Instagrammer of the Month:
Someone takes those cardboard coffee cup sleeves that have been emblazoned with the Starbucks mermaid logo, and using just a pen or two transforms them into something completely different. It’s cute fun.
Video Game of the Month:
A very addicting non-musical rhythm game for Android where you control a pair of discs that circle each other as you try to scale a randomly-generated, never-ending tower. There are various formations that you can unlock as you score more and more, and tiles that you can touch (or fail to avoid) that can change the speed, distance, and direction of the discs’ rotation to try to throw off your rhythm. Deceptively simple, and surprisingly pretty.
TV Show of the Month:
Do you remember Italian Spiderman? One of my very-favorite things in the last decade? Well, some idiots in Australia gave the people who made Italian Spiderman some money to make a TV show. And I love them for it. Danger 5 is a fascinating show that takes place during World War II but looks like it was filmed in the 1960s on an absurdly low budget. The plots are all ridiculous Saturday-morning plots (example: the Nazis have stolen dinosaurs from the jungle in Antarctica and surgically put crystals in their heads to remotely control them) but with an almost-disturbing level of casual violence and undercurrent of 60s-style misogyny. Like Italian Spiderman, everything about Danger 5 reeks of over-the-top ridiculousness and below-the-basement budget. And for no explicable reason the entire aesthetic of the 2nd season switches from excessive 1960s to excessive 1980s. And it is glorious. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s available on DVD except from Australia, but the 1st season is on Netflix!
Musician of the Month:
I Kill Cameron
Self-described as “Acoustic/Crust Pop/Folk Punk” and “folk punk on the ukulele,” I Kill Cameron is the delightfully expressive, fun, and self-aware ukulele-and-vocal music of Phoebe Zayas-Defiance. This music is earnestly humorous, and Phoebe’s expressive voice coupled with the small-scale, woman+ukulele production creates a rather personal, intimate feeling (even in the songs that feature a full back-up band) that can also get enjoyably raucous and explosive, and it’s hard not to be gladdened by the peppy ukulele. I Kill Cameron boasts song titles like “Carl Sagan Would Love Your Eyes,” “Sorry My Dairy Allergy Inconveniences You,” and “Our Love is an Arcade Game & I Just Ran Out of Quarters.” This music also makes a great spiritual counterpart to Joshua Stephens‘s style of expressive folk-punk.
Movie of the Month:
Prom Queen’s Midnight Veil
I suppose I should put “movie” in quotes like that because, even though it’s an hour long, Midnight Veil is more a loosely-connected string of music videos rather than a full-length movie. Prom Queen is a musical project of Celene “Leeni” Ramadan, and it the kind of darkly-lush 1960s music that would be perfectly at home in a David Lynch movie. In keeping with the music, these videos all painstakingly recreate the look at feel of the 1960s, from the costumes to the cars to the hair. They run the gamut of genres, from darkly gothic to sadly domestic to high-kitch SciFi. The attention to detail is uncanny, even down to the 1960s-style film stock, and the videos feature such Western Washington landmarks as Dick’s Drive-In, Gasworks Park, and XXX Root Beer in Issaquah. This is the kind of sultry music that you can drown in, and the Midnight Veil movie dovetails nicely with my well-established love of the 1960s Spy genre. Really well-done, and really enjoyable.
Don’t believe me? You can actually watch the whole thing for FREE on the YouTubes!
TV Show of the Month:
Z Nation: Season 1
I think people may overlook or dismiss this show because it was made by The Asylum and aired only on SyFy network. Maybe they think it’s just trying to cash-in on the success of The Walking Dead. But Z Nation is really its own beast, and is really unlike almost anything else I’ve seen on TV. For one thing, it’s a great deal of fun. Not for the characters, certainly; what they go through is rather hellish. But it’s all done with a wink and a nod and some very wry twists of humor that make the whole thing very enjoyable. I really appreciate how the creators of the show also seem willing to try anything. We get some inventive zombie iterations in this show, including (but not limited to) zombies coated in oil, zombies caught up in a tornado (yes, just like the sharks), radioactive zombies in a nuclear power plant, a zombie bear, a zombie high on marijuana, and that’s just to name a few. The show is also one of the only ones where there is really no sense of security for any of the characters. Z Nation goes out of its way to show that anyone can die at any time. You can’t take it too seriously at any point, but it’s just a lot of fun. Bonus: one of my friends gets eaten in episode 3!
Credit where credit is due (arrow added by me for emphasis).
Video Game of the Month: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
A delightful action/puzzle game with an old-fashioned, block-based layout and controllable camera angles. Starring Captain Toad from the Mario Galaxy Series of games, you work your way through a series of small(ish) tableaus, collecting as much treasure as you can before snagging the star, the goal of the level. Toad can’t jump (his explorer’s backpack is too heavy). About all he can do is run around avoiding enemies and tugging stuff outta the ground (like in Super Mario Bros 2). It’s great, simple fun.
Album of the Month: The Hoot Hoots: Colorpunch
The Hoot Hoots are a Seattle mainstay. They’ve opened for Julia Massey & The Jesus Rehab and vise-versa countless times. They’re good, fun, colorful rock with a playful, comedic bent. This album is some catchy, catchy schtuff.
Link of the Month:
My Amazon Wish List!
That’s right! You think in this, the most wonderful time of the year, that I’d waste my one-and-only link of the month on something selfless? EFF THAT! I want you to click on this link and buy crap for me! Crass commercialism EFF-TEE-DUBYA, baby! Mwa-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa!
Holiday Special of the Month:
The Paul and Storm Nondenominational Perennial Holiday Special – Part One
An animated holiday special written and performed by comedy musical duo Paul and Storm, with animation by those guys who did Homestar Runner? Hmmm… yeah, that does sound good to me. It’s a special about Cyber Monday and its surprisingly Jamaican mascot, Cyber-Mon. And the villain is a small business owner (voiced by Matt Chapman of Strong Bad fame) who does a delightful riff on the “Miser” songs from “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” What’s that? Why, yes, of course you can watch it right here:
And speaking of Paul and Storm and the holidays…
Album of the Month:
Paul and Storm: It Might Be Xmas
You see, folks, WAY back in 2009 Paul and Storm did something rather remarkable. For 8 consecutive days they released an original holiday song in the style of They Might Be Giants. And, boy howdy, did they ever nail it. These are the most TMBG-ish songs out there. You can hear specific TMBG song influences in each P&S-penned tune, and it really helps that they can do an absolutely uncanny impression of John Flansburgh. And, blessedly, they learned a thing from TMBG about keeping the songs short and sweet. They get in, state their business, and get out. It’s funny and frighteningly accurate holiday fun.
Video Game(s) of the Month: X-Wing & Tie Fighter
I very fondly remember back in the early/mid 1990s playing a tonne of these video games in Ryan Roullard’s mom’s basement on the MS-DOS computer down there. And now, finally, you can play them again (PC only). These two games are the best flight simulators I have ever played, and probably my favorite-ever games that take place in the Star Wars universe. There’s something weirdly fun about adjusting shields, shifting where you put your ship’s power (divert all shields to blasters now! and the like), and blasting the hell out of your enemies’ ships. The controls are natural and the 3-D radar is extremely intuitive. It feels like you’re dogfighting in the Star Wars movies.
Tabletop Game of the Month: Bravest Warriors Co-Operative Dice Game
A very funny game in which your team must defeat various obstacles by rolling the right combination of die. Yes, team. This is a co-operative game: either you all win (by scoring enough victory points or by using up all the event cards), or you all lose! It keeps with the spirit of the Bravest Warriors webseries by being delightfully nonsensical yet still very easy to follow. Let’s play (once I get my own set for Christmas).
Tabletop Game of the Month: Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game
This is an absurdly fun and satisfying 16-bit (NOT 8-BIT) video game simulator from the point of view of the dungeon bosses. Every turn heroes appear in a tavern in town and it’s up to you to lure them to your dungeon with treasure and kill them with all sorts of traps and monsters with which you populate said dungeon. If you kill the hero(es) before they can reach you, you get points. But if they survive the trip through the dungeon and get to you, you take damage! There are some very clever mechanics, including interrupting and interfering spells that can be played on your own dungeon or your opponents’ dungeons. And the 16-bit (NOT 8-BIT) aesthetic is absolutely delightful. Plus the games don’t drag on for too long, so it’s entirely possible to play several sessions in one sitting!
Movie of the Month: Godzilla (2014)
I know a lot of people had some problems with this latest American Godzilla movie, but I thought it was fan-frikkin-tastic. And now it’s out on home release! You can read my full review here.
Artist of the Month: Junji Ito
Junji Ito is the Japanese manga horror master responsible for the infamous Uzumaki series (which was adapted into a very trippy movie). He has been incredibly prolific, and his stories often have a rather gruesome body-horror bent, and characters being taken over by or acting on strange impulses and compulsions. Though they can be very simple (and sometimes have rather silly endings), his stories have some amazing psychological scares that make them just stick in my head. One of my favorites is “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” Happy Halloween!
Video Game of the Month: Azure Striker Gunvolt
The creators of the Mega Man X series of video games really wanted to make another Mega Man X game… but since they don’t actually have the rights to do that they made Azure Striker Gunvolt instead! This is very much in the vein of Mega Man X‘s 16-bit side-scrolling platformer action. The big hook of this game is the combat system. You use your gun not to damage enemies (it does very little damage), but to “tag” them so that you can unleash your main weapon, a psychic discharge of lightning that automatically seeks out any enemy that you’ve tagged. You also create a field of electricity around you when you do this that damages enemies (a little) and blocks physical projectiles—but not energy-based projectiles. You’re also way more vulnerable to damage when you’re using the lightning. So combat controls is a fascinating game of know when to hold ‘em, know when to unleash ‘em.
The game isn’t without its faults. The random enemies that appear during the levels are shockingly uninspired, and except for a couple of instances don’t vary from level to level; it seems like you’re always fighting the same four baddies over and over. There’s an item crafting system, but to truly take advantage of it you have to play already-completed levels over again while activating “challenges” in order to obtain bonus parts. I’m at the final level and I haven’t been able to craft anything remotely useful—not to mention the fact that you already start the game with the best item in the game, the awesomely powerful Prevasion Pendant that lets you automatically avoid damage (as long as you aren’t actively using your lightning) in exchange for using up some of your psychic power (which you can replenish anytime by tapping down on the control pad twice).
But the levels are well-designed, all the boss fights are extremely excellent and surprisingly difficult, and the mini-bosses are pretty good, too. It’s a very fun throwback title, and it only costs about $15 bucks and comes with the “Mighty Gunvolt” 8-bit little game as a bonus.
TV Show of the Month: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Joining the ranks of John Stewart and Steven Colbert in savagely savaging the news media, this new show from John Oliver (Professor Ian Duncan from Community) does a weekly roundup of the events from the previous week. And it holds no punches while being uproariously funny.
I don’t post about politics on this website (much), but damn this show is some good stuff. Biting and insightful. Just watch this segment on Ferguson:
It’s an HBO show, but thankfully its YouTube channel updates pretty regularly.
Kickstarter of the Month: The Players’ Score
I would LOVE for this documentary to get made. Video game music (especially classic, 8-bit video game music) is one of my favorite types of music (so much so that I make my own), and this proposed documentary is all about it. If they reach their goal, artists on board to participate in the project include:
Hiroki Kikuta – Composer, Secret of Mana Series
Manami Matsumae – Composer, Mega Man, Shovel Knight
Danny Baranowsky – Composer, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac
Random AKA Megaran – Chip Hop Rapper
SO GOOD! Do what you can, chip in (get it) a few bucks and let’s honor these un-sung heroes of pop culture who have influenced me so much.