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Media Review – February 2019

Posted in Blog, Media Review

So it’s the literal last moment for me to be posting this, but in my defense I actually started this one at the start of the month, but then things came up. Anyways, it’s time to recap the spicy (and not so spicy) things I’ve read and looked at and etc.

Books: Beheld, And Then There Were None, A Series of Unfortunate Events (The Bad Beginning)

Radio Dramas:¬†Richard Diamond, Private Investigator; Rogue’s Gallery

Games: Pulsen; Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!

So here we go.

Books

Beheld by Alex Flinn (2017)

I first read Alex Flinn’s Beastly…a long time ago. I don’t remember exactly how many years ago it was. But for those who don’t know, that’s a modern adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, in which a rich spoiled high school age kid is a huge dick to people and gets turned into a beast by a witch (as you do) and then gets sent to live in his own private mansion or something because his dad doesn’t want everyone to know that his dickhole son has gotten turned into a big hairy thing with claws. Anyways, it was a good book, and Alex Flinn’s future books were also modernizations and/or retellings of well-known fairy tales.

Beheld is divided into four sections in four periods of time–starting back in the late 1600s and going up through to the modern day, and the string connecting the four stories together is, as usual, the recurring character Kendra, who’s a witch. In this particular book it also involves another witch, who is a handsome man named James and is Kendra’s one and only love, I guess. Also typical for Alex Flinn’s books, the stories are told in first person. I don’t have any problem with first person in general and I don’t have any problem with it in this book. Since there’s like five different point of view characters throughout the book, the voice changes pretty significantly from story to story (as you’d expect). It’s not as sexy or atmospheric as Raymond Chandler writing Philip Marlowe but it’s also not fair to expect everyone writing first person to, well, be Raymond Chandler writing Philip Marlowe. I’m certainly not Chandler and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to get around to is that I liked the book. It’s fun and easy to follow. It’s about fairy tales, so the happy endings are pretty much a given, as are the love stories. I still don’t really buy love at first sight, or being really into someone because they’re just that hot, but I’m fine with it as a plot device, which is good because fairy tales and the stories inspired by them are built on that kind of stuff.

Beheld is a straightforward read. It’s not a book for convoluted plot twists or other fancy narrative bullshit–it’s just a series of stories, and the stories are solid. If you like fairy tales or want something that’s light and fun, Beheld is good, and so are Alex Flinn’s other fairy tale books.

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (1939)

I figured that while I was in the neighborhood of reading mysteries and other assorted stories, I might as well read some Agatha Christie, too. So I picked up an ebook copy of And Then There Were None from my library and read it. The version I read is, therefore, the more modern version, the one that uses “Soldier Island” and “Ten Little Soldiers” instead of the markedly less racially insensitive prior versions. I didn’t know what happened in And Then There Were None prior to reading it, because my pop-culture knowledge of things such as books isn’t super wide in scope, but the ebook I got helpfully started with a note from the author about how it was so difficult to write a book where all ten main characters die. So, you know. Spoilers.

I kind of had a hard time reading the story at the start because I have enough difficulty remembering the five or so named characters in any given Philip Marlowe book, and Christie thinks I can remember ten characters who are all introduced at the same time and remember their pertinent backgrounds? Thank goodness they start dying off early on. And to be completely honest, the beginning of the story is a bit slow because it’s about all of these characters and their backgrounds on their way to Soldier Island, but then the first person dies and the story starts getting interesting.

For those (like I was) who are unaware of the premise of And Then There Were None, it’s ten dudes who all get sent to a mansion on an isolated and otherwise deserted island. Everyone starts dying one by one and it becomes clear that the only person who could be the killer is one of the ten guests. It’s basically a slasher film, but a book, and set in the late 1930s. You can have fun trying to figure out which one of the ten guests is the real killer or just read along for the ride as all of the surviving characters get more paranoid and generally afraid for their lives.

Would I recommend it? I mean, I suppose I’d recommend it for the same reason I’d recommend something like Citizen Kane. It’s culturally significant, but it’s not something I enjoyed so much I’d necessarily want to read it a second time (although it would probably make much more sense reading it a second time, since I actually know who the characters are now).

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket (1999)

I actually had no idea that A Series of Unfortunate Events started in 1999. I was more under the impression that it started when I was sometime in elementary school, but I suppose some of the middle books would have been published then.

Anyways, I never read A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was younger, so I thought that, with my library access and all, I ought to take a look at them and see what they were about. Well, it turns out to be a bunch of orphans having to deal with the worst foster care in history. I guess I could have guessed from the title, and the fact that their parents die in the first chapter.

What can I really say about A Series of Unfortunate Events? I guess I should mention the same thing everyone mentions: the style. The thing is that A Series of Unfortunate Events is a pretty straightforward book, and written in a more conventional style would probably be pretty flat, whereas the narration and commentary adds a) pacing, b) humor, and c) an extremely distinct voice and point of view. That last point is really important, because the story of A Series of Unfortunate Events isn’t really just about any one character–it’s about all three of the Baudelaires, and it wouldn’t be right to frame any one of them as the main character.

And, of course, the events are unfortunate and occur serially. There’s a notable lack of useful adult figures as well as a notable presence of cartoonish levels of cruelty towards children and general evilness, and that’s how the book works. It’s divorced from reality enough through the exaggeration and narration to not be absolutely abhorrent, but still grounded enough to still address these events that really suck. It’s the kind of stuff that falls on a line analogous to the creepy line trod by books like Coraline, except instead of creepiness it’s unfairness and cruelty, and it’s because of that that kids probably really like the series.

It’s a very short read–which I suppose a lot of kids books are–and I generally found it enjoyable.

Radio Dramas

Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1949-1953)

So if you recall from last month, I watched Murder, My Sweet and I enjoyed it a lot. Well, I decided at some point to look into some of Dick Powell’s other stuff and obviously I read about how he used to do singing, and I wanted to see how his singing was so I looked him up on YouTube. Anyways, the point I’m circuitously getting around to here is that while doing that, I ran into his radio show, Richard Diamond, Private Detective and gave it a listen. And you know what? I really liked it, so I went in and listened to a lot more of it.

This was effectively my introduction to radio dramas, and it’s really wild because they’re really fun to listen to! Except that I’m incapable of actually listening to a radio drama while doing anything that involves reading/writing skills, so I ended up playing a lot of Into the Breach while listening.

Anyways: Richard Diamond. Richard Diamond is the titular private detective in the series, working for the incredibly high rate of $100 a day plus expenses (Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe worked for $25 at a comparable time), and inevitably running into an absurd number of corpses with alarming regularity. Most of the cases involve the help of the 5th Precinct Homicide Squad and Richard Diamond’s best friend, Lt. Walter Levinson, and at the end when everything’s all tied up, if there’s time, Diamond goes and sings to his very rich girlfriend.

It’s not exactly what I’d call noir or hardboiled–it’s generally lighthearted and Diamond’s consistently incredibly glib, even when he gets his shit kicked in (which is often). He’s constantly making jokes about everything going on, up to and including people who have recently been murdered. He gets into a lot of fights and does a lot of shooting–and is a damn crack shot, at that–and frankly has an extremely high body count, especially compared to Philip Marlowe, who’s killed exactly one person in six books and was indisputably in self-defense.

There’s a lot of humor in the series, and a lot of heart, too. The relationships between the recurring characters really adds to the charm, like Diamond’s friendship with Lt. Levinson or him with his girlfriend Helen Asher. They make jokes at Diamond’s expense and also at Dick Powell’s expense by means of breaking the fourth wall, like that one episode where Diamond has to protect a seal, or that one time a neighbor gets really mad at him singing all the time and hires another private detective to make him lose his voice. Frankly, Richard Diamond is an infuriating character that, if he were real, would be absolutely insufferable. But he’s not an out-and-out asshole or actively malicious person, he just talks a lot of shit, and that’s why he’s fun to listen about.

Richard Diamond is played by Dick Powell, whose delivery is frankly phenomenal, and not just because I think it’s cute how he says words like “tomatah” or “worsh”. He’s got a lot of tonality to his voice and he’s very good at sounding like he just got the shit kicked out of him, which happens very frequently. He’s also got a good singing voice, which is cute. His reading isn’t perfect and he makes mistakes from time to time because this took place in the time where recording was analog and post-production editing was barely a thing, and honestly I’m really impressed by how well he does read, considering how many mistakes I make when I read any given piece of text (and I’m pretty good at reading!).

All in all, it’s fun, it’s a little silly, and it’s a good listen, even if you need to skip past Rexall and Camel advertisements. I’d absolutely recommend listening to a few episodes sometime, which you can find (and download) from Old Time Radio archives.

Rogue’s Gallery (1945-1947)

This is also a Dick Powell radio show, in which Dick Powell plays a private investigator named Richard, because apparently Dick Powell was incapable of not playing private dicks named Dick. This was Dick Powell’s first show, in which he played Richard Rogue, private investigator.

I think, generally speaking, Rogue’s Gallery was a lot more unrefined of a series compared to Richard Diamond, Private Detective. It’s generally missing the recurring characters and running jokes and its main gimmick was that approximately once an episode Rogue would get knocked out either by drugs or a good old whack to the head, and then he’d get taunted by a guy in his head called¬†Eugor, voiced by Peter Leeds, and wake up again feeling like shit and continue solving the mystery.

There’s a lot fewer episodes of this one available compared to Richard Diamond, Private Detective, and you can definitely see where the formula was a lot less refined, but it’s got a lot of a similar spirit.

Neither Richard Diamond, Private Detective or Rogue’s Gallery are really mysteries in the traditional sense. They have murder mysteries involved in them, but they’re often written in ways where information available to the characters is concealed from the listener. This is done for dramatic effect, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just a different type of story, if you catch my drift.

Anyways, I think it’s worth listening to a few episodes, even if I tend to enjoy the Richard Diamond episodes more. These can also be found (and downloaded) from the Old Time Radio archives.

Games

Pulsen (2015)

This is pretty straightforward. It’s a Stepmania clone. I recently got my first dance pad (foam, so it’s pretty sizeable and bulky) so I used it to play Pulsen!

There’s not a lot to describe about Pulsen, because everyone already knows how it works–arrows go up the screen and you try to press the button when it hits the top. There’s electronic dance music and the beatmaps range from pretty easy to frankly absurd, as all rhythm games seem to go.

I…kind of suck at Pulsen and all Stepmania-style games. I played on an Into the Groove arcade machine like a year ago, but that’s mostly the limit of my experience. My experience so far with Pulsen has been doing extremely poorly because I’m still having difficulty with the timing of when to move my feet, and then getting some of the arrows mixed up, and starting out pretty badly because bare feet stick to the mat–though that was fixed by wearing slippers.

Anyways, I don’t know if Pulsen is in any way actually better than Stepmania. Probably not. It’s not free, and I don’t know if you can mod in songs. But it seems to be put together pretty well, so at least there’s that. Hopefully I’ll get better at it with time.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! (2017)

The original Cook, Serve, Delicious! game was a really fun game. I can’t say I was super good at it, because I never actually got around to beating it, but I had a lot of fun with it. And now, there’s the second one! More recipes! Holding stations! Jobs! Versus mode! Sides! Shop customization!

For the uninitiated, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a simulation game where you run a restaurant. Except unlike games like Diner Dash, the simulation part is actually doing the cooking and serving (and hopefully the delicious-ing, too). So you’ll get orders and have to cook each order via gameplay which is kind of typing game-esque, or have to do chores to wash dishes or take out the trash or set vermin traps. You can change your menu every day, and you can buy things to upgrade your restaurant to make your life slightly easier with chores, and when you do well enough, your restaurant gets ranked up and traffic increases, increasing the difficulty via the density of orders you have to deal with.

The second game is basically the same in principle, except there’s so much more content in the second game that I’m honestly having a lot of difficulty playing it, because I like playing with controller and I keep pressing the wrong buttons, and because there’s a lot more button presses to actually make food now, because they’re separated by different screens and you have to hold RT or LT, etc…

I’m still having fun, the game’s just a lot less streamlined than it used to be. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it just ramps up the difficulty curve. There’s a lot more recipes, like so many more recipes, and I think the inclusion of a holding station where you prepare stuff beforehand is also really cool, even if I keep accidentally throwing all my pretzels away because I keep pressing Y when I’m supposed to press X. There’s also the aforementioned jobs which I mentioned earlier, which is where you do work at some other people’s restaurants which are thinly veiled knock-offs of real restaurants, and I like that, too, because it lets you try out recipes you can’t afford yet and have a slightly more structured tasks system.

It’s still got a lot of the charm of the original, with the silly emails and music and cheery art style. I think it’s definitely easier to get into the original Cook, Serve, Delicious! but there’s definitely a place for Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! that is slightly to the left of the original, instead of just delivering more of the same. I think if you want to get into the games, definitely go for the first one first, because it’s simpler and goes for dirt cheap on sales, but if you really want more content and a wider breadth of cooking/restaurant management simulation, you can go for Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!

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