Monday, December 31, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

Survivor Ratings: Nick

My last few Survivor pieces have been full of complaints about the show itself, so it’s with great pleasure (and no small bit of surprise) that I can now rave about the best season in ages.  David vs. Goliath almost seemed like a response to mounting fan criticism,* as it more or less entirely reversed some of the show’s more annoying recent trends.  The bulk of the focus was on the players themselves rather than the actual game, and so when we did get into the gameplay-heavier aspects of idols, twists, and blindsides, the audience was actually invested in the outcome.  Nick Wilson somewhat represented the best of both worlds, presented as a player who was firmly invested in the “modern” aspects of the game, while still winning due to the tried-and-true method of having a lot of good relationships on the jury and simply being more liked than the other two members of the final three.

* = from fans in general, not just little old me….though obviously my opinion (and stomach) carries ENORMOUS WEIGHT

How He Won: Uh, well, he had a lot of good relationships with the people on the jury and was simply more liked than the other two members of the final three.  Is there an echo in here?  I’ve heard Nick described as a combination between JT and Stephen from Survivor: Tocantins, which is a pretty solid comparison.  He has both JT’s genial, aw-shucks attitude* and Stephen’s more focused game-playing tactics, wrapped up into a pretty strong package.  Nick is one of a handful of winners who never had a single vote cast against him in the entire game, which is impressive on a couple of levels.  Firstly, it seemed like his David tribe teammates recognized immediately that he was a threat, and it seemed like he might’ve been targeted as the very first elimination had tribal council not been canceled due to Pat’s injury.  It was an early portent of Nick’s ability that he was able to recover from that somewhat shaky start and then basically escape trouble for much of the game, despite being tribe-swapped into a 3-2 minority position and then being outnumbered along with the rest of the Davids at the merge.

* = I can’t stress this enough, I’m only referring to the JT from Tocantins, not the JT of his later appearances when he revealed himself to be a) rather a douchebag and b) kind of hilariously bad at Survivor without Stephen there to help.  Stephen’s own failures in his own return appearance (Survivor: Cambodia) really underlined the strength of that partnership, as both really needed the other to thrive in the game.

More than a few Survivor winners (Yul Kwon, Natalie White, Chris Daugherty, Denise Stapley, or even Nick’s half-doppelganger JT) have come back from an underdog position to succeed, and in a way, it’s something of an advantageous position.  It not only gives you a clear “winner’s story” for the jury, but it also almost gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want, gameplay-wise, since you can excuse it all as “hey, my back was against the wall, I had to do whatever I could.”  As long as you’re not a completely obnoxious ass about it (i.e. Russell Hantz), a jury will respect someone who has to grind their way to the end, and obviously it helps that Nick just generally seemed to get along with everyone.  Looking at the DvG jury members, it didn’t seem like any of them had a real bone to pick with Nick, with the possible exception of Christian — the show didn’t do much to highlight Christian and Mike’s friendship, so while it could have just been as simple as Christian voting for Mike because he liked him more, maybe Christian was also a little miffed that Nick turned on him.

Skillset: Nick didn’t get a target on him until late in the game, but he was able to win the last three immunity challenges to punch his ticket to the final tribal council.  I wouldn’t call Nick a great challenge competitor, as it helped that many of the biggest challenge threats had already been eliminated, but obviously he was good enough to get it done in the clutch.

I’ve mentioned Nick’s social game already, and it was highlighted by his amusing tactic of forming final-two alliances with multiple people, all with a cutesy name — “Mason/Dixon” with Christian, “The Thoroughbreds” with Elizabeth, “The Rock Stars” with Mike.  The latter may have been the most important, as it helped Nick evade the vote when he and Lyrsa were down 3-2 to the Goliaths on the Jabeni tribe.  Nick was helped by the fact that Angelina and Mike were more than ready to turn on Natalie (who was incredible, yet somehow maybe only the third best “character” of the season), yet getting Lyrsa eliminated was Nick’s most underrated trick of the game.  Going into a merge, you’d think Angelina and Mike would’ve been more intent on eliminating the more obvious challenge threat in Nick, yet Mike trusted Nick as a potential ally if Mike himself found himself in the minority amidst the rest of the Goliaths, so Nick escaped danger yet again.

While it seemed like everyone recognized Nick as a threat, he was never anyone’s first choice to be voted out, which gave him some room to maneuver.  Christian was Nick’s big shield in this regard, as everyone universally regarded him as the biggest jury threat since everyone loved the guy.  Christian was an instant classic of a Survivor character, initially seeming like only a non-tryhard, non-jerky version of John Cochrane, yet evolving into just a nonstop source of comedy and a unanimous fan favourite.

(And even then, he still wasn’t the best character of the season, thanks to Angelina.  Oh, Angelina.  “Nonstop source of comedy” is an understatement.  If Christian’s humour came out of his genuine nature, Angelina’s complete and total delusion about almost all aspects of her game was nearly Coach-esque in its depth.  Mike, ever the screenwriter, perfectly described her as Survivor’s answer to Tracy Flick.  There is a 100% chance that Angelina and Christian will be back on the show if they’re interested in a return appearance, and this will be one time when Angelina can actually easily win a negotiation.  “Jeff, can I come back on the show?  Jeff?  Jeff?”) 

Could He Do It Again?: Well, if he’s really like JT, Nick will crash and burn in humiliating fashion the second time around.  I can see his tricks not working in a return visit, especially with his multiple final-twos.  I’m not sure if Nick strikes me as the kind to ever want to come back, though he did seem like a pretty big fan of the show who might get a kick out of playing again.  Frankly, the DvG players had to suffer through such godawful weather conditions this season that I don’t blame any of them for not wanting to go through another Survivor experience.

Maybe the bigger question here is if Survivor can do it again, in terms of giving the fans another great season.  I’m really hoping that DvG is the start of a revival for the show, since the recipe for a quality Survivor season isn’t rocket science — just cast good people and then make the show about the players, not about the arbitrary nature of the game itself.  If you focus on the players, then we’re excited when, say, the Davids have a bunch of idols and advantages and can save themselves, since we’re all rooting for the likeable underdog tribe.  If you focus on the players, we know why each and every vote takes place, why relationships evolve or crumble as they do, and we get a sense of what all 20 people are like.  (And even in this season, there were still a lot of fairly generic players, though the rising tide of Angelina, Christian, Natalie and even second-tier good “characters” like Gabby or the Mayor Of Slamtown raised all boats.). I won’t lie, the gimmick for “Era Of Extinction” and the choices of the four returning players don’t fill me with a lot of hope for the upcoming season, but after DvG, I’m now willing to give the series more leeway. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Xmas Xonfessional

Nobody's reading this blog on Christmas Day, right?  It's safe to do this, right?

*deep breath*

I've never seen "Scrooged."

Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Spider-Beating

While I'm now suing Sony and Marvel for $100 billion for ripping off* my idea for a Spider-Verse movie, what I'm really most upset about is that they couldn't have found room to include the old 1960's cartoon Spidey.  C'mon, Spider-Ham gets some play but 60's Spidey and his middle-aged man voice couldn't have been worked in there somewhere?

* = "Mark, didn't you just take your idea from the Spider-Verse storyline in the comics?"  Be quiet, you!

Then again, based on this footage, it's doubtful that the 60's Spider-Man would have provided much backup to Miles, Spider-Ham, and the gang.  He seemed to get knocked over by no less than a stiff breeze.  (Or, as you see in the first few seconds, by a "vibrator," which, uh, I'm guessing meant something different in the 60's than it does now.)  Also, I recall watching this cartoon as a kid and it might've actually been my first exposure to Spider-Man, but I remember NONE of this.  When I got around to reading comics years later, the only thing I really remembered about Spidey's whole backstory from the cartoons was Aunt May, the Green Goblin, and the Daily Bugle crew.  The Goblin is the only villain I remembered from the cartoons, so it was a surprise to see classic enemies like the Rhino, Dr. Octopus, Vulture, etc. pop up in this montage. 

In fairness, about 15 years ago, I did a re-read of my old comics collection and Spidey really did take a lot of beatings.  He almost inevitably always lost his first fight to a villain, or maybe the first two or three fights, before figuring out a way to finally defeat them.  But even in the comics, Spider-Man was able to avoid, for instance, being knocked unconscious by swinging into a clock tower or....wait, being shot to death by Jameson?!


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Hostless Oscars

It's less than two months until the Academy Awards, and the show still doesn't have a host.  That leaves two excellent options...

1. Hire me!

2. Just don't have a host, since a host is pointless.

The Academy was widely criticized a few months ago for its quickly-abandoned "most popular film" idea, though the other aspect of that story that went somewhat under-reported was how AMPAS wanted to ensure that the Oscar telecast was kept to a tight three hours, even if it meant relegating some of the non-headline categories to the technical awards ceremony a few days' earlier.  Rather than screw over hard-working movie crafts people by robbing them of their rare moment of public acknowledgement, I propose that simply cutting the host entirely would be a much better time-saving tool.

What does an Oscar host really do, anyway?  Opens the show with a 10-minute monologue of intermittent quality....pops up a few more times throughout the evening only to introduce people who are introducing other categories....has one or two designated "comedy bits" usually involving either audience interaction or some type of pre-taped piece.  Examples include Jimmy Kimmel hauling a bunch of celebrities to the theatre across the street, or Ellen taking a selfie with a group of stars.

Now, I used quote marks around "comedy bits" since these segments were, at best, borderline amusing.  (These bits also don't tend to age well, such as when Kevin Spacey shows up in your selfie.)  If one had the option of snapping these routines out of existence Thanos-style, could anyone really be upset?  Would anyone mind missing out on 10 minutes of awkward standup comedy from a nervous host in front of an often-hostile audience?  Do we really need someone to present a presenter?  The presence of the presenters also makes a host seem pretty redundant.  There are already a few presenters that bring the comedy in their introductions, so that's all you really need to keep some laughs in the show.

The best Oscars opening in recent memory was Justin Timberlake kicking the show off with his nominated song from the Trolls movie, dancing through the audience and getting things off to an energetic start.  It was more of a straightforward version of Billy Crystal's old routine of starting his Oscar hosting gigs with a musical routine about the Best Picture nominees, and it kind of underlined the many entertainment weapons the Academy has in its arsenal beyond just a stale monologue.  If you just started the show every year with the Best Original Song nominee that was either a) the biggest hit, or b) performed by the biggest star, that immediately gets things off to a strong start.

For instance, who's tuning away if this year's ceremony begins with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper singing "Shallow"?  Go from that into one of the Academy's beloved video packages about the magic of the cinema, then to some big legendary star (Hanks, Denzel, Meryl....someone on the same level as the star who gets to present Best Picture every year) for a general welcome to the Academy Awards.  That big star then introduces the first presenter to hand out one of the supporting acting trophies, and away we go.

Losing the host cuts a good 20 minutes out of the telecast, plus it also allows the Academy to sidestep the increasingly difficult task of finding someone who wants to host the damn show.  It's a no-lose scenario, plus you get to keep the random tech awards that film nerds like me delight in seeing.

Again, the alternative is just to hire me as host, which is also a great idea.  My price tag is $5000, a personalized Oscar trophy, cameo in an Avengers movie, and permission to do the whole thing in cargo pants.  Tuxedos are hella-uncomfortable.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Polivision's Person Of The Year

Last winter, I was out with a friend on the streets of Toronto, waiting for a crosswalk.  She happened to randomly mention the show Clone High, only for some stranger behind to immediately pipe up with "Say what?  Have you practiced your finger snaps?"  Then this stranger just walked away in the opposite direction with no follow-up.

Some might call this pretty thin criteria for determining a Person Of The Year award, but consider all the factors.  Firstly, this guy happened to identify a relatively obscure show.  Secondly, he proceeded to mention a funny reference from said show.  Thirdly, and most importantly, he then just disappeared into the night.  It would've been one thing if he'd stuck around to chuckle with us, but he didn't linger and threaten to ruin the moment.  It was a George Costanza-esque instance of dropping a joke and leaving on a high note.

Legend.  So legendary that if the government created a clone of this guy, it wouldn't be out of place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Pun Of The Year

Still a few weeks to go in December, but it'll be hard to top this one for the rest of 2018.  I was working a Montreal Canadiens/Minnesota Wild game tonight, and kept my buddy Trev (technically a Habs fan, though very much a lapsed one) updated on the proceedings.

Me: 5-0 Wild at the second intermission.  

Trev: Yikes

Me: 6-1 now.  Hope!

Trev: They are toast.

Me: Uh, 7-1 now.  Less hope.

Trev: Well-burnt toast.

Me: Minnesota Wild....er Penfield!  Late contender for pun of the year!

Trev: You have my vote.

I may also be in the running for Canuck Of The Year, really.  Can't get much more Canadian than citing both a Heritage Minute and a hockey team all at once.  That's a double-double....hey wait, that's THREE Canadian references!  Hat trick!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Endgame

So apparently Marvel's official name for Thanos' action was "The Decimation," of which I take some issue.  Firstly, I'd really gotten used to just calling it "The Snap," or perhaps the Snapture, or the Snappening if you will.  Secondly, the word 'decimate' technically means to reduce by 10 percent, which isn't accurate in this case since Thanos reduced everything by half.

Anyway, that's my technical quibble.  Otherwise, it's just AHHHHHHHH, I WILL BE WATCHING THIS ON THE FIRST SCREENING ON OPENING NIGHT!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

William & Bill

In today's edition of I Can't Believe My Brother And I Are Related, he only recently became aware of the fact that 'Bill' is a short form for William.

Brother: I can see 'Bob' from 'Robert' because there's a B in there, okay. But the short forms of William are Will or Liam. Where does the 'Bill' come from?

Me: It doesn't matter if it makes sense or not. If you've been on this earth in the last 400 years, you should know that Bill comes from William!

Brother: So someone could walk up to Will Smith and say, 'Hey, it's Bill Smith' and he'd have to correct them?

This went on for about 10 minutes.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Packers Postmortem

I usually save these until the Packers' season is actually completed, though let's be real, when you lose at home to the Arizona Cardinals, your season is over.  Yet I come not to bury the 2018 Green Bay Packers but to praise them, since if this frustrating season was what it took to eradicate the Mike McCarthy plague once and for all, then it was worth it.

The Packers didn't bother delaying the inevitable, firing McCarthy within a few hours of today's loss.  As happy as I am about this coaching change, the unfortunate part is that it's happening now and not five years ago.  I think it was during that stretch when the 49ers owned Green Bay over two playoff games when I suddenly realized, "huh, it probably isn't a good sign that McCarthy is being completely outcoached by the sentient pants model known as Jim Harbaugh."  Compound this through increasingly soul-crushing playoff losses to the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Falcons, and the writing was clearly on the wall about McCarthy's near and total inability to adapt to an opponent's game plan.  Or, even worse, his inability to adapt to how an opponent adapted to the Packers' game plan, which usually wasn't hard to do since I think Green Bay has been using a 1990's high school team's playbook for the last decade.

In hindsight, it's a minor miracle that the Packers actually won a Super Bowl with this guy on the sidelines, and if you're going to say "but Mark, McCarthy is a championship-winning coach," my counter is, so was Barry Switzer.  So was Brian Billick.  So was Jon Gruden.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and just as those coaches were gifted with Jimmy Johnson's talent, an all-timer defense, or the Raiders being idiots, McCarthy was gifted with Aaron Rodgers, as good a quarterback as has ever played the game.

Poor Rodgers has literally not smiled all season, since after suffering a knee injury in the opening game, he has had to suffer through indignity after indignity as the Packers have kept blowing games.  First it's the referees deciding that Clay Matthews is public enemy #1 every time he breathes on a quarterback, only to have the NFL reverse course after three weeks and promptly never call any roughing penalties again.  Then it's Ty Montgomery costing the Packers a game with an idiotic attempt to return a kick, or Mason Crosby single-footedly blowing a game by missing about 48 different field goals.  I will freely admit that this is far from the most talented Green Bay roster, but my god, the incompetence.  Even with a middling roster, no coach is more adept at getting the absolute least from his team than McCarthy, and the result has been nothing but awful losses.  Well, and that hilarious comeback over Chicago, since LOL Bears forever.

I cannot wait to see who the next Packers coach is, since there's nowhere to go but up.  Imagine bringing in some innovative Sean McVay type to bring the team's offense into the 21st century and take full advantage of Rodgers' ability.  Rodgers will think he's won the lottery.  Green Bay already made some progress in shaking off the doldrums with last season's front office shakeup, and it needed to oust McCarthy to finally get things on track.  (This SI story about the Packers' dysfunction is pretty damning.)  I'm calling it right now, the 2019 Packers will be back in the playoffs and, with a few breaks, might even make a quick turn-around to being Super Bowl contenders, a la last year's Eagles.

Have fun coaching a junior varsity high school team and/or the Browns next season, McCarthy.  

Friday, November 30, 2018

COW

I mean, it is a genuinely big cow.  When I got wind of this enormous Australian cow becoming a viral sensation, I clicked that link hoping to be wowed, and by god, was I not disappointed.  Consider these expectations met!

Is it wrong that I kind of want to eat the cow?  Sure sure, the cow may literally be too big to be processed into food, but keep in mind, I love hamburgers.  Love them to a degree greater than Wimpy and Jughead* combined.  What better say to seal my reputation as the ultimate burger aficionado than to be able to brag that you enjoyed a hamburger made from the largest cow in existence?  Yes, this entire paragraph makes me sound like the villain in the animated film that is inevitably being written about this cow as we speak.  They'll have to come up with a more family-friendly title than "Knickers," of course.  I nominate "Mark," since I'll take the pop culture hit** of being associated with a gigantic cow for all eternity as long as I get first dibs on a Knickersburger.  In a related story, the New York Knickersburgers is a great name for a fantasy basketball team.

* = I've never seen the new Riverdale show, though I've heard it's turned the classic Archie framework into both a steamy teen drama and an ongoing crime noir, which is hilarious on both counts.  I truly hope, however, that the new version of Jughead still scarfs down burgers like they're going out of style.

** = I wonder when certain names will again be safe for children, so they'll be spared mockery from classmates.  People named 'Casper' probably thought they were just about out of the woods by 1995, but noooo, that damn revival set them back another 20 years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christmas Caper

I’ve never given a damn about Christmas decorations for the flat, but my new roommate was a big Xmas buff, and wanted the whole nine yards — wreath on the door, tinsel on the stairway railing, and above all else, a big honkin’ tree for the living room.  This is what took us, when we were living together, to Home Depot in consecutive years, and going through the spectacle of attaching a tree to the roof of my Hyundai and then performing some white-knuckle driving through the downtown streets.  It’s a good thing our sublet was maybe a 5-10 minute drive from Home Depot, since otherwise, my nerves couldn’t have taken much more concern over the ever-present fear of seeing that tree slide off the back of the roof (or, even worse, the front).

Most of the terror was confined to year #1, when I had no idea if this could actually be pulled off.  Fortunately, I had some nylon roof hooks, and my roommate was near military-level proficient at tying superb knots, so that tree wasn’t moving come hell or high water.  My roommate also had a reasonable expectation of tree size, and thus she was happy to settle for a moderately-sized evergreen that could fit onto my roof with relatively little muss and fuss.

So with the first year a success, I wasn’t too worried about our prospects for year #2, though the weather was just a bit sketchier.  There was a bit of winter wonderland-style fluffy snowfall, though not quite enough to make the drive any more difficult.  So, just as the year prior, we went to the store, she picked our the tree of her choice, then I carried it out to the car and strapped it on.

One difference --- in year #1, the Home Depot’s tree department was a stand-alone entity.  It was a big greenhouse area attached to the main store, and it had its own cash register and check-out area right inside for convenience.  This year, there was no cashier, and the greenhouse door that led out to the parking lot was (for whatever reason) closed, so I had to actually lug the thing through the Home Depot proper to get outside.  My roommate and I parted ways for the moment since she had to go grab some decorations, so I took the tree outside and began the strapping process….which was really just me putting the tree up on the roof and then waiting for her, since my roommate’s knot-tying prowess just put mine to shame.

So she came out with a bag of decorations, we get the tree secured, and off we went.  It was all hunky-dory until about halfway home, when she asked how much she owed me for the tree.

My response was, “uh, didn’t you pay?”

That was when we discovered we’d accidentally committed the perfect crime.  My roommate thought I’d paid before taking the tree out of the store, whereas I assumed she’d paid for it with the rest of the decorations.  I guess it’d be weird for a cashier to just take a customer’s word that they’d bought a product, and said product was now outside the store.  (You’d think the cashier would want to ensure that we didn’t have a larger and more expensive tree, for instance.)

Now, my roommate and I are both honest people.  Plus, neither of us wanted to invite the bad karma that would come with stealing a Xmas tree; that sounds like something that would get Santa sending a rabid Blitzen after us or something.  So we turned the car around and returned to the store to pay for the tree, leaving our consciences clean and my nerves only slightly flustered from the spectacle of having to make extra turns with a tree hanging off my roof.

So the moral of the story is, always have a cashier in your greenhouse.  It just makes things less confusing for everyone.  Also, if they ever make an Ocean’s Two movie, I’ve got a plot.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

RIP Ricky Jay

Sad day in the magic world, as legendary sleight-of-hand artist and magic historian Ricky Jay passed away on Saturday.  I've posted some Ricky Jay-related material before, though they bear re-posting now.  Firstly, this profile from the New York's Mark Singer.  Secondly, this video of Jay in action, and I reiterate that there are few better YouTube holes to fall through than spending an hour or two watching Ricky Jay routines.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Marrying A Stooge

The end screen of the Three Stooges game for the classic NES is a real head-scratcher.

The plot of the game is that the Stooges had to earn $5000 through various jobs to keep the orphange from being torn down. Thus, in this case, they've generated a cool $15,165 in profit.  Even factoring in Depression-era economics, fifteen grand seems insufficient to fund three different couples as they begin their lives together.  Nowadays, $15K would barely cover a moderate wedding, though obviously we can assume that the brides would be happy with a much more modest ceremony.  They're marrying the Three Stooges, for god's sake, so they're clearly not picky.


Onto motive.  Now, I haven't actually played the Stooges game myself, so I have no idea if the romance between the Stooges and the orphanage owner's daughters is at all established beforehand.  I'd have to guess probably not, given that 80's Nintendo games weren't exactly known for their in-depth backstories.  So what we have here is this mother, so grateful over her orphanage being saved, that she decides to pawn her own children off on these three (let's be real) overt morons.  To her, it seems like a basic one-to-one transaction.  She is impressed by the valour of these three young (?) men, and she also has three single, attractive (?) daughters.  Her thought process here was similar to that of the man who first invented the banana milkshake.

Cut to a man holding a vanilla milkshake in one hand and a banana in the other. He looks at the banana. He looks at the milkshake. He looks back at the banana. He looks back at the milkshake. He looks back at the banana. He stares at the banana. He looks once again at the milkshake.

Man: Hey, wait a second....
To be fair, the girls seem into it?  They're smooching up a storm with the Stooges, after all.  So even if this arranged marriage scenario is problematic at best, maybe you can just write it off as the heart wanting want the heart wants.  Not to sound pessimistic, but you have to believe reality will soon set in for these poor women.  Can you imagine how awful it would be to be married to one of the Three Stooges?  You'd never get a moment's privacy.  The other two would around 24-7, causing mischief, breaking up intimate moments with pie fights, etc.


In summation, if your orphanage is saved thanks to a fundraising effort from three idiots, maybe just give them a nice card rather than accepting a $5065 dowry for one of your children.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Two Space Movies

It isn’t unusual that I’ll watch a critical darling and be underwhelmed, though it isn’t too often that I watch a movie garnering a lot of Oscar buzz or critical acclaim and find myself genuinely disliking it.  Yet, this was the case for First Man, which went beyond being a disappointment to the extent that I feel safe in calling it a bad movie.

The idea of the movie is isolation.  As the film would tell us, Neil Armstrong more or less went into a shell after the loss of his infant daughter, throwing himself into his work and eventually rising through the ranks to be tabbed for the legendary Apollo 11 mission.  It’s a journey of single-minded pursuit, yet Armstrong’s work in the space program is also presented as essentially just work — he’s at a desk, he’s testing equipment at the factory, he’s training, etc.  Apollo 11 is recast from one of the great endeavours in human history to more of a nuts-and-bolts operation, the cinematic equivalent of Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time” song about the guy who steals one part from the auto factory each day until he has enough for his own homemade car.

All of this is a fine idea on paper.  It’s an interesting sidebar to Damien Chazelle’s past works exploring the concept of what goes into greatness.  “Whiplash” explored the cruel side of a single-minded pursuit, “La-La Land” a more romantic slant on the same concept, whereas First Man just removes art from the equation altogether and turns the pursuit into gruntwork. 

* = well, sort of, since there’s an undeniable artistic aspect to any on-screen portrayal of space.

The problem is, First Man is minimalist to a fault.  After Whiplash and La-La Land were so brimming with energy, I’m stunned that Chazelle made such a dull movie.  First Man is so focused on the technical aspects of recreating the details of Apollo 11’s launch that it fails to set itself apart from any documentary that one could simply watch about the real-life event.  Any number of historical biopics obviously also deal with events where the audiences knows what actually happened, though better examples of that genre elevate the material by giving us reasons to care about the characters. 

It’s one thing to make Armstrong into as empty of a vessel as the one he’s flying to the moon, yet two hours of Ryan Gosling as a blank slate doesn’t make for much of a viewing experience.  Gosling is being given nothing to work with, and then makes the choice to underplay even that modicum of a role.  If Armstrong was kind of an uninteresting guy in real life, that’s fine, I’m not saying you need to add a lot of bells and whistles to make Movie Neil into a capital-C Character, but give us something, eh?  Like, I have no idea if Buzz Aldrin was actually the oblivious pedantic as Corey Stoll portrays him as being, but it was a welcome blip of an actual character amidst the scores of well-known actors playing the rest of the NASA team, almost entirely relegated to being personality-free grunts in white shirts and ties.  Along those same lines, Claire Foy has the prototypical thankless wife role, and is trapped in the role’s one note.  Foy just gets to be concerned, over and over, for the entire film.  I feel like I don’t know anything more about what Neil and Janet Armstrong were like after seeing First Man.

It seems like the movie will pick up a few notable Oscar nominations, and since there’s rather an incredible lack of consensus about what the top contenders are this year, there’s probably still an outside shot that First Man could win Best Picture.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t be on board with this decision.  It’d be the worst Best Picture since A Beautiful Mind, another very flawed biopic, though at least that one went to a couple of weird and semi-interesting places while not even being remotely true to the actual story of John Nash.  First Man didn’t need to go to those lengths in the name of adding zest to a real-life figure, but sticking to the script also didn’t work.

*********

Does Tom Hardy hate the sound of his own voice?  Is this man incapable of taking a role that doesn’t involve him taking some strange accent, or speaking though some kind of voice-muffling face appendage (i.e. Bane’s mask in Dark Knight Rises, the oxygen mask in Dunkirk) that makes him impossible to comprehend?  By this token, I have to imagine that Hardy immediately accepted the offer to star in Venom.  “Wait, so I get to use TWO goofy voices?  One, an absurdly overdone Bronx accent for Eddie Brock, and the other an electronically-dubbed melange for the symbiote that makes it sound like Kevin Michael Richardson playing the plant from Little Shop Of Horrors??  Where do I sign up?!”

I read one review of Venom that described it as the best superhero movie of the 90’s, which is such an elegantly perfect summary that I’ll just reprint it here rather than bother coming up with something else.  Sony’s comic book movies (with the eternal exception of Spider-Man 2) always seem to fall in that weird netherworld between Marvel’s movies and DC’s movies, with some seeming like Marvel trying to adopt a DC formula and other feeling like DC trying adopt a Marvel formula.  The latter would be DC actually trying to ape the specific rhythms of a Marvel film, to be clear, rather than them trying to adopt Marvel’s formula of a shared universe, since we’ve already seen what that’s like, with disastrous consequences.

The vagaries of the Sony/Marvel partnership in regards to Spider-Man aren’t known to me, so I’m not sure if we should be considering Venom as a candidate to actually pop in the MCU or something, or if he’ll stay in Sony’s pocket universe populated by Spidey characters but not actually Spidey himself.  The cringe scenario, of course, would be if Sony decides that Marvel has rehabilitated Spider-Man enough that they’ll think “thanks for the help Marvel, we’ll take it from here!” and then shift Spidey out of the MCU and back into their own second-tier productions.  That would be the real-life equivalent of what happens to Peter Parker in Infinity War.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee

If Stan Lee had *only* been the co-creator of Spider-Man, he would’ve been a hugely important figure in comic book and pop culture history. 

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the X-Men, he would’ve been a hugely important figure…

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the Hulk, he would’ve been a hugely…

If Lee was *only* the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, he would’ve….

And on and on with Iron Man, Daredevil, Black Panther, Thor, the Falcon, the Wasp, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and then the dozens if not hundreds of supporting characters and villains associated with all these characters.  When you take the step back and realize that all of these now-iconic figures came from the same writer, it really is mind-blowing.

It’s no secret that Spider-Man was a childhood hero of mine, and it isn’t untrue that Spidey’s morality helped shape my own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Spidey also taught me that a sarcastic is never out of place, so without Stan Lee, the world might’ve never had my decades of snarky humour.  (This one might rank pretty low on Lee’s list of creations.)

Lee’s legacy has only been enhanced over the last decade thanks to incredible success of the Marvel movies, and it’s cool that he himself has become a known face and name to the general public thanks to his ever-present cameo appearances.  (My favourite: Stan happily listening to some classical music on his headphones, oblivious to Spider-Man and the Lizard tearing the library apart behind him.)  RIP to Stan the Man for his indelible contributions to my childhood and, in many ways, my adulthood.

Nuff said!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Trick Of The Year

Imagine seeing a video of the best magic trick of the year (as judged by actual professional magicians) and NOT clicking the link.  Imagine! 

The guy's look of surprised excitement at every stage of the illusion is pretty boss.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

11/11

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place; and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Mr. Spectacular Redux

Unfortunately, this isn't a new instance of billiards dominance on my end.  My parents recently sold our old family pool table, so what better time to re-post this classic tale of the time I suddenly grew a fin and became a pool shark.

*******

We had a pool table back at my parents' house and we played a lot in my younger days.  My brother and I have a long-standing rivalry in, well, everything, but billiards was of particular interest to us.  I'll admit (VERY hesitantly) that my brother may have been a slightly better player than I (VERY slightly) but I hold the single most impressive victory ever achieved in one of our games.  It was a victory that should've, by rights, earned me a lifelong nickname.

The situation: in a standard game of stripes-and-solids, he had just the eightball left, while I still had four balls out on the table.  As they might say in O Brother, I was in a tight spot.  Naturally, I responded to my brother's trash-talk not by quietly accepting my fate, but rather by making a boast of my own --- I would sink the next four balls, and then the eightball if I did this, he would have to refer to me as "Mr. Spectacular" for the rest of our lives.  Chuckling, he accepted the bet.

And then I PROCEEDED TO DO IT.

Now, folks, your old pal Mark is not a top-class pool player.  The only thing that Minnesota Fats and I have in common is our shared morbid obesity.  Still, on this day, I was a veritable Fast Eddie Felson, draining five balls in succession from all over the table.  My brother could just stand there like a slack-jawed yokel in amazement that I somehow went from 0 to 100 in the span of a minute.

The downside?  Not once has my brother ever, EVER referred to me as Mr. Spectacular.  Not a single damn time, even as a joke.  He didn't even use the name directly in the wake of our game, as I believe his response to my five-ball streak was just to swear and demand another game.

This welching dog owes me over 20 years of nicknames.  And really, had me used the nickname all these years, naturally someone would've asked about it, and then it might've caught on.  My life would've clearly been at least 7.5% better if I'd been colloquially known as "Mr. Spectacular."  That's a brand name unto itself.  I could've even gotten it tattooed across my shoulder blades, since I presume in this new reality I would've had the confidence to get over my fear of needles.

To make a long story short, if anyone wants to start calling me Mr. Spectacular, I'm just saying I'd be open to it.  If you also have a goofy nickname you're trying to give yourself a la George "T-Bone" Costanza, I'm willing to play ball.  A billiard ball, if you will.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sticks

Back in grade school, I was very into Ghostbusters.  I’m still into Ghostbusters, for what it’s worth, but my current normal amount of fandom pales in comparison to that of young Mark from ages 5-9.  I watched the cartoons, dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween, even saw the live-action movie after my folks taped it for me off a City TV airing,* and obviously had all of the action figures.  Though theoretically, I didn’t need the action figures or the plastic-and-foam model proton packs, since I just used pieces of wood.

* = you might point out that the Ghostbusters film is a little too adult for a child of my age, but I think it was a case of my parents realizing that once I knew this movie existed, it was an unwinnable battle.  But it was okay, since I turned out perfectly well-adjusted!  Right?! *tumbleweed GIF*

Let me explain, and address the actual “back in grade school” part of this.  During recess, I tended to just hang out by myself in some random corner of the playground rather than play with other kids.  My primary school had an enormous open area (multiple ball diamonds, a soccer field, even a wooded area) that lent itself to nerdier kids like me finding a quiet little spot to play my little imaginary games.  Naturally, these turned into Ghostbusters stories, with my own self cast as usually the lone Ghostbuster against any number of ghouls and creatures, sometimes with the occasional cameo from one or two of the original gang.  My Egon impression is still pretty dead-on, btw.

Any good game needs its props, so what I did was fashion any number of sticks into makeshift toys that would serve as the ghost trap or wand-end of a proton pack.  I say “fashion,” but it wasn’t like I was out there whittling away like Geppetto or anything — I just found sticks that were already somewhat shaped like the gear I needed.  These weren’t giant tree branches, just smaller pieces of woods that were easily handheld, and could be kept in a jacket pocket once recess was over. 

As time went on, naturally some sticks would be damaged, or lost, or I’d simply find better sticks in better shapes and discard older ones.  Finally I came across two that were of particular good quality.  One had a little bend at the end that actually looked something like the handle of a ghost trap, while the other had most of a vague wand shape but also kind of a bulb at the end, which in a pinch could look like a ghost’s head.  If I recall correctly, I think I found these sticks around the fourth grade, or right around when my Ghostbusters fandom started to wane just a bit.

And then I proceeded to keep the sticks for the next 30 years.  They’re actually sitting next to me right here as I type this.

Now, first question — no, I don’t still play imaginary games with them.  I just got used to carrying them around, and that eventually molded into just having them within arm’s reach at most times.  Perhaps in the same way that some people might have a lucky rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny, I just have a couple of wooden sticks.  After 30 years, they’re both still surprisingly sturdy, though one has taken a few cracks and chips.  The “ghost head” is maybe about half-missing at this point, creating a bit of a crest that looks like the “head” has Conan O’Brien’s haircut.  Did child Mark somehow know that I’d eventually become a Conan fan?!  Oooooh, spooky.

I bring this weird affectation up because, for the first time in years, I came close to losing the ol’ sticks for good.  It happened during a recent laundry, when I tossed a shirt into the washer without realizing the sticks were in the pocket.  I realized my error within five minutes and stopped the wash to retrieve them, and no harm was really done.  Interestingly, 30 years of usage had made both sticks feel quite smooth, yet just a brief power wash seemed to eradicate all those years of hand oils and return them to feeling like….well, like pieces of wood.

Not really sure what the endgame is with these sticks.  Should I have a provision entered into my will stating that they be bronzed and buried with me after I pass?  Or should I see that they’re both returned to my public school’s woods, from whence they came?  Or will I, a grown man, realize that this affectation is silly and….hahaha, I can’t even finish typing that with a straight face.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

It's never officially Halloween until I hear this on the radio, so I was tickled pink when I finally heard it this afternoon.  Probably would've heard it sooner if, y'know, I actually listened to the radio more often, but WHATEVER

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mark Vs. Grouse


Let's face it, fellow humans --- birds are slowly turning against us. Were it not for the decorative birdhouses we've built to appease them, they might well have begun the full-fledged assault already.

I myself have particular, painful, knowledge of just how vicious our avian adversaries can be. My grade school sat at the bottom of a hill behind my house, and thus every morning I'd set out down the hill to get to class. The hill itself was rather rough, covered in grass and bushes and whatnot, but there was one clear path that ran along a small trench that went almost directly from my backyard gate to the schoolyard below.

One catch: the trench was also an ideal nesting place. Almost every day I walked down that hill, I was accosted by a grouse that leapt up to squawk at me for getting too close to its babies. I'm pretty certain that it wasn't just one bird, either, that was just stalking me Jaws-style. The attacks came at various points along the path, so I'm guessing it was a whole mess of grouses (greese?) that were happily living there like it was their own personal Sesame Street, only to occasionally rise up against the big galoot of a 12-year-old that invaded their personal space twice a day. The hell of it was, while I could count on an attack coming on a more-or-less daily basis, I never knew where specifically the grouse would pounce. Though it was a group of birds, I simply referred to my nemesis as "The Grouse" since for some reason I was never attacked twice in any one given trip up or down the hill. It was almost like the birds were sitting in a group drawing straws, and on Tuesday it would be, say, Squawky's turn, he'd jump out at me, and then Squawky would go back to the gang and accept some high-fives and backslaps.

You might ask, of course, why didn't I take a different path down the hill? As I said, it was a rough hill. And there was a path RIGHT THERE. It was a matter of principle. I could've also taken the long way around my block and walked down to the school down the concrete steps, but that would've taken an extra 10 minutes, and it was a journey I rarely took unless it was raining (since a grouse attack on a muddy hill is potentially disastrous) or I was walking home with someone. And, I refer to my earlier quote....it's a matter of principle. Here I was, blessed with a school literally in my backyard and I wasn't going to throw away that perk of a short commute just over a few pesky grouses.

And my principles stood strong, since I eventually won that battle. By the eighth grade, the birds stopped attacking. The real reason for this cease-fire was probably due to, I dunno, the increased development in the area, so the birds took off. But if you talk to my mother, it's because one day, she saw a hawk circling around in the sky and taking periodic dives towards the hill. So my mum grabs a broom, goes outside, and starts waving the broom in the air in an attempt to scare off the hawk and 'save' the grouse's nests. Since this event coincided with the start of my eighth grade year and the end of the attacks, she claims that by chasing off the hawk, The Grouse (using their Borg-like hive mind) appreciated the gesture and let me pass by as a sign of respect towards our family.

Problems abound with this theory. It is 100 percent more likely that the hawk was diving at a squirrel or rabbit, rather than a grouse nest. Also, I'm pretty sure the grouses didn't get another in a town hall-meeting format and announce that now the Broom Lady's son was to be given free passageway through their territory. A grouse can't hold a gavel, so how would they know when to stop and start the meeting, anyway?

But, since the attacks stopped, my mother's native creation myth persists to this day. Hey, what the hell, maybe that was the reason, for all I know about a bird's mind operates. All I know is that I was able to confidently stroll up and down that hill like a regular Fast Happy Cat without worrying that at any moment, a squawking pile of feathers was going to appear as if from nowhere.

All of life's problems can be solved by a middle-aged woman with a broom.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Song Of The "Year"

Does it count as my favourite song of 2018 if I didn't hear it until this year, even though the track is actually 13 years old?  Since damn, the Cardigans (of all bands) made a real rock gem here.  It's even good enough to overcome my inherent bias against songs with overly long and too-cutesy titles.  On the plus side, at least there wasn't a bracket involved.  If the title was "Bad Dog (I Need Some Fine Wine, And You, You Need To Be Nicer)," I wouldn't have even clicked on the link.

Friday, October 26, 2018

American Canceled


So after naming “American Vandal” as my best show of 2018, I’m now having to write a post about how it’s been canceled?  What the hell, Netflix?!  Between this and Luke Cage getting the axe after its* best season, it’s like they’re trying to trying to punch me in the stomach.

* = I originally wrote “his,” as if Luke Cage was an actual person responsible writing and directing a show about himself.  Actually, a more comedic, Garry Shandling-ish semi-mockumentary about a Marvel hero would be a great idea.  Launch this for Wonder Man, please!

Now, I’m pretty sure American Vandal will catch on with another network, since the positive buzz is just too big to ignore.  Netflix canceling the show in the first place is troubling, however, since it would imply that this instant masterpiece didn’t catch onto a particularly big audience.  I guess there could be some behind-the-scenes studio reasoning behind the decision (i.e. why Luke Cage and Iron Fist were canceled), though the Occam’s Razor answer is probably that American Vandal didn’t draw enough eyeballs.

How depressing.  American Vandal is such a blast on so many levels that it is legitimately one of the best shows I think I’ve ever seen, though two seasons.  All at once, it is…

— a pitch-perfect spoof of criminal documentaries.  Much has been made of the legendary scene in the first season when they do a computer-animated re-enactment of an alleged handjob, and with good cause.  I think that scene was in the second or third episode, and it is almost universally hailed as the moment when everyone realized they were watching something special.  (Uh, the show, not the CGI handie.)
— a legitimately engrossing mystery unto itself.  It’s the kind of show where, after the second-last episode of the second season, I took a ten-minute break to try and figure everything out.  This may have involved taking some actual notes.  Needless to say, my wild guess ended up being so completely off-target that it frankly ruined my dream of ever becoming a Sherlock Holmes-style detective on retainer at Scotland Yard.  American Vandal’s mysteries are so wonderfully revealed in a way that doesn’t cheat the viewer whatsoever, and make total sense with everything we’ve seen beforehand.  I should also note that, technically, the first season doesn’t *officially* provide the solution to the mystery, though I think we can infer that the theory presented is true.  I won’t say anything else since I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any details.
— an insightful look into modern teenage culture, particularly in how social media and the internet impact literally everything kids do nowadays.  It would be one thing if the show was just a total spoof, and that would make it great enough simply on that level alone.  But the added tragic tinge that underpins these stories really elevates things to a fabulous degree. 
— one of the funniest shows on television.

It does all four of these things with incredible aplomb.  The level of detail that goes into this show is amazing; virtually any freeze-frame of any Twitter feed or TV screen used in a scene reveals lots of hidden jokes. 

“Premature Theories” (the fifth episode of S1) is one of my single-favourite TV episodes in a long time, and a great example of American Vandal firing on every level.  The episode features Sam and Peter breaking down the events of a big high school party using collected video and images from various social media feeds, and it is completely fascinating from start to finish.  The result is a dozen little details, some hilarious character beats, some clues about the mystery (or, both the main case and a few other side mysteries that crop up along the way), and an absolutely brilliant way to portray a modern detective show.  This isn’t Sherlock going to his mind palace, or the CSI team finding some obscure clue via forensic analysis — these are details all publicly shared by the “suspects” and it’s up to the clever amateur investigators (Peter and Sam in the narrative, but really all of us watching at home) to piece everything together.

This show absolutely absolutely needs to find a new home, and hopefully some network or streaming outlet will step up to provide the third season that any fan of quality television needs.

Monday, October 22, 2018

TV Show Rankings, 2017-18

I'm foregoing my usual "Alterna-Emmys" format since I no longer feasibly watch enough TV to properly weigh in the world of television.  Even though this is a list of 33 (!) shows from the last 12-13 months, that's still a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer amount of quality programming available on myriad networks, cable outlets, and streaming services.

I probably don't even watch enough to properly split comedy/drama categories anymore, though given the number of "dramedies" out there, I'd almost argue that these divisions are becoming increasingly meaningless.  Let's go with just one sole acting category for all genres, leading to...

BEST ACTOR: Bill Hader/Barry (a fantastic role for Hader, who is one of the all-time SNL greats but I didn't know he had this kind of range in him)
BEST ACTRESS: Betty Gilpin/GLOW (I realize that Alison Brie is "officially" the lead, but two seasons in, I think the narrative has definitely evolved into a co-lead situation)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Melvin Gregg/American Vandal (close call over Henry Winkler, Tituss Burgess, and the Good Place guys in this one)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alfre Woodard/Luke Cage (the classic Marvel series trope of relying on a great villain to carry the heavy lifting acting-wise.  Alia Shawkat gets honourable mention as perhaps the only highlight of Arrested Development's truncated, and maybe ill-advised, fifth season)

With the hardware handed out, let's go to the power rankings!  These are only the most recent seasons of shows, unless cited otherwise.

33. Ghosted (note: I gave this one two episodes before quitting)
32. Family Guy
31. Easy
30. Modern Family
29. Survivor: Ghost Island
28. Saturday Night Live
27. Arrested Development
26. Curb Your Enthusiasm
25. Letterkenny
24. Fallet
23. Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
22. The Simpsons
21. Agents of SHIELD
20. The Apprentice UK 13
19. Amazing Race 30
18. Jessica Jones
17. Brockmire
16. The Good Place
15. New Girl
14. Black Mirror
13. Eight Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown
12. The Punisher
11. The Americans
10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. Orange Is The New Black
7. Luke Cage
6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
5. Stranger Things
4. Nathan For You
3. Barry
2. GLOW
1. American Vandal

Friday, October 19, 2018

Hot! Live(ish)! Music!

Flight Of The Conchords, "I've Got Hurt Feelings"
I'm very pleased that FOTC is back, touring and making a new album.  If I ever get around to making a "Best Short-Lived TV Shows" list (ooh, what an idea), then their two-season HBO program is definitely in the running for the top spot.  I'm glad Nigel's feelings weren't hurt too badly here.

R.E.M., "Fall On Me"
I have a strange criticism about "R U Talkin' R.E.M. Re: Me?", which was the Scott Aukerman/Adam Scott podcast created as the follow-up to R U Talkin' U2 To Me?"  For the original, the Scotts seemed to be at the same rough level of U2 fandom, whereas with this one, Adam is SUPER into R.E.M., while Aukerman seemed unfamiliar with big chunks of their discography.  It made for kind of a weird listening experience, as Aukerman didn't have many deep feelings after listening to this material for (what in many cases was) the first time, whereas Adam basically uniformly thought it was all awesome.  I expect these podcasts to have heavy on the nonsense comedy, whereas R.E.M. Re: Me sounded way too much like an actual music podcast at times.  It probably also didn't help that U2 is my favourite band and I'm only somewhat into R.E.M., so my frame of reference was a lot smaller.  Anyway, here's a great R.E.M. tune.

Margo Timmins, "If I Should Fall Behind"
Okay, so, not exactly hot LIVE music here, but still, such a pretty cover.  I stand by my assessment that this is a top-10 Springsteen track.  Margo Timmins (and/or Cowboy Junkies as a whole) is one of the better bands who can deliver amazing covers despite having somewhat middling original material.  Man, talk about damning with faint praise.

Willie Nelson, "The Scientist"
Another non-live song, and fine, I'm breaking my own rules twice over.  People, do I regret calling this series Hot LIVE Music years ago and not just something like Hot GREAT Music, thus unnecessarily boxing myself in?  I do!  Why must I live within this box of regret?!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Great Moments In Pun History

Some years ago, I was flying back from Seattle with my buddy Trev when our United Airlines plane encountered a slight delay.  We had a stopover in Chicago and, upon landing at O'Haire, we couldn't actually leave the plane for about 20 minutes since the plane couldn't find an open gate.  My guess is that a herd of cattle probably wandered onto the tarmac and got in the way, that makes sense.  (Cows are always causing havoc in Chicago.)

Anyway, this apparently wasn't the first time that Trevor has been held up by United.  He proceeded to tell me about how a delay on another recent trip had prevented him from making his connecting flight, which also led to him losing his luggage.  All of these problems were met by the United staff with a veritable shrug, though it seemed like the connecting flight could've been asked to hold on for the (several) passengers waiting to get onboard.  Not like any other flights were leaving for London, Ontario that day, that's for sure.

The upshot was that Trevor was bemoaning the fact that United was screwing him again, and noted "there was precedent."  To which I replied…

"I guess you could say it was the Precedent of the United Lates."

Trevor just responded with a slight eyeroll.  COME ON.  This was some first-class punnery right here.  I had half a mind to call the Wordplay Hall Of Fame.  I mean, man, that's some great on-the-spot improv, and really, it even had a secondary meaning.  After all, we were in Chicago, and the actual President of the United States at the time was from Chicago!  Hidden depths!  This pun had more layers than an Arrested Development season (one of the good ones).

Since I demand adulation for such a great pun, I'm re-telling the story here.  Don't sit on your hands like Trevor, a.k.a. No Reaction McGee.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Toronto's Worst (Stretch Of) Street

I had to specify "stretch" since it isn't fair to condemn all of Harbour Street for the sins of basically just one block.  But Harbour between Lower Simcoe and York has been a nightmare for months now, all due to a perfect storm of construction choices.

First off, a new condo is being built on the tiny sliver of land at York and Harbour.  If you're scratching your head and wondering why anyone would bother with such a tight squeeze of a building, this is Toronto --- if there's a spare square foot of space available, someone will have designs on it.  So this has led to lane closures on both Harbour and Lakeshore, which is just a super idea for two of the city's consistently busiest roads.

Secondly, and perhaps most pressingly, the York Street off-ramp at the Gardiner was demolished a few months back, and replaced just a smoothed-out ramp that takes drivers straight onto Harbour, rather than having them bend around down to York to go north (or turn right onto Harbour or Lakeshore).  A good idea in theory, though the rest for that bendy ramp was to help keep the Gardiner's traffic separate from the usual Harbour traffic to prevent some ungodly merge.

Well, guess what...now there's an ungodly merge.  You have the two-lane Gardiner ramp meeting up with the two lands on Harbour, except it's actually just one lane on Harbour, since the far lane (normally the left-hand turn lane) is sealed off by construction.  So now you have a makeshift left-hand turn lane that is virtually always backed up to Simcoe and beyond, plus two lanes' worth of highway traffic joining the fray.  Of those highway folks, at least several are planning to turn left, so they leave their ramp and immediately try to cut over to the turn lane and butt into the line, leaving the people on the one normal Harbour lane having to try and negotiate into one of the Gardiner's ramp lanes (assuming those lanes are clear due to people trying to get into the left lane).  Compound this with the fact that York Street's lights at the Harbour corner and the Lakeshore corner are set so that seemingly only a few cars at a time can actually make the turn, and it leads to a real kerfuffle.  That's right, a kerfuffle!  Pardon such extreme language.

Adding to the problem is that cars driving along Harbour are no longer allowed to turn right onto Lower Simcoe, as I'd imagine many people did to avoid that snarl.  Turning left form Lower Simcoe onto Queens Quay is something of a nightmare unto itself, given the people consistently clogging those lanes to turn into a parking garage, heavy pedestrian flow going down to the Power Plant and other lake shore attractions, and a very brief traffic light.  So you're basically just going from one mess to another, though at least on Lower Simcoe, you don't have to worry about some jackass from the highway trying to cut across three lanes just to wait to turn left.

FRUSTRATION~!  This condo can't be finished quickly enough.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

NBA Predictions

Theoretically, I should wait until (or if?) Jimmy Butler is traded before I make my picks, since his presence could certainly have some impact on the order.  But, let's be real, it won't make any impact on the NBA Finals.

EAST: Celtics, Raptors, Bucks, 76ers, Pacers, Heat, Wizards, Hornets
WEST: Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Spurs

Obligatory "the West is streets ahead of the East" comment.  I'm omitting the Nuggets (just barely) and Timberwolves (since I'm assuming Butler will eventually be dealt) from the Western bracket, though both teams would be fifth seeds at the worst in the East.  Am I really picking the Charlotte freaking Hornets to make the postseason?  Egads.

EAST FINALS: Celtics over Raptors
WEST FINALS: Warriors over Thunder

NBA FINALS: Golden State over Boston, six games
After four years of facing the Cavaliers, the Warriors at least get a new opponent, but the dynasty continues.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Secretariat

It was on this day in 1989 that Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of all time, passed away at the age of 19.  Secretariat was the Triple Crown champion in 1973, winning all three races by increasingly incredible (and hilarious) lengths.  You could make a sandwich in the time it takes the next horse to cross the finish line at the Belmont Stakes after Secretariat won the race.

In honour of this magnificent creature, I have just one question...WHO'S THAT AT THE DOOR?!?!



Sunday, September 30, 2018

NHL Predictions

Could this finally be the season that sees the Maple Leafs shatter their Stanley Cup drought?!?!  As much as this would delight me....no.  The asterisks indicate the wild cards.

ATLANTIC: Lightning, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Panthers*, Sabres, Red Wings, Canadiens, Senators

METROPOLITAN: Penguins, Blue Jackets, Capitals, Flyers*, Devils, Hurricanes, Rangers, Islanders

CENTRAL: Jets, Predators, Stars, Blues*, Wild*, Avalanche, Blackhawks

PACIFIC: Sharks, Golden Knights, Kings, Ducks, Oilers, Flames, Coyotes, Canucks

I do think the Leafs will finally advance out of the first round, taking down their hated rival Bruins in another heated affair.  But I'm again going with Tampa Bay to take the Atlantic, since that team is so loaded that they can likely even overcome the season-long whispers about Steve Yzerman leaving the organization entirely to take over the Red Wings.

I'll even go so far as to pick the Lightning to make the Stanley Cup Finals, BUT, they'll fall short of the championship.  While I'm still too wary of the Leafs' blue line to make them Canada's heroes, I will indeed project that the Cup will make its long-awaited return to our country.  Winnipeg Jets, this is your moment.  Don't blow it!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Whoa

I love that 95% of the internet is based around people saying "haha, that is such a dumb idea for a video" and then clicking on the video anyway.  Anyway, Keanu Reeves is terrific.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Greatest "Greatest Hits" Band


First of all, man does talking about greatest hits albums ever make me feel old.  This is yet another item from the recent past that has suddenly become completely passe today.  The youths today are like, "why not just make your own playlist of your favourite songs from a band?  And, what's an album?"  Don't these kids know that relying on the band itself to produce a greatest hits record is half the fun?  Then you get to complain about which tracks were and weren't included, as well as complaining about the usually low quality of the 1-3 unreleased songs included on the disc to be released as singles.

Anyway, I believe I've discussed the concept of a "Greatest Hits" band before, but to recap --- this is a band that most benefits from having its discography whittled down to 18-20 songs.  Hearing just this one-off greatest hits disc, you'd think this band is one of the best acts of all time, rather than its actual status as a band that had some amazing songs but perhaps only a solid-to-very good career as opposed to all-timer status.

Bands or solo acts in the actual GOAT conversation (i.e. the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, the Rolling Stones, etc.) don't fit into the "Greatest Hits Band" debate, even if one might logically surmise that the best 18-20 songs from any of these acts would naturally top anything else.  But there's the rub --- a big aspect of these acts' greatness is that they have such a large volume of hits, usually over so many years.  In distilling their careers down to 20 songs, you're actually leaving quite a bit on the table.  That also creates the problem of deciding which hits are really their "greatest," which leaves everyone unsatisfied.  If you asked 100 people to create their own 20-track playlist of their favourite Beatles songs, for instance, you will find a gigantic variety of songs.

With a band like Blondie, however, it's easier.  As you might guess, my crowning Blondie with the title of greatest Greatest Hits band comes from listening to one of their compilations and being blown away by the quality.  It may lead to a deeper dive into Blondie's discography, and lo and behold, did you know they're still an active working band?  After a long breakup for most of the 80's and 90's, they reunited for a couple of albums around the turn of the century, and then had more of a proper reunion in the 10's.  They've actually released three albums since 2011, which makes them more prolific than just about any other "older" act still producing new music.

Of course, if I check out these new albums or any of their classic 70's discs, then I run the risk of enjoying them and discovering more good music.  Then I'll discover a quibble with their Greatest Hits album, and thus it may cost Blondie their newly-won title.  The Cure are on standby, hopeful that they can claim the crown.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mindy

My co-worker Ken and I are walking through the lunchroom the other day when Steve the food services guy calls out "hey, it's Mork & Mindy!"  After taking a moment to ascertain that Steve was indeed talking to us, we then wondered, with some justification, huh?  His response: "Mork & Mindy, two peas in a pod."

A couple of days later, I found myself walking through the lunchroom by myself, only to hear Steve call out "hey Mindy, where's Mork?"  So this made it clear that, of the duo, I'm Mindy.

To be clear, I don't feel insulted by this.  If anyone should feel insulted, really, it's Pam Dawber.  For those of you weren't late 70's/early 80's sitcom fans, here's a picture of Pam Dawber on the left, and an artist's approximation of me on the right.




















As you tell, not much resemblance.  And it should be noted that Ken looks nothing like Robin Williams (or Pam Dawber, for that matter), nor does Ken wear yellow suspenders, nor does he look and/or act like an extra-terrestrial.  I also don't look anything like Robin Williams, but of the two of us, I guess I'd lean slightly more towards Robin due to my hairy forearms (and the aforementioned "could be an alien" thing).  Plus, if we're going by name similarities, obviously "Mork" and "Mark" are basically identical.

What Steve was going for was just a generic duo reference.  He could've just as easily called us Frick & Frack, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Pinky & The Brain, etc.  Instead, somewhat curiously, he went with a reference about two people who were quite distinct from each other --- that was the whole point of the show --- and who Ken and I didn't resemble in either personality or looks in the slightest. 

Then again, Pam Dawber is married to a Mark, i.e. Mark Harmon.  And Robin Williams was once married to a woman named Ken!....okay, that part is made up.  Steve really had nothing to go on, I'm reaching here.

Of all the many nicknames I've had in my life, "Mindy" might be the strangest.  How come I keep getting these odd monikers to stick, yet try as I might, I can never get "Mark The Shark" or "Mr. Spectacular" off the ground?  WHY NOT? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The "Modern Family" Death

First off, my official prediction is the dog.  The "significant character" who will die on this season of Modern Family won't be one of the actual core 12 (twelve? man, this cast got huge) characters, with one caveat that I'll address later.  This is a comedy, remember.  Cam won't suddenly become a widower in the final season, or one of the kids won't be hit by a bus.  However, Stella the dog passing away is enough of a non-impactful yet still meaningful story that it can feasibly happen, since obviously the death of a beloved pet is hard on any family (my own included).

The one caveat would be if Jay passes away in the series finale, in a sweet and sad way that closes the book on that generation of the Pritchett family and potentially wins Ed O'Neill an Emmy.  This would actually live up to the hype about the "significant death," and it would make more sense than having one of the more significant supporting characters kick the bucket.  Mitchell and Claire's mom?  Phil's dad?  Nathan Lane?  (I forget his character's name, but let's be real, he's just playing "Nathan Lane.")

My other theory is that it'll be revealed that Modern Family is actually part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so half the cast will suddenly disintegrate due to Thanos.  Disney/ABC really dropped the ball by not incorporating Infinity War into all of their properties.  Wouldn't you tune in to see Guillermo host the talk show if Jimmy Kimmel got snapped out of existence?  I feel like people would've been way more intrigued by the Han Solo prequel if, in the last scene, Han just gets out an "I've got a bad...." before turning into dust.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Conan 25

It was 25 years ago today that "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" debuted, making it roughly 17.5 years before I began to make Conan part of my nightly viewing routine.  In honour of this milestone, here's a wide-ranging Vulture interview (from June) with the man himself, and a classic bit of Late Night silliness

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fashion Week

My grey cargo pants are history. Tragedy. After five or six years of constant use, the crotch has been worn out, and since I'm not (immediately) planning on becoming a male exotic dancer, I have no choice but to relegate the ol' grey cargos to the level of "comfy pants I wear around the house but not in public." It's a sad end for these fine pants and I can't help but think they deserve more than to live the rest of their days as glorified pajamas. It's like seeing Brett Favre finish his career with the Jets and Vikings rather than with Green Bay….and, ironically, both Favre and my cargo pants were undone by their crotches.

I do own, like, three other pairs of cargo pants, so you won't have to worry about my wardrobe suddenly requiring me to wear shorts in winter. In my vast experience as a fashion expert, I'd have to say that cargo pants are basically the best garment ever invented. What's not to like? Comfy, somewhat borderline fashionable, not formal by any stretch but you can wear them out to most events and not be laughed at (to your face), and the pockets, my god, the pockets. Laurent Poquette, inventor of pockets back in the year 103 A.D., can rest in peace knowing that his greatest creation found its perfect mate in cargo pants.

Need a place to put your phone? Lower right leg side pocket. Your wallet? You could go the traditional route of your back pocket, but when you're a stout fellow like myself, sitting on your wallet runs the risk of one's fat ass crushing your credit card digits. Instead, boom, just slide that wallet right alongside your phone or, if you like privacy, just slide it into your lower left leg side pocket! Got a toque that you always wear because your bald head gets cold? Put it in, you guessed it, one of the side pockets! Always like carrying a pen in case you get an idea for your latest hilarious blog post and need to write it down? Carry a pen in your regular pocket! I suppose it's possible the average person might not carry so much crap on their person at any given time, but I was in Cub Scouts for four, hilarious, neckerchief-filled years. It was there that I learned to BE PREPARED in case Shere Khan from The Jungle Book suddenly appeared and tried to maul me to death. I think this was the message…all the Jungle Book imagery kind of blended together after a while.

This is all a round-about way of saying that if you're interested in buying a slightly-used pair of grey cargo pants, contact me. They can be yours at the very reasonable price of $89.99 Canadian dollars. This might be technically more than I originally paid for the pants, but now they're VINTAGE. You're not just buying a pair of cargo pants that are somewhat drafty in the testicle area --- you're buying a passport to the halcyon days of 2012 fashion.

Also, this would be a great/awful time for any of my friends to say "Hey Mark, you've had that hole in your crotch for two months, we all just thought it'd be funny to not tell you."

Friday, September 07, 2018

Hurt Star

This is a few years old, but was only recently brought to my attention as "a great cover of the Johnny Cash version of Hurt."  I did not expect to click this link and then start laughing, but that's the beauty of the internet.  This one goes in the hall of fame with Chris Cornell's multi-layered covers of "One."

Thursday, September 06, 2018

NFL Predictions

A new season is upon us! 

NFC East: Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Dallas
NFC West: Los Angeles, San Francisco*, Seattle, Arizona
NFC North: Green Bay, Minnesota*, Chicago, Detroit
NFC South: New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay

AFC East: New England, New York, Buffalo, Miami
AFC West: Kansas City, Denver*, Los Angeles, Oakland
AFC North: Baltimore, Pittsburgh*, Cincinnati, Cleveland
AFC South: Tennessee, Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis

* = wild card teams, and wow was this hard to pick.  I feel like the NFL is maybe seven legitimately good teams, seven awful teams, and everything else in the middle.

NFC Championship Game: Los Angeles over New Orleans
AFC Championship Game: New England over Tennessee

Super Bowl 53: Los Angeles over New England 
The number #53 is also the number for Herbie in the Love Bug movies, which were shot in California.  Ergo, I need to pick a Californian team to win the Super Bowl this year.  The original film was set in San Francisco, but since the 49ers and Jimmy G are still at least a season away, and the Raiders will be a capital-d Disaster, I'll go with the California team that looked really good last year.  The Rams gain revenge for Super Bowl 36, and maybe we go full circle on the Brady/Belichick era by having the Rams defeat them to close the Patriots' reign out entirely.  

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

One Man's Trash

As a big "How Did This Get Made?" fan, I was interested when Jason Mantzoukas plugged an episode of The Chris Gethard Show on which he and Paul Scheer appeared.  Specifically, Mantzoukas made the particular plea that someone should put the episode on YouTube since it was so singularly funny that it should reach as wide an audience as possible.  This advice was clearly taken, as I instantly found it on YouTube, and proceeded to watch a very entertaining hour of TV.  Now, the episode was from 2016, and the video was posted by the actual Chris Gethard Show itself, and the HDTGM episode with Jason's plug was just from the last couple of weeks, so I'm not really sure of why he chose right now to bring up "One Man's Trash," other than it maybe just occurred to him how awesome this 43 minutes of television is.

The premise is simple.  There's a dumpster on the stage.  Gethard (the host of this live, and very off-the-wall talk show) has Scheer and Mantzoukas as the guests, and the entire show is based around people guessing what the special object is inside said dumpster.  The guesses come from fans who call and Skype into the live broadcast, and also from Paul and Jason themselves for a time.  Gethard simply answers yes or no to the questions, with perhaps a hint or two along the way.  At certain points, certain people are allowed to peek into the dumpster to view the object, which changes the nature of the show considerably.

The twist, you see, is that if nobody correctly guessed, the dumpster wasn't going to be opened.  I actually didn't pick up on this detail while watching, though it was stressed as a critical point of this great article about the episode by Uproxx's Andrew Husband.  Frankly, I love the idea that this could've led to the same dumpster and object being used in a future show for another round of guessing.  Honestly, I feel like this could be an actual recurring show --- just add in some funny improvisors, have a new content of the dumpster every week, and you're on the air for a Gunsmoke-esque length of time.

I will, obviously, not dream of telling you what the actual object is (the fact that the object is revealed is my only spoiler).  Here's the episode if you want to watch for yourself, and honestly people, don't jump ahead in the video or read the comments section.  The episode is absolutely worth your full time.

Ok, one other minor spoiler: I can't believe nobody made a cheeky guess of Oscar The Grouch. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Jokebusters

As a wise man and/or a kid with a very unoriginal yearbook quote once said, "seize the day."  Sadly, I recently had a day of days-sized opportunity presented to me, and didn't capitalize.

My friend D recently posted a message on her Facebook wall looking for people (or friends of people) who had had real-life paranormal experiences, or more accurately, what they thought were real-life paranormal experiences.  I believe it was for an article D was writing, or something.

Since I'm never one to pass up a sarcastic Facebook response, I answered "my aunt Dana once lived in an apartment in Manhattan that was haunted by a Sumerian demon."  Then I sat back and just waited for the 'likes' to pour in.....and, okay, sure, there weren't any likes, but I still felt it was funny.  Why don't more people appreciate 34-year-old movie references?  Am I so out of touch?!  No...it's the children who are wrong.

While my comment fell short on the likes-ometer, I wasn't prepared for the next step, which was a private message D sent me the next day.  It asked, incredibly, if my aunt Dana would be willing to share her story as part of D's piece.

My only response was to write "D, I hate to do this to you, but here's a picture of my Aunt Dana..." and then sent her the above image of Sigourney Weaver in full possessed garb along with a smiling-face emoji.  D proceeded to inform me that a) I was a dick, and b) she sent her message while still tired after a long day at work and a long drive, so she didn't pick up on the reference.  So it was all fun and games and I got a funny story for a blog post.

....until I realized my mistake.  I had missed the chance to take this joke to the Nth level by revealing the gag too early.  I should've given D my phone number and said it was "Aunt Dana's number," so when D called, the conversation would've gone...

Me: Hello?
D: Hi, is this Dana Barrett?
Me: THERE IS NO DANA, ONLY ZUUL

The set-up was absolutely perfect for this once-in-a-lifetime joke opportunity, and I simply blew it.  It didn't occur to me until just after I'd sent the Sigourney picture, and then literally slapped my forehead in a manner so broad that even Dan Aykroyd would've told me to pull it back a bit.

Like my uncle Wayne always says, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.