Monday, January 31, 2022

AfterLunch | After Dinner Lounge – I Want to Believe

Rob, Evan, Pax, and I  chit chat about The Beatles, The Morning Show, the post-Endgame MCU, and whether or not the Supernatural is real. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

AfterLunch | After Dinner Lounge – Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Rob, Evan, Pax, and I gather again to talk about what we've been listening to and reading. And our favorite flowers. Lots of recommendations, but in the process of meandering, the conversation occasionally settles into topics like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Fast and Furious movies, and gritty super hero comics. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

AfterLunch | Bond Novels – Goldfinger

I continue exploring Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels with the seventh in the series, Goldfinger. Like with the film version, the novel introduces a lighter tone than had been in the series so far. But is that a good thing or bad? 

Monday, January 24, 2022

AfterLunch | Nerdstradamus 2022

Rob, Evan, Pax, Kay, Robert Zerbe, and I reconvene to see how we all did on our pop culture resolutions and predictions from 2021. And to make new ones for 2022. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Hellbent for Letterbox | Our Top 15 Westerns

When listener Mathias Skeppstedt sent in the list of his Top 15 Favorite Westerns, Pax and I decided to come up with our own lists to compare. Each of the three has a mix of classics and surprises, and we run through all of them in this short(ish) episode.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Movie-Watching in 2021

Before getting into all the movies from 2021 that I saw, here's a look at my movie-watching overall last year according to my activity on Letterboxd:
  • I watched a total of 335 films, which is way down from the previous two years, but I started watching a lot more TV series in 2021. My movie average was just under 28 a month or just over 6 a week.
  • The first movie I saw last year was a rewatch of Wonder Woman to get ready to see Wonder Woman 1984.
  • The last movie I saw last year was Spider-Man: No Way Home.
  • I didn't watch any movie more than twice last year, but there were a few that I did that with. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and The Suicide Squad were the only two that I did it just because I wanted to see them again. The others were all movies that I watched for a podcast, but the recording was rescheduled, so I watched them again just before we actually recorded.
  • 56 (or about 17%) of the movies I saw were actually from 2021. That's higher than normal for me. I usually skew a lot heavier into older films by over 90%.
  • 194 of them (about 58%) were films I watched for the first time (or at least had never recorded on Letterboxd before). That's right around normal for me.
  • Samuel L Jackson was my most watched actor with 10 films, thanks to several MCU re-watches, but also Kong: Skull IslandThe Hitman’s Bodyguard, and first-time watch The Protégé.
  • Other actors I watched a lot of were folks from the MCU and Fast and Furious movies, so the only surprise on my Most Watched Actors list was Donald Sutherland. He's due in part to a Hunger Games binge, but also Kelly’s HeroesMax Dugan Returns, and The Castle of the Living Dead.
  • My most watched director was Justin Lin thanks again to the Fast and Furious series. Chloé Zhao, the Russo Brothers, lucha libre director Federico Curiel (thanks to the lucha libre podcast I was on), and Michael Curtiz were all right behind Lin with four movies each. Curtiz was the only sort of naturally recurring one. The others are all because of series, except for Zhao and she's because I purposely marathoned her stuff before seeing Eternals. The Curtiz films I watched were The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Sea Hawk (both because I was watching Elizabethan films), The Adventures of Robin Hood (for After Lunch), and my annual re-watch of White Christmas.
  • Kevin Feige was my top producer at 22 films.
  • But Marvel was not the movie studio I watched most of. It was tied for second with MGM with 21 films each. My most-watched studio was Universal with 28 films. The Fast and Furious series helped a lot with that, as did the Halloween movies, but there are a lot of random films in that list, too.
  • Chris Morgan and Henry James were tied for my Most Watched Writer at 7 films each. Morgan's a writer for the Fast and Furious series. James wrote the novel The Turn of the Screw, which I watched a lot of adaptations of.
  • Over the Garden Wall was the thing I saw that's most liked by other Letterboxd users.
  • The thing I watched that was least liked by other Letterboxd users was Halloween: Resurrection. And I agree with them.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home is the most popular movie that I saw last year.
  • The most obscure movie I watched was a 1965 Italian Biblical epic called I Grandi Condottieri. It's basically an anthology film with the stories of Gideon and Samson connected only through some inelegant narration. Both stories have good actors creating relatable versions of their characters, though. And the whole project must have had a decent budget too if the sets and large casts of extras are an indication. I liked it just fine.

Monday, January 17, 2022

AfterLunch | Bond Novels – Dr. No

I continue exploring Ian Fleming's James Bond novels with the sixth in the series, Dr. No. It's the pulpiest so far, but also has big character development for Bond and a surprising thematic connection with Pierre Boulle's novel, Planet of the Apes

Friday, January 14, 2022

Hellbent for Letterbox | News of the World (2020)

Pax and I finally watch the 2020 Western that everyone's been talking about, Paul Greengrass' News of the World starring Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. And Pax looks into what the deal is with The Hateful Eight Extended Version.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

My Favorite Songs of 2021

I was going to try to rank these in terms of favorites, but that's too hard. Here are my 11 favorite songs of 2021 in alphabetical order.

"After Coffee" by Joywave

Perfectly captures a lazy morning of pondering mild existential crisis.

"All You Ever Wanted" by Rag'n'Bone Man

If I had to pick a favorite from this list, "All You Ever Wanted" would be it. From Rag'n'Bone Man's soul-filled voice to the fuzzy guitar and just rocking groove of the whole thing. 

"Be Sweet" by Japanese Breakfast

Speaking of groove. The bass line on this thing with Michelle Zauner's gorgeously sweet voice is driving and perfect.

"Can You Handle My Love??" by WALK THE MOON

Gotta love a song about romantic desperation that's this danceable. Best one since ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me."

"Colorado" by Milky Chance

"Groovy" and "chill" are recurring themes for me, apparently.

"help herself (with BENEE)" by bbno$ & Diamond Pistols

Take "groovy" and "chill" and immerse it in a big vat of "smooooooth." So good.

"Higher Power" by Coldplay

I think it's cool to not like Coldplay? Is it too uplifting or something? 

"Memory" by Windser

One of the advantages of writing this well into 2022 (and backdating to January) is that I was able to discover a new song to add to the list. I'd never heard of Windser before, but I love how easy and groovy this song is. I'll be searching out more by him.


"My Universe" by Coldplay X BTS

Another Coldplay song, but this one enhanced with some good old-fashioned K-pop. 

"Prom" by courtship.

Big time '80s vibe. Which (for someone my age) is perfect for a song about high school love.

"Saturday" by twenty one pilots

Saturday is the day of the week when I'm typically listening to new music while running errands and doing chores, so "Saturday" the song was a perfect discovery on one of those days. Great party song that also happens to be a great laundry-folding song.

Monday, January 10, 2022

AfterLunch | Mystery Movie Night – Pixies, Police, and Protests

I ask Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and special guest Rob Graham to find the hidden connection between A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968), Running Scared (1986), and V for Vendetta (2005).

If you haven't seen one or more of the movies, feel free to skip to the discussions of your choice:

00:02:36 - Review of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)
00:33:31 - Review of Running Scared (1986)
00:52:25 - Review of V for Vendetta (2005)
01:16:45 - Guessing the Connection

Download or listen to the episode here.

Friday, January 07, 2022

AfterLunch | Enterprise, Season 3

The AfterLunch Star Trek Council reconvenes to discuss Enterprise's attempt at a serialized story in its third season. Rob, Evan, Delaney, and I talk about the Xindi, the Expanse, and spatial anomalies in addition to Archer's darkening, Reed's insecurity, and whether there's such a thing as too much time travel.

Download or listen to the episode here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Reading in 2021

2021 was another good reading year for me. My total number of books read was down from 2020, but still well over my goal of reading 50 books for the year. And I feel like 74 is a more accurate count than my Total Books Read usually is. There are plenty of graphic novels and children's books in there, but not as many short stories and there were only a few books that I started, but didn't finish.

The shortest story I read was "Snow White and Rose Red" by the Brothers Grimm. Normally I'd include that as part of a collection, but I specifically pulled that one out to read because I was getting ready to read Emily Winfield Martin's novel that expands on the tale. I quite liked the fairy tale and loved the novel, but more on that below. 

The longest book I read (listened to on audiobook, actually) was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I loved this one. It's an excellent mystery with lots of twists and turns. One thing that makes it special though is that Collins lays it out as a series of narratives by different characters, each with their own voices and perspectives, which include flaws that they're blind to, but that Collins and his audience aren't.

There's also a lovely romance that I rooted for, but what I adore most is Collins' insistence on shining a loving spotlight on characters that are considered physically unattractive by general society, but are observant and intelligent and crucial. I'm so used to books from this period casting a distrustful eye towards outsiders. And while it's arguable that for most of the story, The Moonstone does that to its South Asian characters who are trying to reclaim the gem that was stolen from them in the beginning, the novel ultimately reveals that it knows better where they're concerned as well. It's a remarkably sensitive, but also intriguing, exciting, and funny book.

The most popular book (among Goodreads users) I read was The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. I liked it okay.  I enjoyed the narrator and, like him, was completely sucked into the horrible world of the Long Island rich. I 'shipped some characters, wanted good things for others, was repulsed by still others, and most importantly was charmed by Gatsby until I got to know him.

The most obscure book I read was William Allen Knight's "The Signs in the Christmas Fire." It's a little book I picked up in a used bookstore in Atlanta on my road trip last Summer. I enjoy Christmas stories, so I bought it without knowing anything about it and really liked it. It's a simple story of an old man and his daughter entertaining and educating fellow travelers around a fireplace at an inn. The pair has a tradition of looking for elements in the fireplace at Christmas time that remind them of the nativity scene. They gladly share these with the room and bring out a lovely lesson in the process.

I tended to like what I read last year, with my average rating being 3.8 out of 5 stars. I did abandon four books, though. 

The prose in Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is lovely, but I wasn't in the mood for a meditation on loss and change. The first 50 or so pages cover a lot of time quickly, dialogue is sparse, and events just kind of flow by instead of grabbing me and pulling me in. I wanted something more immersive.

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly is well-written and beautifully produced with lovely illustrations, but it's darker than I expected or wanted from an island adventure story. The island's culture is positively dystopian and the book's tone is oppressive and heavy. That works for a lot of readers, but it's not my bag.

Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita is a short story collection in two parts. Her prose is funny and engaging and educational and I enjoyed each individual story I read, but I started to grow tired of them cumulatively. Ironically, the place where I got bored was the back half of the book where Yamashita retells Jane Austen stories with modern, Japanese American characters. That's what I came to this collection for to begin with, but I was way more interested in the first half of the book collecting her own, Austenless work.

I loved the insight to Japanese American culture; it just turns out that I didn't need to have it married to my favorite Regency-period author. I wonder if it has anything to do with Yamashita's admitting that she's not a huge Austen fan herself. Her sister is and that appears to be the inspiration, but I found the Austen adaptations more cute than insightful. They don't have anything particularly new to say about Austen, nor are they as revealing about JA culture as the first half of the collection, so I started skimming them toward the end and then gave up.

The last book I didn't finish was Little Women and Werewolves by Porter Grand. Boy, did that sound fun. One of my favorite kinds of monsters mashed into one of my favorite classic novels. I put it down fairly quickly though. I don't know if it's just that what I like about Little Women (the sweetness and kindness and putting others before yourself) wasn't marrying well with what I like about werewolves (the warning about letting go of social inhibitions). Those themes sound like natural things to put next to each other and maybe Little Women and Werewolves gets there eventually, but the bit I read seemed more interested in building a world where werewolves are an acknowledged, but persecuted element of society. The novel seemed to be about prejudice against them and I got bored with it, but again, maybe I didn't stick with it long enough to get an accurate impression. I wasn't enjoying it though.

I finished The Hidden Staircase, the second Nancy Drew mystery novel, but it was my biggest disappointment of the year.  I loved the first book, so it was especially sad not to like this one so much. Particularly when it's such an iconic story that's been adapted to film multiple times.

I can see why it's a favorite among young readers, though. Nancy investigates a potentially haunted house and it doesn't bother me that Scooby Doo cartoons reused the plot over and over again. And Nancy is as charming as ever. But unlike the first book, her success this time hinges largely on her apparently supernatural ability to talk disloyal henchmen into turning on the main villain. That was hard to swallow and ruined the book for me. I'm curious to see how movie versions handle that.

On the other end of the spectrum, I absolutely loved about a third of the books I read. Some of these were re-reads of favorite holiday stories like A Christmas Carol and various children's books by Wende and Harry Devlin (the Cranberry and Old Witch series, to be specific). Another big influence on that number is my read-through of all seven volumes in Yoshitoki Ōima's A Silent Voice manga series. I loved every single volume as well as the anime based on the story.

The first Nancy Drew novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, was another book I loved. As was Emily Winfield Martin's Snow & Rose. She adds a central mystery that strengthens the ties between the lightly connected events of the Grimm version, but she also gives the girls distinct personalities, forest friends and acquaintances, and dangerous threats to overcome. 

My favorite comic of the year was probably The Kurdles by Robert Goodin. It's about a tossed away teddy bear that enlists the help of some strange forest creatures to help her get home. But before they can assist, they need her aid in dealing with an emergency of their own. Goodin's art is detailed and wondrous and brings the story to incredible life. The little world he's built is amazing and the only negative thing I have to say about it is that there's not a sequel already.

The Moonstone was my favorite novel of the year, but a solid runner up was The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis. It's a mystery featuring the Brontë sisters as detectives and was exactly what I wanted. The sisters all have the personalities I associate with them (thanks largely to the movie To Walk Invisible) and solve a cool mystery on the moor involving a missing - probably dead - wife and potentially a ghost. And it only strengthened my growing crush on Emily Brontë.

Monday, January 03, 2022

AfterLunch | Bond Novels – From Russia, with Love

I discuss the fifth Bond novel by Ian Fleming and it's a bold entry in the series. Fleming spends the first half of the book on the villains and their plan, not introducing Bond until halfway through. And then ends the story on a cliffhanger. 


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