I probably played more video games this year than ever before—which is fitting for a year that literally began with my sudden realization last Christmas that a new Telltale Walking Dead game was probably due out soon. Seconds later, I discovered via Telltale's twitter account that the new season was indeed due THE NEXT DAY—but only for Xbox One, which we hadn't yet bothered to upgrade to. Cut to: me 10 seconds later, flying into the living room, breathlessly shoving my laptop in front of Mr. Pink, the twitter post center-screen, repeating "we have to get an Xbox One" over and over until he finally grasped the meaning of the words coming out of my mouth.
This supernatural teenage adventure/mystery game felt more true to my teenage interactions than any other game or TV show that's attempted to trigger the same nostalgia. Imagine "Stand by Me" or "The Goonies" with a female lead, or "Stranger Things" without Eleven (though that would be a sad, sad Stranger Things indeed).
Anyway, the dialog feels real and the characters seem familiar. Even the plot is weirdly nostalgic—a group of friends plan a weekend camping party on an abandoned island, where supernatural mysteries and existential fuckery ensue, accompanied by the expected interpersonal drama and hair-trigger loyalty-switching we all knew and loved in high school. The repetition of running and climbing all over the quasi-arcade style 2D+ map or whatever they call it is occasionally tedious, but the eerie island is full of interesting details and every screen is beautifully rendered.
Dialog is half the battle, just like in a Telltale Game, but the rhythm and pacing of conversation is totally different, more natural, e.g., you can interrupt and talk over each other if you want to. I didn't test it thoroughly, but it seemed like the more you did it, your interactions with that character actually changed, so how and when you speak have as much impact as what you actually say. The quality of your relationships, of course, factor heavily into the final outcome of the game, as much as your concrete decisions and actions.
This is one of the most original games I've ever seen, basically a quasi "open world" where a young woman, the last living member of a large family, returns to her childhood home to unearth the life/death stories of her family members. You walk the grounds of the sprawling house—kind of a whimsical, Pacific Northwest version of the Winchester Mystery House—and you know that every tale ends in tragedy, so it's not a rescue mission—you're just there for closure.
The most memorable thing about this game is the house itself—an incredible labyrinth of rooms lined with bookshelves and picture windows, hidden ladders and secret passageways. Every inch of wall space is covered with framed photos, posters, artwork, instruments, toys and other memorabilia mirroring the personalities of the house's former inhabitants. Something about it feels familiar in a weird, subliminal way, like that scene in Dreamcatcher (shout out to the 12 people who've seen it) where you see the guy's mental library and it's this incredibly elaborate crowded spiral tower lined with bookshelves and filing cabinets and secret side rooms (and if you're like me, but the version that could stand to live in the country, it starts to look like the perfect fixer-upper with enough space for you and all your friends and family to live happily ever after... You know, if it wasn't, like, cursed).
My favorite room was one shared by two young brothers; one half decorated in a space theme and the other like the tree fort of a boy scout or army ranger. The room is divided down the middle with a velvet museum rope, with built-in staircases traversing behind each bed leading to separate lookout towers. One looks like a log tree house and the other like the control panel of a space capsule. You can imagine the two boys facing off, crouched in their separate towers, each in their own fantasy, but playing together.
Some of the stories are brief and poignant, others maddeningly repetitive—like life, I suppose. Each story takes you into a game-within-a-game where the dynamics, controls and objectives are totally different. In one, you climb out a bedroom window onto the branches of a tree to chase a bird. The object of the game takes a darker turn once you catch it. In the most frustrating chapter, you're a toddler in the bath and your mother leaves the room to answer the phone; you can't stand up or move on your own. You pull both triggers and mash all the buttons on your controller trying to figure out what will hasten your escape, growing ever-more impatient to bring about the little fucker's watery demise already. After 20 minutes of ineffectual splashing, I finally gave up and started fresh the next day.
In the end, I'm not sure what the point of the game was, or even if it was genuinely fun... There are even a couple of mysteries teased throughout the game only to be yanked away before we can discover the truth behind them. (The game developer has said he doesn't think video games are the proper medium for telling narrative stories.) But as an experiment in disorientation and for the sheer weirdness and beauty of the visuals, it's definitely worth the day or two it takes to play it.
Playing this game is a lot like watching Game of Thrones in that major characters can die gruesomely at any moment. Replay from the start of the chapter as often as you like, there's nothing you can do about it. Of the five members of the fictional "Forrester" clan you play in this game, the one I found the most tense was the young girl who's a handmaid to Margaery Tyrell at King's Landing. Trying to navigate the backstabbing, treacherous politics of life at court, being polite to everyone without getting caught between two competing egos, and sucking up enough (but without arousing suspicion) to both Margaery and Circe (often at the same time!), all while trying to subtly promote your family's business interests so they don't lose their lands (and probably lives), all without trusting the wrong man's offer to help and getting yourself beheaded. I played through her final chapter three times and never made it out with my head attached. When you're watching the show, your favorite character might have their head crushed by a zombie knight, but at least you never have to make a final life or death decision between two characters you've grown attached to. That's a special gift that only Telltale Games can deliver.
It took us halfway into the second chapter to come to terms with the fact that Clementine is not a playable character, except in a couple of brief flashbacks where you learn the unfortunate events that took place after Season Two, depending on whether you ended up with Kenny or Jane or alone in the wilderness with baby Alvin. The new characters are interesting and their (inevitable?) ;) deaths are tragic, but season three didn't come close to provoking the kind of emotional attachment and devastation the first two seasons have become famous for. One more season to go... Telltale announced that the first chapter of season four is coming in early 2018 with Clementine once again in the lead. I'm already bracing myself for lasting trauma...
In this game from 2014, you are Ronan, a tattooed bad boy cop who dies and has to solve his own murder. The setting is a fictional Salem, famous for its history of witch trials and executions, which leads to a wide-ranging investigation of a serial killer somehow connected to a series of historic murders from the 1600s. You investigate corrupt, dangerous cops within your department and enlisting the help of the daughter of a police psychic who's gone missing. To further complicate matters, there are constant flashbacks and clues about the recent murder of your wife, who we learn about—and about Ronan himself—through her many diary entries and letters found scattered throughout the game.
The city streets are overlaid with ghostly buildings, old shipwrecks, a crumbling quarantine hospital from some ancient epidemic, etc. In fact, the first thing you notice is that half the buildings are either partially or completely on fire, but a ghostly blue fire indicating a long-ago catastrophe that's imprinted itself and will forever be a part of the building's sense memory—cool, no? I mean, think of how many cities have been burned to the ground and rebuilt—Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle... um, pretty much all of Europe? Just imagine what you'd see if you walked through any of those cities with "ghost cop vision." Lots of ghosts, sure—but also ghost fires, floods, plagues, wars... skyscrapers. (Ooh.)
So of course, the streets are also lousy with ghosts, some recently dead, some ancient, some mere outlines that flicker and vanish as you get close, and some that engage you, entreating your help to solve the mystery of their death or to convey a final message so their souls can finally rest and move on. Some want to share their story of pain and regret, but there's nothing you can do for them—their punishment is being trapped in this parallel realm forever. So the game is full of deep, interesting concepts like that, and yet those are all peripheral to your actual objective: solve your murder and those of several girls whose ghosts and gruesome deaths you encounter along the way. Oh yeah—and find the teenage girl's mother... and your wife's killer. And probably some other things I'm forgetting.
You're constantly finding clues, picking up bits of paper and unearthing endless fragments of side mysteries, and it's not always clear what's relevant to your objective. Normally, I'd say if it's in the game, you should pick it up and solve the mystery, but there are just so fucking many, you get to the point where you're like, ugh, I don't have time to deal with this century-old cold case! Every person you pass on the street is a potentially "playable" character in that you can "possess" them temporarily and hear their thoughts (although this gets old quickly, since most people tend to be thinking incredibly inane, mundane things—commentary from the developers?). Sometimes you can use people to "hide" from nearby demons or to get by obstacles that you can't go through as a ghost—ghost fire, ghost walls, etc.—also, there are deadly obstacles that the living can't see, like demon lava pools and smoking geysers that erupt from the floor.
There are so many little details about this game that made it fun to play, like this trick you don't learn until halfway through where you can "teleport" through holes in walls and up to high places you couldn't reach otherwise. It's actually so much fun I quit walking in most cases after I learned to teleport. And then there's "cat mode!" You can "possess" a cat just like a person, and it enables you to get into places you otherwise can't. Running and jumping around as the cat is so much more fun than you'd think—best of all, the fucking demons don't detect you when you're in the cat. But you can't stay there forever. At some point you have to figure out how to kill enough of them to escape the areas where they cluster. They're creepy as fuck and a huge pain to kill, but it's very satisfying when you finally do. I wish more games were like this.
Best Infographics of 2017
Debt in America: An Interactive Map (Are you thinking you want to see the county-by-county map of the 2016 election results overlaid onto this map? Yeah, but do you really need to..?)
A dynamic graph of 446 of the most common occupations in the US and their median salaries for women vs. men in the same job. In 439 of those jobs, men make more than women. The highest paying job (surgeons and physicians) also has one of the biggest pay gaps (64%).
And last but not least, as midnight ticks ever closer... I wouldn't want to end this year on a low note, so I will share one of the things that brought me the most irrational happiness this year (aforementioned games, friends, family and pets not included). It's called awesome people hanging out together and it's exactly that.
If you are somehow unmoved by seeing a photo of Willy Nelson and John Belushi smoking a joint while pinky swearing with a Hell's Angel, or Prince letting Muhammed-The-motherfucking-Greatest-Ali touch his hair, then I just... I mean... what the hell...
<sigh> Okay. If that's the case I have one more thing for you, but it's only for the most extreme cases of existential dread and ennui. For those times, which I hope for your sake are few and far between, I'll leave you with animals sitting on capybaras. You're welcome and Happy New Year.
Welcome to part three of the 2017 List of Lists, where we'll talk about our favorite new websites this year, other lists we like, our heroes of 2017 and some things that slipped through the cracks in our previous lists, starting with....
Two Films I Totally Forgot I Saw in 2017
One Thumbs Up T2: Trainspotting (or Trainspotting: 2017) definitely earned a spot on my top movies of 2017 list, despite it seeming like a potential minefield of Gen X nostalgic self-indulgence. I may have even opined, before deciding to see it after initial reviews came back overwhelmingly positive, that I couldn't imagine anything more depressing than a middle-aged sequel to Trainspotting. See, I can admit when I'm wrong! And I can, in fact, imagine a lot of things that are far more depressing. T2: Trainspotting, despite the irritating name, is actually a really enjoyable movie, in which the lovably degenerate junkies we met in the grungy, nihilistic '90s are pulled wet, naked, bloodied and screaming into the shiny, gentrified, dystopian hellscape that is present day Edinburgh—social networking, hookup apps and hipster culture, but also nostalgic narcissism, mansplaining and Gen-Xceptionalism are equally reviled and reveled in.
One thumb wavering in perfect equilibrium for a long time which, in a weird "Inception" homage, will probably, eventually... Alien: Covenant. It's actually very revealing that I put together my entire year-end list of movies, posted it, scanned through several other lists on IMBD, NBC, Kottke and the AV Club before I remembered, a week later, that a motherfucking "Alien" sequel came out this year! It's a sad, sad day when I, who for better or worse can always be counted on to drop an "Aliens" quote into conversation, often for the flimsiest of reasons, should find myself at the end of the year not just unable to recall that a perfectly passable sequel was released, but then, having been reminded, having to rack my brain to remember a single detail of it.
Alien: Covenant was met with a near-universal lack of derision, unlike its immediate predecessor; critics found it coherent and competently constructed—even fans, almost without exception, found it preferable to Prometheus. I mean, compared to the howls of outrage and incomprehension that greeted that film in 2012, this one was an unmitigated triumph. Sigh.
(And that's all I have to say about that.)
[The poster is fucking EPIC though.]
Best Websites I Discovered in 2017
I was exhibiting symptoms of an iTunes-induced stress disorder until Stitcher saved me.
Spoiler-Free Interactive Game of Thrones Character Map
This is the 2017 version of the incredibly helpful HBO site I discovered last year that gives late arrivals to "The Wire" party (who are still arriving 10 years after the series ended) a season-by-season character cheat sheet. In a similar spirit, this brilliantly conceived, fanatically detailed map of Westeros caters equally to n00bs, who are still struggling to differentiate King's Landing from Castle Black, and super fans who are still struggling to make sense of the travel time between Westeros and Essos and all parts in between, by sea or by land, or if Season 7 really did throw all that out the window. (Heh.) To avoid spoilers, simply adjust the slider at the top to wherever you are in the story, choose "chapters" or "episodes" (book or TV show). Then you can zoom in and out of the various locales, turn family crests and place names on or off and use the check boxes to turn on the travel paths of individual characters to see the path their story line has followed—again, based on how much you've watched (or read) so far. So, for example, below is Brienne of Tarth's character path through the end of season four. Pretty cool, no? The only thing missing is Street View. Heh.
Remember those delightful Mad Men screen shots with funny things written on them? Well, this site is like that but with funny things written on photos of those awful architectural symbols of the Pluto in Sagittarius era (1995-2008) of real estate speculation, stock market deregulation and conspicuous consumption—essentially the home equivalent of Hummer limousines. Anyway, if the examples below aren't enough to entice you to her site, she also posts delightful things like this exhaustively researched investigation into the furniture buying and home decorating habits of the first family to dwell in her new home, a 1900-era row house in a swiftly gentrifying Baltimore neighborhood. Her wit and her dedication to unearthing the details make it as charming and informative as any Ken Burns documentary. (She was also very gracious when I wrote to ask her permission to post these photos.)
Heroes of 2017
TIME's Person of the Year came out this past week and I was surprised to see The Silence Breakers, which on its face might suggest something about how cynical or out of touch I am, but given TIME's abysmal record over the last 90 years of recognizing either women or social change, perhaps it's understandable. The Silence Breakers article seems pretty thorough and well-written—and, notably, the byline consists of three women, with additional research credits at the end to several more women.
While TIME is making up for lost, uh, heh. Anyway, I realize that my lists of "heroes" in previous years haven't exactly not been a boys' club... ahem, almost an exclusive one with a stereotypical "no girls allowed" sign on the door, complete with the backwards "S." I mean, those boys were all very deserving, I assure you, but in the spirit of Edward Snowden, who tweeted this in response to fellow whistle blower Chelsea Manning's sentence being commuted:
1. Chelsea Manning, the US Army whistle-blower, was released from prison in May. She served seven years in a high-security military prison (during which time she attempted suicide at least twice) before her 35-year sentence was commuted by President Obama as one of his final acts in office. I'm looking forward to seeing what this bright, brave and—ahem, ballsy (and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word) young woman will do now that she's got a platform for life and, for better or worse, the kind of fame it would be impossible to shake even if she wanted to. She obviously has a lot to say, and world leaders would do well to pay attention because, as you can tell from articles like this one published in the Guardian in 2014, she has a remarkable ability to see the big picture in terms of military strategy.
"When it comes to regional insurgency with global implications, Isis leaders are canny strategists. It's clear to me that they have a solid and complete understanding of the strengths and, more importantly, the weaknesses of the west. They know how we tick in America and Europe – and they know what pushes us toward intervention and overreach... Unfortunately, when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage, recruitment, organizing and even more fighting that goes back decades. This is exactly what happened in Iraq during the height of a civil war in 2006 and 2007, and it can only be expected to occur again."
— Chelsea Manning
2. Miss Peru 2017 contestants, who used their platform to publicize national crime statistics against women.
3. Sarah Silverman, host of the new extremely funny and timely show, "I Love You, America"
"Some people need Hell. If you're the type of guy who sees a hooker in an alleyway and instinctively thinks, 'Hey, now there's something I could rape and kill without any consequences,' then the concept of Hell might really keep you out of trouble."
"Relations between black and white would be greatly improved if we were more accepting of our fears and our feelings and more vocal about it... I have no right to talk about race. I'm white; I didn't grow up in an all-black neighborhood. But the license I see for myself is I'm a member of the world."
— Sarah Silverman
3. Amy Goodman, This year and every year, the Democracy Now creator and host is our last best hope for journalism in an era of fake news.
4. Rob Stewart, who died in a scuba diving accident in the Florida Keys this past January while filming the follow-up to his devastating 2006 documentary "Sharkwater."
"What we really need is education, because in every other crisis we've ever faced, once people knew the real situation they took the right moral action. This is what has to happen now, and I do believe it's possible. But it will be an act of revolution, because we don't just have to change the world, we have to change the way we think."
"All the traditional models for doing things are collapsing; from music to publishing to film, and it's a wide open door for people who are creative to do what they need to do without having institutions block their art." — Ava DuVernay
I don't know how relevant or persistent the friendship network types continue to be after college, but I did find it interesting to think about people I've known whose friend "networks" match these three types. Mr. Pink for example, is totally a compartmentalizer, both in school and now. I'm definitely a sampler and always have been, with the exception of a very brief period in high school when I was fortunate enough to have, heh, a sort of "posse." (You know... a little one.)
In conclusion, the study found that "Compartmentalizers find balance in social and academic involvement from different clusters, and Samplers appear academically successful, but often feel socially isolated."
To which my only question would be, what do they mean by "appear" academically successful? I bet this study was conducted by a bunch of tight-knitters. <scoff>
Ten All-Female Reboots They Should Make Before the Bandwagon Stops Rolling
Despite the vehement anti-Ghostbusters backlash that started with the mere release of the trailer in 2016, it doesn't seem like this trend for remaking male-centric classics with all-female casts is going away any time soon. To wit: Oceans 8.
(All photos from IMDB.)
The cast alone should guarantee an audience for that one, but just consider the enormous pressures the studio is under to pull this off, after the year Hollywood has had (as have we all). If they do, it's a safe bet we'll be deluged with estrogen-fortified reboots for the foreseeable future—I mean unless LOL you think Hollywood's suddenly going to start throwing money at creative outsiders with original ideas?
So, I'd better get this list posted before they announce pre-production on literally all of these as yet totally speculative all-female remakes...
1. Glen Garry Glen Ross
2. The Usual Suspects
3. Lord of the Flies
4. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
5. The Outsiders
6. Stand By Me
7. Reservoir Dogs
8. Dr. Strangelove/Fail-safe
9. A Clockwork Orange
10. 12 Angry Men
How much fun would it be to cast that last one? I might just have to fantasy-football this one out myself... So without further ado, complete with juror numbers and character descriptions from the original 1957 film, the full cast list from both the original and the 1997 remake, side-by-side with my picks for an all-female version. All the names are linked to IMDB profiles. But wait—I know what you're thinking: "This is great but who the hell is Jack Klugman? Couldn't you add tiny head shots of all the cast members? What the hell else are you doing over your Christmas break?"
Mm-hm, I feel ya. So you can click the photo above or right here for a PDF version with thumbnail images. Merry Christmas and lo siento (but not that sorry!) about the poor resolution. Now we just need a name for this remake—I mean nobody's going to go see a movie called "12 Angry Women," right? Then again, maybe that's just pre-2017 thinking on my part....
1. Self-Reflected, above, Basal Ganglia and Brainstem, by Dr. Greg Dunn (artist and neuroscientist) and Dr. Brian Edwards (artist and applied physicist). "Self-Reflected offers an unprecedented insight of the brain into itself, revealing through a technique called reflective microetching the enormous scope of beautiful and delicately balanced neural choreographies designed to reflect what is occurring in our own minds as we observe this work of art." Visit their website to see more images and watch this incredible video about how and why they created them.
2. Grenfell Tower. Burning debris falls from the Grenfell Tower during the deadly June 14 fire that killed 71 people. (Guilhem Baker) Also, watch the cell phone video taken by firefighters en route to the blaze, which captured their unguarded reactions as they caught their first glimpse of the already fully-engulfed building (hint: disbelief and a lot of swearing). FF#1: "It's 'Towering Inferno,' innit?" FF#2: "How the fuck does that even happen?!"
3. Alaska Airlinestweeted this photo of the August 21 eclipse taken from 35,000 feet. (Alaska Airlines)
4. Coffey Parksubdivision in Santa Rosa, CA before and after wildfires swept through the area on October 9. (Google Earth, left and California Highway Patrol, right).
5. January in Washington, DC. Witches prepare to protest the clown in chief's inauguration.
6. Inauguraton Day 2017 vs. 2009. A comparison of the National Mall showing crowds in attendance for President Donald Trump (left) and President Barack Obama in 2009 (right). (Reuters)
7. The Vancouver Public Library's bathrooms have taken a political stance, and I for one love them for it (so much so that I took this picture of a public bathroom door).
8. The Penthouse (Vancouver, BC) always has one finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist. (Bonus: I actually get the reference since we finally watched Game of Thrones this year!)
9. Justin Trudeau Descending a Staircase Carrying a Man in a Wheelchair—I've included the meta-commentary it came with on FB because it increases my enjoyment of it, almost exponentially.
1. VICE Party Legends
I can't get enough of these stupid videos. From Ninja the Cockney Rhyming Bro to Bobcat Goldthwait talking about touring with Nirvana and being dangled over the stage on a rope one New Year's Eve naked but for a pair of oversized angel wings. Jon Daly's is great too.
4. We Don't Talk About Kenny: Telltale's Walking Dead Season 2
A thorough psychological examination of the relationship between Clementine and her zombie apocalypse surrogate daddy #2 in Telltale Games' awesome The Walking Dead: Season Two game. Contains spoilers, so if you have yet to go through the emotional trauma of Season Two, don't watch this. Come back after you've played, though, to find out what your choices say about you. Are you well-adjusted or still a slave to your fucked-up childhood? This shit is real.
Daaaaang. The "More info" to this terrifying vision of the near-future says only: "If this isn't what you want, please take action at http://autonomousweapons.org/."
11. Sarah Silverman Sings a Country Song — I Love You, America
She's been one of my top five living comedians for a while now, but since we're not allowed to like Louis C.K. anymore, Sarah Silverman is now my official favorite. Who else is in my top five? Patton Oswalt, Margaret Cho, Ricky Gervais and... Louis C.K.? Not yet? Okay, Dave Chapelle.
This is both the best-written and the saddest article I read this year.
Two-sixty-six Franklin. Everyone in Worcester knew that building, if not by the address then by the shadow it had cast over downtown... It was a hulk of brick and mortar rising eighty-five feet above an old industrial park... Firefighters dreaded it because it sat there like a colossal chimney. No windows interrupted the endless rows of brick, save for a few tiny panes on the second floor, which meant there were no easy vents to bleed out heat and smoke and, if things got really hairy, no obvious escape hatches for anyone trapped inside. Hardly any of the firefighters had ever been in it, except for a few old-timers who'd cleaned up gas leaks or doused spot fires before the warehouse was abandoned in 1987 and, later, a captain named Robert A. Johnson, who got lost in a maze of meat lockers during a routine inspection. "Jesus," he had whispered to himself then. "We'd better never get a fire in here." Continue reading.
Yes, it's a rare (maybe even first) fiction entry on the ol' top ten articles list.
I am like everyone else: good at some things, bad at others. I am good at eating clementines. I am bad at drawing straight lines. I am good at drinking coffee. I would be bad at building a house. If someone asked me to build them a house, I would have to say no. Or I would say yes and worry they would not like the house I built. Why is the kitchen made of coffee filters, they'd say? Why are there no floors? And I'd say, I wish you hadn't asked me to build you a house. Continue reading.
Though it's now just 1:30 P.M., this will be Johnson's second workout of the day. We are both clad in black leggings, but his cling to the muscles of his calves like nightfall descending over a mountain range, and mine look more like two toilet-paper tubes painted black... At six feet four, Dwayne Johnson, while big, is not actually freakishly huge. It's his hands that translate him into something a shade more than human on-screen. They're enormous: tan and broad with flat, clean seashell pink nails. Each hand could comfortably lift an 8-year-old by the skull. Continue reading.
In January 2017, after being locked up at five different facilities, in conditions a United Nations expert called "cruel" and "inhumane," Manning had received a surprise commutation by President Barack Obama. Four months later, she was free, trying to adjust to life in a world she helped shape... Manning, who is 29, tapped an unplugged microwave next to the door and asked me to place my laptop inside: The Faraday cage in the microwave would block radio waves, she explained. But the unplugged microwave was already full of devices, including two Xbox controllers. "You can put it in the kitchen microwave," Manning said; then, intuiting the strangeness of the request, she added with a shrug, "You can't be too careful." Continue reading.
When he debuted in 1961, Ken (legal name: Ken Carson) was a spindly, anemic fan of casual swimwear. Over the years, he has blossomed into a sculpted, perma-tanned icon of American masculinity. Even if you never played with Ken, his tiny footfall has reverberated through your life; he charges in early in the formative years of the fairer sex, setting an impossible standard for males against which you will be judged forever. Ken is the first man—or, technically, eunuch—many little girls will ever see nude. Continue reading.
One of the most solid pieces of writing advice I know is in fact intended for dancers—you can find it in the choreographer Martha Graham'sbiography. But it relaxes me in front of my laptop the same way I imagine it might induce a young dancer to breathe deeply and wiggle their fingers and toes. Graham writes: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." Continue reading.
Since 1999, two hundred thousand Americans have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Many addicts, finding prescription painkillers too expensive or too difficult to obtain, have turned to heroin. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four out of five people who try heroin today started with prescription painkillers. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that a hundred and forty-five Americans now die every day from opioid overdoses. Continue reading.
Best Comic Book Panel of 2017
Anyone who read Saga Vol. 7 will think I'm going to say page four (or is it three?), but... heheh, nope, it's not that one! It's from Brian K. Vaughn's The Private Eye (click to enlarge).
[Photo: "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life." —This advertisement was briefly emblazoned on city buses in a suburb of Vancouver a couple of years ago. Apparently there were complaints(?!) and it was pulled from circulation, but still. EPIC WIN.]
Welcome to the most anticipated (by me) blogging event of the year... my 10th annual (!!) List of Lists. Can you believe I've been doing this for a decade? I know it seems like longer, but that could just be the "2017 effect" skewing our perspective. This time dilation has been widely reported since the 2016 election, just ask anyone at NPR or YouTube (or I don't know—where do you get your news these days?). Anyway, I for one am not complaining about time passing (or seeming to pass) more slowly, which can only be a good thing even if the reason it's happening is that the world has gone insane. Yes, it means terrible things are happening with appalling frequency but humans are quick to adapt, desensitizing with greater speed and efficiency after every breaking-news story about mass shootings, government malfeasance and formerly trusted public figures falling from grace.
9. innovative sadistic bicycle theft prevention devices (I don't even own a bike. I just love this idea of booby-trapping/rigging up a theft-protection device designed not to deter (because nothing does), but to gravely injure or maim a perpetrator who tries to remove the lock or carry the bike away—something like a chain lock wrapped in razor wire or a seat that the owner, when leaving the bike unattended, could easily replace with a long, sharpened spike to deter (or emasculate) any unauthorized riders. Can you dig it?)
10. amazing ad exec objective statement html5 more less confident (I will never fucking know where I found this site, but it was amazing. Sigh...)
11. how did pirates keep their flags and sails black (again, no good results found)
Five Things that Blew My Mind in 2017
1. Lemming mass suicide is a pernicious myth, perpetuated by the horrifically unethical producers of a 1970s nature doc called "White Wilderness." A Disney nature doc... Shame. Shame.
2. Harvey Weinstein? Harvey Fierstein? Two totally different people. Apparently I'm not alone in this.
3. Wealth inequality has increased dramatically over the last 30 years, with median white household wealth nearly 10 times that of median black and Latino households.
4. When typing emoticons/emojis, men tend to add a nose :-) while women do not ;) and there are major differences between eastern and western interpretations of facial features. Table flip is by far my favorite emoticon now. (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻
6. This entire interview between Joe Rogan and world-renowned mycologist (or "mushroom doctor," as they'd call him if he was a character on "Zoo") Paul Stamets is just one mind-blowing revelation after another.
Worst Idea of 2017
How to pick just one..?? But let's just start with Lyrebird, the evaluation demo app brought to you by the same folks who inflicted Facebook and Twitter on us. The app records one minute of a user's voice and uses it to create a "Digital Voice" which can be used for any number of purposes, e.g., reading audiobooks or "tweets" out loud, creating a video game avatar with your voice or—and this is from their FAQs—"Freeze movie actor's voices to make them available forever even if they age or die." Yeah... there's nothing creepy AF about that. I bet they wish they'd invented it in time to vocally clone Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles and—aww, Jimmy Stewart. (Have they considered the implications for voice impressionists? Here we go—AI is stealing all the good jobs.) Some technologies are just so batshit and ripe for abuse, their creators are at a loss when tasked with setting the public's fears to rest, that they end up saying things like this on their "Ethics" pages: "Imagine that we had decided not to release this technology at all. Others would develop it and who knows if their intentions would be as sincere as ours." Well shit, since you put it that way.
Whatever you were looking for doesn't currently exist at this address. Unless you were looking for this error page, in which case: Congrats! You totally found it.
Best 404 Page: Design
From the menu at Dark Table restaurant (Vancouver's best and only destination for blind dining):
"We try our best to accommodate all allergies. However, given the nature of our concept, no request is 100% guaranteed."
1. S-Town (This is the first podcast I've ever heard that made me think, god, I would love to see a film adaptation of this—or a documentary, or even a graphic novel. Hey, I think Brian K. Vaughn has some spare time! LOL)
2. My Favorite Murder (SSDGM*)(*stay sexy & don't get murdered)
3. Audio drama: Steal the Stars
4. Audio drama: Life / After
5. Audio drama: Ars Paradoxica (OMG, could fiction be the new nonfiction?)
6. 2 Dope Queens
7. Anne Ortley's Weekly Weather
8. You Must Remember This
9. The Smartest Man in the World
10. Planet Waves FM
Best Movies of 2017
1. Blade Runner 2049
2. Get Out (Bonus "best" moment after the lights came up: watching an entire theater full of "woke" Vancouverites trying their damnedest to avoid making accidental super-awkward sympathetic eye contact with the ONE black guy in the audience.)
4. Wonder Woman
Best Movies of 2016 that I finally saw in 2017
2. Hidden Figures
3. The Girl With All the Gifts (Best quote: "It's not over. It's just not yours any more.*")
(See also: Westworld, Episode 10, "The End of Men" by Hannah Rosen and the US Presidential election. 2016 will go down as the year we predicted "The End of Men" one year too soon.)
Best Movie from a Previous Decade That I Finally Saw This Year
The Descent (2005)
I would love to tell you that 12 years late to a party is an all-time record for me, but who would I be kidding? I would also like to thank this movie for introducing me to the second-most useless Netflix feature, the "request a title" online chat functionality, which allows you to connect with a customer service representative—in real time—to ask for a TV series or movie that you've been unable to find in their catalog. This allows them to ask you to wait while they re-check their catalog (because searching is apparently something they don't trust their customers to have mastered by adulthood) and come back a few minutes later confirming that they don't have it, but they'll try to obtain it at some future date, so keep checking for it. In my case, he added, "I've watched this movie before and honestly it's one of the few that scared me, so I get why you want to see it." This all but guaranteed that I would not, in fact, keep checking back because I have mastered the basic skill of searching, so I was watching it ten minutes later on another site. (It's great, btw—you should totally watch it!)
Best TV Shows of 2017
Game of Thrones (It's like with The Wire. Everyone recommended it to us for so long and we were always like, Look, we tried watching the first episode. We get it— beheadings, incest, fancy dresses, it's just not really our thing. Well. We gave it another try this summer and—okay, fiiiiiine. Yes, yes, we love it already. You can go ahead with your season 7 spoilers........ wait... Okay, now. Sigh... ugh, I miss it already.)
This show is so weird and great, it's like someone bet the showrunner he couldn't spin an entire series out of the epic YouTube parody, What if Wes Anderson Directed The X-Men? Only he got the last laugh because Legion is fucking awesome. It also felt somehow more like my experience of reading Marvel comics as a kid/teenager than most of the movies that have been made about my favorite characters—with the exception, of course, of Logan (maybe it's all those consonants they have in common).
Speaking of Marvel characters I enjoyed as a teenager but never thought I'd see onscreen (no, not Dazzler—the reason we won't see that onscreen is—well, are twofold. One, they would probably feel the need to modernize her and I don't have to tell you how much that would suck, unless they made her sort of an early Lady Gaga-style performance artist. (Hmm, actually...) and two, guys roughly my age are running Hollywood right now and every guy my age thought Dazzler was stupid.)
Anyway, earlier this year I somehow stumbled across the news that a Cloak & Dagger series is actually in development. Part of me (my inner 12 year old) was like <screech> OMG!! But the other part—the part that watched every episode of Iron Fist and 13 Reasons this year—is dreading the almost certain train wreck this story in particular could be in the wrong hands. It all depends on who's in charge and what message they decide will make Cloak & Dagger relevant and appropriate for the kids of 2018. And we have zero reasons to be optimistic about that. I mean, nostalgia aside, 1980s Cloak & Dagger was a 4-issue miniseries about two painfully two dimensional characters whose mutant powers are basically shorthand racial stereotypes. Tandy is rich and white with a neglectful father and Tyrone is poor and black but sweet—with a stutter (but wait, it gets better!). Through a series of unlucky accidents and foolish decisions, they end up meeting in a meat-packing district warehouse, where they've been kidnapped and injected with massive doses of some experimental drug by a shadowy cabal of evil men. Other unlucky teens are dying grisly, drug-induced deaths all around them, and soon they're the only survivors. The drugs that killed the others trigger their latent mutant abilities which, through fate or happy accident, somehow mirror each other's in what kids today would call a kind of ultra-racially problematic symbiosis.
They manage to escape, swimming across the toxic wastewaters of the East River to safety, only to find that they can no longer return to their old lives. Their mutant powers make them effectively inseparable—in Tyrone's case anyway, because being apart from her for any length of time results in painful and increasingly dangerous withdrawal symptoms. She can generate daggers of light that either kill, maim or heal (him anyway), depending on what the situation calls for. He can transport himself, her and others within the fabric of his... uh, well, it's a big, black and blue striped blanket he found lying around the warehouse and wrapped himself in it the night they were kidnapped? Now he and it are inseparable and it's the magical portal he uses to teleport around the globe and absorb bad guys—I mean, he just wraps them in it and they disappear, forever. No one knows where they go, not even him. Is his body like a Portal ™ or Hell Mouth or gateway to Limbo or Purgatory or some other dimension where bad people go to be punished? Is he the Devil? He seems to think so, since of course he's one of a handful of inconveniently religious members of the Marvel Universe (see also Wolfsbane, Daredevil and Nightcrawler). Oh yeah, and then there's her costume. Not even going to go there.
So they're symbiotically bonded and teenage, so that's awkward, but not as much as you'd think. In real life, they'd probably just spend the next decade locked in a bedroom somewhere, but this is Marvel in the 80s, so of course he falls in love with her because—duh, she's rich, white and pretty—but she not so much with him. They're stuck with each other, though, because they're equally confused, alienated, emotionally stunted and damaged, and they pretty much stopped developing in any dimension that might make them interesting the night they get their powers. Over the next 30 years or so, they continued to pop up here and there to help Spider-Man or the X-Men save the day and then when they were asked to stick around, they'd give some lame speech about how they're "not heroes" before teleporting away to not have sex with each other.
So, yeah... the only thing worse than a horribly Nerfed™ Cloak & Dagger might just be a completely faithful rendering. I mean, how do you even craft plausible backstories in 2018 to set in motion the kidnapping, drug dealing, addiction, human trafficking and shadowy government experiments on society's disposable underclass? I guess you set it in 1984 like Stranger Things.
3. Better Call Saul 4. American Gods 5. Fargo
6. Narcos (The best entry in Netflix's endless roster of Pablo Escobar-related original programming co-stars Oberyn Martell (aww, yeah—shout out to those of you who know!) and his fabulous Burt Reynolds/Simon & Simon mustache. Benedict Cumberbatch can take a break now. I want to see Pedro Pascal cast in literally everything for the next ten years.) 7. iZombie 8. Ozark (Netflix proves once again that their algorithm-to-table creation formula still works!) 9. GLOW
10. Taboo 11. Wanted (AUS) 12. Stranger Things 13. Fear the Walking Dead (for the first half of season3, it was so much better than The Walking Dead... and then... well, it is The Walking Dead, so we're used to this.) 14. The Crown 15. The Keepers (Netflix documentary series)
In Memoriam: 3 Shows We Said Goodbye to in 2017
Bates Motel (RIP)
Sense8 (tragically/too soon)
House of Cards (Wow, I've never seen a show killed off by a 30-year old groping scandal before... but only because I'm not British—they're used to this sort of thing.)
And One I Hate-Watched Until the Bitter End
(AKA the "Scandal" Award)
13 Reasons I Can Never Remember the Full Name of This Piece of Shit Show
The utterly predictable meta-controversy; does it glamorize suicide/ is it too realistic/ will it trigger copycats/ are there enough trigger warnings/ should anyone who uses the phrase "trigger warnings" be taken outside and shot? The only argument no one made: it's just a fucking television show! The worse thing about this stupid, pretentious show isn't its predictable controversy-mongering or even the way it misguidedly bends over backwards with pre-episode trigger warnings and a "very special" post-post-mortem episode where the cast and showrunners humble-brag about how seriously they took their responsibility in covering such weighty topics and how much good they hoped/expected it would do. Meanwhile in the real world, their "unflinching" look at teens having non-consensual sex, drinking, driving recklessly, getting high (but not enjoying it), getting in fights and playing with guns, to say nothing of the actual graphic onscreen suicide—all the while seemingly bending over backwards not to offend or LOL "trigger" anyone—the show was all but blacklisted by concerned parents the instant it hit Netflix. The most offensive thing to them was the possibility that some fragile, impressionable handful of teens might actually be stupid enough to absorb the wrong takeaway and copycat-off themselves.
The only thing I found truly offensive (and yet, I'll just come right out and say, not unrealistic) is that the dead girl around whose suicide the story revolves, is such a fucking asshole. She starts out sympathetic enough—pretty, quirky, funny, creative, friendly to rich jocks and social outcasts alike—like a wannabe Veronica Mars, but unfortunately neither interesting nor genuinely interested in other people enough to investigate anything other than her own fragile psyche. As the indignities against her, both real and imagined, begin to pile up, she alienates and lies to every last one of her friends and ignores every overture by her really-not-all-that-bad parents, who are doing their best to muddle through financial troubles of their own. She wallows in self-pity, lashes out at well-meaning people and acts—or fails to act—in ways that make her character not just an incredibly annoying drama queen but a pathetic excuse for a human of any age. I mean, when she finds herself trapped in the bedroom of her former best friend at a party (where she had been wallowing in self-pity), she fully hides while her friend is raped by the show's cartoonishly irredeemable rich kid villain, who predictably later goes on to do the same thing to her (maybe because nobody bothered to, I don't know, tell the police or their parents or any-fucking-body after the first time he did it?). (#Me too!)
Of course, she doesn't see any of this as her fault (blaming the victim? No, I'm blaming the person who sat cowering a few feet away from the victim and then acted surprised when the guy kept getting away with it because clearly no one had any interest in stopping him, herself included). Of course, all these character flaws are projected onto everyone else as "reasons" to justify the final act of slicing her wrists in the bathtub (and leaving the water running—thanks, now your mother has to find you like that and probably replace the floor in the bathroom and the hallway?).
Ugh. Icing on the cake? She records 13 of the worst mix tapes ever (which most of her "friends" will have to listen to on the one old school Walkman borrowed/stolen from the only guy in school with access to pre-Information Age technology) and gives them to her friends (and some acquaintances that barely seem to qualify but I guess that's how many blank tapes she had) with elaborate instructions that they have to listen to all the tapes and then pass them to the next person so they can listen to her harangue them from beyond the grave, and repeat 12 more fucking times!!! Worst, longest after school special ever.
This isn't the first and, though he's been internet-silent over four years now, it probably won't be the Last time I give over the last word to the late-great Last Psychiatrist. He wrote this in response to a similar event IRL about rapist jocks at a high school party (Stuebenville, I think?).
"Every stupid parent teaches their girls not to get raped, duh, but have any mothers spent any time indoctrinating their daughters what to do if another woman is being raped? Have they made it a reflex to defend, to attack? "We need to support each other!" Sure, as long as it's from the safety of a computer monitor or a 5K, yay women. Have you explicitly told your daughters that if a woman is passed out drunk and you see a Notre Dame Hat climbing over her couch, it is your responsibility to grab an aerosol can and a lighter and threaten Armageddon, or at the very least yell stop? "Well, that's kind of dangerous." Yeah, that's kind of the point, but I grant you that it's safer to giggle and let boys be boys. Do you want power, or the trappings of power? Somebody's going to have it, you can't make it vanish. I wasn't at this particular rape, the town's defense amazingly appears to be she was a slut and she was asking for it, and my point is: so what? Why didn't the other women stop it anyway? Why didn't they just rise up?"