Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Top Tens of 2017: #9s

Here are the ninth best podcast, film, album, TV show, and videogame of 2017:

#9 Podcast: Switchblade Sisters

Switchblade Sisters is the first time I heard one of those terrible ads on the Maximum Fun Network and actually went ahead and checked out the podcast. It took me a few weeks, honestly, to stop regretting that I had done so; and even more to really feel like the show was getting into the swing of things. None of which is to say that the host, April Wolfe (formerly of LA Weekly (RIP)) or any of the guests were bad or uninteresting; the show has had a real professionalism from the jump, and with small exceptions there haven't been major changes in the format over time. Part of what's endeared me to it is accepting the self-imposed limitations; the rest is growing to enjoy what is there.

I've had the argument about the length of podcasts a number of times throughout this year; a few times with my co-host on the Playdate Podcast, and a few times in discussions with friends where I asked what they preferred. I appear to be one of the only people I know who doesn't give a fuck about the length, and might even prefer them to be longer. That comes partially out of the fact that I started listening to them when I had about three hours of commuting a day. But it's also, I think, because I have no qualms pausing and picking back up, whereas other people seem to.

Switchblade Sisters, I imagine you'll find it gratifying to learn, is about an hour long; less because it has the normal intro, outro, and ad breaks. For my money, that's the show's biggest weakness, but I can also accept that I'm the outlier here. Every time, though, I want there to be more; on the older movie under discussion; on the guest artist's process; or just in allowing the rapport to be developed a little more naturally. It's enough of a problem that I nearly dismissed the show a couple episodes in. An hour for a comedy show makes sense; an hour to juggle a critical appreciation of a film, an artist interview, and a shitload of bumpers is kind of a crime. The inverse suggestion, of course, would be to focus on one of the first two at the expense of the third, but that would make this a much worse show.

The real turning point for me was the discussion of Rosemary's Baby, in which Wolfe and guest Jessie Nickson-Lopez got into a discussion of why this movie so affects them without shrinking away from Polanski's shittiness as a human being. It leads to an interesting conversation about art, in the abstract and in particular, and to good responses from Nickson-Lopez that might otherwise have been very abstract or entirely missing. It's a cool thing, and I hope the show finds more ways to thread its particular needle as it develops.

#9 Film: Better Watch Out

I saw this, primarily, because it stars Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, the kids who starred in M. Night Shyamalan's second to most recent film, The Visit. In that, they were brother and sister; here, she is a babysitter to Oxenbould's friend on a night when things go awry. If nothing else, this is worth watching after The Visit to see that Oxenbould isn't exclusively capable of playing a deeply annoying character, and to enjoy their chemistry again. There is else, of course, but not a whole ton of it.

If I can say another thing that might oversell this movie: it's a bit like a slightly watered-down version of You're Next. That movie is significantly better, of course, but both do interesting, often funny things while undermining the home invasion genre. Not just in the mechanics of the invasion, but even down to the final image, in a certain way. So if you're looking for something a little less fun than that with a couple of interesting aspects it doesn't hit, this is a cool little thing to enjoy.

#9 Album: Dedication 6 by Lil Wayne

Despite weak Nicki and Drake verses and a general lack of the kind of difficult joy he's been spitting for the last few years, there are still lines like "do I look like I'm playing? Kaepernick" that continue to solidify the fact that Wayne is, was, and remains the best at this shit. The chorus that goes "When I bust I yell Eureka!" is a pretty perfect example: it flows well, he sells the fuck out of it, and the repetition only gets funnier every time. These are his comfort zones and they are illustrated beautifully.

Otherwise, honestly, Dedication 6 is in many ways my least favorite Weezy release in a minute. Which is okay. I suspect it's been better-received than most of what I actually fuck with. It feels like another step in the saga, and I'm still following along close.

None of which is to say, of course, that it's anything other than a very good listen. I don't genuinely consider Wayne the greatest of all time for no reason. Even when he misses, I value that over most artist's hits. Because he's extraordinarily enthusiastic about rapping, and very good at it, and willing to try things that alienate one aspect of his fanbase on one song and then the opposite aspect on the very next. And that doesn't just lead to him being all over the place, but to changing the game on a regular basis.

#9 TV Show: Slasher (season 2)

Someone who watched enough TV to actually fill out one of these lists would almost certainly not include this, but hey, here I am. It's the first Netflix original season of a show that originated on Canadian TV, which was turned into an anthology series during that transition. Or maybe that was the initial plan. I don't know; I watched the bulk of the first season before skipping over to the second, which is the one that came out in 2017.

This time around is the story of a group of camp counselors who return to their old stomping grounds five years after they sorta accidentally killed another counselor. They've heard that the land is being sold and are worried people will find the body they haphazardly hid. Since those events, an intentional community has sprouted in the area with a small handful of members. Once they get to the site (in the middle of winter), some masked & en-snowsuited entity starts taking them out one by one. The whole thing is kind of a mess, with characters that get a lot more screentime than they have development opportunity and a story to tell that isn't strong enough to support the runtime. This is somewhat helped by the fact that the setting itself is conceptually cool and prep work was done to make it feel interesting, although it too goes mostly uninterrogated because it's easier to just blanket it with snow and get mildly interesting shots.

Probably the most interesting thing is the way the season is structured; that whole plot is intercut with scenes from five years prior, developing the characters during the period in which the murder happened, and some in the interim. It more or less works out that whoever's backstory is being developed ultimately dies, which works especially well in the first episode. The person in question seems to be being set up as the final girl real hard. On the other hand, that kind of subversion definitely undermines the possibility of making a stronger story or developing characters to a great enough extent that they can draw you through the weak central mystery.

#9 Videogame: Night in the Woods

I'll be completely honest here: I originally wanted Universal Paperclips on this list, and up until the last moment it was. I think that game is very interesting, but I also couldn't put together a strong case for it in the way that I thought I could. It's a cool thing, though. Probably. On some level, I'd much rather Oikospiel, Book One be on here, but I also just couldn't get the words together for that. Or even Everything, which just didn't click with me at all. Hey: play Oikospiel. While I'm here: Moloch (Zero), The Tearoom, and LOCALHOST are all really cool small things that came out this year that I wish I had been able to figure out how to put on this list. Also Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was a weirdly compelling thing that I nearly figured out how to talk about.

And, I'll be honest, the main reason I cut Night in the Woods initially was because I couldn't think of anything to say about it. It's a game about a young girl who drops out of college to return to her small postindustrial town and figure some shit out. She then spends time hanging out with her old friends and uncovering a mystery that begins with a severed arm and ends with some town cultists sacrificing precarious youth to the god of industrialism. Along the way, Mae (the aforementioned girl) comes to some soft conclusions about her own mental health, her attitude toward her hometown, and her relationship with her friends and parents.

My experience with Night in the Woods was basically cut in half. I played the first half (or so) around when I first got it; I enjoyed it enough, but I honestly spent more time in the 2D soulslike Demontower inside of Mae's laptop than in the game itself. I picked it up a bunch of months later and finally finished it when I was considering doing these lists, and what they might look like. That's when I initially cut this from the proceedings. The problem was basically that I enjoyed my time with it, and think it a pretty impressive thing, but that it never really hit me.

On the other hand, though, it has pretty incredible writing which hovers between being tumblr-esque while maintaining a naturalistic quality that shows up in both the dialogue and the characterization. One person who you meet with regularly (if you choose to) reads you cutesy poems; another hangs out on a roof and just wants to talk about horror movies. Both of them manage to ride those tropes while also suggesting a sense of interiority beneath. It's honestly impressive, although (for me) it often didn't extend beyond that.

It's also a game that says 'fuck cops' early and - well, not often enough. That has really pleasant minigames, like Demontower or the Guitar Hero-lite that you play while Mae is at band practice. That takes seriously episodes of dissociation as both personal and political problem. And that tells an interesting story of someone who got stuck in a dead-end family business instead of going to college (I didn't go Gregg's route. He seemed super annoying). But more than anything, it's a game that does a ton of work to tell a story of the economic destruction of a small, midwestern town, and how that plays out in individual lives. Which I appreciate a lot.

This is why I cut it, though. I think what it does is cool. But I also just spent a lot of words saying just that. And I can't just say it, because I don't feel like that does it any justice. It's a weird thing that I also found pretty frustrating. Play it, or a bunch of the stuff I listed at the top. That's just my opinion though.

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