Monday, August 31, 2009

Demotivational Posters, Part Three

Part one is here!

Part two is here!

And now the third installment is upon us. In a case of saving the best for last, my three favourites are at the end, with perhaps my favourite one ever as the last poster.

(As usual, all pics courtesy of Mario Lanza, courtesy of the internet at large)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds, an analysis

For those of you who haven't seen 'Inglourious Basterds' yet, you might as well stop reading this review right now, since I'm going deep into spoiler territory and I would hate to ruin any of the surprises of this wonderful movie. Let me just state, though, that it's not the ultra-gory, Nazi-killing action movie that it seems to appear to be from the trailers. Sure, it's ultra-gory. And sure, a lot of Nazis meet hilarious and violent ends. But it's not an action movie by any stretch. But the violence is doled out in concentrated, self-contained moments amidst Quentin Tarantino's meditation on film as a vicarious experience. Since the film is split into five chapters, I'll break my review/essay into five pieces as well.


Over the last two years at the Oscars, the supporting actor award has gone to a classic villainous performance: Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh, and Heath Ledger's Joker. This streak will hopefully continue this year with Christoph Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa, the "Jew Hunter." Tarantino is often praised for his creative casting, often taking semi-washed up or semi-forgotten actors (maybe just 'unconventional choices' is a better way of putting it) and giving them tremendous roles. The most high-profile example of this is John Travolta, but let's not forget the likes of Pam Grier and Robert Forster in 'Jackie Brown,' or David Carradine and Daryl Hannah in 'Kill Bill.' In those cases, at least, the actors were known quantities. In IB, Tarantino and the casting directors took an actor who's a total unknown outside of the German/Austrian theatre and TV world, puts this guy in the most crucial role in the film, and Waltz then proceeds to knock it out of the park like a Viennese Babe Ruth. Probably the best character and best performance in any Tarantino movie, and that covers a lot of quality acting ground. In hindsight, it's really not a surprise that QT had to look far and wide for the perfect Landa. A mixture of charm, intelligence, humour, evil, sociopathy and mastery of four languages isn't easy to find. Waltz dominates every scene he's in, starting right from the instantly legendary opening scene where he just systematically breaks down a well-meaning French farmer. Landa refers to himself as a detective at one point in the film, and that's an ingenious idea for a villain; a guy with the logical mind of a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot, except he uses that logic as a hammer to beat his adversaries into admitting whatever it is that he already knows or suspects in the first place.

The opening scene is the only portion of the movie that's played straight, so to speak. In the other four segments, Tarantino tosses in a few moments of modern levity that are purposely intended to jar the audience out of being 'in the moment,' which I'll discuss more later. But the opening scene is necessary to establish the heroine and the villain, and really, if Tarantino is going to spend the other 130 minutes deconstructing war movies, first he has to build the frame. Aside from the one little touch of Landa lighting an absurdly large pipe, IB's first chapter is a straight-forwardly dramatic scenario of an S.S. officer interrogating the farmer about a neighbouring Jewish family that has disappeared from the area. We learn halfway through the scene that the family is actually hiding out in the crawlspace between the floorboards right under the table at which Landa and the farmer are sitting --- I presume this is QT's little nod to the old Hitchcock line about how surprise is a bomb under a table going off, and suspense is knowing the bomb is there but not knowing when it will go off. This entire 20-minute sequence is a masterpiece unto itself, and reportedly was the first scene that Tarantino wrote in his 10-year process of finishing the script. According to legend, QT was so pleased with this scene that he kept coming back to it and feeling the pressure to have the rest of the movie live up to its opening. Mission accomplished.


The Basterds themselves play a surprisingly small part in the movie. The lieutenant, Aldo Raine, is played by Brad Pitt, in yet another one of those great comic performances of his that convinces me that he could've been a great comedy star if he hadn't been so gosh-darned leading-man handsome. His dialogue is a nonstop barrage of southern twang, delivered so humourously that it's supposed to distract you from the fact that the Basterds are all....well, a bunch of crazy motherfuckers. Not in a bad-ass soldier way, though they are clearly that, but rather in a genuinely psychopathic way. That line in the trailer where Pitt says that his men each owe him 100 Nazi scalps? Yeah, you'd better believe he doesn't just mean it as a turn of phrase. Tarantino is putting his own twist on the tropes of how war turns men into monsters, or how there are no 'good guys' in a war given the number of atrocities committed on both sides.

What's interesting is that Tarantino puts this message into a movie that is quite specifically marketed as a massive Nazi-killing revenge fest, and even just the fact that it's QT himself, one of the masters of stylish movie violence. But yet, here's a scene where Hitler yelling is intercut with shots of the mustachioed, dark-haired Raine barking orders to his men, or here's a scene of the Basterds scarring and torturing their Nazi prisoners. Now, this isn't to suggest that Tarantino is sympathetic to the Nazi characters. Believe me, the Nazis don't get off easy by any stretch, and their evil is certainly enforced enough in the film that their eventual doom is more than well-deserved. What I think QT is suggesting is that even though vengeance may be deserved, it's still pretty horrific stuff no matter who's doing it to whom. The general anonymity of the Basterds may play into this, since as the characters are intended as nothing more than instruments of vengeance, Tarantino doesn't even bother introducing us to more than a couple of them, and outside of Pitt, they're all pretty faceless unless you're a fan of The Office or the Hostel movies. In fact, I only just realized as I'm writing this that we don't even find out what happens to three of the nine Basterds. It's the eight Jewish soldiers and Aldo Rayne, so nine in total. Two are involved in the bar basement incident in the fourth chapter, four are involved in 'Operation Kino' at the movie theatre and the other three guys literally vanish from the movie after that initial lineup scene where Rayne is yelling about scalps. Maybe there was some stuff left on the cutting-room floor, or we're to believe that the other three Basterds were off on a separate mission to....I dunno, kill Mussolini or something. These guys get around.


I went on at length about Christoph Waltz, so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other central character and actor of the film. Melanie Laurent is another virtual unknown who gives a great performance as Shosanna, the survivor of the massacre at the LaPerdite farm. The entire scene where she is invited to lunch with Landa, Joseph Goebbels and her would-be suitor Fredrick Zoller is a master class of great face-acting from Laurent. It goes from a great mixture of disgust and WTF-ness upon meeting Goebbels to just complete shock and barely-contained rage when Landa is introduced. It's no coincidence that Laurent looks kind of like a younger version of QT's favourite actress, Uma Thurman, and has the same single-minded revenge motive as the Bride (though Shosanna goes about it in a much stealthier manner). This may be more just a case of studio marketing but hey, I'll just presume it's some intentional misdirection from Tarantino; it's cool that he casts big-name Brad Pitt as the leader of the ragtag group of soldiers, thus making you think that their story is the thrust of the whole movie, but it's not. It's really about the personal battle waged by a Jewish girl in hiding against the man who killed her family, with both sides of this battle played by anonymous European actors.

Again, I reference the Basterds' overall semi-uselessness to the film, but it's interesting that their whole mission is dealt with completely separately from that of Shosanna's plot. She never meets Bridget, Raine or any of the Basterds, nor does she have any idea about their separate plan to kill the Nazi high command. And just as well, since it was her plan that actually succeeds without any interference. Sure, the Basterds win in the end because Landa decides to go into business for himself and cut a deal, but even if Landa had had them killed just as he choked out Bridget, then Shosanna's plan still would've succeeded. OR, there's another way of interpreting it. Landa's heart-stopping order of milk when he and Shosanna are dining together is his way of telling her that he knows exactly who she is, but he is letting her live because a) Zoller, a fast-rising star in the German regime, is sweet on her and her death could cause some blowback on Landa or b) since Landa wants to end the war anyway, he is willing to let her engage in whatever scheme she has in mind and then uses the Basterds as his own personal way out. I actually think I like this theory a bit more, since it makes Landa look even smarter than he already is. By the way, Landa ordering the glass of milk was probably my favourite line in the movie. It made the 500 people in the packed movie theatre all sharply gasp in unison; you could've heard a pin drop. Even if my theory about Landa recognizing her isn't true, that's still a great line from a suspense standpoint. The dude just likes milk and it makes us all crap our pants with terror. Between loving milk and hunting Jews, I guess you could say Landa is (**puts on sunglasses**) lactose intolerant. YEAHHHHHH.....


The fourth chapter is the section of the film I could see people having the most problem with, since it admittedly drags a bit and falls victim to the same problem that I thought weakened Tarantino's last movie, Death Proof. It's very hard to write a dialogue-heavy scene that takes things from point A to point B plotwise in a script. Tarantino is better than most at this, and in fact, perhaps his greatest strength is being able to add depth and humour to seemingly mundane scenes. But he's not perfect. The middle of Death Proof is weighed down by the conversation between Rosario Dawson's crew at the diner, and then the drawn-out negotiation to buy the car. Likewise, the game of verbal cat-and-mouse that goes on between Hickox/Bridget/the two German-speaking Basterds and the Nazi officers is just a bit....too....laboured. There were still some interesting things going on here, but the scene scored a solid 0.6 on the "When Are They Going To Get To The Fireworks Factory?" scale for me. It was a scene that felt like it was extended just to hit all the plot points, albeit the major point of just how Landa figured out the hole in Bridget's story (and the hole in her leg, to boot). I also loved that what gave Hickox away, even moreso than his accent, was his incorrect hand signal for the number three. It wasn't just the German officer being overly suspicious, it was something specific that Hickox did. It's interesting, since I indicate 'three' by holding up my pinkie, fourth and middle fingers, not the apparently-British three middle-fingered way or the German thumb-index-middle finger method. I would've made a lousy spy.

The chapter's beginning, oddly enough, avoids the problem of the laboured dialogue. QT needs a scene to introduce Lt. Hickox, and to set up his involvement in Operation Kino. So, he adds a layer of absurdity to a five-minute expositional scene by casting Mike Myers and a half-assed Churchill impersonator as the British superior officers informing Hickox of the plan. The audience gets the info we need, plus some incredulous tittering at hearing Myers slip in and out of a pseudo-Austin Powers voice. Actually, to be specific, it's not Austin Powers, Myers is really playing Basil Exposition, which is an even funnier idea. This is a vintage Tarantino casting move, akin to Christopher Walken's monologue in Pulp Fiction about smuggling the watch up his ass. Good stuff all-around.


And then finally, the grand finale. The climactic showdown at the movie premiere. For those of you who might've skipped a few history classes in grade school, IB plays a bit fast and loose with the actual ending of World War II. Just a wee bit. The ending is basically Tarantino's version of the Gordian Knot. In most war movies based around an actual war, the filmmakers battle the problem of how to create suspense when the audience knows how the war ends. For example, look at Tom Cruise's Valkyrie. The only suspense is in how Cruise's character's plot to kill Hitler will fail, since we all know that Von Stauffenberg's assassination attempt didn't succeed. Tarantino, however, takes out his big-ass knife and slices the problem in two by simply having Shosanna and the Basterds actually pull off their plans. Talk about a genuinely surprising ending. There are those who might find QT's rewriting of history to be so jarring that it breaks your suspension of disbelief. Well, guess what....surprise! That's what Tarantino has been doing for the entire film. This is Landa's pipe, Mike Myers' cameo, Samuel L. Jackson's voiceover and all of the other anachronistic moments of IB cranked up to the nth degree. Tarantino never wants you to forget that you're watching a film. You're watching what the movie advertisements refer to as a "roaring rampage of revenge." Why should the protagonists and the audience be denied their ultimate moment of satisfaction just because it didn't actually happen? It's a film --- anything can happen in a film. If people can meet aliens in the movies or encounter talking animals in the movies, then surely Hitler can be murdered in the movies. Or, in IB's case, Hitler dies at the movies. This is a world where 'inglorious' is spelled with an extra U, 'bastards' is spelled with an E, and where the Allies won World War II when Hitler, Goebbels and basically all the big-name Nazis were all murdered in a Paris movie theatre in 1944. Hey, why not?

I found it interesting that Tarantino singled out Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, to get the 'special' treatment of being personally gunned down face-to-face style by the Basterds. For a cinemaphile like Tarantino, this is his ultimate revenge against a man who used the art of filmmaking for evil purposes. I can see Tarantino at his computer, typing away while delivering a running commentary in his mile-a-minute tone: "You're going to try and turn movies into propaganda celebrating people like this Zoller asshole? Not so fast, motherfucker!" Also of note is that Emil Jannings is introduced as a character, and subsequently as a victim of the fire. Jannings is a bit of a black mark on Academy history, as he was the first-ever winner of the Best Actor Oscar, but then went on to star in several Nazi propaganda films once his Hollywood career was ended by the advent of sound films. Maybe by noting Jannings and killing him, Tarantino is trying to get into the Academy's good graces without needing Harvey Weinstein to mount a costly Oscar campaign. Smart move. My 'Hitler dies at the movies' line extends to Goebbels and Jannings too, and in their cases, it's perhaps even more apt. They die at the movies, they die in the movie and they even die because of movies, given that the fire is set by flammable old film stock.

Did Shosanna need to die? I dunno. It was sort of implied that she and Marcel considered the operation to be a suicide mission anyway, so maybe it was inevitable. Maybe it was a case of wanting Shosanna to not quite get the satisfaction of seeing her plan through to the end, which goes to my earlier point about showing how this kind of bloodthirsty vengeance is horrific. Being trapped in a burning theatre while your murderer delivers a Joker laugh from the big screen is a pretty nasty way to die. Then again, the terrified screams, the pounding on the locked doors --- Tarantino is making a parallel to the Nazi death camps, another example of the eye-for-an-eye mentality that fuels the movie's protagonists. Or, maybe Shosanna's death scene was done to give some finality to her relationship with Zoller, who otherwise would've been cut down by a hail of the Basterds' bullets. Maybe QT thought that Zoller, an interesting character in his own right, deserved a more interesting fate. If you think about it, it's pretty hilarious that the entire downfall of Nazi Germany in the IB universe takes place simply because Zoller wanted to get laid. That's some quality dramatic irony right there. Zoller shoots off his gun hundreds of times in that clock tower and becomes a national hero, but he wants to shoot off his, er, 'gun' with the pretty local theatre owner and look what happens. This is why I stay single....too many complications.

The other aspect of Shosanna's plan that didn't quite work out is that Landa himself, her arch-enemy, didn't die in the fire, though obviously he doesn't get off scot-free. If Landa is supposed to be an evil detective, then his fate is inevitable once he leaves his deductive path. Landa has figured out the plot (maybe both plots) to kill the Nazi leaders, but instead of revealing the enterprise, he arranges his own deal to escape prosecution. It's a staple of detective fiction that every detective has his own code of ethics, and the shit hits the fan when these ethics are broken. Agatha Christie's famous sleuth Hercule Poirot "doesn't approve of murder," so when he is tempted to kill to solve his final case, bad things happen. Landa has spent his career following the Nazis' code of justice, but even when he breaks that perverted code, that's a violation of the detective's ethos that must be punished. Landa's real problem is that he leaves behind his ethics while in the company of Raine, who is still very much following his own Nazi-killin' code. Landa doesn't die, but let's be honest, he probably committed suicide given that it's very hard to get into a good restaurant when you have a swastika carved into your head. Maybe that's why the Basterds got the movie title in spite of being a relatively minor part of the overall story. At least two of them lived, and as we all know, the winners write the history books.


So, that's Inglourious Basterds. This review ended up being massive, but I could talk about this picture all day. Definitely the most fascinating film I've seen in a while, and one that just further cements Quentin Tarantino as a master filmmaker. It's glourious.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pitchfork is Pitchf**ked

I KNOW that commenting on big 'best _____ of the ____' lists is futile, and I KNOW that music, more so than anything else, is entirely subjective and a matter of personal taste and I KNOW that Pitchfork's reviews are generally naval-gazing and indie-tastic. And yet still, I can't help but comment on the recent Pitchfork list of the top 500 songs of the 2000's. I'm like an addict, and ripping on horribly-composed countdown lists are my drug. Full disclosure: I went through the list song-by-song and it turns out that I had only heard 103 of them, so obviously I'm not exactly on the cutting edge of musical trends these days. But even still, one needn't be a subscriber to Cakes Monthly to know when a Sara Lee has gone stale.

The full list is here, along with a handy function to count how many you know.

First, let's start with #1. "Bombs Over Baghdad" is a very good song, certainly one of Outkast's better tracks. But calling it even the best Outkast song of the decade, let alone the best overall song of the Aughts, is a major stretch. It would be like making a list of the best baseball players of all time and putting someone like Willie McCovey in the top slot. B.O.B.'s selection at #1 sticks out when you consider that "Ms. Jackson" (from the very same album) is a better song and pretty much eclipsed B.O.B. both critically and commercially. Pitchfork had it at #55, which also seems a bit low.

If you're going to make a list like this, you have to take social impact into consideration. Your top ten has to be songs that, if someone is making a "hey, remember the Aughts?" special in 20 years, will be included in the opening montage. B.O.B. doesn't pass that test. Again, Outkast themselves had a better candidate for #1 --- Hey Ya, which checked in at #12 on the list. The fact that Hey Ya was out of the top ten shocked me, since I would've put good odds on it topping the list altogether.

I could get into a big thing about how certain songs are ranked too low ('The Seed 2.0 at #330, at least 250 places lower than it should've been) or too high (I like 'Paper Planes' as much as the next guy, but third overall?!), but that could take all day. So instead I'll just point out that it is literally embarrassing to Pitchfork that there are a grand total of zero U2 or Pearl Jam tracks on this entire list. I realize that Pitchfork's editors think of themselves as so hip it hurts*, but come on here, people. Just because it's fun to poke fun at Bono and Vedder's earnestness doesn't mean that there were 500 songs this decade better than Magnificent, Beautiful Day, Life Wasted, Insignificance, City of Blinding Lights...the list goes on and on. Am I as equally biased as Pitchfork's editors just because U2 and Pearl Jam are my two favourite bands? Yes, but I'm less obnoxiously trendy about it. Not less obnoxious overall, of course, just less obnoxious in that particular way.

* = Whenever I think of the Pitchfork office, I think of that Simpsons scene where the two teens at Hullabalooza are watching Homer's cannonball-in-the-gut act.

Kid #1[voice dripping with condescension]: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Kid #2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Kid #1: I don't even know anymore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zach Galifianakis vs. Jon Hamm

My friend Matt and I were recently discussing how we both had a man-crush on Mad Men star Jon Hamm. For the record, we were both wearing pants during this chat. Matt still had Survivor host Jeff Probst* at the top of his list, but I dunno, the owner and operator of Jon Hamm's John Ham might just be, to quote Jack Palance in Batman, (deep breath) my number one (deep breath) a-guyyyyyy. Great actor, seems like a down to earth guy, loves baseball, he looks like a cartoon pilot (tm 30 Rock) and has a good sense of humour, as evidenced by this appearance on Zach Galifianakis' web interview series. Jon Hamm = a cool dude. Once again, for the record....I'm wearing pants.

* = Seriously, Jeff Probst.

And, just because this web series is amazing, here's a pair of bonus clips of Galifianakis interviewing Natalie Portman and Bradley Cooper

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brett Favre

In case you're curious, yes, in fact, this DOES mean that Brett Favre is dead to me. Not permanently dead -- I'm sure once Favre finally retires I can safely go back to liking him and appreciating all he's done for my beloved Packers. If that list of exploits includes throwing up eight interceptions in Minnesota's two games against Green Bay this year, all the better. But it's basically like when Roberto Alomar spit his way out of Toronto. For a few years, I hated his guts. But now that he's retired, he went back to being good ol' Robbie Alomar, the guy who led the Jays to two World Series titles and will be wearing a Jays cap into the Hall of Fame. Besides, Favre's beef isn't with Green Bay per se, it's with Packers GM Ted Thompson. Once Thompson is gone (which might be after this season, if the Pack doesn't make the playoffs again), I'm sure Favre will gladly agree to sign one of those ceremonial one-day summer contracts so he can 'retire as a Packer.' But as long as he's wearing the Minnesota purple, Brett Favre can kiss my ass. I'll be cheering loudly when Aaron Kampman and A.J. Hawk gang-tackle him into oblivion.

Favre becoming a Viking impacts me not as a football fan, per se, but rather as a wearer of football attire. For several years now, my game-day routine has been to wear my trusted Favre jersey (with an option on a cheesehead) when the Packers have been playing. I could justify it when Favre was a Jet because there isn't any animosity between Green Bay and New York, and besides, Favre's Jets tenure was pretty sad. But now that Favre is playing for the hated Vikings....well, that's a horse of a different color. I can no longer wear a jersey with that man's name as long as he is openly thumbing his nose at the Packers by playing for one of their top rivals. As such, my Favre jersey will remain in a drawer this season. My new gameday apparel will be a Packers sweater worn over a Packers t-shirt, plus boxer shorts that contain some type of green design. (Under pants, of course. NFL season doesn't turn me into some kind of weird exhibitionist.) I guess I could get another Green Bay jersey with a different player's name and number, but I dunno. I'm kind of cheap. And also, I would hate to waste money on a jersey of another player who might up and leave Green Bay too. So I'll just stick with the sweater for now. Or, maybe just realize that I'm a grown man who doesn't need to wear a certain piece of clothing in order to bring his favourite football team luck. Pfft, right.

N.B. This article by Peter King is pretty interesting for three reasons. Firstly, it says something about how much damage Favre has done to his reputation when even King, former president of the Brett Favre Media Fan Club, is ripping him. Secondly, I love how King is pretending that Jackson and Rosenfels didn't already have their confidence shattered just by the fact that the Vikings were going hard after Favre all summer long. Thirdly, writing a story about Brad Childress making a mistake is like writing an article about Vernon Wells hitting a pop-up with men on base, or an article about the sun rising in the morning. Childress might actually be the worst coach in the NFL, which is really saying something.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Demotivational Posters, Part Two

Part One is here! Part Two is...well, it's just down below, obviously. The first one is particularly funny given the recent Michael Vick signing, but 'Guess Who' and 'Michael Bay Cat' are incredible.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Amateur Dream Analysis

So, I had a dream about Megan Fox.

I can tell what you're thinking. Either, "Oh no, Mark is going to go on at length about a frickin' wet dream of his, which is unbelievably pathetic at his age," or, "All right, Mark is going to show off some of the reader-acclaimed erotic prose that made him a millionaire best-seller of romance novels under the pen name of 'Lori Foster' "

Unfortunately, friends, neither option will take place here today, since the dream wasn't at all romantic in nature. That's right --- only I could have a platonic friendship dream about a woman so absurdly attractive that even the Pope is getting a hard-on over that picture at the top of the page.*

* = That's right, the Pope reads my blog. Babelfish English-to-German translator, whut whut!

The dream: I'm sitting in a living room, yet not my own living room, nor the one at my parents' house, nor any house I've ever set foot in before. It looks a little like this one house I checked out when I was trying to find a place to live last spring, up in the Rogers Road/Caledonia area, except this place didn't have two drunken roommates playing Gran Turismo in the front room. (The girl showing me the extra room was NOT pleased by them, let me tell you.)

Anyway, Dream House seems like a nice enough place --- sort of a lived-in feel, a comfortable living room set, big TV, corridor leading to the front door, and a kitchen in the front of the house. In the dream, I'm lounging on one of the couches, channel-surfing between two programs. One is the series finale of 'My Name Is Earl,' which is kind of odd given that the show was canceled last spring without a proper final episode. I guess maybe in my fantasy, NBC allowed one final concluding special to be made to wrap up loose ends? Boy, NBC is much more generous in my dreams than in real life. The second program I was watching was the final game of the American League Championship Series. I was basically watching Earl, but the game was in the late innings so I wanted to keep an eye just so I could see the pennant-winning celebration after the final out. Now, get your pens ready, since your ol' pal Mark's subconscious mind is about to make its playoff prediction. The game I was watching was Tampa Bay vs. Los Angeles, and the Rays held something like a 7-2 lead over the Angels in the eighth inning, so it was all over but the crying at Tropicana Field. Back-to-back AL pennants for the Rays while the Blue Jays continue to shit all over themselves? Maybe this was a nightmare.

So, where does Megan Fox enter into the picture? Well, she literally entered the picture from the front door of this mystery house, dropping in to see my roommate. He was temporarily out, so she decided to stick around until he returned. You see, in this dream, Megan Fox is dating my roommate. Not my actual current roommate, but in this subconscious alternate reality, I've apparently moved in with some other dude that has the power to attract scorching-hot movie stars.* In real life, apparently Megan Fox is with Brian Austin Green (that's right, the 90210 guy), so could I possibly have been living in his place? The house seemed a bit old-fashioned for a Hollywood star....well, wait, 'star' is perhaps a stretch. Bit old-fashioned for a former star, is what I meant to say. Then again, I once almost rented an apartment from the keyboard player in Honeymoon Suite, so clearly I can be swayed by D-list celebrity.

* = Not that my current roommate's girlfriend isn't quite a catch herself. She brought over a comfy rolling chair from her office that I'm currently sitting in to write this post, so she's great in my books. And Karen, if you're reading this, don't worry --- your boyfriend isn't cheating on you with Megan Fox. If she ever swings by the apartment, I'll let you know. You, and the editors at TMZ.

So the situation is this. Megan Fox and I are alone, sitting on a very comfortable couch, and it's a dream. Looks promising for R.E.M. state Mark, eh? My subconscious alter-ego capitalizes on this tempting scenario by....engaging her in small talk. Sigh. We kind of knew each other from a previous meeting, but it was all very generic "oh, how's things going?" kind of stuff. And the best part is, she wasn't even getting anything close to my full attention. I left at one point since my microwave popcorn was finished, and for most of our chat, I was really keeping one eye on the TV screen rather than focusing on the conversation. In my mind's eye, Megan Fox played second fiddle to the wacky antics of Earl Hickey.

Analysis: I watch way too much TV. That aside, this is actually a pretty positive message that my subconscious is telling me about myself. I'm such a classy guy that even when presented with a literal fantasy girl, I'm still too respectful to pull a dick move like hitting on a roommate's girlfriend. True, I probably could've been a better conversationalist, but at least I offered her some of my popcorn. Well done, self! You deserve a pat on the back for that bit of gentlemanly behaviour. Even in the face of this temptation, I didn't 'transform' into a sleaze. Get it? Because Megan Fox was in the Transformers movies. Pun of the century! What this dream also tells me is that I apparently severely need closure on 'Earl.' I'm following Jaime Pressly and Ethan Suplee on Twitter, maybe I should ask them. My prediction is that either a) Earl finishes his list, and then realizes that he devoted his life to following advice from Carson Daly, thus driving him insane and forcing him to make a new list of future murder victims or b) Earl wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette. Now, Suzanne Pleshette has been dead for two years, so this may be tricky to film. Backup option: Megan Fox. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Jason Lee would prefer the second option.

"Hey Mark, is including a picture of Megan Fox just a shallow attempt at driving up traffic to your blog?"
"Shut up!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Best Athletes Of The 21st Century

I recently took a Sporcle quiz counting down ESPN's list of the top 100 athletes of the 20th century. While I could easily write a post decrying my problems with the list (Secretariat? That doesn't seem fair), it instead occurred to me that we're getting close to being able to fire up a list of the best athletes of the 2000's.

So, here's my take on the top sports stars of the decade thus far. A few major caveats....

* Like ESPN's list, I stuck to just North America-born athletes, which is why there's no Federer, Lidstrom, Ronaldo, Santana, Kaka, Ovechkin, etc.

* This is based solely on personal opinion and with only minimal glances at statistics. I have no doubt that there are cases where I've put a statistically inferior player lower or off the list entirely, but I'm also weighing things like championships won, impact on the sport, etc. Basically, I tried to go by the credo of who would you remember the most if you're thinking about sport in the Oughts.

* Athletes are only judged by what they did in the Oughts themselves. A number of these people would be much higher if I factored in what they did before January 1, 2000, but then it wouldn't be a proper 21st-century list, now would it?

Argue away! I look forward to finding out which athletes I unforgivably omitted. There have to be at least, like, a dozen that I will smack my head over forgetting.

100. Kurt Warner
99. Hines Ward
98. Hale Irwin
97. Vince Young
96. Randy Couture
95. Walter Jones
94. Steve Hutchinson
93. Shane Mosley
92. Jeff Kent
91. Misty May
90. Roy Oswalt
89. Tony Stewart
88. Simon Whitfield
87. Roger Clemens
86. Ben Roethlisberger
85. David Ortiz
84. Orlando Pace
83. Mia Hamm
82. Michael Strahan
81. Larry Johnson

80. Donovan McNabb
79. Bernard Hopkins
78. Dany Heatley
77. Randy Johnson
76. Todd Helton
75. Jason Taylor
74. Champ Bailey
73. Rafael Marquez
72. Lorena Ochoa
71. Adrian Peterson
70. Clinton Portis
69. Derrick Brooks
68. Edgerrin James
67. Dara Torres
66. David Wright
65. Chipper Jones
64. Ed Reed
63. Tony Gonzalez
62. Brian Westbrook
61. Chase Utley

60. Drew Brees
59. CC Sabathia
58. Joe Mauer
57. Pedro Martinez
56. Curt Schilling
55. Jeff Gordon
54. Jonathan Ogden
53. Trevor Hoffman
52. Chuck Liddell
51. Brett Favre
50. Lance Berkman
49. John Smoltz
48. Allen Iverson
47. Paul Pierce
46. Cindy Klassen
45. Joe Sakic
44. Priest Holmes
43. Landon Donovan
42. Vladimir Guerrero
41. Joe Thornton

40. Torry Holt
39. Usain Bolt
38. Derek Jeter
37. Jimmie Johnson
36. Jarome Iginla
35. Vincent Lecavalier
34. Matt Hughes
33. Roy Halladay
32. Randy Moss
31. Phil Mickelson
30. Sidney Crosby
29. Floyd Mayweather
28. Ray Lewis
27. Terrell Owens
26. Steve Nash
25. Jason Kidd
24. Georges St. Pierre
23. Marvin Harrison
22. Cael Sanderson
21. Dwyane Wade

20. Tim Tebow
19. Venus Williams
18. Manny Ramirez
17. Mariano Rivera
16. Shaquille O'Neal
15. Kevin Garnett
14. LaDainian Tomlinson
13. Martin Brodeur
12. Peyton Manning
11. Tim Duncan
10. Serena Williams
9. Alex Rodriguez
8. LeBron James
7. Tom Brady
6. Albert Pujols
5. Kobe Bryant
4. Barry Bonds
3. Lance Armstrong
2. Michael Phelps
1. Tiger Woods

Monday, August 10, 2009

Demotivational Posters

My pal Mario has collected a series of made-up demotivational posters from around the web (and created some of his own), and has kindly allowed me to peruse his collection for re-posting to another audience. Enjoy! (p.s. my personal fave of this batch is 'Hammer Time')

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Out-Of-Context Texts In My Phone Inbox, Vol. 2

As usual, those who sent me these messages will remain anonymous.

"My lord. That was embarrassing for Forrest. What a scrub."

"Woooo! Just walked into a parking sign!"

"I'm there now on the patio and relaxing and looking over the menu. No worries."

"Cool. We're about two hours from being done, then drunk-up!"

"Good mang --- what you up to today?"

"How's the weekend, Whiskers?"

"De Rosario and Gerba = Jesus! But fuck, FC's D is garbage."


"You working today, you sonofabitch?"

"I got sorta torn up last night...As in heavily wounded during relations."

"My dog lives!"

"Hey Norm! Hey!"

"Peter Zezel is dead! Oh, the humanity!"

"I need a heroic/cinematic death."

"Keep your phone on this time, brother. But life's good? Don't worry, the Americans didn't give me too much shit."

"You non-message returning are things?"

"Topes lose!"

"Game over, says Raul Julia. See you at Shoeless."

"Andim drunk."

"But you're part of my5 -- aren't you supposed to be at my beck and call?"

"So I just did [name of woman withheld]"

"You fucked me, mang. You fucked me bad. How come you didn't start Weaver? Oh, and Happy Easter."

"Good to see you last night, buddy. Hope the drive home was quick and [name withheld]. Too soon?"

Saturday, August 08, 2009

15 Books in 15 Minutes

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

Feel free to post your own list in my comments section, or if you want to go more in-depth, put it in a post on your own blog.

1. Talking It Over, by Julian Barnes
2. Love Etc., by Julian Barnes
And right away I destroy the idea of the list by adding a sixteenth book. I was torn between these two because they're part of a series, so I decided to bend the rules a bit and just include them both. The idea is simple: a love triangle told in a series of monologues by the three people involved. The first book details what happened, and the second book details what happens in these people's lives a decade later. Fantastic dialogue throughout and a story that is alternately funny, heartbreaking and (especially by the end of Love Etc.) scary.

3. The Eleventh Hour, by Graeme Base
A children's book based around the mystery of who ate all the food at Horace the Elephant's birthday party. You guessed it --- Britney Spears. No, wait, actually, the mystery could only be solved by examining the clues hidden in lavishly detailed illustrations and solving various puzzles and codes therein. This book was flippin' grand. If I ever procreate, I'm buying this book for my son/daughter as soon as they're able to comprehend light, let alone words. It's all part of my plan to raise a real-life Sherlock Holmes. Anyone know how to mix opium into baby formula?

4. Ten Little Indians (or, And Then There Were None), by Agatha Christie
Got me into Agatha Christie, only the greatest mystery writer of all time. It was on the book rack in my sixth-grade class, so thanks, Mrs. Ferguson! TLI (or, ATTWN) gets onto the list as the Agatha Christie rep since it was the first one I ever read and pound-for-pound it's still a pretty ingenious book, but mention must be made of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. It only has arguably the greatest ending in murder mystery novel history. Though TLI is probably the better book overall.

5. Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow
Only downside to 'Ragtime' is that it fooled me into thinking that E.L. Doctorow was a good writer, thus dooming me to reading three or four more of his books thinking 'Well, maybe THIS one will be as good as Ragtime...' only to be bitterly disappointed.

6. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
I suspect Catch-22 will show up on pretty much anyone's list. Possibly my favourite book ever. It's been five years since I've last read it, so I'm far overdue. The introduction scene to Major Major Major had me laughing so hard that my parents thought I was choking.

7. A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John irving

8. Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew SuperMysteries, by "Carolyn Keene"
Ok, this one takes some explaining. I was a big fan of the Hardy Boys series. I was a big fan of the Nancy Drew series. Ergo, I was a huge fan of the SuperMysteries, wherein both Nancy and the Hardys teamed up. Credit must be given to the ghostwriting team for regarding this series as a big deal, since the story quality was noticeably better than just your solo Hardy or Drew adventures. They even had ongoing plots from book to book, like Nancy and Frank's smoldering passion for each other that was never consummated due to their respective significant others, Ned and Callie. Nancy should've gone for Joe --- he was single as could be after his girlfriend died in a car bomb. Quick question: if you've had a family member who died at the hands of the IRA, would you feel guilty of you ever went to a bar and found you really enjoyed Irish Car Bomb shots?

9. Son Of Interflux, by Gordon Korman
Another representative novel, as SOI was probably my favourite of Korman's bibliography. For those non-Canadian readers unfamiliar with his work, Gordon Korman wrote a number of teen or young adult-centric comic novels, most notably his series about Bruno and Boots, two havoc-causing students at Macdonald Hall private school. 'Son Of Interflux,' however, was about a kid who started a local movement against his father's vast multi-national corporation.

10. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
This one's probably showing up even more often than Catch-22. Pretty much the perfect book in terms of a novel that can be enjoyed by anyone in any walk of life. (Well, unless you're a rapist.) TKAM is also probably the most novel-movie combination in literary/film history. I'm hard-pressed to think of another universally-regarded novel that was made into a similarly universally-regarded movie. Compare it to Catch-22, which was made into a horrible movie in 1970 by the usually reliable Mike Nichols.

11. Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Another book that I only read every few years to keep it fresh. It's a series of interviews with virtually everyone that ever worked for SNL, detailing the show's history and influence. You get all kinds of great backstage gossip, anecdotes, details of skits that never made it to air, and surprisingly in-depth description of Milton Berle's penis.

12. 1984, by George Orwell
You know a satire is dead-on when it actually becomes more accurate with each passing year.

13. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
This is the only Vonnegut book I really like, though I enjoy his writing style itself.

14. Yukon Ho, by Bill Watterson
Not technically a 'book' per se, but rather a collection of Calvin & Hobbes comic strips. I remember ordering the book on a lark from Scholastic in the fourth grade, and it ended up altering the flow of my life given that C&H was by far the greatest comic strip of all time. Now that I think about it, Hobbes might very well be the fictional character that I most resemble. For example, I jump-tackle my roommate every time he gets home. We live on the third floor, so I've shattered many a vertebrae.

15. The Ax, by Donald E. Westlake
One of the true underrated writers of the 20th century, Westlake could alternate at will between wacky caper mysteries to hard-boiled drama to stand-alone psychological thrillers like 'The Ax' Plot summary: a guy really, really wants a job. That's all I'll reveal.

16. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White
"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Friday, August 07, 2009

UFC 101 picks

Not to be confused with UFC 101, the course I teach at the Learning Annex on Tuesday nights. "Class, your paper on Chuck Liddell's haircut is due on Friday."

* Amir Sadollah over John Hendricks, R2, armbar
Holy crap, Amir Sadollah is actually fighting! Wait....I shouldn't jinx it. He still might slip on a banana peel on the way to the cage, or he'll open his locker room door and a leopard will jump out at him. Since winning the seventh Ultimate Fighter season, Amir has suffered a number of injuries that led to postponed fight after postponed fight. Now, over a year after actually winning the show, he's finally back in action. He also dropped down to 170 pounds, perhaps under the logic that if he's lighter, there's less of him to injure. John Hendricks, however, is no easy draw --- a former NCAA wrestling champ, and unbeaten thus far in MMA. So why am I picking Sadollah? I dunno. He seems like a funny guy. He wins via his signature move, the armbar.

* Kurt Pellegrino over Josh Neer, decision
A battle between two of the worst nicknames in MMA. Batman vs. The Dentist. If you're going to give yourself a nickname like 'Batman,' you had better be an ultra bad-ass, not just a lightweight gatekeeper. What kind of loser tries to give himself a cool nickname, anyway? That said, Pellegrino is still a step up over Josh Neer, who I don't think is going to amount to much. Why is this fight on the main card, exactly?

* Ricardo Almeida over Kendall Grove, decision
Yeesh, another blah fight. Looks like the UFC decided to load up the card with the two big main events and then coast the rest of the way, eh? Almeida is a solid middleweight gatekeeper, not unlike Pellegrino except with a bit more upside, so I think he'll put 'Da Spyder' (maybe the worst nickname in MMA) away.

* Kenny Florian over BJ Penn, chokeout, R3
Totally a heart-over-head pick. I think BJ Penn might officially be my least-favorite fighter. After getting destroyed by Georges St. Pierre in February, Penn has claimed a) the fight was invalid due to a small dab of vasoline accidentally applied to GSP's back by his trainer after the first round, b) that GSP is on steroids since he's, like, in shape and everything. What a whiny idiot. Penn losing would actually get the lightweight belt into regular circulation, given how the title has only been defended twice since October 2006 due to Sean Sherk's steroid bust and Penn's love of time off and his moves up in weight. Florian as champion would actually defend the belt regularly every 3-4 months. Now, the odds of Florian actually winning are somewhat slim, given that Penn is objectively a far better fighter. But Kenny has been focused solely on Penn since last year, whereas Penn has been obsessed with St. Pierre. I'm hoping Kenny can overcome the talent gap and hand Penn another embarrassing defeat. Then BJ will claim he only lost because Florian was, say, on spinach. After all, spinach gave Popeye a huge buzz. Clearly something illegal going on there.

* Anderson Silva over Forrest Griffin, knockout, R3
I give Griffin more respect than many do, but this is a terrible matchup for him. A guy who isn't afraid of getting into a slugfest against arguably the most precise striker in MMA today....yikes. Forrest will find himself looking up at the lights. I'll give it until round three because he's a tough guy and I can see him weathering a couple of storms, but Silva will eventually catch him. I'm not sure how Forrest can win this; Silva can outstrike him and if it goes to the ground, Silva is a better submission artist. Bottom line is, Anderson gets a big win to get himself back on track after two dull wins over Patrick Cote and Thales Leites. Silva's dance card is pretty full in the next 8-9 months, with middleweight title defenses against Dan Henderson and the Nate Marquardt-Demian Maia winner lined up and maybe even a superfight against GSP.

* Thales Leites over Alessio Sakara, submission, R1. Hey, speak of the devil! Leites gets an impressive win over a mediocre fighter to erase some of the stink from that Silva fight.

* George Sotiropoulos over George Roop, TKO, R1. Winner gets the rights to the now-defunct 'George' Magazine started by John F. Kennedy Jr. Boy, did that magazine ever crash and burn. OH! Too soon?

* Tamdan McCrory over John Howard, decision. 'Barncat' McCrory is possibly the least fighterish-looking fighter in MMA, so thus I will always root for him.

* Matt Riddle over Dan Cramer, decision. I would like Riddle 100 times more if he came out to "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" with the Jim Carrey 'riddle me this....' intro. Riddle's older brother Tom would also win this fight, in round one, via magical lightning bolt.

* Aaron Riley over Shane Nelson, decision. interesting backstory behind this one. Nelson beat Riley is under a minute at UFC 96, but it was a highly controversial stoppage. Dana White felt so strongly about the stoppage that he went out of his way to give Riley a rematch. I suspect Riley uses his earlier defeat as motivation to pound Nelson down. Either that or it's another bizarre stoppage and these two end up fighting each other ad nauseum for the best of their careers.

* Danillo Villefort over Jesse Lennox, submission, R2. Two UFC newcomers going against each other. Both guys have a lot of submission wins to their name, so this could be a good ground war. Let's see, what else do I know about these two? Both are human males, born on Earth. Both have double-letters in both their first and last names. That's it. RESEARCH~~~!