Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year's End

See you later, 2017!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Push 787 To Swing

Terrible news for my interest in the 2018 PGA Tour season.  I went to sign up for my 15th (give or take) year of Yahoo fantasy golf only to discover that the game is no longer offered.  Nooooooooo!  You might point out that, whereas fantasy football/hockey/baseball/basketball are respectfully nerdy mainstream activities, fantasy golf is taking things a bit too far.  You are entirely correct in this assessment, but still, I'm heartbroken at losing an activity that has taken up probably too much of my time over the last decade and a half.  

The premise --- you get to select eight golfers per week, divided into tiers of an A group, a B group, and a C group.  The groups were roughly divided by talent, though as the year progressed, there would always be a couple of weird outliers.  (For instance, I think Jordan Spieth was a B-player during his massive 2015 season.)  You could only start one of your two A players, two of your four B players and one of your two C players in each "foursome" per round, so there was some strategy in trying to figure out which of your guys would perform better.  There were few things more frustrating than leaving the lowest round of the day on your bench.  Points were allowed out of a possible 20, based on how far behind the leader a golfer finished.  Low round of the day for 20 points, one shot behind 18 points, two shots behind 16 points, and so on and so forth. 

The other catch was that you couldn't select a player for more than ten starts per year, so you had to be strategic about when you picked, say, Tiger Woods in his prime.  If you think this led to me actually studying golf statistics to gauge which players played best on particular courses, you're right!  In a related story, I'm single. 

You accumulated points during every tournament throughout the PGA Tour season, leading to a grand prize of....well, nothing.  Bragging rights, I suppose.  It's generally pretty boring to hear anyone talk about their fantasy sports teams, but it is ESPECIALLY boring to hear them talk about* a fantasy golf team since a) nobody plays it, b) nobody really gets it, leading to that paragraph-long description about the rules, c) nobody really cares in the first place.

* = um, but hopefully not boring to read about?

Without fantasy golf as my anchor, I guess there's a chance I could care less about actual golf in general, though I already feel like my interest has been vaguely waning over the last year or so.  I'd always harboured the secret hope that I'd be struck by lightning and gain superpowers, and since suddenly dominating any other sport would've been suspicious for secret identity purposes, I would've directed my powers to gain fame and fortune as a pro golfer.  As the years go by, however, I'm starting to think that this scenario is a little far-fetched.  Come to think of it, it might not even happen at all!  As such, keeping up on my future competition on Tour is now suddenly seeming less important. 

Or, the actual reason could be that the new wave of golfing talent just doesn't really get me excited.  Now, it bears noting that this year's Masters was crazy-exciting, and the final round of the Open Championship featuring Spieth's insane recovery shot from halfway off the course will be remembered for as long as my brain retains sports information.  But the US Open and PGA Championship were both just stultifying, possibly because Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are so aggressively uninteresting personalities.  Between these two, Spieth (who is a great player but also pretty bland), and Dustin Johnson (who is only interesting when he's hilariously blowing majors, not when he's actually winning them), it's not a very needle-moving crop of golfers.  Here I am hoping that Rory McIlroy starts caring about golf again, or even that Tiger Woods' various brittle body parts can keep him upright for four consecutive rounds.

And now I can't even enter a meaningless competition to compete against strangers?!  Nooooooooo!

n.b. The title of this post refers to my long-time fantasy golf team name.  It is, of course, a Simpsons reference.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

That's A Big Penguin


This article led to my friend Meryl and I creating a movie based on the premise.  The film will star…

* The Rock as the Ultra Penguin, the benevolent ruler of the giant penguin kingdom.
* Kevin Hart plays a tall modern-day penguin who somehow time-travels back to the age of the giant penguins and is dismayed to learn that he's suddenly very short by comparison.
* Judi Dench as the Empress Penguin, the Rock’s mother.
* Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero play villainous penguins who are scheming to overthrow the Rock's character. (Technically, Tommy's character is the villain, Greg's character is just going along to make sure Tommy doesn't mess up too badly.)
* Greta Gerwig has an undefined role.  We really just want her involved with the project in any capacity, we’ll figure out her character later.
* Morgan Freeman as the narrator, naturally.

The film is, naturally, live-action with everyone wearing the cheapest-looking penguin costumes imaginable.

Our choices for director are either Gerwig, Ron Howard, the Wachowskis or (if things get desperate) Wiseau.  The Wachowskis are probably the best fit for the material, given that this premise is no more or less wacky than any of their other films. 

Your move, Star Wars franchise.

Friday, December 22, 2017

What's Going On

Oh, not much!  Home for the holidays, finished off my Xmas shopping today, had a great pasta-and-chicken dinner....

....ah, you just meant the song.  Stupid mistakenly conversational post titles!  U2's track record with cover songs isn't great, so it's a pleasure to hear that this one comes off well.
 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Survivor Ratings: Ben

Be warned, this is going to be another “Mark rants about the current state of Survivor” post.  While the 35th season (the lazily-themed Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers) made some interesting casting choices and did a better job than most recent seasons in establishing some unique personalities within its cast, this was yet another series undone by the producers believing that BIG MOVES and BLINDSIDES and BUILDING YOUR SURVIVOR RESUME are the factors that make their show popular, rather than those personalities.  Ben Driebergen’s story of victory encapsulates this entire issue with the show.

How He Won
: Idols and an out-of-nowhere final four twist.  Not to diminish the rest of Ben’s game, which I’ll cover later, but this is the clearest case in history of a Survivor win that simply couldn’t have happened in past seasons.  Forget about the idols, even — Ben literally couldn’t have won any other season than S35 since no other series eliminated the vote entirely in the final four and turned it into a fire-making challenge.
 
Since I’m someone who’d still prefer to see Survivor revert back to a final two, you can correctly guess that I hate this new F4 twist.  In any other season, Ben is easily voted out after losing the final immunity challenge.  Now, he not only got a lifeline, he had the game clinched the moment the producers decided to implement this twist; either he wins the final immunity and makes the F3 that way, or he easily beats any of Chrissy, Ryan, or Devon in making a fire.  (I’m not 100% sure Ben would’ve beaten Devon in a final vote, but I suspect he had enough support on his side.)  I don’t buy for a minute Jeff Probst’s spiel about how now the players can “control their own fate when it comes to reaching the final tribal council” — what the hell else were they doing the previous five weeks?!  If you’ve played the game poorly enough that you’re dead meat in the final four vote, you don’t deserve that last chance.

In fact, anyone who plays so poorly that he needs three straight idol plays to save himself probably also doesn’t deserve a last chance.  After S34 was ruined by an overload of idols and advantages, S35 was unfortunately more of the same.  At first it seemed like the show had wised up in the sense that some of the idols and advantages had expiry dates (i.e. they were only good for that night’s tribal council), but in the end, it just became another edition of Survivor: Scavenger Hunt, where the person with the most toys wins.  Fair play to Ben for finding the idols, and particularly keeping them secret, but it doesn’t make for a very satisfying victory.

Skillset
: That secrecy really served Ben well since his fellow players couldn’t help but spill the beans about every idol and advantage that came their way.  This is where being a superfan and wanting to make sure you get credit on your “Survivor resume” can bite the likes of Chrissy or Ryan in the ass, whereas Ben deployed simply common sense and kept his idols to himself.  He also deserves credit for his wonderful “spy” performance within the Chrissy/Ryan/JP alliance, which was easily the season’s highlight.  That was something I’d never seen on the show before,* and it was a simple yet ingenious move.  Credit to Devon for thinking the idea up, and credit to Ben for executing the deception so well.

* = Shambo pulled a variation of this on her old Galu tribemates back in S19, though Shambo was clearly on the bottom of the Galu alliance and they suspected she had turned anyway.

Ben generally came across as a loyal, honest guy that you’d want to be in an alliance with, even if his paranoia eventually burned bridges in the later stages of the game.  It is very true that Ben had a pretty curt personality with people he didn’t like, though as always in Survivor, it’s okay if people don’t like you much as long as you’re in the F3 with two people the jury likes even less.  In the big picture, everyone respected Ben’s military service, and admired him for using Survivor as a platform to let veterans know that it was okay to be open with PTSD and other issues.  That carried a lot more weight than Chrissy and Ryan’s too-rehearsed jury speeches that they’d been composing in their heads for years.

Could He Do It Again?
: As mentioned earlier, Ben could only have won S35, given the unique twist that allowed him to escape certain doom at the final four.  Since this twist will apparently (ugh) be an ongoing feature of Survivor for the foreseeable future, I guess he could do it again?  You’d think future casts would know this guy was an idol magnet and would do a much better job of shadowing him at all hours, so really, I don’t have much faith in Ben performing too well in a theoretical repeat visit. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Songs Of Experience

I wanted to give this one time, to listen to it over and over in multiple different scenarios.  There was the “get home from the record store and listen to it twice in a row, start to finish” initial rush, then I went back and re-listened to just the eight songs that were totally fresh to me, as in the ones that U2 didn’t release beforehand as singles or whatnot.  Over the next week or so, there was the “car listen,” when I had the album in my car’s CD player* for multiple days and listened to it on a stop-and-start basis.  Then there was the ‘“two-stop listen,” when I had to do a couple of chores, thus making two stops and getting to listen the whole album in one more only partially-broken up stream.  Then there was the “encore” listen of the whole thing start to finish again.  In between you also had the all-important single-track listens, when I went into the disc to seek out specific songs that caught my fancy.

* = it occurs to me that my car, a 2013 model, may be the last vehicle I ever own with an actual physical CD player installed.  Oh man that makes me feel old.

In a way, that’s actually the best way of judging an album — how many tracks can I easily bear to skip?  Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Songs Of Experience is that, after almost two weeks of constantly listening to it, there aren’t any duds.  There are some songs I like more than others, yet there aren’t any meandering ‘album tracks’ that musicians sometimes include to ‘help the album flow better’ since they ‘couldn’t come up wth anything interesting with an actual melody or chorus.’

The flip side of this is that SOE is lacking in those singular, “this is an instant U2 classic” type of songs.  (There are two of them that immediately stand out to me at the moment, which I’ll get to soon.)  But what the record may be lacking in a high ceiling, it makes up for with the highest floor of any U2 album outside of Achtung Baby and Joshua Tree.  It’s all killer, no filler.

The track-by-track breakdown…

* Love Is All We Have Left: Okay, so I’ll instantly contradict myself by saying that both the opening and closing songs basically are “album tracks” that don’t really work in the context of stand-alone songs, but they work great as bookends for the record’s theme.  (A mediation of morality, as filtered through the idea of Bono writing the songs as letters to important people in his life after he has passed on.)  LIAWHL is basically unlike any other U2 album opener, a slow-burn autotune-heavy short number lacking in any instant build.

* Lights Of Home: Aw man, do I have to like Haim now?  Can’t I just go on recognizing them as a thoroughly unremarkable band?  Can’t I just give them credit for this one riff that the Edge sampled/borrowed as the backbone of this song and keep on ignoring them?

This is a really interesting song, since even after LIAWHL’s slow opening, you’d expect Lights Of Home to be this big-chorus classic U2-sounding type of number.  There’s certainly a big chorus and a sing-along quality, though it’s there in a way that sounds unlike pretty much anything U2 has ever done.  Of the two versions on the disc (the proper album version and then the strings version bonus track), I actually think the ideal mix has yet to be done — a version that has both the strings and the Edge busting out his acid guitar for the opening riff.  If you’ve got these big fat rock chords, no need to use the acoustic guitar, Edge…rock it up!  I realize that this could make the song sound a bit like Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, but in what world is that a bad thing?  As it is, Lights Of Home actually sounds a bit like the infamous Stand Up Comedy, which wasn’t technically a bad song but just stood out like a sore thumb on the atmosphere No Line On The Horizon album.

* You’re The Best Thing About Me: Speaking of a song that needed another mix, maybe U2 could’ve just gone with the Kygo version?  Or the “sci-fi soul mix” (available on YouTube) that smooths out the melody while keeping some electronic and beach rock flavour?  This one is pretty good yet a little frustrating in its not-quite-there nature since this feels like it might’ve been an actual massive hit for the band.  That said, wow do I ever love Edge’s vocal bridge.  That might be my single favourite moment on the entire record.

* Get Out Of Your Own Way: Probably my de facto least-favourite song on the disc, just because it really does come off as a poor man’s Beautiful Day.  It might even be a poor man’s Always, the b-side from the ATYCLB sessions that was essentially a Beautiful Day dress rehearsal.  Still, not a bad song, and it goes to what I was noting earlier about the album having a high floor.  When all you can say about the “worst” track is that is sounds like a diet Beautiful Day, that’s not exactly harsh.

* American Soul: Whereas the previous track just sounded like an old song, here U2 quite directly takes the guitar part and chorus from both Glastonbury and Volcano and re-uses it once more.  Frankly, I think it works better here than in either of those previous songs.  I do enjoy how U2 took probably the two weakest tracks on Songs Of Innocence (Volcano and Song For Someone) and reworked them into superior versions on Songs Of Experience.  Awesome work from Larry and Adam in the rhythm section here, really driving this song and giving it the urgency that Volcano lacked.

* Summer Of Love: A complete classic.  Such a beautiful song, with a deceptively-casual beach vibe laid over a serious message about the Syrian refugee crisis.  I try to avoid U2 album reviews since they’re almost uniformly terribly misguided or loaded with bias, but I can’t help but note that several reviewers had an instant “Bono + politics = vomit emoji” reaction to this track.  These people, better known as morons, would also fall all over themselves in praising a modern musician if they were capable of making such a political statement within the context of a pop song.  I don’t want to say that all of U2’s critics are ageist fools, but maybe, 92% of them?  Fun fact: Lady Gaga does backup vocals on this song yet is almost invisible within the vocal mix.  U2 had three major star cameos (Gaga, Haim, Kendrick Lamar) on this record yet reduced them to just imperceptible backup vocals and a tacked-on spoken word intro.  There are no “feat.” credits in U2’s world!

* Red Flag Day: The political argument redux, as it’s a “baby, let’s get in the water” laid-back chorus about….Syrian refugees preferring to take their chances trying to survive swimming in the Mediterranean Sea rather than stay in their war-torn homeland.  U2 turning the entire idea of a beach album on its head is one of the more creative ideas the band has ever done.  This song has the vibe of a War-era protest song made with modern sounds.

* The Showman (Much More Better): U2 at their most casual and least-insistent upon themselves, which is a look that the band doesn’t often pull off to great effect.  It’s funny to me that U2 has this image of being a pompous band, when they literally can’t get through an interview without making fun of a) each other, or b) the entire idea of U2, or c) the entire idea of being in a band itself.  This doesn’t always translate well to actual songs, however, like how U2’s attempts at creating light, throwaway pop-rock numbers often sound like the most laboured songs on any album.  But, not Showman!  Dare I say it sounds a bit like Billy Joel?  Is it weird to write a whole “hey, it’s not pompous!” paragraph and then compare the song to Billy Joel’s work?

* The Little Things That Give You Away: Classic #2.  It’s funny, when I first heard the song so many months ago when U2 surprisingly busted out a brand new song on the Joshua Tree tour, I liked TLTTYA but literally said “if it’s the best song on the album, that’s probably not a good sign.”  Well, now I think it is the best song on the album, and it’s a great sign.  I can tell why the band chose this one for the live debut —it’s a great somber, reflection of the album’s dark themes yet it builds into that climax that can only be described as the vintage U2 sound.  Within the context of Bono’s yet-unexplained health scare from two years, this song can be summed up as “life is so full of uncertainty, yet ultimately, all we can be is ourselves, U2, and that’s good enough…sometimes.”  I’m torn as to whether I prefer the keyboard version on the album to the piano version from the live performances.

* Landlady: Another song that seems like a beefed-up version of an older track, this one “Promenade” from the Unforgettable Fire album.  Whereas Promenade was gorgeously incomplete, Landlady feels a bit too overstuffed (Bono could’ve used a word or two fewer in every verse) but it also kind of fits the idea that Bono is just overflowing with love for his wife.  The title refers to how Bono’s wife was both literally his landlady in that she paid the bills when they were young so Bono could focus on the band, and also she’s his “land lady” in the sense that she keeps him grounded.  I must admit, this is a lovely song and it’s a delightful sentiment, but out of context, that whole explanation strikes me as hilarious.  Like the Oscar Wilde sketch from Monty Python, it’s like Bono was put on the spot to explain something nonsensical.  “Hey honey, I wrote a song about you, it’s called Landlady!”  “Wait, what?  Why is that the title?”  “Uh…well, you see….um, it’s because…you keep…me…grounded?”  “Is there a line in there about me paying the rent?”  “For sure.”  “You know that the landlady is the one that takes the rent, not pays it, right?”  “See, this is why you were in charge of the finances!  When I try to handle money, I end up owing back tax in Lithuanian shopping malls.”

* The Blackout: Given how the rest of the album sounds, Blackout really should stand out more than it does as a weird oddball of a track, yet it fits pretty well.  I’m not sure I’d put it right here in my ideal SOE track listing, but I’m also not sure where else you can slot it elsewhere.  It might be kind of a late wakeup-call kind of number — it’s fun song about being in a band, powerful number about overcoming fear, love song about the wife, and then boom, dance-rock number about how the world’s going to hell.  Nobody gets off easy!  Another great Adam Clayton bass line here.

* Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way: This is the one that took the most listens for me.  At first, it was like “who put this Killers b-side on the U2 album?” and now I find myself humming the chorus and/or the lyric in the bridge about Killiney Bay.  Dare I say that this will be the closer for the Experience & Innocence Tour, or will they go with TLTTGYA again?  Weirdly, I can also see this song not being played live at all, since I feel it’d be hell on Bono’s voice to do it night after night.

* 13 (There Is A Light): The other good bookend, and I do wonder if I’d like this more as a song unto itself if I’d never heard Song For Someone.  13 drains all of the syrup from the original and just retains its nice melodic spine.

BONUS TRACKS!  For the first time in a long while, U2 apparently relegate one of the sessions’ best songs to b-side status, as “Book Of Your Heart” is nothing special.  I think it actually was no better than the 14th-best song that U2 came up with during recording.  It’s kind of an Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree-type of atmospheric song, so I’m sure some probably love it, though those tracks (the Boomerang II or Deep In The Heart kind of stuff) never did anything for me……I’ve already discussed the Kygo YTBTAM remix and the strings version of Lights Of Home….the SOE tracks seem so well-connected that having Ordinary Love in here really makes it seem out of place.  This mix of Ordinary Love is the best of the bunch, though it doesn’t fix the song’s biggest issue, which is that it seems one verse and one bridge short.  I get the feeling that U2 really like this track and think of it as something of a missed opportunity, and the Edge will put it through a million mixes until he’s satisfied.

So that’s Songs Of Experience.  It was well worth the wait, even if I did have to pay for this one and not get it for free.  I was getting used to this whole iTunes sudden release thing!*  It’s too early to say where I rank this one within U2’s discography, since the lack of true standout individual tracks may keep it from the top five.  But I’m certainly open to hearing an argument for it being #6 at worst, since it is just so deep in quality music.  It’s a wonderful artistic statement about mortality and remembrance from a band that is over 40 years deep into its career and is, quite logically, now taking some looks back at themselves.

* = part of me wishes U2 and Apple had released this album into everyone’s iTunes again, just as a complete troll move to bask in everyone’s outrage.  

The music, however, is not.  It’s easy to criticize U2 for being too open to exploring fresh sounds rather than just rely on their classic chiming guitar rock, though if they did the latter, then The Band That Can’t Win No Matter What They Do would be criticized just as much for repeating themselves.  On this album literally all about life experience, U2 touches on their past for song structures or ideas that breathes new life into them.  It’d be one thing if they were rehashing their hits (uh, ignore that whole “GOOYOW is like Beautiful Day” thing!) but if you told me that U2 was presenting re-imagined versions of the likes of Volcano, Promenade, Song For Someone, Stand Up Comedy, and maybe even a touch of A Man And A Woman in Summer Of Love…man, that’s just fascinating.

Also, yikes, I’m glad Bono didn’t die two years ago.  I kind of don’t want to know any more details about that situation, other than to just be thankful that he’s alive and well.  To be clear, this is apparently a separate incident than his infamous Central Park bike accident, which left him “only” badly injured.  What a run of bad luck for this poor guy.  Beyond his loving family, the iconic music career and the millions of dollars, Bono simply can’t catch a break.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Red Rise

Winning a league title in just 11 years of existence, even in a smaller league like MLS, is still a pretty good achievement on paper.  There are multiple clubs, in fact, that have yet to win the MLS Cup despite being in the league since day one — let’s all give a big LOL to the New England Revolution, FC Dallas, and the New York City Red Bulls.

But for Toronto FC, that 11 years just seemed way longer.  The club packed about 50 years of incompetence and drama into that first eight seasons of non-playoff soccer, with coaching changes and roster shakeups and the losing, the losing, my god, the losing!  It was just over three years ago that TFC went through the ‘bloody big deal’ nonsense with Jermain Defoe and yet another fired head coach in Ryan Nelsen, which once again seemed to put the team back at square one.

This time, however, things were different.  Toronto had one actual proper building block in place (Michael Bradley) and then replaced Defoe’s zero-cares-given and Gilberto’s unspectacular decentness with two Designated Players that proceeded to blow the doors off the league (Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore).  Around these cornerstones, TFC then acquired actual talented secondary players that didn’t require the stars to carry the entire team.  I realize that I’m simplifying the failures of the first eight years but man, this doesn’t have to be rocket science.  Once you achieve basic tasks like, say, hiring a GM and coach who don’t hate each other, or hiring a GM that hasn’t alienated half the coach, or hiring a coach that knows the rules of MLS, it tends to make things a bit easier on yourself.

Even after getting on track, I must admit to be being constantly surprised by TFC’s rise from “hey, they’re finally pretty decent” to “wow, they’re really good” to “wait, is this the best team in MLS history?!”  TFC, when at full strength, was just destroying teams all season long.  Even at less than 100%, they still usually managed to win, which was a key difference from the house-of-cards rosters from years past. 

It all culminated in last Saturday’s MLS Cup final, when Toronto FC pretty much dominated the Seattle Sounders from start to finish, totally erasing their bitter loss to Seattle in last year’s Cup final.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sporting crowd roar as they did when Altidore scored what was eventually the game-winning goal — the pavilion was literally shaking.  It was 11 years of frustration* coming out in one kick of the ball.

* = not to mention another MLS Cup final of frustration, given how Stefan Frei had been absolutely standing on his head to hold TFC scoreless and keep the overmatched Sounders in the game. 

So now Toronto FC has finally become the “sleeping giant” that so many people predicted the franchise would become if it ever got a clue.  Huge financial resources, a rabid fanbase, sold-out crowds, and the all-important winning culture in place…the sky is really the limit now.  It is very difficult to build a dynasty in as parity-driven a league as MLS, yet the Reds are in excellent shape for the coming years.

To be fair, eight straight MLS Cups is probably overcompensating for the eight losing seasons to begin the franchise’s history.  Can’t hurt to try, right?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forever Queue

There are 37 items in my Netflix queue, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that this list will never, ever be empty.  It will take significant work for it to ever drop into the 20-25 range.  I could be technical about this, and develop a strict viewing schedule (at least one item every one or two days until everything is complete), though even this has tons of complications.  Even my schedule doesn’t allow for THIS much viewing….especially since I have so many other things to watch on normal TV.  Plus, you know, life and stuff.  On top of that, several of the items here are shows rather than movies, in some cases programs with multiple seasons of content; I can’t just rifle through those when I have a spare 90 minutes to kill one night.

Some positives…

* seven of the items are films I’ve seen before but haven’t watched in years.  So technically, I don’t pressingly *need* to watch them again, and could delete them if I really wanted to make a serious queue purge.  A couple of the movies I actually own on DVD, in case I ever wanted to go old school and see if the DVD player in my parents’ basement still works properly.

* I’ve gotten much less tolerant of stuff that fails to capture my interest within the first, say, 20 minutes.  Sometimes it’s simply a slow-moving program, sometime I can immediately tell it’s not very good, or something it’s just something that I “get” quickly and realize that I don’t need to see any more of it.  For instance, the pilot of Lemony Snicket’s Series Of Unfortunate Events was quite well done and entertaining, yet that single episode totally filled my appetite for anything Lemony-related.  It could be that when I sit down and check out some of these other items on the list, I’ll check out just as quickly, thus opening my schedule to watch something else and perhaps knock out two queue entries in a single evening.

One lesson I’ve learned in clearing out a queue is to always focus on the non-original programming first.  Netflix will have its own content available forever; it might only have a certain movie or show for a few months, and since there’s no set schedule for when that program might disappear, it’s best to watch it ASAP.

Maybe the other lesson was that online streaming is just overwhelming.  I pitched the idea of getting my folks a Netflix account but they turned down the offer since, to quote my dad, “there’s just too much.”  I think my folks like getting a weekly dose of a single episode of one of their favourite shows rather than binging a season at a time, and then another season, and then another show, and so on and so forth.  Once you get into that habit, that’s how you rack up 37 shows with no end in sight.  Like a fool!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Smooth $20

There we were, four guys fresh out of high school, let loose in Montreal’s world-class nightlife.  We were just days away from starting university and the next stage of our lives, so what better time for one boys’ trip to La Belle Province for a few days of wild tomfoolery.  On our very first night in town, a tip from our hotel’s concierge led us to standing in line at one of the city’s hottest nightspots…

…okay, I’ll add in the corrections now.  The “hottest nightspot” was basically just a pub.  A busy pub, but a pub nonetheless.  And rather than a night of clubbing and bottle service, we were going to see a WWE pay-per-view.  (This was so many years ago that it was actually a ‘WWF’ pay-per-view, in fact.)  I’ll give it to that concierge, however — the man was a total pro.  A good concierge has to be prepared to find any information for any guest, so even when four dorky teenagers ask you if any local bars are showing Summerslam, you need to be at the ready.

So with information in hand, there we were at the bar.  It was a packed house, possibly due in part to the wrestling (2000 was more or less the height of modern WWF/WWE popularity) and also due to it being just a weekend in Montreal.  We were facing a long line just to get into the place, and the show was just minutes from starting.  What to do, what to do.

Picture it: 18-year-old Mark, on a big-city trip with his buddies, feeling like a true big shot.  I had some cash in hand thanks to a good summer of tips from my pizza delivery job, and it was burning a hole in my pocket.  Rather than actually spend the money inside the bar, however, I would go one further.

“Hold my spot,” I said to my friends in line,* as I stepped out to approach the doorman.  There were actually two doormen, one at the bar’s entrance itself and one sort of halfway on the landing facing the sidewalk, keeping general surveillance of the line and crowd.  It was this second guy who I approached, since he seemingly had more of an air of being in charge.  Anyone can open a door and check IDs, but surely the more experienced head bouncer would have the more difficult task of surveying an entire section of public street.

* = this was pretty needless since, duh, of course they’d watch my spot.  I was in their group.  They weren’t just going to abandon me.  I definitely lost that round of “did this need to be said?”

I sidled up to him, though in a completely non-threatening way.  (Not a good idea to just sidle up to a bouncer out of his blind spot, lest one wants a punch in the stomach.)  I leaned in and said something to the effect of “hey, is there anything you can do to get my friends and I in a bit quicker?” while slipping him a $20 bill with a casual handshake.

Of the all-time self-satisfied moments in my life, this had to be top ten.  Here I was in Montreal, going to a bar, seeing a line, thinking “not today,” and then slipping the doorman a few bucks to let us leave the rest of the plebeians behind, waiting like suckers.  I even removed the twenty before even leaving the line in the first place, then palmed it and coolly passed it to the doorman without even making eye contact.  This was before Ocean’s Eleven was released, so George Clooney was still mostly just the guy from ER and a series of largely unsuccessful films…and so at this moment, I was clearly cooler than Clooney in my own mind.  ‘Out Of Sight’ notwithstanding.

The bouncer accepted the bill, glanced at the door and said he’d see what he could do.  I said thanks with all the sincerity my virtual-adult voice could muster, and strolled back to my friends in line, ready to accept plaudits as the coolest man in Montreal…

…only to see them on the way into the bar, along with basically the rest of the line.  You see, while I was busy being Mr. Smooth, a group of at least 30 people all exited the pub en masse.  It was clearly some huge party that was letting out, and thus the bar went from standing-room-only to “no, actually, quite a fair amount of space.”  We ended up getting a prime table to watch the matches, even.  I don’t totally recall the bar being too packed the rest of the evening, so it could be that the entire line was seated at that very moment, and, if anything, it was kind of an average Sunday night in terms of business for the pub.

The moral of the story is, when you’re going to slip the bouncer a $20, maybe make *entirely* certain that the line isn’t moving.  Maybe wait a bit longer than, say, five minutes before deciding that the wait is interminable.  Also, maybe make sure you’re actually “flush with cash” before just giving away twenty bucks when you’re an 18-year-old dolt, since I think I had barely enough still on me to cover my bill.  Really, giving the guy $10 probably would’ve been sufficient. 

But still, after this first night, the REST of the trip….oh ho ho ho, now THOSE were some real crazy adventures….

…or, we just went to see baseball games every other night and were always in bed by midnight since the long subway ride from the Big O tends to just suck the life out of you.  It’s times like this, as I dangerously approach middle age, that I realize that I’ve basically been middle-aged my whole life.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Jeffpardy!

I once applied to be on Jeopardy and made it through the audition process, though I was never selected to be on the actual show.  Probably should've changed my name.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Karen Page, Ace Reporter

Forget the aliens, the superheroes, or the magic....the most unrealistic thing in the Marvel TV universe is Karen Page's entire journalism career.  Here's the brief summary of her arc, over the two Daredevil seasons, the Defenders season, and the first season of The Punisher (spoilers ahead).

* is helping Ben Urich, veteran reporter for the New York Bulletin, expose the Kingpin's corruption.  This leads to Urich being murdered by the Kingpin.

* Karen shows up at the Bulletin offices in connection with the Punisher's defense, and the editor (who I'll just refer to as Poor Man's Richard Schiff) lets her check out some archival material, out of sympathy for her friendship with Urich.

* Karen uncovers this entire conspiracy related to Punisher's military background, leading to some patronizing "work the story" scenes between she and Poor Man's Richard Schiff as he decides to just let her write this big expose.  It occurs to me at this point that PMRS never made any promises about actually publishing it, so he could've just walked away entirely had this virtual stranger delivered an explosive and potentially libelous story that would've gotten the Bulletin shut down.  Still, the fact that PMRS allows Karen seemingly free reign to work in the Bulletin's bullpen (even to the point of letting her use Urich's giant and somehow-still-unoccupied old office) still seems far-fetched.  In just about every newspaper office I've ever been in, from top papers to student journalism, the only people with actual private offices are the editors --- certainly not reporters, and certainly not amateurs that literally just walked in off the street.

* Anyway, Karen ends up publishing her big profile of Frank Castle and the conspiracy surrounding his actions, and it earns her a job at the Bulletin.  Again, I can't tell you how many hoops the paper would have to jump through to fact-check and properly confirm a story like this, given the content and the fact that Castle is basically the most wanted man in New York at this point.  The best reporter in the world could've submitted this thing and it would've taken weeks or even months before it ran.  That's just how the business works.  It's not a, "wow, you've got some chops, kid, you're instantly our top reporter!" situation here.

Oh, plus there's also the small situation that Karen was one of Castle's defense attorneys.  You would've thought that would've been a giant red flag in and of itself to PMRS.  Even if Karen comes to the paper with (valid) information about Castle being set up, you assign an actual reporter to work with her, not just let her write it herself.

* Karen also gets to keep Urich's old office.  This may seem like a minor thing I'm harping about, but anyone who has worked in an office environment knows that giving 'the big office' to a total newcomer would raise untold hell.

* And then in the Defenders and Punisher series, Karen is just a straight-up reporter now, cracking big stories on the reg.  Now, it's not like I have a journalism degree myself; in fact, maybe only half the journalists I know have actual degrees in the field.  Even still, for actual newspaper employees, there's a natural learning curve where a new reporter would have to prove themselves capable of delivering bigger assignments.  For a random freelancer, there's even more of a seasoning period as the paper has to essentially research and fact-check the freelancer as much as they research and fact-check their story (again, this is where Karen being's Castle's lawyer should've shut the whole thing down from step one).

It sounds ridiculous when spelled out like this, though there is an actual scene in the Punisher series where Agent Madani meets with Karen and says something like, "you've been through a lot since you came to New York," and then relates all of the crazy stuff that the character has been through in, like, three years' time.  It was almost a fourth-wall breaking moment, really, when you break down just how unrealistic everything is that happens to all of these characters, not just Karen.

To be clear, I like Deborah Ann Woll as an actress quite a bit, and she goes a very good job of elevating her character into an actual person, despite all of the eyebrow-raising details of Karen Page's arc.  But as a journalist, I must raise some objections!  Sure, the blind uber-athlete with radar senses, the ninjas, the super-strong detective, the guy with steel-hard skin, the billionaire ninja with the energy punch.....that I can buy.  But a far-fetched portrayal of a reporter getting a job?  Now you've gone too far, Marvel!  What, are we do believe this is some kind of magic xylophone?!

Also, a newspaper that's actually hiring?  Hmmm....

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sesame Things

It's a shame that Bert wasn't in this sketch, though I guess he's busy on the actual show as Mike & Nancy's father.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Fun Facts!

* Poetry was known as 'verse' until the 1850's, when the genre became known as poems/poetry due to Edgar Allen Poe's popularity.

* John Candy played two seasons as a backup offensive lineman for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 1970's.

* Julianne Moore and Jeff Daniels used to be married to each other.

* Coca-Cola claimed it "accidentally" included its famous secret recipe as part of a print advertisement that ran in a four-year-old edition of National Geographic.  This led to a mad rush for back copies of NG issues from that year before Coke revealed it was all an April Fool's joke.  The National Geographic Society is actually owned by the Coca-Cola corporation, so there also may have been a bit of a financial motive to spur interest in National Geographic's back catalogue.

* Johnny Carson's prized automobile was a 1955 Cadillac that had 'Car-nak' as the vanity license plate.

* Andy Warhol was originally commissioned to design a cover for the Beatles' "White Album," but dropped off the project after a falling-out with John Lennon.

* Winona Ryder owns a large collection of vintage typewriters.

* Donatello, while a world-renowned sculptor, also wrote two operas that have been lost to history.

* Lou Bega actually released four singles titled "Mambo No. 1," "Mambo No. 2," etc. before finally hitting it big with "Mambo No. 5."

* Catherine Keener's grandfather was a former governor of Rhode Island.

* If you go to Google Maps and look for walking directions from Thorold to Queenston, an ad for Laura Secord Chocolates pops up at the bottom of the map.

* George R.R. Martin's middle names are Rickon and Robert, both of which he used as character names in A Song Of Ice And Fire.

* None of these fun facts are actually true.  They sound vaguely plausible though, eh?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Wedding Social Media Etiquette

For years now, my go-to Facebook move for friends getting married is to post the "Somebody's Getting Married" number from The Muppets Take Manhattan on their walls on their wedding day.  It seemed like a fun and fitting thing to do, plus anything that helps people remember the vastly-underrated TMTM* just seems proper.

* = I watched this movie at least 100 times as a kid, to the point that it probably influenced everything I know about New York City and/or staging plays.  Also, my cousin and her husband bear a strong resemblance to the young couple that fall in love in this movie, so maybe it influenced them as well.

Anyway, it has been mentioned to me that posting this video is a mistake, as it implies a connection between the bride-to-be and Miss Piggy.  I should note that this criticism came from a third party -- the video has never been welcomed with anything but 'likes' by the actual couples themselves, as far as I know.  Frankly, I think the criticism isn't warranted.  Firstly, my sheer laziness in posting the same video for EVERY couple should be evidence enough that I'm not making some snide sub-tweet comparison of one particular bride and some vain swine.  Secondly, I can deal out sarcastic jabs with the best of them, but I'm not the kind of monster that would bust out, "hey, you're basically a pig or a neurotic frog!" on one's wedding day.  Thirdly, who's to say that being compared to Miss Piggy is even an insult?  Pop culture icon!

I feel I'm totally in the right here. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

American Soul

In honour of Homer Simpson eating sixty-four slices of American cheese, here are 64 comments on American Soul

1. I didn't expect the "Glastonbury" riff to show up in not one (Glastonbury), not two (Volcano) but THREE different songs now.  Will Edge just shoehorn this into a track on every album from here on?  If U2 always been this open to re-using riffs, there's an alternate reality out there where 'Lady With The Spinning Head' --- arguably the band's greatest b-side --- is used as the last rack on Zooropa to wrap up the entire Zoo TV era, as LWTSH combines elements of several Achtung Baby songs, including one of The Fly's main riffs.
2. After hearing five tracks off the record, Songs Of Experience sounds like a great album for Adam Clayton's bass.
3. After hearing five tracks off the record, Songs Of Experience sounds like a great album for the Edge's backup vocals.  His backing melody here is really cool, and his bridge on You're The Best Thing About Me is the highlight of the song.
4. Kendrick Lamar used a snippet from 'American Soul' for a song on his last album, thus giving U2 the all-important "featuring" credit.  This allowed U2 to become the fourth musical act to ever notch a Billboard Top 40 song in each of the last four decades.  The others were Madonna, Michael Jackson and (amusingly) Weird Al Yankovic.  Here's yet another reason Weird Al is long overdue for a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction.
5. Overall, good track!  The recurrence of the Volcano chorus (or the Glastonbury riff, whatever you want to call it) kind of threw me at first, though I think it's a better fit here.
6. Okay, it was only six slices of American Soul commentary.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

King John (Shakespeare Re-Read #21)


This is an anecdotal example of “King John’s” obscurity within the Shakespeare canon, but in my quest to seek out and purchase copies of the plays I didn’t already own, KJ was the only one that apparently wasn’t available as a stand-alone text.  As in, the copy I bought was packaged together with “Henry VIII” in a solo volume, which I figured was a better bargain than buying a stand-alone edition of Henry VIII.  Shrewd!

Maybe it’s appropriate that the play that so prominently features a bastard is also essentially the bastard stepchild of the history plays.  I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, given KJ’s general quality.  Maybe because it is set a few hundred years earlier than the other nine plays* and lacks the historical connect of the War Of The Roses, KJ is seen as a bit of an odd text out.  Maybe it’s also because, as one author theorized in a text I read, that the two most famous elements of King John’s life aren’t even obliquely referenced in the play.  If you’re a theatregoer in the 1590’s attending a show called “King John” and there isn’t even an oblique reference to either the Magna Carta’s signing or John’s apocryphal feud with Robin Hood**, I can see some disappointment amongst the punters and a lack of enthusiasm about the production.  It’d be like going to see a movie about Ronald Reagan that doesn’t mention his presidency or acting career.

* = it should be noted that I’m not including Edward III as part of this re-read, even though many scholars believe Shakespeare had some part in its writing.  I mean come on, this project is already approaching its seventh year; if any more plays get added to my list, I’ll be here until the 2030s.

** = this play also really could've used a Sir Hiss in the cast


But overall, I enjoyed the play, even if the whole thing sort of peters out by the end.  It’s almost like Shakespeare himself got bored with the idea or was facing a deadline or something — the early acts are dominated by these big, long, elaborate scenes but then the fifth act is just seven short scenes.  They’re really almost vignettes that rather hastily wrap things up, with many important details strangely left off-stage (i.e. the actual poisoning of the King, the deaths of Elinor and Constance an act earlier) and the audience only left with the melodrama of Arthur’s death and the ever-shifting loyalties of the English noblemen.

The real issue might be a shift in tone.  The last half of the play seems to want to “get serious” after Shakespeare has had a lot of fun with political satire in the opening acts.  If that vibe had been kept throughout, KJ might’ve really blossomed; it isn’t hard to see why some modern productions lean hard on the plot’s dark comedy aspect.  The entire sequence of the kings of England and France trying to curry favour with the random citizen representative from Algiers is legitimately hilarious.  The citizen’s whole “we are all loyal to the king of England, obviously…and once you two figure out who that is, we’ve got your back” attitude is Pythonesque in its attitude towards royal authority.  John, the King and Dauphin Of France, and poor little Arthur all act less like contenders for the throne than a series of cranky children being forced into auditions by stage mothers.

Into this mix we get Sir Richard The Bastard, who goes from being an Iago-in-training to becoming the voice of the audience in commenting on the royals’ silliness, though Richard himself is a comic figure due to his own simplicity.  He is initially presented as an upwardly-mobile Littlefinger type who is prepared to leverage his newfound status as best he can, only a) he seems constantly taken aback by everyone else’s political machinations, and b) his only actual plan is just “let’s all go to war, and presumably we’ll win.”  Richard is another character in power that is less national powerbroker than a playground oaf; his repeated “calf’s skin” taunts towards the king of Austria are both a great running gag, and also a sign that Richard isn’t exactly the sharpest wit in the land.  Of course, this also adds to the emptiness of the last two acts, as the audience is then expected to sort of side with Richard throughout the whole Arthur-and-Hubert drama.

There’s enough interesting stuff in the first couple of acts to overall merit a thumbs-up, though I’m sort of hoping that KJ indeed proves itself to be the weakest of the history plays as we enter this ten-play segment of the re-read.  I will be going in historic chronological order of the figures involved, so you’ll probably be able to predict entries #22-30 (though a curveball could be in there somewhere, potentially).  Given my lack of haste in reading and writing these things, the second half of my King John/Henry VIII edition might yet have a long way to go before I can safely place it back into my collection.

“Collection?  Don’t you mean the shelf in your old bedroom in your parents’ house, next to the Calvin & Hobbes books?”

….yes.

OVERALL RATING: B

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR
21. Pericles
20. The Taming Of The Shrew
19. Antony & Cleopatra
18. Troilus & Cressida
17. Love’s Labour’s Lost
16. As You Like It
15. Titus Andronicus
14. Much Ado About Nothing
13. King John
12. Timon Of Athens
11. Coriolanus
10. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
9. The Comedy Of Errors
8. The Winter's Tale
7. A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Julius Caesar
5. Macbeth
4. Romeo & Juliet
3. Cymbeline
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 freakin’ 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!"

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ricky Jay

There are few better YouTube holes to fall down than watching a bunch of Ricky Jay routines.  This one almost seems like a bad example since he performs in silence --- Ricky Jay without his stage patter is like peanut butter without jelly.  Still, we came for the sleight of hand, and you'll get the sleight of hand.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Classic

Maybe it was a recent birthday, maybe it was watching Georges St. Pierre win a UFC title, maybe it was because an old high school classmate contacted me on Facebook to ask if any 20th reunion plans were in the offing*, or maybe it was for all these reasons that I've been recently feeling very nostalgic.  So it was in this spirit that my brother's recent purchase of an SNES Classic fired me up like few things in recent memory.

* = apparently I'm "the most connected of anyone" to our former classmates, by which I suppose means I'm friends with the most people?  The fact that I actually keep in regular touch with a dozen people tops is besides the point.  How did I somehow end up at the center of a social nexus?  Can't I pawn reunion organizing duties off on a class president or something?

Or, the hell with the nostalgia talk...does one really need a reason to enjoy such an incredible device?  Twenty classic games!  All on one console!  Gloriously remastered but with nary a pixel touched so we can all enjoy these classic games in their original form.

Now, okay, "classics."  I freely admit that I'd never heard of at least a half-dozen of these games, and hadn't actually played several others.  The ones I had played back in the day were...

* Super Mario World.  My vote for the single greatest game of all time.
* Super Mario Kart.  Another extremely big contender for the gaming GOAT, though most people prefer the N64 version.
* Donkey Kong Country.  Another fantastic Mario-style 'building a world' type of scrolling-screen game, and it just felt right that an iconic character like Donkey Kong finally had his own great franchise to carry.
* Street Fighter II.  I don't want to say I'm unbeatable as E. Honda, but merely *mostly* unbeatable as E. Honda.
* Super Punch-Out.  I didn't play this one nearly as much as the old Punch-Out for the original NES but it's still fun.  Canada gets some representation in the form of Bear Hugger!
* Star Fox.  Okay, so this game was garbage.  Just one man's opinion.  Maybe it was a product of too much hype for all the cutting-edge graphics of the time, but actually playing it back in 1993 was just a gigantic letdown.

So you'll notice that this isn't even a third of what the SNES Classic has to offer.  As a kid, I simply never got into the Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy or Contra series, so these are all new to me.  (I also never played the SNES Kirby games, though I absolutely adored the original Kirby's Dreamland for Game Boy.)  I'm kind of interested in playing them as an adult to see how they stack up now, or if it was just a "you had to be there" thing where if you didn't fall in love with these games as a kid, it just won't be the same.  My brief experimentation with Contra III the other day didn't impress me much --- being touched by ANYTHING, just ONCE kills you?  Seems a bit difficult.

It'll also be hard to try out new games when all my old favourites are right there.  Like, I'm supposed to be interested in Castlevania when Mario World is RIGHT THERE?  Weirdly, I somehow never played Yoshi's Island (the Mario World sequel) either as a kid, so I'll have to check that one out as well. 

You might be asking yourself just what exactly did I play back in the day if I somehow missed all of these other household name-games.  Hey man, when you have Mario World, Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter plus other obsessions like NBA Jam, NHLPA 93, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, Mortal Kombat, various Ninja Turtles games, and that one where Spider-Man and the X-Men team up, what more did one need?  I had to go outside every once in a while.  (This is a lie, I also just had regular TV to watch.)

My brother had the SNES Classic for about a week before I showed up to play, and even despite this head start, I am enormously proud of the fact that I beat him in my very first Mario Kart race in over 20 years.  Still got it!  It may be true that he proceeded to beat me in roughly 31 of our next 32 races, but whatever, it's the first one that's really the most important.  Had I not been so keen to play, I really should've just put the console down after that first race and just walked away, dusting my hands triumphantly and refusing to ever play again.  I could've had a lifetime of upper hand, dammit.

Friday, November 03, 2017

UFC 217 Predictions

What’s this?  A good old-fashioned UFC preview?  It’s almost like my favourite fighter is making a big comeback or something!

* Georges St. Pierre over Michael Bisping, decision
So we never totally got a 100% straight answer as to why GSP walked away from the sport four years ago, apart from his just generally seeming burned out both mentally and physically.  Who could blame him, really, given the constant pressures of training and winning, not to mention GSP’s documented worries about head injuries and his disgust at the lack of more thorough drug testing in the UFC.  That hiatus turned into over four years on the shelf, though GSP possibly would’ve been back sooner were it not for a torn ACL and the UFC’s own intent on having this fight on a Madison Square Garden show.  (Or, I’ve always suspected that GSP would’ve made his comeback against Conor McGregor at UFC 200 had McGregor won that first Nate Diaz fight.)

Since St. Pierre never really closed the door on returning, I can’t be too *upset* that he’s back.  But frankly, part of me was cool seeing St. Pierre just go out on top, with his faculties intact and enjoying his post-fighting life.  It would be disappointing if he ultimately decided to come back just to chase another big paycheque or two, though part of me also feels that GSP is a proud enough athlete that he wouldn’t have come back if he didn’t think he could do it.  The guy’s already rich, after all.  While the money’s undoubtedly part of it, I suspect GSP’s prime motivation here is that he legitimately feels he can still compete in the UFC, and surely he can beat Michael freakin’ Bisping, right?

Arguably the worst champion ever, Bisping’s career of controversial wins and the UFC handing him every opportunity finally paid off when he inexplicably knocked out Luke Rockhold in June 2016.  I can’t decide who I hate more…Rockhold for taking it easy, Chris “Mr. Glass” Weidman for getting the injury in the first place that gave Bisping the short-notice title fight, Anderson Silva for not just finishing Bisping when he had him dead to rights in their fight a few months prior, or Bisping just because he’s already been my least-favourite UFC fighter.*  And now he got a belt…I still can’t believe it.

* = within the realm of fighters who I hate since they’re awful people in real life.  Bisping isn’t a criminal or a wifebeater or anything, he’s just really obnoxious. 

Even worse, Bisping has quite openly stated that he’s at or near the end of his career (I fully expect him to retire tomorrow, win or lose) and only wants to chase big-money fights.  Not title defences against legitimate middleweight contenders, of course, but rather a bout against the ancient Dan Henderson last year to avenge Bisping’s infamous knockout loss from all the way back in 2009 (!) and then…nothing.  The moment a GSP fight came on the table, Bisping absolutely ducked every top challenger to wait for him rather than face Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker (the current interim champ), Gegard Mousasi (who isn’t even in the UFC anymore), Jacare Souza (who has been screwed over for title shots for years), or even Rockhold in a rematch.  Between Bisping’s ducking and Weidman’s injuries, there have only been seven middleweight title fights since July 2013, a ridiculously small number given that this is arguably the most stacked division in the UFC.  Do I blame Bisping for chasing the dollar signs?  Kind of, actually, since maybe a guy who’s waited so long to become champion would actually have interest in properly defending it.  I mostly blame the new UFC ownership for their single-minded pursuit of money fights rather than treating their competition like an actual sport.  McGregoritis has infected every title-holder in the company.

So after all this complaining, I guess I should discuss the actual fight.  When in doubt, always pick GSP by decision.  Sure it’s been four years, and sure he’s fighting at middleweight for the first time, and sure I’m picking 100 percent with my heart since I love GSP and hate Bisping….but I just keep coming back to the idea that St. Pierre has traditionally been such a thinking man’s fighter that he wouldn’t do this without a reason.  He must know he can beat Bisping, otherwise why come back to potentially take a beating and add an unnecessary sour coda to his awesome career?  I want this to be true so badly.  I can’t imagine a world where Michael Bisping gets to retire a champion after wins over GSP, Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold (one of these things just doesn’t belong here) and Anderson Silva.  How embarrassing.

MAIN CARD
* Joanna Jedrzejczyk over Rose Namajunas, decision
* Cody Garbrandt over TJ Dillashaw, knockout, third round
* Stephen Thompson over Jorge Masdival, decision
* Paulo Costa over Johny Hendricks, knockout, second round


UNDERCARD
* Walt Harris over Mark Goodbeer, knockout, first round
* Ricardo Ramos over Aiemann Zahabi, decision
* Oleksiy Oliynyk over Curtis Blaydes, submission, second round
* James Vick over Joseph Duffy, decision
* Mickey Gall over Randy Brown, submission, first round
* Corey Anderson over Ovince Saint Preux, decision

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Susan Sarandon For You

Example #2796 of why Nathan Fielder is a comic genius.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Battle Of The Day

SHARON, LOIS & BRAM versus AN ELEPHANT

Competitors: The elephant in question is an African Bush elephant, male, fully grown, and of moderate temper. Most elephants aren't jerks like Stampy, but let's say that this particular elephant has been given particular incentive to win this fight. A DVD of "Operation Dumbo Drop" signed by Danny Glover, for instance.

Sharon, Lois & Bram have themselves to rely on. Not even Eric Nagler can provide assistance. It should be noted that Lois sadly passed away a few years ago, so let's establish that this is the Sharon, Lois & Bram of their prime years. Let's say, from 1985. I believe that 1985 was also the year I saw them perform at Alumni Hall. I don't remember much about the concert since I was three years old, but I assume there was a 15-minute "Freebird" cover.

Battleground: An empty hockey arena. Let's say, the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, home of the Blues!

Prep: As per the rules of engagement, the consensus underdogs (Sharon, Lois & Bram) get a day of preparation time to formulate a strategy. This prep time does not allow for the acquisition of weapons, bombs or any type of outside device that can be used to influence the decision. This is bad luck for Sharon, Lois & Bram, though they are allowed to bring their guitars into the battle since, c'mon, SL&B are as synonymous with guitars like peanut butter and jam. Despite a lack of conventional weaponry, the trio is allowed to consult with zookeepers, ivory dealers, or whomever they can think of who might have information about how to best an elephant in combat. By the way, these conversations would be awesome and hilarious.

The elephant, as the favourite, gets only an hour of prep time. I predict he will use this time to eat leaves.

Rules:
Rule No. 1...there are no rules!
Rule No. 2.....Rule No. 1 is a metaphor, of course there are rules. That's the whole point of this section.
Rule No. 3......Victory is achieved by making your opponent submit, knocking them out, or killing them.
Rule No. 4.....You aren't allowed to run away.
Rule No. 5.....No time limit.

Referee: The lead official for this bout will be me. POWER~~~! My only job is to make the ten-count in the case of a knockout.

Match analysis
: The elephant wins. I'm not sure if it will be via knockout, submission or murder, but since there are three opponents, let's be fair and say one of each. Bram is killed when the elephant steps on him. Sharon tries a running spear tackle, but unfortunately has bad form and knocks herself out against the elephant's mighty leg. Lois submits when the elephant catches her in a grounded double-chickenwing with a bridge.

Sharon, Lois & Bram will give a game effort, but I think they're out of their league. I mean, they're facing a freakin' elephant in hand-to-hand combat. A triple guitar-smash against the elephant's leg is their best offensive maneuver, but this would likely only result in the elephant becoming enraged. It's possible they may try to sooth the elephant using their children's pop, but this may also backfire. The "Skinnamarink" hand motion is actually not unlike an elephant's trunk, which may (at best) mildly confuse the elephant, or (at worst) turn him on.

Final verdict: The elephant. It really isn't close.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hot! Live! Music!

Billy Corgan, "Wrecking Ball"
Technically, it's "William Patrick Corgan," but shyeah right.  It's Billy!  You're Billy, man!  The ship has long since sailed on trying to take a more adult-sounding name, dude.  Anyway, this is one of the rare Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins covers that doesn't sound like garbage since the song actually somewhat fits Corgan's....unusual, let's go with unusual....voice.  It actually sounds awesome, and actually a lot like a real Pumpkins song.  Couldn't this have fit in perfectly on Adore?

U2, "So Cruel"
U2 only played this one in concert a handful of times, and I believe this is a version from a soundcheck, not an actual official show.  Hard to believe it couldn't have gotten any more play, even without the stacked Zoo TV setlist, since this rendition sounds gorgeous.


LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"
The remaining H!L!M! entries all stem from this Ringer article about the legacy of MTV Unplugged, and you can't really go wrong with any of the links from that piece.  (Except the Nirvana stuff.  Never forget that Nirvana is the most overrated band this side of the Doors.)  This performance of "Mama Said Knock You Out," for instance, is absolute pure gold.  There is a full generation that doesn't even remember LL used to be a rapper, and a terrific rapper at that.

10,000 Maniacs, "Because The Night"
There are so many amazing songs in rock history hat became huge hits for one artist despite being literally tossed away others.  Bruce Springsteen reportedly considered this to be just a middling love song and didn't bother properly recording it back in 1978.  Jimmy Iovine, who was producing Bruce's album, also happened to be working on Patti Smith's new album at the same time, in the same studio, and Iovine knew enough to not throw away a gem of a track.  He brings it over to Patti, she rewrites the lyrics, and boom, it's one of her biggest hits.  This is one of the great "wait, WHO wrote this?" songs in music history.


Maxwell, "This Woman's Work"
GOOD LORD, MAXWELL'S VOICE, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  YES, THIS DESERVES ALL CAPS!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Guess Your Age

Rafa Nadal at the French Open, the Undertaker at a Wrestlemania, Homer Simpson against every doughnut in the world....none are as unstoppable as me in one of those "guess your age" games at a carnival.  I have a perfect record.  Some might say, it's beyond perfection --- it's one thing to just win the game, but quite another to leave the guesser a broken shell of a man, questioning his very aptitude and wondering if his entire life is a lie.

In case you're wondering, yes, I do mean those simple games where a carnie has to guess your age (usually within a range of 1-2 years), your weight (maybe between 20 pounds) or your birthday (within a month) and if they guess isn't correct, you win a prize.  I don't bother with the weight or birthday contests, that's just pure guesswork.

"Actually Mark, in your case, guessing the size of your fat ass is..."

Shut up!  To continue, guessing an age is theoretically the easiest of the three, which is where my genius comes in.  You see, ever since I was young, I've looked old.  Going bald at age 17 helped but even before then, I just have always looked pretty old for my age.  It helped that I was a tall kid growing up, though my height annoying ceased just as I hit my teenage years.  It was frustrating -- I was a back row/middle kid for grade school class photos and I was thinking I was going to be 6'4" or something, but then I just stopped at stupid old average height.

What wasn't average, however, was my grizzled look.  Maybe it's a sign of my inward maturity leaking out of me like a cheap faucet, but whatever, my looks have allowed me to run roughshod over guess-your-age games with the easy dominance of a young Tiger Woods playing putter golf. 

Not only am I unbeaten in these games, I have a record of breaking the guesser's self-professed personal records for incorrectness.  For example...

* when I was 14, the guess was 23
* when I was 28, the guess was 41
* when I was 31, the guess was 40
* when I was 35, the guess was 41....ok, I may actually be catching up to my facial age.  Does this mean I'll now start looking like a 'young' old man?  Is this some kind of odd Benjamin Button-ish condition?  That movie was terrible.

The guessed-41-when-I-was-28 guy literally didn't believe it.  He'd "never been so off before" and actually wondered if I had a fake ID specifically made up just to fool the game.  I mean, I guess I could've, but that seems like a long way to go to win a $5 stuffed animal at a carnival.  I'm not sure of the expense involved in making a fake ID but surely it'd cost more than five bucks...it just wouldn't be a good use of financial resources.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What A Waste

The Seahawks have no offense.  The Falcons seem pathologically incapable of holding a lead.  The Eagles (*checks records*) play in the city of Philadelphia, so they're under a sports curse.  The Cowboys seem to have used up every bit of luck they had in the 2016 season and now nothing is going right for them this year.  The Rams are the Rams.  The Lions are the Lions.  The Vikings are the Vikings.

In short, things were wide open for the Packers to finally make it back to the Super Bowl.  And, really, a win wasn't out of the question, given that the AFC's top teams are also full of questions in this weird parity-driven season.  Green Bay wasn't a perfect team by any stretch but they had the ace of spades himself, the P-Wing, the legend known as Aaron Rodgers.

Except now, Rodgers is likely out for the season due to a broken collarbone Green Bay is certainly done.  Oh, make no mistake, I would like nothing more than to see Brett Hundley inexplicably turn out to be awesome and Brady his way off the bench to lead the Pack the rest of the way.  The idea of The Packers somehow getting THREE fantastic quarterbacks all in a row over a 25+ year period would just be amazing, in no small part because it would absolutely infuriate their rivals.

Realistically, however, Hundley will struggle because a) he's basically a rookie QB despite this being his third season, b) the rest of the Packers team simply isn't very good.  Having an A+ quarterback papers over a lot of flaws, but without Rodgers as the rising tide, the several mediocre boats on the Green Bay roster have nowhere to sail.  Does Hundley have the ability to quickly make plays before the blah offensive line inevitably breaks down?  Can Aaron Jones keep up his eye-opening start now that defenses will be paying attention to him and not the QB?  Does Mike McCarthy have the coaching acumen to adjust to....well, we know the answer to that question already.  /deep sigh

It all adds up to another wasted season in Green Bay.  Rodgers turns 34 in December and the team really needs to start putting the pedal to the metal in terms of putting a deep roster around him before an inevitable decline sets in.  Even accounting for Rodgers being a freak of nature, the Packers have at most five seasons left with him at QB, and it would be a legitimate shame if they somehow ended the Rodgers era with just a single Super Bowl victory.  Too many years have already been thrown away thanks to injuries, McCarthy's incompetence, and terrible playoff losses. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Thank You, Gord

Reprinted from May 2016....

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It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, both wet and humid enough to irritate the hundreds/thousand-plus people in attendance at the 2014 Field Trip festival since there is precious little tree cover at Fort York.  As much romance as there is in the idea of musical festivals being a muddy nirvana, you never want to actually experience it.  Still, the conditions didn't matter, since the main stage featured none other than the Sadies (a pretty big name in their own right) and Gord Downie, fronting the band for a tour to promote an album collaboration.

The cool thing about solo or side projects for members of major bands is that it usually makes them more accessible.  The Tragically Hip, of course, are probably too big for Field Trip; while they're a pretty old-school touring band that doesn't put on airs, their tours are more apt to take them to the ACC or Downsview whenever they're through Toronto.  (Realistically, the Hip could likely sell out a one-off Rogers Centre show if they wished.)  Downie the solo artist, however, was right there in the muck and the mire of Field Trip with all the other acts on the bill, like he was just another up-and-comer act or mid-tier career musician getting a gig in a fairly anonymous spot on the bill.

The great thing about Downie is that his casual performing style fits right into a laid-back festival atmosphere, yet it was also pretty apparent that he was a major cut above anyone else present.  Some frontmen just have "it."  His showmanship and charisma was off the charts.  Gord's main move that day seemed to be kind of mock rock star moves, like faux-Elvis hip swivels or pointing and smiling at literally everyone within his eye line.  He was both taking it easy and blowing everyone away; even 80% Downie was stealing the show.  I'm unfamiliar with the Sadies' music (both their old stuff and the album being promoted) yet maybe that's the best sign that a live act is really on fire.  It's one thing to win a crowd when it's diehards who know all your standards, yet quite another to win a crowd that's probably mostly comprised of casuals or non-fans like me.

I've never had the pleasure of seeing the Hip live when Downie is at full power, though of course, that may be in question given that Downie is fighting terminal brain cancer.  I have little doubt that Downie wouldn't be planning concerts with the Hip this summer if he didn't think he could perform at full strength, and this is unquestionably going to be an absolute emotional roller-coaster of a tour.  Like virtually every Canadian of my generation, the Hip have been a major part of my musical life.  Downie is widely cited as possibly the best frontman and lyricist in Canadian music history, though I'd go one step further and rank him against the best from any country.  If you have a chance to see the Hip in concert one more time, take that opportunity to experience the best at his best.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Random Nonsense


Happy Sudden Departure Day!  (Well, not ‘happy’ if you’re Nora Durst.)

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I often post whenever a favourite band of mine releases a new single, though you may notice I didn’t do so when the Killers unleashed “The Man” upon the world.  No big mystery why — it’s a pretty weak song.  Sadly, the rest of their Wonderful Wonderful album is similarly uninteresting.  It’d need to give it a couple more listens to give a truly fair assessment, but for now, I’m not sure there’s even a single track that could track the Killers’ top thirty-seven. 

Unfortunately, the Killers seem to be abandoning their pop hook-laden style in favour of more soundscape-ish type stuff.  “The Man” is the only song on the record with a big fat hook, though since that hook is missing sharpness, perhaps that’s a sign that the band doesn’t have their classic sound in them anymore.  There was a five-year hiatus between albums, so it’s also possible that the Killers as a whole don’t have much oomph as a creative collaboration anymore.  This sounds a bit grim to say that a band is washed up, though given that the Killers’ entire vibe has been “sounds like a semi-washed up lounge band in a mostly-empty Vegas saloon, except they play keyboard rock,” it could be a fitting end?

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Imagine going on the Oregon Trail and dying of something other than dysentery.  What a waste.

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Since Kumail Nanjiani is hosting SNL this weekend, it seems appropriate to feature his recent “Clueless Gamer” appearance on Conan.  I’ve got to disagree with Conan on this one — the character should have Kumail’s voice.  If you’re going to the trouble to cast a well-known actor to do comedic voice work, it only makes sense to use his actual voice, right?


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Two recent SNL observations….

* the papyrus font sketch was nothing special.  Not sure why the internet suddenly fell in love with it

* new cast member Heidi Gardner hasn’t really had a breakout yet (fair enough, it’s only been two episodes) but she did have a weirdly good acting moment.  To recap: the sketch was a spoof of daytime talk shows, with Heidi playing an angry teen, Aidy Bryant playing her distraught mother and Kenan “Fifteen Seasons!” Thompson playing the so-called drill sergeant type of character often see in such shows, brought on to straighten the teen out with some boot camp discipline.  The punch line is that he mentions something about being her daddy, and Heidi and Aidy then wholeheartedly embrace this as a legitimate offer to become the father. 

Pretty thin last-sketch-of-the-night premise, whatever, yet it did contain Heidi’s character talking about how she could now tell people “that’s my dad!”  It was said with such pride in her voice that it added a minor tragic twist to this goofy sketch, as this white-trash character was so desperate for a father figure in her life and she was inevitably going to be let down again when (or if?) this situation was eventually sorted out.  In short, when Heidi Gardner wins an Oscar in 15 years, don’t be surprised.

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I’m not going to see The Snowman since it looks either very silly or very generic, so my theory is that the killer is actually a woman.  See, the twist here is that the name is both a reference to their snow-themed killings and the gender.  As in, not pronounced “Snowman” but removing the ‘it’ from “it’s no man.”

Man, I should write horror movies.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pwnage, Renaissance-Style

Few figures in history have been as hilariously and thoroughly humiliated for all time as Biagio da Cesena, who served as Papal Master Of Ceremonies under four Popes in the 16th century.

A late-night dive down the Wikipedia hole led me to an exploration of classic artwork, and Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement.  This led to my discovery of Biagio Martinelli, the pride (or shame, as it turned out?) of Cesena, whose own Wiki page consists largely of this anecdote.  Imagine having one’s life summed up in so inglorious a fashion…

“After the completion of The Last Judgment da Cesena said of the fresco, "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully". Da Cesena went on to say the painting was more suitable "for the public baths and taverns" than a Papal chapel. In response, Michelangelo worked Cesena's face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld (far bottom-right corner of the painting) with donkey ears (i.e. indicating foolishness), while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It was widely said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell and the portrait would have to remain.”

The Pope in question was Paul III, by the way.  For someone who didn’t have any say in the fiery pits of hell, Paul III sure knew a thing or two about sick burns.  Still, Paul III couldn’t compare to the all-time funniest Pope, who tops the humour rankings on name alone.

I feel like countless prudish, unctuous and stuck-up characters in literary history — everyone from Red Dwarf’s Arnold Rimmer to Shakespeare’s Malvolio — owe a debt to Biagio da Cesena as their true-life inspiration for perfect comeuppance.  The moral of the story is, don’t mess with Michelangelo.  In fact, the creators of the Ninja Turtles should’ve named Vernon Fenwick (April O’Neil’s obnoxious reporter co-worker) something like “Vernon Biagio” or something as a shoutout to someone else that was often made to look silly by a Michelangelo. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Meet Your Second Wife

When it comes to YouTube, SNL only makes some sketches available to international viewers a couple of years after airing.  So now, I am finally able to post the single funniest sketch of the 2015-16 season and one of the funnier sketches of recent memory.  This was absolutely savage, big belly laughs on virtually every line...in fact, it's unfortunate that the title is right there in the video (and atop my post!) since the reveal of the game show's name is one of the very best moments.  It gets even funnier if you imagine Will Arnett just sinking into a couch in a full-body cringe while watching.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Drunken Master

I recently watched ‘Drunken Master’ and have some thoughts….

* The next time I’m in a “best athlete ever” debate, I’m going to mention Jackie Chan.  I don’t actually believe this (the best athlete ever is Andre “Red Light” Racicot), but man, Chan in his prime was just unreal.  I’d only seen middle-aged Jackie Chan from his North American movies,  so I couldn’t have been more impressed at seeing Vintage Jackie for the first time.

* Do you like action scenes?  There are at least 20 kung fu fights over a 90-minute runtime!  Look no further than Drunken Master for your action movie needs!

* Do you like live-action cartoons?  That’s basically the movie, given Jackie’s comedic fighting style.  At one point he actually farts in an opponent’s face, then tosses him face-first into a pile of feces that just happens to be nearby.  Imagine a violent Adam Sandler…or, wait, I remember the Bob Barker incident.  Okay, a MORE violent Adam Sandler.

* But Jackie is no Bugs Bunny omnipotent type.  He spends a good half of the movie getting thoroughly beaten up and humiliated by any number of opponents, including a) his own aunt, b) the drunken master himself and c) a gang of, I guess, really aggressive waiters and bouncers at a local restaurant?  Some explanation on the latter…Chan tries to scheme his way out of paying for a meal, which leads to at least a half-dozen guys trying to beat him down.  They win via sheer numbers, and punish Jackie by repeatedly punching him in the stomach to make him vomit up the food he stole.  Good lord!  On a related note, this is also how they deal with shoplifters at Arby’s.  The best part is that Jackie is trying to skip out of a meal that costs a grand total of $1.05.  I’m shocked the restaurant owner can afford to hire so many goons with such rock-bottom prices.

* The plot, as it were, is that Jackie is a cocky young martial artist and the son of a great kung fu master.  Despite his skills, Jackie is definitely in need of some humbling, so his father arranges for him to be taught by an eccentric old-timer who is an expert in the art of “drunken fighting,” which is essentially just trying to be as unpredictable and seemingly off-balance as possible (as if you’re drunk) so your opponent can’t predict your next move.  Spoiler alert — things work out for the best for Jackie, though if the father wanted his son to learn truly advanced kung fu from a master, why not just send Jackie to his aunt?  She seems to be at least tied for first place in the ‘biggest badass in the movie’ standings.  Jackie does eventually win the final fight by adopting a so-called “feminine” style, so maybe that’s a nod to Auntie Wong’s mastery.

* In classic Spider-Man fashion, the main villain (Thunderleg) bests Jackie easily in their first meeting.  Jackie is drying his pants off over a fire when they first encounter each other, and after Thunderleg wins the fight, he adds insult to injury by burning Jackie’s pants up in the flames.  Jackie Chan recently received an honorary Oscar for his incredible contributions to international cinema, though I’d argue he should’ve received an actual Oscar for his emotional response to watching his pants get burned.  Who won Best Actor in 1978, Jon Voight?  Please.  Sure, Voight had to capture the physical and emotional pain of a Vietnam veteran, but does that compare to the torment of watching one’s own pants burned in front of one?!  I think not!    

* Thunderleg is the big bad, though there is a very notable minor villain with the name of “Rat, the Iron-Headed Bullet.”  This fellow’s big move is to just lower his (admittedly hard) head and run at people.  It’s a pretty great gimmick for a ‘little bad,’ sort of like how every opponent in Punch-Out has a specific strength that you have to stay away from. 

* I figure this was due to some creative dubbing rather than the original screenplay, but there are some A+ insults in the dialogue.  After the soaking-wet Jackie sasses Thunderleg, the villain responds with “a big mouth on a wet ass.”  I mean, Jackie is indeed drenched and his character is indeed a big-mouth….but geez, Thunderleg, that’s a Tobias Bluth-level example of trash talk.  Later in the film, after Thunderleg insults Jackie’s father, Jackie retorts with “You watch out, or you’ll have a body with no ass.”  Good lord, what kind of martial art is so destructive that it can somehow remove someone’s hindquarters and yet still leave the body functioning?  Or, was Jackie’s point that he’d ‘remove’ the ass in the sense of sticking something where the sun don’t shine?  So many unanswered questions, I may need to watch Drunken Master 2.