It Happened to Me

Quotes, Part 2

“What country is Laos in?”

Thursday, March 28th: Paul, Rob and I are at the Liquids Lounge on the trendy bar strip of College Street West. It’s a party for our friend Nasreen, who’s just successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis (mating behaviour in snapping shrimp). The bar is packed with at least three or four dozen well-wishers. Paul and I have been drinking weapons-grade cosmopolitans — only enough cranberry for colour — mixed by Sarah the bartender, who coincidentally happens to be in Paul’s tae-kwon-do class.

One of Nasreen’s friends was telling me what her plans were. “She’s taking a couple of months off — going to Vietnam and…what country is Laos in?”

“Laos is a country.” I replied, “It’s right beside Vietnam.”

I was suddenly reminded of a classic cartoon depicting a New Yorker’s view of the world: Broadway, 5th Avenue and the Hudson river rendered large with Chicago and L.A. rendered almost as dots and everything else on the horizon. To most non-Asians in North America, the map of Asia probably comprises of Japan (a good place to be if you have no marketable skills — they will pay you just to be a gaijin, Thailand (good backpacking, non-threatening food), China (too big to ignore, home of uber-hottie Zhang Ziyi), Afghanistan (a recent addition thanks to that cool war show on TV) and Everything Else.

“I think this monkey plays some other sport.”

Later that evening, I ended up chatting with my friend Liz — an old friend of mine from Queen’s University — and her boyfriend Keith.

“My Dad,” said Liz, “said that the younger me would’ve hated the present-day me.”

“Because you’re getting an M.B.A.?” I asked. “Back at Queen’s, I never would’ve guessed that you’d end up getting one, either. But still, isn’t your Dad a business prof?”

“Yeah. He just finds it surprising.”

“I don’t think the younger you would hate the present you as much as Elan’s younger self would hate his present, writer’s-credit-on-MVP2 self.”

Elan Mastai is a friend of ours and at Queen’s, he was the film student’s film student. He’d be the guy at the party telling you that the “Steps Scene” from The Untouchables — the one where Andy Garcia has to both plug the bad guy and save the baby carriage — was lifted straight from Sergei Eistenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. After The Phantom Menace, he let us in on George Lucas’ dirty little secret: that he’d liberally borrowed all kinds of plot elements from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and that Trade Federation bad guy Nute Gunray’s name is an amalgam of Republican names — Newt (Gingrich) and Reagan (with the syllables reversed). He and my ex-girlfriend Anne (also a film major) produced a film that won a small indie film award from TVO, the Ontario education channel, after which he graduated and entered the industry.

I’m not sure what kind of mental gymanastics he had to perform in order to justify it to himself, but his biggest writing credit to date is MVP2: Most Vertical Primate. Here’s the plot synopsis from the official website:

Jack, the most valuable primate, is back – and this time he’s taking skating in a whole new direction.

Everyone’s favorite hockey-playing chimpanzee from MVP: Most Valuable Primate returns to the ice after being drafted by the Seattle Simians into the ZHL hockey league. Jack amazes the Simians with his hockey skills and instantly proves himself to be an invaluable member of the team. But the Car Jackers, archrivals of the Simians, have plans of their own for Jack. Jealous of his success and popularity with the fans, the players plot to have him thrown out of the league. Confused, scared and with the authorities hot on his trail, Jack makes a run for it.

Alone in the big city, he meets Ben, a homeless boy who loves skateboarding. The two loners discover that they’re kindred spirits and form an instant friendship. Under Ben’s patient tutelage, Jack learns how to skateboard and is performing like a pro in no time. When Ben learns of an amateur skateboarding competition with a grand prize of a corporate sponsorship, he dreams of entering and putting an end to his life on the streets. But qualifying for the competition isn’t as easy as it seems.

Meanwhile, the Simians are struggling through the playoffs without Jack, their star player. With the last game of the series quickly approaching, the team is desperate to find him in time to have a shot at the ZHL Cup.

Can Jack help the team win the Cup and help Ben enter the skateboarding competition? The action – and the laughs – unfold as this big-hearted chimp gives it his all to come to the rescue of everyone who’s depending on him.

“He’s just paying his dues,” I said. “Mark McGee told me that Elan wrote some really clever stuff that ended up getting cut out of the script.”

Besides, bad animal-based comedy movie or no, he’s doing what he set out to do when he first came to school: make movies. Most of us ended up taking up whatever career path seemed easiest, and I’m sure there are some people in our graduating class who still don’t know what they want to do with their lives.

“The monkey-movie thing will be a little bit of colour in his resume, something for Premiere or Film Threat to have a little fun with when he’s big and famous.”

(It’s always good to keep things in perspective. There are many more embarrassing stories in the film-and-TV world, such as my actor friend Jeffrey, whose best-known scene to date is one where his head explodes on Earth: Final Conflict.)

“Of course,” Liz replied, “but…baseball playing monkeys and Joey Trebbiani?”

“No, you’re thinking of Ed. I think this monkey plays some other sport.”

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