Tuesday, June 27, 2017

National Sunglasses Day

Apparently today is #NationalSunglassesDay, which gives me an excuse for the laziest of all blogger activites, re-posting old material!  Here are two classics (your mileage may vary) from 2014....

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March 2014

If I ever got to meet a genie, all-knowing entity or some kind of deity, I obviously would stick to mostly deep questions (meaning of life, is there extraterrestrial life, etc.) and I wouldn't go all "Homer meets the Kwik-E-Mart president."  That said, if I got the opportunity for more than, say, a half-dozen questions, I'm pretty sure the last one on the list would be asking this all-knowing being whatever the hell happened to my giant fly sunglasses.

If you knew me between the years 1998-2007(ish), you probably saw me wearing these oversized jet-black sunglasses with those thick lens at least once.  If you didn't know me then, imagine the kind of glasses that either a very old woman or a Kardashian might wear.  (The picture at the top of the post is a pretty close visual approximation.)

Now, I cited old women and Kardashians, but my real inspiration for these shades was Bono.  My U2 fandom really took hold in 1997 and, upon becoming obsessed with the band, I took to wearing these sunglasses as a tribute to Bono's "Fly" character that he adopted for the ZooTV tour and really, for basically all of 1991-93.  I'm not going to lie, he probably pulled them off better than a prematurely-balding 17-year-old did, but that's just a matter of taste and opinion.

Now admittedly, I went a little overboard with these things in 1998-99.  I may or may not have (so, did) worn these things all the time at school, even during most classes.  This was when I learned a valuable lesson --- if you're a good student, high school teachers will get you get away with basically anything.  Even the hard-ass teachers who cracked down on anyone else for even wearing a hat in class could've seen me walk into the room with a live bird on my head and just gone, "meh, Mark hands in his stuff on time, whatever."  I wore these shades so often that, when running for student council that year, I used two giant bug-eye lenses as my campaign logo.  In a possibly-related story, I badly lost that election, hearing through the grapevine that I finished fourth out of four candidates.  On the one hand, my three opponents were arguably the three most popular kids in school.  On the other, "I wear sunglasses all the time!" isn't exactly a great campaign platform, so the electorate spoke wisely.

Anyway, I greatly dialed back the sunglass-wearing and from then on, I just wore these shades when (y'know) it was sunny out, like a normal person.  I got years of use out of those glasses and that's when the mystery deepens.

Between August-October 2007, I took a selfie wearing those shades and a toque* on my laptop camera.  I'm able to pinpoint those specific dates since the picture was taken at the place I was subletting in Toronto at the time.  After that timeframe, however, I have no idea what happened to my beloved fly shades.

* = the toque, I should add, was specifically bought because it resembles the tight-knit caps worn by the Edge.  I still have that toque to this day.  What's with me dressing like the members of U2?  

It's very weird since, as noted, I still wore those things all the time, though I'd also branched out and had about three other pairs of (normal, non-enormous lensed) sunglasses that I kept in a rotation.  So it's possible that my fly shades just got lost in the shuffle of packing my stuff to head back to London in November 2007, or I still had them during the winter of 2007-08 and I lost them then, or perhaps one of my friends simply got sick to death of those stupid-looking glasses and stole them in a fit of pique.  OR, as is more likely, one of my fashionista friends stole them out of jealousy since they were just beyond stylish.  It's annoying to not have a specific date locked down as to when I last had the damn things, since it really widens my search parameters.  They could be in any part of southern Ontario that borders the 403, really.

In the years since, I've looked for other shades that can fill the giant, bug-lensed hole in my heart but it's no use.  I haven't found any that are just right.  Some have lenses that are too thin, or too properly circular as opposed to bugged out.  Some have earpieces that are also too thin.  The biggest problem, I've found, is that most earpieces have some kind of goofy design on them whereas I'm looking for just jet-black.  Now, I'm just dozens of you will read this post and surprise me with fly-style glasses for my next birthday but don't bother.  I'm very picky about the style I want.  I'll probably just look at your gift and throw it on the ground in a huff, a la Veruca Salt, since it's just not specifically what I want.

Yes, I realize the irony of wearing sunglasses in the first place to emulate Bono and now I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

If you have any information as to the whereabouts of my beloved sunglasses, call my 24-hour hotline at 555-MARKFLYSHADES.  I realize that this is longer than the usual amount of digits in a phone number, but I made a special deal with the phone company.  The president of Bell once lost a novelty t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon aardvark saying "Aardvark Always Pays Off!" and its loss haunts him to this very day, so my situation was met with a lot of sympathy within the telephone industry.

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July, 2014


It never hurts to talk about one's problem.  It truly could've been an act of karma that, just a few months after I break down and write about my quixotic search for a pair of fly-esque sunglasses to match a pair I lost years ago, that my search finally came to an end.

The place: Canadian Tire.  Just mentioning the name fills me with a weird sense of nostalgic national pride, plus my nose is suddenly filled with the smell of rubber.  I went into my local CT in order to check out their watch inventory (my old watch met its end when I accidentally dropped it down a flight of stairs).  I'll take a small sidebar here to note that I'm in that weird middle ground between "not wanting to spend any significant money on a watch since they're strictly a utilitarian piece of equipment" and "having a watch whatsoever, since you can always check the time on your phone."  Ergo, my interest in Canadian Tire's wide array of watches for $20 or less. 

Nothing caught my eye on this day, however, not to mention the fact that I was a bit cramped for time during my visit and (had I bought a watch) didn't have time for an obligatory trip to the jewelry store to get the battery installed.  What I did have time for, however, was the obligatory browse of the sunglass rack on the fleeting, off-chance that….

…OH MY GOOD LORD.  THEY EXIST.  The glasses had frames that weren't 'quite' as outlandishly large as I'd hoped, and the inside of the lens were actually a shade of metallic pink.  Still…large lenses, black tinted, and black plastic ear wraps that were just plain black without any goofy design on them.  This was the 95% solution, and frankly, who isn't satisfied with 95 percent?  The makers of Ivory soap?  Get over yourselves, people.  I'll take a ninety-five any day of the week.

So now I'm strutting around town with my fly sunglasses on, looking like the single coolest human being walking the face of the earth.  You've probably seen me around town --- my presence will be alerted by a slight breeze, and you'll turn your head and literally be struck backwards by the tornado of style that's coming your way.  "Holy smoke, does he even HAVE eyes?  I can't see them!  Whoaaa!", you'll excitedly yelp, high-fiving either your buddies or maybe some passersby if you happen to be a friendless degenerate.  Then you'll go home and write a post about seeing me on your blog, give it a tag called 'Brushes With Greatness,' hesitate for a moment since that tag sounds vaguely douchey, then shrug and do it anyways since my sunglasses were just that outstanding. 

The moral of the story is to never ever give up hope, kids.  You never know when you'll find something wonderful to fill a seemingly un-fillable hole in your life.  I'd like to think that my old glasses, wherever they may be, are happy that I've moved on with a new eyemate.  My future is literally so bright, I have to wear these shades.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

U2's U-Shaped Concert

I was only five years old when The Joshua Tree was released, and still roughly a decade away from U2 fandom.  So, it was fun to see the band revisit their most popular album 30 years after its release by doing two things the band never does — tour an old album rather than a new release, and play an entire album from start to finish.  Several bands have been doing the ‘play the entire record’ gimmick in recent years, and I’ve actually seen this in person myself, when Pearl Jam made the odd decision to play Binaural front-to-back when I saw them last year.  It’s actually quite rare that U2 even plays an entire album at ANY point in their live history.  Before this tour, Boy was the only U2 album that had ever had all of its tracks played in full during a live show.

So the stage was set last night in Toronto.  The players!

* Your humble narrator, seeing his astonishing eighth U2 concert!

* My buddy Trev, seeing his fifth U2 concert (all with me), despite the fact that he isn’t really that huge a fan of the band!  What a true concert compadre!  He keeps going despite the fact that he has never heard All I Want Is You, his favourite U2 song, played during any of these shows.  Wait, maybe that’s WHY he keeps going.  Once they finally play it when he’s in attendance, he’ll just leave the building immediately.

* My buddy Eric, seeing his second U2 concert!  Eric joined Trev and I for a Vertigo Tour show in 2005 and really enjoyed it despite a near-total lack of knowledge about the band and their music.  (Sample question after the show: “I liked that Vertigo song, is that one of their hits?”)  Eric was supposed to join us again in 2009 but broke his leg playing rec league baseball two weeks before the concert, and then in 2015, someone (uh, named Clark, or Park or something) was only able to get single tickets to two Innocence & Experience shows.  So Eric was making his triumphant return to seeing U2 in concert, 12 years later, and this time actually knew five or six of the numbers on the setlist.  Progress!

* Joanne, seeing her second U2 concert!  The little sister I never had, to the point where I was actually a bridesmaid (you read that right) at her wedding.  This was also the first time Jo and I had seen a U2 show together, as *someone* (that same Clark/Park guy) got her tickets to a concert in 2009 but she couldn’t attend due to a last-minute pHd crunch.  Boo to higher learning!

* Greg, seeing his very first U2 concert!  Greg is like a brother, except for the fact that he’s married to Joanne, so having a brother and sister marry each other is pretty weird.  Greg rated his first U2 experience as “really good,” so yet another satisfied customer.

* Marianne, seeing her third U2 concert!  Marianne is Joanne’s actual sister, which makes her my step-little sister?  Though Marianne is older than me, so step-bigger sister?  This analogy is falling apart.  Anyway, during the concert, I learned that the combination of Joanne and Marianne screaming at the same time creates a noise so piercing that I honestly thought there was a feedback issue in the stadium’s sound system.  Greg was next to them and now may be deaf in his left ear.

We took in the show from the upper levels of Rogers Centre on a hot and muggy day in Toronto, and I can’t tell you how relieved we were when the roof began to open up about 40 minutes before showtime.  Rain earlier in the day gave way to clear skies at night, so obviously someone in stadium services or with the band themselves made the correct call to let the fans enjoy U2 on a lovely summer’s evening.

The stage was pretty bare-bones, reflecting their old 1987 stage, just souped-up for modern times by having the big backdrop be a video screen rather than….well, just a backdrop.  There was a catwalk in the shape of a Joshua tree that stretched out into the crowd, and U2 played their first four songs of the night on that B-stage before moving back onto the main stage to kick off the full-album segment.  There was also a staple Joshua Tree image on the screen that, weirdly, wasn’t sized properly.  The top third was above the actual screen, so either the tree should’ve been properly done to scale or the screen should’ve just been larger.  Maybe it was a metaphor for the show, as you’ll see later.

Here’s the full setlist…

*Sunday Bloody Sunday….an unconventional opener choice but a strong one.  Larry Mullen came out on stage by himself to applause and started playing the song’s legendary drum intro, followed by Edge strolling out playing the guitar riff, then Bono entering with the opening vocal, and then Adam Clayton trailing behind adding in the bass.  Great gimmick to kick off a show! 
*New Year’s Day
*Bad….with a large portion of “Suzanne,” as a tribute to Leonard Cohen
*Pride
*Where The Streets Have No Name
*I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
*With Or Without You
*Bullet The Blue Sky
*Running To Stand Still
*Red Hill Mining Town
….this was the Joshua Tree track that U2 had never played live even once prior to this tour.  Ironically, the band originally had it earmarked as their first single from the album (!) except Bono’s voice couldn’t take singing it on a nightly basis.  This song faded into obscurity while WOWY ended up as one of U2’s most iconic hits.  Wacky!
*In God’s Country
*Trip Through Your Wires
*One Tree Hill
*Exit
….one of the real highlights of the concert, just an absolute fireball of an energetic song.  Bono even ditched the glasses and donned his old Joshua Tree hat, to really recapture the 1987 vibe.
*Mothers Of The Disappeared
(((encore break)))
*Miss Sarajevo
*Beautiful Day
….rainbow imagery on the screen and slightly reworked with a larger theme of inclusiveness in a nod to both Canada as a nation of acceptance and for Toronto’s Pride weekend
*Elevation
*Vertigo
*Ultraviolet
….rebranded for this tour as an ode to influential women throughout history, and also Lena Dunham for some reason.
*One
*I Will Follow
 

U2 had been playing a new track (The Little Things That Give You Away) at some of the earlier shows on this tour as, interestingly, the closing number.  Sort of a coming attraction for the band’s “upcoming” album.  I use the quote marks since who the hell knows when U2 will actually release this, given their rep for delaying and/or shelving records entirely, BUT the new Songs Of Experience disc is allegedly coming in December.

Rather than the coming attraction of the new song, U2 has seemingly decided to make this a straight greatest-hits set.  It is probably a wise decision given the one flaw in this whole Joshua Tree tribute idea — nobody really knows the back half of the album.

Now, TJT is one of the best albums of all time, hands-down.  As a record, the tracklist flows very well.  In a live setting, however, there’s a problem since the album is so enormously front-loaded.  I mean, when you have arguably U2’s three biggest as the record’s first three tracks, then the next two best-known Joshua Tree songs fourth and fifth in the order, it leaves a pretty long stretch of lesser-known material right in the middle of the show.

The result was something I’d never seen before at a U2 concert: an extended dead period.  The crowd was standing and rabid for the first seven songs, all classics.  We stayed jazzed through BTBS, since how could you not.  Then, during Running To Stand Still, you could actually see the waves of people gradually starting to sit down around the stadium and by RHMT it was nothing but butts in seats.  That continued all the way through Miss Sarajevo* until Beautiful Day kicked in, and then you could see the masses getting back to their feet and staying there through the hit-strewn encore of high-energy songs.

* = I’d question the placement of another lesser-known song right after the Joshua Tree back half, though I’m not sure where else you can fit it into the setlist.  It certainly can’t be removed entirely, since as the song’s video footage indicated, U2 is making a point of highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis with this performance.

Don’t get me wrong, the JT back half is a strong bunch of songs and they were performed well, with Exit being a particular highlight.  It’s just that U2 left themselves little room for flexibility by committing themselves to play the entire record in order, when in a perfect world, they’d mix and match things to create a better flow for the evening.  When touring a new album, naturally the band would mix the new stuff in amongst the older stuff, not just play something like 5-6 new songs all in a row.  (The one exception was when they kicked off the old Zoo TV tour with something like eight Achtung Baby songs, but those songs all ruled, so it’s a push.) 

Since the tour is almost half over, it’s probably too late to fix this issue.  The only solution I can see would be to play all 11 Joshua Tree songs, but not in the actual order.  Start with WTSHNN, then move into the faster-paced numbers and Still Haven’t Found, then go into the “heart of darkness” part of the set that U2 always likes in their concerts by putting Bullet and Exit back-to-back, following that up with RTSS or One Tree Hill for a bit of hope, then WOWY, then Mothers to end the album proper.  This creates a bit more natural flow and it spaces the big hits throughout the 11 tracks, rather than having them all kick off the set.

With the staid middle portion of the show in mind, it was a rare U2 show that wasn’t a total hit for me.  As such, I’d have to rank it no better than second-last of the eight concerts I’d seen.  (Last place is my first-ever U2 concert, a Toronto show during the Elevation Tour, which was still a great experience but it has paled in comparison to my other times seeing them.)  It was a great idea for a tour that maybe required a bit more planning, like that video screen that didn’t quite fit the entire tree.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Vampire Diar...Tweets

The Count from Sesame Street has an official Twitter account (doesn't everyone) that has a very characteristic gimmick.  Once or twice per day, the account simply counts a different number in sequence.  For example...








This has been going on since the feed's inception, as far as I can tell.  May 22 of this year seemed like a day just like any other...


....except this was the last tweet.  After almost a full month, the feed is still silent.

It begs the question, did something happen to the Count?!  Did he accidentally walk into the sun and get vaporized?  Did his bloodlust suddenly overcome even his love of counting and he, like, murdered Ernie or something?  Was the Count finally revealed as the true cause of Mr. Hooper's death all those years ago, and Sesame Street just leveled the audience with a massive plot twist in its season finale?  I'm not sure I'm prepared for next season's plotline of Big Bird, Snuffy and a Muppet-ized version of Sarah Michelle Gellar out for revenge against Countgelus.

I won't lie, I looked up "1329" on Wikipedia just to see if that was the year Vlad The Impaler died or something, and this was all just some very clever and literate reference from whomever maintains the Twitter feed.  No corresponding historical reference could be found, however.  What was I thinking, "whomever maintains the feed."  It's clearly run by the Count himself!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

Scene: A few years ago, my parents' house. I stroll into the living room to find my father watching the end of "Taken."

Me: Hey Dad, if I was kidnapped by an Eastern European prostitution ring, would you come and rescue me?

Dad: Sure!  Any excuse to go to Paris!

FIN

On that note, Happy Father's Day, Dad! Other than not flying to Paris to kill dozens of armed thugs, you've always been there for me.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Cruise Ranking

The Ringer, in their infinite wisdom, published a worst-to-best ranking of Tom Cruise’s movies that just seemed really off-base to me.  Some people might argue that since I’ve seen only around half of Cruise’s movies, I’m in no better position to make a ranking.  Some of those same people might argue that I’m not even really a fan of Cruise, so what business do I have in judging his filmography.  Those people can shut up!

LEGITIMATELY BAD MOVIES
24. Vanilla Sky
23. Cocktail
22. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

MEH
21. The Firm
20. Days Of Thunder
19. War Of The Worlds
18. Valkyrie
17. Eyes Wide Shut
16. Austin Powers In Goldmember

PRETTY SOLID AND/OR REWATCHABLE
15. Mission Impossible
14. The Last Samurai
13. Mission Impossible 2 (editor’s note: this movie is admittedly bad but it’s a guilty pleasure, as one of my all-time favourite “watching a bad movie with friends and just ripping it apart” experiences)
12. Jack Reacher
11. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

LEGITIMATELY GOOD MOVIES
10. The Color Of Money
9. Jerry Maguire
8. Tropic Thunder
7. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
6. Rain Man

LEGITIMATELY GREAT MOVIES
5. A Few Good Men
4. Collateral
3. Minority Report
2. Magnolia
1. Edge Of Tomorrow

If the MTV Movie Awards segment featuring Cruise as himself and Ben Stiller as "Tom Crooze" counts, it is definitely in that 'legitimately great' bracket.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trailer On The Orient Express


As a big Agatha Christie fan, I am naturally 100% seeing this film, since it’ll be cool to see a modern version of this classic mystery.  Maybe I’m overreacting to the ‘words on the screen’ aesthetic, but it seems like MOTOE may have a bit of a Sherlock-esque vibe to it.  (Let’s hope it’s more the first season of Sherlock than S4.)  The cast is also appropriately star-studded, if obviously lacking in comparison to the 1974 adaptation — no shame there, as man alive, look at that list of names!  Eleven former Oscar nominees?!  Stand back! 

In fact, this new version isn’t too shabby with six Oscar nominees in the cast.  I admit, I was a little annoyed at the way the credits were presented until I realized they were simply in alphabetical order.  My feeling was that poor Michelle Pfeiffer was being shafted by being lumped in with ‘the others’ while the five bigger names were on the first screen.  I felt Branagh should’ve gone onto the second screen as a sign of good faith, since he was the director of the film anyway and already had extra stroke.

As you can tell, I’m always looking for ways to criticize Kenneth Branagh since he, to put it bluntly, is not a favourite of mine.  For a guy with such a distinguished reputation, I find him to be an incredible ham and an incredibly broad actor.  His only good roles, in my opinion, are the ones that naturally play into that broadness (such as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter, or as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing).  Branagh was also pretty excellent in his adaptation of “Hamlet,” a legitimately great film, though even in that case, he kind of broadened Hamlet out a little bit.

Now, it’s worth noting that Branagh directed Hamlet and Much Ado himself, and his truly bad performances* all came in movies directed by other people.  I’m not sure what this says about Mr. Branagh…is he too nice to turn down instruction from other directors?  Does he get so focused on the filmmaking process when directing that it actually helps his performance by muting his naturally hammy instincts?  Or maybe he’s actually a GOOD actor and I’m just cherry-picking a few bad roles?  Nah, that couldn’t be it.

* 1. his godawful Woody Allen impersonation in Celebrity
2. his half-assed Olivier impression in My Week With Marilyn that somehow earned him an Oscar nomination
3. his terribly broad version of Iago in the Oliver Parker “Othello” adaptation that ruined one of the greatest villains in literary history and must have been an inspiration for Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
4. his villain in Wild Wild West, to which even Jesse Eisenberg would’ve been like, “hmm, he played that a little over the top”


The irony is, I actually like just about every movie Branagh has directed, so I have pretty high hopes for Orient Express.  I’ll refrain from actually discussing the ending even though I’m pretty sure most learned people know it, though for modern (or just dumber) audiences that never read the novel, I’m interested in seeing what the reaction will be to the somewhat unique nature of the mystery’s solution.

Oh, one more beef about the credits.  They listed ten people but couldn’t find room for Olivia Colman?!  Nonsense.  One blog post-in-the-making is simply a listing of my favourite actors, and I recently realized that Colman is absolutely deserving of a spot on the list.  Comedy, drama, she can do it all.  It’s awesome that this woman who began her career as “token woman in Mitchell & Webb sketches” has risen to such prominence.  Give her her due, Branagh!  (Or whoever made the trailer…again, maybe I’m quick to judge him.)  While we’re at it, find credit space for Lucy Boynton, who is also in this movie and came off as a capital-S Star in Sing Street.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Corn Pops Forever

I'm at the store the other day buying cereal* and I came across a box of Corn Pops that expires in October…on my birthday.

Now, I bought the cereal in question because Corn Pops are delicious, but also because I'm vaguely afraid this cereal could be tied to me in some kind of portrait of Dorian Gray-esque manner.  Like, for every Pop that's eaten, that's one step closer to my end of days.  But now that I'm in possession of the box and can control the ebb and flow (eat and flow?) of the contents, I'm now virtually immortal.

This whole scenario was actually a deleted scene from Highlander.  The director cut the scene since having Chris Lambert hoarding boxes of cereal somewhat detracted from the whole sword fights-and-beheading theme.  Still would've done less damage to the franchise than Highlander 2, however.

* = and other groceries, though my diet is "single guy sad" enough that a cereal-specific trip to Shoppers Drug Mart wouldn't be out of the question

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Name O' The Movie

My friend Dave has a theory that every movie should include a character saying the film's title three times, in increasingly panicked fashion.  For instance, in Magnolia, you'd have a tight closeup of, say, Tom Cruise going

(with dawning comprehension) "Magnolia."
(with growing dread) "Magnolia!"
(with a mighty bellow) "MAGNOLIAAAAAAA!"

Anyway, this video is one-third as good as that idea.

Title Drops from Roman Holiday on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Friendly Neighbourhood

I was walking downtown last weekend when I saw a motorcycle cut off an SUV, leading to the SUV driver opening his window and yelling angrily at the cyclist.  Suddenly, a guy dressed in a full Spider-Man costume rolls down the other lane on a skateboard, then yells "getting pretty road-ragey, buddy!" The SUV driver is left dumbfounded and nearby pedestrians (myself included) are openly laughing out loud.

I prefer to think that was the actual Spider-Man.