THE NIGHT BEFORE DEFENSE (or A Visit From Citrate)

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Twas the night before Defense, when all through the lab

Not a gel box was shaking, with stain or with MAb;

The columns were hung in the cold room with care,

In hopes that my protein, I soon could prepare;

 

The post-docs were nestled all smug in their beds,

While extracts of barlied hops muddled their heads;

With the tech in the suburbs and PI the same,

I had just settled down to another video game.

 

When out of the fridge there arose such a clatter

I sprang from the terminal to see what was the matter.

Away to the cold box, I flew like a flash

But the stench was o’erpowering and I threw up beef hash.

 

The mould on the dampest of walls which were cold

Had the softness of kittens only seven weeks old;

When what to my view, a thing I despise

But a half-eaten sandwich and four tiny mice;

 

With a little old scientist, so lively and galling,

I knew at a glance, it was Linus Pauling.

More vapid than undergrads, his charges they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them rude names.

 

“Now, Watson! Now Francis! You strange little modellers!

On Luria! On Bertani! You stupid old broth’lers!

To the top of the bench, to the top of the wall!

Purify! Purify! Purify all!”

 

As dry heaves before the committee meeting, bend

A young student’s body and his colon distend,

So up to their earlobes, acytes they grew,

With a sack full of antibodies, their skin turning blue.

 

And then, for a second, I heard from the ‘fuge,

An unbalanced rotor spinning something too huge.

Where I put down my hand, to better hear the sound,

Came the snapping of sparks from a wire sans ground.

 

Pauling’s hair was all wavy, and I thought I must be sick

`Cause the curl in his hair looked just like a helix.

On an arm load of oranges, he started to snack

Recalling his fetish with ascorbate, the quack.

 

His eyes were all wrinkled, but the cheeks were yet red;

Not too shabby for a man who was several years dead;

The leer of his smile was just a tad scary

And the snow on his rooftop made his head yet quite hairy;

 

The end of a pipette, he held in his teeth

And a pile of kimwipes lay around his big feet.

He held a small vial of something quite gel-ly,

A mercaptan no doubt, for it make him quite smelly.

 

He changed `round the columns, adding to the confusion

And I laughed to spite my own paranoid delusion.

A wink of his eye and a rotation of his head,

Told me whatever I drank would soon leave me dead.

 

He spoke not a word, just buggered up my work,

And dried all my resins, that silly old jerk.

And separating his middle finger from first, fourth and third,

That crazy, old bugger, just flipped me the bird.

 

He grabbed up his cohorts and ran down the hall,

And away they all flew, letting me take the fall.

That is why, dear Committee, I am sorry to say,

I need a five year extension, starting today.

Mascots more a misscots

mascots_poster

After opening at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary Mascots was released to Netflix this past week. As a fan of his many earlier efforts—from This Is Spinal Tap to A Mighty Wind—I greatly looked forward to his take on the surreal world of sports mascots.

Unfortunately, this might have been a mistake, as the bar set by those movies was pretty high.

Mascots revolves around the struggles of five teams competing for the Gold Fluffy, the highest achievement of the Professional Mascots Association. One team is a feuding couple, trying to maintain a brave face while on-camera, but killing each other behind the scenes. A second subplot involves a son trying to live up to his father’s and grandfather’s legacies in a hedgehog costume.

Then there is an aging dancer who sees this as her last chance to go all the way, as well as a solo act simply trying to up his game, and an Irish bad boy whose story never really fleshes out.

judges

Pretty much sums up some of the stories in this film

As these five subplots buzz around, we also get to see behind the curtain as competition organizers try to hold everything together while vying for a broadcast contract with a fourth-tier cable company, and two former champs feud while trying to judge the contest.

Still with me?

Now, throw in a few more secondary characters and cameos, and you have an ensemble of about 25 characters pushing for air time.

Now as confusing and thin as this might seem, Guest has been able to make it work before in pieces like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show, using many of the same amazing actors: Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, etc.

Unfortunately, things don’t seem to gel as nicely in Mascots, and the whole film seems to lack the heart of the earlier efforts. I mean, how do you compete with the simple love-story of Mitch & Mickey?

pathos-challenge

Not really a fair comparison (Mascots, top; A Mighty Wind, bottom)

This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t poignant moments in many of the subplots or that the actual mascot performances during the competition weren’t spectacular. But rather than being more than the sum of its parts, this film was surprisingly less.

This is where I think my expectations are part of the problem.

Viewed through a virgin lens, Mascots is somewhat entertaining and not a bad way to spend 89 minutes. It would make a great appetiser to tease the palate for a main course of the other meatier films. But as a dessert, it is significantly lacking.

Of individual note, Parker Posey’s interpretive dance student is painfully poignant and outrageously funny. Chris O’Dowd’s bad-ass sex fiend is completely wasted, however, and largely amounts to nothing. And I found the bickering couple—Zach Woods and Sarah Baker—completely distasteful, and the longer I saw them, the worse it got.

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Perfectly pathetic (Parker Posey)

Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. were great but underused. Fred Willard was the only character Fred Willard has ever played. And the rest of the core ensemble barely managed more than cameos.

Mascots isn’t bad, but sadly could have been so much better.

 

See also:

Christopher Guest’s ‘Mascots’ fails to really cheer (Associated Press)

Latest from Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest does not go up to 11 (The Guardian)

MacKay away in Canada, eh

Parliamentarian MacKay can carry a tune

Parliamentarian MacKay can carry a tune

In honour of the announced departure of Canadian Parliamentarian Peter MacKay from political office, I would like to call back to a musical number I wrote almost 10 years ago for a Second City Training Centre sketch comedy show in Toronto entitled Da Tory Code.

The parody is sung to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Modern Major General  from HMS Pinafore and features current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with his right-hand man MacKay.

MacKay blows kisses as PM Harper stares on lovingly

MacKay blows kisses as PM Harper stares on lovingly

Enjoy.

Harper

I am the very model of a primo ministerial;

Appointing every office, even got myself a Liberal.

I run a mighty fearsome ship,

I won’t allow a tongue to slip,

The press thinks that I give a shit,

Your primo ministerial.

MacKay

He runs a mighty fearsome ship,

He won’t allow a tongue to slip,

The press thinks that he gives a shit,

Our primo ministerial.

Harper

I am the very model of a sovereign most invincible;

Why wouldn’t I, my party is the only one with principles.

My gang and I will legislate

Who gays and lesbians can mate;

I’ll make Quebec a po-lice state

Your sovereign most invincible.

MacKay

Our gang and he will legislate

Who gays and lesbians can mate;

He’ll make Quebec a po-lice state

Our sovereign most invincible.

Harper

I am the very model of a ruler quite imperial;

Destroy all opposition like a killer almost serial.

I rule with all supremacy,

From sea to sea to fucking sea,

So screw your old democracy.

Your ruler quite imperial.

THE MUSIC CHANGES TO DARTH VADER THEME

MacKay

All hail the Harper!

EXIT

Da Tory Code poster

No parity in parody

Parody

Mel Brooks is a god! Carl Reiner is a god! Carol Burnett is a god! Mike Myers is a really funny Toronto boy, who flew pretty close to the sun. (He may yet be a god, but he has to get back on his feet.)

And among their many talents, these people share the amazingly delicate talent of creating parody…a talent I have yet to seriously attempt beyond the scale of sketch comedy.

Delicate talent? Seriously attempt? Isn’t parody just a matter of picking a genre and inserting dirty jokes and/or completely ham-fisting its various tropes in the mathematical assumption:

Absurd + Puns + Dirty = Funny

I increasingly understand why people think this as I watch more of the recent fare of parodic films that appear to have taken this equation to heart.

Last night, for example, I watched Paranormal Whacktivity, a sexed up romp through the found-footage haunted-home segment that includes films such as Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch. This film was horrific, but not in a good way…nor was it particularly funny or sexy. And it wasn’t very good as a parody because it didn’t even stick to its genre, mixing Paranormal Activity with Ghostbusters, which both involve spirits but are hardly cinematic siblings.

It was useful, however, to my understanding of parody.

When I compare Blazing Saddles, Airplane, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery to Disaster Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, and Breaking Wind, I realize that the truly classic parodies have something that the new ones don’t: a strong central story.

Somewhere in the evolution of parody films, the movies became less about story and more about ripping off as many genre clichés as possible, offering no firmer links between these scenes than bad jokes, fart noises or perky breasts.

Blazing Saddles wasn’t about taking a bunch of classic scenes from Westerns and simply linking them. It was more about taking iconic characters from the Westerns and creating a classic, if twisted, story. The sheriff abandoned by the town folk, the washed up gunslinger, the evil cattle rustler, the crooked politician.

Similarly with Shrek; although this film has such a strong central story that I’m not sure whether I should even include it in a list of parodies. Yes, it played up almost every fairy tale gimmick, but the story really didn’t model itself on any given style or pre-existing story.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is another odd case. With a strong through story led by Steve Martin and Rachel Ward (directed by Carl Reiner), it takes parody to a whole new level by incorporating actual scenes from noir films within the scenes with live actors. Thus, Martin’s character may find himself playing across from Barbara Stanwyck or Edward G. Robinson. Now, that is great film writing and editing.

Interestingly, the Wayans’ brothers first entry into this genre—Scary Movie—offers another lesson about parodies: the challenge of dipping into the same well too often.

Although horror/slasher movies are not to my personal tastes, I thought the first one or two films of this series were particularly well done. But as the series continued, picking on more films from within the horror/slasher genre, it started to become a parody of itself. The jokes were no longer fresh. All the best tropes had been used up in the first two movies and so the later films just seemed to be running in place.

Six Star Wars films, one Spaceballs. That works. (NOTE: Spaceballs is one of my least favourite Mel Brooks movies, much to the chagrin of many friends.)

Even the much stronger series of Austin Powers and Police Squad films showed this sense of comedic fatigue.

The original film is a surprise. The first sequel may be enjoyable. Anything after that is milking a dead cow.

I have no doubt that bad parodies will continue to be made…if nothing else, they seem to require little writing and typically have poor production values, and are therefore inexpensive.

My hope, however, is that another Mel Brooks, Keenan Ivory Wayans or Mike Myers comes along to raise us from these creative and comedic doldrums. (NOTE: At present, my money is on Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who have the comedic talent and the Hollywood clout to do it right.)

 

A few personal favourites (hyperlinked to trailer or favourite scene, where available):

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Airplane

The Cheap Detective

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Hot Shots (not so much the sequel)

Rustler’s Rhapsody

Shrek

Scary Movie

Blazing Saddles

Silent Movie (I may be only person who likes this one)

Young Frankenstein (all time favourite)

 

For my friends who are parents

lynch

Ding Dong! The kid’s at school!

Oh, so cool that it’s a rule.

Ding Dong! The little shit’s in school.

Wake up, tiny fool.

Rub your eyes, finish your gruel.

Wake up, you snarky brat, there’s school.

Summer’s done, it’s time to go,

Grab your books before it snows,

Move your ass before the school bell tolls.

Ding Dong! And hidey-ho,

Sing it high, sing it low.

Let’em know, the little shit’s in school!

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission because I’m old school.)

Write, write a song

If dictionaries defined phrases and you looked up “glutton for punishment” or “own worst enemy”, I have every confidence you would find a definition along the lines of:

(n) 1. An individual who endeavours to accomplish novel projects through the use of methods for which he or she has no training, expertise and in all likelihood, aptitude. 2. This guy.

It would then show a photo of me, both definitions being equal appropriate.

Image

As if it wasn’t daunting enough to try to write a screenplay for an animated feature-length family film, I decided it should include songs (a la Lion King or Aladdin) and then went one audacious step further to decide that I should write those songs.

I have no musical training. I don’t know anything about song writing. Heck, the only training I have as a singer involved a record player and a ruler-cum-microphone. (Note to self: Just because you can’t hear you when you wear headphones doesn’t mean that no one can hear you when you wear headphones.)

Tonight, I finally decided to sit down and write the five songs for the movie (and truthfully, that’s only because I’m procrastinating on a rewrite of a scene I hate but do not know how to fix).

The good news is I know what I want each song to cover and roughly the tone I want to establish with it. The bad news is all that stuff I talked about above.

The first song was relatively straightforward as it is a parody of an existing tune. Keep the cadence, change the words. Play the music in the background and try to sing it aloud. Not yet perfect, but it’s a start.

But now, the completely novel songs. Oh boy.

Do I have a cadence?

Why did I pick that word to try to rhyme four times?

Okay, I think I should try to change the tempo here.

Crap! Where’s my chorus?

Is it okay to switch from something Disney-esque to The Pogues?

Oops, can’t use that word…there’ll be kids in the audience.

Why, oh why, do I do these things to myself?