A Night at the Oscars

by Billy

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This year’s group of films nominated for the Oscar Awards was strong across the board. Host Seth Macfarlane, creator of the hit show Family Guy, guided the audience through awards ranging from Best Sound Editing to Best Picture, and everything in between. There were 23 categories, but a majority of the films were nominated for multiple categories. The most prominent amongst the bunch were Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

You probably haven’t watched all of these movies, but I assure you the lineup was quite impressive. An impressive lineup, however, is only made possible by an impressive array of actors and producers. For example, Argo won the Best Picture category, which is not surprising considering Ben Affleck and George Clooney joined forces to produce the film. Bradley Cooper, who is the smoothest man alive, was nominated for Best Actor.  He lost, however, to Daniel-Day Lewis, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. This particular film was produced by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg produced the legendary Star Wars saga, so it is not farfetched that another one of his films was nominated for an award.

Familiar actors like Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix (the guy who appeared in Gladiator as Commodus, the evil prince,) Denzel Washington, and Anne Hathaway, were all nominated for awards, or were part of a film that was nominated for awards.

In addition to the “main” awards, there were categories for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and a couple of other technical aspects of movie making. To be honest, most people do not know the names of the most prominent tech crew members, but the technical aspects of a film are subtle, yet very important. Watching a movie in a theatre sets the perfect viewing setting, and amidst the candy, famous actors, and hot dates sitting next to us, we only register the technical works subconsciously.

But trust me, they are a largely important component to ensuring the enjoyment of all viewers. Sound editors have to use mixing boards to create the “cleanest” sound possible. I assume that their goal is to make the dialogue sound as if the viewers are in the same room as the actors. I cannot say I know how visual effects work, but they basically make the impossible possible.

For example, explosions and mythical creatures are all creations derived from computers. As technology advances, the people in charge of creating visual effects will be able to make impossible events look very real, which is why it is paramount that the audience appreciate the men who work behind the scenes. Their awards are well deserved.

In my opinion, the Oscars serve two purposes. The most obvious is to honor the people who are involved in making the productions that both capture our attention and make us think about real world issues. The second purpose is to advertise the movies that deserve attention. By commending various aspects of various films, it makes people privy to what they are missing by not watching movies. For that to happen, it is necessary for the Oscar presentation itself to be both interesting and honoring, which is why Seth Macfarlane’s ability to create humor was tactfully utilized. Who better to punctuate the more boring parts of a program with comic relief than one of the funniest guys on television?

While Seth Macfarlane was the main host, there was also a plethora of celebrities who announced the winners of each individual award. There was also an appearance from the talented musician Adele. I could rattle off a long list of names, but if there was an award for the most surprising and controversial appearance, first lady Michelle Obama would win unanimously. Thankfully, most of the controversy seemed to gravitate toward the nature of her appearance, as opposed to the more common form of controversy regarding attire.

I have never been someone who invested even minimal amounts of thought or research into understanding politics, yet from reading an article by Jack Kerwick, I have come to realize why her appearance was so controversial. At first, I simply assumed her appearance derived from the genuine desire to attend the ceremony. She is after all, a human being with interests and desires. I later realized that, as usual, politicians will read deeper into the “real” reason of why she was there. Some say it was to gain support from the politically uneducated who, like myself, would see her appearance as nothing more than a harmless visit from a woman who wanted to see the ceremony live, and just happened to be the first lady. To the politically uneducated, this would cast her in a light that made her seem involved and friendly.

The politically educated, however, have said that her appearance made the Obama’s seem weak, as if they were too overbearing in their attempt to be loved by America. Other say that her appearance encourages the appearances of celebrities at other cultural events, which retracts attention from the ceremony at hand and diverts it towards the celebrities in attendance.

In my opinion, people are thinking too far into the matter, and by doing so they are demeaning the actions of a woman who may have wanted to be a part of the ceremony. She wouldn’t have been able to appear unannounced, for obvious safety reasons, so it made sense that they incorporated her into the program.

Finally, I want to say that watching the Oscars was entertaining, but in reality the only aspect I really appreciated was the advertisement. It honestly made me want to go to the Monmouth Mall at once, and have a movie marathon.

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Review: “Game of Thrones”

by Billy

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Game of Thrones, written by George R. Martin, is the first novel in the highly esteemed series of fantasy novels called A Song of Fire and Ice. Game of Thrones, as well as its sequel Clash of Kings, has been transformed into a surprisingly successful HBO series.

Through my own life experiences, which in the grand scheme of things have been somewhat limited, I deduced that works of fantasy were usually ignored by the general public. Somewhere, my twisted logic forgot The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which captured the undivided attention of millions. If Tolkein can do it, why can’t Martin? I began to answer my own question in the days that followed my discovery of Martin’s series. Martin did do it, and did it so well that his work of fiction enticed not only faithful fantasy fans, but people who lived and died by the real life scenarios one would see in CSI or other hit dramas. When Game of Thrones is brought up in discussion, I usually find that one, if not more, of the discussion participants has religiously followed the series on HBO, and is eager to voice their own opinions about what the future will bring for the inhabitants of Martin’s world.

Being the young scholar and avid reader that I am, I find that my preference will unyieldingly reside with the textual format, rather than the visual. A Song of Fire and Ice followed the near unbreakable trend of book before movie, and therefore while all the visual fans waited for the third installment of the HBO version, I devoured the first two novels, and didn’t hesitate to proceed to third, which is as far as I have delved into the series so far. While the debate between books vs. movies will never be resolved due to ego and opinion, I urge those who think they prefer the HBO series to the novels to think again. If you haven’t read for pleasure because you don’t have time, you should make it. If you haven’t read for pleasure because you don’t like reading for pleasure, then Game of Thrones is one of the few books that I believe might change your mind.

The first installment of the series is called Game of Thrones, a title that perfectly describes the story that is about to be told. Martin introduces the main characters, who live in a world that more or less resembles the medieval times. When the story kicks off, the realm had just endured a long and bloody war for the iron throne. Two competing families had gathered massive armies and battered each other senseless until one prevailed. Out of the rubble emerged an environment that similarly resembles that of courtroom, only instead of two lawyers dropping the gloves, there are about five, and the lawyers all want their own form of justice carried out by their own people. The king would be the judge, but he is murdered, and therefore the most powerful families act as deranged lawyers without a judge. They bicker, backstab, and persuade until one family puts a king on the throne.

The aspect of the story that I most admire is the way that Martin describes the characters’ feeling and emotions in great detail, until you find you know the characters better than you know yourself. Once he accomplishes that, Martin devises countless plots and sub-plots that either pit characters against one another, or make them join forces in hopes that alliance will yield personal advancement. Somehow, Martin devises ways to constantly manipulate what might seem like separate plots, and join them together to create insane twists. The characters rarely act in a selfless manner, which enables twists and turns. Sometimes the reader knows something the main characters don’t, but usually the reader and characters are equally surprised at the turn of events.

Throughout the three novels I have read, Martin never fails to provide heroes with an ample supply of villains, and at times, it seems like the villains have the upper hand. The reader might not even be able to decipher hero from villain, and is forced to make an educated guess based upon previous character descriptions and actions. You can also be certain that when one main character dies, another emerges somewhere else to ensure that the story never loses its substance. With betrayal and murder supplied in vast quantities, new characters become paramount to the storyline’s survival, so don’t assume that Martin won’t hesitate to kill off your favorite hero. In a game for the throne, nobody is safe, and you have few friends.
Martin is an incredible writer who can bring a fictional world to life with astonishing clarity. Both the TV series and book series are captivating, and if you are hesitant about the label fantasy, it might ease your mind to know that dragons are only a small component of the story. If you heed my advice and at least read Game of Thrones, I promise that you will be left with no regrets.

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Famous Williams Power Rankings

by Billy

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Candidates:

Bill Gates– Probably the most intelligent of the William’s, but his lack of swagger hurts him. He is one of the richest men alive, and his prestige is off the charts. If he ever dated, or even talked to a super model without profusely sweating and stammering, Mr. Gates would have won quite easily. Alas, this is not the case.

William Wallace– He rode into battle in order to defend his home and fellow Scotts. In the movie Braveheart, he wooed women using his mastery of the French language, which wasn’t even his native tongue. Swagger was his middle name. Unfortunately, he was poorer than I am, and therefore will not take the top spot.

William Shakespeare– His name itself is pratically an innuendo, and the plays he wrote while wearing green tights are still read today by kids wearing jeans and flannels. He obviously did something right. There are rumors circulating that his work was plagiarized, and if it was then he did a spectacular job of keeping it quiet all this time.

Billy Joel– Joel is the master of the piano. His songs have become classics, and will most likely remain that way for generations to come. He is the piano man.

Bill Nye the Science Guy– This guy had a weird show that I never watched, yet somehow his name stuck out in my head. Somebody somewhere thought it would be a good idea to make a Bill Nye the Science Guy game on the computer, so I have to give him that at least. It might not have sold, but most people aren’t featured in video games.

Bill Clinton– This guy was the president of this great country at one point, which gives him an automatic ten in the prestige category.  While his presidency included some scandal, he balanced the national budget, and was the butt of many jokes on Saturday Night Live.  In other words, he’s the man.

Willy Wonka– Wonka made the coolest inventions known to man in his crazy laboratory built from “pure imagination.”   Bill Gates probably snuck into his factory and stole Microsoft from Willy, but Willy wouldn’t care because he seemed to be more focused on edible inventions. You can’t eat Microsoft.

Bill Cosby– Bill Nye’s computer game has nothing on Cosby’s classic show. Between Kids Say the Darndest Things and his epic sweaters, Cosby bleeds swagger.

Billy The Kid– The Kid was a notorious thug in the wild west. The phrase “Wanted Dead or Alive” probably came to be because The Kid was just that kind of menace. Crime isn’t good, but Billy The Kid knew how to capitalize on the lack of technology, and therefore became infamous. His story is told in one of Joel’s songs as well. He had women, money, and almost as much swagger as Cosby himself.

Willie “White Shoes” Johnson– White Shoes was an extremely fast football player that never let his 5’ 9” stature keep him off of the field. His notoriety derived from his elaborate touchdown celebrations in a time where celebrations were not regularly performed.

Criteria- Each category is scored from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.

-Swagger: The ability to attract.
-Has a unique style or form.
-Power of persuasion and smoothness.
-Prestige: Personal accomplishments.
-How the public views the candidate.
-Wealth: Net worth.
1. Billy The Kid- 9, 9, 7= 25
2. William Shakespeare- 9, 9, 5= 23
3. Billy Joel- 8, 8, 7= 23
4. Willy Wonka- 7, 8, 8= 23
5. Bill Clinton- 9, 9, 4=22
6. Bill Gates- 1, 10, 10= 21
7. William Wallace- 9, 9, 3= 21
8. Bill Cosby- 8, 7, 6= 21
9. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson- 9, 5, 5= 19
10. Bill Nye The Science Guy- 3, 5, 5= 13

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NHL Lockout Ends, Hockey Commences

by Billy

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For those of you who know, and those of you who don’t, the NHL (National Hockey League) was in a lockout for a little less than half of the season, which is usually comprised of 82 games. The 2012-2013 season, however, will only have 48. All of those games will be played within the team’s respective conference, meaning the East and West teams won’t meet until the finals.

The lockout resulted due to the expiration of the previous contract between the players and the owners, which expired on September 16, 2012. Both the players and owners desired better benefits from the new deal, and therefore agreed to disagree until the matter could be resolved, meaning the players wouldn’t play, and the owners wouldn’t own.

At one point, the 2012-2013 season was in jeopardy of being cancelled completely. The owners and players realized that total cancellation would exact a huge toll on every party that benefitted from the NHL, whether it is the vendor who sells beer at the game, or the owners and players themselves. Despite countless negotiations and a failed mediation attempt, the players and owners were finally able to reach an agreement.

The dispute existed because the owners were not satisfied with their share of hockey related revenues, contract limits, salary caps, and free agency rules. The previous split of hockey related revenues was in favor of the players, at 57% to 43%. The owners’ new proposal basically flip-flopped the split, and when the players viewed it, they came to the conclusion that the new split would simply not suffice. Both parties were able to agree that 50-50 was fair. In my opinion, the revenue conundrum was the foremost concern of both the players and owners, considering it directly affected their respective salaries.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with sports terminology, a cap is a limit on the amount of money an owner can spend on his players collectively throughout the season. The salary cap disagreement was settled at $64.3 million per team, as opposed to the 70.2 million dollar cap that was utilized in the previous contract. The new cap is in effect next season, however. To most of us, $64.3 million is unfathomable, but to owners of professional hockey teams, it teeters on the brink of becoming insufficient. For example, in previous seasons, NHL teams would be allowed to send some of their players to minor leagues, in order to stay below the cap. This sneaky trick is no longer allowed.

Contract limits and free agency rules were the final two major points of contention between the owners and players. The contract limits were set at seven years for new contracts and eight years for contract extensions. Basically, these new limits were introduced to ensure that the players are not stuck with one team for a large portion of their career. While seven or eight years may seem like a long time, it is important to remember that those figures are simply a limit, and many players sign contracts that bind them for only a couple of years.
The seven year contract limit applies to free agents, as well. A free agent is a player that can sign with whatever team he wants, regardless of the owner’s desires, unless the player is already in a binding contract. A player can only become a free agent if he is 27 years old, or has played in the league for seven seasons. These terms have been in place since 2004, and were left unchanged in the new agreement.

The lockout could have been a more arduous process, if not for the combined determination and cooperation of both the owners and players. During the lockout, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commented that, “The business is probably losing between $18 and $20 million a day and the players are losing between $8 and $10 million a day.”

If nothing else, money alone could have been an incentive to reach an agreement, but it is obvious that all parties involved really wanted to agree for the love of the game, a notion which was confirmed when many NHL players promptly left the United States to play in foreign leagues for the duration of the lockout.

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“A Christmas Carol:” A Play of Many Parts

by Billy

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On both December 1st and 2nd, a play called A Christmas Carol was performed in the RFH auditorium. The Tower Players, which is the RFH theatre club, consists of many talented actors and actresses who are determined to entertain. Throughout two acts, the Tower Players guided the audience through a story of redemption and generosity. Students who managed not to lose their SGA cards were able to present them to the admissions staff, who would then permit the student to enter free of charge. If you were not an SGA card carrier, however, then a small fee was requested of you upon your arrival.

DSC_0407Those who attended the performance witnessed the impressive feats that were accomplished bya number of groups who pooled their recources. For example, the setting of the play took place in a small English town, with Christmas rapidly approaching. Unfortunately, a place where one can find pre-made sets does not exist, so Mr. Pagano and his band of student architects worked diligently to provide one. The costume making process followed a similar procedure, as Mrs. Malik led a separate flock of students who created the mid-19th century wardrobes for the actors. The production would not have succeeded if either of these parties had failed to fulfill their obligations.

Another essential piece of the production presented itself in a more subtle form. Though the costumes and set ensnared the attention of the audience, it is paramount to aknoweldge the technical aspects of the play that made it all possile. Without the lighting and sound systems, the viewers would neither hear nor see the actors. Light and sound are conrolled in a room that resides in the rear of the auditorium facing the stage, behind the stadium styled seating . The equipment in the room was manned by students, not hired professionals. Sometimes it easy to forget the men behind the tinted glass window of the tech room, but the roaring applause was delivered with them in mind. 

A Christmas Carol Tech CrewLet us also remember the stage crew, who adeptly maneuvered about the stage, moving set and curtains alike. The group was clearly well instructed, considering the changes in set were performed quite fluidly. If the play were not performed in a high school, the audience would have believed that the stage crew was comprised of older professionals on a pay roll.

The actors themselves were directed by English teacher, Mrs. Sweeney. Mrs. Sweeney has been involved in the drama club for a number of years, and can be considered a seasoned veteran. Under her supervision, various actors and actresses were united by a common cause. They practiced after school every Monday and Thursday, throughout September, October, and November.

     If you missed A Christmas Carol, do not despair. The Tower Players will be performing other productions, including this sprint’s Aida, and I urge you to check them out. You will not be dissapointed.

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Movie Review: “Taken 2”

by Billy

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I had assumed that Taken 2 would be a disappointing sequel to the original Taken, but I was wrong. Seeing Taken 2 taught me a valuable lesson: you should never underestimate a Liam Neeson movie.

In this particular film, Liam Neeson plays the part of Brian Mills, a retired intelligence agent. In the first Taken, for those of you who haven’t seen it, Mills is forced to go on a rampage through Europe in order to save his daughter from slavers, and in the process, he kills them all. In Taken 2, the fathers of the dead slavers are out for revenge, but this time instead of Mills’ daughter being taken, Mills and his wife are taken while the family is on vacation in Istanbul.

Because Mills and his wife, Lenore, are incapacitated for a sizeable portion of the film, they have to rely on their daughter to help them escape. Their daughter’s name is Kim, and is played by an actress named Maggie Grace. The plot of the original Taken limited Grace’s screen time, but Taken 2‘s plot required Grace to be at the top of her game. She displayed that she was more than ready to embrace the larger role, as she adeptly portrayed the underdog sidekick who has to push herself to the limit in order to save the hero, her father.

The evil villain Murad is played by Rade Serbedzija. His performance level mirrored that of Neeson’s and Grace’s. He accurately depicted a tormented villain, who will only rest when his vendetta results in either his or Mills’ death. Little did he know, however, that Mills is an animal and can never be defeated. Murad got nothing more than a “better luck next time,” as all villains usually do.

Despite the above-mentioned assessments of the cast’s skill, critics were quick to denounce Taken 2, moaning about how it resembled a remake rather than a sequel. What people don’t understand about this film is that it is supposed to resemble the first Taken, hence the name, Taken 2. The directors obviously had that in mind, considering they changed the plot and setting, but not the overall concept.

I had figured that all those who went to the theatres to see Taken 2 would realize that they were about to witness Liam Neeson pull off the impossible again, using his acute mind and his deadly set of skills. To fully appreciate the movie, the viewer has to refrain from comparing the two films, and just sit back and be amused by the slick techniques Mills uses to get himself out of a jam.

For example, when Mills is captured, and brought to an unknown location, he uses a communication device hidden in his sock to get in contact with his daughter. Most of you are probably thinking that this guy is a stud already, because he is smart enough to stash things in his socks, but it gets better. Mills somehow manages to guide Kim to a pair of grenades and a gun that he had brought on the trip, and he instructs her to throw the grenades at various locations in Istanbul. When the grenades exploded, he used the sound to guide Kim to his location. Of course, while this is happening, Kim is being chased by all sorts of people, which only adds to the drama. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Not only are there tons of scenes where Mills uses his wit to outfox his enemies, but there are also multiple scenes where he uses brute force. He can take an uncanny amount of punches, and can drive a car almost as well as the Transporter. Yes, there is a car chase, and many awesome explosions, which is what every action movie viewer craves.

Overall, this movie did what it was designed to do, which was keep an audience entertained for the duration of the film, and I applaud it for that. I highly doubt that the producers wanted Taken 2 to be a ground breaking masterpiece, which it obviously wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean the film should be criticized. In my opinion, if you forget you are in the theatre while watching a movie, then it was good, and Taken 2 did just that. It was a fitting closure to Mills’ story.

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Quarterlies

by Billy

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The year prior, to my enrollment at RFH, the exam schedule was no different than any other high school’s. From what I understand, students took a mid-term and a final.  The mid-term tested the material taught during the first two marking periods, and the final tested the material taught in the last two. These exams last about one school week, and each student would take two exams each day. Students would be permitted to leave after the second exam. My freshman year, however, things changed.

Instead of two exams, there are now four, which means that the close of every marking period is accompanied by 4 days of exams. The tests themselves have been dubbed “quarterlies.”  The quarterly schedule differs from the mid-term schedule in a couple of ways. The most glaring difference is frequency. Obviously there are twice as many quarterlies than mid-terms. Another difference is the schedule that is used to administer these exams. Instead of leaving after the second quarterly each day, as is the mid-term tradition, students remain in the school, and have abbreviated periods until two o’ clock. For example, if I’m taking my 3rd and 8th period quarterlies, the rest of the day will be comprised of shortened periods other than 3 and 8. 

There is one exception, however.  The quarterly that follows the final marking period has a schedule identical to that of a final, where students are allowed to leave after they finish the exams.

There are positives and negatives to both formats of testing. The quarterly schedule is structured around the belief that having twice the number of tests with less material on each test is more conducive to the student learning process. Though a mid-term schedule may be more challenging acedemically, there are fewer tests to study for. It is also important to note the difference in student release times after the exams finish. Sometimes sitting through class after taking a quarterly is harder than the quarterly itself.

It all seems to come down to opinion. If you are a student who can cram successfully, then you would probably prefer taking a mid-term and final. If not, than you might choose quarterlies because less material means less time spent studying. From a student’s perspective, both methods seem equally competent at testing our knowledge. Because I arrived at RFH on the day that the quarterly era began, I cannot support one or the other. All I know is that whether it’s called a quarterly or mid-term, a test is still a test, and tests are not cool.

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