My Cultural Diet

Quick reviews of movies, TV shows, books, restaurants, etc., as I enjoy them. My own private Goodreads, Letterboxd, and Yelp all rolled into one (more info here). Ratings are 100% subjective, non-scientific, and subject to change. May contain affiliate links. 

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The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano
Allegedly based on a classic Japanese folk tale, Gaiman’s story is a joy to read. Even better, though, is Amano’s incredibly lush and vivid artwork. His dreamlike imagery is a perfect match for Gaiman’s prose.
Blackout is billed as a “gripping WW2 thriller,” but while I enjoyed it well enough and found its Nazi Germany setting interesting, I wouldn’t exactly call it “gripping.” It moves at a brisk pace but I was never on the edge of my seat. What’s more, the protagonist’s angst — to be fair, he’s in a pretty unenviable position — and stricken conscience both become rather on-the-nose by the novel’s final act.
I’m not the biggest fan of California rolls, but the ones I like — such as Blue Sushi’s Hawaiian roll — I really like. (It’s all about the tempura crust.) I also highly recommend their mango crab rangoon. We get it every time, and every time I have to resist the urge to lick the plate clean, the mango sauce is that good.
I like my cinnamon rolls soaked in loads of caramel-ly goodness. Which is precisely how Stacy Lynn makes hers. Her bakery’s located in Henderson, which is about an hour from Lincoln. Fortunately, we can find her cinnamon rolls in our local grocery store’s freezer aisle. They’re a bit pricey for a half-dozen, but totally worth it.
Given that it’s basically a Lovecraftian spy thriller, I expected to like this a lot more than I actually did. However, the nonstop snarky tone got tedious after awhile, as did all of the spy lingo and technobabble. There are apparently a dozen novels in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, plus various novellas and spin-offs. But I’m good after just this one.
This Netflix original is nothing mind-blowing, nor does it approach Pixar’s heights, but it’s still pretty entertaining in its own right (especially John Cho as the voice of the titular dragon). There are definitely worse things to watch on a family movie night.
Day Shift is pretty much what you’d expect from a gory movie about vampire hunters that culminates in Snoop Dogg mowing down dozens of vampires with a minigun. Oh, and has a running gag about Dave Franco peeing his pants. It did make me laugh out loud several times, the stunts are pretty awesome, and I want more of the Armenian vampire-hunting brothers played by Steve Howey and Scott Adkins.
A true action/sci-fi classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his ’80s prime. It works on nearly every level, and every time I watch it, I’m impressed by how efficiently it tells the story, sets up the characters, etc. And of course, Stan Winston’s creature effects for the Predator itself are some of the greatest of all time.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion is one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. This novella is set in the same world, though a century earlier. It’s a nice return to the World of the Five Gods, but does pale in comparison to Bujold’s novels set in that mythical world.
I think this movie wanted to be both a hard-boiled thriller and a buddy action comedy, but it ended up being neither. Spenser Confidential isn’t a terrible film, but it could’ve been a better one had the filmmakers actually figured out what it was supposed to be.
While reading this psychological thriller about a mother who’s concerned about her daughter’s bizarre behavior, I kept waiting for it all to come together. But after I finished reading it and described it to my wife, the more preposterous and nonsensical it seemed, including the twist in the final pages. You know how some things are greater than the sum of their parts? This is the opposite of that.
I’m a sucker for stories that re-envision the past with magic, which is precisely what Arrowsmith does: it’s World War I with magic, and all that entails (wizards, dragons, trolls). The storyline is fairly straightforward coming-of-age, horrors-of-war stuff, but the artwork is gorgeous and the world building is cool. Apparently, a second volume’s in the works, and I’ll probably check it out at some point.
After weeks of seeing clips of her standup on Instagram, we finally watched Taylor Tomlinson’s Netflix special. I guess the algorithm works. There are some pretty hilarious, albeit dark and twisted, moments in Tomlinson’s routine, with the “dead mom” and “bipolar disorder” jokes winning out over the “porn for women” jokes.
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The Broken God by David Zindell (A Requiem for Homo Sapiens, Book One)
David Zindell’s Neverness is one of the more interesting sci-fi novels I’ve ever read, and The Broken God picks up where it left off. Zindell’s prose is often breathtakingly beautiful and his world building is ambitious but he’s also prone to heady philosophizing and meandering narratives that can pretentious.
This movie clearly wants to be suave and sophisticated, and maybe it was back in 1999. But now, it’s just… not. Also, it’s hard to believe that John McTiernan — of Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October fame — directed this. Those films are so lean and efficient in their storytelling, and The Thomas Crown Affair is… not.
My second viewing. Predictably, it didn’t blow me away like it did during my first viewing, and some of its flaws are more apparent. But it still remains as weird and earnest and ambitious as ever, and the family drama hits just as hard. The last 20 minutes or so get pretty heavy-handed but not going to lie: I definitely got choked up. I want to be Waymond Wang when I grow up. (Read my review)
When is a Godzilla title not a Godzilla title? When it’s Godzilla Singular Point. Sure, there are plenty of kaiju and even a version of Jet Jaguar, but it’s bogged down with technobabble about ancient prophecies, extra-dimensional lifeforms, time-bending supercomputers, and something called an “Orthogonal Diagonalyzer.” I guess I want more spectacle from a Godzilla title, and less labyrinthian, Evangelion-esque mythology.
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The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane
I love this utterly bizarre and super-metaphysical Star Trek novel in which the Enterprise uses an experimental engine built by a singing glass spider to travel to another universe where there’s no entropy, the crew’s thoughts all start to run together, and a proto-god threatens both universes. Written way back in 1983, it feels unique and blissfully free of any franchise “baggage.” (Read my review)
I’m not sure why this cost $200 million. Was it all of the crazy drone shots? Chris Evans’ mustache? All kidding aside, the movie’s OK, but it’s basically a series of ludicrous action sequences looking for a reason to exist. (Mind you, some of the action sequences are pretty impressive. I wouldn’t mind hearing some behind-the-scenes stories in a “Stuntmen React” video.)
This collection of short stories and novellas isn’t necessary reading if you enjoyed the Expanse novels, but it does flesh out some of the characters, both main and secondary. I think my favorite story was probably “The Churn,” a dark and disturbing tale from Amos Burton’s younger days, followed by “The Vital Abyss,” which explores Paolo Cortázar’s research into the alien protomolecule.