1. Birthdays. I celebrated mine with a lovely dinner out with my beautiful wife. The evening was great. but didn’t entirely stave off the existential dread of realizing that I have been walking this earth for thirty-two years and still feel lost and clueless when it comes to dealing with adult problems (i.e. something beyond not being able to collect all of Ben Franklin’s draft pages in Assassin’s Creed III). Do all adults deal with this much doubt and worry? Did my parents have as little an idea of how to handle this stuff as I do now? Yikes.
2. Movie Trailers. Last week made me excited about the 2013’s film prospects, especially in the sphere of science fiction, comic book-y movies that let me stave off death by feeding my adolescent power fantasies and maintaining my arrested development. That sounds like a somewhat mature self-critique but on the other hand, GIANT ROBOTS! PUNCHING MONSTERS!
And, KHAAAAAN! (maybe?)
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
If the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings, then I guess it wasn’t that bad. Peter Jackson leads another expedition to Middle-Earth with the film version of the early adventures of Bilbo Baggins. Somehow, he has turned the lightest and breeziest of J.R.R. Tolkein’s tales into a six hour epic on par with the LOTR films in terms of ass-numbing theatre seat occupation. While the earlier trilogy was a nearly flawless adaptation of a genre-defining work, The Hobbit shows some serious seams where the source material was stitched together to create a trilogy worthy whole. Maybe it was because Jackson and his fellow screenwriters had to look at things to cut for the Lord of the Rings films and were forced to stretch the The Hobbit into a trilogy, but this movie dragged. There were several high points, but despite the enthusiastically varied showcase of beard-ery, axe-based ass-kicking, and people riding animals that are not ordinarily used as mounts (eagles, rabbits, reindeer, etc.) the movie felt like it could have lost about an hour of run time and still been packed with incident. The effect is somewhat surprising because in the previous trilogy, the film makers showed an admirable ruthlessness when it came to cutting parts of the story that had no place in a compelling, breathless on-screen experience. Things like the Tom Bombadil story were excised from The Fellowship of the Ring while there are many scenes and plot lines that should have been cut from The Hobbit. (I’m looking at you, entire sequence with Radaghast the Brown, Middle-Earth Middle-Managers Quarterly Report, and Troll chef trickery.) Still, the Riddles in the Dark sequence is appropriately off-putting and there wasn’t anything on-screen that I hated. There was simply too much of it.
1. The Walking Dead Season 3. I have been a longtime reader of the comic series that makes up the source material for this AMC drama. Robert Kirkman’s grim and unrelenting tale of the misery that makes up everyday life for a band of survivors following a zombie plague can occasionally become too dark and hopeless, but the strong characterization of Rick and company keep the comic from becoming too much of a slog. The television show, despite having moments of early greatness (Rick trapped inside a tank as a horde of walkers surrounds it, finding Merle’s hand, basically anything Darryl Dixon does) has never managed to really dig its hooks into me until this past recently-ended season. I blew through all 8 episodes in a short amount of time and the breathless pace uncompromising look at the practical relationships between these disparate people more than made up for the slog that was Herschel’s farm from last season. The show varies quite often from the comics, so I never totally know what’s coming but the presence of The Governor and his special brand of extra-strength crazy made me hopeful going in to this season and it delivered the goods. From Michonne’s katana-based bad-assery to the return of Merle, season 3 has delivered huge upticks in writing, direction, and performance that I cannot wait for the show to return.
2. The John McAfee Saga. I read the Wired article as a Kindle Single, but I have been following the mad tale of former antivirus peddler John McAfee as he went on the run from Belizean authorities following a murder charge. Reading John McAfee’s Last Stand I was able to get a sense for how absolutely insane this story was even before the murder. Between his paranoia, massive arsenal, and unspecified lab on his tropical jungle compound, McAfee comes off like a Bond villain who’s gone off his meds. Learning that the so-called meth lab on his property started out as a research platform for a freelance biochemist to synthesize new antibiotics from rainforest compounds and that he bought a whorehouse to transform it into a family-focused Studio 54-themed restaurant makes him come across more like the mirror-universe version of The Most Interesting Man in the World, except instead of arm-wrestling bears he applies for asylum in Guatemala. It’s a fascinating story, and I have a feeling it is only going to get crazier from here..
3. Hobbit Week on The Colbert Report. Last week Stephen Colbert doubled down on the Tolkein-love in advance of the new Hobbit film from director Peter Jackson. The entire Colbert Report set was decked out with Middle Earth-ian touches from wooden chairs to a stone-paved path. The guest list included all the main stars from Bilbo to Gandalf. Colbert was clearly living out his geekiest fantasies. He also get to play with the sword Sting, the One Ring, have his path barred by Sir Ian McKellan, and smoke some of that halfling weed. Whether or not Colbert makes a cameo appearance in The Hobbit, this was an awesome way to promote it.
1. Get Jiro!
So, somehow in between living out the ultimate fantasy job of travelling the world eating and drinking and getting really pissed at the Travel Channel chef-turned-author-turned-tv host Anthony Bourdain decided to write a graphic novel. Get Jiro! is the result, a near future tale that mashes up the worlds of organized crime and high-powered foodies. In the Bourdain’s vision of Los Angeles, a food obsessed populace have given celebrity chefs a kind of warlord status where they rule their neighborhoods with a blend of muscle and exclusivity. The two most powerful houses are run by a traditional french chef and a vegan locavore and they compete for territory. Into this mix walks Jiro, a Yojimbo-like sushi chef with the best knife work this side of the Pacific. He is a bad ass who decapitates a customer in the first scene for getting ricve into the soy sauce mixture. Both sides want Jiro for his skills with a blade and the freshness of his nigiri, but he has plans of his own. The comic was hilarious and based on an intriguing but ridiculous concept. Bourdain’s voice shone through in some of the narration, and the end result was a truly original comic.
A video game that places you in the shoes of a failed bodyguard-turned-supernaturally-gifted-assassin Corvo and sends you sneaking and murdering your way through a steampunk dystopia, Dishonored hits all the right notes for me. The setting is incredibly well-thought out and the texture of the crumbling empire and its plague-ridden, downtrodden populace is palpable. There are strands of Bioshock, Thief, and Deus Ex sprinkled liberally throughout the DNA of this game. The game encourages you to find your own path through each mission. The game certainly encourages you to pursue nonlethal tactics. The load screen promises that if you can reign in your homicidal urges your endgame will be “less dark” although the morality mechanic is a bit too sketchy and unclear to be of use. The game doesn’t explain whether killing someone and hiding the body gives you higher or lower chaos than choking them out and leaving the body laying in the middle of the street. Still, the attempt to map practical considerations onto a morality choice is admirable. If you choose to allow the level-headed guard captain to die, there will be more low level mooks patrolling the checkpoints while leaving more corpses around increase the number of roving mobs of plague-infested rats.
1. XCOM Enemy Unknown
This game dug it’s hooks into me in a way that few games in recent memory have. I’m talking “stay up until 5:00 am because I need to play just one more mission and then I’m back at base and maybe I should just finish researching that one weapon tech, but oh no the global satellite alert just kicked in and sectoids are attacking Sao Paolo so maybe I should just real quick play that one too, only I have to restart that mission because my support dude from South Africa walked face first into a thin man ambush….” The turn-based nature of the game makes you feel like a tactical genius as you lay your forces out in an unstoppable line of crossfires and over-watching ambushers. That feeling lasts about as long as you go without encountering the enemy, as the game is intensely punishing at the harder difficulties and losing even one man can make it impossible to finish the mission. Things spiral out of control quickly and the wrong placement of a heavy gunner can mean the difference between victory and six dead dudes. That’s not even getting into the long term strategy of building out your base, researching alien technology, and training soldiers. You have a finite amount of resources and failure to use them wisely means that the countries that bankroll your alien-fighting unit will pull their funding. Launch more satellites!
2. Cloud Atlas
This movie is an adaptation of an unadaptable book. Love it or hate it, you have to admire the sheer craft that went in to creating such a dense narrative that interweaves six completely different narratives. The result is something that you can definitely see the seams on, but the fact that it holds together at all is amazing. From the creepy buck-toothed grin of Tom Hanks’ 18th-Century poisoner to the just-a-little-too-much patois of his post-apocalyptic shepherd every inch of the film is imbued with a stark attention to detail that honors David Mitchell’s novel even while it completely reworks the structure. Clocking in at three hours, the film does challenge you to keep all the separate threads straight but it is worth the effort.
3. The U.S. Presidential Election
It’s been a long, long, long slog to the finish line and it is finally over. Whether the outcome had you dancing in the streets with joy at the thought of four more years of glorious progressivism or rending your garments and gnashing your teeth as you booked your flight to Canada to avoid the soul-crushing slide into a socialist hell, I think we can all agree that we are glad to be off the electoral roller coaster at long last. People who paid attention to the raw numbers weren’t terribly surprised by the re-election of President Obama, but election night was still a fun chance to watch CNN’s Minority Report-esque holographic projections and touchscreen number crunching. Donald Trump’s massive meltdown on twitter following the election results was my personal highlight but the best thing about the election is that (after about 3-4 days to let the anger and resentment bubble out) it will be safe to go on Facebook again.