Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Movie Reviews



With all of the hype and huge box office following Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part II, let's not fool ourselves into thinking these movies were really good. We're not seeing the conclusion of some epic era in film history --- rather, just the end of the most obligatory film series ever made. You knew when the books became such a phenomenon that film adaptations were inevitable and sure enough, Warner Brothers was so careful to not let this money train get off the rails that they produced eight of the safest, most more-or-less closely adapted movies they possibly could. Of the eight pictures, this last one and the third one (Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron) were at a B+ level, with the rest middling around the lower B's or C+/C range. So nothing really bad, but nothing really good, either. The movies just trundled along, collecting up billions of dollars and also providing retirement packages for literally dozens of British actors.

As I've written before, I think the turning point for the Potter movies was when the producers abandoned the idea of having a different director for every film. After the first two Chris Columbus-directed films threatened to sink the project, Cuaron was hired to pump some life into the franchise. Then, it was Mike Newell who did the fourth movie, then David Yates did the fifth....and that was it, Yates suddenly became the man for the rest of the series. It's probably telling that after watching four of his movies, I have no idea if Yates is a good director or not. He did a workmanlike job of adapting the novels to the screen, but I dunno, I expect more from an allegedly-epic film series than "workmanlike." From start to finish, the whole Potter series just lacked a bit of extra spark that would make them seem really worthwhile. It was never, "Oh man, the new Harry Potter movie is out, that's an opening night view for sure," but rather, "Well, here's another Harry Potter movie. I guess we should go check it out."

Now, hard as it is for me to believe, there's probably a sizable audience that's invested in these characters through just the films and who've never read a word of J.K. Rowling's books. For them, this probably has been a great, eight-movie journey, though for the life of me, if you haven't read the books, aren't these movies confusing as hell? I guess I understood the basic gist of Lord Of The Rings without ever reading Tolkien, but still, the films contain so many characters and slough over so many important (in the novels) situations that I can't see how a casual viewer can keep track. But, my issues with the franchise as a whole aside, HPATDH2 brings things to a satisfactory end and is a decent movie standing on its own merit.

Oh, and by the way, let's not also ignore the fact that these kids can't fucking act. You can stick all the Rickmans, Smiths, Oldmans and every other awesome British actor you can find to chew the scenery and carry scenes, but let's be honest, Radcliffe/Watson/Grint ended up bringing very little to the table. I could see Grint maybe carrying on as 'average British guy' in a few future movies, but let's hope Radcliffe and Watson saved their money. Is it wrong of me to outright dismiss the prospects of actors who are still just in their early 20's? Well, how are they supposed to improve? MAGIC?!

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I had the same basic problem with both Horrible Bosses and Bad Teacher so I've decided to combine their reviews into one space. Basically, the bosses were too horrible and the teacher was too bad. Ok, I realize this sounds like the dumbest criticism ever ("What was up with them finding redemption at Shawshank?? NO STARS!") but hear me out.

In Horrible Bosses, the premise is that these three guys are all employed by such terrible people that the guys have no choice but to murder them. Comedy! This would've been a much better premise if the whole film had been a black comedy, or if they'd taken the time to establish that the three guys were all kinda terrible people themselves for resorting to murder. (Jason Sudeikis is ostensibly killing Colin Farrell to keep him from dumping a bunch of toxic waste into a nearby wetland or something, but I dunno, it mostly came off like Sudeikis just trying to justify it to himself.) Since Charlie Day is right there, if you imagined the three guys from It's Always Sunny... committing themselves to a triple murder plot, that's suddenly a much funniest movie right there. However, since "Horrible Bosses" is committed to the idea of the three guys being the heroes, then they have to go overboard to make the bosses really awful.

Spacey and Farrell are both sort of cartoonishly rotten, but Jennifer Aniston's maneater dentist was probably the toughest sell. Charlie Day's problem is that Aniston keeps sexually harassing him, which as is even pointed out by Sudeikis and Jason Bateman, doesn't sound that bad. So the ante is upped when Aniston threatens to ruin Day's engagement by telling his fiancee that Aniston and Day are having an affair and, oh yeah, Aniston also has pictures of she and Day having sex when Day is knocked out from anesthesia. The film kinda just casually tosses in that, y'know, Aniston RAPED HIM but this is more or less glossed over with a scene of Day yelling in a high-pitched voice. If you're still wondering why I'm focusing on this, imagine the genders were switched. If it's Charlie Day raping Jennifer Aniston, methinks the plot wouldn't cavalierly move on from that point.

"Bad Teacher," similarly, can't get out from under the fact that Cameron Diaz's character is a lousy human being, a lousy teacher and (most importantly) isn't funny when being played by Cameron Diaz. I can buy a total degenerate lead character and certainly root for them if they're played by an actor with comic charisma. Hell, just going by the supporting actors here alone, I'd definitely watch 'Bad Teacher' starring Jason Segel as the Bad Teacher. Or Lucy Punch. Or Thomas Lennon. Cameron Diaz, nope, since Diaz isn't naturally funny and is only barely a passable actress. This isn't Billy Bob Thornton embracing his inner sleazeball in 'Bad Santa,' this is Diaz trying and failing to be lovable white trash.

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, Captain America is basically sold by the fact that Steve Rogers is a genuinely good guy. He's five-foot nothing, a hundred and nothing (tm Notre Dame football), but he wants to enlist in World War II more than anything because he just straight-up feels it's the right thing to do. He's short and tough without a Napoleon complex, and while his parents both served in WWI, Steve isn't enlisting just to follow in their footsteps. He's just a class act all the way around. While we've been indoctrinated to believe that all superheroes (especially Marvel characters) need to be driven by angst and conflict, Captain America has always been presented as the most clean-cut and noble of heroes and you know what? It totally works. Now, we'll inevitably see a lot of the fish-outta-water pathos in the Avengers movie and the inevitable Captain America sequel(s) as Cap adjusts to life in the 2010's, but for now, let's just enjoy a good old-fashioned tale of Captain America kicking some Nazi ass.

Also a nice touch --- unlike 'Iron Man 2' or 'Thor,' 'Captain America' was mostly a story unto itself, not an extended trailer for next summer's Avengers movie. (No pressure on that movie, by the way. Marvel has just been teasing it for five years, putting all its eggs in one basket and possibly threatening about six different film franchises at the same time if 'Avengers' fails. No biggie.) There are lots of little teases and easter eggs about the future, the largest of which is obviously Tony Stark's father as Cap's technical support aide in the 40's, but this is first and foremost a Captain America movie. You have the obligatory Sam Jackson cameo and, of course, the subtitle of "The First Avenger," but overall, if you're a Cap fan waiting to finally see your comic book hero come to life on the big screen*, you'll be very satisfied.

* = Uh, please ignore the legendarily shitty 1990 Captain America movie.**

** = Side note: Conan O'Brien needs to retire the "Looks Good" bit immediately. They are trying hard to turn it into the next Chuck Norris level-style gag, but it is just not working. This is in no small part because Conan's delivery of "looks good" sounds nothing like the ET guy's actual delivery.

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A theatre in Connecticut actually posted this notice in its lobby....



Hilarious. Imagine going to see The Tree Of Life without really having any idea what it was about. Would seeing this notice make you more curious about the movie to see what the fuss is all about, or would you immediately head to see, say, Bad Teacher after being so turned off by the snotty tone?

Unlike the poor unsuspecting Avon patrons, I knew Terrence Malick isn't into "a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling" and thus I was prepared. And sure enough, there's about a 90-minute chunk of TOF that indeed uses a fractured and moderately interesting story structure to tell us about a Texan family growing up in the 1950's.

Unfortunately, there's also dinosaurs. Yep. You see, Malick decides to use this family as a metaphor for basically, oh, all of human existence. And to get to the 90 minutes about the O'Brien family, you first have to wade through about 30 minutes of metaphysical horseshit that will bore you, make you suddenly fascinated with your watch and generally leave you wishing that Malick would've just become an exhibitionist in a particularly dirty sex club if he was this enthralled with the idea of jerking off in front of an audience. I can't blame Brad Pitt for appearing in the movie since I secretly believe he spends 70 percent of his time stoned, so this script probably blew his permafrosted mind. As for Sean Penn, well, who else for a role in an epic of self-importance? Tree Of Life is beautifully-shot, but holy lord, is there ever a lack of substance.

Malick is famous for taking years to craft and develop his films --- he's only directed six pictures in 32 years. He's basically a poor man's Stanley Kubrick, with the exception that Kubrick usually made those long waits pay off with some of the greatest films ever made. While Kubrick was no stranger for self-indulgence himself, he also never tried to elevate his childhood (Malick, btw, grew up in Texas in the 1950's) to universal proportions and asked viewers to watch it. The next time Malick is eight years' deep into a project, he should take another year to ask himself if this is really worth it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

UK Apprentice Thoughts

I don't always agree with Alan Sugar's final hirings on the UK version of 'The Apprentice,' but this most recent series concluded in such a fashion that seemed to undermine the entire season. As opposed to hiring someone to work for him, this year Lord Sugar was looking for a business partner --- someone who had a business idea into which Sugar would invest $250K pounds.

Now, one could argue that even in a hiring situation, the Apprentice's tasks are an insufficient way to judge someone's worthiness of employment, given that they're made-for-TV trials meant to entertain the viewers, not necessarily weed out the best candidates. But this season, this new focus of the show made the tasks seem increasingly irrelevant, as shown by the final two. Lord Sugar's choice came down to Helen (an absurdly competent woman who won 10 of the 11 tasks, barely seemed to break a sweat in doing so, and unlike a lot of reality show contestants, actually seemed like a normal person) and Tom, an affable Clark Kent-ish sort of guy who lost almost all of the tasks and was constantly berated by Lord Sugar throughout the process for not being assertive whatsoever.

So, of course, Tom was the winner. The difference between the two was that Tom is a self-made inventor who already had experience in developing and selling products. Helen had made her mark as a CEO's executive assistant and had never started a business on her own in the past. This glaring gap in business-creating experience gave Tom the title despite the fact that, if you were going just by the show's results, this guy shouldn't have stood a chance in hell.

Lord Sugar admitted that had this series followed the others in being about just hiring someone to work for him, Helen would've won going away. In past seasons, though I haven't always agreed with who Sugar eventually hires, the winners have been from a wide variety of backgrounds and differing levels of experience, so there was no sense that the deck was stacked against anyone from the opening bell. This season, however, it becomes clear in hindsight that Tom (and Susan, another largely weak contestant who made the semi-finals) stayed around because their resumes fit what Sugar was looking for. As long as they weren't complete disasters, they would be there in the end, and in fact Tom won it all.

The finale left a bad taste in my mouth since it only occurred to me at the end that the rest of the season (which I enjoyed overall) was irrelevant. Given the new prize for the winner, the format should've been something different than the usual set of business-related tasks. For instance, it wasn't until the candidates were whittled down to the final four that we actually heard what their business proposals actually were, which seems unusual given that this was the entire thrust of the series. Shouldn't this have been covered in the very first episode?

Anyway, all of this aside, you should still watch the UK Apprentice since it is literally 100 percent better than the cartoonish Donald Trump version because....

* I don't believe for a minute that it's all on the up-and-up in terms of Sugar putting these through the paces to actually find an apprentice, but the show is shot and edited in a way that allows you buy into the conceit. As long as the show doesn't sell out its own premise (as I felt it sort of did this year), I'll happily watch and pretend that this is a legitimate job interview.

* The tasks are almost always interesting, and after watching a few seasons in a row, it's gotten to the point that I thoroughly look forward to classic assignment like "the teams have seven hours to purchase 10 items from around London, all of which have to be purchased at less than their market value." The first series of the Trump Apprentice was very popular with some of my friends from business school since that initial series actually taught some aspects of business, and while the Trump show went downhill quickly, the British series still seems to focus primarily on the different ways to succeed in the business world.

* It's all set in London! Immediate 10 cool points.

* The contestants, by and large, all at least have some slivers of intelligence to them. That is to say, there are no obviously terrible people brought to the show solely for entertainment purposes. Almost everyone gets a moment of brilliance that shows why they made the cut to be on the show in the first, yet conversely, the show pulls no punches in showing their screwups. The Trump Apprentice, for instance, usually makes it very clear early on in the process who is winning the show since they get the 'Jesus edit' over everyone else.

* And finally, Lord Sugar isn't an obnoxious gasbag like Donald Trump. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

So even though this past season wasn't the UK Apprentice's best, I still heartily recommend the program. And, in future seasons, I won't openly spoil the final results. Sorry if you had plans to watch Series 7 and now want to kill me. Uh, spoiler alert?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Keep Cool, Mah Babies


So, my roommates are both gone for the weekend. Since they are kindly folks, they let me use BOTH of their portable fans, so combined with the fan I already had, this means I now have three fans. THREE. I'm like the Atlanta Thrashers! Having three fans is even better than having two knives, since knives can't help you during what might literally be the hottest, muggiest week in Toronto's history. But now, I'm invincible from the heat. Bring it on, North American "heat dome," do your worst.

....of course, now I have these three fans, there's a nice breeze outside and the weather is a barely-humid 24 degrees. Damn you, Mother Nature.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Conan vs. Andy Staring Contests

For my money, the staring contests were arguably the funniest recurring bit in the history of Conan O'Brien's show(s). Wait, that's a lie, the Chuck Norris lever was probably funnier. And probably the still photos of Max, Andy and Conan's days out (and later, Conan, Max and Joel's days out). And don't forget about prejudiced 1940's ghost singer Artie Kendall. Or Secrets. Or Max's PSAs.

Okay, so my point is the staring contests were AMONGST THE FUNNIEST of Conan's recurring bits. And, best of all, several are kept alive through the magic of YouTube. Let's take a walk down memory lane, back when Conan had a show on network television!

1995

Insert the obligatory "man, these guys look so young" comment here. Even Max looks like a sprightly young chap, albeit a young chap who's playing the theme song to a long-cancelled TV show...It's great how legitimately fired up the crowd gets in support of Andy....Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Debra Norville!

Fall 1996

Note Matt Walsh from the Upright Citizens Brigade as the magician...And, Amy Poehler playing Kerri Strug! Poehler (also a member of the UCB) made a number of appearances on Conan's old show, most notably in her role as Andy's little sister Stacy who had a crush on Conan......Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Shannon Miller!

Winter 1996

I want a screencap of Max grinning while holding that sign......Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Phil Hartman! Wait, nobody's forgotten about Phil Hartman, he was the man.

1997

I'm not sure what Andy found so horrifying about the bald kid. Baldness can strike at any age, Richter! Some of us can't fight it! *gets down off soapbox*.....I can't tell if it's laziness or genius that the gay porn magazine was just called 'Gay Porn'.....The robot on the toilet almost legit cracked Andy up. I think it was raising his arms in celebration that really got him. And really, who hasn't celebrated taking a crap in that manner? Nobody else? Oh.....What's with the audience hooting at the model like it's a Married With Children taping or something? It's a pretty girl in a bikini, audience! Grow up!.....It's a tie! Andy's on the scoreboard! Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Kathleen Turner. She's another memorable one but let's be honest, Kathleen Turner stopped being relevant quite a while ago.

1998

"The first one to break concentration is the loser and goes to hell."....Poor Johnny Carson, shot in the head with no mercy....That head removal was an impressive bit of CGI. And by impressive, I mean, impressive for a late 90's late-night talk show that had a minimal budget.....Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Ray Liotta! Holy crap, he's not forgotten! Everyone remembers that famous bit of Hollywood lore that claims Liotta has a hammer-shaped penis!

Later In 1998

About half of this clip is comprised of a bit about outdated posters at 30 Rock, the best moment of which is probably Conan not realizing that 'Suddenly Susan' and 'Caroline In The City' are no longer on the air.....Boy, that joke about letting the terrorists know where the show shoots is a real 'urrrrrk,' collar-tightening moment given that it's three years before 9/11.....Oh man, Rocker. Public enemy #1 in New York City in the late 90's.....I dunno, if I saw John Wilkes Booth killed, Abe Lincoln spared and then the president and his rescuer sharing a happy gig, I wouldn't look disgusted. Maybe Andy is secretly a supporter of the Confederate States Of America.....I can honestly say that's the biggest vibrator I've ever seen. The previous sentence is a great candidate for "strangest out-of-context lines Mark has ever written on this blog.".....Forgotten 90's celebrity who's the opening guest: Kevin Pollak! There is a 120 percent chance that Pollak did his Christopher Walken impression on the show. Pollak and Jay Mohr should honestly just quit acting and devote their lives to being professional Walken impersonators.

2000

Starting around a minute in, it's the staring contest from Andy's last show on Late Night. He wouldn't rejoin Conan until O'Brien took over the Tonight Show in 2009. Not to spoil things, but this staring contest has a unique result. Actually, wait, even hinting at it totally spoiled things.....Future SNL cast member Rob "Pow! Pow!" Riggle as the football player in the opening bit.....Another near crackup from Andy on the parrots and the pirates.....I love how they saved the most horrifying bit of all for the very last Staring Contest ever. Max jumping into the mix was amazing. Few people have been as good sports about humiliating themselves on live TV as Max Weinberg.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Alterna-Emmys



BEST COMEDY
Actual nominees: The Big Bang Theory, Glee, Modern Family, The Office, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock

Alterna-ballot: Community, Louie, Modern Family, The Office, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock
My winner: Community
Predicted actual winner: Modern Family

The only question in regards to the best comedy category is how long it will take the Emmy voters to burn out on Modern Family. Obviously their love affair with the show is still going strong, as indicated by the acting nominations, and I'd say we're in for at least two more years of MF winning everything in sight. This isn't an uncommon thing, since before last year '30 Rock' had won the previous three Best Comedy awards, but you could make the argument that 30 Rock actually was the best comedy for probably two of those three years. I like Modern Family, but even I have to admit it's not quite in the top tier of TV comedies. Hell, I almost replaced it with "Eastbound & Down" or "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" on my alternate ballot.

The actual funniest show on TV is 'Community,' which was inexplicably completely snubbed for the second straight year. I can get why the show isn't every voter's cup of tea, but when I say it was completely snubbed, I'm not kidding. Community received ZERO nominations. Like, not even for technical awards, which is perhaps even more crazy given how innovative the show can get with its specialty episodes. P&R is also great (and my favourite of the actual nominees), Office and 30 Rock had good comeback seasons, but Community was certainly the most consistently interesting show on TV this year, drama or comedy.



BEST ACTOR, Comedy
Actual nominees: Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Steve Carell (The Office), Louis CK (Louie), Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Alterna-ballot: Baldwin, Carell, Louis CK, Joel McHale (Community), Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down), David Mitchell (Peep Show)

My winner: Steve Carell
Predicted actual winner: Alec Baldwin

Here's where the 'my winner' idea gets dicey, since in 'my Emmys,' Carell would already have a couple of awards and thus wouldn't necessarily need one for his final season of The Office. In reality, however, Carell has never won an Emmy and it would seem wrong for his great work to go unrecognized....even though if I was voting in a vacuum, I'd vote for Louis CK. Now, "Louie" is one of the great hidden gems of television, less an ongoing show than it is a chance for Louis CK to do basically whatever he wants on any given week, be it comedy sketches, short films, or treatises on religion. I'm not sure I'd call it a comedy, per se, even though obviously every episode features Louis CK's standup act and I dunno where else the Emmys would slot it. Even though Louis CK is sort of playing himself on the show, there's more acting involved in what he's doing than, say, freakin' Johnny Galecki.

TV critic Alan Sepinwall believes it'll be another Alec Baldwin win just because Baldwin is submitting 30 Rock's 100th episode where he played multiple parts and Emmy voters are suckers for that sort of thing. I hope Sepinwall is wrong, but that's the kind of typical Emmy logic that would deny everyone their Steve Carell happy ending.


BEST ACTOR, Drama
Actual nominees: Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Hugh Laurie (House), Timothy Olyphant (Justified)

Alterna-ballot: Chandler, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Hall, Hamm, Laurie, Olyphant

My winner: Jon Hamm
Predicted actual winner: Jon Hamm

As usual, this category is deep as hell, and suddenly wide open since Bryan Cranston is out of the running due to Breaking Bad's late start date this season. I still haven't seen Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights or anything of Justified besides the pilot, so I really have no basis for omitting Buscemi over Chandler or Olyphant to insert the awesomely-named Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe it's just because Buscemi would be the more 'boring' winner of the group --- yet another film actor is immediately awarded for joining a TV show, as is per Emmy tradition. Chandler winning would be a great thank-you to FNL for its critically-acclaimed run and at least Olyphant winning would both recognize 'Justified' and also perhaps as a late thanks to 'Deadwood.' Laurie and Hall are staples of this category but barring a Kyra Sedgewick-esque upset like last year, I think the windows of opportunity for both men to actually win have closed.

This leaves just Jon Hamm. I mentioned earlier about Alec Baldwin's submitted episode, so let me note that the way the Emmys work is that every nominee can submit individual episodes so that voters unfamiliar with the show can get a feel for the nominees' work. This is certainly an imperfect system since it tends to reward people who have one big showcase episode rather than a season's worth of subtle work. This might be a reason (besides Bryan Cranston's awesomeness) why Hamm has yet to win for playing Don Draper since the character's arc over a season or the whole series has to be seen as a whole to be fully appreciated. That said, this year Hamm submitted 'The Suitcase.' The episode is a tour de force acting duel between Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and it was arguably the best episode of any series this season. Even if Cranston had been in the running, I still feel like this episode was great enough to finally push Hamm into the winner's circle.



BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, Drama
Actual nominees: Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Michelle Forbes (The Killing), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire), Margo Martindale (Justified), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)

Alterna-ballot: Baranski, Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), Hendricks, Macdonald, Martindale, Panjabi

My winner: Margo Martindale
Predicted actual winner: Archie Panjabi

While I've been tardy in catching up on Justified, it's worth noting that pretty much every pundit, TV critic and fan of television had Martindale's nomination as one of their pros, or thumbs up, or positives, or whatever gimmick they used to describe this year's ballot. I can get behind this kind of positive support and I have no trouble believing that a very good actress like Martindale hit one out of the park. Of course, since Emmy voters are lazy, I'll just presume they'll vote Panjabi to win again. Seriously, has ANYONE out there seen The Good Wife? Is it deserving of all these nominations? Inquiring minds need to know. Hendricks did her usual good work on Mad Men this season, but methinks that next season is the one where she'll really have some meaty material to work with (no spoilers) and may garner some awards notice.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, Comedy
Actual nominees: Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Jane Lynch (Glee), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Betty White (Hot In Cleveland), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)

Alterna-ballot: Jenna Fischer (The Office), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Krakowski, Kaitlin Olson (It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia), Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation), Vergara

My winner: Gillian Jacobs
Predicted actual winner: Betty White

It's been quite a ride for the Britta Perry character on Community, who went from being the most underwritten character on the show in the first half of the first season (basically not much more than 'obvious love interest for Jeff') to being the funniest character on the show pretty much from the moment she dressed like a squirrel for Halloween. Jacobs was one of those hands-down winners in my book, which makes her total omission from the list of nominees even sadder. You can make a case for Jane Lynch winning again but what the hell, I'll predict that the Betty White Revival Era finally peaks with White getting another Emmy award.



BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, Drama
Actual nominees: Andre Braugher (Men Of A Certain Age), Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones), Walton Goggins (Justified), John Slattery (Mad Men)

Alterna-ballot: Braugher, Dinklage, Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Goggins, Slattery, Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire)

My winner: Peter Dinklage
Predicted actual winner: Andre Braugher

I can't believe I'm not putting Vincent Kartheiser's name here again but since Pete Campbell got so little to do on Mad Men this season, this is the way it is. Again, I haven't seen Game Of Thrones yet, but I have no trouble believing that Dinklage steals the show. If this guy was of average height, I seriously think he'd be regarded as one of the best actors in the world --- not to say that people don't know he's great already, but Dinklage is inevitably pigeonholed as "the dwarf" and his talent is underrated. A win for him would be a nice way to award Game Of Thrones as a whole even if the series likely won't win any other majors Emmys. Anyway, it's anyone's damn guess as to who will win this award since defending champ Aaron Paul wasn't eligible. This is Slattery's fourth attempt and Braugher's second for his MOACA role, but Goggins and the Good Wife guys are newcomers, though I think society realizes Goggins was owed some Emmy love after never getting nominated for 'The Shield.' I'll pick Braugher for the hell of it, and also because his show probably hits a lot of middle-aged Academy voters right in their wheelhouse.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, Comedy
Actual nominees: Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Chris Colfer (Glee), Jon Cryer (Two And A Half Men), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ed O'Neill (Modern Family), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)

Alterna-ballot: Donald Glover (Community), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Rob Lowe (Parks & Recreation), Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation), Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation), Danny Pudi (Community)

My winner: Donald Glover
Predicted actual winner: Jon Cryer

You might notice that my ballot is entirely different from the actual list of nominees, possibly because I'm not in the bag for Modern Family. I mean come on, the MF cast does good work, but FOUR guys from the same cast?! This is a tough category to predict since the MF guys will no doubt split the vote. Stonestreet is probably out since he won last year and voters will want to spread the wealth and Colfer is out since voters won't want to give an Emmy to a guy with no teeth. Ferguson has a good chance since I feel Stonestreet's win last year was basically a dual win for the Mitchell & Cameron comedy team, so voters will want to reward the other half of the duo. Burrell is probably the pound-for-pound funniest guy on the show and O'Neill is not only great, but it's Ed O'Neill, comedy legend. All of this means the award will probably end up in the hands of....Jon Cryer. The Emmy is 10 percent for his acting and 90 percent for putting up with the Charlie Sheen fiasco.



BEST ACTRESS, Comedy
Actual nominees: Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Laura Linney (The Big C), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope), Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation)

Alterna-ballot: Same as this, I guess

My winner: Amy Poehler
Predicted actual winner: Laura Linney

Gosh, who the hell knows. It's safe to call this the most unpredictable category at the Emmys year after year. Best Actress used to be dynastic (Candice Bergen won a bunch, then Helen Hunt) but since Patricia Heaton's back-to-back wins in 2000 and 2001, we've seen a different woman capture the trophy in every subsequent year. With that trend in mind plus the aforementioned Emmy habit of awarding movie stars working in TV, I'll predict Laura Linney takes it home. Now, this is yet another case of slam-dunk winner since Amy Poehler should win this one in a walk, but I'm guessing it might take another year or two before P&R really sinks in with Emmy voters. The show stepped up for a best comedy nomination, but the fact that Nick goddamn Offerman was snubbed again is a sign that P&R still has a ways to go. Hopefully we're not looking at Poehler as another oft-nominated snub like Carell in a few years, but the lack of depth in the Best Actress category gives Poehler a clearer path to Emmy gold.


BEST ACTRESS, Drama
Actual nominees: Kathy Bates (Harry's Law), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), Mirelle Enos (The Killing), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order SVU), Julianne Margulies (The Good Wife), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)

Alterna-ballot: Bates, Britton, Enos, Margulies, Moss, Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy)

My winner: Elisabeth Moss
Predicted actual winner: Julianne Margulies

I've never seen Sons Of Anarchy, but I have no problem believing that Sagal was at least better than damn Mariska Hargitay. This category has offered its share of surprises over the years but I think we can safely cross Hargitay, Britton and Enos off the list of contenders. Moss has "The Suitcase" carrying her into battle against two bigger-name actresses in Margulies and Bates. Margulies was heavily picked to win last year but didn't, and Bates may be hurt by the fact that "Harry's Law" is a pretty terrible show. It'll be one of those three women who wins the Emmy, and I'll pick Margulies just because in the minds of Emmy voters, she's overdue. Of course, Moss has now been nominated several times for playing Peggy Olson and never won, but Emmy voters....well, they're dumb.



BEST DRAMA
Actual nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Friday Night Lights, Game Of Thrones, The Good Wife, Mad Men

Alterna-ballot: Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Friday Night Lights, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, Sherlock

My winner: Mad Men
Predicted actual winner: Mad Men

This is another case where my shameful tardiness in catching up on TV dramas hurts me. Dexter and Mad Men are the only nominees I watch, so I can't openly state that any of the others deserve to be omitted to make way for Sherlock (or Justified, or Treme, or any other great shows that I need to get watching). That said, I feel confident that Mad Men will make it four wins in a row since the other options all have baggage. Dexter and FNL obviously have no chance, Game Of Thrones' nomination was a nice surprise but it's hard to see the Emmys awarding a fantasy show, and Boardwalk Empire was a bit underwhelming --- I think everyone expected Amazing and all they got was Pretty Good. The nominee with the best chance of knocking off Mad Men is actually The Good Wife, which flies under the radar since nobody under the age of 40 watches it, but it's clearly got a lot of sway with Emmy voters.

A note about Sherlock. Under Emmy rules, it technically qualifies just as a miniseries, but screw it, I'm considering it to be a show so I can include it on my ballot. If you haven't already seen the BBC's new 'modern' version of Sherlock Holmes, it is absolutely fantastic for both casual viewers and for longtime fans of the Holmes stories. It ran a close second to Mad Men on my ballot. Viva Britain!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The City Of Toronto vs. Cyclists



I never learned how to ride a bicycle. It's just one of those weird gaps in knowledge that developed during childhood. I gave it a solid effort --- I remember my parents taking me out to either Springbank Park or an empty corner of the Westmount Mall parking lot to test out my biking acumen, but it just never took. If it was socially acceptable to ride a bike with the training wheels still on, I'd be a virtual Lance Armstrong, but as it turns out, I still have some faint stirrings of pride within my person. You'd think a guy who owns no fewer than three comic book-related t-shirts would have given up worrying about how he's perceived, but hey.

It's only fair to let you know this fact so you can make your own judgments about my personal biases. While my brain sides with Toronto cyclists in the war between them and Rob Ford, I can't deny that my motorist heart is silently grateful about the possibility of having a few less bikers on the road wreaking general havoc. I don't want to throw out blanket statements like "all cyclists are morons," so I'll just state that only the cyclists who have been riding within 20 metres of my car within the last six years are morons.

The problem with many Toronto cyclists is they're just the opposite of me; while I never learned to ride a bike, they never learned how to drive. This is all well and good and possibly logical given that you don't need a car to get around in Toronto, but the unfortunate side effect of this is that these cyclists didn't just not learn how to drive, but they also didn't learn basic rules of the road. For example, stop signs aren't optional. Biking diagonally across an intersection is not a good idea. When your bike lane is blocked, that doesn't give you the right to just bike up onto the sidewalk and fire past pedestrians like you're Lance Armstrong evading French doping specialists.

I understand the arguments made by Team Cyclist (biking is better for the environment, it promotes physical fitness, it helps reduce traffic, etc.) and I fully support these concepts, with the key word there being 'concepts.' You see, I'm a motorist. Contrary to popular belief, it's very easy to drive around the city of Toronto as long as you use an ounce of common sense and know which side streets to use during rush hour. And, y'know, the car is better than the bicycle. They're bigger, you can actually put stuff in them, and you're not totally screwed if you're out driving your car and it starts to rain, unless you happen to be driving Archie Andrews' jalopy. Even if I could ride a bicycle, I'd still choose to drive more often than not just because it's a superior vehicle.

Now, all this being said, I certainly don't fully support the "Cyclists are evil, bike lanes must be destroyed, pass me my bucket of fried chicken, BLARGH!" argument proposed by Rob Ford. Agreeing with Ford would make me break out in hives. Ford may not, in fact, be a person, but rather the latest model of the ConservaBot 3000, designed and programmed to follow conservative ideals at all times, no matter how they may fly in the face of logic or common decency. (The initial model is still in use and is located at 24 Sussex Drive.) As you can tell, the Terminator franchise's claim that cyborgs would be built in the image of physically impressive forms like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kristanna Loken is quite a bit of science fiction. It just makes more sense to build a robot that looks like a big fat guy; provides more space for extra, I dunno, wires. Don't ask me, I'm no engineer.

So while having fewer cyclists in Toronto would personally bring me pleasure, it would also bring pleasure to Rob Ford, and we can't have that. Ergo, I'm stuck in the middle of this great war between the mayor and TO's cyclists. There is obviously lots of room for middle ground in this argument, but 'middle ground' isn't something that Ford understands, sort of like the concept of diet soda. Similarly, the other side features such eye-rolling parties as the Toronto Cyclists Union, which may or may not be subtitled The Brotherhood Of Hipsters With Too Much Time On Their Hands.

In short, I've now written this piece without taking either side or even managing to make any sort of larger point based on my personal feeling. Congratulations, I've tricked you into reading a Chuck Klosterman essay.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another Evening With U2



This was the fifth time I've seen U2 perform in concert and easily the most disorganized (from my end) of the five shows. Firstly, I wasn't even supposed to be there. [/Dante from Clerks] I missed out on getting tickets to U2's summer-of-2010 show at the Rogers Centre and figured what the hell, at least I'd seen the 360 Tour's first stop in Toronto in 2009. However, fate intervened and Bono underwent emergency back surgery that summer, postponing several shows and thus extending the tour into the summer of 2011. The rescheduled date was set for last evening, the same night that my old team-up buddy Kyle was just returning from a three-week trip to (ironically) Ireland with his lovely wife and daughter. Kyle and Carrie were too taxed from the flight to attend the show, so they offered their tickets to me and I pounced like a cat going after a rolled-up kleenex ball.

My initial choice to attend the show was my buddy Eric, who missed the 2009 concert due to a broken leg and was owed a bit of U2. However, Eric bowed out due to work commitments, leaving me on Monday afternoon trying to find a new concert date and scrambling like a cat chasing that kleenex ball down a staircase. What's with all the cat analogies, Mark? Geez.

Fortunately, finding someone willing to attend a concert put on by the best live band of all time isn't too difficult, so I found myself attending the show with noted music enthusiast Maggie W. "I admit, I didn't hear anything from their last album so I won't know any of the new songs," Maggie said. As it turned out, not a problem.

A lot has happened since U2 first launched the record-breaking 360 Tour back in 2009. Bono's back finally gave out from trying to carry Africa, the Edge's family made it through an unspecified health scare with one of his children, Adam Clayton had a kid, Larry Mullen continued to be Larry Mullen, the Spider-Man musical was a legendary money pit, and perhaps most pressingly, 'No Line On The Horizon' was U2's least successful album in years. As a result, pretty much all of the NLOTH songs had been pruned from the tour's setlist and the 360 concerts have become the closest thing U2 has ever done to a "greatest hits" sort of set. If anything, the album the tour seemed to be promoting most was the upcoming remastered version of Achtung Baby, out this winter to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that all-timer of a disc.

Is this a concern? Yep. U2's integration of new material into their concerts is the main reason, I'd argue, they are indeed the best live act of all time. A few semi-obscure tracks have been elevated by instant-classic live performances night after night on the road (i.e. Please, Zoo Station, One Tree Hill, and on this tour, I'll Go Crazy....) and of course, the biggest modern hits like Vertigo or Beautiful Day have become concert staples that any U2 show would seem incomplete without. If you take away that constant reinvigoration, U2 threatens to become the Rolling Stones --- a constant 'greatest hits set' band that has only one token song from its token new album. I doubt if any NLOTH songs will make it into future U2 tour setlists, as the band is already distancing itself from that disc as they did with Pop, and no Pop songs ever show up aside from the occasional attempt to bring back "Discotheque."

However, as a fan, I can't help but be pretty pumped up for a concert that features virtually nothing but U2's biggest classics. The band is still being creative by dusting off rarities like the Zooropa title track or Scarlet, but since this damn tour has already been held up twice and has stretched into its third year, it's clear that U2 just wants to wrap this up by playing some of its personal favourite live tracks. So basically what Monday's concert brought us was a U2 all-star game and, as usual, the result was awesome. The other bright side to the setlist shift was that I got to hear a number of songs I didn't hear the last time around at the Rogers Centre.

The roof was again open, since thankfully the forecasted thunderstorms stayed away. I feel the effect of the Claw stage would be lessened under a roof and plus, the building would've been stuffy as hell with 55,000 people packed in there on a hot and humid day like Monday. Our seats were in the upper deck so we got a bit of a breeze, but it was still probably pretty muggy for the fans down on the floor.

Re: ticket prices. There were a lot of inaccurate passages in the "U2 is on the decline" piece written by Ben Rayner in the Toronto Star over the weekend, but let's look at the one where he repeats the oft-cited claim that tickets to the 360 Tour cost $265 a pop. $265 is merely the average price, driven up by the uber-expensive seats right underneath the Claw and in the sections behind the stage. So those 5000 tickets are very pricey, but everything else is more than reasonably priced. When 55,000 of your 60,000 fans are getting in at great prices, it's just wrong to try to insinuate that U2 is gouging their fans. My two 360 Tour tickets were down on the floor and up in the 500s and the total cost was just over $100, so I feel like I got a bargain, frankly.

Anyway, enough complaints over the weather and poorly-written opinion pieces. Onto the music itself. Here was the setlist.....

*Even Better Than The Real Thing.....perhaps the surest sign that this is a 'greatest hits' tour now is that U2 took the rare step of not even giving a NLOTH track the honour of opening the show. Every other U2 tour of the last 25 years has featured a song from the most recent record kicking things off, and oftentimes this is one of the highlights of the concert (Streets, Hawkmoon 269, Zoo Station, Mofo, Elevation and City Of Blinding Lights). Then again, I'm not sure if NLOTH contained a surefire kickass concert opener. 'Get On Your Boots' was in hindsight the best option but U2 seemed to prefer saving their would-be hit single for later in the set.

*The Fly

*Mysterious Ways

*Until The End Of The World

*I Will Follow

*Get On Your Boots.....if any NLOTH song sticks around, btw, it'll probably be this one. It's the most-known track of the bunch, it's an easy rocker for the crowd to get into and it's really, really good live.
*I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

*Stay

*Beautiful Day....in a cool addition from the first 360 tour leg, BD now features a cameo appearance from an astronaut on the International Space Station reciting the "see the world in green and blue..." lyrical bridge. I made a tongue-in-cheek bet with Maggie where I offered to refund her ticket if U2 didn't play this song. Obviously this was a no-lose bet but it was dumb on my part since Maggie didn't have to give up anything when U2, in fact, did play it. Surely some sort of counter-wager should've been involved. I should've made Maggie scream something like 'TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT, LARRY!'

*Elevation

*Pride

*Miss Sarajevo......Bono's opera voice didn't reach the heights that it did during the Vertigo Tour. If Miss Sarajevo can't get the full Pavarotti, Bono should probably retire it from live shows.

*City Of Blinding Lights

*Vertigo

*I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight....this included a tantalizing snippet from Discotheque, which would cause me to lose my shit if I ever heard it played live in full

*Sunday Bloody Sunday

*Scarlet.....easily the most obscure song of the bunch, it's a three-minute track from the 'October' album that is basically an instrumental, with Bono singing just the word 'Rejoice' over it. (Confusing, U2 has a separate song on that same record actually titled 'Rejoice.') Perhaps the most notable version of Scarlet from the 360 Tour came in Auckland when opening act Jay-Z showed up to lay down a rap over the song. Yes, by the way, that's right, Jay-Z opened for U2. Oceania isn't a hip-hop hotbed. See, that's why U2 are still, for my money, the biggest band in the world. They're headliners everywhere, whereas a lot of North America's current biggest music stars are only huge in North America and maybe Europe.

*Walk On

*One

*Where The Streets Have No Name

*Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.........YESSSSSSSSSSSS.

*With Or Without You

*Moment Of Surrender.....my pal Ravi feels this song is a letdown as a concert-closer since it's one of the little-known NLOTH tracks. My counter argument is that it's a great song but pretty much the only place you can play it in the set is right at the end. Sticking a seven-minute new song that's basically an extended jam into the middle of a setlist will start a stampede for the concession stands and bathrooms, no matter how good it is.

The bottom line is that U2 put on yet another fantastic concert and I can't wait to see them for the sixth time on their next tour. Am I ever glad that Kyle and Carrie got hosed out of the experience thanks to Bono's wonky back. Uh, um, er, I mean, thanks for the tickets, guys! I'm grateful!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New (Old) Product Placement



Ah, the face of Cobie Smulders. Rather than gaze too longingly at this lovely Canadian actress, please direct your attention to that giant red circle and the ad for "Zookeeper" on the back of that magazine in Robin's apartment. No big deal, right? How I Met Your Mother isn't above a bit of product placement, be it subtle or otherwise.

Except, there's just one problem with that Zookeeper ad. The movie is in theatres just this week, and this HIMYM episode was produced in 2007. So, Robin is a time traveller? Nope, it's just digital product placement within reruns of various syndicated shows, sticking ads for new products into old episodes.

Some might find this to be frightening, since nobody wants to have their enjoyment of a Three's Company rerun interrupted by the incongruity of Mr. Furley driving a Mazda 3. But, I see this kind of technology as a chance to correct the most dated episode in the history of television --- that 'Friends' ep where they're all fired up about attending a Hootie & The Blowfish concert for Ross' birthday. Some might see that episode as a perfect time capsule of just how fired-up white yuppies were about H&TB back in the mid-90's, but even by the time that episode aired, the band was already on the way out.* And certainly, the 'Friends' producers can't have their trendy stars appear behind in the times, not when Jennifer Aniston still has movies to promote, Courteney Cox is still on network TV and the others...uh, well, they also still exist.

My premise: every mention of 'Hootie' and 'Blowfish' are replaced by the names of whatever is the trendiest musical act of the moment. So, suddenly, Ross would be all fired up about seeing, for instance, Lil' Wayne. To help with this product placement, the words "LIL WAYNE TICKETS" would be digitally inserted onto the tickets that Ross is presented with at this birthday party. Then, when they're actually at the show, Weezy's face can be helpfully inserted onto the t-shirts of the (almost completely white) rest of the audience. The editing will be, in a word, seamless.

* = Full disclosure, I own a Hootie greatest hits album and generally find it awesome. Sigh.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Out-Of-Context Texts In My Phone Inbox, Volume XVII

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with these little preambles. They're rarely entertaining or clever and I never put any thought and/or effort into writing them. I feel like the whole "here are texts from my phone" concept needs a bit of introduction and yet, the concept is pretty self-explanatory from the name of the post itself. Maybe next time I'll omit a preamble, or just write the whole thing in some incomprehensible font. When was the last time you read anything in Wingdings?


"The Russian. Everyone is booing."

"I am at a dinner and Sarah Polley is at my table. My feeling is that we'll be best friends."

"A microwave? And hey, there was some chemistry there."

"Cruz by a landslide, 50-45, 49-46, 48-47"

"lol, so awesome and horrible"

"Khaaaaaaaaan!"

"Ok, we're here. Wave your hands!"

"He does, you could beat him. He almost put the ref in a headlock"

"well, that blows. Afternoon or evening games?"

"Cruz vs. Jardine would be awkward as hell"

"Gonna have to miss it and PVR"

"We have some drunken Irish guys here that are yelling at the TV. Just called Conan's hat a pisspot. Classic."

"Put in a good word for me"

"Awesome, eh?"

"Haha, it's been a while since we have seen it with that much enthusiasm. Maybe since Shamrock."

"That is one weak fucking chin"

"Justin Bieber, Mike Goldberg, I want to see it"

"I am hoping the Leben-Silva fight is good. should be"

"Hey, I'm being paranoid. Can you check that the burners are off on the stove? ha ha I have to buy a new phone I can only text right now. Thanks!"

"You didn't pay for it, I hope"

"Has YOUR sister ever brought home a black guy?"

"I will be coming back from Kingston first so I will call from the car, yo"

"29-28 on all the cards"

"Salman Rushdie is also here. Weird, this seems like the setup to a good joke"

"Bill Clinton. Zing! That joke courtesy of 1998"

"My computer isn't here -- at the new place. I'll be trying on my iPad so we can stick with Google on this one."

"Not now. Maybe for Bader."

"That's good. Where are you watching it? We had power here but crazy people"

"Relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax, buddy!"

"I work in Stratford now so me and the Beebs are tight"

"Want to meet at 4:30 instead for early dinner? I could use a nap too..."

"I was seeing retirement."

"Perfect!"

"Who the hell knows the way the judges scored Dennis' fight. Maybe 55-40 Faber. A new record."

"I think I left my wallet at home. Just wanted to double check it's not lost."

"With that upkick I was seeing a Steven Seagal montage."

"Tim Connolly? I've never even heard of him."

"I sat in the same chair as Selena Gomez so we are practically an item. Check TMZ"

"Decade is two minutes, right?"

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Trip's Impressions

"The Trip" is less a film than it is a best-of version of the BBC series of the same name starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The series consisted of six, 30-minute episodes detailing Coogan and Brydon (playing themselves) going on a trip of Northern England checking out various restaurants for a magazine article Coogan is ostensibly writing. Apparently a good deal of the series actually involved discussion of the food, so the film version dispenses with most of that and just focuses on the interplay between Coogan and Brydon themselves, plus the undercurrent of depression that Coogan's character is going through.

Sounds a bit drab, yeah, but "The Trip" is terrifically funny. Coogan and Brydon (mostly Coogan) spend most of the film trying to subtly one-up each other with impressions and comedy routines. Ah, the impressions, my god, the impressions. You may have seen the dueling Michael Caines bit already since it went a bit viral, but Coogan's Stephen Hawking impression is from just the show and not the film. All are fantastic.