I’m going to.. handwave away the personal recap of 2017, because it’s just too much to think about/write/read. SO. Here’s STUFFS WHAT I LIKED, 2017 EDITION!!! And yeah, there’s a couple of days left in the year. But let’s be real. This is close enough.
I’ve seen 46 movies this year. I’d hoped to break 50. Being with Evan has meant a shift back to watching more movies (and really, just as much TV), which has been great – being in a long distance relationship sucks, but it’s great to be able to watch movies with each other over that distance. As far as new releases, we didn’t see a lot together, but there were some great movies out in cinemas this year. Highlights for me: The Big Sick, Get Out, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnorak, Logan, The Shape of Water. I think I need to revisit Blade Runner: 2049, but it might be on that list, too. Recent stuff that’s come out that I want to see, but am waiting for streaming release? Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are up there! I really did a lot more watching of 2016 and older stuff out of the batch of viewings this year. Best non-2017 one I saw? Probably Hush, or the Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
This was the year of new Twin Peaks, so that’s got to be my first mention out of the gate. Oh how I had waited – most of the time, not knowing it’d come. Some of the time itching to have it here. It was a strange ride, full of mystery and horror and humour and nostalgia and straight up weird shit. Can’t wait to go back and rewatch. PS. Thanks for being the reason I got to know Evan better.
Notable ongoing fave: Brooklyn 99. I binged because I couldn’t stop: The Good Place. I watched it all and I’m still not sure how I feel about: The Leftovers. My trashy watch: Riverdale. Oh no I need to catch up on: Mr Robot, Orphan Black. Started, and excited to watch more into the new year: Atlanta. Can’t wait for the new episodes of: Black Mirror, the X-Files!
I struggled to hit my goal of 40 books read this year. I just lost steam in the summertime, and it has been tough to get it back. I have tried to do a bit of reading to chat about with Evan – he encouraged me to read the Southern Reach trilogy (so far it’s just been Annihilation, but I’ll get there), plus we got to read Twin Peaks: the Final Dossier to talk about together! Overall, I think Annihilation was my favourite novel read, and as far as comics, Paper Girls was my new favourite read. Onto my backlog now, I guess! Which is full of great recommendations from Liz, whose Science Fiction Double Feature podcast has been a great source of nerding and great sounding books.
GAMEZ OF BOARD AND VID
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, because I don’t play a lot of video games compared to board games! Much of my time has been all about Stardew Valley and the Sims 4, not to mention recently with Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. You may sense a theme.. Meanwhile, I really need to get back to the Witness for puzzly goodness. And with the new season of the X-Files looming, dive back into my investigation in Thimbleweed Park. I think if I can chip away at what’s in my Steam library after that, it’ll be a 2018 miracle! I was very good and did not bend to the Steam sales, pals.
As far as games go, well. Here’s a big ol’ article I wrote about this year in games. Bärenpark and Sagrada are my top picks if you don’t feel like clicking through, but there’s lots of stuff in there in many categories. I think my top 10 would be: Bärenpark, Sagrada, Castles of Burgundy Dice, Word Slam, Azul, Avenue/Kokoro, Favelas, NMBR 9, Fox in the Forest, Century Spice Road – Golem edition. What a great year of games. Meanwhile in pure lovely numbers (oh thank you Board Game Stats!):
- Games played, total: 546
- Games played, unique titles: 256
- Games played, new to me: 126
That’s pretty great for me! Plus I got to playtest a number of really great things, including legacy games which I’ve had enormous fun with.
Not to mention, conventions attended: Breakout Con, the Gathering of Friends, Origins Game Fair, Dice Tower Con, SHUX, Fan Expo, BGGcon, ummmm. Wow. That’s ridiculous. 2018 is going to be scaled back a BUNCH.. Actually, that’s a big fat lie. But at least a bunch of these are local or close to local? Flying to the US for cons is so hecking expensive, so that’s going to scale things back.
Because of Twin Peaks, I sought out a few related podcasts – ‘Diane‘ was one of the best. Articulate and intelligent, lots of amazing discussion and insights. Plus I love the ongoing series they’re doing now called the “Shadow Trap” all about monsters and whatnot. Good stuff. I have been super enjoying Tanis as always, for more spookies, and 99% Invisible plus Reply All remain general faves. I’ve also just begun listening to Ologies at the recommendation of my friend and co-host Erin, and it’s been a delight. Nerding out about sciences and disciplines is awesome, and the host is fun and has quirky asides and comes at it all with a fabulous attitude and humour. Also I love all of my own podcast’s network pals, so check ’em out: Inside Voices network.
The EMP Museum in Seattle is like someone asked “what is Nicole a nerd about?” and made a museum (minus the board games, get on it EMP!). The EMP Museum used to be the “Experience Music Project” but has grown to be generally a pop culture – film, movies, music etc – museum in a gorgeous Gehry building.
I was lucky enough to be in town while the Star Wars costume exhibition was showing, and made a beeline to see that first. It is a mix of costume and design information from the newer prequels, and also the original trilogy. Even though I’m not as much of a fan of episodes 1-3, the costuming is incredible and it was amazing to see it close up.
But I did get the most, nostalgically, out of the older info, designs and costuming. I especially loved the sketches and inspiration cited for many of the costumes, and the droid design. Beautiful stuff.
Next stop were a couple of smaller exhibitions as part of the (what I believe to be) permanent displays. I didn’t know they were part of the museum (I planned my visit poorly, obviously) and I was so excited to wander through. The first was “Can’t Look Away: the Lure of Horror Film“. There’s a little bias on some of the content due to the directors that consulted & curated clips of their favourite films (Roger Corman, John Landis, and Eli Roth), but it does a great job at looking at the genre overall, highlighting the history of the iconic movies in the genre, looks at monsters and fear and has loads of cool artefacts on display. I legitimately flipped out at the Sean of the Dead shirt. It had a lot of great information, and was a good primer for those not familiar with horror movies. And the design of the space, plus the audio playing around there, was perfect.
Heading out of horror into Sci-Fi, the Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibition has a bit less of a narrative, but still showcases the vastness of the genre in film and TV very well, old school and new. Terminator 2 is one of my fave all time movies, so I geeked out a lot at that little glass case, but really enjoyed all of the stuff on display. So much is from a private collection, I’d love to be in a place to have that stuff in my own collection!
Onto something slightly more laid back, the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibition was thematically a gorgeous space (down to the stone walls, magic tree structures and fake pine needles on the floor) and had a lot of my favourites in there. I really enjoyed the interactives they had on various screens in this exhibition too – taking quizzes to see what kind of fantasy archetype you are, creating a map of a fantasy kingdom etc. It was a real treat to see the Princess Bride costumes and weapons!
I wandered the “main” part of the building after that, popping into the Indie Game Revolution exhibition and also checking out the very cool Sound Lab interactive (I learnt to play a little hook on the piano!). Marveled at the massive guitar installation, too.
My last stop was the Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibition. I came a little late to being a fan of Nirvana, but in the mid 90s I was a huge fan of grunge in general, especially Pearl Jam. And that also influenced a lot of the music I ended up getting into, especially other punk and riot grrl. This blurb about the exhibiton says it as well as anything else: “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses explores the public and personal story of a single band, but it also invites visitors to discover the underground music scene in which Nirvana developed.” I very much enjoyed the look at the band’s development in context of the local scene, and especially the ‘oral history’ of music around that time, which was accessible at screens throughout the exhibition to sit down and explore. There were also lots of music stations throughout the exhibition to listen to Nirvana’s music from certain periods, along with their peers.
I felt a lot of emotion and connection to the exhibitions I saw at the EMP Museum. Usually when I’m visiting a museum in a city, it’s pretty history-centric, about a place/culture/environment. This was about stuff I loved, and it was great to have that experience when visiting a museum.
The EMP Museum is open daily, you can buy tickets online & also (like I did) get them as part of the Seattle City Pass. The price is a little high, but for the extensive content on display, I believe it’s worth it – especially when you are passionate about pop culture!
This past weekend I went to see Jupiter Ascending with my friend Fiona. Given its terrible rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the general not-good buzz I’d heard, I went in with pretty low expectations. (You can read a bit more in depth about the plot, etc at the Wikipedia entry for the film, it’s a good overview.)
I’m a fan of genre, and I enjoy good science fiction. One of my favourite shows is Firefly, because it’s all space opera and jazz, and I love the big scale nature of stuff like Star Wars and Star Trek, too. Most of all I love to see original science fiction. Not just another reboot or whatever. Although I love some book-to-film stuff (Snowpiercer for instance), I love seeing new ideas and stories, and that’s what Jupiter Ascending does.
Yeah, it’s cheesy and there’s a lot of face-palming moments, a lot of “oh, she’s falling and screaming AGAIN” and hella scenery chewing from Eddie Redmayne, but it’s so fun and shiny. I was pleasantly surprised. This review on ABC (Australia) kinda nails it: a crazy, fun, infuriating, difficult, fun, bonkers, expensive, fun, ludicrous, romantic, fun flick. It is flawed but is full of fun.
I think what pleased me most, other than it being a fun new sci-fi story and lots of cool looking aliens (dragon dudes!) was the variety in the cast. Women and POC throughout! And even the poster – above – isn’t some kind of ridiculous trope or exploitation! Jupiter’s front-facing and in front of the dude. I love that, y’know? And while it is a tad frustrating Jupiter seems to be super naive/used as a pawn, and needs to be saved loads, she’s at least not the lone female character in an action movie for once, and the film does pass the Bechdel test.
I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere that this would have been a great concept pilot for a TV series, and I have to agree. I was a left a little disappointed in the ending considering the scale of the Universe and the underlying structure of power within. There was a lot of stuff crammed in to really get across the world-building the Wachowskis have done – like the scene of bureaucratic hilarity, and introducing all the factions of power, all of the players, etc.
The movie’s not perfect, I found Jupiter a little problematic, but I really did enjoy it as a popcorn-chowing big shiny fun and at least a little humourous couple of hours. If you can go in managing expectations and would like to be entertained while compartmentalizing what you see as being a little problematic, and have some tolerance for a bit of silly, I’d say check this movie out. I’d be likely to watch it again perhaps when it’s on DVD/BluRay.
This past weekend was the 11th Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF)! Held for free at the Toronto Reference Library (with some off-site events), it’s a veritable cornucopia of incredible talent. In addition to artists and publishers having stalls in the Reference Library, there’s also a buttload of workshops, panels & events to attend if you feel so inclined. I always try to get to some of the events each year just to hear people talk about the awesome stuff they create.
Opening night was “Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton, In Conversation”, a discussion moderated by Raina Telgemeier. Lynn Johnson created For Better or For Worse – I don’t know if this was ever syndicated in Australia, because I don’t recall reading it growing up. It was interesting to hear Lynn speak about her work, being in newspapers, and of her place in the industry when it was far more male-dominated than now, and the way she just kinda trucked through it dealing with it in a kind of “give as good as you get” mentality. This was in contrast to Kate Beaton’s career now, which is very internet-centric, instant gratification, and not without issues surrounding sexism being a female creator. I really enjoyed hearing the both of them talk about their creative process, their influences, and in particular what from their own lives influences their comics (be it in a roundabout way for Johnson, or a direct autobio way for Beaton). A fantastic and entertaining way to spend an evening listening to two fantastic Canadian creators!
Saturday morning I decided to hit up some panels, as most of the rest of the day’s lineup didn’t interest me so much. First thing was a ‘draw-off’ between comic artists Jeremy Sorese (Little Heart), Liz Prince (Alone Forever), Britt Wilson (The Greatest Book On Earth), Joey Weiser (Mermin), plus two audience volunteers. Pictionary-style, one member of a team drew from a prompt (some kind of movie genre) and their team had to guess what it was. There was a lot of awesome creativity on show considering the 3-minute sketching limit! It’s really fun to watch people sketch on the fly like this. Here’s Britt Wilson & Liz Prince during their rounds (road trip and tearjerker were their prompts):
Next panel (in the same room which became inexplicably hot) was “What Do Women Want? Writing Comics for a Female Audience” – moderated by Chromatic Press’ Editor Lianne Sentar, and with creators Laura Lee Gulledge (Page by Paige), Kate Leth (Adventure Time), Joan Reilly (The Big Feminist BUT), and Noelle Stevenson (LumberJanes) in the spotlight. This panel was full to bursting with amazing ladies from the industry with excellent perspectives. I liked a lot of the input the moderator Lianne had to the conversation, but unfortunately her moderation wasn’t too structured – the discussion flowed naturally, but much of what could have been discussed was covered only briefly or not at all. That’s not to say that the discussion wasn’t interesting, however! Lots of talk about male versus female gaze, females as consumers and a demographic, the portrayal of women characters in comics, and the like. Kate Leth is so smart, and dang articulate and knowledgeable, about this stuff!
There was a bit of discussion towards the end about what drove the people on the panel to create the titles they have, and it was great to hear the varied perspectives, because that means that there’s an enriched diversity of comics out there for female-identified audiences (especially younger ones!). I liked what Noelle Stevenson had to say about content – basically, not to shy away from things that have been typically portrayed as masculine (violence, for instance), but include those as well as more emotive stuff; this came up in a discussion of characters as well, that we need more female characters of all persuasions to balance out the inequity currently in comics. I’m really glad I sat in on this panel – while I haven’t done a great job at recapping it, there was a lot of inspiring stuff being discussed. It made me go in search of The Big Feminist BUT, too! I already read the Adventure Time and Lumberjanes titles & love them to bits. The panelists:
After the panels, I went into the Reference Library to browse. It was overwhelmingly crowded. And, I know how busy it gets, but it was a big mass of people to walk through, gosh… Downstairs it was really tough to get close to a lot of tables (like, three people deep). Luckily in the upstairs section there was a capacity limit, so once you lined up to get into that room it was much more manageable to browse.
Despite the hard work of browsing, I ended up picking up some totally rad stuff, primarily from female creators. I can’t wait to dig into the books! I had a quick flip through the Pugs Guide to Etiquette already and have read Cat People and I LOVE THEM. PS. I also flipped out when I realized the creator of Perry Bible Fellowship was there and had this strip (Unicorn Power) for sale, which is Adam’s most favourite. He even has the shirt.
In the evening was a screening of the Killing, prefaced by a discussion between Ed Brubaker (Criminal, Fatale) and Darwyn Cooke (Parker, Selina’s Big Score), hosted by guest interviewer Cameron Ashley (Crime Factor). They (mostly) discussed the noir genre & their interest in it, especially from a professional standpoint. They went off on tangents an awful lot, but at least it was entertaining. And the movie was really good! A little dated, but an excellent heist movie, and tense. I’d have never guessed it was a Kubrick.
I had to get on with weekend-y stuff on Sunday mostly, but I did meet up with my sweetie to sit in on the Adventure Time panel at the end of the day. Michael DeForge, Becky Driesdadt, Kate Leth, Jesse Moynihan, and Ryan North were all on the panel, a mix of folks who work on the comics and on the show, moderated by Frank Gibson. First of all they had a Pictionary-style draw-off:
Then it was time for audience questions. The perspective between the comics and show folks was an interesting one, especially when talking about creative control, and how much stories are planned out / tie into the other formats. What a lovely bunch of folks, and a nice way to end the festival!
See you again next year, TCAF – may I have more savings to spend, and more energy to navigate crowds/go to all the panels!
I attended a few screenings at this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival, now being held down at the Scotiabank Cineplex rather than up at the Bloor (a bummer, as the Bloor is walking distance for me!). I was a little underwhelmed this year, unfortunately – but ended up on a high note with the film I saw last night, Willow Creek. Read on for my thoughts on what I saw (remembering these are my own thoughts, and I’m not a professional film critic, thanks).
This is a sort of the Sixth Sense meets Dead Like Me with a dose of Supernatural mash-up. Yelchin is a fine lead, and Dafoe made a great straight man. Addison Timlin, cast in the romantic partner role of Stormy, seemed to have fun with the sassy, care-free character. And there was a nice surprise cameo from Patton Oswalt.
As far as story and flow, it felt a little like extended TV episode in its scope – stretching a little too far for its own good, this would have done better in the arc of a TV show. Script-wise, I was disappointed in the role and portrayal of women, overall – it got worse the more I pondered it. Young, beautiful and scantily clad in general, no spectrum to show me it wasn’t just a male gaze operating, and there was something real and important going on with these women. Female characters weren’t shallow, but still defined mostly by their relationships to men in the film, which genre films sadly often lean toward.
3 out of 5
The casting and production behind the Last Days on Mars was really strong. The writing was pretty solid even, with a nice balance between characters (male and female). There was drama, action and suspense, none of it trite or really boring. But the story just wasn’t anything groundbreaking – alien life infecting humans, it just happened to be on Mars. I suppose a change of scenery was nice, but it didn’t make the movie really pop out for me. The cinematography was well done, despite some dark & confusing moments in the fight scenes (I felt that was pretty realistic though – I don’t expect well-lit disasters as the backdrop to a fight, in this instance).
What frustrated me more than anything, and actually impacted my enjoyment of this film more than anything else was the terrible, terrible sound mix. Sound effects and score were very often mixed louder than the dialogue which meant that I missed out on a lot of little details of conversations and the marks were missed when it came to the emotion and gravity of some moments because of it. So, despite strong casting and terrific acting, those people were let down by a technical failure. If it was just this particular copy of the film, I hope it’s going to get fixed if this gets a wider release.
2.5 out of 5 (it’d be just 2 if it weren’t for the strong cast)
Although this is another found footage film, I was interested after watching the trailer, and the idea of them searching for something that’s so pervasive in cryptozoology – everyone knows of the Bigfoot myth. In his introduction, director Bobcat Goldthwait actually spoke about his initial intention to make a Christopher Guest-like comedy surrounding it, but after visiting the area and meeting the locals felt that a suspenseful found footage movie would work far better.
It’s got a slow burn – you see the couple arriving up at Bluff Creek/Willow Creek where some famous sightings have occurred. They interview locals (many of them actually real people, not actors) , drive around and visit locations on the road and in town and generally give you a sense of the setup of what they’re getting into. Some people don’t believe at all, there’s some quirky locals who do, and then there’s some sinister undertones of don’t go out there, it’s dangerous (and not just because of bears/mountain lions).
Eventually once the couple heads out into the more remote areas, the tension starts building. Even though it’s ‘found footage’, the edits are done pretty well and there’s a particular scene in their tent that is focused on just them and their emotion/reactions. There was one point where I was SO tense I had my hands up to my face, and the look on the two main actors faces was amazing, pure terror. (It helps that Goldthwait actually had them out in the middle of the bloody forest in the night – I’d have peed my pants.)
It leans heavily on the imagined terror – not actually seeing any monsters – and it does it well, especially with sound. (Incredibly well in the frightening climax at the end). There’s a little humour in the film (moreso in the earlier parts, but still present), which balances things nicely. The scenery is beautiful, and the shaky-cam effect isn’t too problematic as with most of the found footage genre. I’d say if you like to be scared, you should see this film! It’s not terribly unique but it’s a good watch.
4 out of 5
Back when Kick-Ass came out, I saw a preview screening here in Toronto, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great action, comic-level violence, wonderful characters and a dark sense of humour. It was exciting and enthralling!
When I watched Kick-Ass 2 last Friday, I enjoyed it while it was happening – and even when I came out I felt “Oh yeah, that was great! So much fun!” But it faded quickly. And then I went back and watched Kick-Ass.
As I watched, I realized Kick-Ass 2 was pretty much unnecessary. It didn’t cover any new ground in the “we’re all vigilante superheroes”/”we’re persecuted due to being superheroes” that stuff like Watchmen & the X-Men haven’t already done (and well). The humour was flat and didn’t have the same tone as the original. Overall the tone was different and even the characters felt flat – you didn’t get to spend enough time with them like you did in the first movie.
I get that it’s scripted and directed by a different team – and that’s usually where sequels find their downfall – but beyond how half-baked the writing and directing ended up being, I still honestly feel we didn’t need a Kick-Ass sequel if it was going to be this one. I’m bummed, because I enjoyed the original so much!
Yes, Spiderman 3 & X-Men 3 were fairly unnecessary as well.. but I still felt like some of the tone & character was there. Maybe because in general a lot of recent superhero sequels/prequels have been enjoyable to me, I expected too much. I’d say if you really loved Kick-Ass, just don’t bother with KA2.