Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hot! Live! Music!

Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"
This was from 42 years ago (!) and yet somehow the Boss is as good in concert now as he was then.  I could listen to this song on a loop forever.

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, "Motion Picture Soundtrack"
A distinctly different version of the song we all know and love, performed six years before the track showed up on the Kid A album.  It may be because I'm simply more used to the original...wait, if this is from 1995, isn't THIS the "original"?  Okay, it may be because I'm simply more used to the Kid A version, but I prefer "I think you're crazy" to "I think I'm crazy."  Has a nicer lyrical flow.

Stars, "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead"
Canadian content!  Kudos to my old university radio co-host Maggie for introducing me to Stars years ago.  Now, it's not like I've actually ever really looked up any more of their music in the decade-plus since but...uh...I've forgotten my point.  But this album is excellent!

Prince, "Dolphin/Heroes/I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man/Use Me/How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore"
Keeping with this post's theme of cool stripped-down versions of great songs, here's a medley from one of Prince's last concerts.  Among the many reasons why Prince was an impossibly good live performer was his ability to call upon not just the literally hundreds of songs he wrote and produced over the years, but also countless covers, from both a Bowie megahit to a Bill Withers megahit-in-its-day.  Going to a Prince show was like a musical history lesson. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover

1. Slip out the back, Jack

2. Make a new plan, Stan

3. Hop on the bus, Gus

4. Drop off the key, Lee

5. Train

6. Pogo stick

7. Jump out a window

8. Dirigible

9. Learn the guitar chords to "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," perform the song in front of your lover, leave

10. Your death

11. Their death

12. Faking your death

13. Faking their death….wait a second, that makes no sense

14. Throwing a smoke grenade to mask your departure, then running away

15. Addendum to #14, yell “it’s the rapture!” and then throw the smoke grenade and run away (better alibi)

16. Intra-dimensional wormhole

17. Actual wormhole, if you can fit

18. Car

19. Bicycle

20. Motorcycle

21. Dogsled

22. A flying luckdragon, like in The Neverending Story

23. Dragon

24. Golf cart

25. Getting “I think we should see other people” tattooed across your chest

26. Kayak

27. Joining the Peace Corps, a la Tom Hanks in "Volunteers"

28. Going off to shoot "Volunteers," meeting Rita Wilson and subsequently ending your first marriage, a la Tom Hanks.

29. Canoe

30. Swimming

31. Walking

32. A brisk jog

33. Running

34. Luge

35. Hot air balloon

36. Inflating a bunch of balloons to make your house float away, like the old man in “Up.”  (His wife used method #11)

37. Plane

38. Helicopter

39. Tank

40. Garbage truck

41. Announce you’re going out for cigarettes, then hope you reach the door before your partner finishes saying “wait, but you don’t smoke…”

42. Spacecraft

43. Big Wheels

44. An open and honest conversation about the relationship's problems and how it might be better for all parties if you both just called it quits

45. Jetpack

46. Subtly leaving seven “what to do if you have herpes” pamphlets around the apartment

47. Sailboat

48. Submarine

49. Skateboard

50. Using any of the previous 49 choices, returning and saying, "Ha ha, just kidding, sweetie!" and then one of the other 48 remaining choices.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Oscar Nomination Reactions

Since I’m a cool guy who set his alarm to be up for the announcement of the Oscar nominations, some quick thoughts…

* In a year where La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea dominated the Oscar buzz, I’m a little surprised to see nine nominees in the Best Picture category.  I sort of thought that, given the statistical process involved in the Academy’s voting, there might just be seven or maybe only six nominees (the BP field can have anywhere between 5-10 films).  Consider that in 2014, you had Birdman and Boyhood as the heavy favourites, and that year only yielded eight nominees, though then again, 2014 was one of the worst Best Picture fields in recent memory.

Here you have nine movies, and pleasantly, most of them are very good.  Hacksaw Ridge is the only weak link, and even it really picked up its second half, once it involved less of Andrew Garfield’s terrible West Virginia accent.  In a related note, a Best Actor nomination for that performance?  Really?

* Based on the Oscar bellwether categories of Best Director and Best Editing, it seems like “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Arrival” are the only possible dark horse candidates to upset La La Land or Moonlight.  Really, LLL seems like the giant favourite at this point (14 nominations?!) with Moonlight as the rather longshot of a second choice.  Since ManchesterBTS didn’t get an editing nomination, I’m eliminating it from Best Picture candidacy.   

This is just anecdotal evidence, but in the past week I’ve had two different close friends text me saying that they finally saw LLL and (to be generous) didn’t see what all the fuss was about.  Is there room for a Stone/Gosling backlash?  I’m always in favour of Best Picture winners that break the Academy’s mould, plus I think Moonlight is the better movie of the two, so I’d be cool with an upset.  Could the Academy go Spotlight and then Moonlight in consecutive years?  Is there a movie called, like, Flashlight coming out next year that I can bet on as the 2017 Best Picture winner?  Is Sylvester Stallone kicking himself for releasing ‘Daylight’ 21 years too early?

* First-time Oscar nominees: Garfield!  (Sigh)  Isabelle Huppert!  (Probably overdue)  Ruth Negga!  (Something of a surprise nominee, especially for anyone who knows her only as overacting villain Raina the Inhuman on ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’)  Mahershala Ali!  (Well deserved!)  Lucas Hedges!  (Well deserved!)  Dev Patel!  (Kind of category fraud, but c’est la vie)  Naomie Harris!  (Moneypenny herself!)  Having only seven first-timers out of 20 acting nominees is not a large number, though it’s worth noting that six of the other nominees are only getting their second career nomination, so it’s still somewhat of a fresh field. 

* Among the remaining seven old hats at the nominee process, you have the oldest hat of them all with Meryl Streep making it an even 20 Oscar nominations.  Denzel Washington and Jeff Bridges now have seven each, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman each have four, and Viola Davis/Natalie Portman each have three.  So this year, it only takes the *four* next most oft-nominated actors to top Streep’s number.  You’re slipping, Meryl!

* Given that the Academy seemed to love “Arrival,” the most inexplicable snub of the year was Amy Adams not getting a Best Actress nomination.  It’s weird that you can love everything about a film yet not recognize the actress who carries the entire thing.  While we’re on the heels of the multiple-nominee paragraph, it’s worth noting that this would have been Amy Adams’ SIXTH career Oscar nomination.  I mean, I like Amy Adams and everything, but even I’m a little shocked at that stat.  (And you can argue she should have six already had she been nominated for “Enchanted.”)  Dumping Jim Halpert during the Dunder-Mifflin booze cruise really turned her life around.

* Other notable snubs included….Annette Bening for “20th Century Women,” which was a fantastic movie….Hugh Grant for “Florence Foster Jenkins,” who delivered a fine performance but it would’ve been major category fraud if he’d been in Supporting Actor as intended….Joel Edgerton for “Loving,” since if Negga got in, you figure Edgerton must’ve also been pretty close….Janelle Monae for “Hidden Figures,” and you wonder if co-star Octavia Spencer got the nod on more ballots since she’s the more familiar name….Taraji P. Henson, as long as we’re talking “Hidden Figures” snubs….Tom Hanks for “Sully,” and get a load of this, do you realize Hanks hasn’t had an Oscar nomination since 2000?  Do Academy voters just take him for granted by this point?……Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” which was almost shut out entirely save for a well-earned Cinematography nomination.  Ironically, if Garfield had gotten his Best Actor nom for this movie, I wouldn’t have complained.

* Of the 20 acting nominees, the only one that strikes me as an outright silly choice was Garfield, so that’s a pretty good percentage.  Bridges, Davis and Patel are all verrrrrrry borderline category fraud cases, though after last year’s absurd Alicia Vikander win as a “supporting” actress, nothing seems to make sense any more.  I actually haven’t seen one of the nominated performances yet, as the trailer for “Captain Fantastic” made it look like a Portlandia sketch, but sure, good for Viggo Mortensen.  The poor guy has to listen to almost three decades of jokes about being named after the evil painting from Ghostbusters 2, let’s toss him a nomination out of pity.

* The Kevin O’Connell watch is back on!  If you’re an Oscars geek like me, you of course know that this hapless sound effects mixer has been nominated a record 21 times without a victory.  Even more exciting, this might actually be O’Connell’s year.  The majority of Academy voters don’t really know what sound mixing is, per se, so they might very well check their ballot for the Best Picture nominee that had an extended battle scene. 

La La Land is also in this category and is a big threat if it ends up just sweeping everything, but if there’s one award it shouldn’t win, it’s this one.  Was I the only one who couldn’t understand a word of the lyrics in the opening number on the freeway?  Wise up, LLL sound editors, take some lessons from O’Connell.

* In case you’re wondering, yes, La La Land’s 14 nominations is a big deal.  It ties the record with Titanic and All About Eve, both of which were naturally Best Picture winners.  I should probably note that my two friends who didn’t like the movie aren’t Academy members, so their disdain might not amount to a hill of beans.  (I just looked this up, but Casablanca was only nominated for eight Oscars.  I mean, it won Best Picture and all, but still, only eight?  Bogie didn’t win?  Claude Rains didn’t win?  Ingrid Bergman DIDN’T GET NOMINATED?!) 

* And finally, the Academy’s ridiculous #OscarsSoWhite voting trends of the last two years came to a resounding end, as this year’s nominee list is a very diverse group.  With such a big turn-around in the diversity of the nominees, the only way the Academy could ruin the good PR would be if they nominated Mel Gibson or something, but that would be silly!…uh….

Monday, January 23, 2017

Packers Postmortem

Aw man, the reverse jinxing didn’t work!

Ok, my total pessimism about Green Bay’s chances during my three playoff prediction posts (you’ll notice I took their opponents every time) wasn’t a complete feint, since I honestly wasn’t too impressed by the team as a whole.  I was only impressed with Aaron Rodgers, who might be as good as any quarterback who’s ever played the game.  Don’t forget, two months ago, this team was garbage.  They were 4-6 and looking terrible on both sides of the ball before Rodgers made his now-famous “run the table” comment.  It wouldn’t shock me if Rodgers revealed that he had an injury or something over those first 10 games since he was clearly out of sorts himself, though it’s possible he was just pressing too much.  Whatever the case, he got himself together and single-handedly carried his team to eight straight wins.  That’s not easy to do, no matter who you’re playing.  Rodgers is the best, yet it’s unfortunate that this is yet another of his prime seasons wasted.

It feels like I’ve already written some form of Packers Postmortem in my prediction posts, and in a larger sense, it feels like I basically write the same thing every year.  Too many injuries*, the defense was mediocre, coaching was mediocre…that covers about every square on Mark’s Packer Criticisms Bingo.  It’s frustrating that these issues keep cropping up virtually every season, and while on the one hand, sure, Green Bay makes the playoffs every year and I shouldn’t complain, WHY NOT complain when they’re always so close?  I feel like this season more than ever showed the immense value in having an all-world quarterback, yet apart from 2011, the Packers simply haven’t been able to amass the other talent necessary to cash in for a championship.

* = though since every team has to deal with injuries, the criticism is really on the front office for not having enough depth to account for those injuries

Let it be said, the Falcons are clearly a fantastic team.  Their offense is eye-popping.  While Dom Capers’ game plan of “let’s stand ten yards away from every receiver and never rush Matt Ryan” was not a masterpiece, Atlanta may simply be unstoppable.  A Green Bay defense that was, say, 50% better across the board might well have still been swarmed like the Packers were yesterday.  I feel like I can toss a crumped-up piece of paper at the garbage can on the other side of this room and Julio Jones will jump out of nowhere and catch it.  And really, getting totally blown out by a better team is actually by far the least-painful of Green Bay’s recent playoff losses.  Better to just flat-out lose to a superior team than to endure an overtime loss, or a late collapse, or to lose on a boneheaded play, or lose on all three things (god, that Seattle game).

If I’m Packers GM Ted Thompson, I have a busy offseason ahead of me.  I fire Mike McCarthy (I know, I know, all those consecutive playoff season, whatever), I fire Dom Capers, I revamp the defense as much as feasibly possible, I add a couple more offensive linemen since Rodgers’ health is the top priority, I get a proper running back rather than supersub Ty Montgomery and I actually SPEND ON FREE AGENTS to make some of these things happen.  Packers fans shouldn’t see the signing of a veteran free agent as much of a rarity as a leap year.

There it is, just a few things on the list!  Rodgers is 33 now, he can’t do this forever.  It would be a legit waste if Green Bay ends Rodgers’ tenure with just one Super Bowl title.  (Pause to giggle at my own self-indulgence while thinking of the sad-sack Lions/Vikings/Bears/etc. fans who would kill for ‘just one title.’) 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Sherlock" Episode Ranking

To quote my friend Kyle’s complaint about the latest season of Sherlock….”remember when he used to, you know, solve mysteries??”  Kyle’s original complaint may have also included an expletive.

This post could very easily be a top-13 list of reasons why Sherlock is a strange show to properly review, or why it’s a show I enjoy and often champion to friends looking for a Netflix recommendation despite the fact that (as you’ll see) I have major issues with most of the episodes.  Wonderful acting, a very stylish presentation and clever (if not necessarily good) writing often papers over the fact that Sherlock is often all sizzle and no steak. 

Granted, it isn’t easy coming up with fresh ways to present the all-too-familiar adventures and character beats of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  It’s also worth noting that Doyle’s original stories had their share of odd characterization and “can’t they just go back to solving mysteries?” diversions like Holmes getting involved in international espionage, not to mention the fact that many of Doyle’s mysteries are hard to translate to the 21st century due to modern technology.  Still, I definitely feel that this series too often cheaps out when all the ingredients are here for a truly great show.

Onto the episode ranking!

UGH
13. The Empty Hearse….The central crime of this episode (a threat to bomb Parliament a la Guy Fawkes) is so massive in scale yet so totally underwritten and treated as an annoyance by Holmes that it almost felt offensive.  Also, I guess we’re supposed to infer that Holmes’ “nobody will ever believe you” explanation to his superfan about how he faked his death was the actual answer, though the fact that the show was so hand-wavey about Sherlock’s trick was pretty annoying.

12. The Abominable Bride….An “imaginary episode” in the 1890’s should’ve been a slam-dunk.  Instead, it absolutely fell apart in the final third of the episode and turned into an incoherent Moriarty fan fiction.

11. The Final Problem….If this show had a ‘first problem,’ it was that Moriarty was both directly introduced into the series too soon and made into such an enormous threat that he had to be dispatched almost as quickly.  The writers have been trying to fill Moriarty’s shoes as the show’s Big Bad ever since, first with Charles Magnussen and then with Eurus Holmes.  There is no finer example of the show’s laziness than the fact that they introduce the game-changing idea of Sherlock and Mycroft having a sister, then making her into even more of a ludicrous supervillain than Moriarty ever was.  Also, if the timeline is to be believed, Eurus was also seemingly responsible for “creating” Moriarty in the first place, another annoying narrative cheat that undercuts the rest of the series.

10. The Blind Banker….On the one hand, it’s the sort of stand-alone mystery I wish the show would do more of.  On the other hand, it’s not a particularly good mystery and it’s kinda racist.

PROBLEMATIC

9. His Last Vow….Back to the “Big Bad” complaint, it’s also a little weird that Holmes never really seems to defeat his arch-enemies.  I guess you could argue that Moriarty was ultimately outwitted since he ended up with a bullet in his brain and Holmes disproved the fraud allegations, though it was presented as more of a stalemate.  Everything Eurus did was ultimately reduced to a cry for help, as it was clear Sherlock was no match for her on any level.  And here you have Magnussen, who just completely outwits Sherlock and forces Sherlock to cut the Gordian Knot by just shooting him in the head.  Having Sherlock Holmes resort to murder when faced with an unsolvable problem is such a character cheat that I’m almost tempted to rank this episode even lower.

8. The Six Thatchers….Can we talk about how weird it was that Mary Marston was turned into a retired international assassin?  Like, what?  The writers needed something major for Magnussen to blackmail her over but THAT was their decision?  N.B. the original “Adventure Of The Six Napoleons” story this episode is inspired by was the first Doyle mystery I ever figured out before the ending.  Nine-year-old Mark was so pleased to have finally cracked a case before Holmes could explain it that I assumed I was developing a Holmes-ian logical mind that would allow me to also become a world-renowned detective.  And that totally happened!

7. The Reichenbach Fall….The episode where Moriarty went from cunning mastermind to cartoonish Joker-esque supervillain.  It begs credulity that Moriarty, whose entire deal was that he was the “criminal consultant” working within the shadows and never involving himself directly in the crimes, would so publicly connect himself to any hint of wrongdoing.  Also, to complain again about Magnussen’s murder, it should be noted that Moriarty seems to easily have the resources and opportunity to kill Holmes a thousand times over, but prefers to try and beat him with wits.  Very weird that Moriarty seems to have this level of moral high ground over Holmes.  

6. A Scandal In Belgravia….This episode would be higher on the list had it not severely shortchanged the character of Irene Adler.  In the stories, she gains exalted status for Holmes since he greatly respects her mind (if I recall correctly, she is the only character actually shown to fool Holmes in one of Doyle’s stories) and her general character.  In the show, however, Holmes outwits Irene and she is essentially just a tool of Moriarty.  There is little evidence presented within the episode to argue why Holmes would still consider her to be “The Woman” that so piques his curiosity. 

PRETTY GOOD

5. The Lying Detective….A fine episode somewhat undermined by the final big-picture-for-the-season twist of Eurus pretending to be Faith Smith.  I guess, Eurus knew about Culverton Smith’s crimes and just wanted to test her brother?  Well, ok, maybe it’s more than “somewhat” undermined, but the hell with it, I liked this one.

4. The Hounds Of Baskerville….This episode is generally not considered to be one of the series’ better offerings, so I’m one of the few who would have it this high in a ranking.  In my view, however, this is the best case of the series successfully taking a classic Doyle story and giving it a proper, semi-realistic (well, as realistic as possible given the subject matter) update into modern times. 

3. A Study In Pink….The pilot that was so clever and so well-done that it allowed us all to keep making excuses about the series for the next seven years!  Yay!  Even this one, however, had some hints of the underlying dissatisfaction yet to come; you would’ve thought that Holmes would’ve come to the “it was a cabbie” conclusion much sooner, and I’m still not exactly sure how the cab driver’s trick worked.  Was he poisoning both pills?  Is it something super-obvious that I’m dim enough to have overlooked?  (Spoiler alert: I didn’t actually become a world-renowned detective.)

THE CLASSICS

2. The Sign Of Three….Speaking of me being dim, halfway through this episode, I was foolish enough to believe that it was actually going to be all about John and Mary’s wedding, and not an actual mystery.  Oops!  Admittedly, the criminal’s plot is ludicrously complicated and it is the height of coincidence that Holmes and Watson’s recent unsolved crimes were both related to the wedding, but again, the hell with it.  I’m more than happy to accept some level of narrative foolishness within this series as long as it’s done in a clever and non-character destroying way.   

1. The Great Game….Essentially the perfect modern Sherlock episode.  Sherlock “f***ing solves mysteries” (thanks Kyle!), the cases are all interesting, Moriarty is presented as a great looming menace, Lestrade’s exasperation level is off the charts…it’s all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Even More NFL Playoff Predictions?!

* Patriots over Steelers
I was about to say, “familiar matchup here,” except this is only the fifth time these teams have met in the postseason, and the first time since 2005.  Also, the Patriots are 9-3 against Pittsburgh in the Belichick-and-Brady era.  Look at Mark with all the fancy research!

Recent pwnage aside, I still have to favour New England since it doesn’t *feel* like they’re going to lose this game.  (Look at Mark with all the fancy going with his gut!)  The narrative of the Pats overcoming the Brady suspension to get to the Super Bowl, win, and force Roger Goodell to hand the trophy to a smug-as-humanly-possible Bob Kraft is hard to overcome.  As threatening as Pittsburgh is with the Killer B’s (Ben/Brown/Bell) attack on offense, I’m not sure their defense is particularly threatening.  The Pats at least have better cornerbacks who can slow down the Steelers’ offense, while Pittsburgh may not have much of a curtain at all (let alone a steel one) to halt Tom Brady and company.  It sounds weird to be so confident of a result yet equally confident of a close result, though I’d be surprised if the margin of victory is more than seven points. 

* Falcons over Packers
That win over the Cowboys took years off my life but man, what a win!  Aaron Rodgers’ toss to Jared Cook is just the latest in a series of jaw-dropping signature throws for Rodgers, and best of all, this one actually came in a win!  (Pour one out for the hail mary against the Cardinals last year in the playoffs.)

If that Dallas game wasn’t bonkers enough, the NFC Championship is going to be a shootout par excellence.  These teams can both put a lot of points on the board, particularly Atlanta.  Put it this way; the Seahawks have a better defense than both Green Bay and Dallas, and the Falcons carved Seattle up something fierce last week.  Given how the Packers’ D wilted badly in the second half against the Cowboys, it doesn’t bode well for this game.  Dom Capers seemed completely unable to adjust beyond a swiss cheese zone defense when Dallas started running the ball last week, and that absolutely won’t cut it against a Falcons team that can more or less score at will.  Keep in mind that Dallas basically spotted the Packers 30 minutes thanks to lots of dumb penalties and seemingly being unprepared for a big playoff game.  The Falcons won’t make that same mistake.

Jordy Nelson expressed some confidence in being able to return from bruised ribs, though if he’s still out, the Packers are probably done.  I have visions of Green Bay’s 2009 playoff loss to Arizona dancing in my head, when Rodgers was scoring points like mad but an overextended Pack defense couldn’t keep the opponents off the board.

I mentioned narrative earlier as a reason to pick New England, so here I’m going in the opposite direction and ignoring Green Bay’s great “run the table” storyline in favour of the Falcons’ quiet dominance.  Atlanta just kept flying under the radar, putting up mad points, going from “hey, the Falcons look pretty good this year” to “hey, the Falcons are making the playoffs” to “wait, the Falcons got a first-round bye?” to “holy smokes, the Falcons might bludgeon their way to a Super Bowl!”  In a season that has seen so many of the NFL’s national-fanbase teams (the Patriots, Steelers, Raiders, Packers and Cowboys) all enjoy big seasons, it would be ironic if a fairly unheralded franchise won it all.  That might be the upending storyline of an overall pretty weird NFL season.

Friday, January 13, 2017

More NFL Playoff Predictions (Round 2)

* Chiefs over Steelers
The weekend's first twist has already taken place, as this game has been moved from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night due to an ice storm in the Kansas City area.  With weather an issue, you'd think this would favour the team with a power running game, i.e. the Steelers.  But, part of me thinks that home teams generally get a bit of help in bad weather, plus Andy "Why Can't There Be Two Bye Weeks?" Reid is always tough with an extra week to prepare.

I could hedge a hundred different ways in this game since it's a total tossup.  No result here would surprise, even one side totally blowing out the other, as both Pittsburgh and K.C. are prone to those outta nowhere "everything goes wrong" games every six weeks or so.  The Steelers, of course, have been quietly unbeatable for weeks now, while the Chiefs just go about their business, winning games despite never once being taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders due to the presence of a) Reid, b) Alex Smith at QB and c) the franchise's under-the-radar jinx.  Assuming they won't win this year, it'll be 47 years and counting since the Chiefs' last Super Bowl title.  The 13 teams who have never won a Super Bowl at all are playing the world's tiniest violin for the Chiefs' troubles but still, 47 years is nothing to sneeze at.

So, in the spirit of the Cubs and the Cavaliers, I'll very lightly pick Kansas City and be fully prepared to be wrong come Sunday afternoon night.  Then again, The Ice Storm starred Joan Allen and Marcus Allen had some fine years for Kansas City, so I like my pick.

* Patriots over Texans
Oh, what a beating this will be.  The Patriots actually could start Joan Allen in this game and still win.  This is less a competitive matchup than an open question about when Brady will be rested in favour of the backup QB.  I give it halfway through the third quarter than Brady calls it a day and looks ahead to the AFC title game.

* Falcons over Seahawks
You'll notice that I'm picking both Atlanta and Kansas City, two teams with a long history of playoff failure, over the much more reliably "safe" picks of both Seattle and Pittsburgh.  Part of me feels like I'll go 1-1 at best no matter which two teams I pick in these games, so what the heck, let's go with the fresh blood.

As I wrote last week, Seattle's success comes down to whether or not their offensive line manages to be only mediocre instead of outright terrible.  The Falcons don't exactly have a thunderous pass rush (with the major exception of Vic Beasley) or a big defense whatsoever, so the Seahawks could certainly get away with one here.  On the flip side, you also have the somewhat undermanned S'hawks defense that would clearly love to have Earl Thomas in there against the high-powered Atlanta offense.  My vibe on Seattle, however, is that they're a still-dangerous team but desperately in need of a roster reload.  They need to reinvest in the O-line this offseason to really make another proper run in 2017-18, and thus they're ripe for a newer team (i.e. Atlanta) to pick them off.  Don't forget that Dan Quinn is Seattle's former defensive coordinator and knows how his former charges operates; that might be all the difference the Falcons need in this very tight game.

* Cowboys over Packers
For years, "Green Bay at Dallas" was the bane of my existence.  During the Cowboys' glory days in the early 1990's, the quirks of the NFL schedule and Dallas' regular-season superiority meant that for what seemed like seven straight Packers/Cowboys matchups, the game always took place in Dallas.  And, thus, Green Bay always lost.  By the time the Packers finally got to host the Cowboys (in the 96-97 season), Dallas had already started to fall apart, so it wasn't *quite* as satisfying watching the ascendant Packers knock off the old kings.  Not nearly as satisfying as, say, watching the Packers pull off that 30-point comeback in Dallas behind Matt Flynn a few years ago, or watching Green Bay beat the Cowboys in the playoffs a couple of years ago when Dez Bryant made that absolutely no-doubter of a dropped pass (HAHAHAHAHA).

So recent history has somewhat swung back in Green Bay's favour, though the Cowboys did beat the Pack earlier this season in that stretch of time (uh, is ten games too long to be a 'stretch'?) before the lightbulb suddenly came on for the Packers and they started steamrolling everyone.  If my beloved Packers exercised one set of demons in beating the Giants last week, can they keep it going over the Cowboys?

I'm doubtful.  Jordy Nelson's absence is an enormous blow, and it's almost enough to write Green Bay off immediately.  Beyond Nelson, Dallas' grinding offense is almost perfectly-built to run through the Packers' D.  It can't really turn into a shootout since the Cowboys can take forever to score but they'll still score, and this ability to control the clock and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands is just too powerful.  As much as I hate to admit it, it'll take a miracle for the Packers to upset the Cowboys.  A real Hail Mary miracle.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Anniversary

 Twenty years ago today, I read that John Cleese and Michael Palin were going to be making guest appearances that evening on Saturday Night Live.  This was during the height of my Monty Python fandom, and thus there was no way I was going to miss seeing two of my comedy then-idols.  (Pfft, then?!  I can still trade Dead Parrot lines with the best of them.)

At this point in my life, I was a fan of Saturday Night Live in theory, in the sense that I obviously knew of the show's long history, its actors, its biggest sketches, etc.  Wayne's World, for instance, was one of my favourite movies.  A fan in theory, though not in practice, as I'd never actually watched an episode of the show.  What can I say --- being something of a nerdy 15-year-old, it was pretty rare that I even stayed up that late.  My Saturday nights usually extended until around 11pm, when I hit the sack after either a wild night of watching a movie with friends, or staying home to watch random comedy shows (usually CODCO, Full Frontal*, or Red Dwarf) on Showcase.

* = Full Frontal the Australian sketch comedy program, get your minds out of the gutter!

I'll pause for another moment while you all go "Actually Mark, admitting you watched the lead-in programming to the Drambuie Showcase Revue sounds right in line with your personality.  Have you not read this blog before?"

So anyway, to stay up until 11:30pm and beyond, I needed to find something to occupy my time. Showcase was showing a movie that night, so the usual sketch comedy was out. So instead I watched MuchMusic, specifically the old 8 PM-10 PM show called something like 'Much Rocks' or something generic.  This was back in the olden days when Much actually aired music videos, rather than the absolute hodgepodge of teen-and-hipstercentric programming it does today.  'Much Rocks' was a stand-alone show that it was devoted solely to rock videos for two hours, so I figured I'd kill some time watching the show and listening to some new music.

As it happened, 1/11/97 was a day or two after U2's video for Discotheque was released, and thus to mark the occasion, "Much Rocks" was devoting the entire two hours to a U2 career retrospective.  While I was familiar with a few U2 songs, I wasn't really a devotee, but still, I had nothing better to do.

As you might suspect, the rest is history.  Throughout the program, I kept saying "Wow, I didn't know they did this song..." and by the end, I was enthralled.  Not by the videos themselves, of course; U2 are known for many things, but good videos aren't one of them.  It's ironic that the Discotheque video was the impetus behind the special, since a) it's one of the lamest videos ever recorded by man, and b) is often regarded as the biggest reason that the public turned on U2's Pop album. For some reason, dressing up as the Village People and Bono thrusting his groin into the camera made people think U2 were getting full of themselves. Who knew?

So that propelled me through the rest of the night, onwards to SNL.  The 1/11/97 episode ended up being the perfect way to hook me on the show, as it ended up being one of the most heralded SNL episodes of the era, wall-to-wall with classic sketches and great impressions by Kevin Spacey, who did so well he purposely didn't host for almost a decade in order to keep the mystique alive. The weakest part of the program, ironically, was Cleese and Palin, who did little more than a half-assed rendition of the Dead Parrot sketch.  That was my first SNL episode and I haven't missed one since.

So there it is, one big day.  January 11 will forever be tied to both the discovery of my favourite band and (while not technically my "favourite") the show that has probably done more to shape my love of comedy more than any other. 

So Jan. 11 holds a noted place in my personal history. My favourite band and (one of my) favourite shows were born on the same day. I think I'll celebrate by listening to Achtung Baby and watching some Will Ferrell sketches.  Or, by tracking down a set of Red Dwarf DVDs.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Talking Funny

Here's a show I re-watch every year, just as a comedy refresher.  Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais, just sitting around, chatting about making people laugh.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

NFL Playoff Predictions

* Steelers over Dolphins
My original feeling was that there’s a decent chance of an upset here, since Pittsburgh has a few inexplicable losses on their record this season.  Then I actually went back at looked at their schedule and realized that their only real “inexplicable” loss was a 34-3 drubbing to Philadelphia in September.  The other four losses on their schedule (one to Miami in the game when Jay Ajayi went off for 204 yards) can be written off as either Ben Roethlisberger being not entirely healthy or outright injured, or just a close loss to the world-eating Dallas Cowboys.  Since the Steelers have gone on to win seven straight games and are at home against a somewhat-reeling Dolphins team that will be without Ryan Tannehill, this should be a fairly comfortable Steelers victory.

And now let me undermine my prediction by noting reasons why an upset could still happen.  Pittsburgh’s seven-game win streak includes a lot of close results and two wins over the Browns, so it’s really a five-game win streak and two exhibition games against a local high school team.  Losing Tannehill isn’t *that* big a deal in my view since I’ve never thought the guy was particularly good; the downgrade from Tannehill to Matt Moore is maybe a C+ to a C.  It’s not nearly as bad as…

* Texans over Raiders

…the dropoff from Derek Carr to Connor Cook.  Man, poor Oakland.  They’re enjoying a dream season after years of futility and have legitimate hopes of making the Super Bowl when Carr gets injured in the second-last game and it all goes to hell.  And consider that Cook isn’t even the second-string quarterback, as Matt McGloin got hurt last week too; there’s not much evidence that McGloin is better than Cook, though McGloin’s name is infinitely more hilarious.

So without their MVP candidate quarterback, the Raiders now face the bitter pill of very possible scenario of losing a gimme game.  The Texans are a mediocre team that are only in the playoffs by dint of winning the league’s worst division.  Getting to face them in the first round was a sought-after consolation prize for whichever team didn’t win the AFC West, and yet now the Raiders are Carr-less.

It’s almost enough to write Oakland off entirely, were it not for the $72 million sinkhole known as Brock Osweiler who will be back under centre for the Texans.  Osweiler is back at QB in the wake of a Tom Savage concussion, so Osweiler will have to perform in front of the same home fans who raucously cheered when he was benched a few weeks ago.  Methinks the Houston fans won’t give Osweiler much of a leash.  The first incomplete pass will unleash the boo-birds again, and if the Raiders have a chance here, it’s that Osweiler totally melts down under the pressure (and Khalil Mack being all up in his grill).  For all I know, maybe Cook takes everyone by surprise and pulls a Dak Prescott to lead the Raiders to a victory.  It’s not like there’s a lot of tape on the guy. 

I feel like I went back and forth about three times in that last paragraph, so I’ll just chicken out and pick the home team.  First team to score double digits probably wins the game.

* Seahawks over Lions
Somewhat similar to the Miami/Pittsburgh game, as you have a home favourite that has a couple of notable flaws, yet I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on actually predicting the upset.  Miami has a better chance of beating the Steelers than the Lions do of beating Seattle, though with any Seahawks game, it always comes down to their terrible offensive line.  If the O-line can just be blah instead of outright brutal, the Seahawks have enough overall talent to win.  I’m also not sure if Matt Stafford and his bad finger can handle playing in the noise cauldron that is the Seahawks’ stadium, so that’s another point in Seattle’s favour.

I’m just upset that my buddy Kyle is currently out of the country on vacation.  He and I get together for one NFL playoff weekend every year, and with his beloved Lions making a rare postseason appearance, this would’ve been an opportune time.  Dammit Kyle, I had to watch the Packers get eliminated on your TV for, like, three straight years — surely we’re overdue to watch a Detroit postseason loss together!

* Giants over Packers

To be frank, I’m shocked I’m even writing this post.  I wouldn’t have gone to effort of this many words about the NFL postseason without the Packers’ involvement, and six weeks ago, it looked for all the world like Green Bay had hit a wall.  Six straight wins in #RunTheTable mode turned that right around, Clay Matthews is finally healthy, Aaron Rodgers went supernova and got the offense back on track…all is good in Packerland.

So why am I still so weirdly pessimistic about both this playoff game and the Packers’ season as a whole?  Firstly, it’s the Giants.  Every five years they put together a team with an awesome defense and flawed offense and win the Super Bowl.  It’s going to happen again, “resistance is futile,” says Locutus Of Eli.  Secondly, it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Mike McCarthy fan.  Part of me was hoping that, if Green Bay had totally bottomed out, McCarthy would’ve been fired.  I entirely realize that repeatedly calling for the firing of a coach who’s taken the team to eight straight (!) playoff appearances either makes no sense or seems like the height of ungratefulness but seriously, McCarthy is a borderline mediocre coach.  I’m tired of watching him get thoroughly out-strategized every postseason (uh, minus the Super Bowl year…man, I sound spoiled) thanks to his signature inability to make mid-game adjustments.

If Rodgers is going to pull a LeBron and single-handedly carry this team to a championship, nobody will be happier than me.  But as great as Rodgers is, I still feel like this team is a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders, and they’re a letdown waiting to happen.  The hangover from running the table will be a bitter one.