Alright fleshbags, time for the rest of my favorite stuff from 2013 and the first might not come as much of a surprise…
I totally lucked into seeing this movie. I can’t even remember which website it was I saw the trailer on but as soon as I saw it I knew this was something I had to see. I don’t think I can add much about the film itself beyond what I wrote in my review which you can read right here.
I did want to talk about the film in a different context and how in a year where (a comparatively large amount of) money was thrown at a remake/reboot/sequel/whatever it is of The Evil Dead, The Battery is a triumph of indie filmmaking being made for a mere $6000. That Evil Dead discussion is for a different article, but The Battery is everything that you could hope to see in exciting low budget genre cinema. When I requested a screener from O.Hannah films so I might review it for Best Horror Movies I didn’t realize that I was communicating directly with the guys who made the film. Christian Stella the cinematographer returned my email and sent me the link to the film and I was fortunate to go on to talk to both him and writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner in what ended up being 2 episodes of The Super Jawncast (and probably my favorite episodes to boot) where we talked the movie, distribution and the indie genre scene in general. I urge you to listen to those episodes, you will marvel at the amount of creativity, generosity and good will that went into the making of one of my favorite films of 2013. They showed me great kindness in giving me their time on multiple occasions and you do not want to miss what O.Hannah Films has coming for you and I wish every success for them.
Gone Home is an almost painstakingly simple game, set in the 1990’s you play as a college student arriving to visit her family in the mansion her father has recently inherited. This is Kaitlin’s first time at the house and in a stormy evening she comes to an unfamiliar and empty home greeted only by an ambiguous and ominous note from her younger sister Samantha. In an eerie new place with apparently nobody else there, you must explore, read notes and journal entries and listen to messages Samantha has left for her big sister as you try to piece together what has happened.
Essentially an interactive story Gone Home ended up being one of the most impressive and unexpected first person games to his 2013. Best played with as little knowledge about the story as possible, Gone Home gives you as much as you are willing to put into it. Explore every drawer, shelf, nook and cranny for clues, notes, and audio recordings of Samantha as you learn more about her, her parents, and just what happened in the house just hours before on this fateful night. The Fullbright Company has team members who spent time working on Bioshock 2 and with Irrational Games, the storytelling is honed to perfection here and is a more affecting and emotionally powerful story than even Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us could muster. Gone Home will rise above your expectations for what it and for what video games overall can deliver and the themes they can communicate. Experience it as soon as you can.
Credit must also go to the Fullbright Company for their publicly taking a stand against what was a disappointingly idiotic year for the creators of the Penny Arcade webcomic. They pulled their game from the PAX Prime Indie Megabooth and released an awesome public statement http://thefullbrightcompany.com/2013/06/21/why-we-are-not-showing-gone-home-at-pax/ where they expertly explained why they withdrew from the event. Seriously, those Penny Arcade dickholes can fuck off, but that is for another article.
I enjoy using my Android-powered devices but I never thought I would be putting an Android app in a best of year list but Minuum Keyboard is just that goddamn good. I do not have an especially good Android phone, partly because I am a Virgin Mobile customer. The HTC One V that I currently possess is a decent enough little device and is actually quite nicely constructed, but its hardware leaves much to desire. The unfortunate side effect of this is that even as a true devotee of the wonderful Swiftkey, it would often cause my phone to chug and the keyboard itself would take up much of the screen, especially in landscape mode. Then I learned of Minuum Keyboard and while it boasts predictive text features like Swiftkey, it is implemented in a far different way. As you can see from the design, the keyboard is tiny offering the letters in a line. Precise typing is not required (though is possible) and you only need to merely hit the area in which the desired letter is and as you build together what might seem like a garbled mess Minuum does a stellar job of interpreting that mess into the word you desired. Taking up little space, operating way more snappily than Swiftkey and doing a superb job of picking the right words for me, it may not be as feature rich but I am continually impressed with how well Minuum works. Plus their plans for future implementation of their software is impressive and ambitious, they’re onto a winner here.
2013 ended up being a good year for movies but if you went only by the “summer blockbuster” season you might have thought the opposite. Movies were either abysmally disappointing (Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, Elysium), huge flops (The Lone Ranger, White House Down) with only a couple of surprise hits (Now You See Me made way more money than expected, The Conjuring made its budget back many times over) in what was a stupefyingly mediocre summer. I admit that I did enjoy GI Joe Retaliation a great deal (the ninja abseiling battle is both as ridiculous and amazing as the trailers suggest) and Fast and Furious 6 was explosively, massively entertaining. However there was one film that I was more excited about than anything else, it was from a director who has made some of the most interesting and creative genre films in years and it promised action just like the anime and Godzilla movies I love. That movie is, of course, PACIFIC RIM.
Guillermo Del Toro made this epic, passionate love letter to his younger years when he created this story of the giant beasts emerging from the Pacific Ocean and the giant robots mankind had built to protect us from them. Better paced, better written and better made than just about every other explosion-ridden summer movie (and also the prior sentence), Pacific Rim is big and goofy and silly for sure but it is also full of heart, creativity and memorable moments. The story ostensibly being about pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) coming to terms with losing his brother while co-piloting Gypsy Danger, a robot so massive and complicated that it requires two pilots to mind meld just to handle controlling it. The film isn’t just about Raleigh though and he shares much of the movie with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) the potential-filled pilot who in turn has a close paternal relationship with leader of the whole Jaeger program, Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost. Supporting characters such as Max Martini’s Herc Hansen, Burn Gorman’s Gottlieb and Charlie Day’s Dr. Geiszler are also given room to breathe, to interact and develop along with the story. Not to mention that this is a story aided with some very affective world building, the film is filled with little touches, references and details that make this feel like a real place in time not just a convenient backdrop that has little bearing on the actual story.
Not to say that this film is all story, oh no. The film opens with a battle between Jaeger Gypsy Danger and a fearsome Kaiju and the action scenes only build from there. The real highlight of the film is the return of this Jaeger to fight off two enormous monsters in what are some of the most exciting and brilliantly realized action scenes of the year. I was fortunate enough to see this film in IMAX 3D and the impact of the battle scenes left me literally exclaiming involuntarily. Not just some Transformers knock-off like some had written it off as, Del Toro has a far greater command of his visuals making things much easier to follow and all the more impactful for it. These are CGI effects done absolutely the right way, made believable with a real sense of weight, force and destruction. Basically the best you could hope for if you grew up watching dudes in rubber suits throw each other around like I did. Special note must also go to Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi for a tremendous score that complimented the action without ever overpowering it and was memorable and different. Pacific Rim did not meet my absurdly high expectations but actually surpassed them. Sadly it underperformed at the box office in the US but did better overseas, but the future of this world is not entirely for sure at this point. If this ends up being the one and only entry in the series I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for more.
So that’s it! Stay tuned for my DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2013.