Thursday, November 29, 2007

Back to Back Jacks

What the hell? Two posts in as many days? Zut alors!

I haven't been hitting up the blog very often due to the simple fact that I'm back in London. No more evenings stuck in a Toronto and/or East York abode sitting around with nothing to do but explode my crazy thoughts onto the internet. Now I'm on a whirlwind of...well, still sitting around, but now there's a whole lot of TV to watch and people to see and so on and so forth. It just seems that for whatever reason, when I'm at home I'm more apt to spend a bunch of time on silly things like Facebook Scrabble or, my latest obsession, Karl Pilkington.. Just about any of his podcast appearances with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are pure comic gold. Karl's comments are as funny as Ricky's reactions to them -- god, what stand-up comedian wouldn't want someone with Gervais' laugh in the audience? The YouTube link I provided above has arguably Ricky's greatest reaction ever, at roughly the 4:12 mark. It made me laugh until my sides hurt.

There's also the home traditions of putting the deck furniture in the shed (the true first sign of winter) and putting up the Xmas lights. I know, it's still over a month away, but there was another reason for the earliness. Our Christmas lights are, for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, green and yellow. I can't explain it, it's not festive at all, and yet we've had these lights for as long as I can remember. But this year I wanted them up before Thursday's big clash between my beloved Packers and the Dallas Cowboys that will more or less determine who wins the NFC. I figure the green and gold lights will provide that extra bit of support that Green Bay will require to win the football game played a thousand miles away. Butterfly effect, people!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ad Nauseum (I swear I've used this title for at least three other posts)

I'm not a fan of the new Mini-Wheats song. It lacks the catchy simplicity of the original Miiiiinnniiiii WHEATS WHEATS WHEATS hook. This new 'strawberry vanilla' Mini-Wheats jingle is to the original jingle what OMC's second single was to How Bizarre. Does anyone remember that second single? The video had them riding on the bus or something. I may have blocked it from my memory.


Speaking of horrifying ads, what's your favourite WSIB commercial spot? I think it's between the retailer and the chef, with a solid bronze going to the welder. I nearly spit out my drink when I first saw that kitchen safety one. Geez, I hope someone didn't slip on my regurgitated water and horribly burn themselves.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


All kinds of spoilers ahead, so if you're planning to see the movie, ignore this post altogether. Well, maybe not altogether, but at least don't read it until you've seen the movie. After all, I want people to read these posts. I spend as many as five minutes writing them!

The MacGuffin is a film term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock to describe a plot device or object within a plot that is essentially the cause of the movie's action. For example, in Lord of the Rings, the ring is the MacGuffin. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's the Ark. In Pulp Fiction, the briefcase with the glowing interior is the MacGuffin (Tarantino was actually satirizing the process by never actually showing what was inside the case, since it ultimately didn't matter -- all that mattered was that we knew it was valuable).

Some critics argue that 'MacGuffin' is something of a ridiculous term in relation to a movie plot, since ultimately, everything within a movie acts as a vehicle for the plot in one way or another. This is kind of a big picture analysis that some film theorists like to make in order to be party poopers. It's equivalent to the "we're all going to die sometime" line of nihilistic thinking that someone might make in a theoretical argument over which would be worse, bleeding to death or drowning. No no, the fun is in the guessing! Sure, it's a morbid game, but that's the point! Oh, you're no fun, Grandma. And sure it's appropriate conversation at Christmas dinner!

Anyway, No Country For Old Men features a classic MacGuffin (a briefcase full of money) but it develops into something perhaps more akin to the Coen Brothers' take on this nihilistic point of view. As the film goes on, it gradually becomes apparent that the characters are MacGuffins to Anton Chigurh's story. The briefcase found by Llewelyn Moss only serves to put people in Chigurh's way and, as we soon learn, that means they're dead. End of story. The one exception is a gas station employee that Chigurh spares early in the film apparently only due to a coin flip. Yes, that's right, a character in a Tommy Lee "Two-Face" Jones film used a coin flip to decide a person's life. I wonder if Jones pointed out this coincidence during the shoot, or kept his mouth shut for fear that reminding people he was in Batman Forever would cause the Coens to throw him off the set.

The film is fascinating in its slow unraveling of plot, as Moss tries to get away with his found money and Chigurh simply stays after him with the calm persistence of Pepe Le Pew chasing a female feline victim of a paint spillage. Usually in a movie like this, Moss (Josh Brolin) is the protagonist and you figure the story will eventually lead to Moss turning the tables on Chigurh and leading to a showdown where either Chigurh dies, or both die and Moss is able to go out a hero by saving his wife. Brolin's calm screen presence seems to back this up. This guy isn't a Jerry Lundegaard who is so nervous you just know things will fall apart. Moss seems only a shade less calm than Chigurh and may have what it takes to....uh, nope.

I would expect Javier Bardem to win a supporting Oscar for his role as Chigurh, partially because he's also excellent in the upcoming Love In The Time of Cholera and thus the Academy will likely give him one award to sum up his body of work in the year, partially because NCFOM may be too violent to win Best Picture and thus the Academy will still want to award the film something, and (oh yeah) because he's excellent in the role. Chigurh instantly joins the list of iconic characters in Coen brothers films that people will remember years from now. The role certainly doesn't take a lot of emotion from Bardem (as my friend Matt put it, "I could've played that role just by being comatose") but his utter lack of anything but slightly amused determination makes for one creepy villain. Even when Moss evades him and Chigurh is shot in the leg, he doesn't get mad. He just cleans up his wound and goes back to the hunt --- oh yeah, after blowing up a car in order to get into a drug store to get bandages without anyone noticing. Yikes.

This is the kind of work that Chigurh puts into covering his tracks that leaves the movie's other central character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (the similarly tri-named Tommy Lee Jones) stunned and disheartened. There's no respectful acknowledgment that "he's the best" or some such dialogue. Everyone refers to him as a psychopath. Even when Stephen Root's businessman character refers to him as "the ultimate bad-ass," but bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) dismisses that notion. Yet, the scene also establishes Wells as one of the few people who has even seen Chigurh and lived. He becomes like a creature of myth --- even the name, 'Chigurh' sounds like a creature from Olde English myth, like something Beowulf would hunt. What NCFOM essentially is is the Coens' deconstruction of the film trope of the one-man killing machine. This isn't like Hitman or Rambo, or even something like Silence of the Lambs where you leave the theatre thinking the killer is kind of cool. Here you leave saying the same thing that many of Chigurh's victims say: he "didn't have to do this" and "these people didn't have to die" for Chigurh to get what he wanted.

The ending is pretty low-key, and the group I saw it with was pretty disappointed with it. Sheriff Bell retires after Moss' death out of the feeling that things are getting just a bit too evil in the world for him to keep up with. The final scene is Bell relating a dream to his wife that seems to imply that all he's doing is waiting for the end to come. I thought it was kind of fitting. Bell is simply facing his fate, just as the rest of the characters in the film do except fate is personified as Chigurh. Actually, I was a bit confused by a scene near the end where Bell investigates a motel room for the still-not-found satchel of cash. We see Chigurh nearby with his rifle ready to go, and yet he surprisingly doesn't kill the sheriff. We see in the first scene of the movie that Chigurh is willing to kill police, so I was kind of curious that Bell was seemingly spared here. At the time I thought this was a sign that Bell would be the one to ultimately finish off Chigurh and thus the killer's one mistake would come back to haunt him, but instead the sheriff just retires to his ranch. Perhaps the unspoken message is that Chigurh is on his way to eventually kill Bell, or perhaps Bell is taking the easy way out. Bell realizes he "doesn't have to do this" himself, i.e. hunt Chigurh. Put it this way: if you were the only one in the pool who survived a shark attack, would you want to hop into the water with a spear-gun to go kill the big fish or would you sit back and just thank your lucky stars? Note: rhetorical question only applies if you're not Robert Shaw.

This is definitely among the Coen brothers' best movies and thus is certainly one of the best I've seen this year. Either it gets a passel of Oscars or else the Coens send Chigurh after the Academy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Burning TV Questions

* Is the Goodyear guy the greatest TV pitchman since the glory days of the Maytag repairman? This man has been the face of Goodyear for close to 20 years now. He's moved through dozens of ad campaigns -- answering phone calls, asking rental car companies if he could use his own tires, and now riding shotgun in a blimp. He's done it all. His longevity has to be, in part, caused by the fact that he's now terribly typecast. As least Gordon Jump (the old Maytag repairman) could also hang his hat on being on WKRP In Cincinnati, and playing the child molester in that one really weird episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Wouldn't it blow everyone's minds if the Goodyear guy played, say, a pedophile on The Shield or something?

* Curb Your Enthusiasm: does it count as a spinoff of Seinfeld? On the one hand, it obviously doesn't take place in the same universe as George, Elaine, Kramer and fake Jerry. Then again, Curb's version of Larry David is essentially George if Seinfeld's "Jerry" sitcom had taken off and been successful and George had moved to L.A. and gotten married. It's a tough call. I ask since, in the 'best spinoff ever' debate, if Curb counts, then it's between just it and Frasier in TV history.

* Am I the only one who finds the girl in the Tic Tac ads really good-looking? It seems like she should be British, though. That's what's holding her back.

* Can anyone who watches that TVTropolis trivia show 'Inside The Box' tell me if they have returning champions, a la Jeopardy? Since if they do, I'm the next Ken Jennings. I have never been more sure of anything in my life. I would roll through that show like the Kansas City Chiefs through a high school team. TVTropolis would have to put me on the payroll.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cal Marching Band's Tribute To Video Games

This made me laugh out loud. The music is great enough, but the choreography takes it to legendary status. Nice work, Cal. It more than makes up for your football team falling apart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jude Law & Cameron Diaz Are Friggin' Doppelgangers (or, a review of Sleuth)

Two weeks ago, I went to see the new version of Sleuth. The original Anthony Shaffer play was one of my favourites, and the original 1972 screen version starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine was excellent as well. This newest film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Harold Pinter and, in a neat twist, stars Caine in the Olivier role, and Jude Law in Caine's old role.

All a recipe for fun, right? Well, the film was sidetracked for me during a crucial scene when Jude Law is confronting Caine, and Law's hair happens to be a bit slick due to water or hair gel or what have you. I don't know if it was the lighting or how Law's face was framed, but I swear to god, in that moment he looked literally exactly like Cameron Diaz. It was creepy. The resemblance was uncanny. It's definitely in the eyes. If Diaz or Law widen their eyes, they're twins from above the nose and just below the hairline. Or, hell, maybe even including the hairline if Law has his wet blond locks from this film and if Diaz hasn't gone brunette at the moment.

Now, these are two people whose faces I've been looking at on the big screen for about 20 combined years. Hell, they were even in a movie TOGETHER as LOVE INTERESTS. Blerg. The Holiday just became far weirder than it seemed from the trailers. Did Narcissus get an executive producer credit? Who would've thought that Kate Winslet/Jack Black would be the second strangest coupling in a film? This is like the Seinfeld episode where George dated the woman that looked just like Jerry, except in this twisted scenario, it's Jerry dating the female Jerry. (Apropos of nothing, that episode fell flat for me because that actress looked nothing like Jerry Seinfeld. It was a pretty forced joke. Also, that same actress played the crime-solving nun on Father Dowling Mysteries, starring Tom Bosley. I watched way too much TV as a kid.)

The upshot of it is that Cameron Diaz has now been ruined forever. It's always a bummer when something like this happens. It's like when Mena Suvari hosted SNL back in the day, and she was in a skit where she impersonated Aaron Carter. While I applaud SNL for actually finding someone who looks like the person being impersonated (unlike recent cases of Maya Rudolph as Beyonce or Will Forte as John Edwards), the fact was that the wig and mild makeup made Suvari look exactly like Carter. It was, as they say, a cold shower. It ruined the whole Mena Suvari experience. Oddly enough, it doesn't affect American Beauty -- given the rumours about Kevin Spacey, it's actually quite believable that he'd be infatuated with Aaron Carter.

Anyway, that was the largest of several things that took my attention off of Sleuth. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not that Branagh created such a distracting setting for a story based around misdirection. Caine's character's house is one of the more unusual sets I've seen in a film. It looked, essentially, like the house in Beetlejuice after the Dietz family moved in and made it all Tim Burton-modern artish. The trouble in Sleuth, however, is that your attention should be focused on the intense mindgames between Caine and Law --- not wondering if the production designer is on acid. There were also a few too many avant-garde framings of the two men for my liking. Usually I'm a big fan of Branagh's directorial efforts (his Hamlet is probably the best Shakespearean film translation I've ever seen) and I think his acting is way too theatrically overblown, but this time it was his directing style that needed to be brought down several notches.

The film isn't all bad. There's a new ending that provides fresh surprises for fans of the original that think they can predict all the twists and turns. Alec Cawthorne makes a rare film appearance reprising his role from the 1972 film as Inspector Doppler. Caine and Law, as you'd expect, really bring it, and their scenes are suitably intense. Here's another wrinkle to the story of Law resembling Diaz. Let's just say it may have been intentional that Law looked like a woman, since there's a bit more, let's say sexual energy to the film that wasn't there in the original. I read an essay about Sleuth in school that argued the original Shaffer play had a strong homosexual subtext to it. Apparently Harold Pinter read this same essay, slapped his forehead, shouted 'By Jove, that's the ticket!' and started typing. In case you're wondering what I'm tap-dancing around, the last 30 minutes is just a hardcore sex scene between Law and Caine. It's disturbing. They wear fireman's uniforms. Law recites nothing but his Gigolo Joe dialogue from A.I., and even stranger, Caine reprises all his lines from On Deadly Ground in one bitter monologue. The scene was so powerful that several people in the theatre started making out and/or openly pleasuring themselves. That's the last time I attend a show at THAT theatre. Thrice bitten, four times shy.

Onward to the 2042 version of Sleuth, starring Jude Law and some young British actor who hasn't been born yet. Alec Cawthorne will be kept in cryogenic storage for a third go-around.

Friday, November 09, 2007

24, in 1994

The next season of 24 is the first casualty of the WGA strike. Word on the street is that the January premiere has been indefinitely postponed since the producers want to air all 24 episodes in an uninterrupted block, and since only about a third of the episodes have been written and even fewer than that have been shot, the show is being put on hold rather than risk airing the first few episodes and then having a long break. Depending on how long the strike lasts, 24 might not actually air until the summer.

So, even as poor as last season was, bummer. On the bright side, at least Kiefer can serve his jail time in peace. And if you're jonesing for a Jack Bauer fix, here's a look at what 24 would've been like in the year 1994.