We here at The Addison Recorder read stuff. We also watch stuff. And play stuff, even. Sometimes, that stuff is interesting. Sometimes we just need to talk about whatever pop culture ephemera occupies our time. Soar on.
I upgraded from a Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4 this month, and the first game on my new console was The Last of Us Remastered. It’s hard to imagine I could have broken in a new system with a better gaming experience. Originally released in 2013 on the PS3, The Last of Us is a stealth action game set in a post-zombie apocalypse America. Does that sound terribly original or intriguing? Nope. There must be dozens of games with that same conceit, much less in other media. What makes The Last of Us so good, and I’m not sure I’ve ever played a more involving narrative video game, is its peerless dedication to its main characters, Joel and Ellie. They are fleshed out through action, subtext, and words not said, which is startling for the medium. By the time I played through to that ending. Oof. My heart. Words can’t recommend it highly enough.
Father John Misty (nom de plume for ex-Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman) has the voice and stylistic aesthetics of Harry Nilsson, blended with the lyrics of Bob Dylan at his most tricksterish. This unusual combination is what makes his sophomore record, I Love You, Honeybear, work so brilliantly…and also makes it hard to write about. A concept album about Tillman meeting and marrying his wife Emma, the record blends multiple styles (jazz, country, electronica, funk, art rock) with the bedrock California folk-rock sound, then piles the densest, seemingly non-sequitur filled lyrics on top, but the overall impact FEELS like the diverse emotional gauntlet you run through when falling in love. The whole record is sterling for 45 minutes, and the songs that stand out most — including “Chateau Lobby No. 4,” “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamned Thirsty Crow,” and “Holy Shit” — prove that we can still write great love songs without resorting to cliche.
Genre films never fail to amuse me. I considered “Cabin in the Woods” a top-5 film from 2012, and last year’s romantic comedy spoof They Came Together evoked a similar feeling. Amy Poehler’s Molly and Paul Rudd’s Joel take us on the most predictable love story journey of all time. But at every turn, a joke, a physical bit, a cameo, or a reference elicits at least a giggle and, at times, full-on belly laughs. Director David Wain of “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models” fame casts a familiar set of comedians and lets them all have fun. The results: a compact, delightful comedy well-worth the watch. Netflix added “They Came Together” to its Instant Watch list in April.
You’ve probably never heard of the Grim Sleeper, the serial killer who allegedly murdered anywhere from 10 to 100 women in South Central Los Angeles over more than two decades. The startling HBO documentary released this month, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, will quickly get you up to speed on this horrifying case.
The film, by British director Nick Broomfield, is a unique look into not just the murders and subsequent arrest of accused killer Lonnie Franklin, Jr., but also the African-American victims and their community: both historically neglected by the LAPD. As Broomfield states in the film, “This is not just a story about Lonnie, but about people in one of the world’s most prosperous cities who have been left behind.”
It’s infuriating to watch this documentary, but fascinating as well. With the refrains of “black lives matter” currently echoing throughout the country, Tales of the Grim Sleeper is yet another devastating example of how much that message needs to be heard.
This month, I read and loved Roller Girl, the new graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson. This sweet, hilarious story about a young girl’s desire to be like her Rose City Roller jammer heroine made me laugh and cry. I love Jamieson’s portrayals of both young female friendship as well as the love the main character’s mom demonstrates for her stubborn, spirited daughter. It’s whimsically, touchingly written and cleverly illustrated, and I read it in a day. As soon as I finished it, I ordered a second copy to be sent to a friend. (Bonus: This book also does a great job explaining the basics of roller derby!)
April has been a month full of comics and games, but my pick is an album that was released at start of April. The Mountain Goats have been one of my favorite bands since I discovered John Darnielle’s idiosyncratic sound on the band’s 2004 album, We Shall All Be Healed. This time around, they bring us a concept album, Beat The Champ, that revolves around old-school professional wrestling and the narratives within and inspired by the squared circle.
Like any Mountain Goats album, however, the concept is a way to connect the song’s subjects to everyday life. “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” for instance, details the narrator’s childhood love of the titular wrestler, who is part of a multi-generation wrestling family. But the song is also a story about the narrator’s fractured relationship with his won father. And then there’s “Foreign Object,” where the narrator is a low-level wrestler reveling in the bloody performance art of wrestling:
I took in a screening of the new indie sci-fi film Ex Machina the other day. I went in expecting mind-bending science-fiction. What I got was…a weird rehash of styles. The movie tells the story of a man who wins a workplace lottery to hang out with an eccentric inventor/billionaire who has just invented what might be real artificial intelligence. His job is to determine whether the robot has an actual intelligence using the ‘Turing Test’ – basically, if you think it’s human, then it’s human. It’s visually stylish, with great performances and a super awesome soundtrack. However, as a whole, it’s nothing new. It tries to cross the removed, sterile dystopian futures of Stanley Kubrick with the brutal, neo-noir grimness of David Fincher. What happens is a movie that starts out as Kubrick-ian and ends up being Fincher-esque…all the while not really saying a whole lot about identity while trying really hard to do just that.
It’s still fun, and a twist ending got me. But it’s trying too hard to be groundbreaking when all it needs to be is just…well, a good sci-fi romp.