Mixed Media, Sunday 24 March 2019

Films:

Dawn Wall movie poster
  • ⭐ Dawn Wall: gripping documentary (no pun intended) about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen’s 2015 ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite.
  • Captain Marvel: there was no chance I wasn’t going to love this. I’m a big fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s reinvention of Captain Marvel in the early 2010s.
  • Velvet Buzzsaw: a darkly stylish satire of snobbery and pretentiousness in the Los Angeles art world, grafted onto a weak but nasty supernatural revenge story. Amusingly flamboyant performances from a host of big names don’t save it.
  • 💩 The Predator: this is a very bad film. Toothless dialogue, poorly choreographed action, daft plot, zero suspense.
  • Hotel Artemis: the trailer made it look more fun. Flat characters, very little interesting funny or snappy dialog, and the near future setting was entirely pointless. An hour and fifteen minutes of setup for a couple of mediocre action fight scenes. Even if there had been a decent payoff, there’s not enough here that would have made me care about it.

TV:

  • ⭐⭐ Sharp Objects: I watched all eight episodes of this on Saturday while I was under the weather with a cold. I only paused for getting food for myself and others. This was amazingly tense and subtle. Apart from the abrupt flashback cut-aways, the background is full of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpses of protagonist Camille Preaker’s subconscious leaking into the the world. It’s not actually a ghost story, but it’s almost presented as one.
  • Love, Death, and Robots: Netflix’s “adult” anthology series of short animated films is an impressive collection, but it is very…male. Out of eighteen episodes, only two are based on stories by women, which is not how the fantasy/horror/SF genres skew these days. Of the episodes where women take a leading role, most are still rooted in violence and gore. Helping Hand is a welcome exception, and I’m not just saying that because a friend of mine worked on it 🙂
  • The Escape Artist: tense legal thriller with David Tennant.
  • Broadchurch seasons 2 & 3: I wasn’t sure where the creators would go with this after season 1 wrapped up. Once I was well into season 2 it felt like a vital and necessary follow-up. Season 3 almost felt tacked-on: same characters, new crime! But they weave in the aftermath of the first two seasons as the B-story, and allow the familiar characters to find whatever measure of peace they’re going to get.
  • The Umbrella Academy: These character archetypes have all been done better elsewhere.
  • Secret City season 2: Not as a good as season 1, but still a high-quality political investigative thriller.

Books

  • Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal et al.: I ran a book club at work to read through this and discuss it over the course of a month and a half. It touches on the same themes of complexity in modern organizations that Atul Gawande talks about in The Checklist Manifesto. Very interesting.
  • The Wild Storm vol 3, by Warren Ellis and John Davis-Hunt: Hmmmm…I’d been enjoying how Ellis was evolving the conflict between the characters in the first two volumes, but in this volume he seems to take a pause from the story arc to introduce a bunch of new characters and then…kill them all? Or at least most of them. It didn’t feel as vital as the first two books.
  • Nova by Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection vol 1: Lovely art, but the storylines were getting a bit repetitive by the end of the book.

Mixed Media, Sunday 10 February 2019

Films:

High Flying Bird movie poster
  • High Flying Bird: Soderbergh at his best, with a powerful script about race, wealth, sport and passion. Compelling and subtle.
  • How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World: lovely cap on the trilogy. The bad guy was kinda meh, and the comedy more subdued, but it makes up for it with gorgeous animation and a sweet, emotionally resonant story.
  • Thoroughbreds: Deadpan murder girls. Not a comedy, more of a Hitchcockian tension-building thriller. Anyone with a teenage daughter should be suitably wary.

Books:

  • ⭐⭐ Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: potentially life-changing, as previously mentioned
  • 💩 Gathering Prey by John Sandford: dull. The last 200 pages are essentially a single shootout scene. The “Prey” books are at their best when protagonist Lucas Davenport is investigating and executing political manoeuvres. This has practically nothing of either. The only redeeming factor is that Davenport’s daughter Letty gets some good protagonist time. She needs her own spin-off series.
  • All-new Inhumans vol 1 (Global Outreach) and vol2 (Skyspears) by James Asmus, Charles Soule, André Araujo, et al: lovely art, but the characters failed to ignite my attention.

“TV”:

  • The Blacklist seasons 2,3,4,5: I kinda went on a binge during January, and finished the remaining seasons I could hoover up from Netflix. Feels like that was almost the only thing I did in my spare time in January. I continued to enjoy it, apart from the first part of season 5, in which they briefly tried to turn it into a weird buddy comedy heist show. There are some shockingly good episodes of TV in here, though, with “Requiem” in season 4 as my standout favourite (the one where we see how Mr. Kaplan became Mr. Kaplan.) They wrapped up a lot of plot threads at the end of season 5. Although there was a notional “cliffhanger” ending in which the next volume of secrets was teased, I’d be okay if I didn’t see any more. The show takes a lot of moral liberties for the sake of story, and the compromises the characters make don’t land with enough impact.
  • The Punisher season 2: follows the standard Netflix Marvel show template. Sincerely made but unremarkable. It may be superfluous to say that it’s “very violent”, but, well. I keep thinking I don’t need more shows like this in my life, and then I keep watching them.
  • The Good Place season 3: continues to be adorable, fast-paced, witty, and continues to drive the premise further and further.
  • Russian Doll: This is straight up amazing. Takes the time loop of Groundhog Day and twists it. You may think you know where this is going to go, but you’re wrong. (Or are you?) Hilariously funny — I laughed out loud while watching this through headphones and my iPhone on an airplane, with a stranger sitting next to me — and moving. Natasha Lyonne is a cranky whirlwind, and a sheer joy.

Podcasting:

  • The Dream season 1 was a fascinating deep dive into multi-level marketing, and the people who take part in it.
  • The most recent episode of Willa Paskin’s Decoder Ring, The Grifter has some nice parallels with Jason Scott’s recent instalment about Robert Hoquim. In it he refers to an old (2015) episode of Reply All, The Man In The FBI Hat. These three episodes make for a fascinating look at con artists, and why they make for such engaging stories.

Mixed Media, Monday 31 December 2018

Book cover for Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Books:

  •  Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen could not be any further up my alley. Kangaroo is a wise-cracking spy with a unique and completely unexplainable superpower: the ability to open a hole to a pocket universe where he can store all sorts of convenient tools and gadgets. His last mission didn’t go so well, the secret intelligence department he works for is being audited, and they want him out of the way for a while, so they send him on a vacation cruise to Mars. Of course, the cruise doesn’t go as expected, and Kangaroo gets pulled into a web of deceit, murder, and romance. It’s fabulous, and I loved every page. Even better: there’s a sequel!
  • Turn The Ship Around by L. David Marquet is a management book that tells how the author took the submarine he was put in command of from the bottom of its group rankings to the top, by pushing authority and decision-making power as far down the traditional pyramid hierarchy as possible. I happen to work in an industry and organization where some of the lessons in the book are the norm already, but there is still a lot to learn from here.
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells — first novella in the “Murderbot Diaries” series about a security robot who has hacked its own behaviour governor so that it can spend more time watching TV shows. It’s fun, though not as comical as the premise might suggest. We have the rest of the series in ebook, and I plan to read more.
  • Domino vol 1: Killer Instinct by Gail Simone, David Baldeon et al. I like the art. The story is okay, but it jumps around a bit too much, and doesn’t land the thematic punches very cleanly.

Films:

  • Mortal Engines Meh
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Meh
  • 💩The Meg Sometimes you just find yourself in the mood for a Jason Statham film. Skip this one.
  • Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Awesome! Want more of this.

TV:

  • Travelers season 3: Oh wow. They actually ended it. Wrapped up. Three seasons and done, with an ending that might not be what we want, but that makes narrative and emotional sense. I’m sad that it’s over, because I love these characters and would gladly watch more of their stories. But too many shows feel like they draw out their main arc with filler episodes that don’t lead anywhere. Travelers doesn’t have room for much of that.
  • The Blacklist season 1: Case in point. I actually do rather like this, but it’s really obvious that it’s going to be a never-ending race to peel layers off an infinite onion. How (or if) the characters evolve will determine whether I stick with it for longer.
  • Colony season 2: Feels like it’s treading water at times, but by the end of the season the cast has been through a wringer. I understand that it got canceled after season 3, but I don’t know if the writers were able to wrap it up in the final episodes. Hmm.