Quick Hits: Stuff I’ve watched recently

Remember those weekly updates I used to do? I miss those. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff and haven’t had a chance to talk about them. Let me give some quick updates on the stuff I’ve been watching and what I think of it.

John Wick 4

 I miss rambling on about the stuff I watch. Let me do a grab bag of what I've watched recently.

I’ve said this in multiple places, but John Wick 4 is exactly the same movie as John Wick 3, except John gets to go to Japan and then later France. “Everyone tries to kill John, and he goes on a killing spree trying to find someone to get them to stop trying to kill him.” Literally, it’s the same thing he’s been doing since the half-way point of John Wick 2. That is perfectly fine! Clever plotlines and subtle human drama are not the hallmark of the John Wick series. The hallmark is ridiculous action set pieces thought up by the best stunt professionals in the business, and on that, John Wick absolutely delivers.

One note, perhaps, is that John Wick has an unusual obsession–for an action movie–in following the rules. What’s constantly drilled in, even in this, the fourth installment, is that you can’t destroy everything and you can’t kill everyone. You need to play within the rules and follow the traditions. In fact, the rules and traditions are there to protect you. It’s John and his honorable buddies who play by the age-old rules of the High Table, even as the Table itself plays fast and loose with its own regulations.

It’s interesting, because usually action movies just break apart everything. But the John Wick series has this conviction that you need to have systems, and that innovations and progress are built on older traditions. It’s a goofy series, but it’s one with a respect for the idea of legacies and history.

Night of January 16th

Props to the drama department of my current school for putting this on. I read Ayn Rand ages ago (you can read my take on Atlas Shrugged back here) and based on my experience of this play, she doesn’t seem to have much variety. The characters in the play seemed virtually pulled wholesale from that same book.

Maybe that’s why the play struck me as so bad. It’s obvious who you’re supposed to root for; there’s barely any “mystery” at all. You’re fed two different series of events and then told straight up to decide who you believe–except both lawyers frame it not as “did the lady kill someone” and instead as “Do you think rich people should be able to do whatever they want?” while the author is hammering you over the head with “OBVIOUSLY THE ANSWER IS YES.” Maybe this was a more nuanced play when it was first written. It certainly is good at getting audience engagement, which is worth a lot, which makes me wonder why more plays haven’t tried for the gimmick.

The Play That Goes Wrong

I discovered Mischief Theater about five years ago, and ever since then I’ve followed all their work as closely as I can. I was delighted to hear the local college was going to be putting on a performance, and that was absolutely worth driving a solid hour to sit in a cramped theater and watch stage props fall apart.

Plays are in a weird space, now, I feel, because everyone watching them is very aware they’re watchig a play. The only way you can really convince the audience that what they’re seeing is “real” is by making it seem that the play itself is going wrong. The chief weakness I felt, watching the stage performance, was that the stage actors were over-acting the mistakes. It was too clear that the Butler wasn’t really forgetting his lines and was only pretending to, which robbed something of the charm.

Still. I know I’ve never laughed so hard at a performance before. The hall was just small enough to give the performance something of an intimate feel–you could hear individual members of the audience breaking into laughter or giving disbelieving gasps. I would have like more moments where they drew the audience in to prompt tha actors about where the missing props were, for instance, and the last fifteen minutes was a solid breathless slapstick routine where I couldn’t even tell what was going on, but it didn’t matter. I’m glad I got to see it live.

Super Mario Brothers

They were setting out to make a stupid kids movie and they succeeded pretty well. It reminds me most of those Barbie movies my sister used to watch–basic generic plot with limp exposition and basic animation. It works–it’s neither cringeworthy nor flat–but it’s not at the level of anything Pixar, or even Disney. It just establishes its characters.

The different sound beats throughout the movie were fun surprises. I really loved hearing all the different classic themes pop up everywhere. Amazing how big an impact they still have.

Oh, but the interlude where they were planning to sacrifice the prisoners to the lava pit at Bowser’s Wedding? Like, What the heck? Who thought that was a good idea for a kids movie? Good grief, you’re lowering Luigi INSIDE A CAGE INTO A PIT OF LAVA. Like I’m all for giving kids some tougher material, but it came out of nowhere.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I wouldn’t call myself a big DnD guy. I never even heard about it much in high school, apart from a few radio specials that speculated about it possibly being linked with demonic worship. In college I met a number of (Christian) students who played, but I never got into the game myself until about five years or so ago, when my old roommate got me into a “campaign” that he was running. I’ve gotten more knowledgeable since; (though I still need my little brother’s help when my robot satyr bard character levels up), but I still wouldn’t call myself a real devotee. I was mostly casually interested to see if the filmmakers COULD pull off a decent movie that could satisfy fans, who’d been waiting for so long.

And it’s good! It nails the central dynamic of DnD, which is being stuck with a group of occasionally unlucky characters with an extremely limited bag of tricks. There’s no “classic franchise villain” or “iconic hero from the series” that shows up–its just random schmuks, in a world set against them, trying to figure out the best path through it. (there are some hilarious breakdowns of how the storyline could literally be explained as a group of people playing DnD).

Chris Pine’s character, Edwin, particularly, is interesting. He’s a retired thief who started as a pure-hearted servant of good, then lost his faith, became disheartened, and for quite a long time has struggled with doubts, despite a supposedly smiling nature. He had the line: “None of our lives have turned out the way we planned they would.”

I feel that. Most of my friends, I think, feel that. It’s probably not a stretch to say that most DnD players, or even most people, period, feel that. It’s very rare that your life goes exactly the way you thought it would at age 14. And because of the special kind of moron 14 year olds are, or at least that I was, it’s hard to keep from feeling disappointed in how your life hasn’t turned out the way you planned it.

But as Edwin says in the movie, even if you feel like you’ve been constantly failing, you can’t stop. The minute you stop failing is the most complete failure of all, because it means you’ve stopped trying.

2 thoughts on “Quick Hits: Stuff I’ve watched recently

  1. It looks like your blog takes inspiration from my Youtube feed –

    You should check out the review Shapiro did on John Wick 4 – I think he understands the franchise pretty well – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1bnG55XCrE

    Oh man, “Dungeons & Dragons” came out of NOWHERE! I was home Easter weekend, and my parents asked if I wanted to go see it. My response was a grimace and shake of the head. Then I looked it up on RT – okay…. I don’t remember laughing so hard at a movie in a while. I think the reason it works it because it is so self-consciously satirical. Even the characters – especially Pine – are like “what is up with this whole thing?”. The cameo was ridiculous, and the wizard was hysterical.

    Have you watched any of the last season of “Picard”? you should add that to your que if not – quality


    1. A feeling that really struck me, watching, was that the movie characters were acting exactly like friends in a DnD session–lighthearted and a bit satirical, making fun of their own world and the absolute ludicrousness of everything. It didn’t take itself seriously at ALL and it was just great for that.

      I don’t have the subscription for Picard. I’ve been seeing bits and pieces of scenes pop up on Youtube, though, so I know they brought back some stuff from DS9. And, of course, they finally got the full TNG crew reunited, which after three seasons, I’d say they earned the right to do that.


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