Wednesday, December 21, 2016

best of 2016: miscellaneous edition

And finally, here's my list of random favorite things from 2016.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things first made their debut in 2016, but that's when I first experienced them.
  • In years past, I used to include a picture of/from each item, but that became a colossal hassle due to continued issues with Blogger/Photobucket.  My apologies.
  • These aren't in any particular order.
  • Those of you familiar with my intense love of the Dead Rising series might be surprised to see Dead Rising 4 missing from this list, but that's because I haven't played it yet!  That will definitely change this weekend, though.  (Watch for it here at the end of 2017.)
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. School-Live!:   This anime is about a group of girls who belong to the School Living Club, and honestly, that's all I want to say about it because the less you know about this show going in, the better.  You might be tempted to give up about halfway through the first episode, but I promise your patience will be rewarded.  (Available for streaming on Crunchyroll)

2. Tales from the Borderlands:  Telltale Games does it again with this incredibly funny take on the Borderlands series.  Although I imagine some familiarity with the original games would enhance your enjoyment, they do such a great job that it's not even necessary.  (Available on most major consoles)

3. The Uncharted series:  I watched a clip from Uncharted 4 and was so enchanted that I decided I wanted to play it, even though I hadn't played the first three games.  G-Vo would have none of that, so I went ahead and plowed through the first three games over the course of two months.  I still haven't played Uncharted 4, as we're waiting for the game of the year edition, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with cheeky treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his crew.  (Playstation exclusive)

4. Stranger Things:  In this pitch perfect homage to the 80s, a group of friends become embroiled in a sinister government plot after meeting a strange girl named Eleven.  It's really fun, and I for one welcome the return of Winona Ryder to pop culture.  (Netflix streaming)

5. Daredevil:  Blind lawyer Matt Murdock has a secret: he's also Daredevil, crime fighter extraordinaire.  Lots of really fun action and JFC, Daredevil's ass gives me a thirst not even a gallon of Gatorade could quench.  (Netflix streaming)

6. Ash vs. Evil Dead:  If you enjoyed the original Evil Dead movies and you love Bruce Campbell (I didn't say "or" there because who the hell doesn't love Bruce Campbell?!?) AND you haven't seen this yet, what are you waiting for?  It's gooey, gory, hysterical fun.  (Season 1 available on DVD; season 2 just wrapped up.  It's on Starz, so if you get that channel, you might be able to catch reruns or stream it.  I'm living the basic cable life, so my broke ass doesn't know for sure.)

7. Life Is Strange:  Max is a teenage girl who's just discovered she has the ability to rewind time, which of course is both a good and a bad thing.  Realistic characters, fun gameplay, agonizing moral choices, excellent voice acting, and super sharp writing made this, by far, my favorite video game of 2016.  (Available on most major consoles)

8. Hidden City:  THIS GODDAMN GAME.  I love it because it's so much fun, but I hate it because it's so fucking addictive that it's taken over most of my free time.  It's a hidden object game that starts off easy and steadily gets harder and harder.  The artwork is absolutely stunning, and the dopamine rush I get when I manage to find something in the last couple of seconds cannot be denied.  I'm actually grateful when my energy runs out because it forces me to put the game away and do something else for a while.  Recommended only if you have a lot of free time and/or the willpower to put it aside when real life demands your attention.  (Free download, though I'm not sure of everything you can get it on; G-Vo plays it on the iPad and I play it on the Kindle Fire.  Of course, like most mobile games, you can pay for boosters and whatnot, so be careful!)

9. Compartes Cereal Bowl candy bar:  White chocolate studded with Lucky Charms pieces?  Oh yes please.  I'm actually grateful this is so expensive ($12/bar, not even kidding) or else I'd be plowing through one or two of these a week.  They have lots of other flavors too if white chocolate isn't your jam.  Gorgeous packaging.  I get it from a gourmet candy store at my local mall, but you can also buy it online.

10. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X:  Everybody's favorite virtual idol returns in another addictive rhythm game!  (Playstation exclusive)

11. Game of Thrones (video game):  Telltale Games knocks yet another one out of the park with their take on the GoT universe.  It's seriously like playing a side story from the books, and has all the hallmarks of a Telltale game: great writing, great voice acting (speaking of which, I tweeted something pervy about a character in this game and the voice actor favorited it; awkward!), great everything.  I would really like the second season now, please.  (Available on most major consoles)

12. Glory by Britney Spears:  What, you think my iTunes is all 80s songs and obscure Japanese noise bands?  Nope; I have a soft spot for Britney Spears, and albums like this one are the reason why.  Her previous album, Britney Jean, was terrible, but she more than makes up for it with Glory.  It's got everything: slow sexjams ("Just Luv Me", "Slumber Party", "Make Me..."), songs that will make you (okay, me) jump around your living room like a maniac ("If I'm Dancing", "Do You Wanna Come Over?"), and an achingly pretty ballad called "Man on the Moon".  There's one turd tossed into the mix ("Private Show", which is so terrible it makes me want to trepan myself in the few seconds I hear before my finger can reach the skip button on my iTunes), but carping about it is petty when everything else is so damn good. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

best of 2016: movies

And now it's time for my favorite movies of 2016!  The usual disclaimers before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2016, but that's when I saw 'em.
  • The first two movies listed were definitely my favorites, but the rest of the list is in random order.  (It's pretty weird that my two favorite movies were both stop motion animation, considering that it's somewhat of a dying art.) 
  • Despite my most fervent wishes, 2016 isn't over yet, so it's possible I'll watch something between now and the end of the year that belongs on here.  If so, I'll update accordingly.
  • I don't know why #3 and #4 on this list look tiny and squinchy; Blogger is being a butthole again.  I've tried to fix it but it's not working, and I lack the time/patience to type this all over again, so my apologies.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Anomalisa:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him.  But when he's on a business trip, he hears a woman talking in the hallway of his hotel, and her voice is different, so he runs after her.  Her name is Lisa, and they form a strange and tender bond.

Oh man, you guys, this movie is something else.  It's weird, as you'd expect from a Charlie Kaufman movie, and wonderful and heartbreaking and funny.  The stop-motion animation is incredible (be sure to watch the "making of" featurettes on the DVD to see how much work went into it) and the voice acting is terrific and it's like nothing else I've ever seen.

2. Kubo and the Two Strings:  Accompanied by a sarcastic snow monkey and a beetle samurai, Kubo embarks on an epic quest to find a magical suit of armor.  Absolutely stunning stop-motion animation from the geniuses at Laika, combined with terrific voice acting and an alternately exciting and touching story, made this a perfect afternoon at the movies.

3. The Martian:  A group of astronauts is working on Mars when a storm forces them to leave the planet early.  They think their crewmate Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is dead and they leave him behind, but he's actually alive, and he has to figure out how to signal Earth for help.  Intense and incredibly enjoyable.

4.  The Visit:  Siblings Becca and Tyler are excited to meet their grandparents for the first time, but their vacation turns into a nightmare when Nana and Pop Pop begin acting very, very strange.

I know M. Night Shyamalan's name has become tarnished over the years due to flops like The Happening and the utter cinematic abortion that was The Last Airbender, but I swear to you, this movie was really fucking GOOD.  The acting is great, there are some really funny scenes, and the stuff that's supposed to be scary is tense as hell.  G-Vo and I weren't expecting much from this flick, but we were very pleasantly surprised.

5. Captain America: Civil War:  The United Nations wants to limit what superheroes are allowed to do, and although some of the Avengers are okay with restrictions, others don't like the idea at all, causing a serious rift and some truly badass action scenes.  Immensely entertaining (far more so than The Avengers: Age of Ultron) and am I a Stucky (Steve/Bucky) shipper now?  Goddamn right I am. 

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane:  After a car accident, Michelle wakes up handcuffed to a cot.  A man named Howard walks in and tells her that he rescued her and brought her to his bomb shelter because the world has been decimated by a chemical attack.  Is he really her savior, or something worse?  The ending was a little goofy, but it's incredibly tense and well done, and John Goodman is great as Howard.

7. Room:  Joy (Brie Larson, very deserving of her Oscar) has been confined to a small shed for over seven years by a man she calls Old Nick, along with her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, not nominated but should have been).  Despite their situation, Joy has given Jack the best life she could, but she's reaching her breaking point.  Very powerful, with terrific performances, and I cried throughout most of it.

8. Eye in the Sky:  A planned drone strike to take out terrorists in Kenya goes awry when a little girl chooses the worst place possible to sell bread.  Very tense, and as you'd expect from a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul, the performances are excellent.

9. Doctor Strange:  After a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange goes to Nepal in search of healing, and a whole new world of superpowers opens up to him.  Just a really fun movie, with some surprisingly good dialogue and trippy visuals that more than justified the extra cost for the 3D experience.

10.  Zootopia:  Despite her size, plucky bunny Judy Hopps manages to become a cop.  She's assigned traffic duty during her first day in the force, but a string of missing animals might wind up being the case that will make everyone take her seriously.  The trailers for this were absolutely awful, so our expectations were very low, but it turned out to be really charming and funny.

SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Lights Out, Kubo and the Two Strings, Doctor Strange

MOST HORRIFYING SCENE:  I can't decide between the arm injury or the boxcutter scene from Green Room, but they both made me gasp.

 No Escape, The Martian, Sherrybaby, Freeheld, 99 Homes, The Good Dinosaur, Ratter (which I know sounds lame as hell, but I can't explain what got to me without massive spoilers, so please just trust me that it's not as lame as it sounds), Anomalisa, The Drop Box, Zootopia, Me Before You, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book


WORST MOVIE I WATCHED THIS YEAR:  I was going to say Gods of Egypt or The Darkness, but although they were absolute trash, at least they were mildly entertaining and I wasn't compelled to write two blog entries ripping them apart.  Ergo, my least favorite movie this year was The Neon Demon, which was visually impressive but so stupid and so goddamn pleased with itself that it made me angry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

best of 2016: nonfiction

And now it's time for my best nonfiction picks of the year!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2016, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first two, which were definitely my favorites of the year, these aren't in any particular order.
  • And as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Shrill by Lindy West:  A collection of essays by the former Jezebel contributor, covering everything from flying while fat to confronting a particularly nasty Internet troll who impersonated her dead father.  Blisteringly honest, often uproariously funny (I literally, and I mean literally in the actual sense and not the way it's usually used, sprayed masticated pretzels across a break room table while reading this because I was laughing so hard), and an absolute must-read.

2. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman:  The residents of the poor border town of Brownsville, Texas were no strangers to tragedy or crime, but the brutal murder of three young children in 2003 shocked everyone.  The author began corresponding with the father (who, along with the children's mother, was convicted of the murders) of the victims in hopes of understanding why.  At the same time, she explored the impact of the crimes on the community where it happened.  A really heartbreaking, powerful book.

3. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach:  The science writer looks at the science behind keeping soldiers alive, ranging from uniform design to shark repellent.  It wasn't one of my favorites of her books, but it's still well worth reading.  How could anyone resist a book with a chapter called "Leaky SEALs: Diarrhea As a Threat to National Security"?  Also, it includes the line "a tasting flight of sodden tampons" (referring to an experiment to see if bears really are attracted to menstruating women), which is truly one of the weirdest sentences I've ever read in a book.

4. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein:  A collection of hilarious essays ranging from the author's loathing of the term "ma'am" (1000% agreed; Southerners exempt) to discovering the joys of porn and Anthropologie (not at the same time, though that would make an interesting RedTube clip that I would definitely watch).

5. The Best of Dear Coquette: Shady Advice from a Raging Bitch Who Has No Business Answering Any of These Questions:  I'd never heard of Dear Coquette, but I saw this on the shelf at the library and couldn't resist the title, so I had to pick it up.  Good choice!  Her advice is brutal but fair, and occasionally so sharply witty you could cut yourself on it.

6. I Will Find You by Joanna Connors:  At the age of 30, the author was raped while working on a newspaper story.  After her rapist was convicted and sent to prison, she didn't want to speak of the rape ever again, but while touring a college campus with her daughter, she decided to tell her children.  In the process, she decided to get closure by learning more about the man who had changed so much of her life.  Excellent.

7. On Living by Kerry Egan:  The author, a hospice chaplain, reflects on the lessons the dying have taught her.  It may sound maudlin, preachy, or depressing, but it's absolutely not; it's very moving and thought provoking.

8. KooKooLand by Gloria Norris:  A memoir about the author's love/hate relationship with her complicated father Jimmy, an alternately charming and psychotic con man.  Definitely worth reading if you love engrossing memoirs or want to be reassured that someone out there had an even more dysfunctional family than yours.

9. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer:  An entertaining collection of essays ranging from the hysterically funny to the decidedly not, like the heartbreaking chapter about the two women who were shot and killed during a showing of Trainwreck.

10. Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood:  The author made an offhand remark to a friend about faking her own death to get out of her student loans.  The comment spurred her interest in the world of "pseudocide", and this fascinating book covers everything from Michael Jackson "death truthers" to the author's trip to the Philippines, where she successfully faked her own death just to prove she could.

Friday, December 09, 2016

best of 2016: fiction

I can't believe it, but it's already that time of year again when I sort through everything I've read/watched and make my top 10 lists.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2016, but that's when I read 'em.
  • These are basically in preferential order, though I keep wavering on a few of them.  Number one was definitely my favorite, though.
  • G-Vo, skip #1 and #4.
  • Obviously 2016 isn't over yet (which is a shame as this has been one shit year), so if I read something between now and 12/31 which belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • This is my second time trying to post this, and I don't have the time or patience to keep messing with it, so if it looks like shit, I apologize.  This has been happening more and more with Blogger, so I might pack up and go elsewhere if it continues.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva:  While competing in a reality show set in the woods, Zoo (as the producers call her) gets separated from her teammates.  Because they're cut off from the outside world, they don't realize it's been ravaged by a pandemic, and when Zoo finds evidence of the devastation, she assumes it's a trick being played by the producers.  All she wants is to get back to her husband, and her ignorance of the truth will either save her or kill her.  A clever premise, expertly executed.

2.  The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat:  After his half brother usurps power over the throne, Damen is captured and sent to serve as a pleasure slave to Laurent, the prince of an enemy kingdom.  Suffice it to say things don't turn out how either one of them expects.  It's a bit of a cheat to list a trilogy of books as one item on this list, but this is my blog so I'm gonna.  Very well written, and scorchingly hot at times.  I started the first one on a Monday night and took the next day off work so I could finish it, after which I immediately started the second one, like the literary equivalent of chainsmoking.  (Note: in order, the books in this series are Captive Prince, Prince's Gambit, and King's Rising.)

3. Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser:  Concerned for her drug addicted mother's safety during an impending blizzard, 16-year-old Percy sets off for a local meth dealer's cabin in hopes of finding her.  Instead, she finds the dealer and his girlfriend passed out, the corpse of a rotting dog, and a crying baby left in a freezing cold room.  Impulsively, Percy takes the baby, setting off a chain of unfortunate events.  Alternately funny and heartbreaking (it made me cry, which books rarely do), and it would make an absolutely killer movie.

4. The Fireman by Joe Hill:  Millions of people are infected with a plague nicknamed dragonscale, which causes most of the carriers to spontaneously combust.  When school nurse Harper Grayson finds out that she's not only infected, but pregnant, she flees for a camp where survivors have taken shelter, but it's not necessarily the safe haven she was hoping for.  Riveting, and Harper is a great heroine to root for.  (Joe Hill is exceptionally good at writing female characters.)

5. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas:  This is the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor, but it was excellent.  Bonus points for really hot (and surprisingly graphic for YA) sex scenes, too.

6. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf:  Manderley Resort is a luxury hotel that's getting ready to open for business, but somebody doesn't want it to ever open its doors, and the staff is getting murdered one by one.  Tense and exciting; it would make one hell of a movie, and thanks to several "split screen" passages, Brian De Palma would be the ideal director.  

7. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal:  In the 15th century city of Skyggehavn, Princess Sophia has just gotten married.  She is the royal family's greatest hope, as the other children of the king and queen have either died or are suffering from a mysterious illness.  But her wedding night goes horribly awry, and the kingdom is thrown into turmoil.  In the midst of it all, a disgraced seamstress, a mute nursemaid, and a scheming count try to survive by any means necessary.  The sumptuous writing reminded me of As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, which is not a comparison I would make lightly, but be warned: it's classified as YA (and won a prestigious award given for excellence in young adult literature), but in my opinion, that was a mistake.  It contains several graphic descriptions of rape and sexual blackmail, a story about a woman mating with a monkey, and horrifying descriptions of dead bodies and debilitating illness.  But if you can handle its darkness (and it is DARK), I think you'll find it well worth the read.

8.  All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood:  Wavy's father is a drug dealer and her mother is mentally ill, so she's left to her own devices most of the time, which she's fine with.  She's obsessed with constellations, and one night she's staring up at the sky when a man passing by wrecks his motorcycle.  The man is Kellen, an associate of her father's, and they form a friendship that other people don't get.  Beautifully written and extremely uncomfortable at times; it's probably the only book I've ever read where I agreed with both the 5 star reviews and some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon.  (Explaining the latter would be a massive spoiler, as the reviews in question are negative because of plot elements, not the writing.)

9. IQ by Joe Ide: Isaiah Quintabe is known around the neighborhood as IQ in deference to his intellect.  He solves cases and charges those who can afford it higher rates to make up for people who pay in tires and blueberry muffins, and there are far more of the latter than the former, so a case involving a rapper might be the cash cow he's been waiting for.  Really different and enjoyable; think Sherlock Holmes in the 'hood.

10. The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter:  When a dead body is found at a construction site, it turns out to have startling links to detective Will Trent.  As you'd expect from Karin Slaughter, it's engrossing as hell and filled with plenty of surprises.