Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Traditional Year-End Listing

I'll probably be reviewing my recent comic purchases into next week, and I'm hoping to do the Year In Review the week after that. For now, though, let's look at the best and the worst of other media I found this year. I'm not counting anything I'd read, watched, or played previously, which rules out The Night of the Generals among the books, and UHF among movies. Not that either of those was going to haul in Best or Worst in their respective categories, but it's worth establishing the ground rules before we start.


Not as many books this year as last year. Close, but about a half-dozen fewer. Still a lot of World War 2 related stuff, but not as much as last year. I didn't branch out as much as I might have liked, but it was a start. Worst is pretty easy. On the fiction side, it'd be The First Deadly Sin, and on the non-fiction side, Fateful Choices. I base that on the fact I didn't make it more than 50 pages through either. If I focus on ones I actually finished, The Radon File and No Dawn For Men among fiction. The former was tiresome in how depressing and cynical it was, plus I had obviously come into the middle of the story, the former just hit some of my buttons about using actual people in fiction. In non-fiction, I was only interested in maybe half of The Baseball, and The Last European War suffered greatly from Lukacs having a much higher impression of his own intelligence than he merits.

So what was good? This seemed like a better year for fiction for me than 2014. Andrew Garve's Counterstroke was a quick, tense little thriller. I read several of Jim Butcher's books, and I'd say Summer Knight was my favorite. I considered Pierre Audemars' Slay Me A Sinner, but the writing style was just a little too irritating in its repetition of certain phrases. Non-fiction, there's several strong contenders. Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Tolley's Cruise of the Lanikai, Nunn's Tigris Gunboats, and Halliday's When Hell Froze Over would rank at the top. All of them were effective at introducing me to things I hadn't read about before, and they were all written in an engaging style. Well, Nunn was a little dry (and more than a little racist), but even he had some occasional humor in his writing that helped.


I watched a lot more movies this year than last year. It didn't really happen because I set out to do that, I think there were just a lot of times where I had nothing better to do, saw something was on TV, and figured I might as well. The only thing I saw in theaters all year was Spectre, which won't factor into the worst or the best. I did see Guardians of the Galaxy finally, and while I'm still surprised it did as well at the box office as it did, I can kind of understand it. Why it appealed to people, the characters who are alone, but find other people who understand them, and they form their own group that saves the day. People like those stories. Lots of films I didn't love, but didn't hate, either.

Worst. Oldboy wasn't a poorly done movie, but it was still a bad decision on my part to watch it. It went too far outside my comfort zone. Twelve O'Clock High just wound up irritating me, as war films of that era often do. Fast Times at Ridgemont High almost completely failed for me as a comedy, but comedy's always dodgy, and maybe I'm watching it too many years too late. If I had seen it when I was in high school, would it have worked better? I was pretty stupid back then, so maybe. Maze Runner didn't stand up to any scrutiny, but some of the scenes of running were entertaining. Kingdom of Heaven bored me, and Hot Potato was just kind of a mess, though at least it wasn't taking itself too seriously. Still needed to spend a little more time tightening up the plot. But the two worst were I, Frankenstein and Let's Be Cops. The first one was a mess, not thought out, confusing, dumb, didn't even seem edited particularly well. The second was just a really bad, dumb idea. Nothing good about either one.

Best. I don't know if Predestination works on a repeat viewing, since I haven't watched it again since last January. The first viewing was really good, though. I still have some questions about it, but it's smartly laid out for a time travel film. You can follow what's happening, and it has an internal logic to it that works. I liked John Wick, but on a second viewing, the fonts they use when they translate what characters are saying, and the odd colors they make some of the words kept distracting me. It's a little sillier than I thought on first seeing it, and felt at odds with the rest of the movie. Which you could argue was absurd in the standard ways action movies are, but they create one type of atmosphere, and the font stuff doesn't really fit in. But I love those action sequences, and the slow build up to the violence explosion. I think I'd still put Man of Tai Chi slightly ahead of it, though, even though Keanu isn't a terribly convincing Final Boss. But he really tries, which is entertaining in its own way.

But The Good, the Bad, and the Weird wins it. It was strange, but it felt like a movie where the people making it knew exactly what they wanted to do, and how it was supposed to look, and they went and did it. Which doesn't guarantee it'll produce a movie I'll like, but it did this time, since they just so happened to produce something that hit a lot of the things I enjoy. Between the chase scenes, the characters, some of the locations, the fact its playing off The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but uses that to go against expectations. It succeeds in having a lot of parts that are memorable, in a good way. I remember them and smile, not groan and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

Video Games

Not a whole lot of games this year. As far as physical copies go, NBA 2K15, Sleeping Dogs, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Resident Evil: Revelations. Resident Evil I traded in to reduce the price on the basketball game. Except then I was painfully reminded I shouldn't buy sports games. That leaves the other two, and while Sleeping Dogs wasn't everything I hoped it would be, it did the things it wanted to do really well. Also, it didn't have an equivalent to the sections of the South Park game where I had to learn how to use magic spells. Those constantly brought the game to a screeching halt, and Sleeping Dogs didn't have that (all the little mini-game stuff with trying to pick locks or trace calls came close, but they weren't as difficult, so I usually got past them and back to the good parts quickly).

On the XBox Live Arcade front, there was Bloodrayne: Betrayal, Flashback, Castlevania: Symphony of Night, ilomilo, Valiant Hearts, SkyDrift, Dogfight 1941, Bastion, and Anna. Quite a mixed bag there. Flashback was a mess, and Valiant Hearts clearly had some thought put into it, but wasn't actually very much fun to play. Anna scared the crap out of me at least once, but the shaky controls were a constant irritation. Ilomilo's a puzzle game, which is always risky ground for me, but it's cutesy style didn't actually annoy me, and there's no time limit on the puzzles, which helps a lot. The wheels grind slowly up top sometimes.

Castlevania was fun, even if it got frustrating constantly thinking I was doing well, only to enter a new area with monsters far stronger than me. So I'd have to retreat and try and find another way around, and this happened over and over. SkyDrift really grew on me the more I played it, and I got into Bastion, even if I was usually so absorbed in fighting things I was missing a fair amount of the story. If I were only going to pick one, it'd be SkyDrift. That's the one I'd most readily play whenever I felt like it. It helps it doesn't have any story to care about or be invested in. Just race against other planes and blow them to hell. Simple and direct.

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