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....

*******

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?


*******

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.

**************

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.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

NHL/NBA Predictions

A new hockey season is upon us, and for the first time in well over a decade, I have expectations.  Could the Maple Leafs actually take another step forward this year, or am I (and Leafs Nation as a whole) setting ourselves up for disappointment?  This is still a young and ostensibly rebuilding team, don't forget.  A step backwards wouldn't be a shock.  To their credit, the Leafs front office didn't go nuts with "win now" signings or anything, since Patrick Marleau isn't exactly the last piece of the puzzle at his advanced age of *checks Wikipedia* 72 years old.

My predictions!

East: Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Blue Jackets......Canadiens, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Panthers
West: Stars, Predators, Blackhawks, Jets, Wild.....Ducks, Oilers, Sharks

Stanley Cup Finals: Ducks over Rangers

********

While I'm here, let's get the NBA picks out of the way as well, unless some other major superstars switches teams in the next month.  Also, because it's pretty obvious that Golden State is going to win the title again.

East Conference: Celtics, Wizards, Cavaliers, Bucks, Raptors, Heat, Hawks, Pistons
West Conference: Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets, Timberwolves

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Alterna-Emmys

Pretty good regular Emmys this year, with a solid slate of winning shows and performance, plus some long-overlooked actors (Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, Donald Glover) finally getting some Emmy glory.  But still, no matter how good the actual show did, it wasn’t quite up to my sky-high standards!  Behold the alterna-Emmys! 

I realize that my list of the year’s best shows may have spoiled by Best Drama and Best Comedy picks, but whatever.  The Leftovers was just an astonishing season of television, one that will be talked about for years to come, or at least whenever anyone discusses series that were hidden gems.  New Girl just continues to click away on all cylinders year after year in a post-hype classic kind of way.  It may have been responsible for my single-biggest laugh of the entire year, with the revelation of Schmidt’s real name.  It was a joke six years in the making and yet it was both absolutely clever and a semi-twist that nobody saw coming. 

The performances!  You’ll noticed I’ve just gone and mushed the regular series and the limited series together in some lovely melange — it’s all a level playing field here at the alterna-Emmys.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Andre Braugher/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Tituss Burgess/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Ted Danson/The Good Place, Ken Hall/People Of Earth, Lamorne Morris/New Girl
WINNER: Tituss Burgess

I should point out the nonsensical actual Emmy given to Alec Baldwin in this category, since a) it was based on a single impression and b) he’s not actually in the SNL cast.  I realize that Baldwin is more associated with Saturday Night Live than most full-time cast members in the show’s history, yet it’s still pretty weird that he has an Emmy for his SNL work and nobody else on the show save Kate McKinnon has won.  (Though the concept of SNL players being nominated in the supporting category is still a fairly new one for the Emmys, admittedly.)  That being said, if you can win Emmys for a single SNL character, then Tom Hanks as David S. Pumpkins was completely s. robbed! 

Anyway, whatever, Baldwin’s win was pretty absurd given the much better work done by literally everyone else nominated, not to mention my alterna-picks.  Tituss gets the nod in a close call since, as I said last year, he and Ellie Kemper do such incredibly great work in carrying this show that I feel he has the highest WAR of anyone in the category.  Like, as great as, say, Braugher or Danson are, there are probably a few other actors that could play those roles just as well.  Admittedly this is kind of an unfair standard given that the role of Titus was literally written for Tituss himself, but still, he’s one of a kind.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Donna Lynne Champlin/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Ana Gasteyer/People Of Earth, Carol Kane/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kate McKinnon/Saturday Night Live, Alice Wetterlund/People Of Earth
WINNER: Donna Lynne Champlin

Aside from Darryl and White Josh, there is no relationship on CExG that I’m remotely as invested in as Rebecca and Paula.  It broke my heart to see them at odds even for a few episodes this past season, and between that sorta-feud and Paula’s separation from her husband, DLC had a lot of dramatic beats to work with on top of being hilarious.  As for the other nominees, shoutout to the Kimmy Schmidt writers for finally giving Kane an interesting story to work with!  The show wasn’t entirely an Ellie-and-Tituss two-hander this year! 


BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Anthony Anderson/Black-ish, Aziz Ansari/Master Of None, Hank Azaria/Brockmire
WINNER: Hank Azaria

Azure has an admittedly large advantage in the category since he has the benefit of “the Brockmire Voice,” which automatically makes anything he says hilarious.  He’s been using this voice dating back to his Simpsons days and the legendary “whitey whackers” scene that is notable in my personal circles for being my friend Sarah’s favourite Simpsons scene ever.  It literally reduces her to laughing tears no matter how many times she sees it.  Black day for baseball!


BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Rachel Bloom/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Zooey Deschanel/New Girl, Ellie Kemper/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep, Amanda Peet/Brockmire, Tracee Ellis Ross/Black-ish
WINNER: Rachel Bloom

Another loaded category, though not one loaded enough that I feel obligated to omit JLD even though I don’t watch Veep anymore.  That’s right — she’s THAT good that I can still nominate her since I just assume she’s still great.  Legend.  Anyway, Bloom repeats as champion in sort of another Tituss Burgess situation where this is a role specifically tailored for her (by herself!) so it’s a bit unfair, but damn, it’s just too great to overlook.  The fact that CEG also seems to be slowly morphing into a drama gives Bloom even more to work with.  I mean, can Amanda Peet compete with someone who sang a song called “Period Sex”?  I rest my case.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Jonathan Banks/Better Call Saul, Liam Cunningham/Game Of Thrones, Frank Langella/The Americans, Michael McKean/Better Call Saul, Michael Stuhlbarg/Fargo
WINNER: Michael McKean

Better Call Saul saw its share of Emmy recognition in high-profile categories, with the inexplicable exception of McKean not even being nominated.  Do voters still resent him for Laverne & Shirley or what?  It blows my mind that a performance as nuanced as this (a sympathetic character you can’t help but hate or a villain who you can’t help but relate to) didn’t even make the cut.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Danielle Brooks/Orange Is The New Black, Julia Garner/Ozark, Mallory Jansen/Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Selenis Leyva/Orange Is The New Black, Thandie Newton/Westworld, Mary Elizabeth Winstead/Fargo, Alfre Woodard/Luke Cage
WINNER: Danielle Brooks

Last year’s alterna-Emmys featured a whopping 15 nominees in this category, so this year’s slate of seven is modest by comparison but still, wow, what a field.  You have Newton and MEW in the “doing their best to carry an annoyingly flawed show” category, Jansen wowing while (essentially) playing four or five different roles as the season’s AoS big bad, and Woodard creating an interesting twist on the “big bad” trope by having the first season be essentially her origin story as Luke Cage’s biggest nemesis.  Julia Garner has one foot in the ‘carry a flawed show’ camp as well, though I was somewhat let down that she didn’t steal the entire series, as I fully expected after Ozark’s mind-boggling second episode.

Picking between all of the OITNB cast is such a tough call, and I went with Leyva and Brooks since their storylines underscored the more dramatic aspects of the season’s prison riot storyline.  Leyva’s character was in such an impossible position where we’re rooting against her for more or less selling out her fellow prisoners but for a justifiable reason.  Brooks is ultimately my winner since, in a season that weirdly undercut the prison riot with a bit too much comic relief (even if the show is a dramedy), you had Brooks turning that idea on its head by making laugh-a-minute Taystee into the voice of reason and change.  Taystee is the one that never stops trying to make the riot mean something, both for Poussey and the rest of the prisoners writ large.  I love that this show’s acting bench is so deep that when these established characters are given a new element, Brooks and Leyva are more than capable of hitting it out of the park.


BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Jason Bateman/Ozark, Bob Odenkirk/Better Call Saul, Matthew Rhys/The Americans, Justin Theroux/The Leftovers
WINNER: Bob Odenkirk

It’s interesting that three of the four nominees are mostly comic actors doing dramatic roles.  Bateman can’t help but be kind of Michael Bluth-ish which gives Ozark kind of a dark comedy vibe at times, yet he does a great job at creating an actual non-Bluth character as a man capable of being incredibly resourceful despite being, essentially, trapped in an unwinnable situation.  Theroux is, ironically, actually kind of terrible whenever I see him try to be funny, and his true calling is clearly drama.  I’ve spoken before of how absolutely crucial his performance is to Leftovers as a whole, since anything less than total believability causes the whole house of cards to collapse.  While it’s true that the show’s focus shifted onto Nora in the final season, that was more due to Carrie Coon having a pantheon year than it was any reflection on Theroux’s ability to carry the show, since he was more than capable.  No shame in “only” being the Lou Gehrig when you have Babe Ruth in the lineup.

But it’s Odenkirk who wins due to his increasingly fascinating slow transition from Jimmy into Saul.  I should say Saul 2.0, since as much as Better Call Saul adheres (or has to adhere) to Breaking Bad’s chronology, it’s pretty clear that the Saul we’ll get by the end of this series will be developed well beyond the entertaining but somewhat one-dimensional huckster we see dealing with Walt and Jesse.  Looking at the arc of Jimmy McGill over both series, maybe all of Breaking Bad could just be his “dark night of the soul,” with his final redemption coming whenever we fully enter his black-and-white Cinnabon-managing post-BB life.


BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
WINNER: Carrie Coon/The Leftovers

“Hey Mark, where are the other nominees?”  Well, frankly, why bother?  Apologies to Keri Russell, I guess, but Coon was so far beyond the stratosphere that every other performance really just paled in comparison.  Like I said, she’s Babe Ruth — she’s the one outhomering entire teams and changing the game.  You talk about pantheon episodes, how many actors have three all-timers within a seven-episode span?  “Don’t Be Ridiculous” or “The Book Of Nora” alone would’ve clinched her this award, but tossing “G’Day Melbourne” and that insane breakup scene with Kevin in the hotel room?  In the words of Jim Ross, someone stop the damn match!  I’m going to remember quite a few things from this crazy, fantastic show, but tops on that list will be my introduction to one of the best actresses in the world.  What a showcase.  And, not to brag, but…

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Music Video Dance Party!

Since I'm posting a lot of Radiohead and U2 stuff recently, I might as well cover their recent video releases in one fell swoop!

It's not nearly in the lower tier of U2 videos, and I like the subtle pro-immigration message.  But overall, I dunno, I'm just not too fired up by generic "walking around the city" type of music videos.  Given the New York setting, it's like the Saturday Night Live opening credits or something.  I feel like this is an opportunity for U2 to get some viral interest going with a really unique video, something can be appreciated by fans of cool imagery or filmmaking techniques.  There are only so many ways for a musician to get a breakthrough hit in 2017, especially when said musicians are a rock band in their mid-to-late 50's.  On the bright side, I think Larry Mullen smiled once!


For instance, this new Radiohead video (for an old song) is actually funny, which I don't think I've ever said about a Radiohead video before.  Repurposing Thom Yorke as a Buster Keaton-esque straight man observing nonsense is such an obvious idea that I can't believe it hasn't been done before.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: It’s the series finale of Game Of Thrones.  It’s a special three-hour episode — for all intents and purposes the movie event of the year as well as the TV event of the year.  The first two hours are amazing, all the spectacle and intrigue that you’d expect from the climax of this epic show. 

As the second hour wraps up, we see Theon Greyjoy entering a castle to confront his hated uncle Euron, who has his sister Yara captive.  The scene then shifts to…a modern luxury apartment building.  There we get Alfie Allen, Pilou Asbaek and Gemma Whelan (Theon, Euron and Yara) all in modern street clothes, still in the midst of a confrontation, but they’re all now just angrily sniping at each other passive-aggressively. 

Needless to say, it’s confusing.  The rest of the episode also takes place in modern times, with all of the characters now facing each other in family and business-related squabbles over a “Westeros Corporation.”  It’s basically like Dallas, except with all of the GoT cast in the lead roles.  The episode ends with the head of the company (CEO Cersei Lannister) agreeing to divvy up shares amongst everyone, leading to an uneasy truce that the financial officer for Jon Snow’s bid (Davos Seaworth, who is now a CPA?) predicts things will eventually break down again.

In the final scene of the show, it’s revealed that the entire dragons-and-war framing was actually a bedtime story told by Samwell Tarly to young Sam Jr. as a way of explaining the corporate machinations and why, ultimately, Sam (an employe of one of the companies) lost his job.  As a result of this, Gilly has left Sam for Jaime Lannister.  The last shot is Gilly hopping into Jamie’s convertible while Sam sadly watches from behind the curtain of his modest two-bedroom home.


ANALYSIS
: The phrase “break the internet” is thrown around quite a bit, but needless to say, this type of ending for Game Of Thrones would literally cause a riot on message boards.  The showrunners for Dexter, the Sopranos, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother and any other of the infamous ’ended poorly’ programs over the years would get together and share a toast over being off the hook as the Worst Ending In TV History.

I think we can assume that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss won’t choose to actually end the show this way.  (I’m not sure even the vast fortune they’ve amassed from the show’s success would protect them from the hordes of angry fans that would want to re-enact the Red Wedding in the event of such an ending.)  What my subconscious may have warning me of, however, is that however GoT does conclude, it’s going to be something of a letdown.  Most shows, no matter how good, don’t end on a perfect high note. 

Frankly, subconscious, I’m not really expecting a five-star finish from Game Of Thrones anyway given how the show has become increasingly shaky now that Benioff and Weiss have gone well beyond the books.  The entire seventh season seemed like ten episodes of story crammed into seven episodes, with way too many far-flung plot machinations.  I’m keeping my expectations firmly in check for how things

Ironically, part of my dream actually may have some basis in reality in regards to the actual finale.  No, not Jaime and Gilly hooking up…despite their shared background of incest, that might be a stretch.  It has long been speculated by GoT and A Song Of Ice And Fire fans that Samwell Tarly is essentially George R.R. Martin’s avatar within the series.  With Sam now becoming a maester and (this past season) learning of the importance of chronicling Westerosi history, the theory has been that the story told by ASOIAF and GoT will be “told” within the narrative by Sam himself.  Of course, this doesn’t make total sense given the number of events that Sam wasn’t there to witness, nor the lack of living survivors to many of these events that Sam couldn’t perhaps interview after the fact.  Then again, I guess Bran the three-eyed raven can help Sam will in the blanks.  Framing devices are cool!

The other “some basis in reality” aspect is another fan theory about the show being allegorical.  In this interpretation, the White Walkers actually succeed in conquering Westeros and killing everyone, in the ultimate overturning of fantasy tropes.  In this allegory, the White Walkers represent climate change, and Martin (and the show) are saying that humanity will be doomed unless it puts aside its petty leadership squabbles and unites against a common foe.  This, needless to say, would be a pretty stunning ending, and one I’m not sure the show would have the guts to pull off.  Maybe Sam, Gilly and little Sam escape on a boat to Braavos as the only survivors, and we still get the Narrator Sam ending of his telling the Braavosi about Westeros’ downfall?  I know GoT loves to shock audiences, but having EVERYONE die and the final scene as the Night’s King sitting on the Iron Throne would be something else even for this show.  Still, better that than the Night’s King recast as, like, “King Knight,” a mysterious bidder from up north planning a hostile takeover of CEO Cersei’s corporation.

Also, place your bets now — what are the chances that the Greyjoys all make it to the finale?  10-1?  20-1?  My pal Dave would hope this scenario happens, since Theon (of all people) is his favourite character.  Words fail me.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bobby Heenan

One of the single funniest TV personalities of all time, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan was the perfect pro wrestling heel.  He was an unabashed jerk who was "officially" hated since he managed bad guys and talked down to the faces, but secretly beloved by fans because he was so outstandingly good in every aspect of performance.

Nobody was better at playing the arrogant heel and, as a crucial by-product, nobody was better at taking comeuppance for his heelish acts.  Heenan was a master at getting one-upped --- whether it was taking an actual beating in the ring, being dealt some humiliation like having water poured on him or being dressed in a weasel costume, or simply getting verbally owned by Gorilla Monsoon, nobody sold comic exasperation like Bobby Heenan.

His commentary job in the 1992 Royal Rumble is often held up as maybe the single best broadcasting work in wrestling history.  Heenan has to carry the story of his man, Ric Flair, being the #3 entry out of 30 wrestlers and lasting all the way to the end.  The Brain goes from being speechless with rage over Flair's unlucky entry number, to desperate over-confidence, to cheering every time Flair gets any sort of advantage in the match, to openly pleading with other wrestlers in the ring to help Flair out (and then hilariously ripping them for attacking Flair), to openly pleading with God himself to let Flair win, and then to final joy when Flair actually wins the match.  This was a full hour of commentary brilliance that added immeasurably to the already-great action in the ring ---- the 1992 Rumble is probably my favourite match ever. 

My favourite Heenan "performance," however, is slightly lesser-known.  It's the underrated storyline when Randy Savage, in need of a tag team partner for a big match against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon, offers the spot to (of all people) Mr. Perfect, Flair's manager/executive consultant.  Over the course of an entire episode of PrimeTime Wrestling, you see the wheels turn as this seemingly ridiculous proposal from the Macho Man starts to be taken seriously by Perfect, much to Heenan's chagrin.  Everyone, it should be noted, plays their parts really well in these segments --- Vince McMahon, Jim Duggan and Hillbilly Jim stirring the pot, Flair being so egomaniacal that he can't see what's happening until it's too late, Razor being the cocky newcomer with no respect for Perfect's past accomplishments, Savage simply laying out the scenario and Perfect himself as the proud athlete who doesn't feel he's washed up.  But I'd say it's the Brain that really drives things, as he's the one who is unwittingly undermining and insulting Perfect while trying to praise him and laugh off Savage's offer.  It's the perfect example of Bobby "the Brain" outsmarting himself while trying to be the smartest guy in the room.  He just says one word too many, and that's what dooms he, Flair and Razor to somehow losing a chief ally over the course of 30 minutes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Total Mediocrity!

Happy Emmys night, everyone!  Nichols & May were the best.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Best TV Of The Last Year

This was an interesting year of TV that actually saw my number of shows *drop* from 45 last year to just 42 this year.  Frankly, I think I’m just getting less patient with shows.  In the past I would’ve some programs more episodes or even a full season, whereas now I’m just more apt to cut and run.  I gave Dirk Gently, for instance, four episodes to stop annoying the crap out of me and it never turned, so the hell with it.

There is obviously also a ton of television I haven’t watched, so if you feel there’s a great show that’s missing from this list, it’s 50-50 that I didn’t see it.  (That’s a much nicer way of putting it than saying “why would I watch such obvious garbage?”)

In all cases, I’m citing the most recently-aired season of an ongoing series, which aired between now and mid-September 2016.

UGH
42. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
41. Son Of Zorn
40. Legion
39. Family Guy

MEH
38. Wet Hot American Summer Reunion
37. Big Little Lies
36. Great News
35. The Defenders
34. Sherlock
33. Modern Family

“MEH” WITH SOME INTERESTING ELEMENTS
32. Portlandia
31. Easy
30. Survivor: Game Changers
29. Fargo
28. The Simpsons
27. Westworld
26. The Apprentice UK (s12)

PRETTY GOOD BUT MISSING SOMETHING
25. Baroness Von Sketch Show
24. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
23. Pitch
22. Ozark
21. Saturday Night Live
20. Amazing Race Canada (s5)
19. Amazing Race Canada (s4)
18. Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X
17. Luke Cage
16. The Good Place
15. The Americans
14. Amazing Race USA (s29)
13. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

QUITE GOOD
12. Agents of SHIELD
11. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
10. People Of Earth
9. Brockmire
8. Black Mirror (note: it feels sort of weird listing this as a 'show' but whatever)
7. Game Of Thrones
6. Orange Is The New Black

CREAM OF THE CROP
5. Master Of None
4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
3. New Girl
2. Better Call Saul
1. The Leftovers

Thursday, September 07, 2017

NFL Predictions

On a scale of one to Golden State Warriors, the Patriots are pretty predictable Super Bowl champions this year.  Something weird could happen, true, and injuries can always set a team back (Julian Edelman is already gone for the year), but if I had to pick one team to win it all, it'd be New England again.

And hey, I do have to pick a team to win it all!  That's the whole point of this post!

AFC
East: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets
North: Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, Browns
South: Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Colts
West: Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers, Raiders
wild cards: Broncos, Titans

NFC
East: Cowboys, Giants, Washington, Eagles
North: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears
South: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers
West: Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers
wild cards: Giants, Panthers

AFC title game: Patriots over Steelers
NFC title game: Seahawks over Packers

Super Bowl 52: Patriots over Seahawks

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

You're The Best Thing About Me

Back when it looked like "Songs Of Experience" was going to be released in late 2016, Kygo played his remix version of this song during a concert.  So U2 fans have been aware of YTBTAM for over a year now and been awaiting the proper version by the actual band.

The verdict?  It's a great melody, great chorus, great bridge, great rhythm section, Bono sounds good, and the guitar is only half-there.  I would've preferred if the funk guitar/beach rock sound from the first 30 or so seconds had been used throughout the entire track, rather than the Edge kind of just disappearing into effects world.

Also, could the title have simply not been 'The Best Thing'?  What's with U2's tendency to add extra words and clunkier phrasing?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Count Down

When last we checked in on the Count's Twitter acCount, he had resumed tweeting after an unexplained absence that lasted from May 22-July 6.  It seemed like all was well, and yet we are now nearly a month into yet another hiatus. 

The Count's most recent tweet came on August 11, when his counting reached 1399.  There has been no follow-up.  Since he was about to hit a round number, I was wondering if the Count was merely pausing to create suspense, but no....research of past tweets indicates that in past instances of reaching a round number (the transition from the 1200s to 1300, for instance), he just kept on with the count with nary a pause.

The world stands terrified as we're once again left wondering why the Count has forsaken his count.  I need not remind you that this kindly vampire loves counting more than anything in the world, so something truly shocking must have happened for the Count to cease operations.  And now with TWO shutdowns within the span of three months?  The mystery deepens.

Of note: while the large majority of the Count's tweets carry just the latest number in this countdown, some also contain laughter.  As in, the Count's signature "Ah ah ah!" laugh.  Why did the Count find these particular numbers so amusing?!  Recent tweets that contained laughter corresponded to the numbers 1292, 1307, 1316, 1317, 1318, 1322, 1373, 1377, 1379, 1391 --- can any amateur John Nashes out there find a pattern?

This mystery is driving me...

•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)

....batty.

YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH

Monday, September 04, 2017

How We Remember Bad Movies

Courtesy of my friend Ian.....

"It's amazing that Austin Powers was a major, multi-million dollar film franchise that was released within the last 20 years, but the only enduring reference from those movies is when you're trying to maneuver your car out of a tight spot. If you say 'Shagadelic, baby!', people will laugh at you for being dated as hell, but if you're trying to parallel park and you say, 'Oh, I'm going to have to try an Austin Powers move here,' people instantly know what you're talking about and laugh at the reference."

It’s very true, and a prime example about how you never know what bits of pop culture will stick in people’s memory.  As Ian points out, Austin Powers was actually a good movie* and a big franchise, but it’s stranger than a bad movie somehow retains a spot as a go-to reference.

* = having not seen the original Austin Powers in some years, I’ll stick with teenage Mark’s memories and impressions rather than give into my suspicion that the film has aged hella-poorly.  As in, aged worst than using “hella-“ as a prefix.

To name just a few examples, hence the entire point of this post…

* Junior is still the go-to reference for the idea of a man giving birth
* Jack is still the go-to reference for the idea of someone who looks much older than they actually are, or someone who’s a veritable manchild
* Groovin’ 2 is still a go-to reference whenever someone wants to mock the idea of a goofy or unnecessary sequel, since they just refer to it as “___ 2: Electric Boogaloo”
* Pay It Forward introduced the concept of, well, paying it forward as an act of social kindness
* The Bucket List introduced the concept of, well, a bucket list.
* Master Of Disguise, based on the “turtle turtle!” gimmick in the trailer, is still the go-to reference when you see someone that looks like, or is dressed like, a turtle.
* Sliding Door is still the go-to reference for alternate realities based on one minor decision
* Powder is still a chief go-to reference for bald people.  I was actually recently described in a roast-like fantasy sports messageboard thread as looking like “Sean Patrick Flanery’s character in Powder.”  Dude, just say I look like Powder.  I watch a hundred movies a year; trust me, I’ll get the reference.  ‘Powder’ is even the character’s name.  It’s like saying someone looks like “Tom Hanks’ character in Forrest Gump.”

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Blackout

After months of rumours and (reportedly) some cold feet at this time a year ago, U2's new album is finally coming our way within the next few months.  The band is taking the unique-for-them step of seemingly debuting multiple songs in advance.  We already had "The Little Things That Give You Away" performed live in concert this summer, we have the official first single "The Best Thing" next week and for now we have "The Blackout," available via U2's Facebook page.

It's an interesting melange of Magnificent/Crystal Ballroom/Zoo Station with maybe a drip of The Fly and a smidge of Wire.  The other interesting detail is that...I don't love it?  It's a good song, the chorus is catchy and potentially a grower, though I didn't get the instant wow factor that I get listening to most U2 songs.

What is promising, however, is the overall sound.  There's definitely a polished modern dance/rock sheen of production over the tune, though it is very much a rock song.  The rhythm section is just pounding away (great bass song for Adam Clayton) and the Edge has a bit of the ol' chainsaw guitar sound from Zoo Station working here.  My guess is that Songs Of Experience will be another mixture of U2's different sides rather than a unified sound, though it's good to see the band delving into a big rock sound for at least one track.

There is a 100% chance this will be the opening track on next year's tour, complete with the house lights dropping halfway through the song, a la Elevation during the Elevation Tour.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Conan & Sona

The greatest comedy team of our generation?




Friday, August 25, 2017

SCTV Cast Power Rankings

Doesn't get much more Canadian than this!

11. Harold Ramis
10. Tony Rosato
9. Robin Duke
8. Dave Thomas
7. Andrea Martin
6. Joe Flaherty
5. Catherine O’Hara
4. Martin Short
3. Rick Moranis
2. John Candy
1. Eugene Levy


First things first, this is probably the best cast in television history.  It seem a little unfair to include a sketch comedy show in this distinction since it had the ability to add and subtract people over the years, but top to bottom, it is awfully hard to beat SCTV.  Even compared to other sketch comedy shows, you can’t really argue SNL has a ‘better’ cast since while it has SCTV beat in sheer numbers, it’s also hurt by a lot of dead weight amongst its 145 cast members.

SCTV, on the other hand, is only a hair away from all killer no filler.  Rosato was more solid than great, and Ramis (while a genius writer) was pretty limited as far as acting range.  But man, if a good comic actor like Rosato is your TENTH-BEST performer, you’re in pretty amazing shape.  And consider that even by the #8 spot, you’re already in the borderline legend territory with Dave Thomas. 

As for the top five, you can almost list them in any order and I wouldn’t complain.  Levy gets my top spot on total versatility, able to play both a straight man and a clown with equal aplomb.  Of course, all of the actors were quite good at this (another reason this cast rules) but Levy was maybe the only A+ in both categories, in my humble opinion.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Kyrie Irving

The Kyrie Irving trade makes so little sense to me for two main reasons…

a) the fact that a player seems to regard being LeBron James’ Scottie Pippen for three years to be a burden
b) the fact that such a major trade was swung between two arch-rival teams at the top of the Eastern Conference

Let’s start with B, since I guess Boston’s much-ballyhooed amount of draft picks and roster assets was enough to entice anyone, even a Cleveland team that is in direct competition with them for a ticket to the Finals.  I can definitely see a scenario where both teams feel they took the other for a ride — on paper, the Cavaliers got a much larger array of talent and a top pick in the 2018 draft, and Isaiah Thomas may be just as good as Kyrie was.  From the Celtics’ perspective, they unloaded a tiny point guard with hip problems, some good but not irreplaceable players and one of only many major draft picks in their stockpile for one of the NBA’s ten best players.  The Celtics have had a great core the last couple of years but are missing that elusive elite player that every NBA champion besides the 2003 Pistons had possessed.  Now, in Irving, they think they have that guy, and he already had a ring and he’s four years younger than Thomas.

From Irving’s perspective, I guess I can see his point? Sort of?  James can’t be the easiest teammate in the world to play alongside since, for all intents and purposes, he’s your GM and not really a teammate.  The modus operandi for the last three-plus years of Cavaliers basketball has been to find pieces that complement LeBron; Irving, as important as he was to the Cavs prior to The Second Decision, was also another one of those expendable parts.  No matter what Kyrie did, he was always potentially a candidate to be sent out the door if the Cavaliers could’ve found a LeBron-preferred upgrade.  Irving may feel that he’s got his ring, and now the rest of his career is gravy, so he wants to be The Man for a team.

This being said…I mean, talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.  Kyrie didn’t lead Cleveland to as much as a playoff berth until LeBron showed up.  If James had never decided to return to his home state, Irving’s tune might’ve been totally different.  He could still have been asking for a trade this summer, except now it would’ve been “deal me to be a cog in a superteam, I’m tired of being The Man on a losing franchise, I just want to win.”  Kyrie has reportedly been envious about how point guard peers like Damian Lillard and John Wall have gotten the chance to be franchise guys on “their own” teams.  This would be the Trail Blazers and Wizards, btw, two teams that haven’t gotten beyond the second round whereas Kyrie is a three-time NBA finalist.  To put the shoe on the other foot, you don’t think Lillard or Wall would’ve traded the last three years for a chance to play with LeBron and get a chance at a ring every year?

It’s a fascinating trade, made all the most layered by the fact that it’s an open secret LeBron is leaving for the Lakers after the coming season.  I have no idea who’s going to win the Eastern Conference next year, aside from the fact that…it’ll be one of these two teams.  And then the Warriors will beat them in the Finals.  Okay, so maybe this trade doesn’t really change the predictable NBA landscape all *that* much.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jennifer, Me, & Jennifer

What’s the old saying, everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten?

Five-year-old Mark was at school, playing house with Jennifer V and Jennifer W.  (If you’re from my generation, you went to school with at least a dozen Jennifers.)  Now, admittedly, five-year-old Mark was pretty old-fashioned when it came to gender norms, so I went into the game under the assumption that one of the Jenns and I would be the parents, and the other Jenn would be our daughter.  I mentioned as much to the girls, only to get this response:

“No, we’re sisters and you’re our brother.  We’re all living alone since our parents aren’t here.”

I mean…damn.  That’s bleak.  Forget the personal ego blow of these girls preferring to pretend we’re living some traumatic Party Of Five-esque scenario than just pretend one of them is married to me.  But man, suddenly this game of house takes on a whole deeper, more primal meaning.  Suddenly it’s not just “oh, put the kettle on to make some tea,” it’s now “teatime is a cultural norm that we can fall back on in an effort to normalize life in the wake of our parents’ sudden disappearance.” 

Note that they we’re all LIVING alone, not just that we “are” alone or a less-definitive phrasing that might imply our parents are running late getting home from work or something.  No, we three kids have been habituating within this grim, orphaned existence for a while now.  Just me, Jennifer W and Jennifer V against the world.

Who would’ve thought that Red Rover, a game that so often devolved into clotheslining other children, would somehow be the less-traumatic of common kindergarten activities?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Steep Canyon Rangers, "Caroline"

"Hey, check out this cool new Steve Martin music video" isn't something I expected to be writing in 2017.  Hell, even "hey, check out this cool new music video" sounds dated.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I’m starring in a CBS crime show along the lines of Hawaii 5-0 or Scorpion, about a tough cop keeping New Orleans safe from organized crime.  I’m not playing the cop, however — that’s some generic Josh Duhamel type of actor.  No, my role is playing the villain, a New Orleans crime boss known as “Largesse.”  My character is, essentially, Big Daddy from that Simpsons episode where Wiggum and Skinner become detectives in New Orleans, with a dash of the Kingpin and a dash of this other Simpsons character.  Okay, the added “dashes” are basically just physical appearance since I’m a fat bald guy, but stay with me here.

There’s also more than a bit of Boss Hogg in my character, as I play Largesse wayyyyyyy over the top.  Like, the actor who played Boss Hogg would’ve seen this show and thought “geez, that’s a little broad.”  I guess it’s not a strict CBS procedural since it really is more along the likes of Dukes Of Hazzard, with a recurring villain every week whose plans are foiled by the hero.  Weirdly, I play Largesse as never being all that annoyed by the constant failures of my criminal enterprises, and much more annoyed whenever someone serves him seafood for dinner.  Disliking seafood, naturally, particularly enrages the Duhamel-ian cop, who is a proud New Orleans native (New Orleaner?) and therefore adores the local cuisine.

The show seems generally popular, though the dream is weirdly non-specific about whether it’s a fictional scripted program or somehow a documentary.  Like, it’s an actor playing the cop and I’m profiled on Entertainment Tonight for my role as Largesse, though there are never any cameras or scripts around.  Also, the ET segment leads to a minor scandal since fans are outraged that I’m not actually from Louisiana, unlike Largesse.


ANALYSIS: I won’t like, it would be fun to just eat all the time, wear outrageous clothing and talk in a comically-broad New Orleans accent.  I basically do 1.5 of these things in my everyday life anyways.  The whole crime boss thing doesn’t really interest me, which perhaps is why my subconscious omitted the actual “crimes” part of being a gangster and why Largesse was never too bothered when Officer Generic stopped a scheme.  I actually don’t care for seafood either, and were I to be served seafood unasked, I’d indeed have an issue with it.  Largesse, at one point, is so irate that he knocks a waiter’s platter to the ground upon being brought a bunch of scallops….for the record, I’d never act so insultingly boorish.  I’d just say “sorry, I didn’t order any scallops.”  Simple common courtesy, Largesse!

I’d like to think of myself as a decent actor.  I performed in some minor shows in high school and university, with things going pretty well.  The jury is still out on whether I was actually talented or just “talented enough for some low-level student production,” but let’s just say that my real drawback was having some difficulty memorizing so many lines.  I can’t imagine how professional theatre actors are able to learn hundreds or even thousands of lines of dialogue in what is sometimes a short amount of time.  Perhaps that’s what I gravitated more towards improv, where I could always just wing it if I didn’t know what to say.  Also, my acting career may have also been stunted by my, uh, difficulties in auditioning.

"Largesse" is a pretty awesome name for a big, fat, extravagant bayou crime boss.  Good job with the branding, subconscious!

I’ve never been to New Orleans, nor do I have any particular desire to visit unless the Super Bowl is at the Superdome one year and the Packers happen to be playing.  Nothing against the city, really, just that I’m wary about going anywhere too far south since I don’t like the heat.  If I actually had to spend time in New Orleans, forget about Big Daddy, I’d end up like another shady Simpsons character. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Work Nonsense

My co-worker Ken and I were discussing movies, I mentioned some star, and Ken joked “I don’t know who that is, I only watch movies starring Glenn Close.”  To which I responded, “don’t be so Close-minded, Ken!”  Ken no-sold the joke, but come on, that’s some pretty great spur-of-the-moment punnery.

***********

I’m just about the world’s most boring eater, which includes eating pasta with no sauce, oil or seasonings of any kind.  (Ok, some salt and pepper, but those are so basic that I don’t even consider it ‘seasoning.’)  Ken was a little incredulous, though I did assure him that I had SOME flavour in the form of that packaged cheese from Kraft Dinner boxes. 

K: But if you use the cheese for both KD and for normal pasta, don’t you run out of cheese pretty quickly?
M: Oh no, I have so much KD in the cupboard that there’s always at least one expired box in there.  So I just take the cheese from that and use it for pasta.
K: Wait a second, but the cheese is ALSO expired.  In fact, it’s the only thing expired due to the milk-based ingredient.  So you’re throwing out ‘expired’ KD noodles that are still probably good and keeping the actually expired cheese product.
M: ….oh yeah…..

And then we laughed for about a minute straight.  I am not a smart man.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Baroness Von Sketch Show, Uh, Sketches

I've fallen down the rabbit hole of watching material from "Baroness Von Sketch Show," a Canadian comedy show that absolutely hits my sweet spot of dry, goofy, slice-of-life observational humour.


Friday, August 04, 2017

The Definition Of Comedy Is...

A 20-something dudebro who looks like a young Scott Caan strolls out of a No Frills, casually tossing a watermelon to himself in the air. He stumbles and drops the melon on the ground, smashing it to pieces. The dudebro proceeds to throw what I can only describe as a tantrum -- he tosses his hands in the air, actually stamps his feet on the ground and stamps his feet in a frustrated little pivot of a move.

I'm not saying this was one of the top ten hardest laughs of my life, but top 20? The jury is out.