Chickening Out

I’ve been struggling with an idea for a while, and every time I think about writing it down, I chicken out. Not because it would be hard to do (which it would be), but because it would be difficult to acknowledge something about myself. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am generally a smart and thoughtful person. I’m smart, witty and a bit of a know-it-all, especially about animals. I love to read and find more information about the things that interest me, as I view learning as an ongoing process. As I say regularly to the students I work with: “In science, there is no such thing as I don’t know. It is just another opportunity to learn.”

But, in this story of mine that happened earlier in 2017, I was not smart. I avoided something that shouldn’t have been avoided. I pretended to be ok when I wasn’t. I didn’t ask questions because I didn’t want to seem stupid. And I didn’t ask for help when I needed it, and potentially could have saved myself from the genuinely most painful experience of my life.

Side note – Before I start, I decided to finally write this for two reasons:
1) There was a death in the family recently. My uncle was a great and kind man, who will be greatly missed. He went through so much in his life that could have beaten him down and made him give up, but he never did. He was always a great source of comfort, and remembering him now gives me the courage to write this down.
2) I was on Twitter recently, and came across a tweet from a friend of mine that I haven’t spoken to for a while. She’s had a rough time of it and had to deal with some very difficult things in her life, and I’m proud to call her my friend. Seeing this tweet of hers, which was just a retweet of something she found interesting, reminded me of her and her strength to document a very difficult time in her life, and motivated me to do the same. She was not afraid. What happened to me was different, of course, but she inspired and continues to inspire me. Thank you, Erin.

It all started with a tingle.

A few months ago, I was sitting and watching TV with my brother on a Friday evening, when my left side under my armpit felt a little “off.” It didn’t hurt or was tender, but instead it felt as if I had lost some sensation there. Not only that, but the area extended slightly towards my back and front. It was as if approximately a two-inch wide area extending from under my armpit on my left side fell asleep. I thought it was peculiar but gave it no mind. After all, it only tingled.

The next day, the sensation was still there, but I was busy and I honestly didn’t even really notice it or think about it that much, since it didn’t hurt. That night, Daniel and I saw a movie (I don’t recall what) and I quickly noticed I kept leaning in my chair to my right side, as it had become slightly uncomfortable to put pressure on the left side. It was so gradual that I didn’t even consciously notice it until that point. So I naturally thought that the opposite had happened – that the area had gone from being less sensitive to increasingly so. I was actually a bit relieved, as I naturally thought “well, I hope that means it will get back to normal soon.”

After I got home from the movie, I took off my t-shirt and looked in the mirror to see what was going on, and I saw some red splotches on my back and under my arm. “Oh, it’s a rash!” I thought, relieved. So, I did what I normally do when I have a rash – took some Benadryl and figured it would disappear during the night. Following that, I went to bed … and slept on my right side.

The next morning, I woke up early because I was helping out my sister with a school event. I was making fluffy slime at a fundraiser from 11am-3pm, and I had to make sure I had all the ingredients ready to go before I drove to the school to set-up. When I was getting changed, I looked at the rash and it was still there, and had extended from under my armpit to towards my torso and back for around an inch or so, the same area where I had felt that “tingle” two days prior. I thought that I must have been in contact with something a few days ago that caused the sensation and led to a rash. Therefore, I took some additional Benadryl and went to the event.

As I arrived, the rash was hurting a bit from the movements you make while driving (turning, checking your blind spot, etc.) but I was determined to push through. I met up with my sister and got ready for the event, which was a huge success. The fluffy slime was immensely popular, and I hardly had a moment to think, much less worry about a rash, except for one brief moment.

My parents came by the event to visit and spend some time with their grandchildren, who were also helping out with the event, and I pulled my dad aside and asked him what to do about this rash that seemingly wasn’t responding to Benadryl. I trust my dad with this stuff, and he’s been extremely supportive and helpful with some of the health issues I’ve had in the past. My dad said that it could maybe be something, and that I should see my family doctor on Monday after work if it didn’t get any better. I agreed and proceeded with the event. Then my mom came up to me a short time later and asked me what is wrong, as I had just twisted awkwardly and grimaced in pain. I quickly explained to her the situation and she agreed with my dad. She then suggested that it could be something, but I dismissed it practically immediately, as it was a silly suggestion, and what I had couldn’t be that. After all, it was nothing more than a particularly troublesome rash. After the event, I took it easy the rest of the day and made a mental note to call my doctor Monday morning when I got to work.

On Monday morning, I was a complete and utter mess. The rash began to feel uncomfortably warm, hurt to touch, and would occasionally cause a burst of pain when my shirt rubbed against it or I leaned back too far in my chair at work. The area on my torso didn’t hurt, just the spot on my back, under my shoulder-blade. I had continued to take Benadryl, but it was evident it was not working, and I had to do something. So, since my office has no windows and no other people in it, I took my shirt off – which helped almost immediately. The pain didn’t go away, but was minimized, and I didn’t feel as uncomfortable. But, I called my doctor and made an appointment for 5pm that afternoon.

I took it easy at work the rest of the day and at one point even took a towel, wet it with cold water, and laid it on my back to mitigate the “warm” sensation I had on my back. And when I did have a meeting in the afternoon, I took some Tylenol, put my shirt back on, and toughed it out.

I left work and headed to the doctor’s office, hoping that he would be able to provide some relief. When I arrived and was called into the office, the nurse came in and asked what was wrong. I explained about my rash, and she asked if she could see it, so I took off my shirt and turned around. “I know exactly what is wrong,” she said, and then left the room, leaving me alone, puzzled and confused.

My doctor arrived shortly after with his usual and casual attitude. “I hear you have a nasty rash,” he said, to which I agreed and told him the story. “Let me see it please,” he said, and I obliged him. Within half-a-second, he told me to turn around and put my shirt back on. “Well, I’m sorry to say I know exactly what that is,” and said the exact diagnosis my mom predicted approximately 28 hours before:


I had heard of shingles before, mostly from the pictures in my doctor’s office, advising people over the age of 50 to get vaccinated against it. I had learned a few things about it over the years – namely that you can only get it if you have had chickenpox, as it is the same disease. According to my doctor, when you have chickenpox as a child and the symptoms disappear, the virus (varicella-zoster) doesn’t get eliminated from your system. It stays dormant in your nerve cells, typically in your spinal cord or the base of you skull, until it somehow gets “reactivated” and proceeds to your skin, where it turns into painful blisters. Typically, prior to the blisters appearing, slight tingling appears along a nerve line (or dermatome) – which is why it spread in a line from my back, under my left shoulder blade, all the way under my armpit and ending below my nipple on my torso on the Friday night. The blisters that give shingles its name are extremely painful, as it causes inflammation of nerve cells within the affected dermatome.

After my doctor explained this to me, he asked me how the pain was, and I said that it wasn’t too bad. It hurt, of course, but nothing too serious. I said that it was about a 6 on a scale to 10. “You’re lucky,” he said, “as some people get terrible pain that is practically debilitating.” He then told me to come back if the pain changed and became unmanageable.

He also prescribed some antivirals to help shorten the length of the illness, and advised me to start taking it “yesterday,” as the earlier you take it to the presentation of symptoms, the better.

As I went to the pharmacy to fill the prescription, I spoke to the pharmacist, who was surprised that someone as young as me would have shingles. I embarrassingly asked about what could be used to help with the pain. She advised some calamine lotion (like what you use for bug bites) that was put in the fridge to cool me down, and maybe some lidocaine spray. I bought some calamine lotion and headed home. On my way, I called my mom, and told her she was right – as mothers love that.

That afternoon, the shingles were uncomfortable and warm, but not too painful. As for the calamine lotion, it hurt when I applied it, and really did nothing other than add a bit of a cooling sensation.

That evening, I tried to sleep only on my right side, as I knew that if I would roll over in my sleep onto the blisters it would hurt and wake me up, which it did around an hour later. And that was when the pain really ramped up. It felt as though my skin was ripped apart by barbed wire from the inside. The pain was so intense, that I thought my skin was on fire, as it came in waves. It would surge and be incredibly painful, followed by an ebb, then a prickle of pain followed by another surge. It was reliably consistent and extraordinarily painful. I’ve dealt with a decent amount of pain in my life – dislocated shoulder, sprained ankles, cutting my thumb open with a bagel knife, broken toes, and more, and other than when I was a child, didn’t really cry or let it show too much. But, if I’m brutally honest , I almost lost it a couple of times that night. It was unrelenting pain that seemed to have no end. Even now, almost six months after it subsided, I still lack the words to properly describe how much it hurt.

I could not sleep the rest of the night because of the near-constant pain and killed time reading about shingles, its causes and possible treatments – anything to get my mind off the pain. During the night, I learned that individuals can get shingles almost anywhere, even on their face and close to their eyes (which could be especially damaging). Some people even get the blisters on more than one dermatome, and I could not imagine having that sort of pain emanating from two different areas on my body.

After spending a whole night wide awake from the pain and doing anything possible to keep my mind occupied, I called in sick on Tuesday morning and told my supervisor my diagnosis. She was very understanding and told me to take as much time as I needed to get better. I then immediately called my doctor to report about the pain, but could unfortunately not be seen until Wednesday afternoon. And then I called my parents, who are both scientifically and medically minded, to ask what I could do for the pain. They said, “it is nerve pain – so nothing.”

I somehow went to a pharmacy that morning in a haze of discomfort to inquire about what could be done, and the pharmacist said the same thing as my parents. And sadly, she said, anything stronger required a prescription. As I learned, normal drugs like Tylenol or Aspirin against the pain would be like shooting a BB gun at a freight train to slow it down.

I spent the next 24 hours in a daze of immense pain, as the blisters almost covered the entire dermatome, from beneath my left shoulder-blade to all the way around to just under my nipple. And no matter what I did, nothing worked to get the pain to dull for a second of relief. Calamine lotion hurt too much to put on, a cool bath only helped for as long as I was in the water, and lidocaine spray my mom picked up for me was less than useless (since the pain was in the nerves, a topical treatment for the skin wouldn’t have helped anyway). And Tuesday night was just as bad as the previous one, as I could not sleep for more than 20-30 minutes because of the pain, no matter how tired I was. I explained it to my brother like this – imagine that every couple of seconds, someone rasps your skin with a cheese grater while simultaneously stabbing you there with a pitchfork.

Wednesday was more pain and limited relaxation, but ended with me going to the doctor, where he prescribed an opioid medication to help with the pain. After words of warning from both my doctor and pharmacist, I took one of the pills and the pain did die down eventually for a few hours. With that medication, the pain transformed from a burning, radiating pain to an uncomfortable one that was on the verge of being tolerable.

That night, for the first time since Monday, I was able to sleep for a few hours.

I continued in constant pain the rest of the week, as shingles does not go down without a fight. Every couple of seconds there would be a new burst of pain spreading like wildfire from the shingles. And while the pain medication helped, it only took away some of the pain. It was still present, but began to slowly improve as the days went on.

With shingles, the blisters eventually scab over and heal, but that takes time. When I reached the end of the antivirals, the shingles were still present, but slowly scabbing over. The rest of the week continued as a blur of pain, pills that I could only take every 4 hours, and trying to find that perfect balance between unbearable pain and livable discomfort.

For the first time in my life, I could understand how people could get addicted to pain medication. There were times I contemplated taking more than the recommended dosage to make the slight relief last longer, as with the pain I experienced from shingles, I never wanted it to rear its head and scorch my nerves again. I never did, but I saw just how easy it could have been to try to numb it all away.

Eventually, it did get better, and once the blisters scabbed over and the pain wasn’t as bad, I was able to go back to work. I stopped using the pills, as it is not a good idea to use them for too long, but the pain was still there, just dulled. It still took a few weeks for everything to disappear, and there is still some discolouration and occasional discomfort where the blisters were, but I am lucky. Some people continue to suffer the nerve pain long after the blisters have healed.

You might be wondering if people who have shingles can get it again. It’s complicated, and from what I can tell, still not well understood. But there is a risk of shingles recurring in some people, as the virus is never truly leave your system. While it is unlikely that I will get it again, it could happen, which is a scary thought.

Here’s an interesting fact about shingles – you can only get it if you had chickenpox, like I did as a kid. If you’ve never had chicken pox, you can’t get shingles. Full stop.

From what I’ve learned, individuals who previously had chickenpox get a bit of resistance from contracting shingles if they encounter someone with chickenpox. But, with the invention of the chickenpox vaccine, fewer children are contracting chickenpox, which means less protection from shingles for people who did have chickenpox. Which means that there might potentially be an increase in shingles cases are this generation gets older, becomes higher risk, and don’t come into contact with people who have chickenpox.

Also, no one really knows what causes the chickenpox virus to reactivate in someone’s body to cause shingles, as it doesn’t happen in everyone.

What about if you got the chickenpox vaccine, can you still get shingles? From what I can tell … probably not. At least, according to my research.

Now, before everyone starts freaking out, there is a shingles vaccine. It is typically prescribed to people in their 50s or 60s (because they are at a higher risk) to reduce their chance of contracting it, as well as reducing the severity of shingles if they are unlucky enough to get it. But since I was not in a high risk category, it never even entered my mind to get it. But now, after my experience with shingles, I highly advise you speak to your doctor about your risk of shingles and to get the vaccine.

While I am relatively ok now, my doctor said that the other symptoms that I have could last a while. Potentially forever. But as a result of this experience, I have learned not to ignore what my body is telling me and not be afraid to seek help if something is wrong.

Oh, and to always trust my mom’s diagnostic skills.

Magic in Me


One of my favourite superheroes has finally made his way to the big screen this past weekend, but what if you don’t know anything about Dr. Stephen Strange? Thankfully, dear reader, I have got you covered!

Who is Doctor Strange?

Doctor Stephen Strange was a celebrated and world-famous neurosurgeon – and had the ego to match. His arrogance made him think he was better than everyone, but it was only after a severe car crash mangled his hands that he thought he had lost the only thing that made him special. As a result, he spent his fortune trying every medical (and non-medical) treatment he could trying to fix his hands, but to no avail.

It was then that Strange heard of a healer known as the “Ancient One,” so he travelled to Tibet to meet him, but because of his arrogance, was promptly refused treatment. But, upon seeing the frail man resist an attack using mystical abilities, Strange was forced to admit that magic and evil existed and needed to be resisted. Strange then pledged to no longer pursue healing his hands for selfish reasons, but to protect and learn the mystic arts from the Ancient One, who was Earth’s magical protector known as the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

Strange studied under the Ancient One, and spent years training his body and mind to harness magic within himself, the Earth, and other dimensions. And he was a natural!

Upon the death of the Ancient One, Doctor Strange inherited the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.

Are you saying there is magic in Marvel movies now?

Basically, yes.

After introducing space and aliens in the Avengers, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, the realm of the supernatural was the next logical place to go. The Marvel universe in the comics is filled with supernatural allies and enemies, and is key to introducing different dimensions and the multiverse!

And, don’t forget what Thor said in his very first movie:

Who is the bad guy in the Doctor Strange movie?

The bad guy is called Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One, who desired darker abilities and powers beyond what was taught. So, he left the school with his followers and began finding ways to contact a more powerful master, which is where we meet him at the beginning of the movie.

So there’s a bad guy worse than Kaecilius? *WARNING – Minor spoilers below!*

Yes, called Dormammu. He is an ancient being and ruler of the Dark Dimension, and he seeks to bring all planets and realities into his domain. So, a pretty bad guy.

Who does Strange have to help him in the movie?

In addition to the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has help from both the mystical and human realms.

A fellow student, Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) takes a shine to Strange when he enters the school, and quickly becomes both a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.

Wong, who was Doctor Strange’s assistant in the comics, mans the library in the movie and is a powerful mystic in his own right. He is played by Benedict Wong.

And lastly, Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer, an Emergency Room doctor and one-time romantic partner of Strange who comes to his aid after his accident.


What did you think of the movie?

I really enjoyed it!

The images and effects were amazing, and very similar to the classic art from when Strange was first introduced in the comics in the 60s and 70s. While the villain, Kaecilius won’t win any awards, credit must be given to fleshing him out a little bit.

Cumberbatch was an amazing Doctor Strange, and I can’t wait to see him pop up in a future movie and become the Sorcerer Supreme. It was a great ride, and was a great primer of the magical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I whole-heartily recommend you see it – I know I’ll be seeing it again!

Are there mid-credits and after-credits scenes?

Oh yes!

One serves as a tease for an upcoming Marvel movie, while the other hints at what is to come in (hopefully) future Doctor Strange movies.

Final thoughts?

The movie was fantastic! It adds a big piece to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and was visually stunning.

**WARNING! BELOW ARE SPOILERS! Only read below to find out my thoughts on those two scenes**


In the mid-credits scene, you see Doctor Strange talking to Thor about why Thor brought his brother, the magical trickster Loki, to New York. Thor says that it is because they are looking for their father, Odin, who was replaced by Loki in the movie, Thor: The Dark World. Strange replies that he thinks he can help. This scene is a teaser for the upcoming Thor movie entitled Thor: Ragnarok, and it would make sense that Strange would become involved in his comings and goings, as it is rumoured to mainly take place in different dimensions and realms.

The after-credits scene has Mordo, after leaving the final battle, approaching Benjamin Bratt’s character (who was healed by magic earlier). Mordo goes into a bit of a speech about magic and the people who use it, before forcibly extracting the magic, leaving Bratt paralyzed on the floor. Mordo explains that there are “too many sorcerers,” and it looks like he will be taking the magic others have harnessed for his own uses. My theory is based on his comments at the end of the movie, where he states that breaking the natural laws of magic and reality should be punished, and these people are therefore unfit to wield magic. And, in so doing, will become the evil villain version of Mordo that he became in the comics.

*Spoilers end*

For the Love of Sport

I am not a sports guy, and I never really have been. I played sports in school and my parents enrolled my brother and I in a number of sports as kids to keep us occupied and entertained, such as T-ball, soccer, karate, skiing and more. With the benefit of hindsight, I enjoyed them all to varying extents, but they all didn’t last very long.

In fact, I remember playing soccer as a child and not really caring about the positions or the score. As my parents have said on more than a few occasions, “Daniel was content to run after the ball with some sort of interest, but David was content just to look at the ants on the ground” – a fact that is still true to this day!

But if I was ever provided the opportunity to go to a hockey game with my dad, a baseball game with friends, or anything else of the sort, I would go and enjoy myself. But I never had the need to watch sports on TV, and glancing at the sports section of the newspaper every day to see who won was more than enough for me. Basically, I wasn’t emotionally invested in any particular team much beyond “hometown loyalty.”

But there is one time where I become passionate about sports and will watch as much as I can possibly get my hands on – during an Olympic year.

Every two years, I become a sports watching machine and gobble up as much sports as I possibly can. And I will watch anything and everything that is on! Case in point, I am reasonably certain that over the past few winter Olympics (Sochi in 2014 and Vancouver in 2010), I watched every single curling match.

I adore the competition that takes place for the two weeks every two years, I am fascinated by the breadth of competition presented by nations around the world, I feel pride when my nation (or individual I am cheering for) wins a medal or does well, and I am saddened when they lose of fall short. It is a hell of a ride, and I enjoy every minute of it.

I remember Olympians that return and cheer for them to medal again or reach new heights. I enjoy learning about the fresh faces that my country sends, eager to learn their stories and see them grow over the years.

However, as enthusiastic as I am about the Olympics, after the two weeks, it all fades from memory. But does it have to?

Elite athletes should be praised by not only their host countries, but also the world in general. It doesn’t matter if they win gold or get eliminated in the first round. They still competed on a global stage and are one of the world’s best athletes, and I think people forget that too easily.

I am so proud of Canada’s athletes in Rio this year, as we have already accumulated nine medals (two gold, two silver and 5 bronze), and the first week isn’t even over yet!

But the most fascinating piece of news so far with regards to Canada’s medal count is that all nine medals have been earned by women!

So cheer for your country, cheer for your athletes, and enjoy these Olympics. But remember, its not how you start, but how you finish. And each and every athlete competing for their country deserves our praise, respect and support.

And just watch this video of Penny Oleksiak, a Canadian swimmer who had already earned two bronze medals and a silver, clinch a gold.

The Jaws That Bite

Whenever someone asks me what my passions or vices are, I usually respond that I like movies and television too much. But that is putting it mildly – I adore movies. I would watch a movie every day of my life if I could, and that extends to all sorts of different entertainment avenues where you are the audience, like plays, musicals, etc. But movies will always be my number one favourite.

I love to be entertained, taken away, transported to somewhere else and experience the highs and lows that cinema can invoke in all of us. There’s nothing better than sitting in a dark theatre and sharing an emotional thrill ride with everyone else in the theatre. It’s a magical experience, and it took me a long time to understand why.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, and she asked me what it was about movies that I loved so much. I responded by saying that I liked the sense of escapism. That it allows me to turn my brain off, forget my problems, and enjoy the ride.

And some movies, what a ride they are!

Recently, I re-watched one of my favourite movies of all time: Jaws.

I saw Jaws when I was probably around eight years old with my brother, and I distinctly remember my dad recommending it because it was about sharks (which I loved), a Stephen Spielberg film (which I loved), and the first summer blockbuster ever. And I devoured the film … pun intended. And I have watched it over and over again in the over 20 years since, and have yet to get tired of it.

Jaws is by no means a perfect movie, but it is pretty damn close.

The casting is spot-on, with Roy Scheider playing new Police Chief Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as the underappreciated shark expert Hooper, and Robert Shaw playing the shark-hunter Quint. Each of them deliver fantastic performances, with my personal favourite being this scene:

The film masterfully builds up levels upon levels of suspense, mostly because you really never see the shark in the first half of the movie. You see it attack swimmers, the aftermath of the attacks, the paranoia of the townspeople, and the thoughts of the three main stars – but never the shark itself (mostly because the shark didn’t really work during production, causing Spielberg to hide it).

And then, the scene where first see the shark is pure movie magic:

The film continues to build from that moment, from one encounter with the shark to the next, as the crew find themselves completely unprepared for the ferocious nature and pure tenacity of the predator. That is, until the explosive final confrontation between Brody and the shark that puts an end to the threat once-and-for-all.

However, as much as I like the movie (and I do), I am of two minds with regards to it. To put it simply, I love everything about the movie, but I hate the aftermath of the film.

As a result of Stephen Spielberg scaring everyone out of the water back in 1975, people began to hate sharks because of how the great white shark was in the movie, as a mindless killing machine. As a result, individuals went out in the water with the specific purpose of hunting and killing sharks, simply because of the movie.

In fact, the author of the book that the film was based on, Peter Benchley, mentioned repeatedly that if he would have known more about real sharks and their behaviour, he would have never written the book, and deeply regrets what happened as a result of both the book and film. As a result, Benchley became an advocate for sharks and ocean conservation, and spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he did and try to alleviate people’s fears of the majestic animal. (Source)

A fantastic new film, entitled The Shallows, came out recently, and hits many of the same beats as Jaws. Blake Lively stars as Nancy, a young woman who gets attacked by a shark on a surfing trip and becomes stranded on a rock too far to swim to shore, as the shark is patrolling nearby. It is a great movie and Lively is amazing in it, but the absolute best part of the movie happens when her character finds a GoPro in the water.

As she records a final message to her family in case she doesn’t survive her daring plan of escape, she says one extremely important line. She doesn’t blame the shark … she blames herself, as she admits that she wandered into the shark’s feeding ground and put herself at risk.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Blake Lively said:

She’s surfing and she comes upon a shark’s feeding ground and a whale carcass. She swims into that, and as any wild animal would do, when food is scarce and times are tough, here something is on its feeding ground and it protects its territory. Both of them are just battling to stay alive. Neither one of them is evil, necessarily — they’re both fighting each other for their lives.

And that is just amazing.

Look how far we’ve come in 41 years, and I can only hope that people continue to realize that sharks are not evil, just misunderstood.

Happy Friday the 13th!

In celebration of today being Friday the 13th, I’ve decided to do something a little different on my blog. As regular readers of my blog know, I’m a big fan of horror (which you can read about here), so I have written a little horror story with an interesting wrinkle.

I asked my Twitter and Facebook followers for story suggestions, with the promise that they would be incorporated (somewhat) into my story. I received four suggestions:

A picture (featured above), glitter, Donald Trump/Satoshi Nakamoto/mimic octopus, and a Wendigo.

This was the result. Enjoy!


“Sins” by David Manly

Everything about me was cold. My ears, my hands, my feet, and even the tip of my. The cold was like ice poured inside my veins, pumped throughout my body, and driven into the very marrow of my bones. It was what I imagined death to feel like when he came to steal you away, and wrapped his dead hands around your heart and squeezed.

I looked up, and saw that I was in the woods. Nothing but dead trees and glittering snow as far as my muddled brain could see. As I tried to get up, I realized that I couldn’t move. I looked down at my chest and could see that there were thick metal chains wrapped around my chest and arms, securing me to the tree I thought I was merely leaning against. I was naked except for the chain, which felt like a hundred icy knives digging into my torso. I also had rope tied around my legs, so the most I could move my body was a tiny, insignificant wiggle.

With my upper arms pinned to my chest by the chain, my forearms, wrists and hands were free and unbound. They were covered with twigs, dead leaves, and … bandages?

The gauze was clean and wrapped around my forearms up to my fingers. There was only one layer, as far as I could tell, so they sadly were not thick enough to protect me from the cold, which had already begin to turn the tips of my fingers blue.

Thankfully, my hands were close enough together so I was able to rub them together to generate some heat. As I did so, the gauze began to bunch up and tear, revealing black lines on my skin. As I rubbed my hands together faster and faster, the gauze tore and revealed thick black ash-like lines drawn across my hands and up my arms, like a snake. As I frantically began to rub my hands and arms together, revealing more of the ashen lines, it began to smear and turn my skin black as night.

I began to struggle, straining against the chain securing me to the tree, banging my head against the tree trunk, screaming for anyone to rescue me. The more I screamed for help, the harder I hit my head, which caused me to scream louder and bang my head harder. I kept screaming and banging until my vision went as black as the ash on my arms, and I collapsed into unconsciousness.

The last thing I remembered was walking home from school in the snow, talking to my best friend Donald about the internet-based currency called Bitcoin and the pseudonym used by its inventor/inventors, Satoshi Nakamoto.

“I don’t see the point of it,” I said. “Why do you need a virtual currency when real money can be digital as well?”

“Precisely!” he responded enthusiastically. “It’s untraceable. But you just don’t understand – its like a mimic octopus!”

“A what?” I said, with a sarcastic tone.

“A mimic octopus. It looks like one thing, but is actually another. Like bitcoin. It may look useless, but its really not. I’ve got a whole bunch, and it’s addictive,” he added. “As much as I have, I just want more and more. Like my dad and his stuff before he passed, … always wanting more” Donald said, trailing off.

“You always want more,” I said, jokingly pushing Donald ….

I awoke from my daze with an aching pain at the back of my head, and something warm and sticky running down the back of my neck. I thought it might be blood, until I realized it smelled like sap and moss.

I wondered how long I had been out for. Five minutes? Ten?

“It was more like 15,” said a cool voice behind me in a whisper. “Fourteen-and-a-half if we’re being precise, but I thought rounding up to 15 was a reasonable choice.”

“Who … Who are you?” I said, weakly. “What do you want from me?”

Laughter erupted from the voice behind me, and it chilled me more than the winter air surrounding me. “I don’t want anything from you! Never me, but others do.”

“What others? WHO ARE YOU???” I screamed, though it came out as nothing more than a scratchy yelp. “Why are you doing this?”

“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘The sins of the father?’” the voice said, moving back and forth behind me, stepping on the frozen snow.

“It means that whatever sins your father had, they pass onto the son, and so forth. So I really had no choice in the matter – with my father dead, it was my only option to keep doing what needed to be done.”

There was rusting in the trees far in front of me, and the smells of sap and moss got stronger. And something different mixed in there too, something rotten.

“I’m sorry,” said the voice. “It’s almost time.”

“T-t-t-time for what-t-t-t-t?” I asked, shivering. The long time without heat was causing my words to shiver and slur. “I did-d-d-d-n’lt do anyfing to d-d-d-ou.”

“No, you didn’t,” said the voice, moving closer to my ear. “And I’m not going to do anything to you either.”

“That is,” and a finger appeared in my peripheral vision and pointed to the source of the rustling.

The rustling in front of me grew louder, and a tall shape began to emerge from the densely packed trees. It was huge, with long arms ending in sharp claws, and piercing and sunken red eyes. Its skin was the colour of ash, like the markings on my arms. It was skinny to the point where its bones almost protruded out of its skin, and yet it moved quicker than I ever could have imagined.

“W-w-w-what is it?” I mumbled to the voice behind me, almost gagging on the stench of death and decay mixed with sap and moss that seemed to radiate off the creature.

“That, is a Wendigo,” he responded. “An ancient being consumed by death and decay, and drawn to corruption and greed. But agreeable to the point of reaching a compromise.”

“It doesn’t matter what it gets, as long as it consumes a soul marked with the ashes of the dead.”

I looked down at my arms in horror, at the ashen streaks running up my hands and arms, and screamed.

The creature stopped and looked at my face. It opened its tattered and bloody lips and smiled with its huge, yellow fangs before a dark and deep voice seemed to emanate from within my head.

“Your sacrifice?”

“Yes, oh powerful one,” said the voice behind me, trembling. No, not trembling in fear. But awe.

He continued: “I have done my part, now your end of the bargain must be granted.”

“Your father’s sins and greed have passed to you,” said the creature. “Your soul is what I require. But I accept your sacrifice and give you one more year.”

“Thank you” said the voice behind me.

“Now go,” said the creature. “Donald.”

“DONALD?” I yelped. “You did this to me?”

“Oh yes,” said Donald’s voice in my ear. “See, my dad got too greedy and reveled in excess and overindulgence. And Wendigos abhor gluttony and one person having more than the rest. So, it attacked our family and killed my mother. But before the beast consumed my father, he made an arrangement. One soul a year sacrificed in these woods to satiate the creature in exchange for another year on this Earth. But, when my father died last year, his sins passed to me, along with this arrangement.”

“It was you or me,” said Donald, with a pang of resentment. “But, I’ll always choose me.”

And with that, I heard hurried footsteps take off behind me, leaving me face-to-face with the Wendigo.

It skin was grey, like an elephants, but stretched over its bones like a drum. It looked like it would tear at any moment, revealing the horrors beneath.

The Wendigo’s red eyes locked with mine, before smiling and opening its mouth beyond what I ever thought possible. Its yellow fangs opened wider and wider, its dank breath brushing against my skin before it stopped and I felt the gauze tear from my arms.

“Look down” said the creature, its mouth still hovering, open, in front on mine.

As I did so, I saw the ashen streaks covering my arms were not streaks, but words undeniably written in Donald’s clumsy writing, with one sentence moving down my left arm and up my right.

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”

Firewatch – Video Game Artistry

I’ve been discussing a lot of pop culture/entertainment topics recently on my blog, but I hope you will forgive one more based on a video game entitled “Firewatch” developed by Campo Santo.

The plot of the game is not very complicated – your character, Hank, goes into the Wyoming wilderness in 1989 as part of the forestry service to watch for fires in a watchtower (hence the title of the game) in Shoshone National Forest. Hank’s motivations for accepting this job are given in the heartbreaking opening, and slowly unveiled during the game, while you explore the wilderness and investigate some suspicious goings-on.

The game is played from the first-person point-of-view of Hank, and your sole companionship is a woman in another watchtower, Delilah, who communicates with you via walkie-talkie. The entire game is played that way, with Hank investigating mysterious fireworks, smoke, signals, etc., all while discussing the mystery and life with Delilah.

There are no action sequences, battles in the wilderness, a tense showdown with a villain or anything like that. You talk to Delilah while you walk/hike/jog through the woods. There is also no display that shows you where to go, like most video games these days, other than a compass and a map. But like life, it isn’t the destination that the game takes you that is important, but the journey and who you spend it with.

Probably the easiest way to describe Firewatch would be the loneliest game about people and communication you can imagine. And I loved it, even if the game didn’t last very long and it ended a bit flat. All told, it took me a few hours to complete the entire game and hunt down every forestry survival cache on the map. I wish the game was even longer and there were more places to go, as I could have spent hours wandering around those woods!

As you progress during the days of Firewatch, you find books, notes, backpacks, and more (and if you’re lucky, a turtle which you can name), that will decorate your lookout tower the following day. And as the mysteries surrounding you and the fires deepen, you get emotionally invested in the story. I was genuinely moved numerous times while playing the game, wanting things to be ok for Hank and Delilah (and my pet turtle, Berkley Jr.).

But as good as the characters and their interactions are, the standout thing for me was the art.

Early on in the game, you find an old point-and-shoot disposable camera, and you are then given free rein to take photos of anything and everything you encounter in the wilderness. In the gallery below, you can see all the photographs that I took during my time in the game. The photos are so nice that they are all, rotating on a daily basis, my desktop background.

There have been a lot of discussions over the past number of years focused around if video games should really be considered “art,” and while I think they absolutely are, take a look and decide for yourself. You can click each image below to see a full-screen version.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – A Plot Analysis

Last night, I was able to see one of the biggest movies of 2016 – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and decided to write this review to voice my opinion on the film.

Keep in mind that I will be discussing key moments from the film, plot points, cameos and more, so SPOILER WARNING!

Last chance to stop reading to avoid spoilers … Ok, so let’s get right into it.

The movie begins with a retelling of Batman’s origin, which anyone who has seen any Batman movie, TV show, animated feature, video game, etc. is very familiar with. After a night out seeing a movie or the theatre (it differs), young Bruce Wayne leaves the performance with his parents, Martha and Thomas Wayne. They are robbed a gunpoint, Martha Wayne’s pearls drop (which are CGI for some reason in this movie), and Bruce Wayne is left as an orphan. Then, after the funeral, Bruce falls into a cave nearby his house and encounters bats. Thus, he becomes Batman.

Most people know Batman’s origin, and in a movie that was – and not to mention felt – long, it could have been cut out and started from Bruce Wayne’s perspective during the events on 2013’s Man of Steel. Long-time readers of my blog know how I felt about that movie (you can read my review here), as I had many issues about the world that had been created, especially how Zod got his powers so quickly, and Superman not protecting people during the final battle.

There was a lot of outcry about this after Man of Steel was released, so it gets addressed. A lot. Numerous characters make point-blank statements that wherever a superhero battle is happening, the locations are abandoned, empty, or in one hilariously bizarre case, after-business-hours, so the office towers were “mostly empty.” There is even a whole subplot in the movie about Superman being held accountable for his actions, and he even attends a Senate sub-committee meeting to defend his actions. But, that’s getting ahead of myself.

After Bruce’s origin story, we see Bruce Wayne fly to Metropolis in a helicopter and try to save people from Zod and the ensuing battle. Bruce was rightfully angry when Superman and Zod destroy countless buildings (including the Wayne Financial building), injure others and kill a lot of people. This sets the stage for the primary conflict for Batman.

And then we cut to 18 months later.

We learn quickly that Bruce Wayne sees Superman’s power as too much for one being not of this Earth (read: alien), and that he could destroy everyone without a thought. So, he decided to find enough Kryptonite to kill Superman if necessary.

This started him on a collision course with Lex Luthor (played by a manic Nicholas Cage-level insanity by Jesse Eisenberg, who just got annoying in the role), who happened to be trying to import a massive batch of Kryptonite into the States, but was blocked by the very Senator leading the Senate committee mentioned above – how convenient!

To locate the shipment, Wayne went to a party held by Lex to steal the information, where he met Clark Kent and a mysterious woman who stole the stolen data from Bruce. At another event, he met the woman again, got the drive back and decrypted the information.

Meanwhile, Clark was worried about not being able to help everyone, but goes on being a God among men and saving Lois (who, as always, has a knack for getting into danger and needing saving). While Superman attended the Senate hearing, a bomb went off (thanks to Lex) killing everyone and Superman goes into hiding because he was ashamed. In this film, Lois was relegated to her own subplot about mysterious bullets that were made by LexCorp and worrying about Clark when he disappeared.

Bruce found the Kryptonite thanks to the drive (as well as other information I’ll get to later), and tried to steal it from Lex. He failed due to intervention from Superman and they had a staring contest.

While this is happening, Lex made a deal to get access to the Kryptonian ship from Man of Steel and Zod’s body. I’m still not entirely sure what he did, but he somehow used Zod’s fingerprints to become the new commander of the ship, and used a glowing yellow pool (called a Genesis pool?) to combine his DNA and Zod’s to create an “abomination”.

Bruce then successfully stole the Kryptonite rock from Lex and made some weapons, including a spear and gas grenades, for his eventual fight with Superman. As for the armoured suit in the trailer (inspired by the Frank Miller comic The Dark Knight Returns)? I was hoping we’d be able to see Bruce build it to try and compensate for the massive strength differential between the two, but no such luck.

Lex then kidnapped Lois, threw her off a building to lure Superman, and told Superman that he wanted Batman dead. Superman said he wouldn’t kill him, and Lex said that he kidnapped Clark’s mother (Martha Kent), and would kill her in an hour if Superman didn’t bring Lex the head of Batman. So, Superman flew off to gets Batman’s help.

Batman, on the other hand, was all decked out for war against Superman and didn’t let him explain the situation. So, they fought. Batman used Kryptonite gas to weaken Superman so he could get a few licks in, but Superman recovered and pummeled Batman. So, Batman used more gas and got him stunned enough to, after some bizarre CGI grapple gun antics, got him underfoot and about to be gutted with the Kryptonite spear.

Superman said to “find Martha” and “save Martha,” and Batman lost his mind (as that was his mother’s name – and where I think the flashback to the night Bruce’s parents were murdered would have been PERFECT), and then Lois rushed in to tell the truth to Batman about Martha Kent.

Batman threw the spear away and promised to rescue Superman’s mom (which he did), and Superman promised to find Lex Luthor (which he did). But not before the cocoon Lex created in the Kryptonian ship hatched and, in some terrible green screen CGI work, emerged Doomsday.

In the comics and cartoons, Doomsday was a creature bred and evolved to be the perfect killer. And every time he “died,” he would be resurrected and could not be killed that way again.

Anyway, Doomsday was quickly attacked by the US military and survived. So, Clark fought Doomsday and lost quickly. Batman went to help and also had trouble. Then, the mysterious woman Bruce Wayne met earlier appeared as Wonder Woman (and in my opinion, the best part of the movie), and she helped. Superman tackled Doomsday and flew into space, and the US nuked the both. Doomsday fell to Earth and regenerated into something deadlier, and Superman spent some time soaking up the sun’s rays before he rejoined Wonder Woman in the fight.

Lois grabbed the spear from before, but almost drowned in retrieving it. So Superman abandoned the fight, saved her, and flew with the Kryptonite spear and stabbed Doomsday. In his death throes, Doomsday stabbed Superman in the chest and they both died.

Superman was given a very public military funeral and Clark Kent was buried in Smallville (where he grew up) with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s alter-ego) in attendance and they quickly teased the formation of the Justice League. And, Lex Luthor was in jail and visited by a very angry Batman. Lex, seemingly out of his mind, ominously said that something worse is coming – also teasing the eventual “big bad” of the upcoming Justice League movies.

A few things:

– Batman had a “vision” of an apocalyptic future, teasing the bad guy in the future Justice League movie (which looks to be the villain, Darkseid), as well as a visit from “Future Flash” warning him of what is coming in that future movie and to “get them together.”

– Inside Lex’s drive stolen by Batman and Wonder Woman, there were files on other metahumans, including videos showcasing the future Justice League members – the Flash stopping a mugging, Wonder Woman all over the world (and a photo from the early 1900s), Aquaman fighting off a submersible, and Cyborg being turned from a man into a machine.

Ok DC and Warner Brothers – we get it. You have a Justice League movie coming out and are trying to build a DC Cinematic Universe, but the film was overstuffed already with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. These extraneous cameos for characters we won’t see for a while, and won’t have their own movies for years, were obvious and wastes of time.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe had movies introducing single characters in their own movies before building up to the big team-up in Avengers, followed by more individual movies culminating in Avengers: Age of Ultron. They had years and years to build up the world and the characters before putting them all together. That is why it worked.

Teases and looks at what will be coming are good, but not at the expense of the film you are trying to make.

But what did I think of the movie overall?

Well, the movie was ok. I wasn’t a big fan of Man of Steel, so I wasn’t anticipating this movie to be fantastic. Unlike other superhero movies, I’m not in a rush to see it again, as it wasn’t exciting, it was overly long, and the effects were less than optimal. The dream sequences were awkwardly placed, Batman’s origin was redone … again, and the reasons for fighting (Batman thought Superman was too powerful and Superman thought Batman crossed the line) changed because Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom. Therefore, Batman and Superman fight because of a misunderstanding. It’s not the be-all, end-all brawl that everyone and the trailers and marketing were suggesting.

Honestly, it seems like after Man of Steel, DC and Warner Brothers decided to make Superman and Batman fight, and reverse-engineered a reason why.

But, there were some enjoyable parts in the movie. The action sequences were mostly good, as long as they didn’t get too CGI-heavy, and Wonder Woman fighting looked great. But that was about it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will make a lot of money, but I don’t think it will make nearly as much as DC and Warner Brothers would like. And maybe they will learn their lesson. But, with Wonder Woman already  filmed and The Justice League Part 1 shooting now, who knows what will happen. I had hoped they would learn their lesson three years ago from Man of Steel

Musical Mayhem

It is rare in your life that you can point to a specific moment, place or item that first introduced you to a topic. More often than not, it results in a vague “I read it in a book” or “from a friend” or something along those lines. But every now and then, there is a singular moment that sticks out in your mind like a Post-It in a textbook – one precise moment that you can point to and say with absolute certainty that it introduced you to a wider world.

For me, it was the wider world of music. And what introduced me was what some may call an unusual medium – video games.

I was never big into music other than what my parents would listen to on the radio whenever we went for a drive, and classical music was always fallen asleep to in the back of the car. I appreciated music, the beat, etc. But I never gave it much mind, except for musical theatre (which long-time readers know that I acted in when I was a child and still love).

Case-in-point: My favourite song when I was a kid?

“La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens!

But that all changed on November 21, 1998 when I was in Grade 9.

A Legend was Born

In 1998, I had just started high school and my mind was slowly being expanded to the wider world around me. And, as luck would have it, two years earlier, my brother and I had bought a Nintendo 64 gaming system and were enjoying it. And in November 1998, what may people – myself included – believe the seminal game of that system (and all-time) released. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I had never really played any other Legend of Zelda games prior to this one, but the hype and advance reviews in magazines was extremely positive. So, my brother and I reserved the game and got our mom to pick it up while we were in school, so that we could play it that night. And now, over 18 years later, it is still my favourite video game ever.

But what made it so special?

Well, the story was simple but engaging: A forest boy engages on a quest to right some wrongs, and meets a princess who was kidnapped. This boy (Link) rushes to rescue the princess (Zelda) from the bad guy (Ganon), but ends up traveling seven years into the future so that he is strong enough to defeat him.

The graphics were amazing and the characters were memorable (who can forget the movement of King Zora or the dance of the King goron, Darunia, when you play him a certain song?

The Music Makes the Man

I could talk about the gameplay mechanics, the different levels (such as the exceedingly complex water temple), the fun plot twists, or why you simply must get the Biggorn Sword as soon as you can, but the real hook – pun intended for those who know the game – was the music.

In the game, music plays an extremely important part. Near the beginning of the game, you are given an ocarina by Princess Zelda, which is a handheld wind flute. And throughout the game, probably other than your sword and shield, is your most used item.

Music within this game allows you to win others trust, gain entrance to new areas, change the game world, teleport around the map, and even change time. And all the music is different, and all modeled after different musical styles.

Do you know what a Minuet is? Or how about a Bolero? A Nocturne? A Requiem?

All of these are songs within the game and are works of art. Just sit back, relax, and listen to the audio brilliance.

I would find myself humming the Bolero of Fire in class, or walking home from school and trying to remember all the songs for when I got home. I still remember those songs to this day, and for some, even the inputs on the controller you had to use to play them.

And in so doing, this video game not only brought me hours and hours on enjoyment, but served as an introduction to the world of music, and bolstered my appreciation of classical and international compositions.And what more could you ask?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, according to the Oxford Dictionary:

MInuetA slow, stately ballroom dance for two in triple time, popular especially in the 18th century.

BoleroA slow, stately ballroom dance for two in triple time, popular especially in the 18th century.

NocturneA short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano.

Requiem – A Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead.

The Results Are In!

1452131746568dc5a2070267.82757724So, the results are in from last night’s Academy Awards … and how did I do?

I won my Oscar pool!
Out of 24 categories, I received a total mark of 17/24, which is roughly 71%.

But how did I do if you compare my predicted wins versus what I placed on my actual ballot?

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were:

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who I thought would win: Mark Ruffalo

Who I predicted on my official ballot: Sylvester Stallone

Who won: Mark Rylance  *WRONG*


Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Who I thought would win: Alicia Vikander

Who I predicted on my official ballot: Alicia Vikander



Best Actress

The nominees were:

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Who I thought would win: Saoirse Ronan

Who I predicted on my official ballot: Brie Larson

Who won: Brie Larson  *CORRECT ON BALLOT!*


Best Actor

The nominees were:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Who I thought would win: Eddie Redmayne

Who I predicted on my official ballot: Leonardo DiCaprio

Who won: Leonardo DiCaprio  *CORRECT ON BALLOT!*


Best Picture

The nominees were:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Which movie I thought would win: Spotlight

Which I predicted on my official ballot: The Revenant

Which movie won: Spotlight  *CORRECT ON PREDICTION*


So, all-in-all, not too bad this year – and at long last, my Oscar losing streak has ended!

How did you do?

May I Have the Envelope Please?


This Sunday is the 88th annual Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars), which is a big deal with my family.

Ever since I was a little kid, I would see as many of the nominated films as I could, and engage in a friendly competition with my family regarding who would win each and every category. And the competition was fierce!

Some years I won, but I mostly lost. And it has been a number of years since I tasted victory – though last year was a close call between me and my mother – but I have a good feeling about 2016.

But in lieu of writing who I think will win, as that would give my competition an edge until the ballots are cast on Sunday night before the telecast, I will list here who I would like to win based on my own observations.

To be clear: I don’t necessarily think that these nominees will win (though they could). But these choices are for if I controlled the votes, these are who I would pick for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Picture.

Now, why should my opinion carry any weight?

I am an avid movie watcher, as anyone who follows this blog or me on social media can attest, and I love being lost in a story. I love actors who can transform themselves for a role and make me believe that what I’m watching is real, even though I’m sitting in a movie theatre with strangers. I adore the escapism aspect of being engrossed in a movie, and I am endlessly fascinated with acting and the movie making process.

And, of course, I see a lot of movies.

Now – may I have the envelope please?

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who I think will win: Many in the media are split for who will win between Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant return to the silver screen as Rocky Balboa and Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Spotlight as a reporter who struggles with his faith amid a breaking story of molestation of boys in the Catholic church.

If my vote was the only one that mattered, I would choose Mark Ruffalo to get the award, as it was a fantastic performance in a movie filled with great performances from everyone. But of all the actors in that movie and nominated in this category, Ruffalo’s character of Michael Rezendes genuinely struggled with the revelation about the church and questions not only his career, but his judgment and personal belief systems. It was fantastic.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Who I think will win: This was probably the easiest category for me to decide, as I thought Alicia Vikander’s acting in The Danish Girl was easily the best of the bunch – and its a talented group!

In the movie, she plays Gerda Wegener, who is the wife of Einar Wegener (played by Eddie Redmayne), a man who discovers that he is actually a woman (by the name of Lili Elbe) trapped in a man’s body. However, in becoming the person he should be – Lili – Gerda’s life becomes fragmented, shattered, but then through the lens of Lili, pieced back together. As much as the relationship between Gerta and Einar runs through the film, I believe that the friendship and adoration that arises between Gerda and Lili as the true hero of the film.

Because of each other, Lili is able to embrace herself, and Gerda is able to (after a lot of difficulties) stand by and support her during her trials and tribulations.

Best Actress

The nominees are:

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Who I think will win: For me, this was the most difficult category to choose, as Brie Larson was captivating in Room and deserves to be one of the leading contenders for the prize. But, of every single movie I saw in 2015, one of the best would probably be Brooklyn – and that is due to the incredible performance of Saoirse Ronan (her first name is pronounced as: SUR-sha, like inertia) as Eilis (pronounced AYE-lish) Lacey, a young Irish woman who immigrates to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

The movie is a modest story of Ellis’ travels to America, and her struggles to make a new life in a strange country. And, in so doing, she find love in a young Italian man, Tony, who becomes her boyfriend. But, when her sister is ill, Ellis goes back to Ireland and meets Jim, with whom she has an instant connection with. It is that struggle where Brooklyn and Ronan excel – playing the trope of “stranger in a strange land” twice in the same movie – when she first comes to Brooklyn, and when she goes back to Ireland after becoming comfortable in America.

Ronan’s performance is heartbreaking, honest, and most importantly, touching. Every experience, struggle and decision is acted and displayed with honesty. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, and her performance was the main reason.

Best Actor

The nominees are:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Who I think will win: This is a hard category to choose, as many people consider Leonardo DiCaprio as a lock to win for his powerhouse performance in The Revenant, which was fantastic. But, if I were in control and had the deciding vote, I would choose Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl.

His performance was hauntingly realistic, as his character, Einar Wegener realizes that he was a woman born in a man’s body, and decides to embrace who he is by transforming into Lili Elbe through one of the first uses of sexual reassignment surgery.

Redmayne’s transformed himself for the role, much like when he won the Oscar in 2015 for The Theory of Everything. You could feel the mixture of shame, excitement, trepidation, fear and confusion as Einar struggled to accept Lili as more than she was initially presented – as a simple joke Einar and his wife played on guests at a party. As Einar said in the movie, “Something’s changed,” and the emotional weight carried by Redmayne, as well as the actress who plays his wife (Alicia Vikander), was a sight to behold.

Best Picture

The nominees are:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Who I think will win: Personally, I haven’t liked the Academy’s decision to open up the Best Picture category to more nominees than it used to have – it just becomes a cluttered mess.

Now, based on my picks above, you might think I would pick Brooklyn as the winner in this category, and it was a hard choice. However, I decided to pick Spotlight as the recipient because it was a true ensemble piece that showcased the talents of everyone involved.

It was a difficult story to tell, but they did it with class. And if anyone asks why I decided to go into journalism, even though investigative reporting is not something I have done a lot of, Spotlight is what I’ll refer them to. It is a thrilling movie without big action scenes, a tragedy without simplifying or trivializing emotions, an ensemble piece where everyone gets to shine, and one of the best stories about journalism since All The President’s Men.

However, I would not be upset if Brooklyn won, or even The Revenant or The Big Short, but my pick would be Spotlight.

But, that is just my opinion.
If you could decide – who would you choose and why?

And be sure to watch the 88th Academy Awards at 8:30 pm EST on Sunday, February 28th.

Lastly, I’ll be sure to update this post on Monday, February 29th, so you can see how my picks here and my choices for my Oscar pool differed.