Stuff I Loved in 2019

The following list showcases the popular culture I most appreciated in 2019, regardless of whether it actually came out in 2019. Consider it a gift to you, capable of instilling in you the taste you so severely lack.



Boon Joon-ho’s genre-defying film Parasite is a must-see, even for those usually put off by subtitles. It’s funny, thrilling and relatable, goading the audience to root for a family whose increasingly selfish behavior threatens to transform them from clever capitalists into full-blown criminals. Impeccably written and full of well-timed surprises, Parasite is the high-water mark for exceptional modern filmmaking.


While not as terrifying as Hereditary, Ari Aster’s brightly-colored follow-up film is still roaring with dread. Anchored by an evocative performance from Florence Pugh, Midsommar tells the story of a woman attempting to process grief while on a trip to a remote village in Sweden. She and her travel companions participate in the village’s midsummer festival, only to discover that beneath the floral crowns and maypole dances something sinister lurks. Midsommar’s visuals alternate between idyllic and horrific, underscoring the movie’s tumultuous central relationship and echoing Pugh’s inner turmoil.

The Favourite

Though it looks more regal than Downton Abbey, The Favourite’s dialogue is as biting and raunchy as Veep. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone battle for Queen Anne’s favor with darkly funny, occasionally tragic results. The film’s juxtaposition of dazzlingly ornate architecture and foul-mouthed malcontents results in one of the most creative and engaging dramas ever conceived. Olivia Colman won the Oscar for her visceral portrayal of Queen Anne, but all three of the leading ladies deliver career-best performances.

TV Shows


For those not in-the-know, HBO’s Succession is a witty and gripping drama about a Murdoch-esque family whose penchant for power struggles is fairly Shakespearean. Quotable and clever, Succession delivers as both social commentary and binge-able obsession. Its cast is filled with skilled actors spitting witticisms. Brian Cox leads the ensemble as a cantankerous media mogul in search of an heir. Though it feels a bit icky to care about the people behind a Fox News-style propaganda machine, it’s a testament to the writing and the performances that I can’t wait to root for the Roy family next season.  


PEN15 is a brilliantly funny, deeply personal look at what it’s like to be a middle-schooler. Adult actresses and writers Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play 7th grade girls, while all their classmates are played by child actors. Though the stars don’t always look like little kids, their line-delivery and mannerisms are so pitch-perfect it’s easy to forget. The adults-playing-kids schtick amplifies the inherent awkwardness of puberty. The 7th graders are desperate to seem cool and mature, while still exhibiting the inherent innocence of kids. More than just a nostalgia trip, PEN15 is a portal through time to embarrassing moments adults have either repressed or forgotten.

The Mandalorian

Disney’s first foray into big-budget Star Wars TV is a genuine hit. Much has been written about the show’s scene-stealing cutie, Baby Yoda, but The Mandalorian’s greatest accomplishment is proving that a Star Wars spin-off doesn’t have to focus on revising or explaining the events from the movies. Like the best of the expanded universe stories, The Mandalorian digs into unexplored lore, introduces compelling new characters, and lets viewers explore new corners of the Star Wars universe without marrying everything to a Skywalker. Though the first season suffers from some awkward plotting, it ultimately sticks the landing and sets up some exciting stakes for season two.


Bad Reputation

An inspiring tour of Joan Jett’s musical career, Bad Reputation is a feel-good documentary that made me want to thrash and blast her songs like the young person I no longer am. Though it tends to keep things positive and not dwell too much on the hardships, the core story about a young musician finding her persona onstage and defying people’s prudish expectations was fun and uplifting. One part biography and one part pro-Joan propaganda, Bad Reputation makes up for its lack of twists and turns by being a world-class delivery system for Joan’s music and the fiery spirit of feminism.


Fyre is schadenfreude in a bottle. It’s the story of a failed business venture, one that resulted in a bunch of rich concert-goers stranded on an island without access to the luxurious accommodations they’d been promised. It all started when professional douche Billy McFarland sold a brand new music festival to the rich and well-connected. Like Captain Ahab, McFarland sails toward disaster, obsessed with accomplishing his goal even as his crew warns him to turn back. The result is tragic for the concert-goers but deeply satisfying for viewers who enjoy seeing bad things happen to rich people.

Leaving Neverland

Leaving Neverland provides viewers with the most damning testimony available regarding Michael Jackson’s child molestation. The documentary focuses on two men who were molested by Jackson when they were kids, then supplements their accounts with photos, faxes, and other corroborating evidence. Though stomach-turning, the picture that Neverland paints is clear, revealing the systematic way in which Jackson sought out, raped, and discarded young boys. In spite of the trauma, Jackson’s victims try to stay strong and live healthy adult lives, providing inspiration for anyone suffering similarly.

Video Games

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Three Houses is an addictive strategy game about a Hogwarts-esque academy where you can bond with your fellow teachers and students, thereby improving their strength in battle. The game offers enough customization to make it replayable multiple times, resulting in a good amount of bang for your buck. Though it sometimes lacks the graphical flair of its contemporaries, Three Houses makes up for any shortcomings with loads of quality combat, charm, and romance.

Return of the Obra Dinn

Lucas Pope is one of the most creative game designers of all time. You might recall his previous game, Papers, Please, in which you play as an immigration officer under an authoritarian regime. In Obra Dinn, you play as an investigator tasked with explaining the mysterious deaths of the crew aboard a vessel straight out of Moby Dick. The game’s visuals are monochrome yet vivid, and its music is intoxicating. Using a magical compass you can view the exact moment of each crewman’s death, but it’s up to you to determine how and why these tragic events took place. Obra Dinn is a truly unique game sure to please anyone who enjoys seafaring tales, murder mysteries, and puzzle-solving.

Pokémon Sword & Shield

Despite the controversy surrounding the designers’ decision to omit a slew of Pokémon from the game, Pokémon Shield succeeds because of the series’ latest gimmick, a large open area where changing weather determines which Pokémon will appear. My childhood dream was a game that combined the open world freedom of World of Warcraft with the world of Pokémon, and Shield is one step closer to making that dream a reality. Another added bonus is the game’s setting, a loving parody of modern day England. This means classic Pokémon have updated forms to fit the new region, including a Weezing that looks like industrial smokestacks and a fighting-type Farfetch’d with a leafy blade.

Movie Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp

Trash. Utter unmitigated trash.

Those were my thoughts during the first forty or so minutes with the laughless and listless pairing of Ant-Man & The Wasp. Chief among its many problems is that it barely lives up to that uninspired title. There are remarkably few scenes in which Ant-Man & The Wasp do something as simple as kick butt together in costume, and so many dull-ass-dead scenes where characters explain what happened last movie or fifty years ago. Performances by Paul Rudd and Hannah John-Kamen get stretched beyond their breaking points, untethered to the flimsy words that make up this painful excuse for a script. After the surefire blockbuster success of Infinity War, this feels like a fart in the wind.

Paul Rudd seems to be a font of youthful charm normally, but here he plays backseat to the ongoing events around him. Nobody thought to give Ant-Man something to do or care about in his own movie, beyond wanting to vaguely rekindle friendship/romance (unclear) with The Wasp, aka Evangeline Lilly, and of course, as he reminds us every fifteen seconds, he needs to get home to his daughter who doesn’t even live with him, because she’s in the loving stewardship of the effortlessly more charismatic Bobby Cannavale, who is used so poorly it almost made me want to scream- why is he not the star of his own hero movie? Then again, if it was scripted by the five (5) brilliant minds who crafted this gem, it might be a turd too.

The most insane detail of the movie is also the most constantly rehashed, as if the screenwriters were so pleased with how badly they buried the evidence they decided to roll around on the bones like a dog in the yard. The entire movie hinges on Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man being under house arrest because he was captured by the FBI after the events of Civil War (which again, feel Marvel-wise like fifteen years ago). Old Ant-Man (Michael Douglas) and his daughter The Wasp 2.0 are on the lam because of their association with Paul Rudd. They are also very peeved that they weren’t invited to Civil War (no joke) and hold this against Paul Rudd for three-quarters of the movie. Just thinking about the details of this movie, of which there are many, is breaking my brain.

Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are on the run from the FBI. They have a shrinkable building (which becomes the fucking Maltese Falcon of this piece of shit movie) that looks like a prop from a Ninja Turtles toy commercial that they have the audacity to roll around like a luggage suitcase just to further emphasize how lame it is. They have the power to shrink to the size of ants, which is a pretty good power to use if you are in hiding. So what do they do? They set up shop right in San Francisco, right where Paul Rudd still lives, so they can keep an eye on him, even though he is on house arrest with an ankle bracelet, and has the FBI swarming him every fifteen seconds as a running gag and a way to put Randall Park in the movie.

So Ant-Man, who again, has the power to shrink to the size of a fucking ant, that’s like his main power, gets immediately caught by the United States government and rather than put into prison- in spite of being an ex-con already and associating with known terrorist Captain America- is put on house arrest in an ankle bracelet as a slap on the wrist. This is of course, insane. If you have the power to shrink, how would you EVER get caught? You could get away from situations so easily, especially if you could control ants and fly away while small. Granted, the seagull problem this movie presents is frightening- and a seeming nod/blatant theft from The Simpsons bit where the puppies keep eating Homer’s chips- but beyond that, I’m saying the premise of the movie, the set-up for everything that happens, makes no sense. How did Ant-Man get captured so easily? Why didn’t he tell his pals he was going to help Captain America- as if he was good at keeping secrets- when another plot point of this movie hinges on the fact that he compulsively tells Michael Pena where they are hiding so it can be extracted by the villain later? So he loves to blurt this stuff out sometimes, and loves to keep schtum other times. There’s no emotional journey to justify this switch. It’s just bad writing. The writers of this movie want us to buy Paul Rudd’s depiction of a bumbling security expert, which isn’t a thing.

It’d be one thing if Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man were Don Knotts and his incompetence were played purely for laughs. But Ant-Man isn’t Ron Burgundy, and if he’s going to be the hero of his own movie you should probably focus on making him have an interesting personal journey. Even wack-a-doo Marvel fare like Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 managed to shoehorn in some comic book melodrama that felt just the right level of overblown to be compelling. Here everything is played for laughs that never materialize, like a bad episode of a tv series. This movie is nobody’s passion project. It’s just everybody’s fifteenth superhero movie, and it reeks of old cheese.

Visually Ant-Man and the Wasp has more in common with Spawn or The Power Rangers Movie than a regular, more expensive Marvel movie (including the first Ant-Man). Action sequences are shot from the point of view of someone who wanted to make sure they could break for lunch on time. The lack of attention to detail in the script is present in the cinematography as well. There’s a shot of Lawrence Fishburne walking across the room that looks like it was filmed on someone’s cell phone. There’s a fight sequence in a kitchen that makes the one in X-Men: Days of Future Past look even more brilliant by comparison. The one moment of shine in this dubba-dubba-WB wannabe is a first person shot of our heroes (?) traveling into the quantum realm a.k.a. the realm of really tiny things, which looks like a better version of the 2001 or Avatar zooming into a time tunnel effect. Otherwise, blah.

Michael Pena delivers the movie’s first laughs about forty-five minutes into the movie, and they are such a relief. He is the most wasted performer in a sea of them. His lines about wanting his own hero suit seem more justified than the movie itself. It’s not that he is purely a better performer than Rudd (though he very well might be) but that Rudd is asked to do both everything and nothing, while Pena is offered the easier and more snugly fitting role of showing up to make us laugh and say, hey, it’s not all that bad right? At least I’m here to cut a few jokes that sometimes work. When you are about to fall asleep in the theater, Pena becomes the good cop holding you hostage, the one who wants to be your buddy. Rudd is more like the bad cop who wants you to watch him reenact Mommy Dearest in full.

The plot of the movie, beyond the we’re bad at shrinking things thing, is that Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly want to save the original Wasp, Douglas’s wife and Lilly’s mother, portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in what can only be described as a bittersweet performance. It’s great to see her, and so sad to see her wasted, much like Karen Allen in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When they finally do save her- spoiler alert, please don’t see this movie- she is somehow wearing perfect eye make-up, in spite of being trapped in a hellish floating dimension with tardigrades for decades. This is a nit-pick, but the hair and make-up folks on this movie did an atrocious job. I know it’s ridiculous for a bald man like myself to comment on hair, except to say how jealous I am of those who have it- treasure your locks, people!- there is something so weird about half the hairstyles in this movie. Evangeline Lilly’s hair is less cartoonish than before, but somehow looks like a weirdly styled wig rather than the more natural (stranded?) look of Kate from LOST. Everything just feels a bit off- like whoever they hired had fifteen minutes to get these actors to set and was struggling to manage updos with a donut in their mouth. And because the movie is so boring, you sort of get lost focusing on the details that really stick out to you, because, what else is there to do?

I’ve described this movie for what feels like an eternity, and in that I’ve done the movie justice, as it also feels like an eternity. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Walton Goggins plays a ‘southern gentleman’ who is a bad guy for some reason. I think he has some piece of technology that Evangeline Lilly needs? Unclear. He keeps showing up and hassling our heroes like a Beverly Hills Cop side plot, and even when his henchmen provide the for-some-reason necessary truth serum, it’s the other villain, Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who benefits. Yes, the “real” villain is Ghost, who is another unrelated tangential plot line stemming from a weird relationship Michael Douglas had in the past with a scientist he fired who started doing experiments in a third world country and accidentally exploded his daughter during bring your daughter to unregulated science lab during potential explosion day. That little girl becomes Ghost, an assassin who worked for the government and then went rogue, and is slowly phasing out of existence. This is another one of those special effects that looks like it probably could have been done the same way in a made-for-tv-movie, along with the hot wheels cars and everything else that’s supposed to be cute that just comes off as tired and hollow and cheap.

There’s a good moment of performance from Hannah John-Kamen when she confronts Paul Rudd, a good hero/villain exchange. The only problem is the two characters have nothing to do with each other. Her beef is with Douglas, who is unconscious nearby. So she has this whole sexually charged little speech that brings in a weird thriller element of the movie- is this villain a toxic fan? Is this a moment of commentary? Did this movie just slow-burn being interesting? Nope, she’s just doing a good performance to make a go-nowhere exposition scene more compelling. It works, and will be great for her reel, but this scene ultimately ends in Lawrence Fishburne explaining a lot of psuedo science and our heroes and villains realizing that they really have different goals, and that they really are quite different, you and I.

This movie sucks. That’s the tl;dr. It’s only notable in that it is such a shift in quality from normal Marvel fare, which even when boring can be at least competent filmmaking or have a few good jokes or something going for them. This is just a phoned in, lifeless sequel to fill a summer slot. I’d claim this was Marvel’s Batman and Robin, but at least that movie had the excuse of camp to back up its awfulness. This is just lazy, bland filler. Hey- maybe James Gunn can come over to this franchise and turn it around! Oh wait.

Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War


In truly spectacular fashion the masterminds at Marvel have cracked the code of putting comic book action on the big screen. Not only does Infinity War capture the jaw-dropping visuals of classic comic books, it also captures the medium’s devastating twists and turns. Your expectations may be decimated, and you may feel heartbreak- that is if you’re willing to put your cynicism aside and let yourself be moved by nearly three hours of superhero carnage. I know it’s not for everybody, but for those who have kept up with the connective tissue between all these Marvel movies, Infinity War feels like a knock-out punch.

But of course it isn’t the end. Another Avengers movie comes out next year to continue the story left behind in this installment. Clearly the filmmakers wanted to ape Empire Strikes Back, but even on its own terms Infinity War feels like the definitive Marvel movie. Nitpicks aside- Peter Dinklage phones in his performance- this movie hits on practically all cylinders and is packed to the brim with so much explosive action and crazy cartoon cross-overs that it almost feels like the fever dream of a five year old. Most surprisingly, this fever dream threads together plot lines from countless superhero stories and crafts them into something inexplicably consummate. In that weird way that the Fast and Furious franchise inexplicably started feeling more necessary over time, Infinity War is the best justification for superhero cinema yet.

I urge you to run out and see Infinity War, even if your understanding of the Marvel movies is tenuous. It’s a litmus test for the power of these movies. If you can sit through Infinity War without a shred of interest in any of the plot lines, then let Marvel be damned. Curse it to the winds. But for the rest of us, this is paradise.

I cannot go forward without spoilers, so just stop reading now and go reserve your seats if you have not seen it.


Good riddance. Now we can get to the real meat and potatoes.

So wow, that ending, huh?

Pretty great. Thanos just chilling out, enjoying himself.

I have heard it before and I really agree: It’s Thanos’s movie.

Josh Brolin is barely evident. It is the story of Thanos, not some actor. Thanos is a kind-hearted soul who merely wishes to nobly destroy half of all living things to bring balance to the universe. Cool.

Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have a bug up their butt about that, so they launch an interstellar wizard / spider-team into space, then send everyone else to Africa. Thor asks a giant dwarf for help with a star axe. Nat fights interstellar warriors with judo kicks. The Guardians of the Galaxy are perhaps the funniest they have ever been, especially when Pratt and Hemsworth are both on screen. There is so much going on in this movie that it is almost an afterthought that Spider-Man dies.

Web-head is one of maybe dozens of heroes who die in the final scenes of Infinity War. Everybody gets turned to dust. Except for Gamora, who has already been fucking brutally murdered by her own father. Also Idris Elba dies like five minutes into the movie. Thanos is so scary that the Hulk won’t even come out anymore.

Everyone dies. Thanos warps back in time and kills everybody. Only the original Avengers and Michonne are left. But wait a minute- didn’t Black Panther make crazy money at the box office? How could they kill him? Unless…


And that’s why I’ll be there opening day, weeping and screaming.

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming


Like Wonder Woman before it, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun-filled adventure that falls apart under scrutiny, more a movie theater equivalent of a Disneyland ride than a fully formed story. What keeps the action piping along is the charismatic acting and winsome dialogue that manages to genuinely capture the quippy character of Spider-Man. Star Tom Holland works well, but baddie Michael Keaton shines especially brightly in this flick. It’s just that- as the third film incarnation of Spider-Man in the past fifteen years, and the umpteenth film under the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella, certain aspects of the movie feel tired, if not wholly redundant.

Much was said about how Homecoming wouldn’t be an origin story, but in terms of how adept the web-slinger is with his abilities, it might as well be. Spidey stumbles, slips, slides and argues his way out of jams so consistently that he feels more like Spider-Twerp than Man. Again, Keaton is the real star of the show here. Not to disparage Holland’s performance, which is wonderful in its own right, but Keaton pushes the MCU into Oscar-worthy acting, a feat previous performers have failed to accomplish. His sinister sneer and hard-luck, working-class-hero routine alternate keenly to give the MCU something it’s been sorely lacking- a villain with some measure of depth. Keaton has the skill of taking even the most generic dialogue and infusing it with real, relatable character. Holland’s performance, for all its charm, never exceeds the bounds set in Captain America: Civil War.

Beyond the leads, Homecoming’s supporting cast is packed with lovable character actors and comedians. The casting and referential writing do a good job of playing bait-and-switch with the audience, hinting at the potential for certain players to take other forms in future films, but never revealing more than they need to. Most of these players inhabit Peter Parker’s school life, making the movie more coming-of-age comedy than superhero adventure. Compared to other Spider-flicks there’s less time slinging webs, and more time slinging one-liners.

The action is well-conceived, fairly inventive and occasionally well-shot, but never so iconic as the train sequence in Spider-Man 2. The movie is light on melodrama, choosing cerebral comedy and a few brief moments of visceral tension instead. A better Spider-Man movie might have borrowed some of the physical humor of Raimi’s films to fit more snugly into the same vibe as the raw physicality of Keaton’s drama, but that’s more of a nitpick than a glaring error.

The real glaring error is the hovering parental supervision of Tony Stark. The gag here is that Tony has Spidey on “training wheels” protocol, and the storytelling reiterates this fact constantly. Whenever there’s an opportunity for Spidey to be- dare I say, spectacular?- Tony swoops in and provides his trademark brand of ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ lecturing. For a hero who was totally okay throwing Spidey against Captain America last time, (not to mention having a ten-year old rebuild his suit in Iron Man 3) this new, sterner Stark is more a deus-ex-killjoy than a wise-cracking mentor. Those hoping for scenes of Tony and Peter soaring through skyscrapers after a winged foe (and solving their differences) will be sorely disappointed.

The messaging of the movie is kind of corrupted by the randomness of Tony’s intrusions and the fact that character motivations stop mattering by the three-quarter mark. Keaton’s Vulture vows to kill Spider-Man around the same time a twist provides reason for him not to, but due to the necessity of a surprisingly sinister car ride scene, this logicality is ignored. Who needs to make sense when you have Keaton acting his ass off? A friend once criticized my writing by saying, “I guess nothing else matters so long as it’s funny,” and I see the point of his sarcasm here. Sometimes an acrobatic hero like Spidey bends so far backwards to get a reaction, the reasoning for it suffers.

This is not to say you will not enjoy Spider-Man. You’ll likely have a blast, as I did, for the most part. This just isn’t that perfect Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for, in the sense that The Dark Knight is the perfect Batman film for many Bat-fans. Nothing in this movie sings as loudly or as memorably as that great airport fight in Civil War, though overall this story is more consistently enjoyable. And certainly this is leaps and bounds above the travesties of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This is more of an improvement on Amazing Spider-Man 1, a fun, watchable entry mostly distinguishable by its villain. But like many a Marvel movie, I was left hoping they’d get to the “really good part” in the next one. Knowing Marvel, there’ll be no short supply of “next ones” to keep that hope alive.

Movie Review: Baby Driver


The best thing going for Baby Driver is that it’s very memorable. Like a lot of Edgar Wright’s work the imagery leaves an impact, though unfortunately, the dialogue less so. Fans hoping for a return to comedic form like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead may be disappointed by the lackluster dialogue, but it’s clear here that Wright is stretching beyond the expected to give us something a little more Tarantino-inspired than we’re typically used to. The music and camera movement are vibrant and fill the flick with life beyond what its paint-by-numbers plotting does. There’s a vibrancy the supercedes the average filmgoing experience and rewards the viewer with a bit of old-school sensory overload, though far from the bewildering spectacle of say Transformers.

The movement isn’t quite Cuaron but it’s a step in the right direction, aping the colorful musicality of the dance sequence in 500 Days of Summer while grounding the story in a bit more gritty reality. There’s still a bit of goofball charm here, and like fellow white nerd Tarantino before him, Wright seems to take great pleasure in scripting lines for a tough-talking mildly psychopathic black badass, here played enjoyably by Jamie Foxx. Jon Hamm and Ansel Elgort fill their roles finely, but don’t give them any added panache either. The real pathos comes from Lily James as Deborah the love interest. She is acting her proverbial balls off in every scene, seemingly filling in the blanks of her character development by making the romance palpable with her gaze.

The script goes from fun-loving heist comedy to violent 70’s fetishism at a gradual pace, but thankfully in a movie about a badass driver, there are few slow segments. The violent acts of the finale make up for some of the cliche dork-ery of the story. The blind old black man that Baby cares for was cute, but felt a little hokey and ultimately fell flat for me. Unlike in Tarantino’s films or Wes Anderson’s where the music feels like a character unto itself, here the music merely drives the plot amicably from place to place as the exciting action sequences ensue. Surely it’s no different than any other action movie in that way? There’s an added charm here that puts Baby Driver ahead of the pack.