Posts categorized “Of the Month”

Thursday, 1 February 2018

“Of the Month” February 2018

Show of the Month:

Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Good lord, I was unprepared for how frikkin’ hilarious this show would be. The general premise is that Jean-Claude Van Damme is not only an actor, but is also a secret agent codenamed “Johnson” (hence the series’ name). The fact that the show frequently flies off the rails into surrealism and supernatural absurdity while still maintaining its veneer of “realistic and gritty” just adds to the hilarity. JCVD has comedic timing that is absolutely flawless. Who knew? Case in point: in the first episode he plays a secondary role as a minor, bumbling henchman (Filip) who resembles JCVD. Later in the series Filip returns, and is conscripted by the villains to impersonate JCVD. JCVD captures Filip and impersonates him in order to infiltrate the villain lair. So to watch JCVD act as “Johnson” doing an impression of a character that he plays is just an absolute delight. The frequent and blatant shout-outs to various JCVD movies are wonderful and bizarre. And then the climax of the final episode hinges on something from the first episode that I assumed was an hilarious throw-away joke. The whole series is brilliant. Part of me wishes it went on forever, and part of me is glad that there won’t be another season, because these six episodes form a wonderful whole that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Video Game of the Month:

Celeste

On the surface Celeste is one of those twitchy platformers in the vein of Super Meat Boy, where you die over and over again until you’re able to utilize the physics of the game to make just the exact right moves at the exact right timing to clear a room and progress. But in its heart Celeste is a very different beast. Rather than reveling in its cruelty and delighting in how frenetic and difficult its levels are, this game does two very important things. For one, it is very encouraging. On-screen messages when you startup praise you for dying so many times, because failure is the best way to learn. Also, its music is (usually) gentle and melodic, almost like music out of Breath of the Wild instead of screeching, heart-pounding music meant to drive up the tension. And two, Celeste slowly builds a wonderful story with compelling and funny characters. This results in an experience that seems more contemplative, almost meditative at times. While you die a couple dozen times in the span of a minute. I am encouraged to continue not only for the satisfaction of solving a physical puzzle, but also so that I am rewarded by getting to experience more of the gorgeous graphics and music and learn more of the story of Madeleine and her journey up a mountain and into her own psyche. This game is getting rave reviews, and I agree.

Album of the Month:

They Might Be Giants: I Like Fun

The 20th Studio album from TMBG! The first half of the album plays it kinda safe, with songs that are mostly in the TMBG-style of power-pop goodness. This is fine, because even at their worst, TMBG songs are better than about 90% of music out there. And these are far from TMBG’s worst songs. But once the 7th track hits (the title track, “I Like Fun”), TMBG busts out of their own weird comfort zone and back into their bizarre, experimental, and out-there offerings that are, again, better than about 90% of music out there. Here’s their latest video, for “The Greatest,” a minimalist almost-dirge sung in Flansburgh’s almost-falsetto. Also, it stars Nick Offerman!!!!

The album ends on a song (“Last Wave”) that has horrifying, depressing lyrics:

We die alone
We die afraid
We live in terror
We’re naked and alone
And the grave is the loneliest place

We die alone
We die afraid
We live in terror
We’re naked and alone
And the grave is the loneliest place

We die alone
We die afraid
Afraid to die
We’re naked and alone
Naked and alone

We die alone
We die afraid
We live in terror
We’re naked and alone
Naked and alone

…until you learn more about it and realize that it started as a bad lip-sync reading of Aerosmyth/Run DMC’s “Walk this Way” music video:

Now it seems more hilarious than ever, a massive in-joke for TMBG’s fans. I Like Fun isn’t their best album, but it is still great to have.

Categories: Of the Month.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

“Of the Month” January 2018

Video Game of the Month:

Super Mario Odyssey

Yes, it is very, very good. No, it isn’t nearly as revolutionary as Breath of the Wild, but it is exceedingly clever in how it gets you to just keep playing it. Instead of scattering a handful of goals across its dozen levels (or “Kingdoms” as they’re called in this game), Odyssey has a veritable bounty of goals, almost over-saturating each area (and later in the game you can unlock even more). After you collect a “Power Moon,” you’re almost certainly likely to see something that will make you think, “I bet if I do this I’ll get another one…” and so on and so on, organically getting you to explore every single nook and cranny of this rather large game. Also, it harkens back to the Galaxy-style of play rather than the more recent 3D-World series of games, and as such it feels much broader and more open. The new “possession” mechanic is a lot of fun, and opens up even more possibilities. Much like Breath of the Wild, this is a Mario game where it seems like you can do just about anything, and almost all of it is a lot of fun.

Book of the Month:

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line
by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

Many years ago, there was an excellent television show called Veronica Mars about a teenage sleuth. It was cancelled after its fourth season, but then many years later most of the people involved got together and did a Kickstarter to make a movie that took place after the series. Well, now we have a novel that takes place after the movie, continuing the adventures of the now all-grown-up titular private detective. Do you like Veronica Mars and wish that you could experience more of her adventures? Here you go! Oh, and if you want to know what happens after this novel, don’t worry; Rob Thomas has already written another one.

Tabletop Game of the Month:

Diamonsters

A fun bidding/collection game: The entire game consists of cards with monsters on them, numbered one through five. A card is turned face-up in the center of the players and then everyone secretly chooses a card in their hand and puts it face-down in front of them. Everyone reveals their bidding cards at the same time, and whoever played the highest number wins the center card and gets to add it and the card they bid with into their collection (then they draw a new card). If you manage to collect three of the same cards, you win that round. Also, some cards have diamond icons on them, and if you get five of those diamond icons in your collection then you win the round. The trick is, if two or more players bid with the same number, they have to put their bidding card back into their hand and whichever of the remaining players has bid with the highest number wins the center card. What I really like about this game is that it scales very well. You could play an epic game that lasts until a singer player wins seven rounds, or you could play a single round in just a couple of minutes. Also, the fact that if you win a bid you place the bidding card into your collection and then have to draw a random card to replace it means that you can’t rely on having any particular number in your hand at any given time. In fact, you could end up with a hand full of twos and threes for example. It’s fun and fast-paced.

Categories: Of the Month.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

“Of the Year” 2017

Album of the Year:

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle

There were so very many great albums released this year, and I must apologize to all my other friends who came out with some really amazing work in 2017. But this album just eclipses them all.

A few years ago Mike released Dark Comedy, an hilarious album tinged with anger and darkness. Well, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is kind of the opposite; it’s a dark and angry album tinged with hilarity. And it is SO SO GOOD. A concept album about the now-destroyed Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago where Mike (and earlier, Mr. T) spent some of his youth, BBKSD is a stark exploration of some very big injustices. It’s also at times extraordinarily beautiful. Just listen to “Daydreaming in the Projects” here:

Also listen to the sun-drenched, wistful nostalgia that gushes out of the just lovely “95 Radios” here:

I don’t want to make this album sound like a complete drag; Mike is still as geeky as ever, and there is some genuine hilarity like in “No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending it Don’t Hurt),” in which very funny braggadocio serves to illustrate both the toxic environment that induces men to act tough and unfeeling as well as the toxicity of such behavior itself.

Man, this album is smart. The best album of 2017 by leaps and bounds. Also, very funny:

Movie of the Year:

Wonder Woman

I saw shockingly few movies in 2017, far fewer than I actually wanted to see, and almost all of those were somehow under the Disney banner. All except for Wonder Woman. We’ve been getting big-budget Superman movies since the 1970s. Batman movies since the 1980s. X-Men and Spider-Man movies since the early 2000s. But it took until 2017 for Wonder Woman to finally get her own movie. And, oh my, is it goooooooood. I don’t know if I can honestly say it was worth the wait, but thank goodness this production fell into the hands of people who did right by it. Gal Gadot is endlessly entertaining as the main character, and even though the third-act climax kinda devolves into a big CGI power-vs-power mess, Wonder Woman at its heart is a story about being a decent, loving human being (or goddess, as the case may be) in an indecent, hateful world.

TV Show of the Year:

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wins by being one of only two TV shows that I actually watch anymore (even though I stream it later on Hulu), and the only one that actually airs on a regular schedule and has, y’know, actual seasons. In the shadows of the Marvel movies, this TV show has been churning out some of the most entertaining and comic-booky live-action adventures out there. The show went really gung-ho in its 4th season, with a trio of interconnected story arcs that delved into Ghost Rider and the Darkhold, Life Model Decoy androids, and a stint in a Matrix-style alternate computer reality. And now in the 5th season the cast has been flung into space… and the future! It’s great seeing these characters whom we’ve come to know and love get thrown into all manner of insanity and still keep their wits about them (upon learning that they’d been transported to outer space one character simply grunts, “Space, huh? Makes sense; we’ve done everything else”).

Streaming Show of the Year:

Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2 is to Stranger Things as Aliens is to Alien. Sometimes in some very direct ways. It takes the original concept and expands upon it mightily without losing the fan-frikkin-tastic characterizations that you came to love in the first season. Plus, Paul Reiser is in it as a very sketchy and somewhat smarmy individual! A loving tribute to both Steven King and Stephen Spielberg, with plenty of callbacks and references to them both. Also Aliens.

Video Game of the Year:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I mean, come on. This is the game of the year. It’s so good. Just take a look at this:

Daaaaaaaaaaaang.

Daaaaaaaaaaaang.

Categories: Articles, Of the Month, Round-up.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

“Of the Month” December 2017

Video Game of the Month:

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Boy, have I missed Animal Crossing. This mobile app game does scratch an itch. It is fun, funny, and very nice to look at, though Pocket Camp is much more “gamey” than a real Animal Crossing title. Goals are much more clear-cut, including things like leveling-up and timed goals and stretch goals. You don’t just wander around doing whatever you feel like; there are things you’re supposed to be doing. The crafting system is an intriguing addition to Animal Crossing that I actually quite like, and I’m curious if that will carry over into the next full-fledged title. Also, be my friend:

It me!

It me!

Show of the Month:

Marvel’s Runaways

One of the single greatest comic book runs of the current century, Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways from Marvel Comics had a jaw-droppingly engaging blend of teen angst, comedy, and comic book superheroics. I am sometimes still shocked at just how good it was. This adaptation keeps the core characters but changes the storytelling from a frenetic, straight-ahead adventure to a slow-burn, laterally-expanding mystery. It works best when it focuses on the kids and their interactions. All the actors are great in their parts, even all 10 parents (geez that’s a lot). Ariela Barer is a particular standout as Gert, full of bluster and snark but also awkwardness and hope. The first few episodes have me intrigued enough to keep watching.

Tabletop Game of the Month:

The Oregon Trail

A shockingly-accurate transformation of the classic schoolhouse video game into card format, you and your cooperative team have the unenviable task of trying to survive the Oregon Trail with limited resources and oh-so-many rivers you have to cross. The way the cards form the actual trail is an ingenious mechanic. The only thing this game is really missing is a recreation of trying to shoot a buffalo or bear to get the 100lbs of meat as you could carry (but there’s a hunting expansion, so maybe that handles it). Spoiler: you’re probably all going to die before you can play the 50 trail cards you need to win. Oh, also: You have died of Dysentery.

Categories: Of the Month.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

“Of the Month” November 2017

Hey, sorry this is so late. Having a kid born the day after Halloween means the beginning of November is kinda hectic!

Album of the Month:

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle

A few years ago Mike released Dark Comedy, an hilarious album tinged with anger and darkness. Well, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is kind of the opposite; it’s a dark and angry album tinged with hilarity. And it is SO SO GOOD. A concept album about the now-destroyed Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago where Mike (and earlier, Mr. T) spent some of his youth, BBKSD is a stark exploration of some very big injustices. It’s also at times extraordinarily beautiful. Just listen to “Daydreaming in the Projects” here:

Also listen to the sun-drenched, wistful nostalgia that gushes out of the just lovely “95 Radios” here:

I don’t want to make this album sound like a complete drag; Mike is still as geeky as ever, and there is some genuine hilarity like in “No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending it Don’t Hurt),” in which very funny braggadocio serves to illustrate both the toxic environment that induces men to act tough and unfeeling as well as the toxicity of such behavior itself.

Man, this album is smart. The best album of 2017 by leaps and bounds.

Cartoon of the Month:

Over the Garden Wall

I initially didn’t watch this cartoon when it aired on Cartoon Network a few years ago because I thought it was some dumb cartoon about garden gnomes (understandable, considering it has the word “Garden” in it and the main character wears a conical hat). But the truth is this is a dark and creepy and surreal dive into weirdness and the nature of fear. About two children (well, one teenager and one child) who get somehow lost in “The Unknown,” a very strange and anachronistic forest environment where talking animals and magic are commonplace, Over the Garden Wall is a miniseries of ten 11-minute episodes. So at 110 minutes it’s very possible to watch it all in one sitting, which I highly recommend. Taking place in the days after Halloween, it’s an absolutely perfect show to watch on a dark fall evening with some hot cider and a blanket. You’re going to underestimate this show; you’re not prepared for how good it is.

Show of the Month:

Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2 is to Stranger Things as Aliens is to Alien. Sometimes in some very direct ways. It takes the original concept and expands upon it mightily without losing the fan-frikkin-tastic characterizations that you came to love in the first season. Plus, Paul Reiser is in it as a very sketchy and somewhat smarmy individual! A loving tribute to both Steven King and Stephen Spielberg, with plenty of callbacks and references to them both. Also Aliens.

Categories: Of the Month.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

“Of the Month” October 2017

Show of the Month:

Comrade Detective

Did you know that in the early/mid-80s in communist Romania, there was a limited-series television show that was part cop procedural and part communist propaganda? It was called Comrade Detective, and it was thought lost to the dust of history… until now! Of course it’s all fake. It was filmed last year on location in Romania with all Romanian actors, and then dubbed into English by Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Nick Offerman. Let me tell you: this is my favorite type of satire, one that is so uncannily accurate that unless you’re in on the joke you almost wouldn’t know it is satire at all (see: Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers). Everything is played absolutely, 100% straight, and it is only the occasional scenes that go just a bit too far (such as the bumper segments that open each episode with Channing Tatum talking to an “historian” about the show) that peel back the curtain and let us laugh with the show’s creators rather and simultaneously at the very nature of popularized propaganda itself. Also (unlike Starship Troopers) the Comrade Detective show itself is thoroughly entertaining (though very NSFW) even beyond the satire. Apparently the show was created when Channing Tatum asked the producers to bring him their very worst idea. I think that’s brilliant.

Album of the Month:

Doom Wop by Prom Queen

Two amazing albums came out in September, but alas I can only have one Album of the Month per month. And since Prom Queen’s Doom Wop is more thematically Halloween-ish, it gets the slot in October (sorry, Mike, but don’t worry, your album will definitely get November’s slot). Doom Wop continues Prom Queen’s (A.K.A. Celene Ramada, A.K.A. Leeni) forays into the dark, lush aesthetic of late-50s and 60s pop. Think of The Flamingos’ version of I Only Have Eyes For You and you’ll instantly know the genre of which I speak. The lyrics on this album pretty much all touch on a theme of existential dread, and the music is lovingly crafted to fold into the dreamy 60s sound (though “Manic Panic” slips a bit into late 90s girl-power-pop (think Dressy Bessy)). Everything sounds like what velvet looks and feels like, and even the slightly fuzzy vocals sound like they’re coming out of a vintage amp. It’s all of a type, and if you like this genre (I happen to love it) then this is a wonderful dream of an album. These songs would fit right into a David Lynch movie without batting a fake eyelash.

Video Game of the Month:

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

A gothic castle base. A tormented sort-of-undead antihero. A sickle and cloak. Dark magic. Lots of skeletons. How could this not be my Video Game of the Month in October??? A prequel to Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope, Specter of Torment shows the tragic origins of Specter Knight and how he recruited the Order of No Quarter for the Enchantress. It manages to be completely familiar to anyone who has played the original Shovel Knight game, while simultaneously being a thoroughly inventive and fun platformer. The jump-and-slash conceit of the gameplay is very intuitive, and makes for some refreshing level design. You also gain a new special item after every level (assuming you collected enough red skulls), though Specter’s sickle is so powerful and versatile that I wasn’t able to really discover the full usefulness of each item. I kinda just used the healing one a lot. And since the game is non-linear (you can choose in which order you’ll defeat each level), each level is designed to be able to be beaten without having to use any special item. It’s a very minor quibble in an otherwise excellent game.

Categories: Of the Month.

Friday, 8 September 2017

“Of the Month” September 2017

Show of the Month

The Tick

I’m surprised at just how well the Tick always seems to work. There have been 4 iterations of the character and premise and they’ve all been great (though later comics that weren’t written by Ben Edlund didn’t quite grab the mustard as mightily as they might’ve). This latest version on Amazon Prime has much of the same absurdity and humor as the other versions (see: Very Large Man), and Peter Serafinowicz’s performance in the blue suit is full of the blind, enthusiastic gusto that you expect from the Tick. But this is the first version where there is actually deep, psychological development of some of the more “regular” characters, especially Arthur. For the first time these characters aren’t just send-ups of superhero tropes (though they are still that), but they’re actually fully-developed characters that have real lives. I’m also very surprised that Edlund decided to go for a much more mature-rated program: there is lots and lots of realistic blood and quite a but of foul language. But somehow the contrast between the Tick himself and this more-realistic world makes the character even more himself. Also: I <3 Dangerboat.

Link of the Month

I Went Gaming

A pair of people, the Lundy brothers, who make video games. They’re in the midst of a “game a month” spree throughout 2017 (though they’re a month behind). Are the games any “good?” It’s… hard to say, but the appeal lies in their absurd and funny themes and aesthetics. All the art is hand-drawn by Laramie Lundy (the Olive Fool of Fools Play Improv) in his signature disturbing style (he’s one of the artists behind The Abyss art book that came out last year). There’s a menu-based street fighter game, a punk Guinea pig racing game, a door-to-door knife salesman game, a game about joining a cult, and the like. They’re completely unpolished and rough, but there’s something irresistible (for a few minutes at least) about the worlds that they create.

Podcast of the Month

The Official Steven Universe Podcast

This podcast, all about the best TV show on the air right now, is actually recorded at the Cartoon Network offices and hosted by an intern there. As such, it has unprecedented access to all the people involved in the show; they mostly work literally just outside the room where this is recorded. It’s full of amazing insight and anecdotes and behind-the-scenes work about making the amazing Steven Universe.

Categories: Of the Month.