Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm at my birthday party, being thrown at (of all places) the home of my friend Brent's parents.  It's a big backyard BBQ, half the people there seem to be wearing Hawaiian shirts, and everyone is in good spirits.  Brent is there with his wife Natalie, who I've only met a few times.  Two of the other guests are my friend Heather and her husband Will; Heather who I've known since high school and Will who I've also gotten to know quite well over the last couple of years.

Several guests at this party don't know each other, so I'm making the rounds for introductions.  One such introduction is Brent/Natalie and Heather/Will, who all shake hands and exchange pleasantries.  As the party goes on, it becomes apparent that the four are quite friendly with each other, and Brent and Heather in particular are VERY friendly with each other, chatting quite animatedly. 

Anyway, fast-forward to a few weeks later, so at least it feels like a few weeks later within my dream.  I'm checking into a motel on the outskirts of Toronto, as I can see the CN Tower in the distance.  As I'm outside my room getting ice, who should I see but Brent and Heather leaving one of the rooms, still making out with each other as they're walking through the door.  I drop my ice bucket in shock --- amusingly, the dream actually went slo-mo at this point, so my bucket fell a la Chazz Palmintieri's coffee cup in the final scenes of Usual Suspects.  I go up to the couple and am all, WTF?  They're shocked to see me, and they ashamedly admit they're having an affair.  They're head over heels for each other.  I tell them they absolutely need to tell their spouses and they agree, saying it was just a matter of time.

Fast-forward again to a living room.  Both couples are there, plus me.  (Awk-ward!)  Brent and Heather break the news.  Natalie takes it extremely well, surprisingly well; her reaction is literally, "Awww, you two are in love?  That's adorable.  I give you all my best!  Can't fight true love!"  Will is also pretty cool with the idea, though he is determined to find out some minor details.  For instance, he asks them what time they checked out of the hotel, and when he's told the answer is 5:13 PM, Will says "Aha!" and writes it down in a little notebook.  Then I woke up.


ANALYSIS:
First of all, "Brent, Natalie, Heather and Will" are all actual people I know, but these aren't their real names.  No reason getting into public embarrassment just for the sake of one of my goofy dreams and even-more-goofy dream analyses.  While I have no problem publicly name-dropping, for instance, my buddy Trevor in my famous dream our future daughters getting married, a dream like one is fraught with a bit more social peril.  I don't want to publish this post and, five minutes later, receive "WTF, dude?" messages from Heather, Will and Brent.  (Natalie actually isn't a Facebook friend of mine, I just realized.  I should add her….hmm, on second thought, maybe I should wait a few weeks down the road so I don't give away her identity.)  

It should be said that the two couples are, to my knowledge, completely happy and only in love with each other.  Knowing Heather and Brent for a while, I can safely state that neither is the type to cheat on their spouses.  Lord knows why this particular scenario popped into my subconscious.  Do I secretly think that Heather and Brent would really hit it off and be a great couple if they ever met?  Should I now go out of my way to make sure the two of them never meet at any actual birthday parties or social events in the future?  Or am I going about this the wrong way?  Is this dream merely a premonition that they ARE perfect for each other and I really should be going out of my way to set the two of them up, current matrimonial status be damned?  What a dilemma.  Jeremy Piven never faced these kinds of problems as Cupid.

I suspect this sort of infidelity-fuelled dream may have been inspired by my recent viewing of "Take This Waltz," which I'll write more about in an upcoming post.  As in that film and in this dream, there aren't any real villains in this cheating scenario.  As Natalie put it, you can't fight true love --- any type of cheating sucks, but I suppose it somewhat lessens the blow if the cheaters are legitimately and truly in love with each other.

Look at how forthright and honest I am in this dream!  I instantly pull the yellow card on Brent and Heather and even follow up by being the super-awkward fifth wheel at the truth-telling meeting.  From a dramatic standpoint, it would've been much more interesting had Brent & Heather called my bluff.  I'd like to think that if this happened in real life, I would have the character to actually take it upon myself to (in all likelihood) end two marriages by telling Natalie and Will, but who knows if that's actually a 'character' call.  Maybe the proper thing to do would be to not actually reveal things myself, but simply to keep brow-beating Brent & Heather to do it themselves.  I think most people would agree that this would actually be the best course of action if your friend is cheating but you don't know the spouse all that well --- it seems cold, but really, the cuckolded spouse will feel even worse if confronted with the truth by a virtual stranger.  Since I know Will pretty well by now and consider him a friend, however, keeping quiet about the affair would be a dick move.  If Heather did tell Will and was like, "Oh by the way, Mark knew this whole time," Will would surely be quite pissed and that'd be the end of that friendship.  Telling Natalie, however, would surely cost me Brent's friendship. 

Some might argue that one might not want the friendship of someone who would put their pal in that sort of terrible "don't tell my wife I'm cheating" situation to begin with, but still, imagine one of your good friends did this.  Would you just outright blow the whistle on their affair, or would you just suffer in complicity?  It's a tough moral conundrum. 

As a sign of what good friends Brent and I are, apparently his parents threw me a birthday party?  Possibly luau-themed?  That was a weird twist.  I've met Brent's parents MAYBE once in my life, and now that I think about it, I think I've just met his dad.  His backyard is, admittedly, a pretty bitching party setting --- big wide-open yard with levels, a wooden deck, small koi pond and a big maple tree.  Little did Mr. and Mrs. Brent know that their generosity in giving up their house to their son's friend's birthday would result in their son's marriage falling apart. 

Maybe Brent's 'rents were just doing me a favour since, in some sense, I've fallen on hard times and have to stay in a motel.  I'm not sure why I'd be spending time in one of the GTA's finer motels since, y'know, I live in Toronto.  Why wouldn't I just be at my house?  I just signed a new lease, so if my dreams are indeed turning into premonitions, this isn't a good sign.  I feel like checking right now to make sure the oven is turned off.  Maybe I'm just temporarily in this motel while our house is being, I dunno, sprayed for insects or something.  (And let's hope it's legitimate exterminators and not a front for a New Mexico drug kingpin.)

The reactions of Natalie and Will are quite interesting.  As mentioned, I don't know Natalie all that well, but I can pretty much guarantee that if Brent actually did cheat on her in real life, she would take it much harder than she does in my dream, where she was so saccharinely accepting of the situation that, on paper, it reads like she's just being really sarcastic.  Part of me thinks that if you were cheating on your wife, confessed to her and she responded so positively, it would almost be a red flag.  You might be being set up in some kind of film noir con scenario.  Or, she's been sleeping around herself and is relived to be out of the marriage herself, which is one of those dumb situations where Brent would no doubt feel aggrieved even though he's getting what he wanted.  The male ego is a fragile thing.  As for Will, the thought of him caught up on completely unimportant details is hilarious and very in-character for him.  I'd share a couple of personal anecdotes to back this up but hey, identity shield.  I'll just keep it to myself as an amusing in-joke.

One thing this dream has dead-on….I do like ice.  It's nice.  If David Caruso was writing this dream, he would've had me run into Heather & Brent actually at the ice machine.  Then I would've put on sunglasses and said "Ice….to see you."  YEAHHHHHH

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tom Waits = The Joker

I guess this video has been floating around the web for some time now but I'm only seeing it (and being floored by it) now.  Fast-forward to 1:44 when Waits sits down for the interview.  I always felt that watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and seeing Larry David in full bloom somewhat detracted from Jason Alexander's legendary George Costanza performance since it became clear that Alexander was to some extent just impersonating David, and I can't help but similarly feel that this Waits interview takes just a bit of the steam out of Heath Ledger's take on the Joker.  Then again, I guess at most he lifted the voice.....I somewhat doubt that in part two of the interview, Waits tells a story about his father giving him a Chelsea Smile and then offers to show the host a pencil trick.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Random Nonsense


I had a whole post of "Mayor Ford vs. Mayor Wilkins" planned out but scrapped the project halfway through.  It just got too predictable --- despite the fact that Wilkins was into dark magic and wanted to transform himself into a big evil snake demon, I'd still call him a better mayor than Ford.  Because really, given the evidence presented, if you had to pick any political figure to eventually morph into a giant snake, Ford would be high on the list.  (James Carville doesn't count, he was already born a Voldemort-esque snakeman hybrid.) 

Aside from the whole demon thing, Wilkins seemed like a pretty genial guy.  Surely you didn't see any cases of, for instance, Wilkins carrying on absurd vendettas against local newspapers.  Though, in fairness, Ford just doesn't like the Toronto Star, whereas Wilkins probably would've had Mr. Trick wreak havoc in the Star offices or something.  And say what you will about Wilkins' purely evil agenda, he got things done in Sunnydale!  That town's crime rate was extremely low, as you saw surprisingly few actual instances of human criminality.  Monster-demon-and-vampire criminality was, of course, up about 10,000%, but hey, nobody's perfect.

So, in lieu of Ford vs. Wilkins, we'll have to stick to some Random Nonsense.

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I often link to YouTube clips in these posts, which leads to complications months or years down the road if the clips are taken down.  My Hot Live Music series, for instance, has been ravaged by removed videos.  At least with those posts, however, I had a write-up of the songs so I know what's missing and could conceivably find another clip.  With this post, however, I'm completely in the dark.  What the hell was this video?  I have zero recollection whatsoever, and my oblique introductory paragraph is no help at all.  From my slightly hyperbolic description, it sounds like the clip was the most hilarious thing going.  Could I have been irresponsible enough to post a clip to the menace known as the funniest joke in the world?  (p.s. Let's hope this YouTube link isn't taken down, or this problem will just keep compounding itself.)


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Courtesy of MoneySupermarket.com (which is presumably not a Supermarket Sweep fansite), here's a cost breakdown of how much coin Bruce Wayne has invested in his side hobby.  Of course, the actual cost of being Batman is the immeasurable damage to Wayne's mental health, but perhaps that's better served for MentalSupermarket.com.

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Glimpse into my own mental makeup here: these are the 25 most-played songs on my iTunes playlist.  Most of the time I just listen to things on shuffle, but apparently these are the songs I check out most often if I'm ever halfway through a track, get bored and flip to something I really like.  Somewhat surprised that there's only one U2 song on this list, and it's an unexpected one to boot.  The most overall embarrassing song is in the eye of the beholder, but my vote is for #23.  Number one is a hilarious surprise, yet still a great song.

25. Maggie May/Rod Stewart
24. Gold Digger/Kanye West
23. Breakfast at Tiffany's/Deep Blue Something
22. History Repeating/Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey
21. Jackson/Johnny Cash & June Carter
20. Breaking Down/Florence & The Machine
19. Atlantic City/Bruce Springsteen
18. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)/Arcade Fire
17. We Used To Wait/Arcade Fire
16. Window in the Skies/U2
15. Waterloo/ABBA
14. Cry Me A River/Justin Timberlake
13. Heartbreaker (Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo)/Rolling Stones
12. Girlfriend/Matthew Sweet
11. Voodoo Chile/Jimi Hendrix
10. Effect & Cause/The White Stripes
9. I'm Slowly Turning Into You/The White Stripes
8. 15 Step/Radiohead
7. Life Wasted/Pearl Jam
6. Both Sides Now/Joni Mitchell
5. Fireworks/Tragically Hip
4. Walk Idiot Walk/The Hives
3. Powerless/Nelly Furtado
2. Zero/The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
1. Your Woman/White Town

Yeah, that's right, YOUR WOMAN in the top spot.  I was as shocked as you are.  It's like the 1997 MuchMusic Countdown all over again.

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Lots of excellent entries in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest but there's only one winner in my book.  Granted, in pure photographic terms, there are better photos in the pack, but Photo #23 carries the day thanks to tugging on everyone's heartstrings.  Great, I've officially become one of those people that voted The King's Speech for Best Picture.

This pic gets even better due to the presence of that one jackal lurking around, leading me to believe that the boss elephant was giving that jackal the staredown equivalent of the Dirty Harry "make my day" speech.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Burning Love

If you're making a list of the most far-reaching and influential comedy troupes in history, by this point The State have to be near the top of the list.  As a memorable Splitsider article detailed, the State are basically comedy's answer to the Wu-Tang Clan.  I guess it's easy to be far-reaching when your troupe has 11 people, but still, it seems like at least one State member (or State collaborator) has been involved in virtually every big comedy of the last decade, with multiple members involved in projects like Party Down, Children's Hospital, Wanderlust, Wet Hot American Summer, Reno 911, Role Models and I Love You, Man.  Hell, Thomas Lennon even has a small role in The Dark Knight Rises, which is HILARIOUS.  (I kid…but seriously folks, Dark Knight Rises was goddamned amazing.) 

If you've never heard of the State before, that's understandable, given that their MTV sketch series went off the air about 15 years ago.  Still, of the 11 members, you'd doubtlessly recognize several as "Hey, that guy!" actors.  For instance, you have Burning Love, a web series produced for Yahoo that spoofs reality dating shows.  Directed by and starring ex-Stater Ken Marino, written by Erica Oyama (Marino's wife), and featuring roles for ex-Staters Michael Ian Black and Kerri Kenney, not to mention regular State collaborators like Adam "Not The Golfer" Scott, Paul Scheer and a wide array of talented comic actresses.  It is HIGHLY entertaining and, since every episode is around 10 minutes long, the series can be run through in a single afternoon.  You won't not not enjoy it. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jerry & Larry

The only problem with Jerry Seinfeld's new "let's get together and chat with another comedian" web series is that it'll be hard to top the first episode.  Seinfeld and David have such a great chemistry that I could laugh at their conversations for hours.  (Actually, wait, I basically already did.)

Also, I've been fans of these guys for years and only just now realized that referring to them as "Jerry & Larry" makes them sound like cartoon characters.

I could not care less about the car-related parts of this series.  Wake me when Seinfeld starts driving around a 2001 Toyota Echo.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Alterna-Emmys

The moral of this year's Alterna-Emmys: I REALLY need to start watching more dramas.  My pickings in that department are very slim, so I'm largely forced to just accept the Academy's nominees, which is never a good sign.

BEST DRAMA
Actual Nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men
Alterna-ballot: No changes (explained below)
My Winner: Breaking Bad
Predicted Actual Winner: Mad Men

I don't watch BE, DA or GoT, so I have no quarrels with their inclusion given that they're all supposed to be excellent.  I personally would've put the incredible Sherlock on the list, but it's listed as a miniseries under Emmy rules, which I guess makes sense.  Starting to think I should add Downton Abbey to my ever-growing list of shows I have to get caught up on.  Of the three shows I do watch, I'd give Breaking Bad the nod over Mad Men and Homeland.  It's odd, Mad Men has a seemingly unbreakable streak as Best Drama while Bryan Cranston is similarly unstoppable as lead actor.  Maybe this year BB gets the big prize while Jon Hamm takes the acting award, as both are ever-so deserving.


BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Actual Nominees: Kathy Bates/Harry's Law, Glenn Close/Damages, Claire Danes/Homeland, Michelle Dockery/Downton Abbey, Julianne Margulies/The Good Wife, Elisabeth Moss/Mad Men
Alterna-ballot: Close, Danes, Dockery, Margulies, Moss, Jessica Pare/Mad Men
My Winner: Danes
Predicted Actual Winner: Margulies

The Emmys always seem to be a year late to the party, so I'll predict that Danes (far and away the critical favourite for this award and my personal hands-down choice) gets snubbed in favour of another trophy for Margulies.  Nothing against Margulies or whomever else might win this, but Danes is clearly the most deserving candidate this season, though I suppose I wouldn't get too upset if Moss finally got her overdue Emmy.  Jessica Pare submitted herself in the lead actress category which struck me as a bit odd, since if you had to pick a female lead on Mad Men, it's clearly Moss.  Pare probably could've gotten a nomination as supporting actress and it also cost her the Polivision Alterna-Emmy in that category.  C'est dommage.


BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Actual Nominees: Hugh Bonneville/Downton Abbey, Steve Buscemi/Boardwalk Empire, Bryan Cranston/Breaking Bad, Michael C. Hall/Dexter, Jon Hamm/Mad Men, Damian Lewis/Homeland
Alterna-ballot: No changes
My Winner: Cranston
Predicted Actual Winner: Cranston

It's possible that Cranston's one-year absence from the category (BB didn't air during the 2010-11 voting period) may cause some voters to look elsewhere, but realistically, Emmy voters will take a nod from Breaking Bad's fifth season marketing and will hail the king once again.  It's very possible that Don Draper will go down as one of the best roles to never win an Emmy, though amusingly, Hamm was nominated for the 'guest actor in a comedy' Emmy for his role on 30 Rock's live episode.  Five years of Draper might not be enough to get Hamm an Emmy, but "BANJO" might?


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

Actual Nominees: Christine Baranski/The Good Wife, Joanne Froggatt/Downton Abbey, Anna Gunn/Breaking Bad, Christina Hendricks/Mad Men, Archie Panjabi/Good Wife, Maggie Smith/Downton Abbey
Alterna-ballot: No changes….sorry, Jessica Pare, you picked the wrong category
My Winner: Hendricks
Predicted Actual Winner: Smith

As I understand it, Smith's role on Downtown Abbey consists of her just making witty cutting remarks to everyone and everything in sight.  Sold.  I'd otherwise give it to Hendricks, if for no other reason than that scene between Joan and Don flirting with each other at the bar was so hot that I think I went through puberty again just watching it.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Actual Nominees: Jim Carter/Downton Abbey, Brendan Coyle/Downton Abbey, Peter Dinklage/Game Of Thrones, Giancarlo Esposito/Breaking Bad, Jared Harris/Mad Men, Aaron Paul/Breaking Bad
Alterna-ballot: Esposito, Harris, Paul, Bob Odenkirk/Breaking Bad, Mandy Patinkin/Homeland, John Slattery/Mad Men
My Winner: Esposito
Predicted Actual Winner: Dinklage

As always, this is one of the toughest categories of the bunch, so when in doubt, I'll just pick the guy who won last year.  The actual winner, needless to say, should be Esposito --- even without seeing Downton Abbey or Dinklage's (no doubt great) performance, I find it hard to believe that anyone could top Esposito as the legendary Gustavo Fring.  Esposito's performance seems to be lauded enough that he'll take the actual prize home, but who knows on Emmy night.  It's a pleasant surprise to see Harris get nominated but I'm stunned that he got the 'Mad Men slot' over Slattery, who's been nominated four times before and turned in probably his best work this past year.


BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Actual Nominees: Zooey Deschanel/New Girl, Lena Dunham/Girls, Edie Falco/Nurse Jackie, Tina Fey/30 Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep, Melissa McCarthy/Mike & Molly, Amy Poehler/Parks & Recreation
Alterna-ballot: Deschanel, Fey, Louis-Dreyfus, Poehler, Christina Applegate/Up All Night
My Winner: Poehler
Predicted Actual Winner: Dunham

Interesting mix here as we got seven nominees instead of the usual six.  As always, Poehler *should* win, though the lack of overall Emmy love for P&R (more on that later) makes me think she'll get snubbed again.  Emmy voters bit hard on Girls, so my guess is that of Dunham's multiple nominations, she'll score here, though it's very possible she gets a directing or writing Emmy while the acting award goes to a more polished veteran like Louis-Dreyfus.  Or, they'll just give it to Edie Falco again despite her show not actually being a comedy.  Whatever.  The other drama here is what gimmick Poehler will come up with for the nominees on Emmy night, following 2009's eyewear and last year's beauty pageant.  My guess: they all shotgun beers.  


BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Actual Nominees: Alec Baldwin/30 Rock, Louis CK/Louie, Don Cheadle/House Of Lies, Jon Cryer/Two And A Half Men, Larry David/Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jim Parsons/Big Bang Theory
Alterna-ballot: Baldwin, Louis CK, David, Will Arnett/Up All Night, Danny McBride/Eastbound & Down, Joel McHale/Community, Adam Scott/Parks & Recreation
My Winner: Baldwin
Predicted Actual Winner: Parsons

It occurs to me that most of my favourite comedies are ensembles that don't really have a clear lead actor, but still, it's not hard to come up with better choices than goddamn Jon Cryer or Jim "Yeah, We GET IT ALREADY" Parsons.  There is a one-in-three chance that the Emmy will go to a comedian playing a twisted version of himself, but I can't see either Louis CK or David winning simply because too many actors will turn up their noses at the idea of these "non-actors" beating "real" actors.  I think I'd vote for one of them just to hear the speech.  A note on Arnett and Applegate: while Up All Night was a flawed and ultimately uninteresting show, they both had boatloads of chemistry with each other, so what the hell, I'll nominate them.


SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Actual Nominees: Mayim Bialik/Big Bang Theory, Julie Bowen/Modern Family, Kathryn Joosten/Desperate Housewives, Sofia Vergara/Modern Family, Merritt Wever/Nurse Jackie, Kristen Wiig/Saturday Night Live
Altera-ballot: Alison Brie/Community, Eliza Coupe/Happy Endings, Elisha Cuthbert/Happy Endings, Gillian Jacobs/Community, Kaitlin Olson/It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Casey Wilson/Happy Endings
My Winner: Olson
Predicted Actual Winner: Vergara

Aha, we have the first completely different alterna-ballot.  I guess I don't have any real issue with the actual nominees (particularly enjoyed the nod to the recently-departed Joosten) aside from the fact that they weren't the six best available supporting performances.  Though it's very obvious that IASIP isn't close to the Academy's taste, Olson should have at least a couple of supporting actress Emmys by now.  Going by the theory that voters are completely in the tank for Modern Family and are cycling through that show's cast for awards, I'll say this is Vergara's year to get the trophy.  It wouldn't be a shock to see the Emmy go to Joosten (sympathy), Bowen (won last year), Wiig (as part of the ongoing Kristen Wiig lovefest) or Bialik, since people love that stupid show.


SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Actual Nominees: Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Jesse Tyler Ferguson/Modern Family, Max Greenfield/New Girl, Bill Hader/Saturday Night Live, Ed O'Neill/Modern Family, Eric Stonestreet/Modern Family
Altera-ballot: Burrell, Greenfield, Glenn Howerton/It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Nick Offerman/Parks & Recreation, Chris Pratt/Parks & Recreation, Damon Wayans Jr./Happy Endings
My Winner: Greenfield
Predicted Actual Winner: Mitchell or O'Neill

Another hella-deep category, as I had to leave out the Community guys, Steve Little (Stevie on Eastbound & Down), Rob "Fat Mac" McElhenney and several other worthy nominees.  Going by my previously-stated theory, this should be Mitchell or O'Neill's year, and it would be admittedly awesome to see a lowercase-L TV legend like O'Neill finally take home an Emmy.  As I've said before, I like Modern Family and think it's a good show, but it certainly doesn't need to be flooding the comedy categories every year and winning everything in sight.  I'd give it to Greenfield for breaking out and making New Girl more than just a Zooey Deschanel vehicle…also, I can never pass up an opportunity to award a Veronica Mars alum.  Hader's nomination is interesting, and again, it's too bad SNL actors getting nominations is only a recent thing, since you'd think someone like Will Ferrell would've gotten a couple of Emmys on his shelf back in his heyday.


BEST COMEDY

Actual Nominees: Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep
Alterna-ballot: Archer, Community, Happy Endings, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Louie, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock
My Winner: 30 Rock
Predicted Actual Winner: Modern Family

Might as well predict a threepeat for Modern Family, since the best candidate to unseat the new dynasty is the old dynasty of 30 Rock, which might be seen as been-there, done-that.  It's interesting that Louie didn't get an actual series nomination despite several noms in other categories, which could simply be chalked up to the fact that the show is only partially a comedy.  And really, though I myself didn't think Parks & Rec had a truly upper-tier season, it still absolutely deserved at least a damn nomination.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

World's Hardest Sudoku

Well, it's pretty hard….I GUESS.  Though, technically, shouldn't the world's hardest Sudoku just have a single '9' in one of the cubes and the rest of the grid is otherwise blank?  Or some kind of specialty Jumanji-esque puzzle that unleashes a dragon every time you fill in a space?  You laugh now, but in a world where Battleship and Stretch Armstrong are movies, it's only a matter of time before we see "Sudoku: The Movie," starring, oh, let's say Michael Keaton.
 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Selling Condoms

I was recently reading with the TV on, not really paying attention to the set, when I glanced up to notice some kind of commercial with Rachel Bilson for a product known as 'Magnum.'  Wtf?  Magnum?  Magnum Condoms?!  Rachel Bilson is starring in an ad for Magnum Condoms?!  What the what?  Has she blown through her O.C. money that quickly?

Anyway, turns out it wasn't an ad for Magnum Condoms but rather for Magnum ice cream bars.  That made somewhat more sense, though "Karl Lagerfeld shooting artsy short films to promote an ice cream company" sounds like it should be an SNL sketch.  Not to mention that MAGNUM is a somewhat incongruous name for ice cream.  It's like one of those generic Apprentice team names that then gets attached to every product they promote, no matter how ill-fitting it sounds.  ("Check out our cutting-edge line of child-care products, Magnum Baby Wipes!")

The most I think about it, though, Magnum and other condom companies may be missing a trick.  I'm no expert on the history of condom advertising, but have they thought about entering the realm of the celebrity endorsement?  I'm not talking about a generic PSA from the early 1990's where the guy who played Dwayne Wayne on A Different World tells people to wear condoms for safety reasons.  No, I'm talking about a straight-up, "Hey folks, this is so-and-so.  I sure so enjoy Magnum Condoms when I'm making love, and I think you would too!" kind of ad.  By the way, that little turn at copywriting is why I never got into the advertising business.  Peggy Olson, I ain't.

Aside from religious convictions, probably the biggest reasons people don't use condoms are a) complaints about the feel, b) laziness and c) related to laziness, just the simple fact that folks don't want to spoil the romantic mood by halting everything to find a rubber.  I'm not saying attaching a famous face to a condom campaign would solve all these issues, but let's break them down one-by-one.  Let's also presume that the celebrity is, for simplicity's sake, Rachel Bilson, who's actually a pretty terrific choice; popular with both men and women, possessing a good enough sense of humour that seeing her in a high-end condom ad wouldn't seem completely out of place and I dunno, I'm just generally in favour of Rachel Bilson doing anything.  Need someone to help you move?  Call Rachel Bilson.  Having trouble cracking that cypher left behind by a criminal mastermind?  Let's get Rachel Bilson's take on the case.  Ring came off your pudding can?  Call Rachel Bilson, my good man.  

First of all, the feel.  Men complain all the time about how wearing a condom harshes their buzz, so to speak, and some women also feel the same way.  I can't speak for the female gender, but I can pretty much guarantee that you'd just need one commercial of Rachel Bilson cooing "I love how Magnums feel" to instantly solve every male problem about the subject.  The displeasure a guy may have from a condom's feel would be trumped by the image of Bilson in his head, so it's a win-win.  To solve this issue, a print ad.  Just a big image of Bilson under the covers, posing seductively, with the tag line of "Safety First: Fun Later."  As per the ruins-the-moment problem, you can just use the same image with a new tag line of "Don't Worry, I Can Wait" or something of that ilk.  If we can just tie the image of Rachel Bilson to condom usage, if I know men, condom usage would shoot up about 800 percent.

You may notice that I'm just covering this campaign from the male perspective.  This isn't the time I've been accused of not taking care of the ladies in bed --- heyo!  Burn!  Take that, uh, self!  Anyway, we can cover the Three Issues from a female perspective with a series of ads directly specifically at women, where Bilson approaches things from a "Hey, I've been there" perspective.  The feel problem, for instance.  "Hey ladies, as good as the pill is, it isn't foolproof.  And wouldn't you rather sacrifice a bit of comfort now for years worth of security?  I mean, look at this dope who's pumping away at you right now.  Nice enough guy, sure, but do you really want HIM as the father of your children?  Hell no!"  This could also lead to some fun casting of a male celebrity as the well-meaning dope as the partner.  Jay Baruchel leaps to mind for whatever reason.

Talk about a billion-dollar ad campaign.  Now, would a popular celebrity actually do this?  The trick is, it has to be a popular AND well-respected celebrity ---  I'm sure Paz De La Huerta or someone would be happy to endorse condoms, but that just adds a layer of sketchiness to the whole proceedings.  It has to be a female celebrity as well, since guys will innately get their backs up if they're told to do anything by a famous man they're secretly jealous of.  (For instance, I don't have Geico insurance since that gecko needs to be taken down a notch or two.  He just thinks he's SO GREAT.)  So the key is finding a well-liked, well-respected female celebrity whose attitude towards sex is "Sure, I like sex, what of it?" without being in-your-face or snotty about it.  Rachel Bilson, to a T.

This concludes this week's edition of Mark Would Be A Disaster As An Ad Man, And/Or As Rachel Bilson's Agent.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rock Music History, Via 100 Riffs

Pretty cool stuff.  Next, he should do a Ramones-centric video where all 100 riffs are exactly the same.  (I like the Ramones but, c'mon.)

Monday, July 02, 2012

Othello (Shakespeare Re-Read #3)

My friend Matt is a noted hater of reading and 'artsy stuff,' (which is funny since he's a teacher), so when he wants to push my buttons, he'll make his argument that "Shakespeare doesn't need to be taught in schools since 400-year-old plays have no relevance today."  He believes that today's kids don't get any value from reading such old material, particularly half the battle is just in interpreting the verse into 'modern English.'

To this I say Othello.  Well, really, I say "Hey dumbass, of course there's value in teaching goddamn Shakespeare, he's the greatest fucking author in the history of the English language," but I'll see if I can explain it here with less profanity.  In fact, I'd argue that one of the things that makes Shakespeare so notable is that fact that the vast majority of his plays DO translate so well.  Strip away the iambic pentameter, centuries-old in-jokes about English culture and plots based around outdated concepts like dowries, and you have are still just simple, great stories that are just as interesting and relatable today as they were to the Globe's audiences.

Case in point, Othello.  You can easily make the case that of all Shakespeare's plays, this is the most relatable.  If you break it down dramatically, it seems odd that Othello goes from perfectly happy husband to stark-raving nuts over the span of, like, a couple of days, and yet isn't it all something we have experience with?  Don't we all know someone (or, are someone) who's perfectly  sane and reasonable under most circumstances and yet gets instantly jealous and suspicious about any of their significant other's allegedly platonic friends?  The person who can spin an act of unforgivable betrayal out of their partner adding someone on Facebook?  Jealousy is a timeless emotion, which is Othello is a timeless story.  Even Shakespeare himself realizes this plot-wise, using a threat of Turkish invasion* as a Macguffin just to get the characters in position for the REAL story to begin.  This isn't like in Hamlet, where the personal story leads to a nation's downfall, but rather a personal story altogether.

* = Man, pour one out for the poor country of Turkey.  Othello and company go to Cyprus as guard against the approach of Turkish ships.  As soon as they arrive, however, they find out that fleet was destroyed in a storm, and they're all, "ok cool, let's hang out for a few days."  Shakespeare really kinda sloughed off this tragic annihilation of Turkey's military, I must say.  And, not to mention overlooking this Storm Of The Century that would've been required to wipe out an entire fleet.   

It also helps that the story is so straight-forward.  Iago's plan boils down to nothing more than double-talk, making a bunch of insinuations and stealing a handkerchief, yet that's all it takes.  The simplicity is accepted because, well, sometimes that's all it takes.  It's called a 'seed' of doubt for a reason.  As I recently discovered with the plastic panel/shelf on the bottom of my fridge that covers the crisper, all it takes is one crack to weaken the strength of the entire structure.  In an unrelated story, if any Canadian Tire or IKEA employees are reading this, give me a price quote.

So, Iago.  What can you say about Iago besides that he's one of the very best villains in literary history.  As mentioned, his plan could hardly be any more basic, but he'd set the groundwork for years by establishing himself as 'honest Iago.'  Virtually every character in the play refers to him by this nickname and can barely mention his name without saying what a great guy he is.  It's another key to the plot, as Othello isn't hearing these rumours from just anyone, but from a trusted source. 

Iago's reputation is interesting since you wonder how he was able to keep himself hidden for so many years.  He's essentially a serial-killer type, one of those guys who the neighbours call a friendly, quiet man until the police find a dozen bodies in his freezer.  You wonder Iago's villainy was a fairly recent development --- as in, he actually was a decent, honest man until something snapped.  What exactly made his snap is one of the larger critical questions about the play, as Iago gives a number of motives (he's angry that he was passed over for promotion, he believes Othello slept with his wife, he makes more than a few comments about Othello's race) for his actions.  He changes motives so often, in fact, that the more Iago tells us about them in his soliloquies, the more we realize that this guy isn't playing with a full deck.  The soliloquy is, as a dramatic device, supposed to be the moment when a character reveals his innermost thoughts to the audience.  The fact that Iago isn't even honest in soliloquy form is a sign that he's either mad or that he is simply pure duplicity and can't even keep track of the lies he tells himself, to wit when he off-handedly decides to ruin Cassio too because he suddenly suspects Cassio of also cuckolding him.  If Iago was once good, it's like he's trying to create these grievances in order to justify his actions to himself.  

Then again, you can also argue that Iago really is just a sociopath, since it's his wife Emilia (the person who has to live with him 24/7 and knows him best) who finally uncovers his ploys and isn't the least bit surprised that "honest Iago" has been a lying bastard.  It was like that moment in mystery fiction when the detective figures it out thanks to one unconnected hint.  Emilia keeps repeating "my husband" in Act V, Scene II and you can tell in her head, she's putting all the pieces together like Chazz Palmintieri looking around his office in Usual Suspects.

Usually when a villain is used as a protagonist, you can't help but root for the villain to succeed.  Call it respect for their intricate plan, or a rebellious desire for them to get away with it, or maybe just a literary version of Stockholm Syndrome --- the more we familiarize ourselves with the villain, we sympathize.  Shakespeare, however, makes sure that this doesn't happen.  Iago is a villain through and through, and if anything, the audience is openly hoping that someone punctures his balloon of lies before it's too late.  He's a villain who is impossible to like, impossible to sympathize with because of his petty and ever-changing motivations and even impossible to respect.  That might be the key one; you can't even respect Iago's manipulative abilities since his plan fell apart basically the minute one character actually talked to another without him there to supervise.  You can't give a plate-spinner credit for being a telekinetic. 

Iago doesn't even get his final comeuppance.  Sure, his plan falls apart, his reputation is disgraced and he's sent away to be tortured…huh, well, when I write it all out like that, it does sound like decent comeuppance, but stay with me here.  What Iago does have working for him is that he's taken Othello and Desdemona down with him and while his choice not to speak again is poetically nice --- the ultimate poison tongue is no longer talking --- but remember, it's Iago's choice.  It's really a pretty big fuck-you to Venetian authorities, who are no doubt beside themselves with anger and confusion about what exactly happened.  It isn't like Cassio ordered the guy's tongue to be cut out, though there would've been a real boss move for Cassio (who's otherwise just an amiable dunce in the text) and also pretty dramatically fitting.  Shakespeare probably wanted to keep Iago alive to use him as the villain in his version of The Avengers…..and if you don't think I'm not going to use "who would Shakespeare's Avengers be?" as a thread throughout this series of Shakespearean re-read posts, you're nuts.

So yeah, I've talked about Iago for basically this entire post and he's not even the title character.  He is, however, by far the most interesting character, as everyone else is basically reduced to being a prop in Iago's machinations (or are simply perceived as such, which IS a way the audience is influenced by Iago's dominant position as the play's narrative).  Maybe the real tragedy of Othello is that the poor guy can't even get the lion's share of dialogue in his own play.*  I've read about how most directors try to balance the two roles by making it more of a battle of wits between Othello and Iago, but just on the page, it's no contest.  Iago plays Othello like a fiddle. 

* = In Shakespeare's day, the plays were advertised or known as "The Tragedy of Othello," "The Tragedy of Hamlet," etc, which is why all of Shakespeare's tragedies are named after the tragic figure.  I can't help but think, however, that Othello deserved a more thematically fitting title.  Most of the comedies had broader and more thematic titles, so I wonder why you were allowed to be creative with a comedy's title but not with a tragedy.  Was it a marketing thing?  As in, patrons expected light entertainment at the theatre and would be upset if they arrived to find a tragedy playing unless the show was specifically advertised as such?

Othello is unique, however, as a rare example of ethnicity playing a major part in a character's makeup.  From the text itself, Othello was just about as progressive at it got for the early 17th-century.  Othello is widely respected as a general, well-liked personally and all racial comments against him are presented as hateful slurs.  (The three characters who make the most racist comments against Othello are Iago, Rodorigo and Brabantio, who are all clearly portrayed as villains and morons who are in the wrong.)  Even though Othello descends into murderous rage, it isn't because he's a Moor and Shakespeare is playing on African stereotypes of the time --- it's just because Iago suckered him, as he did everyone else in the play.  "The Moor," however, quickly goes from descriptive term or almost a term of endearment for Othello to an epithet when others suspect the worst about him.  The race card is never too far away from being played, and some critics have argued that part of the reason for Othello's jealousy is because he sees Desdemona's betrayal as the last straw.  He can grin and bear the bullshit accusations from Brabantio and the senate in the first act since he's used to it from them, but to hear that Desdemona has turned against him is just too much pressure for Othello to bear.  I'm not sure I agree with this interpretation, since the Othello I see in the first act is a proud man who is more than willing to stand up to racist accusations and is calmly able to defuse them as nonsense.  It's at that point Iago realizes mere race-baiting isn't going to work and he needs to destroy Othello himself in order to really ruin him.  Iago tries to make Othello into an 'other' via his actions, not via his ethnic background.  Most modern productions play with Othello as 'other' in interesting ways, such as a 1997 theatrical run starring Patrick Stewart that made Othello the only white role in an all-black cast, or when Othello is played by a woman.

I've never had the pleasure of seeing the play performed on stage, though I have seen the 1995 film version starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh which I didn't care for since (surprise surprise) Branagh played the role way over the top.  One can only imagine the tension rising in the theatre as a non-hammy actor uses every persuasive bone in his body to bring Iago's twisted words to life and bring Othello closer and closer to madness.  It's a play that speaks to us on an emotional level and is endlessly fascinating to read and discuss.  So, take that, Matt.

OVERALL RATING: A

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

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The 'Most Canadian Picture Ever'

The following were some of the top options that came from a Google image search for 'most Canadian picture ever.'  Presented without comment on our nation's birthday.  Hooray patriotism!