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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
Andor, Season One
The best thing to happen to Star Wars in years. The Mandalorian has Baby Yoda, The Bad Batch is enjoyable, and it was nice to see Ewan McGregor take up Obi-Wan again, but Andor expands and deepens the Star Wars universe without relying on nostalgia or any of the usual tropes. And in doing so, it gives us some awesome new characters (e.g., Luthen, B2EMO) and a thrilling, even thought-provoking storyline. I can’t wait for season two.
I still enjoy Lower Decks’ poking fun of Star Trek tropes, but this season didn’t click for me as much the previous one did. Perhaps the constant references and throwbacks are wearing a bit thin now. Hopefully, they can inject some fresh life into the series for the already-announced fourth season.
I had some quibbles with this first season, due mainly to its attempts at juggling four different storylines and keeping them balanced and cohesive, dramatically, chronologically, and geographically. (Just how, exactly, did the Númenóreans travel upriver and arrive in Tirharad so quickly?) Also, its efforts to feel appropriately Tolkien-ish (e.g., dropping in references like “always follow your nose”) got a bit ham-handed at times. But the series’ heart is clearly in the right place, there’s lots of heartfelt talk about loyalty, sacrifice, and fellowship (e.g., Elrond and Durin), the steady religiosity was a nice touch, and of course, it looked absolutely fantastic. So yes, bring on Season Two (which has already begun filming). (Read my review)
Paper Girls, Season One
I wanted to like this more than I did. The story — based on Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s comic — was interesting and the young cast was game enough, but this is one of those cases where the various pieces just didn’t click. Also, don’t believe any Stranger Things comparisons; aside from being (partially) set in ’80s, Paper Girls has nothing in common with the Netflix series. There was a lot of potential here that will sadly be unrealized since Amazon canceled the series.
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.
Ms. Marvel, Season One
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!
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.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Season One
Ewan McGregor’s fantastic as the titular Jedi master, who’s hiding out on Tatooine to watch over young Luke Skywalker while still haunted by the death of Anakin Skywalker — who, unbeknownst to Kenobi, has returned as Darth Vader. The Inquisitor side plot held promise but was a bit underwhelming. There’s been talk about a second season; not sure how I feel about that.
I’ve never played League of Legends so I don’t know how faithful Arcane is to the source material. But I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed Arcane’s steampunk aesthetic, rich world-building, thrilling action, and superb (and dare I say) groundbreaking animation. A second season has been greenlit, and it can’t come soon enough.
I’ve always found classic serials from ’30s and ’40s fascinating. This one’s a bit less exciting than its premise — a hotshot pilot must protect an anti-gravity device from smugglers — might otherwise suggest, but it has the requisite damsels in distress and ridiculous cliffhangers. That being said, the real aerial stunts are pretty cool to watch. (Read my review)
Slow Horses, Season One
I wanted to like this way more than I did, but I could never figure out the tone. Was it a black comedy like Four Lions, a parody of spy thrillers, or a spy thriller in its own right? Not that it couldn’t be a mix of those, of course, but not knowing how to react to, say, Gary Oldman’s scene-chewing was frustrating.
Mitsuo Iso’s long-gestating follow-up to Den-noh Coil often feels like a spiritual and stylistic sequel. And like Den-noh Coil, I was alternately fascinated and frustrated by Orbital Children’s storyline. It’s very clever and imaginative, but I kept feeling like I’d missed an episode containing some key details.
I still think the first season was the best, but this was a solid improvement over season two. Ultra violent and gory, as to be expected. I’m a sucker for the Lovecraftian “In Vaulted Halls Entombed,” but I also enjoyed the “Mason’s Rats” and “Night of the Mini Dead.”