Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 5 Picks from 2013

It's a new year here at Triple Bladed Sword, and we begin by taking a brief look back at the narratives that made the biggest impact on a few of us in 2013. This isn't a top 10 movies list, or best books list, but rather a more inclusive appreciation of the various forms contemporary narratives take, and our favorites that were released in 2013.

Mike:

1. Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Book):
This is at the top of my list because it was the completion of a 20+ year journey for me, from the first book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series bought hot off the press in January of 1990, to the finale of Memory of Light this past December. I listened to the whole Wheel of Time series in 2013, finally getting a chance to read the last three books which I had not previously had time to read. The Last Battle, which is what most of Memory of Light is concerned with, makes the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King look like a Quidditch match. And lots of dear characters die, which had me unexpectedly weeping, especially in the case of one of the folks from Emond's Field. It was a lovely, epic, nailbiting end to a great series - or, as Thom Merrilin said, "exquisite."
2. Nemo: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Comic): The previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume concerning Nemo's daughter, Century: 1910, was so esoteric in its references that it was somewhat unsatisfying. But Nemo: Heart of Ice wears its references on its parka-sleeve. Nemo's daughter seeks to outdo her father in polar exploration, and in the process crosses Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness and flees from Campbell/Carpenter's The Thing: you combine Lovecraft and Carpenter AND Verne? You had me at frozen wasteland. 
3. Man of Steel - Zach Snyder, director (Film): 
I have no issues with adaptations going in new directions, so Synder's changes don't faze me. Frankly, I was sick of Kryptonite and the whole "Lois doesn't know who Clark really is" dynamic, so I'm excited to see where things go. The film also had two great subjective wins for me, and I don't mind admitting that my love of this film is mired in nostalgia and sentimentality: high "dad" factor with two of the great '90s male actors as Clark's fathers (Costner's line "you are my son" makes me cry every time I watch it), and a Superman-sized set of challenges. I know they'll have to get Luthor in there sooner or later, but I was glad to finally see Doomsday-level battles on the big screen. Plus, I loved Hans Zimmer's score, which succeeded in never making me think of the John Williams' theme from the '70s (not because I don't love it - I own the LPs for the soundtracks to Superman: the Movie and Superman, but because it didn't invite those comparisons).
4. Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe (Comic): While the series started in 2012, I'm including it here because it was completed in February of 2013, and it's the first time in over a decade I've bought every floppy issue of a comic series, albeit a brief one. I usually wait for the trade paperback, and I almost never buy Godzilla comics, even the great IDW series, despite my love for the big G, simply because I find them boring and simple. Stokoe's art and story were not B-movies in comic form - they were a celebration of the entire Godzilla franchise, highlighting many iconic villains and nemeses, while always keeping the point-of-view firmly in the life of Ota Murakami, a soldier who has been trying to kill Godzilla since 1954. While it's no Saga, it's definitely an elevation of the Godzilla franchise in comic form.
5. Pacific Rim, director Guillermo Del Toro (film): I have my full review here, which is where I say why I loved this movie - it's a beefed up, grown up version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, from the soundtrack to the coordinated movements of the Jaeger Rangers, and that's all I wanted it to be. So while it isn't brilliant or deep, it was easily my most unremitting moment of squee in 2013. 

Sam:

1. The Cage written and drawn by Martin Vaughn-James -- Graphic Novel
 The Cage, originally published in 1975, was re-released in 2013 to an adoring, waiting public. Ok, so that's not really true--The Cage was not especially well-received by the general public. It's avant-garde, surreal, non-linear, and lacking a human protagonist (though some critics argue that the bed is the main character). In fact, it lacks any humans whatsoever. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on images of dilapidated architecture, desert wastelands, and entangled, fleshy organics. I admit I found the novel difficult to dig in to at first, but once I did, I found it genuinely unsettling. The inky, blood-like creature that floats, hangs, and seeps along the narrative is especially disturbing. What is this bloody monster? Vaughn-James never directly tells you where the humans have gone or what the blood-monster is, but the image of human muscle twisted in the bed sheet seems to suggest some sort of apocalyptic event. My Recommendation: Read/View this graphic novel with an open mind and without any expectations of "getting it." This narrative is meant to be felt--not understood. Rating: 4/5
2. How I live Now directed by Kevin Macdonald -- Film 

How I live Now is a realistic science fiction film concerned with the story of Daisy, a New Yorker sent to live with her British cousins on a utopic farm located somewhere near London. During her stay, she falls in love with her sensitive, animal-taming cousin, Edmund. It sounds super lame (and a bit creepy--she sexes-up her cousin after all), but then World War III starts and London is nuked. Daisy and Edmund are inevitably separated and the story becomes about Daisy's journey through war-torn lands back to the safety of the farm and the loving embrace of Edmund. I will say that Daisy is an unlikable character and that the love story is forced and awkward (and pretty unnecessary altogether). But what makes this film worth watching is the realistic portrayal of WWIII. The terror of this film is subtle. You see the carnage and violence of the war through Daisy's eyes: dead animals, poisoned water, murdered children, conscription, child soldiers, women and girls forced into sexual slavery. The subtleness of this film is incredibly effective and it leaves you wanting more. For instance, you never know from which country the terrorists originate. You never know why the war started in the first place. This lack of knowing allows you to share in and understand Daisy's confusion and fear. My Recommendation: Ignore the crappy love story and watch this movie for World War III. Rating: 3/5
3. Adventure Time Season 5 (incomplete) created by Pendleton Ward -- Cartoon
Season 5 is just as wonderfully random and absurd as the season before it. Because Adventure Time (AT) is essentially a cartoon for younger folks (read: children), most episodes are one shots contributing very little to an overarching plot. However, AT manages to subtly, and always with an entertaining flare, sneak in character development and philosophical intrigue. Perhaps that's why AT is so appealing to adults of all ages: it actually makes you think. This seasons highlights: Finn learns that Princess Bubblegum (AKA PB) is not quite as benevolent or innocent as she appears; Finn suffers from depression; PB and Marceline become very close; and Lemongrab is as terrifying as ever. My Recommendation: If you're looking for the best episodes, I recommend watching "Simon and Marcy," "Too Old," "BMO Lost," "The Vault," "Box Prince," "James"--who am I kidding, watch them all. My Rating: 5/5
4. Orphan Black created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett -- Television Series 

First of all, this science fiction series is Canadian and everyone who knows me knows that I love to support Canadian anything. Secondly, this series is actually amazing. It smartly examines the ethical implications of cloning and nature versus nurture. Tatiana Maslany, the star of Orphan Black, portrays multiple clones, each clone with her own personality, sexual preference, and accent. Maslany is perfect for the role. She can go from a snobby, WASP-y housewife to a badass cop in the same episode and remain convincing and compelling in both roles. I'm especially impressed by the flawless effects. This is a Canadian series with a Canadian budget and yet the special effects are almost impossible to spot. The clones, all played by ONE actress, often appear in the same room at the same time interacting with each other. And it looks realistic! My Recommendation: Watch this show. Seriously. My Rating: 4/5
5. This is the End directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg -- Film
This is the End isn't intellectual, it isn't academic, and it doesn't pass the Bechdel test. It might look like a stupid "bro movie" at first glance, but it's hilarious and smart in its own way. James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and a variety of other funny famous people play themselves in order to poke fun at and satirize themselves and Hollywood culture. During one of James Franco's awesome house parties, the biblical apocalypse begins. The "good" (and this is the most literal idea of "good" you can think of) are beamed up to heaven while the "bad" must face the demonic horrors let loose on earth as punishment. Of course, Franco, Rogen, and Hill (along with some other famous people) are part of the "bad" group and must board up Franco's house, find food and water, and avoid violent groups of survivors in order to survive. My Recommendation: This film is worth a watch just for the ending and Michael Cera's scenes. Rating: 3.5/5



Brittney:

Best Sci-Fi Film - Gravity
The best sci-fi film of the year, hands down, was Gravity. No other film in the genre even came close. Gravity started out as a film many, many people thought was never going to get made, myself included. As soon as I heard that actors were jumping ship I thought for sure this movie was doomed to pre-production limbo. I was even more skeptical when Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were cast. I’m a fan of Bullock but I just didn't see her as an astronaut. Couldn't picture it. I was blown away by her performance and the film as a whole. In a climate where movie studio execs are unwilling to bet on a female lead in a genre film unless it’s a franchise – Gravity really showed them at the box office. With awards season right around the corner I would be surprised if Gravity didn't take home a few shiny trophies.


Best Television Potential - ABC's Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

With the deluge of super hero movies over the past few years the iron was hot for a television aspect and ABC jumped all over that one. Disney is ABC’s parent company so it only made sense for them to continue to delve into the goldmine that is Marvel. Now that we've reached the halfway point of the season I can say that I've been pleasantly surprised. There’s still so much potential there but I think the series has hit its stride with its latest episode “A Magical Place.” I was getting a bit frustrated with the drawn out plot lines but this episode really delivered. The series has spent a lot of time favoring character development over plot development and it was in this latest episode where the two really came together. Hopefully S.H.I.E.L.D. can stay the course and continue to improve itself. I’m also hoping for a few silver screen cameos as well.

Best Geek Subscription - LootCrate
A friend introduced me to LootCrate this summer and I love waiting for it in the mail. Lootcrate is a monthly paid-subscription “loot” box filled with everything a nerd could want. Every month an email is sent out with the theme and is followed by a themed video which has easter-egg style hints about what may be appearing in your crate. For example, October’s theme was SURVIVE. Inside I received a “Ewoking Dead” (Star Wars/Walking Dead) mash-up t-shirt, a copy of Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide, Outbreak status zombie temporary tattoos, A "Love Your Guts" valentine's day style greeting card, 8-bit zombie buttons, a zombie hunter I.D. card, and some creepy candy. The monetary value of the crates is usually upwards of about $50. Because I am Canadian and have to pay customs on my crate, my subscription is about $30 some odd dollars a month, but is well worth it in my opinion. January’s theme is LAUNCH and seems to be space themed. I am eagerly waiting getting my nerdy little hands on it.

Best Sci-Fi Young Adult Novel - The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
Having read the first two installments in the deliciously creepy Monstrumologist series I was anticipating his attempt at sci-fi with The Fifth Wave. Earth has been invaded by aliens in wave after wave of assaults, the setting of the story being after the fourth wave but before the fifth. As a last remnant of humanity, sixteen year old Cassie finds an unlikely ally while searching for her little her brother while coming to terms that the alien invasion has been more insidious than humans first thought. The novel has been optioned for the big screen, and with comparisons to everything from Independence Day to The Hunger Games, I could easily see it in theatres. It was a pleasant surprise in a year full of predictable dystopian releases and I can't wait for the next novel in the trilogy, due out in May.


Best Surprise - Oblivion
Oblivion made me forget that Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. It was a beautiful and interesting film, though predictable. I felt like I was watching a mash up of all the great science fiction films of years gone by, in both good and bad ways.


Courtney:

1. The Conjuring, directed by James Wan--Film
James Wan delivered 2 of the most successful horror films of the year with Insidious 2 and The Conjuring. It was extremely difficult to choose which, for me, was the "best" because I loved Insidious' story and "charm." The haunted-house theme is common in both films, but is captured brilliantly in The Conjuring. The story plays out with a family on hard times moving to a new home, trying to start anew. Sound familiar? Much like the themes we have seen in horror classics like Amityville Horror, Wan's film nails once again, creepy atmosphere. What really stuck with me was the simple game of clap-Marco Polo, and how (if you were home alone), could be quite terrifying--not knowing when someone will find you or pop out. Great performances in horror films, are for the most, hard to come by. However, with Bates Motel's Vera Famiga and her "all emotions on deck" performances, and Ron Livingston's dad-like warmth, the ending of the film is satisfying. (4/5)


2. Misfits, Season 5, created by Howard Overman--Television


Alas, all things must come to an end, and for the E4 series, an end is unfortunately due. I have stuck with this series for the past couple of years, and to my delight, it has flourished once again to an acceptable end. Misfits is about a group of young adults who, while on community service, were struck by lightening and given super powers. Yes, I know what most think about a description like this...really? How does this sound appealing? Misfits is Heroes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque snark, on a R-rated level. How does that NOT sound appealing? This past season devoted itself to the show's roots: science fiction, horror, and the weird. What made this show successful in the beginning was the writing and delivery from a group of actors who have now gone on to "bigger" and "better" things. With a fresh cast, heavily relying on This is England's Joseph Gilgun for the comedic relief the series is famous for, the group of misfits with equally terrible powers (power-stealing through sex, telekinesis, imaginary-friend, and split-person personality) come together to beat the "evil" super-heroes with the better super powers. Many have condemned the show since the leave of show favorites Robert Sheehan and Iwan Rheon, but the series finally made up for the mess of season 4 (minus the zombie-cheerleader blood bath episode). (4.5/5)

3. American Horror Story: Coven, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk--Television
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, you know no limit. I think this is the best way to describe this series thus far. Though it is still on-going, AHS: Coven has sure pushed envelopes, probably several, for it's viewers. The first episode was brilliant and horrific all at once. Kathy Bates. Her presence chills, even though we haven't been formally introduced to the character. For those who have seen her award-winning performance in Misery know exactly why Ryan Murphy actively sought Bates for the role of Madame Lalaurie (who is an actual person, I dare you to Google her). For this series, it is the unexpected familiar faces that hook us (for myself, at least). I honestly was hesitant to continue with the series after Asylum, because I felt there was too much genre and plot added in the mix of the main narrative. Danny Huston, Patti Lupone, and Angela Bassett to name a few, were all included in the casting this year and all gave amazing performances, particularly Huston. Huston's eyebrows tell you all you need to know about his character--he is dangerous and charming. Although we see the return of series "regulars," it's the faces of the new members of the Murphy-Falchuk club that I hope continue on because, without Jessica Lange next season, it will be hard to see the series keep running successfully as it has for the past two seasons. (3.5/5)

4. The World's End, directed by Edgar Wright --Film

I am a devoted Simon Pegg fan-girl. I don't know what it is about him--his charm, humor, or bleached hair-- that I find irresistible. With that out of the way, this movie is brilliant for two reasons. One--it cannot work successfully without the other two "Cornetto" films (Cornettos are a Klondike-like ice cream treat featured in Shaun of the Dead  and Hot Fuzz, also written by the The World's End writers Pegg and Wright. Each film features a specific flavor signifying a genre. For example, Shaun of the Dead featured a strawberry-flavored cone signifying the gore elements in zombie films). Two, you will not expect what is not expected--alien invasion anyone? It is hard to convince people why this film deserves to be on a top list of 2013 if they have not seen the two previous films. What fans of the "trilogy" do catch are the many connections to the other films (references to zombies and love of action films), or the common faces that appeared in both or one of the other films. Seeing familiar faces Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, David Bradley, and Martin Freeman just to name a few, is almost like an inside joke for those who adore the films as much as I do. Though the film does exclude many that have not bothered to see the previous two films, it carries itself on a common narrative that most of its audience can relate to at some point. The film's strength in a sense is Pegg and Nick Frost's friendship reigniting to face impossible odds...an alien invasion. (4/5)

5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire, directed by Francis Lawrence--Film
From the score to the cast, I honestly cannot criticize this film. Normally, I do not like teen franchise movies circulating around relationships, but this movie follows much more than a love triangle that is apparent in the novels. True to the books by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire's tone builds and prepares the audience for the final act, Mockingjay (which will be split into two separate films much like the last Harry Potter and Twilight installments). It had perfect pacing throughout, which is sometimes absent from bigger blockbuster films that rush through the narrative to cover elements that will appeal to their audience. Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss is flawless, and her realistic emotional roller-coaster within the film is not something to cringe away from, but to respect as she honestly portrays how maybe one would react in a dire situation. I saw this movie in theaters three times, and was happy to pay every penny. (5/5)

No comments:

Post a Comment