Friday, May 8, 2009

Cordell Baker: The Cat Came Back to Cannes

Cordell Baker is a great animated filmmaker. He's been nominated twice for Oscars. The Cat Came Back, his 1988 animated short, is a hilarious nine minute long film. He's been courted by Pixar and The Simpsons, but instead he stays in Winnipeg, turning out little mini-masterpieces once every half-decade or so.

It isn't exactly a recipe for a mega-career, but maybe a mega-career was never the goal.

Now Baker has a new film, Runaway, his third film in 27 years, and he's heading back to the Cannes Film Festival--so while he may never get bought out by Disney for $7.4 billion, the way John Lasseter and Pixar were a few years back, at least he gets the odd free trip to the south of France.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything

Screenwriters need better publicists.

Really. I mean, name five great movie directors. (Coppola, Allen, Scorcese, Egoyan, Truffault).

Now name five great screenwriters working right now. (Charlie Kaufman,Diabolo Cody,Tony Gilroy, Larry McMurtry, Willam Monahan).

Everyone knows the first five. Movie geeks know the second five.

All the screenwriter usually does is completely create the universe and the people and the tone and the tempo of a movie--and then watch as the critics, academics, studio heads, talking heads, Larry King, politicians, rock stars, bloggers and people on the street rave about the directing, as if the story and the world emerged, untethered, out of the fertile imagination of some 32-year-old film school graduate best-known for directing a memorable series of Infiniti car commercials. (We'll exempt directors who direct from their original scripts, like Allen or Tarantino).

Check out the Writer's Guild West website sometime. There's some advice for credited screenwriters who are having a movie shot: be sure to be included in the interviews when they do all those extra features for the DVD package, because it's your union-negotiated right to be part of the DVD extra features--and there have apparently been more than a few times when they forgot to call the screenwriter up and invite them to the set that day.

Anyways, William Goldman--give or take Billy Wilder--is the godfather of modern screenwriting. He wrote Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Oscar winner, highest grossing film of 1969); All the President's Men (Oscar winner), The Princess Bride, Marathon Man (based on his novel), Magic (ditto) and has been a highly, highly-paid script doctor for 30 years now.

He also wrote Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983, a memoir about his Hollywood experiences, where he coined the legendary piece of Hollywood wisdom: "Nobody knows anything."

And if you think that's an outdated piece of insight, consider that in 2008, studio suits tried their hardest to send Slumdog Millionaire straight to DVD without a theatrical release, and you'll see that it's still as relevant as it ever was.

He also is a celebrity screenwriter, someone whom the producers would never forget to call up the day the DVD extras were being shot, because having Goldman on your picture is a selling point--something other screenwriters ought to remember, particularly during those award speeches when some emotionally overwhelmed actor or actress remembers to thank their agent and their high school drama coach, but forgets/neglects to thank the writer. (But would an actor ever forget to thank the director? I think not!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slowhopes Hearts Slowhomes

Not everyone loves a McMansion.

John Brown is a University of Calgary associate dean of research in the faculty of environmental design who is the anti-McMansion man. He's spreading a new vision of the idea of home: it's smaller, more sustainable, and from the sounds of it, eminently more human-sized.

On his website, Brown posts a vlog a week discussing his vision of what a slow home is. Basically, it is a place that is simple, light and open.

Versailles it isn't--which is pretty much right in tune with the times. (See today's first blog, about the epidemic of bossnapping in France. They're feeling downright revolutionary these days.)

I have always wondered who wrote the book of interior design that said to fill every available space with something. It seems like such a lot of work when nothing quite often works just as well.

(Somehow, judging from a few of the photo spreads I've seen, Elton John, who is a notorious collector of objets of every sort, will not be dropping by the Slowhomes website anytime soon, either).

This is a Lisa Rochon piece that ran in the Globe & Mail earlier this week about

Word of the Day: Bossnapping

Maybe I've just been too caught up in trying to discover whether or not the Susan Boyle saga is real or just reality TV at its staged, written, pre-meditated best, but there's a new trend breaking out in France that I totally missed: taking your boss hostage.

Apparently, layoffs and mergers don't go down so well for a lot of employees in France. So far, from the sounds of it, no one has gotten hurt--they're basically using these bosstages (another new word!) as a negotiating ploy.

(Not that I'm suggesting anything to those Canadian Auto Workers being asked to take wicked pay cuts to keep Chrysler afloat).

Now, hostage taking is never a solution, and is, in fact, against the law and can get a hostage-taker in serious trouble.

And lest any of you disgruntled employees out there who find the prospect of taking the boss hostage, tossing a hood on his head and letting him gather moss in some drop cellar for a few weeks a prospect that appeals to you, just remember The Stockholm Syndrome. That's the one where kidnapped people fall in love with their kidnappers.

By taking your boss hostage, you might be unleashing a whole world of new emotional complications to your life--let alone legal ones.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jam Band Optometrists

I remember the first time I saw Government Mule. It was, appropriately enough, in a field, at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I had never heard of Government Mule, but their guitars spoke my language and we soon fell in love.

I don't know if guitar-loving optometrists experience this when they come across another guitar-loving optometrist, but it seems there is a new sub-genre of garage band springing up--one I'm in favour of.

Optometrist jam bands.

After all, these guys aren't trying to change their world with their jam band. They're just trying to work off the stress of the work week. They've discovered that playing music, when you're not relying upon digital downloads to pay the mortgage, can be hugely psychically healing.

We've tried electroshock therapy to cure our blues. We've tried psychoanalysis. We've tried Eastern Meditation. We've tried multiple marriages, kids, no kids, cocaine, bling, reality tv, real estate porn, real porn--so why not a jam band?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bemidji State Hockey!

Slowhopes has always had a soft spot for Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan, the states dad spent many summers driving the fam through en route to our summer sojourns living in a campsite, circa 1967-1970. (More about that at another date)

While the people aren't what you'd call lookers, the states themselves are quite gorgeous. They're green, quiet and modest places--well, Minnesota and Wisconsin, anyways. Michigan is a little more torn up. But Michigan has its charms as well.

Still, pop culture manages to pretty much avoid this verdant corner of the planet. Apart from the film Fargo and Prince at the top of his game, you never really come across these places.

Until tonight, when the NY Times website featured Bemidji State's hockey team on its front page. I have been to Bemidji any number of times, and of course the first thing I thought, upon seeing the word 'Bemidji' on the front page of the NY Times website was: the statue of Paul Bunyon was sleeping with Babe the Blue Ox!

But no. The college hockey team is on a win streak for the ages, and all the town's t-shirt shops are selling out of Bemidji State memoribilia.

To which, all I can say is: go Bemidji State!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Stuff Blue Eyed People Like

Throughout this latest economic crisis, we've been desperate to find someone to blame.

After all, there is a lot of lag time to fill, a lot of op-ed pages to opine on, between a multi-trillion dollar crash and eventual recovery.

As any studio head worth his seven figure paycheck can tell you, it's hard to hate a system. There's no payoff when the evil villain is all of us.

When bad things happen to good countries, there's got to be someone to indict--(and we haven't yet figured out how to make A-Rod take credit for the credit crisis.)

For a while, there was Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers. He looked like a bad guy--heavy brows, a pompous manner. There was even something mildly Nixonian about his jowls that just made the hair stand up on the top of Andy Rooney's eyebrows.

But then the Fed let Lehman go under, and Fuld was out one multi-billion dollar brokerage house.

Then, there was Henry Paulson, the secretary of the federal treasury, but that was so unsatisfying, really. Let's face it: he had just taken over the job from Alan Greenspan.

Alan Greenspan actually may be the man most responsible for this mess, but he's so kindly-looking--particularly for someone who revered Ayn Rand.

Bernie Madoff stole $65 billion, a lot of it from charities and foundations. He was good to hate, but then he pled guilty and went to jail and he's already 70.

When each of the auto giants flew corporate jets into Reagan International to ask for a federal bailout, GM CEO Rick Wagoner became someone to hate--but it's hard to really, really hate anyone whose primary residence is Detroit. I say this with all sincerity. (And now I suspect Rick is just another unemployed Michigan guy looking to scalp some Final Four private box seats).

Over the last few weeks, anyone associated with AIG has been feeling the hot, sticky breath of a planet full of angry, broke people--but at the end of the day, these are insurance people. The optics suck.

It would have been nice if we could have pinned it on Dick Cheney, but he's gone hunting.

No one quite worked out as a bad guy--until Lula met Gordon.

Lula is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil. Just the other day he met with Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of England, and this is what he said.

"This crisis was caused by no black man or woman or by no indigenous person or by no poor person," Lula said after talks with the prime minister in Brasilia to discuss next week's G20 summit in London, (according to a Guardian article by Nicolas Watt).

"This crisis was fostered and boosted by irrational behaviour of some people that are white, blue-eyed. Before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, and they have demonstrated they know nothing about economics."

Challenged about his claims, Lula responded: "I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker."

Finally, the credit crisis has a face, and a gender. It is, to be blunt, white guys.

As a white guy myself, whose book The White Guy: A Field Guide comes out in the U.S. May 1, my reaction to Lula's comments can probably be summed up in a single word.


Now this is a broad, ultimately superficial verdict based on the lowest-common denominator factors one can judge a person by--their race and gender. (All things I am sure critics of my book will enjoy pointing out to readers).

However you want to parse the facts, there is an essential truth to what Lula says: this crisis was created by white people--the same white people who spent decades telling everyone else how to manage the economies of their (broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt) countries, no matter what the human or political cost.

Who could have forseen the delicious irony that the single most broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt country of them all is the not-so-good, old, U.S.A?

Besides, it will help when Oliver Stone decides to film his version of The Credit Crisis: he can cast a real A-Lister to play the bad guy. (Anthony Hopkins as Greenspan? Frank Langella as Fuld? Leonardo DiCaprio as Wall Street?)

Memo to the banking industry: next time you're up on Capitol Hill, testifying to save your annual seven and eight figure bonuses, spare us the garbage about how those bonuses are necessary to attract the best and brightest.

What you really mean is best-(connected) and whitest.


I wasn't a fan of Anvil the first time around, in the early 1980's. But now, 25 years later, they are the subject of a documentary look at their most recent world tour which they undertook on behalf of journeymen rockers everywhere, encountering a slew of tiny, perfect, personal indignities along the way.

Anvil are slowhopes kind of rock stars.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I've been watching Catherine Keener since she played a thirtysomething New Yorker who ends up dating the video store guy (Kevin Corrigan) in Walking and Talking, Nicole Holfcenser's first film, back in the mid-1990's.

If you ever wondered what living in New York is like, it's sort of just like Catherine Keener: cool, smart, not too into itself, prone to little emotional disasters, and ultimately a bit of a closet sweetheart.

It's great to see that she has gone on to have a fantastic acting career, because she always fell a little bit in the cracks between the pretty girl (I think the other one in Walking and Talking was Naomi Watts) and wacky sidekick (think Joan Cusack).

Catherine Keener is the pretty, wacky sidekick, and her presence in anything makes it worth checking out.

She has two new flicks coming out: Genova, and Where the Wild Things Are, a popular kid's yarn that Spike Jonze turned into a movie that has freaked out the studio who made it. (More about that later).

The Great Withnail

You can have your Rocky Horror Picture Show, or your Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or any of those long ago films that have gone on to become midnight cult classics (OK, I love Rocky Horror). But for a certain generation of film lovers, one of the greatest cult comedies remains Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson's 1987 British classic about an aspiring actor and writer living the boho life in London, circa 1969.

Starring Richard E. Grant, a British actor who has worked plenty since but never in a role that quite demanded the brilliance that the part of Withnail did, it's a film that I loved. The first 45 minutes or so are just about the funniest 45 minutes of film comedy I've ever seen. The dialogue is great, the tempo spot-on and the little absurdities of London life for the poor, starving artist are abundantly on display--particularly the way the apartments in London don't really have any heat.

Here's Roger Ebert paying tribute to Withnail & I in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Felder Rushing, The Slow Gardener

Some people like their yards to be nothing but a lawn, as manicured as the 12th green at Augusta National.

Others, like North Carolinan (if that's a word) Felder Rushing, have a higher tolerance for a little more variety.

Appropriating the term from the slow food movement, Rushing is preaching slow gardening these days: lo-fi, modest in scale and making use of all sorts of wacky junk most people do not associate with a garden.

He's also a radio host of a show called The Gestalt Gardener on National Public Radio.

As you get older, the world sometimes seems to be divided between organized and disorganized people, and the organized people get all the year-end bonuses, (at least they did until year-end bonuses became little acts of economic treason).

Nice to see there's a third way: slow.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

David Barton

One of Slowhopes favorite movies is Tootsie, if for no other reason than its better-than-average depiction of the life of a middle-aged New York actor named Michael Dorsey. Although I never was a middle-aged New York actor, I hung around a few, and the essential conceit of Tootsie--that Michael would do absolutely anything to get cast in a part--revealed itself plenty of times. It's just hard to be an actor, and the subtext of "New York actor" is that you're talking about a certain type: a character actor, not a leading man. Not a looker, but someone possessing something, but not necessarily something that earns them many juicy parts in their twenties and thirties.

Character actors, like fine wine, usually take a few years to emerge into their best light.

(All of which is fine and dandy, but tell that to a schlubby, eager, sensitive young man with a little too much hair growing on his back that he may not really work until he hits his forties).

Of course, there are exceptions: Liev Schrieber is the patron saint of character actors, and has worked steadily since he graduated from Yale 15 years ago.

David Barton isn't Liev Schrieber. He was a high school teacher in Hendersonville, Tennessee, married to a minister and the father of two daughters until, in spring 2007, he decided to visit New York for spring break, for two reasons: 1. His daughter was in grad school and he could hang out with her for a week, and 2. There was an open call for a touring production of Annie, and Barton had always played Daddy Warbucks in various amateur community productions over the years. He was Daddy Warbucks before he turned 30.

So he flew to New York, and at the age of 47, became a working New York actor for the very first time.

Here's a story I wrote about him in the Herald:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

U.S. Economy: I Used Performance Enhancing Drugs

by Stephen Hunt

NEW YORK. In a startling televised interview, the American economy today confessed that it used illegal performance enhancing drugs, but that it has since stopped.

"It's true, I did ingest a banned substance," said a chastened economy, referring to the period beginning in the late 1990's and continuing through to the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008. "But you must understand: everyone was doing derivatives in those days. There was no testing. No regulation. We were all into them--Iceland, Spain, Ireland, the UK. We thought we were part of the next wave of economic innovation."

Instead, the popping of the economic bubble has resulted in the near-collapse of economies around the globe. Iceland's economy has melted. The Irish are fondly recalling the famine of the 1840's as the good old days, and a condo on the Costa del Sol can be had for llittle more than the price of a bus ticket.

The English economy is so bad, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a dour, doughy Scottish economist with the personality of a stewed turnip, is beginning to look good.

(The Canadian economy issued a press release following the American economy's interview with Katie Couric denying that it had taken any performance enhancing drugs. "Canadians don't do derivatives," it said. "We believe in being boring. As everyone now knows, boring is the new interesting." The Canadian economy wore beige, pleated cordoroys, sensible shoes and a baby blue denim shirt when it made this statement).

The dramatic confession by the American economy came after weekend reports leaked drug tests performed anonymously on global economies during the 2003 fiscal year, at the behest of the IMF, which showed that a whole lot of bankers, brokers and politicians knew something was broken, but decided that the American way was to let the market decide when it would implode and spark a global economic crisis rather than suggest that letting the market decide was the problem.

(The market continues to insist that its fine, although it could use a trillion or two in public funds to help it decide for sure.)

The American economy has been hoping for some time now that everyone would just leave it alone, and that the trillion dollar bailout by the U.S. Treasury would catch up all the banks and allow those same bankers to collect their multi-million dollar year-end bonuses, buy $35,000 drapes with which to redecorate their corporate offices and host lavish retreats in five star resorts, where they would get to know their new colleagues: everyone from the investment houses they bought out for a nickel on the dollar, because no one from those investment houses went to (economics! LOL!) school with the Secretary of the Treasury and thus had no access to the TARP fund, designed to save the American economy from itself.

Instead, the nattering nabobs of negativity who now dominate the business pages of the world's floundering newspapers continue to harp on a bunch of office expenses and act as if earning eight figure year-end bonuses paid for by American taxpayers is anything but business as usual.

"Without paying our top people competitive salaries, we lose the chance to recruit best and the brightest," said the economy, while neglecting to mention that it was the best and brightest who got us in this mess.

A recent initiative by President Barack Obama to limit the salaries of CEO's who accept bailout funds to $500,000 has been met with what can only be described as limited enthusiasm by the American economy.

"What am I supposed to do with 500K?" asked one corporate CEO. "That's car service money--if you don't pay the taxes!"

The startling admission by the economy was a coup for perky CBS anchor Katie Couric, whose stock is way up following her stern questioning of Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin during the 2008 election.

"Katie hit the ball out of the park in the one on one with The Economy," said a CBS insider who declined to be identified for fear that his superiors would discover he had an opinion about anything. "If you can bring The Economy to its knees on national TV, you can pretty much write your ticket in Washington these days."


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fed Seeks Secretary Who Can Explain How to Get Us Out of This Mess

November 24, 2008

A jobs posting we may soon be seeing on the Washington, D.C. page of Craigslist:
Reply to:
Post Until: Credit Crisis Ends, or Global Economy Returns to Medieval Era. Which ever comes first.

The U.S. Federal Treasury is seeking to hire a secretary who can help explain how to end the global credit crisis. Normally, we wouldn’t post such a significant job on craigslist, where any old unemployed, morbidly obsese, socially-challenged, Second Life-obsessed, professional-poker playing types can apply, but hey — desperate times, etc. etc.

I mean, face it: if they took all the economists from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Wharton Business School, MIT, Stanford, the London School of Economics, Oxford, Cambridge, and Germany, and locked them all in a gym and told them they couldn’t leave until someone sinks a three point shot, do you think the global economy could get any worse than it is now? (Where were we the day they told all the economists that their jobs are just like meterologists–you get to be wrong 90% of the time and still get to keep your job, providing you have good chemistry with news and sports?)

Wanted: YOU have a facility with numbers, although the Ph.D from the above-mentioned elite institutions is probably optional at this stage. Any and all agility with addition and subtraction will be considered. A gift for multiplication highly desired. A passion for long division would be a gift from above.

YOU see macro-trends before macro-trends come crashing through the door, toppling the global economy like that 80 foot wave that sank Clooney in The Perfect Storm. Even spotting a micro-trend–for example noticing that small, quirky independents often hog all the Oscar nominations, would be appreciated, if only to keep us posted on what the good movies are, because we’re so over super hero sequels. We’ve asked the smartest people on the planet to weigh in on this global liquidity crisis, and frankly, we don’t like smart people so much anymore. Stupidheads–you have our ears!

YOU aren’t afraid to go negative in a room full of sunnysiders. Frankly, over here at the Fed, we have all had just a few too many can-do conference calls with old Ayn Rand Hands, Alan Greenspan chatting from his tub in Georgetown about how fantastic American economic fundamentals are. We could use some hick from the sticks, or at least Bob Costas or some real midwestern bad haircut to come over here and tell us it’s the end of the beginning of two decades of hell, and bring along some sandwiches, because the free lunch has officially ended.

YOU are familiar with the terms derivatives, liquidity, trillion, TARP, Too Big To Fail, rescue package rather than bailout. That’s what we talk about when we talk about money these days, baby. (If you can explain deflation, run, don’t walk, over to the Treasury. We’ll keep the lights on!)

YOU have an interest in going on CNBC from time to time to pontificate about the state of the global economy. It wouldn’t hurt if you were a hottie of either sex–the better to take the viewers’ mind off the bad news you will invariably be delivering. If Aaron Eckhart’s agent reads this, he would make an excellent Secretary of the Treasury. Call us?

The Secretary of the Treasury is employed at the discretion of the President of the United States, or until the money runs out, whichever comes first. You will have at least $350 billion with which to spend your way out of this crisis, maybe more.

After all. The United States is simply too big to let fail.

This is a contract position. It may last until 2012. Maybe even until 2016 if the stimulus package takes and people all replace their DVD players with Blu-Rays at the exact same moment in early 2010. Questions? Email us at:

Compensation: To be discussed. It’s all about national service these days, so don’t get your hopes up.

This is a part-time job. Some weekends, such as when it’s necessary to rescue Citigroup, et al, from oblivion.

This is at a non-profit organization. LOL!

Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster. This means you, Goldman-Sachs!
Please, no phone calls about this job! We’re busy saving the economy!

Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests. Yes, we got the memo, GM. Now go design a hybrid and leave us alone!