As usual, I’m running a bit late on plans! I was out of town for the past week, and while I could have written this post then, I wanted to take time off away from the computer a bit.

I’ve seen lots of “13 Best Whatevers of the Decade” posts going around, but I decided to limit to a few of my favorite things that I personally consumed in 2019 only, whether they were made last year or not. I also wanted to choose my top thing in each category, then realized that it’d be easier just to pick a few that I liked overall.

Favorite Film of 2019 – ‘Steven Universe: The Movie’

Steven Universe The Movie screenshot of Amethyst, Garnet, Steven, and Pearl

What can I say besides I love Steven Universe? There is something about the pure wholesome goodness of the show that gets me. The characters not only grow over the course of the series, but they make mistakes, learn from them, and live with those consequences. Even with standalone, bite-sized episodes, the world is more fully fleshed out and realized.

The Steven Universe movie is the penultimate story of the series, taking place after the powerful ending of the show but before the more relaxed epilogue that we were blessed to receive at the end of the year. It immediately opens by letting us know that the world has changed in the few years following the series proper, but that all of our favorite characters are still around.

Being able to pull a new story out that uses a clever plot device to let the characters – and by extension the audience – get reacquainted with each character as a culmination of the series was a real treat. Not to mention the fact that the songs are really catchy, and that the cast does an amazing job of keeping them stuck in my head four months after the movie was released. It makes sense that Cartoon Network plans on re-releasing it as a sing-along this year. On top of that, the animation is superb.

If 2020 can be the year of authenticity, and the ability for us to talk openly about our feelings without regret, I’d be completely on board with that. I also wouldn’t mind Steven’s wonderful outfit!


Favorite Books of 2019

I finished 61 books last year, which includes some trade paperback comics and audiobooks. It doesn’t include the multiples of that length that made it through my Pocket queue, but I guess it’s not a consumption competition, is it?

This category made me not want to limit to only one entry, because there were so many good ones! I wanted to share a mix of non-fiction and fiction in a variety of formats: introductory primer reference, graphic novel, novellas, and short and full length stories.

Queer A Graphic History

By Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele

I picked this up during WordCamp NYC, and immediately thought of my friend Allie Nimmons. I texted her the cover of the book and she asked if I could pick up a copy for her. Little did she know that I’d already paid for two copies of the book 😂

The artwork serves the concepts of the book well, and it is a great primer on a lot of theory around queer thought, rights, and issues. There’s a lot that I wasn’t aware of, especially some of the earlier history of Queer Theory. There were also multiple points in the book where I nodded along with the author going, “yes, exactly, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell people!”

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

By Jenny Odell

I felt that this book was best consumed on long walks that I’d take through my neighborhood. I use the word “consumed”, because I realize that to some extent it’s still a notch on the stick, a piece of art to be consumed at 2x the intention of the author to make room for others.

That said, I got a lot out of this book. I tried going through both of my social media profiles to the week that I read the book to find a quote that I was certain that I’d saved, but I wasn’t able to find it. The time that I spent focusing on that simple but frustrating task is probably a good example of how we can make busywork feel more important than it is.

We all need to learn how to do nothing sometimes.

Radicalized

By Cory Doctorow

Some of the ideas that Mr. Doctorow explores are inflammatory, and that’s exactly the point. I’ve enjoyed all of his books, and this one was no exception. It left me with lots of ideas, some good and some bad.

Exhalation

By Ted Chiang

I was first introduced to Ted Chiang through the film ‘Arrival’, and am better for it. The short stories here cover a lot of the common sci-fi tropes, yet in a way unlike I’ve seen them before. From an alien world dealing with their overuse of the environment to a time travel story set in the Islamic Golden Age, Chiang takes familiar themes and remakes them anew.

Tetris – The Games People Play

By Brian “Box” Brown

I didn’t realize that Tetris had such a complicated history. This graphic novel is an engrossing read in how people with big ideas took bigger risks by lying their way into bringing the popular Russian computer game to the masses on handheld gaming consoles.


Favorite Album of 2019 – Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

What’s that you say? This album came out in April 2018?

Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of Janelle Monáe knocking down barriers and proclaiming that we are all valid, and more alike than we are different.


Favorite Games of 2019

Mario Maker 2

This is the kind of game that I can make time for now. I either spend way too much time wandering in games like Breath of the Wild or No Man’s Sky, or I play party games that only require a few minutes at times that it’s socially unacceptable to be on the computer 😅

Mario Maker 2 expands upon the first game with more tools for people way more talented than I am to make frustrating levels that feel amazing when you finally figure out the secret and make it to the flagpole.

Pokémon Sword

I haven’t played through the game very much, so it’s weird to add it here. But I can already tell that it’s a good rework of the original games that I grew up with, and keeps the wholesome fun going that makes the series one of my favorites.

I’ve made myself so busy lately that I haven’t been able to get far into the story yet. But my husband knows me well and took the time to evolve a Sylveon for me to help me build an all doggo team with a friendly fairy as the lead 💝

Adventures With Anxiety

This game is a half hour long and mainly story driven. Sure, the wolf character is obviously cute and speaks to me, but so does the purpose of the game. You work your way through some anxiety-inducing situations, and decide the course of action that your character takes. At the end you’re given some science-backed resources on how to handle various situations.

It’s playable for free on Nicky Case’s website, and you should check out more of their work too!

Jackbox Party Packs

I never played the original Jackbox games, but the party packs have been a lot of fun. They are great with groups of friends and family, and are good in person or online.


Conclusion

This is just a bit of what I’ve consumed last year. I plan on more regularly sharing what I like this year via my newsletter (subscribe for good stuffs!)

Have you read, seen, played, or listened to anything that you want to share with me? Leave a comment and I’ll add it to my list!

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Last night I rewatched ‘The Wind Rises’, an animated biopic about the early life of Jiro Horikoshi. Mr. Horikoshi was an engineer who designed airplanes, most notably the Zero Fighter infamously used by Japan during WWII. Like another Jiro that I wrote about two years ago, he had dreams of his work that led him to his passions.

There were many negatives to Jiro’s work (which he famously acknowledged), as well as a long list of lives affected or ended by his creations. The story presented in the movie is not about these negatives or the moral dilemma of the subject. Instead it portrays a man driven by his passion, quite literally dreaming of amazing creations.

thewindrises2

I’ve taken a few key points away from the movie relating to how I view work and passion. I truly believe that the most powerful thing that you can do for yourself is to work on your passions.

1. Start With Love

The Wind Rises - Start With Love

It’s tempting to look at what others are doing that seems easy or fun and decide to do it. It’s even more tempting when you can see people making a solid living in whatever industry you’re viewing and decide that you will do just as well. The real challenge is to avoid the temptation and instead focus on the thing that you can’t stop talking, thinking, reading and even dreaming about.

If you can’t start with “love” then everyone who does love will beat everyone who “likes” or “hates”. 

James Altucher

The things that you love to do are those things that will carry you through when it gets rough. When you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and everyone is surpassing you and it’s not as easy as it initially looked. When you get so far down but don’t even question it, because of course this is the thing that you were meant to do.

2. Learn From Your Mistakes

The Wind Rises - Learn From Your Mistakes

You will mess up. With any luck, you’ll mess up big time. If you do this and you keep going, you know you’re doing the thing that you love.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my work, and continue to do so. The important thing is that I attempt to learn from those mistakes and mitigate them in the future.

It is easy to screw up and give up, but why stop when you’re putting in your 10,000 hours on the way to mastery? Looking at it another way: I’d rather keep going than have to start over again somewhere else because I’ve made a mistake. You can’t gain mastery if you give up after your first setback.

3. Do the Hard Work

The Wind Rises - Do the Hard Work

Passion is great, but sustained work is exhausting. There will be times when you question whether the love is enough to get you through. Those are the times that you need to dig in and focus on the hard work.

Sometimes you have to do something that you don’t want to do on the way to your goals. Sometimes you have to work on or learn things that you don’t care about because they are stepping stones to the things that you do want to be doing.

It’d be a lie to say that doing what you love means that you never get tired of it and never feel drained by it. The important thing, like sticking through mistakes, is staying the course even when the thing you love sometimes feels like the thing that’s killing you.

4. Keep Dreaming

thewindrises4

Finally, don’t forget that love that got you where you are in the first place. Work will become stagnant if you don’t keep thinking of ways to expand and improve. You can become the best at the level that you’re at while still having people in front of you to follow.

The nice thing about perfection is that it’s an impossible dream. The great thing about passion is that it doesn’t even consider that. It will drive you to strive for perfection, giving you new dreams of new things to get you there.

Do you want to get better? Do you want to learn how to do something new? Take a hint from the first tip that James Altucher offers in the story that I just linked. Love it. Love your work, then follow the rest of the steps to get there.

‘The Tree of Life’ is a slow burn. It is a film for the patient, and for their patience, they are rewarded.

The film had been on my radar for about a year, and life, as well as only the single art theater in town playing it for a limited run, kept me from seeing it until now. I’ve never particularly paid attention to Terrence Malick before, and did not go into this movie with the history of his work that many critics have. I did watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ again recently, and I think that it helped to prime me for the visuals in the film. Indeed, Douglas Trumbull returned to do visual effects for this film, as well as Peter and Chris Parks, who had previously worked on ‘The Fountain’, one of my favorite films that is also concerned with a different tree of life. Their work and Malick’s eye for a great shot made Every scene a bit of eye candy, whether Jessica Chastain tending to her children, or a volcanic eruption on early Earth.

‘Tree’ is about the universe, all encompassing. Beginning with the news of a son’s deaths, the movie jumps back through the creation of the Earth and life on the planet, including the rise of dinosaurs and their fall to a meteor strike. We are then returned to one of the other sons re-visitation of childhood, in Waco, Texas in the 1950’s. There is love and beauty on behalf of his mother, raising him and two other brothers with a tender hand. There is hardness also, from the firm embraces of his father, a stiffly paternal Brad Pitt. He is conflicted both at home and at work. He loves his sons but cannot express it in the same way as his wife. During a scene where he is teaching his sons to fight you can feel the tension, the play punching bordering on real fighting. His struggles in reconciling his love of music with his need to earn a living for his family fuel his inner turmoil, which most of us can attest to being stressors in our dealings with others in our own lives. A good portion of this pain resonated with me personally, which I imagine is what many of the positive reviewers of the film felt as well.

Tree of Life Poster

I’m not going to say that I fully felt Malick’s entire vision. I do agree with some of the detractors that there is a bit of pretension in the movie, and not enough of the substance is stated outright” I gathered it to be about the contention and duality of the different ways of being, whether tender or firm. When young Jack confides that he feels that he has become more his father than mother, it puts his scenes as an adult making a living as an architect into perspective, as memories of his childhood flood him while at work. Sean Penn, as an adult Jack, had far too little screen time, and I was yearning to feel more of how his childhood shaped him as a person. While ostensibly being about the formation and destruction of the planet, the film is really his story, and one that was entirely human.

Emotional, overwrought, beautiful and melancholy; ‘The Tree of Life’ is one of those films that can have tremendous impact on an individual, but if they do not feel it, then it can falloff and fall flat.

I decided to cut the last post about movies off, due to not wanting to prattle on for too long, amount of space taken up and wasted, wanting an easy topic for another post, and the fact that three of my favorite directors (or teams, in one case)  to profile had new movies out that I wanted to take in before talking about them.  This one sucks even more than that; more just a list with a short thought than anything actually substantial.  Without further ado, some film favorites from David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, and the Coen Brothers.

David Fincher

“Fight Club” – Cool film, cool twist, cool look at consumer burn-out society and having it break down.  Just remember the first rule of Fight Club.

“Se7en” – Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman team up to take on Kevin Spacey’s “John Doe” killer.  Another nice surprise ending, and some cool ideas.  It actually looks a bit staid nowadays, with a slew of similar movies out, but it was made about 15 years ago, when the story was still fresh.

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“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – This one was a bit long, and it was sprawling, but in a good way.  While it totally is the same as “Forrest Gump”, that didn’t stop me from enjoying this adaptation of a short story by one of my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Definitely some touching moments in the movie.

“The Social Network” – Best for last, I knew that I would go see it just because of the director (even though I found it a bit odd of a change after his previous films).  This was definitely my favorite film of 2010.  Maybe I’m biased, being a bit of a computer nerd and web developer myself, but I highly enjoyed and appreciated this look at a bit of the backend of developing a hit web service, as well as the story of the founding, interspersed with footage of two concurrent lawsuits filed against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  The acting and direction was superb, and the team behind this film deserves every accolade that they receive.

Also, let me state here and now that I have a nerd-crush on Mark Zuckerberg himself.  Yep, that’s out there, on to the next director.

Darren Aronofsky

“Pi” – This headtrip pretty much set the stage for his future projects: wonked out and a bit trippy.  In it, a mathematician discovers an equation that gets him doggedly pursued by a group of Wall-Street Bankers that want it to control stocks, and a Jewish Sect that believe that it contains the true name of god.  Now it’s become a weird action movie, with the main character, Max, on the run from two groups who want what is in his head.

“Requiem for a Dream” – This movie popularized the quick-shot close-up cuts of a complex action being performed, like the drug scenes.  Ellen Burstyn is amazing and heartbreaking as Mrs. Goldfarb.

“The Fountain” – One of the most beautifully shot movies that I have ever seen.  The story may be a bit contrived, but the cinematography more than makes up for it.  The score, by Arronofsky’s go-to guy, Clint Mansell, sets up the perfect mood.  Seeing Hugh Jackman live through three separate lifetimes on a quest for immortality is a reminder of how much some people lust after life and fear death, and the unhappiness that it can cause.

“Black Swan” – Another new addition, this Natalie Portman film reminds me why I like her so much as an actress.  She is determined and hard-working, and it really shows in her roles.  Nina’s internal transformation from the meek white swan to the dark and outgoing black swan is superb, keeping the viewer unsure of what is really happening and what is just occurring in her mind.  I was a bit over hyped before going into this one, but it was good nonetheless.

The Coen Brothers

“Burn After Reading” –  Everyone is so dysfunctional here, and pretty much all of their lives are driven by sex, and who they are and aren’t having it with.  The main characters are pretty much all idiots, and they all have serious deficiencies as human beings.  Hilarious.

“No Country for Old Men” – Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh has to be one of the most cold-hearted killers ever put onto the screen.  His unflinching murder of over a dozen throughout the movie without raising his heart beat.  Josh Brolin makes a good modern cowboy, and Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff is a tired man on the verge of retirement and unsure of what to do.  When he tells his dream at the end before it cuts away, that is pitch perfect when compared to the book.

“True Grit” – Last of the new ones, this remake is bound to bring a resurgence in the Western.  The main character definitely pulls her weight, and deserves the best supporting actress nomination, maybe a win as well.  Jeff Bridges is an excellent cantankerous old Rooster Cogburn (and I would assume better than the aged John Wayne). Another that I was overly hyped up for, but it was a decent film.

That’s it.  Don’t know if I’ll do any other lists any time soon, since it’s kind of just me trying to force my interests out there onto others.  If anyone likes any of these though, or gives them a shot, let me know.

Given a request for some movie suggestions this morning, I thought I’d turn a list into a bit of an explanation as to why I like these films as much as I do.  Be forewarned, I choose some movies that I’d get called pretentious or an idiot for, but I reserve my judgments on some of my favorite films.  This list is also by no means inclusive, but simply what currently comes to mind.  I’m going to start with a breakdown by director, because a lot of my favorites come from certain directors, and I hunt down their other movies to see if they are as good.


Christopher Nolan

“The Dark Knight” – While “Batman Begins” was the start of a new version of the Batman story, it’s in the sequel where the new tale really shines.  Done with the obligatory origin story, Nolan can get to the real meat of the story, utilizing storylines from “The Killing Joke” and “The Dark Knight Returns” to craft an excellent tale of morality and to give a satisfactory answer to the question as to why Batman doesn’t just kill the Joker and save countless lives throughout the years.  Gary Oldman makes an excellent Commissioner Gordon, and of course everyone and their mother has stated how great Heath Ledger was as The Joker.

The Dark Knight

“Memento” – An earlier film, the beginning of The Brother’s Nolan writing/directing cooperation, this is a prime example of utilizing non-chronological narrative to make a unique film.  Alternating between a black-and-white back story and a color story presented in reverse, it is a puzzle that is a joy to decode.  Seeing the end of the story at the start of the movie doesn’t give away a thing in this story of an anterograde-amnesiac, and is worth several viewings.

Memento

“The Prestige” – Like “Memento”, Christopher Nolan used the plot of the movie – this time the art of magic – to direct the flow of the story.  It is in that spirit that the film has three distinct parts to it, including an amazing “prestige” ending, with an unexpected twist.  More amazing performances pulled out of Christian Bale and Michael Caine here, as well as an entertaining David Bowie as the scientific great Nikola Tesla.  He gives the best line too: [on following his obsessions] “Well at first. But I followed them too long. I’m their slave… and one day they’ll choose to destroy me.”

The Prestige

“Inception” – Can’t leave this one out.  Besides being in love with most everything that Joseph Gordon Levitt’s done, this movie is an even deeper puzzle than “Memento”.  Who cares if the top stops or not, the ride there is where it’s at.  Somehow he created something more vivid than the infinite landscape of a real dream, and I loved it.  Also, that rotating hotel fight is kick ass.

Inception

Rian Johnson

“Brick” – His directorial debut, Johnson’s film-noir is the second on my list with JGL, this time as the main character.  A creative homage to old detective films like “The Maltese Falcon”, but set in a high school.  The story doesn’t flow completely, but the characters make it worth it.

Brick

“The Brothers Bloom” – His second outing, Bloom is a witty and funny story about two brother con artists and their final game.  Rachel Weisz is intriguing as the shut-in “hobby collector” Penelope, and Mark Ruffalo uses his charming presence to make a rather convincing high-class thief.

The Brothers Bloom

Richard Kelley

“Donnie Darko” – A trippy story marking the start of a trippy film making career.  Featuring a foul-mouthed Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character, Patrick Swayze as a pedophile motivational speaker, and Seth Rogen in his first film role, this time-travel based film is lovingly crafted to fit the 1988 Virginia setting.  Encompassing a larger universe, it makes you wonder what other stories of this nature could exist outside of Donnie’s own superhero story.

Donnie Darko

“Southland Tales” – Taking the oddness to the extreme, this meandering  dystopian future/present film concerning America three years after a 2005 terrorist attack in Texas can make you feel lost.  Again time travel comes into play, as well as the alternate universes of “Donnie Darko”, visions of the armageddon from a psychic pornstar, and a view of how easily technology could entrap us now with the proper political agenda being pushed.  Kelley purposefully cast against type, and pretty much every actor in the film is a big name/face (Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Dwayne Johnson, Sean William Scott, and a slew of Saturday Night Live alums).  There are 3 graphic novels that go along with the movie, comprising the first three chapters of the story, followed by three distinct sections that are titled, giving a sense of a sprawling novel. Plus, there are twins named Ronald and Roland, and I figure that’s good enough for the suggester.  Be warned though, this is probably the most divisive of the films on my list.

Southland Tales

That is it for now, though there will be plenty more where this came from.  I’ll update you when part two is out.