The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I played a good deal of the then-new Zelda game in 2018, but kind of too fast? I mean, I rushed it. I mean, I did tons and tons of main quest and did not treat it like a sandbox RPG where you luxuriate in exploring every nook and cranny, and fulfill the need of every minor and major person you come across, even those who it would seem will not actually trigger a quest at all but you just have a sense that they ought to, and only after all of that is completed do you fiddle with the main quest. Or at the very least, you spread out the main quest pieces amongst all this luxuriating and fulfilling, such that you’re only thinking about that last little bit of game when you’re also running out of anything else to do anyway,

Then, for reasons that are lost in the mists, I stopped playing it.

Now, five years and one already-released sequel later, I have played a great deal of Breath of the Wild. Previous Zelda games have been a) smaller, which okay is a contributing factor, but mainly b) have been in fantasy settings. Sure, there are monsters around and a bad guy to defeat, and eventually villages and villagers and various races of creatures besides generic green elf-costumed heroes with swords, but all in service of a bit of magic trinketry and a giant boss fight and a princess of some kind to rescue and/or be rescued by.

This game, though… it is post-apocalyptic, and it is lonely. Okay, yes, there are obviously a lot more people to interact with than in any prior game in the (let’s say) series, and a lot more ways to interact with them, but the world is so huge, and so full of formerly rampaging sci-fi behemoths, and so full of monsters, and so devoid of people on a moment by moment basis, and even more devoid of people who aren’t huddled together in tiny enclaves of light against the darkness… It’s hard to hit every nook and cranny. And it’s a little depressing to try.

Well, no. What I mean is not depressing, it’s melancholy. Every action you take that isn’t directly related to fulfilling someone’s quest, you are either wandering around in the wilderness (hence the name) fighting things or looking for immeasurably old tombs to raid or collecting ingredients, or else you are unraveling the tragedy of a hundred years ago when everyone you hypothetically care about was killed.

I’ve noticed I’m making the game sound not fun, which is just spectacularly not true. There are so many puzzles to solve, so many stories to discover, so many things to collect, and upgrade, and defeat. I think I’m over 150 hours into the game at this point? There are still things I want to accomplish, but not many more that I feel I must. Uh, wait, you are asking yourself. If you didn’t finish, and especially if you are close to finishing, why the review?

So, funny story. I was killing time on Sunday while waiting for the in-game clock to reach night time, as a few quests I’m working on can only move forward at that time of not-day, and I was exploring Hyrule Castle plus trying to kill guardians to collect their cores (which they do not drop nearly often enough), when I wandered into a room that seemed to me not nearly high enough in the castle to be the place I would have been going for the big boss fight, only I noticed something that made me say wait, I probably shouldn’t be- and before I finished the thought, cut scene. And then, somehow, I won the boss fight on my first attempt, counter to expectations. And all in all, it feels like waiting to write the review after seeing the end of the game would be a mistake. So here we are!

The thing where most of the equipment in the game is consumable / degradable, i could do without. And some things are maybe a little too hard to accomplish. (Which arguably it would be more accurate to say, I haven’t figured out how to accomplish, but it isn’t actually all that hard. I have reason to believe this is the case.) But man, I understand why this game received the acclaim it did. It’s practically perfect in every way, as long as you don’t mind feeling melancholy.

Godzilla (2014)

Back when they made that Godziilla remake, I still remembered the one with Matthew Broderick. You know, the one that basically killed his career?[1] So naturally I avoided with prejudice. Then later I saw Kong: Skull Island[2], and learned that these two movies were related? And they’ve made two sequels since then, of which I’ve seen one. I think? …nope, additional minor research indicates I’ve seen both, and, I don’t know, am just conflating them?

But for whatever reason, I never saw the movie that [re]started it all.

Godzilla has three distinct acts, connected linearly by the flow of time and not at all by theme. In act one, Bryan Cranston is [spoilers for the prologue] trying to figure out who murdered his wife. In act two, his son is taking a tour of the Pacific in the style of Raymond Burr. In act three, there is a final confrontation in San Francisco.

I do think that these movies find their footing, but this first one is interesting only insofar as you are entertained by fights with kaiju (80% of the movie) or shadowy government conspiracies regarding kaiju (20% of the movie). Otherwise, it’s kind of a shambling mess full of extraneous characters in service of a plot in which one rando is solely responsible for the salvation of humanity, even though the movie is named Godzilla.

But I mean… it was still mostly pretty cool to look at.

[1] I mean, is he still doing anything and I just don’t see it, or was that the coffin nail and now he’s retired on Ferris money? …or in that retirement home for Hollywood people who lost it all? Well. He’s probably not old enough for that.
[2] If you think I wanted to see that one on the strength of Peter Jackson’s remake, well, you’re at least partially right. but also I’ve always had a soft spot for King Kong.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Based on the strength of the nostalgia hit from the teaser trailer and no other knowledge, I’ve lowkey wanted to see the Ghostbusters requel[1] for two years now, but then they announced that Afterlife itself has a sequel, and my hand has been forced.

I want to feel guilty about getting on this bandwagon, instead of holding the boycott line for some hypothetical alternate universe lady ghostbusters sequel, but a) I sort of already did prior to when this sequel was announced instead of that one and the ship had officially sailed, but also b) man it’s hard to feel guilty about watching a movie that was basically Jason Reitman’s carbon copy clone of JJ Abrams’ Star Wars sequel. Because as we have all learned over the past ten or so years[2], nothing beats nostalgia-mining as a source of income, and the cleanest nostalgia mines are those where they make the exact same content that you fell in love with in the first place. Turns out the teaser trailer was a full steam ahead spoiler trailer all along, there was just no way to know at the time.

But the thing is… despite all that, I actually did like it, you know? Paul Rudd is always good, the kids were fine since they weren’t sidekicks, and I’m a sucker for a love letter to Harold Ramis.

[1] Like a Reese’s peanut butter cup, which I am somehow old enough to remember when that was a thing that needed to be explained, it’s both a reboot and a sequel. It’s a whole thing.
[2] Or probably I’m underestimating this


I’ve once again fallen to three years behind on my random horror movie podcast, but having watched Prevenge, maybe I’ll start to catch up again? Maybe!

So there’s this Australian widow, and she’s pregnant. And the voice of her baby is in her head, telling her to kill people. Is she[1] choosing them at random, just striking when opportunity knocks? Is she stalking anyone she happens to see who pisses her off? It’s really hard to tell what motivates these murders, which is part of the horror of it. When she’s not in the middle of the hunt or doing an actual murder (usually these interludes are prenatal appointments), she seems herself horrified by what she is doing. But whenever the baby smells [metaphorical] blood, it is most thoroughly on, by turns tragic, slapstick, or nearly demonic.

If I’m being real, this movie does not work on paper. Even after knowing how it ends, I don’t think I would buy it, except that Alice Lowe sells it so well. She’s the writer, director, and actually pregnant star, and she’s… it’s hard to say what I want to say without buying into the system, so let me say it from the system’s perspective: she would never make it as the star of a Hollywood adaptation of her film. She’s plain of face, did I mention actually rather than prosthetically pregnant, and she’s not conventionally funny. But the way she commits to the bit, both physically and emotionally… when it’s not funny trending toward hilarious, which it often is, it’s profoundly disturbing. The escalating desperation, the simmering anger, the bewildered horror, she portrays all of these and more, and in conclusion, I hope she writes more starring vehicles for herself. She definitely knows what she’s doing.

[1] The mother or the baby, take your pick

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

We saw Death on the Nile as one of our rare theatrical outings last year, which inspired me to want to see Murder on the Orient Express[1], but then also to very promptly forget all about it, until Mary suggested it last weekend. Irony: now that we watched that one, she is getting Agatha Christie books to read.

I wonder if chronology bears out my theory that this movie is a sequel to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby? Anyhow, Hercule Poirot, after hilariously solving a priest, rabbi, and imam joke in Jerusalem (I think), gets on a boat to Istanbul[2] to look at art, but then instead gets on a train to London, because he’s been summoned to solve something or other. The Orient Express is like five cars long, and that counts the food car and the engine (and probably the coal car), so you can tell that the super-luxury compartments for the multi-day journey are also extremely exclusive.

We never do get to find out what important business Poirot was called away from his vacation for, because an unexpected avalanche in (let’s say) Carpathia derails the train, upon which they find that one of the passengers has been murdered, and Poirot must determine who, you know, dunnit. Obviously that’s all I can say, but I do wonder if the books are as funny as Branagh makes the screen version be.

You guys. The mustache sleeping mask! Also, an unrelated thought: why was there a random The Last Supper callout?

[1] Or for that matter really anything Branagh has ever done. That man is acting gold.
[2] Which they did not call Constantinople, but for some reason did call Stamboul.


‘Tis the season, by which I mean autumn and time for the annual (or more) Stephen Kjng book. Like the other books written in which Holly Gibney solves (or helps to solve, the first time out) mysteries, this book is not a mystery for the reader to solve, but rather, to watch the characters solve. Usually, the tension to a mystery novel where you already know whodunnit is in watching your hero (or heroes) work it out. Yes, they’ll solve it, but how? And will it be in time to save… well, no, too late for them, but what about… okay, but surely in time to save, well, whoever you want to see survive after the halfway point of the book.

But this is Stephen King, and he has named the book after its main character. So in this case, the tension is in whether Holly will solve the mystery before the mystery solves her! … Alright, that one got away from me. But seriously, I was nervous on page 1, and I was nervous on page 301[1].

I suppose I’ve said nothing about the plot. The book opens on the very worst night of a Hispanic literature professor’s life, and proceeds forward over the course of several years and several victims of a pair of undetected serial killers, in parallel with Holly’s present-day travails in the age of Covid, until, inevitably, they cross paths via a missing person’s case her detective agency is hired to solve.

Which reminds me of something I’d already suppressed over the last few days since I finished the book, which is… King is maybe too political for my tastes here. And I say this as someone who shares his politics, but, wow, fully justified, pre-established viewpoint character or not, this was the most polemical work of fiction I’ve read this side of Terry Goodkind. I wonder if it will hurt his sales. I also wonder if it will read differently with the passage of time, by which I mean, will it hit the same when people aren’t still being constantly infected by this thing? Maybe it won’t feel quite as cartoonishly diatribical when people aren’t still glaring dismissively at each other in real time.

I feel like I’m complaining here. Ultimately, this did not hurt my enjoyment of the book, it just started out so strongly positioned, in a way I’m not used to thinking about his fiction ever being. And I don’t want to be complaining, particularly when I don’t know how many new King novels I have left to read. Which is I suppose an appropriate mix of maudlin and morbid, for both the subject matter and the season which I so recently ’tissed.

[1] Pagination simulated for effect

The Hunger (1983)

I was prompted by that podcast to watch The Hunger, a movie which inexplicably I’d never even heard of, even though it has David Bowie and Susan Sarandon in a lookalike contest, vying for[1] the affections of an Egyptian vampire. Vampiress? It is usefully descriptive, but I think it may be more reductive than it is descriptive.

So anyway, first she loves David Bowie, and then she apparently doesn’t, and then he experiences unforeseen (by him, at least) side effects, and meanwhile in what is maybe too much of a coincidence for how precisely similar Ms. Sarandon is to Mr. Bowie, she (the vampire) meets her (the sister of Chris Sarandon, who also once played a vampire, so that has to be weird at Sarandon family Thanksgivings) and feels-slash-creates an immediate connection to Bowie’s replacement. And then dramatic events unfold, but almost certainly not the ones you’re thinking of. Also, sexy-time events unfold, and these are the ones you’re thinking of, since all vampiresses are lesbians, at least in the movies.

You know what the movie really suffered from? If I hadn’t seen Let the Right One In first. There are some pretty crucial differences, not least of which is that this one is a little less plot driven than that one. Honestly, I think that’s why this was the wrong order. Because if I’m thinking of a Scandinavian movie which had snow as one of the three main characters and yearning for a similar movie to please get on with having something, anything, happen, well, you can see how that’s a bad sign.

It’s not that I didn’t like The Hunger, it’s that it didn’t meet my unjust expectations. If you want to watch a movie in which people mostly stare longingly at each other, punctuated by short bursts of violence and/or medical research, but also all the longing stares are performed by impossibly attractive androgynes?

Come to think of it, that’s every David Bowie movie, isn’t it?

[1] The summary blurbs they put in imdb and atop movies on streaming services, etc., would have you believe this “vying” thing is accurate, but I don’t think it was. Catherine Deneuve seemed strictly serial to me.

Inside Out (2015)

Posit a) that you have a toddler who is lightly sick and in need of low energy entertainment, and b) that said toddler has been announcing his emotions lately (which mostly consist of happy or sad, with a small side of mad[1]), mostly unprompted. If you’re me, you remember that one Pixar movie from a couple of years ago[2] that appears to hit the developmental sweet spot we’re going for, even though the character in the movie is, like, 11.

So, I think it’s fair to say this did not work out exactly as I intended, even though the boy incurred a great deal of enjoyment from the movie. I say this in part because it was probably too mature for him by at least a little bit and in part because for sure the actual message of the movie (it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, and forcing that emotion out is definitely bad for you) isn’t really one he needs to hear. He’s perfectly fine being sad, when need be. In last part, I thought there would be perhaps more explanation of emotions than there turned out to be, that one division between joy and sadness notwithstanding. Alas.

Still, though, I like what Pixar did with digging around in someone’s brain and trying very hard to explain accessibly how people perhaps tick. Also, that one scene with Bing Bong was absolutely heartwrenching. Not quite Up levels, but you can tell they didn’t blow their load on making the audience feel something in that one sequence, is what I’m trying to say.

[1] “scared” happens with more frequency than mad, but is almost always in reaction to what’s going on in the book we happen to be reading him
[2] I’m sorry, I’m being informed that Inside Out was released eight years ago, a number which seems essentially impossible to credit.


As you certainly know if you know what book I’m reviewing based on the title alone, the Vlad Taltos books bounce around in chronology, with gleeful abandon. Whether this is part of some grand design on the part of the author, or whether he just writes a new story whenever he thinks of one, and drops it in wherever it happens to fit? Not only do I have no idea, I’m not sure it’s possible to know the answer. (Probably Brust knows, but given his utility at writing a character like Vlad, could you ever fully trust his response?)

Tsalmoth goes back nearly to the beginning, interleaving wedding planning with… well, if you don’t know Vlad, and this is for some reason your first exposure, he is a talented assassin who has leveraged that skill (and the money it brings) into a low level boss position in a criminal enterprise[1]. So when I say his concern is with a simple collections job, you understand the kind of collections I’m talking about. Anyway: the book interleaves planning for Vlad’s wedding to Cawti (also a talented assassin, among other things) with his concern about a simple collections job with a twist: the person who owes him money is recently dead.

That’s the superficial plot summary, but what I’m interested in from the 16th book in a (I’m estimating here) 19 book series (not counting an extensive spinoff selection) is the stuff beneath the surface, which of course means spoilers not only for this book but for a lot of other incidental books. Hence, a cut.

[1] Boy is there ever a lot more to it than that, but I’m doing a baseline introduction here.

Continue reading


I have mentioned, on occasion while justifying the snail’s pace at which I read the books I review, that I also read a lot of books to my son. Board books, picture books, and lately early chapter books[1]. 80-100 pages, almost always exactly 10 chapters, almost always with characters that are 7 or 8 years old, the kind of thing that makes it truly and painfully obvious who they are aimed at. And I mean, he cannot read them, but boy does he love them.

I, on the other hand, do not. I mean, they’re mostly fine, but they are not worth writing a review over, any more than each comic I read is. This is both in consideration of time and of content. It would be different if this were a kidbook or a comic review site, but since it isn’t, well.

All of that to say, over a period of a couple of weeks, I read Grounded to the boy, and, okay, yes it is still a kidbook, this time aimed at a tween audience either to show them Muslim-American culture or to make them feel seen as Muslim-Americans. (I couldn’t tell you which, if either, was the goal of the authors; but it was more likely the second one, based on how little hand-holding they offered for the religious terminology.) It seems to be written in “pass the typewriter” style among them, with each taking the reins of one of the four main characters, children trapped in an airport due to inclement weather after a cultural/religious conference. Said children are in search of a missing cat, which provides the narrative propulsion against which backdrop their forming friendships and individual problems (too-early adult responsibilities; replacement of a dead mother; navigating junior high in the age of social media; not-quite crippling anxiety) are projected.

If I’m being real, it reminded me of nothing so much as Stand by Me (or more properly, The Body) by Stephen King, modernized and written from a non-white perspective. There’s virtually no way this was an actual influence, so whether this says something more about my own, er, cultural background or about my low-grade obsession with King is left as an exercise for the audience.

It was, despite anything I may have said or implied up to this point, definitely a book aimed at children of a certain age[2], with the pitfalls that implies to a more discerning audience. But still. There was an emotional climax to Feek’s[3] story that made it hard for me to keep reading, both in the voice and in the eyes, if you know what I mean. (And it paid off Chekhov’s Rhyme from all the way back in chapter one, to boot.)

It’s hard to imagine recommending this to anyone who is likely to see the review, but it really is recommendable, if you know anyone in an appropriate age range.

[1] I do not understand the derivation of “chapter book”. Well, no, I mean it’s obvious what it means, what I don’t understand is how it came into vogue. Once you get past Dick and Jane and Grinches and Green Eggs and Nights before Christmas, pretty much anything more advanced has always had chapters. Why are we calling out that graduation to more advanced books now?
[2] This review is not a vehicle to showcase that my three year-old is comprehending at a twelve year-old level. He just cared about if the kids found the cat or not, and if they got in trouble or not. But it’s not not to showcase his attention span. I don’t think a ton of kids his age will sit still for 75% of a 272 page book. (I don’t want to exaggerate the accomplishment; sometimes he was all jittery, but never enough that my threats to stop reading were fulfilled.)
[3] One of the four narrators, Rafiq.