Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare Re-Read #18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OVERALL RATING: C+

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR

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

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William freakin’ Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Drummer Seeks Musicians To Form Band"

Forty years ago today, six kids showed up at Larry Mullen's house in response to Larry Junior's handwritten note on his middle school's bulletin board.  Two were friends of the would-be guitarist who ended up as the singer, and one was the older brother of the actual guitarist.  The other three and Larry Junior ended up becoming one of the biggest bands of all time and they're still performing together all these years later with no additions or subtractions to the band's lineup.  Of all the unlikely factors that went into U2's rise to fame, the fact that it's still the four core guys after four decades is perhaps the most mind-blowing.

U2, thanks for being the soundtrack to my life and I wish you all the best on your anniversary.  Now, since I'm nothing if not ungrateful, release that damned new album!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Three Characters In Search Of A Meme

Since I can't help but contribute to memes, my candidates for the "name three fictional characters that sum up your personality" thing going around the internet are...


Other candidates under consideration included....Chandler Bing, both Pinky & the Brain, Wimpy from Popeye, Hobbes, Jughead Jones.  My friends' suggestions included Charlie Brown, Shrek, Kojak, Baby Huey and Beldar Conehead, since they perhaps got hung up on physical descriptors rather than 'describe your personality.'  Not flattering!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Alterna-Emmys


So after listing my top 45 shows of the last year, it’s onto my acting awards.  As you may note, I’m not adhering to the Academy’s list of what exactly counts as guest role or supporting role, or what qualifies as a comedy, drama, or miniseries because….well, they’re my awards.  Deal with itttttttt!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Vanessa Bayer/Saturday Night Live, Stephanie Beatriz/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Donna Lynne Champlin/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Tina Fey/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kate McKinnon/Saturday Night Live, Noel Wells/Master Of None
WINNER: Kate McKinnon

So, first taste of my personal rules, Tina Fey is technically a ‘guest actress’ on UKS but she was in something like five of the 13 episodes.  That counts.  Am I also nominating her as a backdoor way of celebrating “Meet Your Second Wife,” a.k.a. the best Saturday Night Live sketch of the last year?  Sure!  As it happens, this category features four (!) past or current SNL alumni, and good on Noel Wells for actually proving she has talent after doing virtually nothing on her lone SNL season.  This is a very tight vote between Champlin and McKinnon and I’m tempted to vote for DLC just because she’s fresh blood, but I’m again awarding McKinnon.  She’s just the best.  I mean, she reduced poor Ryan Gosling to a giggling mess with zero effort.  THE BEST.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Andre Braugher/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Tituss Burgess/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Walton Goggins/Vice Principals, TJ Miller/Silicon Valley, Lamorne Morris/New Girl, Timothy Simons/Veep
WINNER: Tituss Burgess

Another wholly fantastic category.  Simons had the incredible storyline of Jonah’s congressional run (I am 100% convinced this series ends with Jonah as the new vice-president).  Goggins is so hilariously evil that I wish the show was built fully around him rather than Danny McBride’s warmed-over Kenny Powers.  If they want to reboot ‘Angie Tribeca’ with Braugher and Steph Beatriz just deadpanning absurd lines to each for 22 minutes, I am all in.  But, amidst all of this wonderful talent, Burgess is the best of them all.  While I enjoyed this season of UKS, it became quite clearly apparent that Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane are wholly unnecessary.  I mean, they literally had an ep where it was just Kimmy and Tituss having adventures, and it was outstanding.  Ellie Kemper has a very tough balancing act with Kimmy’s character while Burgess gets to more or less just be zany, though it’s no less a difficult job since he has to be a one-man supporting cast. 


BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Anthony Anderson/Black-ish, Fred Armisen/Portlandia, Nathan Fielder/Nathan For You, Rob Lowe/The Grinder, Fred Savage/The Grinder
WINNER: Nathan Fielder

“The Grinder” is a one-joke premise but man, the writers literally got every drop of hilarity from that one very funny joke.  Lowe and Savage were both great but they cancel each other out for Nathan Fielder.  Now, some might argue that Fielder isn’t *acting* but I disagree.  The Nathan character on the show is developing quite the arc through three seasons now, and you can see Fielder’s actual acting talent when he is “in character” for one scheme or another.  Also, anyone who can keep a deadpan going during all of these ridiculous scenarios deserves some type of award.  Add Fielder with Braugher and Beatriz to my Angie Tribeca remake. 


BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Rachel Bloom/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Carrie Brownstein/Portlandia, Zooey Deschanel/New Girl, Ellie Kemper/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep, Tracee Ellis Ross/Black-ish
WINNER: Rachel Bloom

So your character has to be likeable yet clearly unhinged, relatable yet cringe-worthy, smart yet delusional, and you’re both hoping she succeeds yet also kinda rooting against it since it may ultimately destroy her.  Oh, and she has to be able to sing.  Oh, and you’re co-creating the entire show and building it around your entire comic sensibility.  (I think she’s also co-writing all the songs as well, but it’s surprisingly hard to find the soundtrack credits online.)  In short, Rachel Bloom has everyone beat.  Holy crap did “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” explode like a grenade in the pleasure centres of my brain.  I somehow didn’t even know this show was a musical before I started watching it!  When she just broke into the ‘West Covina’ song in the first episode I was like whaaaaaaat and then broke into a gigantic smile.  Everything about this show was awesome so Bloom gets my Emmy both because she herself deserves it and because she’s the engine that got this entire show running.


BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
Hayley Atwell/Agent Carter, Olivia Colman/Broadchurch, Kirsten Dunst/Fargo, Sarah Lancashire/Happy Valley, Keri Russell/The Americans
WINNER: Kirsten Dunst

Dunst is one of those actors you continually forget is good, so you’re always vaguely surprised whenever they deliver a strong performance when you really should be expecting it.  I’m hard-pressed to think of even one bad acting job on ‘Fargo’ but Dunst was quite possibly the best of the bunch.  The show only kind of (kinda) vaguely resembles the original Coens movie at this point so it’s probably not really accurate to a draw a line between the two, but Dunst gives one of the weirdest and best possible variations on “the William H. Macy role” that you could imagine.  Since Russell is a multi-time alterna-Emmy winner, I don’t necessarily feel the need to reward her again, but I’m ever so hoping she wins the actual Emmy on Sunday night.  “The Americans” suddenly finally getting nominated in its fourth season was as inexplicable as it was delightful, so maybe Hollywood just clued-in en masse and Russell (and Matthew Rhys) will pick up the statues they should’ve gotten three years ago.   


BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
Riz Ahmed/The Night Of, Charlie Cox/Daredevil, Bob Odenkirk/Better Call Saul, Matthew Rhys/The Americans, Justin Theroux/The Leftovers, Patrick Wilson/Fargo
WINNER: Justin Theroux

I’ve spoken about “degree of difficulty” a few times as an influence on my picks, which may seem unfair but it could be the best way of picking between apples and oranges’ worth of tremendous performances.  For instance, Ahmed, Wilson and Odenkirk did great work on their shows but I feel other actors could be just as good or maybe better.  Cox has to carry any number of goofy stories and live up to 50 years of comic book lore, and he carries it off.  Nobody remotely compares to all of the plates that Rhys has kept spinning over four seasons but, well, I’ve awarded him in the past.  That leaves Theroux as the winner for having to act as the audience surrogate and/or crazy straight man within the Leftovers’ bizarre world.  To use another Damon Lindelof show as an example, imagine the Jack character on LOST if Jack was actually interesting. 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Jon Bernthal/Daredevil, Bill Camp/The Night Of, Ted Danson/Fargo, Iain De Caestecker/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Peter Dinklage/Game Of Thrones, Frank Langella/The Americans, David Tennant/Jessica Jones, Bokeem Woodbine/Fargo
WINNER: Jon Bernthal

How deep is a category when Dinklage might actually be the least of the nominees?!  How can you even pick between such a wide range of performances?  You have Langella, Danson and Camp all underplaying the hell out of their scenes, Woodbine and Dinklage stealing scenes, the IDC/Elizabeth Henstridge pairing charming the hundreds of people still hanging in there with AoS, Tennant hamming it up as the worst human being alive and Bernthal completely bringing new life to an age-old Marvel character.  Who would’ve thought that Bernthal could do that Dolph Lundgren, Tom Janes and Ray Stevenson couldn’t?….wait, I guess I thought he could do it, since Daredevil actually took the Punisher seriously as a character.  That whole “penny and dime” monologue in the cemetery had Emmy bait scene written all over it, but man did Bernthal ever sell the the hell out of it. 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Jeannie Berlin/The Night Of, Carrie Coon/The Leftovers, Wynn Everett/Agent Carter, Elizabeth Henstridge/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marianne Jean-Baptiste/Broadchurch, Regina King/The Leftovers, Cristin Milioti/Fargo, Kate Mulgrew/Orange Is The New Black, Lori Petty/Orange Is The New Black, Taylor Schilling/Orange Is The New Black, Rhea Seehorn/Better Call Saul, Rachael Taylor/Jessica Jones, Samira Wiley/Orange Is The New Black, Deborah Ann Woll/Daredevil, Alison Wright/The Americans
WINNER: Alison Wright

Okay, so, yeah, 15 nominees.  I realize this is a comically gigantic number, and obviously my view of OITNB as a pure ensemble show with no true lead skews the numbers, but I’m honestly at a loss here about who to cut.  Hell, I could’ve really added more; Charlotte Rampling was a close omission, maybe missing out just because I’m still angry at that horrible last season of Dexter.  It may be best to just count them down individually…

15. Henstridge.  The episode where it’s (sort of) just her on the deserted alien planet is a series high point for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
14. Berlin.  I’m actually basing this nomination on one single scene…Berlin pausing her closing argument to tap her pencil on the crime scene photos.  That was inspired.
13. Mulgrew.  It’s a testament to OITNB’s cast that you could take almost any handful of characters in a “let’s cover up a murder” storyline and it would work, but I think Red would almost have to be involved.
12. Everett.  I tip my cap to the writer who came up with the thematically perfect idea of having an evil version of Hedy Lamarr as the big bad for an Agent Carter season.
11. Taylor.  It’s Patsy, just falling out of the top ten!  Forget Luke Cage, did anyone expect “Jessica Jones” to be a backdoor pilot for an eventual Hellcat show? 
10. Miloti.  If only we could see her in a show where she isn’t instantly lovable and dying before her time.  “Well, Mark, you could’ve watched her in that show where she was co-starring with Ginsberg from Mad Men…” IF ONLY 
9. Woll.  Wonderful chemistry with Cox, wonderful chemistry with Bernthal, and she elevates every Murdoch & Nelson scene by helping obscure the fact that the guy from Mighty Ducks can’t act.  As a journalist, I should probably be more offended by the “wait, she just shows up at a major New York paper and instantly gets a job?” storyline but it’s not like I went to J-school or anything.
8. Schilling.  Piper as the lead character burned out after two seasons.  Piper as one part of an ensemble, getting loads of interesting material as a drunk-with-power underwear baron and then an accidental Nazi sympathizer is a much better fit within the OITNB world.
t6. Jean-Baptiste and Petty.  I’m placing these two together because whoa, remember the 90’s?  MJB got an Oscar nomination in 1996 and then seemingly disappeared from decent parts, though apparently she was on Without A Trace for seven years.  (Who knew?  Without a trace indeed.)  As for Petty, it seemed like she also more or less fell off the face of the earth since….what, Tank Girl?  Anyway, they both deserve long overdue kudos for making the most of these rather rare meaty roles.  I also kinda want to give a semi-nomination to the actress who played the younger Lolly in her OITNB flashback episode for doing such a dead-on Lori Petty impression.
5. Wiley.  AND THEN SHE TURNS AND LOOKS INTO THE CAMERA…wow.
t3. Coon and King.  These two also get placed together due to what may have been the single best scene in any show this year, when Nora and Erika go through the Departure fraud questionnaire.
2. Seehorn.  She didn’t have much to do in the first season other than just be Jimmy’s friend, but Seehorn got to paint with a much wider array of colours in S2.  In making her such a likeable character, her fate is now the big lingering question hanging over “Better Call Saul.”  We know what happens to Jimmy, we know what happens to Mike…everyone else is up in the air, including poor Kim.
1. Wright.  But really, if any character on television deserved our pity, it was poor Martha.  One more time….man, poor Martha.  Her four-season arc reached its logical conclusion with a few episodes that were about as gripping as television gets.  What happened to Martha impacted every single character on the show and I think it’ll set the series’ final endgame in motion.  “The Americans” has been the best show on TV for a few years now in large part because it is so calm about setting up these enormous plot dominoes and we’re finally starting to see them all fall.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Best TV Of The Last Year

I'm straying from my usual "alterna-Emmys" format for just one big master list of the 45 shows I watched a significant amount of (if not necessarily the entire series) over the last 12 months.  Am I doing this just to make two posts instead of one?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  Remind me of this hypocrisy the next time some show tries to split its final two seasons into two parts in order to screw the actors out of extra money.

UGH
45. Flaked
44. Family Guy
43. Lady Dynamite
42. Schitt’s Creek
41. Modern Family


OKAY BUT FORGETTABLE
40. Portlandia
39. Angie Tribeca
38. The Amazing Race, season 28
37. w/Bob & David
36. Mike Tyson Mysteries
35. Vice Principals
34. Silicon Valley
33. The Apprentice UK, season 11
32. The Simpsons
31. Survivor, season 31
30. Peep Show


PRETTY GOOD BUT MISSING SOMETHING
29. Agent Carter
28. The Muppets
27. The Grinder
26. The Amazing Race, season 27
25. Broadchurch
24. Making a Murderer
23. Agents of SHIELD
22. The Night Of
21. Survivor, season 32
20. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
19. Saturday Night Live


QUITE GOOD BUT A BIT FLAWED
18. Brooklyn Nine Nine
17. Jessica Jones
16. Happy Valley
15. Better Call Saul
14. Veep
13. Master Of None
12. Blackish
11. Daredevil


CREAM OF THE CROP
10. Stranger Things
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. Fargo
7. Nathan For You
6. Game Of Thrones
5. New Girl
4. The Leftovers
3. Orange Is The New Black
2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
1. The Americans

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Last Worthless Evening

Since I'm about to literally cut-and-paste this from Wikipedia, I guess that makes this the Last Worthless Post!

"More like latest worthless post."

Shut up, you!  Anyway, this was inexplicably floating around Twitter tonight, and it's hilarious.

The song is rumored to be about actress Michelle Pfeiffer.  Henley himself tells the story to concertgoers that he was at a Hollywood party in the late 1980s when, from across the room, he spied the beautiful blond "It girl" of Hollywood. She had just broken up with her husband and was sitting on a couch smoking a cigarette next to her recent co-star, Jack Nicholson. Henley says that he, like every man in the room, wanted to meet her. As he tells it, he walked up to the woman and asked if he could bum a cigarette. Without ever looking up at him she thrust a cigarette in his direction. As he slinked away, he says Nicholson chortled, "Well played, Henley."

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Fly, 2015

You see, I was under the impression that the Gavin Friday version of "The Fly" that was played during the semi-intermission of U2's last tour was a recording.  If Bono was actually performing live vocals (and this isn't just a clever video), then that's just super cool.  Also, not for nothing, seeing the team of makeup artists working on Bono here really emphasizes the original characterization of the Fly character as kind of an aging caricature of a rock star....uh, maybe unwittingly emphasizes.

Monday, September 05, 2016

NFL Predictions

I’ll level with you, gang — I have paid almost zero attention to the NFL offseason.  Last season was just so depressing and fractured both on and off the field that I think I needed some time to just completely disconnect from pro football.  As such, my preseason picks might be less than their usual 100% accuracy.  Maybe somewhere in the 95-96% stone-cold accurate range, but still.

AFC West: Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers

Denver had literally every break go their way last season, so stand back and let the regression begin.  Oakland is running neck-and-neck with Jacksonville as this year’s “preseason darling who ends up being terrible” or “preseason darling who ends up being pretty good” but I can’t tell who’s who.  Los Ange….er, San Diego will be terrible again unless Jake Taylor and Wild Thing Vaughn show up on the roster.  That leaves the Chiefs as the favourite in the division, pulling the ol’ Andy Reid staple of a solid regular season followed by a playoff letdown.

AFC South: Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Colts

This isn’t really my predicted order of finish as much as it is my listing of how likely each team is to win this crazy division.  Indianapolis is last because I absolutely cannot see their toxic front office/coaching situation turning itself around.  You could even talk me into Tennessee over the Colts, which is saying something since I literally couldn’t name five Titans players.  As noted, Jacksonville could either be surprisingly frisky or a disaster, and it’s a coin flip in either direction.  That leaves Houston, and man, Brock Osweiler.  I guess the Texans have had some success in the past despite sub-replacement level play at quarterback, but yikes.

AFC North: Bengals, Steelers, Ravens, Browns

Well, Cleveland will finish last.  I could ignore the next 50 NFL offseasons and still know that.  It’ll be a brawl between the big three, particularly if Joe Flacco returns healthy for Baltimore. 

AFC East: Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins
Tom Brady could’ve honestly gotten a season-long suspension and I’d still pick New England.  I mean, look at these teams.  Buffalo is already getting injuries like crazy.  Miami is one of the most under-the-radar worst-run teams in pro sports.  New York is…making the playoffs.  Yeah, I don’t get it either, this seems like one of those weird ‘Jets make the playoffs’ years despite Oakland, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Denver and geez, maybe even the Colts having more talent.

NFC West: Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers

Looks like a pretty clear path to another Seattle division crown, especially since Carson Palmer apparently forgot how football works last January.  Arizona should still cost to second place since they’ll still be able to top the eternally 7-9 Rams and the potentially horrific 49ers.  Part of me hopes San Francisco finishes with something borderline surprisingly respectable (like 6-10 or 7-9 to tie Los Angeles) just so people can get their hopes up about Chip Kelly again before everything implodes the season after.

NFC South: Panthers, Buccaneers, Falcons, Saints

The inverse of the AFC North, where you have one team that’s the clear favourite and then three teams that could finish in any order and I wouldn’t be surprised.  Barring injury, I don’t see any reason Carolina wouldn’t win this division.  Maybe the Bucs actually finally live up to expectations this season with a new coach?  Maybe Atlanta’s defense is only D-minus bad instead of F-minus bad?  Maybe the Saints find a time machine and revert to 2010?

NFC North: Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions

I was actually worried about Minnesota there for a second before Teddy Bridgewater’s knee literally exploded and the Vikings responded by acquiring Sam Bradford (!) for a first-round pick (!!)  How long do you think it took the Eagles to say yes to that offer?  Five seconds?  Ten?  I’m vaguely concerned about Chicago as a sleeper, while hilariously unconcerned about Detroit.  As for the Packers, well, it was their usual offseason of relying on questionable draft picks and virtually zero free agents.  But hey, at least no stars suffered season-ending injuries during exhibition games.  Big plus!

NFC East: Washington, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys

Another tossup of a division.  I’ll take Washington to defend its title since they somehow have the fewest question marks of this bunch, and wow, how is WASHINGTON the most stable team in a division?  Like the Jets, this seems like one of those random years where the Giants will inexplicably win games despite a lack of talent on the roster.  Philly improves on the basis of “got rid of Chip Kelly,” while Dallas will struggle on the basis of “Tony Romo is hurt.”  These are two immutable rules, folks. 

AFC wild cards: Steelers, Jets
NFC wild cards: Cardinals, Giants

AFC championship game: Patriots over Steelers
NFC championship game: Seahawks over Panthers

Super Bowl 51: Seahawks over Patriots
When one hasn’t done one’s prep, simply pick a Super Bowl pitting the two best teams of the last three years against each other.  Done and done!  This time, Pete Carroll calls a run play.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

My High School Dance History

My friend Sarah recently told me about a dating trend unique to the current generation of teenagers --- the "prom-posal."  This bit of nonsense involves a guy asking a girl to prom in a very elaborate, over-the-top way, similar to how a movie character might propose marriage by hiring a skywriter, or scattering rose pedals everywhere, or some even more breathtakingly romantic gesture

That's essentially what a prom-posal is, except instead of proposing a lifetime of marriage, you're asking someone to a damn dance.  I hate to generalize, but if you're a high school kid with enough disposable income to drop hundreds of dollars just to ask your sweetheart out, you're a raving douchebag.  Hmm, good thing I prefaced that with "I hate to generalize" or else that would've really sounded like a generalization. 

Not to get all "back in my day" about this and pull my trousers up beyond my belly button but….seriously, back in my day, prom was in no way this big a deal.  Hell, my high school didn't even have proms.  We had "semi-formals," which were basically proms, just not called proms for some obscure reason.  Now, granted, my semi-formal experience may not be as memorable as most given that I was a bigger wallflower than Jakob Dylan back in high school, but still, here was a brief summary of my semi-formal experience.

Ninth grade: Didn't go.  Way to make an impact, freshman.

Tenth grade: Didn't go.  Probably stayed home and watched the Drambuie Showcase Revue.

Eleventh grade: Hey, I went!  Good lord!  I went with my pal Eric, and our "two cool single guys out on the prowl at the big dance" was only slightly undercut by the fact that we were driven to and from the school by Eric's mom.  Anyway, actually going to a semi-formal after all those years was kind of a letdown.  Sure, the dance was set in the school's halls and main atrium rather than the usual dances in the gym* and everything was done up with a general Titanic theme (ah, 1998) but at the end of the day, it was just a dance with everyone in nicer clothes.  I was also pretty let down that none of the nerdier girls at my school showed up with their hair down and glasses off, suddenly looking like a million bucks.  Thanks for leading me astray, every high school prom movie ever made.  Anyway, I think Eric and I were home in time for me to watch Saturday Night Live.  #CoolGuys

* MuchMusic video dance party!  Holler!  I think my highlight of these dances was joining a group of about a dozen people who recreated the moves from Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" video

Twelfth grade: I went to semi-formal again, but with a twist.  This year I was on student council so I was part of the actual organizing committee for semi-formal.  I guess I could easily discover this fact by asking someone I went to high school with or looking in an old yearbook, but as I write this, I have absolutely no recollection what theme we came up with for that dance.  I remember spending a lot of time putting garbage bags on the cafeteria roof to emulate a starry night, so maybe some kind of general space theme?  No clue. 

Anyway, the magic of semi-formal is pretty muted when you spend your entire weekend putting all the decorations up, then spending the actual dance serving punch/checking coats/making sure nobody ruins the godforsaken decorations/etc., then going home for about six hours sleep and then returning to school on a Sunday to help tear everything down.  Maybe the theme of the semi-formal was "Being A Janitor."

Thirteenth grade*: Ah, here we go, the big senior year semi-formal.  Now, THIS would be the magical night where I'd finally tell my true feelings to the girl I'd had a crush on for five years, and it'd turn out she'd also had a crush on me TOO this WHOLE TIME and we'd fall into each other's arms and then I'd punch out Biff Tannen and it'd all be gravy after that.  But yeah, prom movies led me astray again.  I again was dateless for this dance and no, I had no moment of pure romance with The Girl Of My Dreams** but still, I recall it being a pretty fun evening. 

* = a.k.a. "OAC" for Canadian high schoolers of my generation.  Grade 13 actually hasn't existed for well over a decade, so I was one of the last of a dying breed.  Never quite got the logic of sending kids as young as 17 on to university but hey, I'm no educator.

** = though I had unrequited crushes on, like, 30-40 of my high school classmates, so I would've had a busy night.  Though really, come on, surely out of those 30-40 women, ONE would've had feelings for me, right?  Sheer odds would dictate this to be true.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The final year semi-formal was also the beginning of many Second Semester Random Romances.  I'll explain.  At my school, and perhaps at others, several seemingly out-of-nowhere couples suddenly sprung up within the last few months of our high school tenures.  My theory was that in many of these cases, these were people who, a) hadn't been laid during high school or b) hadn't actually dated anyone throughout high school, and now were pairing up in a late rush to get one in under the buzzer before graduation.  It also could've been out of a desire to have a steady date for the many major social calendar events that dotted the last few months of the high school calendar: your semi-formal, your last few key house parties, your graduation ceremony, your student-only grad ceremony, the aftergrad drunkfest that took place in a rural campsite in southern Ontario, etc.  Now, a few of these seemingly random relationships actually ended up becoming marriages that last to this day, so bully for them.  Others fell by the wayside as soon as high school actually ended, or were stretched out until the fall when everyone came home from university for Thanksgiving and promptly Turkey-Dropped their old partners.  Not me, though.  Being a true rebel, I resisted this social pressure and managed to remain a single virgin for ALL of high school.  Ha, take that! 

*dusts off hands triumphantly* 
*cries*


So anyway, that was my high school prommi-formal history.  Talk about mayhem.  You might think my lack of specific memories stemmed from getting drunk during all these things but I swear, I was sober as a judge throughout all of them -- either they were all just pretty dull times or else my memory is becoming horsecrap. 

What I do remember is during my senior semi-formal, I posed for one of those official prom night photographs, with a professional photog and the big background and everything.  I posed alone, naturally, with my tie undone and me doing the awkward collar pull gesture while holding a cane, since for some reason I thought it'd be cool to bring a cane to a dance.  It is, very possibly, the single nerdiest picture taken of any human being.  If this picture ever surfaces on the internet, I'm moving to a remote cave in the Andes.  And not only because of the nerdiness, I also don't want to deal with a hundred "Mark, you were even balding in high school?  Good lord!" comments.

The moral of the story is, if you're going to ask someone to prom/semi-formal, just do it normally.  Don't waste your money and self-respect on a friggin' prom-posal.  Ladies, if a guy asks you via prom-posal, turn him down on general principle.  Men, if you ask a girl out and she gets all huffy since you didn't do an elaborate prom-posal, then forget the whole thing since who needs to be with someone that high-maintenance?  Take it from me, the guy who never had a date for any of my high school dances…prom-posals are a waste. 

What's the Canadian version of a prom-posal, by the way?  A semi-forvitation?  A pros-formal?  Writing "wanna goo oot?" in maple syrup on the back of a Doug Gilmour poster and sticky-tacking it to her locker door?  Even that might backfire since then she'd presume she's being asked out by Doug Gilmour.

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!