Wednesday, November 15, 2017

King John (Shakespeare Re-Read #21)


This is an anecdotal example of “King John’s” obscurity within the Shakespeare canon, but in my quest to seek out and purchase copies of the plays I didn’t already own, KJ was the only one that apparently wasn’t available as a stand-alone text.  As in, the copy I bought was packaged together with “Henry VIII” in a solo volume, which I figured was a better bargain than buying a stand-alone edition of Henry VIII.  Shrewd!

Maybe it’s appropriate that the play that so prominently features a bastard is also essentially the bastard stepchild of the history plays.  I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, given KJ’s general quality.  Maybe because it is set a few hundred years earlier than the other nine plays* and lacks the historical connect of the War Of The Roses, KJ is seen as a bit of an odd text out.  Maybe it’s also because, as one author theorized in a text I read, that the two most famous elements of King John’s life aren’t even obliquely referenced in the play.  If you’re a theatregoer in the 1590’s attending a show called “King John” and there isn’t even an oblique reference to either the Magna Carta’s signing or John’s apocryphal feud with Robin Hood**, I can see some disappointment amongst the punters and a lack of enthusiasm about the production.  It’d be like going to see a movie about Ronald Reagan that doesn’t mention his presidency or acting career.

* = it should be noted that I’m not including Edward III as part of this re-read, even though many scholars believe Shakespeare had some part in its writing.  I mean come on, this project is already approaching its seventh year; if any more plays get added to my list, I’ll be here until the 2030s.

** = this play also really could've used a Sir Hiss in the cast


But overall, I enjoyed the play, even if the whole thing sort of peters out by the end.  It’s almost like Shakespeare himself got bored with the idea or was facing a deadline or something — the early acts are dominated by these big, long, elaborate scenes but then the fifth act is just seven short scenes.  They’re really almost vignettes that rather hastily wrap things up, with many important details strangely left off-stage (i.e. the actual poisoning of the King, the deaths of Elinor and Constance an act earlier) and the audience only left with the melodrama of Arthur’s death and the ever-shifting loyalties of the English noblemen.

The real issue might be a shift in tone.  The last half of the play seems to want to “get serious” after Shakespeare has had a lot of fun with political satire in the opening acts.  If that vibe had been kept throughout, KJ might’ve really blossomed; it isn’t hard to see why some modern productions lean hard on the plot’s dark comedy aspect.  The entire sequence of the kings of England and France trying to curry favour with the random citizen representative from Algiers is legitimately hilarious.  The citizen’s whole “we are all loyal to the king of England, obviously…and once you two figure out who that is, we’ve got your back” attitude is Pythonesque in its attitude towards royal authority.  John, the King and Dauphin Of France, and poor little Arthur all act less like contenders for the throne than a series of cranky children being forced into auditions by stage mothers.

Into this mix we get Sir Richard The Bastard, who goes from being an Iago-in-training to becoming the voice of the audience in commenting on the royals’ silliness, though Richard himself is a comic figure due to his own simplicity.  He is initially presented as an upwardly-mobile Littlefinger type who is prepared to leverage his newfound status as best he can, only a) he seems constantly taken aback by everyone else’s political machinations, and b) his only actual plan is just “let’s all go to war, and presumably we’ll win.”  Richard is another character in power that is less national powerbroker than a playground oaf; his repeated “calf’s skin” taunts towards the king of Austria are both a great running gag, and also a sign that Richard isn’t exactly the sharpest wit in the land.  Of course, this also adds to the emptiness of the last two acts, as the audience is then expected to sort of side with Richard throughout the whole Arthur-and-Hubert drama.

There’s enough interesting stuff in the first couple of acts to overall merit a thumbs-up, though I’m sort of hoping that KJ indeed proves itself to be the weakest of the history plays as we enter this ten-play segment of the re-read.  I will be going in historic chronological order of the figures involved, so you’ll probably be able to predict entries #22-30 (though a curveball could be in there somewhere, potentially).  Given my lack of haste in reading and writing these things, the second half of my King John/Henry VIII edition might yet have a long way to go before I can safely place it back into my collection.

“Collection?  Don’t you mean the shelf in your old bedroom in your parents’ house, next to the Calvin & Hobbes books?”

….yes.

OVERALL RATING: B

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR
21. Pericles
20. The Taming Of The Shrew
19. Antony & Cleopatra
18. Troilus & Cressida
17. Love’s Labour’s Lost
16. As You Like It
15. Titus Andronicus
14. Much Ado About Nothing
13. King John
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!"

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ricky Jay

There are few better YouTube holes to fall down than watching a bunch of Ricky Jay routines.  This one almost seems like a bad example since he performs in silence --- Ricky Jay without his stage patter is like peanut butter without jelly.  Still, we came for the sleight of hand, and you'll get the sleight of hand.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Classic

Maybe it was a recent birthday, maybe it was watching Georges St. Pierre win a UFC title, maybe it was because an old high school classmate contacted me on Facebook to ask if any 20th reunion plans were in the offing*, or maybe it was for all these reasons that I've been recently feeling very nostalgic.  So it was in this spirit that my brother's recent purchase of an SNES Classic fired me up like few things in recent memory.

* = apparently I'm "the most connected of anyone" to our former classmates, by which I suppose means I'm friends with the most people?  The fact that I actually keep in regular touch with a dozen people tops is besides the point.  How did I somehow end up at the center of a social nexus?  Can't I pawn reunion organizing duties off on a class president or something?

Or, the hell with the nostalgia talk...does one really need a reason to enjoy such an incredible device?  Twenty classic games!  All on one console!  Gloriously remastered but with nary a pixel touched so we can all enjoy these classic games in their original form.

Now, okay, "classics."  I freely admit that I'd never heard of at least a half-dozen of these games, and hadn't actually played several others.  The ones I had played back in the day were...

* Super Mario World.  My vote for the single greatest game of all time.
* Super Mario Kart.  Another extremely big contender for the gaming GOAT, though most people prefer the N64 version.
* Donkey Kong Country.  Another fantastic Mario-style 'building a world' type of scrolling-screen game, and it just felt right that an iconic character like Donkey Kong finally had his own great franchise to carry.
* Street Fighter II.  I don't want to say I'm unbeatable as E. Honda, but merely *mostly* unbeatable as E. Honda.
* Super Punch-Out.  I didn't play this one nearly as much as the old Punch-Out for the original NES but it's still fun.  Canada gets some representation in the form of Bear Hugger!
* Star Fox.  Okay, so this game was garbage.  Just one man's opinion.  Maybe it was a product of too much hype for all the cutting-edge graphics of the time, but actually playing it back in 1993 was just a gigantic letdown.

So you'll notice that this isn't even a third of what the SNES Classic has to offer.  As a kid, I simply never got into the Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy or Contra series, so these are all new to me.  (I also never played the SNES Kirby games, though I absolutely adored the original Kirby's Dreamland for Game Boy.)  I'm kind of interested in playing them as an adult to see how they stack up now, or if it was just a "you had to be there" thing where if you didn't fall in love with these games as a kid, it just won't be the same.  My brief experimentation with Contra III the other day didn't impress me much --- being touched by ANYTHING, just ONCE kills you?  Seems a bit difficult.

It'll also be hard to try out new games when all my old favourites are right there.  Like, I'm supposed to be interested in Castlevania when Mario World is RIGHT THERE?  Weirdly, I somehow never played Yoshi's Island (the Mario World sequel) either as a kid, so I'll have to check that one out as well. 

You might be asking yourself just what exactly did I play back in the day if I somehow missed all of these other household name-games.  Hey man, when you have Mario World, Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter plus other obsessions like NBA Jam, NHLPA 93, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, Mortal Kombat, various Ninja Turtles games, and that one where Spider-Man and the X-Men team up, what more did one need?  I had to go outside every once in a while.  (This is a lie, I also just had regular TV to watch.)

My brother had the SNES Classic for about a week before I showed up to play, and even despite this head start, I am enormously proud of the fact that I beat him in my very first Mario Kart race in over 20 years.  Still got it!  It may be true that he proceeded to beat me in roughly 31 of our next 32 races, but whatever, it's the first one that's really the most important.  Had I not been so keen to play, I really should've just put the console down after that first race and just walked away, dusting my hands triumphantly and refusing to ever play again.  I could've had a lifetime of upper hand, dammit.

Friday, November 03, 2017

UFC 217 Predictions

What’s this?  A good old-fashioned UFC preview?  It’s almost like my favourite fighter is making a big comeback or something!

* Georges St. Pierre over Michael Bisping, decision
So we never totally got a 100% straight answer as to why GSP walked away from the sport four years ago, apart from his just generally seeming burned out both mentally and physically.  Who could blame him, really, given the constant pressures of training and winning, not to mention GSP’s documented worries about head injuries and his disgust at the lack of more thorough drug testing in the UFC.  That hiatus turned into over four years on the shelf, though GSP possibly would’ve been back sooner were it not for a torn ACL and the UFC’s own intent on having this fight on a Madison Square Garden show.  (Or, I’ve always suspected that GSP would’ve made his comeback against Conor McGregor at UFC 200 had McGregor won that first Nate Diaz fight.)

Since St. Pierre never really closed the door on returning, I can’t be too *upset* that he’s back.  But frankly, part of me was cool seeing St. Pierre just go out on top, with his faculties intact and enjoying his post-fighting life.  It would be disappointing if he ultimately decided to come back just to chase another big paycheque or two, though part of me also feels that GSP is a proud enough athlete that he wouldn’t have come back if he didn’t think he could do it.  The guy’s already rich, after all.  While the money’s undoubtedly part of it, I suspect GSP’s prime motivation here is that he legitimately feels he can still compete in the UFC, and surely he can beat Michael freakin’ Bisping, right?

Arguably the worst champion ever, Bisping’s career of controversial wins and the UFC handing him every opportunity finally paid off when he inexplicably knocked out Luke Rockhold in June 2016.  I can’t decide who I hate more…Rockhold for taking it easy, Chris “Mr. Glass” Weidman for getting the injury in the first place that gave Bisping the short-notice title fight, Anderson Silva for not just finishing Bisping when he had him dead to rights in their fight a few months prior, or Bisping just because he’s already been my least-favourite UFC fighter.*  And now he got a belt…I still can’t believe it.

* = within the realm of fighters who I hate since they’re awful people in real life.  Bisping isn’t a criminal or a wifebeater or anything, he’s just really obnoxious. 

Even worse, Bisping has quite openly stated that he’s at or near the end of his career (I fully expect him to retire tomorrow, win or lose) and only wants to chase big-money fights.  Not title defences against legitimate middleweight contenders, of course, but rather a bout against the ancient Dan Henderson last year to avenge Bisping’s infamous knockout loss from all the way back in 2009 (!) and then…nothing.  The moment a GSP fight came on the table, Bisping absolutely ducked every top challenger to wait for him rather than face Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker (the current interim champ), Gegard Mousasi (who isn’t even in the UFC anymore), Jacare Souza (who has been screwed over for title shots for years), or even Rockhold in a rematch.  Between Bisping’s ducking and Weidman’s injuries, there have only been seven middleweight title fights since July 2013, a ridiculously small number given that this is arguably the most stacked division in the UFC.  Do I blame Bisping for chasing the dollar signs?  Kind of, actually, since maybe a guy who’s waited so long to become champion would actually have interest in properly defending it.  I mostly blame the new UFC ownership for their single-minded pursuit of money fights rather than treating their competition like an actual sport.  McGregoritis has infected every title-holder in the company.

So after all this complaining, I guess I should discuss the actual fight.  When in doubt, always pick GSP by decision.  Sure it’s been four years, and sure he’s fighting at middleweight for the first time, and sure I’m picking 100 percent with my heart since I love GSP and hate Bisping….but I just keep coming back to the idea that St. Pierre has traditionally been such a thinking man’s fighter that he wouldn’t do this without a reason.  He must know he can beat Bisping, otherwise why come back to potentially take a beating and add an unnecessary sour coda to his awesome career?  I want this to be true so badly.  I can’t imagine a world where Michael Bisping gets to retire a champion after wins over GSP, Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold (one of these things just doesn’t belong here) and Anderson Silva.  How embarrassing.

MAIN CARD
* Joanna Jedrzejczyk over Rose Namajunas, decision
* Cody Garbrandt over TJ Dillashaw, knockout, third round
* Stephen Thompson over Jorge Masdival, decision
* Paulo Costa over Johny Hendricks, knockout, second round


UNDERCARD
* Walt Harris over Mark Goodbeer, knockout, first round
* Ricardo Ramos over Aiemann Zahabi, decision
* Oleksiy Oliynyk over Curtis Blaydes, submission, second round
* James Vick over Joseph Duffy, decision
* Mickey Gall over Randy Brown, submission, first round
* Corey Anderson over Ovince Saint Preux, decision

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Susan Sarandon For You

Example #2796 of why Nathan Fielder is a comic genius.