Shorties #15

Now that the year is almost over, I'd better get to wedging in blurbs about the things I've just wrapped up, if only so they can be included in the State of the Art posts. And what's the quickest way to do that? Shorties!

#1: The Ides of March: In this 2011 film, Ryan Gosling plays a campaign manager for George Clooney, portraying a politician attempting to win the Democratic presidential nomination. All of his talking points are slick and broadly appealing to us bleeding heart liberals, but there are dirty little secrets bubbling beneath the surface. When Gosling discovers that winning and ideals cannot always go hand-in-hand, he has to make some pretty tough choices. It's a well-acted movie, but often trades in cliche. And on a personal note, I really detest it when movies or TV depict arguments about/decisions regarding abortion that don't have the guts to ever even mutter the word aloud. (Grade: B-)

#2: Mr. Mercedes: I was surprised that I was able to get my hands on Stephen King's new book from the library so quickly. This story concerns a retired detective who sets aside his suicidal tendencies in an effort to close a case where the perpetrator of a heinous hit-and-run mass murder got away. Perspectives shift between the hero and the villain so that we can see what both of them are up to. There are no supernatural baddies here; all the horrors stems from places that are distressingly human. It's a fairly mundane thriller, and weirdly, it's the first book in a trilogy about the protagonist, who isn't a very interesting character. It was a decent read that moved along at a good clip, though, and that's all I was expecting from it. (Grade: B)

#3: Side Effects: Stephen Soderbergh tends to make movies that I find fascinating, but sometimes it takes me a while to get around to seeing them. This 2013 movie is no exception, which worked out well, since I enjoyed it more on my couch than I think I would have in the theater. On the surface, it's a psychological thriller about a murder and just how culpable the perpetrator is, given that she's on an experimental course of anti-depressants. Did she mean to do it? Does she even remember it? Is it her psychiatrist's fault? Is she playing the system? It's a great premise, and the execution is pulled off meticulously. Even as the general story is unfolding, the movie also serves as a pretty sharp satire of Americans' over-reliance on pill popping to solve all their problems. The final act is a little too neat and tidy, given the mess that preceded it, but overall, it's a very well-done movie. (Grade: B+)

#4: Dragon Age: Inquisition: This game franchise has had a bumpy history. The first entry (Dragon Age: Origins) ranks as one of my favorite games of all time. The second (Dragon Age II) was the biggest disappointment of the year. Now that I'm several hours into this third entry, I can confidently say that Dragon Age is back, baby! My grade is based purely on gameplay, so I'm not docking any points for the bugs, of which there are too many. I'm not happy about the crashes and glitches, of course, but they're fixable. They're not intrinsic to the game. This game almost seems like a direct response to the complaints about Dragon Age II. Don't like the poorly-written companion scenes? Great, here are nine companions who all have much more intricate backstories, desires, wishes, and triggers. Tired of the same cave over and over and over again? Great, let's make the world breathtakingly gigantic, with each zone having its own citizens, atmosphere, and personality. This game is gorgeous, funny, romantic, sad, and above all And I'm not even halfway done. (Grade: A)

#5: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin: If you're not careful, writing about history can be too dry. I mean, check out one of the only two books that I couldn't even get through this year. Simple recitations of names and dates gets old (no pun intended). So I was pleased by Jill Lepore's 2013 book, even as it admitted to being about a woman whose only claim to fame was being Benjamin Franklin's kid sister. Jane Franklin wasn't an author (she could barely spell). She didn't advise her brother on matters of policy. She didn't, in fact, do much of anything except make soap and babies. But that's precisely what's so interesting about the book; plenty has been written about our forefathers, but not much about the lives of the people for whom those forefathers were crafting a new country. This book runs on the parallel tracks of a towering giant in American history and a simple housewife, who happened to adore each other. Lepore's source material is very thin, but she's able to build on it, creating a pretty lifelike portrait of a woman who remains mostly anonymous. (Grade: B)


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