December 31, 2020

2020 - A (media) review

2020 - A (media) review

Well, thank god this is over, even though it’s merely symbolic. Most of the things that dogged us this year will be with us in 2021 as well, at least for a good chunk of it.

So without further ado, here is a selection of media recommendation and warnings to end 2020. Let’s see what 2021 brings.

Books

Fiction

Michael Massig - Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the fight for the western mind.

The last book of the year I finished. It is still one of the most interesting non-fiction book I read this year. I pretty much knew nothing about Erasmus beyond his name, but his and Luther’s fights did shape Europe, and by extension the west.

Highly recommend if you want to know “how we got here”.

Non-Fiction

John Connolly - The Dirty South

I have been reading John Connolly since 2005 and greatly enjoyed all of his books. This years release in the Charlie Parker series was a bit of a departure in that it went back in time to a very young Parker and one of his earliest cases.

I read a lot of “purely for entertainment” stuff this year and this one def. stuck out and I can wholeheartedly recommend the entire series.

Movies

Best Movie - The Trial of the Chicago 7

This was a bit hard to find the “one” movie to put here, a few close runner ups exist:

  • 1917
  • Ready or Not
  • Knives Out

“1917” is great cinema, good story and wonderfully shot, “Ready or Not” and “Knives Out” are fun movies in their own right. They aren’t great cinema, but they are competent and entertaining.

What won me over for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” though was that I have a soft spot for well executed court room dramas, especially when based in reality. The movie manages to be entertaining and educational at the same time.

Worst Movie - Tenet

Don’t act surprised. I like Nolan as a film maker. Dunkirk is a master piece in visual story telling. But it seems when he’s left to his own devices he produces… this.

It’s not just a completely incomprehensible story, but it’s also the audio mix, which makes it at times almost impossible to understand the dialogue. No idea what drove Nolan to do this, but he needs an intervention or prevented from writing his own movies going forward.

Guilty Pleasure - Guns Akimbo

This really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It is, in the best way, a video game created as a movie. The story is bonkers, you wouldn’t think Harry Potter would make a good unwilling action-hero and yes, lots of stupid. But it is highly entertaining.

Music

1. Multiverse - Gadi Sassoon

This was not something I expected and yet, it landed with a surprise. This is one of these rare albums that are totally different experiences when listening to them on headphones vs. Large speakers. It is def. my album of the year and I highly encourage a listen. It’s available on all the streaming services and you can buy the album on Bandcamp.

2. Westworld - Season 3 Soundtrack

I have my problems with the show itself, I think it suffers, like “Tenet” from “Nolanism”, although this time by the brother. Having said that, Rami Djawadi’s soundtrack, especially the re-interpretation of popular songs for the show, is an excellent listen.

3. Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968

This was a surprise. I had missed the release when it first came out but came across it by chance late this year and it is a joy to listen to. Jazz live performances are always different than the albums that get released I find. Especially older recordings, there is a rawness to it that often gets mixed out in the studio.

4. Tripping with Nils Frahm

I am a big fan of Nils Frahm and this album is a joy. It’s a live recording and it gives Frahm’s work a completely new quality. It’s a good cross section of his work too if you have never heard him before.

TV

Best TV Show - Babylon Berlin - Season 3

I’m a sucker for period pieces. Babylon Berlin had me already with the first two seasons and it keeps going strong in the third. If you want to get a glimpse of live in Weimar Germany, this is as good as it gets.

Best TV Show - The New Pope

Yes, there are two best TV shows. My rules so that is totally okay. “The Young Pope” was a brilliant piece of story telling, especially visually and “The New Pope” continues this. Visually alone it is a feast, add to that the talent of John Malkovich and an excellent cast and you have an absolute jewel.

Worst TV Show - Picard

Much like Disney seems to be hellbent to “reinvent” Star Wars, so also is CBS hellbent on up-ending Star Trek. It’s…. Painful. Not only in comparison to what came before, but in the storytelling itself. What makes this really sad is that there was potential there which was all thrown away for…. I don’t even know.

Of course it has been extended already, so Season 2 is coming in soon. Oh joy.

Worst TV Show - Westworld - Season 3

Oh what a shame. The show has an excellent soundtrack, great production value and talented actors and totally incompetent writers. Much like “Tenet”, “Westworld” gets more stupid with every new season.

This time we also have Aaron Paul in it because…. Ummm…. I guess they needed someone with a recognizable name, because his character really doesn’t do a whole lot.

How far we have fallen from Anthony Hopkins in Season 1.

Games

Best Game - Cyberpunk 2077

Yes yes, how dare I go against the grain. I will have a longer review coming soon, but the reality is that Cyberpunk 2077 is a solid cyberpunk game. It is far from perfect, but it has character, the writing of the characters is believable and exploring the world enjoyable (if it isn’t bugged out).

The main gripe is the way too short main quest line, which comes in at around 20 hours. It’s a shame that CD Project Red didn’t create a longer story arc. There is supposedly more story DLC coming, which is good, but it does feel like it came out a bit too early.

Worst Game - Watchdogs Legion

It is a “typical Ubisoft game” and I admit. I like them. I have spent hundreds of hours exploring the world Ubi creates and yet…. There is something lacklustre about Legion. One part is that as you can play as any NPC in the game you don’t really have a main character. You do have a story, but I found it hard to feel like I was playing the story. The character you use changes as often as you want. This does make some of the missions more interesting as you can for example play as a cop that has access to otherwise restricted areas. The downside of this is that your characters have no real personality.

They all have a background story, but the dialogue and choices you have are quite generic. They have to be in order to work with all the different persons you could be playing at.

The end result is that this is a really interesting idea, but in execution it “falls flat” as they say.

On top of that, it is clear just how much “dollhouse” London / Ubi’s world really is. You predominantly are around on foot in the game, but many places you cannot enter. They are mere window dressing. This was less of a problem in the previous two games as you mostly traverse by car, so the idea to “quickly nick into a place” wasn’t really an option.

Not to mention whereas in Watchdogs 2 you could actually go into stores, this is pretty much no longer the case. You want to buy clothing or anything else you do it outside through a menu. It feels much more primitive and superficial than in previous games.