Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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Stanley Kubrick’s esoteric last hurrah finds the audience absorbing the public and private lives of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). The couple have been together for several years now and consider themselves to be very happy, but at the NYC cocktail party of a wealthy patient of Bill’s, some potential cracks begin to show themselves in the marriage.

Bill reunites with Nick, an old medical school colleague who has since decided to pursue a career as a jazz pianist. Bill is also later occupied by a medical emergency upstairs, where his host’s girlfriend nearly overdoses on a speedball. Throughout the night, both Bill and Alice are approached when they’re alone – Alice by a middle-aged Hungarian man, and Bill by two young models. Both resist their respective advances.

The evening after the party, Alice asks Bill if he had sex with the two models, to which Bill reassures her that he didn’t. However, he is disturbed when Alice subsequently reveals that years earlier, she had come dangerously close to having an affair and willingly fantasized about such an encounter.

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Bill wanders around the streets of New York, distressed and disillusioned. He has an exchange with a prostitute, but eventually refuses to cheat after becoming ashamed and embarrassed. He then runs into Nick again at a local jazz club and discovers that Nick has a special engagement planned for the rest of the evening in which he must play piano blindfolded. Curious, Bill wants to see for himself, but Nick becomes terse and objects to Bill getting involved. Eventually, he relents and gives Bill the information that, in order to attend the event, he has to wear a costume, a mask, and must also have a verbal password to give when he arrives.

Bill’s web of intrigue eventually becoming a mysterious and harrowing journey into the underbelly of New York, potentially discovering disturbing truths about himself in the process and endangering both his marriage and his life.

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Eyes Wide Shut is a film by the legend himself, Stanley Kubrick. He’s long been a personal favorite of mine, but I had long resisted watching Eyes Wide Shut based on its reputation as an impenetrable, long-winded, bizarre film, as well as my general distaste for Tom Cruise’s filmography. Nonetheless, I gave in and gave it a watch about a month ago, and I genuinely enjoyed it.

The film’s unusually laborious production process rivaled even that of The Shining, Kubrick’s 1980 epic horror film. Eyes Wide Shut holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot (nearly 15 straight months), with two supporting cast members – Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh – eventually leaving the production due to other acting commitments. Another actress, Vinessa Shaw, was initially contracted for two weeks of filming, but ended up working for three times that. Kubrick’s notorious perfectionism led to numerous script changes and an acute attention to production design and cinematography.

Speculation swirled about Kubrick’s film, which was adapted by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael from the novel Traumnovelle by the Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler. Kubrick had first considered adapting Schnitzler’s work as far back as the early 70s, when he was searching for a novel to make into a film in a relatively short timeframe and on a tight budget (he made A Clockwork Orange instead). Still, this pet project of Kubrick’s had long fascinated him as an exploration of both fears and sexual desires.

By the time Eyes Wide Shut‘s production finally got off the ground, the elusive, enigmatic Kubrick hadn’t made a film in a decade (1987’s Full Metal Jacket) and many assumed that he had retired from filmmaking altogether.

Tabloids buzzed when it was revealed that then-real-life husband-and-wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman would be starring in the film, with some speculating that it would be “the sexiest movie ever.” Kubrick, therefore, was smart about marketing the film, revealing very little, even in press kits and production notes.

(Side note: It’s worth mentioning that despite the potential titillation of seeing a real life celebrity couple nude on film, and large amounts of plot devoted to sexual issues, Cruise and Kidman never have sex onscreen. “No one familiar with the cold precision of Kubrick’s work will be surprised that this isn’t the steamy erotic thriller a synopsis (or the ads) might suggest,” remarked TV Guide at the time of the film’s release.)

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Once filming was finally completed, the lengthy post-production process began on Eyes Wide Shut, with Kubrick as involved as he had been an any of his previous films. On March 1, 1999, Kubrick screened a cut of the finished film to Kidman, Cruise, and a group of Warner Brothers executives, all of whom were very happy with the result. Six days later, the 70-year-old Kubrick died suddenly of a heart attack while in his sleep at his home in England. The film was released 151 days later.

The production design, costume design, and cinematography of Eyes Wide Shut are all outstanding. The cinematography captures a genuinely eerie atmosphere a lot of the time and builds mystery and suspense very methodically in a way that few films do. Kubrick pioneered the use of controlled natural lighting in Barry Lyndon and does the same in Eyes Wide Shut. Most obviously, there’s the glow of a Christmas tree in almost every room (the movie takes place during Christmastime in New York, not Vienna during Mardi Gras, as depicted in Schnitzler’s novel).

While the slow pace of Eyes Wide Shut may alienate some viewers, I felt like it wouldn’t have worked any other way. There are some occasions, especially early on, where the deliberate actions of the characters aren’t always believable and sometimes feel unnatural. However, I found Cruise’s character to be generally relatable and sympathetic, and the terror that he experiences at various points in the movie does feel well-crafted and creepy in the best ways.

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There remains a debate about whether Eyes Wide Shut was completed the way Kubrick had intended. The director was known for making both major and minor changes to his films up until the last minute, so whether Eyes Wide Shut was released 100% according to his vision is unknown.

Here’s what we do know:

  • Former Kubrick collaborator Michael Herr (co-writer of Full Metal Jacket‘s screenplay) said he received a phone call from Kubrick four days before his death, where he said that he had some misgivings about technical issues, particularly with color, sound, and music, but that the studio was happy with the result.
  • Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s executive producer and brother-in-law, said that Kubrick was very happy with Eyes Wide Shut, as did one of the film’s supporting actors, Todd Field, and Kubrick’s daughter Katharina.
  • Garrett Brown, who invented the Steadicam and worked with Kubrick on The Shining, said he considered Eyes Wide Shut to be an unfinished product: “I think it was snatched up by the studio when Stanley died…it was three months before the movie was due to be released. I don’t think there’s a chance that was the movie he had in mind. It’s a great shame, because you know it’s out there, but it doesn’t feel to me as if it’s really his film.”

For what it’s worth, Warner Brothers insisted several times that Kubrick had turned in the final cut of the film before his death, and agreed to collaborate with Kubrick’s estate on actual completion of the film based on Kubrick’s production notes (although they did alter some sexually-explicit scenes to ensure an R rating). It’s generally believed that any further changes that Kubrick wanted to make were purely technical in nature, mostly centered around sound mixing, color correction, and other things that would not have necessarily needed his immediate input.

Certified “fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes at 74%, Eyes Wide Shut was generally regarded as one of the best films of the year and was particularly acclaimed by Roger Ebert, who dubbed it “a worthy final chapter to a great director’s career.” The film performed averagely at the US box office, but did very well in Europe.

As I’ve mentioned already, Eyes Wide Shut is slow-paced – building mystery and suspense in a deliberate, sometimes plodding manner. However, this film very much rewards the patient viewer and even earlier scenes that don’t seem important end up coming full-circle later on. If you’re in for the ride, Eyes Wide Shut is chilling, compelling, and bizarre in all the ways that you expect a Kubrick film to be.

Combining the visual spectacle of Barry Lyndon, the slow-building tension of The Shining, and the abstract, open-ended storytelling of 2001Eyes Wide Shut is a terrific achievement and a suitable enough ending to Kubrick’s sterling career.

Provocatively conceived, gorgeously shot and masterfully executed.” —The Chicago Tribune

“A dead-serious film about sexual yearnings, one that flirts with ridicule yet sustains its fundamental eeriness and gravity throughout. The dreamlike intensity of previous Kubrick visions is in full force here.” –The New York Times

“Finally a film that is better at mood than substance, that has its strongest hold on you when its making the least amount of sense.” –The Los Angeles Times

“As rich and strange and riveting as any journey Kubrick has taken us on.” –The Seattle Times

“Thought-provoking and unsettling.” –James Berardinelli

 

Rating: 8/10

  • Directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick
  • Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael
  • Inspired by Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler
  • Executive Producer – Jan Harlan
  • Director of Photography – Larry Smith
  • Editor – Nigel Galt
  • Music – Jocelyn Pook
  • Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Rade Šerbedžija, Vinessa Shaw, Sky du Mont, Leelee Sobieski, Alan Cumming, Leon Vitali
  • Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material

Gallipoli (1981)

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The year is 1915, in the thick of the Great War. In the remote outback of Western Australia, a young aspiring sprinter named Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) leads a simple life on his family’s farm. His hard-charging uncle Jack (Bill Kerr) helps him train against other local farmboys, but the young Aussies soon grow concerned over the war halfway around the world, and they all hold varying opinions on whether it’s worth fighting for their British overlords or not.

Archy signs up for a sprint at his town’s annual athletics carnival, where his primary competition is the charismatic Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), a recently unemployed railway worker from Perth who places a bet to win the race. When Archy defeats him, Frank is bitter at losing the prize money, but they soon make peace. Lacking any substantial money, the two decide to catch a train to Perth in order to enlist in the ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) campaign.

Along the way, we begin to see the differences in the two men’s approach to enlisting. Archy is the optimistic idealist, believing that he has an opportunity to fight on behalf of his family and to serve Australia in the best way he can. Frank, an Irish-Australian, is more skeptical of the British Empire’s goals in WWI. Archy unsuccessfully tries to persuade Frank to join him in the light-horse brigade, but Frank instead joins up with some of his old railway buddies in the infantry. The young Aussies depart their ordinary lives back home and ship off to Cairo.

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Once in Egypt, Frank and Archy end up reuniting and are soon sent off to the Gallipoli Peninsula, where other ANZAC detachments are attempting to retake the territory from the Ottoman Empire’s forces.

The main objective of the campaign, ostensibly, is to secure a narrow strip of land called The Nek, but there are conflicts among the ANZAC commanders and the British Colonel Robinson. The once-innocent Aussies begin to get discouraged and jaded about their roles in the fight as the casualties mount and an uncertain outcome looms.

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This film is, to some extent, unusual for a war movie. For starters, there aren’t enough epic World War I films out there (the only other one that I’ve absolutely loved was 1941’s Sgt. York). And there’s a reason for that in this case, as both Australia and New Zealand hold WWI as more important to their history than WWII.

Also, while Gallipoli‘s battle sequences are very well-shot and acted, they don’t necessarily overwhelm the film’s overall message or take center-stage. Gallipoli is a coming-of-age story of both the characters in the film and Australia itself.

As mentioned previously, the young boys in the film hold a wide range of opinions on the war effort. They don’t really know why they’re fighting, only that they must, and the film shines much light on why the Gallipoli campaign failed. Still, in the midst of terrible losses and wartime atrocities, the character of the ANZACs shined through.

The campaign, therefore, served as a major catalyst for Australia to assert itself as its own country, as opposed to just a major chess piece for the Brits to use in their own wartime efforts. The camaraderie of the ANZAC troops was on full display, as they showed many of the qualities that, to this day, Aussies value.

In modern times, both Australia and New Zealand celebrate ANZAC Day on April 25th; it’s their equivalent of Memorial Day. In addition to being a federal/bank holiday, nearly every city and town in both countries holds a sunrise ceremony and a moment of silence.

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Gallipoli is historically relevant as one of the primary films in Australian new wave cinema, marking director Peter Weir as a prominent leader in the movement (He went on to direct such international blockbusters as Witness, The Truman ShowDead Poets Society, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).

Not surprisingly, Gallipoli only made a major financial impact in Australia. Filmed on only a $2.8 million budget, it went on to gross nearly $12 million at the Australian box office. Gallipoli was a major critical success in America, despite only grossing $5.7 million there.

It was also a major starring vehicle for then-relative newcomer Mel Gibson. Only 24 years old at the time, Gibson used Gallipoli as a springboard to establish himself as a serious dramatic actor as well as a budding action hero. Gibson and Weir also later collaborated on The Year of Living Dangerously in 1982 and are still considered pivotal figures in modern Australian cinema.

I really enjoyed Gallipoli, and it’s not just because I’m familiar with Australian culture. Like any good war movie, it’s simultaneously entertaining, inspiring, and bittersweet.

It’s worth mentioning that there are several historical liberties that are taken, specifically considering the British role in calling the shots in trench warfare. There are certainly some inaccuracies, and the filmmakers have admitted as much. Still, Gallipoli succeeds largely in what it attempts to do, and is considered one of the best Australian films of its time.

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Directed by Peter Weir
  • Screenplay by David Williamson
  • Story by Peter Weir
  • Produced by Robert Stigwood and Patricia Lovell
  • Director of Photography – Russell Boyd
  • Editor – William Anderson
  • Starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Harold Hopkins, Robert Grubb, Heath Harris, Tim McKenzie, Ron Graham, Charles Yunipingu
  • Rated PG

Benny & Joon (1993)

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Orphaned as children, Benjamin “Benny” Pearl (Aidan Quinn) and Juniper “Joon” Pearl (Mary Stuart Masterson) live in a modest house in Spokane, Washington. Benny owns a local auto shop, while the timid and mentally ill Joon lives vicariously through various hobbies such as painting. Her challenges sometimes cause headaches for Benny, but he remains very protective of her.

Joon plays a poker game one night with Benny’s friend Mike, who is hosting his shy, quirky cousin Sam while he’s in town. Without Benny’s knowledge, Joon loses her bet in the game and Sam has to stay with her and Benny. Benny is upset with his sister’s actions at first, but Sam’s quiet charm eventually wins him over, while a budding romance ensues between Sam and Joon. Maybe both Benny and Joon can find happiness on their own terms….

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Despite its quirky premise and odd mix of drama and comedy, Benny & Joon received positive reviews and did well at the box office in 1993. It remains notable for its numerous references to silent films (the character of Sam has an obsession with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin) and for its soundtrack, which features worldwide folk-rock hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Scottish band The Proclaimers.

However, beneath the on-the-surface quirkiness and Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp in the best possible ways, this film is a genuinely heartwarming domestic drama. It’s about mental illness, which is frequently a topic in film that’s treated with kid gloves, so to speak. But Benny & Joon does accurately show how mentally ill people struggle, succeed, and everything in between.

Benny loves his sister and wants the best for her, even though she drives him crazy, but he’s convinced himself that letting her stay at the house all the time is the only way to keep her out of an institution. Eventually, Benny wants a personal life that doesn’t always revolve around taking care of Joon, and the film captures their struggles well. It’s only when Sam comes along that Benny begins to see a world where Joon can be happy and fulfilled. Sam has plenty of challenges himself, as he lacks social skills and frequently struggles to read, but he likes what he sees in Joon and wins her over with his whimsical charm and light-hearted attitude.

At the same time, however, Benny & Joon doesn’t take the easy way out. It’s not a dark, depressing, melodramatic take on the domestic issues that arise from mental illness. Nor is it an overly-cheesy empowerment anthem for people who’ve experienced tragedy and loss. Instead, Benny & Joon takes a lot of different themes and repackages them in a fun, quirky way with a good dose of drama, romance, and comedy sprinkled throughout. The film identifies a weighty issue and treats it in a way that few movies do, and that alone deserves brownie points.

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Directed by Jeremiah S. Checik
  • Written by Barry Berman and Lesley McNeil
  • Produced by Susan Arnold and Donna Roth
  • Starring Aidan Quinn, Mary Stuart Masterson, Johnny Depp, Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt, William H. Macy, Joe Grifasi
  • Rated PG for thematic elements, a scene of mild sensuality and brief harsh language.

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a depressed single dad to precocious pre-teen Holly (Angourie Rice). When a famous LA pornstar, Misty Mountains, dies in a mysterious car crash, March is approached by her aunt, who repeatedly insists that her niece is still alive. While investigating the crime, March also learns of the kidnapping of Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), daughter of a high-ranking Justice Department official.

Enter Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a rogue enforcer whose behavior can walk the line between ethical and unethical. Originally hired by an outside party to dissuade March from looking into Amelia’s disappearance, Healy actually ends up saving March’s life when March gets jumped at his home. The two reluctantly team up and try to piece together the two seemingly unrelated crimes involving the girls.

March and Healy discover that both Misty and Amelia were involved with a filmmaker named Dean, who recently died in a house fire that burned the original copy of said film with it. Plenty of twists and turns lie ahead as Healy and March stumble into an alternately hilarious and mysterious world, featuring porn producers, hitmen, conspiracy theories, and plenty of gaudy 70s outfits.

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This movie is awesome. We haven’t had a legit buddy-cop movie since the Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour days, although many have been attempted. The thing is, The Nice Guys is self-aware enough to play upon the buddy-cop genre tropes without being too tongue-in-cheek or wink-wink about it. It feels like a period piece in the best possible ways, and the film is lifted by Shane Black’s direction and the chemistry of its leads.

Speaking of which, both Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are excellent in this film, with both easily drawing laughs and sharing the screen well. They both get plenty of laughs, and I liked Crowe’s ability to do a Bronx accent. The film also features solid performances from Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar), Keith David (CrashPlatoon) and Margaret Qualley (TV’s The Leftovers).

I was extremely impressed with child actress Angourie Rice, who really hit a home run with her performance as Holly March. I’m sure she’ll get plenty of other roles as she gets older. Gosling, in particular, was blown away by his young co-star’s dedication and maturity. “It’s her second film, and she acts like it’s her 50th,” Gosling raved.

Black, who most recently directed Iron Man 3 in 2013, had previously made a crime-caper/comedy film with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang back in 2005. Black co-wrote the screenplay with Anthony Bagarozzi and originally conceived The Nice Guys as a modern-day TV pilot – as opposed to a period piece movie – before eventually bringing it to his friend, veteran producer Joel Silver.

Silver was originally skeptical of a 70s-style film connecting with modern audiences, but he began to warm to the idea after another period piece he worked on, Sherlock Holmes, was a big box office success.

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Both Crowe and Gosling admitted that they said yes to the project simply based on the idea of working with each other.

“When I read the script, I knew that Shane was on a plane trying to convince Russell to do it, so I read it with Russell in mind,” Gosling remarked. “I just could completely picture him in the role and I had never seen him do anything like that, so the movie just immediately became so funny.”

“It was just so free,” Crowe said about the on-set environment. “Ryan and I were having a ball and at that point, we were not really aware of how other people are enjoying it, because we just focused on our own enjoyment.”

Crowe and Gosling accepted the roles within three days of each other; Black later recalled that those two casting decisions were the catalyst for getting the ball rolling on the film earlier than expected. The Nice Guys was primarily filmed in Atlanta, with some exterior shots also filmed in Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys is entertaining, fun, hilarious, and well-directed. I liked this film a lot, and I would highly recommend you see it, particularly if you like period pieces, crime comedies, or if you’re a fan of Gosling and Crowe’s previous work.

Rating: 8/10

  • Released 2016
  • Directed by Shane Black
  • Written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi
  • Produced by Joel Silver
  • Director of Photography – Philippe Rousselot
  • Edited by Joel Negron
  • Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Murielle Telio, Lois Smith
  • Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Canada

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Aussie rules has developed rapidly in the country of Canada in the past decade or so, buoyed by a wave of Aussie ex-pats who live and work in the large cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, among others. There are several leagues currently operating, most notably in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia.

The AFL brought the game to Canada officially in the late 1980s, when exhibition matches were held in both Vancouver and Toronto. In fact, the 1987 Vancouver-based match between Sydney Swans and the Melbourne Demons drew a record crowd of over 32,000 – which, to this day, is the largest crowd ever to see a footy match outside of Australia.

Like in the US, many Canadians were first introduced to Aussie rules during the 80s, when ESPN hosted regional broadcasts of AFL games. The first Canadian league was established in Toronto in May 1989, with two teams, the Toronto Panthers and the Mississauga Mustangs. Four other teams had joined by 1992, and by 1993, the Canadian national team, the Northwind, was born.

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Almost immediately, the Northwind experienced success, beating a British representative team in only their second year of existence. In 1995, a cable TV station in Hamilton, Ontario, broadcast a local footy game for the first time, and in 1999, the Canadians played the Americans in the first edition of the 49th Parallel Cup.

The Northwind have competed in every edition of the Australian Football International Cup, starting in 2002. The women’s team, known as the Northern Lights, first played their edition of the 49th Parallel Cup in 2007 and have also competed at the International Cup, starting in 2011.

In 2012, the AFL got even more recognition up north when former Canadian rugby union player Mike Pyke won an AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans. This, perhaps more than anything, signified the birth of Aussie rules in Canada as both a major competitive enterprise and an exciting spectator sport.

At the junior level, there have been organized footy competitions since 2003, when the North Delta Junior Australian Football League was founded in British Columbia. The sport of footy continues to grow in Canada, aided by the AFL’s push to add more development officers and coaches in North America. Today, there are 833 registered senior male players and 212 female players, as well as over 6,400 youngsters in various junior leagues. This makes Aussie rules one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada.

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CANADIANS IN THE AFL

  • Mike Pyke (played 2009-2015) – A British Columbia native who played numerous sports as a kid, Pyke played professional rugby union in both Canada and in Scotland. After injuries stalled his career, Pyke surprised many when he decided to switch to Aussie rules based on a friend’s recommendation. He caught on as a ruckman with the Sydney Swans and slowly managed to carve out a role for himself, drawing praise from coaches and teammates alike. In 2012, Pyke made history as the first Canadian to win an AFL premiership. Now a dual citizen of Canada and Australia, Pyke retired from the AFL in 2015 and currently works as an investment banker.
  • Andrew McGrath (played 2017-present) – Born in Ontario, McGrath moved to Melbourne with his family at the age of five. A long-armed, polished defender, McGrath was drafted as the #1 pick in the 2016 AFL Draft by the Essendon Bombers. As a junior, McGrath played for the Vic Metro squad in under-18 footy while attending Brighton Grammar School. He was also a gifted track and field athlete.
  • Scott Fleming (played 2008-present) – A lanky 6’3″ forward, Fleming started playing Aussie rules as a teenager in British Columbia and moved to Queensland in 2008 to pursue his goal. Helped by Canadian footy liaison Greg Everett, Fleming found a place at the Broadbeach Cats, a historic club in the Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL) that has also produced AFL players such as Joel Wilkinson and Dayne Zorko.

AFL CANADA

  • Alberta Australian Football League
    • Calgary Kangaroos
    • Calgary Bears
    • Calgary Cowboys
    • Edmonton Wombats
    • Calgary Wolves
  • British Columbia Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Delta BayHawks
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • West Coast Saints
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Australian Football League
    • St John’s Puffins
  • North West Pacific Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Columbia Basin Crows
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • Victoria Lions
  • Nova Scotia Australian Football League
    • Halifax Dockers
    • Sydney Giants
  • Ontario Australian Football League
    • Broadview Hawks
    • Central Blues
    • Ottawa Swans
    • Etobicoke Kangaroos
    • Grand River Gargoyles
    • Hamilton Wildcats
    • High Park Demons
    • Toronto Downtown Dingos
    • Toronto Eagles
    • Toronto Rebels
  • Quebec Australian Football League
    • Laval Bombers
    • Montreal Demons
    • Montreal Saints
    • Old Montreal Dockers
    • Point Claire Power
    • West Island Wooders

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Hugh Laurie

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He’s one of the most accomplished television actors of the past decade, appearing in numerous award-winning shows and programs on both sides of the Atlantic, but it’s easy to forget that Hugh Laurie took the long road to become an international star.

After all, he basically got into acting by accident.

The youngest of four children, Laurie was born on June 11, 1959, and grew up in Oxford, England. His parents, Dr. William George “Ran” Laurie and Patricia Laidlaw Laurie, were of Scottish descent. The elder Laurie (1915-1998) was a well-regarded general practitioner and a former rowing champion who represented England at the 1948 Summer Olympics.

Hugh, meanwhile, attended the Dragon School in Oxford during his pre-teen years; he admits today that he was a horrible student who preferred smoking cigarettes and cheating on French vocabulary tests. Laurie then went on to the world-renowned Eton College, where he competed in rowing and also played percussion in the school orchestra. Upon graduation, he moved on to his father’s alma mater, Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Like his dad, Laurie was a gifted rower and therefore felt the pressure to live up to his family name. He studied archaeology and social anthropology while at Selwyn, but was eventually forced to give up rowing after contracting a case of mono.

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Shortly thereafter, Laurie fell into the Cambridge Footlights. Founded in 1883, the Footlights are the oldest comedy club at the university and have produced many hilarious talents, including Monty Python members John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle, as well as Jonathan Lynn, creator of Yes, Minister.

While training with the Footlights, Laurie became friends with his future long-time comedy partner, Stephen Fry, and got romantically involved with future Oscar winner Emma Thompson; they remain good friends to this day. Laurie and Thompson were president and vice president of the Footlights, respectively, during their final year at Cambridge (1980-81).

Upon leaving Cambridge, Laurie, along with Fry, found success on a variety of BBC programs, including Blackadder. Co-created by fellow Cambridge alum Ben Elton, Blackadder is a collection of satirical period-piece sitcoms featuring numerous recurring characters, and it gave Fry and Laurie plenty of chances to show off their skills.

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Shortly thereafter, the duo got their own sketch comedy show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which ran from 1989 to 1995. Widely considered a BBC cult classic, Fry and Laurie’s show helped them reach new heights in the UK, later leading to their hit show Jeeves and Wooster, an adaptation of the famous P.G. Wodehouse stories. Laurie often got chances to show off his musical prowess on TV, as he is a gifted pianist and guitarist who also plays the drums and the saxophone.

However, on the other side of the pond, Laurie was practically an unknown – which made it all the more surprising that he was tabbed for the title role in the medical procedural drama House.

Nearly all of us have seen at least one episode of House, so it’s very difficult to look at the show with fresh eyes, as audiences did back in 2004. Laurie played Dr. Greg House with such precision and perfection from the get-go, enthralling audiences worldwide. In fact, Laurie’s American accent was so convincing during his audition tape that executive producer Bryan Singer had no idea that Laurie wasn’t American until they met in person.

In addition to becoming one of the highest-paid actors on TV, Laurie’s skills finally caught on with an American audience, who only vaguely remembered him from his brief turns in 102 Dalmatians and Stuart Little. The character of Dr. House was so mean-spirited and complex, and critics were consistently impressed with Laurie’s chops. The actor took home two SAG Awards and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of House. And in 2011, Laurie received a Guinness World Record for being the most watched actor on television.

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Laurie admitted that the reason he took the role of Dr. House was because of his own father’s profession, once claiming that he felt slightly guilty for earning far more money than his dad ever did by playing a “fake doctor” on TV.

“I had a long-term reverence for medicine because I hero-worshipped my father, a former doctor, and because I admire doctors. I admire study, empiricism, and rational thought,” Laurie remarked.

However, he clarified that his late father would be “appalled” by the character of Dr. House.

“My father was an endlessly polite, generous and soft-spoken man. He was no pushover, but he would never hurt, shock or outrage people just for the hell of it. At the same time, I hope he would be entertained and see that science and logic are like a religion to House. He’d approve of that.”

Since the mammoth success of House, Laurie has pursued his musical career more consistently, recording two full-length blues albums and touring worldwide. He’s also popped up in other acclaimed shows, including a recent, well-received stint on HBO’s Veep, and took home another Golden Globe just a few weeks ago for his appearance on the BBC’s The Night Manager.

Laurie is currently starring on the Hulu original series Chance, playing a pessimistic neuropsychiatrist who is drawn into the dark underbelly of San Francisco while attempting to help an emotionally disturbed patient who suffers from an abusive husband. The intense, suspenseful show is based upon the novel by Kem Nunn – who also co-produces the show – and co-stars Lisa Gay Hamilton and Ethan Suplee.

Laurie remains best friends with Fry, who was best man at his wedding and godfather to his kids. He and Thompson are also close, with Laurie co-starring in Thompson’s universally-praised adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Laurie returned the favor in 2001, having his daughter star in the film Wit, in which she played a younger version of Thompson’s character.

In his free time, Laurie loves playing music of all kinds and is a well-known supporter of the Fulham Football Club. He is also a motorcycle enthusiast, having incorporated these elements into the character of House, and has published two crime novels. In addition to his recreational hobbies, Laurie supports several charities and is a notable patron of Save the Children (his sister, Susan, is on the Board of Trustees).

Laurie currently resides in London with his wife of 27 years, Jo; they have three grown children – Charles (age 28), William (age 26), and Rebecca (age 23).

 

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Billy the Kid

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If you’ve lived in New Mexico for any amount of time, you have to have heard of Billy the Kid (1859-1881). As someone who spent the better part of four years in the Land of Enchantment, it’s hard to argue with that.

Any Wild West historian worth his/her salt can tell you all about the legendary outlaw simply known as Billy the Kid. And that’s exactly what he was – a legend. To that end, there have been dozens of poems, documentaries, and live-action movies about Billy, most notably the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, starring Kris Kristofferson as Billy and James Coburn as Pat Garrett.

Still, many people, even experts in the field, know very little about Billy other than a few facts and information handed down by oral tradition and folklore. In fact, the above photo is the only surviving depiction of the man.

Some people – both Western historians and Billy’s own contemporaries – are divided over who he actually was. In some circles, he’s known as a vicious killer and thief who was part of a growing violent epidemic in post-Civil War New Mexico. Others believe that Billy was simply a punk kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and never killed anyone for the fun of it. And still others viewed Billy as a cunning, suave marksman – noted for being a charmer, a talented dancer, and a folk hero. In modern terms, say a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Clint Eastwood.

So what DO we know about the mysterious Billy the Kid? Let’s find out.

The first thing that you need to know about Billy the Kid is that his name wasn’t Billy. He was born September 17, 1859 in New York City and his given name was Henry McCarty. He was raised Catholic by his Irish-American mother Catherine, and he had a younger brother, Joseph (born 1863).

Very little is known about Billy’s father, other than the fact that he died when Billy was very young. Shortly thereafter, Ms. McCarty and her boys moved to Indiana, where she met and fell in love with a man named Henry Antrim. The family moved around to several places before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1873. Ms. McCarty married Antrim shortly thereafter, and then moved the family again, this time a few hundred miles south to Silver City, New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Billy’s mother passed away a year later from tuberculosis. Billy, by now age 15, started working for a lady named Sarah Brown in Silver City. Brown took him in after his mother’s death, while Billy’s brother remained with Antrim.

In 1875, Billy and a friend robbed a local laundromat, stealing clothes as well as two pistols. Billy was charged with theft and put in jail, but escaped two days later and fled to his stepfather’s house. Soon after that, Billy fled again to the Arizona Territory, where he worked on a ranch and developed a gambling habit. The following year, a respected rancher named Henry Hooker took Billy in and gave him consistent work as a cattle wrangler.

Around this time, Billy befriended a man named John Mackie, an ex-Army cavalryman who had become a small-time horse thief following his discharge. The two men began stealing horses from soldiers at nearby Camp Grant.

During one of these incidents, things turned violent. On August 17, 1877, Billy got into a verbal altercation with Francis Cahill, a blacksmith who had become increasingly suspicious of Billy. During a poker game, Cahill attacked Billy, and after a brief struggle, Billy shot Cahill, who died the next day. Billy was taken into custody by Camp Grant authorities, but managed to escape again.

Billy stole a horse and attempted to return to New Mexico, but was attacked by Apaches on the way back, who robbed him and stole his horse. A tired and dehydrated Billy managed to walk several miles through the desert to the home of John Jones, a gang member who lived in Pecos Valley, New Mexico. Billy stayed at the Jones home and recuperated for awhile before catching on with a band of cattle rustlers. By this time, Billy began using the alias “William H. Bonney” to avoid catching unnecessary attention from newspapers and authorities in his adopted hometown of Silver City.

Billy eventually went back to honest work as a ranch-hand in Lincoln County, New Mexico, working for an Englishman named John Tunstall. Tunstall and his friend, a lawyer named Alexander McSween, were locked in a feud with three prominent businessmen: John Riley, James Dolan, and Lawrence Murphy. This trio were intimately involved in local politics and were suspected of shady dealings with various authority figures in Lincoln County.

In early 1878, on behalf of Dolan, county sheriff William Brady attempted to claim $40,000 of Tunstall’s property in order to repay a much smaller debt owed by McSween. Tunstall, sensing danger, warned his ranch-hands (including Billy) to guard the property and prevent the sheriff’s men from stealing any horses or cattle.

On February 18th, Sheriff Brady assembled a posse and attempted to force Tunstall off his land. In the process, Tunstall was shot and killed, starting what eventually became known as the Lincoln County War.

Two days later, Billy and a couple of his associates went to the local justice of the peace, John Wilson, and obtained murder warrants for Sheriff Brady. While attempting to do so, Billy and his friend, Dick Brewer, were ambushed by the sheriff’s posse and imprisoned. This caught the attention of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rob Widenmann, who freed Billy and Brewer on February 23rd and, in turn, locked up Sheriff Brady’s men.

After his release, Billy joined the Lincoln County Regulators and attempted to avenge Tunstall’s murder. On March 9th, two of Tunstall’s alleged killers, Bill Morton and Frank Baker, were shot dead. A month later, during an ambush at nearby Blazer’s Mill, Brewer and Sheriff Brady were also killed. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of numerous parties, including Billy.

By now, McSween was the leader of the Regulators, who were nearly 60 strong. They occupied the town of Lincoln on the night of July 14th, surrounding the town for several days. The new sheriff, George Peppin, dispatched several sharpshooters to kill the Regulators at the local saloon, but it backfired when Charles Crawford, one of the snipers, was shot by a Regulator named Fernando Herrera.

A furious Sheriff Peppin requested help from Colonel Nathan Dudley of nearby Fort Stanton, but Dudley refused. On July 19th, McSween and the Regulators were attacked at their lodge by Deputy Sheriff Jack Long, who burned the house down. As Billy and the Regulators retreated, McSween was shot and killed by Robert Beckwith, who was then shot by Billy.

Billy and three surviving Regulators regrouped outside of town on the Mescalero Apache Indian Agency. However, when a local bookkeeper was murdered on August 5th by a Lincoln County Constable, the Regulators were framed for the crime.

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On October 5th, U.S. Marshal John Sherman met with the new governor of the New Mexico Territory, Lew Wallace. A Union officer during the Civil War, Wallace was intent on restoring law and order to the dangerous New Mexico landscape. In their meeting, Sherman informed Wallace of a number of pending arrest warrants, including for a one “Billy the Kid.” Due to widespread political corruption in Lincoln County, Sherman had been unable to indict the people involved in the conflict.

In November, Governor Wallace issued amnesty to anyone involved in the Lincoln County War following Tunstall’s murder earlier that year. However, the pardon did not apply to anyone who was under indictment for a crime, so Billy was still a wanted man.

On February 18, 1879, Billy and a friend of his were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A local attorney, Huston Chapman, was murdered and his corpse set on fire while Billy and his friend were forced to watch. Later, Billy wrote a letter to Governor Wallace, offering information on Chapman’s murder in exchange for amnesty. Billy met with Wallace in person on March 15th, with Wallace offering full amnesty to Billy if he testified before a grand jury. Soon after, Billy turned himself in to Sheriff George Kimball.

As agreed, Billy provided information about the Chapman murder, but as the weeks passed, Billy began to question Wallace’s motivations. Believing that the Governor had double-crossed him, Billy escaped the jail on June 17th and decided to lie low for several months.

In January 1880, Billy shot and killed a man named Joe Grant (allegedly in self-defense) at a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. By now, Billy had joined a new posse and they were still causing trouble in the area, causing headaches for the new sheriff, Pat Garrett.

Garrett had been given a bounty on Billy’s head from Governor Wallace himself. Two days before Christmas 1880, Garrett captured Billy and his posse and took them to stand trial in Santa Fe. On the way there, the group was mobbed by rowdy locals attempting to kill Billy and his men. After arriving in Santa Fe, Billy was interviewed in the jailhouse by a reporter from the Las Vegas Gazette. The reporter took note of Billy’s relaxed demeanor, to which Billy replied that he didn’t believe in being pessimistic and that he would have the last laugh.

While in jail, Billy wrote Governor Wallace again, asking for clemency, but to no avail. In April 1881, Billy was transported to stand trail in Mesilla, New Mexico. After two days of testimonies, Billy was found guilty of murdering Sheriff Brady – the only conviction of any combatant in the Lincoln County War. On April 13th, Billy was sentenced to hang. He was moved once again, this time back to Lincoln.

On the night of April 28th, Sheriff Garrett was out of town. Deputy Bob Olinger and his colleagues were out at dinner, leaving a lone deputy, James Bell, to watch Billy.

Billy requested to use the outhouse, and Bell agreed. Somehow, on the way back to the jail, Billy freed himself from his handcuffs and knocked Bell over, before grabbing his revolver and shooting him in the back as he fled. Billy’s legs were still shackled, but amazingly, he was able to hobble into Garrett’s upstairs office and arm himself with a shotgun. Olinger, who had heard gunshots from across the street, approached. Billy called out, “Look up, old boy, and see what you get,” before shooting Olinger in the head. Billy then freed himself from his leg irons, stole a horse, and fled town.

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Three months later, Governor Wallace placed a new bounty for Billy’s arrest or death. After hearing rumors that Billy was in Fort Sumner again, Garrett and two deputies left on July 14th to question Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy’s and the son of a prominent landowner. Late at night, Garrett was questioning Maxwell when Billy unexpectedly entered the room. Due to the poor lighting, Billy did not recognize Garrett and called out, “Who is it?” Garrett, recognizing Billy’s voice, shot him in the chest twice, killing him.

Garrett was eventually given the bounty by Governor Wallace, but rumors began circulating that Garrett had ambushed Billy and killed him in cold blood. Feeling a need to set the record straight, Garrett told his side of the story in his book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, published in April 1882. It remains one of the few definitive chronicles of Billy’s life.