Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Outkast's recent reunion has put the band on my mind lately, so I went back to listen to their magnum opus and one of my favourite albums, Speakerboxx/The Love Below.  (btw, if you think Stankonia is Outkast's actual best album, that's a perfectly legitimate stance.  It probably says something about my eclectic tastes that S/TLB is my favourite Outkast disc in the same way the White Album is easily my favourite Beatles disc.)  I listen to the entire double album in full every six months or so, and after so many years and so many listens, my feelings really haven't changed…Speakerboxx is the better of the two discs.

I actually covered this way back in 2008 when I teamed up with my pals Kyle & Misha to discuss "the best albums of our lives," and Misha and I both have S/TLB as our entry for 2003.  In mine and Misha's own words…

Me: Andre's disc has perhaps higher highs, though it also has more extraneous crap (i.e. the interludes....not to say that Big Boi's disc doesn't also have useless interludes, but the one featuring his infant son rapping and then dropping the MF bomb is pretty amusing).

Misha: You make a good point that I didn't talk about in my review of 'The Love Below", which is that, although it is great for the most part, there are some real duds. Big Boi's side is great, and certainly steadier, but never comes close to reaching the highlights of 'The Love Below'…..The albums are both strong in their own right, but Andre's half is by far the most accomplished. It's not even really a hip-hop record as much as a hybrid of rap, jazz, funk, rock, and R&B. It sounds like nothing else, almost like it was made on a different planet.

In essence, Misha and I basically had the same argument about the album's two halves that countless music fans have had over the last 11 years.  Don't get me wrong, I love Andre 3000's album.  As Misha noted, it's a wholly unique disc that really opened a lot of people's eyes about what Andre and Outkast as a whole could do,* and despite the next argument I'm about to make, TLB is flat-out a terrific piece of music.  It's both fresh AND good and it still sounds as great in 2014 as it did in 2003.

* = It's a common misconception that the two halves were wholly solo discs since both Big Boi and Andre co-wrote several songs on each other's records.  If you're doing this in a reductive "scorecard" fashion, you could argue that Big Boi "won" the S/TLB project since he co-wrote Hey Ya, Roses and Vibrate, thus giving him a bigger stake in that record's greatness than Andre did in Speakerboxx's greatness.  But again, this argument is dumb since we have no idea what either man contributed to either's songs.
This all being said, I feel that TLB has been slightly overrated over time because it was a) a different sound and b) it had Hey Ya on it, which trumps a lot of arguments.  Misha is right to praise Andre 3000 for so tremendously branching out into different genres, yet at the same time, it's a reductive argument that underrates what Big Boi did on Speakerboxx.

One of my favourite descriptions of Citizen Kane is Roger Ebert's citation of the film as "more than a great movie; it is a gathering of all the lessons of the emerging era of sound."  All of the various innovations ascribed to Kane (the time-shifting plot, deep-focus cinematography, layered editing, etc.) had been done on lower levels in other movies before, yet Orson Welles collected all of these techniques together and used them to their fullest extent. 

In some respects, this is kind of what Big Boi was doing on Speakerboxx --- it is the crowning "gathering of all the lessons" of the Atlanta hip-hop sound.  The guest stars on the album are a who's who of Atlanta hip-hop icons, ranging from Ludacris to Lil Jon to three-fourths of the Goodie Mob.  You also had the out-of-left-field appearance of Jay Z on Flip Flop Rock, and while Jay isn't an Atlanta guy, his showing up adds to the "time capsule" effect if for no other reason than to show how Jay Z has had his fingers in every pie in the world for hip-hop and rap for almost 20 years now.  The guy is a Zelig.

It's easier for the casual music fan (i.e. the non-hip hop lovers who made S/TLB such a crossover hit) to appreciate Andre's side since he was dealing in broader forms of music, whereas I'd be willing to bet that those well-versed in hip-hop history probably see Speakerboxx as the superior disc.  I should note, of course, that I am in no way any sort of an expert on Atlanta hip-hop and there's a good chance I have no idea what I'm talking about, but this is merely how the situation *seems* to me.

As to the Hey Ya argument, I can't argue with that.  Hey Ya is an amazing song, the song of the 21st century, and probably the biggest reason why S/TLB made such a cultural impact.  That said, it doesn't totally excuse the extra dead weight on the record.  Love Below is almost 20 minutes longer than Speakerboxx and that added time starts to drag on you --- removing the three interludes, the My Favourite Things remix and A Life In The Day of Benjamin Andre would go a long towards tightening things up.  (The last track brings the album to a nice narrative close, though it's not really a song.)  I should sit down sometime to rank all 39 tracks on S/TLB, and if I do so, I suspect Speakerboxx may have up to two-thirds of the top fifteen.

Again, I love The Love Below!  I shouldn't need to denigrate it to praise what Big Boi was doing on the other end of the album.  The fact that fans are still debating this after 11 years is a sign of just how this record has endured and how it's one of the true timeless classics of modern music.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jordan Schlansky, Cowboy

Conan dropping that boot in stunned silence made me laugh for five minutes.  Nuff said.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mark & Ravi's Epic U2 Chat

The last time I had an in-depth chat about U2 with my pal Ravi was July 2011, just after we'd both separately attended U2's rescheduled Rogers Centre date on the back end of the 360 Tour.  Ravi is, if anything, even crazier about U2 than I am, so since we're facing another epic lull in the never-ending wait for their new album, it was high-time for Ravi and I to team up to discuss everything surrounding U2's present and future.

Ravi: So, where to begin with our beloved Irish lads??

Mark: "Ordinary Love" comes out, it's Oscar-nominated. "Invisible" is released to big fanfare, including a Super Bowl commercial. The band performs on Jimmy Fallon's first Tonight Show and steals the show.  All systems are go towards the new album and then.....nothing

Ravi: Not to mention the Oscar performance went off well (though for those who watched Fallon, it perhaps lost some of its charm).  All interviews prior to the new year pointed to a winter/early spring release for a new album as well; I recall Adam discussing in an interview that the band were busy last fall getting things wrapped up prior to the holidays (then again, it was an interview with Adam)

Mark: I love that the band all sticks to their personas when discussing new album releases. Bono always talks things up, promising huge new sounds and "enough material for multiple releases." Larry never promises anything. Edge is a calmer version of Bono, so perhaps Adam is the one we can believe the most

Ravi: I dunno if the new material was truly awful and they decided to start again…or if they are hoping for some sort of 2014 version of the Joshua Tree.

Mark: That's just it. What are the chances the new music was "awful"? Less than five percent? U2 are notoriously hard on themselves, which is sometimes a great thing but often it seems like an albatross.

Ravi: Bono, at least, seems like a man whose reached a mid-life crisis (perhaps more).  He keeps talking about "relevance"/"being on the verge of irrelevance" ... perhaps a new album wouldn't garner them millions of new fans, but it'd at least keep them in good stead with their current fans
at some point you can't overthink the music, you just have to release it and see what the masses have to say

Mark: The relevance thing is a major point. U2 has always (openly) wanted to be 'the biggest band in the world,' as well as the best. In today's music scene, however, that "biggest band in the world" title doesn't even exist anymore. Rock music can't get there anymore. If a rock band did somehow manage to again be the world's most relevant and "best" musical act, it will be a younger band --- not four guys in their 50's.  I'm not sure what Bono considers to be "relevant," since if he thinks U2 can battle for a top 40 radio slot with the Kanyes, Beyonces and Gagas of the world, he's flat-out mistaken.

Ravi: Well I think U2's biggest fear is turning into the Rolling Stones, who have no shame essentially touring music from "Beggars Banquet" to "Tattoo You" decade after decade.  Even the 360 tour by the end only had 2-3 songs each show from NLOTH, but surely I think they have it in them to come up with something within five years that's new and appeals to their fanbase.  Prior to NLOTH, U2's biggest flop was Pop (sorry Mark) and they vowed if their next album didn't do well they'd call it a day.  All That You Can't Leave Behind propelled them back into stardom and it only took the lads 2-3 years to complete

Mark: Yeah, the "two crap albums and we're out" promise. If NLOTH is a crap album by their standards, then the pressure is really on for this one....but does it have to be? As you said, at some point you can't overthink the music.  You make a good point about ATYCLB being finished relatively quickly. From the end of the Popmart tour to ATYCLB's release date, I think it was 2.5 years. We're now going on that long since the end of the (already extended) 360 Tour and still no album in sight.

Sidebar question: do you think U2 ever plays a NLOTH song in concert again, or do they just pretend that one didn't exist, as they basically do for the POP songs?

Ravi: Just like Bono sometimes does "snippets" of Please & Discotheque ... perhaps he'll do a snippet of "Breathe" somewhere (at max a line or two). Other than that I can't see another tune from the album being referenced ever again.

I really think the band is focused on getting new fans, as evidenced by the people they are working with now (Danger Mouse, guy from One Direction).  It's a risky strategy as it may not only be a flop with the younger audiences, but also risk alienating their current fans who are used to the Lillywhite/Eno/Lanois sound.  I also wonder how much time they spend making music in a given week given the fact that they are often at various social events, conferences etc (particularly Bono & Edge, who have really at times become their own travelling act the last 5-6 years).

Mark: In the words of Chris Rock, you never want to be the old guy at the club. If U2 pushes too hard to be trendy, it will backfire badly....ironically, nothing makes you seem less relevant than trying too hard to be relevant.  The Danger Mouse thing is especially disappointing. I wonder how he feels about spending the better part of three years producing "the new U2 record" only to have it all seemingly be tossed aside.

U2 probably haven't been a "full-time" band in years given their other obligations (family, political stuff, etc.) and that can't help but have an impact on the songwriting/recording process

Ravi: What makes the postponement of their album so bad for them is I actually think they did get some attention from "non-fans" based on their SB & Fallon exposure after years of generating headlines for Spiderman stumbles & their tax arrangements (the story that'll always be with them, rightly or wrongly), they started getting some positive press from even their harsher critics.  I just can't see them getting a better PR campaign generated ... and the longer the wait for the new album, the greater the expectations will be.  I'll likely be nervous to hit play, knowing I could be listening to the beginning of the end

Mark: See, I'm somewhat the opposite. I can virtually guarantee I'll like their new album just because I'm such a fan of the U2 sound and style. If they released the scrapped Danger Mouse stuff tomorrow, I'm sure I'd like it overall and surely love a lot of it.  But, if I pressed play and suddenly heard "U2 featuring Pitbull" or some other sad attempt at the top 40, I'd throw up in my mouth.

Ravi: That's what I fear, though. Guys like you and I, we'd be very happy with an album of songs sounding like Invisible.  I think a tune like that satisfies their fan base, may pick up a few extra fans
but they are expecting some sort of "Streets Have No Name" type response - which is simply a bit unrealistic.

Mark: They did it with Beautiful Day.....they did it with Vertigo (with a big assist from Apple's iPod campaign)....but they can't generate that kind of impact now simply because of how much music has changed in a decade.

Ravi: Yeah, and on some level they just released the music and "let it fly" so to speak then ... they were confident in themselves.  They seem so damn worried now about f**king up ... I wonder if Spiderman had a lingering effect on Bono & Edge as well.

Mark: To this day, I believe that damn Spidey musical cost us an album. If Bono/Edge aren't working overtime on that thing, U2 probably put out a Zooropa-esque EP to kick off that 2011 leg of the 360 tour.  It would've had the likes of Mercy, North Star, Every Breaking Wave, Soon, maybe a few others we didn't know about.

It's weird, U2 are in kind of a unique position stature-wise in the musical world, yet other "legend" acts don't at all seem to feel the same pressure as U2 does. Bruce Springsteen, for instance, couldn't give a damn how his new records sell, but he just releases them because he wants to.  Being a "legend" gave Bruce and other artists freedom to do whatever they want, whereas being "legends" seems to make U2 feel like they have to keep cranking out megahits.  Bono is always talking about "defending the belt" whereas Bruce was happy to just retire as champ

Ravi: Charlie Rose asked Bono about his "Messianic complex" in an interview a fear years back.  It goes to that.  I think U2 surprised themselves with their run from 2000-2006 ... if you look at it, they were seemingly dead in the water as a relevant act post Pop; their following two albums generated them millions of new fans, record sales, Grammys etc.  The disappointment of NLOTH and Spiderman I think really shook their egos

Mark: Even with NLOTH, they kind of wimped out with the infamous "middle three" generic pop/rock songs (Crazy Tonight, Boots, Stand Up Comedy) that they felt compelled to add, despite them not fitting into the rest of the album. A braver band would've been confident enough to just tour on a quieter, more overall introspective disc....but it seemed they were like, "oh crap, we're playing stadiums with this huge claw set, we'll need a few rockers and hit singles."

Ravi: Yeah I think overall it's just sad to see a band with all the success they've had just become so damn insecure.

Mark: As I said, U2's drive for relevance was what made them so great in their earlier days. Now, it just seems like a crutch. The game has changed around them and they seem unable to adapt

Ravi: Sidebar question, let's say the band continues to stagger; do you ever see someone like The Edge releasing his own record?  Something the band has avoided up until this point in their careers

Mark: I think they'd have to officially break up before we saw any solo records. They're too loyal to each other (and to the U2 name) to do solo material now.  That said, I won't lie, I'd be pretty fascinated to see an Edge solo disc. (Or a Bono album, or a Larry album, or an Adam album.)

Ravi: Of all the guys Edge is the one I think who has kept up with the technology, has a great voice and easily the most musical talent; Bono has a wonderful voice but I'm not sure I could separate his material from U2 material.  Larry wouldn't be bothered to do an album on his own (I think he'd continue exploring his acting); and Adam ... well, I'm not anyone would care to listen to anything he had on his own.

Mark: That's just it, though. I think it's generally accepted that Edge/Bono write most of U2's music, but because all four of them are credited songwriters for every track, we don't really know who's making the most contribution. For all we know, an Adam Clayton solo album could be mind-blowing.

Re: band dynamics. This is one of those cases where I'd love to know how each of the four feel about these delays. I wonder if this "quest for relevance" is something all four share, or if it's mostly a Bono thing (and, say, Adam or Edge would've preferred to have the music out already)

Ravi: I get the sense Bono & Edge are on the same page.  It used to be Bono would be the one you'd see doing his own thing away from U2 but recently it's been way more "Bono & Edge" news clips.  Adam I feel is that quiet man who knows his role in the band and stays silent.  I feel Larry is always madder than hell and ready to blow but holds it together for the sake of the band.  This clip epitomizes Larry for me ... he really has no interest in doing this schtick but was likely talked into it.

Mark: That said, Larry is always the one cited as 'the leader' since he's the most level-headed one. It's such an interesting dynamic.

Ravi: It's the biggest feather in the cap to the band in my mind; with all their success, still the same four guys.

Mark: Yeah, that's extraordinary. Nobody ever left, nobody ever joined....it's still the same four, for almost 40 years now.  Which, getting back to the release process, makes things more difficult. If, say, Springsteen wants to release a record, he can do it since he's his own Boss (pun intended). Or in a band where there's only one principle songwriter, they call the shots. With U2, all four have to be on the same page.

Ravi: Overall, if anything, that may carry them to one last hurrah.  They rebounded from Rattle & Hum (which frankly, I don't mind at all) with Achtung Baby ... they rebounded from Pop with ATYCLB ... I believe they can do it more one time ... they just have to stop overthinking and make it happen in the studio.

Mark: And I love both R&H and Pop....they're only "failures" by U2's high standards. Most bands would kill to "fail" like that.

Ravi: I guess besides grabbing that Oscar this year, there's really not much more a band like U2 could achieve.  To backtrack a tad, why they are so focused on "staying relevant"

Mark: There is one more thing for them to do....the 'Second Comeback.' Lots of bands can rebound once (as they did in 2000) but to rebound again, 14 years later? And to actually make both themselves and rock music relevant again, while in their early 50's? That would be incredible.

Relevance has always been U2's aim. They've always wanted to be a huge act while still staying true to themselves. The problem is that in 2014, their old-school method of releasing a single/promoting it on talk shows/releasing an album is too quaint. I'd love it if U2 just pulled a Radiohead/Beyonce and announced "hey, that new album? We're releasing it online tomorrow. Boom."

Ravi: Yeah. Having a self indulgent week in New York isn't going to cut it anymore.

Mark: Even the idea of releasing an actual album seems old-fashioned.

Ravi: I give them credit for trying something new with Invisible. But as you alluded to ... the amount they spent on making the commercial, the hype prior to the release etc ... just seemed like they were trying too hard

Mark: At the end of the day, it was a good song, which excuses a lot of marketing ills. But the song wasn't good enough (or enough of a hit) for the band, so I guess they felt they had to go back to the drawing board. In fairness, while I liked Invisible, I would've been a bit let down had it been the best song on the new album

Ravi: It's a fine U2 song. It's just not this earth shattering tune that I've been hyped to believe for years they're going to release - which makes every month that goes by without a new album more detrimental for them

Mark: True. The delays are only adding to the pressure, in this respect.  My hope is they only delayed it to September/October so they can sell records during the Xmas rush. If we hit 2015 and this new album still isn't out, I have to wonder what the hell is going on.

Ravi: Their own hype machine is killing them. Let's say last year they released a record with Invisible (sans huge promo) and OL type songs ... it wouldn't blow anyone away but I think most U2 fans like us would still give it the odd listen, be happy to hear it live (where U2 songs really come to life). The longer they keep promising a "great record" the more they are setting us up to be let down ... for better or for worse they have a certain "sound" to them by now which to some extent they have to embrace.

Mark: Maybe that was the issue with Danger Mouse. They went in a new direction by hiring a completely fresh producer, only to find that they still had the same 'U2 sound.' Maybe this is what happened during those short-lived sessions with Rick Rubin years back.  I'd like to think that U2 aren't so set in their ways that only the usual crew of Lanois/Eno/Lillywhite/sometimes Flood can get anything out of them.

U2's insistence on touring every album is also an issue. As you said, it only adds to the hype that every disc needs to be strong enough to support a year-long worldwide tour.  If they just released music for the hell of it, it would keep them sharp, win them a bit of critical praise and keep their names in the game, so to speak.

Ravi: The other issue we haven't discussed but which goes to your point is that by signing with Live Nation, you can forget about that happening.  They're going to be expected to tour, and tour BIG.

Mark: Very good point. I wonder if this next tour will again be in stadiums. On the one hand, how do you top the 360 Tour, but LiveNation probably expects U2 to bring in those big stadium bucks since they're one of the few acts who can do it.

Ravi: I suspect they'll do a Vertigo style tour ... start off playing arenas but for certain venues go outdoor stadium or even if they stick to "small 20,000 seat venues" they'll be doing at least 100+ shows, so they'll aspire to have "big" material to tour with

Mark: True.  One of the biggest issues with NLOTH is that so few of the songs translated well to a live setting.  Since they've openly said they don't want to be the Stones, they'll never do the "live show with all the hits and one or two token new tracks" gimmick. 

Ravi: Well, that pretty much was the back half of 360

Mark:   Yeah, the back half of 360 was the post-Bono injury "let's just get this over with" tour.

Ravi: Therein lies an issue; they want a "new sound" but the sound they know how to make is suited well for stadium rock, which they are expected to do.

Mark: Ideally they'd come up with a new kind of stadium rock (i.e. going from the Joshua Tree sound to the Achtung Baby sound) but that's a very tall order.  You alluded to this earlier, but by this point, U2 would almost need a Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby-level album to make the long wait worth it to the majority of fans

Ravi: Yeah, they've hyped it too much by this point.

Mark: So we're kind of tap-dancing around this question but it has to be asked....do you think this is U2's final album and tour?

Ravi: For awhile, yes. I think they'll have an album that guys like you and I will like/go to see, but won't be generating the new fans/winning the Grammys they aspire for.

Mark: Ah, being irrelevant has never stopped anyone from winning a Grammy. :)

If they can't find that audience beyond hardcore fans like us, is that it? Another NLOTH-level album, followed by essentially a farewell tour, and...done?  My theory is they'd stretch the tour to September 25 2016 just so they could say they lasted a full 40 years.

Ravi: That makes sense. Assuming they are all healthy, perhaps in 2026 Larry could be talked into doing a Stones' style 50 and counting tour (despite it being totally against everything the band has stood for).  I hope I'm wrong, but I see this being the end ... for awhile.

Mark: Heh, "for awhile" as if they already aren't taking huge half-decade gaps between new releases.

Ravi: Well when I say "for awhile" - that would also include staying out of the musical spotlight for awhile; no appearances at shows; no singles; no talk of a new album etc ... officially being on hiatus

Mark: So basically, U2 would go into a hiatus like David Bowie did for basically the entire last decade, only to surprise everyone with a new record last year.

Ravi: One side note, what exactly is the point of the Golden Globes?

Mark: Well, they're like a less-prestigious Oscars and everyone's drunk.

Ravi: I ask since U2 won a GG this year but it seems irrelevant since they lost the Oscar

Mark: I dunno, winning an Oscar is kind of a longshot goal for any rock/pop band. If it happens, great, but I find it hard to believe that U2 were really counting on that win this year. "Let It Go" had it in the bag.

Though just imagine....U2 lends 10-11 of their unreleased songs to a good director to serve as the soundtrack to his/her next hit movie. That'd be a good way to both remain relevant and get a crack at an Oscar, if that's something the band really desires.  It'd release U2 from the pressure of those songs being 'the next album' since it'd be "only" a soundtrack album. Like how the Passengers disc didn't really count as a U2 project.

Ravi: Well allegedly they have about 50 songs kicking around so they could.  That'd be something - put all of them up online and get fans to vote on the 10 songs to tour.

Mark: Given all of these stopped-started U2 recording sessions over the years, there have to be literally hundreds of unreleased gems in the vaults. The next U2 box set will be incredible.

Ravi: Who knows, maybe Live Nation will surprise us and help em come up with something innovative AND big (which they want).

Mark: Yeah, the tour is the thing I'm least concerned with. U2 always deliver big on live shows...even if the next record isn't a classic, the tour will be as amazing as ever

Ravi: I meant moreso on the side of how to release music/think outside the box for promo
perhaps that's where some new ideas will help them out (assuming they ever release some damn music).

Mark: Agreed. Bono always sounds like a guy who is very much aware of how music trends are changing and how ways to deliver music are changing, and yet his own band seems behind in the times in this sense. And it was only a decade ago that U2 had the shrewd move of tying themselves to the iPod.

Ravi: Yip, and in that sense, the way Paul "left" (or was booted?) was done in a pretty classy way
no mud slinging, just a quiet departure and nice statement from the band.

Mark: We haven't touched on McGuinness' departure, which is an under-the-radar huge moment in U2 history given that he's been there since virtually day one. There could be a reason why he left....or maybe he just legitimately wanted to retire since he's in his late 60's.

That's the other factor in the "end of U2" talk. Maybe the album delays are happening in part because these guys are all 50+ now and the spark isn't quite there anymore.

Ravi: Paul is a bit older than the other guys. I think there's more to the story than was reported, but it was kept under wraps which was a classy move on all parties I think.

I think writing "great songs" is harder the older/more famous one gets ... but I do see a desire on the part of the guys to get out there and do a worldwide megatour again.  It would be funny if they signed with Live Nation and never toured haha

Mark: Yeah, U2 aren't the type to quietly fade away. They'll do a farewell tour, at the very least.

Prediction time: name the release date of U2's next studio album

Ravi: November 2014.  Though there is likely pressure to release in the summer so a tour can get underway  I just don't see them doing what they did in Pop and planning a tour prior to being done with their album.

Mark: I'll say October, just so it'll be a nice birthday present for me. In either case, it's out in the fall and the tour begins in April/May of 2015. Same model as ATYCLB and Atomic Bomb.  You're right that they won't dare schedule any tour dates until the record is finished and they have substantial rehearsal time

Ravi: Totally unlikely event that would be cool for only U2 nerds on tour: they'll finally play Staring at the Sun live & plugged in.

Mark: Hey, they played Zooropa and Scarlet on the last tour, so never say never

Ravi: Sidebar, will they tour with other bigger bands (like Muse last time) or with smaller opening acts?

Mark: Probably the same mix of slightly larger bands in some venues and others who are bigger in the UK but are just breaking in North America (like Snow Patrol or Florence & The Machine on the last tour).  Florence, btw, is one of my favourite newer acts. She and U2 on a double bill is essentially a dream concert for me.

Ravi: Certainly better than Lars Ulrich's idea of a Green Day/Metallica/U2 tour ...

Mark: Lars has lots of silly ideas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Google Map Of Thrones

If you're a big Game Of Thrones fan but haven't read the books….or even if you've read the books and love the show and are just generally all-in on George RR Martin's world….you'll really dig this interactive map outlining the entire world of the "Song Of Fire & Ice" universe.  You can even follow characters' paths through this world, and if you're only partway through the books and/or TV series, no problem; spoiler controls are in effect so you can adjust the character paths to match how far you are into the story.  It is some very cool stuff.  As a non-book reader, I guess I just always pictured Westeros as "basically the United Kingdom" and sure enough, the continent bears a pretty strong resemblance to the land of the Premiership. 

Also….holy crap, Daenerys Targaryen and company have done a TON of walking.  They should give her the throne back based on sheer mileage alone.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NBA Playoff Picks

I've gotta say, "Raptors playoff preview" wasn't exactly on my radar as a possible post topic last November but here we are.  Let's make no mistake --- the Raptors are where they are thanks to the absolute trash heap that is the NBA Eastern Conference.  If the NBA suddenly ruled that the Phoenix Suns (48-34 but ninth in the West) were being slotted into the East's #8 seed in place of the terrible 38-44 Haws, I would honestly be picking Phoenix over the Pacers right now.  Not a doubt in my mind.  Hell, I'd have Phoenix going to the East finals before finally going down to Miami.  You could even talk me into the Timberwolves (10th in the West) winning a round in the East.

(Interlude: the T-Wolves and Grizzlies have to be kicking themselves over the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks, which seems to confirm that the team will be remaining in Milwaukee for years to come.  The hot rumour was that the Bucks could've moved to Seattle, which obviously would've meant realignment, which would've meant that one of Minnesota or Memphis is the lucky duck who gets into the much easier conference.  Sure, you could argue that the conferences won't be so lopsided forever…but the West has been the far superior side for the better part of a decade.  Things ain't changing anytime soon.)

In the blind East, however, the one-eyed Raptors were kings, even capturing a division title.  Going into the year, it was supposed that the Raptors would be one of the many teams tanking to get a nice spot in the star-laden 2014 draft.  Toronto would draft one of those stars and then hope he blossomed into a superstar, and then build a nice team around him.  Instead, the Raptors went ahead and built that nice team already, though they're still clearly a mega-watt, top-10-in-the-NBA star away from being actual contenders.  No, Kyle Lowry fans, he isn't that guy, though obviously he had a terrific year.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, it all ends in the first round for them since they're playing against the red-hot Brooklyn Nets.  It's certainly possible the Raptors COULD win this series…it's a tribute to how frisky the Raps have played this season that they have a more than legit shot against any team in the East except Miami.  That said, Brooklyn is a better team on paper and they're going to get every call.  It's a tough break for the Raptors since if they'd fallen to the fourth seed, they would've played the easy mark Wizards, and then faced the collapsing Pacers in the second round.  The Raptors had a path to the East finals right in front of them, and the matchups just didn't fall their way, and it's all over.

Anyway, this is all a moot point since as I wrote back in November, the NBA is nothing if not a predictable league.  The only two Finals matchups I see as realistic possibilities are Miami vs. San Antonio or Miami vs. Oklahoma City.  The first is the likelier of the two since the Spurs seem to be going to their championship zone and are nigh-impossible to beat in that state.  The Thunder's only chance would be if Kevin Durant just goes unconscious and carries the team on his back, which is a distinct possibility given Durant's ability.  But still, Miami/San Antonio rematch seems to be the best bet, and I think we all want a rematch of last year's crazy Finals.  I'd love to see the Spurs win and give Tim Duncan that fifth ring, but since the Heat were my preseason pick last fall, I'll stick with them.

Pacers over Hawks
Nets over Raptors
Heat over Bobcats
Bulls over Wizards
Spurs over Mavericks
Rockets over Trail Blazers
Thunder over Grizzlies
Clippers over Warriors

Nets over Pacers
Heat over Bulls
Spurs over Rockets
Thunder over Clippers

Heat over Nets
Spurs over Thunder

Heat over Spurs (in seven games)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stanley Cup Prediction

The Maple Leafs had defied the odds and were seemingly sitting pretty, but it just wasn't meant to be.  "The Rains Of Castamere" started playing over the ACC's sound system, and the befuddled Leafs were stabbed by Lord Corsi, who whispered "The Fenwicks send their regards."

If anything, the Leafs' failure is kind of a relief.  A token playoff appearance would've only prolonged the Randy Carlyle/Dave Nonis era and caused longer-term damage to the franchise.  Now, Carlyle will surely be fired and while Nonis himself will likely stay on (that five-year extension signed last summer, shudder, almost guarantees it), you'd think he'd be required to make some changes to his front office staff.  Brendan Shanahan could well become the latest Leafs figurehead to bring a big name and nothing else to the table, though if you can say one thing about Shanahan, it's that he tends to not tolerate bullshit.

The worst part about cheering for a bad team is when that team isn't just bad, but also dumb.  No team shot itself in the foot quite like the Leafs, as you could easily argue that there's definitely playoff-caliber talent on the roster; the problem was that it was hamstrung by terrible coaching (Carlyle failed at even such basics as line construction and juggling minutes) and just too many stiffs on the roster.  Much has been written about the disastrous David Clarkson signing, but not enough has been made of the Leafs just allowing good players like Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski were allowed to walk for nothing.  The Leafs had clearly downgraded themselves between the last game of the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 opener, so I'm not sure why anyone's surprised they didn't make it back to the postseason, even in a somewhat weak Eastern Conference.

I just want my team to be smarter.  No more instantly-awful signings like the Clarkson deal, no more scoffing at advanced statistics, no panic moves like trading Jake Gardiner/Morgan Rielly/Nazem Kadri since lord knows the Leafs have traded many a young star for a "proven veteran" in the past and seen the move blow up in their faces.  I am absolutely okay dealing with failure as long as it's constructive failure in the form of a rebuild.  Being both a losing team and a stupid team isn't fun.  I don't want to cheer for the hockey Knicks.

Anyway, enough of my Leaf complaining, let's get onto the actual good teams.

Penguins over Blue Jackets
Rangers over Flyers
Canadiens over Lightning
Bruins over Red Wings
Avalanche over Wild
Blackhawks over Blues
Ducks over Stars
Sharks over Kings

Rangers over Penguins
Bruins over Canadiens
Blackhawks over Avalanche
Sharks over Ducks

Rangers over Bruins
Sharks over Blackhawks

Sharks over Rangers
It's at this point that I'll put a major caveat on my Stanley Cup final prediction.  I'm not picking San Jose as much as I'm picking "the winner of Kings/Sharks" to win the Cup.  If L.A. gets out of the first round, they're my new favourite to go all the way.  Maybe you could argue that I should pick the Kings anyway since lord knows picking the San Jose Sharks to make a deep playoff run is a proven recipe for failures, yet here I go again.  Heck, if I wanted to really wuss out and add even more caveats, I'd go ahead and state that the Cup champion will be one of the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Blackhawks or Bruins.  If anyone other than those five teams is hoisting the Cup at the end, I'd be awfully surprised.  But hey!  Why not the Sharks?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hot! Live! Music!

Just one link this time....Outkast's reunion at Coachella.  The ENTIRE thing.  No idea how long YouTube will keep this up, so listen/watch it nowwwwww

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Private Screenings

Nothing says "date night" for a pair of 32-year-olds like going to see the new Muppets film, so my girlfriend and I took in Muppets Most Wanted the other evening in…a totally empty theatre.  That's right, I rented the entire thing out so we could enjoy the iconic pairing of Kermit "It's not easy being green" the Frog and Ricky "it's not easy being an atheist" Gervais in total romantic privacy.  Contact the good people at Boyfriend Magazine to tell them that they can start engraving their 2014 BF Of The Year trophy.

…or, we just happened to be the only ones who bought tickets to this particular screening.  This may be a slightly likelier scenario (especially since I won the 2013 BF Of The Year trophy from Big Faker Magazine).  Still, while I didn't spread some cash around to make this two-person screening happen, it was still a terrific bonus.  Is there anything better than being the only one in a movie theatre?  I feel like such a big shot.  When/if I eventually make my millions, my first move is to build a private movie theatre within my lavish mansion.  Well, wait, I guess the actual first move would be to buy a mansion in the first place.  And really, to be technical, the ABSOLUTE FIRST MOVE after becoming a millionaire would still probably be something mundane like buying milk, or getting a tank of gas before driving out to the mansion to meet your real estate agent.  Or hiring a driver to drive you out to the mansion.  I'm babbling.

The point is that these so-called "private screenings" are always a treat, and so singular that I can remember them all.  The four times they've occurred in my life…

* firstly, Muppets Most Wanted.  It was probably exactly what you'd expect from a Muppets movie…cute, entertaining enough, nostalgic, with the one caveat that it seemed way too long at nearly two hours.  Upon realizing we were the only ones there, my girlfriend and I immediately left our phones on, put our feet up on the backs of the chairs in front of us, and just openly talking in our regular voices.  We probably would've started making out had it been a different film, but the fact that it was a Muppets movie kind of killed the mood.  It also would've come off like a re-enactment of that Simpsons scene when Troy McClure is seducing Selma at the drive-in, while his onscreen seduction of Miss Piggy is happening in the background (with the same dialogue). 

* secondly, Observe & Report.  We have to go back to 2009 for this one, and it was an afternoon screening at the Woodbine Mall Rainbow Cinemas, and this was particularly notable since I was the ONLY person there.  That's right, this one was a true private screening.  An usher strolled in halfway through and I happily waved at him, which drew a laugh.  This was a thoroughly weird movie from Jody Hill (of Eastbound & Down fame) that starred Seth Rogen as a lunatic mall cop.  In terms of tone and obviously not quality, Observe & Report: Paul Blart, Mall Cop :: Taxi Driver: Taxi (that turd with Jimmy Fallon & Queen Latifah).  Rogen's character is definitely a spiritual descendent of Kenny Powers as a thoroughly terrible human being who is nonetheless the 'hero' of the story.  It's pretty clear that Hill hadn't quite learned to keep from totally crossing the line at this point, as Observe & Report is totally ruined by a scene when Rogen essentially rapes Anna Faris' character…and it's played for laughs.  Had there been other people in the theatre, surely there would've been a few walkouts.

* thirdly, Let's Go To Prison.  My friend Aron and I went to see this wholly forgettable comedy in 2006 on the basis of "hey, Will Arnett is in it!" and this was the peak of our Arrested Development fandom.  "Hey, Will Arnett is in it!" is a line of thinking that led to a lot of bad movie choices over the years, so if Arnett's agent is reading this, I hope you're eaten by a rabid giraffe.  I'm not kidding when I called this one wholly forgettable, as I literally remember nothing about it aside from Arnett and Dax Shepard being the stars (p.s. there's a recipe for laughs!)  Looking at the cast list on IMDB, it's full of familiar names like Chi McBride, Aziz Ansari, David Koechner and even Michael Shannon, which isn't surprising.  Shannon is the classic case of a veteran character actor who gets his big break (i.e. his Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road) and becomes well-known, and then you go back and realize that he was in tons of notable movies and you just never noticed him before.  To wit, Shannon was the guy in the "we're going to Wrestlemania!" couple in Groundhog Day, so yeah, consider your mind blown.  Anyway, I'll have to ask Aron if he remembers anything at all about this movie since I'm at a loss.  We saw Let's Go To Prison at the ol' Wellington 8 Theatre in London, which I'll still always call the Wellington 8 despite the fact that it's changed owners a few times since 2006.  Aron and I probably would've started making out had it been a different film, but the fact that it was a Dax Shepard movie kind of killed the mood.

* fourthly, Daredevil.  So back in 2003, four pals and I went down to Florida for our slack week.  It ended up basically being like Spring Breakers, except with guys, and instead of committing crimes, we sat around my friend Bryan's parents' condo and played Risk.  Not even joking, we played more Risk than you would've expected on what was supposed to be a wild spring break trip.  There wasn't a ton of a local party scene given that the condo was ensconced in the middle of what was essentially a retirement community, not to mention the fact that it rained for a good three-quarters of our trip.  So to amuse ourselves on one of these rainy nights, we went to see Daredevil, a.k.a. the movie that launched the Affleck/Garner relationship, so at least something good came out of it.  The five of us were the only ones in the theatre, which led to a lot of open hooting and sarcastic comments thrown at this craptasterpiece.  I'm reminded of the old Howard Hawks line about how a good movie only needs three great scenes and no bad scenes…well, Daredevil had a ton of bad scenes, yet it did indeed contain three great ones.

1. Daredevil finally puts down the Kingpin during their climactic fight scene by sliding between his legs and then kicking backwards, shattering both of Kingpin's kneecaps.  Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) sells it by screaming bloody murder.  It's one of those classic action movie scenes that works because it's both incredibly painful and kind of hilarious at the same time.

2. The scene where Daredevil "sees" Garner's face for the first time in the raindrops.  The movie used some pretty lame ways to illustrate how Daredevil's radar sense allowed him to "see" things despite his blindness, yet this one was kind of sweet.

3. The scene where Jennifer Garner shows up at some gala event looking like a zillion bucks.  I'm not even a big Garner fan looks-wise, yet at the moment she walked on screen, all five of us went from wisecracking and carrying on in this empty theatre to just being struck dumbly silent for a moment.  I'd like to think it was this scene that inspired Affleck to dump J-Lo on the spot.

Sunday, April 06, 2014


I haven't been blogging as often lately, largely because of this damn game.  After two weeks of fruitless attempts, I finally cracked the magic sequence and a winning 2048 score.  Bill Simmons has single-handedly made Shawshank references feel like cliches, but here goes....I feel like Andy Dufresne crawling out of that sewer pipe and triumphantly staring upwards into the rain.

As frustrating as this game can be, I urge you to click the link and give 2048 a shot.  It's essentially a numerical version of Tetris and a Rubik's cube, as you have to have to shift the boxes to create increasingly greater powers of two, until you've eventually created a box worth 2048 points.  You can actually keep going after you've hit the 2048 mark to shoot for 4096, 8192, etc. but yikes, that just seems like insanity.  Andy didn't crawl back through the pipe to his cell just to try and escape again.

Friday, April 04, 2014

What A Pity

My family got hooked up to the internet about halfway through 1996, and it's incredible to think that in 18 years, the internet has more or less utterly dominated every facet of my life.  I work online, I keep in touch with people online, I spend way too many hours trying to solve that godforsaken "2048" game online, etc.  The internet is, with maybe the possible exception of the printing press just because it has old-school street cred, the single greatest invention in human history, yet it has only been a major part of people's lives for around two decades.

This is a very long-winded and melodramatic way to talk about a website I like, but still, while I haven't regularly visited Television Without Pity since my very start online (I don't even think the site was live in 1996), I'm hard-pressed to think of another site I've visited on a near-daily basis for so long.  It may have been around 1999/2000 when I started visiting TWOP to peruse their recaps of The West Wing, and the rest was history.

Back in the prehistoric days of 2000, we were caught between two stage of human evolution --- we were between "Missing an episode of your favourite show and having to wait for a rerun to see it" and "easily finding said episode the next day online."  During this in-between period, your options were to set up your VCR to record said episode if you were going to be out,* or to skip the episode altogether and rely on the internet for a recap.  Today, there are countless sites that recap/analyze TV, yet back in the day, Television Without Pity was the place to go.

* = while I was a self-proclaimed master at this, one Saturday night out, I suddenly realized I'd forgotten to set my tape for that night's SNL episode.  Since my parents were out, I called my pal Dave's mother (from a payphone outside a bar!) to ask if she could tape it for me.  It was, without question, one of the most bizarre and hard-to-fathom moments in my life.  Poor Dave's mom, getting that dreaded phone call from one of her son's friends late at night…but only to have this nerdy request made.  Frankly, I think she would've been less disgusted to learn that Dave had been hit by a bus.

But who am I kidding, while the recaps were humorous and engaging, the forums were the main event.  TWOP was ground zero for the 21st century experience of enhancing a show through the social experience of discussing it --- the site was essentially the world's biggest water cooler.  Of all the countless shows I've watched over the years, I'd say that Buffy, Angel, The West Wing*, Survivor, Mad Men and especially LOST were the ones that gained the most from the forum experience.  Hell, in LOST's case, you could argue that two-thirds of the fun from that show was arguing and theorizing about it with others, or writing overly-long blog posts on the topic.

* = Aaron Sorkin himself even surfed onto the TWOP boards one day, ended up getting offended or turned off by something someone wrote or asked him, and then actually ended up writing a thinly-veiled version of the TWOP boards into a West Wing episode.  I believe this was known as the initial moment when Sorkin jumped the shark.  It's still amazing that the seemingly intelligent man who ended up writing 'The Social Network' was so clueless about how the internet works.   

It was recently announced that TWOP will close its doors this month, and the forums will be shuddered at the end of May.  It's a sad day for perhaps the web's greatest place to discuss and figure out television.  Also, you know you're getting old when you realize you've been reading a site for 14 years (!) and also getting nostalgic over the olden days when it was 'Mighty Big TV' and you had to wait a week for the fresh recap of the Sopranos to be posted.  RIP TWOP.