Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best Posts Of 2011

It's always been a dream of mine that I, a guy named Mark, would become so known as a brilliant blogger that I'd be unofficially nicknamed 'Markie Post.' If only I'd adopted that as my posting name rather than this whole 'Question Mark' nonsense. How is the Riddler a good influence?! A criminal so inept he actually leaves clues behind so he can be caught? Come on!

Anyway, the end of the year is the time to reflect on bad choices such as these. In case you made the bad choice of not checking this blog every hour on the hour for new updates, here's a look back at some personal favourites that you may have overlooked because you're a big smelly jerk. HOW DARE YOU [/Geoff Peterson]

December 17: A big vent of happiness about how great the past season of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" was. Fun thing I forgot to mention: the performance of Alanna Ubach as Frank's whore (literally) fiancee. My mind was blown since Alanna Ubach gained childhood immortality playing the original assistant on Beakman's World. Good lord! Someone needs to write an elaborate fan-fiction about Charlie trying to set a trap to catch Lester the lab rat.

December 15: My review of "My Week With Marilyn." For some reason, most of my recent reviews have covered films that I didn't love or even necessarily really like, but simply found interesting. Honestly, that's probably the most fertile ground for analysis --- a concept that's *almost* there but was misconstrued in some way. Basically, I just like being a Monday morning quarterback. The more I think about it, it seems to be Michelle Williams' Oscar to lose at this point.

November 29: Case in point, this review of "Anonymous," which is really more a review of Roland Emmerich's dumb-ass theories about Shakespeare. A fantastic by-product of this authorship controversy is the fact that my brother believes it whole-heartedly. Actual quote from my brother recently: "Biggie was a better writer than Shakespeare. At least Biggie was real."

November 20: A big, long, bet-hedging screed about why the Packers weren't going to finish with a perfect record. Sure enough, they did indeed lose a game, which is probably better for their Super Bowl chances in the long run since now they can rest Aaron Rodgers and the other regulars this week. Hilariously and obviously, the game Green Bay finally lost was against Kansas City, the opponent I considered "the only gimme" remaining on their schedule.

November 4: I write 550 words about a ruined pair of pants. There's no such thing as a small topic, only a small author....or an author with way too much time on his hands. (Author/blogger, whatever.)

October 20: Some of the great audience reactions I've experienced at the movies. I look forward to adding another one to the list next week when the entire crowd joins together as one to chant "WAR HORSE, WAR HORSE, WAR HORSE!" #itcouldhappen

October 5: I update my rankings of the best comic-book movies ever made. In hindsight, doing this just months before 'Dark Knight Rises' gets released may have been a mistake.

September 27: I judge my immortal soul by seeing how many of the Ten Commandments I've broken in my lifetime. This one wins the prize for most popular post of the year among my friends, going by the unscientific method of Facebook likes and "Hey, I thought that post of yours was really funny!" mentions. It's probably disturbing that so many of my friends found the idea of my eternal damnation to be so amusing.

September 12: Pearl Jam and a very special guest just absolutely rock the fuck out at a Toronto concert and I'm there to see it. I dunno why I'm being so coy about the special was Neil Young. It's right there in the post's title, no need to hide it now.

September 8: My preseason NFL picks. Top four worst predictions, in no particular order: San Diego winning the AFC, the Saints finishing THIRD in the NFC South and missing the playoffs, Phil "Fantasy Team Killer" Rivers as the offensive player of the year, and the Rams winning the NFC West. On the bright side, at least I realized the Eagles would be a disappointment.

September 4: Analyzing my dream about an intergalactic flamingo attack. Androids dream of electric sheep, but I dream of alien flamingoes.

August 28: My day with the Stanley Cup. I can admit it now, this post was just slightly fictionalized.

August 21: This one isn't really *my* writing, but rather just a collection of terrific Grantland pieces from the site's first few months of existence. What the hell, I'll include it here, the stories are still great.

August 18: Pour one out for my old Macbook, which suffered an unfortunate and untimely demise this past summer. This is apparently a common affliction among Macs, since some friends of mine have also had their laptops suddenly die without warning. AND, Steve Jobs died before his time. What do they have over there at Apple, a bunch of hourglasses full of Skittles?

August 8: A look at how everyone turned on Tiger Woods, which basically could've been subtitled "Haters Gonna Hate, Even Though The Hate-ee Is Admittedly A Dickhead." It's also amusing, in hindsight, to note that nobody is exactly sticking to Stevie Williams as a cult hero, eh?

August 6: A bunch of random nonsense. Everything about that Antonio Banderas hat still fascinates me.

July 26: A collection of movie reviews. The fact that 'Tree Of Life' is getting legitimate Oscar buzz is baffling and infuriating. There's surely no way this thing could actually win Best Picture, could it? I never thought I'd see a BP winner worse than 'A Beautiful Mind,' but yet...

July 25: A breakdown of the most recent UK Apprentice season, and a general endorsement of the entire UK Apprentice series. My buddy Kyle tells me that there's such thing as "UK Junior Apprentice," that features a teenage cast. The thought of Lord Sugar berating some 15-year-old Cockney punk straight out of 'Attack The Block' is just amazing to me.

July 14: The annual tradition known as the Alterna-Emmys. As much as I enjoy writing these posts, I'd enjoy it a lot more if the Emmys actually got it right just once and rewarded deserving shows.

July 12: My fifth U2 concert, and so far they're 5-for-5. The post-concert highlight was my friend Ravi (who was also at the show) calling me up afterwards and having a 30-minute conversation about both the concert and U2's current musical standing in general. It was deep stuff, man.

June 30: The stretch of Dufferin between King Street and the CNE gets my vote as the worst street in Toronto. I think the best street in town might be that stretch of Eastern Road by the bakery whenever they're cooking fresh bread. Having a nose is AWESOME.

June 20: The final instalment of my 30-day Movie Challenge. (The first four parts are linked in this post.) I've got to be honest, it was more fun posting this was Facebook since I got to seek out all those cool pictures of the films. "Hey Mark, couldn't you have just posted those same pictures to the blog?" Uh, well, technically yes, but...shut up, Voice of Reason!

June 15: The infamous list of baby names. If I had a child, what would I name it? Or, if I had 44 children (22 boys, 22 girls, nice and even), what would I name each of them? It occurs to me that this list is a great potential pickup opportunity. You know, a woman is reading it, realizes she'd also love to have a daughter named Svetlana, and then falls madly in love with me. I should re-post this list once a month just to take advantage of his possibility since (if you can possibly believe it) blogging doesn't often get me laid.

May 23: I fix a toilet and am WAY too proud of myself about it. It's still astounding my apartment wasn't washed away in a Noah-esque flood.

May 16: My ranking of the best Survivor players of all time, sticking to just the show winners. This has been updated, by the way, to include the winner of the just-concluded Survivor: South Pacific season and it'll probably be updated for the rest of time to reflect future winners. So essentially, I'm condemning myself to even more future hours writing about this increasingly silly program.

May 15: This is easily the most anyone has ever written about journeyman actor Eric Lutes.

May 12: I ask the question, 'is Tiger Woods finished?' Given that he went the rest of the PGA Tour season without winning or really seriously contending in a tournament, the answer is still...maybe. And don't give me that bullcrap about Tiger winning the Chevron World Challenge or whatever that cheesy, 17-man field, silly season event is called. That's not a real victory. That's like winning a Golden Globe and claiming you're an Oscar winner.

May 6: Another random nonsense post, including my celebrity encounter with Mad Men's Rich Sommer.

April 23: Another dream analysis, this one vaguely concerning the Royal Wedding. No, this isn't just a dirty story about Kate Middleton.

March 28: A look inside Blogger's statistics to see just which of my blog posts are actually the most popular with readers. Y'know, instead of just relying on anecdotes and personal opinion like....uh, this post.

March 12: That damned Spider-Man Broadway musical that cost millions of dollars, dozens of actors' good health and most importantly, cost me from hearing a new U2 record this year. I never thought I'd directly quote Dr. Octopus like this, but damn that infernal wall-crawler!

February 25: The Markademy Awards! Not to spoil things for the next edition coming up in two months, but there have been very few films I've considered to be truly capital-G Great this year. Plus, if the Academy actually nominates a bunch of crap like 'The Tree Of Life,' I'll have PLENTY to rant about.

February 14: A solid instalment of the Hot! Live! Music! series. It includes my being totally ignorant about Adele, which is kind of funny since she went on to be the biggest musical star of 2011. Almost a year later, I've learned MUCH more about Adele, such as the fact that "Someone Like You" was co-written by the guy from Semisonic. Okay, that's the only Adele fact I know, and really, it's more about the guy from Semisonic. Maybe I should make it my 2012 resolution to learn more about that, for instance, his actual name.

February 5: I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl and WAS TOTALLY CORRECT! YEAH BABY! Not to blow my own horn amidst this entire post detailing my greatest blogging hits, but I was really impressed with my "the Packers overcame every major story of the 2010 NFL season" theory.

January 30
April 11: I'll break with the chronological order for these ones. In January, I outlined the stupidity of the NHL's "Guardians" promotion, then in April, I used the Guardians as the basis for my Stanley Cup predictions. And I WAS TOTALLY CORRECT! YEAH BABY!...wait, the Lightning beat the Blackhawks in the Cup final, right?

January 13: An update on the ongoing slap bets I'm a) participating in and b) am overseeing as commissioner. Oddly enough, they both involve my buddy Kyle and (even more oddly) this particular update doesn't involve me being slapped in the face.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UFC 141 Predictions

Just a reminder if you're ordering this show. It's on FRIDAY night, at 10 PM. The UFC is airing a rare Friday PPV so as to avoid New Year's Eve, and the PPV start times are returning to 10 PM since…well, they're blaming the switch to 9 PM as the reason for their declining PPV buys. I guess it makes sense given that starting at 6 PM on the west coast is awfully early, but I dunno guys, maybe the decline in buys could have more to do with the fact that there are suddenly about four UFC shows a month, eh?

* Donald Cerrone over Nate Diaz, decision
There's really no doubt that Jon Jones is the 2011 fighter of the year given the caliber of competition he dominated and the fact that Jones is a champion, but man, Cerrone can put in a great case for the silver medal. A win over Diaz would make Cerrone a perfect 5-0 in 2011. Cerrone just beat Dennis Siver two months ago and he's already back in the cage, with possibly just one more win standing between he and a title shot. Diaz is tough but Cerrone might quietly be one of the best fighters in the world who we just haven't yet identified as such. Of interest --- the only man who's legitimately beaten Cerrone was Benson Henderson, who did so twice in the WEC. So if Cerrone does win and lay his claim to a title shot, he could be held up if Henderson beats Frankie Edgar for the title in February. I can't think of anyone more deserving than Cerrone who'd be next in line, however, since Gilbert Melendez is still slumming it in Strikeforce.

* Jimy Hettes over Nam Phan, submission, R2
With all due respect to up-and-comer Jim Hettes, this is one of the least-worthy main card PPV fights in recent memory. The UFC should thank its lucky stars that Lesnar and Overeem stayed healthy since if one of them had to cancel on short notice and leave this show without a main event, the PPV buyrate doesn't even crack six figures. Anyway, Hettes has nine submissions in nine careers fights, so I suspect he'll continue his tap out streak against Phan. While Nam Phan has never been submitted in his career, he has lost a LOT (17-9 career record) and it's safe to say he's Not A Good Fighter.

* Jon Fitch over Johny Hendricks, decision
In the spirit of Chief Wiggum's "yeah, now we love the house!" attitude, I've done a total 180 on Jon Fitch. Whereas I used to think he was the dullest fighter under the sun, I've come to see his matches as less competitive fighting and more as performance art. The guy just canNOT be beaten (except by Georges St. Pierre) and it's HILARIOUS. I'm now openly rooting for opponents to "get Fitched," a.k.a. getting clutched against the fence and perhaps taken down, wherein Fitch will position himself in a half-assed half-guard position and rain light, ineffective punches down for the duration of the round. Rinse, repeat, Fitch gets another decision. Hendricks is a talented wrestler himself so Fitch may have more trouble controlling him than usual, but let's be honest, we all know how this one ends. If Hendricks actually does beat Fitch in a huge upset, he should immediately get the first crack at Carlos Condit/Nick Diaz's interim WW title. That's the respect that should be shown to a man that actually cracks the Fitch Code.

* Alexander Gustafsson over Vladimir Matyushenko, TKO, R3
I love this booking. This is classic "up-and-coming young star against a tough-as-nails veteran looking for one more run" matchmaking. I'm a big Gustafsson fan and think he might just be a fight or two away from losing to….er, that is, "challenging" Jon Jones for the light-heavyweight belt. That said, Matyushenko has shattered the dreams of many a young guy looking to make his name off "The Janitor's" reputation. Man, do I love that nickname. "The Janitor." I realize the symbolism of Vlad wanting to get himself over as the guy who likes to take care of the proverbial dirty work, but how long into his 14-year MMA career do you think he started to regret his choice of nickname? Six months? A year? The first time the announcer said it and caused a good chunk of the live crowd to openly laugh? I cannot deny that it's the absolute perfect moniker for the hard, old-school guy that Matyushenko has turned into, but still, 'Janitor.' Amazing. He should have Neil Flynn as his cornerman.

* Brock Lesnar over Alistair Overeem, TKO, R1
The result here is pretty easy to determine. Either Overeem catches Lesnar coming in and knocks him silly, or Lesnar takes Overeem down and pounds him into oblivion. It's a coin toss as to who will implement his special first. My coin came down on Lesnar's side despite the fact that Lesnar is fighting for the first time in 14 months and for just the fourth time since November 2008. It takes a lot to pick a man who's been ravaged by diverticulitis but my bigger issue with Overeem is that he might not actually be any good. Sure, he's the "Strikeforce heavyweight champion" and 10-0-1 over the last four years, but Overeem has an Andy Warhol record --- lots of cans. You can argue his only solid win in that stretch was over Fabricio Werdum, and Werdum is only dangerous if he gets you on the ground. Overeem avoided that scenario in a blah decision win over Werdum last June but Lesnar's takedowns are slightttttty more dangerous than Werdum's. Just slightly. By a factor of fifty. I'm not even sure Brock's so-called glass jaw is a factor, since even though Cain Velasquez knocked Lesnar silly last year, Lesnar was certainly able to withstand a ton of punishment from Shane Carwin and still win.

I suspect the UFC wouldn't mind seeing their big draw lose here, since an Overeem victory would establish him as a new big deal in the company and set up a major unification bout against Junior Dos Santos. Overeem is kind of killed by a loss here, while Lesnar losing can just be written off as a case of ring rust and whatnot. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Overeem actually win but I'll stick with my Lesnar choice. I'm not so easily 'diverted.' Ha ha, because he had diverticulitis! Ha ha, health problems! And he's the guy I picked to win!……groan.

* Diego Nunes over Manvel Gambuyran, decision
* Ross Pearson over Junior Assuncao, decision
* Dong Hyun Kim over Sean Pierson, KO, R2
* Luis Ramos over Matt Riddle, decision
* Danny Castillo over Anthony Njokuani, decision
* Jacob Volkmann over Efrain Escudero, submission, R1

Friday, December 23, 2011

Survivor Ratings: Sophie

So the 23rd (!) season of Survivor is in the books and the 22nd Survivor champion has been named. Where does Sophie Clarke stack up against past winners of the show? As someone who has already written way, WAY too much about Survivor, let's analyze her victory…

The three main criteria in my previous 'best players ever' post was to judge the winners by the manner in which they won their season, their so-called skillset and the likelihood of them winning Survivor again should they make a return appearance. By all of these standards, Sophie did a more than solid job.

How she won: an old-fashioned Survivor gameplan of getting into an alliance, sticking to it to the very end, and then getting yourself into a sub-alliance within the larger group that would get to the final tribal council. Given how solid the Upolu alliance ended up being (thanks in large part to Brandon and Coach's religious hectoring), Sophie basically had this thing wrapped up the moment the Upolus got Cochran to flip and give them the numbers advantage at the merge.

Now, I say 'basically had this thing wrapped up' unless Ozzy had, of course, gone on an immunity run and gotten himself into the final three, since obviously he would've won going away in yet another example of why the Redemption Island gimmick is stupid. But if you had never seen Survivor before and judged this season solely by how the show was being presented and edited, you would've thought Coach would be the winner by a landslide. If the show was to be believed, Coach was the one that swung Cochran (who was no doubt a bit starstruck by dealing with a Survivor icon), which ended up being the key turning point in the game. Coach was also by all accounts the 'leader' of the Upolu tribe, kept them in a tight group with no thoughts of flipping (besides Albert's half-assed plans) and all things considered, played a terrific game.*

Except….well, Coach is a terrible Survivor player. We know this and the players in the cast know this. I find it hard to believe that this guy who was an utter and total clown for two seasons suddenly flipped a switch and became a poor man's Boston Rob in his third try. Instead, I find it MUCH easier to believe that what we saw on the show wasn't *really* what happened, but instead was another example of Survivor's increasingly piss-poor editing. The producers' favourite quartet of Coach/Ozzy/Brandon/Cochran took up at least 85% of the screentime this season since they were the ones with the biggest personalities that the show wanted to highlight as the 'stars' of the season. This isn't to say that Survivor hasn't always been edited with an eye towards producing a heightened reality of the show, but at least in past seasons they weren't so obvious about it.

Anyway, getting back to Sophie, it was clear that her strategy was to get in an alliance filled with goats. You had Coach, the living Survivor joke. You had Rick, the nearly-invisible cowboy who was all about loyalty and was thus the perfect fourth wheel in an alliance. You had Edna, loyal because she had to be and also seemingly ignorant as to her low standing in the tribe. You had Albert, who was so transparent in his desire to curry jury votes and be seen as a real mover and shaker and it lost him everyone's respect. And then you had Brandon, the borderline-psychotic who seemed to be on orders from God to be a loyal tribe member. It seems like Sophie would've won in just about any final-three combination of this sextet, though Rick (who seemed well-liked, if low-profile) might have drawn enough votes in a Rick-Coach-Sophie scenario to force a tie in the final vote, which, if I understand my Mayan calendar correctly, turns Jeff Probst into a pillar of salt and triggers the end of the world.

* = I believe that Coach fell into his success in this series purely by accident, since if he'd had any sense of what he was doing, he should've won this thing going away. The fact that Coach was so adamant about having Sophie in the F3 was stunningly bone-headed, on par with Russell believing the likes of Natalie, Sandra and Parvati were all 'easy to beat' in a jury vote. Had Coach been in the end with literally anyone in his alliance other than Sophie, he wins since the rest of Upolu was Goat City USA. You could argue Coach saw the value in keeping Sophie and Albert since they were the alliance's only chance of beating Ozzy in a challenge, but that ignores the fact that Upolu basically gave Ozzy two byes at Redemption Island by having him face Edna and Cochran. If you send Sophie against Ozzy at one of those last two RI challenges (particularly the vertical Rubik's Cube thing that Edna lost), she stands a more than good chance of beating him there and preventing him from ever re-entering the game. If Coach was smart, he would've had Sophie voted out at F6 and thus ensured that either she or Ozzy would be out for good.

Skillset: Good at both physical and mental challenges; winning that last challenge and ousting Ozzy literally clinched Sophie the game. Loyal, within the Survivor context. Shrewd about making moves or, perhaps more accurately, when NOT to make moves, as Sophie realizes early on that she was in a pretty strong situation and thus never joined in Albert's crazy plans to shake up the game. Great poker face, since apparently she isn't religious but was able to fake it enough so as to not be cast out by Brandon/Coach/Albert as a heathen.

Her alleged weakness would be her "condescending" personality, as Whitney put it, and the fact that she apparently came off as somewhat entitled. To this end, Sophie's little crying spell at the F5 tribal council actually helped her a lot, since it brought back the curtain a bit and made her seem more human than hypocrites like Albert and Coach. But really, Sophie's "condescension" actually makes me think more of her as a player since she still won. The golden rule of Survivor is to make sure you're at the final tribal council alongside players who aren't as liked and/or respected as you. Survivor's iceman, the Dexter-esque Brian Heidik, knew he'd eventually have to stab his allies in the back to make it to the end, so he made sure he was in the F2 with the even-more-unlikable Clay Jordan. In Sophie's case, even if she wasn't quite aware of how her attitude was coming off to the other players, it ultimately didn't matter since she positioned herself to be at the end with Albert and Coach. An "it's just business" attitude is much preferable to a jury than Albert and Coach's two-faced, "I play this game with honour but sorry guys, I'll have to vote you out anyway" attitudes.

(And AGAIN, as Cochran noted while voting for Coach, had Coach just owned his gameplay, he still might've won. Had Coach said, 'I turned your perceptions of me from previous seasons against you and got to the end,' he would've won a lot more respect as a strategist. Why the hell am I talking about Coach so much? Damn, this slanted Survivor editing is even getting to me.)

Could They Do It Again?
: If Sophie ever plays this game again, I think she'd stand a very strong chance of making another deep run. An underrated factor to Sophie's success is that, if you read her post-game interviews, she's basically the female Cochran. She's a big Survivor fan except, unlike Cochran, she was smart enough to not wear her fandom on her sleeve and actually prepared for the game, whereas Cochran seemed stunned to realize that Survivor took place outdoors. Sophie is also smart enough to adjust her game a second time around, based on how she perceives she's being perceived by her new tribemates.

Sophie's MO this time was a blend of the Amber/Natalie Strategy (be seen as the good cop next to a more outwardly aggressive and less likeable player) combined with Heidik's cool detachment. That's a hell of a combination. Going back to my initial ranking of Survivor winners, I can't put Sophie in the top tier of Sandra/Parvati/Brian, but I'd definitely slot her amongst Tina/Earl/Chris in the next tier of champions. That's no worse than #7 all-time and perhaps even as high as fourth. Very impressive for a woman whose screentime was largely shafted in favour of yet more goddamn footage of Ozzy climbing a tree.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Xmas, Calvin & Hobbes

There are few pop culture items I miss more than Calvin & Hobbes (greatest comic strip of all time, hands-down) and yet I respect the hell out of Bill Watterson for his decision to not just end the strip, but to not even slightly revisit bringing it back in any form. Watterson simply felt the strip had run its course and wanted to go out on top. To that end, he also has refused any attempts to license the characters for any sort of merchandise, animation, films, etc. You have to admire that kind of principle...even if I secretly think a well-done Calvin & Hobbes film would be amazing. It'd have to be animated (no real seven-year-old kid could properly play Calvin and having him interact with a CGI Hobbes would look goofy) but there is no shortage of lovely animation that could be generated from the original Watterson artwork. Put someone like Brad Bird at the helm of this project and I'd be first in line at the theatre.

Or, hey, forget Brad Bird, maybe get these animators to do it. I'll take even the most minor new C&H-related material so finding this video was like finding the Holy Grail in my dishwasher. This analogy doesn't really work since I would've theoretically found the Grail to put it in the washer in the first place, but....damn.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's Always Funny

It's rare for a show to last for seven seasons on the air. It's even rarer than a show is still watchable in its seventh season. It's NIGH-UNHEARD OF that a show's seventh season is actually its best one, and yet, I think this is what has happened with the latest series of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Thirteen episodes, twelve of them gems (we'll get to the non-gem in a moment) and really, no signs whatsoever that this show is anywhere near slowing down.

If you've never seen IASIP before, good lord, drop what you're doing and hit up Netflix. The show can and has been most easily described as "Seinfeld, except with sociopaths." I've always felt this description somewhat undercuts just what terrible people the Gang are. The Seinfeld crew were already more or less sociopaths --- the IASIP Gang take it to a far more depraved and terrifying level. On Seinfeld, you were always somewhat rooting for those characters to win; on ISAIP, you're whole-heartedly rooting for the characters to lose since my god, imagine a world in which these people were successful?

Things kicked into high gear even before the season started when word broke that Rob McElhenney had put on 50 pounds solely because he thought it would be funny if Mac was suddenly a big fat guy. Just amazing. Mac's outfits for the year were nothing but comically tight t-shirts and Hawaiian shirts, topped off by the thick beard that made Mac look like a foul-mouthed, rage-filled young Orson Welles. Actually, keeping with the Welles theme, imagine this except stretched over 6.5 hours.

Yet, despite the fact that McElhenney risked his health for the sake of the show, I'm going to have to split the season's MVP award between Kaitlin Olson and Glenn Howerton. The Reynolds siblings were in nothing less than rare form all year round. There is no good reason why Olson doesn't have at least a couple of Best Supporting Actress Emmys already, and Howerton just gets funnier and funnier as Dennis' pure sociopathic nature becomes more and more apparent over the run of the show. Mac takes third place, while Charlie Day (while still as funny as ever) comes in last behind Danny DeVito. Why Frank in fourth?

* "RUM HAM!"
* A heavily made-up, sweaty, panicked Frank trying to assure a gymnasium full of people that he isn't a pedophile
* "I'm going to whip this little bitch in the face!"
* Relating the entire history of the Gang to a group of confused Asian tourists while in the midst of hijacking their tour boat

These are among Frank's all-time greatest moments, and the fact that they're all in the same season is enough to let him escape the Character Ranking basement. Sorry, Charlie. And, the fact that Frank had such an amazing year and only finished fourth is a testament to just how hilarious the entire cast continues to be in these roles.

So, the weak link. The "Frank's Brother" episode was unique amongst IASIP episodes in that for 80% of it, it wasn't trying to be funny. It was a legitimately straight-forward tale of Frank's early life and it was odd to watch. It was 22 minutes of waiting for the other shoe to drop, yet as presented, it actually gave Frank (heretofore one of the most scheming, evil bastards on planet Earth) a softer side in his younger days. I wouldn't call it a bad episode, per se, but…man, it was just weird. I can't be entirely mad about any episode that features Lance Reddick, though, and one lacklustre episode doth not a season ruin. The White Album had 'Revolution 9,' after all.

Best episode? Well, I'm partway there already, let's rank all 13 from bottom to top:

13. Frank's Brother
12. The Storm Of The Century
11. The High School Reunion Part 2
10. Sweet Dee Gets Audited
9. How Mac Got Fat
8. Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties
7. The Anti-Social Network
6. Thunder Gun Express
5. The Gang Goes To The Jersey Shore
4. Frank's Pretty Woman
3. Chardee MacDennis: The Game Of Games
2. The High School Reunion Part 1
1. The Gang Gets Trapped

The top three, in particular, rank amongst the best episodes from all seven seasons. The first part of "High School Reunion" has what I'd say is probably the single biggest laugh of the entire series for me, and since I wouldn't dream of spoiling it, I'll just say it was 'the nametag scene' and leave it at that. That was a legitimate tears-of-laughter moment that had seven years of buildup behind it.

Parks & Recreation is still pound-for-pound the best comedy on TV (and arguably the best show), while Community is easily the most inventive comedy on TV. In terms of pure laughs, though, both shows will be hard-pressed to top what IASIP did. And, it will be a tough nut to crack for P&R and Community -- great shows as they are -- to still be this good in their seventh year. Yeah, that's right, I'm presuming Community can somehow make it to a seventh season. Believe. #SEVENseasonsandamovie

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

It's time to look at this Michelle Williams thing. In the history of the Academy Awards, 162 performers have received at least three nominations for acting. Say what you will about the Oscars and lord knows they take some weird swings and misses…but they don't take three swings and misses on one person. It's safe to call anyone with three nominations a legitimately good-or-better actor.

With nods already in the bag for Blue Valentine and Brokeback Mountain, and a third nomination looking very likely (hell, maybe even a win) in line for My Week With Marilyn, some will argue that I'm very late to the party in acknowledging that Williams is already a hell of an actress. This is no doubt true, but I'm just continually stunned by the fact that seven years ago, Williams was known as nothing more than the weak link of the Dawson's Creek cast. Now she has two-going-on-three Oscar nominations?! What an upset. It's not like the Van der Beek/Holmes/Jackson triforce of power were known for being great actors or anything, but given how little focus Williams got in comparison to those three, this is like if Ringo had been the Beatle with the best solo career.

And make no mistake, Williams is a legitimately terrific actress, MWWM being the latest example. Given the supremely tough challenge of playing Marilyn Monroe, Williams could have chosen to just do an imitation (sticking to the Monroe personality quirks that we all know from 60 years of pop culture) or she could've gone the other familiar route of playing 'Norma Jeane,' in order to portray the 'real woman' behind the persona and then basically done whatever she wished. Instead, Williams goes for about a half-and-half mix of the Monroe persona and another character that basically represents a distilled "Marilyn" that is more human yet no less charismatic and attractive.

It's a tough balancing act, particularly since the movie is all about how this budding filmmaker named Colin meets and has a relationship with Marilyn while she was shooting 'The Prince And The Showgirl' in England in 1957. So Williams has to play her take on the role while still being "Marilyn Monroe" enough to live up to the fantasy image of the Colin Clark character. Yet Williams is more than capable of the task and does about as well as one can while playing one of the most well-known figures of the 20th century. Off the top of my head, only Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles or Morgan Freeman's Nelson Mandela have delivered comparable biopic performances in recent memory. It's an easy thing to screw up --- Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Will Smith as Muhammad Ali both didn't *really* hit the mark as their targets, but were still applauded for coming reasonably close.

Four paragraphs in, I should probably mention that MWWM as an overall film is pretty average. Clark is such an empty vessel that nobody really cares about his week as Monroe's companion. In a way, Williams' performance sort of works against the story in this respect; she's so alluring that the movie's premise of "gee, what would it be like to spend a week with Marilyn Monroe?" is immediately answered as, "well duh, it's awesome." Then again, another actress in the lead role likely wouldn't have been as good, dooming the whole project to the level of a second-rate TV movie.

Much in the way that Homer woke up in the dead of night screaming about how he hates Ted Koppel, I think I had a similar realization about Kenneth Branagh. I just do not like the guy's acting style. Other than his performances in Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, I have not enjoyed a single Branagh performance. He played a terrible Woody Allen avatar in Celebrity, muffed the hard-to-muff role of Professor Lockhart in the second Harry Potter movie, and just when you think Branagh at least has Shakespeare in his wheelhouse, he hams it up as Iago in the Oliver Parker adaptation of Othello. In MWWM, he plays Laurence Olivier and does exactly what Williams doesn't do with Monroe. Whereas Williams is playing a character, Branagh basically just goes a MadTV-caliber impression of Olivier's voice and calls it a day. It boggles my mind that Branagh himself actually has a bit of Oscar buzz for this role. Actually, let me check the records…ok, if he did get nominated, it would only be Branagh's second nomination --- after Henry V, which I impossibly have yet to watch --- so my whole "actors with three Oscar nods are the tops" premise wasn't just blown to bits within this very post. If Branagh is nominated over my man John Hawkes (who is just phenomenal in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'), there will be hell to pay.

So in short, My Week With Marilyn has a great lead performance, lovely British scenery, nice period costumes and art direction, and that's about it. Williams' shot at an actual win on Oscar night will be hampered by the lower quality of her picture, but given that nobody is exactly going crazy about Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close's entry), The Iron Lady (can even Meryl Streep make Margaret Thatcher sympathetic?), Viola Davis in The Help (despite its high likelihood of a Best Picture nomination) or Young Adult (Charlie Theron's entry, which I REALLY still want to see), Williams will still carry a lot of momentum into the race. If she does win, I will personally send her $5 if she begins her speech with, "Fuck you, Pacey!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'm A Two-Time TIME Person Of The Year!

What a special day. Just five years after TIME named me* their person of the year, I've captured the honour once more. Who knew that my protesting NBC's removal of 'Community' from its schedule would get me recognized (again!) by a prestigious magazine that I read every single time I go to the dentist.

Just getting one POTY title is a great achievement, but twice?? That puts me in truly elite company. Other multiple-time winners include Franklin Roosevelt (a three-timer!), Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, Deng Xiaoping, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, George Marshall, Richard Nixon (ugh), Ronald Reagan (yikes), George W. Bush (eep) and....uh, Joseph Stalin. Okay, well, the award isn't foolproof. Also, given that TIME's Person Of The Year in 1969 was "The Twenty-Five And Under Generation," I guess that means most of the modern winners were also two-timers, and Clinton is now also a three-timer. Though if you ask Hillary, he's still just a two-timer! /Leno joke

I promise to live to TIME's high standards by doing nothing for the next five years in order to give others a chance to catch up. Then I'll win my third honour in 2016 when TIME awards, I dunno, 'Bald People' or 'Bloggers' or 'People Who Dip Chocolate Chip Cookies Into Apple Sauce' as its winner.

* = "You pressed 'you,' referring to me. That is incorrect. The correct answer is 'you.' "

Saturday, December 10, 2011

UFC 140 (In Toronto!) Predictions

* Tito Ortiz over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, decision
"Little Nog" has lost two in a row and very easily could've lost three in a row were it not for a dodgy judge's decision win over Jason Brilz. He really hasn't looked impressive for a long time. So if I'm putting this much stock in recent results, why am I picking Noguiera to lose to Tito Ortiz, who is 1-5-1 in his last seven fights? In a word, ring rust. I often pick against fighters who are coming off long layoffs; basically, anything more than 10 months away from fighting is a red flag for me. Since this is such a factor in my fight-picking logic, I'm reversing it in Ortiz's favour here since Ortiz is on a regular schedule for the first time in years. Due to injuries and being picky over opponents, Ortiz fought just once per year from 2007-2010. It looked like he was becoming a ceremonial fighter. This bout with Nogueira, however, is Tito's third in a six-month span. For as much flack as Ortiz has taken in recent years, the fact that he's actually now training and competing on a regular basis can only be a good thing. This might go down as one of my dumbest-ever predictions in hindsight ("Mark, you seriously picked Tito Ortiz to win a fight in 2011?!") but what the hell, I'll go with Tito for literally the first time ever.

* Claude Patrick over Brian Ebersole, decision
Ebersole is 9-0 since September 2008, Patrick is 13-0 since April 2005 (with, admittedly, a couple of long layoffs in between fights). All things considered, this is surprisingly the toughest fight to predict on the card --- two mid-level guys, both on good runs, records a bit padded from years of fighting in lower-tier MMA orgs in Canada and Australia, looking for one breakthrough performance that might net them a contender's bout. It's basically a coin flip so I'm taking Patrick because he's from Toronto. Never let it be said that I'm not a homer.

* Frank Mir over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, KO, R2
"Big Nog" is coming off the most emotional result of his career, a first-round KO of Brendan Schaub at the UFC's debut event in Rio that maybe saved Nogueira from being cut (speaking of Nogueiras fighting for their jobs...) and gave him a huge win in his home country. Had Nogueira chosen to retire right there on the spot, it would've been a storybook ending to a legendary career. But, he's still fighting and I'm thinking reality is about to interject itself. Mir already has one brutal knockout over Nogueira in a fight that many considered a fluke at the time -- Nog was suffered from a staph infection and couldn't properly train -- but I dunno, it's possible Nogueira's jaw could still be cracked. Schaub couldn't do anything with it, but Mir is a good enough striker to hang with all but the heaviest-handed of heavyweights. (That was the most Mike Goldberg-ish sentence I've ever written.) I'd be a lot of fun to see Nogueira win again, but I suspect Mir gets another win over the future HOFer. Is it a bad sign that I'm picking against two guys known as 'Nog' during the Xmas season?

* Mark Hominick over Chan-Sung Jung, KO, R2
I probably should just refer to Jung as 'the Korean Zombie' at all times because a) that's a great nickname and b) there are probably a lot of halfwit MMA fans out there who don't actually know his real name but love his fights. For sheer entertainment value, it doesn't much better than Jung. Besides the nickname, he's one of those nonstop, all-out fighters that almost always puts on a great fight. You never know what you'll see in a Zombie fight, and that includes him pulling out a goddamn Twister submission in his last match. All this being said, Jung is not a top-level featherweight by any stretch and a legit title contender like Hominick should more or less have his way with him. It'll be an awfully fun 5-8 minutes while it lasts, though.

* Jon Jones over Lyoto Machida, TKO, R3
The subtitle here could be "Past Juggernaut vs. Current Juggernaut." Just over two years ago, it was Machida who was riding high as the unbeaten light-heavyweight champ that nobody could figure out. Of course, Machida's dominance ended in rough fashion at the hands of Shogun Rua and now the Dragon is only getting another title shot due to a Rashad Evans injury. While Machida isn't a deserving challenger by recent form (sketchy decision over Shogun, brutal knockout loss to Shogun, sketchy decision loss to Rampage Jackson, blowout win over Randy Couture), he's still a tremendous fighter and a big challenge to Jones.

Just like how Alexander cut through the Gordian Knot with his sword, the way to figure out Machida is simply plow right into his defence (like Shogun's punch) or at least contain him with cage-control and dirty boxing, as Rampage did. Jones may be able to do this with his much-superior wrestling; while Machida has a black belt in BJJ, he has surprisingly few submission wins in his career. Could we see a 25-minute Georges St. Pierre special from Jones tonight? Possible, though I think Jones' ground-and-pound is vicious enough that if he gets a few good shots in on Machida, that might be enough to end it.

Of course, I've just analyzed this all from the 'how will Jones beat Machida' end since trying to figure how Machida can beat Jones is difficult since nobody's done that yet.* The book on Jones is that his chin is still untested, so Machida could replicate his strategy against (the then-unbeaten) Rashad Evans and possibly overwhelm him with strikes if he finds an opening. Evans, however, is built like a normal human, whereas Jones is some lanky hybrid between pterodactyl and man. As elusive as Machida is, he just simply might not be able to get close enough to land anything of consequence on Jones. I'm guessing the Jon Jones riddle goes unsolved for yet another event and the champ retains. This would set up either the long-awaited Jones vs. Evans fight, or possibly Jones vs. Dan Henderson, which would also be fun.

* Jared Hamman over Constantinos Philippou, KO, R2
* Krzysztof Soszynski over Igor Pokrajac, decision
* John Cholish over Mitch Clarke, TKO, R2
* John Makdessi over Dennis Hallman, KO, R3
* Walel Watson over Yves Jabouin, submission, R1
* Nik Lentz over Mark Bocek, decision
* Rich Attonito over Jake Hecht, submission, R1

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Community Vs. Trivia

It's just about gotten to the point where I would watch the cast of Community do anything, be it actually star in their TV show, play a game of pop culture Trivial Pursuit, solve mysteries, arrange a delightful rose garden, etc. Also, I don't want to brag, but...I would've done prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay well on those questions.

"Memoirs Of An Invisible Man: The Video Game"....ha!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

NHL Realignment

The NHL's current divisional setup was probably the fairest they could've achieved. While the geography wasn't a total fit, it was the best that could be done to keep an even 15 teams in each conference and thus give everyone an even playing field in the quest for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Unfortunately, while the NHL's new alignment plan fixes the geography and is somewhat "fairer" in terms of everyone-plays-everyone, it fails in the most simplest of terms --- it is almost inevitable that every single season, at least one deserving team will be hosed out of a spot in the playoffs.

The NHL has cooked up an amplified version of the old four-division setup, getting rid of conferences altogether. Here are the new alignments….

* Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

* Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg

* Carolina, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

* Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto

Using the Maple Leafs as an example, their schedule will now feature a home-and-home series against every non-conference opponent (23 teams x 2 = 46 games) and six games against each conference foe (6 teams x 6 = 36 games) so the 82-game schedule will be retained.

(It's different if you're in an eight-team conference. The Jets, for instance, have 44 out-of-conference games and 38 against conference rivals. So, the Jets will play each divisional rival at least five times each, and it will rotate each year as to which of the others they'll play an extra time.)

This isn't the big issue, however. The issue is that the conferences will be maintained for the playoffs. So now, to qualify for the postseason, you have to be one of the top four teams in your conference, rest of the league be damned. The first two rounds will feature intra-conference tournaments, with the winners then advancing to the Stanley Cup semi-finals, where they'll be reseeded (presumably by point total) for the final four.

Now, as a Leafs fan, I'm somewhat pleased that we now only have to worry about finishing ahead of three teams to get a shot at the Cup, rather than seven teams. But in the grander sense, are you kidding me with this horsecrap?! The NHL has created the AL East writ large, where quality teams would simply miss out due to their division, rather than their not being one of the actual best teams in their sport. You might argue, "If a team isn't good enough to finish ahead of four others, why should they earn a spot in the playoffs?" Because it's a SIXTEEN-TEAM FIELD! If you have five superb teams in one conference, is it fair that one of them gets omitted while laser teams from other conferences sail in?

Let's not even ignore the numbers game of the fact that the teams in the eight-team conferences are doubly-hard done by, since they have to beat an extra opponent to reach the playoffs. The solution could be that the NHL eventually plans to even things out via expansion teams….but good lord, the NHL doesn't even have 30 stable markets now. If the NHL knows of two great potential markets, let's move the Coyotes or Panthers or someone rather than stretching the league even thinner.

Realignment took place in large part because the NHL simply has too many teams in the Eastern time zone. It's been no secret that the Red Wings have been complaining for years about playing in the Western Conference, plus several other Western teams don't care for all the travel through the Pacific, Central AND Eastern time zones. I admit, as a Leafs fan, I'm so used to seeing our rivals on a regular basis that I overlook the fact that it's hard for, say, a Minnesota Wild fan to really rev up some hatred for the Oilers, Flames, Canucks and Avalanche. (Wild fans' only consolation is the team's gorgeous jerseys). The problem with going to a more geographically-centered format, though, is that it requires a shakeup every time a team is moved. If the Coyotes moved to Quebec City, for instance, I presume the solution would just be to have Quebec slotted into the Leafs' conference, so they'd suddenly have eight teams while the new 'Western' conference is reduced to seven. Still, not fair.

Still, this realignment could be a good thing in the long run since I suspect the re-formatted playoffs could be quickly revamped. How quickly? Oh, just about the first time a team like the Wings, Bruins, Rangers, Leafs, Blackhawks, Flyers or Capitals are the ones screwed by missing out on a postseason spot. Then you'll see Gary Bettman scrambling to cover his ass like there's no tomorrow.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Old Toronto (With Pretty Pictures!)

BlogTO has a one-stop shop for a varied archive of photographs from throughout Toronto's history, chronicling the city's architecture and evolution over the decades. It's a very cool piece to check out, though admittedly I'm totally in the tank for these "here's how we were" kind of features.

Very relieved to learn that my townhouse isn't on the site of an old industrial waste plant. Instead, it was just built over an ancient native burial ground. Nothing bad could possibly come of this!