Just a series of quick hits and tasting notes on my media diet (and sometimes, uh, regular diet) of late:
The Mandalorian – I really enjoyed the first couple of seasons of The Mandalorian, but the further it went, the more franchise baggage it accumulated. One of the bigger problems the show faced in season 3 was that you had to watch The Book of Boba Fett series to know what was going on (the Fett series was… not great, but one episode was almost entirely a Mandalorian episode and changed a bunch of things that happened in the season 2 finale – it was a decent episode, but it didn’t belong in another series.)
Then you have to take into account that this season was mostly not about Mando, but rather the various Mandalorian factions and lore. This sort of stuff works better in the background, and in the process, the things we liked about the series (independent, mostly standalone stories with Star Wars flavor) started to fade a bit. This growth of side characters is sometimes fine, but like Ted Lasso, I felt like something was missing when the focus moved away from the titular character. They’re still taking some chances (the one episode with the former Empire officer was interesting enough) but there’s a lack of cohesiveness, and guest stars don’t really help with that. I’m still interested in this show and will probably check out the Ahsoka show (if only to see Thrawn onscreen), but I’m falling off the Disney+ train of late…
FUBAR – Perfectly cromulent spy thriller show starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that fits with the typical Netflix show mold. In other words, I completely forgot that I watched it. It’s certainly nothing special, but I have a soft spot for Arnold and the show has a decent enough blend of action and comedy. The supporting cast all works too, including Monica Barbaro (from Top Gun: Maverick) and surprisingly, Travis Van Winkle (who I remember as being great in Friday the 13th). It’s derivative, the dramatic bits probably don’t hit as hard as they should, and it’s not going to light the world on fire, but it’s enjoyable enough and I’m actually curious to see what happens next.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – For reasons basically amounting to stubbornness and spite, I have avoided subscribing to Paramount+ (or any of its previous incarnations like CBS All Access or whatever). As such, I have not really been keeping up with new Trek series… and from what I can tell, I haven’t missed much. That being said, I’ve been missing the “science thing of the week” style episodic show, and a friend told me that this is what Strange New Worlds was like… and then it showed up on Amazon Prime Video, so I gave it a shot. Only a couple episodes in, but I like it! There’s a lot of potential here, and I will continue to explore (pun intended!) The only thing that gives me pause is that it’s another series that’s a prequel, which, gah, why do we keep doing this?
The Flash – Pretty typical DC effort to cash in on a few obvious trends like Multiverses and legacy characters, which is to say, some interesting ideas weighed down by franchise baggage and abysmal overreliance on bad CGI. Like, did these scenes finish rendering? Are the babies supposed to look like soulless, dead-eyed plastic monsters? It doesn’t help that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse came out two weeks ago and features an almost identical story, but in a much more cohesive manner. Ezra Miller is fine, though it’s a double performance and one of the characters was pretty annoying. It’s nice to see Keaton getting a paycheck, but that’s about it. There’s some cameos and bits and pieces that work here or there (though it does include one that’s in pretty bad taste). It’s diverting enough, but it looks awful and it’s weird that they are still putting out these movies when they’re about to reboot the whole DC universe. I suspect there’s a bit of superhero fatigue at the box office these days, but I also think that’s mostly because the quality hasn’t been there lately. All that said, James Gunn has made a bunch of unlikely stuff work, so I’m definitely curious. Anyway, the Flash is mostly just an also-ran rehash of the recent spate of multiverse movies, which are also getting pretty played out.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – Alright, I guess I should talk about this one too. It builds on the first movie (which was exceptional and well worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it) in nearly every way. It’s visually spectacular, continuing the trend of visual motifs and animation styles centered around a specific instance of Spider-Man that started in the first film, then seamlessly blending them together as multiple characters interact. This was present in the first movie, but taken to an extreme here. At times, perhaps too extreme and overwhelming, but mostly this is just fulfilled ambition here.
The only really major problem here is that it basically just stops with a “To Be Continued”, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but I was not expecting that (and it was the second movie to pull this sorta thing in a few weeks – the other being Fast X) and it means you leave the theater on a down note (as opposed to the high note of the first film). That being said, this is maybe the best superhero movie of the last few years? Or, er, the best first half of a movie, because this is definitely just half of a movie. Definitely curious to see if they can stick the landing, as they haven’t quite painted themselves into a corner, but there are plenty of traps they could fall into in the third movie.
Extraction II – These two movies are in the running for best Netflix blockbusters… which is not saying much, but this sequel is a solid actioner with a budget that lets them do some impressive stuff. In particular, there are some well executed long takes filled with action that are very well done (continuing the trend from the first movie). I know there’s a faction of people who don’t like this sort of stitched together long take, but I generally find this thing worth pursuing. Action trends come in waves, and and I like this a lot more than, say, the shaky cam/quick cuts thing that was going on in the oughts and early teens. Anywho, the plot is basically just an excuse for the action and pretty forgettable, but the action is great and Chris Hemsworth does this sort of thing well. I don’t know that there’ll be a third movie, but I want to see Hemsworth do this sort of action thing again. Maybe someday they’ll put it in movie theaters. What an idea!
Brooklyn 45 – Five WWII vets get together immediately after the war, and a troubled friend thinks it will be a good idea to hold a seance so that he can talk to his dead wife. Spoiler alert: it was not a good idea. It’s a nice little single location thriller punctuated by 1940s needle drops, excellent performances, ghostly hands, Germans, and emotional confessions galore. I don’t know that the ending fully holds together well enough, but I respect the grind. As an aside, it was very strange to see the guy who does the Peter Rosenthal reviews for the Onion in this, doing, like, regular dramatic acting. But he was good! Still no Rosenthal review of this yet though.
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad – Set in a fictional South American country, this novel tells the story of a silver mine that gets thrust into disarray during one of the periodic revolutions that plague the country. It’s pretty funny that this highly respected literary novel reminds me the most of… The Lord of the Rings. I mean, sure, it’s a deeply political novel with keen insights into the nature of mankind, but setting it in a fictional country means that Conrad spends a huge amount of time fleshing it out with history and culture, especially as seen through a handful of characters. Sometimes it felt like reading a realistic, non-fantasy version of The Simarillion. Plus, you get a titular character who has several different names (Nostromo, Giovanni, Capataz de Cargadores, etc…), just like the LotR characters (i.e. Strider/Aragorn, etc…) And the treasure from the silver mine? Everyone seeks it out, and it corrupts even those described as incorruptible. Sound familiar? No? I’m just a huge nerd? Yeah, that checks out. Carry on. (I took more notes and may expand this to another post with a more serious dive into the novel, but will leave it at this for now…)
No One Will Miss Her by Kat Rosenfield – Murder mystery following a dead town pariah, her missing husband, a famous social media influencer type, and a detective piecing things together. Perfectly cromulent thriller built on a twist you can probably see coming, it loses its way a few times, but works reasonably well. Not highly recommended, but you could do worse (damning with faint praise? Maybe.)
Critical Mass by Daniel Suarez – A sequel to Delta-v, this one picks up where the first novel left off, but spends a fair amount of time grounded as the political ramifications of the first novel are dealt with. So it’s not quite as breezy, but things get moving a little more as the story progresses and our protagonists get back into space. I like Delta-v and Suarez in general, so I enjoyed this just fine, though it’s not his most memorable story. Will keep on the lookout for more Suarez though, as he occupies an interesting space between Techno-Thriller and Science Fiction.
The House at the End of the World by Dean Koontz – I have a soft spot for Koontz, who got me into reading for fun when I was a youngin. It helped that he was operating at his prime in the late 80s/early 90s and that’s when I started reading his stuff. I’ve periodically tried to dip back into his long catalog of stuff or his newer work, but I always found it lacking a certain spark. It could very well be that Koontz’s tendency to recycle plots and story elements simply got too repetitive for me, but sometimes that can be ok. Still, this newish book is maybe his best since… the 90s? I don’t mean to imply that it’s great or that it doesn’t hit some of his many overused tropes, but it’s a better executed version than I’ve seen in a long time. It helps that the villain is actually kinda interesting and unlike a lot of his more recent work. If you’re a Koontz fan, this might scratch an itch.
The Finer Things
Over at the beer blog, we’re tackling Italian Style Pils, some recent Bourbon purchases, a little non-Alcoholic beer, and a rather odd offering from Fantôme (but then, I repeat myself). I also had an opportunity to visit Asheville, NC recently (which, if you don’t know, is a huge beer city).
That about does it for this round of tasting notes. Moar to come!