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:

Music

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.

Movies

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.

TV

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

PS3:
-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.

iOS:
-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.

Wii: 
-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.

PC: 

-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.

Books

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.

Cheers!

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.

Music

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.

FFS - FFS
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.

Movies

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.

Ant-Man
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.

Creed
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.

TV

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.

Broadchurch
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.

Muppets
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.

Online:
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)

Podcasts

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.

Games

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)

Books

 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!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Greg's Favorites of 2014


It's that time again!  Time to blow the cobwebs off this old blog thing and post my favorites of the past year: 2014.  Here we go!

Music

It's getting harder for me to find music I really like.  2014 was another difficult year.  I need a new big brother to show me all the cool bands, but I haven't been able to find one in a while, so it's hit and miss.  Here's what I listened to and really liked this year:

Greg Whitehead. Let's start again with me, since I'm my favorite subject.  I recorded several songs this year, 2 songs and 2 instrumentals.

"Goodbye Today" - In the style of 60's vocal sunshine pop (a la "The Association")

 "Apricot Jam" - 70's style instrumental funk jam (a la Air's "La Femme d'Argent")

 "The Rain" - Rock/pop inspired by Jellyfish

 "Little Drummer Boy" - Christmas arrangement with my brother Jeffrey Whitehead on guitar. Mix of rock, disco, and Beatles psychedelia

Rob Cantor  - "Not a Trampoline" - Solo release from a member of one of my favorite bands, Tally Hall, this album was probably my most listened to of the year.  It contains all the hallmarks of a great Tally Hall album, including appearances by most of the band in some capacity.  Lots of quirkiness, great harmonies, and catchy melodies.  "Perfect" became a huge viral hit, but my favorite from the album is "Garden of Eden"--though there are quite a few others I could have picked.


Dowling Poole - "Bleak Strategies" - Rising from the ashes of Jackdaw 4, this pairing of Willie Dowling and Jon Poole is the best Jackdaw 4 album since "Bipolar Diversions"

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Mandatory Fun" - Supposedly Al's last studio album, this is just as great as any other Weird Al album.  I actually recognized some of the songs he parodied this time and the ones I didn't were still great songs.  There was a great week earlier this year when Weird Al released one video a day from his album.  That was a great week.

St. Vincent - This is the second time I saw an artist on SNL and sought out more of their work.  (The first being Gotye a couple years ago.)  St. Vincent is very weird and quirky and Maria didn't enjoy it much when I played it, but it reminded me of the cool alternative music from the late 80s and early 90s when alternative meant weird and quirky and not loud and harsh.

Piano Guys - "Wonders" - Another year, another Piano Guys album.  We really enjoyed playing this one in the car this year.

Nicole Saboune - "Must Exist" - This is the album I started the year off with.  She's a Scandinavian artist that I don't really know much about, but her album had a really great early 80s female artist sound akin to Pat Benetar mixed with Joan Jett

Other albums/artists that I listened to this year (that may or many not have come out this year):
-Polyphonic Spree - "Yes It's True" (2013)
-Neon Neon - "Praxis Makes Perfect" (2013)
-Evil Arrows - Eps 1-3 (Bryan Scary side project)
-The Hoosiers - "News from Nowhere" - I was excited about this album, but it made no impact on me.
-Space - "Attack of the 50ft Mutant Kebab" - This album was a surprise that Space actually put out a new album.  But sadly, nothing was anywhere near as good as their 90s albums.
-Eno * Hyde - Brian Eno and Karl Hyde (Underworld) put out an album together.  I really liked elements of it, particularly hearing Karl's voice again since I haven't listened to Underworld since they turned Techo.  But none of the songs stuck.
-Boston, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Yes - These three classic rock bands put out brand new albums this year, all were listenable, but none were great.  I was particularly disappointed in Yes since their previous album became one of my favorite Yes albums ever made.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music in 2015 to look forward to, so this year will be a complete surprise.  Crossing my fingers it will be a good one.

Movies

I enjoyed quite a lot of the movies from 2014.  I initially thought this would be an off year, since 2015 is preparing to be the GREATEST MOVIE YEAR OF ALL TIME*.  (*According to everyone on the Internet.)  Here are the ones I liked the best this year:

The Lego Movie/Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm lumping these together because they both star Chris Pratt and they were both better than they probably should have been.  Both of these were a ton of fun and were completely enjoyable on re-watch.

X-Men - Days of Future Past - I haven't been a big fan of X-Men movies, but this entry made me a fan again.  There's one scene in particular where time slows down that was the scene of the year for me and took this from a great movie to an amazing movie in just 1 minute. 

Edge of Tomorrow/How To Train Your Dragon 2 - I'm lumping these together because these were both really, really great movies that seemed to have failed theatrically.  I can't understand why.

About Time - I believe this was a 2013 movie, but saw it this year.  I really loved the time travel concept and how it played in a very mundane, yet moving way.

Captain America: Winter Soldier/The Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - These are all lumped together as great sequels that I liked.

Big Hero 6 - This is the first theatrical movie that Jaden sat through its entirety. (Except for a bathroom break mid-way) We all had fun with it.

What We Do In The Shadows - A New Zealand mockumentary about vampires.  Very dry and very, very funny.  Possibly the funniest movie of the year.

Other movies I liked this year: Muppets Most Wanted, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Veronica Mars

Next year will be the big one with Star Wars, Avengers, Terminator, Jurassic World, Ant Man, Tomorrowland, 2 Pixar cartoons, and many, many more.  Wouldn't it be great if they were all good?  

TV

We didn't find much new to watch this year.  Our network viewing has been diminishing more and more each year, though there's still a few regular shows that we watch.

Face Off/Jim Henson's Puppet Challenge/Wizard Wars - I found the first two earlier this year when I was home recovering from surgery.  Face Off had 8 or so seasons and this was the first for Puppet Challenge and Wizard Wars.  All are essentially the same show, a template used on many, many other reality contests.  Face Off is a make-up challenge (which is why I avoided it for so long.)  What it really is, though, turning a model into a new creature each week.  Puppet Challenge was about creating very, very elaborate puppet creatures each week.  And Wizard Wars is about magicians being given specific items and creating a magic routine with them. I ate up all these shows.  I love seeing amazing artists and their creativity and the process of realizing their ideas.

Studio C/SNL/Birthday Boys - I love a great sketch comedy and all three of these had some really good comedy.

Brooklyn 99 - Probably the best current comedy that we actually look forward to watching

Comedy Bang Bang/Review/Nathan For You - All three of these were great non-traditional comedy shows.

Community - The last season was pretty good (still waiting for the online follow-up season.)  Makes me really miss the old NBC Thursday night comedy block (with the Office and Parks and Rec)

Sherlock - The year started off immediately with three episodes of Sherlock.  I barely remember watching them since it's been so long.  But luckily I wrote it down so I would remember by the end of the year!

Inside No. 9 - A British comedy anthology series.  Each episode is unrelated except for the fact that they take place in a building marked "No. 9."  The first two episodes were really good.  The rest were hit and miss.  But good overall.

@Midnight/QI/Would I Lie To You - I love a good panel show, particularly with good comedians.

America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent/Fake Off  - I enjoy a good talent contest, and I really enjoy watching the first two each year.  The last one is a new one where they seemed to have taken all the really great original performance artists that I enjoy the most from the first two shows and created a new competition for them.  It featured groups performing with shadows, puppets, black light, acrobatics, projection screens, and all sorts of creative concepts.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Yes, this is not a 2014 show.  But I'm putting it here, because I finally watched every episode from Netflix--including most of the last season that I had never seen.  So now I can finally say I have seen the entire series.

Online - Some of my favorite shows this year were from on-line only outlets.  Here's a few:
-The Nerdist Channel, 
-RedLetterMedia (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, Wheel of the Worst), 
-Screen Junkies (Honest Trailers)
-TomSka (asdf)
-Static Videos (my nieces/nephew's comedy channel)
-Brett Domino
-Claudio O'Doherty - What is England

Podcasts

I found a few new podcasts this year, and phased out a few old ones.  My favorites this year:

-Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider - I wrote these guys a new theme song this year.  I was very happy they liked it.
-James Bonding - Reviewing James Bond movies one by one.
-Empire Podcast - British movie new/review podcast
-No Such Thing As A Fish - a QI-related podcast.  Full of interesting facts.
-We Have Issues - Short comedy topical podcast
-Serial - Great start, but sad they didn't end anywhere satisfying.  That's what happens when you start a story without knowing if/when it will end.

Games

Most of my games were on my iPhone this year with a few Xbox and other games here and there.  This is still a transitional year when games are coming out on the old and new generation consoles.  We got a Wii U for Christmas and caught up on a whole lot of games that we'd missed the past two years.  But we have no foreseeable plans to get an Xbox One or PS4 yet.  The big theme this year is "freemium"--games that are free to play but have lots of incentives or penalties if you don't then give the game more money.  I gave in and played a few this year and got hooked on some.  Here's what I played and enjoyed the most this year:

-Trials Frontier - (iOS) - A bike racing freemium game.  It's fun, but very, very hard.  It has a lot of freemium tropes like timers and multiple forms of currency.  Yet it's kept me playing.  So much so, that of the more than 1.8 million players, I'm currently ranked just under 120.  At one point I got up to the 88th ranked player in the world:




-Simpson's Tapped Out - (iOS) - Another freemium game.  I started this last Christmas and have now been playing it for an entire year.  I've designed and built an entire Springfield, populated by hundreds of characters and the game keeps pulling me back in.  They have regular events with regular rewards that keep the game interesting and keep you playing.  This is one of the games that helped me survive my stay in the hospital earlier this year.

-Rogue Legacy - (Mac) - A platforming game that I purchased on my Mac.  Very, very hard, but a lot of fun.  You go through a randomly generated castle and take the money and rewards you earn to upgrade a new random character.  At first you can only go through a few rooms, but by the end you have a super-upgraded character and can actually survive the castle.

-2048/Threes - (iOS/PC) - A sliding puzzle with a very simple concept of combining numbers to make bigger numbers.  It wins the "just one more try" award for the year.

-Mario Kart 8/NintendoLand/Smash Bros Wii U/Hyrule Warriors/Donkey Kong Freeze/Wii Party/Captain Toad Treasure Tracker/New Super Marios U/Super Mario 3D Wii U - (Wii U) - We got all these since Thanksgiving.  Most we haven't been able to spend a lot of time with, but I foresee playing them well into 2015.

-Geometry Wars 3 - (Xbox) - This was a surprise.  The second is my all-time favorite Xbox game.  I thought the series had died since the creators had gone out of business.  But someone else picked it up and put out a worthy successor.  Very hard, but very fun.

-Thief - (Xbox) - This was both a great reboot of the series and a terrible one.  I played this while I was sick and recovering from surgery.  I was upset by the language and surprising nudity that this game contained since my son was anxious to play it as well.  It didn't need it and it ruined a pretty good game.  The story didn't make much sense either, but it was fun stepping back into the stealthy boots of Garrett the master thief.

-My Muppets Show - (iOS) - Another freemium game where you make Muppets and then add them to a stage or scene.  As you add more, they contribute to a song, making the song longer, more complex, and more interesting.  The game was regularly updated at the beginning of the year, but seems to be abandoned now.  Sad, especially since they had promised another new stage in the summer.

-Zelda: Link Between Worlds - (DS) - This was a great return to the "Link to the Past" style Zelda game.  I played it really early in the year, so I only remember playing this because I wrote it down!

-Lego: Marvel Superheroes/The Lego Movie/The Hobbit - (Xbox) - Technically, I didn't play the last one.  Maria did.  But I played the other two.  These are the same Lego formula adventure games that they regularly put out.  The Lego Movie was surprisingly short, but the Marvel one was so big, I was never able to complete it, which is rare for a Lego game.

Books

I didn't read much this year.  So here's what I read, good or bad:

-"Serenity: Leaves on the Wind" - A comic book follow up to the Serenity movie.  Had some interesting progress with the characters.  
-"Serenity: Those Left Behind" - This was a comic book that was intended as a gap filler between the Firefly series and the Serenity movie.  It explains why Shepherd and Inara were no longer on the ship, what happened to the guys with the Blue Gloves, and how the Operative was set after Serenity.
-"Allegiant" - The third in the Divergent trilogy.  I actually gave up half way through when I learned the Big Reveal and decided it was not worth completing.  I read the summary of the rest of the plot from a wikipedia page.
-"A Billion Jokes: Part 1" - From Peter Serafinowicz, just a quick joke book with only one line on each page.  But some were very funny.
-"Swift Programming Language" - Apple introduced a new language for programming for their devices.  I have yet to use it, but I read about it.
-"Matched" - Another teen post-apocolyptic anti-utopia book.  It was interesting enough to finish, but I quickly gave up into the second book.

2015

And that's it, I guess.  As I mentioned above, 2015 is the BIG one for movies.  I'm probably most looking forward to the Avengers.  I'm cautiously optimistic about Star Wars and Jurassic World.   My wild card bet is on Tomorrowland which is from Brad Bird who has yet to make a less than excellent movie.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music.  And as for games, Nintendo has a lot promised, but nothing specifically dated.  We're all excited for a new console Zelda game, but I highly doubt it will make it out this year.  We'll see.

Happy 2015 everyone!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Greg's Favorites of 2013

It's been a year.  We've pretty much abandoned our blog, but I still like to keep a record of my favorite media items of the previous year.  2013 has passed, and overall not an amazing year, but there were a few good things that I saw/heard/read/played this year.

Music

2013 was overall a disappointment musically.  Few of my musical sources provided much new or novel and few of the artists I regularly listen to put out anything noteworthy.  Podcasts have replaced most of the music listening that I usually do but I still love the thrill of finding a new great album.  If there's a musical trend that I followed this year, then 2013 was the year of the retro electronica:  bands like Chateau Marmont and Daft Punk among others using analog synths and robot vocals from the late 70s early 80s.

Here's a list of bands and albums that I listened to this year:

Greg Whitehead - Please excuse my vanity for a moment, but I recorded three songs this year that I'm quite proud of.  One new song I wrote earlier in the year, one new version of an older piece that I wrote years ago, and one classic French Christmas Carol done in a Mannheim Steamroller-esque style.

"Again Tomorrow"

"Eric The Song"

"Noel Nouvelet"


Chateau Marmont - The Maze
This electronic French band put out a couple amazing EPs a few years ago and I've been anxiously awaiting their debut album. It did not disappoint. Their first single, "War Games" is easily my favorite track of the year. The band and album remind me a lot of Air and this is the best sequel to "Moon Safari" that Air never recorded. Sadly, I can't see that this album was ever released in the US though some of the album's singles are available.

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco
Another French electronic band.  This album actually came out in 2011, but I just discovered it this year.  Their first album (Called "Cross" or just the cross symbol) was a bit harsher, but this one is excellent and makes a great companion to the other electronic albums on this list.

Starcadian - Sunset Blood
Starcadian makes "Ear Movies" according to his bio.  This is a soundtrack to a fake 80s John Carpenter/Steven Spielberg movie with some great 80s era sounding synths and songs that hearken back to Neverending Story, E.T., Thriller, and Big Trouble In Little China.


Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Electronic band #4.  I've never liked Daft Punk but always felt I should.  Most of their songs have a great hook, but are too repetitive.  This particular album is a bit better because everything is supposedly played live.  Though there are a few too many track skippers, the overall album was pretty enjoyable.

Chrome Canyon - Elemental Themes
Electronic band #5.  This album came out late 2012, but I found it this year after Chateau Marmont did a remix.


Space March - Mountain King
Space March is an australian synthpop band that I found and enjoyed a bit this year.  The title track to this album is an amazing synth version of the classic "Hall of the Mountain King" mixed with the quirky sensibilities of Sparks.

Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
The one non-electronic album on this list.  This is Britpop at its most simple and classic.  This is the second album by the cricket-themed group and, with the exception of the both overly catchy and yet unlistenable final track, an improvement on the first.

I was sad to not find any other great Britpop this year.  My current favorite group, The Feeling, put out a surprisingly lackluster album without a single good song.  I listened to the album many times and can't remember any track.

The Piano Guys - 1, 2, A Family Christmas
As a family we've listened to and watched The Piano Guys quite a bit this year.  I particularly enjoyed their Christmas album.  Spencer is currently learning a couple complicated John Schmidt pieces on the piano from seeing them played on YouTube.


Movies

The biggest trend I found in 2013 movies was that I watched a lot of films that the critics whose opinions I normally agree with hated and I enjoyed.  And a few they loved that I didn't care for.

Here are the films that I liked the most in 2013:

Gravity - Based on the hype, we made sure to see this on the biggest screen and in 3D.  It lived up to the spectacle, although I'm not sure it will live up to future rewatches. 

Captain Philips - A week after Gravity, I saw this and felt like an amazing double feature of edge-of-your-seat thrillers.

Iron Man 3 - A great follow up to the Avengers and much improved over Iron Man 2.  I saw this on a plane trip later in the year and they cut out the whole Air Force One rescue scene.

The World's End - The one movie I watched twice in the theaters.  The first time I was disappointed in this follow up to Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (which has become one of my all time favorite films.)  After reading several reviews that said that the film improved upon re-watch, I went again, and it was true.  This film definitely rewards multiple viewings.  There are so many foreshadows, callbacks and Easter eggs, it is impossible to take it all in on one viewing.
 
Ender's Game - This was my most anticipated film for 2013.  In the end it made for a good film, and an excellent companion to the book.  Sadly, there wasn't quite enough to make it an excellent stand-alone film.  Like many others, I believe that an extra 10-15 minutes of the games in Battle School are needed to make Ender's journey make sense.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire - I really enjoyed the first book and the first movie.  I liked the second book a little less, but the movie actually improved the book.  I hated the third book and am interested to see if the next two movies can find a way to improve it or make me appreciate it better.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - I'm not completely onboard with Jackson that we need to have every single character and encounter in the book realized on screen, but there was a lot to enjoy in this middle chapter, particularly the river barrel sequence and Smaug himself.

Movies that I enjoyed watching in the theater that many critics seemed to hate:
-Warm Bodies
-Jack the Giant Slayer
-Oz: The Great and Powerful
-Incredible Burt Wonderstone
-Oblivion
-Star Trek Into Darkness

Other films I saw and enjoyed:
-Now You See Me
-Man of Steel
-World War Z
-Monsters U
-Pacific Rim
-Conjuring
-Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
-Thor Dark World
-Frozen
-The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


TV

On TV we found a few new shows to enjoy this year, though very few of them were regular network shows.  Here's what I watched in 2013:

Uncle Grandpa - A cartoon we all enjoyed in our house.  I liked it so much, it became my Halloween Costume for the year.  No adults got it, but plenty of kids did.

Adventure Time - After discovering this great cartoon last year, the kids and I have been anxious every Monday for the release of the next new episode.

Studio C - I'm still having trouble reconciling this quite hilarious sketch comedy show and the fact that it's made by BYUTV.  We went and sought out the actual Studio C on our trip to Utah this year.

Arrested Development - I was anxiously awaiting the new season that debuted on Netflix.  It was almost too complex a plot to follow all the way through, but it was still really funny.

Brooklyn 99 - The one new network show that we all enjoy.  Andy Samberg is one of my favorites (see: Hot Rod) and the rest of the cast are great.

Comedy Bang Bang - Returned for a second season this year.  A great surreal fake comedy talk show.

Doctor Who - I finally caught up and am current on modern Doctor Who.  I even saw an episode in the theater.  Next year brings a new Doctor, and I'm interested to see where it goes.

Broadchurch/The Escape Artist - Speaking of Doctor Who, former Doctor David Tennant appeared in two British drama mini-series.  The first about a murder mystery in a small town that affects everyone, and the second about a lawyer who successfully defends a murderer which ends up coming back to haunt him.

QI, Would I Lie To You, Was It Something I Said - While we're on British shows, these were the British comedy panel shows that I watched an enjoyed this year.

IT Crowd Special - I was sad that there wasn't a final season or movie, just an extended episode.  One of my favorite sitcoms, I'm glad it at least said goodbye.

Nathan For You - A comedy series about a "marketing expert" who comes up with some strange new ways to attempt to market businesses.

NTSF:SD:SVU::Children's Hospital - Wonderfully bizarre and short send-ups of action TV and medical dramas.  NTSF is definitely my favorite of the two.


Since a lot of our viewing options have moved on-line, some of my favorite on-line shows this past year include:
-Nerdist YouTube Channel
-Newest Latest Best (successor to Totally Rad Show)
-Half in the Bag/Best of the Worst (Red Letter Media)
-ASDF cartoons and Tomska's YouTube channel
-StaticVideos (my neices and nephew's YouTube channel)


Podcasts

I listened to a lot of podcasts this year.  Here is a quick list of my favorites:

-Empire
-Movie B.S.
-Comedy Bang Bang
-Nerdist
-Slashfilm
-James Bonding
-How Did This Get Made


Books

 I didn't read much this year, but I did read:

-Divergent/Insurgent
-Insignia
-S. (Only started reading this since getting it for Christmas, but am very intrigued.)
-Crap Kingdom
-Can You See What I See: Out of This World

Games

I played a lot on my iPhone this year, but not much on the regular consoles.  We've just now enterred the next new console generation and so far there has been little reason to join up yet.  We'll see if that's still the case at the end of 2014. 

2013 favorite iPhone games:
-Stack React (my first published iPhone Game)
-Tilt to Live 2
-Super Stickman Golf 2
-The Room: Pocket
-Angry Birds Star Wars II , Angry Birds Friends
-Giant Boulder of Death
-Plants vs Zombies 2
-McPixel (2012)
-Pocket Mine
-Tiny Thief
-Sudoku Quest+
-Say the Same Thing
-Heads Up
-Draw Something 2
-Songpop
-Nimble Quest
-Indiana Stone: The Brave and the Boulder
-Ridiculous Fishing
-84 Logic Games
-My Muppets
-Knightmare Tower

Consoles/Computer games:
-Runner 2 (XBox arcade)
-Luigi's Mansion 2 (3DS)
-Battleblock Theater (XBox arcade)
-Star Wars Pinball (Xbox & iOS)
-Return To Dark Castle (Mac)

2014

Looking forward to 2014, here's what I'm anticipating:

Music: The Hoosiers.  More music than 2013.  Not much else that I'm anticipating at the moment.  Hopefully I'll make some more music as well.

Movies: "Edge of Tomorrow" - Tom Cruise does Sci-Fi Groundhog Day.  "How to Train Your Dragon 2," "Lego Movie," the Hobbit finale, and "Guardians of the Galaxy."

TV: New Sherlock!  New Doctor.  New Community with Dan Harmon.  Also interested to see more online competition to traditional TV.


Well, that's it for now.  See you all in a year if not sooner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 Newsletter

Click here for pdf
(It's a little late, but we finally got a newsletter out to sum up our past year.  The post below contains the text of the document which you can find here.)

The Whitehead’s newsletter for 2011 2012!

For some people Christmas cards and letters are the first thing they do for the holidays.  For others, it’s the last thing.  And for still others, it gets put off and then becomes the Valentine’s newsletter, the spring newsletter, the mid-year newsletter, and finally the let’s-just-combine-it-with-next-year’s newsletter.  Somehow we never got to 2011 and here it is 2013 already!  This is what’s been going on with our family:

Jaden, our youngest, is now firmly in his twos.  He is the entertainment center for our home.  He wants to be a part of every single thing all of us do, which can be very frustrating for us and him due to obvious age limitations.  He loves coloring.  Coloring on paper, books, walls, other people--it doesn’t matter.  He loves balls and it wouldn’t surprise us if we actually finally had a sportsman in our family.  He also loves whatever any of us is currently holding—iPhone, DS, phone, game controller, remote control—which can lead to some interesting tug of wars.  He is amazingly cute and so (usually) well-mannered, that we worry about spoiling him when he can ask for yet another piece of chocolate so politely.  He is pretty proficient with his ABCs and his colors, and he’s a pretty good parrot at the moment which means we need to watch what he hears.  Will Smith taught him a few interesting words when we watched Men In Black 3 the other day.
Spencer ended the year at 10 but will be 11 just a week later.  He’s been working on his Webelos activity badges for Cub Scouts and earned his Arrow of Light.  He’s looking forward to joining Boy Scouts this year (while we parents are looking forward to a break from Cub Scouts for a while).  Spencer continues to love anything that you can ride around on and has quite a collection of skateboards, rip-sticks, pogo-sticks, and other odd gadgets that we find at occasional yard sales.  He also has been fascinated with survival kits and his built several of his own including many that fit in an Altoids tin that can fit in your pocket.  He also loves origami and has invented many of his own paper airplanes.  He has also essentially taught himself how to play piano this year, which is quite amazing both how good he is, and that it has come without formal lessons.  He has been learning Greg’s piano songs and has several of them completely memorized.  He and Greg played a duet at our church for this year’s Christmas program.
Colin is now 12 and became a Deacon this year at church.  He also has joined the regular Boy Scout troop and has earned all his ranks up to Star Scout.  He got to go on a weeklong Scout Camp this summer in Arkansas.  We realized this was the first time he and Spencer had ever been apart for this length of time and this far apart.  Colin enjoys drawing, doodling, and animating.  He is becoming quite proficient at flip-book style animations on a program on his DSi.  He is also really into knives, swords, and guns right now.  We got him a BB gun to chase unwanted raccoons, possums, and foreign cats from our yard which he guards vigilantly.  So please be careful if you want to sneak into our back yard at night uninvited.
Maria is currently kept busy raising the kids and being their homeschool teacher.  She has been serving in the Young Women’s presidency at church for the past year and a half and loves working with them (and getting to do some GIRLY things).  She has gotten back into scrapbooking much more over the past year, including going to a weekend retreat, and has set up a nice scrapbook station that we had to relocate from Jaden’s room (formerly our office) to our bedroom. She still enjoys reading, video games, and shopping (mostly for toys for the kids!), and is hoping to make some life changes to make the transition to 40 a little less painful next December.
Greg is still working at Lockheed Martin for his 11th year.  Looking ahead, it always seems nebulous whether he’ll still have a job there the next year, but somehow they keep paying him.  Here’s hoping we can make it through 2013.  Greg currently continues his trend of church calling collecting.  He is the ward organist, Boy Scout Committee Chair, primary teacher (for Colin then Spencer’s class), and was the 11-year-old Scout assistant leader.  This past year he had the opportunity to perform magic shows for the Cub Scouts at two pack meetings and then again for the Cub Scout Day Camp and another show at his Mom’s school in Utah.  He continues to try and be active and added biking to his routine this year.  Greg had the opportunity to fly out to Utah for a few days for his 20-year class reunion and was able to catch up with many of his old friends and Utah family.
As a family, we decided we wanted to stay nearby this year for our vacations.  We went to a time-share presentation to get a free stay at the Wolf Lodge and ended up with a time-share instead.  We’ve had fun using some of the getaway privileges that have come with it and have visited a water park near Tyler, Texas a few times as well as stayed overnight at four different resorts.  (We still have yet to get to the Wolf Lodge.)  We stayed for most of a week in the Texas Hill Country in October visiting Austin and some of the touristy areas down there where we had a lot of fun.  
Since 2012 came and went without an apocalypse, here’s hoping for a great 2013 for everyone!

Greg, Maria, Colin, Spencer and Jaden Whitehead