Michael Kirchhoff

The Best of 2015 – Serious Teevee

There were lots of things in 2015. Some of those things appeared on television and were super-duper serious. The best one was:

The Leftovers

At the beginning of the year, I fully expected the final season of Mad Men to occupy this spot, but surprisingly, Don Draper’s story mostly limped to the finish line (though I did enjoy the sardonic smirk of the show’s final moments).

Then, after the wrenching third season of The Americans concluded in April, I couldn’t imagine anything else coming along to dethrone it.

I guess it was a mistake to have assumed anything. I should have “just let the mystery be.”

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The Leftovers is such a dour, bizarre, and emotionally brutal show that its potential audience would always be narrow (as indicated by the show’s ratings falling off a cliff between seasons 1 and 2). Fortunately, I happen to land directly in this show’s needle-thin demographic.

The conventional wisdom is that this show made a leap in quality between its two seasons, but season one was also excellent, if a bit more haphazard. Season two takes a more centered approach, jumping focus from character to character before tying all the threads together in a glorious metaphysical knot. Only The Leftovers would be bonkers enough to make Liv Tyler, of all people, one of the most terrifying villains on television and sell it as beautifully as they did.

The final four episodes of the season were audacious in a way that could have been bugfuck disastrous (and for many viewers it was), but it all worked for me, creating moments of pain and rapture that I am still trying to digest. The third (and final) season will be a doozy.

So that was the best of the serious teevee things this year. Here are some others that were good:

The Americans

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One of the most admirable elements of this balls-to-the-wall amazing show is that it manages to do something that practically no other show can manage: create believable teenage characters. Paige and Henry Jennings are not one-liner quip machines, or pimply angst-ridden outcasts, or slobbering sex maniacs. They are smart people who are too young to fully understand or process their lives. Holly Taylor was especially devastating this season as a confident but immature girl who has the weight of the world lowered onto her narrow shoulders.

The two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, were both excellent as usual (seriously, House of Cards people, your show is dreadful, stop winning awards please and give these two a chance). This season’s tenth episode, “Stingers,” bravely detonated the show’s central premise and launched the story in an unexpected direction that should lead to disastrous consequences in season four … which, despite the show’s abysmal ratings, exists because FX executives love the show. As any sane person should.

Better Call Saul

Making a prequel series to Breaking Bad was a colossally bad idea. It still is, to be honest.

Painting frescoes across the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was also a colossally bad idea. The point being, sometimes even a terrible idea can ultimately produce something wondrous.

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We already knew that Jonathan Banks is terrific as taciturn criminal Mike Ehrmantraut (which he proved once again in his gut-wrenching spotlight episode, “Five-O”), but the big surprise was the nuanced performance of the show’s lead, Bob Odenkirk. From his Mr. Show days, we already knew that Odenkirk is a world champion of screaming “Goddammit!” but we didn’t know he was capable of selling the emotional beating his Slippin’ Jimmy character endures on his way to becoming Saul Goodman.

Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones leaned down hard on the accelerator in season 5, zooming through the fourth and fifth books (and a bit beyond) of George R. R. Martin’s source material in a single go. The show-runners had some good ideas, such as chucking out most of the bloated storylines that made reading A Dance With Dragons a bit of a chore, as well as some not-so-great ones, such as stranding Jaime and Bronn in Dorne with little to do. It made for an uneven adaptation of a couple of uneven books.

But when Game of Thrones wants to serve up a “holy shit!” moment, they do it better than anyone, and the White Walker invasion that takes up the final half of “Hardhome” was as heart-spasming intense as anything I’ve ever seen on television. That terrifying half hour alone gets this show onto this list.

Also great, but I don’t feel like writing a bunch of stuff about them:

Hannibal – This gloriously artsy nonsense was shown on network television for three years. How the shit was that allowed to happen?

Rectify – This shorter, more plot-driven season didn’t reach the emotional heights of previous ones, but was still lovely and riveting. Season four will be its last, which feels right.

Bloodline – Amazing acting, but boy, those Rayburns sure like to say “fuck” a lot.

Narcos – By the end of this, I actually started to understand Spanish.

Penny Dreadful – Eva Green. That is all.

Show Me A Hero – Ex Machina, Star Wars, and this. Oscar Isaac had a pretty good year.

Fargo – Lotsa folks seem to be gettin’ themselves shot in the head, dontcha know?

Orphan Black – The story makes absolutely no sense, yet the show remains engrossing because of Tatiana Maslany’s amazing performance(s).

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The Best of 2015 – Funny Teevee

There were lots of things in 2015. Some of those things appeared on television and were pretty funny. The best one was:

Bojack Horseman

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The first season of Bojack Horseman was slow out the gate. “I won’t be watching this furlong,” I thought, but I was incorrect. The show quickly found its footing and finished very strong. Rather than put the show out to pasture, Netflix gave the show a renewal to philly out their stable of original programming.

The glue of the series is its amazing voice cast, who manage to give these characters tremendous humanity (despite the fact that many of them are playing anthropomorphic animals). While the show is funny enough to go hoarse from laughter, Bojack also manages to stirrup genuine emotion. This show is about the lies people tell to convince themselves that they are happy.

So that was the best of the funny teevee things this year. Here are some others that were good:

Review

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Master improviser Andrew Daly excels at characters with an outwardly optimistic disposition that obscures a soul in desperate pain. He finally got the platform that fully demonstrates his talent with Review, which went to even darker places in its second season. Daly’s character Forest McNeil’s increasingly futile attempts to win back the wife he shunned because of his devotion to this ridiculous show led him to commit unspeakable (and hilarious) acts.

Rick and Morty

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In its second season, Rick and Morty can perilously close to just becoming The Rick Show, focusing almost exclusively on Rick’s mind-bogglingly massive ego. The show is still brilliantly funny and the animation gets more visually breathtaking with each episode (the episode with the Jerry daycare center was especially clever). But I hope that, going forward, this show remembers that there are actually two names in the title of the show and gives Morty more to do.

Veep

Here you go. You’re welcome.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

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I didn’t even like the 2001 movie (still don’t). Apparently what was necessary to make Wet Hot American Summer work is wait for all the actors to age 15 years then have them all play the same characters. This time around, it worked.

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The Best of 2015 – Musicality

There were lots of things in 2015. Some of those things were musical albums (what hipsters and aging hippies call “long-play records”).

The best one was this one:

Beardfish, +4626-COMFORTZONE

These Swedish rockers obviously spent a lot of time listening to their parents’ record collections. There is a heavy ’70s influence on their choice of instruments and crunchy sound, but the album is not drowning in Black Sabbath-era nostalgia. Beardfish dip in and out of genres like they are coloring Easter eggs and have little interest in sticking to any time signature for very long.

The “One Inside” trilogy opens and closes the album, giving it a thematic spine. The title track, “Comfort Zone” is incredibly proggy, while “King” and “Daughter/Whore” venture off into power metal. But what pushes this one into my Album of the Year selection is my favorite song of 2015, “If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued)”, an ingenious and emotional 15-minute descent into love-spurned madness.

So that was the best of the music things this year. Here are some others that were good:

Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Modern popular music has no interest in anything too complex or adventurous. So how the hell does Steven Wilson have a career?

The (probably) former Porcupine Tree founder’s fourth (and best) solo album was inspired by the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young British woman whose death went unnoticed for two years. While Hand. Cannot. Erase. (yeah, I don’t know what that title means either) is not Vincent’s story, it deals with feelings of isolation and loss. Wilson has explored these themes extensively, so this is familiar territory for longtime fans, yet the band he has assembled around him play with incredible precision.

Not surprisingly, the album’s best songs are the longest ones: “3 Years Older”, “Ancestral”, and the heartrending “Routine”.

Riverside, Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Finally, an album with a title I understand.

Riverside has been making beautiful, atmospheric prog metal for over a decade. The latest from the Polish quartet has a calmer, more optimistic feel than their last few albums, which often ventured into some dark lyrical themes. It’s no accident that “Love” is in this album’s title.

My favorite song is the one that opens the album, “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?)” which beautifully sets the somewhat serene tone of the whole album. “Discard Your Fear” is a rocker that sounds like it would have been played on the radio back when that was still a thing. “Caterpiller and the Barbed Wire” is highly reminiscent of bassist Mariusz Duda’s solo project, Lunatic Soul. “Towards the Blue Horizon” is a beautiful reminiscence and emblematic of the band’s trademark musical precision.

They Might Be Giants, Glean

When TMBG was a struggling band in the early 80s, They would record songs on John Flansburgh’s answering machine. Anyone could call the number and get a song for only the price of a phone call to Brooklyn. (“Free if you call from work,” the band proclaimed.)

TMBG revived their Dial-A-Song service in 2015, this time with 91% more Internet. Many of these new Dial-A-Songs were collected and released as the band’s latest album. It is somewhat exhausting for me to imagine that the Johns have been making sharp, diverse music for over three decades now, but despite their formidable discography, They show no signs of stopping any time soon. As long as They keep popping out rocking gems like “Erase”, “Music Jail”, “Answer”, and “Madam, I Challenge You To A Duel”, I’ll keep listening.

Also great, but I don’t feel like writing a bunch of stuff about them:

Anekdoten, Until The Ghosts Are Gone

Ozric Tentacles, Technicians of the Sacred

Magic Pie, King For A Day

Spock’s Beard, The Oblivion Particle

Echolyn, I Heard You Listening

Lonely Robot, Please Come Home

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The Best Films of 2014

1. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

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“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”

2. Under the Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

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“Do you want to look at me?”

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves

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“Human work.”

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

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“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

5. Frank

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

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“Put your arms around me, fiddly digits, itchy britches… I love you all.”

6. The Lego Movie

Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

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“I only work in black and sometimes very, very dark grey.”

7. The Rover

Director: David Michôd

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“I want my car back.”

8. Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

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“Were you rushing or were you dragging?”

9. A Most Wanted Man

Director: Anton Corbijn

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“Most of us don’t get to choose.”

10. Force Majeure

Director: Ruben Östlund

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“He got so scared that he ran away from the table.”

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What is “The Fifth Beast”?

It is a wholly revised version of my first novel, now on sale for the Amazon Kindle for only two bucks.

See? You didn’t have to read this whole post to get the answer. Indeed, by answering the question posed in this blog title in the first sentence, rather than shrouding the solution in a compelling mystery and teasing out clues in suspenseful doses before revealing the inexplicably exciting twist at the end (along with several dozen Uzi-laden chase sequences), I’ve once again demonstrated the narrative mastery that has propelled me to the obscurity I’ve worked so hard to earn.

The Fifth Beast Kindle CoverSpeaking of ancient epochs lost to the ravages of memory, the origins of The Fifth Beast extend all the way back to my college years at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. The human-like species that existed on this planet in that bygone era (also known as the early 1990s) would barely be recognizable to us today. For one thing, the homo sapiens of that time had straighter necks, as they weren’t looking down at their fucking cell phones 24 hours a day. In addition, the ignorant troglodytes of that era ate gluten with horrific abandon, which modern scientists now believe contributed to the now-unthinkable idea that Madonna should act in movies.

I distinctly remember sitting in the small cafeteria at LMU, scribbling down the first paragraphs of a really stupid idea I had for a short story. A woman enters a restaurant in an expensive bohemian neighborhood of an unnamed East Coast city to meet with an old friend. In their conversation, it becomes apparent that there was some kind of betrayal that occurred between them, and the subsequent falling out embedded resentment in both women that percolates underneath the stiff pleasantries of their reunion. The story ends with the shocking twist that one of the women is an alien and the other is an android. They transform into their native forms, fight, and destroy the restaurant, killing everyone inside.

Real mature, right? I know what you’re thinking: “Didn’t he steal the idea for that story from John Cheever?”

Though I did have an assignment to write a short story, I didn’t turn this one in. I wrote it mostly for my own childish amusement, it was too ridiculous to show to other humans. I believe in that early draft, the alien character swallowed several waitresses whole. (I went through a phase in my early fiction where I wrote a few stories about people turning into various kinds of monsters and consuming other people, describing the transformation and feeding in graphic detail. I’m sure Gabriel Garcia Marquez would be proud and maybe a little jealous.)

After college I wrote my first novel. It was an earnest examination of my adolescence, written in my early 20s, which means it is unspeakably horrible. It currently lives in a forgotten, cobwebbed corner of my computer’s hard drive, and after my death, I’ve left detailed instructions for a hazardous materials company to destroy the novel’s Word file in a way that will not maim or injure anyone who may be in a potentially infectious radius.

Several years later, people demanded a means to share pictures of their cats with millions of people at a time, so the Internet was invented. In 1997, I came up with a brilliant scheme for using this new superhighway of information: I would create a web site where I would write a novel, one chapter at a time, and post it on a weekly basis. I borrowed my friend’s “Learn HTML In 30 Days” book and hand-coded the whole thing myself.

You’ll be shocked to learn that the web site did not ignite a bidding war between Random House and Simon & Schuster for the publishing rights to my burgeoning opus, and I did not become the Charles Dickens of the Friends era. And yet, looking back, the web site was not the worst idea I ever had. It got me writing fiction again on a regular basis, which I had gotten away from while working full time. This was years before blogging and live journaling became a thing, so I had come up with a primitive platform for distributing my work long before other people would get very rich for doing the same thing, only better.

I had decided to use that old short story about the two women meeting in the restaurant as the launching point for the serialized novel. A heavily revised variant of that short story became the first chapter of the novel, and my extrapolations about who these two women were and why they were here provided the structure of the larger plot. I had no real idea where the weekly chapters would go, but I was motivated to see if I could create something coherent, philosophical, and entertaining.

I don’t remember how many chapters I managed to post before I stopped. Around 7 or 8, I think. The deadline of one chapter per week that I had arbitrarily given myself was too arduous to maintain. It was around this time that I got my first “you’re a big boy now!” job doing technical writing (thankfully lifting me from the doldrums of the property management gig I fell into after college), and trying to emotionally support my wife while she also worked and went to school, I realized that I could continue to work on the novel privately on a less onerous schedule.

When I did stop updating the web site with new chapters, I was shocked to receive a few angry and disappointed emails from folks who had been following the story. People had actually been reading? This was both baffling and encouraging.

The novel languished untouched for a few dark years. In the early 2000s, newly divorced and looking for distractions, I decided I was going to finish the damn thing once and for all, even if it took me years to do so. Which it did.

I completely upended the entire structure of the book, assigned new and (I thought) more interesting motivations for the primary characters, and tried to weed out much of the juvenile shit. I changed the title several times.

I presented the first chapter of the novel to a writing workshop, where it received an enthusiastic reaction from my fellow students, but a memorably chilly one from the instructor. “It is certainly well-written,” he said, “but the fantastical subject matter, and the graphic depiction of the scene, is … not to my taste.” Never fun to hear for a writer, but the structural feedback he did give was useful, and I rewrote that first chapter again. And again, and again — that first chapter of what is now The Fifth Beast is easily the most rewritten material I have ever produced. Almost nothing of the original short story I wrote 20 years ago remains in that chapter, except that it takes place in a restaurant.

In 2006, with a tremendous sense of relief, the novel was finally published with the title Imminent. I had already begun working on my next project, a more mature story that I felt was going end up being deeper and more compelling. I thought I was done with Imminent.

Seven years later, I decided I wanted to toss the novel into the Kindle Direct Publishing program, where I could set my own ridiculously low price and try to attract some readers. My plan was to hire a professional artist to redo the cover (I managed to wrangle the amazing Filip Acovic), then just toss the book up into the cloud.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the cloud. I decided I wanted to make a few small corrections from when the novel had been published as Imminent, which led to me to actually reading it for the first time in years. I had learned even more about writing in the intervening time, and I realized that the story wasn’t really as good as I wanted it to be. So I started rewriting, removing, editing … a little bit at first, but then I couldn’t stop. I changed the names of major characters. I gave the alien races in the story new names, new motivations, and new descriptions. I completely ditched entire chapters and rewrote them from scratch. I cut out entire sections where I had meticulously spelled out things that were either unnecessary or way too over-descriptive — after I was done, I had cut about 50 pages out of the novel altogether.

Of course, since this was essentially becoming an entirely new novel, I had to change the title again, for the 37th time.

And so, while The Fifth Beast may have the bone structure of Imminent and the other, previous incarnations of the story, it really is its own animal. It is the leanest, most refined version of the novel that will ever exist (I can’t imagine ever rewriting this thing yet again … but then, I also said that 7 years ago).

Now, do you have two dollars? Do you have a Kindle, or access to a device that can download the free Kindle app (which is, at the time of this writing, all of them)? Are you curious about what a deep dive into the swirling maelstrom of psychosis that churns under my placid, boyishly charming exterior?

Then I think you should read The Fifth Beast.

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The Best Films of 2013 (1-5)

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Director: Shane Carruth

A man and a woman lock eyes on a train: the connection between them is visceral, though they don’t yet understand why. Both of them have been victimized in a deep way that destroyed their very identities and made them retreat from the world, but their connection with each other could be the means by which they make their approach back to life.

Of all the films I saw this year, Upstream Color is the one I latch onto in those spare moments when my imagination drifts. Carruth uses as little dialogue as possible, trusting the mesmerizing images and hypnotic sound design to carry the narrative. And what a narrative it is, involving larvae capable of putting people into a suggestible hypnotic state, empathic pigs, a man who creates music by observing human misery, and two people who help each other break the cycles of pain and confusion that have swallowed their lives.

Confounding, heartbreaking, remarkable … Upstream Color was an easy choice for the best film of 2013.

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Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

How do you separate art from the artist? By the time we see folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, who plays the role with an uncompromisingly raw cynicism) finally make it to Chicago to sit down with a club owner (F. Murray Abraham), we’ve seen Davis be aggressively petty, arrogant, vulgar, dismissive, and adamant about refusing to take responsibility for his appetites. And yet … when he strums across his guitar’s strings and sings the ballad “The Death of Queen Jane”, all one can think is, how does something this beautiful come from this asshole? How does this infuriating mooch, so immersed in his own pretentiousness, find the humanity to create true art?

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Director: Richard Linklater

The person who knows the exact hurtful thing to say to you that cuts to the very core of your being is usually the person that’s supposed to love you the most. The terrific series of “Before …” films created by Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke continues to evolve in fascinating and emotionally wrenching directions as the characters move far beyond their young infatuation and into the day-to-day triumphs and disappointments of marriage. The intellectual connection that brought these two together still percolates, and the film ends on a beautifully hopeful note. I can’t wait to catch up with Jesse and Céline again in a decade or so.

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Director: Nicole Holofcener

The comic horrors of middle-aged dating are handled with wonderful warmth in this film that rises far above its sitcom setup. Julia Louis Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are both excellent as divorced parents who make those first steps towards a relationship with a mix of optimism and hesitation borne of past hurts and betrayals.

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Director: Martin Scorsese

I have one of those “reward” cards that a local theater chain offers to its patrons. (I initially wrote that it was a “popular” chain, but then realized the only reason people go there is because its theaters are more or less the only option within 20 miles. That’s not popularity, that’s monopoly.) Last week I earned enough reward points for a free movie. Look at me! It even said ***FREE MOVIE*** on the coupon, with the capital letters and the asterisks on either side and everything!

When I approached the box office, ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket in hand, to see The Wolf of Wall Street, I was told by the ticket lady that I needed to pay a two dollar charge. When I asked why, I was told that the ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket did not apply to movies during their first 10 days of release, whereupon I responded unhelpfully, “Well, that’s not really free then, is it?”

So what did I do? March away from the box office indignantly, with my ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket and my pride intact, to come back and see the movie in a few days when it would be legitimately free? Of course not. I meekly handed over the two bucks. Because I wanted something, I wanted it now, and I willing to stand still for the shakedown.

I am exactly the kind of soft-headed doofus that allow predators like Jordan Belfort to flourish. Played with cocaine-fueled ferocity by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort snorts, fucks, and swindles his way through this three-hour endurance test of a movie (plus, let’s not overlook the wonderful image this film gave us of DiCaprio with a lit candle shoved up his ass). Wolf is deranged, overblown, and way too long, but is also ruthlessly entertaining and is easily the funniest movie of the year.

By the way, I was going to buy M&Ms at the concession stand, but because you squeezed those two bucks out of me, Local Theater Chain, I didn’t. Choke on that, you dinks.

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The Best Films of 2013 (6-10)

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg

You don’t always need zombies or monsters to make a truly frightening horror film. Mads Mikkelsen gives a heartbreaking performance as a mild mannered kindergarten teacher in a close-knit Danish village whose life implodes when he is falsely accused of an unimaginably heinous crime. A disturbing example of how everyone believing they are doing the right thing for the right reasons can still lead to chaos and misery.

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Director: David Lowery

This moody character study about a pair of doomed criminal lovers separated by their bad choices could have been a disastrous bore in the wrong hands. Instead, Lowery’s debut feature is elevated by its gorgeous, poetic visual design, as well as emotionally raw performances by the two young leads, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Also, Ben Foster suppresses his natural intensity in a surprisingly somber and affecting supporting turn as a small-town sheriff.

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Director: Steven Soderbergh

This cunning slice of nastiness presents itself as a fictionalized examination of the exploding influence of the pharmaceutical industry on medicine, but slowly reveals its true intent as a wry thriller with a black heart. Anchored by a beautifully subtle performance by Rooney Mara, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses (also see my #7), Soderbergh’s frosty, no-nonsense direction even makes Jude Law interesting, which is no mean feat for any filmmaker.

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Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

David is a pampered, smug, East Coast grad school student who flees to the ass-end of Oregon out of boredom, disgusted at a life where he feels he has no choices, and possibly wanting to avoid a confrontation with himself about his sexuality. He takes a job he knows is beneath his intellect, picking and sorting apples, and tells people his name is “Samuel” as his own private joke. Jonathan Groff anchors the film as David, a hipster who thinks he is a jaded intellectual, but soon has his ironic veneer stripped away from him to reveal the true vulnerability at his core. The supporting cast is terrific (Dean Stockwell, Corey Stoll, and Casey Wilson all have distinct moments), but Denis O’Hare gives one of the very best performances of the year as a born-again Christian war veteran with anger issues who is desperate to save souls, including his own.

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Director: Andrew Bujalski

Shot with vintage Sony video equipment that the filmmakers acquired on eBay, Computer Chess starts as a low-key, black-and-white mumblecore comedy about a small collection of game enthusiasts who gather in a squalid motel and pit chess-playing computer programs against one another. As the film progresses, though, it becomes increasingly surreal, as the lines between machine and human blur, and the world these characters inhabit becomes something that only superficially resembles what we recognize as reality. If David Lynch tried to make a Christopher Guest comedy, it would very likely look something Computer Chess, which also happens to culminate in one of the most bizarre, “WTF?” final shots of any film this year.

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They say the camera adds 10 pounds

Looks like I just swallowed about 20 cameras. Would it kill me to have a salad for lunch every so often?

In any case, here is me yammering about the world of HEX. YouTube is now the beneficiary of my brown shirt. Enjoy!

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Workin’ On A HEX Farm

Today the company I work for, Cryptozoic Entertainment, announced the existence of our brand-spankin’-new MMO/TCG, HEX: Shards of Fate.

This is the largest creative project I have ever worked on … hell, it’s probably the biggest project, period. HEX has consumed most of my waking thoughts for the past year and a half, and now I’m finally allowed to talk about it publicly.

In December of 2011, Cory Jones (President of Cryptozoic and an old friend) asked me to be a part of this wackadoodle new idea: combining a digital trading card game with a massively multiplayer role playing game. I won’t lie, it took a bit of convincing, and a year and a half later, I’m still biting my nails to see if this crazypants idea is actually going to work.

My role on the HEX team is Lore Guy. Cory and I created the basic structure of the game’s massive story, then I was tasked with taking all those ideas and mold them into a narrative framework. Telling a story in a TCG is difficult; telling a story in an MMO is extremely challenging; and combining the two is ridiculous and, to my knowledge, has never been done before. It has been quite the learning experience, and most of the scars I’ve accumulated in my game development career so far can be covered by a long-sleeved shirt.

I’m not going to give you the hard sell for the game here, that’s what the HEX web site is for. My responsibility is to make the “Story” section of the site palatable for those brave or insane enough to venture there. Once HEX releases, I will be in charge of making sure that the RPG-style story works within the game world.

I’m just happy that I can finally disclose what has been consuming nearly all of my creative energy lately, which is the reason this blog has been so dormant (well, that, added with the fact that I nearly have 100% map completion for my charr ranger in Guild Wars 2, with my inherent catastrophic laziness smooshed on top of the blog-neglecting sundae).

After all these years of hurling my lithe and optimistic body against the sharp and indifferent spikes of creative rejection, it is both a triumphant and validating moment to finally have my name attached to a writing project of this scope and visibility.

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Top 6 Films of 2012

It was the year of several 3-hour-long comic book movies (none of which appear on my list below), the emergence of Taylor Kitsch as the go-to star for large budget flops, and a million Mayan Apocalypse jokes that stopped being funny back in 2007.

At least six decent films were released in 2012. Max Mastrangelo and I discuss them at length on the most recent podcast of the Film Fustians, available on the Talk Radio One web page, or on iTunes.

1. Moonrise Kingdom

The most Wes Andersony of Wes Anderson films, Moonrise Kingdom edges close to whimsy overload but I ultimately found this to be the most hilarious, visually stunning, and emotionally satisfying movie I saw all year.

(But really, to be honest, I picked this movie as my number 1 because it has the same initials as me.)

2. The Cabin In The Woods

A brilliant satire of torture porn that serves just as equally as a thrilling phantasmagoria. Drew Goddard’s directorial debut is sheer genius from beginning to its jaw-dropping ending. Required viewing for all fans of the horror genre and anyone who enjoys films that subvert expectations.

3. The Master

This gutsy, difficult, profound film about how mankind attempts to overcome its animal nature features a ferocious performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Paul Thomas Anderson is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern filmmakers, a visionary who makes original films for grown-ups.

4. Skyfall

One of the most visually astonishing films I’ve ever seen, this smart and propulsive James Bond thriller is the only one that I can unequivocally say I loved.

5. Cloud Atlas

It was a huge, insane risk to make a $100 million blockbuster of this dense novel that has 6 completely different storylines, two of which use barely recognizable jargon for dialogue. But damn if they didn’t pull this off. Ambitious, bizarre, messy, and riveting.

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I went into this a doubter, and came out renewed in my adoration of Peter Jackson’s arresting version of this world. I’m sorry I ever doubted you, you mad Kiwi. Can you forgive me?

For my full top 10 list, as well as honorable mentions, be sure to catch the Film Fustians.

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