Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee

If Stan Lee had *only* been the co-creator of Spider-Man, he would’ve been a hugely important figure in comic book and pop culture history. 

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the X-Men, he would’ve been a hugely important figure…

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the Hulk, he would’ve been a hugely…

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, he would’ve….

And on and on with Iron Man, Daredevil, Black Panther, Thor, the Falcon, the Wasp, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and then the dozens if not hundreds of supporting characters and villains associated with all these characters.  When you take the step back and realize that all of these now-iconic figures came from the same writer, it really is mind-blowing.

It’s no secret that Spider-Man was a childhood hero of mine, and it isn’t untrue that Spidey’s morality helped shape my own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Spidey also taught me that a sarcastic is never out of place, so without Stan Lee, the world might’ve never had my decades of snarky humour.  (This one might rank pretty low on Lee’s list of creations.)

Lee’s legacy has only been enhanced over the last decade thanks to incredible success of the Marvel movies, and it’s cool that he himself has become a known face and name to the general public thanks to his ever-present cameo appearances.  (My favourite: Stan happily listening to some classical music on his headphones, oblivious to Spider-Man and the Lizard tearing the library apart behind him.)  RIP to Stan the Man for his indelible contributions to my childhood and, in many ways, my adulthood.

Nuff said!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Trick Of The Year

Imagine seeing a video of the best magic trick of the year (as judged by actual professional magicians) and NOT clicking the link.  Imagine! 

The guy's look of surprised excitement at every stage of the illusion is pretty boss.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

11/11

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place; and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Mr. Spectacular Redux

Unfortunately, this isn't a new instance of billiards dominance on my end.  My parents recently sold our old family pool table, so what better time to re-post this classic tale of the time I suddenly grew a fin and became a pool shark.

*******

We had a pool table back at my parents' house and we played a lot in my younger days.  My brother and I have a long-standing rivalry in, well, everything, but billiards was of particular interest to us.  I'll admit (VERY hesitantly) that my brother may have been a slightly better player than I (VERY slightly) but I hold the single most impressive victory ever achieved in one of our games.  It was a victory that should've, by rights, earned me a lifelong nickname.

The situation: in a standard game of stripes-and-solids, he had just the eightball left, while I still had four balls out on the table.  As they might say in O Brother, I was in a tight spot.  Naturally, I responded to my brother's trash-talk not by quietly accepting my fate, but rather by making a boast of my own --- I would sink the next four balls, and then the eightball if I did this, he would have to refer to me as "Mr. Spectacular" for the rest of our lives.  Chuckling, he accepted the bet.

And then I PROCEEDED TO DO IT.

Now, folks, your old pal Mark is not a top-class pool player.  The only thing that Minnesota Fats and I have in common is our shared morbid obesity.  Still, on this day, I was a veritable Fast Eddie Felson, draining five balls in succession from all over the table.  My brother could just stand there like a slack-jawed yokel in amazement that I somehow went from 0 to 100 in the span of a minute.

The downside?  Not once has my brother ever, EVER referred to me as Mr. Spectacular.  Not a single damn time, even as a joke.  He didn't even use the name directly in the wake of our game, as I believe his response to my five-ball streak was just to swear and demand another game.

This welching dog owes me over 20 years of nicknames.  And really, had me used the nickname all these years, naturally someone would've asked about it, and then it might've caught on.  My life would've clearly been at least 7.5% better if I'd been colloquially known as "Mr. Spectacular."  That's a brand name unto itself.  I could've even gotten it tattooed across my shoulder blades, since I presume in this new reality I would've had the confidence to get over my fear of needles.

To make a long story short, if anyone wants to start calling me Mr. Spectacular, I'm just saying I'd be open to it.  If you also have a goofy nickname you're trying to give yourself a la George "T-Bone" Costanza, I'm willing to play ball.  A billiard ball, if you will.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sticks

Back in grade school, I was very into Ghostbusters.  I’m still into Ghostbusters, for what it’s worth, but my current normal amount of fandom pales in comparison to that of young Mark from ages 5-9.  I watched the cartoons, dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween, even saw the live-action movie after my folks taped it for me off a City TV airing,* and obviously had all of the action figures.  Though theoretically, I didn’t need the action figures or the plastic-and-foam model proton packs, since I just used pieces of wood.

* = you might point out that the Ghostbusters film is a little too adult for a child of my age, but I think it was a case of my parents realizing that once I knew this movie existed, it was an unwinnable battle.  But it was okay, since I turned out perfectly well-adjusted!  Right?! *tumbleweed GIF*

Let me explain, and address the actual “back in grade school” part of this.  During recess, I tended to just hang out by myself in some random corner of the playground rather than play with other kids.  My primary school had an enormous open area (multiple ball diamonds, a soccer field, even a wooded area) that lent itself to nerdier kids like me finding a quiet little spot to play my little imaginary games.  Naturally, these turned into Ghostbusters stories, with my own self cast as usually the lone Ghostbuster against any number of ghouls and creatures, sometimes with the occasional cameo from one or two of the original gang.  My Egon impression is still pretty dead-on, btw.

Any good game needs its props, so what I did was fashion any number of sticks into makeshift toys that would serve as the ghost trap or wand-end of a proton pack.  I say “fashion,” but it wasn’t like I was out there whittling away like Geppetto or anything — I just found sticks that were already somewhat shaped like the gear I needed.  These weren’t giant tree branches, just smaller pieces of woods that were easily handheld, and could be kept in a jacket pocket once recess was over. 

As time went on, naturally some sticks would be damaged, or lost, or I’d simply find better sticks in better shapes and discard older ones.  Finally I came across two that were of particular good quality.  One had a little bend at the end that actually looked something like the handle of a ghost trap, while the other had most of a vague wand shape but also kind of a bulb at the end, which in a pinch could look like a ghost’s head.  If I recall correctly, I think I found these sticks around the fourth grade, or right around when my Ghostbusters fandom started to wane just a bit.

And then I proceeded to keep the sticks for the next 30 years.  They’re actually sitting next to me right here as I type this.

Now, first question — no, I don’t still play imaginary games with them.  I just got used to carrying them around, and that eventually molded into just having them within arm’s reach at most times.  Perhaps in the same way that some people might have a lucky rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny, I just have a couple of wooden sticks.  After 30 years, they’re both still surprisingly sturdy, though one has taken a few cracks and chips.  The “ghost head” is maybe about half-missing at this point, creating a bit of a crest that looks like the “head” has Conan O’Brien’s haircut.  Did child Mark somehow know that I’d eventually become a Conan fan?!  Oooooh, spooky.

I bring this weird affectation up because, for the first time in years, I came close to losing the ol’ sticks for good.  It happened during a recent laundry, when I tossed a shirt into the washer without realizing the sticks were in the pocket.  I realized my error within five minutes and stopped the wash to retrieve them, and no harm was really done.  Interestingly, 30 years of usage had made both sticks feel quite smooth, yet just a brief power wash seemed to eradicate all those years of hand oils and return them to feeling like….well, like pieces of wood.

Not really sure what the endgame is with these sticks.  Should I have a provision entered into my will stating that they be bronzed and buried with me after I pass?  Or should I see that they’re both returned to my public school’s woods, from whence they came?  Or will I, a grown man, realize that this affectation is silly and….hahaha, I can’t even finish typing that with a straight face.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

It's never officially Halloween until I hear this on the radio, so I was tickled pink when I finally heard it this afternoon.  Probably would've heard it sooner if, y'know, I actually listened to the radio more often, but WHATEVER

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mark Vs. Grouse


Let's face it, fellow humans --- birds are slowly turning against us. Were it not for the decorative birdhouses we've built to appease them, they might well have begun the full-fledged assault already.

I myself have particular, painful, knowledge of just how vicious our avian adversaries can be. My grade school sat at the bottom of a hill behind my house, and thus every morning I'd set out down the hill to get to class. The hill itself was rather rough, covered in grass and bushes and whatnot, but there was one clear path that ran along a small trench that went almost directly from my backyard gate to the schoolyard below.

One catch: the trench was also an ideal nesting place. Almost every day I walked down that hill, I was accosted by a grouse that leapt up to squawk at me for getting too close to its babies. I'm pretty certain that it wasn't just one bird, either, that was just stalking me Jaws-style. The attacks came at various points along the path, so I'm guessing it was a whole mess of grouses (greese?) that were happily living there like it was their own personal Sesame Street, only to occasionally rise up against the big galoot of a 12-year-old that invaded their personal space twice a day. The hell of it was, while I could count on an attack coming on a more-or-less daily basis, I never knew where specifically the grouse would pounce. Though it was a group of birds, I simply referred to my nemesis as "The Grouse" since for some reason I was never attacked twice in any one given trip up or down the hill. It was almost like the birds were sitting in a group drawing straws, and on Tuesday it would be, say, Squawky's turn, he'd jump out at me, and then Squawky would go back to the gang and accept some high-fives and backslaps.

You might ask, of course, why didn't I take a different path down the hill? As I said, it was a rough hill. And there was a path RIGHT THERE. It was a matter of principle. I could've also taken the long way around my block and walked down to the school down the concrete steps, but that would've taken an extra 10 minutes, and it was a journey I rarely took unless it was raining (since a grouse attack on a muddy hill is potentially disastrous) or I was walking home with someone. And, I refer to my earlier quote....it's a matter of principle. Here I was, blessed with a school literally in my backyard and I wasn't going to throw away that perk of a short commute just over a few pesky grouses.

And my principles stood strong, since I eventually won that battle. By the eighth grade, the birds stopped attacking. The real reason for this cease-fire was probably due to, I dunno, the increased development in the area, so the birds took off. But if you talk to my mother, it's because one day, she saw a hawk circling around in the sky and taking periodic dives towards the hill. So my mum grabs a broom, goes outside, and starts waving the broom in the air in an attempt to scare off the hawk and 'save' the grouse's nests. Since this event coincided with the start of my eighth grade year and the end of the attacks, she claims that by chasing off the hawk, The Grouse (using their Borg-like hive mind) appreciated the gesture and let me pass by as a sign of respect towards our family.

Problems abound with this theory. It is 100 percent more likely that the hawk was diving at a squirrel or rabbit, rather than a grouse nest. Also, I'm pretty sure the grouses didn't get another in a town hall-meeting format and announce that now the Broom Lady's son was to be given free passageway through their territory. A grouse can't hold a gavel, so how would they know when to stop and start the meeting, anyway?

But, since the attacks stopped, my mother's native creation myth persists to this day. Hey, what the hell, maybe that was the reason, for all I know about a bird's mind operates. All I know is that I was able to confidently stroll up and down that hill like a regular Fast Happy Cat without worrying that at any moment, a squawking pile of feathers was going to appear as if from nowhere.

All of life's problems can be solved by a middle-aged woman with a broom.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Song Of The "Year"

Does it count as my favourite song of 2018 if I didn't hear it until this year, even though the track is actually 13 years old?  Since damn, the Cardigans (of all bands) made a real rock gem here.  It's even good enough to overcome my inherent bias against songs with overly long and too-cutesy titles.  On the plus side, at least there wasn't a bracket involved.  If the title was "Bad Dog (I Need Some Fine Wine, And You, You Need To Be Nicer)," I wouldn't have even clicked on the link.

Friday, October 26, 2018

American Canceled


So after naming “American Vandal” as my best show of 2018, I’m now having to write a post about how it’s been canceled?  What the hell, Netflix?!  Between this and Luke Cage getting the axe after its* best season, it’s like they’re trying to trying to punch me in the stomach.

* = I originally wrote “his,” as if Luke Cage was an actual person responsible writing and directing a show about himself.  Actually, a more comedic, Garry Shandling-ish semi-mockumentary about a Marvel hero would be a great idea.  Launch this for Wonder Man, please!

Now, I’m pretty sure American Vandal will catch on with another network, since the positive buzz is just too big to ignore.  Netflix canceling the show in the first place is troubling, however, since it would imply that this instant masterpiece didn’t catch onto a particularly big audience.  I guess there could be some behind-the-scenes studio reasoning behind the decision (i.e. why Luke Cage and Iron Fist were canceled), though the Occam’s Razor answer is probably that American Vandal didn’t draw enough eyeballs.

How depressing.  American Vandal is such a blast on so many levels that it is legitimately one of the best shows I think I’ve ever seen, though two seasons.  All at once, it is…

— a pitch-perfect spoof of criminal documentaries.  Much has been made of the legendary scene in the first season when they do a computer-animated re-enactment of an alleged handjob, and with good cause.  I think that scene was in the second or third episode, and it is almost universally hailed as the moment when everyone realized they were watching something special.  (Uh, the show, not the CGI handie.)
— a legitimately engrossing mystery unto itself.  It’s the kind of show where, after the second-last episode of the second season, I took a ten-minute break to try and figure everything out.  This may have involved taking some actual notes.  Needless to say, my wild guess ended up being so completely off-target that it frankly ruined my dream of ever becoming a Sherlock Holmes-style detective on retainer at Scotland Yard.  American Vandal’s mysteries are so wonderfully revealed in a way that doesn’t cheat the viewer whatsoever, and make total sense with everything we’ve seen beforehand.  I should also note that, technically, the first season doesn’t *officially* provide the solution to the mystery, though I think we can infer that the theory presented is true.  I won’t say anything else since I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any details.
— an insightful look into modern teenage culture, particularly in how social media and the internet impact literally everything kids do nowadays.  It would be one thing if the show was just a total spoof, and that would make it great enough simply on that level alone.  But the added tragic tinge that underpins these stories really elevates things to a fabulous degree. 
— one of the funniest shows on television.

It does all four of these things with incredible aplomb.  The level of detail that goes into this show is amazing; virtually any freeze-frame of any Twitter feed or TV screen used in a scene reveals lots of hidden jokes. 

“Premature Theories” (the fifth episode of S1) is one of my single-favourite TV episodes in a long time, and a great example of American Vandal firing on every level.  The episode features Sam and Peter breaking down the events of a big high school party using collected video and images from various social media feeds, and it is completely fascinating from start to finish.  The result is a dozen little details, some hilarious character beats, some clues about the mystery (or, both the main case and a few other side mysteries that crop up along the way), and an absolutely brilliant way to portray a modern detective show.  This isn’t Sherlock going to his mind palace, or the CSI team finding some obscure clue via forensic analysis — these are details all publicly shared by the “suspects” and it’s up to the clever amateur investigators (Peter and Sam in the narrative, but really all of us watching at home) to piece everything together.

This show absolutely absolutely needs to find a new home, and hopefully some network or streaming outlet will step up to provide the third season that any fan of quality television needs.

Monday, October 22, 2018

TV Show Rankings, 2017-18

I'm foregoing my usual "Alterna-Emmys" format since I no longer feasibly watch enough TV to properly weigh in the world of television.  Even though this is a list of 33 (!) shows from the last 12-13 months, that's still a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer amount of quality programming available on myriad networks, cable outlets, and streaming services.

I probably don't even watch enough to properly split comedy/drama categories anymore, though given the number of "dramedies" out there, I'd almost argue that these divisions are becoming increasingly meaningless.  Let's go with just one sole acting category for all genres, leading to...

BEST ACTOR: Bill Hader/Barry (a fantastic role for Hader, who is one of the all-time SNL greats but I didn't know he had this kind of range in him)
BEST ACTRESS: Betty Gilpin/GLOW (I realize that Alison Brie is "officially" the lead, but two seasons in, I think the narrative has definitely evolved into a co-lead situation)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Melvin Gregg/American Vandal (close call over Henry Winkler, Tituss Burgess, and the Good Place guys in this one)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alfre Woodard/Luke Cage (the classic Marvel series trope of relying on a great villain to carry the heavy lifting acting-wise.  Alia Shawkat gets honourable mention as perhaps the only highlight of Arrested Development's truncated, and maybe ill-advised, fifth season)

With the hardware handed out, let's go to the power rankings!  These are only the most recent seasons of shows, unless cited otherwise.

33. Ghosted (note: I gave this one two episodes before quitting)
32. Family Guy
31. Easy
30. Modern Family
29. Survivor: Ghost Island
28. Saturday Night Live
27. Arrested Development
26. Curb Your Enthusiasm
25. Letterkenny
24. Fallet
23. Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
22. The Simpsons
21. Agents of SHIELD
20. The Apprentice UK 13
19. Amazing Race 30
18. Jessica Jones
17. Brockmire
16. The Good Place
15. New Girl
14. Black Mirror
13. Eight Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown
12. The Punisher
11. The Americans
10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. Orange Is The New Black
7. Luke Cage
6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
5. Stranger Things
4. Nathan For You
3. Barry
2. GLOW
1. American Vandal