Friday, November 30, 2018


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christmas Caper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

RIP Ricky Jay

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Marrying A Stooge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Two Space Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuff said!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Trick Of The Year

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Mr. Spectacular Redux

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 04, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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