Saturday, January 28, 2012

Random Nonsense


I'm at the store the other day buying cereal (and other groceries, though my diet is single guy-sad enough that a cereal-specific trip to Shoppers Drug Mart wouldn't be out of the question) and I came across a box of Corn Pops that expires in October…on my birthday.

Now, I bought the cereal in question because, well, Corn Pops are delicious, but also because I'm vaguely afraid this cereal could be tied to me in some kind of portrait of Dorian Gray-esque manner. Like, for every Pop that's eaten, that's one step closer to my end of days. But now that I'm in possession of the box and can control the ebb and flow (eat and flow?) of the contents, I'm now virtually immortal. It's funny, this was actually a deleted scene from Highlander that the director cut since it really detracted from the whole sword fights-and-beheading theme to have Chris Lambert just hoarding boxes of cereal.

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Fun link here: the Literally Unbelievable website, which catalogues instances where people (let's call them 'idiots') actually think an Onion headline is true and then comment about it on their Facebook wall.

It's hard to believe anyone could fall for an Onion headline, except when it deals with mild-mannered NBA star Tim Duncan. The Onion's ongoing teasing of Duncan is entirely plausible. "Tim Duncan Offers To Do Taxes For Entire Spurs Team"? I can see it. "Tim Duncan Sends Belated 'Great Game' Card To Celtics For February Defeat"? Just seems like a polite thing he would do. "Tim Duncan Urges All-Stars To Use Inside Voice During Game"? Sure, ain't no reason they've gotta be so loud.

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I have some issues about Coca-Cola's "save the arctic" campaign. First of all, their donation of $2 million to arctic preservation is nice, but…$2 million? For a company as large as Coke? This is like me dropping a twonie into a Salvation Army bucket and thinking I'm a real big shot.

Secondly, I may be crazy, but the Coca-Cola in these new white polar bear-themed cans seemingly doesn't taste like the Coke in the normal red cans. This almost has to be psychological on my part, sort of like how while I claim Coke and Pepsi taste entirely different, if you snuck Coke into a Pepsi bottle or vice versa, I probably wouldn't be the wiser. The other theory is that the Coke in the polar bear cans is actually FLAVOURED WITH POLAR BEAR BLOOD. MY GOD. SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!!

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Not to be one of those guys that brags about his Word Mole score, but……9714! Good god! Is this my calling in life?

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If you were asked to guess what the catchiest pop song of all time was, how many guesses would it take before you landed on 'We Are The Champions'? I'll save you the time, as research has proven it to be true. I love that this is what a team of researchers has been doing with their time. Yeah, science!

Can't quite agree with the study's results since it doesn't pass the common sense test. Come on, is 'We Are The Champions' even in the top five catchiest Queen songs? Surely 'Under Pressure' alone has a stronger case, though I may be biased as that's my favourite Queen tune, both my favourite to listen to and to perform in karaoke. Some say it's impossible for one man to perform both the Mercury AND Bowie parts, but I'm not just any one man.

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Just before everyone freaks out over this, it's clearly just a Super Bowl commercial. It's not a hint at an actual Ferris Bueller sequel, as interesting as that would be after all these years. It would also be kind of funny if a sequel was only now happening due to John Hughes' death, as in Broderick was like, "FINALLY, he kicked the bucket! Okay, I'll happy do a sequel now that Hughes is out of the picture. Damn, that guy hadn't made a good movie in 20 years, and that's taking the leap of classifying 'Home Alone' as a good movie!" Then Broderick chomps on a cigar and flicks ash on Hughes' grave. What a dick.*

* = also my three-word review of 'Shame'



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UFC on FOX 2 predictions!

* Demian Maia over Chris Weidman, decision
Anderson Silva broke Demian Maia. Before he fought Silva, Maia was a submission master, finishing opponents with all manner of incredible holds and maneuvers. After Silva clowned him for 25 minutes, however, Maia has completely hit the brakes, devolving into a cautious, grind-it-out style of fighter that just uses his jujitsu mastery to control guys rather than put them way.

For that reason, I'll take him over Weidman in a fight that Weidman is taking on short notice. Weidman is an up-and-comer with an impressive wrestling background, but he's never faced anyone on Maia's level. Both fighters are about equally mediocre on their feet but Maia has the experience to at least do a little bit of something if it becomes a slugfest. I'm expecting a 15-minute relative snoozer here that Maia ekes out. As down as I am on Maia right now, a win here might set up a real battle of submission specialists in he and Rousimar Palhares, which would be a very interesting fight.

* Chael Sonnen over Michael Bisping, decision
Just to complete Sonnen's devolution into a pro wrestling heel, he's now carried his "I'm the real champion" schtick to its natural end by actually carrying around a fake UFC title belt. Good lord. This card was originally supposed to feature Maia vs. Bisping and Sonnen vs. Mark Munoz, but an injury to Munoz caused some shuffling and set up this match between arguably the two most obnoxious, unlikable fighters in the company. Seriously, who's the lesser of two evils here? This is like picking which STD you'd prefer to contract.

Sonnen should be able to win pretty easily given that Bisping is just not a very good fighter and certainly the most consistently protected guy on the UFC roster. But, admittedly, it would be hilarious to see Sonnen's trash talk blow up in his face if he got submitted by, of all people, Michael Bisping. It's not totally out of the question; you figure Bisping's been working on his BJJ anyway to try and ward off Maia if that fight had happened and gone to the ground. Maybe Bisping can catch Sonnen in a triangle and tap him out, given Sonnen's non-existent submission defense. Even funnier, that would set up Bisping to face Anderson Silva, which would be the most one-sided bout in MMA history. My grandma would have a better chance against Silva than Bisping does….my grandma may be 91, but she's very well-preserved. Probably has something to do with a magical box of Corn Pops she keeps in her cupboard.

* Rashad Davis over Phil Davis, decision
Now that the 'Jon Fitch code' was thoroughly cracked (along with Fitch's jaw) by Johny Hendricks, I nominate Rashad Davis as the new most secretly-interesting man in MMA. You almost get the feeling Evans is as mild-mannered as Tim Duncan, yet feels the need to try and build himself up with trash talk because that's the way things go in MMA. The problem is the fans pick up on this phoniness and just boo the crap out of Evans on principle. It also doesn't help that Evans lost the PR battle in his latest rivalry with Jon Jones. After Jones (then a teammate with Evans) said he'd take a title shot against Evans and then became light-heavyweight champ by beating Shogun Rua, Evans moved to a new team and claimed Jones had gone against his word. Unfortunately for Evans, fight fans don't care about this 'inside baseball' stuff and just want to see the best fights. "Teammates fighting each other over a title? Sure, bring it on!" It's another case of how Rashad may have a legit, real-world point, but it falls on deaf ears when it comes to fighting.

Anyway, yeah, Phil Davis, I should probably mention him at some point. He's another nice up-and-coming prospect with an unbeaten record and a terrific wrestling/submission style. Evans has the clear advantage in striking but on the ground, it may be a tossup or even an edge to Davis, despite Evans' own wrestling background. The bigger issue may be that Davis hasn't fought since March due to injury and he's making a major step up in competition. A Davis upset wouldn't shock me, but it would be a real eye-opener if he managed to be just the second man to beat Rashad Evans. Davis' win wouldn't get him an immediate title shot at Jones (that would go to Dan Henderson) but it would certainly put him next in line.

You might notice I've picked all decision finishes on this show. Call it karma. After the UFC's epic fail at not putting the incredible Ben Henderson/Clay Guida fight on their first FOX card, they will pay the karmic price by having multiple televised fights on this show but they'll all be fairly uninteresting decisions. Tough break, UFC.

Undercard….
* Mike Russow over John-Olav Einemo, KO, round 2
* Evan Dunham over Nik Lentz, decision
* George Roop over Cub Swanson, decision
* Shane Roller over Michael Johnson, submission, round 1
* Charles Oliveira over Eric Wisely, submission, round 2
* Lavar Johnson ove Joey Beltran, decision
* Chris Camozzi over Dustin Jacoby, decision

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oscar Nomination Reactions


I don't want to spoil my annual "Markademy Awards" post (truly the highlight of everyone's awards season), but I had a tough time filling out a ballot this year. There were maybe four movies that I considered to be really great, then maybe 10 more that hit 'very good' status, 10 more that were 'good' and then a wholllllllle bunch of flawed-to-mediocre-to-outright bad pictures. As it happened, some of the latter group ended up nominated for major Oscars, so this should be fun.

* Just to eliminate any major suspense, 'The Artist' is almost surely going to win Best Picture and probably a nice chunk of the other awards to boot. The only possible upset contenders are 'The Descendants' and 'Hugo.' I think the buzz for 'Descendants' is already dying off, a la how Clooney's last two big Oscar movies (Michael Clayton and Up In The Air) got a lot of noms but both basically petered out by Oscar night. 'Hugo,' on the other hand, has so much affection going for it, had Scorsese and is about film preservation, a topic near-and-dear to the Academy's heart. I think Scorsese will end up taking Best Director and it wouldn't completely shock me if 'Hugo' takes the top prize as well.

* In the first year of the Academy's new "anywhere between five and 10 Best Picture nominees" rule, we ended up with nine BP candidates. Artist, Midnight In Paris, Descendants, The Help and Hugo were all thought to be sure things. Moneyball was also a likely pick due to general affection across the board. Tree Of Life got in due to its number of passionate supporters; under a balloting system where you allegedly needed just five percent of the first place votes to make the field, there were certainly enough Academy voters who considered this film to be an utter masterpiece that it no doubt easily cleared the necessary 5% total.

If you looked up "Oscar bait" in the dictionary, you'd probably see listings for War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but their being nominated was still a bit surprising given that neither film (especially ELIC) seemed to take off. Don't underestimate the Academy's love of cheesy bullcrap, I guess.

* And with that, let's get into the ones I didn't like! ELIC was undone by an overwrought premise and an absolutely godawful performance by the kid in the lead role. When you're acting alongside the likes of Hanks, Bullock, Von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, etc. and not even they can carry your performance, you know you're a brutal actor. War Horse was I suppose okay, if sugary enough that it murdered many a diabetic. I was let down the horse didn't take out a few Germans in hand-to-hoof combat. And finally, we have Tree Of Life, which was all the most frustrating since there seemed to be kernels of a good movie in there, buried underneath about an hour of pretentious horsecrap. Any of these winning would be an abomination on par with 'A Beautiful Mind' winning Best Picture, but don't worry, Artist (or maybe Hugo) has got this thing.

* I am cheering hard, HARD for 'Man Or A Muppet' for Best Original Song. I want so badly to see Bret "Brit" McKenzie from Flight Of The Conchords with some Oscar gold. It's only up against one other nominee (some obscure song from 'Rio'), so it's literally a coin flip. Let's hope everyone's affection for the Puppets pulls it through.

* Aside from McKenzie, perhaps the most amusing nominee is Jim Rash, one of the co-screenwriters of 'The Descendants.' Who's Jim Rash, you might ask? He's the freaking Dean from Community! Even while on hiatus, I'm still seeing that show everywhere. Gillian Jacobs' face appeared in my soup the other day.

* It's still kind of crazy that Jonah Hill, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig (screenplay) can now put "Oscar nominee" on their resumes.

* Now that Gary Oldman has finally been nominated for an Oscar, who takes over the mythical title of 'best actor without even a stinking nomination'? Alan Rickman?

* The unstoppable Greg P. Russell is back again. He's picked up yet another nomination for sound (for, ugh, Transformers 3), and we'll see if Russell can finally break his 0-for-15 streak at the Oscars.

* No Albert Brooks for supporting actor, a big surprise since he'd been nominated for/won virtually every other critics' award. Everyone had conceded the trophy to Christopher Plummer but Brooks was seen as a lock for a nomination, if nothing else. Seems like Brooks got the shaft in favour of Max Von Sydow, as the ELIC love was much greater than anticipated. 'Drive' itself only got one token nomination for sound editing, since Bad-Ass Jackets is still not an Oscar category.

* Biggest snub to my mind, however, was no 'Adventures Of Tintin' in the best animated film category. WTF? How was that possible? Does motion-capture not count as 'animated' for whatever reason? Hell, I thought there were enough European voters in the Academy with affection for the old comics that Tintin was a dark horse BP nominee.

* Other semi-snubs included no Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin) for best actress, no Ben Kingsley for supporting actor (surprising since Hugo was nominated for everything else), no Leo DiCaprio for best actor (for J. Edgar, and probably my vote had I had a ballot), no Shailene Woodley (Descendants), no Michael F. Assbender for any of the 15 movies he appeared in last year (Shame topping that list).

* Now that we have our nominees, it's prediction time. Artist is still the major BP favourite, with either Scorsese or Michael Hazanavicius winning Best Director. Plummer has supporting actor in the bag. Octavia Spencer and George Clooney have to be seen as the big favourites for supporting actress and actor, respectively. Best Actress is almost wide-open in my mind, as you can make a case for Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Michelle Williams or even Glenn Close winning. Hugo and Midnight In Paris will win the screenplay Oscars, Tree Of Life will win cinematography and what the hell, let's presume Greg P. Russell will lose again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Recent History (NFL Conference Championships)


* Giants over 49ers
I give up. This damn New York team may legitimately be a team of destiny and an overall very good football operation, even if they were absolutely gift-wrapped a win from the Packers last week and…..nope, I swore I wouldn't bring this up again….

Ah fuck it, let's bring it up again. New York beat a Green Bay team that played like total garbage from start to finish. San Francisco beat a New Orleans team that had a horrible first quarter but righted the ship thereafter. So really, the 49ers delivered the more overall impressive performance last week and now that they're at home, have the edge over the Giants, right? Unfortunately, I think it may be wrong. New York's defensive line is legitimately crazy. Between Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, you have THREE guys who demand double-teams, leaving openings for the likes of linebacker Michael Boley (also a very good player in his own right) to swoop in and pick up sacks. As fun as the Alex Smith redemption story has been this season, I don't think it will last further than this afternoon, when he'll be picking grass out of his facemask for 60 minutes.

When the season began, some pundits pointed out that due to the lockout and abbreviated training camps, you wouldn't really see the league's elite teams start to rise up until later in the season. This is what's happened with the Giants. They muddled through the first few months but now have everything healthy and on the same page. New York is a tough team to beat and I don't think the Niners can do it. Eli's coming.


* Patriots over Ravens
What a rough game to predict. Part of me thinks the Patriots are kind of frauds in the (sigh) Green Bay sense, in that their utter lack of defence will wreck them if their offence has an off-day, and Baltimore's D is certainly tough enough to stall Tom Brady and company. Just look at how many problems the Pats had in losses to the Giants and Steelers this year, who are both very Ravens-like defences. Then again, another part of me thinks that Baltimore has no answer for the Gronkowski/Hernandez combo, especially since Ed Reed seemed to wreck his leg in the dying minutes of last week's game. Then again, Ed Reed has seemingly played half-dead since about 2005 and he's still one of the best safeties ever, so what's one more injury?

Then again (third straight "then again," by the way), there's Joe Flacco. The Flack Daddy has been in the news lately, first by complaining to reporters about how he deserves more credit, and then last week when Reed called both Flacco and the offence as a whole out for being inconsistent. It kind of hurts Flacco's case for more credit when he can't even get credit from the rest of his team.

My Ravens-loving brother* constantly brings up Flacco's "record-setting" performance, as apparently no QB in history has collected as many a) wins and b) playoff wins so early in his career. What shoots this argument to hell is that I think the second-place guy on this list is Mark Sanchez, who's terrible. As they've done for so many years, Baltimore is winning in spite of their quarterback, not because of him, and their lack of adapting to the ever-increasingly pass-friendly NFL is a reason why the Ravens have underachieved for this entire decade. Ozzie Newsome is a tremendous general manager and is a master of drafting talent everywhere except at the QB position, which is a bit of an issue given that it's the most important position on the field. If they'd had even a decent quarterback for the last 10 years, the Ravens would've won at least two Super Bowls and quite possibly more.

* = Here's a fun sidebar to this game. My brother loves the Ravens and my mother loves the Patriots and/or just Tom Brady's chiseled features. It stands to reason there could be a side bet in the ol' household for this one. Probably something like if the Ravens win, my mom will have to cook my bro his favourite meal, and if the Patriots win, my brother is written out of the will. You know, modest stakes like that.

Then again (#4), I'm not sure if Flacco is even that big a factor given the lousy New England defence. Is it a better unit with Patrick Chung back from injury? Sure, but it's still not a GOOD unit by any means. Even if Flacco is his usual Tebow-ish self, Ray Rice can still run wild against this defensive front. New England's best hope would be to stack up against the run and make Flacco beat them; the Pats' lousy cornerbacks, however, make that a "stoppable force vs. the movable object" kind of tossup.

All things considered, I'm going to hesitant pick New England simply because when in doubt, pick the team with the all-time great at quarterback. Brady hasn't had any great playoff moments since 2004, but when the chips are down, he can still deliver. I'm taking the Pats to win but since New England is inexplicably favoured by 7.5 points, Baltimore is a great bet to at least cover.

Friday, January 20, 2012

For Parks & Recreation Fans....

Here's the full list of things that Leslie Knope supports, as per the scrolling list on her campaign ad from last night's episode. Credit to a few different blogs and Tumblr pages around the net that freeze-framed and catalogued the whole thing. Also, if you don't watch Parks & Rec, start now since it may be the best show on television.

Leslie Knope's List of Local Issues....

* More dog parks
* Senior citizens rights
* Safe streets
* Safe sidewalks
* Better schools
* Lower taxes
* Better parks
* Better business climate
* Better Better Business Bureau
* Cleaner streets
* Improve greenways
* More snow plows
* Protecting Pawneeans
* Improving tourism
* More trash cans
* Energy-efficient street lights
* Westside Detoxification and Revitalization Project
* Repaving Grand Avenue
* More teachers
* Fewer libraries
* Improve intergovernmental agency communication
* Clean-up Barefoot Lake
* Passing Pawnee Jobs Bill P-129.4
* Playgrounds in every park
* Playgrounds in every schoolyard
* Playgrounds in every residential block
* Clean energy
* One police officer for every 5 citizens
* One park ranger for every 10,000 raccoons
* Resodding Hilltop Cemetery
* Start talking to Cuba again
* Emergency evacuation drills
* Plow for Charity
* Forming an Ad Hoc Sub-Committee Oversight Committee
* Challenging the norm
* Pawnee Corn Subsidies
* Finally Passing PR-61, formally recognizing South Korea
* Official peace treaty with the Wamapoke Tribe
* Four-way stops at every intersection
* Unionizing ice cream trucks
* Get Europe out of debt
* Free trade with Illinois
* Enact RRP - Raccoon Relocation Project
* Pawnee Community College tuition in exchange for 4 years of public service
* Doubling Pawnee Hospital’s emergency room nurse staff
* Legalize Korean
* Lower the obesity level
* Stop global terrorism
* Re-open the toucan exhibit at Pawnee Zoo
* Find Gabe the Toucan
* More community gardens
* Ordinance 11F: To Re-pave City Sidewalks
* Budget reform
* Updated Technologies for Local Schools
* Better retirement benefits for city employees
* Edward Phillips Senior Center Remodeling
* Speed bumps in front of elementary schools
* Unemployment benefits
* Re-instating the Main St. Farmers Market
* No turtles as pets
* New uniforms for youth sports programs
* Free public Wi-Fi
* Updated childcare facilities
* Shutting down the Child Left Behind program
* Handicap parking placards for the obese
* FREE PARKING EVERYWHERE
* Cleaner drinking water
* Regulate heights of trampolines
* Memorial for those lost in the trampoline “incident”
* Control the floods
* Funding for public art commission
* Fencing in correctional facilities
* New police patrol cars
* Funding overtime hours for police
* Rebuilding the PTA
* Prosecuting former PTA president Linda Trifle
* Profitable government organizations
* Shutting down underground shooting ranges
* Making sure city contracts employ local workers
* Providing more economic development grants and micro-loans to small businesses
* Foster partnerships with sister cities
* More buses to speed up morning commutes
* More streets to accommodate additional buses
* Require all city employees check and respond to email
* Working sewers
* More parades
* Grants for scientists to discover new forms of energy
* Leave a lasting impression on all visitors
* Challenge the norm
* Finish the statue of Burt Bacharach
* No more conflict diamonds
* Bulletproof glass everywhere
* Free cookies at every street corner
* One school for every student
* Require flattering mirrors in public restrooms
* Develop a municipal composting operation
* Enforce existing speeding and noise ordinances
* Upgrade existing parks
* Create an anti-graffiti, youth outreach program
* Free cake when it’s your birthday
* Reevaluate NAFTA
* Rickshaw Wednesdays
* Making it illegal to refuse a hug
* Make downtown more people-friendly
* Sell candy in government buildings to pay down the debt
* Get Pawnee a licensed pharmacy
* Better screening processes at local adoption agencies
* Finding homes for the adopted children of Day Labor Corp.
* Prop 6A: To Recognize All Five Food Groups
* Replacing all glass with plastic at Pawnee Psychiatric Clinic
* Curfew for minors at The Pawnee Mall
* Stop paying Sweetums the so-called “thank you for being here” tax
* Mini-golf renovations
* Subsidizing educational and eco-friendly businesses
* Removing Zorp from all written laws
* Reducing Federal Government Experiments in town to 10 per year
* Ordinance 8R: A Goat Cannot Own/Inherit a Farm
* Legalize clapping
* New railway
* Prop 14: Religion Is Not a Science
* No longer recognizing the winner of the chili cook-off as a government position
* Stricter testing at Pawnee Blood Bank
* Boarding up unsanctioned “drop off” slot at Pawnee Blood Bank
* Encouraging the FDA to re-analyze our farms
* Funding for better and safer sewage treatment
* Thicker cement for containment of old sewage treatment factory
* Mandatory sexual harassment seminar for government employees
* Starting a dialogue with the people who live in the trees
* Pay off our debt to the Ringling Bros.
* Prove that we can safely host a circus again
* Ordinance 43K: Laws Cannot Be Secrets
* Recall Food N’ Stuff branded hand sanitizer
* Disseminate the fund for a Pawnee Military
* Find the stolen cell phone tower
* Reduce obesity by .01% (100 lbs per family)
* Make the Pawnee Cemetery less flammable
* Less nudity on public-access television
* Capping the number of local public-access channels at 50
* Eliminate permit application process for legal ownership of a calculator
* Making Li’l Sebastian Day a legal holiday

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Green Bay Packers Postmortem (or, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HOLD ONTO THE DAMNED FOOTBALL!)


It doesn't matter how many weapons you have if you keep shooting yourself in the foot. That's what makes the Packers' upset loss to the Giants so frustrating --- it was nothing the Giants did to win, it was all what Green Bay did to lose. Nine dropped passes, three lost fumbles, an inexplicably unnecessary onside kick attempt in the second quarter and (perhaps most deflating) giving up a goddamn hail mary touchdown at the end of the first half. Is it sacrilegious to put 'goddamn' and 'hail mary' right next to each other? Tebow forgive me.

I didn't once believe the "Green Bay is getting too many wins, they'll have trouble keeping up the intensity through the playoffs" meme, but man, it turned out to be true. After beating the Bears in Week 16, the Pack rested several starters for a meaningless Week 17 contest with Detroit and still won. Maybe that was the problem. The team began to think, "Man, if we can beat playoff teams with our backup quarterback, we're on easy street." Between that and the week off, it seemed to really take its toll. Green Bay hasn't played a game that's really mattered in over a month, and it's hard to get that intensity back, especially against a New York team who have been playing for their lives over that same stretch.

I firmly believe in the concept that it's better to be lucky than good. The Manning brothers are living proof. Peyton holds dozens of passing records, has tons of wins, is acknowledged as an all-time great…but he has just one Super Bowl win due to buzzard's luck in the playoffs. Be it kickers missing easy field goals, inopportune turnovers, opponents having monster performances or Peyton himself just playing poorly, Peyton hasn't caught many breaks in the postseason. Eli, on the other hand, has one inexplicable run to a Super Bowl already and now he's lucked into facing the fraud Falcons and the self-inflicted wound known as the 2011-12 Packers. The Giants/49ers matchup next week is a tossup but San Francisco is certainly not a flawless team. Could Eli somehow sneak his way to another NFL title? Ye gods.

Big picture: the Packers won the Super Bowl last year, blah blah, five-year no complaining rule, blah blah blah, the team had so much go right over the last year that they were due for some bad luck, BLARGH. Forget the big picture, this one still hurts a ton.

It's probably not a coincidence that Green Bay won the title last year with Jermichael "Hands Of Stone" Finley and Ryan "Laurence Maroney" Grant injured. What a couple of stiffs. Grant is completely washed up at this point and should be instantly cut. Finley, I'm afraid, is a bigger issue, since he has enough tools and ability that he'll be kept around as the primary tight end threat, but trust me, there is a yawning chasm between this guy and REAL tight end threats like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis. Finley right now is giving off a real Braylon Edwards/Kellen Winslow Jr. vibe, and that's not something you need. Ditch both of these guys, draft some more bodies on defence, hook B.J. Raji up to either the rejuvenation machine or with a new pot dealer and reload from there.

Another issue: distracted coaches. I'm not even talking about the personal tragedy suffered by Joe Philbin this past week, but rather the fact that former Packer exec Reggie McKenzie is the new Oakland Raiders GM. He's apparently already targeted Packer coaches Winston Moss and Dom Capers for interviews to be the new Raiders head coach. Between this, Philbin interviewing for the head coaching job in Miami and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements being mentioned for coordinator jobs around the league, one wonders if the organization's total focus was on the New York Giants this week.

So yeah, that about concludes this post I absolutely hated to write. This will probably mark the end of my NFL picks posts for this winter; in fact, I've already made plans to attend a pub trivia night on Sunday rather than watch the fucking Giants play for the NFC championship. I'm just going into a little shell of football bitterness for the next seven months. It won't be an overall sports fan shell, at least. Baseball season is just around the corner and hey, the Leafs could make a Stanley Cup run….oh god, my eyes are watering….

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Hardest Road (NFL Playoffs, Round Two)


* Ravens over Texans
With their first playoff appearance and now their first playoff win in franchise history, this has already been a red-letter year for Houston. It's going to come to an end but really, how the team be mad? They overcame injuries to virtually all of their best players and still found themselves in the final eight. That's a nice showing all-around, and if you're looking for dark horse Super Bowl contenders for 2012-13, you could do worse than betting on a fully-healthy Houston Texans side.

Baltimore is going to win this game because if they don't, the team has to be torn apart and rebuilt. The Ravens will never have as good a chance as they do right now to reach the Super Bowl now that their arch-nemeses from Pittsburgh have been eliminated. Either the Patriots or Broncos are very beatable opponents for the Ravens, so they can't waste the opportunity by losing at home to a team quarterbacked by Tyler goddamn Yates. I think Houston's only chance would be if Arian Foster just goes off or Andre Johnson* eats Baltimore's lousy cornerbacks alive and cements himself as the best receiver remaining in the postseason.

* = My list of the best wide receivers in the NFL. 1. Larry Fitzgerald, 2. Calvin Johnson, 3. Andre Johnson, 4. Wes Welker, 5. Steve Smith. There are a whole lot of guys in the mix for fifth and you can argue all day that numerous great receivers are held back by lousy quarterbacks, but I'll take my chances saying Welker, Fitzy and the Johnsons are the hands-down top four.

For the second straight year, we're looking at a realistic possibility of a Packers vs. Ravens Super Bowl, a.k.a. Armageddon between my brother and I. It's a good thing I'm moved to Toronto year-round now or else the two weeks leading up to such a Super Bowl would carry more tension around my house than a Montague/Capulet family vs. family flag football game. If it really comes down to Packers/Ravens my brother and I will have to wager a slap bet on the outcome just to really crank things up to eleven.


* Patriots over Broncos
I don't think Tim Tebow can call himself a virgin anymore, since he screwed millions of bettors last week with his latest nail-biter victory over the heavily-favoured Steelers. Just when you thought Tebowmania was running cold, the Broncos get their biggest and most improbable win yet, and one rife with religious metaphors. To wit….

"In the Pittsburgh game, they played in the stadium that's closest to heaven (Mile High). Tebow threw for 316 yards. Rothlisberger's interception came on 3rd and 16. Pittsburgh's time of possession was 31 minutes and 6 seconds. Tebow's average yards per completion was 31.6. Someone named John told Tebow to pull trigger on the final TD. And Demaryius Thomas, the target for Tebow's game winner, was born on Christmas." --- Matthias Lahn, Bill Simmons reader and a man more into finding meaning in numbers than your average Lost viewer

But surely, not even the magical mystery Tebow can go into New England and defeat a rested, prepared, just-plain-way-better Patriots team, can they? Well…the Pats have fallen victim to the Jets and Ravens in recent years, two teams that also play the same conservative, defense-first-and-second gameplay as the Broncos. New England's secondary is so bad that even Tebow will be able to rack up the yards. If Denver just keeps it close, the pressure will start building on the Pats, the home fans will start quieting down since they feel the guillotine lifting, and they won't be able to escape the feeling that if it's close at the end, Tebow will find a way.

Of course, the other nine out of 10 times, the Patriots hand Denver a mighty loss just like they did back in Week 15. As one internet commenter put it, "I don't think God favours anyone more than he favours Tom Brady, so Tebow is out of luck." My prediction is that the Patriots ultimately win comfortably, though the Broncos are able to keep it relatively close for a few quarters. Tebow ends up passing for exactly 350 yards, meaning his playoff yardage total adds up to 666, creating a new round of conspiracy theories for the offseason.


* Saints over 49ers
Hardest game of the week to call, by a wide margin. New Orleans is just on such a massive roll that I have to pick them but the 49ers are hardly chopped meat. They're 13-3 for crying out loud. They're very well-coached, tough defensively, never get blown out even then do lose and they have a big, tough running back in Frank Gore. This is a team built to slow down the Saints at worst, and make them submit at best. The Saints, remember, were only 5-3 on the road this year and Candlestick Park is not an easy place to play.

Argh, I feel like I'm talking myself into picking San Fran here. Let me check out their roster and see who their quarterback is again…..ah, that's right, it's Alex Smith. There we go. Enthusiasm, deflated. Smith has turned himself into at least a middling QB this season, but the 49er offence is definitely of the bend-but-not-break variety rather than being legitimately threatening. I just don't see how the Niners can mount a comeback if they fall behind by anything more than 10 points.

A word about Patrick Willis, universally regarded as one of the very best linebackers in football and arguably THE best linebacker in football. I've written about this before, but in the 2007 draft, Willis was seen as a can't-miss prospect. Literally every prognosticator and draft pundit said Willis was going to be a stud LB for the next decade. So, naturally, Willis is taken….eleventh overall. ELEVENTH. How did this happen?! How do 10 teams see this sure-thing, star-in-the-making linebacker and all pass on him?! It boggles the mind. The only teams I'm letting off the hook are the Lions, Browns and Vikings, since they took Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson, which are okay selections. But god, this was the infamous JaMarcus Russell #1 overall draft. What the hell, Raiders. This was the draft when the Dolphins reached to take Ted Ginn two picks before Willis went to San Francisco. Gaines Adams went fourth overall and he's fucking DEAD now. The moral of the story is, don't pass on Patrick Willis.


* Packers over Giants
Though I knew Atlanta was a fraud and was going to get smoked last week, I still picked them in the name of the Packers getting an easier matchup. Oh well. Green Bay faced nothing but hardship on their route on the Super Bowl last year, so having to host a very flawed Giants team at home is hardly the worst thing that can happen this time around. In terms of real-world bad things, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin losing his son this past week infinitely dwarfs any complaints the Pack may have about their tough draw.

Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are monsters, absolute monsters, and will give Green Bay's O-line all they can handle. This is the key matchup of the game, no question. If the Giants can pressure Aaron Rodgers, they can more than slow the Packers down. If Rodgers can withstand the pressure and still fire passes off, then New York's otherwise mediocre defence will fold and the Packers will get a comfortable win. It's as simple as this.

With the Giants' fearsome pass rush, their late-season win streak and their matchup against an offensive juggernaut, folks are noting the similarities to New York's 2007 Super Bowl title team. Yeah, well, calm down. The Falcons (frauds), Cowboys (lousy) and Jets (lousy) are not exactly the three biggest scalps to have in your three-game win streak. On the road, at Lambeau Field, against the best quarterback in the world and his 15-1 team? I'm not buying it. The Giants have the ingredients to upset the Packers but the recipe is missing a few pages.

Friday, January 13, 2012

UFC 142 picks, oh, and also AN ELEPHANT

My picks for UFC 142….pick all the Brazilians. When UFC last had an event in Brazil last August, the Brazilians went 7-1 when matched against fighters from other countries. This time we have eight more Brazil vs. The World bouts, so the only trick is picking who the one will be to prevent a clean sweep. Let's hope it's London's own Sam Stout, who has a tough but winnable match against Thiago Tavares. For the three Brazil vs. Brazil fights, flip a coin.

Also, I like the UFC and everything, but if you think I'm ordering this show on the same night as Patriots vs. Broncos, you're dreaming.

*********************

So, that was a much shorter UFC prediction post than usual. What will I fill the space with? I know, stock photos!


My friend Amanda recently pointed me in the direction of the Awkward Stock Photos tumblr page, and oh, the cleverness. I want to know absolutely everything about that elephant photo, such as "was there some space between the elephant and the crowd, or were the people standing in front of the creature saying 'oh fuck…' ?"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dexter's Dreadful


SPOILER ALERT...though, if you get spoiled, it'll spare you from actually watching this Dexter season, so you'll come out ahead

I had this big post planned out last month about "shows going downhill" that included the Office, Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother and Dexter. Unfortunately, since I never got around to writing it, Family Guy had a string of good episodes in a row, I made my peace with HIMYM settling into a Friends-esque B/B- groove rather than shooting for A-pluses, and this Grantland article basically summed up my frustrations with the Carell-free Office.

So, just Dexter. Holy lord, was this latest Dexter season terrible. This might be the most precipitous drop off in quality since 24's infamous sixth season, when a nuke went off in Los Angeles and was seemingly forgotten a couple of hours later, the big bad was Jack Bauer's elderly father who disappeared for half the year and the thing ended with Jack staring pensively out onto the ocean.

Ugh, yet another bad TV memory. Let's stick to….a more recent bad TV memory. Now, Dexter hasn't been a really great show since its first season. The second season was quite good and the fourth year was shaky but carried by a legendary John Lithgow performance, but really, Dexter is another of those programs that's content to be what it is --- a reverse-procedural featuring Dexter killing bad guys and the wacky Miami cops who are following in his wake.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with a show that lacks initiative, but there's a lot wrong when a show is not just lazy, it's lazy about being lazy. My biggest issue with S6 of Dexter was that everyone on the show was suddenly an idiot. Dexter Morgan's clearest personality trait is his caution; following "Harry's Code" to the letter and approaching from the tracking of his victims to the folding of cellophane wrap methodically. This season, however, literally all of this legendary serial killer's kills were sloppy as hell, culminating in his final killing of the year (more on this in a season). In its early days, the show took great pains to show how a Dexter could exist in the real world by showing how careful he was to avoid capture and the great pains he took to keep himself and his crimes hidden. Hell, the whole point of Dexter being a blood splatter analyst is to show how he hides himself by using the police's own methods against them and how he knows exactly how to cover his tracks.

This season, however, Dexter is just randomly drowning people in shallow water, stabbing crooked ambulance drivers, pitchforking Nebraska pot dealers, etc. He's leaving a trail of evidence a mile wide and yet (unlike in S4 or even S5) it isn't part of any ongoing plot about how Dexter is 'off his game' due to his duties at home. A dumber Dexter is just the new reality of the show so we'll have to deal with hit. To add to the problem, the Miami Metro police (never the sharpest knives in the drawer to begin with) have reached cartoonish levels of incompetence. In past years, Dexter's intelligence was a rising tide that lifted all ships --- by making him so smart, the fact that he was hiding under the cops' noses didn't diminish them. This season, however, you literally had Angel and Quinn in a drunken brawl while on duty, with no repercussions. Plus, Debra's promotion to lieutenant just provided more of the never-interesting Miami Metro inter-office drama.

These two issues collided when we had the big climactic moment of the season finale, as Dexter murdered the Doomsday Killer just as Debra entered the room. Inevitably, you knew that Deb would eventually discover Dexter's secret. It was the moment the show had been building to since the very beginning. I still look forward to seeing what Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter will do with this next season, since they're good enough actors to rise to the occasion. And yet, the big moment was undercut by the season's dumbest subplot, Deb's therapy sessions and her subsequent realization that she's in love with Dexter. Yep, this really happened. Yep, the writers decided to introduce this plot *after* Hall and Carpenter divorced in real life. Yep, they're siblings, though since Dexter is adopted, I'm sure the writers will try to make things as non-icky as possible….nope, wait, too late. You don't come back from an incest storyline.* It was weird enough having Dexter and Deb share a lot of "you're not there for me" dialogue this year with the Hall-Carpenter divorce hanging over things.

* = With one exception. Before "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" goes off the air, we need to see Dennis and Dee hook up. That would be the cherry on top of that show's depravity sundae. The writers should save the D+D pairing for the series finale, just to go out with a literal bang.

And to top it all off, the villains stunk. The Doomsday Killers (Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos) were far and away the least-interesting major villains this show has ever had. The alleged 'big twist' that Olmos' character was all in Hanks' head --- the ghost-Harry to his Dexter, essentially --- was predictable was the very first episode. Hanks, god love him, is also definitely not his dad when it comes to acting. Last season the central villain was minimized a bit, so as to not invite comparisons to Lithgow's impossible-to-top Trinity Killer from the previous year. Doomsday, however, was built into an even bigger threat than Trinity ever was and the character just completely failed to deliver.

I'll still give Dexter a shot in the seventh year since I'm pretty invested by this point and, admittedly, I'm interested in seeing how the show will be forced to evolve now that Debra knows the secret. If it's anything short of Deb starting a nationwide manhunt for Dexter it'll be a total sellout of her character, but hey, they're in wuuuuuvvvvv. *facepalm*

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Good Commercial/Bad Commercial

BAD: Trevor Linden, Sellin' Glasses
Nobody should be surprised to see athletes endorsing any product, given how we've been subjected to the likes of Michael Jordan selling underwear, O. J. Simpson selling kniv…uh, rental cars and Keith Hernandez/Walt Frazier/Emmitt Smith/Randy Johnson/good lord, how many are there? selling hair colouring. But still, it's kind of weird in 2012 to see Trevor Linden pop up in an ad campaign selling, of all things, glasses.

Having not checked ClearlyContacts.ca's website, I can only presume that it's either a) part-owned by Linden himself or b) based out of Vancouver, since that's the only city that still considers Trevor Linden to be relevant in this day and age. With all due respect to Linden, who is by all accounts a class act and was a solid hockey player, Canucks fans treat this guy like he was the second coming of Gretzky, not the borderline All-Star, less than a point-per-game player he actually was for 20 years. Then again, it's perhaps fitting that underachieving franchise that its iconic player is an underachiever, but still, only a real Canucks-hater (like me) would dare to suggest such a thing.

But hey, since I've already cited that Just For Men ad above, it's not uncommon to see retired athletes still get endorsements from time to time. And really, athletes aren't exactly quality actors, so Linden's stiff performance here is hardly unexpected. So why does this commercial stand out as being particularly lame? I think it all has to do with Linden's posture in the opening seconds of this commercial. He's tilted ever-so-slightly to the side, so between that and his stiff delivery*, it takes a weak situation and makes it worse. The director of this ad should hang his head in shame, provided he isn't already looking down at Daniel Sedin highlights on his smartphone. And, I'm no business major, but Clearly Contacts seems like a poor name for a website that sells both contacts and glasses in equal measure. It would be like if Burger King named itself 'Just Fries.'

* = If you showed this commercial to someone from another country who had no idea who Trevor Linden was, how many guesses would it take for them to identify him as a Canadian hockey player? Two? Three? I think it's the "Shooes for going oot?" line that really gives poor Trevor away.

Another odd note to this commercial: Trevor Linden in glasses looks oddly like another journeyman actor, friend of the blog Eric Lutes. Given that Lutes has forged in television for close to 20 years, there's hope for Linden yet. I look forward to seeing him co-starring with Ron James on a CBC sitcom in 2018.


GOOD: The Dark Knight Rises
Ok, well, I'm kind of cheating here since while a movie trailer is technically a commercial, it isn't thought of as a commercial in the traditional sense. So basically this is just an excuse to post this bad-ass DKR trailer. I could not be more jazzed to see this movie. Admittedly, there are a number of red flags (the third film in a trilogy is rarely good, Bane's fur coat of evil looks rather silly, and really, an 'earthquake machine'?) but Christopher Nolan's track record is spotless. I look forward to bemoaning this movie's lack of Oscar attention in February 2013.

I think the shot of Hines Ward looking at the field, only to see devastation, occurred during the Steelers' playoff game last weekend. Hey-o!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

'Wire' Prequels

If I was approached by a mysterious guy in a trenchcoat who whispered that he could sell me a sixth season of The Wire for $1000, I would cut the cheque without hesitation. So, when I recently found out about a few Wire 'prequels' filmed as extras for the DVD set, I pounced on them like a cat on a ladybug. Damn, even if it's just fart jokes and mimicky child actors, I still can't get enough of watching anything from this show.

Young Prop Joe


Young Omar


Bunk and McNulty meet for the first time

Friday, January 06, 2012

Holy Smoke (NFL Playoffs, Round One)


* Steelers over Broncos
Ok, my thoughts on Tim Tebow. They are not too surprising; I think the guy's a pretty lousy quarterback. Sure, the 'Tebow Time' thing is entertaining and all, but let's be honest, even during Denver's implausible six-game winning streak, all those close wins came against lousy teams. The Broncos beat their three mediocre AFC West rivals, the Vikings (terrible), the Jets (overrated clowns) and the Bears (terrible after losing both Forte and Cutler). It's not like Tebow was pulling these incredible last-minute victories over other playoff teams.

So with the Broncos making a pretty good case for being the worst playoff team in many years, the only thing that could stop Pittsburgh in this game is if they're totally crippled by injuries. Ben Roethlisberger is still banged up. Rashard Mendenhall is gone for the entire posteason. Ryan Clark's body may explode if he plays another game in Denver. All these knocks might lead Denver to covering the spread in what'll probably still be a somewhat close game despite the fact that Pittsburgh is a way, way better team…..but come on, the Steelers have got this one.

CHANCES AGAINST THE PACKERS: Zero percent for Denver. If the Broncos were to somehow get to the Super Bowl and actually beat Green Bay, I'd tattoo Tebow's name and the Bible verse of his choice on his back. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is a much more serious threat, and they're actually my pick to make it out of the AFC unless injuries totally kill them. I'd give the Steelers (presuming Roethlisberger plays) a solid 43% chance of avenging last year's Super Bowl and knocking off the Pack.


* Texans over Bengals
This is the toughest pick of the first round since both of these teams definitely got into the playoffs through the back door. Houston clinched their first-ever playoff berth in Week 14 (upsetting who else but the Bengals in Cincy) and then had a much-needed three-week virtual bye, since half their team is nursing injuries. While the last three games weren't games that the Texans needed to win, they're stone-cold right now. It's hard to get that momentum back after so many weeks of phoning it in, even despite the fact that Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and other injured starts will apparently be back in action.

The Bengals have the opposite problem. They've been playing hard right down to the wire to clinch their playoff ticket, but barely edging the Rams and Cardinals and then looking out of gas against Baltimore doesn't exactly a team much steam going into a road playoff game. Cincinnati has exactly two quality wins this season --- they won in Seattle and in Tennessee, and since neither the Seahawks or Titans made the playoffs, these are definitely 'quality' with a lower-case Q. It's easy to see this being a one-touchdown game (it will have to be for the Bengals to have any chance), but in the end, I think Houston will be able to flip the switch enough to get a close victory. Of course, I reserve the right to completely and utterly switch this pick if Jake Delhomme ends up playing for the Texans.

CHANCES AGAINST THE PACKERS: I'd put it at 15% for both teams. For either Houston or Cincinnati to reach the Super Bowl they'd have to go on an incredible roll, and of course you never want to be facing a red-hot team. But really, I don't think either team brings anything to the table that Green Bay can't handle --- if Mario Williams and Matt Schaub were playing for the Texans maybe I'd be worried but the Packers can beat the Texans' B-team.


* Saints over Lions
When it comes to playing at home, the Saints are Superman, Rocky Marciano, the Undertaker at Wrestlemania and the Unsinkable Molly Brown all rolled into one. I don't think any team in the NFL can top the Saints on their home turf so Detroit, sorry dudes, your nice comeback season is going to come to an abrupt end. Can the Lions (no strangers to scoring points themselves) find a way to actually disrupt New Orleans' offense and win this game? Probably not, since in the time it took me to write that previous sentence, the Lions drew two penalties.

CHANCES AGAINST THE PACKERS: It's always tough to play a division opponent in the postseason since they know you so well and all bets are virtually off. However, Green Bay has beaten Detroit twice this year, once at Ford Field when the Lions embarrassed themselves with a zillion penalties, and once at Lambeau when the Lions allowed the freakin' backup QB* to throw for six touchdowns and 480 yards. So, it's safe to say the Packers have the Lions' number, which is why I'd give Detroit just a 10% chance against Green Bay in a hypothetical second-round matchup. As for the Saints, well, I'm goddamn terrified of the Saints. New Orleans is a different team on the road but they can match the Packers point-for-point for a shootout and nearly did that very thing in the season opener at Lambeau. I want no part of a Green Bay/New Orleans NFC championship game but I believe I'll be seeing it. I give the Saints a 49.5% chance of beating Green Bay.

N.B. I can't wait to see which quarterback-needy team signs free agent Matt Flynn to an eye-popping contract this offseason. The Seahawks? The Browns? The Dolphins? The Redskins? The most headline-grabbing (and kinda hilarious) options would be if Flynn winds up with the Jets or Broncos.


* Falcons over Giants
Atlanta is another team that's in the postseason due to a somewhat fortunate schedule since they're seriously lacking in quality wins. But, I've got to pick them over New York simply since I think the Giants are incapable of getting their shit together for an extended period of time, especially at home. After two straight big wins to clinch the NFC East title, it would be so Giants (in the manner of "that's so Raven") to totally lay an egg here against the Falcons. Surely Victor Cruz can't bust out a monster TD catch every single week, right? I confess, a large part of me thinks New York will actually win here and prove the Falcons are frauds, but I can't ignore the fact that upsets happen every single year in the NFL playoffs and I need at least one underdog to triumph in first round. So, if you're a betting person, the smart money is probably on the Falcons getting trounced, followed by the Bengals, Broncos and Lions all pulling off wild upset victories, leaving my ProLine card a shattered mess.

CHANCES AGAINST THE PACKERS: Atlanta has lost twice to Green Bay in the past calendar year, both times at the Georgia Dome. If they can't beat them at home, they sure as hell can't beat them on the road at Lambeau in January, so the Falcons have a shiny zero percent chance of beating Green Bay. New York on the other hand, I'll give up to a 40% chance of the upset. The Giants are capable of beating any team in the league and losing to any team in the league --- they're so hot-and-cold that when they're firing on all cylinders, it's easy to see them beating the Packers. Heck, they almost did on December 4, dropping a tight 38-35 result to Green Bay. After Super Bowl 42, I will always be very wary of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning's weird anti-magic.