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Tuesday
Apr012014

The Beauty of a Busted Bracket

One Game.

 

That’s how long it took before I was out of the running for Warren Buffett’s Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.  It all seemed so possible at first.  My first two upset picks, Harvard and Pittsburgh, were well on their way to making me feel like a genius and Oregon and Syracuse were dispatching their competition with savage efficiency.  All I needed was for Ohio State to get it together and take care of this silly little team from Dayton. 

But they didn’t take care of that silly little team and with one game in the books my bracket was 0 and 1 in picks and my chances at a billion dollars evaporated as if it had never been.

In reality, it might as well have never been.  The college game has become less and less predictable as potentially great college players cut their careers shorter and shorter in favor of the NBA.  The most generous estimates on the odds of actually picking a perfect bracket in the lead up to the tournament were somewhere in the range of 7.4 billion to 1.

With the best players going one and done, every team is suseptible to the "improbable" upset.

That of course didn’t stop me from dreaming up what my life would be like if I suddenly was getting an extra 40 million dollars of Warren Buffett’s money every year (The prize money was set to be paid out in 40 million per year increments).  If I’d somehow be able to go on living my life in Brooklyn and whether or not I’d have to get a bodyguard in the wake of the frenzy of becoming the “luckiest man alive”.  How much of the money I should donate to charity annually to constitute being a philanthropist or, at the very least, a decent human being. 

It was absurd how much time I put into that bracket.  Reading everything I could find about possible upsets and likely winners.  Making picks, going back, changing picks, fully aware I was completely wasting my time.  It was all a ridiculous pipe dream, of course, but one that was too much fun not to consider the possibility.

That is what March Madness is all about, after all: pipe dreams and possibilities.  Despite the hordes of screaming fans, very few people have vested interest in any school’s success in the tournament beyond picking them in their bracket.  My own school, Providence, did manage their first tourney appearance in a decade but their time was but short as they exited after a close defeat to UNC in the first round.  Long dead are the days of UCLA dynasties and Phi Slamma Jamma juggernaut teams, the big money of the NBA has seen to that.  If anything, disdain for NCAA basketball is at an all time high as corruption seems to seep through every crevice and whole conferences cannibalize themselves in a frenzied cash grab.  But fans keep coming back every March, and they don’t need Warren Buffett to put up a billion dollars to do it.  All they need are pipe dreams, and just the slightest possibility that they could come true.

It only takes a minute to fill out a bracket.  No matter how little you know or care about the college game.  No matter how much the quality play has dropped off over the years or how “tainted” big money makes it, how imperfect the system is for finding the best team, the bracket is just too good to pass up.

Breakout players like Sabazz Napier give us a reason to keep watching after the bracket are long forgotten.

Even when it all inevitably falls apart, we’ve gained so much appreciation for what we’ve seen we can’t look away.  That is the real value of the bracket.  We play for the dream of greatness for ourselves and we watch for the dream of greatness for others.

When it is all done, we count the days until next year and the possibilities are endless once again.

Wednesday
Mar262014

The Salty Sublimity of Future Islands

I had actually heard of Future Islands before they played Letterman.  That’s when most of you probably heard about them.  It was in that performance from early March that Future Islands front man Sam Herring danced and bobbed his way into the hearts of music blogs everywhere.  Letterman himself was visibly tickled by the performance exclaiming, “I’ll take all of that!” when going to greet the band after performing their song, “Seasons”, the first single off their brand spanking new album, Singles.  Letterman would reference the electric performance multiple times in subsequent episodes and memes of Herring’s unorthodox dance moves began popping up all over the interwebs.  That is how most of you probably heard about them.

I had heard of them a few months earlier in a music dig through ITunes that has become something of a weekly routine for me.

Future Islands are a lot like very good whiskey.  They’re a synthpop trio with an indie infusion giving them a smoother finish than one might expect from a band with a lead singer that likes to growl as much as Herring does.  Their dulcet tones spiked by the occasional flourish of guitars or anguished howl.  I don’t particularly like easy listening synthpop, nor do I especially like whiskey, but Future Islands is very good whiskey and you’ll never try anything so smooth.  The music fills you with a warm rush that calms and excites you at the same time.

They have a sound about them like the ocean.  Both distant and close, silky and rough, refreshing and salty.  A dichotemy that makes them as intriguing as it does exhilarating.

Few songs could encapsulate this feeling better than the new wavy anthem “Swept Inside” off their 2010 album, In Evening Air.  It sounds like something straight out of 1979 England met with the slick production quality of today and made this ear candy that is simultaneously soothing and manic.

So, even though you may have only just heard Future Islands for the first time and you’re only just thinking about picking up their fantastic new album Singles, you might want to start thinking about picking up a lot more than that, because these guys are one of the best bands going right now.

Thursday
Mar202014

Ask A Hater: Subway Edition

Dear Hater,

Hello my son(?)  I have seen many evils in my journey through all eternity and I have met them all with justice.  There are some people, however, that give me pause.  These wicked folk have forsaken me for their own causes and all of humanity has suffered for their vanity.  I speak, of course, of those who would block subway doors with their fleshen husks and those that would barge into a train without first allowing others to exit.  I ask you, Hater, who is more needed of my wrath?

Sincerely,

Puzzled by the Pearly Gates

 

Dear Puzzled,

 

Ah, an age old question for riders of public transit.  Many seemingly "normal folk" are guilty of these sins.

The short answer is: both.

But if you’d like to know which ones deserve to be in the Fourth Circle of hell pushes boulders and which ones deserve to be right in the middle getting munched on by Lucifer?  That is a tougher question.

A question reminiscent of another similar quandary: who deserves to die a more horrible death, people who don’t walk up escalators or people who don’t walk down them?  It takes a special sort of lazy person to not take the energy to walk down an escalator, but then its also slightly more challenging for the motor skill impaired.  A truly difficult riddle, but one for another day.

As for your question, lets take a look at the facts.

Despite an apparent common belief among subway riders, they are solid and other riders cannot pass through them.

People who charge into train cars blindly the second the doors open are scum.  They’re selfish, actively working to breakdown the laws of the delicate social contract by which we all abide.  They’re like those bastards who try to cheat the merge on off ramps.  These people only care about themselves and seeking out that one little sliver of bench remaining in the train car.  Because of their seat searching goals these offenders overwhelmingly tend to be women, with a distant second going to “young punks” or “riff-raff”.

Despicable to be sure, but are they worse than those who would be human door-blockers?

These sorry souls - mostly larger males (or just sassy, fat ladies) stand in the path of both those trying to exit out into the hellscape of the New York City underground as well as those attempting to brave the claustrophobic environment of the NYC subway car.  No matter your final destination, their indifference makes your day that much harder.

With great subway spots comes great responsibility.

And THAT is why, I, The Hater, rule that the door-blockers are the greater of the two evils.  They’re attempted destruction of the social contract isn’t based in any real goals or desires, they’re just lazy.  Lazy, selfish, a-holes.  Sure the best spot on the train to stand is nearest to the door, but you can’t move one foot out of the train while the doors open to let people by you?  That is worst part, you put one foot on the train platform and suddenly you go from being a selfish douchsnoggle to a subway benefactor because it gives the impression you’re holding the door for people to get on and making way for people to get off.  People actually thank me when I do it.

So I hope that made your day a little easier, Puzzled.  That is, if you even operate on a calendar.  How does that work exactly?  If you exist out side of time, why would you need to ask anything?  Are you quizzing me?  Ugh, Omniscience is tricky. 

If you agree or not, either way, both are not nearly as bad as those awful, horrible, insidious, “humans” that hold the door open for two extra minutes while their friends fail at swiping their metro card.

Monday
Mar102014

The Eerie Greatness of HBO's True Detective and its Fantastic Finale

It is rare for a show's finale to live up to the sum of its parts.  Most of the time, fans are left to accept an ending, focus on the things that worked, and forgive the things that didn't.  Most of the time, the hype and expectations are so high that a show can't help but let its fans down.  That is why the season finale of True Detective was such an incredible feat.

A show with so much mystery and intrigue could have tripped over its own threads many times over in its final hour, but True Detective gracefully glided over it all with a suspensful, atmospheric finale that still left time at the end for revisiting of some existential themes, closure for the main characters, and even a little bit of a happy ending!

For a show that made its name on southern pacing, True D wasted no time getting down to business in this final episode of its first season.  The story bounces between Detectives Hart (Harrelson) and Cohle (McConaughey), who kick things off with some actual detective work, and our new found serial killer, played by Glenn Fleshler, who deserves a nod for crafting such a memorable, terrifying villain in only half an episode.

Once Hart and Cohle get on their suspect's trail it doesn't take them long to track him down.  After a brief set up, it is off to the showdown.

I doubt there was anything writer Nick Pizzolatto or director Cary Fukunaga could have done to make the final confrontation sequence more intense.  The sense of foreboding was palpable as you watched Cohle chase the Yellow King through the ruins of "Carcosa", a place possibly even more horrifying than its literary origins.

The fear and suspense the audience feels during these moments are noticably more intense than that of your typical finale because of the nature of True Detective.  It is a somber, masochistic show where characters constantly hurt themselves and others.  Everyone is lost.  And we've only known them for one season.  It all helps to make the idea of our heroes failing and the wicked villain continuing to rule his broken down kingdom with impunity that much more horribly possible.

It's much more plausible for an audience that Woody Harrleson could die at the hand of a malevolent maniac in a show after seven episodes than it it is Bryan Cranston gets offe'd by some nazis after we've grown with him over five seasons.

This alone was enough to make the finale great.  It could have faded to black when the light of that flair burnt out and no one would have complained.  But True Detective was not done with us.

First, we look at what our heroes got for their reward of "saving the day".  Hart is traumatized to the point of tears when his estranged family comes to visit him and Cohle, looking like a hillbilly Jesus, sits dazed looking out his window to the universe as he contemplates what he could've done differently, what he could've done better.

Then we get a brief but haunting tour of the evil Hart and Cohle endured throughout their journey.  Carcosa, Reggie Ledoux's stronghold, and the cornfield where the investigation started 20+ years earlier all still remain, completely intact, unchanged.  They are Ledoux's "flat circle", destined to exist forever untouched in the memories of those who witnessed them.

All of this was right in line with the eerie slow burn of True D, a show made of creepy, pulpy goodness.  But it was the final scene of the season that set the show apart.  After enduring criticism for being ovewrought and even sexist, An emotional, grounded monologue from Cohle brought everything back to what the show had really been all about: two broken people trying to do the right thing in spite of their demons.  We don't always love them, a lot of the time we don't even like them, but we understand them.

The shear ambition of this final scene was enough to admire True Detective and Pizzolatto, and it was more than enough to warrant a reset button for the second season.

Possibly more amazing than anything, was on a series so dark, so gleefully devoid of relief, the audience was given the final theme of the show, from the most miserable character on the show no less.  Rust Cohle consider's Hart's lament for the struggles of light in the darkness of the night sky and responds, "Once there was only dark.  Seems to me the light's winning."  The theme of hope.

Wednesday
Mar052014

Game of Thrones to Release Rap Mixtape

You know, people say Seinfeld was a big show, a great show.  I won't dispute that, but I don't recall Seinfeld - or any other show - ever getting big enough to get its own rap album.  That's exactly the treatment Game of Thrones is getting in the lead up to its 4th season, premiering April 6th.

Vibe.com reports that the album is designed (apparently) to help people interested in seeing the show get familiarized with the excessive number of people, places, and things from the world that is known as Westeros (which is actually only one of the two fictional continents on which the show takes place, but maybe Common will explain that more fully through some sweet rhymes on the album).

While this is certiainly one of the most joyously ridiculous bits of crossmarketing I can ever remember happening, I am a little wary of the quality.  The whole exercise is so bizzare that it seems a little forced and the few rhymes you catch in vibe.com's short video don't exactly evoke memories of Biggie's "juicy".

Regardless, in an age of relentless media saturation and instant gratification, this work of love between rappers and dragons is something we should all celebrate.