Joseph Hallenbeck

Anno Domini 2020

May 22, 2020

2019 Cultural Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism part of Annual Reviews

One sentence micro-reviews of each film, show, book, and game that I watched, read or played over the last year. Each item recieves a letter grade from F (terrible) to A (a must watch/read).

Key:

(B)
Reserve for items that are so good and re-watchable/readable that they deserve to bought as a physical addition to my library.
(R)
This is a re-read or re-watch of a volume in my library.
(S)
A multi-episode show, an ongoing comic, or series of books instead of a single contained volume.

Films (36) & Shows (10)

There Will Be Blood - A (B)
Long biographic exploration of the nature of the oil rush to the west. A deep exploration on the relationship between religion and money in the American west. Definitely recommended.
Legend - C+
Watched just for the famous “unicorn” scene that many claim was reused in the dream sequence of Blade Runner. It’s not a particularly smart film, but it does leave me wishing the genre had taken off more than it has.
Snowpiercer - B+
The imagery of Snowpiercer is stunning and lasts with me. A kind of dark Willy Wonka story and examination of class barriers. Worth a watch.
Annihilation - C-
Forgettable. It’s science fiction. It’s a blockbuster.
The Holy Mountain - A (B)
Second favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky film after El Topo. Although, unfortunately decidedly less coherent.
Jonny Mnemonic - B+
Based on a William Gibson short story and it does a very good job of capturing the kind of vibe that I get from reading Gibson.
8 1/2 - A (B)
One of those art house kind of films examining the kind of burn out that a creative type feels while trying to force something into creation that just refuses to budge. There’s a lot of characters, scenes, just stuff that spoke so very much to my life in this film.
Yojimbo - A (B)(R)
One of Kirasawa’s more lighthearted period pieces. Yojimbo is a rounin who comes to town and pits two gangs against each other to their mutual destruction.
Crooked House - B
Fun who-dunnit type of film with a decent amount of Brittish humor thrown into the mix.
Hackers - B+
Required watching for the folks over at hackers.town. Watched twice in the last year. It grows on you. Someone described this to me as a film about what 2600 imagined they were up to in the nineties.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers - C+
Watched the original. The inspiration for pod people, lizard people, all the different wonderful conspiracies that our government is run by people totally out of touch with humanity.
Saturn 3 - B
This was probably a big-budget when it was made, but has a very cheap “B” quality feel to it today. Nonetheless, the robot is absolutely terrifying.
Death Race 2000 - B
Bloody, violent, brilliant. Just dumb but in a constant state of satirizing American politics.
Sneakers - A-
A heist/hacker film. It seems like the early nineties had a host of films fascinated with hacker-chic. As far as a “hacker” film goes, it’s pretty good even if villian has a bit of Bond-villian vibe going on.
Escape from LA - C
Not as good as the original. It leans too far into attempting to both lampoon Hollywood and provide a satire of American culture that ultimately makes it fall flat compared to the original.
The Quiet Earth - B+
A post-apocalyptic film out of New Zeland. Don’t mind the “science” as none of it makes any sense. One of those, someone guy wakes up and finds himself the last soul on earth, except for a couple others. Great atmosphere.
Mad Max - B (B)(R)
The original Mad Max tells a story on the edge between Fallout style distopia and our present day. The way it captures the dissociation between Max’s career as a cop seeing the collapse of orderly institutions and his family life where he tries to maintain a semblence of normalcy is entirely topical for our era.
The Road Warrior - B (R)
The sequel introduces so much of the aesthetic of post-apocalyptic film. As far as action films go, its violent, exciting, a thrill to watch but misses the social commentary of the first film.
Shazam - C-
Dumb fun. Watched in the single-screen theatre, so it was my only option. Otherwise, not worth it.
Night is Short, Walk on Girl - A (B)
Brilliant feature-length tour-de-fource of Masaaki’s creative ability and a welcome return of many of the side-characters from Tatami Galaxy.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - B
There is a good twist to this film. It is a great romanticization of Hollywood and Los Angeles and a time period that is far behind us. A good film to watch and revisit a time before I was alive.
Johnny Handsome - B-
A pulpy kind of noir film with a big dose of revenge thrown into the mix. It was a fun watch on a hot afternoon when I needed to find a cool theater to sit.
The Public Eye - B+
Joe Pesci plays a photo journalist specializing in murder photos who gets in over his head. A really decent noir from the early nineties that captures much of the better aspects of the genre.
Pulp Fiction - B+
Surprisingly not taken in by this film nearly as much as I expected.
The African Queen - C+
Bougart plays an excellent drunk. Not my favorite of his films, but it’s one that I’ve seen posters and clips from so much that it is worth a watch.
IT Chapter 2 - D
Heard great things about Chapter 1. Can’t say the same for Chapter 2.
A Simple Plan - B
There’s a big part of me that loves films featuring the northern-midwest, particularly if they do a good job of capturing the kind of culture you find in WI and MN. A comedy of errors that build and builds in an increasly tragic way.
The Vanishing - A- (B)
Lighthouse double feature! The Vanishing is a fairly similar concept to The Lighthouse. People go nuts. Then they disappear from the rock.
The Lighthouse - A (B)
Watched this in an art-house in Tucson. Great atmosphere and storytelling. Absolutely terrifying and iconic imagery.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie - B (S)
Good sequel film to a dumb show that I still can’t believe I watched.
Princess Mononoke - A (B)(R)
I discovered Ghibli-fest this year and made the three hour drive to Albuquerque just to catch my favorite of the Ghibli films.
Spirited Away - A (B)(R)
My second-favorite Ghibli film and a wonder to catch on the big screen.
The Dark Crystal - A-
Hensen’s films have aged extremely well. The puppetering is something that is extraordinarily timeless in presentation.
Ford vs Ferrari - C
This film takes a subject matter that I know, and care nothing about and makes it fascinating. It wasa fun watch in the theatre, though not sure if it is worth putting an effort into watching it.
Battle of Unato - B
Unato is a weird sell. It has the tone and feeling of the good half of Kanebari, but is missing most of the character development and lethality of the monsters. Yet, it was fun to revisit the setting and characters.
Hustlers - C+
A good watch. I would actually call this a heist-film, although one from a wildly different perspective than anything else in the genre.
Tokyo Godfathers - A (B)(R)
Satoshi Kon’s life and career was cut far too short. Making this an annual Christmas Eve watching.
Planetes - A (B)(S)
This is the kind of slow, character driven kind of Anime that seemed to appear for a very brief period in the early 2000s before disappearing into the hole of moe.
Devilman Crybaby - A (B)(S)
Masaaki at his most violent. The story is a rather hopeless Faustian experience that simply escalates into the stratosphere. Beautiful animation throughout.
Bojack Horseman - A (S)
Very slow start. It took until half way through the first season to really get hooked on the show. Then the ride was wild – I could oddly relate to almost the entire cast. The ending was… tame, should have ended an episode earlier.
The Expanse - A (S)
Amazon is throwing a lot of money at this show, and it really shows. The last season on ScyFy was rather lacking, but this is a return to the intrigue and games of the earlier seasons.
Rick & Morty - B (S)
The episodes themselves are good, but I’m starting to get a feeling that the show is starting to run out of material. The latest season is also starkly lacking in any kind of character development for Rick, which has largely been my interest in the show.
Tatami Galaxy - A (B)(S)
Masaaki at his best! An absolute favorite. I had forgotten so much of how this show plays out. A great examination of personality, of the absurd, and leaves me wanting to visit Kyoto.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistence - A- (S)
Still waiting on a second season. Overall, excellent except it ends on a lighter note leaving a huge gap between the events of the show and film. Yet, it excellently captures the feeling of Hensen’s work.

Games (3)

Magic 2014 - C
Fun distraction for a short time. The limitated number of deck options and inability to really engage in deck building though severely limited the replayability of the game.
Mario Maker 2 - A (B)
Made some really fun levels with this, and played some really fun levels. If anything, I became distracted too quickly by…
The Legend of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild - A (B)
An epic game that lives up to it’s reputation. A wonderous take on the open world genre adapted to the sensibilities of Zelda. It does start to get tedious after a while, particularly if you approach it from a completionist viewpoint.

Literature (12)

Return to Dominaria by Martha Wells - F
Tried to give reading the Magic lore a shot. Wow. Glad that I gave away my Magic books and didn’t decide to revisit them.
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson - B
Gibson is slow to get into due to his books being so thuroughly embedded in the world that they inhabit. Once you get the hang of the slang, and can relax the analytic mind and just accept the ride the book opens up.
Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Makoto Ueda - B
A fun exploration of Kyoto over the course of a year. There are some stories the film improves upon, and some (the stage play section) which work much better in written form.
On the Road by Jack Kuroac - A (B)(R)
Oh how many times have I made my way through On the Road? I keep a copy in my glove box for emergencies. Flip it open to any page, it’s a bible for the western traveler and dirtbag.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - D
This is the schlock lies that saturated our society in the nineties and is an artifact of a time I am glad is well done and over.
Goodnight Pun Pun by Inio Asano - A- (B)
Extremely depressing examination of mental illness. Perhaps too nihilistic. It pushes the envelope far beyon any of Asano’s other writtings and into Grave of the Fireflies territory.
The Mindful Way Through Depression by J Mark G Williams - B
Useful and grounded examination of the usefulness of mindfulness in a psychological setting. Devoid of the more Bhuddist influences that underscore mindfulness. But the exercises are worth trying.
4 Hour Workweek Tim Ferris - D
I’m not accepting book suggestions from entrepeneurs anymore.
Deep Work by Cal Newport - A (B)
There is some excellent advise in Deep Work for getting out of the burnout rut that endless networking and distraction can lead to. This book has greatly improved my ability to get work done while cutting down the number of hours in the day that I need to dedicate to that work.
The Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn -C
I just can’t really get into Menn’s journalistic style. He is simply too conventional and conservative to really appreciate what he’s covering.
Domain Driven Design A (B)
An excellent book on architecture for building software around business processes. After practicing this for several years many of the concepts in the book have started to crystalize – as well as objections to some areas and improvements.
Implementing Domain Driven Design A (B)
DDD is a more high-level overview of the ideas while Implementing is a more hands-on approach examining particular implementations of those ideas. The two texts should be read together.
Level One C
Returning to Magic the Gathering after a decade break and deciding to make something of an attempt to actually grasp the strategy of the game instead of just building themed decks around whatever concept amuses me. This is a pretty solid e-book explaining a lot of how to approach tournament magic.
Test Driven Development: By Example , By Kent Beck- A (B)
An incredibly boring book, and yet incredibly influential on how I do my development in the last year. It’s like pair programming with a master – Ken painstakingly desribes every step in his decision making process as he goes through every single line of code in a simple project. It’s painful, but I found thinking about a project like Ken to be revolutionary in my ability to organize, decompose, and execute my daily assignments.

Podcasts // Notable Online

Welcome to Nightvale
Listened to all of Welcome to Nightvale in 2019 and it was an absolute blast. It very much captures the kind of madness that you find in desert communities.
Alice isn’t Dead
Wrapped up the first season of Alice isn’t Dead. Its a great road podcast to listen to on a late late drive across the open expanse of the Southwest.
Desert Oracle
News and nature essays from the Southwest. This show is a continuously evolving affair that perfectly captures the essence of the “desert philosopher.”
Lindsey Ellis
Excellent deep literary analysis wrapped up in entertaining video essays.
Red Letter Media
These guys dive a touch into being too edge-lordy at times, but they do have quiet a deep understanding of film and do a great job of contemporary film criticism with a good sense of humor. Does feel like sitting down with some WI friends over beers.
David Bull
Great videos that dive into both the history of Japanese woodblock carving and demonstrations of modern recreations of many prints.
Sarah’s Scribbles by Sarah Anderson
Fun, honest, four squares of comedy.
Drugs and Wires by Mary Safro and Io Black
Brilliant alternative-history exploration of the post-Soviet nineties in a world where we skipped desktop computers and dived directly into mind-alterting virtual realities.