Friday, September 13, 2019

Blinded By The Light

I mean, was there any doubt I’d go see Blinded By The Light?  Would any true Bruce Springsteen fan possibly skip this movie?  Some observations…

* first things first, the title is very helpful in establishing to people that “Blinded By The Light” is actually a Bruce song, not a Manfred Mann song.  I guess I can understand the confusion, though the fact that Springsteen is a bigger star than Manfred Mann by multiples of 1000, you’d think it would be a more widely-known fact.

* Javed’s new-wavey friend Matt?  Played by none other than King Tommen Baratheon himself!  He survived that fall off the balcony just in time for the fall of late-80’s synth pop.  It’s probably for the best that we never actually got any scenes of Matt’s band in action, since that would’ve tipped the scales into outright comedy.

* okay, so my main source of confusion with the film, and perhaps those more well-versed in British music culture can let me know about this.  Javed’s Springsteen fandom is seen by many as something of an anachronism, with the Boss representing “old” or outdated music that only someone like Matt’s manchild father (oh man did I laugh when I realized it was Rob Brydon) would still be into.  But…..the movie is set in 1987.  “Born In The USA” had been released just three years earlier, to monster worldwide acclaim.  Even the Born in the USA tour ended not even two years prior to when the film is set, a tour that included no less than six big shows in the U.K. itself.  And “Tunnel Of Love” was released in 1987 itself.  Hell, that album even had a bunch of synths, Matt would’ve been enthralled!

I guess my point is that it seems odd that Javed and Roops are seemingly the only two young Springsteen fans at their school, nay, in the whole movie.  It’s even played for laughs that Javed rushes to the HMV to get concert tickets***, only to learn that he’s the first one to even ask.  Wasn’t Springsteen still a big deal in the U.K. in 1987?  I’m not even sure what the modern equivalent would be, given today’s fractured musical climate, but in terms of a huge-selling modern act who is perceived as appealing more to older audiences….maybe Adele?  But if you made a movie set in 2019 about a teen who finds inspiration in Adele’s music, would their classmates be all “Adele?  Who?”  or “Adele?  She’s nobody!”

*** = man, did this ever bring back some memories.  “Standing in line at a record store the day tour tickets go on sale” is one of those definite generation gap moments that young people today simply have no concept about.

* anyway, quibble with the premise aside, I guess it did relate to the general idea of how music can make you feel like a band is singing to you, and you alone.  The film is entertaining and a good watch, if a tad cheesy and predictable in spots.  Probably could’ve done without the goofiness of Javed actually dressing himself up like Springsteen, as if a teenager would ever do something absurd like dressing as one of their pop idols in real life!  On a totally unrelated note, we just recently passed the 20-year anniversary of my wearing large fly sunglasses throughout much of the 12th grade in order to emulate Bono.

* needless to say, this movie is full of great music.  Acoustic “Promised Land”?  Hell yes.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Delusional Merch

Standing in line at the grocery store today, I noticed the guy in front of me wearing a commemorative t-shirt about the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2017 NBA championship.

Wait, what?  The Warriors won the title in 2017.  The T-Wolves went, as records indicate, 31-51 and missed the playoffs entirely.

I took a closer look just to make sure I wasn't reading things incorrectly, and as one tends to notice when someone is staring at you, he caught my glance and chuckled.

"Cool shirt, huh?"
"I'll say.  I must've missed that NBA Finals."
"I'm a T-Wolves fan.  I figured since they'll never win, hey, might as well get a shirt!"

As a fan of truth, logic, and universal order, his attitude is shocking.  But as a fan of random nonsense....it's kind of amazing.  He gets to walk around proudly repping his team as if they were the ones who, say, drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Draymond Green*, and then ridden that core into becoming a modern sports dynasty.  The majority of people will just walk by and not take a second glance at his t-shirt, yet those that do will laugh at the absurdity.  It's the perfect conversation-starter of a garment.

* = fun fact!  The T-Wolves had both the fifth and sixth overall picks in the 2009 NBA Draft, and addressed their dire need for a point guard by doubling up at the position, taking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn.  The Warriors, picking seventh, took Curry.  Oof.  Minnesota had the #2 pick in 2011, Thompson's draft year, but took Derrick Williams, long before Klay came off the board with the 11th pick.  Double oof.  It looks like the Timberwolves dealt their pick in the 2012 draft so they couldn't even get any chance of Green before he went in Golden State in the second round.  Oof x3

This takes the old idea of a crossover sports jersey (i.e. a Tom Brady Red Sox jersey, or a Sidney Crosby Steelers jersey) to the nth degree.  This is creating a complete alternate reality of events.  It's so crazy it just might work.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Hot! Live! Music!

Postmodern Jukebox w/Rogelio Douglas Jr., "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
Man, it took PMJ long enough to finally get around to a U2 song.  You know, after years of including Postmodern Jukebox videos in Hot! Live! Music! posts,  it occurs to me that they aren't exactly live -- I mean, they're all taking place in a studio.  Have I been undermining my own post gimmick without knowing it?  Looks like I still haven't found the post gimmick I'm looking for.


Bruce Springsteen, "Ramrod"
Aha, now here's a live song.  It's at a concert, there are people there, it says "live" right there in the YouTube video title.  Also, if "Hot Live Music" had a dictionary entry, I'm pretty sure there would just a picture of the Boss.

David Byrne and St. Vincent, "Road To Nowhere"
I might need to see some DNA evidence before I believe that St. Vincent isn't actually Byrne's daughter.  Though it's actually cooler in real life that they were both like, "hey, we're so clearly cut from the same weird musical cloth, we should tour and make albums together."  It is a drastic oversight that I don't have their album.


The Killers, "When You Were Young"
I'm probably a little late to the party on this considering the building is almost 150 years old, but man, the Royal Albert Hall seems like a great venue.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

NFL Predictions

Well why not, let’s double down on this nonsense.

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

I’m only very hesitantly omitting Carolina because if Cam Newton’s shoulders are ok, I think they’ll win the division.  There’s just too much injury uncertainty for me to make that prediction, however, and we all know that my picks are always based on airtight factual analysis.  For instance, I’m picking against teams like the Rams, Bears, Saints, and Eagles for the not-at-all-nebulous reasoning of “it just seems like they missed their chance.”  L.A. and the Saints still make the playoffs on pure talent alone, but I don’t think either have what it takes to get over the hump.  Minnesota will never win as long as Cousins is their QB, and the Cowboys can win their sorry division but can’t go further as long as their coaching staff is such a trainwreck.  Which opens the door for the Packers!

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

Part of me feels the Browns are absolutely this year’s overhyped preseason favourite who lays an egg, except since I already have punditry darlings like the Eagles, Chargers, Bears, Vikings, and Panthers missing out, Cleveland might as well get in.  Besides, the Browns were my dad’s favourite team growing up, and since his old football jersey number was 54 and this year will mark Super Bowl 54….I’m not saying there’s karma, but there’s karma.  Anyway, the AFC is even trickier to figure than the NFC, since I could certainly see a case for almost any of these teams (minus the Dolphins, Raiders, and probably Bengals) to make the postseason.  But amidst this uncertainty, the boring old Patriots will win again.

NFC championship game: Packers over Rams
AFC championship game: Patriots over Chiefs

Super Bowl 54: Packers over Patriots

Yeah, why not.  The Aaron Rodgers roaring rampage of spite takes everyone by storm, as the Packers actually resemble a team with a playbook from this decade.  It ends with Rodgers hoisting a Super Bowl trophy while Mike McCarthy watches from the breakroom of the gas station he is now managing. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Are The Packers Going To Win The Super Bowl?

Just throwing it out there.

As you know, I’m not one to make bold pronouncements about my favourite NFL team.  If anything, I’ve tended to be a little pessimistic about the Packers’ chances since they have long had to weigh the genius of Aaron Rodgers against the mediocrity of Mike McCarthy.  It was an eternal Spy vs. Spy that, aside from the glorious Super Bowl 45, saw the evil side win out far too often.

But my optimism about this year’s Packers team stems from the simple fact that now, Rodgers is finally free.  Here’s the thing about Matt LaFleur — he doesn’t need to be a great head coach.  He might not even need to be a good head coach.  Just average would represent such a seismic jump over the McCarthy years that it might be enough to get the Packers not just into the playoffs, but possibly even into title contention once again.

It seems like much of the national media is still overlooking just how bad McCarthy was, in favour of taking potshots at Rodgers for being “difficult” (i.e. an NFL player with an actual personality, and who doesn’t have much time for the media) or a “coach-killer” (McCarthy was there for 13 years, oh yeah, it was a real revolving door).  Naturally, there will be some adjustment time as Rodgers and LaFleur get used to each other, as you’d expect for any player with his first new coach in 13 seasons.  The “disputes” that come up between them thus far have, in my mind, been wholly overblown.

As always, if Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the sky is the limit for the Packers.  Staying healthy is no small feat for a 35-year-old QB with a significant injury history, yet I think everyone is underestimating just how much Rodgers will go into this season running on pure spite.  You don’t think he eagerly wants to have a huge year and make it clear that McCarthy was the problem?  You don’t think Rodgers will be fired up by not running a 2009 offense anymore? 

There are a lot of good teams in the NFC, so a trip to the Super Bowl won’t be easy.  But be warned — you know how every NFL season features at least one team who comes out of nowhere to be a major contender?  Look no further than Green Bay.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Survivor vs. The Office

As both a Survivor fan and an Office fan, this couldn't be any more up my alley.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Brad Vs. Leo, Redux

After my recent post comparing the careers of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, the subject of "who's actually the better actor?" got me thinking more.  Here's my list of the best 12 performances from each man, and note that I'm only focusing on their specific performance, not how good or bad the movie was as a whole.

PITT'S TWELVE
12. Fight Club
11. Babel
10. Inglourious Basterds
9. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
8. Seven
7. The Tree Of Life
6. True Romance
5. Ocean’s 11 (and somewhat by extension, Ocean’s 12 and Ocean’s 13)
4. Snatch
3. Moneyball
2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
1. Burn After Reading


DICAPRIO'S DOZEN
12. Romeo + Juliet
11. The Revenant
10. The Great Gatsby
9. Inception
8. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
7. The Departed
6. The Aviator

5. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
4. J. Edgar
3. Titanic
2. Catch Me If You Can
1. The Wolf Of Wall Street 


It's an interesting list for both guys, one that might make you think twice a bit about the general feeling that DiCaprio is a better actor.  I think part of that feeling is due to the fact that Leo simply makes fewer movies, so whenever he appears in a film, it feels like more of an event.  Pitt is more apt to sign on for a pure box office hit like World War Z, Troy, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, etc., and those types of films drag down his overall batting average.

The flip side of that, as I alluded to in my last post, is that DiCaprio's interest in taking challenging acting roles every time out also leads to some misses from a pure miscasting standpoint.  I don't think he was really a fit for Gangs Of New York, Blood Diamond, or (this is kind of a hot take) Django Unchained, to name a few.  Pitt has more than few roles where he's sort of just "there" as opposed to being a real key factor in a movie being better, but I also can't think of any instance off the top of my head where I left a theatre thinking "wow, they really should've cast someone besides Brad Pitt."

So when it comes to acting range, Pitt usually stays in "variations on the same laconic persona," as I wrote last time.  But does he have less range than DiCaprio?  It's hard to say.  Maybe it's just because he still has something of a baby face, but I still have issues buying DiCaprio in any type of real
"grownup" parts, even though he's now 44 years old.  It probably isn't accidental that most of his best work is when he's playing a young guy, or at least an adult in something of a state of arrested development.  Even though he has played older versions of J. Edgar Hoover and Howard Hughes, OUATIH's Rick Dalton might be the first DiCaprio character to really deal with the idea of middle age, or moving from a prime into older age, even though Rick Dalton is very much still a man-child.

Pitt has the advantage of being 11 years older than DiCaprio (side note: can you believe Brad Pitt is 55 years old?  Where does the time go), though the age gap notwithstanding, it's always been easier to buy Pitt in more adult parts, like when he's playing a dad, or an authority figure.  Cliff Booth in OUATIH is also a man-child in many ways, but there's more of an accent on the "man," whereas Rick Dalton leads more towards "child."   In that same vein, Pitt is much more easily able to play a believably tough guy (if not necessarily a "can go toe-to-toe with Bruce Lee" tough guy), whereas DiCaprio is not.

Here's an interesting experiment --- how many of those 12 Pitt roles could Leo have played, and how many of those 12 Brad roles could Leo have played?  We're accounting for age here, so magically pretend you could send 31-year-old DiCaprio back in time to be in Seven, rather than have have the 20-year-old DiCaprio of 1995 as Morgan Freeman's partner.

Leo As Brad
* Hard no: Tree Of Life, Snatch, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
* Wouldn't have seemed quite right: Moneyball, Inglourious Basterds, Babel, Ocean's 11, The Assassination Of...
* Maybe?: Burn After Reading, True Romance (These are two wild cards since we've seen so little of DiCaprio in flat-out comedic roles.  It would be really interesting to see DiCaprio throw everyone a total curveball and just decide to be a dopey bro in a film.)
* Would've worked: Seven, Fight Club

Brad As Leo
* Hard no: Romeo + Juliet
* Wouldn't have seemed quite right: Titanic, Aviator, J. Edgar
* Maybe?: What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Departed, Catch Me If You Can, Wolf Of Wall Street
* Would've worked: Inception, Great Gatsby, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
* Would've been better: Revenant

The age gap is also a factor here, given that Brad Pitt didn't start to really become a star until he was 30, so we have no real conception about what a teenage Brad Pitt was like as an actor, let alone if he could've handled a difficult role as DiCaprio did in WEGG.  We even have to stretch to imagine a 23-year-old Pitt as Jack Dawson, wooing Rose on the deck of the Titanic.  On paper, however, I can see Pitt in DiCaprio's filmography much more cleanly than I see Leo in Brad's roles, since I think DiCaprio would've only really excelled in the "young Pitt" era of Seven and Fight Club.

It's also interesting to think about them in the direct contrast of their Once Upon A Time In Hollywood roles.  There's no way DiCaprio could've been Cliff Booth, but I can very easily see Pitt as Rick Dalton.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Oh No

So I had an idea for a post about a list of songs that aren't really "songs" in the way we think of them, as they've been so co-opted for use in various shows, movies, commercials, etc. that they've become a jokey reference point.  For instance, every time I hear "Bad To The Bone," I don't think of anyone who's actually bad to the bone --- it's just grandmothers in leather jackets, or a baby in sunglasses or something.

One of the songs under consideration for the list was "Day Day Bow" "Oh Yeah" by Yello.  I'm sure almost everyone alive has heard this song, either from Ferris Bueller, or any other scene involving something being considered cool but in an ironic uncool way.  And it occurred to me, I didn't actually know the song's title, the band's name, and I hadn't even ever actually listened to the entire song start to finish.  So I surfed onto YouTube, looked up the original music video, and...

....dear god



Was I prepared for a video ostensibly about sun and moon worship starring, by all appearances, golf star Miguel Angel Jimenez, some guy who's a combination of four notable comedians*, and (*Stefon voice*) A CHILD?  No.  No, I was not.

* = depending on the angle, this guy looked like some mixture of Rob Delaney, John Mulaney, Paul F. Tompkins, and Jay Johnstone.

Is it amazing that this song (which has been used a thousand times over as an ironic musical shorthand for excess) has an official video that was apparently made on a budget of about $30 bucks?  Absolutely.  Is it amazing that these two weirdos made an intentionally goofy song, then an intentionally goofy video, and yet have made an unreal amount of money from this track over the years?  Positively.  Is it amazing that this video may have spawned everything in the history of Adult Swim?  Surely.

Two questions.  Is the sun, in fact, more beautiful than the moon?  And where is Duffman in all of this?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Leo Vs. Brad

After watching "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood," I got the idea of pitting (no pun intended) DiCaprio's 10 best movies against Pitt's 10 best movies to see whose best work stacks up better.  The results....were unexpected.

LEO’S TEN
10. The Revenant
9. The Aviator
8. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
7. Django Unchained
6. The Wolf Of Wall Street (this gets my vote as his best performance)
5. Titanic
4. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
3. The Departed
2. Catch Me If You Can
1. Inception

BRAD’S TEN (I didn’t include Being John Malkovich since he only had a cameo)
10. True Romance
9. Seven
8. The Big Short
7. Moneyball
6. Burn After Reading (this is Pitt’s best performance, and if wasn’t for Dark Knight also being released in 2008, I’d say Pitt was robbed of a supporting actor Oscar)
5. Snatch
4. 12 Years A Slave
3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
2. Ocean’s 11
1. Inglourious Basterds

So right off the bat, I found myself reaching to fill out a list for DiCaprio, since Aviator and Revenant have both not aged particularly well for me.  Now, I haven’t seen a few of the quintessential early Leo works (Basketball Diaries, This Boy’s Life, even Marvin’s Room) but a lot of his later work is pretty dodgy.  Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Great Gatsby, Gangs Of New York….all varying degrees of messes.  I’ll throw in a mention of J. Edgar as well, since while that movie was also nothing special, it’s actually one of DiCaprio’s most underrated performances.  Hell, it even won him a Markademy Award back in 2011!

In Pitt’s case, I had a few honourable mentions at least (Megamind, Fury, even Ocean’s 13) and Thelma & Louise is the most notable of my “never seen it” Pitt movies.  But you’ll also notice a lot of Brad’s most notable films aren’t here, since I’m in the camp that thinks stuff like Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Fight Club, Benjamin Button, Babel, and Tree Of Life all fall into that range of dull to pretentious garbage.  Unfortunately for Pitt, I can’t count his producer-only credits, since his list perks up considerably if Moonlight and The Departed join the fray.

It creates for an interesting parallel between the two guys, who both have a reputation of generally striking to more prestige-type stuff, though Pitt works a lot more and is more open to commercial stuff.  DiCaprio also has the reputation as the better actor, but….hmm, let’s think about it?  I think he has more range than Pitt, but I can also off the top of my head think of several roles that DiCaprio simply kind of whiffed on.  The buzz on Django for months was that DiCaprio was going to knock it out of the park and win a supporting actor Oscar, but then his cartoonishly evil racist was more or less blown away by Samuel L. Jackson’s much more fascinating role and performance (now there was a case of someone being robbed of an Oscar).  Likewise, in Gangs Of New York, I realize that acting against Day-Lewis is a tall order, but DiCaprio just looks out of his league.

Pitt is more content to stay in his lane when it comes to acting, mostly sticking to variations on the same laconic persona.  One big point that Pitt has over DiCaprio, however, is that Pitt is an underrated comic actor.  DiCaprio doesn’t do comedy in general, give or take that incredible quaaludes scene in WoWS and some sections of Once Upon A Time…, whereas I think being funny is Pitt’s best strength.

Anyway, stay tuned for when I watch Murder Mystery, for the comparisons of Jennifer Aniston’s movie career against Adam Sandler’s movie career.  The results will shock and amaze you!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Great Caesar's Ghost

If you're Julius Caesar, which would you prefer to be named after you --- a caesar salad, a caesar cocktail or a caesarean section?

I'd guess it's probably the salad. A Caesar cocktail is perhaps better known as a 'bloody Caesar,' which would no doubt bring back unpleasant memories for the ol' Roman dictator. And surely there's blood involved in a C-section....or wait, maybe there's not, if the doctor is doing it right. I really have no idea. I spent most of grade school health class passed out.

Now, fun fact, the caesar salad isn't actually named after Julius Caesar. It was allegedly invented by a San Diego restauranteur named Caesar Cardini, so I guess you could argue that it isn't a tribute to old orange Julius himself. Oh schisse, wait, is Orange Julius named after Julius Caesar?!?! Nope, never mind. All things being equal, he'd probably appreciate Shakespeare's play as the biggest existing tribute, once it was explained to him who Shakespeare was, and once Caesar got over his snobby "well, Terence was better" attitude.

Given the twin legacies of Caesar Cardini and Julius Freed, someone really needs to create an orange-heavy salad called the Cardini Freed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Brushes With Greatness?

I'm standing in line at a pizza place the other day, and I'm behind a guy who I thought was one of the guys from Sloan. It might not have been him, though, since he didn't react at all when I started humming 'Money City Maniacs' (minus the opening siren part, of course -- that would've been just weird to hear some dude start making a siren noise out of nowhere when all you want is a delicious slice of pizza pie). 

While in line at that same pizza place, I was also behind a guy who was continually flipping a coin.  I only saw him from the side, so it's quite possible he was indeed Two-Face.  Then again, Two-Face is a fictional character, so I have my doubts.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Sentience

My parents recently bought a new fridge, one that (unbeknownest to me) beeps when the door is left open for too long. 

Tonight, I was getting some milk and putting a new bag into the plastic container,  only to have this easy task extended by the fact that the kitchen scissors --- for the cutting the bag open, you see --- weren't in the proper drawer.  So while I was looking for the scissors, the door was left ajar just a bit too long, and suddenly I heard a beep.

My response?  "FRIDGE, YOU CAN TALK!"

Anyway, we're starting a podcast.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Spidey Day

Why did nobody tell me that yesterday was National Spider-Man Day?  I blame you for this!  "No, you're to blame!"


Anyway, happy....uh, day to my childhood comics hero!  And maybe still kind of my hero?  Far From Home was a terrific movie.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Two Ronnies, "Mastermind"

This is such an ingenious, airtight premise for a sketch that knowledge of the actual people mentioned is irrelevant.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Why So Serious?

Some years ago, I was driving through Lambeth and was stuck behind an impossibly slow driver.  Like, five km under the speed limit slow.  I couldn't just change lanes due to traffic, so I had no recourse but to grin* and bear it until I could finally find an opportunity to pass.  Needless to say, I had some choice words for this terrible driver, including, most notably, "what the hell is this clown doing?" out loud.

* = no pun intended, given the rest of this story 

Finally, some room opened up in the other lane and I could pass the slow car.  As I was driving by, I couldn't help but take a peek at the driver to put a face to my pain, and....it was an actual clown.  Full makeup, green suit, everything.  Maybe the slow speed was due to makeup running into his eyes or something?  Who knows.

It's a good thing I don't suffer from road rage, since if I had confronted him, 15 other people would've come out of his car and kicked the hell out of me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Late Night, Years Later

It was exactly a decade ago that Conan O’Brien was in the midst of his abbreviated run hosting the Tonight Show.  Released over a year after the fact, Bill Carter’s “The War For Late Night” chronicles the entire story behind how Conan inherited the show from (a more-than-slightly-unwilling) Jay Leno, only to have NBC give Leno his own nightly bomb of a primetime show, to the whole fiasco of Leno re-inheriting the Tonight Show over the irate objections of Team Coco.

Carter’s book is a fine page-turner, and I can even recall all three times I’ve read it.  The first time was just days after the initial release, as I eagerly pounced on the first copy available at my local library.  (In hindsight, it’s pretty unusual that they had a brand-new available for rent so quickly, but whatever, libraries are the best!)  The second reading took place about four years ago, when I saw the book available on a $5.99 rack at Chapters and decided what the hell, let’s put a few coins in Carter’s pocket.  It was the least I could do.

My third read took place just a few days ago, and while I found the book as entertaining as ever, it was interesting how my view of the situation has changed over time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still solidly in Conan’s corner, though the third through, my analysis has shifted.

The first time, it was almost a horror story, from a Conan fan’s perspective.  The palace intrigue, the short-sightedness of the NBC executives, and the “man, why didn’t Conan have an 11:35 start time in his contract?!” all-timer of a negotiating gaffe looming over everything.  The dominant passage was really the opening chapter, detailing an NBC event for sponsors and affiliates that featured a stinker of a Jay Leno performance, painting Leno as an out-of-touch performer NBC was unwisely attaching itself to in just about the strongest possible way.

The second time, it was one of the passages in the last chapter that really stuck out to me.  It was a quote from Jerry Seinfeld, questioning one of Conan’s primary arguments throughout the whole dispute.  Conan was so honoured to be taking the mantle of The Tonight Show and felt the whole matter was an insult to the legacy of Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar.  Seinfeld’s rebuttal was simply that the Tonight Show model Conan grew up loving was gone, since it was specifically Carson’s show.  The exact line was something like, “who even calls it the Tonight Show?  It’s always ‘did you see Leno last night?’ Or ‘hey, did you see what Letterman said in his monologue last night?’ Nobody ever calls it The Tonight Show, or Late Night, or The Late Late Show.  (If you read this in a Seinfeld vocal cadence, don’t worry, I did it too.) The point was that the actual name or timeslot of the show didn’t matter, as long as you had a show.

And it’s an argument that makes a lot of sense.  Paar’s show differed from Allen’s, which differed from Carson’s, which differed from Leno’s, which differed from O’Brien’s (and now, differed from Jimmy Fallon’s).  The only thing these “Tonight Shows” had in common was the general name, and billing as NBC’s headliner for late-night television.  Now, where I don’t agree with Seinfeld is that he felt Conan should’ve just stayed at NBC at 12:05 behind a new Jay Leno program, which I don’t agree with — who can blame Conan for feeling jerked around by the network at that point.  To put it in perspective, imagine how Seinfeld would’ve felt if NBC randomly moved his own show off Thursdays after a season and put it back on Wednesdays to lose to Home Improvement in the ratings.  One suspects Seinfeld wouldn’t have just cavalierly shrugged and figured, hey, we’re still on TV.

And my impression on the third read?  While my broad view of the situation didn’t much change, it did strike me how this all felt like it happened a million years ago, rather than just last decade.  Television, let alone late-night TV, has changed so overwhelmingly that all these arguments and disputes over who hosted the Tonight Show ended up being more or less irrelevant by 2019, since network TV itself seems more or less irrelevant by 2019.

YouTube was already a thing by 2010, as Carter addresses in his book how younger audiences were simply consuming late-night shows in highlight form online the next day — catching a sketch here or an interview there in videos, rather than staying up the night prior to actually watch the show start to finish.  Personally speaking, I don’t think I’ve watched any late-night show in its entirety since Craig Ferguson’s last episode.  I know what if there’s a funny bit from Conan, or Colbert, or Fallon, or Kimmel, or James Corden, or Seth Meyers, or Insert Random Show Host here, I can just watch it on YouTube.  Why bother watching an entire show with the same tired talk show format?

Fast-forward to 2019 and Letterman is gone, Leno is gone, Ferguson is gone, Jon Stewart is gone, and Conan remains in somewhat altered form.  He still officially has a talk show, though now it’s only a half-hour long, and I feel like Conan’s best outlets these days are his Conan Without Borders travel specials — which I feel have been watched by literally everyone I know who has a Netflix account — and his podcast, which has immediately become a big hit.  I don’t ever see Conan ever stopping his TV show (Conan O’Brien can’t stop, after all), but I can certainly see him making the podcast his most primary vehicle.  I can foresee a future where his podcast becomes essentially a zany cross between his own show and something like Comedy Bang Bang.

I’ll keep this post in mind when I re-read Carter’s book again in five years and recall with nostalgia about when people used to watch shows on televisions.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Western Stars

My first listen was uninterrupted, and the whole thing kind of faded together into one wall of country-tinged adult-contemporary sound. 

The second listen was broken up over multiple days, so I could focus on some individual songs a bit more closely — after all, a ninth track or something might stand out more if you’re listening to it right off the bat, rather than 40 minutes into one full-on listen that has already made your attention wander. 

The third listen was broken up over two long drives in one day, with the front half and back half of the album falling roughly an hour apart once I’d finished up my chores.  (These chores included a brief trip to Walmart, so admittedly I might not have been in the best mental state for that second half of the album, given that my soul was crushed and all.)

But I think I’ve given “Western Stars” enough of a fair shot to say that, unfortunately, it’s not very good.  It’s definitely in that lower tier of Springsteen albums that generally consist of most of his more low-key, experimental-ish type of material, with the gigantic exception of the classic that is “Nebraska.”  I say “experimental” just in the sense that they’re not the traditional E Street Band vein, not that Bruce is suddenly recording an operatic record or a hip-hop album or something.

Like all of these albums, Western Stars just lacks that bit of extra spark.  If I had to pick its closest comparable, it’s probably the mediocre “Working On A Dream” album from 2007, though at least Western Stars generally avoids the story-song pitfalls of Queen Of The Supermarket or Outlaw Pete.  I’m not sure if Joe Posnanski’s old rant about Outlaw Pete is available somewhere or if it’s behind his blog’s paywall, but man, when a Springsteen superfan like Joe is inspired to write a long post about how one of Bruce’s new songs is singularly terrible, you know something went awry.

While the end result wasn’t my cup of tea, I still give Bruce points for stretching his legs and continually trying something new with his music.  He is Bruce freakin’ Springsteen, after all.  He is 69 years old.  He has zero to prove to anyone.  It would be very easy for him to coast on his past successes, but as much as Bruce is defined by the arena-rockin’ E Street sound, he has always been throwing curveballs along with his fastb…er, excuse me, any Springsteen post has to use the weird phrasing from Glory Days…speedballs for his entire career.  Sometimes the curveballs fall flat, like Western Stars, Devils & Dust to some extent, and (let’s be honest) basically everything Bruce recorded from 1988-2001.  But sometimes those curveballs lead to incredible albums like Nebraska, Tunnel Of Love, or Wrecking Ball.

I can’t say I love every direction Springsteen’s music takes, but I love that it’s still moving.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Superpowers

I guess this technically falls under the category of beatboxing, but I've always been able to make a percussion-esque rhythm with my closed mouth.  I'm also able to hum at the same time, thus making me a one-man sound machine.  This didn't seem like a big deal until I was absent-mindedly humming/mouth-drumming "Sabotage" one day, and my friend M reacted with complete "how are you doing that?" surprise.

So the question is...is M simply crazy, or have am I a freak of nature?  A superhuman, if you will?  Am I the long-lost son of that guy from the Police Academy movies?

As far as powers go, it isn't too high on the list, admittedly.  It's not going to get me into the Avengers or anything.  In terms of superpowers one can naturally fit into one's life, however, it's not bad.  By this, I mean one of those X-Men types of abilities that gives you power but also more or less ruins your day-to-day existence.  Like, Beast becoming a hairy blue monster, or Cyclops not being able to control the intense laser beams coming out of his open eyes at all times.

Telekinesis is still my easy #1 choice if I could pick a superpower for myself, since it's both incredibly powerful and also a "hidden" type of ability.  I'd much rather have a hidden power than an ability that's technically more powerful but harder to control or keep secret --- Beast may be a lot more powerful than Cypher, but in the real world, I'd rather be Cypher 100 percent of the time.

While on the subject of heroes, here's Conan O'Brien's Spider-Verse themed intro for his week of shows at ComicCon.


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.