Friday, October 30, 2015

Every Sports Presser

Having been to more than a few of these press conferences, this is rather accurate.  Weird Al in that wig = Pete Carroll doppelganger?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NBA Predictions

As always, the starred teams are the ones making the playoffs.  Teams without stars who aren’t leading the divisions?  Stay with me here…they’re the ones who will miss the playoffs.  There will be a test later.

Southeast Division: Hawks, Wizards*, Heat*, Magic, Hornets
You could talk me into any of the top three finishing in any order and I’d believe it.  I guess I have my order based on Miami resting enough of their old dudes to settle for just a playoff spot while Atlanta and Washington duke it out for the top spot.  Orlando seems to be trending up but is still at least a year away.  Charlotte is going to be so bad offensively that Michael Jordan could un-retire and still be the leading scorer.  (There is probably a 25-1 chance of this actually happening.)

Central Division: Cavaliers, Bucks*, Bulls*, Pacers*, Pistons
That’s right, a four-playoff team division.  Cleveland will be half-assing it all regular season as Love and Irving ease back from injuries and LeBron stays fresh for the playoffs, yet they’ll still coast into first place.  Milwaukee is on the way up, and I think Jason Kidd is a good enough coach to prevent a letdown.  The Bulls, however, are the team I do see having a bit of a letdown in the post-Thibodeau era.  Indiana vaults back into the playoffs thanks to Paul George’s full-on return, while Detroit apparently still has a team.  Good for them.

Atlantic Division: Raptors, Celtics, Knicks, Nets, 76ers
Now HERE is a truly awful Eastern Conference division.  Toronto wins by default, and Boston will be pretty frisky and narrowly miss out on an eighth seed.  The Knicks are overrated as usual and will be terrible.  Brooklyn and Philly speak for themselves as the definition of awful.

Southwest Division: Rockets, Spurs*, Grizzlies*, Pelicans*, Mavericks
What a nasty division.  Dallas isn’t even THAT bad but they’re doomed for the basement in this horrorshow.  Houston wins and is overly proud of a division title, San Antonio doesn’t win the division since they don’t really care and are just staying healthy for the playoffs.  (OR maybe they do put more emphasis on home-court this year given how they got kinda hosed by that first-round Clippers matchup last season.)  Memphis is good again but the cracks are showing in this era and Anthony Davis again single-handedly leads a blah team to a postseason spot.

Pacific Division: Warriors, Clippers*, Kings, Suns, Lakers
Seriously, people think Golden State got ‘lucky’?  That’s the narrative?  People are idiots.  They easily repeat.  The Clippers have their usual good regular season then flop in the playoffs.  Sacramento is going to be a hilarious yet oddly dangerous mess.  Phoenix may just be a mess.  The number of Kobe Bryant tweets that directly call out a teammate will double the number of Lakers wins this season.

Northwest Division: Thunder, Jazz*, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Nuggets
Yikes, what a lousy division.  Oklahoma City roars back to respectability even if Durant is only at 70%.  It’s due to this weak division that I see Utah speaking into the eighth spot, and also in no small part because “The Stifle Tower” is one of my all-time favourite sports nicknames.  I really wanted to pick Minnesota as a playoff team since it would be a great feel-good tribute to the late Flip Saunders, but Wiggins/Towns and company are still probably a year away.  Portland actually might’ve had a shot at the title last year had Wes Matthews not gotten hurt and now the franchise has fallen apart.  Denver = terrible.

Hawks over Pacers, Cavaliers over Bulls, Wizards over Bucks, Heat over Raptors
Warriors over Jazz, Thunder over Pelicans, Rockets over Grizzlies, Spurs over Clippers (“Oh come on!” yells Gregg Popovich)

Hawks over Heat, Cavaliers over Wizards, Spurs over Warriors, Thunder over Rockets

Cavaliers over Hawks, Spurs over Thunder

Spurs over Cavaliers

Yeah, I’m picking San Antonio again.  Ring #6 for Tim and Pops, ring #1 for LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s the Commander Riker of the next generation of the Spurs dynasty (Kawhi Leonard is Captain Picard, naturally).  The poor city of Cleveland takes one on the chin sports-wise yet again. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pagans In Vegas

I have a bad feeling I may have jumped onto the Metric bandwagon just as they’ve started making music I don’t like.  Over the course of their first four albums, Metric were slowly morphing from alt-rock to dance rock, and now that they’ve hit “Pagans In Vegas,” the transformation is more or less complete.  There’s nothing wrong with dance rock in and of itself, of course, but Metric’s habit of putting half-decent melodies behind an increasing wall of electronica becomes tiresome after an entire album.

* I’ve come around on ‘The Shade,’ as I like it a lot more than I did when it was first released months ago.  In fairness, since this is one of the more electronica-tinged tracks on the record, it’s possible I could come around on the entire album itself once I hear it more than twice.
* “Fortunes” is probably my favourite track at the moment, though the little beeps-and-boops opening is annoying.  I’ve noticed that Metric, on this album particularly, is fond of having verses and choruses that don’t really sound at all alike aside from (maybe) being in the same key; it’s like they just write them all separately and then just jam one of each together to make a song out of it.  “Fortunes” is a particular example of this, and it works.

* The two-part instrumental (“The Face”) that ends the album is very pointless indeed.
* If I never hear some variation of “cover of your magazine” as a lyric in any song (Metric or otherwise) ever again, I’ll die a happy man.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Force Awakens

"Hi Mark, this is The Internet."
"Wait, what?  'The Internet'?  Like, the entire world wide web?"
"Ugh, nobody's called me the 'world wide web' in years.  Get with it.  Anyways, it's come to my attention that you haven't posted the new Star Wars trailer on your blog."
"Nah, I'm not a big Star Wars guy.  I enjoyed the original movies but didn't capital-L Love them or anything, and while I'm surely interested in the new film, it's not a big..."
"Post.  The.  Trailer."
"Can't I..."
"Post.  The.  Trailer.  This isn't negotiable.  Don't you want to be like every other blog on me?"
"I like to think of myself as an iconoclast."
"In a way, you are.  Most blogs are updated regularly with interesting content, so yours definitely breaks that mold."
"Low blow."
"C'mon, you thought The Internet wouldn't be snarky?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Just Not Ready

They’re going to be teaching units on this commercial in Canadian political science courses for years to come, but for future students who wants a cliff notes version, here are the biggest issues with this infamous campaign ad and the many ways in which the Conservatives shot themselves in the foot…

* the “hiring committee looking at resumes” gimmick already got the Conservatives off on a bad rhetorical foot.  In theory, the ad was supposed to simplify the election to basic terms, asking voters to judge Justin Trudeau by the same basis as one would judge someone applying for a job at their company.  The problem is…doesn’t a hiring committee imply that, y’know, there’s a job vacancy?  Most companies don’t have a person in place they’re satisfied with and go headhunting anyway.  So even the Conservative Party’s own commercials are subtly saying that Stephen Harper has been a subpar “employee.”

* also, this hiring committee is the most focus the Conservatives have given to jobs in nine years.  Hey-o!

* years ago, the Conservatives decided that their best line of attack against Trudeau was that he was an inexperienced semi-airhead who would be completely overmatched as prime minister.  This led to literally hundreds of attack ads pushing this message, focusing on Trudeau’s “lack” of job experience as “only” a former teacher (which also had the side effect of once again throwing teachers, a noted Conservative enemy, under the bus), taking single sentences out of context from larger speeches that purportedly showed Trudeau making naive statements (i.e. “the budget will balance itself”) or even the goofier soft-focus ads trying to paint him as a celebrity running on his family name.  Let’s pause on that family name point for a second.  The vast majority of Conservative attack ads didn’t go after Justin Trudeau — they went after “Justin,” often omitting his last name entirely.  It was a branding exercise meant to again infantilize a grown man, and also to separate him from the Trudeau legacy (which obviously still resonated with voters in Quebec and Ontario).

Now, the Conservatives may have realized that year after year of attack ads would perhaps come off as harsh, so in trying to either somewhat soften their message or deliver a patronizing back-handed compliment, they undermined their entire line of questioning.  Trudeau wasn’t “just not capable of being PM,” but rather “just not ready.”  If you’re cooking a roast and it’s “just not ready,” that means it WILL be ready at some point in the future, it’s just a matter of when it fits your taste.

As we saw, Canada was clearly eager to get the dinner table.  The Liberals cannily turned the “not ready” message around in their own advertising, so the election essentially became a referendum on whether or not Justin Trudeau was capable.  (Others have also noted that the fact that Harper still had to rely primarily on anti-opponent messaging rather than run on his own record after NINE YEARS as prime minister might’ve also done quite a bit to undermine voter confidence.)

I kind of roll my eyes a bit at the “Canada’s natural party” line about the Liberals, yet there may be at least something to it.  Harper rose to power by catching the Liberal Party in a downswing when they had a) Paul Martin stuck holding the bag after years of Jean Chretien-centric scandals, when Chretien himself was teflon in voters’ eyes, b) consecutive party leaders in Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff who were, frankly, total stiffs in voters’ eyes and c) Jack Layton as the opponent on the left, as Layton’s personal popularity (not, markedly, the popularity of the NDP as a whole) split the left-leaning electorate to such as extent that Harper and the united Conservative Party even snuck a majority in 2011 despite three-fifths of the country hating their guts. 

This election, however, the Liberals put forward a leader who wasn’t a stiff.  Ironically, the Conservatives had lowered the bar for Trudeau’s ability so much via those attack ads that he was able to easily exceed expectations in debates, interviews, speeches, etc.  Once voters saw that he wasn’t nearly the dupe portrayed in the Conservatives’ commercials, he won a lot of people over.

Time will tell if Trudeau will prove to be an effective prime minister, or if it will become apparent that he was only elected by dint of “not being Stephen Harper.”  I guess those people on the hiring committee probably should’ve put more thought into what their bosses (i.e. the Canadian people) thought about the candidates.

Also, I can’t help but think that Canadians voted Liberal in part because they were SO ALL-FIRING SICK of these commercials running ad nauseam for years.  Flooding the airwaves can work, but it can also lead to soaking wet and angry voters wanting to punish those who busted the pipes.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Other People's Writing

* In my favourite piece of the bunch, we get the real-life story of Maggie Goldenberger, a.k.a. the “Ermahgerd” internet meme girl, is told by Vanity Fair’s Darryn King.  I love that R.L. Stine is constantly asked about this meme and that it seems to annoy the hell out of him.

* The top 10 prisoners in movie history are ranked by Grantland’s comedy duo of Shea Serrano and Jason Concepcion.  This list had me from the opening paragraph, which describes “Death Warrant,” a heretofore unknown movie to me where Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a Mountie!  Suddenly I want a JCVD remake of Due South in the worst possible way.  As for the list itself, it’s hard to argue with their top choice, though Sly Stallone merited at least a top-three for the sheer volume of captives he’s played over the course of his long career.  There’s also a mention of “Ernest Goes To Jail,” and I kid you not, I actually had a lengthy conversation about the Ernest movies last weekend.  Like, a group of intelligent people discussing Ernest for a good 15-20 minutes here in the year 2015.  Our final conclusion was that Jim Varney was basically the modern Olivier.

* Cris Collinsworth is probably the best football analyst working today and even more probably the best on TV, and Grantland’s Bryan Curtis both profiles him and looks at his process in preparing to call a game.

* A little background is necessary for this one.  John Teti, of the Onion’s AV Club, has a podcast where he discusses pop culture with his mother.  Last year they discussed “Nathan For You” and Mrs. Teti was not a fan.  Fast-forward to now, when Teti is interviewing Nathan Fielder about the upcoming season of his show and Fielder proposes that “rather than a typical interview, Fielder wanted me to moderate a conversation between him and my mom. His goal: convince Mom to like him.”  Here’s the result.  Nathan Fielder may be a genius. 

* A “here’s how the sausage is made” story about the modern music industry (or, really, the music industry for all time) by The Atlantic’s Nathaniel Rich, which essentially just points out the fact that pretty much every pop star is a complete creation of record labels.  Maybe I can use this article as consolation when U2 takes years upon years to release a new album; if U2 weren’t “real artists” who wrote the songs themselves, they could just have a team of writers cranking out new hits for them on an annual basis.  The view is nice from up here on my high horse!

* The unreal seventh inning of Game Five of the Rangers/Blue Jays series is recapped by Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur.  It's as glorious as the inning itself.  (Your opinion may vary if you hail from Texas.) 

* A celebration of Law & Order on its 25-year anniversary, from Grantland’s Charles Pierce.  My introduction to Law & Order came during a trip to Montreal with my friends in 2001.  In theory, it was four young guys partying it up in an exciting city for four days — in reality, it was sleeping in until noon every day, then watching Law & Order reruns on A&E until mid-afternoon then going to an Expos game at night and being in bed by midnightish.  Party people!  Anyway, there may be no more perfect procedural than L&O from about 1991-2000, and it can be argued that this run more or less invented the modern procedural show that dominates the ratings in so many forms (CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc.) today.  You can’t ask for more than a best-of-both-worlds format that allows it to be both a cop show AND a lawyer show, which is essentially network catnip.  Pierce is also dead-on with his ultimate L&O cast — McCoy, Kincaid, Schiff, Briscoe, Logan, Van Buren is hard to argue, as much as I feel Ben Stone is still a vastly underrated figure in the Law & Order universe — and his picks as the ultimate tertiary characters.  When Lorraine Toussaint appeared on “Orange Is The New Black” last season, I was excited from the get-go since that was Shambala Green, man!  You knew business was about to pick up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Sudden Departure

Happy Departure Day, everyone!  If we happen to get another one today and another 2% of the world's population vanishes, well, it was nice knowing you.  Or, if I'm one of the 2%, it was also...uh, nice knowing you?  I drink two percent milk, so that's probably a bad omen.

I realize that "The Leftovers" won't actually investigate what caused the Sudden Departure since what answer could possibly be satisfying without making the show vaguely silly (or, at least from its present vaguely silly state to flat-out goofy) and because Damon Lindelof isn't nearly foolish enough to wrap another of his shows up in another vast unanswerable question.  Still, I kind of wish the show more often explored the effect that the Departure had on the world at large rather than focus so directly on the Garveys.  (And, this season, the Murphys.)  It's not a surprise that "Guest," widely regarded as the best Leftovers episode of the first season, is also the one that took a broader scope of Departure-related matters.

Ratings for the show aren't great, so you probably need some background.  The Sudden Departure is the name given to the event on October 14, 2011, when two percent of the world's population just vanished into thin air.  No flash of light, no puff of smoke, no clothes left behind, they were just gone.  Humanity, as you might expect, went a little nuts over this.  Frankly, one of the show's flaws is that it was set just three years after the Sudden Departure and things are more or less running normally on the surface --- if a Departure happened in real life, I highly suspect it would be the end of the world as we know it.  Earth would devolve into total chaos and even if it was painstakingly rebuilt, it would take way more than three years.  It would probably take more than three years just to figure out the scope of the Departure, in fact.

"The Leftovers" frames this particular event as inexplicable, yet also not completely alien to how we grieve in the face of other disasters --- natural disasters, terrorist attacks, plagues, etc.  It's just that in making the tragedy so singularly bizarre and then never explaining it, the viewer focuses only on grief for grief's sake.  You can make a case that Lindelof is now running the show that should've been called 'Lost' and his old show sould've been the one called 'The Leftovers,' but such is life.

Anyway, let's hope nobody vanishes today.  I'd rather not have to constantly refresh my Facebook feed for hours on end. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tim Conway, Breakmaster

The old Carol Burnett Show used to have two tapings for each episode.  During the first taping, all of the sketches were played straight; in the second taping, the actors were allowed to be looser with the material and free to improvise.  While this method was used for (I believe) the entirety of the show's 11-season run, I have to believe that the number of the 'improv show' sketches that made it onto the air skyrocketed dramatically after Tim Conway joined the cast.  Easily one of the funniest actors in TV history, Conway was famous for coming up with new gags and improvised lines that destroyed not only the audience, but clearly his co-stars as well.

I could easily fill this post simply with clips of Conway cracking up Harvey Korman, and those are well worth searching out in your own time.  Yet Conway's most famous improv occurred in a Korman-less skit, as his on-the-spot creation of a pair of elephant anecdotes not only brought a Mama's Family sketch to a virtual halt, it also set up one of the single biggest punchlines of all time, courtesy of Vicki Lawrence.  Boy, do I love everyone's facial reactions here --- you have Lawrence trying to best to hide a smile, Dick Van Dyke gamely looking down but openly grinning like a fool, Conway actually even cracking himself up out of pleasure at how well he's killing and Carol Burnett instantly realizing Conway is going off-book and is about to unleash something hilarious, yet trying to keep as much of a straight face as possible.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

NHL Predictions

As always, the starred teams are the ones making the playoffs.  Do I even need to explain this, really?  Isn’t this a universally-acknowledged thing?

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

We’ll start with the champions’ division and also probably the deepest division in hockey, as you can easily make a case for any of these clubs to make the playoffs.  Literally anyone here could crack top-three in the Atlantic, for instance.  I have to go with St. Louis since they haven’t quite worn out their annual cycle of playoff choking yet, Chicago always makes it, Jets get there only partially due to Canadian homerism and what the hell, let’s take Minnesota.  It’s wholly believable that Devan Dubnyk will have another superstar season, right?  Right?  It wouldn’t shock me at all to see Winnipeg, Minnesota or hell, even St. Louis fall back to make way for one of the bottom three clubs (particularly Dallas) but I’ll be conservative with my Central picks.

Pacific Division
Ducks, Sharks*, Canucks*, Kings*, Flames, Oilers, Coyotes

Also a tough division, aside from the Coyotes.  It’s possible even Edmonton could surge into playoff contention if Connor McDavid actually is the real deal, though I’ve learned to never, ever, ever, ever, ever pick the Oilers to succeed.  The tricky thing here is picking which teams will take a step back — San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and even Los Angeles could conceivably be in for a rough year.  My ‘pick either the Kings or Blackhawks every season’ plan is in jeopardy since Chicago lost some notable guys and L.A. had one personnel embarrassment after another this summer.  Anaheim should repeat as champs but after that, who knows.

Atlantic Division
Lightning, Canadiens*, Red Wings*, Senators, Sabres, Bruins, Panthers, Maple Leafs

Yeesh, speaking of teams taking a step back.  Is it possible to not like anyone in a division, save Tampa Bay?  Can we just give the Lightning a #1 or #2 seed now and give them a seven-month bye to the playoffs?  Montreal is the next best team here and even they’re a Carey Price injury away from rocketing into mediocrity.  The only certainty here is a Leafs last-place finish.

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

As a self-loathing Leafs fan, I really want Phil Kessel to absolutely light things up playing with Crosby and Malkin this season.  Like, I’m talking a 60-70 goal campaign.  It boggles my mind how thoroughly Kessel was railroaded out of town by Toronto’s media and (not yet proven to be competent) front office staff, when all the guy did was single-handedly carry the team to any manner of respectability for six years.  Anyway, Pittsburgh will be good if very top-heavy past their elite guys, Washington will choke in the first round again, the Jackets will get another rare postseason appearance and who knows, we may even be blessed with a New York/New York playoff matchup. 

Stanley Cup finals: Lightning over Ducks

This is the year the Chicago-or-Los Angeles pick’em is upended as one of these warm-weather teams wins the Cup and we get a hundred “what’s happening to our sport?” thinkpieces/whines from various Canadian media outlets.  It’s probably just a matter of time before Tampa become championship regulars (unless Stamkos actually is planning to leave town, which I still doubt) while the Ducks may have a window of maybe one or two more seasons before they gather some of that Sharks/Blues/Capitals/Canucks-esque “we’ll never win” funk.  (Man, a lot of teams have that funk.)  You heard it here first, the Lightning will win the Stanley Cup….well, heard it here and from several other spots, I’m not exactly going out on a limb here.  Part of me is rooting for Pittsburgh just to see Kessel hoist the Cup and see the Toronto media’s collective head explode.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Billy & (La)Tina

Not even the unflappable Tina Fey is immune to Billy On The Street's cauldron of pressure.  NOT EVEN.