Media Diet

Notes on recent media consumption. Mostly so that I can remember what I read and watched.

Movie: The Devil All the Time :: 2020-10-20

A-list actors spout B-movie southern accents in an overstuffed story of bad people doing bad things in post-war Appalachia. A waste of time and talent.

TV: Lovecraft Country :: 2020-10-18

Started off strong but went further off the rails with each episode, becoming nearly incomprehensible by the end. A great cast, good cinematography and production design, and truly excellent costuming. Pity they couldn’t have found a story to match.

Movie: Charm City Kings :: 2020-10-10

Very enjoyable coming-of-age story about a black kid in West Baltimore who gets involved in a motorcycle gang. Great acting, especially from the super-charming lead kid. Minor negative marks for a slightly pat ending and fat-kid-as-comic-relief.

Book: The Doors of Eden :: Adrian Tchaikovsky :: 2020-10-03

Exciting and engrossing, though the half dozen different viewpoint characters sometimes feel a bit distracting. The story zips along nicely except for a couple weak spots. Takes several unexpected turns and gives you plenty of cool ideas to think about. Pleasantly different from Tchaikovsky’s previous series and reminiscent of Charlie Stross’s best work.

TV: Ozark :: 2020-10-01

Lori enjoyed season one, tolerated two, and is happy with three. I’ve watched bits here and there, sometimes up to a full episode. Very good actors and a decent story, beautiful cinematography. Hasn’t degenerated into implausible soap opera yet, which is kind of remarkable given the premise.

Book: The Ten Thousand Doors of January :: Alix E. Harrow :: 2020-09-29

An extremely competent first novel from an author who bears watching. Clearly put together from familiar pieces (Earthsea, portal fantasy, His Dark Materials, Indiana Jones), but the seams are well polished and the story feels original. Would be accessible to HS students but covers enough adult emotional issues to not feel like YA slumming.

Book: Fangs :: Sarah Andersen :: 2020-09-22

An incredibly charming love story about a vampire and a werewolf told as a series of excellent gag-a-day comics.

Book: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor :: Hank Green :: 2020-09-19

This sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing went in a more straight ahead sci-fi direction. Multiple PoV narration fleshed out the other characters and kept things interesting. Good mix of intrigue and science-y stuff, all of which was pretty believable. Bonus points for conclusively wrapping up the story in only two novels.

Movie: Project Power :: 2020-09-18

Straight-to-Netflix movie about a pill that gives temporary super powers. Competent but forgettable. I was mostly there to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt; after 20 minutes Lori wasn’t there at all.

Book: The Light from Other Stars :: Erika Swyler :: 2020-09-05

The story alternates back and forth between a tweenage girl in 80’s Florida and her adult life as an astronaut on the way to Mars. Not very engaging, and I quit when the childhood part started to turn into Stranger Things style gothic horror.

Book: The Queen of the Damned :: Anne Rice :: 2020-08-28

This was a book too far. I lost IQ points getting through it. I remembered it as a lot less trashy.

Book: The Vampire Lestat :: Anne Rice :: 2020-08-21

I really needed some escapist trash, and re-reading this fit the bill in spades. Better than I expected, though my expectations were pretty low.

Book: The Vanished Birds :: Simon Jimenez :: 2020-08-15

A farily literary novel; has the trappings of sci-fi but it’s closer to magic realism (I’ve seen several of these recently). Mostly a story about the meaning of family.

Movie: Yes, God, Yes :: 2020-08-15

A nice little movie about a repressed Christian girl struggling with sexuality. This was expanded from a short film, and was probably better at that length. Mostly saved by Natalia Dyer’s performance.

Book: Axiom’s End :: Lindsay Ellis :: 2020-08-09

The narrator is a bit flat, and the alien’s motivation was off, but overall a decent first contact novel.

Movie: Men in Black :: 2020-08-07

This aged well. Still light, funny and enjoyable.

Movie: Sixteen Candles :: 2020-08-06

This is what we wanted from a John Hughes movie! Funny and surprisingly heartwarming. Almost all the characters are (or become) actually decent human beings, and the message isn’t awful. Definitely a product of its times so expect some horrible political incorrectness. I am ashamed at how funny I still find Long Duck Dong (though most of his schtick would work for any “foreigner with limited Englinsh” character).

Movie: Gladiator :: 2020-07-29

Holds up pretty well, if a bit long. Not remotely beliveable, but fun. Joaquin Phoenix is great as the creepy emperor.

Movie: Pretty in Pink :: 2020-07-24

Wow, this was terrible, despite fond memories. Every male character was some kind of awful, and Ducky was the worst – full on emotional abuse, jealousy & controlling behavior. We quit half way in dismay and disgust. Did not age well.

Book: An Embarrassment of Witches :: Sophie Goldstein & Jenn Jordan :: 2020-07-24

A Bildungsroman taking place in a world much like our own, but with magic. The art style is simple but communicates emotion and action well. Fairly enjoyable, but our heroine is such a trainwreck of bad decisions that it’s sometime painful to read. Not as good as the authors' previous collaboration, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell.

Book: The Peace War :: Vernor Vinge :: 2020-07-18

My third or fourth time and it’s still a great read. Very few holes in the plot and premise, and what’s there is easy to get past.

Movie: Shirley :: 2020-07-15

Perfectly adequate movie, but you could just re-watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? instead. We didn’t finish it, mostly because neither of us were in the mood for a stressful experience.

Movie: Holy Motors :: 2020-07-11

Good cinematography and brilliant physical acting don’t make up for a total lack of plot or narrative. Why did I put up with even 40 minutes of this masturbatory exercise?

Movie: The Old Guard :: 2020-07-10

Charlize Theron kicks all the asses. The laws of physics are not horribly violated, and the plot actually makes some sense. The only negative is that “evil pharma exec” is getting to be a trite villain.

Book: Dune :: Frank Herbert :: 2020-07-07

After the fourth disappointment from a book I’d long anticipated I took Gwynne’s advice and do some comfort reading. Dune is still great. Following that I plowed through several more old favorites over the following weeks.

Movie: The Assistant :: 2020-07-06

A day in the life of a young woman working for a New York media mogul. The unseen, unnamed, and obviously abusive boss is clearly a stand-in for Harvey Weinstein. Well made and well acted, but ultimately unsatisfying because nothing is resolved.

Book: The Last Emperox :: John Scalzi :: 2020-06-20

It was okay, I guess. The Kiva Lagos plotline didn’t hold my interest (she’s profane, yeah, great, but that’s not enough to support half a novel). I wanted to know more about the flow collapse, but the resolution to that plot thread felt cursory.

Book: The City We Became :: N. K. Jemisin :: 2020-06-10

I loved the Broken Earth trilogy and quite enjoyed the Inheritance trilogy, but this seems like something from an entirely different, and lesser, author. Where her other works show this one tells – tendentiously. The social commentary is blatantly on-the-nose: the villain is a conglomeration of white tentacles that occasionally embodies as a shrill white woman. Our heroes are various shades of brown, except for the reluctant one who is a frightened white girl from the suburbs. I put this down half way through.

Movie: The Toxic Avenger :: 2020-05-29

So bad it’s great. Jaw dropping schlock with surprisingly high production values.

Book: Hearts of Oak :: Eddie Robson :: 2020-05-25

This book starts off as a mix of magic realism and allegory and then takes an odd turn into science fiction. It’s a pleasant and quick read but I think it would have been stronger if the author had been more sure about what they were making.

Book: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing :: Hank Green :: 2020-05-12

Nominally science fiction, but mostly a study of modern online viral fame and the ways it warps people and relationships. The first person narrator was engaging and the plot moved along at a good clip. I was up past midnight finishing the book because I couldn’t put it down.

Movie: First Blood :: 2020-05-11

Turns out niether Lori nor I had seen any of the Rambo films. Surprisingly good, and far less offensive or jingoistic than I had feared. The action scenes felt a bit dated, but stood up well.

Book: The Light Years :: R. W. W. Greene :: 2020-05-08

The characters were fairly interesting and the prose was clear and readable. The world-building was only marginally believable and the plot was thin. I finished the book, but mostly because I had abandoned too many books recently and couldn’t bear to waste yet another purchase.

Movie: The Inside Man :: 2020-05-06

This was well worth a second viewing. Denzel Washington is charming as ever and the rest of the high-wattage cast (two more Oscar winners and three nominees) puts in fine work. The complex bank robbery plot moves along briskly and the twist is still twisty even if you know it’s coming.

TV: Westworld, Season 3 :: 2020-05-05

The best looking science fiction sets and costuming I’ve seen in ages, like an hour long perfume commercial (in a good way). The near-future world-building was surprisingly coherent and believable compared to most of what comes out of Hollywood these days. Unfortunately the plot and storyline start out shaky and slowly dissolve into incomprehensibility. It’s clear that the season was written because HBO wanted money, and not for any artistic desire or to tell a story. The premise is awkwardly stretched over the bones of the show like the skin of a cheap android.

Book: A Memory Called Empire :: Arkady Martine :: 2020-04-26

Generally good, interesting worldbuilding and characters; somewhat longer than it needs to be, and the author’s reach sometimes exceeds her grasp. Picked up considerably in the last third of the book.

Movie: The Gentlemen :: 2020-04-15

To my surprise Guy Ritchie’s latest film, was rather good. Not up to the level of Lock, Stock…, but if you fancy Guy’s schtick it’s quite enjoyable, and certainly worth six bucks and a couple hours of your time. Hugh Grant is quite good as a man in just over his head.

Movie: Booksmart :: 2020-04-11

A movie about high school girls that actually felt like it took them seriously (despite being a mildly dumb comedy). I quite enjoyed it, Lori left after 40 minutes.

Book: Normal People :: Sally Rooney :: 2020-04-09

Beautiful writing and a decent story; I found the lead characters' utter passivity a bit unbelievable. The middle of the book felt padded, and the ending was curiously abrupt.

On the other hand this line alone was worth the price of admission:

She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth,’ by which she means the ability
to beg for love from people who hate her.

Movie: Birds Of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn :: 2020-03-25

When am I going to learn that superhero movies are junk? Even Margo Robbie’s charm and beauty could not save this muddled dreck.

Movie: Onward :: 2020-03-21

A middling Pixar movie, which means it’s still better than most of what comes out of Hollywood. The premise is good, and the animation is stunning, but the plot and the action are curiously thin. The big action scene at the end is pretty epic though.

Movie: Knives Out :: 2020-03-05

An enjoyable whodunnit from Rian Johnson. The very star-studded cast clearly enjoy chewing the scenery. Daniel Craig does a nice job as a somewhat odd southern gentleman.

Book: Exhalation :: Ted Chiang :: 2020-02-20

This story collection deserves all the praise it received. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is an excellent examination of how technology mediates human experience and understanding.

Movie: Ford V Ferrari :: 2020-02-12

A race car movie built on an Oscar-worthy chassis. As a former sports car junkie this movie was extremely satisfying.

Movie: Jojo Rabbit :: 2020-02-08

A screwball comedy about a kid in 1940s Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. There’s no way this should work, but it does. The Oscar nominated costuming and production design were fantastic.

Movie: Terminator: Dark Fate :: 2020-01-30

Not great, maybe not even good, but way better than the last several Terminator entries. Watchable, and (with appropriately low expectations) I never wanted to throw the remote through the screen.

Book: Agency :: William Gibson :: 2020-01-25

Very much of a piece with Gibson’s recent work, but it seemed strangely inconsequential. I couldn’t get excited about the action or connect to the characters.

Book: Semiosis :: Sue Burke :: 2020-01-19

An alien contact story that felt genuinely new. Follows several generations, so you may feel a bit disconnected from the characters.

Book: Fates and Furies :: Lauren Groff :: 2020-01-08

The story follows the lives of a literary power couple, but the selling point is the gorgeous writing. The first half covers the man’s life, and by the time I was three quarters through (the second half and the woman’s life) it was starting to feel a bit drawn. Still heartily recommended.

Book: Disappearing Earth :: Julia Phillips :: 2019-12-22

A set of linked short stories surrounding the disappearance of two young girls from a city in Kamchatka. Eventually coalesces into a nice mystery novel. Interesting characters in a very unfamiliar setting. The prose was descriptive enough to make me feel like I’d been to Kamchatka.

Book: Fall, or, Dodge in Hell :: Neal Stephenson :: 2019-11-10

Stephenson clearly had several Important Ideas he wanted to work out, but he neglected to build a good story around them. Or perhaps he built several stories and banged them together until they stuck. The first 100 pages are great, and the last 100 are pretty good, but the middle seven hundred pages are mediocre and incredibly tedious. Most of the Big Idea pistols are left hanging on the wall, and the rest misfire. A disappointment from one of my favorite authors.

Book: Empress of Forever :: Max Gladstone :: 2019-11-01

Take a decent 250 page space opera and throw it in a blender with 250 pages of literary onanism. I finished it Saturday and by Monday I couldn’t remember how it ended. Pity, I liked some of Gladstone’s earlier books.