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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Best of the Best: 2012

Otherwise known as The Borrowers.

Year: 2012
Movie: The Secret World of Arrietty
Game: Skyrim (PS3 version)*
Album: Cascadia by Third Seven*
Song: Destination Now by Third Seven*

I'm just going to start out by saying that especially after looking back at it, I think it's safe to say that, especially entertainment-wise, 2012 was a fairly dead year for me. In my private life, I finally managed to fully conquer the unrighteous and horrendous demon known as "Forced General Education", as I put math I should have never been required to take for an English degree behind me, and finally earned a few college degrees, even if they aren't worth much. My struggles with math, which, again, I should have never been required to take, were epic, even though I was concurrently in the Honors Program and regularly pulling off As and Bs in classes that actually interested me, I struggled in math and a couple math-heavy science classes. None of which applied to my degree. But I digress. That was one minor accomplishment in my life worth noting, finally "graduating" college. I had intended to move on to another university in pursuit of a Humanities/Arts and possibly even Film degree, but got stopped short by financial aid issues that aren't worth going into. Regardless, while having college degrees to my name is neat, it doesn't help me attain what has been my ultimate goal (career-wise) since my late teens: to make a living as a writer. A goal I'm still working towards, and shall continue to do so.

On the movie front, it was basically a few lone oasis' in a vast dessert. Which is unsurprising as that is obviously the direction my views on modern blockbuster films has been heading in this whole time. Getting into the negative at this point would be redundant, but I will mention two films: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and The Hobbit (part 1). With Ghost Rider, the original Nick Cage film was, while not perfect, enjoyable, and I had been looking forward to what they might do with a sequel. As it turned out? Wish they hadn't bothered. It was another case of different writer/director, and basically just taking the whole thing to pot. It was legitimately a bad film, which almost entirely ignored the fact that the first film had even happened, and I was really let down. But not nearly as much as I was with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. To save myself bitching about in more in subsequent years, I will just say that while I really enjoyed his Lord of the Rings films at the time, and Fellowship was my "favorite movie" for a few years there, even looking back on those, I wish they had stuck more to the books, and been done differently in certain key ways. But they're still GREAT compared to what he did with The Hobbit. I won't allow myself to bog this down with another huge rant, but I will just say that I truly will always wish that Guillermo Del Toro had stayed on as director, I feel he almost would HAVE to have done a better job. He only wanted to make ONE movie based on the Hobbit (which was ONE book), and that is precisely what should have been done. Instead, Peter Jackson let Hollywood suits talk him into making ONE book into a fucking trilogy. And the man who I had once felt had been FAIRLY faithful to Middle Earth, a place that had been near and dear to my heart since childhood, went and made films that were, I shit you not, almost 50% completely made up bullshit. The opening like 20 minutes of this first Hobbit film? Pretty solid. The rest of the trilogy? Gets worse as you go. I genuinely hope that someone else comes along years from now and does ONE good Hobbit film. I really do, because it deserves better. For now, the 1977 cartoon is THE way to go, if you want a good (and faithful) adaptation.

The Lorax was okay, but I feel that these CGI Dr. Seuss films are sometimes missing the beat a little bit. There was the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom, which was in his typical quirky style, and was quite enjoyable. The Avengers also surprised me, and stands out as the only thing Joss Whedon has ever done that I actually like. But the movie that earned my Movie of 2012 praise, and not merely because nothing else really stood out, was Studio Ghibli's Secret World of Arrietty. Based on the Borrowers novels, while not directed by the master Hayao Miyazaki himself, it was still pure Ghibli, and a very, good film that I would recommend to anyone.

Game of the Year?

So, I need to tell a quick story to explain this one. I didn't play it when it released in 2011, even though I own a PS3. In fact I had never previously played any of the Elder Scrolls games, not being a big PC gamer, and never being terribly interested in the previous game Oblivion. When this game came out, I really didn't get the hype, and as is sometimes the case with me, was actually rather annoyed by the hype surrounding it. Oblivion had gotten some attention, but the sheer level of buzz and craze surrounding THIS game was insane, and I just didn't get it. Then came the gaming desert of 2012, wherein, literally, almost nothing that I really wanted to play came out, happened. So at some point around the early summer of 2012, after I had finally conquered "Gen Ed" and "graduated", I just randomly decided to ask my friend Jay if I could borrow his copy, since he had also given the game praise, and wasn't playing it at the moment. Now, while I didn't (and don't) love the forced cinematic opening nonsense you have to go through, once I really started the game, I found myself getting into it. And getting into it led, quite frankly, into a veritable "lost week" in that early summer, wherein I stayed up all night playing Skyrim for hours, slept for awhile, got back up and did it again, for the better part of a week.

So I got into it. That isn't to say I LOVE the game, and I WILL state that the game deserves an asterisk as my Game of 2012, because nothing else really deserved the praise. I DID go out of my way to buy a Wii U on launch day (which saving up for that in itself was an adventure), and I DID like New Super Bros. U. But I chose this because I poured hours into playing this fucking game, for good AND ill, so based just on how much time I sank into/wasted on it, I felt it deserved the title. The game is hardly perfect, in fact it's VERY flawed. I didn't love the stupid civil war storyline, nor did I love more or less being forced to choose a side if you want to get anywhere in it. And the PS3 version is glitchy as hell, with a lot of bugs, a few of which made certain missions unbeatable. And overall I really kept constantly feeling like "okay, why can't I do THIS?", over and over as I played the game. What I came away from the experience with, was a feeling that while Bethesda is NOT a terribly good developer (noone that puts out that buggy a product deserves to be called good), what they crafted with Skyrim was a fairly organic feeling, "living" type of game world, and THAT was why I played it for hours. Not for the often overly long, VERY much the same thing over and over dungeons. Nor for the riveting plot about racist Nords, Asshole Elves, and a World Eating Dragon. But the most fun I had playing Skyrim, was forgetting the game I was supposed to be playing, and just getting lost in the game WORLD, running around, exploring, filling out the map, finding hidden areas, etc. You know, the same basic shit I love about Zelda games. I was left with a feeling that, if they ever finally make an Elder Scrolls 6 for a system I own, that if they could take what they did for Skyrim, but do it a lot BETTER, that is a game I would like to play.

Billy Mickelson

2012 was also a dead year for music. So much so that it isn't even worth going into whatever came out that I didn't like. So I will just instead mention that by pure accidental happenstance, the previous December I had been in an "Intro to Jazz" class, and was supposed to be attending a live Jazz show to write a paper on. And instead, because of a mix-up with signs and days and whatnot, I accidentally went to this little coffee shop type place to see "Third Seven" instead, which is basically a one-man act (though he sometimes has an accompanying musician or two). The one man band is Billy Mickelson, pictured above. He is from Bend, Oregon (I myself being born in Portland), and he is, I don't mind saying, a fairly masterful cello player. The cello also happens to be my favorite classical instrument, and what he does with it is rather remarkable. Especially live, he is literally a one man band, as what he does is he uses looping/mixer peddles, to record and loop music that he plays live, on the fly. So he'll do a simple beat on the body of the cello, for example, and then loop that, then strum a simple tune, loop that, and THEN play mournful cello strains OVER his own loops, and sing. It's very unique, and I was quite taken with his work right way. I got an mix cd of his older music from him that night, and later downloaded (he offers it for free) his 2012 album "Cascadia". I've seen him once when he came back to town since, and though it's been awhile, I eagerly await his next stop. He offers his music for free (though he also sells cds) on his website.

*You can ALSO check out some simple "music videos" I made for several of his songs last year, over on the Retro Revelations Youtube Channel:

As Are We - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep1nZa9e-Lc

Something Oceanic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCZWLvD7zOw

Himinn - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yMRhgfMrYE

Fyrre - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rt7eUBvyZ8&t=11s

Cleansing Fire - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNMhlbT5iKI

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Best of the Best: 2011

More movie poster should look like this. Less actors, more art.

Year: 2011
Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
Game: Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Album: Unto the Locust by Machine Head
Song: Darkness Within by Machine Head

2011 wasn't a great year for movies. A Green Hornet film came out, a project long in the making, that I feel would have been awesome if it had starred Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Soccer fame, as it was originally supposed to. At one point it was even linked to Jet Li. But the movie that finally did come out, while not terrible, starred Seth Rogen, and some Korean pop star, and honestly it just kind of came off like a Seth Rogen film. Didn't really live up to the spirit of the Green Hornet. Sticking with the Green theme, Green Lantern was also pretty bad. Which is too bad, because the character and concept are pure gold, but they miscast Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan (really miscast), and the film in general just wasn't very good, with a terrible villain. Spielberg made a Tin Tin film, which I appreciate, but I felt the film itself was too....I don't know...busy. I just didn't like it as much as I had hoped I might. There was also a "prequel" made to John Carpenter's The Thing, which I feel is one of the best horror movies ever made. The "prequel"? Was okay, but honestly, while I really appreciate the attention to detail they put into trying to recreate what might have happened in the Norwegian camp discovered in the original film, this movie just proves that the modern reliance on CGI and jump scares, is no substitute for the genuine tension and creepiness that classic horror movies relied on. Also, as a minor personal gripe, they didn't bother to give it a subtitle of any sort, just calling it The Thing again, which is both lazy and confusing to audiences.

There were some surprising films that I didn't see in theaters, but later rented, like Super 8 and The Adjustment Bureau. With Super specifically, it's an oddity, as I honestly can't stand most of JJ Abrams work (especially considering the fact that personally, I feel he helped ruin Star Wars a bit, nuff said). But Adjustment was actually very good, out of the various "surreal" films that came out around this same time-frame, I feel it was the best. Another I didn't see in theaters, but later rented, also ironically starring Matt Damon, is We Bought a Zoo, a drama about a family that buys an abandoned zoo, and I'll tell ya, there were all kinds of feels in that movie. I'd highly recommend both. I'd also recommend Tower Heist, starring Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy, a very funny and well done "heist", a dark comedy really.

On the superhero front, Thor was a mixed bag of both good and bad. The movie in general, and the casting of Loki and Thor (even Odin) were good. But the cinematic Marvel insistence (up until now) of NOT having anything truly mystical or magical in their movies, even though the Marvel Universe is RIFE with it, is outright idiotic. And because of that, they changed what is supposed to be Norse Gods (even in the comics), to a Hollywood multicultural array of "aliens"....even though their "planet" is literally still a flat-world island floating in the sky/space. Like I said, the movie itself is okay, but those little details are important, and their reasons for changing them are absurd. 2011 also saw the release of Captain America, starring Chris Evans who had already previously played The Human Torch in the non-shared-universe (and shitty) Fantastic Four films. It was actually really good, a nice 1940s period piece, very well done, with Evans being a very good Steve Rogers.

But of course the movie that gets my Movie of 2011 pick, is Harry Potter 7 (part 2). I honestly don't really like or agree with this new Hollywood trend of splitting adaptations of ONE book up into multiple parts, and while I can see the logic, I suppose, of "fitting more of the book into the film", the real reason they do it is to get twice as many millions in $$$ at the box office. I don't know that HP7 needed two films, even though I've admittedly still never read the books (plan to). But while it was a good movie, I feel Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 needlessly dragged in places, where as Pt. 2 feels like a rush to the finish line. In other words, the two films are uneven. I think if they had made one film, if the fucker wound up being 3 long hours, that they could have easily still fit in all of the key points of the story, and cut the fat of Pt. 1 especially, to make one balanced, complete film. But regardless, DH Pt. 2 is a great end to the film series, a series that it unusually accurate to the books (from what I've been told), which had great casting, mostly good film choices, little deviation from the source material, etc.

There's those angry NA Kirby eyes.

There honestly wasn't much that I played, gaming wise, at least new games, in 2011. The two biggest releases for me were on Wii, and they were Zelda and Kirby. First I'll talk about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. On it's face, it's a decent game, and there were elements of it I liked that I wouldn't mind them bringing back in future games. Such as the upgradable items, a nice touch that wasn't ever implemented quite this way in previous Zelda titles. The graphics, while an odd pastel palette, were nice to look at, a more cartoony fare than Twilight Princess had been. And the game having a more personal relationship between Link and Zelda (basically childhood best friends), was neat. The negatives of the game, however, while I would never call it a BAD game, were fairly strong. For one thing, the game is big on repetition in a way that few other Zelda games are. There are only four major areas to the game, a sky world "hub", and three earthbound "overworld" areas. You go to these three areas, basically, over and over. And while there are a couple unique bosses thrown in, you literally fight the two main villains, Girahim and Demise, three+ times each, getting harder and more annoying each time. On the one hand, yes, it was a novel approach. But on the other hand, I don't prefer it.

However, all of that could have been forgiven, if the game had PLAYED better. Eiji Aonuma, the man who has been in charge of the series basically since Ocarina of Time, insisted (with some strong nudging I'd imagine from Shigeru Miyamoto), in heavily implementing the Wiimote and the "Motion Plus" attachment they made for it, in the gameplay. And for the swordplay itself, I was fine with that notion. But the problem is, they went fucking overboard with it, applying motion controls to EVERYTHING in the game. Even navigating simple menu screens, or aiming arrows, or flying, or swimming...ALL things that would have controlled 100% better using the analog stick or the IR pointer function of the Wiimote. And that over-use of motion controls almost ruined the game for me. I still had a relatively good time playing it, and had stretches where I enjoyed myself. But those controls were also often very cumbersome, and even at times quite annoying, and absolutely detracted from the overall experience. I think even with it's repetitious nature and other flaws, Skyward Sword would have been 100% better a game if it had only used motion controls for Link's swordplay, or even just used traditional "analog and button" controls.

My Game of 2011, goes to Kirby though. Seeing as how Kirby's Adventure is one of my Top Ten Favorite Games Ever, the Kirby series in general has always been one of my favorites over the years. They often deviate and do little side games, which is fine, and as explained I even liked little experiments like Epic Yarn. But while I prefer 2D sprite graphics to 3D polygons, at least for 2D styled games, as the name Return to Dreamland implies, this game was a nice return to form. What it REALLY was, in all blunt honesty, was the long-awaited culmination of a "2.5D" Kirby project that had been in development YEARS before for the Gamecube, but sadly never came out. I wish it had, but this game was still a lot of fun, and traditional Kirby fare, with the inclusion of limited-time "super powers" you could get, along with your normal powers.

Ugly album art, good album.

As for music....well, I honestly don't remember much of what music may or may not have come out in 2011. Which of course isn't a good sign. Granted, I am not really into a lot of modern music, especially various forms of pop music, but still, even of the stuff I DO like, there wasn't much. Trivium put out their follow up to "Shogun", called "In Waves", but while it featured two or three decent songs, it was honestly a major letdown to me, comparatively. But the one album that did come out in 2011 that I did really like, was "Unto the Locust" by Machine Head. It was a decent follow up to the album that got me into them, "The Blackening", and while it was on the shorter side (only seven tracks), it still featured some strong music. Most especially, the song that is also my pick for Song of 2011, and one of the best songs I've ever heard period, a ballad (of sorts) called "Darkness Within". Not only is it beautiful, but the lyrical theme of being "saved" from the pain of the harsh world around us by art, like music, really struck a chord in me.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Best of the Best: 2010

Isn't that such a happy album cover? Positive vibes.

Year: 2010
Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader*
Game: Cave Story - Nintendo Wii version
Album: Relentless Retribution by Death Angel
Song: Claws in so Deep by Death Angel

Starting on a different note, 2010 was certainly a better year for music then 2009 had been. For one thing, one of my favorite bands, Sevendust, had previously seen the return of original guitarist Clint Lowery, and the first new album with that lineup was released, called "Cold Day Memory".  It had many strong songs, such as "Splinter", "Forever", and "Nowhere". While it didn't have, to me, the sheer number of songs that really hook you, as the previous album, 2008's "Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow", it was still a strong album. And while I liked his replacement, Sonny Mayo, it was nice to have Clint back, because he honestly never should have left. 2010 also saw the release of Powerglove's next opus, dubbed "Saturday Morning Apocalypse", this time focusing on mostly old cartoon show themes, instead of video game metal covers. The Batman song on there is especially good.

But my vote for Album of 2010, and subsequently Song of 2010, comes from the Bay Area thrash metal legends Death Angel. This band had a unique and also tragic history, starting out as (so far as I'm aware) the only all-Asian American metal band, as the members were all Filipino. They got their break and their first album recorded back in the mid-80s with the help of fellow half-Filipino Kirk Hammet, lead guitarist for Metallica. They rose to break into a taste of mainstream success with their third album, 1990's "Act III", only to nearly lose their drummer to a bus accident. The band more or less broke up after that, and didn't get back together until the early 2000s, under their mostly original line-up. That lineup put out two great albums, 2004's "The Art of Dying" and 2008's "Killing Season", after which the original bassist and drummer decided they had had enough of life back on the road or whatever, and quit the band. It was after this, when the band was joined by a couple of journeyman musicians (the band no longer being all Filipino), that they recorded 2010's "Relentless Retribution", and while it made me sad that the original members left again after making such a triumphant return, this new album was undeniably the band's strongest work yet since returning.

I wouldn't necessarily say that it was better BECAUSE of the new guys, but the band obviously had a fire lit under it during the writing and recording for this record, because it comes through in pretty much every song. There are many great cuts off this album to choose from, and honestly I could have chosen a song from Sevendust's album as well, but ultimately THE Song of 2010 for me was "Claws in so Deep", a very visceral yet haunting song, speaking very vaguely and metaphorically about society, the rich, politicians, etc....people with their claws deep into us, The People, manipulating us and living off of us, like parasites. Basically strong themes for the album in general, with even the album art displaying the concept of "wolves among us". It's just a really kick ass song, and it has a really nice acoustic outro by the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.

One of my favorites of the Narnia series, though not my TOP favorite.

2010 for movies was still not a great year, as that downward trend was still continuing. It saw what I felt was yet another sub-par adaptation from Tim Burton in the form of his Alice in Wonderland movie. I must note, that I DO like several Burton films, but they are pretty much exclusively his more original ideas, most notably Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Ed Wood. His adaptations, however, not a huge fan. The Batman films are okay.....but the only Batman committed to film that has ever really "gotten it right", was the 90s animated series. 2010 also saw yet another of my beloved classics needlessly remade into a boring, stumbling CGI-fest, this time Ray Harryhausen's
Clash of the Titans. The 1981 film is rightly regarded as a classic, and I personally consider it Ray's masterpiece, his final opus before he decided to sadly call it quits. The remake, beyond just the magic of that old stop-motion effects work begin replaced be fairly lifeless CGI, also just kind of has fairly lifeless writing and acting as well.

2010 ALSO saw the live action adaptation of The Last Airbender, based off of the Avatar show, that I happen to really love, and it was even directed by a director whose work I really liked up until his last few films in M. Night Shyamalan. But the truth is he is not a big budget, epic action film kind of director, and it really showed. He is better suited for smaller, quirky, character driven stories, that's his forte. And in the process of trying to make an Airbender movie, instead of being the beginning of an awesome (though horribly unnecessary) live action film trilogy....it was a fairly humorless and wooden version of a cartoon show that had been vibrant and full of life.

But as for movies I DID like, well of course there was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, which I could have chosen because it was very good, but I decided to give it to something else. Toy Story 3 came out, which I did not see in theaters, but later rented. However, though wanting to like it, much like part 2, which I can't honestly remember what it was about half the time, I just really wasn't feeling the third film. It was solid, and I got what they were going for, but  I guess I really only liked the first Toy Story film. In the realm of CGI cartoons though, Despicable Me was a surprise hit, and though it didn't need the obligatory sequels and spinoffs that would follow, the original film was actually rather charming. But the movie I did obviously pick as Film of 2010, was the third in the Narnia series (of films that is), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I originally experienced these stories (aside from the books) in the BBC adaptations of them, which were low budget but fun, and Dawn Treader was always neat. Though I was (and sadly still am) waiting for my favorite entry, The Silver Chair. Voyage was a good movie though, and even though they did change a couple of plot points around, it was strong enough to earn Film of the Years honors.

A major surprise, but SUCH a good game.

2010 had some decent games, but I wouldn't exactly call it a big year for gaming for me. Super Mario Galaxy 2 came out, but while it was a decent game, the first was far more fresh and to me more fun. The direct sequel, to me, felt kind of unnecessary. Nintendo also put out a sequel to an obscure N64 game that we never got, called Sin & Punishment, this one being subtitled Star Successor. It's a decent on-rails shooter type of game, and with the Wiimote aiming, it played substantially better than the N64 game. Sega also put out their own Mario Kart type game, called Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (really long title), which was a pretty fun game featuring all sorts of characters from Sega's history. The game Metroid: Other M was a significant disappointment to me (and a lot of people), mainly because the team who made it, "Team Ninja" (responsible for the 3D Ninja Gaiden games), just isn't very good at things like in-game physics, cameras, platforming or...much of anything. And the plot was fairly absurd, and the hero Samus Aran was very un-Samus-like.

A great game that was a very close runner-up for Game of 2010, was Kirby's Epic Yarn, made by the company Good-Feel, who had previously done a really excellent hand-drawn 2D Wario Land game on Wii in 2008. With their crack at the Kirby franchise, usually made by Hal Laboratories, they went in a unique direction wherein the graphics of the game are entirely comprised of digitized yarn and other materials. Kirby and all the other characters and enemies in the game, specifically, are made of strings of yarn, basically character outlines, to give it a look quite unlike anything that had come before. And while it didn't have the traditional "suck, spit, gain enemy powers" Kirby mechanics, it was still a very good 2D platformer, with a focus on exploration and collection, rather than the typical frantic-ness of most platformers. It was a game that I could really just kind of chill out and play, which is rare for a side-scroller, and I liked that.

But the game that DID win my Game of 2010, was one Cave Story. This brilliant indie game had been originally been released for free on home computers in 2004, developed all by one independent Japanese developer, Daisuke Amaya, aka "Pixel". He made the entire game over the course of five years, all in his spare time, and that means everything: the graphics, programming, design, music, everything. Six years later, it as ported to the Nintendo Wii (originally as a Wiiware exclusive), with slightly updated sound and visuals (though you could choose to have the originals). And let me tell you, I don't heap this kind of praise on most things, but I don't mind making the statement that Cave Story is, hands down, one of the best games ever made. By anyone, but it's especially impressive that ONE dude made this brilliant 8-bit/16-bit style masterpiece. The game itself plays out a bit like a "Metroid-vania" type game, in other words a fairly open, explorable 2D world with elements like backtracking. It's essentially a 2D shooter with platforming elements, and it's quite simply one of the funnest games I've ever played. I had not experienced it til it came to Wii, and I was totally engrossed my entire first playthrough. If you've never played Cave Story, do yourself a huge favor and try it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Best of the Best: 2009

The triumphant return of 2D Mario to home console.

Year: 2009
Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Album: Shogun by Trivium*
Song: Restless Heart Syndrome by Green Day

At least so far as I was/am concerned, 2009 was not a fantastic year for entertainment, all around. It was the first year where things (to me) REALLY started to take a downward trend as far as theatrical films I wanted to see, less games I cared about released that year, very little in the way of new music I cared about, etc. As far as games went, there were a couple of notable things happening over on the PS3. One of those was Street Fighter IV, the first real sequel SF game since the 99/2000 release of the sub-par Street Fighter III. Now, SFIV is certainly a better game than SFIII, more fun to play, better character line-up, etc. And while it does retain a general feel of the classic 2D Street Fighter gameplay, I really didn't care for the ridiculous 3D polygon art style (all the guys looked like roid freaks, etc.), nor did I care for a single one of the new characters included. So while my friends and I had a bit of fun playing it, I would hardly call it something to crow over. There was also Batman: Arkham Asylum, which is a decent game that really does (moreso than it's sequels) capture the feel and spirit of Batman. But for the game's pros, it also has it's share of cons, mainly having to do with super repetitive missions and scenarios throughout the game. 

Over on the Wii, there were games like Exitebots: Trick Racing, which was, again, an okay game. But when compared to it's predecessor, the Wii launch title Excite Truck (itself part of the Excite Bike racing series), it just wasn't as good. They replaced real vehicles with weird Transformer animal based things, and a more cartoony graphics style, which in and of themselves, aren't BAD. But then they also threw in a bunch of mid-race mini-games and weird things you have to do, such as spin yourself around bars out of nowhere to boost ahead to the next part of the track. The one major thing that Truck had going for it, even though it's motion controls took some getting used to, was that it was a fairly pure racing experience. Even having a mechanic where landscape changes would happen mid-race, or being able to pull off mid-air tricks and things, the game's main focus was still fast-paced racing, and it was honestly rather thrilling and addictive, once you learned how to play it. Bots, on the other hand, was fun, but those little mini-game gimmicks really got in the way of that sense of speed and racing thrills the first game had. What they should have done, if they had wanted a real winner, would have been to call it "Excite Race", keep the trucks, but bring in other vehicle types, like ATVs, cars, and you know....BIKES, added more tracks, and a really solid online mode like Mario Kart Wii had, and honestly, that game could have sold millions. Instead, they went the direction it did, and instead, what you have is a game few people probably remember now. Too bad.

Now, one of my most anticipated games of 2009, and a game I had BEEN anticipating for years because I loved Tekken 5 so much, was of course Tekken 6. So much so, that it was one of the main reasons I got my own PS3 in the first place, IN 2009, and pre-ordered T6 almost as soon as I bought the thing. I was really hyped for it, an then when I finally got it......it was a massive let-down. The graphics were fine, the fighting was your standard issue Tekken, even the online fighting was decent. But one of the biggest draws to home console Tekken games over the years, had been the ability to unlock new fighters as you beat the game with various characters, as well as seeing/unlocking cool, sometimes even hilarious character endings. With T6, they changed the formula, where playing the regular "Arcade Mode" no longer accomplished these things. Instead, the only way to see character endings, was the play them in a new half-baked, poorly designed attempt at some kind of "Adventure Mode", and sufficed to say, I disliked it so much, that I kept it for less than a week before going to trade it in. It left a very bad taste in my mouth, to say the least.

Penguin Suit = THE coolest power-up since the Tanooki Suit.

When I traded what WAS my most highly anticipated game of 2009 back in after less than a week, I decided to put the store credit towards a game that I had originally been pretty ho-hum about, that being New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The original NSMB came out for the Nintendo DS, which I owned, but I never bought the game myself. I played Harold's copy of it a bit, and while it was neat that they finally made a new side-scroller Mario game, it just kind of seem....a bit uninspired. And when they revealed they were making a Wii game, I was initially not super impressed, if it was just going to be more of the same. But that all changed when they revealed that it was going to be a totally new game, and more-over, it not only seemed to be heavily inspired by my favorite Mario of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3, but it was ALSO going to be the first time since the Super Nintendo game Super Mario World that Bowser's kids, the "Koopalings", all seven of em, were going to make an appearance. They had, for whatever reasons, basically abandoned those characters when Mario made the jump to 3D, which always made me sad. The very fact that they were in it pretty much sealed the deal for me, as dorky as that may sound, or not.

So as much as it absolutely sucked that T6 was such a big letdown to me, it's store credit wound up helping to pay for the game that would wind up very easily becoming my Game of 2009. Not only was NSMB Wii the first game to feature the Koopa Kids since 1991, but it was also, technically speaking, the first 2D side-scrolling Mario game on a home console since 1991. So for nearly 20 years, gamers like me had done without the "true" Mario experience, and now we were finally getting it, in spades. But what made this game great, wasn't just those facts, as cool as they are. The game had (almost) the total package. The only knock I would give it, really, is that the NSMB music is...odd. It is somewhat a mix of the traditional Mario type tunes you would expect....and then some weird shit with "BWAH BWAHs" throw in for random measure. And while that initially really turned me off....as soon as I noticed that the enemies would jump and dance a bit to those "BWAHs", while I still don't love them, that won me over a tiny bit. But weird music aside, the game has tight controls, much more varied and clever level designs than the DS game had, it added 4-player simultaneous gameplay, which is both fun and chaotic as fuck. AND, as the picture above shows, it added some really cool power-ups, INCLUDING argubly the single best Mario power-up of all time: The Penguin Suit. Not only is that thing fucking adorable, but it also makes it so you don't slip on ice (SUPER helpful), you can slide on your belly to defeat enemies, you can throw ice balls to freeze enemies, AND it gives you even better under-water swimming control than SMB3's Frog Suit.

Simply put, the Penguin Suit is bad ass. And honestly, so is this game. Easily one of the best things Nintendo has put out in many years, and from a company as consistent as they are, that's saying something.

Arguably the best of the series.

2009 was, as mentioned, not an amazing year for movies, and the true start, to my reckoning, of a severe downhill trend in major Hollywood releases. There were still some decent films, but there was also a lot of crap like Transformers, and Twilight, a "Star Trek" reboot and Wolverine. There was a really good documentary I enjoyed, Anvil: The Story of Anvil (admittedly not a great title), about the band of it's namesake, a forgotten but ever-diligent Canadian metal band from the 80s who had struggled to stick around all this time afterward. It was a really interesting and moving story, though the caveat of course being it was an independent film and not some big Hollywood production. Up carried the typical Pixar charm, and I liked it, though it wasn't my favorite among their films. I went to see Terminator: Salvation, and not only was it kind of dull for such an action-packed film, it also was the loudest movie I've ever sat through.

One movie that I did really like, was Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo, a tale about a little fish girl who wanted to become human because she fell in love with a 5 year old little boy. And there I was, with my friends Corey and Harold, and possibly Harold's brother William, probably the only 3-4 grown men in the theater that day watching who didn't have a kid with them. It was, you could argue, a movie set for a younger age group, a movie "for kids". But it still had that Miyazaki magic, and enjoyed it quite a bit. ANOTHER movie I did really love, is by yet another of my favorite directors, and was a strong candidate for film of the year, Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox had a lot going for it, from good casting, well written, witty dialogue, it's based on a Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author) book, as well as being a fully stop-motion animated film. It also came out near my birthday, so a bunch of us went to see it that year, which was great, until right near the very end of the film, the power in the theater went off, and we all had to leave because of an apparent (VERY FAKE) plastic grenade that scared people outside the theater. Very lame...but welcome to Post-9/11 America.

The movie that does get my Film of 2009 nod, is another Harry Potter, this time The Half-Blood Prince. The reason this gets the nod over Mr. Fox, though Fox arguably deserves it, is because having now of course seen the entire series, I really feel this was the strongest entry (which, as I understand it, is how many fans of the books feel about that book in the series as well). The series definitely takes an ever darker turn, naturally, in the last couple entries as Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater cult-like followers are basically taking over the "wizarding world", or at least the United Kingdom section of it. The film just has some very strong performances, and I feel it's the best stand-alone story of them all, overtaking my original favorite, Prisoner of Azkaban. I also, believe it or not, developed the abilities of a "Spoiler Ninja" for these films, avoiding most MAJOR spoilers from the internet and people who had read the books, so I actually DIDN'T know (SPOILER WARNING) that Dumbledore died, let alone who killed him. I was genuinely at least a little shocked.

As an odd aside, 2009 was also, on an unrelated note, the year I developed Type 2 Diabetes. Which is an absolute fuckin barrel of monkeys to have, let me tell you. I didn't yet realize in the Summer (when Potter came out), that I had it, though I was absolutely miserable, with no energy, peeing all the time, super dehydrated all the time, etc. And with that, I basically had to pee, REAL fuckin bad, through over half of the goddamn movie. But I am not one of those to just jump up and go when I have to, unless it's an emergency, when it's a movie I care about. Because fuck, I payed for the damn ticket, and I want don't want to miss anything important. But it got worse and worse as the movie neared it's end, to the point that in a rare moment in my life, I had to pee so bad it kind of hurt. And what's worse, the movie pulled a slight bit of "Return of the King" on me, and had a couple of moments where I thought it was over, and then it kept going. And dammit I had to see the whole thing. So the moral of that story, is that I had to rush like a motherfucker after the credits hit, and barely made it. But it was worth it, I guess.

The Odyssey. Or Vikings? Or something.

So I picked "Shogun"  by Trivium a second time, even though I would have preferred to pick something new from 2009, because honestly, there wasn't anything worth picking. Green Day put out their first album in five years, "21st Century Break Down", but outside of the songs "Before the Lobotomy" and my pick for Song of 2009, "Restless Heart Syndrome", the album just had far less gems on it than "American Idiot" had. I basically just listened to various albums, including the really good stuff from 2008 (Trivium, Opeth, Death Angel, Metallica, etc.) a lot. And so I just kind of arbitrarily picks "Shogun" again, because I liked it as much in 2009 as I had in 2008. The album cover above is from the single for the song "Into the Mouth of Hell We March", about the journey of Odysseus and his crew, at one point literally having to travel through the Underworld, to eventually get back home.