Friday, January 31, 2014

The Normtastic Four

I've been known to dabble in standup comedy in the past, participating in a couple of open mic nights around town and (wayyyy back in the day) doing short standup sets during high school variety shows.  As much as I love and adore standup comedy....I don't think I'm very good at it.  I'm not bad at improv comedy (where the audience gives you more slack) and I'm not bad at including a few clever vibes within, say, a blog post if I have a paragraph to set it up. 

When it comes to actually coming up with real JOKES, however, to be delivered in front of a live audience?  Not the best.  I realize that it's foolish to be expecting five minutes of wall-to-wall laughs but man, telling what you think is a solid joke and being answered by virtual crickets is tough.  You have to worry about delivery, you have to worry about remembering the damn jokes in the first place* and (of course) you have to come up with lots of good material. 

* = some less-polished comedians refer to cue cards, which I honestly should do since it's it's not like I'm freakin' Seinfeld here, but I dunno, I'd had an aversion to cue cards even back to my grade school speech days.  I feel like I'd just stare at them obsessively like Tim Calhoun

And then, even when you do come up with a good joke, you have to make sure it's "your" joke.  Google is an immense help in this regard, since if you're the kind of honourable person who actually doesn't want to plagiarize, it's pretty easy to discover if the clever line you just thought up is your original creation or something you heard years ago that only now slid its way to the front of your brain.  If this happens, then hey, congrats, you were honourable and didn't plagiarize!  On the down side, dammit, so much for that great joke.

Long story short, I'm pretty sure I'd heard this Norm Macdonald routine before at some point in my life, and thus I have nobody but my subconscious mind to blame for my cursing and angrily deleting a few lines of text earlier today.  I'll just have to stick to the other nine comic book-related jokes in my act....which may also explain my lack of standup success. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hot! Live! Music!

* Daft Punk/Pharrell Williams/Nile Rodgers/Stevie Wonder, "Get Lucky" (plus snippets!)
The Grammys are always good for some quality Hot! Live! Music! entries, so we might as well start with the one everyone is taking about, from the winningest album of the night.  Talk about performance that had it all --- Pharrell and his Arby's hat, the legendary Stevie Wonder, the Daft Punk guys emerging from the future halfway through the song, everyone from Yoko Ono to John Legend throwing all decorum to the wind and just rocking out, etc.  I loved the ear-to-ear smiles on everyone in the band, as if even they couldn't believe how awesome this was.   

* Steven Tyler, "You Really Got A Hold On Me"
Just a snippet more than a real song, but damn, do I ever suddenly want to hear a full Aerosmith cover of "You Really Got A Hold On Me."  Smokey's legit surprise was delightful.  Debate question: is Smokey Robinson the best American songwriter of the last 60 years?

* She & Him, "You Really Got A Hold On Me"
Well, hey, since we're talking about the song anyway.  There are roughly 6000 great covers of this song all over the internetz since it's such a great tune that it's hard to screw up, but I'm picking the She & Him version.  I went to see them live last summer with the girlfriend and Deschanel/Ward put on a helluva show.  I went into the concert knowing them basically just as "Zooey Deschanel's band" and left in a buy-all-their-albums frame of mind.

* Bastille, "We Can't Stop"
So basically, this BBC Live Lounge thing is going to single-handedly boost my Hot! Live! Music! series.  It's clip after clip of musicians playing their own songs and (more regularly) covering other songs you wouldn't necessarily expect them to cover.  It's a good combination for success, sort of a Smilex gas of music.  I don't care about Miley and I don't care about Bastille, but in combination?  Brilliance!  Now Miley can return the favour by covering Bastille's big hit…..uh….do they have a hit?

* Thirty Seconds To Mars, "Stay"
So after years of making fun of my friend Anna for her insistence that 30STM were a great band and Jared Leto was a poor man's, non-Plastic Man version of Jim Carrey, here I am linking to one of their songs on my blog.  AND, I'm a little over a month away from Leto winning an Oscar that (even more amazingly) he totally deserves.  Sure, "Stay" is another of those great songs that it's hard to screw up, but even still, Leto is single-handedly making me eat some crow.  You win this round, Anna.

* Patti Smith, "Stay"
Yeah, I've got to admit, Leto did a really nice version of….oh wait, Patti Smith also covered the song?  Ah ha ha, get the fuck back to the kiddies' table Jared, the grownups are here.

* Mika, Happy Ending
Whatever happened to Mika, anyway?  This guy dropped a few golden pop songs on the world a few years ago and then just dropped off the face of the earth.  I suppose I could easily find out his current projects via a simple web search, but I prefer to believe that he wrote a great song called "Happy Ending" and just dropped the mic as the perfect walkoff to his career.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Latest Greatest

Given that the half-assedness level is high on this one, I wonder if I should even dignify the latest (and final) 'Greatest Event In Television History' with its own post.  Then again, what, am I going to write my OWN post?  Not bloody likely.  #HalfAss

Friday, January 17, 2014

Survivor Ratings: Tyson

As you'll recall, I promised a fresh revisal of my Survivor Winner rankings during my last "evaluate the last winner" post back in May.  Well, the summer came and went without me ever getting around to revising it, so now I'll wait until *next* summer once Survivor 28 is in the books and we have another fresh champion joining our illustrious list.  My laziness kind of worked out, given how S27: Blood Versus Water transpired.  Not only did it give me a chance to see two former winners (Aras and Tina) back in action, but the results of S27 may force me to heavily re-evaluate several other past winners.  But, let's get to Tyson...

How He Won: Forgive me for all the cutting-and-pasting, but Tyson's win bears a lot of similarities to Cochran's victory, so I'll just write the same thing I wrote last May…

As a student of the show, it's no surprise that Cochran won using the same method that won Parvati S16 and won Sandra S20.  Both of those returning player seasons (Parvati a Fans vs. Favourites, Sandra an all-oldies cast) featured the winners getting to the end within a small core alliance that seemed shaky since it seemed to be constantly cutting off members on the outskirts of that core.

But, as Cochran put it in his (obviously excellent) jury speech, the key was to eliminate these threats before they had a chance to eliminate you….Cochran did this by scheming to eliminate Andrea and Brenda from the remnants of "Stealth R Us" and getting to the end with his preferred partners of Dawn and Sherri.

And boom, Tyson was in some ways Cochran redux.  He had the big advantage of being one of 10 returning players against 10 newbies (more on that later), he quickly teamed up with Gervase, Monica, Tina and Aras within the returnees, got more good luck in the tribal swap when he ended up on a physically dominant tribe that won both subsequent challenges, then was able to corral together an alliance of players without loved ones to overthrow the Wesson/Baskauskas dynasty.  It was clear all the way that Tyson wanted to go to the end with Gervase and Monica and he pulled it off.

I also wrote last time that even though Cochran had a big edge as a returning player, I still gave him credit for being able to navigate his way through the minefield of other clever veterans.  I tip my hat in a similar way to Tyson, who had to overcome the wholly unique "loved one" twist that essentially turned the season into Doubles Survivor.  While I'm on record as heavily disliking the Redemption Island gimmick and I still would prefer to never see it again, RI only becomes tolerable within the 'loved one' context since it created another layer of added drama and strategy to the proceedings.  Congratulations, Survivor producers….you finally got me to admit some begrudging tolerance for Redemption Island.  Talk about a big win.

Skillset: Despite a shoulder injury (that he may have exaggerated for his own purposes), Tyson was still a very strong physical player, held his own in mental challenges and was able to keep his natural douchiness in check.  I suspect that Tyson's "edit" on the show makes him seem worse to the viewer than he does within a tribe setting --- we get to hear all of his snark and cockiness in solo interviews, whereas in the game itself, Tyson comes off as relatively nice and funny.  He was certainly the least of three evils when it came to Gervase (who was just too cocky for anyone) and Monica, whose over-analyzing seemed to drive everyone nuts. 

Tyson had clearly learned a lot from his previous two appearances when he came off, frankly, like a idiot.  His vote switch from Russell to Parvati in S20, thus getting himself eliminated, was one of the all-time dumb plays in Survivor history.  This time, he just stuck to a basic alliance strategy and it paid off in the end.  His ability to find hidden immunity idols also ended up being a huge benefit, as you would expect, both in protecting himself and in keeping them away from the likes of Hayden and Ciera.

Could He Do It Again?: So now, after praising Tyson all this way, let me now illustrate why I can't rank him above the bottom third of Survivor winners.  Firstly, it was his third time playing the game, giving him even an added advantage over most of his fellow returnees.  (I similarly had the heralded Boston Rob ranked only 10th on my original ranking of winners since it him four tries to finally win the show.) 

Secondly, this is now the third time that Survivor has employed an returnees vs. newbies format and it's the third time that the newbies have been essentially dominated.  I'm forced to conclude that experience is just simply too big a factor in this game, especially when you look at how returning players have done even in seasons when it's just a couple of them against newbies…

S11: Steph finishes second, Bobby Jon makes the jury in ninth
S22: Rob wins, Russell Hantz finishes fourth-last
S23: Coach finishes second, Ozzy finishes fourth
S25: Skupin finishes second, Penner finishes seventh, Russell Swan finishes fourth-last

So between eight players, that's three silver medals and three jury finishes.  Even the Russells were voted out under somewhat extenuating circumstances, as Hantz's tribe threw a challenge to purposely eliminate him, and Swan was stuck on one of the worst challenge tribes in the game's history.  In the seasons where it's all returnees against all new players, the returnee tribe is 10-4 in challenges against the new tribe, which is a pretty glaring record.  I have to not only factor this into how I rate Tyson's win, but also retrospectively how I rate Parvati and Cochran's wins.

Speaking of Tyson himself, he also had more than a little good fortune go his way.  I mentioned earlier how he ended up in the physically dominant tribe post-swap, which also ended up being a tribe of mostly players whose loved ones were already gone, making them more prone to team up against the Wesson/Baskauskas quartet.  If you believe internet scuttlebutt, Tina, Katie, Aras and Vytas had planned to team up before the game even began, and if that arrangement made itself apparent during the game, that painted an even bigger target on their backs and took the heat away from the would-be threat of Tyson/Gervase/Monica.

And, it has to be said, Tyson won the game by the grace of the purple rock.  Okay, okay, they used white rocks and black rocks this time but "The Purple Rock Of Doom" has become such a staple of Survivor lore that I had to bust the term out one more time since we actually got another tiebreaker.  For just the second time in Survivor history, they drew rocks at a tribal council, and Tyson had a 33.3% percent chance of going home.  He had an idol in his pocket but didn't play it, thinking he had Ciera's vote in the bag, and it nearly cost him his whole game.  Am I putting too much emphasis on Tyson winning a vote he had a 66.6% chance of winning?  Well, put it this way --- the reason that rock-drawing tiebreakers are so rare is that smart players often find ways of avoiding them.  I give Ciera credit for taking the plunge and forcing the tie vote (putting herself at risk, to boot), yet even though it was an especially rare and risky play, Tyson should've been prepared to see it coming and played his idol just in case.

Let's also consider that the loved one/Redemption Island twist ended up really favouring Tyson's game.  Rachel, his girlfriend, was specifically eliminated because of her ties to Tyson, as the Tadhana crew thought there was a chance he'd take her spot on Redemption Island.  Had Redemption Island not existed, Tadhana would certainly have kept Rachel (and Marissa, to boot) as they were better challenge competitors than Ciera and Katie.  Essentially, the Brad Culpepper-led Tadhanas overthought things by playing the long game, and didn't realize that those decisions were decimating their chances to compete in the short term.  See what I mean about veterans having an advantage over newcomers?  No wonder Tadhana didn't win a challenge until Brad was voted out.

You can make a strong argument that Katie's early exit was the best thing that could've happened to Tyson's game.  Consider that he, Gervase and Monica were the first three to see their loved ones lose a tribal council vote, allowing them all to essentially go on a Bride-esque roaring rampage of revenge and focus on themselves.  Monica said this herself in one of her many first-person references to how she was "now playing for Monica," and the same was true of Tyson.  Without Katie, he had the advantage of just playing regular Survivor, while the others had to play their games with the added burden (as it turned out) of having to think about a loved one in the mix.

My thesis will be proven if, during another "loved ones" season, we get another winner whose loved one was an early boot.  Given how well this past season was received, I'm guessing CBS won't hesitate to deploy another Blood vs. Water type of season soon, so we can probably best my thesis within the next two years at most.  S28 is already cast as all newbies, and there are persistent rumours that the milestone 30th season will be some type of "all-champions" edition (which I would love to see), so I'd pencil in S29 in September 2014 as the next loved one-season.

In conclusion, I don't think Tyson would fare too well if he were to play again during an all-returnee season, or in a Champions League scenario.  He simply had too many breaks go his way in S27, and while I give him credit for improving his game, I feel that the target already on his back for being a good physical player will only grow larger now that he's proven he has a brain in his head.  Ironically, Tyson would face the same "he's too big a threat, we have to boot him now" uprising that he led against Aras.  Not to throw his Heroes vs. Villains mistake in his face again, but we've already seen how Tyson fares when he's in there with the big boys in Survivor history.

My original Survivor ranking post covered the first 22 seasons of the show, and it's interesting to note that in the five seasons since, Tyson is the first winner who gets a low ranking from me.  Kim Spradlin is in the all-time upper tier, and I had Denise Stapley, Sophie Clarke and Cochran all in the second tier.  Now, I'll be shifting Cochran down a bit in my next major rankings due to the whole "veterans vs. returnees" thing, not to mention that Tina and Aras will both see their rankings affected by their performances in Blood vs. Water.  I keep hyping this thing so I swear I'll eventually, just as soon as Season 28 wraps up.  Whew, six more months of procrastination!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Reaction

You know you're an Oscars geek when you're actually dreaming about the nominations, as I did last night.  In my mind, everything went pretty smoothly except for an absolutely chaotic Best Director field --- all of the would-be favourites were snubbed in favour of the likes of Hayao Miyazaki (The Wind Rises), Gabriela Cowperthwaite (director of Blackfish), Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and two other completely random names.  Basically, it was an entire category of the proverbial Out-Of-Left-Field Fifth Nominee.  I suspect my dream was inspired by last year's Best Director snubs of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, showing that even my subconscious has a hard time believing that happened.

Anyway, it's worth noting that none of my 'random choices' would've been undeserving.  (Hell, the film world would've exploded in joy had the Academy honoured the legendary Miyazaki with a nomination for his farewell film).  Maybe that was also a sign that this year's Oscar field is one of the deepest in recent memory.  I'm hard-pressed to think of any truly major snubs, as while there were other performances and films I would've loved to have seen in the mix instead, it's not like the actual nominees were chopped live.  I was fearing that some of the typical "Oscar movie" melodramatic nonsense like The Butler or Saving Mr. Banks would sully the field, but nope, we ended up nine Best Picture candidates that are, at worst, only pretty good.

My random thoughts….

* Like Silver Linings Playbook last year, David O. Russell directed a Best Picture nominee that scored nominations in all four acting categories.  Also like last year, one of those four wasn't deserving, so congratulations Christian Bale, you're this year's Jacki Weaver.  Bale is the only one of the 20 acting nominees who I wasn't crazy about, which is surprising since I think Bale is one of the better overall actors working today.  In a weaker year I wouldn't even have minded Bale getting in, but for 2013, it takes more than being mumbly and gaining 40 pounds to overcome great performances like Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, Robert Redford in All Is Lost, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips and on down the line.  

* While I ripped Mr. Banks and The Butler earlier, I wouldn't have been too upset if Emma Thompson or Oprah had made the cut in the lead or supporting actress categories since both were very good in difficult roles.  The backlash against Saving Mr. Banks shouldn't have been unexpected, however.  For one, it's not a very good movie.  For two, the portrayal of P.L. Travers really left itself open to the obvious "well, she wasn't really like that" historical nitpicking.  For three, the portrayal of Walt Disney REALLY left itself open to historical nitpicking --- given all the charges of anti-semitism thrown Walt's way over the decades, it's hard to not roll your eyes at the kindly grandfather version of Disney that Hanks portrays in the film.  Film critic Wesley Morris also made a solid point in a recent Grantland podcast when he said that for creative-minded people, the message of Saving Mr. Banks is pretty insulting.  It's basically, "if you create something and believe in it, don't be afraid to turn it over to a corporation that could warp your cherished artistic creation since you've just got a bunch of daddy issues anyway!"

* Of the 20 acting nominees, seven are former winners; the entire Best Actress field save Amy Adams already have Oscars, and had Thompson made the cut, it would've just been the second time in Academy history that an acting category had an all-winner field.

* Of the 13 non-winners, five have been nominated before.  Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern and Bradley Cooper would be 0-for-2 with a loss, Leo DiCaprio would be 0-for-4 with a loss and Amy Adams would be 0-for-5.  Now, while Adams has a bit of underdog buzz going, there is no way in hell she or anyone else is beating Cate Blanchett this year, so poor Amy is staring at her fifth time coming up short.  If it makes her feel better, the only actors nominated more times without a win were Peter O'Toole (8), Richard Burton (7), Thelma Ritter (6), Glenn Close and Albert Finney (5), so that's pretty good company.

* I was very happy to see that both Hill and Sally Hawkins were nominated, as both are my favourites in their categories and both were definitely on the bubble to get nods.  Hmm, I suppose saying this is a bit of a spoiler for my upcoming Markademy Awards post, but, uh, ignore!  For Hawkins, it's doubly sweet since she was so badly snubbed for "Happy-Go-Lucky" five years ago.

* In the whole history of the Academy Awards, only Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor come to mind as more unlikely acting nominees than Barkhad Abdi.  Great to see him recognized.

* Emmanuel Lubezki is the favourite to finally win a long-overdue Oscar for the cinematography for "Gravity."  While Lubezki is certainly deserving and he should have a couple of Oscars on his shelf already, his likely victory will continue the losing streak for Roger Deakins.  The Deak is about to go 0-for-11, and while Lubezki is clearly the best choice this year, hopefully Deakins' own breakthrough is coming sooner rather than later.  Deakins and Thomas Newman can buy each other a drink, as Newman could go 0-for-11 himself this year in the Best Original Score category.

* The single funniest Oscar nomination of the year is the Best Makeup nod for "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa."  The movie was co-produced by (get this) Spike Jonze, so that's a bit of consolation for him over not getting a Best Director nomination.

* This is the second time that Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been nominated for a screenplay Oscar for their "Before" trilogy, one of the more under-the-radar film achievements of the last two decades.  I'm a jerk since I've yet to see any of these movies.

* All of the controversy generated by "The Wolf Of Wall Street" wasn't going to harm its Oscar chances whatsoever, and sure enough, here it is with nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay plus the two acting nods.  At the end of the day, did you really think a Martin Scorsese movie wasn't going to garner the necessary 5% of first place votes on the Academy ballot?  (Okay, Shutter Island didn't, but had it been released in November 2010 instead of February 2010, it could've been a different story.)  I personally loved WOWS and thought some of its alleged offensiveness was an overblown case of monocle-dropping by faint-hearted critics and viewers.

* No editing nomination for WOWS, however, which was a surprise given that Thelma Schoonmaker was doing the cutting.  (Though even the movie's biggest fans could've probably admitted that it could've been 10-15 minutes shorter.)  As usual, Best Editing is one of the key precursors for Best Picture.  If either '12 Years A Slave' or 'American Hustle' takes the editing Oscar, we could know our end-of-the-night favourite.

* Inside Llewyn Davis was almost entirely shut out.  I maybe shouldn't have been surprised since a) it's a difficult movie, and b) while the Coen brothers have gotten a lot of love from the Academy in the past, it's generally been for their most "relatable" films rather than their more esoteric stuff.  Except for A Serious Man, which I still can't believe actually for nominated for Best Picture, as much as I enjoyed that movie.  I was just bummed that the impossibly catchy "Please Mr. Kennedy" wasn't eligible for a Best Song Oscar since it wasn't an entirely original recording.  As in, it was partially based on an older song, not that the Coens were trying to pull a Shia LeBeouf.

* U2 GOT NOMINATED!!!!  Now, while "Ordinary Love" isn't exactly one of U2's all-timers, it's still a very good track, already a Golden Globe winner and it should…oh, what's that?  The song from Frozen is nominated?  Shit.  Yeah, the song from Frozen is going to clean house.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Google, The Person

Kudos, viral comedy video.  You finally inspired me to actually look up the name of Brian Huskey (the actor playing 'Google'), an actor who I've seen in a ton of funny things over the years and who seems to just be waiting for that one big break to turn him from one of those "that guy in..." actors to an actual name.  Could this video be his big break?  Uh, well, probably not, but it can't hurt!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Conan v. Jordan, Redux

Here's the latest entry in the ongoing battle of wills between Conan O'Brien and Jordan Schlansky.  I'm not going to lie, I could use a professional organizer to sort out my room, house, life, etc.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Ranking U2's Albums

This could quickly become an outdated post given that U2's new studio album is expected to be out in April, but given how U2 is notorious for delaying records, I feel like I have to get this post out now lest the ideas just sit around mouldering in my brain for the next…oh god, surely those four jerks wouldn't make us wait another year for new music, would they?

Anyway, to while away the hours until then, here's my personal ranking of U2's twelve studio albums.  This is one of those rankings that has remained more or less the same at the top and bottom for years yet the middle is always open to shifts depending on my mood, whether a certain record just caught me the right way on my most recent listen or if a song gets stuck in my head for the first time in a decade and gives me a new appreciation.  I could write this very same post again in five years and it will be completely different, though hopefully in five years I'll have more than one damn new U2 disc to add to the mix.

N.B. I'm not counting the Passengers side project with Brian Eno, since that was specifically "Passengers," not U2.  Though if I did rank it, it'd be last.  So huh, maybe this means I did just rank it.

12. October
Well of course it's October.  Any random poll of U2 fans on the subject of the band's worst album will involve a couple of snarky votes for whatever their newest record is, or for Pop, but the large majority will always go to October since…*drumroll*…it's the worst album.  I'm not even going to sell you on it being underrated or a hidden gem, as it's just a thoroughly average record of decent tunes.  "Gloria," "Rejoice," "Tomorrow" are all very good but that's it.  For a band that prides itself on breaking new ground on each recording, October is the one that can easily be omitted from U2's history without missing a beat.  They rarely ever play anything from this record in concert except for the wholly unexpected revival of "Scarlet" on the last tour, complete with backing rap from opening act (!) Jay Z.  Even the album cover is terrible thanks to Adam Clayton's haircut. 

11. No Line On The Horizon
I raved about NLOTH when it was first released but yeah, it's not aging well.  Much has been made of the weird "we need some hitz!" placement of the three pop-rockers tracks right in the middle of what's overall more of an ambient record but I don't know, the quieter stuff like "Cedars Of Lebanon," "White As Snow," or the experimental "Fez: Being Born" seems more and more like filler as time goes on.  The disc's best tracks are very good but not great, aside from the instant classic "Moment Of Surrender."  In short, NLOTH seems more like a souped-up version of October than a real step forward for U2 and I confess that I don't give it many listens. 

It probably didn't help that, during NLOTH's promotional cycle, Bono kept going on about how the band had already made a follow-up record (Songs Of Ascent) that would be a bit more low-key and meditative, which was odd since NLOTH was already a pretty sedate album.  But whatever, hey, new U2 stuff, bring it on!  The trouble was that it was never brought on, aside from a few notable tracks from the recording sessions that ended up being played live on the 360 Tour.  My theory is that the Spider-Man musical took up enough of Bono and Edge's time that Songs Of Ascent couldn't be properly finished, or perhaps Bono was simply speaking out of turn and hyping up a record that the other three guys didn't think was ready for the light of day.  It could be that this was a bit of a Lucky Town/Human Touch situation, or just Double Album Syndrome.  If U2 had just taken the best 12 recordings from their sessions and put them onto one disc, it could've been special; by perhaps attempting for two releases or just saving a few gems for a follow-up, it watered everything down.

10. The Unforgettable Fire
9. All That You Can't Leave Behind

This is essentially a split entry since both records have the same issue, and it's the same issue writ large that plagued NLOTH.  Simply put, the back half of ATYCLB really falls off and Unforgettable Fire is a short disc to begin with that's made shorter by a few total throw-aways.

But oh man, the good stuff on these two albums is really great stuff.  Six songs through ATYCLB and you'd think you might be listening to a pantheon U2 album.  Then we get a couple of sweet and heartfelt tunes in "Wild Honey" and "Peace On Earth" that nevertheless don't move the needle all that much.  Then comes "When I Look At The World," the definition of a throwaway filler rock track.  "New York" is one of my least-favourite U2 songs, and while I enjoy "Grace" as a sweet, Lou Reed-with-heart song, it's not enough to save the back half of the record from obscurity.  Unforgettable Fire doesn't have the same severe Side A/Side B split, but "Indian Summer Sky" is filler and experimental tracks like "Elvis Presley & America" and "4th Of July" are wastes of space.  The title track is also decent but not one of my favourites, leaving just six songs on a 10-song EP.  Fortunately, those six range from really good to all-timers like "Bad" and "Pride," which is more than enough to salvage things.  Despite my issues with both Unforgettable Fire and ATYCLB, we're now into the range where every album I discuss is one that I'd firmly rate as an awesome disc, and these two are both still tremendous listens.

8. Boy
Oh, Boy.  I've noted in the past that debut albums are either a) by far the best thing a band will ever release, b) so different from their future sounds that the initial disc sounds almost archaic or c) like Boy, a record that sounds like a raw version of the band we've come to know that love, yet it's still distinctly that band.  When U2 busted out several of the old Boy tunes on tour in 2005 ("Electric Co" and "Out Of Control" in particular), they easily fit in amongst the modern hits, showing that U2 had the foundation down early and have spent the last three decades just building around it.  Bono recently stated that when U2 get together and just randomly play, they still naturally sound like that raw punk-influenced band from 1978, which makes me wish U2 would do something non-calculated for once and just make an album from one of those sessions.  Just go completely back to basics and release a one-off valentine to the fans.

7. Zooropa
A rich man's NLOTH, basically.  This album reminds me of the old line from director Howard Hawks about how all you need to make a good movie is "three great scenes and no bad scenes."  That's essentially Zooropa --- none of the 10 songs are bad and there are a few distinct peaks in the form of "Stay" (one of U2's all-time greatest songs), "Lemon" and "Numb" (two of the most distinct and creative tracks the band ever produced) and "The Wanderer" (Johnny Cash adds untold gravitas to a europop wasteland).  Unlike NLOTH, the songs just seem to fit together on Zooropa, despite how different they sound on a track-to-track basis.  I can't help but note that whereas most U2 records take years to produce, this one came together in just a few months in between tour legs and the result was an album that couldn't help but sound fresh given its short gestation cycle.  Not to turn this whole post into a "U2 should make records like THIS these days!" but again, U2 should set a strict six-month timeline on making an album and see what happens.

6. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
Here's an album I've come around on after recent listens, so there's hope for NLOTH yet.  Bomb is tonally all over the place, which can be blamed on the fact that U2 had about six or seven different producers working on the record at one time or another.  As you might expect, this leads to a real lack of cohesion --- to use Bono's own words on the record, "There are no weak songs. But as an album, the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts, and it fucking annoys me."

That said, I'd still (slightly) take Bomb over a more cohesive record like Zooropa because the quality of the songs is just that high.  Would HTDAAB seem to flow better if the tracks were in a different order?  Probably, though in this era of iPod shuffling, track order matters less and less to modern listeners.  Would HTDAAB be better if U2 had included such B-side gems as "Mercy," "Levitate" and "Xanax & Wine/Fast Cars" (two mixes of the same song) on the record, either stretching it to 14 songs or replacing a couple of the lesser tracks?  Probably.  But the existence of a few flaws shouldn't obscure the fact that the album as it stands is awfully good.  "Vertigo" and "City Of Blinding Lights" are cornerstone songs for U2.  "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and "Original Of The Species" are incredibly underrated gems.  Even my least-favourite track, "Crumbs On Your Table" has a great bridge and chorus.  These were some awesome songs and this was an awesome disc --- nitpicking shouldn't diminish it.  I will pick a big nit with that awful record cover, however.  Black-and-white shot of the four guys just sitting on a bench?  Yikes.

5. Rattle & Hum
Here's where I look like a giant hypocrite!  Some might wonder why I downgraded Unforgettable Fire and ATYCLB for having weak halves, when I'm praising R&H despite its own bloated half of live tracks and throw-away musical excerpts.  My logic is that R&H was being specifically build as a soundtrack album, and hence all of the stuff from the movie was "necessary" to some extent.  The nine original tracks that appear on R&H, however, are so amazing that the album still merits this high ranking on my list.  There is no shortage of bloat I'll cut through in order to get to "All I Want Is You," "Angel Of Harlem," or even lesser-known cuts like "Heartland," which features Bono's most throat-busting vocal work of all time. 

The Rattle & Hum project (the film and soundtrack) brought U2 was criticism for being too pompous, as they were accused of placing themselves into a musical pantheon where they didn't deserve to belong.  Seeing it with 25 years of hindsight now that U2 are firmly legends, that criticism doesn't really ring true.  Accusing U2 of selling out by embracing roots rock also doesn't really fit since a) the songs are fucking amazing and b) the band was already exploring slightly more American-sounding rock on The Joshua Tree.  My main issue is simply that U2 inexplicably released a music documentary without actually releasing a proper soundtrack from that documentary.  I mean, how incredible would R&H be if it was a proper two-disc album that was half new stuff and half soundtrack?  To wit…

Disc one….the nine original songs (Van Diemen's Land, Desire, Hawkmoon 269, Angel Of Harlem, Love Rescue Me, When Love Comes To Town, Heartland, God Part II, All I Want Is You) plus notable B-sides Hallelujah Here She Comes, A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel and She's A Mystery To Me.

Disc two…live performances from the movie (With Or Without You, Where The Streets Have No Name, Running To Stand Still, Exit, the choral version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Bullet The Blue Sky, In God's Country, Pride, Bad, MLK, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Silver & Gold)

That's an easy 12/12 split right there.  If U2 doesn't want to include some of those live tracks since it'd make it too much of a 'Joshua Tree Live' feeling, then stick on some of the covers they recorded during their sessions --- Dancing Barefoot, Everlasting Love, Unchained Melody, Baby Please Come Home.  Again, not to pull a HTDAAB and nitpick a project that is pretty great as it is, but a proper double soundtrack album would've helped distill some of the confusion over what U2 was trying to accomplish with this disc.

4. War
There's such an urgency to War.  The somewhat tinny 1983 recording sound, the slashing guitars beneath the Edge's trademark chiming, a very tight rhythm section (War is still probably Larry Mullen's best album) and Bono's voice is just as yearning as possible.  There's such a drive to the record that the one track that doesn't have that immediacy --- the much-maligned "Red Light" --- stands out as an oddity, even though I still like the song.  War polishes the sound that U2 established over its first two albums but doesn't polish it too much, which is the key to it still sounding as timeless as ever 30 years later.  Also, you forget that while War is thought of by some fans as being U2 in its purest form, there are still some odd stylistic choices here (atomic bomb sound effect? children's choir?  horn section?  female backup singers?) that the band either never used again or used very sparingly over the rest of their careers.

Though this album contains some of U2's best-known classics, my favourite song is actually "Like A Song," a vastly-underrated track that epitomizes the album's energy.  It might also be an odd choice since the song is essentially just an amped-up version of "With A Shout" from October, so U2 was closer to really figuring it out on that record than it might've seemed in 1981.  The only semi-knock I can make on War is that the album version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" seems thin in comparison to all of the incendiary live versions I've heard over the years, but U2 can hardly be blamed for that.

3. Pop
It's a very, very, very close shave between War and Pop.  Maybe the only tiebreaker I can really use here is that Pop was my first U2 album.  I became a fan of the band in early 1997, right when Pop was about to be released and thus those songs are indelibly stuck within my head.  This could be also be why Pop holds a high spot in my rankings, as most critics point to this record as a misfire for U2, yet I think they're wrong and I'm right (#Humility).  It all came down to marketing --- either the public didn't get the tongue-in-cheek vibe that U2 was going for with the whole "PopMart" thing, or U2 confused the issue themselves by promoting what's actually a pretty serious and deep album as froth.  The video for "Discotheque" was a goofy disaster.  Performance-wise, the first few PopMart concerts were shaky, under-rehearsed, some of the Pop songs didn't work in a live setting and U2 was still figuring out how to play amidst the giant stage. 

Those were the flaws that allowed critics to write off Pop (and, in part, U2 as a whole) before everything really got going.  U2 themselves feel the songs would've benefited from six more months of work, which is perhaps why they have taken bloody forever in producing their subsequent records.  Yet with all this being said, PopMart ended up being an epic tour and the actual Pop album is fantastic.  "Please" is a pantheon song both on the record and especially in live shows, "Mofo" and "Miami" are such departures for U2 that it doesn't even sound like the same band, and "Discotheque" is a blast, dumb video aside.  Even a song like "If God Will Send His Angels" that actually sounds unfinished is powerful enough to stand in its half-built form.  It could be argued that some U2 fans and the band themselves are down on this record just because it's kind of a downer --- it's the rare U2 disc that seems pessimistic, as opposed to seeing goodness or being angry but hopeful for change.

2. The Joshua Tree
There's something to be said for timing when it comes to classic albums, or at least our perception of classic albums.  A musician's first record can make an impact for being fresh on the scene, a late-career record can carry extra oomph as a comeback or return to form (Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind), or another record can be heralded for hitting at just the right time to reinforce just how good the musician can be (i.e. Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album).  In 1987, U2 was on the cusp of firmly grabbing the so-called Biggest Band In The World title and all they needed was a home run album.  Along comes The Joshua Tree and boom, it was all gravy after that.  Had Joshua Tree been only a very good record or missed the mark slightly, U2 wouldn't have quite scaled those same heights.  Instead, it was a classic and U2 went into the pantheon.

I dunno, what more do I need to say about this album?  I dare say that 80% of U2 fans have either Joshua Tree or my #1 pick as their top two records by the band, the crown jewels of an impressive discography.  The opening hit of "Where The Streets Have No Name"/"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/"With Or Without You" is in the running for the strongest three-song opening in music history.  U2 takes just a bit of the so-called sonic landscape experimentation they tested out on Unforgettable Fire and uses that sound to enhance great pop melodies, creating great track after great track.  This is the rare case where less was more, as U2's original plans to create a double album would've really weakened the final product.  A double album would've included such atmospheric (my code word for 'not very good') tracks as "Walk To The Water,"  "Deep In The Heart" and "Race Against Time," which are B-sides all the way and in my view were better left as rarities.  Kudos to U2 for just cutting it down to 11 essential tracks and calling it a day.

1. Achtung Baby
Perhaps the only thing more difficult than releasing a classic album when you're at your peak is then turning around and hitting a completely different peak.  The criticism of Rattle & Hum hit U2 hard, and the three years of constant touring they did in support of that record made them feel, in Larry Mullen's words, like a jukebox.  Something fresh, something different was necessary…and it come in the form of Achtung Baby, the band's best record because it's a total shift that still felt organic.  It wasn't U2 glomming onto a new sound because they felt they had to for album-selling purposes, but it was the band exploring a part of its sound that had always been there in bits and pieces ("God Part II" and "Wire" are maybe the most Achtung-sounding earlier U2 tracks) and committing to the overhaul.  It's been widely chronicled that the arguments over this record nearly broke the band apart, and "One" was the mutually agreed-upon song that made them all realize this new direction was worth it.

So there's the big-picture stuff, now let's talk about how fucking great all of the songs are on this disc.  I've even come around on "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," which for years I considered the record's weak link, and now there are no weak links.  Everyone knows the singles, but let's discuss "Acrobat," "Ultraviolet," "So Cruel" and "Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World," all of which could've easily been singles for any other band.  ("Love Is Blindness" gets elevated out of his relatively unknown group thanks to Jack White's awesome cover.)  Every song combines for a narrative, Bono has lyrically never been better, and it's basically the elevated version of Zooropa --- it's both more than the sum of its parts and also a collection of amazing singles at the same time. 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Packers Postmortem

Heck, I'm not even mad.  No, Aaron Rodgers didn't eat an entire wheel of cheese, but still, the Packers' improbable run to even make the playoffs was such a stretch that it would've been too much to ask for them to actually win a game.  Losing the best QB in the league for two months and still managing to win the division?  Plus having an epic comeback against the LOL Cowboys and then beating the arch-rival Bears in the last week of the regular season to clinch the NFC North?  That's good enough for me.  Green Bay was just playing with house money at that point.

Now, it was surely annoying to come so close to beating the 49ers yesterday, especially when the game basically came down to Green Bay's offense essentially taking the first quarter off, and then the D having five minutes to stop the Niners and being unable to do so at the end of the game.  And sure, in the macro sense, it's troubling that San Francisco has now beaten Green Bay four times (!) in the last two seasons and they clearly have the Packers outmanned and out-coached.  Sometimes, though, you just have to shrug your shoulders and realize your team isn't a legit Super Bowl contender.

Let's talk injuries.  This was seemingly the most injury-riddled season in NFL history, with virtually every team losing at least one or two big stars to season-ending woes.  I'm sure every fan feels this is true of their team, but it seemed Green Bay was hit harder by injuries than most, culminating in Rodgers being sidelined for half the season.  Since they managed to keep their heads above water, I can't totally fault the Packers for a lack of depth, but this team has been bitten hard by the injury bug for the last two years, as they led the league in lost man-days in 2012.  It's frustrating since I don't know if it's the fault of the Green Bay training staff, or just bad luck since the NFL is so inherently violent and SOME team has to be at the bottom of the barrel.  The injuries also make analysis kind of difficult since I don't think we ever saw the Packers at their full potential, so I don't know if major changes are still needed or if the team just needs a bit of tinkering and some luck from the good health fairies.

Now, it should be noted that Green Bay won the division not because of their gritty achievement in the face of Rodgers' injury, but really because the Lions and Bears are incompetent franchises (and Chicago, to be fair, also had several brutal injuries).  I'm worried that Detroit will hire Ken Whisenhunt since he did a pretty great job in Arizona and we've seen that he can field a contender as long as he has a decent quarterback.  As for the Bears, they've hitched their wagon to Jay Cutler's annual miss of half the season due to injury, so I'm not worried about them for the time being.

I'll reiterate my annual claim that the Packers have to a) make beefing up their offensive line a top priority and b) spend some damn money in free agency.  This season just underscored how important Rodgers is to the operation, and while his injury was kind of a fluke and not necessarily the O-line's fault (in fact, the line actually played pretty decently in 2013, led by Josh Sitton and a good rookie year from David Bakhtiari), it's clear that as Rodgers goes, so go the Packers.  The more offensive line depth Green Bay has, the better.  As for the free agent thing, I'll never understand why Ted Thompson handicaps himself in player acquisitions.  Nobody is asking him to spend millions, just to dip into the market once in a while for a useful mid-level guy.  Free agency isn't going to bite, Ted.  For example, you could actually add some defensive help, as teams were just shredding the Packers' defense for much of the year.

It's also possible that the Packers lost to the Niners because of me.  For the second straight year, I watched a GB/SF playoff game from the comfort of my pal Kyle's house in Whitby, and sure enough, the Packers lost again.  Kyle, next year I'll hold off my visit until after one or both teams have been eliminated, thanks.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

NFL Playoff Picks

This is what I call an Admiral Ackbar slate of playoff games.  They all seem just a little *too* easy to predict, which means it's a trap!  I mean…

* Cincinnati should beat San Diego since the Bengals are unbeaten at home, it's going to be freezing in Cincy this weekend, the Chargers barely squeaked into the playoffs and their defense can't stop anyone, and the Bengals are just flat-out a better overall team.  BUT…you could also see Rivers having a big game, Andy Dalton delivering one of his stinkers and the Bengals just Cincinnati Bengal-ing their way to yet another playoff loss, as the franchise hasn't won a playoff game in over two decades.

* Indianapolis should beat Kansas City since the Colts have been hot, the Chiefs have been in a slump, Indy just kicked K.C.'s ass not two weeks ago in a road game, the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium, Andrew Luck "just wins football games," etc.  BUT….the Chiefs are healthier, they're probably a better overall team on paper than Indy and the Colts are due for a letdown.

* Philadelphia should beat New Orleans since the Saints struggle on the road, it's going to be absolutely frigid in Philly, the Nick Foles-led version of the Eagles is pretty awesome and again, the Saints are bad on the road.  BUT…if the Vikings' second-stringers can put up 48 points against the Eagles' defense then I shudder to think what Drew Brees can do, the Eagles aren't exactly a good home team, New Orleans has loads of playoff experience and the Eagles have a long and proud tradition of letting down their home fans. 

* San Francisco should beat Green Bay because the 49ers seem to be one of the league's very best teams, they absolutely owned the Packers in last year's playoff game and this year's season opener, Green Bay is notoriously bad against physical teams, you could wake Jim Harbaugh up from a year-long coma and he could still outcoach Mike McCarthy, the Packers barely squeaked into the playoffs and may be spent by the effort to just make it into the bracket.  BUT…the game is at Lambeau Field, it's going to be sub-Ice Bowl temperatures in Green Bay, and no team is better a bigger roster boost going into the playoffs than the Packers did with the return of Aaron Rodgers.

So obviously, we can't have all four obvious favourites win, yet obviously all four upsets aren't going to happen either.  That said, I'm going to semi-chicken out by picking three favourites….I'll take the Bengals, Colts, Saints and 49ers.  Yes, that's right, I'm picking against my beloved Packers.  The 49ers were the absolute last team I wanted to see Green Bay face since San Francisco owns them as absolutely as the early-1990's Cowboys owned Green Bay.  Whatever, I'm already exhausted by this Green Bay season --- frankly, just in overcoming the Rodgers injury, winning that huge game in Chicago last week to clinch the division and that big comeback in Dallas, I already feel like the Packers have accomplished something this year.  No need to be greedy. 

Also, the existence of that "King In The North" artwork is a bad omen, given what happened to Robb Stark.  The 49ers even wear red.  The Niners should try blasting "The Rains Of Castamere" in their locker room before the game.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Best Posts Of 2013

Yikes, my resolution for 2014 is to get next year's "Best Of" post online during the actual year.  God, I'm lazy.  If only THAT could be corrected by a simple resolution…wait…

Anyway, here's my annual navel-gazing look back at some of my favourite bits of my own writing from the previous year.  Stay tuned for my annual naval-gazing look back at my favourite boats of 2013.

Dec 29: Anderson Silva's leg (and possibly his career) is shattered in such a dramatic fashion that I have to write about it just a couple of hours after the fact.  Apparently the break wasn't THAT bad and Silva could be training in as few as six months...but the question remains, would he even want to fight again after experiencing such pain?  If it was me, I'd just sit on my couch and eat chips instead, though in fairness, I really like chips.

Dec 17: What would a hypothetical Meg White solo album sound like, and how would it be received?  Debating this point might ultimately be more fascinating than actually listening to the record.

Nov 23
June 24
Jan 26: Well, my attempt to pick my Shakespeare Re-Read series didn't exactly work, as I only got around to re-reading and discussing about three plays.  If I can quote a line from one of the sonnets, "come on Mark, pick up the fucking pace!"  (It's from one of the lesser-known sonnets.)  Anyway, I did add The Winter's Tale, Pericles and The Taming Of The Shrew to my list, so read away, English majors.

Nov 13: My ranking of the 55 best Pearl Jam songs.  After a couple more months of listening to "Sirens" on the radio, I feel like I'm underrating it by at least five places.  What a great tune.

Nov 7: Bemoaning Aaron Rodgers' injury and trying to figure out how the Packers could survive without him.  Well, it didn't quite work out like I thought....but it still worked out!  WOOOOOOO HOOOOOOO!

Oct 31: A hypothetical idea for a Halloween costume that I'm absolutely going to actually do next year.

Sept 30: Discussing the incredible ending of Breaking Bad, and then wrapping up the godawful ending of Dexter in two paragraphs, which is two more than it deserved.  I should've just posted a GIF of a cow taking a shit.

Sept 25: I discuss the upcoming "Gotham" show and the many ways in which a James Gordon-centric cop show could be amazing.  I neglected to include one final entry, which was "hire me as a showrunner and head writer."  If this is a bit much, I'll just take a job as the VP Of Common Sense to shoot down bad ideas, I'm not picky.

Sept 11: My favourite films and performances from the first two-thirds of the year.  Without spoiling anything for March's epic Markademy Awards post, I'll just say that only ONE of these favoured candidates is still in the pole position for their respective award.  Suspense!

Sept 6: Preseason NFL picks!  My Seattle vs. Denver Super Bowl prediction is still looking good, but then again, I also had both the Panthers and Eagles in last place.  Oops.

Aug 31: The many, many flaws of Grantland's "best songs of the 21st century" bracket.

Aug 27: I join the many TV lovers who raved about "Orange Is The New Black."  Thank goodness I wasn't as into the show as Julianne Hough.

Aug 23: Hey, speaking of me commenting on subjects that the rest of the internet already weighed in on, here's my take on Ben Affleck as the new Batman.

Aug 20: Reviewing two more excellent novels from Julian Barnes, who might pound-for-pound be my favourite author.  Not that pound-for-pound rankings are really applicable for literature, since it's not like some 400-pound monstrosity has an advantage over a 100-pound waif of an author.  If anything, the lighter writer has the edge since he/she can type normally, while the larger writer has to use a special wand to type since his enormous fingers just mash at the keys.  I'm babbling.

Aug 14: A random nonsense post, highlighted by my best pun of the year.  I am unflatteringly proud of that silly bit of wordplay.

Aug 3: It's been over 30 years since the release of "The Girl Is Mine" and it finally got what was coming to it --- an insulting post from me!  #Doggone

July 24: I open the Baldness Hall Of Fame.  I don't want to spoil things, but the BHOF will be a big part of this blog in 2014.  Stay tuned.

July 18: My alterna-Emmys, which actually ended up being less angry than usual since the actual Emmys were pretty decent, minus a few glaring Jeff Daniels-sized errors.

July 12: My old buddy Kyle returns from the wild and we have one of our legendary teamups to discuss the new Arrested Development season.  With six more months of hindsight on that season, by the way, I'll say this...while I enjoyed it, I often forget it actually happened.  Probably not a good sign.

July 11: Listamania!  It's a mania of lists!  Listamania!

July 9: I dream about veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, and no, it's not what you're thinking.

June 13: I debate the ending of "The Wrestler" and dammit, I still think I'm right.  It's also possible that Peter Lynn or his wife are right, I have no idea.  If Mickey Rourke reads this blog, please chime in with your two cents, Mr. Rourke.

June 8: The Raptors may be changing their name, so I chime in with a few suggestions.  Sadly, the Toronto Drakes is looking like less and less of a joke option.  How about the Toronto Failed Tank Jobs?

June 6: My appreciation of Tim Duncan and the Spurs.  Wow, do I ever wish they'd actually held on in Game Six and pulled out that NBA title.  That would've been incredible.

May 24: My attendance history at my high school dances, plus I mock the modern high school fad of a "prom-posal."  Question, if you stand someone up at prom, do you have to deliver an elaborate prom-pology the next day?

May 13: I rate John Cochran's victory in the 26th season of Survivor.  I feel like I should downgrade his victory simply because he's a writer for "The Millers," which is horrible.

May 8: Fun facts are fun and factual!

April 26: Olivia Wilde becomes my new "favourite actor who's always in terrible movies."  It was a short-lived reign for Ms. Wilde as in 2013 alone, she was in Her, Drinking Buddies and Rush, all of which ranged from good to great.

April 25: For some reason I had a lot to say about Pablo Honey, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.  By the way, I'm really eager for some proper Radiohead, but a new album doesn't seem to be forthcoming anytime soon.  These guys could be recording in secret and will drop a new record out of the blue, of course, but man, I need something more than King Of Limbs to tide me over.

April 22: A history of the Markademy Awards, a.k.a. my favourite movies of the last 30-odd years.

April 17: An edition of 'Random Nonsense' that includes my Mean Girls power rankings, judging the cast on how their careers have gone since that film was released in 2004.  Good news for Lizzy Caplan, "Masters Of Sex" bumped her past Seyfried.

April 2: I bust out a once-frequent Polivision feature that has since fallen on hard times....Hot!  Live!  Music!  Nine months later, some of the clips are actually still on YouTube!

March 26: I won a billiards bet with my brother 17 years ago and he still hasn't paid up.  The stakes were pretty reasonable, I felt --- he simply had to refer to me as "Mr. Spectacular" at all times.

March 22: Jimmy "Fortinbras" Fallon is named the next host of the Tonight Show.  Now, there's still time for Jay Leno to pull a last-minute power play to screw this all up, but it actually looks like this is happening.

March 12: A few one-time-only papal names that I felt were due for a second coming (uh, not that kind of second coming) but the current Pope just went totally off the board and picked the original "Francis" as his moniker.  Given that he's playing up the common man gimmick harder than anyone since Dusty Rhodes, I can't help but think that Pope Francis should've used "Simplicius" instead.  He's just a simple guy!  He rides the subway!

March 7: Another "Hot!  Live!  Music!" entry, this one featuring David Byrne's ridiculous live performance of Psycho Killer.

Feb 27: This year's Academy Award Best Picture slate bore a striking resemblance to the Canadian Football League.  Crazy?  Well, let's let Mark explain...

Feb 25: The 2012 Markademy Awards!  BATHE in the pageantry! 

Feb 22: The previous post also contained my thoughts on Samuel L. Jackson's incredible performance in "Django Unchained," which I felt was hands-down deserving of a supporting actor Oscar.  Instead, Jackson didn't even get nominated, and in this post I break down what was a very odd slate of nominees in the ol' supporting category.  Man, Christoph Waltz's win bugs me even more after the fact.  It was just so unnecessary.

Feb 20: Everyone seems to have their own variations on the rules of Monopoly.  Here are mine.

Feb 15: I take yet another dip into Oscar history to come up with the Best Picture winners that I felt were the undisputed best choices of their respective years.  Hopefully I can add to this list when the Smurfs sequel sweeps this year's Academy Awards.

Feb 4: A look back at the Super Bowl, the Ravens' victory, and my own mixed thoughts on the game since my brother is a huge Baltimore fan and I've had to listen to his trash talk for the last eight months.  Fortunately, Joe Flacco's reversion to his usual crappy play has helped me stem the tide.

Jan 25: "The Office" basically broke the fourth wall during its last season, and I questioned the logic or need to actually have the documentary become a focus of the narrative.  I'm also bummed that we didn't get my suggested Werner Herzog cameo, which would've saved everything.

Jan 23: Another edition of "Random Nonsense."  Nothing really stood out here but it's an overall solid collection of crap.

Jan 14: My postmortem of the Packers 2012-13 season.  Pay close attention to this one, as Green Bay is again slated to meet San Francisco in the playoffs.  Is another beating in store for the Packers?  Uh, well, I'd like to think not, but...