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.

: 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.

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

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

32. Portlandia
31. Easy
30. Survivor: Game Changers
29. Fargo
28. The Simpsons
27. Westworld
26. The Apprentice UK (s12)

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

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

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!

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

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...

( •_•)>⌐■-■



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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Other People's Writing

That Jenny Slate/worst date item ended up morphing into an entire stand-alone post, so we're overdue for a proper Other People's Writing.

* The Ringer’s Katie Baker pays tribute to A League Of Their Own, easily one of the best sports movies ever made.  The real controversy of the 1992 Best Supporting Actress race wasn’t that Marisa Tomei won, but that ALOTO didn’t score at least two nominations.  (Lori Petty for sure, and flip a coin between Madonna and Rosie…if you could nominate a tandem act for one nomination, both of them).  Also, LOL at Debra Winger’s terrible reasoning for passing on the movie.

* A superb profile of Ted Leo by Stereogum’s Michael Tedder.  It’s the kind of profile that makes you absolutely root for Ted Leo and gives you a full and complete portrait of his life and career even if you (like me) know virtually nothing about his music.  I vaguely recall playing a couple of Pharmacists songs on my old campus radio show but no more.

* Vulture ranks all 213 Beatles songs, which I don’t really understand since I did the definitive ranking of the top 83 five years ago.  Doesn’t everyone take my posts as gospel??  Notable discrepancies between the two lists include No Reply (#74 me, #173 Vulture), Don’t Pass Me By (#31 me, #192 Vulture), Rocky Racoon (#38 me, #168 Vulture), Free As A Bird (#68 me, #206 Vulture) and The Ballad Of John And Yoko (#24 me, #179 Vulture).  Oh, plus there’s the fact that my favourite Beatles song, I’ve Just Seen A Face, clocks in at a mediocre 115th on Vulture’s list.  Infuriatingly, Vulture puts my favourite one spot below the melodic eyesore (earsore?) that was Revolution 9.  None of my top six songs even crack their top 35.  Why am I even highlighting this link?

* Vulture redeems itself with Boris Kachka’s look at the filming and creation of the Leftovers’ series finale, one of the greatest episodes within one of the greatest seasons of television ever made. 

* And just in case you think that’s it for the Leftovers material, you’re wrong!  I haven’t been able to get this show out of my mind for weeks, and probably never will, so these pieces from Alan Sepinwall still seem timeless.  Sepinwall, one of the show’s biggest critical champions, had loads of tremendous coverage ready to go immediately after the finale, including a great encapsulation of the episode itself, an interview with Carrie Coon, The Best Actress On Television (as is her legal name at this point) as well as an interview with showrunner Damon Lindelof.  The show ended perfectly, though I won’t lie, Lindelof’s casual mention of an alternate idea about the device being a Guilty Remnant hoax would’ve been pretty amazing.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Radiohead, "I Promise"

I guess if I posted 'Man Of War' a while back, I should also note this other unreleased Radiohead song from the OK Computer sessions.  (The third one, 'Lift,' has been played live before and is a somewhat well-known B-side, so it's not as special.)  I feel like this track was in competition with No Surprises and Let Down for the vaguely-creepy-sounding-version-of-a-pop-song spot on the record, and since I'm kind of sick of No Surprises by this point, maybe Radiohead made the wrong choice.

Also, in regards to the this the Radio Head?!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Worst Date

Jenny Slate recently recounted her worst date experience ever on a podcast with Sam Fragoso, who provided a transcript to Nylon.  It’s a pretty remarkable story, one so cringe-worthy that even the writers for The Office would find it over the top.  (Well, the writers from the Mike Schur era, at least.  After that all bets are off.  Good lord, “Scott’s Tots” is still just the worst.)

Anyway, reading this article inevitably puts one in mind of their own worst first date, and mine is pretty easy.  Now, to be technical, should we be calling these (both Slate’s story and my own) “first” dates when they’re actually the only dates we had with these people?  “First” implies at least one more, right?  “Worst” date, no question, but “first” is an improper usage.  Then again, it’s not like I get many second dates, so boo to me.

Okay, so my worst date came via an online dating site.  Let’s call the woman in question Sandra, for the sake of anonymity.  Sandra’s profile was well-written (big plus for me) with actual proper spelling and grammar (BIG plus), and we seemed to share a lot of common interests and a common sense of humour.  Plus, she actually responded to my initial message, proving that even a broken clock like me is right twice a day!

We set up a dinner date at a local restaurant, and we mutually arrived five minutes early.  Over-punctuality, nice!  All seems well until her phone rings as soon as we sit down, and she apologizes about “needing” to take the call.  I say no problem, thinking what harm could it be.

Anyway, this call proceeds to go on for at least FIFTEEN MINUTES.  I kid you not.  It seemed like kind of a heated discussion so I tried not to listen in, and thus the wallpaper next to our table got a good stare for the next little while.  (A quarter of an hour, to be specific!) 

Sandra finally ends the call and apologizes profusely, saying it was her mother on the other end.  Without wanting to be nosy but, feeling that the sheer length and clearly heated tone of the call demanded some acknowledgement, I asked what was wrong, or maybe even something as innocuous as “nothing serious, I hope.”  This led to another solid 15 minutes of her describing the issue at length.  As I recall, it involved her mother getting re-married, she and her sister were both co-maids of honour, and either Sandra supported the marriage and her sister didn’t, or it was the other way around.  You’d think I would remember a notable detail like that except I think by this time, the blood was pouring out of my ears. 

Now, we did manage to order in between the call and her extended rant, so at least I wasn’t sitting there starving.  But almost the moment she concluded her explanation about the call, the wedding situation and essentially a detailed history of her family, Sandra’s phone rang once again.  This time it was the sister calling, and of course, she just had to answer.  I once again say no problem, though by this point, I’d mentally checked out on this date about five times over.  This was another marathon call, even longer than the first.  Must’ve been easily 20 minutes, maybe even closer to thirty.  Sandra left the table at one point so as to make less noise (or perhaps to hear more clearly) in the crowded restaurant, and I could see her outside on the patio area, gesticulating away.  Apparently she’s the type that makes big sweeping arm gestures when talking, which I now discovered once she was free of the confines of this fine eating establishment.

On the plus side, the food was good. 

Once that call finally wrapped up, Sandra came back in, apologized again, and said we should probably call it a night as she had more wedding stuff to get settled that evening.  It’s worth adding that she seemed legitimately chastened about all this phone business and she was aware that the evening had been a bust, so it was pretty unfortunate.  She promised to message me on the dating site again once things were “less crazy” in her life.  I was lukewarm about ever getting that message anyway, though as it turns out, I never heard from Sandra again. 

“Mark, is it possible she made this whole scenario up, in order to get out of the date?”

First of all, gee thanks.  Am I that repulsive at first sight?  I wore a 75% wrinkle-free shirt and everything!  To address the question, no, this would take some pretty elaborate performance skills to carry on two elongated phone conversations, not to mention her whole story connecting the two in between the calls.  Again, this was easily over an hour of talking.  If you’re going to make up an excuse to get out of a date, you wouldn’t spend that much time backing up your story. 

So that was it, my worst date.  On my next date (which actually led to a relationship of over a year), my first question to her was “you don’t have a sister named Sandra, do you?”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ranking The MCU's Villains

The most common criticism of Marvel’s films is their lack of grim, colourless anti-heroes wordlessly killing their enemies while burdened with unimaginable angst…oh wait, hang on DC fans, nobody knocks Marvel for that.  Basically the only issue with the Marvel films is their lack of truly memorable villains, which may be part in parcel of Marvel’s plan to actually make their heroes the draw.  Still, given that all of “Phase Three” and essentially this entire decade is building towards every hero in a showdown with one ultimate villain, Marvel’s spotty track record creates some question as to what we’re going to get with Thanos.  Will he be awesome and worth the “every Avenger needs to be on hand” hype?  Or will he just be a Macguffin of a villain?

While some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s foes have been pretty lacklustre, I feel like several have more than cut the mustard, hence this list to clarify things.  As a point of reference, this list comprises every “big bad” villain (or the biggest villains in cases of multiple foes) from each of the MCU films and each of its major TV series.  I could nitpick and add minor villains like henchmen or Garry Shandling’s Hydra-friendly senator, though for now we’ll just stick to the big headline enemies.  Some notes on my process…

* I’ve yet to watch the Iron Fist series, and I never saw the Edward Norton “Incredible Hulk” movie.  I don’t feel like I’m really missing out on either.
* Thanos doesn’t count since we haven’t really seen him in action yet.
* I’ll issue a blanker SPOILER ALERT for the list since obviously some of these villains don’t reveal themselves as villains until partway through the movies.  You shouldn’t be reading a list like this without at least a half-dozen Marvel films under your belt, duh!
* I guess this goes towards the SPOILER ALERT, but…I’m not counting Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin?  Should I?  I’m actually confused about that particular situation.
* Furthermore, some of these characters end up being heroes either later in the movie/TV season or in a later movie/TV season.  I’m kind of nitpicky about which ones I deem to be actual villains.  For instance, the Punisher is in opposition to Daredevil for much of that season, though I’m hard-pressed to really consider him a “villain.”

33. Ultron (James Spader), Avengers: Age Of Ultron
32. Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
31. Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), Guardians Of The Galaxy
30. Johann Fennhoff (Ralph Brown), Agent Carter
29. Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
28. Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), Luke Cage
27. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), Thor: The Dark World
26. Eli Morrow (Jose Zuniga), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
25. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Iron Man 2
24. Nebula (Karen Gillan), Guardians Of The Galaxy
23. Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), Ant-Man
22. John Garrett (Bill Paxton), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
21. Raina (Ruth Negga), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
20. Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
19. Aldrich Killian/Extremis/“The Mandarin” (Guy Pearce), Iron Man 3
18. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), Doctor Strange
17. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Iron Man 2
16. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Captain America: The First Avenger
15. Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Luke Cage
14. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Iron Man
13. Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Luke Cage
12. Whitney Frost/Madame Masque (Wynn Everett), Agent Carter
11. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Captain America: The Winter Soldier
10. Cal Johnson (Kyle MacLachlan), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
9. Ego The Living Planet (Kurt Russell), Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2
8. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Captain America: The Winter Soldier
7. The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Spider-Man: Homecoming
6. Grant Ward/Hive (Brett Dalton), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), Captain America: Civil War
4. Aida (Mallory Jansen), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor/The Avengers/Thor 2
2. Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), Daredevil
1. Kilgrave/Purple Man (David Tennant), Jessica Jones

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hooray For Friendliness

So I'm on the way home from work a few weeks ago and realize that I don't have any coins for the streetcar.  I pop into the nearest gas station to get some change, though the counter guy says he has no quarter, loonies OR twonies. This seemed like a blatant lie --- what kind of two-bit operation is this?  Actually, it doesn't even have two bits, so it's not even worthy of that low status.  Between a lack of coins and the ever-shifting rules about the bathroom key, you can never trust a gas station attendant, except for maybe that delightful Brent Butt.

Anyway, thwarted, I turned to the next person in line, a young woman in a University of Kentucky hat. (Not the most common piece of headgear in Toronto.)  She is able to make change for my fiver, except she's a quarter short.  Since I'm in a hurry, I tell her no problem and head out.

Fast-forward to a few minutes later, when I'm walking like a regular That Happy Cat towards the nearest streetcar stop.  I'm minding my own business when an SUV honks its horn and pulls up alongside me.  Instinctively, I put my hand over my pocket and reach for my mace.  Not the spray, but rather a giant iron spiked ball on a pole (it's a pain to hide under a jacket, let me tell you).  As I'm prepared to lay a medieval smackdown on this possible drive-by, who should it be behind the wheel but Kentucky Hat Girl.  She pulled over specifically to give me the final quarter.  I thanked her profusely and she drove away into the sunset, like a true hero.

This is just good samaritanism at its finest.   I was perfectly set to let that extra quarter go as a tip for providing me with change, but that didn't stop Kentucky Hat Girl.  Thumbs up to that stranger for the help, since my broke self needs every penny I can get.  Thumbs down, now that I realize it, to that gas station attendant -- he must've had a quarter after all since Kentucky Hat Girl got her change from the same place.  What the hell?!  He must go to Louisville.  I blame Rick Pitino.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Radiohead, "Man Of War"

Could've and should've been on OK Computer, but what song do you possibly remove from that masterpiece?

(Psst, the answer is 'Let Down,' an under-the-radar lousy song.) 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Count Update

Back on June 20, I blogged about the strange and, frankly, concerning abandonment of the Count's Twitter feed, which hadn't updated since hitting the "one thousand three hundred twenty-nine!" mark on May 22.


On July 6, when the rest of us were busy celebrating Frida Kahlo's birthday, the Count's, uh, account tweeted....

I mean, what a blockbuster.  The Count's countdown (or really, a countup, which should totally be a real word) has faithfully continued every day since, with sometimes even two tweets per day. 

We can all rest easy, since it appears as though the Count is indeed still with us and wasn't staked by Buffy The Twitter Slayer.  But why the dormant 44 days?  My first thought was that it referred to Sesame Street's history, though apparently the show has been on the air for 47 seasons, not merely 44.  My next thought was that it was a reference to ruthenium's atomic number of 44, and then I stopped guessing since that was clearly it.  Vampires love ruthenium!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hot! Live! Music!

Radiohead, "Reckoner"
This actually might be my favourite song of theirs, despite my ranking it only third on my list of the best Radiohead songs ever.  What do I know, I’m an idiot.

Moral Panic, "I Don’t Want To Know You No More"
This is kind of a rarity for H!L!M! since I actually know someone in this band.  The violinist is an old friend of mine from university.  It comes as news to me that she plays violin, so we're perhaps not *that* close but...uh, we're Facebook friends?  And we once attended a Sarah Harmer concert together, so that's an unbreakable bond!  Anyway, this is a nice song, kind of vaguely Blue Rodeo with some traces of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, which is a little ironic since "wish you were here" and "I don't want to know you no more" are pretty separate sentiments.

U2, "Bad"

I’m still on a U2 concert high, so here’s one of their million great live performances of Bad.  This one with a random Candle In The Wind snippet!  I enjoy how Bono keeps jerking around the fans during the sing-along portion…they all really wanted to break into the “I’m wiiiiiiiiiiide awake” part but Bono just wouldn’t allow it!

Postmodern Jukebox and Thia Megia, "Feel Good Inc."

In honour of a friend who recently saw Gorillaz in concert and said they put on a great show, here’s…uh, not Gorillaz.  If PMJ really wanted to take this cover to the next level, they would’ve made a video of 1940’s Disney animation-style cartoon characters singing the song.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Simpsons Did It

"Congratulations, Mr. Simpson!  This invention of yours has made us all rich, especially you.  It's simple yet ingenious, and it fits right in the palm of your hand.  Every person in America now owns one of these, and in many cases, three or four!"

Wait, did the Simpsons see the fidget spinner coming?!  This is taking the "Simpsons predictions" things to an even eerier level...

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Canada's Birthday

Happy Canada Day!  A holiday!  Fireworks!  A giant rubber duck in Toronto's harbourfront for some reason!


Friday, June 30, 2017

Liam vs. Liam

Scenario: Liam Neeson's character from The Grey vs. Neeson's character in Taken.

Taken/Liam believes that Grey/Liam has kidnapped his daughter, Grey/Liam is told that he will survive if he kills Taken/Liam. The battle takes place in the forest at 0 degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit, for my American readers). Neither man is armed, but they are allowed to use whatever they can find as a weapon, be it a rock, stick, snowball, etc. Who wins?

Winner faces the winner of the other semi-final, between Aslan and Qui-Gon Jinn. I probably should've made the brackets of the Liam Neeson Character Tournament a bit more even.  I mean, Rob Roy vs. The Guy From Love Actually seems pretty one-sided.

Is this post a glorified excuse to link to Neeson's appearance on Life's Too Short once again?  Yes.  Yes it is.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

National Sunglasses Day

Apparently today is #NationalSunglassesDay, which gives me an excuse for the laziest of all blogger activites, re-posting old material!  Here are two classics (your mileage may vary) from 2014....


March 2014

If I ever got to meet a genie, all-knowing entity or some kind of deity, I obviously would stick to mostly deep questions (meaning of life, is there extraterrestrial life, etc.) and I wouldn't go all "Homer meets the Kwik-E-Mart president."  That said, if I got the opportunity for more than, say, a half-dozen questions, I'm pretty sure the last one on the list would be asking this all-knowing being whatever the hell happened to my giant fly sunglasses.

If you knew me between the years 1998-2007(ish), you probably saw me wearing these oversized jet-black sunglasses with those thick lens at least once.  If you didn't know me then, imagine the kind of glasses that either a very old woman or a Kardashian might wear.  (The picture at the top of the post is a pretty close visual approximation.)

Now, I cited old women and Kardashians, but my real inspiration for these shades was Bono.  My U2 fandom really took hold in 1997 and, upon becoming obsessed with the band, I took to wearing these sunglasses as a tribute to Bono's "Fly" character that he adopted for the ZooTV tour and really, for basically all of 1991-93.  I'm not going to lie, he probably pulled them off better than a prematurely-balding 17-year-old did, but that's just a matter of taste and opinion.

Now admittedly, I went a little overboard with these things in 1998-99.  I may or may not have (so, did) worn these things all the time at school, even during most classes.  This was when I learned a valuable lesson --- if you're a good student, high school teachers will get you get away with basically anything.  Even the hard-ass teachers who cracked down on anyone else for even wearing a hat in class could've seen me walk into the room with a live bird on my head and just gone, "meh, Mark hands in his stuff on time, whatever."  I wore these shades so often that, when running for student council that year, I used two giant bug-eye lenses as my campaign logo.  In a possibly-related story, I badly lost that election, hearing through the grapevine that I finished fourth out of four candidates.  On the one hand, my three opponents were arguably the three most popular kids in school.  On the other, "I wear sunglasses all the time!" isn't exactly a great campaign platform, so the electorate spoke wisely.

Anyway, I greatly dialed back the sunglass-wearing and from then on, I just wore these shades when (y'know) it was sunny out, like a normal person.  I got years of use out of those glasses and that's when the mystery deepens.

Between August-October 2007, I took a selfie wearing those shades and a toque* on my laptop camera.  I'm able to pinpoint those specific dates since the picture was taken at the place I was subletting in Toronto at the time.  After that timeframe, however, I have no idea what happened to my beloved fly shades.

* = the toque, I should add, was specifically bought because it resembles the tight-knit caps worn by the Edge.  I still have that toque to this day.  What's with me dressing like the members of U2?  

It's very weird since, as noted, I still wore those things all the time, though I'd also branched out and had about three other pairs of (normal, non-enormous lensed) sunglasses that I kept in a rotation.  So it's possible that my fly shades just got lost in the shuffle of packing my stuff to head back to London in November 2007, or I still had them during the winter of 2007-08 and I lost them then, or perhaps one of my friends simply got sick to death of those stupid-looking glasses and stole them in a fit of pique.  OR, as is more likely, one of my fashionista friends stole them out of jealousy since they were just beyond stylish.  It's annoying to not have a specific date locked down as to when I last had the damn things, since it really widens my search parameters.  They could be in any part of southern Ontario that borders the 403, really.

In the years since, I've looked for other shades that can fill the giant, bug-lensed hole in my heart but it's no use.  I haven't found any that are just right.  Some have lenses that are too thin, or too properly circular as opposed to bugged out.  Some have earpieces that are also too thin.  The biggest problem, I've found, is that most earpieces have some kind of goofy design on them whereas I'm looking for just jet-black.  Now, I'm just dozens of you will read this post and surprise me with fly-style glasses for my next birthday but don't bother.  I'm very picky about the style I want.  I'll probably just look at your gift and throw it on the ground in a huff, a la Veruca Salt, since it's just not specifically what I want.

Yes, I realize the irony of wearing sunglasses in the first place to emulate Bono and now I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

If you have any information as to the whereabouts of my beloved sunglasses, call my 24-hour hotline at 555-MARKFLYSHADES.  I realize that this is longer than the usual amount of digits in a phone number, but I made a special deal with the phone company.  The president of Bell once lost a novelty t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon aardvark saying "Aardvark Always Pays Off!" and its loss haunts him to this very day, so my situation was met with a lot of sympathy within the telephone industry.


July, 2014

It never hurts to talk about one's problem.  It truly could've been an act of karma that, just a few months after I break down and write about my quixotic search for a pair of fly-esque sunglasses to match a pair I lost years ago, that my search finally came to an end.

The place: Canadian Tire.  Just mentioning the name fills me with a weird sense of nostalgic national pride, plus my nose is suddenly filled with the smell of rubber.  I went into my local CT in order to check out their watch inventory (my old watch met its end when I accidentally dropped it down a flight of stairs).  I'll take a small sidebar here to note that I'm in that weird middle ground between "not wanting to spend any significant money on a watch since they're strictly a utilitarian piece of equipment" and "having a watch whatsoever, since you can always check the time on your phone."  Ergo, my interest in Canadian Tire's wide array of watches for $20 or less. 

Nothing caught my eye on this day, however, not to mention the fact that I was a bit cramped for time during my visit and (had I bought a watch) didn't have time for an obligatory trip to the jewelry store to get the battery installed.  What I did have time for, however, was the obligatory browse of the sunglass rack on the fleeting, off-chance that….

…OH MY GOOD LORD.  THEY EXIST.  The glasses had frames that weren't 'quite' as outlandishly large as I'd hoped, and the inside of the lens were actually a shade of metallic pink.  Still…large lenses, black tinted, and black plastic ear wraps that were just plain black without any goofy design on them.  This was the 95% solution, and frankly, who isn't satisfied with 95 percent?  The makers of Ivory soap?  Get over yourselves, people.  I'll take a ninety-five any day of the week.

So now I'm strutting around town with my fly sunglasses on, looking like the single coolest human being walking the face of the earth.  You've probably seen me around town --- my presence will be alerted by a slight breeze, and you'll turn your head and literally be struck backwards by the tornado of style that's coming your way.  "Holy smoke, does he even HAVE eyes?  I can't see them!  Whoaaa!", you'll excitedly yelp, high-fiving either your buddies or maybe some passersby if you happen to be a friendless degenerate.  Then you'll go home and write a post about seeing me on your blog, give it a tag called 'Brushes With Greatness,' hesitate for a moment since that tag sounds vaguely douchey, then shrug and do it anyways since my sunglasses were just that outstanding. 

The moral of the story is to never ever give up hope, kids.  You never know when you'll find something wonderful to fill a seemingly un-fillable hole in your life.  I'd like to think that my old glasses, wherever they may be, are happy that I've moved on with a new eyemate.  My future is literally so bright, I have to wear these shades.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

U2's U-Shaped Concert

I was only five years old when The Joshua Tree was released, and still roughly a decade away from U2 fandom.  So, it was fun to see the band revisit their most popular album 30 years after its release by doing two things the band never does — tour an old album rather than a new release, and play an entire album from start to finish.  Several bands have been doing the ‘play the entire record’ gimmick in recent years, and I’ve actually seen this in person myself, when Pearl Jam made the odd decision to play Binaural front-to-back when I saw them last year.  It’s actually quite rare that U2 even plays an entire album at ANY point in their live history.  Before this tour, Boy was the only U2 album that had ever had all of its tracks played in full during a live show.

So the stage was set last night in Toronto.  The players!

* Your humble narrator, seeing his astonishing eighth U2 concert!

* My buddy Trev, seeing his fifth U2 concert (all with me), despite the fact that he isn’t really that huge a fan of the band!  What a true concert compadre!  He keeps going despite the fact that he has never heard All I Want Is You, his favourite U2 song, played during any of these shows.  Wait, maybe that’s WHY he keeps going.  Once they finally play it when he’s in attendance, he’ll just leave the building immediately.

* My buddy Eric, seeing his second U2 concert!  Eric joined Trev and I for a Vertigo Tour show in 2005 and really enjoyed it despite a near-total lack of knowledge about the band and their music.  (Sample question after the show: “I liked that Vertigo song, is that one of their hits?”)  Eric was supposed to join us again in 2009 but broke his leg playing rec league baseball two weeks before the concert, and then in 2015, someone (uh, named Clark, or Park or something) was only able to get single tickets to two Innocence & Experience shows.  So Eric was making his triumphant return to seeing U2 in concert, 12 years later, and this time actually knew five or six of the numbers on the setlist.  Progress!

* Joanne, seeing her second U2 concert!  The little sister I never had, to the point where I was actually a bridesmaid (you read that right) at her wedding.  This was also the first time Jo and I had seen a U2 show together, as *someone* (that same Clark/Park guy) got her tickets to a concert in 2009 but she couldn’t attend due to a last-minute pHd crunch.  Boo to higher learning!

* Greg, seeing his very first U2 concert!  Greg is like a brother, except for the fact that he’s married to Joanne, so having a brother and sister marry each other is pretty weird.  Greg rated his first U2 experience as “really good,” so yet another satisfied customer.

* Marianne, seeing her third U2 concert!  Marianne is Joanne’s actual sister, which makes her my step-little sister?  Though Marianne is older than me, so step-bigger sister?  This analogy is falling apart.  Anyway, during the concert, I learned that the combination of Joanne and Marianne screaming at the same time creates a noise so piercing that I honestly thought there was a feedback issue in the stadium’s sound system.  Greg was next to them and now may be deaf in his left ear.

We took in the show from the upper levels of Rogers Centre on a hot and muggy day in Toronto, and I can’t tell you how relieved we were when the roof began to open up about 40 minutes before showtime.  Rain earlier in the day gave way to clear skies at night, so obviously someone in stadium services or with the band themselves made the correct call to let the fans enjoy U2 on a lovely summer’s evening.

The stage was pretty bare-bones, reflecting their old 1987 stage, just souped-up for modern times by having the big backdrop be a video screen rather than….well, just a backdrop.  There was a catwalk in the shape of a Joshua tree that stretched out into the crowd, and U2 played their first four songs of the night on that B-stage before moving back onto the main stage to kick off the full-album segment.  There was also a staple Joshua Tree image on the screen that, weirdly, wasn’t sized properly.  The top third was above the actual screen, so either the tree should’ve been properly done to scale or the screen should’ve just been larger.  Maybe it was a metaphor for the show, as you’ll see later.

Here’s the full setlist…

*Sunday Bloody Sunday….an unconventional opener choice but a strong one.  Larry Mullen came out on stage by himself to applause and started playing the song’s legendary drum intro, followed by Edge strolling out playing the guitar riff, then Bono entering with the opening vocal, and then Adam Clayton trailing behind adding in the bass.  Great gimmick to kick off a show! 
*New Year’s Day
*Bad….with a large portion of “Suzanne,” as a tribute to Leonard Cohen
*Where The Streets Have No Name
*I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
*With Or Without You
*Bullet The Blue Sky
*Running To Stand Still
*Red Hill Mining Town
….this was the Joshua Tree track that U2 had never played live even once prior to this tour.  Ironically, the band originally had it earmarked as their first single from the album (!) except Bono’s voice couldn’t take singing it on a nightly basis.  This song faded into obscurity while WOWY ended up as one of U2’s most iconic hits.  Wacky!
*In God’s Country
*Trip Through Your Wires
*One Tree Hill
….one of the real highlights of the concert, just an absolute fireball of an energetic song.  Bono even ditched the glasses and donned his old Joshua Tree hat, to really recapture the 1987 vibe.
*Mothers Of The Disappeared
(((encore break)))
*Miss Sarajevo
*Beautiful Day
….rainbow imagery on the screen and slightly reworked with a larger theme of inclusiveness in a nod to both Canada as a nation of acceptance and for Toronto’s Pride weekend
….rebranded for this tour as an ode to influential women throughout history, and also Lena Dunham for some reason.
*I Will Follow

U2 had been playing a new track (The Little Things That Give You Away) at some of the earlier shows on this tour as, interestingly, the closing number.  Sort of a coming attraction for the band’s “upcoming” album.  I use the quote marks since who the hell knows when U2 will actually release this, given their rep for delaying and/or shelving records entirely, BUT the new Songs Of Experience disc is allegedly coming in December.

Rather than the coming attraction of the new song, U2 has seemingly decided to make this a straight greatest-hits set.  It is probably a wise decision given the one flaw in this whole Joshua Tree tribute idea — nobody really knows the back half of the album.

Now, TJT is one of the best albums of all time, hands-down.  As a record, the tracklist flows very well.  In a live setting, however, there’s a problem since the album is so enormously front-loaded.  I mean, when you have arguably U2’s three biggest as the record’s first three tracks, then the next two best-known Joshua Tree songs fourth and fifth in the order, it leaves a pretty long stretch of lesser-known material right in the middle of the show.

The result was something I’d never seen before at a U2 concert: an extended dead period.  The crowd was standing and rabid for the first seven songs, all classics.  We stayed jazzed through BTBS, since how could you not.  Then, during Running To Stand Still, you could actually see the waves of people gradually starting to sit down around the stadium and by RHMT it was nothing but butts in seats.  That continued all the way through Miss Sarajevo* until Beautiful Day kicked in, and then you could see the masses getting back to their feet and staying there through the hit-strewn encore of high-energy songs.

* = I’d question the placement of another lesser-known song right after the Joshua Tree back half, though I’m not sure where else you can fit it into the setlist.  It certainly can’t be removed entirely, since as the song’s video footage indicated, U2 is making a point of highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis with this performance.

Don’t get me wrong, the JT back half is a strong bunch of songs and they were performed well, with Exit being a particular highlight.  It’s just that U2 left themselves little room for flexibility by committing themselves to play the entire record in order, when in a perfect world, they’d mix and match things to create a better flow for the evening.  When touring a new album, naturally the band would mix the new stuff in amongst the older stuff, not just play something like 5-6 new songs all in a row.  (The one exception was when they kicked off the old Zoo TV tour with something like eight Achtung Baby songs, but those songs all ruled, so it’s a push.) 

Since the tour is almost half over, it’s probably too late to fix this issue.  The only solution I can see would be to play all 11 Joshua Tree songs, but not in the actual order.  Start with WTSHNN, then move into the faster-paced numbers and Still Haven’t Found, then go into the “heart of darkness” part of the set that U2 always likes in their concerts by putting Bullet and Exit back-to-back, following that up with RTSS or One Tree Hill for a bit of hope, then WOWY, then Mothers to end the album proper.  This creates a bit more natural flow and it spaces the big hits throughout the 11 tracks, rather than having them all kick off the set.

With the staid middle portion of the show in mind, it was a rare U2 show that wasn’t a total hit for me.  As such, I’d have to rank it no better than second-last of the eight concerts I’d seen.  (Last place is my first-ever U2 concert, a Toronto show during the Elevation Tour, which was still a great experience but it has paled in comparison to my other times seeing them.)  It was a great idea for a tour that maybe required a bit more planning, like that video screen that didn’t quite fit the entire tree.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Vampire Diar...Tweets

JULY 14 UPDATE: breaking news!

The Count from Sesame Street has an official Twitter account (doesn't everyone) that has a very characteristic gimmick.  Once or twice per day, the account simply counts a different number in sequence.  For example...

This has been going on since the feed's inception, as far as I can tell.  May 22 of this year seemed like a day just like any other...

....except this was the last tweet.  After almost a full month, the feed is still silent.

It begs the question, did something happen to the Count?!  Did he accidentally walk into the sun and get vaporized?  Did his bloodlust suddenly overcome even his love of counting and he, like, murdered Ernie or something?  Was the Count finally revealed as the true cause of Mr. Hooper's death all those years ago, and Sesame Street just leveled the audience with a massive plot twist in its season finale?  I'm not sure I'm prepared for next season's plotline of Big Bird, Snuffy and a Muppet-ized version of Sarah Michelle Gellar out for revenge against Countgelus.

I won't lie, I looked up "1329" on Wikipedia just to see if that was the year Vlad The Impaler died or something, and this was all just some very clever and literate reference from whomever maintains the Twitter feed.  No corresponding historical reference could be found, however.  What was I thinking, "whomever maintains the feed."  It's clearly run by the Count himself!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

Scene: A few years ago, my parents' house. I stroll into the living room to find my father watching the end of "Taken."

Me: Hey Dad, if I was kidnapped by an Eastern European prostitution ring, would you come and rescue me?

Dad: Sure!  Any excuse to go to Paris!


On that note, Happy Father's Day, Dad! Other than not flying to Paris to kill dozens of armed thugs, you've always been there for me.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Cruise Ranking

The Ringer, in their infinite wisdom, published a worst-to-best ranking of Tom Cruise’s movies that just seemed really off-base to me.  Some people might argue that since I’ve seen only around half of Cruise’s movies, I’m in no better position to make a ranking.  Some of those same people might argue that I’m not even really a fan of Cruise, so what business do I have in judging his filmography.  Those people can shut up!

24. Vanilla Sky
23. Cocktail
22. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

21. The Firm
20. Days Of Thunder
19. War Of The Worlds
18. Valkyrie
17. Eyes Wide Shut
16. Austin Powers In Goldmember

15. Mission Impossible
14. The Last Samurai
13. Mission Impossible 2 (editor’s note: this movie is admittedly bad but it’s a guilty pleasure, as one of my all-time favourite “watching a bad movie with friends and just ripping it apart” experiences)
12. Jack Reacher
11. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

10. The Color Of Money
9. Jerry Maguire
8. Tropic Thunder
7. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
6. Rain Man

5. A Few Good Men
4. Collateral
3. Minority Report
2. Magnolia
1. Edge Of Tomorrow

If the MTV Movie Awards segment featuring Cruise as himself and Ben Stiller as "Tom Crooze" counts, it is definitely in that 'legitimately great' bracket.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trailer On The Orient Express

As a big Agatha Christie fan, I am naturally 100% seeing this film, since it’ll be cool to see a modern version of this classic mystery.  Maybe I’m overreacting to the ‘words on the screen’ aesthetic, but it seems like MOTOE may have a bit of a Sherlock-esque vibe to it.  (Let’s hope it’s more the first season of Sherlock than S4.)  The cast is also appropriately star-studded, if obviously lacking in comparison to the 1974 adaptation — no shame there, as man alive, look at that list of names!  Eleven former Oscar nominees?!  Stand back! 

In fact, this new version isn’t too shabby with six Oscar nominees in the cast.  I admit, I was a little annoyed at the way the credits were presented until I realized they were simply in alphabetical order.  My feeling was that poor Michelle Pfeiffer was being shafted by being lumped in with ‘the others’ while the five bigger names were on the first screen.  I felt Branagh should’ve gone onto the second screen as a sign of good faith, since he was the director of the film anyway and already had extra stroke.

As you can tell, I’m always looking for ways to criticize Kenneth Branagh since he, to put it bluntly, is not a favourite of mine.  For a guy with such a distinguished reputation, I find him to be an incredible ham and an incredibly broad actor.  His only good roles, in my opinion, are the ones that naturally play into that broadness (such as Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter, or as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing).  Branagh was also pretty excellent in his adaptation of “Hamlet,” a legitimately great film, though even in that case, he kind of broadened Hamlet out a little bit.

Now, it’s worth noting that Branagh directed Hamlet and Much Ado himself, and his truly bad performances* all came in movies directed by other people.  I’m not sure what this says about Mr. Branagh…is he too nice to turn down instruction from other directors?  Does he get so focused on the filmmaking process when directing that it actually helps his performance by muting his naturally hammy instincts?  Or maybe he’s actually a GOOD actor and I’m just cherry-picking a few bad roles?  Nah, that couldn’t be it.

* 1. his godawful Woody Allen impersonation in Celebrity
2. his half-assed Olivier impression in My Week With Marilyn that somehow earned him an Oscar nomination
3. his terribly broad version of Iago in the Oliver Parker “Othello” adaptation that ruined one of the greatest villains in literary history and must have been an inspiration for Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
4. his villain in Wild Wild West, to which even Jesse Eisenberg would’ve been like, “hmm, he played that a little over the top”

The irony is, I actually like just about every movie Branagh has directed, so I have pretty high hopes for Orient Express.  I’ll refrain from actually discussing the ending even though I’m pretty sure most learned people know it, though for modern (or just dumber) audiences that never read the novel, I’m interested in seeing what the reaction will be to the somewhat unique nature of the mystery’s solution.

Oh, one more beef about the credits.  They listed ten people but couldn’t find room for Olivia Colman?!  Nonsense.  One blog post-in-the-making is simply a listing of my favourite actors, and I recently realized that Colman is absolutely deserving of a spot on the list.  Comedy, drama, she can do it all.  It’s awesome that this woman who began her career as “token woman in Mitchell & Webb sketches” has risen to such prominence.  Give her her due, Branagh!  (Or whoever made the trailer…again, maybe I’m quick to judge him.)  While we’re at it, find credit space for Lucy Boynton, who is also in this movie and came off as a capital-S Star in Sing Street.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Corn Pops Forever

I'm at the store the other day buying cereal* and I came across a box of Corn Pops that expires in October…on my birthday.

Now, I bought the cereal in question because Corn Pops are delicious, but also because I'm vaguely afraid this cereal could be tied to me in some kind of portrait of Dorian Gray-esque manner.  Like, for every Pop that's eaten, that's one step closer to my end of days.  But now that I'm in possession of the box and can control the ebb and flow (eat and flow?) of the contents, I'm now virtually immortal.

This whole scenario was actually a deleted scene from Highlander.  The director cut the scene since having Chris Lambert hoarding boxes of cereal somewhat detracted from the whole sword fights-and-beheading theme.  Still would've done less damage to the franchise than Highlander 2, however.

* = and other groceries, though my diet is "single guy sad" enough that a cereal-specific trip to Shoppers Drug Mart wouldn't be out of the question

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Name O' The Movie

My friend Dave has a theory that every movie should include a character saying the film's title three times, in increasingly panicked fashion.  For instance, in Magnolia, you'd have a tight closeup of, say, Tom Cruise going

(with dawning comprehension) "Magnolia."
(with growing dread) "Magnolia!"
(with a mighty bellow) "MAGNOLIAAAAAAA!"

Anyway, this video is one-third as good as that idea.

Title Drops from Roman Holiday on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Friendly Neighbourhood

I was walking downtown last weekend when I saw a motorcycle cut off an SUV, leading to the SUV driver opening his window and yelling angrily at the cyclist.  Suddenly, a guy dressed in a full Spider-Man costume rolls down the other lane on a skateboard, then yells "getting pretty road-ragey, buddy!" The SUV driver is left dumbfounded and nearby pedestrians (myself included) are openly laughing out loud.

I prefer to think that was the actual Spider-Man.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Survivor Ratings: Sarah

It’s become a running gag in Survivor that the seasons with casts at last half-comprised of returning players are always won by players with middling results in their previous try.*  Sure enough, we add to that legacy with a blah winner in Sarah Lacina winning a blah season overall, minus the wonderful five added chapters in The Book Of Sandra.  Despite my general boredom with Sarah as a Survivor character, she inarguably played a strong game under unusual circumstances, so let’s break down her victory. 

* = the exception, of course, being Sandra’s awesome win in Heroes vs. Villains.  Ah, Queen Sandra.  I was hoping against hope that she could somehow pull out another victory this year, and the crazy part is, she did extraordinarily well.  She had a giant target on her back as the only two-time winner, she had no luck in tribe shuffles….and yet Sandra managed to make it through FOUR tribal councils before even getting a vote.  That is just scary good.  If she’d been shuffled into even a slightly stronger tribe, she gets to make at least the merge and then we’re guaranteed the instant joy that would’ve been Sandra on a jury.  It isn’t any coincidence as soon as Sandra was eliminated, the season took a sharp downturn into ugliness.

How She Won: In short, she was the cop that “played like a criminal,” which is the kind of TV-friendly tagline that Jeff Probst and company just adore.  I can appreciate that Sarah obviously had some compunctions about coming off as scheming or distrustful on national television when her entire profession is built around trust and honesty, but at the end of the day, it’s Survivor.  It’s a game.  “There’s no villain in Monopoly,” as Jon Penner would say.  It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to make that mental leap, but to Sarah’s credit, it was all systems go once she adopted her “criminal” mentality.

As I’ve written before, luck is a gigantic part of every Survivor win, and this was particularly true in a season loaded (or, really, overloaded) with tribe swaps, hidden idols, hidden advantages and goofy twists to try and justify the “Game Changers” tagline.*  It is some great karmic justice that so many of the producers’ favourite characters — Malcolm, Sandra, Michaela and especially Cirie —- were eliminated by all of these twists, and hopefully this convinces the show to dial it back a few notches.  Any so-called all-star season that ends with the who-cares final three of Sarah, Brad Culpepper and Troyzan would hopefully result in some heads rolling in the production offices.   

* = Have we seen the end of the days when a season is just called Survivor: Location?  Given the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers subtitle for next year, the answer appears to be yes.

Sarah’s biggest achievement was benefitting from all of these twists.  She didn’t even attend tribal council until the sixth vote, and then she was part of two easy calls in eliminating Sandra and Varner.  She was the one that noticed the secret advantage on the reward challenge platform that Michaela ignored, leading to Sarah getting the vote steal and using it properly to eliminate (ironically) Michaela herself.  She was the one who played Sierra so badly that Sierra gave SARAH the legacy idol instead of Brad, her BFF throughout the game, even though Sarah orchestrated Sierra’s elimination specifically to get that idol. 

The legacy idol allowed Sarah to avoid her only direct brush with elimination, as in the infamous tribal council when Cirie was eliminated, Sarah received three votes and would’ve gone home.  And then that led to Sarah’s one true biggest “lucky” break when things were totally out of her hands, as Brad inexplicably decided that Tai was a bigger threat in a final three than Sarah.  Tai!  The guy who’d already crapped the bed in a final three in S32!  The guy whose game nobody respected since he was such a flip-flopper.  I guess Culpepper’s logic was that Tai was more well-liked than Sarah, but while I don’t think Sarah is getting Xmas cards from too many of the jurors, they still clearly thought she brought more to the table than Tai.  Note to self: if I ever get arrested and brought to trial while visiting the greater Tampa Bay area, DO NOT hire Brad Culpepper as my attorney.

Skill set: As mentioned, Sarah did a good job of adapting to all the twists and using them to her advantage.  I’ll also make particular mention of her final tribal council speech, which goes on the short list of most memorable defenses of their game by any winner.  Sarah instantly defused some bad vibes that might’ve been coming her way by explaining her “play like a criminal” act as similar to going undercover to gain trust.  That was outstanding.  It was, pardon the pun, a Get Out Of Jail Free card for her entire game.  I mean, one doesn’t need a great speech when your opponents are Troyzan and Brad “Lionel Hutz” Culpepper, but still, Sarah perfectly owned her actions.  It was a little Heidik-esque in the sense that Sarah couldn’t help but totally burn some people (Sierra, Debbie) and thus they weren’t going to vote for her regardless, and of course Ozzy would totally vicariously vote for the guy who won five challenges as the winner….but ultimately, Sarah made sure that she burned less people than she sent to the jury with relatively good feelings towards her.  Or, at least, better feelings than were felt towards Troyzan and Brad.

Could She Do It Again?: Ironically, now that Sarah has “played like a criminal,” I feel she’s made herself a much bigger target in a hypothetical return season.  We saw how quickly her pal Tony got himself shellacked this season, by comparison.  It’s hard to say if she’d be able to avoid as many problems in her third time as she did in her third time, as we’ve still never really seen how Sarah directly reacts to a situation not going her way.  (She was blindsided in one-off fashion in S28, remember.)

I’m tempted to put her slightly higher than a mid-tier of winners, though as a viewer, I honestly didn’t find her particularly interesting.  She goes into that batch of winners like Tyson, Mike, Michele, Cochran, Todd, etc. whose victory I can respect but I don’t really want to see them on my TV again.  Am I still bitter about Sandra and Cirie getting eliminated amidst a particularly poorly-edited season of Survivor?  Noooooooooooo