Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lost! Back!



The new series of Lost arrives to save this void of a TV season Thursday night, and I can't wait. I have no earthly idea of what might happen in the eight (or hopefully more) episodes we're going to get, but I'm reasonably certain it'll range from awesome to incredibly awesome. My appetite for new Lost-related material has slowly been whetted by the Hidden Pieces 'mobisodes' that have been released through Verizon phones and the ABC website. In case ABC.com is being wonky and you don't own a Verizon phone, you can always check the transcripts of these mobisodes here, or just read my mini-reviews of them here....wait, no fancy link needed, just read below. But at least read the transcripts first so you know what the deuce I'm talking about.

The Watch
An underwhelming debut for the mobisodes, as takes the traditional LOST beginning (i.e. the S2 and S3 premieres) of focusing on Jack's played-out relationship with his father. If tomorrow's premiere is yet another Jack-centric episode, my enthusiasm for the new season will drop to a mere 99.7%. On the bright side, now Lost's more obsessive fans can look back through every episode to see where and when Jack is actually wearing the watch. Christian telling Jack to be a better father than he was is sort of like Ryan Leaf telling the next Chargers quarterback to play better ball. As for what it forecasts, Christian will be possibly be playing a bigger role this season, as I'll discuss later on.

Hurley and Frogurt
You know you watch too much TV when you see this mobisode and instantly recognize the guy playing Frogurt from his three-line tiny role as a pizza guy in a first-season episode of Friends. I need a life. Anyway, this was a funny little nerd-rivalry story. Frogurt will definitely be showing up sometime this year. Though Lost has always struggled with giving everyone proper screentime, I do wish a few more of the background crash survivors had been developed more in three seasons, if for no other reason than to give us a bit more of an idea of how the Losties' community actually functions on a day-to-day basis. The only non-main character crash survivors we've really gotten to know are Rose, Bernard, Artz (who quickly died), Sullivan the hypochondriac, Scott and Steve (and one of them are dead) and sort of Nikki and Paulo. There are still 20 or so survivors who haven't been explored. That's enough for almost a whole season of Survivor.

King of the Castle
Surprise surprise, Ben is smarter than Jack. Thanks for the new information, mobisode! How many chess matches out of 100 do you think Ben would take from Jack? 90? 95? He'd win at least a few from disqualification after Jack angrily swept the board from the table out of frustration --- Jack just seems like that kind of guy.

The Deal
Yay Michael's back! I'm really interested in seeing how he's going to be re-incorporated into the show. Hell, I'm just curious to see how he'll turn up on the island again. Will he show up along with the people on Naomi's boat? Will it turn out he's been held somewhere on the island this whole time? Will he show up in flash-forwards? This mobisode reflects once again just how bizarre Jacob is. Let's not forget, whatever Jacob is, he has sway over Juliet as well. Ben got her to stay on the island solely on the promise that Jacob would cure Juliet's sister's recurred cancer (though there was no hard proof that Rachel's cancer actually had come back), and Juliet believed him. What is it about Jacob that would make Juliet, a doctor, believe that he/it could cure cancer?

Operation: Sleeper
I can't help but feel that this scene would've been more helpful to see on the actual show, rather than let Jack flounce around acting like a dick for two episodes without letting the others know about Ben's plan. The scene also raises doubt as to whether or not Locke actually blew up the Others' submarine. Did Locke actually have enough C4 to completely total what seemed to be a military sub? Keep in mind that these were the explosives that Locke toted from the Flame station to the Others' camp, which crazy ol' John carried in his bag. Only Locke would make a several-mile hike with large quantities of explosives on his person. Maybe he thought if they went off, the island would cure him.

Room 23
Ok, this one's pretty freaky. Here's another addition to the Lost time-travel theories --- Walt is somehow sent back in time to 1960's San Francisco and causes the events in The Birds. We'll know this is true if Tippi Hedren shows up in a flashback. Anyway, what's most interesting here is that it shows once again that the Others weren't the super-efficient creepy group of bad guys that they appeared to be. Apparently Walt was getting out of control (presuming it's Walt they're talking about) and they and Jacob just gave up on it.

Arzt & Crafts
Arzt! Man, they should've kept him alive. Talk about great comic relief. Also, I had completely forgotten about the whole 'Sun secretly speaks English' storyline from S1. That literally seems like a whole different show. The monster roar is an interesting occurance since it doesn't seem to fit in, timeline-wise, with the other times we've heard/seen the monster on the show. Does the monster just occasionally roar from within the jungle and the Losties are freaked out? If so, what is the monster reacting to? Running into the sonic fence?

Buried Secrets
Speaking of forgotten storylines, oh yeah, the quasi-romantic tension between Michael and Sun! *slaps forehead* When you think about it, Jin and Sun are by far the most changed from their time on the island. In the first 15 or so episodes, they were a stereotypically old-fashioned Asian couple of a domineering husband and a submissive wife. Now, they're totally back in love and seem like a completely normal couple. What's weird is in the flashbacks, they seemed totally normal before their marital strife started. Did Jin just decide "Well, I'm mad at my wife, time to revert to the 1950's," and did Sun just decide to go along with it? Also, in the Lost costuming department's eyes, apparently being submissive equated to dressing like Lillith from Cheers.

Tropical Depression
Arzt! Man, that poor schmuck. For some reason, when he mentioned his date in Australia, I immediately thought it was Libby. I don't know why aside from my inner belief that Libby will end up filling in the blanks of at least one major mystery on the show. There just has to be a reason for that damn character to have been on the show. Also, Arzt's admission about making up the monsoon story actually fills in a couple of plot holes. For one, the monsoon never actually happened, and two, in the show's timeline (it's allegedly December 2004 in island time) and given the fact that we're reasonably sure the Island is in the south Pacific, they should be getting hit with some ancillary weather effects from the huge Indian Ocean earthquake that went down on Boxing Day 2004. Then again, the island may just protect itself against outside weather. Why the hell not.

Jack, Meet Ethan. Ethan? Jack.
William Mapother is awesome. What a creepy actor. Fun fact: he's Tom Cruise's cousin. This probably helps with the creepiness. That suitcase full of medicine, in all likelihood, came from the Others --- why would a passenger carry that much stuff on them? This shows that the Others showed at least some basic human decency for the crash victims. Or, the medicine was to help keep people alive to harvest their potential children. That would be less decent.

Jin Has A Temper Tantrum On The Golf Course
Frankly, Jin's little breakdown here isn't even in my all-time top 50 golf course tantrums. For example, in the span of three shots on a single hole, I once hit a soaring drive and hit a branch and dropped straight down about 60 yards past the tee box, hit a second shot that caromed off of a tree and stopped it from being a perfect hook around a dogleg left, and then hit another slow-rising iron that would've been near the green had it not slammed into the yardage marker and launched backwards. I hate my golf game. Fun fact: Jin's rant is taken word-for-word from Phil Mickelson's press conference after he blew the 2006 U.S. Open.

The Envelope
This 'missing piece' is actually a deleted scene from the S3 premiere. We know the envelope contains Ben's medical tests that revealed the tumor on his back. What's interesting here is Amelia asks Juliet if Ben had finally told her 'how he felt.' What, Ben's got a crush on Juliet? Please tell me that's the reason he made up that stuff about Rachel's cancer returning. That would be hilarious. Ben needs to get laid. If that's true, however, then given that Juliet was shagging Goodwin at the time, it throws Ben sending Goodwin off to infiltrate the tailies' camp into a whole new light. Maybe Ben purposely sent Goodwin into a potentially dangerous mission in the hopes that he would be killed (which ended up happening at Ana Lucia's hands). Also, Amelia and Juliet both seem aware of Ben's feelings about her, so....yikes, how awkward. Douche-chill! [/Tobias]. Finally, Amelia is one of the three little easter eggs the Lost producers have thrown into the show that seem to reference Amelia Earhart. The Others-run airline that took Juliet to the Island was name Herarat Airlines. There is an Earhart reference in Find 815, the ongoing Lost online game. When the S3 premiere aired, some fans speculated that Amelia actually was Ms. Earhart. Given what we know about the island's weird relationship with time, who knows, maybe it is her. Lostpedia notes that some fan speculation about Adam & Eve (the skeletons in the cave) centered around them being Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Also, this mobisode's title starts with the letter E, and so does Earhart! And all of the Lost characters have ears and hearts! *cymbal crash* That's incredible!

So It Begins
Now THIS was a mindfuck. This provides concrete proof that of all the visions we've seen characters have on the island, at least one of them (Christian) is real. Maybe not real in the sense of being the actual flesh and blood Christian Shepherd, but *real* in the sense that it is some kind of a being. Seriously, what the hell is going on here? 'Christian' could have been the monster in shape-shifting form, but again, it's still just speculation that the monster can take other forms besides the smoke. And if it was the monster, why would it take Christian's form to talk to Vincent? I tell you, this damn dog will end up playing a huge role in the endgame of this series. Perhaps the final shot of LOST will be Libby and Vincent playing backgammon on the foot statue. While Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan watch.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"You're Listening To WRMB --- Rambo."




In a weekend without football, I needed something equally masculine to take up my Sunday afternoon. It was this logic that drew me to a matinee of the new Rambo movie. Let's just say it's too bad that 'There Will Be Blood' has already been taken as a movie title.

The plot, as it is, involves good ol' John Rambo still living in Thailand being all bitter at the world when a group of Christian missionaries arrive and ask if he could sail them up the river into Burma. The missionaries (who include Paul 'Ryan Chappelle from 24' Schulze and Julie 'Darla From Buffy & Angel' Benz) are on a mission to give humanitarian aid to victims of the somewhat nutty Burmese Army. They need Rambo's help getting into Burma since he 'knows the river better than anyone.' It's a river --- is there any trick to this? Will Rambo spot trouble and say "Quickly, into this fjord!" Actually I think I'd pay good money to see Stallone utter the word 'fjord.' Sly, by the way, is craggier than ever. He has somehow aged five years since the last Rocky film.

Anyway, Rambo eventually agrees to help since, well, Julie Benz is hot. He sails them into Burma on the Ram-boat and then after a quick skirmish with some pirates, Chappelle gets all uppity and Chappelle-like and says Rambo can leave since they'll be getting back on roads. Great plan. So they'll just drive up to the Burmese border and the guards will let them leave the country without wondering how they got in? Their asses would've been smacked back quicker than if they had been trying to carry fruit across the Ambassador Bridge. But anyway, Rambo leaves and within a day the missionaries are captured by a Burmese army brigade. Smooth move, Chappelle.

Rambo learns of their capture a week later from another missionary that just shows up in Thailand, who also informs Rambo that a team of mercenaries have been hired to rescue the churchies. Yet another case of the Christian right's alliance with the Republican Party paying off --- easy access to mercenaries. Rambo is hired to take these gun-toting mini-Rambos up the river, and surprise surprise, they end up being an ethnically diverse cast of miscreants. There's a fiery British guy, a.k.a. Poor Man's Vinnie Jones. A Hispanic guy. An Asian guy. A redneck southerner. A laid-back British sniper played by Matthew Marsden, best known for his role as Sizemore in Black Hawk Down, which makes one immediately think he'll survive and end up as Rambo's buddy. They're joined by a Thai guide and his son, but upon reaching the dropoff point, Rambo is told to wait with the boat. So he does, and we spend the next 45 minutes watching Stallone sharpen a knife, do some boat maintenance and pick daisies until the mercenaries return. Wait....

So of course Rambo follows along and after wreaking some havoc with a crossbow, eventually ends up leading the mercenaries into their six-on-100 mission against the Burmese army base and its leader, General Disorder (they never actually gave him a name, so I made one up). While I had no doubt Rambo could've taken 100 men with a hand tied behind his back, the group decided to use stealth, and snuck in at night to rescue the few surviving missionaries while the soldiers were drunkenly partying. It seemed to me that Rambo could've just planed some C-4 until the mess hall and wiped out a good three-quarters of the opposing force right there, but then the movie would've ended even quicker than my 'Rambo waits by the boat' director's cut.

So with about an hour's lead time, the team splits up and heads back to the boat, with the army in hot pursuit. Things devolve into some pretty impressive violence. You may recall from the trailer a great shot of Rambo slowly rising up behind some poor guy --- the payoff to that scene is wonderful. Something I noticed about the film is that it isn't just bloody, it's meaty. In just about every case of a body being shot, gutted or blown up, you see not just the spewing of blood, but you see a limb of what's left of a torso flying by the wayside. This serves two purposes. First, when the soldiers are killing innocent villagers, it makes the deaths all the more barbaric. Second, when Rambo is killing the soldiers, it makes the deaths all the more awesome.

In the end, Rambo returns to America and his father's ranch. At least I presume it was his father --- the name on the mailbox read 'R. Rambo.' I got the idea in my head that his father's name was Rambo Rambo, which made me laugh out loud in the theatre. I guess it could've also been Rambo's long-lost brother living on the ranch, which could've paved the way for a Frank Stallone cameo. But anyway, Rambo is back in America and he's got to be pretty pleased. His fellow Nam buddy John McCain is a senator in his native Arizona, so I can only expect the next Rambo film to feature Stallone serving as Johnny Mac's head of security. His next challenge won't be the Burmese military, but rather trying to find dirt on Mitt Romney.

It would've been amazing if, instead of going to the ranch, Rambo had just kept going into town, been accosted by locals and the sheriff and forced into the local wilderness, and the entire scenario from First Blood repeated itself. The Rambo series would then continue on indefinitely with Rambo going on a circuit from the US to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Burma in 30-year cycles. Rambo would never age, as it would be established that while in Nam, Rambo at some point drank from the Holy Grail.

The movie is, of course, ridiculous. But it has some decent action and if nothing else, at least this time Rambo isn't in Afghanistan helping the Taliban. The film actually provides a pretty respectable portrayal of Christian missionaries, as Benz and company are shown to be genuine about helping the Burmese villagers rather than just trying to convert them. See, this is all part of Sly's marketing plan for the movie. He saw the money that Passion of the Christ pulled in by appealing to church-goers, and he figured, "Hey, religion + gory violence equals enough money to fill a fjord!" Sly Stallone is, if nothing else, a businessman.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

4:30 in the morning?

Well, I was all ready to go to bed, but then I listened to Natasha Beningfield's Unwritten. Now I'm feeling too upbeat and filled with positivity and personal inspiration to sleep. So, it's posting time.

--- I have surprisingly few beefs with the Academy Award nominations. This list is a lot shorter than it has been in past years since this has been a sick year for movies. Even the notoriously wonky Academy has had a hard time finding crap to nominate in the face of so much good work. Yet as always, I can find a few turds amidst all of the chocolate brownies. Full disclosure: I haven't seen There Will Be Blood or Atonement yet, so my attempt to see all of the year's top nominees isn't yet complete.

Ruby Dee nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I have no problems with Ruby Dee, a fine actress who should've been nominated and arguably won for Do The Right Thing almost 20 years ago. If I had been writing this blog in 1990 (or, y'know, if blogs had existed then) and done a post about Oscar beefs, it might've just been one long entry about Do The Right Thing. Anyway, Ruby Dee was in American Gangster for literally five minutes. She has one good scene where she confronts Denzel. That's it. This is little more than a lifetime achievement type of nomination.

Lost not being nominated for Best Drama. Oh wait, that was the Emmys. IT WAS STILL GARBAGE.

No songs from Walk Hard nominated for Best Original Song. This one was a bummer. Most of the songs aren't PC, but hell, if Blame Canada can get in there, why not one from John C. Reilly? Walk Hard came out of nowhere to be arguably my favourite comedy of the year. It's better start-to-finish than Superbad and Hot Fuzz, though that said, the initial stages of Hot Fuzz are devoted to building to the unbelievably funny last 20-30 minutes. That movie pays off so well that it is still ahead of Walk Hard by a nose. See both movies, sez me. But man, Walk Hard. One reviewer described it as a feature-length SCTV spoof, which is just about dead-on. I won't spoil any of the jokes for you, but there are multiple laugh-out-loud scenes: Tim Meadows' anti-drug speeches, the sinks, the cameo by the Temptations, John Michael Higgins' hilarious speech as the record producer, the "Let's Duet" song and accompanying visual of Reilly and Jenna Fischer eating ice cream, the Dylan-style protest songs and much more. This would've been unthinkable even two years ago, but it may be time to have a who's funnier debate between Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly --- this movie might clear up some of the controversy.

Only one song from Once nominated for Best Song. On the bright side, at least the best one ('Walking Slowly') got the nod. But come on, three songs from Enchanted get in and only one from Once? I was really hoping this one would be an upset Best Picture nominee too. My friend Kyle wrote as good a summation of Once as any on his blog.

The Simpsons Movie not nominated for Best Animated Film. I should be used to seeing the Simpsons snubbed for awards by this point. But come on, friggin' Surf's Up was nominated ahead of it. That is simply disgraceful.

Sound engineer Kevin O'Connell nominated again, this time for Transformers. This is his 20th nomination and he probably will lose for the 20th time. Give the poor soul a break! Just torture him in a less public way, like slapping him and tearing off his shirt while he's sitting on the john like Steve-O's dad.


--- If I read one more Bill Simmons column that mentions the 1986 Celtics, I'm going to scream. I'm not on the 'Simmons has lost it' bandwagon like many others, since I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt given that his schedule over the last few months (a new baby, E-60 segments, a podcast, finishing a book) has been hectic. And it's hard to say his almost near-total topic shift to Boston sports is out of line, given how the Red Sox won the Series, the Celtics are on fire, the Revolution made it to the MLS Cup Final* and the Patriots are approaching a perfect season. But there is no doubt that Simmons, to use one of his own phrases, has lost his fastball. The biggest weakness is in the comparison department. Simmons used to have a knack for coming up with very apt pop culture references or real-life scenarios to describe sports, but now he is falling back on either tired 80's movies, or The Hills, which is inexplicably the only modern show that he seems to watch regularly besides The Wire. It seems like he just isn't putting his full effort into the material unless it's a basketball column, and even those have been on the wane since the Celtics got good again. Maybe this is the problem --- Simmons only pays full attention to a sport when his team is struggling or not a serious contender, and thus he is forced to look at the entire league and not be too Boston-centric. I still can't over his column where he claimed there was nothing interesting about the Colorado-Arizona NLCS. The Rockies had won 17 of 18 games coming into that series! It was the greatest run in modern baseball history! Nothing interesting about it?! I can take the Patriots winning another Super Bowl, but now I'm anti-Red Sox and anti-Celtics just so Simmons can get his head back to writing quality material.

* Contractual obligation to mention this.


--- One more note: Havant & Waterlooville came up short in their attempt to cause the biggest upset in FA Cup history. The gallant Hawks lost 5-2 to Liverpool in Liverpool, though H&W held the lead not once, but twice in the game and went into halftime tied. Liverpool, at this point, probably realized that they would be tarred and feathered en masse if they lost the game, and scored three unanswered goals in the second half. Even still, it was quite a showing for this low-ranked team and a true inspiration to underdogs everywhere in that if you try your best, you too can get very close to your dream before having it eventually crushed by an overwhelmingly greater force. Hmm, I need to listen to Unwritten again, that wasn't very positive.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Other People's Writing

Happy Conception Day, me! For those of who unfamiliar with Conception Day's...er, conception, we are exactly nine months away from my birthday. Ergo, one can consider today to be the day my parents made their Mark, so to speak. To celebrate, I will take the day off from posting and instead let you be entertained by some rib-tickling links.

Ken Levine, the TV writer/baseball announcer whose life I bitterly envy, recently posted a list of similes and metaphors submitted by teachers who actually found them in students' essays. The list is supposed to be of the 'worst' metaphors, but really, they're all quite brilliant. Come on, if you were a teacher reading some punk compare and contrast fatherhood in King Lear and Hamlet for the millionth time, you'd appreciate some levity.

I enjoy my baseball posts. You enjoy my baseball posts (presuming you read them...which you quite possibly don't). If you enjoy wacky baseball posts that are actually wacky and not thrown together with half of my ass, the fine lads at Drunk Jays Fans are a great source of Blue Jays-related comedy and commentary. One recent gem concerned how to pick one's favourite player and it is hilarious. Warning: if you go to their main page, they recently posted a note that contains a full-size picture of Gustavo Chacin. Be sure to avert your eyes at the proper moment. And to think, a young child once mistook me for him. I am no prize, ladies.

And finally, here's a somewhat, er, energetic announcer describing the final moments of a Leeds United win that kept them in the Premiership a few years ago. This guy, in the immortal words of Phoebe Buffet, sounds like Santa on Prozac at Disneyland getting laid.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dang




Eleven quick bright sides about Green Bay's heart-breaking loss to New York in the NFC title game.

* You may noticed that I haven't mentioned my beloved Packers in about three months in spite of their having their best season in years. This was purely due to superstition. I figured since the gravy train was rolling so smoothly, I didn't want to wreck it with a braggadocious post. The one time I even mentioned them in passing was a reference to our green-and-yellow Xmas lights, which resulted in a loss to the hated Dallas Cowboys. So at least I can say that it was nothing I did, karma-wise, that ultimately ruined the Packers' season. I stayed true to my superstitions --- always wearing my Favre jersey on game days, busting out the cheesehead if things looked tight at halftime, wearing the same boxer shorts (don't worry, I washed them during the week) and cargo pants. What may have ultimately finished things, however, was my food-related superstition of drinking iced tea by the gallon during Green Bay games. I may have single-handedly led to a rise in Nestea's fourth-quarter earnings. It was all due to this post from my pals and fellow Packer fans Hurk and Larkin at their old SOJP blog. Since iced tea was the Packer drink of choice-slash-comparison, it only seemed fitting as a weekly drink. The problem was, look who was another of the iced tea teams: the Giants! I should've countered somehow by adding melted butter to the iced tea to add some Wisconsin flava. The heart attack would've been worth it.

* Two Christmases ago, my parents got me a cool wall hanging listing all of Green Bay's championship seasons. So, now I won't have my next Xmas present spoiled by knowing that my folks would get me a new banner. Uh, yay?

* Though the Giants are one of my least-favourite NFL teams, at least the Pack didn't lose to Dallas. And at least Green Bay won a playoff game, unlike the laughable, self-inflicted media frenzy that is the Cowboys organization.

* I don't have any friends who are Giants fans, so I don't need to listen to any trash talk over the next two weeks and/or eight months and/or years to come. Really, I've lucked out in terms of bragging rights. My brother like the Ravens, so he can't say anything. My dad likes the Browns, so I can just mention Earnest Byner and send him into a screaming rage. My cousin likes Miami, and she moved to Italy to get away from the shame. Some of my good friends' favourite clubs include the 49ers, Lions, Falcons and Bills, so no worries there. I know a few New England fans, but hell, I didn't have much ammo against them anyway. What am I supposed to say about an 18-0 team? "Ha, Bill Simmons writes too many naval-gazing columns about you guys!" I can at least take solace in the fact I still follow the best NFL team out of my circle of friends.

* Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory is becoming the most accurate prognostication tool of all time. New York lost Tiki Barber before the season AND Jeremy Shockey a few weeks ago, and they're suddenly playing much better without those two overhyped, ringless stars. The Bradshaw/Jacobs running back duo is lighting it up when Jacobs decides not to run straight into tacklers and this new tight end Boss is a 6'7 monster of a man. If the Giants do somehow happen to win the Super Bowl, it will almost be worth it to see Tiki Barber have to eat shit for the rest of his broadcasting career.

* The Packers at least lost cleanly. New York totally outplayed them for most of the game, and GB caught four huge lucky breaks in the second half: Sam Madison's personal foul that led to a Packer touchdown, the two missed field goals by Lawrence Tynes, and winning the OT coin toss. We were due some bad luck going our way in terms of the Favre interception. I had a bad feeling at halftime, despite GB holding a lead, just because New York was killing the Pack in terms of possession time and had the ball to start the second half. Nothing beats down a team more than having its defense out on the field for drive after long drive. Same thing happened to New England in last year's AFC title game. In fact, the only time I've ever seen it work the other way was last week's New York/Dallas game, where it was the 'Boys who held the ball for long stretches in the second half but it was their O-line that tired out before the Giants' D did. New York kept holding the ball while the Packers kept blowing third down after third down. It seemed like the only plays in the playbook this week were those short passes in the middle and kept being caught for, like, three yards or were incomplete, or the three million times Favre tried for a screen for no gain. Ryan Grant disappeared after his big game last week, Favre hurried passes all day long, the offense was really not there at all aside from the (lucky) long touchdown to Driver, and Plaxico Burress made Al Harris his bitch all day long. Man, that's one that really browns me off. They should've been double-covering Burress after the first five minutes.

* If Tynes had missed that third field goal in overtime, he might have killed himself or become Scott Norwood's online chess buddy. And by 'online chess buddy,' I mean lover. Nobody needs to see that.

* At least when the Packers won the toss, nobody on the Green Bay claimed that 'we want the ball and we're going to score,' like poor Matt Hasselbeck did four years ago in that playoff game at Lambeau Field. You know what, though? In spite of that bit of idiocy, I still can't bring myself to hate Hasselbeck or the Seahawks. Matty Hass seems like a nice guy --- he's a former Green Bay backup and his few commercials are self-effacing. Nobody gives the team any credit. Even last week when the Pack hosted them in the second round, I couldn't muster up enough insta-hate that I could against, oh, say, the Giants (dammit). If I wasn't a Packer back for life, I could seriously have considered becoming a Seahawk....uh, Glee Jock? That doesn't sound right.

* It spares losing to New England in the Super Bowl. As beat-up as the Pats have looked in recent weeks, they're still getting it done, and they're still operating at a higher plane than these other good teams in spite of this pressure of trying to go unbeaten. I really think the Patriots will pull it off, and hey, though I would've obviously been whole-heartedly rooting for Green Bay in the Super Bowl, it's not a bad alternative to wish for a team to do something historic like pull off a 19-0 record. And it'd be nice to see an all-timer like Junior Seau win a title. The Packers would've had a better-than-average shot of putting that first loss on New England, but it would've admittedly been an uphill battle.

Well, wait, this one is a pseudo-bright side. I would've much rather GB lost the Super Bowl than lost the NFC title game. At least you can say you got to the Super Bowl and gotten two more weeks of joy out of it. And losing to what might be the potentially best team in NFL history is a lot less bitter than losing to goddamn Eli Manning's team. Hmmm.....well, let's just split the difference and root for New England to win 75-0.

* The Amazing Race finale was pretty awesome. Yay Sunday night TV! Even though the team with the old grizzled guy from Wisconsin didn't win...hey, wait a second....

* It was a great ride. I had no expectation of Green Bay doing anything this season. I even predicted them to finish last in the NFC North in my preseason preview (though, I tried to hedge my bets by titling it 'Mark's Wrong NFL Preview' and throwing in a Wikipedia link to 'reverse psychology' when talking about how crappy the Pack would be). As it turned out, it was a wonderful season. Favre broke virtually every record in the book and had one (last?) great season in his Hall of Fame career. Greg Jennings, Donald Lee and James Jones established themselves as big-play threats. Ryan Grant might be the running back the Packers have been missing since Ahman Green forgot how to play football. The defense en masse established itself as one of the best in football. Even Atari Bigby, who sucked balls for 9/10ths of the season, stepped up big last week against Seattle. And even Bigby was lovable in a 'one player on your title team you love to hate,' sort of like Kelly Gruber on the 1992 Jays. Mike McCarthy showed himself to be a good NFL coach. Frankly, as a sports fan who has been just about worn down to a nub by Toronto's sports franchises and the horrific Fulham Cottagers, it was enjoyable to follow a team that performed above expectations. Going into a year expecting little more than a 5-11 record and ending up with the NFL's bronze medal is pretty sweet.

So wait until next year, when I branch out and pick Green Bay to finish with a 6-10 record. Reach for those stars!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Notice!



I complained about this almost a year ago, and yet City TV's campaign to make weatherman Michael Kuss more famous than the Pope is still continuing. Not that I figured my one post would be the impetus for them to stop, but man, you just figured common sense would kick in at some point. Now Kuss isn't just in ads about his weather broadcast, but he's got ads with him and a kids' hockey team, visiting a school classroom, little skits, a phony 'bad weather man' as a counterpoint. We're a month away from Mel Lastman saying noooooobody forecasts the weather like Michael Kuss. Seriously, he's A GODDAMN WEATHER MAN. Is this such a drawing card?

Man, don't you hate it when your life is going well enough that you don't even have eight things to put on notice? Lousy stupid satisfying existence.

There's been talk that Hasbro and Mattel will be forcing Facebook to shut down the Scrabulous game due to copyright infringement. It figures...I mention it in a post last week and this happens. I am the angel of death. The best part about this is that the Scrabulous creators thought they could produce this game without eventually being sued. They were even clever enough to change the end of the game's name from 'ble' to 'ulous.' It was foolproof!

A surprisingly large number of people (my pal Jeff included) will judge Cloverfield based solely on what the monster looks like or what it actually is. This is where J.J. Abrams' make-everything-a-mystery storytelling habit has a bit of a flaw --- when you build up the monster this much, people are going to expect a big payoff. It doesn't really matter what the monster actually is, just that New York is being attacked by it. I talked about a MacGuffin a few months ago in regards to the case of money in No Country For Old Men, but the Cloverfield monster is another good example. It's ironic that people keep using Blair Witch Project as a comparison to Cloverfield's shaky-cam shooting style, since that was a classic example of a horror movie where the villain is left to your imagination and thus made all the scarier.

So yeah, the writer's strike. Two and a half months. It isn't fun anymore. On the bright side, we get Dexter on network TV in a couple of weeks, so that saves me the trouble of renting the DVDs.

Figure this one out. I'm back at my old grade school, John Dearness, except I'm my current age. I'm taking the bus home from school, which is driven by ol' Bob, the mixture of Kojak and Crankshaft who used to drive the bus back in my primary days. I'm apparently taking some form of comedy class taught by Ricky Gervais, though I only experience the ride home from said class, not the actual in-room sessions themselves. I'm looking through a sheaf of recently-marked tests I've taken in the class, and have scored 75s across the board. My buddy Trev is also in this class, and has scored the same grades. Gervais shows up at the bus window and reminds me to bring back a CD I borrowed from him --- not music, but a Stuart McLean comedy album. So, yeah, that's the whole dream. My amateur analysis is that it means Ricky Gervais is gay.

I haven't seen the movie (due to my lack of a vagina) but it seems to suffer from a critical plot flaw. Katherine Heigl's character has been a bridesmaid 27 times and she's complaining about never getting married herself...but man, 27 times as a bridesmaid? That means she has 27 friends that hold her in high enough regard to enlist her as a bridesmaid on the biggest day of their lives. I mean seriously, I consider myself to be a fairly well-liked chap, but I can think of maybe six people at most that would make me a groomsman. What this movie comes down to is a woman who looks like Katherine Heigl who is so well-liked that she has 27 people that consider her to be a close friend, and yet she's still upset over being single. Bitt-chee.

I don't even need an explanation here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Control



Ian Curtis was the lead singer for Joy Division, and he committed suicide at age 23 just before JD's second album was released. He has subsequently become a.....zzzzz...oh, sorry, drifted off there. It may be a side effect of sitting through Anton Corbijn's Control, a biopic about Curtis' life that hits check-your-watch proportions about 45 minutes in. It might also be because the story of the rock star dying young is so cliched at this point that unless you have something to bring to the table besides the usual tropes of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, it's not going to do much to move the needle. There's sex (Curtis cheats on his wife), drugs (Curtis is on a variety of medication for epilepsy, but it isn't recreational junk, so I guess that's a bit of a new twist) and, obviously, rock and roll. Any biopic, but particularly one about a musician, has two difficult tasks to accomplish --- it has to be accurate and on-point enough to pass muster with the hardcore fans, but also enough of an interesting story that it can intrigue non-fans. Basically, the question is why was this person interesting besides his music? I went into the film not knowing a thing about Ian Curtis and knowing only the basics about Joy Division, and as you can tell, Control didn't exactly leave me wanting more. Joy Division fans can watch this film and perhaps see the tragic fate that befell their hero. I watch this film and feel sorry for this depressed poor sod, but that's it. The casual viewer gets no insight into what made Curtis special to begin with since we lack the context of the Joy Division phenomenon. Curtis is, rightly or wrongly, therefore thrown into the same bin as yet another musician elevated to rock stardom after dying young, no better than hacks like Sid Vicious or Kurt Cobain. From what little I do know of Curtis, he deserved a better filmic fate. In fact, actually, he got one in 24 Hour Party People, a 2002 film about the life of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. You get a much sense of Ian Curtis as played by Sean Harris in maybe 20 minutes than you do in two hours of Sam Riley.

Riley, who looks like a combination of Leo DiCaprio and Kris Marshall and acts like a combination of a sullen Calvin Klein model and Jeff the mannequin from Today's Special (when he isn't wearing his hat), isn't much of an actor. Curtis may well have been an interesting guy, but Riley's one-expression performance failed to explain anything about him. I get that Curtis was in real life a pretty low-key guy. But still, there's got to be more there to work with. One thing Riley did do well was Curtis' famous walking-in-a-circle dance, which is up there with Mick Jagger's rooster, Gord Downie's shaking and Jarvis Cocker's cocksure pointing as the best stage moves in lead singer history. Curtis stood in place while slowly moving his arms back and forth as if he were walking. The best comparison I can give you is imagine if Super Mario was a moody singer from Macclesfield rather than a video game plumber. So Riley at least got one thing right, thus matching him with...everyone who has ever sung a Joy Division song at a karaoke bar.

My friend Sarah hated this entire paragraph.

As a director, Corbijn is a heck of a photographer. The film isn't unlike a photo album in the sense that while any of the individual frames are interesting, after two hours of similarly-framed black-and-white stills, you kind of want Patty and Selma to end the slideshow. It creates a bleak atmosphere that hangs over the film in a too-obviously artistic way. The film wasn't without its moments of humour --- the rest of the band and their manager are basically right out of Almost Famous --- but these moments are so purposely set up as tension-breakers that the wit fails to land. Corbijn is acclaimed for his album coverwork for everyone from Elvis Costello to the Killers to U2 to David Bowie, but when it comes to capturing a mood beyond just, well, moody (maybe 'atmospheric' is the better word), he comes up short.

I seem to have gone the entire review saying nothing at all positive about the film, which is somewhat harsh for a film that was only two-out-of-five bad, not a disaster. The highlight was Samantha Morton's excellent performance as Debbie Curtis, Ian's wife. Morton is one of those actors who disappears into roles so thoroughly that even though her character is introduced in the first five minutes, I spent half the film waiting for Morton to show up before suddenly realizing that she was playing Debbie. Me am smart. Debbie actually carries much of the narrative, which probably isn't surprising given that the film was based on the real Debbie Curtis' memoirs and she was a co-producer of the film. This is one of those rare music films where the role of the rock star's girlfriend/wife is actually given more weight besides being just the rock star's token girlfriend/wife.

So kudos to Morton. Anti-kudos to Control.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cupset

My team of the week award goes to Havant & Waterlooville F.C., a small English soccer club from Havant. H&W (not to be confused with A&W F.C., who defeated Real Wendy's in last week's Fast Food Cup) play in the Football Conference South, which is the seventh overall tier of the English soccer table, with the Premiership obviously standing at the top of the pyramid. The Conference South and the EPL aren't usually mentioned in the same breath, but that will all change two weekends from now when the Hawks from Havant play Liverpool in the fourth round proper of the FA Cup. Reason #5450 of why I love England is the fact that it's not just the fourth round of the FA Cup --- it's the fourth round 'proper.' Brilliant. [/Gervais]

A little background for non-soccer fans. The FA Cup is the yearly knockout tournament that is open to literally every team in English soccer, provided they have a suitable grounds to hold a match. 731 teams entered this year's competition since just about every bloody little town in England has their hometown club. I can't blame them. Remember during the NHL strike a few years back when a few crackpot hockey writers proposed returning the Stanley Cup to its roots and opening it up as a challenge event to teams across Canada? The FA Cup is sort of like that, and it happens every year. Teams are drawn against each other at random, though the upper-tier teams get byes until later in the competition (League One and League Two won't enter until the first round proper, and Championship and Premiership teams not until the third round), and it's basically a one-and-done format until it comes down to two teams who square off in May at Wembley Stadium. The beauty is that the draw is totally up in the air. You could conceivably have the likes of Manchester United traveling down to some fifth-tier team's soggy small-time pitch. FA Cup history is full of Cinderella stories like these, but Havant has one of the all-time best runs going right now. H&W are officially the lowest-ranked team to ever reach the final 32 after they knocked off Championship (second-tier) side Swansea earlier today.

Now the Hawks will travel to Liverpool to face one of the true giants of British (and world) soccer. To put it into perspective, this is like Samantha Stanky getting into the final 32 of a Favourite Simpsons Character tournament and facing Mr. Burns. This is Barf's Burgers from You Can't Do That On Television facing A&W F.C. in the Fast Food Cup. This is Cypher from the X-Men getting ready to take on the Hulk. Man, Cypher was a lame character. You know what his mutant ability was? He could instantly translate any sort of language, be it verbal, physical or technical. That's just super. So if you're trapped under a car and Cypher is on the scene, don't worry. He'll be able to translate your dying screams to any passersby who don't speak English.

But Havant is no Cypher. They actually deserve their spot in the big dance. So good for you, little H&W. There is a very good chance you'll be destroyed by Liverpool (or, more accurately, the Liverpool reserve squad), but hey, you never know. I know I'll be rooting for you, if for no other reason than I want to hear my Liverpool fan friend Kat screaming in horror from across the Atlantic.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oh Mark, You So Crazy

So I wake up this morning with vertigo. Well, okay, that's exaggerating a bit. I just had a case of the dizzies, as Lucille Austero would say. The sad part is that I'm big enough of a U2 fan that if I actually had vertigo, I wouldn't mind simply because of the street cred. This is like being a Kinks fan and shrugging off STDs because of their 1976 hit "Syphilis Is Wicked."

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For all of the hype over Frank Caliendo's show, and his (lame) impressions on FOX NFL Sunday, his two best impressions are two he rarely busts out. He does an uncanny vocal copy of Charles Barkley, which can be seen here. He doesn't try to mimic Barkley's look, which is probably a good move given that Caliendo isn't a 300+ pound black guy. His other best impression is his Kelsey Grammer, or specifically just Grammer as Frasier...er, so, basically Kelsey Grammer. I've only seen him do this once, on a random episode of Mad TV, but it was absolutely dead-on, including Grammer's patented gradual increase in the speedandvolumeOfHisVOICE! The clip isn't available on YouTube, so keep watching and searching for those Mad TV clips. Ha, like I needed to remind you about Mad TV! Never mind!

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Not to brag, but I may be the greatest Scrabble player who has ever lived. I recently added Facebook's Scrabbulous application, and after a 2-4 start, I have been as hot as fire. My early struggles were attributable to my challenges of the toughest opponents I could find amongst my friends. My friend Megan, for example, has a record of something ridiculous like 80-10, and she handily beat me twice. But now I have the hang of it. My record in my last 22 games is 20-2. I'm the Tom Brady of Facebook Scrabble. Now all I need to find is the Giselle of Facebook Scrabble --- for some reason, I feel she'll have an overbite.

My latest victim was my poor brother Matt, who still believes that the best way to play Scrabble is to spell common words. What a fool. He almost had a nervous breakdown when I used a nicely-placed X on a double-letter score to make both 'XU' and 'XI.' Both are perfectly valid words in TWL Scrabble, though they fail the 'use it in a sentence' test that is most often used in live Scrabble games. I got off to a rousing start when I was able to make a bingo with 'thanked' in my very first turn, and the rout was on.

Do I have a reason for this post? Not really. I just like bragging. Anyone want a piece of me? I'm extending my arm towards my computer screen and making the Rock's "bring it" hand motion.

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So I'm watching the Simpsons movie's DVD commentary track, and the first funny part is that there are literally 10 people making comments. One of them is Yeardley Smith, a.k.a. the voice of Lisa Simpson, and if you've never seen/heard Ms. Smith in real life, she sounds literally exactly like Lisa in real life. She even makes a joke during the end credits when they list the character voices, and whereas Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, etc. have a dozen credits, she has just Lisa. It's frankly a little creepy. I would imagine having sex with Yeardley Smith would be somewhat off-putting just for the voice alone. Nobody wants to hear Lisa in the throes of orgasm. It would be even worse with Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart. Imagine being Nancy Cartwright's husband, you're just about to climax, and then your wife busts out an 'Aye carumba!' That's enough to make a guy infertile.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Year's Memories, Part III


"Hey Mark, did you plan to have these done before the actual new year began?"
"Yeah."
"Ok. Just asking."

2006 --- Another house party, this time not hosted by Kid or Play, but rather my friend Bryan. I don't know about you, but I weep for the fact that the new generation has no comprehension of Kid n' Play references. Anyway, it was a good night, perhaps somewhat of a more low-key version of the epic 2003 bash. The highlight was the first autograph I've ever signed in my life. Now, for those of you who didn't know me from university, I used to write a fairly-popular TV column for my student newspaper. Imagine the cutting wit of a New Yorker essay, except the topic was, like, Survivor or something. Anyway, I wrote it for four years, and as a result became something of a D-list campus celebrity. It was useful every once in a while when out at the pub, and someone would occasionally buy me a beer for being 'that funny guy from the newspaper.'

These beer-buyers were never, it should be noted, women. It was always men. Apparently I had hit upon the pipeline to the elusive young male demographic treasured by advertisers --- perhaps I should submit an application to an ad company with this information. Anyway, the dream scenario of meeting a woman who was impressed by my TV-osity never really occurred until this very New Year's, when a friend of my friend Becky recognized me from my byline (as the one bald guy on staff, I stood out) and said she enjoyed my work. She then asked for an autograph, and without any paper handy, I signed her arm. It was very much a rock star moment, minus the rock and roll, drugs and sex. That's right, no sex. With the ice firmly broken, I then proceeded to utterly fail to chat this young lady up for the rest of the night. If romance was an at-bat, the catcher had tipped the pitch like Costner in Bull Durham, and yet the result was still a strikeout. Sigh. Someday I'll learn to strike when the iron is hot. If you're reading this, Girl Whose Name I Don't At All Remember (hmm, perhaps I should have put some/any effort into this), I hope you haven't washed your arm in two years and the autograph remains intact.


2004 --- Another house party, held at the scene of the crime. The crime to which I'm referring is the disappearance of my beloved blue windbreaker, which vanished into this very house's closet at a previous party in the fall. It had yet to be recovered despite an exhaustive search. The happy postscript is that the jacket was finally found a few months later and all was right with the world. I could ride a bike again. Anyway, this is one of the few NY's Es when I actually decided to heavily drink, though this was partially due to the deceptive taste of the drink known as Purple Jesus. You can throw back four of those things before even blinking an eye. Now then I'm on my game (which is rare), I can throw back a fair amount of alcohol, and on this night I was perfectly fine and sober on the walk home. The next morning, my vomit resembled a Minnesota Vikings logo gone horribly awry, but that's another story. Oh yeah, and it was a WALK home. We made the critical mistake of deciding to walk down to the all-night Subway near the school since we were all hungry. There was some drinking involved, as I mentioned, and as a result it didn't occur to us that this Subway would likely be closed given the holiday. I would've killed for a sandwich on that night. You can burn in hell, Jared. The long trek to Subway wasn't altogether a lost cause, however. My pal Bryan drunkenly fell down a hill on the way there, thus providing one of the 10 biggest laughs of my lifetime. The comedy was enhanced by the fact that everyone else just kept walking.



2005 --- As you may have noticed from reading these entries, I'm not big on 'events' for my January 1. I'm more than happy hanging out with friends in some kind of disorganized slapdash brouhaha at someone's house. This year was one of the exceptions, as the gang and I ventured downtown for a party at a local club. The event was put together by some friends of mine on the university student council, which should've been the first red flag right there. Essentially, I had the privilege of paying to hang out with my friends at New Year's. Yay? The club itself was a place I had never known existed and frankly, I'm not sure it's even still a club. I think it's like that mystical model's hangout on Seinfeld that instantly morphed back into a meat-packing plant. The place also had the downside of being tiny. For example, when I said I had to pay to see my friends, I wasn't being ironic. We literally couldn't move much beyond our small staked-out corner at the front of the bar, and thus there wasn't much of a chance of mingle. Going to the bar for a drink was a 20-minute endeavor. Going to the upstairs level required a sherpa.

Overall, not a red-letter NY's E. Perhaps I'm just bitter because we took the bus. I know this makes me sound like a snob, but seriously, come on. The bus? What am I, a leper? I took that damn bus just about every day home from high school, so I've put in my time, thanks. God. The bus. Rubbish.

This concludes my daily channeling of Frasier Crane.


2008 --- Finally, the latest and greatest New Year's adventure. And by greatest, I mean 'the one with the least amount of effort put into it.' I think this was the year when we all decided en masse that NY's E isn't a big deal. Nothing was planned other than hanging out at my pal Eric's place, though that was at least a bit interesting since this came as news to Eric. He threw together an excellent shrimp platter on short notice, so he kept up his hosting streak. The highlights included some spirited games of NHL 2003, watching Rambo III (which, hilariously, featured Rambo teaming up with Afghan 'freedom fighters' against Russia --- oh what a difference 20 years makes) and my aiding and abetting the breaking of a vow. My pal Dave had sworn off his beloved McDonald's for the past six months, but decided that at the stroke of midnight, his New Year's kiss would be, quote, with a burger. So we took off at around 11:40 to the Mickey D's just a block away from Eric's, but to our shock it was closed. Next stop was the retro McDonald's (a.k.a. 'the classy one') at Wonderland and Oxford, but it was closed too. It was at this point that Dave decided to hell with it, but by this time I was becoming personally aggrieved by this lack of customer service. Come on Ronald, this is one of the key nights of the year for late-night fast food --- pick up the pace! Subway might pull this crap, but not McDonald's. Grimace is rolling over in his grave. We only had time for one final try, and it was the McDonald's at Oxford/Wharncliffe --- the very Mickey D's where my buddy Trev had his previously-referenced 20 McNugget-orgy back on New Year's Day 2003. So I knew it would be open, and lo and behold, I was correct. We got our meal and hauled ass back to Eric's place just in time to see what is left of Dick Clark introducing the ball drop. I enjoyed a tasty hamburger and Dave broke his streak in spectacular fashion with a double cheeseburger. Then he spent the next day sick as a dog. I'm not saying there was a connection, but if you, for instance, don't jog for six months and then enter a half-marathon, you're going to be pretty wrecked. The other possibly answer is Eric's shrimp platter. Or a combination of the two that made them lethal, like cosmetic products and Joker's Smilex poison.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wait, you can be a blogger AND have a girlfriend?!?! At least temporarily?!?!