Thursday, 15 January 2015

2015 Academy Awards Nominations



I was originally going to post my thoughts on the 2015 Oscar nominations tomorrow, but alas, I must give in to doing so while those thoughts are fresh and fiery. Out of a possible 10 slots, eight films have been chosen for consideration in the Best Picture category. These include awards' season favorites, Birdman, Boyhood, Selma and The Theory of Everything. Rounding the category out are The Imitation Game, American Sniper, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Leading the nominations count with 9 nominations apiece are Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. They are followed by The Imitation Game with 8, and then Boyhood and American Sniper with 6 nominations each. On the Best Actor front, we have the likes of Michael Keaton, Steve Carrel, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmanye all contending. For Best Actress its Rosamond Pike, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard.

There were snubs aplenty with films like Selma only scoring two nominations (the second one being for "Glory" in the Best Song category). Gone Girl was not only deprived of a Best Picture nomination, but a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination too. Also deprived were Jake Gyllenhaal and first-time director Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler. But perhaps most alarming is The Lego Movie's snub in the Best Animated film category; as a sort of halfhearted consolation, the movie has been given a nomination in the Best Song category for "Everything is Awesome."

I could spend the remainder of this post lamenting the movies I was hoping to see get due recognition, but let's face it, it's impossible to please everybody. That is why I am choosing to appreciate the opportunity to explore the movies I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, I have seen only three, Boyhood, Birdman and The Theory of Everything. I am updating my movies-to-watch list to include American Sniper, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel, just to name a few.

As things stand, I'll be rooting for Boyhood to win Best Picture. Not because I feel it is better than any of the other films in contention. In fact, the movie was for the most part devoid of any kind of story and I am quite surprised it managed to score a Best Original Screenplay nomination. But for the mere fact that it is a movie like no other, an epic 12-year shoot resulting in something that is frequently likened to watching a time lapse video. You can't help but shake the feeling the movie is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and as such, it needs to receive top honor.

I guess we'll find out if it does soon enough when the awards ceremony airs next month, on the 22nd of February. Before then, I need to do some catching up. For a full list of all the nominees, you can visit: http://oscar.go.com/nominees?cid=oscars_nominees_announcement_cadillac

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

IWSG: Goals and Resolutions for 2015



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and the very first Wednesday in 2015 to boot, making it the perfect opportunity for me to wish fellow Insecure Writer's Support Group members a "Happy New Year!" Hope you all enjoyed the holidays. The IWSG was of course started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the acclaimed Ninja Captain himself; you can head over to his blog or the official IWSG website for more information on the group.

As part of our very first post for 2015, members have been asked to introduce themselves. So my short bio is as follows:

My name is Michael Abayomi, writer of speculative fiction and an all-round lover of science fiction and fantasy. My book, Guardians & The Lost Paradise, was self-published serially over the course of 6 months in 2012. I am presently working on a post-apocalyptic superhero serial called Proxies, a book I am hoping to publish sometime this year.

Right. So on that note, I would like to move on to the next item on the agenda, namely my goals and resolutions for the new year. Last year, I made a point of not setting any specific deadlines or goals, other than a general desire to be productive and more proactive. But the problem with that approach is that it leaves little room for any form of accountability.

At the same time, I really don't want to commit to a course of action that I know I would not be able to realistically carry out. That is, I must also put into consideration the time and effort needed to write, edit and publish, not to mention market. All that said, I have decided to settle upon a single writerly goal for 2015, and that is to:

Goal #1: Finish the Darn Thing!

The thing in question is of course the aforementioned book, Proxies, a sizable chunk of which remains to be written. The book is being written in individual episodes, and I am almost tempted to publish some of the earlier ones, if only to force myself to finish what's left. But I'll stay my hand away from that shiny red button for the moment, at least until a time when such drastic measures would need to be taken.

Goal #2: Be Happy (No Matter What)

This is equally important, and remains a staple of my yearly goals. Because let's face it, writing a book is one of the hardest things to do. Even harder is all the extra work required to make our stories ready for prime time. So why do we do it? For me, it's the moments of sheer joy interspersed throughout the creative process, moments like when the story takes an unexpected turn, coming out even better than you'd imagined. I plan on taking the time to relish such moments.

And there you have it, my goals for 2015. Not quite as elaborate as previous years, but hopefully this would be enough to set me on the right path to attaining said goals. What about you? What are your goals and resolutions for 2015?

Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 in Review: Looking Back

Today marks the end of my week-long 2014 in Review series of posts, and as has become customary, I'll be providing a short recap of earlier posts before wrapping things off. On Monday, I revealed my favorite video games released during the year. On Tuesday, I moved on to favorite songs. This was followed by favorite albums on Wednesday. And yesterday, I shortlisted my favorite movies. Now it's time to examine the year as a whole.


2014 has been a rather turbulent year, when you consider all the news that made international headlines. I'm of course talking about everything from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the missing Chibok schoolgirls. But none of that felt closer to home than the Ebola outbreak which made its way across much of West Africa. It was only after Nigeria was deemed Ebola free did the entire nation breathe a collective sigh of relief. On a positive note, the scare of an outbreak in the country did help raise awareness about the need to take cleanliness seriously.


The 2014 FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil this past summer, and 32 of the world's best football teams competed. Nigeria was of course one of those teams, but we lost unceremoniously to France in the Round of 16, after barely stumbling out of the group stages. That defeat however was nothing compared to the 7-1 defeat suffered by Brazil during their semi-final match with Germany. The Brazilian defense seemed to go up in smoke as 4 goals were conceded in the span of 6 minutes. Germany would eventually go on to win the tournament, claiming their 4th World Cup title.


This time last year, I can honestly tell you that I didn't know the difference between doing squats and doing a plank. I'd never given my personal fitness any kind of consideration beyond a rudimentary desire to not get winded every time I encountered a flight of stairs. But I have come to reconsider my stance following a health-related revelation. Now, I am actively doing everything I can to ensure that I stay fit and healthy, at least long enough to fulfill the purpose for which I have been placed here.

It's funny how when you pause to think about your own mortality, you come to realize just how insignificant some of the things you've placed importance on truly are. Everything from the relationships you think you have built, to the goals you've set for yourself and the plans you've put into place, none of that matters when you're too busy rotting in a hole in the ground somewhere. Sounds harsh, I know, but truer words have never been spoken.

The important thing here is to take each day like the present it truly is. So live life to the fullest and love endlessly.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Movies

Noah



2014 was a strong year for faith-based movies, with films like Heaven is Real, Son of God, and most recently Exodus: Gods and Kings all making an impact at the global box office. But the one faith-based movie I was most excited about was Darren Aronofsky's Noah. Loosely based on the biblical account of the great deluge, the movie was a visual spectacle with great acting, and despite some significant deviations, still managed to retain the core message of its source material.

Edge of Tomorrow



Groundhogs Day meets Starship Troopers in this trippy science-fiction movie about an untrained soldier who is forced to relive the same unwinnable battle with a formidable alien foe, over and over again. Tom Cruise stars alongside Emily Blunt, neither of whom are strangers to sci-fi movie roles. The movie strikes a delicate balance between grave and lighthearted, which helps make its gruesome battles that much more palatable.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier



Easily one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies till date, Captain America: The Winter Solider proves that a comic book adaptation can be handled with style and sophistication. Rather than take a more traditional approach, directors Anthony and Joe Russo decided to present the movie in the style of a 1970s conspiracy thriller, and the decision pays off, marking perhaps the best received entry in the MCU.

The Lego Movie



I'd spent a significant amount of my early childhood playing with legos, which might help explain why I was immediately drawn towards The Lego Movie. And there is a certain charm to the toyline's beautifully-animated big-screen debut. The movie was written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the comedic geniuses behind 2009's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the recent Jump Street movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy



Of all the MCU movies released thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy has come the closest to matching the tone of 2012's The Avengers. That said, the movie does require even more tolerance for the latter's comic nature. Most of that can be attributed to its cast of oddball characters, which include what is effectively a humanoid tree and a talking raccoon. Except the movie succeeds on so many levels that it takes these previously unknown characters, and makes them into household names.

Snowpiercer



Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic tale about a futuristic Noah's Ark. In this future, majority of the Earth's population have been wiped out by a self-inflicted ice age, and the handful of survivors take shelter in the titular train, where they are governed by a class-based system. Originally released in 2013, the movie stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer, and it was directed by South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho.

X-Men: Days of Future Past



Timelines collide in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest installment in the superhero franchise that ties together the original trilogy with the 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class. And once again, the movie centers upon Wolverine, who is sent back in time to prevent an event in 1973 that would alter the fate of all mutants. But for me, it was Quicksilver's brief appearance that stole the show, which culminated in one of the franchise's most visually-stunning action sequences.

The Maze Runner



In a year crowded with big-screen adaptations of young adult novels like Divergent and Mockingjay, The Maze Runner comes out on top as a smartly-executed introduction to a world we feel we've all seen before. What sets it apart from the aforementioned properties is its darker tone, as I remember feeling genuine dread the first time Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) steps into the maze. The movie is further helped by a competent cast and a well-written script.

The Raid 2



How do you make a sequel to one of the biggest and boldest martial arts films in recent years? By going even bigger and bolder, which is precisely what director Gareth Evans does with The Raid 2. The fight scenes are so tightly choreographed that you can almost feel the impact of every single blow. The script on the other hand has been beefed up and expanded, resulting in the movie's two hour thirty minutes running time.

Gone Girl



I usually make a point of reading the book before seeing the movie, which was why I finally read Gone Girl a few months ago. And boy was I blown away by the book's unlikely turn of events. But even that couldn't prepare me for the sheer suspense of watching those events play out on the big screen. The movie is a definite contender for next year's Academy Awards, and I foresee a best actress nod for Rosamond Pike and a best adapted screenplay nomination for Gillian Flynn, at the very least.

And the winner is...

Snowpiercer



Yes. That's right. My favorite movie for 2014 is a South Korean movie that actually came out more than a year ago. How this science-fiction gem managed to elude me for that long is anybody's guess. But of all the movies I have shortlisted, no other one has left as much of a lasting impression. Was it the premise of a world frozen over and the survivors confined to a single train that won me over? Or the hard-hitting violence? Or Tilda Swinton's portrayal of the villainous Mason? Whatever it was, it is clear that Snowpiercer has become one of my favorite science-fiction movies of all time.

P.S: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Albums


The Chain Gang of 1974 - Daydream Forever




Indie rock meets electronic music once again in this record by the one man band, The Chain Gang of 1974. That one man in this case is none other than Kamtin Mohager, touring bassist for the duo known as 3OH!3. His song, Sleepwalking, received a significant boost in popularity after it was featured in the best-selling video game, Grand Theft Auto V. Other highlights include Witch, Mouth and Death Metal Punk.

Porter Robinson - Worlds



With his debut album Worlds, the American EDM artist, Porter Robinson, wanted to showcase his love of Japanese culture, and that love is readily apparent in tracks like Flicker and Fellow Feeling. But even more than that, he wanted to showcase a freedom to express himself through music that didn't feel shackled by genre conventions. And he succeeds beautifully, by creating a sonic soundscape that sometimes went from epic to glitched out within the span of a single track. Other highlights include Sad Machine, Hear the Bells and Lionhearted.

Various Artists - Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1



Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie that was defined as much by its music as it was by its borderline-slapstick nature. And the associated soundtrack did indeed live up to its "Awesome Mix" moniker, containing one of the best compilation records of classics and oldies to be heard all year. Highlights include Hooked on a Feeling, Come and Get Your Love, Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and O-O-H Child.

Maroon 5 - V



For their fifth record since 2002's Songs About Jane, the Adam Levine-led band, Maroon 5, chose to continue its recent foray into adult-contemporary pop music, in favor of the more soulful jazz sound of their earlier records. Thankfully, this has led them to create even more earworm goodness to add to their portfolio of recent hits. Highlights include Maps, Animals and Feelings.

Coldplay - Ghost Stories



The recent breakup of Coldplay's lead vocalist Chris Martin from long-time partner Gwyneth Paltrow serves as inspiration on Ghost Stories. While not considered a concept album in the true sense of the word, the album does explore the full spectrum of emotions associated with breakups, as well as boasting contributions from producers like Paul Epworth, Timbaland and Tim Berling. Highlights include Magic, True Love, Another's Arms and A Sky Full of Stars.

Taylor Swift - 1989



Taylor Swift had been releasing songs that were increasingly pop-oriented in recent years, but it was in 2014 that she finally embraced the genre's mass appeal with 1989. The album serves as a tribute to the music of the 80s, the decade of her birth, a theme that has been done to death in recent years by artists like Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga. But in terms of what the record set out to achieve, 1989 easily ranks amongst the best of the best. Highlights include Shake It Off, Blank Space, Style and Bad Blood

Chris Brown - X



Chris Brown's 2014 album X serves as a much welcomed return to form, following his critically-panned 2012 album, Fortune. On X, he once again explores a range of styles that has come to be associated with his brand of contemporary R&B. It also contains high-profile collaborations with the likes of Akon, Brandy, Kendrick Lamar, Jhene Aiko, R. Kelly and the late Aaliyah. Highlights include Loyal, New Flame, Add Me In, Autumn Leaves and Drunk Texting.

5 Seconds of Summer - 5 Seconds of Summer



5 Seconds of Summer have come a long way since their days of posting covers on YouTube. They've proven that they aren't just a bunch of fresh-faced teenagers, but living, breathing musicians with (dare I say it) actual talent. And the vehicle for that all-important distinction was the successful release of their self-titled debut album. Highlights include She Looks So Perfect, Heartbreak Girl, English Love Affair and Amnesia.

Take That - III



III marks the first album from British boy band, Take That, since the group recently became a threesome following the departure of Jason Orange. It taps into the stylistic trappings of the bands previous reunion album with Robbie Williams (Progress), and its follow-up EP (Progressed), while also retaining facets of the sound the band has come to be known for over the past decade or so. Highlights include Higher Than Higher, I Like It and Into The Wild.

Robbie Williams - Under the Radar Vol. 1


Not to be undone by his former boy band's moment in the sun, Robbie Williams "pulled a Beyonce" by announcing and subsequently self-releasing an album of previously recorded songs, with no prior promotional effort. And what better way to do that than on the very same day the Take That album was scheduled to launch. Highlights include Climb On, The Cure, The Pilot and National Treasure.

And the winner is...

Taylor Swift - 1989



Long before its highly-anticipated release, Taylor Swift's 1989 had been heavily promoted as her first full-on pop record. So it was no surprise when the album debuted with around 1.3 million copies sold in its first week alone. I mean, very few artists in the industry right now could command such figures, especially at a time when album sales in general have been low and continue to dwindle. But it was the fact that the album not only met expectations, but exceeded them in every conceivable way, that makes 1989 my favorite album for 2014.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Songs

Röyksopp & Robyn - Do It Again



There is something undeniably electrifying about the way Do It Again jumps out at you, and that level of energy is sustained throughout the club banger's 5-minutes-and-something-seconds length. Perhaps this has something to do with the song's placement on the collaborative EP of the same name, making it stand out between the record's more somber tracks.

MAGIC! - Rude



The first time I heard MAGIC!, I couldn't help thinking about UB40. After all, both bands share a similar sound rooted in reggae music. And just like the latter's hit single Can't Stop Falling in Love, Rude is a song that never seems to get old, no matter how many times you've listened to it.

5 Seconds of Summer - She Looks So Perfect



Whoever said punk rock was dead needs to be shot. Or at the very least, made to listen to 5 Seconds of Summer. The Australian band was brought to the limelight through the help of fellow teenagers, One Direction, but didn't find their current level of mainstream success until the release of their international debut single, She Looks So Perfect.

Porter Robinson - Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)



Drawing more influence from synth pop and indie rock than the electronic sound for which he was already known, Lionhearted marked a significant shift in style for American EDM artist, Porter Robinson. But it somehow manages to retain the essence of past singles like Language, resulting in a song that is sure to please fans, and at the same time grow his existing fan base.

Liquideep - Rise Again (feat. Gregor Salto)



The South African dynamic duo Liquideep have scored yet another hit, with the perfectly crafted House-influenced sound they've come to be associated with. Rise Again is a song built around growing synths and a feel-good message about picking yourself up from the ground when the world knocks you down.

Lana Del Rey - West Coast



I've never been a fan of Lana Del Rey. But you don't need to be one to appreciate her sultry vocals and the otherworldly melodies on West Coast. This is bolstered by the production efforts of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who was instrumental in helping the song attain its unique blend of pop and surf rock.

And the winner is...

Porter Robinson - Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)


As crowded as the EDM scene might seem sometimes, some artists still manage to stand out and make a name for themselves. More often than not, this is usually due to said artist managing to score a runaway hit single that resonates with party goers the world over. But it is much rarer for that artist to find that success through the strength of their work alone. Such is the case with Porter Robinson, whose song Lionhearted is my ultimate feel-good song of 2014.

Monday, 22 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Games

My week-long 2014 in Review series of posts begin today, and in keeping with my theme for this year's Blogging from A-Z Challenge, I'll be kicking things off with a rundown of my favorite video games released during the year. I've got this soft spot for graphic adventure games and the independent game studios that make them, so don't expect to see many big-name, AAA titles like Call of Duty on this list.

That said, I think we can unanimously agree that 2014 was a great year for video games in general, albeit nowhere near as great as 2004, or the Holy Grail that was 1998. We had current-gen remasters of the two biggest games from 2013, Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of US, not to mention new IPs like Titanfall, Shadow of Modor and Sunset Overdrive. But what follows is my list of personal favorites, which as you of course know does not necessarily mean the best or most praise-worthy games. Got it? Great. Let's go.

The Walking Dead: Season Two



Season Two of TellTale Games' The Walking Dead was launched in December last year, and I remember feeling equal parts dread and elation the first time I'd learnt that players would be taking control of Clementine this time around. I mean, she was just a little girl and Telltale Games had garnered a reputation (by the end of Season One) for putting their protagonists through all manner of physical and emotional trauma. And they did indeed push the boundaries during the course of the season's five episodes, by presenting players with difficult choices that sometimes meant the difference between life and death.

The Wolf Among Us



Also launched by TellTale Games in 2013, The Wolf Among Us was a five-part, episodic game series based on the DC Comics series, Fables, which was itself based on classic fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. It was a modern day re-imagining of sorts, with the aforementioned characters taking up residence in a rundown New York City borough known as Fabletown. Players took control of Sheriff Bigby (AKA The Big Bad Wolf), as he investigates a series of grisly murders that threaten the lives of the people he's been charged to protect. The game serves as a prequel to the comic books, with a noir inspired art style that captures the look and feel of that medium perfectly.


Broken Age: Act I



In 2012, Tim Schafer and his team of developers at Double Fine Productions made Kickstarter history when their project became one of the largest crowdfunding successes, raising more than $3.3 million against an original goal of $400,000. So needless to say, expectations were high on what was then dubbed Double Fine Adventure. The studio's decision to release the game in two parts was met with some backlash, especially after it was also revealed that the project had gone over budget, and was at a risk of running out of money (most of which had been spent on recruiting big name voice actors like Elijah Wood and Jack Black). But the studio soldiered on with its plan to use sales of the first part to complete funding of the second, and so Broken Age: Act I was released early in the year. It was one of the most beautiful graphic adventures to be released in years, and one that was easily elevated to the ranks of Full Throttle and Grim Fandango as one of Tim Schafer's finest.


Child of Light



Very rarely do you see a big-name studio like Ubisoft (Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia) releasing something that looks like it belongs in the portfolio of an independent game studio. But that is precisely what they did with Child of Light, a 2D side-scroller/RPG hybrid with surprising depth and a heart-wrenching story told in the form of rhymes. Players control a young girl named Aurora, who at the start of the game is seen dying on her deathbed, only to awaken in a magical world. That world is presented in a beautiful art style, and it is plagued by dark creatures big and small. The game also boasts a turn-based combat system reminiscent of the one seen in Square Enix RPGs of yesteryear.

Shovel Knight



Shovel Knight is yet another crowdfunded video game developed by an independent game studio to surface this past year. The game was heavily influenced by 2D platform games of the NES era, which is readily apparent from its 8-bit graphics and chiptune soundtrack. But its appeal didn't lie in its look and sound alone, but in its difficulty and its expertly crafted platforming gameplay and boss battles. It was released to near universal acclaim, and is presently a Game of the Year contender at numerous video game review websites.

And the winner is...

The Walking Dead: Season Two




While the culmination of the second season of The Walking Dead could be considered not quite as poignant as season one's heart-wrenching climax, the overall journey that took us there was rife with its fair share of watershed moments. The fact that we are allowed to shape Clementine into the young heroine that she eventually becomes makes her story feel even more personal than Lee's. The game also has multiple endings, with each one positioned to influence events in future episodes. Indeed, 2015 looks bright for fans of Telltale Games, with the recent launches of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones doing so well, not to mention a third season of The Walking Dead already in the works.