Monthly Archives: August 2010

Furry Vengeance

Much hullabaloo has been made of the cat bin lady.  If the kerfuffle has not made its way to wherever you’re reading this blog post from, let me summarise the turn of events for you:

Here in England, Coventry to be precise, a woman was captured on CCTV, first petting a friendly neighborhood cat that had approached her and then suddenly and swiftly decided that it would be ‘funny’ to open up a nearby trash bin and chuck it in.  The woman then merrily walks on.  Luckily, the cat was discovered by its owners 15 hours later when, having grown worried about its whereabouts,  they investigated the CCTV footage from near their house.

Here, in all its glory, is the little bit of animal abuse heard round the world:

It’s strange to watch this clip because the first thing that comes to mind, besides a bit of fretting for the cat, is that the woman must be a little ‘off’.  All turned out to be OK in the end.  The cat was happily rescued from the garbage can.  But, because the owners had put the footage up on-line, the cat-chucker had become instantly notorious.  Her identity was easy to discern through the footage (Mary Bale is her name) and the RSPCA is deciding whether or not to pursue any legal action.

Bale, who I think we can all agree has poor impulse control, used the excuse that she thought it would be funny.  I don’t think she ever considered for a moment that she’d have an audience of millions.

Quotes from The Daily Mail (sorry for the tabloid-rag of a source):

‘I cannot explain why I did this, it is completely out of character and I certainly did not intend to cause any distress to Lola or her owners.
‘It was a split second of misjudgment that has got completely out of control.

But she claimed the outcry had been blown out of all proportion: ‘I don’t know what the fuss is about. It’s just a cat.’

Miss Bale said she was just walking home on Saturday when she saw the cat and decided to play with it. But she told the Sun that she ‘suddenly thought it would be funny’ to put it in the bin.

‘I did it as a joke because I thought it would be funny. I never thought it would be trapped, I expected it to wriggle out,’ she said.

What sucks for this lady though, is that what she thought was a bit of mischief has resulted in death treats and world-wide disdain. (Though she’s not ingratiating herself to cat lovers anywhere by saying she doesn’t understand the fuss, anyone with half a brain should realize that she’s perhaps not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.)  Those who wish to do her harm should note, violence against people technically qualifies as animal abuse as well…

Inevitably, an ‘I hate Mary Bale’ Facebook has already sprung up and is ‘liked’ by over nine thousand users.  Of course, it only took minutes for some genius to call her ‘worse than Hitler’. Ugh…sometimes I hate the Internet soooo much.

The Internet’s worse than Hitler.

(See Godwin’s Law:  Godwin\’s Law)

Meanwhile, Lola’s owners, kind and reasonable, have implored people to refrain from going all angry villagers with pitchforks on her ass.  Thank God, some people have sense.

Would just like to put this all behind her...

Naturally, as with any internet meme, this event has been parodied to the hilt.  But, the person who I think has nailed it the best it whoever is the genius behind this twitter account, which finally brings us to our great thing of the day:

145.  CatBinLady’s Twitter Account

This twitter page is the perfect satire of the events.  It reads the situation perfectly without calling for the murder of a woman who acted like a bit of a plantpot.

I have no idea who is behind it.  Truly an unsung hero.  The bio just reads:

  • Bio I have momentary aberrations. We all do.

Also, CatBinLady is following Kanye West on Twitter.  Makes a sort of sense, unlike the woman herself.

Read the entries and enjoy for yourself how CatBinLady’s impulses repeatedly get her into trouble.  Do yourself a favor and start from her first tweet:  CatBinLady

***Update***The Author of CatBinLady comes forward!  Enjoy more comedy writing from him if you will!

Who is that masked man?

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Brainerd’s Finest

I watched Fargo again this past weekend.  It’s a great movie anyway, but it was especially good because I haven’t worn it out, if you know what I mean.  You know sometimes you view films sooo many times, that they lose their appeal?  I’ve only ever seen Fargo the one time before and that was near the date it came out.  1996.   I was 20.  The first version of Java programming was released, Bob Dole ran for POTUS, and future star Abigail Breslin was born.

What a fab film to get reacquainted with.  There’s a lot that I could focus on in my discussion/appreciation of this film.  But let’s go the predictable route of talking about what I think is not only a terrific performance, but a wholly satisfying and well-written female lead.  (Thanks to the Coen brothers for that!)

144:  Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson

You Betcha!

I think McDormand is a fantastic actress.  When I was researching this little blog entry, I was sort of crushed to find an interview where she confesses to doing absolutely no research for this role.  I studied acting at school (which explains why I also have a bartending degree)  and was brainwashed into my school of practice, the Stella Adler technique, which itself is born of The Group Theatre and is an offshoot of Stanislavsky’s ‘method’ style.  Adler, Meisner, and Strasberg were all disciples of  acting messiah Stanislavsky and they all interpreted his words in different ways.  NYU had a different acting studio for each method which created at least 3 warring factions within the acting program at the arts school who ALL stubbornly thought that their way was best…this isn’t even counting the yahoos at Experimental Theatre Wing or the show-tune belting patience-drainers at CAP 21–the musical theatre studio.

What were the main differences between each studio?  In a nutshell, Meisner believes reacting honestly to whatever comes out of your partner’s mouth is most important–a sort of improv-style response.  Strasberg believed that you needed to rely on your own personal sense memories to inform your performance.  Basically, if you can remember what coffee and cigarettes smell like, you can play anything from a hooker with a heart of gold to a space alien.  Adler believed that you could inhabit a character by first doing research and then building character backgrounds that feed into your imagination.  Basically, understand the character’s world first and then help yourself enter it by creating personal histories.

Look, another NYU Theater Grad!

I remember for one of my character studies, I spent a few hours at the NYU library researching my character’s career (that of prison warden) and then writing several character-building monologues in her voice to try to relate to what was a vastly different experience to my milquetoast upbringing in rural-suburban PA.   My loyalty to the Adler method was undying.  I was fully indoctrinated by my cruel acting teachers and I mentally spat upon the halfwits that went straight for the masturbatory methods of Strasberg, or even worse, the monkeytards at Experimental Theatre Wing who ran around all day pretending to be colors and shapes—their productions inevitably wound up looking Caligulan.

So, I’ve always been a bit taken aback when I read quotes like McDormand’s.  Jodie Foster, who, like McDormand, is  a Yale Drama grad, has made similar statements.  It left me a bit aghast and wondering what the hell it is that they teach at Yale Drama.  (Also, did I just completely waste my time for four years?  Have I been doing it wrong?)  Surely they learn SOME sort of acting technique that involves research.

But, reading another interview with McDormand about the film, she mentions going shooting with a real female police chief from the snowy hinterlands of Minnesota, learning the charming “Minnesota Nice” dialect AND building character backgrounds with the actor who played her husband, John Carroll Lynch.  They decided that Norm and Marge met while working on the police force, married, and had to make the decision about who would still work for the force and who had to quit. In their back story, they thought that since Marge was a better officer, Norm should quit and pursue his painting.

So, to me, that sort of sounds like she DID engage in a bit of research after all.

Still, I remember an interview where Jodie Foster stated that acting is just being really good at playing make-believe.

So, maybe really good acting lies somewhere in between the two: hard-nosed research and a sense of fun and play.

Also, maybe it’s time to unclench my butt cheeks ever so slightly when I think about these sort of things.

Anyway, regardless of how she reached the final product, her performance deservedly won the Academy Award that year (out of a crop of truly excellent nominees).

McDormand portrays Gunderson as a smart, polite, and caring individual who, amazingly, remains interesting for all her lack nastiness.  In one of the most discussed scenes, she meets up with an old highschool chum who has contacted her out of the blue.  Here’s the Mike Yanagita scene:

That’s correct, Mike, she IS a super lady.

I found the Mike Yanagita scene discussed both in an interview and as a thread on an IMDB board. Why does it exist?  McDormand’s answer can be found here: bombsite.  It comes across that she found the scene useful because it was an occasion for Gunderson to achieve a bit of depth.  For her, it exists to build character.  The meeting with Mike flusters her a bit.  Even though she’s sweet as pie, she’s not perfect.  She doesn’t accommodate everyone all the time.  (Even if she DOES get out of the situation in a non-confrontational sort of way.)  The IMDB thread discusses the possibility that it’s in there for plot development rather than solely as a character-defining moment.  (Read the rationale which involves watching for subtle facial cues here: IMDB).  I think this logic works but only for people who believe that every scene in a film should serve the sole purpose of moving action forward and don’t want to see Fargo abuse that rule of good screenplay writing.

The comedic prowess demonstrated by McDormand is fantastic to watch.  It’s always a pleasant surprise to see actors who are normally better known for their dramatic roles take a comedic spin.  In an AV Club interview, film director and ex-headwriter of Saturday Night Live Adam McKay (Anchorman, Stepbrothers) comments on McDormand’s unique comic gift (I’ve included a few of the lead-in questions so that it makes sense):

AVC: SNL was a master class in taking anybody who walked in the door and putting them into comic situations.

AM: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I actually went through it and didn’t put it together. We got to see person after person, and we learned that the best hosts were the people like Steve Forbes and Mayor Giuliani and athletes and super good-looking dudes and high-status people. And then great actors: Julianne Moore was a great host, and Steve Buscemi. So you generally start to see rules for who was good, and who was exciting to work for, and who was meaty.

AVC: Julianne Moore and Richard Jenkins, who you mentioned earlier, have both had small but memorable roles in Coen brothers movies. It takes a real level of skill to hold that heightened pitch for an entire movie.

AM: It’s true, isn’t it?

AVC: They can hit levels even a lot of dramatic actors can’t really get at.

AM: It’s really a kind of fine line, operating in a state of slightly tweaked satirical drama. Frances McDormand is the master of it. It’s like half a percentage heightened. It’s a really kind of weird level that they always have in their movies, and you’re absolutely right, there’s few people that can pull it off.

Here’s “the hooker scene” from Fargo.  McDormand is even riveting as the straight man.

There was an attempt to bring the Marge Gunderson character to the small screen in a Fargo television series.  Edie Falco, a fine choice, was to play our hero.  Unfortunately, it got shit-canned before it even made it past the ‘pilot’ stage.  Ah well.  It does make me wonder about the entertainment potential of Marge being paired with some other famous teevee detectives.  Here, in no particular order, are some television cops it’d be fun to see her paired up with:

Dead-eye Gunderson!

–Either of the SVU detectives.  You know, if you read this blog regularly, that I think Det. Benson is shit hot.  So, that’s a no-brainer.  But, it’d be fun to see Gunderson opposite Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler as well.  The golly-gee and the facepuncher.  That’s a dynamite good cop/bad cop scenario.  Heck, it’d even be fun to see her with Ice-T.

–Batman.  Because I’m a nerd.

–Vic Mackey from The Shield.  What would Marge do with herself?  Surrounded by anti-heroes.

–Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison character from Prime Suspect.  Helen Mirren is ALSO shit hot.

Miami Vice’s Sonny Crockett…Marge could move to sunny Florida!

Any of these team-ups would work for me.  But, I’d like the series to be written by Greg Rucka (of Batwoman and Queen and Country comic-book fame) and I’d like it to be produced by HBO and Alan Ball.  Dynamite!

Here’s a picture that MUST be from the promotional period of Burn After Reading, another Coen brothers film featuring an award-worthy McDormand performance.  (Tilda Swinton co-stars).  It’s also hugely underrated as a comedy.  So, if you haven’t seen it, do watch it.  Especially if you enjoy McDormand in black comedy.

Yes, Tilda Swinton, I will marry you!  Are they on a yacht?

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Alphabetically Last, But Stylistically First

So, having a scroll through the most recent entries on this here blog, I notice that it’s been a while since I’ve done any nature-lovin’.  I like to keep things shuffling along here through my blog categories.  So, I had a think about which weird, unusual, or exciting beastie or natural phenomenon I could celebrate today.  I’ve settled on zebras.

Why zebras, why now?  Well, to be honest, I think it’s because I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption.  For those of you that don’t game, RDR is sort of like Grand Theft Auto but in the old west.  You play a bounty hunter looking to right some wrongs and you get to explore quite a large sandbox-type area.  There’s  the big mission of stopping your old gang-leader, a real bad guy, once and for all.  But, there’s all sorts of side missions you can set out on as well.  You can play poker, collect bounties on wanted-criminals, rescue kittens from trees, all sorts.  But, one of the best aspects of the game is that you get to form a sort of bond with your horse.  And you have to make sure you respect and treat it well, feed it apples if it gets tired, protect it from gunfire and theft…etc…I like my video game horse.  A lot!  Her name is Cookie.

Horses are cool.  You know what else was/is cool?  The 1980s.  And optical illusions.  You know what animal can comfortably fit in all three categories?  That’s right, today’s great thing:

143.  Zebras

Yes, the stripey equid whose visage is used so easily in both optical illusions AND early 80’s minimalist decor.  I’m sure you’re already sold on zebras without me elaborating.  You’re no dummy!   But, since I have to pad out this blog entry a little bit, let me explain further.

First of all, zebras have one up on horses because of their hairstyle.  They have a mohawk style mane that sticks straight up.  They are the punk rock to the horse family’s emo.  The Clash vs My Chemical Romance.

Each stripey design is unique.  Though I’m not sure how we can be soooo certain that no two zebras are alike.  I mean, can anyone claim to having seen all the world’s zebras ever?  It’s like in Napolean Dynamite when Napolean states that the video they’re watching (Uncle Rico’s greatest football passes) is the world’s worst ever.  Kit astutely counters:  “Napolean, like anyone could even know that.”

Whilst I’m not immediately buying into every zebras stripe pattern being wholly original, I will recognize the science behind the fact that they are split into three main zebra species.  I mean, I’m not a climate-change denier or anything.  I believe stuff that’s provable.  The three are:  Grevy’s, Mountain, and Plains zebras.  There are some subspecies under each species heading, but I don’t have all day, so let’s just look at the main three, shall we?

Here are pics of each one.  Threebras.  Can you tell the difference?

Grevy's

Mountain Zebra

Plains Zebra

Yeah, I can’t really either.  And, no matter how hard I stare, I can only see the vase.  I can’t see the two faces.  But, from what I can glean, there are a few ways to spot the differences.  Grevy’s zebras are the biggest.  This only works as an indicator if you have all three zebras lined up in a row, I suppose.  They also have the thinnest stripes, which are very flattering and slimming.  They usually have a thicker stripe on their back that goes all the way to their tail.    Mountain zebras have a dewlap (a sort of turkey-neck flap).   Plains (or Burchell’s) zebras frequently have lighter colored stripes in between the darker ones.  These are called ‘shadow strips’.  So, now you know how to tell one zebra from the next.  Just like a professional zebra guy.

If not ravaged by a lion, shot by poachers, or starved due to drought, a zebra can live for up to forty years.  They are fairly social (they will slow their pace to accommodate sick herd members and will seek out lost any zebra that gets lost) and most species keep to family groups of about 5-20 but that family group can be part of a herd of up to 1000 zebras.  It’s making my eyes hurt to think about it.

The name ‘zebra’ actually comes from the Portuguese word ‘zevra’ which refers to a wild ass.  (The donkey sort, not Ted Nugent.)  Why the Portuguese got to name them, we may never know.  But, Scrabble-players everywhere are grateful for their selection.

Though they are reportedly near impossible to train, they were occasionally used in ancient Roman times to pull two-wheeled carts for Circus Maximus exhibitions.   Apparently, Lord Rothschild had one too.  But that guy was mega rich.  I mean, he had a private zoo before Michael Jackson had one. They are also sometimes captured and used for Merry-Go-Rounds.

Stripes not providing camouflage so much...

I’d run straight for the zebra on the carousel when I was kid.  (Who picks the benches?  What are those even for?).  But, even I have to admit that if I saw either of these two options, I’d be tempted:

Landshark!

Flippin' seahorse!!

Sadly, there are two other major species of zebra that have either been already hunted to extinction or are very near that tragic precipice.  The first is the Quagga.  The quagga was mercilessly poached for its hide and meat and they have vanished from the face of the earth.  They are currently trying to re-breed it back into existence.  Boo humans…Yay science!

I was real once.

The other subspecies facing extinction, is popular chewing gum spokeszebra–Yipes.

Seen here, snowboarding, Yipes the Zebra needs our help.  The deliciously tangy and fruity gumsticks  that he shills are a real rarity nowadays.  So, if you see some, please make sure and buy a pack.  Every little helps.

I'm an ungulate. To the extreme!!!

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A Man of Letters

When it comes to cultural satire, it seems you can’t shake a stick today without hitting a ‘prankster’.  Whether that pranking comes in the form of phone calls, fake documentaries, ‘gotcha’ style interviews,  (not in the dumb Sarah Palin way, but the cheeky Borat way), or fake newspapers, it’s all about making fun of this stupid society that we live in…or as The Onion cleverly put it in their amazingly funny atlas– Our Dumb World.  The prankster satirist’s premise is typically this:  Come off as completely sincere in your inane questions or statements and you can get the subject to fall into your trap, hopefully exposing THEIR idiocy by fooling them with YOUR idiocy.  A sort of  “Come hither, moron”.

One of the first innovators of this satirical styling,  in my pop-cultural lifetime anyway, was Don Novello.  You may know him better as his alter ego, the hip and supremely chilled priest and editor of The Vatican Enquirer, Father Guido Sarducci.

The Pope...is so fat...when he sits around the Vatican...

Long before he worked, in that guise– as a regular on SNL’s Weekend Update segment– he was just a regular old stand-up and satirist.  One of his projects was a book that my Dad, a humor enthusiast,  gave me for a birthday.  The book was called The  Lazlo Letters. I was about twelve or thirteen and was skeptical of this text with its late seventies and early eighties references and faded cover.  I figured that he probably found it at a used book store and assumed I would be interested because I was all into SNL at the time.  (It was the Phil Hartman years, after all).  He was one for weird gifts–though they always came wrapped in fun and exciting superhero paper.  One time, he gave me a brush that the head came off of to reveal a hardened plastic shiv.  Like this:

Hand over my money? OK...let me just...brush my hair first...Ha! Have at thee, criminal!

I was 12.  What can I say?  He was protective.  To be fair, he was very encouraging of my interest in martial arts.  He bought me my sparring equipment, my kickpads, and even a hanging bag.  I think he got the brush out of the back of a kung-fu magazine.

Anyway, back to the book. The Lazlo Letters actually wound up being a terrific present.   Thanks Dad!  Laughs from cover to cover.  And that’s today’s great thing:

142.  The Lazlo Letters by Don Novello

The Lazlo Letters was a collection of correspondences from Don Novello to famous people and corporations.  He wrote them in the guise of a character called Lazlo Toth.  (Laszlo Toth was actually the name of a deranged man who took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Apparently, he proclaimed himself to be Jesus and then started battering the ‘His Mom’ part of the sculpture.  He was obviously the rebellious teenage Jesus.)  Novello’s Toth was more of a well-meaning consumer rights advocate and man of the people.  He wrote letters of compliments and complaints to businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken and figures like Richard Nixon.

When he received an actual response, he’d print that too…but even if he didn’t, you could still get a giggle from the ridiculous contents of the letter and the knowledge that someone at the organization at which it was directed had actually held it in their hands and read it.

I'm a genius.

Why not have a look, this helpful website reprints some of the letters:  Sullivansfarms

I suggest clicking on the McDonald’s link at the top of the page and then perusing those bits of correspondence.  That should give you a taste.  Then, get the books, of course.  There are three volumes now.  There’s the original…then, there’s the follow-up Citizen Lazlo!, and the third–From Bush to Bush:  The Lazlo Toth Letters.

There’s something special about The Lazlo books.  I think that unlike prank calling shows like The Jerky Boys and Crank Yankers, The Lazlo books never seemed mean.  Just smart and silly.  First of all, Lazlo Toth’s targets were always deserving.  He never threw sucker punches. But maybe the likeablity also has something to do with the elegance of letter-writing.  The question of whether or not Novello would ever consider emailing Lazlo letters instead of sending them through the post came up in an interview and he responded with: “No I haven’t. But with email you don’t get the letterhead, you don’t get the sense of who sent it. Anyone could have written it. It all looks like the same thing.”  Not to over-romanticize the concept, but I think letter-writing is a lost art and that Novello values the tactile aspect of it.   Anyone can be an idiot on the Internet.  I’m doing it right now!  But, an actual typed or printed letter will elicit a different response.

The rest of that interview, which is a good read, can be found here:  thesneeze

In wrapping today’s great thing up, two bits of fun.  First of all, here’s the website for another letter-writing humorist.  The author messes with folks a bit more full-on then Lazlo does.  Though one might find it derivative of the Lazlo stuff, this guy gets a pass.  First of all, he’s Australian.  Secondly, the author is of a very different generation.  So, it’s unlikely that it’s a direct idea-swipe–unlike the Letters from a Nut books that came out a few years ago.  Seinfeld is more of Novello’s comedy class and will (or SHOULD) have been familiar with his work.  Now, I haven’t read the Nut series of books but I sort of don’t want to, on principle.  I’m loyal.  I don’t mean to Seinfeld-bash…but the guy, in promoting these books, never really seemed to comment on how similar it all was to the Lazlo projects…come on now…

Anyway, I think you’ll find that there’s some very funny stuff here:  27b/6

Secondly, here’s a recent appearance by Don Novello on The Colbert Report.  He’s in Fr. Sarducci mode.  It makes me feel good to know that he’s still out there being funny.  Additionally, he soooo looks like my Dad in this here clip.  Enjoy:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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