February 5, 2023

NOPE


Jordan Peele is a talented Director. He consistently makes interesting movies. Nope is interesting, but easily my least favorite of his three films. Generally I think he is on a downward trajectory. 

Nope seems to be trying to make a statement about humanity’s obsession with spectacle. At the same time the movie itself makes a spectacle. It has a commentary on how the entertainment industry chews people up and spits them out. There are interesting ideas in there, but I found them cumbersomely explored. 

Nope is not a bad movie. It was enjoyable to watch, but left me wanting a lot more. There are plenty of things that Peele introduces for us to consider. But I felt like I didn’t get it. I decided to read some reviews and it is clear I am not the only one who wasn’t tracking with the message of the movie. 

I cannot recommend this movie. However, I think there is plenty for people to enjoy. It just falls short for what I wanted & expected. 

Time for spoilers

We start the movie with a scene of Gordy, which is potentially the most interesting element of the movie for me. Gordy is a chimp who stars in a sitcom. One day he loses it and bashes the heads of his co-stars. Gordy was exploited for the entertainment of humans… much like the child star that survives the melee. 

Those are some of the first images of the film and set the stage for what we see in the rest of the movie, which is about a UFO terrorizing a horse farm. There were some nice homages to classic alien movie sequences. I quite liked the guy from Fry’s, but overall it didn’t engage me. 

Early on when we were at the horse ranch I just wanted to get back to the tv set with the crazy chimpanzee. When I realized how the separate stories tied together I was let down. The Ricky Park character was interesting, but we didn’t get to spend enough time with him. I wanted to know more of how he went from child star to shitty cowboy park owner. I believe we are to understand that Ricky fed horses to the ufo creature? Did people watch this happen and survive in the past? I was a little confused by this. Was Ricky more aware of the creature’s true nature? 

I guess that is the biggest spoiler of the movie. We are led to believe that this is a UFO movie about aliens. It is actually a creature movie about some flying beast that is just trying to survive. We don’t know much of anything about it. It east stuff and then regurgitates a lot of it back up… or down. 

I didn’t find the movie all that exciting, but I was looking forward to what happened at the end. I wanted to see how this showdown was going to go. I even liked the addition of the cinematographer with the crank camera. That was all building to something that I was looking forward to. Then I ended up hating nearly everything about the end. The culmination of everything was a massive let-down. Again… I don’t think it was bad… it just wasn’t interesting. 

I feel like I could sit through Nope again and it might hit me different. I might find more to latch onto. I am almost sure I would like it better the second time around. However, I am just not sure it would be worth dedicating the time to.

February 1, 2023

The Menu

I heard The Menu was good via my favorite film podcast. I saw it was available on HBO Max so I made sure to not read or listen to anything else about it so I could go in unsullied. I am really glad I did. I really enjoyed it, and not having any clue what was happening really added to the experience. 

As the story unfolds it took me a little bit to get my bearings about what was going on. As the audience we follow a specific couple. I had a really difficult time figuring out the nature of their relationship. I also didn’t understand the man’s role in the dinner party until the true intent of the chef started to be revealed. 

The first part of the movie was confusing, but I liked that experience. It was great. It set the stage for this grand show, but the second half didn’t deliver. There were several things that came from a much more conventional film. I was waiting for something more profound and meaningful, but it let me down. 

This movie is about a chef making food, but more generally it is about an artist creating art. Once art is put out into the world the artist has no control over how it is received. It will be misunderstood and criticized. It will be loved and appreciated for the wrong reasons, by people the artist doesn’t like or respect. Usually the artist has little recourse. They become tortured. They may change their art in constant response to the dialog from fans and critics. This movie is about an artist who is tired of the narrative. He doesn’t want to play this game anymore. He wants to take back control of his legacy, for better or worse. 

I really liked the ideas that were set up. I was just really underwhelmed by how it all got resolved. Still, this is a movie worth watching. For me it might even be worth watching a 2nd time. The movie will hit different once you understand what is going on. I want to experience the first half again and see if I still appreciate it as much as I did the first time around. 

I recommend The Menu. If you have HBO Max it is a solid psychological thriller that will keep you guessing. 

** Spoilers **

There were several plot elements down the stretch that didn’t seem to match with what I thought the movie was trying to do. 

I didn’t like the sequence where he made the men run away, only to immediately catch them. I guess this was to give them a glimmer of hope, much like the coast guard guy showing up. He wanted to watch the guests get that sparkle in their eye thinking there was a chance to get out of this, just to see it die again. 

I also didn’t like the fight between the girls. That was like a scene from an action movie. 

These things weren’t terrible… they just didn’t fit with what I thought the rest of the movie was doing. They weren’t as narratively interesting as I thought this movie was going to be able to achieve. 

Those things were minor compared to my biggest complaint with the ending. I hated the way the girl gets to escape. It was so simplistic and surface-level. She saw a picture from when he worked at a burger place… so she asked for a burger so he would realize his love for cooking once again. It was all so… lame.

I don’t know what I wanted to happen, but I wanted it to be more interesting. I wanted it to carry more weight and have more meaning. 

The Menu wasn’t as satisfying or deep as I wanted, but it was still a good flick that is definitely worth a watch.

January 30, 2023

Everything Everywhere All At Once

After hearing about how great this movie was for the last several months from critics I respect, I decided to go to my local Redbox and rent it. I knew very little about this film going in. I knew that it was going to be about multiple universes. I hadn’t even thought about the title and what that might mean in the context of a multi-universe plot. I also knew it was from The Daniels, who also made Swiss Army Man, an incredible cinematic journey. 

Everything Everywhere all at Once is less absurd than Swiss Army Man, but it still extremely absurd. It is also funny, and touching… and completely chaotic. I really enjoyed the ride. I would highly recommend watching it. It isn’t conventional and it isn’t going to hit right for everybody, so consider that my disclaimer. 

I think it is remarkable how this film can morph into different things for different people. There is so much going on that different people will derive a different meaning depending on their perspective. The relationship between mother and daughter is central to the film, but I actually latched onto the dynamics between husband and wife. There are several other key relationships that could define the movie for you. 

For me the movie was about finding the joy in the life you have. It was about appreciating your family and being thankful for your shared history. Those are the feelings that struck me through the narrative. It is entirely possible to have a separate reading based on your own life experience. 

I think we are ready to get into… spoilers

As I saw it, the multiple universes and the chaos going on inside the daughter’s brain is a metaphor for our current world. Our focus and attention are fractured. There are always more inputs to distract us from our current reality. The daughter has cracked under the pressure of expectations. She has become nihilistic. There is no reason to even try anymore. 

Her mother must dive into this world of chaos and find her. While doing so she is confronted with her own daemons. Does she like who she is and what she has become? She also is reintroduced to her husband that allows her to see him in a new light. She realizes that he has also made sacrifices along the way. 

We all get wrapped up in our own selfish nature. We all feel like we are the victims of our own circumstance. It is easy to tell ourselves a story that any negative emotion was the result of something somebody else did. We don’t want to take responsibility for our own situation. 

This movie had depth. There were moments that were touching. It was also completely insane. There are giant dildos and butt plugs. There is a reality where everyone has hot dog fingers that squirt out mustard.  Considering all of the chaos and complexity of the plot, the movie was easy to stay engaged with. I was right there with it all the way. That is an achievement. I often give up trying to keep track of what is going on in time travel and/or multiple universe type movies. Only the good ones keep me right there with it. This one was good. 

I don’t have a ton else to say about the movie. I have thought about it a fair bit since I finished it. I plan to watch it again. I highly recommend it, but understand if you don’t love it as much as I do. 


January 21, 2023

The White Lotuses

The first season was about wealth & privilege. The second season was about love & relationships. Both seasons had some gay sex; a fairly negative view of humanity, and the depressing reality that you should just learn to settle with what you are given.

I watched the first two seasons of the show all in one stretch. It worked well for me. I am glad I didn’t have to wait week-to-week for new episodes, or even a year for the 2nd season to be available. It helped me to compare the themes and see how similar the seasons really were.

This is a slice-of-life show where we get to meet different people and see them navigate life and relationships for a week. This week just happens to be while they are on vacation at a very fancy resort. Most of the people are very wealthy and entitled. I’m not sure exactly what the show was going for, but to me everybody is painted in a fairly negative light. The first season was filled with horrible people. I found characters more relatable in the second season, and therefore liked that season a bit better.

Each season starts with a scene that lets you know somebody has died at The White Lotus. Then the show goes back in time one week and shows you a group of vacationers arriving, with the presumption that one will not return home. All of the chess pieces are set, and then as viewers I guess we are supposed to figure out who is going to kill who. As we get closer to the end there are several scenarios where it is clear we are supposed to think this is the death scene. This feels tedious to me.

While the themes have a lot in common between the two seasons, the characters do not. There is only one element of character continuity and I wasn’t happy when I saw who it was. Jennifer Coolidge’s character was my least favorite from season 1. Her performance of a mentally unstable filthy rich woman was so over-the-top. I expected the worst going into season 2. However, it was a lot better this time around. Maybe I just got used to her performance, but for me the character was way more likable this time around.

I am interested in what people take away from this show. It is fun to watch, but it also seems to want to make statements about society. Most of those statements are not good. There is very little positivity in the show. Both season have couples that reconnect and go home a stronger couple than they came. I suppose that could be considered positive. Both season also have couples where at least one member hates their life but has resigned themselves to living in misery. I suppose this is a commentary on how frequently humanity detaches from their dreams and relies on distraction to get through each day.

December 17, 2022

The Kindle Scribe

My love for e-ink screens has meant that I’ve been interested in e-ink note taking devices like the Remarkable tablet for a while. I have never been interested enough to actually buy one. I keep waiting for the price to come down.

In the last month Amazon has entered the e-ink note-taking tablet with the Kindle Scribe. I am intrigued. If it cost less I would probably buy one. It is too big to carry around, but I think it would be awesome for reading at home… which is what I do 99% of the time. I feel like I would use the device to take notes quite a bit. I am not sure it is worth it for that purpose alone. I already have plenty of notebooks and carry one with me almost all the time. I could see the Scribe going with me to work meetings throughout the day as my primary note-taking device.

I think what I really want is an updated Kindle Oasis that is essentially a smaller version of the Scribe. I love my Oasis, but I wish it had a uniform thickness across the back like the Scribe. If Amazon released an Oasis with the form-factor of a smaller Scribe I would have a difficult time not buying it.

I have watched a lot of YouTube reviews for the Scribe. It seems very much like a first-generation device. I am content to wait for gen 2. Maybe the price will come down a little bit by then.

December 14, 2022

House of the Dragon

I’ve gotten behind on my prestige tv watching. I finally finished HotD just a few days ago. I thought I would have a lot to say about this show. I even tried to put together a long involved blog post about it. I couldn’t do it.

Game of Thrones was a great show that completely shat the bed at the end. I was so mad at how poorly the last couple of seasons were handled. When that series ended I swore off the GoT universe forever… but they sucked me back in with some HotD.

It worked. They won me back over. This was a good series of television. It uses some of the same tropes as GoT, but it also brings a lot of new ideas as well. It presents interesting characters and tells a compelling tale. The season covers so much time it feels rushed in some ways. At the same time it was competently delivered.

HotD was so much better than the last 2 seasons of GoT. That is all I really wanted. I don’t know if it is as good as GoT at its best. That also might not be a fair comparison. The innocent individual that enjoyed those early seasons hadn’t yet experienced the travesty that was about to come.

HotD was good enough that I am considering re-watching the season to better appreciate the early episodes with knowledge of where the characters are going. That was something I also had considered doing with GoT but in the end was glad I hadn’t wasted the time. Re-watching HotD might also be a waste of time, but I better do it now before they ruin the entire series in later seasons.

December 13, 2022

Spirited

It seems like the big streaming platforms are vying for the next Christmas classic. Last year HBO Max had 8-Bit Christmas and this year AppleTV+ released Spirited. Neither one of them are going to be added to the holiday rotation at my house.

Spirited is (yet another) take on the classic story of A Christmas Carol. I didn’t know that going in. All I knew is that it starred Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. I also didn’t know that it is a full-blown musical. I could have done without all the singing for sure. Despite that, this movie didn’t live up to my expectations. It is fine to watch once, but I have no desire to watch it again. It isn’t going to join the pantheon of Christmas Vacation, Elf, Home Alone, & Bad Santa… among others.

There was one song that I thought was quite enjoyable. I chuckled a few times. It isn’t a bad movie… but it didn’t deliver on the promise that a Will Ferrel Christmas movie might inspire in the cockles of your heart.

It is a pretty tall task to create a movie that becomes a modern Christmas classic. Spirited doesn’t even come close.

December 12, 2022

Reading Books Is Fun

Back in high school I used enjoy fiction novels frequently. In college reading became something only done for learning, and I did a lot of it. When I graduated and started working I essentially quit reading. I would do audio books sometimes. I read Malcom Gladwell when his books hit the scene. I finished the Harry Potter series… but that was about it. This was also around the time I discovered podcasts.

That drought lasted for close to 10 years. I started reading again, but it was always non-fiction. If I was going to allocate time to reading I had to be learning. I had forgotten how to read for fun. I would try a fiction book from time to time. Some of them hooked me. Most of the time I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages.

Over the last year I have re-discovered the joy of reading. I’ve quickly gotten sucked into almost every story I have started. It was like I had to once again learn how to be okay with reading for no purpose other than my own enjoyment.

In the past 6 weeks I have finished several books including… The Maid, Thursday Murder Club, Hillbilly Elegy, & Greenglass House. I am currently reading Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. He was one of my favorite authors years ago… especially Winter Moon and Intensity. I have always heard how good the Odd Thomas series was and I was tired of missing out.

I have a list of 10 books queued up that I am excited to read… all fiction books. I still will have a non-fiction book going at all times. Right now I am reading a book about dyslexia as well as re-reading Atomic Habits.

These days I typically read on a kindle. I’ve owned some form of Amazon Kindle for the last 10 years. I splurged about a year ago and got a Kindle Oasis. We also have one of the current Kindle Paperwhite devices. I actually use both, but prefer the Oasis because of the physical page turn buttons.

I use the Libby app to download books through my local library. I also buy books if I really want to read them now, or there is a good deal. I subscribe to Bookbub, which sends a daily email with the best ebook deals. I have built a small library using that service; typically spending $1-$3 per book.

Reading great books can easily be a free hobby thanks to your local library. I always find a way to spend money on my hobbies, hence the multiple kindles. Still, you can get an entry-level kindle for much less than $100 and I think it is a great investment. You can still get a ton of books from the local library on your kindle by using Libby. Even though I spent money up-front on the device itself, reading is mostly free for me.

I don’t regret any of the money I have spent on Kindles over the years. The screens on the new models are awesome. I have always enjoyed reading for long periods on e-ink more than LCD, and the modern e-ink screens are sharp and clear. I will still pickup a physical book every now and then (from the library), but I don’t feel like I am missing out on any of the experience by using a kindle. Most of the time I read at night, so having the lit screen of the kindle makes it so much better.

For the last several years I have set a resolution to read more. This is the first time I feel like I am carrying a lot of momentum into January. I hope to keep up the pace I have set over the last month. I have established an evening reading habit. Once I am hooked into the story I will find excuses to pickup my book during other idle minutes during the day.

October 8, 2022

Better Call Saul

I just finished watching the final season of Better Call Saul. I agree with many others that these 6 seasons come together to make a great series. I am glad I watched it. It presents us with compelling & complex characters that I love to hate.

The Binge

I wanted to point out that I watched all 6 seasons of television in the matter of a few weeks. I don’t know what the show would have been like if I were forced to wait for episodes week to week. The show is a slow burn, and I was able to speed it up by plowing through several episodes at a time. I think it was improved by this. Some of the flaws were smoothed out by the fact that I could just move on to the next episode immediately.

I think about the last 4 episodes, which were almost an epilogue to the series. I would have hated to have to wait a week to watch each one of those. I liked this series a lot, and I think my appreciation comes partly because of how quickly I was able to consume it.

Breaking Bad

I enjoyed Breaking Bad. Despite my issues with some of the plot decisions towards the end, Breaking Bad may be one of my favorite series of all time. I did not love Saul Goodman. I wasn’t interested in watching his origin story. I didn’t have plans on watching Better Call Saul but I kept hearing how good it was. I decided to give it a shot and I am glad I did.

In Breaking Bad we were introduced to lovable Walter White. He deserved our sympathy. Life dealt him a bad hand. Then the show challenged each viewer to decide how long they were willing to stick with this guy. When did he cross the line? When did he become the “bad guy”?

In Better Call Saul they took a slimy character that I didn’t like very much, and gave him a reason for sympathy. The show endeared us to him, only to make us question again and again whether he deserved it. Jimmy lived in a fantasy for most of his life. He constructed a world where he was exempt from blame, and everybody else deserved whatever he decided to inflict upon them. My favorite character in the show was probably his brother, Chuck. He is a sort of villain, but if I were given Jimmy as a little brother I’m not sure I would feel much differently from him.

Breaking Bad created a compelling journey into evil. We saw Walter’s life spin out of control. Better Call Saul came at things from a different angle, and added complexity to characters and emotions.

Jimmy & Chuck

The relationship between brothers was my favorite thing of the entire series. I felt like I understood the dynamics between the two, and found their interactions fascinating. I loved Chuck’s voice and how his dialog came through on the audio. Better Call Saul was at its strongest when we were trying to understand the complicated relationship between the McGill brothers.

The show lost a lot when that relationship was over. The fallout of those events informed a lot of the plot and character motivations in the last couple seasons, but everything seemed to lose focus. We got some elaborate schemes to keep us interested, but we lost some of the heart.

Chuck was sort of evil, but also an extremely tragic character himself. His allergy to electricity was such a fascinating element to the show. It was irrelevant to the relationship dynamics between the brothers while at the same time informed almost every interaction they had. Even thought I didn’t like Jimmy myself, Chuck’s constant refusal to accept him garnered him so much sympathy. It was a nice callback at the end where they showed a scene where Chuck was trying to connect with Jimmy and he was the one who put up the wall.

Jimmy & Kim

The central relationship to the series was always Jimmy & Kim. From the beginning it felt as if Kim had taken pity on Jimmy. It was never clear why she hung around as long as she did. The show alluded to her past, but didn’t clearly explain what drove her. She seemed to like a charity case. She enjoyed the idea of being a con-artist. Both could be viable reasons for her dedication to Jimmy. Either way, I was never convinced of the Kim & Jimmy relationship.

Both of them exhibited self-destructive behavior. Both of them seemed scared of being happy. Jimmy was always willing to take a risk, and I think Kim admired that about him. When everything went down they each responded to it in completely different ways. Jimmy leaned into this life of crime and became the Saul Goodman we knew from Breaking Bad. Kim got out of there and lived an extremely boring life.

I guess we saw Kim’s threshold. She enjoyed the shenanigans up to a certain point, but when things got too crazy she wasn’t willing to stand by Jimmy anymore. For some reason the long lead up to that through the first 5 seasons didn’t ring true to me. It always felt like Kim was above it. She was too good for it. Characters in the show blatantly pointed that out, but it didn’t make it any better. Kim & Jimmy just never fit together.

Schemes

The longer the series progresses the more the plot relies on these schemes that Jimmy comes up with. I’d forgotten how Breaking Bad started relying on a similar story telling strategy, but was reminded as I watched Better Call Saul. It didn’t work for me then, and I got tired of it here too. It is difficult for me to explain why. It was more annoying that interesting. There were some good character moments for the actors, but mostly it was annoying and plodding.

The final season features multiple episodes dominated by these chess games between characters. The writers are clearly talented at building these plot apparatuses and creatively use them to move characters through their journey. However, I become increasingly aware of them. They are at the same time interesting and distracting.

The epilogue has an entire episode about a mall caper. I was not on board with that one at all.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend watching Better Call Saul. That feels like a contradiction. I didn’t really like the main character. I didn’t buy the core relationship that was central to the entire series. Still, it was such an interesting show that I got into and couldn’t stop watching. The ending was fitting, and actually pretty satisfying.

I loved seeing more Gus Fring. I loved all the Mike Ehrmantrut we got, even though the attempt at his backstory felt half-assed. Better Call Saul introduced Nacho & Lalo Salamanca, two more memorable characters that added greatly to the series.

I think I would be fine if this were the last peek we got into the Breaking Bad world. I’m also satisfied with Jimmy’s ending and don’t need to see him or Kim Wexler ever again. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the show… it just means it ended well.

September 10, 2022

Better Call Saul

Over the last several weeks I binge-watched the first five seasons of Better Call Saul. I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad, but for some reason I didn’t find it necessary to watch the movie El Camino or the Better Call Saul TV series. Saul Goodman was one of my least favorite characters from the original show, so that didn’t help things either.

I continued to hear how good this show was, so I finally decided to try it out.

Season one starts out slow. It was difficult for me to get into. By the end of the first season it settled into a nice character drama. That continued through the first 4 seasons. I ended up really enjoying the vibe of the show. Even though I didn’t love Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad, I did quite like Jimmy McGill. I liked that the show centered on his relationship with his brother. That story-line was interesting to me. We also get lots of Mike Ehrmentrout and Gus Fring… which were two of my favorite characters from Breaking Bad.

Better Call Saul exceeded my expectations in every way. I am looking forward to watching the 6th season. I just have to figure out how. I’ll probably buy it on Amazon streaming. My only complaint with the series is that things start to feel exaggerated in season 4. They start to get away from the even-keel character drama and have to set up the character that we get in Breaking Bad. The evolution was believable, but didn’t make me love the direction the show is going.

I loved Breaking Bad, but really felt like the show limped to the finish. I didn’t dislike the ending, but they leaned too much into the action and lost focus on the characters. I haven’t seen the last season of Better Call Saul, but I feel similarly about this show too. Everything is slowly unraveling and it seems like they will continue amping up the stakes and drama.