Wondering what to do with your upcoming free time? Good thing we have some suggestions for what you should be watching, playing, reading, listening to, etc.
Ben’s Movie Pick: Blade of the Immortal – I haven’t seen very many of Takashi Miike’s movies, but I had one Hell of a time watching this 2017 ronin feature, a film I’d argue is one of the most underrated action flicks of the past decade. Blade of the Immortal, based on the manga of the same name, follows the quest of a young woman, Rin, seeking revenge with the help of a virtually unkillable ronin named Manji, who has a tragic, ridiculously bloody past. The tenacity, durability, and combat prowess of the male protagonist make him a literal one-man army that isn’t above temporarily losing a limb or more to achieve victory, and the variety of his unique clashes against other gifted swordsmen (most of whom have their own memorable powers or traits) ensure each fight is always equally entertaining and brutal. Even the shortest of brawls have multiple awesome moments or lines that make them worthwhile, while the longer, more grueling clashes are unbelievably badass.
Ben’s Movie Pick: Con Air – Con Air is pure guilty pleasure greatness, from hammy start to over the top finish. The story focuses on Nic Cage’s Cameron Poe, an incarcerated Army Ranger who aims to prevent a group of murderous convicts (led by John Malkovich’s “Cyrus the Virus”) from high-jacking the plane they’re on as a means of escape. You could go into it and question the premise and character decisions, all the while ripping apart most of the corny performances and dialogue, or you could just enjoy the cheesy, oh-so-campy ride for the sheer ridiculousness that it is. Cage doles out one of the most unapologetically Cage-y performances of his career, and Malkovich, John Cusack, and Ving Rhames all portray their characters with a surprising amount of gusto. Best of all, it has all of the bonkers, explosive, wonderfully 90’s action you could want. Honestly, it’s a shame we don’t get dumb, junk-food action movies like Con Air anymore.
Jon’s Music Pick: The 1975 – When The 1975 broke into the mainstream with their single “Chocolate,” I joined with the masses in welcoming the song into our radio waves and into our collective consciousness. …Then I promptly forgot all about the band. Perhaps that’s a symptom of being a child of the 90’s where one hit wonders and inoffensive radio rock has left little impact besides fuel for bouts of nostalgia. But now, the recent weeks of COVID and summer vacation has left me ample energy to finally explore artists that I never gave a chance, and suffice it to say I highly regret writing off The 1975. While their debut doesn’t venture far from the tropes we’ve come to expect from britpop (reminders of Bloc Party abound on it), that never suggests that they are less enjoyable for it. With subsequent releases, instead of being comfortable for the niche they carved for themselves, they boundlessly explore every genre imaginable. Songs where they embrace R&B, soft rock, and 80’s synth-pop find them elevated beyond the streamlined catchiness of their original hit. It can be argued that they stretched themselves too much on their most recent release, but if you have the patience for their lengthy tracklists, you are sure to find more than a few gems in their discography.
Jon’s Music Pick: Poppy – Poppy exists in a realm of the internet that I have thus far been successful at avoiding, but my curiosity finally got the better of me as I ventured into her discography. In the YouTube landscape she exists as a musician/potential performance artist, with her debut suggesting that she’s actually an android. Cool. Premise aside, the selection of electronic pop music with heavy J-pop influence is innocuous and enjoyable enough to make you bop your head, even if you’re simultaneously confused about what the hell you’re listening to. Her next release abandons some of the kitschy kawaii elements of her debut for more traditional synth pop sound, with some sporadic aggressive metal influenced songs. The sparseness of these songs makes them interesting enough in the context of the album, making their inclusion borderline inspired. Her most recent 2020 release, I Disagree, leans into this, along with some industrial and nu-metal influences with less success. It’s not that the heaviness isn’t there, or that the technical elements aren’t impressive. Everything is immediately reminiscent of BabyMetal, a Japanese girl group that similarly merged Japanese pop melodies and speed metal aspects; but where Poppy fails in replicating their success is by her abrupt transitions between both styles in a way that is intentionally jarring and disorienting. At best the songs are just sleekly produced amalgamations of both genres that leave the listener confused. At worst the songs become more about the spectacle of combining the two genres than presenting them in a compatible way that highlights the best parts of both. Regardless, her entire discography showcases that Poppy is an adept artist and her inclinations to challenge conventions, music and otherwise, makes her an interesting artist to follow.
Jon’s TV Pick: Basketball or Nothing – With the NBA season resuming at the end of the month, along with the recent addition of The Last Dance on Netflix, basketball has occupied so much space in the collective consciousness, even despite the effects of COVID. This renewed in me a desire to check out Basketball or Nothing, the short docuseries on Netflix, before getting caught up in the throes of the NBA season. The series follows the 2017 – 2018 season of the Chinle Wildcats, a high school basketball team from Arizona located in the Navajo Nation of the southwest. To see how basketball holds this community together (much like high school football in Texas) gives the show the feel of a real life Friday Night Lights. As the series progresses the audience learns more about some of the key figures on the team, with special focus on the graduating seniors and how their athletic ambitions are tied to their post secondary aspirations. Witnessing the dedication and discipline of these young men despite the hardships and obstacles they’ve faced and continue to encounter is nothing short of inspiring.
Jon’s TV Pick: Better Call Saul – My recent rewatch of Lost led me down a path to explore other 2000’s ensemble dramas, which got me watching Heroes. However, the meteoric decline of that show left me tiresome and restless, and in desperation I restarted Better Call Saul, which I started a long ass time ago and never finished for who knows what reason. I can’t imagine what my reasons were at the time, because Better Call Saul is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. The exploration of the stories of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut are deeply compelling stories filled with pathos as we witness their evolution into the characters we knew in Breaking Bad. There definitely is an aspect of prevailing mystery propelling the show on, but this shouldn’t discount the incredible performances of Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. The parallel stories documenting their immersion in criminal enterprises are somehow filled with more humanity than their preceding show, and they remain sympathetic protagonists who frustrate you with every dangerous, risky, and unethical decision they make. I’ve yet to catch up through season five, but I can anticipate the impact of the show after it’s completion (the final season is due to air next year) to be long lasting.
Ben’s TV Pick: The Killing – After a friend of mine started watching – and loving – The Killing on my recommendation, I decided to go back to it myself. The story begins with the murder of a teenage girl in Seattle, and shows how the crime affects the detectives working on the case (Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman), the girl’s parents (Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton) and the campaign of a mayoral candidate (Billy Campbell). It’s a bleak, heartbreaking experience, bolstered by multiple genuinely amazing performances and mostly great writing. It’s the show that put both Enos and Kinnaman on my radar, but they are far from the only fantastic actors in the series. And even though it constantly crushes your spirit, you’ll keep coming back because you get completely invested in the mystery of what really happened, and become intent on seeing the perpetrator receive their due justice. The series’ third and fourth seasons are noticeably weaker, but overall The Killing is well worth watching (or even rewatching).
Ben’s Video Game Pick: Animal Crossing: New Horizons – I often play video games as a way to relax, and in my humble opinion, there aren’t any other games as relaxing as Animal Crossing. There are so many things you can do in New Horizons, but the game never pressures you or demands that any of them be done. I imagine it’s that kind of laid back style that has won the series so many fans, who I include myself among now. It’s a fun, consequence-free, peaceful gaming experience that allows you to play it at your own pace. Do you want to spend the entire day just trying to catch bugs and fish? Go nuts? Or maybe focus on decorating your in-game home instead? Have at it. There’s no epic quest to embark on or problem to solve, other than deciding what kind of lawn ornaments you should have on display in front of your house. It’s just you, your island home, and whatever you feel like doing on it at any given moment. With all the stuff that’s going on in the world right now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the slice of zen that gamers needed. It’s the “anti-2020” video game.
Lauren’s Video Game Pick: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – As much as I struggled to recover after being wrecked by The Last of Us Part 2, I decided to attempt to move on (all the while staying in the Naughty Dog family) with the safe, comfortable gaming spaces of the Nathan Drake quadrilogy. Not only did revisiting all of Drake’s antics and adventures make for an amazing week (boy did I forget how short these games are), but it gave me the perfect opportunity to FINALLY jump into the spinoff game starring some Uncharted peripheral characters, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross. My fears of leaving Drake, Elena and Sully behind were quickly abated as the new, somewhat combative dynamic between these strong female leads flourished with Chloe’s sarcasm and Nadine’s surprising encyclopedic collection of random animal facts, with a sassiness that only intensifies as the game progresses. I didn’t connect the most with the villain and civil unrest of the story seeing as they both didn’t have the strongest development, so much as I enjoyed diving deeper into the backstory of a character who has tagged along on two of the previous Uncharted adventures; that said, the backdrop and circumstances did provide some amazing gameplay bits in some truly breathtaking environments, staying true to what the previous games in the series have provided before. I don’t know what this franchise has in store for the future past the long awaited film adaptation, but I know I will definitely be bummed if we never get a sequel to this expectation surpassing spinoff.
So what do you think about these picks? What content did we miss over the past two weeks while we were spending time with these? Be sure to leave a comment below letting us know about everything (both current and simply new to you) you’ve been consuming lately!
And while you’re here, be sure to check some of the site’s other recent content:
- Written reviews of Netflix’s newest releases, including The Old Guard from Ben and Desperados from Lauren.
- Middle of the Row: The Podcast flashback episodes for Trollhunter and Meet the Parents.