Sunday, February 14, 2016

The 10 Best Walking Dead Characters Not Named Daryl Dixon

Let's face it kids, if we were to do a poll of all the fans of the AMC TV hit, The Walking Dead, approximately 99 and 44/100ths percent of them would vote for Daryl Dixon as their number one zombie apocalypse survivor. Okay, perhaps that is a bit high of a percentage, but you get my drift. Daryl is the be all and end all of The Walking Dead. Which is rather ironic considering he is the one major character of the show that has never been in the comic book from which the show is adapted. So, basically this list is going to be a list of those Walking Dead characters who invariably come in second, third, fourth, and so on, to one Mr. Daryl Dixon. Anyhoo, before we get started, I would like to shout out a big ole "I'm sorry!" to Tyreese, Dale, T-Dog, Sasha, Little Lizzie, Morgan, and especially Beth. Sorry guys, even you, Eugene, but I had to make the cut somewhere. And to Lori and Andrea - I never really liked you guys all that much anyway. And yes, once Negan finally makes his television debut later this season, I may have to update this list, So let's get on with the list. Oh, and for those of you that still haven't seen the show (are there really any of you out there still!?) there be spoilers a-plenty ahead. So you've been warned.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. Shane

Yeah, he's a gigantic asshole, but he did kick some major ass in his time on the show. Sure, he shot Otis in the leg and left him as walker bait, but hey, I would have done the same thing. His number one goal was save Carl, and if he didn't make it back to the farm, Carl would have died. Okay, he tried to kill Rick because he wanted to have Lori all to himself, and that was a real dick move, but the guy did protect Lori while Rick was off having a nap, and maybe he deserved the little sumpin' sumpin' he got from the gal. Okay, maybe not, but he did kick a lot of ass, and got that whole barn situation taken care of. Now am I the only one who thinks Judith looks a lot like Shane?

9. Carl

Yeah, I know, I know. At first this obnoxious little brat was everyone's number one choice for most "I-hope-he-gets-killed-soon" character, myself included. But ya know what? The little shit kinda grows on ya. At least he grew on me. I mean, this kid has been through a lot. He had to kill his own mom, and he had to take care of his dad when he was seeing ghosts. Carl has deserved his rise in respectability. Hell, he even had the balls to hit on Beth. Going from idiot child to real live ass-kicking member of the group in season 3, Carl is now old enough (and un-obnoxious enough) to make this list, and maybe even get some soon. Hey, and he loves pudding too.

8. Glenn & Maggie, aka Gleggie

The hottest couple in the Zombie Apocalypse should rightfully share a spot here - plus it's a great way to sneak in a top eleven. Glenn was fun and all that before hooking up with the farmer's hot daughter (he did save Rick's ass in the first episode), but after their tryst in the pharmacy, he became that much cooler, and together these guys are enough to give everyone hope for the future. Their search to find each other after the prison went down, and everyone was separated, is a quest for the proverbial ages. Maggie and Glenn (a couple so hot that they even get their own Bennifer-esque portmanteau) are both kick-ass on their own (remember when Glenn was tied to that chair and took down that walker, or when everyone was sick and Mags was cuttin' down walkers left and right?) but together - they fucking rock!

7. The Governor

The poor guy just wanted to keep his little girl safe. Michonne had no reason to do what she did. The Governor's a good guy. He built a community where he kept people safe. Well except for when he stabbed Milton and left Andrea for dead, or when he pitted brother against brother in a ring of walkers, or when he attacked the prison...twice. Okay, who the hell am I kidding? The guy is an out and out psychopath, but isn't that why we love the guy? No? Well, it's why I love the guy. He is an eye-patch-wearing, bad-ass mofo, and I wouldn't want him any other way. Well, he was an eye-patch-wearing, bad-ass mofo. Now he's just walker meat.

6. Abraham

You want tough? Well, I got just the guy for you. Abraham takes no guff from no one, be it the living or the dead. With that handlebar mustache and flat-top hairstyle, all those oily muscles, and all those guns (arms and arms, alike), Abraham is one bad-ass mofo. Yeah, he took it a bit hard when he found out Eugene was lying to them all (though Eugene has since redeemed himself) but when he went into that construction site horde of walkers to single-handedly rescue a fallen comrade, well that was fucking bad-ass to the nth degree, man! Plus, it appears that Abraham is one of the few people still able to get sex during the Zombie Apocalypse.

5. Hershel

In the early episodes it was wizened old Dale that acted as the moral center of the show (though he was kind of a douche at times), but after he got gutted like a goddamn fish, the group needed a new moral compass on which to rely, and that guy became old Reverend Hershel Greene. Sure, at first Hershel was in a big ole bag of denial, but after the barn incident, and the ensuing chaos that sprung up from that, as well as losing his leg (oh man), Hershel changed his tune and became one of the most important people in the group. An importance that was emphasized by his daring to go into the quarantined and infested prison cell block. Even after losing his head (man, oh man) it was the memory of Hershel that helped many of the splintered survivors carry on. Hell, even Daryl called him one tough sonofabitch. Didjya ever notice that if you were to combine the eye-patched Governor and the peg-legged Hershel, you would have mighty fine zombie killin' pirate. .

4. Rick

Okay, he's a born leader, but sometimes the guy gets a little, shall we say, distracted by the ghost of his dead wife. And maybe sometimes he falls into a coma, and misses the entire beginning of the zombie apocalypse. And then sometimes he falls into another coma (or something like that) and has to be taken care of by his son. And sometimes he gets in shouting matches with a one-eyed sociopath, and ends up causing his whole group to lose their comfy prison home. And then sometimes he stupidly befriends an obvious whack-a-doodle he finds living in the woods, with her boyfriend's head in a bag. And sometimes he wastes day after day being a farmer instead of the leader he was born to be. Okay, maybe he isn't that great of a leader after all. No seriously, he actually is a really good leader, with or without his gigantic beard of terror!

3. Michonne

One of the biggest ass-kickers on the show has just got to be the lady with the dreads, the katana blade, and a coupla armless, jawless walkers in chains. One of the most popular characters in both the comics and the TV show, Michonne is the balls-out samurai of the zombie apocalypse, and she gave the governor that kick-ass piratey eye-patch by putting that aforementioned katana blade through his little girl's undead head. This bitch is bad, baby! Do not mess with this lady! She will kick your ass! Hey, and she collects comic books for Carl too. How cool is that?

2. Merle

Come on people! Ya know ya love some Merle Dixon. Ya know ya do. Yeah, he may have been a redneck racist who would just as soon kill ya as look atchya, but when the chips were down, he was a good guy to have at your back. This one-handed mofo (hey, we could combine him with the Guv and Hersh, to make the ultimate Walking Dead pirate!) not only saved his brother's life, but also came to the rescue of Rick and the others when it came down to it all. Yeah, yeah, he beat the living crap outta Glenn, and then tied him to a chair and let a walker loose on him, but hey, he's a good guy. Right? He did go out a hero though. So there. And to be honest, I think Merle is actually my favourite Dixon brother.

1. Carol

Sure, when dirty deeds need done, ya get Daryl Dixon to do 'em. But when Daryl ain't around, the best place to go is to good ole Carol. She started out as an abused wife, then became a grieving mother, then sometime around there, she turned into a kick-as warrior woman who would do anything that needed to be done, in order to protect those she loved and cared for. It's kill or be killed for Carol Peletier, and this guy wouldn't want it any other way. Hell, she single-handedly saved the entire group from the clutches of the Termites, and then did it again when the Wolves attacked Alexandria.. She deserves to be on this list, and in the number one spot at that. And she makes great cookies too. I just wouldn't ask her to babysit.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Friday, February 12, 2016

All Things Kevyn Proudly Endorses Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States of America

Now I usually don't bring politics into this blog. I mean, it is a blog about pop culture, not politics. But every once and a while, it does sneak into my blogging, and today is one of those once and a whiles. You see, since newspaper do these things, I thought I would as well. So, without further ado, please allow me to state that I, as a blogger, writer, artist, photographer, and all-around pop culturist, and in turn, the blog known as All Things Kevyn, proudly endorse and support Hillary Rodham Clinton as President of these United States of America. I hold no ill will toward Senator Bernie Sanders, as he is a noble candidate, and I would vote for him if he were to get the Democratic nomination (especially over such opponents as Ted Cruz or Donald Trump}, but it is Hillary Clinton who I think would make the better Commandor-in-Chief. The better world leader. She is the right woman for the job.

There ya go. Short and to the point. An official political endorsement. Now we can move on to more pressing matters such as the new Deadpool movie or the return of The Walking Dead or my upcoming Oscar predictions. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My 10 Fave Films of 2015

I may be a bit late in finally compiling and releasing my annual top ten list, but here it is. Better late than never, as they, whomever they happen to be, like to say. But enough is enough. Let the wait end now. Here is my list.

1. The Hateful Eight - So, I think that anyone who knows anything about your humble ole narrator here, is not even close to being surprised at my choice for the best film of 2015. In this critic's mind, Tarantino can do no wrong. Well, at least he has yet to do any wrong. I know QT has many a detractor out there in the cinema loving community (he's sort of a love him or hate him kinda guy) but those people can just suck it. Okay, seriously, from a critical standpoint, The Hateful Eight is what we in the biz call a masterpiece - and that is a word I do not use lightly. The auteur's third best film, after Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, this 70mm parlour piece western is a gorgeous and succulent film, replete with Tarantino's deft dialogue-heavy style. Simply brilliant, and well deserving of the title, Best Film of 2015.

2. The Revenant - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took home the Oscar last year for his film Birdman. This year he may do it again for The Revenant. A richly succulent work of art, Inarritu's film, probably taking the top spot in any Tarantino-less year, tells the rather brutal story of one man's struggle to survive unbelievable hardships, in order to find the man who murdered his son. Leo DiCaprio is better here than he ever has been, and the same goes for the villainous Tom Hardy. Perhaps, with its bitterness and harsh reality, the film is not everyone's tastes, but it works damn well for this critic.

3. Carol - Todd Haynes has made beautiful films before, so there should be no surprise that he has done it again, and this time he brought the great Cate Blanchett along for the ride. Probably Haynes' best film aside from Far From Heaven or I'm Not There, Carol tells the so-called forbidden story of sapphic love in 1952 America, and does it with stunning beauty, both exterior and interior. 

4. Ex Machina - Here is a film that was overlooked by many this year (though we critics loved it). A tiny sci-fi film about artificial intelligence, written and directed by Alex Garland, the guy who wrote the novel The Beach, and did the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go, The film stars Oscar Isaac (ya know, Poe from Star Wars, and one of the best damn actors working today), Domhnall Glesson (ya know, General Hux in Star Wars, and Bill Weasley in Harry Potter), and Alicia Vikander (an actual Oscar nominee this year, for The Danish Girl). Trust me, ya'll wanna see this one.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road - The big surprise hit of 2015. Whoulda thunk it, that George Miller would make another Mad Max film, thirty years after the last one in the series, and the damn thing ends up being the best one of 'em all!? Well, that is exactly what Fury Road is! A pure adrenaline rush of a motion picture, whose motion almost never stops. And now Miller is poised to maybe win the best director Oscar. Take note Michael Bay and Jimmy Cameron, this is how you make a blockbuster that matters

6. Chi-Raq - With all the controversy over the lack of diversity at the Oscars, and the snubbing of a film like Straight Outta Compton (see a few spots down on this list), this Spike Lee Joint gets little said about it. A hip hop musical version of the Greek comedy Lysistrata, that is done in almost complete rhyming verse, and tells the story of gang life in Chicago, should be up for Best Picture and Best Director, at the very least. Granted, I don't have an Oscar vote, but if I did, Lee's best film in over a decade, would get some of them.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - I have been waiting for more than thirty years for Han and Leia and Luke to return to the big screen, and finally that time has come. J.J. Abrams, through his use of filming in 35mm, has made this new film look more like the originals, and less like those digitized glossy messes we called prequels. Combine that with the nostalgia of seeing childhood heroes back in the swing of things (at least, for me and my fellow Gen Xers), and a vibrant array of newcomers (more Poe in the next film, btw), and you have one hell of a film. It may not be the original, but this film comes a lot closer than any of those damn prequels could ever dream of coming.

8. Straight Outta Compton - This sometimes brutal, sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes laugh out loud funny (bye Felicia!) film about the uprising of old school hip hoppers NWA, may have been snubbed at the lily-white Oscars (it's only nomination is for the three white guys who wrote the screenplay) but I won't snub it here at All Things Kevyn. 

9. The Martian - Granted, when compared to the likes of Blade Runner or Alien, or even American Gangster or Thelma & Louise, The Martian may seem a bit on the lighter side of Ridley Scott's ouevre, but it is still a solid film, filled with a bunch of equally solid performances, and highlighted by Matt Damon's lead. A fun, beautifully shot film, and hey, even lesser Ridley Scott is better than many a director's best work. So there.

10. Room - 2015's beautifully nightmarish little film that could. This tiny indie film, currently nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, jumps right into the tragic story of a kidnap victim and her young son, who knows of nothing outside of the room he and his mother are kept in by their captor. Brie Larson's performance as the mother is a brilliant turn, only upstaged by 8 year old Jacob Tremblay as her bewildered son. It may sound cliche to call Room, a haunting film, but damn if it isn't.

So there ya go kids. The best films of 2015. Sorry again, for the tardiness. Now on to 2016. For now...that's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Oh How I Did on My Oscar Nomination Predictions

So, the annual Oscar nominations were announced yesterday. There were a few (semi) surprises, and there is, of course, some controversy. Yeah, for the second year in a row, all twenty acting nominees were white as white can be. But hey, let's leave the lily white Oscar talk for another day. After all, the blatant racism is not so much with the Oscars, as much as it is about Hollywood as a whole. Sure, perhaps if the Academy were a more diverse group of people, then maybe films such as Straight Outta Compton or Spike Lee's Chi-raq would have garnered a few nominations. Maybe not. In full disclosure, Straight Outta Compton did receive a screenplay nod, but it is for the three white guys who wrote the damn thing. But, as I said, we are not here for a debate. We are here to find out how damn well I did in predicting yesterday's nominations. I mean, after all, this is a pop culture blog. Let's save the serious stuff for Facebook. Ha! Anyhoo, I digress.

So, I went 37 for 42, or 88%, in my Oscar nomination predictions. I picked 7 of the 8 Best Picture nominees, having the non-nominated Carol listed in my top eight, instead of the surprising (but deserving) nominee, Room. Meanwhile, I went 5 for 5 in three of the acting categories, missing just one in Supporting Actress (picking Helen Mirren instead of Rachel McAdams). I went 4 for 5 in Original Screenplay (the snubbing of Tarantino is made a little easier by the lovely surprise of Ex Machina grabbing that fifth spot), and 4 for 5 in Adapted Screenplay (the snubbed Aaron Sorkin for Steve Jobs was a shock, especially considering I had the guy pegged to win the Oscar in six weeks). And speaking of supposed frontrunners getting snubbed, we have my worst category. Going just 3 for 5 in Director. Seriously, no Ridley Scott for Director!? I am not even close to the only person predicting Scott to actually win the Oscar. But alas, that will not happen now. Good to see Room director, Lenny Abrahamson, grab a nod though. But sad to not hear Todd Haynes in there. Anyhoo, there ya have it. 88% ain't all that bad.

I will, of course, be back with my final Oscar Predictions the day before the ceremony, which will be on Sunday, February 28th. I will also, of course, be back before that, with other various blog posts, including my rather tardy Best Films of 2015 list, and other fun stuff.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Oscar Nominations Predictions

Best Picture

Nowadays, this category (The Big One), can have anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees. Personally I think this is a bit stupid. I like the days when there were a solid 5 nominees here. But hey, we adapt. So, with all this in mind, here are my predictions.

1. Spotlight
2. The Revenant
3. The Martian
4. The Big Short
5. Mad Max: Fury Road

In case it goes deeper than five....

6. Bridge of Spies
7. Carol
8. Brooklyn
9. Room
10. Straight Outta Compton

Everyone is claiming Spotlight as the one sure thing, and the eventual winner. It did just lose the Golden Globe to The Revenant, but then again, last year's Oscar winner, Birdman, lost the golden Globe as well, so who knows. I believe both Spotlight and The Revenant are shoo-ins. I also think The Martian has jumped up recently in probability, and The Big Short has dropped a bit, but still, both will be announced come Thursday morning. As will Mad Max: Fury Road. Yeah, that's right, a Mad Max film is going to be nominated for Best Picture. So that should be the top five, but as I stated earlier, we could get up to ten nominees. I think it is going to be only five, and maybe up to seven at the most. This means Bridge of Spies and Carol possibly getting nominated. The final three on the above list are just here as filler. Who knows. The final question is what will happen with Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Could it have gotten enough of a push (you may have heard something about this movie over the past month or so) to sneak in to this list? Obviously, I am saying no, but I suppose it wouldn't be that big of a shocker if it does. Other darker horse possibilities include such films as Inside Out, Steve Jobs, Sicario, and/or Trumbo. Personally, I would like to see The Hateful Eight, but who the hell am I kidding?

Best Director

1. Ridley Scott for The Martian
2. Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant
3. Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
4. George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Todd Haynes for Carol

Even though Spotlight is the frontrunner for BP, I do not think the film's director is the frontrunner, or even close to it. I think the Oscar is going to either last year's winner, Inarritu (which, thanks to Alfonso Cuaron's win for Gravity, would be three consecutive years with a Mexican director taking home the gold), a man who did just win the Golden Globe, or maybe Ridley Scott, a well-respected man, who despite having been nominated three previous times, has never won the award, even when his film, Gladiator, took home BP in 2000. Granted, The Big Short's Adam McKay could easily get one of the final two nods, or maybe even Spielberg for Bridge of Spies (talk about well-liked in Hollywood), especially if the film is up for BP, but I am sticking with Miller and Haynes, the latter of which may just be wishful thinking on my part. I suppose David O. Russell, for Joy, could also surprise. As for Quentin Tarantino? Again, who the hell am I kidding?

Best Actor

1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
2. Eddie Radmayne in The Danish Girl
3. Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
4. Matt Damon in The Martian
5. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

People are always asking, when is Leo going to win his Oscar? When is Leo going to win his Oscar? When is Leo going to win his Oscar!? Well kids, it looks as if it is going to be rather soon. So can ya'll shut the hell up now!!? Sure, Redmayne is playing transgender, which is a trendy subject these days, but he just won last year. Fassbender is Steve Jobs, and Oscar loves biopics, Matt Damon, lost and in need of rescuing AGAIN, and Cranston is playing Hollywood blacklisted icon, Dalton Trumbo, but come on, it looks like Leo is finally getting his gold. Seriously, shut up about it already!! I know my lovely wife is not going to be happy about it (not his biggest fan), but it is going to happen. But I digress. This is probably the closest any of the acting categories have to a five for five lock, just in case there is a surprise here, and either Cranston or Damon are left snubbed, let's not forget Johnny Depp in Black Mass and/or Will Smith in Concussion. Michael Caine in Youth? Maybe, but quite dark horsey.

Best Actress

1. Brie Larson in Room
2. Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
3. Cate Blanchett in Carol
4. Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
5. Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

This category might get complicated. You see, after Larson and Ronan, the frontrunners to win, we have the film Carol, and its two leads, Blanchett and Rooney Mara. But here's the rub. Mara, who is actually in the film a bit more than Blanchett, is being billed as Supporting. She went lead at the Globes, but she is going supporting here. The thing is, voters can put her wherever they damn well please, and she could actually snag that fifth nod, which is up in the air. She has a better shot in the Supporting race (which is why the studio played it this way), but we could still see her her. Alicia Vikander is also being billed as Supporting for The Danish Girl, even though she went lead at the Globes, but that one feels slightly less like category fraud. Slightly. Anyhoo, you can check both of these ladies out in my Supporting Actress predictions. Meanwhile, here in Lead Actress, we also have Rampling, who seems like a sure bet, and then that damn fifth spot. That spot will probably go to Jennifer Lawrence in Joy. Yeah, the film has not been all that well received, but the girl is Hollywood's darling these days. Let's not forget the great Lily Tomlin, who could be tossed into the fray for her role in Grandma. Again, we could seriously still see Mara in this spot, or Vikander, or even, in a fun surprise, Charlize Theron for her role in Mad Max. Stranger things have happened. Earlier in the race, I would have included Carey Mulligan for Suffragette, but the film flopped, and all her buzz went away.

Best Supporting Actor

1. Sylvester Stallone in Creed
2. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies
3. Christian Bale in The Big Short
4. Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight
5. Tom Hardy in The Revenant

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to live in a world where Sylvester Stallone has an acting Oscar. That's right. So take that! Meanwhile, Rylance and Bale are all pretty solid bets to grab nods on Thursday morning. Then it will most likely be a member of the Spotlight cast. I mean, if that film is the expected winner (a thing I am still not sold on), you would think it would have at least one acting nod. I went with Ruffalo, but Michael Keaton is just as possible. The fifth spot should go to Tom Hardy in The Revenant (Leo isn't alone in that film, ya know), but the poor schmuck seems to be getting no love this awards season. Here's to hopin'. Another fun surprise could be Jacob Tremblay for Room, but again, not likely. I suppose Michael Shannon could sneak in for 99 Homes, or even Paul Dano for Love and Mercy, but they are pretty dark horses themselves. Then again, there is bound to be at least on surprise in here, right?

Best Supporting Actress

1. Rooney Mara in Carol
2. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl
3. Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
4. Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
5. Helen Mirren in Trumbo

If ya wanna know about the category fraud going on here, scroll back to Best Actress. Because it is worse than ever this awards season. As I said earlier, Mara has a better shot here than in her proper category, and she is probably the closest thing this category has to a frontrunner. Actually, this is the one acting category that does not have a true frontrunner. It would not be surprising to see Mara, Vikander, or Winslet winning this. Leigh is also a shoo-in for a nod Thursday morning, but probably not for the Oscar itself, sadly enough. Then we have that damn fifth spot again. I am (obviously) going with Mirren here, but it could just as easily be Rachel McAdams for Spotlight (frontrunner coattails?), Jane Fonda in Youth, or Joan Allen in Room. Still though, wouldn't it be fun to hear Jennifer Jason Leigh's name announced on Oscar night? Yeah, just wishful thinking. I suppose Mara, one of the best of her generation, is deserving of the win, but come on people, she is the lead of the film. Fucking Oscar.

Best Original Screenplay

1. Spotlight
2. Bridge of Spies
3. The Hateful Eight
4. Inside Out
5. Straight Outta Compton

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. Steve Jobs
2. Room
3. Brooklyn
4. The Martian
5. The Big Short

I think Original is pretty much a done deal. These five are strong contenders (though Trainwreck might sneak in), with Spotlight taking home the Oscar. As for Adapted, Sorkin is most likely winning another Oscar for Steve Jobs. The others are pretty sure things for nods as well, although Carol could sneak in there instead of one of the bottom three. Maybe Trumbo too. Maybe.

So there ya have it. I suppose I could go on with categories like Cinematography (Carol, Sicario, Mad Max, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight) or Costume Design (The Danish Girl, Brooklyn, Mad Max, and in a battle between Sandy Powell and Sandy Powell, Carol and Cinderella) or Production Design (Mad Max, Carol, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl), but I'll stop at these. I'll return on Thursday, to run down the actual nominees, and letchya'll in on how well I did.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My 10 Favourite TV Shows of 2015

It is the end of the year once again, and that means it is time for all of us so-called critics to start tossing out our annual best of whatever lists. Today, it is this so-called critic's turn, and it is going to be the best TV shows of the year. And, as we are currently living in a true golden age of television, this is a damn strong list of the best TV had to offer in 2015. Perhaps favourite is a better descriptor than best, but whatever you wish to call it, here it is. So, without further ado...

1. Mad Men (AMC) - After seven classic seasons, the great Mad Men finally came to an end in the Spring of 2015. An ending that was simultaneously exhilarating and heartbreaking. Probably the best show of the last decade (though perhaps second to Breaking Bad), Mad Men created a world long forgotten, and maybe a world that never actually existed in the first place. Set in the 1960's world of New York ad men, the show not only chronicled the time, but took biting stabs at the sexism of said times. Jon Hamm, as the charmingly despicable Don Draper, was the crux of the show, and his ups and downs were the crux of the drama. I've always been a Peggy kinda guy though, and Elisabeth Moss, as the veritable second lead, was the heart of the show. This final season, and especially those ballsy final five minutes, make this already modern classic (yeah, I used that term!), the best show of 2015. Goodbye old friend. You will be missed.

2. The Walking Dead (AMC) - Moving from its fifth to its sixth season, The Walking Dead has become more than merely an iconic, Comic-Con juggernaut of a show. Rick Grimes and his post-apocalyptic family have become like our own family. I can see myself hanging with Daryl and Michonne, getting both baking and killing tips from Carol, maybe even eating a big ole can of pudding with Carl. The metaphorically titular characters of AMC's hit show, are no longer mere characters, but my friends and family. I cried when Beth died. I cheered when Morgan came back. I was torn asunder by the shocking sudden deaths of Noah and Tyreese. I was hanging on every moment of Rick's breakdown. The spectacular highs and the devastating lows of The Walking Dead, make the show, now that Mad Men is gone, the best damn thing on television.

3. Fargo (FX) - The first season of FX's anthology series, created by Noah Hawley, and ever-so-loosely based on the 1996 Coen Brothers' film, was highlighted by the fantastic central performance of Billy Bob Thornton. Last year's second season, set in 1979, did not have that one principal crux, but rather one of the best, and most eclectic ensembles of recent times. From Patrick Wilson to Jesse Plemons to Ted Danson to Jeffrey Donovan, Brad Garrett, Nick Offerman, a surprisingly able Kirsten Dunst, a wonderfully odd Bokeem Woodbine, Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan, and a show stealing Jean Smart, Fargo is one of the smartest and most fun shows to come down the pike in a long time.

4. Game of Thrones (HBO) - Consistently one of the most well-received and highly acclaimed shows around today, this notoriously blood-soaked, other world fantasy creature, complete with dragons, and one of the more infamous shows on TV, willing to kill off anyone...anyone, just gets better each and every season. I can't wait for its bloody return in 2016.

5. Parks & Recreation (NBC) - The only network show to make the list, and dammit if it ain't gone forever. Yup, One of two shows on the list that bowed out in 2015, Parks & Rec,, make that was, one of the best comedies of the past decade, and yet also one of the most overlooked. Goodbye Leslie Knope, goodbye Ron Swanson, goodbye Pawnee.

6. A Very Murray Christmas (Netflix) - When I first read about a Bill Murray Christmas special, directed by Sofia Coppola, and featuring the likes of George Clooney, Rashida Jones, David Johansen, Jason Schwartzman, and Miley Cyrus, I knew I needed to pencil it, no, make that pen it in for the eventual year end list. And here it is, penned right in. Yeah, so there. Have I mentioned this is a Bill Murray Christmas special? Yup! Bill Murray. 'nuff said!

7. Mr. Robot (USA) - As great and innovative television expands to more and more channels, it is about time USA gives us something better than the able yet still rather mediocre fare such as Burn Notice or White Collar. This Kubrickian mindfuck of a show, featuring Rami Malek and newly-minted Golden Globe winner Christian Slater, will knock your socks off.

8. Archer (FX) - Forget The Simpsons or Bob's Burgers, or even Family Guy (it jumped the shark years ago), season after season, it is Archer that is solidly the best damn animated show on TV. This show just keeps being some of the laugh-out-loud funniest writing on television. Seriously, if you have not yet watched Archer, get your as moving. Seriously, move it!

9. Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz) - Who ever thought that in 2015, one of the best shows on television would be a sequel to Sam Raimi's cult classic Evil Dead? Well, guess what... And the show is not only fun as hell, and it is, but also still has that air of giddy charm the original films had. And it has Bruce Campbell as well. What more could ya wish for?

10. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) - Both sardonic and silly, this Tina Fey created Netflix comedy, may have caused some eyebrow raising and accusations of racism (accusations that are mere ridiculous PC-mongering) in 2015, but that doesn't stop this critic from LOL'ing the fuck out of it!

And since my favourite number is 13, here are three more

11. Flash (CW) - The funnest (yeah, funnest) of all the comic book/superhero shows out there. This CW show, a sort of back door spin-off of Arrow, plays out the most like an actual comic book come to life on the screen. A much more entertaining show than the rather somber soap opera-y Arrow.

12. Orange is the New Black (Netflix) - This was the first big success when Netflix started doing original programming, and now, after three seasons, it has only gotten better. Playing at both comedy and drama, this is one of the best acted shows on television, or whatever one calls television these days.

13. Empire (Fox) - Think Dynasty or Dallas, as a hip hop, record producing family affair, and you have the essence of this highly entertaining network drama. And then you have Taraji P. Henson as the batshitcrazy Cookie, one of the best characters on TV.

Other good shows, in no particular order, which I still feel bad about not including: Broad City (Comedy Central); Casual (Hulu); Daredevil (Netflix); Jessica Jones (Netflix); The Americans (FX); Louie (FX); Community (Yahoo Screen); Better Call Saul (AMC); Orphan Black (BBC America); Sense8 (Netflix); The Strain (FX); Bates Motel (A&E); Episodes (Showtime); Modern Family (ABC); Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central); Halt and Catch Fire (AMC); You're the Worst (FX); Penny Dreadful (Showtime); Transparent (Amazon Prime); American Horror Story: Hotel (FX); Homeland (Showtime); Bojack Horseman (Netflix); Veep (HBO); House of Cards (Netflix); True Detective (HBO); Making a Murderer (Netflix); The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime); Last Week with John Oliver (HBO); and, of course, Doctor Who (BBC). And let us not forget Gotham on Fox, a show that I wasn't a fan of during its first season, but one for which I did a 180 in the current second season. Hell, even the final episode of the first season of Fear the Walking Dead (after a rather disappointing first five episodes) made me have hope for next season.

Well, that's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

See Ya in the Funny Pages: My 10 Favourite Comic Strips

As you may or may not know, I took a Summer (and then some) long sabbatical from this here blog. Ever since coming back, I have been rather lackadaisical in my blogging output. So, to fill in the gaps, until I return more regularly in the new year, I have decided to re-post some of my older top ten lists. This is the first of these re-posts.

Everyone who knows me, knows full well of my love for comic books. But what of comic strips? Yeah, I like those too. Hell, I remember reading the likes of Charlie Brown and Hagar the Horrible long before Spider-Man or Batman made their debuts into my world. There have been more than a mere slew of comic strips lo these past 120 years or so since their invention with the Yellow Kid (shown to the right), but I somehow managed to whittle this myriad of funny page panels down to my ten favourites. I would like to toss out the names of a few that, alas, did not make the list, but are still quite fun comic strips. These are, in no particular order, Beetle Bailey, Red-Eye, Broom Hilda, Hagar the Horrible, The Wizard of Id, Mutts, Bringing Up Father, Andy Capp, Lil' Abner, Pearls Before Swine, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Blondie, Flash Gordon, Alley Oop, Terry and the Pirates, and Funky Winkerbean. I could have tried to look all sophisticated and political, and included Doonesbury, but hey, they just did not make the final cut, so I guess I'm not all that sophisticated after all. There are also several fun web comics out there. Granted, they are well hidden inside the 99.9999% of crappy web comics, but they are in there. Two that come to mind are R. Stevens' Diesel Sweeties and Kate Beaton's Hark, A Vagrant. Then there are also the web based meta comics, This Charming Charlie, wherein Lauren LoPrete takes Peanuts panels and introduces Smiths lyrics into them, and Garfield Minus Garfield, which is exactly what it sounds like. Notice there is no mention (except this one) of Mary Worth or Mark Trail. Yeah, that's on purpose. There is also Charles Addams' iconic New Yorker cartoons of The Addams Family, which allllllmost made the list. One final shout out to the WWII era Batman strips. I have a giant hardback complete collection of these on my shelf at home, and they are a nostalgic blast. But anyhoo, let's get on with the countdown. Oh, and to all the creators of the forthcoming strips, I hope you don't mind my using images of your comic strips for my little countdown here. No disrespect or exploitation meant. I just admire your work, and wanted to share it in this top ten list. But enough of that.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

Special Mention: La-La & Lu-Lu

Ya know, since this pop culture heavy black and white strip is written and drawn by yours truly, it would probably be wrong to include it on the list proper. But then again, I couldn't give up the chance to promote my strip, so here it is as a special mention. Created in July of 2013, this strip, a sort of blend of such influences as Matt Groening's Life in Hell and David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World, is a pun-fueled, Mary Worth-hating, satirical take on all things pop culture-y. The images of the 4-panel strip may be the same each time, but the words are where it's at, baby! So far, I have only created forty some strips over the past two and a half years, but ya never know, perhaps more are coming soon. To catch 'em all, head on over to My Official La-La & Lu-Lu Tumblr. Page, and peruse to your freakin' heart's deeelight.

10. The Angriest Dog in the World

The dog who is so angry, he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl. Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis. A big influence, at least visual repetitiveness, on my own comic (as was mentioned above) this strange little comic strip is from the strange little man who also gave the world such strange little films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr.. Actually I quite love David Lynch, and I quite love the strange little man's films, and obviously (it is on this list, after all) I quite love his comic strip as well. Conceived in 1973, when Lynch was apparently quite angry, the strip would eventually run in the L.A. Reader, from 1983 to 1992. Great, stupid, existential stuff, indeed.

9. Spider-Man

There have been several superhero comic strips. I gave a shout out to the Batman ones in my introduction, and Superman had a daily strip for a while, but it's Spidey that was the best. Began in 1977, the strip was originally written by Stan Lee himself, with art by John Romita, Sr., eventually being taken over by Stan's brother, Larry Lieber. Over the years, the strip has given many great out-of-comics-continuity moments, including one where after a year or so of Peter Parker suddenly being an unmarried college student, he wakes up one day, a la Dallas' famous Bobby's alive shower scene, to find it was all a dream, and Mary Jane is still his hot ginger wife. In fact, it is only in this daily strip, that one can still find a happily married Peter Parker. 

8. Peanuts

It's hard to make a list like this and not include this great Charles Schulz classic. I mean, you have Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy van Pelt, Peppermint Patty, Pig-Pen, and Snoopy and Woodstock. What's not to love!? Begun in 1950, Peanuts was a highly influential strip that helped make the four panel gag strip the next big thing in comics. I've always considered myself a Linus kinda guy - sensitive and artsy, but also kind of nerdy, so I do have some sort of affinity with Peanuts. From the obsessive desire of Charlie Brown for that oh so elusive red-haired little girl to Lucy's equally obsessive desire to thwart Charlie Brown on the football field, to Marcie's even more obsessive desire for Peppermint Patty, Peanuts was a grand old time of obsessive comedy. And we got a World War I flying ace as well.

7. Pogo

We have met the enemy and he is us. Created in 1941, by former Walt Disney cartoonist Walt Kelly, Pogo the Possum made his first appearance in the Dell comic book Animal Comics #1. Eventually Pogo, along with his cigar chewing swamp pal Albert Alligator, moved into the newspaper comic strip world in 1948, and would stay there until 1975, two years after Kelly's death (Kelly's widow, Selby, would draw the comic for it's final two years). One of three predominately political satires on this list, and with his Faulkner-esque dialect language, Pogo was a a huge influence on everyone from Bill Watterson to Jim Henson to Robert Crumb to Jeff Smith, who pretty much admits to his Bone character being mainly influenced by Pogo. Even Alan Moore wrote a Pogo homage while doing The Saga of the Swamp Thing run for DC Comics.

6. The Far Side

Easily the most nonsensical, ridiculous, and wackiest strip on this list. Consisting mostly of one panel gags, often quite absurd and/or surreal in nature, these anthropomorphic gag panels were the brainchild of Gary Larson, first appearing in 1980. Involving many jokes about strange social behaviour and puns on classic parables, often involving talking chickens and snakes  and cows and fat, stupid children. Larson eventually stopped doing the cartoon in 1995, claiming he wanted more time to take up the trombone. The Far Side is probably one of the most successful comic strips of modern times, being reprinted in tons of collected editions, and a perennial favourite in the calendar biz. Too bad the guy had to quit doing the strip. Wonder how good he is at the trombone these days?

5. Zippy the Pinhead

One of the gaggle of underground comix creators of the late 1960's and early 1970's, cartoonist Bill Griffith created Zippy in 1971, and would turn him into a daily strip in 1976. I first came across the surreal pinhead back in 1988 when I was first working at a place called Encore Books. Eclectic and often absurd beyond belief, Griffith's famed pinhead is the kind of character that is either gotten or isn't, with no inbetween. Last year, I did a La-La & Lu-Lu strip (see the special mention above) that was an homage to the Zipster. I sent the strip to Bill Griffith, and he actually said he liked it. That was more than enough for this lapsed cartoonist, and I immediately added an "endorsed by Griffy" banner on the strip. What more could a boy ask for?

4. Bloom County

Created by Berkeley Breathed, this socio-politically slanted strip ran from 1980 to 1989. A real child of the eighties, satirizing everything about the Reagan era America, Milo, Opus, Cutter John, Steve, Bill the Cat (who, incidentally, ran against Reagan in 1984), and the rest of the Bloom County family, were much preferred by this guy, to that droll, snooty Doonesbury crowd over on the editorial page. Breathed even won a Pulitzer in 1987. Yeah, I know, Trudeau won a Pulitzer in '75 (and was even nominated for an Oscar once), but I still prefer the denizens of Bloom County to Trudeau's bunch of rabble rousers. Breathed had some great, and often controversial storylines throughout the decade. I remember picking up the first few collected editions back in high school, just as my own leftist leanings began to sprout up.Breathed would eventually get back into things with his sequel strips, Outland and Opus, but it was Bloom County that started it all.

3. Nancy

In 1922, Larry Whittington created a daily comic strip called Fritzi Ritz. It was a bout a ditzy, man-hungry flapper. In 1925, 20 year old Ernie Bushmiller took over duties on the strip. In 1933, Bushmiller added the character of Nancy, Fritzi's precocious niece, and she took off like gang busters. So much so, that in 1938, the strip was renamed Nacy, and poor Aunt Fritzi was turned into a sensible bore, and relegated to a supporting character/ Fritzi did still exist as the star of her own Sunday comic until 1968, mostly drawn by various ghost artists, but in the pages of the daily strip, it was Nancy and her BFF Sluggo, who ran the show. Over the years, Nancy has been not only a bastion for funny gags, but also often a home for surprisingly absurdest comedy and fourth wall breaking meta humour. Mark Newgarden and Paul Karask wrote in their essay, "How to Read Nancy," that Bushmiller's gags "have the abstract feel of math, and Nancy was, in fact, a mini algebra equation, masquerading as a comic strip." That's pretty cool. And why not check out the American Heritage Dictionary's entry for comic strip. Guess what strip they choose to show as an example? Yup.

2. Krazy Kat

The oldest strip on this list, first appearing in 1913, Krazy Kat is also one of the most influential comic strips ever made. Created by George Herriman, Krazy Kat was a nonsensical, absurdest comic, that was done in a myriad of different styles over the years, often in strange and unusual manners. For a while it even ran vertically down the side of the newspaper. Backgrounds would change from panel to panel, there would be panoramic shots, and one never knew what was coming next. The strip was so popular (ee. cummings was a fan even!) that there was a series of animated film shorts, and even a TV show years later. In 1944 Krazy Kat ended, and the world of comic strips was a lesser place because of it. After decades of so-called standard panel construction in the comic strip world, Bill Watterson (probably Krazy Kat's number one fan) would bring back Herriman's Krazy panel deconstruction with his Calvin and Hobbes, but more on those wacky kids in a bit. Oh, wait...

1. Calvin and Hobbes

Seriously, who could make a list like this, and not have Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes at the top of said list? No one in their right mind, that's who! As I said above, Watterson was highly influenced by George Herriman's Krazy Kat, and would do quite amazing things with his panel construction and storytelling. Watterson's strip, which began in 1985, was a groundbreaking work. His esoteric take on the comic strip form, and his ability to deconstruct the genre, make his strip the most creative, most intriguing, and the best damn comic strip ever. At the height of his fame, he was powerful enough to take on the comic strip syndicators, and demand that his strips be printed without any editing, which until then, was a common practice among the newspaper syndicates. He actually changed the way things were done, and gained more rights for him and his fellow cartoonists. Watterson would call it quits in 1995, after just a mere decade of Calvin and Hobbes. Last year, Watterson guest starred on the strip, Pearls Before Swine (which just missed out on making this list) and may very well get back into the daily strip game very soon. We can only hope.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.