Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2019 OSCARS: The Nominations

And they're off! The nominations for the 91st Academic Awards, i.e. the Oscars, have been annonced.
The nominations in the top 8 categories are given below. For Best Picture I have currently seen 4 of the 9 nominees (indicated in bold), and definitely intend to see "The Favourite" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" before the ceremonies. I don't even want to hate-watch "Green Book." "Vice" is a strong possibility too.

Best Picture:
  • “Black Panther”
  • “BlacKkKlansman”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “The Favourite”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Roma”
  • A Star Is Born”
  • “Vice”

  • Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
  • Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
  • Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
  • Adam McKay, “Vice”
Lead Actor:
  • Christian Bale, “Vice”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
  • Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Lead Actress:
  • Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
  • Glenn Close, “The Wife”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Supporting Actor:
  • Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
  • Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
  • Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Supporting Actress:
  • Amy Adams, “Vice”
  • Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
  • Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
  • Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Adapted Screenplay:
  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
  • “BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
  • “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  • “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
  • “A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Original Screenplay:
  • “The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
  • “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
  • “Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
  • “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
  • “Vice,” Adam McKay
Total Nominations

  • 10 — “The Favourite” and "Roma"
  • — “A Star Is Born” and “Vice” 
  • 7  — "Black Panther”
  • 6  — “BlacKkKlansman”
  • — “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book”
  • — “First Man” and “Mary Poppins Returns

Monday, January 21, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2019 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] Serena Williams (USA) [16] vs. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [7]. Serena Williams is playing in her 50th(!) major quarterfinal while her opponent is playing in her seventh. Serena has won this tournament seven times (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017) and is looking like she really wants to get her record-tying 24th major title here in Melbourne. She played the best match of her post-maternity come back to notch her 17th win against a reigning #1 by defeating Simona Halep in a very high-quality 3-set match 6-1 4-6 6-4. Her opponent will be former #1 Karolina Pliskova who eliminated 2-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets in exactly an hour. Curiously, the one time that Pliskova defeated Serena, it was at the 2016 U.S. Open, one round after Serena won a brilliant match against Halep. Will history repeat itself?  I seriously doubt it. PREDICTION: Serena.

Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8] vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [15].  This is a reprise of the 2019 Sydney final, which was won by Kvitova in a 3rd set tiebreak. Presumably that experience should give the Czech 2-time major champion the edge against the craft Aussie who will almost certainly have the entire crowd rooting for her. It's very possible this could be another barn burner of a match. Peak Petra is unplayable, but did Kvitova peak too early be dispatching the teenage phenom Ananda Anisimova the round before in straight sets? Has Barty finally realized she has the tools to hang with the big babes now that she outlasted Maria Sharapova 6-4 in the 3rd set? This should be an exciting match-up. The winner will play the winner of the Serena-Pliskova match so the final will still be a fair distance away.  All that being said, I think experience may be dispositive. PREDICTION: Kvitova.

 Naomi Osaka (JPN) [4] vs. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [6].  This may be the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. These two players are the closest in ranking of any of the match-ups  with Svitolina holding a tight 3-2 lead in their head-to-head, including both times they played in 2018, with all 5 meetings on hard courts. That being said, is Osaka really the same player after having won a slam (2018 US Open) by defeating her idol Serena Williams? Probably not, but neither is Elina Svitolina, having won the 2018 year-end championship by outlasting Sloane Stephens. Osaka has had to problem solve her way through two tricky opponents in the last two rounds (Anastasja Sevastova and Su-Wei Hseih) while Svitolina survived the barrage against Madison Keys to win a see-saw 6-2 1-6 6-1 slugfest. Playing Keys is a good preparation for playing Osaka but there's no question that Osaka is a smarter player than the American. Svitolina is the women's tour version of Sascha Zverev and it is definitely time for her to breakthrough at a major. Is this the match that does it? I think it is very possible, but now I give Osaka the edge because she has more experience, despite being significantly younger. PREDICTIONOsaka

Angelique Kerber (GER) [2] Danielle Collins (USA) vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [5] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS). Collins announced herself last year when she kicked Venus Williams out of the Miami Open. Prior to this year, the 25-year-old American had never won a match in a major and in Australia she engineered one of the most jaw-dropping scorelines of the entire tournament, a 6-0 6-2 drubbing of 3-time major champion Angelique Kerber.  Her opponent is Pavlyuchenkova, who was able to outlast Sloane Stephens in a surprising victory. Neither of these players really have any right to be in a major semifinal and will be major underdogs to reach the final against the winner of the other quarterfinalist. In these situations, I usually go with the person who is the better athlete.  PREDICTION: Collins.

2019 AUS OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the Australian Open for 2019 I will also predict the women's quarterfinals.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8].  Nishikori has had an incredibly rough path to get to his 3rd consecutive major quarterfinal (and tenth overall). Three of the four rounds at this year's Australian Open have been 5-set matches and two of those have been decided by a final set 10-point super tiebreaker where Kei has been substantially behind but ended up getting to 10 points first. Since Djokovic has won the last two majors (2018 Wimbledon d. Kevin Anderson and 2018 U.S. Open d. Juan Martin del Potro) and is a 6-time winner in Melbourne he is widely viewed as the prohibitive favorite to win the 2019 Australian Open. However, he has not been winning as convincingly as one would expect from the World's #1, dropping a set in each of his matches against #NextGen opponents Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev. That being said, Djokovic has an overwhelming 15-2 head-to-head advantage against his quarterfinal opponent and must be considered a favorite to reach his 7th Australian Open final. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Sascha Zverev (GER) [4] Milos Raonic (CAN) [16] vs Borna Coric (CRO) [11] Lucas Pouille (FRA) [28] Lucas Pouille  had never won a match at the Australian Open before this year despite playing it every year since 2014. Now, with Amelie Mauresmo as his coach he has won four in a row, taking out another #NextGen member in Borna Coric to reach his first major quarterfinal in three years (and the 3rd in his career). His opponent will not be the World #4 but instead will be the resurgent Milos Raonic who is trying to return to the top of men's tennis after an injury that took him out of  contention for most of 2018. Sascha Zverev has been one of the surprising disappointments in the men's game despite winning the biggest title of his career (the 2018 ATP Tour Championships) by defeating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer along the way. Zverev won only two games in the first two sets before demolishing his racket and the third set was a tight affair but Raonic won the tiebreaker and the match. Interestingly, Raonic is 3-0 against Pouille, including a win on grass last year so he should go into this match-up with a lot of confidence, and the experience of playing in his 9th career quarterfinal (3-5 record). Mad Professah's pick: Raonic.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [6] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [22] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [3] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [14]. Roberto Bautista Agut (or RBA as everyone calls him) has yet to lose a match in 2019, and is playing some of the best tennis of his life. He has an incredibly difficult draw, but has made it this far. Some of the scalps he has collected in Melbourne include Sir Andrew Murray's, 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic, and the highest ranked #NextGen player Karen Khachanov. However, he may have met his match in the brilliant Stefanos Tsitsipas who took out Roger Federer, the 2017 and 2018 champion, in four scintillating sets. The 20-year-old Greek has a big game and the maturity of some years his senior so I would not expect a mental let down despite the task of building on his paradigm-shifting win. Mad Professah's pick: Tsistipas.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] vs Francis Tiafoe (USA).  No one really has expected Nadal to do well here because his record in hard court tournaments is so hit or miss. However, it should not be forgotten that he has won the US Open three times (2010, 2013, 2017) and the Australian Open once (2009) and reached the final here three other times (2012, 2014 and 2017). But the Spaniard has yet to drop a set in four rounds of play, which bodes well for his ability to go late in the tournament. His opponent will be 21-year-old Francis Tiafoe playing in his very first major qurtaerfinal, and the first time he has been the last American remaining in a grand slam draw. Tiafoe has already taken out two very good hard court players in Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov but there's nothing that prepares one for the tenacity and power of Nadal. Surprisingly, the two have never played before and that might give Tiafoe a chance to make some inroads, but I would be surprised if he wins a set. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Ball Lightning  is another science fiction novel by Chinese author Cixin Liu whose excellent Three-Body trilogy (The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death's End) won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2015. Liu is the first Chinese-language science fiction author to win the Hugo award and thus I was quite excited about reading Ball Lightning which was actually written before the Three-Body trilogy (which is officially known as Remembrance of Earth's Past) but has been translated and released in the United States well afterwards.

One of the features of Liu’s science fiction is his inclusion of real science and mathematical concepts along with his whimsical adaptation of these ideas in creative and mind-expanding ways. This is a central feature of Ball Lightning which is about a form of spherical lightning that kills the parents of Chen, the main character, in the first chapter and ignites a lifelong obsession with the topic.

In Ball Lightning, Liu again impresses with his imaginative use of science in the service of plot, perhaps at the expense of characterization. Chen is almost a cipher. The much more interesting characters in the book are Lin Yun, a female Army captain who is obsessed with finding and using scientific discoveries to produce paradigm-shifting weapons to benefit the Chinese nation, and Ding Yi, a brilliant but eccentric male scientist who makes mind-bending discoveries about the nature of the Universe.

Unfortunately Ball Lightning is not as effective or fascinating as the books in Remembrance of Earth's Past. I think some aspect of that may be due to the nature of the translation. Some of the language in this book seems somewhat stilted, in a way that reduces the impact of the many creative ideas Liu deploys. Another aspect of the book which contributes to my dissatisfaction is my lack of connection with the characters. As I said before, Chen has almost no personality. Both Lin Yun and Ding Yi have almost too much but none of the characters can be said to be appealing. This is not unusual in a Cixin Liu novel, but usually the creativity of the ideas and elegance of the plot counteracts this aspect of his writing (or at least it did in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy).

Overall, I would say that Ball Lightning is a solid 3.5 stars, because it fails to meet the sky-high expectations set by the brilliance of the other work I have read by this author, but that still means it is well above the median of most work published in the genre of hard science fiction.

Title: Ball Lightning.
Ann Leckie.
Paperback: 384 pages.
Date Published: August 4, 2018.
Date Read: December 8, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.33/4.0).


Monday, January 14, 2019

EYE CANDY: Adrian Conrad (4th time!)

Adrian Conrad is a new favorite of mine, having appeared as Eye Candy three times before (January 22,2018December 11 2017November 27, 2017). He's obviously liked by other as well, with 150,000 followers on Instagram (@adrianconrad_).

You're welcome!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

01/12/19: 28th Anniversary In Mexico City

Today is the 28th anniversary of the first date with my future husband. This time we are spending it in Mexico City, Mexico. This is in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes on January 12, 2019!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan is the latest book by the author of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy (Altered Carbon, Broken AngelsWoken Furies) and especially Thirteen/Black Man, the last of which is set in the same universe as Thin Air. Morgan is known for his futuristic, noir, sci-fi thrillers featuring ultra-violent, surgically enhanced, anti-heroes who often have a weak spot for the underclass in society. He is one of my favorite authors and I have wanted to read Thin Air since I learned this book was in the work in 2015. I bought it on Amazon and it arrived on its publication date but I delayed reading it until the holidays.

In Thin Air the protagonist is named Hakan Veil, an Earth-born mercenary who has been trapped on Mars for over a decade (earth years) after his last job protecting a space ship for a mega-corporation ended in a way displeasing to his bosses and almost fatally for the nearly indestructible Veil.

One notable feature of all Morgan’s work, which is one reason that it is catapulted to the top of my must-read lists, is his ability to convey a sense of place, culture and history in the settings of all his books, regardless of genre. Typically this feature of novels is referred to as “world building” but with Morgan the term doesn't do justice to the immersive nature of his writing. Although he is primarily known for his hard science fiction, he has also written an epic fantasy trilogy called A Land Fit For Heroes (The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, The Dark Defiles) which also has a fascinatingly complicated backstory and setting.

The Mars of Thin Air is a compelling, technologically advanced, market-driven dystopia, with a rich history and multicultural, multi-ethnic populace struggling under the stewardship of staggeringly corrupt political and juridical officials. Morgan embeds his story in the long colonial history of the red planet under the forces of COLIN (the Colonization Initiative), an entity which has appeared in several of Morgan’s science fiction works set in the far future of humanity. COLIN is the organization which is responsibility for the expansion of humanity into the solar system and beyond. The author also describes a civilization on the red planet which is buffeted and sculpted by the amorality of corporate greed, organized crime and unregulated capitalism.

Morgan begins Thin Air in medias res as he thrusts the reader into a setting where Veil immediately maims and kills people, some of whom appear to be innocent bystanders but some who are also clearly responsible for horrible acts themselves. The effect is that we as the reader are not really sure if we are to identify positively or negatively with Veil as the protagonist of the story. Is Veil a hero or a villain? Morgan likes his characters to be morally nuanced, with situational ethics and malleable loyalties, and Veil is another example of this type.

Another feature of Morgan’s work are his bewilderingly intricate plots and Thin Air is no exception to this rule. The primary plot is centered around Veil’s task of protecting a COLIN Earth functionary who has come to Mars to investigate the curious case of an Earthbound lottery winner who disappeared before he could collect his prize. This reveals some obvious corruption (cui buono?) and the fact that several powerful forces are trying to control and dominate the future of Mars society. Of course, at some point Veil loses contact with his charge and it becomes clear that she may not be who she appears to be and that there is far more to the disappearance of the erstwhile lottery winner than meets the eye at first blush.

Overall, Morgan’s Thin Air  is an exciting, action-filled and intelligent take on a suspenseful mystery thriller set in a dystopian future society on Mars. If you like any of Morgan’s previous work (especially Thirteen) you will almost certainly also enjoy Thin Air. A lot.


Title: Thin Air.
Richard K. Morgan.
Paperback: 544 pages.
Date Published: October 23, 2018.
Date Read: December 30, 2018.

★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Sunday, January 06, 2019

2019 Vacation: Mexico City, Mexico (Jan. 7-13)

I'll be on vacation from January 7-13, 2019, visiting Mexico City, Mexico to celebrate my 28th anniversary. Mexico City which is in the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (approximately 21 million people). Posting on the blog will be relatively light, but you can see more of my adventures on Twitter (@madprofessah) and Instagram (@ronbuckmire).


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