Betting the Farm—a documentary about Maine dairy farmers
About two year ago, I decided I wanted to make a short film much in the style of 'Repo Man' and other Carsploitation films. What followed was a labor of love. I bet the proverbial farm on this being one of the best experiences of my life and it was. This is my short film 'Hurry Up and Wait'...
About two year ago, I decided I wanted to make a short film much in the style of 'Repo Man' and other Carsploitation films. What followed was a labor of love. I bet the proverbial farm on this being one of the best experiences of my life and it was. This is my short film 'Hurry Up and Wait'...
Two years ago, I decided I wanted to make a short film, shot on 35mm, much in the style of 'Repo Man' and other Carsploitation films. What followed was a labor of love. I bet the proverbial farm on this being one of the best experiences of my life and it was. This is my film 'Hurry Up and Wait'...
Two year ago, I decided I wanted to make a short film, shot on 35mm, much in the style of 'Repo Man' and other Carsploitation films. What followed was a labor of love. I bet the proverbial farm on this being one of the best experiences of my life and it was. This is my short film 'Hurry Up and Wait'
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Day 3 - Kentucky
Each of you awaken in what seems to be a small prison cell. The only furniture in sight is a small bet with a thin sheet and uncomfortable mattress, which you’re on top of. The door, made of metal over an inch thick, is open, and you exit. You walk through a wooden hall decorated with saddles and horseshoes, eventually arriving at some stone stairs, which take you into the light. You look around at the outside. The area has plenty of white fences, and what appear to be dirt tracks.Much of the area is green pastures. There is a white two-story columned mansion nearby. There are what look to be small buggies meant to be driven by horses sitting around. Looking to the right of the mansion, in the distance you see a set of stables. All around the property is a white fence. The weather is pretty standard, with the sun out, but a couple clouds in the sky. Behind you is a strange-looking building, and you see Roger motioning you to come inside. You walk through one room with a desk into a much larger one. In the back of the room is a set of chairs and tables, as well as the billboard detailing the players. Near the center is a pool table, and to the right of that is a small step up onto a flat perch overlooking the room, with windows to the outside. There’s a rocking horse up there as well. Under the perch sits several couches, and opposite the room there’s a set of couches around a glass table. At the front of the room it looks as though there’s a bar, but it’s not stocked at all. Patton’s Television sits on the bar. The speakers crackle to life. “Welcome to Auric Stud! Goldfinger’s Kentucky farm where he had his final preparations for his break-in of Fort Knox! In the film he had everyone in this room killed with a nerve agent, but you don’t have to worry about that, not right now.” Salk begins to speak. “Please, feel free to explore the farms, play some pool, relax! Some of you did a great job last night. Roger should be in the mansion working with breakfast now, pay him a visit if you want to.”
Room - Pick one room to explore from the list of available rooms above.
Allies - Pick up to three allies. You will assist them when they attack or defend if you are able.
Wary - You cannot be surprise attacked by these players, unless they have an item such as "Cardboard Box" to guarantee a surprise attack.
Enemies - You will attack these players if you are able to. The order listed will be the priority you attack in.
Weapon to Use - If you leave this blank you will always use the highest ATK value weapon that you find. This may come with secondary debuffs, so beware.
Equipment to Use - If you leave this blank you will use any equipment item that you loot if you do not already have an equipment item.
Consumables to Use - You can list multiple consumable items. Please follow the item's guidelines!
Items to Discard - List items that you want to dispose of. You cannot go into the night over encumbered!
Ability - If you want to use your ability write down its name and any specifications (target, etc.).
SPE - How much of your SPE stat you want to use that night. You can specify "MAX" to use maximum SPE. If you set MAX your SPE may go up if you find a SPE increasing item.
STH - How much of your STH stat you want to use that night. You can specify "MAX" to use maximum STH. If you set MAX your STH may go up if you find a STH increasing item.
Role Play Information / Misc. Instructions - Write down any specific RP information that you want accounted for in your night actions. Preferred methods of fighting/killing, certain words or phrases your character might say to another character, etc. You can also ask to use a specific weapon, as an example say that you want to use your magic powers, instead of finding an "E-Tool" or something, your weapon will be "Spell Blast" or something. Not everything can or will be used, but it will be considered. This does not affect the outcome of any game play events, but can impact the story!
Common Room Phase 1 closes onSaturday, May 16th at 4 PM EDT. Common room closes onSunday, May 17th at 6 PM EDT. Night phase instructions are dueMonday, May 18th at 6 AM EDT.
First Contact Second Wave - Chapter One Hundred Fourteen
[first] [prev] [next] The day was hazy, visibility lowered to less than a quarter mile due to the thick spores and pollen in the air. Some of the spores were the size of a baseball, lazily floating along in the humid air currents. The sound of the waves against the cliff was far and remote, as if the pollen in the air was somehow muffling the noise of the tide. The tank was large by most standards, two hundred tons of moving metal, three engines, eight forced air pressure hover nacelles. A 155mm main gun, a set of tri-barrel co-axial mag-acc guns, a pair of 4-pack mortal tubes, point defense weapons, and APERS strips. Ekret knew it was a light scout tank by the standards of the military he was currently serving with. Ekret, like his entire crew, had started out as debt forced wage-slave military forces, using equipment who's designs were over ten million years old without a single update or improvement. His tanks, back then, had been between fifty and a hundred tons and mounted less than half the weaponry, were slower, with less shielding. The battle-screen that would normally be glimmering was turned off, although there were sterilization fields, normally used in surgery, glimmering over the head sinks and fins off the back of the tank. The Terran military had purchased his contract, and the contracts of his entire division, from the bankrupt corporation, trained him, armed him, and integrated him into one of the most lethal militaries Ekret had ever seen. The patch on his shoulder, a pair of lighting bolts on either side of the Terran number "1", was the patch of his division, First Recon Division (New Metal). Which is how he had ended up on a planet that was currently being overgrown by hostile plants. And how a Terran Descent Human, who had been raised by insectoid Treana'ad after a natural disaster had left him an orphan, had sent him, and his crew, out to check on the coast. Satellite recon was almost completely useless, the plant's spores making visibility by almost any wavelength next to useless. But the General, known to many as 'Tik-Tac', had been staring at maps for over a day, tapping his fingers and rubbing his hand together. Standing in the cupola hatch, the commander's hatch, Ekret was chewing on the end of an empty plastic ration tube, staring at what he'd found. "Any ideas?" one of the human commanders, a big burly human who was more cybernetics than man, asked. "No clue," Ekret admitted, staring at what he'd found. It was massive. He could see it, dimly through the spores, extending off past the visibility line. A massive vegetative tube, exiting the jungle and down the cliff, into the sea. It was pulsing in a rhythm that suggested to Ekret that it was pulling the water up. The seawater was covered with a thick layer of algae and seaweed. There were smaller veins around it, all obviously feeding the tube, which moved with a life all its own. On Ekret's left was the jungle. The leaves were brown and yellow, limp, almost wilted, coated with a thin film of what looked like wax. "Pan the jungle again," came an order over his headset. The hovertank slowly rotated, bringing the massive scanners on the front glacis into play. "Air's full of crap," Heslettek, the EW and scanner officer complained. --attempting to compensate-- 749, a small green mantis engineer flashed through the icon and emoji language he used. "That jungle doesn't look like its benefiting from millions of gallons of seawater being pumped into it," said the voice that had ordered the jungle to be panned again. "No, sir," The human commander, one General Trucker - 3rd Armor Division (Old Metal), said, his voice slow and quiet. "Anyone have any idea what it's doing?" "Pumping water up from the ocean and taking it further into the jungle is my guess," Ekret said. "We need an expert on this," Trucker said. Ekret heard the big human spit. "Where's that Vuxten kid?" There was silence a moment, broken only by stray chatter that was bounced around by the vegetative chaff. Ekret nodded to himself. Vuxten had fought in the Precursor War as an Army conscript, pulling SAR and recon, then had gone through training as a Terran Marine. "Vuxten here, sir," came the voice of one of the natives of the planet, a Telkan. "Any ideas what this might relate to?" The original voice asked. General Tik-Tac of 19th Logistics and Sustainment. "It has to be a vein. One of the big ones," Vuxten answered. "It's pumping nutrients, probably filtered out of the ocean, to the plants deeper in. Watch out for veins, sir." "The plants at the edge are dead," Ekret said. "No, sir. They just look like it. The whole jungle, all of it, is one interconnected system. Believe me, that big vein could pump enough nutrients into that patch of jungle that you're tank would have vines trying to crawl into within a minute or two. We call 'vein bolt' and 'power bloom' when it does that," Vuxten said. "It's pulling millions of gallons an hour. Any idea why?" Ekret asked. "No, sir. Honestly, with what we've learned over the last week? It's probably something bad. Let me check," Vuxten said. There was silence for a moment. "There's three big lakes, according to the old maps. It's pulling in the water to feed something in those lakes. Every time we've seen lakes, they've been coated in algae and have something big and mean growing in them," Vuxten said. "All right, kid. Thanks. Get some rest," Trucker said. "Yes, sir," Vuxten said. Ektret leaned against the edge of the hatch, staring at the jungle. "Well, gentlemen, what do you think?" Tic-Tak asked. "I think the kid's right. It's pumping nutrients to something nasty," Trucker said, then spit again. "After what happened during the landing, I'm willing to bet it's growing something that it hopes can stand up to modern metal." "I concur, sir," Ekret said, lifting up a pair of lens only binoculars and looking through them. "All right, come back. I don't like having you out that far on your own," Tic-Tak said. "Unless either of you have an objection." "We could always have Ekret put a couple rounds in that artery, see what shakes loose," Trucker suggested. "I'm in a hover tank," Ekret said. "I should be able to outrun anything the jungle tosses out." "No, I think I should consult with all commanders and come up with a workable plan to force the jungle to show a few cards," Tic-Tak said. "Together we are much more than the sum of our parts." Trucker and Ekret acknowledged and then signed off. The big 'scout' hovertank lifted up in a shower of pureed vegetation and dirt, rotated in place, and smoothly headed back to the massive logistics base. Behind it, the thick tube kept its secrets. ------------------- Six hours later Ekret stared at the same scene he had watched from his tank. Well, close. The image was split into quarters, one with visible light, one a composite, one cleaned up, and one the last aerial view that had been recorded. "First of all, I'd like to welcome our two reinforcement division heads. General Araktun of the 219th Cybernetic Infantry Division and General Vost of the 712th Genetic Warfare Division," Tic-Tak said, rubbing his hands slowly back and forth. Ekret had noticed that in a way it mimicked Treana'ad body language. General Araktun looked like a warborg except in chrome, with a single line of red that had a moving red dot going back and forth, instead of the normal warborg eyes. He nodded to everyone at the introduction then looked at General Trucker, who was spitting juice into a small plastic bottle. "You still hanging around with these meatbags pretending you shouldn't be working with me, Trucker?" Araktun asked. "Still 42% meat, ya walking hubcap," Trucker grinned. The cyborg made a grinding sound of amusement. General Vost was a lean looking Pure Strain Human with a face like a shovel and cold hard eyes. He just nodded when he was introduced. "Do have any ideas what might be going on deeper in the jungle?" Tic-Tak asked, brushing his fingers together back and forth. Everyone shook their heads. "Send for that Vuxten kid, let's get his input," Trucker said, waving at it. "I've looked over the after action precis for what went down on the landing, those Telkans had their shit together." Everyone nodded and Tic-Tak gave orders to an aide to have Vuxten report in to the command center. "Would those big ones prove difficult for your tanks, General Trucker?" Tic-Tak asked. Trucker shrugged. "That's hard to say without actually engaging them, sir. From what I've seen, using straight lasers or plasma just seem to energize them in the same way that my battle-screens pull any energy they can into my reserves." Araktun just nodded, staring at the screen. He pointed at an unused holotank. "May I?" "Of course, General," Tic-Tak answered. "I haven't been on planet long enough to do a complete genetic analysis of the foe, but what I'm seeing just in these images is concerning," Vost said, leaning forward. "I would suggest from here on out we make our plans as if we're dealing with a rogue Elven Queen." "Oh my," Tic-Tak said, rubbing his forearms. "That is... concerning." "Amplify?" Trucker said, staring at the holotank. "Corporal Vuxten as well as several other members of First Telkan have annotated that the 'jungle itself' adapts to them. They treat the 'jungle' as a complete organism, and so far their instincts have been on the nose," Vost stated. "How many of you have seen an Elven Queen in action with your own eyes?" General Tic-Tak was the only one who raised their hand. "If we approach this as if we are taking on a maddened or rogue Elven Queen, we'll be able to adapt our strategies must quicker as well as possibly predict the actions of the enemy," Vost said. "I would suggest considering it a maddened queen, as we've seen them 'print out', so to speak, unfinished versions of attack and defense systems where a rogue queen would take the time to finalize the design." Tic-Tak nodded and exhaled. "That makes logistics handling much more difficult. I'll need to put a priority on medical checks and medical care as well as ensure everyone's blood cleanser implants get constant updates." Araktun was replaying several of the First Telkan's combat operations, pausing and zooming in on the plants involved. "Right now it looks like, for the most part, the controlling organism, if there is one, thinks on the macro not the micro, which is lucky for us," Vost said, staring at the screen. "It hasn't resulted to viral warfare as far as we know, specifically they haven't engaged in viral warfare against the human element, which leads me to believe that they don't have enough of our genetic code to begin attacking us." "A maddened queen wouldn't rectify that, a rogue one would," Tic-Tak mused. "A rogue queen would be sending in small blood sucking creatures to get a sample of us." "Pre-programmed," Trucker said, staring at the map. Ekret noticed both the big human's cybernetic eyes were slightly unfocused. "Our proteins and yadda yadda are different enough from the Telkans to throw an error code but close enough we can breathe the same atmosphere and eat roughly the same things. At first glance we'd look like a mutation, but on a deeper level our cellular structure and makeup are too different to be easily effected. It's either ignoring us or devoting a lot of effort to figure out how to go at us beyond stabbing or crushing us." General Vost raised his eyebrows slightly and Ekret kept from laughing. It was obvious Vost had taken one look at the big General and dropped his estimates of Trucker's intellect by a factor of five. "With Big Slobbery Mo out of the picture, it might have to dedicate resources to regrowing intelligence arrays," Trucker said, suddenly looking up. "We should consider this thing akin to the Precursor machines for how they work together and add in the Lanaktallan 'slow and steady wins the race' philosophy." Everyone nodded except Araktun, who was engrossed in watching the sped-up replays of First Telkan. Ekret slid an empty ration tube out of his pocket and put the end in his mouth, chewing on it, and staring at the holotank. It had been only a little more than a week and already the majority of the planet was covered by vegetation. There wasn't that much more than rolling plains, a few mountain ranges, and complex interconnect rivers to make up the geography. That made Ekret blink. He reached out and brought up a few planetary scans of planets in the Dead Zone where all this had started as well as planets from the Terran side, looking over the geographical outlay of the planet. The majority of planets in the neo-sapient zone were uniform in their layout. Protocontinent or a few continents, mountain ranges in the center, rivers flowing through rolling plains. He ran a similarity check between neo-sapient zone planets with the main computer system and waited the few minutes for it to check. 80% match. Ekret looked up. "They've been here before," he said. Everyone turned and looked at him. "Not just here, but all over this zone. Look," he motioned at the planetary comparison. "Think about it. These planets are just farms, resource farms for the creatures and Lanaktallans." Tic-Tak was slowly rubbing his hands together, staring at the screen. "The Lanaktallans want physical resources, found in a planetary crust, and use the local sapients as a slave force to maximize the resource extraction. The creatures want... biomass? Calories? Fuel for themselves?" "The question is," Trucker said slowly, staring at the holotank as he spit into the bottle. "Which one is obeying who?" Ekret shrugged. "Say ten million years between each, well, rotation so to speak, does it matter in the meantime?" Tic-Tak moved to the holotank, bringing up an interface and twiddling at it rapidly. After he was done he stepped back and waited. Vuxten came in and stood against the wall silently, seeing all the high ranking officers staring at the holotank. Vuxten could see it was flashing planets up rapidly. "Let me adjust the algorythm a bit," Tic-Tak said. He twiddled for a moment on the interface. "That's the best my limited skill can do. After we're done here I'll send it for analysis." Everyone just nodded, watching. It took almost five minutes before the computer spit it back up. Core Worlds and Inner Sphere worlds were heavy metal poor, almost to the point of having none outside the mantle. The mountains were low and rounded. Geological instability was largely relieved. Weather was controlled. The ecology was carefully balanced, with no high end predators. "As I suspected," Tic-Tak said, stepping back and shaking his head. "General Ekret is correct, they've not only been here before, but I suspect they have been all through this section of the galactic stub." Everyone nodded as Tic-Tak turned around. "So either there is an ecological battle group outside of every system in Lanaktallan control and sphere of influence, or the creatures have been slowly spreading out, abandoning the "Core Worlds" and "Inner Sphere" as depleted due to the eco-system being too, well, 'thin' as it were," the portly General said. He spotted the Telkan against the wall. "Ah, Corporal Vuxten. Good of you to join us." "Thank you, General," Vuxten said. "How can I help?" "How long, would you estimate, it took the jungle to adapt to what your men were doing?" Trucker asked. Vuxten thought for a moment. "A day, maybe too, at the latest. Hours sometimes. It got easier in Grid Tango-Niner after we blew up a bunch of weird looking coral." "Which day and engagement?" Araktun asked. When Vuxten told him he shifted views in the holotank and brought up the section quickly. He tossed it to the main holo-tank and everyone watched as First Telkan moved in on an overgrown spaceport, escorting flame vehicles. Only a few days ago we had the ability to do overwatch with drones and satellite, now we're almost blind, Ekret thought to himself, watching the icons move across the screen. "STATUS CHANGE!" the voice rang out over the holotank and the image changed from ships covered by a thin layer of moss to outgrowths of coral defended by plants that fired laser or vomited up plasma. The screen blinked twice to show it was updating. The coral was closely grown, full of folds and bulges, and ringed by heavy armored plates. Ekret noted that the shell to completely encase it wasn't fully formed yet but still gleamed metallically. Plant extruded metals forged at the cellular level. The flame vehicles washed the coral with fire and everything went berserk. Lightning-like patterns in the moss. "That was the first time we ran into a vein bolt," Vuxten said quietly. Ekret just nodded, staring. It did look like a lightning bolt moving through the moss. "Thousands of gallons of nutrient per vein, fifteen veins, this was of major importance," Tic-Tak mused. "The first power bloom we ever encountered is next," Vuxten said. "We lost a couple of people right here and a lot of the tanks. We got chewed up." The lumps in the moss, which had only showed up on the scans when First Telkan had arrived, suddenly erupted into plants that grew impossibly fast. General Vost was working at his own holotank, watching what Vuxten was narrating as he worked, identifying plants, growth rate, nutrient uptake rate, where they were in regards to a major vein. Tanks had plants shoot out from under them, vines grabbing and twisting. First Telkan scattered, going for flat spots of moss, throwing or firing out grenades or rockets to blow the moss off of the ferrocrete and jumping to the middle of the spot. Four of First Telkan didn't make it. At every point where the Telkan Marines didn't make it out there was an explosion. "What triggers that?" Vost asked. "Termination of life signs," Vuxten said. "We encountered a few places where bodies are used pretty horrifically and all agreed we'd rather risk having our suits explode when we sneeze than be used like that." Vuxten made a motion, looking at the holodisplay coming from his palm, then flicked it General Vost. "Take a look at that, sir. We encountered that on Day Two when we were evacing people." It looked like a Telkan with a bulging face, throat, and abdomen. It suddenly split open to reveal a swarm of wasps and dozens of little crabs which charged in. "Luckily, the broodcarriers can smell them and sense them. None of them got in with any podling daycares," Vuxten said, turning away. "Their hearts still beat and they make moaning and gagging noises. We felt like they were still alive in there." General Vost nodded. The vehicle drivers obviously panicked, to Ekret's eyes. Two slammed into each other. One bathed a squad of Telkan power armor troops with fire and one of the troops fired back with a rocket that blew up the flame tank. Ekret couldn't blame them. Rockets and grenades were flying out at and the tanks were turning to fire at the coral. "It looks like cabbage in the garden," Trucker mused. "Protective leafs. See how they're trying to curl over the coral? Yeah, this was something big." Bees, dragonflies, larger bugs were all swarming, going for the tanks, which had moved to areas that had been scoured of moss by explosives. A lot of the Telkan power armor had jumped onto the tanks, providing cover as they poured fire into the plants. "Plasma didn't work, weirdly enough regular fire worked just fine," Vuxten said. "I don't know enough about the difference between napalm and plasma." "Energy profile," Trucker grunted. Araktun turned and looked at the holodisplay. The coral was burning. "Look, they lost cohesiveness," Araktun said. Trucker nodded. "Each of those coral formations they lost, they lose more and more of their cohesion." "This might be the difference in this sector compared to the rest," Tic-Tak mused. "Perhaps they are growing more of them?" Vuxten shook his head. "Not for a pipe that big. That's something big being grown. Something it'll take atomics to stop." "Something to offset our big tanks," Araktun said. He turned to Vuxten. "What's the biggest threat your power armor troops face?" Vuxten looked confused. "I'm just a corporal, sir." "Second lieutenant now, son," Tik-tac said. Vuxten nodded. "I'm just a lieutenant, sir. I'm in charge of a fire recon platoon of Telkan Marines, that's all." "What's the biggest threat you've faced?" General Vost asked. "Heat. There has to be thirty different ways the jungle goes for your heat systems. From what looks like airborne plant seeds that seal to your cooling fins with insulation like plastic to bugs that purposefully home in on your cooling systems, the jungle is definitely targeting heat," Vuxten said. "I noticed that during our relief of the civilian command center," Trucker said. Araktun nodded. "My men might be of use here," he turned to Vuxten. "I'd like a briefing of First Telkan's heat compensation tactics." Vuxten looked at the gathered generals. "Sirs, maybe it would be better to talk to some of the higher ranking officers? I've only been a Marine a year." Tik-Tac walked up and put his hand on Vuxten's shoulder. "Your men have the most field experience out there in the jungle. The majority of your officers are Terran Marines, we'll get their opinion too, son. Don't think we're not going to speak to them too. You just have a lot of field experience." "Oh, OK, sir," Vuxten said, looking out of his depth. "Don't sweat it, kid," Trucker said. "We'll have you back in armor and behind your rifle quick enough so you don't have to stand around a bunch of plotters and planners like us." Vuxten just nodded. Ekret had watched the whole thing interestedly. He knew how Vuxten felt. He had been a Most High, and he still felt inadequate at times watching the Terran military work. He, himself, was used to being told what to do, not having people ask him his opinions on everything from how much time his men spent in the tanks to if the ammunition templates were working right to what his favorite shows were. Ekret moved over next to Vuxten as the other Generals went back to discussing everything from how to deal with the Terran military's biggest problem (heat) to what the jungle might be cooking up to how much longer they had to hold out until the shelters were reconfigured and ready to launch. "It's almost frightening, isn't it?" Ekret asked the younger male. "Sir?" Vuxten asked, looking at him. Ekret could see the thick red scarring, not yet faded, around the Telkan's ear. "Watching Terrans go to work. You can see how they've crushed everyone they've ever faced," Ekret said, taking the half of the ration tube that remained unchewed. "I don't understand why they wanted to talk to me," the younger male said softly. "Because you've been on the ground, seen it react to your actions with your own eyes, had your reflexes save you, which means you understand something about the jungle at a subconscious level," Ekret said, pouring the spit out of the tube into the reclaimer before putting it back into his mouth and chewing on it. "Vuxten, what's the first sign you notice of a vein bolt?" General Vost asked. "The mat bulges slightly, gets spongier feeling under our boots, and there will be a green trail in the moss where the nutrients are being poured into the vein to get it ready," Vuxten answered. "More spores and pollen too." "See, that's information you can't see in the recordings," Ekret said, nodding at the holotank. He looked at Vuxten. "I can have my mechanics put feedback sensors on my hovertanks to rate the ground reflection of my hoverfans, maybe give me a second or two to react." "Oh," Vuxten nodded. "Trucker there, he'll notice it. The Unnamed Gods only know how he'd notice, but I guarantee you that he'll notice it," Ekret said. "General Araktun's cyborgs will know to keep a look out for it. A second or two can save countless lives." "You can ambush the ambush if you know it's coming," Vuxten quoted. "These power blooms, how long from sighting an incoming vein bloom till they erupt?" General Vost asked. "Um, ten, maybe twenty seconds. You can tell what's going to get power bloomed by a thin vein pattern coming from the middle of an intersection. It takes three or four vein bolt strikes to cause a power bloom," Vuxten said. "You can't rely on your suit computer, though. Because of the sudden spore and pollen eruptions your visuals and sensors are usually confused." Vuxten thought for a second. "If you have incoming vein bolt strikes and your sensors suddenly drop to almost nothing, you're about to get power bloomed and you might be on top of a bloomer." All of the generals nodded, adding that. Vuxten noted that Tik-Tac was stepped back a bit, just watching. He pointed it out to Ekret who nodded. "The General isn't a combat arms leader. He trusts the others to do their jobs, he's figuring out the best was to support them," Ekret said. He looked at Vuxten. "Make no mistake, young Telkan, wars are won or lost by men like the General. All of the combat valor in the world won't help you if you starve to death without ammunition or uniforms." "Oh," Vuxten said. He never really thought about it. Maintenance, supplies, armor repair, it just happened. Vuxten had never really thought about it beyond hoping it was taken care of. Ekret kept chewing on the ration tube, watching the information in the tanks flow by. "Why aren't you involved?" Vuxten suddenly asked. Ekret looked at him and smiled. "Because, young man, I, like you, are Scout Recon. Which means that I'll be paying attention to you and your fellow Scout Marines on a much more personal level. The others? They're heavy metal. Combat warborgs, heavy tanks, heavy assault infantry." "Oh," Vuxten said, still slightly confused. "Just stand here, they'll get to us. More than likely to assign a mission," Ekret said. "And I've got a feeling what it's going to be," Ekret said. "What's that, sir?" Vuxten asked. "If I tell you, you won't figure it out on your own," Ekret smiled. ---------------------- Ekret stared at the massive organic pipes, rising up out of the ocean, over the edge of the cliff, to disappear into the wilted looking jungle. His tank sat, idling, only a hundred meters from the nearest pipe, which had grown a thicker layer of twisted vines around it. The moon had set with the sun, meaning the only view was through light amplification, giving the world a too-slick feeling. He left signal repeaters every two hundred meters that used point to point tight beam communication across one of the narrow bands not clogged by the pollen and spores, all the way back to the main Forward Operating Base. Trucker was only fifty miles away, his entire Division formed into a spearhead poised to slam its way through the thickest part of the jungle. All eight BOLOs attached to him were on the flanks, ready to go. Vuxten's platoon and a light company of Araktun's cyborgs had entered the jungle only two hours before, after making sure everyone had gotten a good night's sleep. The objective wasn't to suddenly win the war, but to delay whatever it was the jungle had planned. The shelters needed another twelve days to finish reconfiguring, dig their way out of the bedrock, and launch. One point two million shelters across a main continent, two sub-continents, and eighteen major islands. Ekret was glad it wasn't his responsibility. That all of those people only tangentially relied on his guns. If I was to be put into Tik-Tac's place I'd develop a substance abuse problem retroactively, Ekret thought to himself. He looked back over the ocean, one hand on the lip of the hatch, feeling his tank vibrate slightly. The ocean was covered with a thick layer of algae and seaweed. Enemy territory, he sighed to himself. He looked around at the jungle again, keeping an eye for any change in the colors. Yeah, his scout tank would supposedly alert him of any palette change in the foliage, but sometimes it was better to keep a physical eye on it. He could barely see the fiber-optic cable twinkling in the sunlight, moss already growing over it, that ran from his tank into the jungle. Recon Alpha-Three-Three's only line of communication out of the jungle. The surgical sterilization fields crackled as General Ekret waited. ----------------------- Trucker had his left palm turned up, his right hand on the coax gun. Above his left hand was a holodisplay feeding him data. It was easy to forget just how thick the jungle was from the ground, when you weren't in a five hundred ton mechanical war machine. The 'trees' were almost a hundred meters high, the trunks thick and greasy looking. The moss carpet was thick and spores the size of a grown man's fist floated in mid air, slowly blinking red or yellow or green. Two hours and they were nearly twenty-five miles in. Trucker knew the borgs from Sixteen Scout Recon could move up to ninety miles an hour, but they'd chosen to follow the Telkan Marines, who were notably slower. Right now they were stopped, waiting for something that Trucker didn't see. He could tell by the signals that the Recon cyborgs didn't either. But Vuxten had said to hold position, that nobody should move, and so everyone was frozen in place. As Trucker watched there was a brightening in the moss in a vein pattern, spreading out from the massive nutrient pipes. "Do. Not. Move," the Telkan officer snapped. The pattern spread out, then the moss bulged around a handful of thick conduits, the edges around it brightening. Almost a minute passed before the fluid moved off to the left. That's heading for someone else, Trucker thought to himself. He opened his channel to BOLO Victorious. "Victor, keep your optics peeled, there's a vein bolt heading in roughly your direction," Trucker snapped. "Roger, sir," BOLO Victorious answered. The scout team moved on. Trucker kept watch, feeling the numbers run in his head. He slid the map to the north, not to the thickest part of the jungle, but to a point between five different lakes. There. Whatever it is, it's there, Trucker thought to himself, scanning back to where the scouts were following the thick nutrient trunk. ---------------------------- TERRASOL Space Force Units arriving at operational theaters. Rough estimation of location on Precursor Biological Weapon Fleets for systems are attached. Each fleet is to the solar north-west, at approximately 2.2 LY from stellar mass. Bioweapon fleets are to be targeted with extreme prejudice. Operation Tusked Raven is proceeding according to projections. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS--------- TASK FORCE 43 (ANVIL) Have moved in strength into the Nantaver-837 system (Locally: Artcarik-482) to engage heavy Unified Military Fleet presence. Was informed by the System Most High, one Mana'aktoo, that even if we were triumphant in two years time the entire system would be eradicated by a super-weapon. System Most High 'inadvertantly' let slip the distance. Discovered bioweapon fleet in hibernation. Upon informing System Most High and System Defense Most High of the destruction of the bioweapon fleet, the system was immediately surrendered. Governor Mana'aktoo is highly regarded by the xenospecies who live in the system. The four mega-corporations also regard him highly. The System Defense Most High is highly regarded by his subordinates. I'm in an odd place here. Governor Mana'aktoo has made himself and his staff available at all opportunity. I'm pinned down here since this system is a priority to the Unified Council defense. If I abandoned it to carry on, another fleet could come in and take it. As it surrendered immediately I cannot move through destroying infrastructure due to the Geneva Convention and the Rules of Land Warfare. Which means the System Defense High Most has pinned my task force here even more effectively than if he'd tried to take me head on. He had literally millions of troops under his command, all of whom are EPOWs that I have to oversee. They are not a difficultly, at worst they're lazy and unmotivated as EPOWs, at best their eager to assist my command in any orders we give out, but I cannot pull out and leave behind millions of soldiers. Additionally, the civilian infrastructure is the highest I've seen in a Lanaktallan controlled system, the citizens highly educated (for their standards) and eagerly supporting Mana'aktoo's stewardship. As the xenosapients in the system welcome us, with Mana'aktoo's encouragement, my office is flooded with requests for PR interviews and 'meet the people' interviews. It's not uncommon for my Marines and Army personnel to be asked to pose for photography or asked for interviews. I need an actual occupation fleet here. MI was way off on whether or not this guy would fight to the death. My Task Force should have moved on to my other objectives already, instead I'm stuck here like my foot has been nailed to the floor. --Admiral Schmidt, Commander, Task Force Anvil. -------NOTHING FOLLOWS-------- MANTID FREE WORLD ------NOTHING FOLLOWS------ TELKAN GESTALT What? What's so funny? ------NOTHING FOLLOWS------ MANTID FREE WORLDS It's the age old human problem, dear. They won, but now they don't know what to do with it. ------NOTHING FOLLOWS----- TREANA'AD HIVE WORLDS See, sis and I, we'd just eat everyone and leave, at least, before the Terrans stomped on us. The Terrans, though, they want something different for all those people. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS------ TELKAN GESTALT What do they want? -------NOTHING FOLLOWS------- RIGELLIAN COMPACT Freedom and self-determination. They don't want to stand over you with a club, they want you to start doing your own thing so they can get back to doing their own thing. Humans are lazy. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS------- TERRASOL Wow. Rude. I mean, you're not wrong. But rude. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS-----
Clarkson's Columns: Vin Diesel is the Face of Jesus & My Trees are Under Attack from Bambi
With a screech of tyres, Vin Diesel speeds towards the role he was reborn to play: the son of God By Jeremy Clarkson (Sunday Times, July 5) Incredible news from the pulpit. The Most Rev Justin Welby, oil man, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the entire Anglican church, has announced — and you may need to sit down for this — that the baby Jesus may not have been white. He says that if you tour the world's churches, you see Jesus depicted in lots of different ways. He's black. He's pink. He's short. He's tall. Apparently, in the South Pacific, he looks like Jonah Lomu. But, says Welby, it's probable that he actually had a Middle Eastern appearance. That will come as a huge shock to people in the southern states of America, where most people believe he has a very long tie, an orange face and some nylon growing out of his head. It came as a fairly big shock to me as well, because I always thought Jesus had blue eyes, long hair, a beard and some kind of kaftan. Basically, he looked like the lead guitarist in every mid-Seventies rock band. This is probably because that's the look Robert Powell chose when he took the lead in Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 smash Jesus of Nazareth. Since 1912, nearly 60 actors have played Jesus in films. And in recent times most of them seem to have channelled their inner Paul Rodgers before pulling on the thorny crown and the sandals. Except for the Swedish actor Max von Sydow, who looked like a Volvo chassis engineer with a towel on his head. Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Brian Deacon and Willem Dafoe all went down the rock-star route. And then came Christian Bale. You'd expect something more from this master of versatility — that he'd burst onto the screen looking and sounding like Larry Grayson, or Jacob Rees-Mogg. But, no, he decided to play the role as John Entwistle of the Who. All of this means that for more than a hundred years it's been drilled into the world that Jesus was definitely white. Which is probably why, when they discovered the Turin shroud, no one thought to say: "Wait a minute. That face. It can't be real, because it looks like it's from a Bad Company album cover." Of course it looked like that. It was Jesus, and that's what Jesus looked like. We were all certain of this. Occasionally a director would decide to cast a non-white person, and once, in a film called Killing Jesus, the lead went to a chap called Haaz Sleiman, who's Lebanese, of all things. And, it later turned out, gay. This, people will say, was madness, giving the part of Jesus — a single man from Nazareth — to a single man from Beirut. Apparently, this weekend, the altarpiece at St Albans Cathedral is being replaced by a high-resolution print of a rainbow-nation Last Supper, in which Jesus has the facial features of a Jamaican model called Tafari Hinds. I don't doubt that this will cause quite a stink among all those Brexitty old ladies in the congregation who've only just got over the gay Lebanese chap, but the fact is this. If you're prepared to believe that the son of your God could walk on water and turn fish into loaves and bring people back from the dead, then it must be possible to believe he had dark skin. Actually, I'll go further. If you believe his mum was a virgin when she became pregnant, then you should be able to believe it if I say he looked like one of those laughing robots from the Smash commercials. Can you imagine the furore if we could go back in time and work out what Jesus really looked like? You'd hope and pray that he had a strong resemblance to Omar Sharif or Cat Stevens. But it's possible he was a dead ringer for Saddam Hussein, and that would be like finding out that Shakespeare had a Birmingham accent or that Stonehenge was an early-days public lavatory or that Florence Nightingale was a screaming racist. Sometimes, history is best left under lock and key. A novelist, for example, suggested in his bestselling Da Vinci book that Jesus had fathered a child, and as a direct result of that it's now emerged that the author ended up with four lovers and bought one a horse with money that should have gone to his ex-wife. I bet he wishes now he'd left the Jesus story well alone. The church, however, cannot leave the Jesus story alone. The spotlight of social media is shining in his face, and we're all waiting for guidance on what we are seeing. That's what Welby must now do: come up with a global face for Christianity. A sort of Ronald McDonald for the church. All the successful corporations, such as Coca-Cola and Apple and Rolls-Royce, have an instantly recognisable brand look, and the Anglican church needs one too. It's a man on a cross, for sure, but what does his face look like? That's the million-dollar question. Happily, though, I have an answer. I know exactly who Jesus should look like on every cross and in every stained-glass window and in every painting in every church in every corner of the world. He should look like Vin Diesel. Mr Diesel is perfect because he's racially un-pigeonholeable. He's definitely white but he's also definitely black, definitely Asian and definitely Hispanic. Could he be a Nazarene as well? It's possible, for sure. So he is what you want him to be, which means everyone will be happy. But there's more to it than that. He says his mother was English, German and Scottish, and had a knowledge of the stars. He also says, intriguingly, that he doesn't know who his father was. Joseph? He won't say. He won't say anything about his private life, but then you wouldn't if you'd risen from the dead and then disappeared for 2,000 years. We are told his real name is Mark Sinclair, but that may be a ruse. It could be Jesus. And I think that, from now on, it should be, because imagine how good that would look in the credits of Fast & Furious 10. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- My trees are under attack: Huge tractors have just removed 200 tons of timber. But the real threat to my forest is Bambi and his pals Hare and Squirrel By Jeremy Clarkson (Sunday Times, July 5) I'm not quite sure how I've managed this, but somehow I have reached the age of 60 without absorbing a single piece of information about trees. Literally nothing. I know more about Jane Austen, and all I know about her is that her Christian name is Jane, her surname is Austen and she wrote about a liberated young woman called Emmanuelle. I must, occasionally, have been on a walk where someone started to talk about the trees we were seeing, but I guess I must have a filter in my head that turns tree talk into an eerie silence. I therefore cannot tell an oak from an ash or a spruce from a larch. They're all just green and brown and covered in bark. I only know what a Christmas tree is when it's covered in tinsel. However, there are a hundred acres of woodland on my farm, and in the past nine months, since I decided to do farming for a living, I've had to try to learn something about how they work. This is tricky, because when I go into the gloom with a man who has no fingers — everyone in forestry has no fingers — he only ever gets to "You see the thing about an oak is…" and the filter kicks in so after that I hear nothing at all. I had the same problem at school in chemistry lessons."Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying." Despite all this, I have learnt some things. First, it is impossible for a tree to survive without man's help. If you plant one and then leave it alone, it will be eaten by a deer or a hare within a week. To get round this, you must surround its spindly little trunk with a piece of plastic tubing that's designed to split when, after about ten hundred years, the trunk is wide enough to withstand attacks from Bambi and his overgrown rabbity mates. At this point the grey squirrel will arrive and remove all of the bark to a height of about 2ft. This means the tree will become infected with something and die. Or it will grow more slowly than the other trees around it, which means it will be deprived of sunlight and die. Eventually, and I genuinely don't know how it's possible, a few trees will grow to become big and strong, but this takes such a long time, you and your children will not live long enough to reap the rewards. To get round this, I recently planted 20 trees — I don't know what they are; they're all brown and green — that were already 25ft high. Each one cost more than most hatchbacks. They arrived on a fleet of articulated lorries, with their roots encased in sacks, and were lowered into holes that had been made by a 21-ton digger. This was wilding, with extra diesel. And now it is my job to look after them. It is a big responsibility. Twice a week I must pour exactly 25 litres of water into the roots of each tree via a tube that sticks out of the ground like an exhaust pipe. And another 25 litres around the trunk. As there is no liquid refreshment in the field, it means I must first fill a tanker with a thousand litres of water and then spend two hours measuring it out and delivering it to precisely the right places. If I do not do this properly, the trees will die. So I am doing it properly. And, from what I can tell, the trees are dying. This may or may not have something to do with a vast range of diseases that a tree can and will get.And the problem is going to get worse, because in the run-up to the last election, each of the main parties, and the Lib Dems, was promising vast tree-planting programmes in an effort to shut up Greta Thunberg. We ended up with the Tories, who had said they would plant 30 million trees a year by 2025. That's 82,000 a day. Leaving aside the issue of who exactly would do all the planting, now we have left the EU, there's the bigger question of where they are going to find 30 million trees a year. Abroad, is the obvious answer. But when you import a tree, it will arrive with bugs and fungi against which the native trees have no immunity. Dutch elm disease came from Canada. Ash dieback came from mainland Europe. So, to fulfil a political promise, we import one diseased tree from Finland and end up killing, according to recent estimates, 72 million trees that are already here. There's another problem too. We will not be creating these 30 million trees. We will simply be moving them from their place of birth to Britain, where almost all of them will be killed by rabbits, deer, squirrels, disease, the growth ambitions of other trees… or me. One of the things you learn when you become a countryman is that all real countrymen say the same thing when they walk into a wood. "Hmm," they chunter. "This needs thinning."That's what my keeper said to me. It's what my tractor driver and land agent said too. So, in a single week I took 200 tons of timber from a 10-acre slab of woodland, and when I posted a picture on Instagram of the gigantic John Deere machine that I'd used, every single teenage girl who follows me — all four of them — came back with a stream of venom and anguish. I was worse than McDonald's. I was ruining their future and choking their grandparents. I was doing deforestation, and that's worse than racism. Incredibly, however, it's almost impossible to tell that any trees have been felled at all. The only difference is that now the forest floor is aglow with puddles of sunlight, which will stimulate all sorts of new growth. In the past I've walked through that wood and it was ever such a dark and gloomy place. They could have filmed The Blair Witch Project in there. They probably did. But now there's new growth of nettles here and there, and for the first time in probably 20 years you occasionally trip over a hoop of bramble. By killing a bunch of trees, then, I've brought the wood back to life. That's good for Bambi and the hares. It's good for the squirrels. It's good for the 250,000 bees I've just put in there, and it's good for all sorts of small flowers about which I know even less than I do about trees. It's also, according to my keeper, good for my shoot. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- And here's the Sun column: "I’m 60 and falling apart…but at least my mind is still racing"
Oscars 2021: An inside look (like, really inside) to 50 possible contenders in the next awards race
Another Oscar ceremony happened, and we got our fair share of joy and disappointment. After Parasite surprised the world and took Best Picture, it seems like the game has changed for the awards race, now that non-English speaking films can actually fight and be recognized as well as classics as… Green Book. The Oscar race is still full of pain and glory, and even though the year has barely started, we have a bunch of movies that are fighting for air. And here’s 50 of them. Yes, I had some free time in my hands and this is a cool hobby, so I took the liberty to introduce most of the movies that will have Film Twitter entertained for the following 12 months. I say most, because there are always contenders who come out of nowhere later in the year, so this is the starter set. Here we go. -Annette: Since Parasite’s road to the Oscars started at Cannes, it seems fair to talk about a movie that is circling a premiere in the world stage that is set in France. After delivering weird, indie classics like Mauvais Sang and Holy Motors (yes, the kind of movies that make you seem like a snob when you recommend them to people), Leos Carax is making his first movie spoken in the English language… and it has a musical screenplay written by the cult rock duo of Sparks. Recently robbed Adam Driver and previous Oscar winner Marion Cotillard sing in this tale of a stand-up comedian and a famous soprano singer who rise and fall in Los Angeles while their daughter is born with a special gift. It seems like a wild bet, but we already know that Carax is a master with musical moments, so this is one of the most intriguing question marks of the year. -Ammonite: It’s time to talk narratives. On the one hand, we have Kate Winslet, a known name who hasn’t been very successful in the Oscar race since her Oscar win for The Reader over a decade ago (with the exception being her supporting performance in Steve Jobs, where she had a weird accent). On the other, we have Saoirse Ronan, a star on the rise who keeps collecting Oscar nominations, with 4 nods at the age of 25, including her fresh Best Actress loss for Little Women. What happens if we put them together in a drama set in the coasts of England during the 19th century where both of them fall for each other? That’s gonna be a winning formula if writedirector Francis Lee (who tackled queer romance in his acclaimed debut God’s Own Country) nails the Mary Anning story, and Neon (the distribution company founded three years ago that took Parasite to victory) is betting on it. -Benedetta: We know the Paul Verhoeven story. After isolating himself from Hollywood for over a decade, he took Isabelle Huppert to an Oscar nominated performance with the controversial, sexy, dark and funny thriller Elle. Now, he’s back with another story that perks up the ears, because now he’s covering the life of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century lesbian nun who had religious and erotic visions. If you know Paul, you already can tell that this fits into his brand of horniness, and a possible Cannes premiere could tell us if this has something to carry itself to Oscar night. -Blonde: With a short but impactful directorial credits list that takes us from Chopper, to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik is back with a film about Marilyn Monroe, a woman who has transcended the ideas of fame and stardom, in ways that are glamorous and nightmarish at the same time. After failing to launch with Naomi Watts or Jessica Chastain,the rising Ana de Armas takes the lead in the retelling of Monroe’s troubled life based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, which is said to be covered in the screenplay as somewhat of a horror movie. We don’t know what that means yet, but Netflix is gonna push hard for this one, especially considering how the Academy loves throwing awards to stars playing previous stars, and that also can possibly include co-stars Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody. -Breaking News in Yuba County: While he hasn’t gone back to the heights of his success achieved by the box office and award success of The Help (a movie that did not age well), Tate Taylor is still enjoying himself economically due to recent thrillers like The Girl on the Train and Ma. For his next movie, he’s made a dramedy that once again reunites him with Oscar winner Allison Janney, where she plays a woman who has to keep appearances and a hidden body when she catches her husband cheating on her, and then he dies of a heart attack. With a cast that also includes Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Samira Wiley, Wanda Sykes, Jimmi Simpson and Ellen Barkin, this could be a buzzy title later this year. -C’mon C’mon: You may love or hate whatever Joaquin Phoenix did in Joker, but you can’t deny the benefit of playing the Crown Prince of Crime in an Oscar-winning performance. The blank check that you share with indie directors afterwards. Now that Joaquin’s cultural cachet is on the rise, Mike Mills gets to benefit with this drama that stars Phoenix and Gaby Hoffmann, with him playing an artist left to take care of his precocious young nephew as they forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip. We only have to wonder if A24 will do better with this movie’s Oscar chances compared to 20th Century Women. -Cherry: After killing half the universe and bringing them back with the highest grossing movie of all time, where do you go? For Joe and Anthony Russo, the answer is “away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe”. The Russo brothers are trying to distance themselves and prove that they have a voice without Kevin Feige behind them, with a crime drama that’s also different than their days when they directed You, Me and Dupree or episodes of Arrested Development and Community. To help them in the journey, they took Tom Holland (who also needs to distance himself from Spider-Man, lest he ends up stuck to the character in the audience’s eyes) to star in a crime drama based on former Army medic Nico Walker’s memoir about his days after Iraq, where the PTSD and an opioid addiction led him to start robbing banks. -Da 5 Bloods: After bouncing back from a slump with the critical and commercial success of BlackKklansman, Spike Lee is cashing a Netflix check to tell the tale of four African American veterans who return to Vietnam to search for their fallen leader and some treasure. With a cast that includes Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Paul Walter Hauser and Chadwick Boseman, this sounds like an interesting combo, although we still should remember the last time that Spike tried his hand at a war movie, with the dull Miracle at St. Anna. -Dune: If you are on Reddit, you probably know about the new film by movies’ new Messiah, Denis Villeneuve. While the epic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert is getting a new chance in the multiplexes after that David Lynch movie that was forgotten by many, some are hoping that this will be the beginning of a new franchise (as seen by the release date of December 18, taking the spot of the usual Star Wars opening), and a return to the whole “remember when stuff like Return of the King or Fury Road were nominated for Best Picture?” question. Timothee Chalamet will be riding a lot of hope, and sandworm. -Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: As you start to see, there are several musicals that are gonna be fighting for attention over the next year, and Annette was the first one. Now, we also have this adaptation of the hit West End production, that centers around a gay British teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen and get his family and schoolmates to accept his sexuality. With a cast that mixes young unknowns, familiar Brits (Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire and my boy Ralph Ineson) and the previously nominated legend that is Richard E. Grant (who is playing a former drag queen named Loco Chanelle), the creative team of the stage musical will jump to the big screen with the help of Fox Searchlight (sorry, just Searchlight), who has clear Oscar hopes with a release date right in the middle of awards heat, on October 23. -Hillbilly Elegy: Even though the Parasite victory gave many people hope for a new Academy that stops recognizing stuff like previous winner Green Book… let’s be honest, the Academy will still look for movies like Green Book. This year, many people are turning their eyes towards Ron Howard’ adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about his low income life in a poor rural community in Ohio, filled with drugs, violence and verbal abuse. If this sounds like white trash porn, it doesn’t help to know that Glenn Close, who has become the biggest living Oscar bridesmaid with seven nominations, will play a character called Mamaw. And if that sounds trashy, then you have to know that Amy Adams, who follows Glenn with six nominations, is playing her drug-addicted, careless daughter. I don’t want to call this “Oscar bait”, but it sure is tempting. -I’m Thinking of Ending Things: After his stopmotion existential dramedy Anomalisa got him a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Oscars but at the same time bombed at the box office, Charlie Kaufman is getting the Netflix check. This time, he’s adapting the dark novel by Iain Reid, about a woman (Jessie Buckley, who is on the rise and took over the role after Brie Larson had to pass) who is taken by her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), in a trip that takes a turn for the worse. If Kaufman can deliver with this one, it will be a big contender. -In the Heights: Yes, more musicals! This time, it’s time to talk about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-winning musical, that was overshadowed because of his other small play about some treasury secretary. Now, his Broadway ensemble tale about life in a neighborhood in Washington Heights is jumping to the movie screen with Jon Chu at the helm, following the success of Crazy Rich Asians. This Latino tale mixes up-and-comers like Anthony Ramos (who comes straight from Hamilton and playing Lady Gaga’s friend in A Star is Born), names like Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits (who is pro bits), and Olga Merediz, who starred in the Broadway show as Abuela Claudia and who could be the early frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, if Chu allows her to shine like she did onstage. -Jesus Was My Homeboy: When looking at up-and-coming Black actors right now in Hollywood, two of the top names are Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, who already appeared in the same movie in Get Out, which earned Kaluuya a Best Actor nomination. This time, they share the screen in Shaka King’s retelling of the story of Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), an activist and Black Panther leader… as well as the story of William O’Neal (Stanfield), the FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the party and arrest him. With the backing of Warner Bros, this will attempt to make an impact with a clash of actors that will have to fight with an August release date, not the ideal time to release an awards movie. -King Richard: Starting with Suicide Squad, Will Smith has been trying to prove that he’s back and better than ever. Some attempts to get back to the top of the A-list (Aladdin, Bad Boys For Life) have worked, while others (Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise)... have not. But Will is still going, and now he’s going for his next prestige play as he plays Richard Williams, the coach and father of the tennis legends Venus and Serena, who pushed them to their full potential. While it’s weird that the father of the Williams sisters is getting a movie before them, it does sound like a meaty role for Smith, who has experience with Oscar notices with sports biopics because of what he did with Michael Mann in Ali. Let’s hope director Reinaldo Marcus Green can take him there too. -Last Night in Soho: Every year, one or two directors who have a cool reputation end up in the Dolby Theatre, and 2020 could be the year of Edgar Wright. After delivering his first big box office hit with Baby Driver, the Brit is going back to London to tell a story in the realm of psychological horror, which has been supposedly inspired by classics like Don’t Look Now and Repulsion. With a premise that supposedly involves time travel and a cast that includes Anya-Taylor Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith and Diana Rigg, Wright (who also co-wrote this with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who was just nominated for Best Original Screenplay for her work in 1917) is making a big swing. -Let Them All Talk: Every year there’s more new streaming services, and that also means that there’s new players in the Oscar game. To secure subscribers to the new service, HBO Max has secured the rights to the next Steven Soderbergh movie, a comedy that stars Meryl Streep as a celebrated author that takes her friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges, again) in a journey to find fun and come to terms with the past. The last time that Soderbergh and Streep worked together, the end result was the very disappointing The Laundromat. Let’s hope that this time everything works out. -Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Now that Netflix got the deal to adapt August Wilson’s acclaimed plays with Denzel Washington’s production company, the next jump from the stage to the screen is a meaty one. Viola Davis is playing blues singer Ma Rainey in this tale of a heated recording session with her bandmates, her agent and her producer in 1927, with a cast that also includes Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo. The Tony nominated play talked about race, art and the intersection of the two, and it’s gonna be explosive to see that unfold on screen, even if director George C. Wolfe’s previous filmography isn’t very encouraging. -Macbeth: In a shocking development, the Coen brothers are no more. Well, just this time. For the first time in his career, Joel Coen is making a movie without Ethan, and it’s a Shakespeare adaptation. Denzel Washington is playing the man who wants to be king of Scotland, and Frances McDormand is playing his Lady Macbeth. While this just started filming and it will be a race to finish it in time for competition in the awards race, the potential is there, and this project has everybody’s attention. -Mank: After scoring 24 Oscar nominations and only winning 2 awards last Sunday, Netflix has to wonder what else must they do to get in the club that awards them. They tried with Cuarón, they tried with Scorsese, they tried with Baumbach, they tried with two Popes, and they still feel a barrier. Now, the big gamble for awards by the streamer in 2020 comes to us in the hands of David Fincher, who is basically their friend after the rest of Hollywood denied him (Disney dropped his 20,000 Leagues adaptation, HBO denied the US remake of Utopia, and Paramount drove World War Z 2 away from him). In his first movie since 2014’s Gone Girl, David will go black and white to tackle a script by his late father about the making of the classic of classics, Citizen Kane, with previous Oscar winner Gary Oldman playing the lead role of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Will the Academy fall for the ultimate “power of da moviesshhh” story? -Minari: Sundance can be hit or miss with the breakout films that try to make it to the Oscars. However, you can’t deny the waves made by A24 when they premiered Lee Isaac Chung’s new drama there, ending up winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the US Dramatic Competition. If Parasite endeared Academy voters to Korean families, Steven Yeun hopes that the same thing happens with this story, where he plays a father in the ‘80s who suddenly decides to move his family to Arkansas to start a farm. Even though the reviews have been great, we must also remember that last year, A24 had in their hands The Farewell, another Sundance hit about an Asian family that ended up with no Oscar nominations. Let’s hope that this time, the Plan B influence (remember, that’s Brad Pitt’s production company, of Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave fame) makes a difference. -Next Goal Wins: It’s a good time to be Taika Waititi. Why? Taika Waititi can do what he wants. He can direct a Thor movie, he can win an Oscar for writing a comedy set in WW2 about a Third Reich boy who has an Imaginary Hitler friend, or he can pop up in The Mandalorian as a droid. Taika keeps winning, and he wants more. Between his press tour for Jojo Rabbit and his return to the MCU, he quickly shot an adaptation of a great documentary about the disgraced national team of American Samoa, one of the worst football teams known to man, as they try to make the cut for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Everybody loves a good sports comedy, and Searchlight bets that we’ll enjoy this story led by Michael Fassbender as the new (and Dutch-American) coach in town who tries to shape the team for victory. -News of the World: Seven years after their solid collaboration in Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks reunite for more awards love in what seems to be Universal’s main attraction for the Oscars. This time, Hanks stars in a Western drama based on Paulette Jiles’ novel where he plays a traveling newsreader in the aftermath of the American Civil War who is tasked with reuniting an orphaned girl with her living relatives. With a Christmas release date, Universal is betting big in getting the same nomination boost that 1917 is enjoying right now, and the formula is promising. -Nightmare Alley: Following his Best Picture and Best Director wins for The Shape of Water, everybody in Hollywood wondered what would Guillermo del Toro do next. Well, as Del Toro often does, a little bit of everything and nothing. Some projects moved (as his produced Pinocchio movie on Netflix, or his Death Stranding likeness cameo), others stalled and die (like his proposed Fantastic Voyage remake). But now he’s rolling on his next project, a new adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel that already was a Tyrone Power film in 1947. This noir tale tells the story of a con man (Bradley Cooper) who teams up with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) to trick people and win money, and how things get out of control. With a cast that also includes Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and more, this could play well if it hits the right tone. -Nomadland: There’s breakout years, and then there’s the amazing potential of Chloe Zhao’s 2020. On the one hand, after making Hollywood notice her skill with the gripping story of The Rider, she got the keys to the MCU kingdom to direct the next potential franchise of Kevin Feige, The Eternals. And just in case, she also has in her sleeve this indie drama that she wrote and directed beforehand, with two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand playing a woman who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. If Chloe nails these two films, it could be the one-two punch of the decade. -One Night in Miami: Regina King is living her best life. Following her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk and the success that came with her lead role in the Watchmen show on HBO, the actress is jumping to a new challenge: directing movies. For her big screen debut, she’s adapting Kemp Powers’ play that dramatizes a real meeting on February 25, 1964, between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. -Over the Moon: After earning praise and Oscar nominations with I Lost My Body and Klaus, Netflix will keep its bet on animated movies with a film directed by the legendary Glen Keane. Who? A classic Disney animator responsible for the design of characters like Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan and more](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jRkx2PNVr8), and who recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball, which he co-directed with the late Kobe Bryant. Now, he brings us a musical adventure centered around a Chinese girl who builds a rocket ship and blasts off to the Moon in hopes of meeting a legendary Moon Goddess. -Passing: It’s always interesting when an actor jumps behind the camera, and Rebecca Hall’s case is no exception. For her directorial debut, Hall chose to adapt Nella Larsen’s acclaimed novel set in Harlem in the 1920s, about two mixed race childhood friends (Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson) who reunite in adulthood and become obsessed with one another's lives. With a premise that explores tough questions about race and sexuality, it looks like a tricky challenge for a first timer, but it would be more impressive if Hall manages to rise over the challenge. -Prisoner 760: An interesting part of following the awards circuit is looking at when it's appropriate to talk about touchy subjects in recent history. I’m saying that because this next movie tells the real life tale of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), a man who, despite not being charged or having a set trial, is held in custody at Guantanamo Bay, and turns towards a pair of lawyers (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley) to aid him. Based on the famous journal that the man wrote while he was being detained, the movie (that also counts with Benedict Cumberbatch) is directed by Kevin Macdonald who, a long time ago, helped Forest Whitaker win Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland. Could he get back in the race after almost 15 years of movies like State of Play? -Raya and the Last Dragon: This year, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ bet for the Oscars is a fantasy tale set in a mysterious realm called Kumandra, where a warrior named Raya searches for the last dragon in the world. And that dragon has the voice of Awkwafina. Even though they missed out last Oscars when Frozen II got the cold shoulder by the Academy in Best Animated Feature, this premise looks interesting enough to merit a chance. One more thing: between last year’s Abominable, Over the Moon and this movie, there’s a clear connection of animated movies trying to appeal to Chinese sensibilities (and that sweet box office). -Rebecca: It’s wild to think that the only time that Alfred Hitchcock made a film that won the Oscar for Best Picture was with 1940’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller novel, more muted and conventional than his more known classics. Now, Ben Wheatley and Netflix are giving the Gothic story a new spin, with Lily James playing the newly married young woman who finds herself battling the shadow of her husband's (Armie Hammer) dead first wife, the mysterious Rebecca. The story is a classic, and we have to see how much weird Wheatley stuff is in the mix. -Red, White and Water: Between 2011 and 2014, Jennifer Lawrence was everywhere and people loved it. She was America’s sweetheart, the Oscar winner, Katniss Everdeen. But then, everything kinda fell. Those X-Men movies got worse and she looked tired of being in them, her anecdotes got less charming and more pandering to some, she took respectable risks that didn’t pay off with Red Sparrow and Mother!, and some people didn’t like that she said that it wasn’t nice to share private photos of her online. Now, she looks to get back to the Oscar race with a small project funded by A24 and directed by Lila Neugebauer in her film debut, about a soldier who comes back to the US after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. Also, Brian Tyree Henry is in this, and it would be amazing if he got nominated for something. -Respect: You know what’s a surefire way to get Academy voters’ attention? Play a real singer! Rami Malek took a win last year for playing Freddie Mercury, Renee Zellweger just won the gold after portraying Judy Garland, and now Jennifer Hudson wants more Oscar love. Almost 15 years after taking Best Supporting Actress for her role in Dreamgirls, Hudson will try to get more by playing soul legend Aretha Franklin, in a biopic directed by first timer Liesl Tommy that practically screams “give me the gold”. How am I so sure? Well, see the teaser that they released in December (for a movie that opens in October), and tell me. It will work out better for Hudson than Cats, that’s for sure. -Soul: Unless they really disappoint (I’m looking at you, The Good Dinosaur, Cars 2 and Cars 3), you can’t have the Oscars without inviting Pixar to the party. This year, they have two projects in the hopes of success. While in a few weeks we’ll see what happens with the fantasy family road trip of Onward, the studio’s biggest bet of the year clearly is the next existential animation written and directed by Pete Docter, who brought Oscar gold to his home with Up and Inside Out. The movie, which centers on a teacher (voice of Jamie Foxx) who dreams of becoming a jazz musician and, just as he’s about to get his big break, ends up getting into an accident that separates his soul from his body, had a promising first trailer, and it also promises a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as new songs by Jon Batiste. The only downside so far for the marketing was the fact that the trailer reveal led people to notice a suspicious trend involving black characters when they lead an animated movie. -Tenet: When Leonardo DiCaprio finally touched his Academy Award, an alarm went off in the mind of a portion of Internet users, who have made their next crusade to give themselves to the cause of getting Christopher Nolan some Oscar love. And his next blank check, an action thriller involving espionage and time travel, could pull off the same intersection of popcorn and prestige that made Inception both a box office hit and a critically acclaimed Oscar nominee. It helps to have a cast of impressive names like John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson, as well as a crew that includes Ludwig Goransson and Hoyte van Hoytema. In other words, if this becomes a hit, this could go for a huge number of nominations. -The Devil All the Time: As you may have noticed by now, Netflix is leading the charge in possible Oscar projects. Another buzzy movie that comes from them is the new psychological thriller by Antonio Campos, a filmmaker known for delivering small and intimate but yet intense and terrifying dramas like Simon Killer and Christine. Using the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, Campos will follow non-linearly a cast of characters in Ohio between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War, with the help of an interesting cast that includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Bill Skarsgard, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough. -The Eyes of Tammy Faye: After being known as a sketch comedy goofball because of The State, Wet Hot American Summer and Stella, Michael Showalter reinvented himself as a director of small and human dramedies like Hello, My Name is Doris and The Big Sick. For his next project, he’s gonna mix a little bit of both worlds, because he has before him the story of the televangelists Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain, who has been really trying to recapture her early ‘10 awards run to no avail) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, who was previously nominated for Hacksaw Ridge, instead of Silence, because why). With a real life tale that involves Christian theme parks, fraud and conspiracies, this is the kind of loud small movie that Searchlight loves to parade around, especially as an actors showcase (Jojo Rabbit being the most recent example). The first image looks terrifying, by the way. -The Father: It’s weird to be in the middle of February and say that there’s already a frontrunner for the Best Actor race at the next Oscars. After its premiere in Sundance a couple of weeks ago, every prognosticator pointed in the direction of Anthony Hopkins (recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Two Popes), who delivers a harrowing portrayal of an old man grappling with his age as he develops dementia, causing pain to his beleaguered daughter (recent winner Olivia Colman, who also got praised). With reviews calling it a British answer to Amour (in other words: it’s a hard watch), Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his acclaimed play not only benefits from having Hopkins and Colman together as a selling point, because it was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor with experience in getting Academy voters to watch adult movies with heavy themes. If you don’t believe me, watch how they got Julianne Moore a win for Still Alice, as well as recent nominations for Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Glenn Close for The Wife, and Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory. They know the game, and they are going to hit hard for Hopkins and Colman. -The French Dispatch:If you saw the trailer, we don’t need to dwell too much on the reasons. On the one hand, we have the style of Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who has become a name in both the critics circle and the casual viewer, with his last two movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs) earning several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture for the one with Gustave H. Then, we have a long cast that goes from the director’s regulars like Bill Murray to new stars like Timothee Chalamet, and also includes people like Benicio del Toro. The only thing that could endanger the Oscar chances for this is that the story, an anthology set around a period comedy with an European riff on The New Yorker, will alienate the average Academy member. -The Humans: There’s the prestige of a play, and then there’s the prestige of a Tony-winning play. Playwright Stephen Karam now gets to jump to the director’s chair to take his acclaimed 2016 one-act story to the big screen, and A24 is cutting the check. Telling the story of a family that gets together on Thanksgiving to commiserate about life, this adaptation will be led by original performer Jayne Houdyshell (who also won a Tony for her stage performance), who’ll be surrounded by Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun and June Squibb. If it avoids getting too claustrophobic or stagey for the cinema, it will be a good contender. -The Last Duel: Always speedy, Ridley Scott is working on his next possible trip to the Oscars. This time, it’s the telling of a true story in 14th-century France, where a knight (Matt Damon) accuses his former friend (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer), with the verdict being determined by the titular duel. It’s a juicy story, but there was some concern when it seemed that the script was only being written by Damon and Ben Affleck (who’ll also appear in the film). A rape story written by them after the Weinstein revelations… not the best look. But then, it was revealed that they were writing the screenplay with indie figure Nicole Holofcener, who last year was nominated for an Oscar for her script for Can You Ever Forgive Me? Let’s hope that the story is told in a gripping but not exploitative way, and that it doesn’t reduce the role of Comer (who deserves more than some of the movie roles that she’s getting after Killing Eve) to a Hollywood stereotype. -The Power of the Dog: We have to talk about the queen of the indie world, we have to talk about Jane Campion. More than a decade after her last movie, Bright Star, the Oscar and Palme d’Or winner for The Piano returns with a non-TV project (see Top of the Lake, people) thanks to Netflix, with a period drama centered around a family dispute between a pair of wealthy brothers in Montana, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), after the latter one marries a local widow (Kirsten Dunst). According to the synopsis, “a shocked and angry Phil wages a sadistic, relentless war to destroy her entirely using her effeminate son Peter as a pawn”. Can’t wait to see what that means. -The Prom: Remember the Ryan Murphy blank check deal with Netflix that I mentioned earlier? Well, another of the projects in the first batch of announcements for the deal is a musical that he’ll direct, adapting the Tony-nominated show about a group of Broadway losers (now played by the one and only Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and, uh, James Corden, for some reason) who try to find a viral story to get back in the spotlight, and end up going to a town in Indiana to help a lesbian high school student who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. The show has been considered a fun and heartwarming tale of acceptance, so the movie could be an easy pick for an average Academy voter who doesn’t look too hard (and you know that the Golden Globes will nominate the shirt out of this). It’s funny how this comes out the same year than Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and then it’s not funny realizing that Film Twitter will pit the two movies against each other. -The Trial of the Chicago 7: After getting a taste of the director’s taste with Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin wants more. For his second movie, he’s tackling one of his specialties: a courtroom drama. And this one is a period movie centered around the trial on countercultural activists in the late ‘60s, which immediately attracts a campaign of how “important” this movie is today’s culture. To add the final blow, we have a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, William Hurt, Michael Keaton and Mark Rylance. If Sorkin can contain himself from going over the top (and with that cast, it would be so easy to surrender to bouts of screaming and winding speeches), this could be one of the top contenders. -Those Who Wish Me Dead: Having made a good splash in the directorial waters with Wind River, Taylor Sheridan (also known for writing the Sicario movies, the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water or that Yellowstone show that your uncle raves about on Facebook) returns with yet another modern Western. For this thriller based on the Michael Koryta novel, Angelina Jolie stars as a survival expert in the Montana wilderness who is tasked with protecting a teenager who witnessed a murder, while assassins are pursuing him and a wildfire grows closer. -Untitled David O. Russell Project: Following the mop epic Joy, that came and went in theaters but still netted a Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, the angriest director in Hollywood took a bit of a break (it didn’t help that he tried to do a really expensive show with Amazon starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore that fell apart when the Weinstein exposes sank everything). Now, he’s quickly putting together his return to the days of Oscar love that came with stuff like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, with a new movie that is set to star Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and Michael B. Jordan. Even though we don’t know many details (some people are saying the movie is called Amsterdam) except for the fact the movie hasn’t started shooting yet, David is a quick guy, so he’ll get it ready for the fall festival circuit. If there’s one thing that David O. Russell knows (apart from avoid getting cancelled for abusing people like Lily Tomlin, Amy Adams and his niece), it’s to make loud actor showcases. -Untitled Nora Fingscheidt Project: When Bird Box became one of the biggest hits on Netflix history, the streamer decided to keep itself in the Sandra Bullock business. Sandy’s next project for Ted Sarandos is a drama where she plays a woman who is released from prison after serving time for a violent crime, and re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past. To get redemption, she searches her younger sister she was forced to leave behind. With the direction of Fingscheidt, who comes from an acclaimed directorial debut with Systemsprenger (Germany’s submission to the last Academy Awards), and a cast that also includes Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Bernthal, this will also hopefully try its luck later this year. -Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project: We don’t know if this movie will be ready for the end of the year (although last time, he managed to sneak Phantom Thread under the buzzer and earn several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), but PTA is apparently gonna start to shoot it soon, with the backing of Focus Features. After several movies with prestige locations and intricate production design, Film Twitter’s Holy Spirit will go back to the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, to tell the story of a high school student who is also a successful child actor. -Stillwater: Tom McCarthy’s recent career is certainly puzzling. After delivering the weird lows of The Cobbler, he bounced back with the Best Picture winner that was Spotlight. And following that, he… helped produce the 13 Reasons Why series. And following that… he made Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a Disney+ original movie. Now, he’s back to the award race with a drama starring Matt Damon, who plays a father who rushes from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who is in prison after being suspected for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. -West Side Story: To close things, we have to see one of the possible big contenders of the season, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the iconic musical that translates Romeo and Juliet to the context of a street gang war in 1950s New York. While the decision to adapt again something that has been a classic both in Broadway and in movie theaters almost 60 years ago is a challenge, the idea of Spielberg doing a musical closer to the stage version with Tony Kushner as the writer is too tempting for the average Academy voter, who is already saving a spot in major categories in case Steven nails it in December. However, there’s two question marks. First, how well will Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler stand out in the roles of Tony and Maria? And second, will In the Heights steal some of the thunder of this movie by being, you know, more modern?
Jeanne was in her late 80s. Her husband had already passed away twenty years back. Her only daughter, Yvonne, had died much earlier at a relatively young age. Yvonne’s son, Frédéric, was raised by Jeanne herself. Unfortunately, like his mother, Frédéric too had a premature demise when he was killed in an automobile accident at a young age of 36. All her life Jeanne had lived in Arles, France and had no wish to leave the place in her final years. However, living alone with no source of income, it was hard to support herself. That’s when a forty-seven-year-old lawyer named André-François Raffray offered a deal to the old lady. At age ninety and with no heirs, Jeanne agreed to sell her apartment to Raffray for the price of a low monthly subsistence payment of 2,500 francs. The contract said that the payments would stop upon her death, at which point she would be carried out and Raffray could move in. Jeanne would thus have an ongoing source of cash to live on in her last years, and the lawyer would get an apartment cheaply, with no money down, in return for accepting the uncertainty as to when he would take possession. If you were in Jeanne’s place, would you do that deal? I guess most people would be satisfied with the terms of such a contract. Would you do the deal if you were Raffray? Well, Raffray wasn’t rich. His offer to Jeanne wasn’t motivated by only charity in mind. Raffray figured that it was a reasonable bet. The ninety-year-old French woman had already exceeded the French life expectancy by more than ten years. She could die any day. He was probably making arrangements for his own retirement. The deal seemed mutually advantageous. In 1975, ten years after the deal, Jeanne Calment celebrated her 100th birthday in good health. While the astonished attorney kept wondering where did he go wrong in his calculations, Ms. Calment continued her life comfortably. As another decade went by, Raffray turned sixty-seven and Jeanne qualified as supercentenarian (a term for those who go past the age of 110). It took another decade for the attorney’s long wait came to an end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end he expected. In 1995, after making payments for more than 30 years, André-François Raffray died of cancer while Jeanne Calment lived on. At age 114 she even appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, becoming the oldest actress ever to appear in a motion picture. Raffary’s family inherited the agreement, i.e., they would be in line to get the apartment, but in order to do so they would have to assume the original deal, continuing the monthly payments until she died. Jeanne Louise Calment turned out to be the biggest outlier in human history. She holds the record for the longest confirmed human lifespan. In 1995, a documentary film entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was made about her life. Jeanne’s day of reckoning finally came on August 4, 1997, at the age of 122. Her age at death exceeded the lawyer’s age at this death by forty-five years! Jeanne Louise Calment I found this story in Bart Holland’s brilliant book What Are the Chances? Holland writes – Obviously it turned out that this was not a good way for the lawyer to obtain an apartment “on the cheap”; in fact, he never occupied it. However, his expectation that it was a good deal was a reasonable one, based as it was on typical human life spans. He had no way of knowing that the woman with whom he has struck the deal would have such an exceptionally long life—indeed, the longest well-documented lifespan on record at that time. Nor did she have any way of anticipating her own longevity, although she did feel that the abundance of olive oil in her diet—and her moderate drinking of port—could have salutary effects (an opinion that most epidemiologists would agree with today). In 1789, in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Raffery bet on supposedly the certain thing, i.e., death of an extremely old woman. So where did the smart lawyer go wrong in his bet? When he struck the deal, he observed that Jeanne had already lived ten years more than what French life expectancy tables predicted. But he didn’t know that the relevant issue was not whether she should be expected to die in minus ten years but that her life expectancy, given that she had already made it to ninety, was about six more years. Even when Ms. Calment reached 100, her life expectancy was still two more years. He probably had never heard of Bayes’s theory. But that was only a small part of his miscalculation. Individual lifespans are unpredictable, but when data are collected from groups and analyzed en masse, regular patterns emerge. His blunder was in taking the statistics and applying it to a sample size of one. He tried to play a game similar to life insurance business. But unlike the unlucky lawyer, the insurance company does not bet on one life but on millions. The second mistake was that he agreed to a deal where the worst case could (and it did) cost him a significant portion of his net worth. He ended up paying Calment the equivalent of €140,000. That was more than double the apartment’s value. Statistically, the deal was a very attractive bet for Raffary. However, statistics by definition apply to a group. Bigger the sample size, higher is the statistical significance of the pattern observed. Ideally, he should have done few more such deals with a couple of more 90-year olds. But by putting all his money on an almost-sure-shot bet, he made the biggest financial mistake of his life. Legendary investor, Howard Marks relates a funny story his father told him about a gambler who bet everything on a race with only one horse in it. How could he lose? “Halfway around the track, the horse jumped over the fence and ran away. Invariably things can get worse than people expect.” Jeanne and Raffray’s story has a valuable lesson for investors. Never bet the farm on a single stock no matter how certain you are about the outcome. You never know when the luck hands you the equivalent of a crazy horse or a supercentenarian.
Let’s Not Be a Drama Queen About This: Recap of Before the 90 Days S04E07
Welcome to another recap of Before the 90 Days: The Season Where No One is Dating. First off, if you’re watching Geoffrey’s segment, your safe word is “orange”. If that doesn’t work, please lock yourself in a panic room and wait there until the Avengers arrive. If you hear one voice say, “No really, this is totally the Avengers” do not open the door. Or maybe just social-distance yourself from this whole fucking storyline, because we should not be observing this human stain. Let’s turn our attention to prisoner of war Usman, busy filming a real life version of Get Out. You know it’s bad when the con artist seeking green card access to bolster a floundering hip hop career is the protagonist. I haven’t felt this awkward since last season of Vanderpump Rules when I was forced to defend James Kennedy. Anyway, Baby-Girl Lisa still hasn’t successfully harvested his essence to maintain control over the Dark Crystal, and Usman threatens to throw a wrench into her plans with a daring escape in the trunk of his friend’s car. Then he realizes he left his phone in the hotel room, and it’s got the lyrics to “Dabbing” on it, so he’s forced to return, to face Lisa losing the mind she never had. She declares that he’s been absent for 30 minutes and she’s upset …which would have also been the case if he were gone for five minutes, or not at all, or if he went to the bathroom unsupervised, or put on his right shoe before his left one, or stood up too quickly or not fast enough. This time, Lisa’s argument is that she was “scared’ to be left alone (with producers in a hotel room). Annoyed with this never-ending wheel of complaint, Usman declares that he can’t win with her. Then BGL cuts him down with “Let’s not be a drama queen about this.” That’s right kids, all aboard the Gaslight Express, where the person reacting to the drama is the drama queen — not the person perpetually creating it. Would someone please take this man’s photo so he can restore his spirit to his body with the flash? GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! She continues to stitch a verbal quilt of grievances, while noting how irrelevant Usman’s points are, and looking like she’s ready to start filming her episode of Intervention. Usman slowly realizes that Lisa is unlikely to have an adult conversation with his mother, let alone a respectful one, and he may not be able to salvage his Nigerian hip hop career, let alone forge one in the US of A. He goes outside and admits to the producers that he may have reached his breaking point, and would like to know if they have some kind of relocation program. This is not what Lisa expects from a prisoner, and she informs the producers that “the man who left here is not the man I abducted.” Usman returns at 2AM to sit in an adjacent room and not talk to Lisa, making half of his wildest dreams come true. He lights up a hookah and considers how he has this “wonderful opportunity” to go to the states, and it might be too much to pretend to like Lisa long enough to get a green card. The producers ask him how he’s doing, and he says that anything he does is not enough, and before he can answer further BGL groans her way into the room. “Nobody’s perfect. You need to make up your mind and make it up quick,” She declares, because that makes sense. He attempts to confront her, and states that he’s always respected her, and she insults him. And if it’s this bad in Nigeria, what’s it going to be like when she submerges him in preservative gel in the United States? “You’re very insecure about this relationship,” Lisa mumbles. Usman says that yes, he is, that’s the truth. Then Lisa unfurls her scroll of half-assed excuses, including that the whole trip has been stressful, that there’s a five hour time difference, that she’s in this hotel room that bests the average Idaho haunt but is beneath her, and it’s a day of the week that ends in y, and he should know how she feels about that. Then she says she wants to “close it up” which is the closest Usman is going to get to an apology. For whatever reason, Usman decides that this will do, and later Lisa expresses concerns about returning to the US alone, and declares “ it will destroy both of us.” By this she means she’ll be forced to rework the plot into something that ends with her saucy finger, and will leak the unedited version of Usman’s “I Love You” video, because that’ll teach him. Speaking of horror movies, let’s stop by Silence of the Lambs to visit Creepy Ed, who puts the lotion on the skin or else it gets the hose again. Rose has made the unfortunate mistake of returning to their shared hotel room, where he hands her a robe and tells her to take a bath, then forces champagne on her, and says he’s going to rub her feet. Note that he didn’t ask her if she was interested in any of these things. Ed considers this “showing how romantic he can be” while the rest of us call this “reasons to run out of the room with your shoes in your hand the minute he goes to the bathroom.” As she gets comfortable because he told her to, Big Nightmare declares he’s “staring at her feet and not her pajamas,” and I’m staring into the deep black abyss, hunting for a portal to escape this. Friends, this is it: the Most Cringe Scene in 90DF History. There’s not even any competition. This is the Citizen Kane of cringe. “It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever its told,” Ed declares, with “Goodbye Horses” softly playing in the background. “Please let me out,” Rose cries. Since Rose is recoiling in a manner obvious to anyone who isn’t an incel, Ed seizes the opportunity to ask her for a kiss. She says on her cheek or the end of her fist after a wind up, whatever he prefers. He asks for “the middle” which she assumes means the forehead. He kisses her on the cheek, and then brow beats her into kissing him on the mouth. She gets it over with as quickly as possible, and Ed declares that it was “nice” and Jesus Christ, someone put a collar on this beast. “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me,” Ed explains (“Goodbye horses, I’m flying over you…”.) “Is this called coercion in United States?” Rose asks. “It puts the lotion in the fucking basket!” The next morning it appears Rose has finally succumbed to his ridiculous advances, and seems cool with it. She declares a hatred for his under-the-bridge beard, and Ed notes that she has hairy legs, which he finds “gross,”and asks her to shave them to best match his blow-up doll ideal. This is rich coming from someone with a greasy mop of Clairol for Mayo dangling in his face. Soon I’ll kick off a GoFundMe to buy Rose a full-body merkin to insulate her lady flesh from Ed’s Rumpelstiltskin mitts. For now, she goes in for the shave and Ed ditches the beard, and I long for the Wookie days of yore. Later he heads to Rose’s house to act like a goon around a larger audience. He takes a three hour cab ride to her village, where he is shocked to discover that the Philippines is like the Philippines. First he meets Rose’s son Prince, who initially seems confused, and then declares “daddy!” And embraces him. Big Ed isn’t sure how he feels about being a father again at 54, but he’s totally okay with dating a child. Ed is also uneasy about meeting Rose’s sister Maria, because she hit up Ed for cash. Once Maria meets Ed, she realizes she should have asked for more. The family is waiting with a little surprise party, and Ed meets Rose’s other two sisters and a brother-in-law. When they ask what he thinks, he wants to know where the windows are, and if he should worry about getting rabies from wayward bats or cockroaches, because he’s heard both things are attracted to the scent of canola oil. Seriously: why can’t anyone on this show make a polite comment to the family except Angela? How hard is it to say, “Well I bet you have a great view of the stars!” Rose’s family has a nice set of dishes arranged for dinner, including fish, chicken, rice, and the silky gravy of Ed’s back sweat. He asks for something to drink, while they marvel at the river running down his face, and we learn her father is running late because he’s busy at the pig farm, which also sounds suspiciously poor to Ed. When Father arrives he’s quiet, contemplating that his daughter is hoping to marry someone older than himself, who is pushing his food around his plate, and calling a chicken like a dog to feed it from the table. Rose’s father wants to know if Ed knows the difference between dinner and a dog, and then asks what Ed’s intentions are, other than getting on his damn nerves. Ed declares, “I want to get to know your daughter, no games.” Sure, Prince is already calling him “daddy,” but wouldn’t want to create strange expectations by suggesting marriage post-coitus, amirite? Ed declares that now that he’s seen the depth of their poverty, he worries that he’s just a meal ticket to Rose, and not the man of her dreams, even though he’s after Rose for specific things himself. I mean, a lot of 19 year old women are just jonesing for a controlling, anxiety-riddled man who hasn’t had sex in 28 years to fulfill their hobbit kink, so he has a right to be choosey. It’s important for her to love him like Rose loved Jack in the Titanic, even if Ed can’t draw anything and would demand to be the only body on that floating door, and she’s the only person to consider him king of any world. Meanwhile, Tom continues his crusade to come off as a sympathetic character by making sad eyes from his good angle for the camera. As he pieces together one of his predictably boring outfits, he says he hopes they can have a conversation and attack the problem and not the person, but admits that he doesn’t care about attacking the person if the person is Darcey and not himself. He situates himself to await her arrival, while Darcey enters the joint with a Beyoncé track in her head, and dumps her 16 changes of clothing on an unsuspecting hostess who has questions. Then she struts. Her. Shit. This is officially the first time Darcey has donned an outfit that isn’t from her signature Midlife Crisis line, and that jumpsuit is the fuck-you jam, and I want it for my next dramatic public fight with a future ex. She greets him as “Thomas” and passes on the affectionate greeting in favor of a handshake, before settling in for some gold medal passive aggression. Tom: I’m nervous. Because I’m full of shit. Darcey: No need. It’s just me. That’s called constipation, Tom. Tom: How was Malta? If I had talked to you sometime in the last six weeks, I might know the answer to this question. Darcey: It was nice to spend it with Stace. Thank you for the birthday…text. You said you were going to call or video call, I waited that whole day…but it’s okay. I know you’re a dick. Tom: What actually happened to us? I’m going to act like what happened isn’t me going balls deep in another chick and bragging about it on instagram. Darcey: I don’t know, but you must not know about me, you must not know about me. Should I say it twice? That’s kinda weird. It sounded better in my head. Hannibal Lector: Cut him on the bias, Clarice. Serve him with a nice Chianti. Tom goes on to say that she “was” this lovely woman, but has very specific things she wants, and she’s really not there for him, because she’s preoccupied with selecting the right filters for her twirling face-angle shots on instagram. He insists that Darcey never lets him talk during the conversations they don’t have, while a waiter with bad timing regrets his water glass decisions, and knows his tip is going to be bullshit. Darcey’s not having it, and knows he’s rerouting the events of the last six months to be about her doing something wrong, so she wants to know what his secret is, and talks to him in a soothing voice that is WAY more terrifying than mad Darcey. “What do you want to hear?” Tom asks, because he’s still determined to make this about how out of control and unreasonable Darcey is, what with her fancy wanting interaction and silly expectations that he wouldn’t start another relationship before breaking it off with her. “Tell her she’s insecure,” Baby Girl Lisa advises. Darcey says she knows about the other woman he’s been posing with in stilted thigh-grab photographs, and Tom says that he met this person three weeks ago, and her name is Shannon, and he was hoping to get some exit sex. Since that doesn’t seem to be working out, he goes with, “I met someone who loves me the way I want to be loved. In three weeks.” Then what the fuck are you doing there, dude? He says, “You had everything of me in your hands, and you didn’t see it. And it was hard to listen to the Jesse thing all the time, when I was busy thinking about other people I planned to bang.” Since this isn’t already ridiculous enough, he says he’s not her notion of love, and that he loves her like a sister he wants to have sex with. Darcey thinks about what this means for her and Stacey, while Tom says he wants to be her friend. Darcey nixes that bullshit, and says she doesn’t want to be friends. Then Tom tells her to “try not to ruin the next” relationship, and it’s easier to get through this scene if you imagine Tom has a diseased ballsack for a chin, which isn’t far off. He lets Darcey pay for his coffee, and continues throwing his Chex Mix on the floor by saying it’s a weight off of him, and when Darcey tells him to enjoy his life, he responds, “I will now that you’re not in it.” That twice a year interaction was really bringing him down before. Tom tells the producers that he showed up to see if anything was still there, and because he wanted to be on camera one more time, and because he wanted to have sex with Darcey’s smother-titties before returning to the safety of Shannon’s thigh. Darcey is over this shit, and is ready to watch the baseball bat video with Beyoncé is a yellow dress, breaking stuff. It’s time to revisit the platonic romantic relationship of Erika and Stephanie. As she stated last week, Stephanie is “waiting” to have sex until she’s actually bisexual, so Erika should start checking out social-distancing hers and hers nursing homes right now. Erika got to know Stephanie as someone with a risqué, fun, and sexual online persona, and she incorrectly assumed that Stephanie would clue her in if her real self didn’t match that presentation. With this in mind, Erika is certain Steph will love her big date surprise: a little artsy neon-lit joint where the last Rockabilly chick in an updo coaches women through the wet wrap construction of boob molds! Is this a thing so one day they can look back fondly on the time their tits weren’t smacking against their knees, or to create a decorative dinner mint container? I want to surprise a friend who will hate me afterwards with this, or arrive with just my cat and wide eyes and my own set of decorative paints. Or maybe I will wake up my partner tomorrow by hovering over him with a jar of plaster while whispering, “it’s time to preserve me.” Stephanie doesn’t like this because she is wrong, and this is her first time seeing her own breasts outside of the internet. So she sits there awkwardly while everyone has their guns out for a showdown at the double-d corral, wondering why the fuck Erika didn’t see fit to, you know, ask if she wanted to have her tits in the air. All snark aside, I’m siding with Stephanie on this one. Choosing to explore the wonders of titty molds is one thing; arriving at a surprise titty shakedown is another, especially when this doubles as the debut fondling experiment. Something tells me Erika was hoping this would lead to The Sex. This is very Ed of you, Erika. But your fried egg overalls are still amazing. Anyway, Stephanie decides to play along, and shakes the boxes of medication out of her bra to brace for breast spackle. The other titty sisters preserving their boobage opt to engage, which they will soon regret, and they ask about their relationship, and whether one of them intends to relocate to keep their romance warm. Stephanie, who is pissed off enough that she’s looking for anything to inspire grenade lobbing at Erika, says that she doesn’t think it will last very long if they’re not in the same place. Erika reminds her that she’s a photographer, and already has weddings booked that she needs to complete before moving to another country. Plus, she hears there’s a great plague coming that will leave us all under house arrest indefinitely. Also: it’s day 2. Maybe slow down on a borderline ultimatum. Erika then expresses confusion that on one hand Stephanie is very eager for their relationship to be set in stone, and on the other doesn’t want to have sex with her when they’re working with a tight three-week timeline. “Is this coercion?” Rosemarie asks. “Sort of,” Erika reluctantly admits. “I’m hoping it won’t count because I’m bisexual.” “Still creepy though, and I KNOW creepy,” Ed is there with the confirmation. Later on they ready themselves for a date, which is really a set-up so Stephanie can interrogate Erika about having a dating app on her phone. Other people would, you know, ask about the app the minute it was spotted, but the cameras weren’t there and this storyline needs Stephanie’s extensions. Stephanie kicks things off by stating her intentions to take Erika to a nice dinner, and gives Erika a cute tiara headband thing to wear on their date. Once they’ve settled into their table and the thought of romance has dared to enter Erika’s head, Stephanie brings up the “boobie papier mache” and thinks a lot of people get the wrong impression of her, based on what she’s shown and told them. Then Steph demands to know what’s up with the app, and if Erika’s dated anyone else in the four months they’ve been thousands of miles apart. Erika says that she hasn’t and isn’t, but keeps it going for the networking side of things, and by networking she means dicks and vaginas under glass, which are useful in event of emergency. Stephanie asks if she’d be open to deleting it, so Erika does it, but is annoyed that Stephanie doesn’t trust her and this action is required, and she hasn’t even had any swindle cake yet. Stephanie says the app just makes her uncomfortable, to which an exasperated Erika declares, “Everything makes you uncomfortable!” She says that Steph sold herself as free spirited and then arrived operating with the assumption that presents grant her the right to control her. 87% of the 90DF cast is miffed by this suggestion, and so is Stephanie. Erika takes off Stephanie’s tiara mind control device and storms off, and we get a good look at the extension cords and a sad drain on the floor when they chase after Erika while Stephanie fake cries at the table. For some reason the producers are still entertaining the Yolanda story, which features her unwavering commitment to displaying total ignorance of British accents, despite the ability to pull up a two minute video on Youtube that would clarify this madness. Yolanda’s daughter notes that Williams appears to have a Nigerian name, address, phone number, accent, and passport, and the caps lock text he sent her reading, “HI I’M NIGERIAN” is a little suspicious. Yolanda is flummoxed, because he lives in Manchester and looks like an underwear model, and why would anyone lie about that? No one is this stupid. Stop it, 90DF. This makes Nicole’s insistence that Azan isn’t already married look convincing. Are there no actual relationships in the queue? Later, she spends a few days trying to get a hold of him, before she receives an email threatening to release nudes she sent Williams if she doesn’t send money. Kinda like the money Williams asked her to send so he could travel to Vegas. Yolanda thinks this might be part of a rogue hacking operation, scouring the internet for instagram accounts to delete. She needs him to be real so desperately, and I’d feel sorry for her if this wasn’t already outed as an act, and I suspect she made up the email address herself and sent the threat to stretch out her screen time. Have we seen any relationship with Williams up until this point? Other than a string of heart emojis? Finally, we’ve got Avery and Ash. They’re prepping for a three day trip to the other side of Australia, which Avery doesn’t see as a vacation, because she’s here to get answers about Ash, and you can’t possibly learn about someone by whether or not you’re capable of having fun with them. “I have an opinion about this,” Erika interjects. Avery is suspicious because of the shady behavior of Ash’s brother, who at dinner didn’t seem to support Ash’s statement about how easy it would be to take his child away from his mother to live in another country, permanently. Determined to not fall into the dicksand, Avery intends to confront him. They drive down into the country and Avery marvels at the beauty, before they stop in a pretty spot to have a picnic with Ash’s flower shop commitments on full display. Ash: Yes, I am hearing you, and I am seeing you, and I think it’s good that you have words. Avery: You’re giving me a rehearsed response. I think you’re sugarcoating the complexities of bringing Taj to America with you. Your brother didn’t seem convinced this would be as easy as you said. Ash: This is communication, and it is open and honest and from a heart-centered place. I am confident that we can reach a positive outcome in these endeavors, if we continue to co-exist on this plane. Avery: For fuck’s sake, I get that you’re trying to be positive, but living on planet earth means we’ve got to shovel some shit every once in awhile. Give me a truth bomb. Ash: I’m afraid the complexity of this will cause you to bail, since you’ve previously dumped my ass. Also, here is some more jargon to plow over that rare moment of honesty, and to speed past the notion of what my ex-wife might have actually said about all this. Avery: I need to talk to your ex-wife. Ash: Oh damn. Next week, Ed is shocked to learn that he’ll be sharing a room with another 54 year-old when he flew in for 19, David walks around Ukraine yelling Lana’s name and putting up missing-person posters, Ash is afraid of his ex-wife talking in plain English to Avery, and Erika is slowly wilting in the face of Stephanie’s highly developed control issues that already dominate their sexless union. Oh, and Darcey is flummoxed as to why Tom had to see her in person to humiliate her on TV, but she’s glad she got to wear that sick outfit, and for fuck’s sake will someone who actually wants to be in an instagram relationship hit her up and work out a hashtag with her already? Fuck! Thank you, Patreon supporters, my lovely quarantine companions!
I’ve been completing some deeply disturbing crosswords
I latch onto specific problems and when I do everything else around me diminishes into nothingness until I complete the task at hand. I line these problems up and solve them, one-by-one, and I find updating the task list awfully difficult. If I am on my way to do a job, breaking off to attend to something else is almost impossible. I once finished buttering my toast before putting out a fire by the stove. I once lost a girlfriend after she trapped her fingers in a food processor, and I quietly went over to the fridge and put the milk away before turning to help her. She couldn’t believe that I hadn’t rushed over straight away, but of course it wasn’t really like that. I was unable to review or address my priorities until my mind had freed itself from the current task. I have to manage these tendencies. And I learned at an early age that it helps to focus on discrete tasks that, if things get really bad, I can remind myself don’t matter. That, at least, limits the anxiety of abandoning them. I have my work and that gets me through the day, but outside of those hours I need other things to pull me through. I can paint and read and they’re involving, for sure, but they don’t tend to have the sense of completion that I get from a simple puzzle. Jigsaws, sudoku, word searches, videogames; these all make up part of it but oddly enough it’s crosswords that have taken over my mind. It started because they weren’t too taxing and if I was pushed to cheat then it didn’t really matter. They let me say things like, “Right, I’ll do 9 across while on the toilet and that’s it.” Like most things I put my mind to, I quickly turned the hobby into an obsessive pursuit of completion. The harder they were, the better. If I had to watch a film, read a book, or even visit a real-life location to get an answer, I would. And I credited it all with pushing me out of my comfort zone in order to experience new things. I would have never watched Breakfast at Tiffanies, read Little Women, or visited the London Museum of Natural History without needing to get answers from them. And they were all new experiences for me, some better than others, but I enjoyed the feeling of expanding my little bubble with each new puzzle. Crosswords, like everything, have communities surrounding them and I even found a few friends online. For some, the compulsion to get obscure answers was a vital lifeline to the outside world, and you’d be surprised at some of the cultures lurking at the fringe. A good crossword is more than just a puzzle, it’s a curated string of experiences picked to evoke a deliberate journey. A common example might be the kind of thing some tourists could use to guide them around a city: Below the Phoenix of a Blinded Saint, 8 down. Resurgam – the answer can be found carved on a stone beneath a statue of a phoenix at St Paul’s Cathedral. But what about something like the following: The final song of a thunderous singer, 5 across. The answer was Toxic, the final song lip-synced by a Drag Queen (Daytona Thunder) at a popular club in Manchester. I went a long way for that one and had a surprisingly good night, albeit one a little outside my wheelhouse. But still, I got the answer and it wasn’t like I’d find it just by reading the forums (posting answers is a big no-no if you want to get into the best clubs). The creator was a well-known Queer academic working out of London who has a popular following in the community. I appreciated their work but perhaps not as much as those by one anonymous Berliner. A companion’s lips tasted through the looking glass, 6 across. Her name was Alice and she was an escort for an agency called Intimate Companions. She was wearing Cherry lip gloss, something I found through a process of elimination. Over the last few years I’ve discovered more about myself than I ever would have at home. I have learned that I can lie very well, that when I know who I am meant to be, who others want me to be, I can be confident and even charming. I have learned that I am not a jealous person, that I am not a vain person, and that there are times when I can be as reckless and adventurous as anyone else. I just need a reason to, a job to complete with routes to success I understand. The name of a one-eyed watchmen’s gun, 12 across. There was a policeman—with two eyes, I might add, but the unfortunate Christian name of Dick—and the answer was the serial number of his gun, converted to letters. That was an odd one, but absolutely invigorating. The crossword had been made with clearly defined geographical boundaries which helped (many of us attended it as a communal event although I largely acted alone), and for a moment I almost thought the policeman was in on the game. Right up until he tried to shoot me. Like I said, the experiences can be invigorating. But the good ones, the really good ones, they can be a struggle to find. You have to be accepted into the right groups, often you’ll be vetted, even tested, but the reward can be worth it. I’ll never forget the day I had a hand-delivered envelope deposited at my doorstep and the anticipation I felt opening it, unknotting the brown twine so delicately tied around the heft. God, some of them even had wax seals. I liked those the most. I found the violet and crimson seals delicious to look at. But they were so, so much more than simple puzzles. A principled affair, 5 down. The headmaster of the local school was having an affair with her sister-in-law, Sarah. It was hard to find that out. It wasn’t exactly public knowledge. Frankly, I had to resort to stalking and it wasn’t a good look, but it was a new experience nonetheless and the few times I nearly got caught were quite exhilarating. But what was truly amazing was that this was at the school just a few blocks from my house! You have to understand, it wasn’t just a template handed out to everyone. I still don’t know how big any of these communities really are but I imagine they’re quite small and involve people from all over the world. It was truly remarkable to think someone had laboured over a tailor-made puzzle just for me. There are quite a few groups I belong to now. Some aren’t even organised online, instead requiring that you ferret them out, sometimes as clues in other puzzles, sometimes as their own elaborate games. But there are always more to be found and in the best circumstances, they find you, choosing you out of all the people in the world to rise to the challenge at hand. The right ones will push you to do things you never thought possible. A baker’s jewels, 7 down. Harriet Baker who died in 2012 at the age of 86 and was buried with an emerald necklace in the local graveyard. I still have it, kept away somewhere in a special drawer along with news clippings of the crime. It even has some of the soil from the grave still muddying its shimmering gems, and admittedly they do still smell a bit. But I bet that I know something most people don’t, and that’s what happens to little old Grandma five years after being sealed up in a box beneath the Earth. Not just the abstract, either. I know the specifics, I know exactly what she looks like, smells like, and even what her cold lumpen flesh feels like. I spent years as a child wondering what happened to the many relatives of mine who passed away, but it was an adult I finally found the answer. People have lived their whole lives looking down on me. Teachers assumed I was slow at learning, my parents mourned that I cared more about organising my wargaming miniatures than I ever did about girls or friends, everyone around me treated me like I was a timid mouse in a world of thundering giants. But I’ve lived a more exciting life than they could ever imagine, and it hasn’t been in spite of who I am. Only someone like me could pursue these clues to such dogged ends and I gladly take the bad with the good. The colour of the tea plates served by the Biellier Historical Society, 9 up. Don’t let the name fool you. The Society is a private organisation for some rather unusual gentlemen who serve tea after their annual conference is finished. Crazy bastards, I can see why they need a drink once they’re finished and I’m not surprised half of them didn’t take a seat during refreshments. I’m just not sure I’ll ever look be able to look a farm animal in the eye again. Oh, and turquoise, by the way. That was the answer. I know things very few people know. That’s a rare privilege and, like I said, it comes with a price. It would be ridiculous to think one might look upon the fraying edges of our world without having to face some uncomfortable sights. And you might think the worst of it is a leather-bound orgy in a dungeon or perversions you can safely find on Wikipedia, but there are other lingering truths buried in the Earth and I am one of the few who have seen them. There is always more to learn, always another word to find, another puzzle to complete. And I have come a long way in my education since I first received that letter on my doorstep years ago. The inheritor of Maeson’s oldest home, 6 down. Albert. Albert was the named inheritor of the first house built and designed by obscure architect Harold Maeson. It was not, as almost everyone first expected, the current owner’s first born son named Alexander, but instead the old man’s male sexual interest Albert who was a rather unwilling 17 year old. Perhaps the old man thought it made up for his actions towards the boy he had kept around as a family friend for years, disguising his abuse as mentorship. Either way it caused a tremendous uproar and poor Albert wasn’t exactly thrilled to have his face all over the papers. No one could have possibly known he would be the inheritor. The will was written up in total secrecy, something I spent considerable resources finding out. Credit where it’s due, the old man put up a fight but his death was the only way I would get my answer. I can’t speak for others, but I found the experience quite a revelation. I felt as if I’d learned profound hidden knowledge, a truth about reality found in the glassy bloodshot eyes of a man violently dying. There’s something in there, you know, something that lies just beneath our own reality. I saw a glimmer of it that night, just like I had so many others before it. It’s quite beautiful, a confusing glittering mess of contradictions and unknowable madness. It is, by definition beyond our ability to every truly know but you can still see facets of it, one bit at a time. It’s beautiful. But… well, it’s not always so painless. The missing piglet counted right to left, 5 up. Eight. That was the answer. I spent all night researching fairy tales and children’s rhymes only to fall asleep at my desk sometime around 2 in the morning. When I awoke I had been moved to the sofa and my left foot was raised on the armrest and bandaged heavily. The whole tingled from anaesthesia and it wouldn’t be until noon before I could walk on it again. Anxiously, I undid the white swaddle of blood-tinged gauze and winced at the sight of my mutilated foot. The middle toe on my left foot had been amputated cleanly, the wound sewn up neatly like a cross-stitched grin. Counting right to left, I noticed it was the eighth toe missing and I have to admit I pumped my fist in the air and rejoiced at having the answer. But the experience caught me off guard, and it might not surprise you to know that I have since looked into slowing down and maybe even taking a short break from this hobby. I’ve had to manage these tendencies in the past and I suppose this one should be no different. But there have been some difficulties. For one thing, they won’t stop sending new puzzles to me and it’s all but impossible for me to ignore them. And for another, the clues are becoming increasingly pointed. A sea of white and flakes of gold to flood a castle of ivory, 6 down. Cereal, right? That’s what I thought, at least until I had the unpleasant surprise of discovering a needle hidden in my cornflakes. That, it turned out, was the correct answer and I was lucky to catch it before it wound up anywhere near my mouth. The thought of that thing sliding down my throat or catching in the roof of my mouth, spearing the gum and cartilage, left me riddled with an ever-growing anxiety. Clubs have pushed things in the past, boundaries take a backseat when it comes to pursuing the absolute limit of knowledge. But it felt like such an odd inclusion for the latest puzzle, one that didn’t necessarily teach me anything. If I had the ability to trace it to a single group I might have a better sense of what it was meant to mean, but then again anonymity was always kind of the point. The currency of a strategic withdrawal, 3 up. I initially thought of the military, but in fact the answer was Yen and it turned out that around £50,000 worth of them had been withdrawn from my account (by myself, somehow) at the bank. God knows how that was possible, but it happened and there’s not a lot I could really do about it. I’ve written to some of the groups but as far as I can tell they’re playing coy. I am sorry, one replied. But our puzzles are sent out as part of a weekly newsletter via e-mail. We’re not sure we’ve ever offered bespoke crosswords but we’d be fascinated to hear more if there’s anyone out there who does. It’d interest quite a few of our members, myself included. I received similar variations to this message from just about every organisation I had listed in my ledger and frankly I found the suggestion ridiculous. I’d always assumed those newsletters were part of a front, making it appear as though the focus was on banal little puzzles about obscure military defeats while secretly directing us to brothels and illegal casinos. It made sense, perhaps, that they would maintain the ruse but an acquaintance I called wasn’t exactly reassuring. “Well of course they’re a front,” he said. “Don’t you get the packages? I’ve had a few seedy adventures with those!” “Oh that’s good!” I laughed while breathing a deep sigh of relief. “I was beginning to think… well, I’m not sure what I was thinking.” “Oh yes the packages are very real,” he replied. “The Spring edition was quite a naughty affair, don’t you think?” “Invigorating,” I smiled. “I didn’t even know where to buy a burlap sa—” “Strawberry!? Can you imagine? The Mrs and I had a delight trying out the different flavours.” “What?” “Oh come now man, no need to be shy. It’s quite normal to use… lubricant,” he whispered it like a dirty secret. “Agnes suggested we try it on toast!” I hung up with his laughter still bellowing down the other line. My Spring edition of our shared club was not anything like his. I told myself that it made sense it wouldn’t, they were meant to be custom made for each participant, but it alarmed me to hear that his activities were so dreadfully banal. Most of the clues in that edition had directed me to the consumption of a range of meats including something I scraped off the side of a suspension bridge. Nothing my friend had said to me rang true. Rightly, I should have stopped there. But… but the thing is… it was never really an option, not then and not now. I’m sure you think it’s a silly compulsion or anxiety but it’s not. I can’t do it. It’s simply not in my nature especially not now I know that God-knows-what could be lurking around the corner. I’ve explained this to myself and others before – I am task focused. I needed to finish the job at hand. PO Box 19777, open it from within, 9 down. I found the box with ease but there was no key nor any means to open it from within. Whatever the rationale was behind the puzzle, I thought at the time that the whole affair was beginning to frustrate me. I didn’t see any significant challenge to tracing the address, aside from finding the key which, it would turn out, was very much part of the clue. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how they did it. I awoke to a sort of gagging sensation one night, dreaming that I had swallowed a tangle of wet hair. Only the terrible retching sensation wasn’t entirely dreamed up. Tied to my canine was a line of floss that I painfully had to pull up from my stomach. It was unnecessarily long, spooling out of my throat in a bloody tangle for a good few metres while I vomited and cried from the struggle. It took nearly half an hour to inch it out while I choked and retched but eventually I regurgitated the key, collapsing afterwards to the floor to heave and sob as I recovered. There was a teddy bear in the locker and I didn’t find it particularly amusing. And, yes, okay, there was a mild satisfaction to getting the answer, but the rest of me was filled with a deep begrudging. I felt like the punchline to a joke that wasn’t funny. A starry orchid’s window of choice, 7 down. The answer was eyeball, and it turns out the consumption of the flower in question causes bloody secretions from the tear ducts, not to mention renal failure. It wasn’t easy to explain that one away, and I didn’t much appreciate the stay at a hospital. The price for that answer may one day be dialysis, but for now I hope that I may still see myself clear of such things. The doctors couldn’t say for sure what the chances were. At the very least I hoped that I might find some respite while interred in a hospital bed, but if anything it made things worse. I was not prepared to be incapacitated for so long with the knowledge that the puzzle was but one clue from completion. I was itching furiously for the last few days, and my doctors were confounded by the state of my heart and were blind to the other tell-tale signs of anxiety. There would be no rest for me until I had finished the puzzle and I swore to myself, swore blind on my mother’s grave, that it would be the last. If things got much worse, I reminded myself, it might not be me who decides what will be my last puzzle. When I arrived home it was with the kind of relief I never thought possible. I am forever learning more about myself and those first few steps through the front door made it clear to me I was in the thrall of some kind of addiction. No matter what the price was, I told myself over and over again that I would pay it and move on. I would change addresses if I had to or pay someone to physically slap the damn pencil out of my hand if I went to complete another crossword! God knows I have the money. I will climb this final hurdle, I told myself, and see it through. And yet… I don’t know. I half-expect there to be some ghoulish double-entendre hiding in the words but for the life of me I cannot see one. It seems more like a hideous joke - one I don’t really understand. I have a possible word choice and it certainly fits but… It’s been weeks and I can’t bring myself to write it in. This is the final clue! The final step at the end of this increasingly desperate adventure and I can’t figure it out. I’m half-tempted to say that I won’t see another answer because I don’t want to finish it. That might be it, surely? I’m an addict. I’ll admit that all too readily and this wouldn’t be the first time I took things too far. It’s just… The handwriting these clues have been written in, 4 down. I keep expecting some terrible interpretation to come true, to find a severed hand by my door, or to awake missing most of my fingers. It’s a strange thing but I have come to find myself ruminating often on the look in the old man’s eyes. For while I am sure that I saw something terrible and beautiful deep within the popping veins of those suffocating retinas, it had not occurred to me until now that something was looking back. And it’s waiting for me to write in the final answer, though God knows it must be wrong for it simply cannot be possible that the answer is ‘mine’.
Betting The Farm is the story of a group of Maine dairy farmers who--dropped by their national milk company--are suddenly confronted with the real possibility of losing their farms. Banding together, the farmers launch their own milk company. A FilmBuff Presentation. Overview of Betting the Farm, 2012, directed by Cecily Pingree, with at Turner Classic Movies Betting the Farm is a verité documentary that follows three farmers—Aaron Bell, Vaughn Chase, and Richard Lary—and their families through the tumultuous first two years of MOO Milk. With intimate access to their triumphs and disappointments, the film gives audiences a rare glimpse at the real lives of American farmers at a crossroads. Directed by Jason Mann, Cecily Pingree. Betting The Farm is the story of a group of Maine dairy farmers who--dropped by their national milk company--are suddenly confronted with the real possibility of losing their farms. Banding together, the farmers launch their own milk company. Farmers Vaughn Chase, Richard Lary, and Aaron Bell--along with their families--struggle to make ends meet as they For example, the film points our that corn is actually toxic to cows, even though many farm-raised cattle are exclusively corn fed! Since the cows are led away to factory farming slaughter houses before the effects of the corn set in, I suppose the industry doesn’t see this as a problem, but it certainly raises many ethical dilemmas.
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