An “Excitable” Murdoch Mysteries Review.

If you missed it (something I suggest you don’t admit to) this week’s Murdoch Mysteries‘ episode was entitled, Excitable Chap. Here’s the synopsis:

Murdoch strives to apprehend a lecherous costumed criminal known as The Lurker, whose amorous encounters have escalated to murder.

So MM scribe Simon McNabb does a 5×5 interview and then writes a script based on my life? Seriously, substitute “criminal” and “The Lurker” for “The Hook”, and take away “murder” and what do you have?

Coincidence? I think not.

But enough of my moment of glory/immortality, let’s get down to turn-of-the-century brass tack, shall we?

murdoch1“You mean I have to get on Twitter to get a 5×5, Murdoch? Bloody hell!”

ONE)  Slugger is back at the plate!  I cannot express my sheer giddiness at seeing Kristian Bruun on Murdoch again. MMX has seen two major players (Slugger’s a contender in my opinion and I know I’m not alone) relegated to the background. Thomas Craig and The Bruun have been conspicuous by their absence.

I get Slugger’s lack of screen time; Orphan Black is a monster of a show and The Bruun is a big supporter of indie films so he’s a crazy busy guy… but come on!

At least we’ll get more Jackson next week on the Christmas special. You have to be happy with the small victories, right?

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TWO)  A Murdoch/Gotham mash-up?  This ep gave us an actual super villain (sort of ) in The Lurker, a turn-of-the-century costumed criminal that allowed the MM team a chance to explore Victorian sexual themes once more. 

And when The Lurker’s true identity was revealed…

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THREE)  We got the prescription to our MM fever: More cowbell!  Okay, so in this case, it was actually more James Pendrick, but that still rocks.

Sort of.

Let me explain. If it wasn’t for bad luck Pendrick  wouldn’t have any at all. Like his enemy/ally Detective Murdoch, James Pendrick is a brilliant inventor. But unlike William Murdoch, Pendrick is vain and obsessed with winning the world’s approval.

Sadly, James Pendrick loses his patents, his inventions/formulas themselves and has a knack for being betrayed by those closest to him – especially his lovers.

Oh, and he spends as much time at Station No. 4 as a constable. Unfortunately it’s because he’s always being charged with a crime. Lucky for all of us, Peter Stebbings is one of Canada’s most underrated actors and so he knocks it out of the park every time.

As for Pendrick’s latest venture…

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FOUR)  The Fountain of Youth?  And this led to a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline that made me nervous as I watched it unfold. “Can they pull this off without jumping the shark all over the CBC?” raced through my mind. 

You’d think I’d know better than to doubt Peter Mitchell and the best damn team on television by now, wouldn’t you?

This ep evolved from the hunt for The Lurker to the discovery of the Fountain of Youth – which was then stolen by (wait for it!) a trusted member of Pendrick’s inner circle.

Poor James needs to form a support group with Constable George Crabtree. Speaking of poor, poor George…

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FIVE)  Yet another messy break-up for Crabtree?  Nina Bloom has shaken George’s world to its core and he’s grown to love it. But then along came Louise Cherry who has shown George another glimpse of what society expects a man to want for his future. And so he’s been torn.

And then Nina spots Crabtree with our intrepid lady reporter and preemptively sends him a “Dear George” letter. Anyone who says they weren’t screaming at their TV has a heart of stone. (Yes, it gets loud at our house when MM is on.) To her credit, Erin Agostino even broke my heart, that’s how masterful an actor she is.

cy_s55gxgaavpc9This is what people did before break-up texts were invented, kids…

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SIX)  Brackenreid’s back! But for how long?  I can‘t say for certain, but the journalist in me (that degree really paid off didn’t it?) can’t help but suspect something is going on with Thomas Craig behind the scenes. As I’ve already said, he’s been conspicuous by his absence this season. I don’t know if he wants more time with his family or if he has other projects on the go, maybe he’s fatigued or if he simply wants some time off… but something’s up.

At any rate, the Inspector returned from the Olympics with a medal and it’s gone straight to his head. He wants more from life than catching crooks and shagging wife Margaret (though how anyone could get tired of Arwen Humphreys is beyond me) and by the episode’s end he’s presented with an offer he can’t bring himself to refuse. And so he plants a big one on Mrs. B, hops in a carriage with his new partner Pendrick, shouts an “inspirational” message to Murdoch:

“You only live once… why not make it forever?”

and heads out in search of the dastardly female who stole the formula for immortality.

Cue the credits.

However, I have one last point to make…

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SEVEN)  William’s new role in MM and patterns.  If you look closely at MMX, you’ll see that the Artful Detective has been on the sidelines in a way. This season has shone the spotlight on Julia’s PTSD, Rebecca’s James’ life outside the morgue, HIggins’ evolution, a plethora of new characters, etc.

And that’s fine; it’s all paid off wonderfully. MM is better than ever. Now let’s talk about some patterns that have emerged. Namely, Crabtree’s seemingly-endless cycle of broken relationships and James Pendrick’s pathetic track record as an inventor and human being.

When I first started this review I was irritated by these patterns but then it dawned on me: these characters mean something to me and that’s why I get angry when it looks like they’re suffering. To me and of other viewers the fictional characters are a part of our lives. Murdoch Mysteries isn’t just a show, it speaks to us on an emotional level and that’s the highest compliment I can pay Peter Mitchell and his team.

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And that’s all I have to say for this week. See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…

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5×5 With The Hook: Patrick Gallagher.

When you’re a dad, there’s no greater feeling than getting your child to say, “That’s… so… COOL!” when you regale her with a tale of one of your achievements.

My daughter loves me deeply (I suspect) but while she always listens attentively whenever I tell her one of my latest blog stories – she’s too busy crafting her own tales to read them online – she rarely jumps off the couch and exclaims, “You’re the best blogging dad ever!” mv5bmtk4mjm1ntmzmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnjqznta5nze-_v1_uy317_cr690214317_al_

Until I told her about today’s guest, that is.

“You got Coach Tanaka? SERIOUSLY?”

Yes, today’s poor, unfortunate soul honored guest will be forever known as Atilla the hungriest of all Huns (I just made that up; yes, I am a wordsmith of the highest caliber) in the Night at the Museum film series.

And Awkward Davies in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

And Detective Joe Finn in one of Canada’s finest television drama series, Da Vinci’s Inquest and Da Vinci’s City Hall.

And Gary the Bartender in Sideways.

The list goes on but to millions of kids, teens, adults and seniors with strong pacemakers, he will always be Glee’s Coach Ken Tanaka.

Honestly, a quick glance at his IMDb page will leave you breathless. And gobsmacked.

“He’s that guy? How on earth did The Hook ever get that guy?”

I literally have no idea. The credit is Patrick’s alone; he’s an unbelievably-generous soul who always makes time for his fans. Personally, I think it traces back to his Canadian roots and the fact he graduated from the National Theatre School of Canada. (Patrick really can act his way out of a paper bag.) His career began in Toronto’s vibrant theater, film and television scene and Patrick has never forgotten where he comes from; he supports the independent film scene wholeheartedly, playing numerous roles in projects by emerging filmmakers. As a dual US/Canadian citizen, Patrick has a stake in the future of both nations, though I know better than to discuss politics with my guests.

Being interviewed by The Hook is painful enough…

One last thing before I turn things over to Patrick: When I sent him his queries Patrick not only answered in record time, he went over the top, sending my daughter a video shout-out. Time is the most precious commodity we have and while we often think it will never run out, nothing could be further from the truth. Our lives pass in the blink of an eye and when I think of Patrick pressing “pause”on his life to make my daughter beam with joy, it leaves me feeling eternally grateful and humble.

And now, friends, it’s time to see what Patrick Gallagher has to say for himself. Enjoy.

patrick-gallagher-davincisinquest“Listen… we’re not leaving until this room until I answer The Hook’s questions! I’m no happier about it than you are!”

ONE)  You’ve had an amazing career spanning decades and a multitude of characters. As a classically-trained actor you can bring virtually any type of being to life successfully, but which roles make you salivate like a dog outside a bacon processing plant? (Bad guy? Good guy? Everyman? Elitist?)

I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of diverse types of characters, the types I wanted to portray have changed throughout my career. Right now the characters that I like the most are, for lack of a better term, ‘Normal’ types… like doctors or lawyers. Characters with some sensitivity and intelligence… ones that require emotional and mental deftness to play. The reason is that those are the closet to who I am ethos wise and the ones I haven’t really gotten to play much as a character actor.

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TWO)  If you could strike one word from human language – and for that matter, animal language – what would it be?

The word I would strike from the English language right now is probably “Kale”, because its a garnish and not a food! Second place would be “Awesome”, because it is used incorrectly and way too much.

(Awesome answer, Patrick! Oh wait…)

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THREE)  Glee is only one of the many, many blockbuster projects you’ve been a part of and yet, to millions of fans like my daughter you’ll always be Coach Tanaka. Can you share a single tale from the Glee set so I can cement my status as a cool dad in my daughter’s eyes?

A Glee story… hmm.. I guess the thing I could tell you was the fanny pack was my idea; it came to me after we had started shooting the pilot. If you notice it’s not in some scenes, the main reason was I needed a place to keep my sides and my phone and my smokes and those short shorts weren’t really conducive to that! Plus, I wore one for real in the 90’s when I lived in TO and had a girl literally say she would never go out with me because of it, so I thought that was perfect for Ken’s character, who was not all that great with the ladies, lol.

But mainly I wanted quick access to my smokes, lol.

patrick_gallagherI don’t know, I think that outfit screams, “Lady killer”. Literally.

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FOUR)  You were born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, and grew up in Chilliwack (you know this of course, but I’m sure it’s going to come as a surprise to many of my readers.)  You’re also of Irish and Chinese descent. So what’s you favorite dish, Patrick Gallagher? Salmon? Black Pudding? Peking Roasted Duck? Kraft Dinner?

My fave dishes are Gai lan, also known as Chinese broccoli. My cousin Sean and I are two peas in a pod and we left a day out in London at a reunion in 2000 to get gai lan and go home and cook it. I also love dim sum and Nanaimo Bars are God’s gift to the world, IMO. And poutine too… I love it!

201473-poutineAdmit it, you’re drooling right now, aren’t you? More than usual, I mean…

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FIVE)  Do fans (especially kids) approach you on the street and converse in Atilla’s gibberish language?

People don’t really approach with the language anymore, but did a fair bit when the first one came out,,they would ask me to speak it more than speak it at me, and I was happy to oblige.

FUN FACT:  Patrick actually created the ‘gibberish’ language used by Atilla the Hun in Night at the Museum. (He’s not just a pretty face folks.)

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“You’re doing the Hook’s blog and that’s it!”

Always leave ’em laughing, friends. My thanks to Patrick Gallagher, for being here, for Atilla, for making my kid think I’m cool, for inspiring kids to be themselves on Glee and for making me proud to be Canadian. Of course, I’m grateful you were here as well, readers.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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A Weekend at Murdoch’s Extended.

I have to say, I was apprehensive when I heard this episode of Murdoch Mysteries was going to feature Roger Newsome’s return as a corpse William and Julia are tasked with hiding during a two-day gathering of 1904 Toronto’s most prestigious citizens.

Wait, that’s not what happened? (Or did it?) In that case, we better get to the actual review, shouldn’t we?

ONE)  Cyrus Lane’s return.  He’s a turn-of-the-century weasel. If weren’t for bad luck he wouldn’t have any at all. He’s Roger Newsome and he’s one of the MM Writers Room’s favorite re-occurring characters.

And it’s safe to say the fans don’t mind him either.

Especially after this episode.

We even got two Newsomes for one with the addition of sister Ruth. It’s just a shame that poor ole Roger (who was already endlessly-fascinating as a living member of Toronto’s upper crust) ended up a corpse early on. But what a corpse! At first I felt bad that we didn’t get to see Roger and his “good buddy” George Crabtree become fast friends, but I howled out loud when Roger got the last laugh by “striking” George down in the last act. Awesome!

murdoch2-2“Okay, Lachlan, I’ll get you hooked up with the actress playing my sister if you get Peter Mitchell to bring me back! Do we have a deal?”

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TWO)  The writing.  Jordan Christianson gave us a tight-but-unbelievably-hilarious episode overflowing with tributes to Weekend at Bernie’s and good old fashioned Vaudevillian yucks. All while remaining true to the characters’ core personalities. Sadly, one character took a giant leap backwards but more on that later.

Crabtree, Higgins, Miss James, Julia, William himself, and all the ancillary denizens of MM were given ample opportunity to shine and they did so – brilliantly. Take a raise out of Shaftesbury’s petty cash, Jordan.

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THREE)  Those wacky Murdochs.  Most TV shows have jumped the shark once they answer the “Will They of Won’t They?” romance query. And once those characters tie the TV knot or have a baby? Well then it’s all downhill, Sally.

But Murdoch Mysteries is not most television shows, to say the least. An hour-long murder mystery procedural brimming with humor? Loved every second. William and Julia rarely display any PDA but Hélène Joy has the greatest set of “come hither” (now what you thought I was going to say was it?) eyes in the biz and she uses them to great effect on MM. The Murdochs are a marvelous turn-of-the-century couple who are currently enjoying the fruits of a super long courtship fraught with pitfalls.

To say the least.

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FOUR)  Prop Monkey’s offerings.  The Wheeled Chair. The Inca Tern. The dead guys and even the assassin’s rifle and scope. Monkey and his team went and left it all onscreen. Again. Love this simian and his crew.

cyzs4gwxeaazuhbcyztfegweae8eaeI could be an actor if this is as challenging as it gets. Ah, who am I kidding? Probably not…

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FIVE)  HIGGINS!  Boy, if Inspector Brackenreid had been in Toronto for this case he would’ve tore more than one strip off of Henry. Hell, let’s face it, the Inspector would’ve had Henry’s gut for garters.

Higgins took a huge leap back in this ep – but it was so worth it. Lachlan Murdoch acted his ass off, didn’t he? The poor bugger won’t be able to sit right for a week…

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SIX)  The Big Bad.  Stone cold killer Rex Gray loomed large throughout the ep – without really appearing at all. He escaped Station No. 3 but he met his match in Det. Murdoch… though just barely.

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SEVEN)  More Mouna Traoré!  I’d watch this chick do anything onscreen. Take that any way you like. We only received a small sample of Miss James last night but fortunately for all of us, a little goes a long way when a masterful actress is doing the emoting.

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EIGHT)  Hélène Joy at her silliest.  The outfit says it all…

cyzriqhwqae7b6fThe MM wardrobe department rocks when allowed to cut loose…

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NINE)  Bea Santos returned as Louise Cherry!  Once again, I yelled out when Miss Cherry reappeared. (The wife’s pretty sure I’ve finally lost it.) It’s to the MM writers’ credit that they’ve been able to successfully expand the show’s cast so smoothly. Santos is a marvelous actress. And it definitely appears as though Crabtree is enjoying an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the ladies these days.

I’m sure that’s going to end well…

makingmurdoch1004introducinglouisecherry“Thought I was gone, did you? My agent is fierce!”

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TEN)  The end!  Of this review, not Murdoch Mysteries, thank God. Personally, after seeing the energy MMX is radiating, I can this show running for… well, forever.

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See you in the lobby and on the CBC, friends…

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5×5 With The Hook: Robert Carli.

Robert Carli is arguably the most vital cast member of Murdoch Mysteries you’ve never heard of.

Hardcore Murdochians know Carli as one of Canada’s most prolific film and television composers. Before a single actor appears, his work is the first thing you hear when an episode of MM flashes across your screen. That’s why I’m so honored to have him here today. (And for another reason I’ll get to soon.)

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Music doesn’t just soothe the savage beast, kids… it propels film and television works to the next level of your consciousness and allows you to fully enjoy the experience as you were meant to. Take, for example, Painted Ladies, one of Murdoch’s recent episodes: the first scene presented us with a Victorian chap out for a morning row. A lively, kinetic score set the scene perfectly – until he crossed paths with another chap whose corpse was spread across a floating swan, then the music took a much different turn.

Masterful.

Robert Carli’s work has touched my family’s lives in ways even we do not fully comprehend. My late father-in-law spent the last five years of his life battling emphysema and Murdoch Mysteries was one of the few things that got him through the day. No matter where he was in the house at the time, he’d hear that familiar Steampunk-inspired theme emanating from the television (old folks tend to keep the TV volume cranked all day) and before the episode would even begin, his face would regain some color. Never doubt the power of your gift, Mr. Carli.

But who the heck is this Robert Carli guy anyway? What deep, dark secrets is he hiding in his scores. What are his hopes, dreams, wants and needs? Is he a musician-for-hire by day and a masked vigilante by night?

How the heck should I know? I’m a blogging bellman not psychic interviewer! Robert deserves his privacy; you’re getting the broad strokes and that’s it! Or you can visit his corner of the web.

Over the course of Robert’s storied career, his music has received numerous industry awards/nominations: 16 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nominations, 5 Gemini Awards and 2 Canadian Screen Awards. He is the recipient of 4 SOCAN Awards for domestic television. I’m pretty sure he’s next in line for super powers and immortality…

16649816565_fb1de34ccc_bTold you Robert was humble and reserved…

After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in composition (apparently they didn’t hold that bit of business with the dean’s daughter, twelve goats and a barrel of Cool Whip against him) he began performing as saxophonist with various ensembles, including The Toronto Symphony, The National Ballet of Canada and The Esprit Orchestra.

By the way, I was kidding about the dean’s daughter. Or was I?

He has performed and toured with artists across North America and throughout Europe, and he has worked with such performers as Barenaked Ladies and Julie Andrews. (Though as far as I can tell, he has never seen Ms. Andrews bare naked.) RC (he’s cool with me calling him that – I hope) has collaborated on numerous projects with The Art Of Time Ensemble, including two recordings, numerous crank calls and a composition based on prose by Michael Ondaatje, which premiered with the author as narrator.

And that’s all I’m allowed to tell you. Which is a shame, because I uncovered a ton of stuff about RC’s time as a spy/assassin for Statistics Canada. What’s that? You didn’t know Stats Canada used spies/assassins? What did you think happened when you refused to answer that census…

FUN 5×5 FACT:  It takes Robert roughly six days (barring any unprecedented setbacks, like a computer breakdown) to complete the score for an episode of MM.

When you really think about it – as I have – creating a suitable musical accompaniment for a show as diverse and rich like Murdoch Mysteries is a tremendous undertaking. Robert and his team have to create pieces that are cerebral, action-packed, romantic, the list goes on. It would take me six years to pull a single note from my tone deaf brain, never mind a complete score! At any rate, let’s get to the 5×5 portion of today’s program, what do you say?

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ONE)  Do you view life as a series of musical scores? What I mean is, when you’re out on the highway do you hear chase music in your head? Bouncy, ravenous music at the grocery store? (Yes, my mind is a special place.)

Not particularly, no. I do often have music in my head, but it rarely reflects what I am doing or where I am. I think music is inspired by our environment or our experiences, certainly, but in my case I don’t think the music is a literal connection to my surroundings or tasks.

In other words, I could be biking a trail and think that’s pretty cool and I might be “inspired” to write something, but that something might not be biking music. It might be a polka. Who knows?

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TWO) Do you need to assign specific scores/music to scenes featuring individual Murdoch Mysteries characters to be used periodically or is your work custom-made for each episode?

The music is generally tailored for each episode. I do use recurring themes for various characters, and I will often re-visit melodies or pieces. And there are many times when we do edit from our rather larger Murdoch library. But my goal with each episode is to try to come up with some motif or sound or idea that is specific to that particular script. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful, but mostly I come up with something.

(Mostly? Really, Robert? This humble thing you’ve got going on is getting old; you’re brilliant!)

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THREE)  You’re one of Canada’s most in-demand composers for film & TV; how do you decompress when you’re not producing award-winning, haunting themes, Robert?

Well, I do have two children who have pretty full schedules so I find myself shuttling them around the city and attending their concerts/games/rehearsals/presentations or whatever it is they are up to.

For myself, I have a number of interests outside music that I try to distract myself with…I love to travel, ski, play hockey and cook and eat food with friends. But I don’t always have time for those things when it gets busy. During those times when the schedules are tight, just reading a book and getting a good night’s sleep seem to be enough to satisfy me.

(I heard that! I mean, I would have if I weren’t so tired…)

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FOUR)  Can a composer sit and watch a film/TV show without paying particular attention to the score? Can you enjoy an episode of Murdoch as millions of Murdochians do?

I would say yes to the first part. As any film composer will tell you, it’s really about loving story-telling through pictures that we like. So, yes, sometimes you get hung up on technical details, either about a director’s choices or the music or the lighting or cinematography, or whatever. But often you want to surrender yourself to the story and immerse yourself in whatever world has been created.

In the case of series, after a few episodes, when you have become familiar with the music and sound of show, you no longer pre-occupy yourself with what the composer is doing…you start to accept it without question after a while. And that’s what the creators want you to do, as well.

For Murdoch or any show I work on, it’s very different. You have history there, so you are always listening and watching more critically. I find it difficult or impossible not to be “working” when I watch Murdoch. But I do still enjoy watching re-runs from time to time, even if I am subjecting the music to intense scrutiny. Ha!

cdjfy0nuiaamvmxRobert works very hard on the MM set, I swear…

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FIVE)  I’m sure you’re proud of all your work (whether it’s an individual piece or with a group) but is there one project that fills you with pride whenever you revisit it in your memory?

There are many, yes. I do like those projects that are different and push me to places that I’ve never been. There are a few Murdoch episodes that I am very fond of for that reason.

One project that I look back at fondly is a very unique project penned and directed by Ken Finkleman called At the Hotel. It was musically very diverse, and the characters and story-telling were sometimes obscure, sometimes hilarious but always engaging. It was fun and some very interesting and unexpected music came out of that show from me.

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Well, I have to say, this has been another 5×5 I am particularly proud of. Robert Carli is as brilliant an interview subject as he is a composer. Give him a big virtual hand, everyone, won’t you?

I want to thank Robert for “being here” today and of course, thanks to all of you for being so awesome.

See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…

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The Hook On… Aging.

This is how I do a “Thought Of The Day” post, kids, so buckle up…

Castro’s revolution is finally over. Leonard has sang Hallelujah for the last time. The United States of America clearly hates itself and so it has elected a reality TV star to the highest office in the land.

The world keeps on spinning, but these days it feels like it’s about to pop right off its axis. What the hell happened to the world I grew up in? Where are those good old-fashioned values on which the cast of Family Guy used to rely? Why won’t those damn kids – and squirrels – stay the hell off my lawn?

This morning, as I opened the front door to head out to work (after my still-groggy wife refused to give me a reason to be late, I might add) a squirrel peered at me through the screen door, his furry form perched on my porch gate. My reaction was, well…

“I suppose you want a cookie, you furry freeloader! Well, if I can’t get laid, you don’t get a cookie! Get a job!”

Am I having a mid-life crisis? I’m a North American white male in his Forties… of course I’m having a mid-life crisis! What else am I supposed to do… lead a healthy, productive life?

Where’s the fun in that?

Then again, I don’t intend to go off the rails and get a mistress. (“Who’d have you? And if they do… good riddance!”, the wife always says when I raise that possibility.) I won’t spend hard-earned cash on a fast car that the potholed-lined streets of Niagara Falls will tear up in a week anyway.  I think I’ll just write snarky posts and tweets.

Come to think of it, this whole mid-life crisis thing sounds like a lot of work….

Never mind.

(And yes, in the future I may leave this sort of thing to Shantelle Bisson, thank you very much.)

See you around, kids…

BDjy8-Yeah, I’m not cut out for this sort of thing…

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Why I Love Winter In Niagara Falls.

To be clear, while I am a proud Canadian, I am definitely not a fan of temperatures so frigid they reduce my testicles to raisins… but if I have to spend winter anywhere in my home and native land I’m glad I do so in Niagara Falls.

Here’s why.

Yes, I’m dispensing with the literary foreplay and getting right down to it; what are you, my wife? Just lie back and enjoy it; it’ll be over before you know it. I mean, enjoy today’s post!

ONE)  My dark sense of humor.  I rather enjoy seeing young ladies show up to Niagara Falls in November – while dressed as though they’re in California in July. They begin to shiver slowly, then quickly, as their skin turns fifty shades of frostbite.

As I write this, a young lady with model features (her face appears as thought it was manufactured rather then created biologically) is posing in the lobby for anyone with a penis or a lust for girl flesh. Her hooker boots ascend to her bony knees but her skirt ends at the edge of her girl parts, so this chick is cold – while simultaneously steaming hot.

Seriously, this chick is striking poses for an imaginary photo shoot as she waits for her boyfriend’s leased car. She’s flipping her lion’s mane back and forth (its threatening to swallow her petite face entirely) slowly while projecting blue steel and turning one leg out in true model fashion.

She won’t be so hot when she heads out and that Canadian winter wind blows up her skirt and shoots out her nostrils…

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TWO)  The Niagara Parks Winter Festival of Lights. Click here for the full rundown, but the Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights transforms my fair city’s most famous aspect into a palette of breathtaking color with millions of sparkling lights and animated displays, all of which are located within the Niagara Parks, Dufferin Islands and surrounding tourist traps districts.

This year, the whole shebang is being billed as “Aura: Let it Glow”, bringing several incredible illumination-themed events to the Festival of Lights throughout the entire 56-km Niagara Parks.

Yes, I do sound like a PR shill, thank you very much.

The point is, the Parks (that’s what we locals call the Niagara Parks Commission) never disappoints. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have unlimited funds at your disposal.) If you’re ever in Niagara Falls in the winter, kids, you must do two things:

  1.  Bundle up!  (It’s damn cold down by the water.)
  2.  Bask in the glow of the Winter Festival of Lights.

FUN BEHIND-THE-SCENES FACT:  The Walt Disney Company was the primary sponsor of the Festival but once Niagara became home to two casinos, the House of Mouse closed up shop and headed out. I understand their position (not really) but what can you do?

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THREE)  The “Frozen Falls”.  Every year American guests arrive at the hotel expecting to see a scene from Frozen. Hear me now, everyone:

IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY, PEOPLE! IF TEMPERATURES REACHED THE POINT WHERE THE RAGING POWER OF THE FALLS WERE SUPPRESSED, NO ONE WOULD BE LIVING IN THIS CITY AT ALL!

So please don’t expect to see an ice formation so dense it brings the Falls to a standstill, kids. No matter what CNN claims…

niagarafallsfrozenThis guy’s courageous – but nuts!

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FOUR)  The Not-so-Frozen Falls.  Even if they’re not frozen over, the Falls are still pretty cool (pun intended) in the wintertime.

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FIVE)  The long, quiet, drawn-out workdays.  Hear me out. I usually make the following joke about winter in the Niagara Falls hospitality trenches:

“Working in a Niagara Falls hotel in the winter is like being in The Shining… except those people had more fun.”

congelandoSurviving a Canadian winter isn’t as easy as it looks… But it’s totally worth it.

But the truth is, while I don’t relish the mind-numbing boredom or the inevitable dip in revenue, the winter serves a vital purpose in our existence. It allows us to recharge, to reevaluate and to renew our energies. Nowhere is this more valuable than in the hospitality industry. 

With the exception of retail, the hospitality trenches are more treacherous than any other vocation that involves serving the needs of an increasingly-hostile public. In my (almost) two decades as a bellman I’ve watched the overall mood of the guests I serve degrade from slightly bold to mildly annoying to downright deplorable. This cannot be said of every guest, of course, but without the winter break, 90% of hotel staff would tender their resignation in their first summer season and never look back.

tumblr_ncovn4ntfs1tlak3io1_500It wasn’t always easy, but with a little perspective, this is how I spend my winter shifts now…

In closing (go ahead and cheer, I won’t hold it against you) my feelings for my hometown are too complicated to encapsulate here but I think you get the idea, right? Winter in Niagara is almost indescribable; standing at the brink of the Falls in the evening (which starts at 4:30, seriously) is a deeply-moving experience. The crowds are minimal, the air is brisk but clean, the world falls away and all you hear is the roar of nature as you stare at the unending movement of six million cubic feet of water over the crestline of the Falls every minute.

You find yourself frozen in a singular moment in time.

And once the winter mist falls over you, you find yourself literally frozen.

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And on that frigid note, see you in the lobby, kids…

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There is beauty in all things and moments,  friends…

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Painted Ladies… “Repainted?” Another Murdoch Mysteries Review.

What can I say about an episode of Murdoch Mysteries that begins with a brilliant score, a deadpan joke from Det. Murdoch and most importantly, a dead guy who hoped to get lucky on a floating swan but instead got a one-way ticket to the great beyond?

Fortunately, a few things come to mind…

ONE)  Another cool title.  Painted Ladies is indeed another clever Murdoch moniker (yes I’m quite clever myself, thank you). Peter Mitchell’s writing crew have been knocking ’em out of the park all season and this week’s title is the tip of the turn-of-the-century iceberg.

Before I get going… How awesome was Hélène Joy last night? Larger than life even!

page-breakTWO)  Fifty Shades of Crabtree.  “Look at George’s sexy knees!” – The wife, after seeing Jonny Harris and Erin Agostino in the afterglow of their scandalous relationship.

MM has always been bold when it comes to discussing S-E-X but the Crabtree/Nina coupling has given the writers an opportunity to give the audience an intriguing couple as well as a small taste of what they see in heaping doses on other shows.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Murdoch should adopt an HBO approach; I think they balance the titillating aspects of the good detective’s cases with good clean writing. And I hope this never changes. Murdoch Mysteries is a show you can watch with your grandparents, one that won’t bore your kids to death.

Pun intended.

But writer Mary Pedersen crafted an entire episode around Victorian sex – and she smashed the notions most people have concerning it – masterfully.

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“I don’t know, George… I still say we should’ve at least displayed some Nina/George Victorian Missionary position action! Sex sells and I need this job!”

THREE)  A Fatal Attractionesque serial killer?  With a thing for swans, even? Again, the writing team – led by scribe Mary Pedersen – gave us an intriguing series of crimes motivated by a complicated series of human emotions. Revenge for being socially ostracized is a sympathetic crime and that’s where MM excels.

A villain is always more interesting when they’re presented in grey tones rather than black-and-white hues, don’t you agree? By episode’s end I truly felt for the killer rather than the victims. Don’t think me harsh; who hasn’t vowed revenge upon torturous schoolmates? The only difference in Painted Ladies was a young lady (a human swan, according to George) who made good on her vow, even though her plans took years to reach fruition.

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FOUR)  Nina Bloom.  Erin Agostino is a gifted actress and her Miss Bloom is a fine addition to Murdoch’s stable of strong, forward-thinking females who defy social convention and live life by their own rules. Who else thought she was going to hit the road by episode’s end? It’s a credit to MM’s creative team that they’ve decided to keep Nina around.

For now.

After all, you never what to expect from a show with “Mystery” in the title…

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FIVE)  Slugger Jackson – at last!  Kristian Bruun is one busy actor (he’s on a little show called, Orphan Black, if you’re not aware) and so his MM appearances have been few and far between – but he made up for it this week. Slugger even got a brief-but-meaty arc; first he vowed revenge on Higgins then he ran off to save the poor bugger from humiliation. (And a possible mauling.)

And speaking of Henry Higgins…

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SIX)  Lachlan Murdoch got laid!  As Henry, I mean. Higgins finally appeared vulnerable rather than annoying when he admitted (gasp!) that he isn’t a ladies’ man at all. A single line, “The problem is, I always do…” gave us loads of character development and made us all feel sympathetic for poor Higgins.

But in the end, his good buddy George inspired Henry to embrace his inner Don Juan and head out to bag himself a babe.

And wouldn’t you know it? His shocking (but awesome) pick-up line worked! I actually cheered when the young lady’s expression went from enraged to aroused. Way to go, Higgins!

Now just make sure you hang onto that boldness long enough to seal the deal! That chick looks like a handful, to say the least…

murdoch“I say, Higgins, you may actually get lucky, ole chap!”

SEVEN)  A well-rounded episode.  Painted Ladies gave us a full cast (minus the Inspector and Miss James, sadly) a fascinating mystery, a female serial killer, burlesque dancers (woo hoo!) deadpan lines from Yannick Bisson and more! And Robert Carli outdid himself with the fun, masterful opening-scene score, didn’t he?

Guest stars Thom Allison (Oscar Ducharme) and Linzee Barclay (Bessie Fellowes) acted their hearts out as well. Oscar was endlessly-fascinating as a glamorous fashion/make-up consultant and

Peter Mitchell really needs to petition Shaftesbury for a raise for everyone on the MM team.

Good luck, buddy. 

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EIGHT)  The coolest widow in Murdoch history.  Honestly, Bessie Fellowes rocked! Not only did she help Detective Murdoch crack the case wide open, she went from grieving – and clueless – widow to cruel – but hilarious – elitist in three scenes.

The “B” in Linzee Barclay stands for brilliant!

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NINE)  Constable Crabtree nabs the killer!  (With some help from his lover.) George was an orphan and never went far in school but he’s come far enough in ten seasons to become a detective in his own right. Unfortunately, a stint in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (don’t you hate when that happens?) means he won’t be an actual detective but that doesn’t mean he can’t bring a murderous “swan” to justice, right?

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TEN)  Nina Bloom made it to the end of the episode!  I honestly thought Erin Agostino was going to be written out of MM by the time the credits rolled. (She’s great but poor George never seems to win for long.) But Peter Mitchell and Co. bucked their own precedent and kept Nina around.

She could’ve been the killer  – but wasn’t.

She could’ve left George standing there with his… nightstick in his hand – but she didn’t.

Well done, MM team.

300“Oh, George, I’m so happy! I can pay my rent this month!”

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And that’s all I have to say about that. For now.

See you on the CBC next week, kids…

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