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. 

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.
📚
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.
📚
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.
I liked the film’s concept and the first half is filled with delights not too dissimilar from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Unfortunately, the script feels unfinished. Several story points just end and aren’t explored to a satisfying degree despite being presented as really significant. As such, the film founders about halfway through. I did appreciate its underlying anti-elite message; I just wish more had been done with it.
It seemed only fitting to watch this in light of James Caan’s recent death. Stylish and technically precise to a fault, as expected from a film directed by Michael Mann, with a trippy score by Tangerine Dream. I’d love to visit the rain-soaked, neon-lit version of Chicago as captured through Mann’s lens.
My favorite MCU title in a long time, with style, energy, and humor reminiscent of Into the Spider-Verse (a very good thing). The season falters a bit in the middle — the Karachi episodes feel like they’re from a different series/season altogether — but it begins strong and ends well. I almost wish Ms. Marvel was disconnected from the larger MCU for a little while longer so that it could remain its own special thing unbeholden to a larger mythos. Also, Abbu Hulk forever!
So maybe Sam Raimi and the MCU weren’t such a great match, after all. Some cool visuals, but the obvious Raimi-isms really felt out of place to me. As for the story, it was OK, but nowhere near as thrilling, interesting, or thought-provoking as the first Doctor Strange movie.
📚
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain, Book Four)
I’ve been slowly making my way through Alexander’s Prydain series over the last year or so. I never read them as a kid, but given how much I like them as an adult, I think 11-year-old Jason would’ve loved them. This book, in particular, contained some poignant ruminations on honor, duty, and freedom.
📺
Stranger Things, Season Four
Overall, I enjoyed this season a lot more than season three, but it could’ve done without one or two storylines (the Russia storyline, in particular, dragged quite a bit). It felt like the Duffers wrote themselves into a corner after season three, and had to spend most of season four untangling things. Even so, it’s still Stranger Things, and therefore, filled with wonderful moments (e.g., “Running Up That Hill,” “Master of Puppets,” Hopper’s confession).
Another “classic” anime OVA from late ’80s. Given its stylish animation and gratuitous content, I should’ve guessed that it was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (of Ninja Scroll and Wicked City fame). I don’t really recommend this one, though the old-school cel animation was kind of refreshing to watch. Also, nothing looks cooler than futuristic Tokyo cityscapes as depicted in ’80s anime.
Well, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck pulled it off. After nine books, they wrapped up The Expanse in a way that’s both very fitting and rewarding, but also leaves behind some interesting ethical/philosophical questions about the character’s actions. And I appreciate how the book jumps back and forth between cynicism and optimism concerning humanity right up until the final pages.