As with last year the categories for comics are largely based on just what I read this year. Sections are arranged roughly in the order I read the works.
My recommendations for must-reads are marked with a 🌟
Please note: Year of publication is based on the translated works when applicable.
Adaptations and Side Stories
Ace Attorney Volume 2 (Kenji Kuroda & Kazuo Maekawa & Alethea Nibley, Kodansha, 2011)
Comic companions to the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, my favorite part about these manga cases is that they aren’t the cases from the games, giving you not only new fun whodunits to witness but also a strong idea of how long Capcom actually thinks it takes Phoenix to figure things out. It’s a nice low pressure change of pace, particularly compared to the less forgiving early entries in the series.
Miles Edgeworth Volume 2 (Kenji Kuroda & Kazuo Maekawa & Sheldon Drzka, Kodansha, 2012)
Like with Ace Attorney, I’ve really been liking the different look at Miles, less restricted than he is in the games themselves. It rags on Gumshoe perhaps a bit too much, but it’s great to see Miles’s basically Sherlock Holmes-esque persona shine through, with Gumshoe as a hapless Watson.
Persona Q P3 Side, P4 Side volumes 1 (So Tobita, Mizunomoto, Kodansha Comics & Atlus, 2015)
A pretty run of the mill manga unfortunately. It has a cute art style but it didn’t feel like any one character had any time at all to shine. The P3/P4 side gimmick did help them get more out of each event, and does follow the game, but putting them in separate volumes just felt like a way to pad wallets and pages beyond what the story really needed.
The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap and Phantom Hourglass (Akira Himekawa, Viz Media, 2009-2010)
I love how much personality each incarnation of Link gets to have in the comics. While silent and relatively flat in the games, here he’s a jerk or a naive fool or whatever personality fits the author’s vision for the game’s story. Cramming each game into a single volume seems like it would lead to a lot of plot threads being dropped on the ground, but in the end it mostly ended up feeling like each plot had just enough room to really exist before having to move on to ta new game, a new Link, and a new adventure.
Dream Daddy (Leighton Grey & Vernon Shaw & Kris Anka & Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou & Wendy Xu & Ryan Manuilit & Lee C. A. & Jack Gross & Jarrett Williams & Jeremy Lawson & C. Spike Trotman & Drew Green & Reed Black & Josh Trujillo & D. J. Kirkland & Matt Herms, Oni Press & Game Grumps, 2019)
A collection of comics by a new team each issue that take place in the Dream Daddy setting using the dateable Dads. Ranging from a meditation on past relationships to a Dungeons and Dragons game, it’s quite a bit of fun. And it reminds me that I should finish a playthrough of the game–maybe in 2020.
Final Fantasy Type-0 (Hikoki Chiba & Tetsuya Nomura, GanGan Comics & Square Enix, 2018)
Fine? Fine. Makes me more worried about the actual storyline and pacing in the game than anything else to be honest. It’s a bit harder to parse than the introduction to a story really has any right to be.
Suikoden III 1-11 (Full series) (Aki Shimizu & Various Assistants, TokyoPop, 2002 – 2006)
The story is pretty basic popcorn fantasy fare, nothing to write home about, and likely something I wouldn’t have pursued if not for getting the first 6 volumes extremely cheap and then having to get volume 7 in French from a German reseller in order to get it for less than $80, giving me the drive to finish the series to show it what for. Was also a nice challenge to have to read a book in French; I hadn’t done that in a few years.
Gravity Falls: Lost Legends (Alex Hirsch & Many Artists, Disney Press, 2018)
Great little treat for those of us that enjoyed the original show, it has show-accurate art and, considering it is by the show creator, writing to match as well. A set of unrelated stories that each felt like little episodes; my favorite was the third, which revolves around Mabel having to deal with her equivalent from a bunch of other dimensions, including one who tries to replace her–very Goosebumps but with a happy ending.
Separated between the films I liked and those I didn’t, here are all of the movies I watched in 2019, roughly in the order I watched them.
Spoilers are included.
📽Indicates Films I Saw in Theaters
🌟Indicates Films I Consider to be “Must-Watches”
Pass the Popcorn
🌟Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)
A beautiful film with a narrative that I found myself enjoying just unfold in front of me rather than trying to guess at how it would happen. It’s emotionally tangible in a way that I’m used to seeing in Mamoru Hosada films, and I’m glad to find another directly that is good at it. A couple of weird panty shots that had no place in the movie keep it from being faultless, but it has a really good portrayal of teens, strong supporting cast. even a good use of phones–they’re a part of lives now and it was nice to see them utilized in a realistic way.
📽Aquaman (James Wan, 2018)
I had a lot more fun with Aquaman than I expected. It’s a world-crossing adventure romance thing with Aquaman not needing to be convinced to do heroics but to be king, which he doesn’t really want to do, being more invested in just wanting to stop a war. The fight scenes were really cool, the vistas under water were awesome, and I didn’t like the romance. Mera wasn’t a bad character, I just didn’t understand her falling for Arthur considering how often she’s just so. Done. with him for the entire film. The movie ends with his parents reuniting which I thought was a nice bookend to the movie’s start.
🌟The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008)
This is among several of my friends’ favorite movies, and I can’t blame them. It was funny, adventurous, hard to predict and emotionally satisfying. The backgrounds of shots were fun, constantly full of little extra bits. The acting was great, the soundtrack sublime, and it offers a masterclass in setup and payoff in big and little ways. Highly recommended.
Thank You For Smoking (Jason Reitman, 2005)
Wanted to see this for a while. It was fun; the main character is very obviously a bad person but that’s sort of why you watch–it’s a comedy about what drives a person to do something almost comically evil like lobby for Big Tobacco.
🌟Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
I normally don’t go into classics with too high of an expectation–films and tastes have changed so much after all. So I was surprised that I rather liked Casablanca. It didn’t change how I viewed cinema or anything–sure now I get a ton of things that reference it– but being 75 years removed from it means the things it did well, or well first, I’ve seen done since. I’m glad I watched it though, and its still worth a watch by anyone who hasn’t seen it.
📽Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019)
I forgot that this was this year. Hot-damn I enjoyed this movie. A large part of that may been that it was the first female led Marvel film, and another that I watched it while on a self-imposed mental health vacation, but in the end it was an enjoyable sci-fi romp, and Captain Marvel kicked butt, which was most of what I needed from the film.
📽🌟Us (Jordan Peele, 2019)
Us was the first horror film I saw in theaters(ok, it is more of a thriller movie), and it was also really really really good. Each time I thought we had hit the last well-shot scene, with stark colors and stellar, stellar acting we hit another. I wasn’t super into the final fight, but the last moments, that last shot was a punch the way The Outer Limits used to hit me. Spot on.
The Losers (Sylvain White, 2010)
Like what a goshdarn cast, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba; like geez. Basically a typical soldiers that have to fight against the government story, but it was a lot of fun. Some of the fight camera work was way too disorienting, sure, but the acting was good at least. I really want shaky cam to just…stop being a thing ever.
📽🌟Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo & Joe Russon, 2019)
When the film finished my opening thoughts were “they didn’t have to land that that well.” The film wasn’t perfect — there were just enough characters for a couple of arcs to fall flat, Black Widow’s sacrifice was both the only way that scene was going to end and also emblematic of the corner that they had written her into, etc etc, but overall the fan service of Cap with Mjolnir, or the Women Protecting Spider-man scene helped bring it from “very much a comic book” to a fitting conclusion to a decade long story. Well done has-enough-money-to-do-that-kind-of-CGI-Disney.
📽Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, 2019)
I was likely one of the few people in the theater when I saw this movie that had played the game, and yes, it was very much not needed to enjoy the film, seeing as how the plot was mostly the same. The principal cast did a fantastic job –and the animators, particularly for Pikachu himself, deserve awards. I did not expect him to be that believably in the same space as the humans, not even close.
📽Spider-Man: Far From Home (Jon Watts, 2019)
Like Homecoming, Far From Home was a bit too high-school drama for me at times, but the conflicts the characters faced were far more compelling than expected, and Mysterio, while having almost the same motivation as Vulture, was a shockingly well-played villain. Best stinger in a Marvel film by far too.
Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (Justin Lin, 2006)
Possibly my favorite Fast and Furious film? Maybe? Good fish out of water story, mostly avoids issues of like, white savior-ism or white supremacy that you would expect to have happen in such cases. The drifting is really fun to watch and way easier to follow than a lot of the later films action scenes. The smaller scope of what was being dealt with also helped keep the action and emotions grounded in a way that the later films begin to spectacularly fail at.
Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondō, 1995)
I tried to watch a bootleg copy in Japanese with a friend and the subtitles were such mismatched and incoherent garbage after the first ten minutes that we had to switch to the dub so I have THOUGHTS on the lyrics that the main character is writing for the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” but thoughts that would likely only make sense if you watched the exact same bootleg. A genuinely heartwarming film; it isn’t my favorite Ghibli but I would watch it again in the right company. All I had known going in was that it was about a violin maker…a fact that isn’t relevant or known for the first forty minutes of the film, so heads up if that’s all you know about it as well.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson, 2017)
Occasionally painfully close to home to watch in terms of how non-heteronormative lifestyles were treated by the people around them, but seeing a depiction of the humanity behind a historical footnote was lovely–as was seeing things like the love and attraction between the female leads, and a depiction of polyamory, which I haven’t seen many positive depictions of in media.
📽🌟Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2019)
- GAY ACTION FIREFIGHTERS
- I’m sorry did you need more?
- Ok fine; it’s a GORGEOUS film. The action is just so so so well shot and delivered, everything except one early fight that left my head spinning, though that may have been just me adjusting to the sheer color overload of the film. The plot wasn’t anything unexpected, though the sheer audacity of doing everything with fire was commendable. And it was so so so gay that I’m honestly angry that the leads never kiss. They goddamn should have. And burst into pink fire as they did so.
FYRE Fraud/FYRE: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (Jenner Furst & Julia Willoughby Nason/Chris Smith, 2019)
I watched both of these documentaries practically one after the other and while I remember a ton of details about Ja Rule, Jerry Media and co’s fraud, I could not tell you which film was which, other than that one definitely painted the ad company that caused the problem in a more favorable light and the other actually dealt with how shitty the situation left the workers on the island themselves(largely due to Jerry Media being involved in the doc’s production). Together they paint a fuller picture than either could on their own, a picture of excess, overpromising and the building of a hollow hype engine, not to mention that of people failing upwards, even with the questionable involvement of the various parties.
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)
My favorite Tarantino film, hands down. I love locked room mysteries, and bottle episodes, and ensemble casts where you aren’t sure who’s on what side really. I love that it had an intermission, and that everyone pretty much gets what they deserve. The acting is top notch and it doesn’t have a lot of the weirder things Tarantino tends to favor in his films. Just a solid piece of cinema.
📽🌟JoJo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, 2019)
I’m not sure a director outside of Waititi currently making movies could have made an ultimately heartwarming tale full of riotous laughter punching up at Nazis. The leads were ON POINT, impressive due to most of their youth, and quite frankly Scarlett Johansson put out possibly my favorite performance I’ve seen her do. (Alfie Allen is also utilized FANTASTICALLY as the mostly useless bottom to a captain’s top). It’s incredible the number of times the audience just got to laugh at Nazis in this movie. Much much needed in today’s day and age.
Electra (Rob Bowman, 2005)
Honestly, this movie is better than I thought it was going to be. Low expectations certainly had an impact but I enjoyed the action, enjoyed how it basically was a typical assassin-with-a-heart-of-gold thriller that just had some foes that could do insane things, etc. Shockingly worth the watch. Don’t really understand why its rating is so low in reviews.
Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)
Considering how much I didn’t enjoy the other Bond film I watched this year I was surprised to find myself ignoring the other work I was focusing on to watch Goldfinger. I do like that old style of gunfights, everything feeling very final and sudden, and the hand to hand combat felt so desparate and real in comparison to the heavily choreographed look of many other films. I was surprised by how brutal the film was overall–many characters die, some quickly after being established, which helped make the film like there were real stakes involved…at least if your name wasn’t Bond.
🌟Blade (Stephen Norrington, 1998)
I can’t believe I slept on this movie. The first few moments were rough (the trilogy has a tendency to have club scenes and that level of flashing lights is no bueno for me) but the action is so so good. Like, I just loved watching Snipes and his Stunt actors fighting. More compelling than almost every fight in the Iron Fist Netflix show that’s for damn sure. The acting was a little much on Snipes’ part, but I liked the supporting cast, specially that the “love interest” was a skilled individual with a lasting impact on things.
📽🌟Parasite (Bong Joon Ho, 2019)
I don’t think I’ve been as tense as I was in this film since I watched Train to Busan (coincidentally, also a Korean film.) Going in blind was one of the best film-going choices I made all year. It’s very, very good and I hesitate to explain why beyond saying that the film has a masterful grasp of building tension and tears it down to great effect.
📽🌟Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019)
What I knew about Knives Out going in was simple: murder mystery and Chris Evans in sweaters. What I didn’t expect was the lovely, detective novel-esque use of clue and follow-through, Daniel Craig’s cajun accent, a wonderfully acted cast of characters and, straight from the soundtrack, the Stupidest Car Chase ever. I’ll refrain from more details to avoid spoilers, but Ana de Armas’ s Marta was fantastic and Rian Johnson deserves a round of applause for this one.
Acceptably Good for the Time They Take to Watch
Resevoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
I found it hard to care about anything going on for the first few chunks of the film–things go bad so quickly that you don’t really have time to register all of the characters first–the only characters getting real work before shit hits the fan being Joe and Mr. Pink. By the time Mr. Blonde was being a torturer I was more on board, but I wish they had timed the reveal of the mole better–it ends up having far less impact than it could have. The movie is fine, but I have no real interest in it.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018)
It’s fine? As an action film it’s fine but it didn’t have the Star Wars magic–maybe the lack of the force, maybe having nothing to do with the main narratives, I’m not sure, I just know it felt off. The Han in the movie never felt like the Han in the original trilogy–and sure, he isn’t that person yet, but still, it didn’t even feel that he would become that person. It also did what Rogue One avoided and left characters that now lacked resolution going into the movies we have, giving us gaps where questions now naturally form, without plans to answer them.
📽LEGO Movie 2 (Mike Mitchell, 2019)
Sequels are bound to be defined in terms of their predecessors, and LEGO Movie 2 is no exception. Telling a tale of a world in chaos due to the conflict between two siblings works at first, but knowing that the toys are being controlled in almost all circumstances kind of just made character choices feel flat? And while the chaos of the first pieces of the film when the world first goes to hell was a good like, sit-down whiplash, I just found myself bored by the end of the film, hoping it would just finish up.
Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)
So far my only exposure ot the famous thief was a middling one. It’s a fun film but looking back on the year it doesn’t really stand up to a lot of the other things I’ve seen before and since.
Hellboy (Guillermo Del Toro, 2004)
I know I watched the whole fllm, but I can’t seem to recall anything except for the pieces that I had already seen years ago.
Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001)
If it wasn’t like, 90% shaky cam I would have enjoyed it better. You can see the heart that will be the center of the franchise for a while, and everything feels impactful due to just being new.
2 Fast 2 Furious (John Singleton, 2003)
Takes the first film and starts to up the ante. Better/more stable shots which is nice, though we’re starting to see the actual character drama taking a back seat to wild car moves–that scramble scene is real nice though.
Fast and Furious (Justin Lin, 2009)
The last one before they start being just blockbuster thrillers, I don’t really remember a ton about it to be honest. Cars go vroom vroom vroom. Gal Gadot is a nice addition though.
Fast Five (Justin Lin, 2011)
Dwayne Johnson is almost always a welcome addition to a cast, and here is where the cars and the gunfights both get crazier, and the latter more prominent. At this point all of the films are basically the same film with different objectives and a sliding cast of characters.
Furious 6 (Justin Lin, 2013)
Really leaning into the more action and less racing side of things, Furious 6 has shootouts galore, The Rock being more of an ally, and a scenery chewing villain in Owen Shaw.
Fast and the Furious 7 (James Wan, 2015)
I think at this point the problem is that I would need to write these with a plot synopsis on hand. They all have distinct elements I can remember (the plane fight at the end of 5?, the street shootout in 6? All the nonsense with Letty and Owen Shaw etc etc, but they blend together so much as one narrative at this point, making it had to recall sort of the overall timeline across films.
The Big Lebowski (Joel Cohen & Ethan Cohen, 1998)
People have been telling me to watch this for years and sure, it had a few funny moments? But it felt like a stoner comedy before those were cool, and John Goodman’s crazed right-wing nut just does not hit the same in today’s climate of violence.
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1998)
Another film that I took a long time to actually watch; Beetlejuice has some funny moments sure, but overall just didn’t really captivate me. The visual effects were fun and dated though.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, 2018)
All I wanted from the original Ant-Man was Wasp to actually get to do things, and this time she does, and like, it was adorable having Paul Rudd be all excited about his house arrest ending and all the shenanigans he got up to, but I almost would rather have seen Wasp do even more and that house arrest stuff be a short film attached to a different work, or even on its own. More commercially viable short films please!
Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005)
Really only interesting for how much it tries to follow the plot of the games — scientists messing with Mars and/or Hell— and the first person shooter segment, which still is pretty cool if you don’t see it coming.
Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018)
There’s a moment in the film where the kids are on their way to save their parents, infiltrating a boat filled with foes, and have to pause to change Jack Jack’s diaper. It isn’t like, an argument and a plot beat, just an almost throwaway moment. That was the sort of thing Incredibles is good for. I liked Elasti-Girl’s action scenes, I thought the villain was perhaps a little, anti-tech but still fun, even if that sort of tech is a little alarmist. I liked all the new supers too, especially since one appears to be trans WHICH THE FILM COULD HAVE JUST COMMITTED TO. Not as timelessly awesome as the first unfortunately.
R2-D2: Beneath the Dome (Don Bies & Spencer Susser, 2001)
A fake biopic, very MTV behind the music style, drugs and girls and depression etc, but as if R2-D2 was just some actor who happened to be a droid. It was kind of funny, and remarkable that they got so many of the actors and crew to do interviews but perhaps a bit long, and all the jokes were the same joke.
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
Definitely has the aesthetics down pat but honestly found it to be poorly acted? I just didn’t find the emotions very believable — maybe that was the point? Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset? Hard to know for sure why, but it wasn’t for me.
Justice League Dark (Jay Oliva, 2017)
Basically a long episode of Justice League Unlimited but focusing on mostly more magical folks. It’s fine. Zatanna is honestly underutilized and Batman doesn’t really need to be there–though props for it being well, DARK in terms of the opening subject matter I guess.
Blade 2 (Guillermo Del Toro, 2002)
More great action, though starting to lean a little too over the top. I wouldn’t have gone with super-vampires so early in the franchise but hey, it worked mostly. Hated that Whistler’s death was cheapened and was very mixed about the vamp squad Blade leads for a bit, but still satisfying.
Blade Trinity (David S. Goyer, 2004)
Bringing in Ryan Reynolds et al was an odd move, and there is documented evidence of Mr. Snipes hating this film and also accusing the director of being racist–I wasn’t able to really track down a truth in that regard. The movie definitely slanted funnier, and I loved the archer chick and just ensemble casts in general, but it was definitely weaker than the first film.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost (Atsushi Takeuchi, 2012)
Having an animated film focusing on James Vega wasn’t necessarily what I expected to find on Hulu, but it was a pretty watchable film. A decent science fantasy flick, though not really filling the Andromeda 2 sized hole in my heart.
Animatrix (Peter Chung & Andrew R. Jones & Yoshiaki Kawajiri & Takeshi Koike & Mahiro Maeda & Kôji Morimoto & Shin’ichirô Watanabe, 2003)
As a series of short films, anyone’s reaction is going to vary from piece to piece of the Animatrix. I couldn’t stand the final two-parter and the visuals that they used for merging AI and Human minds, which made me feel sick to my stomach. The opening film I found really engaging though, and I liked the one with the kids who find a place where the Matrix is error-ing, letting them float and other unusual things (Beyond). The two-parter explaining how we got to the state things are in the Matrix was cool to see laid out, and I loved the styles of World Record, about an athlete who manages to basically run so fast that he starts to wake up in reality, and of A Detective Story, which shows a noir lens of the Matrix that we don’t otherwise see.
What I didn’t like, at all, was Matriculated, the final and longest piece with the visuals mentioned above. That one was also directed by Peter Chung, who created Aeon Flux, the movie adaptation I also saw this year and also really didn’t like.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (Sam Liu, 2017)
A serviceable film. The Teen Titans show does the plot better, but had far more time. Young Justice does it better, but has it as a subplot for a larger, more important arc. It seems to just exist because they were trying to redo some old stories with a slightly updated team (Blue Beetle is great, but my least favorite incarnation of the character that I’ve seen. Why would you ruin his connection to his family? That’s part of what makes him special!)
Odd Thomas (Stephen Sommers, 2013)
I read the book for this a few years back and liked it well enough, but seeing it on screen (while the actors(Anton Yelchin wooo) put on good performances and the story itself was a “page-turner” so to speak) was dragged down somewhat by Odd’s love interest dipping a bit too deep into eccentric weirdo with a body to knock a person down. The script’s treatment of her in the ending, while it is thematic, ends up feeling dirtier for that–objectifying her even after her death. The book pulls the same trick, so sure, it isn’t a question of an adaptation change, but I would criticize the same thing in the book if I had read it nowadays.
Constantine (Francis Lawrence, 2005)
This movie is kind of surreal. It balances Constantine having power and being powerless in the face of the real foes on a razor’s edge, and as much as I love the version currently running around in the CW, Keanu Reeves’s take on the character, a reserved edge lord basically, fit so well with the tone of the film that it felt like it was pulled right out of the comic.
Mind you I’ve never read the comic, but I’d watch this movie again.
Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard, 2018)
I didn’t really know what to expect with this film — something like a murder mystery maybe, or maybe I just read the description and was reminded of Hateful Eight, but what I got was a lot of people lying to each other, layers of secrets, a kind of useless FBI agent and Chris Hemsworth getting to be a real sack of shit which I was hear for.
Same director as Cabin in the Woods, which makes a lot of sense when considering the pacing and narrative twists.
Missing Link (Chris Butler, 2019)
Laika films always have impeccable production quality, but I just kept bouncing narratively off of scenes and characters in this one, keeping it in this half of the list.
Remove From Your Watchlist
Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983)
I don’t see a lot of Bond flicks. I find him kind of predictable and hard to approach in general, but I had a copy of this so I tried to watch it.
I was so bored I didn’t finish it. Mind you, watched this same day as Brothers Bloom but still. Trés bored.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg, 2019)
I don’t really understand how you take one of the most well known X-Men plots–one that already has to do with all sorts of interesting and barely dealt with factions in Marvel–and make it have the ultimate enemies be weird plant aliens. It just. Gods I didn’t enjoy it.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (Guillermo Del Toro, 2008)
Didn’t finish. For some reason couldn’t stomach it.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson, 2017)
Didn’t bother to finish. It was flashy and I did like the concept of the virtual reality market where a decent chunk of the film takes place, but I didn’t buy the dynamic of the leads, found the plot to be too difficult to parse and overall the film just to not be very…well… good.
Agatha and the Truth of Murder (Terry Loane, 2018)
Bounced off; couldn’t see myself finishing it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Gore Verbinski, 2007)
I like, sort of remember the events of the film? Really the only good Pirates of the Caribbean is the first one and the only other interesting one is the fourth, just because it deals with such a different tone. Johnny Depp is a terrible human being from what has been reported, disqualifying this film from having a good rating.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg, 2017)
Gotta love a good legacy film. Was a nice way to sort of end the whole franchise….hopefully. Johnny Depp is a terrible human being from what has been reported, disqualifying this film from having a good rating.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (David Yates, 2018)
Dull. Confusing. Too many characters with next to no introduction; too many plots setting up future films that they decided had to exist. The action pieces are almost incomprehensible — any understanding of scenes in the original books the reader has from knowing what magic CAN DO in a situation has long since been left behind in favor of Hollywood and CGI flair. Even my favorite character from the prior film is relegated to a more obnoxious role(the “Nomaj” whose name I can’t even bother to lookup right now), and all of this is ignoring the issues with Johnny Depp as a human being being cast in the film.
Dumbledore was suitably hot though? I guess?
Shrek Forever After (Mike Mitchell, 2010)
Shrek 1 and arguably 2 are fantastic films. Three was..not but at least was still trying to do some new things. Forever After is a boring, tired, retread of things that were funny the first time maybe. Removing the children that should have guided the whole arc for Shrek and making it him having to re-woo Fiona was just…uninspired drivel. 1 star.
Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981)
I just couldn’t really get into the film. I likely was just in the wrong frame of mind — people I trust are quite fond of it after all — but I found it unfunny and had difficulty keeping track of who was who and why I was supposed to care. Also apparently Gilliam is a TERF now so not really inclined to give it a second try.
Transformers: The Last Knight (Michael Bay, 2017)
I started to watch this only to realize I had definitely at least watched part of it before. In a theater for the spectacle sure, it was probably great, but otherwise just bounced off.
Robin Hood (Otto Bathurst, 2018)
Was this the worst incarnation of Robin Hood I’ve ever seen? Yes. Was it at least interesting having him be some imposter? Sure. Did they ruin that by making him important anyways? You bet your bottom dollar they did. Skip it.
Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama, 2005)
Maybe if I was more familiar with the source material I would have understood the movie more, but it felt convoluted for the sake of convolution. The setting wasn’t really anything to write home about and the acting wasn’t doing me any favors. Just a hard pass from me.
And that’sa that’sa that’sa that’s all folx!
Roughly in the order that I read them: My favorite books of 2019:
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green, Dutton, 2018
I started the New Year (well, when I woke up after a party) by reading the first five chapters of Hank Green’s debut on my roof, before having to shelve it for a while to finish my year end lists. When I picked it back up I basically read the rest of it in a day. It’s good, real good, in unexpected ways. The story of a young woman who ends up famous by making first contact with statues that appeared overnight around the world, it’s less a story just about aliens, and more about branding, the effects of fame, and the weaknesses of human character that break relationships. It also features a main character that is queer–and while I do have reservations considering the author is a straight white man–it felt reasonably authentic. It’s just a real good book y’all.
Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchet, Harper Prism, 1996
I should have started reading more Pratchett a long time ago–he’s one of those authors that are genuinely funny; not just utilizing cheap gags but with a sense of situational humor normally only seen on the stage. Feet of Clay is one of only two Ringworld novels I’ve read but that’s something I intend to fix — the setting is vibrant and the prose is hopping and I can’t wait to get back.
Uncomfortable Labels, Laura Kate Dale, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019
I’ve been following Dale’s work for a few years now, as a games critic, but mostly haven’t interacted with who she is as a person. Her memoir is both clinical and personal, laying her triumphs alongside her faults and inviting judgement for both. She’s had to face a lot, but I hope that writing and releasing this book has been helpful for her.
All The Crooked Saints, Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic Press, 2017
Stiefvater writes closer to how I think than I ever would have expected when picking up the book–a book I definitely snagged thinking it was something else entirely. The story of a family in the middle of nowhere America with a mission and the power to grant “miracles” is one that kept me engrossed as every now character and problem was introduced and has cemented its place on my bookshelf.
I want to also stop and to talk about examples of the prose. From the back of the book:
Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle. Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.Stiefvater, 2017
That construction is used to introduce characters, and while I certainly wouldn’t want every book to use the technique, it gave you a great sort of baseline for every character in a large cast–and that want/fear dichotomy is important to understand to understand how the miracles work. Very well done.
Blue Bedroom, Rosamund Pilcher, St. Martin’s Press, 1985
I spent a lot of time reading fantasy, science fiction, and other speculative works that use the real world as at best a springboard to another land; another set of rules. Blue Bedroom does not do that, being a collection of short stories as heartfelt as they are domestic; a cup of tea and a scone at the end of a day of dreaming. Unexpected, pleasant, and pleasantly unexpected.
Binti Trilogy, Nnedi Okorafor, Tor, 2015-2017
The Binti novellas are one of those singular works of science fiction that broadens what you expect from the genre and becomes a touchstone that other books are compared against. For instance, Mass Effect did jellyfish aliens first — but Binti did it far better, giving the creatures such a wealth of personality and belief that I’m unsure I’ll ever not think of the book when I see such a being. And that’s just one aspect: the mathemagic, Binti herself’s culture–a number of things from this series of novellas jumped out at me and hopefully shall color my perceptions moving forward.
The Astroboy Essays, Frederik L. Schodt, Stone Bridge Press, 2007
I have never seen an Astroboy cartoon, or read an Astroboy comic, or played an Astroboy game, but I know who he is all the same. He’s a staple of Japanese animation in a way few figures can be, and this book detailing where he came from and the life and other works of Tezuka was an engrossing read and one that left me with so many other works to pursue. [See; Princess Knight, which I’ll talk about in the comics roundup.]
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland, MacMurray and Beck, 1999
A novel of vignettes, Hyacinths tells the story of a painting, possibly a Vermeer, as it was passed through time, eventually ending (at the start of the book) in the study of a private school teacher. Each piece functions as a stand alone tale–the painting an impartial background character as you move from the 1960s through World War II and into slices of time in the Netherlands that I’ve never thought of, let alone read about.
Broken Irish, Edward J. Delaney, Turtle Point Press, 2011
Broken Irish hurt to read. Not due to being poorly done, but from the sheer darkness in the pages. An inspired-by-reality story of the poorer parts of Boston, it tells several interlocking tales; tales of a drunk, a victim, a mother, a priest, and more. No one ends happy, few really get what they want, and I have no idea what to do with this book, which feels stuck to me like a blister I can’t bring myself to pop.
Hear the Wind Sing, Haruki Marakami, Penguin Random House, 2015 (Translation)
Reading a Murakami piece is like getting off of the subway and the sun is in the wrong place in the sky, and your brain starts reciting a Robert Frost poem but you’ve forgotten his name and the last line and so you’re looping and everything is tilted slightly to the left. His book 1Q84 is specifically about sort of crossing a threshold into a world that isn’t quite right, but Hear the Wind Sing has the same timbre, the same taste of grey ink as your pen runs dry. Everything is normal, little is happening, but there must be some meaning, some reason that the main character is just some jerk crossing streams with a woman who misses the dream part of the manic pixie dream girl in favor of having no resolved tension and a propensity to quote an author neither of them should care about. In short, it is a novella that made me feel displaced but not alienated, and I enjoyed it.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, Kathleen Collins, Harper Collins, 2016
A collection of short stories, focusing on couples with one or more Black partners–another painful book. There’s a lot of evil that has been done in America; a lot of pain caused by people unwilling or incapable of looking past skin color. It isn’t simple, it isn’t solvable simply from force of heart, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Few works I’ve read drill that lesson home as hard or as painfully.
The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday, 2019
I read The Nickel Boys in two days on my commute, lapping up the pain it contained, pain I still could see reflected in the people around me. What is detailed within is a horrific fictional account based on real crimes committed by real people in the good ol’ US of A. I’m white and between my current neighborhood and uncomfortably overwhelmingly white friend group, I don’t come face to face with the level of racial hate in our recent past, or our present. Here’s a 2020 goal for y’all; do better at that. All of us need to.
Books I read that didn’t make the cut but I still have something to say about and you’re still reading this so I guess I didn’t waste my time writing it.
Artemis Fowl Files, Eoin Colfer, Miramax, 2004
A collection of some info docs (including a language key for gnomish, which takes the fun out of that) and a couple of ok short stories. Was never going to be the thing that got me to care about Artemis Fowl again. It was just sort of trying to fill in narrative gaps that didn’t need to be filled.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, Public Domain, 1876
I’m quite conflicted about Tom Sawyer. It paints a picture of people I barely recognize as being American compared to today’s age, with one of the few constants being the racism. It was a fun adventure in its own right, and I do love Twain’s tendency to end chapters with things like “Let’s draw the curtain on that scene” and not dwelling on things with known outcomes, but I kept bouncing off of the sensibilities of the characters. I might re-evaluate after I read Huckleberry Finn.
Ticknor, Sheila Heti, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
This is a very, very strange book. A fictionalish biopic about the biographer of a historian, himself an academic, that echoes and wraps around the actual biography in question. I feel like I need to read the original piece to really understand what we’re dealing with. The voice of the main character also takes some getting used to–I had to read the first dozen pages aloud and add inflection just to keep his thoughts in order–but by the end it had painted quite a dashing picture of a miserable, miserable man, kept warm not by his own merits but only by the light of a friend he mooched off of.
NP, Banana Yoshimoto, Grove Press, 1994(Translation)
NP is trying to be a Murakami book(or rather, is coming from the same sort of voicing), and succeeding where he fails in not being quite so goddamn creepy as the sex in his books tends to be. It’s almost impregnable in its oddity–months later I can remember flashes of scenes and themes and almost nothing concrete–but there was something to Yoshimoto’s work that I simply can’t seem to shake. I’ve picked up another of her books to see if it was a good Author match but not quite the right book for me.
Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth, Travis Langley and Mara Wood, Sterling, 2017
Pop psychology – fine I guess but extremely repetitive. An interesting counterpoint to Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman, which dramatizes some of the events talked about in the collection of essays.
More Than A Flag, Monica F. Helms, MB Books, 2019
Biographies are hard to read, and autobiographies even more so, being as much a judgement of the words on the page as they are the person or persons being discussed within. I found no real issues with the prose in More Than a Flag, which details the life and activism of the creator of the Trans Pride Flag, but I did find issues with the author herself, a woman I realized as I was reading that I likely would not like in person, but whom has contributed something to my life central enough that it will likely be inscribed on my skin. I’m trying not to think about it too much. It’s very likely that what it comes down to is that the environment in which I am transitioning is radically different from when she did and that certainly impacts some of her choices, but her flaws shine through perhaps more than her accomplishments in her book.
Pinball 1973, Haruki Murakami, Penguin Random House, 2015 (Translation)
Where Hear the Wind Sing left me displaced, Pinball 1973 left me simply discomforted. From the plodding pace to the lackluster protagonist; from the fetish twin supporting characters who seem to only exist because someone liked the idea of sleeping with sisters to the callbacks the Hear the Wind Sing that barely advance the character arcs from that novel, Pinball 1973 just felt a mess; a real shame considering how much I liked the prior book.
Through a Glass Darkly, Kathleen Burkhalter, Firefly Press, 2013
There isn’t anything remarkable about Through a Glass Darkly; a collection of short, purportedly true tales of oddities in one woman’s life; but Kathleen is not just any one woman. She was a force of nature, a force for good, a powerhouse of a woman who’s passing her family feels every day, and my life is richer for knowing that she was in it, and my shelf blessed to have her words upon it, even if I don’t feel most others would resonate with them in the same way.