2014: January Wrap Up

As people already know, I love doing the top ten end of year lists for things like films and games (probably extending to books this year too). The problem is that by the time December comes around, I’ve forgotten the first half of the year amidst the Christmas rush. The lists tend to skew towards things released at the end of the year. This started out as notes for myself to keep track of what I’ve read, watched, and played, but with a bit of sprucing up I saw no reason to not post them here. That said, they may still be a bit rough around the edges in places, with some of them based more in emotional responses than any sort of reviewing metric. Still, I think it’s interesting enough to warrant a monthly post.

Books

Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

Fuck yeah, Gentleman Bastards! I loved the Lies of Locke Lamora, but everyone worried me a bit by saying Red Seas didn’t live up to it. By my reckoning, they were way off. Red Seas took all the stuff I loved about the first one, and added pirates into the mix, for an entire cocktail of awesome. Two books in and I fucking love this series. Now to anxiously await the paperback release of the Republic of Thieves, just so I can finish it in three sittings then cry that book four is taking too long.

The Cormorant – Chuck Wendig

Before I got onto the Cormorant, I had to reread Blackbirds and Mockingbird. Hardly an imposition, those books are tight as anything, and so much fun. But would it really be such a bad idea for book sequels to include a “Previously on…” bit like TV shows do?

Anyway, in many ways the Cormorant is more a direct sequel to Blackbirds than Mockingbird was. You know how Batman Begins and the Dark Knight Rises are both about the League of Shadows, and the Dark Knight is like this cool standalone story in the middle? It’s a bit like that. Only the Cormorant is easily the best of the three books so far, rather than dropping the ball like Nolan did there. And I guess that’s as big a compliment as I can give. Any book that reminds me of how much I loved Blackbirds while managing to be better than it has to be pretty great. I finished it in three sittings, so if you see me, expect to see me crying that book four is taking too long.

The Explorer and the Echo – James Smythe

I read both of James Smythe’s sci-fi books back to back, and that was a terrible idea. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great. But they’re depressing. The Explorer started out as sort of what would happen if David Lynch wrote a movie like Sunshine, but by the end I found myself thinking more and more of Cormac McCarthy. Either way, this series is great so far, just genuinely solid, honest to god sci-fi. Despite them being soul shattering experiences, I’m super excited for the next two to come out just to learn more about the anomaly. But next time I won’t be in such a rush to read them back to back. I need something a bit happier for the time being.

Films

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

What a fun film. I had low expectations, given that the quality of the franchise before this one was shaky at best (with 1 and 3 being solid, but 2 and 4 being awfully boring), and when was the last time a spin off was as good as a main sequel? But with several fun callbacks to the series mythology, and one of the craziest endings I’ve seen in a long time, I did really enjoy The Marked Ones.

The other thing I found agreeable was the use of LA’s large Latino population as more than just a prop. Normally when a Latino character shows up in a horror film, it’s inevitably an old woman, who’s either a maid or babysitter, who quits or is fired after figuring out that shit’s going down and starts mumbling in Spanish while drawing crosses on herself. The Marked Ones focused on a Latino family in their entirety and didn’t use any of them as caricatures to tell someone else’s story. Good job guys. Paranormal Activity 5 has a lot to live up to now.

American Hustle

I’ve never seen a David O Russell film until this one, and I’m not really sure what all the hype is about. I’ve admittedly warmed to American Hustle quite a bit since I first saw it, and my opinion might improve further on later viewings, but it is a bit overlong and a bit pretentious. Almost like Russell bought into his own hype and made the feature film equivalent of masturbating at a mirror.

That all said, it all looks period appropriate, it’s often funny, and the cast really is excellent. Any scene with Louis C.K is a highlight, Christian Bale proves why he’s one of the best actors of his generation, Jennifer Lawrence is delightfully wrong, and even Bradley Cooper gives a career best performance. It just didn’t come together for me like it apparently did for the Academy Award nomination committee.

TV

WWE

I swore I was going to wait until I’m not angry any more before even considering writing this section, but I’ve waited a while now and I don’t think this is going away any time soon. Back in July for SummerSlam, I marked out alongside everyone else when Daniel Bryan took the clean win over John Cena for the WWE Championship, then felt deflated as it was taken away by the new alliance of Triple H and Randy Orton.

I watched for months as Bryan was screwed over again and again, staying optimistic that something was coming soon. They had to be building towards something huge, right? And what’s bigger than Wrestlemania 30? I went to bed Sunday safe in the idea that Bryan would win the Royal Rumble and go on to finally claim his victory over Orton at Wrestlemania. Only for that hope to finally be taken away when they didn’t even enter him in the match.

What the fuck, WWE? Do you hate your audience? Remember when everyone used to tune in back in the late 90’s and early 00’s? It wasn’t to watch our favourite get fucked every episode, it was to see how Stone Cold Steve Austin got one over on Vince McMahon every week. It is very hard to keep cheering and stay optimistic about the babyface underdog when he’s allowed no real victories. The most organic pops since the Attitude Era and they are being squandered so we can see the belt on fucking Batista? Fuck you guys, this one hurt.

There’s still time to fix this, and there are at least two ways I can think of. The first is my less preferable option. Have the Elimination Chamber match in February made up of Randy Orton, John Cena, Roman Reigns (who is going from strength to strength by the way, and who I’m basically watching for at this point), CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and someone else. Point is, Bryan goes on to take the victory, take the title, and finish out Wrestlemania by defending his title against Batista.

The second option is how I would book it. Now there is only one title, there’s not really a need for Money in the Bank to have its own pay per view. Move that match back to Wrestlemania. Hell, open the show with it. Give Bryan the win. And then after Batista takes the title from Orton after a 20 minute battle that the crowd falls asleep in (because Orton and Batista… come on), have Bryan close the show by cashing in that briefcase and taking it. That is how you close Wrestlemania and get those fans back.

But none of this will happen. Giving Batista the title is a purely business driven decision, because he can take it everywhere while he promotes Guardians of the Galaxy. But here’s the thing. Those general people have already made their minds up about wrestling. Seeing the belt on Jimmy Fallon or whatever will not change their minds. And now with the new Network launching, WWE is in the precarious position of their most hardcore fans not wanting to buy into it for fear of being disappointed for another six months. Throw us a bone guys, give Bryan something. It’s what’s best for business.

American Horror Story: Coven

People seem to either love or hate AHS, but I find myself firmly in the former camp. I’ll grant that the detractors are right, the show does have problems, notably with plot and pacing. But at the same time, it’s all so crazy and unpredictable week to week that I just can’t help but be swept up in it all. The anthology format helps to keep it fresh, and there is maybe only one other show on right now that I’m as excited to see come back next season.

Hannibal

This is that other show. I came to Hannibal late, getting the blu-ray set for Christmas and devouring the entire season this month. I was nervous going in, expecting a CSI style procedural that just happened to feature the characters of Red Dragon. But, like Dr Lecter himself, the show was not exactly what it seemed on the surface, evolving instead to be more of a character based drama with procedural elements to support its overall arc.

Given how the status quo is currently a reversal of the classic Red Dragon situation, I can’t wait to see how it continues to unravel over the next 13 episodes, and hopefully beyond.

Video Games

Need For Speed Rivals

Had I played it in time, Rivals would have likely made my top ten list for 2013, somewhere around the 6 or 7 mark. The mechanics are tight, the events are fun, and it looks gorgeous. The only thing really holding it back from being truly great is the lack of a solid single player mode divided from the multiplayer. Sure, I can set it to single player, but how about giving me the option to pause? Still, this is a solid base for them to iterate on for the next one. If there is a next one.

The Saboteur

After finishing up Rivals, I wanted another game to really sink my teeth into and ended up coming back to the Saboteur. I’ll be honest, it’s not great. The story is a bit cliché, the voice acting is atrocious, and characterisation is non-existent. But it kept me entertained, and I do love the idea of WW2 being used as a backdrop to tell a pulp story about racecar drivers (one of whom is a Nazi torturer, go figure). It’s dumb in the best way, and I’m glad I put the time in to give it another playthrough before I dive fully into the new console generation later this year.

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