Category Archives: The 10

The Media 10 of 2016

This is a time to reflect on the year that came before, and even though 2016 in world news was troubling to say the least it’s also a year where plenty of good things were accomplished.

Before I get into personal accomplishments, though, let’s take a look at The 10 movies, television shows, and books that I remember most from the year 2016.  This does not mean that they were the best or the worst, or that they even came out during this year.  These are only 10 things that I remember seeing/reading this year, not necessarily in any order:

The 10 Movies

  • I’m a Cyborg, but That’s Okay:  Yes, I remember this show mostly because I just saw it about a week ago.  But I also remember it because it’s a surprisingly thoughtful love story between two people who have significant flaws but, rather than try to change each other , embrace these flaws as what makes the other unique.  Is it Park Chan-Wook’s best work? Well, no, but that’s because he’s one of the masters of cinema whose best work is also the best of the past few decades.
  • Jodorovsky’s Dune: The content of this documentary takes over the tact of making the documentary itself with me for this one, because for anyone who is looking for a radical change in how documentaries are presented, then I’m not sure if Jodorovsky’s Dune does that.  But Jodorovsky’s Dune has quickly made it into my list of favorite documentaries, because Holy Monkey Balls that would have been a revolutionary film.  Genre-defining work that we would still be looking back on today with genre nerds like me praising it and other film nerds deciding to be different and saying “Guys, it’s just not that well thought out”.  Basically, if Jodorovsky’s had completed this project, it would have been 2001: A Space Odyssey times a thousand.  As it stands, this documentary is the only window into that universe we have.
  • My Winnipeg: Another of my new favorite movies, and at this point Guy Maddin is the filmmaker who I most want to be (Sorry Coen-berg, although you live on in my dreams).  A brilliant exploration. Of memory and place, “My Winnipeg” removes itself from genre definition to become a true piece of Cinema which exists on its own and as a window into the thoughts and experiences of Maddin himself.
  • Spider Baby: This is an early dark Comedy, but in most ways it serves as a reminder of “Arsenic and Old Lace”, another early Dark comedy which came out 23 years earlier, had stronger characterization, and has a closer spot to my heart (the stage version was one of the first plays I saw as a child. It was put on by the CSU Theater department. Later on my sister took on the role of Jonathan in a Poudre High School production of it).  Spider Baby on its own is okay.  Not great. But okay.
  • Sweet Land: This is one of those movies that has been long recommended to me, but I haven’t wanted to watch because I figured I would just be disappointed by the result (a phenomenon I dub “The Napoleon Dynamite Effect”).  This fear was unwarranted, because Sweet Land is a very good movie and another one that has been put on my list of favorites.  For anyone who is a fan of the work of filmmaking comrade Andrew Gingerich, definitely watch Sweet Land.
  • The Lobster: A Perfect Dystopia.  “The Lobster” presents itself as a glowing example of the dystopian genre, following a central character as they travel from locale to locale exploring all parts of this new and terrible society.  However it’s central character is a thoughtless schlub who just wants to be told what to do, wants a romantic interaction with someone, but is far too terrified of honesty and actual humanity.  In the end, this is the beauty of “The Lobster”: It’s about humanity, and how much we fail to understand one another.
  • High-Rise: I enjoyed this Dystopia less.  It was still a nice ride, and certainly it’s always fun to see a society collapse (ALWAYS. Even in real life, it is great. This is a call to arms, brothers and sisters).  However I found myself wanting to see a more gradual descent into chaos.  As it stand everyone is fine and going to work, and then the next day they exist in a tribal community slowly crawling their way to the top floor where a string quartet plays ABBA’s immortal hit “S.O.S”.  It’s worth a rent if you’re in the mood for it, but I’d certainly put “The Lobster” and plenty of other dystopian works ahead.
  • Phantasm: I liken “Phantasm” with “Hellraiser”.  Hear me out: Both are entry films to an increasingly complex horror franchise, both franchises are generally lower in budget and more independent than others, and both are followed feverishly in cults but unknown amongst big horror audiences.  I enjoyed Phantasm, and because I live in Chicago I was able to see the restored 4K cut in a theater surrounded with fans of the series.  That contributed greatly to my enjoyment, but there’s also a homespun charm to Phantasm.  In terms of representation and giving it a modern read- It doesn’t offer much.  In terms of viewing it within cinema history- It’s a launch point of a strange genre series.  But it’s a fun movie, and I liked seeing it.
  • Weiner-Dog: “Weiner-Dog” is an anthology film, and like every other anthology film there are good parts and bad parts.  I really enjoyed the first half, and I thought it had a great flow and nicely thought-out characters worth a glimpse.  The second half was interesting as well, and the characters were still fun, but it was lacking the through-line of the first which just made the whole piece feel disjointed.  It’s on Amazon Prime now, and go ahead and watch it.  But it’s not perfect, and it’s not among my favorites.
  • This Must be the Place: So a washed up rocker who caused some kids to commit suicide a few years ago finds out that his estranged father died, travels to New York, and picks up his father search for the Nazi who tortured him during the Holocaust.  Whenever I describe this film (as I just did) it sounds like an immeasurably depressing film.  But it’s not. Not in the slightest.  From the strange, disconnected eyes of Cheyenne (the rocker, played by Sean Penn) who is significantly more human than one would expect, this whole experience becomes a look at the beauty of the world, and certainly shows himself as a character worth spending a chunk of time with.  Episodic, but still feeling complete, “This Must be the Place” is a delight.

The 10 New Television Shows

I watch a lot of television shows.  So many, that I’ve split up my “10 List” into “new” and “continuing”.  New shows are shows that I began this year (not necessarily that began their first season this year), whereas continuing shows are shows that I was already watching, and that I have continued to watch.  Now, we go on to TV:

  • Ash vs. The Evil Dead: For fans of the Evil Dead film franchise, the television show “Ash vs. The Evil Dead” is worth the price of admission alone for the pilot episode, which thoroughly exists in the Evil Dead universe and is a fantastic next chapter.  The rest of Season 1 takes a moment to get back into the feverish delight of that pilot episode, but certainly finds itself by Seasons end.  The second season which just concluded continues this brilliant streak of expanding the Evil Dead universe while holding onto the slapstick energy vital to it (and missing from the 2013 reboot).  Also, Season 2 has some very scatological moments, which I thought were a bit too gross but fans of that style of humor applauded.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the greatest and most groundbreaking series on television right now.  Forget Westworld, forget A Night Of, Forget The Wire (okay, maybe not those last two as I still haven’t seen them. I know, I know I need to see The Wire.  See my earlier talk about “The Napoleon Dynamite Effect”).  Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an examination of a thoroughly broken individual who- two seasons in- continues to sabotage herself and her pursuit of happiness and despite being named after a sexist archetype, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is sure to show every side of its characters whether they are good, bad, or ugly.  It’s a show that’s never preachy or “special episode”-y despite covering bisexuality, the Male Gaze, abortion, mental health, and societal expectations (with some good water-themed conspiracy thrown in).  Oh, also it’s a musical.  It’s a fantastic musical.  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it is legitimately fantastic (I call this “The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Effect”).

  • The Good Place: Myself and other critics who I follow were worried about “The Good Place”: “A plucky female protagonist finds herself in ‘heaven’, but- surprise!- she’s not supposed to be there! Hilarity ensues”.  Looking back, we had absolutely nothing to worry about.  Come on, it’s from the same team that brought us Parks and Recreation (among my favorite series of all time, and go-to feel good place) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (another go-to feel good place).  “The Good Place” has consistently given us a strange world and has built up its roster of wonderfully flawed people and supernatural entities to populate it, headed by an always delightful Kristin Bell and ted Dawson as “Michael” the supernatural force who takes both wonder and delight in the peculiarities of humanity (of note: He hates saltines and doesn’t understand the human fascination with frozen yoghurt).  To close out, here some things that define a person as “Good” on this show: Carefully put a spider outside, helped a hermit crab find a new shell, end slavery, hosted a refugee family, hug sad friend).  And some things that define a person as “Bad”: use “Facebook” as a verb, attend a concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Poison a river, Fail to disclose camel illness when selling a camel, and Tell a woman to “smile”.

  • Powerpuff Girls:  I really wanted to like this.  I’ve given it a pretty good chance.  And the reboot isn’t bad, it’s mostly just middling.  Relying too much on whacky randomness and hyperactivity which plague the world of children’s animation (despite the many cases where this is not the point listed below), the reboot’s missing the truth and feminism that defined the original (and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia.  Mostly because I didn’t watch The Powerpuff Girls a lot as a kid, but more so as an adult).  Instead what we get is a show that I’m sure is doing fine with ratings, and kids are going to enjoy, but that takes away from plenty of other excellent Cartoon Network programs.  So it won’t have the same revisitability as the Original does, but it’ll be an inoffensive show for kids to enjoy that’s not as loud and annoying as others.
  • Hell on Wheels: This show falls into the box of “Shows that I would be really into if it were about five years ago and I wasn’t already saturated with TV”.  It’s a fine show, and it would have garnered a lot respect a few years ago.  Unfortunately with all of the programming out there, “Hell on Wheels” sort of got lost.  Also, I wasn’t able to find a good stream of it.  So that’s mostly why I haven’t finished it.  But Hell on Wheels is a nice historical drama about the Transcontinental Railroad, and it stars Colm Meaney of Star Trek fame!  And Common of Rap fame!  It’s a fine show, but one that was sort of lost in the shuffle.
  • Westworld: Did you like Hell on Wheels?  If so, then “Westworld” is also a show about cowboys!  Except these cowboys are robots.  Or tourists who want to act like cowboys.  Or tourists who wanted to act like a cowboy but then decided he liked being a robot-killing cowboy more than living in future-world (SPOILER ALERT).  So, the amount of murder and nudity will probably be really distracting for people.  And it certainly does go with the Game of Thrones technique of “We’re HBO, we can have naked people killing each other, so we will”.  But, underneath the fleshy penises and through the blood-like fluid, you get to the cold, hard robotic skeleton of Westworld: A Skeleton that treats its robot protagonists with as much tender regard as its human protagonists, and series that has its share of Twists! but ones that feel true to the show and not a mad grab for viewership.  Would I say that Westworld has as much a complicated understanding of its characters as a show like Breaking Bad did, which constantly questioned its own morality?  Not yet.  But it is a show that is- above all else- concerned with Humanity.  Also, for being a series based on a middle-grade Michael Crichton movie that experienced massive cast overhauls and rewrites during production which caused it to be several months behind, Westworld comes out like a robot horse having its silicon sinews being mad eon the spot by robot-arms. Robot Cowboys!
  • Penny Dreadful: Did you like the Robot Cowboys of Westworld? Then Penny Dreadful this year was a show that had werewolf cowboys!  So I watched through all of Penny Dreadful this year, and was really enthralled by it only to have it end this year after a rather disappointing third season.  But: Right off the bat, it shows that it’s much more than a “League of Extraordinary Gentleman” TV show, and by the second episode of the series every single viewer should realize that Eva Green is the single greatest part of the show.  This is certainly an idea that the showrunners realized by Episode 2, and throughout the series’ run there are entire hours that are just showcases for Eva Green.  Those are some of the greatest hours of television out there.  The Eva Green showcase this year was among the best singular episodes of the season, of the show, and of television this year (also, a huge extension of that goes to fellow episode partner- because “A Blade of Grass” is basically a two-person play- goes to Rory Kinnear as John Clare AKA Frankenstein’s Monster).  After an always-improving first season, Penny Dreadful rocketed back with Season 2 and brought out more of Ferdinand Lyle which is always a plus. Unfortunately Season 3- despite some good moments- was never quite able to get over its framing narrative.  Meaning that the biggest problem with Season 3 of Penny Dreadful was the isolation of all of the characters, but that isolation was warranted by the narrative and allowed for (SPOILER ALERT) Vanessa to be taken in by Dracula himself.  Also missing greatly from Season 3: Sembene, RIP.  I refuse to believe that Season 3 was always meant to be the end of the series, as well.  Mostly because I want to think of a hypothetical Season 4 that has to do with Dr. Moreau or Captain Nemo.  Or ghosts!  We got vampires, witches, werewolves, but no spooky victorian ghosts.  That is a missed opportunity.
  • 12 Monkeys: Did you like the werewolf cowboys of Penny Dreadful Season 3?  Well too bad.  In 12 Monkeys there are neither Werewolves nor Cowboys.  Just an ongoing time-travel plot about paradoxes and viral apocalypses and husbands who never existed before.  This is another series that I got all caught up on during the Great Mid-Year Television Slump, and I’m happy that I did.  Is it one of the best series of this or last year? No.  Is it above and beyond either of its source materials? No (and it is by far the most removed from La Jetee, just in case you were excited about the 1962 Chris Marker Photomontage getting it’s own stylized television series). But it’s a nice science fiction show that’s really found its place in  the later part of Season 1 and throughout Season 2, and I enjoy it enough.  It’s a nice time-travel show, and I deserve a nice time travel show.  So stop judging me, DAD.
  • Star vs. The Forces of Evil: I was apprehensive about this series at first, and I wasn’t planning on following it.  Mostly, because I had written it off as another whacky and hyperactive kids show that its targeted audience will like, but their target audience also likes ice cream for dinner (and just like ice cream for dinner, whacky hyperactivity isn’t all that healthy for a young mind. Or so says I).  Then I saw that it had a bit of a following among some of the commentators of shows like Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, so I decided to give it a chance.  I’m glad I did.  There is certainly whacky hyperactivity, and that seems to be the house style for Disney’s animated shows (see also “Gravity Falls” and “Wander over Yonder”), but much like the other disney shows on here “Star vs. The Forces of Evil” does what Powerpuff Girls does not: Overcome it’s silliness by actually developing characters and developing thoughts about them.  Has Star vs. The Forces of Evil become a stellar show like some of the other pillars that have risen over the years (I’m looking at you, Adventure Time!). Not yet, but it’s building itself up and making some really good strides.  And in the Disney Animated TV show landscape, it’s really important to have a show like Star vs. The Forces of Evil both in terms of how it allows for its male and female protagonists to stand outside of specified gender roles but also in the increasingly grey line between good and evil that is rising on the show.
  • Mr. Robot: Let’s be honest: A few episodes into Mr. Robot we knew that Elliot and Mr. Robot were the same person (SPOILER ALERT).  But let’s continue being honest: That didn’t change the reveal one bit.  I’d like to attribute this to the word that’s been repeated over and over here: character.  That the Mr. Robot reveal wasn’t grounded Lost-like in a “What a twist!” finger-gun to the audience, but rather in a personal collapse of identity for Elliot, whom we had really started to like.  Now, I do have to be honest: I haven’t seen Season 2 yet.  I’m probably going to wait for it to get onto Amazon Prime, so I can’t say whether season 2 is any better or worse navigating Elliot and his weird family dynamic.  What I can say is that Mr. Robot gave us a creeping paranoid world and immersed us wholly in the mind of its creepy paranoid not-all-healthy protagonist.  It does, however, continue an ongoing misconception about schizophrenia and mental health.  So that’s a ding.  But it’s still a good series, and one worth checking out.  Season 1, on Amazon Prime.

The 10 Continued Television Shows

  • American Horror Story: Yes, I watch American Horror Story.  It’s like watching a train wreck, most of the time: It goes out of the station full steam and you think “Wow, that’s a nice looking train, we’ll see how it goes”, and soon it’s off the rails and on fire and there’s so many bodies and you’re trying to get a handle on the disaster when another train comes in and crashes and throws a whole new mound of disaster on top of what was already there, and then a voice comes from the woods “I planned this. This is meant to be.  See my design, and know that within this madness there is method”.  It’s not that I begrudge AHS this, as it kept me masochistically interested in Season 1 and got me back for it’s best season to date Season 2.  Well in 2016, we got My Roanoke Nightmare.  And you know what?  It was surprisingly coherent.  Murphy and Falchuk didn’t try to pile on character after character, storyline after storyline, they kept their heads down and told one singular story.  Well, okay, two singular stories, but it was sort of one continuous one.  The fake documentary style was actually used to a pretty good effect, and (unlike other found-footage horror pieces) it explains away the central question I always have: WHO IS EDITING THIS?  So, yes: I was really surprised and really pleased with My Roanoke Nightmare.  2016 also saw the end of AHS: Hotel, which is more of general AHS fare.  Hotel was simultaneously more stylish and more grimy than any other season, which is altogether fitting with a story about Vampires.  This is definitely a season that got away from Murphy and Falchuk, and one that sort of stalled out and lost its way by the end.  However, Dennis O’Hare KILLED IT in Season 5. He was absolutely stunning, and I hope to God the man got an Emmy for it (UPDATE: He did not. He was nominated for a “Golden Derby” for it, though).  Anyways, Season 5 was good but fell into the AHS trap, Season 6 was probably the second-best season so far (Maybe Third, I think Freak Show had a much stronger start, but it also fell the greatest distance.  In fact, definitive ranking of AHS Seasons for me: 2,6,4,5, and 3 with Season 1 popping in and out at an irregular orbit because there is absolutely no way anyone can define what the hell Season 1 is).
  • The CW’s Superhero Bloc: These four shows should be assessed on their own, but I don’t want to take up that much space.  So we’ll go through the week, starting with my new CW Superhero show of Supergirl.  All cards on the table: I hate Superman.  I think he’s a square-jawed copout who really has no defining characteristic aside from “Good Guy”.  But Supergirl the series has given us a Kryptonian that I can believe in, and it has also given us a show bursting at the seams with optimism.  It’s first season, which I watched during the TV Drought of the Summer, was a strange experience.  It was both good and bad, often within the same episode.  But we got “Falling” where Supergirl turns evil when she’s exposed to Red Kryptonite!  And now, in Season 2, Supergirl has continued being a CW Superhero show that oozes charm and (sorry to use the same descriptor twice) optimism, all in a nice network-feminist package.  Oh, also Supergirl is not at all shy about talking about immigration, xenophobia, and prejudice in America.  Next, on Tuesdays we get The Flash.  The End of Season 2 came in 2016, which had lost a bit of it’s zippy energy from Season 1, but it also had parallel universe which I will always love (Seriously, I will always love a show with parallel universes.  There’s a part of me that still thinks “Sliders” was at least strong in theory.  WARNING: Sliders isn’t really a good show, watch Fringe instead). Oh, and we also got Barry wandering around the Speed Force in Season 2.  Now in Season 3 Barry is a dope again and changes time which sort of ruins everything.  Fortunately, though, Tom Cavanagh has become the greatest and most surprising source for comedy as H.R Wells, AKA The Goofy Wells.  And Danielle Panabaker is starting to get something to do other than walk around inside S.T.A.R Labs now that she is technically Killer Frost.  Wednesday, the one that started the CW’s reign of Superherodom: Arrow.  First: Neal McDonough is great.  Absolutely great.  But Arrow Season 4 still struggled a bit to find itself, and a lot of that was because of the Oliver-Felicity relationship.  I was fine with the two being together- comic book fate be damned- but as the season went on Oliver’s general dourness rubbed off on Felicity which got rid of one of the most dynamic players of Arrow.  Now in Season 5, we’re in another okay spot.  First: It’s great to see the flashbacks again being something to look forward to (something that has been missing since Season 2), and it’s nice to get a bit more continuity in the series as well.  However, now Felicity doesn’t have much to do and is back to being in somewhat two dimensional territory, and for God’s sake Curtis needs to either quit Team Arrow or get his T Spheres up and running because I’m sick of him getting shot and being generally worthless but Oliver being surprisingly Okay with sending him out into danger.  Before moving on, it’s also worth noting that Willa Holland and Paul Blackthorne continue to be excellent, whether they are fighting vigilantes or alcoholism.  Finally: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.  Season 1 was a bit of a let down. With Legends being a time-travelling grab-bag, I had hoped for something a bit more interesting than what a lot of Season 1 had to offer.  But it had its moments.  Captain Cold and Heatwave are always welcome, and Ray Palmer- despite a middling love story with Hawkgirl and the repetition of his insecurity- was a nice foil to Heatwave.  Also, Caity Lotz has always been great as White Canary.  The final problem with Season 1 was how Vandall Savage and the Time Masters were never quite made into the Big Bads they should have been.  Season 2 has taken the strengths of Season 1 and improved upon the rest.  Firstly, I’ve liked Eobard Thawne (the real Eobard Thawne) since his first appearance in Season 1 of The Flash, and I think he’s building to being a formidable foe for the Legends.  The only problem- which we’re going to be solving soon by the looks of it- is that Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter is sorely missed.  Darvill was one of the highlights of Season 1 and his manic energy is missed.  Also, I just like seeing Darvill get work. I like seeing any Doctor Who Alum get work.  Legends of Tomorrow continues to be the weakest of the CW Superhero Bloc, but it’s beginning to find its footing and it’s starting to live up to its potential.  So Hooray.
    One final note, is that the CW has really made the DC Comic Book universe a strong part of the television landscape, and one that can be counted on to provide consistently engaging superhero antics.  Whereas Marvel has excelled in film but been hit and miss on Television, DC now has a consistent home in Television despite its continued lackluster performance in cinema (Batman notwithstanding).
  • Steven Universe: Steven Universe continues to be one of the greatest and most human shows on television.  It also continues to be one of the most frustratingly scheduled, with most of the episodes this year coming one-right-after-another over the course of three months in the Summer.  This wackiness notwithstanding, 2016 saw a huge jump in Crystal Gem mythology and characterization beginning with our first glimpse of the Diamond Authority, ending with a nice episode of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl coming to terms wise Rose’s death and Steven’s life.  Along the way we got a musical episode featuring Pearl and Greg making nice with one another, Steven being confronted with some extremely uncomfortable truths about his mother and the Gem War, an arch about Amethyst and her self-esteem issues, the introduction of Smoky Quartz, a quick episode about baseball, the continued growth of Peridot into series mainstay and MVP, and the growth of The Barn into a semi-aquarium full of meep-morps and a pumpkin-dog.  However throughout this year Steven Universe continues to be a show with an amazing amount of heart that truly believes that no one is purely evil and that anyone can be changed with Love.  It is challenging this idea at every turn, and by the looks of it this will continue in 2017, but despite revealing more grey areas the central heart and love of this show still remains.

  • Adventure Time: Another Cartoon Network show that has suffered from an odd schedule, much to its detriment, Adventure Time had an odd year.  I’m going to be honest, it hasn’t been my favorite season even though it has produced some truly odd pieces (Angel Face, Lady Rainicorn in the Crystal Dimension, Beyond the Grotto), some good character-centric episodes (Normal Man, Broke His Crown, The Hall of Egress), and some game-changing mythology episodes (Preeboot and Reboot, Crossover, and Elemental). Somehow I just find it hard to remember much Adventure Time from 2016 besides the miniseries “Stakes”, which I enjoyed (and I look forward to 2017’s “Islands”). I attribute it to the fact that there were month-long gaps separating episodes this year, which hopefully will be fixed in 2017 because Adventure Time is still a stellar show and one that deserves every bit of its acclaim.
  • The Americans: The Americans is still one of my Summer treats, for when the previous season goes onto streaming. This means that this year I saw Elizabeth and Phillip dealing with the Mujahideen, so two seasons behind. The Americans falls into a category of tense and well-made shows that I always enjoy when watching but haven’t yet added to my current season watching list, and I don’t have a good reason for this.  Season 3 made some amazing advances in the lives of the Jennings, and I’m really looking forward to Season 4, and the performances and characterization is spot-on as always.  Overall The Americans is a series that has been nominated and won awards for the past three or so years, and I understand why it is winning these awards.  So I suppose some of the surprise is taken away for me, which might be why it’s not in my ongoing stable.
  • iZombie: This is a terrible name for a great series. Rob Thomas (the show runner for cult favorite Veronica Mars) has created a new show with just as many anti heroes and tragivillains and nuance as his previous series did, only this one is in the overcast, secret zombie-laden streets of Seattle. 2016 saw a rise in villains Zombie and Human alike, the continuing reflection Liv has over her new set of circumstances, and a twisting plot that weaves throughout the show that never becomes overly complicated.  Added to this are wonderful portrayals by David Anders, Rahul Khoi, Steven Weber, and pretty much every other actor on the show, and you have another great addition to the CW (which just a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought would be the center for great television, but what do you know).
  • Orphan Black: About two years ago what was one of the most thrilling and enthralling television series produced an episode that nearly destroyed it. This series was Orphan Black, and in 2016 it continued its climb back into good graces that it started in June 14 2014, the episode following the introduction of Tony (for anyone who didn’t watch any Orphan Black after this episode, I understand. But rest assured in the knowledge that to this day he has neither returned nor been mentioned). 2016 was a good year for Clone Club, with further development of Beth, the introduction of a free-agent clone, and finally having Felix realize that Sarah has been taking advantage of him for about three years (the whole series, in other words). Even the reintroduction of Kira into the narrative was natural and lacked the magic-child feeling that some of Kira’s previous seasons have had, and we got a more developed Art this year which is greatly appreciated.  This is also assuming that anyone who has watched even one episode of the series knows that Tatiana Maslany as “Everyone” is absolutely amazing and never ceases to impress in her versatility as a performer. However I can’t help but not be as excited about this show as I was after Season 1, and thinking through it I realize that a big reason is the episode-that-shall-not-be-named.  Were it not for that one hour of TV, I would feel much better about this whole series, and I think many other viewers feel the same.
  • Better Call Saul: The Prequel series to Breaking Bad is no longer the Prequel Series to Breaking Bad. It is now its own series with its own characters and its own tragic ending only made more tragic because anyone who has watched the previous series knows how this will end.  This year we saw Jimmy McGill (the future Saul Goodman) get everything he ever wanted, throw it away, still get something he wanted, and then have his manipulative brother ruin everything. We also saw the growth of the loving relationship between Jimmy and Kim (which only makes the fact that Kim was no where to be found in Breaking Bad all the more heartbreaking), and Mike continues his steady walk to his own fate (though, it must be said, in a much more dignified and controlled way than Jimmy).  I remain as eager to start up again in this version of New Mexico (which isn’t too far off from real New Mexico) next year as ever, if for nothing else for another glimpse into the bleak and terrible black-and-White future of Saul Goodman: Cinnabon Manager.
  • Black Mirror: Most of my discussion of Television Series has been an affirmation of critics thoughts on series. This will be the exception: I didn’t think this season of Black Mirror was very good.  Rather, this is the first season of Charlie Booker’s dystopian critiques on technology that I need to go by episode-by-episode instead of giving the blanket “It was chilling and depressing and amazing and depressing. A+” that I’ve been able to give to previous seasons.  For one: I didn’t think “Nosedive” was as impressive as other critics thought, and to me it seemed like Blsck Mirror fan fiction. Good fan fiction, but still mostly interested in hitting the necessary beats of a Black Mirror outing and not actually going through the steps necessary to fully engage us with this mirror universe. “Playtest” is interesting but ultimately forgettable (though a good examination of fear, but still not as engaging as other Black Mirror outings). “Men Against Fire” also fits into this.  “Shut up and Dance” is OK, and just OK. “San Junipero” is perhaps the one chapter in this season that has truly impressed me and lived up to and exceeded the Black Mirror name, and does this by doing the impossible: telling a story that belongs in Black Mirror, but embraces technology and has a wonderful feeling of optimism and hope. Again, every bit of the future where people can have their consciousness uploaded into a computer server to live in the past forever is a classic Black Mirror Dystopia, and perhaps there are characters in San Junipero the city who are as trapped and unhappy as, say, the main character from Season 2’s “White Bear”, but the two main characters we see in San Junipero find love and happiness. More than that, they find love and happiness without having to destroy themselves or get rid of their central humanity.  “Hated in the Nation” is a fun crime movie, and I like it as a pilot for a BBC series following detectives who investigate sci-fi crimes, like killer robot bees, but as an episode of Black Mirror? It didn’t have quite the same sinking dread that we’ve all come to know and love the series for. The Netflix series of Black Mirror is still worth a watch, but I would tell you to watch the BBC seasons first, because they are streets ahead.

The 10 Books

  • Young Animal’s Doom Patrol: Holy Frijoles, everyone, Doom Patrol is back!  For those of you unaware, The Doom Patrol is a group of outcasted super-powered individuals in the DC Universe whose job it is to protect the fabric of reality itself.  It reached its apex under the penmanship of Grant Morrison who introduced such villains as The Scissormen of the Fictional City of Orqwith, The Brotherhood of Dada and their Painting the Eats Paris, and the Cult of the Unwritten Book.  There have been a few reboots of Doom Patrol in the past, but few have captured what draws me to the series: It’s inherent strangeness and it’s  existence as being a group of “others”.  The Doom Patrol that came directly before this new version, for example, mostly treats Robotman, Negativeman, and Elastiwoman as just another superhero team (also, they don’t explain how Rita came back from being the Lodestone which bothers the part of me that needs a coherent timeline).  But I’m glad to say that this new version of The Doom Patrol, so far, is looking like it’s living up to it’s name and it’s predecessors.  So far the series has been working at introducing readers to the world of the Doom Patrol again,a  world populated by people who may not exist and people who feed off of negative energy.  It’s keeping in continuity so far, which again is something I greatly appreciate, while also taking the time to have these “heroes” stuck in their existential issues as they usually are.  Here’s hoping Young Animal sticks the landing, because boy do I love Doom Patrol.
  • 1000 Years of Solitude: A brilliant look into the depths of memory, family, and the lore that permeates through both.  Marquez’ writing style is always a delight, describing even the most ridiculous of events with absolute certainty and grace.  This book is also very purposely cyclical and weaving and often difficult to follow, and I’m very glad that my copy came with a print-out of the Buendia family tree because otherwise I would have been lost. I was a little lost anyways, but it was the right kind of lost.  Worthy of its praise, though personally I enjoyed Chronicle of a Death Foretold more, but that’s personal preference and not a judgement on either work as a whole.
  • The Handmaiden’s Tale: Falling into the category of “Soon-to-be-reality”, The handmaiden’s Tale is tragic, heartfelt, and chilling.  Another book worthy of every instance of praise it has received, and a book worthy of a read for anyone.  Literally anyone.  If you have not read this book, read it now. NOW.
  • Saga: This past year I’ve been wanting to go through the American Library Association’s list of Banned Books. I’ve also wanted to read more comic books (or Graphic Novels? I think this one is technically a “Graphic Novel”. I use these two terms interchangeably, and for someone to whom this is greatly important please inform me of the distinction in clear terms).  Saga falls into the category of both.  And, OK, I’ve only read the first two volumes.  But I’m enjoying it.  As with much of the Banned Books, I see little reason for it to be banned, with all the violence depicted in it only going to serving its point and not crossing the threshold into gratuitous and there being little else to ban it for (unless pacifism is cause for banishment).  The series does a good job portraying the grey line in a longstanding conflict and just how messy and pointless and self-serving it is.
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: I have been heretofore unfamiliar with Douglas Adams’ other longstanding series, but fortunately I’ve seen the light.  As with most of Adams’ work, the tongue-in-cheek humor and the understated observances of just how outlandish and incredible world is are greatly appreciated.  In terms of making long lasting characters and crafting moving stories, that’s never been Adams’ strong suit, but that’s just fine as Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency does give us one heck of a detective in the bizarre name-changing Gently.  I look foreword to The Long, Dark, Teatime of the Soul.
  • Neuromancer: This was a fun book.  From what I can tell it’s the beginning of the Cyberpunk movement, and the beginning of a trilogy set within the same universe.  This is entirely understandable, as the world set up Gibson is a wonderfully expansive one and is the greatest asset to the book.  It is a world that seamlessly combines the pulp sensibilities of Detective and Science Fiction into a nicely woven heist story.  Also: I love heist stories. For anyone who is not a fan of Science Fiction, and is looking for a story of deeply felt characters this isn’t so much the book for you.  But it does deserve a place in the Science Fiction novel pantheon, and I’m happy I’ve read it.
  • The Foundation Trilogy: Yes, I’ve only read the Trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation).  Will I read the rest of the series?  Perhaps at some point, though I may stop by some of Asimov’s other works first as well as some other Science Fiction mainstays.  There is always a problem when viewing older media in terms of how to interpret it, either through the lens of myself as a modern reader or through the lens of a reader in the historical time period that the piece was made.  I bring this up, because there were certainly parts of The Foundation Trilogy that hurt myself as a feminist.  The first book had no female characters, the second one might as well have not had a female character.  Second Foundation makes up for this in a slight way, but still… not entirely.  This wouldn’t be such an issue were it not for the fact that this series is focused on the creation of Utopia.  And the scope of this series is great, spanning thousands of years, and the way that the timeline is set up is well done.  Asimov himself was a scientist and was a pioneer in Hard Science Fiction, and that is evident in these works.  Even better is its acknowledgement of psychology and psychiatry as a distinct and useful Science, which is also a bit of a great step of thinking.  Asimov’s style is direct and whereas other novels can and have floundered under such a sweeping scope with so many characters who may or may not be related, The Foundation Trilogy never feels confusing or arcane.  So again we come to the central problem: There is a lot to like about this series, that it only makes the icky problems with it a bit more pronounced.
  • The Farm: Apparently there’s a whole subgenre of Swedish crime thrillers now. Also apparently this is part of the larger umbrella of “Airport Fiction” (books that you pick up at the airport to read over a longish plane ride).  This is the category “The Farm” lands into.  It’s fine.  Would I recommend it? If you have a longish plane ride and want to read a book, sure why not?  Though there are a lot of better books out there.  Even better Airport fiction out there.
  • The Tinderbox: This was my favorite fairy tale as a child because it had three giant dogs in it.  So I reread it this year, along with a lot of other Hans Christian Andersen works.  What I was surprised at first to read- but certainly changed the entire way the story comes out- was that Andersen basically took ideas from 1001 Arabian Nights and directly translated them into a different setting.  So right down to the tinderbox itself- the stand in for The Magic Lamp anyone who has seen Aladdin knows about- this really is just a re-telling.  More so- and this is something I’ve discovered going back and re-reading fairy tales and folklore- there isn’t really a good message at the end.  Not reading that much into it, the Lesson seems to be “Money!” (Though there is a nice part about how the protagonist’s rich friends disown him once he’s no longer rich. That’s fun), but the deeper you go into it the more the overarching lesson becomes “Lie, Murder, and cheat your way into riches and never let it go because Money will get you everything in life. EVERYTHING. Also having a giant dog with eyes the size of saucer plates to slaughter everyone helps”.  Do I think this is the message Andersen was going for? No. But it definitely adds a wrinkle to my favorite story (and, yes, I’d still like to adapt it at some point because I really, really, really like those three giant dogs).
  • More Information Than You Require: I listened to this as an Audio Book on the drive to Minnesota to shoot “Results 2016”.  It is a charming book of completely false facts, and made me feel a bit more productive in my obsessive list-writing and Encyclopeding.  This is by no means meant to compare myself to John Hodgman: he is a professional and I am but an amateur not meant to lick the dust on his boots. Adding to the affair was that the Audio Book included some nice touches that I don’t think the book itself has or could manage, like having multiple narrators who are (presumably) all hanging out in the same audio booth and getting really bored by John Hodgman’s false-history.  Also, Jonathan Coulton sings songs!  Also also, it ends with a list of 400 Moleman names and occupations!  What fun!

Honorable Mentions

  • Cryptonomicon: This goes into my “Honorable Mentions” category because I haven’t actually finished this book yet, so there’s a good chance that the entire book could fall apart and not be very good.  However, a little over half of the way through, Cryptonomicon is a fascinating and masterfully webbed tale of World War II, Cryptography, the dot-com internet boom, and treasure hunting.  Throughout all this and more, including chapters describe complex mathematical formulae for chaotic statistics and a long part of a book describing organ repair, Neal Stephenson manages to infuse everything with wit and an underlying fascination with every inch of the absurd world he’s created.  Again, I’m yet to finish, but I have been enjoying Cryptonomicon and would recommend it to anyone who has a lot of time to spend reading (This is a 1200 page book, and you can’t just  gloss over it either).
  • Gravity Falls: There was one episode of Gravity Falls that aired in 2016, so I can write about it.  Firstly: I do not know if I’m missing the logic behind the sporadic scheduling of a lot of my favorite animated shows, or if this is how all animated show are scheduled, or if the people at cartoon network or Nickelodeon throw darts at a calendar to decide when something is airing.  But throughout its run “Gravity Falls” had the most sporadic schedule of any other show.  Case in point: There were only two seasons, but it ran for four years. But I digress: Gravity Falls was an impressive and heartfelt series.  It had Disney’s signature wackiness inside of its DNA, but it also had two sets of wonderfully thought out sibling relationships in Dipper and Mabel and Stan and Ford.  The wrinkles and disappointment and love and respect shown between all of them- and very much shown, not just read in by an older viewer- all functioned to make these characters feel more real and less zany than the very first episode had you believe.  Add to that the fact that this series gave work Matt Chapman of Homestar Runner fame, so that’s a plus!  Also a huge plus: Gravity Falls was never afraid to be truly terrifying.  Existence-shatteringly terrifying. The final super-antagonist of Bill Cypher in Weirdmageddon story arch was case-in-point (as were any episodes starring Bill from the get-go) as he was a lovecraftian nightmare demon who wore a tiny top hat as he manipulated the show’s reality to be a grotesque terror-show.

  • Wander Over Yonder: Wander Over Yonder was another Disney program that rose above Disney’s general silly style, only it did this by swerving directly into it and embracing madcap silliness and optimism and hope.  Not every show can do this.  Some shows try, and they fail miserably.  Wander Over Yonder did not.  A lot of this was because of the character work: The Orange Furball Wander voiced by Jack McBrayer acts exactly as you’d expect him to only Wander has actual crises of conscious and his obsessive desire to help people is shown both as a help and a hinderance; Wander’s best friend Sylvia acts as the balancing force to Wander with an underlying tenderness and love for this Orange nutcase, the general villain of the series Lord Hater is equal parts threatening and pathetic with the few moments when he reaches his full power (achieved by believing in himself, which sounds cheesy when written but the turn of phrase of “Hate’s Great, best villain” from ridiculous esteem-building villain-chant to legitimately inspiring cheer is one of the greatest achievements of the show) showing that Lord Hater is actually a very powerful and destructive force that didn’t get to be the Greatest Villain of the Galaxy just because of Commander Peepers (voiced by the always amazing Tom Kenny).  In the end, Wander Over Yonder was a story about reaching your full potential with the help of your friends (and it did this so much better than My Little Pony ever has) with Lord Dominator being the diametric opposite to Wander’s belief that everyone has good in them and being ultimately undone when the only planet left in the galaxy that hasn’t had it’s core drained all rises up to cheer on their former enemy.  I’m not sure I’ve really communicated the charm of the series, or the honest belief in Good that it has but I can end by letting you know that you should check it out. It’s just wonderful.
  • Regular Show: Look, I’ve really enjoyed Regular Show in the past too but the series needs to end.  I don’t think Cartoon Network deciding to end it after this season is a mistake, and I’m honestly surprised that it’s taken them this long to cancel.  I think even the show itself knows this, which is why we have the thoroughly ridiculous Regular Show in Space season we have now.  It’s not very good, it knows its not very good, it has a lot of fun not being very good, I respect the fact that it’s just throwing itself into this deeply stupid concept, but it doesn’t really solve the underlying problem of it just not being very good.  Even the season before this, I enjoyed Rigby’s arch to finally finish High School and the general “Year of Rigby” (although I’m still surprised we never got to see Rigby using the toilet-time-machine on the other end.  I guess we could by Series-end, but they are really sticking to this space conflict-thing so probably not).  In the end, I guess what’s turned me off of Regular Show was that it seems like the Slacker energy has completely suffused the entire show.  Whereas before the character accepting each other made for some of the best episodes, now they all just seem stuck and happy to be there, with no greater ambitions otherwise.  And this bothers me, and I don’t think “Find a job where you play video games and stay there” is a good message for kids (because let’s also remember another reason why I’m surprised Regular Show has lasted this long: I see no reason why a child would like it, and it’s on Cartoon Network’s non-adult swim programming list.  If Regular Show were Adult Swim, then I think it would have excelled and it probably wouldn’t be getting cancelled).  Now I’m still going to watch Regular Show in Space until the end, and like I said I greatly admire how much the show has committed to the tropes, settings, and overall dumbness of a space opera.  I’m also really glad that Eileen has joined the park cast, because she is great.  I only wish she had done so a few seasons back when she would have actually gotten developed instead of being stuck in this deeply stupid space opera.  Again, I love how the show acknowledges that this is deeply stupid, but it doesn’t solve the fact that this whole in Space thing is deeply, deeply stupid.
  • The Good Dinosaur: When reading reviews for this film it was brought up how strange it is, and that about sums up my experience: I was not prepared for how much of a Western this was.  Because it’s a Dinosaur Cowboy movie! And that’s great! The two genres (although is “Dinosaur” a genre?) are blended well together, I think the voice work was fine, the central conflict really being between Argo and the Elements (with the storm-worshipping Pterodons thrown in for good measure, which I thought was effective) lent to a much more meditative film than we’re used to, and did give the viewer the sense that Argo truly accomplished something at the end.  I then wonder why it is that I’m not really excited about this movie.  In fact, the best comparison I can come up with is A Bug’s Life.  Both are Disney Pixar movies that are perfectly serviceable and well done but when going through the Disney-Pixar line you won’t pick them out.  In fact, I’m more likely to think about Cars 2 than either because it stands out for being bad.  The only reason- also strangely enough for both The Good Dinosaur and A Bug’s Life– that I can think of that I wasn’t deeply enthralled by this movie is the style: For already being a genre fusing high-concept dinosaur movie, everything was just a bit too cartoony.  Although I’m not exactly sure if I’d want it to look like Dinosaur.  Rather, it just stays in a place where it’s simultaneously too cartoony and not cartoony enough.  But we did get a bizarre dinosaur drug trip, so that’s nice.  Like I said, this is just a weird movie.
  • Zootopia: I don’t think a lot of people were expecting much from this film.  In fact, I think most of us were expecting the Disney Animation Studios bubble to have popped and for it to start making generally OK things.  However Zootopia surprised us all, because it’s a timely story about corruption, prejudice, and just how delicate communities are when the two are so deeply ingrained in a society.  The best thing of all?  Zootopia uses some prejudices and assumptions the viewer themselves have to its benefit.  We as a viewer join the rest of Zootopia the city in thinking that a rabbit (not a bunny) can be a police officer, we believe that a fox would of course be a conniving con artist, and is that a fat cheetah? Ha ha.  Well, as Zootopia goes on and develops this world you as a viewer come to realize you’re wrong, that these ideas you had weren’t based in any reality whatsoever and only existed because at some point you were told them (and not even by anyone with any authority, it’s just something mentioned in passing or something you assumed).  But you’re wrong: This rabbit is dedicated police officer who truly wants to make her community a better place, this fox is actually a greatly talented individual who was just crushed by others assumptions about him, and so what if the cheetah likes to eat donuts?  He’s a great guy and he likes being himself!  That’s fantastic!  Then add a villain who uses a community’s mistrust of one another against itself, and you have a film that’s deeply moving and very powerful.  So way to go, Disney Animation Studios, you proved us all wrong.  Oh, last note: “Try Everything” is a really inspiring message to have.
  • Over the Garden Wall: I rewatched this miniseries twice this year, once to make sure it was a good gift for my mother and another time when I actually watched it with my mother. Yes, it’s still great and fantastic the second and third time around.  Although it really does need to be viewed as a series as a whole and not as a collection of episodes (like, say, “Stakes” which all revolved around the same event and was its own whole, but you can view each episode as an individual), because every episode informs the piece as a whole.  This is especially true for some of the early episodes that are just plain stupid.  Take the third Episode: Schooltown Follies.  It’s a silly tale about a runaway Gorilla who’s actually a person in a gorilla suit.  Did anyone think to check that? Nope, they were all scared of the gorilla!  Also, Greg sings a little song about Potatoes and Molasses while cute animals dance to it.  I love this series, but this episode is so deeply stupid.  But that’s what makes it great.  Because later on, having experienced these small moments of silliness and dumb parts of life, we feel so much more for Greg when he’s taken by The Beast and nearly dies and becomes an Edelwood tree.  It also allows us to see Greg through Wirt’s eyes and see his childlike innocence and optimism and enthusiasm, which is exactly what is preyed upon in “Babes in the Woods” and exactly how The Beast takes Greg.  The thing is, though, that when just watching this miniseries for the first time, one-after-another, you don’t see everything being interconnected and dependent on one another until the moment arrives and everything clicks into place.  This doesn’t make each individual episode a slog, or a confusing mess, though, but rather just a piece in a really lovely puzzle.  Added to all of this is the style of the Miniseries, which is seeped in turn-of-last-century Americana and folk art but uses these as informants and never feels overly sentimental or nostalgic or sappy.  Instead, it just bathes everything in a fairy-tale like sepia tone, like jumping out of the yellowed pages of an old folklore book.
  • Inside Out: Just in case we were worried, Inside Out showed us that Pixar is still a leader of cinematic animation. From the incredibly realized world of the inner thoughts of all things (including cats in one of my favorite scenes), to the beautiful story of coming to terms with both who you are and a new place, to the amazing message of why sadness is essential to our lives.  Even better, after quickly dispensing of some world-building at the start every other realization is presented in a wonderfully visual and digestible way again making it clear to the audience without becoming preachy: Sadness is what helps us heal, and that sadness isn’t something we should ignore or throw away, but embrace when the time comes.  Even beyond the end result is the great way that all Emotions have their own jobs and their own purposes in head: Anger leads to the single worst decision in the movie, but Anger is also what informs passion and opinions and belief.  All of this is also ignoring what can always be expected of a Pixar film (even in the Cars series): Beautiful animation, well-directed voice casts, and (okay maybe this one is missing from Cars. Spoiler alert: I haven’t seen any of the Cars nor will I out of principle)a brilliant sense of humor.  For anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet, every bit of praise you’ve heard about it is true and it’s a fantastic piece.  For everyone who has seen this film: you know that it’s great.
  • Once Upon a Time: Yes, I watch the Fairy Tale soap opera.  It remains a fairy tale Soap Opera.  In 2016 Greg German had a whole lot of fun being the smarmy ruler of the Underworld Hades, and boy was that a blast.  Unfortunately a lot of other things in the Underworld weren’t.  We did get to see some old faces return, and we solved that whole “Captain Hook is dead” problem, but the big pull of the second half of Season 5 was Greg Germann’s Hades.  I suppose we also got a bit more characterization of the Wicked Witch of the West too, but it was really just the Hades smart show.  Which is OK.  The first half of Season 6 has also been OK, although both of these have suffered from having an episodic structure that just sort of becomes boring after a while.  In Underbrooke it was the “Unfinished business” of all of the souls trapped in the Underworld.  In Season 6’s Storybrooke it’s been finishing the stories from everyone from the Land of Unfinished stories (even though that whole thread was dropped as soon as Mr. Hyde was killed, which sort of just adds to the feeling of pointlessness these plot threads had).  I’ve heard some critics pan Sam Witwer’s Mr. Hyde, but I enjoyed him.  He oozed with a barely restrained aggression that helped to define him beyond “Sort of unkillable antagonist”, and certainly made him a continued threat even when imprisoned.   Now, let’s go into the next main plot thread of Season 6 and the real Antagonist of the first half: The Evil Queen.  Not Regina, because she separated herself using Dr. Jekyll’s serum, but The Evil Queen.  This has furthered the bizarre costuming choices of the series, as well as further shown how Regina is one of the few developed characters on the show.  One side effect that I don’t think the show was going for, though, is that it shows how underwhelming Emma’s turn as The Dark One ended up being.  I’m still deeply upset that Emma never really became Dark, and that even when possessed by one of the most evil forces in the show Emma was still The Savior and committed to good.  The idea of redemption and all of that is fine, that’s part of the show.  What bothers me is that the show backpedalled on a promise.  It had a season where Emma’s desires to help those around her and destroy herself in the process were being viewed from a very self-destructive angle which would have made her a much better character.  What’s more, the show has already looked into Emma and started to develop the flip side of her “Savior” behavior with the Ice Queen arch (because the show has always leaned on Emma’s negative aspect being “I don’t trust people”).  In the end, I wanted Dark Swan to actually be dark like the show promised.  Or I would have liked her to have been a bit more a Dark One, even if she was playing the Darkness the whole time.  She was still The Dark One, but the only evil thing she did (which was admittedly pretty evil, and I wanted more moments like this) was when she stole the heart of her son’s girlfriend to steal the tears of her son for a secret potion.  Also, while we’re talking about The Dark One, I’m happy that Belle has had it with Rumplestiltskin’s bullshit, but I’m also really tired of their whole “I love you, I hate you” relationship.  That doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon with the appearance of their freshly kidnapped and suddenly an adult baby boy Orpheus King of Dreams.  But that’s Once Upon a Time, and in the end it’s not going to change but I’m still going to be watching the Fairy Tale Soap Opera (with still one of the biggest reasons being I want to see Giancarlo Esposito- Gus from Breaking bad for those of you who don’t know actor’s names- be the genie from Aladdin and the Magic Mirror from Snow White again).  For those of you who have never seen a single episode of Once Upon a Time, you now know just how deeply ridiculous this Fairy Tale Soap Opera is.  I didn’t even get to the parts with Aladdin, Jasmine, and Captain Nemo because this show doesn’t care what story it takes its characters from, it’s just going to throw them all into Maine.
  • Infinity Train: For anyone who actually is worried about the end of Regular Show, take a look at Infinity Train.  It’s the pilot from Owen Dennis, one of the writers on Regular Show, and it’s very promising.  You should also take a look at it if you’re worried about the ending of Adventure Time, and the shaky ground of Steven Universe.  In fact, you should just take a look at it.  In about 8 minutes Dennis sets up an intriguing world with opportunities for a large mythology (which I’m a sucker for in my shows), while also having an opportunity for some really great single episodes. Also, despite being 8 minutes long, the central trio of characters get a surprising amount of development and show themselves as being worthy of spending a whole eleven minutes with every week (think of it! THREE MORE MINUTES! Anyone who has tried to write an animated show in this format knows that you can create an entire other subplot that is at times funny and heartbreaking with three extra minutes).  Also, if you tend to agree with me on Regular Show, don’t be discouraged by Infinity Train.  Dennis has written for Regular Show, and has written some of the more “Regular Show”-y episodes of Regular show (like both episodes regarding The Last Laserdisc), but Infinity Train has its own distinct feel and its own distinct style.  None of the slacker attitude that is Regular Show’s big draw exists in Infinity Train, and none of Regular Show’s fascination with 80’s video game culture exists in Infinity Train.  Instead, at least in its current form, it exists as a fusion of drawing room mystery, Miyazakian world of villains-who-may-not-be-villains, with little bits of Portal and Werner Herzegovina fan service thrown in for good measure.  Please, watch Infinity Train below as it’s one surefire way to show Cartoon Network that you’d want this to be a series.

The 2015 Ten

I don’t much care for Top 10 lists.  Personally, as I’ve said before, I find it immensely difficult to compare a movie that’s seriously flawed but enjoyable with a film that’s technically enthralling but narratively lacking with good clean genre fun.  How can you claim that any one of those films are “better” than the other, and why do we even feel the need to make film viewership into a contest?  Added on top of this all is the fact that I don’t see very many new movies- I can’t afford them.

So instead of giving you a Top 10 list of movies this year, I’m giving you the ten movies that I’ve seen this year that- for better or for worse- have stuck out to me.  These Ten movies, in no particular order, are:

  1. Coherence (2013): A really fascinating science fiction film about parallel universes with Xander from Buffy in it. One of my favorites I’ve seen this year.

  2. Kafka (1991): Surprisingly biographical.  Even though it’s doubtful Kafka ever stumbled upon a hidden giant brain workshop, the piece manages to capture the personage of its subject. Bravo Soderbergh.

  3. Bridge of Spies (2015): A very confused movie.  Half Coen Brothers tragicomedy, half serious Spielberg history.  A good non-offensive movie to watch with family and say “That certainly was a movie” afterwards.

  4. Willow Creek (2013): A found-footage horror movie that tries its best to answer some meta-filmic questions about the genre and packs in a few scares.  Now to justify the existence of the found-footage horror genre.

  5. Journey to the West (2013): I am two years behind of everything. A Steven Chow film that doesn’t reach the zany genius of “Kung Fu Hustle”, but also doesn’t get into the zany shallowness of Shaolin Soccer.

  6. The Zero Theorem (2013): Oh Terry Gilliam.  If you close your eyes there are the specks of a decent movie here.  Unfortunately they were left as only absurd and stylish specks.

  7. The Martian (2015): More survivor story than science fiction, Damon commands enough presence for his portion alone on the Red Planet, with plenty of non-character spouting Science Fiction on Earth and in space.

  8. Inside Out (2015): Pixar came back swinging with this one.  A story that manages to show the good and the bad of every emotion, especially sadness and its lasting effect on memory. Neat!

  9. The Babadook (2014): This is a spooky movie!  Meditations on single-parenthood, grief, and madness all come crashing together in the story of an Australian Boogeyman.  Well plotted and well done.

  10. Spring Breakers (2012): This might just be my favorite film that I saw this year.  A Morality Tale, A Gang war story, a Selena Gomez vehicle. A nightmarish joy. Exhibit A:

    I rest my case.

RUNNERS UP, OR “I ALSO SAW THESE THIS YEAR”

  1. The Tenth Victim (1965):  Italian film about two sexy assassins in a murder TV game show who are hunting each other. An enjoyable romp, and always good to see Marcello Mastroianni.
  2. Sound of Noise (2010): A thin story, but interesting enough for a police procedural about anarchist musicians.  Mostly a vehicle for the Stomp-like music sequences, which are executed well.
  3. Berberian Sound Studio (2012): The sound-based horror I was looking for, with plenty of personal anxiety, feeling way over your head, and isolation. Also Toby Jones!  Fun for the whole family!
  4. Wet Hot American Summer (2001): A movie that is the sum of its parts, but it’s made up of some good parts.  Of the same caliber at least as “Airplane II: The Sequel”, if not “Hot Shots! Part Deux”.
  5. The Exterminating Angel (1962): Bunel’s best continues to be L’Age d’Or, however this is a wonderful film about rich people having silly, stupid problems.  A good conceit, and offering plenty of subtext without being too serious.