I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Quarantine Logs)

I can’t tell you the last time I had a reading session that long and intense. Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things has been adapted by the incomparable Charlie Kaufman, set to release on Netflix within the first quarter of 2020, or so they say. To synopsize the book, I will say that the novel is about a couple on their way to have dinner with the boyfriend’s daughter. It’s a big step in the relationship, which makes the girlfriend narrator all the more apprehensive on account of her wanting to, well, end things with the boyfriend. It’s weird to write an opinion about a written work, for me at least. Using the very medium to critique a work of said medium is a bit meta, but here we go.

I love this book. The narrative voice of Reid is instantly accessible and engaging, especially with the content of the narration. It’s dark, unsettling, hopelessly existential but always bound within real world constraints. There are no monsters around the corner, or access to a holy book with a verse that’ll wash away the danger. Most of the danger we experience is the ones we internally encounter, hardly the ones that are imminently physical. Reid, and his characters, know this to an unsettling degree.

I am super eager to see how Kaufman adapts this story. The themes of the book mirror those that define his entire filmography. This will be his third directorial effort after the stellar Synecdoche, New York and tragically romantic Anomalisa. This will also be his first adaptation (not to be confused with the film he wrote Adaptation), which will be an intriguing reversal given Kaufman’s much discussed turbulent history with directors doing a less than faithful translation of his script to screen.

In any event, this is a mesmerizing and unsettling literary work. It’s more than worth the sleep you’re bound to lose.

Buy the book here!

Army of Darkness (Quarantine Logs)

People my age often think of the original Spider-Man trilogy when thinking of Sam Raimi. Rightfully so, those films paved the way for what a modern day comic book film could be when it’s directed with heart. The campiness throughout those films have become a welcome change of pace compared to many of the made-by-committee products we now get. Visiting Raimi’s horror roots has been a treat. A few weeks back, I watched Evil Dead 2 and loved the hyper kinetic, gore filled madhouse that made up the picture. Bruce Campbell is a bonafide movie star. In an alternate world, he’d be Nathan Drake for an Uncharted film.

Army of Darkness takes place right after the events of its predecessor, with Ash Williams finding himself transported to the Middle Ages, chainsaw in (or as) hand. Finding himself in the middle of war between King Arthur and Duke Henry, Ash prepares both parties for a battle against the undead. It’s outrageous to just summarize it, it’s a helluva good time to watch it. Raimi’s direction is as lively and energetic as ever, embracing the weird concoction of horror, comedy and romance he’s cooked up. Campbell is reliably charismatic, though the supporting cast is mostly regulated to Medieval stereotypes, complete with old English and prophecy quoting. The film works best from a technical perspective, including outstanding animatronic work and the aforementioned direction. For all its pomp and circumstance though, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of substance or vitality. Perhaps that was intentional, and Raimi wanted to make a fun, well crafted thrill ride. He succeeds handsomely in that respect, there’s just not much under the surface.

Bioshock 2 (Quarantine Logs)

Whether it’s watching a blu ray I’d never seen, clearing up the good ol’ Netflix list, a video game that I barely gave the time of day, or a BOOK that I’d been long putting off, now is the time to clear my stupidly big backlog of impulse buys and costly hobbies. 

 

*preliminary shower of praise for Bioshock*

Yes, I loved the original Bioshock. It’s a hot take as scorching as a winter’s day, but there. The single player campaign is a masterclass of storytelling that can really only be told through the video game medium. Where the vast majority of games attempt to emulate the cinematic flare fit for the big screen, Ken Levine’s 2007 opus tells a tale that strikes at the very core of video games, turning a medium into a genuine art form. Its themes of utopia, capitalism and free will were fresh then as they were when I finally completed it less than two years ago.

Bioshock 2, once again taking place in the iconic semi-sandbox of Rapture, tells a story of another silent protagonist going through another meditation of free will and morality, once again being aided by allies and intimidated by an antagonist who both rarely physically interact with the player.

Yes, I biggest criticism of the game is how overtly similar it is compared to its predecessor. I mean, Rapture is once again a beautifully realized hellscape of a setting that is as eerie and atmospheric as ever. The thing is, the original essentially did all the heavy lifting. Gamers in 2007 were floored by the world, consistently being touted as one of the great video game settings. While this sequel does retain the charm of it to a tee, it does little to go distinguish itself from the first game. Maybe that’s the point. Without Ken Levine as director, who laid the groundwork for Rapture’s ripeness with idealistic wonder and social commentary, the safest route for 2K Games to go would be the “Bioshock, but more” one.

For the most part, it succeeds: the gameplay is a notable upgrade from the original. Playing as a Big Daddy does offer more variety in combat, and the hacking mechanics is thankfully overhauled to something simpler, less time consuming and rewarding yet equally consequential. I’m not kidding, the hacking mini game in the original was the absolute bane of my existence, so having the sequel overhaul that aspect of the game lent me the most relieved of sighs.

While gameplay is an improvement, the story, particularly the pacing, is a bit of a slog. Nearly every level’s conflict is resolved by some override or key card, which is fine the first time, but gets quickly repetitive and tedious as the narrative progresses.

Overall, just some quick thoughts on Bioshock 2. It’s more of the same that challenged the conventions of video game storytelling, though it is a bit more conventional and plodding for the first 2 acts. The final stretch is a genuine blast that nearly reaches the heights of its predecessor. Alas, its shadow is too big.