Given that 2013 is nearly behind us all I figured it prudent to look back on some of the best scenes, chapters, stories, etc that I have come across this year. This retrospective will look at films, books, games, television, and songs; and is in no way indicative of a ‘universal’ consensus of what makes a good piece of art or good media for that matter. I will give a brief bit of context for each sample because I highly doubt that everyone who reads this will have encountered and enjoyed the same things that I have this year, let alone the same parts of said things.
In a way, that’s what gives the media and the arts part of their universal pulling power: the sheer scale of variety.
Variety: The Spice of Life.
The final installment of the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” concluded in triumphant fashion this summer with a ‘robotic alien’ apocalypse the combined likes of Roland Emmerich, H. G. Wells, James Cameron and Ridley Scott could hardly have contemplated. ‘The World’s End’ followed the zom-rom-com sleeper-hit ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and the small-town buddy-cop parody ‘Hot Fuzz’. This time around Edgar Wright along with the inseperable duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost depict the end of the world through the eyes of an alcoholic and his long-lost, semi-wasted best friends. Surprisingly darker and more emotionally complicated than what went before, especially considering the manner in which the film refuses to take itself seriously, this is a beautifully constructed story covering nostalgia, delusional tenacity, addiction, and (loosely) aliens.
Hilarious, thoughtful, and not afraid to poke loving fun and its subject material ‘The World’s End’ was a blast.
Honorable Mentions: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Rush.
‘Dreams and Shadows’ is the debut novel of screenwriter and film critic Christopher Robert Cargill (otherwise known as C. Robert Cargill or Robert Cargill) that was published earlier this year. Cargill’s resume paints a journey across many avenues of media ranging from journalism, to screenwriting, to blogging, and now to authorship. Cargill was formerly a frequent (and great) contributor to aintitcool.com, a regular show on the now-and-recently-extinct spill.com, co-wrote a film some of you might have seen called ‘Sinister’, and is currently working on the script for the cyber-punk video-game-to-movie adaptation ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’.
The premise of ‘Dreams and Shadows’ is that the world as we know it has been and remains to be influenced and affected by the supernatural world and the various creatures that inhabit it – despite the former being completely unaware of such. While this sounds like a stock premise you’ve probably heard or seen before the story on offer here, in this ‘Modern American Fairy Tale’ is actually quite good. The story primarily follows the childhoods and subsequent young adult lives of two boys: Colby Stevens and Ewan Thatcher. Following a fantastical adventure in the supernatural world that gradually turns extremely dark Colby and Ewan’s destinies become forever entwined with the magical world. It’s just fascinating to see what happens in the years following the moment that lesser writers and stories would have either finished writing or decided to roll the credits, and oh boy… does it go in some sinister and provocative directions.
The following extract comes from one of my favorite moments in the story; a chapter during which the young man Colby Stevens heads to a supernatural bar christened “The Cursed and the Damned” (which is also the title of this chapter), depicted as a “dive”, with his childhood friend and djinn Yashar. Shortly upon arriving Colby, Yashar, and the barman “Old Scraps” strike up a conversation with a fallen angel cast out of heaven to earth called Bertrand.
“So who gets to see this paradise [in hell]?” asked Old Scraps, pouring the angel another glass of whiskey.
“Whoever brings in the most souls gets a garden of their own, I suppose,” he said.
Colby shook his head, confused. “Wait, so the most evil men in the world get a pass?”
“What do you mean evil? What IS evil? Do you mean sin? No, the greatest sinners don’t get a pass. But the greatest persuaders do, the men who lead others into willful oblivion. They build the pyres upon which their furnace will be heated.”
“Like who?” asked Colby.
Old Scraps removed the lit pipe from his mouth and waved it around wildly. “Wait, wait, wait. Are you saying someone like Adolph Hitler is in this hellish paradise of yours?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Why wouldn’t Adolph be dead center at the Devil’s party? Millions upon millions of people committed atrocities and sins of all sorts in his name, at his behest, or in opposition to his influence. All of their own free will. Don’t kid yourself; it’s all about free will, every last bit of it. He never forced those people; he gave them the chance to become the people they always dreamed of – at a price. And that price filled the coffers of Hell for two generations. Krauts, Ruskies, Yanks, Brits, Japs, Guineas, Frogs, Polocks, Protestants, Catholics, Jews. They all did unspeakable things in the name of righteousness. More coal for the fires! But did you ever hear a whisper about Hitler pulling a trigger or flipping a switch and gassing a room full of people himself? No, you didn’t. Because he always convinced someone else to do it. No one is born damned; you have to damn yourself. Hell’s fires are fueled by the stuff of dreams and stoked with man’s attempts to grasp them. Few men set out to damn their fellow man; those that do have a special place carved out in the brimstone of the underworld. The devil loves a self-made man.” Bertrand threw back the remainder of his whiskey, swallowed it hard, and with a grimace looked around the bar. “Fuck this place.” he said. “Bring on the next thing.”
Historians might have a thing or two to say about “free will” when it comes to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust but it’s still a harrowing passage. ‘Dreams and Shadows’ is a deliciously dark story that has the brass to go places and do things that make it stick in your mind for weeks and months after you turn the last page. Cargill is currently working on a sequel to this story called ‘The Queen of the Dark Things’. I suggest picking this one up whenever you can.
I reviewed this game a while back and was rather impressed with it. I would however like to draw attention to a moment in the story of ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ that I think is not only one of the best if not the best moment in the entire series but is a frankly epic moment for the medium of video gaming as a whole. I say that because what I think gives gaming an edge over say… film is that it is much easier for the viewer (player in this case) to become engrossed by the experience through the interaction the medium demands. Watching a scene depicting a character’s descent into insanity is gripping on the silver screen provided it is directed and acted properly but being in the shoes of a character going through the same, being the one who has to also make the journey, makes the whole concept of a descent into madness even more incredible.
In order to get the most out of this scene, if you have not played the game yourself and therefore do not know the story, I will some context. The protagonist in this scene is Edward Kenway, an English privateer-turned-pirate. Discontent with life in the British Isles Edward left England and traveled to the West Indies to join in on the booming trade of piracy and return to England wealthy enough to provide a meaningful and prosperous future for himself and his wife whom he promised to return to. During his wildfire pirating career Edward watches the ranks of his fellow notable pirates such as Edward Teach, Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane and Calico Jack-Rackham wither away one by one until he alone is left barely standing. After being betrayed by Bartholemew Roberts and watching his sole remaining friend Mary Reed pass away as a result of his actions Edward completely flips, drinking himself into oblivion.
Okay, I’m sort of cheating with this one and I rightfully apologize for it. The long-awaited third season the smash hit BBC series ‘Sherlock’ lands exactly on New Years’ Day but this little number cropped up only a few days ago. I don’t normally watch Television series’ despite the best efforts of many I know to get me into Games of Thrones… Walking Dead… Breaking Bad… the list just goes on… I understand that these shows and more could well have won me over but I cannot afford a TV license on a student’s budget therefore perception is reality in this case.
‘Sherlock’ is nothing short of a masterpiece of drama and crime-thriller writing. Taking the extremely risky and bold step writer/director Stephen Moffat took the legendary stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and brought them into the 21st century. There’s many ways such a thing could have easily backfired into the BBC’s face but Moffat not only pulls off the transition flawlessly but actually emphasizes a point about updating the media in general. The thing with the media is that it is a shared creation, one that transcends time and circumstance. It does not matter if something was written one way several years ago, or even centuries ago in this particular case; provided that a story was written in a then-contemporary setting it can be done so again for a future generation.
I’m not sure if this song has taken off outside the UK as of yet but it’s surely a matter of time until it does. Combining a number of genres and arguably taking hip-hop back from the realms of misogynism this song has been an absolute smash hit in the UK ever since it landed a few months ago. During its’ first month especially you could literally not listen to a few radio stations for an hour or so without hearing this come on. It has taken some flak for using the main tune from EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’ though. When you listen to them both you can see the argument as well.
See you in 2014 everyone!