Monday, March 31, 2014

Another Confrontation!

After nine great years....well, two great years, three pretty good years, two okay years and two pretty bad years, to be specific....How I Met Your Mother is winding up its run.  The final season has been spotty at best but really, I feel that Dexter has ruined me for 'terrible final seasons.'  Compared to Dexter, HIMYM is a goddamn masterpiece.

So in the name of saluting this fine show, here's Segal and NPH reprising their legendary "Confrontation" duet.  Bonus points for the comedy of Cobie Smulders moving out of the enunciation spitstorm crossfire.  I was one of the few who straight-up loved the Hugh Jackman film version of Les Miserables, yet I think we can all agree that had NPH replaced Russell Crowe, it would've won 19 Academy Awards and still be #1 at the box office today, 17 months after its release.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random Nonsense

My girlfriend* is a big fan of Toronto's Indie 88 radio station, and thus every time we're in the car together, it's the go-to channel on the dial.  Yes, that's right, I'm the one guy under the age of 40 who still listens to terrestrial radio.  I love living in the past! 

Anyway, Indie 88 is a fine station with one annoying flaw.  Champion's "No Heaven" is the background music they play during intros and outros, not to mention when the DJ is speaking between songs.  Even after months of listening, it still fools me every time.  I always get a momentary burst of excitement in thinking that "No Heaven" is up next, then am quickly disappointed when Indie 88's pattern dawns on me.  It's a good song!  Play it just once, that's all I ask.  Unless it has ironic meaning --- always being teased with a good song but never actually playing it is Indie 88's version of hell, i.e. 'no heaven.'  This could be the most metaphysical station in radio today.    

* To avoid confusion, I should point out that the girl in the banner pic isn't my girlfriend, that's just a random image I found online.  Also, my girlfriend is in a comedy duo with a penguin, not an eagle.


This is one of the most astoundingly awesome wastes of time I've ever seen on the internet, and that's saying a lot.  This is The Office Time Machine, a one-stop director to a series of YouTube clips that catalogue (by year or, as you get further back, by decade) every pop culture reference ever made in all 201 episodes of the U.S. Office.  I bow to the epic pointlessness of this endeavour.   


If you're the Nabisco employee who came up with the idea for these new Chips Ahoy/Chunks Ahoy bags, I hate you.  Why mess with perfection?  These new bags are sealed with what I can only presume is a space-age polymer that makes them incredibly hard to pull open, and yet once they are open, they're impossible to fit the cookie tray back into the bag.  There's a cardboard shaper in there fouling things up and….ARGH.  It's all madness.  Madness I say.


An oral history of Ghostbusters!  AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  Needless to say, I loved every word of this (though sadly, Bill Murray and Rick Moranis didn't participate).  William Atherton's brief contributions were gold.  I also love that with each passing behind-the-scenes look at this movie, it becomes more and more apparent that Dan Aykroyd's original concept was a) insane and b) possibly could've been the worst movie ever made.  Thank goodness that Ramis and Reitman were there to rein him in, and to his credit, Aykroyd praises them for helping polish the idea into a classic.


As much as I love Conan O'Brien, I can't help but feel his show has gotten stale.  The monologues, the desk bits, the patter with Andy Richter (am I the only one that thinks Conan was better as a solo host without Andy as the sidekick?)…all of it just seems a bit rote after over 20 years on the air.  His TBS show is a weird hybrid of both Late Night and the Tonight Show that lacks both his old 12:37 zaniness and the attempted "classier" polish he attempted to add to 11:37.

This all being said, Conan still has one clear strength over the other late night hosts --- his remote bits.  This might go to my point about preferring Conan as a solo act without Andy, as Conan is never funnier than when he's just on his own, riffing with ordinary folks and making fun of himself.  To wit...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Other People's Writing

My fingers are sore from typing, so I'll let this crew handle it...

* Shea Serrano and Bill Barnwell reveal their pick as the best fictional quarterback of all time.  I am disappointed that Stan "The Boy" Taylor isn't on this list.  Stan, Stan/He's our boy!/If he can't do it/No one….will.

* Claire L. Evans reviews the Robocop remake by focusing on the most interesting (probably the 'only' interesting) scene in the movie.  I'm on board with Evans here, the film was pretty blah.  It fell victim to the problem of thinking it was a smarter movie than it actually was…also, Jackie Earle Haley as a mercenary badass?  Seriously?

* I guess I should note that all of this month's articles are (again) from Grantland, which is just an awesome website.  Perhaps what I like most about the site is that it often examines a game or skill known the world over, yet nobody knows who the "world's greatest" is at said game.  To wit, here's Jason Fagone profiling Anthony Gatto, the world's best juggler, though he's since retired that title for a much less-profile job.

* Another example: do you know who the world's best pool players are?  Several are profiled in David Hill's story about the modern professional billiards circuit and (perhaps as important) the still-thriving hustling market.  These players are all pretty good, I guess, though they're no Mr. Spectacular.

* Another example: do you know the world's best-singing seven-foot-tall silent clown is?  It's Puddles, profiled by Justin Heckert even though Heckert gets precious little face-time with the mysterious clown himself (sure talks a lot to Puddles' seven-foot-tall friend Mike Geier, though).  You might know Puddles from his famous cover of "Royals" with the Postmodern Jukebox, who I discussed in a post last month and…oh great, I hope you're happy, I just spent the last 45 minutes watching Postmodern Jukebox videos AGAIN.

* Amos Barshad profiles what the nine living members of the Wu-Tang Clan (Cappadonna is included) are up to today.  This story is probably catnip to Wu fans and I found it enjoyable just from a sprawling perspective, even though I couldn't give a damn about the Wu-Tang Clan's music.  Barshad gives them all more or less equal time in his story, though perhaps those more into the Wu can let me know what the ratio is of actual talent in this group to hangers-on.  I've always been led to believe that RZA, GZA and Method Man were the most notable members and the rest were interchangeable but that's only my layman's perspective.

* Jordan Conn profiles the ass-kickingest basketball team north of the border, the umpteen-time national champion Carleton Ravens.  They're why office pools based around the CIS tournament are always boring as hell.  "Well, yet again, we have a 31-way tie for first since everyone picked Carleton.  Coming in last place was Doug, who picked Brock against a team of aliens because Doug is an idiot."

* Eric Benson and Joe Delessio have an oral history on (of all things) Alan Thicke's association with a plethora of sports stars from his years of living in Los Angeles, owning Kings season tickets and being involved a ton of athlete-related charity events.  "Hey Mark, are you going to post that clip of Jay Onrait's Thicke impression?  This seems like a good place to insert that video."  You're damn right it does!  Thanks for the suggestion, invisible straw man!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Julius Caesar (Shakespeare Re-Read #9)

I wish I'd have finished this a few days earlier so I could've published this post on the Ides Of March.

Though "Julius Caesar" is one of Shakespeare's more famous works, this was the first time I'd actually read the play, though it already felt familiar.  Of all Shakespeare's plays, JC is probably the one with the most oft-quoted dialogue.  Even if you've never read the play yourself or generally eschew Shakespeare, you've absolutely heard the likes of  "the fault…is not in our stars," or "the most unkindest cut of all," or "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," or "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war," or "I come to bury ____, not to praise him," or "cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once," or "beware the Ides of March," or I could just go on and on and this post would turn into the Chris Farley Show.  

All great lines, absolutely, but I'd argue that JC's memorable turns of phrase have continued to thrive in popular culture in part because this play is our modern connection to the story of Caesar's assassination.  His death and the subsequent fall of the Roman Republic is one of the most influential historic events of the last 2100 years, and the circumstances behind Caesar's killing are still fascinating to explore all these years later. 

Notice that I said "the assassination" and not Caesar himself, as ol' Julius is barely even a supporting character in his own play.  This being my first time reading JC, I was surprised that the pivotal assassination scene came only in the middle of the play.  "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" is really "The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus," who is the real pivotal character of the text, yet I guess Shakespeare (clever theatre operator that he was) knew the most famous name would sell more tickets at the door.  Either that or else this was Shakespeare's answer to Janet Leigh in "Psycho," and by answer to, I mean presaged by about 370 years.  Or else Shakespeare had a time machine, which WOULD EXPLAIN SO MUCH.  

That said, the title is almost a metaphor.  "Julius Caesar" is both a character and a Poochie, since whenever Caesar isn't on stage, the rest of the characters are inevitably asking "where's Caesar?" or plotting to murder him, or explaining why they killed him. 

The play's title is also basically the conspirators' reason for the assassination.  This is one of those things that can obviously shift depending on performances, directorial choices and staging when you see the play live, but in text form, Shakespeare makes no bones about the fact that Cassius and the other six main conspirators are about as nakedly envious a pack of rats as one could encounter.  Granted, it mostly seems like they're envious because we so little of Caesar himself --- because we have no basis for their claims that Caesar is power-hungry and would doom Rome if he claimed a throne for himself, we're forced to conclude that they're all schemers.  (Not to mention the actual fake letter scheme employed by Cassius to trick Brutus into joining the cabal.)  Then you have that almost dark-comedy scene after the conspirators have stabbed Caesar to death, and then these geniuses decide it would be a cool move to literally wipe his blood on their swords and arms while saying, "wow, we're awesome, history will TOTALLY celebrate us for this, guys!"  That's a nice little meta moment on Shakespeare's part.

What we do see of Caesar is a guy who has pretty big opinion of himself, often referring to himself in the third person and basically just acting like the cock of the walk.  On the page, at least, it just comes off as innocuous boastfulness, not necessarily arrogance.  There's nothing Caesar does within the text of the play that would mark him as a tyrant and threat to Rome, though Cassius' issue is that people of Caesar's type are corrupted by power and thus Caesar is a problem waiting to happen.  Given that Caesar, Brutus, Cassius and company have known each other for years at this point and been part of past wars led by Caesar, it kind of comes off as if, in the "Henry IV" plays, Hotspur's old drinking buddies had been, "wait, this guy's going to be the king?!  HIM?!  Geez, that'd be a disaster, we'd better kill him now."  Oh man, now I really want to read a comedy about Falstaff and the Boar's Head Pub crew trying to plan a murder and bumbling their way through the entire process.

As noted, this play is really Brutus' story, and his decision to betray Caesar for the ostensible greater good of Rome forms the crux of the tragedy, as Brutus' plan completely backfires and the Republic is engulfed in war.  (Ironically, Rome does end up being ruled under the iron fist of a Caesar…it's just that it's Octavius Caesar, known in history as Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.)  Brutus is meant to invoke sympathy here as his character is presented as acting for what he thinks is the greater good, and he later shows remorse for his actions.  That being said, well, Brutus' name in history has become synonymous with literally being a backstabber.  It's hard not to argue that Brutus got what he deserved for turning on Caesar.  At worst he's a traitor and even at best, he's a sucker who got conned by Cassius, who's essentially the real Big Bad of this whole endeavour. 

Also, it's impossible to respect Brutus after his absurd quarrel with Cassius in Act IV, Scene 3.  That scene just kept going and going and almost threatened to turn the play into a farce.  Both characters came off like a tired old married couple who threw 15 years of pent-up frustration into an argument about, say, misplacing the remote control.  Whatever "poor man's Iago" heat that Cassius had going for him to that point was completely rotted away.

JC is similar to "Coriolanus" in that you have a so-called problem play about a political division and the audience can intellectually take the sides of one of a few different viewpoints presented amidst the characters.  It's just that you have to hold your nose as you take those viewpoints, since basically all the characters are awful.  Shades of grey abound.  The conspirators are all scumbags, the common people of Rome are portrayed basically as mindless peons ("give us hell, Quimby!") as evidenced by their attack on the wrong Cinna.  Mark Antony appears noble in opposition to the conspirators but he maneuvers his way into taking over Rome himself.  Then, when he gains power alongside Octavius and Lepidus, Antony immediately turns on Lepidus behind his back.

Still, I had to take Antony's side in this since Marks stick together through thick and thin he's right.  True, he ultimately controls the rebellion against the conspirators for his own gain, but his point about the conspirators going mad with power themselves is not wrong.  I mean, those dudes just got finished gang-stabbing one of Rome's most respected figures to death and their excuse was, "Trust us, we know best." 

Shakespeare certainly seems to take Antony's side, as evidenced by Antony's legendary speech in Act III, Scene 2*.  This is one of the most famous scenes in the Shakespearean canon, and while it can certainly be performed in a way that makes Antony look manipulative himself (from the perspective that Brutus is the central 'good guy' who just made a tragic choice), it's hard to argue that while Antony takes the wrong turn in the future, in the moment he's dead-on accurate.  "…and Brutus is an honourable man" becomes such a wicked burn line that it beats Brutus' case to death with its own shoes, Preston-style.

* = at pub trivia one night, we received a question of "who delivered the line 'friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears'?" and the vast majority of teams were shocked that it wasn't Julius Caesar himself.  My team got it correct, so thank you, English degree!

Ultimately, though, I have no issue with whether characters are good or bad as long as they're interesting and written consistently, and needless to say, JC does that in spades.  I'm not going to say the play quite lived up to the hype for me, as it's not in the upper tier of Shakespeare's classics, but it's still a tremendously good read.  For maximum effect, wait until next March 15th and then read the play while drinking a Caesar and eating a Caesar salad.

Also, as a minor coming attraction….I'm doing these plays in a semi-random order, but since we're already on the Mark Antony train, the next entry in my Shakespeare Re-Read will be "Antony & Cleopatra."  Stay tuned!


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

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, 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!"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fly Sunglasses

If I ever got to meet a genie, all-knowing entity or some kind of deity, I obviously would stick to mostly deep questions (meaning of life, is there extraterrestrial life, etc.) and I wouldn't go all "Homer meets the Kwik-E-Mart president."  That said, if I got the opportunity for more than, say, a half-dozen questions, I'm pretty sure the last one on the list would be asking this all-knowing being whatever the hell happened to my giant fly sunglasses.

If you knew me between the years 1998-2007(ish), you probably saw me wearing these oversized jet-black sunglasses with those thick lens at least once.  If you didn't know me then, imagine the kind of glasses that either a very old woman or a Kardashian might wear.  (The picture at the top of the post is a pretty close visual approximation.)

Now, I cited old women and Kardashians, but my real inspiration for these shades was Bono.  My U2 fandom really took hold in 1997 and, upon becoming obsessed with the band, I took to wearing these sunglasses as a tribute to Bono's "Fly" character that he adopted for the ZooTV tour and really, for basically all of 1991-93.  I'm not going to lie, he probably pulled them off better than a prematurely-balding 17-year-old did, but that's just a matter of taste and opinion.

Now admittedly, I went a little overboard with these things in 1998-99.  I may or may not have (so, did) worn these things all the time at school, even during most classes.  This was when I learned a valuable lesson --- if you're a good student, high school teachers will get you get away with basically anything.  Even the hard-ass teachers who cracked down on anyone else for even wearing a hat in class could've seen me walk into the room with a live bird on my head and just gone, "meh, Mark hands in his stuff on time, whatever."  I wore these shades so often that, when running for student council that year, I used two giant bug-eye lenses as my campaign logo.  In a possibly-related story, I badly lost that election, hearing through the grapevine that I finished fourth out of four candidates.  On the one hand, my three opponents were arguably the three most popular kids in school.  On the other, "I wear sunglasses all the time!" isn't exactly a great campaign platform, so the electorate spoke wisely.

Anyway, I greatly dialed back the sunglass-wearing and from then on, I just wore these shades when (y'know) it was sunny out, like a normal person.  I got years of use out of those glasses and that's when the mystery deepens.

Between August-October 2007, I took a selfie wearing those shades and a toque* on my laptop camera.  I'm able to pinpoint those specific dates since the picture was taken at the place I was subletting in Toronto at the time.  After that timeframe, however, I have no idea what happened to my beloved fly shades.

* = the toque, I should add, was specifically bought because it resembles the tight-knit caps worn by the Edge.  I still have that toque to this day.  What's with me dressing like the members of U2?  

It's very weird since, as noted, I still wore those things all the time, though I'd also branched out and had about three other pairs of (normal, non-enormous lensed) sunglasses that I kept in a rotation.  So it's possible that my fly shades just got lost in the shuffle of packing my stuff to head back to London in November 2007, or I still had them during the winter of 2007-08 and I lost them then, or perhaps one of my friends simply got sick to death of those stupid-looking glasses and stole them in a fit of pique.  OR, as is more likely, one of my fashionista friends stole them out of jealousy since they were just beyond stylish.  It's annoying to not have a specific date locked down as to when I last had the damn things, since it really widens my search parameters.  They could be in any part of southern Ontario that borders the 403, really.

In the years since, I've looked for other shades that can fill the giant, bug-lensed hole in my heart but it's no use.  I haven't found any that are just right.  Some have lenses that are too thin, or too properly circular as opposed to bugged out.  Some have earpieces that are also too thin.  The biggest problem, I've found, is that most earpieces have some kind of goofy design on them whereas I'm looking for just jet-black.  Now, I'm just dozens of you will read this post and surprise me with fly-style glasses for my next birthday but don't bother.  I'm very picky about the style I want.  I'll probably just look at your gift and throw it on the ground in a huff, a la Veruca Salt, since it's just not specifically what I want.

Yes, I realize the irony of wearing sunglasses in the first place to emulate Bono and now I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

If you have any information as to the whereabouts of my beloved sunglasses, call my 24-hour hotline at 555-MARKFLYSHADES.  I realize that this is longer than the usual amount of digits in a phone number, but I made a special deal with the phone company.  The president of Bell once lost a novelty t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon aardvark saying "Aardvark Always Pays Off!" and its loss haunts him to this very day, so my situation was met with a lot of sympathy within the telephone industry.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Between Two Ferns, Obama Edition

Wow, this is an even bigger get for Galifianakis than having Michael Cera on the show!

"If I ran a third time, it would be sort of like doing a third Hangover movie.  Didn't really work out very well, did it?"  Whoa, the president reads my blog!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Neverending Parenting

So, you're Mr. Bux.*  You've been through some tough times as of late, as your wife Moonchild has recently passed away, leaving you as a single dad** raising a young son who is taking his mom's death particularly hard.  He's having dreams about her, flunking his tests and drawing pictures of horses unicorns in his math textbooks rather than studying.  If that wasn't enough, he's also a target of bullies, though this fact is seemingly unbeknownst to you.

* = it's never actually mentioned in the movie, but Bastian's full name (from the original book) is Bastian Balthazar Bux.  Yikes.  Between Mr. Bux's stiff nature and the fact that Bastian's mom was named Moonchild, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that she was the one in charge of picking the baby name.

** = or even a major dad, some might say.  #McRaney  For Bastian's sake, it's a good thing that of all McRaney's characters, Mr. Bux seems to crib most from the major.  I don't think I want to see the "Bastian's dad is George Hearst" cut of this movie.

You sympathize with Bastian, no question.  You're broken-hearted yourself.  You adored your beloved wife and you miss her every day, and undoubtedly you'd like nothing more than to just hug your son close and mournfully weep together.  However, you have to stay strong.  One cannot grieve forever, stiff upper lip and all that.  You have a job that requires you to wear a suit for work, after all.  It doesn't do you or Bastian any good to mourn forever, since life (painfully) goes on.

In the past, you might've treated your son's half-assed approach to his schoolwork a bit more harshly.  (You and Moonchild* had a very effective good cop/bad cop routine.)  Now, however, you gently sit down with Bastian and explain to him that it does no good to daydream all the time.  You tell him he has to keep both feet on the ground, which is good advice that you legitimately believe, though you wish you could find a way to express it in a non-cliche way.  Dealing with the emotional stuff was more Moonchild's forte anyway, but it's all on you now, so you do your best to make your point without sounding too harsh.  It *mostly* works, though really, would it have killed you to be less dismissive of Bastian's clearly burgeoning and active imagination?  And ending the chat with 'good talk' was also not the best move, as those who actually have good talks don't feel the need to punctuate it. 

* = and the Oscar for worst sound editing goes to The Neverending Story, as for the life of me, I could never figure out that goddamned name until years later when I could simply look it up online.  It was like I was an eight-year-old of Gene Hackman in 'The Conversation' for as many times as I rewound my old Betamax copy of TNS in a vain attempt to make out the mother's name.  And really, sound effects editors, between a high-pitched kid's voice and a raging thunderstorm, the storm is going to win every time, so way to drop the ball on raising that vocal track.  It gets even worse when you consider that, with a weird-ass name like 'Moonchild,' people are going to be doubly confused even if they heard it correctly.  "Wait, did he say Moonchild?  That can't be right.  Maybe it was Muriel?"  

But still, he seems to get the picture.  Bastian is a good kid (a great kid), and he's just going through a rough patch.  With the matter seemingly settled, you go off to work, have your usual day at…uh, Suit-Wearing Company Inc. when one of two things happen.  Firstly, Bastian's school could call you to inform you that he never arrived at school that day.  One would think that with Bastian's recent issues, the school would be extra-aware of any truancy or perhaps Bastian could even be on a 'last straw' policy.  (Then again, this is also a school with an enormous and poorly-supervised gothic attic, so who knows.)  Just think of how upset you'd be getting this kind of call.  Your good talk was all for naught!

Or, conversely, the school never calls and when you arrive back home after a long day of wearing a suit, Bastian simply never gets back.  It's essentially the nightmare scenario for any parent.  Think of the worry, of the increasing terror, the calls to the school and then eventually to the police or to hospitals.  There could be a citywide search going on for Bastian all evening long during that driving storm, while he was just holed up in the creepy attic reading his book.

As for you, you're increasingly wracked with guilt.  Was it YOUR talk with Bastian that triggered his possible running-away from home?  But you were only trying to help!  Oh, if only Moonchild would've been around…curse you, universe, for taking her away from us!  And things get even worse the next morning, as police inform you that they're having to take officers off the search due to an unexpected and bizarre crisis (namely a giant furry creature flying around downtown and chasing local bullies).  The incident is so peculiar that, while you're upset that your son's disappearance isn't being more closely monitored, you can't really blame the cops for reacting to an attack of a heretofore unknown and seemingly dangerous animal.

The point is, it was a really rough day for Mr. Bux.  It's weird going back and watching this movie as an adult, and finding yourself sympathizing with (of all people) Bastian's dad most of all.  It could be due to overly-keeping my feet on the ground throughout life, but that can't be it; as you can tell from my blogging, my imagination is full of crazy nonsense.  I'd consider it a personal dream of mine to one day fly around on the back of a genial Luck Dragon through downtown New York, except instead of chasing bullies, I'd tell Falcor to go after Tom Coughlin since I'm still bitter about those Packers playoff losses.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Two Detective

"True Detective" is a fantastic show but we can still very easily laugh at it.  Wooderson and Woody, solvin' crimes, ah ha ha ha ha!

Monday, March 03, 2014

The 2013 Markademy Awards

Well, it finally happened --- the actual Academy just decided to crib my opinions for their awards.  Now, while you might notice that most of the Markademy Award winners don't actually match up with the real Oscar winners, I think this is the first year when all their choices were my second choices.  When everything lines up 1-2, I can hardly complain too much.  2013 was a very strong movie year and it resulted in not only one of the better Best Picture fields in recent memory (Dallas Buyers Club was the weakest of the nine and even it was a solid 3.5/5 type of film) and a strong list of acting winners.  There were no Benjamin Buttons or War Horses or Blind Sides or Tree Of Lifes stinking up the field this year; it was basically all killer, no filler.

AND YET STILL I managed to pick out a few that were under-recognized by the Academy.  These snubbed performers can take solace --- who needs a stinking Oscar when you have a Markademy Award on your shelf?  It's a distinguished tradition that dates back to 1981, and while I don't want to throw around the phrase "made for life," it's a known fact that Steven Spielberg often books dinner reservations simply by introducing himself as "two-time director of Markademy Award-winning films."  The doors just fly open after that.

Onto the awards!

Oscar nominees: Amy Adams/American Hustle, Cate Blanchett/Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock/Gravity, Judi Dench/Philomena, Meryl Streep/August: Osage County
Oscar winner: Blanchett
Should've won: Blanchett

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/Frances Ha, Scarlett Johansson/Her, Brie Larson/Short Term 12, Melissa McCarthy/The Heat, Emma Thompson/Saving Mr. Banks
My ballot: Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Gerwig, Larson
My winner: Cate Blanchett

Blanchett gave the best performance of anyone this year, making this the easiest category of the bunch.  So, I'll take this space to discuss Brie Larson and Greta Gerwig, who would've been winners in most other years and would've been in an absolute brawl for the title this year had Blanchett not gone all pantheon.  It's too bad that this Best Actress field was loaded with huge stars in high-profile roles, leaving no room for quieter performances like Larson or Gerwig to fit in, but hopefully we'll see plenty from them in the future.

"Short Term 12" was a little-seen gem of a movie that was alternately heart-breaking, funny, warm and uplifting in equal measure, and Larson is the centre.  She's been good in smaller roles (Scott Pilgrim's ex Envy, the love interest in 21 Jump Street, Abed's coat check paramour on Community) on a lot of good projects and she just kills her first lead role.  To steal an old Bill Simmons line, if I could buy stock in Hollywood stars, I'd be heavily investing in Larson's future right now.  As for Gerwig, well, what can I say, she's awesome.  I am all in on her so-called "mumblecore" naturalistic acting style and Frances Ha (which she co-wrote) was a perfect vehicle for her.  Gerwig's involvement in the How I Met Your Mother spinoff is single-handedly reviving my interest in what seemed like a sad joke of a show.

Oscar nominees: Christian Bale/American Hustle, Bruce Dern/Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio/The Wolf Of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor/12 Years A Slave, Matthew McConaughey/Dallas Buyers Club
Oscar winner: McConaughey
Should've won: DiCaprio

Alterna-ballot: Oscar Issac/Inside Llewyn Davis, Michael B. Jordan/Fruitvale Station, Joaquin Phoenix/Her, Robert Redford/All Is Lost, Forest Whitaker/Lee Daniels' The Butler
My ballot: DiCaprio, Ejiofor, Jordan, McConaughey, Redford
My winner: Leonardo DiCaprio

Another stacked field.  That alternate ballot alone would've been a strong five contenders, even with the obligatory eye-roll at anything involving The Butler getting nominated (though Whitaker and Oprah did their best to save it).  I can only presume that Redford made it look too easy in All Is Lost, as voters just thought "oh, he didn't even speak" or "oh, it's basically just Bob Redford on a boat" when I thought such the lack of dialogue or specific lack of character made the performance even more interesting.  As for Jordan, I discussed his performance (as well as Blanchett and Sally Hawkins) back in September and despite all of the other big names, I still feel like he should've made the cut.

McConaughey was great in DBC and deservedly won, yet I can't help but notice that most attribute his win to the "McConaissance," i.e. his recent flood of interesting roles (Dallas Buyers Club, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, the guy who had to keep Kim Novak from going totally off the rails at the Oscars, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud and, perhaps most of all, True Detective).  The Oscar is kind of a career achievement in miniature for McConaughey's great three years…while you've got DiCaprio slugging it out and being quietly great for 20+ years, only to go home empty-handed again.  I think only now are folks starting to take in the impressiveness of Leo's resume and just how much he continues to grow and evolve as an actor every time out.

"The Wolf Of Wall Street" and "Great Gatsby" in the same year is an interesting dichotomy since Jay Gatsby is a role DiCaprio can play in his sleep and seems to generally fit what people consider to be the Leo Persona.  Jordan Belfort, however, fits that persona on paper except Leo and Scorsese take that character and systematically break it down over three hours.  Much has been made about how the film allegedly glorifies Belfort's behaviour, but only a sociopath walks away from that movie thinking Jordan Belfort is a cool guy.  DiCaprio has to make him charismatic since he WAS charismatic, hence why he got so many people on his side for so long --- he's charismatic, smart and legitimately funny, yet also cruel, short-sighted and an impossible egomaniac.  I have a feeling that if DiCaprio ends up with a Peter O'Toole or Richard Burton track record of Oscar futility, future generations will look back at this year's result as the one where DiCaprio should've won, since this is Leo running on all cylinders.

Oscar nominees: Sally Hawkins/Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence/American Hustle, Lupita Nyong'o/12 Years A Slave, Julia Roberts/August: Osage County, June Squibb/Nebraska
Oscar winner: Nyong'o
Should've won: Hawkins

Alterna-ballot: Cameron Diaz/The Counselor, Julianne Nicholson/August: Osage County, Adepero Oduye/12 Years A Slave, Octavia Spencer/Fruitvale Station, Oprah Winfrey/Lee Daniels' The Butler
My ballot: Hawkins, Lawrence, Nyong'o, Spencer, Squibb
My winner: Sally Hawkins

I would've been happy with any of the nominees winning except for Roberts (and even she was really good in her movie, except hers was in no way a supporting role).  While I personally would've voted for Hawkins for holding her own against Blanchett and breathing life into a thankless role, you can't deny the tragic power that Nyong'o brought to her performance.  It's great work, especially considering that it was basically her first real movie role, to boot.  Combine those with Squibb and Lawrence stealing every scene they're in, and it combined for one hell of a supporting actress field this year.  Pound-for-pound, this was the Academy's strongest category, and the altera-ballot candidates all just couldn't find room.  (Yeah, even Cameron Diaz.  I'll let Grantland's Alex Pappademas explain just how bizarre and great she was in the otherwise uneven "Counselor," including her big scene that steals the entire movie.)

Oscar nominees: Barkhad Abdi/Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper/American Hustle, Michael Fassbender/12 Years A Slave, Jonah Hill/Wolf Of Wall Street, Jared Leto/Dallas Buyers Club
Oscar winner: Leto
Should've won: Hill

Alterna-ballot: James Franco/Spring Breakers, John Gallagher Jr./Short Term 12, Tom Hanks/Saving Mr. Banks, Danny McBride/This Is The End, Christopher Walken/Stand Up Guys
My ballot: Abdi, Cooper, Hill, Leto, Walken
My winner: Jonah Hill

What a weird year of supporting actor candidates.  If you had told me in 2010 that you could have a totally plausible field of Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto, James Franco and Danny McBride, I would've said you were crazy.  "Okay, fine," you would've countered, "just replace Franco with a Somalian limo driver who's never acted before.  The field will get even BETTER."  As it happened, I owe my friend Anna a retroactive apology for 10 years ago in university, when I used to tease her about her love of Jared Leto and her continued insistence that the guy was a legit talent.  Fast-forward a decade and here's Leto picking up a deserved Oscar.  Anna, you've checkmated me on this one….even though I thought Hill was the clear choice for his atomic bomb of a comedic performance.  Geez, I'd barely wrapped my head around the idea of Hill getting nominated in the first place (for Moneyball) and now I have to consider him a legit threat to win?  What's happening?  How many talents have I underrated over the years?  Am I so out of touch?  No…it's the children who are wrong.

Oscar nominees: Alfonso Cuaron/Gravity, Steve McQueen/12 Years A Slave, Alexander Payne/Nebraska, David O. Russell/American Hustle, Martin Scorsese/The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar winner: Cuaron
Should've won: Cuaron or McQueen or Scorsese

Alterna-ballot: Noah Baumbach/Frances Ha, JC Chandor/All Is Lost, Destin Daniel Cretton/Short Term 12, Paul Greengrass/Captain Phillips, Spike Jonze/Her
My ballot: Chandor, Cuaron, Jonze, McQueen, Scorsese
My winner: Martin Scorsese

Another tossup since the degree of difficulty for Scorsese, McQueen and Cuaron was all off the charts.  I had to give my vote to Marty since Scorsese at his best is better than perhaps any other director in film history as their best, yet there were no wrong answers.  In fact, the Best Director contenders all made out pretty well.  Cuaron won, McQueen won an Oscar as a Best Picture co-producers, Scorsese's already a living legend, Payne already has two Oscars on his shelf and Russell got jack-all since nobody insults Lily Tomlin and gets away with it. 

Oscar nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar winner: 12 Years A Slave
Should've won: The Wolf Of Wall Street
My winner: The Wolf Of Wall Street

As per Markademy Awards tradition, the following seven are my Best Picture ballot representing the films I felt were a cut above the rest in 2013…

1. The Wolf Of Wall Street
2. Her
3. Short Term 12
4. 12 Years A Slave
5. All Is Lost
6. Gravity
7. Frances Ha

As noted earlier, WOWS is Scorsese running at his full power, which is insane given that the guy is 71 yet he's made three of his best movies (WOWS, Hugo and the Departed) within the last seven years.  My only quibble with the Wolf is that you could've probably found 15 minutes to edit out, yet man, what a film.  As noted earlier, you run the full gamut of emotions during this movie, as Scorsese alternately builds these guys up and breaks them down, yet also makes you understand why others root for them while at the same time pointing out that rooting for these crooks makes you a horrible person.  It is just an expertly made collection of nonstop energy and yet the slower scenes (Leo on the boat with the FBI agents, he and his wife in the nursery, the scene when Jordan goes full heel and attacks his wife, and the instantly classic quaaludes sequences at the country club) are the ones that stand out most in my mind.  Wolf Of Wall Street left the ceremony last night with exactly zero awards from its five nominations, and as I noted earlier in regards to DiCaprio, in the future this will seem like a snub, as strong as this year's winners seemed.

I've already discussed Her, All Is Lost and Gravity in other blog posts, and I touched on Short Term 12 earlier.  That leaves me with Frances Ha, a wonderful slice of life about a somewhat directionless early thirtysomething that, um, uh, er, in NO way hit close to home, no sir.  And as for 12 Years A Slave, well, what can you say other than it's one of the most searing films in recent memory.  I legitimately do not get the criticism that it's *too* harsh or *too* unsparing, since a version of this movie where the violence is tempered or watered-down would've been entirely contrary to the film's point, not to mention vaguely insulting.  It was a very worthy Best Picture choice and one of the Academy's better picks in recent years.

And now, my other 16 favourite films of 2013….

8. The Heat
9. Mud
10. Fruitvale Station
11. The Way Way Back
12. This Is The End
13. Nebraska
14. About Time
15. Enough Said
16. Inside Llewyn Davis
17. American Hustle
18. Frozen
19. Rush
20. I Give It A Year
21. Blue Jasmine
22. Drinking Buddies
23. In A World...

This is the category that really sets the Markademy Awards apart from any other awards show.  The Oscars may have a bunch of time-killing montages but only the Markademy Awards put the spotlight on the year's best individual scenes or sequences, even if a few were from terrible movies (coughcoughSpringBreakerscough).

22. Duncan's first day of work (The Way Way Back)
21. Tim and his father's last day together (About Time)
20. "Bitches, man" (Warm Bodies)
19. The news team battle royale (Anchorman 2)
18. Solomon stares directly at the audience (12 Years A Slave)
17. The dwarves escape the elves' kingdom via barrel, amidst an orc attack (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug)
16. The "rocket on Danny's sweater" theory (Room 237)
15. Alien's "look at my all my shit" scene (Spring Breakers)
14. "Let's Go Fly A Kite" is played for Mrs. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)
13. Rose Byrne's last line to Stephen Merchant (I Give It A Year)
12. Llewyn performs "Fare Thee Well" by himself (Inside Llewyn Davis)
11. The "science oven" explodes (American Hustle)
10. Marcus' rap (Short Term 12)
9. Kate's commentary on dead people at the cemetery (Nebraska)
8. The ending (Captain Phillips)
7. Cameron Diaz has sex with a car (The Counselor)
6. James Franco and Danny McBride angrily part ways (This Is The End)
5. The "Let It Go" song and sequence (Frozen)
4. "Please Mr. Kennedy" (Inside Llewyn Davis)
3. The hanging scene (12 Years A Slave)
2. Rosalyn 'explains' how it was a good thing that Irving was threatened by the mob (American Hustle)
1. Jordan, on quaaludes, tries to get into his car (The Wolf Of Wall Street)

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Gravity/All Is Lost


It's not quite on the order of two movies being released about, say, volcanoes (Dante's Peak/Volcano), an asteroid hitting the planet (Armageddon/Deep Impact), or Steve Prefontaine (Without Limits/Prefontaine) within a short stretch of time…man, I still can't get over this, all these years later.  It was enough of a longshot that even one movie got made about a notable but semi-obscure and semi-forgotten track star, but TWO of them within two years?  How?

Uh, sorry, got off track.  Anyway, while All Is Lost and Gravity have some marked difference, it's kind of remarkable that we got two such similar pictures released more or less simultaneously.  Both are movies feature exactly one character* who is struggling to survive against nature with only his/her wits and limited technological backup to sustain them.  Also, in both cases, that one character is played by a Hollywood superstar who's so beloved by audiences that our inherent affection for this star makes us intrinsically root for him/her in any circumstance, no matter the character.

* okay, so Gravity kind of cheats since Bullock has Clooney, another astronaut and the mission control voice (Ed Harris!  Great touch!) for the first 15 minutes, plus her brief hallucination later on in the film.  But c'mon, it's virtually all her.  I guess you could also say that All Is Lost has both Redford and the arm that grabs onto him at the end, though if you did say that, you're officially the World's Biggest Nitpicker.

It could be this small detail that made me slightly prefer All Is Lost to Gravity, even though both are incredible movies that rank amongst the year's very best.  The life-or-death situation was all it took for me to get behind the two characters, since being stranded in the middle of the ocean or stranded in outer space obviously invites sympathy.  Those are "I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy" scenarios.  What I liked about AIL is that the film focuses only the scenario itself.  Redford's character isn't even given a name (he's just "Our Man" in the credits) and I think he actually utters maybe two words throughout the entire movie.  He has a voiceover at the very beginning of the picture reciting his 'all is lost' letter to his children, hinting at some family drama, but it's oblique enough that it doesn't really matter.

And, it doesn't matter.  All we care about Redford's character is that he's stuck in this mess.  He's "Our Man" so we're in his corner.  As I cited earlier, we as a movie audience are subconsciously going to always be rooting for Robert Redford anyway, so AIL just abandons all pretense of character and gives us, essentially, 'Robert Redford is in a boating accident in the middle of the ocean.'  Hell, Redford seems like an outdoorsy guy to me, he's probably been on a boat or two in his life.  If you told me that he was an experienced yachter and the movie was based on an actual event in his life, I'd buy it.   

In Gravity, however, we learn a bit about Bullock's character's backstory, including a deceased daughter.  Her journey back to Earth therefore kind of becomes a metaphor for her overcoming her past traumas, and by that point, it felt like piling on.  It seemed like a bad actor's workshop instruction.  "Okay Sandra, in this scene, your motivation is that getting back to Earth will allow you to symbolically put your daughter's death behind you."  Um, no, when you're stranded in friggin' outer space, GETTING THE FUCK BACK TO EARTH should be the only motivation necessary.  We're already rooting for Sandra Bullock from step one.  We're especially rooting for her when she's stranded in outer space with seemingly no possible hope of salvation, an even more dire situation than Redford's character (at least 'Our Man' had the possibility, if a remote one, of being saved by another off-course boat sailing near him; there sure as hell wasn't any other passing spaceship around to bail out Dr. Ryan Stone).

Another reason why I slightly preferred AIL to Gravity, and I can't help resisting the bad pun here, is that All Is Lost was a bit more down to earth.  In any "one person stranded in a life-or-death situation" type of plot, you're inevitably going to think about what you would do if you were caught in a similar scenario.  Well, right off the bat, there is no possible way I'd ever find myself in Dr. Stone's situation.  Nobody on the entire planet will even have the remote chance of being in that situation aside from the few hundred of us earthlings who are trained astronauts.  Now, admittedly, there is also a zero percent chance I'd ever find myself on a solo boat trip across the Pacific Ocean, but I dunno, there's at least a chance I'll be on a boat sometime in my life, an accident would occur, and I'd find myself stranded in a body of water.  Also, most people have at least a passing knowledge of boats so it's easier to be impressed by Redford's ingenuity.  With Gravity, operating space machinery is just so absolutely foreign to us that it makes Bullock's escapes seem less impressive.

Now that I've outlined my only two issues with Gravity, let me state again that it's an incredible movie and fully deserving of the umpteen technical Oscars it's going to win on Sunday.  Alfonso Cuaron is also the favourite for Best Director and he'd be a very worthy winner with a great track record (though I would also be more than okay with Steve McQueen winning).  Cuaron basically had to pioneer new ways of filming in order to make this movie, which puts his work even a hair ahead of AIL director J.C. Chandor, who also did an incredible job with what must've been a very difficult film to fully conceive and then actually make.  My only issue is that while Gravity was a masterpiece of filmmaking, I'm not sure why All Is Lost isn't right there alongside it in basically every tech category.  AIL somehow only received one stinking Oscar nomination for sound editing --- I would've had it in the running for Picture, Director, Actor, Editing, Cinematography, both sound categories and the score, by god, the score.  The music has to be a character itself what with the lack of dialogue, so I can't figure out how Alex "Guy from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros" Ebert didn't get a nomination.

So yeah, there's why All Is Lost will appear exactly one spot ahead of Gravity on my upcoming Markademy Awards 'best of the year' rankings.  But just where on my list will each movie fall?  Stay tuned!