Friday, June 28, 2013

Conan Investigates

Given that he co-created Lookwell and Andy Barker PI, plus given how often he breaks into 1930's detective jargon on his show, I think it's clear that Conan O'Brien's great frustration in life was that he never became private investigator.  As we can tell from this clip, he's a natural.  A natural, I tells ya!  Conan would've been the modern-day Philip Marlowe.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

U2, "This Is"

This is (ha, wordplay!) NOT a new U2 song, I should note.  It's a cover of a hit by Aslan, a popular Dublin band that most people outside Ireland have never heard of, so when the "new U2 performance" buzz about this track hit the web, there was understandably a bit of confusion that this was one of the songs from U2's long-awaited next studio album, tentatively scheduled for this fall.

I'm not going to lie --- I am jonesing so hard for anything new from U2 whatsoever that I've listened to this song about five times in a row.  Please be good, new U2 album.  Like, really great.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pericles (Shakespeare Re-Read #7)

It was bound to happen at some point during this re-read project that I would come across a play that I just flat-out didn't really like.  Lo and behold, here comes "Pericles, Prince Of Tyre."  More like, after about three acts, I was getting tyred of reading it.  #Wordplay  #Brilliant

Much in the same way that Marina's, uh, virtue is kept intact in a wholly unbelievable way, however, my man Shakespeare's record isn't stained by this play since it isn't his!  You see, "Pericles" is thought to be, at best, a collaboration between Shakespeare and a much, much, MUCH less-regarded writer named George Wilkins, whose Wikipedia entry is pretty awesome.  Most scholars believe Shakespeare wrote most of the third and fourth acts, while Wilkins wrote the rest, so I'm just going to go ahead and absolve the Bard from blame.  Hey, it's only fair --- you never give the featured artist credit for a song, do you?  Nobody ever refers to Gangsta's Paradise as "a great L7 track." 

In fact, I'll go a step further and argue that given Wilkins' personal history, Shakespeare wrote the brothel-centric fourth act as basically one big in-joke towards his collaborator.  This act does contain the lone amusing sequence of the play, when Marina is just so pure and so wholesome that she is able to talk her would-be clients at the brothel out of banging her and leaving them feeling bad for themselves for ever visiting the brothel in the first place.  (I've gotta say, Marina did a far better job of invoking a whorehouse within an emotional appeal than Don Draper did with the Hershey executives.)  It also leads to a bit of dark comedy when Marina and Lysimachus end up marrying at the play's ending, a nice union between the young heroine and the governor who was so forthright in rescuing her from the brothel and helping reunite her with her family…and yet it ignores the fact that Lysimachus is the kind of guy who frequented the brothel in the first place.  I also love the matter-of-fact introduction the pimps give Lysimachus, of "here comes the governor in disguise," like it was an everyday occurrence.  Somewhere, Bill Clinton is shaking his head in disgust. 

But this amusing segment aside, "Pericles" is basically just one giant revolving wheel of plot contrivances, so much so that Shakespeare/Wilkins have to resort to Gower the narrator to summarize various major plot points that the play simply doesn't have time to actually show.  This may be for the best given that some of these major details involve Pericles getting involved in seastorm after seastorm to the point that you wonder why this man would ever again set foot on a boat.

Given the general theme of a fractured family lost at sea, "Pericles" comes off as a poor man's version of The Winter's Tale.  While that play took the time to actually explore the tragic set-up, however, "Pericles" either glosses over (Antiochus' hidden incest) or undermines (Marina being trapped in a brothel) its various dramatic elements.  Antiochus' desire to keep his shame hidden by killing Pericles*, for instance, ends up being a pretty empty threat given that he dies pretty early on in the play. 

* = Plus, he employs the laziest contract killer of the age.  Thaliard gets to Tyre and is like, "Well, Pericles has left, so surely he'll PROBABLY get killed at sea.  Looks like my work here is done!"  That's some weak-ass hitmanning, Thaliard.  Aren't you supposed to follow some sort of assassin's creed, or is my knowledge of video games based solely on their titles that ill-informed?

I don't need every play, especially a comedy, to explore darker or so-called deeper themes, but it would've helped in this case given that Pericles, Thaisa and Marina are all just so impossibly good-hearted.  Pericles may, pound-for-pound, be the nicest guy in the Shakespearean canon.  He's a beloved king, the kind of guy who won't even take refuge in another kingdom without first arranging to solve its famine, able to win knighting tournaments just a day after surviving a massive shipwreck, and is respectful and cool with both the highest of kings to the lowliest of fishermen.  He's *too* virtuous to root for, if that makes any sense.  For all the strife that Pericles faces in this play, you never really feel his pain.

While this was my first time reading this play, I actually saw it performed on the Stratford stage around 10 years ago as part of a class trip.  Honestly, I barely have any recollection of it whatsoever, both a function of the play's weak-ass nature and due to the fact that this trip came a day after I'd pulled an all-nighter writing an essay, so I believe I slept on the bus ride to Stratford, the bus ride back and probably a bit during the show itself.  Truly a fine dramatic critic in the making, this guy.

"Pericles" has had kind of a rough publication history, as no original copies of the play exist and subsequent editions openly cite the fact that certain lines are incomplete or even that whole scenes aren't quite clear in terms of continuity.  Perhaps the original version was being delivered to the printer when the courier was suddenly caught in a hurricane at sea, splitting both he and the play apart for all eternity.  Or, I'll just blame it on George Wilkins.  Whether it was Wilkins, Shakespeare or just poor editing and recovery of this play over time, however, the result is kind of a mess.  Boo on the whole lot.


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

Two of my New Year's resolutions for 2012 (and now 2013) 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.  Well, 2012 ended and I'm 0-for-2, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are 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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Troy McClure's Credits

This isn't *quite* as amazing as it could be since it's just a straight list, and thus some of the titles lack a bit of context.  For example, Handle With Care is funnier since Troy explains "I play Jack Handle, a retired cop who shares an apartment with a retired criminal.  We're the original Odd Couple!"

So, yeah, it's only 98% as amazing it could've been.  RIP Phil Hartman.  Just in case you weren't depressed enough about his death, apparently he and the Simpsons writers were tossing around the idea of a live-action Troy McClure movie.  I estimate I would've watched this movie approximately 2,406 times.  And counting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Seam

Driving in Toronto is not quite the chaotic apocalypse that it's made out to be, and personally, I've only seen the R.E.M. "Everybody Hurts" scenario play out three times on the Gardiner.  That said, it can definitely get a bit hairy driving around the city unless you know a few shortcuts, know when to avoid certain streets and if you have a mystical knowledge of The Seam.

I'll explain.  I live in the Corktown area of Toronto, which doubles as one of the city's more convenient traffic nexus points.  I say convenient since I have easy access to the DVP, the Gardiner, Lakeshore, the Broadview extension and Mt. Pleasant Road, not to mention my most-traveled roads, the two one-way streets of Richmond and Adelaide.  The one-ways are particularly convenient since they're usually "slightly" less congested than the regular roads and they get me either right into the heart of downtown (in Richmond's case) or provide me with relatively clear passage out of the downtown traffic madness (i.e. Adelaide).  Of course, this isn't always true since Adelaide always seems to have a lane shut down due to building construction and Richmond attracts that unique class of moron who decides to cut over two lanes to turn left onto University but, be that as it may.

And yet, Richmond also has the The Seam.  I dare to even whisper its name lest the power be lost, but surely what's the point in having a legend if nobody ever tells it?  At a certain time of day, when traffic is just light enough, it's possible to drive down Richmond and get nothing but green lights.  Oh, it's true.  And the stunning part is, The Seam occurs during rush hour --- which in Toronto is closer to three hours.  It's just that the road seems weirdly clear during this particular stretch of time, thus making it possible for your car to magically coast from just east of Parliament to right downtown in under five minutes. 

I discovered The Seam when making one of my typically last-minute dashes to the movies.  I'm the sort who will decide he wants to attend a 6:40 film screening at, say, 6:30, and then have to haul ass out the door.  This is the one time when I'm glad for the 10-15 minute barrage of ads and trailers that preclude every movie, but still, my timing can still be cut close given traffic conditions. 

In this case I was going to the Scotiabank Theatre downtown, so the assignment was Corktown to Richmond/John in roughly 10 or 15 minutes.  It's only a little over three km on Google Maps but still, time was tight and it was rush hour.  I hopped onto Richmond and suddenly, it's my car was on a cloud.  Green light after green light after green light, and nary a traffic slowing to be found.  Astoundingly, I found myself sitting down in the theatre not even 10 minutes after I'd left my front door.  It was the closest human equivalent to getting a star in Super Mario Kart.

You might argue that this was a one-time occurrence and just plain luck, but NOPE.  It happened again a few weeks later, same time, same incredible stretch of green lights.  It's now gotten to the point where I try to time my driving 'exactly' around The Seam to take full advantage, though you need absolute pinpoint accuracy.  I'm probably not going to ever become a NASCAR driver* but I daresay that finding the exact instant to catch The Seam is an equivalent.

* = probably 

So anyway, in case you're wondering when exactly The Seam begins and when you should aim for it yourself, uh, well, I'm not going to say.  TS for you.  Dude, surely you realize that if I encourage more drivers, that will ruin the whole point of The Seam.  It's just common sense!  "So then, what was the point of this entire post, Mark?"  Bragging, mostly.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Discussing "The Wrestler"

If you haven't seen "The Wrestler," then ignore this post entirely since it contains major spoilers.  Also, if you haven't seen "The Wrestler," then go see it immediately since it's awesome.  It's one of my absolute favourite films of the last decade, a great ode to old-time pro wrestling and the story of a man trying to recapture a bit of value in his life.  Mickey Rourke delivers a pantheon acting performance in this movie, and as good as Sean Penn was in "Milk" that same year, Rourke deserved the Oscar.  You can know jack-all about wrestling and still find The Wrestler a completely enthralling, moving (if not exactly uplifting) story.

But anyway, rave review aside, let's talk about the ending.  Oh my god, the ending.  Just like in any great wrestling bout, the biggest move comes at the finish.  Randy the Ram is going ahead with his last match, despite the fact that his heart condition is poor enough that wrestling even once more will probably kill him.  He's met backstage before the match by his semi-girlfriend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, also terrific in this movie by the way) who tries to talk him out of it, but Randy has made up his mind and Cassidy can't bear to watch.

So Randy wrestles, starts feeling ill and yet continues on.  He goes ahead with the planned finish --- his big signature move, the "Ram Jam" diving double fistdrop off the top rope.  It's more or less outright stated that Randy will kill himself by performing this move in his condition but dammit, Randy is going ahead with it.  He gets on the top turnbuckle, looks to the arena entranceway and just sees the curtains hanging there limply.  As the film's score swells, Randy takes the leap off the ropes in slow-motion, the screen fades to white and then Bruce Springsteen's epic soundtrack title song begins playing.  Talk about an affecting scene.  And Springsteen's song didn't even get nominated for an Oscar, good lord.

The reason I'm bringing this up is due to a recent conversation with my buddy Dave.  The topic of this movie came up and we were both raving about it, though we had totally different interpretations.

It all centered around that shot of the entrance curtains.  My interpretation was that this shot was entirely symbolic.  The arena entrance is, essentially, the gates of heaven in this context, and Randy is seeing them on the horizon since he's about to leap off the top rope (and to his death).  Of course, in Randy's mind, the gates of heaven look like a wrestling entranceway.  To him, St. Peter probably also looks a lot like Mean Gene Okerlund.

Dave's interpretation was much simpler --- Randy is simply looking one last time to see if Cassidy is still there, and when she isn't, he goes through with it and jumps.  Despite Randy's tough talk earlier about putting the match first, he really does love her and had she appeared, he likely would've stopped on the spot and gotten medical attention.  With no Cassidy, however, Randy felt he had nothing left to live for and thus he Ram Jammed himself into oblivion.

Now, it's very possible we're both right since naturally there are a thousand ways to "read" a movie.  As a former film student, I spun many an interpretation of countless movies in my undergrad days…of course, my takes were all brilliant and correct but some of my classmates' interpretations, woo boy, were they out there!  I think I might have a point with my theory due to the camerawork.  It's kind of a sudden cut, from the emotion and action in the ring and Randy's facial expressions to this somewhat flat shot of the curtains.  It's almost like it's taking place in a different world, a.k.a. the afterlife.  Then again, it's also very possible that my artsy-fartsy film student training is making me over-think a pretty straightforward ending and Dave is on the money with his Occam's Razor reading of the end scenes.

Anyway, for those of you who saw the movie, am I totally out of to lunch or did some of you happen to interpret Randy's end in the same fashion?  Also, if it turns out that heaven does resemble a wrestling arena, then my years of watching WWF as a kid are really going to pay off.  I'll get up there and go, "Well, ya know somethin' Saint Peter…"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


So yeah, Neil Patrick Harris should just host everything.  Why are the Oscars piddling around with the Francos and Macfarlanes of the world when NPH is available?  Can Billy Crystal jump through a hula hoop at his age?  Highly doubtful.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Raptor Rebranding

So the Raptors might be changing their team name.  Sad day.  It's an especially tough blow to my buddy Eric, who wore an ENORMOUS Toronto Raptors cap in his Grade 9 class picture and was then referred to in some quarters as "The Rap-Tor" for all of high school.  And yes, with that specific pronunciation.

For as much flack as the club takes for naming their club after an early-1990's movie, "Raptors" really isn't that terrible a name.  It's not like a velociraptor ever stopped being vicious or cool dinosaurs.  And compared to a lot of trendy modern team names, "Raptors" holds up pretty well. 

* Texans?  That's just the name of your state!  Try harder!
* Avalanche?  Yeah, name your team after a murderous natural disaster. 
* Hurricanes?  Yeah, name your team after a murderous weather condition. 
* Lightning?  Yeah, name your team after a murderous weather condition.
* Thunder?  Yeah, name your team after a perfectly harmless weather condition.
* Heat?  Yeah, name your team after a potentially harmful weather condition unless you have air conditioning or don't sweat profusely, a la mysel….UH, OTHER PEOPLE.
* Wild?  Good lord. 
* Mighty Ducks?  Jesus wept.  Also, I've written this before, but "Ducks" becomes 100 percent cooler if it was adopted by a Minnesota hockey team, a la the movie.  Hell, even "Minnesota Mighty Ducks" works in this context.  If you had a team called the Minnesota Mighty Ducks and they wore this jersey full-time, I'd be all in, Leafs fandom be damned.

But anyway, if the team does change their name, the obvious name is Towers.  I've been pushing this since 1994.  Basketball players are TALL!  Like a tower!  And Toronto has a famous tower!  It fits so darn well!  That said, the leading contender seems to be "Huskies," after both Toronto's original NBA franchise from the 1940's and from Oliver Miller's body type.  If Huskies or TOWERS don't get the nod, however, I have a few more ideas.

Toronto LOLcats
Toronto Lakers
Toronto Dunkasaurs
Toronto Fresh Starts
Toronto Fast Toronto Furious
Toronto Degrassis
Toronto 67ers
Toronto Streetcars
Toronto Hipster Guys With Neckbeards Who Play A Bit Of Guitar
Toronto Laughingstocks
Toronto Charm Offensives
Toronto Leaf Maples
Toronto Gardiners
Toronto Ball
Toronto Trick Questions
Toronto Stroumboulopoulos
Toronto Transit
Toronto More Like 'Ass' Transit, Am I Right?
Toronto Expiring Contracts
Toronto Casa Lomas
Toronto Yorks
Toronto …..
Toronto Thought Process
Toronto Roughriders
Toronto Hopeless Romantics
Toronto El Mocambos
Toronto Ghost Players
Toronto 4Chans
Toronto Supersonics
Toronto Eric Koreens
Toronto AlarmForce
Toronto Crack Mayors
Toronto Tweets
Toronto Basketballers
Toronto Condominiums
Toronto Hey Remember That Time Vince Carter Won The Dunk Contest And The Team Was Relevant, That Was Pretty Cool, Wasn't It?
Toronto Huss Keys
Toronto Husqvarna
Toronto Key Husks
Toronto Five Guys
Toronto Gamechangers
Toronto Indignity
Toronto Kings Of The North (uh, maybe not after last week's episode…)
Toronto Wrongbars
Toronto Wrongteams
Toronto Hornets
Toronto Steamwhistles
Toronto YYZ
Toronto Rap-Tors
Toronto Rip-rap-rip-a-dee-doo
Toronto Hakeem Olajuwons

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Tim Duncan & The Spurs

I was briefly a San Antonio Spurs fan.  Or, wait, to be specific, I was a Dale Ellis fan.  Back in my old vintage Nintendo NBA game, I often played as the Milwaukee Bucks since Ellis had a ridiculous three-point setting in the game, my strategy was to just pass out to Ellis on the wings and just have him bomb at will.  This led to me finally (FINALLY) beating my brother in the game, since he always played as the Bulls like a front-running jackass, and the win was clinched with an Ellis three-pointer at the buzzer.

So anyway, due to this game, I became a Dale Ellis fan and thus switched my NBA allegiance to whichever team he was playing for at that particular time.  As it happened, Ellis was a journeyman, so I traded NBA loyalties more often than a Kardashian.

By the time the NES game was released, Ellis had already left the Bucks and had gone to San Antonio, where he played from 1992 to 1994.  So yeah, boom, Spurs fan.  Following Ellis briefly made me a fan of the Nuggets, SuperSonics, Bucks again and then the Hornets.  Though really, by that time, I'd stopped caring, so I didn't get the chance to get one of those sweet Hornets Starter jackets.  You'll notice that none of these teams were exactly big playoff threats in the 1990's (at least not while Ellis was there) so yeah, some pretty lean years.  This is what I get for letting my fandom be decided by a video game.  I'm lucky I didn't end up rooting for the LA Clippers since they, like Kirby in Kirby's Dreamland, alternated between sucking and blowing for years.

But hey, since I was ONCE a Spurs fan, I'm allowed to root for them to win the NBA title, right?  I've always had a soft spot for this team, even in their "boring" years, since they just seemed like a solid, no-frills unit.  It helped that Gregg Popovich is hilarious (check out his section in the "Overlords" section of this Grantland article) but mostly, it was because the Spurs had Tim Duncan.  And I love Tim Duncan.

I wrote this last year…

Back when the Spurs had a 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the NBA semi-finals, I was preparing a Tim Duncan vs. Kobe Bryant discussion post that would've essentially argued that Duncan was the greater player of the two.  'Greater' is a nebulous term, of course, but my case would've been that if you were drafting an all-time team, you'd take Duncan first because of his incredible talent, his equal-to-Kobe championship caliber (San Antonio could've won its fifth ring in Duncan's tenure this spring), the fact that it's general basketball principle to always take a star big man over a star guard and the fact that Duncan's intangibles as a completely stable personality and a superb teammate counter Kobe's nonstop moody drama.

Then, however, the Spurs got blitzed by Oklahoma City and knocked out of the playoffs, meaning that unless San Antonio marshals its resources for another unlikely run in one of the next two years, this was probably Duncan's last chance at a fifth title.  Kobe's five rings to Duncan's four, plus his superior counting stats, will probably give Bryan the duke over the Dunc for all time.  But man, I dunno, I think I'd still rather take Duncan.  I'm admittedly biased since Tim Duncan is one of my favourite athletes due to his overwhelming normality.  (The Onion has made a small cottage industry out of stories about Duncan being a nice, bland, do-gooder.)

I stand by the argument that if you're drafting a TEAM, you take Duncan since he can fit in with anyone, whereas Kobe is a tougher nut to crack.  I posited this argument to a few people and the consensus was that they'd rather have Kobe "since he's a guy who will make his own shot."  It's a good debate.  Man, maybe I should've written this post.  Damn you, Kevin Durant and your holy-crap-they-are-beating-the-Spurs ways.

It's completely true.  Say what you will about Bill Simmons' "pantheon of basketball," but I wholly stand by his assertion that Tim Duncan is the seventh-best player in NBA history, behind only the unquestioned tippy-top sextet of Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, Magic, Bird and Kareem.  I think everyone would agree that those are the best six ever, just a question of what order you'd rank them.  (In fairness, LeBron will make this a septet if he keeps doing what he's doing for a few more years.)  And then, kicking off the second tier of all-time legends, there's Duncan, Mr. Consistency himself.

Joe Posnanski's recent Duncan profile for is chock full of cool little understated Duncan anecdotes and what I liked most about this piece is that I'd never heard any of these before.  The "good, better, best" rhyme seems familiar but otherwise, this was all new to me.  Hearing ANY kind of Duncan anecdote is revelatory since the guy is such a closed book and so keeps to himself.

How can you not root for a guy like this?  How can you not root for Duncan to capture a fifth ring and top the cavalcade of (admittedly superbly skilled) nonsense that is the Miami Heat?  It's ridiculous that beating the Heat would make some people finally take note of Duncan given that, y'know, the guy has four rings already and is already an all-timer but whatever, I somewhat doubt Duncan stays up at nights refreshing his Google Reader for complimentary articles about himself.

So in summation, I'm picking the Heat to win the title in six games since, c'mon. But I'm HOPING the Spurs can pull this off and win their fifth crown. That would be awesome. Duncan deserves it. The spirit of Dale Ellis deserves it.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Under Pressure, A Cappella

Y'know, "Under Pressure" is one of my karaoke/Rock Band standards due to the fact that my voice sounds kind of like a combination of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie ("...he said arrogantly").  Now, KIND OF is the key phrase here, since obviously, these guys could sing me under a table and then break the table leg off into a sharp shard and stab me into oblivion.  Observe.