What I Read in June 2015

I didn’t do quite as much branching out as I had hoped to do in June.  Instead, the only books I finished were a collection of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries.  They were good, but it wasn’t exactly a wide variety.  I did read on some other books, but I didn’t finish either of them. Hopefully by the end of next month I’ll have finished a couple of those.


The Mirror Crack’d

Agatha Christie

This is a straightforward mystery for Ms Marple.  Here is at her oldest and frailest, yet also at her most engaged.  For once she is a genuine part of the story, investigating and not just coming in having solved the mystery off page.  The mystery here deals with a subject that is still very much in a big deal: celebrity.  Ire is directed not so much at the famous actress at the center of this story and her unusual life, but on the people obsessed with her fame.  A woman falls dead at a party thrown by an aging star and people assume that the star was the target, with the hardest scrutiny falling on the members of her household.  The subject matter feels fairly fresh for being more than fifty years old.  Obsession with celebrity is still a cancer that affects our society.


A Pocketful of Rye

Agatha Christie

This was easily my least favorite of the bunch.  It is another straightforward mystery, but this one doesn’t really play fair.  There are no actual cheats, but it is misleading in a way that doesn’t just feel like a mystery story.  That would not be such a problem if the eventual outcome was satisfactory.  That is not the case here.  The victim is an older man and the suspects are his spouse and children, with some suspicion falling on the household staff.  The murder, eventually murders, is done to match an old nursery rhyme, which is also the source of the title, but there is no good connection to that nursery rhyme in the story. It’s use is arbitrary and doesn’t really seem to fit.  Arbitrary seems to be the mode of the this whole outing. Surrounded by better or at least more interesting stories in this collection, the feebleness of this story stands out.


At Bertram’s Hotel

Agatha Christie

This is an odd one, a mystery with no crime to investigate for the first three quarters of the book.  Marple is actually around the whole time, but while there are various mysteries around, other than some vague talk of robberies nothing is presented as anything worthy of investigation.  The one small crime is some shoplifting by a teenage girl, and she returns the stolen property soon enough.  Marple is on vacation at the hotel, and there is some connection to the hotel and a series of daring robberies. The mystery unfolds about a young girl looking to possibly arrange a marriage with her paramour.  It turns out the girl’s mother, who abandoned her for what she thought was the girl’s own good years ago, is also staying at the hotel and possibly involved in the shady goings on.  When the murder does occur near the end, it is solved almost immediately, though not strictly satisfactorily. The inversion of the usual formula works to excellent effect here.  At Bertram’s Hotel keeps readers on their toes waiting to see exactly what the mystery is.


The Moving Finger

Agatha Christie

This is another one of those Marple mysteries where the detective herself is little more than a deus ex machina that shows up at the end of the story to wrap things up.  The Moving Finger is as much of a pastoral romance as it is a mystery.   Siblings Jerry and Joanna Burton move out to a small village in the country while he recovers from injuries sustained in an airplane crash.  While there they encounter a rash of “poison pen” letters, detailing supposed sins of the residents, though all of the letters are clearly false, before one of the recipients apparently commits suicide.  From there, Jerry helps some of the townsfolk figure out exactly who is responsible, while growing closer to the strange daughter of the dead woman.  Interesting characters parade themselves in front of Jerry until Marple shows up to explain what has been going on.  It is reasonably enjoyable, but nothing too exciting.

What I watched in June 2015

I watched quite a few movies this month, but my TV watching was mostly just a bunch of Magnum PI.  Next month I’ll likely make several more trips to the cinema, and maybe see some more things on Netflix.


Silver Linings Playbook – I had heard good things about this, and I generally enjoy Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, so when I saw it on Netflix I fired it up. This is one of the best romance movies I have ever seen.  It is truly touching.  *****

The Last Samurai – I don’t know about the historical accuracy of any of this movie, but it is a finely crafted and acted epic.  It is certainly not perfect, and there is something hinky about how quickly Tom Cruise’s character becomes more than competent as a samurai, but for the most part it is just highly entertaining.  ****

Snow White and the Huntsman – This feels like a bit of a throwback, much more like a fantasy movie from the 80’s than a modern LotR descendant.  I mean that as a very good thing. It also seems to steal many scenes from other movies, including one scene that is all but straight out of Princess Mononoke.  It isn’t a full success, but it is much more entertaining that I expected.  ***

The Nut Job – Egad, this is terrible.  There are the hints of something interesting here, but it is lost in the films desperation to cash in on the fleeting popularity of stuff like Gangnam Style. *

Hector and the Search for Happiness – Simon Pegg’s charisma can’t quite carry this limp nothing of a film. There are a lot of really great performers here that do the best they can with nothing really to work with.  Hector’s search for happiness is more like a boring indulgence.  **1/2

Antitrust – Just a really dumb thriller from the 90’s that for some reason I didn’t change the channel on.  There is nothing to recommend here.  *

Transformers 4 –  You know what this is.  They looked at what they had done with previous Transformers movies, aimed lower and hit their mark.  Fuck this movie.  1/2

Jurassic World – review coming soon.  ***1/2

Wayne’s World – This movie has held up well.  It is smarter than one would expect and Mike Myers is almost always a lot of fun.  ****

Inside Out – review here.  *****


Magnum PI – This show is so great. I am afraid it will leave Netflix before I can finish it.

Jurassic World Review


Jurassic World is a hard movie to get a handle on, especially for a summer blockbuster. At times it seems really smart, a completely worthy successor to the original Jurassic Park. At others it seems like the worst of braindead schlock. It fully acknowledges the crassness and intellectual barrenness of just constantly trying to be “bigger” and “more,” while simultaneously trying to be “bigger” and “more” than its predecessor. At other times it is reverently echoing not only Jurassic Park, but a plethora of Spielberg movies. It flits from joyous wonder to complete cynicism. It doesn’t have Furious 7’s complete disregard for reality, nor Fury Road’s perfectly coiled narrative, but somewhere in this messy movie is a solid heart.

Jurassic World starts with a theme park on the island that is not only operating, but very successful. After the disaster of Jurassic Park, Hammond wouldn’t let the idea of the park die and sold it to a businessman who could get it up and running. In the present of the movie, it has been running long enough that people are starting to get tired of merely seeing dinosaurs, so scientists at Ingen have cooked up something special, a hybrid dinosaur called Indominus Rex. Surprising no one, the new attraction breaks free and wreaks havoc on the island. It chases around a pair of kids, Gray and Zach, sent to spend some time with their Park Director Aunt Claire. She is too busy running the park, leaving them with her assistant to get the expertise of Owen, who is doing a field study with velociraptors. When the new attraction breaks loose, the whole park is put in danger.

This movie doesn’t stray too far from the original Jurassic Park. Literally, as it takes place on the same island and occasionally in the exact same buildings. There is a dinosaur theme park and the dinosaurs get loose, havoc is wreaked. There are other Spielberg movies referenced as well. There is a short chase scene right out of Indiana Jones and the great white shark fed to an aquatic dinosaur as an attraction can’t help but be reminiscent of Jaws.

It is the mix of crass pandering and thoughtful update that makes Jurassic World hard to parse. It is well executed in most aspects, but it is built on an irreparably flawed foundation. It can’t shake the fact that it is exactly the thing it is criticizing. It manages to work on Chris Pratt’s considerable charisma and the actual likeability of the two kids running around. Vincent D’Onofrio does what he can with a terrible and unnecessary villain. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire hovers on some line between awesome character and sexist stereotype. She is undeniably competent and under control, but the film also seems to castigate her for working while her while her nephews are around. She wears heels, which are actually appropriate footwear for her job, for quite a bit longer than is in anyway sensible and for long after she had been advised to remove them. Her character is much like the movie itself, largely admirably but stuck with some hard to excuse warts.


Now Playing in June 2015

I haven’t really had the time for writing due to a change in my employment.  It is a good change in many ways, but it does leave me with a lot less time.  I hope that soon things even out and I am able to get back to writing at least somewhat regularly

Another big thing that is the death of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.  I don’t have much to add to the outpouring upon news of his loss.  It is a terrible loss.  His personality is a big part of what made NIntendo seem so friendly during this last decade.  Between the Nintendo Directs and Iwata Asks, he made it clear that Nintendo cared about both the games they made and their audience.  Iwata will be missed.


Etrian Mystery Dungeon – wrote about it here.

Shinobi 3DS – This is a well made game, but it is also a very difficult one.  I was as frustrated by it as I was entertained.  Shinobi really captures the classic action game appeal of the Genesis entries in this series, but it also captures some of those game’s warts.  I am hesitant to call this game’s difficulty a wart, though. It is a clearly intentional choice; this is supposed to be a hard game.  But that didn’t stop it from hampering my enjoyment of Shinobi.  Still, for the price it was definitely worth a try.

Jade Empirewrote about it here.


Knights of the Old Republic – I’ve played through about a quarter of this before and after I played Jade Empire.  There is a clearly visible evolution of Bioware’s output from Baldur’s Gate to Kotor to Jade Empire to Mass Effect.  They all work along some of the same lines, but there are clear changes to the gameplay. I am really enjoying this one.

Pokemon Alpha Sapphire – It just started playing this.  I didn’t quite feel like a new Pokemon game when this came out last year, but I picked it up when I saw it on sale and the mood struck me for some Pokemon so I started it up.  I’ve actually never gotten through this generation of Pokemon at all.  I played about halfway through Emerald back in the day, but I lost interest.  I don’t think I’ll have a problem finishing this one, even if I am not a huge fan of the Pokemon available early on.

Splatoon – I was greatly enjoying this game for a few weeks.  It is the most fun I’ve ever had with any sort of multiplayer shooter.  It is a decidedly Nintendo take on the genre, but it is also a thoughtfully designed game.  It avoids a lot of the pitfalls that make most shooters very “adult” like taking away the bullets and giving the player’s squirt guns.  The lack of voice chat is not an oversight by Nintendo, but a determined attempt to make the game playable by everyone.  I stopped enjoying it when I destroyed my save data.  As in the flash drive that held my save data was physically destroyed.  I was up around rank 12 and had unlocked several interesting weapons and I just don’t have it in my right now to start over. Hopefully I will soon.

Olli Olli – I got this out of the Nintendo Humble Bundle.  It is kind of fun to mess around with, though it didn’t really do anything to stick with me for long.  I’ll probably keep fiddling with this for a little while.

Moon Chronicles – Another Humble Bundle game.  This is just the first chapter and I’m not a huge fan of FPSes, but this has been fairly enjoyable.  I’m not in a hurry to keep playing it, but I’ll finish it up sooner or later.

Paper Mario – I kind of got distracted and didn’t make a lot of progress on this.  I really like it, but some work troubles haven’t really left me with a lot of video game time and this game just sort of got lost in the shuffle.

Persona 2 Eternal Punishment – Very slow progress, but progress is happening.  Sooner or later I am going to get really sucked into this and burn through the rest of it.

Smash Bros 4 – I got the new characters (Roy, Ryu and Lucas) but at the same time there was an accident that destroyed the flashdrive that I had my digital copy of this game saved on.  It takes a long time for me to download a 13 gb game, so by the time it was done I was   not really in the mood to play anymore.


Mario and Luigi Partners in Time – I’ve never played this one, but it recently became available on VC, so I’ll pick it up.

Dragon Age Origins – This is what is up next after I finish with Kotor.