The trouble with being the "Michael Jordan of ______" is that it still doesn't guaranteed a happy ending. The narrative of Michael Jordan's basketball career ended when he stretched his arm 40 feet to make a dunk that defeated the Monstars hit that NBA championship-winning shot in Game Six against the Jazz. The reality of Michael Jordan's basketball career ended with two relatively ignominious, postseason-less years with the Washington Wizards, not embarrassing himself on the court by any means but playing under a cloud of "why is he bothering?" every time he touched the ball.
Michael Jordan had the Wizards, Anderson Silva had Chris Weidman. Even the greatest MMA fighter of all time couldn't go out on his own terms, instead having his career very likely ended in shocking fashion. First, Silva loses to Weidman last July in a fight that saw Silva do more clowning than Zeppo Marx and finally get knocked cold while in mid-taunt. Last night's rematch saw a focused, serious and determined Silva lose in an even more painful fashion, as he threw a kick that Weidman checked with his knee, and Silva just flat-out had his shin broken on impact. It was a horrific injury that I couldn't even bear to watch on replay. I find it impossible to believe that Silva will be able to fight ever again, and I can only hope that he's able to walk properly for the rest of his life.
It was a thoroughly bizarre and terrifying end to one of the UFC's most anticipated rematches. Guys check leg kicks in just about every fight; it's a commonplace defensive maneuver, not something that's used as an actual weapon. In a way, however, it was as sadly ironic a finish as the first Silva/Weidman bout. Silva first saw his clowning come back to haunt him, and then he saw the legendary power of his strikes used against him. It was the unstoppable force of Silva's leg against the immovable object of Weidman's knee and as anyone with basic knowledge of the human skeleton will tell you, that particular immovable object will win that battle every time. It's extremely rare that such a check will actually break something, but Silva must've hit the knee dead-on --- his precision cost him.
At least Weidman won the first round pretty decisively, as the last thing this poor guy needed was another controversial win over Silva clouding his reign as middleweight champion. Weidman knocks Silva out the first time and all anyone can say is, "well, Anderson would've won if he'd been taking it seriously." This time, I'm sure those same critics will say that Silva would've won had it not been for the freak injury. To this, I say that Chris Weidman has fought two full rounds against Anderson Silva and clearly won them both. In their other two rounds, Silva was finished. This obviously wasn't the way that Weidman wanted it to go down, but he is the undisputed champ in my books. Bring on Vitor Belfort.
It's crazy that in roughly six weeks' time, we've seen both Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva fight for what I have to believe is the last time. GSP's "hiatus" sure has the feeling of a retirement, and as TJ Grant pointed out on Twitter tonight, Silva's injury is another sign of just how dangerous it can be to step into the cage. Granted, Silva's injury was awfully fluky, but St. Pierre was already worried about the long-term damage that his body was feeling from fighting. I don't see a big paycheque or even competitive spirit changing his mind.
With GSP and Silva gone, the UFC has not only lost arguably its two greatest fighters, but also two of its biggest drawing cards and perhaps two of the last fighters with a true mystique. I'd argue Jon Jones still has that mystique. Ronda Rousey is building herself up as perhaps the promotion's next great heel, though a possibly unbeatable one who also carries the added quirk of being the UFC's first female champion. Cain Velasquez is a monster and a legit baddest-man-in-the-world candidate but he's already suffered one year-long injury absence in his career and now he's facing another one with his current health woes. The UFC's other champs (Renan Barao, Mighty Mouse Johnson, Jose Aldo, Anthony Pettis, the Hendricks/Lawler winner and Weidman) are all outstanding fighters who seem more or less unbeatable, but they just seem like "outstanding fighters," not larger-than-life attractions. Other than a Jones/Cain superfight at heavyweight, I don't think there's a fight the UFC could put together that could even approach a million PPV buys. I'll be interested to see how the UFC adjusts to this new reality when it comes to selling PPVs and TV events, especially since they're planning to run more shows than ever in 2014.
As I noted earlier, I would be stunned to see a 38-year-old Anderson Silva go through what is sure to be an exhaustive and gruelling rehab to step back into the cage in 12-18 months and….what? What does he have left to prove? Unless Weidman goes on an insane run over the next few years, Anderson will always be regarded as the greatest middleweight of all time and quite probably the best MMA fighter of all time, pound-for-pound. Just look at this extraordinary interview with 13 of Silva's ex-UFC opponents describing their encounters with him --- they sound like they were fighting a fictional creature, not an actual man. Silva's recovery from this injury would be his most unreal feat yet, but for a guy who has seemingly been toying with retirement for the last few years anyway, this certainly seems like the end.
Rare is the pro athlete who goes out on top. For every Ray Lewis or John Elway who retires a champion, there are a hundred more stars who finally hang it up when they're at a fraction of their former talent and are just hanging on for just one more spark of their old selves to return. It's unfortunate that this injury happened to a guy like Silva who seemingly had a foot out the door already --- had he beaten Weidman, I wouldn't have been surprised if Silva just announced his retirement right there on the spot after regaining his title. It's also unfortunate that Silva's name will now be synonymous with brutal sports injuries rather than being the greatest fighter ever, but give it time. Years of incredible victories will paint a larger picture than a three-second clip of a broken leg.
It was interesting watching "Her" in a more-crowded-than-usual movie theatre with more than the usual number of audience distractions. The guy in front of me had his phone out the whole time (not talking on it, but with the bright screen shining), there was a kerfuffle in another aisle with someone accidentally kicking over someone's drink, there was a lot of shushing, etc. While I was still able to enjoy the film, I couldn't help but wish I was watching it just on my own, on my laptop, in the comfort of my own home. Talk about a relationship with a computer.
It's for this reason that the somewhat goofy-sounding high concept of a lonely guy falling in love with his advanced operating system really works. This is one of those Black Mirror-esque "five minutes into the future" scenarios that doesn't seem so outlandish when you consider how much time we spend online and how some have completely different "lives" in their online personas. Is falling in love with the disembodied voice of your operating system any weirder than Theodore's late-night talk-each-other-off session with "SexyKitten69" (Kristen Wiig with the vocal cameo!) just because SK69 is a real person?
The movie takes Theodore and Samantha's relationship completely seriously, barring a couple of comic moments that stem from the unusual nature of the coupling. The other characters take an "oh, how about that" stance to Theodore dating his OS, and it's even established that human/OS relationships aren't an uncommon thing in this world. Now, it should be noted that Samantha is a particularly advanced operating system that is literally evolving throughout the movie, so it's not like Theodore is falling in love with, say, Twitter.
The other key to this film working, of course, is that Scarlett Johansson absolutely knocks it out as Samantha. I dare say this is one of the best vocal performances I've ever heard and it's a real impressive showing (even if she doesn't show up on screen) from an actress I've always been somewhat indifferent towards. Johansson has more personality as Samantha than she has as her actual human characters. Anyway, enough backhanded compliments --- you can tell through voice alone how Samantha is changing as a, uh, person (?) throughout the movie. Pregnant pauses play a big role in the dialogue between she and Theodore*, and the two have as much or more chemistry than most screen couples. You know why they're falling in love and you know why they're coming apart.
* = Joaquin Phoenix, by the way, is also tremendous here. It's kind of refreshing just to see Phoenix play a semi-normal guy after years of peculiar roles. That's right; compared to Phoenix's usual stuff, "guy who falls in love with artificial intelligence" is actually a normal role.
I always enjoy the kind of immersive sci-fi that places you within an unusual world and then spends the narrative revealing various little quirks of this world's "rules," or how the scientific differences have permeated society. "Her" has plenty of such details, like the concept of the operating system surrogates, or how the operations systems communicate with each other, or simply just the idea that an OS can naturally evolve past its programming. It's a tribute to Spike Jonze's script that he knows which of these ideas to explore and just touch on, leaving certain things to our imagination.
"Her" is maybe my favourite film of the year. And don't take my word for it, the ultimate Her enjoyed it too!
It's the special Christmas edition of Between Two Ferns, with more quick cuts than usual since I suspect that Tobey and SLJ (quite rightfully) couldn't keep it together. I mean, man, Sam Jackson's gray sweatsuit alone is worth the price of admission.
Christmas is a time for helping others, so let's take a moment to publicly celebrate four good (nay, GREAT) samaritans on a blog that nobody reads. Er, that some people read. Maybe one of my fantastic four will stumble across this blog, see their good deed recognized, and bask in their own self-satisfaction. Or, maybe they were all actual angels and I'm currently living within a Christmas movie. Oh man!
* Kudos to the couple who gave my girlfriend and I their parking slip while they were leaving the lot on Friday night, allowing us to park for free. This couple had paid the evening rate and still had several hours left, yet stopped us as we were approaching their vacated spot to hand over their pass. How nice! They said they were swayed by the big, floppy Blue Jays winter hat I was wearing, as they had the same toque-with-earflaps back at home. Once again, attending a giveaway day at the ballpark pays off.
In giving us their pass, this couple saved us a few bucks and (more importantly) gave us a good parking spot close to the venue, given that it was freaking 20 below last Friday. My girlfriend and I only had to walk less than a block to our destination --- Long Winter, an art/music/video event that's basically a hipster's paradise. The highlights of the evening included two really good bands, a talk show guested by Ben Johnson (?), two okay bands that were respectively plagued by a poor singer and too much amp feedback, and one "band" was really a performance art troupe and probably the most pretentious thing I've seen since I stopped reading Pitchfork reviews.
* Kudos to my neighbour for lending me his spare snow shovel. It usually doesn't snow when the temperatures drop into the -20 Celsius range but that didn't stop Old Man Winter from dropping a foot of snow on Saturday, leaving me with some shovelling work on Sunday morning. While there was a lot of snow, at least it was the light variety, so it wasn't too hard a job…with a good shovel, that is. I'm not sure how this happened, but our house shovel that I used last winter had somehow vanished over the course of 12 months, leaving me with just this metal thing that looked like an oversized garden spade.
Shoveling with this disaster was going to be an issue, so I appealed to the fellow across the street, who was about 90% of the way through his own driveway. I asked if I could borrow his shovels when he was through, yet he did me one better by pointing out a spare in his yard, and gave me free reign. This shovel was, with only minor hyperbole, the greatest snow shovel in human history. It was sturdy, cut right through the snow, could easily heft large amounts, and…..well, it's pretty clear that my rave review is inspired by my relief over not having to use David Spade, but still, it was a pretty quality shovel. Had the whole thing done in 30 minutes and still had more than enough time to shower and change the garbage before afternoon football began. What a manly hour for Mark! Had it not been for the kind fellow across the road (who, I should note, I've never spoken to, or even seen, before), that job would've taken me easily…uh, an extra 10-15 minutes.
* Kudos to the fellow who helped my girlfriend and I load a dishwasher off a van. The girlfriend had bought a portable dishwasher and we'd needed to rent a U-Haul van to get the thing from Etobicoke back to her downtown apartment, as the dishwasher was naturally too big to fit into the backseat of my Hyundai. (Note: we naively assumed it could for our first trip out there. #UniversityGraduates) Anyway, we got the dishwasher back to her place and parked the van in front of her building, only to be faced with one more issue we didn't think through --- how to get the dishwasher from the van to the ground. The fellow who sold us the dishwasher had helped us lift the thing in, yet here we were on our own now, trying to figure out how to maneuver an awkward, 100-pound machine down a couple of feet to the pavement.
Once again, we had to appeal to the kindness of strangers. An older couple in their sixties happened into the apartment at that moment, and we asked if they wouldn't mind lending a hand. The wife immediately demurred, saying that her husband had a bad knee and couldn't assist in the lifting, but they were visiting their daughter in the building and she'd be likely to help. So they went upstairs and we cooled our jets, hoping that the daughter was a modern-day Jennifer Walters.
Imagine our surprise when the old guy himself came back, pooh-poohing the knee injury and offering to help. Sure enough, the three of us were easily able to lift the washer down and into the lobby, and thank god the dishwasher had wheels so the rest was easy. All the while, the tough old bird is telling us that he'd only tweaked his knee a couple of months ago and his wife was just being cautious, but he could handle himself. A man helping us in defiance of his own marriage! What courage. I really hope the guy didn't get onto the elevator and immediately collapse in tremendous pain. If this old fellow is reading this, they're doing incredible things with knee rehab these days, just ask Kobe Bryant.
So thanks to these three good deeds, I'm obligated to perform nine good deeds under the Pay It Forward model. If you're an old lady who needs help crossing a street, I'll be there. If your cat gets stuck in a tree, I will throw snowballs at branches in an attempt to knock the cat off, then I'll quickly run and catch him before it hits the ground (or, I'll peg the cat in midair with another snowball, knocking it into a snowbank and giving it a soft landing). If you're buying a dishwasher yourself and need help lifting it a few feet, I won't help since that job is a real pain, but I'll hold the door open for you. I'm a great guy!
Uh, just in case you found this post by Googling "Meg White solo album," this isn't about any breaking news. This is merely a theoretical discussion of what a Meg White record would entail, since it's kind of a fascinating subject.
Fascinating, if predictable. Imagine a Meg solo project was actually announced. There would be quite a bit of speculation, some snark ("How will she be able to perform without Jack pulling the strings?"), then a backlash against the snark ("Meg is a solid artist in her own right!") and then the record would actually come out to…mixed reviews. It would almost surely have to sound something like the White Stripes, right? Maybe leaning towards the more blues-tinged torch songs than their usual rockers, probably bearing more resemblance to "Get Behind Me Satan" or (ironically) to Jack's solo record than it would most of the Stripes' discography.
Maybe it would surprise us all and be a complete departure from the Stripes' sound, which would be very cool. Meg is, after all, somewhat of a blank slate musically. She's been criticized for everything from her minimalist (haters would say 'simple') drumming style to the fact that she seemed to basically just be an adjunct to Jack within the White Stripes given that he wrote and produced all the music. I'm not sure I agree with this angle, mostly based on the fact that Jack's solo stuff and collaborations with other bands has never been as inspired as it was with Meg. She clearly brought *something* to the table, even if we're not sure what that was. In any case, coming out in a bold musical direction of her own would both bring Meg newfound respect and also lead us to look upon the Stripes' material with fresh ears.
The larger questions about a Meg White album, of course, would be "why" or "how" more than "what." Meg, of course, has all but disappeared from the public eye since the White Stripes broke up and it's been rumoured that her issues with anxiety (which caused some tour dates to be canceled in 2007) were one of the reasons the band broke up. Releasing an album would indicate that she's well, which would be great. Releasing an album, however, would also perhaps on level indicate that Meg cares about making her own musical statement, which would run counter with virtually everything we know about the woman. Fewer people in music seemingly give fewer fucks than Meg White; the opinions of her critics may simply not be worth a cold damn to her. If she did make an album, my guess is that she'd be doing it because she thought it'd be fun, not out of some quixotic attempt to change the opinions of jaded music writers.
I posed the question of a Meg White solo disc to my pal Misha, a man so in love with the Stripes that he indirectly named his son after Jack White. Misha is, naturally, a big Meg fan ("I always thought she was great. On stage you couldn't take your eyes off her both times I saw them play live.") yet he added the caveat that he'd only buy the album if Jack was involved in some way, as a producer or writer of some of the songs. Even a Meg-lover like Misha can't quite separate her from Jack's long shadow.
A completely solo Meg album or a Meg album involving Jack are two different things, each intriguing in its own way. I've already talked about how an only-Meg joint would be perceived, but a Jack-involved Meg album would carry a different set of expectations and pressures. Frankly, I think such a disc would be even more harshly reviewed --- it couldn't help but be seen as a de factor reunion, and thus held up to the standard of the Stripes' discography. Worse, it could be reviewed under the "why is this happening?" lens, as critics would wonder why the two would bother making "a White Stripes record with Meg on vocals" rather than just give us a proper new White Stripes album, if the two are willing to collaborate again.
These types of criticisms could be avoided (or at least side-stepped) if Meg were to release her album out of the blue, with no publicity, a la Beyonce's latest release. Not even a bit of leadup --- just bam, one Twitter announcement that the record is now available for download. It'd subvert everyone's expectations since then the music is just The Music and all of the expectations and pre-conceived notions that I've described in this post wouldn't even be allowed to take root.
I'd argue that Meg White is the type of musician who benefits most from the modern surprise album release. In Beyonce's case, while the sudden release caught everyone off-guard, at the end of the day it was still a Beyonce album. In Meg's case, you'd not only have the shock that her disc was suddenly available, you'd also have the double shock that it was in the works at all. Imagine the excitement of clicking that first track and having absolutely no idea what you'd be in for. Meg White's solo career, even as a symbol if not as an actual possibility, represents hope.
* A team of Pitchfork writers chronicle the career of Outkast. There have been rumours that Outkast might reunite at a festival next summer, to which I say….meh. It's somewhat more poetic if they just stayed apart forever and let the memories of their prime last, but hey, money talks. If even Hologram Tupac can make a festival appearance, then who can really say no?
* Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette profiles Tim Thompson, the CBC video editor responsible for all of those epic intros on "Hockey Night In Canada." It's great to be able to put a name to the man behind those incredible video packages, and with that out of the way, let's give Thompson the Order Of Canada. (Only half-joking.)
* Speaking of Canadian pride, Now Toronto's John Semley compiles an oral history of the Kids In The Hall. Quick, a round of Who's Aged Worst! The winner is clearly Dave Foley, with McKinney a solid runner-up. Kevin McDonald is third but he always looked like a weird middle-aged guy even as a young man. Scott Thompson is fourth, aging normally but still with a glint in his eye. Bruce McCulloch looks somehow exactly the same as he did in 1992.
* SB Nation's Jon Bois creates an all-Greg Schiano Buccaneers team in Madden to see if being a "Schiano Man" translates to the field. Admittedly, this was a bit funnier when the Buccaneers were a winless, disease-ridden joke, rather than a team who is still 4-9 but at least have won four of their last five games. Still, "a bit funnier" isn't "not funny," and mocking Schiano's humourless assholery is never not funny. Also, recent hot streak aside, Tampa Bay needs to fire Schiano as soon as possible. This team has way too much talent to be wasted on coaches like Schiano and Raheem Morris.
* This is one of those 'hidden corners of sports' stories that I love so much on Grantland, as Dave McKenna looks at the controversy surrounding a possibly-fixed horse race involving a 70-year-old jockey. Without giving too much about the story away, I'll say that if it was a fix, it's about as clumsy a job as you could imagine. Maybe the horses had their own bit of side action going, just agreeing to take it easy.
* Grantland's Neal Gabler looks at the three scariest letters in sports: ACL. (Uh, they have to be in that order. CAL isn't very scary, nor LCA, nor CLA, nor LAC, nor ALC.) Did your knee suddenly start aching after reading this piece, or was it just me? I'm such a wuss.
* NBC Sports' Joe Posnanski looks at the success of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, NASCAR's most successful driver/crew chief team. Since Posnanski focuses mostly on Knaus, I'll focus on how Jimmie Johnson is a marketing genius. He's unofficially known as "Mr. Six-Time" since he's won six NASCAR Cups, but that nickname has evolved as he's won more championships; he used to be Mr. Four-Time and Mr. Five-Time. Ergo, his fans have to buy new up-to-date gear every time Johnson captures another Cup. It's brilliant. This, moreso than the actual six titles, might be Johnson's greatest achievement.
Few shows have crappier opening credits sequences than Homeland, so I usually just fast-forward through the credits or skip them outright every week. For last night's episode, however, I guess I was just in the mood for some discordant jazz fusion, so I saw through the whole thing. It was then that I noticed the name of the actor with the sweetest gig in all Hollywood, Jackson "Chris Brody" Pace. I dunno why the name had never stuck out to me in the past, possibly because I'd just assumed Jackson Pace was someone else (maybe the guy who played David Estes) who, y'know, had an actual role.
Much has been written about how Chris Brody is the most useless character on television but now that I've noticed Pace is actually in the proper full-time cast, I'm taking the other tack and praising Pace's agent as the greatest representative in all of Hollywood. Think about it…who has an easier gig than Jackson Pace? He never gets any storylines, averages literally one line* per Homeland episode and gets the occasional hug from Morena Baccarin. Nice work if you can get it. For this, Pace has been in the credits since day one, while much more important actors like Rupert Friend had to wait a whole season to "officially" be added to the show's roster.
* = speaking of the opening credits, I would argue that if you counted those news clips as "lines," I'd swear that Chris Brody has received less dialogue on this show than George Bush and Barack Obama.
In today's world of large ensemble dramas, actually being a cast member is no small feat. Adding or subtracting an actor to the cast proper requires contractual work, arguments over screen time and how many episodes the actor must appear, a bump in pay, etc. Look at the scads of important characters on "Game Of Thrones" or "Orange Is The New Black" who never actually cracked the opening credits --- for the latter, the only actors in the credits were Piper, Alex, Healy, Red, Larry and Miss Claudette (which was also kind of inexplicable..not that she wasn't a good character, but why her over Nicki, Pennsatucky, the guards, Crazy Eyes, or any other major characters?). I dunno if the Homeland producers thought Chris Brody would evolve into a bigger part of the show a la his sister Dana* but they've never seemed to have any plans for him, making Pace's stint in the credits all the more glaring.
* = though then again, given how awful Dana's story lines have been, perhaps it's best that we only waste time on one Brody kid in any given episode.
The bottom line is that nobody swings a deal like Pace's agent. Once I finally get my big break, I'm hiring that guy all the way. I can stand in the background with the best of them. If 'standing around' was an Emmy category, I'd be a shoo-in, or at least a multi-time nominee that loses to Jackson Pace every year.
Nope, this isn't a link to some weird generational sex ed video. It's a remix of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" made in the musical stylings of the previous century, decade-by-decade. It's put together by a French DJ/mixer dude named PV Nova who takes this thing to the next level with a SUPER nerdy cameo and at the clip's end, but still, it's endearing.
Every bookmark represents a character death in the Song Of Fire & Ice series. Yikes.
As a big Martin Scorsese fan, I'm obviously looking forward to The Wolf Of Wall Street. While I expect it to be a searing look at modern financial culture, it would also be hilarious if Scorsese just trolled everyone and had DiCaprio literally turn into a werewolf halfway through the movie. Like, he's living it up as the Wall Street big shot until a full moon and then boom, it just randomly turns into a generic horror movie with WolfLeo roaming the streets of Manhattan. It'd be Scorsese's hidden tribute to From Dusk Til Dawn in terms of wild plot veers.
Technically, isn't every book a page-turner?
Did Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile and Smoke all feel like fucking idiots when they showed up for work in virtually the same outfit? I'm sure one of their colour-blind co-workers* laughed their heads** off that day.
* = I'm just speculating here, but since one of the other dudes had metal arms and another had a half-cybernetic face, so what the hell, throw some colour-blindness onto the pile
** = very possible "laughing one's head off" is an actual Mortal Kombat fatality
Arguably the greatest athletic event of our time is given the full 30-for-30 documentary treatment by Yahoo Sports. "But wait, isn't 30-for-30 an ESPN production?" Well, yeah, but the athletic event in question is the basketball game from Space Jam, so this one may be a little tongue in cheek. Hands-down, best segment is the discussion of Foghorn Leghorn's untimely death.
Weird Space Jam-related story,,,.at the Super Bowl party last year, we were killing time before the game and watching Space Jam on another channel. My pal Matt spent the time criticizing Lola Bunny's wardrobe choices and/or general air of promiscuity. He made just enough comments to cross the line from 'running joke' to 'wow, Matt clearly had a crush on Lola Bunny as a kid.'
Have you ever seen a closeup image of an insect's face? That phrase "cute as a bug's ear" is complete bullshit.
"This is not a tramp stamp." --- Rene Magritte, defending his back tattoo
"Wow, check out this awesome new Bob Dylan video" is not a sentence I expected to write in 2013, but here we are. I've seen music videos with the "random scenes with characters lip-syncing the lyrics" gimmick before, and even a few videos with the channel-surfing gimmick, but never one with both gimmicks combined, and certainly not with this depth and interactivity. Kudos to Bob Dylan for learning Flash code and putting this video together, since I'm sure that's what happened.
Quebec's greatest criminal mastermind is known as the Not-Joker, a master thief who rips people off with fake Just For Laughs gags that causes the victims to let their guard down. He pretends to steal their wallet and purposely gets caught, then he points out his cameraman accomplice across the street. The victim laughs….and then the Not Joker kicks him in the junk and runs off with the wallet. It's the perfect crime.
In case you actually think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Shakespeare, keep in mind I'm the same guy who didn't realize "10 Things I Hate About You" was a revised "Taming Of The Shrew" until literally the end of the movie. Like, they revealed that the school was called Verona High or something and that's what finally clued me in. Good lord. Forget the familiar plot or how the characters were literally called Kat and Bianca, it took the friggin' name of the school to lift the fog from my brain. I'm just lucky I didn't see the high school name and then smugly announce to my friends that we'd just seen a remake of "Two Gentlemen Of Verona."
Anyway, that Julia Stiles/Heath Ledger joint was surely how most of my generation* is familiar
with "Taming Of The Shrew," though it's such a well-worn plot that you might've seen versions of it on sitcoms, in musicals**, or even just on the stage, as TOTS is one of the most enduring of Shakespeare's comedies. I dare say it's one of the Bard's most well-known stories, adapted a hundred times over on stage and screen throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
* = and, not for nothing, that movie is actually really cute. I daresay that for me, Ledger's first breakout star moment was his song and dance number on the bleachers to impress Kat. That was one of those 'wow, this guy has some legit charisma' scenes that puts an actor on the map. Again, what a shame about Ledger.
** = my high school teacher father took us to his school's production of "Kiss Me Kate" when I was a kid, so that was my first exposure to the material. In the original text, Petruchio literally says "Kiss me, Kate" at least three times, so that's where that comes from.
So why does a play that, on paper, come off as dinosaurish in its treatment of women still so popular today? Well, I guess you could argue that this is the era of the Kardashians and the Bechdel Test, so it's not like we're exactly shining beacons of enlightenment in how women are portrayed in entertainment. The more specific answer in how it relates to TOTS, however, is that it's one of the plays most often heavily re-edited and adjusted from what might have been Shakespeare's original meaning. My friend Sarah recently saw a production of TOTS at Stratford and noted that Katherine's famous speech in Act V, Scene ii was delivered with the utmost sarcasm by the actress on stage. Basically the entire meaning of the play was therefore flipped --- Katherine hasn't been tamed, she is merely in the first stages of taming Petruchio herself.
This is how TOTS is most often interpreted these days; the play becomes a battle of the sexes rather than Petruchio just breaking a woman down with straight-up psychological and physical torment. And let's call a spade a spade here, Petruchio tortures Katherine. He is literally trying to tame her as he would a falcon, even to the point of starving her and not allowing her to sleep. It's the sort of wanton cruelty that, even in a modern production, is hard to cast in a farcical light. One of my pet theories of Shakespeare is that some of his tragedies are so absurd that they're only a few tweaks away from becoming comedies, and TOTS shows that the reverse is true of the comedies. One theatrical production of TOTS from the 70's played the text as a completely straight drama, making the whole thing terrifying. The negotiations over Bianca's dowry take on a sinister air of human trafficking and prostitution, while Katherine's treatment the actress portraying her to deliver the final monologue in a flat monotone, as if she'd had the life beaten out of her. Yikes. This takes removing the laugh track to the Nth degree.
I noted in my review of "Comedy Of Errors" that while Shakespeare was far and away more mature about writing female characters than many playwrights of his era, he was still susceptible to the stereotypes of his day. That said, the women in COE were basically Eleanor Roosevelt compared to poor Katherine (and, to a lesser extent, poor Bianca) in TOTS. This play isn't traditionally thought of as one of Shakespeare's so-called problem plays, since the only 'problem' with its narrative is that it comes off as collar-tuggingly sexist to modern audiences.
Having said all that, there is definitely evidence that Shakespeare's sexism in regards to TOTS is overstated, and that the Bard specifically intended his play to be satire rather than an actual position on sexual mores. Hold on, before I begin, let me put on my Shakespeare-defending shoes….ahh, that's the ticket. You always need proper footwear before embarking on a, "No, really, here's what he ACTUALLY meant" argument to defend a literary icon's shortcomings.
The evidence in favour of Shakespeare taking the same dim view of TOTS as modern readers is threefold. Firstly, the men are idiots. Petruchio is completely obsessed with money, only taking an interest in Katherine due to securing a large dowry and to fulfill his boast that he can "tame" any woman. Baptista Minola cares so little about his daughters that he's willing to literally just sell them off to the highest bidders, even if they're men he's known for about 10 minutes. Lucentio decides to go through an elaborate charade to win Bianca's heart when, really, he could just present himself as a learned man in the first place and win her that way. Gremio and Hortensio are your standard buffoons of the Andrew Aguecheek variety. The servants are all non-descript entities, a far cry from the more developed personalities of most other 'lesser' men in the Shakespearean canon, your Fools or even your Dromios.
Katherine, Bianca and the Widow are far form being well-developed themselves, but I have a better idea of what makes Katherine tick than I do virtually any of the male characters. Unless you take the harsh "Petruchio is a torturer" stance in your production, it's very easy to dismiss the men's views on marriage as nonsense.
Secondly, Bianca and the Widow aren't subservient. The key part of Act V, Scene ii is perhaps not that Katherine wins the bet for Petruchio by showing up (and delivering her infamous monologue) but rather that Bianca and the Widow aren't at their husbands' beck and call. Bianca, in particular, seems to have gained her own sense of self and independence after being portrayed as nothing more than a trophy for in the rest of the text. The Widow, meanwhile, has been hardened by marriage already and is definitely Over It when it comes to Hortensio's nonsense.* This is another hint that Katherine's speech is meant to be dripping with condescension; when Petruchio says afterwards that she could teach the other two a lesson about being "good wives," the implication is that Katherine already has, except in the opposite manner that Petruchio intends. In the same way that he was overtly kind in his torture of her, it's easy to see Kate beginning to employ the same tactics back in his direction.
* = I love, by the way, that the Widow is literally just called "The Widow" throughout the play, even by other characters. Casually referring to a widow solely by that title is such a goofy idea that it supports the concept that Shakespeare is writing this whole thing with his tongue firmly in cheek.
Thirdly, we're watching a play-within-a-play. One of the oft-omitted portions of TOTS is the very weird introduction, in which we get a completely separate framing sequence of a drunk named Christopher Sly being tricked into thinking he's an amnesiac lord and the play we see is being performed for him by a group of players. After this introduction, Sly appears briefly once more in the narrative and then we never hear from him again or get any finality to his story.
The introduction is weird on many levels, namely the fact that it exists at all. Shakespeare didn't do many (if any) introductions and rarely broke from the strict five-act dramatic structure. So why this intro here, and why a subplot that is never revisited? It's possible the answer could simply be that TOTS as we know it is an incomplete text* and that an epilogue revealing Sly's fate has been lost to time. Another answer is that the intro was simply there to enforce the play's frivolous nature; sort of a more real-world version of the fairies manipulating events in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." As we know, Shakespeare was very fond of going all meta on his audiences and by making such a pointed reference to the false nature of the story, that further adds to the idea that we're not supposed be taking it so seriously.
* = critics have pointed out several inconsistencies in Hortensio's character and dialogue. Some of his lines may have been lost or, as some have theorized, the version of TOTS that appeared in the First Folio was actually a rough draft and not a finished product.
So, unsurprisingly, I ended up not taking the play all that seriously, to the extent that I didn't much care for it. If you put the sexism aside (not that easy, granted), then what you have is an overly-laboured disguise plot that is both too complicated and too straight-forward at the same time. There aren't any real hitches to Lucentio's plan and nobody is upset when he reveals it, so there isn't exactly a lot of drama in the machinations. It all adds up to a play that is pretty thin, even for a farce. You wonder if it'd still be as popular today if it weren't for the sexism, in an odd way. It stands out as such an overt flaw in many ways that modern directors may feel compelled to "fix" the problem, as it were, by re-drafting Shakespeare's alleged sexism into more palatable ways (we'll revisit this same concept on a more grander scale once I get around to analyzing "Merchant Of Venice"). Hell, this ended up being one of my longer Shakespeare re-read entries despite the fact that I thought the play was weak sauce. Controversy sells!
To conclude this post with a lesson for high school students, feel free to use "The Sexism in Taming Of The Shrew" as an entry in your "10 Things I Hate About Shakespeare" essay.
My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays. 2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward. And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays. Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch. It's William goddamn Shakespeare. What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks! What a stinker! Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"
Gravity is one of the year's best films, and what I think I love most about the movie is how Alfonso Cuaron stuck so closely to the drama in space. There were no flashbacks to Ryan and her daughter, no cuts to Earth or the NASA command centre, no cutaways to see how Clooney is getting along.....the entire focus is on Ryan and her attempts to survive.
Outside of the movie itself, however, there's room for some creativity. This is "Aningaaq," a short film by co-writer Jonas Cuaron (Alfonso's son) about the person on the other end of Ryan's distress call. I guarantee it'll be the best short you see all year....set in Greenland.
Grab your passport and hop onto the next flight to Grantland for this collection of quality writing by people without Riddler avatars….
* Jay Caspian Kang details the odd situation behind a group of teenagers who broke into the home of former NFL player Brian Holloway's house and trashed the place via a huge party. Holloway has since launched a big campaign to both identify/shame the kids involved on social media, and also to get help to rebuild his home, and both efforts are drawing a lot of controversy. I'll be honest, Holloway lost me at "referenced Ayn Rand on multiple occasions." And I'll be doubly honest, as interesting as this story is, it pales in comparison to Holloway's claim that Michael Jackson rigged Super Bowl 20, which should be a 10,000-word expose unto itself.
* Tess Lynch writes about how being a parent tends to make you a pop culture hermit (and kind of an actual hermit), with Sesame Street's spoofs being one of a parent's few connections to the outside world. My mind was blown when I recently learned that Lynch is Jane Curtin's daughter, which makes it kind of odd that Lynch is Grantland's SNL reviewer. The reviews aren't particularly noteworthy, which probably makes sense given the Curtin family's general disinterest in SNL, despite Jane's pantheon cast member status.
* Wesley Morris' awesome review of 12 Years A Slave, one of the year's best films and assuredly its most powerful. I watched this movie and All Is Lost on the same day and afterwards, I just wanted to curl up into a ball.
* Amos Barshad profiles the life and career of Danny Trejo, star of maybe the year's least-powerful film, Machete Kills. Ninety minutes of stupid fun, sure, but 'powerful' isn't the first adjective that leapt to mind.
* Ben Lindbergh rates the 21 best deep-cut Paul McCartney tracks. I have no idea if he's right or not since seriously, who rates Paul McCartney's solo work?
* Alex Pappademas chronicles the rise and fall of Blockbuster Video, and by extension the history of video rental places. I'm not going to lie, I miss going into video stores and just browsing away at all those random titles on the wall. Toronto has the very great Queen Video outlets, but still, I miss the random enjoyment of picking a crappy action movie solely based on how goofy the poster looks.
* I must've been a good man in another life, since I've been rewarded with TWO Ken Dryden pieces. The first is about his "day with the Stanley Cup" in both Etobicoke and tiny Domain, Manitoba. The second is your typically well-reasoned Dryden piece, this one on concussions in sport and focused around Tony Dorsett, of all people.
* Charles P. Pierce has an elegiac look at the history of Ireland's Listowel Races. I absolutely, positively have to visit Ireland at some point in my life, and not only due to my family's history of running into U2 members.
* Zach Lowe praises the Raptor, the great Toronto Raptors mascot who couldn't perform this season due to a torn Achilles tendon. I've always suspected the Raptor was played by my friend Eric, who briefly had the nickname of "Rap-Tor" (with that specific pronunciation, for some reason) due to the fact that he wore an enormous Toronto Raptors cap for his Grade 10 class photo. The evidence against my theory is that Eric lives in London so regular commutes to NBA games in Toronto would be difficult, and Eric (while a heck of a pitcher and middle infielder in his house league baseball days) may not quite be athletic enough to pull off the Raptor's acrobatic moves. Whatever, I know I'm right. Anyway, I was about to say that the Raptor's injury would be par for the course for the Raptors' sure-to-be-terrible season, but as I write this, they're leading their division. Sure, their record is 5-7 and they're only in first place since the Knicks and Nets have been godawful so far, but hey, first place, baby!
Whoa, a UFC picks post? How old-school! I gave up on the monthly UFC predictions because they simply started cranking out too many cards for me to keep up, and I didn't want to turn this into a makeshift MMA blog. But, this was a special occasion since UFC 167 marks the 20th anniversary of the very first UFC show, plus it could be the last time we see one of the all-time greats step into the cage.
* Tyron Woodley over Josh Koscheck, decision That's right, it'll be Josh Koscheck's last bout! (Kidding) I'd imagine that even if and when Koscheck loses, he'll still get another fight despite what would be a three-bout losing streak. Kos is just too notable a name in UFC history for the company to cut on the normal three-strikes-you're-out rules, though four straight losses would do it. Since Koscheck got decimated by Georges St. Pierre, he's knocked out a washed-up Matt Hughes, narrowly won a controversial split decision over Mike Pierce, narrowly lost a controversial split decision to Johny Hendricks and gotten KTFO by Robbie Lawler. So in short, it's been weird --- it's easy to say that GSP basically ended his career, but that split over Hendricks is a real eye-opener. Koscheck didn't exactly look good in that fight, but he did enough to grind one out, and he could quite possibly do the same to Woodley. Speaking of dull grinding decisions, Woodley's last fight was a loss to Jake Shields, and with losses to Shields and Nate Marquardt, it's possible Woodley is a gatekeeper type who can't hang with the bigger dogs at welterweight. Of course, the only question here is if Koscheck still counts as a big dog. I say no, but this fight could absolutely go either way. The only guarantee is that it'll be dull.
* Rory MacDonald over Robbie Lawler, submission, R2 This one is a total "what have you done for me lately?" matchup. Everyone suddenly became a Rory Mac hater after his dull win over Jake Ellenberger, despite the fact that since Ellenberger did jack-all in that fight, Rory had no reason to abandon a jab-centric game plan that was working to perfection. Lawler, meanwhile, had a pedestrian win-one/lose-one record for the last few years before knocking out (a possibly washed up) Koscheck and a semi-can in Bobby Voelker. Those two knockouts have a lot of people on the Lawler bandwagon after several, several years. Is there a chance at an upset? I highly doubt it. Lawler has a puncher's chance but MacDonald has proven himself to be the better fighter and is maybe the best in the division besides GSP. It should be noted that one of the sidebars of the St. Pierre retirement rumours is that he'd be doing it in part so his teammate and protege MacDonald could step into the spotlight, which I believe has some merit. GSP does take an almost parental interest in MacDonald (who revers his hero and has always seemed nervous just to consider fighting him) and I could totally see him passing the torch. Whether MacDonald is ready to take over as the UFC's big Canadian marketing draw is another question but hey, I'm not paying their bills, so what do I care?
* Ali Bagautinov over Tim Elliott, decision Big fight here in the still-thin flyweight division. The problem is that Mighty Mouse Johnson is seemingly as dominant a champ as there is in the UFC, and he's already beaten top challengers Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson. The larger problem is that Benavidez and Dodson are *also* seemingly head and shoulders above everyone else and between them they've cleared the decks of other challenges, which is why Joey Benz is getting another crack at Johnson in January. Dodson has one win since losing his title bout and he could win another in January as well over Scott Jorgensen, so Dodson could get a return bout too. In short, flyweight is desperate for some fresh contenders and the winner here could put him up for a #1 contenders' bout against John "Let's Hope He Makes Weight" Lineker. I'm narrowly picking Bagautinov here since he's been on a huge roll in Russia and through his first UFC bout, while Elliott has been less impressive (though he's only lost to Dodson in the UFC).
* Chael Sonnen over Rashad Evans, decision The only thing I'm certain of is that this fight will go the full 15 minutes. Other than that, who knows. Evans is good at grinding out unimpressive wins, though given Sonnen's own wrestling pedigree, that strategy might not work. There's also the fact that Evans hasn't really looked good in a fight against a non-washed up opponent (hi Tito!) in years. Decision wins over Thiago Silva, Rampage, Phil Davis and Dan Henderson that made you shrug your shoulders, the huge knockout loss to Lyoto Machida, the one-sided decision loss to Jon Jones and the horribly boring decision loss to Little Nogueira --- that's all Evans has done since 2009, minus the rout of Tito Ortiz. Sonnen also has a recent win over a possibly washed-up legend in his chokeout of Shogun Rua, and while I'm still not sure Sonnen is really a legit fighter anymore or just a glorified UFC public relations guy, he's still shown better form lately than Evans. If nothing else, the post-fight promo will be entertaining.
* Georges St. Pierre over Johny Hendricks, decision Well, of course. What other result can there be for a GSP fight? Hendricks is a hell of a fighter, has a monster left hand and is a terrific wrestler --- it's the sort of pedigree that can give St. Pierre trouble on paper, yet is also theoretically easy to defend with a good game plan. Hendrick is like Koscheck except with better wrestling and a better big punch from the other hand, but we've twice seen how GSP has been able to handle Koscheck. For all Hendricks' wrestling prowess, Rick Story and Koscheck were able to hang with him and GSP is the best MMA wrestler of all time. Add this to the fact that Hendricks was showing some fatigue in his third round against Carlos Condit, and you wonder if this will just be as simple as St. Pierre riding out a decision if he can just avoid that big left in the first two rounds. Now, what's interesting is that cardio machine GSP actually looked a bit winded in his previous two fights, though those could be explained by the fact that a) he was facing Carlos Condit after a 19-month layoff and b) he then fought Nick Diaz, who puts anyone's cardio to shame. GSP at even 80% cardio is still a beast, but it could be a sign that he isn't as invincible as he once was. There's a scent of an upset in the air in the wake of Chris Weidman beating the seemingly-unstoppable Anderson Silva but I doubt we'll see the other pound-for-pound legend drop his belt in the same six-month span.
Speaking of that invincibility, the hot rumour has been that GSP will go out on top and retire if he beats Hendricks on Saturday. You can definitely make the argument that St. Pierre has nothing left to prove; he's already an all-time legend, his famously intense training regiment has left him drained, he lost a bit of his hunger after his long layoff for knee surgery, and a win over Hendricks will mean that GSP has essentially cleaned out the welterweight division twice, which is crazy. Rather than risk his health in a decline phase, Georges could possibly hang up the gloves (even on a loss) and turn matters in the welterweight division over to Rory in a Dick Grayson-becomes-Batman move. It's worth noting that UFC officials and many in GSP's camp have denied the retirement rumours, but we won't know for sure until the Hendricks fight is over.
It'll be hard for me as an MMA fan to see St. Pierre retire, if this is indeed it. As the maple leaf on my passport would indicate, I'm a big GSP fan and he's my favourite fighter. Georges is the only fighter for whom I'm legitimately nervous every time he's in the cage since I'm rooting for him to win so badly. By the same token, if he decides to retire, it's hard to argue that he's already given UFC fans more than enough over the years. Better to go out now than to suffer an embarrassing loss like Silva, or even worse, a series of embarrassing losses like Chuck Liddell or Shogun Rua when you're clearly past your prime. My hat is off to St. Pierre if he retires, and let's hope he gives us one more fine memory on Saturday.
Undercard….. * Jason High over Anthony Lapsley, submission, R2 * Sergio Pettis over Will Campuzano, decision….that's the 20-year-old younger brother of Anthony Pettis, by the way. Interesting bout here for the unbeaten youngster and he's facing Campuzano on short notice, but I'll pick him in part just because of the Pettis family name. After all, Brent Gretzky was just as good as his brother, right? * Erik Perez over Edwin Figueroa, decision * Donald Cerrone over Evan Dunham, decision….couple of dimmed stars here, though Cerrone is just a gatekeeper kind of guy. Dunham was the one who looked really special early in his career but just hasn't lived up to that potential. * Gian Villante over Cody Donovan, knockout, R3….battle of the Ovince St. Preux victims! Loser might get cut. * Thales Leites over Ed Herman, submission, R1….can't believe I'm seeing a Leites/Herman fight on a UFC card in the year 2013. * Rick Story over Brian Ebersole, decision…..if Hendricks wins the belt and Story can string together three or four wins in a row, he might have a title shot case as "the only guy to beat Hendricks." Story's current streak stands at, uh, zero wins in a row, so he'll need some work. I'll pick Story here in my "always pick against the guy who hasn't fought in over a year" strategy.
I'm not *crazy* about Pearl Jam's new record, Lightning Bolt. I quite enjoyed listening to the disc and then completely forgot about almost every song as soon as it was over. Listened to it a second time, enjoyed it even more and then boom….five minutes after it was done, I could hum nary but a few tunes on command. It could still be a grower, sort of like how I'm enjoying Backspacer a lot more now than I did in 2010.
Fortunately, my Pearl Jam fandom is no worse for wear given that I caught their concert in Buffalo last month. It was my third time seeing the band and the show was as good as ever, despite my unfamiliarity with the newer tunes (the record hadn't actually been released yet). I will say, though, that "Sirens" was an immediate crowd favourite and works awesomely well as an arena anthem. I'll also say that the ol' First Niagara Center is a pretty nice venue --- has kind of a vibe of being like a really nice local hockey rink, just enormous and with a lot of money put into it. The only downside is the Sabres.
Anyway, since I'm in a Pearl Jam mode right now and they're one of my all-time favourites, they're a natural choice for my latest "best songs" post. As always, these are the tunes that I'd cite as my favourites --- not that there aren't lots of other good ones, but these are the 55 that I thought were the tops. It's possible there are some obscure B-sides that I haven't heard (especially since Pearl Jam have more random tracks than most bands) but overall, I think I've had a pretty good listen to their catalogue and have covered most of the bases.
While all threeof mypast lists have been subjective, this one felt moreso, for some strange reason. Maybe only the top 7-8 are locked, whereas lots of other songs within the top 30 could easily be shuffled around if I were to write this list again in just a few months' time. If I've left your favourite Pearl Jam tune out, just presume it was #56 and I'm leaving it off out of passive-aggressive spite. You shouldn't have pissed me off like that!
Enjoy the list!
55. Hard To Imagine 54. Footsteps 53. Porch 52. I Got Id 51. Soon Forget 50. Future Days 49. Amongst The Waves 48. Thumbing My Way 47. Pendulum 46. Release 45. Low Light 44. Who You Are 43. All Or None 42. Nothing Man 41. Of The Girl 40. Leash 39. State Of Love And Trust 38. Indifference 37. Brain Of J 36. Wishlist 35. Let Me Sleep 34. In Hiding 33. Breakerfall 32. Off He Goes 31. Thin Air 30. Light Years 29. Yellow Ledbetter 28. MFC 27. Gone 26. Force Of Nature 25. Given To Fly 24. Drifting 23. Sirens 22. Worldwide Suicide 21. Corduroy 20. Down 19. Black 18. Not For You 17. Love Boat Captain 16. Jeremy 15. Hail Hail 14. Come Back 13. Go 12. Animal 11. Daughter 10. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town 9. Insignificance 8. The Fixer 7. Even Flow 6. Do The Evolution 5. Present Tense 4. Life Wasted 3. Better Man 2. No Way 1. Alive
I realize this sounds like the douchiest, most entitled, most #firstworldproblems thing a football fan could say, especially one who realizes just how rare and lucky I've been as a Packers fan to enjoy basically 21 unbroken years of elite-to-very good quarterback play in the form of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers…
….but man, how can you fans of teams with bad quarterbacks stand it?
As Joni Mitchell sang in her time-traveling cover of that Counting Crows song, you really don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. I never knew quite how much I've appreciated the Aaron Rodgers experience until his horrifying, terrifying* fractured collarbone injury on the VERY FIRST FUCKING OFFENSIVE DRIVE of Monday's game against the Bears. Suddenly, here came Seneca Wallace, and god help me, I had actually forgotten who the Pack's backup quarterback was until that moment. Wallace had a thoroughly mediocre game the rest of the way and Green Bay ate what would end up being a critical loss to the Bears.
* = not in a Joe Theismann-broken-leg kind of way, just gruesome in its impact on Green Bay's season.
I happened to be watching the game with my pal Malcolm, a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, who could only grimly nod in recognition at seeing Wallace stink it up. I've actually brought up the Bill Simmons ground rules for switching your sports allegiances to poor Malc in the past out of sheer pity for seeing him throw his support behind such a lost cause. After this game, I can understand why he's taken such joy in EJ Manuel for showing even a hint of promise as the Bills' (latest) quarterback of the future.
A good QB makes everything else seem better, and a bad QB simply makes everything worse. Buffalo has a pretty solid unit this season and could easily be better than 3-6 had they simply not had such wretched injury luck with their quarterbacks. Ditto the Browns losing a lot of winnable games since they stubbornly had to go with Brandon Weeden for so long despite Weeden being arguably the worst player in football. On the flip side, look at the Chiefs, who are 9-0 after going 2-14 last season with largely the same roster except for upgrading to the C-minus Alex Smith at quarterback from the F-minus-minus slugs they behind center last year (Andy Reid coaching instead of Romeo Crennel obviously also helped).
Or, look at the Packers. Rodgers' brilliance has helped them overcome a swath of injuries over the last four seasons. No matter how banged up the team gets, Rodgers keeps them above water, even carrying a very undermanned Green Bay squad to a Super Bowl title. Without Rodgers, god, I shudder to think. I'm hoping Wallace was simply caught off-guard on Monday and will be better with a full week of preparation but yeah, there's literally nothing in his career history that makes me think this work out.
Going into Monday, the Packers were 5-2 and had a very winnable matchup against the Bears (themselves missing their starting QB in Jay Cutler). A win would've left Green Bay sitting pretty in the NFC and more or less wrapped up their division Now, at 5-3, the Packers are tied with both Chicago and Detroit and god knows what will happen. With Rodgers, the Packers were a few breaks away from getting back to the Super Bowl, provided that they could've avoided the 49ers in the playoffs and gotten the Saints and/or Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Without Rodgers, the Packers might not even make the postseason altogether.
With Rodgers set to miss roughly 4-6 weeks, let's see the schedule breakdown...
Week 10, hosting the Eagles. With Rodgers it's an easy win given how Philly hasn't beaten a good team all yet. Nick Foles makes them a good offensive team but obviously they won't put up the points against Green Bay's defence that they did against Oakland last week. It's a very borderline win for Green Bay this point.
Week 11, at the Giants. I'm chalking it up as a loss. As bad as the Giants are this year, they've owned the Packers for the last several seasons and even with Rodgers, I would've been scared of this game. I blame it on Favre for laying down for Michael Strahan's record-breaking sack years ago, thus giving the Giants loads of karmic edge over Green Bay for all eternity. Dammit, Brett.
Week 12, hosting the Vikings. Still thinking of this one as a win given that the Vikings are a tire fire right now. Oh god, wait….a good team hindered by a huge hole at QB? Oh lord, the Packers have become the Vikings. Shoot me now.
Week 13, at the Lions. This could've been the earliest possible return date for Rodgers, except it's a damn short week for the Thanksgiving game. This is the first time I've ever been mad about seeing my team get the usually easy national game against Detroit on Thanksgiving. Now I've got to call this a loss.
Week 14, hosting the Falcons. Still likely a win given how inexplicably poorly Atlanta has done this year. No running game, old defence, Roddy White is washed up, Julio Jones got hurt….yeah, maybe we should've/could've seen this coming. Speaking of national games, this is supposed to be the Sunday Nighter but without Rodgers, I'm guessing the Packers get flexed out. Perusing the schedule for Week 14, Carolina/New Orleans, Seattle/San Francisco, Indianapolis/Cincinnati and even Tennessee/Denver stand out as games that could be slotted into primetime instead. I suspect FOX will protect Seahawks/Niners, Denver may have used up its allotment of primetime games already and thus we'll get the Panthers and Saints on Sunday night as long as Carolina keeps up their surprising good form.
Week 15, at the Cowboys. Here we go. This is the sixth week, and while collarbone injuries are tricky, I'm hoping and praying that Rodgers is back to lay the smack down on the hated Cowboys. Of course the game is in Dallas since if I'm not mistaken, there's an NFL bylaw that states the Packers can never, ever host the Cowboys. Seriously, it's terrible that….er, well, actually, the Packers have hosted four of the last five matchups between the two teams. Huh. Pays to look things up! I may still be influenced by my childhood when the Packers played SEVEN STRAIGHT GAMES against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium from 1993-96 and lost every single one. Damn you, NFL scheduling matrix.
So that's only two of the six games that I'm comfortable saying will still be wins, with two seeming losses and two tossups (this week, plus the Cowboys game -- they win with Rodgers, lose without him). Ughhhhh. The worst part is, this isn't a tough schedule. With Rodgers in the fold, I wouldn't have been shocked to see Green Bay beat the Bears on Monday and then sweep the rest of the way. The last two games were hosting the Steelers and then the reverse fixture in Chicago, so those would've/could've been wins too. That's right, a damn 13-3 record was on the table. If Rodgers misses the full six weeks, the best-case scenario is only 8-6. Even with wins in the last two games, I doubt 10-6 would be enough to win the division and it might not even be enough to make the playoffs. 9-7 seems like it'd have no shot at anything.
The only, ONLY bright side to Rodgers being out is that it has happened in the first season in a long time when the Packers haven't been totally reliant on the passing game. Eddie Lacy has been a revelation but you wonder if the rookie has been able to find so much room because teams are focused on stopping the pass. Opponents might just stick eight men in the box and dare Lacy to run on them since they won't be as worried about Wallace picking them apart downfield.
I'm really, really hoping that the Packers can again overcome a major injury and keep on being a quality team, but Rodgers is so far and away the key piece of the roster that I don't see it happening. Seneca Wallace, if you want to pick this month to have the best four weeks of your football life, that would be awesome. Until I see that, though, I'll have to slum it like 90% of other football fans and be worried about my team's quarterbacking situation. I feel so…so dirty. Oh my god, the dirt's not coming off!
1. Chicago 2. Miami 3. Brooklyn 4. Indiana 5. New York 6. Detroit 7. Atlanta 8. Washington
So, the East has five good teams and then it's just a battle of mediocrity to see who will be the first-round elimination fodder for the top three seeds. The Cavaliers, Bucks and maybe even the Raptors also have a shot at being the ones who get the honour of getting blitzed by the division winners. Whatever, none of these teams matter. The Knicks and Nets also don't really matter since LOL the Knicks actually winning anything and the Nets don't have a time machine to 2008, so I don't see what good importing Pierce and Garnett will do at this stage.
Nope, it comes down to just three teams with legitimate chances to win the conference. Chicago, astoundingly, still played great even without Derrick Rose and gave Miami all it could handle in the second round, so with Rose back and presumably healthy, they're title contenders. Indiana just keeps on improving and Paul George could be a superstar now. It's tempting to think about one of these teams winning the East but since the NBA is no fun, the Heat will just win it again. Sure, they'll be banged up come playoff time and they'll lose a few games to make people sweat, but LeBron is still LeBron. Case closed.
1. San Antonio 2. LA Clippers 3. Oklahoma City 4. Golden State 5. Memphis 6. Houston 7. Dallas 8. Minnesota
The West is, as usual, much more interesting. It also has a logjam at the bottom, since Portland, New Orleans and maybe Utah have a shot at those last two seeds. I'm picking the Mavericks just because I like Dirk and because the poor Timberwolves need to have one year where everyone is healthy and playing well, right?
That leaves the top six, who are really the top three (the Grizzlies are tough and gritty but are clearly a step behind the elite level; the Warriors are exciting and cool but are clearly a step behind the elite level; the Rockets wasted their time and energy for the chronic disappointment that is Dwight Howard). The Clippers will be way better simply by dint of the fact that Doc Rivers is an immense upgrade over Vinny Del Confusion as head coach. The Spurs are the Spurs. The Thunder have Kevin Durant, nuff said, even with Russell Westbrook still hurt. While I appreciate the possibility of Westbrook returning somewhat fresh partway through the season and then helping OKC go on a run…actually wait, yeah, I'll go with this, sounds good. A lot of things went right for the Spurs last season and it seems unlikely it'll all break that way again.
So Miami vs. Oklahoma City in the Finals, and of course the Heat will win again. #Boring
We've published "everyday dialogue I adopted from The Simpsons" posts not once, not twice, but thrice now, so here's the...uh, quorce edition? Yes, quorce, that's a perfectly cromulent word.
"I was unaware! I was unaware!" "Excuse me, Professor Brainiac…" "It's the least I can do. Well, the least I can do is absolutely nothing but I'll do you one better!" "If we don't come back, avenge our deaths!" "Hot stuff, coming through!" "How do you figure, boy?" "Ah, that's better. I can ride a bike again!" "Looks like it's suicide again for me." "And that's the end of THAT chapter." "Speed holes. They make the car go faster." "This both sucks and blows." "And that's the end of THAT chapter!" "You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel." "Par-tee down?" "Yes!" "Have the Rolling Stones killed." "Mmmm….64 slices of American cheese." "Be quiet, you awful man!" "Those are chock full of……heady goodness!" "Sit perfectly still. Only I may dance." "He's got me there." "This isn't a bleeding…splish-splash show." "Oh you'll pay. Don't think you won't pay!" "Why does it have to be zany?" "I've seen plays that were better than this. Honest to god, PLAYS!"
I, a 31-year-old man, still wore my Superman logo t-shirt when I went to see "Man Of Steel" on its opening day this past summer. I couldn't help it, despite the fact that between the shirt and my bald giant freak head, I look sort like Sloth from the Goonies. Still, a kid on the streetcar happily pointed at my shirt and said, "Superman!" and I high-fived him, so it was totally worth it.
It says something about modern society that Superman is seen as a passé or dated heroic archetype. Even worse, the best filmmakers can do with Superman is make him into a thinly-veiled Christ figure --- yeah, since THAT'll make him relatable. Superman isn't meant to be a messiah or a boy scout or a "symbol of a failed America" as Frank Miller would have you believe, but in the end, he's just a great guy who always does the right thing. People flail to add layers to Superman's character but he Always. Does. The. Right. Thing. He can struggle with what the right thing is, but he'll always make the right choice in the end because he's a fictional character and they can do that.
There is no malice or arrogance in Superman. You can argue that Bruce Wayne's work as the Batman makes him a psychotic or if he's endangering Gotham by opening it up to a greater level of psychopath; 80% of all Spider-Man stories hinge on how being Spidey has been a raw deal for Peter Parker; Wolverine is in many ways a lunatic. Superman, however, is just a good guy who does good deeds because they need to be done. This sort of matter-of-fact goodness is what makes Superman such an enduring hero. If I met someone who said they were living their lives by following Superman's example, that'd be a little weird but generally, I'd be in favour of this person's way of life. If I met someone who patterned themselves after the Punisher, I'd be looking for an exit.
Hey, forget about Superman, I also idolized Clark Kent. In some small way, I firmly believe that I'm a journalist today because Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry and the rest of the Daily Planet gang made being a reporter seem like the coolest job in the world. Didn't the Daily Planet ever need a sportswriter? I could totally move to Metropolis, provided I could find decent rental insurance given that half the city is destroyed every other month.
While we're on the subject, Lois Lane! Lois was the best. Sure, there were 10-15 years there when Lois was presented merely as a schemer looking to win/steal Superman's heart, but for the most part, Lois Lane stands out as an iconic comic character in her own right. Hell, I'd argue she's probably the greatest female comic book character of all time, given how Wonder Woman's premise changes every decade (honourable mention to Storm or Invisible Woman). In any incarnation, however, Lois has always been a hell of a reporter. How many generations of journalists have been inspired to get into the business due to Lois Lane?
If my Supes fandom wasn't enough, my buddy Kyle wrote an entire Ph.D. paper about Superman at Western a few years ago. While I'm not officially cited as a source since (in layman's terms) didn't contribute a damn thing, I feel I was the Mr. Mxyzptlk to Kyle's Superman on this essay.
In honour of Superman's 75th anniversary, Zack Snyder and Bruce Timm produced this animated short that details his history. Me, I'm just going to blast the John Williams Superman score on my car radio while driving up and down Joe Shuster Way in Toronto. To each their own.
I'm only 31 for a couple more weeks, so I've got to get this Garfunkel & Oates song posted sooner rather than later. Also, Garfunkel & Oates are AWESOME. Super-catchy songs, very funny lyrics, what's not to like? Apparently they're getting their own TV show next year, which has legit Flight Of The Conchords potential. Oooh, crossover!
This is my 1000th post on this blog. It might not always be --- it's possible I go back and erase an old post, or drastically rewrite something, or realize I've saved a draft somewhere in the archives that counts in my number total, etc. It's a pretty fluid situation as far as milestones go, which kind of sums up this blog's existence.
I'm probably going to continue blogging for the rest of my life, which seems like an odd thing to say. "Blogs" will probably exist in one form or another as long as the internet exists*, even if this specific Blogger outlet no longer functions or the idea of an old-fashioned "blog" goes out of style. Hell, it probably already has. Several of my friends who used to have lots of thoughts to share have now switched just to Tumblr or Instagram, communicating through pictures rather than words. Admittedly, that's because my friends are all getting into their late 20s/early 30s and it seems like a very teenage/early 20's university student thing to do, thinking that the world JUST HAS TO HEAR your brilliant opinions.
* = right? Well, who knows. In ten years time, I could have a kid, and upon seeing the old man sit down to write a blog post, Mark Jr. or Marquette would react with as much disdain as if I had been writing on a typewriter. Then again, good lord, would I not want my future kids to ever know I had a blog. "Geez Dad, you were really into Lost?"
Thanks to everyone who's been reading for the last eight years and you can probably look forward to eight more. I'll likely never get tired of posting weird pop culture items or writing about whatever comes to mind. Stay tuned for the 2000th post when I write a similarly half-assed "whoa, I guess this is an anniversary" item and then perhaps let my future child write a paragraph talking about how their dad is a technological dinosaur.
* Bryan Curtis writes about the tragedy of Maurice Stokes, his lifelong friendship with Jack Twyman and the creation of "The Stokes Game" in his honour. Terrific, moving story and one that has been somewhat lost over time given that Stokes died over 40 years ago.
* With "Gravity" kicking ass with critics and making a fortune at the box office, Emily Yoshida details the career of Alfonso Cuaron. I might as well take this opportunity to say that I LOVED "Gravity" and it's my favourite movie of the year thus far (sorry, "Mud"). Since Cuaron directed, co-wrote, co-produced and co-edited the film, I'm guessing he's walking away with at least one trophy on Oscar night, and it's very well deserved.
* Emily Yoshida is the MVP of this month's Other People's Writing, as here she is again for her retrospective of Myst on the 20th anniversary of the game's release. I must admit, I've never played Myst before in my life but the idea is pretty fascinating. It's one of those cases where I whole-heartedly support the concept and feel that more games like Myst should be made, even if I have no particular interest in playing such games myself. How magnanimous of me!
* Pros: Sean Fennessey's story about Harry Nilsson's life and career
is really good. Cons: It inspires one to actually listen to some of
Nilsson's music, which, yeah, didn't quite live up to the hype. Is it
possible I had the misfortune of picking Nilsson's four worst songs on a
random YouTube search? ("Without You" is excepted since it's not a
cover, not a real 'Nilsson song,' and because it's an awesome tune)
* And finally, we end on some pure insanity from Shea Serrano as he lists the top 15 splits of Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie career. It was either this or picking the top 15 splits of Gary Cooper's movie career, which would've been a lot harder. While we're discussing JCVD, I demand to know everything about how his current role in a GoDaddy ad campaign came about, since it is delightful.
As part of my ongoing effort to chronicle the Conan O'Brien/Jordan Schlansky rivalry and Zach Galifianakis' leapsintotalk show-hostinglegend, here is Conan battling wits with Jordan again, plus Zach interviewing Justin Bieber. Two things...
1. Bieber is one weird-looking dude.
2. Conan's staff needs their own show. Or, just a reality show of Sona going about her day in the office and/or dealing with Conan's nonsense.
The way the NHL's new alignment works is that the top three in each division make the playoffs, with two more wild cards coming from anywhere in the conference to fill out the postseason bracket. Also, the conferences aren't being ranked 1-8 based on record, there are intra-divisional playoff matchups to survive first. So for simplicity's sake, here's what I think the Stanley Cup playoff bracket will end up looking like….
Penguins vs. Maple Leafs Rangers vs. Capitals Bruins vs. Canadiens Senators vs. Red Wings Blackhawks vs. Oilers Blues vs. Jets Kings vs. Sharks Ducks vs. Canucks
The winners all move on to face each other in that order, so there's no more reshuffling of seeds after a round, either. So if, for instance, the Blackhawks and Blues end up posting the two highest point totals in the NHL, they'll be facing each other only in the second round, rather than a conference finals.
It's going to a weird season given these new divisions, some new rivalries created, some old rivalries (Red Wings against three of their old Original Six foes!) renewed and basically, the Eastern Conference teams getting hosed since there are 16 of them fighting for eight playoff spots while the Western Conference has 14 teams fighting for eight spots. Not that I'm suggesting the NHL expand when they still have a number of teams in shaky markets, but just for conference balance alone, they should get the Seattle Hipchecksters and the Albuquerque Heisenbergs up and running as soon as possible.
I'm down on my Leafs and frankly, I kind of doubt that they'll have another season of everything going right. I'm picking them to make the playoffs solely based on heart and nostalgia, rather than logic. Maybe the hockey gods had enough fun screwing the Leafs in Game Seven last year and are now content to just let them play. If nothing else, at least the Leafs will get some bad karma in the form of Dallas Eakins finally getting the Oilers to gel while Randy "Two Goons" Carlyle continues misusing young talent. I've got an old couch in my garage that apparently I could've traded for Joe Colborne last week except the Flames beat me to it.
From that aforementioned Stanley Cup bracket, I'm going to be as uncreative as possible and predict a Blackhawks vs. Penguins final, with Chicago taking down its second straight Cup and third in five seasons. The Hawks' young core is the envy of the league and they might have two or three more championships in them before they're through.