Elden Ring

“Video games can be all kinds of different things, representing all manner of artistic ambitions. Most, however, share a common goal: to conjure a compelling fictional reality, filled with beckoning mysteries, enchanting secrets, and enriching opportunities to compete and collaborate. They aim to provide a liminal space in which a determined player can fix that which is broken, order that which is chaotic. By this definition, at least, Elden Ring is the finest video game yet made. Its final gift is the assurance that, whatever monsters lurk in a broken world, with perseverance and cooperation, they too can be overcome – all without losing the mystery and wonder that makes our existence beguiling, infuriating, and fascinating.”

-Simon Parkin, “Elden Ring review – an unrivalled masterpiece of design and inventiveness.” The Guardian. February 23, 2022

The funny thing is that the only thing I’d heard about Elden Ring is how they did not include an in-game journal. Some decided to deal with this practically, by creating an analog journal. Others decided to complain, “It’s 2022; why doesn’t your game have a journal?” The game company that makes Elden Ring is known for making difficult games. It’s an aesthetic choice. Same people prefer things with difficulty, like Spinoza’s quote: “Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.” Anyway, this five star review will put this in my game queue, and I’ll likely by it several years from now, when it’s below $20.

Movie Review: West Side Story

I’ve always thought the original West Side Story (1961) was close to perfect. I was not excited to see a remake of it. Remakes should focus on flawed films and make them better.

Much to my surprise, the new West Side Story (2021) shows the flaws in the original I simply didn’t see before. It’s a better movie is every way that matters. Highly recommended.

Film Review: Cruella

tl;dr: Derivative, thin plot but with inspired acting, visuals and costume design. Not recommended, but there are worse ways to spend 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Generally speaking, I think it is best to offer reviews for things that are excellent or in exceptional circumstances, advice to avoid something terrible. Cruella is neither of these things. It has some really brilliantly executed shots. But, it’s mostly a pastiche, a mishmash of moments that don’t work to tell a fundamentally interesting story. If I had to list the problems with the film, it might look like this:

  • Cruella is another example of Disney recycling old content and preaching “family” values
  • Cruella is a comic book villain, someone who wants to make coats from Dalmatian puppies (in the original)
  • In this version, Dalmatians are like Dobermans or German Shepherds, except for the inconvenient fact that American Animal Hospital Association writes about a study that puts them in the bottom five breeds for bite risk
  • Cruella’s superpower is fashion in the service of narcissism, which is sympathetic because we are comparing her to someone worse and it is more relatable in an era of self-absorbed “influencers”
  • The relationship dynamics in this story are ridiculous, e.g., the Butler.
  • There’s also an underlying theme that genetics are fate and that somehow the real choices she is making aren’t defining who she is more than her parental lineage

And I could go on. Ordinarily, I’d give a film like this one a pass on all of these defects because it is a “popcorn” movie. The whole point of watching it is to enjoy the action sequences. But, man, something about that greasy Disney touch, with the moralizing while constructing a story that makes horrible behavior look sympathetic revokes that free pass.

You might also argue, and you’d have a point, that the fact that it gave rise to this kind of reaction might suggest that it has artistic merit on those grounds alone, a kind of provocateur. Maybe. But, it’s still a pretty mediocre movie.