Our “Best Of 2015” series will be a bit different than most. Rather than having the staff write about things released this year, we’ve elected to allow anything they’ve listened to/played/read/watched this year that they’ve enjoyed. Our second installment comes to us from Corey Wagner, a Library Associate in the Public Services department.
While coming up with a “Best of 2015” list a couple of things became clear to me:
Since I failed to read much of anything (except comic books) this year I’ve decided to make my best of list more media heavy.
My “mainstream” music picks of the year are:
Faith No More – Sol Invictus
It’s rare for a comeback album to be good. When bands get back together after 10, 15, or more years after separating the new music tends to be safe and tread similar ground. Honestly, I can’t think of a single instance of a band reforming after a significant hiatus and releasing a good album. Faith No More’s Sol Invictus didn’t just exceed my admittedly low expectations, it’s nearly as good as anything they have ever released. Angel Dust (1992) is a masterpiece, and I’m partial to King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime (1995). Sol Invictus almost reaches those heights. “Matador” is one of the best songs they’ve ever written and “Sunny Side Up” is one of the catchiest. I should know better from a Mike Patton-related project. He never mails it in.
Check out the CD in the library catalog.
Ghost – Meliora
The third album from the Swedish rockers is arguably their best and their popularity continues to skyrocket. Their single “Cirice” has been nominated for a Grammy and earlier this year they appeared on Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This album somehow manages to be Ghosts’s heaviest album while still being very melodic. “Absolution” and “Deus In Absentia” is the best 1-2 punch to close an album I’ve heard in a long time.
Check it out on hoopla.
Movies & TV
Ex Machina – Oscar Isaac has turned in to an actor I pay attention to over the last few years. Domhnall Gleeson has also been showing up in a lot of movies I’ve watched over the last couple of years. When I learned the two of them were together in a small sci-fi movie about artificial intelligence I was immediately sold on the film. It lived up to my expectations (and the hype of the overwhelmingly positive reviews). Also, the CG in the film is so well done that I would have believed the budget to be 3 or 4 times as big as it was. These two actors will also be in another small sci-fi film in a few days.
Mad Max: Fury Road – I don’t know what else I could possibly say about this. It’s great. I saw it in theaters approximately 8,000 times.
Sicario – Director Denis Villeneuve’s previous two movies (Prisoners, Enemy) had a lot to like but ultimately didn’t really connect with me. If nothing else, those two movies did have some fantastic performances. Sicario also has some great performances from Emily Blunt, Benecio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Unlike his previous two films, however, Sicario held my attention. The score really helped build suspense and dread. I expect this will receive some attention from the Oscars.
Better Call Saul Season 1 – It took 3 episodes but my reservations about a Breaking Bad spinoff completely disappeared after that. I’ve been a big fan of Bob Odenkirk for a long time and it’s nice to see him in a more dramatic role. For those unaware, Better Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad that follows Bob Odenkirk’s character Saul Goodman (or James McGill) prior to the events of Breaking Bad. Odenkirk has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in season 1. Jonathan Banks also reprises his role as Mike Ehrmantraut.
Mad Men Season 7 Part 2 – The final episodes to one of the best television series of all time. Jon Hamm finally won an Emmy for his performance!
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson (Volumes 2, 3, & 4 released in 2015) – Kamala Khan is one of the best new characters in superhero comics in recent memory.
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction (Volume 4 released in 2015) – The final issues of one of my favorite comic runs in recent history!
Thor: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron (Volumes 1 & 2 released in 2015) – The continuation of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder finds a new person wielding Mjolnir and the title of Thor.
Moon Knight by Cullen Bunn and Brian Wood (Volumes 2 & 3 released in 2015) – This series serves as a good introduction to the character. Unfortunately, after 17 issues (the last 11 issues are in these two collections) the title has been cancelled and I’m not entirely sure what the plans for the title/character are in the future.
Wytches Volume 1 by Scott Snyder & Jock – Scott Snyder is one of my favorite current comic writers. Artist Jock and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are also worth mentioning, since the artwork is memorable and beautiful (and, at times, disgusting).
Our “Best Of 2015” series will be a bit different than most. Rather than having the staff write about things released this year, we’ve elected to allow anything they’ve listened to/played/read/watched this year that they’ve enjoyed. Our first installment comes to us from Christina Clary, a Kentucky Room clerk and historical fiction aficionado.
It’s December, which means everything from this past year must be put into lists. This is not optional, people. Rank everything that you read ate, watched, listened to, casually noticed on your way to work. In this spirit, I’d like to share with my “Top 5 Books of 2015 That You Might Have Missed.” These are the books that didn’t have the same publicity as say, Harper Lee’s new book My Caretaker is Taking Advantage of My Writing, or The Girl on the Train, which I did not like at all. I will not apologize for that either. So here’s my list in no particular order. I hope you check out some of these titles from your local public library.
• The Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader – A beautiful, quiet, and moving tale of grieving seventeen year old Sarah, who chooses to spend the rest of her life in a tiny cell as a religious figure for her community. Despite Sarah’s intentions to lock out the world, she forms a bond with the two women who serve as her caretakers, and the priests who give her spiritual advice. Also, the ending isn’t quite what one expects. I loved this book so much. I cannot recommend it enough.
• The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell – By now, most people are familiar with the Japanese internment camps during WWII. German-Americans and Latin Americans, however, were also forced into camps simply because of their heritage. This book follows the only camp that was for these families at Crystal City, Texas. Russell poignantly shares what life was like for these innocent families as they struggled to maintain a normal life in an extraordinary situation. This should serve as a cautionary tale for modern day, as we face a very similar situation that I can’t go into because it’s not polite to discuss politics on a public blog.
• Saint Maizie, by Jami Attenberg – Do you like sassy women and the Jazz Age? (For the record I don’t really like calling women sassy, it seems deeming to me, but sometimes it is only way to describe someone.) Great, meet Maizie, a bottle blonde broad with a love of life and everyone in it. An amusing and occasionally heart breaking story of a real woman who offered help and shelters to homeless men during the Great Depression. Written as Maizie’s diary, we get to see the world through her compassionate and cheeky eyes. While it has its sad moments, this book is also a lot of fun.
• Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest, by Eleni Kounalakis – This book starts out with a boar hunt in the forests of Hungary in the name of feminism. That is an awesome sentence. Following Kounalakis’ time in Hungary, the book reveals what exactly it takes to become an ambassador (being massively wealthy and BFF’s with Hillary Clinton), and what the duties entail, which consists mostly of being frustrated that no one will listen you when you’re right. If you’ve ever wondered why Hungary is so belligerent in keeping out refugees, this book will explain that. Hint: it’s because of Neo-Nazis!
• The Distant Marvels, by Chantel Acevedo – Look, I really like historical fiction, okay? This one takes place in Cuba 1963, where a group of elderly women are corralled together to ride out the devastating Hurricane Flora. In order to pass the time, Marie Sirena tells the tragic story of her life, starting as a young child of the bloody Cuban revolutionaries in the 1890s, and ending with an absolutely heartbreaking revelation. Chances are very high that you will cry a little while reading this book. It’s worth it though.
• The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton – What’s that you say, this was published in 2014, not 2015? Too bad. I read this in January of 2015, and it is my favorite book of the year, so those who are stickler for the rules can just stop reading. Amsterdam, 1686. A young girl named Nella arrives to start a new life as the wife of a rich trader. Familial intrigue ensues the moment she walks into her new home and meets her sister-in-law. As her new life slowly spins out of control, she finds that nothing is as it seems, and everyone has their own secrets. Amidst this, a miniaturist who was commissioned to build a house as a wedding gift sends new additions that eerily reveal the truth about the people in Nella’s life. Plus, the conservative Puritans are out making sure that no one is having any sort of fun and condemning them all. I love the depiction of life in Puritan Amsterdam, the multilayered and complex characters, all of the twists and reveals, the creepiness of the miniaturist, the cover. Read it. You won’t regret it.
by John Beemer
“If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.”
“Beautiful” and “strange”—two words I use to describe Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. Published in 2002 and translated from Japanese to English in 2005, it’s the most memorable thing I’ve read in years. Few books have haunted me like this.
It’s a weird, surreal book. An old man talks with cats. Eternal soldiers, who decided to step outside of time to avoid WWII, guard a forest passage to a secret, timeless village. A mysterious, other-worldly being adopts the form of Colonel Sanders, and, operating in this world as a pimp, decides to guide the main characters. Not too far into the book, we also encounter the sinister Johnnie Walker (yes, of Scotch whiskey fame), who rounds up neighborhood cats and eats their hearts to harness their souls so he can construct a magic flute capable of stealing larger human souls. It gets stranger, but none of these oddities seem hokey or forced. They are woven seamlessly into the very fabric of the tale. This is a world where weird stuff happens, where something can be both true and false simultaneously, where the consequences of actions echo a hundred miles away. Yet the characters deal with all this the best they can.
Murakami reveals his plot gradually, focusing on the two main characters in alternating chapters. First we have Kafka, a resourceful 15-year-old who hunkers down in a library, fleeing not only his hometown but also an Oedipal prophecy. He meets some interesting characters: Oshima, a transgender librarian who becomes Kafka’s closest friend, and Miss Saeki, an ethereal, one-hit wonder pop singer resigned to spending the rest of her days lamenting lost love and managing the library. Kafka may—or may not—have killed his father. He may—or may not—have slept with his sister and his mother. We don’t know, and I’m not sure if Kafka knows, either.
Nakata is our other main character. He’s an older man, left mentally impaired by some sort of flashing-light-in-the-sky during his childhood in the midst of WWII. This strange occurrence also gave him the ability to communicate with cats around his neighborhood. He lives a peaceful existence as a professional finder of lost cats, eventually leading him far from home. Nakata is fascinating. His humility hides great inner strength. Supremely kind and gentle, he is also capable of supernatural powers he doesn’t seem to understand (e.g., he has a habit of making fish fall from the sky like rain). Trusting some sort of intuitive force, he leaves home to fulfill a mission, along the way befriending a rough young truck driver and forming an unlikely but endearing friendship.
At first, I wondered how on earth these characters and their story arcs would converge. Honestly, even on the last page, I wasn’t sure how everything managed to come together, but I certainly enjoyed the ride. Kafka on the Shore isn’t a hard read. It’s a love story. It’s a bildungsroman. But it is also an enigma; complete understanding of the novel seems to drift just out of reach. Most questions here don’t have answers—most mysteries remain unsolved. No two readers will have the same interpretations. It can be confusing, even mind-bending. Yet Murakami’s style is so effortless and simple that it belies his underlying riddles. If you want someone to spell it out, plain and logical—if you’re uncomfortable with drawing your own conclusions, making sense of untied plot threads, or accepting magical realism, this probably won’t be an enjoyable book for you. But if you enjoy that sort of thing, I’m sure this story and these characters will stick with you for a long, long time.
Horror movies aren’t really my thing. It’s not that I’m opposed to the genre; I just think a lot of them are poorly made. Despite being lukewarm on the genre, leading up to Halloween I have been watching several movies that are, at the very least, on the fringe of the horror genre. Oddly enough, it was reading Scott Snyder’s Wytches that set me on this path. Originally, I tried out some horror audio books. What I discovered after about 20 minutes, however, is that I (still) don’t care for audiobooks. I then decided to just go the movie route.
One of the first movies I decided to watch was Trick ‘r Treat. Directed by Michael Dougherty (also director of the upcoming film Krampus) and released direct to DVD in 2009, Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology horror film that follows four stories that take place on Halloween in a smaller town. What works with this movie is what most horror movies fail at. The acting throughout is actually solid, featuring the likes of Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, and Dylan Baker. The movie is also very fun and doesn’t take itself too serious (not exactly Evil Dead 2 levels, but still). Just as important, the movie doesn’t focus on just gore or jump scares as the basis for the horror. Highly recommended.
The next 3 movies all came out just last year: The Babadook, It Follows, and Starry Eyes. For my tastes, all three were fine, but I would consider them all to be very much above average horror films. Starry Eyes and It Follows stand out for having exceptional scores. Of the three I enjoyed Starry Eyes the most, but it’s probably the least appealing to general audiences. I’ve seen multiple comparisons to David Lynch and David Cronenberg in reference to the movie and I can’t say they’re completely off-base. The movie came across as a combination of Rosemary’s Baby, Mulholland Drive, and Suspiria. Oh, and it’s gross. Very gross. Recommended! (all of them).
Speaking of Rosemary’s Baby, I watched it for the first time this month. Even though it is considered a classic, I had heard that it was very dated and didn’t hold up. I don’t agree. Released in 1968 and set during the mid-1960s, I thought the movie seemed ahead of its time by about a decade. It is a slow movie and (arguably) not much of a horror movie by modern standards. However, I thought it was well made and I enjoyed the creepy vibe throughout. Mia Farrow puts forth an Oscar-worthy performance in my opinion (she wasn’t nominated).
The last couple of years there have been some excellent vampire movies released. Some of these are hardly horror but all are very enjoyable. The New Zealand mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows might not be very scary, but it does play with several vampire tropes in an amusing way. Think of it as the vampire version of Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is another very recent vampire movie that is interesting. It is much more about style and atmosphere than horror, however. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is much more artsy than scary. In many ways it reminds me of the recent Jim Jarmusch vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. Lovers is the better film but I would also refrain from calling it a horror movie.
Eventually my interest in horror did spill over in to fiction. Inspired by my film habits, I decided to give John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In a chance. I really enjoyed both film adaptations (Swedish version Let the Right One In, American Version Let Me In), so I was assuming/hoping that the source material would also be quality. I am only about half way through the novel, but it has me hooked more than any fiction book has in a while. I wouldn’t consider myself a vampire enthusiast but, coincidentally, ‘Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite Stephen King novels Some other vampire movies that I would recommend:
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) – I don’t particularly care for silent cinema all that much. I find Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake (starring Klaus Kinski) to be superior to the original. Roger Ebert included this movie in his “Great Films Collection.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Keanu Reeves performance aside, I think this is a very good movie and really the only thing Francis Ford Coppola directed after Apocalypse Now that I find even remotely interesting
Cronos (1993) – Guillermo Del Toro’s first movie. The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are also worth checking out. He is also the director of the new movie Crimson Peak.
The horror genre over the last few years has been growing on television. The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated cable shows ever and season six just began. Fear the Walking Dead, a spinoff, just finished a fairly well received season as well. The Walking Dead isn’t the only newer series, however. Seemingly every network is trying to get in the horror genre now: Penny Dreadful (Showtime), American Horror Story (FX), Hemlock Grove (Netflix Original), Z Nation (Syfy), Bates Motel and The Returned (A & E), Salem (WGN), From Dusk Till Dawn (El Rey Network), Black Mirror (Originally a British show, future seasons are Netflix originals).
The Walking Dead, of course, is adapted from the comic of the same name. Again, it was Scott Snyder’s comic Wytches that inspired my viewing and reading habits over the last month. Snyder is probably best known for writing the Batman title over the last 4+ years. His horror-tinged series The Wake took me by surprise earlier this year. American Vampire, his comic series focusing on vampirism throughout American history, has been one of my favorite comics over the last 5+ years. It’s also worth mentioning that Snyder wrote probably the best run of Swamp Thing since Alan Moore. Other modern horror comics I would recommend: Bedlam (Nick Spencer), Colder (Paul Tobin), Bad Blood (Jonathan Maberry), the original Hellblazer run (various authors), and it may be a stretch to include these two, but Gaiman’s Sandman series and Jeff Lemire’s run on Animal Man fit tonally with the rest and, more importantly, they’re both great.
I’ll keep my Halloween musical recommendations to a minimum, as my musical taste can be a little out there, but Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones self-titled album from 2009 is excellent and definitely has a fall/Halloween feeling/atmosphere. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a previous review from DCPL staff: http://www.dcplibrary.org/news/2585
Items featured in this post:
American Horror Story, The Babadook, Bates Motel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Evil Dead 2, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, It Follows, Let Me In, Let the Right One In, Mulholland Drive, Nosferatu (1922), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Only Lovers Left Alive, Pan’s Labyrinth, Penny Dreadful, Rosemary’s Baby, Shaun of the Dead, Starry Eyes, Suspiria, Trick ‘r Treat, The Walking Dead, What We do in the Shadows, Z Nation, Zombieland
American Vampire, Animal Man (Jeff Lemire), Bad Blood, Batman (Scott Snyder), Bedlam, Colder, Hellblazer, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Swamp Thing (Alan Moore), Swamp Thing (Scott Snyder), The Wake, The Walking Dead, Wytches
It usually takes until March or April of each year for me to (mostly) catch up on all of the movies I’m interested in from the previous year. Still, I can’t help but be disappointed by the theatrical releases thus far in 2015. Sure, I absolutely loved Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road, but I’m not sure I could even assemble a top 5 list from the first half (and then some) of this year. Paddington? Kingsmen? It Follows? These movies were all fine, but never at any time while viewing them was I thinking that they would make my top 10 of the year list. Avengers: Age of Ultron was also okay, but I consider it one of the weaker entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have intentionally avoided the new Jurassic Park and Terminator movies. I still haven’t seen Ant-Man or the trio of highly-reviewed comedies from the past couple months (Dope, Spy, and Trainwreck).
Completely changing gears: I am an unabashed Back to the Future fan. The Back to the Future films are some of the few movies from my childhood that I still enjoy today (fun fact: I wasn’t actually alive when the first movie came out). 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the original film (and, of course, the year that Marty, Doc, Jennifer travel to in Part II). With that comes a variety of releases. Later in the year the trilogy is being released on blu-ray (again!) with new bonus material, and for the first time ever the animated series from the early 90s is getting released on dvd. A BttF: The Ultimate Visual History hardcover is also coming later in the year. While I am anticipating the release of all of those (I have no memory of the animated series), in the meantime a new “making of” book was released last month.
Written by Caseen Gaines (who has also authored books on Peewee’s Playhouse and A Christmas Story), We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy makes for a quick read for Future fanatics. Gaines interviewed over 50 people involved with the film(s) in a variety of ways. Some of the interviewees include: Robert Zemeckis (director/co-writer), Bob Gale (co-writer), actors Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Lea Thompson (Lorraine), and many others. Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) and Crispin Glover (George McFly) are notable (and not surprising) omissions. The book covers both well and lesser-known trivia and, thankfully, expands on many of the more well-known stories. The benefit of interviewing so many of the people involved is that multiple perspectives (and sometimes differing accounts) are given for many of the events discussed in the book.
An interesting tidbit that I was previously unaware of is that Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker) was almost not in the film. She had originally been cast in the Jennifer role but scheduling conflicts made her drop out. The role was recast with Melora Hardin now stepping in. Once Eric Stoltz had been replaced with Michael J. Fox, Hardin was considered too tall. The recasting of Marty had caused a delay and now the slightly shorter Wells was available again. Of course, Wells would not be in the sequels and Elisabeth Shue would take over the role. The book also goes into detail about how replacing Eric Stoltz caused the movie’s release to be delayed and caused the film to go over the original budget.
The book clocks in at just over 250 pages. Most of the length is devoted to the first film, from the original idea to release. Some of the information here is less than shocking: Michael J. Fox is a really nice guy, Crispin Glover was considered difficult to work with by much of the behind the camera crew but the other actors seemed to like him. My biggest complaint is that the second and third movies are glossed over a bit. The portion of the book devoted to Part II primarily deals with the Crispin Glover lawsuit and the stuntwoman that was injured badly during filming. Part III really only has about a dozen or so pages devoted to it and more or less just says that everyone that worked on the movie had a good time.
All in all, I found We Don’t Need Roads to be entertaining and I think most BttF fans would enjoy it.