My Cultural Diet (August 2022): Predator, Cinnamon Rolls, The Sandman, The Incredibles

A quick rundown of last month’s cultural experiences.
Predator - John McTiernan
Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)

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 interviews with Woodstock ‘99’s staff, promoters, artists, and attendees as they reflect on the festival’s disastrous end are equal parts fascinating and infuriating, and a showcase of naïveté, incompetence, and greed. It’s all further proof that when art and capitalism meet, it’s often to art’s detriment. Unfortunately, Trainwreck stumbles in its coverage of the sexual assaults that occurred at the festival; the clips of half-naked women getting groped and mobbed by men were no doubt included to highlight the reality of the problem, but they end up feeling gratuitous and exploitative.
I’ve never played Dota 2, so I don’t know how well Dota: Dragon’s Blood stacks up to the source material. But as far as high fantasy with elves, dragons, and evil demons go, it’s pretty solid stuff with a suitably elaborate mythology. Also, lots of graphic violence, so definitely not a series for kids. I enjoyed Studio Mir’s work on Voltron: Legendary Defender, and their character designs and animation here feel like a natural evolution.
In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, a young girl becomes a popular singer in a virtual universe, only to encounter a strange beast-like creature. Story-wise, I think the film tries to do a bit too much, though its heart is always in the right place. Visually, however, Belle is astounding, thanks to its nigh-seamless blend of cel animation and CGI.
Carter is based on a gimmick: that it all takes place in a single take. It obviously doesn’t, but to achieve that effect, director Byung-gil Jung relies on migraine-inducing camerawork and editing as well as some truly awful visual effects. It’s a shame because Carter has some cool ideas and incredible stunts, and lead actor Joo Won gives a committed performance (even when wearing nothing but a G-string). I’m actually kind of mad at the waste of time and talent this movie represents.
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The High King by Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain, Book Five)
The final book in Alexander’s Prydain series. Elegant storytelling steeped in Welsh mythology. What strikes me the most is how elegiac and melancholy it is, from the various sacrifices that each main character has to make, to the bittersweet ending. And it’s all the better because of it. It affected me as an adult; I can only imagine how it would’ve affected me had I read it as a kid.
One of my top 3 favorite Pixar movies alongside Toy Story 2 and Inside Out. Everything about The Incredibles — the mid-century modern aesthetic, the story’s perfect balance of comedy and family melodrama, the voice acting, Michael Giacchino’s score, the action sequences, etc. — is so well-crafted and well-executed. My appreciation for what Brad Bird et al. accomplished here has only grown in the last two decades.
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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.

For more, check out the full cultural diet.