Trivia Club's QUARTERLY AWARDS : January to December 2014

December 25, 2014

With over 115 live Trivia Club events in Toronto, a second season of our Saturday Night Live Fantasy League, the Summer Movie Wager, the Fall TV Death Pool, and the expansion of the Trivia Club Network into iTunes and YouTube just in 2014 alone, I've admittedly slacked on giving out some Quarterly Awards. 

Awards are my jam. If that wasn’t evident by Trivia Club's nightly Golden VHS prize or the annual Grand Championship prize the Golden VCR, or the Summer Movie Wager Trophy, the Oscar Pool Confidence Cup, or the SNL Fantasy League's Phil Hartman Trophy, I don’t know what is! Hell, if I had the time to do this every day (would someone like to pay me?) I would. Trivia Club's Quarterly Awards, or Q+A for short, celebrate everything cool and creative, and anything that might be interesting to those who participate in Trivia Club!

Throughout 2015 the Q+A's will be given out as they're earned, or when I think they've been earned. I'll simply let you know through the blog what I think earned some award recognition! Until then however, I won't let 2014 pass us by without a word or two about a thing or two.

Like Chip Zdarsky earning some in-person recognition from Trivia Club for his Winter 2013 Q+A!
He was still surprised that something like that would happen...
But on to the awards, broken up by season for your convenience!

Sure we could have started off the 2014 Quarterly Awards in Review on a brighter note, but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how bright Daniel Bryan shone in the early months of 2014. Due to his cannonball energy and a groundswell of natural support, he made watching professional wrestling a positive experience, as well as an unpredictable one, no matter the agro-influenced, completely unsubtle house-style that WWE has settled into since the start of it’s “Ruthless Aggression” era led by John Cena.

Behind the simple yet positive affirmation of "YES!", established at first by Bryan as nothing more than an annoying celebration, rose a ground swell of support for the hardest working man in sports entertainment. And unlike cheering for CM Punk during his attention winning ‘pipe bomb’ era, which felt purely about Punk, getting behind Daniel Bryan made you feel part of a community. Supporting something earned as opposed to something given, like as to Cena, or taken, like as to Punk.

Plus hey, the beard was an amazing look. Going along with his vegan life-style, Daniel Bryan was the sneaky hipster alternative in the most conservative of high theatre, with the simple approach, high-talent, unkempt look and Washington-born air to give him every bit of folk hero myticism to support his eventual march to a World Championship, and a truly heroic Wrestlemania XXX.

Even if he really is injured to the point of no return, what we had from Daniel Bryan to start 2014 gives me hope in professional wrestling.

Speaking of epitaphs…

Michael Chabon’s ode to the long lost record industry in all of it’s niche market glory, as opposed to its expansive glory days, is the kind of expansive story that hasn’t been seen since his ode to comic books with The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay.

Telegraph Avenue is a story of family, community, hopes, dreams, and horrible choices that ripple across generations. And in that classic Chabon style, it's rife with the influence of popular culture.

Music comes from a very specific time, first from those who create it and then from those who listen to it. Neutral Milk Hotel was, I think, allowed a rare ability to become timeless in terms of who their fans were, because the band itself sounded timeless and deeply lived in the moment it was put to tape. Which is also why In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is an album best enjoyed in a live setting, because the album itself sounds so raw and undiluted. It’s an album that segways from one moment to the next and so on and so forth, building on itself in a way that it’s questionable if Neutral Milk Hotel fully understood the masterpiece that they were building.

Then, possibly because of hyperbolic paragraphs like the one you just read, the band all but broke up and lead singer Jeff Mangum disappeared into the 90’s like some sort of latter-day Brian Wilson. Now, I’m not studied enough on the man to comment on his state of mind but I will say his reluctance to return to the album that made Neutral Milk Hotel… also made Neutral Milk Hotel into something of a secret password between select music fans.

I first listened to the full album during a car ride. The director of a short film I was in played the CD in his beater of an automobile as we drove back to Toronto. I remember him telling me, “Either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it, but you’ll never see them live.”

I loved it, and the 'never' was a promise I took to heart. Then I saw them live.

Having only seen a handful of bands live that weren’t friend’s bands, I felt this by far was the closest thing I could call a religious experience in the form of music. Laying low for a couple of decades builds a certain mystique, and Jeff Mangum and his band mates seemed to realize this. From the lighting to the set choice, it was a wonderful and powerful energy to be in the crowd. I’ve noted before, and I’ll say it again with all the hyperbole it brings, that I believe Neutral Milk Hotel’s return had the kind of reverence that Kurt Cobain would have gotten if he had simply gone into hiding as well, as opposed to shooting himself in the face. Heartfelt, excited, and just a little chaotic.

I could have given Obvious Child a number of awards. Jenny Slate as Best Actress, Gabe Leibman as Best Gay Friend, Gaby Hoffman for Best Comeback, and Jake Lacy as Surprise of the Spring! Hell, even Paul Simon was almost give a QA for Best Song (Reissued)!

What I'm trying to say is that of all the different parts of this romantic comedy about abortion (and self worth, and growing up, and being responsible for yourself), I enjoyed all of them. Jenny Slate has shown that she is an incredibly likeable actress, adding to her appearances on The Kroll Show and Parks & Rec, to prove she's far past an errant F-bomb on SNL or an amazingly likeable anthropomorphic shell named Marcel.

It also makes me want to keep a close eye on Gillian Robiesphere, who created a heightened version of Brooklyn, with a high concept idea for a romantic comedy, and still gave us an excellent example of stand-up comedy on film, while allowing the characters in the film to deal with some really heavy shit to both hilarious and heart wrenching results.

First things first, I never expected to be thinking of Archie comics as much as I am these days. Though it's less to do with the comics, much less, and more to do with a member of the Rankin family. Molly Rankin, child of Canadian royalty. Also unexpected.

While I was growing up my mother, who was a northern Ontario girl at heart, enjoyed listening to the Rankin family, so driving in the car my sister and I got to enjoy listening to them too. There was a shared connection there, rural folk songs sung sweetly for rural folks. People who were used to wide open spaces. Driving across the prairies as if we were sailing out on the Atlantic.

I suppose it's fitting then that a song so deeply nostalgic for the unrequited and even requited love of youth, and an even deeper youthful ideal in Archie Andrews (atleast in name) would also connect to my Canadian childhood in some strangely poetic way. Love and marriage. It ain't a bad idea, marriage. Really.

What a beautifully haunting earworm that Alvvays has crafted.

Hey hey, marry me Aaaarchie!

The Punk Singer, the documentary, is a wonderfully told story of an iconoclast in Kathleen Hannah whose strength of conviction, DIY attitude, and punk athstetic, may have been derailed by the unexpected, the physical, but is fully proven to be a fire that will forever burn.

Even the title, The Punk Singer, though an easy entry point is also an overtly humble title befitting the pioneering voice of a generation and an icon like no other.

Now that you’ve watched this video and cried, I have to note that giving Jess Winchester a Quarterly Award as remembrance for his passing is also an indirect way for remembering everyone that I lost this year, and maybe even everyone that you lost this year if you’ll allow it, by doing one thing…

Above all else, remember the youth and joy, the love and happy innocence in those that left us. It'll make you cry, but hopefully you'll smile as well.

And oh the poor old old-folks, they thought we lost our minds, they could not make heads or tales of the young folks funny rhymes…

Starlight, a simple and effectively told story about regaining the swagger of ones glory days, is fittingly also the best Mark Millar penned story in quite some time.

For a time, and I won’t stay on this topic for long because this is a positive award, Millar found and then lived in the popularity brought forward by the salacious and almost tabloid level of sex, violence, and ugliness as shown through a superhero lens. Whether it was with Kick-Ass, Superior, or at it’s worst, Nemesis, it seemed to be all we had to expect from Millar. Heck, it gave him the chance to make movies.

Then he decided to lighten up, whether it was the influence of new artistic partner and creator of beautiful imagery Goran Parlov, or he had settled into the one-man comics imprint that he had become, and Starlight was all the better for it. In parts subtler, and more loving of its influences than expected, Millar and Parlov create a retiree age Flash Rogers, adds a sensitive amount of tragedy and regret and then gives him a second chance at self-worth.

Duke McQueen, Starlight's protagonist, is sympathetic, at times funny, impressive and aside from a few moments of light cruelty and blunt storytelling, Millar script is aided by leaps and bounds by Parlov’s casual elegance and beautiful alien adventure.

Ultimately, if you’re like me, Millar’s ability to be an unlikable storyteller at first glance, will take a big hit after you sit down and enjoy Starlight.

The secret weapon of the summer's biggest film wasn't Chris Pratt, Dave Batista, Bradley Cooper, or an Awesome Mix Tape...

Okay, it was all those things and more. But also, ALSO the character building that Sean Gunn did as the motion capture actor for Rocket Raccoon is something that would make Andy Serkis proud! For a gun toting raccoon to work, not only did the world need to work, and not only did Bradley Cooper have to pull out his best Actor's Studio studied New Yawk attitude, but director James Gunn had to work hand in hand with his brother Sean. Sean is also seen in the flesh along side Yondu in the film, and likely best remembered for playing Kurt in Gilmore Girls.

It's a performance without ego, and an exceptional one at that, adding dimensions of all kinds of likeable shit for each scene that involves a talking raccoon. It's even been noted that Sean Gunn improvised on set, a key to the looser comedy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever since Iron Man, adding most notably "fine now I'm standing, we're all a bunch of jackasses standing in a circle" during the climatic bonding moment for the Guardians of the Galaxy.

What can I say about John Oliver that Rolling Stone already hasn't?

Wait... what? Yes, the Fake News that Oliver learned at the desk of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show has taken him so far in his first season at HBO, it's put him on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Don't worry he's made fun of it in the wonderful long form podcast that he does with his best mate across the pond, called The Bugle, but over the summer John Oliver also made fun of the Supreme Court, Food labels, FIFA, and net neutrality, to name just a few.

On HBO's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver has taken the familiar format created by the Daily Show and perfected by the Colbert Report and reformed it for the Internet. Making use of HBO's lack of commercials (and therefore commercial sponsors), lax on language, and free reign on its allotted time, he has created the most watched show that so few people have likely watched a full episode of.

With the next day delivery of Oliver's long form segments in HD, Last Week Tonight has taken 15 to 20 minutes monologues (more or less) that tackle hard subjects and made them viral videos. Keep up the good word.

Everything about this film kind of breaks me. Taking twelve years to make a film is one thing, but USING those twelve years within your film to tell a story, to craft a narrative is powerful, uplifting stuff.

Richard Linklater is not a director without patience, having made the Before films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy every nine years. Hell, it was BEFORE the second one of those films, Before Sunset, that Linklater began working on Boyhood. It's a film with a simple narrative that is supported by its execution. Watch this boy grow up, experience his life as he does, and become invested in him becoming a man. It's the ultimate in low budget special effects that will never be matched.

To refrain from spoiling a film that I really think everyone should see, the pride I felt for Ellar Coltrane's character Mason by the end of this film is something I've never experienced before while watching a film, and damn if Patricia Arquette, who played his mother, was right (in the best possible way) when she said:

"I thought there would be more."

The end of the world is messy business, especially when you don't want it to end.

The fact that Mike Mignola built a wonderful world of characters within the Hellboy universe is no secret, but what's surprising is that after the death of Hellboy, the tragic devolution of Abe Sapian, and the short disappearance of Liz Sherman, the world of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence is possibly better for it. It takes characters that have slowly been fleshed out in the background, introduces new concepts, and pushes everything to the forefront as hell literally spills onto the earth.

In the midst of it all, both multi-issue tales of epic action horror, and single issue chilling tales, are given equal weight. Just thinking of the most minor of characters introduced in the story "Grind", for instance, it breaks my heart every single time. Yes, people continue to live their lives even if you can't quite shake the feeling that things can only continue to get worse.

Full disclosure, Birdman sponsored Trivia Club's live events in October, but that doesn't mean it didn't earn those Golden Globe nominations, or that it won't earn those Oscar nominations.

You can read about the damning commentary on superhero films and sequels elsewhere in which Birdman did well, and like a lot of the film didn't give it to you easy, but what I would like to comment on is the portrayal of theatre.

The long shots, the tracking shots, the entire movie unblinking in its unspooling, shows you the energy of theatre and helps to capture something almost magically inherent in live performances... how there is no second takes, there is only the in the moment, which makes the acting on stage (especially the 'bad acting' by Keaton for every moment save for the opening night at the movies end) and especially the acting off stage, so electric.

Live theatre is a crazy world full of crazy people. If they weren't wanting for something, they wouldn't be standing in front of you, expecting applause. Every cliche is true, or else it wouldn't be cliche. Which means something is going to happen, something you wouldn't expect. The camera is the audience, and the audience won't look away because everybody's paid for this.

Multiversity is the love letter to a DC comic book universe that no longer exists, but instead to one that made me a fan of DC on equal footing with with Marvel. Equal footing at least up until the universe full of rich history and diverse legacies was stripped for parts lesser then a whole, something they’re still trying to make up for in this New 52 world, oh while also giving everyone v-necks!

Multiversity shows the potential of the DC Universe, which has been a universe of diverse creations and an amalgamation of comic book companies since its very inception. Pax America is the high point of this deeply annotation-able series, at once rewarding you for thinking critically about the issue while also wondering why the hell you’d worry so much about four-colored fun and superheroes.

What would a meta-commentary on superheroes, and more so a love letter to Watchmen be, without an original spin. The issue uses all of your familiarity and interest in it and it’s sources. It works perfectly as a single issue while also seeming like very much only a peek at a much larger world. That last sentence, being just a peek at an incredible world, is something that every issue of Multiversity has been great at actually.

In Pax Americana it’s the style that shines through, art though story, and story through art. Mark Millar and Frank Quietly showing the infinite potential of a comic book. For more on this issue, said better, check out this write-up and especially this one.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “I didn’t have the time to make this short, so I had to make it long instead.”

99% Invisible is perfect radio for the internet age. Concise audio-documentaries told in half an hour, though usually closer to fifteen minutes, on a variety of subjects. The subjects deal with the hidden, or 99% invisible, design of every day life.

As my girlfriend knows, I’m a sucker for a secret history, which is why when it comes to podcasts the winner is 99pi. Creative, concise, and critical in understanding what was previously hidden in plain sight.

Russel Harder hosts Trivia Club at Cardinal Rule (5 Roncesvalles Ave) every WEDNESDAY, at Hitch (1216 Queen St East) every SECOND and FOURTH MONDAY of the month, and Lou Dawg's (76 Gerrard St E) on every other TUESDAY!

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