Thursday, April 17, 2014

NBA Playoff Picks

I've gotta say, "Raptors playoff preview" wasn't exactly on my radar as a possible post topic last November but here we are.  Let's make no mistake --- the Raptors are where they are thanks to the absolute trash heap that is the NBA Eastern Conference.  If the NBA suddenly ruled that the Phoenix Suns (48-34 but ninth in the West) were being slotted into the East's #8 seed in place of the terrible 38-44 Haws, I would honestly be picking Phoenix over the Pacers right now.  Not a doubt in my mind.  Hell, I'd have Phoenix going to the East finals before finally going down to Miami.  You could even talk me into the Timberwolves (10th in the West) winning a round in the East.

(Interlude: the T-Wolves and Grizzlies have to be kicking themselves over the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems to confirm that the team will be remaining in Milwaukee for years to come.  The hot rumour was that the Bucks could've moved to Seattle, which obviously would've meant realignment, which would've meant that one of Minnesota or Memphis is the lucky duck who gets into the much easier conference.  Sure, you could argue that the conferences won't be so lopsided forever…but the West has been the far superior side for the better part of a decade.  Things ain't changing anytime soon.)

In the blind East, however, the one-eyed Raptors were kings, even capturing a division title.  Going into the year, it was supposed that the Raptors would be one of the many teams tanking to get a nice spot in the star-laden 2014 draft.  Toronto would draft one of those stars and then hope he blossomed into a superstar, and then build a nice team around him.  Instead, the Raptors went ahead and built that nice team already, though they're still clearly a mega-watt, top-10-in-the-NBA star away from being actual contenders.  No, Kyle Lowry fans, he isn't that guy, though obviously he had a terrific year.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, it all ends in the first round for them since they're playing against the red-hot Brooklyn Nets.  It's certainly possible the Raptors COULD win this series…it's a tribute to how frisky the Raps have played this season that they have a more than legit shot against any team in the East except Miami.  That said, Brooklyn is a better team on paper and they're going to get every call.  It's a tough break for the Raptors since if they'd fallen to the fourth seed, they would've played the easy mark Wizards, and then faced the collapsing Pacers in the second round.  The Raptors had a path to the East finals right in front of them, and the matchups just didn't fall their way, and it's all over.

Anyway, this is all a moot point since as I wrote back in November, the NBA is nothing if not a predictable league.  The only two Finals matchups I see as realistic possibilities are Miami vs. San Antonio or Miami vs. Oklahoma City.  The first is the likelier of the two since the Spurs seem to be going to their championship zone and are nigh-impossible to beat in that state.  The Thunder's only chance would be if Kevin Durant just goes unconscious and carries the team on his back, which is a distinct possibility given Durant's ability.  But still, Miami/San Antonio rematch seems to be the best bet, and I think we all want a rematch of last year's crazy Finals.  I'd love to see the Spurs win and give Tim Duncan that fifth ring, but since the Heat were my preseason pick last fall, I'll stick with them.

Pacers over Hawks
Nets over Raptors
Heat over Bobcats
Bulls over Wizards
Spurs over Mavericks
Rockets over Trail Blazers
Thunder over Grizzlies
Clippers over Warriors

Nets over Pacers
Heat over Bulls
Spurs over Rockets
Thunder over Clippers

Heat over Nets
Spurs over Thunder

Heat over Spurs (in seven games)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stanley Cup Prediction

The Maple Leafs had defied the odds and were seemingly sitting pretty, but it just wasn't meant to be.  "The Rains Of Castamere" started playing over the ACC's sound system, and the befuddled Leafs were stabbed by Lord Corsi, who whispered "The Fenwicks send their regards."

If anything, the Leafs' failure is kind of a relief.  A token playoff appearance would've only prolonged the Randy Carlyle/Dave Nonis era and caused longer-term damage to the franchise.  Now, Carlyle will surely be fired and while Nonis himself will likely stay on (that five-year extension signed last summer, shudder, almost guarantees it), you'd think he'd be required to make some changes to his front office staff.  Brendan Shanahan could well become the latest Leafs figurehead to bring a big name and nothing else to the table, though if you can say one thing about Shanahan, it's that he tends to not tolerate bullshit.

The worst part about cheering for a bad team is when that team isn't just bad, but also dumb.  No team shot itself in the foot quite like the Leafs, as you could easily argue that there's definitely playoff-caliber talent on the roster; the problem was that it was hamstrung by terrible coaching (Carlyle failed at even such basics as line construction and juggling minutes) and just too many stiffs on the roster.  Much has been written about the disastrous David Clarkson signing, but not enough has been made of the Leafs just allowing good players like Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski were allowed to walk for nothing.  The Leafs had clearly downgraded themselves between the last game of the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 opener, so I'm not sure why anyone's surprised they didn't make it back to the postseason, even in a somewhat weak Eastern Conference.

I just want my team to be smarter.  No more instantly-awful signings like the Clarkson deal, no more scoffing at advanced statistics, no panic moves like trading Jake Gardiner/Morgan Rielly/Nazem Kadri since lord knows the Leafs have traded many a young star for a "proven veteran" in the past and seen the move blow up in their faces.  I am absolutely okay dealing with failure as long as it's constructive failure in the form of a rebuild.  Being both a losing team and a stupid team isn't fun.  I don't want to cheer for the hockey Knicks.

Anyway, enough of my Leaf complaining, let's get onto the actual good teams.

Penguins over Blue Jackets
Rangers over Flyers
Canadiens over Lightning
Bruins over Red Wings
Avalanche over Wild
Blackhawks over Blues
Ducks over Stars
Sharks over Kings


Rangers over Penguins
Bruins over Canadiens
Blackhawks over Avalanche
Sharks over Ducks


Rangers over Bruins
Sharks over Blackhawks


Sharks over Rangers
It's at this point that I'll put a major caveat on my Stanley Cup final prediction.  I'm not picking San Jose as much as I'm picking "the winner of Kings/Sharks" to win the Cup.  If L.A. gets out of the first round, they're my new favourite to go all the way.  Maybe you could argue that I should pick the Kings anyway since lord knows picking the San Jose Sharks to make a deep playoff run is a proven recipe for failures, yet here I go again.  Heck, if I wanted to really wuss out and add even more caveats, I'd go ahead and state that the Cup champion will be one of the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Blackhawks or Bruins.  If anyone other than those five teams is hoisting the Cup at the end, I'd be awfully surprised.  But hey!  Why not the Sharks?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hot! Live! Music!

Just one link this time....Outkast's reunion at Coachella.  The ENTIRE thing.  No idea how long YouTube will keep this up, so listen/watch it nowwwwww

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Private Screenings

Nothing says "date night" for a pair of 32-year-olds like going to see the new Muppets film, so my girlfriend and I took in Muppets Most Wanted the other evening in…a totally empty theatre.  That's right, I rented the entire thing out so we could enjoy the iconic pairing of Kermit "It's not easy being green" the Frog and Ricky "it's not easy being an atheist" Gervais in total romantic privacy.  Contact the good people at Boyfriend Magazine to tell them that they can start engraving their 2014 BF Of The Year trophy.

…or, we just happened to be the only ones who bought tickets to this particular screening.  This may be a slightly likelier scenario (especially since I won the 2013 BF Of The Year trophy from Big Faker Magazine).  Still, while I didn't spread some cash around to make this two-person screening happen, it was still a terrific bonus.  Is there anything better than being the only one in a movie theatre?  I feel like such a big shot.  When/if I eventually make my millions, my first move is to build a private movie theatre within my lavish mansion.  Well, wait, I guess the actual first move would be to buy a mansion in the first place.  And really, to be technical, the ABSOLUTE FIRST MOVE after becoming a millionaire would still probably be something mundane like buying milk, or getting a tank of gas before driving out to the mansion to meet your real estate agent.  Or hiring a driver to drive you out to the mansion.  I'm babbling.

The point is that these so-called "private screenings" are always a treat, and so singular that I can remember them all.  The four times they've occurred in my life…

* firstly, Muppets Most Wanted.  It was probably exactly what you'd expect from a Muppets movie…cute, entertaining enough, nostalgic, with the one caveat that it seemed way too long at nearly two hours.  Upon realizing we were the only ones there, my girlfriend and I immediately left our phones on, put our feet up on the backs of the chairs in front of us, and just openly talking in our regular voices.  We probably would've started making out had it been a different film, but the fact that it was a Muppets movie kind of killed the mood.  It also would've come off like a re-enactment of that Simpsons scene when Troy McClure is seducing Selma at the drive-in, while his onscreen seduction of Miss Piggy is happening in the background (with the same dialogue). 

* secondly, Observe & Report.  We have to go back to 2009 for this one, and it was an afternoon screening at the Woodbine Mall Rainbow Cinemas, and this was particularly notable since I was the ONLY person there.  That's right, this one was a true private screening.  An usher strolled in halfway through and I happily waved at him, which drew a laugh.  This was a thoroughly weird movie from Jody Hill (of Eastbound & Down fame) that starred Seth Rogen as a lunatic mall cop.  In terms of tone and obviously not quality, Observe & Report: Paul Blart, Mall Cop :: Taxi Driver: Taxi (that turd with Jimmy Fallon & Queen Latifah).  Rogen's character is definitely a spiritual descendent of Kenny Powers as a thoroughly terrible human being who is nonetheless the 'hero' of the story.  It's pretty clear that Hill hadn't quite learned to keep from totally crossing the line at this point, as Observe & Report is totally ruined by a scene when Rogen essentially rapes Anna Faris' character…and it's played for laughs.  Had there been other people in the theatre, surely there would've been a few walkouts.

* thirdly, Let's Go To Prison.  My friend Aron and I went to see this wholly forgettable comedy in 2006 on the basis of "hey, Will Arnett is in it!" and this was the peak of our Arrested Development fandom.  "Hey, Will Arnett is in it!" is a line of thinking that led to a lot of bad movie choices over the years, so if Arnett's agent is reading this, I hope you're eaten by a rabid giraffe.  I'm not kidding when I called this one wholly forgettable, as I literally remember nothing about it aside from Arnett and Dax Shepard being the stars (p.s. there's a recipe for laughs!)  Looking at the cast list on IMDB, it's full of familiar names like Chi McBride, Aziz Ansari, David Koechner and even Michael Shannon, which isn't surprising.  Shannon is the classic case of a veteran character actor who gets his big break (i.e. his Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road) and becomes well-known, and then you go back and realize that he was in tons of notable movies and you just never noticed him before.  To wit, Shannon was the guy in the "we're going to Wrestlemania!" couple in Groundhog Day, so yeah, consider your mind blown.  Anyway, I'll have to ask Aron if he remembers anything at all about this movie since I'm at a loss.  We saw Let's Go To Prison at the ol' Wellington 8 Theatre in London, which I'll still always call the Wellington 8 despite the fact that it's changed owners a few times since 2006.  Aron and I probably would've started making out had it been a different film, but the fact that it was a Dax Shepard movie kind of killed the mood.

* fourthly, Daredevil.  So back in 2003, four pals and I went down to Florida for our slack week.  It ended up basically being like Spring Breakers, except with guys, and instead of committing crimes, we sat around my friend Bryan's parents' condo and played Risk.  Not even joking, we played more Risk than you would've expected on what was supposed to be a wild spring break trip.  There wasn't a ton of a local party scene given that the condo was ensconced in the middle of what was essentially a retirement community, not to mention the fact that it rained for a good three-quarters of our trip.  So to amuse ourselves on one of these rainy nights, we went to see Daredevil, a.k.a. the movie that launched the Affleck/Garner relationship, so at least something good came out of it.  The five of us were the only ones in the theatre, which led to a lot of open hooting and sarcastic comments thrown at this craptasterpiece.  I'm reminded of the old Howard Hawks line about how a good movie only needs three great scenes and no bad scenes…well, Daredevil had a ton of bad scenes, yet it did indeed contain three great ones.

1. Daredevil finally puts down the Kingpin during their climactic fight scene by sliding between his legs and then kicking backwards, shattering both of Kingpin's kneecaps.  Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) sells it by screaming bloody murder.  It's one of those classic action movie scenes that works because it's both incredibly painful and kind of hilarious at the same time.

2. The scene where Daredevil "sees" Garner's face for the first time in the raindrops.  The movie used some pretty lame ways to illustrate how Daredevil's radar sense allowed him to "see" things despite his blindness, yet this one was kind of sweet.

3. The scene where Jennifer Garner shows up at some gala event looking like a zillion bucks.  I'm not even a big Garner fan looks-wise, yet at the moment she walked on screen, all five of us went from wisecracking and carrying on in this empty theatre to just being struck dumbly silent for a moment.  I'd like to think it was this scene that inspired Affleck to dump J-Lo on the spot.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

2048

I haven't been blogging as often lately, largely because of this damn game.  After two weeks of fruitless attempts, I finally cracked the magic sequence and a winning 2048 score.  Bill Simmons has single-handedly made Shawshank references feel like cliches, but here goes....I feel like Andy Dufresne crawling out of that sewer pipe and triumphantly staring upwards into the rain.

As frustrating as this game can be, I urge you to click the link and give 2048 a shot.  It's essentially a numerical version of Tetris and a Rubik's cube, as you have to have to shift the boxes to create increasingly greater powers of two, until you've eventually created a box worth 2048 points.  You can actually keep going after you've hit the 2048 mark to shoot for 4096, 8192, etc. but yikes, that just seems like insanity.  Andy didn't crawl back through the pipe to his cell just to try and escape again.

Friday, April 04, 2014

What A Pity

My family got hooked up to the internet about halfway through 1996, and it's incredible to think that in 18 years, the internet has more or less utterly dominated every facet of my life.  I work online, I keep in touch with people online, I spend way too many hours trying to solve that godforsaken "2048" game online, etc.  The internet is, with maybe the possible exception of the printing press just because it has old-school street cred, the single greatest invention in human history, yet it has only been a major part of people's lives for around two decades.

This is a very long-winded and melodramatic way to talk about a website I like, but still, while I haven't regularly visited Television Without Pity since my very start online (I don't even think the site was live in 1996), I'm hard-pressed to think of another site I've visited on a near-daily basis for so long.  It may have been around 1999/2000 when I started visiting TWOP to peruse their recaps of The West Wing, and the rest was history.

Back in the prehistoric days of 2000, we were caught between two stage of human evolution --- we were between "Missing an episode of your favourite show and having to wait for a rerun to see it" and "easily finding said episode the next day online."  During this in-between period, your options were to set up your VCR to record said episode if you were going to be out,* or to skip the episode altogether and rely on the internet for a recap.  Today, there are countless sites that recap/analyze TV, yet back in the day, Television Without Pity was the place to go.

* = while I was a self-proclaimed master at this, one Saturday night out, I suddenly realized I'd forgotten to set my tape for that night's SNL episode.  Since my parents were out, I called my pal Dave's mother (from a payphone outside a bar!) to ask if she could tape it for me.  It was, without question, one of the most bizarre and hard-to-fathom moments in my life.  Poor Dave's mom, getting that dreaded phone call from one of her son's friends late at night…but only to have this nerdy request made.  Frankly, I think she would've been less disgusted to learn that Dave had been hit by a bus.

But who am I kidding, while the recaps were humorous and engaging, the forums were the main event.  TWOP was ground zero for the 21st century experience of enhancing a show through the social experience of discussing it --- the site was essentially the world's biggest water cooler.  Of all the countless shows I've watched over the years, I'd say that Buffy, Angel, The West Wing*, Survivor, Mad Men and especially LOST were the ones that gained the most from the forum experience.  Hell, in LOST's case, you could argue that two-thirds of the fun from that show was arguing and theorizing about it with others, or writing overly-long blog posts on the topic.

* = Aaron Sorkin himself even surfed onto the TWOP boards one day, ended up getting offended or turned off by something someone wrote or asked him, and then actually ended up writing a thinly-veiled version of the TWOP boards into a West Wing episode.  I believe this was known as the initial moment when Sorkin jumped the shark.  It's still amazing that the seemingly intelligent man who ended up writing 'The Social Network' was so clueless about how the internet works.   

It was recently announced that TWOP will close its doors this month, and the forums will be shuddered at the end of May.  It's a sad day for perhaps the web's greatest place to discuss and figure out television.  Also, you know you're getting old when you realize you've been reading a site for 14 years (!) and also getting nostalgic over the olden days when it was 'Mighty Big TV' and you had to wait a week for the fresh recap of the Sopranos to be posted.  RIP TWOP.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Another Confrontation!

After nine great years....well, two great years, three pretty good years, two okay years and two pretty bad years, to be specific....How I Met Your Mother is winding up its run.  The final season has been spotty at best but really, I feel that Dexter has ruined me for 'terrible final seasons.'  Compared to Dexter, HIMYM is a goddamn masterpiece.

So in the name of saluting this fine show, here's Segal and NPH reprising their legendary "Confrontation" duet.  Bonus points for the comedy of Cobie Smulders moving out of the enunciation spitstorm crossfire.  I was one of the few who straight-up loved the Hugh Jackman film version of Les Miserables, yet I think we can all agree that had NPH replaced Russell Crowe, it would've won 19 Academy Awards and still be #1 at the box office today, 17 months after its release.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random Nonsense

My girlfriend* is a big fan of Toronto's Indie 88 radio station, and thus every time we're in the car together, it's the go-to channel on the dial.  Yes, that's right, I'm the one guy under the age of 40 who still listens to terrestrial radio.  I love living in the past! 

Anyway, Indie 88 is a fine station with one annoying flaw.  Champion's "No Heaven" is the background music they play during intros and outros, not to mention when the DJ is speaking between songs.  Even after months of listening, it still fools me every time.  I always get a momentary burst of excitement in thinking that "No Heaven" is up next, then am quickly disappointed when Indie 88's pattern dawns on me.  It's a good song!  Play it just once, that's all I ask.  Unless it has ironic meaning --- always being teased with a good song but never actually playing it is Indie 88's version of hell, i.e. 'no heaven.'  This could be the most metaphysical station in radio today.    

* To avoid confusion, I should point out that the girl in the banner pic isn't my girlfriend, that's just a random image I found online.  Also, my girlfriend is in a comedy duo with a penguin, not an eagle.

**********

This is one of the most astoundingly awesome wastes of time I've ever seen on the internet, and that's saying a lot.  This is The Office Time Machine, a one-stop director to a series of YouTube clips that catalogue (by year or, as you get further back, by decade) every pop culture reference ever made in all 201 episodes of the U.S. Office.  I bow to the epic pointlessness of this endeavour.   

**********

If you're the Nabisco employee who came up with the idea for these new Chips Ahoy/Chunks Ahoy bags, I hate you.  Why mess with perfection?  These new bags are sealed with what I can only presume is a space-age polymer that makes them incredibly hard to pull open, and yet once they are open, they're impossible to fit the cookie tray back into the bag.  There's a cardboard shaper in there fouling things up and….ARGH.  It's all madness.  Madness I say.

**********

An oral history of Ghostbusters!  AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  Needless to say, I loved every word of this (though sadly, Bill Murray and Rick Moranis didn't participate).  William Atherton's brief contributions were gold.  I also love that with each passing behind-the-scenes look at this movie, it becomes more and more apparent that Dan Aykroyd's original concept was a) insane and b) possibly could've been the worst movie ever made.  Thank goodness that Ramis and Reitman were there to rein him in, and to his credit, Aykroyd praises them for helping polish the idea into a classic.

************

As much as I love Conan O'Brien, I can't help but feel his show has gotten stale.  The monologues, the desk bits, the patter with Andy Richter (am I the only one that thinks Conan was better as a solo host without Andy as the sidekick?)…all of it just seems a bit rote after over 20 years on the air.  His TBS show is a weird hybrid of both Late Night and the Tonight Show that lacks both his old 12:37 zaniness and the attempted "classier" polish he attempted to add to 11:37.

This all being said, Conan still has one clear strength over the other late night hosts --- his remote bits.  This might go to my point about preferring Conan as a solo act without Andy, as Conan is never funnier than when he's just on his own, riffing with ordinary folks and making fun of himself.  To wit...
 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Other People's Writing

My fingers are sore from typing, so I'll let this crew handle it...

* Shea Serrano and Bill Barnwell reveal their pick as the best fictional quarterback of all time.  I am disappointed that Stan "The Boy" Taylor isn't on this list.  Stan, Stan/He's our boy!/If he can't do it/No one….will.

* Claire L. Evans reviews the Robocop remake by focusing on the most interesting (probably the 'only' interesting) scene in the movie.  I'm on board with Evans here, the film was pretty blah.  It fell victim to the problem of thinking it was a smarter movie than it actually was…also, Jackie Earle Haley as a mercenary badass?  Seriously?

* I guess I should note that all of this month's articles are (again) from Grantland, which is just an awesome website.  Perhaps what I like most about the site is that it often examines a game or skill known the world over, yet nobody knows who the "world's greatest" is at said game.  To wit, here's Jason Fagone profiling Anthony Gatto, the world's best juggler, though he's since retired that title for a much less-profile job.

* Another example: do you know who the world's best pool players are?  Several are profiled in David Hill's story about the modern professional billiards circuit and (perhaps as important) the still-thriving hustling market.  These players are all pretty good, I guess, though they're no Mr. Spectacular.

* Another example: do you know the world's best-singing seven-foot-tall silent clown is?  It's Puddles, profiled by Justin Heckert even though Heckert gets precious little face-time with the mysterious clown himself (sure talks a lot to Puddles' seven-foot-tall friend Mike Geier, though).  You might know Puddles from his famous cover of "Royals" with the Postmodern Jukebox, who I discussed in a post last month and…oh great, I hope you're happy, I just spent the last 45 minutes watching Postmodern Jukebox videos AGAIN.

* Amos Barshad profiles what the nine living members of the Wu-Tang Clan (Cappadonna is included) are up to today.  This story is probably catnip to Wu fans and I found it enjoyable just from a sprawling perspective, even though I couldn't give a damn about the Wu-Tang Clan's music.  Barshad gives them all more or less equal time in his story, though perhaps those more into the Wu can let me know what the ratio is of actual talent in this group to hangers-on.  I've always been led to believe that RZA, GZA and Method Man were the most notable members and the rest were interchangeable but that's only my layman's perspective.

* Jordan Conn profiles the ass-kickingest basketball team north of the border, the umpteen-time national champion Carleton Ravens.  They're why office pools based around the CIS tournament are always boring as hell.  "Well, yet again, we have a 31-way tie for first since everyone picked Carleton.  Coming in last place was Doug, who picked Brock against a team of aliens because Doug is an idiot."

* Eric Benson and Joe Delessio have an oral history on (of all things) Alan Thicke's association with a plethora of sports stars from his years of living in Los Angeles, owning Kings season tickets and being involved a ton of athlete-related charity events.  "Hey Mark, are you going to post that clip of Jay Onrait's Thicke impression?  This seems like a good place to insert that video."  You're damn right it does!  Thanks for the suggestion, invisible straw man!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Julius Caesar (Shakespeare Re-Read #9)

I wish I'd have finished this a few days earlier so I could've published this post on the Ides Of March.

Though "Julius Caesar" is one of Shakespeare's more famous works, this was the first time I'd actually read the play, though it already felt familiar.  Of all Shakespeare's plays, JC is probably the one with the most oft-quoted dialogue.  Even if you've never read the play yourself or generally eschew Shakespeare, you've absolutely heard the likes of  "the fault…is not in our stars," or "the most unkindest cut of all," or "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," or "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war," or "I come to bury ____, not to praise him," or "cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once," or "beware the Ides of March," or I could just go on and on and this post would turn into the Chris Farley Show.  

All great lines, absolutely, but I'd argue that JC's memorable turns of phrase have continued to thrive in popular culture in part because this play is our modern connection to the story of Caesar's assassination.  His death and the subsequent fall of the Roman Republic is one of the most influential historic events of the last 2100 years, and the circumstances behind Caesar's killing are still fascinating to explore all these years later. 

Notice that I said "the assassination" and not Caesar himself, as ol' Julius is barely even a supporting character in his own play.  This being my first time reading JC, I was surprised that the pivotal assassination scene came only in the middle of the play.  "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" is really "The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus," who is the real pivotal character of the text, yet I guess Shakespeare (clever theatre operator that he was) knew the most famous name would sell more tickets at the door.  Either that or else this was Shakespeare's answer to Janet Leigh in "Psycho," and by answer to, I mean presaged by about 370 years.  Or else Shakespeare had a time machine, which WOULD EXPLAIN SO MUCH.  

That said, the title is almost a metaphor.  "Julius Caesar" is both a character and a Poochie, since whenever Caesar isn't on stage, the rest of the characters are inevitably asking "where's Caesar?" or plotting to murder him, or explaining why they killed him. 

The play's title is also basically the conspirators' reason for the assassination.  This is one of those things that can obviously shift depending on performances, directorial choices and staging when you see the play live, but in text form, Shakespeare makes no bones about the fact that Cassius and the other six main conspirators are about as nakedly envious a pack of rats as one could encounter.  Granted, it mostly seems like they're envious because we so little of Caesar himself --- because we have no basis for their claims that Caesar is power-hungry and would doom Rome if he claimed a throne for himself, we're forced to conclude that they're all schemers.  (Not to mention the actual fake letter scheme employed by Cassius to trick Brutus into joining the cabal.)  Then you have that almost dark-comedy scene after the conspirators have stabbed Caesar to death, and then these geniuses decide it would be a cool move to literally wipe his blood on their swords and arms while saying, "wow, we're awesome, history will TOTALLY celebrate us for this, guys!"  That's a nice little meta moment on Shakespeare's part.

What we do see of Caesar is a guy who has pretty big opinion of himself, often referring to himself in the third person and basically just acting like the cock of the walk.  On the page, at least, it just comes off as innocuous boastfulness, not necessarily arrogance.  There's nothing Caesar does within the text of the play that would mark him as a tyrant and threat to Rome, though Cassius' issue is that people of Caesar's type are corrupted by power and thus Caesar is a problem waiting to happen.  Given that Caesar, Brutus, Cassius and company have known each other for years at this point and been part of past wars led by Caesar, it kind of comes off as if, in the "Henry IV" plays, Hotspur's old drinking buddies had been, "wait, this guy's going to be the king?!  HIM?!  Geez, that'd be a disaster, we'd better kill him now."  Oh man, now I really want to read a comedy about Falstaff and the Boar's Head Pub crew trying to plan a murder and bumbling their way through the entire process.

As noted, this play is really Brutus' story, and his decision to betray Caesar for the ostensible greater good of Rome forms the crux of the tragedy, as Brutus' plan completely backfires and the Republic is engulfed in war.  (Ironically, Rome does end up being ruled under the iron fist of a Caesar…it's just that it's Octavius Caesar, known in history as Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.)  Brutus is meant to invoke sympathy here as his character is presented as acting for what he thinks is the greater good, and he later shows remorse for his actions.  That being said, well, Brutus' name in history has become synonymous with literally being a backstabber.  It's hard not to argue that Brutus got what he deserved for turning on Caesar.  At worst he's a traitor and even at best, he's a sucker who got conned by Cassius, who's essentially the real Big Bad of this whole endeavour. 

Also, it's impossible to respect Brutus after his absurd quarrel with Cassius in Act IV, Scene 3.  That scene just kept going and going and almost threatened to turn the play into a farce.  Both characters came off like a tired old married couple who threw 15 years of pent-up frustration into an argument about, say, misplacing the remote control.  Whatever "poor man's Iago" heat that Cassius had going for him to that point was completely rotted away.

JC is similar to "Coriolanus" in that you have a so-called problem play about a political division and the audience can intellectually take the sides of one of a few different viewpoints presented amidst the characters.  It's just that you have to hold your nose as you take those viewpoints, since basically all the characters are awful.  Shades of grey abound.  The conspirators are all scumbags, the common people of Rome are portrayed basically as mindless peons ("give us hell, Quimby!") as evidenced by their attack on the wrong Cinna.  Mark Antony appears noble in opposition to the conspirators but he maneuvers his way into taking over Rome himself.  Then, when he gains power alongside Octavius and Lepidus, Antony immediately turns on Lepidus behind his back.

Still, I had to take Antony's side in this since Marks stick together through thick and thin he's right.  True, he ultimately controls the rebellion against the conspirators for his own gain, but his point about the conspirators going mad with power themselves is not wrong.  I mean, those dudes just got finished gang-stabbing one of Rome's most respected figures to death and their excuse was, "Trust us, we know best." 

Shakespeare certainly seems to take Antony's side, as evidenced by Antony's legendary speech in Act III, Scene 2*.  This is one of the most famous scenes in the Shakespearean canon, and while it can certainly be performed in a way that makes Antony look manipulative himself (from the perspective that Brutus is the central 'good guy' who just made a tragic choice), it's hard to argue that while Antony takes the wrong turn in the future, in the moment he's dead-on accurate.  "…and Brutus is an honourable man" becomes such a wicked burn line that it beats Brutus' case to death with its own shoes, Preston-style.

* = at pub trivia one night, we received a question of "who delivered the line 'friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears'?" and the vast majority of teams were shocked that it wasn't Julius Caesar himself.  My team got it correct, so thank you, English degree!

Ultimately, though, I have no issue with whether characters are good or bad as long as they're interesting and written consistently, and needless to say, JC does that in spades.  I'm not going to say the play quite lived up to the hype for me, as it's not in the upper tier of Shakespeare's classics, but it's still a tremendously good read.  For maximum effect, wait until next March 15th and then read the play while drinking a Caesar and eating a Caesar salad.

Also, as a minor coming attraction….I'm doing these plays in a semi-random order, but since we're already on the Mark Antony train, the next entry in my Shakespeare Re-Read will be "Antony & Cleopatra."  Stay tuned!

OVERALL RATING: B+

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR
9. Pericles
8. The Taming Of The Shrew
7. Much Ado About Nothing
6. Coriolanus
5. The Comedy Of Errors
4. The Winter's Tale
3. A Midsummer Night's Dream
2. Julius Caesar
1. Othello

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"