My Cultural Diet for September 2022: Prey, Dota: Dragon’s Blood, Paper Girls, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

A quick rundown of last month’s cultural experiences.
Prey - Dan Trachtenberg
Amber Midthunder takes on an extraterrestrial hunter in Prey

In order to better track my various cultural experiences (e.g., movies, TV shows, books, restaurants), I’ve created the Cultural Diet. Think of it as my own personal Goodreads, Letterboxd, and Yelp, all rolled into one (more info here). Every month, I recap everything that I watched, read, etc., in the previous month.


The first Incredibles movie is one of my favorite Pixar movies so the sequel had a lot of to live up. It doesn’t quite succeed: the family drama feels a bit forced this time and the marionette like character designs cross over into the uncanny valley a bit too much for my like. But it definitely has its own charms: the mid-century modern aesthetic is on point and Elastigirl’s nocturnal pursuit of Screenslaver is one of my favorite Pixar sequences of all time.
This bit of mid ’90s direct-to-video cheese is a blatant RoboCop rip-off, but with none of Paul Verhoeven’s style or satire. (I also detected hints of Terminator 2 in the soundtrack.) It does have Richard Grieco chewing up the scenery whenever he’s on-screen, which is not nothing. (The movie also gets some bonus points for naming his character “Mad Dog.”) Sidenote: Director Robert Kurtzman apparently never met a Dutch angle he didn’t like.
I’ve never played Dota 2, the game on which this Netflix series is based. That didn’t matter much with previous seasons, but the third season seems to dive really deeply into game lore, with the assumption that viewers are familiar with it. I was not. I loved the animation, designs, world building, etc., but felt completely lost in the last few episodes, story-wise. The finale is obviously meant to be epic and emotional, but it fell flat for me. I suspect, however, that Dota 2 players might have a very different experience.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is ultra-stylish and ultra-graphic — much like Love, Death & Robots, it’s not for kids — with some truly stunning animated action. (Kudos to Studio Trigger.) It occasionally wrestles with some deeper themes re. technology’s impact on humanity, but Ghost in the Shell it most certainly is not. Sometimes it feels like an edgy tragedy thanks to its melancholy tone, while other times, it’s all about the nihilistic excess. Your mileage will most definitely vary.
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.
Parallel Love worked on multiple levels for me: as a nostalgia-filled document of an important era in Christian music; as a heartfelt look at a rock band and the twists, turns, and tragedies of their career; and as a thought-provoking rumination on faith, spirituality, and art. Luxury was a band like no other in Christian circles, and I’m glad to see them getting some long overdue attention as a result of this film. Also cool: Some of my Cornerstone photos appear in the film’s archival footage. (Read my review)
I didn’t like this as much as the first season. I like fantastical world building, but it felt like they crammed in way too much into this season. As a result, everything felt rushed and half-baked. But there’s still enough that I like that I’m looking forward to season three.
I watched this with my oldest and we both agreed: Prey is a lean, mean action movie par excellence. The Native American characters and setting didn’t just put a fresh spin on the Predator mythos, story-wise; they also helped to ground the movie and give it a sense of authenticity and immediacy that was immensely satisfying.
Like Andy Weir (Project Hail Mary, The Martian), Blake Crouch writes sci-fi that’s intellectually stimulating thanks to the science involved, but at the same time, real page-turners. (I think I read Upgrade in two days, total.) That said, Upgrade may have been too much of a page-turner; it felt perfunctory given the heady topic involved (genetic engineering). As for the ending, I get why Crouch wanted to end the novel on an optimistic note, but it rang a bit false to me and left a bad taste in my mouth.