Thursday, December 28, 2017

Studicus Selects 2017

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2017 picks):

Studicus Selects 2016
Studicus Selects 2015
Studicus Selects 2014
Studicus Selects 2013
Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

Biggest Family Addition, New Baby Category. On November 29, we welcomed little Lily into the family! She's my newest niece--the daughter of my brother-in-law Tom and sister-in-law Tiffany--and the first grandchild on my wife's side of the family. She is absolutely precious and absolutely loved! I once held her for nearly an entire hour and she didn't cry, which is a major victory. My other nieces and nephew had a tendency to cry whenever Uncle Matt held them.

Biggest Family Addition, Sister-in-Law Category. In July, the family hiked up to Charlotte, Michigan, for the grand wedding between my other brother-in-law and his bride-to-be. Matt and Leah's wedding was wonderful, even if my car's brakes went out on the way to Michigan (we made it safely and got them replaced when we got back). I even dusted off my old radio voice and served as emcee for the wedding reception, which was kind of a last-minute thing but worked out really well. It truly was a special event.

Biggest Family Addition, Reptile Category. In October, we added Willy to the family. We used to have a frog named Prince, but he died a few years ago. It's taken my wife and me a bit to get to a point where we wanted a new pet, but we reached that point this year. We first considered getting Russian tortoises, but then we discovered one of Anne's cousins had a 15-year-old turtle in need of a new home.

I never thought I'd reach a point in my life in which a turtle was walking around the house, but here I am. Willy likes to be fed by hand and enjoys burrowing under the Darth Maul inflatable chair. He's been a lot of fun and is easy to meme:

Biggest Indiegogo "Scam," Turns Out a Raspberry Pi Would've Been a Lot Easier Category. A company touted a retro gaming system that was "plug and play." They lied. Like--a lot. But I didn't know what I was doing and bought the RetroEngine Sigma, which was an Orange Pi slapped inside a Sega Genesis-like shell. The included OS sucked and I tinkered with the thing before ultimately installing RetrOrangePi, which is superior in every way. I've gotten tons of enjoyment out of it, but I would've been better off buying a more powerful Raspberry Pi.

See, I bought the RetroEngine Sigma because I didn't think I'd be smart enough to mess with a Raspberry Pi. I was completely wrong. The controllers included with the RES were cheap and the included software was buggy as hell. Thankfully, a bunch of RES users formed a Facebook group and I learned how to get the most out of the system.

Writing Year in Review. I finished three novels this year and, late in 2017, decided to self-publish an anthology of superhero short fiction I had lying around (you can find the Kindle version here or the paperback version here). My Crimonstreak series will come back in a big way thanks to Hydra Publications, which will publish all three books, including III Crimonstreak. That means those of you on the edge of your seat about the cliffhanger in II Crimsonstreak will finally get some answers. I'm still looking for a literary agent for some of my other books.

Most Surprisingly Polarizing Movie, Star Wars Category. It sounds like Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not everyone's cup of tea. That's fine. I need to see the movie a few more times to really get a feel for it. My initial impressions are mostly positive, though I didn't care much for the Canto Bight (casino world) stuff or any of the new characters (I'm referring to Holdo, Rose, and DJ--not the awesome characters introduced in The Force Awakens). I didn't get the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see--but then again, the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see wasn't in his 60s. The movie subverted all expectations and took some major risks, and you have to give it credit for that.

Most Pleasant Surprise, I Guess the Pacers Didn't Get Swindled Category. When Paul George's agent let everyone know the "beloved" Pacers star wanted to play in Los Angeles, the Pacers found themselves in a bind. It's kind of hard to trade someone when you have no leverage. However, the Pacers worked a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder that shipped PG to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. NBA analysts said the Pacers got swindled. In reality, it's worked out really well: Oladipo has turned into a freaking star and Sabonis has been fantastic. I've loved watching this team play.

Most Peyton Manning-esque Injury Season, Indianapolis Colts Category. The Colts were an absolute mess this year. I thought Andrew Luck would probably play at some point this year, but I was 100% wrong. Shoulder surgery and lingering issues with the shoulder injury relegated him to the injured reserve in November. The Colts, in the midst of a rebuild, kept most games close but usually screwed something up in the end to lose most of their games. Props to poor Jacoby Brissett, the young quarterback/tackling dummy the Colts traded for when it became clear Luck wasn't coming back soon--and that Scott Tolzien wasn't gonna cut it. May he spend all of the offseason in a Jacuzzi or bacta tank. At least Indy will have a high draft pick.

Best Star Wars Accessory, Vintage Inflatable Chair Category. Earlier this year, I related a story to my wife about the Darth Maul inflatable chair that I had in college. I set it up and used it a lot, but the chair got a puncture somehow and I had to throw it out. What did Anne do? She searched for a Darth Maul chair on eBay and bought one! He now sits proudly in the living room. Oddly enough, he's one of Willy's favorite hiding spots. The dude loves to burrow beneath the dark lord.

Best Membership, Large Retail Warehouse Category. It's safe to say Anne and I love our local Costco. Her parents bought us a membership for Christmas last year and we finally activated it in January. There's just something about buying six months' worth of toilet paper that I find immensely satisfying. They also sell a fantastic bottled root beer--and it pairs well with "The Mix" popcorn, which is sold in giant bags. Okay, well, everything at Costco is sold in giant quantities.

Most Laborious Installation Process, Basketball Goal Category. In June, my brother assembled a team to put together a new basketball goal for his "son and daughter." That team, coincidentally, consisted of him, my dad, and me. It took us hours to put the darn thing together. Seriously, it fought us every step of the way. We played a few games of HORSE on it, and then took a little break. Dad and I then watched as my brother shot baskets by himself and realized he'd completely scammed us. The basketball hoop wasn't for my niece and nephew at all. Hope you're enjoying it, Greg.

Most Necessary Upgrade, Upstairs Bathroom Category. It's safe to say Anne and I pretty much hated the way our upstairs bathroom looked. Thing is, we're the only people who see it so we didn't do much about it. Then one day Anne's dad decided he was going to redo the upstairs bathroom. He and my brother-in-law Tom worked on it for a month or so. It turned out great! The only drawback: having to trudge downstairs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Best Concert, Anne's 2016 Christmas Gift Category. Anne and I went to see Neil Diamond in May at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was her Christmas gift last year. The man still knows how to put on a great show! Our only complaint was that our seats were in a section of Bankers Life that was under renovation; as a result, the stadium seats were replaced with folding chairs. That didn't put a damper on the concert, however. Diamond, 76, sang all his hits and saved his best for the encore ("Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rosie," "America," and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"). He also brought a nice touch to the Indy show, singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." His piano player, Tom Hensley, grew up in the Bloomington area.

Movie Year in Review. As usual, Anne and I went to see plenty of movies in 2017. We saw a lot of comic book movies. Here are some capsule reviews (you may encounter some SPOILERS):

Logan.  Since X-Men continuity is pretty much broken, you can do pretty much anything you want with a character like Wolverine. This movie felt more like a pseudo-Western than anything, but we got some great performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in what is supposed to be the swansong for Logan and Charles Xavier. Ultra violent, my only nag would be the use of a cloned Logan in the third act.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2. I enjoyed seeing Star-Lord and the gang back in action, but I think Vol. 1 is the better film in the series so far. Make no mistake, this one was packed with some great moments and Kurt Russell and Mantis were welcome additions, but it didn't feel quite as solid as its predecessor. It did have one of the best lines of the year: "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" RIP, Yondu Udonta.

Wonder Woman. The DC movie universe introduced us to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman in haphazard fashion during last year's laborious Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but we finally got to see Wondy in her own movie. This movie basically serves as the Captain America: The First Avenger of the DC universe, eschewing the WWII setting for WWI. Gadot was pitch-perfect as the titular character and brought Chris Pine along for the ride. The final battle devolved into that Doomsday/CGI-heavy fight thing the DC loves, but the movie was thrilling and charming enough that a weak final battle can be overlooked (kind of like the final fight in Iron Man, which, let's be honest, wasn't that great of a battle).

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Want some Tony Stark in your Spider-Man? No? Too bad! I really like what Marvel did with the latest theatrical version of Spidey. Tom Holland was a lot of fun in Captain America: Civil War (if introduced a little haphazardly, like Wonder Woman), and he shines in this movie. Add in some Tony Stark, a little Happy Hogan, a great villain in Michael Keaton, and it truly was a memorable homecoming for the web-slinger.

Thor: Ragnorak. Probably the most fun you'll have in theaters this year, Thor: Ragnorak brought back the god of thunder and his brother Loki (he's adopted) for an intergalactic romp packed with lots of laughs and plenty of "Hulk smash!" Most of the gags landed, with my favorite being the "Get Help" scam Thor and Loki have obviously run tons of times. Too bad about Asgard, though. Wait...I hear it's a people and not a place or something? Also, we hit peak Goldblum in this one.

Justice League. The tone was all over the place, the product of two different directors with divergent styles and goals plus lots of interference from Warner Bros. That said, I thought Justice League was a lot of fun. The movie had lots of ground to cover and felt rushed because of the two-hour runtime and the number of characters smashed into the plot; it needed some more time in the cooker and a little longer runtime to make it all coalesce. I liked the new characters (the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman) and was glad to see Superman return. Audiences didn't respond that well to the movie or poor Henry Cavill's CGI'd upper lip.

The LEGO Batman Movie. Pretty much a series of extended Batman-ish skits, this one was a lot of fun. I loved Robin in this movie ("Hello secret camera!") and all the shout-outs to the different past versions of Batman. The only complaint: this movie could've stood to step back for a minute to take a breath.

Assassin's Creed. We saw it although I barely remember anything about it.

Beauty and the Beast. Disney hits another remake out of the park with this live-action-ish version of its Best Picture-nominated animated musical. My favorite part of the movie was Luke Evans' Gaston. Most of the big moments landed, and I even liked the new songs.

The Boss Baby. Alec Baldwin voices a baby. Another one I barely remember.

The Fate of the Furious. Charlize Theron had weird hair. Bad guy Jason Statham is now one of the good guys. I don't know any of the characters' names aside from Vin Diesel's, whose name is Dom. Everyone else I refer to as the actor who plays them. Oh, and The Rock threw a torpedo. On the ice.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. There were a couple Game of Thrones actors in this one, including Littlefinger. Jude Law had fun. I'm not sure anyone else did.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This one felt more like the first one, which is a compliment. They wisely tamped down on Johnny Depp and let some of the other characters take the spotlight.

Dunkirk. In many ways, Dunkirk is the war movie you don't expect. Christopher Nolan tells the story in multiple parts that are shown chronologically out of order and then come together near the end. Artfully done and masterfully acted, you'll be disappointed if you expected something a little more traditional from a narrative standpoint like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.

Despicable Me 3. I liked the first two, but when a movie series goes the "secret twin brother" route, you know they're out of ideas.

War for the Planet of the Apes. Astounding visuals and surprisingly compelling characters make this an incredible finale for the three-film rebooted Apes series. Andy Serkis will probably never win an award for his work as Caesar, but he totally should.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Like LEGO Batman, this is pretty much a series of extended skits in LEGO form. Pretty entertaining but also kind of forgettable, although I did have a pretty good time.

Murder on the Orient Express. This adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie boasted an A-list cast. A couple relatives of mine said they fell asleep during the movie, but I found it pretty compelling.

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