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 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.

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