Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Devouring "Serial"

I wouldn't say that LOST was my favourite TV show of all time, yet I was surely more into it than any other show I've ever watched.  By 'into,' I mean that in terms of discussing the show, reading about it online, arguing about theories and all of the other methods that mark 21st century pop culture fandom, I clearly spent more time on LOST than any other program, by far.  I wouldn't necessarily say that talking about the show was more fun than actually watching it (say what you will about the show "not answering enough questions" or not ending on a strong note, but LOST certainly delivered more than enough tremendous episodes to reward all of this fan obsession) but all of the theorization took on a separate life of its own.  For those who are just watching LOST for the first time now, I daresay that something would be missing from the overall experience by being years removed from all of the crazy internet message board speculation. 

This came to mind when I was listening to 'Serial,' the Sarah Koenig podcast that has become incredibly popular over the last months and developed its own world of online analysis (most notably on Reddit).  For those unaware of the podcast, a recap: Koenig is researching and investigating the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager killed in January 1999.  Adnan Syed, Lee's ex-boyfriend, was convicted of the murder and is still in jail to this day, and Koenig was first made aware of the case by an advocate who believes Syed is innocent and was railroaded by the criminal justice system.  Over each of the 12 episodes, Koenig looks at a different aspect of the original crime and Syed's subsequent trial.  It's about as exhaustive a look as can be expected, though there are naturally some major omissions --- Koenig's interview requests were declined by several major witnesses, the investigating detectives and the state prosector, plus Syed's defence attorney died several years ago.

Let's be clear, something like LOST is a fictional show, and Serial is a real-life situation.  It feels weird to say I'm a "fan" of Serial, per se, since obviously I take no enjoyment in this horrible crime.  It's very much worth noting that Hae Min Lee's family also declined to speak to Koenig, and one has to figure they're more than a little unsettled by her murder suddenly becoming a pop culture hot topic.  This isn't a "who killed Laura Palmer?" or "who shot J.R." --- Hae Min Lee was an actual person and deserves more than to be simply defined by her murder.

This being said, if you're going to spend a bunch of time analyzing something, there's more benefit to trying to figure out a violent crime than there is in, say, arguing about what the Smoke Monster is.  There has been an incredible amount of amateur sleuthing about every aspect of Serial, from looking at public record documents of Syed's trial to minute analysis of the cellphone records that form such a key part of the case.  Of course, this type of crowd-sourced detective work has led to no end of alternate theories and, frankly, some crackpot theories that would seem silly if they weren't making allegations about actual peoples' lives.

While Koenig was initially approached about the case as a way to exonerate Syed, she took a more pragmatic approach.  The very nature of the podcast seems to be an argument that Syed is innocent and that Serial is about discovering what REALLY happened, yet as the weeks went on, Koenig was careful to remain as neutral as possible.  Her final conclusion in the last episode was that Syed shouldn't have been convicted in court due to the very thin evidence presented at trial, though that doesn't necessarily mean Syed is actually innocent of the crime.  She quite openly admitted her own flip-flopping opinions of the case, thinking at certain points that Syed was innocent and at other times finding some pretty damning pieces of evidence.*

* = For all of the Serial critics who claim that the podcast is "championing a murderer," keep in mind that perhaps the biggest anti-Adnan point (producer Dana's "if he's innocent, then he must be the unluckiest person in the world for ALL of this stuff to go against him on that day" argument) was saved for the last 20 minutes of the last episode, almost as sort of a concluding statement.  I thought the placement of Dana's argument to be very telling and perhaps a hint as to the producers' true feelings about the case, though they didn't want to outright say it because everything was so circumstantial.

This unsettled nature only added to why the podcast was so fascinating.  Since it was real life, there was no promise of actual answers or a big conclusion in the final episode, and in general, there were stunningly few actual facts established about the case over the 12 episodes.  Almost every bit of evidence was circumstantial, leading to endless speculation about any tidbit of information --- a call pinging off a certain cellphone tower could be interpreted by some as proof that Syed is guilty, or interpreted by others as proof of his innocence.  Adding to the confusion and meta nature of Serial was that it was still evolving as the actual podcast was airing.  Koenig was still writing the episodes in real time, leading to things like other sources (Hae's then-boyfriend, a co-worker of sole witness Jay) coming forward to speak after hearing earlier episodes and wanting to clear some things up or add new details.  Of course, one could also note that these sources have now been influenced by Serial itself; perhaps their stories would've been different had they been willing to talk to Koenig when she was "just a reporter" initially, not to "a reporter on a nationally-known podcast."

It's for these reasons of source bias that I wonder how difficult it will be for Koenig and company to create their second season of Serial next fall.  Unless they've started already (which seems unlikely given how they were still so deep in the Hae Min Lee case), whatever case or story they choose to examine next will invariably now be impacted by the fact that Serial is now a thing.  I guess this doesn't necessarily make it different than any other news program, though there'd certainly be more internet focus on the subject of the next Serial rather than, say, the subject of a random 60 Minutes story. 

I actually wonder if the next series could almost be a continuation of the Hae Min Lee investigation, since the case just keeps evolving.  Thanks to Serial, Syed's case was taken on by The Innocence Project, and Syed is also trying to get an appeal heard in court.  There's also the fact that Jay has now gone on record with The Intercept, another media outlet, giving his side on the case (and providing, by the way, yet another timeline of what happened on 1/13/1999).  The whole thing is so fluid that you wonder if Koenig will, at the very least, give us one more episode to see how things have developed, or if the Innocence Project's requests for DNA testing on Hae's body reveals something truly earth-shattering.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

After Randomly Watching 'American Pie' On TV Last Night...

….I've decided it's time to update the career power rankings for the cast.  I last addressed this topic in February 2011 after a long chat with my friends, and while we were all in unanimous agreement on the top two, there was a ton of dispute about everyone else.  After a few more years of evaluation, some of the actors have continued to do jack-all in terms of notable roles, while a couple of others have gotten back into the game thanks to one particular show.  There was also the actual fourth AP movie, "American Reunion," that actually included all 10 of the principles but that doesn't really count in the rankings if that's *all* they've been doing.

(n.b. watching "American Pie" a whopping 15 years after its original release is quite an experience.  The fact that it's 25% dated and 25% unintentionally hilarious thanks to cheesiness and terrible acting actually only adds to the charm, since the other 50% generally holds up pretty well.  Also, for some reason, I can recall every single lyric from the song 'Laid.'  Who knew that James was good for something besides a completely un-Googlable band name?)

To recap the rules, we were counting just the core 10 kids from the original movie.  This discounted the likes of Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge, not to mention actors with minor parts like John Cho, Casey Affleck or Christina Milian.  Including those five would really blow the rankings out of whack, considering that Cho and Affleck could possibly be the top two, and those guys don't exactly leap to mind when you think of 'American Pie.'  Onto the new rating!

10. Shannon Elizabeth (previous ranking: 7)
9. Thomas Ian Nicholas (8): The bottom five are all rather in the same boat as actors who have been pretty consistently working, so I'm forced to just essentially rank how large and notable the parts were.  Elizabeth goes last since she's been in virtually nothing of note, with ol' Rowengartner himself a close second-last. 

8. Chris Klein (4): Klein's first two roles were major parts in AP and "Election," so I guess he couldn't help but go downhill from there.  His hopes of becoming a major lead were probably scotched by the "Rollerball" remake --- Bill Simmons (of all people) put it best when he noted that Klein comes off a poor man's Keanu Reeves, which isn't a very high ceiling.     

7. Eddie Kaye Thomas (5)
6. Mena Suvari (9)
: A couple of grinders, just puttin' in work in show after show in minor guest roles.  They go ahead of Elizabeth, TIN and Klein on sheer volume if nothing else.  Fun fact, I had no idea that Thomas has been a voice on 'American Dad' for years and I've seen literally every episode of that show.  Also, I couldn't help but lump these two together due to the American Pie/American Dad/American Beauty connection.  Hell, Klein was in 'American Dreamz,' maybe I should've lumped I'm in here too.  Suvari gets the edge since she at least has "major part in a Best Picture winner" on her resume.

5. Tara Reid (6): This was a tough one to evaluate.  Remember, the goal is to rank everyone's post-AP career over the 15 years in total, not just where they are right now.  Reid scored some notable parts in the years immediately after AP and then, welllll, there was the whole "became a living joke" thing.  Still, you could argue she should be even higher if you're one of those who thinks that there's no such thing as bad publicity.  Consider that in terms of name value, most people can identify Tara Reid by name.  If you say to someone, "hey, how about that Eddie Kaye Thomas," they won't know who the hell you're talking about.

4. Natasha Lyonne (10): Hindsight being 20-20, she deserved to be higher than tenth last time since she was still working pretty steadily, despite some Reid-esque tabloid issues.  But, let's be honest, she makes the big leap this time due to "Orange Is The New Black."  Major supporting role on a hugely popular and critically-acclaimed show?  That's easily enough to shoot up the ladder.

3. Jason Biggs (3): He retains his ranking also thanks in large part to OITNB, even though his character is easily the least-interesting element of the show.  Biggs had his share of lead roles in the wake of American Pie, though things were just starting to slow down for him before OITNB came along.

2. Seann William Scott (2): I mentioned the name-value thing earlier on, and admittedly that's a bit of a weak argument considering that 85% of the world would identify Scott only as 'Stifler' at all times.  Despite that, this dude's been (borderline inexplicably) pulling down notable movie roles for years now, so he has a firm grasp on the #2 slot.

1. Alyson Hannigan (1): She was already on Buffy when AP was released, so she admittedly had something of a head start on the rest of her castmates.  But following Buffy up with How I Met Your Mother was just piling on…major roles on not one, but two of the notable TV series of the last 20 years?  Game over man, game over.  According to IMDB, Hannigan and Bill Paxton have never worked together, so I'm not really sure why I used that line, but whatever.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

If you watched basically any TV show from 1940 to 1998, you saw Eric Christmas' face.

Christmas trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, gained experience in English repertory theatre in 1936, and had a principal role in the London production of Noel Coward's "Bitter Sweet" in the 1930s. During the Second World War, he was a member of Royal Air Force production units and performed in the RAF's Gang Show. After moving to Canada in 1948, he started a long association with television comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, playing the character Madam Hooperdink. His own show "Christmas is Coming" toured Canada in the 1950s. He was artistic director at the Ottawa Repertory Company in 1954 and ran the Peterborough Summer Theatre that year. He began a long association with Canada's Stratford Festival in 1957, performing in 12 seasons and 21 Shakespearean productions until 1970. It was Christmas and a group of veteran actors like William Hutt, Tony Van Bridge, Jean Gascon, Douglas Rain, Amelia Hall, and Mervyn Blake (among others) who helped define Stratford in its early years. His final appearance at Stratford was 1987, when he played Dogberry in "Much Ado About Nothing." Christmas also had associations over the years with the Canadian Players, San Diego's Globe Theatre, and the drama department at the University of California at San Diego. He and his first wife had three children (Robin, Holly, Kailee), six grandchildren.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Nonsense

A quick Google search reveals I'm not the first clever wit to describe the show Gracepoint as 'Gracepointless' since it's such a needless remake of Broadchurch.  Then again, I feel safe in repeating the pun anyway since what the hell, needless copies are the theme of the day.

I'm late to the party on Broadchurch (having just watched the series on Netflix) so let me be just another voice to the overwhelming chorus of praise the show has received.  It definitely lends itself to a bingewatch --- having started one episode in mid-afternoon, I ended up watching the entire season before midnight since I am an absolute sucker for a) high-quality British TV, and b) mysteries.  It's probably natural for anyone who enjoys an original series to naturally balk at a remake, yet in the case of Gracepoint, I'm clearly not alone in wondering why FOX bothered with Americanizing the series.  It's 95% the same plot.  It's the same lead actor (David Tennant's entire involvement in Gracepoint makes little sense unless he's simply using it as a way to familiarize himself to the U.S. market).  Several of the scenes are shot and framed in the same way.  It's even mostly the exact same character names.

The whole idea of 'Americanizing' a movie or TV show seems quaint in today's media landscape.  Foreign shows aren't, pardon the pun, foreign to North America since so much is now available on platforms like Netflix.  FOX clearly thinks little of its audience if it presumes that Americans won't be able to fully grasp a mystery set in the far-off, alien land of….uh, England unless it's been translated into a U.S. setting.  I can't help but be reminded of David Fincher version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a wholly pointless American adaptation of the novel that came barely two years after the Swedish adaptations of the entire trilogy.  For those who'd seen the Swedish movies, Fincher's movie couldn't have been any more unnecessary or, frankly, inferior given how well Noomi Rapace and company pulled it off.  (Even if the last two could've easily been combined into a single movie.)

If you've never heard of Broadchurch but enjoyed Gracepoint, drop everything and get caught up on the original.  Why bother with dinner theatre when Broadway is right there?

I'm including this link simply because I seem to be chronicling all of the Conan O'Brien/Jordan Schlansky interactions, though admittedly, this is one of the weaker instalments.

As poorly as the Packers offence played in Buffalo last week, I'm actually responsible for the team's loss.  I was out at a Boston Pizza to watch the game and, as part of a promotion, the restaurant had a Santa Claus in to entertain the children.  Once in a while Santa would stroll into the bar area to toss down three shots of Jack Daniels check on the football scores, and it turned out Santa was a big Bills fan.  Now, come on, what kind of bad karma is this?  I'm in the one bar in the world with a Bills-supporting Santa Claus?  Ugh.

I'm also responsible for that Leafs loss to the Hurricanes, as I recently dreamed that I flipped over to a Toronto/Carolina game and the Leafs had a 20-0 lead.  And after two periods!  Ok, so this one was slightly more unlikely, as you rarely see 20-0 hockey scores.  If one does happen, however, you can bet Korbinian Holzer will be playing for the losing team.  How can a guy with such a badass name be so terrible at hockey?

While we're on the subject of the Leafs, as a diehard fan, I'm obliged to hate everything about the Boston Bruins except a) Bobby Orr, b) that time Cam Neely beat the hell out of a turtling Claude Lemieux, and c) this kid.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Survivor Ratings: Natalie

As a big fan of The Amazing Race, few teams have annoyed me as much as Natalie & Nadiya Anderson, a.k.a. "The Twinnies," a.k.a. the twin sister duo who yammered and carried on like fools over two seasons of the show.  (Though they were the first one eliminated in their second appearance, thankfully.)  So it was with no small amount of surprise that I found myself really rooting for Natalie as she made her way through Survivor.  For the segment of the Survivor-watching fan populace that doesn't watch the Race, she seems to be one of the most popular players ever.

Then again, I think of how my brother and I would act if we were ever teamed in a race around the world, and if we lasted even a leg before coming to blows, it'd be a minor miracle.  Audiences would be left thinking, "geez, those two meatheads are in their 30's and they're still sniping and arguing like children."  So while Natalie's Survivor edit surely plays a role, I must admit that I look back on her Amazing Race performances with a bit more sympathy now.
How She Won: Technically you could say Natalie won via alliance, yet her original grouping of herself/Missy/Baylor/Jeremy/Julie (plus Jon & Jaclyn) sprung so many leaks along the way that it took some deft gameplay to avoid every problem.  For one, you had Julie quitting right after the merge.  Secondly, her group needed to woo the Jon/Jaclyn swing votes that led to Josh's ouster.  Then Natalie faced her biggest problem, which was that Jon/Jaclyn swung back to the other alliance to vote out Jeremy, her closest ally.  Rather than go vengeful at that point, however, Natalie decided revenge was a dish best served cold and bided her time to ditch Jon, instead using he and Jaclyn to get rid of Wes, Reed and Alec.

Remember, if it hadn't been for Natalie speaking up after Keith's "stick to the plan" goof at Tribal Council, Jon would've been blindsided out with an idol in his pocket and left Natalie/Jaclyn/Missy/Baylor going up evenly against Reed/Alec/Wes/Keith and being at a decided disadvantage in immunity challenges.  Natalie could've taken the easy short-term play of eliminating Jon then, but she took the longer view and it worked to her advantage.

After finally ditching Jon, she then went total ninja and voted out Baylor, who'd been her closest ally in the latter stage of the game.  It was an ice-cold move that was very well thought out --- after seeing how Missy turned on her allegedly tight pairing with Jon, Natalie was right to suspect that Missy might do the same to her.  (This move also undoubtedly won some jury votes given how unpopular Baylor and Missy seemed amongst the jury.)

Through two Blood vs. Water seasons now, I think it's fair to say that it's a real advantage to having your loved one eliminated early, or at least it's a disadvantage to still being in a twosome very deep into the game.  As we saw in S27, Tyson, Gervase and Monica essentially formed an alliance of 'singles' and rode it all the way to the end.  This season, Natalie lost Nadiya after the very first Tribal Council and never got any chance to actually play with her sister, though it likely helped her a ton when it came to the final moments.  Jon/Jaclyn and Missy/Baylor always had to keep one eye out for what their loved one was doing, whereas Natalie could focus entirely on herself and her own plans.

To that same end, I wonder if it isn't also generally a good thing to lose your alliance partner relatively early in the game, a la Natalie and Jeremy.  While Nat was surely annoyed by the play, Missy/Baylor weren't turning on her --- they were just getting rid of a big threat in Jeremy.  Frankly, Natalie herself probably looks to ditch Jeremy at some point down the line anyway.  That said, Missy/Baylor going behind Natalie's back to eliminate Jeremy made them dead to her, and merely game pieces to be used rather than your standard "let's go to the end together, gang" alliance partners.  This generally seemed like a pretty laid-back cast that, judging by most of the jury questions*, were okay with getting voted out and realized it was just a game.  Natalie's business-like approach really appealed to them, as opposed to the games of Jaclyn and Missy that were so centred around their loved ones; the jury just saw them as halves of a whole player, while Natalie was see as her own person.

* = The exception, of course, was Reed's instantly legendary "evil stepmother" speech to Missy, though that was probably more about Reed wanting a big moment for himself on TV than it was about him being truly upset.

Skillset: Quite an impressive social player, which was again a fairly stunning development to Race watchers.  Natalie also more than held her own in challenges, and was competitive in virtually everything, physical or mental.  I've got to tip my cap to Dale, as in the very first episode, he warned his tribe about Nadiya by saying, essentially, "I've seen the Race and these two are dangerous, let's get rid of her right now."  I can't say that Nadiya would've played as well as her sister had she stuck around, but Dale was right, the Twinnies were a force to be reckoned with.

Could She Do It Again
: Now that I finally updated my ranking of Survivor winners, it's already a relic thanks to another season.  Sigh.  The ranking might be outdated in another way since it's hard to say that Natalie doesn't deserve a very high placement --- I'm hard-pressed to necessarily find a real weak spot in her game.  Good at challenges, good social player, found an idol, very smart strategically…what am I missing here?

As noted earlier, Natalie had to do a fair amount of scrambling despite her fairly solid position in an alliance, making it one of my favourite types of Survivor wins -- one that's equal parts dominant (to show how a player owned their season) and improvised (to show how a player can scramble).  It really shows off a player's strengths to win in such a way, and you could almost say that Natalie's victory is only a slightly lesser version of a Kim Spradlin-esque evisceration of the game.  The only thing keeping Natalie from the really top tier is that her life in the game essentially hinged on nobody voting her out at F4, yet even that was set up by her own decision to keep Keith around over Alec.  If Alec had been around at the end, Missy or Jaclyn are likely more apt to keep him because he's a total goat for FTC.  With likeable challenge-monster Keith still in the game, however, Natalie could realistically point to Keith as a bigger jury threat, leading Jaclyn/Missy to vote for him instead of her.  My guess is that a Natalie/Jaclyn/Keith final three probably leads to a Natalie victory anyway, though Nat should be credited for taking the easier path to a win.

I also guess that Natalie would face long odds at a repeat if she made another appearance on Survivor.  If Dale and company were already wary of the Twinnies before they ever set foot on the beach, future players will be even more worried of Natalie in a return appearance.  Clearly, Natalie's best strategy would be to return but say she's Nadiya --- everyone'll be like "oh, no problem, it's the 'bad' twin," and then be caught off-guard as Nat romps her way to victory again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good Commercial/Bad Commercial

John Lewis, the British department store, apparently has a tradition of making a superb ad every Christmas that everyone in the UK promptly goes mad over.  This year's instalment is the lovely tale of Monty the Penguin, and his quest to win a major golf championship find true love.  Of course, Monty doesn't find it himself, his child owner/friend simply buys a female penguin, and thus the real underlying message is that John Lewis supports the indentured servitude that is the mail-order bride system.  Shameful on you, department store.  Fortunately you won me back with that gorgeous cover of John Lennon's "Real Love."


Toronto is hosting the 2015 Pan-Am Games and the hype has begun in the form of this weirdly aggressive commercial.  As in, the athletes are literally invading Toronto and there's nothing the city can do about it.  "Ready or not," they're on the way and "you can't hide."  So on the bright side, at least the guys from the Delfonics are getting a royalty cheque.  But there are oh so many more downsides…

* a song called "Ready Or Not" about an event in Canada, and neither Amanda or Busy could make a cameo??

* why is the entire city deserted?  Are the athletes coming not to compete, but to ward off the zombie horde that has apparently overtaken the city?

* is the "ready or not" theme really the right tone you want to strike for an event that's had some issues in having venues and transportation arrangements finalized for July?

There's just such a tone of grim inevitability in this ad.  Since cities in general are getting more and more wary of paying big money for the "honour" of hosting these major sporting events, it's almost like the commercial is telling Torontonians that the Games are coming, so just shut up and enjoy them.  And these the Pan-Am Games, a.k.a. the poor man's Olympics!  The Olympics are a big enough joke as it is and would cost Toronto probably four times as much to host, but at least they're something the world somewhat cares about --- has anyone ever given a crap about the Pan-Am Games aside from the host city?

To that end, there's still a stunningly high number of Torontonians who have no idea what the Pan-Am Games are, or that their city is hosting them in the summer, or what exactly these games will do to life in town.  If Toronto traffic gridlock is a nightmare even under normal circumstances, having the Pan-Am Games involved will take things to Freddy Krueger levels for six weeks.  Perhaps the deserted city of the commercial is meant to symbolize how everyone Toronto will simply get the hell out of town for the entirety of July.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hot! Live! Music! (U2 edition)

In honour of the two U2 concerts I'll be attending this summer, this edition of Hot! Live! Music! is dedicated to the greatest live band of all time. (Okay, this is technically just my opinion, but it's pretty objectively close to being true.)  Let's stroll through past U2 tours…

* "Every Breaking Wave" from the MTV Europe Video Awards
We can't represent anything from the Innocence & Experience Tour since, y'know, it hasn't started yet, though U2 has been just killing it with this stripped-down version of EBW at several different promotional appearances.  This'll be a showstopper come the next tour.

* "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from the 360 Tour
An underrated dark-horse choice as the most popular U2 song of the last 20 years.  Man, am I glad the band brought this one back out of mothballs. 

* "Original of the Species" from the Vertigo Tour
As Bono said, they hadn't quite figured out how to play this one live, as the album version was so heavy on strings and keyboards.  Still…man, if this was "not quite figured out" then just imagine what a version they were 100% comfortable with would've sounded like.

* "In God's Country" from the Elevation Tour
Somewhat of a forgotten gem from U2's past, and it sounds almost as good in acoustic form as it does with the entire band driving away at it.

* "New Year's Day" from the PopMart Tour
So much energy, so much drive in this song, and Bono's voice literally just soars.  Ok, I'm technically misusing the word 'literally' but screw it.

* "One," by Bono, Edge, Brian Eno and an orchestra
Bit of a cheat here since it isn't really U2, it's only two of the guys teaming with Brian Eno at the Pavarotti & Friends concert.  Still a gorgeous version of the song, even if Eno is completely extraneous.  Hey Brian, no need for the backing vocal, Edge is already on it.

* "Where The Streets Have No Name," Zoo TV 1992
What better place to end things than with the greatest live song of all time.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Other People's Writing

* Chris Rock has been all over the place with terrific, insightful interviews with a number of different media outlets while promoting his 'Top Five' movie.  In fact, it's gotten to the point where you can probably make a list of your top five Chris Rock interviews from the last two weeks.  Tops on everyone's list, however, would almost have to be this outstanding talk with Vulture's Frank Rich covering every topic under the sun.

* A sprawling, all-over-the-place story by Grantland's Brian Phillips about both modern sumo wrestling and a failed coup attempt in Japan in 1970.  The two topics, Phillips readily admits, have nothing to do with each other yet addressing them at the same time seems almost fitting for a story set amidst the epic convergence of the past and present that is Tokyo.

* It's a simple question: Grantland's Jason Concepcion wonders if Kevin McCallister from 'Home Alone' grew up to be Jigsaw from the 'Saw' movies.  It all checks out.

* More or less the history of 20th/21st century pro wrestling in North America, as chronicled by Dan O'Sullivan of Jacobin.  The definitive novel (or really, you'd need a series of novels) about pro wrestling's history has yet to be written, but consider this an appetizer.

* So, I wrote my review of Gone Girl earlier this week and was pretty pleased with it, yet I'm just a speck on the beach compared to Wesley Morris' fantastic reviews.  Morris kills it week after week at Grantland, including this wonderful breakdown of GG.  Describing Rosamund Pike's performance as "a mix of salt, honey and antifreeze" is awesomely poetic stuff.  You know you're reading good writing when you disagree with the basic premise (I clearly liked Gone Girl a lot more than Morris did) yet I agree with every point he makes.

* More movie-writing, as Grantland's Alex Pappademas looks at Interstellar within the tradition of other milestone space exploration films, ranging from 2001 to Solaris to Star Trek to Contact.  There's even a mention of 'Sunshine' in there, perhaps the greatest "movie undone by its final 30 minutes" of all time.  Two-thirds of the way through Sunshine, I legit thought I was watching an iconic masterpiece but things just really went south.

* Every NBA team's top celebrity fan is broken down by Grantland's Shea Serrano in this colourful series of graphics.  I love the idea of these people actually all sitting in a row, so Danny Trejo is just hating life stuck between Macklemore and Justin Timberlake…what in the world would those three have to talk about?  I have to wonder if Fred Armisen is actually a Trail Blazers fan, but really, any excuse to post this sketch.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Pepsi vs. Arby's

You have to love it when corporations can poke fun at themselves...seriously, you have to.  You are legally obligated based on agreeing to a terms & conditions webpage years ago, and boy, don't you now wish you'd read that thing all the way through?

As someone who has eaten at Arby's exactly one time in his life, I'm still pretty confident that Pepsi is the tastiest thing on the menu.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Movie Review Jamboree

It is the height of laziness to compare Steve Carell's role as John du Pont in "Foxcatcher" to his most famous role as Michael Scott, but here it goes.  Both men live in Pennsylvania.  Both men have complicated relationships with their mothers.*  Both are yearning to be seen as both leaders of men and as 'one of the guys,' yet also are painfully incapable of making friends.  That's about where the comparisons end since, y'know, Michael never shot anyone** and was only borderline pathological, as opposed to all-out crazy.  It's a tremendous performance for Carell, who somewhat uses his reputation as a comedian and a generally-likable actor to keep us on our toes about du Pont.  On paper, he seems creepy as hell, but since it's Carell under all that makeup, maaaaybe there's a chance things will all turn out okay.

* = I'll never understand why 'The Office' never actually introduced Michael's mom in an episode.  They stretched this show out for umpteen years and introduced such inane plots as the whole Robert California era and Angela literally trying to have Dwight assassinated, yet the writers couldn't come up with a way to unlock the potential goldmine of Mrs. Scott as a recurring character?  For shame.

** = though he did hit Meredith with his car

Spoiler alert: they don't.  'Foxcatcher' is one of my favourite kinds of psychological thrillers, where relatively little capital-H Happens plot-wise, yet you never shake the feeling of mounting dread and the sense that the axe is just waiting to fall on someone.  Beyond Carell, Channing Tatum is perfectly cast as the proudly insecure Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo equally so as the much more confident and comfortable-in-his-own-skin older brother Dave Schultz.  Tatum and Ruffalo absolutely look and act like they've been on wrestling mats their entire lives. 

Really good movie here, arguably the best yet from Bennett Miller which is saying something considering his brief but strong resume.  It's also strange that, in another universe, "eccentric billionaire played by Steve Carell decides to fund a wrestling team and takes a somewhat dim young wrestler played by Channing Tatum under his wing" is absolutely the setup for a hilarious comedy. 


"John Wick" is not a particularly good movie, though I'm a sucker for the particular action movie trope it used to great effect.  I love it when the hero is just such a badass that the villains literally say things like "Wait, we messed with WHO?!  Oh…no" and immediately start arming themselves as if they were preparing to face an entire army.  Frankly, it would've been fun to see this spread across the entire movie rather than just the first 25-30 minutes before Wick has some moments of fallibility. 


As a child of the 1990's, I was almost obliged to see "Dumb & Dumber To" but my god, could the commercials have made it harder on me?  Each ad proved to be more laugh-free than the last, and honestly, had it not been for a free film due to me on my Scene card, I might've skipped it.  I should've skipped it.  :(  You'll notice that the various ads and trailers exactly zero funny jokes, though I'm pleased to report that there were at least a few laughs throughout the entire film.  Four, to be exact --- one legitimately funny gag and three mild chuckles.  I laughed more than that during "The Number 23" and Jim Carrey wasn't even intending that to be a comedy.


On the flip side is "Fury," which was a familiar sort of WWII soldier story very solidly told.  You'll get your standard scenes of the rookie soldier being in over his head, the introductions of the mixed-bag tank crew, and yet the cliched "soldiers encounter civilians" scene was a real standout.  It goes for roughly 20 minutes, runs the gamut from comic relief to incredibly tense, and you never have any idea whatsoever where the scene is going.  Good performances all around from Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf (yes really, LaBeouf was actually pretty good here!) and one of my favourite underrated actors, Michael Pena.  This guy will certainly have a slot in my next instalment of Actors Who Should Be More Famous.  Overall, "Fury" could've only been better had the final line between Lerman and Pitt had been "tanks for the memories."


I never read "Gone Girl," but from everything I've read about the book in the wake of the movie (and, specifically, several people's criticisms of the movie), it leaves the reader very unclear as to whether or not Nick is innocent or guilty.  The film could've achieved that same thing had they cut the one little line of Affleck saying "Amy?" when he returns to the house the first time.  That one line lets us know he didn't do it.  If he just walked in, saw the broken glass table, smash cut to the cops arriving, that keeps us up in the air about what's happening.

I think it's that one little scene that really affects how one views the film.  If you never open yourself up to the idea that Nick was a killer, you're automatically on his side the entire time, which makes David Fincher's film less an examination of male/female marriage dynamic and more "So I Married A Knife-Murderer."  This was an important distinction for me and, in my view, a flaw --- without the whodunit aspect, you're left with a movie that is rehashing some very tired satirical points about how the mass media operates.  So if you don't buy into the whodunit and (like me) you tend to roll your eyes at hackneyed "boy, TV really twists things around, man" talking points, then you're left with the cat and mouse dynamic between Amy and Nick.  Fortunately, this is so strong that it's enough to carry the film on it's own, and it'll help make GG worthwhile to watch on repeat viewings even after you know all of the twists.

A note about the ending, however, since while the Amy/Nick stuff was awesome, even that is slightly undone by the conclusion.  It gives in just a little too much to the movie's desire to be a cutting satire.  It's not nearly in the ballpark of Fincher's "The Game," a film that was 95% incredible and then completely undone by a travesty of an ending, yet I can't help but feel that GG could've somehow ended on a stronger note.  Perhaps I should read the book (y'know, at least check out the Wikipedia entry) to compare it with how Gillian Flynn ended things on the page, though since she also wrote the screenplay, you can't argue Fincher went against authorial intent.  

Don't get me wrong, GG is a very good, well-made and unsettling movie.  (I guess 'unsettling' is almost a given since it's a Fincher.)  I cannot say enough about Rosamund Pike's instant classic of a performance, and she is merely the headliner of an overall exceptional cast.  Between this film and 'The Leftovers,' 2014 might be the year of Carrie Coon.  Kim Dickens could, and should, get some Oscar consideration for turning a theoretically pretty standard role into a great supporting turn.  Tyler Perry goes some nice work here, which is a sentence I never thought I'd write.  And then you have Ben Affleck, an actor I've never really warmed to, yet who wisely turns into the skid by playing up his own image in Nick's skin.  Let's be honest, we can all easily picture Affleck wasting a day on the couch playing video games when he's supposed to be working, much to the consternation of Jennifer Garner/J-Lo/Matt Damon/etc.  You can completely buy Affleck as a lout, but well-meaning enough that he certainly doesn't deserve all of the crap that's foisted upon him in this movie (though again, the fact that the movie more or less makes you so clearly take Nick's side is a mistake, in my opinion).  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hot! Live! Music!

* Queen, performance at Live Aid 1985
One of the most heralded live performances by not only Queen, but by ANY band in history.  This is literally as good as a 25-minute medley can get, complete with the brilliant idea of using 'Bohemian Rhapsody' as a through-line that carries throughout the entire performance.  Any chunk of this stands on its own as a clip, though the 'Radio Gaga' segment is particularly classic.  Did anyone ever have more charisma than Freddie Mercury?  The answer is no.

* Puddles Pity Party, "Hallelujah"
The whole Puddles experience was covered in a Grantland article a few months back, and I guess there's no better way to prove that this guy can really sing than by seeing him perform one of the all-time showcase songs.

* Bush and Gwen Stefani, "Glycerine"
So, Stefani and Rossdale are Highlanders or something, right?  How in the world have these two not aged in 20 years?

* Blue Rodeo, "Hasn't Hit Me Yet"
It is very difficult to find a live version of this song that isn't overwhelmed by either screaming fans or the audience simply singing the entire thing themselves.  This is actually one of the lesser instances of audience takeovers, if you can believe it.  Canadians love this song; you could probably talk at least 20% of the population into making it our new national anthem.  Fun story about this song, my friends Matt and Jen recently got married and had a guy playing acoustic guitar as they were walking up and down the aisle.  The musician was looking for a good song to play as the two were leaving the altar, and played some of this tune as a suggestion.  It was a lovely rendition and we were all in agreement for a few minutes…before realizing "wait, this is a breakup song."  So instead, on the actual wedding day, the choice was a more traditional song, namely Cameo's "Word Up."

* U2, "California"
This is both a great performance and a teaser for next month's Hot Live Music, which is going to be just an explosion of U2 stuff (fair warning).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Leaving Gotham

So 'Gotham' recently had its midseason finale, giving me a solid jumping-off point to stop watching.  Last year I wrote about five ways in which a "young James Gordon" show could or couldn't work, and to some extent, all five were incorporated into the actual show…which is the problem.  'Gotham' is trying to be all things to all people and it's resulting in a watered-down show.  Let's break things down according to my five thoughts on how they could've done this program...

1. Jim Gordon stars in Your Basic Police Procedural
"It could very well be that "Gotham" becomes a more comic geek-friendly version of Mentalist, with the GCPD solving a new case every week and maybe one larger arc (a la the hunt for Mentalist's "Red John" serial killer) taking place over the entire series."

About half of the episodes have indeed featured Gordon and Bullock solving stand-alone cases, and the other half have been centred around the larger arc of Gotham's mob war and the Wayne murders.  The problem is that the second arc is just so overwhelmingly big that it overshadows regular business.  Gotham is so cartoonishly corrupt* that it's hard to go from episodes where Gordon is being strong-armed (by his own partner!) into allegedly killing the Penguin or arresting the mayor and bursting into a mob boss' mansion to episodes where Gordon is just back on the job investigating some random crime.  Gotham is presented as such a cesspool that it makes Gordon look, frankly, like an idiot for staying in town.  Ben McKenzie's one-note performance isn't helping matters. 

* = Literally half of Captain Essen's dialogue is some variation of "it's Gotham, Gordon!" or "that's how things are in Gotham!" to explain why something outlandishly shady has happened.  If you took a shot anytime Essen or any of the other characters had a line like this, you'd have alcohol poisoning on almost a weekly basis. 

2. Jim Gordon stars in Bigville (aka a fan-servicey Smallville-type show)
Hmm, that police forensic examiner loves speaking in riddles!  I wonder if he's really the Riddler?  Or wow, that little girl named Ivy, maybe she'll grow up to be Poison Ivy?!  And I dunno if you realized this, but Cat more than likely grows up to be Catwoman! ZOMG! 

If "notice a shoehorned reference to a Batman villain" was also part of your drinking game, forget alcohol poisoning, you'd be dead.  In the first 10 episodes alone, we've seen Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Bane, Black Mask, Zsasz, Hush and Dollmaker either directly shown or at least referenced.  If you count Falcone and Maroni are 'Batman villains' (which I guess they are, though not of the colourful villain variety), then that makes it twelve.  The most recent episode ended with Gordon being assigned security detail at Arkham Asylum, so dollars to doughnuts that we'll see Hugo Strange and Jonathan 'Scarecrow' Crane pop up sooner or later.  This show isn't subtle about anything, least of all how it's cramming in as many familiar characters as possible, timeline or logic be damned.  I'm astounded we haven't seen the Joker yet, that seems to be the only person the show is hesitant about referencing.

3. Jim Gordon stars in James Gordon: Year One
Of course, having some Batman references are necessary, since as I wrote last year, "I don't want the series to be overwhelmed by Batman-related stuff, but obviously the series needs SOME reference to the source material, otherwise what'd be the point?  Setting the series too far before Batman's emergence would negate too much of the mythology, and also cut out some of the intrigue in Gordon's actual personal life."  The problem is simply overload.

Since I referenced Gordon's personal life, the Barbara Keen character is another issue.  She has no role on the show other than to be a damsel in distress for Gordon to worry about, and the next hint of chemistry between McKenzie and Erin Richards will be their first.  I guess I should be thankful that they haven't had kids yet, since the way this show operates, we'd have a scene of a toddler Barbara Gordon wearing a cape and using her blankie to swing down into her crib.

4. Jim Gordon stars in Gotham Central
Words can't express how much I would've rather seen Gotham Central adapted to a TV show rather than 'Gotham.'  Instead, we get a show where the entire force literally leaves the precinct rather than help Gordon confront Zsasz, yet Gordon just shows up for work the next day.  Unbelievable.

5. Jim Gordon stars in (Just Before) Batman Begins
If FOX was so anxious to have so much Batman-related material in the show, then this honestly might've been the better option.  Set the show a few years before Batman's official emergence, so you can have all of the villains in their early stages yet not so early that it makes Gordon look incompetent.  The way 'Gotham' is structured now, after all, ensures that Gordon will never stop Falcone, Maroni, Penguin, etc. because they're all still active 15+ years later when Bruce finally becomes Batman.  I half-believe that the Fish Mooney character exists because, as as an original creation of the show, she's actually someone Gordon can defeat without throwing comics continuity into the air.  (Even now, continuity doesn't really fit since none of Montoya, Bullock, Riddler, Zsasz, etc. were all supposed to be 20 years older than Bruce Wayne.)

Many of the show's flaws could've been excused had the acting been better.  As mentioned, McKenzie is throwing up a D-minus performance here, giving Gordon nothing but righteous anger or silent frustration 95% of the time.  Half the cast is so over-the-top they seem like they'd be better fits as Adam West's enemies on the old Batman TV series, and others have such small roles that you wonder why they're even in the main cast.  Sean Pertwee's Alfred is the only performance I'd really call good, with David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne and maybe Robin Lord-Taylor's Penguin in the above-average category.  Lord-Taylor is having loads of fun chewing the scenery playing Oswald as kind of a cross between DeVito's Penguin and Mark Hamill's Joker, though his Penguin is straight-up crazy, killing people willy-nilly.  The comic book Penguin is eccentric but perfectly sane, making him a unique challenge amongst Batman's enemies.  There's one interesting theory I've seen online which states that Lord-Taylor's character is actually somehow the Joker, and the 'real' Oswald Cobblepot will emerge later in the series after Lord-Taylor takes a dip in an acid bath at some point.

Maybe I'll get back into the mix if I hear that the show has drastically improved, though realistically, I probably won't.  Jason Lynch recently wrote an interesting article for Adweek noting that most viewers generally don't give shows a second chance since there's simply too much else out there (both new shows and old) for them to watch instead, so if a show doesn't took an audience right off the bat, they could be toast.  "Gotham" has gotten pretty strong ratings so perhaps I can't really fault them for throwing everything at the wall early, though personally, I prefer a show like "Agents of SHIELD" that took a pretty slow build through its first half-season and has really kicked into high gear ever since.

Oh well.  I guess that's how things are in Gotham. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Joke With Two Punchlines!

Did you hear the one about the fellow with no arms who worked as the bell-ringer at a cathedral?  He performed his job by simply getting a running start and knocking his head into the bell, creating a lovely sound.  He worked at the cathedral for years until one sad day when he backed up, ran at the bell and missed it completely, causing him to lose his balance and fall off the tower to his death.  The only witness was the shopkeeper next door, and when the police came to investigate, they asked the shopkeeper if he knew the dead man.

The shopkeeper said, "I don't know his name, but his face rings a bell."

So anyway, the deceased just happened to have a twin brother, who was also missing both arms.  He was also a professional bell-ringer, using the same technique as his brother, and the cathedral hired him as the replacement.  The first two days went well but unfortunately, on the third day, he too missed the bell on a poorly-timed run and fell to his death.  The same shopkeeper was interviewed by the same policeman who investigated the earlier death, and the cop expressed amazement that this victim looked exactly like the previous victim and also died in the exact same manner.

The shopkeeper said, "Yeah, he's a dead ringer."

(credit to my uncle Glenn)

Monday, November 17, 2014

The John Cusack Joke

In the grand tradition of the world's finest Lea Thompson joke, I give you…the world's finest John Cusack joke.

After my birthday party a few weeks ago, I'm leaving the bar with my friends Sarah and Dave and they're in the mood for Korean food.  How fortuitous, since we happen to be in Koreatown, though it's a difficult choice since we're immediately faced with about five restaurants right across the the street.

We cross the road and notice a guy standing in front of the restaurants, smoking a cigarette.  The fellow looked enough like John Cusack that the subsequent joke worked, though in fairness, we were all a bit tipsy.  It's quite possible he looked only vaguely Cusackian in nature, so basically he might've looked like Miles Teller.  Anyway, Sarah asks the guy if the place he just left is any good, and he says 'yeah,' then I think starts walking down the street.  We all just start filing towards the door even though we technically haven't made our decision, though then this happens…

Sarah: Let's just go here.  John Cusack says it's good.
Me: You can't trust John Cusack.  That guy will say anything.

Happy birthday, me.  My gift to myself was coming up with the best possible John Cusack joke for that possible moment, and quite probably for any moment.  The only possible exception would be if you were ever walking down the street and saw the actual John Cusack wearing a Cuban flag t-shirt.  You could say, "I didn't know John Cusack was a communist."  Then your witty friend could come back with, "Oh yeah, Cusack loves Cuba because of its high Fidel-ity."

Actually wait, screw that, that's awful.  My joke was better.  Actually wait, forget it, that's awful.  My joke was better.  "Aren't they both YOUR jokes, Mark?"  Shut up, pretend set-up man from that scenario.

N.B. the Korean restaurant indeed was pretty good.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Seven years is a long time.  It's significantly longer than the amount of time most people stay in their jobs, and it's almost as long as the average American divorced couple stays together before they call it off.  George W. Bush was still president seven years ago, Kevin Durant was beginning his rookie year in the NBA, M. Night Shyamalan was still just a good director in a slump rather than a walking calamity…it was a much different time.

And yet it was seven years ago that my reign as Slap Bet Commissioner began, and it has only now come to a close.  I've written before about the ongoing slap bet between my friend Kyle and his brother Taylor, yet to briefly recap things….in late 2007, the two brothers bet on whether or not a "well-known pro poker player" would win the Main Event tournament of the World Series of Poker over the next seven years.  The growing size of the event had led to a number of unknowns winning, and thus Kyle believed that this would keep happening while Taylor believed that an established player would break through at least once in the near future.

The winner of the Slap Bet would get to slap the loser at some point in the future --- the slap could some out of nowhere, it could be at a predetermined time, it could be lorded over the loser for the rest of their lifetime, etc.  At one point, I thought that the Slap Bet would be the greatest legacy that "How I Met Your Mother" would leave the world, yet now I'm thinking it was either the Crazy/Hot scale, making 'Challenge Accepted!' a normal part of the lexicon, introducing the world to Cobie Smulders or setting a new standard for letting down your fans in your final episode.

Anyway, as you might've guessed, seven editions of the WSOP have passed and we now have a Slap Bet champion.  As commissioner, I was put in charge of gauging whether or not a player was "well-known," and for most of the years, my job was pretty easy.  As Kyle had predicted, the Main Event winners had still been players who (while some were successful online) had yet to really achieve fame in the greater poker community.  My old gauge for "poker stardom" used to be if a player had a strong track record at the WSOP or on the World Poker Tour (or European Poker Tour) series yet since poker as a whole has somewhat declined in popularity, I've had to do a bit more research in determining my judgement on some of the borderline players at these final tables.  Yes, that's right, this slap bet went on so long that it even outlasted poker itself as a pop culture phenomenon.  Hell, this bet even outlasted HIMYM, though it was touch-and-go given how that show kept tacking on unnecessary seasons.

Every Main Event brought with it some new drama, since almost every final table involved one clear "well-known pro" or even a superstar of the sport like Phil Ivey, Michael Mizrachi or J.C. Tran.  This year, we had two guys who qualified by my standards of "well-known."  You had Mark Newhouse, who was a finalist at both the 2013 and 2014 WSOP, which interestingly made him a guy who wasn't a star in 2007 but was clearly a star now.*  You also had Martin Jacobson, a long-time EPT staple who was lacking in major wins, yet he had reached a few final tables on both the EPT and WPT circuits.

* = while Kyle was obviously betting on the fact that there are way more unknowns than well-known star pros, the one edge that Taylor had was that the number of well-known star pros grows every year.  Hell, given that I was going by old WPT events, some guy who'd won a first-season WPT event and then done nothing in the last decade might've still qualified as "well-known" by my commissioner-ial decree.  

And, of course, Jacobson won the Main Event.  This epic Slap Bet literally came down to the final two players of the seventh year of the qualifying WSOP events, and Taylor (and, y'know, Jacobson) pulled it out.  It was quite the Cinderella story, since I've heard from inside sources that Kyle was already considering his victory a foregone conclusion.

So now, the younger brother gets to slap his older brother in what I'm sure will be a proud moment in their family's history.  I'm doubly bittersweet about this whole situation.  Firstly, as an older brother myself, I hate to see little brothers get any victories whatsoever.  Secondly, my reign as Slap Bet commissioner has officially ended.  It's a sad day.  I so looked forward to my annual 10 minutes of internet research to determine who the hell these random poker players were, plus my subsequent detailed e-mail recap to Kyle and Taylor about the Slap Bet's status.  Now what am I supposed to e-mail them about?  Our lives?  Sports?  General friendship?  How boring.

If you're planning to enter into a potentially years-long wager with a friend, I know someone who can officiate.  I haven't decided yet if I'm going to start including "Slap Bet Commissioner" on my resume. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Twelfth Night (Shakespeare Re-Read #12)

For me, Twelfth Night is less reading a play than it is slipping into a warm bath.  It was the very first Shakespeare I ever read, I've seen it performed twice and I've studied the play in at least three or four university classes.  So, despite the fact that it's been over a decade since I last picked it up, Twelfth Night immediately seemed as comfortable as ever, its plot and characters as familiar as the back of my hand.

My affection for the play is undoubtedly a bit rooted in nostalgia, yet it could also just be that Twelfth Night is just a naturally inviting story.  Even moreso than light entertainment like A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night is all in good fun.  There aren't really any life-or-death stakes, the plot is all based around simple misunderstandings and mistaken identities, and there isn't even a villain.  Sir Toby is just a rabble-rouser, Sir Andrew is a walking joke and Malvolio is just kind of a dick.  Put it this way, when Malvolio realizes he's been tricked and walks off in a huff swearing revenge, Olivia and Orsino are just like "Meh, someone go after him and make sure his feelings aren't too badly hurt."  One gets the feeling that Olivia has to sooth Malvolio's wounded ego in the wake of another Sir Toby prank on about a weekly basis.  Antonio's imprisonment is kind of a loose end, though while it's never explicitly addressed, my guess is that Orsino freed him to do his new brother-in-law a solid.

Also adding to Twelfth Night's general bonhomie is the fact that, unlike virtually every other Shakespeare comedy, there aren't any blatantly racist or sexist lines that make a 21st-century reader take pause.  It's probably for this reason that Twelfth Night was one of my high school curriculum's "intro to Shakespeare" choices.  (The other was Romeo & Juliet, which, uh, is slightly more grim, yet still, high schoolers can easily relate to teen angst).  The way it worked at ol' Oakridge High was that you read either TN or R&J in Grade 10, the other in Grade 11, Macbeth in Grade 12 and then either Hamlet or King Lear in your final year.  I often wonder how different my life would've had if I'd read Romeo & Juliet first rather than Twelfth Night, and the answer is…probably not different whatsoever.  Hard to foresee a 'sliding doors' scenario from that one.

Just throwing it out there -- Sir Andrew Aguecheek is Shakespeare's funniest character.  This guy is a nonstop parade of comedy.  Start with the fact that he looks like a stringy-haired twerp of a man, and add in that he's a total coward, an idiot, both vain and yet painfully aware of his shortcomings, and so completely in Sir Toby's pocket that a quarter of his lines are parroting everything he says (yet somehow misinterpreting them).  Many is the Shakespearean comic character whose actual dialogue isn't all that funny and you have to rely on the actor to bring it to life, yet Aguecheek's lines just leap off the page.

He steals the show for me, which says a lot in a play where every character is well-written and well-characterized.  Viola/Olivia/Orsino is the rare love triangle where you can see every character's side, though admittedly Orsino's emo caterwauling makes him the least interesting of the three.  Malvolio's officiousness is evident from the moment he opens his mouth.*  Even lesser personalities like Maria and Fabian have a couple of terrific lines that allow the audience to immediately get them and their roles in the action.  They're all familiar personalities but not two-dimensional ones. 

* = One of our Grade 10 assignments while studying this play was to write up a cast list if we were making a film version of Twelfth Night.  I'm sure my full list is in a booklet in a file cabinet somewhere in my parents' basement, yet the only one I can recall coming up with John Cleese as Malvolio, which is admittedly bang-on.  Good work, teenage Mark!  And don't worry about that acne, it'll eventually clear up.

It's weird, this seems like by far the shortest of the entries in this Shakespeare re-read series yet Twelfth Night is one of my favourite plays.  Maybe there simply isn't much to say about a play that's virtually perfect.  Some plays are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.  Twelfth Night is the first, maybe some big Broadway musical that took several different remounts to get right is the second and...I dunno, maybe 'Hamlet 2' is the third. 



12. Pericles
11. The Taming Of The Shrew
10. Antony & Cleopatra
9. Much Ado About Nothing
8. Coriolanus
7. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
6. The Comedy Of Errors
5. The Winter's Tale
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream
3. Julius Caesar
2. Twelfth Night
1. Othello

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!"

Friday, November 07, 2014

Too Many Cooks

I'm not even sure how to describe this, except to say that I love it when what seems like a simple joke spirals off into all directions.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Oliver &, Cookie

If there wasn't already enough evidence that the duo of John Oliver & Cookie Monster is the greatest comedy pairing of our generation, this video will clinch it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Daily Simpsons Dialogue, Addendum #5

Yes, that's right, it's yet another list of Simpsons quotes that I say on a near-daily basis.  Click the links to read parts one, two, three, four and five.  If you're tired of reading these, that's too bad, since I'm not stopping the series.  It'll just be one crushing post after another until you finally just wish Flanders was dead.
"His food is getting all cold and eaten."
"Urge to kill fading, fading, RISING, fading…gone."
"Sorry Mom, the mob has spoken!"
"What time and how burnt?"
"It's a pretty standard stunt, Homer."
"Way to get Marge pregnant, heh heh heh."
"Somebody ate part of my lunch."
"____ is named _____?  I've been calling her Crandall!  Why didn't someone tell me?  Oh, I've been making an idiot out of myself!"
"Hey Ma, look at the curly-hair'ded little girl.  Guh'hyuk!"
"Homercles cares not for beans!"
"Here you go, your majesty!"
"Sweet merciful crap!"
"A little from column A, and a little from column B."
"The ring came off my pudding can!"
"Must've been that bean I had for dinner."
"Me fail English?  That's unpossible!"
"Forty seconds?  But I want it now!"
"Hello, that sounded like a pig fainting!"
"And it only transports matter…."
"Y'ar, I'm not attractive."

Friday, October 31, 2014

OK Go's New Video

I'm starting to think all of human existence is just a backdrop for a really elaborate OK Go video.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Laces In

The Super Bowl between the Eagles and the Dolphins in 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective' was a pretty remarkable game.  For one, Miami apparently became the first team to qualify for the Super Bowl in the same season that their home stadium hosted the game, giving them a theoretically huge home-field advantage.  If you ever needed proof that I'm a hopeless sports stats nerd, it's probably the fact that I cited this tidbit first, ahead of the many other outlandish things from this movie.

So anyway, besides the Dolphins hosting the Super Bowl in Miami, you also had the saga of Dan Marino being kidnapped the night before the actual game.  To my knowledge, this is also the first time this had happened in NFL history, though if some of the Broncos had been kidnapped the night before last year's Super Bowl, that explains a lot.  (This isn't to say that some crazy stuff hasn't actually happened to players on Super Bowl Eve, however.)  Knowing Marino's competitive nature, it isn't at all surprising that he returned at halftime and immediately got into the game --- even after 24 hours of captive hell*, I suspect only wild horses could've kept Marino out of that game.

* = though he didn't seem more than mildly annoyed during his scenes in the film.  Let's just say that Dan Marino was not exactly a Best Supporting Actor contender.

One of the more interesting factors about this Super Bowl was that Marino (and Snowflake the mascot!) made their triumphant returns yet we didn't actually see the result of the game.  Frankly, I felt the filmmakers copped out on that would've been a controversial finish either way.

If the Eagles beat the Dolphins, then even in a pro-Dolphins Hollywood movie, Dan Marino still can't win a ring.  Frankly, I think Ray Finkel would've been satisfied simply knowing that his actions cost Miami the game --- that's already sweet revenge.

If the Dolphins beat the Eagles, it puts the icing on the movie's happy ending cake.  It also makes sense that only the Eagles would lose the Super Bowl in the most implausible way possible.  I mean, they're already up against it by unluckily facing the Dolphins at a home Super Bowl, only to receive the incredible break (if you can call a kidnapping and attempted murder a 'break,' which most Eagles fans would) of having Dan friggin' Marino get abducted the night before.  And he's not even there for the first half!  Can you imagine this happening in real life?  This would be the news story of the year.  The NFL couldn't postpone the game for TV and sponsor reasons, so they'd have to go ahead and play the Super Bowl under this unprecedented cloud for one of the teams.  And then to have Marino actually RETURN AT HALFTIME AND TAKE THE FIELD?  I feel like the other networks would've simply cut to live footage at this point --- this would be like the moon landing.  Meanwhile, the Eagles are just shaking their heads and thinking "why us?"  Pat Solitano Sr. probably lost a small fortune betting on his Eagles in this game.  That's probably how he got into such a deep hole to that sleazy Giants fan guy to begin with.  I love it when movies intersect.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brad Pitt, Two Ferns

Firstly, given Galifiankis' weight loss, I'm going to miss all of the 'Zach is fat' jokes.  Also, Pitt morphed into Clark Gable so gradually none of us even realized it until now.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NBA Predictions

I'm picking the Spurs to win the title again since they're the best and most reliable team there is, though there are a few more uncertainties than usual in the generally-predictable NBA.  For instance, I had a legit few minutes earlier today when I thought that the Raptors were going to win the East.  It's not impossible…simply very improbable.  Put it this way, there's a better chance the Raptors will make the Finals than there is that they'll fall apart in classic Raptors style and miss the playoffs entirely.  That's progress! 

My predictions for this NBA season…

Western Conference
1. LA Clippers: They seemingly have everything going for them, except for the fact that they're the Clippers.  That's right, the Sterling Curse is still lingering around the building even though he's been thrown out of the NBA.
2. San Antonio: Biding their time, resting the veterans, no big deal that they're the #2 seed, rinse and repeat.
3. Houston: Get ready for a terrific, rockin' and rolling regular season that will get everyone in Houston thinking their team is a title contender!  (Punchline forthcoming)
4. Portland: They're the #4 seed by default, as they'll win the suddenly-awful Northwest Division.
5. Golden State: Steve Kerr in charge, not sure if he's a good coach or if he'll be able to get anything good defensively out of these guys.  Blazers/Warriors is a guaranteed seven-game series and it would be incredible to watch, so let's make this happen, world.
6. Dallas: Dirk's window is open for two more years, tops. 
7. Memphis: Talent-wise they're much better than this, yet I can't help but think all the offseason front office and coaching drama will hurt them.  Does Dave Joerger (won't lie, I had to look up his name) really want to be there?
8. Oklahoma City: Losing Kevin Durant for two months is THAT big a blow in a tough Western Conference.  Thunder still get the #8 seed, thus setting up a monster first-round series with L.A.
9. New Orleans: Anthony Davis can't do it all himself…yet.
10. Phoenix: Regression time!
11. Denver: This team has nothing going for it.
12. Minnesota: Loveless.
13. LA Lakers: Kobe will be openly insulting his teammates by U.S. Thanksgiving.
14. Sacramento: Next spring, the city will be like, "On second thought, move to Seattle."
15. Utah: THIS team REALLY has nothing going for it.

Eastern Conference
1. Cleveland: It's going to take some time for all the parts to gel, but realistically, this team is the best in the East.
2. Chicago: If Derrick Rose is even 75% of his old self, they can win the title.  Less than that, and another first-round offensive flameout is a possibility.
3. Brooklyn: Yeah, I'm not sure losing Jason Kidd's soda-spillin' coaching skills is a negative.
4. Atlanta: Horford's healthy and this team will be a big surprise.  In fact, if you're willing to lend me $950 million, I want to buy them.
5. Toronto: I mean, sure?
6. Charlotte: Part of me wanted to go nuts and have them winning the Southeast, though I came to my senses.
7. Washington: Regression time, since everything went just a bit too smoothly for them last year.  I like Paul Pierce as a veteran mentor, and they're a midseason coach firing away from being an under-the-radar contender.
8. Miami: For old time's sake.
9. Detroit: Van Gundy will help, though not yet.
10. New York: This team is still awful.
11. Indiana: So after having a dreadful second half to last season, now the Pacers have lost both Paul George and Lance Stephenson.  Nope.
12. Milwaukee: Handing your franchise over to a guy with one year of middling coaching experience, not to mention a guy who has shown that he'll screw a franchise over for a better opportunity elsewhere, is a GREAT idea.
13. Orlando: They're still in the league!
14. Boston: Kevin McHale was genuinely funny on 'Cheers.'
15. Philadelphia: They're tanking so hard they would be legitimately sad to be anywhere but dead last.

*Cavaliers over Heat
*Bulls over Wizards
*Hornets over Nets
*Raptors over Hawks (I mean, sure?  I think Toronto might actually be good, and last year wasn't just a cosmic fluke thanks to a supremely weak conference.)
*Clippers over Thunder (I can't believe this is a first-round series.)
*Spurs over Grizzlies
*Mavericks over Rockets (oh yeah, that's right, I forgot Houston will never win a title with Howard, Harden and McHale.  They think they have a title window, it's actually Windows 94)
* Warriors over Trail Blazers (everyone needs a cigarette after)

* Cavaliers over Raptors
* Bulls over Hornets
* Clippers over Warriors (both teams will be exhausted from their seven-gamers in the first round)
* Spurs over Mavericks (this one will be a doozy)

* Bulls over Cavaliers (the LeBron/Love/Irving mix isn't quite settled yet, plus we don't actually know if David Blatt can coach)
* Spurs over Clippers

* Spurs over Bulls (Chicago at least does better than the Heat did last season and doesn't get embarrassed in three consecutive games.  Progress!)

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Crystal Ballroom

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb....'Mercy,' 'Levitate,' and either version of the 'Fast Cars/Xanax & Wine' track were all left on the cutting room floor

No Line On The Horizon....'Winter,' 'North Star' and the early version of 'Every Breaking Wave' were all omitted from an album that really could've used some beefing up.  Either that, or else these songs were held back for the 'Songs Of Ascent' record that never ended up being released.

So that's twice that U2 has left some of the best songs from their recording sessions off the actual albums, and now we can extend that streak to three in a row.  And this is coming from a guy that LOVES Songs of Innocence and considers it a top-five or maybe even a top-four U2 record.  Just when I thought the album couldn't get any better, however, I picked up the physical copy with the secondary B-sides and acoustic mixes disc, and was exposed to "The Crystal Ballroom."  Good lord.

I mean, good lord!  What a song.  For years, U2 openly talked of wanting that fresh-sounding pop hit that would instantly fit in on any modern rock station yet still be representative of the band's classic sound.  Then, they write one like TCB and don't actually put it on the record.  I'm baffled.  Now, you could argue that they did indeed "release" the song since it's right there on the second disc of the physical edition.  Also, the idea of a B-side in this day and age is pretty antiquated, especially since we're talking about an album that was already entirely released on iTunes over a month ago.  In fact, maybe TCB's inclusion on the B-disc was intentional since U2 wanted to give the fans a strong reason to buy the actual record.

And yet still....I'm an old-school album guy!  Album tracks are album tracks and B-sides are B-sides!  There's nothing stopping U2 from playing this song at every live show or even releasing it as a single, and I can't quite feel that they missed an opportunity to make an already strong album even stronger.

Part of SOI's strength is its excellent track arrangement and flow, so 'Crystal Ballroom' cant be stuck in just anywhere.  The subject matter is about the old Dublin dance hall where Bono's parents met, so naturally it'd have to go a bit earlier in the record, definitely before 'Iris,' the track about Bono's mother's death.  Maybe you slot it second and remove 'Every Breaking Wave' in some alternate reality where U2 figured that song out six years ago and included it (or this gorgeous piano-based version) on No Line On The Horizon:

Realistically, you can still slot 'Crystal Ballroom' second after 'The Miracle' and then just bump EBW and everything else back to make it a 12-track album.  OR, since I love 'Invisible' too, maybe have that as the opening track, then go 'Miracle,' 'Every Breaking Wave,' 'Crystal Ballroom' and then everything else proceeds as usual.  Thirteen tunes on the record!  U2 has only cracked the 12-song barrier once, and that was because Rattle & Hum has a bunch of random covers and live tracks.

I'm not suddenly dissatisfied with Songs Of Innocence or anything, I just wish U2 had decided to put an obviously incredible, would've-been-top-three-on-the-record song onto the album proper.  It would've made things easier for me since as it stands, I'll have to change the discs whenever I'm listening to the album in my car.  If I do this while the car is still in motion, I could get distracted and run headlong into a bus.  So essentially, by failing to put 'The Crystal Ballroom' on a record, U2 is dooming me to my death.  Well that's just great.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


If you saw and were baffled by that 'Simpsons in the future' couch gag from a few weeks ago, it came from the mind of acclaimed animator Don Hertzfeldt.  He's probably best known for his short "Rejected," which I somehow hadn't seen until a few months ago and man, it's one of the most bizarre things of all time.  Ever since watching it, I can't eat a banana without saying....well, you guessed it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

NHL Predictions

Heads for Blackhawks, tails for Kings….


Congratulations to the 2014-15 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks!  They'll beat…oh, let's say the Penguins in the finals.  The Leafs obviously aren't making the playoffs, as they'll wait just long enough to fire Randy Carlyle that their inevitable hot streak after he's sent packing won't be enough to dig themselves out of the hole, leading to a summer of moronic "well, if they'd fired Carlyle a month sooner, they would've made the playoffs and won the Cup!" statements from Leafs Nation.  The asterisks indicate which teams earn the wild card spots, and GASP, the Red Wings' playoff streak will finally end.

Rangers, Penguins, Islanders, Capitals*, Blue Jackets*, Devils, Flyers, Hurricanes

Bruins, Canadiens, Lightning, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Senators, Sabres

Blues, Blackhawks, Stars, Wild*, Jets*, Avalanche, Predators

Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Canucks, Coyotes, Flames, Oilers

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Ravi & Mark Vs. Songs Of Innocence

Consider the first chat Ravi and I had about "Songs Of Innocence" to just be the opening act.  Now we're diving into the album track-by-track!

Mark: The Miracle....I dig it a lot.

Ravi: It's clearly an arena opener, caters to the classic U2 fan, sets the stage for the whole "why does one join the circus?" motif

Mark: It's a song that's about how great it is to hear a great song.  Not a stretch to say that the feelings the guys felt about the Ramones is the way you, me and millions of others felt when they first heard U2.

Ravi: Yep. I like it - solid track to kickstart things

Mark: This is the high-energy rocker they like as a first single, and needless to say, it's way better than Get On Your Boots

Ravi: Yeah - in all respects: I know what it's about, the drum part is classic Mullen hammering away at 16th notes, and Edge actually plays his guitar (Adam presumably does something also)

Mark: According to the liner notes, Adam Clayton is U2's bass guitarist.  Fun fact!

Ravi: Haha poor Adam. Every time I hear him talk all I can think of is The Simpsons ("Can I come?" ... "No")

Mark: Apparently after that episode, Adam said he had tons of fans giving him spoons for his "collection," even though that was just a joke.

Ravi: Well, at least it provided him with some notoriety in his post sobriety incarnation

Mark: Bit of a step down from "the guy who's engaged to Naomi Campbell" to "the guy with the spoon collection"

Ravi: Or "the one guy who has ever missed a U2 gig"

Mark: That's how you know you're ultimately the fourth wheel.  Methinks the show wouldn't have gone on if Bono, Edge, or even Larry had been sidelined like that

Ravi: No kidding.  So once we get past track 1, I am pretty indifferent on Every Breaking Wave or California.  I mean, they're no absolutely horrendous - but there is nothing special about them

Mark: Oh, I beg to differ.  California is one of my favourite tracks on the album.  I love the lyrics, the chorus, the vocal bridge near the end of the song....everything about it is great.  Incredible song to listen to while driving.  EBW is also a good song.  I like how they beefed it up and made it a bit poppier, the original version from 360 was a bit too spare.  (Of course, this can also backfire, as the poppier version of Mercy was lousy.)

Ravi: I mean, I won't turn it off ... but I just see those songs as being in the template that 100s of bands could have produced.

Mark: You're not wrong.  One review described California as 'the best Killers song of all time,' which is fine since I like the Killers.  In a way, it's good to know that U2 can still deliver as good a pop/rock track as anyone without it sounding too cheesy or forced, i.e. not Get On Your Boots.

Ravi: Yeah. Like I said, they're fine songs but it's really in the back half of the album where I began to feel like "OK - this was worth a zillion year hiatus to put together"
(though in reality making the front half "poppier" likely led to some of the more recent delays).  In my view, it's the darker tracks that make this album worth the listen

Mark: True. btw, this seems like a good point to discuss that the production on this album is really good. Everything sounds tight, layered, with a lot of interesting musical stuff going on. Kudos to Tedder, Epworth, Danger Mouse, Gaffney and whomever else chipped in.  It wasn't disjointed, like the multiple producers on HTDAAB

Ravi: The back half, starting around Volcano onwards is where the album really interests me.

Mark: Let's get to Song For Someone first, which is nice but probably my least-favourite track on the album.

Ravi: Again, it's fine. Bono's voice sounds great ... but it almost sounds like U2 parodying a U2 song.  See 1:32 onwards: fabulous U2 parody.

Mark: That's pretty funny, the Roots are awesome.  The physical version of SOI has several acoustic tracks, including one of Song For Someone...I suspect the acoustic mix may bring this one to life

Ravi: You raise an interesting point.  Edge made a passing comment earlier this year how a song is no good if you can't play it on acoustic guitar. Adam has talked about the band putting on "2 different types of shows" ... Additionally, a lot of acoustic covers for SOI have appeared on YouTube and sound great. This all leads me to wonder whether we'll be seeing some acoustic style shows.

Mark: The Stones did a tour a few years ago where they played multiple shows at different venues in certain cities....a laid-back rarities setlist in small theatres, a bigger arena show and then the huge stadium show with all the hits.  U2 certainly has the ability to do something like that, it'd be crazy.  Imagine seeing U2 in a 1000-seat venue and they're busting out random songs like Promenade, or Rejoice, or So Cruel....that would blow my mind.

Ravi: People keep asking how to follow up 360 - seems like a way they could do so and make a splash. Also as we said certain songs work better acoustically. Even Breathe was better acoustically.

Mark: Would Adam or Larry even need to show up to an acoustic show?

Ravi: Larry would cuz it's "his band."  As with Jimmy Fallon, Adam would get a token guitar to hold and pretend to play.

Mark: Man, poor Adam is taking it on the chin here. For all we know, the guy came up with half the melodies on SOI and here we are just ripping him.

Ravi: Haha poor guy. Well, not 'poor' per se ...

Mark: Laughing all the way to the bank!  So, onto Iris, another pretty song that seems very Unforgettable Fire-era

Ravi: Yes - good track. Going back to his mom ... ten years or so after writing a track about his dad.

Mark: Iris, Lemon, Tomorrow, Mofo....U2 has a long tradition of quality songs about Bono's mom.

Ravi: About here the album starts to get interesting.  Til here the standard u2 blueprint is more or less followed ... with some added polish

Mark: While I like the first half a lot more than you, I generally agree....the back half of the album really takes off, whereas most U2 back halves really peter out (ATYCLB) or have just one solid track amidst the petering out (Breathe on No Line, Please on Pop, OOTS on Bomb)

Ravi: Yes I was just about to say the same thing. Normally they come out swinging but here as it goes on the songs get interesting ... for all their rock/pop ballads I think some of U2's finest work comes on their darker tracks, which to me the second half features.  First half is good to me ... just nothing on there that reaaaally wows me to the level of 'greatness' promised.

Mark: This being said, I'm not crazy about's an okay song, but seems a bit thin. I feel like Edge had to re-use the old 'Glastonbury' riff just to pad the thing out.  Put it this way....over the last month, every song on the record has gotten stuck in my head to the point where I find myself humming a track for almost an entire day. This has been true of every song except Volcano. It doesn't have as natural a melody as the other 10 tracks.  It's no "Volcano Girls" by Veruca Salt.......annnnnd, I'm showing my age now.

Ravi: Yeah they tried out a 'rock song you can dance to' ... and clearly the way 'Vol-ca-no" is sung it was made for arenas ... I think its legacy will be cemented based on how it is received live.  This raises an interesting point ... every track is capable of being played live, which is promising.

Mark: Indeed, unlike half of NLOTH, which you could tell just from the record that U2 would never bust a lot of these songs out

Ravi: And two different shows would allow them to play all the album's songs but over two shows .... thus giving fans the hits they expect at a u2 show as well

Mark: I don't think U2 has ever had an album where they've played literally every song live at some point.....SOI could be it

Ravi: Hmmm ... I don't think so either.  Even Joshua Tree I don't think they played "Trip Through Your Wires"

Mark: They played that one semi-regularly on tour, but for JT it was 'Red Hill Mining Town' that never got a live performance. Bono couldn't sing it without wrecking his voice.

Ravi: Yeah you're right.  Acrobat never got played live I believe

Mark: That was the only AB track never played live, which is weird since that song is awesome.

Ravi: We'll see - maybe I won't go crazy on this two show format theory, but it makes sense if they want to play the entirety of their album and do something to make their shows stand out ... they've literally done everything else (simple stage, huge arenas, Zoo TV/Popmart set ups etc)

Mark: Presuming 'Songs Of Experience' is out sometime within the next year (before the tour is over), the two-shows format also leads itself to a natural way to put those songs into the setlist. By that time, they can move some of the better-known SOI tracks into the 'classics' pile

Ravi: Yeah that adds another layer of intrigue

Mark: Anyway, speaking of the live experience, let's move onto a track that feels like it'll absolutely kill at a concert....Raised By Wolves

Ravi: Yes for sure.  THIS is what I have been waiting for.  Fire, passion, Bono screeching, Edge murdering the guitar ... even some noticeable bass!

Mark: Listening to it the first time, I literally said "Holy shit!" when Bono's screech for the chorus intro burst in.

Ravi: This is a track that will unquestionably work well live but also is great just in your apartment

Mark: Not that I've played it while singing and dancing around my apartment. Uh....

Ravi: The song is "different" but not in a clumsy sort of way you alluded that Volcano is "different."

Mark: Volcano sounded like U2 was consciously trying to replicate their Boy/October sound and it didn't quite work.  Raised By Wolves, however, nails that idea completely and feels much more natural

Ravi: Which is why I like this track, Cedarwood Road and SLBT - tracks that on first listen really struck me.  They took what U2 is good at and added some touches from Danger Mouse to take the songs to a new level

Mark: Great point. This is what we were all hoping for from the U2/Danger Mouse collaboration. 

Ravi: You can just see Raised By Wolves in the middle of U2's "political" part of its setlist ... mashed next to Sunday Bloody Sunday, or beforehand.

Mark: Or part of a "Peter Rowan's life" set next to Bad. 

Ravi: Cedarwood Road starts with a nice "The Fly" type feel before moving into the track which I really enjoy.

Mark: Cedarwood Road, great straight-ahead rock song in the tradition of Gone or (a much better) Crumbs From Your Table.  We touched on this during our last chat, but SOI is so greatly enhanced by having a clear narrative and story for the album. Every track is about a specific time in U2's early days....seeing the Ramones, Bono's mom's death, Bono's childhood home, etc.

Ravi: Likely a conscious decision. Their last album was so unfocused I think giving the album(s) a theme really enhanced the quality

Mark: Looking forward to the b-side "Spoons," which is about Adam beginning his collection.  But seriously, the lyrics are much more powerful when they're about these specific incidents rather than the basic universal lyrics about 'love' or 'soul' that have permeated the last several albums

Ravi: As the guys have alluded to - they have umpteen songs on those other topics ... giving the fans more focused tracks gives the album more intrigue.

Mark: There's also universality to be found within those specific topics. Like as we said about Miracle, it's really about the experience of hearing your favourite band no matter who it is, not just the Ramones.

Ravi: Have the boys ever done a track like Sleep Like A Baby? What a tune, and a very provocative topic for U2 - especially with how religious their background is

Mark: It's a great track, it gives you the chills.

Ravi: Also, Bono's voice seems to be in stellar form.  I wonder if he tries those high notes live.

Mark: This is the only one where I could see it *not* being played live because of the vocal demands and because it's such a show-stopper. What would you follow it up with?

Ravi: Unless you ended on this pre encore?

Mark: What a dark ending to the set. I guess you could go SLABT into Until The End Of The World or something.

Ravi: Or if they go real ballsy and END their shows with this song ... they do like their slow tracks to end a concert. But like you said - hella dark ending.  OR if you put this mid set list and follow up with an acoustic of a classic like Desire (to switch it up)

Mark: Wait, so you want to put a song about the church sexually abusing children next to a song called Desire? Um....

Ravi: Oops…perhaps a different song, then.  But yes, your point is very well taken. It's such a powerful tune I think it'd be a shame not to see it live.

Mark: Fun fact: our mutual friend Dave recently (and without prompting) mentioned how much he enjoyed the new album. This is where the iTunes release strategy works, as Dave would've never bought on the album on his own volition.  I bring it up since he particularly enjoyed This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

Ravi: Yeah - the strategy certainly had its pluses. And yes, that is a solid track.  It's again impressive in that its the 2nd last track and effort appears to have been put into it.

Mark: Definitely. SOI is so deep from top to bottom, it's wonderful.  And then we have The Troubles, which is maybe my favourite song on the album and a kind of song that U2 has never tried to make before.

Ravi: What I loved is that they collaborated with someone whom a large segment of their audience I imagine has never heard of.

Mark: It's cool. Apparently the big pre-release rumour was that there was a duet with Adele (due to the Epworth connection) on the record.

Ravi: Maybe that's been saved for SOE.  U2 love to end with a slow track.

Mark: The Troubles also sounds like the natural concert closer, to boot

Ravi: For sure. And to boot, it won't be an absolute snoozer like Moment of Surrender.

Mark: Bite your tongue! I love that song!

Ravi: It's alright. I just think it failed as a closer ... at least in the 360 setting

Mark: There's nowhere else in the set to put it but at the end, so I guess you're right, U2 was kind of locked into it. Still, I thought it was a great closer...NLOTH didn't have a natural concert-opening track, that was the real issue.

Ravi: There's a very clear opener and closing track for concerts on this record, going back to the idea that this album was much much more focused than NLOTH.  Really?  Breathe to start a show?

Mark: I get the sense that Invisible was going to be one of the first 2-3 tracks but maybe they made it the single since it didn't quite fit the theme as organically as the other songs.....Invisible sounds a bit too polished and 'modern U2' whereas the other ones have a bit of the old 70's/80's sound

Ravi: I sometimes wonder if they had 4-5 Invisible type tunes that were scrapped after reaction to the song, while not terrible, wasn't exactly amazing.

Mark: 'Invisible' is a real grower. I find myself singing it all the time now, whereas initially I thought it was only okay.

Ravi: Apparently Invisible is a secret track at the end of the record if you wait awhile

Mark: A secret track! I love it! How 90's!

Ravi: It's ... invisible, if you will

Mark: *rim shot*

Ravi: Again, Invisible is clearly made for singing live ("There is no them, there's onnnnnly us").  Overall a solid record and good showing from the Boys.

Mark: What's your ranking of the songs?

Ravi: Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, Raised By Wolves, Cedarwood Road, The Troubles, Miracle, This Is Where…, Iris, Volcano, Song For Someone, California, Every Breaking Wave

Mark: Ooh, some interesting crossover and disagreements!  I'd go...

Instant classics: The Troubles, Raised By Wolves, California

Very good: The Miracle, Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, There Is Where…, Iris, Cedarwood Road, Every Breaking Wave

Okay but nothing special: Volcano, Song For Someone

Ravi: Yeah I can live with that - dunno if California is an instant classic but who knows

Mark: I think it'll be terrific live. Now, admittedly it's still early and we'll need more time to let the record sink in, but where does SOI rank amongst U2's other albums for you?

Ravi: I still wrestle with this - top half for sure of the 13, though exactly where remains to be seen.

Mark: At the moment, I'd go far as to say it's top-five. Behind Achtung Baby, Joshua Tree, War and Pop, and that's it. (And I'm one of the few who'd rank Pop that highly on the list.)
Ravi: ATCLB will always make my top 3 even though it fades significantly just because the first 6 tracks are sooooo good.  JT, AB, ATCLB, UF, War currently ... though SOI can sneak up.

Mark: The top-to-bottom depth of SOI really helps it in regards to albums like Rattle & Hum, Unforgettable Fire or ATYCLB, which have a lot of filler alongside the classics.

Ravi: Yeah but man the songs that are good are being played decades later.  They're THAT good.

Mark: That's a very fair point. I can stomach a 'New York' if it means another Beautiful Day.

Ravi: Yeah, "Elvis Presley" is awful, but Bad gives me chills and it was made THIRTY years ago.

Mark: Imagine behind all hyped up to attend a U2 acoustic show, and Bono says "Ok, to start things off tonight, here's 'Elvis Presley & America,' enjoy!"

Ravi: I'd be heading to the beer line ASAP