Mixed media, Sunday 1 April 2018

The longer I let these pile up, the less I have to say about each one. This makes me sad, but I haven’t been in the mood for a lot of extensive blogging lately.

⭐ = would gladly re-watch/read/listen
💩 = AVOID AVOID AVOID
😕 = there’s something interesting there, but I have mixed feelings about it

Films:

  • The Last Jedi: I liked this a lot in the cinema, because it took so many Star Wars tropes and subverted them with a contemporary twist. It has some fantastic action and amazing visuals. At the same time, I find it hard to disagree with some of the comments it has attracted regarding plot holes and character motivation. I’m curious to see how it will stand up over time.
  • Bright: Mediocre buddy cop movie; mediocre urban fantasy story. The plot dictated a certain setting, but as soon as you think about how the world got this way, and how this society actually works, it makes no sense.
  • The Adjustment Bureau: Has one very nifty chase sequence, but otherwise entirely forgettable.
  • Kingsman 2: Some cool action sequences, but lacks the freshness of the first movie.
  • The Hateful 8: Gorgeous cinematography, but too in love with its own dialogue.
  • Good Time: Excellent low-budget, down-to-earth, but high-tension crime drama about a robbery gone wrong. Robert Pattinson is stunningly good as small-time crook Connie Nikas who will do almost anything to help his brother, but whose plans are destined to blow up in his face. Harsh, but thoroughly engrossing.
  • Punisher: War Zone: I kinda like Ray Stevenson as the Punisher. He captures the look of the comic book character pretty well, and he brings a good deal of pathos to the role. But someone forgot to tell Dominic West that this wasn’t an early nineties Batman movie. His joker-esque portrayal of the villain Jigsaw is embarrassingly out of place.
  • Jumanji (2017): Fun!
  • Logan Lucky: Quirky little Soderbergh heist movie. Not a classic, and the plot is quite contrived. But it’s very entertaining.
  • Marauders: I couldn’t follow what was going on in this film. But I did like the casting of Dave Bautista as a huge, bulky, physical FBI agent who is also soft-spoken and intellectual. But…that was the only thing I liked about it.
  • 💩 The Cloverfield Paradox: Awful. It can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a hard-ish psychological sci-fi thriller like Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, or a supernatural cross-dimensional “the ship is alive!” horror flick like Event Horizon. In the end it gives up and throws up some giant monsters to hastily link it with the Cloverfield universe for branding purposes.
  • Black Panther: So good that I feel bad about the bits I didn’t like. Some of the CG action sequences felt floaty and unreal (characters landing from a great height lacking enough proper impact), and Killmonger deserved much more screen time than he was given. It is strongly hinted that he’s a rounded character strong convictions and a deep sense of purpose, but it isn’t shown adequately. In the end he feels more like Ronan The Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy, when I wanted him to be like the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Apparently director Ryan Coogler’s first cut of the film was four hours long, but it got cut down to 2:14 in the edit. I’m assuming that a lot of Killmonger got cut there. If you liked the music in Black Panther, it’s worth listening to Episode 131 of Song Exploder, in which composer Ludwig Göransson discusses how he produced it.
  • The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Very meh.
  • Easy A: Smart teen comedy, tight and witty.
  • Fantastic Mr Fox: Quirky, with Wes Anderson’s characteristic visual style in stop-motion form. But emotionally flat and uninvolving.
  • Get Out: Excellent. A deeply scary film that relies on constantly building tension instead of jump scares.
  • Atomic Blonde: This was much more of a classic East/West spy story than I had anticipated. It’s still primarily an action movie, but it’s subtler and grittier than the trailer promises. Charlize Theron is a super-cool heroine, and David Leitch’s direction is on point. The staircase shootout/fight scene that appears to be a single long take is brutal and breathlessly exciting.
  • American Made: not serious enough to be a drama, not outright funny enough to be a comedy. It shines a light on some of the ridiculous shenanigans that the CIA got up to in Central America in the 1970s and 80s, so it probably qualifies as political satire, too. But with a heavy emotional heart. It’s just a good film, you know? I enjoyed it a lot.

TV:

  • Parks and Recreation: I finally finished it! I was not expecting season 7 to pull a Fringe Season 5, and the first few episodes of that last season gave me pause. It worked out in the end, though. I feel ambivalent about how cruelly the show treats its more hapless and stereotypical characters (Jerry, Andy). It usually inverts the snideness to show how these two are actually the happiest characters in the whole show, but it often feels unnecessary. Still a great, classic piece of TV comedy, though.
  • 😕 Manhunt Unabomber: Was it the writers’ intention to make Theodore Kaszynski the most sympathetic character in the whole show? Paul Bettany’s performance as Kaszynksi was miles better than that of Sam Worthington as maverick FBI profiler Fitz who comes up with the insights to catch him. And Kaszynski’s world view and manifesto do contain warnings for this weird future we’ve ended up in. But was that really what the show was going for? Other than Fitz, the FBI are portrayed as blunt, dim, unpleasant, and short-sighted. Coming hot on the heels of the Netflix series Mindhunter from last year, this felt like a very poor imitation.
  • Agent Carter S2: Very good. Shame it got cancelled.
  • 😕 Arrow S3, S4, S5, S6: I have complex feelings about Arrow that probably arise from bingeing the show over a very short space of time. The character reversals come so often and so fast that it’s impossible to know where you’ll stand by the end of an episode. “They’re dead” vs “they’re alive again!”; “I’ll never trust them” vs “we have to trust them, it’s our only chance!”; “I’ll never kill again” vs “killing them is the only way!”; “People can never change their fundamental nature” vs “there is still some good in them, I know it!” The conclusion I’m coming to is that the showrunners are nihilists whose only certainty is that all promises will be broken and all good intentions will be subverted, and they want to explore this theme in exhaustive depth. Also, the show has managed to wear out my suspension of disbelief with regard to comic-book violence (aka mass murder). If you shoot an arrow in someone’s chest and they fall over and stop moving, they’re probably dead, not unconscious.
  • The Good Place S2: A bit more caper-y and less subtle than S1, but I still loved this.
  • Altered carbon: I found a lot to like here, but I don’t think it left a permanent mark on me as something I’d re-watch.
  • Star Trek Discovery S1: Variable. I mostly liked it.
  • Ugly Delicious: Starts as a conventional food show with a celebrity chef inviting people to visit interesting places and eat interesting food — with the twist that the food is not going to be fancy: it’s things like pizza, tacos, fried chicken. But as the series goes on, it turns into a much more interesting discussion of race, immigration, cultural appropriation and acceptance told through the medium of cooking. Quite worthwhile.
  • Jessica Jones S2: Excellent. Rich, complex characters dealing with a host of personal demons. The fact that it’s a “superhero” show is secondary most of the time, which is how I like it. Also, refreshingly few fight scenes.

Books:

The Twisted Path

  • ⭐ Sue Grafton – Y is for Yesterday: Another excellent addition to the series. Sad that with Sue Grafton’s death last year it will end here.
  • Erica Henderson & Ryan North – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 6: Who Run the World? Squirrels: Nice ongoing Squirrel Girl fun.
  • ⭐ Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen – Descender vol 1: Tin Stars Very good. Excellent art, intriguing world building. Will be buying more of this series.
  • Robin Sloan – Sourdough: A sweet, quirky, yet easygoing read that hits some of the same notes as Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore without feeling like a retread.
  • Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, Thomas Mauer – Copperhead vol 1: A New Sheriff in Town: Space western. Quite good.
  • Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire – Injection vol 3: Lovely art again, but the mystery feels recycled an unoriginal. It doesn’t bring more depth to the world like vols 1 and 2 did.
  • ⭐ Fiona Staples & Brain K. Vaughan – Saga vol 8: Heartache and humour. And Ghüs!
  • ⭐ Harry Connolly – The Twisted Path: A novella rather than a full book, but I was excited to get another episode in the Twenty Palaces series regardless. This one takes Ray and Annalise to the headquarters of the Twenty Palaces society in Portugal, where all is not what it seems. Tense and fast-paced urban fantasy.

Self-contained podcasts:

  • Containers: 8-part series by Alexis Madrigal about trade, transport, culture, and how the shipping container heralded a sea change in how our civilization deals with the distribution of goods.
  • Slow Burn: A Slate podcast covering the less famous stories and background from the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon. Aside from the obvious parallels with Donald Trump’s dealings, what struck me most was just how much time passed between the Watergate break-in and Nixon resigning.
  • A Very Fatal Murder: Very funny and pointed parody of podcasts in general, and true crime podcasts in particular.

Music:

I’ve got a ticket to see Garbage at the Barrowlands in Glasgow in September, but I’m actually more excited about seeing Honeyblood, who are sharing the bill with them. Alan pointed me in their direction a couple of years ago, and I love their stripped-down guitar + drums + vocals sound.

Spotify surfaced Frost* to me a few weeks ago. They’re described as “neo-prog”, which is fair. I dig it.

Over the last few months I’ve also been listening to a lot of Rival Consoles (the album Kid Velo in particular), Wye Oak (new album out soon; I’ll be seeing them live in a few weeks), and the dark vibes of Origin Pattern by Pixelife.

Games:

Over Christmas and January I played a lot of Elite: Dangerous, especially the community goals missions, but I haven’t put any time in since the new expansion came out in February. I bought the Frozen Wastes expansion pack for Horizon Zero Dawn, but immediately after installing it I felt compelled to go back and finish off all the side quests and missions that I hadn’t finished off in the original game before I started on the new content. Then I got a few missions into the new content and kinda drifted away.

I’m sure I’ll go back to HZD some time, but Alto’s Adventure is my life now. I can’t do anything else (including buying the sequel, Alto’s Odyssey) until I’ve finished it.

Alex is making fun of me. He doesn’t understand.

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