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.