Monday, August 20, 2018

The Window

Ever been driving down the highway and let loose a huge sneeze?

Ever realize you got a bit of snot projectile on the steering wheel after the sneeze, so for your next sneeze, you turn your head, only for an even bigger WET snot projectile to launch onto the passenger-side window?

Ever have to wait a seemingly interminable 10 minutes to find a place to pull over, buy some water, wet down a napkin, and then try to wipe the snot off, only to realize it had already started to harden in the 10 minutes and your wiping was, if anything, making things worse?

Ever have to sit there for the rest of the drive, knowing that some unpleasant sponging is awaiting you as soon as you get home?

This has never happened to me, btw, it's totally hypothetical.

Grossest post ever?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha

RIP to the single best voice of all time 


Friday, August 10, 2018

Most Popular Picture?

As you might expect, I have a multitude of thoughts about the Academy’s plan for an “achievement in popular film” Oscar….

* it really is incredible just how much The Dark Knight broke the Academy’s brain, isn’t it?  Who would’ve thought that this one specific snub would lead to such intense Oscar naval-gazing over the next decade.  Just like the Joker himself, the film became an agent of chaos that took an institution to its knees.

Just imagine a universe where enough AMPAS voters got over the idea of recognizing “a Batman movie” and put it on the Best Picture ballot.  If Dark Knight is nominated, the shift to 10 Best Picture nominees doesn’t happen, nor does the eventual shift to “between 6-10 nominees,” and likely nor does the “most popular film” idea.  Just a simple nomination would’ve been enough for the Dark Knight fans!  Nobody would’ve expected it to actually beat Slumdog Millionaire — that was a completely worthy winner, and while I’d say Dark Knight was the better film, it’s a small gap.  The issue was the giant, yawning gap in quality between Dark Knight and the other nominees (Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Milk, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) which are in the “fine but forgettable” department at best, and in the “worst nominee of the last three decades” at worst.  I’m looking at you, Button.  It’s incredible that so much Oscar history would be different if, what, a couple hundred extra AMPAS voters at the time realized (like the rest of us did) that these four movies could easily be set aside without a second thought.

And now, with one fell swoop, the Academy seems to be preparing for a future where a) superhero movies will likely win virtually every year, and b) they won’t win anything important any year, since they’ll have been relegated to their own separate category away from the, ahem, “real” Oscars. 


* the issue here is that the Academy is focusing on fixing problems that either aren’t problems, or are unfixable.  They seem to be taking issue with the fact that, in recent years, the Best Picture award has been going to films that aren’t big box office hits, or that don’t have a lot of mainstream popularity.  These so-called “Oscar movies” are beating the more fan-favourite popcorn fare, which has been a criticism of the Oscars since the dawn of time.

However, the award is called “Best” Picture.  We can argue all day about what “Best” means in this context, but if take the simplest route and assume it means quality, we’re actually in a pretty strong streak of Best Picture winners.  One man’s opinion, of course, but Artist/Argo/12 Years A Slave/Birdman/Spotlight/Moonlight/Shape Of Water is about as strong a seven-year stretch as any in Oscar history.  There are only two in that list (Argo, Shape Of Water) that I don’t consider to be particularly good choices, though they aren’t bad movies by any means, and Shape Of Water is so weirdly outside-the-box for what a Best Picture can or should be that I applaud its selection based on sheer novelty about how the Academy’s tastes may be changing.  Whether by design, luck, changes made to diversify and broaden the AMPAS membership or a combination of the three, the tweaks to the Best Picture voting formula have led to some solid results.  Mediocre films are still getting nominated, sure, but they’re not actually winning.  And, while you can certainly argue that none of these seven were the actual BEST film of their year, they’re all at least respectable choices. 

Beyond just stronger winners, we’re also seeing generally better nominees.  Shape Of Water and Moonlight doesn’t get nominated pre-2008, let alone win.  Movies like Get Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, District 9, Her, Toy Story 3, and Up have been in the Best Picture race.  I’m willing to swallow the occasional “fine but forgettable” nominee if it means something else unique that might have an actual legit shot at winning is also in the field alongside it.

So ironically, the Academy is getting better at picking their Best Pictures, though they’re still unsatisfied because the Best Pictures aren’t in the cultural mainstream.  So now they’re making a decision that will quite possibly detract from that quality, leaving both Best Picture and possibly Popular Picture worse off.  Would something like Get Out, which has a case in both categories, end up splitting votes and get snubbed in both?  Would voters interpret the categories as Pure Oscar Movies and Pure Popcorn Movies, and we’re left with a world of only Imitation Games and Fast & Furiouseses in either slate?  Is Best Picture with its 90-year history still the be-all and end-all, or is this a case of when you have two winners, you really have no winners?


* the unfixable problem I referred to earlier is that the Oscar telecast’s ratings have been dropping significantly in recent years, so the Popular Picture concept is seen as a way of gaining viewer interest by getting their favourite movies onto the telecast.  I say this is unfixable since TV ratings are dropping across the board for everything, so the Academy and ABC may simply be fighting a losing battle. 

There’s also a mistake, I feel, in the belief that a nominee list that better reflects the average TV viewer’s movie tastes will lead to them watching the Oscars.  Now, I’m a movie geek who watches the Oscars every year regardless, so I’m just going by interpretation here, but in my view, casual viewers watch the Oscars for three main reasons — they’re a big event, it’s a chance to see a bunch of big stars in one place, and for the fashions.  Well, today people can catch up on the fashions in a five-minute slideshow on a thousand different websites the next day, you can see celebrities interacting literally anytime you want online, and today’s “big event” is tomorrow’s quaint tradition of the past.  The Miss America pageant also used to be a big deal, once upon a time.

The actual movies themselves have never seemed to really be much of a draw, as there is rarely correlation between popular nominees and heavy TV viewership.  The only instance I can think of when a hugely popular movie’s involvement in the Best Picture race raised interest in the Oscars was the year Titanic won — that was the highest-rated ceremony ever.  However, I feel safe in calling that an outlier since Titanic was literally the most popular movie ever made.  Consider that the second highest-rated Oscars ceremony ever was the year Gandhi won, and I’m pretty sure 50 million people weren’t tuning in because they yearned to see Ben Kingsley and Richard Attenborough get their day in the sun.  I mean, it’s not like the Peoples’ Choice Awards are a huge ratings bonanza.


* the latest edition of The Ringer’s “Big Picture” podcast covered a lot of the already-breaking criticism about this “popular movie award” idea, though the trio of Sean Fennessey, Amanda Dobbins, and Bill Simmons made a few very interesting points I’d like to repeat here.  Firstly, that this idea was floated by ABC, who is owned by Disney, who will now suddenly see its big franchises become the heavy favourites in this category going forward.  Basically, I wonder if Marvel’s Kevin Feige really got it wound up about wanting an Oscar.  Secondly, the Academy’s announcement might well only be a trial balloon, and one that could quickly be popped given the instant negative reaction.  Maybe this is really a third-dimensional chess move to sort of shame AMPAS voters into being more open to nominating “popular” mainstream fare for Best Picture, to which I say Darkest Hour was nommed just last year, so good luck. 


* back in 1927, the very first Academy Awards handed out two separate top prizes — “Outstanding Picture” and “Best Unique And Artistic Picture.”  The former went to Wings, a crowd-pleasing action/romance popcorn movie (did they serve popcorn at theatres in 1927?) about World War I pilots.  The latter went to Sunrise, widely acclaimed as one of the best films ever made.

It’s a fascinating thought experiment to consider how these categories would’ve looked over the years had the Academy stuck to this format, though they couldn’t have abandoned it more quickly.  By 1928, it was just a singular “Outstanding Picture,” which went to The Broadway Melody, widely anti-acclaimed as perhaps the worst Best Picture ever.  Furthermore, the Academy retroactively decided that Wings was the official “Best Picture” of record and more or less forgot it ever rewarded Sunrise, which is pretty hilarious given the film’s stature in cinematic history.  If you took pride in pretending you rewarded the best movie of any given year, wouldn’t you rather have Sunrise than Wings on your resume?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Smashing Good Time

There was the Sharon, Lois, & Bram concert when we were preschoolers.  And when we were slightly older kids, our parents took us to see Phantom and Joseph, if those count as “concerts” per se.  So it’s not exactly true that my brother and I have never been to see a concert together, though never at a proper rock show.  Finally, however, the time came — his beloved Smashing Pumpkins were back together* and touring again, and he talked me into tagging along with him to the show. 

* = minus D’Arcy “The Wreat One” Wretzky, who is more than done with dealing with Billy Corgan

The Pumpkins might’ve technically been my favourite band back in high school, or potentially even my first favourite band.  I’ve written before about how I didn’t really get into music at all until ninth grade, and since that was in 1995 at the height of the Pumpkins’ stardom, I hopped onto the bandwagon and listened to Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness ad nauseam.  That’s right, even the 5-6 tracks that everyone skips!  After that brief spurt of fandom, however, U2 came along for me, and then “Adore” was kind of a weak record, and that was basically it for me and Corgan & company.  I liked a few singles, I had no ill will towards the group, I’d just fallen out of interest.

It’s for this reason that I had to kind of be arm-twisted into attending this concert.  If anything, I was more interested in seeing opening act Metric, one of my current favourite bands.  The Pumpkins kind of felt like yesterday’s news, and I didn’t really have high hopes going into the show…

…and forget about that, since good lord was this concert wonderful.  Easily a top-10 live show experience of my life.  The “original” Pumpkins (Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin) were joined by a few side musicians and at least one other person who’d joined the band in the post-Original Four era, and they combined to rip through just about every notable track in the group’s discography.  The heavy focus was on the two classic records with 14 songs from MC&TIS and Siamese Dream.  There were also four covers, one new recording, and then 12 other tracks from the original Iha era, so nothing from Zeitgeist (no big loss, though “Tarantula” is a great song) and that other random disc I can’t even remember the title.

If you’re counting, this is a whopping 31 SONGS over THREE-PLUS HOURS.  What a marathon!  The band actually came out for a final encore and I was legitimately puzzled as to what they had left in the repertoire.  The answer ended up being “Solara” (their new single) and, of all things, a cover of Betty Noyes’ “Baby Mine.”  Sure, why not.

The show’s length explains why Metric were on promptly at 7pm just as the doors were opening at the Air Can….er, Scotiabank Arena.  This actually caused me to miss the first song or two, which was unfortunate, yet the rest of the set was excellent.  Heavy focus on their newest and, in many cases, unreleased material, and the quality sound bodes well for the next album.  This was my first Metric experience, believe it or not, despite them being one of my favourite bands for over five years now.  This technically counts as losing my Metric concert virginity, though I still feel I owe them a proper full concert at some point.  Their set: Love You Back, Risk, Dressed To Suppress, Breathing Underwater, Art Of Doubt, Gold Guns Girls, Now Or Never Now, Dark Saturday, Help I’m Alive.

And then onto the Pumpkins, bought forth by Corgan emerging from between two large panels at the back of the stage, which cracked open for a Twilight Zone-esque shaft of light effect.  The stage was pretty large, though often cut in half by these multiple panels, which acted as video screens, one big video screen, or ran through various images (i.e. shots from old Pumpkins videos and album liner notes) as well some videos that seemed to be shot specifically for the concert.  If you’re a fan of the Pumpkins’ general delicate goth aesthetic, this was definitely for you.

Though it’s hard to have an “odd” setlist when you basically just play everything, it was kind of an unusual setup.  There were a few outright pauses between songs, no transitions or anything, while the band set up instruments and some staging props for the next tune.  I saw the same thing with Radiohead at another recent show, which maybe worked a bit better with them given their music’s general ethereal quality, though with the Pumpkins it was a bit of a stall to have a hard-rocking number that got the crowd fired up, only to have a brief pause in the action.

(Speaking of that Radiohead show, you may recall my complains about my sore knees and back after four hours of standing.  No worries this time around, and my brother and I were comfortably seated in the arena’s upper level.  I was upset, however, by the fact that the Pumpkins’ general seating area was filled by proper seats.  “Where were these three weeks ago?!”, cried my aching body.)

The other criticism, as it were, was a bit of a mid-show lull.  Seemingly half the arena went for a bathroom & snack break during Iha’s “Blew Away” number,* and following that up with a couple of not-super-well-known Adore songs didn’t help with the momentum.  Stacking most of the biggest hits in the back half of the setlist meant for a great build, yet maybe if it’s me planning the show, I stick one of the megahits just before “Blew Away” to at least head into that slower period on a more of a high than “Soma” (a good song, mind you) could provide.

* = the band didn’t really have a full encore break until the very end, as they did take a couple of brief interludes while a video of a Vaudeville-style MC played.  Some internet research has discovered that the MC was played by, of all people, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and TV hosting fame.  This is one of the most head-scratching “of all peoples” of all time.

But those at the quibbles, in general this was just a blast of a show.  I knew the setlist would be focused on the older stuff, but I thinking it would be more or less a Siamese Dream/Melon Collie reunion tour, not a trip down memory lane of ALL the older stuff.  Everlasting Gaze!  Stand Inside Your Love!  Eye!  The freaking Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning?!  I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to hear Ava Adore, yet it was a delight, and honestly one of the crowd’s big favourites of the evening — that beat is just unreal to hear live.  It might be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins song.  My brother’s favourite, incidentally, is Cherub Rock.  Amusingly, he was so excited about hearing the song that he was somehow worried they wouldn’t play it.  I was like, “are you serious?”  Then again, Radiohead played maybe one of their five biggest songs at the concert I just attended, so maybe I have no point.

Kudos to the Pumpkins for this absolute crowd-pleaser of a concert that left everyone kind of exhausted and stunned at what we just witnessed.  The setlist!

1. Disarm
2. Rocket
3. Siva
4. Rhinoceros
5. Space Oddity (yep, a Bowie cover)
6. Drown
7. Zero
8. The Everlasting Gaze
9. Stand Inside Your Love
10. Thirty-Three
11. Eye
12. Soma
***interlude #1***
13. Blew Away
14. For Martha
15. To Sheila
16. Mayonaise
17. Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans
18. Landslide (yep, the Fleetwood Mac cover)
19. Tonight, Tonight
20. Stairway To Heaven (yep, a Zeppelin cover)
21. Cherub Rock
***interlude #2***
22. 1979
23. Ava Adore
24. Try, Try, Try
25. The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning
26. Hummer
27. Today
28. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
29. Muzzle
***encore***
30. Solara
31. Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Mouse, Trapped

My interest in the UFC has severely waned over the last few years, though I'd be remiss if I didn't note Demetrious Johnson losing the flyweight title last night.  The "Mighty Mouse" has been the 125-pound champ literally since the division began in September 2012, and after a record 11 straight defenses, he finally got got.

The upset special was provided by Henry Cejudo, who Mighty Mouse easily knocked out in less than a round back in 2016.  That result, plus MM's general dominance, led me to assume that this would another easy victory, yet Cejudo made me and many others eat some crow.  It was, to be fair, a very close fight --- a split decision, with all three judges scoring the rounds 3-2 for one fighter or the other. 

As close as it was, I think the right call was made.  The difference here was that Cejudo was able to manage a few takedowns and more or less stifle Johnson with wrestling, even if Cejudo didn't really do much damage or threaten for submissions while he had the champ down on the ground.  If anything, Johnson might've actually impressed the judges more by making flashy escapes from the ground on a couple of occasions.  Still, it was enough to narrowly eke out the fight for Cejudo on pure octagon control --- Johnson was the better fighter in the standup game, yet couldn't capitalize to hand out much damage.  It was a rare instance of seeing MM actually look a bit flustered, as his strikes weren't having too much effect on Cejudo, and Johnson also couldn't really follow up with combos since he was worried about being taken down.

The fight was definitely close enough that a rematch seems necessary, though Johnson apparently suffered foot and knee injuries during the fight, so we might not see him in action for a while.  Cejudo challenged the bantamweight champ (T.J. Dillashaw) to a fight at 135 pounds, but slow your roll, Henry.  The UFC has developed an annoying habit of keeping legit contenders on hold in order to pursue superfights between champions and/or bigger names, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Cejudo vs. Dillashaw next, though why not have Cejudo actually defend the title first.  I can understand striking while the iron is hot, but let's be real, Cejudo/Dillashaw isn't exactly a barn-burner of a main event.  Johnson/Dillashaw even wouldn't have sold too many pay-per-view buys.  It's hard to be a draw in MMA these days unless your name is McGregor or St. Pierre, so why not at least give some other flyweight or bantamweight contender a chance to make themselves famous.

Is Demetrious Johnson the best fighter ever?  It's hard to say.  He gets a lot of obvious attention in pound-for-pound discussions, though he's hurt by the relative newness of the flyweight division.  Is he a big fish in a shallow pool, or, could his dominance actually be hurting his reputation?  It sounds weird, but Johnson beating everyone may make the division look weaker than it actually is.  When someone like GSP, Jon Jones, or Anderson Silva was tearing through their respective divisions, they were doing so against more established names, thus making their win streaks seem more impressive.

This has been your regularly-scheduled intermittent UFC report! 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Does He Know The Lyrics?

"We'll tonight thank god it's them instead of youuuuuuuuu!"

Listening to "Do They Know It's Christmas" on the radio the other day*, it occurred to me for the thousandth time that Bono's lyric makes no sense at all.  His line is arguably the most memorable of the song, given that a) it's the lyrical climax, b) Bono really puts a lot of oomph into the delivery and c) Bono is one of the few in Band Aid who is still famous and even kind of relevant here in 2018.

* = why this song was playing in July is anyone's guess


Here are the full lyrics to the song, basically summarized as such: "Christmas is a great time of year but things aren't nearly as merry in Africa, so keep them in your thoughts and donate some money to provide food, while you're at it."  Perfectly lovely sentiment.  And then, right in the middle, here's Bono essentially throwing that sentiment under the bus by saying, in effect, "hey, better them than us, eh?"

Three theories…

1) The discordant line was meant to essentially sum up the western view of African suffering.  This is pretty dark for an Xmas song, but that's the point --- it's the jolt line in the middle of this celebrity charity sing-along.

2) I'm misinterpreting the line entirely and its intent is really the equivalent of "tonight thank god FOR them instead of you," as in, Band Aid are taking a moment to focus on the unfortunates rather than the happy one-percenters in the western world.  Bono is notorious for forgetting or altering lyrics (even to his own songs that he's been singing for decades) so perhaps he replaced the "it's" for the "for" and it just wasn't noticed during the recording process because…

3) …everyone was so drunk and/or high during the session that Bob Geldof just let the whole thing slide.  And then once the song was released they had to stick to it, to the point that Bono returned to sing the same line during the 20th anniversary version re-recorded with modern stars* in 2004.

* = Ok, well, modern "stars."  Not a lot of names jump out on that 2004 list as people who are still relevant today; it seems like most of the famous names (Paul McCartney, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood) stuck to the instrumentation, possibly so they could avoid having to sing a bizarre lyrics that people are still writing blog posts about years later.  Then again, the 1984 version featured the likes of members of Shalamar, Ultravox, Heaven 17 and Status Quo, so it wasn't quite as star-studded as one remembers.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Frasier Redux

"Frasier" is one of my all-time favourite shows. It has impacted my life to the point that some have even compared my personality to that of Frasier Crane himself, which is....well, not really a compliment, but whatever, you get the point, I love the show.

With this in mind, let me be perfectly clear about this --- the potential new incarnation of a "Frasier" TV series is not a good idea.

Now, it seems like the basic idea of this show steers clear of the most obvious pitfalls of a Frasier reboot.  For one, it wouldn't really be a reboot.  Dr. Crane would again find himself in a new city, surrounded by an entirely new supporting cast.  This is a wise move, as it automatically distances the character from "Frasier" (much in the way that the first spinoff distanced itself from "Cheers" by sending Frasier from Boston to Seattle) and diminishes audience expectations/fears that we'll see Niles, Daphne, Roz, and company all pop up on a regular basis.  Sadly, not John Mahoney, RIP.

So, a new Frasier show would be different than other recent relaunched sitcoms (i.e. Roseanne, Will & Grace) in that it wouldn't just be in the old cast in new stories, but rather one new characters in new stories, launched in a new direction in his life.  Just throwing it out there, but the kid who played Freddy Crane (Trevor Einhorn) is still an actor, with such credits as Mad Men and The Magicians to his name.  The most obvious scenario would be to have Frasier move in with Freddy in, say, Kansas City or some random midwest American city* and we get a revamp of the Martin/Frasier dynamic with Frasier now in the role of father constantly sparring with his son.

* Frasier's done Boston and Seattle, time to hit the Central Time Zone

But don't let my admittedly brilliant plot idea fool you, this show shouldn't happen.  I've recently begun to apply the metric of "does this really need to happen?" metric to any sort of sequel, reboot, spinoff, prequel, etc.  The answer, four times out of five, is just a flat-out no.  I guess you could broadly argue that entertainment by its very nature doesn't NEED to happen no matter how good, though then you're just a philistine. 

I ask you, does the world need to see 63-year-old Kelsey Grammer playing Frasier Crane making jokes about millennials?  Would any Frasier series be worth its salt if it didn't have the brilliant writers from the original series and/or Cheers working on the scripts?  Do we need to see the inevitable Niles/Daphne/Roz/probably Bulldog, Kenny, Gil, and the KACL gang cameos?  I say no.  Leave the memories alone.  Sometimes it's time to just let the blues keep calling without picking up the salad prongs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Survivor Ratings: Wendell

While I did take all of May off, it’s pretty telling that I’m only getting around to my usual Survivor winner analysis two months after Ghost Island wrapped up.  It wasn’t my least-favourite season ever since it wasn’t overtly offensive or unpleasant to watch (here’s looking at you, All-Stars, or Worlds Apart, or Redemption Island), yet this was quite possibly the most bland Survivor series yet.  I suppose it’s a plus that Wendell Holland, one of the few players allowed to show a spark of personality, ended up winning, but man, was it ever an uninteresting journey.  Honestly, two months later, I had to rely on some reference material just to refresh my memory on what even happened during the season.

How He Won: The classic Survivor strategy of forming a tight, yet also multi-layered alliance.  Wendell’s chief ally from day one was Domenick, which rode through to the end of the game even though Dom took the obligatory shot at trying to eliminate Wendell before the final three (Wendell openly admitted he would’ve done the same to Dom had the positions been reversed).  Wendell’s greatest ally, of course, ended up being Laurel, as evidenced by the all-important tiebreaker vote, a.k.a. the season’s only unique and interesting moment.  It was legitimately fun seeing everyone’s shocked face when Jeff started reading the votes on the island, with the added bonus of Dom’s humourous “I have NO shot” expression when it was revealed that Laurel would be the tie-breaker.

But I digress!  Wendell benefited from the near-comical dominance of the Naviti tribe, who got out to the early numbers advantage over Malolo and then kept it throughout the entire game, no matter how many more new tribe swaps and re-alignments took place.  Wendell was only really in trouble once in the entire game — when the Malolo minority took advantage of the Dom/Chris schism on the third vote and got Morgan out of the game.  That could’ve just as easily been Wendell going out of the game at that point, though I’d guess his close connection to Domenick made the others wary of a possible idol.

Regardless, Wendell soon found his own hidden immunity idol and it was smooth sailing from there.  Thanks to Wendell and Domenick aligning with Laurel and Donathan from the Malolo minority, that gave them the added numbers to stay strong once Naviti started cannibalizing itself.  Bradley went even before the merge, The Chris Noble Experience ended at the merge vote, Desiree got herself booted when she tried to make her own move, and suddenly the Kellyn/Chelsea/Sebastian/Angela faction were outnumbered by Wendell, Dom, Don, and Laurel.

Now, since this season’s editing was absolutely as poor as could be, we never really got a sense of inner-tribe dynamics, or why some votes and relationships went the way they did.  At times it seemed like Kellyn was really tight with Dom and Wendell, and other times it seemed like they were rivals.  At times it looked like Kellyn and company might have their own sub-alliance going, but that never amounted to anything.  At times it looked like Chelsea might get more than five words in an episode, but nope. 

I’ve ranted at length about how the post-show interviews with the cast reveal way more of what actually happened on the island than the actual show itself, so I just feel weary at this point that Survivor insists on manufacturing narratives when some interesting narratives are already taking place.  Not to mention all the time spent on discussing vote-splitting, and idols, and all of the extra advantages on Ghost Island rather than more time spent on the personalities of the players playing the game.

In fact, it seems that the Survivor producers unwittingly created a dull season for themselves in their attempts to add more uncertainty to the game via Ghost Island.  Theoretically, all the advantages in play would’ve led to crazy blindsides and power shifts.  In practice, it seems like all the uncertainty led to very rote gameplay — you can’t blame Naviti for just keeping it simple and knocking out the opposing tribe given the threat of twists and advantages hanging over everyone’s head.  This certainly contributed to Wendell’s win.  Given that Wendell and Domenick were openly acknowledged early on as a strong power couple, you’d think an earlier attempt would’ve been made to break them up, but the Naviti crew was mostly focused on just controlling what they could and just going for the Malolo sitting ducks, and then the more overtly outspoken alliance members in Chris and Desiree.


Skillset:
Again, I blame the game-focused edit for not giving us too much of Wendell’s personality (aside from his critique of Chris’ rap skills), though he seemed to be a likeable guy who also had the challenge ability to protect himself in a couple of key spots.  Essentially, Wendell ended up playing a version of The Amber Strategy, teaming up with a more overtly aggressive alliance member and then using his good-cop vibe to get more votes than Dom the bad cop in the final tribal council vote.

That said, of course, it was as close as a vote could get.  Some of Domenick’s rougher edges were apparently hidden in editing, though on the show itself, he also seemed like a decent guy and a decent player.  It boggles the mind that, even though Wendell and Dom got a lot of airtime, I still don’t really have a great handle on this partnership and the specifics that each guy brought to the table.  Survivor did a much better job of building up the Chris/Domenick rivalry to a worthy payoff, but it couldn’t make a similar, season-long build of Dom and Wendell as these two major players headed for a collision in a historic final vote?  You’d think the idea of two somewhat alpha-male, somewhat “Survivor is about idols and blindsides” type of players going head-to-head would be Jeff Probst’s dream scenario, yet even this big collision didn’t deliver.


Could He Do It Again?
: As noted, Wendell basically never had to play from behind all season, so who knows how he’d fare if he had to face some prolonged adversity.  As with Sarah and Ben in the last two series, I’m finding it increasingly hard to actually gauge the quality of victories in these recent Survivor seasons due to the annoying preponderance of idols, advantages, vote steals, etc.  Wendell seems to have the overall skills to be a good player in most circumstances, though maybe he was actually just fortunate to be on the winning tribe, and teamed with a guy who had a bunch of idols and advantages.  Survivor wants to present itself as an Amazing Race-style game where a winner wins due to specifically doing A, B, and C, though the real reason players win jury votes (their personality and social game) is often set by the wayside.  We’ll revisit the topic in my next Survivor winner analysis, which will probably come about five months after the next season ends.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hot! Live! Music!

U2, "You're The Best Thing About Me"
U2 is playing an acoustic version of this song on tour, which seems like a misfire or maybe even a surrender, as the guys reportedly didn't feel they ever really nailed a full-band version.  To this, I say...um, remember LAST year's tour?!   

U2, "Summer Of Love"
This is the only time SOL (hmm, unfortunately acronym) has ever been played live, which also seem like an odd choice by U2.  If you're looking for something to fit into an acoustic slot in a concert, look no further.  This is, by the way, arguably my favourite track on Songs Of Experience, and there's an alternate reality out there where U2 released the version with Lady Gaga in a prominent co-vocal role and the song became a big hit.

U2, "Bad"
I really need to go through these H!L!M! posts at some point to see just how many times I've uploaded performances of "Bad."  It has to be a good half-dozen at this point, though this is the first with the utterly amazing "Heroes" tag at the end.  The actual song kicks in at 1:50, btw.

U2, "Magnificent"
After seemingly losing interest in this song even during its own tour, U2 somewhat inexplicably brought it back for a one-off performance with a new arrangement during the Innocence & Experience Tour.  I like the faster pace and more driving vibe, it really helps it take off as a live track.  At this rate, it'll re-emerge as a live staple around what, 2021?

Friday, July 20, 2018

This Decade's Radiohead Concert

Way back in 1997, just after OK Computer hit the shelves, Radiohead played a concert in (of all places) my hometown of London, Ontario.  This was the first “real” concert I’d ever attended, my parents taking me to go see Sharon, Lois & Bram as a four-year-old notwithstanding.  Fast-forward to 2008, and I saw Radiohead for a second time, this show taking place on a rainy night at the Molson Amphitheatre.

And now, almost exactly 10 years later, there I was at Radiohead concert #3.  This one was in the more comfortable environs of the Air Can…er, Scotiabank Centre,* though unfortunately, my actual comfort during the show was limited.  If Radiohead concerts serve as 2001-esque monoliths in my life as a concert-goer, we’ve hit the next step in my evolution.  We went from newbie, to seasoned music-watcher, to Too Old For General Admission. 

* = wow, it’ll take a while to get used to writing that  

After four hours of standing and sorta-dancing on concrete, my legs, feet, and back were absolutely killing me.  My friend M, co-attendee at the show, was also nursing sore feet due to an ill-advised choice of shoes, so we made quite the pair hobbling our way up the stairs after the concert was over.  Now, to be fair, it was our own fault we were in this predicament, as we’d gotten in relatively early and took up a prime spot about 35 feet away from the stage, dead-centre.  There was thus little room to really maneuver ourselves for any additional comfort, since we were packt like sardines in a crushd tin box amidst the many other fans wanting to get close to the stage.

I’ve spent this much time on my general physical condition since it couldn’t help but impact my enjoyment of the concert.  You know you’re hurting when the band comes out for a second encore and your first thought is “NOOOOOOO.”  Needless to say, however, my soreness shouldn’t take away from Radiohead still putting on a great show after all these years.

For something completely different, the opening act was Shye Ben Tzur, an Israeli musician whose material is sort of fusion of Israeli and Indian music.  He was joined by his backing band, the Rajasthan Express, and also….Jonny Greenwood, since what better way to prepare for a concert by playing another concert.  We weren’t even aware that there even was an opening act for the show, so this was a fun surprise, particularly as the band was fantastic.  They really got the crowd fired up and into the music, which often can’t be said for more familiar bands in more familiar genres. 

This tour might technically still be in support of A Moon-Shaped Pool, though Radiohead only played four songs off the album, including the rather surprising omission of “Burn The Witch.”  Judging from other setlists on the tour, Radiohead is basically just playing whatever they want on the tour, so you’re likely in for quite a bit of variance if you attend multiple shows.  The cool thing about Radiohead generally shying away from their most well-known past material (from OK Computer and The Bends) and not really having too many mainstream singles in the interim is that they could easily come out the next night and play 25 entirely different songs and put on just as satisfying a performance.  I mean, I personally could’ve done without all the King Of Limbs stuff aside from personal favourite “Lotus Flower,” but to each their own.

The stage was brilliant in its simplicity, with just one oval-shaped (or moon-shaped!) video screen lit with various different colour-filters, either showing multiple images of the band members in a sort of hive collage, or other vaguely computerized imagery, like radio waves, an EKG monitor, or the traditional Matrix-style green computer text during “The Gloaming.”

Radiohead has added a new member to their live concerts since I saw them last, as they now have an additional drummer on stage.  At first I thought Phil Selway was being phased out, or we were getting a guest appearance from Ringo Starr, though it ended up being another extra body who was more of a percussionist and other random instrumentalist rather than a strict drummer.  They didn’t really get too kooky with double beats or anything when Selway and New Guy were both drumming at the same time, either.  Frankly, I’m surprised Radiohead can replicate all their unique sounds on-stage with six guys, so requiring just one more extra person is still pretty impressive.

I’m highly looking forward to seeing Radiohead again in, say, 2028.  Needless to say, I’ll be watching from the comfort of an actual seat.

The setlist….

1. Daydreaming
2. Ful Stop
3. Myxomatosis
4. Morning Bell
5. All I Need
6. Videotape
7. The Gloaming
8. No Surprises
9. Airbag
10. Where I End And You Begin
11. Bloom
12. Feral
13. The Numbers
14. Like Spinning Plates
15. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
16. Bodysnatchers
17. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
—ENCORE #1 —
18. 2 + 2 = 5
19. Nude
20. Identikit
21. Lotus Flower
22. The Tourist
— ENCORE #2 —
23. Everything In Its Right Place
24. Idioteque
25. Karma Police

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sona Needs A Car

The legendary Sona/Conan (Sonan?) comedy team reunites to get Sona a new vehicle.  Frankly, I was hoping for one of those hummers, painted in the shade of Conan's hair.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Saint Mark 2.0

To be canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church, one must have two recorded miracles to their credit.  Piece of cake.

MIRACLE THE FIRST: Years ago, I was doing some work while listening to music, and my iTunes shuffle randomly delivered these four songs in a row.

* I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (original album version)
* I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Rattle & Hum live version)
* Pride (Rattle & Hum live version)
* Pride (original album version)

This was on a complete shuffle of my entire library, so it wasn't a case where I had a specific U2 mix or anything.  Out of over 600 songs at that point, this exact quartet came up.  I ask you, what are the odds of that happening?

Now, you might ask how this could technically be a miracle from my own hand, as it would seemingly be just a coincidental spin of my iTunes' song-picking matrix.  But, think about it....who put the songs ON the iTunes in the first place?  #Mindblown #GalaxyBrain #Whaaaaaaaat



MIRACLE THE SECOND: Years ago, my friends and I were hanging out at the Palasade, London's finest all-purpose game-based eatery.  Picture a Chuck E. Cheese for adults.  After a night of carousing, we hit the arcade for some fun, and I happened upon a Deal Or No Deal game.  I selected my briefcase* and away I went, with the machine offering tokens for the arcade's prize booth in lieu of actual cash.

* = sadly, I don't remember the exact number of my case.  If I had to guess, it was Aaron Rodgers' #12, or perhaps #5 in honour of Johnny Five from Short Circuit.

I almost instantly knocked several of the biggest dollar values off the board with my first few cases, leaving me with a tough decision.  Statistically, I probably should've walked away right there and taken the banker's offer...but no.  I went into the next round and knocked out more cases, leaving just the "million dollars" at the top and then a long dropoff to the remaining figures.  Again, by all logic, I should've taken the banker's next offer....but no.

On and on we went, until there's just my own case and one remaining on the board.  The million is still active, as is one token minor dollar amount, $25 or something.  The banker offers me the halfway point between the two sums.  Anyone with any vague knowledge of the Monty Hall Problem would've been screaming at me to take the sum and walk away, secure in the comfort of being able to spend my tokens on at least some candy rather than risk it all and wind up with one stinking token and would hardly have bought me a single Skittle.

And yet, I just knew.  I rode all the way to the end with my briefcase, and sure enough, there was the top prize.  I was a millionaire, of sorts.  The Palasade patrons were treated to quite the display of whooping as I celebrated my victory, with the machine just spewing out tokens in an unbroken stream of glory.

If I recall correctly, I spent all 100 tokens or whatever it was on those little rocket-sticks candy things.  They were delicious.  My dentist probably shuddered, but whatever, it was glorious.


So there they are, my two miracles.  Ball's in your court now, Pope.  Question, do I actually have to be Catholic to be a saint, since that might be a bit of a roadblock.  Also, since there already is a Saint Mark, so I get Roman numerals beside my name or what?

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Between Two Ferns?!

As one might say about Hangover sequels except without the tinge of disappointment in their voice....they're still doing these?  It's hard to top the surreal nature of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as guests, but if you think about it, Seinfeld is basically the president of 90's comedy.  Sure, why not.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Warriors Aren't "Unfair"

Boogie Cousins just signed a one-year deal to join the Warriors for the mid-level exception ($5.3 million) salary.  The move has triggered a fresh wave of complaining about how the Golden State dynasty is bad for the NBA and how the Warriors' accumulation of talent is somehow unfair or anti-competition.

Here's the breakdown of why this argument is, in short, dumb....

* Golden State built its core group from within.  Five other teams had a chance to draft Steph Curry in 2009.  Nine other teams had a chance to draft Klay Thompson in 2011.  EVERY team had a chance to draft Draymond Green in 2012, as the Warriors didn't take him until the second round.  This is some all-time talent mining, as Golden State is the rare NBA powerhouse that wasn't built around a clear-cut, top-of-the-draft franchise player that everyone knew was going to be great from day one.  Just as crucially, because these guys weren't all total blue-chip picks, Golden State was able to sign them to contract extensions that ended up being massive bargains for the team, and allowed them the future salary cap space for signing the likes of Kevin Durant.

I think this is at the root of most fans' anti-Warriors frustrations --- they're just mad that their team didn't draft this well. 

* Because NBA history is littered with superstar players (like Kevin Durant) leaving their original team to join up with a team that has a better chance of winning.  I have to laugh when I see NBA old-timers complaining that they would've never "joined a rival" as Durant allegedly did, when half of the big stars in history pulled strings to end up with their preferred team, usually the Lakers.

Also, people seem to be overlooking the 'free' aspect of free agency.  Why *wouldn't* Durant have wanted to join Golden State?  If you take it from a real-world context, if someone is working at a successful-but-flawed company, what would be wrong with them leaving for a job at the most successful company in the same industry?  The same fans ripping on Durant for this so-called sellout move would've been the same fans criticizing Durant for his lack of rings, had he remained in Oklahoma City with the seemingly-insufferable-to-play-with Russell Westbrook.  It wouldn't surprise me if Durant made up his mind about leaving OKC the moment the Thunder dealt James Harden; here was a team that had an even better homegrown trio than the Warriors, yet they threw Harden away rather than pay a few extra million in luxury tax money.

* The same "why WOULDN'T a free agent want to go to Golden State" argument can be applied to Cousins, albeit in a very different circumstance.  Cousins is trying to return from a torn Achilles and very well might not actually take the court until 2019.  He's going to be spending this season figuring out what he can and can't do physically, so this is definitely not going to be the All-Star version of Boogie that fans are remembering.  I'm sure he would've loved a max contract had one been on the table, but teams were understandably not willing to make such an offer to a player coming off such a major surgery, not to mention a player with Cousins' off-the-court baggage.  It wouldn't be a shock if Golden State outright releases Cousins at some point if he becomes an issue, either physically or personality-wise, since the team has so little invested in him.  

* Getting back to my point about how NBA stars throughout history have happily joined up with better teams, why are fans acting like the Warriors' superiority is somehow a new thing for basketball?  No league is as dynasty-driven as the NBA.  From the Celtics to the Lakers to the Bulls to the Lakers again to the Spurs to the Warriors, not to mention mini-dynasties in between like the brief periods of dominance for the Pistons, Rockets, and Heat, the league has always been all about teams completely taking things over for years to decades at a time.

The Warriors are almost surely going to win the NBA championship against in 2018-19, so if you're tired of watching them win, too bad.  After next season, however, things get interesting.  Thompson will be a free agent.  Durant has a player option for 2019-20, so he could potentially pursue another challenge elsewhere.  If the original team was Phase One and the Durant era was Phase Two, it'll be fascinating to see how things develop for Golden State in the next phase of their dynasty, if it even remains a dynasty.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

The Maple Leaf Forever

Can you believe I let it get past 11pm on Canada Day before making my traditional July 1 "here's a bunch of Canadian stuff" post?  Shameful.

We begin this year's collection with JOHN TAVARES SIGNING WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS.  This is not a drill, people!




Saturday, June 30, 2018

Use Your Illusion I and II*

Our first bit of visual trickery has two rules. Stare directly at the red dot for about 30 seconds. Then, look away at a blank surface and start blinking your eyes rapidly. A rather surprising image will appear as you blink. You guessed it, it's Frank Stallone.

Our second illusion is a man who appears to be losing his head. Not, losing his head in an INXS fashion (I meant only the song, you ghouls!), but rather this fellow appears to literally have his skull vanish. Ooooh! That's incredible! *cymbal crash*



* = My friend Misha is maybe the biggest G&R diehard on the planet.  He no doubt saw this blog title, thought "All right, Mark is going to review these albums, this should be interesting!" and was then horribly disappointed. Sorry, Misha. Even worse, if I do ever review those records, I'll have to use a different title. Maybe I can just allude to the records, and title it 'Use Your Allusion' or something? Use Your Allusion 2? I dunno.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

McCartney Carpool

Like everyone else on the internet, I'm going to share this.  I'm not even a big Corden fan, though this was delightful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

My AFI Ranking

No, this isn't my latest favourite song ranking, covering the music of AFI.

The American Film Institute released its initial list of the "100 greatest mostly-American movies ever made" back in 1998, and then they released a revamped version in 2007.  There has been some speculation that another update is coming as soon as this year, so just to duck under the wire here, I thought it'd be fun to rank the 2007 entries.  I was partially inspired by the Amy Nicholson/Paul Scheer "Unspooled" podcast, wherein the duo discusses each of the 100 entries after, in some cases, watching them for the first time.  (As a longtime HDTGM listener, it's interesting hearing Scheer talk about actual good movies for a change of pace.)

So first up, I'll be honest...I haven't seen all 100 movies.  Not even close, as it turns out.  The fact I haven't seen over a third of the list may make one doubt my competence and/or credibility as a film critic altogether, some might argue.  To this I say, get your own blog!

The ones I haven't seen, a.k.a. the shame list: 12 Angry Men, The African Queen, The Apartment, Apocalypse Now, Ben-Hur, The Best Years Of Our Lives, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Bringing Up Baby, Cabaret, Easy Rider, The Gold Rush, Gone With The Wind, In The Heat Of The Night, Intolerance, It Happened One Night, The Last Picture Show, Lawrence Of Arabia, Midnight Cowboy, Modern Times, Nashville, Network, A Night At The Opera, On The Waterfront, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Philadelphia Story, The Searchers, Schindler’s List, Shane, Sophie’s Choice, The Sound Of Music, Sullivan’s Travels, Swing Time, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, West Side Story, The Wild Bunch, Yankee Doodle Dandy

And now, onto the sweet sixty-three.  I should note, by the way, that my personal top 100 based on the AFI jury's criteria (feature film length, at least mostly American-made or American-financed, critical recognition, major awards won, popularity over time, historical significant, cultural impact) would naturally be quite a bit different, though perhaps not as different as you might think.  Consider that just one part of that criteria, the "critical recognition," is specifically related to how good the movie actually is.  I might think a film like, say, 2001 just off the top of my head, is frightfully ponderous, yet I certainly have to include it on a top-100 due to sheer importance in cinematic history.  One has to at least somewhat set their personal feelings aside for a list like this...but let's be real, Vertigo isn't the best movie ever, people.  It may not even be top ten Hitchcock.  Orson Welles scoffs at Vertigo.

My ranking!

63. The Deer Hunter
62. A Clockwork Orange
61. Vertigo
60. It’s A Wonderful Life
59. King Kong
58. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
57. The Grapes Of Wrath
56. 2001: A Space Odyssey
55. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
54. Spartacus
53. The Godfather Part 2
52. North By Northwest
51. The Graduate
50. MASH
49. The Sixth Sense
48. Raging Bull
47. All About Eve
46. The Maltese Falcon
45. The General
44. Forrest Gump
43. Platoon
42. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
41. The French Connection
40. Saving Private Ryan
39. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
38. City Lights
37. Some Like It Hot
36. All The President’s Men
35. Double Indemnity
34. Rocky
33. Psycho
32. Tootsie
31. Titanic
30. Annie Hall
29. A Streetcar Named Desire
28. High Noon
27. Sunset Boulevard
26. The Silence Of The Lambs
25. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
24. Unforgiven
23. Sunrise
22. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
21. The Wizard Of Oz
20. The Shawshank Redemption
19. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
18. Toy Story
17. To Kill A Mockingbird
16. Blade Runner
15. Duck Soup
14. Taxi Driver
13. Do The Right Thing
12. Jaws
11. Rear Window
10. The Godfather
9. Star Wars
8. American Graffiti
7. Chinatown
6. Dr. Strangelove
5. Goodfellas
4. Bonnie & Clyde
3. Pulp Fiction
2. Casablanca
1. Citizen Kane 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Kingsley


 So I'm watching an old episode of "8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown," and Holly Walsh introduces her mascot as an actual mascot --- Kingsley, the new face of Partick Thistle F.C., a Scottish football team.  I laughed at the joke, and laughed even harder when I looked it up and realized that it wasn't even a joke.*  This was the REAL mascot for Partick Thistle, and apparently I've been living under a bridge somewhere since Kingsley's introduction three years ago (as you might expect) created a huge social media buzz.

* = I realize that Walsh stressed it was genuine several times, but you really can't anything said on this show at face value.  For instance, Sean Lock probably isn't actually a cranky psychopath who would happily erase people, Thanos-style.  Probably.

Needless to say, I couldn't be more delighted by the fact that a professional club decided to fully embrace goofiness in such an overt way.  There's technically a theme behind it, as the designer has claimed that Kingsley represents the angst of being a fan of a Glasgow team that isn't Celtic or Rangers, but let's be real, everything about this project is done with tongue in cheek. 
 
Since, if you're Thistle, why not?  I daresay that Kingsley generated more publicity for the club than anything else in its 142-year history.  Let's face it, beyond Celtic or Rangers, it's very easy for a Scottish football team to get relegated to obscurity.  (Or, simply relegated.)  If pressed to list Scottish teams aside from Celtic and Rangers, I could only name Hearts and Dundee due to general knowledge, Inverness Caledonian Thistle due to their famous upset over Celtic and the subsequent incredible "Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious" headline, and now Partick Thistle, based solely on Kingsley's existence. 

More teams should jump on board the bandwagon.  For instance, it should be noted that Partick's most common nickname is "the Jags," so a sun is a completely bizarre choice for a team that has little-to-no relation to anything solar, beyond their red-and-yellow uniforms.  Ergo, the Jacksonville Jaguars should also adopt a crazed sun as their mascot, replacing Jaxson de Ville.  Perhaps Jaxson and Kingsley should battle it out to determine mascot supremacy, with the loser replacing Blake Bortles as the team's quarterback.  Come on, which sounds like a better QB name --- Blake Bortles, or Jaxson Kingsley?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hot! Live! Music!


tUnE-yArDs, "Water Fountain"
My enjoyment of this song and this performance is only slightly tempered by my annoyance at having to type out the silly stylized name.


U2, "Moment Of Surrender"
I'll be the first to admit that No Line On The Horizon isn't one of U2's best albums, but that record has seven minutes of pure joy in Moment Of Surrender.  I almost wrote "seven minutes of heaven," but that would've been kind of weird.


Postmodern Jukebox, "Don't Stop Me Now" (Queen cover)
I'm not saying I wasn't impressed by the trailer, but Melinda Doolittle seems like a much better Freddie Mercury than Mr. Robot.



R.E.M. "Let Me In"
This one is courtesy of the "R U Talkin' R.E.M. Re: Me?" podcast, which was formerly known as "U Talkin' U2 To Me."  As you might expect, this pod focuses on the R.E.M. discography rather than U2's albums, but it's still Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott talking nonsense for about 75% of the show.  Maybe a bit less than 75%, actually, since it seems like Adam Scott is a bigger R.E.M. fan and actually has more to say, though it's maybe balanced out by Aukerman knowing very little about the band's post-80's work.  Still, if you like R.E.M. and have patience for lots of non-band-related goofing around, it's worth the listen.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

World Cup Predictions

They started the World Cup before I could make my picks?! Poor form, FIFA!

GROUP A (predicted order of finish): Uruguay, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
GROUP B: Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Iran
GROUP C: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia
GROUP D: Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland
GROUP E: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Costa Rica
GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
GROUP G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama
GROUP H: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal

This sets up a bracket of....

Uruguay vs. Morocco
France vs. Croatia
Brazil vs. Mexico
Belgium vs. Poland
Spain vs. Russia
Argentina vs. Peru
Germany vs. Serbia
Colombia vs. England

...and from that, I'll predict Brazil over Germany in the final.  Revenge for the infamous 7-1 drubbing at the last World Cup!  Fun fact: during that game, I was at the dentist getting a cavity filled, so they had me all novocaine'd up.  When I left the appointment, they had the game on the TV in the reception area, and upon seeing the 4-0 scoreline at the time, I honestly thought I was still loopy from the medication.  As a bonus pick, I'll go with France over Argentina in the third place, as Messi's LeBron-esque attempt at being a one-man team again is not quite enough.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Canada's In The World Cup?!

I'll hold off my official World Cup predictions for a day to look ahead to the 2026 World Cup, in a nod to this morning's breaking news that the joint bid of Canada/Mexico/United States has been awarded the tournament.  Now, Canada and Mexico will only be hosting 10 games each while the U.S.A. hosts 60, so this is about as much of a joint bid as Destiny's Child was a joint effort between three pop stars of equal stature, but still, yay Canada!

This means that, for all intents and purposes, Canada's hilariously inept men's national team has finally made it back into a World Cup.  Technically, FIFA has yet to officially decide whether or not all three host countries will get automatic bids, but the odds are pretty good.  After all, the tournament is expanding to 48 teams in 2026, so they'll have plenty of extra space for more North American teams to qualify.  Heck, with a 48-team field, maybe Canada would've qualified anyway! 



....er....moving on...

It's certainly a major landmark for Canadian soccer, Canadian sport, and really the nation as a whole.  It should be noted that the proposed number of games and venues for our country has yet to be finalized, with no guarantees that the announced cities of Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto will end up with games. 

In the midst of this uncertainty, I propose that my hometown of London, Ontario step into the driver's seat.  We have several soccer fields in town, some of which I myself played on as a child!  Oh, how I hated it!  The matches were less competitive games for me than they were a necessary evil to obtain orange slices.  My parents still to this day talk about how they've never seen me more miserable than when my eight-year-old was half-heartedly running up and down the pitch in the midst of a massive downpour.  I guess they bring it up since moments of pure misery were pretty rare in my childhood, and thus this one really stood out....so really, strong parenting on their part!

London not only has soccer facilities, but MULTI-FIELD facilities.  That's right, sports complexes with three, four, maybe five or six fields able for use at any given time.  In the name of efficiency, we could play four games at once and roll through the entire group stage in maybe a week.

I can't speak for every set of fields, but the one near my parents' house (the actual site of my Roy Batty-esque "tears in rain" game) serves particularly tasty french fries in the snack booth.  Just saying.  If the French national team has a game scheduled in London and tries the fries, they'll definitely back me up on this.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Lime Rick

(No, this isn't a Ricky & Morty post.  I've actually never seen the show, and now I feel it's been too many seasons for me to catch up.  One can't wait forever in the era of Peak TV)

While out tonight, I found myself sitting behind a couple who were amusing each other with intentionally-cheesy poems.  They may have been drunk, in this reporter's opinion, but whatever.  They began with several variations on "roses are red, violets are blue..." before they moved onto lime-ricks.

You may wonder why I included the dash.  It's because that's how they were pronouncing the word: as if it was a lime-flavoured person named Rick rather than "limmer-ick."  I suppose it's possible this could have been some type of inside joke between them, especially since this is a couple that clearly enjoys reciting drunken poetry to each other, though it seemed pretty genuine.

It's a popular train of thought that one should never make fun of someone mispronouncing a word because a mispronunciation means they learned the word via reading, and reading should always be encouraging.  Ninety-nine times out of 100, I thoroughly agree with that sentiment….except for people who pronounce it as "lime-rick."  Then they’re just dumb-dumbs.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Sting & Shaggy

This is not a drill --- Sting and Shaggy have teamed up to collaborate on a new album.

To be clear, this is indeed Shaggy of "It Wasn't Me" fame, and Gordon "Sting" Sumner from The Police.  It's not, like, Shaggy from Scooby Doo and Sting from pro wrestling teaming up to solve crimes and/or beat up the bad guys.  (Frankly, I think Sting would handle the heavy lifting on both the investigative and muscle sides of that team.)  This is indeed two musicians of seemingly disparate backgrounds joining forces to whip up a record that we can all enjoy.

And frankly, why not?  What's stopping them?  Sting's had some interest in reggae even dating back to his Police days, so if anything, he's probably overdue to make an album with an actual reggae artist.  And Shaggy can't very well be a reggae fusion artist if he isn't fusing reggae with something else.

I'm not going to buy this album but what the heck, tip of the hat to the two of them for making it.  This seems to be the general consensus about this whole project, as exemplified by this review from NME's Jordan Bassett.  He only gives it two stars, yet he can't bring himself to fully pan it.

"There’s something weirdly enjoyable about this cheery abomination of an album. The camaraderie is palpable. These are staggeringly, beautifully unselfconscious men, insulated by success, and they have honestly no idea how ludicrous they look and sound....Their hearts are in the right place, even if their better judgment was sunning itself somewhere in Kingston."

If Shaggy and Sting make another record, they absolutely have to title it "Cheery Abomination."  Anyway, here's the first single, judge for yourself!

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Hiatus

After years of sticking to a 10 posts-per-month schedule, I decided to take May entirely off.  Now, I guess you could say my streak still lives since I'm technically still averaging ten posts per month when I actually post, but this is splitting hairs to a comical extent, even for a bald guy.

Why the break?  Basically, just a combination of a busy workload, some life stuff getting in the way, and maybe even **quiet voice** just a bit of boredom about blogging?  In theory, this month away will recharge my batteries, and I indeed do feel a bit more pep in my step as I write these words.  Even though I'm sitting down and live an overtly sedentary lifestyle, I'd definitely have a jaunty stride if I ever stopped being lazy.

Stay tuned for most posts as we roar into June.  Same blog time, same blog channel!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Parker & Parker

I have no intention of watching the new Lost In Space series, since nothing about the rebooted premise interests me.  I would have supreme interest, however, in a show where two of the Lost In Space stars (Molly Parker and Parker Posey) drive around in a van and solve crimes.

Why AREN'T there more "drive around in a van and solve crimes" shows, by the way?  The premise has been a running gag for years.  It's true that there are literally dozens of procedural crime dramas that have cases-of-the-week and they simply don't feature the protagonists actually using a van as their base of operations, but even still, why not go (or drive) the extra mile?  The NCIS team often uses a van for transport purposes, presumably.  Why not a plot twist where Mark Harmon and company go rogue and decide to become their own version of the A-Team and/or the Scooby Gang?  Why Hollywood hasn't offered me millions of dollars to write these shows, I'll never know.

The boldest premise for my Molly Parker/Parker Posey program would be to have them playing fictionalized versions of themselves, somehow drafted into becoming roving detectives despite their active acting careers.  It's really a perfect combination, with Molly being the most straight-laced of the duo and Posey being roughly 30% crazy in every role she's ever played.  Why not play both personas up to the hilt in a fictionalized, crime-busting setting?  Or, to go in the totally opposite direction, they just play fictional characters...that are more or less these same personas.  Ok, so not TOTALLY opposite.  They could even play sisters.  Pop quiz: which of Molly Parker and Parker Posey is oldest?  I thought about this for five minutes before looking it up.

The title possibilities are endless.  Parker & Parker, Parker/Parker, Molly Posey, Parker Squared, etc.  You probably can't call it just "Parker" without getting a call from the estate of Donald Westlake, but just the singular name obscures the unique nature of the show.  It's TWO actresses sharing a SAME NAME but one is a GIVEN NAME and the other is a SURNAME.  This is so high-concept it hurts.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Follow That Beastie

Some days you just want to watch a video of a Beastie Boys classic set to scenes from "Follow That Bird." Today....is one of those days.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Other People's Writing

* Shea Serraro of The Ringer provides a ranking of the 32 greatest Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez moments in honour of The Sandlot's 25th anniversary.  If you're ever having a discussion with friends about the greatest fictional athletes, Benny The Jet is a very solid first-round pick.

* I'm embarrassed to mention that I watched Jersey Shore for its first four seasons, but honestly, I swear, the first season was genuinely entertaining.  (I should've quit while I was ahead.)  Vulture's Molly Fitzpatrick captures the madness in an oral history of the show, and really, come on, I dare anyone to read this and not laugh at some of the pure absurdity.  From the first few paragraphs about the casting process alone, we learn that Snooki's application was smudged with bronzer, Pauly D's casting was clinched because he owned a tanning booth in his own house, and The Situation's first move upon arriving for interviews with producers was to whip off his shirt.

* Wrestlemania month brought forth quite a bit of good wrestling-related writing, including this profile of The Undertaker by The Ringer's Thomas Golianopoulos.  For a related and really weird viewing experience, I suggest checking out YouTube for footage of "Mean Mark" in his early WCW days, when he's managed by (of all people) Paul Heyman himself in his old "Paul E. Dangerously" persona.  I should note that last year, I wrote a post about Undertaker's seeming retirement, though it appears as though he'll still periodically pop up for matches now and then, albeit shorter matches as a nod to his new hip and his fiftysomething age.  Given his gimmick, perhaps it isn't surprising that Undertaker wouldn't ever officially bury his career.

* And finally, there's the highlight of this OPW, a profile of Cody Rhodes by The Ringer's Mike Piellucci that looks at Rhodes' determination to prove his potential while working on the independent wrestling circuit and outside of WWE's sphere.  Now, wrestling for NJPW (the world's second-biggest wrestling company) may be cheating a bit in terms of the "independent" idea, not to mention joining an already-established and red-hot faction in the Bullet Club.  Even still, it's a great piece about Cody, his career, his life, and his at-times-problematic amount of extra pressure on him as Dusty Rhodes' son.  It's an interesting contrast with the Undertaker profile, in fact, as an example of how major success in pro wrestling is always just one gimmick or storyline away.  Mark Calaway got an amazing character in 1990 and absolutely made the most of it all the way to WWE immortality, while Rhodes never got a full crack in the main event, perhaps to WWE's detriment.  Who knows how many huge stars fans have missed out on because of bad timing, bad luck, or Vince McMahon's whims?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Strawman Argument

More and more restaurants are now serving drinks without straws. I realize and appreciate the environmental benefits of this decision....but yeah, I'd much rather have a straw than drink directly from a glass that countless people have used in the past.

Should I start bringing my own straws to restaurants, or would that be too much of a finicky, Niles Crane-ish move? Apparently there are such things as portable, reusable glass or metal straws that people can carry around for just such an occasion. But then I'd have to take the onus on myself to properly wash and maintain said straw, not to mention withstand the public barbs that would be leveled my way literally every time I used it in public. The person or people I'd be eating with would respond with (at best) an eyeroll, and at worst, open mockery.

I fully admit that this is a silly concern of mine. Last night I was at a straw-less pub and, when I asked for a straw, the server simply brought me one. Also, it occurs to me that drinking from a heavily-used glass is no different than eating with heavily-used cutlery, though I'm not about to start bringing plastic knives and forks to restaurants. 

So, this whole post was pretty pointless. Content!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sky Full Of Song

Florence & The Machine's new album is out in June, and here's the first single.  Short review --- I like it!  It's nice and low-key.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

NBA Playoff Predictions

For the first time ever, the NBA playoffs are...up in the air?  What is usually the most predictable bracket of all now actually carries quite a bit of uncertainty this season.  A fourth straight Cleveland vs. Golden State Finals would be an upset at this point, and you can make a solid case in 6.5 of the 8 first-round matchups that the lower seed will win.  Could be one of the few (only?) times in NBA history that we'll see a bunch of crazy upsets, and a truly unexpected Finals?

* Raptors over Wizards in seven
It would take this kind of wacky season to give the Raptors a legitimate shot at winning the Eastern Conference, though as good as they've been all season, there are two strong reasons for doubt.  One is a basketball reason: Toronto's bench depth won't matter as much in a short series where the teams have plenty of rest, thus leaving matters largely in the hands of the Raps' starting five.  One is a narrative reason: are the Raptors really going to make the NBA Finals?  Really?  It's hard to get too bold about a team that has its two best players perform inconsistently (to be kind) every postseason, and all the bench depth in the world won't overcome another vanishing act from DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry.  While I fully expect the Raptors to make this series harder than it needs to be on themselves, their problems may not quite be as dire as Washington's twin issues of a) John Wall not being 100% and b) the Wiz playing better when Wall is out of action entirely since his teammates may or may not all hate him.

* Cavaliers over Pacers in seven
LeBron James has carried garbage Cavs teams to the Finals before (2007, 2015) but this would be his greatest carry job yet, given the potential strength of the rest of the East.  The Cavaliers have LeBron, Kevin Love and... *tumbleweed GIF*  They cannot play defense whatsoever, and thus if every game is going to devolve into a shootout, the Cavs are simply going to eventually be outgunned by teams who have more than three good players (LeBron counts as two guys).  Indiana, however, is not one of those teams, as they basically have Victor Oladipo's outta-nowhere superstar season and little else.  It'll go seven games since these two teams really aren't too different from each other, and with LBJ ultimately being the difference-maker since he'll be damned if he goes out in the first round. 

* Bucks over Celtics in seven
a.k.a. Giannis Antetokounmpo's coming-out party.  It is very possible that Brad Stevens can coach rings around the actual mannequin Milwaukee has on its sideline and lead his depleted team into the second round, though part of me feels that the Bucks won out by facing a Boston club at its lowest ebb.  This is the series that Giannis cements himself as a top-10 player in the league.
 
* 76ers over Heat in six
The Sixers' transformation from doormat into Finals contender in just one season has been stunning, and I probably don't need to remind you that we've already seen one Philadelphia team go from mediocre to champion in this very year.  Miami is a well-coached, veteran team that will definitely give the Philly youngbloods some wakeup calls, but I think the 76ers simply have too much talent.

* Rockets over Timberwolves in five
There really isn't much difference between the Rockets and Raptors in a narrative sense, with the exception being that Houston was just so dominant in the regular season that people have made them the prohibitive favourite despite some bad karma.  Forget about DeRozan and Lowry....James Harden, Chris Paul, and Mike D'Antoni have a long history of postseason failures on their resume.  It won't hurt them in the first round since Minnesota is clearly overmatched, except I can see the Rockets losing one game in goofy fashion to let the whispers continue into round 2.  Frankly, the "will they choke?" narrative will only go away if they beat the Warriors and/or win the title.

* Thunder over Jazz in seven
Man, I'm picking a lot of these series to go the limit.  Here's another close one, based solely on the fact that the great Donovan Mitchell may still be a bit young to carry a team by himself.  There's too much veteran talent on the other side between Paul George and Mr. Triple-Double.
 
* Warriors over Spurs in six
Wait, "and/or"?  Is there really a chance the long-assumed Golden State/Houston West finals doesn't happen?  It'd still be surprising if it didn't, but the Warriors looked way better going into the last three postseasons than they do here.  Steph Curry is out until the second round, and even then, may not be 100 percent when he does return.  Draymond Green has looked a step off all season.  Golden State's bench depth is non-existent, so if another injury hits, they could be screwed.  These are all some legitimate question marks for a team that has been treating the regular season like a dress rehearsal, and it's rare to just completely flip the switch in such a fashion for the playoffs.  I'm giving San Antonio two games here out of sheer respect for Gregg Popovich, even though the Spurs are still very much the inferior roster.  This has been a rough year for us Kawhi Leonard fans, as Kawhi seems to have taken his "Phantom" nickname seriously.  I have to believe that Leonard won't be a Spur for much longer given the apparent gulf between he and the franchise, so it truly becomes a shame that we'll never see a proper full-strength Spurs vs. full-strength Warriors playoff matchup during Golden State's dynasty era.

* Pelicans over Trail Blazers in seven
After playing up how unpredictable these playoffs could be, I've only picked one upset so far, and Bucks-over-Celtics isn't really an upset given Boston's sudden lack of Kyrie Irving.  So I'll break the chalk and predict another playoff coming-out party, this time for Anthony Davis.  The Pelicans responded to the loss of Boogie Cousins in two fashions.  Firstly, they just kept an incredible pace to their offense and tried to simply run other teams into the ground, which is probably what just about any undermanned team should do.  Secondly, Davis went supernova and single-handedly kept this team afloat.  After years as a bit of a forgotten man in New Orleans, you have to wonder if Davis is a little annoyed at all the hype given to other "next LeBron" stars and is eager to not let this rare playoff appearance go to waste.  This series is a coin flip, but sorry Portland.


* Cavaliers over Raptors in six
* 76ers over Bucks in six
* Rockets over Thunder in seven
* Warriors over Pelicans in six

* 76ers over Cavaliers in seven
* Warriors over Rockets in seven

NBA Finals: Psych!  Golden State wins it again, beating the upstart Sixers in (appropriately) six games.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Superstition Street

It was on this day 45 years ago that Stevie Wonder appeared on an episode of "Sesame Street" and tore. It. Up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Stanley Cup Predictions

* Nashville over Colorado in five
It might seem weird to spend most of this paragraph talking about an unrelated team, but whatever, this series is an easy call.  And, between the Roy and Subban trades, a Nashville vs. Colorado is a perfect place to discuss/laugh at the ongoing trainwreck that is the Montreal Canadiens.  It blows my mind that they're apparently sticking with Bergevin and Julien, and not giving this team the total housecleaning it so desperately needs.  In the last three seasons, the Habs have twice missed the playoffs and been a first-round knockout the one year they did make it --- can you imagine a Canadiens franchise ever standing for this kind of mediocrity?  It blows my mind.

* Winnipeg over Minnesota in seven
Great underrated regional rivalry here, as Minneapolis is the closest NHL city to Winnipeg.  I'm still not entirely sold on the Jets as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.  They seem like the typical "one year away" sort of team that has a big season to announce itself on the scene, but is still missing a piece or two.  I may be underrating the Jets or overrating the Wild in predicting a seven-gamer here, but I think it'll be tight.

* Anaheim over San Jose in six
The Ducks were my preseason Stanley Cup pick, so I might as well at least take them to get out of the first round, especially when they're facing such notable chokers as the Sharks.  Prescient as always, let's note that my predictions included the Rangers as Anaheim's finals opponent, plus the likes of the Oilers, Blackhawks, Stars, Canadiens, and Panthers all making the playoffs.  Smooth Jimmy Apollo's got nothing on me!

* (Las) Vegas over Los Angeles in seven
Conventional wisdom said that the Golden Knights would be the usual terrible expansion team, and then conventional wisdom said that they wouldn't keep up their hot start, or that they'd make the playoffs, or win the division.  And now, the same pundits are making the Kings a popular upset pick for the first round.  To this I say, oh ye of little faith!  I'm sorry, what makes L.A. particularly impressive?  Their 50 years of NHL experience over Vegas won't make a lick of difference since I just think the Knights are better.

* Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in six
The Eagles' Super Bowl and the 76ers' potential status as Finals contenders gives me some pause that we're living through a Philly sports renaissance, but on paper, this isn't a tough matchup for the Penguins.  I don't want to say that the defending champs caught a break but....well, they totally caught a break.  The Flyers aren't bringing much to the table here aside from an interstate hatred.

* Washington over Columbus in six
This one could be tricky, as it's not out of the realm of possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky stands on his head to steal a series.  If there's any team the Blue Jackets could upset, it's definitely the notoriously choke-loving Capitals.  I'll go chalk here since I'm a chicken with basically all of these predictions, but this one gives me some significant pause.

* Tampa Bay over New Jersey in five
Easy series here for the Lightning, so I'll take the space to rant about the NHL's stupid playoff structure.  There is some major lopsidedness going on when you arrange the bracket by divisions.  Going by point totals, the East is 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. t3, 5 vs. 6, and t3 vs. 7.  This is certainly not fair to the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and it really isn't even fair for the Lightning, to have to face one of these titans in the second round instead of in the Eastern final.  The sooner the NHL decides to re-adopt the old playoff format the better.

* Toronto over Boston in six
Yes, the Leafs have more or less owned the Bruins in recent games.  Yes, 2013 was a long time ago and the Leafs roster is almost entirely different.  Yes, the Leafs have essentially had three months to prepare for either the Bruins or Lightning, since the stupid playoff structure made the Atlantic's seeding a foregone conclusion weeks ago (aside from that brief spell when it looked like Toronto might still steal first overall).  But man, this is a nervous matchup for Maple Leafs fans simply based on all the history between these two teams.  The Leafs have been so good, and so promising this season, and to have them dropped in the first round again, and to the Bruins of all teams, would be seen as a real disappointment.  Even I'd be let down, and I still think Toronto is also in the "still a year away" department. 

Still, this was my preferred matchup of the two Atlantic powers.  I have little confidence that the Leafs can beat Tampa, but I can definitely see them topping Boston.  In my head, the Leafs got their playoff jitters out of the way last year and are now ready to make some noise in the second round.  Go Leafs go!


* Nashville over Winnipeg in seven
* Anaheim over Vegas in six
* Pittsburgh over Washington in six
* Tampa Bay over Toronto in six (sigh)

* Nashville over Anaheim in six
* Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh in seven

Stanley Cup Finals: In the battle of warm-weather hockey markets, I'll pick the Predators to get over the hump and top the Lightning in seven games.  Nashville vs. Tampa Bay was actually my preseason pick for the 2016-17 Finals, so maybe I was just a year early.  Rangers fans are desperately hoping this pattern repeats itself next season.