Final Fantasy XV; a Beautiful Dearth of Explorative Storytelling

I mentioned Final Fantasy XV back in my year in review, but I would like to spend a bit more time looking at one of the strangest video game experiences I have ever had. For those that don’t know the game, here’s the plot; you play as Noctis (the ultimate emo prince) who, along with his entourage of Ignis (British and likes to cook), Gladiolus (who has the muscles to back up that name), and Prompto (almost endearing in his hyperactivity), goes on a roadtrip to marry his fiance Lunafreya (there’s no joke here because we never get to know her). Shortly after starting that trip, Noctis’s home city, Insomnia, is taken over by their longtime enemies the Niflheim Empire and Noctis’s father, the king, is killed.

We learn of this invasion over a cell phone call.

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Noctis and friends then continue their journey, now going after magical super-weapons and gaining the help of gods so Noctis can take the throne and save his people, and then when the real villain is revealed, save the world. For a while this works, despite the product placement Cup Noodles mission. Noctis and his friends are wonderfully drawn out and their relationship is the most functional thing in the whole game. Together you drive from place to place, never really going anywhere, fight monsters, complete missions, and prepare until you’re ready to go meet Lunafreya on another continent for help.

Then, after fighting an exhilarating boss fight, the game railroads you. Literally.

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Railroading here refers to the action of putting a game on rails, forcing every player down the exact same linear path. It’s coined for making a game similar to riding a train, where there is only one route it can travel down. The irony is that when Final Fantasy XV puts you on rails, they literally put you on a train for the back third of the game.

This is where the game starts to fall apart, barely making it to the end. The story becomes loosely stitched together, with a lot of plot points happening off screen. It leaves you feeling confused more than anything else. Now the director of the game is planning new cutscenes to fill in those blanks and a few more dlc updates, which is a whole other post worth writing about. But I want to talk about those cutscenes.

A cutscene is when the game takes away all player control and treats them to a scene as if they were watching a movie. They’re not necessarily bad, they’re just not the best way for a video game to tell a story. Video games have the unique ability to tell us about a world and a person, not by simply telling us, but by having us discover it at our own pace. For example:

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That’s from Bioshock Infinite, a game that opens with you taking a boat to a lighthouse and finding a flying contraption inside that takes you up to a floating city in the sky. You play through all of this. As you walk around this city you discover the people there revere the American founding fathers as if they were gods, and they carry with them the racial and gender politics of their time. So much so, that when you save a Black woman from being killed all hell breaks loose around you and the rest of the game is spent fighting for your life. And then traversing multiple realities. Which, yeah it’s weird, but you get to discover all of that as you run and fight across this incredibly designed city. I would argue the game would be better with far less of the running and gunning element, so I will offer two more examples from one of my favorite games from last year:

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That’s from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. There’s a large chunk of gameplay, far more than I expected, centered around how young Nathan Drake and his older brother Sam broke into a woman’s house to steal back some of their deceased mother’s possessions. Moving through the house is entirely exploration based, with a puzzle element here or there. But the real joy is entering this mansion and finding it full of incredible archeological items apparently found during the career of the old woman who lives there. As you continue you stumble across letters left behind by the woman’s husband and then her son. You learns her whole life story, how she married, how she left in pursuit of greater adventure, how her son hates her for it, so that when you eventually meet her you understand her. It’s great, so great that the game does it again in its own epilogue.

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This time you play as Nathan’s daughter, Cassie, as you move through the house he built. For the player it’s magnificent to see everything Nathan has made of his life, and through the eyes of a girl who doesn’t know about his adventurous past we’ve spent four games playing through. It’s the best game epilogue there’s been in my opinion.

Which brings me back to Final Fantasy XV, a game that never lets you visit Insomnia until its 10 years on and the end of the world. So when the characters all reminisce about how it used to be, I have no context. The game should have started in Insomnia and let us explore it so we could feel that anguish when we came back. When we go to Niflheim, they should have built the whole country to we could see how different it is from Lucis, Noctis’s country. Which reminds me, they did:

It’s empty landscape, but imagining driving through those landscapes which are so different from any other we’ve seen just makes me sad we didn’t. Even Niflheim’s capital, which we do play through, is all empty hallways!

In the game they talk about how days are getting shorter and nights are getting longer and more dangerous. This is a game where a significant gameplay mechanic is finding places to rest at night because the monsters are too powerful. Imagine noticing that, incrementally, the days get shorter as the game goes on. I’m sure that was the original intention but because the game was forced out sooner than it was ready we’re left with someone relaying that information on a train.

The best example of explorative storytelling in the game is when you inexplicable jumpy forward in time by 10 years.

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It’s night all the time, and you play through some early areas but now taken over by demons. A character you knew as a child picks you up in his car, where he’s kept the little cactus mementos you picked up for him. It hits you like a hammer as he drives you across the map and you see your whole country has been decimated by demons. It works like gangbusters, which is why I know the designers had the capability to get it right, they just didn’t have the time frame.

Still, this was a learning experience for me. I don’t think I would have had the capability to know how best to tell a video game story until I started filling in Final Fantasy XV’s blanks in my head. All the levels it needed to become something truly special. It’s a weird thing to say, but in this case its altogether true.

Is that a thing, learning through disappointment in something?

-JP

PS, outside of its storytelling I do think the game is solid, and I really like the combat system.

Two Years Gone By

January 10th, 2015 was my first full day in Los Angeles.

As of January 10th , 2017, I have been living in LA for two full years.

On that first day I woke up on my sister’s couch. I had spent the night there before my apartment would become available that first day.

Today I woke up in my bed, in the bedroom I sublease. I have been living here for almost a year and a half now. While it’s likely I’ll move again this year, I am very happy where I am.

On the first day it was raining, but still around 60 degrees outside.

Today it rained for a little bit and got to about 61 degrees. It has been very rainy in LA recently and I for one am all for it.

I hung around for most of the day, waiting until my apartment would finally be available.

I had the day off, so I slept in late and worked on some outlining before going to the gym in the afternoon.

The only occupation I had was “student”, and I hadn’t secured an internship for my semester in LA yet.

I’m proud to say I now work at Warner Brothers Studios. I may be a Tour Guide on the lot, but everybody has to start somewhere. Plus it’s the first full-time job I’ve ever had.

When I finally moved in to my apartment I met my roommates for the first time. They were almost complete strangers, and I knew only one other student in the program ahead of time.

Now I’m friends with those old roommates, though we don’t see each other as much as I’d like, I’ve made some great friends among my fellow Temple Alumni, and the friends I’ve made because of my job are some of the best I’ve made in my whole life.

We took our first trip together to buy groceries, bonding over food and plans to cook more than in the past.

Today was also a grocery run, though this time solo. Still not cooking as much as I had hoped to. Though I did make some banana pancakes this morning that were BOMB.

That night I crawled into bed, in a room that I shared, anxious about the next day and the semester to come.

Tonight I will sleep in the bedroom I have all to myself. Tomorrow will just be another day in my life. Nothing special about it. Though I would like some change soon. Hopefully by next year I’ll be able to get that anxious energy again.

Now that I am two years into this life I’ve chosen to live, it’s amazing how much my life has stabilized. I’ve lived in the same place for the longest length of time since I grew up in my parent’s home. I’ve worked outside in the blazing heat of the summer and the colder days of the winter, with all kinds of colorful characters riding along my tour cart. It’s my first full-time job, but that stability will allow me to branch out, make connections, and find my place in this business. I’ve found some of my best friends who I would spend every day with if I could. I can finally drive most places without navigation assistance, but it’s also well past time I took a weekend trip somewhere.

Two years. Let’s get on with the third.

-JP

PS, now that I look back on it, maybe 2016 wasn’t so bad for me personally.

 

 

2016: A Year in Entertainment

This past year has been next level bad. An excruciating amount of celebrity deaths circling around the dual decisions of Brexit and President-Elect Donald Trump (I just threw up in my mouth), all while facts became something to rail against and I’m only making barely above minimum wage.

And yet, in the world of entertainment 2016 has been a banner year. Some truly spectacular movies have come out, stellar moments in television, and a lot of video games have been in top form over the past 12 months. Which is why I’m not even going to bother putting together a top 10 list for the year. We’re going through this shit month by month to talk about my favorite pieces of storytelling that hit this past year.

Welcome to 2017, may the stories be even better than those that came before.

JANUARY

Galavant Returned

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In 2015, ABC’s medieval-musical-comedy made the ballsiest of moves by ending it’s first season on a massive cliffhanger. The show was unlikely to return for a second season to say the least, and yet it did. Not only was season two a massive improvement, it actually elevates the first season through retrospect. The songs were great (never forget) and the finale was audacious, epic, and final. Galavant was not renewed for a third season, but it shone bright while it was on the air. Now, mercifully, the whole thing lives on Netflix.

Craxy Ex-Girlfriend Boarded the Party Bus

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is often a cringe inducing series, but episode nine of the first season, “I’m Going to the Beach with Josh and his Friends!”, is one I actually can’t bring myself to revisit. The episode is like watching a car crash in slow motion. You know Rebecca’s facade for why she moved to West Covina is collapsing around her, if she could just see it coming you could both avoid all this stress. Still, in the end we get one of my favorite reprises of the first season, and Rebecca admitting she’s in love with Josh Chan, and that breath of fresh air is the first major step she takes toward mental stability.

FEBRUARY

Firewatch Serves as an Emotionally Heavy Hike Through the Woods

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I’m an equal opportunity gamer. I’ll turn up for the next big AAA title, but those never stay with me quite as much as an indie game. These smaller products that quietly remind me of the artistic power in the medium. Firewatch is one such piece of art. If there were an Oscars for video games, this would be a contender. The story of a man who spends a summer in the woods as a fire lookout with only his neighboring lookout for company. From the first text spread this simple game tugs on your heartstrings and doesn’t let go until they ache. Plus, it’s easy and accessible for anyone to play.

The Flash Went to Earth-2

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It takes over halfway through The Flash’s second season to deliver on what really should have been it’s first episode; Earth-2. The production design on display is enchanting, both futuristic and retro, and every actor gets an opportunity to play another version of themselves. Whether they’re evil, nebbish, badass, or a lounge singer, each new discovery in this world is a joy. Right up until the man in the iron mask, signalling Zoom’s true identity and the less-than-stellar final episodes of the season. (I didn’t like The Flash season two).

The Shannara Chronicles Rolled Up Its Best Episode

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Was the Shannara Chronicles a good show? Mostly no. The premiere is solid, the finale is solid, but most of what’s between is middling at best. I’m mostly a supporter because of it’s audacious premise, especially for MTV, where a tolkien-esque world is actually Earth in a far flung post-apocalyptic future. Well, that and it’s seventh episode where Amberle and Eretria fall into some ancient ruins that are really a High School long after the apocalypse. It’s the first and finest mining of their wholly unique world the show participates in, and when the girls find a set of Dungeons and Dragons dice, a chill rushed right up my spine.

Deadpool Made All the Money

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Deadpool’s R-rating allowed it to be the irreverent superhero parody the genre desperately needed. It’s release date, right around Valentines Day, allowed it to be the alternative for all the single people (and anyone against romantic movies) that weekend. And my god it’s marketing was good. By now, Deadpool is the highest grossing movie in the X-Men franchise. I’m mostly excited for the sequel. Deadpool’s script felt a few years out of date, but Deadpool 2 should be arriving just on time.

11.22.63 Went Down the Rabbit Hole

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I don’t read a lot of Stephen King, but the concept of a man traveling back in time to save JFK is irresistible to say the least. This Hulu series saw James Franco as Jake Epping, a high school teacher using a pocket in time to do just that. The drama doesn’t only come from a modern man trying to fit into the past, or even the mystery surrounding JFK’s murder, but from the ultimate adversary of time itself, an immutable force that does not want to be altered.

Gods of Egypt Exists

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If every February we get a big dumb action movie, I am completely fine with that. Gods of Egypt is all of those things. The gods are literally 50% bigger than the humans around them. The movie is so dumb that it has Geoffry Rush living in space fighting a giant smoke monster/tooth vagina (kind of hoping my mom skims this post). But most importantly, the action is so ridiculous that you stop thinking about the insane amount of whitewashing on display.

MARCH

The 100 Killed Lexa

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The 100 became a flashpoint for a discussion on killing off lesbian characters in TV when it aired this episode in season three. However, what I want to discuss is simply how good of an episode this was. Lexa wasn’t killed off to make a villain stronger, or to increase the dramatic stakes. Her death came directly out of character choices and deepened the series mythology in important and fascinating ways. Her death is important, both outside and inside the series.

Zootopia Is Way Better Than Anyone Expected

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The ad campaign for this movie basically amounted to someone screaming “ANTHROPOMORPHIZED ANIMALS!” with an image of Nick Wilde’s smug face next to it. I didn’t plan on seeing this movie, but when I did I was stunned to find an intelligent and entertaining family film with something to say. It’s movie like this that make me think the kids are alright. Because if their movies are good, then kids will know the difference between good and bad entertainment.

10 Cloverfield Lane Is Good Solid Sci-Fi

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So JJ Abrams decided to use the name Cloverfield as a means to draw audience attention to a mid-budget sci-fi film that wouldn’t have made as much money if he didn’t. That’s cool. Creating a brand out of Cloverfield to release more, and different, sci-fi films in this manner is cool. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a tough as nails main character in Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a terrifying villain in Howard (John Goodman), and a third act twist that that keeps you engaged to the final frame.

Daredevil Season Two Improved on the First in Every Way

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By splitting the second season into several mini-arcs, Daredevil season 2 nearly solves the Netflix pacing problem that plagues most of its shows. The Punisher is a welcome addition to Marvel’s New York City, Electra is a welcome shot in the arm and leads to some fun caper stories, and if The Hand had just worked better as villains the whole season would have come together in a truly special way. It didn’t quite manage that last part, but the season still managed to one-up it’s predecessor and sometimes that’s enough.

Supergirl Met The Flash

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At this point, there were probably already rumblings that Supergirl would move to the CW. This cross-network team up proved double duty to (hopefully) bring the Flash audience to CBS to watch the Girl of Steel, but also to pre-ingratiate these heroes to each other just in case they’ll be sharing further adventures in the future (see November). This episode is simply delightful, and successfully brought me back to continue watching Supergirl. Also:

Everybody Wants Some!! is Chill as Hell and You’ll Love It

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A movie about a bunch of 1980s bros on the college Baseball team the weekend before classes start, is also one with a lot of heart that knows how to have fun. Almost nothing happens, but also so much happens. By the end of its run time I wanted to see these goofballs through four years of college, but unfortunately the movie, like all things, ends. Luckily the cast of the movie seems to be popping up all over the place. Keep an eye out for Zoe Deutch, because I’m betting we’ll see her again.

APRIL

iZombie Killed Rob Thomas

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Fun fact! Most shows don’t balance episodic plots with their serialized ones very well. iZombie, however, is a masterclass in it. Season Two was entertaining through and through with great bits all over the place. I’m personally partial to Major getting a dog and naming it Minor, but the most memorable will probably be when singer/songwriter Rob Thomas is killed by a horde of zombies in the season two finale. Finally, the last Rob Thomas standing is the show’s creator who never sang about how far we’ve come.

Green Room is the Siege Move Against Nazis We All Need Right Now

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In a year where Nazis came back in a big way this movie feels very appropriate. A punk rock band plays a concert at a Neo-Nazi bar, but when they stumble upon a dead body in their green room they must fight to get out of the bar alive. It’s a tight movie that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through. Patrick Stewart plays a strikingly good Neo-Nazi leader, and it is a very heroic turn from Anton Yelchin in what ended up being one of his last roles before passing away.

Orphan Black Cloned the Tension of its First Season

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By season four a show is usually losing some steam, but Orphan Black found new energy when it set the premiere of its fourth season in the days before the show’s own pilot (suck it Rogue One). New layers were added on top of all we’ve known and we finally got to spend time with Beth Childs, the clone who was gone too soon. By the time we got back to the present we already knew what was coming for Sarah Manning and her sestras, and the following season delivered.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two Went to Therapy

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There’s something about the cadence of Tina Fey dialogue that cannot be recreated elsewhere. The way a joke is set up, then thrown away for another joke you didn’t knwo was hiding in the dialogue. That, along with the zany world of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is what makes the show so easy to binge. This season Kimmy sought out real professional help, and despite her therapist being an alcoholic Tina Fey, she actually got it when she tracked down her mom and figured out how to start moving past her imprisonment. Baby steps.

12 Monkeys Broke the Timestream

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At the end of season one, Cole deviated from the 12 Monkeys time map to save Ramse. In season two, time started to fall even further asunder. Cole and Cassandra stopped the virus from being released, and yet the future remained apocalyptic. The 12 Monkeys started sending assassins back through time, finally an opportunity for the show to travel beyond the present and the future. It turns out the show really shines in period settings, and by tripling the amount of time travelers on the side of good the storytelling opportunities did as well.

Game of Thrones Entered Uncharted Territory

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We all knew it would happen, we just didn’t know what it would be like when Game of Thrones left the books behind. Turns out it makes for very compelling television. The show brought together pairings we thought we would never see again, with Sansa and Jon Snow reuniting (by the way, Jon Snow is alive), Bran hanging out with Max von Sydow in a tree, and more fun with Tyrion in Mereen. It feels like the whole world is tuned in when Game of Thrones comes back, and this season we were all the better for it. Hold the door!

Silicon Valley Grasped Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

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Silicon Valley is the anti-Entourage, where every episode ends with its heroes worse off than before. Despite their burgeoning success, Pied Piper almost becomes a mere storage box. Even when Richard manages to build his platform, it isn’t user friendly enough to even be successful. And yet, despite all of this depression, the show is still aggressively funny. It’s still the perfect chaser to even the most harrowing episode of Game of Thrones.

Limitless Reached its Limit

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Limitless was a great show. It had a great season on CBS with great characters and a great attitude. It was fun and inventive. There are a lot of great episodes in the show, but I’m summing up here where it ended. Because it didn’t have to end, but it did, because the audience just wasn’t there for it. Now people are finding the series on Netflix and asking, “why isn’t there a second season?” Because it got cancelled, because the audience wasn’t there. Never wait for the show in streaming, or else you may never get more.

MAY

Person of Interest Received Its Final Numbers

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Yes, I have already written at length about Person of Interest. But its my year in review and I do what I want. Person of Interest’s final episodes were superlative, and damn does the finale stay with you. While CBS burned off the final season as quickly as possible it made for several weeks where we could basically live in the world of the show. It’s good to know the creators are doing alright now, they created a little show called Westworld, and its never too late to watch Person of Interest since it’s available on Netflix now.

Captain America: Civil War is the High Watermark of Marvel Movies

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Was I excited for Civil War? Yeah, a little bit. But I stand by it as the pinnacle of the MCU franchise. The only reason the movie works as well as it does is the twelve previous Marvel movies that allow us to so easily track every character in the piece. Black Panther fit seamlessly into the established world and my god I didn’t even know i needed that Spider-Man so badly. I don’t care what anyone else says; there were lasting stakes. Not physical, but emotional. Things will not be back to normal when the Avengers get back together, and I’m scared of what that’ll look like.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the Best Video Game Finale

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This was the AAA title I was most looking forward to this year. Naughty Dog knows how to tell great stories that look amazing, and since I game for the story I am all in for them. Uncharted 4 took the series to new heights with an engaging tale about brotherhood and responsibility. Thankfully, at no point did monsters appear that could be explained away either. And then there’s the epilogue, a shining example of what good video game storytelling looks like.

Jane the Virgin got Married

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Jane the Virgin played its love triangle as far as it could without overstaying its welcome, but in the end Michael won. TEAM MICHAEL! We all thought this season finale would lead to Jane losing her virginity, but instead Michael was shot by Sin Rostro in classic cliffhanger fashion. It was a hard summer waiting for this one to come back.

The Nice Guys is a Comedy Noir Masterpiece

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The Nice Guys was one of the best movies to come out this summer, and there wasn’t a superhero in sight. Ryan Gosling is at his best as a bit of a mess, and Russel Crowe makes for a very effective enforcer. Shane Black has been the king of comedy noir ever since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and this might be the best work he has ever done. It turns out WB did make a really good movie this summer, it just wasn’t the one they bet everything on.

JUNE

12 Monkeys Turned a Groundhog Day Story on its Head

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When Jones considers that the source of the virus and y’know, the oncoming collapse of time itself, are all results of time travel, he sends Cassandra to kill her younger self and prevent everything that’s happened as a result. Instead, she and Cole wind up in a time loop, repeating the day over and over until they find the result time wanted them to find. Lots of shows are able to use a Groundhog Day story for an episode, but 12 Monkeys used its premise and characters to make a whole greater than its parts.

Game of Thrones Brought on the Battle of the Bastards, Followed Up with The Winds of Winter

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As a show that’s always trying to one up itself, Game of Thrones tried to dethrone last year’s Hardhome with the Battle of the Bastards and damn did they deliver. An hour as tense as it was thrilling to watch. For once the good guys won and the Starks took Winterfell back. And yet, that doesn’t even compare to the season finale where all of the characters moved into position for the final two seasons of the show. I don’t know what’s to come, but it’s going to be unlike anything that came before. Oh right, and Lady Mormont was there

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Proves They Still Make Them Like They Used To

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Taika Waititi has directed What We Do In the Shadows and he will direct Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel, but in between he made this darling of a film. A troubled kid moves in with a family in the boonies of New Zealand. He goes off trekking with Sam Neil and helps the gruff father figure become kinder while also learning to care for others. It’s fun, it’s sad, it’s action packed. Thor is in good hands with Taika, and you should watch this movie. On hulu. Where it is.

Swiss Army Man is the Movie About a Magical Corpse Everyone’s Talking About

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A man is trapped on a deserted island when a dead body washes ashore. The body turns out to be so flatulent that the man can ride it all the way to shore. And that’s only the first couple minutes. Swiss Army Man only gets weirder from there, and yet its commentary on love and life are simplistic but powerful. LA went crazy for this movie when it came out, but I’m unsure if it got much attention in the normal people parts of the world. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. You’ll probably like what you find.

JULY

Stranger Things Appeared Out of Nowhere

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First there was a trailer, then there was a series, and then it was a phenomenon. Stranger Things was successful almost entirely through word of mouth. There was hardly any promotion in the lead up to the series, and yet it didn’t take long for everyone to start talking about the show. Maybe it was the compelling story or the pitch perfect vibe of amblin entertainment. Maybe it was the charisma of the kids, the teens, or the adults. At the end of the day, the show just works, and thank god people still show up to watch based on that alone.

Don’t Think Twice Speaks to Creatives on a Deep and Personal Level

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There’s not really much more to say about Don’t Think Twice that I didn’t already say when I wrote about it at length.

Train to Busan Finds a New Angle on a Zombie Apocalypse

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Zombies have been done to death (heh) but Train to Busan understands that zombies can’t be the point of the film these days. We all have our own interpretations, our own preferred version of zombies. If you want to get people to stick around, you need a good emotional core. A father giving everything to save his daughter, more than he’s ever given for her before, is that core. Of course my favorite character is the jacked guy who’ll punch out every zombie for his pregnant wife, but I digress.

AUGUST

Batman: The Telltale Series Unfurls a New Twist on a Classic Myth

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Telltale makes the best story driven video games. They are so good that I bought their Batman game, even though I’m pretty sick and tired of Batman. It turns out, there are still Batman stories to tell, and one simple narrative move they make in these games made me reconsider everything I know about the Dark Knight. What if the Waynes, like all other billionaires, made their fortune through shady dealings with the mob. Suddenly you have to play as Batman, and even more importantly Bruce Wayne, all while knowing everything you fight for is built on a shaky foundation.

Scream Killed It in a Series Best Episode

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It would have been pretty dumb of me to not mention Scream here considering I co-host a podcast on it. But Scream legitimately earned its place here with the relentless tenth episode of its second season. “Relentless” is, I think, the secret sauce of a slasher TV series like Scream. It needs to move at the pace of a slasher film even with the longer run time. It’s when the show slows down for the melodrama that it loses traction. This episode, The Vanishing, manages to do both. It’s the best.

Mr. Robot Spent Almost Half an Episode in a 90s Sitcom

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It’s not just that the cameras and musical opening are vintage. It’s not the accurate sets and effects. It’s not even the acting that makes this episode of Mr. Robots super weird second season so outstanding (although clearly Mrs. Anderson is having a blast here). It’s that USA went all in on this episode, even digging up their own channel’s 90s sitcom block intro and vintage commercials to fill the breaks with until the show returns to the present. It’s astounding to have that much faith in a show, all for an extended sequence where Elliot dreams through being beaten nearly to death.

SEPTEMBER

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Spent Three Episodes Making Fun of Florida

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Oddly prescient for a year where many spent the night of November eighth yelling, “What the hell Florida!?” at their TV screens, Brooklyn Nine-Nine sent Jake and Captain Holt into witness protection in said Stinky Butt. The result was three straight weeks of A+ Florida jokes, because Florida really is the silliest of the 50 states.

Agents of SHIELD Revived Ghost Rider

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Of all the superhero shows on TV, Agents of SHIELD often feels like the most dependable. Every week the quality will be at the same pretty good level as the one before, and I’m so on board for the MCU I can’t seem to quit it. Luckily I was rewarded this year with their introduction of Ghost Rider. It was odd how easily he was able to fit in the tech based spy world of SHIELD, and I’m hoping they’ll get him back some day. In the mean time I can tell myself the other Rider who gives Robbie his powers was Nic Cage’s Johnny Blaze

This Is Us May Have Had the Best Pilot I’ve Ever Seen

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I’m not normally spoiler phobic, but in this case I will keep the twist in This Is Us’s pilot a secret simply because you have to experience it for yourself. The series arrives with such confidence in itself, and such great charisma among the actors involved, that it makes you fall for all of its disparate characters and stories. It’s the best show NBC is putting out right now, and it fills the void if you were ever a Parenthood fan.

The Magnificent Seven Rides in as an Invigorating Western

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With seven options, its easy to find a hero to root for in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the adaptation of Seven Samurai. I expected mine to be Chris Pratt’s Han Solo type Josh Faraday, but instead it wound up being Billy Rocks, played by Lee Byung-hun. Side note: Billy and Goodnight Robicheaux, played by Ethan Hawke, are totally a couple in this. And then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio doing a crazy accent. But most importantly, the story is simply told, the action is engaging, and its a reminder that westerns can still work today.

Luke Cage Wasn’t Just Halfway Decent, It Was Halfway Great

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After Jessica Jones (still the best Marvel TV show) introduced Luke Cage I was very excited to see his own adventures. There’s a lot to love in the show too. Fantastic side characters like Misty Knight, the always cool effect of Luke Shrugging off everything thrown at him, and my god is the music good. For the first half I really thought it would stick the landing, but instead the show bizarrely slams a second season into its first with a wholly different villain who should work on paper, but can’t match Mahershala Ali on screen. There a great moments in the back half, I mean with so much Claire Temple there has to be, but I just wish it could have measured up to the front.

OCTOBER

Westworld Booted Up and Took the World on an Adventure

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It turns out if you use the HBO alchemical formula of sex + violence + intriguing setting and mix that with a hybrid of Person of Interest (I’ll never stop talking about it) and Dollhouse (I should start talking about it), you get a smash hit. The pilot’s twisty intro to the park worked wonderfully, and the internet got to work furiously theorizing what other surprises could await them.

Supergirl Introduced Its Superman and Became Stronger for It

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Tyler Hoechlin wasn’t exactly known for his charm when he was on Teen Wolf, but it turned out he had the capacity to turn in the best Superman performance I’ve seen since Christopher Reeves. His appearance on Supergirl coincided with the series arriving on the CW, where the overall quality of the show suddenly skyrocketed. Is it because the CW understands superheroes better than CBS? Maybe. Even though Supes was only around for two episodes, the show has continued to play at that level since.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Finally Came Out on PS4 and It’s Pretty Great

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When the surprisingly good Tomb Raider reboot came out a few years ago we wondered if it was a fluke, now that the sequel is available on all devices its clear it wasn’t. The series is just plain good. With the action and platforming of Uncharted, but an added flair of survival mechanics, exploration, and a heaping dose of pain and despair. Lara Croft gets hurt a lot trying to save the day, enduring cold and more than one bear attack (Only she kills the bear. Suck it Dicaprio), but it makes for a good play. Though has anyone else noticed they changed her face between games? I liked the old one!

Black Mirror Season Three Showed Us All the Dark Side; San Junipero Showed Us the Light

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Black Mirror isn’t the modern Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone was about our fear of the unknown, literally entering another dimension to tell these stories. Black Mirror is about our fear of the known, and more importantly the dark things we’re capable of with the technology we have or could have. Then San Junipero came around and told a story of hope and love. That episode in particular, in a very good season, really is as good as you’ve heard.

NOVEMBER

Jane the Virgin Loses Her Virginity

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This could have been pushed to the series finale, but by then it would have been well past the point of reality. Instead, Jane gave up her virginity early in season three and found that too could lead to more drama in her life. Girl’s got a lot of drama in her life. The show’s title, now inaccurate, gives an excuse for Cougar Town-like title cards where they replace “Virgin” with her status for the episode.

Doctor Strange Bends Dimensions and Expands the Marvel Universe

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You can say every Marvel movie is the same all you want, but Doctor Strange featured a fight within a city’s destruction in reverse. The movie is a throwback to the days of Phase 1, but the post-credits scene with Thor reminds you that we’ll be seeing the sorcerer supreme again very soon. I’m sure someone in the MCU can explain away Doctor Strange’s magic as hyper-science, but in the meantime its a welcome addition to my favorite fictional world to visit.

Arrival Breaks Space, Time, Your Heart

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Has anyone else noticed that sci-fi movies are getting smarter? Last year we got the Martian and this year we got Arrival, a beautifully shot and far more engaging take on first contact than most other alien stories. Dennis Villeneuve proved here he’s got the goods, and considering he’s directing that Blade Runner sequel that’s heartening to know. Arrival is good, but make sure you watch it a second time. It’s a wholly different experience during round two.

Pokemon Sun & Moon Makes Everything Old Look New Again

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When you’ve played literally every Pokemon game in the franchise, at a certain point you’re just coming back to it as comfort food. And yet, as I’m playing Pokemon Sun I’m feeling a sense of discovery I haven’t felt in a very long time. Gone are the gyms, replaced with island challenges that encourage you to explore without forcing it on you through story. Classic Pokemon have new forms and in a clever twist, it turns out you’re the rival to another character instead of the other way around. That being said, I do have a main issue with the game; why does all the men’s fashion suck?

The Librarians Checked Out a Delightful Third Season

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In a stunning turn of events, the Librarians is still great and I’m still the only person watching it. Really thought I’d solved that when I told you you should be watching it. This season’s big bad is twofold, a body jumping God of Chaos named Apep, and the rather nebulous concept of an ultimate battle between Good and Evil. That second part sounds rather bleak, but considering this is the show where Ezekiel Jones and Jacob Stone can’t hide their excitement to clown around in a submarine I think things will be alright.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Made Us Follow Where It Led

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My personal relationship with Gilmore Girls was this; my mom and sister liked it and it was on before Smallville. I was only really aware of the first three seasons, so I wound up on Team Dean. A Year in the Life put me on Team Jess, and then followed it up with Team Jess Deserves Better Than Rory Because She’s The Worst. It turned out I remembered more about the show than I thought and felt very comfortable back in Stars Hollow. The question remains of whether or not there will be more. Lorelai’s arc really feels complete now, but Rory’s problems are just getting started.

Final Fantasy XV is Flawed and Beautiful

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There’s a moment in Final Fantasy that cemented the game for me as great, and it was small. Noctis complains about being hot, so Gladio tells him to, “lose the jacket”. It’s the four main best friends that manage to save the game from falling apart. Their dialogue works, their friendship is pure bromance, and watching them work together in a series best combat system is as engaging as it gets. I have a lot to say about this game, expect a specific post in the future. But also, Jesus is that secret dungeon breaking me.

Invasion! Was the Ultimate DC CW Crossover

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I can only imagine the labor of love that is the production of the annual DC crossover on the CW. Each show managing to write an episode that both brings the whole multiverse of heroes together and tells stories that focus on their main characters. It truly cemented The Flash, Green Arrow, and Supergirl as an alternative trinity to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. It finally took Barry to task for Flashpoint (easily the worst story telling decision his show could have made) and brought everyone together for a rousing climax, and then a nice drink among friends.

DECEMBER

Arrow’s 100th Episode, and the Follow-Up Midseason Finale, are the Series at its Best

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Go back in time and tell yourself watching the Arrow pilot that, in episode 100, Oliver and his friends escape from an alien prison built to resemble their dream life with the help of their time traveling friend. Now go back to the rough parts of season three and four to tell yourself that season five is doing it all right. Prometheus is a great villain, and the gauntlet he puts Oliver through (especially the escalator fight) means that this time its personal. A quick reminder that last time it was personal it was Slade, aka the series best villain.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Broke Up Rebecca and Paula

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The real One True Pairing of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was always Rebecca and Paula, which is what has made season two so hard. Every episode has driven a wedge between them until they effectively broke up their friendship. Can they get back together? Is having Valencia and Rebecca become friends a great idea or the best idea? Will Greg ever come back? Seriously, I need more Greg. And the biggest question, why isn’t everyone watching this show?

Westworld Proved Every Fan Theory Correct, then Began the Revolution

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Meanwhile in the show everyone actually does watch, it turned out that every fan theory was true. As an avid despiser of all fan theories, this meant little to me. The implications in the story were strong enough to overcome my frustration at the internet winning again. The real excitement came in the finale of the season when the robot revolution began. Now we all have to wait over a year for a second season, the creators straight up don’t know how Game of Thrones puts them out so fast, but my god is that a good moment to go out on. Also, I want to visit Samurai World.

La La Land is the Movie I’m Most Glad I Saw This Year

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This is another one I’ve already written a lot about. It’s a brilliantly made movie with an ending that stays with you long after. People will be talking about this in relation to the Oscars, so if you’re a person who cares about knowing the competition seek this film out. Also if you’re just a person seek this film out. You know what? Even non-people, dogs and cats and what-have-you, should seek this film out.

Rogue One Changes How a Star Wars Story Must Present Itself

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As with every modern Star Wars movie Disney will put out, Rogue One is already being evaluated and re-evaluated. To be fair, Rogue One has a bit more meat to chew on than an episode in the series due to it’s stand aside, not so much stand alone, nature. But what stands out to me is how much more of a director’s personal style fits into a Star Wars Anthology movie than a main episode. Rogue One looks unlike nay other Star Wars movie, and I’m excited for future Star Wars stories that further push those boundaries.

The Bad Kids Teaches Us to Look at The System and Not The Delinquents

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Documentaries are fascinating films because they’re the filmic equivalent to building the wings as you fly a plane. They start with an idea, but a story isn’t there until filming starts, and continues, for hundreds of hours. Then it falls to the editors and directors in post to find their film there. In The Bad Kids, we learn about an alternative school in California looking to help “juvenile delinquents” graduate High School. The staff are some of the greatest people I’ve ever seen, and the story of these kids is one to latch onto. The way the school approaches education is fascinating as well, putting the kids in control of hoq quickly they graduate. Education needs reform, and maybe there’s a piece of this idea than can work everywhere.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Takes You to Exactly That

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This time you’re not just Clementine, you’re also Javier; a survivor who’s just trying to keep what’s left of his family together. To be fair, everyone’s individual Clementines have diverged so much it makes sense to minimize her protagonist time. This Telltale series is still in top form, maintaining its space as the Best Thing Called The Walking Dead (fight me). It’s all fun and games until you think you’re safe, because that’s always when things get so much worse.

Sense8’s Christmas Special Gifted Us a Party, an Orgy, and a Great Fight

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The gayest show on TV came back for a two hour long Christmas Special! It serves as an effective primer to (hopefully) hook new fans onto the show. The cluster all continued on fairly minor plot, but heavily emotional, plots since the real season doesn’t get started for a few more months, but y’all this episode had EVERYTHING. Everybody partied together, then had a crazy orgy all over the world, the show’s signature beautiful cinematography made me desperate to travel, and to cap it all off Wolfgang, Will, and Sun beat up a bunch of thugs. There’s no other show like this.

Doctor Who Dropped in for a Christmas Episode, But With a Superhero this Time

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Where have you been my Doctor!? After the best season of Doctor Who since it was revived in 2005, the show has been off the air for an entire year. Luckily, the Doctor always checks in for Christmas. This time he went to New York both to create a superhero (accidentally) then to fight a bunch of body hijacking brains with eyes. The Ghost, as far as superheroes go, was solid golden age “aw shucks” heroic with the appropriately mild mannered alter ego to accompany him. The drama was very low stakes, but given most people’s memories of where the Doctor is by now would bu fuzzy at best, that’s just right this time around.