Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Week In Non-House Hugh Laurie: Tracey Takes On

Hugh Laurie really likes him some sketch comedy. One would think that after appearances in the Footlights Revue, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and Look at the State We're In!, he would have gotten a little burnt out. But I guess the prospect of working with Tracey Ullman was too much to pass up, as he appears in two sketches from the first season of Tracey Takes On.

In both sketches, he plays a character named Timmy. Timmy is a member of Parliament, and British comedy being what it is he is of course a fumbling idiot lowlife who thinks that he's sophisticated but is really just a scandal waiting to happen. This first sketch, called "Death," just plays on that theme by having the newspapers pick up on an embarrassing tradition that he takes part in with other members of Parliament. It's entertaining enough, but nothing new.

The next sketch, though, is memorable for me not particularly for Hugh Laurie, but for Tracey Ullman's dead on impersonation of Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret (yes, I'm well aware that this is supposed to be about Hugh Laurie, but Hugh Laurie doesn't really do anything worth talking about here so humor me). To be honest, I had no idea who Princess Margaret was until I watched this bit, so I did a bit of reading on Wikipedia to get some of the basics.

As it turns out, Princess Margaret's life was something out of a soap opera. She tried to marry Peter Townsend (not the guitarist from The Who) in 1953, but was forbidden to do so by the Church of England as he had been divorced. She wound up marrying a photographer named Antony Armstrong-Jones, who she cheated on more than once. One such affair was with a man 17 years younger than her, making her a cougar in the public eye well before being a cougar was cool.

Apart from the drama and the scandal, another aspect of Princess Margaret's life that seems to have defined her, especially later in life, is that Her Royal Highness could be a world-class bitch. This is the angle that Ullman takes in her representation of Margaret, as every line in the following clip seems to be meant to hurt someone's feelings.

Now, never having met Her Royal Highness, I can't really say if that's how she truly was, but judging by the following clips of some of her interviews, but match up Ullman's impression with clips of Princess Margaret's interviews in the following clip, and tell me that she's not pretty well dead on.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Week In Non-House Hugh Laurie: Sense and Sensibility

I'm a little late on the post this week. It was a long day at work and I just didn't have it in me to write anything. I'm sure I've lost all my readers now.

After watching Hugh Laurie in the following clip from the 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, I have a feeling this may have been the movie that the casting directors for House saw that made them want Laurie for the role. As Mr. Palmer in the following montage, every line he utters oozes with contempt, specifically for his wife and a woman I'm assuming is his mother-in-law. It's almost as if it were a House episode in which he hallucinates himself as a Victorian-era Englishman. And considering some of the more recent plot lines in the show, I'm rather surprised it hasn't been done.

Now it's not unique to find the "put-upon husband" in anything by Jane Austen. But what sets Laurie apart is that he says even the most innocuous line in such a way that it's clear he's fantasizing about beating his wife to death with a blunt instrument. And I don't know about you, but I think that every Jane Austen novel would be a little more realistic if the men were physically abusive. It would certainly give the title Persuasion a whole new meaning.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Verbal Bitch Slaps From William Shakespeare

Last week we started the new year by delving into the daily calendar filled with Shakespearean insults that I got as a gift from my mother in law. I found a new favorite word, whoreson, but I've yet to find an instance to use it. Don't worry, I'll find my moment. We also found out that it's a blast to make fun of ug-mo's no matter what century you live in. Let's see what Shakespeare has waiting for us this week.

"The excuse that thou dost make in this delay is longer than the tale
thou dost excuse."
--Romeo and Juliet 2.5.33-34
Juliet lays into her Nurse for taking too long in conveying news about Romeo. This is proof that you should never get in between a 13-year-old and her husband. But, since this is puppy love, a little quarrel between a spoiled princess-type and her nurse isn't all that bad. I'm sure nothing catastrophic will come of the situation.

"May his pernicious soul
Rot half a grain a day!"
--Othello, the Moor of Venice 5.2.156-157
The first thing I had to do here was look up the word pernicious, which, I'll admit, is a bit sad for someone with an English degree. I was disappointed when it turned out to simply mean "hurtful.". After all, Emilia is talking to Othello about her husband, Iago, who I think may well be the biggest prick Shakespeare's ever written into one of his plays. "Boo hoo, Othello passed me over for a promotion and I've got the hots for his wife, so I'm obviously well within my rights to destroy his life and those of everyone around him." I may be paraphrasing that quote, but it's not surprising that his wife wishes him slow and painful death.

"Weaker than a woman's tear,
Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance,
Less valiant than the virgin in the night,
And skilless as unpractised infancy."
--The History of Troilus and Cressida 1.1.9-12
This is pretty funny, and it also marks the first time in this calendar where the insult is aimed at one's self. In this case, Troilus is lamenting over what a pussy he's become since falling in love with Cressida. After all, a great man once said that dames are here to weaken us, drain our energy, laugh when they see us naked.

"No doubt the murd'rous knife was dull and blunt
Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart."
--The Tragedy of King Richard the Third 4.4.227-228
Queen Elizabeth is saying this to Richard after he killed her sons. It's just a sophisticated way of calling him a cold bastard. No...whoreson! He's a cold whoreson! Yay, I got to use it.

"When thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make they riches pleasant."
--Measure for Measure 3.1.36-38
I think someone's going to have to help me out on this one, because I'm not getting enough context for this to make sense. The Duke says the above phrase to Claudio, who is being sentenced to death for impregnating a woman according to the calendar's foot notes. So what the hell does it matter that a person's money is no comfort for the failures of an aging body? If Claudio is about to be hanged, he doesn't much have to worry about a failing body does he?

"An he had been a dog that should have howled
thus, they would have hanged him...I had
as live have heard the night raven, come what
plague could come after it."
--Much Ado About Nothing 2.3.77-81
Believe it or not, this is the type of thing you would have heard Simon Cowell say had he been alive in Shakespeare's day. Benedick says this of Balthasaar, whose singing is so bad that he says a dog would have been killed for howling like that, and that he'd rather hear the noise of a night raven, whose call usually serves as an omen for an oncoming disaster. In other words, "I'd rather hear the sound of my own doom than hear this douche sing again."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bane Named As New Batman Villain: Christian Bale Is Kind Of Screwed

Entertainment Weekly just made my day by announcing that not only have Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway been confirmed to star in The Dark Knight Rises, but they've been cast as Bane and Selena Kyle, respectively. Now, for those who don't know who Selena Kyle is, you might know her better as...

So, although EW points out that the name Catwoman didn't actually come up in the announcement, I can't really see why Warner Bros. would hire Anne Hathaway to play Selena Kyle in the final film of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and have her wind up as Commissioner Gordon's secretary. So I'm just gonna go ahead and jump to conclusions on this one.

I'm interested to see how Hathaway decides to play it here. Originally, I was against Catwoman even being in the movie at all, because Michelle Pfieffer pretty well nailed it for me. Why bother trying to top that? Halle Berry tried in the most recent incarnation of Catwoman, and when I stumbled on that movie for two minutes on TV I had to do everything I could to keep from swallowing my own tongue. But I think Anne Hathaway is a good choice for someone to try and play the role a little bit more down to Earth, which seems to be the general rule of thumb for Nolan's Batman universe (excluding the Joker, of course).

But what really got me stoked about today's announcement is the inclusion of Bane as what I can only assume is the finale's main villain. I only dabbled in the Batman comics as a kid, but the one story arc that sticks out in my mind was Bane's. He was freakishly strong, due to an insane work ethic and the enhancement of super-soldier type steroids, but he was also incredibly smart. He was who was touted as the one man to who was going to break Batman. And when I say break him, I really mean break him. looks like Robin may have to be the top for a while.

What I really like about this choice of character is that it puts my fears to rest that there wasn't a villain to raise the bar after Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker. When the rumor mills speculated that Tom Hardy would play Hugo Strange or Clayface, I just couldn't see them being anything more than a letdown. Then I got really pissed off at Heath Ledger for dying after giving the performance of his life, which I admit may prove to be misplaced priorities on my part.

But now we have the introduction of the only man to ever truly beat Batman in a fight, and I can't wait to see how the Nolan has this whole thing play out. I know for certain that he won't turn him into a one-note buffoon like Joel Butthole Schumacher did in the Batman movie that doesn't even deserve to be named. My new fear now, however, is that with Nolan's dark take on, well, everything, he'll just end the movie with Bane breaking Batman's back and leaving him battered and dying on the ground as the film cuts to the credits. He wouldn't do that to us, though. Right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

This Week In Non-House Hugh Laurie: Look At The State We're In!

Ah, damn you, Hugh Laurie. You just had to take part in political satire. Now I have to use the word political, which seems to be the quickest way to get yelled at lately. Ah well, I'll just have to stay as spineless and opinion-free as possible...which will probably also get me yelled at for being indifferent.

This week's clip is from a British mini-series from 1995 called Look at the State We're In! It's weird but I can't really find any information on it at my usual entertainment sites, and a Yahoo! search came up snake eyes as well. Fortunately, it doesn't seem all that hard to figure out. It seems that Hugh Laurie and friends just wanted to give the government some shit. In the following clip, Imelda Staunton plays a local official who realizes her position doesn't really have any responsibilities, and when she goes to get some answers as to why this is so, she talks to Hugh Laurie.

I really liked this clip, if for no other reason than the odd comfort that I take in knowing that everyone deals with their own political shenanigans. Sure, we've had a pretty tense year here in the States, but no matter what the country you're in or what era you're talking about, there are people who think that those in charge are doing a crappy job. And it's usually better to make some light of it rather than frothing at the mouth. It helps keep things sane. But it seems I may be getting dangerously close to forming an opinion here, so let's just say Hugh Laurie is a silly, entertaining Englishman and leave it at that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Title. Same Shitty Content

I've actually been meaning to do this for a while. Ever since I gave my first blog the title Grumpy Old Man, I kind of hated it. It's unoriginal, bland, and over all just not good. This new one may not be good, either, but at least it's my own.

I suppose I'd better explain what this new title means. I'd say it was about 6 months ago when I was at a party with my then-fiance, and one of her relatives decided to ruin my week by telling me I look like Taylor Hicks. Now, I'm going to lie and say it didn't sting, but I was at least able to brush it off as some harmless ball-busting. Basically I just figured they were making a comment on the fact that I've got an inordinate amount of gray hair for a man in his twenties.

So after about three weeks of crying, I was able to put it behind me. But then, at my wedding, I'm heading to the bar to get myself a good, stiff drink (Shirley Temples count right?) when I see the two bartenders murmuring to themselves. When I asked what was up, one of them decided to point out that I looked just like that Taylor Hicks guy from American Idol. My first thought was that one of my wife's family members put them up to it, so I scanned the room looking for a person laughing in my direction so that I could go and murder them. When I saw no laughing person, I was forced to face up to the fact that once again I had been compared to this goofy fucking man.

At this point I was considering cosmetic surgery, but I decided to at least wait until my wife and I got through the honeymoon. For those of you who didn't read about my adventures in Italy, let me just say that you should go if you get the chance. We had a great time taking in the local history, enjoying the wine tours, and of course eating to the point of death. We even met a really nice couple from New York while we were at one of the wineries, and were fortunate enough to meet them later on for dinner. While enjoying a fantastic evening of food, wine, and conversation, the man of the couple (a 40-something Irishman) asked me if I was familiar with American Idol. Needless to say, I knew where this was going right away, so I threw my drink in his face and left. OK, I didn't do that, but I did spend 10 minutes forcing him to explain to me how he meant that as a compliment.

So apparently, I look like Taylor goddamn Hicks. I might as well learn to live with this fact, and I guess this blog is a way of coming to terms with something I find very unpleasant. I've got all my old blog posts transferred over here, so you don't have to worry about going back to see any of my classic work. I know you were worried. Hope you like the new page.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Verbal Bitch Slaps From William Shakespeare

As you may have noticed, I tend to lean towards immaturity when making a point about something that bothers me. I don't believe there is any point that can't be made better by adding a "shitbreath" or a "cockbag" here and there (double negatives are great too). But I do admit that sometimes I find it difficult to mix up the vocabulary. I mean, there are only so many variations that one can make to the word "dickhead."

That's why I've decided to get a little assistance from The Bard. My mother in law took a trip to England and came back with a desk calendar for me devoted to insults written into the works of William Shakespeare. Every Friday I'm going to share some of my favorites with you. So, let's see how one of history's greatest playwrights calls someone a poopyface.

"Thou whoreson mandrake, though art fitter to be
worn in my cap than to wait at my heels."
--The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth 1.2.14-15
I'm finding out pretty quickly that the best thing about Shakespearean insults is that you know you're being insulted without quite knowing how. To be honest, I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean. But I do think whoreson may be my new favorite word.

"No mates for you
Unless you were of gentler, milder mold."
--The Taming of the Shrew 1.1.59-60, Hortensio to Kate
Now this one I definitely get. Apparently Hortensio thinks Kate would get laid a lot more if she weren't such a See You Next Tuesday.

"You have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness."
--Much Ado About Nothing 5.4.41-42.
Now, this seems like a commentary on a person's face being weighed down with a dark, sullen temperament. But I prefer to think of it as "U! G! L! Y! You ain't got no alibi! You ugly! Yeah, yeah! You ugly!"

"Thou art an O without a figure. I am better than
thou art now. I am a fool, thou art nothing."
--King Lear 1.4.183-185, The Fool to King Lear
The insult here isn't nearly as awesome as the context. It's sort of like a bum walking up to Bernie Madoff, laughing in his face, and calling him a douche bag.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

This Week In Non-House Hugh Laurie: A Pin For The Butterfly

I'm not sure if this is a sign of the film-making style of the mid 90s, or if Hugh Laurie was just taking whatever roles he could get as a means of branching out from his usual goofball schtick, but these last few clips have been really fucking weird. Last week, we get a mostly naked Laurie practicing Thai Chi as a way to cope with his life as a con artist collapsing around him (thanks for the explanation from clat, by the way). This week, we get something that makes naked Thai Chi seem perfectly reasonable.

It comes from a 1994 movie called A Pin for the Butterfly. In it, Laurie plays an uncle to Marushka, a little girl who wants to escape the clutches of Stalinist Communism in Czechoslovakia and travel to America. This was an entry at Cannes, so you know you're in for some melodrama. But there is no real way to prepare you for what happens starting at around the 1:50 mark.

What the hell was that? Did we really just watch Hugh Laurie kill himself via electrified fence? Either this is a dream sequence, or Laurie was captured by the Communists and imprisoned in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Even if it was a dream sequence, I can't help but think the emotional impact of the scene was blunted by the fact that it's one of the more unintentionally hilarious moments in recent memory. First, we have the stock communist march playing in the background while the prisoners trudge their way to...well, who knows where the hell they're going. Then we get the vulture screech, which I can only imagine is the director's attempt at subtly telling the viewer that this camp is a hopeless place where people go to die. Either that, or he just thought a vulture would sound totally bitchin'.

Then there's the piece de resistance: Hugh Laurie declares his freedom with all of the flare and emotion of a high school student reading out of a Social Studies textbook. He sprints off, apparently leaving his fellow prisoner catatonic from his brazen act. He then takes a swan dive into a fence so powerful that it instantly vaporizes his skin and leaves only a perfectly white skeleton. Oh, and then cut to his skull perched on the fencepost.

I'm surprised that Cannes even bothered showing other movies at the festival in 1994. No way anything was going to top that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grumpy Movie Review: True Grit

I must admit that when I first read that the Coen Brothers were remaking the 1969 John Wayne western True Grit, I was less than thrilled. My main concern was that on the artistic ladder, remakes often fall somewhere between America's Funniest Home Videos and watching a dog eat its own crap. So when the Coen Brothers decided to dabble in remake territory, I felt a little bit let down. But I couldn't help but get at least a little excited when I saw this TV spot.

"I mean to kill ya!" That's just grizzled badassery right there. And that seems to pretty much be the theme of the movie. When Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires drunken Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father, they cross paths with LaBeouf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who has been tracking Chaney for a murder he committed in the Lonestar State.

From this point on the movie turns into an extended pissing contest between Cogburn, LaBeouf, and even Ross. Both men believe they are the ones to catch Chaney for their own reasons, and Ross believes her need for revenge means that things should be handled according to her direction. So they're constantly bickering and posturing while trailing Chaney, and it makes for some entertaining dialog. More importantly, all three characters are forced to stop talking a good game and actually follow through in some great gunfights that crescendo in a four-on-one shootout between Cogburn and a gang of ne'er-do-wells.

In fact, of all the characters in the movie, the one who proves to be the least tough is the murderer they are after, Tom Chaney. I went into the movie thinking that Chaney was going to be a Lee Marvin-type killer, both cold and threatening. But Chaney wound up being closer to a scrawny version of Mongo from Blazing Saddles. He stupidly mopes his way through most of his ten minutes of screen time. Kind of a let down considering the build up.

Other than Brolin's impression of the Looney Tunes abominable snowman, True Grit is a worthy addition to the Coen Brothers' catalog. As always, the cinematography is dark yet beautiful, as Joel and Ethan get some great shots in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas. And even though the movie pulled off a PG-13 rating, there is still the blunt violence you come to expect from a self-respecting Coen Brothers' movie.

But again, the real reason you go to watch this movie is for some great performances, especially by Jeff Bridges. I haven't seen the original version, but I'm still going to go ahead and say that Bridges is a better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne. Acting for John Wayne, after all, tends to involve little more than putting on a costume and then continuing to act like John Wayne. Overrated, I say! Jeff Bridges, meanwhile, is probably most famous for playing a shiftless hippie several decades after it was culturally acceptable to be a shiftless hippie. Yet even though he's just a shade under 60, I would not want to fuck with him as Rooster Cogburn. That's called "range," children.

So I must officially retract my stance on remakes as being automatically awful. When done right, they can add something to cinema canon. And the Coen Brothers did just that with True Grit. It's a fine western, and made for a good way to cap off 2010 at the movies.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 3, 2011

This Week In Non-House Hugh Laurie: All Or Nothing At All

Something that I didn't realize blogging is that it's very similar to working out. If you don't keep it up on a consistent basis, you tend to lose the motivation to keep doing it at all. I can't believe I've breezed through two weeks without one little complaint. I've got to get the blood flowing again. I'd make a New Year's resolution but by now we all know that's pretty much the only sure-fire way of guaranteeing that a person won't do something.

So instead I'll just get back into the swing of things with this week's Non-House Hugh Laurie. This time we find Hugh Laurie taking a darker tone in the mini-series All or Nothing at All. He plays a con man named Leo Hopkins whose addiction to the game starts taking its toll on him. It actually sounds like an interesting little tale, and if you're feeling bored it appears that you can actually watch the program in its entirety on YouTube.

What I'd like to show you, however, is an experiment in your powers of prediction. Begin watching the following clip from the 0:16 mark through the 0:30 mark. Then, take some time and predict where the story will have taken you by the 1:30 mark. Got a guess? OK go ahead and play the clip from that point.

Ha! Bet you didn't know the train was getting of at this station! The funny thing is that even with the context of the connecting 60 seconds, I'm still not exactly sure how we get from glib Hugh Laurie to crazy 80's B-movie villain Hugh Laurie. I will say that I'm more intrigued to give All or Nothing at All a chance just to make some sense of it. Or, if anyone has already seen it, you're welcome to just tell me.