Gone Too Soon: The Sun’s Sherri Wood Dead At 28

It’s not fucking right.  Not fucking right at all.
 
In this space on September 4th last year, I wanted to know the whereabouts of a number of Sun Media columnists.  After it was published, I was privately asked via email to remove two paragraphs which was upsetting because that section of the item was the whole motivation for the story in the first place.  However, as requested, they were taken out.  There was no legitimate reason to leave them in.
 
In one instance, I now understand why.
 
There was this entertainment reporter in The Toronto Sun who would file stories on the local club scene.  I don’t remember ever seeing her picture until either 2005 or 2006, but when I did, I was smitten.  I wondered why the paper took so long to reveal how hot she was.  In her original Sun photo, she had long, wavy hair, dark with blonde streaks up top.  She offered a shy smile.  Lips closed.  Dimple power downplayed.  Sweet puppy-dog brown eyes.  Suddenly, I took an interest in her work.  I’m not a fan of the tiny, cramped, sweaty music venue (I’m not a big booster of live music at all, actually.  Too damn loud.), so I didn’t naturally gravitate to those items in The Sun.  However, I did read music critic Jane Stevenson’s big venue concert reports, especially when she was writing about my favourite bands.  (I wanted to know what I was missing.)  But after seeing this young woman’s pic, I started reading her.  I should’ve read her from the start. 
 
She would cover gigs (mostly small ones, although she did review a Pearl Jam show in 2006), interview bands and there was even the time she wrote a review of the documentary, Hardcore.  In her rave of the film, she wondered why women were so underrepresented.  She mentioned actress Christine Elise by her Beverly Hills 90210 character’s name, noting that it’s not clear what role she played in the American underground punk scene.  The name wasn’t familiar to me, either, so I went on Google and tried to find a connection.  I figured I’d pass my findings on to her after a short time.  Unfortunately, my search came up empty.  Regardless, I always wanted to email her to let her know that I was a fan.  But I could never figure out how to say it just right.  So the idea of contacting her was abandoned.  She’ll never know how much this non-clubber enjoyed reading her stuff.
 
And then there were the appearances on Canoe Live, Sun TV’s news show.  (She also appeared as a judge on a one-time revival of City-TV’s Electric Circus.)  I had this weird sense of timing where the few times I tuned in, she just happened to be on talking about entertainment, particularly local events in Toronto.  She always looked different in every appearance.  One time, she wore some kind of hat that made her look so fetching even if it did needlessly hide her beautiful hair.  On another occasion, I think this was around Oscar time in 2007, her hair (much shorter) was in pigtails and, much to my delight, she wore glasses.  (I have a fetish.) She had a total Catholic school girl look going that night.  It was hard not to sigh. 
 
I listened intently to every word she said.  I could listen to her all day long.  She had a sexy voice (another fetish) and was never boring.  Just like her print articles, she was bright and lively.  She seemed like a nice, easygoing woman.  I wonder what it would’ve been like to just have a coffee with her.  I envy everyone who did.
 
When I learned today through my friend Bill Brioux’s TV Feeds My Family Blog that she had died, a nearly year-long mystery had finally been revealed.
 
Sherri Wood’s last Sun column was published Sunday, April 15, 2007.  (It’s not on the official website, for some strange reason.  I always thought her last words appeared on April 12.)  Not too long afterwards, the paper posted a notice proclaiming that she would return.  Sadly, that will never happen now.  The reason:  brain cancer.
 
According to this report by The Sun’s John Kryk, almost immediately after filing that review of a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig, something shocking happened:
 
“Within hours of filing, she collapsed suddenly and was rushed to hospital, right out of the blue.
 
Her brain was hemorrhaging — she’d unknowingly had tumours for years — and was fast dying. She was given last rites but, unsurprisingly to all who know her, she hung on. Within weeks, Sherri was on her feet, vowing to make a complete recovery.
 
Yesterday, she lost that battle.”
 
She was only 28 years old.  How incredibly sad for her family, her friends and her colleagues at The Sun.  Toronto’s entertainment scene has lost an energetic champion and critic.  Readers, like me, will miss her words and her TV appearances.  It’s not fucking fair.
 
Understandably, both The Sun and Sherri’s family were very protective of her and therefore, made zero public mention of her brutal battle with cancer.  Even if I had known how difficult her last year was, this website would’ve kept it a secret, too.
 
Since The Sun website hasn’t done a particularly good job of archiving her past work, Google “sherri wood” “toronto sun”, just like that, to find some of her pieces.  Also, The Toronto Sun Family Blog wants your tributes and comments about her life and work here.  Feel free to leave comments on this entry, as well.
 
It’s been a tough few days for Toronto’s Other Voice.  They also lost George Gross recently.  More on that here, here, here and here.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
2:49 p.m.
 
UPDATE:  The Sun has gathered some thoughtful and moving tributes from friends, family, music business professionals, work colleagues and others here.  Another nice eulogy here.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
10:43 p.m.
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Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hit Cover Songs Mistaken For Originals (Part Three)

 
"Real Wild Child" by Iggy Pop
 
In 1985, Iggy Pop was ready to get back to work after a three-year break.  He signed a deal with A&M Records, recruited former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and put together a series of demos that convinced his old friend, David Bowie, to co-produce his new album.
 
Entitled Blah Blah Blah, it spawned five singles.  The most famous one is Real Wild Child which became a fixture on rock radio and hit the Top 10 in Britain.  Like Lust For Life, it has since been licensed for TV commercials and movies.  (You might remember it from Adventures In Babysitting.)  And it’s been heard in between face-offs at hockey games, as well.
 
But here’s the thing.  It’s not an original.  Real Wild Child dates back to 1958 when an Australian rockabilly performer named Johnny O’Keefe, who co-wrote it with Johnny Greenan and Dave Owens, released it under the title "Wild One", which became his unofficial nickname.  It was his first Top 40 hit Down Under and he would end up accumulating more than two dozen others in his native land.  He died in 1978 at the age of 43.
 
"Respect" by Aretha Franklin
 
It hit number one in 1967.  It won two Grammys in 1968.  The Grammy Hall Of Fame welcomed it with open arms twenty years later.  The Library Of Congress added it to The National Recording Registry in 2002.  And Rolling Stone named it the fifth greatest rock song of all time.
 
Pretty damn good for a cover.
 
Aretha Franklin’s version of Respect is actually a reworking of a song originally written and performed by the late Otis Redding.  The lyric was inspired by an innocuous conversation he had with Al Jackson, the drummer of Booker T & The MGs, an instrumental group (best known for Green Onions) who recorded with him in Memphis, Tennessee.  Jackson told authors Bob Shannon and John Javna that Redding had just wrapped up a tour and seemed a bit down.
 
"I said, ‘What are you griping about, you’re on the road all the time.  All you can look for is a little respect when you come home."
 
Inspired, Redding wrote lyrics that reflected the lack of appreciation the protagonist feels from his woman.  Recorded for his 1965 album, Otis Blue, the original version of Respect was a minor hit, peaking at #35 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.  Two years later, Franklin covered it for her debut album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You, easily overshadowing the earlier version by topping that same chart.  There were some slight changes in the lyric, back-up singers were added and a sax solo was stolen from a Sam & Dave song called When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (King Curtis played the same notes for both tracks). 
 
Redding would die that same year in a tragic plane crash.  He was just 26.
 
"I Will Always Love You", "I’m Every Woman" by Whitney Houston
 
The Bodyguard was one of 1992’s most commercially successful movies.  It was also unfairly maligned by some critics.  (If you haven’t seen it, check it out.  It’s a good film.)  One of the big reasons it became a hit was Whitney Houston.  Making her feature film debut as a singer/actress needing Kevin Costner’s protection after an obsessed fan expresses a strong interest in killing her, Houston would sing on half of the twelve tracks that made up the hugely popular soundtrack.  (According to Wikipedia, it’s sold over 40 million copies internationally making it the best selling film soundtrack in history.)  Two of them were even nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar (I Have Nothing and Run To You).
 
Without question, the best known song from the movie is I Will Always Love You, the unstoppable juggernaut that refused to die.  (It stayed at number one in America for three and a half consecutive months.)  Considering how huge it was, you might wonder why it wasn’t also nominated for an Academy Award.
 
Believe it or not, it’s a Dolly Parton song.  Written in 1973 but recorded and released a year later (it’s on her Jolene album), it was a tribute to Porter Waggoner, a fellow country performer she worked with during her early years.  They had a nasty professional split which inspired Parton to write the song in the hope of easing the pain.  The song failed to make an impression beyond her core country audience.  In 1982, while making The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, she re-recorded it and once again, it was a number one country smash.  However, this version also failed to hit The Top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.
 
A decade later, Whitney Houston was all set to record What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, an old Jimmy Ruffin number from 1966, for The Bodyguard but when it was discovered that the song was going to be heard in Fried Green Tomatoes, the rush was on to find a suitable replacement.  Costner found Parton’s song and the rest is history.  Parton would re-do I Will Always Love You one more time in 1995 as a duet with Vince Gill.  It peaked at number 15 on the country singles chart.
 
Another important single from the soundtrack was I’m Every Woman, which would later be used as the theme for The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Even though Houston’s version would hit the Top 5 in America, it’s not the original take.  That honour belongs to Chaka Khan who released it in 1978.  It was a significant moment in her career, too.  It was her first solo hit following her departure from the disco outfit, Rufus, peaking at #21 on the Hot 100.  The R&B duo, Ashford & Simpson, are the credited songwriters.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, March 24, 2008
7:34 p.m.
Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hit Cover Songs Mistaken For Originals (Part Two)

 
“Twist & Shout” by The Beatles
 
The monster success of Chubby Checker’s version of The Twist inspired a cottage industry of imitators.  Sam Cooke offered Twistin’ The Night Away.  Joey Dee & The Starlighters released The Peppermint Twist (a shrewd way of plugging the band’s gigs at The Peppermint Lounge in Manhattan).  Even Frank Sinatra couldn’t resist joining in.  He recorded a song called Ev’rybody’s Twistin’.
 
The Beatles were enormous fans of American music, particularly rhythm and blues.  In 1962, the year that The Twist climbed its way back to the top of the hit parade, the Liverpudlian foursome started playing one of its many knock-offs in concert.  John Lennon soon learned that it was a very difficult song to sing.  In order to achieve the desired effect, he had to push his vocal chords as hard as he could.  That meant that by the time the song was over, he was spent.  There was no way he could do any more numbers, even in a softer tone.  As a result, the band made an important decision.  When they wanted to do the full three-minute version of Twist & Shout, they would save it for the end.  But if, say, Paul McCartney wanted to belt out Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally for the finale, they would kick off a show with a brief one-minute version instead.  That way, Lennon could continue on with other songs without worrying about hitting the notes.
 
When the band signed with Parlophone Records, the original plan for their debut album was to record live at their then-regular residency, The Cavern Club.  When this proved impossible, it was then agreed that they would simply try to recapture their live show in Abbey Road Studios.  Please Please Me featured a mix of Lennon/McCartney originals as well as selected covers.  The whole album was completed in a single 13-hour session.  Unsurprisingly, Twist & Shout was the last track to be laid down.  Although two takes were recorded, the first attempt was deemed strong enough for release.  In Britain, the song topped the charts.  In America, it peaked at number two in 1964.
 
The track would have lasting appeal.  In 1986, it was used in two hit comedies, Rodney Dangerfield’s Back To School and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  (In the latter film, Matthew Broderick hijacks a parade float and lip syncs to Lennon’s screaming vocals, much to the delight of downtown Chicago.)  As a result, The Beatles returned to Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.  In the years since, Twist & Shout has turned into a sports anthem.  It’s mostly heard in between face-offs during hockey games.
 
All of this is pretty remarkable considering the fact that none of The Beatles wrote it.  In fact, two other bands had a crack at the song before they made it their own.
 
Twist & Shout was written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley.  The late Berns (he died of a heart attack at age 38 in 1967), later an important record label mogul (the founder of Bang Records, he helped launch the careers of Neil Diamond, Jimmy Page and Van Morrison), initially pitched the song to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records who liked it enough to give it to a group called The Top Notes, a new label signing.  They recorded the first version in 1961.  Co-produced by Wexler and Phil Spector, it came and went without making any impact.  Then, in 1962, Berns offered it to The Isley Brothers, a trio of siblings from Cincinnati, Ohio who just happened to be looking for their first crossover hit.  (At that point, they were best known for Shout, also covered in concert by The Beatles.)
 
Released that summer, it became the group’s first Top 20 hit.  It is this version of the song that The Beatles followed closely for their own interpretation, most especially the one-at-a-time “ahhh” section.  Speaking of which, David Bowie stole that for his 1983 hit, Let’s Dance, as did Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & The Furious Five for their anti-drug anthem, White Lines.  (Duran Duran kept that intact for their 1995 cover.)
 
Over the years, Twist & Shout has become a rock standard.  Tom Jones, The Mamas & The Papas, Salt N’ Pepa, The Who, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Ike & Tina Turner and even Chubby Checker himself have either played it live in concert and/or recorded their own studio versions.  In 1993, the song became a hit all over again, thanks to Chaka Demus & Pliers, a reggae outfit out of Jamaica.
 
“Land Of 1000 Dances” by Wilson Pickett
 
The Twist wasn’t the only dance craze of the early ’60s.  There was also The Watusi, The Mashed Potato and The Pony, among many others.  One guy figured out a clever way to cash in on some of them in a single composition.
 
Using a religious number, Children Go Where I Send Thee, as his creative template, New Orleans singer/songwriter Chris Kenner went to work on his tribute.  The finished track featured a spoken-word introduction:  “I’m gonna take you, baby/I’m gonna take you to a place/The name of the place is the land of 1000 dances.”  Recorded and released in 1962, Kenner’s new single failed to generate excitement.  Undeterred and not exactly rolling in dough, he made a bad deal with Fats Domino (according to Behind The Hits, he agreed to share half the writing and publishing rights with the rock legend and also accepted a “small advance”) who covered the song in the same year.  It also flopped.
 
Then, in 1963, Kenner’s original started getting airplay on a Chicago radio station.  It still wasn’t a hit across the country (it peaked at #77 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart) but it attracted enough interest in the burgeoning American garage band scene that soon enough, a number of groups were adding it to their live repertoires and even recording their own versions.  Rufus Thomas’ take on the song inspired an L.A. outfit called Cannibal And The Headhunters to put their own spin on it.  Lead singer Frankie Garcia told authors Bob Shannon and John Javna that during a gig he forgot the lyrics.  “So I started ad-libbing, ‘Na na na na na na na na na.’.  After the show, the other musicians went, ‘What were you doing?’ and I said, “I don’t know.’.  And they said, ‘Well do it again, it sounded real good.  Could you do it again?’.”
 
When he learned that a rival band, Little Willie & The Midnighters, were all set to record Land Of 1000 Dances themselves, Garcia and company rushed into the studio to get theirs completed and released first.  In the end, Cannibal And The Headhunters had a Top 40 hit.  But it would be Wilson Pickett, who would drop Chris Kenner’s intro but maintain Garcia’s memorable improvisation, who ultimately owned the song.  In 1966, his version became a Top 10 smash.  It was the biggest hit of his career.  (He died in 2006.)  In the years since, like Twist & Shout, it’s been used in a number of movies.  If you watch the cast of the 1988 movie, The Great Outdoors, dancing during the closing credits, you’ll understand why it’s such a good cover.  It can also be heard in Forrest Gump and The Full Monty.  Also, just like the “ahh” portion of Twist & Shout, the “na na na na” bit was also stolen for use in a different song.  Hip hopper Ini Kamoze incorporated it into his 1994 hit, Here Comes The Hotstepper.
 
As for Kenner, two years after Pickett’s triumph, he began a three-year sentence for having sex with a minor.  An alcoholic who spent his remaining years in obscurity, he died of a heart attack in 1976.  He was only 46.
 
“China Girl” by David Bowie
 
After taking a much needed reprieve from the recording studio after releasing over a dozen albums in eleven years, David Bowie returned with a bang in 1983 (Under Pressure, his blockbuster collaboration with Queen, notwithstanding).  His Let’s Dance album was his biggest success since Young Americans when Fame, the monster single from that 1975 LP, hit number one in America.
 
One of the more notable songs from Let’s Dance was China Girl.  Lyrically, it’s very twisted.  It tells the tale of a would-be fascist whose only joy in life comes in the form of his Asian companion.  Somehow, when she’s around, his irrational tendencies disappear.  And when she’s not?  He behaves like a desperate addict in need of sweet relief from his dark side.  She’s literally the human equivalent of a sedative.
 
In the hands of Bowie and producer Nile Rodgers, China Girl became a Top 10 smash in America (it peaked at number 2 in Britain).  It didn’t hurt that the video for the song was a little racy.  (Bowie and an Asian model roll around naked on a beach while making out before they’re caught in the act at the end.)  But believe it or not, this isn’t the original version.
 
Seven years earlier, Bowie and his buddy, Iggy Pop, left Los Angeles for Europe in an effort to kick their debilitating drug habits (Iggy’s vice was heroin, Bowie’s was cocaine) and to find some new creative inspiration.  After initial sessions for Iggy’s first solo album took place in France, the duo relocated to Berlin, Germany to continue working. 
 
In 1976, Bowie’s rather bizarre fascination with fascism became public.  On April 27th, he wanted to enter Poland through the then-Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, he happened to be in possession of materials you’d expect Adolph Hitler to have in his collection which were discovered by suspicious border officials.  Incredibly, Bowie later claimed that having a fascist government in Britain would be a jolly good idea.  Furthermore, he expressed an interest in running such a government.  If that weren’t bad enough, on May 7th, while arriving at a train station in London, England, a photo was taken of him possibly giving the Nazi salute. 
 
One of the songs in contention for The Idiot, China Girl was originally entitled Borderline, which ultimately incorporated some of Bowie’s regrettable Nazi leanings in the lyrics.  But the main inspiration, according to author Paul Trynka, was an unrequited love.
 
While working in France, Iggy met a woman named Kuelan Nguyen who, unfortunately, was taken.  She was dating a French performer named Jacques Higelin at the time.  While Iggy and Bowie, along with some hired personnel, started assembling the tracks for The Idiot, Higelin worked on an album called Alertez Les Bebes.  Iggy was smitten with Nguyen to the point where he actually confronted her one evening and confessed his feelings.  Her response?  “Shhhh…”
 
Iggy Pop’s version of China Girl was one of two singles released from The Idiot.  Although it’s easily the best take on the song, dark and cinematic, it went under the radar in America.
 
Back to 1983.  Iggy was labelless and broke.  Bowie decided to re-record China Girl in order to give his old friend some much needed royalties.  When the Let’s Dance album took off internationally, most especially in America and Britain, and when China Girl started climbing the singles charts, for the first time in his entire life, Iggy was able to settle down, take a break and re-group.  In 1984, Bowie remade three songs originally heard on Lust For Life (Neighbourhood Threat, Tonight) and New Values (Don’t Look Down) for his platinum-selling Tonight album.  And just for good measure, he covered Bang Bang (from Party), a minor hit for Iggy in 1981, for his 1987 offering, Don’t Let Me Down.
 
Both versions of China Girl are quite good but there are notable differences.  Iggy’s version is a bit slower and moodier while Bowie’s is more energetic.  The guitar solos are different.  Iggy starts singing right from the start while in Bowie’s remake, after the distinctly Asiatic instrumental intro, you’ll hear “oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhhh/little china girl” twice before The Thin White Duke gets into the first verse.  In the full album version on Let’s Dance, Bowie repeats the last verse.  And finally, during its final section, Bowie replaces “Oh, Jimmy” (Iggy’s real first name) with the more generic “Oh baby”.
 
Regardless, were it not for this remarkable gesture on the part of Bowie, Iggy Pop’s life would be very different today.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 23, 2008
4:41 p.m.
Published in: on March 23, 2008 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Moment Of Truth

He must not be paid enough doing The Antiques Roadshow.  How else to explain Mark L. Walberg’s willing participation in the trashiest game show I’ve ever seen?  (Yes, he also hosted Temptation Island but, come on.  Is he really that hard up for cash?)
 
Blatantly stealing yet another successful idea from The Howard Stern Show, Fox’s The Moment Of Truth has a simple premise.  Answer a series of embarrassing questions honestly and you can walk away with the top prize of half a million dollars.  The truthfulness of a contestant’s response is determined by a lie detector.
 
Last night’s program was the first chance I had to really see firsthand what all the fuss was about.  Tuning in during the second half of the hour-long broadcast, there was a curly-haired blonde model who freely admitted to things most reasonable people would keep to themselves, regardless of how much money they were offered to blab.
 
For instance, when asked if she was “secretly happy” that there was a huge buffer zone between herself and her Puerto Rican mother, she said “yes”.  Now I can understand a young woman wanting to be an independent adult in order to find her way through the world without having her parents closely scrunitizing her every move, but still, there was this uncomfortable impression she gave that implied that she was not at all close to them.
 
But wait, it gets worse.  When Walberg asked her whether or not she would care for her father if he were to become gravely ill, she astoundedly said “no”.  How cold-hearted a human being would you have to be to even feel this way, let alone say it out loud?  The model claimed that her father was like an overgrown child.  They were more like buddies than father and daughter.  Still, you wouldn’t want to make his final days comfortable if he was on his death bed?  What’s wrong with you?
 
As she continued to answer one brutal question after another, it was hard to ignore the audience’s strange reactions.  While Walberg read a question, the crowd would collectively groan at its audacity.  Then, after she answered truthfully, they would applaud.  The groans would return when the model offered explanations for her yes or no answers.  The whole thing made no sense.
 
The more I learned about this woman, the more I despised her.  She believes white guys are easier to control than Spanish ones.  She is violent with men which she claimed was done in self-defence.  She thinks her current boyfriend has cheated on her during business trips and she doesn’t trust him enough to leave him alone with her girlfriend of two years.  Here’s an idea.  How about ending the relationship if the guy’s so horrible to be with?
 
All that aside, she was doing remarkably well, earning $100000 at one point, until Walberg asked her if she’s ever had “sexual relations” for the purpose of career advancement.  Deep down, you knew the real answer but this stupid broad, with a straight face, said “no”. 
 
Wrong!  She lost everything and looked completely stunned.  I laughed my ass off.  She admitted all those horrible things about herself for nothing.  One wonders what she actually considers sex.  One wonders why anyone would want to be seen with her.
 
This show is so evil even its announcer gleefully and sadistically notes the possibility of severed relationships (think break-ups, family estrangements) and ruined reputations.  How anyone associated with The Moment Of Truth can go to bed and sleep soundly every night remains a mystery.  How contestants feel that 500000 dollars is worth losing important people in their lives is even more puzzling.
 
Also offensive is how they took a very funny bit from Howard Stern’s radio show (hooking up celebrities and other willing participants so they can be asked incredibly silly questions) that he’s been doing for many years (which was initially stolen by Sally Jessy Raphael) and not even acknowledge that their concept is completely unoriginal.  But this isn’t a surprise.  Broadcasters, like Fox, have been ripping him off for decades.  (Are You Hot?, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and Street Smarts are the most notable examples of this creative thievery.)
 
In this confessional age where we continually feign our shock and horror over programs and news stories we can’t seem to get enough of, the timing of The Moment Of Truth is perfect.  Unfortunately, to paraphrase Martha Stewart, it’s not a good thing.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 20, 2008
6:39 p.m.
Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

More Interesting Things I Learned While Watching The Third Season Of Seinfeld On DVD

 
21. In The Nose Job, Jerry meets an actress in an elevator and ends up getting her phone number.  While at his apartment, they read lines from a play, much to Jerry’s annoyance.  (She’s terrible.  He’s only interested in having sex with her.)  The play isn’t real but it does have a title:  Saline.  Tawny Kitaen, best known as the babe from a number of Whitesnake videos from the 1980s and for her stint on The Surreal Life this decade, was cast as the woman who inspires a chess match between Jerry’s penis and brain.  Pamela Anderson was her competition for the role.
 
22. In The Cafe, George is asked by his girlfriend, Monica, to take an IQ test.  Felicity Huffman, who later earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a transsexual in Transamerica and also appears on the widely popular prime time soap, Desperate Housewives, auditioned unsuccessfully for that part.
 
23. The first time we see Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine in The Parking Garage, they’re walking down a set of stairs talking about how people spend their Saturday afternoons.  That conversation was originally scripted for the second season episode, The Phone Message.
 
24. In The Tape, Kramer acquires a camcorder from his friend, a fat fetishist who’s become a minimalist.  In one scene, he enters Jerry’s apartment rolling tape pretending that the comedian is a porn director and Elaine is his leading lady.  He makes up a name for one of her movies:  Elaine Does The Upper West Side.  (The character lives on the upper west side of Manhattan.)  The original title for that fake blue movie was going to be Hannah Does Her Sisters, which is the name of an actual adult feature.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus had a small role in the film that inspired that porno, Woody Allen’s Hannah & Her Sisters.
 
25. Joseph V. Perry plays the newsstand owner in an early scene from The Nose Job.  He’s best known for playing Nemo, the pizzeria owner on Everybody Loves Raymond.
 
26. There really was a Dream Cafe.  Writer Tom Leopold lived near the real restaurant which was run by a Vietnamese man.  In fact, in the original script of The Cafe, the proprietor was supposed to be Vong Sim, a Cambodian in his mid-30s.  Curiously, actors from various ethnic backgrounds read for the part.  The character was famously changed to a Pakistani man named Babu Bhatt.  He was supposed to have a wife but the character was scrapped before the episode was taped.
 
27. Speaking of Babu, he was played by Brian George who, incidentally, is not Pakistani.  In an interview taped for the DVD, he has a very noticeable British accent.  According to the Internet Movie Database, he was actually born in Israel to an Indian mother and an Iraqi father.  His family moved to the United Kingdom when he was 1.  By the mid-60s, they relocated to Toronto where he attended high school and university.  It was at U of T where he became interested in acting.
 
28. There’s a strange continuity error in The Note.  Near the end of the scene where George visits Jerry’s apartment to kvetch about his uncomfortable massage, the comedian decides to sit on a stool by the kitchen.  Keep an eye on the wall on the right side of the screen.  In one shot, there’s nothing on it.  But in another, there’s a framed picture of a Porsche, which is frequently seen in many episodes.  Incidentally, Jerry had five such cars in his collection during the third season.
 
29. Helen Slater plays Becky Gelke in The Good Samaritan.  In the episode, her car gets dinged by a beautiful redheaded driver who Jerry follows and subsequently dates.  Feeling guilty about the whole situation, and after learning from Kramer about Becky being the owner of the damaged vehicle, he decides to pay her a visit.  (He’s had a big crush on her for a while.)  Curiously, neither Slater nor her character’s name are listed in the end credits.
 
30. In a key scene from The Boyfriend, Seinfeld’s first hour-long episode, Kramer picks up Jerry’s ringing phone.  When he asks puzzlingly, “What Delay Industries?”, George yells frantically from the bathroom and soon comes barrelling out with his pants around his ankles.  He ends up on the floor and then Jerry walks in, staring at him.  He says, “And you want to be my latex salesman.”.  That was an ad-lib.  In the script, he wasn’t supposed to say anything at all.
 
31. The Note is the only episode to feature vocalists on the music cues.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus hated them because at one point, it sounds like they’re singing, “easy to beat”.  (In truth, they were just scatting nonsense.)  At the time, Seinfeld was losing potential viewers to Jake And The Fatman which explains her irritation.  Interestingly, the whole thing was Jerry’s idea.  According to Jonathan Wolff, the show’s music director, Jerry called him up at the start of the third season to ask if there was any way they could make the music a little different.  He suggested using jazz singers who would just scat at certain points of the music.  Wolff went to work on the first three episodes that year, following the comedian’s advice.  Jerry and co-creator, Larry David, liked the final results but after The Note aired, feedback from NBC and Castle Rock Entertainment wasn’t as positive.  They hadn’t heard the new musical approach before the show’s initial broadcast and as a result, had not given their overriding approval for the scat singing.  The jazz singers’ contributions to the next two episodes were subsequently erased.  They would never be heard again.
 
32. George dates a concert pianist in The Pez Dispenser.  During the scene where Elaine laughs during one of her recitals, she’s playing a piece by Beethoven called The Pathetique.
 
33. Steven Spielberg made arrangements to have a number of third season episodes sent to him on tape while he was in Europe filming his masterpiece, Schindler’s List.
 
34. Keith Hernandez had never heard of Seinfeld before agreeing to appear in The Boyfriend.  According to the baseball great, he was told he would only have two scenes with very little dialogue.  He ended up having six scenes where he said a lot.  In The Letter, you can see a framed picture of him in Jerry’s apartment.  It’s on the wall to the left of the bookshelf.  You can get a closer look at it when Jerry gets up from the couch to retrieve a letter from his girlfriend.
 
35. Claudia Christian, who appeared as the crazed model in Hexed and also starred on Bablyon 5, auditioned for the role of Cynthia, the vomitting friend of Elaine’s who goes on a blind date with George in The Fix-Up.
 
36. Michael Richards had a hard time accepting the idea of his character violently convulsing at the sound of Mary Hart’s voice when he read the script for The Good Samaritan.  He thought it was “too far out”.  But after being told that this really happened to somebody, as documented in The New England Journal Of Medicine, he accepted the challenge of making it work in a comedic way.  (According to the December 27, 1991 year-end edition of Entertainment Weekly, it was a female viewer from Albany, New York who suffered from “epileptic seizures” in the summer of 1991 whenever she heard the ET anchor’s voice.)
 
37. Oscar nominee Catherine Keener plays Nina, Jerry’s jealous painter girlfriend, in The Letter.  Amy Yasbeck and Heidi Swedberg (best known as George’s fiance, Susan) also read for the role.
 
38. After the whole Vandellay Industries scam blows up in his face in The Boyfriend, a very desperate George inquires about the daughter of the woman he has to answer to at The New York State Dept. Of Labor.  With his unemployment insurance about to run out, he decides to date the unfetching Carrie who dumps him after two dates.  The second time we see her, she’s wearing the sweater that drives a couple of characters crazy when Kramer and Jerry wear it in the fifth season episode, The Sniffing Accountant.  Speaking of Carrie and George, they were originally supposed to stay together by the end of the show.
 
39. During those lean years when acting jobs were hard to come by, Wayne Knight moonlighted as a private investigator.
 
40. In The Limo, George and Jerry unwittingly find themselves en route to a Nazi rally after taking someone else’s limosine from the airport.  At one point, George, who pretends to be Donald O’Brien, a notorious and unseen anti-Semite, is briefly whistling If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler On The Roof.  Suzanne Snyder, who played Eva, the lustful Arian, later played Poppy’s daughter (and Jerry’s girlfriend) in The Pie.
 
41. In The Subway, Kramer overhears a hot tip on a horse which inspires him to gamble.  The horse he bets on, Papanick, is named after Seinfeld’s key grip, Pete Papanickolas who worked the entire run of the series.  The other competitors in the race are Passionel, Jomatz, Kiz Harmony, Flaygro, Stefagen, and Hoyt’s Boy.  The episode never revealed how much he actually won.  But in an unused draft of The Pez Dispenser, when Elaine runs into John Mollica, the former bartender at Jerry’s comedy club, she was supposed to let the total amount of his winnings be known to him.  For the record, he won $18000.
 
42. Larry David’s voice pops up in a number of third season episodes.  He’s the voice of the car thief who steals Jerry’s vehicle in The Alternate Side, he can be heard counting out a knocked-out boxer during a pay-per-view TV fight in The Parking Space and he’s the voice of the announcer in The Subway.
 
43. In The Cafe, Jerry asks George what his SAT scores were but the bald man doesn’t tell him.  Curiously, George revealed the truth to his big-nosed girlfriend, Audrey, during a deleted scripted conversation in The Nose Job, which Elaine overhears.  It was 820, by the way.
 
44. There’s a huge error at the end of The Red Dot.  Richard Fancy’s character, Mr. Lippman, is erroneously listed in the end credits as Mr. Breckman.
 
45. Jerry finds himself in quite the romantic ethical dilemma in The Suicide.  A beautiful Mediterranean woman named Gina pines for him despite the fact that her jealous boyfriend has attempted to kill himself by overdosing on pills.  (He spends most of the episode in a coma.)  The character was originally and appropriately named Layla.  Eric Clapton’s band, Derek & The Dominos, had a huge single with that name which was based on the guitarist’s affections for George Harrison’s first wife, who he would also marry.  Gina Gallego, who played Jerry’s sexy neighbour, had originally hoped to play Evie, the cleaning woman George has sex with on his desk at Pendant Publishing.
 
46. There are a couple of porno films that were inspired by the show.  The Bet, also the name of an unfilmed second season episode, is an adult version of the fourth season episode, The Contest.  And then there’s Heinfeld.
 
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 15, 2008
1:10 a.m.
Published in: on March 15, 2008 at 1:10 am  Comments (2)  

Interesting Things I Learned While Watching The Third Season Of Seinfeld On DVD

 
1. Paul McCartney was such a fan of the program that he wanted to appear in an episode.  For some unknown reason, the writers didn’t make it happen.
 
2. In The Boyfriend, Kramer and Newman talk about the time they went to see The New York Mets play The Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on June 14, 1987.  Newman, in particular, goes into great detail about how guest star Keith Hernandez made a costly error that led to a Phillies comeback victory.  Unfortunately, in reality, The Mets weren’t at home that day.  They were in Pittsburgh squaring off against the Pirates.  (The Phillies played The Expos in Montreal.)  Furthermore, The Mets won 7-3.  How did Hernandez do at the plate?  He had a dinger, a double and batted in two runs.
 
3. Daryl Strawberry was the first choice to play the actual spitter in The Boyfriend.  However, Keith Hernandez, his good friend and Mets teammate, didn’t think that was such a great idea, considering Strawberry’s very public problems at the time.  Keith’s other pal and teammate, Roger MacDowell, got the role instead.
 
4. In The Dog, Jerry, George & Elaine express an interest in seeing a new movie called Prognosis: Negative.  The title comes from an unproduced 1988 Larry David screenplay about a guy who gets some good news from his doctor which he misunderstands because he believes a negative prognosis is actually bad. 
 
5. Ponce De Leon, the sold out movie in The Dog, was originally going to be called Two Bits.
 
6. One of the actresses who unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Julianna, the physical therapist Jerry freaks out during his massage in The Note, was Debra Jo Rupp.  Best known for playing Topher Grace’s big-haired mom on That 70s Show, she later played Jerry’s overly mothering agent.
 
7. Elaine Pope was the first female Seinfeld writer to have a script turned into a proper episode.  The Truth was the second episode of the third season.  Pope had previously written sketches on the show, Fridays, where she worked with Larry Charles, Larry David and Michael Richards.
 
8. George’s middle name, Louis, is revealed for the first time in The Truth.  It’s a tribute to Lou Costello, half of the famous comedy team, Abbott and Costello, whose 1950s TV show was a major influence on the writing of Seinfeld.
 
9. The drunk dog owner, Gavin Polone, in The Dog was named after Larry David’s agent.
 
10. Larry Charles hated the wigs Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld wore for the JFK high school flashback scene in The Library.  He thought they looked really cheap and distracting.  He remains really bothered about it to this very day.
 
11. Kramer made his first appearance in Monk’s Cafe during the last scene of The Note, which was the third season premiere.
 
12. The Library’s original working titles were The Library Card and The Five Chinese Brothers, the latter of which is an actual kid’s book.
 
13. Uncle Leo wasn’t originally scripted to be in the last scene in The Pen.  We were supposed to meet Jerry’s other uncle, Sammy, instead.
 
14. There are two errors in the end credits of two early third season episodes.  In The Library, Sherry Becker, Jerry’s high school crush, is mistakenly listed as Sandy.  And in The Note, Jerry’s dentist friend, Roy, is erroneously referred to as Lloyd, which was the character’s original name.
 
15. That’s a picture of Jerry’s father on the wall right beside his apartment door.
 
16. The end of The Parking Garage was a happy accident.  In the shooting script, once the gang of four found their car, Kramer was supposed to start it and drive away.  But during the shoot the vehicle was being uncooperative.  When Michael Richards turned on the ignition, the car just wouldn’t start.  It was agreed this was a funnier ending so they left it in.  If you look closely and quickly, you can see Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus laughing in the back seat.
 
17. Speaking of Louis-Dreyfus, she was actually in attendance for the sixth game of the 1986 World Series.  “A friend of my father’s had season tickets and [I] went,” she notes on the DVD. 
 
18. Farfel, the dog that never stops barking in The Dog, wasn’t played by an actual canine.  It was Tom Williams, a voice-over artist, who actually made all those noises.  Off-camera, naturally.
 
19. It says “Wilkes-Jennings, Physical Therapist” on the glass door that George, Elaine and Jerry walk through to get their massages in The Note.
 
20. There’s a major error in The Truth.  Near the beginning of the episode, Jerry and Kramer are going through the comedian’s old receipts since he’s being audited, thanks to a misguided charitible donation Jerry made, on his first date with Elaine, to a crooked organization Kramer vouched for.  (It had something to do with Krakatoa, the volcano.)  After he learns from George’s “pretentious” ex-girlfriend that his tax papers have been thrown out, there’s a latter scene where he calls a computer store trying to hunt down a receipt.  Doesn’t he already have it?
 
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 7, 2008
10:58 p.m.
Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 10:58 pm  Comments (1)  

A History Of Violence

She has protected him, against her better judgment.  He tries to show his appreciation through a warm, physical gesture but she pulls away, disgusted.  She moves towards the staircase and he follows.  She slaps him, cursing his existence in her life.  He grabs her by the throat.  She gets away and moves upwards.  He pulls down her leg, ending her escape.  He’s on top of her but in a moment of clarity, backs off.  She pulls him closer.  He doesn’t resist.  In this uncomfortable setting, there is deep arousal.  And as soon as it ends, there is deep revulsion.
 
That scene cuts to the heart of David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence, an entertaining yet flawed and familiar film about the dark seducing the light and its emotional after-effects.
 
The woman is Edie (a terrific Maria Bello) and the man is Tom (Viggo Mortenson in one of his finest performances).  She’s a lawyer, he runs his own diner in a small, sleepy town in Indiana.  They have a teenage son and a young daughter.  They’re a typical, well-adjusted American family with few serious worries.
 
That all changes when two sadistic, mysterious murderers demand coffee and pie right at closing time one life-altering night.  Tom softly rebuffs their initial request until it becomes painfully clear what they’re really after.  Soon, guns are drawn and a woman’s life is threatened.  In a matter of seconds, the tense atmosphere is defused, all because of Tom. 
 
It is a stunning scene to behold, beautifully choreographed, acted and directed.  But Cronenberg has an agenda with it.  As he told the press at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, he wanted the audience to revel in the violence in order to make a point about their complicity.  By rooting for Tom as he singlehandedly and coldly disposes of two particularly nasty characters, despite it being a justifiable act of self-defense, he’s purposefully arousing our animalistic sensibilities, drawing out of us an undeniable hypocrisy.  What is that hypocrisy?  It’s the double standard we have about violence itself.  There’s nothing pleasant or sweet about someone getting shot at, stabbed or brutally beaten, especially when it happens to the innocent (think Schindler’s List).  But we thoroughly enjoy seeing awful human beings get what’s coming to them (think the end of Breakdown).  Cronenberg’s point is that perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this isn’t necessarily the violence itself, but how we as audience members apply this double standard emotionally.  We are being seduced by acts that should repel us, not turn us on.  
 
Tom’s actions at the diner destroy the tranquility of his life forever.  Endless news coverage is watched not just by local citizens but also out-of-towners like Carl Fogarty (the excellent and creepy Ed Harris) who just happens to stop by his diner one night for some coffee.  Carl knows something no one else in this town does and he’s not shy about saying it to Tom’s face.  He calls him Joey but Tom doesn’t blanch.  Although Mortensen is very good here as he calmly and diplomatically denies Carl’s claims, it’s immediately clear this is no case of mistaken identity.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie.
 
Meanwhile, Tom’s son, Jack (Ashton Holmes making a notable cinematic debut here), is being harassed by a transparent coward named Bobby (well played by Kyle Schmid).  During a baseball game in gym class, Bobby oversells his hitting abilities as he predicts a magic moment before his next appearance at the plate.  Jack takes it away from him and he harbours a grudge.  In the locker room, Bobby is all bluster and hyperbole as he confronts Jack.  With quick wit and brave restraint, Jack convinces the hapless bully to back down, now more frustrated and resentful as ever.  It’s a revealing scene.
 
In a shocking sequence later on, Bobby tries to goad Jack into a fight in their high school hallway.  He pushes him to say something funny, desperate in his bid to reclaim his dignity, manhood and reputation.  When his friends prevent Jack from escaping peacefully and with Bobby arousing his anger exponentially with one incendiary remark after another, Tom’s son offers an explosive response, completely unexpected.  Cronenberg succeeds again in arousing our sympathies while forcing us to face our double standard about being seduced by this kind of violence.
 
And that brings us back to the sex scene on the stairs.  Once the basic truth is exposed and can no longer be denied, and more shocking violence has taken place, and after the local Sheriff gets nowhere with an investigation, feelings of anger and betrayal quickly escalate to actions of swift violence and rough sex.  It’s important to note that this an act of consent.  It is not rape.  Bello and Mortensen discover a side to their sexuality they never expected.  In essence, it is the first time their marriage has been tested, the first time their sex life has become dangerous.  In an earlier love scene, she puts on a cheerleader outfit which leads to silly, romantic role playing but there’s no danger, no risk.  Only the illusion of it.  In that sequence, they’re making love.  In the other, they’re fucking.  You can see both of them physically, mentally and emotionally wrestling with the new setting, literally struggling with their sexual impulses in this alien environment.  Bello is so angry with Mortensen but also, so deeply aroused by his behaviour.  In her mind, she’s having an affair with someone she doesn’t know, a man who pushes her in ways her husband never did.  It is a beautifully executed sequence and it cuts to the core about good people being seduced by the dark and the consequences that follow.
 
A History Of Violence reminded me a lot of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, a far superior work.  Both ask the question, "Can a violent man successfully repress his violence, henceforth becoming a man of peace?"  Both explore the emotional fallout of violent acts, particularly those committed by the heroes.  But Cronenberg’s film takes a different tack by also focusing on the audience’s hypocritical feelings about violence, an interesting idea.  By throwing provocative acts of chaos in our face, is he challenging us to curb our lustful enthusiasm for violent retribution?  He can challenge us all he wants but because we accept this violence as staged rather than real, is it really fair to argue against our "complicity" when we know no one was actually harmed during the making of this picture?  Isn’t he just trying to have it both ways by exciting us with well crafted simulated action while condemning our joy for seeing the brutal demise of villains?  Is he ultimately rewarding our intelligence while simultaneously scorning our emotions?
 
Perhaps that is why this is a good film and not a great one, like Unforgiven, which had a much more effective anti-violence theme and more memorable dialogue.  A History Of Violence asks provocative questions that can’t be fully and honestly answered, and it asks us to dissect our reactions we probably won’t change any time soon.  Then again, maybe Cronenberg’s a realist, making these observations through cinematic manipulation without expecting us to agree or alter our perceptions. 
 
Still, you admire his ambition and his skill as a filmmaker.  This is an enjoyable picture as intense and predictable as it can be at times.  We care about these characters, thanks to the first-rate cast.  (William Hurt has a terrific cameo in the third act.  It resulted in a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.)  Few directors are brave enough to explore territory like this.  Many pander rather than inspire.  Cronenberg movies require the audience to pay full attention rather than just stare blankly without thinking, unlike most movies, and they motivate heated debates after screenings.  The film shares common traits with Crash, his draining but effective 1996 feature about empty souls coming alive emotionally through their obsessive compulsive auto erotic behaviour.  It’s a much bleaker film, one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films of that decade, but it, too, understands the seductive and addictive qualities of the dark side of human nature.  I found its character study fascinating despite the many unstimulating sex scenes.
 
The final shot of A History Of Violence, a quiet dinner table staredown, is perfect.  It allows each individual viewer to offer their own explanation for what the characters are feeling and thinking, and to even speculate on their futures.  Some will feel relieved, others confused, while many more will find it despairing.  For me, it’s rightly ambigious, the one moment where Cronenberg reserves judgment on the audience’s reaction.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 6, 2008
3:29 a.m.
Published in: on March 6, 2008 at 3:28 am  Comments (1)  

Superbad

"They say if you go to enough movies, sooner or later you will see your own story…". 
 
That’s Roger Ebert writing about the criminally underrated 1995 film, Angus (you can read my review here).  I felt the same way while watching Superbad.
 
This is the funniest teen comedy since American Pie 2.  There are moments here that are so uproarious and so outrageous, that at certain points, you have to press pause in order to catch your breath and let the pain in your face subside.  It’s a Sore Jaw Comedy of the highest calibre.
 
With two weeks left before they graduate high school, Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill), inseparable pals since grade school, are deeply concerned about their futures.  They won’t be attending the same college next year.  More importantly, both have deep insecurities about their pathetically empty social lives.  (That sounds familiar.)  From the moment we meet them, they partake in explicitly obsessive (and consistently hilarious) Seinfeldian conversations about sex.  Evan’s the sensitive one seeking that elusive emotional connection with women (I can relate) while Seth is the desperate horndog dying for sexual contact of any kind.  (He mostly enjoyed hand jobs from one girl ages ago and is already worried about peaking too early.)  How desperate is he?  After gettting invited to a party by a very cute classmate in Home Economics, he excitedly interrupts his pal’s soccer game to tell him that if they can make it with drunk girls there, they can be the "mistakes" drunk girls later regret when they’ve sobered up.  That’ll help give them some experience so they can be better prepared later on for the plethora of college girls who expect their lovers to have more skill.
 
Evan is so awkward around Becca (played by the charming Martha MacIssac), the girl of his dreams, that he really has no clue how deeply attracted she is to him.  The way she looks longingly at him in an early scene is sweet and convincing.  She practically asks him out but he’s too busy continuing his hilarious story about how he’s a man about town with his buddies (the reason she hasn’t seen him at any house parties) to notice.  In a lesser movie, she would already be moving on to someone else after their conversation, and while there are moments later on where we question her sincerity (is she setting him up to be humiliated?), we eventually realize her true feelings.
 
When Seth complains about his absent Home Ec partner, which has to be seen to be believed, he’s paired with Jules (a remarkably understanding Emma Stone) and they immediately bond over cooking.  (She’s the one who invites him to the party she’s throwing while her parents are away.)  Their banter is so natural we sense an immediate chemistry.  I love how at some point during their conversations throughout the movie, Seth will say or do something completely inappropriate because of his chronic impatience with not getting laid.  And yet, Jules is not completely turned off by him, despite his gracelessly bad timing.  She’s wise enough to see right through the phony macho facade he haplessly tries to project to impress her, not to mention the ribald quips he needlessly throws out there.  He makes her laugh and she rightly senses that he’s a good guy who feels comfortable with her.  She cuts him a great deal of slack which makes her all the more endearing.  Deep down, she knows who he really is and that’s who she’s attracted to.
 
And then, there’s Fogell (a star-making debut by my long lost twin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  Seth resents him (for reasons that become much clearer later on), frequently calling him "Fagell", but when Jules gives him a hundred dollars to buy booze for the party, he recruits Dennis, I mean, Fogell for the job.  It helps that the bespectacled would-be hipster is in the process of acquiring a fake ID.  But when he shows it to Seth, he’s incensed.  (McLovin?  Is this guy crazy?)  Furthermore, his place of birth is Hawaii and he has to pass for 25.  They sense disaster.
 
Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are perfectly cast in their respective roles.  Cera, in particular, is so natural a performer he never gives away the fact that he’s acting.  In every scene of Superbad, he masterfully underplays his lines to the point where you wonder if he’s really playing himself.  Whether he’s acting with Hill or his beautiful love interest, Martha MacIssac, all his awkward pauses and teenage hesitancies, on top of his naturally quick speaking style, feel authentic.  We like this guy, we care about him and all of us knows someone like him in our social circle.  It’s hard not to see parts of your own personality on display here, particularly the way he views women.
 
Hill delivers the finest performance of his young career.  He has never been funnier as the coarse, larger than life but surprisingly heartfelt Seth.  He is completely incapable of telling a lie.  Everybody sees right through him when he tries.  His honest views about sex and his charming friendship with Evan are the heart and soul of the movie.  He is compulsive, more than a little misguided, bad tempered, but not stupid.  Through his own embarrassing errors, he becomes a better person.
 
An unexpected plot twist introduces two more important characters to the story.  Co-screenwriter Seth Rogan and Bill Hader play a couple of lackadaisical police officers (Michaels and Slater, respectively) who are far more interested in bonding with McLovin than solving any crime on their beat.  Both are perpetual screw-ups who make the graduates of the Police Academy franchise look like Serpico in comparison.  They frequently behave like Seth’s older, dopier brothers and yet, for the most part, their scenes with McLovin are very funny and persuasive.  They serve as an ample warning to our young heroes that living in a permanent state of adolescence, especially when faced with important responsibilities like law enforcement, leads to one bad decision after another.  They also remind us of the importance of unexpected friendships.  Even though their motives are not always pure or commendable, like McLovin, Seth and Evan, male bonding plays a key role in their survival and well-being.  You root for their own self-improvement, like the teenage girls in the story.
 
As funny and observant as Superbad is about the teenage male psyche, it’s not quite perfect.  What’s the deal with that seemingly pedophillic guy who hits Seth with his car?  He’s not funny.  What about that cell phone conversation where Evan spends more time cursing the poor quality of his reception than talking to a perplexed Becca?  Yes, I know.  It’s another demonstration of how unaware he is of how he comes across to a potential mate, but it doesn’t work.  (When he finally finds a functioning phone, the events of the previously disastrous call are wisely forgotten.)  And ultimately, the film is too long.  Trimming 10, 15, maybe even 20 minutes from the nearly two-hour running time would’ve made this very good movie a great one.  (Some of the McLovin/Slater/Michaels stuff stretches credibility and isn’t always a laugh riot.  It would’ve been nicer to spend more time with Becca and Jules, instead.)
 
The teenage sex comedy is a well plowed genre but somehow, someway, Superbad milks some fresh laughs and insights out of familiar terrain.  It eerily understands the frustrations and anxieties of the hormonal set, especially in the final act where awkwardness, not pornographic perfection, permeates the atmosphere of a number of intimate scenes.  Despite some out there plot twists, this world and these characters feel real to us.  We know them, and they are who we are, or were, at one pivotal point in our young lives.
 
I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it proud.  I am McLovin.
 
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 2, 2008
3:38 p.m.
Published in: on March 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Say No To Bill C-10

It’s astonishing, really.  A misguided religious leader has the ears of some prominent Canadian Conservative politicians and, poof, the future of an entire entertainment industry suddenly looks bleak.
 
Charles McVety is the head of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, an evangelical organization, and has been the president of the Canada Christian College, based in Toronto, for 15 years.  (His late father, Elmer, founded it in 1967.  It was originally called Richmond College.  It switched to the current name in 1974.)  That name might be familiar to you if you followed any or all of the gay marriage controversy a couple of years ago.  (He’s against it and became part of another religious group, The Defend Marriage Coalition, which has been fighting unsuccessfully to repeal the amendment to The Civil Marriage Act that allows homosexual couples to tie the knot.)  Recently, he’s taking credit for a proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act.  According to The Hollywood Reporter, a measure is being considered that would give the federal government more legal criteria to deny tax breaks for Canadian filmmakers and their productions, even after being approved for funding.
 
The basic gist of it is this.  If the amendment passes, the government, through its Heritage Ministry (which oversees funding for the Canadian entertainment industry), can disqualify productions from receiving tax credits if these programs and films contain excessive violence, overly explicit sexual content not associated with sex education, anything deemed “not in the public interest”, according to The Toronto Star, “or denigration of an indentifiable group”, according to The Globe & Mail.  In other words, after receiving the funding to make a TV show or motion picture, these entertainments have to avoid falling into these traps or the filmmakers’ tax breaks disappear.
 
Stupid.  For a minority Conservative government with a horrible reputation for secrecy and ill concern for bad legislation (remember the Clean Air Act fiasco?), this isn’t the kind of reaction they need right now.  Pandering to a very small group of nervous nellies to score some cheap political points is a foolish gesture, the kind that assures a return to the Opposition benches.  Liberals should be salivating at this golden opportunity to get back on track.  A more nonsensical proposal you could not find.
 
I don’t need to explain why Bill C-10 is a horrible idea.  My friend, Bill Brioux of The Canadian Press speaks for many with his comments about the matter here.  What I wil say is that a movement of protest is quickly building between the entertainment trade unions, film and TV companies, and everybody else with the good sense and common decency to realize what’s truly at stake here.  If you’re on Facebook, you can join the group, “Keep your censoring hands off of Canadian film and TV! No to Bill C-10!” here.  (Almost 5000 members, as of this writing.)  You can also write your MP and contact the Heritage Ministry directly to voice your concerns.
 
More importantly, write letters to the editor of your favourite newspaper, leave comments on blogs (including this one), do anything and everything you can to assure that we will still have the freedom to create entertainment that isn’t always family friendly.  The more voices who loudly join the opposition to this bill, the better.  The alternative is not an option.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 1, 2008
12:21 a.m.
 
UPDATE:  Bill Brioux has a story on the anti-Bill C-10 Facebook group here.  The Dead Things On Sticks blog has more on today’s developments here.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 1, 2008
1:55 a.m.
Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 12:21 am  Leave a Comment