Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Other People's Writing

* Stephen Rodrick of The New Yorker profiles casting director Allison Jones, one of the true unsung heroes of comedy over the last 20 years.  Her keen eye for talent will only be further proven once I finally get my audition reel together.  It’s 10 minutes of “what if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arnold Palmer were the same person?  I think it would go a little bit like this…”

* Since legendary documentarian Errol Morris directed a few 30-for-30 shorts for ESPN, Grantland celebrated him with an entire ‘Errol Morris Week’ series of pieces about his life and career, including this look at his advertising work by Mike Powell.  This was a pretty mind-blowing read…I consider myself an Errol Morris fan and have enjoyed a number of his films, most notably the incredible “Thin Blue Line” yet I had no idea that a) I’d been watching Morris commercials for much of my life and b) he’d directed such an incredible number of ads for such a variety of companies. 

* Grantland’s Bryan Curtis writes about the relationship between the Oklahoma City Thunder and their local reporters, which is sort of a microcosm of how every relationship between journalists and the athletes/teams they cover is changing in response to overall changes in the media landscape.  This was a particularly great piece from my own perspective as a writer, yet I’d be interested to know what others think…was it a little too naval-gazing, or did Curtis (as I suspect) excel at making a bit of an insider topic very accessible and relatable to all?

* More from Bryan Curtis, this one a wonderful tribute to the late Dave Goldberg, a long-time NFL writer for the Associated Press.  Goldberg wrote hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful pieces for the AP that went uncredited and a total pro about it, unlike my when I received my first Canadian Press assignment early in my career and excitedly told my mom to watch for it in the next day’s newspaper.  Much to my chagrin, when I cockily opened the paper the next day, my byline was nowhere to be found (wire stories only run bylines about half the time).  Sigh.

* Liam Neeson’s “action-dad” performances are ranked by Grantland’s Holly Anderson.  I’d argue that “Love Actually” is a glaring omission from this list; Liam spends that whole movie trying to help his young son literally get some action from his school crush!  Well, not actually “action” in the grown-up sense, maybe just a kiss or holding hands on the bus.

* More lists!  This one is from Grantland’s Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano, teaming up to decide the greatest fictional basketball player of all time.  I think Ripley got a bit of a raw deal here…based on that shot alone, she had to be at least top-five.  Sure, we never got to see how she’d fare at anything other than long range, but c’mon, after spending four movies battling Alien xenomorphs, I’m pretty sure she could handle a zone defense. 

* Even more lists!  The Grierson & Leitch film reviewing duo rank all of Will Ferrell’s movies according to “their maximizing of Ferrell’s essence.  Which movie best captures the Will Ferrell experience?”  By that token, their top choices are impossible to argue, though I’d say that by omitting his cameo appearances in certain films, they’re ignoring Ferrell’s utility as a comic microwave.  Just throw him in a scene, let him do something funny to perk it up, and he can quickly leave ‘em laughing.  (SNL used him in this capacity countless times.)  This list is also a bit of an eye-opener since, without cameos, it’s hard to believe that Ferrell has only been in MAYBE ten good movies in his life, yet those ten are all incredible. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Did you know that the whole idea of sleeping a full night is a fairly modern concept?  Until 400 hundred years ago or so, people used to have first and second sleeps; they’d still get roughly eight hours of sleep, but break it up into two chunks over the course of a night.  So it’d be four hours sleeping, then two or so hours of whatever (praying, eating, or the popular option, sex) and then back to bed for four more hours of sleep. 

I bring this up since perhaps my Shakespeare-reading is turning me into a resident of the 16th century, as I’ve been having some thoroughly weird sleeping patterns over the last few weeks.  I’ll go to bed, then wake up maybe 4-5 hours later completely rested.  I’ll get up, do my business, and then get extremely tired again in the afternoon and take an extended four hour nap.  How long is a nap before it’s “sleeping” and not just a nap?  Four hours has to be a bit over the cutoff point, no?

This habit has gotten annoying for a few reasons, namely that it’s wrecking my social schedule.  For instance, one recent day saw me go to bed at 2am and wake up fresh as a daisy at 5:30.  Try as I did to fall back to sleep, I couldn’t, so after an hour or so of tossing and turning I just woke up and hit the computer, did some reading, had a surprisingly full day.  My plan for that night was to go to a movie, but that was before the late-afternoon sleepiness kicked in.  Around 5pm I laid down for a quick catnap, only to wake up at 10:30pm, my moviegoing window thoroughly closed.  What the hell, REM?  As you’l note by the timestamp on this post, my problem is ongoing.

Hopefully I get this figured out before my work schedule picks up over the next few weeks and I have to start being places at specific times on a regular basis (you know, like a grownup).  Either that or else I fully embrace life in the 1600’s and just start using a chamberpot.  Nobody wants this to happen. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

History Of Hanks

I'm not sure if I'm cottoning onto James Corden's show, as in general, I do prefer chat shows that are actually chat shows (or, even better, 'conversational' chat shows like Craig Ferguson) rather than Fallon-esque "hey everybody, let's play games!" type of programs.  That said, this bit with Tom Hanks was pretty great.  Like a true pro, Hanks even went up an octave when voicing his early-80's roles.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Choir Choir Choir Sings Pride Pride Pride

Choir Choir Choir, Toronto's crowdsourced choral group, recently performed U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" on St. Patrick's Day.  It was lovely!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cymbeline (Shakespeare Re-Read #14)

My experience with “Cymbeline” is essentially the reason I started this re-read project in the first place.  It’s a play I knew virtually nothing about aside from its place in Shakespeare’s canon, so I went into it totally cold and came out warm as a woodstove thanks to this hidden masterpiece.  I still have a long ways to go before I finish all the plays (fingers crossed for 2018!), yet there’s a very good chance that Cymbeline might go down as the winner of my Most Underrated Shakespeare Play award.  The trophy, since you asked, is a gold bust of my head with an expression on my face that implies, “Hmm, hey, this ain’t half bad,” sort of like when you order coffee at a lousy diner and are expecting the worst, yet when you actually take a sip, you can’t help react positively due to the exceeded expectations.  I’m talking to my sculptor about adding in some kind of animatronic gizmo to the bust so it can give a little head nod, but that’s up in the air due to budget concerns.  Stay tuned.

Anyway, back to the play, this sprawling, ridiculous, tonally everywhere gem of a play.  Many critics and scholars have pointed out (both positively and negatively) that Cymbeline almost like a Shakespearean greatest hits package all wrapped up into one play.  It’s a history, a comedy, disguised identities, magic, royal treachery, deceptive villains, long-lost family members, leaping from ancient England to 16th-century Italy with no explanation, deus ex machina, high drama, low farce, about four different plots weaving around at the same time.  It’s basically everything except a tragedy, which is weird since it’s listed in the ‘tragedy’ section of the First Folio.  Basically all I knew about Cymbeline going in was that it was a tragedy, so I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop during that interminable final scene — was the heretofore happy ending going to be ruined by someone suddenly dying out of nowhere?  Was, like, Cloten going to ride in a la the Headless Horseman and stab Innogen* through the heart?

* = depending on which text you read, the lead character’s name is either Innogen or Imogene, the latter of which admittedly makes more sense to modern eyes.  I’m sticking with Innogen since that’s how it appeared in my copy of the play, as much as this usage annoys my word processor’s spellcheck. 

Instead, everyone lives happily ever after, which is probably for the best given how ending on a down note after such a sprawling tale would be an especial downer.  I’ve always had a theory that, if you just removed Cordelia’s death, ‘King Lear’ would work as a fantastic comedy, and I feel like Cymbeline is somewhat a version of that.  Actually, the better comparison would be to the second half of The Winter’s Tale, when Shakespeare takes a sharp right turn after the tauntly tragic buildup of the first two acts and change and then goes completely bonkers on us with farce and magic.  Cymbeline is like that second half writ large.

In a way, the tragic “half” of the story has already taken place as we enter the play.  As the two gentlemen recap things for us* in the first scene, Cymbeline is unwittingly married to a horrid Queen, Innogen and Posthumus aren’t allowed to be together and Posthumus has gotten himself banished, and the odious Cloten is lurking around like a prize jackass.  Things are at a low point in England, and the rest of the play will slowly restore things back to order.

* = well, really, it’s just the First Gentleman who does all the recapping while the Second Gentleman literally just says things like “why so?” and “what’s the matter?”  Talk about a thankless role; the First Gentleman might as well be talking on the phone.  We don’t get any background on the two gentlemen though presumably the second guy is an out-of-towner…though it’d be funnier if he was also in Cymbeline’s court and simply had no idea about anything that had gone on in his country over the last 20 years.  Maybe the First Gentleman can deliver all the lines in a, “seriously??  Get a clue, man” tone of voice.

And I do mean slowly, as one of the play’s flaws is that more than a few scenes seem unnecessarily long.  There are more than a few scenes that take 100 lines to say what could be said in 10, as Shakespeare gets a bit carried away with the flowery verse (particularly with the two lost princes in the literally-flowery woodland area of Wales).  I guess if you’re taking every play you’ve ever written, throwing it into a blender and seeing what happens, you’re bound to end up with a few indigestible chunks.

That being said, there’s certainly evidence that Shakespeare is in on the joke.  There’s so much plot involved that the opening scene is literally just the two gentlemen getting everyone up to speed, and the final scene is a whopping 571 lines of the characters finally figuring everything out.  I don’t criticize the play too much for this given that comic denouements generally aren’t Shakespeare’s strong points, and by their very nature tend to be information dumps.  In performance, however, the sheer volume of the revelations coming one after the other is almost always played for laughs.  If everything in the play is already turned up to 11, Shakespeare presumably figured that the ending might as well be similarly overstuffed.

Given the scope of this text, Innogen is something of an incredible role, as she’s the common thread that binds all of these divergent storylines together.  It demands an extraordinary amount of work for an actress to capture her basic innocence, yet also all of her mood swings, and on top of that, how she’s constantly adapting herself to different circumstances as the play develops.  In the beginning she’s essentially a generic love interest; as the scenes roll on, she morphs into aspects of Cleopatra, Desdemona, Juliet, Viola and Isabella all wrapped into one.  You can make a case for her as Shakespeare’s best female character since, as noted, she’s sort of ALL Shakespeare’s best female characters.  (To boot, the Queen is also sort of a poor man’s version of Lady Macbeth.)

Continuing with the “greatest hits” theme, there’s a scholarly theory that Posthumus Leonatus is actually the Leonato from “Much Ado About Nothing,” whose character is married to an unseen/unheard ‘ghost character’ named Innogen.  This is probably not true for various logical reasons, since surely you’d think that after all of the craziness that goes on in this play, Leonato would’ve been much more attuned to figuring out the (comparatively) much simpler deceptions of MAAN.

As noted, I didn’t know anything about Cymbeline as a play, so it’s kind of ironic that I read this sprawling ramshackle directly after Macbeth, which is the definition of a short, tightly-plotted read.  These two plays are totally dissimilar except for their shared goal in completely rewriting actual history.  Just as Shakespeare’s Macbeth had virtually nothing to do with the life of the actual former king of Scotland, King Cymbeline has even less in common with Cunobeline, the ancient Kings of the Britons from 2000 years ago.  In fact, he’d probably be completely forgotten to history today were it not for the fact that Shakespeare decided to take his and his sons’ names and work them into a story that bears no resemblance to facts.  Are these two rulers arguing over this in the afterlife?

Macbeth: I’m the subject of one of the most popular plays of all time, while only the nerdiest of Shakespeare bloggers have even HEARD of your play.

Cunobeline: Your play paints you as a psychotic tyrant. 

Macbeth: Well….uh, there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

Cunobeline: Nice try.

Macbeth: Oh yeah?  Your character goes to war with the Roman Empire over refusal to pay them a 3000-pound tribute, wins the war and then DECIDES TO PAY THE TRIBUTE ANYWAY, just to keep things cool.  I’m sure all the English soldiers who laid down their lives in the battle were just thrilled to hear about that.   

Cunobeline: You listen to witches!

Macbeth: People know how to pronounce my name!

Cunobeline: Ed Harris played me!

Macbeth: Ed Harris?!  I’ve been played by Orson Welles, Toshiro Mifune and Michael Fassbender, and the best you’ve got is the coach from “Radio”?  You’re not even one of the eight or nine most important characters in your own play!

Cunobeline: My son-in-law knows Jupiter!

Annnnnnnd scene.  If you thought this little skit went on just a little too long, that’s essentially what it’s like reading Cymbeline.  It’s the “Cloud Atlas” of Shakespeare plays, which is great if you (like me) loved Cloud Atlas for all of its bombastic audacity.  Cymbeline is Shakespeare just openly screwing around with his readers, his audience and with every dramatic trope in the book, including the ones he himself helped create.  I loved it all, and I hope I discover a half-dozen more plays in the canon just like it.

On a final note, let’s tip our caps to the unsung comic superstar of the play, Cloten’s Second Lord.  I haven’t seen a character so thoroughly devoted to snarky one-liners since that guy from the Airplane! movie.  Cloten is such a buffoon that he’s hard to take seriously despite all his threats of malice (he’s more or less the Theon Greyjoy of the Cymbeline universe), and it’s all thanks to the Second Lord taking him down about a thousand pegs in funny aside after funny aside.  Godspeed, Second Lord.  I wish you were providing MST3K-style commentary throughout all of Shakespeare’s plays.



14. Pericles
13. The Taming Of The Shrew
12. Antony & Cleopatra
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 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!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The 51 Best Johnny Cash "American Recordings" Songs

This was originally going to be ‘The Best Johnny Cash Songs,’ but such a project might simply be beyond me.  I’m a big Cash fan but even I can’t sort though 50 years of recordings, covers, albums, EPs to find the best of his best.  To whittle it down, I’ve stuck to the six “American Recordings” records Cash made late in his career with Rick Rubin, as well as a couple of tracks from the “Unearthed” box set from these sessions.  (I really need to track that full box set down, since several of the tracks I’ve heard from that collaboration are awesome, including a couple of songs that made the top-13 on this list.)

Anyway, Johnny Cash!  What’s left to be said about a capital-L legend like the Man In Black?  He’s among the most beloved musical stars of all time, and I daresay perhaps the most respected.  He had such an air of humble authority about him that can perhaps be summed up by my friend Misha’s description of Cash’s “Personal Jesus” cover.  As Misha put it, “Cash’s version is dead serious.  Like, ‘Look, if you call me (literally) on the phone I will answer and put you through to God…and you will be a believer.’ “  It’s hard to pull off this kind of rock-solid credibility in music, though it helped that Cash’s unbelievable voice actually sounded like God (or a space coyote) delivering advice.

As always with these lists, I’m basing my ranking on personal preference.  If you asked me to re-rank things again tomorrow, the list could be quite different since all of these songs are pretty awesome.  I cut it off as #51 since after that, it started getting into ‘good but not great’ territory and we only have the creme de la creme around here.  If you have a favourite Cash/American Recordings track that I didn’t include, pretend it was number #52 and that I hemmed and hawed for hours before painfully excluding it.

Also, if you’re looking over the names of these songs and wondering, “wait, Johnny Cash did a cover of THAT?” then the answer is yes he did, and it’s even more awesome than you imagine.

Enjoy the list!

51. Tear Stained Letter
50. Bird On A Wire
49. Why Me Lord?
48. You Are My Sunshine
47. Like The 309
46. I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now
45. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
44. Down There By The Train
43. Big Iron
42. Further On Up The Road
41. Let The Train Blow The Whistle
40. Drive On
39. Rose Of My Heart
38. Four Strong Winds
37. Redemption Day
36. Delia’s Gone
35. Streets Of Laredo
34. Love’s Been Good To Me
33. Personal Jesus
32. I’m Leaving Now
31. Rowboat
30. Wayfaring Stranger
29. Before My Time
28. Like A Soldier
27. In My Life
26. One
25. Bridge Over Troubled Water
24. Unchained
23. The Man Comes Around
22. Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
21. I Won’t Back Down
20. If You Could Read My Mind
19. Mary Of The Wild Moor
18. On The Evening Train
17. God’s Gonna Cut You Down
16. We’ll Meet Again
15. Rusty Cage
14. Desperado
13. Father And Son
12. Thirteen
11. Nobody
10. Spiritual
9. I’ve Been Everywhere
8. Ain’t No Grave
7. Solitary Man
6. Redemption Song
5. I See A Darkness
4. Sea Of Heartbreak
3. The Mercy Seat
2. Hurt
1. I Hung My Head

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hot! Live! Music!

Stevie Wonder, “Overjoyed”
A clip from Stevie’s legendary Saturday Night Live appearance in 1983.  This show was also notable for the hilarious skit where Stevie plays a Steve Wonder impersonator at an audition, then intentionally does two crappy takes on his own songs.  On his last chance, he busts out a pitch-perfect version of “My Cherie Amour,” which might’ve been even more gorgeous than the following song.  After the audience goes nuts, Eddie Murphy waits a beat for the applause to die down…then tells Stevie it was terrible.

Amy Winehouse, “Valerie”
How have I lived my whole life not knowing that this is actually a Zutons cover?!?!  The Zutons are a pretty obscure British rock band from the early 2000s, known only to me since I reviewed one of their albums for my school newspaper.  The record was pretty good too, though “Valerie” wasn’t on it.  For reference’s sake, here’s the original version, and with all due respect to the Zutons, Amy Winehouse grabs the original by the hair and throws it over the top rope. 

Radiohead, “Nobody Does It Better”
Speaking of new versions of old songs, that’s right, this is Radiohead covering a Carly Simon James Bond theme song.  We just passed the 20th anniversary of ‘The Bends,’ which should make you feel super-old.  Watching early 1990’s Radiohead is SO WEIRD.  It’s like a completely different band, or like it’s a Radiohead cover band trying to imitate that it would sound like if Radiohead covered Carly Simon.

Florence & The Machine, “Take Care”
Hell, let’s keep the cover train rolling with F & TM covering Drake.  Florence’s new album is out in June, I’m excited!  And the Raptors could potentially still be alive in the playoffs in June (admittedly if a lot of things break right), so maybe this could become their postseason fight song!  It’s a real toe-tapper!  On another note, is “take care” a douchey and dismissive way of saying goodbye to someone?  I say it all the time when ending phone calls or parting ways with people without a second thought, but my ex-girlfriend called me on it.  Am I crazy?  (Note, I didn't say "take care" when we broke up, since that absolutely would've been a dick move.)  Admittedly, Jerry Seinfeld already cited ‘take care now’ as a bad idea years ago.

The Beatles, “Twist And Shout”
One of the rare Beatles live performances that isn’t ruined by high-pitched shrieking throughout, this is from their 1963 gig at the Royal Variety Show.  It was somewhat of a more high-class crowd that included both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, hence Lennon’s cheeky little dig about rattling jewelry.  The Beatles always had to play this song last in their sets since it just destroyed Lennon’s voice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Audition

After years of drama classes, high school skits and generally just being a big film/theatre/TV guy, I considered myself something of a budding actor.  Notice that there’s nothing in there about being able to sing or dance, yet despite that and in flagrant disregard for Meat Loaf’s advice, I decided that one out of three wasn’t bad, so I ended up auditioning for my high school’s production of “Blood Brothers” in grade 12.

My school put on a big musical every two years, and since we were known as one of the more dramatically-accomplished (or, in layman’s terms, “artsy-fartsy”) schools in the city, there were no half-assed operations.  These were big productions that required months of rehearsals, requiring the actual process for the 1998-99 show to actually begin the auditioning process during the 1997-98 school year.  So here was little* grade-11 Mark, with three years of drama under his belt, confidently strutting into the auditorium for my big try-out.

* = yet already prematurely balding.  Sigh.

Well, technically, the first part of the big moment happened a few days earlier.  The audition was split into two parts: singing/monologue and then a separate dancing session to go over a few basic moves and just to weed out the completely-uncoordinated of the bunch.  Uh, *raises hand.*

While the singing and acting portion was held after school, the dancing auditions were actually scheduled during lunch breaks, so various groups of us filed onto the stage during our assigned times.  I’d been told that these dancing auditions were very basic and not at all a big deal; the director was hardly expecting Broadway-caliber steps from a bunch of high schoolers, and “Blood Brothers” didn’t have many (or really any, as I recall) numbers that required elaborate choreography.  So I figured this would be more or less a breeze, as I strolled onto the stage…

…wearing just my normal school clothes.  You see, I thought this was going to be such a total snap that I wouldn’t even need to change.  Uh, not exactly.  So on this stage, you had a bunch of kids in shorts and t-shirts, a few girls in full leotards, and then one prematurely-balding clod trying to dance in jeans, a turtleneck and a Maple Leafs jersey.  My outfit was so poorly-thought out that I remember it to this day.  I mean, a TURTLENECK.  Not even a t-shirt to help alleviate the inevitable flop sweat.

And yeah, there was plenty of that.  Between my layers of clothing, the hot stage lights, moving around for 30 minutes and the overall feeling of not knowing what the hell I was doing, I was sweating buckets by the end of the audition.  On the bright side, I hadn’t broken either of my own ankles, nor had I clumsily fallen and knocked three other kids into the orchestra pit or anything, but still, Gene Kelly was rolling in his grave.  (Not a full 360 degrees, but probably a solid 270.)  Even better, I had a class immediately after the audition, and the class was literally as far away from the auditorium as possible — if our school was a clock, the auditorium was at seven o’clock and my next class was at one o’clock, and up a floor to boot.  So I had to hustle just to make it in time, and then sat there sweating like a hog until at least halfway through the class.  God help the poor souls sitting around me that day.

But ANYWAY, I didn’t figure this dance audition had sunk my chances of making the show.  Like I said, the dancing was not a major component of the show, and the singing & monologue portion was my time to shine.  Acting-wise, I was….in hindsight, only okay, though at the time, I thought I was pretty hot shit.  I could memorize lines, I could more or less adapt any part to the mannerisms of various pro wrestlers and/or Monty Python characters, and my voice was at least loud enough to project, even if enunciation wasn’t my bag.  I’ll never forget having a front-row seat to a Stratford production of King Lear and seeing just how much spittle Christopher Plummer and company projected while delivering their lines.  If I’d been sitting closer to center-stage, I would’ve needed to wear a plastic blanket like I was seeing the Evil Dead musical.

And as for singing, well, my deep (for an eleventh-grader) voice had been compared to that of a young Johnny Cash or Eddie Vedder.  I was the one making the comparison, but still.  After all, I was the son of a Sweet Adeline, surely vocalization was in my blood.  Yes, that’s how that works.

So I show up with around 10-12 other kids the night of the audition, and the way it worked was, you had to sing a couple of minutes’ worth of your song and then deliver a memorized monologue of roughly 3-4 minutes in length.  When my name was called, I walked onto the stage with no shortage of overconfidence, only halting to notice that the previous auditionee had an accompanist.

Ok, so, this was a setback.  Since I play piano myself, I’d just assumed I could handle both playing and singing at the same time, like a modern-day Billy Joel.  It only occurred to me at the moment that, yeah, having an accompanist would’ve made things a lot easier.  The directors didn’t give a damn if I could play like Beethoven himself as long as I couldn’t sing, and clearly my singing could be affected by my note-reading at the same time.  I was a passable singer and a decent pianist, but doing both at once is a skill unto itself.

Which, of course, I realized when I straight-up fumbled turning to the next page of sheet music.  My sausage fingers turned two pages at once, so I had to stop the song altogether, turn to the right page and continue on.  It took maybe five seconds, yet felt like about an hour of dead time in that auditorium.  The song, incidentally, was “Music Of The Night” from Phantom Of the Opera, since just to compound things, I’d chosen a song that was tough to just stop and start at will.

But STILL.  As any actor would tell you, staying positive is a key to the audition process.  As long as the giant cartoon hook hadn’t dragged me off-stage yet, I was still alive.  Singing, feh.  Dancing, meh.  The ACTING [/Lovitz] was where I’d really bring the goods.  It was time for the monologue.

Now, at this point I should specify that there weren’t many rules applied to this audition for the monologue portion.  For the song, you could only pick a choice from certain Broadway shows since they were testing if you could sing in a “big musical” style rather than seeing if you could, say, sing a Gregorian chant.  The monologue, though, was pretty open in terms of choices.  Hindsight being 20-20, you could say I should’ve chosen a monologue from an actual stage show, or from some classic dramatic work, or basically anything appropriate.

Instead, I chose Dave Foley’s “positive attitude towards menstruation” monologue from Kids In The Hall.

Now, ok, let me try to explain this.  I probably shouldn’t have needed 20-20 hindsight to see that this wasn’t a great idea.  At the time, I was really into the KITH, watching the reruns on the Comedy Network every day and faithfully taking note of certain routines.  In fact, my looking up Foley’s exact words on a Kids In The Hall website might’ve been the first time I’d ever used the internet as that kind of a pop culture resource.  It’s a good thing I already knew of a KITH with a searchable database for reference, otherwise I would’ve done an Altavista search for “Kids + menstruation” and probably been traumatized for life.

In fairness to the wonderful Dave Foley, it’s a good and funny monologue.  My delivery of it was actually pretty solid.  The only issue was, coming off a heels of a lacklustre song and a mediocre dance, I needed a home run monologue, and what I got was a ground rule double that bounced over the wall and into questionable territory. 

The two directors watching the audition in the seats were a) my school’s rather religious music teacher and b) the outgoing, if persnickety, drama teacher.  I didn’t hear a peep from the music teacher, unless “mortified” is a sound.  The drama teacher laughed, yet I’ve heard enough laughter in my time to be able to identify the different types.  It wasn’t “oh man, this kid is killing it!” laughter, it was “oh man, why did this kid think telling period jokes for four minutes was a good idea?”  It was a classic reaction of five-points for chutzpah, minus 100 points for judgement.

It also didn’t occur to me under afterwards that I was auditioning with a monologue about menstruation for a show called Blood Brothers.  I pictured the two directors afterwards just sitting there in bafflement asking each other “what does Mark think this show is about?”

So, long story short, I didn’t get a part.  (I’ll pause for a moment while you recover from your shock.)  It was a bummer.  I wasn’t expecting a starring role or anything, both due to my lack of headlining talent and more practical matters; the two leads in Blood Brothers are supposed to be twins, and there weren’t many other balding, 5’10” 16-year-olds up for parts.  Still, even a bit role in the chorus was all I was hoping for, just to be part of the show, part of the fun, and to meet girls, which would not have been the last entry if I was ranking those reasons in order. 

And who knows, perhaps being in a school show would’ve transformed me from a lower-level drama kid into a full-fledged Drama Kid who started wearing fedoras to school and dropping references to Albee plays.  Maybe I could’ve awakened some theatrical beast inside me and Blood Brothers would’ve been my big break, leading to a career on stage and screen.  I could’ve won a Gemini Award, dammit!  I could’ve been a supporting character on a CBC sitcom that would’ve run for eight years despite never been watched by a viewer under the age of 50 years old.  Oh, to dream, to dream.

This is why I don’t have a positive attitude towards auditions.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Spider-Verse: The Movie

There’s been a lot of discussion about how exactly Marvel is going to incorporate Spider-Man into their cinematic universe now that they’ve (partially) regained the movie rights to the character, but it’s clear that yet another reboot of the franchise is coming.  Having our third different Spidey within a nine-year span seems like overkill, yet there’s really no other way around it given the overall disappointment of the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield Spider-films.

Unless, that is, Marvel adopts my brilliant idea to turn into the skid by both giving the franchise its necessary reboot, AND acknowledging Spider-Man’s recent movie history AND winking at the silliness of movie reboots in the first place.  My idea?  Adapt the “Spider-Verse” storyline into the new Spidey movie that’s being released in 2017.

For non-comic nerds, a brief recap of “Spider-Verse,” the storyline that has been taking up the Spidey comics for the better part of the last year.  (Also, here’s a link to the long recap.)  What’s happening is that there’s a villain named Morlun who feeds on people’s life-forces, essentially just sucking the life right out of them, and he and his entire family have developed a particular obsession with Spider-Man since he’s defeated them in the past.  Morlun’s family gain the ability to travel between alternate realities, and in each one, they’re attacking that reality’s version of Spider-Man, killing many of them along the way.  Eventually, several different versions of Spidey team up to defeat Morlun and company.

The cleverest part of this storyline is that Marvel has had so many ‘alternate’ Spider-Men (and Women) in so many various ongoing comics and continuities over the years, it’s quite a trip to see them all gathered together.  In other cases, it’s quite a trip just to see some taken semi-seriously, a la Spider-Ham.  While it’s technically a serious storyline given how Morlun and company are, y’know, butchering all these Spider-people, there’s also lots of room for comedy given how “every” Spider-Man in every form of media is involved.

For instance, those old Spider-Man Hostess Twinkies ads?

Man alive.  I award ten No-Prizes to whomever came up with that idea.  A movie tie-in has also sort of happened within the storyline, as two of Morlun’s other victims were versions of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield who literally were Spider-Man in their realities, not just actors playing Spidey.  This is so meta is hurts.

Anyway, the simplified “Spider-Verse” movie would be a simplified version of this story, with the various Spideys of various films, TV series and whatnot all joining together to stop the Morlun family, with the final result being that the new Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spidey is the one whose reality we’ll follow into the next set of movies.  On the one hand, there’s the danger that this new Spidey will be overshadowed by the sheer scope of this film and the other Spider-actors involved….yet it also takes some of the pressure off this kid right away.

The cast!

* The new MCU version of Spider-Man!
* Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man!  His aging could simply be explained by how years have passed in ‘his’ reality since Spider-Man 3, or it could not be an issue since Maguire never seems to age.
* Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane!  A key part of the film as she realizes that MJ/Peter are an item in virtually every reality, perhaps renewing her faith in their marriage if she and Tobey are having issues in a subplot.  She could also comfort…
* Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man!  He’s already depressed over Gwen’s death, and now he has all these Morlun attacks to deal with.  He’s even more weirded out when he encounters…
* Emma Stone as Spider-Gwen!  One of the highlights of the comic storyline was the introduction of ‘Spider-Gwen,’ from a reality where Gwen is the one bitten by the radioactive spider.  To simplify things, you can just have this Gwen be the reverse-version of Garfield, as she’s getting over her Peter being killed by the Green Goblin.
* J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson! This is a must.  Nuff said.
* James Franco, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Topher Grace, Rhys Ifans, etc.  Basically, everyone who played villains in the earlier Spidey movies could have cameos as representatives of “the reality Harry Osborn got bitten by the spider” or “the reality where Otto Octavius got bitten by the spider,” etc.
* Martin Sheen as Spider-Ben!  You guessed it, from the reality where Uncle Ben is the one bitten by the spider.
* Sally Field or Rosemary Harris as Spider-May!  You guessed it, from the reality where Aunt May is the one bitten by the spider.  Field is probably the likelier candidate though it would be awesome to see 90-year-old Rosemary Harris as a superhero.
* Some teen actress as Spider-Girl!  In the comics, Spider-Girl is from an alternate reality where Peter and Mary Jane have a daughter, and she inherits Peter’s powers and becomes a hero herself.  Could be a key role to get all of the various Spider-people on the same page, as she represents hope for the future.
* Jeremy Renner as Spider-Hawkeye!  Since we need at least one other notable Marvel Cinematic Universe cameo, throw in an alternate-reality Avenger.  I picked Renner since Hawkeye is easily the least-used hero of the bunch.
* Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh and a host of British actors as Morlun and his family.  There are eight members of Clan Morlun in the comics, yet to make things easier for the movie, we can only give a few of them major roles and the lesser siblings can be dispatched by the lesser Spider-characters.  I mention Redmayne and Branagh specifically since they’ve both gone on record as saying they’d like to get into a Marvel movie.  Cast Redmayne as Morlun, Branagh as his disapproving father, get them both into the mood for this goofy movie by telling them to go into whole-on Jupiter Ascending/Wild Wild West-esque overacting and let them run wild.

Beyond these roles, you can also introduce Miles Morales (the Ultimate universe Spidey), Pavitr Prabhakar (India’s Spidey), Miguel O’Hara (Spidey 2099) either just as international variety or to set them up for future movies, especially Miles.  And then you have the comedy bits, oh my god, the comedy bits.  Imagine….

* 60 seconds of animation in the style of the 60’s Spider-Man cartoon with this Spidey being killed by an animated Morlun.
* 60 seconds of animation in the style of the “Spectacular Spider-Man” series, having this Spidey get killed by an animated Morlun.
* 60 seconds of Simpsons animation featuring Morlun killing Spider-Pig.
* 60 seconds of Morlun edited into the super-crappy 1977 Spider-Man movie, killing that version of Spidey.  Nicholas Hammond is still alive, so give him a cameo too!
* 60 seconds of Morlun showing up on the set of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark and having him kill the actor starring as Spidey.  Or, even better, the actor just falls to his death due to faulty wiring, and Morlun just shrugs his shoulders and leaves.  Cameo opportunity for Bono and the Edge!

The possibilities here really are endless.  The entire film can be a love letter to 55 years of Spider-Man in pop culture, and most importantly, the movie can be FUN.  That’s the one element that has been drastically missing from every modern Spider-Man movie, which is that Spidey is a wise-cracking smart-aleck.  Sure, there’s a lot of tragedy and dark elements to his history, but at the end of the day, he’s still the “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.”  Aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy, I guess, It would carve out a special niche within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and for comic book movies as a whole) if Spidey becomes the overtly comic and meta representative of the whole bunch.  Spider-Man is Marvel’s signature character, so his movies should stand out from the pack — you can have him involved with the Avengers, sure, but he should ultimately stand alone as an entity unto himself.

If someone at Marvel wants to send me a seven-figure cheque, I can get cracking on this script right away.  Just say the word!

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Seam Vs. The Bottleneck

I’ve written before about the lovely little seam of usually lightly-trafficked roadways that has been known to appear near my place, yet sadly, the seam is slowly becoming only a dream.  The problem is a bottleneck that happens on Richmond Street just before University Ave.  The city, in its infinite wisdom, decided to turn the four-lane Richmond into three lanes plus a bicycle lane.

Now, I’m all for bike lanes.  Though I’m not a cyclist myself and don’t even know how to ride a bike, I certainly understand the….

…what’s that?  Oh, you don’t want to just skip by that weird little factoid about myself?  Yeah, never really learned how to ride a bicycle.  Tried it a couple of times as a kid, it didn’t take, so here I am, far too old to learn.  My primary form of transportation as a kid was my Big Wheels, which sadly isn’t an option when you’re a grown man, which is HORSECRAP.  If only adult Big Wheels were socially acceptable.

Anyway, back to the bike lanes.  As I was saying, I’m all for bike lanes in the proper locations, yet Richmond/University is not one of those locations.  The problem is that the “four-lane road” was essentially always a three-laner to begin with.  The left lane was inevitably always filled with taxis, vans or just idiots with their emergency lights on making stops in front of the Hilton Hotel on that corner.  Since that lane is always full, you then inevitably get people in the next lane over having to make left turns out of the second lane due to congestion and/or stupidity.  The fourth lane was also usually jammed up as well due to cars making right turns and having to wait of pedestrians to cross the enormous University thoroughfare.

The problem is that now, that fourth lane is the bike lane.  This leaves poor ol’ Lane Three, once a bastion of free-flowing traffic, into a jam session forced to wait while one dolt takes his sweet time strolling across the road. 

There’s always been a bit of construction ongoing on Richmond because it’s Toronto and it’s inevitable, yet even that bit of construction normally didn’t matter in those glorious moments when the Seam magically appeared, Brigadoon-style.  Now, between the construction and the bottleneck, the Seam is never quite so free, even during the Seamiest of times. 

WHINE WHINE WHINE.  My heretofore little slice of driving convenience is now no longer so convenient.  I have to wait an extra *couple of minutes* getting down this road now.  Sometimes even FIVE whole minutes!  Oh the humanity.  Truly, nobody has it harder than me.