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Reviews

Musings about media. Mostly movies.
I'm @joaobfreire on Letterboxd.

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  1. Ready or Not

    Watched 5 December 2019

    Very fun but not one for the ages. I feel like it could either have been campier or more grandiose, but it kept to a more normalized middle ground, never truly defying expectations. I keep imagining that had this movie been made in the 1980s (with all the differences that would entail) it would most likely be a cool as heck cult classic.

  2. Ad Astra

    Watched 5 December 2019

    2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my favorite films, yet I found this one very boring.

    Started out interesting — exciting even — but the story kept shrinking on itself, the ideas growing smaller and smaller. By the end, and much like the sad astronaut, I felt nothing. Please allow me to narrate to you how empty I feel, I’m such a sad sad lonely astronaut help me daddy

    Yeah this would have been a two star review if not for the moon rover chase sequence. That part was cool.

  3. The Lighthouse

    Watched 21 November 2019

    That scream really did it for me. This film could have been bad and that scream would have saved it. But no, the whole thing was excellent. Sets itself up as an incredibly precise and fastidious formal exercise, only to break with expectations in very unfamiliar, surreal ways. Rule-breaking cinema.

    And meeting real-life Willem Dafoe not within one minute of the credits starting to roll was also a surreal experience. That’s two for the price of one. (Humblebrag, I know.)

  4. Super Mario World

    Replayed 22–28 October 2019 on Switch

    As fun and timeless as ever. Nostalgia factor is huge with the new wireless SNES controller. But I’ll never rate this game five stars because I was a Sonic kid during the 16-bit era. No matter how many times I play it, Super Mario World will always feel somehow foreign, as if I’m still only allowed to play it for a little while at a friend’s house.

    I played more as a tourist this time. I wanted to explore more than to be challenged, and I wanted to get to 100% completion (which I’d never done before). So I used the rewind feature in the Switch emulator liberally. It’s funny how “lazy” you get once you can instantly fix your mistakes. It deeply changes the experience for some games.

  5. Succession, Season 1

    Watched 9 September – 20 October 2019

    Watching Succession I often found myself at one of two extremes: either laughing and cringing at the sheer debauchery of it all, or depressively contemplating how the real world is probably even worse.

    This duality seems to be the show’s core mechanic. The writers know that now, seemingly more than ever, reality is stranger than fiction. If you want to satirize it, you have to take it down a notch first — like putting on those special glasses so you can look at a solar eclipse. So Succession is a very impressive oxymoron: a satire that is also a toned-down version of reality. It’s gripping, though-provoking, hilarious entertainment. I just don’t understand why Connor is there.

  6. One-Punch Man, Season 2

    Watched 9 May – 24 October 2019

    One-Punch Man is lost. The charm, variety, and incredibly kinetic animation that set the show apart are nowhere to be found in season two.

    The writing has no redeeming qualities to offer. It’s all over the place. The outrageous premise of the series was fun for a while, but it doesn’t seem strong enough to sustain being prolonged like this. The writers compensate by spending way too much time on a huge number of underdeveloped characters and subplots that I couldn’t care less about. In the end, none of those plots and characters even get any resolution; if there is a cohesive thematic undercurrent to this season at all, I was too bored to notice it. Meanwhile the main characters get so little airtime that I struggle to piece together what happened to them over the course of a dozen episodes. They are on screen only just enough for you not to forget what show you’re watching. It’s maddening.

    This series has clearly been kicked into a lower gear, setting itself up to coast on the merits of season one for as long as possible. I won’t be sticking around.

  7. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

    Read 23 May – 17 October 2019

    I’ve watched the first season of the show more than once, so there were no surprises to be found in this book, only details. That made it a slog to get through, even as it matched my expectations exactly.

    The book is fine, but most of its strength lies in finding out what happens — not so much in the flair of its style, or the inventiveness of its ideas, and certainly not in the very systematic, episodic structure that often threw me off pace.

    On the one hand, it did give me what I craved: more detail and cohesiveness than the show could bear to sustain. On the other hand, there is a certain ’80s fantasy corniness in some of those details that the show did well to correct in its art direction. Why does everyone wear impractically ornate animal-shaped helms? Sure, make armor fashion a thing, but those appendaged helms just seem like they’d be a hindrance in battle, existing more as flavor text than as a realistic part of the world. They remind me of the “no capes” gag in The Incredibles.

    Nonetheless, I am into it, and I plan to keep reading the books. As the story drifts from the show’s, I can only hope that the experience of reading it will feel less like a chore.

  8. Super Earth Defense Force

    Played 16 October 2019 on Switch

    This is the worst-sounding video game I’ve ever played; the sound effects are frankly ridiculous. The visual design is also quite poor and hard to parse, with enemies, bullets, and background all blending together. And the later levels are extremely punishing. No checkpoints? Okay… But is that testicle/bird final boss even supposed to be beatable by a human? I’ve never used rewind so much in any other classic title. Nintendo, bring us good SNES shoot ‘em ups, please.

  9. Midsommar

    Watched 14 October 2019

    William Jackson Harper’s character is my closest audience surrogate in this film: instead of wanting to escape from this horrific, beautiful place, he wants to learn more about it. That’s what worked so well for me in Hereditary, and it worked brilliantly once again in Midsommar. I really love this vibe of deep detail and interestingness that Ari Aster is bringing to horror.

    This was the theatrical version but I’ll definitely be watching the director’s cut as soon as I can.

    PS: I have that same mortar and pestle! (From the dance scene.) It’s from Ikea, which is hilarious

  10. Mini Motorways

    Played 11–12 October 2019 on Apple Arcade

    Cool premise, but lacks depth. I hate playing armchair designer, but I think this game needed a few obvious extra features:

    • More achievements for each city. Why make lists called “Achievements” if they’re all limited to one item? I was expecting more stuff to unlock as I played.
    • A gallery of what your cities looked like at their peak, and a way to share that. When you lose, the camera zooms in, so you can’t even take a screenshot of your glorious metropolis.
    • A free build mode. Let me just play around without risk of failure, and let me place buildings myself. The more I played, the more I wanted to just put in a cheat code and build without restrictions, SimCity style.
  11. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

    Watched 11 October 2019

    I didn’t know how much I wanted this, just as much as I wasn’t expecting to cry in the end. Yet here we are.

    It doesn’t escape the TV-to-film curse of feeling incomplete and slightly outside its comfort zone and somehow wrong. But taken as the missing Breaking Bad episode that time forgot, it’s absolutely flawless.

    Yet I don’t think it would have worked had the show just included this back then as its final final episode. We needed the wait, and it was worth it.

  12. Card of Darkness

    Played 28 September – 9 October 2019 on Apple Arcade

    This game is awesome and what phone games should have evolved into all along. Loved it.

    Now I’m only missing the hidden achievement and I’m sure it’s got something to do with that fart card probably

  13. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

    Watched 26 August 2019

    It might be a case of too much of a good thing, but I was not as entranced by this one as I was with the others. It might have benefited from a bit more breathing room around the mayhem, more of an emotional connection to its origins, maybe even (dare I say it?) a little less violence. It is spectacular, but numbingly so.

  14. Return of the Obra Dinn

    Played 16–18 August 2019 on Mac

    A man's skeleton lies on the deck of a large 19th century ship; it's seen from the first person view of someone holding a pocket watch bearing a skull design.

    A masterpiece of game design. An impossible combination of brilliant ideas and flawless execution that is so unlike any other game I’ve ever played, it’s hard to understand how it could even be conceived.

  15. Speed Racer

    Rewatched 2 August 2019

    Speed Racer's car spins around the racetrack as all of its colors vividly blend together like liquid.

    Our world doesn’t deserve the unbridled vibrancy and earnestness of Speed Racer. The climactic Grand Prix is so dazzling I had to watch it twice. This film gets better every time I watch it, and I suspect I’ll be doing it quite a few more times.