Tasting Notes

Just some quick hits on my media diet of late…

Television

  • Watchmen – I was skeptical; who was really hankering for a sequel to the Watchmen graphic novel? I may be biased because of my general distaste for sequels, but I gave the series a shot, and it’s steadily been chipping away at all my reservations about the show. It hits a lot of “prestige TV” notes and starts off by just dropping you into a world that isn’t quite familiar (even if you’ve read the comic book). A lot of it still feels unnecessary, but it’s actually quite good and getting better as it goes. Will it continue to pick up steam and end strong? I still have doubts, but this show has earned a place on my increasingly crowded watching schedule.
  • The Mandalorian – I’ve already posted my initial thoughts on the first two episodes and am genuinely curious to see where it’s headed. It’s quite good, but it hasn’t achieved greatness yet. Still, tons of potential and it’s hitting the non-prequel, low-ish stakes, and new character notes that most recent Star Wars has been missing. Baby Yoda is indeed great and cute, and so far, the whole “never taking off the mask” thing hasn’t bothered me as much as the show’s critics.
  • The Good Place – If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend watching through the conclusion of the first season. Spoilers for what follows! One of the things about the show that you kinda have to buy into is that its vision of the afterlife is, well, kinda dumb. One of the great things about the conclusion of the first season was that there was a really good reason why the afterlife was that dumb – it was all a ruse. They manage to keep up the quality in the second season pretty well, but by the third season, it was definitely running out of steam. Now in its fourth and final season, it’s almost completely out of juice. Of course, I still love the show, it’s got a high joke density that lands most of time, and the characters are so likable and endearing that I still want to keep watching, but I’m glad this is the final season. It’s kinda on hiatus now until it finishes up early next year, but I’m kinda interested in the overarching story again because it’s kinda become canon that the system at the heart of the series is flawed and, well, kinda dumb. I have no idea how they’re going to resolve that though…

Movies

  • The Irishman – Martin Scorsese’s latest epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, which is probably at least a half hour too long. Look, I get it, De Niro’s character slowly but surely sacrifices everything good in his life for the sake of his mafia friends, who clearly don’t care, and it happens bit by bit over the course of decades, such that he doesn’t even realize it’s happening until it’s far too late. The last hour of the film, once he realizes what he’s done, is devastating and heartbreaking… I dunno, maybe it needs to be that long in order to get to that place, but pacing matters, and while I was never bored or anything, this didn’t quite have the energy that sustains Scorsese’s best efforts. As a result, I don’t see myself revisiting this the way I do with Goodfellas, Casino, Wolf of Wall Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc… (geeze, this guy’s made a lot of great movies, I could easily list five more that I’d rewatch tonight…) The best mafia movies are able to balance the romantic, attractive side of the life with the darkness and despair that inevitably follows. Goodfellas, in particular, is fantastic at this. The Irishman is more subtle and more calibrated around the darkness and despair, which doesn’t exactly make for a pleasant viewing. Anyway, De Niro and Pacino are great, definitely working at a level far above where they’ve been lately, but the real star is Pesci, who is really fantastic here. Side characters without much time even manage a big impact, like Anna Paquin and Stephen Graham, who are both standouts despite not a ton of time onscreen. Definitely worth a watch and maybe even one of the best of the year; it’s actually grown on me in the last few days, so maybe it will continue to expand its influence in my mind as time goes on…
  • Prospect – Neat little SF thriller set on an alien moon, where a teenaged girl and her father are trying to prospect for naturally occurring gems. Naturally, there are competitors and unfriendlies that complicate matters and turn the whole venture into one of survival. There’s some heavy reliance on tropes in the worldbuilding, but it gets better as it goes. Interestingly, since the environment on the moon isn’t particularly friendly to human life, they spend most of the movie with their space suits and helmets on, something a lot of movies wouldn’t bother with, but which adds a bit of verisimilitude that serves the movie well (and the filmmakers seem to view the limitations of this approach as a benefit, rather than just a challenge to be disposed of). Apparently this will be eligible for the Hugo awards, even though it premiered last year – it will be on my ballot.
  • Dolemite Is My Name – When I was younger, my brother and his friends came home one day with a tape from a video rental place. The movie was The Monkey Hustle, starring one Rudy Ray Moore. For some reason, we became obsessed with this dude and watched a bunch of his other movies, including Dolemite. They aren’t strictly good in any objective sense, but they’ve certainly got an energy about them. So this new film, Dolemite Is My Name, is a love letter to Moore and his particular brand of raunchy comedy. It’s kind of a biopic, but it focuses pretty narrowly on one portion of Moore’s career, so it doesn’t fall prey to all the cliches usually associated with the sub-genre, and it’s a whole boatload of fun. Eddie Murphy is fantastic, certainly the best thing he’s done in, um, decades? Jeeze. Great supporting cast as well, particularly Wesley Snipes. It’s a pretty fantastic example of the “I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!” style movie. Well worth checking out.

Books

  • Delta-V by Daniel Suarez – A billionaire hires a bunch of adventurer/explorer types to man his deep space mission to mine an asteroid; hijinks ensue. Pretty solid SF told in Suarez’s breezy style. It scratches the hard SF itch while being pretty entertaining, but it doesn’t really approach the true sense of wonder that marks the best of the genre either. Still, I really enjoyed this, quite a bit more than a lot of recent SF that I’ve read.
  • Zero to One Notes on Start-Ups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters – Peter Thiel is a famous tech entrepreneur who was one of the founders of Paypal. Blake Masters was a Standford grad student who took a class taught by Thiel and eventually came to work with Thiel to publish a book on Thiel’s ideas. This post can’t really do justice to Thiel’s ideas, but he has some interesting thoughts on monopolies, competition, and what he terms “indefinite optimism”. It’s at its best when he’s waxing philosophical on topics like this, though the bits on the nuts and bolts of operating a startup work too (they’re just necessarily more mundane). It’s actually very short, and could probably use a bit more fleshing out, but lots of food for thought here. As a fan of Science Ficiton, I thought Thiel’s framing of the indefinite/definite and pessimism/optimism would make interesting axis for SF – the definite optimism of the golden age yielding to indefinite pessimism of the new wave (maybe not the best description, but the general idea of SF becoming more pessimistic over time is pretty clear), etc… It could be interesting, but it’d be a topic for another post.
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell – By this point, you should already know what you think of Gladwell, and this book most likely won’t change your mind. I tend to enjoy his style and think he’s good at articulating certain things. For its part, this book seems to me to be a warning of the dangers of being hyper-vigilant. Sure, you might catch a Bernie Madoff earlier on and maybe the police can clean up a crime-ridden neighborhood, but applying that same hyper-vigilantism to other, more trustworthy areas can be disastrous. The book meanders a bit and Gladwell’s focus isn’t necessarily on hyper-vigilantism, but that was the most relevant piece for me, and you can see it all over the place (i.e. obvious places like politics, but also social media and smaller scale communities, etc…). Again, if you’re not a Gladwell fan, this won’t change your mind, but if you are, it’s solid stuff.

Music

  • Watchmen: Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Music from the HBO Series) – As I was watching the series, I was thinking that the music was great and a little familiar and look at that, it’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Great stuff, and good background for working…

The Finer Things

  • The Kaedrin Beer Blog is still going, though posting has dropped off quite a bit. Still, we’ve entered barrel-aged stout season and I’m working my way through BCBS variants (best so far is the Reserve Rye) and the more local, independent Free Will Ralphius variants (so far, the Vanilla and Double Barrel-Aged are the best variants, better than most of last year’s for sure).
  • The Annual Egg Nog Tasting this year was of moderate size. Not much to cover that we haven’t covered before, but a couple of newish entries this year, including the semi-local Kreider Farms Eggnog (which was my favorite) and Promised Land (which the majority voted as best).
    The 2019 Egg Nog Tasting

    Wawa always places well too, but I think people are so used to it that they just vote for something new and good whenever it’s available. In terms of worst-in-show, someone brought eggnog flavored creamer, which was… not good.

And that’s all for now folks…

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