Media Diet

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

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.

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.