Dune is still good.
Movies: Random Acts of Violence, Train to Busan
Sure, go ahead Jay Baruchel, take a gander at what every comedy actor/writer is trying to do these days: Make a horror movie. Jordan Peele is fantastic at it so far, Todd Phillips accidentally stumbled into making a good thriller, so why can’t Jay? Well, Jay can’t because movies require a competent idea paired with competent execution.
Random Acts of Violence is a slasher devoid of a single original idea, but it thinks it’s interesting. You can tell Jay has convinced himself that he’s done something unique when in reality, this is every slasher ever made with maybe a few more colours here and there. The gore is sparse and mediocre, the characters are paper thin, and at the risk of reaching nitpicking territory, the blood looks like red-ish water; it’s not nearly viscous enough to look even remotely realistic. I want to cut Jay some slack because I know RAoV had a tiny budget and it was shot in Toronto, but I simply don’t have anything positive to say about the film. The best thing I can say is that it was only 80 minutes.
Oh, but the casting was really good!
Nothing about Train to Busan is fantastic, but I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all I can do. It’s a Korean zombie movie from 2016, which means it came out well past the point of zombie fatigue. Zombie movies have to do a lot these days to set themselves apart from the relentless throngs of other zombie movies/games/TV shows, and Train to Busan does a little more than the bare minimum. It’s set almost entirely on a train going to – you guessed it – Busan, a rumoured safe zone following the outbreak. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it bottle-episodic in structure, but it adheres to its premise enough to keep it more intimate and character focused than most zombie fare.
You don’t need to squint too hard to see that it’s the exact same formula as every other piece of zombified media: Humans fight against zombie hordes until they have to face their fellow humans, the true evil. Ugh, I’m so exhausted by that message. Every damn zombie/alien movie says the exact same thing. After playing The Last of Us 2, I never want to hear about how humans are the real villains ever again. I get it, we suck, but there are more stories to be told within the context of zombies. Santa Clarita Diet is an incredible example, and I haven’t seen Warm Bodies or iZombie but I hear those are at least original even if they’re not necessarily good. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the spectacle and characters of Train to Busan, but it stagnates when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what a zombie movie can be.
TV: Hello Ladies
Hello Ladies contains more cringe per second than Curb, It’s Always Sunny, and Nathan For You put together. It’s one of the funniest shows of the 2010s, and going through it for a second time, I only appreciate it all the more. Stephen Merchant created and stars in the HBO show as Stuart Pritchard, a romantically hopeless man with a complete lack of self-awareness who wants nothing more than to get with a supermodel. He’s selfish, rude, and way too tall – but brief moments of poignancy make you feel for this complete failure of a man.
The cringe doesn’t stop there, though: Each side character is brilliantly crafted to be uniquely cringey. Stuart’s tenant Jessica is a struggling actress who will do anything to get ahead in her career, including impromptu tap-dancing at a dinner party. Stuart’s friend Wade is separated from his wife and is incapable of talking about anything else. Kyle Mooney plays Rory, a simple man-child who inexplicably idolizes Stuart and agrees with whatever he says. It’s a cacophony of cringe that never devolves into unwatchable-ness. If you think you can handle it, Hello Ladies is a hidden gem that everyone should take the time to watch. It was criminally underrated when it came out and only got one season and a movie, but it’s a perfectly tight package.
Games: Yakuza Kiwami
Japan, 1995. The game opens with Kazuma Kiryu standing in front of a man’s body, gun in hand. The cops rush in to arrest him. Cut to 24 hours earlier, all is revealed: Kiryu is part of a Yakuza family. He gets a frantic call from his best friend, Nishikiyama: The patriarch of his family was forcing himself on Kiryu’s girlfriend, so Nishiki killed him. Kiryu shows up and knows that he has to take the fall for this, otherwise Nishiki wouldn’t be able to take care of his hospitalized sister. 10 years later, Kiryu emerges from prison, an outsider in his own city. Things have changed. Nishiki has branched off and started his own Yakuza family. Other families want to kill Kiryu for murdering the patriarch. Kiryu’s goal: Regain his status in the Yakuza hierarchy and find out what has happened during his absence. The first thing Kiryu does as soon as he gets out of prison: Karaoke.
Yakuza Kiwami is simultaneously a hyper-serious, complicated story of family crime – and an over-the-top, silly game with absurd characters doing ridiculous things. It’s beautiful; I’ve never seen anything like it. In my five or so hours of playing so far, I’ve been genuinely enthralled by the serious story aspects while also laughing along with the silly moments. I can’t explain why they go so well together; it’s something that can only be experienced personally. There’s something about the fact that the game takes itself so seriously and yet not at all seriously that confuses me into loving it.
This week’s shoutout goes to the Wipeout game for Wii. It was the game that defined a generation, and it has been underappreciated for far too long. Today, we sing its praises. Thank you, Wipeout for Wii.