My Cultural Diet for February 2023: Godzilla, Shaolin Soccer, Groundhog Day, The Sandman, Raymond Chandler

A quick rundown of last month’s cultural experiences.
Godzilla - Ishirō Honda
The Big G arrives on the scene in the original Godzilla by Ishirō Honda

In order to better track my various cultural experiences (e.g., movies, TV shows, books, restaurants), I’ve created the Cultural Diet. Think of it as my own personal Goodreads, Letterboxd, and Yelp, all rolled into one (more info here). Every month, I recap everything that I watched, read, etc., in the previous month.

  • Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

    I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually enjoy 2005’s Constantine, which stars Keanu Reeves as the occultist John Constantine. However, that’s probably because I hadn’t yet read Dangerous Habits, on which the movie is loosely based. Very loosely based. Indeed, our protagonist’s lung cancer aside, they’re basically different stories entirely. And as much as I like Keanu, Dangerous Habits has the better story. There’s something so quintessentially Constantine-esque about seeing him try to con the Lords of Hell only to then wallow in a pit of misery, regret, and self-hatred. By comparison, Constantine’s story about the Devil’s son and the Lance of Longinus is just silly. (I am, of course, still planning to see Constantine 2.)

  • The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

    My wife and I have both been on a bit of noir kick lately, and I picked this up after reading her review. I did enjoy the hard-boiled dialog, which is often funny and frequently ventures on cliché — until you remember that this is probably the original source for this sort of thing, that is. As for the actual storyline, I confess that I got lost amidst all of the twists and turns. I’m sure it all holds together, but by the end, I didn’t really care. Which is frustrating because I do like Chandler’s language, which was — as I said — humorously hard-boiled. But it could also be surprisingly beautiful and even poignant at times, whether capturing Philip Marlowe’s lonely life or the mundane details of Little Fawn Lake.

  • This was our go-to Indian restaurant for quite awhile, but it had been a few years since our last visit. Unfortunately, we weren’t terribly impressed this time around. I’m no masochist but I do like my chicken tikka korma to have some heat. My dish, however, had almost no flavor. I also found it odd that they were out of tandoori chicken. How can you be out of tandoori chicken when your restaurant’s name is literally The Tandoor?

  • I don’t make it here very often, which is a shame because they make terrific banh mi sandwiches. The bread is perfectly toasted, the meat is well-seasoned, and the toppings (e.g., cucumbers, carrots, peppers) are both colorful and flavorful. I’m not a big fan of bubble tea but my family assures me that the cafe’s bubble tea is delicious.

  • I’ve been intrigued by this little diner for years, having driven past it many times. So we finally checked it out this morning. I think we were hoping to find a hidden little gem in Lincoln, but it was just OK. There was nothing terrible about the food, but neither was there anything remarkable about it, either.

  • The Sandman, Season One

    I didn’t really dislike anything about Netflix’s adaptation of the beloved comic series, though I do wish that Tom Sturridge looked a bit more Robert Smith-esque (but that’s just my inner high school goth talking). It’s obvious that the show was a passion project — Neil Gaiman’s writing tends to have that effect. But my somewhat muted reaction may be due to the fact that I was reading the volumes being adapted (Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House) at the same time, and no adaptation can truly capture the richness of Gaiman’s storytelling. (See also Stardust). I was glad to see, however, that Netflix toned down some of the comics’ nastiness (e.g., the diner episode, hard as it may be to believe, is much worse in the comics). All that said, I’m looking forward to season two because (A) the good stuff in Netflix’s Sandman is very good and (B) I’m excited to see Morpheus and Lucifer’s inevitable confrontation.

  • The Visitor

    I’m pretty sure The Visitor has been lodged in my subconscious ever since I glimpsed its VHS cover on the video store racks back in grade school. This bizarre Italian film about an alien warrior tracking down a psychic-powered eight-year-old girl who might be the spawn of Satan isn’t exactly coherent. Still, I was never not fascinated by its weird juxtaposition of the ominous and mundane through a trippy score, some also-trippy visual effects, and an uncanny ability to create an otherworldly atmosphere in spite of the melodramatic acting and ham-fisted dialog. Part of me would love to see a modern remake — the film certainly has plenty of intriguing elements (e.g., otherworldly warriors, psychic children, Satanic secret societies) — but you’d lose something without the genuine ’70s aesthetic, most notably the architecture of Atlanta’s now-demolished Omni Coliseum.

  • The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud

    I wanted to like this one, I really did. On the surface, it seems like a really goofy, nostalgic ode to classic video games. Plus, it stars action superstar Scott Adkins as the titular Max Cloud, an ultra-vain interstellar hero. So you’d think this one would be right up my alley. And sure, I chuckled once or twice and enjoyed some of the retro imagery. But Max Cloud is so ineptly made with nostalgic references so on-the-nose — e.g., Karate Kid posters, light-up phones — that any possible charm gets drowned out. Which is a shame because there’s a cool concept in there somewhere, waiting for a better film to realize it. To be fair, though, I didn’t actively hate this like I did Max Reload and the Nether Blasters.

  • A decent little pizza place and beer garden in Nebraska City. I didn’t try any of the beers, though they had a wide selection from what I saw. As for the pizza, it was OK. Not terrible, but nothing all that special. For my money, I’m glad that Lincoln has Yia Yia’s.

  • Groundhog Day

    We decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by introducing the kids to this classic. Of course, the danger of watching any classic is that it might not withstand the test of a time. There were certainly some parts that haven’t aged well, namely Phil Connors’ various attempts to seduce women. But overall, Groundhog Day has aged pretty well. The jokes and comedy still land — “Bing!” as Ned Ryerson would say — and it has a charm that feels both timeless and very much of the ’90s. (My wife and I, for instance, got a real nostalgic kick out of the clothing and decor.)

  • Lockwood & Co., Season One

    I probably would’ve have dismissed this as a generic CW-ish YA title were it not for the involvement of writer/director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). While Lockwood & Co. certainly fulfills YA tropes, starting with its angsty young protagonists, it’s more substantial than it looks thanks to some intriguing world building and moments of grim cynicism reminiscent of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (a good thing). Other pluses include solid performances from its three leads — Ruby Stokes, in particular, delivers an affecting performance while Ali Hadji-Heshmati channels some Richard Ayoade vibes (another good thing) — and some great soundtrack selections (e.g., The Cure, This Mortal Coil). I didn’t know I needed to see a ghost hunter swordfight set to the strains of “A Forest,” but turns out I did. Given Netflix’s proclivity for cancellations, though, I fear we may not get another season. Which is a shame, because this was a fun watch with plenty of potential.

  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

    I don’t envy Ryan Coogler et al. the task of producing a new Black Panther movie following Chadwick Boseman’s death. To their credit, Wakanda Forever contains some legitimately beautiful and moving moments. However, the actual superhero part — which sees Wakanda facing off against the undersea kingdom of Talokan and their leader, Namor — feels muddled, overproduced, and over-long, almost like it’s from a different movie entirely. Similar to the original Black Panther’s Killmonger, Namor’s “villainy” is driven by a righteous anger at his people’s oppression, but perhaps it’s a little too similar. It’ll be interesting to see if/how Namor and the rest of Wakanda Forever fit into the MCU’s impending fifth and sixth phases.

  • Knockabout

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Knockabout was initially overlooked given that it was released in the wake of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. But Knockabout stars two of Chan’s Peking Opera peers — Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao — who are no slouches themselves. The film is total silliness, with Biao and Leung Kar-yan hamming it up as a couple of ne’er-do-wells who fall in with a sketchy master. The hijinks get a little old, but Knockabout’s worth watching if only to see Biao’s impressive acrobatics and athleticism, whether he’s doing “monkey” style or battling foes with his jump rope skills.

  • Wing Chun

    Yuen Woo-ping’s Iron Monkey is one of my favorite kung fu films of all time, and in some ways, Wing Chun feels like its spiritual successor. It’s a good deal sillier, though, what with the gender-bending, mistaken identities, and sophomoric sexual comedy. That, and the fight choreography is more frenetic and wire-filled. The film’s sexual politics might be a bit uncouth by today’s standards, but Michelle Yeoh is an absolute queen even when she’s mistaken for a man by her childhood sweetheart (Donnie Yen, in a welcome comedic turn). And I do enjoy watching Norman Chu eat up the scenery like nobody’s business as the big bad.

  • Shaolin Soccer

    This riveting documentary tells the inspiring story of a former monk who seeks to bring Shaolin kung fu into the modern era. To do so, he teams up with a disgraced soccer superstar and reunites with his former Shaolin brothers to blend kung fu and soccer. But will their skills be enough to defeat the Evil Team and the corrupt soccer officials? It’s probably been 15 years since my last viewing of Shaolin Soccer, but its story of underdogs, martial arts, mystical Shaolin powers, and soccer remains as entertaining and inspirational as ever.

  • Godzilla

    Although I’ve seen plenty of clips over the years, I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until 2023 that I finally watched the original Godzilla in its entirety. What struck me was how serious, melancholy, and even tragic the film is, with none of the (beloved) camp that has characterized the franchise. Yes, Godzilla is destroying Tokyo and terrifying the world, but only because of mankind’s actions. There are no villains in the film (except for maybe political bureaucracy, natch). Those who want to destroy Godzilla and those who want to study him both make compelling points, and as a result, the film’s inevitable ending is tinged with regret. The Godzilla franchise really did begin on a very strong note.

Enjoy reading Opus? Want to support my writing? Become a subscriber for just $5/month or $50/year.
Subscribe Today
Return to the Opus homepage