[Media Review] 2019- 19 minute read
This is my review of the media I consumed in 2019.
tl;dr for recommendations:
- Parasite (2019 film)
- Chernobyl (2019 miniseries)
- Barry (TV series)
- BoJack Horseman (TV series)
- Apollo 11 (2019 documentary)
- Reel Rock 14
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- Author Becky Chambers
- Author Italo Calvino
Comedians have a special lens into our society, and that sort of critique is something that the horror genre has also been traditionally well-accustomed to. So it’s been great to have Jordan Peele flexing on us in the horror department with his critical eye. Whereas I feel like Peele’s Get Out had a great punch line of an ending, Us felt more like a wild little thought experiment. I personally enjoyed Get Out more, but Us shouldn’t be missed if you liked his former work. The acting from Lupita Nyong’o was really great too. B
The Ritual (2017)
I like hiking, the wilderness, being out in the middle of nowhere, all that. So it was nice to see someone put out a movie where a bunch of people get killed for liking those things. I loved the creature in this one, it was such a cool design. Overall I wouldn’t put this movie in the top tier of horror, but it’s still worth a watch if you’re perusing Netflix looking for some thrills. C-
Everyone knows Pixar’s movies are good so I’m not going to go over that. The art was what did it for me in this one. Every scene was a delight to behold because of the art direction and the color palettes. I was also a fan of the themes of family, death, and life. B+
I thought Hereditary by the same director, Ari Aster, was a brilliant horror movie. I’m hesitant to give Midsommar the same level of praise. Not that it’s bad, but it’s just wild experience and I’d like to warn others going in that you’re going to walk away exhausted and asking yourself wtf you just watched. I loved that the whole movie was in daylight, I loved some of the trippy bits, I liked the themes of grief and isolation, I wasn’t sure about the need for the long runtime nor some of the gore. I can’t wait for another movie by this director. B-
The Lion King (2019)
Although this was my favorite Disney movie as a kid, I’m still a little confused about all of the live action Disney movies. I think my favorite part of this was seeing all the new renditions of the classic songs. C
It Comes At Night (2017)
This movie was a proper thrill. The acting and the cinematography stood out, but it’s hard to not feel disappointed by the ending. It certainly works, but I’m not sure 4/5 people are going to enjoy the payoff, perhaps more like 2/5. C+
Evil Dead (1981)
A classic! It still holds up. The practical effects made Shan and I squeamish and I enjoyed the black humor. If you haven’t seen this yet, you’re missing out on some classic horror fun! B
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
We were a little thrown off by how they sort of just rewrote the events of the first Evil Dead, but I liked where they went with it. It’s pretty much more of the first, but with the humor and the gore turned up. B
Army of Darkness (1993)
Yet another classic from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. This one has a bunch of great scenes in it, and gets some extra points from me for the dive into the fantasy realm. My only complaint is that it eschews any horror for mostly slapstick comedy. Oh well. C+
John Wick (2014)
For me, an action movie only needs to present one clear motivation and then it can let the character(s) just go at it for 90 minutes and I’ll be happy. John Wick exceeds at this with its revenge plot while also giving us an interesting mythology and worldbuilding. It’s funny, when your action scene shot isn’t cut up 20 different ways, it suddenly becomes intense and exciting. B
A+. Probably one of the better films I’ve seen of the modern age. It works even better if you don’t know much about it going in. I’d recommend everyone take this for a spin.
The Lighthouse (2019)
It’s really hard for me to recommend this one. Shan said she wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. If you liked The Witch, there’s a 50/50 shot you’ll like this. I’d describe it as “The Shining at Sea”. It’s not really a horror movie either, it’s more in the psychological thriller camp. It’s also in black and white, has an unusual aspect ratio, and the characters have an off-kilter dialect. And there’s only two characters. I personally loved the film. I loved the acting, the monologues, the subtlety and ridiculousness of it all, and the ending was so strangely and horrifyingly satisfying to me. B+
El Camino (2019)
Yes! If you enjoyed Breaking Bad and the character Jesse, you owe it to yourself to see this. It’s like watching another two episodes of BB, complete with homage and montage. B
Marriage Story (2019)
I’m not sure exactly when the Adam Driver hype train took off but I’m on board. ScaJo was equally great. I wish I could say this movie was wonderful, but it was a sad breakup story so maybe stunning is a better word for it. Rife with raw, honest emotion, I wouldn’t recommend this one on a Netflix and chill night unless you’re also ready to have some thoughtful conversation on the nature of relationships for the next week. The film is also filled to the brim with long takes, which allow the actors to create some hauntingly believable scenes. Shan and I loved it. A
National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Episode 1: “The Scripture of Nature”
With our recent dedication to seeing all of the National Parks in the country, Shan and I decided to pick this show up to glean a little history of the National Park System. We’ve only seen the first episode which is about Yosemite and Yellowstone, but it was a delight. All the little bits about the way these places were found and established, the anecdotes and quotes from John Muir, the shots of the parks. It’s mesmerizing. I’d give this a go if you’re a fan of nature documentaries and if you love America.
For a miniseries, this packed a lot of punch. The story of Chernobyl at its core is amazing, so they really didn’t have to do much aside from presenting the facts of the story. But the showrunners still managed to do an absolutely brilliant job of telling it. I watched a lot of horror this year, yet every episode of this show was more horrifying than anything else in this list. The acting in the show is also incredible, for the minor characters and especially the acting of the main two, Valery and Boris.
I find this show and the message it implies to be particularly poignant and relevant. The events of the show didn’t even happen that long ago, just 34 years ago. Yet here we are in strikingly similar situations to the ones in the story of Chernobyl. While the show doesn’t explicitly make this comparison, we can easily draw parallels from the denials and handling of the Chernobyl disaster to our current society’s denial of climate change and our inadequate response to it. I would urge everyone to give this show a watch. A+
Game of Thrones S8
There were a couple decent scenes in the season, namely in the second episode before the White Walker battle. Overall I’m pretty bitter at the way the show runners dropped the ball on this show. But, maybe I’ll stick to the positive for my blurb here.
Aside from the writing, literally everything else about this show, across all eight seasons, was outstanding. The casting, acting, score, cinematography, costumes, the action scenes. Unfortunately, for me at least, all of this hinges on a well-written script, which runs thin for this show at about the 5th season on. But alas.
Here’s another positive. I’m a huge fan of the fantasy genre. And so writing this in 2020, I’m super stoked about all of the upcoming fantasy works that I see in production for television: Wheel of Time, Golden Compass, Witcher, Lord of the Rings, Kingkiller Chronicle, Sandman, the list goes on. I attribute a lot of this to the success of Game of Thrones, so I can at least be thankful for the influence that it’s had on pop culture and therefore the greenlighting of more fantasy tv. … But I’d still recommend just stopping at Season 4 if you value good writing. Pick up the novels or audiobooks instead, if there’s a reason you liked this show then I can assure you that reason is in the books but amplified by an order of magnitude.
Barry S1, S2
I’ve always liked Bill Hader, but I have a newfound respect for him after this show. I’m also wondering if he’s okay. I’m a big fan of dark comedies, and if you are too, then this show is a must-see. It’s 16 straight episodes of downright hilarious and crazy writing. Top tier acting and directing too (ESPECIALLY the one that Hader wrote and directed, the Tae Kwon Do episode, you know the one). I don’t ever rewatch things, but if you haven’t seen this, I’d sit down with you and watch this show again. A
BoJack Horseman S6.1
For five years straight now this show has held no punches with its writing. It’s simultaneously one of the funniest and most depressing shows I’ve ever seen. I’ll never pass up a chance to praise it and recommend it. It should be held up as a standard for adult animated television. I’ll withhold my full review for the rest of the final season which releases January 31st, but the first half was gold, albeit with a terrible cliffhanger.
The Boys S1
A fun show with a more grim and perhaps “realistic” take on a world with superheroes. It’s based off a Garth Ennis graphic novel, who’s known for a few other edgy stories like Preacher, Constantine, and the more modern Punisher stories. Ennis is also known to be staunchly against the whole superhero craze, so if that sentiment jives with you, I can recommend this show. The character Homelander (the Superman analogue in the show) and the acting behind him is reason enough to watch it. B
Parts Unknown S7, S8
Out of any celebrity chef or travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain probably piques my interest the most. The way that he approached the places he traveled and the way he sort of leveled with the audience and the people he interviewed really worked for me. I felt like he tried to get to the truth of things, asking real, honest questions about the places he was in.
It’s for these reasons, along with my wanderlust, that I like to keep an episode of Parts Unknown on in the background while I’m hanging around the house. This year I made it through two seasons. A few of my favorite episodes from these seasons: Montana, Senegal, Hanoi, Japan.
Last year I mostly read fantasy books, which I’ll cover in my next post. But here are reviews of the three I read that weren’t fantasy:
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2014)
I’m really glad this one got recommended to me so strongly because I adored it and now I’ll be the one to give the strong recommendation. Well-written, empathetic, and with an emphasis on themes of goodwill and tolerance, I just had a big smile on my face throughout the entire book. If you’re looking for a “positive” reading experience, I’d recommend this author wholeheartedly. It bears quite a bit of resemblance to classic Star Trek and the movie Her, if you liked those. A
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (2016)
I also read Becky Chambers’ second book this year. Again, I couldn’t put this down until it was done. It deals with new characters and has a different pacing, but it works just as well. I love the lens through which Chambers explores human and philosophical concepts and issues. It’s pure sci-fi. Again, strong recommendation. A
Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino (1983)
Calvino is one of my favorite authors, so I was pleased to hear that he has a book where he just describes everyday things in the world. Like Invisible Cities, it’s a very meditative book. I was also delighted to see that there was a purpose to the structure of this one. There are 27 chapters, split up by 3x3x3, and there are three ways that he makes his observations that he aligns along those sets of three. The first being a focus on the visual experience, the second being through anthropological and cultural themes, and the third being speculations about larger questions such as the cosmos, time, and infinity. It’s brilliant. A
Apollo 11 (2019)
Shannon’s grandfather worked on Apollo 11 in his engineering heyday, so this was a nice movie to watch to pay respect to him. What a grand feat of engineering and humanity. The movie presents the events in such a powerful and gripping way. And suspenseful! I was on the edge of my seat for some of these scenes, they did an amazing job of immersing you in the mission. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in engineering, space, or humanity. A
I’m a mountain lover, so of course I’m going to love a movie about the mountains. I liked the range in the locales, I liked Willem Dafoe’s narration, and I liked the score by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Watch this if those sound good to you.
Valley Uprising (2014)
It was great getting the history of Yosemite Valley from the perspective of the climbers of the 50s-70s. I loved the rivalry shown between climbers Royal Robbins and Warren Harding. B-
End Game (2018)
A Netflix doc about end of life. It’s a look into something we don’t tend to think about in our day to day (unless we’ve already been there for someone). It’s worth watching this regardless, to perhaps gain a picture of this facet of life. Because you could say there’s quite a bit of work left for our society in this regard, a point that is made in the documentary, and I think it’s important to start thinking about what that work might look like.
A short, free film on YouTube by Patagonia about the history of the climbing term “Redpoint” and about pro climber Alex Megos, who is perhaps on par with Adam Ondra for best in the world. Give this a go if you’re at all into climbing, it might just inspire you to push your limit. I know it did for me.
Reel Rock 14
This year’s climbing film tour featured:
- The High Road - A film about Nina Williams and her ascent of the 55 ft high ball boulder Too Big to Flail in Bishop, California. Bouldering isn’t my main interest in climbing, but I certainly love watching pros do it.
- United States of Joe’s - A film featuring climbers in Utah clashing with a small conservative community of Mormons, and then eventually getting along in the end. There were some hilarious bits in here.
- The Nose Speed Record - Who doesn’t love a film about Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold performing incredible athletic feats. I especially loved banter between them and Brad and Jim. RIP Brad.
Smash Ultimate Online
I sunk too many hours into the new Smash Bros in 2019. I’ve been playing Smash Bros since I was eight years old, over 20 years now! I could have never dreamed about some of the content that this entry offers. The characters, stages, music, the online. It’s wild. I’m happy this game exists, and I’ll always look on it fondly. A
I wasn’t a big fan of Limbo, and I’m not the biggest fan of the “walking simulators” genre, but this one is a cut above the rest. It tells an engaging and mysterious story, and has some cool little sci-fi bits and mechanics to it. It’s pretty short too, so I’d recommend it to anyone really. A+
Yoku’s Island Express
I’ll recommend this to people that like roguelikes, relaxing, and pinball. This is a stress-free game, which is oddly rare. I really enjoyed the concept of a little bug pushing around a ball and delivering mail, and the pinball mechanics on top of that is just great. A
I’m a big fan of Platinum Games, so I felt like I had to go back and play one of their seminal works from 2010. It doesn’t disappoint. Platinum Games is really, really good at action games. My only complaints were the color palette and the obtuse story, but the gameplay more than makes up for those. A-
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Yes. So, I’ve been an RPG fan at heart since I was a kid. D:OS2 is one of the most polished games I’ve ever played, let alone RPG’s. The gameplay loop is addicting, the music is enthralling, all of the story, main quest and side quests included, are engaging and hold interest, the difficulty is just right… I could go on and on. I urge any gamer to play this, but especially if you’re looking for a good story in gaming, if you like flexing your tactics mind, or if you’re into DnD or have had any passing interest in it as this game might be one of the best DnD-lite games out there. A+