Monday, April 30, 2012

Album Reviews

It's been about four and a half years since the last White Stripes album and over a year since their breakup, but really, it's not like anyone has been really hurting for Jack White material.  The guy is in, like, 13 other bands and is a regular guest performer and producer on just as many more albums.  Still, Jack White releasing a proper solo album is an exciting prospect, since it's White unfiltered.  White as part of the Dead Weather or the Raconteurs or whomever is fine, but in those projects, he's purposely putting himself into a larger collective.  With a solo album, we get closer to the White we saw in the White Stripes' music, which are among my favourite recordings ever.  Not to discount Meg's contribution and influence, of course, but there's no denying that Jack had total creative carte blanche in that band and I think most would agree that the Stripes' material was Jack White's best work.

So here we have 'Blunderbuss,' and just to keep the inevitable White Stripes comparisons going a bit further, it's comparable to 'Get Behind Me Satan' in musical form --- fewer straight-up guitar rock songs (though there are some) and more instances of Jack branching out with a more varied mix of rock, country and indie pop-tinged music.  I liked the disc quite a bit, and I think I liked the fact that it's an actual ALBUM most of all.  I can't pick a single favourite track since the songs all compliment each other so well.  The iTunes-ification of music is clearly having an effect on me since I probably shouldn't be so impressed by "hey, these songs really have a good flow, man!"  In any case, it's a very good record and I'm glad that we're going to get Jack White music in tons of different forms for years to come.  I look forward to him being the next Ryan Adams in terms of sheer prolificness, except with the added bonus of my actually enjoying White's music.

**************

Whereas White putting out a solo album is a novelty, Bruce Springsteen has made a whole secondary career of it.  For as closely as the Boss is tied to the E Street Band, only three of his last nine studio records have included the entire E Street crew.  As with White and the White Stripes, this is kind of splitting hairs, since Springsteen held as much creative control over all of his material, E Street Band or not, as White did with Meg.  That's actually a major point of discussion amongst Bruce fans, since now that both Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici have passed on, it's possible we've seen the last of the E Street Band as a studio entity --- it'll be interesting enough to see how the band performs without Clemons on their upcoming tour, as Clarence's nephew is apparently stepping into the fold to play saxo-ma-phone.

It's gotten to the point, though, where Springsteen's solo ventures are more interesting than his E Street material since, frankly, his last few albums with the E Streeters were pretty average.  "Magic" and "Working On A Dream" each had a couple of standout tracks but were on the whole nothing special.  Compared to the energy of Bruce solo outings like his Pete Seeger-inspired cover album, "Devils & Dust" and now "Wrecking Ball," it's almost as if Springsteen himself enjoys the freedom of not always having to write full band, E Street-style rockers.  For instance, "Wrecking Ball" includes a song that has the first rap break in Bruce's long songwriting history.  (No, he doesn't do it himself, as hilarious as that would've been.)

"Wrecking Ball" is, dare I say, Springsteen's best album of any kind since at least "Tunnel of Love" in 1987.  It's essentially a record fuelled with the same idea of the Born In The USA track --- seemingly patriotic, but really rather upset and somewhat bitter about how things are going in his country.  As always, Bruce sides with Americans, not necessarily America as an entity unto itself.  The Seeger influence is very strong on this album, with the Boss writing modern folk songs to illustrate the times. 

There's also the interesting decision made to include two older songs on the disc.  The title track was written a few years ago about the destruction of the old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands and it's telling that the imagery of the old stadium defiantly accepting being torn down was expanded as the theme of the entire album.  The other old song is much older -- "Land Of Hopes And Dreams" was written about 13 years ago and released as a new track on a Springsteen greatest hits album.  After years of being played during live shows, it finally makes its proper album debut and has been remixed to include a gospel choir and what sounds like some electronic elements.  I can't help but think it was included both because it fits thematically with the rest of the disc and because the song's saxophone solo (retained from the original version) is a final tribute to Clarence Clemons.

The final verdict on the 'Wrecking Ball' era will come when I see Bruce live this summer (my third Springsteen concert!) but since I have little doubt that these songs will kick ass in a live setting, the album stands on its own as a real gem.  The old Boss still has it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mark-eting 101

The 30th annual Forest City Road Races took place today in London.  This excellent event is both a first-rate event for serious runners and also a great fun day for casuals and families, all the while raising money for the Thames Valley Children's Centre.  I was proud to be a volunteer on the media and promotion committee one year and I would highly recommend that any running enthusiast check it out next year.  In hindsight, I probably should've written this ad before the actual day of the race, but…um….well, this might explain why I'm not on the promotion team anymore.  Dammit.

The FCRR is pretty great as it is, except it just needs one marketing push to really put it over the top.  You see, the event as it stands right now is very positive, so the only thing missing is a bit of…well, evil.  That's right, evil.  A wee bit of dramatic tension to make the goodness shine even brighter.  My idea is to introduce this evil in the form of a villainous mascot, akin to the Noid or the Hamburglar; a character who is anti-your product, but in this opposition makes your product look good since the character is such a rotter.

So essentially, my idea is to create the Forest City Road Racist.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  It's a guy who hates the FCRR because it's so inclusive and welcoming to all, which of course racists hate.  He'll be a white male (naturally) but I'm pretty flexible on the actual costume, since of course he needs a costume.  We could just go all-out and put the Road Racist in a white hood but that's not very original.  Maybe a more subtle way we could reveal his prejudice?  Like, he's always seen eating crackers, because he's a cracka-ass cracker?  We'd have to be very careful with the brand, since obviously no cracker factory would want to be seen as endorsing this clown.  Not even Allied Biscuit.

Here's how the campaign would work.  Fade in on the day of the FCRR, with everyone having a good time running/walking/wheeling, etc. down the course.  Cut to the Road Racist standing in the middle of the road, openly booing and perhaps throwing trash at the competitors.  The racers all look at each other, nod, and then all of them join forces to shove the Road Racist into a ditch, where he falls in mud and gets his humiliating comeuppance. 

The morals of the story….

1. Racism is bad!
2. Racists are jerks!
3. The Forest City Road Races promote togetherness, as represented by the community joining together to give the Road Racist his just desserts.
4. Don't stand on the track while the FCRR is going on.  (This is more of a subtle safety issue, as honestly, impeding the race is only about the seventh or eighth-most offensive thing the Road Racist is doing.)

Talk about a ground-breaking marketing idea.  The FCRR will draw attention world-wide for not just promoting physical fitness and a worthwhile charity, but also by directly combating bigotry in the form of this racist mascot avatar.  It's one thing to just speak out against racism; it's another to actually have a racist mascot that you'll be constantly abusing.  A shove in the mud is probably the least of what will happen to the Road Racist --- he'll get his ass kicked in any number of ways.  You could do a whole series of ads alone where he's bad-mouthing people of various nations or ethnicities, only to turn around and be confronted by a very large member of said group who then clocks the Road Racist upside the head.*

* = Actually, in one specific ad, he will literally be clocked upside the head.  Like, the Road Racist is trashing Swiss people, when he turns around to see someone from Switzerland.  The Swiss man checks his watch, says "It's ass-kicking o'clock," and then beats the Racist down with some Clock King-esque watch-themed wooden cane.  Then the Swiss guy turns to the camera and says, "There's no TIME for racism at the Forest City Road Races.  Everyone is welcome!"  In a perfect world, this role would be played by Roger Federer.  For some reason his agent hasn't returned my call yet.

Now, some might ask why we'd have to push buttons and specifically make the mascot an outright Racist.  Like, why not just call him the Road Rascal and make him a general nuisance, rather than bringing the grim spectre of prejudice into what's supposed to be a fun and positive day?  To this I say, hey, what are you, trying to DEFEND racism?  Maybe YOU'RE the real racist, Straw Man I'm Constructing For The Purposes Of This Fake Argument!  Get him, everyone!

It could be argued that, while I'm speaking out against racism, the fact that the Road Racist will take endless physical abuse means that I'm promoting violence.  And, the fact that I just pretend-attacked even a pretend straw man means I'm prone to violence and maybe clinically insane.  Well, for one, I'm not insane.  Eight out of the 13 doctors cleared me.  Second of all, what are you, trying to DEFEND racism?  Maybe YOU'RE the violent one!  Get him, everyone!….ahem, wait, you may have a point.  Tell you what, the year after we introduce the Road Racist, we'll introduce another villain mascot, the Road Rageist.  His gimmick is that he'll get violently angry at the drop of a hat.  He and the Road Racist team up to ruin the FCRR, but they end up arguing and fighting amongst each other, thus adding the message that being violent and racist never works out.

Geez, I don't know why I wasn't asked back to that media and promotion committee.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Between Two Ferns To The Power Of Two (So, Four)

Fun fact: It's so odd hearing nice-guy Steve Carell drop an f-bomb.

Fun fact: This is the first time since 1982 that Sean Penn has been discerned to have a sense of humour.  Not by appearing on Between Two Ferns, but rather appearing in public with that haircut.  (And, holy crap, did anyone think they were going REALLY DARK with a Chris Penn reference after that 'you have a twin brother' joke?)

Fun fact:  Tila Tequila and I were born on the exact same day.  I like to think we're kindred spirits.  Perhaps I, too, will one day have a reality show where I try to pick a suitor.  And then I'll lose all my discernible talent, to boot.

Fun fact: I usually think these 'Between Two Ferns' are funnier when the guest isn't openly in on the joke, but, hey, it's Will Ferrell.  He has carte blanche.










Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lea Thompson Joke

I wish I could do this more justice, but The Lea Thompson Joke's legend may, in fact, grow by the fact that I can't directly remember the circumstances.  All I remember was that at work last week, my co-worker Ken made the single funniest possible Lea Thompson-related joke that anyone has ever made and will, in all likelihood, ever make again.

It wasn't a dirty joke or anything --- that's not the reason for my lack of memory as to the exact wording and circumstances.  While I love a good dirty joke as much as anyone, the fact that The Lea Thompson Joke was clean makes it even more impressive, in my opinion.  It didn't need any smut, it was just an absolutely perfect bit of wordplay that relied on a few things…

a) knowledge of Lea Thompson.  Now, I'm assuming that everyone reading this knows who she is, but just in case, here you go.  *pause for cries of OHHHHH, HER and possibly forehead slaps.*  Frankly, there's no shame in not knowing who she is --- I need to remember sometimes that not everyone has my Abed-esque memory of pop culture.  This may sound like bragging but c'mon, it's discussing how I can recall obscure 80's actors, how is that a good thing?

b) knowledge of Lea Thompson's roles.  Obviously, "Back To The Future."  That's the gimme.  There's also "Caroline In The City," which despite being on the air for four (!) seasons and its place as the go-to reference as one of the shitty shows NBC tried to build as a timeslot hit between Friends and Seinfeld, is still pretty obscure.  That said, I knew of the show and Ken knew of the show, hence another reason why the joke landed as it did.  Also, the genesis of the joke began somehow by discussing "Howard The Duck," which is incredibly probably Lea Thompson's third-best known role.  Which leads to...

c) knowledge of Lea Thompson's rather crappy career choices.

Okay, so, the joke began with Howard The Duck.  Yes, this movie actually existed.  I've never seen it, but all I know is that it was a huge bomb and that Lea Thompson was involved.  This, by the way, was her follow-up film after breaking out as a star in Back To The Future.  Yikes.

After a few twists and turns and jokes about Lea Thompson's awful career choices, it eventually led to me saying that her career had gone so wrong that she was working as a temp at some building in New York.  I want to say FedEx since we had mentioned FedEx in some oblique way earlier.  So, I go, "she's actually working as a temp at FedEx now.  Tough break for Lea."

Ken's reply?  "Well, she is In The City."

And that just killed me.  One of my hardest laughs to any joke in a while, and my hardest laugh to any form of media since watching "Wanderlust" and Paul Rudd's scene of trying to psych himself up in the mirror.  (If you haven't seen the movie, let's just say it involves him talking about his dick in a voice that sounds oddly like Goofy.)

As I said, it was the perfect storm of wordplay, a clever joke and an audience that both knows the subject and LOVES groan-worthy puns.  And it will go down in history as the greatest possible Lea Thompson Joke.  How would it be matched?  Who would possibly even attempt to match it?

I am fully aware that just reading it on the page, it doesn't sound funny whatsoever.  Whatever.  I'm sure reading about the moon landing, today's kids are like, "whatevs*, astronauts on the moon, I'm over it."  Admittedly I'm not doing the joke justice simply by relating just the last line of the setup and then the punchline, but really, you simply had to be there.  The Lea Thompson Joke will stand forever.  Respect.

* fun fact: 'whatevs' auto-corrects as 'wharves.'

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Comedy Of Errors (Shakespeare Re-Read #2)

While the theoretical purpose of this Shakespeare re-read project is to look at the original plays themselves, it can't be ignored that having seen several of these plays actually performed (be it on stage or screen) definitely influences my feelings.  And, as well they should --- they are plays, after all.  They were written not in a vacuum as stand-alone artistic texts but specifically meant to be acted out in front of audiences.  Shakespeare, for all his genius, was first and foremost concerned with getting people through the doors at the Globe Theatre and giving them a night's worth of entertainment for their money. 

This issue of performance is very apt when it comes to The Comedy Of Errors.  I first read the play about a decade ago and thought it was such a weave of wordplay, comings-and-goings that it was probably rather hard to follow on stage but worked great on the page.*  Reading it again about six months ago, I had the exact opposite reaction --- now the farce and the jokes seemed a little thin just in reading and decided it would take a strong performance to elevate the text since, on stage, you could actually see all the near-misses and twists of the mistaken identity plot.

* = blame my young naivety for this, but for some reason I saw the fact that the play employed two seats of twins as a major hurdle.  As in, "Gee, how would you ever find TWO pairs of twins who are both quality actors up to the part?"  This was, admittedly, pretty dumb on my part given the countless ways you can make actors who only slightly resemble each other appear to be twins on stage, not to mention the fact that if you just make it close enough with costuming, the audience will grant you a lot of dramatic license.  I dunno, maybe I was terrified by seeing Shakespeare as interpreted by, say, the Sklar brothers.    

My new take on COE was more or less proven when I saw a recent staging of the play the National Theatre in London (filmed and broadcast to a movie theatre here in Toronto).  Indeed, the plot acrobatics that seemed a hard sell in reading worked much better in a live setting.  Indeed, the performances gave me a better appreciation for a couple of roles that I'd underrated.  Angelo the goldsmith, for instance, is kind of just one of many obstacles caught up in the confusion of the play, but he was portrayed in very funny fashion by a young Rowan Atkinson-looking actor who did a great job gradually increasingly Angelo's panic over his lack of payment for the gold chain from "ok, look, you owe me some money" to "DUDE, SERIOUSLY, WE ARE ALL FUCKED IF YOU DON'T PAY ME!!  WHY AREN'T YOU PAYING ME!?!?"

The somewhat more major roles of Adriana (Antipholus of Ephesus' wife) and Luciana were reimagined in the show as, essentially, soccer WAGs, possessing that Victoria Beckham kind of style that seems both vaguely stylish and really tacky at the same time.  The trappings underscored this interpretation of Adriana as trapped by her lifestyle, and suddenly her two big centrepiece scenes in both scenes of Act II seemed weirdly melancholy given the play's overall light tone.  While there's a comedy going on around her, Adriana's story is pretty close to a tragedy, perhaps similar to a character like Isabella in Measure For Measure.  Adriana has made several speeches trying to convince others that she still loves her husband, which sound increasingly hollow to my ears -- the lady doth attest too much, methinks.  By the time COE comes to a close, she's still stuck with Antipholus of Ephesus, who is philandering, violent and easily-enraged.  Rough deal for Adriana.  Shakespeare was more liberal than most playwrights of his era in giving female characters a voice and a sense of worth, but you'll still find cases like this where our modern sensibilities definitely clash with borderline-misogynistic stuff that was literally just played for laughs 400 years ago.

Though, we live in an era of Two And A Half Men, so who are we to talk?  Strange as it sounds, COE is essentially its equivalent, a sort of "sitcom Shakespeare" was meant as completely light, farcical, bawdy entertainment.  Generations of critics have pored over every line of Shakespeare's works looking for hidden meanings, but you'll occasionally find a liner note that's just simply something like "he is saying she's fat," like how you'll find when the Dromios are unleashing one of their several volleys of insults about Luce.  Comedy Of Errors is a nihilistic joke-delivery system where you're not really supposed to like or even relate to any of the characters, just laugh as they're tossed around by the confusions of the plot.  You can maybe find some sympathy for the long-suffering Dromios, and it's telling that they are the ones who close the play.  The Antipholuses are both varying degrees of asshole, as while Antipholus/Syracuse is the better of the two, he's still pretty quick to accuse his servant of treachery and beat his ass (again, something which audiences in Shakespeare's day wouldn't have batted an eye at).  Antipholus/Syracuse is also the kind of guy who, when confronted with a seemingly crazed woman who insists that he's her husband and begs to stay with him, reacts with literally, "Man, she seems nuts, but I might get laid, so let's play it out."

There was a time when I actually considered COE to be among my very favourite of Shakespeare's plays, but though we're very early in the re-read process, it's definitely going to fall down the rankings.  While it sounds as if I've been hard on it, COE is not a bad play.  To compare it to the other play I've covered thus far, COE is a tighter, more coherent and more straight-forward piece than Coriolanus, though the latter has much more depth --- COE is the better play, Coriolanus is the more interesting play.  You can discuss Coriolanus all day but sometimes, you just prefer a bit of froth.

OVERALL RATING: B

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR
2. Coriolanus
1. The Comedy Of Errors

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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fever To Tell

I'm rarely sick.  Sure, I get the odd bout of mild four-hour food poisoning or my annual post-birthday hangover, but those aren't really major, knock-you-on-your-ass maladies.  I've attributed my lack of major illnesses to both great luck (knock on wood) or, perhaps, a secret Wolverine-esque healing factor.  If my parents ever took me aside and told me that after birth, I was secreted off for experimentation at a secret Canadian laboratory, I wouldn't be surprised.  Well, I'd be kind of surprised that Canada would have the money to afford a huge Weapon X superlab, but I guess that F-35 money has to be funnelled somewhere.

Sadly, my dreams of being a secret superhero are all for naught, since I spent about 24 hours over the weekend just destroyed by a 24-hour bug.  I had a fever, and the only prescription was more cowbell staying in bed for about 18 of those 24 hours.  It was brutal --- pounding headache, sore back, sore legs, parched throat.  I was a physical wreck.  Check that, MORE of a physical wreck.  I sequestered myself in my room, only leaving to use the bathroom and to briefly step outside on the back porch to curse at the heavens like King Lear.

Part of the reason I've been able to stave off illnesses is my foolproof method of drowning illnesses under a tidal wave of orange juice and ginger ale, the alpha and omega of germ-fighting drinks.  However, this particular illness hit me at a rough time since I hadn't made my weekly trip to the grocery store.  So there I was, having to rely on just water and canned pears.  What the hell did canned pears ever cure?  Nothing, as I'm sure Banting and Best first realized all those decades ago.

Banting: All right, let's try….canned pears.  Now, does the test subject still have diabetes?
Best: Yes.  Yes he does.
Banting: Drat!  Okay, on to procedure #6817.  Let's try….rubbing his toes with a pinecone.  Now, does the test subject still have diabetes?
Best: Yes.
Banting: Consternation!  What other procedures do we have planned for today, Best?
Best: Leeches, being winked at by a pretty girl, mercury injections, laughter, insulin, and yelling at them suddenly like when you're trying to cure someone of the hiccups.
Banting: Hmm.  Well, let's hope we find something soon.  I can't wait to have a bunch of high schools named after me.
Best: What about me?
Banting: You won a coin toss just to be here!  Get over yourself, Best!
Best: But….but….I'm the Best!
Banting: That's the worst catchphrase ever.

The low quality of this sketch may be a sign that my head isn't completely cleared.

Fortunately, I was more or less okay by Monday so I was able to go to work (and, to the grocery store…I'm drinking a can of glorious ginger ale as I type this).  Today, I'm fit as a fiddle and ready to run a marathon, or at the very least willing to watch one on TV for five minutes.  Even better, I just checked under my bed and discovered that I didn't choke anyone to death in a delirious rage and stash them under the mattress a la Don Draper, so that's always a plus.   

Downside: still no superpowers.  Forget the Wolverine stuff, I was hoping my sudden illness was like Peter Parker's feverish night after he got bitten by the radioactive spider.  Then again, with my luck, I would get bitten by a radioactive insect and acquire superpowers, but it wouldn't be a spider; I'd end up as the scourge of both the Toronto underworld and shared housing world as Bedbug Man.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anatomy Of An SNL Backstage Video


Vanessa Bayer…
* COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED TO BE A PART OF THIS!  I'm not sure I've seen anyone with a brighter, more face-busting smile than Vanessa Bayer.  Her face has no default mode between normal and overjoyed.  And, by normal, I mean looking intently at the cue cards to make sure she says every line correctly, i.e. the expression on her face during most of her sketches.


Bobby Moynihan….
* Just Passin' By!  I want to believe that Moynihan was literally just walking by when they pulled him into the doorway and handed him a light.  Unless he's one of the cracker-uppers in the background, Moynihan just keeps a straight face through the whole thing and wears the hell out of that newsboy cap.  God, I wish I could pull off a newsboy cap, but they don't properly on my giant egg-shaped head. 


Fred Armisen/Picture Of Fred Armisen…
* Fred's just dropping by, peeking in, flashing a flashlight to join in on the fun.  Like Moynihan, he may not know what's going on; if you heard any Saturday Night Live cast member just randomly walked around backstage flickering a flashlight at people, there is a 100 percent chance everyone would guess it's Armisen.  The man is a human performance art piece.

* Okay, it's not actually Armisen, but rather just a picture of him on the wall.  I'll be honest, I didn't get quite a good enough look to be sure, but I'm 90 percent sure it's a picture.  Notice that Taran didn't mention Fred during his intro, so yeah, I'm guessing he wasn't there.  Then again, not being mentioned in an intro is a very hipster, Armisen-ian thing to accomplish.


Abby Elliott….
* Trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably.  It's notable since I'm not sure I've seen Elliott break in her three-plus years on SNL, so since technically this wasn't actually on the show, her Hartman Streak* is still intact.  Still, her break in this video was probably why she and Armisen split up**; surely a deep, deep, deep character comedian like Armisen can't abide breaking character in even a candid video. 

* The legendary Phil Hartman was renowned for being such a pro that he stayed in character at all times, no matter what was happening around him.  The most famous example of this was Hartman's performance in the first Matt Foley sketch; Farley is going nuts with one of his greatest routines, David Spade and Christina Applegate are openly busting up, Julia Sweeney was reportedly cracking off-camera and yet Hartman stayed completely straight-faced.  In eight years on SNL, Hartman only broke character once, laughing during a "Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein Sing" skit, and when his astonished castmates asked him why he finally broke after all these years, Hartman admitted it just dawned on him how stupid the premise of the sketch was.  Phil Hartman Is Better Than You.

** = Elliott and Armisen were reportedly dating soon after Armisen's divorce from Elisabeth Moss.  I think I may need to produce some sort of documentary and/or oral history of the Armisen-Moss marriage.  They meet in October 2008 when Moss cameos on SNL, they're married within a year, and they're divorced within another year.  Neither of them talk about it except when Moss recently said, "One of the greatest things I heard someone say about him is, ‘He’s so great at doing impersonations. But the greatest impersonation he does is that of a normal person.' To me, that sums it up.”  Zing!  Ice cold burn!***

*** = I also just realized that having asterisks doesn't really work since I'm using bullet points as the format for this post.  D'oh.


Robyn
* Like the Armisen picture, Robyn exists in absentia.  Since I'm consistently about two years behind the times in popular music, I'd never heard "Call Your Girlfriend" before Robyn performed it on SNL last fall.  Hell, I hadn't even wrapped my head around the fact that this Robyn was the same Robyn from "Show Me Love" fame back during my high school days.  What next, is Deborah Cox going to release another hit single?  Anyway, Robyn has been quietly cranking out hits in Europe for the last 15 years and now she's back, in pog form, taking America by storm.  I may or may not have had 'Call Your Girlfriend' stuck in my head for the last six months.


Zack and Sarah….
* who cares, they're just WRITERS.  Ha, take that, people who create the show!  Am I just bitter since you've got my dream job of writing for SNL?  NO.  FUCK YOU FOR ASKING.  Also, the fact that two of the writers and half the cast were making this video instead of writing sketches perhaps explains why the Katy Perry/Robyn episode wasn't very good.  This is not related whatsoever to this video clip, but Ben Folds' song "Zak and Sara" (from the best album of 2001) is really excellent. 


Taran Killan….
* This isn't just some guy fucking about at 4:30 AM, he is doing his best to replicate those dance moves.  That's work ethic.   

* Apparently is SNL's next big breakout star according to….well, everyone.  As that Vulture article notes, Killan seems like the heir apparent to Jason Sudeikis' poor man's Hartman-esque ability to play straight men as well as crazy guys in sketches.  This is all well and good, and I like Killan and everything, but let's wait for Killan to find at least one really funny signature character before we anoint him the new king of the show.  And, also, let's acknowledge the fact that SNL usually isn't very good overall when there is a "king of the show" --- the Eddie Murphy era was pretty dry outside of Eddie Murphy, the Kristen Wiig era hasn't even enjoyed the benefit of Wiig being funny more than half the time and the Will Ferrell era didn't even become the Will Ferrell era until he left, SNL sucked for much of the next three years and everyone realized how much he carried the show.  Saturday Night Live is at its finest when the ensemble as a whole is strong and you can make the argument that a few different cast members are the MVPs.

* If nothing else, Killan has at least usurped Sudeikis' role as the guy who's dating above his pay grade.  Sudeikis dated January Jones and is now seeing Olivia Wilde; Killan is engaged to Cobie Smulders.  Not to be outdone, a woman sent me a message on Plenty Of Fish asking "u got cancer?"  Sigh.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Muppets In Advertising

Aside from Don Draper selling a Kodak projector carousel, this is the greatest advertising pitch I've ever seen.  "But Mark, this actually happened and Draper is a fictional character.  Shouldn't this be #1?"  No!  That's how good Draper's pitch was.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Random Nonsense


You know you're old when....during a discussion about Will Smith's music career, your roommate asks "Who's DJ Jazzy Jeff?"  Yikes.  I suddenly felt about 80 years old.  My roommate did know DJ3 (as all the cool kids call him) from his role as Jazz on Fresh Prince, of course, but even still, man.  Is this what 50-somethings feel like when our generation recalls O.J. Simpson only from the murder trial?  My dad does this sometimes --- he has literally said sentences like, "It was terrible how he killed those people…but man, O.J. was a GREAT running back."

I may or may not be writing a version of Amadeus starring Will Smith as Mozart as DJ Jazzy Jeff as Salieri. 

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Women Laughing Alone With Salad.  Note that they're 'alone,' since you don't win friends with salad.

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I've always been pretty modest about my singing voice, but I got a great compliment about it the other day.  I was called a 'male Adele.'  Wow!

It happened when I was sitting in a Quizno's, enjoying a pair of chicken carbonara subs.  I'd skipped lunch, so I was just chowing down, chomping away at them two-handed, making these loud lip-smacking/grunting noises* as bacon bits cascading off the sandwiches and onto my shirt.  I guess it drew attention, since another patron at the restaurant turned around in his chair, looked at me, and said "Way to go to town on those subs, Adele!"

I guess he must've recognized me from a karaoke night or something.  How about that!

* = 'Ford Noises,' as we Torontonians call them


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Another batch of quality stories from the good folks at Grantland over the last few months.  To the links!

* Jordan Conn chronicles South Dakota State's run through their conference tournament to qualify for this year's March Madness.  I'm sure you could do one of these for just about every small school that gets into the Big Dance, but Conn really does a superlative job here.

* Chuck Klosterman on tUnE-yArDs, a somewhat-heralded indy music act whose day in the sun has probably already passed just as soon as hipsters got "over it."  Klosterman's circular argument writing style actually fits this premise well, given that he's essentially saying that Tuneyards (I'm not going the quirky spelling again, sorry) is destined to become a jokey cultural touchstone, no matter how good or bad their music actually may be.  Like, a "hey, remember the 10's?" kind of thing.  I'm guilty of this myself.  I'll hear something like Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" on the radio and think "Ha, this used to be a hit!  Wacky!" all the while not changing the channel and, in fact, singing along since I somehow remember all the lyrics. 

* James Verini looks at Bernard Hopkins, one of the more underrated completely fascinating athletes of our time.  To summarize, Hopkins  went from a five-year prison sentence to becoming one of the best boxers of all time, and is still arguably the best light-heavyweight in the game at age…..47!  Good lord!

*Brian Phillips retells the seems-like-an-urban legend-but-true story of Tom Molineaux and the first super-fight in boxing history.  It happened in a makeshift ring set up in a field in Copthorn, England, in 1840.  This is my favourite piece of the bunch and possibly my favourite article Grantland has published in their near-year online.  Man, why is boxing so much more fun to read about than it is to actually watch?

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Just to get a Masters pick down before the event begins, I'll go with "the field."  As in, someone besides Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson will win the green jacket.  Non-golf fans may see this as a pretty safe bet given how I'm picking 100 guys against three, but trust me, those three will absorb at least 90 percent of the media coverage at Augusta this week. 

Picking the field is also somewhat of a spiteful move towards the golf media, easily the most blatant "I hate writing about this" group within sportswriting.  If you end up with two small-market teams in, say, the Stanley Cup Final, that will be a storyline but by and large, writers will just focus on the games.  In golf, however, any underdog victory will be largely ignored by writers who are upset they couldn't fall back on a "more interesting" storyline.

Take last year's Masters, for example.  It was one of the craziest Sunday finishes in history, with about 10 guys all jostling for the lead, Saturday leader McIlroy having a legendary collapse and Woods tying for the lead at one point and looking like his old self before fading down the stretch.  The post-tournament stories focused almost entirely on McIlroy and Woods.  The actual winner?  Charl Schwartzel, who, while not a big name, birdied the last four holes to capture the title.  I'll repeat that again, he BIRDIED THE LAST FOUR HOLES TO WIN THE MASTERS.  Can you imagine if Tiger, Rory or Phil had done this?  They would've erected a statue to them on the spot.  Rather than focus on this great story, however, Schwartzel's victory was basically just a footnote to the greatest Tiger-and-Rory drama. 

I'm pulling for Schwartzel to win again, just for the hell of it.  Or Angel Cabrera, who is making a career of being a killjoy of "most interesting" major storylines (Jim Furyk winning in his home state at the 2007 U.S. Open, old man Kenny Perry winning the 2009 Masters).  Or Mike Weir, just because I believe in miracles and Weir winning the Masters again would be one of the biggest miracles in….well, let's just say human history.

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I've tried really hard to get #ByronPickupLines as a trending topic on Twitter, but either a) not enough Byronians are on Twitter or b) not enough Byronians are familiar with a local bakery.

Anyway, the line is "Hey baby, I work at the Guns-A-Plenty."  Then you flex.

I didn't say it was a GOOD pickup line.

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Here's a very cool time-lapse of most of the "through the window" scenes from Rear Window (minus the most famous one for, I guess, spoiler purposes). 

Rear Window is almost certainly my favourite Hitchcock film, though I'm willing to think about Psycho because of Anthony Perkins' performance.  Admittedly, as much as I admire Hitchcock as a filmmaker, I do find that some of his movies are jussssst a little too dated.  "North by Northwest" kind of goes off the rails by the end, and I'll turn in my film student street cred right now by saying that I didn't even enjoy "Vertigo."

During my first-year film studies course, our professor quite famously lost it on our entire class (a near auditorium-full of 200-odd students) since most of us were openly laughing throughout Vertigo.  Now, this prof was one of the more laid-back guys you'll ever meet, so clearly our mockery of this beloved film classic really was just the last straw.  In fairness, if I was a teacher and showed "A Fish Called Wanda" to my students and they didn't find it hilarious, I'd probably re-institute rulers across the knuckles by the next class.

As it happened, Rear Window was also screened during that course and everyone totally loved it.  There were literal gasps of terror amidst the students during…er, how can I avoid the spoilers….the scene when a certain character looks up?  It was a fantastic reaction.  The only dated moment came during the super-cheesy fall from the window, but that was okay since it only happened in the closing minute of the film. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

100 Greatest April Fool's Pranks

In the spirit of the day, here's an article of history's 100 greatest hoaxes, courtesy of the awesomely-titled "Museum Of Hoaxes" website.




























.....okay, here's the real link. Couldn't resist.