Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mike "The Bar" Hirsch

The world of late-night comedy was something lost on adolescent Mark, who always went to bed at an early hour on a weeknight (so Saturday Night Live was no problem).  Names like Carson, O'Brien, Leno, Letterman were just abstract entities, allegedly producing legendary comedy but I simply wasn't able or willing to stay up late enough to see it.  It wasn't until university that my vampire-esque sleeping habits developed, so until then, my only exposure to late-night comedy was the occasional primetime special.  I'm not even sure if these were original shows or just glorified "best-of" compilations from past programs, but still, I firmly recall the anticipation of waiting for the Letterman special so I could see just what the fuss was all about.

And it was on that show that we were introduced to The Bar, a bit that stuck in the memories of my friends and I for years.  To this day, the city of Boston basically can't be mentioned without coming singing "He's the coolest guy in Boston, Mass/Get in his way and he'll kick your ass/He's the Bar."  The other comic moment that stuck in my mind was the Bar walking past two guys, them pointing excitedly and then high-fiving each other out of excitement that they were merely in the Bar's presence.

All I could find about Hirsch today was this retrospective from his school paper, so I'm not sure if he ever a) married Meghan McGuire, b) became a lawyer and thus took the bar, or c) opened a tavern just called 'The Bar,' taking a page from the Robbie Robertson school of naming things.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Ain't Afraid Of New Ghosts

I’m extremely fired up for the new Ghostbusters movie, and yet with the release date still almost a month away, the court of public internet opinion seems to have already decided that the film will be terrible.  Am I so out of touch?!  No.  It’s the children who are wrong.  Believe me, I am absolutely quick to judge and write off TONS of movies based on nothing more than a trailer or production knowledge alone, yet for the life of me, I do not get the level of venom being directed at Ghostbusters.  There seem to be five central anti-Ghostbusters remake arguments, some of which have merit and others that are laughably invalid.

“I don’t think some or all of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are funny or even good actors.  AND/OR, I don’t like Paul Feig’s movies.”
This is a fair argument.  Without doubt, part of the reason I’m excited about this film is because I enjoy all of Feig’s movies and I generally like the entire cast.  McKinnon is the best.  Wiig is basically great whenever she’s doing anything besides her interminable SNL recurring characters.  McCarthy is always great in Feig’s movies, if almost always unmemorable to terrible in everything else.  Jones is still kind of an unknown quantity as an actor (as SNL has shown, she isn’t much of a sketch performer) but she’s obviously a very funny standup. 

Still, if you don’t like any of this group, that’s fair.  If a Ghostbusters remake was being helmed by, say, Roland Emmerich and starring Adam Sandler and his usual crew, I would be picketing the theatre myself.  Different strokes for different folks. 

“The trailer stunk!”
Fair argument.  Trailers, like actors, are kind of an acquired taste.  Even the cast themselves have admitted that the first Ghostbusters trailer wasn’t any good, though to be frank, I don’t see what all the fuss was about.  As someone who watches more movie trailers than most people eat hot meals, I thought this one actually looked pretty cool, though my Ghostbusters fandom could quite possibly have led to some bias on my part.  (As in, I was too busy fanboyishly geeking out over the Ecto-1, the proton packs, the remixed song, etc. to really focus on the trailer as a whole.)  Then again, the fact that so many of the “little things” appear to have been done right is a really good sign, in my books. 

Even if you thought the trailer was bad, it goes without saying that you can’t always judge a movie by the quality of a trailer.  There have been loads of films that looked great condensed into a two-minute sizzle reel that ended up being two hours of hot garbage.  It seems like making a trailer for a comedy is particularly hard, since they all seem stuck somewhere in between “gives away all the best jokes” and “tries too hard to conceal the best jokes/just goes for the broadest possible jokes.”  

“Why make the one lead black character into the ‘streetwise’ one while the three white leads all play genius scientists?”
Admittedly, Jones’ line in the trailer about ‘not knowing any of the scientific stuff’ (or whatever the exact wording was) really fell flat with me as well.  I’ll reserve judgement until I see the full movie, though on the surface, it’s very dodgy.

“An all-female cast is political correctness run amok!”
If this is your reason for disliking the new Ghostbusters movie, you are officially a moron.

“The original Ghostbusters is a classic!  Remaking it whatsoever is a bad idea!”
Most of the time, I whole-heartedly agree with the idea that classic movies don’t need to be remade.  If you’re producing a remake of Casablanca or The Godfather or Schindler’s List or Shawshank Redemption or Psycho or Back To The Future* or Citizen Kane or insert your classic here, I don’t care if you have the best director in the world helming the best cast in the world, my first question is simply going to be why bother?  If it was already done so perfectly the first time around, why do you need a remake?

* = my friend Mario pitched the idea of an acceptable BTTF remake as having a kid from 2015 travel back to 1985 and have to hook up his parents, sort of as a way of poking fun at how 1985’s conventions seem as dated to modern young audiences as 1955 seemed to 1985 audiences.  It’s a cute idea, yet the BTTF trilogy wrapped everything up in such a neat way that I’d really prefer to just let it lie.  Plus, now the joke doesn’t work since we’re past 2015, so we don’t have to worry about another BTTF remake until 2045.

In certain cases, however, there’s flexibility for another take on a classic.  Look at it like theatre; there have been countless productions of Shakespeare’s plays over the years that reinterpret the text in countless different ways.  As we’ve seen with the umpteen comic book movies over the last few decades, there are lots of ways to interpret a character or universe  of characters on the big screen.  It sounds like a giant cliche to say that as long as a remake or re-imagining can work if it “has the spirit of the original,” yet it’s really true.  The issue is that “spirit” is impossible to define, and one person’s sense that a new movie really captured the feel of the original is another person’s travesty. 

For me, as much as I loved the original movie, Ghostbusters isn’t a movie that needs to be put on a pedestal as some sacrosanct text.  As a kid, in fact, the movie wasn’t even the original text — I fell in love with the Ghostbusters thanks to the “Real Ghostbusters” cartoon show, which I saw long before I saw the original movie.  “The Real Ghostbusters” followed the adventures of Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston after the events of the movie, expanding and developing them into characters similar to the ones played by Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson but ultimately rather uniquely different.*

* = for instance, Winston actually HAS a character in the cartoon, and isn’t just some random guy who shows up two-thirds of the way into the movie and is suddenly part of the team.  Did anyone get more short-changed in the editor’s room than Ernie Hudson?  Apparently the original take on Winston was that he was going to be a military veteran brought in as someone who actually knew how to handle advanced weapons since the other three guys were out of their depth in combat situations, though this was back when Aykroyd/Ramis were planning to have Eddie Murphy in the part.  When Eddie passed, the Winston character as a whole seemed to become an afterthought.

In short, the reason I’m probably so open to this idea of a Ghostbusters remake is that I already love a “Ghostbusters remake,” a.k.a. the cartoon.  Hell, we’ve already essentially seen a hundred Ghostbusters remakes over the years — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, X-Files, etc. — since the idea of “wisecracking people team up to fight the supernatural” wasn’t even new when Aykroyd and Ramis had the idea.  Remember the weird other "Ghost Busters" with a gorilla on the team?  Or this Mickey Mouse short from all the way back in 1937?  I forget, when the 1984 movie came out, were there a bunch of Mickey Mouse fanboys upset that due to political correctness, the story was being remade with an all-human cast?  

On paper, as a male Ghostbusters fan who fancies himself a film expert, I should fit right into the demographic complaining the loudest that this remake exists.  However, since I a) like the cast and director and b) don’t care about the cast’s gender, I couldn’t be more excited.  Stay tuned for later in July when I hypocritically argue why the new Star Trek and Bourne movies didn’t need to be made but for now, I’m going to bask in my childhood memories and enjoy what I’m pretty sure is going to be a terrific Ghostbusters adventure...assuming Leslie Jones' character isn't a walking stereotype.  Don't let me down, movie!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Good For LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers are a questionably-run franchise that compiled an oddball collection of NBA players, some very good, some very flawed, some both.  And it doesn’t matter, because they also have LeBron James, the human cheat code.  Every decision that the Cavs (or, really, LeBron himself, the pseudo-GM) is now instantly justified because the team won an NBA championship.  You can shake your head at how everything happened, but at the end of the day, the rings don’t lie.

I honestly didn’t think this would happen.  I thought the Warriors were simply too good, too deep and playing at too high a level to lose to anyone.  If they did lose, it would be to the Spurs Borg or to the Thunder if Durant and Westbrook were both firing on all cylinders (which almost happened).  It certainly wouldn’t be to the Cavaliers, whose reliance on one guy made them essentially the antithesis of the Warriors’ hydra style.

I underestimated the one guy.  After this series, you can absolutely go ahead and make a case for LeBron as the best basketball player of all time.  Obviously he’d already more than proven himself as *one* of the true elites long before the 2016 Finals but now I’m ready to seriously discuss him alongside Michael Jordan.  You could argue that MJ never would’ve gotten himself into such dire straits as being down 1-3 in a series, though the fact that James more or less single-handedly led the Cavaliers back out of that impossible hole is unprecedented in NBA history.

It’s only fair to also note that Kyrie Irving made a huge showing for himself in the Finals, not to mention several other guys rising up (like old man Richard Jefferson having the series of his life, then immediately retiring after getting his long-awaited ring).  It’s also only fair to note that despite being banged-up as all hell, the Warriors still win this series if Draymond Green doesn’t get himself suspended for Game Five.  That one will be the asterisk on Green’s career, not on the Cavaliers’ championship.

What a way for Cleveland to shake off its incredibly long sports championship drought.  The Cavs have a title, Cleveland has a title, and everything LeBron set out to do when he made his return to his home state has come true.

Hail to the King, baby.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The 42 Best White Stripes Songs

Man, I miss the White Stripes!  Jack White’s solo stuff is good, buuuuuuut….it’s a kind of a shaggy-dog amalgamation of blues, country and rock seemingly without a ton of focus behind it.  Jack once noted that Meg was hard-to-impossible to impress musically, which I feel is kind of a telling comment.  I think he had to work harder to try and win her over, and also perhaps was forced to be more original within the Stripes’ guitar-and-drums milieu.  These limitations led to great music, whereas Jack’s solo stuff when he had full freedom to do whatever he wants has only led to good music.  Ironically, this is almost exactly what the song “Little Room” is about, which is why it made the cut as an epitaph of Jack White’s musical career despite it being written all the way back in 2001.

As always, this list is based on my personal preference, so it’s liable to change as soon as 24 hours from now.  If your favourite White Stripes song isn’t on the list, pretend it was #43 if it’ll help you sleep better at night.  Onto the list!

42. Little Room
41. When I Hear My Name
40. I’m Bound To Pack It Up
39. Astro
38. I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman
37. Jumble Jumble
36. Screwdriver
35. I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart
34. The Air Near My Fingers
33. Do
32. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
31. Hotel Yorba
30. Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)
29. Jimmy The Exploder
28. As Ugly As I Seem
27. The Denial Twist
26. Why Can’t You Be Nicer To Me?
25. Bone Broke
24. Little Ghost
23. My Doorbell
22.Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground
21. Rag & Bone
t20.Apple Blossom
t20.St. James Infirmary Blues
t18.Stop Breaking Down
t18.Death Letter
17. We’re Going To Be Friends
16. Seven Nation Army
15. Hypnotize
14. Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine
13. Blue Orchid
12. Jolene
11. Hello Operator

10. The Hardest Button To Button
9. Conquest
8. In The Cold, Cold, Night
7. I’m Slowly Turning Into You
6. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)
5. Icky Thump
4. I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)
3. Effect & Cause
2. Fell In Love With A Girl
1. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Good For Phil Kessel

In my NHL season preview last October, I wrote "As a self-loathing Leafs fan, I really want Phil Kessel to absolutely light things up playing with Crosby and Malkin this season.  Like, I’m talking a 60-70 goal campaign.  It boggles my mind how thoroughly Kessel was railroaded out of town by Toronto’s media and (not yet proven to be competent) front office staff, when all the guy did was single-handedly carry the team to any manner of respectability for six years."  I also officially picked Tampa Bay over Anaheim in the finals, but "part of me is rooting for Pittsburgh just to see Kessel hoist the Cup and see the Toronto media’s collective head explode."

In my Stanley Cup predictions post from two months ago, I self-plagiarized thanks to my love of a head-exploding trope by writing "I also just think it would make a lot of Toronto heads explode if Phil Kessel somehow ended up winning a Stanley Cup.  That would be hilarious.  Kessel’s day with the Cup should just be him filling it with hot dogs and stuffing his face in front of every single hockey pundit in town."

And last night, cue the guy from Scanners, since Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion.  And not just a champ, he had a legitimate case to be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (though keep in mind the media votes on that award, so it would've taken a miracle for him to beat Crosby).  Now his name will be inscribed on the Stanley Cup forever, as well as on the replica that sits in the Hockey Hall of Fame's main hall, so many a sad-sack Leafs fan who cares more about "grit" and "old-time hockey" than actual talent can read it and grit their teeth. 

I'm going to get a hot dog from a street vendor today in honour of Phil Kessel.

I'll also bust out my old "Shark Week" tag as a tribute to the Sharks, who at least choked in a later round this season!  You're slowly getting there, San Jose!

Friday, June 10, 2016

6/10

Since June 10th is 6/10, it reminds me of one of the dumber moments of my life.  One is never so insensitive than when trying to be sensitive.

On an evening about 15 years ago, I was chatting with my friend Liz over ICQ.  I’ll pause for a moment for everyone in my generation to have an “Oh man, ICQ, I feel old…” moment, and now let’s continue.  Liz was feeling pessimistic about her love life, as I believe she’d recently split up with a boyfriend.  I was attempting to be supportive, though she was still feeling down about her looks.  She wrote something along the lines of “it’s not like I’m pretty enough to attract a lot of guys” or whatnot, and my response was….

“I don’t know about that, you’re at least a 6/10.”

Even now, you’re probably slapping your forehead with astonishment that anyone would be such an unstoppable moron as to write these words, but here was my logic. 

1. I personally didn’t think Liz was very attractive myself, so while I obviously wanted to make her feel better about herself, it would’ve been disingenuous to overly praise her beauty.
2. I wrote “at least,” so really, 6/10 was just the bare minimum.  Right?  Right?
3. Hey, 6/10, that’s a positive number!  If asked to rank myself, I surely wouldn’t go any higher than three or four out of both realism or (false) modesty.

Ok, so that’s where I was coming from.  As I recall, Liz didn’t really respond to the comment, or made no mention of it, or we got talking about other things.  The next day at school I was walking with Morgan, a mutual friend of both Liz and I.  Liz’s recent breakup came up, and I brought up our ICQ chat and how Liz was down on herself.  Morgan said something like “awww, Lizzie is really cute,” and I said “I tried to tell her that, I even said she was a 6/10.”

At this point Morgan stopped in her tracks and said WHAT.  I repeated myself, a little more uncertain this time, and then Morgan slugged me in the arm with such force that I probably need Tommy John surgery.  It was essentially a Champ routine — a comment, a PARDON, repeating the comment, then a severe beating.  While I was massaging my ruined arm, Morgan was letting me have it about what a five-alarm stupid thing that was to say to a person, and it began to dawn on me (jusssssst a little bit) that I may have made a mistake.

It occurred to me in hindsight (or, perhaps, once Morgan explained it to me while yelling) that I could have simply said “I think you look just fine” and left it at that, since that was all I was trying to say.  I certainly didn’t need to stick an actual numeric ranking on the subject, that was a wee error.  Really, “just fine” is the definition of 6/10.  It’s every 54/40 song, it’s every bowl of Cheerios, it’s every Donovan McNabb season.

So I give myself a 6/10 on good intentions, and a 0/10 on execution.  Morgan gets a 10/10 for punching power, as just think, I may be pitching in the major leagues right now had it not been for her vicious (yet not entirely unwarranted) attack.  I’ll see her in court.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Hot! Live! Music!

Bruce Springsteen, “Purple Rain”
We’re getting into a bad habit here at Hot Live Music of posting mostly tributes to legendary musicians who have recently passed on.  Let’s hope it doesn’t continue, though at the moment, we may as well focus on all of the Prince-related material that has surfaced over the last several weeks.  Here’s the Boss...


Jennifer Hudson and the cast of the Color Purple. “Purple Rain”
I mean, ‘purple’ is right there in the play’s name.  Obviously this was a no-brainer.


Stevie Wonder, Prince, Sheila E, “Superstition”
Now we’re here with the man himself, playing alongside THE MAN playing perhaps my favourite song of all time.


Prince and Cee-Lo Green, “Crazy”
Since Prince covered countless songs over his career, just imagine what you’re thinking if you’re Cee-Lo here.  You’re sitting at home, Prince calls you up and invites you to his show.  Naturally, you’re stoked.  Then Prince asks if you feel like performing your biggest hit alongside him.  Cee-Lo was so excited he clearly didn’t even call Danger Mouse, which seems like an oversight.


Prince, some other moderately famous musicians, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Of all the Prince clips that surfaced around the internet after his death, this seemed to be the most-shared.  Maybe it’s because that Prince was, if underrated at anything, not given his full renown as a guitarist.  Rolling Stone published a ‘top 100 guitarists’ list a few years back that didn’t include him, which seemed literally impossible.  Among actual guitarists, however, Prince was beyond respected.  Take this performance, when you have legend after legend on stage, yet when it comes to the big solo, everyone automatically turns things over to Prince.  The “holy crap” look on Dhani Harrison’s face at 4:43 says it all.   

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Knights

I certainly can’t allow the hometown team’s awesome Memorial Cup victory to go by without mention!  Growing up with the London Knights, my generation remembers the low point in Knights (and perhaps hockey) history in the mid-90’s.  They played in the ‘Ice House,’ a dilapidated arena in the back of a shopping mall on the outskirts of town near the highway.  One season they won, literally, just three games and lost 60.  (With three ties!  Remember when hockey had ties!)  They were an absolute joke of the franchise until they were purchased by the Hunter brothers.  I can only presume Pierre Turgeon was preparing to make a bid until Dale cross-checked him from behind at the boardroom conference table.

Over the last 15 years or so, the Knights morphed into laughingstock to the class of junior hockey.  The team is always competitive, always pumping out top NHL prospects, always selling out the Budweiser Gardens*, and putting London firmly on the hockey map.  The Knights won squat until the Hunters took over, and now they’ve won four OHL titles in the last 11 seasons and two Memorial Cups.

* = say what you will about the folly of cities funding private sports stadia, but in London’s case, it actually worked.  The London downtown was deader than dead for decades until the Gardens revitalized the area.

In a way, this Memorial Cup was even more impressive than the first title in 2005.  The CHL awards the Memorial Cup to a host city every year and, to ensure local interest, automatically gives the host city a spot in the four-team tournament.  Now, while the CHL picks a strong team for hosting duties so it’s not a total competitive farce, I’ve always seen this as pretty weird.  How can the hosting team be expected to keep up the intensity over an entire season when they know for a fact that their whole year will come down to 3+ games in six months’ time? 

Regardless, I wasn’t complaining when London hosted the Cup in 2005 and the Knights won it.  Still, this time around, the Knights properly won the OHL playoffs and advanced to Red Deer, where they utterly stomped their way through the round-robin matches with a 3-0 record and a 20-5 edge in goals.  The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies gave them a big scare in the final, yet the Knights pulled through with an overtime victory. 

•_•)  I guess you could say the Knights….
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■) ….ruined Noranda.

So here the Knights are, CHL champs once more.  If that wasn’t enough, the Knights’ best player is Mitch Marner, a Maple Leafs draft pick who ran roughshod over the league this year and is poised to eventually be making his way up to the big club.  Can Marner take some of the Knights magic to Toronto to revive the Leafs?  I think we can all agree that Nazem Kadri tried and failed, so it’s time for another Knight to ride into the kingdom.

This is easily the most exciting thing to happen in London since the Thames River became five percent less toxic.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Other People's Writing

Holy smokes, Other People’s Writing is back!  With fanfare!

* Blog readers know how I'm often championing 'The Americans' as both perhaps the best show on TV and absolutely the most underrated given how it's inexplicably ignored by both audiences and awards shows.  Little did I know that the show was in part based on a real-life situation involving Russian sleeper agents raising a family in the United States, as chronicled by The Guardian's Shaun Walker.  Tell you what, to avoid spoilers, watch all three-plus seasons and THEN come back to read the article.  I'll wait.

* Joe Posnanski openly admits ranking the top 100 Summer Olympics athletes of all time is a fruitless endeavour, so I can't complain too much over nonsense like his ranking most of the Dream Team into 11 slots.  Then again, he leaves off Christian Laettner, which is patently hilarious.

* Animaniacs was watched by pretty much everyone in my generation so we didn’t need to “get it,” though it’s certainly one of those shows that you really needed to see to understand (or believe).  The Toast’s Abbey Fenbert sums up the show as well as possible, and I'll also mention that Tiny Toon Adventures was an important and necessary forerunner in the "incredibly postmodern WB cartoons" canon.  Sixteen-year-old Mark watching Citizen Kane for the first time was pretty blown away to realize that he'd already seen the entire film spoofed via Tiny Toons' "Citizen Max" episode (plus several gags on the Simpsons).

* The SNL "ten to 1" sketch to end all ten-to-1 sketches may well have been the legendarily weird potato chip sketch, the creation of which is chronicled in this oral history by Uproxx's Mike Ryan.  To this day, I cannot figure out how Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis and Blake Lively got through that thing without so much as a smirk out of character.  Forte and Sudeikis were tough nuts to crack (in fact, I'm not sure I saw Forte break character even once in all his years on the show) but for a first-timer like Lively to get through it, that takes skill.  Between this and living every day having to laugh at Ryan "Tries Too Hard" Reynolds' jokes, is Blake Lively the best actress of our generation?

* Few celebrities inspired as much mystique as Prince, who was essentially the potato chip sketch of musicians.  In the wake of his death, Vulture's David Marchese re-published an old compilation of 24 of the best eccentric Prince stories, and I can only imagine they're all true.

* It almost feels like Tiger Woods is approaching that Prince zone where almost any anecdote (no matter how odd) can be instantly believed, if this ESPN.com piece by Wright Thompson is any indication.  Tiger believes in ghosts?  Sure.  Tiger has no confidence around women, much to the shock of Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter?  Why not.  Tiger considered leaving golf entirely to enter Navy SEAL training?  Checks out.  I can't recommend this piece highly enough if you're a golf fan.