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