A Few of My Favorite Things: A Look Back At 2014

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Well, look at that. The year of 2014 has come to a close. Was it a good one for you? Looking back, some really cool stuff came out this year. Here are a few of my favorites.

Favorite Movie: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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This is, by far, one of the coolest movie experiences I’ve had in a while. The story of a washed-out actor struggling to find relevancy is intriguing enough, but every part of this movie helps to make this an extremely enjoyable couple of hours.

The visual style alone will leave you mesmerized. The whole movie is filmed to look like one continuous take and the camera is almost constantly kept at a close-up shot, providing a sense of profound confusion and delirium. Those visuals, combined with a soundtrack made up of the hypnotizing drums provided by jazz artist Antonio Sánchez, created an environment I never wanted to leave. Throw in stand-out performances from the entire ensemble (which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone,) and you’ve got one engaging ride.

Favorite Book: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley 

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The Scott Pilgrim series was a godsend for me back when I was in High School, and I found Lost at Sea to be a very enjoyable character study. So I didn’t need any convincing when Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, Seconds, was published last summer. The concept is a perfectly ordinary one: A young chef’s life starts to fall apart, so she uses magical mushrooms that she receives from a mystical spirit to rewrite history and fix her mistakes. Simple, right?

Well, get past the quirkiness of it all and you find a cast of charming and relatable characters, gorgeous art and a wonderful story. A story that manages to be funny, poignant and enlightening simultaneously. I loved my time reading this one and I recommend you give it a read.

Favorite Album: You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

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Man, am I glad to have listened to this one. You’re Dead! is the latest studio album from experimental producer Flying Lotus. An album that tackles dark themes such as insanity, addiction and, above all else, death itself.

It’s also one of those albums that you’d probably enjoy much better by not paying attention to the track list and listening to the whole thing in one go. Each track flows in and out of one another in such a way that it all becomes one mesmerizing ride, mixing in large amounts of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music to create FlyLo’s signature sound. For my own tastes, this album did a lot to push me outside of my love of electronic music and start taking a look at the jazz scene, so it’s certainly had an impact on me.

Favorite Indie Game: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Yeah, I had my problems with this one. I didn’t get to spend much time with the game, due to it’s short length, and I haven’t gotten to see the ending yet because I’m too much of a wimp to tackle the game’s only jump-scare section. But there’s still so much about this game that there is to love.

Ethan Carter is an atmospheric first-person exploration game where you play a supernatural detective, who can communicate with the dead in his search to find out what happened to a missing child. As you solve puzzles and murder mysteries, more and more of this wonderfully creepy story comes to light. All while exploring one of the most gorgeous game worlds I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if nothing else, pick this one up for it’s atmosphere. Throw on a good pair of headphones and turn out the lights. You’ll be in for a treat.

As we wrap up 2014 tonight, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have taken an interest in my ramblings. I certainly don’t have plans to stop yet. There’s more to discover out there, so I’d better get to it!

Something to Read: “Nicely Said”

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And now for something completely different! Ever since I started this blog a little over a month ago, I’ve been looking for advice on how to better communicate my “voice” through my writing. Well, I just got done reading this book, Nicely Said: Writing for the Web With Style and Purpose, by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. I’m not sure if this advisory book is covered by the definition of  “art” (which is what I normally talk about on here), but it is most definitely worth a recommendation.

Fenton is an independent writer and editor, having worked for Apple and a few other unnamed companies. Lee is a wirter and editor at MailChimp, and has written for the likes of Forbes and A List Apart. Both authors use this combined experience to provide advise on writing anything from blog posts, to website interface flow, to marketing copy. Covering topics such as watching your tone, creating and following style guides and, of course, finding your voice. And if you’re not well versed in writer’s terms, don’t worry, it’s all written in plain English.

Since I’m only writing a personal blog, there’s obviously some stuff in here that didn’t really apply to me. But I still found this book really helpful for what I’m doing here. One of the biggest things I took away on my first read-through is how to better write in a friendly, conversational tone, something I now think about with every post. If you’re looking at getting into anything that requires a large amount of writing, I highly recommend you give this one a look.

You can find out more about Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee at the book’s official site.

Spooky Things: “Anya’s Ghost”

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All Hallow’s Eve is a-coming, and whether you’re planning on partying this year, trick-or-treating at the age of 27, or sitting it out all-together, it’s always fun to take a look at the creepier-crawlier side of things. So that’s just what I plan to do. On every remaining Friday in this October, I’ll be taking a look at anything regarding a more supernatural subject then our standard affair. Starting us off is a wonderful graphic novel that I just recently discovered: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Anya’s Ghost tells the tale of a teenage girl named (you guessed it,) Anya, a Russian immigrant who sees herself as the sort of black sheep of her private school. Her best friend is kind of a jerk, she can’t seem to get the attention of her crush and she’s rather self-conscious about her look. One day, just as it’s all starting to overwhelm her, she ends up falling down a large hole in the middle of the forest.

It’s there that she encounters the titular ghost. A friendly-looking woman who’s been dead for over ninety years. After Anya is rescued, the ghost decides to tag along, developing a friendship with Anya while trying to help her improve her everyday life.

This is one really well told story. The dialogue is intelligent and witty, the main character is easy to root for and the story is charming, even while building up to a genuinely creepy third-act. The artwork is also top-notch. The black-and-white coloring suits the story well, and each character is well designed, while sporting an impressive range of expression.

Since the book was published in 2011, it’s won an Eisner Award and a Harvey Award, and it definitely deserves them both. Smart, eerie, charming and funny, Anya’s Ghost is an engaging read. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you seek it out.

Something to Read: “Seconds” Review

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I’m a major fan of Bryan Lee O’Maley’s Scott Pilgrim series. Have been since High School. And my interest in the rest of his work O’ Malley’s work led me to the recently released Seconds.

The story in Seconds focus a 29 year old chef named Katie. She’s the former head chef of a restaurant called “seconds” (see what they did there?), and has a restaurant of her very own under construction downtown. She goes through a bad day, and then comes into contact with a mysterious magical girl and a batch of magic mushrooms. Bear with me.

Katie finds out that the mushrooms allow her to rewrite history by fixing her mistakes, and then sets out to not only fix her problems, but perfect her life. Admittedly, the basics of this time-traveling story have been done many times before. But here, it’s a story told really well.

The cast of characters are lovable, the jokes hit more often than they miss, and the message at the end still proved powerful to me. On top of that, the artwork is beautiful. O’Malley’s design and style, combined with the colors of Nathan Fairbarn, create a world worth spending time in for the duration of the book.

Scott Pilgrim fans will feel right at home in Seconds, with a familiar art style and sense of humor. The difference here is that the art, humor and story feel just a little more refined, a little more matured. In several ways, I felt like I was witnessing the next evolution of O’Malley’s artistic expression, and that’s a cool thing to see.

All in all, whether you’re a fan of the author’s previous work, or if you’re just looking for a funny, stylized and emotional graphic novel, I would fully recommend this book.