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?!