else? Ah, I’ve been in my basement cave, doing some more painting. A couple of canvases currently being prepped, exercising my visual muscles, expressing myself beyond the precincts of the printed word. Who cares if I’m any good at it?

And music, lots of music playing, which is always an indication I’m in an inspired state of mind. Frequently heard these days: The Eels, Bob Mould, Brain Jonestown Massacre, Jimmy Eat World, R.L. Burnside, Radio Moscow, old Dylan. Keeping it eclectic.

I guess that just about sums things up. Heading into November around here, but the yard work is pretty much done, all I have to do is order some pine wood and see about winter tires for the car.

The next six to eight months will be spent on the novel (mostly), so by Spring, 2014 I should have the lion’s share of the editing done (crosses his fingers). I’ll keep you apprised of developments and, hopefully, will be posting more frequently than I have been of late.

But no promises…