Chris and Elysia’s WrestleMania 33 Predictions

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You can count the time left to the 33rd iteration of WrestleMania in merely hours, which means its time to take a look at the final card.

Titled the “Ultimate Thrill Ride” this year, WWE is looking to wow their audience with a fast-paced show features a multitude of twists, turns, ups, and downs. It’s the biggest show in pro wrestling and it looks like some superstars will be shooting for their career defining “WrestleMania moment” while others who have been around the block will add their star power to the spectacle. In a show where anything can happen let’s go into our predictions for what’s in store come Sunday.

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Kickoff Show, Cruiserweight Championship: Champ Neville v. Austin Aries

Chris’ Prediction: Neville will retain. If they want the Cruiserweight Championship to mean anything they need someone to make it feel big and Neville seems like the one to do it. Austin may take it off him some day but Neville should shine at the biggest show of the year.

Elysia’s Prediction: I’m so checked out of this match, it’s unreal. I’m going to guess Neville hangs onto the belt, but it could probably go either way. I’m hoping for some cool aerial and top-rope stunts from both parties to kick the night off right. If not…I’ll be in the kitchen getting my drink ready.

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Kickoff Show: Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Chris’ Prediction: The obvious choice in this one would be Braun Strowman given his current push, but I’m going to go with Sami Zayn who could use a push after jobbing to the roster for so long. More specifically, I think he’s going to eliminate Strowman last to win, giving him some nice retribution from their rivalry. That being said, Samoa Joe’s absence from the card may suggest a surprise entrant who could thwart Sami’s victory, but I’m going to stick with Sami if only because he’s actually listed for this match.

Elysia’s Prediction: First of all, I hate to disagree with Chris because a) Sami Zayn is the best thing ever and b) this would make my night. With that said, this is a hard match to predict with a good portion of the contenders missing but Braun Strowman’s showing at the Royal Rumble and early announcement here makes me think he’s likely to come out victorious.

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Raw Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Ladder Match: Champs Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson v. Enzo Amore & Big Cass v. Cesaro & Sheamus

Chris’ Prediction: This match is a nice surprise! The TLC match at WrestleMania X-Seven was one of the best ever due in no small part to what the participants were willing to do. This match has a lot of talent as well and while WWE is more toothless these days I’m hoping for a really good match more than a specific winner. However since I need to make a prediction I’m going to say Gallows and Anderson retain. There’s no benefit to the titles switching hands at this point, and it would be good to build up some prestige in the current run.

Elysia’s Prediction: My guess is that Enzo and Big Cass are eliminated pretty early on. Seemed like there was trouble in Cesamus-land in pay-per-views of yore, so after some hub-bub I imagine Gallows and Anderson retain.

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Smackdown Women’s Championship: Champ Alexa Bliss’ Open Challenge

Chris’ Prediction: As much as I would love Becky to take back the title I think the returning Naomi, who had won the belt at Elimination Chamber before vacating it, will win it in her home state.

Elysia’s Prediction: This one is really up in the air. Something tells me that this is an opportunity to get Alexa Bliss a bit more street cred – my gut is telling me she’ll retain.

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Intercontinental Championship: Champ Dean Ambrose v. Baron Corbin

Chris’ Prediction: Given his push as of late, Baron Corbin will win the Intercontinental Title from Ambrose. As much as I like Dean Ambrose it was really strange to give him the belt from The Miz without much buildup surrounding it, until you consider that Corbin needed a big time babyface to win a championship off of. I don’t think the belt does anything for Dean, and could do wonders for Corbin, so this one mostly writes itself.

Elysia’s Prediction: Given his recent feuds Baron Corbin seems to be getting a bit of a mid-card push these past few months, which I think will be cemented when he overcomes Ambrose for the Intercontinental title. I’m not sure what Corbin’s appeal is – he seemed a bit out of place in the Elimination Chamber but…yeah. There it is.

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John Cena & Nikki Bella v. The Miz & Maryse

Chris’ Prediction: This match feels like filler. I think John Cena and Nikki Bella will win but I don’t think it really matters either.

Elysia’s Prediction: This is a really weird match that a) I just don’t care about b) will probably be decently entertaining. I have a lot of difficulty imagining that WWE will book these heels to win, so I’m calling this one for Cena/Bella.

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United States Championship: Champ Chris Jericho v. Kevin Owens

Chris’ Prediction: This one is tough to call because the whole Jeri-KO thing really felt thrown together. It worked well, it was entertaining, but I don’t know that the fallout from their broken friendship has enough weight to make me care enough. Especially since Owens and Zayn have already done this angle and much better. The US title being mixed in adds nothing in my opinion, but having to choose I think Owens will win and hopefully move on to make the US championship feel important again. (I’d like to also note the irony of two Canadians fighting over the United States title).

Elysia’s Prediction: Things that should be on the List of Jericho: olives, waking up before 7:00 am, snow in April, paying for in-flight meals, and a huuugeee box of Kleenex to wipe his tears after being squashed by Kevin Owens on Sunday. This should be a fun all-Canadian match – though I’m a bit disappointed there won’t be any shark cages involved. Owens has it in the bag.

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Raw Women’s Championship: Champ Bayley v. Charlotte v. Sasha Banks v. Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way Match

Chris’ Prediction: If Charlotte’s PPV streak hadn’t ended last month I would have said her, but since it has this became a lot tougher to call. Charlotte and Sasha have gone back and forth so much last year that I just wouldn’t care if either of them won, so its honestly a toss up between Bayley and Nia for me. If it were any other PPV I would say Nia Jax, but since this is WrestleMania where the crowd favourite overcomes the odds I’m going with Bayley.

Elysia’s Prediction: I’d imagine this one will likely go to Charlotte or Bayley but going to go out on a limb and say that I’m pulling for Nia – I’m digging her character and am hoping for another double suplex like the one we saw (live!) at Survivor Series. I think another move like that might win her the belt. Imagine if she manages to suplex both Bayley and Charlotte?

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Shane McMahon v. A.J. Styles

Chris’ Prediction: Shane McMahon has proven that he’s willing to go through a lot to put on a good match but ultimately you have to give it to AJ Styles. Not expecting anything surprising here but you never know with Shane O’Mac.

Elysia’s Prediction: I predict that Shane will jump off something – and then A.J. will win and no one will care. This one feels like a sure-filler way to cram A.J. Styles onto the card.

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Undertaker v. Roman Reigns

Chris’ Prediction: I cannot for the life of me see The Undertaker losing to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania of all places. I do think Taker will win, but I also want to see a Roman Reigns heel turn in the process. He seems to be pointed in that direction and with his fall from his position only a year ago it seems like the right time to make him a bad guy.

Elysia’s Prediction: If the mutt wins, I’m out. Undertaker has to win this snooze-fest.

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Seth Rollins v. Triple H

Chris’ Prediction: I’m really liking the buildup to this match. Months of frustration for Rollins, and Triple H holding himself back from flat out murdering his former protégé. It all comes down at the grandest stage of them all. As is typical with most Triple H heel angles at WrestleMania I think Seth Rollins will win this one, but this may not be the final chapter in this particular storyline.

Elysia’s Prediction: I’d like to say Triple H will stomp Seth Rollins but I suspect Rollins will win dirty. There’s got to be something a bit contentious on the card and I’m pretty sure this will be one we’ll be talking about on Monday morning.

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Universal Championship: Champ Goldberg v. Brock Lesnar

Chris’ Prediction: The squash match at Survivor Series was a great moment and I would have been happy if they just left it at that. If there’s a repeat I don’t think it would go over as well because everyone will be expecting it. I’ll predict Goldberg only because that’s the safe bet, but I have a feeling that we’re in for something unexpected with this match (we can only hope).

Elysia’s Prediction: GOOOOOOOLLLLDDDDBERRRRRG gets a hat-trick and defeats Brock Lesnar in 46.25 seconds and I get to go to bed a bit earlier than anticipated.

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WWE Championship: Champ Bray Wyatt v. Randy Orton

Chris’ Prediction: What started as a seemingly one off rivalry between this unlikely pairing has turned into the WrestleMania main event. Go figure. Being that this is Bray’s first WWE title reign and how antagonistic Orton has become after playing the long game to infiltrate the Wyatt family, I think this might be Bray Wyatt’s time to overcome a mighty foe and become a monster-esce champion similar to how Undertaker was in his day. Plus seeing the fireflies as the show closes would be pretty fantastic.

Elysia’s Prediction: I think this match would have a lot more weight (and intrigue) if Bray wasn’t already champ. We’re either going to see Orton win…again or Wyatt win…again. For the purposes of really igniting this feud post-mania, I hope Orton wins with a Luke Harper interference. That’ll get ’em talking.

How wrong were we? Follow along as we live tweet events as they unfold on Sunday night.

Happy Wrastle-ing!

@ElysiaRM and @Cowanch

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Achievement Unlocked: 10 Memorable Achievements & Trophies in Video Games

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Achievements on Xbox and trophies on PlayStation are great for recording and showing off accomplishments in games. Before these metrics players would have to either record video of their games as they played or take a picture of the screen as it displayed a high score. Now every gaming feat is tracked and quantified giving players something tangible to collect as they beat their favourite games. These achievements and trophies (we’ll call them badges to make things easy) can also expand the experience by challenging the player to complete bonus objectives as they are playing the main game.

The overwhelming majority of badges are fairly generic, marking the completion of the base game on one of the difficulty settings or by repeating a particular skillset (e.g. headshots) multiple times. These badges are important to include as proof of beating the game but are ultimately uninteresting. They reward basic progress and nothing more. The memorable ones are those that demand something more from the player and reward them for going the extra mile.

While not all of these particular challenges are difficult to complete, they can leave their mark in some way whether that be adding an interesting twist to the game play or presenting a shared goal among friends. The following is a list of badges I’ve collected that are personally memorable and added a bit more depth to the experience:


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Hold My Hair

Game: Watch_Dogs 2
Description: Take a picture of someone vomiting

For a game in which the player takes on the role of a computer hacker and fights to foil the corrupt plans of giant corporations, you wouldn’t expect this kind of task to be featured. That speaks to the level of interactivity that was put into the world which you move around in. Along with hacking security doors, vehicles, and remote control devices, you can also just take your phone out and pose for a selfie with the numerous landmarks all across L.A. Which I did. A lot.

Getting the timing right to snap a pic of someone about to toss their cookies can either come by complete happenstance, or after being patient while standing in the vicinity of a local pub at night as was the case for me when trying to secure this final trophy. What makes it memorable is more to do with how recently I unlocked it, but it’s quirky, random, and makes you appreciate the finer details that an open world game can have.


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Walker defender

Game: Star Wars Battlefront
Description: Destroy a Y-wing in Walker Assault

This trophy is just funny. In walker assault mode the Empire tries to escort an AT-AT walker from one end of the map to another. The Rebels attempt to control uplink centers in order to call Y-wings to disable the walker and make it vulnerable for a short period. If that sounds confusing it’s only because it is. The funny thing about this trophy is that the Y-wings are not active combatants and destroying them doesn’t prevent them from disabling the walker. They make for good target practice though, so it’ll give you something to shoot at if the slow pace of the game doesn’t hold your interest.


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FINE PLAY! Trophies

Game: Mighty No. 9
Description: Achieve all FINE PLAY! technical bonuses in the _________ boss battle.

Mighty No. 9 had a very messy development and after 3 delays we ultimately got a re-imagined Mega Man game that wasn’t very pleasing to the eyes. What I can say for it though is that it still made for a satisfying 2D platform experience that filled the void that the blue bomber has left in recent years. Normally I wouldn’t expect this kind of game to have any other types of trophies than speed runs, but these trophies really made me think about the way I approached boss fights.

They all ask the player to do the same thing which was to get a FINE PLAY bonus during a boss fight. The reason that multiple trophies are listed here is because each boss has a different way to get the bonus. This can be either to hurt them while charging energy, shooting their projectiles from the air, or dodging attacks in a very specific way. It adds an interesting challenge when fighting the boss aside from the boss itself. The only problem is that it takes trial and error to even know what to do for a FINE PLAY in the first place, so it’s more of a test of ingenuity than skill (unless you look it up online).


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Stinking Rebels

Game: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Description: Brand 5 Bodyguards of a Warchief, turning them against him in combat.

While not the most valuable trophy in Shadow of Mordor, it takes a lot of setup and has the same satisfaction one would get from knocking down a line of dominoes. It also completely revolves around the hierarchy system, wherein Uruks can become ranking leaders among their peers and move up the ladder to become a powerful Warchief. They can also be branded to make them loyal to the player, which is ultimately the key to unlocking this trophy. Warchiefs are normally difficult to kill, so it’s fun to take a more creative approach and be the master manipulator under Sauron’s nose and make his armies fight among themselves.


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Hoard the Horde

Game: Gears of Wars 2
Description: Survive all 50 waves of Horde (any difficulty, any map)

This can technically be regarded as a completion achievement, but I include it here as a fond memory of some of my friends and I linking two Xboxs together and fending off the horde of enemies trying to kill us into the early hours of the morning. The second Gears game did not offer much in terms of defense (a problem addressed in its sequel) but we got clever using the shields dropped by larger foes and blockading ourselves in a closed up building with just enough of a vantage point to pick off wave after wave of enemies. We almost didn’t finish when the system link malfunctioned, stopping our progress, but we trekked on like troopers until victory was ours. Good times.


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Shoot First

Game: LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Description: Shoot First

Simple description right? But what does it mean? To the more savvy fans of Star Wars this reference is obvious but even with that it doesn’t say much of what to do. Luckily there are achievements throughout that tell the player to destroy character X with character Y. That can range from Vader destroying Anakin, Qui-Gon destroying Darth Maul, or Kit Fisto destroying The Emperor. In this case it is Han Solo shooting first at Greedo as it was always meant to be before George Lucas started changing things in the special edition. Spotting this pattern of achievements and putting it together with the Han shot first reference makes this something like a meta achievement (metachievement?) which is very cool and exactly why I love this one so much.


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Little Rocket Man

Game: The Orange Box
Description: Send the garden gnome into space.

This was honestly a toss up between this and The One Free Bullet since they both ask the player to play through the entirety of the game with a specific handicap. Where there are plenty of alternatives to using guns in Half Life 2, this achievement was more of a challenge as it had you carrying around a useless object everywhere you went.

The premise of this achievement is to place a garden gnome in a rocket that is launched towards the end of the game. The gnome itself can be found at a much earlier part of the game and thus the player must travel from location to location carrying the little guy, occasionally putting it down to fight some monsters and checking to make sure it didn’t fall off of your car. That was the challenging part: the fact that the gnome adhered to physics like everything else. So the player really has to make sure it’s secure so that a stray explosion doesn’t shoot it out of your reach, effectively ruining the progress you’ve made so far.

After placing it in that rocket though, it makes you reflect on your journey with the little guy, and you’re happy to see it reaching the stars. Also I have to mention that I forgot to close the hatch to the rocket and lost a couple hours because I didn’t save often enough. That certainly made it memorable.


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Flawless Raider

Game: Destiny
Description: Complete a Raid without anyone in your fireteam dying.

Destiny is a solid shooter with simple and fun RPG elements to make your character feel like your own. Each player has a different experience, but the best experience one can have is gathering a group of 5 friends to tackle a raid together. Normally raids are a real test of patience and coordination between your group (or fireteam in this case) and its essentially guaranteed that you will all die at some point because the margin of error is so small even if the team is overpowered. So it may come to a surprise to some that I unlocked this trophy completely solo.

That’s not a reflection of my skill or anything, I die in raids with my friends all the time. It speaks more to a specific raid and the number of exploits one can take advantage of in order to bypass entire portions that normally require 6 members. Crota’s End is the raid in question and if a player can make it through the right hoops while using the right gear, they can solo the whole thing without dying once. What is presented as the ultimate test of coordination and careful planning instead becomes a clever way of technically achieving the same result by taking an unorthodox approach, which is something great about games in general.


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Vidmaster Challenge: Annual

Game: Halo 3
Description: After 9/25/08, complete Halo on 4-player Legendary LIVE co-op, with Iron, and everyone in Ghosts.

The term “oddly specific” comes to mind when reading the description to this achievement. Around the written date, Bungie had released an update on Halo 3 which added achievements with various odd criteria. This one was amusing because it required 4 players to finish a tough vehicle level and dying meant the whole team started over from the last checkpoint. You were only as good as your worst player and ours was constantly failing and sending us back a few paces (I swear it wasn’t me!). It made for a fun memory in the end since we were a close bunch who played together a lot. It was also a huge test of friendship and it’s amazing we still talked to one another after finishing.


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The Bladder of Steel Award

Game: Rock Band 2
Description: Complete the Endless Setlist 2 without pausing or failing.

Rock Band 2 has 84 songs in its library. That amounts to over 6 hours of music when played back-to-back. The Endless Setlist is a daunting challenge where a band of players must play every song on the disc in a progressively difficult order. Normally breaks can be taken to refresh and rest those fingers, but not if you want to prove your (bladder’s) mettle as there is no pausing and no failing allowed. 6 hours of non-stop Rock Band (Heaven? Hell? The line gets blurry a few hours in).

This is the most memorable because it’s such a large undertaking and it also has a story attached to it. One weekend I was out to play video games with a group of friends, when I mentioned that another friend was going to try to get this achievement before I did (it was the only one in the game I was missing). This caused us to leap into motion, grab any snacks we could, and start our musical marathon. We actually taped bottle caps to the start buttons on the guitar controllers so we couldn’t accidentally pause. The rest of the night was spent rocking our way towards glory, and glorious it was (ignoring the sleep deprivation, which was nothing new to us).

The achievement name is apt, but somewhat a misnomer. It isn’t about not using the bathroom, rather knowing when you can use the bathroom. It wasn’t the first time we completed the Endless Setlist and we knew where the gaps were.


That’s my list of memorable badges. If you’d like to compare further you can browse every badge I’ve earned using the following links:

Xbox
PlayStation

What memorable badges have you earned? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

@Cowanch

The Beauty and the Backstory: Disney’s Remake Answers Questions You Didn’t Really Ask…and Does it Well Anyway

If there’s one thing I never thought I would say coming out of a Beauty and the Beast remake, it was probably “That rose is full of the plague.” That is what this version is: a backstory machine. It’s an expansion of the original, an answer to questions you weren’t really asking, and ultimately a thoughtfully inflated love letter to an animated gem (which will hopefully remain the primary point of entry for future generations). More invested fans of the original animated version will delight in the opportunity the remake takes to…erm…smell the roses: to expand a bit of backstory and answer to a few of its predecessor’s idiosyncrasies.

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Take the timeline. The original film stressed that the castle’s occupants had been cursed for ten years (from Be Our Guest, “ten years we’ve been rusting, needing so much more than dusting.“) At the same time, the prologue established that the rose offered by the witch was “an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his twenty-first year.” By that math, the pre-cursed Beast would have been less of a narcissistic adult and more of a bratty tweeny-bopper and, frankly, who isn’t at eleven years old?  This film gets the opportunity to sort out the math, showing a clearly adult prince turned into a beastie and dropping any reference to birthdays.

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The film further uses its expanded run time to elaborate on why the household staff have been cursed along with the Beast, why the Beast was so nasty to begin with, why Belle’s mother isn’t in the picture (who was asking?), and why no one in the town seems to know there’s a sinister castle and animal-man occupant just a few blocks away. Some additions work better than others – the backstory about Belle’s mother causes some serious slowness has little to no influence on Belle’s characterization or the plot moving forward.

This narrative lag is the chief issue with the expansion of the film from an 84 minute run-time to 129 minutes. In the perfectly edited 1991 original, the plot drives forward from the moment the Beast lets Belle go all the way to the end of the film. Each scene serves a purpose: Belle saving her father, showing the villagers proof of the Beast’s existence, the Mob Song, the battle at the castle, the transformation, roll end credits. In this remake, the Beast lets Belle go and then the momentum grinds to a halt as he bellows out a big solo number. The pacing is off.

With that said, there’s a bit more room for contextualization in this new iteration, though things are never taken too seriously – for example, Gaston is returning from “the war” though the war isn’t named and it’s played for laughs. The direction is more camp than grit and the movie wears it well.

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Though evenly acted throughout, Gaston (as portrayed by Luke Evans) really carries the show. He’s the best thing about the remake as a whole. He’s actually – dare I say it – one part of the film that improves on the original. You can tell both he and Josh Gad (LeFou) come from a stage background as the pair plays off each other. During the Gaston number, the person behind me was practically kicking my chair their foot was bopping so hard to the rhythm, I almost felt the need to clap at the end (even though it’s not live and be cool okay?) – it’s further substantiation to my theory that Hollywood needs to employ singers rather than actors that can carry a tune.

This Belle is different too. She’s functional – she’s not wearing an apron, those are pockets. Sure she’s wearing a dress but there are bloomers underneath suited for all the running, horse-riding, and wolf-fighting a poor provincial town has to offer. She’s telling Gaston what’s what and she’s not letting him into her house either (in this version the conversation is between LeFou and Gaston, where the suitor boasts of his future plans with his “little wife, massaging [his] feet”).

I’m not entirely convinced that this Belle is the type of person to be bothered by a Beast that’s “coarse and unrefined,” but this Beast isn’t an illiterate dope either – he’s read everything in the library (except the stuff in Greek). In this version, Belle and the Beast seem to actually have more things in common than just mutual self-isolation.

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The film uses logic to tie together narrative threads. Maurice is abandoned in the woods by Gaston and LeFou and is rescued by a transient woman who returns him to the village days later. However sometimes logic doesn’t adhere well to the narrative surfaces provided. For example there’s a clunky throwaway line of exposition from the Beast explaining how he suggested that he and Belle have a dance in the newly refreshed ballroom. It just makes the whole affair feel sillier than it might have been if the scene was left unexplained. This is a fairy tale after all.

As far as music goes, the most poignant missing piece from Beauty and the Beast‘s enchanted remake is Howard Ashman. The lyricist for the original flick, Ashman passed away just prior to its release in 1991. In 2017 composer Alan Menken, who also worked on the original, remains on point but he’s only one half of a dynamic duo and unfortunately the element that set the original apart was Ashman’s lyrical creativity and musical sensibility.

As an example, consider The Mob Song – a pretty standard go get em! song that’s not really doing anything different narratively – similar songs in Pocahontas and Wicked come to mind. Instead what we get is Gaston telling his companions to “screw your courage to the sticking place.” A sheer product of Ashman’s lyrical brilliance, this line is drawn directly from the scene in which Lady Macbeth urges her husband to buck up and quit worrying he’ll fail in his plot against Duncan. Not only is it ironic (has Gaston ever even opened a book?) it’s also prophetic of his eventual downfall. This kind of writing is strewn throughout Beauty and the Beast‘s soundtrack and its noticeably missing in the new songs.

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Another example is simply in the delivery of lyrical phrases. In the song Something There, Ashman coached Paige O’Hara (the voice of Belle in 1991) to sing the line “new and a bit alarming” like Barbara Streisand would. The result is quirky, fun, and adds a bit of depth and intrigue to the song that wouldn’t be there if it was sung flatly, as it is in 2017.

Unfortunately, these kind of lines are clipped throughout and the Gaston number probably suffers the worst as rhyming couplets are removed to make room for a bit more exposition. The complete removal of Gaston‘s reprise means we lose one of my favourite lines:

Gaston: LeFou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking
Lefou: A dangerous pastime
Gaston: I know.
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Ultimately I think that the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is an example of a perfect film. Every scene, every song, and every beat is perfectly timed, cropped, and edited to tell a compact and effective story with real emotional weight. So many people my age know the lyrics to its songs that they can practically be considered folk songs. It maintains a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes 26 years after its release and is considered a classic for this very reason. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1992. Though it didn’t end up taking home the prize, it still broke down barriers and stigmas about what animation could do. It was ground-breaking.

With that said I didn’t watch the remake wishing that I was watching the original instead. I think that says a lot. I love this story and its clear that this film does too – it isn’t trying to supplant the original but to supplement it. In the end it’s not the best tale as old as time, but it’s a tale worth venturing out to the theatres to enjoy on a big screen and its a great companion to the original.

@ElysiaRM


All photos are taken from Beauty and the Beast (2017) on IMDB.

 

 

 

The Case for Missing “Missing Richard Simmons”

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Did you know that Richard Simmons is missing?

Neither did I.

Simmons hasn’t been seen in the public eye since missing a class at his Beverly Hills gym, Slimmons, on February 15th, 2014. Naturally, since Serial made podcasts cool again (for the first time?) there’s  podcast about it: Missing Richard Simmons. 

The premise is interesting. Host Dan Taberski, one of Richard’s (former?) friends and a long-time Slimmons regular, cobbles together some amateur detective work, interviews with former friends and colleagues, and archive audio of the man himself. Though the other two fall flat for me, the archive audio is really something.

I don’t think it’s really earned the comparisons to Serial but nonetheless Missing Richard Simmons is a good listen. It’s interesting and thought provoking. It’s well produced and hosted too.

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Despite all that, I think this is a podcast worth skipping. I’d actually go so far as to argue that the avid podcast listener should skip it because here’s the thing: Richard is not missing.

I think a better comparison than Serial is Making Oprah by NPR and WBEZ, which chronicles the rise of the Oprah Winfrey Show through archive audio, interviews with show-runners, and a whopping once-in-a-lifetime interview with Oprah herself. It chronicles the daytime host’s rise to super-stardom and draws to a close at the end of the talk show and Oprah’s (albeit slight) step back from the spotlight. Just like Missing Richard Simmons. 

My qualms with Missing Richard Simmons are almost entirely ethical. Unlike Making Oprah, Simmons is not a willing participant in this investigation into his public (or private) persona. In fact, Richard is a very unwilling participant – having turned down numerous opportunities to speak with the podcast. The fact that this podcast has been called a phenomenon and a hit instead of a massive invasion of privacy is beyond me.

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Richard Simmons poses with Missing Richard Simmons host Dan Taberski after a class at Slimmons.

Across all four episodes I listened to, the people interviewed (his friends, attendees at his gym, etc.) all wanted to satisfy their burning questions, to ease their minds, to get their closure. There’s no concern for Richard – someone who consistently professed to having very few friends at all – or his perspective and needs. After an ultra-emotional career in the spotlight, I get overwhelming sense that Simmons was just burnt out. While the podcast desperately insists that he owes an explanation to his outer circle of friends and his fans, I’m just not buying that it’s anyone’s business. This is going to sound harsh but friendship is not a job. You don’t need to give two weeks notice to quit. Frankly if that’s what Richard did, I can’t say I blame him.

The podcast nags at Richard’s privacy (going so far as to camp out front of his house and appear at his brother’s doorstep), throws out wild accusations about his housekeeper (I highly doubt she’s a witch), and entertains speculations that – if mental illness is involved – do nothing to rectify the situation.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the podcast consistently uses the past tense to talk about Richard as though he’s passed away. Maybe in some sense he has – or at least the outer shell has – the public persona has retired for a quiet life, at home, where he’s comfortable.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t reach out to our friends if we are concerned for their well-being. We absolutely should – but there’s a difference between reaching out and pestering. There’s a difference between checking up on someone and staking out their house, even if it is a Beverly Hills mansion. Everyone deserves some amount of privacy. We don’t owe anyone an explanation for claiming it.

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The bottom line is that Richard is perfectly fine! The LAPD did a welfare check and he answered, bearded (try to picture that), and assured that all was well.

With all that said the podcast is hard to put down but that’s exactly why I think that I will. There’s a danger associated with new podcasts scrambling to be the next Serial, which is a failure to recognize what should be subjected to the medium. I think this one has crossed an ethical line. Questioning whether or not someone received a fair trial is not the same as uprooting someone’s life. Maybe its time to start interrogating podcasts as a journalistic medium and to really assess whether or not this kind of investigation, though entertaining, is fair to its subject.

All I know is that if I asked for a little space, I sure as hell wouldn’t want my friends showing up with a bunch of audio equipment at my door either.

@ElysiaRM


The Missing Richard Simmons podcast logo was taken from their website. You can listen to full episodes there if you are interested. Other images were borrowed from here, here, and here.

Survivor: Game Changers Winner Prediction

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year – time for another season of Survivor (the 34th!) – which premieres tonight on CBS. This year we’re slapping the “Game Changers” moniker on the season and though a handful of contestants certainly live up to the title, there’s a few more questionable entries (Shout out to fan favourites/game changer extraordinaires Sierra and Hali!)

Let’s kick off the season right – with a final, confident(ish?), all-in winner pick!

There have been a grand total of seven returnee-winners: Amber (All Stars), Parvati (Micronesia), Sandra (Heroes vs. Villains), Boston Rob (Redemption Island), Cochran (Fans vs. Favorites 2), Tyson (Blood vs Water), and Jeremy (Second Chance).

Since there’s a significant advantage to playing a second time against a bunch of fresh faces, I think it’s important to remove from consideration those returnees who won mixed seasons. That puts us down to three returnee-winners from all-returnee seasons: Amber, Sandra, and Jeremy.

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Both Jeremy (10th place) and Amber (6th place) sat on the jury in their first outings, while Sandra won. Apart from Jeremy, whose win came only 2 seasons after first playing, both Amber and Sandra took significant breaks in between appearances (6 and 13 seasons respectively). Amber and Sandra didn’t pose significant challenge threats in either of their games, while Jeremy showed challenge prowess but was shielded by other strong contenders for immunity challenge wins.

From these previous winners, we know that the winner of an all-returnee season tends to adhere to the following conditions:

  • They make the merge and jury on their first outing (Amber, Sandra, and Jeremy).
  • They are under the radar and are usually perceived as being non-strategic (Amber and Sandra).
  • They are often not accredited with the moves that got them to the end – credit is given to their allies or the mistakes of others (Amber and Sandra).
  • They’ve taken a break for a few seasons (Amber and Sandra).
  • They’re not too crazy, stupid, or mean. People want to give them the money (Amber, Sandra, and Jeremy).
  • They have, in some way or another, settled down from their first season – they aren’t as frantic and pick their battles (Amber, Sandra, and Jeremy).

With those conditions set, my winner pick for Survivor: Game Changers is J.T.

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Here’s why:

J.T. won in Tocantins because of his social game, though runner-up Stephen Fishbach was credited with many of the duo’s more assertive moves (and the hurt feelings that went with them). No one looks at J.T. and thinks of his big moves and strategic prowess. They think of Stephen.

On his second appearance in Heroes vs. Villains, J.T. decided to change up his game entirely. He attempted to drop the nice-guy persona and play a more manipulative game with little success. This break from what is perhaps a more natural tenor for J.T. led him to hand-off a hidden immunity idol to super-villain Russell Hantz, which was just as quickly used to vote him out. The move earned J.T. the title of dumbest survivor ever (inherited from Erik Reichen-I’ll-give you-the-immunity-idol-if-you-give-me-our-friendship-bach). In a season with a bunch of big fish to fry, J.T. simply doesn’t have the reputation of a strong strategic game to hold him back.

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Add to this the fact that J.T. is returning to Survivor after nearly 10 years away from the game – he’s old school, a bit rusty. Sure he’s won before but he did pretty poorly in the second go-round. The threat posed by someone a few years out simply isn’t the same as the person that came this close to winning last season.

As far as competitions go, J.T. is athletic but is unlikely to draw any real attention away from the other physical powerhouses in Ozzy, Brad, Caleb, and Malcolm. He’s social but not as social as Cirie or Zeke. He can be unpredictable but no one compares to Tony. He isn’t too crazy, stupid, or mean to be awarded a second time and his final tribal council performance left little on the table (unlike Tai). This iteration of J.T. is a bit more grown up, married, but continues to bring the country charm and charisma he did the first time.

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This is going to be a really competitive season right out of the gate. Every way you look there’s potential winners lined up. There’s social players (Cirie and Tai), atheletes (Ozzy, Brad, Troyzan, and Malcolm), master strategists (Zeke, Michaela, Jeff, Ciera, and Andrea), and there’s a healthy mix of loose-cannons (Tony, Debbie, and Sandra).

In an all-returnee season like Game Changers, the winner occupies the middle way: they’re charismatic, charming, athletic, and strategic – they’re just not the most charming, charismatic, athletic, or strategic. They make strong alliances and ride them to the end – which is exactly what J.T. has always done.

When all is said and done, I think we have our second two-time winner on our hands.

@ElysiaRM


Most photos are taken from Survivor’s website on CBS.com. I also used photos from here.

 

La La Land Dazzles at First Sight, Moonlight Shines in the Long Run

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After viewing La La Land at the Venice Film Festival in August, Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter proclaimed that “If you’re going to fall hard for Damien Chazelle’s daring and beautiful La La Land, it will probably be at first sight.”

Little else could account for La La Land’s meteoric ascension from critically acclaimed Whiplash (2014) follow-up to Oscar front-runner. Less than a week after the Venice Film Festival, La La Land opened the Telluride Film Festival where it received not one, not two, but three standing ovations during the course of its 2 hour run-time.

At the Toronto International Film Festival in September, La La Land continued to collect accolades including the People’s Choice Award – an early indicator of Oscar gold. A mere four months later at the Golden Globes, La La Land was still cleaning house, taking home all seven awards for which it was nominated. On the outside it appeared as though nothing had changed but under the surface La La Land fatigue had started set in.

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The run wasn’t quite over yet. While Ryan Gosling went home empty handed, Emma Stone took home the Best Actress trophy at the SAG awards. The streak continued as La La Land took home five big awards at the BAFTAs, indicating with near certainty a full coronation at the Oscars in late February. These suspicions were confirmed after a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations were bestowed upon the musical giant.

All signs pointed to Best Picture. It was just a matter of time.

Time turned out to be La La Land’s biggest rival. Had the Oscars been handed out at Telluride or TIFF, there is little doubt that La La Land would have taken everything home. But as Gosling and Stone sang and danced through awards season, the honeymoon period drew to a close. One by one La La Land’s critics started to gain traction – did it really hold up on a re-watch? Was the ending really that great?

Audiences and critics started looking for an alternative. If not La La Land then what? After its release in early February, posts started to appear speculating about Hidden Figures potential, which would go on rule the box-office. The climate was ripe for an upset, now it was just a matter of which film could pull it off.

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All the while, Moonlight waited in the wings and campaigned to be runner-up. Tucked within La La Land’s shadow, it reaped the benefits of La La Land’s criticism. Where La La Land’s characters were shallow, Moonlight’s were three-dimensional, where La La Land’s ending was emotionally manipulative, Moonlight’s was thoughtful and raw.

So why did Moonlight win?

First we have to look at how voting works within the Best Picture category, which is the only category that doesn’t use the “winner take all” model. Instead Best Picture uses a preferential voting system where Academy voters rank the nominees according to their preference. After that the method is a first-past-the-post system, which in this case is the first flick to surpass 50% of the vote.

After the first tally (everyone’s #1 choices), the accountants check to see if any film has reached the coveted 50% minimum. No? Back to the drawing board. At this point the film with the least number of #1 votes gets scrapped – it’s no longer in contention – and all of those ballots are now recounted using the #2 film in the place of #1. This process continues until one film hits 50% of the vote and is awarded Best Picture.

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As Daniel Joyaux of  Third Man Movies pointed out in his correct prediction of a Moonlight Best Picture win before the ceremony, the key to unlocking Best Picture is looking at which movies will likely get the least number of votes. Once the movies that will be first out of contention are identified, a prediction can be made based on what voters who liked those movies might have liked second best. Confused yet? From a numbers perspective, Moonlight won because it had more #2 votes than La La Land had #1 votes.

The second factor – the one that I think has gotten a bit lost in all of the kerfuffle around that big mix-up – is the depth and relatability of Moonlight’s characters and the expertly written script.

As a female caucasian 20-something, I probably fall more into the La La Land target audience than Moonlight. They’re both human stories – I get that – but I’ll be the first to admit I’m more likely to stick on Crazy Stupid Love than Boyhood on your average Saturday night. But – and here’s why I think Moonlight had the edge over La La Land – I was more emotionally involved in Moonlight and its characters while watching the film and, perhaps more importantly, in the days after having seen it.

Moonlight transcends its target audience through a thoughtful, quiet, and subtle script that builds and builds on characterization and drama. Take this scene in which Chiron gets revenge on a relentless bully:

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I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of using quietness as a stand-in for depth in a character but in Moonlight it works. Perhaps almost entirely because when it finally pays off Chiron stays in character, remains quiet, and reacts physically instead of verbally. There’s no emotional manipulation at work here – no score, no dialogue – if you feel something it’s because you have, at some point, started to care about Chiron’s journey.

In comparison take this closing scene from La La Land in which Mia and Sebastian exchange final knowing glances:

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This scene follows a montage of Sebastian and Mia’s potential lives together and unlike Moonlight it does rely on some level of emotional manipulation. From a storytelling perspective the filmmaker doesn’t trust the audience to understand and care about the implications of the main characters’ decisions without being explicitly shown. The viewer only really starts to realize how much they want to see Sebastian and Mia together after they are shown that version.

Because of this the scene from La La Land lacks any real emotional depth – the kind that comes from implicit storytelling – exactly the kind that you feel when that chair makes impact in Moonlight. It’s the basics of storytelling: show don’t tell. La La Land tells, Moonlight shows. Showing means you have something to come back to when you mull the movie over in your mind the next day at work, while falling asleep, while checking a box on a voting ballot.

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This is why La La Land was never in real contention for Best Original Screenplay. It’s the reason why La La Land drew audiences in at first sight but ultimately fizzled. It’s the reason Moonlight came out victorious – because it was a slow burn. Each time you think about it, there’s another layer to peel away. By the time the end credits roll, La La Land has nothing left.

In the end it’s pretty simple. La La Land lost because it peaked too fast without the substance to maintain its pace. Moonlight campaigned to be everything that La La Land wasn’t and like the fable, slow and steady won the race.

@ElysiaRM


Both script snippets were found here. If you are interested in reading more about the way that the Academy tally’s Best Picture votes, you can check out Third Man Movies blog post on the subject or this article.

The Guardian had a good article concerning the critical backlash against La La Land, which you should check out for more details. Articles concerning La La Land‘s awards run up to the Oscars include the following: TIFF People’s Choice Award, The Golden Globes, SAG Awards, the BAFTAS

All pictures are respectfully borrowed from Moonlight‘s IMDB page.

 

 

 

 

The Academy Giveth; The Academy Taketh Away

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Every night when I go to bed, I pray that I will learn two things before I die:

  1. What happens if the final tribal council vote on Survivor is a tie; and
  2. What happens if the wrong winner is announced, on live TV, during the Oscar broadcast.

While I may be left wondering about the Survivor thing for some time to come, (damn it CBS, just tell us already!) Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards broadcast answered my second burning question. Oddly, I suspect the answer might be the same for #1 as well.

Chaos. That’s what happens.

Let’s take a step back for a second. I’m sure that approximately 1.2 billion blog posts are in the works as we speak to analyze what happened. All I know is that only two people know the results of the Oscar ballots prior to their reveal during the ceremony (Please, Jeff, I’m begging you). These two people are accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company that apparently hates predictable results as much as they hate the space bar. The two accountants arrive each year on the red carpet with a briefcase each containing identical copies of all award envelopes to be presented. Let’s be real, they probably have a taser hidden somewhere too.

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Right, so they arrive and are ushered back stage where they are positioned on opposite sides of the stage. The idea is that no matter which side of the stage a presenter enters from, an envelope will be there waiting for them. It makes a lot of sense from a production standpoint since I’m sure PwC doesn’t care to also include stage direction on the outside of their envelopes. It’s a flexible model to accommodate the fluid nature of live television.

So presumably the issue here is that Leonardo DiCaprio enters from one side of the stage, collecting the Best Actress envelope as he saunters out. Once that award and acceptance speech are done, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway enter from the opposite side and are accidentally handed the same envelope. It’s not that the Best Picture envelope contains the Best Actress card, it’s that two identical copies of each award envelope exist. So Beatty opens the award and looks confused by the sound of his illustrious career swishing by his ears. Welcome to Internet Meme-ry, Warren. It’s nice of you to join us.

Joking aside, you can’t help but feel bad for the presenters in addition to the mistakenly awarded. They’re reading from the wrong card! What is more it’s the perfect storm of screw-ups. Not only is La La Land a believable winner for the Best Picture category (we’d all have been confused if it was O.J.: Made in America in the envelope), but Emma Stone’s win is also required in order to facilitate that mistake. If Meryl Streep’s name is in the envelope, we’d never have believed Florence Foster Jenkins won an award it wasn’t nominated for – even Meryl can’t pull that one off.

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So La La Land is announced, awards are handed out, speeches are made (oh God, the cringe!), chattering begins in the background, and chaos ensues – along with a pretty gracious hand-over (kudos to La La Land for that).

I know that we need to talk about Moonlight‘s win – and we will. It’s a little unfortunate that it was overshadowed by the debacle and I’ve seen that same feedback from a number of bloggers this morning – but, BUT: This. Is. History! It’s a historic win and a historic mistake! Especially in the Best Picture category – the award of the night (or early morning…excuse me while I cry into my Eastern Standard Time a little). It’s what makes these sorts of live shows fun. We all loved Jennifer Lawrence a little bit more after she tripped up the stairs a few years ago. Whenever people go off-script, the audience leans in and they’re more likely to tune in next year.

Yeah we didn’t have a moment to really reflect on the magnitude of a Moonlight win, but we will be talking about the Moonlight win for years and years to come. I’d argue it might even be good for Moonlight – think of the free press! Controversy breeds interest. If the film is a classic, it will be a classic, debacle or no.

It was an unpredictable end to an otherwise over-inflated, boring, soggy bread (Jeremy Renner?) ceremony. For now, I’m satisfied to have the answer to at least one of my burning questions! (You have the power to end this, CBS.)

@ElysiaRM


This morning, I read this article from Vox to get a better understanding of what had unfolded. All images are taken from the Academy’s website.

Disclaimer: I know there was more to this year’s ceremony than just this episode. I’m going to write about how and why Moonlight won, how and why La La Land lost, and what it means for our place in Oscar history. Once I do, I’ll post a link here.

Oscar Predictions 2017: Does La La Land Take It All?

It’s the biggest night of the year in Hollywood and in anticipation, here’s my complete, finalized, no-take-backsies Oscar predictions for 2017.

The Top of the Ballot

Best Picture

The Golden Avocado goes to: Lion
The Oscar will go to: La La Land
For a little while it looked as though La La Land might have peaked but with the ceremony only a few hours away the hype-train seems to still be on track. There’s a colourfulness and cheeriness to La La Land that is undeniably contagious. Sure it’s been done better before – but this musical is certain to be singing from the rooftops tonight, even if it’s a little off-key.

Best Actor

The Golden Avocado goes to: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
The Oscar will go to: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Actor (often awarded late in the evening) is the biggest nail-biter on this list for me. With apologies to Gosling, Mortensen, and Garfield, Best Actor is a two-man race between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. Casey should win, without a doubt – but his settlement (which I won’t get into here) hasn’t made him a favourite with Oscar voters and he’s up against Denzel’s hand-shaking, baby-kissing, charm. I suspect it might be too difficult a set back to overcome.
If we’re looking at the films alone though, Casey says with one look what Denzel says in a massive monologue. I just don’t think there’s a contest here. If it’s an Affleck loss, as I’ve predicted, it’s almost exclusively politically based.

Best Supporting Actor

The Golden Avocado goes to: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
The Oscar will go to: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
This is a weird category because of how non-competitive it is. Mahershala Ali is going to win for Moonlight, as he should, but I just wish he was up against a better field. Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, Dev Patel is outshone by Sunny Pawar in Lion (who arguably should have been nominated here instead), and no one saw Nocturnal Animals (sorry Michael Shannon). The only one that could give Mahershala a run for his money is Lucas Hedges, but I doubt it.

Best Actress

The Golden Avocado goes to: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
The Oscar will go to: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Despite the fact that Isabelle Huppert is one of the best actresses currently working in Europe, we’re probably going to see an Emma Stone win tonight. I can’t really wrap my head around this one – I just don’t think Stone’s performance was that remarkable. I suspect it may be more of a young career award for her past work in films such as The Help (2011).

Best Supporting Actress

The Golden Avocado goes to: Viola Davis (Fences)
The Oscar will go to: Viola Davis (Fences)
I didn’t like Fences. I did like Viola Davis. The Academy loves snot-crying. This one is a lock.

Best Animated Feature Film

The Golden Avocado goes to: Moana
The Oscar will go to: Zootopia
I have a soft spot for the Disney musical, but it goes more or less without saying that the time is ripe for a Zootopia win. With themes of cultural diversity and acceptance, it fits within the 2016 narrative. The raving critical reception and strong box office (over a billion!) certainly don’t hurt either!

Achievement in Cinematography

The Golden Avocado goes to: Moonlight
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Moonlight is a beautifully crafted film with both explicit and implied storytelling. Scenes are beautifully shot and lighted in order to reinforce characterization. The end shot alone deserves this award – but ultimately, I think Moonlight will fall victim to La La Land‘s colour and vibrancy. The scene in which a dance number is carried out around a pool, for instance, features sweeping camera movements that eventually find the camera underwater before reemerging – all in one seamless shot. I’m calling this one for La La Land.

Achievement in Directing

The Golden Avocado goes to: Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
The Oscar will go to: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Damien Chazelle is no stranger to the awards circuit, having been through the process in 2015 for Whiplash. He’s been sweeping up awards for months now, including the Golden Globe and Directors Guild awards. This one feels like a lock – with his biggest competition coming from Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. I personally admired Kenneth Lonergan’s work in Manchester by the Sea for his ability to let scenes play out as awkwardly and uncomfortably as they would in real life. Great performances like Affleck’s are supported by great directors.
With that said, if we see a Jenkins win in the director category, we’re likely up for a big Moonlight upset for Best Picture – which would certainly add some excitement!

Best Documentary (Feature)

The Golden Avocado goes to: OJ: Made in America
The Oscar will go to: OJ: Made in America
Though I adored Life, Animated, the sheer advertising and marketing force behind OJ: Made in America is undeniable. I think this is another lock.

Adapted Screenplay

The Golden Avocado goes to: Lion
The Oscar will go to: Moonlight
Moonlight was bumped from the original screenplay category on a technicality as it is based on an unproduced stageplay. There’s little doubt that it will win – though I’d argue that Lion deserves a second look.

Original Screenplay

The Golden Avocado goes to: Manchester by the Sea
The Oscar will go to: Manchester by the Sea
This is one of the few categories where I sense that La La Land is going to fall short. Kenneth Lonergan’s ability to write realistic scenes in Manchester by the Sea is unparalleled. For instance take the scene in which Casey Affleck’s character arrives at the hospital, only to learn that his brother died before his arrival. In this scene, Lonergan lets the awkwardness and discomfort of the situation rest on the dialogue, as we are shown Affleck signing for his brother’s belongings. It feels like you are in a real hospital, witnessing a real tragedy. There’s no montage or even music to lean on – it just happens.

Best Original Score

The Golden Avocado goes to: La La Land
The Oscar will go to: La La Land
As much as I harped on the singing in La La Land, the film was beautifully scored. I think this is an easy win for the musical.

Best Original Song

The Golden Avocado goes to: “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
The Oscar will go to: “City of Stars” from La La Land
I just want to see Lin Manuel Miranda EGOT – and we just might if the La La Land double-entry splits Academy votes, but I doubt it. Thankfully the live performances of La La Land‘s Best Original Song entries will be performed by John Legend at the ceremony tonight instead of Gosling and Stone.

The Best of the Rest

Achievement in Film Editing

The Golden Avocado goes to: Moonlight
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Achievement in Production Design

The Golden Avocado goes to: La La Land
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

The Golden Avocado goes to: Star Trek Beyond
The Oscar will go to: Star Trek Beyond

Achievement in Costume Design

The Golden Avocado goes to: La La Land
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Best Animated Short Film

The Golden Avocado goes to: Piper
The Oscar will go to: Piper

Best Live Action Short Film

The Oscar will go to: Sing

Achievement in Sound Editing

The Golden Avocado goes to: Hacksaw Ridge
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Golden Avocado goes to: La La Land
The Oscar will go to: La La Land

Achievement in Visual Effects

The Golden Avocado goes to: The Jungle Book
The Oscar will go to: The Jungle Book

Best Documentary (Short Subject)

The Oscar will go to: Watani: My Homeland

Best Foreign Language Film

The Oscar will go to: The Salesman

So that leaves us with 11 awards for La La Land out of a possible 14, including Best Picture. All that’s left is to see where the chips fall.

What do you think of my predictions? Let me know in the comments.

@ElysiaRM

The Political Oscars: I want to thank God, the Academy, and [insert cause here]!

With a new and controversial president and a room full of the liberal elite, it’s almost certain to be a very political night at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Meryl Streep started the trend with her Golden Globes acceptance speech on January 8, 2017, in which she criticized then president-elect Donald Trump.

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This is nothing out of the ordinary – the Oscars have always been political! Leonardo DiCaprio’s overdue coronation last year can be equally attributed to his performance as to how many luncheons he attended and how many hands he shook. Nominees often do the talk-show circuit and something as simple as a Saturday Night Live appearance can ingratiate contenders to voters and secure a win.

Outside of the inner-workings of Academy voting, the Oscars draw tens of millions of viewers each year to the broadcast. With a captive audience and 30 seconds until the long-winded are played off stage by the orchestra (which hilariously adopted the Jaws theme in 2013), winners have the podium to thank God, their families, the Academy (never forget the Academy!) and champion their favourite cause.

So in light of the current political and social climate, here are 7 of the most political Academy Award acceptance speeches:

7. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a shout out to environment (2016)

When six-time nominee Leonardo DiCaprio was finally awarded his Oscar in 2016 for his grueling semi-fictional portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant, he urged those present not to “take this planet for granted.” Inspired by the unseasonably warm weather in Calgary that forced the production to relocate in search of snow, DiCaprio proclaimed that the Revenant was about “man’s relationship to the natural world,” which serves his point but forgets the way in which nature is manipulated to serve Glass’ purpose. Either way the crowd is with him all the way though – perhaps just relieved that they don’t have to suffer hearing about a DiCaprio snub for yet another year.

Skip to 3:26 to hear the political portion of the speech.

6. Patricia Arquette brings Meryl to her feet (2015)

Initially I hadn’t intended to include Patricia Arquette’s impassioned Best Supporting Actress speech (won for her work in Boyhood) on women’s work place and social equality. Though the majority of Oscar speeches are no doubt practiced repeatedly in Hollywood’s gilded showers, I tend to favour the more impromptu appearing speeches. This speech is read almost entirely – it’s kind of impersonal.

Arquette’s brief message (perhaps the shortest on the list) cites wage inequality and general equal rights – but what’s really amazing about the speech is Meryl Streep, who leaps to her feet, claps, and points enthusiastically to the stage in support. It’s an instant meme!

Skip to 2:50 for the beginning of Arquette’s message.

5. Graham Moore wants us all to keep it weird (2016)

Graham Moore’s acceptance speech after winning best adapted screenplay for The Imitation Game makes it onto this list because of how genuine, honest, and off-the-cuff it feels. After thanking the Academy and Oprah (as you would), Moore confides in the audience about his suicide attempt at 16-years-old because he felt like he didn’t fit in. In a year moved by the Oscars So White campaign, Moore’s encouragement to “Stay weird. Stay different.” did not fall on deaf ears. It’s a multi-layered, dark, and oddly cheerful and hopeful message that is meant to be received in whatever way the viewer needs to perceive it.

4. Vanessa Redgrave on Zionism (1978)

Sometimes political messages aren’t very well recieved – as with this speech delivered by Vanessa Redgrave for her Best Supporting Actress win for Julia. In her characteristically calm timbre, Redgrave “salutes” and “pays tribute to” her colleagues who have “stood firm and [have] refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” Yikes. The moment “Zionist” exits her mouth a smattering of boos is heard in the quiet theatre.

Unfortunately the ill-received speech ultimately overshadowed the awards ceremony and the film itself. Presenter Paddy Chayefsky commented later in the night on the speech, stating that he was “sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.” Instead he offers to Redgrave that “a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.” Oh Paddy, welcome to the Oscars!

The speech starts at 1:52.

Just for fun, here’s Paddy’s take on the speech later in the evening as well.

3. Tom Hanks emotional acceptance speech for Philadelphia (1993)

In his first win for Best Actor for his work in Philadelphia in 1993, Tom Hanks delivered a speech on the American AIDS epidemic that really tugs on the heart strings. It’s probably the most moving speech on this list and thereby perhaps one of the most powerful too because it feels genuinely selfless and reflective.

The speech starts at 0:53.

2. Michael Moore is not ready to make nice (2003)

When Michael Moore and Michael Donovan won the Academy Award for best Documentary (Feature) for Bowling for Columbine in 2003, things started off on a positive note. Moore invited all fellow documentary nominees up on the stage (aw, how sweet!) and then proceeded to protest that despite the efforts of documentary filmmakers to portray honest and genuine non-fiction, they instead “live in fictitious times” with a “fictitious president.” Sounds a bit too familiar, doesn’t it? His proclamations are met with a round of boos.

Moore goes on to rail against the war in Afghanistan and the boos only get louder as his voice and tempo escalate. By the end, he’s directly speaking to the president as the orchestra frantically tries to play him off the stage: “We are against this war, Mr. Bush! Shame on you, Mr. Bush! Shame on you! And any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up!”

Skip to 0:57 for the beginning of Moore’s speech and strap in.

1. Marlon Brando refuses to accept Best Actor for The Godfather (1972)

It doesn’t get more political than this instance – in which Marlon Brando declined his Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in The Godfather (1972). In his stead, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather. As Littlefeather approaches the podium, presenter Roger Moore offers her the trophy and she politely declines.

As an Apache and President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, Littlefeather explains that Marlon Brando has asked her to decline the award by way of a 15-page speech. Littlefeather’s abbreviated version is met with both scattered boos and applause and is made up entirely on-the-spot as she had been warned earlier not to exceed the allotted 60 seconds.

Wonder why you don’t see proxy speeches at the Oscars anymore? After this incident (starting at 0:57) they were banned.

That’s it for my top 7 most political Oscar acceptance speeches. Are there any I missed out? Let me know in the comments.

@ElysiaRM


If you are interested in seeing the transcripts of these and many more great Oscar acceptance speeches, check out the Academy’s database here.

The image of Oscar was borrowed respectfully from this site. I added the political garb!

For Honor: A Shooter with Swords or a Shooter without Guns?

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I was excited to play Ubisoft’s new historic war game, For Honor, when I got an invitation to participate in the open beta on Jan 26-29, 2017. The concept of participating in large scale sword battles as a viking, knight, or samurai (let’s be honest, samurai) was something out of an overgrown child’s imagination. However, despite having a decent discount on Amazon, I found myself cancelling my pre-order by the end of the weekend.

The game answers the age old question of which of these marketable deadly warriors would win in a fight: vikings, knights, or samurai, in what must have been pitched as Deadliest Warrior: The Game (even though that was already done). In For Honor, the player takes control of a combatant in one of these factions and does combat with other players in 1 vs. 1 duels, 2 vs. 2 brawls, or 4 vs. 4 battles where opposing armies of AI cannon fodder charge into battle in order to overtake the map.

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It all sounds very similar to a standard multiplayer shooter in terms of scale and objectives but what makes For Honor so special is that it sports an innovative combat system that makes melee fights more interesting than its gun toting counterparts. That is to say, For Honor does not feature guns as primary weaponry like you would see in Call of Duty or Battlefield. For Honor‘s system adds complexity to its melee combat instead.

Players lock themselves in one-on-one duels with a single enemy. While you aren’t attacking, you are defending one of three sides: up, left, and right. Attacking is done using the same directions, and a player must land a blow in a direction differing to that of the defending player’s guard, otherwise the attack is blocked. It really makes you slow down, read your opponent for openings, and time your attacks to quickly dispatch your opponent. On top of that, you can dodge, grapple, throw, and strike quickly or heavily. There is so much depth to the combat that Ubisoft could have designed the rest of the game around it. However that is not what we got.

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A combat tutorial. Your guard direction is indicated by the three arrows over your avatar.

What we get with the 4 vs. 4 battles was the setup of a shooter – teams of 4 players fighting each other while trying to control objectives on a map – with the ranged combat replaced with the new melee combat. The result is a watered down experience as the new combat system does not adequately compensate for the removal of gun play. The objectives and goals stay the same but now the player only has one option to complete them, which is to engage your opponents up close, one at a time. It almost doesn’t matter how unique each encounter can be since the player is forced to play according a certain play style.

What makes shooters really fun is variety. Variety in weapons, map designs, and gameplay objectives. It supports the idea that every player plays the game differently, leading to more dynamic games and keeping players engaged in the action. Restricting the player takes away any lasting power that the game might have because each match starts feeling the same after a while. When a game starts feeling repetitive the player will look elsewhere for something more exciting, and that’s a problem when dealing with games focusing more on a multiplayer experience.

For comparison, we’ll be looking at a shooter that has a lot of variety in weapons, maps, and objectives: Halo 3. This game is structured much like For Honor with the teams of players fighting for objectives on a map. The key difference is what Halo 3 is able to do with ranged combat that cannot be done in For Honor‘s restrictive melee combat.

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Halo 3 sports many options for the player, as illustrated with the multitude of weapons in this image.

Weapons

The first and most obvious difference is in what weapons are at the player’s disposal. As already established, For Honor deals exclusively in melee weapons and while the range of melee weapons is decently varied (multiple swords, axes, polearms, etc.) the way they control is similar enough that the player is still restricted in their strategy. On the other hand, Halo 3 has a very diverse selection of weapons that change the way the game is played. The battle rifle is good for mid to long range targets, shotguns and energy swords for close range. The player can employ powerful one-hit weapons that can be easy to use like rocket launchers or ones that require some more dexterity like the Spartan laser. For Honor doesn’t have as much to offer so in regards to weapons (and their associated play styles) it’s actually removing choice from the player.

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Halo 3’s weapon selection.

Maps

Having only melee weaponry means that maps don’t need to be as complex and probably benefit from not having obstacles or structures scattered about, which would encumber the player’s movement and make it more difficult to fight their opponents. This results in simple, uninteresting landscapes with only one way to maneuver from one end to the other. Complicated maps with interior and exterior areas, multi-storied platforms, and gaps for jumping over would prove too difficult to traverse. That speaks volumes about the limitations of For Honor, since maps like this fit right at home with Halo 3.

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A featured map in the Beta. Beautiful but simple and mostly an open field.

In Halo 3 combat can be done at any angle, incorporating the field for cover or positioning, and the game allows the player to traverse the map by either jumping or using the map’s features like gravity lifts or teleporters.The map plays a part in fights just as much as the weapons do whereas For Honor‘s maps serve more as an interchangeable aesthetic theme. The map plays no role in a fight unless you count the edges of the map where you can (hilariously) knock opponents off. A match played on one map is no different than another because the limitations of the game don’t allow it to.

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Ramps, platforms, and gravity lifts in this Halo 3 map. This isn’t even the whole map in its entirety.

Gameplay Objectives

Another disconnection that For Honor has with the player is what game play objective they should be invested in. The Beta featured a game mode called Dominion that played like a three pronged king of the hill where players fight for control of three capture points for their team. The confusion with this is that holding these points on the map seems to be the only thing that was important in winning the game. Directly speaking from experience: no matter how many kills I got I was always on the losing end of the battle. I soon realized that staying in a captured zone actually increased your score faster. Since the game doesn’t end until the last player on either team is killed during sudden death, it was actually a viable strategy to stay completely still. If that sounds unbelievable, watch this match that I recorded where my team wins with the lower score (skip to 8:30, my team is orange):

Graphic content warning.

The problem with this mode is how much the player has to run around keeping tabs on each capture point to stay ahead. Combat almost feels optional unless two opposing players find themselves in the same capture zone. It feels like fighting gets in the way of completing the objective if you have to stop for a few seconds to dispatch an opponent. There isn’t a whole lot of flow between objectives and combat unlike in Halo 3, where given the same setup the objectives can be fought for across the map from one another, using the variety of short to long range weaponry. Moving in to capture these points can also be approached in multiple ways with the versatile design of the maps, and since combat doesn’t slow you down it never strays from your objective just to fight another player.

A game that goes against the grain like this is deserving of praise for trying something new and a shooter game that puts its focus into swordplay is definitely innovative. The problem is not what it adds to the genre however it’s what it takes away that is more evident. That makes For Honor feel less like a shooter with swords as advertised and just a shooter without guns instead.

@Cowanch


For Honor is developed and published by Ubisoft Montreal and is available for PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

Halo 3 is developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft.