My Cultural Diet for December 2022: The English, Trevor Noah, Italian Runzas

A quick rundown of last month’s cultural experiences.
The English
Chaske Spencer and Emily Blunt star in Amazon Prime’s The English

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.


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.