Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mmm, popcorn

I'm worried I'm losing my status as a film snob.

Don't get me wrong -- I still know my Herzogs from my Kieslowskis, and I'm still one of the elite few on this side of the planet that realizes Takashi Shimura was the Messiah. Nevertheless, I feel like I'm criminally lagging behind on the number of good movies I've seen this year. Now, in this calendar year, I've actually seen several great ones (i.e. Match Point, Good Night and Good Luck), but those films were technically released in 2005, so I go by that standard because I think I'm the Academy or something.

The problem is I'm seeing too many movies and not enough films. I'm falling into a rut where 90% of the stuff I watch is mainsteam Hollywood flicks, and they have been largely garbage for a long while. I haven't seen ONE truly good movie this year, or at least one that I can look back on and feel that my life was really improved by having seen. I guess 'V for Vendetta' is the leader in the clubhouse for the Oscar Picks, but....man, really? It was well done, but.....really? It's like being the Minnesota Twins and thinking you have a good team, but then you look back at the roster and realize you only have one good position player.

Summer blockbusters have been crap, as well. X-Men 3 was poor. Da Vinci Code was a poor man's Indiana Jones. I have huge worries about Superman Returns, though I'll still go see it. Didn't see MI3: I don't feel the need to contribute to the Tom Cruise Religious Intimidation fund.

Bah. Shake it off. My new place has a DVD player, after all. I need to go out, rent Cache, catch up on Almodovar (he's released TWO movies since Talk To Her?? Where the fuck have I been?) and basically just pretend I'm back in UCC 84 in a film class. Altman's new film is out now, so I need to spare a night to see that. It's at the Westmount Six, which leads me to this riff about how over the last few years, Westmount has been the only mainstream theatre in town that shows artsier content. They don't have the 'really' artsy stuff, but for movies like Good Night and Good Luck, or Prairie Home Companion (so, artistic but still with people like Clooney and Lohan), it's a good fit. Hell, Gosford Park ran at Westmount for about three months in 2001-02, which still strikes me a good way to lose money.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Good Commercial/Bad Commercial


Good: Charmin Toilet Paper. The good people at the Charmin company have a problem: how do you sell toilet paper without being crude?

Frankly, it is ridiculous that such a question needs to be asked. In our overly politically correct age, a company can't be honest and release an ad campaign that says "Hey folks, our toilet paper feels good when you use it to stick up your ass. Buy Charmin!" So, they have to be creative.

Their solution, in the proud tradition of the Simpsons' Flopsy Bunny sex ed video, is to cutesy up the subject by involving cartoon animals. The ads feature cartoon bears frolicking in the woods, periodically stopping to relieve themselves on a makeshift woodland toilet next to a tree. The bears plop themselves down, give the toilet roll a spin and then the camera cuts to a close-up of the bear's face as he/she/it closes his/her/its eyes and broadly grins. The genius part of this close-up? THIS IS WHEN THE BEAR IS WIPING ITS ASS. The Charmin people can't show the actual act of ass-wipery, but they can sure as hell show the pleasure associated with it. It's the cartoon bear equivalent of that Viagra ad that shows the middle-aged women dancing around town singing that 'Good Morning' song after being roundly rogered the previous evening.


Bad: Steelback Beer. I'm not sure the ultimate intention of these ads are -- is it to sell beer, or is it to let Steelback CEO Frank D'Angelo fulfill masturbatory fantasies?

Here's the full roster -- http://www.steelbackbrewery.com/tvspots.asp

The common thread you'll find in all of these ads is the fact that they were shot and edited with the aplomb of a bored 16-year-old in an high school AV class. My personal favourites are #7 (the one shown with a can next to a woman's chest) and the black-and-white ads of the hockey players in the locker room. The one with the woman is, I think, supposed to be a takeoff of porn, with the actress giving a performance that even Elizabeth Berkeley would be embarrassed of. Then again, I'm giving the Steelback ad geniuses too much credit for being aware of the concept of satire. It's quite possible that Frank D'Angelo is shagging this chick, and gave her a role in the commercial as a sad example of foreplay.

The hockey ones really take the cake. It's D'Angelo in a locker room with hockey greats like Brad Park and the Hull brothers, and he's talking about 'greatness recognizing greatness.' The NHL legends have a noticable edge in their voice as they address D'Angelo, as if they know he's full of shit but are still looking forward to cashing his cheque.

The ads are a masterpiece of self-indulgence. It's one thing to have athletes endorse your product, or even to put yourself into the ad along with them in some kind of self-deprecating way. I can imagine the late Dave Thomas in some kind of an ad with, say, Lebron James. Dave is dressed in a grey t-shirt, blank red athletic jersey, headband and athletic shorts and he's talking to Lebron about playing a game of one-on-one, but Lebron is too busy occupied with eating the new Wendy's bacon cheeseburger or whatnot. Dave would then unleash a few dunks and three-pointers while Lebron's back is turned, and when Lebron finally is done with the burger, Dave is standing there with a sheepish grin and making some pun about warming up and how warm the burger is. The point here is that OF COURSE Dave isn't an actual athlete or on the same level as Lebron, but it's all tongue-in-cheek fun and Dave Thomas is a lovable grandpa of a man. Whereas Frank D'Angelo is just a dick.

Upon re-reading that last paragraph, maybe I just have a deep-seated desire to write commercials for Wendy's. Too bad Dave has passed away -- I guess they could just hire SCTV's Dave Thomas. He's available.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Booyakasha!

I sit here in my Toronto living room, feeling the evening air move in through the window and washing over me and the two TVs in the room that don't work. Neither have cable, which means the only channel I get is a blurry CBC. If ever you wanted to see a sociological experiment (Mark Living Without TV), this is your chance. I've been able to survive because I can see World Cup games at work, but man.....I'm falling behind on my random Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns. Not to mention Conan.

In any case, that's my one complaint. Living in Toronto is amazing. The job is wonderful, the roommates seem pretty laid-back, the subway is convenient (if filthy) and after coming here for my entire life, I think I can actually find my way around several parts of Toronto now. Or, at least, I sort of know where they are. With help of a map. And MapQuest.

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One very cool thing about living in the city: World Cup time is madness. Every second car has a flag on the back window, and everyone seems to be intently following the action. I live near the Korean district, so I was awakened a few mornings ago to the sounds of horns and jubiliation when Team Korea beat Team Togo. I would've been mad about being woken up, but it was for a good cause. In a related story, I nearly choked on my apple juice when I found out Ukraine lost to Spain by a ghastly score of 4-0. Who loses 4-0 in soccer?! That's like losing an eating contest after only eating one delicious blueberry pie. What a shameful day for my cultural ancestors. People will be taking dioxin en masse.

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I'll leave you with this...

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=neel/060614

First of all, this article contains the immortal phrase "Wuhl's a credible guy -- take a second look at "Cobb.'" When I make my Top Ten Worst Movies Ever list, 'Cobb' will have a prominent position.

Anyway, scroll down to #11 and have the blood start pouring from your eyes. I just don't know how to respond. This is my biggest musical disillusionment since U2 did those iPod ads.

(I don't think I've ever commented to anyone just how pissed I was those. If 'How to Dismantle...' hadn't been a good album, I don't know what I would've done. That would've been a life turning point. Just like when I thought the Leafs were going to deal for Bertuzzi, upon which I would've officially disavowed them until he left the roster).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Piano Man

http://www.interference.com/u2160086/index.html

Wait a minute.....I've SEEN Bono play the piano during concerts before. Granted, the piano part in Sweetest Thing isn't too hard, but I figured the guy at least knew what he was doing.

Or, perhaps he's just taking additional lessons to improve his musicianship. Anything that keeps him concentrated on music and not in meetings with Tony Blair and his ilk is fine with me. Saving the world is fine, but this 3-4 year wait between U2 albums is riddikulus.

Stories like these amuse me, since I've always had the impression that (even though U2 are my favourite band and I genuinely believe they're the best band since the Beatles) U2 aren't great musicians. They need loads of rehearsal time before each tour, Bono is notorious for forgetting lyrics, and they are (admittedly) "the world's worst cover band." And it's true, since U2's covers are usually inferior to the originals. I think it stems from the fact that none of them actually knew how to play their instruments when they first started the band back in the day, so their whole careers have been starting from scratch. Obviously, they've proceeded a long way in 30 years, but the lack of that formal musical training has struck me as very quaint.

They would surely lose the "Random Bar Experience" test. Imagine this scenario: you're sitting in a random bar in New York City, when the manager suddenly takes the stage and says an old friend of his dropped by and agreed to play a couple of songs. The friend gets on stage and (holy shit!) it's Keith Richards! Keef plays a few acoustic Stones tunes, makes a few wisecracks, tells a few stories, drinks a few beers and everyone in that club has the time of their life.

Now, imagine it was Bono. It would still be a great experience, due to Bono's carrying the evening through jokes and stories. As for the music....well, seeing Bono struggle with a guitar, piano and in remembering the words to "One" would be a mite troubling. This is why U2 so often plays the same setlists on tour, since it's a struggle for Bono to remember multiple lyrics.

But anyway, back to the piano. I have this image in my head of Bono sitting at a bench playing something like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" or playing his scales and getting his fingers slapped with a ruler by a stereotypically stern piano teacher with iron-rimmed grey glasses and her hair tied back into a bun.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My favourite moments on The Price Is Right

* Bob Barker's annoyed demeanor when someone is taking too long to bid. Every once in a while some clown in Contestant's Row or on stage is continually looking to his friends in the audience to get advice on what to do, and Bob has to gently remind them to make a move. He waits a few seconds, naturally, since Bob is a gentleman and he doesn't want to rush someone into making a move that could cost them a car/dinette set/trip to Tokyo, etc. After about 10 seconds, however, Bob's next reminder is slightly more pointed. "Jim, what is your bid?" he'll ask, with just a twinge more of a schoolteacher-esque authoritative tone to his voice. If it takes any longer, Bob removes all pretense and flat-out asks "Jim, what is your bid?" I've never seen anyone take any longer than this, since no person -- no matter how clueless -- really wants to push Bob Barker beyond the breaking point.

* When an elderly or feeble contestant can't spin the wheel during the Showcase Showdown and Bob has to help them. This gets increasingly hilarious as the years go by, since Bob Barker is now 82 years old. How pathetic are you if you need help from an octagenarian to complete a physical activity? How heavy can that wheel possibly be?

* One or more of the four contestants who start the show are still there at the end. I have a very strong sense of fairness in me, but I can't help feel sorry for some poor schlub who just can't get out of Contestant's Row. Imagine getting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually be called down on Price is Right, and then losing all six chances to get on stage and win the car/dinette set/trip to Barcelona, etc. When would panic set in? After two losses? Three? The end of the show always has that pan shot of the three remaining C's R players, and the ones who have been there the longest always have a strained smile on their face. It's awesome. I also feel bad for the last contestant whose name is called, since that's their one shot. If they didn't get up on stage, that's it for them -- what are the odds they'd ever get called again if they attended another taping? Talk about a pressure cooker of a situation.

* When you shake your head at the new announcer's inability to carry Rod Roddy's jockstrap. Seriously, the new announcer doesn't have an ounce of Rod's charisma. It's depressing. Rod is spinning in his sequined grave.

* When they play the crappy "Double Prices" game. This is the one where Bob shows the contestant the prize and two possible prices, and then the player has to guess what the price actually is. That's the whole goddamn game. I once saw a show where this game preceded by Lucky $even (the toughest TPiR game, in my opinion), and decided it must've been a case of the producers just being mean.

* Their little skits to introduce the Showcases. They're so awful. One recent skit had one of the models dressed as a bee, as the theme was "prizes that show what a bee's day is like." This young woman (who only wanted to get into show business as a way of escaping the claustrophobic small-town pressures of her family and the boy she left behind and, dammit, doesn't everyone deserve a shot at that brass ring we call fame?) gamely 'buzzed' around the stage, though such prizes as a year's supply of flowers from FTD and a new car -- since bees ostensibly fly in your open windows. The skit ended with her acting as if she was scared by a giant cardboard cutout of bug spray that looked as if it cost all of $3 to make. Don't worry, a giant can of bug spray wasn't one of the prizes, it was just the end of the skit. Hey wait a second, that would be awesome; totally random prizes. If you saw a 7 foot-by-4 foot can of bug spray, would you know how much it would cost? Hell no. That would really throw me off.

* When Bob Barker is introduced and the audience goes batshit crazy. Whenever you're feeling down, watch the first minute of The Price Is Right. You can't help but smile at the studio audience's pure joy when Bob Barker steps out from behind that sliding door with his little stutter step. Bob owns us all.

* When one contestant bids $1, and the next contestant bids $2. The $1 bidder usually shoots the $2 bidder a big "fuck you" face after this occurs. I once saw a legendary streak of bidding when the first contestant of the four bid $1, and the next person bid $2. The third person (a pretty out-of-it old woman) bid something like $400, and contestant #4 bid $401. The prize was something like an electric guitar, so contestant #4 won easily. Bob had a good chuckle about it on stage, saying something like "The #1 bid is a good strategy, but you have to know when to use it!" Pwned.

* When the audience's energy noticably dies down after the last contestant is called from the audience. This is TPiR's episodic shark-jumping moment. After that sixth game is played, frankly, I have a hard time watching the rest of the program since I don't overly care who makes it to the Showcase Showdown, and neither does the audience. In any other game show, the audience is hooked on the climax, but TPiR is designed so that the real voyeuristic pleasure for the audience is in the one-in-300 chance they'll actually be to be a part of the action. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book where you get the final secton and they suddenly don't give you any choices for a few pages. You're like "WTF? Now I'm just reading a book."

* When both people overbid on the final Showcase. Speaking of anti-climax, the double overbid on the Showcases is basically the worst way a show could possibly end, and yet it's never all that bad. If the two people have already won (for example) a car, a dinette set and a trip to Busch Gardens between them, should I really be all that sad if either of them fail to add to their haul? Nope.

* When one of the Showcase contestants is clearly not impressed by their Showcase. The top winner going into the final gets first pick, so it's funny enough when the first Showcase is awesome and the top winner bids, thus leaving the second contestant with what can clearly be called the dregs. It's even funnier when the top winner passes, and then has to sit and watch as the second Showcase proceeds to suck the bag. I can never understand their depression, frankly. If you don't like the prizes, just sell them later.

* The close-ups of the models. When the announcer (the anti-Rod) is describing some tiny product like a box of antacid tablets or something, the model holds it right up to her face and gives a big grin. However, there's only so excited one person can be about a box of antacids, and the smile becomes more strained as the product description goes on and on. I'm a fan of the "smile-take a look back at the box-look back up and smile knowingly" strategy. Despite being outnumbered by roughly a three-to-one margin, I have every confidence that the Barker's Beauties would decimate the Deal/No Deal models in a street fight. I just feel they're more competant.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

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Registration code: 2576875