Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Greg's Favorites of 2018

2018 came and went.  I'm always surprised this blog is still here when I pull it up a year later.

2018 was a pretty steady year for the family, with not too many changes.  With Maria's editing job helping out, we were able to finally afford to do a few things.  She and I went to Seattle for a 20 year wedding anniversary trip; the family flew to Utah for the summer particularly so the older boys could spend time before cousins started leaving on missions; and I got to fly to LA with my brother Jeffrey to see former Jellyfish band member Roger Joseph Manning Jr. in person for a Pledgemusic reward studio tour.  I also got to see my first Python member in person, John Cleese, who came through DFW on a Q&A tour and screening of Holy Grail.  And I got to see a couple performers I like in Vegas during a work trip, Piff the Magic Dragon and Tape Face (both former America's Got Talent contestants, but also both performers I was aware of before their AGT appearances.) I also started a new position at Lockheed, moving from my support (and all my world travels) of F-35 to full time F-22 engineering work.

Here are the things I liked in 2018:


2018 was a step up over the past few years.  I actually found some great music and a few new bands that I really enjoyed.
  • Roger Joseph Manning Jr: Glamping EP - As mentioned above, Roger released this EP through PledgeMusic this year.  My brother bought it for me as a birthday gift.  And then before the campaign was over we talked each other into buying a personal experience of meeting Roger at a studio and getting a personal tour of each of the songs by looking at every track in the recording and seeing how they were made.  Sometimes when you see how the sausage is made you lose your appetite, but other times it makes the sausage even more delicious.  The latter was my experience.  I enjoy these songs even more knowing what went into making them.
  • Jukebox the Ghost: Off to the Races - I found this about the same time as the Roger Manning album was released, so they are both connected in my head.  This band has been around for a while but it wasn't until now that they got my attention.  Most of that was through the first two tracks on this album, especially "Jumpstarted" which is a delightful Queen-meets-Ben Folds Five piano-featuring piece.  It seems to jump all over the place, but after a few listens the disparate elements start to click together.

  • Trevor Horn: "Sky Show" - This is just a single song from an otherwise mostly instrumental anime soundtrack "The Reflection."  This sounds like a long lost Buggles song and is a wonderful 80s synthpop throw back.

  • Beck: Colors - Technically a late 2017 release, I originally dismissed this album after listening to one of the first singles, "Wow," which I found gratingly annoying.  But since Roger Manning plays with Beck in his touring group, I watched one of his TV appearances on a talk show and was intrigued by another song from this same album.  I finally listened to the full album and fell in love.  This is a great synthpop album, very heavily 80s influenced.  And there's a great music video for the title track by my favorite director, Edgar Wright.  Just skip "Wow."

  • I Don't Know How But They Found Me: 1981 EP - I followed a random YouTube recommendation and found this song, "Do It All the Time," and this band with the awkward long name. I think the conceit is that they are a lost band from 1981. Whatever the case, the music is fun. They have a few other tracks on YouTube that aren't on the EP that I also enjoy, particularly "Nobody Likes the Opening Band."

  • Muse: Simulation Theory - I enjoyed the new Muse album this year, but it didn't quite hit the way their last few did.  This was the one album I was looking forward to from last year and it was good, but not great.

  • Marc Martel: Thunderbolt and Lightning - Queen was huge this year with the "Bohemian Rhapsody" biopic and a few other things.  This is a Freddie Mercury sound-alike covering Queen songs, but in new and interesting ways.  Such as Bohemian Rhapsody with a full orchestra.
A few other items worth mentioning: Sparks - "Hippopotamus" from late 2017 I finally got around to listening to, and enjoyed. V Sparks - "Moderne Life" was a really great 3/4ths of an album with an amazing Queen-style song, "The Game of Everybody Knows Its You." V Sparks is a great rock/glam band. I bought and listened to the entire V Sparks discography from Bandcamp. The Struts - "Young & Dangerous" - was an album I was very much looking forward to and it was...okay. The band sort of shifted from their rock direction to more shiny pop, and so even though every song is catchy, it's too sugary to last very long.

As for 2019, I have no idea what's on the horizon.  Not sure if it will be too soon or not, but Roger Manning promised more music soon and was working with Eric Dover and Tim Smith on a new project.


This year I joined, then quit, MoviePass.  I signed up at a weird moment around my birthday in April when it was only 3 movies a month instead of unlimited, but after the three months that I signed up for ended, the entire company seemed to fall apart.  So I jumped ship and joined AMC A-List, which allows for up to 3 moves a week.  Needless to say, I saw quite a bit more movies in theater this year than I ever have before.  However, changes to routine at work and home, I saw less movies overall. I saw 49 movies in theater, up from 30 last year.  I saw 48 more new release movies (2017-2018) at home or on planes down from 74 last year.  I saw 101 older movies for the first time, down from 164 last year.  And I rewatched 68 movies, down from 72 last year.  In total I saw 270 movies.

Here are some of my favorite movies of the year:
  • A Quiet Place -  This was such a surprise.  Watching this in a theater you suddenly become aware of every tiny noise around you.  Such a simple concept, but it worked wonderfully.
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout - I originally came out of this movie disappointed.  It was a little more serious than the last movies.  It didn't have the big heist element that the last few did.  But after listening to more than 6 hours of director's interviews and maybe as many hours of podcast discussions, my appreciation of this movie grew much, much higher.  Especially understanding how much work went into all of the stunts and set pieces and how Tom Cruise pretty much did everything you see on screen for real.
  • Paddington 2 -  One of the first movies of the year, and one of my favorites.  It was just delightfully crazy and serenely calm at the same time.  
  • Crazy Rich Asians - Just unique, charming, and funny enough to make this one of the more satisfying romantic comedies in years.
  • Game Night - A studio comedy that I actually found funny.  It's been a while since that has happened.
  • Avengers: Infinity War - I almost feel like I have to put this on my list, though I really feel like I need to see Avengers:Endgame to have a full opinion of this movie.  But it was quite the spectacle.
  • Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse - I *adored* the animation style of this movie and the boundaries it pushed.  I was less in love with the overall story.  It was fun and crazy, but it still felt like another origin story to me.
  • Deadpool 2 - Silly.  Funny. That's was all I needed and it was that.
  • Overlord - Not the first Nazi Zombie movie, but crazy enough to stand on its own.  It did everything that The Predator tried to do this year but better.
  • Bumblebee - What? A Transformer movie that was good?  I know.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around that.  I consider all the other Transformers movies to be cinematic travesties, but this one was the best movie I saw released near Christmas.
  • Bad Genius - Asian kids heist movie where they plan to cheat the SATs.  
  • Upgrade - A more successful, lower budget version of the "Venom" movie.
Disappointments, movies I hated, and other films of note:
  • Black Panther - It seemed like I was the only one who didn't care for this movie.  It was boring, long, and had an uninteresting lead character.  It also ripped off an entire scene from James Bond's Skyfall.  I would rank it just above the Hulk movie and maybe Iron Man 2 at the bottom of my Marvel movie rankings.
  • Ready Player One - I enjoyed watching it, but it was a huge disappoint for me.  It should have worked better with the players involved (Spielberg in particular.)  It just veered wildly from kids movie to a teen movie to an adult R-rated horror and back to silly kids movie.  Who is this film for?  I can't figure it out.  How do you go from brazenly bombing a crowded neighborhood with real deaths near the beginning to a full recreation of the Shining in the middle to a slap fight with a villain at the end? It left me scratching my head.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story - Take a Star Wars movie that no one wanted and fill it with terrible choices all the way through (see: Solo gets his name) and then film it so dark that you can barely tell what's happening in the film.  Hit picture? I held off going to this movie until I got to Utah for our family trip to be able to see it with everybody and I could only convince one person of my large family to see it with me.  This movie was a failure all around.
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Who wants to see dinosaurs go from rampaging in a park on a big island to bumping into walls in a large house?  Also, how is selling invaluable, resurrected dinosaurs for a few million each in any way profitable?  Surely it cost more than that just to send the party to go rescue the few they could from the island, let alone all the research costs to create them in the first place.
  • The Predator - Wow, this was incoherently bad.  See comments above for the movie "Overlord" for a better experience.
  • Venom - Wow, this was incoherently bad.  See comments above for the movie "Upgrade" for a better experience.
  • The Crimes of Gindelwald - I audibly sighed 3 or 4 times during this movie.  I have never done that in a movie.  I was exasperated and bored.  What a terrible film, and they are planning at least 3 more of these?  Nothing in it makes sense.  Why send a guy who only cares about magical animals--and barely any people--on an illegal mission to hunt down a man he knows barely anything about in foreign country he's not allowed to go to?  Why would he accept?  Why do we care about babies switched at birth we've never met before?  Why is Dumbledore even in this movie?  Why did they undo the one Muggle's memory sacrifice at the end of the of the last movie, the one heart-tugging element of that film?  Why are we supposed to be invested in a relationship where one person drugs the other and takes them against their will to another country to marry them apparently against their will?  Why is this movie?
  • Mary Poppins Returns - I give everyone credit for really, really trying.  Everyone wanted to make a movie that stood up alongside the original and I applaud their efforts.  But they made a movie that ultimately is just a poor copy of the original.  The songs were unmemorable--I don't think I could hum a single one as I exited the theater.  I couldn't understand what was happening most of the movie or why or what they were singing about.  And in the end I felt like I was attending a school musical or recital but without a program so I had no idea how many more musical numbers I had to endure until the finale.
As for 2019, I'm looking forward to Avengers: Endgame to see how everything is resolved (or not.)  Disney is going all-in with their live-action remakes with Lion King, Dumbo, and Aladdin.  I'm not looking forward to them, I'm just pointing them out.  Toy Story 4, It: Chapter 2, and Star Wars: Episode 9 are all movies I'm cautiously looking forward to.  Shazam probably has the potential to be the most fun Superhero movie.  We'll see.


It's getting harder to distinguish TV from movies this year with more things on Netflix.  Is it a movie?  A series?  A mini-series?  A special?  How do you classify it if it's on TV but all comes out at once?  I probably watched less shows this year than I ever have in the past and part of that is less interesting stuff on networks and more things on streaming services.

Here are a few shows of note I watched in 2018:
  • Christmas Carol Gone Wrong - Watched this on January 1st and it was still my favorite thing I saw by the end of the year.  
  • Cobra Kai - How dare they do a sequel TV series/reboot to this classic movie!  And yet they did and it was amazing!  I really enjoyed how they honored the original movie by both mirroring and subverting everything about it.
  • Saturday Night Live - I never watch it live, but I always hope I have time Sunday morning to watch it.  If not I catch it as soon as I can.  The closest to "appointment television" I still have.
  • Last Week Tonight - Probably second after SNL for a show I try to catch quickly after airing.
  • America's/Britain's Got Talent - Both remain my favorite variety competition series
  • Penn & Teller Fool Us - My next favorite variety series.  Both this and the above are a great place to see magic on television.
  • Derren Brown: The Push/Sacrifice - Derren Brown continues to come up with amazing fake realities to make people suffer through.
  • Wrecked - The third season of this "Lost"/"Survivor" parody series has the survivors engaged in a Hunger/The Most Dangerous Game scenario.
  • Cunk on Britain - A British faux documentary series that I thought was pretty funny.
  • Wellington Paranormal - A TV spinoff series from "What We Do in the Shadows."  A bit like a cross between Cops and X Files, but done with the dry New Zealand humor.
  • Haunting of Hill House - Some really interesting creepy stuff in this Netflix series.
  • MST3K - Didn't completely finish, but continue to enjoy the new season.
  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - the last show I watched for the year.  Of note because it is played as a "Choose your own adventure" style game on Netflix with multiple paths and endings.
  • The Vietnam War - Not a favorite thing I watched.  But noteworthy because of how huge and long and thorough it was.  I just need to note it here so I can get some kind of credit for watching it.
  • Arrested Development - Just putting this here to remind myself I watched a new series from this show this year, but I've forgotten it already.

Podcasts and Online

I spent a lot of time on YouTube this year, which is partly why my movie count was down from last year.  I spend a lot of time on weekdays streaming talk show segments from the night before.  Here's what I watched and listened to this year:
  • Talkshows:  Stephen Colbert's monologue and guests if they are interesting.  Seth Meyers "A Closer Look" is often the first thing I watch in the mornings."  I'll occasionally watch Jimmy Kimmel and much less often James Cordon and Jimmy Fallon.  
  • News channels: I also find myself heading to CNN or MSNBC to see what crazy headlines are happening every other day or so.  
  • ScreenJunkies has a daily show that I usually watch, plus Movie Fights, Charting, Honest Trailers, and more.  
  • RedLetterMedia's "Half in the Bag," "Wheel of the Worst," "Review," "Best of the Worst" and others also continue to hold my attention.
  • We Hate Movies: I actually subscribed to my first Patreon for these guys this year because I've enjoyed their show.
  • How Did This Get Made: Continue to enjoy
  • Empire, Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider, Now Playing: All movie-based podcasts I regularly listen to
  • James Bonding, Star Trek: The Next Conversation, Smegheads (Red Dwarf), Monkey Tennis (Alan Partridge): All shows that focus on specific movies or TV series that I listen to.
  • Piff Pod, Magician's Podcast, MagicOrthodoxy: Two magic/magician themed podcasts I found this year, and a YouTube magic review channel.

Video Games

I played a lot this year on my phone, Switch, and XBox One.  Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Super Mario Odyssey - What an amazing Mario game.  I pretty much completed everything I could on this game.
  • Gardenscapes/Homescapes -  A couple similar matching games that I played way too much on my phone this year.  Way too much.
  • Nintendo Labo - Jaden and I built both the first, misc. items pack, and the third vehicles pack and really enjoyed them.  I love the construction/model-building aspect and the super inventive ways of using the Switch controllers.  Even when you understand how the piano works, it still seems like magic.
  • Bloons TD 6 - Really enjoyed this new installment of the Bloons series.
  • Overcooked/Overcooked 2 - This was a really fun cooperative cooking game on the Switch.  Makes for a great party game. 
  • Cooking Craze - After enjoying the Overcooked games, I found this cooking game on the iPhone that has me currently addicted. 
  • Dead Cells - An interesting rogue-like Metroidvania game.  I've played quite a bit but haven't completed yet on the Switch.
Of  note: I finally stopped playing the Simpsons Tapped Out game this year.  After playing it for quite a few years.  I got to a point where I was just collecting and stashing things and there was too much to be able to organize nicely any more.  (Plus I ran out of donuts and the free donuts methods of the past were no longer an option.)


I read one book.  "I, Alan Partridge."  Maria read 567.


So looking ahead to next year.  We're hoping for a family trip back to Disney if we can fit it in.  It may slip to 2020 depending on school and schedules.  I expect most things to continue as normal with jobs and work and schools.  I'm looking forward to the move to 2-hour church block and interested to see how that affects me with my current piano accompanying jobs.  I got a whole lot of new magic tricks for Christmas.  A *whole lot*.  I'm performing for the primary kids in a few weeks.  I hope to find more opportunities to perform elsewhere in the year and beyond.  I continue to crochet here and there.  I also still intend to get back to writing music sometime.  And I guess that's it.  Happy 2019 everyone!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Greg's Favorites of 2017

What an interesting year 2017 was.  I've taken over six international trips, 3 to UK (including one at the end of 2016) and 3 to Italy and earned a ton of air miles and made it to Executive Platinum level at American Airlines.  I learned to solve a Rubik's Cube.  I now have a 2x2, several 3x3s, 4x4, 5x5, and a 9x9--which I just got for Christmas.  Maria created her own job of proofing/editing for writers.  And the kids all started public school (so Maria could focus her time on her new job.)  And most of my entertainment came from reading the news headlines every day to see what Pres. Trump did next.  We are all surprised he made it one year as president.

Anyway, here are the things that I enjoyed watching/playing/listening to in 2017:


I thought 2016 was terrible for music.  Well, this year was worse.  I added a whopping two new albums to my iPhone and didn't create any music of my own.  So my top ten albums of the year are narrowed down to which of the two I liked more.  Granted, I did not spend much time looking for music.  I don't have a lot of occasions to listen to music any more and since we subscribed to Sirius XM, most car listening is to channels the play older music.
  • The Struts: Everybody Wants -  Technically this came out in 2014 and released in US in 2016.  I only found it this year. It's great Glam Rock throwback with touches of Queen.  A new album is coming early in 2018.

  • The Darkness: Pinewood Smile - The only new album from this year that I found. I still like their second album best.  This doesn't depart much from their last two albums, which means more stripped down, straight-ahead rock songs.  However, this one did provide quite a few ear-worms that wouldn't leave my head.

There were a few old songs that I found this year that I really enjoyed outside of full albums:

  • S.O.L.: "Something For Beginners" - This is Stefan Zauner from Muenchener Freiheit who did a solo English album in the 90s under the name S.O.L. (Some Other Language.)  Several of these became Freiheit songs.  I'm still looking for the whole album, but I love this song:

  • Lene Lovich: "New Toy" - Someone on Reddit posted this saying that Lene Lovich was the inspiration for Danny Elfman to change the sound of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo from weird experimental performance art to a new wave band in the early 80s.  Listening to this song, I can definitely hear the similarities.  This song was co-written by Thomas Dolby for added coolness.

I have no music predictions for 2018.  Muse released a couple tracks last year for an upcoming album, maybe this year?


I continued to keep track of all the movies I watched this year.  I watched a total of 340 movies. I watched 30 movies in the theater.  I watched 74 new movies (released in 2016-17) at outside of the theater.  I saw 164 new old movies (anything before 2016 that I'd never seen before).  And I rewatched another 72 movies that I'd seen before.

A lot of the movies I watch are usually in conjunction with podcasts I listen to.  Especially ones like "How Did This Get Made" and "We Hate Movies" where they choose an old awful movie and pick it apart.  So I will usually try to track down the movie to watch it in advance.  There are also several other movie podcasts I listen to like Slashfilmcast or Empire Podcast that have lengthy spoiler discussions about new films so I try to get to the theater early to see the film to be able to listen to the discussion afterwards.

Here are my favorite films I saw this year:

Get Out - My least favorite theater experience, but my favorite film of the year.  A guy came in late and brought his less than 10-year-old son to this film and then pulled out his phone while sitting right next to me.  I normally yell at people to put their phone away, but not when they are immediately next to me.  His son didn't want to be there and was covering his face the whole time.  And then I finally noticed that the guy wasn't playing on his phone--he was asleep and had left it on.  Eventually after about five minutes the phone timed out until a few minutes later when the guy adjusted himself and the phone came back on for another five minutes!  I had to sit with my hand up next to my eyes to shield the light so I could concentrate on the movie.  Despite all that, I really liked the film.  I enjoyed the mix of humor and horror and mystery of it all.

Thor Ragnarok/Wonder Woman - I can't tell which of these I enjoyed more.  Wonder Woman surprised me seeing as how awful all the other WB/DC films have been.  But this one was actually featured a real hero doing heroic things.  It was almost refreshing how basic it was.  If only the ending were a little stronger.  Thor was just crazy.  I'm shocked that with three Marvel films this year (Spiderman/Guardians 2) that this was my favorite of the three.  A Thor film.  It reminded me of a more self-aware version of the 80s Flash Gordon movie with much more humor.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle/Central Intelligence - I'm surprised the last movie I saw in theaters this year was one of my favorites.  It had the perfect construct of being based around an old video game that allowed it to be dumb, stupid, and illogical which added to the charm and fun.  Plus I really enjoyed all the main characters including Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart from "Central Intelligence," a movie that came out last year, but I didn't see until this year.  There's been a dearth of good comedies recently and these two films are definitely high up there.

Baby Driver - Edgar Wright's latest film.  The only reason I saw it, because nothing about the trailer or story or awful title made me want to see it.  I really, really liked it--despite the story.  It was all about the style and the mix of music choreographing the action scenes.  Otherwise, I'm not a fan of crime dramas, but Edgar Wright found a way to make me like this one.

It - Just a great horror movie.  I re-watched the mini-series and this is definitely an improvement. It'll be interesting to see if they can make the sequel measure up to this one since the weakest part of the mini-series was the adult segments.

Coco - Best animated film of the year.  A return to form for Pixar for now.

Happy Death Day - Groundhog Day meets Scream.  I had a lot of fun with this one.  It doesn't hold up to scrutiny, but I enjoyed how they played with the repeating day concept to find a murderer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi/Guardians of the Galaxy 2/Spider-Man: Homecoming - These were all good.  I enjoyed them.

A few non-theater movies that I liked: The Big Sick, The Babysitter, and Brigsby Bear.

Looking ahead to 2018, I'm most looking forward to Spielberg's "Ready Player One" adaptation.  I'm just hoping it doesn't turn out like "Ender's Game" where a favorite book of mine is adapted into an OK movie and then completely forgotten about immediately afterwards!  Also looking forward to "Avengers: Infinity War," "Incredibles 2," and "Mission Impossible 6,"


The interesting thing about TV this year was I watched almost no network dramas or sitcoms this year.  Most of it was cable or Netflix.  Here are some of my favorites:

Black Mirror/Stranger Things 2: These were both at the top of my list last year, and both are Netflix shows.  Black Mirror squeaked into my list by Netflix releasing it just a few days ago.  Stranger Things 2 wasn't as great as the first season, but still enjoyable.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong: This special was broadcast at the end of last year in the UK and one of the first things I watched this year.  It was hilarious.  It's a spin-off of a broadway play call "The Play That Goes Wrong" about a murder mystery play that is riddled with technical issues, bad acting, and errors galore.  I expect "Christmas Carol Gone Wrong" that played this year (and watched today so it doesn't count for 2017) may show up on this list again.

Mystery Science Theater: The Return: Another Netflix series.  This revival was almost as good as the original.  I still prefer most of the older cast, but many of the episodes here can stand along-side the original series.

Murder in Successville: A UK series I found this year where a celebrity is paired with a detective in a semi-improvised murder investigation/comedy.  I just enjoyed the refreshingly original idea behind the series as well as the comedy.

The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special: A random character from an SNL sketch a few years ago by Tom Hanks got its own animated Halloween special.  It makes no sense, and that is why I loved it.

Red Dwarf Series XII: I can't believe it's still running after nearly 30 years, but there were some good episodes this series.

Wrecked: This is a shipwrecked sitcom/Lost parody.  Why is it on the air?  I don't know, but after the episode where everyone went crazy because no one could remember the actor who played Rose's boyfriend on Titanic and no one had a phone with a signal to look it up, this show had me hooked.

Other shows I watched and enjoyed this year: SNL, Last Week Tonight, America/Britain's got Talent, Penn & Teller Fool Us, Angie Tribeca, Rick & Morty, Upstart Crow and the Simpsons.

Podcasts and Online

Here are some of my favorite podcasts/YouTube channels/online shows that I enjoyed this year:

Movies: We Hate Movies, Red Letter Media (Half In the Bag/Best of the Worst/etc.), Screen Junkies (Movie Fights, News), Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider, How Did This Get Made, SlashFilmcast
Show/Subject specific: James Bonding, Star Trek: The Next Conversation, Monkey Tennis (Alan Partridge), Loose Cannons (A Cannon Film retrospective)

Video Games

Nintendo released a new console this year (the Switch) making the already dying Wii U obsolete.  Luckily Santa brought us a new one at Christmas.  So we currently have about five different devices to play games on in our living room: Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Switch, and Steam on our media PC.  So TV possession can often be an issue if one wants to play games.  I asked last year if Nintendo's new console could produce any new games, and the answer was YES!  Anyway, here's what I liked the most this year.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) - Nintendo reinvented Zelda this year and made an absolutely amazing game.  One that you can get lost in for days without doing anything to progress the story and still feel satisfied and have fun.  I think I still prefer Ocarina of Time as my favorite Zelda game, but that has the added nostalgia built in.  This is a close second and a nearly perfect game.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) - This one squeaks in at the end of the year since I've only had a week since Christmas to play it.  It too has so much to do.  Possessing other creatures with your sentient hat adds so much play variety.  Nintendo genius.

Jackbox Party Pack 1-4/Drawful 2/Use Your Words (Steam/Xbox) - The first three Party Pack games were mentioned last year.  We continued to play them regularly this year and added Party Pack 4, Drawful 2 and Use Your Words to the collection.  Use Your Words is actually from a different company but uses the same concept of using your phone to answer questions in a party setting.  We've played this so many times and it gets pulled out almost any time extra guests are in the house.

Cuphead (Xbox) - I've been waiting for this game since it was shown at E3 in 2014.  It's a run-and-gun platformer done in an animated style of a 1930's cartoon.  It's super hard, but the animated style makes it worth playing through.  I made two crochet figures of the main characters of Cuphead and Mugman for Colin and Spencer as Christmas presents.

Yooka Laylee (Xbox) - Another game we've been waiting for a while.  Many of the original developers from Banjo Kazooie Kickstarted this game a few years ago which we backed.  It is a throwback to the N64-era mascot platformers that I really liked.  It didn't quite live up to the original Banjo Kazooie, but I liked it better than any of its sequels.

Other games I enjoyed playing this year: (Xbox) Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Alien Isolation, (iOS) Simpsons Tapped Out, Rodeo Stampede, Angry Birds Pop, and Homescapes.

After wondering if Nintendo could get any good games for Switch last year, the same question goes for this year:  Can they do it again?  There's still not a great library of games for the Switch, but there are sure a few amazing titles to hold it over while it builds up.

Board Games 

After adding this category last year, we didn't play as much this year.  Part of that is my boys being very busy.  Another part is Jackbox Games took over our playtime.  However, here are a few games we enjoyed this year:
  • Red Flags - A game by the Superfight people where you make blind dates for people and then sabotage them.  Colin lost my game at an activity that he took this to, but we managed to get a replacement.
  • Escape The Room Games - I got several "Escape the Room"-style games in a box and played them a few times over the year.  They're fun although you can really only play them once.
  • T.I.M.E. Stories - An interesting concept.  Essentially it's a choose your own adventure tabletop game played with decks of cards.  Another one that can only be played a limited amount of times, but still an interesting concept.


My goal was to read a book a month.  I started strong but did not end that way.  I ended up reading 3 books and two halves, so four altogether?
  • Magic 2.0 Series: Off to be a Wizard, Spell or High Water, and an Unwelcome Quest - These three books are based on a premise of people discovering a file on the Internet that contains all the data to life.  They start to hack it and essentially gain "magical powers."  It invariably causes them trouble and all independently end up in the middle ages in England where being a wizard isn't entirely looked down on.  They form a group of wizards and have an interesting time when other would-be wizards start trying to abuse the file for evil purposes.  
  • Redshirts - I loved the premise of a group of random officers on a spaceship discovering they are actually cast members in a space show from the 20th century.  It started out interesting, but jumped the shark halfway through and I gave up.
  • I, Partridge - Started, but haven't finished yet.  I am reading it to keep up with the Alan Partridge podcast "Monkey Tennis."
And that's enough for now.  Looking forward to the unknown adventure that awaits in 2018.  I was worried about still having a job in the middle of 2017 last year.  I still have it.  But who knows what will happen in 2018.  Maria and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary.  Colin turns 18.  Spencer turns 16 with potential driving in the future.  And Jaden will be turning 8 and joining Cub Scouts.  Tune in next year and find out what happens...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Greg's Crochet 2016

So this year I learned to crochet.  Specifically "amigurumi" which is stuffed crochet figures and animals.  I thought I'd put together a post detailing all the figures I made this year.

First, I got a book on Star Wars crochet.  I went through the book and made each character one by one:

After that I bought some online patterns and made a Nintendo bouquet for Maria for Valentine's Day:

Having felt like I figured things out, I started making some of my own figures rather than using other patterns.  I made three figures for my boys for Valentines mostly freehand.  One Red Knight from Castle Crashers, One Hatty Hatterson from BattleBlock Theater, and a Mine Turtle from ASDF animated shorts:

Monty Python: Feeling emboldened, I decided I wanted to start making figures from some of my favorite shows and other mediums that never got the proper figure attention they deserved.  So the first was the cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus:

Above from L to R: Terry Gilliam as Cardinal Fang, from the Spanish Inquisition (with Comfy Pillow), Graham Chapman as Military Captain; Eric Idle as the "Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge" guy; Michael Palin as Mr. Gumby; Terry Jones as a Pepperpot (middle-age woman); and John Cleese as Minister for Silly Walks.

From there I started picking shows and making figures.  Here they are in the order I made them:

Mythbusters: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman

 The I.T. Crowd: Roy, Moss, and Jen

Red Dwarf:  Cat (Bottom Left),  Lister (Bottom Right), Kryten (Top Left), Rimmer (Top Right).

Hot Rod: Andy Samburg as Hot Rod

Spinal Tap: Derek Smalls, Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins

Strange Brew/Mackenzie Bros: Bob & Doug Mackenzie

Austin Powers: Mini Me, Dr. Evil, Austin Powers

Family: I also decided as birthday gifts, I would make figures of all my family.
My sister Sharie and husband Adam:

 My parents Charles and Eileen:

My brother Jeffrey and his wife Melissa:

My sister Shauna and her husband Marc:

Me (Greg) and Maria:

Maria's parents, Fred and Louise:
Stacy & Foxy

Gifts:  And here are other various crochet gifts I made for others this year.

For my friend Nate: Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks

For my friends Chad & Melodee: Freddy Mercury from the band Queen and Merida from "Brave"

For a friend of Maria, mini characters of the cast of Friends

For Maria for Mother's Day and Christmas: Banjo & Kazooie (Banjo came first, Kazooie later for Christmas) (both from a pattern)

For Jaden at Christmas: Bloons and Monkeys from the Bloons Monkey Tower Defense games

For Spencer at Christmas: Octopus Scoodie (mostly from a pattern)

For Colin at Christmas: Assassins Creed Scoodie and gloves (both from a pattern)

And that's it.  A year ago I was struggling to figure out how to even start a stitch, and a year later I've got dozens of amigurumi characters scattered around at home and abroad.  I hope possibly to start selling figures or at least creating patterns that others can follow and sell those.  Until then, it's a fun and relatively cheap new hobby.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Greg's Favorites of 2016

Hey.  What do you know?  Blogspot is still alive.  And so am I.

2016 is done so let's review my favorite things:


This was a terrible year for music.  Probably the worst ever.  I'm sure good music is out there, but with my attention turned to other things, I didn't put forth the effort to find the diamonds in the rough that I normally do.  So instead, I found a few shiny coins and called it good.

Greg Whitehead. First, here's my Christmas song for 2016.  It's a piano medley of "Gabriel's Message" and "Angels We Have Heard on High":

"Gabriel's Angels"

I didn't get to do much more music-wise in 2016.  I've got several songs bouncing around in my head so hopefully some of them will get out for 2017.

OK Go - Hungry Ghosts
Technically this album came out 2 years ago in 2014, but the band is still releasing videos for it.  They did two amazing videos this year and it made me rediscover the album and it ended up being my most played album of the year.

"Upside Down & Inside Out"

"The One Moment"

Yukon Blonde - On Blonde
Technically this album came out in 2015, but I didn't discover them until this year.  I was happy to discover one new band this year that I really liked.  Or at least had an album I really liked. This has a nice classic rock feel with a bit of glam, new wave, and psychedlica mixed in.  Highly recommended.

Dowling Poole - One Hyde Park
This is the second album by this group that came out of Jackdaw4.  I like it better than their first album. Dowling still has a tendency to over-complicate things and change the songs too much over the course of their running time.  But it's still a great rock album which is getting harder and harder to find these days.

Justice - Woman
This electronic album came out in November and I saved it for my trip to the UK so it could provide the soundtrack to my sight-seeing.  I think their last album "Audio Video Disco" is superior, but this makes a really good companion to that one.  Lots of great funky synthesizer songs which makes me happy.

And the rest.  That's it for albums I liked this year.  There were a few other bands and songs that I listened to but weren't good enough to list individually above.  Of note, Joe Hawley, my favorite member of Talley Hall, released a solo album, but it was too weird for me to really get into.  My brother introduced me to a band The 1975 which I tried to get into, but despite some great songs, never really hooked me.  However, they did release one of my favorite songs of the year, the David Bowie-esque "Love Me":

2017 is wide open.  No idea what's in store music-wise.  Possibly a new Tears for Fears album.  That's about all I know.


I normally keep track of all the newer movies I see each year.  This year I decided to keep track of all the movies I saw new, old, in the theater and out.  I saw 24 movies in the theater (23 actually, one I saw twice in the theaters.)  73 new movies at home (as in came out in the past 2 years).  201 new older and classic movies (as in before 2015). And 90 old old moves (as in older movies I'd already seen before.)  Altogether that's about 388 movies.  I'm sure there's more.  These are just the ones I'd remembered to note after watching.  That's about one movie a day plus a few extras on weekends.

Many of the older movies I watched are typically bad movies that I watch in association with several of the podcasts I listen to including "How Did This Get Made" and "We Hate Movies."  So I've crossed a ton of bad movies off my bucket list this year.  A few were good movies that I just had never got around to seeing yet.  Also, early on this year I saw a documentary on Cannon Films, the studio that made so many terrible action movies in the 80s and I decided to try and watch as many of those as I could, so that's where a significant number of "new old" movies comes from.  I only made it through about half.  I'm still working on the rest.

As for theatrical and new 2016 movies, there were a number of good ones, but it was crazy how many that should have been great were either mediocre or completely terrible.  More on that later.  For now, here are my favorite new movies for 2016:

Captain America Civil War (vs. Batman v Superman) - I was shocked at how similar this was to the other big Superhero movie this year, "Batman v. Superman: Blah Blah Blah."  Both had superheroes turning against each other to the point of fighting, and both had more super-powered people in it than were necessary.  But where BvS was depressing, obnoxious, and tone-deaf, this one was fun, exciting, and funny. It also was the only movie I saw twice in the theater this year.  The actual Batman/Superman showdown scene was awful, but the airport fight scene in this film was the best scene in any Superhero movie ever.

Rifftrax MST3K Reunion show - This was actually my favorite movie-going experience of the year.  It was a one-off Fathom event that included all the old hosts and side-kicks of the original MST3K (including Mike & Joel all the various mad scientists and puppet handlers and other writers) and even the new host for the upcoming revival Jonah Ray.  They took turns riffing on various educational shorts and I laughed for two hours.

Doctor Strange - I like Benedict Cumbernickle better as a Brit.  Here he's doing his best impression of Hugh Laurie in House.  However, this film has some of those most amazing visual set pieces of the year.  And it solved the problem of the bad guys blowing everything up at the end of the film and causing giant messes with tons of collateral damage.

10 Cloverfield Lane - This was a nice tight thriller with a crazy twist that somehow ties into the original Cloverfield movie.  I used to watch the director of this movie on the Totally Rad Show, so it was fun seeing his first real Hollywood film.

Don't Breathe - Speaking of thrillers, this is one and it lived up to its name.  Some kids break into a house of an old blind man to steal some money and learn that just because he's blind, he's not someone to mess with.  There were moments where the entire audience were holding their collective breaths along with the characters in the film and the room was completely silent.

Arrival - Following the weird new tradition of releasing adult-oriented, Sci Fi drama films at the end of the year (Gravity, The Martian, Interstellar, etc.) "Arrival" presents an interesting tale of trying to learn to communicate with a completely alien species.  The ending was too smart for me and went over my head.  I had to go home and read a few articles to figure it out.  Will it work better if I see it again?  Maybe.

Zootopia - Apparently this is my favorite animated movie of the year.  I didn't see "Moana" yet. "Finding Dory" was okay.  "Secret Life of Pets" was meh.  "Kubo and the Two Strings" should have been great, but it didn't really hold my attention the way it should have.  So this wins by default.

Some other films I liked that were new(ish) that I didn't see in the theaters:  "Bridge of Spies," "Pee Wee's Big Holiday," "Sing Street," "Tickled," and "Mascots."

Movies I thought I would really enjoy and didn't: "Star Wars: Rogue One," "Ghostbusters," "Star Trek Beyond," "Fantastic Beasts and...," "Independence Day Resurgence," and "X-Men Apocalypse."

Movies that everyone hated, but I actually kind of liked: "Suicide Squad."  I can't figure out all the hate.  It wasn't great, but I found myself having a good time in spite of all the stupidity.

One film of note:  I've tried move than 7 or 8 times throughout my life to make it through the movie "Dune."  This is the year I finally got through it.  I'm proud of me.

Looking to 2017, I'm awaiting Star Wars Episode VIII, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man Homecoming, Lego Batman, The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and Thor: Ragnarok -- because the director did "What We Do In The Shadows" and has an amazing dry sense of humor.


I watched mostly the same stuff this year as previous years.  Not a lot of new shows that the whole family got excited about.  Here's what I liked the most:

-Black Mirror - Netflix debuted the third season/series of this anthology show and I love the techno twilight zone that each episode brings.  It's dark, but it almost always has something interesting to say.

-Stranger Things - Another Netflix show.  This series came out of nowhere and was amazing.  It grabbed the 80s version of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven and mixed them in a blender to create this sci-fi/fantasy/horror series.  I liked it so much I dressed up as the wall for Halloween.

-American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson - This was amazingly cheesy and over-the-top, and I could never buy Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ, yet somehow I couldn't stop watching.  Even though I lived through the trial, I missed the start while out of the country on my mission, and missed the rest because I was just not interested.  So there was a lot I didn't know and so it was educational and entertaining!

-America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent - Still my favorite performance reality show series.  I can't even remember who won this year, but I still love watching.

-Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/SNL -With the election year, I found the exasperation and horror through comedy of these and other similar shows as we got closer to Trump winning each week both entertaining and scary.

-The Good Place - The one new network show that we found and loved this year.  A show about a woman who dies and goes to "The Good Place" rather than the "Bad Place" but it turns out she doesn't belong.  Lots of great surreal humor in this life-after-death comedy.

-Angie Tribeca - The first half-hour slapstick cop show since "Police Squad" in the early  80s.  It has all the same anything-goes Zucker-style comedy from "Airplane!" and "Naked Gun."  Yet somehow is better than any parody movie from the past 15 years.

-Red Dwarf - The series came back from the dead with a new set of episodes this year and a second set this year to come.

I also watched a lot of the shows out there that people were always talking about like Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Westworld.  I seldom liked any of them and only watch half-heartedly so I can follow the conversation.

Looking forward to 2017 for new Sherlock (debuting Jan 1st.  I won't even remember it by next year!), new Mystery Science Theater 3000, more Black Mirror and Stranger Things possibly, more Wet Hot American Summer, maybe, and possibly a new Star Trek series.

Podcasts and Online

Here are the regular podcasts and online (i.e. Youtube) shows that I watched and enjoyed this year categorized by theme:

-Movies: Movie B.S., Movie Fights, Honest Trailers, Mr. Plinket Reviews, Half in the Bag, Slashfilm, Empire, I Was There Too
-Bad Movies: How Did This Get Made, We Hate Movies, Best of the Worst, Nostalgia Critic, Loose Cannons
-TV Series: Smegheads Red Dwarf Podcast, Monkey Tennis Alan Partridge Podcast, Knocking Dead, Watching Thrones
-Misc: No Such Thing As a Fish

Video Games

Normally I just call this section "Games."  But this year I'm breaking out a separate section for Video Games and Board Games.

This year we got an XBox One so we could enter the current generation and play some newer games.  I was still going through the catalog of PS3 games I got when we bought the PS3 last year.  And of course, I had my phone with me most of the time.

Here are my favorite that I played this year this year organized by platform:

 XBox One:
-Tomb Raider/Rise of the Tomb Raider - XBox One - I had a lot of fun with this new version of Lara Croft.  I'm still playing through the first one which I got for Christmas, but spent a lot of time with the sequel that we got with the console in August.

-Also: Rare Replay, Rocket League and Mirror's Edge Catalyst

-Ratchet & Clank 1,2,3, Sly Cooper 3,4, Jak & Daxter 1,2,3, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.  As I mentioned above, I spent a lot of time burning through PS3 games that we'd missed over the past 10 years or so once it became obsolete and thus affordable.  Of all those, I probably liked the last Sly Cooper game the best.

-Simpsons Tapped Out - iOS - I've been playing this for three years now(?!) and it still keeps giving me stuff to do.  They finally quit adding stuff to the main game, but the special events are regular enough there's usually something new going on.

-Bloons Monkey City - Another town builder game, this one attached to a Tower Defense Bloons game.  Two of my boys and I all started building our towns this year.  I've upgraded just about all I can in the game, but had a lot of fun getting there.

-Also: Hungry Shark Evolution/World, Rodeo Stampede, Super Stick-man Golf 3, Bejeweled Stars, Bloons Super Monkey 2, Burrito Bison Launcha Luchador, and The Room 3.

-Star Fox Zero, Pikmin 3, and Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker. Star Fox was the only new game this year for the Wii U that we played.  Nintendo has pretty much abandoned it and are moving to the "Switch" in 2017.


-JackBox Party Games.  My brother brought these games to my attention over Christmas.  They are a series of party games by the people who made "You Don't Know Jack."  We set it up on our computer on our TV and then every player logs in with their phone, pad, or laptop and uses a web interface to play along.  We were able to Skype with my brother's family in Utah and play with them simultaneously as well.  They were amazingly fun.  "Drawful," "Fibbage," and "Quiplash" were our favorites.

-Day of the Tentacle Remastered.  Love old LucasArts games.

My boys play much more on the PC than I do.  Plus I don't really have my own computer powerful enough to play most newer PC games.

For 2017, looking to see what Nintendo does with the Switch.  They seem to be merging the Wii U with the 3DS and making a completely portable gaming system that can also play on your TV.  But the real question is, where are the good games?

Board Games

This is the first year I'm adding this category.  Last year at Christmas time we bought a lot of board games and had a lot of fun playing at the table every night.  We continued doing it occasionally this year as well as having some friends over semi-regularly during the first part of the year.  Here are my favorites that I played:

-Mysterium - An interesting cross between Clue and Dixit.  One player is a ghost who tries using strange picture cards to lead the other players to discovering the murderer.  It's a really unique game structure with a unique communication method.  I really love this game.

-Betrayal at the House on the Hill - an old friend of mine sent me this game and I love it.  You play as a group who goes to an old creepy house to explore.  Midway through the game one of the players is revealed to be a betrayer and you start a completely new game that changes every time you play.  You suddenly find yourself stuck in a house trying to defeat crazy zombies, vampires, demons, cannibals, werewolves or any number of different scenarios.  I love that you never know how this game will play out when you sit down.

-Other games I really enjoyed playing and recommend: Codenames, Concept, Superfight, Munchkin, and Imagine.  Also, see Jackbox Party Games in the previous section.


Well, I kind of let things slip here.  I did read a few, but nothing I need to mention here.  I'll try to do better next year.  But if you need a recommendation, ask Maria.  She'll hook you up.

And so...

That's about it for 2016.  I already put most of the things I was looking forward to in 2017 in each of the sections were applicable.

One of the reasons I watched so much TV & movies this year was that I picked up a new hobby of crochet--specifically amigurumi or crochet figures--which was a great thing to do while watching a show.  Or a great excuse to watch a show while working.  I may do another post related to that later on.

 I'll be doing some traveling for work early this year as we finish up testing the F35.  That'll keep me busy up through the middle of the year. Who knows what I'll be doing at the end of the year though.  Hopefully I'll still have a job.

Either way, I'll be back again in a year to look back at 2017.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Greg's Favorites of 2015


Welcome to 2016.  Let's once again resurrect this dead format so I can document my favorite things from 2015.


Another weak year for me music-wise.  Part of that is my own fault because I found most of my listening time is now dedicated to podcasts rather than music.  So without dedicating much time for listening to music, my hunt for new albums and bands has ebbed a bit.  That being said, there were a few good things that I found this year.

I'll start with myself again.  I didn't do mush musically this year, though I continue to keep song ideas brewing in the back of my mind.  I'm sure more will be coming soon.  In the meantime, I did do another Christmas instrumental arrangement this year for "We Three Kings."  This one is done in an upbeat, Mannheim Steamroller-style mixed with a swashbuckling-adventure feel.

Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith - Groovy Lemon Pie
By far the best album I found this year was this amazing pop-rock album that sounds like Peter Gabriel joined up with XTC and his old Genesis bandmates.  It honestly sounds like the spiritual successor to Peter Gabriel's "So."  Similar to how Gotye sounded just like Sting a few years ago.  I found and brought this album with us on our giant summer trip this year of over 3000 car miles.  We listened to it almost exclusively through the amazing scenery of Yellowstone National Park, and it was the perfect soundtrack to that beautiful background.  The album is available on Bandcamp where you can listen to the album in its entirety.  If you are limited in time, skip the first couple tracks and listen to tracks 3-6.  Each of those is amazing and sound like a long lost Genesis album.  Track 11 "Two Words" and Track 15 "This Day" sound the most like Peter Gabriel solo.

Muse - Drones
I really enjoyed the new Muse album this year.  I had to edit a couple tracks (particularly Psycho) to make them listenable, but overall I enjoyed the overblown dramatic rock that Muse always brings.

This was a collaboration piece between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks.  Two bands I would never specifically put together in my head, but somehow the album works as both a new Sparks album and its own thing.

The December People - A Classic Rock Christmas
Thanks to my brother who let me know about this album that came out just in time for Christmas.  I really enjoy the mashup of classic Christmas songs with classic rock bands that these guys do.  This time they do Eagles, Toto, Van Halen, and Dire Straits, among others.  It works in nicely with their previous albums.

Darkness - Last of Our Kind
I enjoyed this new Darkness album, and most of the songs are good, but it never quite dug into me enough to make a long lasting impression.

Hoosiers - The Secret Service
See the paragraph above but replace Darkness with Hoosiers.

Special Mention: Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds (1978)
The first track from this album was playing during an episode of Fargo Season 2, and I was vaguely familiar with it, but had never looked into it before.  I found it was from this album which is a musical retelling of the War of the Worlds.  It's really quite an amazing and fun work which sounds like a cross between ELO and Moody Blues.  While there are songs, or occasional singing throughout, I would say it's a good mix of instrumental and singing, with some bits of narration and dramatic acting to carry the story along.  Justin Hayward, the lead singer from Moody Blues sings a few times and it fits right in with other Moody Blues songs from the late 70s.

A few other albums of note this year that I listened to: A new Toto album (XIV) that had a few good songs, a new Ben Folds album (So There) that was mostly to show off his orchestral stuff that I didn't really care for, and an album from the guy behind the YouTube Bret Domino Trio, Rob J Madin which I supported via IndieGogo, but sadly didn't really get into.  And Chateau Marmont, who put out my favorite album a few years ago, put out a new one that was headache-inducingly terrible.  I never could listen all the way through.


In looking towards 2015, people were expecting a legendary year, and I think they got it.  The biggest opening weekend ever happened several times this year, and at this moment three movies from this year are in the top 10 of all time.  And of course, Star Wars nearly took over Christmas this year along with everything else it got near.  At this moment Star Wars is just 1 million behind Jurassic World which it will obviously pass today, and 7 million behind Titanic which it will also likely pass today, or this weekend for sure.  It's still 110 behind Avatar, so it's unsure whether it will overtake that juggernaut.  Surprisingly, it was not my favorite of the year.  Another weird thing about this year: there was an abundance of spy movies, and who would have guessed they all would have been better than James Bond's SPECTRE.  Skyfall was one of the best Bonds, but this new one was just okay.  Interestingly, at the beginning of the year the movies I was most looking forward to were Avengers and Tomorrowland, neither of which were as good as I'd hoped.

Also new for this year: several local theaters were refitted with Luxury Recliners and started reserved seating.  It is so nice to have room and be able to put your feet up while watching a movie.  This trend makes me happy. 

Here's what I watched and liked this year in movies:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I did not think lightning could strike three times with this movie series, since every movie has been directed by a totally different team.  But this was just as enjoyable as the last two from JJ Abrams and Brad Bird.  Oddly this had the same story as SPECTRE, but was far superior.

The Martian
I had no expectations for this film.  I certainly didn't need to see another movie with people rescuing Matt Damon.  But on its release there was so much buzz, I had to go see, and found one of the most enjoyable, smart, moving films of the year.

Mad Max Fury Road
Like the Martian, I had no specific interest in this film until it came out and people started throwing hyperbole all over the film.  It was definitely an intense ride, and unlike anything else I've seen in a long time.  I just wish the last act/ending were a bit more satisfying, but otherwise definitely an amazing film.

Inside Out
Finally Pixar puts out a new film that can rank right alongside their previous great films.  What I find most amazing about this film is it introduces a whole new vocabulary to talk to kids about their feelings and trying to understand their behavior.  Sadly, my son had to leave twice throughout the film for potty breaks, so I missed a few key moments from the film that I had to wait several months to finally get the whole experience.

Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
These were three biggest movies of the year, all sequels to huge franchises, and I enjoyed all of them. However, each of them was disappointing in some way.  Jurassic World and Star Wars were essentially telling their earlier stories all over again.  Avengers' issue was that they set up a villain that never really paid off and ended up being like pretty much every other comic book bad guy.

I really enjoyed Ant-Man, even though it was essentially a retelling of Iron Man.  I was really scared when Edgar Wright left the project, but the finished film turned out fun, albeit a bit light.

Kingsmen, Man from UNCLE, Spy, SPECTRE
Along with Mission Impossible, there are the other spy movies that I saw this year in order of how I enjoyed them.  Kingsmen was just crazy, and UNCLE had a great sense of style and humor.  Spy was mostly just silly, but it made more sense than SPECTRE.  The opening to SPECTRE was pretty great, but the overall story just didn't make enough sense to carry the action scenes.

The Visit, The Walk, The Martian, The Gift
These are four films I saw in a row, completely coincidentally, that were all good, but had completely generic and similar names.  All of these movies would be improved with better titles.  For example, Eric D Snider suggested changing "The Visit" to "Something's Wrong With Nana and Pop-Pop."  I'd go see that movie!

It Follows, Krampus, Crimson Peak
These are the best horror movies I saw this year.  "It Follows" had the best premise of any horror movie.  Krampus was a great throw back to Gremlins-style 80s films.  And Crimson Peak had an amazing style.  Sadly I didn't feel like any of them managed a satisfactory ending.

Another movie I was not looking forward to, but saw after reviews started coming in.  Like several other movies listed above, this was essentially a retelling of the original film (Rocky), but somehow I got caught up in it.  The single-take fight in the middle of the film was amazing.

Hunger Games 4
I'm not going to bother looking up the correct title to this movie.  It was a nice completion to the series.  I enjoyed it better than the last book. 

Special mentions:

This year after the death of Wes Craven, people started talking about his movies.  I'd seen the Scream series and first Nightmare on Elm Street, but nothing else.  In searching for a guide to some of his movies, I found a podcast called "Now Playing" (more down below) that stepped movie by movie through various movie franchises.  So I figured I'd watch the Nightmare on Elm Street series (all 9 films.)  When I finished that, I decided to watch the Friday the 13th series (12 movies--one of the which was the Elm Street crossover Freddy vs. Jason.)  Finishing that, I figured I'd complete the trifecta and watched the Halloween series (10 films.)  And for good measure I watched the Texas Chainsaw films (7), Children of the Corn (9), Blair Witch (2), and Silent Night Deadly Night (6).  Needless to say, that turned into a very busy Halloween season.

Speaking of marathons, I also watched all the Bond films leading up to SPECTRE (26 films, including 2 unofficial films), all the Star Wars movies (7 including Clone Wars movie), the first four Rocky films, and nearly all the Die Hard films (we couldn't get through 5.  It's just awful. And looking at the films I've watched in the paragraph above, I've watched some truly bad films this year.)

One last mention, I watched "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" in full this year.  I had seen bits in the past, but this was the first time watching the whole movie, and I think it's one of my new favorite comedy horror films.


There seems to be a trend toward amazing short series but not so much regular long-lasting shows.  There was very little on the regular networks that I watched this year, and almost nothing that I wasn't watching already.  Here are my favorite shows I watched this year:

Wizard Wars/Penn & Teller Fool Us
I really enjoy seeing good magic on TV.  The pseudo-improvised style of Wizard Wars with the occasional mistake, and the live stage-style presentation on Fool Us shows off impressive magic without camera tricks and without the overblown style that other magicians have used.  

Face Off
I continue to really enjoy seeing the creature creations come to life in this show.  Even though I really only watch to see the last 10 minutes of the episode.

Simpsons/Brooklyn 99
Yup, I still watch the Simpsons, and Brooklyn 99 is the only live sitcom that we regularly enjoy as a family.

Last Week Tonight
After seeing a few segments of this show, I got hooked and watched regularly.  John Oliver has a way of taking an issue that you never cared about (like FIFA) and suddenly make you care while being highly entertained at the same time.  I just wish this weren't an HBO show, since I don't think the casual adult language improves anything.

The Jinx/Making a Murderer
Speaking of getting caught up in issues.  Both of these mini-series got me hooked portraying two opposite crime stories.  The first, about a rich guy who gets away with everything, and the second about a poor guy who absolutely doesn't.  I watched a couple episodes of Making a Murderer just a few days ago and then found I couldn't stop.  I was debating hard when I was getting near the end and it was past midnight whether to push through or get some sleep.  I think in this case I should have pushed through since I was too agitated to sleep anyway though I tried.

Another murder mystery, but this time a fictional one.  This was the second series of the UK show, and though I figured catching the murderer was all that needed to be said in the first series, the second series gave plenty of reasons to justify coming back one more time.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/Wet Hot American Summer
These two Netflix comedy shows were two of my favorites for the year.  The first has made it impossible to say the word "Unbreakable" or anything that sounds similar ("Unmistakable," "Unshakable," "Incapable," etc) without breaking into that ear-worm theme song.  The other show was great in recapturing that strange off-the-wall style of the original film.

Ash vs. Evil Dead
This series wraps up tonight, I believe, so I haven't finished it, but it's been a strange trip.  I loved Army of Darkness, and really liked Evil Dead 2. The pilot, by Sam Raimi, started things off pretty promising, but then it's been hit or miss along the way.  Still, it's pretty crazy seeing Ash back on the screen--especially when you compare him to the chubby Bruce Campbell of Burn Notice.

America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent
This is still the place to occasionally see something you've never seen before.  This year the American finalists included several magicians and a regurgitator.

Inside No. 9
A British dark-humored anthology show.  You never know if you're gonna get a farce, a murder mystery, or a pull-at-your-heart-strings drama.  It's somewhat hit or miss, but I appreciate the effort and the fact that you never know what you're going to get.

As a huge Muppet fan, I would have assumed this would be at the top of my list going into last year.  It's what I've been wanting from the Muppets for years.  The Office-style pseudo-documentary behind-the-scenes style seemed perfectly matched for putting on the Muppet Show.  And it probably was in 2008.  In 2015, it didn't work, and I quickly got bored.  I'm not even sure what the last episode was that I watched because it didn't hold my attention strongly enough to remember.  This makes me sad. 

Special mention:

With "Friends" streaming on Netflix, we watched the entire series all over again.  We'd bought the series on DVD a long time ago, but then sold or gave it away.  It was fun re-watching it as a historical piece on the late 90s and seeing which guest stars are now huge or have gone on to other things while many of the Friends themselves have started to disappear.

I watched a couple other online series including "Other Space" and "Community."  I was sadly very disappointed with "Community."  With a reduced cast list from the original show, it never seemed to reach the heights of the earlier series.

Not counting Netflix, since I included that with the regular shows above, some of the other things that I enjoyed watching online were:
  • RedLetterMedia (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, Wheel of the Worst)
  • Screen Junkies (Honest Trailers, Movie Fights)
  •  Bored Shorts
  • TomSka (asdf, skits)


As I mentioned in the music section, I listen almost exclusively to podcasts these days.  My favorites this year were:
  • "Now Playing Podcast" -- as I mentioned in movies, this show goes movie by movie through nearly every franchise out there from horror to comic book to action. If there's a sequel they've either reviewed it or will get to it eventually.  I've had a lot of fun with discovering this podcast with around 6 years of back log to catch up on.  It's encouraged me to watch and/or re-watch quite a few movies this year to play along.
  • "Movie Fights" -- This one hasn't been going very long, and when I got into it early this year, I binged through the episodes I missed to catch up.  At first I thought the point was establish things like "Who was the best Batman" or "Which Avenger would win in the Hunger Games" with a definitive answer.  But once I realized it was purely about the debate, not the answer, then I softened to it and really got into it.  We even got a card game called "Superfight" which works similar to this show in pairing up fighters and then debating who would win.
  • "Movie BS" -- I provided another new theme song for this show, my favorite movie review podcast.
  • "Empire"/"Slashfilm" -- These are my two other favorite movie news/review podcasts.
  • "Smegheads"/"James Bonding" -- These two podcasts step through each Red Dwarf show/James Bond movie and review them in a very entertaining way.


I played a lot of games this year.  As usual.  We added a PS3 to our game library, now that the system is last generation and cheap, and we could find lots of games for a good price.  My boys have taken to PC gaming and we've got a lot more games through Steam than through consoles this year.  Here are the games that I enjoyed the most:

-Trials Frontier/Simpsons Tapped Out (iOS) -  These were my top two last year and I continued to play them throughout this year.  I almost got fed up with Trials and deleted it off my phone for a week, only to discover a massive update that fixed all the things I was upset with and added a ton of new content.  Both of these are Freemium games, but I do put a few dollars in here and there mainly to express appreciation for the many hours I've spent on them.  With Trials, I have regularly been ranked in the top 100 in the world for most of the year.

-Her Story (iOS) - This was one of the most unique and fascinating games this year.  The premise is that you are watching clips of a series of interviews on a police computer for an old crime.  You are given no information and can only access the clips by typing in words from the interview transcript -- which you don't have.  So you start by typing in words like "crime" or "murder" and see what comes up.  Bit by bit, you piece together the story that you learn in a completely random order.  It's also unique in that it's mostly video with real people--or, actually, one actor.  I strongly recommend finding this.  I think it's available on several different platforms.

Hyrule Warrios (WiiU) - I didn't  understand this Zelda-themed game when I first tried it.  You are on a big battlefield surrounded by hundreds of monsters and you just jump in and start killing everyone.  Slowly I found that mass murdering people was very addicting and could be done while watching a movie or doing other things at the same time.

Splatoon (WiiU) - This was a really clever and very unique multiplayer game on the Wii.  The premise makes no sense, but the gameplay is really fun. You are a person who has ink-based weapons like brushes or paint sprays, and you try to spread your color of ink over the playing field while stopping the other team from spreading their ink.  And you can turn into a squid to swim through your color of ink.  Weird, but fun.

Mario Maker (WiiU) - We had a lot of fun designing Mario levels with this game.  It's laid out in a very ingenious way, while only giving you a few tools at a time and making you earn more by making levels and trying out the tools you have.  There's an amazing library of other levels that people have made and many of them are unbelievable.

Lego Jurassic Park (XBox 360) - Yup, another Lego game.  This one has dinosaurs.

Geometry Wars 3 (Xbox, iOS) - Geometry Wars 2 was my favorite Xbox 360 game.  I never expected a new game in the series, since I'd believed the company that made it went under.  So I was shocked a new one was released with new ideas that lived up quite well to its predecessor.  The only reason it doesn't overtake it is that there's almost too much to do, which takes away the intense, but simple focus of the previous one that only had a few different types of stages.

Unfinished Swan (PS3) - This was an older game that was exclusive to the PS3 so I was finally able to play it this year.  I'd seen a demo several years ago and was blown away by the concept.  You start out with a completely white screen and after hitting random buttons on the controller you discover one of them throws a ball of paint which lands in front of you splashing on the wall or ground.  As you throw paint, you can begin to distinguish your environment which you have to traverse by continuing to throw paint balls to find your way around.  There are other mechanics that come into play in this short game, but that first part is just amazing as an invisible world suddenly starts to take shape in front of your eyes.

A few other games that I played this year:
Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker, Rayman Wii U, Pocket Mine 2 (iOS), Shadowmatic (iOS), Talos Principle (PC), Shovel Knight (PC), Batman:Arkham Origins (XBox), The Sly Cooper Collection (PS3), Katamari Forever (PS3), You Must Build a Boat (iOS)


 I made a goal to read more this year.  I only sort of succeeded, but there were a few things I made it through:

  • "As You Wish" - A behind the scenes book of "The Princess Bride" written by Wesley himself, Cary Elwes
  • "Vortex"/"Catalyst" - Books 2 and 3 of the terribly named "Insignia" series.  A series about a world where they put computers into the heads of potential child soldiers in a cross between "Ender's Game" and "Ready Player One."
  • "Armada" - Speaking of "Ready Player One," this was the new novel from Ernest Cline about an alien invasion on earth that was a cross between "Ender's Game" and "The Last Starfighter."  It was a fun read, but not quite the instant classic that his previous book became.
  • Book of Mormon - I spent a significant amount of time re-reading the Book of Mormon in a short span of time in the middle of the year, starting with 3rd Nephi and wrapping around back to the end of Helaman.
  • "The Da Vinci Code" - I re-read this book when we found a cheap copy of the illustrated version that contains images of all the paintings and places that were referred to in the book.  It was nice to have the reference material right there as you read it.
  • "The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries" - I just got this for Christmas so I'm only a few stories in, but I've enjoyed it so far.
  • "Goosebumps #1: Welcome To Dead House" - I had an idea to try and read some Goosebump books since there was a Goosebump movie coming out this year.  I only made it through this and halfway through the second.

And so 2016...

Now that we're done with 2015, here's what I'm looking forward to this next year.

I'm still looking forward to all the Marvel films.  This year is Captain America Civil War and Doctor Strange.  I'm looking forward to the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One and the next Star Trek as well.  I'm hesitant about Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. And then there's Ghostbusters.  Could be amazing, could be like this year and be too close of a remake to the earlier film.  Who knows.  There's also a Harry Potter pseudo-prequel Fantastic Beasts... that could be really interesting.

On TV there's a new Sherlock special airing today.  Otherwise, who knows.

In music, I think the Feeling have new album coming out and  I'm willing to give them another shot.  Tears for Fears may have a new album if we're lucky.  Otherwise, I have nothing much that I'm anticipating for this year.  Maybe I'll finally start getting more of my own music down as I work toward my second album.  We'll see.

In games, we may learn about a new Nintendo platform this year, and maybe get a new Zelda game?

At the moment we have no big plans for 2016.  There are a few international trips for work that are coming up between now and early 2017 which I may get to go on.  Otherwise, we intend to just keep on as we've been doing.

See you all in 2017!