Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Nature of Human Athletics

There are articles online with people actually acting surprised that data shows that, on average, female athletes' top speeds/times/weight limits/etc., fall short of top male records.

How is this a surprise to anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to natural science, or just plain common sense? Males are, in MOST species not just humans, typically designed and build by Nature, on purpose, to be bigger, faster, stronger, and more durable than females of the same species. This has nothing to do with "Gender Equality", and everything to do with physiology and biology. In just about every single mammal species on the planet, males were designed by nature to be bigger and physically more powerful and capable. Why?

Well, in human beings specifically, because we are very much a pack creature, males were obviously intended by Nature to be protectors, of their mates, their children, their families, even their greater communities. Females simply were not designed the same way, and thus they were also not hardwired for extreme physical activity. That isn't to say that women cannot be great athletes, obviously they can, and are. But it IS to say that, it is a simple, incredibly UN-sexist fact of Nature, that female humans are, on average, smaller and less physically powerful than males. Therefor, male athletes ARE always, naturally, going to be bigger, stronger, faster, etc.

So speed, strength, endurance, etc. records in athletics, are very likely, for scientific, NOT social reasons, going to be dominated by males. Because males were built by nature FOR athletic activities. This is why, quite frankly, you won't, and probably shouldn't, see women competing in the NFL, or NBA, etc. They have their own leagues for a specific reason: so that the playing field is even. No one should ever expect female athletes to "out-compete" males, nor want to. Female humans were designed and hardwired for different things, by nature, not society.

It really is as simple as that.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Being Fat

Take it from someone who is fat, there is no such thing as "health at any size". No self-respecting, professional doctor is going to tell you that being fat is "okay". They'll tell you your health is "normal" for your age and weight, as in you're not dying right that moment. But they're not going to tell you that you're "healthy". Because being fat, isn't healthy.

If your back, knees or other joints ache because of your weight? It's because you're too heavy. If you find yourself getting winded or sweating a lot doing even fairly simple activities? It's because you're too heavy. If you find that your mobility is difficult, and even limited? It's because your body is carrying too much weight.

Those are medical science facts. There is no open debate to have about fat being "healthy" or not. Our society is too image obsessed, yes. In that, I agree. People should not purely want to lose weight or get in better shape so they LOOK better. That is, quite frankly, shallow and dishonest. People shouldn't want to lose weight because they're worried about their so-called "image". They should want to lose weight and live healthier, so they can BE healthier. So they can get more out of their body, so they can physically FEEL better, health-wise, and so they can have a higher overall quality of life. And, not to put too fine a point on it, so that they can also, barring unforeseen events, have a LONGER life.

Being overweight and out of shape, especially considerably so, is NOT healthy, and it IS detrimental to your well being on pretty much every level. There is this pervading attitude that being overweight, even being obese, is "okay", and "I'm comfortable in my body". Well...that's great. But I hope you're also going to be comfortable with developing issues as you get older, such as diabetes, heart problems, respiratory problems, back and joint pain and issues, etc. etc. And it WILL only get worse and worse, the older you get. Your quality of life (meaning how you feel on a daily basis, and functional and healthy your body is), will go from bad, to outright shitty, the older you get. And, on average, you will NOT, in point of fact, live to a terribly "ripe old age".

I say these things because I have struggled with weight issues for a good half or so of my life. I was addressing them a couple years ago, with a far more active lifestyle and purposefully healthier diet, and it was bearing results. And then I basically relapsed, for a variety of reasons. But I am now close enough to where I was before I STARTED that change back in 2015, that I have basically lost most of the progress I had made. And thus, functionally, will now have to "start all over", which, at 35, will in fact be even harder than it was at 33. Especially without a gym membership.

I say these things, not to be "mean", nor to "trigger" anyone. But to do something that our society seems to be valuing less and less these days. I'm being honest. I'm being blunt, and I'm being real. So many people, especially younger people these days, seem to want to have life cater to them, to have everything sugar-coated, to have code-words and alternate phrases for everything, to have every blow softened and every harsh reality shielded. And frankly, THAT is unhealthy. It is mental. There is no cause nor value in going out of your way to shame or bully someone over something, especially something like weight and health. But there is also a world of difference between "shaming", and telling the stark truth.

And that, I think, is perhaps more dangerous than the epidemic of unhealthiness and obesity in our society. Is the growing, and rather disturbing, trend of people essentially shutting their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and humming, any time anything "too real" or "too painful" gets brought up. We are slipping into a society that actually tries to state that you CAN'T talk about weight, or race, or any other "hot button" topic, and certainly not if you don't fit into very specific categories yourself. There is this idea that you can't even have a CONVERSATION, open and honest, about serious issues anymore. Not, that is of course, unless you happen to share the other party's exact views on something.

And that kind of willful blind ignorance and cowardice is dangerous. More dangerous in it's own way, than open and willful bigotry. If intelligent, mature adults cannot have an open dialogue about ANY topic, then something is seriously wrong. There is a spreading mentality of wanting to be in "safe spaces", and to have everyone be in their own safe little bubble, where the only people they want to interact with, are people who share their own views and beliefs, basically a reciprocal-affirmation echo-chamber. And there is, I'm sorry to say, nothing terribly intelligent, or mature, about that. In fact it's rather ignorant, not to mention childish behavior.

It isn't fun being fat. It also isn't fun being told, or otherwise reminded, that you are out of shape and unhealthy. It sucks. But it's also reality. And intelligent, mature adults, who are truly "strong" people (and don't just pay token gestures to the word), can face reality, no matter how much it might be uncomfortable or inconvenient. If you're fat and unhealthy, you're fat and unhealthy. And if you're OKAY with that, well...then congratulations. But accept responsibility for how your quality of life will progress. Otherwise, face it head on, as I try to do, and need to re-double my efforts in doing, and do what needs to be done to get better. I often hear that certain people "can't help" being fat. And I'm sorry...that is utter bullshit. Even if you DO have some sort of "condition" that contributes to your weight, that doesn't mean that being active and eating/living better, won't help. Because it will.

And remember, it's not about image. Who gives a shit about image? It's about you, yourself, and your own quality of life. Me? I've been sick of being fat, and all the crappy health issues that come with it, for years. I 100% felt better when I was active and eating well, getting lighter. Our bodies were not meant to carry major excess weight. That is why, take it from personal experience, it quite literally feels BAD to be fat. It's your body going "ugh, DUDE, this is a heavy load! Lighten UP please!". Being overweight puts extra undue stress on your entire body, every single system, including your skeleton, and that stress becomes harder and harder for your body to bear over time. So who gives a shit about your image? The only thing that matters, is striving to be the best possible you, and not merely feeling better ABOUT yourself, but more importantly, feeling BETTER, period. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Small But Mighty: Doug Flutie's Legacy in Pro Football

Fun Fact: Doug Flutie, my fav. QB of all time (except for Drew Brees), was only 5'9", yet while only playing for the CFL for 8 seasons, he tore shit up there like you wouldn't believe. He is only one of two players (last I checked) to ever pass for over 6000 yds. (yes 6000), in ANY form of "American Style" football, in any league. And he did it not once, but twice, coming close a third time.

In fact, in 8 years in the CFL, he threw for over 41,000 yards, and rushed for over 4600. He was a monster. He threw 270 passing TDs, and rushed for 66 (yes, 66) rushing TDs. That is insane, by any standards. He also, unsurprisingly, won the CFL's "Most Outstanding Player" award (basically their league MVP), 6 times, and won 3 Grey Cup championships with 2 different teams, the Calgary Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts.

That's the entire reason he even got a second chance in the NFL, being signed by the Buffalo Bills in 1998, leading them to the playoffs and becoming the 1998 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and a 1998 Pro Bowl selection. He had been in the NFL in the 80s, even started a bit, but was never given a fair shot because of his size. ALL he had to do to get a second chance in the NFL, was basically be THE most amazing QB in CFL history, ONE of the most amazing in football history period.

Quite frankly, Flutie could have and should have been a long-time starter for the Bills, and even a Super Bowl champion, but even with all he had accomplished, and even with him leading the Bills to back to back playoff berths in 98 and 99, it STILL wasn't enough for idiot NFL coaches, GMs and Owners, specifically the Bills' in this case, to get over the stigma of the "short QB". Instead, they wanted to go with Rob Johnson, a prototypical tall "canon arm" QB that the NFL covets, and who subsequently went on to do exactly jack shit in his NFL career. He also helped cost the red-hot Bills, whom Flutie had GOTTEN to the playoffs, by losing in the playoffs to the eventual AFC Champion Titans. Nothing is ever certain or guaranteed, but just imagine, if Flutie had been allowed to finish what he started that year, it might've been the Bills and Flutie Magic, versus the "Greatest Show on Turf" in that Super Bowl. Remember, the Rams barely beat the Titans in that game, even with all of their offensive firepower.

Doug Flutie is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best "American Style" football players in the history of the sport. He is, deservingly, enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. But he'll never be in the NFL Hall of Fame, sadly, because he didn't do enough in his NFL career, to MERIT getting in. He was never truly given a chance, due mainly to his size and little else, to shine for long enough in the NFL, to have a notable career within it. Which is crazy, considering he's one of the best College and CFL quarterbacks of all time. And no, that's not the NFL, but let's be honest, a guy who could be THAT great in the CFL, surely could have been at LEAST very good (hint: he was with the Bills) in the NFL.

I wish he had, because he's a stand up guy, and a hell of a player. The thing Flutie had going for him, whether it was throwing that famous "Hail Mary" play for Boston College, or dominating like a football god in the CFL, beyond his obvious athleticism or skill, was heart. The dude never gave up on a play, and despite his size, often found ways to keep plays going, or make "something out of nothing". That's why pundits briefly dubbed his time with Buffalo as "Flutie Magic". But, while he sadly didn't get to have much of his OWN career in the NFL, the one legacy he CAN claim, though it certainly took time, and is STILL something of an issue to this day, was chipping away at the misconception that "short QBs can't succeed in the NFL".

Tell that to Jeff Garcia (6'1"), a former CFL QB himself, and a 4x Pro Bowler who led three different teams to the playoffs throughout his career. Or Russel Wilson (5'11"), a 3x Pro Bowler who went to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one and barely losing the other (against two of the greatest NFL QBs of all time). Or Drew Brees (6'0"), a 10x Pro Bowler, Super Bowl MVP and Champion (against Peyton Manning), and the ONLY player in NFL history to throw for 5000+ yds. in a season more than once. In fact, he's done it 5 times now. That's no 6000 yds. in a season, but it's STILL insane, and pretty unbelievable.

Those guys likely wouldn't have ever gotten a shot to start in the NFL, if it wasn't for Flutie, albeit all too briefly, showing that a "short" QB COULD succeed in the NFL in the late 90s. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

No Modern Magneto

You know, it's an interesting thought, but in today's volatile "Social Climate", you could not "get away" with making a villain like Magneto anymore. A Jewish Holocaust survivor, who goes on to basically become what he hates, promoting a "master race" and trying to subjugate people who don't fit said race. That wouldn't be "allowed" now, because it would be considered "poor taste", or any other number of stupid reasons, to show a Jew ever being a villain, let ALONE an arguably Nazi-Esque villain in certain ways.

Even IF said Jewish Villain character, was created by a writer who is a Jew himself. As if, I don't know, that was the explicit POINT of the character, was the dark, cruel irony. I've also seen it suggested recently that you "can't" make black comic criminals or super-villains anymore, because that is "enforcing negative racial stereotypes"...as if there AREN'T African American (or any other type of black person on the planet) criminals. As if some black people, like any OTHER color of person, who developed super powers or had access to high technology or magic or whatever, WOULDN'T go bad or use this power for selfish means.

It is not only absurd, but also insulting, the notion that you "can't" make this or that or the other type of character now. As if SJW types are the self-appointed police on Art and Entertainment now, and get to censor what they want to "protect" certain people's sensitive feelings, or promote what they would call a "proper social narrative". Don't get me wrong, I think Equality and people being treated decent (so long as they ACT decent), regardless of their personal details, is a good and noble ideal. But the insanity and outright fascist ideas that many of these more aggressive SJWs have, it's not just insulting, it's scary.

Me? I'm an artist. I stand with the Art, with artists' ability to express themselves, and more importantly, TELL good stories, over so-called "Social Justice", which I tend to find rarely ever involves any actual justice. And I say, Magneto was a brilliant character (before they started ruining him), BECAUSE of his dark irony and hypocrisy. That is part of his character's tragedy, is that he thinks he's the good guy, and doesn't GET just how Hitler-like he has been at times. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Best of the Best: 2015

Now a great cover, but a great song.

Year: 2015
Movie: Ant-Man
Game: Yoshi's Wooly World*
Album: Silence in the Snow by Trivium
Song: Fall Again by Tremonti

So now, FINALLY, we get back around to why I started this goddamn project in the first place. I was going to do a "Favorite Stuff of 2015" list. And maybe I should have stuck to that. But here we are, so now I'm finally gonna give my 2015 thoughts, better late than never.

2015 was, simply put, a year of great highs, and disappointing lows. In my personal life, I reached some serious milestones. At some point in January or so, I really just took off at the gym. I had been going regularly in 2014, but not enough. But by February 2015, I weighed myself and noticed that.....by god, I was actually LOSING weight. Not just a few pounds, but a progressively downward (lighter) trend. That encouraged the fuck out of me, and for the first time in my life, perhaps even compared to childhood, I became super active. As in, I hit the gym no less than 4 days a week, but there was a solid stretch there when I was going 5 or 6 days a week, and a couple days in particular when I even went twice in one day. I was a gym rat, and I loved it. I saw real progress, even though I did get to a point where I hit a wall and stopped losing weight for awhile, which was very frustrating, as I wanted to keep going. But simply put, I lost easily in the ball park of 40+ pounds.

On the literary front, I also hit another milestone, perhaps more important: for the first time in my life, I actually finished an entire novel. That may not sound like much to people who aren't writers, but for any fellow writers out there, you know how huge that can be. Especially if you're like me, who had started many, but never finished ANY novels before that. For years. I had finished many an article, essay, poem, song, even short story. But this was the first book I ever finished, even if it's only a "novella", really. But it's something, and that was a huge milestone, to prove, if nothing else, to MYSELF, that I actually could finish a book. And it's a book that, in some form or another, sooner rather than later, I am hopeful all of you will be able to read and share!

But on the downside though, that company I mentioned? Well, in spite of their continued assurances that we were doing great, growing rapidly, etc. etc. etc., and mind you, these people talked a big game, they talked like they were going to take on the giants, like eBay and Amazon. In spite of the bravado, the pep rallies and the nonsense, the reality was, it wasn't very well run, and that showed up in the books. The company wasn't making money, so the parent company cut us off, and eventually they had a mass layoff of most of the staff, my entire department included. Not a great day, I don't mind saying. I didn't LOVE that job, but it was something, and I liked the idea of being part of a growing company that was going  to rise and stick around for a bit while I continued to work on my writing. I wanted to be able to leave on my own terms, not theirs. Unfortunately, I was denied that, and almost literally right around the time when I was THE healthiest and most active, and had JUST finished my novel, the layoff came. And while I told myself not to let it derail me or get me down, the truth is, I kinda did. I'm not happy about it, but it happens. It shouldn't, but it does.


So with the personal shit out of the way, 2015 also brought with it some great entertainment. Several albums came out that I liked, including one that I started out HATING, and then wound up loving. That really doesn't happen to me, but it did with Trivium's "Silence in the Snow". They pulled an about face and totally changed their sound again, this time dropping the screaming altogether as they had (almost) done with "Crusade" years ago, but this time instead of Hetfieldian growling, they changed to mostly trying to do very melodic singing. Which is fine, it works for some bands, it just wasn't what I wanted from Trivium. I heard the first one or two songs from the album, and thought "what the FUCK?". I wasn't very happy. But for some reason, I decided to listen to more of the album after it released, and wouldn't you know it, before long, I went from thinking it sounded like shit, to absolutely loving most of the songs on the damn record. I wasn't a fan of the direction they were going initially, and I'm still not sure if that's how I want Trivium to sound permanently. But I did wind up liking the album a lot, and listened to the fuck out of it. I wouldn't say that it's on par with the epicness and mythology of Shogun, but it is damn catchy, with some good lyrics.

For my song of the year, while I am tempted to choose the single that whose cover I put up there somewhere, "Blind Leading the Blind" from that record, because it is a REALLY good song. Instead, I went with an old "friend" of mine, Mark Tremonti. He is the former guitarist for Creed, and the current guitarist for Alter Bridge. He had put out a solo record before, a couple years back, and I remember being excited for it, because I wanted to hear him finally really let loose, because the guy has some serious thrash in his soul. But that first solo record was, ultimately, very "meh" to me, with nothing that really caught my ear. But then "Cauterize" came out in 2015, and BAM. That shit rocks. That is the sound, I think, that he really intended to have with that first solo album, but what's important is that it's here now. It also turns out that, while I've always known he was a good backup singer, Tremonti is actually a rather good, deep-voiced lead singer as well. And the song "Fall Again" I wound up picking for Song of 2015, because it is a really really great ballad (I really have a thing for good metal ballads, or haven't you noticed?).

Now THAT is a good movie poster.

So as for movies, part of me is tempted to say 2015 wasn't TOO hot, because while I like the movie you see above, Ant-Man, I chose it in part because I didn't feel like anything else stood out enough to pick. And that much is true. But the year was rare, at least, in that I actually wanted to go see multiple movies in one month for the first time in ages. Ant-Man, Mission Impossible 5 and Pixels all came out within a certain stretch, and I went to see them all. I will say that for all the undue shit that Adam Sandler gets, while I don't love ALL of his more recent films, they do usually have a certain heart and "feel good" quality to them that many modern films lack. As for Pixels itself? Well I was already sold when someone told me that Chris Columbus was directing, and that it was going to be a movie about aliens invading earth, using the form of 80s arcade game characters. I was already sold with that concept. The fact that I like Sandler was just icing. And of course, because many people will hate on Sandler's films no matter how good or bad they are, many people shit all over it regardless. But the truth, as far as I'm concerned, is that Pixels was his best film in years. It was great because of all the nostalgia, as someone who grew UP in the 80s and 90s with classic arcades. But it was also pretty funny in general, and well done. Was it a "dumb comedy"? Yup. But it was fun, and entertaining.

As for MI5, well, it was decent. I really hate to say this, because I really kind of hate JJ Abrams, but beyond the original MI film, MI3, which he directed, seems to be the strongest. MI4 was also okay, but somehow I just wasn't totally feeling it. Plenty of high octane action....just something lacking, that the first and third films seemed to have. MI5 was unique in that Ethan Hunt, Cruise's character, had to go rogue, so he was the one being hunted. It was a pretty decent setup, and I'd say it was better than MI4, but I'd hesitate to call it GREAT. And Ant-Man?  Well, it was pretty damn entertaining. It's one of the better Marvel films that have come out, actually. Paul Rudd makes a good, likeable Scott Lang, and while it was weird, them pulling the whole "Oh, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne already were secret heroes and now Hank's old" bit was odd, it was still a fun ride.

On a side note, you might be asking yourself "How can he not even mention the new Star Wars, it was amazing, right?" Well....let's just say that I didn't think it was even remotely amazing...and leave it at that for now. I wanted to like it, but I came away really not, for various reasons.

So adorable it hurts a bit.

So gaming. Some games came out in 2015, like the indie title The Adventures of Pip, and the Wii U version of Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures. But on the retail side of things, there wasn't much there for me. Splatoon  and Mario Maker seem neat, but neither are really my cup of tea. And while Yoshi is a great little game, one that I was certainly looking forward to, I have to say that it suffers the unfortunate distinction of NOT being Zelda. What I mean by that is, originally, Nintendo stated that the new, hopefully epic (and GOOD) Wii U Zelda, was going to release in 2015. Then they later said "oops, our bad guys, just kidding", and delayed it to 2016. And what sucks even worse than that? It was supposed to be out in 2016, but they've delayed it AGAIN, to 2017, AND they're pushing it to their next console. Talk about a crass "fuck you" to people who have been waiting years for a native Wii U Zelda title, like yours truly. So two years running, Zelda most likely, barring some unforeseen dumbass gimmick that ruined the whole thing, "Zelda U" might well have been my Game of the Year pick (2015, then 2016). But nope. Thanks Nintendo.

So poor Yoshi gets an asterisk next to his title, because while I DO really like Yoshi's Wooly World, it's not Zelda. And I had been REALLY looking forward to Zelda last year. And this year. Too bad, eh? I'm a little bitter about it, so sue me. Yoshi itself, is another game made by Good-Feel, and they re-used the yarn theme from their Kirby game, but this time, they took it a step further, with "2.5D" levels, where the stages and characters are all made from 3D yarn and material structures instead, still digitized, and mapped over polygons. Pretty complex, and a neat visual appeal. While their Kirby game went for a somewhat new approach, gameplay-wise, with Yoshi Good-Feel stuck to the basics, as you eat up enemies with your tongue, except now they turn into yarn balls instead of eggs. So it basically plays like Yoshi's Island, minus the annoying crying baby, which is always a plus.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Best of the Best: 2014

The NES game that should have been. And now is.

Year: 2014
Movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Game: Shovel Knight
Album: Bloodstone & Diamonds by Machine Head
Song: Faith in Others by Opeth

2014 was a key year for me, in some ways, mainly because I started a new job at a fairly new online  company, that was supposed to get huge, but then didn't (more on that later). I got a new gym membership for the first time in years, which didn't bear immediate fruit, but did later on (more on that later also). It was also a better year for entertainment, I'd say. Well, at least two thirds of the equation I've been shilling here so far. On the gaming front, 2014, for me, was The Year of the Indie Games. Two in particular. One being Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, which came out late in the year, and the other, as seen above, being Shovel Knight. Now, ironically, Shantae is developed by a studio called WayForward, and Shovel Knight, was actually founded by several former developers from WayForward. It was one of the first BIG game projects to get Kickstarter funded, one of the first of those to gain major attention as well. I was there for the whole ride, supporting the KS fund, hanging out with the crew as they did live-streams with the fans, getting the updates, the whole shebang. And when it finally released in June 2014, it was a godsend. They developed it specifically to be like old 8-bit NES games, and the design itself borrows from many classics, such as Duck Tales, Mega Man, etc. The game is chock full of great humor, solid gameplay mechanics, and rockin' 8-bit tunes. They even got game music composer Manami Matsumae, who did the soundtrack for the first Mega Man, to do a bit of music for the game, including the main theme.

All in all, Shovel Knight is brilliant. It certainly has it's "NES hard" moments, and they pissed me off plenty, let me tell you. But it's also fun as hell, with some very clever ideas and designs. And the game is technically still going, as during the KS fund, against the typical fan-fleecing practices of the modern era, the developers committed to giving people who bought the game DLC content for free. They already delievered on that with an update called Plague of Shadows, in which you play as one of the boss knights, Plague Knight, and while it still uses the same basic levels, it's a whole new campaign with new story, mechanics, etc. And they originally committed to doing a total of THREE such playable-boss expansions, that the fans voted to choose, so we've still got two more coming. That's a lot of bang for your buck, for a game that was also not expensively priced to begin with. Even if you're only "casually" into games, I would suggest giving Shovel Knight a look.

Another good poster, simple, yet subtle.

As for movies, 2014 was an unusual step up. As in there were multiple movies I actually wanted to bother to spend money to go see in theaters. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in particular, stands out as a movie that I honestly feel, so far, may be the altogether strongest of the entire Marvel lot. It wasn't perfect, but I think it had nice pacing, and hit enough of the right notes. A movie I rented, was the Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow, which while not amazing, did have a novel "time loop" theme, and was pretty well executed. Another that I saw on Netflix, was Earth to Echo, which many compared to Super 8, another "kids having an adventure dealing with an alien" type film...but honestly in some ways it's kind of better. Perhaps "better" is a strong word, but it's definitely on par, even though I think it flew under the radar a bit. A movie that I did enjoy (though I don't love that they're going to, naturally, whore it into a whole franchise now), was The Lego Movie. The did such a good job with the look and "feel" of the Legos, I actually wondered if it was stop-motion, and not CGI (it's CGI). Guardians of the Galaxy, while I'm sad the original Guardians team is being ignored, was also a well done, funny film.

They also made a new American "Godzilla" film, which I did and still do have mixed feelings about. It came out on the 60th anniversary of the original Godzilla, and I had wanted Toho themselves to make a new movie, which they didn't. Toho IS making a new movie now....but honestly, I'm not super excited for it, because the new design doesn't look great at all, which makes me sad. But as for the 2014 American "Zilla"? Well, many compare it to the 1998 "Godzilla" film, the one with Matthew Broderick, featuring a giant irradiated iguana. Many people state that it's great compared to THAT film, and I guess in some ways, they're right. It certainly is more "Godzilla-like" than that film was. Thing is, that film wasn't bad...it was a big dumb summer blockbuster type film....I just hated that they tried to pass it off as "Godzilla". This film, on the other hand, really IS trying to BE "Godzilla"....but it just kind of isn't. Like, for one thing, I never loved the big, clunky look they gave him. And for another, as I've pointed out in previous articles, when it comes to daikaiju films, there is just something that suit actors bring to the screen, an organic life, that CGI can't mimic. Del Toro's Pacific Rim had the same problem. But beyond effects, the movie itself focused too much on one soldier character trying to get home, and the giant bug things that "Godzilla" had to fight, were kind of dumb. It wasn't a BAD film...it was just kind of dull and uninspiring. I feel like their heart was in the right place, and part of me is glad it made a lot of money, so that Godzilla gets a bigger presence again. But ultimately, I didn't love the film, and wish that someone would have just made more of a TRUE Godzilla film. I wonder if Hollywood ever could?

But the movie I gave the Film of 2014 to, was by one of my favorite directors, Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel just might be my favorite Anderson film. It has a bit of everything, and it was like your typical Anderson quirk, but turned up to 11, and wrapped around somewhat of an adventure story. Wes has always been great at characters and narrative, and that strength was on full display in this. The movie bleeds heart, and charm, and wit, but not in a painful, forced way. There is an organic, earnest quality to Anderson's films, he definitely has his own unique style, and in a Hollywood landscape with SO much lifeless, generic crap produced in this modern era, his films don't really come off as "Hollywood". I don't love every single one of his films, but I've liked most of them, and they're a breath of fresh air.

Much better album art.

Now, it's fair to say that Machine Head's "Unto the Locust" album was GOOD. But their 2014 follow-up, "Bloodstone & Diamonds", is pretty great. 2014 in general was a better year for music, with great albums by two of my favorite bands, Machine Head and Opeth, coming out. I don't love EVERY song on Bloodstone, but it has some true gems, including "Now We Die" and "Sail Into the Black". In fact I had the lyrics up on my crew's blackboard for "Sail Into the Black" for months, and I'm not sure anyone noticed. Opeth's "Pale Communion" was good enough on it's own, that I seriously considered it for album of the year as well. The previous album, "Heritage", continued the progressive rock trend they had been on, this time completely dropping all death metal growling 100%, but it was, for me anyway, almost TOO prog rock, it didn't have a lock of hooks, and there wasn't any one song that really stayed with me. They correct that with Communion, as it has that same prog, eclectic sound, but is more focused, has the hooks, and many of these songs really stick with you. The song I picked for Song of 2014, in fact, is one of the best they've ever done, called "Faith in Others", which has a wonderful strings accompaniment.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Best of the Best: 2013

Old School.

Year: 2013
Movie: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Game: Super Mario 3D World
Album: Skull by Evile
Song: Tomb by Evile (or Cry of Achilles by Alter Bridge)   

 I wouldn't go so far as to say that 2013 was another "dead year". And yet, I'm hard pressed to say it was all that great either. Right at the ass end of the year, I did finally manage to move away from a crappy college neighborhood I'd stuck myself in for the better part of a decade. Being a writer, something I've wanted badly for a very long time, is to live somewhere where, on a daily basis, I can get a regular dose of peace and quiet. Sadly, while I did get to a neighborhood not rife with loud bass pounding my walls sometimes from parties happening a block or more away (yes, really), in a way I kind of traded one set of noise in for another. Meaning I made the sorry choice to move into a downstairs apartment, and have regretted it since. That's enough about that, really, but let's just say I still yearn to, and fully intend to someday actually attain a QUIET home. Someday.

The Wii U was out in Fall 2012. And I was initially happy with the console, because while the "Gamepad" controller was a bit bulky and took a little getting used to, it is in essence a regular controller, that just happens to have a huge touch screen. The system still can use the Wiimote and other Wii accessories, in fact it is 100% backwards compatible with all Wii games, which is a nice touch in an era when that is not really longer the case with other systems. But it became obviously early into 2013, that something was not quite right in paradise. Big games were getting delayed, alleged exclusives were being delayed AND made multi-platform. There were multiple months in 2013 when zero retail Wii U games released at all. That's what we in the gaming business call a "drought". And as a fan, and owner of a new system that I rushed out to own? It sucked. I specifically got a Wii U, personally, for one major game, and that was Pikmin 3. It was announced as in development for Wii prior, but then was moved, and was originally supposed to release fairly early on in the system's life. It got delayed til August 2013, and when I finally got it, I was, sadly, very underwhelmed. They took a few of the most key elements of Pikmin gameplay that had made me love the first two games so much, namely the ability to independently control the Pikmin with the second stick, and camera zoom (and even MULTIPLE save files) away, for no good reason. They also switched to new characters, and a focus on collecting fruit, but zero treasure. The treasure hunting alone had been a big part of the fun of Pikmin, because you always wondered what little trinket you were going to find next. So the game that had been my most anticipated for Wii U, was a big let down. Not a BAD game...but it's not really Pikmin, not the complete experience.

So the game I chose for my Game of 2013, IS a pretty good game, even if it wasn't the big epic HD Mario game that everyone wanted (and is still waiting for). Super Mario 3D World is a follow up to the Nintendo 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land, which was the first fully 3D Mario game on a portable system. It had but in comparison to that game's bite-sized levels, this game features much bigger stages, arguably better overall design, and as you can see in that picture up there aways, for the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 (or if you want to be technical, since it's remake Super Mario Advance), you could play that classic 80s line up of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool (Peach). They also, as has been their habit over the last several games, added new a new "suit" power up, this time being Cat Mario, which in addition to being adorable, allows you to climb walls (somewhat), and claw enemies to death. The thing is, not only is 3D World not the big, sprawling epic HD Mario many (myself included) dreamed of, but they also missed a key opportunity with it,  I feel. The game already has SEVERAL subtle hints and traces of Mario 2, so why not just go full bore? Why not, instead of having another game where you have to fight Bowser, and instead of sending the heroes to some generic "fairy land", why NOT just have a return to Subcon, and have the Mario 2 bosses like Mouser, Tricyde, Birdo and Wart return? Why NOT have Shy Guys and Sniffits and Phantos all over the place? That would have made the game far more unique and memorable. But as it is, it IS a fun game, with decent 4 player co-op play, and the ability to play those four characters (including Peach being able to float, ala Mario 2).

Typical "evil looking" modern metal album cover.

2013 was another fairly dry year for music, but it did feature an album by a band that I had thus far only partially gotten into, the UK thrash metal band Evile. They are not an old 80s relic, but rather a young band trying to recreate that style, and while their early work sounds more like the band Slayer (whom I'm not terribly fond of), their last two albums, including this one, really see their sound progress and get richer. "Skull" is definite evidence of that, and I'd like to see them continue going in that direction. Most of the songs are still pretty "balls to the wall" thrash, but there is one brooding "ballad" piece (that in true thrash fashion gets heavy near the end), called "Tomb", that is lyrically super depressing, but also very poignant, and a very good song. If you're into metal at all, I'd suggest checking them out.

So there.

Another on the list of "movies I didn't actually watch in theater but rented later and liked", Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was another nice surprise. It's directed by Stiller also, which makes it the third film he's directed that I liked (the other two being Cable Guy  and Tropic Thunder). The movie is more of a serious film, though it does have it's comedic moments. And it presents, while a bit ridiculous, something I myself have been all too familiar with my entire life: living a rather unspectacular life, and wanting something more, and having fantastic daydreams as a means of escape. Walter Mitty is a simple guy who works as a photo editor for Life magazine, which is sadly defunct, and finds there is a key photo missing that his boss wants for the cover of their last ever issue. So he has to go on an impromptu adventure to find it, and in doing so, goes on a journey the likes of which he has only ever imagined, which truly chances his life, and him as a person. It's really strong, compelling, at times even profound stuff. In some ways, it's Stiller's best work, both as an actor and director.