Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hot! Live! Music!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Leaving Gotham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Joke With Two Punchlines!

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

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

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

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

(credit to my uncle Glenn)

Monday, November 17, 2014

The John Cusack Joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Twelfth Night (Shakespeare Re-Read #12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William goddamn Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

Friday, November 07, 2014

Too Many Cooks

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

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Oliver &, Cookie

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Daily Simpsons Dialogue, Addendum #5

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