Rugby League World Cup Quarterfinal Predictions

Since I will not have my quarterfinal dataviz ready before Australia vs Samoa on Friday, I want to record my predictions now. Mostly so I can say I told you so.

The four quarterfinals are:

Australia vs Samoa
Tonga vs Lebanon
New Zealand vs Fiji
England vs Papua New Guinea

I expect Australia will win, but I hope Samoa will get at least a couple of tries. Tonga vs Lebanon could get tasty but I expect Tonga to win by several tries. I am excited for NZ vs Fiji, even if I know Fiji, the team I want to win, probably won’t win.

With regard to England’s quarterfinal, I want to join everyone else in saying that it’s not fair that it is being held in Melbourne rather than Port Moresby. As Papua New Guinea are co-hosts with NZ and Australia, it is wrong that they don’t host any matches after the group stage.

It also improves England’s chances of beating them.

I am slightly torn because I want PNG to do well, but I don’t want a team featuring James Graham, James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival to lose. I also think a close match might finally kick England’s posteriors into gear. Because that second half against France was not acceptable.

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Thor: Ragnarok

I can see why some people thought it was too broad. Because it probably was, a smidge.

I don’t quite get why people thought it was so wow, but it was fun. Which is something which should never be underestimated or undervalued.

Spoilers begin underneath

I would probably have restructured it slightly, with less time on planet weird so that Skurge got more screentime for his last stand.

Karl Urban is great in the time he does get. Because he makes it quite clear that Skurge is a loser, rather than evil, and that he’s in over his head. Without any dialogue. This use of Skurge also fits in with the overall theme of the Thor films – we all make mistakes, the important thing is to try to fix them, rather than pretend you didn’t make them (or you know, bury them and paint over them with a giant mural).

Thematic consistency, I like it.

The new stuff also makes sense of things from the first film, like why Odin flipped out when he thought Thor was being too blasé about war with the Frost Giants. To have one child go kill crazy is unfortunate, to have two smacks of carelessness.

I love that Thor has learnt enough to push Loki’s buttons back. That scene in the elevator is some of the best work Hiddleston has done as Loki, because he conveys how worried Loki is that this is it and Thor has finally had enough of him and it upsets him.

That’s the thing. Loki would do anything for Thor if Thor made it clear how much he loves him, while Thor just doesn’t get it because of course he loves his little brother. Even if they occasionally stab each other.

I know it was deliberate, but I didn’t like how every serious scene was immediately undercut with a silly bit.

I would also have saved “Immigrant Song” for the last fight only.

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I had been pre-warned that Matt Damon would appear, possibly so that I didn’t grab L and go “OMG, is that Matt Damon?!” It didn’t stop me from giggling and then going “OMG is that Sam Neill?!” Of course Odin is Loki, you’d think someone else that wasn’t Heimdall would have twigged roughly when the statue was made with horns!

I see that Doctor Strange has taken over his rightful role as explainer of mystic weirdness from Selvig. Which makes more sense than Selvig knowing about mystic weirdness in Age of Ultron.

I did love Doctor Strange inconveniencing Thor and then Thor being gloriously petty back. Particularly Thor’s smile of “sorry, not sorry”.

I know they killed off the Warriors Three to make Hela look dangerous but there must have been a better way. Then again, I am probably out of step with everyone else in missing them and the usual Earthers.

That being said, notice that Hogun, on his own, did nearly as much damage as Thor and Loki did in their first confrontation with Hela. Warriors Three represent.

I do love that Thor now has sub-plans for that moment when Loki betrays him. The boy is not as stupid as he looks or pretends to be. I’m also reasonably sure that Loki stole both the tesseract and any other shiny things present in the treasury, because he’s a power magpie in human form.

I also love that Valkyrie is every bit as fight mad as the rest of the Asgardians. I believe Thor when he says that he wanted to be a Valkyrie when he was little. I just get this vision of him running around pretending to be a Valkyrie, Odin going “someone’s going to have to tell him,” and Frigga going “nah, what’s the harm.” Loki is, of course, the one to tell him in the end.

I am trying to decide if Cate Blanchett can do *that* with her voice naturally or if she just has a voice SFX pedal on hand at all times. I want to believe she has a natural reverb setting.

Heimdall is the most polite rescuer ever – “sorry about the violence while I was rescuing you”.

I get why there was almost nothing of the gladiators’ revolt, but I would have liked to have seen a bit of it anyway.

Somehow, Chris Hemsworth looks ever more attractive the more damage he takes. That is voodoo, either from the actor or the director.

I know the scene where Bruce chooses to Hulk out is a counterpoint to the one where Black Widow forces him to, but I think Natasha did the least worst thing there so I am, once again, not the intended audience. It also shows the problem with any Hulk solo film. A goodly chunk of the audience are waiting for the bit where Bruce loses and becomes the Hulk despite himself.

I do love that Thor’s plans involve him doing the risky bit, and total trust in Loki, because he knows that Loki can be trusted, as long as you don’t give him time to think. I wish we’d got the hug that came roughly three nano-seconds after Thor realised that Loki was staying.

The loudest laugh I gave was when the Grandmaster landed amidst the people he’d held under. I live in hope he got his the same way the Beast Rabban got his.

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In other important news, I’d like to give a shout out to EJ at the BFI IMAX. He deserves any Nandos that he got from the blue forms.

Also, just an FYI, if you position yourself just right, the subway tunnels running from the BFI IMAX to Victoria have fantastic acoustics if you’re singing along with Robert Plant. It’s possible that I don’t need the help on the volume though 😉

Rugby League World Cup 2017 Data Visualization

I’ve done my usual thing of mapping what club team and nation the players play for. I should probably have done this for the last world cup but at that time I was still coping with the idea of James Graham playing for a team that aren’t Saints. Even five years on, it took me all my time not to mark him down with an asterisk. Because hopefully he will come home one day.

Ahem!

I am not going to say anything about the England team because I promised I wouldn’t if Wayne Bennett picked Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival. If neither of them gets a game, this may change.

On to the actual diagram.

 

TeamsAllStart.png

I didn’t expect to find such a sharp divide between the Northern and Southern hemisphere sides. Italy and Lebanon having been temporarily moved into the Southern hemisphere, because both of them have a lot of players who play in Australia.

England are the national team closest to the middle, this is probably because they have both players who play in Australia, and a lot of the other Northern hemisphere teams are mainly made up of players who play in England.

Salford Red Devils are the club team closest to the centre. It sounds somewhat inexplicable. It is probably because 2 of the 4 Salford players play for a Southern hemisphere team (Tonga) and the other two play for Northern hemisphere teams (Ireland and Wales).

I know PNG and the US only have 23 players not 24. Not it’s not a mistake, at least not at my end, I double checked their official press releases (http://www.nrl.com/png-kumuls-name-world-cup-squad/tabid/10874/newsid/112727/default.aspx and http://www.rlwc2017.com/news/team-usa).

Yes, that is that Mirco Bergamasco. Yes he was a union player. Yes, he is that old. But I have spent so much of my life cheering for him as he does stupid, reckless and impossible things, I will happily do it one more time.

Melbourne Storm are the team with the most players, with 13. Next are St George Illawara, Cronulla Sharks, London Broncos, Parramatta Eels and New Zealand Warriors with 12.

Interestingly, only 2 of the St George Illawara and 3 of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are playing for Australia. The remaining 10 St George Illawara players are playing for New Zealand (2), Samoa (2), Fiji (2), England (1), Tonga (1), Papua New Guinea (1) and Italy (1). Of the Sharks players meanwhile 4 play for Samoa and 1 each for England, NZ, Tonga, PNG and Italy.

Of the New Zealand Warriors players, despite the name, only 3 are playing for New Zealand. The remainder play for Samoa (4), Tonga (3), Scotland and the United States (1 each).

None of the London Broncos players are in the England team, they are largely playing for Wales. None of the Parramatta Eels players play for Australia. They seem to be playing for every nation except Australia.

 

TeamsAllCommunity.png

In the community view, Ireland and England as one community, ditto NZ and Australia. I think that’s because most of the Irish players play in England for teams who also have players playing for England. For Australia and New Zealand, all but two of the New Zealand players play for teams in the Australian National Rugby League.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops, especially as there is a chance, however slim, that Tonga might beat New Zealand to the top spot in group B.

Rugby League 101

As it is Rugby League World Cup time again, I felt it might be an idea to briefly cover the basics of the game for any new fans watching. The information is taken from here and here.

Somewhat worryingly, both of the rules pages start with the information that you’re trying to score more points than the other team, but I’m going to assume that you can guess that.

The very basic rules of the game are that each team is given six chances to score. Each chance ends with a tackle (a tackle is a tackle when the referee calls “held”). If, after six tackles, the team have not scored, the ball is handed over to the other team who then get the chance to score with their six tackles.

There are 4 ways of scoring:

1 – A Try – A try is worth 4 points. It is similar to a touchdown in American football, except you actually have to touch the ball down with control and downward pressure. I’ve highlighted those last words because if you don’t do them, the try will not be awarded to your team.

2 – A Conversion – A conversion is worth 2 points. They can be scored only after the team has scored a try. The kick is taken from a position perpendicular to the goal line where the try was scored. The ball must pass between the goalposts and over the crossbar. If the team scores a conversion after a try, it is referred to as a converted try.

3 – A Penalty Kick – Also worth 2 points. Often just referred to as a penalty, this is one of the two options a team captain can take when the referee awards his team a penalty. The other option is to receive another set of 6 tackles with which to try to score.

4 – A Drop Goal – worth 1 point. This is scored when the ball is kicked between the goalposts and over the cross bar in open play.

A match lasts 80 minutes, split up into 2 halves of 40 minutes. The time is kept by a separate time keeper who sounds a hooter to signal the end of each half. If you’re really unlucky and playing at one of the French stadiums, it sounds like an air-raid siren.

Both teams will have 13 players on the pitch at any one time. As in ice hockey, there are rolling substitutions with no need for a stoppage in play. There is a limit on the number of these interchanges, with a maximum of 12 per team per game.

When passing the ball, it must go level or backwards. If the ball goes forwards, this is called a forward pass and the referee will award the other team a scrum and give them the ball. The team is said to have been “given head and feed at the scrum”.

A rugby league scrum is formed of 6 players from each team. The scrum half puts the ball into the scrum, and the hooker from his team hooks the ball backwards to gain possession of the ball for his team.

Scrums are also awarded for knock-ons. A knock-on is when the ball is dropped forwards by a player and hits the ground or another player.

A 40/20 kick is one where a player standing on or behind their 40-metre line gains ground by kicking the ball into their opponent’s 20-metre area. As long as the ball has bounced inside the field of play before going out to touch (out of bounds) in the 20 metre area, the kicking team are awarded head and feed at the scrum. Therefore, they will probably six more tackles to try to score. It is very rare that the team that gets the ball to put into the scrum don’t have possession after the scrum.

If the ball goes out behind the posts after a 40/20 rather than going out in the 20 metre area, the non-kicking team are given 7 tackles to try to score a try.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what’s happened. The referees wear microphones and have a set of hand signals that they use to indicate what is going on. These have been handily summarised here:

oFl3eY.png

The offside rule does nothing but cause everyone headaches but basically, the defending team have to be 10 meters away from the attacking team when they play the ball after the tackle, and the person on the attacking team receiving the ball from the play the ball must be directly behind their team-mate.

Obstruction is when one of the attacking team runs across the line of a defender trying to tackle their team-mate.

Tackles are not allowed to be above shoulder height. Above that it is a high tackle.

For something like that, or other foul play that is deserving of more than a penalty to the opposition, a referee can give one of 3 punishments:

1 – A yellow card – the offender has to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin. Their team has to play the 10 minutes with 12 players.

2 – A red card – the offender is sent off and cannot play for the rest of the match. Their team has to play the rest of the match with 12 players.

3 – The player is put on report – while better for the team in the short run because the player gets to stay on the pitch and carry on playing, it means the disciplinary panel will look at the offence and decide what punishment is appropriate. This can be anything from nothing to a 4 match ban.

I think that covers the important things.

This year, the women’s rugby league World Cup is taking place at the same time, so please show the ladies some love.

oFlKpF.jpg

While I am cheering for the Lionesses, please enjoy this photo of Sarina Fiso (NZ captain) and Ruan Sims (Australia captain).

Blade Runner 2049

 

A lot of the points I am going to mention cover the same ground as Selenak does here.  She explains what I liked and disliked better than I can, in fewer words, so I recommend reading her take on the film, and then coming back to read this for the couple of points where we disagree, and a few more specifically-me points.

 

  • I maintain my feeling of unease about a film about 30 years in the future of what people 40 years ago thought now would look like. Where are the films about what people now think 40 years in the future will look like?

 

  • Denis Villeneuve is a stonkingly good director.  He keeps a lot of the visual language from the original, but imbues it with his own feel which is a lot softer than Ridley Scott’s.

 

  • The BBFC rating includes a warning for sexualised nudity.  Anyone who finds any of the nudity in this film arousing has issues.  I think it was very well done, and thematically works but yes, the director deliberately went for “the commodification of sex and bodies is bad” and it worked.

 

  • The film works best when deals with the flipside of Blade Runner’s “what does it mean to be human”.  2049 asks “what does it mean to not be human?”

Everything below this is a spoiler.

Because the “what is it to be non-human” bits do work, I am more than a little bit miffed that the film’s main answer to the question is reproduction makes you human.  

My miffed is four-fold.  

1) I like to believe that I am not any less human than my friends who have reproduced.  

2) Of all the facets of humanity to choose, the film choose the one we share with animals.  Birds do, bees do it, even educated bacteria do it and so on.  

3) I am sorry to put this quite so bluntly, but in terms of the replicants wanting their freedom, I’ve never known the ability of their slaves to reproduce ever stopping slavemasters keeping their slaves enslaved.  

4)  It goes against the message of the first film, where being human is what you do, not what you are.  The replicants were more human than the humans, quite literally.  Leon and Pris’s willingness to risk what lifespan they had for Zhora and Roy Batty, Pris and Roy Batty’s love for each other and Roy Batty letting Dekker live are all more human than any act of the humans in Blade Runner.

I’m not sure some of the background of the story works with the information from Blade Runner.  Do you believe that a technology that had already been banned from Earth after several previous rebellions would suddenly become legalised just because someone said the technology was now safe?  I don’t either.

I presume that they let the replicants live out amongst humans to try to tie them in closer to humanity so that they’re less likely to rebel.  That’s also reflected in the words that Joe is expected to repeat in his check-ups.

I’m pleased that they decided that Joe wasn’t a human, mostly because you know, Ryan Gosling only has the one facial expression.  It also meant that something I thought was a plot hole wasn’t.  (I’ve gone with calling him Joe because I am terrible at remembering alphanumerics.)

I guessed that the child was actually the girl because the quickest way of hiding someone is saying that they’re dead.  I should have guessed who the child was because such an extreme immunodeficiency suddenly cropping up at 8 is … unlikely.  But I didn’t.  The DNA section threw up another plot hole though because if Joe has the DNA sequence of the child, it should be easy enough to compare it with his own, and, depending on what DNA segment is recorded, he should have been able to check if the female identity or the male one was the real one.

Joi is probably the most human of the characters, in one of the bits where the film decides humanity is the ghost in the machine.  Which is interesting, given that she’s the only unembodied/disembodied character.  She’s the one who makes decisions about herself and chooses danger rather than being forced to betray Joe.  She’s so lovely. And also opens up a whole vista of philosophical questions. Like is she any less human because she’s disembodied? Why does Joe choose her over another replicant (presuming, of course, that as a Replicant he’s not allowed to date humans – did I mention whole vistas?)?  Does Joi choose Joe as a name because it’s the name she’s been programmed to use it as a name or because she likes it?  How much of Joi is Joi and how much is the programming, and is that any different for Joe?

My favourite scene is the one where Joe is going back to Los Angeles and sees the advert for Joi.  He looks at her and it’s so full of love and sadness, because he knows that a new Joi would not be his Joi, and the ghost is in the electrons.  (Okay, so Gosling actually has three expressions, but he’d be more effective if he used the other two in more than one scene each.)

The odd thing is that the weakest scenes in Blade Runner 2049 are the ones that tie it into Blade Runner.

I feel bad about saying that because Harrison Ford is exceptional in his scenes.  The silhouette of Rachel was possibly the most terrifying unseen person since Joyce in “Forever” (Buffy, episode 17 season 5).  And yet, they slow an already slow film down and add nothing, because trust me, I already hated Wallace.  It feels like there were two scripts, one a direct sequel to Blade Runner, and one a more general sci-fi “what measure is a human” one, that they smushed together.

I am not sure what they were trying to do with Wallace, who was so much just Tyrell that D and I just called him not-Tyrell when we were talking about the film.  He’s just so unnecessarily horrible that I was hoping that dear, unstable Luv was going to gut him.  I am most sad that no-one gutted him.

My uncertainty with Wallace begins with his casting.  Given that he’s surrounded by faux-Japanese cultural motifs, why they didn’t just cast a Japanese actor is beyond me.  That was one of the things that did strike me, the film had much less of an Asian influence than the first one (even if I do understand the complaints that for all the Asian set dressing, there were no Asian characters in Blade Runner), and much more of a Soviet one.  It felt odd since I don’t think the Soviets were mentioned even once in Blade Runner, possibly to avoid dating the film.  I suspect this is partly a hangover from filming in Hungary.

On to some more general points:

  • I know why film-makers have characters use axe kicks in films.  They look cool.  I am willing to go with “rule of cool”, even if I don’t like axe kicks.  What I don’t get is why the characters being attacked by axe kicks never use the “proper” defence against them, even if that character is supposed to have fight training.  Axe kicks are so easy to defend against, why does nobody ever do it?!

 

  • I say this about every film he’s in, but when did Dave Batista get so good?  He’s a foot taller than me and about two of me in weight, and yet, when Sapper Morton put his glasses on I wanted to protect him.  That’s a neat trick.

 

  • I really like Hans Zimmer’s work.  If you need a film composer who can ape someone else’s style and rework it into something new, he’s the best choice.  The problem isn’t him, the problem is when the soundsystem of the cinema you are in can’t take all those tones at once, and you get massive reverb even when the soundtrack doesn’t want it.  Also, I’m reasonably sure that chunks of the soundtrack could be used for soundboarding people.  I know it’s deliberate but some of that really messed with my brain.

 

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In short (too late, I know), Blade Runner 2049 is a good film.  It’s not as good as Blade Runner.  It may or may not be a good sequel to Blade Runner.

Adieu To Rob Burrow

Saturday evening will see Rob Burrow’s last rugby game. He’s my favourite active rugby player. And, as per usual, I will be hoping his team lose.

Because that’s what happens when your faourite player doesn’t play for your favourite team.

Not that Castleford are my favourite team, but I’d really rather than them win than Leeds again. I have seen Burrow tear Saints apart one time too often (even the mention of the 2011 Grand Final remains painful).

I will be honest here, the reason Burrow is my favourite *is* because he’s the littlest. In a time when rugby players seem to be ever larger behemoths, that he’s 5 foot 5 and made it with hella hard work and talent is inspiring.

I believe some Youtube videos are required.

The Leeds Rhino’s official video – Tributes to Rob Burrow –

Grand Final Golden Moments: Rob Burrow’s Solo Try, 2011 –

(Also refered to as that bloody try by me)

Epalahame Lauaki Fights agiants Rob Burrow –

Rob Burrow 500 game tribute – Rob Burrow 500 game tribute –

He’s fast, sneaky, clever and brave, the littlest and the best. Why did he have to play for Leeds?

Book Review – As Good As It Gets – The Story of St Helens’ Grand Slam Class of 2006

This book is about the glorious, all-conquering Saints team that won every trophy 🏆 available to them in 2006.

It’s written by Mike Critchley who works as the sports editor for one of the local papers, the St Helens Star. He sets the team’s year in context, not just of rugby league, but also the team’s importance to the town.

It’s wonderfully one-sided. It’s also written in authentic Northern gibberish in parts, to the point that I feel like asking my London Correspondent if it makes any sense to someone not from my neck of the woods.

The pro-Saints angle actually quite nice, because it’s so common that Saints don’t get the credit they deserve. It does occasionally leave me wanting more information or analysis than the book gives. But that’s understandable because it is quite clearly designed to be an happy overview of that glorious season, not an in-depth rugby analysis book.

The book is also rather obviously pro-Daniel Anderson. Which makes sense. It was a season of success that was partly down to his tactical choices and player rotation. It should actually have been his second title. Saints would have won the title the year before if Sean Long hadn’t had his face broken in a match against Wigan. No part of that last sentence is an exaggeration.  But the book chooses to do this not just by bigging up Daniel Anderson, which is reasonable, but by putting down Ian Millward at any opportunity. I have no idea what Mr. Millward did to the author but it must have been something. (It’s Ian Millward and the author is a journalist so I presume Millward swore at him.)

That, and a couple of “I do not think it means what you think it means” word usage issues, are the only problems I found.

It was interesting to get an insight into how a successful team works, and how it really is all the little things and building things up step by step. The Ade Gardener section, and indeed Gardener’s own analysis of both season and how wing-play works in rugby league, was probably the most interesting part, but there were lots of interesting tidbits.

As for an actual number of stars, this is 5/5 for a Saints fan, 4/5 for rugby league fans and probably 3/5 for other sport fans.