Top 10 Books of 2016

A bit overdue–apologies for that! This past year, I was determined to read more in any capacity. As I mentioned in my post highlighting my 2016, I decided to help myself along by tracking my reading via a GoodReads reading challenge. My goal started small, at just 20 books for the year, and I was able to bump up my goal to 40. It might not make sense to keep raising it after I did it–at that point, any extra books were just a bonus, but I kept moving it just a bit beyond my reach each time to spur me on. However, this backfired a tiny bit in that I tended to favor graphic novels, especially since my library has an amazing selection of new releases. While valid books to read, they are much quicker reads, and as a result 26 of 41 books were graphic novels. Of the remaining 15 books, 8 were non-fiction (which I’d wanted to read more of, and the other 7 were fiction/YA and the Harry Potter play.

Next year, I think I’d be better off setting a smaller goal and keeping it there, so that I’m not tempted to avoid longer books in favor of book count. That’s just counterproductive and a con of trying to game-ify my reading habits. But nonetheless, I read far more than I have in the past few years, partly because I’m not in school anymore, but also, again, because my library is, in fact, the bomb-diggity. I read more non-fiction, particular memoirs, business books/self help/Malcolm Gladwell type books, and books about feminism. I read some educational graphic novels, which I love.

Continue reading “Top 10 Books of 2016”

Top 5 Animated Films of 2016

fox and bunny having an argument

In 2015, I tracked my media consumption on a page on my blog, but then never did anything with it. Earlier in 2016, much like I adopted GoodReads to track my books, I created an account on LetterBoxd to track films, and my oh my, how much easier it is. I’m not sure why I never did your typical end of year wrap ups on my blog before, but here we are making up for it.

That being said, I wrote the post over on my animation website, AnimationComplex.com. So please head over there and give it some love. 🙂

Unfortunately, my picks were not totally in-line with the Oscar nominations, which were released this morning. We were on very similar planes regarding the film, but we definitely have our differences. And there’s one that I haven’t seen, that wasn’t nominated, that, based on performance and reviews, sounds like it should have made the cut. I also mention an animation-related documentary that was nominated for an Oscar as well! But I plan to go into the Oscars a bit more in the future, both on AnimationComplex and on the in-progress, not-yet-launched Animation Complex YouTube channel.

Escape the Room NYC

My friends and I have been enjoying playing the Escape the Room games in NYC. Costing around $30 per person, you need to book well in advance, and (pending the specific game) need anywhere from 6-12 people to play. On a previous outing, we played the James Bond themed “The Agency” game (that we did not win), and more recently we (successfully) completed the Sherlock Holmes-themed “The Home.” The only game left at the Midtown location for us is “The Office.” There are two more games located at their downtown location (“Theater” and “Apartment”) we’ve yet to play. Similar games have been springing up, such as a pop-up Attack on Titan game that was held at Yankee Stadium!

Having studied game design back in undergrad as an interactive multimedia student (and a tiny bit in grad school too), I enjoy experiencing these “big games” on a very meta level. Both the experience of playing–the exhilaration, the teamwork and communication needed to beat the clock, the puzzles (and the puzzles within puzzles)–and the experience of being cognitively aware that I am going through these pre-determined motions and interactions, is quite a rush. The thought that I am actively playing a game someone else meticulously designed, game terminology floating around my head all the while, that was specifically designed for this space, is pretty fantastic. That’s what I love about big games: they are, by definition, inherently specific to the surrounding environment. A good example and chance to play some big games is the Come Out & Play festival, which (in this year’s case) takes over Governors Island and DUMBO Brooklyn for a weekend (July 17-18th) of site-specific fun.

In one of my undergrad game design classes, we were tasked with designing a big game that made use of our college campus. It was very fun to playtest the various teams’ games and see where they took us on the campus, and how they made use of the space. But Escape the Room is great as the space it occupies was built for the game, rather than it just being a variable the designers had to factor in. (Obviously, the designers had to factor in certain things about the space before designing the game though, but more basic things such as cubic meters, ceiling height, etc.–things you can’t actually legally change when renting a space in NYC.

Being able to deconstruct the game as both a player and a designer, allows one to use these angles to help progress the story along, and give you an idea of what to expect. As all of my friends who I attended with are gamers (video games, board games, card games, casual games, you name it)(oh, and avid Sherlock-watchers!), I felt pretty confident. The fact that we had already played one before as well added to the knowledge and experience we collectively pooled. We sort of knew, not what to expect, but how to manage our expectations and the nature of the unknown factors we’d face. I feel like I talked about the same thing over and over but with different wording each time…I just really enjoy this type of thing. 🙂

If you are ever in NYC, I highly recommend giving one of these a whirl. I loved “being” in 221B Baker Street and rummaging about, with a certain theme song on loop in my head the whole time. And as I mentioned before, if you’re interested in experiencing other types of “big games” yourself, consider Come Out & Play in July.

The game is on

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet @ the NYICFF

Towards the end of March, I had the privilege of attending the US premiere of the 2015 animated adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet at the New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF). The screening took place at the SVA Theatre on 23rd street, which gave me a chance to stop in and visit SVA, where I am a part-time MFA computer animation student.

I have been following this adaptation of The Prophet for a while now, honestly in shock that such a film was even rumored to exist. When I first learned of it, it just sounded too good to be true: it is a (mostly) 2D animated feature length film, with contributions from eight of the world’s leading indie animators, and it tackles subject matter with a lot more depth than slapstick. I was so pleased that Salma Hayek was seeing this through.

To be brief (and spoiler free), the overarching story follows Mustafa, a writer, artist, and teacher whose work was perhaps a little too liberal for his local government. Under house-arrest for years, he is taken care of by a woman whose daughter, a quiet troublemaker, becomes an unlikely friend. When his sentence is up, he is escorted by guards through the town, towards the docks, where he is to be shipped back to his home country. Along the way, he encounters many of the locals, who welcome his return with unbridled celebration (to the displeasure of the government officials). He shares with them eight sermons (a distillation of the original 26 poems), which range from topics of love, work, death, and everything all humans experience in between. These are where the work of the independent animators come through. I won’t elaborate further, but I will steal a line from Variety’s Review, saying that it “…doesn’t shy away from grown-up concerns.”

Still from the film
Still from the film

At times, I did find myself admittedly wanting to fast-forward through the main story, just to get to the smaller inserts done by the indie artists. Each one offered something new both stylistically and in the way they visually conveyed the more mature sentiments of Gibran’s poems.  Although the overlying story was interesting in its own right, there was much to be desired for me. The cel-shaded CG was a bit awkward for me visually. Similarly, some of the gags involving minor characters (particularly the seagull and bumbling guard) seemed forced.

Ironically, the children I ended up seated next to disliked the inserts and I was treated to an audible sigh (“Another one!?”) as each one began. After the screening, I overheard the father discussing with his children, asking what they didn’t like about it. The older of the two (with approving nods from the younger) stated that the short animations kept distracting them from the main story, and that they were too wordy, which made it more difficult to follow along. As a child, I know I would have preferred the varying segments over the overall story, but I also know that the depth of those segments would have been lost on me.

I am not going to go into the shorts any more, as I’d like to watch the film once more, as well as give other people a chance to see it for themselves in theaters before reading any sort of deconstruction. And–in case it was a concern–this film does touch a tiny bit on God, particularly during a couple of the inserts. But I never felt like it was being thrown in my face. The beautiful thing about the words of the prophet is that, regardless of religion, they are universal truths and experiences we share by simply being human.

I highly recommend seeing this film. Go see it on the big screen, support dream projects like this, support the indie artists and this beautiful collaboration. Support 2D animation–an animation that asks a little more of its audience–that calls attention to the freedoms of expression we often take for granted. Celebrate the wisdom and words of the prophet.

GKids has announced that the film will hit New York City and Los Angeles theaters on August 7, with a US and Canadian rollout following after.