Friday, February 27, 2009

Best and Worst Films of 2008

"A film is-or should be-more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."~Stanley Kubrick

I wanted to have this list compiled before the Oscars as a little deadline for myself but I missed it unfortunately. Nevertheless here are my lists for best and worst films of 2008.

I watched 150 movies last year, down from 167 the year previous. Clearly I love film and if I could choose another profession I would love to be a cinematographer, as a previous blog entry mentioned.

So the following 10 Favorite Films of 2008 are ones that spoke to me on a level that others might not have. I am sure that some of you will disagree, perhaps vehemently with my choices, but that's the fun of art, its variety of opinion that matters and creates diversity.

Top 10 Favorite Films (In no particular order):

1-The Wrestler. I thought this film was the epitome of poignant. I love Aronofsky's work and I found the style of filming quite simple and uncomplicated, which added to its almost documentary feel. I love that we don't know what happened at the end. A story of a broken man, broken lives, broken hearts and the will to persevere through the pain.

2-Milk. Penn really owned this role. I was quite impressed at his transformation. Great study of Milk (though I still have to watch "The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk" if I can ever get my hands on it), his politics, his passion and his desire to prevail against all odds. Kudos to set design and production. Franco and Brolin were excellent as well. I preferred it to some of Van Sant's other, less accessible work.

3-Frozen River. Another difficult watch. Quite haunting. I wanted so badly to take the characters out of their situation and help them. Raw, unflinching and powerful.

4-Encounters At The End Of The World. I actually blogged about this film in its own entry here if you want to read it. Herzog is such an odd guy, I love him for his eccentricity. I, like Herzog, have a compulsion to seek out inhospitable places and study the people who choose to make these harsh climes their homes. I dream of going to Antarctica and Herzog's film solidified that desire.

5- Man On Wire. This could easily be my film of the year. I would argue that it is possibly the best documentary I have ever seen. The score, the shots, the entire production was flawless in my mind. Petit made me believe that if he could do what he did, that we can attain anything that we put our minds to. He is a poet, a dreamer, but also a realist. The film let him tell his story perfectly. See this film.

6- In Bruges. Martin McDonagh is a genius. I love dark comedy and this one was the darkest. I almost don't know if I would describe it as a comedy. There was a sombre atmosphere that hovered above the quips and jests of the characters. I think this film deserves many viewings as it has many layers. If you're watching the DVD make sure to watch all of the excellent extras.

7. The Dark Knight. Despite Bale's recently revealed on-set diva-esque shenanigans I still like him as an actor, especially here. This is my favorite film of the entire Batman franchise. I didn't care for the post-production effects on Bale's voice, however, Ledger, Oldman et al, combined with lots of technical prowess made this certainly the darkest of the oeuvre and most enjoyable by far for me.

8. Slumdog Millionaire. In accordance with all of the hoopla, I think this film is terrific. I have enjoyed Danny Boyle's work all the way back to Shallow Grave (one of my favorite suspense films of all time). With Boyle you know you are going to get amazing camera work and a fantastic score, both of which are evident here.

9. Kung Fu Panda. I am not really a huge animated feature person, but this film was excellent. I was in Newfoundland in a remote little cabin with no internet, tv etc...and I watched this film four times over a two week period and laughed every time. The beauty of Newfoundland pulled me away often but the film was a lovely little periodic diversion.

10.The Visitor. I was quote moved by this film. It did not seem contrived as the story was simple yet compelling due to solid writing, acting and camera work. I particularly enjoyed the musical thread that knitted the characters together. I genuinely cared about these individuals and their respective fates, for better or for worse.

Worst Films of 2008

Perhaps 'worst' should be put in parenthesis here. I love to watch 'bad' movies....I love movies that think they are good but really are 'chud' (as in 'bad',see C.H.U.D. the film for reference). High budget films that fail miserably have a certain schadenfraude attached to them. Thus some of these films know they are chud, and others simply are as a result of their own making.

1. In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. I didn't see the Razzies but I know this film was up for Worst Picture. Two words: Jason Statham. The rest of the cast is hilarious in and of itself: Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani, Leelee Sobieski...and Matthew Lillard for crying out loud? My favorite line was "How do you like my Krug?" Brilliant. A must-see for those seeking a good mockfest.

2. The Happening.  Oh M. Night Shyamalan, what happened to you? I watched this on an airplane, and that didn't help it. I saw more action with the snack cart going up and down the aisle than in this stinker. Wahlberg has perfected the vacant stare. He must be taking lessons from Keanu

3. Max Payne.  Wahlberg continues to steal the spotlight of worst films with this piece of nonesense. I believe "bleh" is an understatement here. Thank goodness I had a friend who I could share mocking this marshmellow with. 

4.Vantage Point. Save yourself some wasted time and rent Rashomon instead. This film piggyback's on Kurosawa's creativity and isn't a tenth as compelling.

5. Death Race. Two words: Jason Statham. I applaud Statham for being the beefcake in the middle of a litany of chuddy films. He certainly does it with aplomb. This silly flick is actually falls into the category of an enjoyable time waster. So I would actually recommend as some empty meringue with some car crashes and gratuitous violence thrown in.

6. Anaconda 3: Offspring I'm sure its no surprise as to how this film made it onto the list.  The first Anaconda film was one of the best cheesy movies ever (skip to the scene with Jon Voigt winking at Jennifer Lopez...hilarious). Therefore I have seen all of the Anaconda films out of a sick type of loyalty...its really masochistic but there you have it. 

7. The Reader  Yes, it is on this list...sort of out of spite as it wasn't HORRIBLE, but it was fantastically mediocre and splendidly over hyped. As soon as she called the young man "boy" for the first time an inner voice said "oh please, don't call him boy when you're both old and have it be saccharine and pathetically ironic" guessed it, it happened. When the characters cried I yawned. I could not get into their roles or the entire film at all. 

8. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull Talk about having huge shoes to fill. However, having that to live up to does not excuse a movie for being just plain ridiculous, which this was. Ford seemed genuinely bitter and there only for the paycheck. Dear Mr. Spielberg: Please see The Dark Knight to realize that successive entries into a franchise do not necessarily mean it has to be lesser than its predecessors. Thank-you. 

9. Australia.  I have heard this film described as "Titanic with kangaroos" but that would be insulting "Titanic" to say that. This was a sweeping pile of rubbish as far as the eye could see across the Northern Territory. Zero chemistry between Nicole Kindling and Huge Action. I was bored, bemused "I'm used to dealing with dingos, not duchesses" and quite disappointed as I really enjoyed Moulin Rouge and was hoping for something from Luhrmann as enjoyable as that.

10. Wanted. Ok, this one gets points, like Death Race, for fun silliness. Hello? A "Loom Of Fate"? Are you kidding me? Now, I have not read the graphic novel etc, but really, you should not have to do homework to see a film based on previously created material. It should exist on its own. This was an expensive waste of time. Watch Man On Wire again and steer clear of this one. 

Now, I'm sure you may well disagree with me on some of these films, and perhaps you may agree with some too. Either way, good or bad, as long as we are taken out of the moment and transported to another place for 90 minutes, the film has done its job. Perhaps we can learn from the bad ones how much more we appreciate the truly beautifully crafted films. 

Have a wonderful weekend,


"No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight of the soul."~Ingrid Bergman

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Salt Spring Island Part 2: Déja Vu, Giant Trees and Happy Hitchhikers

"If you want to be happy, be."
~Leo Tolstoy

Salt Spring Island, a little piece of paradise between Vancouver Island and the mainland, has a reputation that precedes it. As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there certainly is a supremely laid back feeling that hangs in the air on the island. It is as if there is this bubble that protects Salt Spring from the rest of the world. My mobile phone barely worked there, which was fine as I appreciated having it on a shelf for once rather than in my pocket. 

I had my sketch book with me but again, I like to shoot with my camera to take in as much as possible rather than sitting and sketching for an hour. It is as though I suspect it will all disappear at any moment and I have to hurry to take pictures before it slips away.

The flowers were so vibrant wherever I looked

Perhaps it is the atmosphere, the mist in the air, the changeable and often wet weather that I love so much. Whatever the cause the COLOURS were so very intense. I know that I like to take pictures of my paintings for archival purposes right after or right before a rainstorm. It tends to intensify the colours. Perhaps this the reason for the same phenomenon happening on Salt Spring. 

Part of the property where I stayed while on Salt Spring, at the north end of the Island, there was a pasture where a couple of horses lived. Shena, the pregnant mare shown above, gave birth to a healthy foal the next day. My host Theresa and I were fortunate to spend a few minutes with Shena as she spent this last day patiently awaiting the birth of her baby.  She was rubbing up against a tree and seemed rather preoccupied, yet she eyed us with such a soft and gentle gaze that we did not stay long but talked with her and then left her alone.

I spent a lot of time driving and hiking around Salt Spring. You could cover the entire island by car in half a day and I made a small side trip down to Moonstruck Cheese, an organic cheese company on the south end of the island.  I am vegan, but my good friend Jim spoke of visiting this place years ago and then promptly forgetting his cheese in the fridge at the place where he was staying. I knew I had to find some for him. It was a quaint little place, with some chickens and horses on the property. One other couple was poking about like I was and we found our way into the little shop where there were two fridges filled with the small wheels of cheese and samples of each kind. I took their suggestion and picked up two small cheeses for Jim. It was only then that we realized that there was a little tin to leave our money in as no one works in the shop. Apparently the owners use the honour system of trusting the customer to not run away with the tin of money left there. I thought it was both brave and quaint at the same time. 

Chickens at Moonstruck Cheese. They were resting. I think I woke them up.

As I headed down to my friend Ron's place for a bite to eat I passed a hitchhiker near where I was staying. I stopped and picked her up. She was exuberant, had a beautiful spirit, wonderful energy and we hit it off straight away,  I gave her a lift to the south end of the island where she lived. She is from Mississauga, a city about half an hour from where I live here in Burlington, Ontario. We laughed at our Ontario connection, agreed on our love of British Columbia and chatted amiably for awhile before I dropped her off. It is people like Paula who stick in my mind; lovely souls with a history just as interesting as any pebble on a beach. Perhaps Paula and I will not be around as long as that pebble, but we live just as authentically as any rock shaped smooth by the water. We feel the gravity of the world just as consistently and we are flung about in tempests not terribly different from one another from time to time. 

Paula, a kindred spirit.

I went to visit my friend Ron as well as John and his family one evening. The view down from the mountain was wonderful, with lots of greenery and even some rainbows after the recent rainfall. I tried to squeeze every moment out of my time there, knowing I could use it as creative fuel for the fire at a later time. 

Probably the happiest fern I have ever seen

This was literally a carpet of green. A thriving little ecosystem within the space
 of one square foot

The trees seemed to be endless, invincible with an inner strength that was palpable. 

More wonderful arbutus. Look at the amazing colours! The "skin" that has fallen to the side is a terrific eggplant colour. Arbutus is one of my favorite things in the world. Each branch and root is a soft palette of hues that I haven't seen anywhere else. 

Some of the fir trees were true giants. One in particular was estimated to be over 300 years old. While walking below these trees I truly felt as though I was a part of something larger, a small cog within the wheel of a great organism. It was a humbling feeling, a feeling that I was in a very special place indeed. I was almost paralyzed from the thought of doing anything creative, because the stimuli was so overwhelming that I could only take it in and let it incubate for a later time. The air was temperate, a bit on the cool side. There was water dripping from branches, a few animals in the undergrowth, and a lovely quietness to it all. The silence was not deafening like it was in Alaska. It was different. Sound was different. It is hard to explain but each place has its own fingerprint of textures and sounds, qualities which make them exactly what they are, where they are, and found nowhere else.  

I know that I will get back to Salt Spring Island. I have made friends there, and as you know, people who live in a place draw us back just as much as any part of the landscape because they form the experience with their friendship as much as exploring on one's own. I would love to live there for a season, or for a few weeks. To set up a little studio and just work for a time, to let the mist sink in to my thoughts and onto the canvas, that would be wonderful. Anything is possible, its just a matter of making it happen. As they say, where there is a will, there is a way.

A full rainbow to end a very full adventure on Salt Spring. 

Artwork Update:

Here are some snippets of paintings that will appear in my solo show "Newfoundland Portraits" in November 2009 at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario. I am working steadily on new pieces each day. It will be an exciting show! You can find out more information about the exhibition on my website here. One of the paintings has already sold and the show is still 10 months away! If you are interested in seeing the pieces please contact Abbozzo Gallery. The show will run from November 5-22, 2009 with the opening reception happening on November 6th from 7-10pm. I hope to see you there!

Have a wonderful day, evening or morning, wherever you are,


"The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." 
~Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salt Spring Island Part 1: So Close And So Far Away

“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw,
not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you
were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”
~Emily Carr

In June of 2008 I visited Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. It is a small island (70 sq mi) a short ferry ride from Victoria on one side and Crofton on the other. There are more routes by ferry but those are the only two that come to mind at present.

This was my sixth time visiting British Columbia and each time I enjoy myself even more. From the first time I landed in Vancouver years ago I knew that some corner of BC or, certainly the west coast of Canada, was going to be my home one day. When that day will be is still up in the air, but I am patient. I know its not going anywhere, and it gives me something to aim for as the cost of living is a lot higher out there. I will not be dissuaded however. British Columbia is in my blood. I don't want to write off The Yukon of course, as I still have to visit Whitehorse and explore there, but British Columbia, with its wet weather, cool temperatures and excellent coffee, is always beckoning.

Eagles, greenery, good company and fresh air. What more could one ask for?

After a few days reconnecting with my good friend Anne in Duncan, she dropped me off at the Crofton-Vesuvius crossing over to Salt Spring Island. There were bald eagles fishing and the sky was overcast as I spied the small ferry starting its 20 minute journey over to our side of the blue grey water. I was going to meet my friend John, explore, and take in this small island which so many artists and craftspeople are drawn towards.

The section of the wildly immaculate garden at my Bed And Breakfast

I made my through the circuitous backroads that run in veins around the island. There are only 10,000 people who live on Salt Spring Island, depending on the season I think. From the moment I stepped off of the ferry I knew I was truly somewhere special. I had been forewarned of this phenomenon by Anne and others. I remember musing to myself "really? Could it be that different from the rest of Vancouver Island?" It really was. If you can believe it, the pace was even SLOWER than the rest of the west coast that I had experienced. It was in the air. It had a charm without being cloying. It was quaint without being precious. I fell in love with it immediately.

The harbor in Ganges, the hub of the island where there is
a fantastic market on weekends.

I spent some time with John and his family and then poked around Ganges, enjoying some of the best coffee I had ever had. People were friendly and laid back and it was easy to strike up conversations with just about anyone. I encountered the same thing in Newfoundland. Actually, Virginians too are some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. In Ontario we are friendly, but we tend to be a little more aloof than people I have met on the coasts. We are a bit more insulated and self-contained, whereas easy small talk seems almost rote out east and west. That brief connection goes deeper than you would expect. It supports a feeling of community and warmth that roots you to a place, that fosters affection. Salt Spring had that energy to it.

This affable and humble gentleman was collecting money for ALS
research outside the supermarket in Ganges

The weather during my stay was as changeable as any twelve hours in England. I find their climates similar and perhaps that is why I enjoy BC so much. I love the rain and the cold. Perhaps I am odd, perhaps its genetic, but give me a cloudy day with layers of sweaters and a mug of coffee over sitting and sweating in 30 degree Celsius heat any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

No multiplexes here. The movie theatre on Salt Spring Island.
No, I'm not kidding. 

John was celebrating his birthday and there was a great party lined up for the weekend at Beaver Point Hall on the south end of Salt Spring. The building had so much character, with beautiful hardwood all throughout. It was a perfect place for a gathering and yet another opportunity to meet some pretty terrific people.

Beaver Point Hall

Festivities continued late into the night.

I had plenty of time to go on some hikes and wander around Salt Spring as I was there for four days. Up at the top of the island I visited Booth Bay Beach. I remember stepping on to the rocks as it was low tide and seeing the earth shift all around me. For a moment I could not register what I was seeing. The very ground seemed alive. It was then that I realized that millions of crabs were moving like a living carpet along the sand and rocks. I stepped carefully around them as I hopped from rock to rock, all the time appreciating how privileged I was to share this space with them. I moved along side of them as they went about their daily ebbs and flows of habit and instinct. They were primitive, beautiful, ephemeral, fragile and resilient at the same time. I was moved then and I am still moved by them now as I write this.

I was the only one on Booth Bay Beach, but one of millions too,
 including this Great Blue Heron.

The environment was filled with all sorts of exciting textures and colours. I loved their variety and unique qualities. Below are some examples. 

Driftwood with lines like fields of wheat or canyons from space

Shells like pale spectres sitting on wet driftwood

Barnacles cling, petrified, to the rock

Silvery driftwood that appears charred

My favorite tree: Arbutus. Arbutus is very unique and found in only a few places on the planet

I had a lot of time to myself during my stay on Salt Spring Island. I was careful to be as open to impression as I could be. I tried to keep my mind uncluttered with its usual staccato chatter that can periodically unhinge me. I simply relished its silence and let it soak in, setting aside this special time, unfettered by obligations, prompted on simply by my own two feet, the map in my hand and my trusty camera. It was a time of contrasts. Lots of convivial company with John and his friends and family, plus lots of time to simply let the rest of the world drift away for a time. I have never experienced lucid dreaming but I would guess the experience was similar to that phenomenon: you are aware that you are sleeping, yet acutely aware of what you are dreaming about. Salt Spring was a bit like that. I will write more about my time there soon. 

Have a wonderful day/evening/night/morning, wherever you are,


"We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart....and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together...I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude." ~Helen Hayes

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Resilience During Recession

"The world is but a canvas to the imagination." ~Henry David Thoreau

When people occasionally ask me if I see the glass as half-empty or half-full I reply that "it depends on what's in the glass". Despite its cheekiness I think there is truth to the statement. What is it that makes your life pithy, filled with beautiful complexity or graceful simplicity? How did you get to where you are, do you savor the moment, and what do you wish to do with the exciting days before you?

These last few months have seen a decided dip in our economy. Recession has gripped the world and like it or not we are all affected. I remain optimistic that history will repeat itself and that eventually things will turn around once again. As an artist, it is particularly difficult right now because one of the first things that people want to do to alleviate financial strain is to spend less, and paintings are not exactly a "necessity". I am sure, however, that some passionate artists and collectors would heartily disagree. Thus I, like everyone, have to ride out the storm and continue to produce work, taking comfort that I will have a great group of paintings waiting to greet the sun and the gallery when this tempest has passed. 

  Hiking up Little Whistler Peak in Whistler, British Columbia

I have spoken with colleagues about the situation recently and all soberly advise me to "keep your head down, keep producing paintings and it will be ok". That is exactly what I shall continue to do. I have a solo show in less than a year so I have a large amount of work that I can do between now and November. I doubt that the recession will have passed by November 2009 but I simply cannot wait to show these paintings of Newfoundland.  That is why one keeps creating...out of spiritual necessity, emotional conviction and the desire to share your vision with the world. What more could a person want?

Being frugal out of necessity is tough. Being frugal out of choice is enjoyable. The gap between need and want has been growing over the years thanks among many things to successful marketing. However perhaps now, in the dimly lit room of our present economy, we can cherish the worn t-shirt rather than tossing it out, make more meals at home with our loved ones rather than splurging at a restaurant and perhaps refocus on what is most important: the things that money simply cannot buy.

"There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive."~Jack London

P.S. Bravo! Canada filmed a special profiling my work in 2007. It will be airing on Bravo! Channel all across Canada on Monday, February 9th at 8:30am Eastern Standard Time. I hope you are able to catch it! It is on at an odd time but thank goodness for PVRs.