Friday, April 30, 2021

Movies: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: Mugen Train

I'm a fan of the anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, but I'll be the first to admit that it's pretty formulaic.  The series is about an earnest young swordsman who goes on a quest to slay the demons who killed his family, all the while learning attacks that he calls out in every battle.  Really, only two things separate Demon Slayer from other shōnen - the earnestness and empathy of its protagonist (who sheds a tear for many of the demons he kills), and the gorgeous stylized elemental sword attacks (which look like ukiyo-e paintings brought to life).

The movie version of Demon Slayer, subtitled "Mugen Train," is not a side story but merely another chapter in the series (albeit one that doesn't have much effect on the subsequent plot).  As such, it's totally inscrutable for people who haven't seen the first season of the anime; it feels like they jammed 5 or 6 episodes of the series together and called it a movie.  It's not even a particularly good portion to adapt into a movie - the train setting is claustrophobic and less cinematic than prior story arcs, which involved moody forests and dark mountains.

Still, the fighting and character animation is top-notch, and if you like the anime, you'll probably like the movie...if you can brave the hecklers.

Rating: 6/10

Food: Bourbon Tasting Review-o-rama

I'm not much of a drinker, but even I enjoyed sampling the small batch bourbon whiskeys put together by our managing partner:

The bourbon we tasted, from left to right:

1) Woodford Reserve Barrel Select ($60 / 1L) - A good, moderately priced bourbon to start off with, from a distillery so big I've actually seen billboards for it on I-95. Lots of butterscotch and honey notes.

2) Rowan's Creek Bourbon ($45 / 750 mL) - This batch was distilled, aged, and bottled by Willett Distillery. I thought it smelled like Coke, with a harsher, more alcoholic taste than the Woodford Reserve.

3) Gunnar's Wheated Bourbon ($30 / 750 mL) - This was the crowd favorite - "Santana Smooth" in my mind. It's got 34% wheat, as the label prominently advises. I thought it was delicious.

4) Bardstown Bourbon Fusion ($60 / 750 mL) - I liked this one, too, but it was thinner and less flavorful than the Gunnar's.

5) Old Whiskey River (???) - I bought this bottle years ago from...somewhere. There's a tie-in with Willie Nelson, but I'm not sure they sell this any more. It was smooth and sweet, and stronger than you think.

6) Wild Turkey Rare Breed ($48 / 750 mL) - This was by far the strongest bourbon in the bunch, topping 58% ABV. Maybe it's because I'm a novice, but it was hard to taste anything through the alcohol.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Books: Memoirs of Mastery Double Feature

I often read memoirs about accomplished people, regardless of their profession, because there is a certain joy in seeing someone overcome obstacles and train to do something well. The authors of today's two autobiographies have wildly different backgrounds, and yet are similar in many ways...

The Ranger Way, by Kris "Tanto" Paronto

The 2012 Benghazi attack will almost certainly be the lede in news stories when Kris Paronto dies, but his actions on that fateful night (and even the political fallout afterwards) are really only a small part of his life.  After all, Paronto would have never been in Libya if he hadn't first become a U.S. Army Ranger, gutting it through hellish physical and mental ordeals that make civilian life seem tame.  And he faced his share of personal troubles, including a failed marriage that almost led him to quit the Ranger Regiment forever.

The Ranger Way recounts those struggles, loosely connecting the battle to save the American diplomatic compound, the grueling Ranger training process, and experiences abroad as a CIA contractor.  As a self-help book, it's not terribly organized and perhaps a little pat (chapter titles include "Be Brave," "Be Confident," and "Have Faith"), but it's coming from someone who has been there and done that, so it's certainly worth a read.

Relentless, by John Tesh

If you're associating someone with words like "relentless," "purpose," "grit," and "faith," John Tesh might not immediately spring to mind, until you hear about his pitched battle with prostate cancer. Doctors gave him 18 months to live in 2015, but he endured, eventually travelling the country on a concert/book tour.  I saw him in concert back in 2020, right before the pandemic, and picked up his book, Relentless.

It's a pretty comprehensive autobiography, going back to Tesh disassembling a stereo at age 7 (an incident he also talked about in his stage show), progressing through his broadcast and music career (there's a whole chapter about "Roundball Rock"), and interweaving his trying cancer diagnosis and interludes about his Christian faith. If you're not a Tesh fan it probably won't work, but if you liked "Entertainment Tonight" in the '90s, the radio show "Intelligence for Your Life," or this Jason Sudeikis/Tim Robinson SNL skit, you'll probably dig it:

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Movies: 2021 Oscar Nominees Triple Feature

I've been watching the Academy Awards since high school drama class, and some years have better "Best Picture" nominees than others (in 1994, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption were all nominated, and I'd argue all three movies have become classics). 

With all respect to the filmmakers, this year's slate isn't terribly impressive, perhaps because of the pandemic. I saw most of the nominees anyway, though, and here are my takes on three of the frontrunners:


Steven Yeun's career really took off after he left The Walking Dead10 years ago, he was slumming it with yours truly at a fan convention, now he's the first Asian-American to be nominated for "Best Actor" in Minari:

The film follows a family of Korean-Americans starting a farm in rural Arkansas. Yeun plays the patriarch Jacob, a headstrong man whose sometimes-unreasonable optimism about growing Korean produce reminds one of Jean de Florette. It's an okay movie with good acting, but there isn't much plot or tension.

Rating: 7/10


I like Frances McDormand's performances as much as the next guy, but even a two-time Oscar winner can't hold up Chloé Zhao's weightless drama, Nomadland:

The movie is a year in the life of a van-dwelling widow (McDormand) after the Great Recession and the death of her husband and her town. Zhao depicts some heartbreakingly gorgeous vistas of the Southwest and gets surprisingly good turns from famous van-dwellers playing themselves (Bob Wells actually has the most emotional scene in the movie). But there's no story here, and almost no conflict, so the 108 minute runtime feels like a slog.

Rating: 6/10

Promising Young Woman

At this point, the revenge thriller is an old genre (I Spit on Your Grave came out over 40 years ago), so it's disappointing that writer/director Emerald Fennel's Promising Young Woman misses the point of these films:

Yes, it's a revenge movie in the #MeToo era, and it's about as contrived and tedious as you might expect, with evil caricatures in place of characters. Now, to be clear, date rape is a despicable crime, rape victims shouldn't be "blamed" for being otherwise sexually active, and institutions have sometimes been complicit in aiding the perpetrators. But there's a difference between a movie and a message, and Carey Mulligan's protagonist is way too sterile and blameless in a genre that demands the audience not sympathize with the lead character too much. After all, is there a "good guy" in Death Wish?

Rating: 5/10