Monday, January 02, 2017

Summing Up A Year's Worth Of Passing Time

As has become standard, it's a look back at the books, movies, and games I read, watched, or played this year. As always, it's considered new in the sense I hadn't encountered it previously, regardless of when it was produced. If I stuck to things released in 2016, there'd be a sample size of roughly 4.


Not nearly as many books as in past years. I wasn't near many good bookstores, so I didn't randomly purchase many paperbacks, and my dad didn't send as many books my way as usual. Starting with fiction, not a banner year. Most of the books weren't what I was hoping for. Would have expected better results with some of the authors in there, but oh well. To be fair, Eric was a perfectly fine introduction to Terry Prachett's works. But Focault's Pendulum is going to walk away with least favorite, since it was the one I couldn't even bother to finish. I don't care about Templars, and Umberto Eco couldn't make me, no matter how many pages he devoted to them. Red Winter is going to wind up as favorite. I enjoyed it the most while I was reading it, even if the ending was slightly more upbeat than I expected. In that I expected everyone to die, and a few people survived. It wasn't world-changing, but the atmosphere of it, the sense of most of the population being crushed by something terrible they can't figure out how to stop, and are too afraid of being destroyed by to talk openly with anyone.

I feel I should have said The Brothers Karamazov, and I wasn't disappointed by that book. Actually, I was worried about it being a letdown, the victim of too many expectations (and the fact I don't always love 19th Century writing), but that didn't happen. It was extremely engaging at times, but other parts were overly long and dragged it to a crawl. Those were undoubtedly vitally important to Dostoyevsky, but they did diminish my enjoyment of the book.

On the nonfiction side, much of it is in the World War 2 or interwar period, like most of the previous two years' nonfiction. I was at least able to branch out somewhat. A few books on Meiji Japan, some books on specific presidential elections. Much of it is depressing, as history often is, but at least it's also often informative.

On the positive side, The Lost City of Z was solid, and The Arsenal of Democracy taught me a lot about Edsel Ford. He's not a subject I'd have expected to be interested in, but wound up being compelling as a figure trying to do his best against limitations his dad had imposed on him in various ways and for various reasons. But they're on the tier below the top. Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic would be in the top 3. It doesn't seem like a book about President Garfield, Alexander Graham Bell, and the American medical industry's resistance to basic hygiene would be able to come together, but it did. I've read other books like that, where you can tell the author just didn't have enough on one topic for an entire book, so they try to draw loose connections to a couple of other things to pad it out. But Millard takes the particular circumstances and runs with it. The other two would be David Pietrusza's The Year of Six Presidents, which was funny, informative, and ultimately depressing in how Warren G. Harding ends up as President, and Tim Tzouliadis' The Forsaken. That one was just depressing, and infuriating, but sometimes it's good to remember the horrors people can inflict on each other, just as a reminder. 2016: The year Calvin found a lot of interest in reading about Russia! Of all of them, I think that's the one that's stuck with me the most (it's a little weird going over the book posts and going, "Oh yeah, I did read that.")

As for least favorite, there were a lot of books that trod familiar ground for me. John Ellis' Brute Force for one. Also Richard Overy's The Bombing War, although there was a lot of good information in that one (probably too much, you can get bogged down under all the figures). The Friar and the Cipher was one of those books with not enough on one subject to fill a whole book I mentioned above. The same could be said of The Man Who Didn't Shoot Hitler, just because there was so little on Tandey's life available. I'd pick The Long Shadow as least favorite. I expected something a little more wide-ranging in terms of how different countries were impacted by the First World War, and instead it was focused almost entirely on England. Credit for delving into its impact on poetry over the decades I suppose, but not my bag.


More movies than the last couple years. Combination of my dad and I apparently watching a lot of stuff, and also one of my housemates over the summer deciding they couldn't live without a complete TV package, meaning movie channels. Otherwise I probably still wouldn't have seen Ant-Man, not to mention The Stanford Prison Experiment, probably a few other things.

Look, we all know what I'm going to pick as my favorite movie. I know it had its flaws, certain gaps in logic, but it was still very funny, so congratulations Remember the Night.

No, no, I'm joking, it's Deadpool. The only movie I made it a point to go see, that left me so pumped up I happily ran across the parking lot afterward. A movie that actually has me looking forward to seeing Cable in the sequel. Credit for that Herculean effort, if nothing else.

Other movies I enjoyed, sure Remember the Night would be on there. Better than I expected. The Heiress, for the last half-hour when Olivia de Havilland's character starts verbally destroying fools. Maggie was solid, Mad Max: Fury Road was very good, although I don't love it as much as the people who freak out about it. I reserve that for Deadpool, obviously. Fury Road was an extremely pretty movie, especially the sequence with the sandstorm. I liked Return of Sabata the most of the three Sabata films, because it was the one they seemed to be having the most fun with. In some cases, a film fully embracing how absurd it's being works really well with me (see also: Crank). Speaking of Jason Statham, Spy was pretty funny. I'm generally indifferent to Melissa McCarthy; certainly most of the movies she's been in the last few years didn't look good to me (I think I liked Heat all right, but I tend to be a Sandra Bullock fan), but I really enjoyed this one, so cheers.

What about the bad? No shortage of options here. You may be surprised to learn Batman v Superman will not be taking the prize. I have no love for it, but I guess my expectations were set low enough by it being a Zack Snyder film that it might have struggled to be horrible enough to really bother me. I expected it would be dark and grim, and it was. The main thing that stood out is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor, and that's because he's fucking terrible. I'm almost inclined to give it to Ratchet & Clank, which made no impression whatsoever, but I'll just accept that film was Not For Me. It wasn't bad, it was just there. Paint by numbers.

I doubt I saw enough of Jurassic World to assess it. Fantastic Four was a mess. I didn't like Red Dust when I watched it years ago as Mogambo, and I didn't like it here. Wife vs. Secretary hinged on such a stupid decision by Clark Gable's character it ruined the whole thing for me. But I'll give it to The Monster. Maybe it should be Sausage Party, but I did laugh once during that movie, so as a comedy, it succeeded? Barely. Let's hear it for low expectations! The Monster was a horror flick that really wanted to be about alcoholism. The monster was there to break up the monotonous flashbacks. Every other film had at least one moment, joke, visual, scene, something that I liked. This one drove me to bed.

Video Games

Not a lot to choose from this year. I kind of want to pick Tales of Vesperia again. I played through it a second time in the spring, to try and pick up a lot of the secondary quests I missed the first time through, which is rare for me with JRPGs. I really enjoyed it, maybe more than the first time, since I understood the mechanics better, but that feels like a cheat. I don't know.

There was the Batman game from Telltale, the one that's nothing but dialogue scenes and quick-time events? The 2013 Tomb Raider, Thief, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There was a Hitman game as part of the stealth triple pack. I gave up on that before I finished the tutorial. I tried a couple of demos through XBox Live Arcade, but the only ones I actually bought were Half-Minute Hero and Marvel Puzzle Quest. I've spent more time than I should on the latter, considering how much I have to go back and replay the same levels over and over to level my characters up enough to win in the next level. Not to mention even just progressing through the story requires you  "fight" the same villains over and over again. I think I've beaten Daken 47 times already. A friend sent me Skyrim, and I've been playing that off and on since June, depending on how much it's annoying me. I'll get to reviewing it eventually, since I think I'm nearing the end with it.

Thief was a glitchy mess, Deus Ex had boss fights which ran completely counter to how the rest of the game plays out. And the writing was crap. I mentioned this is my review, but there are a dozen things you can pick up and read during the game that strongly hint or outright tell you a particular character isn't dead, and even if you read all of them, Adam still reacts with complete surprise when he sees the character alive. Plus that whole thing where you can't hack computers and stay crouched. God that was bullshit.

Let's go with Tomb Raider. The game mostly did what it wanted to well, and it wasn't glitchy. There were definitely times it was very fun, and a few points that were kind of scary, which I wasn't expecting. The scary parts didn't necessarily pay of in the end, but in the moment they worked. I would have preferred a little more tomb raiding, less of the gunfights that go on forever. They include all these little Easter eggs to encourage us to explore, but I found myself hesitant because I didn't want to spend five minutes fending off waves of bad guys just to find a vase or a GPS waypoint.

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