Joseph Hallenbeck
January 12, 2018

2017 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). This year, I add some additional signfiers:

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

Film & Shows (48)

Q1 (11)

Rogue One B+
This is only the second new Star Wars film and I’m already getting franchise fatigue. Nonetheless, an excellent addition – likable characters and an exciting premise that plays out like an old Star Wars FPS game.
Secret Life of Pets C
An unremarkable animated feature that did nothing particularly novel or groundbreaking but was enjoyable none-the-less.
The Shining A- (B)(R)
I am rather fond of the works of Stanley Kubrik, and the Shining is an outstanding film although perhaps not in the same catgegory as Clockwork Orange or 2001.
Gosford Park A (B)
A strange favorite of the year. Gosford Park is a standard murder mystery with the added take of Brittish black comedy and insights into Brittish classism.
The Black Cat B+
Great horror from the Italian director Lucio Fulci.
The Big Sleep A- (B)
Continuing the noir theme. Good film. Not mu
Eyes Wide Shut B+
Not sure what to say. The film was good. The charaters and scenario interesting. But for the folks involved, I kind of expected more.
Necromancy B+
Fun schlock horror anthology
Kafka the Last Story D
Just an atrociously boring
The Saga of Tanya the Evil C (S)
Not quite sure how I started watching this, it did turn out better than you would think.
Flip Flappers C (S)
Beautiful scenary, but the show didn’t really seem to know where to go. After a handful of nice episodes it just loses all steam.

Q2 (12)

Point Break D
Bad acting. Mediocre plotting and filming.
Ex Machina C
Ok science fiction film of the Hollywood variety
Lost in Translation B+
Friends have recommended this film to me for some time. I found myself, actually disappointed in it, but perhaps it was due to the hype.
Lavendar C
Another forgetable horror film
Vertigo B
Hitchcock at his finest
Lars & The Real Girl A-
This film starts out making you feel really uncomfortable, but by the end you love it.
Escape from Alcataraz B+
Good old film
The Arroyo F
Dazed and Confused A+
Started a theme of “night” movies. This is one of those quotable films that somehow never actually get watched. Excellent social commentary, atmosphere, a kind of film that takes you back.
Before Sunrise C
Continuing the night theme. I see where the directory has started a kind of reputation for making movies where people hang out and talk.
A Brighter Summer Day A (B)
This film is absolutely brilliant! But do set aside the time to watch it. I didn’t realize that it’s novel length.
Night on Earth B
Night theme. A series of short stories interconnected by the late night taxi rides.

Q3 (13)

The Life of David Gale D
Forgetable Kevin Spacey film. Starts with an agenda and doesn’t get far.
Baby Driver B-
Big name Hollywood film. Good music. Surprising lack of actual car chases.
Shutter Island B
Finally finished Shutter Island. I’ve started this film three or four times. A good dark mystery, a psychological thriller of the mind-fuckery variety
What We Do in the Shadows A-
Fun mockumentary comedy out of New Zeland
The Dark Tower C
Sort of a mess, but that was my view of the books as well.
Blackwell Ghost D
More forgettable horror films
Mulholand Drive A-
Starts out slow, but transitions into a much better film. It is oddly obvious when Lynch got the funding to take this from a TV Special to feature film.
The Great Gatsby B+
Brilliant big-cinema film that captures the excess of the period and highlights much that might be missed by a contemporary reader of the book.
The Warriors B
I keep telling the pets to “Come out to Play”
The Black Swan B-
A Perfect Blue rip-off.
Escape from New York B
Love John Carpenter’s various takes on the Science Fiction genre. His visuals continue to live up and the characters are fun.
Jurassic World C+
Kickstarting Jurassic Park again. Hollywood blockbuster. On the better end of the scale for these kinds of films, but still not worth it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 B+
Just as good as the first.

Q4 (12)

The Conjuring 2 C+
Better than average horror, not great cinema, but entertaining.
The Maltese Falcon A
The source of the maguffin! A must watch for the noir and film history buff.
The Battle of the Sexes B
Watched this in downtown Durham. Fun. Worth it if you were burning time on a double feature.
The Woman in the Window B+
Short noir film, but one that really captures all of the different themes and styles of the genre.
The Oblong Box B+
Help! I am running out of Vincent Price films!
The Thaw D
The Lady in the Van B-
A nice feel-good film
Skyfall C
I am so far behind on James Bond films.
Valarian and the City of a Thousand Planets B
Beautiful! Wonderful blockbuster with all the giant special effects. A pitty
Kiss the Girls C-
Described as a “neo-noir psychological thriller,” I didn’t really find it worthy of being called nor, nor pyschological
Intruders D
Red Skeleton Holiday Special A
Great way to end the year.

Books (18)

Statistics in Plain English by Timothy C. Urdan B
A helpful, straightforward introduction to statistics that is perhaps useful to the social scientist but unfortunately skips most of the math useful for Machine Learning which was why I was reading it.
Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister
Didn’t find much use out this business book.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (B)
Very fast read and, as expected of Gaiman, a very well written contemporary interpretation of Norse myth.
The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster
Deep dive into all things Yokai and a great overview of thse Japanese monsters.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (B)
Extremely well written short Science Fiction. Every single one of these is a must read.
IQ84 by Haruki Murakami F
An astonishingly boring and disapointing thousand page read that rehashes the tropes of Murakami’s earlier books.
The Great Gatsby by F Scots-Fitzgerald
Following watching the Film, I had a sudden urge to read the book. It holds up well and continues to be relevant to our divided nation.
Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Adolescent drivel and wish fullfilmment. A novel that I would have probably eaten up as a teenager, but can’t stand as an adult.
Opus by Satoshi Kon B+
Satoshi Kon’s unfortunate early demise leaves this book unfinished. Yet, it remains a fun run.
Nijigahara Holograph by by Inio Asano (B)(R)
Asano’s take on horror. This is my third run through Holograph, the narrative is exteremly dense requiring close attention to untangle the twisted motivations of these characters.
Ryuko by Eldo Yoshimizu C+
Beautiful artwork, but dreadfully cliched plot. The French edition is an easy read for a beginner in the language.
Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (B)(R)
Miyazaki’s masterpiece of manga. A darker take on the environmental themse present in Nausicaa.
Genshiken by Shimoku Kio A (B)
I found myself relating rather uncomfortably with the characters of Genshiken. A realistic and non-romantic take on the situation. I hear the sequel rather undermines it’s themes and ending though.
Yoon-suin by David McGrogan (B)
A strange, far-eastern themed OSR book.
Micropend6 by Sigil Stone Publishing
Sure would be fun to find a group to play these games with. The D6 system was a favorite for me as it focused on cinematic gameplay over crunchy numbers.
Tiny Dungeon by Gallant Knight Games
Another attempt at a paired down rules system for easy play.
Dungeons & Dragons: The Players Handbook 5th Edition A (B)
5th Edition is a truly exciting return to what I enjoy in a D&D game. If only I could find a group to play with these days.
The Misty Isles of Eld Aby Chris Katulik and Robert Parker (B)
An adventure that would be fun to play, but was quite a fun read non the less.


The Legend of Zelda A (B)
Never played the original until I got it on the 3DS virtual console. The title has aged well and is still worthy of a playthrough.
Pillars of Eternity B
I really wanted to like Pillars of Eternity as I’ve been reminisce for the old Infinity Engine style games. Yet, Pillars just couldn’t quite keep my attention and started to be feel like a grind.
Borderlands 2 A (B)
Endless piles of content and all of it a wonderful. Perhaps one of the best PC titles this decade and a blast to play with friends.
Don’t Starve Together A (B)
Another fun multiplayer title. Don’t Starve is a survival game that really tests your teamwork to survive.
Team Fortress 2 A (B)
A fun FPS that has a strong community and plays well on almost any system. Valve is still patching and updatingthe content so it doesn’t go stale.
Windswept D
Beautiful, but shallow game. It took roughly a single evening to explore the full potential of the game and put it back on the virtual shelf.
Minecraft A (B)
Finally took the dive into Minecraft and found it just as fun and addictive as I always feared it would be.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds A (B)
A perfect return on the handheld to the traditional Zelda formula.
Paperclips A
Free online game and a really fun take on the paperclip maximizer thought experiment.
"2017 Cultural Review" by Joseph Hallenbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.