Friday, 28 February 2014

Oscar, Oscar, who will win??

My annual predictions, and my picks, for Oscar glory on Sunday.

Best Picture - Gravity

We are being lead to believe that 12 Years a Slave is the frontrunner here but I'm going to call for the mild upset here. The slavery piece, while brilliant, is hard enough to watch that it will turn off a handful of voters, giving the award to the equally brilliant Gravity.

Who should win: Well, The Spectacular Now, but since it's not even nominated.... Gravity.

Best Actor - Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

It's an amazing year for actors when just about everyone agrees that Christian Bale's incredible performance in American Hustle has zero chance to win this prize.

McConaughey has all the momentum and he checks all the boxes: huge physical transformation? Check. Well known, well liked actor? Check. In a well received movie that has no real chance to win Best Picture? Check.

Oh, and did I mention he's really, REALLY good in this film? Check.

Who SHOULD win: I'm picking Bruce Dern for Nebraska in what amounts to almost a five-way tie. Every nominee in this category is completely worthy and all deserve to win.

Best Actress - Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Most experts say that this is THE lock of the evening. I think it's as close to a slam dunk as there is, but there is one category below that I think qualifies as the sure thing.

One of these days, the brilliant Amy Adams is going to get her statue, but she's up against one of the great performances in recent memory; and the fact that Blanchett had to work with Woody Allen will only enhance her chances.

Who SHOULD win: Blanchett

It's also a great year for the ladies, obviously, as nobody is giving Meryl Streep a snowball's chance in Hell of winning this thing (not to mention Judy Dench or even Sandra Bullock).

Best Director - Alfonso Cuarón , Gravity

Like Ang Lee for Life of PI last year, the technical brilliance of this film ensures this outcome. Another near-lock.

who SHOULD win: Cuarón. Have you SEEN this movie??

Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Sure he dressed in drag, which the Academy loves, but he was more than that; Leto gives a nuanced, heartbreaking performance as the AIDS-stricken cross-dresser. He's mesmerizing.

Who SHOULD win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave in a photo-finish over Leto. Both are worthy but Fassbender brings such strength and power to a character that audiences can do nothing but hate, he gets my vote.

Best Supporting Actress - Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave

The newcomer brings emotion, strength, desperation and hope all at the same time in a performance for the ages. She's really, really good, and has taken all the awards momentum away from the original frontrunner, Jennifer Lawrence.

Who SHOULD win: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine. She has almost zero chance, but without her quirky, loving, white-trash character, this movie would completely collapse under the weight of Blanchett's socialite. Hawkins is just as important to this movie as Blanchett.

Best Animated Feature Film - Frozen

This has to be THE slam dunk of the evening. If anything else wins this award, I am going to punch my TV multiple times. Frozen should have been in the running for Best Picture.

Despicable Me 2 was excellent, as was (I've heard) the Croods, and Mizayaki's last film will garner some emotion, but this is a no-brainer.

who SHOULD win: Duh

Best Original Screenplay - Eric Warren Singer and David O Russell, American Hustle

This film was considered a dark horse to win the big prize up until recently, but the Academy cannot completely overlook a movie nominated for just about every major award.

who SHOULD win: American Hustle; with much respect to the writers of Nebraska and Her.

Best Adapted Screenplay - John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

This is how the Academy rewards this film without giving it the Best Picture nod.

who SHOULD win: Ridley. It's a great film, and it's a very well-written story.

Best Original Song - "Let it Go", Frozen

Bono was on Jimmy Fallon last week and even HE doesn't think U2 has a shot at this; I wouldn't be stunned to see U2 on the stage but "Let it Go" is just a better song.

Who SHOULD win: Let it Go

I'm not going to get into the more technical categories, but suffice it to say that GRAVITY is a slam dunk in most of them. OK if Gravity doesn't win for "Best Visual Effects" THAT will be the biggest upset of the night.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Mick Foley, the WWE, and pro wrestling in general

Last week, some good friends and I made the trek out to New Westminster for a Valentine's Day date with the Hardcore Legend himself: Mick Foley.

For those of you who haven't been following his post-WWE antics, he's taken to stand up comedy; or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. It's more storytelling than actual stand-up, but I'm splitting hairs.

For about 90 minutes, Mick had the audience in stitches. I could honestly have listened to him speak for 5 hours, but we were there for the early show and there was another show so he had to get off. Anyone who has seen any of his WWE promos knows that there have been few, if any, men who could work a microphone like Cactus Jack/Dude Love/Mankind/Mick Foley/Doink the Clown.

Kidding, Mick never portrayed Doink (as far as I know).

In addition to being a gifted storyteller, and having some terrific stories to tell (which always helps), Foley has a warmth and an "everyman" quality which endears him to audiences. This is evident on stage, and even more so during the "meet and greet" that he hosts before or after every show on his tour.

Mick couldn't have been nicer; answering any questions and signing autographs (no extra charge), posing for accommodating as you could possibly ask. We were 3rd or 4th in line, and while we were waiting, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that Foley was tired; very tired. I'm not sure exactly how many shows he had previously done (dozens?), but that kind of travel will wear on anyone; and Mick Foley was not just anyone. He's the Hardcore Legend, and he has done more with his body than any human being in existence should EVER do. And he did it all to earn a living (of course), but mostly, he did it all for US: the wrestling fan. He did it to entertain us, and to make sure we felt like we got out money's worth when we bought a ticket to a WWE/F event, or bought a Pay-per-view.

At what cost? It was a bit uncomfortable to watch him hobble around on stage. Mick would be the first to admit he's put on a pound or two since retiring from active competition, but it's much more than that. The years and years of abuse has taken a toll on his body that most human beings cannot possible imagine. Don't believe me? Check out the end of this clip.

Yes, that is Foley (as Mankind) being "thrown" off the top of the Hell in a Cell steel cage.

If ANY of you are saying to yourself "yeah, but they are professional wrestlers, they know how to fall", please stop reading this immediately, go to your kitchen, grab the biggest butcher knife you can find, and slam it into your skull until you pass out or die.


And you know what? As Foley so eloquently puts it in his show, that incredible industry-defining moment was the SECOND worst thing to happen to him during that match. Second. SECOND!!!! Later in the match, the Undertaker choke-slammed Mankind THROUGH the cage (yes, after that scene I posted, Foley managed to get his bearings and climb back up to the top of the cage and keep performing!!!), down to the ring, where Foley was knocked literally unconscious.

He did that for US. For our entertainment.

I wonder if he knows how revered he is in the business, and by wrestling fans everywhere? I hope he does. I wish I had told him that during the meet and greet. I should have.

Foley is far from the only wrestler who has paid the price for his in-ring performances. Watch the Iron Sheik walk these days. Or Hulk Hogan. Hell, watch the Great Khali, who is still wrestling, walk to the ring. He apparently has no cartilage left in his knees. It shows; he takes so long to get to the ring the WWE can usually cut to commercial, and get back before he gets there.

The Undertaker reportedly had a broken ankle during that match I posted above. Before the match started. BROKEN ANKLE, and he still managed to perform in that match.

You think pro wrestling is fake? There is nothing fake about it. These guys and ladies put their health and lives on the line every single night. Sure, it's entertainment; the outcome of the matches is pre-determined; but that's not the point. They take their bodies to the breaking point, 300 or so nights a year, for our entertainment.

Just last week, Nelson Frazier Jr, who wrestled as Mabel/Viscera/Big Daddy V passed away at the age of 44. Forty-four. Ok perhaps this is not the best example of the rigors of the business, as Frazier was morbidly obese and a heart-attack was sadly almost pre-determined; but there are countless examples of pro wrestlers in peak physical condition who passed well before their time. If I were to start naming them, we'd be here for hours; and I'm not trying to be morbid, and I'm not trying to be negative on the business that I love. I'm just trying to point out how incredible these athletes are. And it doesn't really matter what they look like; huge "attraction-type" wrestlers like Frazier, or Yokozuna, or Andre the Giant, or Haystacks Calhoun...... or world class athletes like Brian Pillman, Eddie Guerrero or Andrew "Test" Martin.....the business takes it's toll. They give everything to the business, and sometimes the business takes everything in return. I can't think of any industry where the employees give so much to try to stay on top.

I love the WWE, and at the same time, I absolutely hate it.

Here's hoping that we never have to hear another story of a pro wrestler, current or former, passing away well before their time.

Thank you, Mick, for everything you have done, and continue to do. I wish you all the best.