Sunday, July 14, 2019

David Mitchell

Since I posted a Lee Mack WILTY clip a few weeks ago, it's only fair that I give his counterpart David Mitchell some due, and what better time than on Mitchell's very birthday.

Between Peep Show, the Mitchell & Webb series, WILTY, and his various other appearances on other British panel shows, David Mitchell is a legend.  (Inexplicably, I haven't yet seen "Upstart Crow," so I really need to get on that.)  In fact, when you type "David Mitchell" into Wikipedia, his entry is at the top of the list!  He's become Prime Mitchell!


Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Runaway Elephant

A recent clean-out of my parents’ basement uncovered a great lost manuscript, a so-called Great Canadian Novel that scholars thought had vanished forever.

The book in question, of course, was "The Runaway Elephant," by yours truly.  Many literary critics considered it to be the finest novella written by any first-grader in the month of April 1988, though as the author himself, perhaps I’m simply a bit harder on my work.

I will reprint the material here, in flagrant disregard of the copyright laws set by my publishing company, the Edwards Press (Mrs. Edwards was my first-grade teacher).  It’s been over 30 years, surely any copyright claims have long since evaporated, and my writings can now be let free into the public domain.  While this may cut into book sales, I suspect that many audiences will still feel compelled to buy the print version due to its unique shape. 

Yes, the book itself is shaped like an elephant.  The tracing was, in a word, immaculate.  The covers were even laminated, which I’m guessing was handled by my teac….uh, ahem, by the Edwards Press rather than me, since a six-year-old with a laminating device just seems like a recipe for disaster.

We begin with the obligatory "about the author" quote on the makeshift dust jacket.  It reads as follows: "Mark is six years old.  He is in Grade 1.  Mark likes Ghostbusters."  I mean, minus the grade and with an updated age, this basically still sums me up right now.

The dedication page!  "This book is dedicated to my friend Matthew McConnell."  I barely have any memory of this guy, who I’m pretty sure only got the dedication since he was my "big buddy."  In my grade school, we had a system where older students were paired off with younger students as "big and little buddies" for various activities and play-day type things.  In my later years as a sixth-grade big buddy myself, I tried to game the system by selecting one third-grader as my little buddy solely because he was best friends with another kid whose big buddy was the girl in my grade who I had a big crush on — my logic was that since the little buddies would naturally team up in play-day activities, my crush and I would then be obligated to spend that time together.  Did my strategy work?  No, of course not, it was very lame.

The library card!  That’s right, there was actually a card envelope inside the front cover, so I guess The Runaway Elephant was actually stored in our public school’s library at one point.  If you’re wondering how many people signed this novella out, the card was blank.  Genius is never appreciated in its own time.

Enough of this preamble, on with the story itself.


Once there was an elephant.  Everybody laughed at him.  They thought he was silly because he didn’t blow water out of his trunk.

The elephant was mad.  He ran away, into the forest.

The clowns tried to stop him.  They ran after him, but they could not stop him.

But the elephant came back.  There was a show, and he wanted to be in it.


And that’s it.  That’s the story. 

I won’t lie to you….the premise is thin.  While blowing water out of one’s trunk is natural elephant behaviour, I somewhat doubt that failure to do so (or refusal to do so?) would make an elephant into a figure of public derision.  But then again, perhaps that’s why the elephant was so upset.  He couldn’t understand why a simple sidestep of a public norm would be such a big deal.  My central elephant character may have essentially been Larry David.

Clowns, naturally, know a thing or two about being laughed at, so it makes sense that they were the ones who were the first to try and bring the elephant back.  Their methods of doing this, however, were flawed at best.  Catching a runaway and distraught elephant is no easy feat, but simply running after it isn’t going to do the trick.  What was the plan when you caught up to him, clowns?  And what am I saying, "when"?  An African elephant has a max speed of around 25 mph, so unless one of these clowns is an Olympian in their spare time,* running is a fool’s errand.  Why not at least drive after it?  Cram 40 or 50 clowns in a car and put the pedal to the metal.

* = from a three-ring circus to a five-ring circus!  Rim shot!

The story’s denouement teaches us nothing about the elephant’s plight, unless the tale is meant to be read as tragedy.  The elephant cannot resist the lure of show business, despite the public mockery he must endure just be part of the circus.  It really is a grim parable about the dangers of fame.  Man, I was a smart six-year-old.

I mentioned earlier that my story received critical acclaim.  Just read these raves!

"I’m so glad the elephant came back for the show!  It wouldn’t be much of a circus without an elephant!" — Mrs. Edwards, who ENTIRELY misinterpreted my story’s tragic underpinnings.

"The book is okay" — my brother, as passive-aggressive as ever

"Elephants are so smart, they always do the right thing!" — my father, whose comment isn’t actually praise of my story.  My dad knows what’s up, he’s not going to B.S. his six-year-old by pretending that this mediocrity is actually good.  His statement, however, is far from accurate itself, since the Simpsons taught us that some elephants are just jerks

"I enjoyed your book, Mark.  I wish it could have been even longer.  Keep up the story-writing" — my mother, who goes in for the Oreo cookie style of criticism in mixing in some initial praise with questioning the brevity.  I mean, brevity is the soul of wit, Mom.  ‘Keep up the story-writing’ could also be interpreted as her being interested in reading more of my future work, or her implying that I can certainly do better than this. 

It occurs to me that I should have taken some screenshots from the book, so you could all bask in both the excellent elephant-shaped tome and my incredible artwork.  If you want to know what my drawings of elephants look like, imagine a grey shape that is somehow both a rhombus and a starfish at the same time.  So on top of being a great writer in my youth, I was also a burgeoning impressionist artist.

There will be no sequel.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Clipped

As you all know, my playoff beard was probably 80-83% the reason the Raptors won the NBA title.  After almost three months of growth, however, it was taking on ungainly proportions.  One friend compared me to Brian Posehn, and I like the guy's comedy and all, but....oof.

My mom was the only person who was fervently anti-beard, so I finally agreed to get it trimmed down to manageable status.  It was my first trip to the barber in 16 years, so perhaps I was a bit rusty with the instructions, but they ended up removing quite a bit.  Ironically, around 80-83% of my beard was cut, leaving me looking like just a normal dude who hadn't shaved in a week or so rather than a popular "hey, it's that guy" of a standup comedian and actor.

I had some karmic misgivings about the whole thing, but hey, the Raptors had already won the championship, right?  What's the worst that could happen?

And then Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers.  Who also had to trade for Paul George to convince Leonard to join, just in the case the NBA didn't have enough giant blockbuster moves within the last week.

I think all Toronto fans probably knew, deep down, that he was eventually going to wind up in Los Angeles, given that the rumors had been swirling for well over a year.  But it was still a blow in the wake of that dream championship run, and the increasingly logical case that the Raptors could offer Leonard to stay.  After all, they could just run it back for another season and contend for another title right away, whereas the Lakers (presence of LeBron and Anthony Davis aside) are kind of a clown-show front office right now, and the Clippers didn't have a second star to pair with Leonard.  Well, with Paul George in the fold, the Raptors' argument went up in smoke.  The NBA is going to be so crazily wide-open next year it's ridiculous.

And just so everyone is clear....once my beard lost to the clippers, Kawhi Leonard went to the Clippers.

Thanks for nothing, Mom!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Happy Canada Day!

It's July 1st, and I was actually briefly at a mall today.  So you know what that means!


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Alas, Poor Yorick

Hamlet is already known as a literary masterpiece, to be sure.....

.....BUT, could it have been even better if Yorick's skull had talked back to Hamlet?  Possibly in a funny voice?  I'm guessing high-level anima-tronics weren't available in the early 1600s, but surely if any old high school can pull off a half-decent Audrey II in amateur productions of "Little Shop Of Horrors," surely Shakespeare's team back in the day could have rigged up some type of talking skull.

Maybe the actor playing Hamlet could've just operated it like a puppet, in the manner of Chief Wiggum.  Maybe the fifth act of the play could have revolved around a subplot where Hamlet insists that Yorick's skull can not only talk, but sing "Hello Ma Baby!" and other showtunes, though Yorick never does do when Horatio or anyone else is around.

I don't want to say I would've given Shakespeare notes or anything, but really, this kind of stands out as a missed opportunity.  So only a 9/10....so close, yet so far.

By the way, I will some day restart the Shakespearean play reviews.  Though maybe this should just be my whole entry for Hamlet?!


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Lee Mack's Keys

Part of the appeal of "Would I Lie To You?" is trying to guess whether someone's wacky story is true or not.

The other part of the appeal is when Lee Mack is given an absolutely ridiculous story to sell, and he does his best to entertainingly explain it while everyone knows it's total rubbish.

This is the latter.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm at my parents' house, and it seems like it's around midday.  I go into the main floor bathroom to wash my hands, but a quick glance at the mirror suddenly makes me realize I'm clean-shaven! My playoff beard is gone!

I leave the washroom and instantly accuse my mother of entering my room in the night and (somehow) shaving my face while I slept through the whole thing.  She basically just gives me a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and says "I guess it's a mystery!"

And then I woke up.

ANALYSIS: While I am an accredited dream interpreter and explorer of the subconscious, one needn't be an accredited dream interpreter and explorer of the subconscious to figure this one out.  My mom doesn't like my beard.  She has said as much to my face.  That is, when she has actually looked at my face, since she now basically can't do so without sighing or audibly saying "yikes!"  My new name around the house is also now either Wolfman or Wildman.

It should be noted that she is thus far the only one who has pooh-poohed the beard thus far, since the overwhelming majority opinion among friends, peers, and colleagues is that I should keep it.  Maybe with some styling, of course, since my sideburns were sticking out like I was some kind of Civil War general.  I figure at the very least I need to keep the beard until Halloween, since it has been pointed out to me that, when I wear sunglasses, I now resemble Randy "Macho Man" Savage.  All I need is a sequined robe and/or jacket with tassels, and I'll be rocking a great costume this year.  DIG IT.

But let's be fair, is my subconscious telling me that mother knows best?  Maybe she just needs to get a bit more accustomed to the look.  For her next birthday, I'll simply get several giant portraits of my bearded face placed around the house, so it will be inescapable.  No possible downside to this plan!

Since my bedroom door has a lock, the chances of an actual nocturnal razor attack are pretty slim.  Plus, let's be real, I'm not sure how I wouldn't wake up at some point during that whole experience.  Unless she were to drug me beforehand, but she would require access to everything I eat while.....hey wait....

I enjoy how this beard is still such a relatively new thing for me that I would feasibly go until the middle of the day without noticing it was missing.  While I may be an accredited dream interpreter and explorer of the subconscious, it isn't out of the question that I'd be able to miss something so obvious to the conscious mind.  I once mentioned to my buddy Trev that I'd noticed he'd gotten new license plates on his car, and he pointed out that he'd actually gotten....an entirely new car.  What a keen eye!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Civic Title Droughts

With all due respect to Toronto FC and the 2017 MLS Cup, it had been an awfully long time since Toronto won a major sports title.  Among the “big four” (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) sports, the Raptors’ championship drought ended at 26 years, leaving me wondering which cities/areas with current Big Four teams are currently in the biggest cold streaks.

Some of the geography is a mild but not altogether incorrect stretch, like when I count the Patriots for “Boston” even though they technically cover all of New England, or when “New York’s” last title was won by a team that actually plays in New Jersey.  And since we’re focused specifically on the locations themselves here, a team obviously can’t claim a championship won in a previous city — the OKC Thunder can’t boast about winning the NBA title in 1979.

Man, it’s great to see Toronto at the top of this list!

* Toronto, 2019 (Raptors NBA)
* St. Louis, 2019 (Blues NHL)
* Boston, 2019 (Patriots NFL)
* Oakland, 2018 (Warriors NBA)
* Washington D.C., 2018 (Capitals NHL)
* Philadelphia, 2018 (Eagles NFL)
* Houston, 2017 (Astros MLB)
* Pittsburgh, 2017 (Penguins NHL)
* Chicago, 2016 (Cubs MLB)
* Cleveland, 2016 (Cavaliers NBA)
* Denver, 2016 (Broncos NFL)
* Kansas City, 2015 (Royals MLB)
* San Francisco, 2014 (Giants MLB)(some SF fans will try to claim the Warriors’ as representing the entire Bay Area, but let’s cut Oakland some slack since the team is leaving anyway.  Besides, it’s not like 2014 was a long time ago)
* San Antonio, 2014 (Spurs NBA)
* Los Angeles, 2014 (Kings NHL)
* Seattle, 2014 (Seahawks NFL)
* Miami, 2013 (Heat NBA)
* Baltimore, 2013 (Ravens NFL)
* New York, 2012 (Giants NFL)(if you’re wondering, yes, seven years between titles is indeed the longest in NYC’s history since the 1920’s)
* Dallas, 2011 (Mavericks NBA)
* Green Bay/Milwaukee, 2011 (Packers NFL)(since the Pack are very much Wisconsin’s team, I’ll cut Milwaukee some slack here, since otherwise their title drought extends back to the Bucks’ lone NBA title in 1971)
* New Orleans, 2010 (Saints NFL)
* Detroit, 2008 (Red Wings NHL)
* Anaheim, 2007 (Ducks NHL)
* Indianapolis, 2007 (Colts NFL)
* Carolina/Charlotte 2006 (Hurricanes NHL)(ok, so Raleigh is almost three hours east of Charlotte, but if any Charlotte natives want to complain, just take the championship. It’s not like the Panthers or Hornets have ever won anything)
* Tampa Bay, 2004 (Lightning NHL)
* New Jersey/East Rutherford, 2003 (Devils NHL)
* Arizona/Phoenix, 2001 (Diamondbacks MLB)
* Atlanta, 1995 (Braves MLB)
* Montreal, 1993 (Canadiens NHL)
* Minnesota/Minneapolis/St. Paul, 1991 (Twins MLB)
* Cincinnati, 1990 (Reds MLB)
* Edmonton, 1990 (Oilers NHL)
* Calgary, 1989 (Flames NHL)
* Portland, 1977 (Trail Blazers NBA)
* Brooklyn, 1955 (Dodgers MLB)(I kind of hate parsing New York boroughs since otherwise I’d then have to get into acknowledging the Yankees as a Bronx team, the Islanders as a Long Island team, etc. But in this case, the Nets today and the Dodgers back in the day were specifically “Brooklyn” teams.)
* Ottawa, 1927 (Senators began play in 1992, and those jokers have NEVER won a Stanley Cup.  But the original Senators used to dominate the league, and a Canadian like me is happy to recognize those early Cup results.)
* Las Vegas, never (Golden Knights began play in 2017)
* Oklahoma City, never (Thunder began play in 2008)
* Memphis, never (Grizzlies began play in 2001)
* Columbus, never (Blue Jackets began play in 2000)
* Nashville/Tennessee, never (Titans and Predators began play in 1998)
* Jacksonville, never (Jaguars began play in 1995)
* San Jose, never (Sharks began play in 1991)
* Orlando, never (Magic began play in 1989)
* Sacramento, never (Kings began play in 1985)
* Winnipeg, never (the current Jets re-emerged in 2011, and the previous team existed in the NHL from 1979 to 1996. No, I’m not counting the Avco Cups from the WHA)
* Utah, never (Jazz began play in 1979)
* Vancouver, never (Canucks began play in 1970)
* Buffalo, never (Sabres began play in 1970, Bills joined the NFL in 1970 and were founding members of the AFL in 1960. No, I’m not counting the Bills’ two AFL titles.)
* San Diego, never (Padres began play in 1969, Chargers were in town from 1961-2016, those first nine years in the AFL.  Again, their 1963 AFL title means nothing to me.)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Diaz & Holt

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is already pretty great as it is, but if the show decided to entirely become a Dragnet-style deadpan comedy starring Rosa and Captain Holt, I wouldn't complain.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Raptors


I can't believe Leonard's shot in Game Seven actually went in.  I'm still vaguely in disbelief that they got past the 76ers altogether given how poorly the Raptors played in several of those games, but I guess it balanced since Philly also played like garbage for about half the series.

I can't believe they came back from 0-2 down against the Bucks to rattle off four straight wins and take the Eastern Conference.

I can't believe Fred VanVleet turned into the best non-Curry/Thompson shooter on earth as soon as he became a father.

I can't believe Kyle Lowry shook off all of the choking criticism by stepping up huge in Game Six of the Finals. I myself felt the Raptors could never win with Lowry on board, so I will grab a knife and fork and get to work on eating those words.

I can't believe Kevin Durant was injured for much of the Finals, since his cameo in Game Five indicated that a full-strength Warriors would've basically run the Raptors off the floor.  His injury is cataclysmic for both Golden State and the NBA as a whole going into the free agent season.

I really can't believe that Klay Thompson blew out his ACL in Game Six.  The Raptors were 100% losing that game against a healthy Klay, given that he couldn't miss a shot.  I don't even want to think about what a Game Seven would've been like, with everyone in Toronto dreading the worst and the Warriors playing with house money at that point.

I can't believe that Kawhi Leonard had one of the best postseason of any player ever, despite clearly playing with a bad leg.  It's true that Leonard is, at minimum, a top-five player in the NBA, but he might be next-level great, and the single best player in the league right now.

I can't believe that the crazy gambit of trading for Leonard paid off in such extreme and total fashion.

I can't believe that this team could be totally blown up over the summer and start a rebuild, but whatever, flags fly forever.

I can't believe the Blues won the Stanley Cup, which is off-topic, but I just so happy to see the loathsome Bruins eat an embarrassing loss.  Between the Bruins losing and the Raptors winning, best back-to-back days in Toronto sports history?

I can't believe that the twin karmic acts of trashing that Warriors hat and growing a playoff beard actually worked!  Who knew I had the power to end Golden State's dynasty at any time, if I'd just been more proactive about cleaning my trunk?  I may never shave again.

I can't believe that the Raptors are NBA champions, and that Toronto finally got back on the major sports championship board in such an unexpected way.  What a great win for the franchise, the city, everyone.  I'm blocks away from a major road, yet I could hear the cars honking deep into the night.

I can't believe it's not butter!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Black Mirror Episode Rankings (Updated!)

For the sake of the list, I'm considering Bandersnatch as an episode, even though it's technically considered a movie by all involved.

While I generally enjoyed the latest batch of episodes, it struck me that I didn’t find any of them particularly rewatchable.  (This especially stood out in contrast to Bandersnatch, which was specifically designed to be rewatched/replayed over and over.). The central premises of Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and Rachel Jack & Ashley Too were interesting, yet all sort of turned on specific narrative twists that once you got what was going on, it sucked a lot of narrative air out of the room.  These episodes all spend a lot of time asking a question, but then providing you with an answer that leaves a viewer just saying “oh, huh,” rather than “whoaaaaa, what?”

My new list ended up being pretty similar to my old one, since most of the new episodes fell into that same better-than-average category.  This is actually a bit worrying, since it hints that Black Mirror may be running out of ways to really surprise the audience.  Smithereens and RJ & A2 both tread some pretty well-worn ground — hey everybody, did you realize that social media runs our lives?!  And that a pop star’s music and persona can be manufactured?! — whereas Bandersnatch is almost entirely a gimmick rather than an actual story. 

Striking Vipers was easily the most interesting and unpredictable of the episodes, though in terms of storytelling, the episode unfolded a bit too slowly and deliberately.  The creativity gets it ahead of Smithereens on my list, even though Smithereens is a better-done overall hour of television in terms of building tension (even if that tension is ultimately paid off in a flat way).  I did appreciate, however, that Smithereens was one of the rare Black Mirror episodes with no futuristic technology, and it simply told a story that could easily happen today in our real world.

I also made a couple of adjustments in my judgement of past episodes, perhaps influenced by the newest series.  Playtest drops since its title as “the Black Mirror video game episode” has been decidedly lost to Striking Vipers — predictability plays a role here too, since while Playtest was well-done, you could definitely see where the story was going.

THE WORST
23. Nosedive
22. The Waldo Moment

MEDIOCRE
21. Fifteen Million Merits
20. Black Museum

FLAWED BUT WATCHABLE
19. Men Against Fire
18. Metalhead
17. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
16. White Bear
15. Playtest
14. Arkangel
13. Crocodile

WATCHABLE BUT KIND OF FLAWED
12. Smithereens
11. Striking Vipers
10. USS Callister
9. Bandersnatch

GOOD TO VERY GOOD
8. Shut Up And Dance
7. Be Right Back
6. The National Anthem
5. Hated In The Nation
4. White Christmas
3. Hang The DJ

THE CLASSICS
2. The Entire History Of You
1. San Junipero

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Great Moments In iTunes History

Since Apple looks to be shutting the doors on iTunes, it's time to look back down memory lane.  My two favourite iTunes moments are both, by coincidence, U2-related...

1. That time a random shuffle delivered (in order) the live versions of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Pride" off the Rattle & Hum album, immediately followed by the album versions of the same two songs.  In a library of well over 600 songs, the statistical odds of this happening have to be astronomical.

2. That time U2 gave every iTunes user a free album, and everyone whined about it for months.  OH THE HUMANITY! 


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Other People's Writing

* It looks like I haven't done an OPW in a very long time, which I why I'm only now getting to this link from September by Chrissy Iley for the Sunday Times.  I swear, I didn't time this post to coincide with the recent news about U2 launching another "Joshua Tree Tour" leg in Australasia later this year, because Iley's piece is all about the (I can think of no other word) ordeal the band goes through in order to put on concerts night after night.  It's one of those things you don't think about as fans, but U2 are all guys approaching their 60's by this point, plus Larry and Bono both have well-documented physical issues --- it would frankly be surprising if they weren't feeling less-than-spry putting on these big energetic shows all the time.

* Here's another oldie but a goldie that I swear I've posted here before, but can't find it.  It's by Pasha Malla for McSweeney's, and it's a high school basketball coach's guide for covering Teen Wolf, by Pasha Malla.  My friend Kyle, an aficionado of both comedy and basketball, calls this his favourite McSweeney's article of all time, which is certainly high praise.  My only worry in publishing this link now is that someone from the Golden State Warriors will come across it, and get tips on how to stop Kawhi Leonard.

* A piece by the New Yorker's Ian Parker about novelist Dan "A.J. Finn" Mallory, who seems to be a total fraud in most aspects of his life.  Since being published earlier this year, this piece has been held up as sort of profile in sociopathy, and Parker himself draws a strong parallel between Mallory and Tom Ripley (Mallory is a huge Patricia Highsmith fan).  It strikes me that the Occam's Razor answer might just be that Mallory isn't necessarily a sociopath, but someone who is just extremely full of himself and pathologically lies to build up his public persona.  I did laugh at the section in the piece where it's revealed that Mallory's book is more or less a copy of the movie Copycat -- somewhere, a desperate-for-work Harry Connick Jr. is hoping to be cast in The Dan Mallory Story.

* We go from a would-be genius craving the spotlight to an actual genius who rejects it, in this profile of the great Elaine May by The Ringer's Lindsay Zoladz.  On the short list for funniest person of the 20th century, May is one of those rare people who seemed to be good at everything she did, whether it was being part of a renowned improv duo to directing her own films to writing and ghostwriting seemingly dozens of well-known hit films.  Maybe the entire theme of this OPW is me questioning whether or not I've linked to items before, since have I never posted any Nichols & May stuff?  What an oversight.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm in a church basement, helping stack tables and generally clean up after a buffet luncheon that morning. I go outside to find my car parked in front of the church, in the lane leading from the actual parking lot to the street. My emergency lights are on, so perhaps I didn't think I was going to be inside for as long as I apparently was.

Anyway, there's a piece of paper stuck under my windshield wiper, and it's a parking ticket --- apparently my sitting in the lane for hours caught the attention of a local cop. The cost of the ticket? $4800. Yikes!


And then I woke up.


ANALYSIS:
The clearest connection is to the recent ticket I got in real life, as part of my never-ending attempt to figure out Toronto's baffling parking laws. Despite pulling my car literally right next to a sign indicating that parking was free after 9pm, I was still issued a ticket for parking in that spot between roughly 9:15pm and 10pm.  Yikes redux!

Now, my ticket was only for thirty bucks, so it was a far cry from $4800. I'm not sure where that inflated number came from in my dream. Let's see, I was in a church...could it have been a Biblical reference? What is Mark 4:8?

"Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."

Oh, okay, that clears it up. Thanks God! That's not at all vague! Though, 4800 divided by 30 is 160, so that's a combination of 'sixty, or even a hundred times.' And really, what is a buffet but an ever-multiplying array of food? And clearly, since I only planned to park in front of that dream church for a few minutes since I had my cautions on, the amount of work I was called upon to do inside obviously multiplied while I was in there. Maybe others were meant to help clean up, except they couldn't get their cars in because some jackass was blocking the laneway in to the parking lot.

So in this dream, God was acting through the traffic cop to punish me for my sin of underestimating work, which I guess falls under the category of sloth. The dream is an overall parable instructing me to not be so lazy. I dunno....I'm pretty lazy. But, I did just put a lot of thought into a banal dream about a parking ticket, so there's my one non-lazy activity of the day. Now, off to bed, to dream anew!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Warriors Hat, 2.0

From a post in November 2015....

In the summer of 2011, my pals and I went on our annual baseball road trip, this time hitting the west coast for the first time to visit San Francisco and Oakland.  Despite taking a giant suitcase better suited to a Don Draper metaphor than to a five-day trip, I’d somehow forgotten to pack a hat to protect my bald head from the July sun.  So, while in town, I ducked into a Lids and decided to represent some local flavour by buying a Golden State Warriors ballcap.

The hat fit pretty well in the store, yet after a couple of hours of actual wear, it was clear this thing wasn’t quite big enough for my gigantic melon.  For those of you who have never met me, I’ve basically got a beachball on top of my neck.  Even with the adjustable cap stretched to its limit, I was still getting a headache.  So when I got home, I threw the cap in the backseat of my car and essentially forgot about it for years. 

Fast-forward to around a year ago, when I was cleaning out said car and decided that keeping a Warriors hat in the backseat was kind of silly, especially since I had a couple of fisherman’s hats already there.  What can I say, head protection is a concern when your skull is bereft of hair.  Instead of taking the hat indoors or donating it to Goodwill or doing anything to actually create less clutter, however, I just tossed the cap into my trunk.

Since then….the Warriors have been unbeatable.  They rolled through the 2014-15 regular season.  They ran through the NBA playoffs en route to their first championship in 40 years.  Now, they’re a whopping 14-0 to kick off the current season and appear to be unbeatable short of facing Brock Lesnar in their 22nd game.

I’m not taking ALL the credit for Golden State’s miraculous success, but put it this way.  If you’re a Warriors fan and want to keep the good times rolling, please donate to my “keep the cap in the trunk” Kickstarter.  I’m not calling it sports fan blackmail, but…..well, I guess I just did.  Who knew that all it took to break a 40-year cold streak was putting a hat next to my spare tire? 

Fast-forward to today.  I finally took that hat out of my trunk, and tossed it into a garbage bin at a local gas station.

Go Raptors Go!  I've never wanted to be more wrong on any of my predictions!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Hot! Live! Music!

The Beatles, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (LOVE remix)
This isn't actually live, but it was made for a live performance, so I'll allow it under the always-flexible bylaws of the Hot!Live!Music! posts.  "Love" was a Cirque du Soleil show set to various remixed, mashed-up, and remixed versions of Beatles songs.  The result is some interesting sound collages, such as this version of WMGGW, which is doubly notable for me since (*whispers*) I don't really like the original version of the song.  My parents saw the Cirque du Soleil performance in Vegas and enjoyed it, so you can take that endorsement to the bank!


Weird Al Yankovic, "What Is Life"
We'll continue on the not-really-live-Beatles kick with this actual live performance of a song by a former Beatle, covered by Weird Al, who I assume has owned a collection of beetles in his life.  As always when mentioning Weird Al Yankovic, let me officially petition the NFL to let him do the Super Bowl halftime show one of these years.


Postmodern Jukebox and Ariana Savalas, "Blank Space"
Another excellent PMJ cover, with the bonus of also giving us another cover version of Blank Space to overwrite the Ryan Adams rendition.


Chet Faker, "No Diggity"
Is this a Blackstreet cover?!  You'd better believe it is!  One of the great songs of my teenage years, covered by a guy who looks remarkably like me in my late-30's years.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Mark's Marketing Tips

Years after the "poker boom" has come and gone, it's still amazing that you can find poker on any sports channel on any given day.  Gotta fill those hours somehow, I suppose.  Yet it's equally amazing to me that, to my knowledge, none of these poker events have ever been sponsored by a potato chip company.

Think about the logic, if you're Pringles or Tostitos or Ruffles or someone.  Whenever I watch poker, I get an unbearable urge to eat chips.  Every other sentence on one of those shows is, "He's reaching for chips," "He's put half his chips into the pot," "Joe just added 50,000 chips to his stack." It's subliminal advertising at its most insidious.  By the end of the show, I'd walk over my own mother for a bag of chips (p.s. happy late mother's day, Mom! I just admitted I'd sell you out for snack food!)

This kind of viral marketing doesn't work for other sports.  You'll never see a summer theatre production of a Midsummer Night's Dream sponsoring a hockey game, or Court TV sponsoring NBA games.  But if you're a chip company, there's definitely money to be made in throwing a few bucks at a poker tournament, since what better time than 2019 to invest in the poker boom?

This may seem like a silly idea, yet was it any worse than Lays having Mark Messier as its spokesperson in a series of increasingly crazed ads?

Friday, May 17, 2019

Survivor Rankings: Chris*

I considered writing this whole thing pretending Gavin had won and just ignoring Chris altogether, but then I would’ve just been wasting the audience’s time leading up to an unsatisfactory conclusion.  And that would be just bonkers!

I’m also going to do away altogether with my usual Survivor winner category headings since they don’t really apply to the Chris Underwood story.  After all, “how he won” is summarized just as “a very lame gimmick for a season,” you can’t discuss “skillset” since there’s very little evidence Chris is actually good at Survivor, and “could he do it again?” is a hard no, since I somewhat doubt the show will ever revisit the Edge Of Extinction gimmick given the pretty resounding critical pounding this season has been taking.

To be clear, I don’t blame Chris the person for this lame result.  He did his best within the rules he was presented with, and maximized it to his full potential.  He’s also far from the worst possible winner of the season — had one of the Four Horsemen Of The Mediocre Returning Player Apocalypse (Joe, Kelley, Aubry, David) won, it would’ve been absolute rock bottom.  And having the impossibly obnoxious Rick Devens, the other Edge Of Extinction returnee, win would’ve also been worse.  Plus, Chris looks kind of like Aaron Rodgers, so I can’t hate the guy. 

But I don’t consider him a “Survivor winner” since he didn’t win an actual season of Survivor, as the show finally succeeded (after years of trying) in fully undermining its premise.  If putting inexperienced players against returning players wasn’t enough, or the final threes, or the final four fire making challenge, or giving everyone an initial do-over chance with the old Redemption Island premise, or introducing a hundred immunity idols and special advantages into the game wasn’t enough, it took the Edge Of Extinction to finally break it.  The ultimate social experiment catch lying at the heart of the show (how you have to convince the people you voted out to then vote you to win a million dollars) was completely sidestepped. 

Chris ended up only participating in six actual tribal councils all season, and amusingly, didn’t even get the majority of votes from those six people he directly eliminated or tried to eliminate.  Reem and Victoria voted for Chris at the final tribal council, while Rick, Lauren, and Kelley all voted for Gavin and Keith wasn’t on the jury whatsoever.

All the other Chris votes came from people he not only didn’t eliminate, he didn’t even have a chance to eliminate since (this can’t be stressed enough) HE WAS THE THIRD PERSON VOTED OUT OF THE ACTUAL GAME.  The rest of the time he spent stewing at the “Edge Of Extinction” island, which I’m sorry, is more an advantage than a disadvantage.  Chris got personal one-to-one time with virtually the entire jury, while Gavin and Julie were in the much more stressful position of actually having to play Survivor.

Even when he was back in the actual game, what game did Chris even play?  He was gifted an idol since Lauren is an idiot, gifted another idol in that half-and-half split with Rick*, won a single challenge, then took the “bold” move of giving up that challenge immunity to personally beat Rick in the fire making challenge.  This, frankly, wasn’t bold whatsoever since it was apparent that it was Chris’ only move, once he saw that Julie and Gavin weren’t much at making fires.  Chris was open about the fact that Rick was unbeatable in a jury vote, so Chris was only risking dropping to fourth place from 2nd or 3rd if he was in the finals with Rick.

* = let’s take a moment to point out the stupidity of giving what was essentially a full immunity idol to a person coming into the game at the final six

So when it comes right down to it, Chris was very good at the game of “Find Idols And Make A Fire,” which is what the final episode of any Survivor season has devolved into.  At the actual game of Survivor we’ve been watching for close to 20 years, Chris finished in 16th place.  In my rankings of Survivor winners, he finishes dead-solid last since he is the living asterisk, the “well…”  To take my Aaron Rodgers comparison a step further, it’s like if the 2018 Packers had won a group Madden challenge against the 28 other teams, then somehow replaced the Rams in the Super Bowl.

This show really needs to get itself back on track.  It seemed like the great David vs. Goliath season was a nice step in the right direction, but then you had this mess.  I’m not sure all the giant statues of Sandra and Rob in the world can bail Survivor out.  Does the giant Sandra head have an animatronic component that curses out the other players?  That would help.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tim Conway

"The Carol Burnett Show" used to hold two tapings for each episode.  One was the "proper" taping, where the cast all performed everything to the line.  The other eventually became the looser taping, wherein the cast was encouraged to improvise.  And by the cast, I really mean Tim Conway, who made a particular sport of coming up with wacky nonsense to make his fellow actors laugh. 

The Carol Burnett Show was before my time, so I've only seen footage in various anniversary shows and best-of compilations.  Yet the common thread of all these shows was that so much of the "Best of" material came from those looser tapings --- maybe it's just human nature that the most memorable moments are the ones that were completely off the cuff and broke people up.  If you're going by just the compilations shows, poor Harvey Korman never kept a straight face in ten years.

RIP to the always funny Tim Conway



Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Musical Day In The Life

If this meme seems vaguely familiar to you, that's because I'm randomly deciding to answer a meme e-mail from 2006.  Better late than never!

IF YOUR LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE?
So, here's how it works:

1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie
---- 7. Mark adds his own personal ranking system out of 10 as to how appropriate the song is ----

Opening Credits: One More Night -- Stars
(8/10)

Waking up: Voulez Vous -- ABBA
(6/10, as I rarely wake up speaking French. Or Swedish.)

First Day at High School: Holy Joe -- U2
(7/10, since while there isn't much connection on paper, I did become a U2 fan in high school)

Falling In Love: In Dreams -- Roy Orbison
(10/10, can't go wrong with Orbison)

Fight Song: Fortunate Son -- CCR
(10/10)

Breaking Up: Beat It -- Michael Jackson
(11/10, man, my iTunes have appropriate taste)

Prom: She's a Rebel -- Green Day
(7/10, since any woman who would attend prom with me would have to be some kind of rebel from social standards)

Life: Growin' Up -- Bruce Springsteen
(10/10, hell it's right there in the title)

Mental Breakdown: Battle Of Who Could Care Less -- Ben Folds Five
(9/10, hee hee)

Driving: Evenflow -- Pearl Jam
(7/10 studio version, 9/10 for the live version which is much faster and more conducive to a good highway-driving feel)

Getting Back Together: Rebellion (Lies) -- Arcade Fire
(6/10, I guess you're rebelling against the lies that caused the breakup by getting back together. What?)

Wedding: Rose of my Heart -- Johnny Cash
(10/10)

Birth of Child: Holiday in Spain -- Counting Crows
(4/10, though this could rise if any of my future children end up Spanish.)

Final Battle: Changes -- 2PAC
(5/10, unless my final battle ends up being against Biggie Smalls' ghost.)

Death Scene: Jumble Jumble -- The White Stripes
(3/10, as the song itself isn't very deathly, though Jack and Meg did go out of their way to look like Beetlejuice characters)

Funeral Song: Neon Lights -- U2
(4/10, it's slow and kind of pretty, but I don't plan to have my funeral in a place with a lot of neon lights. Unless I die in Caesar's Palace.)

End Credits: Fear -- Sarah McLachlan
(8/10, oh no, it's the end of the movie, we must flee!)

Monday, May 06, 2019

CanCon!

Canada Day isn't until July 1st, but get this. 

My radio presets consists of two oldies stations, two top-40/pop stations, and two rock stations.  Today, while driving around and flipping through channels, I came across a run of...

* Bryan Adams
* Drake
* Alessia Cara
* Arcade Fire
* The Tragically Hip
* Metric

....all at the exact same time! 

This is the most statistically improbable thing to happen to collection of domestic artists since the Group Of Seven were exposed to a meteor's radiation and turned into superheroes.  Marvel, if you need some fresh post-Avengers ideas, just give me a call.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Hello Sunshine

Not a reference to the weather, since it'll apparently never stop frickin' raining.  But, new Bruce Springsteen song!

Shoutout to the 2007 Danny Boyle film "Sunshine," one of the all-time examples of a movie that's amazing for the first two-thirds and then just goes off the rails in the last third.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Bonus Metric Anecdote

As a follow-up to yesterday's concert review, it was with no small measure of amusement that I noted "Dead Disco" as Metric's opening song.  It happened to the track that introduced me to Metric back in 2005, in a backhanded way.

In my university radio days, my pal Dave and I hosted a weekly morning show.  For the many, many, many of you who never listened to it, I can only describe it as the greatest radio show you've ever heard.  Imagine two guys who only kind of barely knew what they were doing, hosting a show with a virtually non-existent audience*, and playing wall-to-wall outstanding music. 

* = the station manager didn't enjoy it when we openly mentioned our small listenership on the air.  I wonder why!

So if you're working on any sort of radio broadcast, big or small, you still have to adhere to Canadian broadcasting regulations.  As per Canadian content (CanCon) laws, a certain number of minutes per hour had to be devoted to Canadian musicians and/or new music, as in music released within the last year.  Our station had a shelf of CDs in the studio devoted to both new music, Canadian music, and both, so we had easy access to picking stuff out over the course of our show that allowed us to meet our quota.

Picking music that was both new and Canadian killed two birds with one stone, so when Dave and I found a new/Canadian song we liked, we'd tend to make it part of our regular rotation.  Or, "liked."  One week, we more or less randomly grabbed Metric's first album off the new/Canadian shelf since we'd vaguely heard of them, and played Dead Disco simply because the name stood out.

After playing the song, our next step was to talk on the air about...how we didn't care for the song.  Frankly, I didn't think the song was all that bad, just kind of forgettable.  But it fit with the generally irreverent tone of our show to make fun of what we just played, and then to make fun of ourselves for playing it.  ("What kind of incompetents play a song without ever hearing it?  What if Emily Haines had randomly started dropped f-bombs?") 

We amused each other with our dialogue so much that we played Dead Disco again the next week, continuing the running joke.  "Why are we playing this song again?!  We don't even care for it!"  This seemed like a funnier idea for us than, you know, playing a different song off the album, or actually listening to the record in the first place to pick out a song we truly enjoyed.  Anyway, Dead Disco ended up being played every week until it no longer qualified as new, and was thus banished to the netherworld of the CD archive room.  Or, maybe it kept being played for a while after that, since Metric obviously became a pretty popular band.  I stopped doing the show, so I have no idea.

With all this in mind, it's funny that I didn't become a proper Metric fan since 2012, since I already had such clear awareness of them.  It's also funny that both Dave and I saw Metric in separate concerts in separate cities this past week, thus giving the band the last laugh after all.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Metric, Live

I guess I didn’t do any sort of formal “best music of 2018” post, but my favourite album was Metric’s Art Of Doubt.  Even without this latest surge in interest in Metric’s work, I was still likely going to see them on this current tour for the simple fact that I’d somehow never seen a proper Metric concert in my six-plus years of fandom.  As I recall, I really got into Synthetica literally days after they’d completed their 2012 tour dates, and I forget why I didn’t see them when they were touring the Pagans In Vegas record in 2015.  Pure apathy, which is the reason behind so many of my non-decisions, or was it just the fact that I found PIV somewhat underwhelming?  Gimme apathy.

The venue was none other than my hometown’s own Budweiser Gardens, an arena that I’ve visited shockingly few times.  I’ve been to a couple of Knights games, and as far as concerts go, Metric is only my third in 14 years — the other two were Pearl Jam and Elton John, in case you want to dominate your next Mark-themed pub trivia night.  The Gardens is pretty solid as far as venues go; it’s relatively intimate at a 9000-person capacity, and the acoustics seem decent.  Nothing Metric could’ve done during their concert, however, was going to top my all-time favourite music memory from the Gardens, which was my mother yelling “The Bitch Is Back” at the top of her lungs during Elton John’s show.

Now, I should note that I did technically see Metric live just last year, as the opening act for the Smashing Pumpkins.  It was fine, they sounded good, and they played most of those same songs in their full-length concert.  Yet it’s certainly different seeing a band in their own show than as an opening act, since I can’t help but feel that they’re simply more into it when they’re the headliner.  Playing to a half-empty arena that is mostly interested in the main act can’t be too rewarding an experience, unless maybe you’re opening for a very big band in a stadium or something, and it’s a kick to be playing in an enormous venue that you’d never get to play on your own. 

Tonight’s opening acts were some random singer-songwriter guy whose set I entirely skipped, and then July Talk, whose set I mostly skipped.  I was too busy taking advantage of a concession stand deal that promised “bottomless popcorn” for just $7.  Two and a half bags later, I feel I did indeed hit rock bottom.  Since I could hear the gravelly/tuneless voice of July Talk’s singer from the concourse, I just stayed out there to eat popcorn and watch hockey.  The Avalanche beat the Sharks, fyi.

Metric themselves, however, got my full attention.  It was a good show!  I’m not sure if a ton of the songs were necessarily much better live than on the albums, and in fact I felt a few of them could’ve used some extra instrumentation.  The only people on stage were the four band members and no backing musicians, which left some songs sounding a little thin.  An extra rhythm guitarist could’ve worked, or maybe a full-time keyboardist so Emily Haines (who did part-time keyboard and guitar duty) had free reign to just jump around and sing.  Not that she wasn’t full of energy all night, jumping and dancing and getting the notoriously lethargic London audience into the show.

The setlist!  It was a heavy dose of new songs off Art Of Doubt, except for the unusual omission of new single “Love You Back.”  Apparently Metric has been playing basically this exact setlist for the entire tour, so I’m glad I didn’t spoil myself on the running order prior to the show.

1. Dead Disco
2. Twilight Galaxy
3. Synthetica
4. Risk
5. Breathing Underwater
6. Art Of Doubt
7. No Lights On The Horizon
8. Cascades
9. Dressed to Suppress
10. Love Is A Place
11. Underline The Black
12. Gimme Sympathy
13. Sick Muse
14. Gold Guns Girls
***encore break***
15. Dark Saturday
16. Monster Hospital
17. Black Sheep
18. Help I’m Alive
19. Now Or Never Now

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Playoff Beard

So, my Stanley Cup picks aren't looking too hot, as I sit a cool 1-for-8 after the first round.  In fairness, I don't think anyone could've predicted the incredible number of upsets in this postseason.  On the down side, the only series I predicted correctly was Boston over Toronto, which was the one I absolutely wanted to get wrong.  The Maple Leafs lost in seven games again, though with two added twists of the knife for their fans ---- a) the Leafs won the first, third, and fifth games, so they always seemed on the verge of really taking control before their inevitable defeat, and b) even in the most upset-filled playoffs in history, Toronto still couldn't beat the Bruins.

But that's not the biggest story of this postseason.  The big story is my playoff beard.

Heading into Game One, I hadn't shaved in six or seven days, for no other reason than just simple laziness.  Just before going out with friends to the pub to watch the game, I was planning to shave, only to realize that I didn't have any razors.  So I showed up pretty rugged to the pub, and it was there that the idea was hatched that I shouldn't shave for the remainder of the Maple Leafs' playoff run.

It was a combination of two interesting concepts.  For one, the playoff beard is a distinguished hockey tradition that I'd never been a part of because...well, mostly because I've never played hockey before.  (Ice hockey, that is, since I was player/coach of a championship-winning intramural floor hockey team back in eighth grade.  But, that legendary triumph is another story for another time.)  Secondly, I've been shaving my head for almost 16 years, and I was kind of curious to see what would happen if I just decided to let things grow.  Would I get any growth at all on the top of my bald head?  Would I end up with just the Ed Harris-style cul-de-sac of hair that almost every man on my dad's side of the family eventually ends up with?  How bushy would this beard get?

As we close in on three weeks without shaving, the results are still pretty inconclusive.  I definitely have a visible amount of beard, though it's not really as thick as I'd hoped.  I wasn't expecting Santa Claus after three weeks, but even still, I think I can do better.  There's also the fact that there seems to be some grey hairs in the beard, which is just yikes.  Even stranger, it's unnerving having Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez following me around at all times, telling me that my beard is weird and that my stache is trash.

So, while the Leafs may be finished, the beard is not.  I've decided that it's unfair to penalize this beard by tying its fate to the Leafs' inevitable doom.  Ergo, I will now keep the beard through the entirety of the Raptors' playoff run, which always stood to be much more promising than the Maple Leafs' postseason.  As I noted in my NBA predictions, it isn't out of the question for the Raptors to reach the NBA Finals, though they'll have a tough go in the second round against the 76ers to deal with first and foremost.  If you think about it, a playoff beard is more fitting for the Raptors than the Maple Leafs anyway.  After all, you think of a beard, you think of a caveman.  You think cavemen, you think dinosaurs.  And raptors, as that sci-fi classic Timmy and the Cloneosaurus taught us, are dinosaurs.  Plus, Walt Frazier was a Knicks legend, not a Rangers legend.

Will I end up shaving this beard in a week or so anyway, or could I potentially get another month...six weeks...TWO months' worth of growth out of this thing?  Could I ironically end up with a James Harden-style beard while the Raptors are actually facing Harden's Rockets in the NBA Finals?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Song Of Vanilla Ice & Fire

This has been on the internet for almost two years, but I'm only discovering it now??  What's wrong with me?!


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Baby Elephant Mock

My plans to be the next great children's entertainer may have hit a snag.

My little niece Olivia (not a real niece, but the daughter of a friend) is 18 months, and diligently learning her animals.  She's got his little picture collage with several different animals portrayed, and she can unfailingly identify many of them --- if you say the animal's name, she'll point to it.  She can easily find a starfish, an octopus, and a shark, so clearly she's destined to be a George Costanza-style marine biologist.

One animal she was having trouble with was the elephant.  So, being a great uncle, I decided to help her identification process by miming what an elephant looks like.  I stuck my arm across my face like it was a big trunk, and let loose a mighty bellow.  Olivia found this totally delightful, and our animal-ID game was somewhat delayed while she insisted that I do it over and over.  It eventually got to the point where she herself was putting her arm over his nose, imitating a trunk!  Oh, it was ever so adorable.

At first, I assumed I was the world's greatest educator since every time I said "elephant," she didn't only just find the elephant on the page, she immediately put her arm up to her nose.  Even more impressively, the only time she didn't do this was to point behind us to the shelf.  Sitting on that shelf was, you guessed it, her Snuffleupagus toy.  Well, okay, I guess you might've first guessed an actual elephant, but still, Snuffy is pretty darn close.

As I was just on the verge of creating a LinkedIn page for myself as a freelance tutor for pre-K children, however, I suddenly realized a flaw in my system.  By repeating the elephant/nose thing so often, Olivia hadn't just begun to associate the arm/nose gesture with an elephant...she associated it with me, full stop.  So now every time she sees me, she automatically makes the elephant nose.

Now, I'm as willing as the next man to poke fun at my own obesity.  But now I've created a situation where a child may or may not consider me to be an actual human/elephant hybrid.  God forbid we're ever out in public sometime, and I happen to be wearing a grey shirt, or maybe my ears are looking slightly larger than usual.  One stray gesture from Olivia will surely lead to some random passerby yelling "hey look at this guy!  He's a human elephant!" and thus drawing a crowd that will start tossing peanuts at me.  Just as I begin to loudly protest, I'll randomly see a mouse on the ground and be startled, which won't help my case even though it's something any HUMAN would do while reacting to vermin.

In short, I've created a scenario that will undoubtedly lead to eventual humiliation.  I may need to summon my inner John Hurt and start yelling "Do I amuse you?" at Olivia, while she blinks uncomprehendingly.  Never too early for babies to learn about David Lynch. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Old-Timey Conan

Conan O'Brien has often described his visit to an old-timey 1800's baseball league as perhaps his all-time favourite remote bit.  Thanks to the beauty of his "Conan 25" project, most/all of his old remote bits are now being officially uploaded in all their restored glory, so here it is.  WHAT IS THAT DEMONRY?!


Friday, April 12, 2019

NBA Playoffs Predictions

I'd still be quite surprised if anyone besides the Warriors won the championship.  But, it's a testament to this NBA season that I'm at least up to "quite surprised" rather than "shocked."  Besides Golden State as the obvious favourites, I'd say Houston, Milwaukee and (deep breath) Toronto all have legitimate shots to win the title.  You could maybe make a case for Utah, Boston, or Philadelphia if you really stretched but I don't think it's happening.

* Warriors over Clippers in five
* Rockets over Jazz in seven (this will be the battle of the first round, as Utah has quietly been one of the best teams in the league since January)
* Nuggets over Spurs in seven
* Thunder over Trail Blazers in six
* Bucks over Pistons in four
* Celtics over Pacers in six
* 76ers over Nets in seven (if Joel Embiid is actually badly hurt, all bets are off for this one)
* Raptors over Magic in five

* Warriors over Rockets in seven
* Nuggets over Thunder in six
* Bucks over Celtics in six
* Raptors over 76ers in six

* Warriors over Nuggets in six
* Raptors over Bucks in seven

* Warriors over Raptors in six
I feel like this is only kind of a homer pick, as the Raptors are probably the deeper team than Milwaukee, though obviously the Bucks have the best player (perhaps in the entire league) in Giannis.  What's ultimately stopping me from predicting the Raptors or Bucks from actually upsetting Golden State is that the Western Conference was once again way better than the East, so I feel the Warriors might be more than a couple of streets ahead of even the other conference's top dogs.  It'll nonetheless be a huge accomplishment for the Raptors to even make the NBA Finals for the first time in team history, and they'll certainly put up more of a fight than Cleveland did last season.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Stanley Cup Predictions

The bracket is set, and the heartbreak is already set in for Leafs Nation.  Let's get to my always-accurate picks.

* Bruins over Maple Leafs in six
There is zero doubt in my mind that Boston is going to win this series.  The Leafs have been playing like junk for a month.  The Bruins own the Leafs even in the best of times.  The feeling of impending doom has been setting in for weeks ever since it became apparent that another Boston/Toronto matchup was happening, and I honestly think this has factored into the Leafs' recent poor play.  I'll reiterate my usual stance that the NHL's playoff structure is silly, though the Leafs have slumped to such an extent that their matchup against Boston is no longer 2nd vs. 3rd.  It's actually now 2nd vs. 5th, so in a normal points-based bracket, the Maple Leafs would be facing the Islanders in the first round.  Given how the Isles have owned the Leafs basically all year, that wouldn't have been any better an opponent for Toronto.  Whatever, the Leafs are toast, let's move on.

* Lightning over Blue Jackets in six
* Capitals over Hurricanes in five
* Penguins over Islanders in six
* Flames over Avalanche in six
* Golden Knights over Sharks in seven
* Predators over Stars in five
* Jets over Blues in seven

* Lightning over Bruins in seven
* Capitals over Penguins in six
* Jets over Predators in seven
* Flames over Golden Knights in seven

* Lightning over Capitals in six
* Jets over Flames in seven

* Lightning over Jets in six
It's interesting to note that several of the teams with the highest single-season points totals in NHL history didn't actually go on to win the Stanley Cup, as the playoffs are a much different beast than the regular season.  So this won't be a cakewalk for Tampa Bay by any stretch.  But, this team is just so damn good, it might be a...I dunno, decent-sized mealwalk at most?  The Cup is going back to the Bay.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Kate McKinnon, On Business

Would I watch Kate McKinnon improvise about anything for eight minutes?  The answer is yes.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

What A Prank

In honour of tomorrow being April Fool's Day, here's the best prank I ever witnessed.  Note, this isn't the best prank I've personally ever pulled on someone --- that would be the bucket of confetti I've placed over my mom's door.  Just wait!

Back in high school, around Valentine's Day, the student council thought it would be a fun idea to get everyone involved in some type of electronic matchmaking service.  This sounds impossibly quaint in today's era of Tinder and modern online dating, but the idea was that we'd all fill in Scantron cards with a bunch of likes/dislikes about ourselves (I feel like there were maybe 50 or 60 questions), the cards would all be inputed into a system, and then we'd all be given a list of our "top ten matches" from within our grade.  In theory, this would help people hit it off with a new person, ask them to the upcoming school semi-formal, and then the student council would sell a few extra glasses of punch to help pay for the cost of this electronic dating system.  It's win-win.

Well, unless you weren't heterosexual, since of course our uptight 90's school limited the matches to people from the opposite gender.  And, unless you actually took this quiz seriously, which a good chunk of the high school populace didn't.  And, unless you claimed to not take it seriously but actually did fill the quiz out seriously since you were a lonely drama kid looking for his first date and secretly loving the idea of using this quiz to break the ice with some cute girl I didn't even know had so much in common with me. 

Uh, that third option is totally a hypothetical scenario, by the way.  But honestly, I feel like most of the student populace secretly had the same interest in the quiz, despite publicly declaring a modicum of caring.

In the spirit of not taking this quiz seriously, however, even the student council members couldn't help themselves from a little joke.  They arranged it so that the entries submitted by a brother and sister combination (let's call them Jack and Jill) listed each other as their perfect match.  And by a hefty percentage --- Jack was Jill's perfect 100% match with the next-closest guy somewhere in the 20 percent range, and Jill was similarly far and away Jack's top match.

Word quickly spread around the school about this embarrassing result, leading to a day of merriment before the prank was revealed.  I think either Jack or Jill was actually on the student council, so it was very much an in-joke that reached monumental proportions.  It remained a running gag for years, particularly since the student council brought back the same matchmaking quiz for the next Valentine's Day.

If you're wondering if Jack and Jill were actually incestuous, the answer is no.

If you're wondering if that lonely drama kid hit it off with some secret admirer....the answer is also no.  The drama kid got really into blogging instead, that's just as good!  *sobs*

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Swartzwelder's Battleship

If you were in the Wellington Road Chapters the other day and noticed a large bald man hunched over a book and giggling like mad, that was probably me. It was due to this passage....

I remember distinctly one time being a young comedy writer, and Swartzwelder just happened to be sitting there, smoking a cigarette on the lawn. And I though, Man, I’m just gonna ask John Swartzwelder a random question and see what he says in return. And I said “John, what would you do if you had all the money that you could spend?” And without a moment’s hesitation he said “I would buy a battleship and the Empire State Building. With the Empire State Building, I would just let it run down and get decrepit. Because people would say, ‘You can’t do that! That’s the Empire State Building!" I would say ‘No, I can! I own the Empire State Building!’

"The battleship," he said, "I just think it would change people’s conversations with me if they knew that I had a battleship."


--- Brent Forrester, from John Orvted’s "Unauthorized Oral History of the Simpsons"

John Swartzwelder, by the way, wrote these Simpsons episodes.  He also reportedly bought his favourite booth at his local coffee shop so he could continue writing in said booth at home after the diner passed a no-smoking law.

John Swartzwelder sounds unreal, but apparently he's real.

Friday, March 22, 2019

One Shining Moment

For years, CBS has aired a montage of tournament highlights after the final game of every NCAA basketball tournament.  The song used for this montage has always been "One Shining Moment," which I only just now learned was specifically written for the tournament and not just some random ballad that CBS appropriated.

The song debuted in 1987, yet it took until 2013 for someone to dub it over a series of scenes of The Shining.  Too long, people!



btw, I'm in three brackets this year, and my national title picks were Duke, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Tennessee was the only team I had in all three Final Fours, so bet the farm on a round-of-32 upset.  Along those same lines, congratulations to Nevada as this year's winner of the Random-first round-team-who-lost-after-Mark-picked-them-to-advance-in-every-bracket-even-though-he-usually-hedges-on-almost-every-team-since-it-just-makes-sense-to-do-so-with-random-lower seed-games Trophy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

New Puns In Hi-Fi

A friend recently stated that she was making some ungodly/delicious dinner combination of elbow macaroni, alphabet pasta, and fettuccine in a single dish.

My response?  “The recipe for 'fettuccine, elbow macaroni and alphabet pasta' was originally conceived by Michael Stipe and Patti Smith.  They call the dish Ne-Bow The Letter.”

*Bill Berry rimshot*

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ultra Violet

Here's something I didn't expect to read --- an absolutely airtight case about why Violet Beauregarde is both wholly done wrong by Willy Wonka, and why she was the ideal candidate to take over his chocolate factory.

From Tumblr user Evayna...

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Next Barney

That is, not Stinson or Rubble, but rather the next Barney the Dinosaur.  (He's closer to my body type anyway.)  For I, your pal Mark, may have found my true calling as a children's entertainer.

I base this new career path on my innate ability to delight my friends' young children.  If you're between the ages of 6-24 months, then you are guaranteed to find me hilarious.  I have four major go-to routines that never fail to draw merriment....

* pretending to be a dinosaur, in the style of Colin Mochrie

* pretending to eat in the style of Cookie Monster

* waving my arms around and saying YAYYYYYYY in the style of Kermit the Frog.

* what I like to call "Advanced Peek-A-Boo," which is several variations on peek-a-boo (hiding your eyes behind your closed hands, your hat, a menu, your semi-linked fingers so the kid can only see one eye, etc.) within a rapid-fire sequence

* the exploding fist bump.  Be warned, this one works so well that once you introduce it, the kid will make you do it a minimum of 40 consecutive times.

There are a few more bits being workshopped that I'd rather not reveal at the moment, since obviously I won't want to just give away the whole act.  But let's just say that one involves Charlie Chaplin, rolls of bread and....wait, I may have said too much.  MAY.

Once all of these surefire hits are compiled into a single 90-minute concert, I feel like I'll be the next Raffi.  Or the next Sharon, Lois & Bram.  Or maybe I can just join Sharon & Bram, since Lois is no longer with us.  Or I can be the Wiggles, who I know nothing about besides the fact that they're Australian and that they're absurdly successful.  But really, it's not all about the money for me.  It's about entertaining the kids, to at least the 30th percentile.  The remaining 70% is indeed all about the money.

Being a childrens' entertainer seems like the logical extension of my current role as "wacky Uncle Mark," which is a sweet gig.  It's all the fun of parenting with literally none of the downsides or responsibilities.  I just show up to hang out with my friends, chat with them while putting in a modicum of effort in entertaining their toddlers, and then I get to go home, back to my responsibility-thin life.  Procreation sounds like a real scam, to me.  Almost as much of a scam as my $79.99 concert tickets, but I can just blame that on TicketMaster.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Extra-Verse

Like a moron, I left "Into The Spider-Verse" when the movie itself ended.  For some reason it didn't occur to me that there might be a secret scene after the credits, perhaps under the logic that since this technically wasn't a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, it wouldn't have the signature bonus scene.  (Even though pretty much every comic book movie has a secret scene these days.) 

Had I known this existed, I might've bumped Spider-Verse up another spot on my year-end best movie rankings.  And ironically, I spent the whole film wondering why they didn't make a joke about the "Spider-Man pointing" meme.  It seemed so obvious! 

Friday, March 08, 2019

Cringe

At the restaurant tonight, I was seated at a table close to the bar, where I got an unfortunate close-range view of some truly pathetic business. 

Two middle-aged guys, both tipsy, both looking like (here's a timely reference) Herb Tarleck and Les Nessman from WKRP In Cincinnati, if Herb and Les had boundary issues.  Well, if Herb had more blatant boundary issues.  Anyway, these two clowns were openly flirting with the female bartender, and were under the impression that they were killing it.  They couldn't have been more impressed with how smooth they felt they were being, to the point of (I wish I was making this up) low-fiving each other whenever the bartender walked away. 

From where I sat, however, I could see her face when her back was turned to these two.  Needless to say, they weren't killing it.  The world's most prolific bowler couldn't have rolled as much as this poor woman was rolling her eyes.

It gets worse.  The guys eventually stumbled off, saying "we'll see you next week."  Thus, strongly creating the impression that they're regulars.  This bartender has to put up with this sorry display on an ongoing basis.

Anyway, Happy International Women's Day.  Hope any men reading this celebrated by not being human garbage.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The 2018 Markademy Awards


Live from the entertainment capital of my house, it’s the 2018 Markademy Awards!  We’ve never had a host, and we’ve always gotten along just fine!  Incidentally, I think it was around the 35-minute mark into the actual Oscar ceremony when it suddenly dawned on everyone that “hey wait, did we never need a host this entire time?  I don’t miss it whatsoever.”

Still, in this brave new Oscar ceremony world of a host-less show, a running time of less than 200 minutes, and an interestingly varied group of nominees, the Academy can’t be stopped from falling all over itself to reward a mediocre movie as its “Best Picture.”  This is where the Markademy Awards step in as a righter of wrongs.

BEST DIRECTOR
Actual nominees: Alfonso Cuaron/Roma, Spike Lee/BlacKkKlansman, Pawel Pawlikowski/Cold War, Yorgos Lanthimos/The Favourite, Adam McKay/Vice
Actual winner: Alfonso Cuaron

Alterna-ballot: Bradley Cooper/A Star Is Born, Debra Granik/Leave No Trace, Marielle Heller/Can You Ever Forgive Me, Barry Jenkins/If Beale Street Could Talk, Joe & Anthony Russo/Avengers: Infinity War

My ballot: Cuaron, Heller, Jenkins, Lanthimos, the Russos
My winner: Alfonso Cuaron

Well, okay, the Academy got this one right.  Cuaron captured well-deserving Oscars for both directing and cinematography, since this film is just beyond stunning.  He isn’t dealing with incredible landscapes or windswept vistas here — Roma is largely set in a normal home, on a mostly normal (affluent, to be sure) city street, and yet Cuaron makes this movie look somehow even more visually impressive than a Gravity or a Children Of Men.

If there’s a theme in this year’s ballot, it’s directors who really bring the ordinary to life.  (Plus the exact opposite of this theme in the Russos, who do the impossible by juggling a decade’s worth of movies and characters into a single, coherent, epic.). I don’t want to suggest the stories of CYEFM, Favourite, Beale Street, or Roma are basic by any means, but it’s very easy to imagine versions of these films that get tedious, since we’ve seen some variations on these types of movies before.  The British costume drama, the family drama of a young couple torn apart by a tragic event, the dark Woody Allen-ish New York literary drama, the personal story of the working class…so much new life is breathed into these familiar concepts.  For Roma, it’s incredible how everything is so perfectly cinematic yet also so naturalistic and slice of life.  It would come off as a documentary, were it not for Cuaron’s camera making it clear that no, you’re watching a perfectly-composed film.

Special shoutout to Lanthimos, who merits a directing nod for one of the year’s best movies, just a year after his The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (a strong 10 on the “Insists Upon Itself Scale”) captures the 2017 Markademy Anti-Award as the year’s worst film.  Not to mention Lanthimos’ previous film, The Lobster, a stinker that somehow didn’t make the worst list for 2015.  Third time’s the charm for ol’ Yorgos.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Actual nominees: Mahershala Ali/Green Book, Adam Driver/BlacKkKlansman, Sam Elliott/A Star Is Born, Richard E. Grant/Can You Ever Forgive Me, Sam Rockwell/Vice
Actual winner: Mahershala Ali

Alterna-ballot: Josh Brolin/Avengers: Infinity War, Josh Hamilton/Eighth Grade, Bill Heck/The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Nicholas Hoult/The Favourite, Cedric Kyles/First Reformed, Billy Magnussen/Game Night
My ballot: Brolin, Driver, Elliott, Grant, Hamilton
My winner: Richard E. Grant

The theme of my alternate ballot is earnestness and duplicity, as my nominees have a nice mix of the disingenuous (Hoult, Kyles), the straight-laced (Hamilton, Heck), and the in-betweeners.  Magnussen is playing a womanizing moron, but it’s hard to hate a character who just nails an unending stream of “but why male models?”-level clueless one-liners.  It may be weird to describe an intergalactic despot like Thanos as “between” two moral poles, but that’s a tribute to what Brolin does with a role that seems impossible, on paper.  Thanos has to live up to a decade’s worth of expectations, has to be believable and almost sympathetic despite an end-goal of universal genocide, plus Brolin is limited by motion-capture, and he can’t hide amongst the enormous cast since Thanos is basically the (*checks notes*) star of the movie?!  It was really incredible work.

So, while we’re here praising one “star of the movie,” you might notice that Mahershala Ali didn’t make even my shortlist of nominees.  That’s because he is deservedly in my Best Actor ballot, and it’s time for the annual Markademy Awards tradition of Mark calling out blatant examples of category fraud.  We might as well have the Green Book talk here — I thought it was pretty mediocre.  It’s the worst Best Picture winner since A Beautiful Mind, which says something that I’m even putting Crash ahead of it.  There have already been piles of criticism heaped on the movie’s sketchy racial politics, but the lead/supporting split between Mortensen and Ali is itself a red flag.  I’m sure the publicists saw the value in not splitting Best Actor votes, but even if you deny the obvious that the two are co-leads, shouldn’t Viggo’s character be supporting, narrative-wise?  It’s Don Shirley’s story, he has the stronger growth arc from start to finish (or at least the more apparent growth arc, as it was hard to tell anything from Viggo’s East Side Mario’s commercial-level caricature of a performance) that should mean more in determining “lead” or “supporting” than just counting up Mortensen’s 5-10 extra minutes of screen time. 

Whatever, the movie stunk, let’s never speak of it again.  Let’s focus on Josh Hamilton’s incredible speech to his daughter by the fireside, or the tears in Sam Elliott’s eyes as he’s pulling out of the driveway.  Not big parts, either actor, but key moments that almost stole a movie.  Going into larger roles, CYEFM was the role that took Richard E. Grant from a high-level “that guy” actor to someone that could’ve or should’ve won an Oscar, and I think BKK was the film where Adam Driver’s potential started to click for me.  My award goes to Grant by a hair, unless I learn that Brolin also did motion-capture on Sam Elliott’s moustache.
 

BEST ACTRESS
Actual nominees: Yalitza Aparicio/Roma, Glenn Close/The Wife, Olivia Colman/The Favourite, Lady Gaga/A Star Is Born, Melissa McCarthy/Can You Ever Forgive Me
Actual winner: Olivia Colman

Alterna-ballot: Elsie Fisher/Eighth Grade, Nicole Kidman/Destroyer, Thomasin McKenzie/Leave No Trace, Saoirse Ronan/On Chesil Beach, Emma Stone/The Favourite, Rachel Weisz/The Favourite
My ballot: Colman, McCarthy, McKenzie, Stone, Weisz
My winner: Melissa McCarthy

Category fraud charges were also levelled at Olivia Colman’s victory from the Glenn Close fan club, though here is the Markademy Awards’ Gordian knot-style answer to how to define the three Favourite actresses — they’re all leads.  Boom!  Simple as that.  Stone and Weisz have the largest arcs and the most screentime, but Colman is the movie’s narrative center, holding steady whenever Stone or Weisz disappear or reappear as their importance to Queen Anne’s court varies.  All three, by the way, are amazing in this movie, and as a long-time member of the Olivia Colman fan club dating back to her days on Peep Show, her win was my favourite Oscar result of the night.  That said, if Weisz had actually shown up to the Oscar ceremony in her supremely badass scarf/facial cover from the movie, she might’ve won every Markademy Award for the next three years running. 

(Sidebar on Glenn Close: she wasn’t robbed.  She was very good in The Wife, but nothing special.  I’m also not really on the “Glenn Close is overdue and deserved to win!” train since she lacks that signature Oscar robbery moment.  For Peter O’Toole it was Lion In Winter, for Richard Burton it was Virginia Woolf, for Amy Adams it’s looking like it’ll be her odd trend of getting nominated for everything except her actual best roles, which were Arrival and Enchanted.  Plus, as an Oscar geek, I’m actually more interested in the idea of someone challenging or breaking Peter O’Toole’s record than I am in seeing Close win.  I mean, come on, her last name is literally CLOSE!  Is there a better possible name for someone who always comes up short at the Oscars?!)

The winner, however, is Melissa McCarthy.  In addition to joining Cate Blanchett as a proud Markademy Award recipient, McCarthy may also be threatening Blanchett’s title as the most no-middle ground performer in Hollywood.  Every time you watch McCarthy, whether it’s a movie, an awards show presentation, or even something like an SNL sketch, you’re left thinking either “that was amazing” or “man, that bombed.”  (I think her only lone average role was in Ghostbusters, where she was unmemorable but the movie was overall pretty good.)  CYEFM is damn near career-peak McCarthy, as she inhabits a hard-to-like character and leaves you understanding why Lee makes it so hard on herself.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Actual nominees: Amy Adams/Vice, Marina de Tavira/Roma, Regina King/If Beale Street Could Talk, Emma Stone/The Favourite, Rachel Weisz/The Favourite
Actual winner: Regina King

Alterna-ballot: Elizabeth Debicki/Widows, Zoe Kazan/The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Sissy Spacek/The Old Man & The Gun, Phoebe Waller-Bridge/Solo, Dolly Wells/Can You Ever Forgive Me, Letitia Wright/Black Panther
My ballot: Debicki, King, Spacek, Wells, Wright
My winner: Regina King

My verdict on the lead/supporting actress of the Favourite actresses thins this category out a bit, plus I didn’t think Adams was anything special in Vice (nothing was special about Vice), and de Tavira is barely in the movie.  That opens the door for seasoned pros in King and Spacek to a bunch of relative newcomers — Kazan carrying the best of the Buster Scruggs vignettes, another mo-cap performance for PWB, Letitia Wright for bringing such joy to Black Panther (then, as a bonus, pwning Bruce Banner in Infinity War), and a breakout low-key role for Wells.

And then there’s Debicki, who steals (no pun intended) Widows wholesale.  This film has a lot of good performances, though mostly from actors digging into their familiar playbooks — Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell are all doing “Viola, Michelle, and Colin things,” as it were.  This opens the door for lesser-known performers to really break out, be it Daniel Kaluuya going in a distinctly different direction from Get Out, Brian Tyree Henry continuing his great all-around year, and another multi-movie favourite of 2018 Cynthia Erivo, who was also one of the highlights of the otherwise forgettable Bad Times At The El Royale this year.  They were the lesser-knowns, however, whereas Debicki so stands out in part because I’d never seen her in any kind of substantial role before.

But in the end, King narrowly takes both the Markademy Award and the Oscar.  I almost put “The Leftovers” after King’s name in the ballot out of sheer habit, since we’ve known for a long time what great acting she’s capable of doing in any kind of notable part.  Even this role isn’t much in terms of screentime, though King has two major scenes to nail, and they’re both home runs.  


BEST ACTOR
Actual nominees: Christian Bale/Vice, Bradley Cooper/A Star Is Born, Willem Dafoe/At Eternity’s Gate, Rami Malek/Bohemian Rhapsody, Viggo Mortensen/Green Book
Actual winner: Rami Malek

Alterna-ballot: Mahershala Ali/Green Book, Simon Russell Beale/The Death Of Stalin, Ethan Hawke/First Reformed, Stephan James/If Beale Street Could Talk, Robert Redford/The Old Man & The Gun, Geoffrey Rush/Final Portrait
My ballot: Ali, Hawke, James, Redford, Rush
My winner: Ethan Hawke

I didn’t actually see At Eternity’s Gate, and I have little reason to believe that Dafoe wouldn’t give a good performance, so I can’t entirely call this the weakest Best Actor field in recent Oscar history.  But good gravy, between SNL-caliber impressions of Freddie Mercury, Dick Cheney, and (let’s be honest) Sam Elliott, and Mortensen playing such an Italian caricature that even Steven Van Zandt would’ve asked him to take it down a notch, this category didn’t have much to work with. 

Frankly, even my alternate nominees aren’t super, as it was a weak year overall for lead performances.  (Beale and Rush are both kind of reaches.)  Redford was charm city, Ali did his best to try and bail out a weak movie, and James (Canada’s own) looks like a big star of the future.

Into this void, however, comes not just a clear winner, but one of the more fascinating performances in years.  First Reformed is such a wonderful, looming threat of a movie, transposing the classic Paul Schrader violent outcast character into the body of a milquetoast priest.  It’s played by Hawke in a way that’s both true to the character, yet also sort of taking the piss out of Hawke’s entire “do-gooder who also seems kind of sketchy?” public image, whether Hawke necessarily intended this or not.  The catch of it is, Reverend Toller is actually pretty decent at his job (i.e. his initial talk with Michael) yet is just in an inescapable downward spiral that leaves the viewer where exactly this is all going to lead, since stories about church management don’t lend themselves to an obvious climax.  But what a climax it is, as I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ending…even if I’m in the film theory camp that believes it was all imagined.  I’m open to debate on this point!  I’m not open to debating whether Hawke deserved an Oscar nomination or not, since it’s absurd that he wouldn’t even get a nomination in a year with such a thin field.


BEST PICTURE
Actual nominees: Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, Vice
Actual winner: Green Book

The following are my top six of the year, the ones that made it over the hard-to-define bar that separates “that was really good” from “that was one of my Best Pictures of the year.”

1. Avengers: Infinity War
2. First Reformed
3. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
4. The Favourite
5. Mission Impossible: Fallout
6. Roma


To address the films we haven’t, uh, addressed yet, we’ll start with one of the best all-out action movies of all time.  I can’t honestly call Mission Impossible one of best franchises ever when I only really liked two of the six films, and because whatever ongoing story element there is throughout the series fades from my memory after every movie.  Watching Fallout, I was like, “oh that’s right, Michelle Monaghan and Alec Baldwin are in these.  Oh, and Rebecca Ferguson’s back, cool.  Is Renner in this one?”  The only thing I remember (and maybe the only thing you need to know) going into an MI movie is Rhames, Pegg, and Tom Cruise performing at least one crazy stunt that may have gotten him killed in real life.  If you told me that Cruise had died on set years ago and been replaced by Tom Crooze, I wouldn’t doubt it.  All I’m looking for at this point is at least one wild action setpiece, and Fallout gives us not one, not two, but three of them, plus a bunch of fine lower-level action in between.

Spider-Verse is just absolute catnip to a longtime Spidey fan like me.  Between this and Tom Holland, there has been more great Spider-Man content on the big screen in the last three years than there was in the previous 15 years.  It’s at once such a great tribute to the character for classic Spidey fans, while also doing the heavy lifting of introducing a new Spider-Man in Miles Morales for a new generation.  I loved it so much that I’ll even accept that my own Spider-Verse idea is now likely never going to be made.  :(  Part of me wants to check the blog analytics on that post to see if I could somehow track down if Phil Lord or Chris Miller could’ve read it, then I can get some sweet, sweet, lawsuit money. 

Finally, we conclude this genre-heavy turn through my Best Picture field with the movie that I’m frankly a little surprised to be awarding with my top prize.  Needless to say, Infinity War’s release was cause to clear the schedule, and get a ticket to the theatre’s earliest possible screening.  I showed up amidst an eager, buzzing, audience that spent the next 2.5 hours laughing, gasping (Red Skull?!), outright cheering, and then….complete dead silence.  Well, not entirely silent.  Some parent had brought their six- or seven-year-old son to the movie, and the youngster spent the movie happily yelling out the name of every character when they first appeared on screen.  This kid was having the time of his life, until, uh, he suddenly wasn’t.  Imagine a theatre frozen in place, save for that one kid now bawling his eyes out.  (To be fair to that kid, I heard a couple of other muffled sobs after “I don’t feel so good.”)

I mean, it wasn’t the most unpredictable ending in the world, especially for everyone who knew how Infinity Gauntlet played out in the comics.  But the specifics of it, man.  I’m going to remember that experience watching Infinity War forever, and while that’s hardly the only reason I’m giving it the Markademy Award, it might be the tiebreaker in a field of excellent but maybe slightly flawed contenders. 

Even Infinity War isn’t perfect — the stuff with the GOTG drags a bit, and holy cow, Peter Quill’s character just goes down the toilet in this movie.  But going back to what I mentioned about the Russos’ directorial effort earlier, this film is just such an incredible culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point.  The degree of difficulty was off the charts, and yet the movie still delivered.  I could not be more fired up for Endgame (and Captain Marvel before it) to see the next steps of this “phase three” of Marvel’s movie plans.  There is a decent chance that I, a grown man in my late 30’s, may also be dropping a few tears in the theatre, and then blaming it on the air-conditioning.  The cold makes my eyes water!  No, you shut up!

The rest of the notables from the year in cinema…

7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
8. A Star Is Born
9. Widows
10. If Beale Street Could Talk
11. The Old Man & The Gun
12. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
13. Leave No Trace
14. Black Panther
15. Sorry To Bother You
16. Searching
17. BlacKkKlansman
18. American Animals
19. Destroyer
20. Eighth Grade
21. On Chesil Beach
22. Deadpool 2
23. Support The Girls
24. Game Night
25. Annihilation
26. Mid-90's