Monday, September 28, 2015

As You Like It (Shakespeare Re-Read #16)

More like “As You List It,” amiright?  Shakespeare is of course famously known for using every literary device in the book (plus inventing a few new ones), yet in this play, he falls back again and again on the device of a character making a point or telling a story by going through a list of items.  Or, similarly, dialogue that repeats itself with only slight variations.  Just a few of the many, MANY examples…

* Touchstone describing the seventh cause (Act V, scene iv)
* Rosalind confirming Orlando/Phoebe/Silvius’ promises (V, ii)
* Jaques’ story of the fool (II, vii)
* Touchstone describing the difference between country life and court life to Corin (III, ii)
* Even the play’s most famous moment, Jaques’ “all the world’s a stage…” monologue, is in fact essentially a list of items.

Obviously, the Bard is using this repetition to comic effect, both for callback purposes and creating jokes from the slight variations between the entries in each “list.”  Between the repetition, the lists and the actual songs and poems used by the characters themselves, Shakespeare is in essence turning the entire play into a repeated list.  It’s like he’s giving us a list of options for the audience to choose “as we like it.”  If that wasn’t enough, Shakespeare also kind of meta-mocks himself for falling back on his device, via Touchstone mocking Orlando’s lame rhymes about Rosalind in his tree-poems. 

The cumulative effect is a play that (all together now) would unquestionably seem better in performance than in the text.  I realize I say this about pretty much every play I didn’t really like, in part because I’m giving Shakespeare the benefit of the doubt but really because that might be the true demarcation line between a masterpiece and a regular Shakespearean play.  Something like “Othello” is great to watch or read, whereas AYLI suffers a bit on the page.  The cumulative effect of list after list over five acts gets a bit monotonous.  Any of the lists or repetitions by themselves are, as you would expect, pretty brilliantly clever, but the sum total of all of them is exhausting.  It’s like watching Michael Jordan do fade-away jumpers for three hours; sure, it’s a great move, but also a bit frustrating since you know the genius has more in his repertoire. 

This was my second time reading AYLI though I have zero memory of my initial exposure to the play.  (I’m presuming it was back in university?)  As you can tell, it clearly made a big impression on me!  Reading it now, it struck me as something of a poor man’s version of “Cymbeline” in that both plays are borderline farcical pastoral comedies except AYLI doesn’t quite have that same all-out absurdity.  Cymbeline builds its farce into a plot, where AYLI has one of the flimsier skeletons of a story going.  Both of the main drivers of the action (Duke Frederick banishing Duke Senior and Oliver wronging his brother) are completely resolved off-stage and in a “well, that wrapped itself up quite nicely” kind of way.  Duke Frederick apparently has one of Mr. Burns’ trademark changes of heart and decides to restore Duke Senior to power, whereas at least Oliver gets a monologue explaining how he saw the errors of his way when Orlando saved him from a lion attack.

I’ll repeat, a lion attack!  This is up there with “Exit, pursued by a bear” in the Shakespearean canon.  I wish more pieces of literature resolved the main plot by having the villain be saved in cartoonish fashion by the hero.  Had Gatsby saved Tom Buchanan from, say, a zeppelin crash, I feel like Tom would’ve been totally okay with Gatsby’s unrequited love for his wife.

Rosalind is often held up as perhaps Shakespeare’s best female character, though I was a bit underwhelmed.  She’s a good character but the best?  Spending much of her time in a gender-bending costume subplot that even Olivia from Twelfth Night would’ve felt was a bit much?  It probably didn’t help that Orlando de Boys* was kind of a non-entity, between his lousy poems and “sure random guy I meet in the forest, I’ll woo you how I would woo my lost love, that’s not a weird idea whatsoever” attitude.  Were it not for the lion rescue, I’d be tempted to write Orlando off as a character altogether.  Dude’s got some cojones, I’ll give him that.  If my brother was being attacked by a lion, I’d be running so fast that I’d get to the bookstore in time to purchase their last copy of “Coping With Loss.” 

* The last name was de Boys?  Good thing Rosalind didn’t go to Samantha Stanky’s private school run by French-Canadian nuns.  “Rosalind, n’est pas De Boys.”

As noted, any of the repetitive speeches taken individually are quite clever and this play does indeed have quite a few memorable moments.  Jaques* and Touchstone are the highlights, no question, and I feel like Shakespeare knew this in writing.  The subplot of Touchstone randomly trying to get married almost feels like Billy Shakes felt Touchstone and Jaques were so carrying the comedy that he needed to contrive a way to get into some scenes together.  It’s like the 16th century version of Harold Ramis realizing that Bill Murray and Chevy Chase didn’t have any scenes together in Caddyshack before hastily throwing together that scene of Ty Webb playing night golf.

* = I curse Shakespeare for not just naming him ‘Jacques’ since I have typed the name with that spelling literally every single time in this post and had to go back to correct it.  Zut alors!

I looked this up online to confirm, and indeed my greatest wish is true — Alan Rickman played Jaques at some point in his career.  Talk about perfect casting.  Jaques is a great invention, forever bitter and preferring to eternally bemoan his situation rather than actually take action.  Even at the play’s end, after complaining all along about having to live in the woods due to following Duke Senior, he ends up going after Duke Frederick, who has gone off in religious solitude.  Why return to the splendour of court life when you can whine about poor living conditions?  Jaques is hilariously pessimistic.

All in all, I only kinda liked it.  “As You Kinda Like It” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue as an ideal title.



16. Pericles
15. The Taming Of The Shrew
14. Antony & Cleopatra
13. Troilus & Cressida
12. As You Like It
11. Much Ado About Nothing
10. Coriolanus
9. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
8. The Comedy Of Errors
7. The Winter's Tale
6. A Midsummer Night's Dream
5. Julius Caesar
4. Macbeth
3. Cymbeline
2. Twelfth Night
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 freakin’ 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!"

Friday, September 25, 2015

Simpsons Wire

How has this not been done before 2015?!  Shame on you, internet.  The best part is, we can see four more "Wiresons" videos based around the Wire's other four versions of the theme songs.  Well....maybe just three versions.  I'd like to keep pretending Steve Earle's half-assed cover didn't exist.

Monday, September 21, 2015


I’m not a fan of “make-good” awards in theory, since obviously the best possible method is to pick the most deserving winner every time.  Also, correcting a past snub usually leads to creating a new snub and the cycle just propagates itself. 

The Emmys are a weird exception to this rule since while they’re an annual award, they’re honouring ongoing endeavours.  If a successful show has a multi-season run, then Emmy voters have multiple chances to eventually “make-good” on a deserving actor or show.  While the best-case scenario is to reward that actor or show during their most deserving season, you’ll inevitably get some cases when the voters give someone a trophy too soon or too late.

I couldn’t help but think of this year’s Emmys as an instance where the voters had to make-good on so many past snubs that some snubbees were overlooked yet again, and some other deserving would-be winners had their inevitable triumphs postponed.  I don’t think this was Veep’s best season (while it was still pretty great), I don’t think it was Jon Hamm’s best season as Don Draper (while he was still pretty great) and it certainly wasn’t Game Of Thrones’ best season (it was, in fact, its worst season, with a few great episodes mixed in with some true stinkers and some questionable-to-tasteless creative decisions).  That said, all were deserving of Emmys in the long-term picture.  The Emmys are elevated by having these clearly great names on their list of past winners.  As a big GoT fan, I’m happy pretending that the show is being retroactively awarded for its previous awesome four seasons rather than the one sketchy one.  I’m just sad that when the award was announced, the entire cast and crew didn’t come up on stage, leading to 15,000 people and a few frost giants crowding onto a single stage.

Onto the Alterna-Emmys!

Winner: Allison Janney/Mom
Nominees: Mayim Bialik/Big Bang Theory, Julie Bowen/Modern Family, Anna Chlumsky/Veep, Gaby Hoffmann/Transparent, Jane Krakowski/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Niecy Nash/Getting On

My ballot: Paget Brewster/Community, Chlumsky, Melissa Fumero/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Krakowski, McKinnon, Kaitlin Olson/It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
My winner: McKinnon

Multi-time winner Allison Janney was just about the laziest possible choice by the Academy (Julie Bowen would’ve been tied) in what was a pretty interesting category.  Krakowski is now 0-for-6 in her Emmy career, though it would’ve been felt weird had she finally won for playing a poor man’s Jenna Maroney instead of actually winning for playing Jenna Maroney.  My vote would’ve again gone to McKinnon, who is killing it on SNL year after year.  I suspect she’ll eventually win either next year (once she blows up huge with Ghostbusters) or the year after, when she gets more exposure playing Hillary Clinton through election season.  Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge how close Paget Brewster came to winning the Alterna-Emmy for awesomely fitting into the Community cast like a glove.  This scene was one of the funniest things ever.

Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep
Nominees: Edie Falco/Nurse Jackie, Lisa Kudrow/The Comeback, Amy Poehler/Parks & Recreation, Amy Schumer/Inside Amy Schumer, Lily Tomlin/Grace And Frankie

My ballot: Carrie Brownstein/Portlandia, Ellie Kemper/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Louis-Dreyfus, Poehler, Tracee Ellis Ross/Black-ish, Schumer
My winner: Poehler

In a vacuum, Kemper wins the Alterna-Emmy since Poehler already has multiple Alterna-Emmys on her shelf.  In a fictional world where the Alterna-Emmys are only starting now, I’m voting Poehler hands-down since it’s flat-out ridiculous that she never won an actual Emmy for playing Leslie Knope.  You could argue it’s just bad timing that Poehler was up against the unstoppable JLD juggernaut — but Veep has only been on the air for four seasons to Parks & Rec’s seven.  What about the previous years when Poehler was losing to freakin’ Edie Falco for her not-a-comedy or Melissa McCarthy for her weekly 21-minute fat joke, or when she was NOT EVEN NOMINATED and Toni Collette somehow won for a show that I literally don’t even remember existing. 

Just an odd category overall.  It can’t be stated enough that on pure merit, JLD actually does deserve to win this every time since Selina Meyer is such a brilliant creation.  It’s just that I feel voters are being lazy with this category since they know JLD will win every year and they just toss in random names.  You have Lily Tomlin being nominated for a really lame show, one so bad that it even puts me off having the always awesome Lily Tomlin get a moment in the sun.  Then you have the weird snubs — the Academy clearly knows that Kimmy Schmidt and Black-ish exist since they gave them several other high-profile nominations.  How, then, can the two driving forces within both shows not get nominated?  Kemper and Ross deserve the honour of….uh, well, losing to Louis-Dreyfus more than anyone.

Winner: Tony Hale/Veep
Nominees: Andre Braugher/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Tituss Burgess/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Adam Driver/Girls, Keegan-Michael Key/Key & Peele

My ballot: Burgess, Kevin Dunn/Veep, T.J. Miller/Silicon Valley, Lamorne Morris/New Girl, Kumail Nanjiani/Silicon Valley, Sam Richardson/Veep
My winner: Burgess

Just a monster category where legitimately great performances (Braugher, Burrell, Hale) have to be left out.  You can arguably fill this category with Veep guys alone, and it feels weird having just Richardson and not Timothy Simons to fill out the epic Richard/Jonah duo that was so incredible in S4.  (Similarly, having Nanjiani and not Martin Starr feels wrong when they both play off each other so well, or just Morris and not Max Greenfield or Jake Johnson.)  But even in a field this deep, I feel like Burgess is the clear choice for just chucking a comic grenade onto Netflix in the form of Titus Andromedon.

Note to all the sketch comedians who are “being humble” by listing themselves as supporting actors since they’re “part of an ensemble.”  Stop.  Just stop it.  You’re not fooling anyone.  The name of the damn show is Key & Peele.  Neither of you guys are supporting anything.  Same goes for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia.  When you play virtually every character, you are NOT A SUPPORTING ACTOR.  It’s not an ensemble when it’s the cast is only two people.  If Amy Schumer had listed herself as a supporting actress, I would’ve just thrown my hands up.  

Winner: Jeffrey Tambor/Transparent
Nominees: Anthony Anderson/Black-ish, Don Cheadle/House Of Lies, Louis CK/Louie, Will Forte/The Last Man On Earth, Matt LeBlanc/Episodes, William H. Macy/Shameless

My ballot: Anderson, Fred Armisen/Portlandia, Louis CK, Keegan-Michael Key/Key & Peele, Jordan Peele/Key & Peele, Andy Samberg/Brooklyn Nine-Nine
My winner: Tambor

Screw you, sketch comedy guys!  You’re all going on my ballot as leads despite listing yourselves as supporting!  By the way, you’re all awesome at your jobs!  This is also the category where I marvel at the fact that Episodes and House Of Lies have both somehow run for four seasons, and Shameless for five.  I literally never hear anything about these shows except at the Emmys when their leads get nominated pretty much every year and then lose.  Do you know how blah a show co-starring Kristen Bell has to be for it to fly under my radar?

I’m admittedly cheating in picking Tambor since I haven’t actually seen his show yet.  Still, I was rooting hard for him to win the Emmy since a) I have no trouble believing he’s deserving and b) he was long overdue.  Tambor for 0-for-6 playing Hank Kingsley and George/Oscar Bluth, so if he doesn’t deserve an Emmy, who does.  I certainly hope someone got a backstage picture of Tambor and Hale showing off their Emmys and possibly doing a tandem chicken dance.

Winner: Veep
Nominees: Louie, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

My ballot: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Garfunkel & Oates, Nathan For You, New Girl, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep
My winner: Veep

Despite saying earlier that this probably wasn’t Veep’s best season….holy crap was it ever still a great season.  “Data” and “Testimony” might’ve been the two single funniest episodes of any show all year, and there are just too many spectacular individual scenes to mention (Amy’s meltdown, Gary telling Selina off, Dan being terrible at his new job, anything Jonah & Richard did, the gang’s hilariously cruel reactions to Jonah’s abuse, etc.) at once.  With Armando Iannucci leaving, it’s perhaps best that Veep finally got its Emmy now, since how could the show possibly go anywhere but downhill from here?

Silicon Valley, G&O, New Girl and UKS all had great cases to win as well, and Kimmy Schmidt likely would’ve had it without the needlessly-padded final three episodes of the trial.  Let’s also pour one out for Garfunkel & Oates, a great show that was canceled way too soon.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine has already seemingly settled into a bit of a comfortable pattern where it’s always good but perhaps not great.  I’m not even sure if “Nathan For You” qualifies for this award but holy lord is it ever funny.

Winner: Uzo Aduba/Orange Is The New Black
Nominees: Christine Baranski/The Good Wife, Emilia Clarke/Game Of Thrones, Joanne Froggatt/Downton Abbey, Lena Headey/Game Of Thrones, Christina Hendricks/Mad Men

My ballot: Carrie Coon/The Leftovers, Ann Dowd/The Leftovers, Kate Mulgrew/Orange Is The New Black, Barbara Rosenblat/Orange Is The New Black, Lorraine Toussaint/Orange Is The New Black, Samira Wiley/Orange Is The New Black
My winner: Coon

OITNB is a very difficult show for Emmy category purposes.  S2 was definitely more dramatic, whereas S3 was definitely more overtly comic, yet the show mixes both elements so well that slotting them into strict boxes seems problematic (which is kind of ironic for a prison show).  To that end, Aduba probably didn’t deserve her win since Crazy Eyes didn’t have much to do in S2 besides be Vee’s muscle, whereas I would happily vote her for a Supporting Actress Comedy role next year for her hilarious work in S3.  I don’t know if OITNB will switch categories every year or if that’s even allowed under Emmy rules, but it might be worth a shot to better fit the tones of the show.  Mulgrew and Wiley probably the most to do in S2 and they did it well, Toussaint was kind of a one-note character but she played that one note extremely well and I wish I could vote for the dual combo of both Rosenblat and Stephanie Andujar, who played the younger Rosa in her flashback episode.  Rosenblat/Andujar as a combo would’ve won.

Instead, I’ll go with Carrie Coon, who burst onto the scene (well, after years of great roles on stage) in 2014 with both a big part in Gone Girl and then providing the heart and soul of Leftovers.  It’s a show that could’ve easily gotten very silly very quickly, and it kinda sorta did anyway, yet Coon absolutely grounds it with an incredible portrayal of loss.  She’s the one in the cast, after all, who was most heavily affected by the “Sudden Departure” and her performance turns it from a vaguely goofy metaphor into a very real trauma.  Ann Dowd was also great for her creepy role, and I’m still kicking myself for not going as a Guilty Remnant member for Halloween last year.  That was probably my one chance! 

Winner: Viola Davis/How To Get Away With Murder
Nominees: Claire Danes/Homeland, Taraji P. Henson/Empire, Tatiana Maslany/Orphan Black, Elisabeth Moss/Mad Men, Robin Wright/House Of Cards

My ballot: Hayley Atwell/Agent Carter, Davis, Olivia Colman/Broadchurch, Maslany, Moss, Keri Russell/The Americans
My winner: Moss

Cut-and-paste my Amy Poehler argument for Moss, who’s a multi-time Alterna-Emmy winner but was never able to break through to win an actual Emmy.  For playing Peggy Olson, one of the great TV characters of all time, Moss went a big 0-for-7 at the Emmys.  I have to ask, for a show that won four Best Drama awards, did Emmy voters really warm all that much to Mad Men?  It sounds silly, but for a show with so many great performances, the fact that Moss, Hendricks and John Slattery never won seems nutty.  Not to mention Hamm’s losing streak until this year, January Jones’ few losses and the fact that Vincent Kartheiser was somehow never so much as nominated for playing Pete Campbell.

I’m cheating again by putting Davis on my ballot since I’ve never seen the show, yet she’s one of the best actresses in the world, so I have no issue with her victory.  In a perfect world, I could’ve enjoyed it whole-heartedly had Moss picked up an Emmy in a previous year but c’est la vie.  Speaking of the overlooked, it continues to blow my mind that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys don’t have multiple Emmys on their shelves for ‘The Americans.’  For all the hype that Maslany deservedly gets for playing multiple different parts, couldn’t the same be said of Russell and Rhys, since they’re not only playing “characters” but larger over-arching singular roles?

Winner: Peter Dinklage/Game Of Thrones
Nominees: Jonathan Banks/Better Call Saul, Jim Carter/Downton Abbey, Alan Cumming/The Good Wife, Michael Kelly/House Of Cards, Ben Mendelsohn/Bloodline

My ballot: Banks, Vincent D’Onofrio/Daredevil, Kit Harington/Game Of Thrones, Kyle MacLachlan/Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Michael McKean/Better Call Saul, Nick Sandow/Orange Is The New Black
My winner: Banks

I’m fine with the Dinklage win to a point.  Dinklage as a two-time winner doesn’t look out of place at all since he’s so great at Tyrion Lannister, and even separated from his wonderful fellow Lannister scene partners, he still had a lot of good work this season — sparring with Varys again, his (admittedly one-sided) dialogues with Ser Jorah and the long-awaited meeting with Daenerys that could’ve been a 10 if Emilia Clarke was a better actress but was still a solid 8.5.  If someone had to beat Jonathan Banks, better it be Dinklage than any of the other rather lacking nominees, though I hear Mendelsohn was amazing on Bloodline.  That said, nobody deserved to beat Jonathan Banks.  The Emmy procedure of each actor submitting a single episode is kind of garbage since it hurts actors who are consistently great, yet in this case, Banks’ single episode (Five-O) was so hands-down the best that his win should’ve been a no-brainer.  Forget this being a make-good win for Banks never winning for Breaking Bad, this would’ve been the most deserving win even if Better Call Saul had been a completely original show.

McKean’s character was a new creation to the Breaking Bad-verse and yet another good performance from one of the more underrated actors of the last 35 years.  Never thought I’d nominate Harington with a straight face but he and the writers really stepped up as Jon Snow became the major force of GoT.  I want to make special note of MacLachlan for being so good that he actually made me realize that the rest of the AoS cast is pretty average.  They’re a solid bunch, don’t get me wrong, but having MacLachlan in there on a near-weekly basis really exposed a lot of actors.  Can we retroactively cast MacLachlan as Phil Coulson in the Marvel movies so we could’ve gotten him headlining this show instead?

Winner: Jon Hamm/Mad Men
Nominees: Kyle Chandler/Bloodline, Jeff Daniels/The Newsroom, Bob Odenkirk/Better Call Saul, Live Schreiber/Ray Donovan, Kevin Spacey/House Of Cards

My ballot: Charlie Cox/Daredevil, Hamm, Mads Mikkelsen/Hannibal, Odenkirk, Matthew Rhys/The Americans, Justin Theroux/The Leftovers, Aden Young/Rectify
My winner: Hamm

Holy crap, we have a match!  At long last, Jon Hamm walked away with an Emmy.  Over Hamm’s previous nominations, I can only point to 2012-13 (the infamous Jeff Daniels win) at a case where Hamm was truly robbed.  His other losses were to Bryan Cranston’s epic turn as Walter White, Kyle Chandler’s oft-overlooked role as Coach Taylor and Damian Lewis’ fantastic S1 role as Nick Brody back before Homeland went off the rails.  Chandler, Lewis and Cranston (even four times!) were all worthy winners; it was mostly just a bad of bad timing for the Hammster but he finally got one in under the wire.  Now in 30 years’ time, some blogger won’t have to include Don Draper on his list of great TV characters that never got their actors an Emmy.  This blogger may be me, stay tuned.

Since this was Mad Men’s last year, Hamm was the only completely acceptable choice.  As great as it would’ve been to see Bob Odenkirk, of all people, win a Best Actor In A Drama Emmy, he’ll still have more chances in the future since Better Call Saul will be around for a while.  Again, Rhys absolutely should’ve been a nominee three times over by now, and why not toss a couple of curveballs in there like Daredevil, Hannibal Lecter and a self-destructive cop with a lot of tattoos and possible mental illness?

Winner: Game Of Thrones
Nominees: Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Homeland, House Of Cards, Mad Men, Orange Is The New Black
My ballot: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Americans, Better Call Saul, Daredevil, Game Of Thrones, The Leftovers, Mad Men, Orange Is The New Black
My winner: Orange Is The New Black

It’s quite possible S2 will be OITNB’s peak, when the show had something interesting to do for almost all its characters and it really did perfectly broach that line between comedy and drama.  S1 didn’t quite have the kinks worked out and it was too Piper-centric, and S3 maybe got a bit too broad plot-wise and the cast too unwieldy to make the best use of so many terrific actors. 

I give it the nod over several excellent but slightly flawed shows.  As mentioned, this was GoT’s worst season, as the show’s scope finally seemed to overwhelm the writers; too many of the great characters were set up in interesting situations that ultimately didn’t pan out.  The Americans ran into a similar problem by juggling a few too many balls at once, yet the show was saved by two series-altering bombshells (no spoilers here!) that finally went off after being set up from day one.  Mad Men’s final (half?) season was a nice wrap-up but definitely a coda rather than an entity unto itself.  AoS and Daredevil were both very good adventure shows, with AoS in particular being a show that covered rather an astonishing amount of ground from its first episode to its last.  Leftovers was a well-made oddity of a program and I’m genuinely curious to see what the hell their next season will be like now that they’re no longer adhering to the original novel. 

And finally, we have Better Call Saul, the show that hopefully still be the new standard-bearer of quality in this category for years to come.  It’s maybe not probable that BCS can eclipse Breaking Bad (how could it?) yet the fact that it’s even on the table is an achievement unto itself.  Breaking Bad had to follow Walter White’s narrative arc, whereas BCS’ own arc of gradually having Jimmy become Saul is flexible enough to account for all sorts of interesting diversions.  Nobody does ‘interesting diversion’ quite like Vince Gilligan.  This is the same show that can go from legal hijinks and capers in one episode to a searing personal backstory (such as ‘Five-O’) in the next.  The first season was really built around just three actors, to boot — Odenkirk, Banks, McKean — so we’ve just scratched the surface on what the rest of the cast can do.  Just remember how rich Breaking Bad got once it moved past the Walt-and-Jesse Show and other characters were further fleshed out or (including Mike and Saul themselves) introduced.  It really felt like Better Call Saul’s first season was just setting the table, which is why I went with OITNB for my award, yet next season, I fully expect to dig into some tasty Cinnabon goodness.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Movie Dancing, Uptown Funk Style

Came for the clip of Van Damme's ridiculous dancing in Bloodsport, wasn't disappointed.  Also, is "Uptown Funk" perhaps the best song of the last three years, or is it just me?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mistress America

I could watch Greta Gerwig read a phone book*, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed “Mistress America.”  It’s a flawed movie that could’ve probably used one final script polish, yet man, Gerwig.  I’m hard-pressed to think of an actress that is both so overly performative in her acting style yet absolutely natural about it at the same time.  Her default acting style is “who would ever act like this in real life?” and then I can think of at least three people I know in hipster Toronto that absolutely act like that in real life.

* = a phone book, kids, is this big government-issued book that contained the phone numbers of everyone in the city.  Yes, this sounds impossibly convenient.  No, people couldn’t have just kept all that information in their smartphone’s address books because…sigh, never mind.

It’s quite possible she doesn’t have anything in her acting wheelhouse other than being a somewhat flaky woman living in New York or Los Angeles, but who cares.  Many a character actor has done great work with fewer arrows in their quiver.  If anything, the thought of a middle-aged Gerwig rocking the flaky city dweller persona into middle age makes me happy — can’t you see her racking up funny supporting part after funny supporting part like a modern Teri Garr?

Between this film, the great Frances Ha, and Damsels In Distress (the only one of the trio she didn’t co-write), Gerwig is carving out a niche of academic comedies.  There’s more than a bit of Woody Allen inspiration in there, but again, who cares.  Shouldn’t the world be happy that we can watch a Woody Allen-style comedy without actually having to mentally deal with Woody and all of his creepy barrage?

Allen also hasn’t written a scene in years as funny as Mistress America’s entire sequence of Brooke and the kids showing up at Mamie-Claire and Dylan’s house to more or less beg for money.  It is very, very hard to write farce, and even harder to write farce that doesn’t self-consciously acknowledge itself as farce.  This scene is not just the backbone of the movie, it almost could’ve been a movie unto itself, or at least a one-act play.  All eight (eight!) actors get multiple chances of score to wonderful lines or facial expressions, even the semi-bit part of the put-upon neighbour who at first I thought was Matthew Rhys in yet another wig but it was instead just a guy who looks like that.  Mistress America meets Mr. Russia?

Put it this way, I actually went to see the Russell Brand ‘Arthur’ remake just because Gerwig was involved.  Arthur, for god’s sakes.  (Yes, she was easily the best part of the movie.)  Greta, I’m pot-committed at this point, so please keep using your powers for good and not for…well, not evil, but ‘less good’?  How do I feel about Russell Brand?  Do I literally steal an old Mad Magazine joke and refer to him as Brand Ecch?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Einstein's Riddle

I somewhat doubt that Albert Einstein actually created this brainteaser, or that it's supposed to be any actual test of great intelligence.  After all, I got it in only 10-15 minutes, so how difficult could it really be?  #Humblebrag 

(solution is in the comments)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NFL Predictions

AFC WEST: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers
Remember that old Far Side comic where “Dick Clark suddenly ages 200 years in 30 seconds”?  I feel like that happened to Peyton Manning last November.  It could be that he was simply worn down and is no longer capable of playing a full 16 games anymore, in which case Denver could (SHOULD) be smart and parcel out his playing time to keep him fresh for the playoffs.  If Manning is completely shot, however, then this entire division is up for grabs.  K.C. should be first in line to take over as champs if Denver indeed falters, though they and the Chargers definitely have their flaws.  In fact, I think San Diego might be primed for such a letdown that I’m even picking them to finish behind the Raiders.  That’s right, I’m on the Derek Carr bandwagon!  Nothing can possibly go wrong here!

AFC EAST: Patriots, Bills, Dolphins, Jets
At this point, I’m just going to keep picking the Patriots until Tom Brady retires, Bill Belichick retires or….well, until any of the other teams get a clue.  The Dolphins are quietly one of the worst-run teams in football.  The Jets are quite publicly one of the worst-run teams in football (though new coach Todd Bowles is promising).  The Bills recently got new ownership, a decent coach, a fantastic defense…unfortunately, they’ve decided to just have a bag of leaves play quarterback for the last 10 seasons or so.  The latest bag is named Tyrod Taylor, a guy who couldn’t even beat out Joe Flacco for playing time.  I feel like all three AFC East teams could deflate the footballs as much as they want and New England would still win this division by at least three games.

AFC SOUTH: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars
Shocker!  Here’s my logic: for the last two years, people have been predicting a Colts regression and it hasn’t happened.  Now that Indianapolis has beefed itself up with veteran additions and pundits are predicting a possible Super Bowl challenge, it stands to reason that the fates will NOW intervene and hand Indy a letdown season.  I realize I’m putting way, way too much faith in a team with Brian Hoyer as its quarterback, but maybe Houston gets it all together this year with the Watt/Clowney wrecking crew in full force on the defensive line.  With Marcus Mariota at QB, the Titans will be interesting for the first time in literally seven years.  Jacksonville will continue to apparently be an NFL football team.

AFC NORTH: Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns
I feel like nothing ever changes in this division.  Baltimore is always good, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh take turns being ‘the other good team’ and ‘the semi-dangerous, semi-disappointing 8-8 team’ and Cleveland is always awful.  Rinse and repeat for this year, with the Bengals taking their signature first-round playoff loss.  There’s no more underrated injury in football than losing one’s center, so losing Maurkice Pouncey for the season will ruin the Steelers’ chances.

NFC WEST: Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers
Seattle is Seattle, still the class of the division and maybe even the NFL despite Byron Maxwell’s departure and Kam Chancellor’s holdout.  The Rams will be the usual Jeff Fisher-led mediocrity with a worthless offense, though the D looks downright scary.  The 2014 Cardinals were such a weird Twilight Zone of a team that I don’t know what to predict this year.  By all the advanced metrics, Arizona shouldn’t have been nearly as good as they were in the first half of last year, but they then had karma snap back on them like a rubber band when literally all their quarterbacks got hurt and they had to start what I believe was a guy off the street in the playoffs against Carolina.  I just think there’s too much uncertainty there, though Bruce Arians is clearly an exceptional coach.  As for the 49ers, yikes, this may have literally been the worst offseason in team history.  Since I started writing this paragraph, I think three more 49ers retired.

NFC EAST: Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington
The damn Cowboys are going 13-3 and might win home-field advantage solely because they’re in this wretched division.  The Eagles are truly going to be a disaster (I don’t buy into the Chip Kelly hype) yet they’ll still be 7-9 at worst because, you bet, they’re in this terrible division.  New York and Washington…wow, just bad.  The Jets are at least bad in a goofy way, whereas the Giants just stink under the radar.  Odell Beckham Jr’s catch was literally the most exciting thing to ever happen in Giants history, topping even the Super Bowls and Lawrence Taylor’s “pack of wild dogs” sideline rant.  Washington, meanwhile, is the worst franchise in sports.  Moving on….

NFC SOUTH: Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints
Part of me wants to pick Carolina again since I have no idea how they’ve won back-to-back divisions already, so I might as well ride the wave.  That said, this seems primed for an Atlanta bounce-back year now that Mike Smith’s Eyebrows have been fired as the Falcons’ head coach.  This’ll be the year when the Saints finally truly fall apart, and the Bucs will be mildly improved because of it (though 50 times less liable thanks to their sorry new quarterback).  I might’ve picked Carolina had Kelvin Benjamin not been lost for the year to a preseason knee injury.  Man, wouldn’t it suck to have that happen to your favourite team?

NFC NORTH: Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions
Aw dammit.  No question, losing Nelson hurts Green Bay quite a bit.  My hope is that Aaron Rodgers is just that damn good and can make any ol’ receiver into a star (there’s like an 85% chance this is the case), so the Pack’s offense won’t drop off that much.  I’m also worried since the division is overall tricky.  Not necessarily good, per se, but ‘tricky.’  The Vikings will be improved and I actually think they’ll make the postseason.  Chicago replaced CFL Charlie with an actual NFL coach, so that’ll upgrade the defense right away.  Detroit is goodish, rather than actually good; I have trouble believing the Lions can deliver back-to-back quality seasons since that hasn’t happened in 20 years.

AFC wild cards: Colts, Chiefs
NFC wild cards: Vikings, Panthers

AFC title game: Patriots over Colts.  New England wins 81-0.  The Colts discover that during the game, Tom Brady wore his socks a half-inch lower than NFL regulations dictate and then everyone argues about that for seven months.

NFC title game: Packers over Cowboys.  Dez Bryant seems to catch the game-winning touchdown as time expires but the refs call it back since his socks were a half-inch higher than NFL regulations.  I laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Super Bowl 50
: It only makes sense that an anniversary Super Bowl should feature the Green Bay Packers, the greatest franchise in football history, defeating the modern-day dynasty from New England.  Am I a giant homer for making such an obvious Super Bowl pick?  Yes.  On the flip side, if you consider that 50 in roman numerals is ‘L,’ and L is for loser, then logically the Super Bowl should be something like Lions vs. Browns.  Can you even imagine that matchup?  I think the halftime show of a Lions/Browns Super Bowl would just be David Byrne singing the “This is not my beautiful house!  This is not my beautiful wife!” lyrics from ‘Once In A Lifetime’ over and over again.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Hey Baby I Hear Harley's A-Callin'...

It's probably not a good sign that the Joker and I have the same tastes in television.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Other People's Writing

This month’s OPW is headlined by a powerful piece by my old university friend Shannon Proudfoot, telling the story of a young couple dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Tremendously moving stuff.

* Here’s the latest of those ultra-specially formatted long-form pieces Grantland runs every few months, this one by David Samuels focused on the long history of the Gracie family’s involvement in (and creation of) Brazilian ju-jitsu and mixed martial arts.  Kudos to the person who got the idea for linking the names throughout the story to the family tree menu on the left side of the page so it was easier to keep track of everything; this was incredibly convenient.  While Samuels’ piece is tremendous and covers a lot of ground, there’s just so much story to be told about all the Gracies throughout history that this piece still feels like just the tip of the iceberg.  That tidbit about a distant relative designing Gracie Mansion (the official mayor’s residence in New York City) was super-cool.

* The story of two twin brothers (naturally) who have owned for decades, as told by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh.  They’ve hung onto the domain name despite repeated attempts from MLB to purchase it for the Twins’ official website, though the brothers seem open to the idea under a more specific set of negotiations. 

* Grantland’s “Tom Cruise Week” was more than a little overblown, as nobody needed more than a dozen pieces examining the career of a guy who is (let’s be honest) a one-note character actor who just happens to be a) a huge star and b) is admittedly very good at playing that one note.  One of the more interesting pieces of the bunch, however, was Amos Barshad’s look at how the Cruise/Nicole Kidman marriage dynamic was both examined and impacted by their roles in Eyes Wide Shut.  I think I could read about Stanley Kubrick’s weird directorial tendencies all day long, though that being said, I have zero interest in ever seeing EWS again.  I’m sure that 33-year-old me would see the film with more depth than 18-year-old Mark did, yet man, did I ever think that movie stunk.

* A real eye-opener from Grantland’s Jordan Ritter Conn about the Legends Football League (better known as the Lingerie Football League).  The players put themselves through a physical grind for no pay (literally) and more-than-vaguely sexist working conditions all for the love of competition.  Consider how the NFL is only starting to be scrutinized for its practices and you’ll get an idea of how the LFL operates.

* Grantland’s Shea Serrano looks at how he would’ve performed in several famous “hero dad” moments from movies.  He left out Marty McFly braving the perils of time travel to save his punk son from participating in a robbery; I don’t think I would’ve tried that for all the hoverboard time in the world.