Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Packers Postmortem

Geez, they couldn't stop the run, eh?

Green Bay's run defense has been a gong show all season long, and it was their ultimate downfall in the NFC title game.  Raheem Mostert, aided by the 49ers' excellent offensive line, ran for an ungodly 220 yards and an Al Bundy-esque four touchdowns against the Packers, who made Mostert seem like the second coming of Walter Payton and Jim Brown combined.  Combine this season-long weakness with the collapse of a season-long strength in the turnover department (the Packers rarely turned the ball over during the regular season, but had three turnovers against San Francisco), and it was no shock that the NFC championship game was a blowout.

But, as I've said over the last couple of weeks, this season has already been a big success.  It was no secret that the Packers weren't as good as the 49ers, and since San Fran might indeed be the best team in the entire league, maybe I can claim the Pack as the NFL silver medalist?  After all, the Packers did beat Kansas City during the season, and I'm sure Green Bay absolutely would've won that game had Patrick Mahomes been

So the Packers head into the offseason with the clear need for better run defense and for more offensive playmakers besides stars Aaron Jones and Davante Adams.  Fortunately, there's plenty of room for new additions since Green Bay has a lot of free agents who are notable in name (i.e. Blake Martinez, Bryan Bulaga, Jimmy Graham, Kyler Fackrell, Mason Crosby) but whose overall value to the 2019 team was inconsistent at best.  Except for the still-reliable Crosby, I'm fine with the Pack getting all of these guys walk and focusing on an overhaul of the offensive and defensive lines.  Given that everyone on the 49ers looked at least a step ahead of everyone on the Packers last Sunday, Green Bay needs to be getting much faster on the defense.

Onward and upward!  We'll take that silver medal into 2020 and win Super Bowl 55, exactly ten years after the team's last championship.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Star Guitar

Tom Rowlands of the Chemical Brothers recently a birthday last week, and I for one was disappointed to learn that the band is comprised of Rowlands and Ed Simons, rather than (for instance) two siblings named Bill and Terry Chemical.  But, as a belated birthday shoutout, let me post one of the underrated Greatest Music Video Ever candidates. 

I remember watching this on MuchMusic back in the day and thinking it was pretty uninteresting, until around three minutes in I noticed "huh, that beat kind of matched that bit of background."  Then it took me another viewing to realize, hey wait a second...

Friday, January 17, 2020

More NFL Playoff Predictions

Another Packers victory, another week of me bothering to write about the NFL postseason!

* Chiefs over Titans
I hemmed and hawed for quite a while over this one, since Tennessee has serious "team of destiny" vibes going.  Derrick Henry is on the biggest roll of any running back...geez, maybe ever?  In my lifetime, at least?  Unlike the Houston Texans, the Titans aren't idiots, and will absolutely win if K.C. has another nightmare quarter and falls behind by 20 points.  The way Tennessee can control the clock with Henry running, it might even be 10 points.  The flip side of the equation, however, is that while I'm increasingly confident in Tennessee's ability to protect such a lead, I am 100% confident in Patrick Mahomes' ability to wipe out any deficit.  My feeling last week that Mahomes was peaking proved to be correct, as he shook off that nightmare quarter against Houston and proceeded to obliterate the rest of the game.  The Titans' miracle run could absolutely continue all the way into and through the Super Bowl, but narrowly, I'll stick with Mahomes and the Chiefs.  If Mahomes really is the league's best quarterback, which I believe he is, then one can't go against the league's best QB when he's at home in a conference final.

* 49ers over Packers
Let the record show that I don't always pick Green Bay in these things.  The unfortunate part is, those damn Vikings probably screwed things up for the Pack, marking probably the first time in a decade that Minnesota got truly one over on the division rivals.  If the Vikings just lose to New Orleans, that would've set up Saints at Packers, and I'm assuming that the Saints still do their usual fade when outdoors in frigid Lambeau Field.  More importantly, the other NFC semi-final would've been 49ers vs. Seahawks, and I think Seattle was the only NFC team that had a shot at stopping San Francisco based on their always-close divisional games.  Bah!

In short, I don't think the Packers have the horses to keep up with all the talent up and down the 49ers' roster.  Had this been Jimmy Garoppolo's first playoff game, I would've been more confident, but Garoppolo got the traditional first-game jitters out of the way against Minnesota last week (not that the Vikings did anything to capitalize on Garoppolo's early struggles).  I can't shake the fact that San Francisco just crushed Green Bay less than two months ago --- even counting the "it was just one of those weeks" factor, the 49ers so thoroughly owned that game that I can't just chalk it up to an off day.  Unless 2011 Aaron Rodgers magically shows up on Sunday, I'm afraid my team's wonderful season is going to end.

Friday, January 10, 2020

NFL Playoff Predictions

With the Packers back in the playoffs, it’s time for the Polivision Playoff Preview!  So many P’s!  Like in Mario 3, we’re taking things to the next level with the P-Wing!

* Chiefs over Texans
After an offseason of considering the Chiefs to be Super Bowl contenders, it felt like everyone sort of collectively gave up on them pretty quickly.  Pat Mahomes turned his ankle in the first week, it bothered him for a couple of months, he missed some games, and everyone was distracted by shiny new objects around the league.  Meanwhile, Mahomes got healthy, had a bye week to heal up, and now Kansas City has quietly won six in a row and earned the first-round bye that everyone had earmarked for the Patriots since, like, 2012 or something.  I realize that one cannot take the Chiefs in January without acknowledging Andy Reid’s history of postseason calamity, or the Chiefs’ unfathomably bad 1-7 record in their last eight HOME playoff games (!), but I’m also going to acknowledge that I don’t think Houston is very good.  It took some real luck for them to beat the Bills last week in a game that, coaching-wise, made Andy Reid’s postseason mishaps look like child’s play.  A healthy Will Fuller would make this much more interesting for the Texans, but I think K.C. and Mahomes are peaking at the right time and have got this.

* Ravens over Titans
Speaking of peaking, I rhymed!  Speaking of performing well as a football team at the right moment, it’s been a season of right moments for the Ravens and their twelve-game winning streak.  Many of those wins weren’t close, Lamar Jackson is the MVP, the defense is playing well, the special teams is playing well, the team is well-coached… the brother of an obnoxious Baltimore fan, it’s been a rough season for me.  Tennessee has been a nice story themselves but I think they won their metaphorical Super Bowl last week by knocking off the Patriots, so this week is the reality check.

* 49ers over Vikings
This one feels surprisingly close.  Speaking of a reality check, there is a very good chance the 49ers just lay a 30-point beatdown and Kirk Cousins turns back into a pumpkin, but there’s also something vaguely stirring about this Vikings team.  Beating the Saints in New Orleans is perhaps slightly an overrated achievement given the Saints’ quiet history of postseason disappointment over the last decade, but still, it’s a definite achievement.  If Minnesota’s defense can give Jimmy Garoppolo the first-playoff game jitters, this one will get dicey very quickly.  At the end of the day, however, I’m ultimately not confident enough to pick against the Niners at home against (since we’ve already mentioned the concept of playoff calamity) the Minnesota Vikings.

* Packers over Seahawks
There’s a chance this will be the single craziest game in NFL history.  The Packers have played nothing but relatively close games all season, due to their inability to play more than 25 minutes of good football in any game.  The Seahawks play nothing but close games since three-quarters of their team is injured but Russell Wilson is just a destroyer of worlds.  I am mentally prepared for any kooky possibility — five overtimes, a tie that results in some type of three-team NFC championship game next week, a dinosaur runs out onto the field, Pete Carroll actually calls a run play near the end zone at the end of a game, etc.

Not to toot my own horn, but my preseason observation about Green Bay has thus far been accurate.  Lo and behold, the Packers get rid of a dead-weight head coach and things immediately, drastically, completely improve.  (And in the funniest twist of all, Jerry Jones sees the Packers go 13-3 without Mike McCarthy and decides that McCarthy is the perfect choice as the next Cowboys coach.  You can’t make this up.). I’ll also throw out a little anti-shutout to former Packers GM Ted Thompson, whose “let’s build our team almost entirely through the draft and ignore free agents” plan isn’t nearly as fun as GM Brian Gutekunst’s “hey, let’s sign Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and run roughshod over the league” plan. 

While it’s been fun to see the Packers operate like an actual 2019-era football team, I’ll freely admit that they’re far from a perfect team.  As mentioned, every Green Bay game this year has been 25 minutes of quality and 35 minutes of hanging on for dear life.  Aaron Rodgers certainly looks to be in the B+ stage of his career, where he’ll make most of the throws, and make very few mistakes….but that’s still a step down from the vintage Rodgers who made all of the throws and no mistakes.  It would’ve been great if the Packers had a competent coach and front office* for that decade when A+ Rodgers was around, but oh well.  Time to look to the future, which hopefully includes Green Bay squeaking one out against the walking A+ known as Russell Wilson.

* = yes, I haven’t forgotten Super Bowl 45.  That was awesome.  It was also nine years ago, and one cannot help but feel the Packers left at least two more championships on the table during Rodgers’ prime.  You can’t miss that open window!  Then you’ll just ruin your glass!

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

So, The Shakespeare Re-Reads...

Fans of the blog and/or literary analysis have probably noticed that I haven't posted a "Shakespeare re-read" in over two years.  The last entry was King John back in November 2017, and since I was doing the history plays in historical chronological order, the next play up in the queue was Richard II --- I've had a copy sitting on my desk, ready to roll, for the better part of those two+ years.

And yet I just never got around to it.  The original conceit of the Shakespeare re-read (which started back in 2012!) was to read all 38 plays in one year, and that quickly morphed into one play per month so I could write a post about it, and then the posts just got more and more sporadic.

And now, I'm officially called the series quits, more or less.  I ran into two notable problems with motivation...

* I felt like I was repeating myself a bit too often with the reviews, falling back on similar themes of finding the comedies mostly seeming flat on the page, and the dramas getting bogged down in plot and repetitive verse.  Maybe it was just a case of hitting a string of semi-mediocre plays all in a row, and not even Romeo & Juliet (the entry prior to King John) was enough to snap me back into it.  In hindsight, I should've planted a few more surefire favourites along the way to keep my own interest up; for instance, rather than save Hamlet for close to the end as a "big finish" type, I could've used that one as the lead-in to the history plays.

* perhaps I should've saved the history plays for last, since of the ones I read back in the day, none overly grabbed my interest.  Richard II was probably my favourite of the history plays, yet weirdly, I just didn't really have any yearning to go back to it 15 years after university.  It took me a while to even get to King John, perhaps because I was daunted already by the prospect of spending the next several months and let's be real, years writing about 10 plays that held only lukewarm appeal.  Basically, my plan to go through the history plays in one big block ended up being a trap for myself.  One exception: I've somehow never read Richard III, so I will get around to that one out of curiosity, and mayyyyybe even write about it if the mood strikes.

In short, I hope you aren't too disappointed about not getting to hear my take on, say, the Merry Wives of Windsor or anything.  I can give you a take about Windsor, Ontario if you wish (in a word: meh).  It is somewhat embarrassing to start a posting series with a clear end-date in mind and then simply halt halfway through, but perhaps consider this to be an abandoned plot.  Decades in the future, historians will discover my 21 Shakespeare re-reads and assume I wrote the others, leading those unwritten posts to be lost masterpieces.  Uh, so, let's hope they don't also find this explanatory post.

All's well that ends halfway through.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Joke Of The Year

During a discussion about bad kids' movies last night, my pal Dave cited the upcoming animated film "Spies In Disguise" but he couldn't remember the name.

Dave: It's about secret agents who transform into animals?  Will Smith is the lead character, he turns into a pigeon.

Me: Is it called 'Wild Wild Nest'?

So, with just under four hours left on the clock, I submit a very strong entry for the best one-liner of 2019.  Perhaps even the best one-liner of the entire decade....only history may decide.

Alternate joke was "I, Robin" but I think I made the right call.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hot! Live! Music!

Should I have something more substantial than a Hot! Live! Music! post for my final post of the decade?

"Mark, you haven't been posting anything substantial all this time, so why start now?"

Good point!

Damon Albarn, "For Tomorrow"
What better title for a post on New Year's Eve, since tomorrow will include a severe hangover rehab day for half of society.  Damon Albarn is a good answer if you find yourself in any "name an underrated musician of the last 30 years" discussion.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, "Do You Remember The First Time?"
Speaking of Britpop, here's a cover of....maybe the best Pulp song?  I've for years held Disco 2000 in that esteemed place, but DYRTFT is very very close.  I actually think this cover helped elevate its case.  Also, turns out Sophie Ellis-Bextor has been a big pop star in the UK for multiple decades,  who knew?

Robyn Adele Anderson, "Take Me Out"
Another New Year's Eve-appropriate song, as it's about someone totally striking out with the person they're trying to woo.  It's for the best, really, since who wants to start 2020 with an ill-advised hookup?

U2, "One Tree Hill"
My only comment here is why wasn't this in the movie?  Sure, it makes it a bit longer, but contrary to the belief of every film critic of 1988, there's nothing wrong with little more Rattle & Hum.  It is amusing how so many U2-haters lost their minds that U2 "dared" to "compare themselves with music legends" in the film, since a) that wasn't really what they were doing, and b) turns out U2 were legends themselves.

Future Islands, "Seasons"
The five stages of watching this video: "haha this is goofy" --- "how is this not a meme?" --- "seriously though, this guy is giving it 100 percent" --- "wait, is this actually awesome?" --- "this is awesome!"  Even Letterman seemed impressed, making it one of the seven or eight times he cared about something over the last decade of his show

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Survivor Ratings: Tommy

Tommy Sheehan is one of the most interesting Survivor winners in ages, hamstrung by four factors that were largely out of his control.

1. He wasn’t presented as very charismatic, at least not in the way that easily translates to the TV viewer at home.  This is a bit of a problem given that his win was entirely based around “the social game” and the fact that his castmates found Tommy to be a great guy.

2.  While the show may not have figured out how to portray Tommy’s best traits, it did feature enough of him in every episode that he was widely pegged as the winner as soon as the premiere finished.  One simple trick for guessing a Survivor winner is to try and notice which player always seems to be getting some bit of facetime in almost every episode, even if they’re not really involved in that episode’s main storyline or voting scenario.  Another is to find the player who could be boiled down to a simple, easily-digestible tagline for their win — in Tommy’s case, it was the kindly grade-school teacher who had to learn how to be a Survivor-style "bad guy."

3. Between Tommy’s lack of overt personality and predictability of his win, it made for a fifth straight unmemorable male victor of Survivor.  That made it 11 male winners out of the last 14 seasons (!) and only increased the already-overt feeling that Survivor is slanting its game towards male players.

4. Nobody is going to remember Island Of The Idols for anything besides Survivor’s latest ugly controversy (summarized here).  The spectre of Dan Spilo loomed over this season even moreso than those giant wooden heads of Rob and Sandra.  The fact that producers were so absurdly and offensively unprepared for how to deal with this situation is yet another “why do I still watch this stupid show?” moment. 

So ultimately, the story of Tommy winning Survivor seems pretty insignificant in the larger story of Survivor not looking out for the safety of its contestants.  It’s pretty damn sad that the upcoming all-winners season only has to pass the “hey, there wasn’t any sexual harassment on this season, hooray for us!” bar for Jeff Probst and CBS to pat themselves on the back.

How He Won: In a unique bit of trivia, Tommy is the first player in 20 seasons (since Natalie in Samoa) to win without ever having individual immunity, finding a hidden idol or having any type of other hidden advantage.  It’s the kind of victory I didn’t think was possible in the age of Survivor being a glorified scavenger hunt, since it was a pure win for the social game.  Now, this isn’t to say that Tommy wasn’t helped by advantages, since he was so trusted by his fellow players that he often knew who had most of the idols and advantages, since they outright told him in order to include him in their plans.  Frankly, this seems way more impressive than actually finding an idol oneself.

Tommy was able to pull this off by, essentially, being in a final three alliance with everyone, or at least being so trusted by everyone that they felt good about him as at least a short-term ally.  And then when it came down to crunch time and Tommy might be on the radar to be eliminated, he had surrounded himself amidst other major social-game threats.  Why vote Tommy when you could vote for Elaine, or Janet, or Lauren, all of whom seemed more dangerous since (unlike Tommy) they’d all won challenges or found idols?

Probably the single-best skill one can have in Survivor, which is the ability to be someone everyone would be okay losing to.  Don’t forget, this game is ultimately a popularity contest.  Tommy walked that fine line between being enough of a threat that everyone respected his play, yet not so obvious a threat that his name came up.  The only time Tommy got any votes was in the split-tribe double-vote episode (a twist Survivor should do more often, imo), and even then, his simple geniality saved him.  Elaine had been at odds with Tommy in previous votes but she still felt comfortable working with him, and Karishma still preferred working with Tommy (who she’d only just recently met had been against her in every prior vote) over the Missy/Elizabeth combination due to all of that past bad blood.

Could He Do It Again?:
He’s not going to be in Winners At War so we might not get the chance to find out until, geez, season 50 or whatever, but it occurs to me that Tommy is the type of player who would always be something of a contender.  Again, he’s just under the radar enough that opponents might prefer to target more obvious challenge winners or something first…..and in the meantime, the opponents might want to include Tommy in their votes since he’s such a good guy to have on board.  If Survivor ever figures out how to portray “social game” winners without making their victories seem obvious, maybe winners like Tommy will eventually get more respect for their play.  It’d also help if Survivor would avoid having disgraceful sexual harassment scandals along the way, FYI.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Close Call

I was having a chat with some friends about the best movie endings of all time, and one came to mind as the closest-to-greatness good ending ever.

The Bourne Ultimatum.  Jason Bourne is shot off a rooftop, and he plunges down into the river.  We cut to Julia Stiles’ character watching a news broadcast about the events of the film, and the various officials involved in the illegal government program being taken into custody.  There’s mention of Bourne’s involvement, and how he was seemingly killed…except after three days of searching, his body hasn’t been found.  At hearing this, Stiles just grins to herself and we get the little violin cue at the start of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” a.k.a. that song that plays at the end of all the Bourne movies. 

It’s almost entirely perfect.  BUT…then we get a brief shot of Bourne’s motionless body in the water suddenly stirring and swimming away.

Hopefully I don’t spend the rest of my life in movie arguments, since that seems like a fresh kind of hell.  But, I will argue to my dying days that they didn’t need the shot of Bourne actually coming to.  Just end the movie on Stiles smiling and then the Extreme Ways cue.  Her smile tells you everything you need to know; my theatre audience back in the day even laughed and semi-cheered out of amusement that Bourne had once again escaped danger.

I’d say this was the worst decision of the Jason Bourne series but, well, then the fourth movie happened.  And that weird spinoff with Jeremy Renner.