Saturday, April 30, 2016

Listamania!

Whenever a blogger is stuck for an idea, he/she is required by law to just write a list of something.  Easy as pie!

Best Quentin Tarantino movies
9. Kill Bill, Volume 2
8. Death Proof
7. Django Unchained
6. The Hateful Eight
5. Reservoir Dogs
4. Jackie Brown
3. Kill Bill, Volume 1
2. Inglourious Basterds
1. Pulp Fiction

Best Keyboard Keys
10. Space bar
9. J
8. Delete
7. “ and ‘
6. < and ,
5. F
t3. 9 and (
t3. 10 and )
2. Shift
1. Enter/Return

Best David Bowie Songs
10. Heroes
9. Space Oddity
8. Rebel Rebel
7. Suffragette City
6. Young Americans
5. Valentine’s Day
4. Starman
3. Golden Years
2. Modern Love
1. Under Pressure

Best Albums To Listen To While Driving At Night On A Semi-Rural Highway
9. Set Yourself On Fire/Stars
8. I’m A Mountain/Sarah Harmer
7. Sam’s Town/The Killers
6. Blue/Joni Mitchell
5. Get Behind Me Satan/The White Stripes
4. American IV: When The Man Comes Around/Johnny Cash
3. Day For Night/The Tragically Hip
2. Hail To The Thief/Radiohead
1. Nebraska/Bruce Springsteen

Best Living Actors Who Have Semi-Inexplicably Never Been Nominated For An Oscar (a.k.a. the Alan Rickman memorial award)
20. Thandie Newton
19. Jennifer Ehle
18. Jeff Daniels
17. Ewan McGregor
16. John Turturro
15. Scarlet Johansson
14. Guy Pearce
13. Ben Foster
12. Jeffrey Wright
11. Judy Greer
10. Paul Dano
9. John Goodman
8. Rose Byrne
7. Stellan Skarsgard
6. Brian Cox
5. Alfred Molina
4. Parker Posey
3. Sam Rockwell
2. Donald Sutherland
1. Steve Buscemi

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Grouse

Stare into the eyes of evil.

When a new grade school opened up literally right behind my house when I was in fifth grade, it made for a very convenient commute…in theory.  Walking down the grassy, bushy hill down to the school in the valley, I was constantly attacked by a grouse that dove out of the bushes at me.  There was really only one well-worn path down through the brush, so I had no choice but to traverse that route (presumably near the grouse’s nest) and get jumped what seemed like every single day.

My friends always felt I was exaggerating or complaining, saying that a bird could never specifically target someone a la a Hitchcock movie.  And yet now, today, as per this CBC.ca article, VINDICATION!

I can only presume that this is the same grouse, 21 years later, still wreaking havoc.  After I graduated grade school, he moved onto newer targets in a country-wide reign of terror.  The other stories of the grouse’s destruction over the last two decades haven’t been reported due to a lack of survivors.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince

No one compared 2 Prince.  The only unbelievable part of Charlie Murphy's story is that Prince would have been visibly upset at the "shirts vs. blouses" comment --- that's pretty far-fetched.  Everyone knows Prince would've just reacted with a mild eyebrow raise at most, then proceeded to torch Charlie and company all over the court.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BookMarks

A recent vacation allowed me to catch up on some reading, so you know what that means…book reviewz!

———————

My first book was something of a rarity, since it’s not often I read a book by someone I actually know.  My online pal Mario Lanza wrote several accounts of his experiences watching and writing about Survivor in the show’s early years, and eventually decided (with Richard Hatch-like shrewdness) that he could just collect them into a book and make some cash rather than just publish them for free on the net.  When It Was Worth Playing For covers everything through the first three seasons, when Survivor was at its peak and already semi-sudden decline as a cultural phenomenon.  Mario covers not just the show, but also bigger-picture ideas of what reality TV says about society and how Survivor was such a huge influence on modern pop culture.  If you think about it, even the entire book reflects this theme — the whole idea of gaining any kind of fame by writing about a TV show on a website was a fresh idea in 2000, so Mario himself is a living example.

If you’re a Survivor fan, you really have no excuse for not buying a copy of "When It Was Worth Playing For."  If there's enough interest, Mario will publish another volume about (presumably) seasons 4 through 6 or 7.  This next volume will also, undoubtedly, be dedicated to me as the only person who gives this much of a damn about this show.

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I’d be interested in reading an updated Book Of Basketball from Bill Simmons, and by which I mean really just an updated version of his top 96 players of all time.  Written in 2009, the original list is already a wee bit out of date — Simmons himself even admits that LeBron James’ #20 ranking is found to be upgraded by at least 10-15 slots within as little as a year’s time. 

Going by Simmons’ own ‘pyramid’ gimmick for the Basketball Hall Of Fame, the Pantheon Level is limited to just 12 slots, so does that mean that LeBron is in and Moses Malone is bumped down to #13?  Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki get big bumps into the sub-Pantheon level.  Tim Duncan was already seventh on Simmons’ list but by this point, I think you could argue him ahead of Wilt and Bird based on sheer longevity (I can see Simmons putting Duncan ahead of his hated Wilt but not his beloved Larry Bird).

The list is interesting, the rest of the book is still kind of middling.  Simmons devoting several hundred pages to a) letting us know that ‘the secret’ of basketball is (gasp!) teams playing cohesive basketball perform better and b) going at great length to argue that the 1986 Celtics are the best team ever are as mind-numbing today as they were when I first read the book.  On the flip side, actually reading Bill Simmons’ writing seems like a rare treat given how he’s been gone from ESPN for a year and even before he left Grantland, he was contributing at best just one column per week.  Absence makes some of his hackneyed old jokes almost seem fresh. 

—————————

J.K. Rowling included insane amounts of backstory and world-building within the Harry Potter books, yet she gradually parcelled it out over seven novels.  The first, say, quarter of The Cuckoo’s Calling is a bit dense since it seems like Rowling (a.k.a. Robert Galbraith) is trying to include seven books’ worth of background into our first 100 pages with Cormoran Strike, her detective.  This guy has more character beats than most books have actual characters. 

Despite this sensory overload, Cuckoo’s Calling develops into such a great read that it ruined a night’s sleep.  I started the book at around 9pm at night, and didn’t put it down until around seven hours later since I was just so engrossed.  It probably *could’ve* (or should’ve) been cut down by roughly 50 pages just to keep it lean and mean, though I didn’t mind the extra details.  There were so, so many scenes of Cormoran interviewing the various characters/suspects yet in hindsight, I’m not sure which ones could’ve been cut since they were all so vividly drawn.  Harry Potter comparisons are inevitable, yet it almost felt like Rowling was again visiting some kind of a magical world full of eccentric characters with weird names and personalities, except this time instead of a wizarding academy, it’s the modern-day modelling world. 

——————————

From a relatively new British female mystery writer to the queen of them all!  You could argue that it’s bad karma for me to bring along on vacation not one, but two Agatha Christie mysteries about people being murdered while on vacation.  (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t murdered!  Whew)  I’d read both Evil Under The Sun and Appointment With Death years and years ago in my Christie-reading prime, though I’d completely forgotten how either of them worked out.  Some of Christie’s novels have such singular endings that I’ll never forget them, yet with these two, they were both relatively generic but enjoyable at the same time thanks to their bonkers solutions.  Sad Cypress also had a pretty memorable answer to the mystery — so memorable, in fact, that I suddenly remembered whodunit when I was about two-thirds of the way into the book.  C’est la vie.

Something I never seemed to realize about Agatha Christie books: the romantic pairings.  In all three of these novels, Christie pairs off at least one couple to add a happy ending to the story beyond just Poirot solving a murder and justice being served.  I’m not sure why I never noticed Christie’s tendency for these romantic endings in all my years of reading dozens and dozens of her book, and I can only guess that 12-to-17-year-old Mark was simply more focused on the mysteries than the non-solving story elements.  What an asexual child I was.

——————————

While it’s been years since I’ve read basically all of Agatha Christie’s books, there was another re-read that I’d been putting off for a long time.  Catch-22 absolutely blew my mind as a 17-year-old, so much so that I’ve often referred to it as my favourite book….despite the fact that I hadn’t read it since.  This is a dangerous game to play, since how many of your “favourites” from when you were 17 are still that great?  After all, Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness sure as hell isn’t my favourite album of all time.  My favourite meal isn’t Pizza Hut.  The Simpsons isn’t my favourite TV show of….well, wait, bad example.

Anyway, it’s with great relief that I can report Catch-22 still held up.  I didn’t laugh out loud as I did back in the day (I remember almost choking with laughter during Major Major Major’s interrogation scene) but this time just marvelled at the webs of dialogue and illogic that Joseph Heller writes around his characters.  I think I’d also forgotten about the sheer number of characters in this book, since splitting my reading into two different sittings ended up being a mistake; even a few days off caused me to forget a number of the names and references from earlier in the novel, leading to a lot of backtracking.  I should’ve pulled a Cuckoo’s Calling and just blown through the entire thing in a single sitting.  I’ll keep that in mind for my third reading of Catch-22, due around 2032.

Monday, April 18, 2016

TWSS

So this afternoon, my mother is exchanging texts with her friend Fran trying to arrange a golf game for tomorrow.  Mom also has something else scheduled for tomorrow night, and my father isn’t sure that she would be able to fit in nine (let alone 18) holes in time for her other commitment.  My mother responded that Fran had also said the same thing. 

So that’s the paraphrased version.  The actual version went….
“Geez, that’s a very tight squeeze fitting that in.”
“That’s what she said!”

That’s right: a completely organic, non-ironic TWSS moment.  I had a good laugh; my parents just looked at me like I was crazy.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

NBA Playoffs Predictions


16. Memphis Grizzlies
15. Detroit Pistons
14. Dallas Mavericks
13. Houston Rockets
12. Boston Celtics
11. Los Angeles Clippers
10. Charlotte Hornets
9. Indiana Pacers
8. Atlanta Hawks
7. Portland Trail Blazers
6. San Antonio Spurs
5. Miami Heat
4. Toronto Raptors
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Golden State Warriors
1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Okay, well, not to be anti-climactic and give you the big pick right off the top…but Golden State is going to win the title again.  No surprises.  As much as I love the Spurs Borg and while it would be great to see Duncan get ring #6 (and as much as I think Popovich indeed was saving some tricks for the Warriors in the postseason), it seems almost unfathomable to me that the Spurs or any team can beat Golden State four times in seven games.  I’d be fairly surprised if the Warriors even lose four games in the entire playoffs, though I could see an all-chalk seven-game series with San Antonio where the home team wins every game.

The NBA wouldn’t be wrong if they just announced that Golden State and San Antonio would be playing a best-of-21 series to decide the champion, and the other 14 teams would compete in a consolation tournament for a bronze medal or something.  Barring injury, I can’t fathom this year’s NBA champion being anyone other than the Warriors or Spurs.  I could see Durant/Westbrook getting crazy hot and leading the Thunder over San Antonio (a la 2012) or even Golden State themselves, but I can’t see them doing it against BOTH teams.  The Cavaliers seem to be a real den of self-loathing, to the point where there’s maybe a 20-1 chance a disgusted LeBron just walks away during a game to leave his teammates to fend for themselves, a la Rick Martel leaving Tito Santana at the mercy of the Brainbusters at Wrestlemania V.  (Bill Simmons isn’t the only one who can make laboured wrestling/basketball analogies!)

And that’s it.  There is literally no other team that has even a remote chance at winning.  The other 12 teams are such longshots that not even Steph Curry could make them.  The NBA champion will be one of the four aforementioned teams, and in another, more accurate way, it will be the Golden State Warriors.

* Warriors over Rockets in four: LOL Houston’s horrific season.  When will teams realize that Dwight Howard is a born loser?

* Clippers over Trail Blazers in seven: Portland is the year’s surprise team, as while they lost a bunch of talent last offseason, Damian Lillard stepped up as a legit superstar.  While I will never put it past a Chris Paul team to come up short in the postseason, I will have to take L.A. based on overall ability.  Then again, if the Blazers got another motivational locker room visit and just dunked the entire time.…

* Thunder over Mavericks in five: Dallas is arguably even more of a surprise than Portland given how this team is built around the ancient-but-still-dangerous Dirk Nowitzki.  Dirk’s the best.  I’m so glad he was able to score a ring late in his career, so Kevin and Russ, there’s still time! 

* Spurs over Grizzlies in four: My greatest fear is that the Memphis grit-and-grinders figure they have nothing to lose, so they just unload on the cheap shots and someone like Kawhi Leonard gets injured.  Well, my GREATEST fear is being locked in a room with a hungry panther, but why be specific.

* Cavaliers over Pistons in six: The problems start early for the Cavs as Detroit really has no business taking them to six games, but I just have a hunch Van Gandy can coach up something interesting.

* Hawks over Celtics in seven: I’d call this the biggest coin flip of the first round.  I’m picking against history here since the Celtics are 10-1 in all-time playoff series against the Hawks (!) but hey, those past Hawks teams didn’t have Paul Millsap!  *tumbleweed tumbleweed*  Wouldn’t shock me at all if Boston wins here, though.

* Heat over Hornets in six: Losing Chris Bosh will slow Miami down at some point, right?  Eventually?  If Bosh was healthy, I would honestly have a strong think about the Heat as an upset winner in the East.  As for Charlotte, well, this has already been a pretty sorry month for the state of North Carolina, why should the bad vibes end now?

* Raptors over Pacers in six: The Raptors make the second round!  Yahoo!  My biggest fear (aside from a major Spurs injury and the panther) was that Toronto was going to have this great season and earn a high seed and then get upset by the Bulls in the first round.  Chicago’s brutal season didn’t change the fact that Chicago completely owns the Raptors, so I’m quite relieved to see the Bulls out of the playoffs entirely.  The Raps should be able to snag that rare second-round appearance unless Paul George completely goes off, which isn’t totally unlikely.

* Warriors over Clippers in five
* Spurs over Thunder in seven
* Cavaliers over Hawks in six
* Heat over Raptors in six
(the dream is dead!)

* Warriors over Spurs in seven
* Cavaliers over Heat in seven
(that’s seven games, not seven times per game that LeBron and Dwyane exchange wistful looks at each other.  James leaving Cleveland again would be kind of hilarious, admittedly)

* Warriors over Cavaliers in six
Cleveland took Golden State to six games last year despite Irving and Love both being out, and their entire offense being completely built around a slow-as-molasses, give-it-to-LeBron focus.  This year, with Irving and Love healthy, the Cavs still won’t get past six since Golden State has simply taken their to a whole new level of dominance.  The Warriors dynasty is here, folks.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Stanley Cup Predictions

16. Detroit Red Wings
15. Los Angeles Kings
14. New York Rangers
13. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
11. Florida Panthers
10. Chicago Blackhawks
9. Anaheim Ducks
8. New York Islanders
7. Washington Capitals
6. Dallas Stars
5. Nashville Predators
4. St. Louis Blues
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. San Jose Sharks
1. Pittsburgh Penguins


The NHL playoffs are upon us, and thus I’ve officially gone an entire season while watching mayyyyybe the equivalent of one full Maple Leafs game.  The best part about an openly rebuilding team is that I can happily just step away from hockey until the Leafs start playing well, so now I have all sorts of free time!  I’ve been learning how to speak Spanish!  Ola!  The Leafs did win ’their’ version of the Stanley Cup in finishing with the league’s worst record, and thus the best chance at winning the draft lottery.  Here’s the thing — if the Leafs actually win the top pick and the rights to Auston Matthews, and if there’s any truth to the rumour that the Coyotes will pay an arm and a leg to get the local boy, the Leafs should swap the pick.  Depending on how crazy the Coyotes get with their Matthews love, how good would Oliver Edman-Larsson look in the blue and white next year, eh?

Anyway, onto the NHL’s actual good teams.

* Panthers over Islanders in six
Florida becoming a division-winning power is a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and there’s a
very real chance that the clock hits midnight and New York just rolls them this series.  But my alternate take is that 20 years ago, the Panthers rode the inexplicable momentum from an inexplicable mascot (the locker room rat) to the finals.  This season, the Panthers have ridden the inexplicable momentum from an inexplicable mascot (Kevin Spacey) to the division title.  I’m sure Spacey finds it all quite amusing and flattering until someone lets him know what Panthers fans were last worked up over plastic rats.

* Red Wings over Lightning in seven
This is an upset pick from me and it’s frankly an overreaction, since even without Stamkos, Tampa Bay probably has enough to knock off the Wings.  But why not, since the Leafs are wallowing in their own crapulence, I might as well have a soft spot for the *other* local team I could easily have chosen as my favourites back in sixth grade.  Why oh why didn’t I decide to support the Red Wings?  Sighhhhhhh

* Penguins over Rangers in seven
Marquee matchup here, with the red-hot Penguins against the Lundqvist-powered Rangers.  Pittsburgh has just been playing too well lately so I have to pick them, and admittedly, I also just think it would make a lot of Toronto heads explode if Phil Kessel somehow ended up winning a Stanley Cup.  That would be hilarious.  Kessel’s day with the Cup should just be him filling it with hot dogs and stuffing his face in front of every single hockey pundit in town.

* Capitals over Flyers in five
If you also kinda zoned out on this year’s NHL season, you may have missed out on the Capitals suddenly rising up and destroying everybody.  They had 120 points, for pete’s sake!  That was the most points by any team since the 121 points posted by the 2009-10…uh, Washington Capitals, who proceeded to lose in the first round.  So basically, it’s far too early to assume that Washington will suddenly shake off its franchise history-long tradition of postseason flops.  They should have enough, at least, to get past the happy-to-be-here Flyers.  #FamousLastWords

* Ducks over Predators in six
What a weird season for Anaheim.  They started off 1-7-2, then basically just flipped a switch and started destroying everyone, finishing as Pacific Division champs.  I guess if you think an NHL season is an ouroboros, we’ll be in for the Ducks playing like garbage in their final month and getting themselves swept, but *Moe voice* I kinda doubt it.  It’s also fitting that we get a Ducks/Predators matchup just as one of the most famous Mighty Ducks (Elden “Fulton Reed” Henson) is facing off against the legal predators of Hell’s Kitchen in the Daredevil TV series.  That was maybe my most laboured joke ever, wow.

* Kings over Sharks in six
Going by the annual Blackhawks-or-Kings chart, it’s Los Angeles’ turn to win the Stanley Cup again, so it’s hard to pick against them in the first round.  ESPECIALLY when they’re playing the playoff pincushions known as the San Jose Sharks.

* Dallas over Minnesota in five
Another classic battle between the new and old Minnesota teams.  North Stars rumble!  Whither Brian Bellows and Jon Casey during all of this?  Can they make cameo appearances?  Will they jump Jamie Benn in an alley, NWO-style?  Fun fact: I had Dallas missing the playoffs entirely in my preseason picks, which saw me choose only 12 of the 16 playoff teams correctly.  Had Dallas, Nashville, Florida and Philadelphia all missing, and Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Columbus all making.  Yikes.

* Blackhawks over Blues in six
Much like the L.A./San Jose matchup, here’s another case of an ongoing dynasty getting to warm up for the playoff run by handing a snakebitten team yet another early postseason exit.  You’ll notice that these Western Conference predictions are a lot more concise than my Eastern predictions, mostly because I’m bored since it’ll obviously just end up Kings/Blackhawks in the West finals again.

* Panthers over Red Wings in se7en, as Spacey presents Pavel Datsyuk’s NHL career in a box
* Penguins over Capitals in seven,
as the NHL finally gets an Ovechkin vs. Crosby series for the ages.  HERE’s where the Caps choke it up.
* Kings over Ducks in seven,
Anaheim makes them work for it
* Blackhawks over Stars in six,
as Chicago is now nice and warmed up for the main event

* Penguins over Panthers in six
* Kings over Blackhawks in seven


* Kings over Penguins in six
I realize my preseason pick was Tampa Bay beating Anaheim in the Cup finals, but forget it, I’m caving.  The power of the Kings/Blackhawks pendulum is too much to ignore.  Kessel’s critics use the loss as another sign of his low work ethic, as obviously it takes a high-character group like the, um, Kings to win a…..ok, this theory needs work.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Hot! Live! Music!

Ryan Adams, "Wildest Dreams"
On the one hand, it's kind of a sad indictment of modern rock music that of all the umpteen albums that Ryan Adams has released in his 20-year career, it was his 1989 cover album that got by far the most mainstream attention.  On the other hand, Ryan Adams is one of those musicians (like Taylor Swift herself, actually) who is better in theory than in actual practice.  The idea of a songs-first artist cranking out multiple albums in multiple genres with multiple bands year after year sounds impossibly romantic, until you realize that most of Adams' material isn't actually all that good.  He's not even the best musician whose name ends up with "_ryan Adams," though that could be my bias as a Canadian speaking.  ANYWAY, this song is good, probably the best of the bunch from either Adams' 1989 or Swift's 1989.


Tom Cochrane, "I Wish You Well"
Hey, speaking of Canadian bias....

Postmodern Jukebox and Emily West, "Only One"
There's about a 30 percent chance I just shut down this blog entirely and turn it into a Postmodern Jukebox fan page.  This might be my favourite cover yet.  Bonus points to Emily delivering the best rendition of this song by anyone with the last name West.

Bruce Springsteen, "Rebel Rebel"
The latest E Street Band tour is based around playing 'The River' in its entirety.  Since it's a 20-song record and it's not one of my absolute favourite Springsteen albums, I decided to pass on seeing the show since I felt it would kinda detract from the "Bruce could play literally song in his repertoire next" feeling, one of my favourite elements of seeing the Boss live.  I immediately regretted this decision about five minutes after the tickets stopped going on sale, and I've been kicking myself ever since.  I am a moron.

Greg Dulli, "Modern Love"
While we're on the subject of Bowie covers, here's a really interesting take on my favourite Bowie song.  It changes the melody and completely removes the original's awesome driving momentum...yet it's still a good song.  Really cool arrangement here from Dulli.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Gaslighting

Is society trying to gaslight me with “gaslighting”?  I’ve been on this planet for almost 34 and a half years now, and in all that time, 34 years and roughly three months of it was spent hearing “gaslighting” mentioned casually every once in a while, and I really had no idea what the term meant.

In the last couple of months, suddenly, it’s everywhere.  I see the “gaslighting” term casually used in written articles on all topics, on TV, in the movies…of course, the term actually originates from a movie, the old 1944 Ingrid Bergman film “Gaslight” that won her an Academy Award.  I love it when something from pop culture takes over as the instantly-understood meaning of a phrase or situation.  Like, people will always cite “Groundhog Day” in reference to something repetitive, or any difficult decision is called a real “Sophie’s Choice.”  That latter term may be my favourite since it’s always used either incorrectly or for decisions that pale in comparison to Sophie’s actual choice.  I’m sorry, but deciding which of your children lives or dies carries a bit more gravitas than deciding to put mushrooms or green peppers on the pizza.

If you’re an ignorant wretch like me for 34.25 years of my life, “gaslighting” is simply when someone mentally torments another by creating doubt that the victim’s actual memories or perceptions are untrue, perhaps to the point that the victim starts to wonder if they’re crazy.  Given how bizarre things happen in the news every single day, perhaps I can’t blame people for wondering if what they’re seeing and hearing is real, or if everything they’ve been led to believe is a lie.  I mean, just the other day, I looked at the NHL standings and saw the Florida Panthers leading the division.  That surely can’t be real.