We’re in the last month of 2015, and it makes sense to look back at the year in pop culture we’re about to leave behind. Especially since in the coming couple of weeks the only bit of pop culture that’ll be on my mind is Star Wars. The thing about entertainment though, is that there is a lot of it. Like a ridiculously large amount. And while I consume a lot, I simply can’t keep up with it all. So this week 1Up Culture is introducing a brand new concept: 1Up Multiplayer!
I’ve called upon several of my friends (I know, the fact I have them confuses me too) to help me out. All of them I’ve met one way or another through writing, either creatively or through my Journalism degree, and all of them love their pop culture. So I gave them a very simple mission: Pick out some media from this year that stood out to them, and write about why that was. How they interpreted that was up to them. It could be movies, television, games, whatever. It didn’t have to be the ‘best’, but it did have to stand out. The only other rule I set was for myself: I couldn’t pick something I’ve reviewed previously on here (so rejoice, you don’t have to hear me rant about how amazing Ex Machina is). By making this a Multiplayer article it’s allowed this week to cover stuff beyond my own interests. I’ve not seen everything represented here, which means I’ve now got a guide as to what I need to catch up on! So what stood out in the world of entertainment in 2015 to the 1Up Multiplayer team? Let’s find out!
Ash Vs the Evil Dead
When I first started to watch horror movies in my early teens, I watched Army of Darkness. It was more of a black comedy than a horror movie, but it helped me to see the horror genre as a source of enjoyment rather than paralyzing fear. What made it great was the mixture of cheesy effects, 90’s gore and one-liners that would make Schwarzenegger blush. It sounds terrible now, but there was something endearing about it, a reckless abandon and creative freedom that solidified the Evil Dead franchise as a cult classic.
Thirty-four years on and Ash Vs Evil Dead is not only a faithful continuation of the original story, it’s a show that’s fully aware of its roots and its underdog status in contemporary television. The Evil Dead franchise was made up of films that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre, but they were never given the same critical acclaim as movies like The Shining, The Thing or Poltergeist. It’s this lack of critical acclaim that allows the show a certain amount of freedom to make changes, test limits and have fun with some seriously old source material.
The main character, Ash, is a relic of b-grade cinema who likes to “shoot first and think never,” and rocks out to Space Truckin’ by Deep Purple while strapping into his man girdle. The script is heavily ladened with one-liners and the gore is bordering on excessive. It’s an unapologetic example of fan service done right, with a story crammed full of easter eggs and references. It’s also surprisingly accessible, with nothing that really requires a great deal of prior knowledge to enjoy. Initially, it may feel crude and cheap, but it really is a gory and, at some points, ridiculous road trip across evil infested America.
Ash Vs Evil Dead is not a Mad Men, it’s not a Breaking Bad, and it’s not a Walking Dead. It’s a unique and surprisingly good take on an aging franchise that I was worried would soon fade into the abyss that is 80’s horror. I recommend this show to people not because it’s the best thing this year, but because it’s the weirdest. The fact that it even exists at all and that out of the numerous horror franchises Evil Dead made a comeback is astounding to a hardcore fan like myself.
Dungeons and Dragons is widely known but not widely played. Why is this? Is it the intimidation of a game that relies on broad rules and improvised performance? Is it the old stereotype that D&D is something to be played by the unpopular in basements away from the world? I would say more the former than the latter; the recent geek culture boom took D&D into the sphere of the popular, many celebrities from many walks have professed their love for the game and fiction has largely turned from ridiculing it to admiring it. Not to mention is has one of the most popular shows on Twitch.com with Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role.
Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer leads a troupe of his friends and colleagues (fellow voice actors) through a campaign that started even before the show did. It follows Liam O’Brian (Vax’ildan), Laura Bailey (Vex’ahlia), Ashley Johnson (Pike), Travis Willingblam (Grog), Taliesen Jaffey (Percival), Marisha Rey (Keyleth), Sam Riegel (Scanlon), and formerly Orion Acaba (Tiberius) as their DM beautifully and artfully describes the worlds and monsters and colourful cast of characters that they encounter. Everyone involved plays their part expertly with voices that benefit from their profession and genuine excitement for what is playing out before them, without mentioning the very real emotion they feel for their character’s and for each other’s; the desperation to save a felled teammate before death cannot be matched by anything scripted and makes for truly harrowing viewing. Everything the characters do is improvised based on the situations presented to them by the DM and it’s a joy to see how they all react to his curveballs and how he in turns reacts when they throw one right back at him. The cast camaraderie is endearing and by the end of even a single episode you feel attached not only to the characters but to the people playing them as, sometimes, the veil between seems so very delightfully thin. Critical Role also eliminates the problematic introductory step to D&D; Mercer is crystal clear in his explanation of the rules and viewers soon pick up what gives a character advantages or disadvantages, what dice are rolled and when, and the limitation (or often lack thereof) of what can be done. Even beyond the show itself the show is expanding with actor curated playlists to help viewers get inside their characters’ heads and recently a weekly comic strip of their further adventures. Honestly there is not another show around quite like Critical Role; if you can make time to watch the hours long episodes you will be richly rewarded with tales unlike you’ll find anywhere else; stories that are funny, heartwarming, tragic, and truly uniquely epic.
Critical Role streams on Twitch at 2:00PM AEST or can be watched on the Geek and Sundry website On Demand.
Daredevil was the first entry into the Netflix and Marvel collaboration series for the Defenders, which meant it had the job of setting the tone for future installments. The tone in question is much darker than the rest of the MCU, and calls to mind DC’s The Dark Knight trilogy in its grittiness and hesitance to shy away from violence. The result is rather strange; it’s clearly set in the same universe as the Avengers franchise but unlike with other series’ like Agents of SHIELD it’s near impossible to picture a crossover or cameos any time soon as the worlds don’t mesh at all. Nevertheless, Daredevil is very entertaining in its darkness with a cast of mostly-likeable characters and even some humour thrown in (avocados at law, anyone?) It’s perfect for anyone who sees the rest of the MCU as too ‘silly’ or ‘unrealistic’.
Inside Out was the latest Disney Pixar movie to be released this year. It follows a string of both critically and financially successful films from Pixar, such as the 2014 film Frozen. It follows the story of Riley and the voices in her head- her emotions. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear all have their own individual personalities and they do their best to steer Riley through the perils of life as an 11 year old. The film deals with many adult themes such as isolation, family issues, the loss of childhood innocence and puberty. I believe the film is an excellent tool for parents wanting to explain feelings to younger children and assist them in expressing their own emotions. Not only does it have a fantastic comedic cast, it has poignant and stirring moments as well. It’s fair to say that Inside Out is a film that speaks to the little voices in all of us. And if you want to read an amazing review of it, Trent reviewed it earlier on 1Up Culture, so if you want more, click here! (Please note, that last sentence may not have been written by Sarah…)
Into the Badlands
It’s hard to argue against this being a golden age for the silver screen. The last decade has produced countless quality programming that you could be forgiven for forgetting all the trash that has also been released. AMC, who sail the ship of one of the biggest shows currently in the Walking Dead, aren’t straying too far from the formula with their latest release: Into the Badlands, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This time the company has swapped out zombies for martial arts, and while it is only a few episodes old, the show offers up plenty of reasons to stick around. First and foremost, the creators know what will make this show stand out and draw in fans: Into The Badlands averages 2 or 3 quality martial art fight scenes per episode, which alone is worth the the 40 minutes a week it takes sit down and watch. They are all well choreographed and shot, mixing up realistic moves and counters with more fantastical moments that could easily belong in a big budget Kung Fu movie. Beyond that though is an interesting albeit somewhat by the books story. There are plenty of tropes that get ticked off here, but it is blended together so that it feels different enough from its contemporaries. The lead, Daniel Wu, does a good job transitioning from kung fu badass to honest and interesting lead protagonist, and the world that is being built has plenty of room to breathe and become something truly fascinating. It is still early days for the show, and while it’s not going for an intellectual rollercoaster ride like a Breaking Bad, I can switch my brain off for an hour every week for some badass post apocalyptic martial arts action. And that’s sometimes all I ask for.
Based on the DC Vertigo comics of the same name, iZOMBIE was one of the breakout shows of the year. The CW based show premiered its first season in March, before having season two rushed to air in October because of its immense popularity. If I tried to summarise the show for you, it would go a little like this: Girl gets turned into a zombie at a party. She soon realises that she needs to eat human brains to survive, so she uses her job at the morgue to get said brains. But when she eats the brains, she possesses that person’s strongest personality traits for a short time (such as shoplifting or gambling) and also has access to some of their memories. She uses these abilities to help the police department, by eating the brains of John Does and finding out the truth of their deaths. Oh and she has to pretend she’s a normal person and not a zombie.
So after that summary, you might think this show sounds a bit ridiculous. You might decide to head to YouTube and watch a trailer for the first season. That would also be a mistake, because the trailer looks shit. But if you’re willing to give this show a go, you’ll end up being pleasantly surprised. Rose McIver, who plays zombie Liv Moore, is incredible in the lead role. Not only does she play the character of Liv, but she also has to portray this character whilst possessing some qualities of the people whose brains she eats. Not complex at all, right? Other characters could definitely use some development, but considering the show is still in its infancy, this isn’t surprising.
So if you’re looking for something that’s funny, romantic and action-filled with a hint of crime-solving and teen-like drama, iZOMBIE is for you (basically: everyone). Whilst the concept may seem bizarre at first, there is an addictive quality to the show that makes it perfect for binging.
I have to admit, this series was always going to hold a special place for me. Jessica Jones was one of the first characters I ever encountered in Marvel comics (in Young Avengers #1, 2005) and even though I’ve never read any of her solo series I’ve always loved her character. So maybe I was going into the show with biased expectations but hey, I loved it! Believe it or not it’s probably even darker than Daredevil, thematically and visually. Although many of the characters, including Jessica herself, are extremely flawed and oftentimes immoral, it’s easy to grow attached to them and their struggles. It’s the kind of show where half the time you want to give a character a hug and five minutes later want to slap them for doing something so stupid/cruel/naïve. It’s a good show, though, and intriguing enough that it makes you need to keep watching to find out whether you’ll get a happy ending.
Kingsmen: The Secret Service
As you can see this has been a good year for entertainment, and it started early. The Matthew Vaughn directed spy-action film based off Mark Millar’s comic series ‘The Secret Service’ (who is basically guaranteed to get a movie out of anything he writes) surprised a lot of movie goers. This wasn’t on a lot of people’s radars – myself included – but it ended up being one of the best of the year.
It’s bloody, stylish and completely and utterly fantastic. For many the highlight is the epic church fight scene set to Freebirds, but there’s a lot more here to enjoy. First and foremost is the brilliant top to bottom cast ensemble. And more importantly they turn up to put on a show. Colin Firth brings his A-game and we see an up and coming star in Taron Egerton show off his skills. There’s plenty of laughs to be had, whether it be the tongue in cheek references to the genre or just well written dialogue in general, but Matthew Vaughn knows when to use it without compromising the story.
This is high on my list of top movies of 2015, and despite coming out so early it still remains clear in my mind towards the end of the year. It was the best spy movie of the year, arguably the best action movie of the year and further proof that the comic industry is a cinematic goldmine beyond just your Batmen and Spidermen superheroes.
Based on old Victorian England novels of the same, Penny Dreadful is the best show you probably haven’t heard of. In the 19th century a ‘penny dreadful’ was a cheap fiction novel that was often filled with lurid and controversial themes. These penny dreadfuls featured the now well-known characters of Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein and his monster, and Dracula to name a few. These are just a few of the characters that turn up in this dark television series.
Created by Showtime and given an R rating, Penny Dreadful isn’t afraid to push the boundaries when it comes to its supernatural themes. Violence and sex are prevalent throughout the show, alongside some of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve seen on the small screen. However, the one thing that makes Penny Dreadful stand out is two words: Eva Green. Eva Green plays the lead role of Vanessa Ives, and I have never seen a more astonishing performance. Possessed by the devil himself, Green throws herself into the role in every moment she’s onscreen, and I’ll eat my hat if she doesn’t win an award one day for this. The other cast members are also extraordinary, and each brings something truly remarkable to the table.
I will say that if you are looking for an action packed thriller, this is not the show for you. Season One had barely any movement with plot, with a more in-depth character development occurring throughout the eight-episode season. 2015’s season two managed this much better, but is still a show much more focused on its characters than plot. And you know what? That’s okay with me. This deliciously dark show delivers something unique, and will stay with you long after the screen has gone blank.
The Walking Dead
This stood out for me because (SPOILERS AHEAD) of the prolonged wait to see the fate of popular character Glenn Rhee. He has been around since the first season and when main characters are removed from the show it is made pretty obvious in gruesome fashion. In Glenn’s case, his apparent death has been left vague, even though he is in what seems to be an impossible to escape from situation. I think this matters because three episodes have aired since with still no indication of whether Glenn will be seen on the show again. It has been an ongoing discussion around the water cooler at work and has generated a lot of back and forth on Facebook. People seem to care whether this fictional character lives or dies.
F(x) – 4 Walls
With my co-writers here to cover the type of media you would expect in this kind of review, I’m free to push my own biased agenda, and finish this list by throwing a K-pop album into the mix of 2015 standouts. But trust me, this isn’t just an excuse to talk about the genre. F(x)’s 4th album release, and first from the group as a four-piece – with Sulli leaving the group earlier in the year after a controversial year – deserves to be on this list. The loss of their youngest member hasn’t slowed the group down, because ‘4 Walls’ may be their strongest release yet. Despite being a pop act, F(x)’s work is constantly evolving, and their concepts are often among the most striking in the genre. This time there is a heavy influence from elements of the House and Dance scenes, fusing it with a funky pop sensibility that worms its way into your ears and nests there for months. We even get a guest spot from Zico, one of the more popular pop/rap crossover stars in South Korea.
The result is incredibly infectious from start to finish without a weak track on the album to be found, and the four remaining girls have only continued to grow. Luna’s already great vocals in particular have really strengthened of late, but everyone has brought their A-game: Krystal’s sweet lead vocals catch your ear at every moment, Victoria constantly delivers and Amber continues to shine with her rapping. Everything blends together in such a way that it’s hard to notice the group is essentially down a member. It’s not always easy being a F(x) fan, every video of theirs has supporters crying out for their own fandom name (it’s important in the K-pop scene trust me) but the one positive is that every year for the last three years the group has pumped out an album (not a single, or a mini-album, a full length release) and every year it has stood as one of the strongest K-pop albums of the year. And ‘4 Walls’ is no exception.
Tracks to listen to: ALL OF THEM! But specifically: 4 Walls, Diamond, Traveler, Papi
So that was 2015 as seen through the eyes of the seven of us. I’m sure you all have your media that you feel would deserve a spot on this place (I can already hear some of you screaming Mad Max: Fury Road), truth is I could easily make this twice as long and still miss some amazing works of art.
What I can’t help but find interesting is that the overwhelming majority of media selected here was television. It’s telling and also fantastic, because the potential of the medium should not be understated. It offers so much room for storytelling, world building and character development that movies and even video games simply can’t. What will 2016 bring? Time will only tell, but chances are you’re like me and there’s still a lot from 2015 you need to catch up on.