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.

Lost Bullet 2
I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first Lost Bullet, due mainly to some weird tonal shifts. The film couldn’t quite decide if it was a hard-boiled police thriller, a car stunt showcase, or an action comedy. It tries to do all three to varying degrees, and suffers a bit as a result. Still, a decent enough Friday night popcorn film with some truly ridiculous (read: enjoyable) stunts and action scenes. The end clearly sets up a third film, which I’ll definitely be watching when it (presumably) arrives on Netflix.
Alice in Borderland, Season Two
The problem facing Alice in Borderland’s second season is two-fold. First, after establishing its crazy premise (random strangers wake up in an abandoned Tokyo and must survive by winning ultra-twisted games — think Lost meets Battle Royale), it has to constantly up the ante. And second, any explanations concerning the series’ world, the purpose of the games, etc., are bound to be underwhelming. To its credit, I think Alice in Borderland understands that; the series finale constantly toys with your expectations. Still, the ending is, well, underwhelming considering everything that transpires, à la Lost. But it’s a fun ride getting there and I was engaged by the characters’ stories, also like Lost. A third season seems unlikely, but if it happens, I’ll watch it.
Iron Monkey
Some thoughts after watching Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1993 kung fu classic for the umpteenth time. First, why isn’t Yu Rongguang more well-known? He’s so good as the titular bandit, even outshining Donnie Yen. Second, it’s safe to say that The Matrix, as we know it, wouldn’t exist without Iron Monkey if only because Yuen lifted some of this movie’s choreography for Neo et al. Third, few things are as consistently entertaining as early-to-mid ’90s Hong Kong movies. It’s a testament to that era’s filmmaking that Iron Monkey is so frenetic, visually speaking, but also so legible and easy to follow. (Read my review)
Lean, mean French action movie about a former crook-turned-police mechanic who goes on the run after corrupt cops kill his mentor. The stunts and fight scenes are pretty great, but what’s really impressive is the movie’s storytelling efficiency. There’s almost no filler here and very little exposition, and yet the characters and their relationships still feel fleshed out.
A film about Santa Claus relying on his violent past to save a young girl from kidnappers? Seems like a total home run. Violent Night has some clever Santa-themed kills (though the violence is blunted by CGI blood). But the movie’s best aspects (e.g., Santa’s violent Viking past, David Harbour’s performance) get diluted by references and similarities to other classic Christmas-themed movies (e.g., Home Alone, Die Hard, The Ref). Which is a shame, because this has “cult hit” written all over it.
The first Knives Out was an instant classic here at Opus HQ. Glass Onion hits some of the same high points — Blanc solving the original murder mystery in seconds is a delight — but it just doesn’t have the same joie de vivre as its predecessor. Maybe it’s because a film featuring an infantile billionaire hits a little too close in light of Elon Musk’s Twitter activity, or the irony of an “eat the rich” film costing Netflix $469 million is a little to, um, rich for my blood, or because the destruction of priceless art feels different in light of Just Stop Oil’s protests. These things obviously aren’t the fault of Rian Johnson or his talented cast, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them while watching the film.
The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman
A collection of stories about each of Dream’s Endless siblings (e.g., Death, Desire). Each story is illustrated by a different artist, so they’re all wildly different in tone and atmosphere. Apparently the first comic to ever land on the New York Times Bestseller List. I thought it was OK.
I didn’t like season two as much as season one — I think it wasted too much time on the characters’ various global travels — but I still enjoy the film’s Wes Anderson-esque aesthetic and of course, Constance Contraire remains a delight.
There’s much to like about Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the classic tale: the stop motion animation, the depiction of fascist Italy, the Blue Fairy’s angelic design, Gregory Mann’s performance as the titular character. So I’m still trying to figure out why I didn’t like it more than I did.
The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
It’s interesting to read this while watching the first season of Netflix’s Sandman series; the adaptation is pretty faithful and the deviations either take nothing away or actually improve on things. As might be expected, these earliest stories don’t have quite the grace of the later ones, and even include some details that feel like they’re present just to be edgy and shocking. Which are qualities not usually associated with Neil Gaiman.
The focus here is mainly on Drax and Mantis’ exploits as they try to kidnap Kevin Bacon. The other Guardians basically make glorified cameos. (Chris Pratt looks like he’s sleepwalking through much of his screen time.) That said, I was inordinately pleased to hear Cosmo the Dog speak and the very final scene got me surprisingly teary-eyed, due largely to Pom Klementieff’s performance. Sidenote: I hope Low got a nice royalty check for the inclusion of “Just Like Christmas.”
The English, Season One
This Amazon/BBC western mini-series tries to pack a lot of storyline into six episodes, maybe too much storyline. It felt like it was missing an episode or two that could’ve helped to flesh things out. (Or maybe that’s just a sign that it left me wanting more, in a good way.) Still, there’s much to like, from the striking visuals and bone-dry sense of humor to the memorable characters and stark observations of the American Old West (and in particular, the treatment of Native Americans).
As witty and charming as you’d expect from Noah. He does a fun variation of his classic “Black Hitler” bit and his final story had me craving Indian food like nobody’s business.
I decided to watch this after learning about director Albert Pyun’s death. Put simply, it’s grade “A” early ’90s direct-to-video cheese. It shamelessly rips off better movies like Blade Runner and Terminator but has more spirit and energy than many Hollywood blockbusters. Come for the ’90s cyberpunk fashion (e.g., silk double-breasted suits, wraparound sunglasses, “futuristic” guns that never need reloading), stay for the non-stop scene-chewing, surprisingly elaborate stunts, and really cool practical effects.
The sequel to 2021’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built chronicles the ongoing travels of Sibling Dex and their robot companion, Mosscap. This is good lazy weekend comfort reading: it’s slight and not too demanding or action-packed but it’s filled with charming little moments that’ll put a smile on your face. More than the story, I enjoy Chambers’ world-building, and want to know more about Panga’s history and various cultures.
The Italian Runza
My favorite fast food meal is an Italian Runza, onion rings, and root beer. Runza doesn’t bring out the Italian very often — more than two years have passed since my last one — but the wait was worth it.
The Peripheral, Season One
There were times when I didn’t know what was going on: there were a few too many plot threads and the season finale was needlessly confusing and open-ended. Even so, I still really dug this Amazon sci-fi series thanks to its numerous characters and its interesting spin on cyberpunk tropes. In other words, I’m looking forward to season two.
Good Night Oppy
If my reaction to this documentary about the Opportunity Mars rover is any indication, then I guess I’m a sucker for documentaries that anthropomorphize machines. While the sentiment gets laid on a bit thick at times, the rover’s remarkable mission and the stories of the humans behind it are consistently fascinating and inspiring. If you recently finished Andor, then Good Night Oppy will give you another droid to fall in love with.
I was really looking forward to Ron Marz and Ron Lim, who helmed the Silver Surfer comic when I first discovered it back in high school, return to the Sentinel of the Spaceways. Alas, this was a disappointment. Lim’s artwork had lost its mid-’90s edge and the storyline — the Surfer teams up with Thanos to retrieve one of the Infinity Gems — felt like a retread. It might’ve helped if the series had been longer than five issues, as there were some interesting threads in there, but overall, not my favorite Surfer title.
One of my favorite martial arts movies of all time, and remastered and released on Blu-ray last year. This movie has everything: physics-defying combat, exploding ninjas, existential and melodramatic ruminations on honor and martial arts, and did I mention the exploding ninjas? The last 25 minutes or so are more insane than any ten Hollywood action movies combined. (Read my review)