The Good Place

Holy forkin’ shirtballs!

As mentioned in my Black Mirror post, we’ve been watching a little bit more TV on Netflix. One show that we recently binged was The Good Place. I had seen its icon several times, but it was only after learning it was created by Michael Schur, co-creator of Parks & Recreation, that I finally wanted to see what this show was about.

Before we could blink, my wife and I had binged both seasons on Netflix, and are itching for more! We loved the cliffhanger ending of season 1, and likewise the season 2 ending is leaving us wondering just what will happen next.

The casting of this show is perfect. We’ll start with the obvious, Kristen Bell as Eleanor. She reminds me of a younger Amy Poehler; her wit and facial expressions are always just perfect! Ted Danson is wonderful, and as a fan of his from films such as Body Heat I’m happy to see him just as sprightly on his feet, both literally with his body movement/posturing as well as his deliveries, especially in reaction to Kristen. Rounding out the lead actors is William Jackson Harper. Playing Kristen’s friend and supposed soul-mate Chidi, William’s deadpan delivery and over-reactions are great contrasts to both Kristen and Ted.

The rest of the cast are also great, each one with at least one unique trait and outlook on life. Even when everyone’s on screen it never feels too crowded or suffocating; the viewer can easily follow along with each thread of dialogue and reaction to what others do and say. The first two seasons on Netflix are easy to burn through, and have definitely left me wanting more and seeing what ultimately happens to Eleanor!

Rob Reiner

Introduction

I think like so many others that grew up in the 80s and 90s, I was a fan of Rob Reiner long before I was aware of it. He’s been in the business as an actor since 1961, and a director since 1974. He’s been involved with so many classics and I wanted to make this post to highlight the ones I’ve seen so far.

This Is Spinal Tap

As Rob Reiner’s feature film debut, This Is Spinal Tap is a raucous good time, while somewhat painfully poking fun at the trials and tribulations that countless bands have experienced (from what I’ve read Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi particularly didn’t like the movie due to its scathing satirical accuracy).

Starring the witty trio of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (they would later star in similar improvisational comedies such as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), the movie follows the band on its final American tour. Trials and tribulations follow the band, including the hilarious spontaneous combustion of their drummers. There are plenty of quips, on-screen gags, and jokes that takes multiple scenes or even the whole movie for the payoff laugh, and altogether makes this movie one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

The Princess Bride

Fantasy movies enjoyed their peak in the 1980s, and while many tilted towards a dark outlook there was at least one bright, shining, romantic, and heartfelt exception: The Princess Bride. Adapted from his own novel, William Goldman’s script is filled with memorable characters and dialogue.

From a young farm boy to a renowned pirate, Westley must come to the rescue of his long-time love from marriage to Prince Humperdinck. Along the way are very unique and endearing encounters with Inigo Montoya, Miracle Max, Vizzini and Fezzik, and more.

This isn’t just one of Rob’s best movies, it is one of THE best movies of the 1980s, and if you haven’t seen it you simply must.

When Harry Met Sally…

Written by Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally is a delightful and quite truthful look at both friendships and romantic relationships between men and women, and whether they have to or can overlap or not. Starting when both are in college, Harry and Sally are driving from Chicago to New York. Harry comes off as cocky, opinionated, and even slightly chauvinistic, while Sally seems a bit ditzy, picky, and unsure of what she really wants both in life and in a man. The two part once they arrive in New York, but it won’t be long before they run into each other more than once throughout the movie. Along the way they bounce their thoughts and conclusions off of best friends, in roles well-remembered by Carrie Fischer and Bruno Kirby (“you made her meow?!”). While the film’s conclusion may seem a bit cliche and abrupt now (although the film does its best to show it does skip forward sometimes by months if not years), the film’s dialogue carries it well all the way through to the end. This is one of those movies that may work as well or better as a play, and just for the dialogue and performance of the key actors alone merits watching this movie.

Misery

Teaming up again with Princess Bride author William Goldman, this adaptation of the Stephen King novel is outstanding, as “simple” of a story and movie that it is (like When Harry Met Sally, it could easily be turned into a play). While I personally can’t recall much about James Caan’s performance in Misery, we certainly all remember Kathy Bateman’s!

After completing his latest novel at a remote cabin, author Paul Sheldon is returning when his Mustang (is that what he REALLY thought to drive in the snow?) veers off the road, critically injuring him. Luckily he is “saved” by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a nurse. Awakening in her home, he discovers Annie is a huge fan of his novels. Learning he has written a new story, she begs him to read it, and Paul finally relents. Unfortunately, it’s nothing like what she wanted, and forces him to re-write it. Still injured and helpless, he has no choice, even though as time goes by the situation becomes unbearable and he has to figure out a way to escape.

While I haven’t read the novel yet (you can read the script here), this was a well-done suspense/thriller movie and adaptation, and I certainly wish Rob had directed more movies like this!

Conclusion

Rob has directed many more movies since Misery, and is still active. His track record more than speaks for itself; Rob stands as one of the best directors since the 1970s. Here’s to his continued health and work!

Life is Strange 2 Episodes 2 & 3

Episode 2

Was it really 4 months previously that I played the first episode? Dontnod took quite awhile to release the next episode, and for as slow and little plot progress this episode has, I have to wonder.

Taking place right after the first episode, Daniel is lifting rocks and other objects like it’s no big deal now, and Sean is pushing him to keep “training” and refining this supposedly new power (I’m not entirely convinced during episode 1 was the first time Daniel has discovered and used his power). Having left Seattle, the brothers head towards their grandparents in Oregon after Daniel becomes ill, likely due to the winter cold and an abandoned house providing little relief.

At their grandparents house Sean and Daniel try to learn more about their mother, but they don’t get much information, even after getting into their mother’s childhood room. While at the house they see the neighbor boy Chris (yep, this is where Captain Spirit ties in) fall from his treehouse, and Daniel uses his power to save him. Unfortunately Chris believes he is the one with the power, which will play into the ending of this episode. During their stay Sean and Daniel go to a Christmas market, where they meet train-hoppers Finn and Cassidy (which will factor into Episode 3).

Near the end of the episode Sean and Daniel discover a letter from their mother, expressing her desire to meet her children. After an argument with their grandparents, Sean and Daniel have to escape when the police arrive at the house. In an unexplained twist Claire distracts the police so they can escape, and Chris’ actions factor in here. I won’t give away what can happen, but I hope no matter what it will be addressed by the end of the game.

The episode ends with Sean and Daniel getting onto a train going south, with an outstanding closing track by First Aid kit (which I wrote about here). It was hard to judge how I felt about this episode. Looking back, not very much happens, and besides a few key interaction it’s still just Sean and Daniel. I suppose that’s the point of the game (and the first one was mostly Max and Chloe), but for some reason here it just gets too repetitive. I think it’s because the brothers never have any time apart, and it’s mostly back-and-forth bickering and whining about tough times.

Episode 3

For still unknown reasons, Sean is encouraging Daniel to train and use his powers. Even more obvious in this episode is how whiny Daniel is. Yes, we get he’s a little kid who’s been through a lot. But why he’s allowed to work on a pot farm along with Sean (yeah, I know) I’m not sure. Even more incredulous is that they somehow met up again with Finn and Cassidy!

Sean and Daniel, along with Finn, Cassidy, and several others have a nice campsite in California. We’ll learn later on that nearby is where Big Joe lives, pot dealer Merrill’s second-in-command and oversees the workers. When not working they hang out here, around the kitchen table, campfire, or down at the lake. Daniel becomes jealous of Sean spending more time with them rather than him.

One day at work Merrill calls everyone (except for Daniel) into his office, where he is evidently going to pay them). But before he does Big Joe comes in holding Daniel, claiming he was sneaking into Merrill’s office. As punishment Merrill doesn’t pay any of them, and fires Sean. When Merrill also tells Big Joe to punish Daniel, he must use his power, which the others witness. They swear to keep it a secret, but at a farewell party that night Finn keeps trying to convince Sean they can use Daniel’s power to get back at Merrill.

Near the end this episode ramps up the music and drama, but yet again it’s simply the result of Daniel freaking out and using his power in an uncontrollable manner. Finn talks Sean into breaking into the safe for the money, and Sean and Cassidy try to intercept them before they get caught by Merrill and/or Big Joe. Merrill does catch them, pointing his shotgun at them and telling them to get on their knees. Daniel unleashes his power and destroys the house, as well as knocking everyone around, some quite violently. The last shot is a still-unconscious Sean with a shard of glass in an eye.

Conclusion

I’m still not sure what to think of Daniel, Sean, and all of the characters. Even after 3 episodes I just don’t know if I care what’s happened to any of them. This is a staggering contrast to the first Life is Strange, or even Before the Storm. Sometimes I have to wonder if this is actually the same developers. Was Dontnod so keen to capitalize on the success of the first game they rushed to bring something similar out, using the same series title? There’s two more episodes to go, and I hope we get a lot more insight into Sean and Daniel’s mother, and perhaps even callbacks to previous characters, namely Layla, Brody, and Chris. I’m not sure if they’ll indeed end up in Mexico, or perhaps will return to Seattle. Perhaps for the latter, the truth of the officer’s actions will surface, leading to Sean and Daniel no longer considered fugitives.

Dungeon Synth

Introduction

A couple years ago I posted a Bandcamp find for Thangorodrim, a dungeon synth artist. Since then I’ve occasionally searched for more of that kind of music on Bandcamp, and in this post I wanted to highlight my favorite artists I’ve discovered so far.

Note: along with dungeon synth, many if not most are also tagged and categorized in genres such as ambient, electronic ambient, dark ambient, medieval, medieval folk, and more!

DIM

Fief

Old Sorcery

Sequestered Keep

Wyvernsnout

Conclusion

Like any genre this is just scracthing the surface of what’s out there. Bandcamp has actually written several articles on this genre (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5!), and just like their other writings it’s a great way to delve deeper into this genre. I know I’ll keep exploring this unique and fascinating style of music, and perhaps one day might even try my hand at composing a track myself.

Bandcamp find: Łukasz Kapuściński

On occasion I like to listen to acoutic/classical guitar played on its own, whether it’s classical music, baroque, folk, fantasy, doesn’t matter. Recently I discovered
Łukasz Kapuściński, and the subtlely of his playing is exactly what I like. It’s also an encouragement for my own playing, a reminder that I don’t need to focus on speed, technical ability, etc. It’s more about the emotion, the atmosphere, especially that unique to the guitar.