2017 was a mixed bag. I did get a decent amount of writing done, but as always, not enough. I played a bunch of chess, and studied a lot of chess in the first half of the year, but should have studied more. I found out I'll be losing my day job in early 2018, so that was a bummer.
Videogame-wise, 2017 was a clunker. Just think back to the best games of the year in previous years: 2013 Bioshock Infinite, 2014 Titanfall, 2015 The Witcher 3, 2016 Titanfall 2. There wasn't a game released in 2017 that came close to any of these classics. But we do get to look forward to Red Dead 2, maybe in early 2018, so I guess that makes up for it.
My favorite movie of 2017 was Blade Runner 2049. I was so glad that they nailed that sequel. Easily, the best sci-fi movie in many years.
Favorite TV show? Well that's easy. Game of Thrones Season 7 is just about as good as TV gets.
Goals for 2018?
Well, I gotta find a decent day job. That'll be of primary importance. I'm hoping to pivot out of what I've been doing for such a long time, and get into something a little new and a little more exciting.
I've got a couple of writing projects I'm working on that I want to make significant progress on. I'd like to get a little better at chess. Get in a little better shape. That sort of stuff.
It seems like every year looks like it's going to be a year of transition, but never lives up to that expectation. For good or bad, 2018 will be that transition year for me. I'm excited to see where it leads.
I recently watched the four-part HBO series The Defiant Ones, the doc that tracks the careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. It's pretty darn fascinating.
Director Allen Hughes does a commendable job at structuring the tale which covers Dre's and Jimmy's careers from the beginning, to their intersection, and beyond. Told via interviews of a lot of very famous people who witnessed the duo's rise (Springsteen, Cube, Snoop Dog, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, David Geffen, Bono, to name just a few), mixed with fascinating archival footage (Dre spinning records in his youth, Jimmy working on his first big gig with Bruce, etc.), the tale that is told is pretty epic.
We find out that these men went through a lot of pain, a lot of growth, and had to reinvent themselves at several points in their career to stay relevant. Their common denominator: a relentless drive to succeed.
Great fiction usually involves intriguing characters defeating obstacles in order to achieve a goal. The Defiant Ones does exactly that; only it's a tale that really happened. It's a fascinating part of history that can't help but be inspiring.
If you have HBO, check it out.
The Hollywood Reporter states: 'The Keepers is fascinating and often gripping because it makes the argument that shining a light on enshrouded horrors takes many forms and doesn't have a statute of limitations, even if the law does.'
Variety calls it 'The best true-crime docuseries yet.'
Time accurately state why The Keepers is superior to another popular Netflix crime docuseries: '...that's the crucial difference between this show and, say, the 2015 Netflix sensation Making a Murderer, whose directors clomped heavily over a complicated story. Their aggressive point of view goaded viewers toward certitude. White, by contrast, isn't asking us to be the sleuths. He's depicting the process of discovery among mourners. The "detectives" we follow are Cesnik's former students who set out to solve the case. This isn't just more respectful to the victim than other true-crime stories, with their breathless delight at new clues. It's also more effective.'
The Keepers is a 7-episode Netflix documentary that explores the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was a teacher at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore. I won't go into the story, other than it involves unbelievably heinous abuse and cover-up by the Catholic Church, Baltimore Police Department, & the city and state governments. What I will say is that this documentary is leagues above some of the prior crime docuseries that have been so popular of late.
What this documentary does well is it tells the story through recollections of the players involved. It doesn't purposely leave out evidence like Making of a Murderer did. It doesn't force a view down someone's throat. It just lets the story reveal itself, point by point, through people's spoken word. Because the story is so shocking, so horrific, and so engaging, this style works wonderfully.
This isn't a story for the faint of heart. It goes deeply into how purely evil human beings may be. But it's a well-crafted trip, and therefore I highly recommend it. Perhaps a few episodes drag at points, but within moments, they get right back on track.
This isn't a documentary that's going to make you feel good. Nonetheless, it's something I feel should be watched. Yes, you will cringe. But at the end of it, you'll understand a little more about what human beings are capable of doing than you knew before the ride. If you think you can handle it, please give The Keepers a try.
My rating: 9.3/10.
I watched a fascinating documentary yesterday called The Fear of 13. It follows, almost completely via monologue, the story of the probably wrongly convicted death-row inmate Nick Yarris.
Nick's story is unbelievable at times, but we know at least most of it is true. He started out as a young car thief, got mixed in with the wrong characters, was sentenced to death for murder, and then DNA analysis was founded, and the absurd story of him trying to get the crime-scene evidence checked for DNA is absolutely incredible.
Nick tells his story brilliantly. From the dark tales of abuse in prison, to self-teaching himself to read (he read over 1,000 books in just a few short years), to the fight for his life on death row, it's hard not to feel for the guy. The beauty of the documentary is in its simplicity. There are some minor reenactments, but the bulk of the film is just Nick, sitting down, telling his horrid tale.
There are times when Nick sees positivity in situations where no normal human being ever could. His story isn't just that of a man going through the trials and tribulations of death row, it's the story of man who somehow finds a way to mature within the confines of a prison, all while sentenced to death.
I give this documentary high marks. Definitely, check it out.
My rating: 8.8/10
The new Netflix documentary on the murder of Meredith Kercher is a solid, if not too brief look into the murder and subsequent media frenzy involving the accused Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. I never paid close attention to the whole ordeal when it was happening, as the media seemed far too concerned with superficialities and not enough with the facts, and this documentary confirms my suspicions.
The film focuses primarily on interviews with Amanda, Raffaele, Nick Pisa (who was a British journalist covering the event), and the Italian Prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, as it brings us through the timeline. We get a good sense of how confusing the events were that happened that night, as the potential participants changed their stories, most likely as a result of harsh harassment by the Italian investigators. We also get a sense of how the whole ordeal was played to the media in a way to make it into an international news feeding frenzy.
The most disturbing revealment, to me, is how fame-hungry Mignini was, and how bizarre his conclusions were. For instance, because the body had been discovered with a blanket on it, he deduced that the killer must have been a woman, because no man would have put a blanket over a corpse. The fact that the Italian government allowed this disturbed man to be a prosecutor is frightening.
Netflix's documentary doesn't give us concrete answers, but it does give enough solid information to make rather informed opinions. Though I would have liked to have seen a three-part series, which would have been able to spend a little more time with the evidence, the trials, and with interviewing more people, this film is a good recap of events, and one that successfully shows us the desperation that Amanda went through, and still goes through to this day.
If you want to relive the trial, the media frenzy, and get a sense of how power is abused in some places on the Earth, I'd suggest checking it out.
My rating: 7/10.
I've watched all 464 minutes of the five-part, much-acclaimed ESPN series by Ezra Edelman. It's a quality, painful look, not only at O.J., the crime, the trial, and all within, but also at the long, complex racial history of Los Angeles, and how O.J. and Nicole fit within that history.
It's the length and depth that makes this documentary so wonderful to watch. Most of the main players are interviewed at length. The details that we've long forgotten, and many that we never knew about, keep coming at us at a pace fast enough to never allow us not to be glued to the screen. The different, strong, viewpoints, as passionate as ever, twenty-one years after the verdict, hook us back into the story and the drama that went down throughout.
But a word to the wary: this documentary will upset many of you, unlike anything you've ever seen. You will see how the defense team played unconscionably dirty tricks. You will hear and see the history of how O.J. beat the hell out of Nicole on so many occasions. You will see gruesome crime scene photos. You will hear a juror state outright that the majority of jurors thought their verdict to be payback for Rodney King because "We protect our own," and how she thinks she might vote differently had the trial happened today.
In other words, it's ugly. But it's a well-crafted ugliness that teaches us so much beyond that which is O.J. and a knife.
If you can stomach the horrible nature of the content, I'd highly recommend it. Though it might get a bit too preachy at times, especially early on, it's a very satisfying watch at the end of it all.
My rating: 9/10
Jon David Rosten, author of
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