If you have listened to some of the earlier episodes of our Middle of the Row podcast then you might remember a short-lived segment that many of us rather enjoyed in which we shared some of the other random content we’d spent time with that week. So much so that we have resurrected it in the form of a writeup that we will be posting every other Wednesday starting now.
Lauren’s Pick: Alita: Battle Angel – With Ben and Zac’s recommendation pushing me to the theater, I finally gave Eye-lita a chance. Though I was never not aware of those big ol’ orbs, the good news is the film was exceptional at distracting me with shiny action sequences. These highlight moments definitely don’t disappoint, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the storytelling. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the characters (mostly) or plot points, the structure just felt awkward. The subplots weren’t so much woven together as they were stacked one on top of the other. In other words, when the movie chooses to focus on something, it is suddenly the most important thing, which can make the film feel a bit disjointed at times: this is the bounty hunter section, now this is the Motorball section, now this is the down with the man section. Because of this I had to keep asking myself what Alita’s overall purpose was. Granted, if it was just to be BA, then she more than succeeds.
Ben’s Pick: Anthem – Even though I finished Anthem‘s story weeks ago and the endgame options are extremely limited, I keep jumping back on to earn better weapons and gear for my totally badass Javelin exo-suit. Bioware’s newest title clearly should not have been released in the state it was, but I, and the friends I play it with, are still having an absolute blast. Just like when Destiny first launched back in 2014, Anthem‘s insanely satisfying gameplay and co-op action manage to keep it entertaining despite some pretty big flaws (in Anthem’s case, egregious bugs and a lack of content). It’s not something I can wholeheartedly recommend yet, unless you have a group of friends who want to jump in too, but I’m definitely excited to see where Anthem goes as Bioware continues to polish it and add new (FREE) story content.
Jon’s Pick: Blushing by Copeland – This album wrecked me. Like, absolutely wrecked me. The instrumentation, the lyrics, the vocals, everything about it worked together to find the shortest path to my emotions and just shredded them. Case in point, one of my first listen throughs, on a cold, night drive home, without really hearing any of the lyrics, I found myself sobbing. Seriously. Like, how rude of these guys to subject me to this emotional and auditory catharsis. Frontman Aaron Marsh’s voice has always been emotive, but over the years he has added a hearty helping of haunting to rend the listener to their most vulnerable. The instrumentation is akin to The National in how impressionistic the soundscapes are, and somehow Marsh and Co. find the perfect mix of traditional instruments and sampling to develop an even lusher environment, sometimes feeling a bit 80’s synthpop sometimes a bit 90’s R&B. Regardless, this might seem like Copeland at the height of their powers. These guys have released one of the most polished and arresting albums of 2019 and it’s an honest to God shame if everyone doesn’t listen to it.
Lauren’s Pick: Devotion – Though my aversion to playing horror games has kept me from getting behind the controls for this Taiwanese game myself, I can’t help but give it the strong recommendation to those who are braver than myself. The beautifully told story of a family struggling with gender norms, traditions and the poor health of a child is pieced together through exploration of their apartment during a few different years, and I couldn’t help but be haunted by the main protagonist’s failures because they are as recognizable and understandable as they are frustratingly avoidable. Unfortunately some controversy behind the scenes involving Winnie the Pooh and politics has forced this game’s removal from the Steam store (though it is said to return), but I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for when it hopefully becomes available again. Or do what I did: watch a YouTuber play it. Or three (Thanks GG Gab, GTLive, and Jacksepticeye!).
Jon’s Pick: The Girl – Per a friend’s recommendation, I checked out the HBO and BBC title delving into the controversial working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippie Hendren. I admittedly don’t have much exposure to classic cinema from that era, so the experience was just as much educational for me as it was entertainment. Sienna Miller, who for whatever reason I didn’t know existed til this weekend, radiated as Hendren, the actress made famous by Hitchcock and who had to suffer through his aggressive advances and torturous demands. While at times the film definitely had a made for TV feel for it, several scenes were emotionally arresting, such as the filming of the infamous bird attack in the attic scene from The Birds, which Hitchcock made Hendren film for over 5 days with real birds. Toby Jones (has he ever played a protagonist?) portrays Hitchcock adeptly, showcasing the obsession Hitchcock had with Hendren without making it cartoonish. Additionally, seeing how films were shot back then in studios was thoroughly enjoyable, and makes me all the more appreciative of the industry today. It seems we still have work to do on expelling misogyny and abuse, but as long as we let stories like this get told, I’m optimistic.
Ben’s Pick: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky – December Sky, which is essentially the first season of the Thunderbolt series turned into a movie, is the best thing I’ve seen from the Gundam franchise since Gundam Wing. It’s a beautifully animated sci-fi action flick with jaw-dropping dogfights, incredibly strong lead characters, and a story that goes to some really, really dark places.
Lauren’s Pick: The Mummy (2017) – Following episode 4 of Deborah Ann Woll’s D&D adventuring show, Relics and Rarities, involving tomb raiding and super possessive mummies, I was dying to watch Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy from 1999. However, that film happens to be one of my upcoming flashback picks for the MotR podcast, so I settled on the newer film starring Action Star Tom Cruise. My mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I love Action Star Tom Cruise and many of these action sequences were great because of him, I just wish the film had actually given him a character to play past baseline Action Star Tom Cruise. It felt like such a missed opportunity, compounded by the fact that a romance was forced into the film when playing off the underutilized friendship between Action Star Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson would’ve actually been a much better choice. Maybe then the groan of an ending would’ve felt earned.
Jon’s Pick: Netflix Suggestions – Man, Netflix has been on FIRE lately. I realize that my short list will not be all-encompassing of a bunch of their latest releases, but I still feel it important to show them some support, especially seeing that Hollywood is challenging their cinematic impact and importance. Comedy Russian Doll is a unique take on the do-over genre, a-la titles such as Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day. You’d think such a format would be tired, but with inspired and fresh writing and stand out performances by Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Barnett, the series is an easy binge choice. Same goes for Lifetime acquisition You. Penn Badgely (recipient of the “Somehow Successful Despite the Weird AF Name” award) stars in this Dexter meets Hitch romantic thriller as a bookshop manager who becomes infatuated with grad student played by Elizabeth Lail. Badgely plays his character with a deft hand, who while being morally bankrupt, still encourages you to root for his attempts to woo the girl. I’m hard-pressed to think back and find a character so creepy at times and yet so wholesome at times. Badgely smartly knows when to inject humor in his performance, making it all the more compelling to watch. Finally, if you haven’t watched Carmen Sandiego, you are missing a solid revival and rethinking of a classic 90’s archvillain. The new series follows the origins of the master thief and puts a new twist on the story we’re all familiar with that casts Sandiego in a new light. Solid performances by Gina Rodriguez and Finn Wolfhard (who are billed for a live-action installment) as well as gorgeous animation make this a must see.
Ben’s Pick: Watchmen – I remember being totally awestruck after my initial viewing of Watchmen ten years ago (my first midnight release!), and even now, after rewatching it for what is at least the twelfth time, it still blows me away and is the superhero movie I judge every other superhero movie by. Just like the graphic novel, Watchmen is a genuine masterpiece set within an engrossing world full of fantastic characters, and tells an epic tale that ranks among my all-time favorites.
There you have it, the first issue of this new bimontly post! What do you think of these choices? Do you have any suggestions for us? Let us know in the comments below!