Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The value of CDs

I have discovered that the enjoyment I derive out of a CD is directly proportional to the amount of money I spend on it. There are some CDs that are worth more to me because I spent less on them. The real trick to it is knowing what the CD is worth to you to own. As I have written before, there are some CDs which I just cannot wait for, so paying $20.33 (that's $17.99 + taxes in Saskatchewan) is not a problem. Then there are some CDs that I can wait until they go on sale for, say, a 2 for $25 sale. There are some discs that are only worth my money if I see them for $5 or $6 in a pawn shop. Then there are those super-cheapies that are good to have, but that you might listen to only once or twice a year and are therefore not worth paying more than two or three bucks for. Recent examples for me of this type of CD are the Lion King soundtrack for $1 and Weird Al's "Bad Hair Day" album for $2.
It is also important to figure in other factors, such as availability and the others that I discussed in a similarly-themed post in mid-April, "The CD Preference List".
I do find it difficult to pay more than I know a CD is worth. Allow me to illustrate my point with an example.Right now, two of the biggest holes in my CD collection are U2's "Zooropa" album and Coldplay's "Parachutes" album. I know I could walk into A&B Sound and pay $14.99 for them anyday I wanted to. But I also know if I wait just long enough, it is very possible that I will find either of those albums at a used CD store for $6, so I choose not to purchase them yet. Eventually, it may reach the point where my desire to own those CDs exceeds my desire not to pay more than I could for them, and it is at that point when I would purchase them for the full price. But until then, I'll hold out and wait to pay the right amount for them.
And then sometimes you just luck out. One of the best value for price paid CDs I ever bought was U2's "Achtung Baby" disc for $3. Considering that I would place that disc in my top five all time (an issue for a different post), that's a good value. I desperately wanted that CD at that time, and I found it for a far better price than I could have imagined. It's a price that was "even better than the real thing."

Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Quotient

Hollywood stars exist to sell movies. Plain and simple. And they do sell movies. Sometimes, the movies are even termed "vehicles," which is Hollywood-speak for movies that exist solely to market a particular actor because the actor becomes larger than the story being told. But no matter what the movie is, these stars actually do affect the movies in which they have roles. The qualitative effect that an actor has on a movie is known as a "star quotient" (as of now). How can you calculate a star quotient (SQ)? The best method is to think of a movie you enjoyed. Think of which performances really stand out from that film. Focus on one particular actor. Then try to think of other movies in which that actor has starred, and how you felt about their performances, particularly if a good performance stood out in an otherwise dull film. Pretty soon a trend should emerge, and you will determine their "star quotient." Unfortunately, this quotient is a qualitative and not a quantitative measure, so it can only be measured in three ways: positive, negative, neutral. There is also the possibility that it is unmeasureable due to the proliferation of extraneous factors that affect an accurate measurement. But I digress. A star quotient is a personal measure, so different actors will have different star quotients for different people. At the same time, it is very possible that with enough study, a fairly absolute SQ can be reached (for example, Pauly Shore would likely lean toward the negative on an absolute scale). This is just more than liking or disliking an actor; this is a method to study the less obvious, subconscious directives of our Hollywood-watching brains. Also remember that it is possible for there to be exceptions to the rule. You can enjoy a performance from an actor who would normally reside in a negative SQ position, or you can also really not enjoy a performance from an otherwise positively ranked actor. As an example of SQ, here are some of mine.
Positive: Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Morgan Freeman, Willem Dafoe, Jim Carrey
Negative: Cate Blanchett, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leonardo DiCaprio
Neutral: Kate Winslet, Tobey Maguire, Clint Eastwood
So this essentially explains why I really liked Spider-Man and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, why I didn't like The Aviator and Titanic, and why I was indifferent at best to Finding Neverland and Million Dollar Baby. Of course, there are so many other contributing factors, but the star quotient does play a significant role. The star quotient is an qualitative way to measure the effect an actor can have on a movie, and it will interesting to continue to apply this concept to other actors. Try to figure out some of your star quotients. You might honestly be surprised. Happy figuring.

Clash of the formats

It is really hard to believe that the DVD is only about six years old. I was watching "Best In Show," a comedy that was released on VHS in early 2001, and there was a promotional trailer for the wonders of DVD technology. And despite how utterly ubiquitous the DVD is now, there was a time in recent memory in which it did not have the same kind of place in society. Honestly, do you remember when rental places actually rented out tapes? It's not just a fairytale. Is it just me, or is it hard to believe in life before the DVD? Or the internet? And for me, the span of time in which I have had access to both is only my university years. Crazy.
I don't think that the VHS format will be completely done anytime soon, since there are still so many things that are only available on VHS. But over time, it will be rendered more and more useless. I still watch things on VHS, but generally only things that are not available on DVD. I will always choose DVD if I can. In the same way, I will always choose widescreen over fullscreen. Every time. Does that make me an elitist, or just sensitive to minor issues like that? I don't know. What I do know is that DVDs are great, but tapes have done me good too. I'm sure I'll still use my VCR for years to come. After all, I doubt there's a great demand to put the entire Rock 'Em Sock 'Em hockey series on DVD. Until that point, I'll keep using both formats in a peaceful coexistence of technology.

Friday, May 27, 2005

All life, no break

I recently happened upon a relatively recent debut release from a band on Word Records named Stellar Kart entitled "All Gas, No Brake." After a listen, I was ready to dismiss it as little more than following the trend of power-punk-pop established by Relient K five years ago and more recently adopted by bands like Roper. But something led me to a second listen, and it was on this second listen that I realized that there was more going on with this band than with the average punk-pop rip-offs that have flooded the market since the success of Relient K. What I discovered was that SK has adopted a formula very similar to early RK: earnest lyrics, pop hooks, and appropriate metaphor all rolled up into one package. It's a little bit too much like RK to appeal to me, but this album is almost worth picking up for a couple of songs, including the cover of "Living on a Prayer," which is wholly different from the cover done by pop-punk band Philmore in 2000 but as enjoyable. I was really touched by one song from the album, which also happens to be the lead single that has been released to radio, "Spending Time." It speaks to the place that God has in our lives, and really captures a lot of what I feel right now. Here are the lyrics:

Just so happens my schedule is empty, but still there's no room for you. Time has come and gone, and things have come along that take me away from you. Don't take this the wrong way - You're so perfect, and everything tells me you're so worth it. Spending time with you - not a moment goes by that you're not by my side. Spending time with you - You're all that I want. Why's it so hard to do? When we first met I remember, I'd do anything for you. But as the years go by, I feel my attention slide, and I'm pulling away from you. Don't take this the wrong way - You're so perfect, and everything tells me you're so worth it. Spending time with you - not a moment goes by that you're not by my side. Spending time with you - You're all that I want. Why's it so hard to do?

When I find the answer to that question, I'll let you know. Right now, I'm still working on it. Overall, maybe not as stellar an album as the band's name might suggest, but "All Gas No Brake" is well worth a listen and great for younger listeners who are in love with bands like Good Charlotte and Blink 182. Wow, this post turned into a CD review and a life capsule. I give the album 3.5/5, and my life a 3/5.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I don't wanna work...

And now I don't have to! I have been struggling for a couple of weeks to find a job and to figure out where money will come from until I go to camp in a month. Every option I had been investigating did not work out, and my only recourse was to continue to trust that God would work something out. I had had a sense that I would know by the end of the Victoria Day weekend, and the Lord has been faithful to that, providing for me from the unlikeliest source...my parents! For those of you who may not be familiar with my parents' circumstances, this is not an indication of a strained relationship between us, but rather due to the fact that my mom just completed a year of school and my dad just switched jobs a few months ago. Still, somehow, they are able to help me out, and so I now do not have to look for work over the next few weeks. I can breathe a bit easier and focus on getting my life in order and wrapping up the loose ends that remain in my life before I go to camp in July and August. God is good.

Thoughts from a Star Wars outsider

It has just been revealed that Star Wars Episode III has crushed previous box office records, having earned $108.5 million over the weekend and an additional $50 million on Thursday. When the worldwide box office grosses are considered, it makes for a total of $303 million dollars. It's the movie that everyone is talking about and that everyone is reviewing, and the general consensus is that this edition of Star Wars is the best of this trilogy, and possibly of the series. And I would find it difficult to care less. Katrina Onstad of CBC.ca wrote an interesting piece on how she has never been really involved in the Star Wars phenomenon, and I tend to agree. I still have not seen Episode II, and I am rather ambivolent to the notion of watching the movies. But as I started to think about it, I realized that I never really got on the Star Wars bandwagon. I remember watching the movies as a kid and thinking they were okay, but nothing really special. I read some of the books, but that was more because I would read anything I could get my hands on, and because some of them actually were great science-fiction stories despite the use of the Star Wars characters. And as a kid (and now), I am much more drawn to Star Trek, particularly The Next Generation, than I ever have been to Star Wars. So why do I remain so uninvolved in the Star Wars hype? I think the primary reason is that the movies are simply not that good. Remove yourself, for a moment, from the joy of nostalgia and participation in the Star Wars mythos, and think about the movies. The characters are fairly thin, the dialogue is weak, and the films are stretched out interminably to maximize marketing opportunities (Ewoks, anyone?). Though I could not necessarily name the shortcomings of the Star Wars movies when I was younger, I still recognized them to such an extent that I could not engage myself in the movies as fully as other people I knew. I am not suggesting that I am too smart for the films, but rather that I found it personally difficult to suspend my disbelief and to buy into the Star Wars hype. I wanted to like Star Wars, and I tried to, but no matter how hard I tried, there just was not enough appeal for me there to warrant entering the Star Wars universe. But despite all the intellectual discourse that people have put into Star Wars, there honestly is not a lot there. It is designed to be a story that children can understand, and I have never really seen a lot of the nuance that other people claim is there, mainly because I do not think that George Lucas ever put it there. In my opinion, a show like Star Trek: TNG, although occasionally rather simplistic itself, often attempted to address fairly significant cultural issues. Although some of the movies of the Star Trek series really stink, I would venture that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the best example of a contemporary to the original Star Wars films, is better than any of the original three Star Wars movies, and that First Contact, a contemporary of the second Star Wars trilogy, is again better than any of these three films. Despite my personal misgiving about the Star Wars movies, I can acknowledge the significance of the original Star Wars trilogy in the history of film, but I also truly question whether this new trilogy was ever truly necessary. Was it a story that needed to be told, or was it an opportunity for milking a cow that appeared to be drying up? I am quite amazed that Star Wars is remaining the cultural touchpoint that it has been and that so many people are watching the new movie, although I do expect that the film will fade more quickly than many people would have anticipated. But now that this final chapter is complete, the hype should end. Some people are asking now whether Star Wars marked the birth or death of cinema; I would argue that the death came not from the original trilogy, but from this new set of movies. I just want the whole Star Wars hype to end. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The summer in music

It's that time again: time to start preparing for summer CD releases! (Yes, this is my third music blog in a day. Live with it. I'm on a roll.) Just like in the movie industry, the first third of the year is usually fairly devoid of a lot of strong new releases, so it allows for time to catch up on all the CDs you were not able to buy when they all came out in November. But then they just start coming in after May long weekend. Although this summer is not looking as strong as summer 2004 (Demon Hunter, Project 86, Pillar, Underoath), there is a strong line-up of CDs coming out this summer that I am excited about. There are definitely a few CDs that will qualify as must-buys when they are released: Coldplay - X&Y (06/07), John Reuben - The Boy vs. The Cynic (06/21), Mars Ill - Pro Pain (07/19), Switchfoot - Nothing Is Sound (08/02), Blindside - untitled (08/02), MuteMath - untitled (09/13), Project 86 - untitled (09/27). That doesn't necessarily allow for a lot of room for new bands to come in to the picture, but I'm sure I'll find some demos on sale and some deals for cheap CDs. I do attempt to average one new CD per month throughout the year, but it is occasionally important to make exceptions, and with this line-up, I think I might have to.

Top Concert Experiences

As I reflected on the Collective Soul show last night, I realized that their performance on the Dosage Tour in 1999 was my first real concert experience. And over the six years that have ensued since, I have been to a whole of concerts, in many of them using my status as press to attend the show and get an interview with the band. The truly amazing thing is that I have managed to see a lot of really great shows without going a long way for them, as many bands have actually ended up coming to Saskatchewan at some point. Here is a list of my top five concert experiences so far, with a couple of additional honourable mentions.

Honourable Mention: Project 86, Harvest Moon Festival, Edmonton, September 2004 - P86's first Canadian show consisted of forty minutes and eleven songs of pure Project 86 intensity. I can't wait to see what they do with a real headlining slot this year at the Moon.
Honourable Mention: Skillet, YQ 2002, Caronport SK, February 2002 - This show came at the height of popularity of Alien Youth, and consisted almost exclusively of songs from Alien Youth and Invincible. My main memory of that show was when John Cooper dedicated the final song to all the people who had been fans since their first album (to which myself and about ten other people were just going nuts), and then the band proceeded to rip into the opening riffs of "I Can." The Panheads were pleased.
5. P.O.D., YQ 2001, Caronport SK, February 2001 - P.O.D.'s first show ever in Canada did not disappoint the eager YQ crowd. Although this show was before Satellite was released, they still rocked the house with songs from Southtown. I don't remember a lot from this show, but I do remember "School of Hard Knocks." It was a daring move by the YQ crew, but it paid off big time.
4. Collective Soul, Dosage Tour, Saskatoon, March 1999 - The first real "concert" I went to, and still one of the best. I'll never forget some of the songs: "Tremble For My Beloved" opened the show and "Gel" closed the set. The encore was just amazing: "Heavy" opened it, and "Shine" closed it. Wow.
3. Blindside, Harvest Moon Festival, Edmonton, September 2004 - The only band that could upstage Project 86, I think. It was mid-September starting at about 8:30 at night, and you could see the sweat steaming off the band. I will allow the final five songs of the set to speak for the greatness of this show: "Shekina," "Swallow Down," "King of the Closet," "Cute Boring Love," and "About A Burning Fire."
2. Switchfoot, YQ 2003, Caronport SK, February 2003 - This show happened just days before the release of the Beautiful Letdown, and it was here where I became a true fan of Switchfoot. Jon Foreman is a rock star, and I knew after this that they were going to be huge. Hopefully they come close on the tour for their upcoming album.
1. U2, Vertigo Tour, Vancouver, April 2005 - It took me a few minutes to realize what was actually happening when I was in GM Place that night before it clicked that I was actually seeing U2 live. It still seems surreal. "Where The Streets Have No Name" still stands out from that show, along with "City of Blinding Lights." I think the only experience that will be able to top this would be seeing them perform again. I'm planning on a 2009 world tour that will make a stop close to where I am then (Asia?). Until then, there's always the concert DVD!

And the three concerts that I am the most disappointed that I missed, as well:
3. P.O.D. and Blindside, Calgary, June 2004 - How can you go wrong with Blindside as the opening band? Wish I would have had the money to go.
2. U2, Elevation Tour, Calgary, 2001 - Although I was just getting my legs as a true U2 fan at this time, I wish I would have gone, even just to see "Until the End of the World."
1. Five Iron Frenzy and Third Day, YQ 98, Caronport SK, February 1998 - FIF had just released Our Newest Album Ever, and Third Day had just released Conspiracy No. 5. And I didn't go to this concert?! Then again, I wasn't a big music guy back then. And now I'll never have the opportunity to see FIF, ever. Sad.

The list of bands that I would like to see in concert is far too huge to mention, since it will include many of the bands I have already seen. But I think I have to take a few months off the concert circuit. U2 was the pinnacle, at least for now, and I need to get back down before I go to more shows. That, and I don't really have the money. Next up: Harvest Moon 2005 in Edmonton September 10-11. The main attractions there for me: Starflyer 59, MuteMath (who have a new CD coming out the Tuesday following the festival), and Project 86 as the headliner (who also have a new CD coming out two weeks following the festival). Should be good!

The Collective Soul experience

Collective Soul was in town last night, the first time they had appeared in Saskatoon since their Dosage tour in 1999. They put on a good show, and Ed Roland knows how to work a crowd, but they have definitely taken a step back over the past few years, since lead guitarist Ross Childress left and they were released from their contract with Atlantic in 2001. Their most recent CD, Youth, is a good CD, but that's all it really is - "good." Considering they have had to start over again with a new independent label and new guitarist, they're doing well. At the same time, I hope they know when to call it quits, and that they do not devolve into a bar band that plays the classic rock circuit (like Trooper, for example). Still, their show demonstrated that they have a lot of life left in them. The final count on songs was one from their first album (Shine), five from the self-titled (The World I Know, Smashing Young Man, December, Where The River Flows, and Gel), two from Disciplined Breakdown (Precious Declaration and Listen), four from Dosage (Heavy, Needs, Run, and Compliment), one from Blender (Why Part 2), and nine (!) out of eleven songs from Youth, plus two covers (including "Highway to Hell," the unfortunate antithesis to previous closing song "Shine" that served as the band's second encore). Eddie pulling "Needs" out of the vault was my favourite moment of the show, although "Why Part 2" and "Better Now" also rocked the house down. I don't think the show was as good as the Dosage tour, but then again, I don't think the band is as good as they were then either. But this is easily the worst concert experience I have ever had, through no fault of the band themselves. The sound guy must have been smoking some of the substances that were going around, because it was easily the worst sound I have ever heard for a show in my life. The venue (Prairieland "D") is horrible for sound, although it is perfect for a bunch of drunken wankers who are just there for the party and not for the band. We were standing in the main group in front of the stage, but there were some giants in front of us blocking our view, and somehow it was decided that we were the back of the group, so everyone walked behind us the entire night. Combine that with the stupidity of drunk people and cougars on the prowl and people talking throughout the entire show and it's not good. This was one of the first shows that I have ever attended that people were not all there for the band, and it is hopefully one of the last that I will go to like this. Let's hope that the next time they come through, they pick a better venue and a better sound man. But it's alright, I'm feeling "Better Now."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

X-cited

Over the past few weeks, I have been gorging myself on the X-Men cartoon that I loved so much as a kid. The fact is that this series is every bit as good now as it was when I was younger. And watching it all over again has given me a new appreciation for the movies, which I realize upon further reflection actually did a good job of translating the X-Men universe to the big screen. And so I embarked upon a quest throughout the internet to find out more information about X-Men 3, which is scheduled to begin filming this summer in Vancouver and to be released into theatres on May 26, 2006. What I found is quite x-hilirating. Not only has Vinnie Jones been cast as the villain Juggernaut, but there has been some other casting as well: Gambit is scheduled to be included in the next movie, and they are negotiating with Maggie Shore (from ABC's Lost) to play Shadowcat. Beast has also tentatively been cast: the man selected to play the blue-furred intellectual is none other than Kelsey Grammer. My initial reaction was, of course, "Frasier!?," but I actually think that the casting will prove ingenius. All of the other regulars, save maybe for Storm due to Halle Berry's contract demands, are also scheduled for inclusion in the film, although there are spinoffs for both Storm and Wolverine in the works. And, as suggested by the conclusion of X2 and several interviews with people involved in the project, the Phoenix will play a role in X-Men 3.
I highly doubt that the Phoenix storyline will match the comic/cartoon, since introducing the Shi'ar Empire in addition to Juggernaut would make for a whole lot to do. I think their best course of action would be to change the Phoenix into the guardian of the Ruby of Cytorrak, the mystical gem that gives Juggernaut his powers, rather than the M'Kraan crystal sought by D'Ken, emperor of the alien Shi'ar. It will be possible to keep the existing storyline going, but to have it exist in the background while the rest of the story goes on, and to introduce Beast as part of this storyline in having him released from prison. Combined with bringing in Beast and Gambit and further developing already existing characters, this would be enough for a movie for sure, and the interplay of using Phoenix and Juggernaut would be interesting, to say the least. Though there might not be enough time to begin with the Dark Phoenix storyline in this movie, it could fit well in a future movie as well.
Which brings me to the next question: where should the movies go from here? Let's assume, due to the typical statute of limitations on Hollywood, that there will be two more X-Men movies after this next one. We can also fairly safely assume that Wolverine and Storm will not be around for any movies after this one, which will not be a problem assuming they continue to bring in and develop other X-Men (Colossus, Jubilee, Iceman, Beast, Gambit, and Angel come primarily to mind). There are so many possibilities for the films that could be explored that probably never will be included in the films, such as the entire Bishop/Cable time-travel storyline and the Savage Land storyline with Sauron and Mr. Sinister. Of course, any speculation on the events of future X-Men movies is completely subject to the whims of the actors and makers of the film, but here is what I would like to see happen in X-Men 4 and X-Men 5.
In X4, the Friends of Humanity emerge to make things really difficult for the X-Men, as they begin to set up mutants for crimes they did not commit. As a result, the government re-introduces the Mutant Registration Act, and the Sentinels are introduced. At the same time, the government releases the secret mutant team they have been constructing to battle the X-Men, X-Factor (consisting of Strong Guy, Multiple Man, Polaris, Havok, Wolfsbane, and Quicksilver). After subduing the X-Men and helping the Sentinels transport them to the republic of Genosha, which has been advertised as a mutant paradise, the members of X-Factor realize that they have been double-crossed and have to help the X-Men to be free. While this is going on, Professor X is helping Jean Grey recover from the Phoenix incident on Muir Island (off of the coast of Scotland), where his former love Moira MacTaggert and her fiancee Sean Cassidy (Banshee) have constructed a mutant research centre. Magneto comes to get them, since he has been displaced from his place in Genosha, and together, they help the X-Men and X-Factor defeat the Sentinels and the Genoshan forces. And everything is over...for now.
Then comes the final chapter, X5. A scientist on Muir Island claims to have a cure for mutanthood, and Warren Worthington III (Angel) is one of the first to try it out, but it turns out to actually be a process used by Apocalypse to create slaves to do his bidding. Some of the X-Men, namely Gambit and Rogue, are intrigued by this possibility, and decide to check it out for themselves (without knowing what really happens). Apocalypse, his newly-created Archangel, and his horsemen of the apocalypse, have plans to destroy mankind, and so they take over Muir Island in order to harness the power of the Phoenix. The X-Men come in to fight Apocalypse, but end up with a far greater problem on their hands. Through exposure to Apocalypse, Jean Grey (aka Phoenix) has now transformed into the Dark Phoenix, and her power is far greater than even Apocalypse! The X-Men must battle both Apocalypse and the Dark Phoenix to prevent them from destroying all of mankind in one final battle, in which the only way to defeat Apocalypse is to allow Jean to use the power of the Dark Phoenix to its fullest capacity. Finally, the fight is over, and the X-Men can finally go home in peace. At least until their spin-off movies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hockey Hall of Famers

Eric Duhatschek, one of the best hockey writers around and a columnist for the Globe and Mail, recently wrote this article about the candidates for the Hockey Hall of Fame. The list of first-time candidates is unimpressive, to say the least. It includes: Mike Vernon, John Vanbiesbrouck, Gary Suter, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet, Pat Verbeek, Stephane Richer, Ray Ferraro, Bob Probert, Dave Manson, Benoit Hogue, Dmitri Khristich, Michel Petit and Joe Reekie. There are also a number of players whose eligibility carried over from previous years, including Dino Cicarelli, Glenn Anderson, Brian Bellows, Kevin Lowe, Andy Moog. Out of all of these players, only three would be worthy of indictment in my opinion: Vernon, Cicarelli, and Anderson. Each of these three players had individual success in addition to team success, and they were each dominant in their prime. The other players listed here are a collection of could-have-beens and almost-wases, players who toiled long and hard and who occasionally showed flashes of brilliance, but who did not sustain a high level of play for long enough to warrant Hall induction. Many of these players were good at what they did - Moog was a good goalie, Lowe a strong defenseman, Bellows the power forward, Richer a scorer, Verbeek and Tocchet the defensive forwards - but they just were not at a high enough level of play to warrant inclusion in the HOF. It has only been in the past two or three years that there is beginning to be an influx of players the post-WHA era (after 1980), and the reality of hockey is vastly different in the past quarter-century than previously. Stats could go higher because players play longer, which is in turn partially due to advancements in medicine and technology, but also to the addition of more teams who would need players. This means that there has been a secondary tier of players developed, players who are distinguished from most of the scrubs of the league but who are distinctly below the top echelon of players. But even with the European invasion of the past twenty-five years, I do not think the number of HOF-calibre players has increased on the whole, and just because there are more players in total should not mean that there are more Hall of Famers now. Vernon, Cicarelli, and Anderson were during their careers feared and revered, and that is why they are Hall-worthy and the others are not.

Simpsons Go Catholic

If you didn't see last week's episode of The Simpsons, Homer and Bart converted to Catholicism. As I have a personal history of joking around with Catholic friends, here were some of my favourite lines from the episode.

I don't know...all that standing, sitting, and kneeling...it's like Simon Says without a winner!

Man, you guys have more crazy rules than Blockbuster Video!

Face it Marge, Catholics rule. We've got Boston, South America, the good part of Ireland, and we're making inroads in Mozambique, baby!

Don't you get it? It's all Christianity, people. The little, stupid differences are nothing compared to the big stupid similarities!

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Legend of Tom, Sole Survivor

Survivor: Palau, the tenth season of the godfather of reality television, is now completed, and I think that, upon further reflection, many fans will fondly view this season as one of the better ones in the history of the show. There is not a pattern developing as to which seasons are better a la the Star Trek movies (the even ones are better than the odd ones), but Palau, in my mind, ranks within the top half of all Survivor seasons. Although strategically the season ranks relatively low among all seasons of the show, there were so many firsts and unexpected developments in Palau that it made for captivating television. The complete ineptitude of Ulong, the persistence of Stephenie LaGrossa (arguably the most popular Survivor contestant this side of Rupert Boneham), the dominance of Tom, and the intensity of challenges made this edition a strong member of the Survivor canon.
Fireman Tom Westman from New York was named Sole Survivor, and I was glad to see it happen. In a game in which dominant male figures have typically been eliminated early on since Colby Donaldson's immunity challenge domination in the Outback (Marquesas' Hunter Ellis, Vanuatu's Lea Masters), it is that much more amazing that Westman not only won, but also that he never had a vote cast against him during the course of the entire game. Westman is the oldest person to win Survivor, and the main reason for [the at least] one vote that was cast against him (ie for his opponent Katie) in the final two was the result of an unjustified personal vendetta from one of the jurors. Unlike other strong winners who had to have a little bit of luck to secure their final win, Tom did not seem to require the same degree of fortune to achieve his victory, and whenever his name was discussed as a target, he either won immunity or took charge of the circumstances to make them to his advantage. Though several past winners (Richard in Palau Tiga, Chris in Vanuatu, Brian in Thailand) have certainly manipulated their way to victory, it is a testament to Tom's play that he had to perform little of the manipulation of these predecessors to win Survivor. Although I do acknowledge that much of the reason for Tom's win lay in circumstances that would be difficult to duplicate, the same can be said of every edition of Survivor. And so I proudly place Tom in my Top Ten Survivor performances of all time, due to his complete dominance of the game physically, mentally, and strategically. I doubt that there is a more technically perfect game of Survivor to be played than the example given by Tom. If there is another edition of Survivor All-Stars, Tom would be foolish to participate, since he has accomplished everything he can already. As an aside, the Survivors from this edition that I would like to see participate in an All-Stars 2 season would be Gregg, Angie, Ian, possibly Coby, and certainly Stephenie. I believe that the All-Stars series should include people who are not only interesting characters, but who also have something left to accomplish in the game. Winners should be automatically excluded, as demonstrated by their being targeted in the initial edition of All-Stars, and Tom is among those who should not participate, if not only to keep the legend of Tom unsullied and pure. (As another aside, an all-winners edition of the show would be very intriguing as well. But I digress yet again.) Kudos to Tom, one of the best Survivors of all time.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Reality TV finales aplenty!

Well, it's that time of year where television seasons are all finishing, including the abbreviated reality TV seasons. As it turns out, I've watched several closing or near-closing episodes of reality television this week, so I have some thoughts on each.

Amazing Race 7 - I had never watched an episode of any Amazing Race until this finale. I'm glad, because I still cannot stand Rob and Amber. [Shudder] The show is okay, but the host is annoying. I know many women who watch it religiously, but few men who do. My theory is that it's because of the focus on relationships between two people. Overall, meh.

The Apprentice - The real finale is next week, but tonight's episode was interesting. As usual, the Apprentice has gotten interesting within the final five or so, and I wanted to see the first all-women final two. But although the final decision will be made next week, is it just me, or is the outcome already decided? Kendra (book smarts) over Tana (street smarts) anyday. That's the problem with this show, though. Once it gets down to the final eight or so, it is easy to pick out who the final two will be, and the winner is never really in doubt. Go Kendra go.

Survivor: Palau - We couldn't just take the same people and start again with different tribes, eh? In the same way Vanuatu didn't really get too interesting because of the imbalance of tribes entering the merge, Palau was even worse. This game would have been entirely different if some of the Koror chaff (Janu, Katie, Caryn) had been expunged in favour of Ulongians like Bobby Jon, Angie, and James. Oh well. Tom is easily one of the best Survivors ever to play the game, as his combination of physical domination when necessary and strategic management has put him in the driver's seat thus far. The only problem (if you want to call it that) is that now he pretty much has to win immunity to win the game. Ian's game has taken a bit of a dip, and really there's not so much strategy left now. Jenn's next out unless she wins immunity, and then Tom, Katie, and Ian are the final three. At that point, Tom pretty much must win immunity unless Ian does not want Katie even in the Final Two. I would hope that the "Tina Wesson" syndrome would set in, and that if Ian wins immunity, that he would take Tom to the Final Two simply because Tom has done far more to earn his way in the game than Katie. Then again, when playing for a million dollars, Ian might not feel too charitable. So my prediction for Sunday's finale is very dependent upon who wins immunity. Either way, either Tom or Ian should win, barring Jenn winning both immunities. But the fact that this scenario is so dependent upon circumstances echoes the rest of this season: nothing is certain, but it's not because of strategy. The best prediction I can give is that it will be either Tom or Ian who wins, dependent upon immunities. I'm just kind of glad it will all be over soon, and I guess we'll see what happens on Sunday night.

May Sweeps Cancelled

No, no, TV sweeps season is not cancelled. (Yay for Survivor finishing up this week on Thursday and Sunday! Go Tom and Ian!) The "sweeps" I am referring to was the job sweeping parking lots that I began last night and ended about a half-hour in. It wasn't a pride thing - I was prepared to push a broom for just more than minimum wage for at least the first week to make some cash. No, it was definitely because within the first thirty minutes, while wearing a dust mask and working in the open air, my allergies to dust were beginning to go crazy. I figured that if it was like this after 1/16 of a shift, how bad would it be after working in a parkade for a full shift, so I had to take my leave. I felt kind of bad about it, but I realized that I tried, and that it's for the best. I could sacrifice my pride for $7 an hour, but not my health. And now I just wait for one of the other jobs to which I've applied to come through, or I continue the job search. Fun fun.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Greatest Hits

The best-selling album of all time is not "Thriller" or any other album comprised of original material, but it is the Eagles' Greatest Hits 1971-1975 at 28 million copies. I think that almost every household with someone over forty has copies of greatest hits albums by the Eagles, Elvis, the Beatles, the Guess Who, the Steve Miller Band, B.T.O., CCR, Elton John, and Johnny Cash. I am not sure if this speaks to the quality of the albums from which the tracks for these songs were taken, but I think it speaks more to the fact that pretty much all of the best songs were available without buying all the albums. The interesting thing is that many of these hits albums actually served as more than just collections of songs, but there was actually forethought and personality to them. Then again, that may just be because they have had thirty or more years to ferment in the pop culture consciousness. But I think that there are also some more recent bands that it would be best to own in GH format rather than individual albums. The primary example that comes to mind is Our Lady Peace. At one point, I owned all of their albums, and then I just didn't really like them anymore. Still, if they took the top fifteen songs from their career and cut out all the crap, that would be a good album. Truly, it would be the epitome of a greatest hits album. Anyway, I have realized after looking at my own CD collection that I do not have nearly enough Greatest Hits albums, as I have only Elvis' #1s album and The Police's Every Breath You Take - The Singles. Granted, I have many of the top songs in mp3 format, but I definitely need to incorporate some classics into my collection. Here is my list for classic rock greatest hits albums that I need to acquire: BTO, Johnny Cash, CCR - Chronicle I + II, Bob Dylan, Eagles - 1971-1975, Elton John 1 + 2, Elvis 2nd to None, Forrest Gump soundtrack (compilation), Guess Who, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Steve Miller Band. And before everyone says it, I am not interested in owning Beatles or Zeppelin hits albums. And on the "maybe" list would be Steppenwolf, The Who, Three Dog Night, and Billy Joel. It's all about cheap pawn shops, baby. Any other suggestions that I may have forgotten?

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