Thursday, December 29, 2016

Romeo & Juliet (Shakespeare Re-Read #20)

So, first of all, let’s address the most common commentaries about Romeo & Juliet.  Yes, Romeo is a whiny emo kid.  Yes, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse should’ve had their own play, possibly the two of them teaming up to solve crimes, absolutely.  But where I put my foot down is the ridiculous “Juliet should’ve gone for the wittier Mercutio over Romeo” trope.  Mercutio is as long-winded as it gets, and I have to believe he’s incapable of loving any other person as much as he loves a wordy analogy.  He deserves the lack of respect shown to him by my word processor, which doesn’t recognize “Mercutio” as a legitimate word despite it being the name of a primary character from one of history’s most famous plays.  Take that, you hot-headed blabbermouth.

With that out of the way, Romeo & Juliet (a.k.a. “Rosaline Really Dodges A Bullet.”)  Even I, a hot-headed blabbermouth if there ever was one, can find little new to say about this most heavily-trod of plays.  I’ve read the play easily a half-dozen times in my life and seen it performed both on stage and screen multiple times, and while I’m more Shakespeare-ish than most, I’d reckon that basically everyone has read or seen some version of the story at least once in their lives.  It’s as inescapable as a Friar Lawrence tongue-lashing.

And yet as heralded as R&J is, it is possible that the play is a little….uh, unheralded? It sounds odd to say, but upon my latest reading (my first in at least a decade), it really struck me just how good a play this actually is.  I feel like this and Midsummer Night’s Dream are the ones generally as sort of “popcorn Shakespeare” due to their popularity and alleged simplicity, whereas heavier fare like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, etc. are seen as the real classics.

Though really, “heavier fare” — my god, here’s a play about two teenagers killing each other out of grief.  It really is striking how the play’s tone so swiftly and entirely goes from great comedy in the first two acts to an unspeakable series of misunderstandings and tragedy in the final three, with Friar Lawrence’s line of “These violent delights have violent ends”* in Act II, Scene vi as the turning point.  The Winter’s Tale is still probably the gold standard for massive tonal shifts, but R&J is at least in the ballpark.  I’ve written before about how some Shakespeare tragedies could very easily be turned into comedies (or at least dark comedies) with broader acting and macabre humour, and while R&J maayyyyybe generally falls into that category if you turn it into “Heathers,” it really does work best as Shakespeare intended.  The first two acts build you up with joy, and the rest of the play drags you into the abyss.

* = fans of ‘Westworld’ just perked up their ears

In fact, one of the most interesting scenes of the last three acts is arguably the most superfluous.  The little coda of Peter bantering with the musicians seems totally out of place given the circumstances (the Capulets have just had to cancel the wedding upon finding out their daughter is dead), yet in a way, it serves a key thematic purpose.  It is Shakespeare giving us one sad little echo of the first two acts’ wordplay and its knack for giving even minor characters some fleshing out.

So, just throwing this out there, could Benvolio have spared everyone a lot of grief?  Could he have lied about the events of the Mercutio/Tybalt/Romeo brawl, perhaps leaving Romeo out of it entirely by just saying that Mercutio and Tybalt stabbed each other?  I guess you’d have to think there were too many other witnesses for that to work, but still, if my theory is true….wtf, Benvolio?  If everyone knows you to be so honest that they trust your account of the incident, this is where you take a page from Iago’s book and use your alleged trustworthiness to bail out your friend.  It really would’ve prevented things from escalating* out of control, and both Romeo and Juliet would still be alive and content…well, unless Romeo had tearfully confessed to her that he killed her cousin.  Which he probably would’ve, the dope.

* = The prince of Verona, who only appears when things really escalate between the two families, is named Escalus.  Even Mitch Hurwitz bows down to that level of naming punnery. 

Furthermore, the Mercutio/Tybalt tiff is written off as the final volley of the Montague/Capulet rivalry and the two families could’ve settled things right then and there.  It’s interesting to note that the elder Montagues and Capulets both seem somewhat weary of the whole dispute; consider that the elder Montague is willing to let Romeo remain at his party under the aegis of “eh, whatever, he’s supposed to be a good kid.”  Montague has the common sense that Tybalt lacks, and by extension, the elders have the greater sense of the big picture.  Tybalt, Mercutio and company were brought up in an environment where the guiding rule was just “(other rival family) is EVIL!!!” whereas the older generation is all too aware of the hell the feud hath wrought, though neither Montague nor Capulet want to risk looking weak by being the one to broker a truce.  

A word about the adaptations.  I had the pleasure of attending an outdoor production of R&J in a park in Oxford, England some years back, which is easily my favourite version of the play.  I enjoyed the Franco Zeffirelli film version from 1968 quite a bit when I saw it 20 years ago, though I’m somewhat curious to watch it again to see if my more seasoned eyes would be more critical.  The reason?  I saw the Zeffirelli version just days after watching the dumpster fire that was the Baz Luhrmann “Romeo + Juliet,” so anything would’ve seemed better by comparison.  Holy lord, was that movie ever bad.  DiCaprio had less chemistry with Danes than he did with the Revenant bear.  It seems like kind of a minor thing, but what always cracked me up about the Luhrmann version was the first names given to all the characters.  Suddenly it was Ted Montague and Dave Paris, of all things.  Mercutio never got a last (or first?) name, according to IMDB, which is a letdown.  I was fully prepared for something like “Harold Perrineau As Brad Mercutio.”  Or, since it was Perrineau in the role, maybe it should’ve been WALLLLLLLLLLLLT Mercutio.

To summarize, this play is a masterpiece.  (No duh.)  It’s worth every bit of critical ink ever spilled in praise.  It’s so good that it’s even been worth the 400 years of teenagers getting way too dramatic about relationships that it engendered.

Also, hot take: the Killers’ cover is better than the Dire Straits’ original!



20. Pericles
19. The Taming Of The Shrew
18. Antony & Cleopatra
17. Troilus & Cressida
16. Love’s Labour’s Lost
15. As You Like It
14. Titus Andronicus
13. Much Ado About Nothing
12. Timon Of Athens
11. Coriolanus
10. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
9. The Comedy Of Errors
8. The Winter's Tale
7. A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Julius Caesar
5. Macbeth
4. Romeo & Juliet
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!"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pop 'Til You Drop

Like snowflakes, no two microwaves are exactly alike. I recently got a new microwave and have been faced with the question of figuring out how waved things get in how micro a time.

This conundrum is most apparent when making microwave popcorn. There is an art to finding just the perfect mixture of time within the microwave to achieve cornish perfection. Some might say that you just wait until you hear the bag stop popping, but I've learned this isn't true. Some popcorn continues to pop random kernels long after the whole shebang has been burned to a crisp. Others go through cycles where it will pop for a while, then no pops for 30 seconds or so, then a furious flurry of pops to finish things off at the end.

By the way, it's impossible to write at length about popcorn without greatly overusing the word 'pop' in its many contexts. I apologize.

Our old microwave took roughly three minutes to finish a bag of popcorn, while the microwave at my parents' house requires about 4.5 minutes. Some microwaves complicate things with a preset 'microwave popcorn' button on the control panel. Ostensibly you can just push this button and your popcorn will be taken care of for you, but just like HAL or SkyNet proved, mankind must never put too much control in the hands of machines. I tried this as a primer to my new microwave, and the clock set at two minutes and thirty seconds. The result was good, but not great. My popcorn was 85% fine, except for the kernels directly in the centre of the bag. They achieved the sickly greyish-brown hue of the slightly burnt. It was like the inverse of a medium-rare steak -- everything around it was perfectly cooked except the spot in the middle.

This led to the sad scene that is taking place as I type this post. I'm forcing to pick through my popcorn like a mother finding lice in the head of her hat-swapping fifth-grader. I have to be this picky since while some things taste worse than burned popcorn, few things carry as much lasting taste. Your mouth still carries that dirtily bitter taste for hours afterwards...sometimes not even a tooth-brushing can totally erase it. Dammit, if I'm going to eat pre-processed food, I want to totally turn my brain off. I don't want to LOOK at what I'm eating or play the Cletus game of 'what time and how burnt.' I want to pay it no attention as I shovel it into my mouth while staring blankly at a computer screen. Why hast thou forsaken me, Orville?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

George Michael

I could hardly hope to eulogize George Michael as well as Wesley Morris, though let me just add that George Michael could really sing.  He didn't have a 'unique' voice or whatever the euphemism is when you're trying to note that a popular musician has a kinda terrible voice --- GM could've sung in any genre, in any era of music, and it would've sounded amazing.

Case in point, his cover of Passengers' "Miss Sarajevo," which I somehow didn't know existed until five minutes ago.  What a voice.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Panda vs. Snowman

This is about as delightful as it gets.  This also MIGHT be the first 'cute animal' video I've ever posted, so I'm finally caught up to the rest of the internet.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Survivor Ratings: Adam

It’s not often that a Survivor season leaves me scratching my head, yet I’m more than a little confused about how exactly Adam Klein won this show.  In a way, Adam’s win underscores the fact that S33 was one of the better Survivor editions in a long time — it was like an old-school season in the way that it featured generally good characterization, a wide variety of personalities, some humour and a rather unsatisfying winner.  Just like in the olden days!  The “Millennials vs. Gen-X” theme was a little silly (the youngest Gen-Xer was 33 and the oldest Millennial was 31, so not exactly a wide generation gap)* but at least it led to some hilarious intentional Jeff Probst comedy.  I feel like Probst could’ve easily gone an entire episode about why millennials text ‘u’ instead of the word ‘you.’

* = okay, let me get this off my chest, what happened to Generation Y?  Wasn’t I in that generation?  I thought it went Baby Boomers (born in about the decade after WW2), Gen-X (children of the baby boomers, so late 60’s thru the 70’s), Gen-Y (children of whatever the generation is between the boomers and Gen-X) and then the millennials were the kids born from around 1990 onward.  The internet was the dividing line, I feel.  Millennials have basically always known a world with an internet, my generation had it emerge in our early teens, Gen-X had it come around in their college years.  Anyway, it was a silly theme.  Moving on!  

So a good season, wrapped up in somewhat odd fashion thanks to Survivor’s latest marketing push.  Here’s what I mean…

How He Won: Adam won, essentially, an old-school game hidden under a pile of new-age Survivor “big moves” theatrics.  Here’s what I mean — from the merge through to the final five vote, Adam, Hannah, Ken and David voted together every single time.  Zeke and Jessica were also part of that alliance until Zeke tried to align the remaining players against David, and Jessica was lost in the rock draw.  The Bret/Sunday/Chris trio was also aligned with the core alliance as it suited their purposes (to eliminate Michelle and Taylor) until they tried to pull their own move and it ended up with Chris getting eliminated.

So let’s forget all this talk of “voting blocs” or “trust clusters” or whatever goofy term the show is pushing to create suspense when, essentially, nothing about Survivor has changed all that much.  The difference is that Adam talked a big game (more on this later) about always being willing to flip or was open to flipping.  When push came to shove, however, he ultimately either felt it more advantageous to stick with his alliance or he couldn’t get the numbers on his side until the final four vote, when Hannah and Ken both voted out David since he was the clearest threat to win.  Really, I think it’s pretty clear that David also would’ve won a 10-0 vote, so Hannah/Ken were probably screwed either way.  They might’ve felt their only chance of being perceived as more than “David’s puppets” was to cut him out themselves, so I can’t really fault the move.  Ken* voting out his most trusted ally at F4 didn’t really help his case of basing his whole game on loyalty, but again, it’s not like he would’ve beaten David anyways.

* = in fact, Ken may be the latest case of Survivor building a player into a hero when they may have been disliked by their fellow cast.  In Ken’s case, it might’ve been more annoyance than hatred (i.e. Sugar, Spencer, Woo), but I definitely got the vibe that the tribe was more than a little sick of Ken’s exhortations about how he was such a humble, honorable, hard-working guy that was a little too good for this game.  Since none of the S33 cast felt Ken was going to try and murder them, however, he ranks only a 7/10 on the Von Ertfelda Scale of “challenge beast who’s really a goat.”

Pre-merge, Adam’s voting history was pretty limited since his teams avoided five of seven tribal councils.  Interestingly, he screwed up almost immediately in the game, as he and Zeke were on the wrong side of the very first Millennial TC that got Mari eliminated.  He might’ve been dead meat had the Millennials lost either of the next two team challenges, and he then got some good luck in the tribe swap by having the easy choice to join Ken/Jessica in breaking up “FigTayls” (a portmanteau I am happy to never hear again).  Finding the HII aside, Adam was flying by the seat of his pants until he got to the merge and found the security of an alliance.

Skillset: Okay, so here’s where the show let me down.  Jeff Probst and, by extension, the show itself has become obsessed with the narrative that you “need big moves to win.”  I don’t entirely disagree, as every Survivor winner has done SOMETHING to lock up their victory, whether it’s winning some key immunities down the stretch or simply picking the right person to align themselves with.  But the idea that you need to be a Russell Hantz (who, it can’t be stressed enough, never came close to winning) and constantly throwing around idols and blindsiding alliance members is nonsense.

Adam made the move (albeit an obvious one) of turning on the millennials by way of voting out Figgy, he won an immunity challenge, and he managed to find two hidden immunity idols, which was at least worthwhile in the sense that he kept more dangerous players from finding them.  This is pretty much it, as much as the show revealed to us.  Since the phrase “Survivor resume” was used to an eye-rolling extent this season, let me point out that this resume is awfully thin.

Finding that last idol might well have saved himself, since it was implied that Hannah told Ken/David about Adam having the HII and thus they moved the vote back onto Bret at the final five.  But since we have no hard evidence that Hannah did this, let the record show that Adam twice used idols when he didn’t have to.  If David/Hannah/Ken were set on voting for Bret anyway, Adam finding that F5 idol meant nothing.  Adam playing his other HII on Hannah to negate the votes against her also meant nothing since Will had flipped anyways.  (Aside from David using his first HII to save Jessica, there was nothing but lousy idol play all season long; Jay, Adam and David all played idols when they didn’t have to or played idols on the wrong person.)

So ultimately, I’m left with the fact that Adam talked a big game in his confessionals but didn’t really do all that much out on the island.  He constantly *seemed* like he was always planning moves, yet they either petered out into nothing or were thwarted.  Adam is sort like a poor man’s Todd Herzog, in that Todd also rode heavily on his persona as a Survivor savant, when he really had Amanda bailing him out multiple times from ruining their alliance’s game.  Adam didn’t really do all that much until he finally turned on David, yet because he was always seemingly *about* to flip, he got credit as guy who saw the big picture.  Chris assuming that Adam was the one who convinced Ken to flip on David is a prime example of that — Adam didn’t do jack, as it was Hannah who seemingly did the work  and she actually had to tell Adam to “let me handle” Ken.  (And this is assuming that Ken needed convincing anyways.)  I was never super-impressed with Todd’s win but I could at least give him credit for a spectacular jury performance.  Adam didn’t even really do that.  His FTC performance was nothing special, and neither Hannah or Ken were particularly bad, from what we were shown.

And yet again, I’m falling into the trap of basing his game solely on the “big moves!” criteria when Adam probably played a strong social game.  Despite the fact that seemingly nobody had any respect for Ken and Hannah’s games, you don’t win 10-0 unless you’re at least somewhat popular.  Virtually nothing of Adam’s social game was shown, however, since the editors loved painting him as the prototypical modern player who is always a heartbeat away from blindsiding someone, when in fact he ended up being (pragmatically) loyal to his core alliance.

The only time Adam was really shown connecting with someone on a social level was that heart-wrenching scene when he revealed his mother’s illness to Jay*, and it’s hard to believe that was only time Adam fell out of pure gamebot mode.  Still, again, we were never SHOWN any of this.  I mentioned Ken-as-Matthew Von Ertfelda earlier, and S33 has another echo to S6 in the sense that we never had any sense of how popular the winner was within their camp.  As the S6 editing told us, Jenna was a classic ‘mean girl’ and Matt was the hard-working socially awkward guy finding his way within the game.  In reality, everyone liked Jenna and everyone thought Matt was a freakshow, hence her 6-1 blowout win.

* = there has already been some suggestion that Adam’s win was a pity vote due to his mom’s health condition, though I doubt that’s the case.  A 10-0 result doesn’t happen out of pity.  Even if Adam doesn’t mention his mom at the very end of FTC, he already had the victory in the bag, based on Chris’ earlier comments.

In short, I’m not really sure what Adam brought to the table here.  He was decent at challenges, good at finding idols (if not necessarily playing them), and only by inference can we assume he had a good social game.  I can’t tell if Adam was a particularly lucky winner or if he was a good player whose path to victory was presented to us in a shoddily-edited way.  Survivor’s entire next season is based around this idea of “returning players who changed the game,” so they’re shoving the Big Movez! narrative down our throats even moreso than usual.  It’s more than a little annoying when one season basically becomes a commercial for the next (shades of S19 being nonstop Russell to prepare us for S20), and especially when the winner’s story may have been built up into something it wasn’t.

Could He Do It Again
: It’s inconclusive.  Adam’s win legitimately shocked me, and the fact that he won 10-0 absolutely shocked me.  Going into the finale, the show’s editing was heavily forecasting David or Jay as the winner.  Adam, if anything, was painted as the Spencer-esque gamebot who was annoying everyone around him with his play.  Since I’m not really sure how he won, I can’t forecast if he could do it again.

As I’ve written before, Survivor is ultimately just a popularity contest.  The jury will never vote for a person they like or respect less than another finalist.  Even if Adam won simply by Not Being Ken Or Hannah, tell us why those two had no shot.  If Adam is a stone-cold Brian Heidik type who arranges his victory by getting to the end with a goat (or two), then show that as the explanation, even if “stone-cold gamebot” may not quite track with the “kid playing the game for his sick mother” storyline.

While trying not to sound like an impossible gasbag, this isn’t my first rodeo.  I’ve been watching this show for 33 seasons and I know how Survivor tells its stories, from hit-you-over-the-head lampshading to subtle hints.  When even someone like me can watch 15 hours of a Survivor season and still can’t give a solid explanation about why the winner won, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m dense, I think that’s a failing of the editing.  Survivor needs to quit trying to make itself into the bonanza of blindsides it wants to be and stick to being the show it is.    

Also, if some movie studio ever makes the weird decision to shoot a Mike Mizanin biopic, Adam needs to be the lead.  The resemblance is uncanny!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ranking The Best Picture Nominees

“Hey Mark, wouldn’t it have made sense to wait a month for the 2016 nominees, rather than publish a ranking that will so quickly be outdated?”

Uh…..shut up!

I didn’t include the 2000 field since, having never seen Chocolat, it is the last year where I didn’t make a point to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture.  Mine is a noble quest, and unfortunately one that hasn’t always led me to seeing great (or even good) (or even decent) movies.  Hell, the last 20 or so films on this list all range from godawful to “well, that was a movie.”

To answer your next question, no, I’m just not a big LOTR guy.  Sorry.

103. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
102. The Blind Side
101. Munich
100. Finding Neverland
99. Avatar
98. Seabiscuit
97. Bridge Of Spies
96. War Horse
95. The Tree Of Life
94. The Theory Of Everything
93. Amour
92. American Sniper
91. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
90. Dallas Buyers Club
89. The Help
88. Babel
87. Beasts Of The Southern Wild
86. The Fighter
85. The Imitation Game
84. The Descendants
83. A Beautiful Mind
82. The Pianist
81. Letters From Iwo Jima
80. Gangs Of New York
79. Crash
78. The Hours
77. Lost In Translation
76. Michael Clayton
75. There Will Be Blood
74. The Queen
73. Frost/Nixon
72. Milk
71. Little Miss Sunshine
70. Capote
69. Ray
68. The Revenant
67. Philomena
66. 127 Hours
65. The Aviator
64. True Grit
63. Black Swan
62. The Reader
61. Moneyball
60. Lincoln
59. Zero Dark Thirty
58. Precious
57. Nebraska
56. The Grand Budapest Hotel
55. Captain Phillips
54. American Hustle
53. A Serious Man
52. Juno
51. Gosford Park

50. Up
49. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
48. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
47. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
46. An Education
45. Argo
44. Silver Linings Playbook
43. Brooklyn
42. Room
41. Selma
40. Mystic River
39. Million Dollar Baby
38. The King’s Speech
37. District 9
36. The Hurt Locker
35. Django Unchained
34. Sideways
33. Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
32. Whiplash
31. Boyhood
30. The Big Short
29. In The Bedroom
28. Up In The Air
27. Chicago
26. Brokeback Mountain

25. Moulin Rouge
24. The Kids Are All Right
23. Winter’s Bone
22. Good Night And Good Luck
21. The Artist
20. Gravity
19. Birdman
18. Hugo
17. The Departed
16. Atonement
15. 12 Years A Slave
14. Slumdog Millionaire
13. Midnight In Paris
12. No Country For Old Men
11. Toy Story 3

10. The Martian
9. Inception
8. The Wolf Of Wall Street
7. Spotlight
6. The Social Network
5. Her
4. Les Miserables

3. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Life Of Pi
1. Inglourious Basterds

Monday, December 12, 2016

SNL Christmas

If you live outside of the States, Saturday Night Live sketches are harder to find on YouTube than an intelligent comments section.  The official SNL channel occasionally opens its archive up to everyone on rare occasions, however, and Christmas seems to be one of them.  Enjoy them now while the links are still open!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Reds

I usually don't post about work, but then the team I've covered more or less since day one makes it to their first-ever league final, it's probably worth a mention. 

Writing about Toronto FC hasn't always been fun, though it certainly hasn't been uninteresting.  There was a certain ironic "wow, just how messed up can this team get?" fascination that went on, sort of like eight seasons' worth of rubbernecking.  And yet at long last, TFC has turned into not just a good team, but almost an excellent team, as evidenced by their close shave in the MLS Cup.  Losing on penalty kicks after 120 scoreless minutes (after pretty much dominating the game offensively) is a horrid way to go out, yet every TFC supporter will happily take it over another season outside of the playoff picture.  'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, as they say.*

* = I'm pretty sure Alfred Tennyson played some midfield for TFC in their expansion season.

So while things can turn on a dime in MLS, the Reds look like they've built up a pretty strong roster and may finally have things in the right direction for many years to come.  What am I supposed to write about now?  Competency?  Where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Let Me Sleep, It's Xmas Time

Imagine if we lived in an alternate reality where Pearl Jam were as devoted to marketing themselves as KISS were. I could be sitting here right now wearing Pearljamas instead of actual pajamas. They'd be basically a loose-fitting flannel top and pajama bottoms with your choice of a PJ song written either down the leg, or across your rear like they're pro wrestling tights. I guess you could have a song name written across the crotch, but that would seem pretty pointless unless you were really easily amused by double entendres (i.e. 'Even Flow').

Pearljamas would cost upwards of $39.99, which seems a bit much. Good thing I live in this reality. I can't afford to be dropping forty bucks on pajamas. There's rent to worry about, plus Yo La Tengo-hemed sleeping masks.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Florence At Xmas

So here's one of my favourite singers mashing up one of her best songs with my favourite Xmas song.  I mean, how have I not posted this already?!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Other People's Writing

Who needs my blather when you can rely on actual good writers?!

* Pity the poor Raiders fans, as the Ringer's Michael Weinreb writes, as their team is finally starting to turn things around on the field and yet also on the verge of leaving Oakland for Las Vegas.  I've always had kind of a soft spot for the Raiders' renegade mentality, and if I hadn't been a Packers fan (which is ironic, since Packer Nation is about the most Pollyanna of all fanbases and basically Raider Nation's opposite), you might well have seen me in the Black Hole with my bald head painted silver.  That being said, as someone who has been to the Coliseum before, holy crow does Oakland need a new stadium.

* There's more than a little too much pointless celebrity fluff on the Ringer, which is why the site still can't be seen as anything more than Grantland-lite.  Still, some of the fluff has its amusing moments, like Sam Donsky's exploration of the best night any celebrity has ever had at Madison Square Garden.  The pictures alone (drunk Amanda Seyfried, Larry David looking like every picture of Larry David, the incredible reaction shots from Miguel Cotto and his kid, etc.) are worth the price of admission.

* Casual wrestling fans of the 80's and 90's may remember Haku as a rather forgettable midcard wrestler in the WWF, or in a somewhat larger role as Meng in WCW.  Behind the scenes, however, Tonga Fifita had a real-life reputation as a near-mythical badass.  Crave Online's Rob Fee collects some of the most well-known anecdotes, and a quick jaunt to Fifita's Wikipedia page reveals a few more choice quotes.  Jake Roberts could always cut a great promo, so it's no surprise that he has the best line about Fifita's toughness.

* Obligatory oral history time!  This one's by Rob Neyer for Complex, about the history of Seinfeld's most famous baseball-related humour.  If I ever do a 'best Seinfeld episodes' listamania entry (hard to believe I haven't done this yet), the one with Keith Hernandez will be high on the list.

* I love pretty much everything Joe Posnanski writes (uh, except about Penn State) but I especially love it when he rips into a silly infomercial.  And even ‘rips into’ is stretching it, as he takes this ad apart with hot fire in the most polite way possible.  Bonus points since this ridiculous commercial stars, of all people, a random former Survivor player.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Black Mirror" Episode Ranking

A few observations about the new Black Mirror season...

* every episode could've done with being at least 10 minutes shorter (except for San Junipero, which should've been longer since it was so awesome)
* it is bitterly disappointing that the Mike Schur/Rashida Jones teleplay was such a "yeah, we get it" toothless satire that got old after five minutes
* some (KYLE) might argue that it's odd having Shut Up And Dance ahead of White Bear since both are similar premises, yet I found the twist of White Bear to be so silly that it almost ruined the episode entirely
* realizing that Faye Marsay was both a) a former Markademy Award nominee for 'Pride' and b) the friggin' Waif on Game Of Thrones was maybe the most mind-blowing moment of the whole season
* whatever you do, don't watch these episodes just before you go to bed, since it'll ruin your sleep.  Except Nosedive, since it's a cure for insomnia.

Onto the list, from worst to best

13. Nosedive
12. The Waldo Moment

11. Fifteen Million Merits
10. Men Against Fire
9. White Bear

8. Be Right Back
7. Playtest
6. Shut Up And Dance
5. The National Anthem
4. White Christmas
3. Hated In The Nation

2. San Junipero
1. The Entire History Of You

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Of all the shows to take Seinfeld's crown as the "show so popular that even bit players go on to become celebrity endorsers," I wouldn't have pegged Game Of Thrones to be the new champion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

You Can Call Me Grey, And You Can Call Me Jay...

If you're a country whose dollar coin is literally named after a bird, you'd think that would be a pretty obvious choice as the country's national bird, right?  Or wait a second, maybe there is some dispute, given that there's a kind of goose known worldwide as a "[insert country here] Goose."  Either of those two choices, nevertheless, perfectly reasonable.

Unless you're Canada, in which case you get this nonsense from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.  After a two-year project*, the RCGS has decided that Canada's official national bird is going to be the grey jay, a.k.a. the whisky jack.  It's allegedly also known as a 'Canada jay' in some circles, which I have to believe is made up.  I'm not a bird expert by any stretch, but I've heard of grey jays and whisky jacks many times over the years....I have never once ever heard of the term 'Canada jay' until reading that article.  It sounds like someone from the RCGS hastily logged onto the grey jay's Wikipedia page to add that alternate Canada jay name in an attempt to gaslight us all.

* = two years!  It took them two full years! 

Canada, we've overthinking things.  Our national bird is a loon or a Canada goose, end of story.  Sometimes an obvious choice is the best choice.  My only thinking here is that the loon and Canada goose lobbies were so equally vehement that the RCGS decided that the grey jay was a good compromise, in the spirit of ticking off as many people as possible.  It'd be like if you had to pick Canada's official hockey team, and went with the Canucks over the Maple Leafs and Canadiens --- if anything led to civil war in Canada, this would probably do it.

Our official tree is the maple, our official animal is the beaver, let's make our official bird the loon or the Canada goose.  Personally, I'd favour the loon for two notable reasons.  One, Canada geese crap everywhere.  Two, Luna "Loony" Lovegood is arguably my favourite Harry Potter character, which technically doesn't matter whatsoever when discussing a national bird, but what the hell, it's my blog.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


After 25 years of on-and-off wrestling fandom, I finally attended my first actual live event.  When some friends announced they had tickets to the NXT Takeover show in Toronto, I couldn’t help but feel that it was time to finally check this one off my bucket list….well, ok, it wasn’t particularly high on my bucket list.  Maybe page seven at the earliest.  Certainly well after ‘get in shape, for the love of god’ but at least still ahead of ‘get that Stephane Dion 4 Life tattoo removed.’  (Political comebacks happen all the time!)

To clarify….the NXT promotion is essentially the ‘minor league’ of WWE, intended as a training ground for up-and-coming wrestlers or proven veterans getting used to WWE’s presentation and in-ring style.  Its shows tend to be fairly meat-and-potatoes straight-forward wrestling action, which thus makes NXT pretty great since it’s refreshingly light on the usual WWE nonsense.  You also get the rare chance to see world-class pro wrestling talent on a relatively small stage; it’s like if an NHL team signed a star Russian player and had him in the minors for a while to get used to North American hockey.  So it would be like seeing Alex Ovechkin show up at your little rinky-dink local arena, the picture of overqualified.  Well, ok, the Air Canada Centre isn’t a “rinky dink local arena,” but still, whatever, analogy win!

In this case, you have Shinsuke Nakamura, arguably the best wrestler in the world and headliner of multiple giant stadium shows in Japan…’stuck’ main eventing NXT cards instead of mixing it up with John Cena, Randy Orton, etc. on the proper WWE roster.  Since wrestling in Japan, Mexico, Europe, etc. is different than wrestling for WWE, I can understand the company’s logic in wanting to acclimate everyone before just throwing them out there on TV.  But for the likes of Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Asuka, Bobby Roode, how much ‘development’ time do they really need?  To use my airtight hockey analogy again, if Ovechkin scored five goals a game in the minors, I’d think his NHL team would realize pretty quickly that the guy was ready.

Then again, the NHL team probably also isn’t counting on Ovechkin to prop up its minor league team.  It seems like WWE didn’t really intend NXT to become as popular as it is, and thus they’re now seeing it less as a developmental facility than as its own unique brand.  And, if you’re going to be taking that brand out on the road to arena shows, you need some big names to promote.  Nakamura, Joe and company will make it up to WWE eventually, though for now, they might as well sell some tickets rather than being thrown into the WWE shuffle. 

Anyway, the show itself was a lot of fun.  Being my first time at a wrestling show, it was fun to go along with all of the standard wrestling fan tropes — counting along to the ten punches in the corner*, booing heels for cheating, booing the ref for missing a tag, etc.  The newest thing is singing along to a wrestler’s entrance music, which helps since a few of the NXT themes are insanely catchy.  This also translated to singing Nakamura’s music while trying to inspire him to fight back from a tough situation against Samoa Joe. 

* = thanks to the popularity of ‘The Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger, fans kept chanting TEN TEN TEN for most anything all night.  This included yelling TEN for every number as the referee was trying to make a countout when a wrestler was outside the ring.

It should be noted that the actual wrestling itself was pretty terrific.  The two highest of highlights were the main event and the tag team title match.  Nakamura and Joe are both devotees of what the Japanese call strong style wrestling, which is when you essentially hit each other as hard as you can while still keeping it ‘fake.’  I swear, watching it live, the match had a legitimate real-fight feel.

As for the tag title match, it was legitimately great choreography.  The Revival are basically NXT’s old-school ethos in a nutshell — their actual gimmick is that they’re “reviving” the 80’s heel tag team style of the Midnight Express, the Andersons, the Brainbusters, etc.  So they use all the old tricks updated with crisp modern wrestling.  These guys are amazing, yet so good at being heels that you totally buy into booing the hell out of them.  Their opponents (Team DIY) were just as good at being faces, with great comebacks and escapes from various dire situations.  This match went about 20 minutes, was best two-of-three falls, and was an absolute blast, with the feel-good ending of DIY winning the titles to cap off their long rise to the top.

This show was so good, I can hardly wait to see my next wrestling event in 2041.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Bridge Cafe

When it comes to great running jokes on the UK Apprentice*, nothing tops the Bridge Cafe. To non-viewers of the show….every week, the team that wins the challenge goes off on some opulent reward courtesy of Lord Sugar. The losing team has to slough off to this drab little cafe and moan over their loss while picking at their food and drinking weak coffee.

This has been going on for TWELVE SEASONS in the SAME CAFE. It absolutely slays me every time. I have to presume that Sugar himself owns the Bridge Cafe since surely no competent owner would agree to have his/her little shop portrayed as a loser's graveyard for so long. That being said, maybe it's actually brilliant marketing, since if I ever find myself in London, I'm a big enough fan of the show that I would totally seek out the Bridge Cafe for a bite. Damn you, reverse psychology!

* = Ok, so the cafe is the best running joke, but I've decided that second place goes to Lord Sugar's teasing of his former aide, Nick Hewer. Every time the candidates produce an advertisement/commercial/song/etc. that is in any way sexual, Sugar is sure to make some comment like, "This looks like one of your DVDs, Nick" or "Nick's not used to seeing stuff like this outside of his trips to Amsterdam." Hewer responds with either a small grin or a crunched-up face like he's just bitten into a lemon. My question is, what's the story here? Is this just good-natured joshing between two old friends? Is Hewer actually a real prude and Lord Sugar is reverse-teasing him? Or, is Nick Hewer secretly the biggest sexual deviant in all of England? That's saying something, given the royal family alone.

** = third-best running joke is more or less the entire concept of the show itself, and how it's essentially neck-and-neck with the Gervais Office for best representation of British cringeworthiness in business.  The other week when Samuel kept doing his exaggerated pantomime cycling demonstration, I couldn't stop laughing.  When he did it DURING THE PITCH TO VENDORS, I was almost on the floor.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

(A classic post from 2009, reprinted now since I was randomly reading old blog posts and this one really made me laugh.  Perhaps it's relevant again since the Raiders are finally once again a good team?)

There comes a time in every man's life when he considers nothing to be more hilarious than seeing someone else kicked in the balls. This time, in general, starts from birth and lasts until death, but what I'm talking about are those isolated stretches when groin-affrontery stands out as being particularly hysterical. It becomes your default mode for comedy; other individual moments may have a higher comic peak, but when it comes down to brass tracks, the baseline for laughter is set at someone doubled over in pain, bow-legged and either groaning or cursing obscenities.

For my group of friends, this period lasted for roughly six months in 2003. It was all because of the Oakland Raiders. Our group had gathered at my pal Bryan's place to watch the Super Bowl, which that year pitted the Raiders against Bryan's beloved* Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game was even on paper, but it quickly became apparent that the Raiders were overmatched --- the score was 20-3 for Tampa by halftime. We kept our attention through the halftime show (Sting, No Doubt, and someone else who I'm forgetting at the moment...whomever it was didn't even join in with Sting and Gwen on the set-ending duet, so clearly it was someone with a stick up their ass), but after that, our attention started to wander.

* = We were chatting about who we wanted to win the game, and we were all generally indifferent until the question was posed to Bryan. "The Bucs, of course! They're my team!" He even had a Bucs t-shirt under his sweater. Now, up until this moment, Bryan had never once mentioned that he liked the Buccaneers, so this all came out of left field. Bryan explained that since his family often vacationed near Tampa, he adopted the Bucs as his team when he was a young child. It was a perfectly plausible story...though nobody ever uses the word 'plausible' unless they're trying to hint that they don't believe it. Bryan didn't go overboard with his Bucs-love, however, so if it was bandwagon-jumping, it was at least a very low-level case. It wasn't like this one kid I went to grade school with who showed up in a brand-spanking new Montreal Canadiens coat two days after they won the Stanley Cup and claimed to have always been a huge Habs fan. In the words of the Arcade Fire, LIES, LIES.

When you get eight bored, early-twenties guys into one room, something bad is bound to happen. In this case, I seem to recall it stemming from someone mentioning a recent internet video that featured, I think, some would-be skateboarder badly nutting himself while trying to skate down a railing. Something of that ilk, anyway. This led us all to reminisce about funny groin-shot videos that we'd seen, and somebody brought up the idea that a website solely devoted to acting as a repository for groin-hurtin' videos would/could be immensely profitable. The title of was quickly devised and we all began to mentally spend the money that we would be sure to generate from such a website, were any of us anything but too lazy to actually do something towards designing it.

One thing led to another, and before long, my pal Jason had punched someone in the crotch over some perceived slight. It was inevitable. If you talk about Coke for 30 minutes, someone is inevitably going to want to drink a Coke. I can't blame Jason --- though the victim sure did. Now, please excuse my faulty memory, since I don't actually recall who the victim was, but for the sake of the narrative, let's say it was my friend Matt. Matt swore vengeance, but the catch was that Matt was sitting on the opposite side of Bryan's U-shaped couch arrangement. Ergo, Matt enlisted my buddy Trev (sitting next to Jason) to deliver a revenge ballshot on his behalf. Jason scoffed and claimed that he would never be taken of course, literally 20 seconds later, Jason is staring blankly at the TV while the rest of us are glancing around at each other having a seven-way version of Ted and Barney's silent conversation. Our eyes all met Trevor's, who promptly raised his hand and delivered a thunderous backhand to Jason's crotch.

That opened the floodgates. By the end of the Super Bowl's increasingly dull third quarter, everyone had been crotched at least once except for myself and my pal Eric. It helped that we were sitting next to each other, so we were out of the proverbial line of fire. This isn't to say that I didn't play a role in the day's events. It was all thanks to one immortal statement from my friend Andrew: "I'd like to see Mark deliver a flying headbutt to someone's groin."

Now, for readers who have never met me, I'm bald. My shaved head is akin to that of a torpedo nose, which is likely what planted the seed in Andrew's mind. I readily agreed to the idea since, really, when else would such an opportunity come up in life? The deal got even sweeter when I was paid $5 for my troubles. You see, my pal Dave (who apparently studied economics under Johnny Knoxville) immediately volunteered to be the one to take the shot as long as he was paid with the money left over in the pizza-buying pot. We had about 15 bucks left, so Dave got $10 and for some reason I was handed a fiver. Money for nothing and your cheques for free!

So we lined up in the back of the room, Dave and I about eight feet apart from each other. Now, when Andrew said 'flying headbutt,' it looks exactly as it sounds. I earlier compared my head to a torpedo and that is maybe the best description; I lined up, got a slight running start and launched myself perpendicular to the ground. (At this point I should note that everyone was clothed and only the top of my head made contact with Dave's crotch. I can't believe it took me eight paragraphs to realize the homo-erotic undertones to a post about guys hitting other guys in the junk.) It took us two attempts to get 'The Blast To The Balls' right. The first time Dave flinched and backed away, so he had someone hold him in place. The second time, he went down like a ton of a bricks. A few others also went down like a ton of bricks as they fell to the floor laughing. In hindsight, the true funniest part of the evening may have come after I got home. Dave's girlfriend at the time innocently messaged me to ask how the game went, so I went ahead and gave her a full recap of the evening. Given that they had been dating for just a few weeks, I perhaps shouldn't have been quite so forthcoming with the details. I could see her "What am I getting myself into?" thought bubble forming even over the internet.


So that, in a nutshell, started the junkshot trend. Over the next few months, there were few get-togethers between the lot of us that didn't feature at least one instance of someone getting junk-punched. We were polite about it, of course. It was always when we were just hanging around at someone's house, not out in public, and it seemed to occur only when our group numbered five or more. Maybe it was because the puncher wanted the maximum amount of laughter, or maybe it was just because if it's just two people hanging out and one groins the other, it tends to cast a social pall over the evening. My own Switzerland-esque streak of neutrality ended when I got sacked while taking a nap, which I felt was a bit unfair. I didn't even have a chance to defend myself, or, like Jason, to make an arrogant boast about defending myself and then completely falling asleep at the switch seconds later. The climax of the era probably took place when Matt filmed a video of himself, Dave and Andrew all nailing each other in the groin as part of an application for some type of student council job (which, I should note, he ended up getting). I was fortunate enough to be the camera man for that video, and thanks to my laughter, the scene was shakier than the entirety of the Jason Bourne series.


Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The era of the junkshot came to an end in the summer of 2003 when we all gathered at Bryan's (new) house for the first of our '24-fest' marathons, where we watched an entire season of 24 in one actual 24-hour span. As you might expect, the addition of sleep deprivation to the mix didn't bode well for everyone's testicles. Now, I'm not the best source on 'the incident,' since I wasn't actually there --- I missed a big chunk of the day due to work. But according to a well-placed source (whose name rhymes with 'lever'), here's what happened: there had been a few attempts at nuttings throughout the day, but perhaps as a result of osmosis from Jack Bauer, everyone was on their toes and able to block. Dave had been the most vocal about wanting to land a really quality junkshot throughout the course of the evening, so perhaps what happened was solely a case of poetic justice. As Dave was walking back to his seat, my pal Matt landed a well-placed uppercut that dropped Dave like a bag of hammers. My source said that the punch was perhaps a bit harder than usual, if not a Little Mac star-punch or anything, but what really made it effective was that it was delivered from a seated position, so the added lift just exacerbated the damage.

Anyway, after almost passing out right there on the floor, Dave gathered himself and retreated to the bathroom, where he proceeded to throw up from the pain. I couldn't get this confirmed, but apparently Dave even took a shower in order to both recover and to, er, check on things to make sure there was no permanent damage. After 30 minutes or so, Dave returned to the living room quite upset, and Matt, for his part, was apologetic at the amount of havoc that had been wreaked. Any sympathy that Dave hoped to generate, however, was erased when he spoke out against ball-shotting altogether, including the immortal line "Dave: "Sorry guys, I just don't find ballshots funny." Keep in mind that this was the same guy who voluntarily took a flying headbutt to the groin in the name of comedy, so this new statement was the equivalent of Jughead claiming to hate hamburgers. As (apparently) Andrew immediately responded, "You find them funnier than anyone!" So yeah, not even forced vomiting can spare someone from being blatantly misleading.

But still, as it says in the Bible, once someone has been punched so hard that they vomit, it's time to end the junkshots [Ecclesiastes 5:15]. That day marked the end of our group's interest in groining each other, and we happily returned to somewhat maturity. The only possible way that we may revert would be if Dave (whose thirst for vengeance would put the Count of Monte Cristo to shame) capitalizes on his long-standing pledge to pay Matt back for that testicle-crushing uppercut. The last I heard, Dave's latest plan was to somehow set up a can of paint tied to a door frame, and then swing it down into Matt's groin as he passed through the entrance. All this plan needs is for the can of paint to be from ACME Products, and for Dave and Matt to be subtitled by comical Latin names.

And we never did get that website up and running. Even with the preponderance of funny-video sites on the Net, there still isn't a page that I know of that specializes solely in punches, kicks, or foreign objects to the groin. Isn't this still a great idea? A one-stop shop for any sort of ball-related injury that one would want to watch and laugh at? is still available. There's still time. That video from Matt's student council thing could be the opening entry. We could get the rights to 'Football To The Groin' from Hans Moleman. We could sign Ric Flair as our celebrity spokesman, as he won more matches via illegal low blows than anyone else in pro wrestling history.

Money to be made, gang. Money to be made.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Charlie Brown Is A Creep

I've always had an affinity for Charlie Brown, even to the point of dressing as CB for Halloween on more than one occasion. It's hard not to relate to the poor guy, whether you're prematurely bald (check) or just feel like life has got you down from time to time. Of course, for most of us, the key is "from time to time," whereas Charlie Brown's life was an unending cavalcade of failure. To wit, this video. Watching it, your attitude goes from "Poor Charlie Brown! I know how he feels!" to "Poor Charlie Brown! Man, things aren't going my way right now, but at least I have it better than that sad sack. God, people are actually dancing around him in a circle, pointing and laughing! What a loser!" The video also continues to make the case that the choral version of "Creep" is the greatest song cover of all time.

Two notes. First, the little red-haired girl actually signs her notes as "Little Red-Haired Girl"? WTF? I just presumed that was Charlie Brown's only reference point since he was too much of a putz to even ask her name, but if LRHG is even referring to herself by that nickname…I dunno, is this a Badly Drawn Boy situation? Is LRHG a stage name? Is she trying to create her own specific persona in grade school, sort of like how I've been trying to get people to call me 'Mark the Shark' for at least 20 years?

Secondly, good lord, how deranged does Charlie Brown look when he's approaching that football? He's got the crazy eyes! I'm starting to think ol' Chuck has a future on an NFL special teams squad. He can play for the Cleveland BROWNS. (rimshot)

Also, just so that video doesn't leave you totally heartbroken on Charlie Brown's behalf, here's the edition of the Peanuts strip where he actually got to be the hero for his baseball team. This was widely regarded as the greatest act in house league baseball history until my equally-heroic "faked getting hit by a pitch" routine in 2001.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Views Views

┳┻| _
┻┳| •.•) psst….
┳┻| _
┻┳| •.•) …Drake’s music is terrible

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The British Ukulele Orchestra

Sadly it's not the Ukrainian Ukulele Orchestra, so I could bust out the rare 'UkeUke' tag.  I guess "UKuk" is still ukay....uh, okay.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Year's Halloween Costume

The Guy Who Thinks The Thermostat Could Be Turned Down Just A Notch, Doesn't Want To Make A Big Deal Of It, But Is Being A Bit Too Passive-Aggressive About It

"Hey, great party!  Yeah, I'm having an awesome time.  Little warm, no doubt, but hey, I'm hanging in there."

"I guess my costume this year ended up being Mister Backsweat!  Ha ha!  But seriously though…"

"Great turnout, SO many people showed up in so many great costumes!  I'm just spitballing here, with this many folks in the room, we don't want everyone uncomfortable, especially when they're in these bulky costumes.  I'm just looking out for the group's best interests."

"Standard room temperature is 20-21 degrees Celsius, so really, I don't think it's too much to ask…"

"Hey, is it just me, or..."

"Really, with utility bills being what they are these days, keeping it cool is just a sensible way to save money."

"Oh hey, I hear what you're saying.  Believe me, I don't like it when it's cold, it's not like I have any hair to protect me on my head!  Ha ha!  That said, just a degree or two less would be PERfection."

"Nice vampire costume!  I wish I was naturally cold-blooded like you right now.  Ha ha!"

"Whew!"  *theatrically wipes brow*

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Stranger Christmas

Is the Upside-Down any more terrifying than the weird, passive-aggressive reality of the Peanuts world?  Only time....will tell.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Crazy Ex-Bloopers!

The second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend begins tomorrow!  Yayyyyy!   Let's get in the mood by watching some bloopers from the first season...(NSFW, btw)

...and also one of Rachel Bloom's many pre-CExG music videos.  They're all pretty funny but "Die When I'm Young" is a masterpiece.  It is also very NSFW, which makes me wonder if Bloom's original vision of the show as a half-hour, R-rated cable program would've made it better or worse.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Timon Of Athens (Shakespeare Re-Read #19)

It’s a little unusual that Timon Of Athens is one of the lesser-known and least-performed of Shakespeare’s plays, since of his entire oeuvre, this is the one that might be most relatable to modern audiences.  As you might expect, quite a few concepts that seemed normal to Elizabethan audiences are alien to 2016 readers, yet TOA could essentially have been written yesterday in terms of its overarching themes. 

Some critics have argued that the play’s story is more simplistic than simple, so combined with the admittedly weird story structure, TOA is usually ranked near the bottom of the Shakespeare rankings…but not my rankings!  It’s a flawed work, to be sure, though I actually quite enjoyed a straight-ahead morality tale.  There aren’t many shades of grey here — Timon is the well-meaning but foolish protagonist, his usurers are all absolute slimeballs, Flavius is incredibly loyal and Alcibiades’ somewhat shaky moral ground is excused because he has such a badass name.

If I was reading this in a university English class, there would undoubtedly be at least one person (probably a business student) who made the argument that “well, the three lords weren’t in the wrong to not lend Timon some money.  After all, they knew he’d just spend it anyway!”  This guy would be an enormous jerk, and while he would technically be right on two counts, consider that Lucius had one of his own guys among the many representatives at Timon’s place wielding bills.  I don’t think it was ever exactly stated in the play, but I got the impression that Lucius’ “bill” was generated when he gave Timon a gift and Timon insisted on paying for it rather than receive generosity himself.  So Lucius is just a world-class weasel to actually charge Timon for it.

Though really, Timon, what the hell, man?  Demanding to pay full price for gifts you yourself receive?  That takes spendthrift-iness to a new level.  That’s the only real instance where you have to scratch your head at Timon’s spending, since otherwise, the poor guy is simply (literally) generous to a fault.  Consider how often a Shakespeare reader finds himself getting angry with the “tragic hero” when they do something really dumb to bring ruin upon themselves.  With Timon, it’s just like…oh, honey.

Though really, this is one of those tragedies that tends to veer a bit closer to Problem Play territory given that, even though Timon isn’t there to enjoy it, he gets his revenge.  He gets his riches more or less restored by the gold he finds in the woods, and then he basically unleashes the four horsemen upon Athens — War and Conquest (Alcibiades), Plague (the venereal diseases he encourages the whores to spread around town) and Death (the ultimate fate of Lucius, Sempronius, Lucullus and the other senators and non-lenders within the ten percent of the population that Alcibiades wipes out).  The actual tragic protagonist of the title might be Athens itself, given how the lack of generosity of its most notable citizens sort of leads to its conquest, though it isn’t totally clear whether or not Alcibiades’ army was entirely funded by the gold.  He might’ve been able to conquer Athens without Timon being involved whatsoever, which would have the effect of making Timon into the Inglourious Basterds and Alcibiades into Shosanna Dreyfus.  Regardless, I guess if Timon hadn’t been so angry, he might’ve been able to save the city as its de facto leader given the mutual respect between he and Alcibiades.

One kind of has to read into the story like this given how the play is often considered to be unfinished given the relative lack of depth.  Since critics often try to excuse Shakespeare’s lesser plays by assuming the so-called non-Shakespearean elements were the work of a collaborator, Thomas “Thrown Under The Bus By History” Middleton is often considered to be the co-writer on this one.  Poor Middleton.  At least he got the last laugh by having his future ancestors marry into the British throne (citation needed).  As always, I note that Shakespeare wasn’t infallible — maybe the guy was experimenting with something out of his usual comfort zone and it didn’t quite work.  For all we know, maybe Middleton salvaged a workable play out of a rougher draft that would’ve really put a black mark on Shakespeare’s record.

Apropos of nothing, I’ve been to Athens!  Spent roughly 24 hours there as part of a trip to attend a wedding.  I don’t want to say that staying at the Athens Holiday Inn was quite like one of Timon’s lavish parties, but it wasn’t not not like that either.  One weird design flaw; I walk into my room and the lights go on automatically, but then they also go off automatically a couple of minutes later.  I flick the light switches on the wall and on the lamps, but nothing.  I call down to the front desk, and they tell me that to activate the lights, I have to put my room card into a little slot next to the front door.  Supposedly the logic here is that this will save on energy if guests keep leaving lights on when they’re out of the room?  Clearly, Athenians are so spooked by Timon’s downfall that years later, they’re still trying to be frugal.



19. Pericles
18. The Taming Of The Shrew
17. Antony & Cleopatra
16. Troilus & Cressida
15. Love’s Labour’s Lost
14. As You Like It
13. Titus Andronicus
12. Much Ado About Nothing
11. Timon Of Athens
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!"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Galifianakis vs. Clinton

Hmm, I thought I posted this a month ago when it originally aired.  Oh well, it's not like anything big has happened in the election since then.

It's bizarre that Hillary Clinton sitting down for a 'Between Two Ferns' doesn't even crack the top 100 weirdest things to happen during this election.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

NHL/NBA Predictions

Last year, an iconic Canadian franchise (the Maple Leafs) traded an oustanding player (Phil Kessel) for nebulous chemistry reasons (i.e. management didn't like the player).  The player was dealt to an American team (the Penguins) that has enjoyed much more recent success than the iconic Canadian team, perhaps because the American team isn't run by incompetents.  Anyway, the player fit right in with his new team because it actually appreciated him, and went on to win a Stanley Cup, shoving it directly in the face of his old team and the team's water-carriers in the media.

This year, an iconic Canadian franchise (the Canadiens) traded an oustanding player (P.K. Subban) for nebulous chemistry reasons (i.e. management didn't like the player).  The player was dealt to an American team (the Predators) that has enjoyed much more recent success than the iconic Canadian team, perhaps because the American team isn't run by incompetents.

So, my prediction for the coming season is that Nashville will win the Stanley Cup, Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien will both be unemployed by April at the latest, and the Oilers will continue to be terrible.  That last one is a gimme, admittedly.  Should I predict an Eastern Conference finalist?  I guess so, eh?  Tampa Bay!  That's right, Tampa Bay vs. Nashville in the Stanley Cup finals, in a sure ratings-grabber.


I'll throw in my NBA season prediction as well, since Golden State vs. Cleveland is as obvious a final as we've ever seen in sports history.  Minus an injury to LeBron, nothing is stopping Warriors/Cavaliers for the third straight year.  This time I'll take the Warriors to win since with Durant in the fold, that team is now officially absurd.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm at an Eminem concert with my mother (!) at the Palace of Auburn Hills.  It's a theatre-in-the-round type of stage, with Em in the middle of the arena and the first several rows around the stage are, in fact, long dinner tables like it's a banquet.  The people seated at said tables are formally dressed and are being served proper meals by a wait staff.  Behind these tables is regular arena seating, where Mom and I are sitting.

After the opening song, the in-arena camera picks me (and a couple of others) out of the crowd and we're chosen for the "Mic Down" later in the concert.  As the guy in front of me explains, this is a bit during Eminem's concerts when he brings a few random people on stage and then tears them apart via a clever rap, essentially like a roast.  I shrug and say sure.  My mother couldn't be more amused by this scenario.  Sadly, I woke up before the whole thing played out.

: Yeah, this was a weird one.  Let's just get it out of the way right now, I'm not an Eminem fan.  Enjoy a few of his big hits but that's it --- this is probably why, in the dream, I didn't recognize any of his songs.  It was all just a garbled blur of hip-hop whenever he was actually performing. 

As such, I have no idea what an Eminem concert is like, which is why I'm pretty sure the 'Mic Down' doesn't actually exist.  It seems like something that could exist, however, and frankly, I'm sure countless fans would love to be good-naturedly ripped by Eminem in front of thousands of people.  I'm one of those odd people who thinks it would be a lot of fun to be subjected to a roast.  It couldn't possibly go any worse than the Chevy Chase roast, right?  Right?  And really, what's the worst that Eminem could say about me?  I'd just grin and make some snide remark about Lipton's Brisk Iced Tea commercials.  Of course, the obvious psychological point is that in my dream, I'm being set up to be humiliated, and as much as I say I would've been cool with it, I woke up before the humiliation actually occurred.  This definitely raises some questions about my self-confidence that should be addressed in HEY LOOK OVER THERE IT'S A NEW PARAGRAPH 

I've also never been to the Palace, but I've certainly seen enough Pistons games on TV to know that the place isn't all classed up long tables and a chandelier.  It's just your regular arena.  Maybe this was a manifestation of my subconscious desire to see more gimmick-themed sports stadiums.  For instance, if you're going to call it "the Palace," why NOT go the whole nine yards and give the entire building a regal gimmick?  The Sacramento Kings are in the process (sorta, kinda) of building a new arena so they're a perfect candidate to design that would essentially be an ongoing production of Medieval Times, except with basketball games in lieu of jousting.  This would be amazing.  The fans would all be encouraged to wear their Sunday best to games, female fans could be given fake pearls to shake in outrage at opposing players, everyone gets monocles to drop in outrage, etc.  The Kings players would literally be led onto the court on horseback like the Knights of the round table returning to Camelot --- tell me your average NBA player wouldn't love having his ego pampered like this.    

And now, finally, we ask the big question, why in the world am I there with my mom?  If I'm an unlikely candidate to be at an Eminem concert, my mother is quite possibly THE unlikeliest candidate to be at said show.  She's easily in the bottom five worldwide, right there with my dad, the Pope, Oswaldo Perez of Lima, Peru (he knows why) and, of course, Stan, who would've been there were it not for the fact that he's shuffled off this mortal coil.  Ergo, the two of us there together seems like some kind of weird practical joke…and frankly, it could've been.  My brother is a huge Eminem fan and, since we do nothing but bicker with each other, I could definitely see a scenario where I win Eminem tickets in some contest and then, spitefully, not only go to the show myself but invite our own mother rather than just take my brother or give him the tickets outright.  If this sounds immature, well, it is.  "Mark, aren't you and your brother both in your mid-30's?"  Yes, yes we are. 

Why my mother would go along with this idea is still beyond me, so I'm at a loss to explain her presence in the dream.  I did take her to an Elton John show for her birthday a few years ago, and there's certainly a much-publicized connection between Eminem and Sir Elton.  Also, my name is Mark and her name is Margaret, so between us, we're literally an M & M.  Hmm, could it be that I'm dreaming of Eminem's criticism of me as a projection of what "M& M" thinks, namely my mother's criticisms and my own self-doubts?  Man, this is another fascinating subject that could really reveal a lot of HEY LOOK, IT'S THE END OF THE POST.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Love Potion #9

God only knows what was in the first eight, but we can all agree that #9 still sucks. It generates such a frenzy of Pepe Le Pew-esque lust that the guy can't even tell if it's day or night, and he falls in love with everyone he sees. Pretty ass-backwards formula for a love portion. He starts kissin' everything in sight, including the police officer assigned to the downtown Los Angeles beat who is naturally trying to stop him from these blatant acts of sexual assault. 

The guy is in such a blind tornado of lust and he actually tries to kiss the cop as well, which naturally leads to a scuffle, during which the cop breaks the bottle. This destroys any alibi or explanation this schmuck might've had, and guaranteeing that he'll be branded as a sex offender for life and rightly thrown in jail.    

It's his own fault. The whole idea of a love potion is criminal sexual coercion anyway. If this guy is buying a so-called magic chemical to make it easier for to score, that just sounds to me like he's buying roofies. No wonder this creep is such a self-confessed flop with chicks. He's probably such a flop because he refers to them as "chicks" and not women. Cut out the insulting slang, jerk. That kind of lingo might've flown in 1956 when you last got laid, but it's 2016 now. You know what another insulting term is? "Gypsy." So in short, this guy is a sexual predator AND a bigot.

Love Potion #7, however, just makes you really like the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cheering for an NBA champ is way better than being turned into a pervert.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Turn On The Red Light

I was planning a post about my favourite sports nicknames when suddenly, I realized I only had one choice for the top spot.  The clear winner was former Montreal Canadiens goalie Andre "Red Light" Racicot.

If you don't remember the Red Light, that's probably not a surprise.  He was only a backup for five years with the Habs (1989-1994) and ended up appearing in just 68 NHL games.  Oh but what games they were!  Racicot retired with a sterling 3.50 goals against average and a .880 save percentage, numbers that would make him fit right in with your average Maple Leafs goalie from the last few seasons.  Oh who am I kidding, several seasons.

There was a lot to love about the Red Light, starting with that beautiful nickname.  Doesn't it just roll off your tongue?  "Red Light Racicot."  I daresay its double-R alliterative brilliance is even greater than that of another certain double-R Habs superstar…actually wait, I just had an image of Maurice Richard's ghost coming to me in the night and glaring at me with his famous crazy-man stare, oh god, Rocket, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, please don't kill me.  (This is also the plot of Paranormal Activity 9, by the way.)

Aside from the nickname's melodious tone, it also was simply beyond fitting.  If you were writing a hockey comedy and had to think up a name for a crappy backup goalie, "Red Light Racicot" would be your best possible choice.  The name conjures up the thought of a good-natured but awful French-Canadian goalkeeper, who keeps his teammates loose in the dressing room even while they all live in fear that he'll actually be one day called upon to actually play for the team in a clutch situation.  And sure enough, the plot would dictate that the star goalie would get injured, and thus Red Light would be called upon to save the day.  He'd overcome the odds with help from his loving girlfriend and his mentor, a Finnish ghost who haunted the rink after being murdered there 70 years prior due to a gambling debt.  Okay fine, the script is a work in progress.

And the best part is, Canadiens fans actually had to hope against hope that this scenario didn't come to pass in real life.  You see, what made Racicot's ineptitude even more glaring was the fact that he was backing up Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender of all time.  It's very rare in sports that you have such a first-to-worst gap on one team at one position.  Perhaps the only comparable situation that comes to mind in recent memory was that Colts season when Peyton Manning was injured for the whole year, leading to The Man They Call Curtis Painter actually being used in a professional football game for anything besides manning the Gatorade cooler.  As long as the Canadiens had Roy they were contenders, but if anything ever happened to him, they would've been beyond screwed.  Racicot would have allowed seven goals in his first game and also somehow ordered a plate of nachos to be delivered to him on the ice during the second period.

The best part about the nickname, however, is that it could potentially go two ways.  While I described in detail the saga of 'Red Light' being a perfect nickname for a crappy goalie, it also fits equally well as the nickname for a hotshot winger from southern Quebec.  Just as Racicot the goalie would lead to the red light being turned on after allowing yet another goal, the fictional shooter version of Red Light Racicot would be lighting the lamp himself after yet another goal for the Habs.  By the way, if any Canadiens fans are reading this, they are now openly drooling.  You've seen how up in arms the Habs get about having a French-speaking head coach….can you imagine what they would give for a Francophone superstar to lead the team?  I think Marc Bergevin would literally give up one of his children to make this happen and you could probably talk him into a second if necessary.

Since I have no other way of finishing this post, here's a YouTube video of U2's song "Red Light," often considered one of the band's weaker tracks (I think it's okay, though).  The song was released in 1983, so it sadly wasn't inspired by Racicot's play.  U2 can only be connected to one Montreal sports team at a time, you know.

For all the Police fans who surfed onto this page and expected at least a link to "Roxanne"….uh, look over there!

/throws smoke grenade
/dives out window
/lands on car
/curses stupid getaway plan while in the afterlife

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare Re-Read #18)

That’s right, I haven’t forgotten about the Shakespeare re-read project!  Somewhat unbelievably, this is my first play review of 2016.  My months-long hiatus did lead to one setback, as I’d somehow gone my entire life without knowing about the “feed your enemy’s kids to them” twist in Titus Andronicus.  It would’ve been quite the shocking scene for me…if I hadn’t seen this very plot point from the play cited during a recap of the Game Of Thrones season finale (no spoilers).  So, if I’d actually gotten around to reading TA when originally intended months ago, I wouldn’t have spent the entire play just waiting to get to the proverbial fireworks factory of that one big scene.

I kind of figured the scene wouldn’t come until the climax, and sure enough, I was right.  That being said, so many horrific things happen during this play that “feed your enemy’s kids to them” actually doesn’t stand out as the obvious bottom of the barrel.  Holy moly, the play’s reputation as the most crazy-violent and bloody of Shakespeare’s canon is well-deserved.

Perhaps because of that reason, it is also often held up as the worst of Shakespeare’s plays.  Some critics even argue that it couldn’t have been written by Shakespeare at all due to the low quality, which I’d say is a wee bit of historic whitewashing.  Even Wayne Gretzky missed a few nets, you know.  As you’ll see from my rankings, I don’t consider Titus Andronicus to be his worst play, though it may be his least-structured.  Scenes range from crazily-overlong to very short, with characters not actually leaving the stage between scenes in many cases — if there was ever a play that could’ve abandoned the traditional five-act format of the time, this was probably it.  Titus Andronicus is widely considered to have been written early in Shakespeare’s career and it was his first tragedy, which probably explains the sloppiness and relatively low quality.

It’s interesting that most modern productions very liberally trim the fat from the original text, cutting out several unnecessary scenes or plot points that confuse or muddle the story or characterization.  There also seem to be two central ways to stage Titus Andronicus nowadays — either the violence is performed in a very stylized fashion (i.e. representing the blood with red scarves) so the horror is slightly less visceral, or to so over the top and almost make the play a dark comedy, a la Evil Dead or a Tarantino movie.  It isn’t hard to imagine a very broad Titus Andronicus production where the first three rows are required to wear plastic sheets to product them from the exaggerated blood splatter from the stage.

You almost need one of those methods to properly stage this play since doing it in a straight-forward dramatic manner seems almost too much to bear.  The rape and mutilation of Lavinia has to be the single most terrifying sequence of Shakespeare’s career.  I don’t know how an audience could get through Act II, scene iv without breaking down.  The scene’s very inclusion represents Shakespeare’s inexperience as a playwright, since obviously this is the point where the reader/viewer is all-systems-go on seeing the villains horribly punished, except it’s a little uneasy since Titus himself has been portrayed as such a tyrant earlier in the play.  Throughout the first act and a half, I wasn’t sure if this play was the story of Titus and company as the protagonists, or the story of the Goths and the Andronici children teaming up to avenge their brother’s death at the hands of their mad father and the foolish emperor Saturninus.

Needless to say, Lavinia’s attack puts one clearly on her side along with Lucius and Marcus, though those two guys have their issues themselves.  But the problem with Titus is a bit harder to swallow, given that, you know, he KILLED ONE OF HIS SONS in the play’s very first scene.  In fairness, Titus mentions that he has lost 20 sons in war, so perhaps this guy is simply so fertile that he can toss off a kid as quickly as you or I might throw out an old pair of socks.  (Hell, even the remaining sons get over poor Mutius’ death pretty quickly and get back on board with their old man.)  But still, with 20 sons down, you’d think Titus would be more protective of the five children he still has left.*  In summation, “child murder = bad” continues to be the official stance of this blog.

* = also, Titus had 25 children but apparently only one of them was a girl?  This guy was the bizarro Henry VIII.

Titus also doesn’t exactly do much to regain the audience’s sympathy by play’s end, when he rather casually murders Lavinia.  Even weirder, he does it basically on the recommendation of Saturninus, a guy Titus is preparing to also murder.  Poor Lavinia, who has been through sufferings nobody should endure, gets revenge on her attackers…and then is killed by her father?  What?  I don’t care how early in Shakespeare’s career this was, or what the cultural feeling of the day towards honour killings was, it makes no narrative sense.

This was my first time reading Titus Andronicus, so I couldn’t help but see the play as something of a poor man’s version of King Lear.  The difference, of course, is that by the time Shakespeare got around to writing Lear later in his career, he had the knowhow to not eradicate Lear’s sympathy right off the bat.  Banishing Cordelia is an error that Lear can theoretically still correct; if he’d killed her, that’s a bridge too far.  There are quite a few notable Lear/Titus parallels…the lead characters, Aaron and Edmund, Marcus/Lucius as a proto-version of Kent and Edgar, Tamora and Saturninus as Regan and Cornwall, Lavinia as both Cordelia or perhaps Gloucester (in terms of the maiming), and there’s even that random clown as a very poor man’s version of the Fool.  It’s like ol’ Will kept the basic idea in his head for years, perhaps unsatisfied with his early stab (no pun intended) at it, and then revisited it years later and tied it to the actual coherent story of the Leir legend.

Given how early TA came in Shakespeare’s career, it could be said that Aaron is his first great villain.  (Well, his first great intentional villain, given how the horrible behaviour of the dudes in Two Gentlemen Of Verona or Taming Of The Shrew is either excused or played for laughs.)  In Aaron, you definitely see a combination of both Iago as a behind-the-scenes mastermind, as well as Shylock, a caricature of a “villain” who becomes more sympathetic when seen through modern eyes.  In Shakespeare’s time, Aaron is a near-inhuman moor who literally goes to his grave wishing he had perpetrated even more evil.  In today’s time, Aaron could very easily be portrayed as something of an anti-hero, going on a “the hell with them all” vengeance rampage in the face of the constant racial intolerance he faces throughout the play.  The scene of Titus and Marcus killing the fly, for instance, is so cringeworthy that it’s one of those scenes that is often cut from modern productions due to the overt racism.

If this was Shakespeare’s first tragedy, one can infer that he was trying to underline the ‘drama’ of the piece by making it as lacking in wit as possible.  Most of Shakespeare’s tragedies have some element of comic relief, whether it’s something as simple as two witty characters exchanging dialogue on an unrelated matter to fill a scene.  Not in Titus Andronicus — the closest we get is Demetrius and Chiron quarrelling over Lavinia, and that scene goes to hell when it culminates in Aaron coming up with a plan for them to capture and rape her.  (And, as I noted, at this point in play you’re still not sure who the ‘good guys’ are since we’re just an act away from Titus murdering his son in cold blood!  Shakespeare’s early comedies were so rapey that I was like, “well, uh, maybe Demetrius and Chiron will have a change of heart?”)

While not his worst play, TA certainly isn’t one of Shakespeare’s better plays, given its rough dialogue, wild plot twists and rather haphazard construction.  I guess I’d mark the extreme violence as a negative as well, though in a weird way, it’s the only interesting element of the entire play.  If it was your usual set of poison-and-stabbings, Titus Andronicus would barely be remembered; the absolute excess of the violence makes it stand out.  This is Shakespeare by way of a Saw movie.

It is so in-your-face that I don’t really have any desire to see this text actually portrayed, be it on stage or on the screen.  Julie Taymor directed a film version years ago, but if I wanted to see a Julie Taymor production filled with broken bodies everywhere, I would’ve seen her Spider-Man musical.  Unbelievably, TA was recently performed in Toronto’s High Park for its annual ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ performances, which seems like a hilariously poor choice given that they usually opt for more family-friendly material (Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy Of Errors, etc.)  Some poor parent dragging their kids to the park for some culture will be in for as much of a rude awakening as the parent who took their kids to ‘Sausage Party.’



18. Pericles
17. The Taming Of The Shrew
16. Antony & Cleopatra
15. Troilus & Cressida
14. Love’s Labour’s Lost
13. As You Like It
12. Titus Andronicus
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!"