2018, YEAR IN REVIEW

Deluged with achievement, grief, and no shortage of historic firsts, 2018 can best be described as a roller-coaster year. With so many significant moments over the last 12 months, it was no easy task narrowing them down and picking the very best to fit our word-limit. Nonetheless, here they are!

China Successfully Clones Monkeys (January 24)

Two monkeys have been cloned using the technique that produced Dolly the sheep. Identical long-tailed macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born several weeks ago at a laboratory in China. Scientists say populations of monkeys that are genetically identical will be useful for research into human diseases. But critics say the work raises ethical concerns by bringing the world closer to human cloning. Qiang Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience said the cloned monkeys will be useful as a model for studying diseases with a genetic basis, including some cancers, metabolic and immune disorders.

Launch of the Falcon Heavy (February 6)

The Falcon Heavy test flight (also known as Falcon Heavy demonstration mission) was the first attempt by SpaceX to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket. The successful test introduced the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in operation, producing five million pounds-force (22 MN) of thrust and having more than twice the lift capacity of the NASA Space Shuttle launch system. The dummy payload was a Tesla Roadster, the flagship vehicle of Tesla — which is also owned by SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk.

Black Panther’s success (February 16)

Black Panther is an American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Critics considered it one of the best films set in the MCU and noted its cultural significance. It grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, breaking numerous box office records including the highest-grossing film by an African-American director. For 2018 it is the highest-grossing film in the U.S. and Canada and the second-highest-grossing film worldwide; it received numerous awards and nominations.

Nerve Gas attack on Russian agent (March 4)

On March 4th, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England. According to official UK sources and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the two were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent known as A-234. Two Russian GRU operators were the suspected perpetrators.

Stephen Hawking: 1942-2018 (March 14)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of March 14th. The British scientist was famed for his work with black holes and relativity, with several bestselling books — most notably, A Brief History of Time — under his name.

Hawking’s biggest accomplishment was unifying fields of relativity and quantum mechanics through his research in black holes. He discovered that black holes leak energy and fade to nothing – a phenomenon that would later become known as Hawking radiation. Through his work with mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, he demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. At the age of 22 Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease. Defying the odds, Hawking not only lived to 79, he continued assiduously working in search of new discoveries.

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (March 20)

The world’s last male northern white rhino has died leaving only two females left to save the subspecies from extinction. The 45-year-old rhino named Sudan had been in poor health in recent days and was being treated for age-related issues and multiple infections. A veterinary team made the decision to euthanize Sudan after his condition deteriorated significantly, the conservation group WildAid announced Tuesday. Sudan lived in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, surrounded by armed guards in the days leading up to his death to protect him from poachers. This has made the subspecies functionally extinct, with only two female rhinos left.

End of Castro Rule in Cuba (April 19)

When Cuba’s president Raul Castro stood down on April 19th, it marked the first time in nearly six decades that the island will not be led by a Castro. The country’s national assembly selected the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, as the sole candidate to replace Raúl Castro. The handover will mark the end of an era: Cuba without the Castros has been the holy grail for Florida-based Cuban exiles – and a policy vigorously pursued by a dozen successive US presidents. Castro’s departure from the Cuban throne is best summarized in The Who’s 1971 hit song, Won’t Get Fooled Again, with the lyrics, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Sure, it’s the end of an era, but for the poor, downtrodden population of Cuba, little will change. The average monthly salary will still hover at $25 a month, and political dissidents will continue to live under constant fear. Real, meaningful change in Cuba requires an embrace of economic liberalism in lieu of the current communist system that imprisons its people.

US Embassy to Israel officially opened in Jerusalem (May 14)

Following through on a campaign promise, United States President, Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — the historic Jewish capital — on May 14, 2018. This marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel.

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CHARLES AZNAVOUR: 1924-2018

CHARLES AZNAVOUR: 1924-2018

Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian), the Paris-born Armenian singer-songwriter, actor, and diplomat, who was known as “France’s Frank Sinatra”, died this month, on October 1st, 2018.

Born in 1924 to Armenian immigrants who’d fled to France amid Turkey’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Armenians in the early 20thcentury, Aznavour was raised by a family of artists. His father was a singer, performing in French restaurants prior to opening his own.

Aznavour dropped out of school at a young age of nine to pursue his career as an entertainer — before his 10th birthday, he’d already starred in a movie and a theater production. Despite his young age, Aznavour insisted that he was never pressured or forced to become a performer. To him, it was a natural calling. “People say that they put me on the stage, but I put myself there. It was natural. It was what I wanted to do.” 

Aznavour later shifted his focus to professional dancing. He didn’t write his first song until the age of 24 in 1950.

He got his big break when he began opening for the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. After his distinctive rich, mellow voice caught her attention, Piaf took Aznavour under her wing, mentoring the young virtuoso. Piaf advised Aznavour to pursue a singing career.

Aznavour went on to command a career lasting 80 years. He wrote a whopping 1000 songs, sold 180 million albums, and dazzled audiences in sold-out auditoriums well into his 90’s. He sang in an astounding 8 different languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, and Neapolitan.

Aznavour’s music knew no boundaries, touching upon an eclectic range of themes.

He wrote songs that by any standard were ahead of their time. In “What Makes a Man” (1972), Aznavour sang about a gay transvestite. The lyrics are overall great but especially outstanding are the lines, “Nobody has the right to be; the judge of what is right for me; tell me if you can; what make a man a man.”

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REVIEW: STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI

In George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, fans were immersed in a vast and uncharted universe rife with relics of the late Jedi order. The first film, “A New Hope,” introduced and set the stage for the main protagonists and antagonists with drips of detail to induce intrigue and wonder in the audience. Following sequels provided sustenance for fans’ fervor, delving deeper into the characters and connecting storylines.

With 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” Disney played it safe. Director JJ Abrams effectively stuck to the same script (almost literally) as “A New Hope,” and the film was highly enjoyable – discounting its lack of original storytelling, and the fact that our hero Luke Skywalker had been reduced to retirement in what could only be described as the Florida of the vast Star Wars universe.

Now on to “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.” Before I go any further, the review will contain major spoilers. There was a slew of weaknesses in the plot (and this is aside from the fact that the movie felt drudgingly dragged out at times) that can’t be pointed out without giving anything away. But don’t be disparaged, I’m saving you from having to sit through a 152-minute long mess.

Spoilers Ahead!

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REVIEW: The Promise: A Powerful, Memorable Film

With “The Promise,” filmmaker Terry George, known for his 2004 Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda,” set out to tell the story of 20th century’s first genocide.

Following the timeline of events that led to the Ottoman Empire’s perpetration of genocide against the Armenian population in 1915, the plot is centered around a love triangle between an Armenian student named Mikael Boghosian (played by Oscar Isaac), an Armenian from Paris named Ana Khesarian (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and an American reporter named Chris Myers (played superbly by Christian Bale).

Leaving his small Armenian village in the Ottoman Empire, Boghosian travels to the Turkish capital Constantinople to study medicine.

The film depicts Turkish-Armenian relations at a high point (“high” is meant in the vaguest sense). Many Turks still held venomously racist views towards Armenians, but they went to the same universities, lived in the same cities and shopped in the same markets (when walking through the market, a Turk exclaimed to him, “that Armenian pig will rip you off.”)

Shortly after, as the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Turkish aggression against the Armenian population became a mainstay of government policy. This film portrayed this accurately, as the blueprints for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich soon spread to every village in the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish officers began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and businesspersons, executing them on a whim. Boghosian was yanked out of medical school and sent to a labor camp where he was effectively starved, and made to work while awaiting execution.

Miraculously, Boghosian escaped. Following his harrowing journey back to his home village in an attempt to save his family, the film vividly portrays the horrors of the Armenian genocide. From cargo trains packed full of prisoners, to their coerced death march through the desert where they were executed.

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REVIEW: ‘Rogue One’ Is Far More Conservative Than Liberal

It’s here! Rogue One is the new Star Wars movie you’ve been longing for since Return of the Jedi. This is truly the prequel fans of the series deserve.

Albeit still a great movie, last year’s Star Wars: Force Awakens was effectively a shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope. Where Force Awakens fell short on originality, Rogue One more than makes up.

I will keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, giving nothing significant away that’s not in the trailer.

Rogue One takes place just before Episode IV, A New Hope and after Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

The plot centers around The Rebel Alliance, a coalition of tribes across the galaxy who’ve banded together in the face of the tyrannical, oppressive Galactic Empire and its expansionist ambitions.

With their very own Igor Kurchatov, the Galactic Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star is nearly complete. Capable of destroying entire planets, the weapon poses an existential threat to the Empire’s dissidents.

And so, the Rebel Alliance forms a special team to track down and retrieve the Death Star’s blueprints to find a weakness in the superweapon and give the Rebellion a fighting chance.

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REVIEW: War Dogs

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster arms dealer.”

War Dogs is an entertaining, fast-paced and well-timed action comedy set in the Bush era, directed by Todd Phillips.

The Hangover director took several pages out of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic, Goodfellas, and for old time’s sake, a few out of the Democrat Party handbook to go along with the Bush era.

If like me, you were hoping Todd Phillips would’ve resisted turning to anti-war, left-wing tropes (given how Bush has been out of office for EIGHT YEARS now), you’ll be slightly let down.

As the main character, played by Jonah Hill said, “I’m against the war. I f—king hate Bush. But this isn’t about being pro-war. This is about being pro-money,” and “War is an economy. Anyone body who tells you otherwise is stupid”

If you thought the Iraq war had anything to do with freeing Iraqis under the thumb of a barbaric butcher, spreading democracy or protecting America’s freedom, you’d be a total schmuck, as War Dogs bluntly lays out.

War is an economy. That’s it! Case closed. George W. Bush went to war after 9/11 for money, and America was never hit by another large-scale terrorist attack between September 12, 2001, and the day he left office because of all the money he made. Or something.

The good news is, by now you’ve likely heard these same talking points from the left ad nauseum, and can drown them out subconsciously.

The rest of War Dogs is highly enjoyable. It’s a classic rise and fall story.

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REVIEW: ‘Sausage Party’ Raunchy, Irreverent, Lazy But At Times Hilarious

Seth Rogen, the writer behind Superbad and Pineapple Express, among other stoner cinemas has turned to animation in his latest movie. Sausage Party is a raunchy, crude and, at times, hilarious shock-comedy for adults.

Bringing to life the produce section, and all 20-something aisles of your local grocery store, Sausage Party is set in a world in which food items are alive, self-aware and relish (pun intended) in profanity and sexual innuendos.

The food items believe their great destiny lies in being picked off the shelf by shoppers, taken to their homes and to salvation. As the main character, Frank (a sausage voiced by Seth Rogen) called it, “the Great Beyond.”

After Rogen’s character discovers the ugly truth about what looms on the horizon, past the check-out conveyer, the other food items call him a crazy heretic, instead opt to believe in their comforting concoction.

Sausage Party’s overarching plot is Rogen’s attempt at allegorizing organized religion, and framing its followers as brainwashed buffoons. If you happen to be a stoned Richard Dawkins with a quarter of the IQ, the plot is perfect for you.

That’s not to say the film is bereft of laughs. Far from it.

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