Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"This is Going To Sound Like A Terrible Segue..."

In honour of Halloween, here's this hilariously dark SNL sketch with the great and underrated Will Forte and the great and probably properly-rated Jon Hamm.  Whaaaat?!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Further Insult

I'm a bad fantasy football player.  I freely admit this.  In over 10 years of playing fantasy football, I've won exactly one league title, making me roughly 1-for-25 overall though I don't have the numbers in front of me.  Don't need the stats to confirm, however, that I have way more last-place finishes than first place finishes.

Rather than just let me wallow in my own misery as the New York Jets of fantasy sports, however, Yahoo is now deciding to rub it in.  Over the last two weeks, Yahoo fantasy football has added the new wrinkle of "recaps" that provide a summary of the previous week's match, written up as if they were a (very bare-bones) AP article of an actual game.  As an example, here's the lead paragraph of this past weekend's result, as my "Championship Belt" squad lost to the "Renegades Of Funk" (coached by the immortal Shawn K)….

The Miami Dolphins Defense put up 22.00 points and Russell Wilson scored 20.34 as Renegades of Funk took down Championship Belt, 143.70 - 135.82. The win was an answer to a 148.90 - 142.04 tight loss to Championship Belt in Week 1. Leading Championship Belt, Tony Romo (21.48 points) and Michael Crabtree (20.00) both ranked highly overall for the week. Things could have been different, Championship Belt had two starters score zero points (Aaron Hernandez and Joel Dreessen). Renegades of Funk (4-4, 1,142.12 points) climbs into sixth place while Championship Belt (2-6, 1,079.96 points) is still looking up at everyone from last place.

You then get into categories like the "smooth moves" for the winner and the "regret tracker" for the loser, a title I may steal if I ever start writing a dating blog.  You also have the "what if" and "general game notes" categories that lists a few other stats that depress me even further.  Basically, it all adds up to 750 words detailing why I'm a schmuck.

Now, in a way, I can see why this enhances the Yahoo fantasy experience.  Just by running a fantasy football team, you're pretending to be a coach/GM hybrid and putting a team together like in the pros.  The game recaps take it a step further --- now you, as a fantasy coach, are getting a taste of dealing with the media.  The fact that I've already cracked under two weeks of these recaps is probably not a good sign; how has Andy Reid handled 13 years of this?  (Stress eating.)  And it's not like these Yahoo recaps are snide or anything, it's just the flat-out facts of the matter, and the facts are that I suck.  But I already KNEW that I sucked, Yahoo.  I don't need a reminder right here in black and white.

Also, as a journalist, I'm naturally inclined to be fearful of any program that just plugs stats and facts into generic sentence form and turns it into (rote) content.  I certainly don't want to show up in the press box one day and find that I've been replaced by the SportsWriterTron3000, a cyborg modelled to look and act like Ray Romano's character in Everybody Loves Raymond.  Frankly, I think such a scenario would threaten humanity.  If you program a cyborg with Ray Barone's personality, his inherent exhaustion with his parents will manifest itself in the cyborg being suspicious of its own 'parents,' i.e. its inventors, and may eventually plant the seeds for the Ray-bots (clever name!) to rise up and destroy us all.

So, to summarize, the Yahoo fantasy football recaps will eventually lead to the end of the human race.  To make another point, until computers learn about needless hyperbole, human sportswriters can never be duplicated. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Birthday Club

So, I'm 31 years old.  Time flies when you're having fun.  Like the Queen, my birthday celebration cannot be contained into a single calendar day, but rather stretched out over an entire week like Shark Week or a PBS pledge drive.  Here's a glimpse at some of the other notable people who share my October 24th birthday, heretofore known as "Mark Day" if the government will get off its ass and pay attention to my petition.

1. The Big Bopper!  (real name J.P. Richardson)  If this doesn't make me want to avoid flying ever again, nothing will.

2. Thomas Mulcair.  Leader of the NDP and guy with one of the most unenviable "big shoes to fill" tasks in Canadian political history.  He also has an awesome beard.  That's one of the reasons America and Canada are different --- I feel the era of politicians having great beards is past in the USA, whereas in Canada we're all for it.  I look forward to indirectly voting for Mulcair in the next federal election, though it's meaningless since the NDP will never win in my riding, and the NDP and Liberals will probably split the left vote again and put the g-d Conservatives back in power.  Sigh.

3. Martin Campbell.  Director of such films as GoldenEye, Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro and then basically a bunch of crap (i.e. the Green Lantern movie).  Your prototypical generic studio action director.

4. Drake.  And whaddya know, I only live a few blocks away from De Grassi Street.

5. Juan Pablo Angel.  MLS soccer player and, trivia note, the only person on this list I've ever actually met.  (If a group interview counts as 'meeting' someone.)  I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I believe Angel may still hold the record for most career goals scored against Toronto FC.  He's got at least 10, and I may be underselling that.

6. Jay Novacek.  Oh man, this fucking guy.  As a Packers fan, I'm morally obligated to hate everyone who played from the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 to 1999, and Novacek was one of those irritatingly good players who caught everything Troy Aikman threw at him.  If Angel holds the record for goals scored against TFC, I'm pretty sure Novacek caught roughly 45 million yards worth of passes whenever Dallas played Green Bay.
7. Monica.  The R & B singer, as in, "Topping the MuchMusic Countdown for the second straight week is 'The Boy Is Mine' by Brandy and Monica."  I presume she's still making music, though to be honest, I literally haven't thought of Monica in about a decade.  I'm not even going to click on her Wikipedia page --- I enjoy mystery in my life.

8. B.D. Wong
.  You may know him from Law & Order SVU, but to me he'll always be Martin Short's wedding planning assistant in Father Of The Bride.  Mostly because I've seen that movie a shocking number of times in my life, whereas I've only seen maybe three eps of L&O SVU.  (I'm an original series guy.)

9. Ian Baker-Finch.  Pro golfer best known not for winning the British Open, but for winning the British Open and then having his game completely fall apart.  Like, he went from being a major-caliber golfer to not being able to break 90.  I can sympathize.  It's like when I won the Greenhills 'closest to the pin' competition during junior golf lessons when I was 11 and then proceeded to suck at golf for the next 20 years.  So me and IBF, we're cut from the same cloth.

10. Corey Dillon.  You mean all those years I was yelling at Dillon for ruining my fantasy teams, he was actually a birthday buddy?  No regrets.

11. Bob Kane.  Holy crap, the creator of Batman!  Stop the presses, we may have a winner.  Technically co-creator, as I guess history has forgotten Bill Finger's contribution to the character, but let's be honest, "Bob Kane" sounds like a much more bad-ass name for the creator of such a bad-ass character.

12. Ned Williamson.  Old-timey ballplayer best known for holding the single-season home run record until Babe Ruth came along, which is kind of like owning the largest lizard in Tokyo before Godzilla rose from the ocean.

13. James S. Sherman.  Former U.S. vice president under William Taft, he is maybe best known for dying about a week before the 1912 election, leaving Taft to run for re-election without an actual running mate.  Taft lost anyway, but even if he'd won, I'm sure any electoral confusion could've been solved by the fact that Taft was fat enough to count as two men.  Fun fact: Sherman's middle name was "Schoolcraft."

14. Zac Posen.  Big shot in the fashion industry, to the point where "I'm wearing Zac Posen" is a very stylish thing to say unless you're Buffalo Bill and you're being literal.

15 and 16. Ronnie and Reggie Kray.  A pair of twin brothers and notorious British gangsters whose main claim to fame, in my view, is that their lives inspired Monty Python's legendary "Piranha Brothers" sketch.

17. Jonas Gustavsson
.  Aw, god.  Remember when Leafs fans were all hot and bothered about this guy, claiming that "the Monster" would be the goalie who would lead the team back to greatness?  Good lord.  You could've literally set a pylon inside of the Leafs' net and stopped more shots than this guy.

18. Moss Hart.  Legendary playwright and director on Broadway, who you might remember as being part of the "Kaufman & Hart" team….that is, if you're about 60 years old.

19. Y.A. Tittle.  Football Hall of Fame quarterback on some great New York Giants teams back in the day, and a guy who was really ahead of his time in terms of putting up big passing numbers.  His full name was Yelberton Abraham Tittle, so yeah, initials were probably a good choice.

20. Annie Edson Taylor.  Check this shit out.  On her 63rd birthday, Taylor went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, becoming the first person to survive such a trip over the Falls.  On her 63rd birthday!  On my 31st, I watched TV and went to a costume shop.  I've been completely outclassed.

21. F. Murray Abraham.  An Oscar winner, Jerry!  Abraham won his award for playing Salieri in "Amadeus" and then proceeded to never get as meaty as role again for the rest of his career.  He's been in a hundred things over the years but I really only recall him from recent hilarious guest appearances on Louis CK's show.  (He played Louie's uncle…yeah, that guy.)

22. Tila Tequila.  Now we get into the people who were born on my actual birthdate, creating an even closer universal connection between me and…uh, a boozed-out reality starlet.  It may stun you to realize this, but her real last name isn't Tequila.

23. Ron Gardenhire.  Manager of the Minnesota Twins….still, despite back-to-back terrible seasons.

24. Casey Wilson
.  One of the stars of Happy Endings, one of the funniest shows on television, and someone who I've thoroughly come around on after being unimpressed by her brief SNL run.  There's a good idea for my next Saturday Night Live-related list: the cast members who weren't much on SNL but went on to great success after leaving.

25. Scott Peterson.  Yikes.  Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine is dating a guy who shares the name of a notorious serial killer?  Well, that guy's name was Joel Rifkin, which is fairly unique, but just imagine how many real-life Scott Petersons there are who had to live down this jerk's murderous antics.

26. Robert Pickton.  Geez, we seem to have hit a dark spot in the list.  Can we please get onto someone who isn't a horrid murderer?

27. Bill Wyman.  Ah, here we go, finally.  Longtime Rolling Stones bassist, one of the more famous bass players in rock history, and nothing at all sordid about…..what's that?  He married an 18-year-old when he was 55 years old?  Goddammit Wyman, why're you sleazing up my list?  Literally, why, man?

28. Melvin Purvis.  A fitting choice to clean up the miscreants on the back end of the list, Purvis was the leading FBI G-Man of his day, helping capture the likes of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Big Boy Caprice, Buttons McBoomBoom, Kaspar Gutman….ok, not the last three, but still, the rest are quite notable.  "Melvin Purvis" is an even worse name than Yelberton Tittle.

29. Wayne Rooney.  The most notable sports name on the list (I think Rooney's bigger in his sport than Tittle was in football, eh?) and still a modern-day star.  If the tabloids are to be believed, Rooney will celebrate by sleeping with some middle-aged prostitutes.  Seems plausible…you're dead-on accurate again, British tabloids!  What a batting average!

30. Roman Abramovich.  Sticking with the soccer theme, here's the billionaire owner of Chelsea FC.  The term "crazy Russian billionaire" gets thrown around a lot these days, but this guy lives so large that if he decided to turn his fortune to evil, he would literally be a Bond villain.

31. Kevin Kline.  And we end things off with arguably my favourite entry on the list.  One of my favourite actors, star of perhaps my favourite movie of all time (A Fish Called Wanda), a stage legend and he's even married to Phoebe Cates, making him a hero to every guy who was between the ages of 12-30 when Fast Times At Ridgemont High was released.  Heh, 'released.'

To any of the notable figures in pop culture or human history who I omitted from the list, don't worry, I plan on living for several more years, so you'll even find room.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Incoherent Birthday Pictures

It's my birthday!  To celebrate, here are a few of the more random results of a "Mark's birthday" image search.  The fact that David Arquette thought enough to show up for my party is very heart-warming.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Endings, Live (Not A Euphemism)

So you like the show Happy Endings?  Do you have an hour to kill?  Are you not at your office, since this is NSFW to the nth degree?  If you answered in the affirmative to all of these questions, you have no excuse for not watching this.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Will Ferrell, Ad Man

Last year, Will Ferrell shot a few ads for Old Milwaukee beer that were filmed and set in the small city (town?) of Davenport, Iowa.  Nothing too weird about a comedian doing commercials, right?  Except...the ads were only shown in Davenport.  And Ferrell wasn't paid for them.  And he went to Old Milwaukee with the idea, they didn't hire him.

This was just the start, as Ferrell also visited Terre Haute, Indiana to shoot commercials for their own local TV station.  Then he made an ad that aired in a small town in Nebraska once (during the Super Bowl) and never aired again.  Now, Ferrell is making a new set of ads promoting Old Milwaukee in Sweden.  I think basically what I'm getting at is that Will Ferrell is both a comic genius and the Johnny Appleseed of lousy beer.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Random Nonsense

My friend Joanne's apartment building is serviced by the Schindler Elevator Corporation.  How in the world did this company miss the layup of calling itself Schindler's Lifts?


The film "Stoker" is set for release sometime either late this year or early in 2013, and yet it has nothing to do with Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.  This seems unnecessarily confusing.  I blame the screenwriter, Wentworth Miller, who you might remember as the lead guy from Prison Break who had the jail blueprints tattooed on his back, and even fake tattoo ink has a risk of seeping into one's body and affecting one's mental workings.  (I have zero medical knowledge.)  Miller was a big favourite of my friend Lori, who had such a crush on the guy during his mid-2000's heyday that she even found it cute that Miller's childhood nickname was apparently "Stinky."  I'm not sure that's something you can say is endearing unless you've actually smelled Wentworth Miller.  What if he has some kind of gland problem that makes him legitimately smell bad at all times?  What if he's essentially a real-life version of Pig Pen from the Peanuts comics?  Not so attractive now, eh ladies? 


The word "man-crush" is thrown around pretty liberally these days, but when it comes to The Greatest Event In Television History, I think it's safe to say I have a man-crush on everyone involved in this video.  Yes, even Megan Mullally and Kathryn Hahn, and it's hard to have man-crushes on women.


I've seen very few movies twice in theatres since really, two movie tickets gets you up in the $25+ range.  Who has that kind of money, John D. Rockefeller?  Anyway, here are the films I've actually paid money to see twice on the big screen, plus the reasons behind my repeat viewings.

* Spider-Man II
This is the only personal favourite I went out of my way to see twice, as the film is near and dear to the 10-year-old Mark that grew up reading Spidey comics.  The first time was a midnight screening and the second was with my friend Maggie.  My other friend Megan begged off since, and this is a true reason, she is deathly afraid of spiders.  I guess this was borderline legitimate given the subject matter but really, aside from the logo on Spidey's chest and the web-themed opening credits, I'm hard-pressed to remember even one actual spider that showed up in the movie.  Hopefully Megan didn't instead spend the night watching what she thought was a nice, spider-free western and got freaked out by Wild Wild West.

* Superman Returns
Ugh.  Saw it on the opening weekend in Toronto and then again a couple of weeks later, when hanging out with my friend Aron and his work friends who were all eager to watch it.  Went into it with an open mind, thinking "Well, maybe my expectations were too high.  Perhaps I'll enjoy it for what it is this time," and then was let down yet again.  The bright side was that I got to re-use all my sarcastic barbs from my first viewing the second time around and they "all" landed again!  I'm hilarious!  (Wait, why were there quote marks around 'all'?)

* Stepbrothers
* Role Models
* The Raid: Redemption
All three seen on the repeat viewings with my buddy Dave, as since Dave is both a fan of goofy comedy and epic violence, I took him along under the "oh man, you've gotta see this" rule.  All three held up just as well on the second viewing, the mark of a truly great comedy or action flick.

* The Hangover
Chalk this one up to poor scheduling.  I was out with my friend Nancy to see some romantic comedy (want to say it was 500 Days Of Summer but it might well have been something more embarrassing) only to realize that the film we were going to see didn't open until the next day, and I had read the movie listings incorrectly.  Damn you,  So since we were at the theatre anyway we just went to see Hangover again.  So, counting the time I saw Hangover II in theatres and the time I saw Hangover II on video, I've actually seen Hangover four times.  Question: since apparently Cooper/Helms/Galifianakis negotiated their contracts as a tandem for the Hangover sequels, do you think Justin Bartha tried to shoehorn his way into the group?  "Hey guys, let's all make sure we get treated equally, we're the four stars, right?  Right?"


Don't let the name fool you, any No Frills store has a ton of frills.  Lights.  Air conditioning.  Automatic doors. (Doors whatsoever, really.)  Signs and labels on various food products.  This was not the libertarian ideal of a grocery store that I was promised existed, No Frills.  Ron Paul could scoff at your store just before losing a presidential primary to the assistant manager.


The Onion has gotten into the webseries game and one of its first entries is the spoof reality series Sex House.  Here's a link to the first episode (just over eight minutes long), and you can easily find the rest via the YouTube sidescreen menu.

Now, you might remember that I endorsed another reality spoof, Burning Love, a few months back.  While I'd say that both series are about equally funny, Burning Love at least takes the recognizable form of a reality spoof, whereas Sex House quickly takes on some very unexpected shapes.  I wouldn't dream of spoiling the developments so just check them out for yourself.  Also, if you love frogs, you may want to avoid it altogether.


Someone, somewhere, has once tried to hypnotize a hippo.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Heritage Moments!

Great news, patriots!  They're producing more Canadian Heritage minutes!  Who can forget the legendary series of commercials that gave an entire generation of Canadians a go-to catchphrase anytime anyone mentioned burnt toast, re-created Rocket Richard's serial killer eyes and taught us that Marshall McLuhan wouldn't shut the fuck up?  The best part of these new ads is that the Historica-Dominion Institute is accepting suggestions for fresh historical moments to be immortalized in future ads.  So, I can't help but propose that we see Heritage ads based on these great moments in Canada's history….

* Alanis Morrissette goes to the theatre with Dave Coulier.

* Ross Rebagliati's chastened, exasperated "Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude" after he was told he failed his Olympic drug test.

* That proud day when RIM stock was made available for purchase.

* Retrospective on the life and times of Robin Sparkles.

* Someone wins a free coffee on Roll Up The Rim and gets way too excited about it.

* The Hinterland Who's Who series.  Sure, it's odd to celebrate another long-running ad series in a commercial, but c'mon, without Who's Who, where else would we have learned about puffins?

* Tom Green painting a lesbian orgy on the hood of his parents' car, then going to pick his dad up at the bus stop in said car.

* That one time on Air Farce when Jessica Holmes was actually funny.

* Bobby Clarke's all-time cheap shot of slashing (and breaking) Valeri Kharlamov's ankle during the Summit Series, putting a huge giant rat-shaped asterisk next to Canada's victory.  (Hey, I'm happy Canada won, but let's be honest, Bobby Clarke was a dirty player.)

* The Kim Campbell administration. I think they can literally fit the whole thing into a minute-long commercial.

* The Lavigne/Kroeger marriage proposal.

* Just a full minute of Paul Gross standing there in an RCMP uniform, not saying a word.

Monday, October 08, 2012

UFC 153: This Guy Will Take A Beating, Folks!

So thanks to yet another spate of injuries to key fighters, the UFC 153 card in Rio needed to be almost entirely rebuilt.  Fortunately, a number of big-name Brazilian fighters stepped up to bail out the show, including best-in-the-world, maybe best-of-all-time, middleweight champ Anderson Silva, who's moving up to light-heavyweight for the occasion. 

His opponent?  Stephan Bonnar, a longtime UFC fan favourite best known for his legendary brawl against Forrest Griffin in the first 'Ultimate Fighter' finale.  While Bonnar has never been knocked out or submitted, he's certainly lost his share of fights (he's 8-6 in the UFC) and is maybe just a notch above journeyman status.  That said, Bonnar is 3-0 over his last three fights and has earned a bigger-name opponent, so this match against Silva is both a decent thrown-together headliner and sort of a thank-you to Bonnar by giving him one major PPV payday as he approaches the end of his career.

While Bonnar is a tough guy, I see almost no way that he can actually win this fight, unless Silva slips on the mat or blows out his ACL or something.  It'd be one thing if the UFC promoted this bout as a real-life Rocky scenario (the gutsy tough underdog against the unbeatable champ) but instead, they're promoting it like this.

As a fan of comedy, I can't help but appreciate the goofiness of this ad.  I never thought I'd see the Homer Simpson vs. Drederick Tatum commercial replicated in real life, but here we are.

From a marketing perspective, you can argue that opening saying "Bonnar has a snowball's chance in hell of winning" is no way to promote a fight, but this is a novel way of looking at Bonnar's underdog status.  It also serves to help Bonnar's burgeoning broadcasting career, as the guy has already established himself as having a good sense of humour, and this only further gets his personality over.  For those of you who think UFC = WWE, there is no chance Bonnar is just showing up for a paycheque.  He will take his beating if it comes to that, but there's no way he's going to lay down for Silva or anything unsavoury.  Bonnar will give it his all.  He also knows that if the stars align and he does manage to knock off Silva, then that elevates him from journeyman to the Buster Douglas of MMA.  It will also probably lead to an immediate 205-pound title shot against Jon Jones, who Bonnar lost to a few years ago via decision, but this time it can be a major PPV headliner and then the UFC can really push the Rocky angle to the hilt.

All food for thought before we see Bonnar get his ass kicked in Rio because, c'mon, it's Anderson Silva. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Cookin' With Christopher Walken

Historians will point to the famous watch monologue in Pulp Fiction as the exact moment that Christopher Walken went from 'notable dramatic actor' to 'comedy legend.'  Needless to say, the fact that there are barely any actual jokes in this video makes it 10 times funnier. 

"That goat does not care."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Re-Read #5)

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.  Sooner or later though this Shakespeare re-read project I'd come across a play that really fell flat to me, and as fate would have it, the underwhelming play just happens to be the one with the title that ties most directly to its underachievement.  For as much as I vaguely enjoyed the idea of the play, and as much as I enjoyed my faint previous exposure to the story, this all ended up being much ado about, in my opinion, pretty much nothing.

The baggage surrounding the play may have admittedly built it up in my mind.  I'd seen the Kenneth Branagh film version years ago in high school and, while I remember little about it, I did remember enjoying it since Branagh and Emma Thompson were unsurprisingly awesome as Benedick and Beatrice.  (Well, maybe surprising in Branagh's case, since I usually dislike him as an actor…but really, the fact that the part was strong enough to make even Branagh look good was another point in the play's favour for me.)  And, MAAN has a pedigree as one of Shakespeare's best comedies, with an especially high caliber of witty wordplay, so theoretically, it should've been right up my alley.

Instead, nothing.  Don't get me wrong, it's fun to hear Benedick and Beatrice spar it out and then inevitably realize they're crazy about each other.  And that's the point --- it's fun to *hear* it.  When you have Thompson and Branagh, or Amy Acker* and Alexis Denisof, or any other accomplished pair of actors with chemistry to spare delivering the lines, it sounds terrific.  On the page, however, it lacks spark.  I return to my (already tired after just five posts) point that Shakespeare comedies work much better in performance than in reading, but at least with Comedy Of Errors and Midsummer Night's Dream, you could see the potential for comedy on the page.  With MAAN, the admittedly fantastic insults between Beatrice & Benedick only last for a little more than an act before they're set up 'in love' with each other and the rest of the play is bogged down by the machinations of the larger marriage plot.

* = In fairness, I may be also influenced by the fact that I may be kinda in love with Amy Acker.  Not deep enough in love to watch 'Person Of Interest' or anything, but still, lowercase-L love.

Roger Ebert coined the phrase "Idiot Plot" to describe a movie that fails because its plot is so contrived that it can only occur if the characters are idiots.  This is kind of the problem with MAAN since the central premise relies on Don Pedro and Claudio believing Don John's accusations about Hero's faithfulness.  Don John!  A guy who is both literally a bastard and non-literally opening referred to as a bastard!  A guy who has already tried once to ruin his brother and is now essentially being dragged around against his will like a sort of trophy by Don Pedro!  You don't think THAT guy might have an axe to grind?*  You can see the logistical flaw here when Benedick (in Act IV-i, 196-199) learns of the accusations and immediately realizes that Don John is behind everything, thus exposing this paper-thin scheme. 

* = Don John, it should be noted, is a pretty sorry-ass villain.  On the scale of Shakespeare bad guys, he is a poor man's Edmund The Bastard and a homeless man's Iago.  And what kind of self-respecting villain has henchmen who roll over so easily?  Borachio squeals like a pig when he thinks that Hero is dead.**  To quote the Joker, you just can't find good help these days.

** = That's right, my digression has a digression.  Deal with it!  Anyway, the whole thing about Hero faking her death just adds a layer of unintentional comedy to this goofy-ass plot.  My favourite part about it is that the suggestion comes more or less out of nowhere from the Friar, a character the audience has known for all of about four lines.  Even if the family knows the Friar already, it's still amusing to the audience.  I'd be like if one of the gravediggers had chimed in with, "Hey Hamlet, keep an eye out for that poisoned sword.  I'm just saying, is all."

Of course, Pedro and Claudio don't immediately believe him, but are than totally sucked in by Borachio and Margaret's little pantomime, a scene that is described so abstractly that Shakespeare doesn't even bother to stage it, instead just having Borachio recap the thing to Conrade.  In the edition of the play that I read, it made note of the fact that MAAN was one of Shakespeare's more sloppily-written works in terms of stage directions.  Editors had a hell of a time over the centuries trying to work out the scenes and character groupings in a sensible way.  For instance, an early version had Leonato's wife as a character who was on stage but simply never had any lines or was referenced in any way, and the character of Leonato's brother (the old man who just loses it on Claudio and Don Pedro in Act V-i) has only been designated as Leonato's brother and Hero's uncle in hindsight, as Shakespeare was never clear about things. 

It's perhaps not a stretch to believe that ol' Will's inspiration for this piece was contained within the arguments between Benedick and Beatrice and everything else was more or less window dressing that even Shakespeare himself couldn't be bothered to fully pad out.  It's like, "Hey audience, just pretend what Pedro and Claudio saw was pretty damning, even if I couldn't explain it properly.  Just go with me on this one, I'm Shakespeare, thou aren't."  The idea that Don Pedro and Claudio are so scared of being cuckolded that they're willing to believe the worst about Hero isn't really reinforced that heavily in the early part of the text --- Benedick is the one who's all paranoid about "the horns," while Pedro and Claudio are more amused by him than in agreement with him, if anything.  And really, even if they are worried about Claudio being cuckolded by cheatin' Hero, that still doesn't excuse their glaring mistake of believing literally the most unreliable messenger possible.

Yes, B&B share some gold-star insults at each other and I could listen to them all day.  Yes, Dogberry and his band of incompetents are amusing, if used in exactly the right proportion before they became a distraction.  But in Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, the labours of the main plot are overshadowed by the nonstop hilarity of the subplot with Bottom and the actors.  In MAAN, the great comic moments are too limited to overthrow the Idiot Plot.

Now, in performance, these dumb plot points can be elegantly glossed over, ignored or turned into comic moments themselves.  I had the pleasure of watching Joss Whedon's adaptation of MAAN at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and yes, this means I finally went to a TIFF screening after living in Toronto for the better part of seven years.  How it took so long is anyone's guess.  Anyway, as both a Shakespeare lover and a borderline Whedon fanboy, this picture was a must-see, and indeed, it was adorable.  Even if you aren't familiar with Whedon's shows and aren't squealing in delight over all the Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse actors popping up, it's still a very canny adaptation of the play that irons out several of the flaws.*  For instance, we actually see a bit of Borachio's pantomime on camera, and while it still doesn't make a ton of sense that Claudio would actually buy it, Fran Kranz and Reed Diamond (playing Claudio and Don Pedro) sell it with righteous fury in the wedding scene.

* = Except one thing didn't make sense to me.  In the fifth act, Claudio has begrudgingly agreed to marry Leonato's mystery niece and says that since he's bound by honour to do so, he'll go ahead with it no matter what she looks like, even "were she an Ethiope."  Yikes.  This is definitely one of those instances where you have to acknowledge that Shakespeare was writing over 400 years ago when racial attitudes were, well, racist.  What I don't get is why Whedon includes this line in the film!  Claudio says it and there's a black woman quite notably framed next to him, so Whedon is clearly acknowledging the absurdity of the line, but its very inclusion and sheer WTF-ness in this the year 2012 just comes off as jarring.  The other red-flag line in the play (Benedick badmouthing Jewish people at the end of Act II) was cut, so why leave this one in?  Unless, of course, Joss Whedon is secretly racist.  That must be it.  That's why Mr. Trick was so unceremoniously killed off in the third season of Buffy.  I'm onto you, Whedon.  This also explains why there weren't any black Avengers…uh, except Nick Fury.  Ok, this theory has a few holes.

This all said, one terrific film doesn't overtake my overall quibbles with the play's structure.  I so badly wanted to love MAAN but instead finished the reading feeling somewhat disappointed.  Is this a lesson for me to keep my expectations tempered for future plays?  It sure it.  Will I very possibly ignore this lesson and write "Folks, this play didn't live up to its billing" for some future Shakespeare post?  Almost certainly.


5. Much Ado About Nothing
4. Coriolanus
3. The Comedy Of Errors
2. A Midsummer Night's Dream
1. Othello

Two of my New Year's resolutions were to lose 38 pounds and to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  At least one of these resolutions will come true.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here is the first of a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

It's better that you read these instead of waiting for a weight-loss blog, since brother, that ain't happening.  The 'before' picture alone would break the internet.