Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Other People's Writing

* A fascinating look at perhaps “the most restaurant in America” and one that also seems kind more than a bit of a put-out, as examined by the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten.  My friend Shannon pointed me in the direction of this article, and her theory is that Damon Baehrel is a modern-day Andy Kaufman with a restaurant devoted towards mocking the pretension of foodies.  I feel like Paumgarten could’ve discovered what was “really going on” with a hint more detective work, though he obviously feels like preserving the mystery for the sheer fun of it.

* “Batman: The Animated Series” is quite possibly the best non-Simpsons cartoon of all time, and almost certainly the best version of Batman in mass media history.  That said, I really didn’t know a thing about Paul Dini (the co-head writer/show-runner of that and many other outstanding) until this profile from Vice’s Mitchell Sunderland.  One can only sigh when thinking about how DC would’ve benefited by simply putting Dini and Bruce Timm in charge of their live-action films a few years ago, but c’est la vie.

* For anyone who has ever gone through their list of “happy birthday!” greetings to see how it differed from the previous year (uh, I mean, um, I don’t do this), this piece by The Ringer’s Molly McHugh about how Facebook has essentially taken over the concept of birthday wishes is for you.  I think the step beyond is posting something on FB to celebrate someone’s birthday when they’re not even on Facebook themselves.  My dad has missed out on several warm wishes from me since he doesn’t have an account.  What, does he expect me to call him or something? 

* The Ringer recently had a “Cleveland Week” devoted to a wide array of stories about the city, including Alyssa Bereznak’s story about how the leg lamp from ‘A Christmas Story’ inspired a museum devoted to the film located within the actual house in which the movie was shot.  Next time I’m in Cleveland, I’m wondering where I made a wrong turn absolutely visiting this place.

* More from Cleveland Week, from the Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, a story that begins about legendary Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (who everyone’s heard of) and morphs into a much more interesting read about Harvey Fuqua, who may be one of the most influential people in music history that few remember today.

* Kate McKinnon is the best, as I’ve been saying for years.  I love that we get only a glimpse of her in this interview with the New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff, seemingly because the answers read like Itzkoff probably thought he was getting great stuff in the moment, only to listen to his recorder afterwards and realize that she didn’t really give him a damn thing.  The enigma that is McKinnon!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Admittedly, bragging about one’s own joke is really lame, but…

I was recently at a Harvey’s waiting for my food.  Behind me in line were a very lovely woman and a slightly wacky-looking older guy who kind of resembled (and this is a real deep-cut reference for Canadians) Bill from the “Adventures With Bill” segments on the old Red Green Show.  Perhaps needless to say, the woman and pseudo-Bill weren’t there together.  So we’re all standing around when yet another lovely young woman enters the restaurant and gets in line.

Standing between these two women, this fiftysomething man reacts like a kid in the throes of puberty.  Actually, he more or less reacted like a cartoon character, stopping just short of having his eyeballs turn into hearts.  He took this big exaggerated double-take looking at the two women and said, in the most leering, cringe-inducing voice possible, “wow, is this a restaurant or a modelling agency?”

After two seconds of horribly awkward silence, I chimed in with “yeah, I do a lot of catalogue work.”

The two women broke out laughing, the two Harvey’s employees broke out laughing, and pseudo-Bill turned and looked at me with a confused look on his face.  His food happened to be ready at just that moment, and he beat a hasty retreat out of the store.

So yes, when it comes to cutting creepy old dudes down to size, consider me Batman.  Though not a Batman who does any catalogue work.  Harvey’s makes your one-liners a beautiful thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Talkin' Softball

The greatest comeback of all time was somewhat overshadowed by….uh, the greatest comeback of all time.  My epic return to the world of softball was only slightly dampened by the fact that we blew a 10-run lead (!) in the final inning (!!) and lost 19-18.  We can’t blame a pitcher (it was three-pitch rules, with the ball tossed by a teammate), so it was overall just a team meltdown.  There were a few errors on our side, but mostly, the opposing team en masse turned into Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez and started driving the ball all over the field.  Given the quick pace of three-pitch softball, this entire rally took place in less than 10 minutes, leaving us all too shellshocked to really react or adjust.  The loss was so crushing that it almost stopped me from going out to Dairy Queen for a strawberry sundae after the game, and when I say “almost stopped,” it’s a lie.   

But don’t be fooled: my epic return to the world of softball certainly still lived up to its billing.  Thanks to a number of absences on his regular roster, my pal Matt recently had to break out the proverbial red telephone to summon the man, the myth, the me.  It was the first time I had stepped onto a softball diamond since 2008, and while retirement had been good to me, I was ultimately swayed by two factors…

1. This generation of fans who missed my golden years can now say they saw me play
2. I had nothing better to do on a Thursday night

So, I grabbed my gear and went down to the diamond.  Ok, so not really ’gear,’ since my glove is sitting in a closet somewhere at my parents’ place.  And really, even my t-shirt was wrong, given that Matt’s team is actually organized and has uniforms and everything, yet I couldn’t find a single purple shirt in my closet to match their colour scheme.  I spent six years on Western’s campus and didn’t come out of it with one stinking purple shirt?  For shame.

My biggest concern was that I would instantly pull every muscle in my body given how long it had been since I last did any sort of physical activity played softball.  Erosion of skills wasn’t really a fear, since one can never hit a decline phase if they never incline in the first place.  So the good news is, I managed to escape the game without injury.  The feet were a little sore and I did get one medium-sized bruise on my lower leg from blocking an errant throw at second base (as opposed to, you know, catching the ball) but all in all, I emerged in one piece.  I spent six innings of the seven-inning game at second base, wowing everyone with my deft glovework.  Sure, there were the two errors, but I choose instead to focus on the positive of catching one ball on a force play.  Since a .333 batting average is terrific and even a .333 on-base percentage is pretty solid, I can only conclude that a .333 fielding percentage is also impressive.

But we didn’t come here to talk about fielding.  I’m sure the first question on your mind (maybe second, after “wait, HOW long is this post?!”) is how did the legendary slugger known as the London Lumber* fare at the place?  The answer?  Shockingly well!  A FOUR-HIT night, finishing 4-for-5 with four singles and four RBI.  Whaaaaat?

* = it’s either that or the London Lumberer, in reference to my baserunning

Now, all kidding aside, this was literally the greatest hitting performance of my life.  I can count all the two-hit games of my baseball/softball career on one hand, so a four-hit game is like suddenly waking up one day and running a four-minute mile.  (Or, for me, just running a mile.  Or, just running!)  I wasn’t exactly much of a hitter back in my house league days, given that my career highlights at the plate include…

* an inside-the-infield home run that I credited to my blazing speed, though the killjoy scorer felt it was due to the three separate errors committed on the play.  Booooooo!
* faking getting hit by a pitch, causing a reaction of half-amazement, half-disgust from my first base coach when he asked me if I was hurt.  Five years of high school drama class paid off!
* leading my house league in bunt base hits, mostly because I was the only one who’d ever conceive of bunting during a house league game.

….and that’s it.  Needless to say, four hits exceeded all expectations.  Turns out it’s way easier to hit the ball when it’s being slowly lobbed by a teammate rather than pitched by an opponent.  Who knew? 

Some might argue that bragging about one’s personal achievements in a game your team a) lost, and b) lost in horrific fashion is the sign of a selfish, me-first player.  To this I say, ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.  Given my career history, if you’d asked my former teammates what was more likely to happen that fateful Thursday night, all of them would’ve predicted a 10-run collapse over a four-hit night from ol’ Question Mark.  Statistically, my achievement is much rarer, so it’s the true focus here.  Now, if I’m ever called on as a sub once more, the sky is the limit.  A five-hit night?  TWO successful putouts at second base?  The mind boggles.

The strawberry sundae was pretty good, btw.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Thank You, Gord

Found this image on Twitter and I think it sums up how our country feels about the Tragically Hip

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

City Lights

No, not the Chaplin movie, as much as that cigar gag still cracks me up.  "City Lights" is the NEW WHITE STRIPES SONG....well, okay, actually an old White Stripes song that was never released.  But I'll take it!  Make it honourary #43 on the list.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cafe Squad/Suicide Society

After watching “Suicide Squad” and “Cafe Society” back to back, I think I want to see both movies switch casts.  Admit it, wouldn’t the idea of Kristen Stewart as Harley Quinn and Steve Carell as the Joker be way more fascinating than Robbie and Leto?  Plus you can cast Jesse Eisenberg as Deadshot to….oh wait, never mind, that would break the iron-clad “never ever cast Eisenberg in a comic book movie ever again” rule, instituted about two minutes after the initial screening of Batman vs. Superman.

Anyway, Suicide Squad was better than the generally scathing reviews indicated, though in the sense that a D-minus is better than an F.  The word best describes this film is sloppy, and there’s really no excuse for this to be the case.  This is a big studio picture with a $150 million budget, yet it looks like something a first-year film student would be embarrassed to submit if they hastily threw it together on their Macbook video editor.  It’s an absolute mess editing-wise…there’s already been a lot of talk about how much stuff (mostly Joker footage) was left on the cutting room floor, and even if this is a case where editors are working hard to salvage a crappy movie, it’s still just so incoherent.  For instance, why doesn’t Adam Beach’s character get a little flashback intro or “bio card” like the rest of the Squad?  There’s a surprise concerning his character, though I’d argue that to better preserve the surprise, it would make more sense to treat him like everyone else rather than have him hastily tossed in after the initial introductions. 

Like BvS, the entire narrative is just rushed and non-sensical rather than an actual plot.  Why does Amanda Waller pitch this team as a meta-human counter to “the next Superman” when only a few of them are actual metahumans?  Someone with Superman’s power level would literally not break a sweat (well, ok, he maybe literally would thanks to El Diablo) in wiping the floor with the entire Suicide Squad in five seconds or less.  Also, it makes Waller look much less shrewd when she only really has to leverage one of the team (Deadshot), and the rest she just recruits with “hey, I can detonate explosives in your skull now, do as I say.”  And hey, another little Waller miscue — why recruit Harley Quinn on your team when a) she has no superpowers, and b) her involvement will inevitably get the Joker on your radar, which nobody wants?  Did Waller watch too much It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and feel her team needed a Charlie-esque wild card in the mix?

Viola Davis, as everything other actor in this movie, was basically wasted.  As you might expect from a movie where the entire premise is villains teaming up to face other villains, it’s hard to find much sympathy for any of the characters.  I guess there was Kitana (who’s not an actual villain), and poor ol’ June Moone trapped by the Enchantress.  The rest of them….meh.  Will Smith plays Deadshot like a poor man’s version of every other Will Smith character, except with the murderous twist.  Jay “El Diablo” Hernandez actually gets a good scene to establish himself (unlike the rest of the clear supporting cast Squad members) but it’s hard to have much sympathy for a guy that, y’know, killed his family.  Robbie is getting a lot of hype for her role but I dunno, it was very much the broad strokes version of Harley Quinn.  Leto’s Joker was such a step down from Ledger and Nicholson and I heave a deep sigh just thinking about it.

Basically, it’s not much more than another DC movies mess, and I reiterate my old point that it’s hard to believe anyone could watch these films and get fired up for the next installment.  I cannot get excited for Wonder Woman (cool trailer aside) since the DC franchise is just letdown after letdown.  If the filmmakers don’t even care enough to edit or score the movies properly, why should I care about watching them? 


As for Cafe Society, I actually liked it quite a bit, even accounting for the cringe-anvils that are inherent in any Woody Allen movie when it comes to plots about an older man and a much younger woman.  (This film actually had a double layer of meta to it considering Stewart’s own romantic history.)  It was a good choice to watch it directly after a barrage of nonsense like Suicide Squad, since it refreshing to just characters actually, y’know, talk.  And say things with more depth than “we’re the bad guys” as both a punchline and mission statement over and over again.

I’m only half-kidding about Carell playing the Joker since I think he’d absolutely nail the role.  Carell might be one of those actors who is so well-known for comedy and so gifted at it, yet his biggest strength may actually be turning those skills on their head and playing villains.  Consider him in The Way Way Back or Foxcatcher, or even the lower-level amiable not-actually-villainous twinge he gives Phil Stern in a couple of scenes here.  When Vonnie is delivering her rambling Errol Flynn story, Phil’s look to Bobby is so perfectly smug and such an F-you power move.

You wouldn’t have thought that Stewart and Eisenberg may be the best movie couple of this generation, and yet here we are.  Three movies together (this one, Adventureland, American Ultra) and these two have chemistry for days.  They’re both kind of specialized actors who can only really blossom in certain roles, and these parts aren’t really even those kind of roles — Eisenberg is one of the better “Woody Allen avatars” for the lead roles that are so clearly written in Allen’s voice*, yet these parts inevitably suffer a bit because they’re less actual characters than simply his avatars.  Despite Bobby and Vonnie not really being in their wheelhouse, Eisenberg and Stewart succeed since the two of them are so naturally good together.  I mean, if these two can kinda pull off a stoner action movie couple, the sky’s the limit.  I say we keep casting them in more and more head-scratching roles to see if they can make it work through sheer chemistry.  Maybe Eisenberg’s Luthor would’ve actually not been a disaster if Stewart had been cast as Superman.

* = quick Woody Allen avatar power ranking.  The trick is to deliver the dialogue and make it sound natural without simply falling into the classic Woody Allen mannerisms.  I like Eisenberg, Owen Wilson (who succeeded in Midnight In Paris by successfully combining ‘the Woody voice’ with ‘the Owen Wilson voice’ to create an original character) and Larry David in recent years, though David is almost a cheat since his entire life seems like a Woody Allen character.  The bottom three are, in descending order of awfulness, Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall and Kenneth Branagh.

Oh!  Wait!  If we’re talking Cafe Society/DC crossover casting, forget Stewart as Harley Quinn, make it Parker Posey.  We, as a culture, failed in never making Posey Quinn happen at some point over the years. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Silence Of The Names

Time normalizes anything but when you really think about it, “Hannibal Lecter” and “Clarice Starling” are both pretty silly character names for what is supposed to be a relatively realistic series of suspense novels.  “Clarice Starling” sounds straight outta the Hunger Games, where at least you could excuse the extreme “young and innocent” vibe of the name as befitting a young adult novel.  “Hannibal Lecter” is technically an ok name for a serial killer, except for the fact that Lecter is a cannibal, which takes things into a ridiculous “Crentist the dentist” direction straight out of Dwight Schrute’s desperate mind.  Did an editor put Harris on the spot  or something?

Editor: Tom, you’ve been stalling on this novel for months.  The publisher wants to meet with you, and the smallest thing could cause him to pull your book deal.

Harris: No worries, he’ll love my new idea for a serial killer, a cannibal named Ronaldo Lecter.

Editor: Ok, here he comes.

Publisher: Harris!  Good to finally meet you, my name is Ronaldo Marquez.

Harris: Wait, what?

Publisher: I’m annoyed by these delays.  Pitch me on this idea for a big bad villain of yours right now!

Harris: He’s a cannibal named….uh, Hannibal.

Editor: Yikes.

Publisher: Sure, whatever, I’m a busy man.  Pages by Monday!

Editor: Wait, really?

Harris: Sure thing, chief!

Editor: Man, quality control in this place…

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Between Two Feys!

It is almost inconceivable that I somehow missed a 'Between Two Ferns,' and it's DOUBLY almost inconceivable that I missed an edition featuring one of my 15-20 favourite people, Tina Fey.  (That 15-20 figure puts her ahead of several friends and extended family members.  I stand by my ranking.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Girl Is Whose?

Fun fact: did you know that "The Girl Is Mine" was actually the lead single off of the Thriller album?  That blows my mind.  You have this legendary record with some of the best music ever recorded (you can make a good case that "Billie Jean" is, pound-for-pound, the best song ever) and Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones chose THAT as the first single?  Hoo boy.

I mean, I get it, it's a duet with Paul McCartney, so that's definitely a big deal.  But still, wow, "The Girl Is Mine" is just a straight-up poor song.  Its presence was the sole reason I only ranked Thriller as my second-favourite album of 1982, behind only Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.  My logic: "That would be like judging a beauty contest between two twin stunners, with the only difference being that one of them had a huge goiter on their neck, and then picking the one with the goiter [to win]." 

It's astounding that two iconic talents like Jackson and McCartney joined forces, only to produce such a poor product.  "The Girl Is Mine" is the musical equivalent of the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro film Righteous Kill, a.k.a. maybe the worst movie of 2008.  Jacko and Macca also teamed up on "Say Say Say" for a McCartney solo album around the same time, and while that song is no great shakes itself, there's no question that McCartney got the better of that deal. 

On the bright side, at least McCartney/Jackson can take solace in the fact that TGIM is one of the funniest-in-hindsight songs ever written.  I mean, the word "doggone" has only been uttered about 16 times since the 19th century, and this song is responsible for over half that total.

"I Am Mine" is not one of Pearl Jam's better songs, and it also stole the perfect title for the ultimate reverse-perspective track --- a tune sung from the perspective of the woman that Jackson and McCartney are singing about/fighting about.  Wouldn't that be fascinating to hear her take on the situation?  Wouldn't you want to meet the woman who had both these VERY different musical legends in her thrall?  That's the definition of not having a type.  Also, the fact that she had both of them on the line at the same time was some Cleopatra-level seduction right there.  

Let's break down the song's ending, a spoken-word bit between McCartney and Jackson…

Paul: Michael, we're not going to fight about this, okay?

Are you sure, Paul?  I mean, nobody is drafting Paul McCartney in their all-time tough guy musicians fantasy draft, but I'm pretty sure you could take Michael in a fistfight if it came right down to it.  If you avoid his hat tosses and keep him from getting to Bubbles, it's an easy victory.

Michael: Paul, I think I told you, I'm a lover not a fighter.

Given what we learned of Michael Jackson's personal life since 1982, there are few creepier phrases MJ could utter than "I'm a lover."

Paul: I've heard it all before, Michael.  She told me that I'm her forever lover, you know.  Don't you remember?

So clearly these two dudes have been beefing over this woman for a while now, though I'm a little unclear about the specifics.  For instance, here, does "don't you remember" refer to the fact that Paul has bragged about the 'forever lover' thing before, or was Jackson actually present when The Girl said that to McCartney?

Michael: Well, after loving me, she said she couldn't love another.

…since if she hooked up with Jacko AFTER giving McCartney the 'forever lover' spiel, that is a stone-cold #Cleopatra move from this lady.  Also, I'm just presuming that 'love' means 'sexed up real good' in this context.  If you replaced all the 'loves' with and 'doggones' with cursing and re-recorded this song with, say, Lil Jon and Andy Samberg, that would be amazing.  Lonely Island, get on this.

Paul: Is that what she said?

I love Macca's delivery here.  He sounds legitimately perplexed and inquisitive, as if he believes Jackson may have a point.  This is like Robert Goulet's "Vera said that?" line on The Simpsons.

Michael: Yes, she said it.  You keep dreaming.

It's worth noting that Michael delivers this line with as much smugness as humanly possible.  "Keep dreaming" is indeed a pretty classic brush-off line.

Paul: I don't belieeeeeeeeve it.

Two interpretations.  Firstly, Paul could legitimately not belieeeeeeeeeve it.  He's just bursting into song to indicate his utter as-if attitude to Jackson's claim.  On the other hand, Paul could actually belieeeeeeeeeve it and it's blown his mind, causing a nervous breakdown that has left McCartney unable to speak in normal tones and now he can only speak via sung dialogue like he's in the Buffy musical.  It's not out of the question that McCartney, a man whose life has been devoted to melodies, would devolve into a primordial songman state upon hearing that his beloved girl with another man. 

It would been amazing if the girl they were fighting over was also the girl from the "Thriller" video, since I think McCartney's final counter-argument of "at least I'm not a werewolf/zombie demon" would be the clincher.