Monday, November 17, 2014

The John Cusack Joke

In the grand tradition of the world's finest Lea Thompson joke, I give you…the world's finest John Cusack joke.

After my birthday party a few weeks ago, I'm leaving the bar with my friends Sarah and Dave and they're in the mood for Korean food.  How fortuitous, since we happen to be in Koreatown, though it's a difficult choice since we're immediately faced with about five restaurants right across the the street.

We cross the road and notice a guy standing in front of the restaurants, smoking a cigarette.  The fellow looked enough like John Cusack that the subsequent joke worked, though in fairness, we were all a bit tipsy.  It's quite possible he looked only vaguely Cusackian in nature, so basically he might've looked like Miles Teller.  Anyway, Sarah asks the guy if the place he just left is any good, and he says 'yeah,' then I think starts walking down the street.  We all just start filing towards the door even though we technically haven't made our decision, though then this happens…

Sarah: Let's just go here.  John Cusack says it's good.
Me: You can't trust John Cusack.  That guy will say anything.

Happy birthday, me.  My gift to myself was coming up with the best possible John Cusack joke for that possible moment, and quite probably for any moment.  The only possible exception would be if you were ever walking down the street and saw the actual John Cusack wearing a Cuban flag t-shirt.  You could say, "I didn't know John Cusack was a communist."  Then your witty friend could come back with, "Oh yeah, Cusack loves Cuba because of its high Fidel-ity."

Actually wait, screw that, that's awful.  My joke was better.  Actually wait, forget it, that's awful.  My joke was better.  "Aren't they both YOUR jokes, Mark?"  Shut up, pretend set-up man from that scenario.

N.B. the Korean restaurant indeed was pretty good.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Seven years is a long time.  It's significantly longer than the amount of time most people stay in their jobs, and it's almost as long as the average American divorced couple stays together before they call it off.  George W. Bush was still president seven years ago, Kevin Durant was beginning his rookie year in the NBA, M. Night Shyamalan was still just a good director in a slump rather than a walking calamity…it was a much different time.

And yet it was seven years ago that my reign as Slap Bet Commissioner began, and it has only now come to a close.  I've written before about the ongoing slap bet between my friend Kyle and his brother Taylor, yet to briefly recap things….in late 2007, the two brothers bet on whether or not a "well-known pro poker player" would win the Main Event tournament of the World Series of Poker over the next seven years.  The growing size of the event had led to a number of unknowns winning, and thus Kyle believed that this would keep happening while Taylor believed that an established player would break through at least once in the near future.

The winner of the Slap Bet would get to slap the loser at some point in the future --- the slap could some out of nowhere, it could be at a predetermined time, it could be lorded over the loser for the rest of their lifetime, etc.  At one point, I thought that the Slap Bet would be the greatest legacy that "How I Met Your Mother" would leave the world, yet now I'm thinking it was either the Crazy/Hot scale, making 'Challenge Accepted!' a normal part of the lexicon, introducing the world to Cobie Smulders or setting a new standard for letting down your fans in your final episode.

Anyway, as you might've guessed, seven editions of the WSOP have passed and we now have a Slap Bet champion.  As commissioner, I was put in charge of gauging whether or not a player was "well-known," and for most of the years, my job was pretty easy.  As Kyle had predicted, the Main Event winners had still been players who (while some were successful online) had yet to really achieve fame in the greater poker community.  My old gauge for "poker stardom" used to be if a player had a strong track record at the WSOP or on the World Poker Tour (or European Poker Tour) series yet since poker as a whole has somewhat declined in popularity, I've had to do a bit more research in determining my judgement on some of the borderline players at these final tables.  Yes, that's right, this slap bet went on so long that it even outlasted poker itself as a pop culture phenomenon.  Hell, this bet even outlasted HIMYM, though it was touch-and-go given how that show kept tacking on unnecessary seasons.

Every Main Event brought with it some new drama, since almost every final table involved one clear "well-known pro" or even a superstar of the sport like Phil Ivey, Michael Mizrachi or J.C. Tran.  This year, we had two guys who qualified by my standards of "well-known."  You had Mark Newhouse, who was a finalist at both the 2013 and 2014 WSOP, which interestingly made him a guy who wasn't a star in 2007 but was clearly a star now.*  You also had Martin Jacobson, a long-time EPT staple who was lacking in major wins, yet he had reached a few final tables on both the EPT and WPT circuits.

* = while Kyle was obviously betting on the fact that there are way more unknowns than well-known star pros, the one edge that Taylor had was that the number of well-known star pros grows every year.  Hell, given that I was going by old WPT events, some guy who'd won a first-season WPT event and then done nothing in the last decade might've still qualified as "well-known" by my commissioner-ial decree.  

And, of course, Jacobson won the Main Event.  This epic Slap Bet literally came down to the final two players of the seventh year of the qualifying WSOP events, and Taylor (and, y'know, Jacobson) pulled it out.  It was quite the Cinderella story, since I've heard from inside sources that Kyle was already considering his victory a foregone conclusion.

So now, the younger brother gets to slap his older brother in what I'm sure will be a proud moment in their family's history.  I'm doubly bittersweet about this whole situation.  Firstly, as an older brother myself, I hate to see little brothers get any victories whatsoever.  Secondly, my reign as Slap Bet commissioner has officially ended.  It's a sad day.  I so looked forward to my annual 10 minutes of internet research to determine who the hell these random poker players were, plus my subsequent detailed e-mail recap to Kyle and Taylor about the Slap Bet's status.  Now what am I supposed to e-mail them about?  Our lives?  Sports?  General friendship?  How boring.

If you're planning to enter into a potentially years-long wager with a friend, I know someone who can officiate.  I haven't decided yet if I'm going to start including "Slap Bet Commissioner" on my resume. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Twelfth Night (Shakespeare Re-Read #12)

For me, Twelfth Night is less reading a play than it is slipping into a warm bath.  It was the very first Shakespeare I ever read, I've seen it performed twice and I've studied the play in at least three or four university classes.  So, despite the fact that it's been over a decade since I last picked it up, Twelfth Night immediately seemed as comfortable as ever, its plot and characters as familiar as the back of my hand.

My affection for the play is undoubtedly a bit rooted in nostalgia, yet it could also just be that Twelfth Night is just a naturally inviting story.  Even moreso than light entertainment like A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night is all in good fun.  There aren't really any life-or-death stakes, the plot is all based around simple misunderstandings and mistaken identities, and there isn't even a villain.  Sir Toby is just a rabble-rouser, Sir Andrew is a walking joke and Malvolio is just kind of a dick.  Put it this way, when Malvolio realizes he's been tricked and walks off in a huff swearing revenge, Olivia and Orsino are just like "Meh, someone go after him and make sure his feelings aren't too badly hurt."  One gets the feeling that Olivia has to sooth Malvolio's wounded ego in the wake of another Sir Toby prank on about a weekly basis.  Antonio's imprisonment is kind of a loose end, though while it's never explicitly addressed, my guess is that Orsino freed him to do his new brother-in-law a solid.

Also adding to Twelfth Night's general bonhomie is the fact that, unlike virtually every other Shakespeare comedy, there aren't any blatantly racist or sexist lines that make a 21st-century reader take pause.  It's probably for this reason that Twelfth Night was one of my high school curriculum's "intro to Shakespeare" choices.  (The other was Romeo & Juliet, which, uh, is slightly more grim, yet still, high schoolers can easily relate to teen angst).  The way it worked at ol' Oakridge High was that you read either TN or R&J in Grade 10, the other in Grade 11, Macbeth in Grade 12 and then either Hamlet or King Lear in your final year.  I often wonder how different my life would've had if I'd read Romeo & Juliet first rather than Twelfth Night, and the answer is…probably not different whatsoever.  Hard to foresee a 'sliding doors' scenario from that one.

Just throwing it out there -- Sir Andrew Aguecheek is Shakespeare's funniest character.  This guy is a nonstop parade of comedy.  Start with the fact that he looks like a stringy-haired twerp of a man, and add in that he's a total coward, an idiot, both vain and yet painfully aware of his shortcomings, and so completely in Sir Toby's pocket that a quarter of his lines are parroting everything he says (yet somehow misinterpreting them).  Many is the Shakespearean comic character whose actual dialogue isn't all that funny and you have to rely on the actor to bring it to life, yet Aguecheek's lines just leap off the page.

He steals the show for me, which says a lot in a play where every character is well-written and well-characterized.  Viola/Olivia/Orsino is the rare love triangle where you can see every character's side, though admittedly Orsino's emo caterwauling makes him the least interesting of the three.  Malvolio's officiousness is evident from the moment he opens his mouth.*  Even lesser personalities like Maria and Fabian have a couple of terrific lines that allow the audience to immediately get them and their roles in the action.  They're all familiar personalities but not two-dimensional ones. 

* = One of our Grade 10 assignments while studying this play was to write up a cast list if we were making a film version of Twelfth Night.  I'm sure my full list is in a booklet in a file cabinet somewhere in my parents' basement, yet the only one I can recall coming up with John Cleese as Malvolio, which is admittedly bang-on.  Good work, teenage Mark!  And don't worry about that acne, it'll eventually clear up.

It's weird, this seems like by far the shortest of the entries in this Shakespeare re-read series yet Twelfth Night is one of my favourite plays.  Maybe there simply isn't much to say about a play that's virtually perfect.  Some plays are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.  Twelfth Night is the first, maybe some big Broadway musical that took several different remounts to get right is the second and...I dunno, maybe 'Hamlet 2' is the third. 



12. Pericles
11. The Taming Of The Shrew
10. Antony & Cleopatra
9. Much Ado About Nothing
8. Coriolanus
7. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
6. The Comedy Of Errors
5. The Winter's Tale
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream
3. Julius Caesar
2. Twelfth Night
1. Othello

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

Friday, November 07, 2014

Too Many Cooks

I'm not even sure how to describe this, except to say that I love it when what seems like a simple joke spirals off into all directions.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Oliver &, Cookie

If there wasn't already enough evidence that the duo of John Oliver & Cookie Monster is the greatest comedy pairing of our generation, this video will clinch it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Daily Simpsons Dialogue, Addendum #5

Yes, that's right, it's yet another list of Simpsons quotes that I say on a near-daily basis.  Click the links to read parts one, two, three, four and five.  If you're tired of reading these, that's too bad, since I'm not stopping the series.  It'll just be one crushing post after another until you finally just wish Flanders was dead.
"His food is getting all cold and eaten."
"Urge to kill fading, fading, RISING, fading…gone."
"Sorry Mom, the mob has spoken!"
"What time and how burnt?"
"It's a pretty standard stunt, Homer."
"Way to get Marge pregnant, heh heh heh."
"Somebody ate part of my lunch."
"____ is named _____?  I've been calling her Crandall!  Why didn't someone tell me?  Oh, I've been making an idiot out of myself!"
"Hey Ma, look at the curly-hair'ded little girl.  Guh'hyuk!"
"Homercles cares not for beans!"
"Here you go, your majesty!"
"Sweet merciful crap!"
"A little from column A, and a little from column B."
"The ring came off my pudding can!"
"Must've been that bean I had for dinner."
"Me fail English?  That's unpossible!"
"Forty seconds?  But I want it now!"
"Hello, that sounded like a pig fainting!"
"And it only transports matter…."
"Y'ar, I'm not attractive."

Friday, October 31, 2014

OK Go's New Video

I'm starting to think all of human existence is just a backdrop for a really elaborate OK Go video.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Laces In

The Super Bowl between the Eagles and the Dolphins in 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective' was a pretty remarkable game.  For one, Miami apparently became the first team to qualify for the Super Bowl in the same season that their home stadium hosted the game, giving them a theoretically huge home-field advantage.  If you ever needed proof that I'm a hopeless sports stats nerd, it's probably the fact that I cited this tidbit first, ahead of the many other outlandish things from this movie.

So anyway, besides the Dolphins hosting the Super Bowl in Miami, you also had the saga of Dan Marino being kidnapped the night before the actual game.  To my knowledge, this is also the first time this had happened in NFL history, though if some of the Broncos had been kidnapped the night before last year's Super Bowl, that explains a lot.  (This isn't to say that some crazy stuff hasn't actually happened to players on Super Bowl Eve, however.)  Knowing Marino's competitive nature, it isn't at all surprising that he returned at halftime and immediately got into the game --- even after 24 hours of captive hell*, I suspect only wild horses could've kept Marino out of that game.

* = though he didn't seem more than mildly annoyed during his scenes in the film.  Let's just say that Dan Marino was not exactly a Best Supporting Actor contender.

One of the more interesting factors about this Super Bowl was that Marino (and Snowflake the mascot!) made their triumphant returns yet we didn't actually see the result of the game.  Frankly, I felt the filmmakers copped out on that would've been a controversial finish either way.

If the Eagles beat the Dolphins, then even in a pro-Dolphins Hollywood movie, Dan Marino still can't win a ring.  Frankly, I think Ray Finkel would've been satisfied simply knowing that his actions cost Miami the game --- that's already sweet revenge.

If the Dolphins beat the Eagles, it puts the icing on the movie's happy ending cake.  It also makes sense that only the Eagles would lose the Super Bowl in the most implausible way possible.  I mean, they're already up against it by unluckily facing the Dolphins at a home Super Bowl, only to receive the incredible break (if you can call a kidnapping and attempted murder a 'break,' which most Eagles fans would) of having Dan friggin' Marino get abducted the night before.  And he's not even there for the first half!  Can you imagine this happening in real life?  This would be the news story of the year.  The NFL couldn't postpone the game for TV and sponsor reasons, so they'd have to go ahead and play the Super Bowl under this unprecedented cloud for one of the teams.  And then to have Marino actually RETURN AT HALFTIME AND TAKE THE FIELD?  I feel like the other networks would've simply cut to live footage at this point --- this would be like the moon landing.  Meanwhile, the Eagles are just shaking their heads and thinking "why us?"  Pat Solitano Sr. probably lost a small fortune betting on his Eagles in this game.  That's probably how he got into such a deep hole to that sleazy Giants fan guy to begin with.  I love it when movies intersect.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brad Pitt, Two Ferns

Firstly, given Galifiankis' weight loss, I'm going to miss all of the 'Zach is fat' jokes.  Also, Pitt morphed into Clark Gable so gradually none of us even realized it until now.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NBA Predictions

I'm picking the Spurs to win the title again since they're the best and most reliable team there is, though there are a few more uncertainties than usual in the generally-predictable NBA.  For instance, I had a legit few minutes earlier today when I thought that the Raptors were going to win the East.  It's not impossible…simply very improbable.  Put it this way, there's a better chance the Raptors will make the Finals than there is that they'll fall apart in classic Raptors style and miss the playoffs entirely.  That's progress! 

My predictions for this NBA season…

Western Conference
1. LA Clippers: They seemingly have everything going for them, except for the fact that they're the Clippers.  That's right, the Sterling Curse is still lingering around the building even though he's been thrown out of the NBA.
2. San Antonio: Biding their time, resting the veterans, no big deal that they're the #2 seed, rinse and repeat.
3. Houston: Get ready for a terrific, rockin' and rolling regular season that will get everyone in Houston thinking their team is a title contender!  (Punchline forthcoming)
4. Portland: They're the #4 seed by default, as they'll win the suddenly-awful Northwest Division.
5. Golden State: Steve Kerr in charge, not sure if he's a good coach or if he'll be able to get anything good defensively out of these guys.  Blazers/Warriors is a guaranteed seven-game series and it would be incredible to watch, so let's make this happen, world.
6. Dallas: Dirk's window is open for two more years, tops. 
7. Memphis: Talent-wise they're much better than this, yet I can't help but think all the offseason front office and coaching drama will hurt them.  Does Dave Joerger (won't lie, I had to look up his name) really want to be there?
8. Oklahoma City: Losing Kevin Durant for two months is THAT big a blow in a tough Western Conference.  Thunder still get the #8 seed, thus setting up a monster first-round series with L.A.
9. New Orleans: Anthony Davis can't do it all himself…yet.
10. Phoenix: Regression time!
11. Denver: This team has nothing going for it.
12. Minnesota: Loveless.
13. LA Lakers: Kobe will be openly insulting his teammates by U.S. Thanksgiving.
14. Sacramento: Next spring, the city will be like, "On second thought, move to Seattle."
15. Utah: THIS team REALLY has nothing going for it.

Eastern Conference
1. Cleveland: It's going to take some time for all the parts to gel, but realistically, this team is the best in the East.
2. Chicago: If Derrick Rose is even 75% of his old self, they can win the title.  Less than that, and another first-round offensive flameout is a possibility.
3. Brooklyn: Yeah, I'm not sure losing Jason Kidd's soda-spillin' coaching skills is a negative.
4. Atlanta: Horford's healthy and this team will be a big surprise.  In fact, if you're willing to lend me $950 million, I want to buy them.
5. Toronto: I mean, sure?
6. Charlotte: Part of me wanted to go nuts and have them winning the Southeast, though I came to my senses.
7. Washington: Regression time, since everything went just a bit too smoothly for them last year.  I like Paul Pierce as a veteran mentor, and they're a midseason coach firing away from being an under-the-radar contender.
8. Miami: For old time's sake.
9. Detroit: Van Gundy will help, though not yet.
10. New York: This team is still awful.
11. Indiana: So after having a dreadful second half to last season, now the Pacers have lost both Paul George and Lance Stephenson.  Nope.
12. Milwaukee: Handing your franchise over to a guy with one year of middling coaching experience, not to mention a guy who has shown that he'll screw a franchise over for a better opportunity elsewhere, is a GREAT idea.
13. Orlando: They're still in the league!
14. Boston: Kevin McHale was genuinely funny on 'Cheers.'
15. Philadelphia: They're tanking so hard they would be legitimately sad to be anywhere but dead last.

*Cavaliers over Heat
*Bulls over Wizards
*Hornets over Nets
*Raptors over Hawks (I mean, sure?  I think Toronto might actually be good, and last year wasn't just a cosmic fluke thanks to a supremely weak conference.)
*Clippers over Thunder (I can't believe this is a first-round series.)
*Spurs over Grizzlies
*Mavericks over Rockets (oh yeah, that's right, I forgot Houston will never win a title with Howard, Harden and McHale.  They think they have a title window, it's actually Windows 94)
* Warriors over Trail Blazers (everyone needs a cigarette after)

* Cavaliers over Raptors
* Bulls over Hornets
* Clippers over Warriors (both teams will be exhausted from their seven-gamers in the first round)
* Spurs over Mavericks (this one will be a doozy)

* Bulls over Cavaliers (the LeBron/Love/Irving mix isn't quite settled yet, plus we don't actually know if David Blatt can coach)
* Spurs over Clippers

* Spurs over Bulls (Chicago at least does better than the Heat did last season and doesn't get embarrassed in three consecutive games.  Progress!)