TOP STUFF OF 2018!

Nobody reads the intros to end-of-year lists, so let’s get right to it! No books this year because everything I physically read was stuff I bought two or three years ago and only now got around to — and I’m all about keeping things current.

MY TOP 5 MOVIES OF 2018

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5) The Night Comes for Us: With Iko Uwais and a cadre of colorful villains on deck, this spiritual sister to The Raid series — about a Triad heavy who incurs the wrath of his colleagues when he goes clean to save a girl — cements Indonesia as this generation’s epicenter for bloody, brutal, and overall badass martial arts action.

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4) Annihilation: Hot off the success of Ex Machina, director Alex Garland administers another injection of sci-fi shock and awe with this adaptation of the acclaimed novel. The film expands on the source material’s meandering ambiguity in favor of a more explicitly horrific journey through a mysterious place where change itself is a deadly foe, without losing any of the story’s Lovecraftian dread and thought-provoking moments. “The bear scene” is a waking nightmare in all the right ways, and the climatic confrontation channels Kubrick’s 2001 in the transcendent paranoia it invokes.

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3) Mission: Impossible – Fallout: It’s a longstanding joke that these missions can’t be too impossible if they manage to pull it off every time, but that very contradiction is a testament to the series’ ascension to the throne before which all other popcorn cinema kneels. With professional lunatic Tom Cruise at the helm, and a focus on practical stunt-work setpieces instead of the muddy CGI bonanzas which plague most blockbusters, this latest globetrotting adventure — while not the best yet (I’m still a bit sore over a few critical-looking scenes from the trailer not making the final cut) — proves the journey matters more than the destination.

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2) Hereditary: An artist tries to balance work and parenting after her mother’s death, but as disasters and desperation continue to mount around the house, all hell slowly and surely breaks loose. Eschewing traditional jump scares in favor of a bleak, mysterious mood may not suit fly-by-night horror fans, but get in the mood and stick with it, and you’ll behold a series of last-act revelations so twisted and bizarre that you’ll be twitching at tongue-clicks and peeking over your bedsheets (specifically, in the corner of the ceiling) for many nights to come.

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1) A Star is Born: Three remakes in, one would imagine this Old Hollywood tale would be played out, but with unprecedentedly vulnerable and grounded performances, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga breathe new life into the story of a world-weary celeb falling for a rising starlet — with heartrending, unforgettable music every step of the way. Not much more to say; it’s just a simple, timeless, and beautifully tragic love story.

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(Honorable Mentions) Ready Player One and Avengers – Infinity War: This Spring belonged to a pair of movies hinged upon jaw-dropping spectacle and “I understood that reference” elbow-nudging — and that’s a compliment. RPO’s is more of an E for Effort, admittedly, owing to its Death Star-sized plot holes and willfully contradictory message, but the result is nevertheless a fantastic collage of nerd fantasy that makes one proud to both be a gamer and have had an at least 80s-adjacent upbringing. Meanwhile, Thanos did the unthinkable and snapped the last Avengers adventure in two; though we all know they’re coming back, those final moments, where half of all the superheroes we’ve come to know and love over the last decade disintegrate in front of our eyes, are a landmark in the subgenre. I saw Spidey die in Iron Man’s arms, for Pete’s sake! (no pun intended)

 

MY TOP 4 TV SHOWS OF 2018 (didn’t get around to a fifth one)

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4) Westworld: “These violent delights have violent ends,” warned the closing hours of Season One, and yet it turns out a violent new beginning was just around the corner. Without a doubt, some serious glitches popped up in the programming this year — watching the Abramsian mysteries of the park unfold and following the hosts’ ascension from unquestioning robots to bonafide humans in search of freedom was vastly more engaging than the familiar revolution antics which take up the bulk of screen time here, and a few attempts at mimicking that mindblowing twist with the Man in Black fall flat. And there’s not nearly enough Shogun World! (and, uh, Jungle World?) But at the end of the day, the environments are still gorgeous, the effects work still stunning, and the commitment to cerebral, character-driven sci-fi still a cause to be championed. Here’s hoping season three both gets back on track and keeps up the good work.

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3) The X-Files: The X-Files’ revival in 2016 had a lot to prove, and it mostly went about that by having Mulder and Scully shoehorn references to Google and Edward Snowden into a script already straining to explain why two graying former enemies of the state would be welcomed back to the FBI with open arms. But once you get past the mother of all cop-outs in the opening minutes, Season 11 settles back into the classic groove of “monster of the week” assignments interwoven with high-stakes conspiracy capers. Aside from a bafflingly technophobic midway ep (which I’ve been meaning to do a video analysis of), this new batch of cases left me eager for plenty more.

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2) Channel Zero – The Dream Door: Imaginary friends come to life. Eerie doors. Old secrets returning to haunt our protagonists. There’s nothing in this fourth season of CZ that its predecessors (or, indeed, countless horror media) haven’t already shown us before, but the way it presents those tropes with lingering, uncannily grounded cinematography and a propulsive (albeit aesthetically questionable) synth score creates a memorably disturbing chapter of the creepypasta-cooking anthology series.

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1) The Haunting of Hill House: Can grounded family drama and blood-curdling horror coexist? That’s the question both this Netflix miniseries and the protagonists themselves ask, as adult siblings reunited with their estranged father in the wake of a tragedy must grapple with their inner demons — and some outer ones. Director Mike Flanagan channels the dual-timelines conceit of his sleeper hit Oculus into another exploration of the fear inherent in confronting traumatic childhood memories, and even though it’s a square-peg/round-hole presentation at times (it really shouldn’t take this long for someone to just come out and say what actually happened when they were kids), the result is still a binge-worthy horror-mystery where the haunted house is as much a character as the dysfunctional people — alive and dead — wandering its halls. Not only that, but it’s the rare piece of ghost-focused media where whether the spooks exist or are just metaphors isn’t a binary interpretation. These spirits are real, but so is the all-too-human pain they represent and carry on.

 

MY TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2018

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5) Neon Future III, Steve Aoki: After two concept albums and countless intermittent collaborations (including a well-intentioned but heinous remix of “Welcome to the Black Parade”), Steve Aoki gamely maintains his DJ cred in an era when the genre’s mainstream fame is fading with this hat trick of straight-up bangers steeped in solid features (blink-182!) and science-tastic interludes.

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4) ye, Kanye West: Yeezy garnered some not-unjustified scorn across 2018 for his scattershot, contrarian political ramblings, but from the unhinged confessions of “Yikes” to the hypnotic yet tormented outro to “Ghost Town,” this succinct LP is ironically his most focused in years — even if that focus is, as always, on Kanye.

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3) M A N I A, Fall Out Boy: I was prepared to call this album one of the worst of the year when I first heard it, but chalk that reaction up to bad marketing and outdated expectations. The trap-EDM trash fire of a promo “Young and Menace” is wisely relegated to a penultimate slot on the tracklist, and while my inner emo will always miss the verbose, self-loathing ramblings of vintage FOB, what remains are some of the most badass, head-bopping pop tunes in the scene today. You may not believe Patrick Stump anymore when he declares “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color,” but that won’t keep you from singing along.

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2) The Unheavenly Creatures, Coheed & Cambria: For most of their career, C&C’s musical sci-fi epic “The Amory Wars” has been a chore for me to enjoy, much less understand — “Welcome Home” aside, most of their output is heavy on obtuse worldbuilding and light on memorable riffs. But with this debut to a promised pentalogy, the boys have struck pop-prog gold. While a number of tracks still drag, the highs are higher than ever — the title track soars like its titular dark angels, the pleading chorus of “Toys” is an earworm against all odds, and only a dead man could avoid na-na-na’ing along to “Up in Flames.”

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1) A Star is Born (Soundtrack): Was there any doubt? Combining rock, folk-country, pop, and show-stopping piano ballads with vocal interludes delivers a roundabout audio version of the film which invites repeated listening for any mood. “Shallow” deserves every bit of praise its crescendoing urgency has already received from countless others, and “I’ll Never Love Again” wraps a simple ode in a shunning, shimmering farewell that brought me dangerously close to manly tears.

 

MY TOP 5 SINGLES OF 2018

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5) “KILLSHOT,” Eminem: Em got off to a shaky start this year in the wake of the profoundly mediocre “Revival,” and an abrupt follow-up in “Kamikaze” — while proficiently a return to form — still felt more like a collection of insecure grievances than a confident release (and the contractually obligated turd-on-top “Venom” didn’t help). But when Machine Gun Kelly had the audacity to call him out, Shady responded with a blistering dis track that delivers a public lesson in respecting your elders. Now if only he’d spit that kind of fire on a consistent basis!

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4) “We Appreciate Power,” Grimes feat. HANA: No doubt influenced by the time with Elon Musk on her hip, the pop charts’ resident goth girl delivers a dark, dominant, and undeniably catchy siren song on behalf of our inevitable robot overlords. What will it take to make you capitulate?

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3) “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” Joji: Plenty have scoffed at George Miller’s transition from grotesque YouTube clown to glitched-out R&B crooner, but as an always-aspiring renaissance man myself, I say more power to him. While his debut LP this year was a bit too weak overall to make my list, this plaintive, dreamy early track establishes that the “Joji” name could have serious staying power.

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2) “Never Sure,” Mayday Parade: Melodrama and fragile young love have been the name of the game for this Tallahassee quintet going on twelve years, and while the band bucks convention by dialing back their operatic side, the juxtaposition of clichéd and achingly real sentiments (“I know how much that it makes you cringe / to think about you and I as friends / together forever until the end”) — held together by a humble yet powerful chorus — get their latest record “Sunnyland” off to an unforgettable start.

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1) “Choke,” I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME: “IDK” lifts its name proper from a Back to the Future quote, but a more apt geek reference for this breakout single would be “Aliens” — the merrily acid-tongued delivery of lines like “if I could burn this town, I wouldn’t hesitate to smile while you suffocate and die” puts Xenomorph spit to shame, and recalls vintage Panic at the Disco in all the right ways.

 

MY TOP 5 VIDEOGAMES OF 2018

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5) Tetris Effect: Tetris is, by at least one metric, the most popular videogame of all time — but for better or worse, only so much could be done to modernize it (no, Tetrisphere doesn’t count). That was, until this year, when the revelatory decision was made to draw inspiration from the trippy rhythm-based puzzlers that’d seemingly lapped Tetris in relevance. Combined with virtual reality functionality and side modes that upend the very convention of four-sectioned tetriminoes (heresy!), you’ve got a basic but peerlessly addictive game that more than justifies its invocation of the titular psychological compulsion.

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4) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Since the original Super Smash Bros. almost twenty years ago, each entry has distinguished itself in some way: Melee unwittingly set the standard for the self-fashioned genre of “party fighter,” Brawl doubled down on fanservice with an ambitious story mode, and Smash 4… well, you could play it on two different systems? Iunno, that one was kinda just okay. But Ultimate aims right out of the gates to be the definitive Smash Bros. experience: Everyone really is here — over 70 fighters, with more on the way — and even novice players are bound to notice tweaks both large and small that refine the combat to a unprecedented T. Only the focus on a trading cards-y “Spirit” system in lieu of classic modes like Home Run Contest and Break the Targets hampers the game’s potential GOAT status. Overall, though, it’s a well-oiled machine of cartoonish clobbering effectively two decades in the making — and plenty worth the wait.

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3) A Way Out: In an age of online-only multiplayer, one could rightly wonder whether the split screen is dead. Fortunately, from the makers of indie sleeper hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes a short but sweet title that not only allows two players to share the same TV but requires it. You and a friend assume the role of freshly imprisoned felons seeking to fly the coop co-op, but what starts as a Shawshank-esque jailbreak turns into a wild adventure full of shocking developments and clever puzzles that require timing and teamwork in equal measure. You’ll either love or hate your compatriot by the end, but you won’t be able to deny the experience is one for the ages.

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2) Marvel’s Spider-Man: With great power comes… well, you know. But Marvel and developer Insomniac were as responsible as could be in crafting this outstanding superhero adventure, and while its combat cribs shamelessly from the Arkham series, the result is an action-packed open-world brawler that makes you feel like the Webbed Wonder as never before. In a virtual Manhattan stuffed with gadgets, side missions, Easter eggs, and more, there’s never a dull moment, and the rejiggering of famous friends’ and foes’ roles ensures even dedicated fans won’t quite know what to expect (even if you’ll be checking your watch for when Dr. Octavius has a certain workplace accident).

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1) God of War: Like Uncharted 4 before it, this soft reboot of the deicidal hack-n-slash series accomplishes the seemingly impossible in transforming its focus from mindless adventure fantasy to an earnest, deeply emotional journey. But this is no touchy-feely walking sim — mountains split and monsters bleed with equal intensity to its predecessors, and with a groundbreaking “single-take” camera style, Kratos’s fights and feats feel more raw than ever. If it weren’t for some samey enemy variety and “expanded universe”-style plot threads left frustratingly strewn across the story, this game would be practically perfect — but with how well it deservedly sold, the sequel will hopefully pick up the slack ASAP.

Now y’all go out there and check this stuff out if you haven’t already, but be sure to set aside some time to create your own art, too! And have a Happy 2019.

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NEW, MERRY WEBSITE: “MoSanta.org”

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There’s a surprising dearth of Santa stock photos in the GoDaddy archives.

Short answer to where I’ve been for eight months: I moved across the country and back home via U-Haul, started a new job, lived with my folks in an internet dead zone for a while, had to buy a new laptop, and then slowly but surely got my ol’ desktop PC back up when I finally found an apartment.

Long answer: …Well, that wasn’t too short, was it?

In any case, another hiatus is over! Unfortunately, not much new substantive writing got done in that gap, but I found a new creative outlet: web design. Well, okay, paying GoDaddy 70-odd dollars a year for what I kinda already have on here.

But! As dedicated followers may recall, around this time last year, I posted an experimental story called “Santaologyexploring the goofy logical extreme of a world where Santa Claus actually exists. In the closing lines, I mentioned a link to a fictional website for “the Museum of Santaology.” More than a few folks I shared it with urged me to snap that domain up–and so, with seasonally appropriate timing, I did just that.

So please take a glimpse at what’s going on in Manhattan’s jolliest of public institutions, at:

MoSanta.org

Sci-Fi Narration: ”A Brief Version of Time,” by Alan Lightman (1993)

Changing things up with a short sci-fi-style reading: “A Brief Version of Time” by Alan Lightman – physicist, author, and apparently underrated renaissance man – originally published in the February 8, 1993 edition of the New York Times.

This “article” about the philosophical what-ifs of immortality really captivated my imagination when we studied it back in high school AP English, and I hope you enjoy it too! (even if it is a bit bleak)

“Illustration” by me.  See more photography on my Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/tnw24/

The Top 7 Micro-Creepypastas – Part IV

It’s time for a new round of seven of my favorite super-short scary stories, read aloud with my own “illustrations” on YouTube!

Contains the following quality scares:

[1] “Pile of Photographs”
[2] “The Lighthouse”
[3] “The Murderer”
[4] “Crayons”
[5] “Difchil”
[6] “Upstairs”
[7] “Bad Dream”

Many of these stories can be found at http://scparchive.wikidot.com/archive — in any case, no clue on any of the authors.

All “illustrations” by me! See more of my (less eerie) photography on my Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/tnw24/

Placeholder Poetry: “The Odds” (2013)

This is Why We Don't Visit You Guys

Well, not in so many words, but…

So I could have sworn I shared this one before, but I can’t find it anywhere on the site.  What may’ve happened is that I nixed the original post in advance of submitting it to a journal a few years ago (to no avail).  Or maybe aliens deleted it!

Beyond Belief

In any event, this is another piece I wrote while studying creative writing at the UW — Advanced Poetry, to be precise.  This time, exploring two opposing perspectives was the focus.  So, consummate geek that I am, I thought:  what if when extraterrestrials do visit the Earth, they’re just as impressed by finding other life?  At least… at first.

The Odds

What are they,
these green-gilled, ten-limbed creatures?
In what world could such features flourish?
How do they go about their days
and yet find time to sculpt such ships,
raptors’ curves ‘round ventricles of light?

What’ve we found, touching down­
in this land of two-armed, soft-skinned hue-men?
Their shades do vary, but their clout astounds.
How can such simple, slender beasts survive
training ranks for spears, not gears,
as the flag on their pallid moon droops, collecting stardust?

Now, how’re we to speak
to them? To which words would they respond
or language listen? Their eyes compacted,
ears concealed, our promises of peace may crash
like satellite static—or worse, they’ll misinterpret it
as calls to war we couldn’t win.

Their gestures hint they think us dim,
but, at once, we sense their intents
like a shallow grave under brilliant blooms.
Round faces surround us, imploring “meet our leader,”
but the grins within have torn
meat from marrow and pride from the poor.

What’re the odds?
Centuries, we search—
scanning sky, loosing computers
in paternal spurts of fuel and tax dollars
to capture languid nebulae and sullen suns,
‘cross spans new units were coined to comprehend—
and another life finds us first.
We might need to steal some machines,
dissect a couple of “natural” deaths,
but who knows what we’ll learn!

What’re the chances? We’re even
in this infinity. One thousand solar-cycles journeyed,
working ‘til our tails numbed cataloging charts and channels,
all fifty fingers pinching a dwindling budget.
Hoping the last galaxies held knowledge to spare:
cleaner engines, illness’s end, peace after death.
Yet our complement is a wet and mottled mirror
in the grip of these fraught and frightened creatures.
Our work paid off,
but the currency? Worthless.

Placeholder Poetry: “Beautiful Battlefield” (2012)

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A light at the beginning of the tunnel.

Holed up inside during the “ice storm” blowing across Lake Erie tonight, I find myself reflecting on warmer, more floral environs back in Washington State…

Until mid-2013, my childhood home was surrounded by a huge forest of evergreens.  So when an assignment arose in my first Poetry course at the University of Washington to write a poem based on a class journal entry, I ran with one I’d jotted at some point about this lush upbringing!  I was taken with exploring how a forest can be both a place of solace and, in its own way, chaos.  I revised it a few times, including for the internal application which eventually got me accepted to the creative writing specialization program at the UW, so I’m surprised I never shared it on here!  A few new edits for readability aside, it is as it was then.

This is also a rare time where I chose to wrote in the persona of someone else. Descriptions of natural splendor aside, none of this correlates to my own life (thankfully).

Beautiful Battlefield

The forest marks the borderline
sprawled ’round me, west to south,
fencing in with evergreens the yellowed yard
and box of shingled bricks I’m told is home.
From here, my parents’ arguments are almost mute.

The sun surveys all, layers heat upon my back.
As I march through lashing grass,
rubber boots squeak and stick
with golden seeds, like a flag’s stars.
On the horizon, shouts and slaps fade like gunfire.

I enter, where spiders guard their dewy webs
‘cross saggy limbs and sloughing moss.
Boughs block light seeking rest
on a dark carpet, where logs rot in solitude.
No sign of broken dishes or discarded cigarettes.

Over here, a corps of scotchbroom huddle,
swapping pods, as tansies talk in plots;
over there, ferns protest paths of missions past
from which their leaves once prospered.

I head forth, through the birch;
seven shoots arc up and earthbound
— a bunker’s tunnel, taken root.
I pass the anthill army’s bustle
on a mound of silent static,
and a black ant scrambles up an oak
at eye level, AWOL.

The snail shell by the roadside,
a broken house vacated, sprayed with mud;
the devil’s clubs’ clusters
of spikes, conspiring to poison;
and the narcissus, victorious
over pinecones —
I take it all in stride, for

this war is mine
                           to run, holding aloft a stick
                           wrenched from elm.
                           I strip its bark, expose within
                           my ivory-shaded sword, and order
                           birds to fly and plants to part the way.

            And after all, if Something finds me —
            The neighbor dogs, with shambling coats and eyes;
            Dad, stumbling under branches,
            bourbon on the breath, in his self-inflicted aftermath
            a family’s traitor —
            one must always be prepared.

            I know I’ll have to go
back. But for however long it takes
to trek past a beehive and risk the stings,
to kick away a molehill
and tread on something weaker saying “I was here,”
and know I’m moving over rocks and rivulets while
Mom goes nowhere in her TV chair
— I’ll stay and fight.
Back there, I’m underfoot and out of rations,
but here I walk above. I strike
fear, from the vine-throttled pines
to graves of frogs and pond scum.

There are no shoves and screams.
No slamming doors and stomping feet.
            Just a chirp and scuttles, shuffles and a breeze
            racing through the trees.
            It’s earth’s own beautiful battlefield
            and I command it all,
            as much as
I surrender.

“Bernhard’s Door” – Creepypasta Reading

Ever have this dream?

Back in the spooky saddle with a reading of “Bernhard’s Door,” a story(?) I found in image form on 4chan or something years ago. I have no idea of author or the origins of it.

Music credit: “Lullaby” feat. Dot Allison by Christian Henson, from the soundtrack to the delightfully mind-bending scifi-horror film “Triangle.” Will just reupload without it if that gets copyright flagged, but I love how it kinda synced up!

“Illustration” by me. See more on my Instagram @ TNW24!