Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wire-d



Some friends recently asked me if I was going to be doing any sort 'best of the decade' posts for movies, music, TV, etc. and in all likelihood, I probably will over the next couple of weeks. With that in mind, it's a good thing that (at long last) I finally sat down and saw 'The Wire' after literally years of the series being on my must-watch list. And then I say that I sat down and saw it, brother, it wasn't half-assed --- the entire series (all 60 episodes) in a three-week span. It was intense. One of those days included a nine-hour marathon of episodes that left me so Wire-intensive that I used 'CoolLesterSmooth' as a password for a new e-mail account. (And now, of course, it's a password that I will immediately change now that I've used it in this anecdote. Maybe I'll change it to 'MyNameIsMyName.')

You don't need me to tell you that 'The Wire' is one of the truly great shows in TV history, arguably the best of all time. It's sprawling, ambitious, surely a bitch to actually conceive, write and produce and yet at the same time completely focused on its goal of providing a snapshot of how various civic institutions operate in Baltimore (and by extension, the world) in modern times. What separates 'The Wire' from other great shows is that everything is interesting and everything works. Take virtually any other show; they have their weak storylines, characters or even full seasons. 'The Wire' hit on everything for five seasons straight. Given the scope of how many characters and stories were told over those 60 episodes, that's mind-boggling. The only other shows I can think of with a similar success rate are shorter-term British series like the UK Office or 'Fawlty Towers,' and the only North American example that pops to mind is 'Arrested Development.' Actually, that's not a bad comparison --- imagine AD, except each episode is an hour long, set in Baltimore, with an even larger cast of characters and more intricate, layered running storylines, and decidedly not funny aside from a few necessary comic relief moments.

It's been an interesting five years (give or take) of putting off watching the show once I started hearing the overwhelming positive buzz around it. It grew to the point that I decided to just wait until the series was completely done so I could enjoy it in one fell swoop. Also, frankly, I'm not sure the show would work as well if watched in weekly installments. Given how many characters and stories are juggled, you're almost obliged to watch a few eps in a row to get a handle on everything and everyone. And now that I've finally seen the damn thing, I can finally unlock myself from the self-imposed 'Wire' cone of silence I erected over myself to avoid spoilers. Frankly, I think I did quite well. Before I sat down to watch the pilot, I knew five things about the series....

1. It was fucking great.
2. It was about the Baltimore drug trade.
3. Characters had such iconic-sounding names as Stringer Bell, Avon Barksdale, Marlo Stanfield, Brother Mouzone, and one ultra bad-ass known simply as Omar.
4. It starred Amy Ryan, Idris Elba, Dominic West and Lance Reddick, all of whom I had seen in other shows and movies and whose entrance into those various media had been heralded with joyous cries of 'all right, it's so-and-so from The Wire!' by message board fans. Oddly enough, aside from Ryan (great on The Office and in Gone Baby Gone), those latter three guys didn't really do much for me. Reddick didn't get much to do on LOST, Elba's own 'Office' stint was somewhat underwhelming and as for West, I knew him primarily for his awful, awful, performance as Jigsaw in the Punisher sequel. That largely brutal movie is almost worth seeing for just how much West overplays that role. He was so bad that I actually looked up his IMBD profile so I could make a note of this brutal actor's name, and colour me shocked when I found out he was the star of the legendary 'Wire' series.
5. Seriously, it's really fucking great.

Given my propensity for all things television, managing to stay this in the dark about the most acclaimed series of the last decade was pretty impressive. Huzzah for me! This is a streak of willful ignorance that is usually only matched by southern Republicans. But while I brag, don't follow my example, kids. Watch 'The Wire' right now. Make it your new year's resolution for 2010. Set aside several days, since once you begin, the episodes become as addictive as the stuff that Bubbles shoots into his veins. It actually just may be the greatest television series of all time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Random Nonsense

Only I would get a zit on my nose JUST as family and friends are all congregating together for Christmas. A damn zit. At age twenty-eight. What the hell? Have I been eating too many choc-o-late bars? Since there hasn't been an Oxy pad in my house in almost a decade, I've been forced to treat it the old-fashioned way, with some good ol' soapin'. Have you ever vigorously soaped your nose before? It's more difficult than you would think. One badly timed snort can get soap in your nostril, which is never good. After a couple of days, the zit is now in its final stage of life --- the reddish lump. On the bright side, it's almost done with, but on the down side, my brother has been calling me 'Rudolph' all through the Xmas holidays. *angrily shakes fist*

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According to the results of my latest blog poll, the majority of readers believe that the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire, to be proper) should be my bandwagon nation of choice during the World Cup. Fair enough. I will root for the Elephants with the same passion as anyone in the capital city of Yamoussoukro. Perhaps this was destiny; back in my piano lesson days, 'Baby Elephant Walk' was, in fact, my signature piece that I could bust out at a moment's notice at parties. And, back in my baseball-playing days, my ability to cover ground in the outfield was compared to that of an elephant, which was obviously complimentary since an elephant takes up a lot of space and is an excellent defender (of its young).

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When you're driving down a suburban road and another car is coming in the other direction, why is it inevitable that you'll meet at the same point where a third car is parked, and thus you and the other driver have to temporarily negotiate a semi-tight pass?

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'Avatar' is like a Porsche without an engine; it looks great, but doesn't get you anywhere. The movie was as expected,an amazing display of CGI, especially when seen on a 3-D movie screen. It also featured quite possibly the least interesting screenplay of the decade. There is literally not a word of wit or originality to be found within the entire film. You spend the first 30 minutes amazed at the visuals, and then once that wears off, the next 150 minutes are pretty dull. Hopefully there's enough of a backlash against this film that it gets nowhere near the Oscar race, since even in a 10-picture field, there are dozens of better choices than this glorified version of "Pocahontas."

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Speaking of things that are all flash and no substance, enter the Indianapolis Colts. What a sorry display that was yesterday --- throwing away a potential 16-0 regular season in pursuit of, what, an extra 30 minutes of rest for Peyton Manning? The pissed-off expressions on the faces of the Indy starters on the sidelines said it all. They wanted to be in the game, and they wanted to see their unbeaten record come to a better end than having a bunch of second-stringers play like fifth-stringers against the Jets.

Indy does this every year, by the way. They inevitably post a big regular season record and then take it easy in the last one or two games of the year to 'rest up' for the playoffs, even when they have a first-round bye. In a totally unrelated story, the Colts are one of the biggest consistent chokers in modern football history. Indy has posted a double-digit win total in 11 of the past 12 seasons, but have just one Super Bowl to show for it. "But Mark, they won the Super Bowl once," you might point out. That's true, they did take the title in 2006 --- the one of those years when they actually played hard down the stretch since they were fighting for a first-round bye. (And, for the record, a bye they didn't get, meaning they didn't get any down time.) Unless a team has several critical players hurt and capital-D desperately needs to rest them, I'm totally against the idea of mailing in the last one or two games of the season. You can't turn competitive juices on and off like a faucet. Colts management has yet to figure this out after 12 years, and if they were actually concerned about things other than changing the league's passing rules to benefit Princess Peyton Manning*, they might have more than one Super Bowl to show for it. I actually felt a bit sorry for Indy coach/mannequin Jim Caldwell, since some sportscasters have already been ripping "his decision," when he is at best the sixth most influential man in the organization (owner Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Manning, Chris Polian and Marvin Harrison, who doesn't play for Indy any more but would shoot me if I didn't include him on the list) and looked as pained as anyone on the sidelines. Well, as pained as Caldwell gets. It is still unclear if Caldwell is a human or if he's some kind of hologram projected on the sidelines to pretend that the Colts have someone besides Manning running things. But anyway, hopefully the football gods are enraged over this slight and are preparing for yet another hilarious Indianapolis choke job in January.

* = This nickname is unfair. Princess Peach proved herself to be a tough competitor on several occasions in both Mario Kart and Mario Party. Princesses Leia and Zelda were known to whip some ass. Disney has no shortage of princesses who held their own against tough opposition. I apologize to these ladies for comparing them to noted choke artist Peyton Manning.** So, in the words of Link from the old 'Legend of Zelda' cartoon show, excuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess.

** = I have tried to convince many people about my 'Peyton Manning is overrated' theory this fall. It hasn't exactly been successful, but it's the truth. You'll see. You'll ALL see! *angrily shakes fist*

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Are there any Londoners out there who know of a good place in town to rent independent/foreign/'artsy' movies? My old standby location of Flixx is apparently closed, and since I haven't been in there for at least a few years, may be a long-distant memory. It's unfortunate --- Flixx got me through more than a few assignments in film studies when I needed to see obscure movies for an essay or when I slept through an in-class screening and needed to catch up. (If any professors are reading this, it only happened a few times. Cross my heart.) Even worse, I only needed three more rentals to earn a free movie to own on my Flixx membership card. There also may have been a captain's hat involved. In hindsight, it's my own fault for not renting some of the 'never seen it' movies on my list when I was in Toronto, but now that I'm back home for the holidays, I need a new place to rent quality films rather than suffer through the horrible selections of Blockbuster and Rogers Video. I may even be forced to see if the Oxford/Wonderland Jumbo Video is still open. Do they still serve free popcorn? Or, a better question, does Jumbo Video exist whatsoever anymore? It was only a matter of time before they closed up shop; no business can survive if named after an elephant that was hit by a train.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TV Year In Review (Fall Seasons)

Spoilers are abundant in this post, people! So before you read, go back and watch every single episode of every single show listed. Take the week off work if need be. I can wait.



THE AMAZING RACE
Kind of a middling season of the Race that took a lot from the personality of its winners, the uniquely bland Meghan and Cheyne. There were a few interesting locales and challenges, but overall, this year didn't bring much aside from the always-entertaining Harlem Globetrotters team and the instant-classic of a scene when Mika and Canaan (the overly-religious dating virgin couple) had a complete and total breakdown when Mika refused to go down a giant water slide due to her fear of both heights and water. On the one hand, it was a goddamn water slide. On the other hand, Canaan dealt with his girlfriend's fears by tenderly and understandingly....screaming at her and at one point seemingly about to physically toss her down the slide. Smooth move, Canaan. Maybe this is why you weren't getting any. Actually, the fact that they were dating virgins made his constant pleas of 'Just go down, Mika!' even funnier.

Also, the Race producers are extra, extra cruel for introducing a 'team is eliminated before we even begin' challenge this season. That's just mean, man --- going on the Race would be a great experience, even if the money and competition wasn't involved. To cast someone, cut them before they even leave LA and sequester them anyway for a month while the show is filming is harsh. The only bright side is that couple who were the first to go seemed pretty douchey.



CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
If Larry David needs an extra year break between 'Curb' seasons from now on, I wholly support it. The show roared back into top form with arguably its strongest season, and two of the episodes --- "Vehicular Fellatio" and "The Table Read" --- instantly joined the pantheon of CYE's all-time best installments. (It's also not a coincidence that these were the two eps that Leon, possibly the funniest character on TV, was most prominently involved in.) The much-publicized Seinfeld reunion actually ended up being a fairly minor part of the overall season, given that half the episodes featured none or little of the old cast getting back together, but still, the non-Seinfeld stuff was great and the material that did concern the reunion lived up to the hype. The two stars of the season: Bob 'Marty Funkhouser' Einstein and Jerry Seinfeld himself. I never appreciated Funkhouser as much as I did this year, culminating in that hysterically dirty joke that he told during 'The Table Read' that had to have been improvised on the spot by Einstein. As for Jerry, he and Larry had such great chemistry that I'm demanding that Seinfeld returns to become a Curb semi-regular like Ted Danson. It's not like Jerry has anything better to do, aside from possibly stealing Conan O'Brien's job.

(p.s. In trying to find a picture for this entry, I actually googled "Larry David + women's panties." Sigh.)



DEXTER
I had my issues with Dexter's third season, since the subplots were becoming onerous and the finale was a huge disappointment --- so, pretty much anything not involving Jimmy Smits was a letdown. So it was good to see that season four stepped things up nicely, with an equally good villain (the great John Lithgow), a mostly coherent main storyline, fairly inoffensive subplots (Maria and Batista got married, Quinn is apparently great at cunnilingus, Masuka drives the most hilariously pimped-out truck on the planet) and, best of all, a final episode that provided the biggest shock of the whole series. Am I on board with Rita's death? Somewhat. As opposed to many in the Dexter fan world, I wasn't annoyed at Julie Benz's character and, if anything, thought more could have been done with her doubts about Dexter's behaviour. Eliminating Rita turns the series on its head and could either give Dexter more or less incentive to rid himself of his 'dark passenger.' He could either get obsessed by her death and take it out on Miami's underworld or he could try even harder to become normal since now he has three kids for whom he is solely responsible. There's also the fact that the investigation of Rita's murder could open a whole 'nother can of worms, since now the police will be questioning Dexter's involvement with Trinity, why Rita's death didn't fit Trinity's killing pattern (the past bathtub victims were all single women), and possibly what would happen if Trinity's family recognizes "Kyle Butler"'s wife as another victim of their crazy-ass father. Given that Quinn (Dexter's new nemesis on the force) is already suspicious of him, Masuka knows about Rita kissing their neighbour and even Deb's general good police instincts, I'm very interested to see what the fifth season holds for ol' Dexter.



HUNG
I don't know what to make of this show, even after watching a whole season. I appreciate a dramedy, but 'Hung' doesn't seem to know itself if it's more of a comedy or a drama. Worst of all, by the last episode, I found myself not giving much of a damn about any of the characters anymore and I'll probably skip the next season. On the plus side, Jane Adams, Tom Jane and (of all people) Anne Heche delivered good performances. Then again, should I even give Jane credit? He was playing a guy with a remarkably huge dick --- you don't think he wasn't fired up to play this role? Jane probably put even more effort into this role than he did during the making of 'Homeless Dad.'



MAD MEN
Ok, the picture doesn't have much to directly do with the show, but c'mon, it's NPH at Christina Hendricks' Christmas party. That's just tremendous. Is there any doubt that Barney Stinson is a big Mad Men fan? Now that 'How I Met Your Mother' has introduced the concept of time travel, there isn't any reason why Barney couldn't go back to the 60's to wreak havoc. Can you imagine an entire episode devoted to Barney trying to pick up Joan Holloway? Or Barney and Don Draper having a "seduce-off"? That's pure gold.

But anyway, back to Mad Men itself, which finished off yet another outstanding season. We went from Italy to the British invasion to a man having his foot destroyed by a lawn mower to January Jones actually showing some acting ability* to a mediation on the Kennedy assassination to the high-fiving, adrenaline-rush of the last episode, when we saw the birth of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce. Between the new company and Draper's marriage breaking up, the whole show has been turned on its ear, and, not unlike as with 'Dexter,' we'll be seeing a completely new Mad Men universe at the start of next season's premiere. Will we stick in 1964 to see how the new company gets off the ground, or will we suddenly jump to, like, 1966 or something and we'll suddenly see Pete Campbell in a Beatles moptop?

* = sadly, Ms. Jones saw her progress erased after she delivered one of the worst Saturday Night Live hosting gigs in recent memory. Tough break, January.



SURVIVOR: SAMOA
I've previously complained about how Survivor has gotten hooked on the idea of making one particular contestant the star of the season, and thus said star gets a good three-quarters of the screentime to the detriment to the other players. In Gabon it was Sugar Kiper, in Tocantins it was Coach Wade, and this time around in Samoa, it was Russell Hantz who was heavily promoted as "the biggest villain in Survivor history" and received no fewer than four confessionals in every show bragging about how smart he was and how easily he was going to win the game. For most of the season, it looked like it would be true, since S19 featured one of the sorriest casts in the history of the show. Of the 20 people in the cast, I would be hard-pressed to find a half-dozen that really played the game with any sense of creative strategy, and thus Russell stood out simply because he had a personality, unlike half the mopes on the show. Hopefully this isn't an indication of the next phase of 'star casting' --- a dull overall cast that makes the 'star' stand out that much more. Earlier Survivor seasons obviously had a lot of dominant personalities, but you also always got a good feel for what the other contestants were all about too. Never in earlier seasons would you have a guy like Brett, the blandly anonymous member of the Galu tribe who was virtually never shown or highlighted in any way until the second-to-last episode when he won an immunity challenge. Brett ended up in fourth place and received less overall screentime than Russell did in any given episode. That's just a failure of editing and/or casting such an uninteresting guy in the first place.

Linda Holmes wrote a fantastic blog post that basically summed up all of my thoughts on the season and why Russell ultimately lost to much more pleasant Natalie. For all of Russell's alleged strategic brilliance, he was also a douche, and at the end of the day, a jury won't vote for a douche that didn't just vote them out, but makes them feel dumb for being voted out. It's one thing for a Survivor finalist to say, "I made this strategic play to vote you out," and quite another to basically say, as Russell did, "I really put one over on you suckers, I'm the smartest one here, ain't I great?" As Linda pointed out in her blog, Russell wasn't exactly making any game-shifting choices when it came to people that he 'wanted out of the game.' On top of that, I'd also add that his post-merger moves were also pretty uneventful because since Russell, Natalie, Mick and Jaison were in a such a hole (down 8-4 in numbers to the former Galu tribe), their strategy was very limited. They voted as one and acted as one, meaning that it was hard for any of the Galus on the jury to see the 'strategy' that might have gone into it. So in a final vote of three people who basically played the same game, it was no surprise that it came down to a contest of who the jury liked the most, and thus Natalie was the runaway winner. The intense focus on Russell throughout the entire season was also a huge hint to the audience, since basically it told the audience that the guy wasn't going to win. There's no narrative thrust to a story of a guy who boasts he's going to win a game, competes against mostly inept opponents and then indeed wins, but there is a much better story about a braggart who is overcome by his own hubris by an opponent that he underestimated throughout the entire game. The capper was Russell's behaviour at the reunion show, near-tears over not winning and having to literally try to bribe Natalie to 'give him' the title of sole Survivor. I'll say this about Russell, he genuinely wanted to win more than anything, whereas in the case of Coach and Sugar it seemed like they were mostly just interested in being on TV. But that said, c'mon Russell, suck it up and take your defeat like a man. That was legitimately pathetic. THIS GUY is supposed to be one of the all-time great Survivors? Cirie Fields and Rob Cesternino would eat this Russell for lunch, and that's just amongst the non-winners.



THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER
Survivor wasn't the only reality show that featured 'star casting' this fall, as TUF featured Kimbo Slice as the star attraction of its season of heavyweight fighters. The good news is that Kimbo came out of the show looking great, presenting himself as a humble, likable fighter who is always trying to improve. Even though Kimbo lost in the first round, he lost to the eventual winner, Roy Nelson --- a guy who frankly was just way too good and experienced for this weak-ass cast. This season had some of the worst fights in TUF history, perhaps topped off by the James McSweeney/Wes Shivers fights where both men spent most of the second round literally bent over in the middle of the cage, sucking wind. Out of the 16 guys in the cast, Nelson is the only one with a legit future as a heavyweight fighter, and even that's not fair since Nelson was too good to be put up against these jabronies in the first place. It was like watching Mac Danzig roll his way through the lightweight season, except minus the fact that Danzig's main strategy isn't to maneuver his guy over opponents and literally crush them down until the fight is stopped. But then again, Nelson also comes to the cage to Weird Al Yankovic's "Fat," so it's impossible to hate the guy. So the fights were mostly terrible, the two coaches didn't even end up having their headline fight (Rampage Jackson went off to star in the A-Team movie rather than face Rashad Evans) and the winner was the guy who Dana White spent half the show deriding as boring. Methinks it'll be while before we get another heavyweight-only TUF season.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Streak

After a full year of playing ESPN.com's "Beat The Streak" game, my record stands at exactly 235 wins and 235 losses (plus 15 'pushes,' or ties). Do I know a lot about sports, or do I know a lot about sports?! (The answer: sort of.) My longest-ever streak is seven correct guesses in a row, which sounds impressive until you see that you need to hit 29 in a row to even think about getting a prize.

It's all random chance, essentially. You're presented a slate of games or events from which to choose form, and ESPN makes things naturally difficult by picking somewhat hard-to-figure matchups. If the Colts are playing the Rams one week, you won't see that game as a possible choice --- but, you might see the game included under the question of 'what total will be higher, Indy's winning margin or the Rams' total points?' Actually wait, that's a bad example, since Indy's winning margin would still be the obvious choice, but still, you get the picture. Given the difficulty of matchups, making a 29-result streak would be like predicting the result of 29 straight coin flips. I don't happen to remember the calculation from my twelfth grade statistics class, but that's awfully tough to pull off. Not even a master of coin-flipping like Two-Face could manage it, and he's flipping crazy.

My New Year's resolution for 2010? Capture the poltergeist living in my basement. My second resolution, however, is to end the year over the .500 mark in the Streak game. Perhaps I'll run into a real spot of luck and put together a streak that rivals Joe DiMaggio's hits in consecutive games, Edwin Moses' undefeated record over a nine-year span in the 400-meter hurdles, or even the Undertaker's winning atreak at Wrestlemania. Someday, someday.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bigfoot? BIGFOOT!



As you all know, October 24 is already recognized as a worldwide holiday due to being my birthday, but now it may have a second designation attached to it --- NATIONAL BIGFOOT DAY!

Now, you might argue that it seems a bit too early to go overboard, given how the only apparent evidence is a grainy photo of what looks like a guy in a splash pants and a rain jacket. BUT, just imagine if that picture ended up being the key hint we need to finally proving Bigfoot's existence and ending his reign of hairy terror (hair-or) within North America's woodlands. Since the picture was taken on October 24, my birthday would live in infamy as the day that man finally overcame nature. Eat it, Bigfoot. First you drive John Lithgow to tears, and now this. (Though, in hindsight, maybe Harry was lucky he didn't end up in a bathtub with his throat slit for pissing Lithgow off.)

The downside, of course, is a 'National Bigfoot Day' somewhat overshadow the glory that is my birthday. Some people might even more commonly celebrate Bigfoot Day over 'Mark Appreciation Day/Month.' Normally I'd be upset about this, but I wouldn't mind sharing 10/24 with Bigfoot. Poor guy, living in the woods all this time, evading humans in the same way that reality TV stars lack self-awareness...it's hard not to feel a bit sorry for the big lug. A holiday in his honour would be the least we could do after years of hunting and torment. Besides, Bigfoot and I have much in common. To wit, we both have big feet. And ladies, you know what they say about guys with big feet....they also write big, borderline amusing blog posts about a goddamn Bigfoot hoax.

NB, my favourite part of the article is when the hunter and his sons all agree that they would never take a shot at Bigfoot because "it has every right to live." They apparently said this with straight faces WHILE THEY WERE OUT DEER HUNTING.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Betting Updates!

* It's been over two years since I lost a slap bet to my friend Kyle, and still, he has only cashed in on one of his allotted five slaps. And that first one took place very soon after I lost the bet in the first place, so Kyle has been biding his time like...uh....Joe Biden? I may have been saved somewhat by the fact that Kyle currently lives in Ajax, and thus I don't see him as often as I used to. Kyle also didn't know my address last year in Toronto, thus sparing me from hearing my buzzer ring, going downstairs and opening the door to receive a thunderous slap, and then sitting on my ass rubbing my sore cheek while Kyle played his dubbed Lionel Ritchie cover of "I Just Called To Say I'll Slap You." I presume he would do so while holding a boombox over his head like John Cusack in Say Anything.

Damn, I need to win a slap bet one of these days. I'd be so creative about it.


* I'm already mentally spending the $200,000 I will collect from my friend Sarah in 2017 in regards to our wager about the career prospects of Lindsay Lohan. Back in 2007, Sarah predicted that Lohan would win an Oscar sometime in the next ten years. I quickly jumped on that bet in the manner of a hungry bear jumping onto a piece of salmon. If Lohan was a trainwreck in 2007, by now she's become the living personification of that Calvin & Hobbes comic strip (see below) where a plane crash, trainwreck, earthquake and stove explosion all happen at the same spot. Even worse, she has gone from "unattractive and sketchy, but yeah, I'd still probably because who am I to talk?" to legitimately ugly in the span of just two years. In hindsight, I should've bet more than 200 grand. What should I spend the money on? Maybe an ostrich farm.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Vulturess?



"Mark, are you trying to get more blog traffic by including pictures of sexy actresses with your posts?"
"Yes."
"Okay, just checking."

I'm going to geek out for a bit and talk about the latest Spider-Man 4 casting news. On paper, the idea of Anne Hathaway in Spider-Man 4 is a terrific one, since really, who doesn't like Anne Hathaway? But seriously, the "Vulturess"? Huh? Even odder is the concept that Hathaway will be playing Felicia Hardy, but she'll just be a different super villainess than Black Cat. Again, huh?

First, the concept of the Vulture having a similarly-gimmicked female sidekick reminds me of the old Batman TV series, when the Joker or Penguin or whomever would have their team of henchmen named 'Giggles,' 'Chuckles,' 'Sparrow,' 'Condor.' or whatever the villain's theme entailed. (I always wondered, did the henchmen get to pick these names or did the villain assign them? I would guess it's the latter, since no self-respecting hard criminal would voluntarily call himself Sparrow. Then again, they were fighting a guy known as Robin, so who knows.) In addition to the thugs, the Batvillain also had a female cohort as part of the gang, whose entire role seemed to consist of either....

a) being the one somewhat good person in the gang that Batman could convince to see the error of her ways and help he and Robin

or...

b) being a generic 'bad girl' who would unsuccessfully try to seduce Batman and then end up eating a right cross from Batgirl

Of course, in the macro sense, these female sidekicks only existed to give the male-heavy show some eye candy, which I'd guess is also the logic behind the Vulturess. But I'm a bit confused --- if you're going to have a new character, then why let it be known that Hathaway is Felicia Hardy? That would be like Chris Nolan announcing that, say, Bob Hoskins will be playing Oswald Cobblepot in the next Batman movie, but then having Oswald have all of Clayface's powers and never make any reference to the Penguin.

Actually, the upcoming Batman installment might play a role in this odd casting decision. Since there are a number of rumours that Catwoman could be the villain in the Dark Knight sequel, there's a school of thought that argues that Sam Raimi doesn't want to feature Black Cat since, let's be honest, Black Cat is more than a bit of a conceptual rip-off. But okay, so if you don't want Black Cat, when just call Anne Hathaway's character 'Jane Smith' or something and forget the Felicia Hardy name altogether. And for the love of god, come up with a different name than 'Vulturess,' which sounds less like a villain and more like a sound your garbage disposal makes when it's backed up.

The other problem here is that Spider-Man has such a deep and varied roster of enemies that it seems pretty lame to invent a new one for the movie. Part of the problem could be, I suppose, that if Raimi wanted to freshen things up and give Spidey a woman to battle, there are surprisingly few female villains in Spider-Man's history. Black Cat is probably the most prominent, and she's been a hero for the better part of 20 years. I read a whooooole lot of Spidey comics as a kid, and literally the only notable female villains I could think of off the top of my head were Shriek, the short-lived female Doctor Octopus, Titania, Stunner and.....that's it. Seriously, five semi-major female enemies in almost 50 years of publication, and it's a stretch to even consider Stunner and female Octopus "semi-major" (plus, Titania is more of a She-Hulk villain).

If I were a filmmaker faced with the dilemma of wanting Anne Hathaway in my upcoming Spider-Man movie but not having any particular role for her, I'd ditch this whole Felicia Hardy/Vulturess nonsense and just have her play Mysterio. Now there's a character who could be considered a major Spidey villain, and yet the gender is really kind of a non-factor given that Mysterio's whole gimmick is that he uses illusion and deceit to commit crimes rather than brute force. The Mysterio character has been adopted by a few different villains over the years, so there wouldn't be such a continuity issue with someone other than Quentin Beck wearing the ol'fishbowl and purple cape. Besides, giving Spider-Man a female villain that he'd have to outwit rather than fight neatly sidesteps that always-awkward moment in superhero movies when the male hero is openly slugging a woman in the face. I mean sure, if a woman was trying to violently murder me, I'd have no qualms about cold-cocking her, but I'm not sure that's the message you want to translate in a PG-rated movie. (Disney always found a way around this --- Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty turned into a monstrous dragon before being killed, the Queen in Snow White was hit by lightning, etc. That Walt Disney might have been a dirtbag Nazi sympathizer, but he sure had a soft spot for domestic violence.)

Two positive notes to end on....

* John Malkovich is just about perfect casting as Vulture. No problems at all with that choice from Raimi. The only better possible option would've been Ben Kingsley, who apparently was interested in the role when Vulture showed up in an early draft of Spider-Man 3 as Sandman's cellmate and bad influence. Since this casting would've also meant that Venom wouldn't have been in SM3 and we probably would've gotten a better movie out of the deal....crap! (Note: I'm getting this information from Wikipedia, so of course it has to be true.)

* There actually is some comic-book precedent for a female Vulture character, as Spider-Girl (Peter Parker's alternate-universe daughter) has an enemy known as the Raptor, the Vulture's daughter. If this is the idea that Raimi is using for his movie, then I have to object to the casting. Why use Anne Hathaway when Andrea Bargnani is right there? He plays for the Raptors and he has a girl's name. Done and done. It might seem odd to have John Malkovich as the father of a seven-foot-tall Italian, but hey, it's a comic book movie. Some liberties need to be taken.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Who Should I Root For During The World Cup?

Given how my family background is half-Ukrainian and half-Irish, the final stage of UEFA's World Cup qualifying matches were pretty dang frustrating for me. The Irish got hosed by the already-legendary non-call(s) from the officials and the Ukes lost to Greece. Greece! Are you serious? Is this Euro 2004? Who the hell loses to Greece? My Greek friend Joanne now has bragging rights for the next several years, which may force me to retaliate by going to Athens and stealing the Parthenon. That's right, stealing it. Like Carmen Sandiego.

So with both of my ancestral countries out of the running and Soccer Canada continuing to be a living joke, I find myself needing a dance partner for the 2010 World Cup. I really got an added kick out of supporting Ukraine back in 2006, when Andriy "Sheva" Shevchenko basically single-handedly carried Ukraine to the quarter-finals. The World Cup is great as it is, but it adds an extra layer of intrigue when you're actually invested in one of the participating nations. It also helped that 2006 was my first summer living in Toronto, where I watched the matches at my neighbourhood corner pub with a rotating cast of patrons from the various nations. The atmosphere was fantastic. I lived near Koreatown and was twice woken up by a multitude of horns honking to celebrate a South Korea goal.

The question is, then, of the 32 teams in this year's World Cup, which should earn my support? Keep in mind that actual soccer ability will have next to nothing to do with the choice. Let's break it down, first with the teams that didn't make the cut.


THE NO-CHANCERS
* North Korea
Well, duh. What a wonderful bit of karmic justice that these clowns were slotted into the Group of Death; facing Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast, Kim Jong-Il's crew are staring 0-3 and possibly an 0-10 goal differential right in the face. And by karmic justice, I mean 'the USA slipped FIFA a bit of cash under the table.' That also might explain Group C.

* Chile
Meh. I really have no opinion on the Chilean team one way of the other. You could say my attitude towards them is rather....frosty.

* Italy
Forget, they just won it last time. Spread the wealth, Italy.

* France
After that Ireland fiasco? Shyeah right. Fun fact: apparently in the staging rehearsal for the World Cup group selection last Friday, Charlize Theron jokingly yelled out 'Ireland!' when she drew France's name from the bowl. Oh, Charlize --- funny, talented, beautiful and willing to play a Mr. F on national television. *mimes 'call me' hand motion*

* Argentina
Rooting for Argentina would seem like I was endorsing Diego Maradona's hiring. Maradona has already taken a firm place somewhere between Wayne Gretzky and Isiah Thomas on the list of all-time great players who turned into all-time lousy coaches.

* Germany
As you might notice, I've included some of the soccer world's biggest winners on this list of teams I won't root for. You can't just naturally adopt one of these titans as your new favourite team. That would be bandwagon-jumping of the highest order. Ze Germans have three World Cups already, they don't need my support.

* Algeria
I had a whole paragraph written citing that old Cheers bit when Coach is trying to teach Sam geography by associating every country with a little song to the tune of 'When The Saints Go Marching In.' "Albania/Albania/You border on the Adriatic/Your land is mostly mountainous/And your chief export is chrome." Unfortunately, then I realized that Albania didn't quality for the World Cup --- Algeria did. Uh, yeah. I've got nothing.

* Greece
DAMMIT JOANNE.

* The United States
As a Canadian, I'm legally obligated to not cheer for the USA in anything. I'm pretty sure it's in NAFTA. I got all my USA-fandom out of my system when I was a ten-year-old rooting for Hulk Hogan to beat Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII. Spoiler alert: Hogan won.

* Serbia
Fun fact: the Serbs have only five regulars on their 'most recently capped' roster whose names don't end in 'ic.' I see.

* Portugal
With Spain capturing Euro 2008, Portugal inherits the title of 'most distinguished European soccer nation whose constant failure is always hilarious.' Rooting for them would take away one of my most cherished memories of watching the 2006 Cup at the pub --- a bar-wide chant of 'DIVER DIVER' at Ronaldo. Plus, a buddy of mine hooked up with a Portuguese girl at a party once and was bothered by her for the next two years. How can I reward such a country?

* Slovenia
Meh. I feel like I would often confuse them with Slovakia.

* Slovakia
See Slovenia's entry, except for this hilarious addendum. I logged onto Slovaki's Wikipedia page to see if I could drum up any interesting facts about the team, and someone edited the opening line to read, "The Slovakia national football team are a truly awful sporting outfit." Clearly there are some bitter Poland/Northern Ireland/Czech fans amidst Wikipedia's editing crew.

* Uruguay
I guess you could include them in the group of past champions I won't root for, but though Uruguay has two World Cups to their name, they haven't been anything close to a world footballing power for about 40 years. Well, tough break, Uruguay. U r gone.



THE NOT REALLYS
* Brazil
This whole category is made up of the three teams who I can't really support due to my personal bandwagon-jumping rule, but who I can't help but respect. In other words, I'd easily support any of these three over any of the teams in the previous group, but I'd root against any of these three if they faced anyone in the upcoming group. In Brazil's case, they'd win every tournament if the World Cup was awarded on sheer talent and style. I'd want to watch an intra-squad game between the Brazilians moreso than any other nation. Also, according to this site, I'd be nicknamed 'Polishezo' if I were a Brazilian soccer player. That just sounds cool.

* Spain
True, they just won Euro 2008, but their World Cup record is so comically choke-filled that they're somewhat of a sentimental favourite in my book. My friend Sarah had the pleasure of actually being in Spain during Euro 2008, and she said the country erupted into such a good-natured party after they won and a World Cup victory would only add onto the celebration. Then, with a Cup under their belts, they can basically become the new France and I can slot them into the No-Chancers group. Sorry, Spain.

* England
As a Maple Leafs fan, surely I have to have a soft spot for the international soccer version of the Leafs. Reveling in their last title back in the mid-60's, always inflating expectations, terrible at shootouts....the similarities are eerie. England even had their own John Ferguson Jr. in Steve McClaren, though at least FIFA rules prevented McClaren from trading Peter Crouch's international rights to the USA for, say, Alexei Lalas in 2007 and signing him to a no-cut cap contract.



THE CONTENDERS
With over half the field out, my quest to find a favorite team has reached the knockout stage. Here are my final fifteen options.....

* Ghana
You've got to have the underdog darlings of the 2006 World Cup in the mix. Someone who tells as many terrible jokes as I do (see: the Chile entry) would be a natural fan of a country with such a pun-friendly name. "They're Ghana do it!" "You're Ghana get beat!" "I support Ghana, Rhea Perlman!"

* South Korea
Like I said, I used to live on the outskirts of Toronto's Koreatown. In fact, depending on where I end up living next year, my location might play a huge factor in whatever team I end up supporting. If I'm in the midst of a cultural neighbourhood that has a team in the Cup, I might get swept up in the fever. Or, with my luck, I'll probably end up living in a neighbourhood with a crappy soccer connection, i.e. Toronto's little-known Faroe Islandstown. The only celebratory car-honking I'd have to worry about there would be if the Faroe Islands lost by fewer than ten goals.

* South Africa
Natural to support the host country, plus my folks went on a safari in South Africa last year and had a wonderful time. Question: suppose the scenario in 'District 9' actually happened. Would the Prawns be eligible to be capped for the South African squad? I would guess probably not, and maybe it's for the best, given that they didn't seem particularly physically fit. Too much cat food, I'd reckon.

* Paraguay
Uruguay has two World Cup titles, while its partner in Guay marriage has a sorry record at the World Cup. It's time for Paraguay to step up and claim equality amongst the Guays. I'll bet if both Uruguay and Paraguay pooled their resources, they could form a mighty team, but I'm not sure this type of Guay civil union would be allowed. When will people learn?

* Cote d'Ivoire
a.k.a. the Ivory Coast. However you say it, these guys were the darlings at World Cup 2006 and would've made it to the knockout stage if it hadn't been for their being drawn in the Group of Death. I love that this country has two names and they're both bad-ass as hell. If that wasn't enough, their team nickname is 'The Elephants.' I recently had a dream about alien elephants that landed on our planet, so perhaps this was a subconscious message to start rooting for Ivory Coast. That may be the oddest sentence ever written.

* Denmark
I like Hamlet. My name is right there in the country's name. That is all.

* Netherlands
Another team who often plays the World Cup with their hands wrapped around their collective neck. It's a shame that Holland never won a World Cup back in their revolutionary 'Total Football' days that took the soccer world by storm, since I'm not sure if they really have the firepower to compete with the big boys in terms of actually winning a championship. While it's fun to tease my Dutch friends when they suddenly jump hard on the Holland bandwagon during every Euro or World Cup tournament, I can't help but wonder if I should be silently rooting for the Oranje as well.

* Cameroon
They're known as the Indomitable Lions. Yes, that's right, INDOMITABLE. Also, supporting them would mean I could bust out Bugs Bunny's "whatta maroon" line roughly 75 times per match.

* Nigeria
Yeah, let's face it, I'm basically pulling for every African team. It would mean extra-much to these countries to turn in a great performance on the world stage. (Except for Algeria, who I'm omitted solely due to my confusion over Cheers trivia.) Could my admiration for Bono be affecting my World Cup picks? Possibly....after all, I am wearing sunglasses while writing this post and simultaneously coming up with increasingly obtuse rhymes for 'elevation.'

* Australia
Arguably my favourite country in the world that I haven't actually been to, Australia would be a great choice. They'd also be a popular underdog given that they got screwed out of the last World Cup thanks to a 'penalty' (coughcoughdivecoughcough) awarded to an Italian player in stoppage time.

* Switzerland
Arguably my second-favourite country in the world that I haven't actually been to, Switzerland would be a great choice. You know, if I were a more well-traveled man, I might have some actual emotional connections to these countries and might be able to make a more informed choice when picking a World Cup side. That cinches it --- if you all send me generous cash donations, I'll take a trip to the country that I end up supporting for this World Cup. I figure $500 a head should get me there comfortably and allow me a stay in a Westernized hotel that will keep me nice and sequestered from any actual local flavour. It will be like my family vacation to Jamaica when I was 11, and my closest brush with the local cuisine was Burger King.

* Mexico
Hey, I've actually been to Mexico! Stop the presses! It might be odd rooting for one of Canada's CONCACAF rivals, but then again, Canada is so below Mexico's radar that it would be like Pluto feeling strange about cheering for Saturn in the galactic World Cup. Mexico's WC history seems to run in streaks. They made were knocked out in the group stage every year from 1950 to 1966, and are currently on a four-tournament streak of advancing to the second round before being eliminated. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Mexicans will go out in round two yet again to even up their streaks, thus dooming them to some type of LOST-esque time loop. Their only hope is if Jared Borgetti goes back to 1977 and detonates a nuclear bomb.

* Japan
The team is pretty mediocre, but I like Japan as a country. It remains to be seen if they'll take as a fan in the wake of that last joke about detonating a nuclear bomb. Too soon?

* New Zealand
NZ is another country I like, and given that my cousin currently lives there, I really have no excuse not to visit. Then again, she will obviously be rooting for the New Zealanders by proxy, and I don't want to sign my entire family's loyalty away to a country that I have no direct ties to. I mean, I like 'Flight Of The Conchords,' but not to the extent of patterning my life after them. I've seen Mel --- that's a road I'd rather not travel.

* Honduras
I actually have a small connection to Honduras, given that Toronto FC's Amado Guevara is the team captain and I've written a few stories about his quest to lead his country into the World Cup. Given that no other current TFC players are expected to be capped to a World Cup side, Guevara will be the only person in this year's tournament who can say that he knows me. And by knows me, I mean he could vaguely identify me as "that writer who always wears a toque at practice," but still, that counts.

So there they are, my fifteen options for temporary World Cup fandom. Feel free to leave a comment in favour of one team or another, since I'm willing to listen to any and all opinions about who I should be rooting for in June.

Stay tuned for next week's post, where I list 15 women I know and ask your opinion on which one I should date. It should be illuminating!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Barney The Snowman

Happy....wait for it....birthday!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Look Closer



Pretty much anything is good if you affix a 'ghost' suffix to it. Well, except for Bill Cosby's movie Ghost Dad. And the Ghost Rider movie. And probably many more things that I'm forgetting that totally invalidate my opening sentence. But BY AND LARGE, things with a 'ghost' suffix are awesome. Ghostbusters. The Ghostercoaster at Canada's Wonderland. The movie Ghost World, which I believe is now subtitled 'The Last Time Thora Birch Was Considered More Attractive Than Scarlett Johansson.'

Man, I'm getting off-topic. Anyway, now you can add the Ghost Man to this latter list. He's a conceptual artist who is half-chameleon, half-future victim of lead poisoning thanks to covering his entire body with paint on a semi-regular basis. This link contains all of his known photos, but I've also reprinted a few of his better ones below. I swear, I had to look at that construction site pic for a few minutes before I finally spotted him.

I did a Google search on the guy and, interestingly, 'Ghost Man' is apparently a racist term for Chinese people, so I hope that that's this guy's deliberately chosen name and not just the Hi-Fructose Magazine writer being a prejudiced douche. I don't want to get myself into a Stan Marsh-on-Wheel Of Fortune situation here.



Monday, November 30, 2009

Prince + Vikings = Der Komedy

Hey everyone, Prince was at the Vikings game yesterday! He's not weird! He likes football just like a regular person!



....or, he just hung around a private box looking like a vampire. Oh Prince, why must everything about you be so strange? I choose to believe he just stood in that position for the entire game.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 10 Roughest MMA Knockouts (And UFC 107 Picks)

I haven't done one of these UFC pick posts in a while, so I'll make up for it by posting this link to a YouTube video of some of MMA's most vicious knockouts. For my money, Evans-Liddell should've been number one. Liddell looked like he was stone dead. Also, I'm kinda surprised the famous Rich Franklin/Nate Quarry 'timberrrrr' knockout didn't make the cut. Watch it quick before the UFC inevitable pulls the footage!



Onto the picks! And for god's sake, given the incredible rash of injuries befalling UFC fighters, let's hope everyone can stay healthy between now and Saturday.

* Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce. Fitch was originally supposed to fight Ricardo Almeida, who got injured. Then he was supposed to fight Thiago Alves, who got injured. So now in comes Mike 'Bronze Medal' Pierce, who has just one UFC fight under his belt and now must face the consensus #2 welterweight in the world. In short, I hope Pierce has a good dental plan. I had a high school teacher named Mike Pearse whose last name was pronounced the same as 'Pierce.' My pal Matt always inexplicably hated Mr. Pearse, so maybe Matt can get work out some of his issues by seeing Pierce get demolished on Saturday. Fitch, TKO, second round.


* Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve. Buentello will hold a special place in my heart for main-eventing the first UFC pay-per-view I ever watched. I tagged along with some friends to London's Oar House to watch UFC 55, headlined by the Buentello-Arlovski fight for the heavyweight title. My friends' hype and the UFC promo package had me all revved up for what was going to be a classic tilt....and then Arlovski knocked Buentello out in 15 seconds. Hmmm. That humiliating loss aside, Buentello is a pretty solid fighter and will be in tough against the gargantuan Stefan Struve, a near seven-footer whose only UFC loss is to Junior Dos Santos. In spite of his size, Struve is actually something of a submission specialist, which perhaps isn't so unusual given that this gangly motherfucker can put you into a triangle from basically any position on the ground. Since Buentello has a history of submission defeats, I'll actually pick Struve to pull the minor upset. Struve, submission, second round.


* Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo. This is MMA's version of a zero-sum game. Either Mir will instantly take down Kongo and submit him (since Kongo's ground game is non-existent), or Kongo will pound Mir's face into hamburger (since Mir's striking abilities are non-existent against anyone who isn't suffered from a severe staph infection). After four years, could Kongo possibly have learned some damn takedown defense? After knocking out a weakened Minotauro Nogueira, does Mir actually think he possesses stand-up skills? If Mir even thinks for a moment he can compete with Kongo standing, then this fight will turn into a remake of 'Titanic, with Mir playing the boat and Kongo's fists playing the iceberg. Dana White can play Billy Zane's role. Jon Fitch can play Victor Garber's architect character. This analogy is falling apart. Anyway, yes, in fact I do think Mir is dumb enough to stand and trade long enough for Kongo to bash him. Kongo, knockout, first round.


* Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida. This one has fight of the night written all over it. You've got arguably the second-best lightweight in the UFC (Florian) coming off of a decisive loss in a title match, and he's facing perhaps the highest-energy fighter. I think Florian don't do what Diego Sanchez did and just pound away at Guida to test his toughness. Instead, Florian might even let Guida take him down since Guida (for all of his energy and hard work) rarely does a lot of actual damage to opponents when he's controlling them. Basically, Guida is the most exciting lay-and-pray fighter imaginable. I can see Florian using this to his advantage and trying to lock Guida up in a submission when they're on the ground. The fight might unfold quite a bit like the Guida-Roger Huerta fight, which was only one of the best matches of 2007. I expect nothing less from this matchup. Florian, submission, third round.


* BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez. Gray Maynard, Frank Edgar and maybe Tyson Griffin are next in line for whomever the lightweight champion is after Saturday, but honestly, Sanchez might be the last guy left in the division who can give BJ a real challenge. If Penn beats Diego, then we might see the re-emergence of Bored BJ Penn, who makes noise about moving back up to welterweight given the lack of challenge in his natural division. I'd like to see Penn actually do it and fully clean out the LWs, but he might have a point. The only thing in his way is Sanchez, who it should be noted is far from just a stepping stone. Diego's only losses came to Fitch (in a split decision at welterweight) and a decision loss to Josh Koscheck when he was dealing with a staph infection and a Hepatitis C scare. Penn will have to figure out a way to do what no other fighter has done (finish Sanchez), since if this one goes into the fourth or fifth round, Penn will be at a decided cardio disadvantage. Diego's cardio is second to none, whereas BJ still hasn't definitively answered the question of if he trains hard enough to go five rounds. He did make it into the fourth round to beat Florian in his last fight, but that came just a few months after quitting rather than go into a fifth round against Georges St. Pierre. Then again, GSP was giving him the beating of a lifetime, so I can see why he wanted to give it up. Anyway, Diego seems to have the tools to outlast, if not actually finish, Penn, but until another lightweight proves that he can do it, I just can't pick against the undisputed #1 LW in the world. Penn, TKO, third round.


Undercard....
* Matt Wiman over Shane Nelson, decision.
* Ricardo Funch over Johny Hendricks, TKO, first round.
* TJ Grant over Kevin Burns, submission, third round.
* Rousimar Palhares over Lucio Linhares, submission, first round.
* Edgar Garcia over DaMarques Johnson, TKO, second round.
* Wilson Gouveia over Alan Belcher, decision.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Nine Most Disappointing Movies Of 2009



We're nearing the end of the decade, which means that media outlets everywhere will soon be inundating us with 'best of the 2000s' lists for literally everything, including movies. The Telegraph has already gotten in on the act, as has the Times, in spite of the fact that the decade is technically still going. (I guess they have low hopes for 'Avatar'...more on this later.) Of these two, the Times wins the prize for going the furthest down the list before including a truly horrible movie. The Times tempts fate by including some middling stuff like Casino Royale, Last King of Scotland and The Queen in their top ten, but none of those are truly capital-H Horrible like the Telegraph's #9 selection, "The Passion Of The Christ." The Toronto Star copped out by just listing their ten most 'important' movies of the decade, hiding behind that debatable term in spite of the fact that you can't really judge what a decade's most important movies were until years down the line. Also, I'm pretty sure that future generations won't be getting all hot and bothered over Passion Of The Christ or Donnie Darko.

So, with these lists in mind, I'm sure you're all expecting me to chime in with my own best-of-the-Aughts list. Nuh uh. Not yet. It will take time, preparation and gallons of caffeinated beverages. But in the meantime, here are nine pieces of crap that certainly won't make the cut.

A word on terminology...this is not a list of the worst films of the year, aside from a couple of instances. These are merely the most disappointing, a.k.a. the movies I went into expecting to enjoy, but walked out bitterly unentertained. Something like "Transformers 2" may have stunk, but since I fully expected it to stink, it doesn't make this list. Somewhere, Michael Bay wipes sweat from his brow, relieved that his lowered-expectations ploy has worked yet again.

Onto the list!

(Wait, so the first part of this post had nothing to do with the second part? What poor planning. Feel free to nominate this for your "Most Disappointing Posts Of The Year" list.)

9. Avatar. Ok, so TECHNICALLY it isn't actually out yet. But given the hype and secrecy surrounding the project, and given the incredibly uninteresting trailer, I can already predict that I won't enjoy it. For all of the talk about Jim Cameron deploying cutting-edge new technology for the movie, it looks like the same blah stop-motion CGI/human hybrid stuff that has ruined Robert Zemeckis' career. The plot (human soldier gets involved in a war between Earth and an alien planet, begins to take the aliens' side) sounds generic as humanly possible. Though, technically, since my expectations are already so low going into it, should 'Avatar' be on this list at all? I was taking a wait-and-see attitude from the get-go anyway, so can I really consider this to be a proper entry on a 'disappointing films' list given that I sorta expected a disappointment? Ah, screw it, I just wanted a forum to bitch about this lame movie.


8. Terminator: Salvation. Another kind of borderline entry, given that nobody can really expect much from a movie directed by friggin' McG. But this was just a meandering, dull and overall listless film that basically kills the Terminator franchise dead in its tracks. It's not a good sign when the best (or, only) audience reaction comes from the CGI Arnold that pops up late in the movie to confront Christian "Phonin' It In" Bale.


7. 9. Not to be confused with 'Nine,' the Daniel Day-Lewis/Penelope Cruz/Every actress in Hollywood musical that's coming out in December. Or, not to be confused with 'Nein!,' the wacky German comedy starring Rutger Hauer as the headmaster of a school for naughty frauleins. Or "Nye'n," the movie about Marlee Matlin trying to pronounce the last name of Bill Nye the Science Guy. No, "9" was the allegedly visually-incredible animated movie about weird puppet robots trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. While I said that Avatar looks like it has the most generic possible plot, "9" might actually hold that current title. There is not an ounce of wit or originality in the entire script. The story is basically a poor man's version of Lord of the Rings, except lacking the homoerotic subtext between Frodo and Sam.


6. Cold Souls. It had a funny Charlie Kaufman-esque concept to it: Paul Giamatti (playing himself) discovers a clinic in New York that can temporarily remove your soul and replace it with someone else's. He tries the process to improve his acting and ends up involved with the Russian mob. While I generally enjoy films that plunk you down in strange realities and deal with everything with a straight face, this one is just way too slow-moving and dry even for me. The whole thing was a little 'cold.' BWA HA HA HA, je suis hilarious.


5. Funny People. Ok, another technical borderline entry I only enjoy about one out of every eight Adam Sandler movies. But hey, Judd Apatow, it's got to be good, right? Right? The basic problem with the film is that it asks you to buy into the inherent belief that Adam Sandler is a) funny and b) has a strong enough personality to inspire what is slightly-modified version of his own life. As it turns out, he's not and he doesn't. The movie is a good 30 minutes too long, relies on Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman for comic relief --- never a good idea --- and the entire romantic subplot with Leslie Mann was a complete waste of time. It's like Apatow wrote the movie and then suddenly realized he didn't give his wife a part. It's just an poor piece of work all around, easily Apatow's worst movie. It also ruined Eric Bana's big comeback year. For years, Bana held the title of 'Actor I Like The Most Whose Movies I Enjoy The Least.' After breaking it big in North America with Black Hawk Down, Bana was in nothing but garbage until this year, when he appeared in Star Trek and Time Traveler's Wife. 'Funny People' kept Bana from winning the triple crown and completing his comeback, but on the bright side, at least he got to play a walking stereotype that disgraced his Aussie heritage. Good times!


3.(tie) Year One
(tie) Couples Retreat. The two movies suffer from opposite problems that end up with the same result. 'Year One' throws non-stop jokes at the wall in the hope that some will stick, and an astonishingly tiny number of them actually do, 'Couples Retreat,' on the other hand, is the rare comedy that doesn't have any actual jokes. Remember when you watched the ads and didn't actually see anything funny? That wasn't a case of marketing withholding the best jokes for the film --- that was the best they had to work with. A yoga guy squatting in Jason Bateman's face is about as sophisticated as it gets here, folks. Big red flags went up for both films when numerous cast members appeared on Conan and talked about everything but the movie itself. That's never a good sign. Conan didn't even throw them a token, "So, I saw the movie at a screening the other night and enjoyed it." Methinks Conan felt it was prudent to just not say anything at all rather than note that he and Andy Richter spent the whole screening giving the flick the MST3000 treatment.

Just take a look at these cast lists of these two movies --- Jack Black, Michael Cera, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Bateman, Faizon Love, Jean Reno, David Cross, McLovin, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Olivia Wilde, plus usually hilarious supporting staples like John Michael Higgins and Ken Jeong. With scripts by two 'Office' writers and Vaughn/Favreau, respectively, and direction from Harold Ramis and the kid who played Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story,' respectively. I like to love everyone (In Kristen Bell's case, literally) involved in both projects, and yet both movies ended up being terrible. Couples Retreat even stuck the whole female cast in bikinis and I still hated the movie, so if that's not a bad recommendation, I don't know what is. In a way, there's nothing worse than a disappointing comedy since you into them predisposed to laugh, and when that doesn't happen, it's double the letdown. It's like going to a Tony Jaa film and not seeing anyone's limbs broken.


2. Public Enemies. Now we get into the territory of 'movies that I didn't exactly dislike, but are still big disappointments given my sky-high expectations going into them.' Is it the film's fault for not living up to my possibly-inflated personal beliefs? Yes. Yes it is. Especially when said film is a Michael Mann picture about John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp. There is zero reason why this film shouldn't have been a five-star, knock-the-doors-off classic. PE gets a long way on style and it's wonderfully shot (don't worry Mann, I'm one of the few people that enjoys digital cinematography, you're not alone), but the story is pretty rote, none of the characters are well developed and you leave the theatre not really knowing or caring any more about John Dillinger than you did when you entered. I didn't mind Depp's performance, since I think his underplaying the role was deliberate given that the real Dillinger was something of a monosyllabic thug whose charisma stemmed from urban myth more than anything. But aside from Depp, the very talented cast is given nothing to do. Marion Cotillard is stuck with a limited girlfriend role, and Christian Bale (billed as the second lead and Dillinger's nemesis) is on-screen for maybe 20 minutes. Hell, I would've preferred to have seen Bale's role cut from the movie and had Billy Crudup's J. Edgar Hoover re-imagined as Dillinger's primary adversary. (Geez, between this film, Terminator, yelling at cinematographers and having everyone mock his Batman voice, this has been a rough year for Bale.) One bright side: the scene where Dillinger strolls through an FBI office and nobody recognizes him. That was a genuinely great scene that blew away everything in every other movie on this list combined. If the entire film had been made with that kind of flair, we would've had something. Basically, I went in expecting the next Bonnie & Clyde, and all I got was a second-rate White Heat.


1. Where The Wild Things Are. Like with the previous entry, I didn't hate WTWTA. If pressed, I'd even give it a borderline recommendation. The amount of imagination and creativity that went into bringing the children's book to life is admirable, and I'm glad to got to see Spike Jonze's take on the material rather than having the studio make a generic kiddie movie with some hack director like Chris Columbus. But there's no way to sugarcoat things --- big chunks of the film are dull with a capital D. WTWTA was a tough project from the get-go, since like many children's books, their brilliance lies in how the reader imagines the fantastical worlds described in the text. Even in an illustrated book like the original Maurice Sendak story, the illustrations are detailed but in a sparse way that lets little kids think up their own versions of how things will unfold. Actually putting a definitive version of these images on the big screen (and letting them be voiced by Tony Soprano and Bam Bam Funkhouser) unwittingly puts a cap on the imagination. Frankly, the Wild Things' dreary, weirdly post-apocalyptic landscape of a home is more than a bit of a downer. The kid who plays Max gives a very good performance and comes off as a very real 10-year-old, but even that's kind of a catch-22. Jonze cast a kid because he can realistically portray what 10-year-olds are like, but with the caveat that kids are never less interesting than when they're ten years old. Children are charming in their developing years and potentially fascinating when they're entering adolescence....in that gap from about 9 to 11, however, they're just kinda there.

Frankly, I blame the Arcade Fire for my disappointment with this film. The trailer looked great and was set to the tune of 'Wake Up,' which would make any trailer look five times better than it actually is. You stick that song on the 'Avatar' trailer and I'm probably singing that movie's praises. It should be noted that the actual WTWTA soundtrack, written by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is fantastic and a great idea for a Christmas gift. For me. As a thank-you for posts like these that warn you away from bad movies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The 500th Post



So, about a month ago, I noticed that I was coming up on 500 posts on this blog. My plan was to write a massive On Notice-style post that would try to incorporate every one of my tag labels into those eight topics. Ergo, the 500th post would serve as an example/summation of everything I've ever talked about on this blog.

Great idea, right? Except for one problem. As I took a closer look at my archives, I noticed that I had a few entries saved as drafts --- rough copies of posts that were different from the ones I originally published. So I deleted a few, then a few more, and suddenly I realized that Blogger was counting those rough copies as actual posts. So my overall total was now suddenly down into the 485 range and my On Notice anniversary post's worth of material would now all be outdated.

I decided to just break it up into smaller, individual items and you've seen some of those results over the last few weeks. But now, here we are again at the 500-point, and suddenly I have no plans for a big celebration. It's unfortunate. For the 400th post, I saved up the immortal story of how my friends and I spent nine months punching each other in the groin for the 400th post, but now we're at an even bigger anniversary and I've got nothing. NOTHING!

So, when in doubt, I'll do what I've so often done on this blog: fall back on other people's work. Enjoy some links! Happy anniversary, Polivision!




If you had to sit down and decide upon the coolest countries in the world, New Zealand would be a strong dark horse contender. Aside from the scenery, Flight Of The Conchords and the fact that my cousin's boyfriend is a Zealander, there's also the fact that they bust out quality commercials like this for their country's friggin' book council. Just amazing. What would the Canadian equivalent of this be? Some D-level Canadian celeb like Gordon Pinsent or the chick from the Hills Aftershow sitting in a library with a small circle of kids sitting around them, all saying 'Yayyy!' on cue with a generic "Reading Is Fun!" tagline? Man, New Zealand pwned us.



Baseball fans already know that Baseball-Reference.com is one of the greatest websites of all time, but I didn't realize that one could actually sponsor the individual player or team pages. Like any internet advertisement, my eyes just automatically glaze over them, which is why the ad business may slowly crumble over the next 15 years. Anyway, for just $10, you can put your own personal message on the page of any available player or team, which has led to some hilarious abuses over the years. My pal Dave sent me this list of the ten funniest Baseball-Reference.com sponsorships and it's pretty mint stuff. The one that killed me was the Len Koenecke entry at #8...that's hard to beat. If you want to make a joke sponsorship of your own, former Blue Jay Howie Clark's entry is still open, so you can immortalize him forever with " 'Haah! I've got it!' --- Alex Rodriguez" A-Rod's own page is already spoken for, sadly, so we'll have to put a stay on the centaur-related jokes....except for this artist's rendition.







Kinda wish I had found this in time for the Sesame Street tribute post I wrote a few weeks ago. My entry for Q was kind of week, whereas 'Q Is For Queen' would've been perfect.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Royal York Roadblocks

Is everyone familiar with Royal York Road in London, Ontario? Good. A disquieting change has taken place on the quiet suburban street just north of Oxford. Two large, grand-piano shaped portions of grassy curb have been extended into the road itself, one at the corner of Royal York and Hunt Club in front of the park, and the other at the intersection of Royal York and Manchester. These curbs jut out like Bill Cowher's jaw and literally take up the entire lane, forcing traffic to narrow into one lane for a span of about seven feet. I noticed these obstructions as I was driving home from the movies late last night, so there was no opposite traffic to have to negotiate, but man, that just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. As I recall from my days as a professional wheelman (a.k.a. a pizza delivery boy), that street can get rather busy given its position as a connector to a large suburban neighbourhood. I'd imagine it's quite the annoyance to have to deal with during rush hour or something, when everyone is coming home and has to maneuver their cars past a seven-foot-long grassy blob that seems to be there for no obvious reason. Not to mention if a school bus is driving past.

The only possible logic I can apply to these obstructions is that they were put in by the community in an attempt to quiet traffic that might go speeding down the street late at night. If that's the case, then bollocks to that. If anything, the roadblocks will cause more of a hazard --- they're not exactly visible at night, and a careless driver might easily just plow his car right into one. At least those irritating speedbumps* you sometimes see in the suburbs are just bumps, not outright dangers to one's bumper.

Royal York Road, you've made a critical mistake. Only a fool would cut off lanes so abruptly and create such a needless hazard. This will be the keystone issue of my 2010 campaign for London Traffic Layer-Outer (or, whatever the hell the appropriate position is called). I can see my first campaign ad now.....it will be footage of cars being held up at the Royal York obstructions, while 'Frolic' by Michelini plays in the background. A big bold font will flash up on your screen: ARE UNNECESSARY TRAFFIC-DAMPENERS 'CURBING' YOUR ENTHUSIASM FOR DRIVING? Then cut to a scene of me setting fire to the grass on these curbs while a crowd of seniors, children and Bob "Marty Funkhouser/Super Dave Osborne" Einstein cheer wildly. Of course, I might end up being arrested for these fires and thus will be forced to conduct my campaign from jail, but I presume my inevitable election will help get me freed. Or, failing that, I'll just marry the mayor. That seems to be a 'get out of jail free' card in this town anyways. The mayor and I would make a great couple. We have a lot in common, since I'm also not in the slightest bit able to competently run a major city.

* = When the Westmount neighbourhood installed these speedbumps, my friend Matt protested by honking his horn every time he drove over one. Even late at night, when we were leaving my pal Andrew's at 1:30 AM or something. Keeping peace and quiet my ass. Matt, in other news, was the inspiration for Bowie's "Rebel Rebel."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ebert vs. Twilight



When I think about it, Roger Ebert has to be among my top influences as a writer. Those who just know him as a TV thumb guy are missing out on his fantastic career as a reviewer and film essayist for the Chicago Sun-Times. It's a sign of Ebert's quality that he can really bring a movie to life with his words because you can tell just how much this guy loves the cinema....and, as such, when this love is tarnished by a particularly crappy film, he pulls no punches.

Case in point, his review of the new Twilight movie. Ebert has been known to cut some genre movies some slack under the logic that he isn't their target audience, and thus he just judges them if they accomplish their goal of satisfying that audience. It's almost like a teacher who gives a student a D rather than a fail because he can at least see that the kid is trying hard. In this instance, however, it's clear that 'New Moon' is just too shitty to be given a pass. With 630 words, Ebert manages to point out everything that's wrong with both the movie and basically the entire 'Twilight' franchise itself. It's fantastic.

If you ever see that Ebert has given a movie one star or less, track down that review post-haste and get ready to laugh. The only thing better are his responses to fanboys/fangirls who send him angry e-mails bashing his taste when he dares to write a review saying that (gasp!) the movies starring their favourite characters are shite. His exchanges with Transformers fans upset at his pan of 'Transformers 2' is so amusing that it would even make a sullen teen vampire crack a smile.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Swept Away



A chimney sweep is coming by on Saturday, and I will pester this poor man to death with questions. Is he only a chimney sweep, or does he have other jobs? Does he enjoy being a chimney sweep? (If his answer is, "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it," I will giggle uproariously and we'll be best buds for life.) Is he ever asked to speak in an 'orrible Cockney accent like Dick Van Dyke? Ok, I guess three questions isn't totally pestering, but that Van Dyke query will lead to a number of sub-queries. If you think about it, Van Dyke's role in 'Mary Poppins' might be the single greatest example of a film completely defining everything that general society knows about a specific job. The only other example I can think of off the top of my head is Norman Bates and taxidermy, but that was really more of a hobby than a proper job. Fortunately there have been more hoteliers than just Bates portrayed on the big screen, so a generation of prospective hotel/motel employees didn't discern that the best way to run an establishment is to kill your guests.

Back to Bert, Van Dyke's chimney sweep/one-man band/kite-selling character. You've got to believe that he and Mary Poppins knocked boots in the past. He seemed like an affable enough chap, and Mary was 'practically perfect in every way,' so Bert had to have at least made a pass at her. C'mon, mid-1960's Julie Andrews was well worth the effort. Presumably his pick-up line was to draw a chalk outline of a bed, which then morphed into a real bed, followed by Bert saying, "Eh? Wot about a bit 'a slap 'n tickle, love?" Reason #814 why I should do a podcast: with vocals, I could easily get five minutes of material out of Bert's Cockney pillow talk, but it unfortunately isn't as funny translated to print. Even as I'm writing this, I'm laughing at the thought of Bert trying to talk dirty in that absurd accent, topped off with him shouting 'SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS!' as he climaxes.

(When tiny Scottish soccer team Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC upset Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2000, the Sun's headline was "Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious!" This gets my vote as greatest newspaper headline of all time.)

Perhaps the reason that I remember the Bert character so well after all these years is that he, like I, seem to be eternally stuck in the Friend Zone. Ah, the Friend Zone. So unfortunate. Surely there must be a way that I can turn platonic friendship to my benefit; if not an actual Friends With Benefits scenario, then financial benefit. Maybe I could become a matchmaker? Gentlemen reading this post, I know a wide variety of single, attractive, charming women who are desper...er, just waiting for the right man to come along. Pass along your information and I will check my extensive matchmaking database (a.k.a. my Facebook friends list) to find the right woman for you. If no such woman exists because you're a douchebag and/or otherwise wretched person, then I will awkwardly ignore your plea to be set up and pretend this post never existed. For legal purposes, I should note that in no way am I promising sex with any of my female friends, since that would make me a pimp, which is illegal outside of the rap world. I wonder if Bert, amongst his many jobs, ever took up pimping? "Quit yer complainin', love. Me friend Mary says that a spoonful of sugar makes medicine go down, so surely a bit 'a sugar will make that go down easier too."

Yikes, that's just dirty. Dirty like....a chimney. Annnnnnnnnd THAT's what we call tying the post together, folks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sesame Street classic moments



With Sesame Street celebrating its 40th anniversary, it was only appropriate to pay tribute to this wonderful show by highlighting some of its most memorable sketches and moments. Since every episode is, as you know, brought to you by a letter and number, I've decided to break things up alphabetically and numerically. Enjoy!


A is for the Aliens. Yip yip yipyipyipyipyipyip....



B is for the Beetles. Not pictured: the skit where they were split up by Maria Ono. B is also for BRRRUUUUUUUUUCE and for 'bonus,' so here's an added Springsteen spoof as well. You could say I was born to add it.





C is for Cookie! That's good enough for me!



D is for Don Music. Like any good musician, Don Music is totally ready to dick over Kermit over the publishing rights. This is basically what happened between Axl and Slash.



E is for Ernestine, Ernie's little niece. Wait, so this means Ernie had a brother or sister? Was that plotline ever explored? E might also be for exorcism, since Ernestine was clearly speaking in tongues.



F is for Feist. The enthusiastic head-bop along with the chickens kills me.



G is for Guy Smiley, everybody's favourite game show host. As we learn here, it's not his real name --- I've got to believe that Jim Henson had a friend named Bernie Liederkrantz and wanted to include a little in-joke on the show, since the whole concept of Jewish-Americans changing their names to fit in with WASPy culture is a bit advanced even for Sesame Street. btw, the Count should've taken the cash prize. He would've had loads of fun counting up to one million dollar bills.



H is for HERE, FISHY FISHY FISHY FISHY!



I is for 'I Love You.' Cutest thing in recorded human history? Quite possibly.



J is for Johnny Cash. He made quite a few appearances on Sesame Street, but this one is quite possibly the best since it's an actually an improvement on the original "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" song, which I've never been a big fan of. Also, there was a Lady Count who looked exactly like the real Count? Wow. That must've been one, ONE awkward wedding night. AH AH AH AH! Embedding is disabled on this clip, but here's the link.


K is for Kermit's news updates about nursery rhymes. These always killed me. I love Kermit's scrunched-up face of disgust and his bitching to his producer about his assignments. He's like Anderson Cooper.



L is for Lefty, the character who taught kids it was okay to buy things from shady guys in trenchcoats. Wait....



M is for Monologue, like the one delivered here by the great Patrick Stewart.



N is for Near And Far. Grover's cardio is awful.



O is for One, Two, Three Pigs! AH AH AH AH!



P is for Prairie Dawn. A long-forgotten character who inexplicably looked just like Shelley Long, she and Cookie Monster combined for tons of great skits. "You're always denying me!"



Q is for Quiet. Or, it's for Quite, as in 'Man, Kermit is being quite a dick to Elmo.' Geez, just let the kid help you describe what's loud and what's quiet. What's the big deal? Any clip with a patented Kermit scream is amazing.



R is for Robert De Niro. This clip is a great source of riboflavin! De Niro's Elmo laugh will haunt my nightmares.



S is for Snuffleupagus. Those are some quality reaction shots from the human cast.



T is for Telly, whose new shoes are sold to him by none other than Neil Patrick Harris. The girl muppet at the start of the skit even looks a bit like Alyson Hannigan. Maybe not the greatest skit, but hey, it's got NPH. That's enough to make it accept(wait for it)able.



U is for Unsettling, as in 'That giant anthromorphic U is really unsettling.' I remember seeing this skit as a kid but only just now realized that the guy is supposed to be a mountie. Paul Gross owes his whole acting career to this skit.



V is for Venice, the setting for arguably the best 'Monsterpiece Theatre' spoof of them all. Too bad Grover didn't call the Venetians on their obviously lame attempt to hide their anti-monsterism. "Anyway, me digress."



W is for Wonder, as in Stevie. One of the best live performances on any show, ever.



X is for X Marks The Spot. Sherlock Hemlock looks exactly like Cary Elwes' character in 'The Princess Bride.'



Y is for Y, Norah Jones' absentee friend.



Z is for ZZ Blues. What's up with the Count channeling Billy Crystal's old 'Fernando' character?



And now, the numbers. Since it would take a while to find more clips, we can take care of them in one fell swoop with....the Pinball Song!