Steven Aoki's Blog

I still don't trust raccoons

A raccoon inexplicably followed me at my apartment complex one night. It was unnerving.

I finally subscribed to a couple of streamers on Twitch (mostly because one of them made their VODs only available to subscribers). But I just lurk in their chats from time to time--I'm too shy to type a comment even though I have questions I want to ask.

Cool cinematic scene in NoPixel where CG gunned down the entire City Council, claiming the life of City Treasurer and ADMC's High Command TJ Walker. Ordinarily I wouldn't care that the ADMC did nothing against both CG and The Saints (who attacked ADMC turf), but given how openly ADMC command members puffed their chest in the past about how strong their gang is--like their Road Captain Shang who phoned a death threat to the Raiders MC Enforcer over such a minor slight to her ADMC co-worker--I'm just going to see that as bravado now. Though admittedly, I'm still waiting for the day that his girlfriend Allie ignores one too many of his red flags and I end up writing a wiki chapter about her just like I did for Rosabel.

Watched movie: "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" (2024) in IMAX
After seeing this fourth installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise, I concluded that the apes and humans should just give up on pacifism--because there's always going to be bad guys taking advantage of it. I found this particular movie interesting in that I wasn't sure whether this latest iteration of "Nova" could be fully trusted. P.S. All the eagle stuff struck me as corny. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" (2024) in RPX
High-octane prequel to "Mad Max: Fury Road" from George Miller. As per usual, I enjoyed the vehicular action the most--particularly the impressive War Rig chase sequence (that I read took 78 days to shoot) where the War Boys willingly gave up their lives like samurai. The final legs of the movie felt rushed and anticlimactic to me, making me wonder whether the film ran out of budget or something. Side note: Why even bother with the cameos of Mad Max and that metal guitarist if they only appear onscreen for such a disappointingly short time?? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Strangers: Chapter 1" (2024)
The only horror movie franchise I can think of where the home invasion victims can have a shotgun, a working cell phone, and plenty of places to run and hide--yet still manage to throw. I'm not looking forward to the next two chapters. Stay during the credits. Rating: 3
Completion bias

Welp, NBC cancelled the "Quantum Leap" revival after two seasons. Disappointing as I was looking forward to the variety of storylines the writers could innovate for two-person leaps. The original series had a couple of episodes with two leapers that that I really liked.

Remind me to never live in L.A. I drove about 15 minutes to the Netflix theater there, and waited in traffic for about an hour and 40 minutes just to get back to my hotel. All to screen a movie that I wasn't really thrilled about: the second installment of Rebel Moon. I forgot to mention a personal cinephile rule that's hard for me to explain, where I feel a compulsion to watch every film in a franchise once I've gotten the momentum. That's why I screened the Omen prequel even though I didn't expect to like it (it actually turned out better than I expected), why I'm going to watch the recently announced Blair Witch revival (even though I tend to hate Blumhouse horror flicks), and why I'm going to subject myself to a third Rebel Moon installment if they ever make one.

I have other habits when I attend movie screenings. I hate it when the ticket taker rips off too much of my ticket stub, so I always try to print my ticket from a kiosk so I can crease and partially tear the perforated line beforehand. I also mentally note the kiosks that print the best-looking tickets. Then I wear earplugs inside of the auditorium to help drown out the loud noise and talking patrons, a practice dating back to that miserable experience I had when the "Insidious" title card hurt my ears.

Cool first laundromat heist from the Raiders MC on NoPixel where the robber with the loot ran into a crowd of five other identically-disguised accomplices--then shuffled themselves around in a kind of shell game (I always liked it when The Stable teased and built up to big event heists like this rather than just spamming them). I've also enjoyed their antagonistic rivalry with the Mayor of the city, and would consider it a cool storyline if he built enough nerve to push legislation that outlaws MCs. I feel like the Raiders MC have a lot of storyline possibilities if grinding is burning them out, e.g., colluding with the Mayor's many enemies, political lobbying, building up to special event heists or gun trafficking, business RP against the lumber company, exploring tensions with their clown neighbors.

Speaking of the clowns, they went from chaos characters to creating quite possibly the best RP storyline in NoPixel 4.0 thus far--all from finding the discarded ID of a well-connected person named Ray Mond. Her acceptance into the "New Clown Order" led to all these new Shakespearean storylines like a love triangle, enemies dueling each other in "Clown Risk", and an exiled clown betraying his own friends to exact revenge on her--culminating in an epic knife fight between them.

Watched movie: "Late Night with the Devil" (2024)
An overrated found footage horror film, IMHO, about a 1970s talk show episode disrupted by a demonically possessed guest. I tend to turn on movies when the narrative becomes unreliable, i.e., I can't trust anymore what's real or not. The less authentic the found footage feels, e.g., too much CGI or rubber reality, the less I like it. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Imaginary" (2024)
I'm getting sick enough of these PG-13 Blumhouse horror movies where I might stop watching them. This one tried in vain to make a teddy bear scary, and felt so tame to me that I'm thinking the filmmakers could have gotten away with a PG rating instead. I didn't even bother trying to comprehend the illogical plot. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" (2024) in 4DX & 3D
An extremely contrived albeit decently fun MonsterVerse installment (I found that lanky Skar King and the kid ape particularly entertaining). IMHO, the writers wasted too much time trying to make a hopelessly illogical plot make sense. Also--I don't wanna say that Kong got soft, but seeing scenes such as Kong seeking dental care and saving an enemy ape's life made me feel like I was watching a human being rather than a fearsome ape. Heh, his fight with Godzilla reminded me of that "They Live" fight scene where Roddy Piper tried to put the glasses on Keith David. 4DX side note: That voyage to Hollow Earth shook my seat rather violently. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Pianist" (2002)
I finally got to screen this Palme d'Or winner in a theater. Although I wasn't prepared for this biopic about a Holocaust survivor to be so graphically violent, I'd much rather a historical movie be brutally honest than sugarcoated. It makes more sense to me now why both director Roman Polanski and lead actor Adrien Brody pulled upsets over the other Oscar nominees (and even less sense to me now why this film lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Chicago"). My one criticism about the movie: that it gave the least praiseworthy of all of the pianist's allies (in my opinion) his own epilogue cards--but didn't reveal the fates of any of those other good people. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Monkey Man" (2024) in Dolby Cinema
Given that Dev Patel directed, co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in his own Indian action movie, it was hard for me not to stigmatize it as a vanity project--especially when he lionized himself to look strong, righteous, and attractive to the ladies. It also bugged me that the bad guys didn't just shoot him, and that even the religious figures championed violence and cruelty. I did like some interesting moments here and there, e.g., Dev leaping into the window, always picking the smaller weapon, and punching the villain's punch. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The First Omen" (2024) in Dolby Cinema
Disconcerting prequel about how Damien was born and ended up under the care of Gregory Peck (and how that one priest knew so much)--a story which personally I didn't find very interesting. I was more interested in why this movie ended in a cliffhanger given that the original film already has three sequels. If this movie was trying to say that the jackal remains in Damien's mother's grave were actually from his father (?), then do the filmmakers have future movie plans for his mother and twin sister? All in all, I liked the whole look of this film and its cast--but disliked the harebrained character deaths and the villains' lack of logic. Side note: I easily guessed the first twist, but not the second one. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Civil War" (2024) in IMAX
I found this Alex Garland film kinda shallow, and was disappointed by the lack of rhetoric in it (it even glossed over why both California and Texas would want to secede from the U.S.!). However, I liked the "Nightcrawler" approach to it where the main photojournalists--obsessed with snapping good pictures--seemed completely dissociated from the atrocities they were witnessing. That was probably the scariest part for me: the reflection of how desensitized I myself have become to current events. I also identified with the journalist who gave up on the politispeak, saying the words might as well be random. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver" (2024)
Same rating as Part One because it was like watching the same movie over again. Though this time it almost felt like Zack Snyder was satirizing himself, e.g., having shots of characters vigorously harvesting grain in operatic slow motion. Also, it's probably easy to guess which parts of the film I found lame. Rating: 5
As written

Congratulations to Christopher Nolan on winning the Academy Award for Best Director for "Oppenheimer"--IMHO the greatest director of my generation. All of my Oscar predictions were right except for Best Actress, and I couldn't help but to scapegoat Scorsese for not giving Lily Gladstone more screen time in "Killers of the Flower Moon".

In honor of Christopher Nolan's Oscar win, I ranked all of his films again from my favorite to my least favorite:

  1. "Inception" (2010) (My rating: 10)
  2. "Memento" (2001) (My rating: 9)
  3. "Oppenheimer" (2023) (My rating: 9)
  4. "Insomnia" (2002) (My rating: 9)
  5. "Tenet" (2020) (My rating: 8)
  6. "Interstellar" (2014) (My rating: 8)
  7. "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) (My rating: 8)
  8. "Batman Begins" (2005) (My rating: 8)
  9. "The Prestige" (2006) (My rating: 8)
  10. "Dunkirk" (2017) (My rating: 7)
  11. "Following" (1998) (My rating: 7)
  12. "The Dark Knight" (2008) (My rating: 6)

I read rumors that for Nolan's next film, he might adapt that British TV series "The Prisoner". I'm curious how Nolan interprets that show, and how surrealist such a movie would be.

On NoPixel, I just can't wrap my head around the thought process of a prospect who recently got removed from the Raiders MC. First his crush on a club member got out and embarrassed her, which I feel like could happen to anybody. Then he immediately slept with a hangaround, which still didn't faze me because he came clean about it and it only broke a soft rule that half the club had already broken. But once the club passed a definitive rule against it--after the President had explicitly censured him for it and for keeping secrets from High Command--imagine my shock to see him sleeping with the hangaround's alt character and again keeping it secret from High Command. I don't know if he was trying to be cute since the alt character wasn't in the club, but why even push his luck when he was already on such thin ice. And he got removed from the club offstream, so I don't know what else happened that I didn't see.

Anyway, I personally think banning relationships in a gang is a good idea--especially when a member gets together with their gang leader, and the perception of "special treatment" comes into play whether true or not. I don't know how their last remaining hangaround Aubrey is going to fare in the current Raiders MC recruitment process though, where all of their club rules--and everyone's personal dealbreakers--are kept secret from her.

Watched movie: "Dune: Part Two" (2024) in IMAX 70mm
Bravo to Denis Villeneuve for figuring out the secret to adapting the "Dune" novel: film big cinematic scenes, splice out the exposition, and just rely on cool shots and screen presence to communicate who the brightest and most perceptive characters are. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Kung Fu Panda 4" (2024) in 3D
Funny DreamWorks Animation movie with a lot of hilarious comedic moments like the Awkwafina fox wiping Po's spittle off her face after his "not a dream" and the Bryan Cranston panda spitting out teeth instead of mahjong tiles. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Shin seiki Evangelion Gekijô-ban: Air/Magokoro wo, kimi ni" (1997) a.k.a. "The End of Evangelion" (2002)
The darkest, most hardcore of the three Neon Genesis Evangelion anime endings--and bar none the best of them all, IMHO. I remember I couldn't stop thinking about this movie the first time I had watched it. This was my first time screening it in a theater and I think my first time watching the official subtitled version (I noticed some interesting translations). I particularly loved how brightly some of the beloved characters burned in their final blazes of glory. Although I still think it gets weaker in the second half and wish they had deleted a couple of scenes, I'd still put this masterpiece up there as one the greatest animated films ever created. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" (2024) in RPX
Forgettable sequel that reunited the main Ghostbusters from the past three films but didn't do much with them. I found the ghosts boring, and wasn't amused by the characters who were being dumb. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4

The wind and rainstorms got so bad in the Bay Area that a gigantic tree fell by my apartment complex, blocking all of the lanes of the road and taking out the power in my apartment. But it's so great not having to drive to work in the rain or worrying about floods around that campus anymore. I can just sleep in. I think I've become too spoiled at this point in my life to ever entertaining working again.

Welp, I added my first entry to my "worst of 2024" list: watching the San Francisco 49ers come up short (again) against the Kansas City Chiefs at Super Bowl LVIII.

I enjoyed the second season of this new "Quantum Leap" revival. They reinvented one of my favorite story arcs from the old series, "Trilogy", where the time traveller keeps leaping forward into their star-crossed lover's lifetime. I also got really depressed by the end of the story arc though, just like when I watched that Time Traveler's Wife movie. It's cool to me that they made Beth Calavicci a recurring character. I'm also hoping that a future season answers what ever became of Alia and Sam Beckett's daughter.

Now that the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Producers Guild Awards have gone out, I can announce my final Oscar predictions for 2023:

In NoPixel, my forecasts came true for the Raiders MC so much quicker than I had anticipated. I knew Mason and Manon weren't ready for the ranks they started with. I knew Maxx was overqualified for her position. I knew Wade would best understand putting the club before personal feelings. Lane actually exceeded my expectations and corrected every problem area I spotted in the club, even the ones that I had identified as potential blind spots (like splurging club money and giving too many second chances). The one anomaly in my predictions was Allie. Although I didn't know her previous character that well, I never expected to share Mason's perception that she was acting like an opp. I'm also dismayed that to this day, the ADMC can't let go of Mason's joke about Irish being weird even after Mason's apology. I see too many NoPixel characters resorting to force because they lack the imagination, charisma, foresight, or humility to resolve conflict any other way. I also can't believe all the unchecked lootboxing I've been seeing from the big Twitch streamers.

I haven't been watching the new Mayor Maximilian Thoroughbred, but I've been reading the legislation being passed--and I feel like his one-child adoption policy is one of the best laws to ever come out of a NoPixel mayoral term. To me, adoption was one of the dumbest viral trends in Los Santos--second only to loan agents getting rich off predatory loans that were inexplicably funded by the government. Looks like the power is getting to his head though.

I've been telling myself to move on to NoPixel 4.0, and to forget all of the things that I can't fix in the NoPixel 3.0 wikis. Most notably, the 3.0 wikis for Nancy's story arcs and companies have an entire year missing from them because they fell into neglect after I agreed to let a spokesperson from that community gatekeep them from me. Even if I still wanted to contribute, I can't now because I don't remember what Nancy did in 2023. I also hate a bullet point in the Angels 3.0 wiki that brags that they see themselves responsible for The Stable disbanding. It's a false claim, but a true statement because I indeed had to listen to three Angels in particular and a toxic honorary member gloat about it ad nauseam. Ironically, the streamer for the honorary member got cancelled and went on to leak two of their private conversations in real-life--now all three streamers are banned from NoPixel, and the Angels appear to be inactive as a result.

Watched movie: "Argylle" (2024) in IMAX
A twisty Matthew Vaughn spy film where in my opinion, the spies kept throwing. I found the plot holes so pronounced, e.g., the spies' carefree actions and the stuff with the cat, that I became convinced that the filmmakers included them on purpose to ensure that audiences didn't take the movie seriously. Admittedly, it resulted in some cinematically interesting scenes. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Madame Web" (2024) in IMAX with Laser
Another second-rate superhero movie in Sony's Spider-Man Universe (SSU). I went in with an open mind because I generally like the premise of a character who can see into the future, but this film struck me as slow, boring, and shallow. As a testament to how shallow the movie was, the title character never had to make any hard choices about which future to pick--even when faced with a hard choice about which future to pick! I also groaned internally when I picked up on the breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the movie, but then got really confused why they didn't lead to any kind of reveal. Did the filmmakers foresee audiences hating on the twist? Rating: 4

I finished tabulating the music video results for 2023.

WWE Raw is going to stream exclusively on Netflix beginning in January 2025. Which isn't nearly incentive enough for me to resubscribe to Netflix unless they exclusively stream the Royal Rumble there. Which incidentally, I'll be watching live this Saturday to see if The Rock appears to set up a WrestleMania main event with Roman Reigns. I also saw a tease that 70-year-old Hulk Hogan might enter the Royal Rumble Match, which naturally I'm skeptic about.

My latest target for resubscribing to Netflix? Before spoiler teasers start coming out for the final season of "Stranger Things". Or if Netflix streams a movie I really want to see that isn't playing in theaters.

Speaking of...I updated my personal cinephile rules:

As a side note, I save my ticket stubs and type them into the metadata of my movie reviews. I don't really know why, given that I almost never go back and look at them.

It's cool that I can now watch the Oscar nominations live without messing up my sleep schedule. I couldn't help but notice that a couple of the "Barbie" women got snubbed. Here's how I rated the 2023 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "Oppenheimer" (My rating: 9)
  2. "anatomy of a fall" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Poor Things" (My rating: 6)
  4. "American Fiction" (My rating: 6)
  5. "The Zone of Interest" (My rating: 6)
  6. "Barbie" (My rating: 6)
  7. "The Holdovers" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Maestro" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Killers of the Flower Moon" (My rating: 6)
  10. "Past Lives" (My rating: 5)

To my pleasant surprise in NoPixel 4.0, Lane managed to identify all of the problem spots and bad habits in the Raiders MC and nipped them in the bud. I forget that her previous character Bunny was in the thick of all that internal conflict that broke up The Stable. For instance, the leadership in The Stable never had the courage to punish the problem people (like the serial muggers) due to their friendships within the group. And by the end of The Stable's run, the members were doing and saying whatever they pleased without any care for how their actions hurt the rest of the group. I did notice an overall recurring pattern in NoPixel 3.0 where gangs got bored spamming heists and became inactive, so I think the Raiders MC will benefit from having an experienced RP storyteller as their leader rather than leaders who rely on crime mechanics to give their group something to do.

I'm also glad Lane decided that relationships with other groups like the Lost MC and former BBMC are important--even if they're inevitably doomed to fail at some point. In hindsight, The Stable's best storylines came from interacting with other groups, i.e., Mick hacking for the BBMC in exchange for borrowing Barry's practice laptop, The Stable Heads ruining the first coke run of Nancy's Cerberus boss Lang, The Stable receiving vital intel from the BBMC about the big meth run after they had dropped out of their partnership on it, The Stable's final climactic meth run with Hardcastle and the Street Crimes Unit closing in on their warehouse, and The Stable rescuing Mick from The Highwayman.

I'm closely watching whether any NoPixel 3.0 history repeats itself for NoPixel 4.0. In particular, the streamers who played Bunny and Nancy appear to be taking their new characters in a whole new direction. I'm already seeing other 4.0 characters fall into the same old habits of the streamers who play them.

Watched movie: "Night Swim" (2024) in Dolby Cinema
Was this PG-13 horror movie about a family's haunted swimming pool doomed to fail? I say yes. Rating: 3
Holiday movie marathon 2024

My holiday movie marathon has evolved over the years. Instead of the ArcLight Hollywood and Laemmle Royal, I now frequent AMC Century City 15 and the Bay Theater.

I've made a mental note to always eat at the New Japan by Sushi Stop restaurant across from my Holiday Inn hotel on Santa Monica Blvd. Best beef teriyaki I've ever tasted.

In other news, I finally celebrated New Year's Eve with people again.

Not much going on in NoPixel 4.0--just people getting used to the new city. I see I correctly predicted the problem spots in the Raiders MC ranks--but given that their leader is role-playing a bipolar disorder, it looks like they have the correct mindset of storytelling rather than W's and L's.

Watched movie: "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" (2023) in 3D
Finally a halfway decent DC movie with solid character arcs like the two estranged brothers working to rebuild trust in each other, an Asian scientist trying to do the right thing, and a supervillain consumed by revenge. I wasn't too impressed with what Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard had to work with though--I kept wondering whether the filmmakers were going to write the latter one out. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire" (2023)
Like "Seven Samurai" but instead of recruiting the warriors to defend a farming village against bandits, they have to defend the farming village against an entire galactic empire. As per usual with Zack Snyder fare, all I liked about it was the slow motion action scenes. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Zone of Interest" (2023) in Laser
Disquieting Oscar frontrunner for Best International Feature Film from the United Kingdom about a Nazi commandant's dream house next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp during The Holocaust. It was directed by Jonathan Glazer, whose previous film made me feel like I was "watching paint peel". This movie had even less plot and was harder for me to sit through, but I gave it credit for framing such a picture-perfect portrait of complicity and/or dissociation. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Color Purple" (2023) in Dolby Cinema
Uplifting musical dampened by my disgust that the scumbags in the movie didn't get their rightful comeuppance (ain't no way the wife beater redeemed himself!). The film peaked at a stellar, long overdue scene where the suffering women finally laid their true feelings bare. Rating: 6
2023 Year in Review
Best of 2023 Worst of 2023
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Retiring with financial stability and being freed from everything I hated doing at work.
  2. Two different doctors on two different days checking and confirming that my blood pressure was fine after some wild readings from the blood pressure machine at work scared me.
  3. Watching Hardcastle win Mayor of Los Santos on NoPixel.
  4. (tie) Watching the NoPixel streamer who plays Kirk appreciate the wiki I wrote for him; and seeing a tweet from the NoPixel streamer who plays Thomas appreciating the wiki I wrote for him.
  5. Receiving a $39.75 refund for the unused balance on my laundry card that my apartment complex laundry rooms no longer accepted.
  1. Feeling so miserable at work that I wound up resigning.
  2. Suffering in my apartment during the heat waves after losing my free air-conditioned office.
  3. (tie) My favorite coffee drive-thru "Coffee Time" in Santa Maria permanently closing; and the Arby's in Santa Maria permanently closing.
  4. Watching the USWNT live when they got eliminated from the World Cup by a penalty kick shootout in the round of 16, after being just one penalty shot away from finishing off Sweden.
  5. Paying $803 for a hospital visit where they checked me out and found nothing wrong.

Dishonorable mention: Moving to a new office with a poor motion sensor that required me to really extend my arm to trigger the light switch back on.

  1. "Oppenheimer"
    "...blew my mind."
  2. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse"
    "God tier animation..."
  3. "Godzilla Minus One"
    "Probably the only kaiju movie I've ever seen where the human drama was actually good."
  4. "missing"
    "An engaging, emotional computer screen film in the same universe as 'searching'..."
  5. "anatomy of a fall"
    "Intriguing albeit long Palme d'Or winner..."
  6. "John Wick: Chapter 4"
    "Wildly cool action sequel with some bonkers stunts."
  7. "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes"
    "A stirring prequel..."
  8. "The Killer"
    "Cool David Fincher film from Netflix..."
  9. "Wish"
    "Decent musical from Walt Disney Animation Studios..."
  10. "Elemental"
    "A vibrant Pixar outing..."

Honorable mention: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"

  1. "Skinamarink"
    "Grainy avant-garde gar-bage..."
  2. "The Outwaters"
    "Gory, waytoodank 'found footage'..."
  3. "Meg 2: The Trench"
    "Why did I watch this movie."
  4. "Evil Dead Rise"
    "Basically just a gorier retread of 'The Evil Dead'..."
  5. "Shazam! Fury of the Gods"
    "Jumbled mess of plot devices, plot holes, Greek mythology, and flat jokes..."
  6. "Expend4bles"
    "Personally, I would have just dumped all of the American action stars and made another Raid movie."
  7. "The Exorcist: Believer"
    "...I would say this first installment of this new trilogy sucked."
  8. "Blue Beetle"
    "Another asinine DC superhero movie with cringeworthy attempts at drama and humor."
  9. "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves"
    "A heist comedy where I didn't care about the heist and didn't laugh at any of the comedy."
  10. "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"
    "Boring Indiana Jones installment wherein I just wanted to fast-forward..."

Dishonorable mention: "Knock at the Cabin"

  1. "Padam Padam" Kylie Minogue
  2. "bad idea right?" Olivia Rodrigo
  3. "Dance The Night" Dua Lipa
  4. "Thank God I Do" Lauren Daigle
  5. "Gimme Love" Sia
  1. "Snooze" SZA
  2. "What It Is (Block Boy)" Doechii f/ Kodak Black
  3. "This Is" Ella Mai
  4. "Kill Bill" SZA
  5. "Bongos" Cardi B f/ Megan Thee Stallion
Commercial Temptations commercial where the Fashion Cat is getting too cool for its owner. T-Mobile Home Internet commercial where John Travolta butchers "Summer Nights" from "Grease".
Movie trailer (tie) "Killers of the Flower Moon" and "Lisa Frankenstein" and "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" "Dicks: The Musical"
Watched movie: "Leave the World Behind" (2023)
Intriguing doomsday Netflix film by Sam Esmail of "Mr. Robot" fame. I noticed familiar elements of cyberterrorism, paranoia, bizarre sights and sounds, and vexing conversations. I did not envy the Mahershala Ali character getting stuck in a house with all of those annoying people, and didn't like that the Julia Roberts character used her cynicism as an excuse to be rude. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "American Fiction" (2023)
Resonant Oscar contender wherein a black professor (Jeffrey Wright) purposely writes a "soulless" book that he considers completely beneath him--and actually gets indignant when it becomes a bestseller and makes him millions of dollars. Dude, I wrote "soulless" tech documentation for 24 years for the financial security to write anything I desire now--so my advice to this guy would've been to get over himself. I completely agreed with his agent's analogy that writers don't always have to make niche top-shelf alcohol--they can make cheap popular booze for the guaranteed income. I kinda wish the whole movie just focused on keen intellectual discourse like this--rather than all of the other side storylines that had nothing to do with the main plot about overused African American tropes and narratives. Rating: 6
The end of NoPixel 3.0

Sometimes I look up words that I see or hear on the Internet, such as "glazing" (for when someone is sucking up to someone) or "virtue signalling" (for when someone publicly states a moral opinion to make themselves look like a good person). Recently I researched what "pick-me" means, and read that it's a girl who is willing to do anything for male approval (or other external validation). Given its derogatory nature, I can't foresee myself ever using the word.

But let's just say I looked it up during a recent NoPixel storyline where Bunny snubbed all of her closest friends--and almost died of a "broken heart"--because she tried to get a womanizer named Edgar to literally pick her. Which admittedly, resulted in what I considered the best finale storyline in all of NoPixel 3.0 (even though two of the main streamers involved didn't stream it for some reason)--and gave both her husband Hardcastle and best friend Nancy some of their best RP in a long time (I actually found it fitting that the Nancy character ended NoPixel 3.0 losing Bunny as a friend). However, I'm hoping to never have to watch this type of cringe marriage arc again where one spouse wants polyamory while the other wants monogamy--especially when one of the streamers kept giggling at RP that wasn't a laughing matter. I'm excited for this new Raiders MC storyline in NoPixel 4.0 where Itsjustasummerjob plays a gang leader instead of a pacifist civilian, and Kate gets to play with friends again without worrying about the optics on Nancy.

In other NoPixel news: after Mayor Maximillian Angel spent his whole term atop a high horse about how Mayors should minimize government spending (for an economy already inflated and about to be reset), how unethical the hospital was for having G-Wagons and big bonuses, how music artists were making too much in royalties, and how he should respect DoJ Chief Justice Crane's authority, the Department of Justice ended up impeaching Max anyway (for helping to cultivate marijuana for an art project). I'm glad that that the Twitch streamer who plays Max was such a good sport about it. I've never seen a Mayor of Los Santos so opposed to playing the political game.

I'm curious how long the Angels can survive without their leader Claire, whom I saw as the glue that kept that gang alive. On the plus side, it'll probably help the individual members to become less cliquey. I feel like it's no coincidence that the approachable streamers from the former Stable have prio while the three biggest detractors of the group ended up permanently banned.

Watched movie: "The Marvels" (2023) in 3D
A lively "Captain Marvel" sequel wherein anytime two of the three Marvels superheroes use their light-based powers simultaneously, they swap places with each other. I mainly liked how the Carol Danvers character tormented herself with unsolvable galactic problems, even gaining widespread notoriety like Ender Wiggin. I didn't care so much for the more farcical parts, e.g., the comic relief family, the singing kingdom, and the herding of cats. Definitely stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
A stirring prequel about the 10th Hunger Games wherein young mentor Coriolanus Snow catches feelings for his folk songstress tribute from District 12. Macabre as The Hunger Games are, I always consider them the most entertaining part of each installment. It also interested me watching for the red flags in Snow, and judging the exact moment when he became an irredeemable villain (I actually ended up condoning a lot of his choices). I found Viola Davis' head gamemaker character interesting too. Although I nearly lowered my rating because I found the conclusion weird and anticlimactic, I kept my mind open to the possibility that Suzanne Collins has more story to tell. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Wish" (2023) in 3D
Decent musical from Walt Disney Animation Studios about an aspiring apprentice's ideological disagreement with her king, a sorcerer who decides which wishes in his kingdom to grant. I found the wishes rather unimaginative, so I could only assume that the people limited themselves to wishes that the king's powers could actually accomplish. But even then, I saw people wasting their wishes on personal dreams that they could conceivably accomplish themselves if they worked hard enough at it. The best part of the movie for me: the rousing musical number where the protagonists rallied themselves into committing treason against the king. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Maestro" (2023)
A slow biopic of composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre, directed by Bradley Cooper. I got pretty bored of all of the polite conversation, and welcomed the handful of scenes where they finally laid bare their true feelings (or in one instance, outed their truth with the longest pregnant pause of all time). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Thanksgiving" (2023)
I'd easily consider this Eli Roth slasher film the best feature-length movie to come out of those phony trailers from "Grindhouse". I particularly liked the opening Black Friday riot and that the serial killer had principles. Side note: I actually guessed the killer correctly. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Next Goal Wins" (2023)
Occasionally amusing, occasionally bad Taika Waititi film about the American Samoa national soccer team and their Dutch-American coach (Michael Fassbender), when they tried to qualify for the FIFA World Cup despite being at the bottom of the rankings. Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the storyline about the first transgender player ever to compete in a World Cup game was handled insensitively. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Gojira -1.0" a.k.a. "Godzilla Minus One" (2023) in 4DX
Probably the only kaiju movie I've ever seen where the human drama was actually good. It was also interesting to see how post-WW II Japan could stand any kind of chance against Godzilla and its atomic heat ray with such pitiful armaments at their disposal. I noticed that I like the giant monsters such as Godzilla and King Kong better when they don't care about human life, e.g., indiscriminately stepping on or swatting humans. 4DX side note: I felt like a bull rider hanging onto the motion seat, and worried I might get seasick if the ocean scenes continued. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Silent Night" (2023)
Vexing John Woo film wherein the absence of dialogue probably helped the movie given all of the dumb things I witnessed in it, e.g., the mute protagonist inexplicably rushing into flying bullets without cover, enemies just running in front of his gun (and somehow missing every shot at him) like mindless video game NPCs that have no regard for their own lives, and the glorification of violence to solve problems with even the police detective getting in on it. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Kimitachi wa dô ikiru ka" a.k.a. "The Boy and the Heron" (2023) in RPX
A slow and confusing Hayao Miyazaki film. Other than the talking gray heron, I found all of the characters boring. Good animation though. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Dream Scenario" (2023)
Biting social commentary on cancel culture wherein a professor played by Nicolas Cage inexplicably appears in people's dreams; then gets persecuted when the dreams turn into nightmares. The movie started out amusing, but then got pretty awkward and dark IMHO. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Poor Things" (2023)
Cerebral, perverse, and totally bonkers--everything I've come to expect from a Yorgos Lanthimos film. I found the melodramatic Mark Ruffalo character hilarious. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Eileen" (2023)
A psychological thriller (co-starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway) with nary anything thrilling in it. I found the pulse-pounding trailer much better than the actual movie. Rating: 5
Lame duck

My favorite thing about retirement might be sleeping in every day, especially through the cold mornings.

I received my fifth Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine shot on November 1, leading to a night of body chills, aches, and fever dreams.

The actors' strike finally ended after about four months, so I'm wondering whether we'll have a four-month movie drought next year? I thought the film releases would be more spread out this year as a result, but I still see a lot of new movies incoming.

Was cool watching Twitch streamer Boogie reminisce about the screencaps I accumulated on Xavier's wiki. Xavier's life in NoPixel 3.0 has been like a movie.

Not much going on in NoPixel 3.0. I have many thoughts about the new gentlemanly Mayor of Los Santos, Maximillian Angel. I like his conflict resolution skills and his "MitchCon 2023" event in the Cerberus Arena. But what's the point of assuming a leadership position if he's not going to fight for his constituents, just fixates on what he shouldn't do, and just defers everything to Chief Justice Crane. The people of Los Santos elected HIM to govern and decide the budget, not Crane or the DoJ. I also have trouble listening to Max judge other people's ethics when he's in league with Lang and still works for and reports to the Cerberus megacorporation--visibly sharing their partiality against Nexus Pharmaceuticals, Simone Memorial Hospital, and the Cohens. In fact, that's what originally turned me against both the Lang and Eve characters--the hypocrisy of them smearing the reputations of people who aren't anywhere near as bad as them. The latest example: Eve smearing Trooper Suarez to Max but omitting how she and her photographer tried to rip him off. Also--regarding the previous five Mayors whom I chronicled the administrations of, Mickey is the only one whom I thought should have been impeached. He actually embezzled millions of State dollars, and burned out the Deputy Mayors who couldn't even get him to pay out budgets.

I'd find it interesting if Mayor Max ever investigated Board of Director Bunny, who ironically has probably been more falsely accused of embezzlement than anyone else in the city. I actually racked my brain about what would go on her character wiki's "Crimes" tab: accomplice to drug trafficking as The Stable's warehouse owner, accessory after the fact for lying to the police about a murdered assistant district attoney, and theft of box trucks for her bee business. That's all I can think of. On a side note, I found it noteworthy that her streamer planned to make the character less anti-violent in 4.0 to open up more RP. But to me, Bunny's moral code in such a corrupt city is what made this character so unique and interesting. I also liked how she never broke character and always valued human life, as opposed to the players who would just clown around and shoot each other down. I also feel like the city has too many bullies and cringeworthy people who "g check". In particular, I instantly lose respect for the NoPixel characters who target and bully innocent people, e.g., hunting the innocent loved ones of enemies (which notably, some Cerberus executives have been guilty of).

Watched movie: "anatomie d'une chute" a.k.a. "anatomy of a fall" (2023)
Intriguing albeit long Palme d'Or winner wherein a visually impaired boy's mother faces prosecution for the murder of his father. Too much focus on motive, if you ask me, when in my mind the entire case hinged upon whether the forensic evidence could prove that the fall was murder rather than an accident or suicide. Special props to the acting by Sandra Hüller. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Killers of the Flower Moon" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
A nearly three-and-a-half hour Scorsese film that in my opinion, gave too much screen time to undeserving lowlife characters and not enough screen time to the most interesting ones, e.g., the Osage wife (in denial?) played by Lily Gladstone. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Killer" (2023)
Cool David Fincher film from Netflix that focused on an assassin's anticipatory precautions against potential mistakes--in a line of work full of variables, distractions, and occupational hazards. He reminded me of myself when I drive defensively, scanning the road for potential dangers. I also liked his vigilance against bending any of his rules, despite the temptations to. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Holdovers" (2023)
Typical dry-humored Alexander Payne film wherein a curmudgeonly boarding school teacher (Paul Giamatti) and a lunch lady supervise an insolent student over Christmas break. Rating: 6
Social game

I'm struggling with the length of the 90-minute "Survivor" episodes. Hopefully the actors' strike ends soon enough for the next season to go back to normal.

My favorite coffee shop in Santa Maria closed due to an "undisclosed reason beyond their control". Don't know what that means.

With NoPixel 4.0 coming soon, I'm puzzled why streamers have been losing motivation to play their GTA characters instead of going all-out on a "final season" before the reset. I also don't get the ones who protect their businesses and material possessions that'll all get wiped come 4.0, at the cost of the good will that could create new opportunities in 4.0. For instance, the Bondi Boys MC giving up on their alliance with Nancy so easily (reminiscent of how easily they gave up on their alliance with The Stable). Mayor Andi read that situation best, pointing out that Nancy has chosen Lang over people whom she was even closer with than Ed and Barry (Mick, Dante, and Michael are the first that come to mind). But I'm also curious how fast Andi would have hung up on Barry if he had talked at her with that same attitude. Because I've seen her disown her own "brother" Nick for saying just one wrong word to her over the phone. That's why I blinked at her claim that she wasn't the same as Nancy.

So far Nancy's BBMC boyfriend Collin is the only BBMC member whom I've seen any kind of character growth from. I still remember when he first conceived the idea for Wolfe to torture his innocent best friend Kirk, and just couldn't wrap his head around why Wolfe chose to be blooded out instead. Now that he understands what it's like to have a close relationship outside of the club, he can finally identify with Wolfe.

Watched movie: "A Haunting in Venice" (2023) in IMAX
The third Hercule Poirot theatrical adaptation in a row by Kenneth Branagh that I failed to predict the solution to. This mystery felt more like "Scooby-Doo" in how the plot included a ghost on the suspect list. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Expend4bles" (2023) in RPX
Such a wasted opportunity to cast Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa in the same action flick without having them fight each other. Personally, I would have just dumped all of the American action stars and made another Raid movie. Also, what did that "Jumbo Shrimp" guy do to deserve that fate? Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Saw X" (2023)
Annoyingly slow with uninspiring traps and twists. Also didn't like how the plot a) made Jigsaw and Amanda into sympathetic characters, and b) let the final villain off easy compared to the cruel traps her accomplices had to suffer. I did end up raising my rating due to that cool, unplanned predicament where John Kramer ended up in the seesaw trap with an innocent boy rather than Amanda. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Creator" (2023) in RPX
Felt like "District 9", but duller. I liked the Allison Janney character and the strangely helpful animals, and that's about it. Also kept seeing the same plot hole where the military antagonists would just kill people and robots with extreme prejudice--but then inexplicably stop short of killing the protagonists who posed the greatest threat to them. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Exorcist: Believer" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
Apparently, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are creating a new Exorcist trilogy of sequels like they did for Halloween. Not off to a good start, as I would say this first installment of this new trilogy sucked. Admittedly, I liked the cameos from the original Exorcist cast and the parts where the demons taunted people with their deepest, darkest secrets. Rating: 4
The pinnacle of NoPixel

To my alarm, the hotel I frequent in Santa Maria wound up charging me an extra three nights after I had dropped off my key card--claiming that I had asked the night receptionist to extend my stay from two nights to five nights. The first receptionist I called said she couldn't do anything about it, but fortunately the second receptionist knew me well enough to give me a refund. It made me speculate whether a scammer had impersonated me to get a free hotel stay, or alternatively--whether the front desk talked to someone who looked like me and mistakenly extended my stay instead of theirs.

I've still been procrastinating on my resubscription to Netflix. I reasoned that next year might be the best time if the Hollywood strikes prevent new movies from coming out.

Mad respect to all of the NoPixel role players and devs involved in the whole Sanguine Isle invasion, especially the enemies of the State willing to serve 30 real-life prison days for treason. They all made their mark in a historic server event akin to the Alamo that will easily be remembered more than any assets and/or properties they hoarded. The whole war and fallout from it inspired a renaissance of storylines for the Department of Justice, the medics, the "enemies of the State", the war correspondent, and the current Mayor of Los Santos. In particular, my favorite story arc started near the end of the war when the Senator Davis and Director Knight--under the pretense of humanitarian aid--sent a combat medic into a bunker with C4 in a failed attempt to blow up the last of the enemy holdouts. Consequently--despite impressive leadership in taking down the city's most wanted terrorist--the Senator, Director, and Commissioner were all treated as war criminals when they returned home rather than war heroes.

Interestingly, the combat medic claimed she was under duress because the Director had threatened one of the dissenting soldiers with a gun--but on the VOD, she clearly agreed to plant the bomb and even told the Senator, "Yup, I'm willing to do it," before the dissenting soldier even confronted them. So it might be a case of the character deciding she had moral convictions only after seeing people's outrage over it. However, the Senator never mentioned it was a one-way suicide mission through a locked gate--so it's misleading for him to imply that she understood the risks when she volunteered. A very fascinating storyline that unfortunately, will probably peter out anticlimactically because the Senator claimed political immunity and disappeared (I'm really not a fan of RP'ers using their clout on the server to play "untouchable" characters). I also don't like how chummy the Chief Justice is with the Senator and certain Mayors--it gives such an appearance of partiality when he wants the DoJ to investigate the Mayors he doesn't like.

I had a lot of different thoughts about BBMC Prime Minister Barry's dismay that Nancy, a friend of his gang for over two years, seemed indifferent to the notion of Cerberus buying his used car dealership. My first thought was how little Barry knew about her, given that a BBMC prospect understood more about her relationship to her boss Lang, i.e., the plane ride loyalty test, from one conversation better than Barry ever has in his entire time of knowing her. Another thought I had was if this is how badly that the BBMC leadership understands people's perspectives, it's no wonder they have such a revolving door of members and alliances. Finally, I thought about how both Nancy and Bunny compartmentalize their business and personal feelings, e.g., not being afraid to snub or fire friends from their companies and their open-mindedness to working with enemies if their businesses call for it. I've seen Nancy fire one of her dearest friends for displeasing Cerberus, so it makes sense to me that she wouldn't help a friend's business if she felt that they deserved to lose it for committing treason (granted, she could have given Barry a heads up first) and becoming radicalized. I'm actually more confused why Nancy ever helped the BBMC in the first place, given how easily they turned on Wolfe, The Stable, and other loyal BBMC members during the time that she's known them.

Admittedly, I'm curious to see how the BBMC would react to Lang's mind games given his similarities to Dundee (Lang's reckless actions hurt Nancy and Eve much like Dundee's reckless actions used to hurt the BBMC). Currently, Lang doesn't even know the BBMC and thinks their leader is named "Collins". And just like Dundee, the more information Lang finds out, the more ideas he's likely to brainstorm to weaponize it against them.

Watched movie: "The Equalizer 3" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
Reminded me of one of those bloody samurai films where the rōnin protects the simple peasants from villanous gangs. I liked the first part of the movie where Robert McCall's cold-blooded massacre went awry and the Italian townspeople helped him heal mentally and physically. But from there, I felt like the film just devolved into mind-numbing violence and cruelty. It also felt like a plot hole how little the police did in the entire movie. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Nun II" (2023) in IMAX
I feel like the Valak demon has gotten stale--this is the third Conjuring installment to focus on it. It also got repetitive watching the same horror trope over and over again, i.e., where a character wanders off to investigate a strange noise. Admittedly, the magazine stand scene impressed me. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Every day is a vacation day now

I think going forward, I'm going to stop volunteering the news that I retired. I found I've had no meaningful answers to the people asking what I do nowadays--considering that I mostly just spend my time watching movies and Twitch (and writing wiki articles). Admittedly, it's cool that I can just drive anywhere I want without taking any vacation days. I also find that I now prefer weekdays over weekends and holidays because of the crowds.

In NoPixel news, Mayor Hardcastle successfully finished his term without getting impeached and by Chief Justice Crane's own admission, Hardcastle never actually broke any Los Santos laws in office. With the exception of Crane's inaccurate take that Hardcastle just paid State money to his friends as a way to taunt the DoJ for losing his PD job, Crane did piece a lot together--including Hardcastle's big but legal bonuses to himself and past Mayors (Crane didn't even fully grasp how rich Hardcastle made his wife's hospital and his Deputy Mayor's Cerberus businesses). But the way I saw it, it wasn't much different from real-life elected officials aiding the causes of the supporters and campaign donors who put them into office. I'm still confused why Crane thinks he has any kind of say over how a Mayor balances the city's budget--and why Crane even cares given how the NoPixel co-owner himself also spent State money generously while playing Mayor Lang. Not only did the streamer who plays the top Senator condone it, he himself has been trying to scam 10 million dollars in funeral services from the new Mayor Andi Jones. Heck, Andi gladly accepted 24 million dollars from Mayor Hardcastle and as Mayor herself, bought the police a Caracara 4x4 from her own brother's business. I'm basically just disappointed that Andi cared enough about Crane's personal opinion to have weekly budget reviews with him--especially given that she only won by 10 votes and now has bleaker re-election chances going down this path. Granted, it does make sense going forward that they permanently nerf State spending in case some madman wins and just empties out the State account.

Until this point, I had found Andi's mayorship promising, i.e., hiring top Deputy Mayors from the previous two administrations, conceiving the Municipal Worker, and reviving Parks & Rec. I mostly just disagreed with her attempts to micromanage the police and her perception that she could spot the bad state grant applicants, given that three of the most egregious ones were contestants at her own Shark Tank event.

Watched movie: "Meg 2: The Trench" (2023) in 3D
Why did I watch this movie. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Talk to Me" (2023)
Messed up horror flick where teenage partygoers trifle with an embalmed (?) hand to temporarily invite rotting ghosts into their bodies. Which I found painfully irresponsible and gross to watch. So if this movie was a social commentary on the stupidity of teenagers and drug use, the filmmakers succeeded. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Blue Beetle" (2023) in RPX
Another asinine DC superhero movie with cringeworthy attempts at drama and humor. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Past Lives" (2023)
An awkward albeit affecting Oscar contender about a married New York writer's reunion with her childhood sweetheart from Korea. That American husband was a good sport about it. Rating: 5

It was cool to see the theaters so packed for the "Barbenheimer" movie event, with a lot of the "Barbie" patrons sporting pink clothes. I read that the viral social media meme "Barbenheimer", which inspired patrons to see these both of these contrasting films over the weekend, was so successful that movies studios might turn this into a new marketing strategy going forward. I even heard recommendations of screening both of movies as a double feature--but that would have been too long for me to sit through.

Welp, the USWNT ended their skid of three straight World Cup ties with a penalty kick shootout elimination in the round of 16, after being just one penalty shot away from defeating Sweden. I had the misfortune of watching the debacle live. It reminded me of that one Wimbledon final where Roger Federer just needed one ace at double match point to win his ninth title and blew it. Though that one wrenched my gut more because it was a final. The way this USWNT was looking, I would've been surprised if they even made it through their bracket.

I've been watching less and less NoPixel characters, with Xavier being the only criminal left that I still watch regularly. I mostly just like the crimes he takes seriously, from his crowning Death Race achievement to two of the most police-heavy meth runs I've ever seen him drive getaway for. When the Angels spam and troll heists to the point where Xavier is just eavesdropping on Alex in a cafe during a big meth run, it makes me miss Xavier's solo days as a professional S+ hacker or his Stable days where the crew role-played stakes and actually feared getting caught by the police.

Given how tired I've gotten of SBS (where characters just clown around) and NVL (where characters don't seem to care about life and death), I've mostly just been watching serious role players like Cerberus and the Mayor's Office. I still don't get what Gulag Gang and The Mandem think they'll gain from gangbanging against a character as poisonous and demagogical as Lang, who only gets pettier from being attacked. Pogs and temporary street cred? Not to mention--what would stop him as the server co-owner or the NoPixel staff from nerfing or deprioritizing gangs in the server who shoot too much instead of role-playing? Personally, I still think it's a conflict of interest for NoPixel devs, admins, and owners to role-play characters in the city (which is why I like the idea of removing characters' admin menus). Case in point: a Senator on the server making decisions that benefit his own alt character, e.g., the San Andreas Gaming Commission.

But back to the current Cerberus storyline, I feel like the violent attacks have only succeeded in unifying them and giving them content (like I think Lang's boredom was more of a threat to Cerberus than anything else). I would argue that GG did much more damage to Lang by befriending Speedy and Yeager. The Simones also managed to divide Cerberus with Nick's texts to Eve and Nancy's protection of Bunny (causing Lang to fold to Nancy and alienate both Harry and Yeager--it's also the only time I ever remember Nancy considering leaving Cerberus). So if you ask me, the best stratagem for playing the game of NoPixel is winning as many hearts and minds as possible. Because if you win enough hearts and minds, you can--hypothetically--run away with a mayoral election and legally bankroll your wife's hospital, your friend's arena, all or your allies' businesses, and/or all of your enemies' enemies.

In other news, it looks like Mayor Hardcastle might be burnt out on politics because of all the haters, hypocrites, and self-important budget hawks that suddenly came out of the grass during his term. Which is a shame, considering how much I was looking forward to what he had originally planned. I think the funniest thing to me about his whole mayorship was Cerberus' perception that Andi Jones would be the more favorable Mayor to them. I'm certain that even if Hardcastle still had beef with Brian, Hardcastle still would have rubber-stamped any appointee that AEGIS wanted on their board. I'm also convinced that Cerberus could have gotten what they wanted (including the medical licenses) had they simply asked Hardcastle, Bunny, or Nancy nicely. I look forward to seeing what happens if Andi wins the upcoming mayoral election, and whether she just keeps Cerberus at arm's length. With Brian's history of incomplete projects, it might even be better for AEGIS for the Mayor--who has the mandate of the voters--to appoint a non-Cerberus loyalist whom the public and DoJ trusts. Otherwise, AEGIS could just go down in history as another FIB whose authority was never recognized.

On the surface, it looked really bad for Mayor Hardcastle that the two highest officials in the DoJ, Senator Sean Davis and Chief Judge Alan Crane, asked Brian to investigate Hardcastle for possible articles of impeachment. But to me, that meant Hardcastle buying the two G-Wagons for the hospital and paying his wife Bunny state money to decorate the cop bar wasn't egregious enough to attempt impeachment right away. The way I see it, a police investigation into these two "red flags" would have only found exculpatory evidence. Admittedly, I clearly remember cringing back when I first saw Hardcastle buy the second G-Wagon for the hospital (after he put the first one in Bunny's name) and award a second state grant to his own cop bar (for Bunny to get paid for the interior decorating). Personally to avoid any red flags, I would have had the hospital budget for the two G-Wagons themselves and had Pond pay Bunny through Olympus Interiors. But I don't blame him for getting careless, given all of the State money that the past two Mayors embezzled with complete impunity. It seems completely whimsical what the DoJ decides to look at--I still remember when they investigated Mayor Bunny's 1.35 million dollars to TheraPD (which I assume led to a dead-end because the police Commissioner himself transferred the money), but completely overlooked Bunny's state grant to her own record label.

I also wonder whether both Crane and Senior Judge Nathaniel Greyson would have had to recuse themselves because of how they both investigated the Mayor's business grants. My one major concern was Senator Davis, who clearly showed bias toward Hardcastle's guilt and made a lot of prejudicial statements about him with Crane. I figure Hardcastle covered his bases transferring the cop bar storefront to Pond and reclaiming his armored mayoral car back from the police (I also noticed that Bunny transferred the two G-Wagons out of her name). I didn't watch how he handled the "Shark Tank" spending though, because it would have looked bad if his or Bunny's investments were funded by the State (I do remember him saying that all of the Shark Tank contestants he funded applied through the state grants though). All in all, this is why I find NoPixel so interesting to watch--what other video game puts a player in this unique scenario where they have to govern a city under the specter of impeachment.

Watched movie: "Barbie" (2023) in Dolby Cinema
I actually liked the escapist dance numbers the best. Although I found the biting social commentary about men and women thought-provoking (particularly the portrayal of Ken's torment), I also got really depressed from it. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Oppenheimer" (2023) in IMAX 70mm
Although I wasn't impressed with how Christopher Nolan directed this talkfest of a movie (to me, the nuclear explosion was the only scene worth seeing in IMAX 70mm), I was highly impressed with how well he wrote the screenplay. The profound matters of life and death debated in this film--from the rationalizations of weaponizing physics to the final line of dialogue--blew my mind. I also liked the whole dichotomy between importance vs. self-importance. Granted, some parts of the movie felt pretentious to me, but I appreciated that the film never struck me as preachy. Rating: 9
Every day is a holiday now

Uh-oh. I'm already seeing studios halting production due to the actors' strike. Combined with the writers' strike, who knows how this will affect movie release dates.

I'm still trying to get used to retirement life. I still can't shake the dread that I have a deadline due, even though I no longer have to worry about deadlines or any kind of work obligations. I still don't miss anything about IBM, other than the free air-conditioning during this heat wave.

In NoPixel news, the Mayor Hardcastle administration's RP has been popping off so much that I've been struggling to keep the wikis up-to-date. For instance, I spent hours authoring a "Shark Tank" event wiki. The Cohens may have unintentionally become two of the most powerful people in the city--and Nancy's managed to maintain her same relationship with Cerberus by feeding them some "glitter" a la "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". It's also been interesting watching Hardcastle's mayorship get secretly investigated by his opps, given his extensive background in police investigations and his wife Bunny's extensive history of thwarting every investigation and audit ever thrown at her.

I've enjoyed chronicling the Mayors on NoPixel, and love how the politics in the city have pitted about half of them against the other half. I first started watching from Mayor Sabith "Bunny" Cohen, whose state grant program revolutionized how the Mayor's Office incentivizes small businesses; and whose Parks & Rec revival sparked a renaissance of events in the city. Then Mayor Mickey revolutionized the legislative power of the Mayor's Office, and incentivized music artistry in the city with his royalties act. For Mayor Lang, I considered the prohibition of state-funded loans his signature achivement (followed by his increase of EMS and doctor wages). I think AEGIS could have gained legitimacy had he staffed it with the most qualified experts in the city rather than Cerberus loyalists who just want to weaponize it against their enemies (and refuse to show transparency). Looking back, I feel like the past Mayors fell off in their second terms--so I agree with Hardcastle's decision to end after one term. I'm still waiting to see how much Cerberus pieces together, as it's become clear to me that they don't understand how Bunny and Hardcastle operate nearly as well as Nancy does. Like I've been watching Bunny for nearly two years, and still get caught off guard by what she's capable of.

Not gonna lie, Cerberus RP has been numbing my brain lately. Like I can't believe how toxic Eve's stream has become, unless the character has always been like that and I just never realized. And if Cerberus ever took Nancy on another plane ride, I wouldn't blame her if she chose to jump out of it. Instead of role-playing with the people that they need to resolve their conflicts with, i.e., the Simone Memorial Hospital, the Mayor's Office, and The Guild, Cerberus would rather just isolate themselves from the rest of the RP community, share uninformed toxic opinions, think of adding more responsibility to a woefully underqualified AEGIS (like that would solve anything), and resort to blowing up the city's hospital to make up for their shortcomings in dealmaking. The Lang character, in particular, hangs out with the same clique of guys every day and willingly exposes other people's secrets (like benches and plans)--and instead of innovating anything constructive for the city, has just been innovativing new ways to alienate Nancy, Eve, and The Guild. I think my main irritation is the fans who still think that Lang, the biggest terrorist in the city, has any kind of moral authority to judge Cerberus' enemies (which have grown considerably).

In other NoPixel news, I'm impressed that they've started permanently banning streamers that were complicit in Randy's reign of terror. I wonder how many other streamers are sweating now.

Watched movie: "Asteroid City" (2023)
Possibly the flattest, most convoluted Wes Anderson film I've ever seen. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
Boring Indiana Jones installment wherein I just wanted to fast-forward to what Archimedes' Dial actually did. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Insidious: The Red Door" (2023)
Disappointingly boring considering how long I waited for a sequel to continue the second film. I did think the ending redeemed the movie. Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
Was it my imagination, or did this IMF movie feel more like a Tom Cruise vanity project than the previous installments? Like what was with all the W rizz and the gratuitous running. Overall, I found the film decently entertaining except for some problems I had with the plot, e.g., the lazy "fridging" trope and contrived scenes such as the intelligence briefing where the officials flawlessly finished each others' sentences. Rating: 5
Life after IBM

Such a surreal feeling to walk away from the IBM Silicon Valley Lab, where I worked at for the past 24 years, knowing that I'm never going to see it again. And then to be sitting here inside of my apartment, with nothing to work on and no office to drive to. It's definitely going to take some getting used to.

I found it interesting that every IBM co-worker I told about my retirement congratulated me, except for one guy who just replied, "I see".

I'm keeping myself busy with web surfing and Twitch watching. I'm convinced that a lot of comments on the Internet are from kids. No way that grown-ups could've written some of the dumb things I've read. So many myopic comments from NoPixel fans, in particular, who can't imagine how big of a universe exists outside of their streamer's purview. For instance, fans of Cerberus and Chang Gang might be shocked by how little the rest of the city thinks about them. Furthermore, a lot of NoPixel comments sound like they were written by people who still believe that pro-wrestling is real. Like I saw R.U.S.T. comments advocating war against Lang, one of the city's pettiest and most protected characters played by a streamer who basically runs NoPixel now. And by "protected", I mean the pro-wresting definition wherein he only "buries" his rivals rather than "putting them over". I've also noticed how easily this character discarded many of his closest alliances like Bane, Yeager, Bucky, Cassie, and Ray. Which is why I'm relieved that Mayor Hardcastle never got a meeting with Lang, because I see no upside to interacting with him. It took just three wrong words from ex-Cerberus CEO Cassie for Lang to give up on her and forget everything she ever did for the company. This goes to why Cerberus reminds me of "The Devil Wears Prada"--it's completely worth working there to build a distinguished career, but shouldn't be mistaken for a "family" where people can be trusted to have each other's backs and remain friends once they leave the company.

Ex-police detective Hardcastle's mayoral campaign--and the suspenseful announcement of the results--might easily be my favorite NoPixel storyline of the year. It incorporated all of his past lore, from placing trust in the two Stable members he once investigated (Bunny and Nancy) to his PD career ending over the dongle to getting campaign backing from the Yokai leader he investigated. To be honest, I was completely proven wrong about Hardcastle's longevity with polyamorous Bunny and his early election chances (back when he first started floating the run). But once I saw who he started canvassing, I immediately began to chronicle his mayoral campaign in the wiki fully expecting him to win. Granted, I began second-guessing whether he'd get enough PD turnout and non-hedging votes, but when I peeked on the other campaigns I just couldn't see the math working out for them. It's BS to me that Bunny felt like she had to recuse herself from her own husband's administration (and mad at the characters and toxic chatters who precipitated that decision), especially given that people like Lang still perceive her as the "shadow Mayor" whether she's a Deputy Mayor or not. But then I realized what a smart play it was, given that Deputy Mayor Nancy would now have plausible deniability if ever asked by Lang to spy on her and Hardcastle. I noticed that people still can't wrap their heads around why a populist character like Bunny--who wants transparency, her voice to be heard, her text messages to be responded to, and the freedom to have any friends she wants--never really fit into a patriarchy like Cerberus where the employees have to be careful about their every word and keep losing their allies and friends because of Lang.

It's crazy to me how ByThyBeard went from potentially shelving Hardcastle to skyrocketing him into quite possibly the best role play of his life as the Mayor of Los Santos. He basically has an entire blank canvas of possibility and virtually unlimited money to throw at anything or anyone he wants, from an armored mayoral car with front-mounted machine guns on it to granting whatever hospital budget that Bunny desires. I'm still confused why Hardcastle considered it a foregone conclusion that Andi would beat him in the next mayoral election, when his winning vote total surpassed both of her winning vote totals. Admittedly, serving as a Deputy Mayor (possibly with Bunny?) in a mayoral administration with Andi's clout does sound like a unique opportunity to do a lot more good for the city.

I see that the walking red flag that Lizzie hung out with finally got exposed--I never understood people's praise of his "role play". I won't be surprised to see a few more permanent bans, but I think the most rotten apples are gone now.

Watched movie: "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" (2023) in RPX
God tier animation from Sony Pictures Animation; easily some of the best animation I've ever seen. In particular, the opening scenes with Spider-Gwen evoked such potent emotion. I also thought highly of the multiverse premise that all Spideys are predestined to suffer heartbreaking bereavement. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Elemental" (2023) in 3D
A vibrant Pixar outing highlighted by the fire woman's vivid emoting. Granted, I almost lowered my rating because her watery love interest annoyed me so much. I also found the movie's exploration of societal issues like prejudice, interracial dating, segregation, and housing discrimination somewhat shallow--but it was a kids movie, so I don't blame them for "watering down" the adult themes. Side note: that fire woman's father kept reminding me of my own dad. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Flash" (2023) in RPX
Bruce Wayne's spaghetti analogy summed up this movie pretty well. What a hot asinine mess. Stay after the credits. Rating: 4
"One last ride"

I formally resigned from IBM. My last day is June 22, 2023. Although I wasn't a fan of how bad the micromanagement had gotten by the end of my career, I am appreciative of my 24 years with the company and have no hard feelings (even though the neurotic in me wishes it was 25 years). Who knows, maybe I'll return some day. I'll see how bored I get in the next few months to decide whether I ever want to work again.

My new full-time hobby is wiki authoring. I enjoy writing for them, and was pleased to see a tweet of appreciation from another NoPixel streamer whom I maintained a wiki page for.

I think out of all of the slang words I've heard on NoPixel recently, "opps" might be my favorite. I've heard it used for enemies but more interestingly, for "friends" who aren't really friends and have hidden agendas. I still get surprised from time to time when I see a NoPixel character acting like someone's best friend forever, then wandering in their stream and realizing they're actually an opp.

I'm impressed by "Hardcastle" Sexton Cohen's mayoral campaign so far, and haven't seen any other candidates to fear yet. As a former police lieutenant, he's able to canvass voting blocs that other mayoral candidates would have trouble with, like the PD departments and the DOJ. Add in his wife Bunny's supporters, and I think he has a real shot. Granted, it was hard to tell who his opps were among the voters he met with. Like I never would have guessed some of the people who betrayed Bunny, from the nicest-seeming people joining a hunting party against her to the backstabber she was trying to convince to run against Mickey. I'm mostly just dreading the possibility of Lang's involvement (and his penchant for making uninformed decisions). Because on a whim, he could make Hardcastle into a storyline and/or flip Nancy against him. To this day, I'm still annoyed by all of the storylines Lang created about Bunny without even bothering to call or text her about any of them.

I'm interested in seeing how NoPixel changes as a result of Buddha running it, as I liked his most recent announcement against drama baiting and toxic behavior. While I thought Koil did a good job running the server, I always felt he had blind spots and favoritism toward toxic streamers who kept breaking the rules and clearly couldn't role-play.

Personally, I've never been a fan of whitelisting gangs and top heists either. I believe in making storyline "ingredients" attainable for everyone and letting them cook. Admittedly, I like Buddha's recent vision of "pushing boundaries" because I do think the role play gets stale when people cling onto what they have on the server or always hang out with the same cliques. As for his other announcement about NoPixel devs, I didn't really understand the implication--does it mean no more "pocket devs"?

Speaking of cliques, I'm really impressed by how well Claire leads her gang the Angels. They still wake up in the city regularly, prioritize loyalty to their gang over personal ambitions, make use of their meth lab, have five red laptop hackers, and actually have each other's and Hydra's backs. It made me realize why they succeeded where The Stable failed. (On a side note, I was surprised to find out they never had a bench back when they sold guns to The Stable.) Granted, it took months of me watching the Angels--and seeing how Claire and the other gang members looked out for Xavier--before I finally got over my bad first impression of them. Even to this day, I still find it disgusting when they proudly claim credit for standing with Randy of all people against The Stable.

Watched movie: "Hypnotic" (2023)
I think Robert Rodriguez should just stick to directing rather than trying to write plots. The movie started out decently with the weaponized hypnosis premise reminiscent of "Scanners". But by the end of the film, it felt more like a dime-store "Inception". Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Fast X" (2023) in D-BOX
The laziest Fast & Furious plot yet, IMHO, which basically just assigned a fight scene to each character--and because this franchise has so many characters now, that didn't leave room for much else. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
It's a Good Life

I think my favorite proverb of all-time came from Sun Tzu: "If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by." That's come true in my lifetime so many times (metaphorically, of course) for everything from bad neighbors to bad co-workers. I recently came across another quote I liked: "If I speak..." for situations where someone prefers not to speak on because they don't want to get in trouble. The meme came from a viral post-game interview where football coach Jose Mourinho wanted to criticize a referee, but held back because "If I speak I'm in big trouble, and I don't want to be in big trouble." Similarly, I've often seen situations that remind me of that Twilight Zone episode where the town has to keep telling a godlike kid what he wants to hear or else he could banish them to the "cornfield". But I think my favorite meme of all-time might be the cartoon dog that's sitting in the burning room and says, "This is fine."

Despite the scandals and the streamers leaving NoPixel, I still consider myself a proponent of the server. I see it as an evolving artistic canvas where people can create their own stories, designs, and music. Like where else would you see an event where the police have to escort the Mayor through the city as he tows a massive space shuttle? Or an arena layout where people could run their own WrestleMania-level event if they wanted? To me, abandoning NoPixel to a less experienced GTA server environment isn't the answer--rather, the people on NoPixel need to keep fighting to make it better for everyone. And the NoPixel staff need to stay the course and continue dumping out the garbage.

I do still have one lingering question about the Deputy Mayor who got banned for sexually harassing women with the help of some clout his dev friend gave him: what kind of oversight and/or ethical guidelines does NoPixel have for the developers and admins role-playing on it? Like what's to stop an admin from say, taking a manufacturing bench away from a gang he doesn't get along with anymore and locking it on his own private island? Or more importantly, what's to stop the server owner himself from breaking his own server rules?

Storywise, I'm over that Mayor Lang vs. Nick Simone arc and am hoping that Hardcastle's run for Mayor doesn't revive it (I still call him "Hardcastle" even though he changed his last name to Cohen). Those smear campaigns in Los Santos have stooped to such ugly lows--I still remember when Bunny expected to still be friends with Ramee before they campaigned against each other. Funny thing is, Ramee's gang leader Mr. K might be the best opponent for Hardcastle given how many enemies the CG umbrella have bullied and how reluctant Cerberus would be to get involved in such an election.

After Lang demagogued the harmful mob mentality against "Simone sympathizers"--including AEGIS trying to take over the hospital and Lang leaking private personal texts obtained through torture--how do Cerberus employees still not see why people would view the company negatively? For instance, just because the Simone Memorial Hospital doctors sided with a dev character who created lots of role-play for them, doesn't make them his lovers and disciples. (Side note: props to Dr. Dahlia Fey for calling Mayor Lang, defusing the Twatter beef, and persuading him to increase the EMS and doctor pay for the hospital.) Admittedly, I did sour on the Nick character when he didn't own up to the airstrike (accidentally firing the first missile didn't excuse it in my mind) and fled the city to avoid the consequences for it.

Watched movie: "Suzume no tojimari" (2022) a.k.a. "Suzume" (2023)
Another impressively animated Makoto Shinkai film, though I feel like his screenwriting has gotten cornier and harder to follow (and more eyebrow-raising). I was ok with the walking chair and taking cat, but my brain had trouble processing the notion that earthquakes are actually caused by giant ghost worms shooting out of doors to the afterlife. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Evil Dead Rise" (2023)
Basically just a gorier retread of "The Evil Dead" with an apartment instead of a cabin, elevator cables instead of trees, a drill bit instead of a pencil, and a locked door instead of a locked cellar. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" (2023) in 3D
I consider it a testament to James Gunn's talents that he can turn such disturbing subject matter into a fun, operatic tearjerker. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Promising young roleplayers

A lot of streamers celebrating their two years anniversaries on the NoPixel server. I started out watching The Stable--so when Lexi pointed out that Nancy had no other affiliations left beside Cerberus, it made me reflect on how much has changed in two years worth of lore. I still think about that time long ago when Itsjustasummerjob mused that given the choice, she fully expected Nancy to pick Lang over Bunny. At the time, I couldn't imagine how a hypothetical situation like that could ever happen. But I guess I underestimated the city's susceptibility to tribalism.

I've been weighing whether Nick or Bunny should just call Lang to try to end this Simone arc, or at least open a dialogue. Because in my opinion, "leaving town" after the airstrike and floating permas struck me as a wasted golden opportunity to shine as a roleplayer. On the other hand, the toxic viewers and the creeps singing the Flanagan & Allen song have really poisoned the storyline for me. I also realized that conflict RP with Lang is rarely ever worth it, and can result in a permanent stigma. And not just for opps like Mila and Pred--Sloane, for instance, did nothing wrong IMHO.

Credit to NoPixel for banning/draining out people "pretending" to be toxic jerks, including one of the biggest bullies on the server. I first realized how untouchable this gaslighter was when the whole city (except for Lang) blindly believed his entire narrative about The Stable. Unfortunately, I still see men (and even women) acting like they weren't complicit in any of his bullying. Case in point: that time he skinned a woman's pet dog in front of her and all of his friends around him laughed their heads off. That's just the tip of the iceberg of the red flags I've seen. The most recent sexual harassment ban of the archeologist Deputy Mayor had me particularly shook, because on how nice of a guy he seemed on the surface.

Watched movie: "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" (2023) in IMAX
A heist comedy where I didn't care about the heist and didn't laugh at any of the comedy. Decent fantasy elements, at least. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "A Thousand and One" (2023)
Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance about an ex-convict in New York who lives a lie regarding the legal custody of her son. Although I found it slow, some of the scenes tugged at my heartstrings. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" (2023) in 3D
Decently entertaining for a shallow kids movie. Personally, I'd rather watch a film inspired by the fascinating subculture spawned from the Super Mario streaming community, but that's a pipe dream for sure. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 5

The motion sensor in my new office sucks. I have to really extend my arm to trigger the light switch back on. Otherwise, the new office seems ok.

I've enjoyed Cerberus head Leslie's return to NoPixel. God tier role play from Nidas. I considered him the only voice of reason when Lang, Dean, and Harry were ready to give up on their star executive Nancy--and IMHO he returned just in time to be the only voice of reason in that whole recent debacle where Lang and Harry turned on their star executive Eve.

For now I've soured on the Lang character and his feud with the Simones, where he wanted to defund the hospital, spread disinformation, and went on a whole "McCarthyism" arc, e.g., loyalty tests, dictating whom his employees could and couldn't be friends with, allying with CG to kidnap people for interrogations, and smearing people's names without regard for the actual truth. The final ick for me was that whole sexist discussion slandering Nick's female friends as his "harem".

I only like how the feud has made people realize how close their friends and family truly are. I was amused by Penny's best practice of forewarning her boyfriends that they will always come second to Lang. Incidentally--is it just me, or do Penny, Andi, and Lang never let anything go? I've been trying to dissect the disconnect between Andi and Nancy, and my best guess is that Nancy thinks it's over miscommunication whereas I don't think Andi cares about the semantics of the actual words--she just doesn't want Nancy to shame her friends at all. But it's all moot now, given the mess that's been going on.

Watched movie: "Creed III" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
The movie wasn't bad--I just hated the whole narrative of conflicts being resolved with fisticuffs rather than open communication. Like I found it hard to care about the big marquee boxing match. I also sorely missed Rocky Balboa's mentoring and Ryan Coogler's directing. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Scream VI" (2023) in 3D
I love how the returning survivors have embraced the meta that they're inside of a slasher franchise, making the film unpredictable and subversive. Instead of the tired horror movie tropes, the filmmakers experimented with new ideas, e.g., Ghostface using a shotgun and a Hitchcockian subway scene. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "65" (2023) in Prime
I mostly just liked the technology that the alien pilot (Adam Driver) used to combat the dinosaurs on prehistoric Earth. I frowned at the whole coincidence that he happened to crash-land there just as the extinction-level asteroid was approaching. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" (2023) in RPX
Jumbled mess of plot devices, plot holes, Greek mythology, and flat jokes (most notably the Skittles scene). I only found The Wizard funny. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "John Wick: Chapter 4" (2023) in IMAX with Laser
Wildly cool action sequel with some bonkers stunts. I particularly liked Donnie Yen's Zatoichi-like gunslinger, the fighting in traffic, and the shotguns that shoot hellfire. I'm now fully convinced that "The Warriors" influenced the director of this franchise (Chad Stahelski)--because in addition to the colorful variety of assassins, he had close-ups of a female radio DJ's lips as she reported on the bounty on John Wick. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Not even useful as paperweights

In preparation for my office move, I discarded stacks and stacks of redundant software manuals that no one's ever going to read again. Even the IBM web sites I maintained and wrote documentation for are long gone, leading me to reflect on what I accomplished in my tech writing career and the whole meaning of life.

I can cross off the Days Inn by Wyndham Santa Maria from my list of preferred hotel replacements for the Radisson. My room had no desk or convenient power outlet for my laptop; the shower rained water from a ceiling shower head; and the walls were so thin that I could hear my next-door neighbors' stupid conversations in the middle of the night and the morning noise of housekeeping carts rolling over cracks outside. But the main dealbreaker: the absence of "do not disturb" signs. I returned to see housekeeping cleaning my room with the door wide open, with my precious work laptop charging in plain sight where anyone could steal it.

Hmmm...I saw a couple of surprises at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, but I'm staying the course. My final Oscar predictions for 2022:

In NoPixel news, congratulations to Sabith "Bunny" Cohen on finally getting her own mayoral portrait inside of City Hall. Given that I always considered her more of a populist mayor, they hung the portrait in the exact place I pictured it going: near the voting booths outside of the locked mayor's office. It was a rewarding payoff, as this has been the character's MacGuffin for several months and the main reason why she played it so safe as mayor. This also goes to show the storytelling importance of giving characters a dream to progress toward, whether it's Kirk owning a meth lab or Xavier getting out of debt.

The mayoral portrait also confirmed my cynicism that good work does not speak for itself in NoPixel. Just like Mayor Lang's portrait, someone had to pay real dollars to commission it and ask the right person behind-the-scenes to hang it up. It wasn't automatically awarded out of some time-honored tradition. I suspect prio in NoPixel works the same way--I think to get noticed, the characters have to connect with as many influential NoPixel players as possible (especially admins and developers). I'm convinced this was how Bunny first got gold prio and an appearance on the NoPixel loading screen. (Also when I look back, my favorite Itsjustasummerjob role play has always been when she left her comfort zone of relationship RP, e.g., confronting Richard about the morality of The Stable, the police interrogation over Lizzie's murder of ADA Malcador, the mayoral campaign, and the intellectual conversation with Sloane about how to improve civilian life.) I could be wrong though, as I'm still struggling to reconcile some of the NoPixel prio reductions. I've seen purposeless roleplayers who just hang out with their clique keep gold prio, while pillars of the NoPixel community have gotten snubbed. One possible theory of mine based upon the available data: the voting might be skewed toward characters who role-play well with the police community.

Some streamers recently got permanently banned from NoPixel, proving in hindsight that my bad gut feelings about them were right. I still see red flags on other streamers on that server, too--particularly in how they treat women--and wouldn't be surprised if they're the next ones cancelled. This is why I don't buy the excuse that streamers' habitually scummy behavior should just be condoned as "in character" role play.

Watched movie: "The Outwaters" (2023)
Gory, waytoodank "found footage" of four campers who went missing in the Mojave Desert. I found the third and final memory card vexing rather than scary. The constant jump cuts and illogical surrealism (was the cameraman getting transported around or was the camera filming rubber realities?) ruined my immersion. Stay after the credits. Rating: 2
At least I have my health

This year sucks. At least during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I enjoyed a couple of vacations in Las Vegas, streamed a lot of movies and TV, and ate healthier. This year I feel underappreciated at work, paid $803 for a hospital visit where they found nothing wrong with me, am losing my office because IBM wants to construct yet another new design center there, and am now planning to boycott my favorite hotel (once I use up my Radisson Rewards points) in Santa Maria because they cancelled my reservation without notice. Granted, they were absolutely right in that I mistakenly checked in a day late and they needed my room for a sold-out Saturday. But they didn't do anything to make it up to me, arguably their best customer. I guess they'd rather be in the right and lose thousands of my dollars in future business. Admittedly, their prices have become less and less reasonable lately--and this incident gave me the excuse I needed to stay somewhere cheaper.

In other news, I found the WWE Royal Rumble matches this year decent. So cool getting to watch the show for free on Peacock.

I read that AMC Theatres is planning an initiative called Sightline, which will raise ticket prices on the "preferred" seats in the middle of the auditoriums. Although I can reserve the "preferred" seats for free because of my AMC Stubs A-List membership, I don't like the initiative because it encourages patrons to buy "value" seats in the front row (which distracts me from the screen).

Interesting shake-up on NoPixel where the staff lowered something like 90% of everybody's prio, which I imagine hurt a lot of streamers' pride and might backfire if too many of them leave the city. It got me to thinking about which characters in the city I would consider "essential". I'd have to start with the devs, admins, and active founders of NoPixel; followed by pillars of the community who enable the most role play for others; followed by the most nontoxic and entertaining personalities. Needless to say, I've seen a lot of snubs and surprises so far.

Other than that, not much going on in NoPixel except for some heart-tugging moments where characters realized the value of friendship over personal gain. Cases in point:

I also enjoyed watching Lang bringing Nancy and Eve into his inner circle, vindicating Nancy's fateful choice to pick him over her Stable friends. Although I'm forever a Stable fan, I think it's undeniable that Nancy's best role play has always been with Lang.

I found it sad that Hardcastle got fired by two of the lamest PD commanders on the entire NoPixel police force. Hopefully he doesn't have the same problem as me regarding a lack of retirement plans. I do foresee his character getting a lot more interesting now.

Watched movie: "Knock at the Cabin" (2023) in Dolby Cinema
Someone explain to me what the point of this M. Night Shyamalan film was, and what the point of the original novel was (which according to my Internet research, had a much different ending). Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Marlowe" (2023)
Basically like "The Big Sleep" where I had trouble following the dialogue, didn't get the humor, and didn't care much for the case. Liam Neeson was okay as the private eye Philip Marlowe, but he's no Humphrey Bogart. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" (2023) in 3D
A mildly entertaining spectacle that I found big on CGI and small on plot. It confused me why the superheroes couldn't keep enlarging themselves to swat every threat they met in the Quantum Realm. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6
"Elvis has left the building"

Welp. After over 23 years of working for IBM with nothing but positive performance reviews, my ninth and newest manager has inspired me to start researching retirement options.

On the plus side, I feel great health-wise ever since I decided to minimize caffeine intake, eat better, and get plenty of sleep. After that aforementioned health scare, some wild blood pressure readings at work, and my right arm starting to ache, I got checked out by two different doctors as a precaution. They both found nothing wrong, and both confirmed that my blood pressure was fine. Although I haven't felt any symptoms since, that false alarm successfully scared me into changing my diet and sleep schedule.

Here's how I rated the 2022 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "Tár" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Avatar: The Way of Water" (My rating: 7)
  4. "The Fabelmans" (My rating: 6)
  5. "Top Gun: Maverick" (My rating: 6)
  6. "Women Talking" (My rating: 6)
  7. "The Banshees of Inisherin" (My rating: 5)
  8. "Elvis" (My rating: 5)
  9. "All Quiet on the Western Front" (My rating: 5)
  10. "Triangle of Sadness" (My rating: 3)

To me, it's clear which movie snuck in as a result of the Oscars reverting back to the rule of exactly ten Best Picture nominees (hint: it's ranked at the bottom of my list). Somehow the director of that film snuck into the Best Director nominees as well.

Watched movie: "Elvis" (2022)
A taxing onslaught of frenetic editing, Baz Luhrmann's overdirecting, and Tom Hanks' cartoonish portrayal of Elvis' manager Colonel Parker. Rating: 5

Crazy atmospheric rivers in California. It just took one night of heavy rainfall to flood the road to my workplace, with my computer still locked inside my office.

I'm abstaining from coffee. Or at the very least, minimizing how much I consume (or going decaf). My caffeine tolerance got so high that I could swear coffee began making me sleepier instead of more alert. Once I stopped cold turkey, I had a health scare where my head and limbs hurt.

I tabulated the music video results for 2022. More gold from Ed Sheeran.

In NoPixel news, I enjoyed the "heroin run" heist where Xavier drove getaway in an armored car and played cat-and-mouse with the police. Too bad he didn't get paid for it, as I liked that heist a lot better than the Oil Rig one he recently succeeded.

Watched movie: "M3GAN" (2022-2023) in Prime
Amusingly campy horror flick about an artificially intelligent doll that turns homicidal. Special props to the doll's eye movements--so on point. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Skinamarink" (2023)
Grainy avant-garde gar-bage that to my exasperation, kept pointing the camera at the interior of a house rather than its occupants. The whole thing also sounded like it was filmed underwater. Rating: 1
Watched movie: "missing" (2023)
An engaging, emotional computer screen film in the same universe as "searching", where a teenager who took her single mom for granted tries to solve the mystery of her disappearance (with the help of a Colombian gig worker and a crime story fan). I enjoyed the twists and turns, the close-ups and hovering cursor to focus the audience on clues, and the message about sensationalism. One very minor criticism: I had to watch the movie again to get a better sense of when it jumped to a different user's computer screen--especially during the whole spyware sequence. Rating: 8
Holiday movie marathon 2022

Spent New Year's Eve alone in a hotel room again, watching the ball fall.

I already have a best event to add to my list for 2023: the Twitch streamer who plays Kirk on NoPixel looked at his wiki (for the first time?) on stream and was blown away by how huge it was--remarking that whoever wrote it went crazy on it and that "whoever you are out there in the world, I appreciate the f--- out of you." Thanks. I also found it rewarding that he got to realize what a mark he made in NoPixel--a mark now memorialized by the server's "history books" to keep it from being forgotten.

My mind's still blown that the lead developer Dean left NoPixel, and that Cerberus might dissolve as a result. I do welcome the possibility of the casino being removed from the city--I can't even express how tired I am of watching NoPixel characters sink their money into it instead of using the money to enable role play.

Watched movie: "Avatar: The Way of Water" (2022) in RPX & 3D
Undeniably impressive even though some of those high frame rate action scenes taxed my brain. I particularly liked the battle scenes where the Na'vi convincingly swatted or impaled the puny human pests. Granted, it did feel like James Cameron spent all of his time and energy on the movie's visual effects rather than the plot--but I give him a ton of credit for revolutionizing the film industry with all of these groundbreaking visual technologies. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "EO" (2022)
Slow Oscar entry from Poland about a donkey that just wanders around the countryside (and at one point Isabelle Huppert appears for some reason). I don't get the critical acclaim. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Women Talking" (2022) in Laser
Too much talking, if you ask me, for the women in this movie to reach what I considered a foregone conclusion. I blinked at the debate over whether they should stay in a Mennonite colony where they kept getting sexually assaulted and gaslit (especially once I found out what year the film took place). So it probably goes without saying that I liked the second half of the movie much more than the first half. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (2022)
The stop-motion adaptation that Guillermo del Toro spent over a decade trying to make. I found it above average. It amused me seeing Pinocchio explore more adult themes like Christianity, fascism, war, show business, and mortality. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Im Westen nichts Neues" a.k.a. "All Quiet on the Western Front" (2022)
Long and depressing Oscar entry from Germany about the senselessness of World War I. The movie kept going and going, and began feeling dumb to me instead of deep. I did find some of the trench warfare sequences well-directed. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Whale" (2022)
I reluctantly gave Darren Aronofsky another chance, and actually ended up liking this movie. Mostly because of the acting performances though, not really because of the directing or the plot. And as much as I hated watching Brendan Fraser binge-eat and give up on life, I would consider his performance Oscarworthy. Rating: 6
2022 Year in Review
Best of 2022 Worst of 2022
Events that happened to Steve
  1. (tie) Finding out that Lindsey Jacobellis finally won that elusive Olympic gold medal in snowboard cross at the Beijing 2022 Olympics after sixteen years of disappointments; and Lionel Messi finally winning his first-ever World Cup trophy in an epic FIFA World Cup final.
  2. Attending The Undertaker's WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Dallas, Texas.
  3. My workplace cafeteria bringing back buffet lunches and finally reviving the kiosks, so I could use up the $74.99 on a gift card that I thought I wouldn't be able to use again.
  4. (tie) Watching Twitch streamers' NoPixel triumphs, i.e., Sabith Cohen winning the mayoral election, Xavier Valentine successfully hacking and boosting an S+ class McLaren 720S for the first time, and Xavier unexpectedly clutching out the hardest final hack in the City Vault heist.
  5. The Golden State Warriors winning another NBA championship, with Steph Curry finally winning his first NBA Finals MVP trophy.
  1. Another wiki author asking me to stop contributing to a wiki.
  2. Landmark Theatres shutting down its Embarcadero Center Cinema location in San Francisco, its Pico location in Los Angeles, and its Shattuck Cinemas location in Berkeley.
  3. (tie) Serena Williams playing her presumed last match at the US Open; and Roger Federer announcing his retirement from tennis.
  4. (tie) Losing about three years worth of HDD/DVD recordings due to a mechanical malfunction; and losing over a decade of e-mails because IBM wouldn't migrate them over to the new e-mail client.
  5. Having to smell the stench of burnt plastic weeks after a plastic bag flew into my car's undercarriage and melted.
  1. "Glass Onion"
    "...another fun, subversive whodunit by Rian Johnson."
  2. "She Said"
    "I love investigative journalism movies."
  3. "Nope"
    "A dope, multilayered horror flick by Jordan Peele..."
  4. "Decision to Leave"
    "Provocative Oscar entry from South Korea by the director of 'Oldboy'..."
  5. "Tár"
    "...a masterfully nuanced film...Just give Cate Blanchett the Oscar now."
  6. "Emily the Criminal"
    "I liked the whole progression of the movie where each crime she committed got more and more dangerous and illegal."
  7. "Everything Everywhere All at Once"
    "An imaginative, wildly eye-popping multiverse movie..."
  8. "Thor: Love and Thunder"
    "A glorious operatic spectacle by Taika Waititi, powered with emotion..."
  9. "Bodies Bodies Bodies"
    "An evocative, unpredictable whodunit..."
  10. "The Gray Man"
    "Another thrilling Russo Brothers film..."
  1. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
    "Cartoonish and stupid."
  2. "Triangle of Sadness"
  3. "Orphan: First Kill"
    "I generally don't care for this slasher franchise formula where they try to make the depraved killer sympathetic."
  4. "Morbius"
    "It sucked."
  5. "Moonfall"
    "How far Roland Emmerich has fallen."
  6. "X"
    "I've never found perverted old people entertaining..."
  7. "Men"
    "My verdict for this film: dumb."
  8. "Watcher"
    "The movie was really boring...made me wish that she had starred in an 'It Follows' sequel instead."
  9. "Black Adam"
    "...felt no different from all of the other DC Extended Universe superhero movies that fail at humor, screenwriting, and villain characters."
  10. "Jurassic World Dominion"
    "I'm tired of dinosaurs..."
  1. "always" Doe
  2. "stranger" Doe
  3. "Don't You Worry" Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and David Guetta
  4. "Sacrifice" The Weeknd f/ Swedish House Mafia
  5. "2 Die 4" Tove Lo
  1. "Bad Habit" Steve Lacy
  2. "First Class" Jack Harlow
  3. "Break My Soul" Beyoncé
  4. "Wait for U" Future f/ Drake and Tems
  5. "Late Night Talking" Harry Styles
Music video "Don't You Worry" Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and David Guetta "Saoko" Rosalía
TV series n/a "The Walking Dead"
Commercial Galaxy Z Flip4 commercial where a cat takes selfies. T-Mobile commercial where Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton sing a song for 5G phones called "Do It For the Phones".
Movie trailer (tie) "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One" and "The Fabelmans" "80 For Brady"
Gone in 15 minutes

Before I publish my best/worst countdowns of 2022, I figured I'd blog a special NoPixel countdown early: my top five favorite S+ boosts hacked by Xavier Valentine. My favorite NoPixel heist used to be the armored car meth run, but after watching a couple of snoozers I'm starting to think S+ boosts are better. The mission objective for an S+ boost: drive getaway in a fast 2-seat S+ sports car while the passenger works to hack and disable the 15 tracking devices on it. It can get really thrilling when the police swarm after the car in hot pursuit, with a PD helicopter chasing after the car and giving comms from above.

Watched movie: "Babylon" (2022) in PRIME
Damien Chazelle's wildly madcap depiction of Hollywood in the late 1920s, reminiscent of "Requiem for a Dream". I would've rated it higher had it not gone so over the top with the revolting visuals. Rating: 6
Fairy-tale ending

Big congratulations to Lionel Messi on finally winning his first-ever World Cup trophy in a roller coaster 2022 FIFA World Cup final for the ages, where Argentina kept grabbing the brass ring only for France to keep snatching it away in the closing minutes of regulation and extra time. I still remember the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where Messi dejectedly clutched his Golden Ball trophy wishing he could hold the team trophy for Argentina. His failures to win the World Cup kept me from calling him the GOAT--but now that he's finally checkmarked that box, I can freely proclaim him the greatest professional footballer of all time.

I find it cool watching the delight from NoPixel streamers realizing how fun it is to role-play with the ex-members of The Stable. I saw how much the BBMC and Mayor Mickey enjoyed kidnapping Kirk, and how well the Angels have been vibing with Xavier. Given that the Angels already have multiple hackers and drivers, I like that they recruited Xavier for his personality rather than his skills. I also see Xavier's point about not fitting into a serious, "scary" racing crew like Yokai (especially when I saw another comedy character, Richard, trying out with them). I still remember how Redline leader Tony had to rescue Xavier for an S+ boost because Xavier's own Yokai OG Fiona had held him hostage at a Fleeca Bank, which greatly exemplified the contrast in how much those two racing crews valued him.

I will say that when I watch the Angels breeze through bank robberies, meth runs, and coke runs, it makes me miss The Stable's "season finales" when the crew would painstakingly build up to a big heist for weeks and risk all-or-nothing on it. Especially the one where Det. Hardcastle chased their final meth run after months of investigation, with Bundy trying to sleuth Nancy's secrets after he finally got "The Stable" unlock from an anonymous gunman and a text message. Then there was that legendary coke run stalemate that led to a silent standoff between Nancy and Lang over the phone, followed by Nancy's goodbye text to her long-time boyfriend Dante before boarding Lang's private jet. Say what you will about The Stable, they had a helluva storybook run in the city.

Watched movie: "Shin Evangelion Gekijôban" a.k.a. "Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
A decent conclusion to the Rebuild of Evangelion film series, but IMHO nowhere near as good as "The End of Evangelion". Also too much convoluted animation, dogma, and mumbo jumbo for me. Side note: That was not the person I would have shipped Shinji with. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Fabelmans" (2022)
Steven Spielberg's turn at directing a semi-autobiographical drama about his coming-of-age. I liked the movie until around high school--the plotlines there lost me. Side note: Looks like that conversation between Spielberg and that legendary director actually happened--what a casting choice. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "She Said" (2022)
I love investigative journalism movies. I found it cool how the New York Times reporters were just immune to BS, and kept poking and poking for the vulnerabilities in Harvey Weinstein's stonewalling until the dam finally burst. Hopefully this one gets a Best Picture Oscars nomination. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" (2022)
Cute live-action animated mockumentary. Rating: 6
Rest in Peace

I'm finally free from "The Walking Dead" after sitting through that whole series finale where they basically opened more storylines than they concluded. I'm planning to watch zero of those spin-offs.

The discount Regal Edwards Santa Maria 10 theatre closed. Sadge.

To my amusement, someone in Twitch streamer Boogie's chat commented that whoever does Xavier Valentine's NoPixel wiki is "insane". Thanks. They also recommended reading my article about Xavier's legendary S+ boost of a McLaren 720S, which took place during my favorite Boogie stream of all time. Lately though, I've been weighing a new contender for favorite Boogie stream of all time: an emotional, glorious stream where he wound up hitting the hardest bank in Los Santos with three of the city's most prominent criminal leaders--who scrambled around completing hack after hack until it came time to spam the hardest bank hack in the entire city: the final vault door. And just before that vault door timer ran out, Xavier was the one to clutch the hack. It's like his whole life led up to this one gigantic vault room full of riches.

I tried to dissect whether the third hacker, Marty, could have secretly one-shot the final vault door before Xavier's final attempt--but Marty wasn't streaming. He said he didn't care about money and just left Xavier and Claire alone to hack the final vault door at the risk of a timed shutdown. Marty also stated that the vault would have locked down had Xavier failed that last attempt--a credible claim because in Marty's subsequent vault heist, I watched him fail so many hacks that he almost lost two red laptops in a row. Either way, Xavier successfully completed the hardest bank hack in the city for his first time ever.

It was cool seeing Claire finally inviting Xavier into the Angels gang (I still remember their first interaction where to my disappointment, Xavier had barely spoke to her), allowing him to now wake up at "Casa de la Angel" and use their cars. Was also cool to have Angels editors visit Xavier's wiki (I plan to metaguard all of those impressive secrets the Angels showed him). I'm finally getting to know the Angels better than just their gun deals and that time they believed Randy and hopped onto his anti-Stable bandwagon.

I didn't realize Randy was still mentally scarred by that argument last year where the Bandito Boys warned him against cooking meth in the casino hotel. He got triggered again when he found out the Angels recruited The Stable's former hacker Xavier (even though he had nothing to do with any of it). My theory is that because Randy never caught the Bandio Boys, he never got closure and was forced to settle for smear tactics against The Stable name. But we all saw how badly Ramee's smear campaign backfired against Bunny's victorious mayoral run.

I get kinda sad nowadays listening to the phone conversations between ex-Stable members Xavier, Kirk, and Nancy--now that they're in separate gangs and seem to be drifting farther and farther apart. Especially now that Kirk is beefing with two of Nancy's gangs. Bravo to the scene where Kirk stood up for his true friend Wolfe (while BBMC leader Barry couldn't even remember Wolfe's last name) in the same mineshaft where the BBMC blooded Wolfe out. At the ease in which the BBMC bloods out even their most loyal of members, how long before it's Nancy or Collin standing there.

Watched movie: "The Woman King" (2022)
Decent historical epic about a real-life 1800's female army in Africa. Just as I suspected, a bunch of the movie was fictionalized to make its depressing slave trade premise more Hollywood. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Banshees of Inisherin" (2022)
This Martin McDonagh film started out funny when the Irish villager (Colin Farrell) couldn't reconcile why his best friend (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly cut ties with him. But then it got too dark for me to enjoy. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Glass Onion" (2022)
A Knives Out Mystery featuring another fun, subversive whodunit by Rian Johnson. I like how all of the twists and turns in these Benoit Blanc detective mysteries make the solution impossible to predict. Like the killer could be anyone from the person you least suspect to the person you most suspect. Or the killer could just be whoever is the most laughable. All in all, I would've rated the movie higher had it not destroyed the Mona Lisa for laughs. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Strange World" (2022) in 3D
I found the spores and fungus in this Walt Disney Animation Studios movie ugly to look at, and was really fighting boredom until the ethical issues and twists stimulated my interest. Rating: 6
Variant boost

I received my fourth Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine (the bivalent booster dose) on November 4. The next morning, I felt chills and dull nerve pain.

Art imitates life..."Twatter" (NoPixel's version of Twitter) began selling a blue checkmark to its users for $8000. It's hilarious satire because the Twatter accounts in NoPixel are permanently tied to the characters' names--making every twat authentic and the blue checkmark totally useless.

Turn up Boogie's Twitch streams on NoPixel. I recently enjoyed a milestone S+ car boost where a shocking PD helicopter hot drop made him lose his composure on the hacks--but he still clutched it out. So add yet another S+ boost to his impressive resume of never blowing a car engine from failed hacks. Crazy how the police could just land their helicopter and cuff Xavier's boost car driver like that. Luckily, Xavier was able to pick up a replacement driver who could eventually clutch a getaway in their smoking car. Afterward, Xavier spoke with his long-time friend Kirk on the phone knowing that the Angels disapprove of their association (due to that casino hotel scandal that got Xavier's friend Abner permanently banned from NoPixel). I'm intrigued to see what happens next and whether the Angels will eventually ask Xavier to move to their gang app from Yokai (a prerequisite for defending their turf). Admittedly, I don't recall ever seeing Xavier this happy in a group before--The Stable was fun, but weighed down by secrecy, inhibitions, and dysfunction.

The Angels' gang leader Claire hit the nail square on the head when she reflected that sooner or later, gang members have to pick their gang over their friendships. If you ask me, that's what really killed The Stable--their reluctance to prioritize their group over friendships, business connections, and self-interests. Which I wouldn't call a bad thing, given that every single Stable member (except Abner) earned prio on their own merits rather than through their association with The Stable. I'm more inclined to say that gang mentality (both in NoPixel and in real-life) is the actual problem, not The Stable.

Can't say I was thrilled to find out that Lang wants to run for Mayor. I already got fed up with mayoral corruption from incumbent Mayor Mickey, when he cared more about embezzling millions and millions of state funded dollars than paying budgets on time. Probably zero chance Lang would use this civilian position to help civilians, who have been giving up on the city because of their difficulties getting in. I liked Itsjustasummerjob's takes on "content mayors" and "nothing mattering anymore". The notion of a "Talking NoPixel" type stream where pundit(s) share insight about current NoPixel events intrigues me.

Watched movie: "Heojil kyolshim" a.k.a. "Decision to Leave" (2022)
Provocative Oscar entry from South Korea by the director of "Oldboy", where a detective becomes obsessed with an alluring murder suspect. Which got me to thinking: how messed up would it be if your soulmate turned out to be a murderer? Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Tár" (2022)
Bravo to Todd Field for writing and directing such a masterfully nuanced film that when I looked up how true the scandal was afterward, I got confused to find out that Cate Blanchett had been portraying a fictional conductor that entire time. Just give Cate Blanchett the Oscar now. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" (2022) in 3D
Still hard to believe that Chadwick Boseman passed away, but props to director Ryan Coogler for making the returning cast members look cool and fierce. Rousing music by Ludwig Göransson as well. Definitely stay during the credits. Rating: 7
The night is darkest just before the dawn

Welp, I spoke to soon about the survival of two years worth of TV highlights on my HDD/DVD recorder. I took it in for another repair because none of the video inputs were working, and this time all of my recordings got deleted. Oh well, it's not like I go back and re-watch any of the recordings anyway.

Not much going on right now in NoPixel. A lot of characters either stopped streaming or lack a storyline. I've mostly just been watching Xavier's quest to join the Angels--one of the few gangs left with a sense of humor--whose leader Claire claims to have broken up The Stable (I guess trying to take credit for breaking up The Stable has become a meme at this point). From what I've seen, Lexi seems like the only Angel who actually knew The Stable well enough to have an informed opinion about them. I would be interested to know Xavier's reason for "mentally leaving" The Stable--I don't think he's ever stated why.

I'm curious how long Sabith "Bunny" Cohen's streamer will stay away from NoPixel on maternity leave given how quickly other people like Jeffy and Charlie returned. Hopefully she'll forget that weird idea she floated about writing her character off in a fatal, offscreen car accident. That would rival Poochie's death in "The Simpsons". Admittedly, civilians have it rough in NoPixel, which is why they fascinate me more than the cops and criminals. The civilians struggle to find a voice and purpose in a city defined by crime and corruption. Bunny articulated their plight well in a conversation with Sloane Kelly, but to my recollection never conversed about the subject with Dean Watson (the head NoPixel developer who could probably do something about it).

It'd be cool if Sloane ran for Mayor of Los Santos someday. I spotted him during ex-Stable leader Richard's homeless arc, but sadly the two barely even spoke. Admittedly, I've been confused by some of Sloane's role play choices recently, i.e., the phone that forms a shield of "nanites" to automatically protect the body against attacks and his warning to Nancy against taking over the most plot-armored corporation in the city.

Watched movie: "Halloween Ends" (2022) in IMAX with Laser
I've seen a lot of Halloween movies, and this one had the strangest opening I've ever seen. Also weird how the second installment built up Michael Myers as an indestructible monster, only to job him as a supporting character in this third and final installment. Admittedly, I found the romance storyline with the budding copycat killer much more interesting than the usual slasher film fare. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Black Adam" (2022) in RPX
A DC Extended Universe antihero movie that felt no different from all of the other DC Extended Universe superhero movies that fail at humor, screenwriting, and villain characters. Definitely stay during the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Dawn of the Dead" (1978-1979) in 3D
Much less politically correct than I remembered. Still my favorite George Romero film though, from the Goblin music to the social commentary to the thoughtful "in-ring psychology" of the human survivors working to lock down the mall. I'm convinced that extra 3-D effects got added to this release of the movie, e.g., the exploding head seemed to project more chunks and the breaking windows seemed to project more shards. Rating: 9
Watched movie: "Nanny" (2022)
Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance that I found anticlimactic given all of the foreshadowing and tension that the movie had built up. Fortunately, my free screening at SBIFF's Riviera Theatre ended with a Q&A with the director Nikyatu Jusu and lead actress Anna Diop. The director cleared up a lot of the confusion I had about the message of the film. Side note: It was surreal seeing the star of the movie standing right there in the theatre after I had just got done watching her on the screen. Rating: 5
Corpus delicti

The juries for the Kristin Smart murder trial are still deliberating in separate rooms at the Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas, and I don't envy them having to reach verdicts on such circumstantial evidence. Paul Flores has been accused of murdering her--and his father, Ruben Flores, has been accused of burying her body underneath the deck of his residence. However, Kristin's body or DNA have never actually been found. The jury can convict Paul Flores of a) premeditated first-degree murder, b) felony murder, or c) second-degree murder. From what I read, Ruben Flores' jury can still convict him of "accessory to murder after the fact" whether Paul is acquitted or not.

Surreal watching webcam footage and hearing the voices of real-life Twitch streamers at TwitchCon. I spotted a lot of The Stable streamers hanging out. Although I squirm at the thought of the group ever reforming on NoPixel (and probably getting into the same old arguments), it'd be cool if they ever planned another big event, i.e., a reunion or a heist.

Props to Nancy on her first successful S+ boost hack. It's a special accomplishment because after her first two attempts, it would've been so easy to just give up to save face. But she chose to risk it and challenge herself. That's what I enjoy most in NoPixel, watching streamers set scary ambitious personal goals for their characters (from running for Mayor to building up to a big meth run) and feeling real emotions whether they succeed or fail. I'm personally not into the staged stuff like fake romances and fan fiction. I also hate it when the streamers cut corners on role play and just settle their issues behind the scenes.

Now that Nancy's been charged with assisting PD shootings, will she brave the armored car meth run someday? On a side note, it's also kinda bothering me that three former members of The Stable still have their Bobcat Security cards stashed in their homes unused, waiting to be seized whenever the next police raid occurs.

Then again...I've come to realize from BoogieTD streams that maybe the things that bother me, NoPixel players, and NoPixel audiences shouldn't really bother us at all. For instance, I listen to all the gripes and grudges that really upset people--and I get to thinking: why not just let those things go.

Speaking of...I actually have reservations about whether Xavier should ever tether himself to a new gang (thus becoming bound to their clique prejudices), seeing as how the top racing crews and their leaders have started entrusting him with S+ boost hacks. Lately he's hacked for some of the best S+ getaways I've ever seen, from escape route call-outs to decoy bait-and-switches.

Watched movie: "Soul" (2020)
A funny, profound, and ambitious masterwork from Pixar about life after death...and before birth. The characters' expressions, e.g., the jazz pianist, the cynical soul, the famous saxophonist, and even the zoned out subway passengers, were animated to perfection IMHO. Stay after the credits. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "The Right Stuff" (1983)
Amusing and insightful historical drama about the United States' first astronauts during the Space Race. I enjoyed all of the politics and image consulting that went on behind the scenes of the NASA launches. Funny how anticlimactic that iconic scene with the astronaut entourage felt when I finally saw it. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Smile" (2022) in Dolby Cinema
Unnervingly scary when the monster tormented the main character with different people's hideous smiles. Too bad the movie went on to fumble the ball with really bad CGI. I also didn't see the point of the backstory regarding the mother's suicide, and why the plot wasted so much screen time on the main character denying her descent into madness. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Triangle of Sadness" (2022)
Disgusting. I don't know what's been going on with these Palme d'Or winners lately. Last year I had to watch a serial killer get impregnated by a car; this year I had to watch one seasick luxury cruise passenger after another throwing up. Also had to suffer the characters' irritating behavior, and found that whole plot line about the male model prostituting himself in poor taste. Rating: 3
End of an Era

R.I.P. Queen Elizabeth II. I knew beforehand that Camilla's title would change to "Queen Consort", but I still think that's kinda mean.

Roger Federer announced his retirement from tennis. With Serena Williams retiring too, I don't feel like watching tennis anymore.

Come November 1, 2022, my AMC Stubs A-List monthly membership fee will increase from $23.95 to $24.95. Still a helluva bargain even though lately I've only been watching two movies a month.

Thanks to the "2022 San Jose Social Justice Film Festival" at 3Below Theaters, I'm finally going to be able to screen Pixar's "Soul" this weekend.

After I watched the first episode of the new "Quantum Leap" sequel series, I have misgivings that it'll just feature vanilla adventures. The original series never shied away from poignant social issues. On the other hand, it'll be cool if we get to see other Leapers again like Sam and Alia. Side note: I didn't know that Dean Stockwell passed away last year.

The hard drive in my HDD/DVD recorder stopped working (I estimated that I had been using it for about 17 years). Fortunately, the Seaside repairman diagnosed it as an electrical problem and fixed it. Otherwise, I would have lost about two years worth of TV highlights this time, including:

I was pleased to hear that the Twitch streamer who plays former "Shadow Mayor" Sloane Kelly got a prio bump on NoPixel after my worry whether his politically thrilling storyline got retconned behind the scenes. I began watching him and contributing to his wiki once he allied with the former Mayor Sabith Cohen. During his service as the current Mayor's trusted assistant, he outsourced budget consultation and government-funded programs to a private company in a play to stay in power past the Mayor's term. The Mayor just blindly approved it because of his gross negligence in reading paperwork, e-mails, and messages (also unlike the previous Mayor, this Mayor is actually embezzling millions of dollars). So once Cerberus clued the Mayor in, I enjoyed watching them investigate Sloane's labyrinthine company and weave their conspiracy theories.

On the negative side, I hate how Lang stigmatizes people (it gave me flashbacks to how badly he damaged The Stable). Sloane might be impeded from role-playing with Mayor Mickey and Cerberus employees now, and I foresee the Mickey administration withering on the vine as a result. Lang also has myopic leadership traits, IMHO. He made his security head the CEO of his wine business instead of promoting his trusted vice president--leading to understandable internal conflict. So let's just say that I understand the POV of Cerberus' haters, and would love seeing Sloane campaign against their pocket Mayor.

I've come to realize that other than the novelty of new heists, NoPixel gangs contribute nothing meaningful to the City of Los Santos--and the characters I watch are better off pursuing individual goals. Especially after I watched former members of The Stable gamble all of their money away and numb my brain with dead end storylines. In contrast, those impressive S+ boost crews that Xavier has been freelancing for have really opened my eyes. That one thrilling boost where NBC blocked the mechanic shop with buses and set up a choke point ambush was one of the best I've ever watched. I'm also happy that Xavier and Kirk are back on their meth progression (even though Xavier keeps inviting a drug trafficking charge by driving recklessly with his meth table and keeping the meth pillow on his back). Side note: what was the Parks & Rec director up to in Xavier's stream? It's interesting to me how both she and Nancy prefer to plan their big events mere hours before the start time.

Watched movie: "Three Thousand Years of Longing" (2022)
Droll George Miller film wherein a Djinn (Idris Elba) grants a British scholar (Tilda Swinton) three wishes and recounts three tales of how he got trapped in his bottle. Between the lack of imagination in the characters' wishes and the lack of meaning in the tales, I got kinda bored. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bodies Bodies Bodies" (2022)
An evocative, unpredictable whodunit about a "murder in the dark" party game that goes horribly wrong. I wasn't able to guess the killer, and really liked the solution. I also liked the scathing social commentary about what happens when liberals get too pretentious. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Barbarian" (2022) in Dolby Cinema
Unpredictable horror flick that starts with a woman looking for red flags in a male stranger whom she's forced to share an Airbnb rental with. It felt realistic until they started venturing down a steep subterranean stairway hidden in the basement. Then the movie started feeling farcical rather than scary. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ran" (1985)
Akira Kurosawa's epic war movie, colorfully bathed in blood and suffering. From my perspective, the multimillion-dollar budget made Kurosawa's strengths and weaknesses much more pronounced. For instance, I felt like his cynicism toward the human condition worked well with the movie's Shakespearean intrigue. However, the gratuitously violent battle scenes and the warlord's overdone descent into madness struck me as pretentious. Like why did Kurosawa have to string together so many scenes of samurais falling off their horse? Whenever he drags sequences out like this, I can't help but feel like he's trolling. Rating: 6
Color commentary vs. play-by-play

The Stanford Theatre reopened, and it felt amazing to resume my screenings of Akira Kurosawa films there. The closure of this theatre heralded the start of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions for me, so to me its reopening signaled an undeniable return to normalcy.

Not gonna lie, I was profoundly disappointed to receive a message from a streamer's community members to leave their wiki alone so they could write it by themselves. Easily the most unappreciated I've felt in a long time. I've never been territorial when it comes to wikis--I welcome fresh perspectives constructively improving upon what I wrote. I especially find it rewarding when I learn new context and new insights from the rewrites. Now instead of a living document, I have misgivings that it'll look more like a team of image consultants wrote it. Worst of all, any important historic context I come across is now going to be forgotten forever if they don't catch it themselves. I have a really big picture of the city (and how each character fits in it) due to all of the different POVs I channel surf through, including civilians without prio who are just trying to get a foothold into NoPixel.

Initially, I found it laughable that my efforts to respect and paraphrase different characters' POVs would be interpreted as "difficulty remaining neutral". Because character-wise, I would describe my actual personal opinions as that of ambivalence. But I think I understand the disconnect. Nancy has repeatedly made her pride for Cerberus, her white flag over Queen Manor, and her frustrations with The Stable known in character, so that was influencing which interactions I chose to chronicle. Hypothetically if Nancy had only spoken highly of The Stable, I would have picked interactions that had fit that narrative instead.

Also, my writing style is that of a storyteller. To me, The Stable was a story for the ages--an operatic crime drama of pride, betrayal, triumph, heartache, and ironies. Oddly enough, I've also become vested in the Parks and Recreation department's ongoing saga to bring light to a city overrun with cynicism and cruelty. So yeah, if it's bias for me to try my best to do criminally underappreciated story arcs justice...then guilty as charged. :)

By the way, mad respect to this Lexi Law person for getting Xavier banned from the casino after all of his friends did nothing but enable his gambling addiction (especially the "friend" who keeps scamming him with predatory loans). The stream went from unwatchable self-destruction to unselfish heist progression. I did like and also hate one storyline where this Dean Quincy "investor" inexplicably kept wanting to target one of Xavier's least closest friends Bunny. This Dean was the same guy who laughably thought that The Stable had infiltrated Parks and Recreation--I think because its owner, Bunny, had three of her friends working at the casino hotel so people latched onto a conspiracy theory that The Stable was trying to infiltrate Cerberus. Admittedly, the lack of role play between The Stable and Cerberus resulted in such a missed opportunity.

Watched movie: "Emily the Criminal" (2022)
A suspenseful crime drama wherein Aubrey Plaza, buried in student debt, breaks bad and joins a credit card fraud ring. I liked the whole progression of the movie where each crime she committed got more and more dangerous and illegal. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Kakushi-toride no san-akunin" (1958) a.k.a. "The Hidden Fortress" (1960)
A promising Akira Kurosawa film wherein two greedy peasants help a samurai general (Toshirô Mifune) and a 16-year-old princess cross enemy lines with their fortune in gold. Toshirô Mifune looked badass riding horseback with his sword raised, and dueling his foe with a spear. Although I was disappointed by the surprising lack of character growth and redemption of the peasants, it admittedly made the movie feel less formulaic and more profound. I would've rated the film higher but some of the comedy didn't age very well, like the peasants' lechery toward the underage princess. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Orphan: First Kill" (2022)
I generally don't care for this slasher franchise formula where they try to make the depraved killer sympathetic. It's really hard to pull off, like when pro-wrestling promoters try to book heel vs. heel matches. Rating: 4
The Clean Queen's gambit

Not a fan of the new mid-year performance reviews at my workplace. I can't help but feel like my performance has been half as good as a result.

In sports entertainment news, I'm curious to see how the WWE changes now that Vince McMahon has retired. Not curious enough to actually go back to watching WWE programming, but curious enough to skim the recaps.

Looks like current Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic won't be able to compete in the US Open given that he needs a COVID-19 vaccination to enter the United States. He's also still banned from Australia for three years after his deportion from the country, so no Australian Opens either. Sucks to be him.

Although I was intrigued by the trailer for that "Game of Thrones" prequel "House of the Dragon", I unfortunately don't care about the Targaryen civil war. I also wasn't thrilled by the Comic-Con announcement of yet another Walking Dead spin-off. How many new spin-offs does that make, four? I actually watched the season 7 finale of "Fear the Walking Dead" to see a character that they basically retconned killing off, and man I still hate that show.

Congratulations to BoogieTD on finally getting prio! Had three-fourths of the original Stable heads not been so inactive in the city, I would've emphatically checkmarked the one final box to declare The Stable a success--because as I stated previously, the hallmark of a successful pro-wrestling stable is measured by how successful each individual wrestler became as a result. Xavier's been crushing the S+ boost scene, hacking the trackers to perfection for a lot of the prominent gangs (except that last S+ boost where he steeled his nerves and clutched nine hacks in a row to keep his streak alive). Nancy's arena looks like an embarrassment of riches with its new infrastructure for monster truck derbies, concerts, and drift courses. Then we have Hospital Administrator Sabith "Bunny" Cohen, who finally checkmated her political enemies from the Mayor's Office and scored a windfall of a budget for the doctors.

While researching Itsjustasummerjob's early videos for a wiki I was writing, it amused me listening to Bunny's grassroots mayoral aspirations as she sold candles and avocado toast from her Farmer's Market booth. Since then, she joined the most powerful corporation in the city and upset one of the city's most powerful figures in the Mayoral election. Now she's a veritable chessmaster who inevitably achieves everything she sets her mind to. (Side note: that really tripped me out seeing the wiki profile photo I screencapped replacing her mug shot in the city hall records.) I also admire how she seems like the only person in the city willing to stand up to Chang Gang, while everyone else just cows before their bullying, e.g., when they were laughing hysterically at Randy Bullet trying to skin a woman's pet dog.

Watched movie: "Nope" (2022) in IMAX with Laser
A dope, multilayered horror flick by Jordan Peele wherein two opportunistic horse trainers work to capture a UFO on film without much thought to social responsibility. The surveillance for the UFO and the ethics involved kept reminding me of that killer shark from Spielberg's "Jaws", but with more modern commentary regarding tabloidization and monetizing juicy information. I also liked that whole elevated horror aspect about "bad miracles", which I interpreted as the disturbing senselessness of improbable tragedies that have no meaning or dignity to them. Case in point: animals betraying their owners. Side note: if I'm interpreting the movie correctly, did the UFO fist-bump Daniel Kaluuya? Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Vengeance" (2022)
B. J. Novak wrote, directed, and starred in this social comedy, so I wasn't surprised that it kind of felt like a vanity project. Also--just as I had dreaded, the movie got kind of pretentious and portrayed some of the folks in the Texas as stereotypes. I'd rather the film had just focused on the murder mystery rather than all of that sociopolitical commentary. The movie did make some interesting philosophical points though. Rating: 6
Shakespeare in the Parks & Rec

Welp, I found out that Landmark Theatres closed its Pico location in Los Angeles for good on May 31, 2022. So they've basically shut down all three of their most prominent California arthouse theatres this year. Not good.

In other movie news, "Godzilla vs. Kong" is slated to have a sequel by the same director on March 15, 2024. Tight. I'm hoping for some kind of "Survivor Series" match where two teams of monsters try to eliminate each other.

Sometimes my friends and I discuss our least favorite viral phrases. I've come to realize that I hate the phrase "you do you" when people state it in a patronizing way. I've also come to agree with my friend who can't stand the phrase, "It is what it is." I've heard it used for frustrating situations that people are have resigned themselves to, but to me the phrase is completely useless and annoying. My friend also hates the word "literally", but I only hate it when people use it wrong in a sentence. Examples of my least favorite misused words:

In NoPixel news, having written the wikis that answer the closing trivia questions being asked on that recent Cerberus internship game show competition, I obviously suffered during second place contestant Xavier's ignorance to the final questions. I did overcome my frustration when he inexplicably wasted a lifeline to copy an answer that he already knew (since using it on a question that neither contestant knew would've yielded the same result), and felt that him winning the Cerberus internship prize after two straight eliminations would've been really unfair to the other contestants. I also think that subjecting him to Cerberus business meetings would be a punishment for someone as restless as him rather than a reward.

But one thing did sadden me: that he could've won had he known his friend Nancy better. To my discomfort, she keeps hanging around with the BBMC (who recently blooded out one of their oldest founding members without batting an eyelash) and tends to distance herself from my favorite former crew The Stable in public. I've grown used to it ever since that time when the flood of Buddha chat hoppers pressured her against her Stable friends. But I still struggle with all of the different fandoms that Kate tries to appease--like I couldn't bear to watch her pander to all of those Chang Gang chat hoppers flooding in from her bombed prom event. I have to keep telling myself that it's the nature of the beast for Twitch streamers to monetize their channel. (I'll still never support the times where streamers use donations to dictate role play though.) Also, Kirk's been disappointing me lately by how okay he is with losing friendships.

I've recently been confused by apologist fans of the new Mayor of the city, Mickey S. Like he recently paid his private security firm over six million dollars of taxpayer money from the state account, and I saw comments lauding it and defending that it's not embezzlement. In contrast, when the previous Mayor Sabith Cohen got wrongly accused of embezzlement, I couldn't believe all of the low information viewers wanting to burn her at the stake.

In any case, the NoPixel storylines have been kind of slow lately, aside from the city's inexplicably controversial Parks & Rec department. Between all the enemies of it with their delusions of grandeur and the conspiracy theories about it, it's turned into some kind of Shakespearean drama.

Watched movie: "The Black Phone" (2022) in PRIME
Engaging Scott Derrickson film wherein an abducted teenager finds out that the black phone in his captor's soundproofed basement can communicate with the previous victims. I liked the opening credit sequence--this was the same director who did the cool opening scene from "Sinister". Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Minions: The Rise of Gru" (2022) in 3D
Not as mind-numbing as I thought it would be. Stay during the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Thor: Love and Thunder" (2022) in 3D
A glorious operatic spectacle by Taika Waititi, powered with emotion, Guns N' Roses music, and a darkly sympathetic villain. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Gray Man" (2022)
Another thrilling Russo Brothers film wherein CIA operatives regret giving a madman (Chris Evans) carte blanche to lead an all out manhunt against a rogue CIA assassin (Ryan Gosling). I liked how the protagonists were skilled enough to use reflections (and in Ryan Gosling's case, make accurate guesses on where to snipe enemies) but still made honest mistakes under duress like shooting an empty gun at the worst possible time. The best action sequence for me: when all of the hit squads converged on a Prague opera house square where Ryan Gosling was handcuffed to a bench. Rating: 7
The more you know

I wasn't able to book a fourth dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine (booster shot). According to the California web site, only people who are immunocompromised or over 50 years of age are eligible right now.

In addition to owning zero social media accounts, I've learned to avoid the stress of doomscrolling and catastrophizing by minimizing the news I read on the Internet, e.g., COVID-19, Ukraine, Supreme Court rulings, and post-truth politics. I mostly just skim the top headlines now without clicking on them.

At long last, the Stanford Theatre is reopening. I'll finally be able to screen the rest of those Kurosawa films this summer--the ones that got postponed at the beginning of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to Steph Curry for finally winning his first NBA Finals MVP trophy! Interesting how much more emotional he got about the Golden State Warriors' NBA championship victory than Klay Thompson, who was injured for two consecutive NBA seasons.

I read reports of a new sequel series to "Game of Thrones" which I assume will follow the wildlings. Guess I'll have to resubscribe to HBO for it. I'm not interested in any prequel series.

I find that new role play server for "Red Dead Redemption" painfully boring and torturous to watch. Especially compared to NoPixel, which I'd argue is better than any scripted show I've ever streamed. It's like "Game of Thrones" where no character is safe from a devastating L, but better in that each individual role player fleshes out their own character's development rather than a Hollywood screenwriting team. Sadly, I noticed that the most potent scenes come from the real-life streamers' emotional suffering or euphoria. For instance, what a powerful dramatic car scene when the Mayor I've been covering dropped a bombshell that she had lost her bid for re-election; then had to face the persecutors (whom she had tried to help) at the formal city hall announcement; then had to soldier through a peaceful transfer of power (though I wouldn't feel too bad given that she already won Mayor once, which I consider the hardest and most prestigious achievement to unlock in that GTA world). In retrospect, I first began doubting her chances when I spotted a couple of state small business grant recipients twatting support for her political opponent (a criminal). Ingrates, man. Even then, I didn't expect such a lopsided loss--it can only mean that her criminal opponent won the police vote.

I feel like Nancy finally had a breakthrough in distinguishing between the friends who actually care about her, e.g., The Stable, versus the "friends" who only care what she can do for them. Case in point: the BBMC thanking her for her help by trying to price gouge her and use her as a pawn (to be fair, I've realized that Dundee is consistently the root of the problem). Granted, Nancy repeatedly laments about how things kept going awry with The Stable, but to me that's what made the group fun to watch. I have mixed feelings about this "refusing treatment for lung cancer" storyline from their ex-leader though--mostly because of my own personal regret regarding this subject.

I guess it's cool that six months after The Stable disbanded, people still keep talking about them. Though I'm confused about why The Mandem keep acting like they knew them, given that the two groups have never met. I've seen laughably ignorant conspiracy theories from the group faking their own break-up to the Parks and Recreation Department being a secret front for them. Although I try to see conflicts from all sides, it's become undeniable how entitled and toxic The Mandem have become. The worst part is when people keep spouting misinformation about The Stable because they're too lazy to read about them in the wiki I've been maintaining.

Watched movie: "Watcher" (2022)
Kind of like "It Follows" except that this time, Maika Monroe is psychologically tormented by a guy who keeps staring at her from an apartment across the street. The movie was really boring (except for Maika Monroe's facial expressions), and made me wish that she had starred in an "It Follows" sequel instead. I also wished that the film had fleshed out the details better, like showing her shop for curtains and/or explaining why she couldn't just move to a better apartment. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Jurassic World Dominion" (2022) in 3D
Advertised as the final installment of the Jurassic franchise, and features a crossover of the main casts from both trilogies. Other than some interesting dinosaur chasing shots, I felt disengaged the entire movie. I'm tired of dinosaurs, and couldn't bring myself to care about the storylines like the asexual reproduction or whether the T-Rex (inexplicably a recurring protagonist in this franchise) prevailed as the apex predator. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Lightyear" (2022) in 3D
Kinda boring. I was glad that Pixar started off the movie explaining that it was the inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear toy line, though. Otherwise, I would've spent the whole film worrying that it was just a figment of some kid's imagination. Stay during the credits. Stay after the credits twice. Rating: 5
A tale of two wikis

The Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley permanently closed on June 1, 2022. Although I've only screened one movie there ("Censor") in the past three years, I dislike how these arthouse movie theaters keep closing.

Congratulations to Rafael Nadal on his 14th French Open victory and 22nd Grand Slam title. He's pulling away from the Big Three at this point. Also congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on finally making it back to the NBA Finals.

I tried that new one-net-carb, zero-sugar Hero Bread from Subway. Basically tasted like paper.

Recently, I've enjoyed capturing cool screencaps and profile pictures to post in the wiki pages I edit. Interesting fact: for each public NoPixel wiki article that I update the most, I maintain a private draft on my desktop. Reason #1: to guard meta secrets such as meth strains and secret warehouses, because I don't trust all of the PD officers, confidential informants, and rival criminals on the server to resist cheating. Reason #2: to note threads that might or might not lead to a newsworthy storyline. Reason #3: to spare the players' feelings. For instance, I've avoided chronicling some mighty cringe self-sabotage arcs (like a music label owner with gambling debts arriving to a constructive meeting saying their company sucks and then talking their best artist into selling out to a mainstream music label).

In the case of Mayor Sabith "Bunny" Cohen's wiki, I reluctantly left out a lot of insightful details about her character (like how good she is at placating Cerberus) because I wanted to keep the page concise. Recently, I watched her bare her emotions and persuade an enemy mainstream music label to play at her campaign event. This feat corroborated why I'm so dumbfounded by the naysayers who counted her out of the current mayoral race, including a female "Brutus" who burned a bridge with her (and me as a viewer) because she wanted a third mayoral term for herself and couldn't wait two months. Keep in mind that before Bunny had much name recognition, she defeated a Goliath of a streamer in her very first mayoral campaign. This time around she's the incumbent, gets free advertising on every NoPixel player's loading screen, and has given away millions of dollars to constituents and businesses that her wiki is only scratching the surface of. Plus to my amusement, it only took a few minutes in her shoes (getting heckled by a criminal gang) for her jokey political opponent Mickey S to log off the server. He's getting the same wake-up call Ramee did in realizing which "friends" don't really have his back. All in all, this election has too many variables (like whether that beloved ex-Chief Justice I never heard of will have his name on the ballot) for me to even attempt to predict a winner. But I hope that win or lose, Bunny appreciates being immortalized as the 5th Mayor of Los Santos. Because I've channel surfed so many down bad Twitch streams of NoPixel characters who have nothing going for them and can't even get a foothold into anything.

That Twitch streamer MistorThio stated it best when he mused that people shouldn't keep tormenting themselves about what they don't have. He focuses Kirk on role play rather than video game mechanics, so the whitelist disaster didn't affect him. I also liked his pearl of wisdom that people remember tweets. I actually abandoned an article I was planning to write for a detective's wiki because I spotted her in-game tweet supporting a mayoral candidate I didn't like. Wiki writing is just a hobby for me, so I don't want to waste time and energy on characters and gangs I dislike. :)

Watched movie: "Men" (2022)
I guess Alex Garland is writing and directing surrealist horror now. Really confused what the point of all that gore was. Generally when I see a movie like this, I ask myself whether it's deep or dumb. My verdict for this film: dumb. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Top Gun: Maverick" (2022) in IMAX with Laser
Formulaic but fun throwback to the 1980s wherein Tom Cruise must train young naval fighter pilots for a contrived Death Star-like mission to bomb an underground uranium enrichment plant. Still not sure why they couldn't just call an airstrike or use drones, but okay. I really liked the tease of the enemy having their own top gun to dogfight Maverick--that would make an entertaining premise for a threequel. Make it happen, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise. I can already picture the trailer with a Tom Cruise voice-over. I feel like ever since Tom Cruise began making movies with Skydance, he's really found his groove for gravitas and intensity. Rating: 6
Hearts and hive minds

I finally tried that Nitro Pepsi draft cola. It's nitrogen-infused so it indeed had a creamy, smoother taste. At the same time, it mostly just tasted like a flat Pepsi.

I don't know why I keep reading the comments in those out-of-context, clickbait YouTube videos. Some of the stupidest uninformed opinions I've ever read. This is probably what I hate the most about social media.

That recent Stable reunion on NoPixel made me remember how this group once fueled the greatest storylines I've ever watched on Twitch. It's laughable to me how Nancy said they were better off disbanded, when hers and Bunny's lives are like an embarrassment of riches while everyone else from The Stable lacks purpose and got blocked by a whitelist. A couple of them buried themselves in gambling debts, and three-fourths of the former Stable Heads don't even wake up in the city anymore.

Admittedly, I don't miss those days when the irresponsible Stable members would drag the responsible Stable members into their dumb police chases, scandals, and beefs. At this point, Nancy and Bunny would have too much to lose being associated with a criminal gang. It just takes one hothead or knucklehead to pull down the rest of the gang, like in the recent case of The Mandem losing their multimillion-dollar business deal with Cerberus because a couple of them burned a civilian alive with a Molotov cocktail (because in their eyes, she didn't respect their "gang chain" enough). That civilian turned out be a vice-president at Cerberus. So now The Mandem has been infighting the exact same way The Stable did before they broke up. Ironically, The Mandem even brought up that infamous Stable casino hotel room incident without seeing how closely that situation resembles their own.

I feel like so many people in NoPixel don't understand how to swallow pride, or have grown entitled because of how long they've been there. Say what you will about The Stable, a lot of them like BoogieTD, GrandPooBear, and MistorThio understand the pro-wrestling concept of "putting people over", i.e., making their arresting officers and rival criminals look good. ByThyBeard certainly understood this whenever he let The Stable go, which is why I always respected how The Stable repaid him with a fair shot at their final big meth run.

I think overall, Mayor Sabith "Bunny" Cohen has been my favorite NoPixel wiki to write. Each chapter progressively builds up to her mayoral election victory, from surviving criminal investigations to gaining Cerberus' confidence so that Nancy could float her candidacy to them. I also like the character's struggle to win hearts and minds in a city plagued with tribalism, violence, selfishness, ego, and backseating. Sadly, one of the best storylines I've ever followed on NoPixel was her contentious mayoral campaign, which her Twitch streamer called two of the most traumatic and tearful weeks she's ever endured on the server. I respect that instead of just playing her character safe, she risked a very public failure and triumphed.

With The Stable gone, I mostly just wander through positive Twitch streams now and contribute to the NoPixel wiki. So mostly ex-Stable circles and Cerberus businesses involving Nancy; and nothing with Chang Gang, the BBMC, or South Side gangs. I'll never forget that one time when Nancy's current BBMC boyfriend had an epiphany about how to lure in and torture an innocent Stable member. I stopped following BBMC after all I realized how little it took for them to turn on trusted long-time relationships.

Watched movie: "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (2022) in IMAX 3D
Everything I expected from a Sam Raimi film, including slapstick with Doctor Strange's cloak, a cameo from Bruce Campbell, kinetic camera movement, and disconcerting in-your-face scenes. I really liked how Sam Raimi worked in those creepy close-ups on people's eyes. My only major complaint was how badly a lot of the multiverse Marvel characters got jobbed--this is why I never liked that What If comic book series that Marvel Comics used to publish. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Firestarter" (2022)
Anticlimactic remake considering how far special effects have come since that original 1984 movie starring Drew Barrymore. I just wanted to see the pyrokinetic girl unleash hell, and was puzzled by the different route that the plot took. Side note: It's cool they got John Carpenter to help with the music. Rating: 5

My new smartphone is just collecting dust in my office. I've only been using it for texting (I do like the group texting on it).

Well, all of the teasers paid off--I still can't believe how phenomenal the return of Mick on NoPixel turned out. Mostly because his streamer GrandPooBear picked the perfect two role-players to seed ideas to. And thanks to his uncapped subathon, I got to watch him live as he set up the storyline behind the scenes. It was like sitting in the gorilla position at WrestleMania, hoping for the main event to be entertaining and watching the planned "spots" in suspense. The "Raw after WrestleMania" stream where Mick finally got married hit the ball out of the park too. I actually felt a pang of sadness when GrandPooBear left his revitalized friends behind and logged off the server. It gave me unprecedented insight into his NoPixel plight. It's like how WWE ratings decline after WrestleMania season, and now the employees have to return to the grindstone working matches and building up new storylines. Plus he's blocked out of all of his favorite GTA hobbies because of a dumb NoPixel update that exposed all of the favoritism and glass ceilings on that server.

Personally, I would be happy just watching Mick run civilian jobs with friends, rob houses, or hit Bobcat Security again. But I'm holding out hope that some day, he could experience the raw thrill of an S+ boost or a big meth run. Or probe for the meta unlock on the lower vault and the yacht.

Watched movie: "The Northman" (2022) in Dolby Cinema
Shakespearean Robert Eggers film wherein a Viking king's own brother murders him for the throne and marries the queen, enraging the king's son into seeking revenge. The trailer had all of the best scenes in it, and conveniently left out that the whole movie takes place on a farm. :( Rating: 5
"We don't get to walk off into the sunset!"

Welp. I finally had to upgrade my green screen Kyocera cell phone because once Verizon sunset their 3G network, I couldn't call or text anymore. I bought a $150 "Orbic Wonder" smartphone from Verizon with a starting plan of $35 per month. I've been learning how to tap and swipe.

My developed pictures from the WWE event came back fogged, which can be caused by heat or light exposure. The 35mm film was old/expired and sat in my camera at room temperature for over five years. Sadly, I still have a lot of 35mm film rolls in the fridge that I want to use up before I buy a digital camera.

I keep forgetting how much older I am than these streamers on Twitch, especially when I see them get blindsided by the same life lessons that made me the hardened cynic I am today. For instance, one of my golden rules is to never lend money to friends or family. I only give away money with no strings attached--because if someone promises to replay me and doesn't, I lose trust in them. On NoPixel, I've seen it happen to Nancy (her friends splurging their money away instead of repaying her), and I've seen Xavier hurt his friendships over his money borrowing. Generally, I also trust everyone conditionally and don't believe in "ride or die" loyalty, for example, I know people whom I could trust with with my life--but not with certain responsibilities. I can also think of people who would have my back, but then forget I exist the second they spot someone attractive.

Speaking of "ride or die" loyalty, it fascinated me listening to Twitch streamer GrandPooBear talk about why he left NoPixel, and how badly Nancy's bosses hurt his pride by bullying The Stable into paying $100,000 for an NPC on their own racetrack. Admittedly, I was watching Kate's stream that fateful day--and once the hoppers from Lang's chat flooded in, I witnessed Nancy flip from Stable Head to the Cerberus executive she is today. It worked out in the end because thanks to her, Cerberus made all of The Stable's dreams come true. Lang even confided the racetrack NPC's secret to her. But sometimes I still muse about whether she hitched her wagon to the right horse, given how Lang acts like a mafia head (demanding "absolute trust and loyalty") and keeps treating her as an employee rather than as a friend. Recently, I shrugged that he excluded her from his "Hero Wine" business (Lang's new front for heroine) because Nancy absolutely hated running the Herberus farming company, avoids drug trafficking, and keeps attracting police attention that could blow the whole operation--but I was dumbfounded why he made a special effort to hire every Cerberus executive onto it except for her.

Anyways, back to GrandPooBear...if you ask me, he suffers from the same problem as most players on that NoPixel server--just like real-life, they can't help but create their own personal hell on it (even Kate who personalizes FOMO and occasionally takes her eye off the ball). I feel like had he approached it more like a pro-wrestler building up a storyline to WrestleMania (such as The Stable's build-up to the big meth run or Itsjustasummerjob's yearlong build-up to her mayoral election victory), rather than as a speedrunner trying to beat a video game, he would've found more fulfillment in it. Additionally, more and more of Mick's friends are becoming unwatchable to me, just wandering the city rudderlessly living paycheck to paycheck (I especially can't stand the self-destructive gambling addiction arcs). At least make a bucket list or something. Admittedly, the latest dev update that shut most of the players out of crimes would disaffect anyone (good thing The Stable wasn't still around for this slap in the face).

Watched movie: "Everything Everywhere All at Once" (2022)
An imaginative, wildly eye-popping multiverse movie wherein Michelle Yeoh has to channel her alternate selves to fight a god-like nihilist who went mad from the pointlessness of existence. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Ambulance" (2022) in Dolby Cinema
Obnoxiously overdirected but surprisingly decent Michael Bay film wherein two bank robbers flee from LAPD cop cars and helicopters in an ambulance they hijacked with two hostages inside. It reminded me fondly of a thrilling heist in Grand Theft Auto wherein drug runners have to carjack an armored vehicle full of meth and play cat-and-mouse with the police. I think the plot hole that hurt my suspension of disbelief the most was how little L.A. traffic there was during that whole entire police chase. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Morbius" (2022)
Sony Marvel vampire movie in the same universe as "Venom". It sucked. Stay during the credits twice. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" (2022) in RPX
Another installment heavy on plot filler and light on story progression. IMHO, the movie underdeveloped its best plot arcs, i.e., the Wizarding World election, Dumbledore's heartaches, and the heartbreak between Jacob Kowalski and Queenie. I'd rather this franchise just wrap up the Grindelwald storyline than draw it out for another two films. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" (2022)
Mildly amusing Nicolas Cage comedy wherein he plays a satirical version of himself on an undercover mission to save a politician's kidnapped daughter. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Bad Guys" (2022) in 3D
Immaculate computer animation by DreamWorks Animation that follows a crew of talking animals from the children's graphic novel series of the same name. I found the plot kinda corny and the characters annoyingly smug. Rating: 6
WWE Hall of Fame 2022

I'm back from Dallas. Strangely, both airports mandated face masks but not the American Airlines Center where I attended the 2-for-1 WWE SmackDown + WWE Hall of Fame ceremony (nor any other place I explored in Texas). It seriously felt like I was the only one in that entire arena wearing a face mask. Incidentally, I received a scare when their box office employee at Will Call couldn't find my printed ticket. She told me that the event was mobile tickets only. Fortunately, she spotted a note on the computer and then went to the back and found my ticket. I also had trouble getting a taxi, because ride-share appears to have completely taken over that business. Plus my early generation cell phone crashed a couple of times in Texas, so my days without a smartphone are definitely numbered.

I'm mailing in my 35mm film roll to get processed. I found the WWE SmackDown show boring, but the emotional WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony headlined by Vince McMahon inducting The Undertaker made the whole trip worthwhile. It was awesome to see the pro-wrestler who plays The Undertaker, Mark Calaway, break character and deliver a heartfelt induction speech. I was really impressed by how well-spoken he was, because historically I've never considered promos to be one of The Undertaker's strengths.

During my stay at the Hyatt House Dallas/Uptown, I went on their public computer checking for updates on the GTA mayoral election on NoPixel. Congratulations to the new Mayor Sabith "Bunny" Cohen on the best storyline I've ever watched from this GTA character. It's been surreal rooting for the Twitch streamer who plays her (itsjustasummerjob) to win a video game's mayoral election. I wrote five paragraphs about the campaign in her wiki. It was like a real election, basically, except with much more election violence. She worked night and day to win it, and had been breaking down from the stress, sleep deprivation, and the ugly attacks on her character that were too hard not to take personally. I've kept tabs on this character since her time as the clean face of The Stable, and have never seen her tested like this. To me, an achievement always feels more earned when someone feels emotions very strongly but can still soldier through them. I'd like to say that I predicted she'd win the election all along, but I began losing faith when she looked like she had given up and stopped campaigning. Clearly, she must have canvassed offstream in the other timezone.

To my amusement, the political opponent she defeated (Ramee) had a postmortem with his Chang Gang crew to go over why he lost. It was amusing to me because they went over each voting bloc, and realized that Ramee had poor relations with each one. They were also somehow surprised that the voting blocs whom they had historically intimidated and bullied lied about voting for him.

The devil comes for you at your highest moment

Congratulations to me on a perfect six of six Oscars prediction. I was only half-paying attention when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock onstage. Never good to lose your temper in public like that, lest you get a reputation as a hothead. I thought they were just clowning around until the broadcast suddenly got heavily censored. Afterward, I watched the uncensored clip online--and to me, Will Smith angrily shouting F-bombs was actually the most inappropriate and cringeworthy part for me. Had he just sat back down and smiled, I bet you he wouldn't have gotten any backlash.

I almost canceled my trip to Dallas tomorrow because Ticketmaster wouldn't let me change my mobile ticket to a printed ticket. Luckily, their customer service was able to move my ticket to the Box Office Will Call window. I don't own a smartphone, and will be photographing this WWE event with a film camera that I haven't used in ages. I'm flying back without attending WrestleMania 38. I might consider WrestleMania 39 and Royal Rumble 2023 though, if The Rock returns.

I see so many parallels between pro-wrestling and NoPixel. Just like pro-wrestling, NoPixel has "marks" in the audience who take what they see way too seriously. That's why I miss the "kayfabe" days in wrestling, where the pro-wrestlers acted melodramatically enough so that the audience could tell the performances apart from the actors. A lot of the times in NoPixel, I see players mistakenly assuming their realistically toxic behavior won't get taken personally because it's just a "character".

Twitch streamer Kate Stark recently celebrated her GTA character Nancy's one year anniversary on NoPixel. I still think about Nancy's crossroads in that private jet with Cerberus, where she had to choose between either: a) paying her boss Lang $100,000 to save her career and her future, or b) standing by her irresponsible Stable friends who couldn't even hold down a job. Interestingly, I would have picked option b. Because who would want to keep working for an employer low enough to extort that kind of money from a cherished employee. Little did I know that it was a loyalty test, and that Lang would immediately return her money and eventually help her become one of the most powerful businesswoman in the city.

I've accepted that Nancy's crew The Stable should never reunite in NoPixel, given how much happier the former members seem nowadays. They've gone their separate ways like the Stark family in "Game of Thrones"--but unlike "Game of Thrones", I can watch any part of the map that I want. Currently I've enjoyed watching their ex-hacker Xavier boost S+ cars, and watching their ex-underboss Bunny campaign for mayor in a contentious election where people keep lecturing her how to be more likeable. I'm hoping that at the very least, the "shrimp", the police, and the female voters of that city unite to give Bunny's political opponent Ramee a resounding ego check. Because with the exception of Nancy, Ramee and his Chang Gang crew have been nothing but rude and entitled toward every character I follow (especially during that dark period where Chang Gang was allowed to breach other criminals' banks).

I'm also still dumbfounded why people in the city would ever want to network with Chang Gang instead of Cerberus. The Stable lived in development hell for the better part of a year until Nancy earned Cerberus' trust. Then Cerberus made all of their dreams come true: Nancy gained ownership of the arena, Bahama Mamas West got locks on their doors, Richard got his tape press, Xavier got to boost with Dean Watson, and Bunny got Cerberus' backing for mayor. Also, Cerberus is notoriously petty and would not be beneath denying business opportunities to anyone who spoke against them.

Watched movie: "X" (2022)
I've never found perverted old people entertaining, so this slasher flick where they killed adult filmmakers repulsed me. Stay after the credits for a prequel tease. Rating: 4
For your consideration

My final Oscar predictions for 2021:

Lately, I've been appreciating Nancy's positive streams in a NoPixel server where the players tend to mald, argue, and resort to violence too much. So I felt misgivings about her current arc as a campaign manager for her best friend Bunny in the GTA mayoral election. It started to feel contentious and remind me of U.S. politics where one candidate tries to take the high road while the other candidate overpromises with impunity. It also gave me anxiety watching Nancy doomscroll through twatter and listening to their Cerberus allies doom spiral. But all of the political strategies and counterstrategies, the stress tests to Bunny's mettle, and the exposure of true allegiances have intrigued me. (Nancy and her boss Leslie read my mind keeping a list of the two-faced "friends" of Bunny and Cerberus.) Also, the debate where everyone attacked Bunny's relationship to Cerberus went well, IMHO, because I feel like all of the Chang Gang haters would want to unite behind the candidate with the best chance of beating Ramee. I don't understand the "forgone conclusion" that Ramee will win on name recognition alone, because it's not Twitch viewers that are voting--it's the NoPixel players that have to live in the same city as Chang Gang a.k.a. the biggest bully on the block.

Watched movie: "The Outfit" (2022)
Such convoluted double-crosses that the movie felt less like noir to me and more like camp. I did like the premise of Mark Rylance trying to keep his head down as he cut suits and held envelopes for a mob boss. Rating: 5
A never-ending story

I might not have to resubscribe to Netflix after all. Netflix has been showing their latest programming at their luxury Bay Theater location in the Palisades Village. I actually screened their terrible new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" sequel there recently. And given that they showed "Squid Game" there, they're bound to show "Stranger Things" season 4 Vol. 1 this May.

To my disappointment, the Academy Museum's family matinee of Pixar's "Soul" turned out to be an accommodative screening for neurodivergent viewers, meaning open-captioned with the auditorium lights on, low sound, and the option to move around and speak throughout. Same goes for the accommodative "When Marnie Was There" screening in April. So I'm still waiting to see either of these movies in a theater. I did get to screen Pixar's "Turning Red" at the beginning of its one-week limited engagement at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.

I'm liking the new "Law & Order" season so far, even though they're very clearly ripping off infamous real-life cases. They're not shying away from today's toughest issues from the #MeToo movement to "Black Lives Matter" to post-truth politics.

I can't put my finger on it, but lately I've begun to wonder whether the articles I write on the NoPixel wiki have been influencing how the Twitch streamers play their GTA characters. Because I've heard a couple of them mention the wiki--and in several of the characters' recent history articles, I've literally been the only author. I guess whether I like it or not, that makes me their unofficial biographer; the narrator of their life story. And what do I judge to be worthy of writing about? Significant canonical events such as life-changing decisions, important personal achievements, and rare high stakes missions. Given that I was raised Buddhist, I actually feel like I unconsciously left them all clues on how to win the NoPixel video game (hint: it's not by getting greedy and thinking selfishly). For instance, I made it a point to write about the construction their businesses finally got--which they're either going to squander and keep to themselves, or use to spread out meaningful role play. And I'm not going to write this on Nancy's wiki, but I'm hoping some day she looks back with pride at all of the lives she helped as a Clean Queen.

Speaking of, I almost deleted something I chronicled about the Clean Queens because Nancy emotionally rolled back a comment she blurted about Cerberus having too many sidebars without them. But ultimately, I considered it too interesting and constructive of an ideological disagreement to just sweep under the rug. I almost feel like a journalist, trying to keep my own personal bias out of the wiki. Because in contrast to the unprofessionally divisive Cerberus corporation, I personally prefer how the Clean Queens stay out of gang politics, can work with any faction from Chang Gang to the PD, and generally don't abuse their power to bully people smaller than them. Admittedly though, I can't watch some of Nancy's hardcore pranking and trolling sometimes, e.g., lying to Dean that a PD officer wanted to stab her and joke twatting about canceling men.

I'm starting to realize that NoPixel is an online "Stanford Prison Experiment" where the streamers who play the PD officers can just abuse civil rights without any due process or oversight. I was dismayed by how the police could just hide a surveillance camera at an innocent businesswoman's warehouse just because her boyfriend sold weed; then deceived her so they could raid it (only to find bee's wax and honey inside). The only thing worse than that was when I watched the police accept unauthenticated photographs from some random confidential informant. They used it as probable cause to raid Mortelle's warehouse and then patted themselves on the back like they had accomplished some top-tier police work. I basically viewed it as loot boxing because of how much role play it killed for the clean face owner, the gang, and the SCU detective building a case against them.

Watched movie: "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" (2022)
Funny. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2022)
Cartoonish and stupid. Stay after the credits. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "Turning Red" (2022)
A fun Pixar comedy about a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student who turns into a big red panda whenever she loses control of her emotions. The student's overbearing mother made me theorize that the panda was something deep, i.e., a cultural metaphor for repressed happiness. But now I think it was all just a kids' movie and the panda meant nothing. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Batman" (2022)
Tried so hard to make Batman noirish and gritty that it ended up feeling pretentious and laughable. The Riddler reminded me of that serial killer from "Seven". Rating: 5
Olympic Winter Games XXIV: Redemption

I'm in awe that Lindsey Jacobellis finally won an Olympic gold medal in snowboard cross at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, sixteen years after that infamous Olympic snowboard cross final where she missed the gold medal because she crashed during a showboat trick near the finish line. Despite that humiliation and her failures to make the medal stand in the next three Olympics, she never gave up. I, on the other hand, gave up on her after that last Olympics because I was so tired of watching her lose race after race. So unfortunately, I didn't get to see this cathartic gold medal victory live. Looks like she went on to win a gold medal in the mixed team snowboard cross as well.

Also, congratulations to Nathan Chen for finally winning the Olympic gold medal for men's figure skating. I still remember that last Olympics when he kept falling during the short program and placed seventeenth.

WWE announced that they're inducting The Undertaker into their WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2022 on Friday, April 1, 2022. I might brave a flight to Texas to attend in person, probably up near the nosebleeds given how more expensive the seats are in comparison to what I'm willing to pay. The ceremony will take place live on the same night as Friday Night SmackDown at the American Airlines Center in Dallas before WrestleMania.

In NoPixel news, talk about surreal. Surreal for me because on the same day I wrote an update to Xavier's NoPixel wiki page, his Twitch streamer actually read what I wrote on his stream. Surreal for him because here he is playing GTA, and some lurker is chronicling his decisions as they happen.

Congratulations to Kirk on his third successful meth run. Although I found it tense (even though no police responded), I'm not the biggest fan of that "Clown Cartel" crew he ran the job with--too chaotic of a crew for my taste. For me, nothing can ever top the thrill of Kirk's first two meth runs with The Stable. The Stable risked that first meth run back when the police sent drug traffickers away for the 9's--and the group had everything on the line, i.e., their morale, their self-worth, their legacy, all of The Barn's money, and all of that time and effort. Plus they got hit with unexpected surprises like the trigger-happy armored car guards and the long standby wait between e-mails; and it was also the very first time Kirk and the two Stable Heads pulled the trigger on PD officers. For The Stable's second meth run, Det. Hardcastle and the police had been closing in on them for drug trafficking and were vigilantly watching the warehouse hiding the meth. It was like that Blues Brothers movie how hotly Hardcastle's police force chased after The Stable's armored car, trying to stop them from running the last of their drugs out of the country. Looking back on it now that the group has officially disbanded, you couldn't have written a more perfect climax to The Stable's story. If you ask me, the more prominent gangs in NoPixel aren't even worth writing about--endlessly spamming crime jobs, feuding in pointless wars, gaining and losing material wealth, and wandering the NoPixel server without much purpose.

Currently, Nancy has a phenomenal character arc where she's been steadily climbing the corporate ladder at Cerberus. To think she went from almost getting thrown out of Cerberus' private jet to becoming their heir apparent (she recently got promoted to Vice President of Operations and got to see all of Cerberus' accounting reports). I like this Twitch streamer's stance against over-monetizing everything, because I notice other streamers who care too much about viewer count losing the freedom to play how they want. I'm also glad she swore off "relationship role play", which I've never been a fan of because of all the times it made me cringe. I don't know who these GTA players are trying to kid when they role-play fake romantic relationships thinking their real feelings won't ever get hurt.

I feel like Xavier's Twitch streamer, BoogieTD, finally streamed his greatest NoPixel content ever on 2/22/2022. Xavier finally clutched out the game's most difficult S+ boost hacks against all odds, despite several failures and some of the most intense pressure imaginable. His friend Lizzie and the best driver in the city, a crazed Australian maniac named Irwin Dundee, were both counting on him to hack and disable a McLaren 720S tracker fifteen times. The 720S is a "cursed" sports car that even the best crews in the city have failed to boost. Boogie had committed to keeping Xavier confined to a wheelchair during his injury arc, so at one point when the 720S was disabled he just rolled around while Dundee's BBMC gang battled the police for the car (the BBMC even lit up the PD helicopter). Xavier might even become a hangaround for the BBMC, which I personally don't like because of how little it took for them to turn on their previous hacker and The Stable.

Watched movie: "Death on the Nile" (2022) in 70mm
A radiant Agatha Christie whodunit wherein Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot. I found the movie strong on screen presence and scenic 70mm shots, but weak on mystery. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Verdens verste menneske" (2021) a.k.a. "The Worst Person in the World" (2022)
I can think of worse people in the world than a woman who doesn't know what she wants, isn't honest about what's bothering her, and gets bored of her boyfriends. Having said that, I did not enjoy watching this title character. :( Rating: 5
Oscar racing

Landmark Theatres closed its Embarcadero Center Cinema location in San Francisco. That sucks. Admittedly, I was surprised they stayed in business this long given how few moviegoers I've seen there lately.

Here's how I rated the 2021 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "CODA" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Licorice Pizza" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Belfast" (My rating: 6)
  4. "Dune: Part One" (My rating: 6)
  5. "Don't Look Up" (My rating: 6)
  6. "King Richard" (My rating: 6)
  7. "The Power of the Dog" (My rating: 5)
  8. "Nightmare Alley" (My rating: 5)
  9. "Drive My Car" (My rating: 5)
  10. "West Side Story" (My rating: 5)

In addition to an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film, "Drive My Car" also received surprise Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. To be honest, I don't know what critics and Oscar voters see in this long, boring movie.

In NoPixel news, it only took four days for Richard and his new GSF gang to alienate one of his oldest Stable friends. Kirk went to meet with him alone, and Richard showed up with a whole entourage of armed GSF. To top it off, Richard then played it off like he wasn't afraid of Kirk. In the past, Richard had incorrectly suspected Jordan and then Nancy of setting him up--so I presume the same thing happened here. But man the optics looked bad for Richard. This used to be the same fearless leader who risked the 9's and 40 pillows worth of meth to blaze a trail for The Stable. Now he just sells GSF's weed and reminds me of one of those friends who gets lovey-dovey with a new girlfriend to the point where they start dressing alike (and deep down, you know they both have ugly sides that they haven't shown each other yet). Admittedly, I do side with Richard on one thing: back when Richard led The Stable, I agree that Kirk malded too much. So maybe that's not a huge bridge burned there.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Nancy who always thinks about optics and bridge-building. When she gifted a special soap to a Chang Gang member (Vinny) who was having a rough time, he was so touched he gifted her a fully upgraded million dollar Mercedes-AMG GT63 car for $52,000 (unfortunately, she then sold her kuruma which I actually liked much better). I still miss the The Stable though, which raised the stakes to heights that we'll likely never see again. I felt like this group brought Nancy out of her comfort zone, e.g., robbing the City Vault, negotiating a meth export with Dundee, and standing up to Lang in a private jet where one wrong word could have cost her everything. The Stable also gave awesome role-play to the investigating PD officers, who got to unpack the mystery of this shadow organization from its humble beginnings to Bundy's first breadcrumb from the HOA to that "barn burner" of a day where both the 37A and Dante's ocean dump happened at the same time.

I do like that Nancy is venturing outside of her comfort zone again, i.e., successfully robbing the City Vault with the Vagos and regularly hacking boosts. I look forward to the day she and/or Xavier conquers that S+ hack.

Watched movie: "Moonfall" (2022) in IMAX with Laser
How far Roland Emmerich has fallen. He went from "Independence Day" to this schlock. Admittedly, I liked the movie's attempt to extrapolate what would happen to the Earth's gravity if the moon's orbit started to decay. But all the hokey science fiction about the technological swarm and the Dyson sphere ruined my academic curiosity. Rating: 4
Achievement unlocked

I found this year's Royal Rumble matches halfway decent, considering how little star power they both had. It's cool how I get to watch the entire live show for free on Peacock.

Big congratulations to Rafael Nadal on winning his second Australian Open, breaking the Big Three-way tie for a record 21st Grand Slam men's singles title, and standing alone as the best tennis player of all-time. When he lost the first two sets, I wrote him off with an early blog draft about how cursed he was in Australian Open finals--then I went to sleep. Man was I shocked the next morning. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nadal's an unrelenting warrior with nerves of steel. He never abuses his racket or barks at people like a certain anti-vaxxer we all know who keeps sabotaging his own legacy.

DUN DUN. "Law & Order" returns on February 24. I wonder what real-life cases they'll borrow from.

As if The Stable breaking up wasn't bad enough, the Bandito Boys might be done too. The Twitch streamer who plays Abner got permanently banned from NoPixel after revealing onstream that he had robbed Chang Gang's hotel room stashes as revenge for them mugging him and Kirk. The guy's appealing the ban 30 days later, but it doesn't look good for him. He's the exact same streamer who already caught a seven-day NoPixel ban for mugging strangers. Clearly that didn't scare him into playing NoPixel more cautiously, because afterward I saw him mug more strangers while impersonating a police officer; then recently to my chagrin, saw him rob about $20,000 off of a convenience store hostage.

Admittedly, I've always cringed at watching the Stable members who lack foresight--especially the ones who irrevocably damage their reputation and/or repeatedly break promises, e.g., splurging their money instead of paying their friends back. I still remember Richard proudly declaring that he wouldn't shoot PD officers, breach another crew's bank, or leave The Stable. He went on to shoot a PD officer over a clean convenience store chase, impulsively breach another crew's bank, and be one of the first founding members to want to leave The Stable. Although I wrote an entire wiki article for this guy, I think I'm done watching him. The last straw for me was when he blooded headlong into GSF after dissing The Stable (even The Stable's glorious meth run) and most of his friends (even Marie who paid like $120,000 to upgrade his car as a Christmas present, which he proceeded to sell off and splurge the two million dollars he made from it). I've always hated how Richard's streamer purposely likes to play him toxic, which is a NoPixel pet peeve of mine. My other two NoPixel pet peeves are illogical role play, e.g., when Richard befriended the gang leader who burned his fiancé alive, and when players chase W's and forget that they're supposed to role-play on the server.

I mostly just watch Nancy and Kirk now. I've become vested in Kirk's grind toward a private meth lab, which was in jeopardy recently because he couldn't afford to keep cooking meth that he can't sell. It's laughable how much meth he had just sitting there in his warehouse. I'm secretly hoping that some day, his group risks losing everything on another dangerous meth run.

In other NoPixel news, some kind of famous ASMR streamer began playing it. By pure coincidence on her first day, she happened to hang out with the ex-members of The Stable. I never heard of ASMR until I glimpsed it later on in her Twitch stream--and I closed that browser window so fast. I hope she sticks to GTA despite the drop in her sub count, and I hope she doesn't just hang out with those crews whose fans just want non-stop action. The Stable's best story arcs slowly built up for months, whether it was Det. Hardcastle's months of investigating them for meth trafficking coming to a head (I'm still impressed he staked out The Stable's warehouse onstream for like 12 hours!) or Nancy jeopardizing months of hard-earned career advancement by crossing Cerberus. Keep in mind that unlike "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter", these NoPixel characters have zero plot armor. So they could have legitimately lost everything they ever worked for. That's why The Stable's two big all-or-nothing meth runs were quite possibly the most suspenseful thrill rides I've ever experienced.

Watched movie: "Ghahreman" a.k.a. "A Hero" (2021)
Another interesting Oscar entry by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi about a disgraced father who has to repay his debt to a bitter ex-friend or go back to prison. To the ex-friend's chagrin, the father conscientiously returns a handbag of gold coins back to its owner and becomes an instant celebrity. I suspect the moral of the story was something like "no good deed goes unpunished", but I found the father's bad choices so cringeworthy. It made the movie hard for me to enjoy. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Flugt" a.k.a. "Flee" (2021)
Informative animated documentary about a traumatized, gay refugee from Afghanistan whose family had to suffer corrupt Russian policemen and human traffickers. A good reminder about how privileged much of the world is to only have to worry about "First World problems". Rating: 7
A table

Well, this is a bummer. IBM wants me to work from home again because of the latest Omicron variant surge. Also sounds like I'm going to have to use a new e-mail program, and that all of my old e-mails won't migrate over to it. :(

I tabulated the music video results for 2021. I feel like Ed Sheeran's been crushing it lately.

Novak Djokovic got deported from Australia, and can't defend his Australian Open title because he refused to get vaccinated. What a maroon. The Australian immigration minister canceled Djokovic's visa, refusing to accept his rationale that contracting COVID-19 (again!) made him exempt from getting the vaccination. At least Rafael Nadal fully understands the need for vaccination--he and his coach recently tested positive for COVID-19 after a tennis event.

That "Dexter: New Blood" finale episode started off excellent, but then ended so anticlimactically. I was hoping for some heavy, long overdue conversations. Maybe it's just me; maybe there's just no way to conclude "Dexter" in a way that would ever satisfy me.

Hmm...NBC greenlit a pilot for a sequel to the "Quantum Leap" series, featuring a new team 30 years after Dr. Sam Beckett vanished in the Quantum Leap accelerator. I'll bet you anything that his biological daughter will work prominently on the team, having been saved from her woeful fate of becoming a technical writer. Then there's still question marks about Sam himself and three of his love interests whom I'm still curious about, i.e., Alia the Evil Leaper, Abigail from "Trilogy", and wife Donna.

I have to say that I really enjoyed writing Stable members' biographies on the NoPixel wiki. I say "biographies" because I felt obligated to write each one in a light more favorable to each character--I even wrote one favorable to their archenemy Hardcastle, the police officer who's always trying to catch them. I've been very mindful about what to include and exclude, e.g., I've declassified The Stable's clean face, burnt warehouse, and "deep throat" informant; but purposely haven't documented their deepest darkest secrets. I've also tried to highlight all of their greatest triumphs while minimizing their most toxic experiences that I'm certain they would never want to relive ever again.

To my indignation, someone had the nerve to erase my contributions to Nancy's wiki and message me to contact them before any future edits. I'm not territorial enough to start a feud over it though--I messaged my reasonings politely and simply re-pasted my contributions as an "addendum" in the "Talk" page. I think I'm done writing wiki articles anyway unless The Stable rises back up like the Undertaker, but that's looking unlikely now that the Stable streamers are starting to play alt police characters (even teaming with Hardcastle now). I did glimpse a promising ember of a storyline when Cerberus' Leslie floated a notion that the Clean Queens might be unionizing against them. I also liked watching Nancy confer one-on-one with Dean Watson after he had discouraged her events app pitch, saying it should be absorbed by a preexisting news app. Dean is actually a developer for the NoPixel server, so this meeting reminded me of Neo's conversation with the Architect in "The Matrix Reloaded". Basically Dean strikes me as anti-monopoly (and thinks a separate events app would be "selfish"), so his explanation to Nancy had a hidden meaning that they should work to spread role-play on the server. Nancy's business mind continues to impress me, particularly how she words her compliments, disagreements, and constructive criticisms.

I feel like The Stable can never be "The Stable" again without Kirk. I'm half-hoping that Kirk and ex-Stable members form a new shadow organization called "The Table" (a meme that first started when a rival gang mispronounced their name). Kirk is making big bank right now in the new meth game. He's diligently cooking on his placeable meth table, pitching wholesale meth runs, and essentially building a new meth empire from the ground up with Abner. Imagine the hilarity of police and gangs trying to speak of "The Table" with a straight face.

Also, looks like Lizzie survived her death penalty case after serving 42 real-life days in prison. She's part of an all-women gang that's planning their first big meth run, which is making me nervous because they're getting outdated intel about it from Kirk.

Watched movie: "Scream" (2022) in Dolby Cinema
A redundant "requel" that by the movie's own admission, just retreads the previous four installments and should be titled "Scream 5" instead. Admittedly, I enjoyed listening to the new "rules" of a requel as well as the explanation of a term I've never heard of before, "elevated horror". Rating: 5
Holiday movie marathon 2021

For the second consecutive time, I spent New Year's Eve alone in my hotel room watching the Times Square Ball drop. It was a dull affair. I actually spent the night writing chronicles of The Stable's meth runs on the NoPixel wiki. Then starting on New Year's Day, I wrote up a storm of additional articles on the NoPixel wiki that detailed The Stable members' histories. It actually felt like I was curating their most noteworthy life events into some kind of Stable eulogy, because the organization sure looks dead right now with everybody forking off into their own selfish directions. It also made me reflect on how important it is for historians in our "digital dark age" to truthfully chronicle what people have accomplished--otherwise, it's like those people and their accomplishments never existed. I might be biased on what I consider accomplishments though--I don't have much interest in the Stable members who just play GTA for material gain like cars instead of trying to give back to the community.

Nancy hit paydirt uniting all of the city's "Clean Queens" into Queen Manor. After Richard and Thomas toured Queen Manor, I feel like they reached an epiphany when they mused that they needed to focus themselves on one goal without digressing, and needed to brave conversations with the top pillars of the NoPixel community. Then Thomas digressed into other video games and alt characters, while Richard wants to join GSF for some reason. Hopefully someday they'll count their blessings, and realize what The Stable stood for and how much good the group has accomplished. I feel like out of everyone from The Stable, Twitch streamer Kate Stark is the closest to actually beating this profound video game. Because the Buddhist in me still believes that you can only win the game the same way that you win the struggle of life: by living it to the fullest.

Watched movie: "Sing 2" (2021) in 3D
Exhilarating computer-animated sequel wherein the animals from the first movie dream bigger and push their limits on a daunting new Vegas-caliber musical. The message about proving naysayers wrong resonated particularly well with me. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Matrix Resurrections" (2021)
A totally redundant sequel. Stay after the credits. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "tick, tick... BOOM!" (2021)
Decently entertaining cinematic adaptation of Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical stage musical (the one he made before his magnum opus "Rent"). Lin-Manuel Miranda directed it, and Andrew Garfield shined as "Jonathan Larson". Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Doraibu mai kâ" a.k.a. "Drive My Car" (2021)
A long, boring Oscar entry from Japan wherein a theater stage director spends the entire movie directing a multi-lingual play. The film went on and on for about three hours. At least it eventually answered why he seemed so stoic about that whole situation with his wife. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Tragedy of Macbeth" (2021)
Torturously boring and quite possibly the cheapest Shakespeare production I've ever seen. The sets looked like they came straight out of the 1960s "Star Trek" show. Good acting from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, at least...even though I couldn't understand a single word they said. Rating: 4
2021 Year in Review
Best of 2021 Worst of 2021
Events that happened to Steve
  1. Finally returning to my office after my workplace eased COVID-19 restrictions.
  2. Enjoying a long-anticipated wedding five days after receiving my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. Not having to attend morning work meetings anymore.
  4. (tie) Binging movies for two weeks in Arizona including "All the President's Men"; and enjoying "Godzilla vs. Kong" in tempestuous 4DX & 3D.
  5. Splurging $100 in free stimulus money at Santa Maria's most expensive restaurants during my extended Super Bowl LV weekend.
Honorable mention: Nervously watching the judge read those three guilty verdicts for Derek Chauvin live, and feeling relieved.
  1. Election fraud disinformation provoking the U.S. Capitol riots and eroding American democracy.
  2. Having to pay a $490 fine for running a red light at a completely empty intersection.
  3. Another uncle passing away.
  4. Serena Williams tearing her hamstring on a slippery Centre Court and retiring from her her first round match at Wimbledon; and Roger Federer undergoing a third knee surgery.
  5. Finding out that the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood permanently closed.
  1. "No Time to Die"
    "The 007 movie I've always wanted..."
  2. "Quo Vadis, Aida?"
    "Psychologically devastating..."
  3. "A Quiet Place Part II"
    "I felt proud of the main characters..."
  4. "CODA"
    "...highly emotional and bittersweet."
  5. "Free Guy"
    "Surprisingly excellent movie..."
  6. "The Suicide Squad"
    "...inspired writing and directing..."
  7. "Raya and the Last Dragon"
    "...potent dramatic scenes..."
  8. "Godzilla vs. Kong"
    "Fun, escapist Monsterverse WrestleMania-quality slobberknocker that lived up to its billing..."
  9. "Malignant"
    "...strikingly gnarly and wildly entertaining."
  10. "Last Night in Soho"
    "Stylish, well-directed ghost story by Edgar Wright..."
  1. "In the Earth"
    "This movie belongs in the trash."
  2. "The Wanting Mare"
    " a bad perfume commercial."
  3. "6:45"
    "...this one went surrealist and got all pretentious."
  4. "Wrong Turn"
    "Gimme a break with the message about cultural misunderstanding."
  5. "The Unholy"
    "...self-important lost in a sea of dumb horror movie tripe and awful CGI."
  6. "Mortal Kombat"
    "Not even ironically entertaining."
  7. "Candyman"
    "...I don't feel like this sequel added very much to the original."
  8. "The Matrix Resurrections"
    "A totally redundant sequel."
  9. "Spiral: From the Book of Saw"
    "Just a dumb 'Saw' installment..."
  10. "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins"
    "Then the plot fell apart at the seams..."
  1. "Shivers" Ed Sheeran
  2. "Leave Before You Love Me" Marshmello x Jonas Brothers
  3. "Modern Fears (Pilotpriest Come True Version)" Electric Youth
  4. "Bad Habits" Ed Sheeran
  5. "good 4 u" Olivia Rodrigo
Honorable mention: "Save Your Tears (Remix)" The Weeknd & Ariana Grande
  1. "Hurricane" Kanye West & the Weeknd f/ Lil Baby
  2. "Friday (Remix)" Rebecca Black f/ Dorian Electra, Big Freedia & 3OH!3
  3. "Peaches" Justin Bieber f/ Daniel Caesar & Giveon
  4. "Papercuts" Machine Gun Kelly
  5. "coney island" Taylor Swift f/ The National
Music video "Shivers" Ed Sheeran "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" Lil Nas X
Commercial T-Mobile commercial where Tom Brady mishears retirement advice from Rob Gronkowski because of a spotty network. (tie) Oatly commercial where the CEO sings "Wow wow no cow"; and Meta commercial where The Tiger & The Buffalo kick off an upbeat world of imagination from inside a painting.
Movie trailer (tie) "Godzilla vs. Kong" and "Last Night in Soho" (tie) "Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar" and "Cry Macho"
Beverage Gatorade Zero Grape
A one-horse race

I received my third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine (booster shot) at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Expo Hall. I waited outside for nearly an hour in line (behind a whole lot of people rushing to get their booster shot before Christmas day, I presume). It was a windy night, but fortunately it wasn't raining. Then the following day, my body felt lousy. It felt like my nerves were aching.

Well, The Stable's finally back to robbing vaults on NoPixel...and man, talk about chaos. During their first vault heist, an enemy gang gunned down their getaway driver Richard (forcing the crew to make fake engine turning noises as they hot-wired their own getaway car!), shot at Xavier during his first-time vault hacking, chased their getaway car, and shot out a tire causing Xavier to fly out the windshield; then The Stable's emergency pick-up driver Marie purposely bumped an empty cop car off of a dock into the water, and ended up driving away with an accidentally handcuffed PD officer still standing on the hood of her car. Amazingly, The Stable still got half of the loot out. During The Stable's second vault heist, an accidental motorcycle explosion killed the hostage in their trunk, the police chased their car to the vault after spotting an uzi on Xavier, the crew's only bargaining chip was a single bank customer whom Rocky took hostage by the ATM (causing the police to consider breaching), a phone ring panicked Thomas into botching the first thermite hack (so they could only grab half of the vault's loot), and during the getaway chase Richard accidentally spilled the car off of a dock into the water. Yet somehow during this wild comedy of errors, the entire crew made a clean getaway.

Nowadays, I use "The Stable" name loosely given that the crew has essentially broken up like a true pro-wrestling stable (meaning we now get to see which of the members are able to shine on their own merits), just run jobs together as friends, and split the loot evenly amongst themselves with no group goals in mind. The Bandito Boys and Xavier now share a new clean warehouse called "The Bunker", where they store meth pillows (the old warehouse is now called "The Hive", and used to store fresh bee honey). The most fun Richard and Thomas had recently was a 90-minute con heist of a Burger Shot safe to get $1 and plastic toys. Richard's been shopping around the other major crews, but they're much too cliquey to recruit him. Meanwhile, Nancy continues her meteoric rise in Los Santos as a coke queenpin who bought her own million-dollar "Queen Manor" mansion for herself, the other three Cerberus CEOs, and one of the city's most powerful businesswomen Cassie (an energetic group of colorful, hard-working women whom will probably be nicknamed the "Clean Queens"). To top it off, the city's most powerful businessman Dean Watson rewarded all of their work for the NoPixel community with a special Christmas bonus: he gifted Nancy over a million dollars to pay the entire cost of "Queen Manor"! I feel like it's undeniable now that Nancy has become the brightest star from The Stable.

Watched movie: "Spider-Man: No Way Home" (2021) in 3D
My favorite type of pro-wrestling match is the Royal Rumble, so I enjoyed watching surprise Spidey characters enter this movie at regular intervals. My one disappointment was how lazily the film answered its interesting moral questions, i.e., using science to cure villainy rather than making the characters actually earn it. Definitely stay during and after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Nightmare Alley" (2021)
Guillermo del Toro's remake of a film noir wherein an ex-carny (Bradley Cooper) learns mentalism and schemes with a mysterious psychologist (Cate Blanchett) to scam a dangerous, wealthy mark (Richard Jenkins). The movie didn't give me much reason to root for any of these shady amoral characters, so most of the time I just felt apathetic. I basically only cared about that "electric chair" character (Rooney Mara). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "West Side Story" (2021)
Steven Spielberg's remake of the stage musical adaptation. I've always found "West Side Story" really corny. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Licorice Pizza" (2021)
I like how in these Paul Thomas Anderson films, I never know what's going to happen. This one's about a 25-year-old woman who really likes a charming 15-year-old suitor (who admittedly, looks too grown-up to be 15), but won't let herself fall in love with him because he's too young and immature for her. Aside from some cringeworthy scenes like a businessman faking a Japanese accent and Sean Penn maundering nonsense, I enjoyed the movie. Rating: 7

I feel like Kate's Twitch stream has grown much more interesting now that Nancy has left The Stable, mutually broken up with her cop boyfriend Dante (to end their conflicts of interest so that Nancy could work deeper for Lang, and Dante could investigate Lang), thrown caution to the wind, and dove headfirst into the rabbit hole. In one of the biggest ironies imaginable, Nancy stumbled onto the brand-new hiding spot of that $100,000 racetrack NPC who had instigated her scary plane incident with Lang. But this time when she told Lang about it, he happily rewarded her with a CFO job in his cocaine empire (and now they're plotting a hostile takeover of that huge, hibernating Internet company Nancy has a partnership in)! He also formally granted her ownership of the gigantic arena founded by Cerberus (a trio of the city's most powerful businessmen, named after the three-headed hellhound who guards the gates of Hell) which now has go kart racing (!), reacted proudly to the arena company name she pitched to rebrand the NPA: "Orpheus" (a lyre player who soothed Cerberus with music so he could enter the gates of Hell), and gave her keys to his manor of organized crime. On top of that, Cerberus made Nancy the CEO of a farming research and development empire named "Herberus" (they pronounce it "HERB-erus", but I'm going to pronounce it "HER-berus"). So yeah, Nancy's star has skyrocketed while The Stable has pretty much hit rock bottom. I also feel like The Stable will keep hitting a glass ceiling until they follow Nancy's example and learn to network with the most powerful people in the city (irregardless of their pride and feelings of intimidation).

In hindsight, it turns out that I spoke too soon when I blogged about how The Stable survived its greatest crisis yet on the NoPixel server. Two of Mick's most beloved Stable workhorses, the Bandito Boys (Kirk and Abner), caused The Stable to consider breaking up after the following havoc that they wreaked:

So along with Nancy, Kirk and Felix (and Xavier?) left The Stable too. Consequently, I worry that The Stable's charm, personality, and soul could be lost, e.g., they seem to just unnecessarily shoot PD officers now. Thomas is now the sole leader of The Stable but is unsure about its future (truly organized crime, perhaps?) and is lamenting The Stable's bad reputation. And instead of the meaningful progression best exemplified by Nancy, most of the Stable members seem stuck in an endless hamster wheel of irresponsibly--blowing off every cent they earn on cars, guns, gambling, and fines. Admittedly, Xavier has been thriving lately with his successful bank hacking, finally unlocking the red laptop and hacking the big vault for the first time (all while an enemy gang tried to sabotage their heist).

Up next for The Stable: possibly just running bank jobs together as friends. Now that The Stable's clean face Bunny has been promoted to its business (civilian) underboss, she seems to be getting more and more involved with the gang politics (which is interesting because she doesn't believe in violence). Also as the CEO of the city's casino hotel, she's been buying new properties and I think will buy out The Stable's burnt warehouse for legal business storage. Additionally, her casino hotel now has a laundromat that can "launder" dirty money into casino chips.

I'm also keeping an eye on The Stable's chaotic ex-member Lizzie, who got caught in a police manhunt after she kidnapped a PD officer and sewed her mouth shut. I think it's the fifth time Lizzie received the 9's jail sentence, and the police are now pushing for the death penalty on her. Basically Lizzie is like the Joker now, except that she still cares about The Stable and never entertains harming any of them.

Watched movie: "King Richard" (2021)
Although I would have preferred tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams as the title characters rather than their father Richard Williams, I found Will Smith's portrayal of him intriguing. Other narratives in the movie made me frown, e.g., some of the black and white stereotypes and the conceit that Arantxa Sánchez Vicario was only able to beat Venus by playing "dirty"--even though professional tennis players pull these types of mind games all the time. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" (2021)
As a die-hard fan of the first two Resident Evil video games, this movie's meticulously faithful recreation of Spencer Mansion and the Raccoon City Police Department gave me fond nostalgia (I just wish Barry had been there to quip the "Jill sandwich" meme line). I'm skeptical whether people who don't follow the video games would find this film enjoyable though. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" (2021) in RPX
Another one of those unnecessary sequels that tries to wring more money out of a beloved franchise by promoting a new generation of characters on the backs of old established characters. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Encanto" (2021) in 3D
Intriguing computer-animated Disney musical about a family whose enchanted house grants them magical powers--except for the main character, that is, to her grandmother's embarrassment. (The family also doesn't talk about the main character's prophetic uncle because of how he got spooked by a vision of the future and disappeared.) I actually felt that Disney showed some maturity by ending the movie without granting the main character any magical powers. Her struggle to accept this supposed handicap and realize her own self-worth struck me as true to life. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Power of the Dog" (2021)
Oscar frontrunner by Jane Campion wherein Benedict Cumberbatch plays a mean cattle rancher in 1925 Montana. Much like "A Streetcar Named Desire", he lives in the same house as his sister-in-law and psychologically torments her. Although the movie felt boring on the surface, I sensed a lot of undercurrents regarding his sexuality and the sister-in-law's suspicious concern over her son. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Don't Look Up" (2021)
Overly satirical Adam McKay film wherein two astronomers (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) can't comprehend why Americans won't take their doomsday warning of a large planet-killing comet seriously. Nowadays, it still gets on my nerves when people politicize face masks and vaccinations--so I found the unnuanced stupidity in this movie difficult to enjoy. The film did have its moments though. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Being the Ricardos" (2021)
An Aaron Sorkin film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (played by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem) that actually felt concise, rather than just a bunch of dialogue thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Lots of interesting rhetoric about show business and backstage politics. I also found it cool how the movie portrayed Lucille Ball's creative process. Some parts fell flat for me, e.g., the flashbacks to how they met and started the show. I also didn't get the point of her dinner scene obsession. Rating: 7
A barn burner of a "season finale"

When the NoPixel server took away the 9's jail sentence (because the police abused it one too many times?), I expected The Stable's second meth run to lack the same suspense as their first meth run. But their second meth run ended up wrecking my nerves with even higher the stakes than the 9's: the possible loss of their irreplaceable warehouse and the possible incrimination of their irreplaceable clean face for drug trafficking.

It all started with The Stable's primary meth cook Kirk riding to his apartment, beaming about their productive marathon day of meth cooking. Unbeknownst to him and the three fellow Stable hands in the car with him, they had driven up to a police raid of Kirk's own apartment (over a BS search warrant that Kirk might be trafficking guns). Then in what I considered a blatant violation of their civil liberties, the police arrested them all for "felony obstruction of justice", raided all of their apartments, and subpoenaed all of their phone and text messages. Thanks to the three pillows of meth that the police seized from Kirk's apartment (because he got careless and didn't store it in The Stable's warehouse), he got charged with drug trafficking. Because they were in Thomas' car, the police correctly suspected that the CEO of Thomas' nightclub was The Stable's clean face--and that her warehouse might have The Stable's meth in it. And to top it all off, Lt. Bundy connected the entire crew through their text messages, figured out that they call themselves "The Stable", and suspected Nancy's cop boyfriend Dante of informing for them!

I would easily call this nightmare scenario The Stable's greatest crisis yet. Their stress levels went off the charts (at one point screaming at each other over the radio). Thankfully, The Stable's archnemesis Det. Hardcastle felt that the police didn't have enough probable cause to raid the clean face's warehouse. Instead--much like Ahab hunting his white whale--Hardcastle camped out across the warehouse for eight hours waiting for them to go in! His Twitch stream and The Stable members' Twitch streams were literally minutes away from colliding, before Nancy narrowly called Richard in time with Dante's tip off that Hardcastle was staking out a warehouse. So to The Stable's disappointment, they had to temorarily abort their mission to smuggle all of their meth pillows from their warehouse to the meth dropoff.

Two days later, The Stable finally went do-or-die on a six-person meth run. (Because Richard forgot to pay their storage locker and the password changed, they were short guns and other resources.) Once two of their "satellite" cars scouted out the area for police surveillance, three Stable smugglers stormed into the warehouse and emptied all of the high-powered guns and meth pillows out of it. After the six-person Stable team delivered the pillows to the job guy, they gunned down the NPC guards and stole their armored Landstalker SUV to smuggle the liquid meth. Everything went smoothly for their three-car convoy, until suddenly outta nowhere a PD helicopter and a tidal wave of police cars led by Harcastle himself swarmed after them (Hardcastle bolted down the mountain like it was Mount Olympus, spotted the armored SUV going by, and then accidentally collided into one of The Stable's intercepting cars). In a dramatic act of self-sacrifice, The Stable hands ran interference, pitted cop cars, and exchanged fire with the PD officers to create enough of a diversion for The Stable heads to escape in the armored SUV. As Richard and Thomas fled and dropped off the meth, they could hear The Stable hands on their two-way radios going down in a blaze of glory. It was an epic and insane conclusion to The Stable's meth arc (unless The Stable heads ever reconsider their decision to swear off meth).

I'm happy that Hardcastle finally got to cross the 37A meth run off his bucket list. Initially he was stuck collecting evidence at the aftermath of a Lang (?) hillside shootout, and was chomping at the bit watching the armored SUV tracker's big red blip on his map. Unfortunately for him, police inexperience with those rare 37A calls led them to mistakenly track a 99A grand theft auto tracker device ping instead. Then once they rerouted to the 37A call, the PD had some kind of comms channel miscommunication and zoned in on The Stable's diversion rather than the armored SUV. But I did smile that Hardcastle got to trash talk The Stable hands whom got arrested for the 37A, after all of those hours he had wasted staking out their warehouse.

Unsurprisingly, Nancy sat herself out of that whole entire meth run--but's it's crazy how wild her day still got. As soon as Richard hid The Stable's meth run payout in casino chips, I switched to Kate's Twitch stream and was confused to see Nancy inside a PD interrogation room crying. Apparently Lt. Bundy suspected her and The Stable of shooting Dante in the head and ocean dumping him! Spoiler alert: Nancy's boss Lang, hours after he had proudly handed ownership of both the NPA and the arena to her, mistook Dante's metal detecting as undercover cocaine run surveillance and shot him on a beach--but then botched the ocean dump because a bystander called the police on them. So Dante survived, but was in the ICU over the weekend. Then in the mother of all awkward coincidences--right after Dante had just got done telling Nancy that it was Lang who had ocean dumped him--Dante and Nancy happened to run into Lang inside of a bank! You can't make this stuff up. Later in the week, Lang admitted to Nancy that he was the one who had ocean dumped Dante--and the way that she handled that conversation was just too good (and started a new "puddle dump" meme). Bar none, The Stable's meth runs and Nancy's diplomacy with Lang have always been my top two favorite things to watch on NoPixel.

Up next for The Stable: back to bank heists, which are still cool to watch (especially during cathartic triumphs like Thomas clutching out that difficult electrical box Fleeca thermite, Xavier finally conquering the Paleto hack, and Richard narrowly completing the Paleto thermite) but not nearly as entertaining as their big meth runs. My proposal: guard the armored car with five black intercepting cars, and just play bumper cars with the PD instead of exchanging gunfire with them. The police usually outnumber and outgun the criminals on NoPixel, so I think The Stable was probably better off just not shooting at PD officers. The Stable's good relations with the police might be off the table now though, and not just because Kirk and Abner gunned down Hardcastle during that second meth run. To The Stable's chagrin, the police have repeatedly gone overboard with search & seizures during minor traffic stops, raids, and phone subpoenas. Even Nancy became disillusioned with her police "friends" because of how they exploited Dante's ocean dump to dig up dirt on him, her, and The Stable.

By the way, I've lost my last shred of respect for the BBMC when they gunned down their only hacker Wolfe and exiled him from their gang because he refused to torture his Stable friend Kirk for them (over that stupid "snitching" incident with The Stable). Clearly I underestimated how totalitarian and cruel the BBMC are. Maybe someday, The Stable will recruit Wolfe.

Watched movie: "Belfast" (2021)
A semi-autobiographical black-and-white Oscar contender by Kenneth Branagh. Basically "Roma" all over again, but about Belfast in 1969. And much like "Roma", I found the film slow except for a couple of standout scenes. The main difference was the absence of subtitles. The characters' thick Irish accents made some of the dialogue incomprehensible. Rating: 6
Say their name

It's funny how on that NoPixel GTA server, I never know which storyline embers will peter out and which storyline embers will unexpectedly spark into a raging inferno. Case in point: The Stable's long-standing alliance with the BBMC is now over. At first, Richard pulled off a big-brained con by emptying a gun into Abner's concealed bulletproof vest at a Stable-BBMC summit to fool them into thinking he had been properly punished (though to my disappointment, I found out afterward in Richard's POV that he had forgotten that Abner was even wearing a vest!). But then later on, the BBMC's meth cook complained to Richard that he felt The Stable hadn't taken Abner's name-dropping seriously enough--so Richard finally ended that strained alliance. I felt like the BBMC let down The Stable one too many times anyway, and never gave them the respect they deserved.

I find it cool that Nancy has been delving into the GTA drug game, i.e., running oxy, helping to scam police to secretly corner meth, and pulling off breaking & entering capers to steal bleach for meth cooks ("Christmas caroling", "sanitation work", and "star tours"). She also saved a jewelery store heist (where they held the mayor of the city hostage!) from an ambush by the city's most notorious gang because one of the guys recognized her as his boss in the NPA. I think what I like the most about Nancy, other than her precautionary foresight, is her financial responsibility. I was dismayed that The Stable got low on cash again despite their huge meth payout, and wanna wring my hands every time Richard just blows through money instead of paying his debts. (Also to my chagrin, the police caught Richard with a hot gun from that big meth run because he carelessly taunted a PD officer from a stolen car--after the officer had just let him off with a warning for a minor traffic violation!)

On the plus side, I'm happy Richard finally promoted Kirk to senior Stable hand, after all of the meth money that Kirk has selflessly made for the crew. To me, Kirk's the best member of The Stable right now and the living embodiment of every positive thing that The Stable stands for.

Generally, I think my biggest pet peeve about Twitch streamers is when they become fixated on something negative such as an ignorant chat comment or a bad game result. Like during a citywide shortage of police because of a NoPixel "Squid Games" parody event on another server, Richard led a terrific Bobcat Security heist with his in-game wife Marie. After he badly fumbled through four thermite puzzles trying to burn through the locks, he nervously clutched out the last thermite puzzle after the two hostages were nice enough to give him their last stick. This allowed Marie to finally check Bobcat Security off of her bucket list, and their third accomplice got away with four guns and a sticky bomb. But instead of Richard and Marie being happy about this, they kept on beating themselves up over getting caught--even though I've never really seen The Stable make much use of the type of Bobcat loot that the police confiscated from them, e.g., grapple guns and AKs. Marie was particularly angry at nose-diving straight into the ground during her parachute escape attempt, which to me wasn't nearly as bad of a mistake as the uneven way they split up the loot before parting ways. I also liked that their arresting officers had fun with the role-play and were nice about it, jailing them together with reduced time. But yeah, too much wallowing in self-pity. I'm also convinced that GrandPooBear never really appreciated what an inspiration The Stable is, because of how fixated he got on the amount of money each member contributed.

Up next for The Stable after a refreshingly productive marathon day of timing the public meth labs and repeatedly cooking meth: big meth run #2 with potentially six people this time (instead of just four). (I was thinking how cool it could be if The Stable used Nancy's personal kuruma as a decoy to distract the police from the armored kuruma, but that might trigger an unwanted police investigation into her.) Too bad drug trafficking in Los Santos no longer gets the 9's (not that the police would know what's inside the squirt bottles anyway, unless the PD crime lab can detect liquid meth). Now whenever The Stable risks a big meth run, I can no longer relive that visceral suspense of their very first meth run. From beginning to end, that first meth run had my stomach knotted up with tension. (I've also secretly wondered what direction Nancy would lead The Stable in if Richard and Thomas both got jailed for the 9's.)

Watched movie: "Last Night in Soho" (2021) in Dolby Cinema
Stylish, well-directed ghost story by Edgar Wright wherein a dreamwalking fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) lives vicariously through an aspiring singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) in 1960s London. Thomasin McKenzie continues to impress me as an actress--I found her expressions throughout the movie on point. I also liked a couple of parts where characters sang to her menacingly. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Ron's Gone Wrong" (2021)
Delightful computer animation from Locksmith Animation about a defective social networking robot named Ron. It was cool seeing a kids' movie deal with important social media issues like Internet privacy, data harvesting, self-image, harmful viral posts, and addiction. But what a conceit to make Ron the savior that could magically solve all of it. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun" (2021)
Inspired and amusing. Some of the best directing Wes Anderson has ever done, IMHO. But also the most pointless screenplay he's ever written, IMHO. What even is this movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Eternals" (2021) in 3D
I knew that a Marvel movie directed by Chloé Zhao would be...meditative. This one is about a "family" of immortal aliens who protect humanity from CGI monsters called Deviants. The CGI Deviants were the worst part of the film for me. I found the Eternals' ideological and physical infighting so much more interesting. Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 6

Still enjoying the Grand Theft Auto V role-play on that NoPixel server. It's actually some of the best drama I've ever watched because of how true to life it is--unscripted dialogue, unscripted coincidences, and a roller coaster of emotions from the players' thrills of victory to their agonies of defeat. I also feel like I've learned so much about the human condition from it (such as how easily the trust between cops and citizens can erode, and the unconscious biases men have toward women). For those of you who don't follow "Rick and Morty", my previous blog title referred to that arcade game "Roy: A Life Well Lived" wherein the player just tries to live the most fulfilling possible life as a fictional character named Roy. That's basically what the NoPixel players have been trying to accomplish with their GTA characters, and I've concluded that the happiest players focus their energy on fellowship and meaningful experiences rather than just the accumulation of wealth and material assets.

Big congratulations to The Stable on their riskiest, most thrilling heist yet: an all-or-nothing drug trafficking run in a stolen armored sedan that the police were on the lookout for. The stakes to protect this armored sedan were so high (enough meth to get jailed for the 9's) that for the first time in NoPixel history, an entire four-person Stable team--three of whom had never even shot at police before--rained bullets on one of their favorite PD officers (and his cadet partner) in broad daylight. The Stable team also had to science by the seat of their pants based upon unreliable second-hand information (from their BBMC allies who had pulled out) instead of their usual trustworthy channels. Had this job failed, I'm not sure whether The Stable could have recovered from such a huge blow to their morale. The entire crew had spent so much time and money cooking and stockpiling the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of meth (40 pillows total) required for the run. They also built up everything so much with a team huddle before the job, where they kneeled in a circle while The Stable leader Richard Chiclets inspired them with a heartwarming speech (followed by a group hug).

The big drug run made my stomach clench up from the suspense. One Stable head (Thomas) dressed up like a "war criminal" dictator, and the other three geared up like defense contractors. In true heist movie fashion, their plans kept going awry:

In the end, they finally figured out where to pick up their payment. Once Richard stashed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in their warehouse, I could finally unclench my stomach. To my admiration, Richard paid out the team almost immediately. I felt like overall, this monumental triumph vindicated the Stable heads' decision to elect him as leader. It was also cool that this same night, the crew formally initiated their workhorse prospect Marie into The Stable as a branded member.

Twitch streamer FloMcNasty plays Richard Chiclets and in my opinion, this big meth run I recapped (which he streamed on 10/18/2021) was his best stream ever. I feel like it needs to be archived as a YouTube video or something to save it for posterity. Same goes for Kate Stark's best ever Twitch stream on 9/17/2021 (when Lang threatened Nancy to repay him $100,000, and she had to choose between him vs. The Stable). This storyline would make such an epic YouTube video, but IMHO would have to be edited dramatically rather than humorously. Incidentally, FloMcNasty has also pulled off some insanely reckless getaways for Richard recently, from escaping a police in a really slow bus to a wild 17-minute car chase on his wedding day wherein he started on low gas and managed to escape the police cars six consecutive times before he was finally able to dump his hot gepard from the big meth run (then escaped two more times and retrieved the gepard). Then to my delight, Mick showed up to his wedding as a surprise guest!

I'm really curious whether all of the streamers inside The Stable understand the true beauty of this double entendre of a name. It's so much more than just owning the horse racetrack on the NoPixel server. I happen to be a professional wrestling fan just like GrandPooBear, and in wrestling promotions a "stable" refers to a gang of wrestlers who team together against common enemies. For instance, one of the most famous stables in pro-wrestling history was named "The Four Horsemen". Behind the scenes, wrestling promotions purposely group individual wrestlers into stables to help them "get over" with audiences. Meaning, a wrestling stable's success is measured by how much more successful each individual wrestler became as a result. So for NoPixel, all you have to do is look at all of the individual streamers whose lives benefited from their participation with The Stable, from more subscriptions to Twitch partnerships to better "prio".

Up next for The Stable: simmering tensions with the BBMC over Abner name-dropping them during a gang incident at a meth lab. This storyline exasperates me because of all the miscommunication that has been driving the role-play, and neither side can talk to Abner about it because the streamer who plays him received a seven-day ban from NoPixel for mugging strangers (it's called "loot boxing" when a player robs strangers without much of a role-play reason). Admittedly, I never liked Abner going around mugging people--I felt like it burned bridges and hurt The Stable's reputation.

Also lately, I've been disappointed with The Stable's so-called allies, i.e., the BBMC and the HOA. To my disgust, a disguised HOA gunman recently tried to false flag The Stable (their warehouses neighbor each other) by gunning down Bundy as he was staking out the PD-locked HOA warehouse--consequently giving the PD probable cause to raid that very HOA warehouse right after the judge had denied their original search warrant! It's really cool how cop streamers know all about The Stable and their warehouse, but have to feign ignorance because their cop characters have never heard the name before. To my amusement, Bundy speculated that maybe The Stable could be horse enthusiasts or perhaps a conglomerate of gang heads like the "Justice League Dark".

Watched movie: "Halloween Kills" (2021) in Dolby Cinema
A pretentious, exasperating comedy of errors with some of the dumbest horror movie mistakes imaginable--but IMHO, still cooler than the average slasher fare. Primarily because I liked how multiple survivors from the original 1978 "Halloween" movie worked to rally the community of Haddonfield to hunt Michael Myers. Had they not just looked like lambs going to the slaughter, I might've rated the film higher. Side note: That CGI (?) of Donald Pleasence looked seamless. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Dune: Part One" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Majestic shots and intensive acting. That's how I'd describe Denis Villeneuve's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's infamously difficult novel to film. Overall, this movie didn't even scratch the surface of the book. The exposition was mostly limited to concepts like "the voice" and the arrhythmic sand walk. But that's probably for the best given how futile it would be to detail each character's tenets, backstory, and inner thoughts. Side note: The sign language subtitles were a nice touch to convey what the characters were thinking. Rating: 6
Nancy: A Life Well Lived

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures finally opened. But I'm going to wait for the right movie to screen there before I visit.

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for clinching the National League West division, winning a historic club-record of 107 season games to narrowly beat the Los Angeles Dodgers' franchise-tying 106 games! Unfortunately, instead of the two best teams in the MLB facing off in the World Series as it should be, they're stuck playing each other in a deciding elimination game in the very first round of the playoffs (the Dodgers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game).

Out of respect for the charismatic Twitch streamers who have been role-playing the quality GTA content that I've been blogging repeatedly about, I decided to revise my previous blog entries to credit their NoPixel characters and their crew, "The Stable", with the name recognition they deserve.

Currently, my favorite NoPixel character Nancy managed to secure a business deal to sell her "lucky soaps" to casino hotel room guests, and is planning another National Paintball Association tournament. (Recent side note: Nancy's streamer Kate Stark also played a 94-year-old granny as a NoPixel alt character, and went on a hilarious 34-35 MPH police chase wherein the cop cars kept failing to box her in.) Fortunately, Nancy is still the CEO of that paintball league company after almost getting fired during that epic standoff with her crime lord boss Lang Buddha. (Amusingly, a detective once subpoenaed her phone and saw her network of connections to the city's most powerful gangsters, much of the city's police force, and the chief of police himself.) To my enjoyment, she recently shocked The Stable's lower ranks by recounting that harrowing private jet experience wherein Lang (accompanied by his mafia associates) threatened her, her loved ones, and all of The Stable's businesses if she kept refusing to pay him the $100,000 that their accident had cost him. Although I mentioned that scene in my previous blog, my synopsis didn't do it justice. She fully walked into that situation expecting to get thrown out of the plane if her answers failed to placate him. As a thinly veiled goodbye, she told her Stable friends she loved them, texted her cop boyfriend Dante "I love you", and ignored his panicked phone calls to her. Afterward when I watched the private jet scene from Lang's POV, I discovered how close he actually came to throwing her out of the plane--he just couldn't bring himself to do it because of how much she meant to him.

This story came up again because Smooth, the head of meth distribution in The Stable, tried to broker a deal with this exact same mafia. Although I felt intrigued by the various storylines this could open up, I eventually realized that they would probably just own him, milk him for money, and throw him away (and/or ruin his life if he crossed them the wrong way). I mean, look at how badly they treated a valuable CEO whom they actually liked. In contrast, I feel like The Stable treats each other like family.

We'll see whether The Stable can endure without Mick (he's taking a long break from the "city" after another cringeworthy argument with Nancy). Richard, the getaway driver whom the other Stable heads elected as their sole leader, has actually been doing an excellent job IMHO. But alas, so many members in The Stable have been either leaving the crew or taking time off from NoPixel. Smooth left on bad terms because one of The Stable streamers reported him for "metagaming" (a type of cheating where the streamer uses information obtained outside of the game to progress their character). I do remember listening to Smooth and growing suspicious about how his character knew so much about very specific things, but I haven't seen the actual report so I can only speculate. His departure is probably for the best because I felt like his gang mentality didn't fit well with The Stable's treatment of each other like family. The Stable has always cared more about science/puzzles, legitimate businesses, and having fun rather than moneymaking. And although Smooth's BS talents aligned with The Stable's love of improv, he didn't socialize with them all that much and enjoyed antagonizing the police (whereas The Stable charms and befriends police officers).

I can totally see why metagaming would be hard to resist. I felt completely helpless when Det. Hardcastle scouted out The Stable's warehouse and I had no way of warning them (fortunately they cleared out the warehouse on their own). Also, an enemy gang leader once toyed with answering one of Mick's classified ads to lure him into a trap, but didn't out of fear of metagaming (the streamer couldn't remember for sure whether his character knew that Mick was part of The Stable). This is a big reason why I could never join a GTA character's Twitch chat. The other big reason would be "backseating" (nagging the streamer about how to play the game). I get so exasperated when GTA characters splurge money irresponsibly, get way too careless, or forget to lock their doors.

The Stable's next caper in the works? A big wholesale drug trafficking run that could land them in jail for the 9's, where they'd have to drive an armored car full of 40 meth pillows to dropoff spots around town as the car's tracking device continuously pings the police. The run pays so little and risks so much that the gang leader of the BBMC (their closest allies and 50/50 partner for the job), an Australian psychopath named Dundee, backed out of it.

Watched movie: "Titane" (2021)
Obscenely graphic Palme d'Or winner about a female serial killer who gets pregnant from having sex with a car, then impersonates a fireman captain's long-lost son to hide from the police. How did she have sex with a car, you ask? Having watched the scene from beginning to end, I still have no idea. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" (2021) in Cinemark XD-RealD 3D
Performance capture legend Andy Serkis directed this sequel, so I'm wondering whether he helped coach the cast on expressiveness. Because I felt like they (and even the CGI Venom symbiote) exuded great screen presence. The one-dimensional Carnage symbiote was the weakest part of the movie for me--it struck me as too powerful of a villain with too much CGI. Definitely stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "No Time to Die" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
The 007 movie I've always wanted wherein James Bond finally reopens his emotionally unavailable heart and for the first time in franchise history, goes steady with the same love interest from the previous installment. And to my appreciation, the writers cooked up one helluva emotional storyline for them (albeit with an illogical start given how much loyalty she proved to Bond in "Spectre"). Was cool seeing Bond finally lose his cool and strangle Blofeld with his bare hands. I also liked Rami Malek as an eccentric, eloquent Bond villain whose agenda exemplified how easily intelligence agencies can be seduced onto a slippery slope. All in all, this film closed the case I've been making that every odd Daniel Craig installment of the Bond franchise rocks, while every even Daniel Craig installment disappoints. Definitely stay after the credits. Rating: 7
The story literally writes itself

I began to get bored with my favorite Grand Theft Auto V crew, The Stable, on that NoPixel server. In a slow grind to pay their bills, they all got preoccupied with monotonous hobbies like metal detecting, illegal street racing, vehicle boosting, and vehicle chopping (and the ones who splurged or gambled their hard-earned money away really made me fume). But then the businesswoman of this crew, Nancy (my favorite NoPixel character played by Twitch streamer Kate Stark), stumbled into a "walls closing in" predicament that resulted in the greatest Twitch stream I've ever had the pleasure of watching.

Everything snowballed from a coincidence so unlucky that had I seen it on a scripted show, I would have scoffed at the screenwriters. All four leaders of The Stable, curious about an NPC on the racetrack that they own, paid him $100,000 thinking maybe they'd receive a horse or some special construction. Instead, their experiment accidentally cancelled the $100,000 cocaine run of Lang Buddha a.k.a. Nancy's boss and also a crime lord for the most powerful mafia in the city. Due to her valuable work as the CEO of his clean company (and his trust and admiration of her), Lang held back from firing her or gunning down her crew--instead, he demanded that she and her crew reimburse him for all the money he lost. To his complete and utter shock, she flat-out refused (citing that they weren't at fault and that they legally owned both the racetrack and the NPC on it). Really it was because The Stable couldn't afford to lose that much money, but from his POV it was the first time anybody in the city ever stood up to him with such ballsy disrespect (in this GTA city, it's common knowledge that he could smite and person, crew, or business with complete impunity).

The standoffs between Nancy and Lang delighted me to no end. During one phone call, they both pulled the same power move of not speaking first--resulting in nothing but deafening silence for the entire duration of the call. Then he and his mafia cohorts brainstormed all the ways they could turn the screws on her, from intimidation to blackmail to termination of her job to death threats (against her and everyone she loves). They even flew her onto a private jet to terrorize her, and she still didn't back down (in another unfortunate coincidence, two police officers happened to be loitering in the hangar afterward which made her look like a snitch). Finally, Leslie (the most business savvy of the mafia heads) read the situation perfectly, and defused both sides with amazingly persuasive rhetoric.

In the end, after excruciating deliberation and dramatic conversations with her crew, Nancy repaid Lang the $100,000 out of her own life savings against the explicit wishes of her dear friend Mick a.k.a. The Stable's most important founding leader. Then in a bombshell twist, Lang immediately returned her money. It had been a loyalty test. When she called one of the other crew leaders (a getaway driver named Richard) with the good news, he revealed that Mick had had enough and wanted to quit The Stable. Faced with the collapse of her beloved crew and the possible loss of one of her most cherished friends, she ended the day gazing at the sunset in silence. The perfect ending to a top-notch day of role-play that to me, felt like a "season finale".

I've been reflecting on why this businesswoman Nancy is my favorite NoPixel character. I think it's because the career criminals (the players who don't care how long their rap sheets get) are a dime a dozen. It's much more suspenseful to watch a civilian who enjoys crime but greatly fears getting caught. It also fascinates me watching her constant balancing act between three antithetical worlds at once:

So in that juicy "season finale" stream, all three of her carefully balanced worlds collided and caught fire. (Dante got furious with her because he sleuthed the danger to her life and she downplayed it.)

In the new "season" of Kate Stark's GTA stream, I'm still impressed with the quality of the content:

On the minus side, this GTA city has featured a lot of cringeworthy storylines that I've "changed the channel" on. Examples: one streamer friend of The Stable pretended to suffer from dissociative identity disorder (a real-life mental health condition), and a rival fun-killing gang burned Richard's fiance alive. I also haven't cared for The Stable's feud with another gang over a stolen turtle, and a prison arc where The Stable member they exiled got the 9's because she finally confessed to murdering the ADA (though admittedly, her police interrogation turned out to be interesting).

Watched movie: "Candyman" (2021)
Don't know how I feel about this horror sequel seeking relevance by rebranding Clive Barker's Candyman into a symbol for "Black Lives Matter". Admittedly, I cannot deny the parallel between that movement's "say his name" chant and this franchise's iconic mirror ritual for summoning Candyman. But personally, I don't feel like this sequel added very much to the original. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Dear Evan Hansen" (2021) in Dolby Cinema
Cringeworthy cinematic adaptation of the Broadway musical. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel like a rosy musical is the right approach to something as serious as teen suicide. I also hate watching budding relationships that can never become true relationships because they're built upon lies. Meaning, everything prior to Evan's moment of truth was just a waste of time for me. Rating: 5
The Stable

That was one helluva "Rick and Morty" season 5 finale. Evil Morty and his haunting theme music never disappoint, and it's surreal to see the show just lay Rick's origin story bare. I've always complained about the show's endless cycle of toxicity and inconsequential quantum universes, so this episode felt like a narrative breakthrough.

Congratulations to Daniil Medvedev for defeating Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. Had Djokovic won this one final match, he would have achieved the quadruple crown of tennis: the Calendar Grand Slam. He also would have been crowned the best tennis player of all-time. But for now he's still tied with Federer and Nadal in the Grand Slam title race. Djokovic has already won a non-calendar year Grand Slam, so to me it's like greedily trying to dominate a poker game with a royal flush instead of just a straight flush. I guess one could argue that a royal flush has more bragging rights though. :P

Well, it finally happened. The Grand Theft Auto crew I'm a fan of--the one named The Stable that handicaps their getaways by not shooting PD officers--finally shot a PD officer for the first time. Ironically, it was a police detective named Hardcastle whom they consider a friend. He began building a case against them for drug trafficking, a charge that would jail them indefinitely with the 9's (on top of that, he illogically snooped around their massive warehouse stash on a completely unrelated case). As he was parked undercover on an overpass trying to photograph them cornering meth, one of their motorcyclists drove by and lit him up with an uzi. It knocked him down a peg and deterred him from risking any further stakeouts without backup.

Mick, the main leader of The Stable, also opened fire on PD officers for the first time after they shot up his plane, chased him on his jet ski, and pursued him on foot as he zipped around on grapple guns. The Stable had just robbed a security stronghold named Bobcat (was so cool how he sniped security NPCs and casually paced around to dodge their bullets, while his fellow crew leader rolled around the hallways firing an uzi). To my disappointment, the businesswoman of the crew (Nancy) sat out of this job (despite being a good shooter) and went metal detecting instead. She's been addicted to metal detecting and other riskless ventures lately, and I don't like it. On the plus side, I still consider her the most consistent "voice of reason" in the crew and a charismatic business speaker.

Occasionally, I skim through the stream of The Stable's "clean face", Sabith "Bunny" Cohen. She's a pacifist civilian who owns their warehouse of illegal stockpiles, and actually spends her days working strictly non-criminal jobs such as a farmer's market booth and a nightclub (amusingly, she once stated she cared more about these video game jobs than any of her real-life ones). After playing the game this way for months (she doesn't even hurt NPCs), she finally got a big break winning a reality show competition and becoming CEO of a casino hotel. As a result, she was granted "prio" in the entrance queue--basically a "golden ticket" that guarantees she makes it on the server whenever she wants. It made her cry happily as her friends in the game called her up congratulating her.

Ironically, Bunny wound up in a police interrogation for the most serious individual crime that any of The Stable has ever been investigated for: accomplice to an ADA's murder. Although she actually did everything humanly possible to stop the murder from happening, she did keep mum about the killer's identity (which would constitute felony obstruction of justice and/or accessory-after-the-fact); and worst of all, the police could potentially raid The Stable's warehouse looking for a non-existent murder weapon. In any case, the detective who wanted to go hard on her instead let her off easy, thanks mostly to her crying, method acting, and a really competent personal lawyer. So I think this long exhausting chapter is finally over.

It's wild how many ironies and coincidences happen in this video game. One day started out where a bald robber exploited Mick's motorcycle accident by emptying out all of his pockets, leading The Stable to confront every bald suspect they spotted in the city. Then Mick and two other Stable members stole a vehicle and fled a felony traffic stop for it because they had illegal uzis. The police pit them off a ravine into a river, and chased them on foot into a vast field of bushes. They basically played hide-and-seek for a good long while. Then after two of the PD officers somehow missed Mick's hiding spot as they ran through his bush, one of them started driving away in a car and accidentally ran him over (resulting in his arrest). Astonishingly, he and two other Stable members wound up getting incarcerated with that exact same bald robber who had emptied his pockets earlier in the day! You can't make this stuff up. Needless to say, they all surrounded him and beat the crap out of him. Update 9/21/2021: Sweeeet. The streamer who plays Mick, GrandPooBear, recently posted an edited YouTube video of that gloriously epic Twitch stream I had recapped here in this paragraph.

Nowadays, The Stable has been soldiering through a bad economy where a lot of criminal opportunities have dried up (it feels so much like real life where the rich seem to get richer while the poor struggle to make ends meet). They've turned to legitimate business ideas to help them pay off their debts, e.g., a fine dining restaurant and a new record label. The concerts they've thrown have been phenomonal; it just leaves me in disbelief how good these music artists' songs sound (I feel like they should pursue music careers in real life). At times, I feel like the players get so vested in the role-play and their daily responsibilities that they forget it's all just a video game.

Watched movie: "Reminiscence" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Laughably corny neo-noir movie wherein Hugh Jackman investigates the disappearance of a lounge singer whom he loved deeply, using technology that lets him view and/or relive human memories. I found his narration particularly bad. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Free Guy" (2021) in IMAX
Surprisingly excellent movie wherein the co-creators of a breakthrough AI engine realize that their code has begun to evolve the NPCs (non-player characters) of an open world video game into self-aware samaritans (capable of unionizing!). Just like the GTA NoPixel server I've been enjoying lately, I get fascinated watching a video game city bloom into something so much greater than its canned crime missions. I also found it refreshing to see so many characters resolving their conflicts non-violently. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Don't Breathe 2" (2021)
A new crew of home invaders vs. that same blind guy from the first movie, but this time the latter is on a redemption arc. The plot was mostly just violence galore with a side of humanity and conscientious canines. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (2021) in 3D
Alas, the only highlights I gleaned from this movie were the cameos from other Marvel superheroes. I found the film unstimulating, and barely managed to stay awake (literally). Stay during and after the credits. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Malignant" (2021)
Unintentionally (?) campy James Wan film wherein a woman helplessly witnesses a deformed killer's murders via paranormal visions. Her wide-eyed "sleep paralysis" during these visions made for some cool cinema. I also found some of the on-screen horrors strikingly gnarly and wildly entertaining. Rating: 7
As the open world turns

I no longer have a phone in my office. They took it away, meaning I have to use my work computer to confer with other employees now.

Also didn't catch any of the Tokyo Olympics on TV, which is weird because I used to watch the Olympics regularly when they came around.

I'm addicted to watching Grand Theft Auto V on that NoPixel server. It's like a 24/7 emotional roller coaster of a reality show (complete with mandatory car and house payments), where you can rewind and observe incidents from different characters' POVs. Even uncurated stretches of time--like when the streamer is just a lookout (watching for cops or enemy gangs) as their friends corner meth with two-way radios--feels suspenseful and Hitchcockian.

I can't get over how good some of the drama has been. My favorite GTA character right now, a businesswoman event planner named Nancy who leads a crime crew called "The Stable" with three other friends (but also tickles other gang members with her novelty soaps and paintball tournament invitations), recently persuaded the other leaders a la a tense "12 Angry Men" discussion to simply part ways with a beloved, disobedient member named Lizzie (who irresponsibly let a vindictive cop look through all of her text messages without a subpoena) instead of dumping her into the ocean. (Incidentally, the scene where Lizzie finally bid farewell was surprisingly tearjerking.)

Unlike the other GTA gangs in the City of Los Santos, The Stable refuses to shoot cops and is friends with most of them--but keeps getting tempted into losing their way by bad cops (and a bullcrap court system) who can just violate their civil rights with nary any oversight or accountability. Cases in point: one time a bad cop shot up their getaway car under the weak rationale that their brake check was an "assault with a deadly weapon", and another time the chief of police locked up one of their allies indefinitely for the crime of "human trafficking" just because he pointed a gun at a supreme county clerk demanding his weapons license back (the jail sentence is nicknamed the 9's when a character has to role-play in prison for the days leading up to their trial).

Another entertaining incident occured when Nancy helped her boss Lang Buddha find a tow truck driver (who impounded his car from the arena he owns) without fully realizing that the driver would get kidnapped and gunned down (in a really sloppy fashion that left a lot of clues behind). While a detective investigated her for accessory to attempted murder, the detective allowed her to leave the interrogation but then suddenly jailed her in a 24-hour investigative hold to get a subpoena on her phone. (Hilariously from the detective's POV, she got overwhelmed by the sheer number of business calls before she finally found the incriminating texts.)

Watched movie: "Old" (2021)
Shocking M. Night Shyamalan film wherein a group of tourists get trapped on a secluded beach that accelerates their aging (rougly one year for every 30 minutes). It seemed like a hokey premise until people's medical conditions began to grow unchecked. That made for some gnarly body horror, man. I might've rated the movie higher had it not frustrated me with PG-13 edits and wandering camera movements. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Suicide Squad" (2021) in RPX
Kudos to James Gunn for taking his time away from Marvel to make a DC movie right. This one hit the mark with its wildly irreverent tone, inspired writing and directing, intense dramatic scenes, and strong character development of misfit convicts longing for self-worth as they get exploited by an unjust black ops system. Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Annette" (2021)
Sparks wrote and composed this musical film, and I think it's the first time I ever heard their music. I wasn't impressed. :P I also found Adam Driver's character off-putting and unenjoyable to watch for over two hours. While I'm at it, the puppet unsettled me too. Points for some of the artistic scenes, e.g., Marion Cotillard's "red flags" nightmare and the comedy audience souring. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "6:45" (2021)
Usually I like these "Groundhog Day" movies where the main character relives the same day over and over again--but this one went surrealist and got all pretentious. I also found it repulsive that the film would humanize a guy who was so cruel to his girlfriend. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "CODA" (2021)
Top dramatic awards winner from Sundance about a hearing teenage singer who feels torn between a music school dream and her deaf parents and brother. I found the movie highly emotional and bittersweet. It also opened my eyes to the everyday struggle of deaf individuals. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Night House" (2021)
A labyrinthine psychological horror flick about a widow who discovers that her late husband secretly built a reversed replica of their house across the lake before committing suicide. I found the movie rather slow, but have to give it points for a solution that I never would have imagined. Rating: 5
The (open) world is yours

Lately, I've enjoyed watching Twitch streamers role-play Grand Theft Auto V on a NoPixel server. I can't get over how real the City of Los Santos looks--it's like a spitting image of Los Angeles. The characters' mouths even move along with the streamers' voices. My mind recently got blown by the most thrilling bank robbery I've ever seen in that game. Everything was going wrong, i.e., their bait-and-switch getaway vehicle got stolen, their new getaway vehicle turned out to be a slow lemon low on gas, other robbers already hit three of the banks they pulled up to, and the police showed up to their bank robbery early while responding to a different robbery. The live streamer (GrandPooBear) almost botched the vault hack, then clutched it out in the very final attempt. Then after he and his getaway driver exchanged a hostage for refueling and temporary safe passage, I marveled at the getaway driver Dundee's cat and mouse skills as a notoriously tenacious police interceptor chased them all over the city. It was like a Jason Bourne movie how banged up the getaway car got; then just when it looked like either the car would fall apart or finally get pinned by the cops, they all tore through a gas station and the getaway car escaped an explosion that knocked out all of the police cars at once! EPIC.

In Olympic tennis news, no Golden Slam for Novak Djokovic. He got upset by Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics semifinals; then lost the bronze medal match too. Threw his racket into the empty stands and didn't receive any warning until he smashed a racket on the net pole; then screwed his mixed doubles partner by withdrawing from their scheduled bronze medal match. All this after he had the nerve to say Simone Biles needs to learn how to deal with pressure better. So if he winds up blowing the Calendar Grand Slam because he's too banged up and exhausted to win the upcoming US Open, I won't be sad at all about it. In fact, I'll be rooting against him.

Watched movie: "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" (2021)
Surprisingly good sequel wherein Minos subjects a dream team of past winners to a new gauntlet of escape rooms. I found it refreshing watching the synergy between such unselfish, proficient team players. The big reveals struck me as uninspired though, i.e., the "Sonya" breadcrumbs turning out to be mere decorations (though on the plus side, that puzzle maker was my favorite character from the first movie) and the objective of Minos' long con just being to make use of that plane they tested in the first film! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Halfway decent yakuza/ninja movie until out of left field, the clan decided it's time for G.I. Joe (the real American heroes). Then the plot fell apart at the seams with head-spinning double-crosses and Harry Potter-like magic effects. The film didn't even broach why Snake Eyes turned mute. On the plus side, the directing energized the movie with a distinctive kinetic style. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4
The Big Three

Wimbledon sucked. I'm depressed Serena Williams had to retire in the first round with a leg injury, and that aging Roger Federer might never win this tournament (or any other) ever again. Now that Novak Djokovic has won Wimbledon for his 20th Grand Slam singles title, he is tied with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in men's tennis history. If Djokovic wins this August's US Open too, he'll become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year (plus if he manages to win a gold medal at this year's Tokyo Olympics, he'll become the first player since Steffi Graf to achieve a "Golden Slam" in the same calendar year). More importantly, Djokovic breaking that Grand Slam singles title record would force me to acknowledge him as the best tennis player of all-time--then I'd have to quit watching tennis (maybe).

To my amusement, some of the encore limited engagements of "Weathering With You" will screen in 4DX auditoriums this month. Given the nonstop rain in this movie, I wonder how drenched the 4DX audiences will get. I still remember all the drizzle from my 4DX screening of "Blade Runner 2049", a film with similarly constant rain as well as a rip-roaring showdown amid crashing waves. "Godzilla vs. Kong" rocked in 4DX as well. "Tenet", in contrast, wasn't worth seeing in 4DX.

Watched movie: "The Forever Purge" (2021)
Brutal social commentary wherein the United States stupidly reinstitutes the annual Purge, then loses control of it to radicalized hate groups. Pretty typical Purge fare except that the racism is laid bare this time and we see what happens when Americans no longer respect the rule of law. We also see how easy it is to exploit people's prejudices, i.e., the hate flag ploy. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Black Widow" (2021) in 3D
Decently entertaining despite some tonal flaws, e.g., ruining potent scenes with overly facetious humor and toning down serious atrocities. Also, I always find it hard to care about relationships built upon a lie. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
The next normal

Welp, I haven't stopped wearing my face mask. Mostly due to peer pressure, as I still see fellow Californians wearing them. It's also easier to keep it on than to constantly check which places still require it and which places now make it optional for vaccinated customers.

I've also been trying out different restaurants near my workplace for lunch. I still haven't returned to that Indian restaurant though, where over eight years ago the waitress mistook me for a customer who ran out on the bill; then tried to laugh off her racist mistake afterward instead of giving me an earnest apology.

Watched movie: "Luca" (2021)
The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, owned by Disney, was the only venue in the entire world showing "Luca" (though I heard it's supposed to play in countries that don't have the Disney+ streaming service). Seeing this beautiful Pixar movie about the Italian Riviera on the big screen was worth the drive down for me. Bellissima! Stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "F9" (2021) in D-BOX
The Fast Saga franchise has finally jumped the shark, I think, with this ninth installment. The action begins with a muscle car swinging across a chasm like Tarzan, and ends with a car driving to the ISS in space. We also get soap opera twists like Dom and Mia suddenly having an evil brother, and Han inexplicably vanishing into thin air before his car exploded. I will admit that the action and D-BOX effects provided fun, escapist entertainment. And even though I ridicule how often this franchise adulates "family", I've always admired the enduring comradery between the characters. In particular, Han's reunions highlighted the movie for me (another highlight: Michelle Rodriguez getting her wish and finally exchanging dialogue with Jordana Brewster). Villain-wise, I felt that John Cena had a commanding screen presence--leaps and bounds better than his fruity pebbles character in WWE. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Werewolves Within" (2021)
Brain-numbingly chaotic comedy whodunit based upon the social deduction game of the same name...but futile to sleuth because the townspeople don't get picked off and we don't know how many werewolf imposters there are. We don't even know whether the whole werewolf thing is just a hoax. On the plus side, I felt like the movie's smart reveal redeemed all of the tomfoolery. Because what better way for a werewolf to win than by gaining trust and turning the humans against each other. Rating: 5
The light at the end of the tunnel

California finally reopened today, retiring the color-coded tier system for every county and lifting statewide COVID-19 restrictions like mask requirements (for vaccinated people only and with some exceptions), capacity limits, and physical distancing. My apartment complex reopened its office, gyms, and pools. But the restrictions at my workplace and the eateries I frequent appear unchanged.

A special shout-out to "Ridiculousness" for helping take my mind off of the boredom during month after month of pandemic restrictions. It's a show that keeps airing on MTV where Rob Dyrdek, Sterling "Steelo" Brim, and Chanel West Coast comment on viral videos. I've only seen this formula work with this exact trinity of personalities--other people and similar shows have tried, but the chemistry just isn't there. Video-wise, I think my favorites are the animal clips and the anesthesia clips. My top three favorites that the show has ever aired:

  1. Cat can't handle flower
  2. Singer swallows microphone
  3. Alex after anesthesia

Honorable mention: A clip where some guy tried to light a cigarette with a stun gun and electrocuted himself.

In tennis news, I'm really impressed that Novak Djokovic managed to defeat the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, at the French Open semifinals. I think all tennis fans would agree that beating Nadal on clay at Roland Garros is bar none the hardest achievement to unlock in tennis. The next hardest would be beating Djokovic at the Australian Open, followed by beating Roger Federer on grass at Wimbledon. Now that Djokovic has captured his 19th Grand Slam singles title, he's only one away from tying Federer and Nadal for most of all-time. Man that would suck if Djokovic broke their record and I had to acknowledge him as the best tennis player of all-time. :P

In miscellaneous news, I was re-watching one of my all-time favorite "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes, "Disaster", where Counselor Troi wound up commanding the Enterprise during a life-and-death situation because she outranked the remaining survivors on the bridge. Despite a firm decision that nearly killed everyone onboard, I thought she made an excellent leader. She listened to advice, made informed decisions, stuck to her guns when necessary, and didn't lie to herself. It may sound simple--but trust me, it's not. Other gems in the episode: Captain Picard trying to reason with scared kids, and Dr. Crusher and La Forge depressurizing a cargo bay in a riveting bid for survival.

Watched movie: "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" (2021) in IMAX
I was surprised to read afterward that demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren really did participate in this real-life murder trial where the defense claimed not guilty by reason of demonic possession. I don't know if I like all the fiction that the movie made up around the case though. Admittedly, it piqued my interest when the film introduced an evil demonologist as an antithesis of the Warrens. (I was really disappointed by that unremarkable demon she summoned though--imagine if Valak had shown up!) Rating: 5
Watched movie: "In the Heights" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Fun cinematic adaptation of the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. It didn't click with me nearly as well as Hamilton did, mostly because of my general frustration with the character arcs, i.e., Usnavi's exasperating cold feet, Nina's exasperating self-sabotage, and a lack of closure on the dreams of Benny and Vanessa. Also, Washington Heights absolutely paled in comparison to that paradise where Usnavi wanted to buy his father's old business--was the movie trying to convince me otherwise? Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Censor" (2021)
Interesting social commentary on the video nasties era where "obscene" video cassettes (including some classic horror flicks) got banned from the United Kingdom. The movie follows a guarded film censor who repressed a childhood memory about her sister's unsolved disappearance. I've always found this kind of psychological horror chilling, because what a nightmare to have missing time because you repressed something too horrific for your psyche to cope with. Rating: 6
Ready or not...

Now that I've been fully vaccinated for over two weeks, I feel a lot safer eating inside restaurants again. I still wear a face mask around crowds and inside places that enforce a mask mandate (like my office building), but I'm ready to go maskless on June 15. And I'm not going to feel guilty if this puts unvaccinated Californians at risk. As far as I'm concerned, Californians have had more than enough opportunity to get vaccinated. It's time for the grace period to run its course.

Recently I web surfed "Star Trek: Voyager" episodes, struggling to find the one where the crew first received personal messages from home. SPOILER ALERT: I finally found it way back in the fourth season, the "Hunters" episode, where Chakotay and Torres find out the Dominion helped the Cardassians wipe out all of the Maquis (as chronicled in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") and Janeway discovers that her fiance moved on and married another woman. It's a standout episode, but my favorite episode is still "Shattered" where the ship gets fractured into different points of time from Voyager's past, present, and future. Incidentally, I'm still bitter about the series finale when self-righteous Janeway unethically violated the Temporal Prime Directive, Seven of Nine and Chakotay suddenly had a romance out of nowhere, and we never got to see any emotional reunions back on Earth. We also never got to see the dependable Ensign Harry Kim ever get any kind of promotion, whereas his flawed Maquis friend Tom Paris got demoted to Ensign and promoted back to Lieutenant within the same time frame (another contextual note: the Enterprise-D's counselor Troi got promoted from Lieutenant Commander to Commander during "Star Trek: The Next Generation"). In contrast, I consider the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" series finale the best Star Trek episode ever and the greatest series finale in TV history.

Watched movie: "A Quiet Place Part II" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Grounded, emotional sequel that built upon the progress of the first movie well. I felt proud of the main characters despite their frownworthy gaffes--because unlike the first film, they now had a social obligation and no survivalist regimen to rely on. P.S. Kudos to the trailers for giving so little of the plot away. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "i'm thinking of ending things" (2020)
Such a fatalistic, joyless turn for Charlie Kaufman. Rating: 5
Immunity in the community

Although it's still a nuisance driving offsite for lunch each day I'm in the office, I sure appreciate the free air-conditioning during the unseasonably warm temperatures. If it's already this hot in spring, I'm not looking forward to summer.

My cheeks felt cold again after my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Maybe it was because the clinic required I wear two face masks? In any case, I experienced a slight headache that afternoon; then muscle aches the next day that made it hard to sit; then chills the day after. It was like my body was running some kind of diagnostic. Fortunately, I felt fine by the time the wedding came around.

I wasn't aware that WrestleMania Backlash would be sponsored by Dave Bautista's new "Army of the Dead" movie, so little did I know that WWE would turn its scheduled Lumberjack Match--where wrestlers surround the ring and toss the combatants back in--into a Zombie Lumberjack Match...where zombies surround the ring and try to eat the combatants! (Though I noticed the two wrestlers whom the zombies swarmed over are still alive.) I'm actually amused by all this. It reminded me of the Undertaker's theatrics, and I've always felt that WWE should make the most of these dwindling opportunities for cinematic matches while they still can.

Looks like the Golden State Warriors got screwed in that NBA play-in tournament. First they had to play the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs; then in the second game, the Warriors lost the No. 8 seed that they worked all season to earn. So that's the end of their season.

The San Francisco Giants have been playing well for some reason--they're among the top teams in the MLB standings. Incidentally, I like that new MLB rule where all extra innings begin with a runner on second base. I don't care what the "purist" naysayers of this rule say. I hate watching tied baseball games that drag on and on and on.

Watched movie: "Army of the Dead" (2021) in Cinemark XD
Another zombie movie directed by Zack Snyder wherein a casino owner hires a mercenary crew to infiltrate Las Vegas--now walled off due to a zombie outbreak--to break into his vault (that for some reason he didn't have the combination to). Although I found the action scenes decent, the characters' mind-numbingly stupid decisions hurt my enjoyment of the film. I also found the mission itself foolhardy, as the crew had to walk to this casino on foot with zombies all over the place (some of them dangerously intelligent), and escape before a nuke obliterated the whole city. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Spiral: From the Book of Saw" (2021) in IMAX
Just a dumb "Saw" installment wherein a Jigsaw copycat killer (whom I guessed easily) punishes dirty cops in uninspiring torture traps. Despite this audacious premise, the movie had absolutely nothing meaningful to say about policing in America. At a minimum, I was hoping that Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson would reinvigorate the declining "Saw" franchise with some fresh humor and biting social commentary. But alas, the film completely wasted this golden opportunity. I will admit that Chris Rock's serious attempts to play a hard-boiled homicide detective amused me. If you ask me, they should've made this movie a police drama satire instead. Side note: Cool "Saw" theme rap song. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Profile" (2021)
A computer screen film directed by the Screen Life visionary himself, Timur Bekmambetov. It stays on the computer screen of an undercover British journalist as she secretly records Skypes with a jihadist in Syria. To my chagrin, she also multitasks with other windows besides the screen recorder that could blow her cover at any time, e.g., incoming calls/texts from her boyfriend and her boss. (She even forgets to stop sharing her screen during a call with her sister!) I also lost my bearings when she kept playing old recordings--I'd rather the narrative just edit the days together in exact chronological order (maybe cut to some dated journal entry every time the movie jumps forward?). Plot-wise, I found all the flirtation icky and unenjoyable to sit through. But overall, I liked the film's educational merit (it's based upon a non-fiction book about how ISIS recruits young women). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Those Who Wish Me Dead" (2021)
I feel like Taylor Sheridan's work is going downhill. So many plot holes in this movie, starting with why the forensic accountant gave his young son handwritten notes instead of just e-mailing them. Am I supposed to believe that only the district attorney and the accountant could access this forensic evidence? It also felt contrived that a lightning strike just happened to fry the radio in Angelina Jolie's fire tower, and that she had no other way to call for help. Finally, what pregnant woman would just ignore the safety of her unborn baby (twice!) and go after really dangerous assassins by herself like Rambo? Rating: 5
Nuclear option

It appears I wasn't the only one who hated watching Twitch streamers clown around in "Among Us". Quite possibly the friendliest Twitch streamer I've ever watched--who smiles like 99% of time and almost never gets mad--went BALLISTIC on Twitter airing one bizarre grievance after another...a full on meltdown about crying herself to sleep because her longtime friend, a beloved streamer, didn't take their "Among Us" game seriously enough and then mistakenly accused her of snubbing him in a Mario game launch (also brief mentions of two moments during their friendship when he drunkenly offended her in front of her husband). WTF? Now with this bridge burned to ashes (plus another streamer who got exiled with her husband, a legendary Mario player, after he banned a transphobe from his stream too belatedly), I feel like Mario Masters Colosseum has been shattered like a picture frame. It's all so surreal.

I've never been a fan of people pretending to be fine (especially after I read about the emotional anguish my former roommate was hiding before his murder–suicide). It's one thing to secretly hate somebody, but it's another to act like you two are still besties. She had kept on smiling and streaming with her longtime friend like nothing was wrong, so it makes me wonder now how much of her sunny personality has just been for show. I still remember when a girl I liked in college snapped at me one day with: "What are you complaining about now?!"--a side of her I never glimpsed before. It made me realize I do complain too much, and motivated me to become a better person. But also, sadly, I never talked to her ever again. How could I?

Watched movie: "Gekijō-ban -Kimetsu no Yaiba- Mugen Ressha-hen" (2020) a.k.a. "Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train" (2021)
Corny but well-animated box-office record breaker in Japan. It's a direct sequel to the first season of a popular Japanese anime series I never watched, but I got up to speed pretty quickly thanks to each demon hunter's dream sequence (though the boar-headed weirdo and the girl with the bamboo gag threw me off). I found the dubbing decent even though it gets laughable when they think aloud too much in English. P.S. I dislike CGI in anime, and I hate it when anime characters shout out the names of their attacks. Rating: 6
Returning to normalcy

I'm finally back at the office this week after my workplace eased its COVID-19 restrictions. My office still looked frozen in time, except for all the bugs and dust I had to clean off my desks. The parking lots look overgrown with weeds in the asphalt cracks, and a lot of the outside lawns got dug up by animals. It does feel good sitting at my air-conditioned ergonomic workstation, using a mouse again (like riding a bike), connecting to reliable internet, and having access to a working printer. But almost everything is closed, including the cafeteria. So I'm still debating how often to drive into the office.

The scaled-down 93rd Oscars ceremony underwhelmed me, but at least it cut out a lot of the bloat (though I still miss the traditional clips for each acting nominee). I'm still confused why the ceremony didn't end with the Oscar for Best Picture. I'm also still confused how Frances McDormand and Anthony Hopkins pulled off those shocking upsets for Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively. On the plus side, I finally predicted Best Picture correctly after blowing this category for the past five ceremonies.

After years of delays, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is finally ready to open on September 30, 2021. I'm going to closely watch which film classics will screen there. The museum's inaugural exhibition will showcase Hayao Miyazaki. I'm also interested in that "Oscars Experience" where guests can accept an Academy Award in a simulated environment on the Dolby Theatre stage.

Watched movie: "Mortal Kombat" (2021) in IMAX
More faithful to the video game, e.g., gory fatalities and esoteric one-liners, but nowhere near as entertaining as the original adaptation. Not even ironically entertaining. Though it is laughable that they tried to inject such serious drama into a movie called "Mortal Kombat". Rating: 4
Vax day

I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine finally, at a Stanford Health clinic set up inside a gigantic roller rink. It was the Pfizer vaccine, so I think my imagination got overactive and made my cheeks and skin feel cold. What a strange sight at the clinic's 15-minute observation zone: everybody waiting quietly in evenly-spaced chairs underneath a disco ball. I receive my next dose on May 13--good timing because I'm attending a wedding not long after.

I was surprised to read about the rain delay at WrestleMania 37, which forced them to postpone the first match of the show for roughly 40 minutes. This has actually never happened in all the years WWE has held WrestleMania outdoors--granted, I did get rained on at WrestleMania XXIV, but only in brief drizzles.

I wasn't impressed with "The Walking Dead" episodes that got annexed to season 10. COVID-19 must have scaled down their production. I did watch the season 6 midseason premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead" after I read spoilers that something major would happen. I haven't watched this show in years, and it's still the same old same old complete with another pointless death. P.S. It still blows my mind how one of the main characters had the same name as my sister; then changed it to the same name as my other sister. That's one helluva coincidence.

I refuse to believe that ArcLight Cinemas has permanently closed. Hollywood needs to come together to save it; at least the ArcLight Hollywood multiplex where the historic Cinerama Dome is located. The mochas at their cafe were out of this world, and I've screened so many films there during my holiday movie marathons, e.g., "Zero Dark Thirty", "The Impossible", "her", "American Sniper" (in the Cinerama Dome), "Selma", "The Revenant", and "The Hateful Eight".

Big news in that cold case of Kristin Smart, the Cal Poly freshman who vanished during the Memorial Day weekend on May 25, 1996. The police finally arrested Paul Flores, the fellow student last seen with her who claimed to have walked her back to her dorm following an off-campus party. This guy's always been super suspicious, lying about how he got his black eye and refusing to cooperate with the investigators. But despite multiple excavations and searches around his family's homes and Cal Poly, Kristin's body has never been found. Interestingly, Paul Flores' father has also been arrested for allegedly helping to conceal the body.

I was on the edge of my seat the whole time the judge read those three guilty verdicts for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer who fatally knelt on George Floyd's neck. Easily the most suspenseful verdict I've watched live since the O.J. Simpson murder trial. I couldn't imagine the jury acquitting Chauvin on any charge given the damning footage and the defense's curious choice not to put him on the stand. (Though off the top of my head, I can think of multiple historic cases where an acquittal dismayed me.) Next step: getting serious on police reforms, starting with how on earth officers mistake their guns for tasers.

The Academy Awards look predictable except for Best Actress, which has become a toss-up. I always lean toward the SAG winner though. My final Oscar predictions for 2020:

Watched movie: "colectiv" a.k.a. "Collective" (2020)
A profoundly important Oscar nominee for Best Documentary and Best International Film that begins with the suspicious bacterial deaths of several burn victims from the Colectiv nightclub fire in Romania. Then as the investigative journalists and new Minister of Health in this movie dig deeper, we find out that this healthcare failure was just the tip of the iceberg for all the political, medical, and pharmaceutical corruption in the Romanian healthcare system. Corruption so systemic that the whole situation just felt overwhelmingly hopeless to me. From my perspective, this documentary was a microcosm of why we need government transparency, freedom of the press, unbiased and trustworthy information, and most importantly--why voters need to care and hold their leaders accountable. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "In the Earth" (2021)
This movie belongs in the trash. I could take the unnecessary gore and the incoherent storyline; but the parts where the film tried to give me a seizure with all that relentless flashing? Unacceptable. Rating: 2

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all California businesses can fully reopen on June 15, 2021 (with the state mask mandate, public health policies, testing, and contract tracing still in place) as long as COVID-19 vaccine is available to all Californians, and hospitalization rates remain low. Meaning no more four-tiered, color-coded "Blueprint for a Safer Economy" to guide when counties can reopen. Assuming that enough of our vulnerable population has been vaccinated by then, I'm fine with reopening--even if the non-serious COVID-19 cases go back up. I'm still waiting eagerly to schedule a vaccination appointment for myself. I'm not essential and currently only Californians over the age of 50 are eligible. Like every other Californian over the age of 16, I'm not eligible until April 15, 2021.

Watched movie: "Come True" (2021)
Haunting sci-fi horror movie highlighted by hauntingly beautiful music by Electric Youth. It's about a female teenage runaway who keeps dreaming of a dark shadow figure with eyes, and volunteers for a cool sleep study where the researchers can actually watch the subjects' dreams on monochrome monitors. I got a David Lynch vibe from the film, because my brain didn't understand the visceral horrors I was seeing--and that made everything much scarier. Every time the movie began showing a new nightmare, it put my nerves on edge. P.S. If anyone understood that ending, please explain it to me. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Godzilla vs. Kong" (2021) in 4DX & 3D
Fun, escapist Monsterverse WrestleMania-quality slobberknocker that lived up to its billing and to my satisfaction, resulted in a definitive winner. Is Godzilla's atomic heat beam an unfair advantage? Is it unfair for Kong to use a weapon? Is it unfair for humans to interfere? Does the venue unfarily favor one combatant over the other? Instead of dwelling on these questions, I just decided to enjoy the spectacle for what it was: anything goes, no holds barred. As usual, all the human stuff struck me as plot filler--but I've accepted that the humans are essential for pacing and hype. Side note: The tempestuous 4DX onslaught was worth every penny--my body reeled from every shock wave (for instance, I felt like I was actually sitting on that aircraft carrier that Kong leapt onto). I also worked out how to best position my face mask to avoid fogging up my 3-D glasses. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Druk" a.k.a. "Another Round" (2020)
Unamusing international film Oscar frontrunner that if you ask me, glorified alcohol way too much. It's about a secret experiment where four teacher friends drink alcohol everyday at their high school to see if they teach better. This dumb idea reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Homer strove to become morbidly obese; except instead of watching Homer overeat, I had to sit there watching these guys turn into alcoholics. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Unholy" (2021)
Quite the audacious premise to have a satanic specter impersonate the Virgin Mary and fool Catholics with faith healings. But in the end, I felt that the film's self-important message about false prophets got lost in a sea of dumb horror movie tripe and awful CGI. I also didn't like the cynical optics of Jeffrey Dean Morgan fighting disinformation with disinformation. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Voyagers" (2021)
"Lord of the Flies" in space, basically, wherein a crew of 30 young adults stops taking their pleasure-inhibiting medication during their 86-year voyage to a habitable planet. Despite my skepticism that pleasure and sexual desire could transform learned young adults into such gullible savages devoid of conscience and empathy, I liked the movie. Rating: 6
Judas vs. the Black Messiah

As the wheel of racism revolved against Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans, the hardened cynic in me knew it was only a matter of time before my own ethnicity would become a target once again. Admittedly, I do appreciate all of this public social awareness against anti-Asian racism. When I was little and Japan-bashing was a thing, I basically had to suffer through anti-Asian bullying alone. The lowest point of my life was when my own parents didn't believe me that I was getting bullied at summer school, and kept making me go. I've actually never really forgiven them for it, even though they've long since passed away.

In Oscar news, the Academy Award nominations were finally announced after the eligibility period was extended to the end of February 2021. I noticed "One Night in Miami..." and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" got snubbed for Best Picture. Surprisingly, LaKeith Stanfield got nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Judas and the Black Messiah" even though he's the lead character. So now both of the title characters in this movie are competing for the same Best Supporting Actor award. Also noteworthy: Glenn Close received both an Oscar nomination and a Razzie nomination for playing Mamaw in "Hillbilly Elegy".

Here's how I rated the 2020 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Mank" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Promising Young Woman" (My rating: 6)
  4. "Nomadland" (My rating: 6)
  5. "Sound of Metal" (My rating: 6)
  6. "Minari" (My rating: 6)
  7. "Judas and the Black Messiah" (My rating: 5)
  8. "The Father" (My rating: 5)
Watched movie: "Sound of Metal" (2020)
A slow, closed captioned Oscar nominee about a restless heavy-metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who suddenly loses his hearing, and checks into a deaf community to avoid relapsing into drug addiction. The plot confused me with conflicting messages, as I never understood why he had to cope with deafness when he could still save some of his hearing with cochlear implant surgery. I also got thrown off by all the closed captioning (I could seamlessly understand the conversations even when the movie's sound was off). All in all, I mainly just liked the emotional scenes with his girlfriend (Olivia Cooke). Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Quo Vadis, Aida?" (2020-2021)
Psychologically devastating international film Oscar nominee wherein a desperate UN translator pulls whatever strings she can to save her husband and two sons as they and their fellow Srebrenican refugees--on the run from the Bosnian Serb Army--overcrowd her UN base. The haunting foreshadowing and the impotence of the UN soldiers tasked with protecting these refugees made my skin crawl. Rating: 7
Where in the world is Steven Aoki?

I'm back in Santa Clara County, where my local movie theatres have reopened (hopefully for good this time). Even Los Angeles County is finally reopening movie theatres. So surreal that COVID-19 has killed over half a million people in the United States. I still remember my incredulity the first time I heard a projection on the radio of over 100,000 deaths.

Al pastor is my new favorite food right now. It's tender slowly cooked pork marinated in adobo spices, and tastes like heavenly bliss. Like the kind of bliss in that Pixar film "Ratatouille". I first tried it in an enchilada in Arizona, but I actually enjoy just eating it by itself. Incidentally, I'm going to miss drinking the café mocha from la Madeleine French Bakery & Cafe in Arizona--such a smooth blend with no aftertaste.

Watched movie: "Chaos Walking" (2021) in IMAX with Laser
Cinematic adaptation of a young adult novel wherein a young female scout (Daisy Ridley) crash-lands on a planet, discovers that the inner thoughts of the male settlers broadcast externally out of their heads, and teams up with a young settler (Tom Holland) who has never seen a woman before. (I guess it would be like if Jon Arbuckle could see and hear Garfield's thought bubbles.) The movie is rated PG-13, so Tom Holland's thoughts were mostly just cute and comical. Part of me wanted something way less superficial, i.e., a scathing exploration of what men and women really think of each other. The other part of me didn't want to go there. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Raya and the Last Dragon" (2021) in IMAX
Another gorgeous and emotional computer-animated movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios. I found Raya's facial expressions particularly well done. Although I'm too cynical to appreciate the film's core message (I believe that people have to actually earn trust, and even then I only trust conditionally), I have to give props to the potent dramatic scenes that resulted. The premise balanced the tone rather well: turning the loved ones to stone felt grievous enough for me to sympathize with the characters, yet not too dark for a kids' movie. As a result, I cared about the fellowship's success and really wanted that big emotional payoff. P.S. Interesting how many people cupped their hands when they turned to stone; made me think about how I'd want to pose my own self in that situation. P.S.S. I liked the "Us Again" short too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "The Father" (2020-2021)
Oscar contender that simulates the effects of dementia by jumbling everything that Anthony Hopkins sees and remembers. For example, the movie kept changing the actors around him (including his own daughter played by Olivia Colman), altering the flat he lived in, jumping around in time, and presenting contradictory realities. All of which made the film hopeless to follow and unenjoyable for me to watch. Admittedly, it did make me thankful that I never had to go through that with my parents. I also wonder whether late in life, I'll become stubborn and deny truths like my own father. Rating: 5
Nomad Steven

I've been binging movies in Arizona this past couple of weeks. The weather there was warm, and didn't even feel like winter. The rain there sure gets dirty.

Watched movie: "The Notebook" (2004)
I finally screened a Nicholas Sparks romance movie for the first time. Too bad I'm such a cynic--it actually bothered me that this film cared so much about true love and so little about everything else in life, e.g., self-respect, livelihood, social responsibility, friends, family, children...even World War II was just a footnote! What was the Rachel McAdams character's major? What did the Ryan Gosling character do for a living? They basically let this one romance define their entire self-worth. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "All the President's Men" (1976)
Important, occasionally humorous political drama about two Washington Post reporters' investigation of Watergate. Their sly journalistic tactics highlighted the movie for me, especially whenever they successfully baited reluctant sources into confirming names. My biggest disappointment: Robert Redford's superficial conversations with Deep Throat. P.S. It's scary how much history from the Nixon administration has repeated itself, e.g., the abuses of office and attacks on a free press. Now we have to deal with opinion news, viral disinformation, and insurrection too. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "the little things" (2021) in Dolby Cinema
Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto all have great screen presence--but to my disappointment, none of them could save this weakly plotted police drama. For a much better movie where detectives struggle to find a serial killer, see "Memories of Murder" or "Se7en" instead. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Nomadland" (2020) in IMAX
Sorry to everyone out there who lauded this Oscar frontrunner as the best movie of 2020, but I found it...kinda boring. Probably because I've already visited these same sites during my own road trip, and don't romanticize nomadism like the film did. I'm generally not one to talk to strangers either. So strange as it might sound, the scraps of fictional plot engaged me the most. I could actually relate to Frances McDormand's restless character, and can picture a similarly rudderless journey for myself once I retire. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Minari" (2020)
Top dramatic awards winner from Sundance about a family of Korean immigrants who start a farm in Arkansas. I guess the movie was semi-autobiographical like "Roma", so it nary had any plot, formula, message, morality, or answers in it. Mostly just hardship and struggle without any epiphanies, redemption, or catharsis. Although I liked that the film didn't tell me how to think or feel, it kinda bothered me that the most important dramatic scenes just fleeted by without much gravitas or rumination. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "PG: Psycho Goreman" (2020-2021)
Twisted horror-comedy wherein a genocidal alien overlord must obey the whims of an amoral little girl on Earth who found his gem (she nicknames him "Psycho Goreman"). The girl's family, the offbeat aliens, and the irreverent humor reminded me a lot of "Rick and Morty". And just like "Rick and Morty", the irreverence started getting old for me. I would've rated the movie higher had it not crossed the line with that crucifix scene. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The White Tiger" (2021)
I found this movie worth watching just for its cynical insights into India's socioeconomic caste system and the indoctrination of servants. I hated the film's rags-to-riches story though. How am I supposed to root for a protagonist who acts more like a villain, betraying people who don't deserve it? Even that "confession" didn't make me sympathize with him, because it's not like he wasn't guilty. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Judas and the Black Messiah" (2021) in Dolby Cinema
I liked this movie until violence kept getting used to solve problems instead of words. That made me unhappy, watching Black Panthers and cops kill each other over and over. Props to the strong acting performances of LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Deux" (2020) a.k.a. "Two of Us" (2021)
Exasperating Oscar entry from France wherein a secretly lesbian grandmother can't bring herself to tell her adult kids that the lesbian tenant in the neighboring apartment is actually her longtime love. Then when a stroke incapacitates the grandmother, her kids hire a caregiver--and the lover (to my chagrin) keeps sneaking back into the apartment like Solid Snake. Long story short, instead of just settling the situation reasonably like mature adults, their choices made me want to wring my hands. But I guess this is a good cautionary tale for what happens when your loved ones don't know what your wishes are. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Âya to majo" (2020) a.k.a. "Earwig and the Witch" (2021)
I would describe Studio Ghibli's first computer-animated movie eyesore. The characters looked like porcelain dolls with ugly plastic hair. Earwig's sour expressions amused me, at least. I also liked her mischief, e.g., those unflattering caricatures she creates. It was funny to me that unlike the usual Studio Ghibli protagonist, she spent most of the film plotting a big prank on her mean foster mother. I might've rated the movie higher had the characters not behaved so abusively--even the cute talking black cat got bullied. It makes me wonder whether Gorô Miyazaki is making a special effort to deviate from his father. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Wanting Mare" (2021)
I read that this movie took five years to make because of all the visual effects and digital backgrounds. So it pains me to say that I hated it. The visuals didn't look very good to me, the jump cuts and needlessly shaky camerawork kept making me lose my bearings, and the complete lack of plot and character development made the whole thing feel like a bad perfume commercial. Rating: 3
Anytime soon

After double-checking that the blizzard warning passed and the chain controls were lifted, I spent one Saturday in Reno, NV. I drove in, screened one movie, and then drove back to California that same day. The I-80 highway must've had quite the snowfall, as I could see tall walls of snow along the shoulders where the snow blower vehicles had passed through. One of the rest areas looked completely snowed in. All in all, I enjoyed the snowy scenic drive into Nevada a lot more than the dusty nighttime drive out of it (I made a mental note never to do that again).

The Royal Rumble is the only WWE show left that I still watch every year, and I feel like it never disappoints (except maybe those two that the live audience ruined). Despite that clever swerve ending to the Men's Royal Rumble Match (which may or may not have placated a live audience), I have to say I enjoyed the Women's Royal Rumble Match more. I love it when two hungry, evenly matched entrants fight each other with every fiber of their being for that WrestleMania title shot (I still remember marking out in the live audience during the 2007 Royal Rumble Match when the final two came down to The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels). I feel like the live audience would've gone bananas when the final three women became that final two.

Dude, I'm the exact same age as that actor Dustin Diamond who died a mere three weeks after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I can believe it, as my mom died less than five months after her stage IIIB lung cancer diagnosis.

During an extended Super Bowl LV weekend at my usual hotel in Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber actually paid me $100 in stimulus money just for booking a two-night minimum hotel stay in Santa Maria Valley between 2/4/2021 and 3/31/2021. I heard about the stimulus promotion on the radio. Since I was already planning to visit Santa Maria anyway, I anxiously submitted my qualifying form online (the offer was limited to the first 500 registrations). Then once I checked into my hotel, the front desk gave me tourist information and a Visa gift card for $100. I was encouraged to spend the stimulus locally, so I splurged it all on Santa Maria's finest, most expensive restaurants: The Swiss Steakhouse, Shaw's Steakhouse, and someplace called The Garden Mediterranean Restaurant (I liked their beef shawarma). Did I feel guilty spending the stimulus money even though for the past two decades, I've more or less visited Santa Maria at least once a month? Nope. The way I see it, the stimulus was my reward for the lifetime I spent pumping dollars into Santa Maria's economy. :)

Ageless wonder Tom Brady won his 7th Super Bowl ring in an underwhelming one-sided massacre. Funny how packed the stadium looked with all those cardboard cutouts in the seats.

Alas, I wasn't able to use my AMC Stubs A-List at all in January. But I'm going to make up for it in February during my biggest movie marathon outside of California yet.

Watched movie: "Wrong Turn" (2021)
Pretentious reboot of the cannibal horror series wherein liberal hipsters wander off the Appalachian Trail in Virginia into a secret community's booby-trapped woods. Gimme a break with the message about cultural misunderstanding. If people stalk you, steal your cell phones, and try to flatten you with a gigantic log--it's ok to think they're psycho! Rating: 4
Hype train

To give you a sense of how laughable it is that I have to quarantine in Santa Clara County for 10 days whenever I return from somewhere that's over 150 miles away...I can't remember the last time since 1Q 2020 that I even stayed put in Santa Clara County for 10 days. It's torturously boring for me to work from home, sitting there at my card table looking at the same four walls. Though it looks like I won't be visiting Reno anytime soon--I see snow in the city's weather forecast. No way I'm buying tire chains and/or scraping windshields.

I tabulated the music video results for 2020. "Cross Me" topped both the songs and videos.

While waiting for a food order, I looked up at a TV and beamed with pride at the sight of Dr. Anthony Fauci answering questions in the White House briefing room. Now that newly inaugurated President Biden has taken Fauci off the sidelines and on day one, rolled out a national COVID-19 strategy that actually takes this pandemic seriously--the Biden administration has already exceeded my low expectations.

Lately, I feel like Twitch streamers have been ruining "Among Us" by playing the video game much less seriously. My misgivings first began during a round where players started getting drunk, and somebody got voted out just for mocking "Sailor Moon". Then in a later round, crewmates literally paid an imposter to kill for them. Nowadays, I see crewmates covering for imposters all the time--even voting for innocent crewmates just to be funny.

More upcoming movies got postponed to later in the year. But curiously, the Monsterverse film "Godzilla vs. Kong" is now releasing this March. The new trailer got me hyped. I heard this fight is going to have a definitive winner, so I predict Godzilla will win because that's the more marketable monster to build a franchise around IMHO. But I feel like in real-life, Kong would tear that tiny-armed slowpoke limb from limb. P.S. I really dislike this Kong clip, even more than the clip of the giant Dune sandworm looking down at Paul Atreides. What is this, E.T.?

I was surprised to learn that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the first NFL team ever to play a Super Bowl inside their own home stadium. It'll be the greatest football player in NFL history, Tom Brady, versus the future of the NFL, Patrick Mahomes. And with COVID-19 restrictions limiting the stadium capacity to 22,000 fans (7500 of them vaccinated health care workers), I can't imagine how much these tickets will sell for on the scalping markets.

Speaking of that Super Bowl stadium in Tampa Bay, this year's two-night WrestleMania will now be taking place there with fans in attendance. I just hope Daniel Bryan doesn't win this upcoming empty arena Royal Rumble Match. He's a crowd favorite who deserves to win it in an arena with live, energized fans. I say book something bonkers that live fans would absolutely hate--like book The Fiend as a surprise entrant who shoots fire, and eliminates everybody else with movie magic. Or book some part-timer like Goldberg or The Rock to win. Heck, make it a full-blown cinematic spectacle and book Hulk Hogan as a threat to win.

A me party

I spent New Year's Eve alone in my hotel room watching the Times Square Ball drop. It was a dull affair.

Root beer isn't caffeinated. I confirmed this after my "caffeinated" answer during a round of "The Chameleon" social deduction board game led the players to gang up on me. Even though I had correctly sleuthed the imposter (who vaguely answered "refreshing" because they didn't know the secret word was "root beer"), nobody believed me. I also think my previous stint as imposter hurt my credibility, because of how well I stayed in character. I falsely accused innocent players, and faked pseudo-intellectual "Impressionist" nonsense about a painter whose name was hidden from me. (I found out later the secret painter was Georgia O'Keeffe.) Overall, I feel like it's hardest to deduce the imposter when they get to answer last, because often times the preceding answers give too much of the secret word away.

Sad scenes of rioters invading the US Capitol. Punctuation for the sad post-truth times we live in, where nothing is sacred. Though it's poetic justice that the politicians shamelessly exploiting "election fraud" conspiracy theories for the Trumpism votes probably depressed Republican turnout instead. (I thought it would be a forgone conclusion that the Republicans would win the Georgia runoffs and retain control of the U.S. Senate.) The dumbest disinformation I've heard yet: that Vice President Mike Pence could have just read aloud a different POTUS winner.

Also depressing how slow the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is going. I read that at this current pace, it would take the U.S. ten years to reach herd immunity. :(

I'm currently staying at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada near Reno. I drove here just to screen an Oscar contender. I'll probably keep coming back here for new movies if California theaters stay shuttered and hotel room prices stay dirt cheap.

Watched movie: "One Night in Miami..." (2020)
Profound discourse about the African American struggle, based on a play that imagines what was discussed when Muhammad Ali celebrated his first world heavyweight championship with his friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. Although the movie mostly just took place inside a hotel room, their pointed arguments about social responsibility and civil rights activism kept me engaged. Special props to actor Kingsley Ben-Adir for convincingly baring Malcolm X's soul. I also found the film's more tiered depiction of racism truer to life. Rating: 7
2020 Year in Review
Best of 2020 Worst of 2020
Events that happened to Steve
  1. The U.S. presidential election of 2020 finally ending with an incontestable result.
  2. Finally binging long-awaited movies like "Tenet" in Las Vegas.
  3. My apartment complex actually completing maintenance repairs on time, installing a much nicer bathroom sink and finally fixing my two dead power outlets.
  4. Enjoying the fun four-player "Streets of Rage 4" story mode with my friends over Memorial Day weekend.
  5. "Parasite" pulling off an Oscars upset to become the first non-English language film to win Best Picture.
Honorable mention: Enjoying the Shaun the Sheep sequel at a free family programming event before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down movie theatres and made me permanently uneasy about sitting in auditoriums with other people.
  1. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic upending my everyday life with cancellations, closures, paranoia, boredom, and layoffs.
  2. Choking on ashy smoke from lightning-sparked California wildfires and suffering a power outage during an excessive summer heatwave.
  3. (tie) Finding out that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away; and finding out that Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash.
  4. (tie) Finding out my all-time favorite taqueria for chili verde stopped making chili verde; and COVID-19 driving some of my favorite eateries like Cookie Cookery out of business.
  5. (tie) The San Francisco 49ers losing Super Bowl LIV despite their 10-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the middle of the fourth quarter, with the 49ers pretty much collapsing after the Chiefs gained 44 yards on a 3rd-and-15; and missing out on a dream fourth round retirement match for Caroline Wozniacki because both she and best friend Serena Williams lost their third round matches at the Australian Open.
Dishonorable mention: Having to pick up my mail at the post office for several weeks because my apartment complex wouldn't fix a vandalized mailbox cluster.
  1. "Tenet"
    "Christopher Nolan's most brain teasing film yet."
  2. "Farmageddon"
    "A Shaun the Sheep movie that delighted me to no end."
  3. "WolfWalkers"
    "Divine hand-drawn animation from the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon..."
  4. "Soul"
    "A funny, profound, and ambitious masterwork from Pixar..."
  5. "Weathering With You"
    "Breathtaking, emotional Oscar entry from Japan that looked like it took ages to animate."
  6. "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
    "Intellectually stimulating historical drama by Aaron Sorkin..."
  7. "Collective"
    "...profoundly important..."
  8. "One Night in Miami..."
    "Profound discourse about the African American struggle..."
  9. "Mank"
    "Densely layered David Fincher film..."
  10. "Kajillionaire"
    "I was pleasantly surprised by this Miranda July film..."
  1. "The Empty Man"
    "The pointless movie."
  2. "Possessor"
    "Pretty sickening, actually."
  3. "The Grudge"
    "Mind-numbingly bland American sidequel that felt overstuffed with pointless character development..."
  4. "Blumhouse's Fantasy Island"
    "The audacity of Blumhouse to cheapen this beloved TV show into a superficial PG-13 horror flick..."
  5. "The Lodge"
    "By the end of this snowy snoozefest, I lost interest in which scenes were reality and found the characters too unlikeable to care about anymore."
  6. "Bloodshot"
    "Vapid comic book movie..."
  7. "Come Play"
    "Larry's not scary."
  8. "Bad Boys for Life"
    "...three specific plot points ruined the movie for me..."
  9. "She Dies Tomorrow"
    "...surprisingly boring except for some hilariously droll moments."
  10. "Blood on Her Name"
    "This twisty Southern noir actually reminded me of 'The Walking Dead' because of how annoyed I got with the main character's bleeding heart."
  1. "Blinding Lights" The Weeknd
  2. "Center Stage" Zauntee
  3. "Running with the Wolves (WolfWalkers Version)" AURORA
  4. "The Plan" Travis Scott
  5. "Hallucinate" Dua Lipa
  1. "Yummy" Justin Bieber
  2. "Gameboy" Jayden Bartels
  3. "cardigan" Taylor Swift
  4. "Strange Timez (Episode Six)" Gorillaz f/ Robert Smith
  5. "No Time To Die" Billie Eilish
Music video "Blinding Lights" The Weeknd "Until I Bleed Out" The Weeknd
TV series "Survivor: Winners At War" "The Eric Andre Show"
Commercial Cyberpunk 2077 commercial about a video game with "no limits". Burger King commercial that time-lapses a moldy Whopper to show the "beauty" of no artificial preservatives.
Movie trailer "POSSESSOR" "Swallow"
Beverage Gatorade Zero Lemon-Lime
Holiday movie marathon 2020

I triumphed again. I pulled the trigger and reactivated my AMC Stubs A-List membership on 12/18/2020. Turns out that my guess was correct: I indeed had 14 days left in the month my A-List membership was paused. So my new monthly billing date landed exactly on January 1, 2021. Granted, my local AMC theatres probably won't open for quite some time; but I'm willing to donate whatever monthly membership fee I lose as a consequence.

For this year's holiday movie marathon, I drove to Las Vegas and stayed at Treasure Island again. I figured what better place to spend my cancelled Christmas. So I spent my Christmas Day watching "Wonder Woman 1984", then holing up in my hotel room to eat my "Christmas dinner": a "Bobbie" from Capriotti's Sandwich Shop. It's a sandwich full of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayo.

For the rest of my holiday movie marathon, I drove to Phoenix, Arizona.

Watched movie: "Monster Hunter" (2020) in IMAX
A satisfactory video game adaptation as long as you don't walk into it expecting plot or character development. I found it particularly cool how one of the tougher monsters took like half the movie to take down. All in all, I'm glad Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich decided to make this instead of another Resident Evil sequel. Stay during the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "WW84" (2020) in IMAX
Billed as "Wonder Woman 1984", but it didn't feel very '80s to me (they at least could've made the POTUS look like Ronald Reagan). The movie did resonate with me, even though a lot of it struck me as corny, cartoonish, and impossible--but I told myself that given Diana Prince is part god, who's to say what's impossible. I still don't get the Steve Trevor thing: did the other guy get kicked out of his own body?! Confusion aside, that Steve Trevor arc sure packed an emotional wallop. Definitely stay during the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "News of the World" (2020)
A good movie, but I'm still puzzled why Paul Greengrass chose to direct such a slow Western. Other than the thrilling cat-and-mouse gunfight, most of it was just Tom Hanks transporting a Kiowa-raised orphan girl across 1870 Texas. Nary any action or politics which IMHO, play to Greengrass' strengths. I suppose Tom Hanks' profession of reading newspaper articles from town to town did get political whenever the more Confederate audiences reacted badly to them. By the end of the film, my romanticism with his line of work evaporated. Too many occupational hazards like lawless roads and having to ride long distances without AAA. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Promising Young Woman" (2020)
I have to applaud this movie for tackling aspects of the #MeToo movement that IMHO, don't get enough exposure: a) complicit nice guys, and b) complicit women. Yet edgy as this film was, I felt like it kept pulling its punches--and I don't just mean in regards to Carey Mulligan's "practical joke" punishments. I felt like the movie inappropriately lightened its tone in places, for example, that unconscionably dangerous hobby of hers of baiting and trifling with date rapists. :( Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Midnight Sky" (2020)
I wonder if "Gravity" inspired George Clooney to direct this sci-fi movie--I got déjà vu when the astronauts in this film spacewalked on a spaceship being pelted by asteroids. Though unlike the beautiful Earth in "Gravity", the Earth in this movie became uninhabitable. So George Clooney's dying character has to brave arctic perils (to reach an antenna)--and the returning astronauts have to repair their comms dish--just so he can radio them to turn around. Not much of a payoff for sticking this film out, if you ask me. Rating: 5
Christmas cancelled

My local Bay Area counties jumped ahead of Gavin Newsom again, issuing stay-at-home orders even though our intensive care units haven't dropped below 15% available capacity yet. Meaning that in addition to the indoor dining and movie theaters that were already shut down, we'll have no outdoor dining and hair salons either until at least January 4. Sigh.

Also for the first time ever, Christmas with my family members is cancelled. So I'm going to use Christmas Day to get an early head start on my yearly holiday movie marathon...somewhere outside of California.

Warner Bros. confirmed it will release the Wonder Woman sequel in movie theaters (on Christmas Day in the U.S.) and on HBO Max simultaneously. Interestingly, Warner Bros. also announced that all of its films in 2021 (17 or so including Godzilla vs. Kong, The Suicide Squad, Dune, and The Matrix 4) will be released day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max.

The Philips DVDR3576 DVD Recorder that I use for music videos can no longer dub DVDs without crashing. I purchased it in 2008 from, so I guess that was a decent shelf life. It certainly outlived its five-year protection plan.

Lately, I've enjoyed watching Twitch streamers play the "Among Us" online multiplayer video game. It resembles the social deduction games "Mafia" and "Werewolf" in that space crewmates must vote off all of the imposters among them to win (or alternatively, complete all tasks on the map to win). The imposters can kill crewmates, sabotage systems (like the lights, the reactor, or oxygen), and jump across the map through air vents. If the crewmates no longer outnumber the imposters or fail to stop a critical sabotage, the imposters win. Crewmates and imposters can only call a vote by reporting a dead body or pressing the "emergency meeting" button on the map. To my amusement, the players spend these voting discussions throwing "sus" (suspicion) on each other, asserting their alibis and tasks, denying accusations, and trying not to sound guilty. I've seen some entertaining strategies like players tailing suspects, imposters "marinating" crewmates (hanging around them to earn their trust), crewmates voting off multiple suspects just to be safe, and "gaslighting" (imposters contradicting crewmates with boldfaced lies). Sometimes I've heard the players insult a crewmate as a "third imposter" if they mistakenly vouch for an imposter or wrongly accuse a crewmate. The most suspenseful games I've seen occur when the final five vote the suspected imposter off, only to realize that the game didn't end with a crewmate victory screen. Meaning, the final four still have one imposter among them. This scenario typically ends in another kill and then two players heatedly trying to convince the "swing vote" crewmate that they're innocent. I've also watched funny "proximity chat" mod games where players in the same vicinity can converse with one another, eavesdrop, or scream.

Carry On

I found the "Supernatural" series finale...anticlimactic. Makes me wonder how much of it got scaled down due to COVID-19. The cynic in me did smirk at the consequence of removing God from the show's narrative: a world of meaningless random accidents and plain vanilla deaths. But to be honest, I was hoping for more of an "Avengers: Endgame" finale.

After basking in how perfectly I had timed my AMC Stubs A-List membership reactivation, it got paused again. This time I don't know when it happened--I can only assume it was the day most California theatres closed back down due to the "emergency brake" order. I have until 3/1/2021 to time the next manual reactivation, so my best guess is to do this 14 days before the last day of the month.

Today San Francisco and San Mateo counties rolled back into the purple tier, and my own Santa Clara County tightened COVID-19 restrictions even further. I didn't really mind the 10pm curfew on all of the purple counties, as nary anything is open that late anyway. But this new Santa Clara County directive that I must quarantine for 14 days if I return from somewhere that is more than 150 miles away? Laughable.

Watched movie: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2020)
Overdramatic movie adaptation of August Wilson's play wherein blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and a rebellious trumpeter (Chadwick Boseman) won't stop instigating drama at a recording session. I lost patience with their unprofessional conduct pretty early in the film. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Croods: A New Age" (2020) in IMAX with Laser
Rudderless sequel but lush with superb, hilarious computer animation. Special props to the comedic voice acting of Nicolas Cage and Peter Dinklage. Rating: 6
Cinephile elegy

Just when my appetite got whet for this year's Oscar contenders, most of the movie theaters in California shut back down today because Governor Gavin Newsom hit the "emergency brake". Now after all of the new rollbacks, 41 of California's 58 counties are in the purple tier.

I might have to resubscribe to Netflix earlier than expected. They're poised to dominate the 93rd Academy Awards now that streaming and VOD service films may qualify for Best Picture (and other categories) without a seven-day run in a Los Angeles-area theater. And I might need to buy Disney+ just so I can watch Pixar's "Soul", due out on Christmas day. So this year, my holiday movie marathon tradition might have to go virtual.

Watched movie: "Freaky" (2020) in Dolby Cinema
Amusingly irreverent comedy slasher directed by Christopher Landon wherein a bullied high school wallflower (Kathryn Newton) accidentally swaps bodies with a fugitive serial killer (Vince Vaughn), and must swap back before the change becomes permanent. Hijinks ensue. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "WolfWalkers" (2020)
Divine hand-drawn animation from the Irish studio Cartoon Saloon about the bond between a wolf hunter's daughter and a forest girl whose dream self walks the earth as an enchanted wolf. The artwork looked so clean, even for the grody town and the frenzied wolves. Side note: It's really cool they got Sean Bean to voice Bill Goodfellowe. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Mank" (2020)
Densely layered David Fincher film about what inspired alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to write and claim credit for the "Citizen Kane" screenplay. Because the movie started out so slowly and I could only understand a fraction of Mank's wit, I had early misgivings. But the film reeled me in with its methodical thread of the political and personal events that led Mank to turn on William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. I've always been fascinated by how one perfectly wrong statement at the perfectly wrong time can cause someone to hold a grudge for life. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Hillbilly Elegy" (2020)
One of those lopsided biopics that wallows too much in character woes, e.g., Amy Adams' endless cycle of drug addiction, and not nearly enough on the life-affirming wins, e.g., the main character making his family proud. So the montage where Glenn Close finally reached him and he aced a math test highlighted the movie for me. Although much happier triumphs followed, they got inexplicably dumped into a shotgun montage and narrative onscreen cards. Props to the acting performances of Amy Adams and Glenn Close, at least. Rating: 6
President-elect Joe Biden

When I think of American democracy, I always think of that profound scene from "Clear and Present Danger" where James Earl Jones tells Harrison Ford that the highest boss in the land isn't the President of the United's the People of the United States. And after four years, the People of the United States just fired Donald J. Trump. It was a fairly close race too. Had he not inexplicably downplayed COVID-19 (even after he himself contracted a serious case of it), he probably could've won.

What a torturously slow ballot count with Trump sprinting to a huge lead on Election Day like the proverbial hare, and Biden crawling to the finish line one mail-in vote at a time like the proverbial tortoise. How dumb that Pennsylvania couldn't just count the mail-in vote before Election Day so we wouldn't have to wait all week. I also couldn't reconcile why Fox News, of all networks, called Arizona for Biden so early in the contest.

To my relief, Biden is expected to win 306 electoral votes instead of just 270 on the nose, as now the result is completely cushioned against recounts, bottomless litigation, faithless electors, and other threats to the legitimacy of the Election. I still remember the contested Election of 2000, and never want to see anything like that again in my lifetime. I also must confess that I'm relieved the Democrats have no Senate majority to entertain that dangerous slippery slope notion of abolishing the filibuster and/or packing the Supreme Court.

The polls were way off on Wisconsin and Michigan (averaging both of them at 8 points ahead for Biden), and Ohio and Iowa (they were nowhere close to being toss-ups). But they did accurately predict that Arizona and Georgia would narrowly flip from red to blue. So I guess even a stopped clock is right two times a day.

Home stretch

A good year in sports for Los Angeles. Congratulations to the Dodgers (and Clayton Kershaw) for finally winning the World Series after losing it twice in the previous three years. I found Game 6 suspenseful after I had seen that Game 4 clip where the Dodgers were just one strike away from winning the game, when outta nowhere they blew it with a comedy of errors. Too bad Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the Dodgers' celebration (though I found out he came out later). I was also curious why the stadium fans kept booing the MLB commissioner.

My local theatres finally reopened at the end of October, requiring that masks be worn at all times with no food or beverage permitted (and patrons must answer a COVID-19 questionnaire). I keep my mask on and avoid concessions the entire time anyway; it just bothers me that my local theatres could go out of business while indoor dining and theatres in neighboring counties were inexplicably allowed to reopen with looser restrictions.

I also screened a movie in PRIME at AMC for the first time. It seemed exactly the same as other large format auditoriums that feature tiers of recliners.

Watched movie: "On the Rocks" (2020)
One of Sofia Coppola's better films thanks mostly to the incomparable Bill Murray. In this one, he plays a charming womanizer in New York who eggs on his daughter (played by Rashida Jones) to investigate circumstantial evidence that her husband might be cheating on her. Although I found the dialogue kinda flat, Bill Murray can make even pseudo-intellectual maundering sound suave. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Come Play" (2020) in PRIME
Larry's not scary. He's like a second-rate Babadook (another invisible storybook monster who haunts a special needs boy and his distraught mother)--except that both Larry and his storybook can only show up through electronic screens. I was more interested in the autistic boy's struggle to make friends and learn to talk, so the ending struck me as anticlimactic. Rating: 4
Memories of movies

I'm sure glad California makes it so easy to vote by mail. Election Day's gonna suck for the voters waiting hours in line during this latest COVID-19 resurgence. I'm now of the thought that without a vaccine, states can't ever hope to subdue COVID-19 until after they've had at least one major outbreak to make enough people immune. Meaning, all states can hope to do is flatten the inevitable curve and minimize deaths.

Michael C. Hall is returning to Showtime for a 10-episode limited series of "Dexter". It'll have the original showrunner from the first four seasons. I'm still bitter about the series finale, so I can't say I'm very interested in a revival. But come fall of 2021, I doubt I could resist reordering Showtime for that season premiere. (Same would probably go for "Twin Peaks" if that ever came back, despite my constant gripes about that last season.) Incidentally, Netflix has a very similar Dexter-like series titled "You", about a stalker who narrates his romance with the woman he secretly stalked, and stops at nothing to live happily ever after with her. From the scenes I watched on demand and on YouTube, the series intrigued me.

My calculations were correct. Once I reactivated my AMC Stubs A-List membership on October 17, AMC pushed back my billing date to compensate for the 15 days I lost from their membership pause. Per my prediction, this new monthly billing date indeed landed on November 1, 2020. You might be wondering why I reactivated my membership so early given that my local AMC theatres STILL have not reopened (due to county concession bans) and most of the big movies have been postponed to April 2021 and later. Well, if I had miscalcuated the billing date and canceled my membership to fix this, I read in the fine print that I'd have to wait 6 months to qualify for an A-List membership again.

Watched movie: "Salinui chueok" (2003) a.k.a. "Memories of Murder" (2005)
Early Bong Joon Ho police drama wherein the worst detectives I've ever seen struggle to catch a serial killer who likes to rape and murder women on rainy nights. Although it's based on an actual 1986-1991 case in rural South Korea, I felt like I was watching a slapstick comedy from the opening crime scene contamination to the detectives beating and coercing confessions from innocent suspects. But according to Bong Joon Ho's interview after the movie, the real-life detectives really were that incompetent! The case also predated when Korea had profiling and DNA matching. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)
Not my favorite stop-motion Henry Selick film (that honor goes to his later masterpiece, "Coraline"), but I'd call it ghoulishly entertaining. I found that guy with the ax in his head funny for some reason. Seemed too scary to be a kids' movie, with Santa Claus getting abducted and what not. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Kid Detective" (2020)
Amusing dramedy wherein a has-been private detective, still haunted by a childhood case he couldn't solve, agrees to investigate the murder of a high school student's studious but secretive boyfriend. It's probably too lighthearted to be considered noir, as this adult private eye spent much of the screen time suffering teenagers and old people. It did provide some earnest character development that got me invested in this guy's success. But ultimately, I found neither case very good. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "The Empty Man" (2020)
The pointless movie. Rating: 2
Watched movie: "Synchronic" (2020)
Absorbing Moorhead & Benson film about a designer drug in New Orleans that boomerangs people back in time to a variety of unsafe places. A black paramedic experiments with the last of these time travel pills to rescue his best friend's daughter, whom the drug trapped somewhere in time. Based on these facts I mentioned, you would think that the paramedic would want to ration the pills stingily and arm himself wherever he goes. But maybe he wanted to be really scientific, so as not to end up like Homer Simpson in that time travel episode where the present kept changing because of his prehistoric gaffes. Rating: 6
I voted

Dude, have you ever seen such folly. Trump apparently learned nothing from the Rose Garden ceremony superspreader event that caused a major COVID-19 outbreak at the White House. He departed his own quarantine early, made a point to peel his face mask off on national TV despite being highly contagious, still downplays the virus despite all that expensive special treatment to save his life, and held an even bigger superspreader event at the White House! Plus who was that personal physician who kept spinning how "great!" Trump's health was, disclosing only the good results but refusing to reveal important ones, e.g., the lung scans and PCR test results. Given that Trump needed supplemental oxygen and an immunosuppressant steroid (a drug that masks symptoms and can cause mania), his lungs could've been damaged. Thankfully, the debate commission tried to hold the second presidential debate virtually. It could've been a fatal mistake trusting anything that Trump or his "doctors" claimed about his contagiousness.

As soon as the Esquire IMAX Theatre reopened in Sacramento, I screened its first showing of "Tenet" in IMAX 70mm there. The 70mm format didn't add that much other than the taller ceiling-to-floor scenic shots and action sequences. I noticed the horizontal black bars kept appearing on the top and bottom of the screen during the heavy dialogue scenes, and I think that's because the IMAX camera would have shuttered too loudly to hear them speak. In any case, this was my fourth viewing of the movie and I caught three new things: a) the young Sator found a time capsule with his name written on a letter atop inverted gold bars, b) Sator witnessed the algorithm piece fly backwards (not forwards) from the inverted Protagonist's backseat, meaning Sator and/or his henchmen would have to go forwards from this point in time to the freeport where this car was originally parked, and c) I could actually spot Neil's humvee driving both backwards and forwards in time during the final mission, starting from the backward shockwave to the forward shockwave. To my amusement, somebody returned from the restroom during my favorite part of the film and asked her friend what she missed...her friend attempted to explain that the Protagonist was fighting himself.

Although I'm still annoyed at the conceit of Roland Garros tournament officials to postpone the French Open to this colder, wetter time of year with fans in the stands (limited to 1000 fans per day) despite the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, big congratulations to Rafael Nadal on crushing Djokovic in that French Open final. Now that Nadal has won 13 total French Open titles and tied Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam singles championships, it's official: I have to start thinking of Nadal as the greatest tennis player of all-time.

Speaking of GOATs, now that LeBron James has led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 2019-20 NBA championship, I'm starting to think of LeBron as the greatest basketball player of all-time again. It's such a weird phenomenon how sports (and politics) can polarize human psyches. I supported his move to the Miami Heat to win his first NBA championship ring; then I hated his guts when he kept whining and flopping against the Golden State Warriors (and bragged about the ONE NBA Finals he beat them despite losing the other three); now I'm starting to like him again.

Next year, IBM is planning to split off its IT services business and roughly one-fourth of its employees to a new company, temporarily named NewCo. IBM will stay focused on hybrid cloud and AI, so fingers crossed that I don't get moved to the new company. Mostly because when somebody asks what I do for a living, I can just answer "IBM" with less risk of follow-up questions. Follow-up questions can lead to the listener getting bored and me getting offended. One time I had a relative rude enough to call my career "boring" after I took the time to explain it--as a result, I never talked to that relative ever again.

The safest person in the world just got it

In the latest cautionary tale about what happens when people don't take COVID-19 seriously, Donald Trump and Melania tested positive for COVID-19. Which goes to show that COVID-19 gives no f**ks who you are, whether you're a homeless person or the President of the United States. I'm still dumbfounded, even though I really shouldn't be surprised after all the times I've seen him hold large public gatherings and inexplicably flout health precautions like masks and social distancing. I thought he got tested every day though--did he not get tested before that debate with Joe Biden???

I actually watched that debate after I told myself I'd just skip it (they don't seem to matter in the long-run). I have to say I was impressed with the moderator Chris Wallace despite widespread criticism that he totally lost control of the reins. He really did his homework and asked the hard-hitting questions, like whether Biden would pack the Supreme Court (which he unsurprisingly dodged) and whether Trump would condemn white supremacist groups (to which he answered, "Stand back and stand by."...WTF?!). Pretty clever debate technique for Biden to speak directly to the camera (possibly to avoid losing his train of thought from all the interruptions)--I read he had a severe childhood stutter, so I kept thinking back to that suspenseful scene in "The King's Speech".

My eyelid finally stopped twitching. It first acted up after RBG died. This last happened to me in college when I didn't get enough sleep. It might also be psychosomatic. Lately I've been stressing that a contested Presidential election could tear the United States apart, especially if courts or legislatures decide the winner rather than the voters themselves.

Recently, I've been staying in Orange County, California to screen new movies. Turns out I didn't have to go to Arizona after all.

Watched movie: "Akira" (1988) in IMAX with Laser
The legendary cyberpunk anime movie with remastered 4K visuals and remixed audio. Undeniably a visual masterpiece, even though I've always found the film hideous to watch and overrated. Admittedly, the original Japanese dialogue sounded much better than the dubbed English voices. Plus I've always liked how the movie begins. Side note: Interesting what this 1988 film got right about 2019. Tokyo indeed constructed an Olympic stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And we still have civil unrest (I guess not exactly a stretch). Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Kajillionaire" (2020)
I was pleasantly surprised by this Miranda July film given how much I hated her last one (it landed on my worst of the decade list). Some of the cringeworthy behavior still made me frown, but I liked the whole premise of Gina Rodriguez trying to deprogram Old Dolio from her toxic con artist parents. ("Old Dolio" is the name of the guarded, emotionally scarred Evan Rachel Wood character--her parents named her that during a failed inheritance scam.) I'll sheepishly admit that this Old Dolio felt like something of a kindred spirit to me--minus the scumbags parents, of course. It actually hurt my enjoyment of the movie that her parents monopolized so much screen time. P.S. I couldn't help but watch this film again, and realized I missed something hugely important at the end: the gesture of respect meant by the dollar amount on the cash register. That changed my perspective on the entire movie. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Possessor" (2020)
This movie, billed as "Possessor Uncut", was written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg--the son of David Cronenberg. So I guess I shouldn't be shocked by how graphic it was. I was shocked by how cruel the violence was though. Pretty sickening, actually. The trailers misled me into thinking that once Andrea Riseborough inhabited someone's brain, she'd go for a quick assassination. Rating: 3
Watched movie: "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020)
Intellectually stimulating historical drama by Aaron Sorkin about the legal defense of anti-Vietnam War protesters against the Nixon administration's charges of "conspiracy" for "inciting riots" in Chicago. Pretty interesting dynamic to have such eclectic protesters from a variety of groups get lumped together as co-defendants. The movie also showed how little the politicization of "justice" has changed since 1969, particularly when one Attorney General replaces another and suddenly the U.S. Department of Justice's priorities align with the new party in power. Rating: 7
Summer of 2020

R.I.P. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And probably R.I.P. any hope of the Supreme Court staying apolitical now, whether enraged Democrats wind up "packing the court" or not. Like I said before, politics poisons everything it touches--even the CDC and the FDA. Trump promoting a "warp speed" COVID-19 vaccine by Election Day was all it took to scare me away from that.

My first litmus test of the new Supreme Court will start one week after Election Day with Trump's lawsuit to kill affordable health care. If the Supreme Court overreaches and strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic (just because of the repealed individual mandate tax penalty), I think the 60-vote supermajority filibuster will be toast the next time Democrats take over the Senate. It might already be on borrowed time now.

I go back and forth on whether to abolish the filibuster. I'd rather not have America's laws swing back and forth endlessly on majority rule. But I feel like we're on the cusp of this situation already.

In movie news, I'm definitely going to watch Denis Villeneuve's cinematic adaptation of "Dune", but something's bugging me about that scene in the trailer where the giant sandworm stops to look down at Paul Atreides. A sandworm has no eyes, so to me it feels illogical and unfaithful to a novel that I had found so intellectual.

To my irritation, my Bay Area counties keep snubbing movie theaters during the lower tier reopenings. I'm thinking of roaming southern California and possibly Arizona for the latest film releases.

Up in flames

I returned to San Jose to see that the California wildfire smoke had dusked the entire Bay Area orange like some kind of nuclear winter. So I might keep leaving town until the air clears up.

In shocking tennis news, Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match at the US Open "bubble" when he angrily swatted a ball into a line judge's throat by accident! You can't make this stuff up. I had actually been watching this match live, but then turned the TV off figuring Djokovic would most likely cakewalk through the round as well as the rest of the tournament. He was the overwhelming favorite with neither Federer nor Nadal in the draw. But you know what--I can't help thinking this was karma for his long history of on-court bullying, racket abuse, and ball abuse (plus his defiance against what he called a "witch hunt" over his COVID-19 spreading tennis event).

"The Walking Dead" will finally end in late 2022 after 7 season 10 episodes and 24 (!) season 11 episodes. But then, ugh--we'll get a new spin-off series starring Daryl and Carol, as well as a new anthology series of stand-alone episodes titled "Tales of the Walking Dead". :( Plus there's still those other two spin-offs I don't watch: "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Walking Dead: World Beyond". I have Walking Dead fatigue, man.

The light at the beginning of the tunnel

I found my room at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino fairly decent until I stood under the weak shower. That's a dealbreaker for me. I couldn't resist the bargain of $55.97 per night--but once they tacked on a lame mandatory resort fee of $44.22 per night, the nightly price ended up exceeding $100. At least the self-parking was free albeit all the way across a lengthy bridge. I didn't do much inside the casino itself, as most of the restaurants were closed and I don't gamble, smoke, or drink.

Currently I'm staying at the Candlewood Suites. They have an amazing 2-for-1 deal where every third night is free. But I hate my next-door neighbor. I can smell the cigarette smoke from his room, and can hear his loud swear words and racial slurs (sometimes in the middle of the night). Plus he has a stupid laugh. I expected him to check out by now, but it's like he lives there permanently and hardly ever leaves or sleeps.

Stoplights in Las Vegas also try my patience. They seem to take a long time to turn green. I've gotten used to the 100+ F degree desert weather though. It's funny how the birds here keep their beaks open like they're panting in the heat.

I still can't believe "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman died. I had no idea he had been battling colon cancer since 2016. I'm only a few days older than him.

At long last, I finally got to screen "Tenet". I had insomnia the night before, arrived to the theater early, and sat there alone in the IMAX auditorium waiting excitedly.

Watched 10th Anniversary Event: "Inception" (2010) in IMAX
Still as awesomely brilliant as ever. This is the twelfth time I've screened "Inception" in a theater, and I STILL caught something new: how Fischer knew the combination to his father's personal safe. ("Mr. Charles" convinced him that the "kidnappers" purposely asked for the first six numbers to pop into his head, "528491", as a technique to extract secrets from the subconscious. Though I'm still unsure why these numbers reappeared in the second level as the blonde's 528-491 phone number and the hotel room 528 directly above hotel room 491.) I also asked myself why Cobb had to drug Fischer even though the flight attendant was paid off, and realized that they needed to ensure Fischer fell asleep at the beginning of the flight.

In regards to the "Rick and Morty" argument about whether "Inception" makes sense--"Inception" makes sense! You just have to premise that dreams don't need to make sense. They're not in some holodeck bound by immutable laws of physics and logic. Impossibilities like the Penrose steps can exist, and subjects in the dream can believe even contradictory fantasies (like why Fischer's father would be in Browning's secret vault). I will confess that I still don't understand what the heck "limbo" is. The movie described limbo as "unconstructed dream space" and "raw infinite subconscious". I keep picturing some kind of cloud storage space made up of human minds, where dreamers can visit each other's islands like in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons".

Two featurettes about "Tenet" and "Inception" preceded the movie screening. I like Christopher Nolan's philosophy of making his films look and feel as authentic as possible. I always considered that CGI-fest in the "Inception" workshop the weakest part of the movie. Rating: 10

Watched movie: "The New Mutants" (2020) in IMAX
Surreal that I finally got to screen this movie after all the times its release got delayed since 2018. All in all, I'd call the film...decent. I felt that the cast playing the mutant teenagers had good screen presence, and liked that whole horror mystery regarding Dani Moonstar's powers (I actually knew everyone's powers and comic book codenames but hers). Some parts felt derivative of "The Breakfast Club", and I hated how racist and malevolent they made Magik--I already see this ad nauseam in politics and just want some escapist entertainment. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Bill & Ted Face the Music" (2020)
Turns out that the daughters of Bill & Ted behave exactly like Bill & Ted. So when you throw in all those future selves of Bill & Ted, you end up with a movie with too much Bill & Ted. I did like that whole premise of the toll that 25 years of failure took on them. And it actually felt cathartic to finally hear the song that unites the world. Mainly I just needed a reprieve now and then from the "Bill & Ted" shtick. Like I was really curious what the wives' future selves were up to, but the film nary gave them any screen time. Strangely, the only plot hole in this whole silly movie that bothered me was how the wives hadn't lost their English accents by now. Side note #1: I've always wondered to myself what Mozart would think of classic rock. Side note #2: I didn't get the whole Dennis the Robot shtick at all. Stay after the credits. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Tenet" (2020) in IMAX
Christopher Nolan's most brain teasing film yet. I felt like a caveman trying to process it, and could barely wrap my head around the challenging narratives and dialogue. Strange how the first half dragged for me while the second half overloaded my brain. Also, the music sounded like a noisy racket that made me sorely miss Hans Zimmer. But all in all, you have to see this movie. Why? For its groundbreaking, mind-bending action sequences. P.S. I screened the movie again in 4DX, and found myself hanging onto the motion seat to keep it from bucking me off. Strange how water sprinkled down at one point, but didn't squirt me in the face even though I had that turned on. In any case, on the second viewing I confirmed my earlier suspicion that Neil suffered an inverted death in the algorithm chamber. Meaning, Neil went back through the turnstile, unlocked the gate for them, and then inexplicably took a bullet meant for The Protagonist. I'm still confused about inverted wounds, the physics of an inverted car, and the physics of brawling with your inverted self (funny how that went down after he was explicitly warned against coming into contact with himself). I'm also questioning whether we should be rooting against the inversion of the world, as humanity could save itself from extinction by jogging back-and-forth over the same Earth. P.S.S. On my third viewing, I caught how Sator communicates with the future: by time capsule. They leave him inverted items like gold bars and technology, and in exchange he buries the algorithm under rubble for them to excavate. Which begs the question: why can't the Tenet agents just destroy the algorithm instead of hiding the pieces? Rating: 8
Where there's fire, there's smoke

Such a relief to breathe without my sinuses acting up. I hurriedly drove to Las Vegas ahead of schedule to escape the overpowering smoke from the California wildfires. It blanketed the Bay Area like tear gas, and I couldn't stop coughing and sneezing. I could even see some of the smoky haze as far out as my hotel in Las Vegas. Needless to say, I won't be back in California anytime soon--Labor Day weekend at the earliest.

I thought I would really enjoy my first movie inside a theater since COVID-19 shut theaters down, but that glaring loophole where patrons can stay unmasked while they're eating and drinking their concessions dampened my enthusiasm. I guess my paranoia is the new normal now, as I still got take-out here even though Las Vegas allows indoor dining. I'm also avoiding all of the casinos. I'll tell you one thing, though--I'm not going to let anything dampen my excitement for this upcoming "Tenet" sneak preview that I reserved a seat for.

Currently, I'm staying at the Holiday Inn across the street from Allegiant Stadium, that brand-new Darth Vader-looking home stadium for the Las Vegas Raiders. Tomorrow I move over to the Treasure Island - TI Hotel & Casino.

In "essential" WWE news, I guess I'd call that new WWE ThunderDome an improvement over fake fans in the WWE Performance Center. Now simulated crowd noise gets piped in, and real fans appear via individual web cams on monitors that span each stadium row.

Watched movie: "Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020) in IMAX
Inferior sequel to "Train to Busan" that went all "Fast & Furious" with its zanier tone and ludicrous car sequences. Admittedly, it was interesting watching the girl whip the car around to best bulldoze the zombie hordes without getting stuck in them. I also admired all the tactics people mastered to exploit the zombies' night blindness, including honking and light baiting, i.e., flares, headlights, floodlights, and drones. Story-wise, it disappointed me that the main character's emotional build-up to atonement turned into such an overdramatic soap opera. Rating: 6
He eyes Nevada

Hmm...the sequel to "Train to Busan", which has currently been playing in Asian countries, is actually going to premiere at the Capitol Drive-In across the street from me this Friday on August 21. Too bad I've never liked drive-in theatres. I'm currently hatching a plan to screen this movie in Nevada, where it premieres on August 21 on the same date as the 10th-anniversary re-release of "Inception" (this re-release includes a bonus look at "Tenet").

Then coming out in select U.S. theaters on August 28: "The New Mutants" and "Bill & Ted Face the Music".

In streaming news, I never planned to watch the live-action "Mulan", so I shrugged off the news bombshell that it would stream directly on Disney+ on September 4. I also shrugged about "Antebellum" going direct to video on demand as well. But now it's starting to snowball, with "Run" (from the "Searching" filmmakers) now set to stream directly on Hulu, and "The Woman in the Window" now set to stream directly on Netflix.

To my excitement, AMC Theatres e-mailed me an update to my AMC Stubs A-List membership. I now have until 12/1/2020 to reactivate my paused membership before they automatically reactivate it for me. They're also trying to lure me back with double AMC Stubs points and $10 in bonus bucks--promotions that both end on 10/31/2020. Alas, with most new releases postponed to next year, it'll be futile trying to use up 3 movies a week in 2020. My current plan: just reactivate my membership on November 17, then cancel it (thus losing all my account history) if the credit card charge doesn't land exactly on December 1. :P Side note: Starting on 12/1/2020, they'll stop awarding AMC Stubs points for my monthly membership fees. I never understood why they did that anyway, and it was always a nuisance trying to use those rewards before they expired.

Rented movie: "She Dies Tomorrow" (2020)
Eerily fatalistic arthouse film by Amy Seimetz wherein a viral psychosis convinces people they're going to die tomorrow. The movie never bothers to explain why, so I kept wondering how come they spent the whole film chilling instead of racing to put their affairs in order. Maybe it's just me, but I'd have a whole bucket list of priorities. In any case, I found the movie surprisingly boring except for some hilariously droll moments. Rating: 4
Rented movie: "Blood on Her Name" (2020)
This twisty Southern noir actually reminded me of "The Walking Dead" because of how annoyed I got with the main character's bleeding heart. It's one thing for a good person to be bad at covering up a murder--it's a whole other thing to risk capture returning the guy's body to his home (so his family could get closure) and leaving an apology note! At least take him out of the plastic he was wrapped in and stage a home invasion or something, sheesh. Or better yet, have her dad take care of it (what was stopping her, self-righteousness??). The worst part was when she illogically surrendered her gun during a standoff that could've easily just ended with the two mothers parting ways. :( Rating: 5

Now that Warner Bros. formally plans to release "Tenet" in international markets starting on August 26 of this year, I'll have to avoid spoilers as vigilantly as I can until it opens in select U.S. cities on September 3. Hopefully it'll play in a state that borders California, given how California will probably be the last state in all of America to reopen. I've pinpointed the Galaxy Legends as the closest IMAX theater to me--a drive of 4 hours and 20 minutes into Sparks, Nevada. But I'm willing to drive further out for an IMAX 70mm screening, as far as the Grand Canyon or Seattle even. Beyond that, I'd probably just resign myself to wait for something closer. I'm not open to flying or any kind of 14-day quarantine.

I took a break from streaming in July. I only saw one movie that whole entire month.

Now that some professional sports have restarted without fans, I've found NBA basketball pretty much unwatchable without that fan energy. I also hate the simulated crowd noise at those empty MLB baseball games. It did fascinate me listening to MLB sound engineers explain the science of it. They actually have to anticipate the plays and then try to pump out the right crowd reaction before it's too late. Personally, I would just reuse the same three reactions: the normal pop (for a hit), the heightened pop (for a home run), and the booing (for when the pitcher throws to first base). It would be hilarious to be able to play the "M-V-P" chant too.

WTF was that massive explosion in Beirut that injured thousands of people. The Lebanon state-run news blamed it on fireworks going off in a warehouse fire. What kind of fireworks cause a mushroom cloud?!

Summer blockbuster bust

Depressing how bad COVID-19 has gotten in California despite our consistent quarantine measures since March. Too many irresponsible people, I reckon. I still see a lot of folks entering stores without masks, which goes to show why this has to be mandated rather than just encouraged.

Warner Bros. delayed "Tenet" indefinitely. Rumor has it that they might just give up on a simultaneous global release, and start opening the film wherever they can in select international markets and possibly select U.S. cities. The major movie theater chains subsequently delayed their reopenings as well, which sucks because I'm getting tired of streaming. So tired of streaming that recently, I've been web surfing the closest movie theaters outside of California's borders. :(

"The Walking Dead" will finally air its season 10 finale this year on October 4, as announced during the show's Comic-Con@Home panel. So I'll finally get to see the resolution to that cliffhanger. Though apparently this episode won't be the season 10 finale anymore, because it was also announced that the show will tack on six more "season 10" episodes in early 2021 due to the COVID-19 delays that are postponing season 11.

Cruel summer

All movie theaters in California have been ordered to reclose--even though nary any of them were open anyway. Also, 30 counties on California's watch list were ordered to reclose their hair salons, gyms, indoor malls, and churches. Meanwhile, Disney World visitors, the NBA, the WNBA, the MLS, and "essential" WWE employees have all been congregating in Florida despite the state recently shattering the record for most new statewide COVID-19 infections in one day. Madness. I'm fed up with the inconsistent and arbitrary criteria for which businesses can reopen when (why do churches get to reopen before equally risky movie theaters?). We could have just locked down the entire United States for a couple of months; embracing quarantine, science, and face masks like much of the rest of the world did. Instead, over four months later, we're towering over the world in coronavirus cases and will probably continue to be plagued with this pandemic going into 2021. And people wonder why I'm a hardened cynic.

I'm still bitter about how close I was to getting my favorite hobby back, movie theaters. Although I should count my blessings, I feel this one pandemic could fill up my entire "worst of the year"/"worst of the decade" list with different woes. For instance, being denied movie theaters and new film releases; the shock from that last round of workplace layoffs; the permanent loss of beloved restaurants; and the torment of working from home in a brutal heat wave.

I tried a 7-day free trial of Sundance Now. Only streamed one movie on it.

Watched movie: "Nirgendwo in Afrika" (2001) a.k.a. "Nowhere in Africa" (2003)
Oppressive foreign language Oscar winner from Germany that spans a Jewish family's true riches to rags story as farmers in Kenya during their long refuge from Nazi Germany. I liked the movie's brutal honesty, e.g., the farmland's hardships, the racism, the neverending martial problems, the psychological tolls of losing home and family, and the struggle to find their new place in the world. But I did take some issue with the curation of their life story. Despite the film's long runtime, I felt like important drama got omitted that I really wanted to see. Rating: 6
Resurgence: Independence Day

Just when it looked like we would finally get movie theaters back, all of the major movie theater chains delayed their reopenings until end of July at the earliest. And given the latest COVID-19 resurgence and California's new restrictions on indoor businesses, I see the end of July as a longshot at best. :(

I cancelled my Hulu free trial. Now I'm looking at streaming services that offer 7-day free trials to fill up my July.

Wear the face mask, people

In the latest cautionary tale about what happens when people don't take COVID-19 seriously, that top-ranked tennis player whom I regularly root against, Novak Djokovic, recently organized an exhibition tennis tournament called the Adria Tour. It required neither masks nor social distancing for any of the players or thousands of spectators. Off the court, he and other players socialized, danced, and partied. Now Djokovic, his wife, his coach, his fitness coach, and at least three of the other players at the event tested positive for COVID-19. This is sure to spook the players and organizers of New York's US Open tennis tournament, recently green-lit to begin at the end of August without spectators (followed by the postponed French Open in September).

In another developing story, "essential business" WWE had a COVID-19 outbreak at the site where they tape their shows, the Orlando Performance Center in Florida. Pro-wrestling has been pathetically unwatchable nowadays anyway, with the WWE resorting to fake crowds of their performance recruits (absolutely killing my suspension of disbelief). I actually liked the empty seats better.

In demoralizing movie news, "Tenet" has been delayed again from July 31 to August 12. AMC theatres are finally supposed to begin reopening on July 15 under new "AMC Safe & Clean" policies, which includes a social distancing of seats and mandatory masks. I wonder how many people will reject this mask rule out of defiance against all of the medical professionals of the world. :(

My AMC Stubs A-List membership will stay paused until I go in and manually reactivate it (fine print: they plan to automatically reactivate any memberships that remain in a paused state on 10/1/2020). So despite saving an embarrassingly large sum of money on this membership already, I'm still strategizing the best way to milk its reactivation (do I have the willpower to abstain from enough movies until I can binge 3 of them a week?). One wrinkle: to credit me for the days in March that I missed out on due to the theatre closures, AMC is going to move back my monthly billing date by the number of credited days that were left in my billing cycle prior to the closures. So I need to pinpoint the exact day to reactivate my membership in order to keep getting billed on the first of the month (otherwise it's hard to tally how many free movies saved me money in each billing cycle). :P My theory is that if I reactivate mine on the 17th of the month (the day all AMC theaters shut down), they'll continue to bill me on the first of each month. But I don't have any data to go by. Another thing is, I don't want to reactivate if the movies are discounted to like $5. Then I'd have to see at least 5 movies a month to make up for the membership price. :P

Watched movie: "Anna and the Apocalypse" (2018)
Somehow this British zombie musical hit all the wrong notes for me (like that TV show I couldn't stand, "Glee"). None of the musical numbers resonated with me, and every single character managed to irritate me in some form or fashion. The cast felt like an ensemble of personalities I hate in real-life, e.g., bullies, women who are attracted to jerks and put nice guys in the friend zone, couples that are too lovey-dovey, and pretentious hipsters who overuse sarcasm. At least this movie featured some decently dramatic deaths. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Bølgen" (2015) a.k.a. "The Wave" (2016)
Exasperating Oscar entry from Norway wherein a geologist's family has ten minutes to escape the real-life town of Geiranger before a rockslide-triggered tsunami destroys it. Kind of like that film "The Impossible" but with way more disaster movie cliches, from the scientists selling the geologist's warnings short (because of tourist season) to the ill-fated jerk. I got particularly agitated by a) how painfully long it took to sound the alarm, and b) how painfully long it took for people to actually evacuate! Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Prospect" (2018)
Pretty much a sci-fi Western wherein a young girl uneasily partners with a silver-tongued killer (Pedro Pascal) to escape a toxic moon occupied by lawless gangs. The movie piqued my interest, but left me wanting more plot. I guess I felt like this intriguing partnership of theirs hadn't been developed and tested enough. Rating: 6
A bubble in a bowl of glass

Don't know whether this is canon, but Tony Shalhoub recently reprised his Adrian Monk character in a new short, "Mr. Monk Shelters in Place". Apparently, the coronavirus managed to make his neuroses even worse, from microwaving his mail to burning his clothes everyday to socially distancing six feet away...from the web conference. I've actually gotten worse too, to a much lesser extent. Like I don't like breathing other people's air anymore (even with a face mask on) and I still avoid kids. :)

At long last, I was able to get a haircut, dine inside a hotel restaurant, and walk through an indoor mall. Now that California can start reopening movie theaters, I'm finally seeing the light at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Watched movie: "Den skyldige" a.k.a. "The Guilty" (2018)
Steadily paced, real-time Oscar entry from Denmark wherein an emergency services operator spends the entire movie on different phone calls trying to rescue an abducted woman (basically like that film "Sorry, Wrong Number"). Although the movie started out interesting, each plot twist actually made me care about the outcome less and less. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Gräns" a.k.a. "Border" (2018)
Slow Oscar entry from Sweden about a proficient customs officer who can literally smell criminals. The movie kind of dragged until she discovered that she is actually a troll rather than a human. That opened up some intriguing conflicts. P.S. I wish I knew what happened to the human baby that got replaced by the changeling. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Honeyland" (2019)
Such a simplistic movie and yet, so deep. Now I see why this film got Oscar nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature. The filmmakers basically just put a camera on this lone Macedonian beekeeper in her deserted mountain village, and the story wrote itself once those nomadic rancher neighbors from hell arrived. How amusing that even in that remote secluded location on the other side of the world, she and I would endure the same problems and solve them in the same way (by outlasting them). Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Aniara" (2019)
Easily the most depressingly fatalistic movie I've ever seen, about a luxury spaceship that loses steering on the way to Mars and drifts off for years and years through the endless void of space. The film begins with an end credit crawl, wallows in despair, and then literally ends in ashes! The main character even points out that the spaceship is likely better than life on Mars, so it got me wondering about the point of life on Earth too. :P On the plus side, it made our current COVID-19 shelter-in-place feel really tame by comparison. Side note: The movie never answered what that spear was. Rating: 5
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times

Curfew sucks. Screw the idiots who exploited legitimate George Floyd protests to loot struggling businesses.

While I'm at it, screw politics. Politicians lie for a living, and yet nowadays people seem to trust them more than ever. Even in this deadly global health crisis, I see people entrusting their lives to politicians rather than medical professionals. (How is it that face masks became politicized?) If you think about it, politics has poisoned everything it touched, e.g., science, religion, and truth. Now people can't say "thoughts and prayers", "climate change", "religious freedom", or "fake news" without triggering some kind of political connotation.

In other news, I cancelled my Amazon Prime membership once the free trial expired. I was only able to watch one free movie with it; the rest I had to pay for. :(

Now I've subscribed to a one month free trial of Hulu. Hardly any movies of interest on it. :P

Watched movie: "Sangre de Mi Sangre" (2007) a.k.a. "Blood of My Blood" (2008)
Sleazy winner of the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance about a Mexican con man who steals the identity of a fellow illegal immigrant to defraud his long-lost father in New York. Overall, I found none of the characters likeable and didn't care for the separate relationships that the two immigrants spent the entire movie building--one relationship was built on a lie, while the other relationship struck me as toxic. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Colossal" (2017)
Appalling Nacho Vigalondo film wherein Anne Hathaway discovers that a gigantic monster in South Korea has been mimicking her drunken movements through a playground. Although this director has made dark and twisted movies before, I've always found them fun to watch. Not the case with this one. Man it got under my skin how the characters kept putting up with the villain's unconscionable depravity and abuse. Although the conclusion satisfied me, I found it too long overdue. Rating: 6
Gut punch

The latest round of IBM layoffs cut deep. Don't know how many more of these I can last through.

My friends and I had a lot of fun playing the nostalgic "Streets of Rage 4" video game on Microsoft Windows over Memorial Day weekend. The controls felt enhanced yet still very familiar, and four of us were able to play at the same time. I enjoyed the challenge of brawling together and double-teaming bosses without accidentally hitting each other. (It seemed unfair later when we managed to turn off "friendly hitting" and were able to just swarm over bosses like a pack of wolves.) Also enjoyed the prison riot (where the inmates and prison guards fight each other and you in a free-for-all), and felt juiced anytime I managed to conquer a stage as the last player left standing. Side note: What's with this Adam taking all the credit??

Rented movie: "Westworld" (1973)
Finally watched the original Michael Crichton film about the Wild West amusement park where the robots go haywire on the human guests. Nowhere near as deep as the HBO series or the "Jurassic Park" novel, and it sure took long enough for the robots to go haywire. But once that happened, I enjoyed the whole sequence where that robot gunslinger (played by the incomparable Yul Brynner) went all Terminator and chased the protagonist from theme park to theme park. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Blow the Man Down" (2020)
All the ingredients for a thrilling crime-noir, but anticlimactic in execution. Loved that ending though. Also got a kick out of the matriarchs in that Maine fishing town--mostly because the hardened cynic in me found them true to life. Rating: 6
Rented movie: "Elephant" (2003)
Minimalist, snail-paced Palme d'Or winner that follows different high school students' humdrum activities prior to a shooting spree that closely resembles the Columbine High School massacre. The movie burned though the 81 minute runtime so slowly that I seriously began to wonder whether it'd even get to the shooting spree! I got more and more impatient each time the narrative approached the big event only to loop backward into somebody else's timeline. Rating: 5
Rented movie: "No Man's Land" (2001)
Bizarre foreign language Oscar winner from Bosnia & Herzegovina about a big United Nations Protection Force publicity mess as they struggle to rescue two enemy soldiers and a third booby-trapped soldier from a trench during a Bosnian war ceasefire. It's billed as a comedy, but I didn't find anything funny about it. I also didn't get much meaning out of it, other than the absurdity of war. Too bad this beat a nominee I liked much better, "Amélie". Rating: 5
This is my life now

I heard it might be next year before I'm allowed back to my office. Ugh.

I started a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, and so far I'm not impressed. Although it unlocked Prime Video movies for me, I still have to pay to rent them.

Rented movie: "Okuribito" (2008) a.k.a. "Departures" (2009)
Poetically poignant foreign language Oscar winner from Japan about a failed cellist who conceals his new job from his wife: a traditional Japanese ritual mortician. I found the movie kinda slow until a dramatic plot development blindsided me, i.e., the sweet wife whom I had sympathized with suddenly turned heel and viciously stigmatized him as unclean! Wow. In contrast, I find the mortician profession dignified and interesting to observe. Also liked how well the film romanticized death--a sentiment which I tend to lack in real-life. Rating: 7
Rented movie: "Kış Uykusu" a.k.a. "Winter Sleep" (2014)
A melancholy, ruminative tome of a movie that follows a wealthy mountaintop landlord for over three hours. To my weariness, the guy dissertated on and on with the two judgemental, self-pitying women who live with him: a divorced sister and a much younger wife. (If it were up to me, I would've sidestepped my way out these insufferable conversations so fast.) All in all, despite this film's introspective and philosophical merits, I'm disappointed it won the Palme d'Or over "Two Days, One Night". Rating: 5
Rented movie: "L'Enfant" (2005) a.k.a. "The Child" (2006)
Dumbfounding Palme d'Or winner wherein a mellow petty criminal--despite a sweet and loving relationship with his girlfriend and their baby in Belgium--inexplicably sells their baby on the black market without her knowledge! And that's not even the craziest part. The craziest part is he doesn't even understand why she's so upset about it! W...T...F. Needless to say, I was done with this whack job after that and couldn't care less about his subsequent path to forgiveness and redemption. Rating: 4
Rented movie: "Frozen River" (2008)
Frigid winner of the Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic at Sundance wherein Melissa Leo, desperate to pay off her family's mobile home and support her two sons, partners with a Mohawk mother to smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada to rural New York across the frozen St. Lawrence River. It started out slow and I found the characters unlikable, but some parts did have me on the edge of my seat. Rating: 6
Quarantine fatigue

Bay Area shelter-in-place order extended to June 1. Ugh, might be months before I can get a haircut, go to a movie theatre again, or return to my office. Then when I do get to return to my office, I found out my workplace will issue masks to wear at all times, all day (except when eating or drinking). At least some restrictions got eased like construction and certain outdoor activities such as golf. None of which affect me, but now I feel there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

My days have just been blurring together. I have "The Simpsons" each Sunday, morning meetings every Tuesday and Thursday, and "Survivor: Winners At War" each Wednesday.

On "Survivor: Winners At War", I've been rooting for Jeremy, Sarah, and most recently Tony (though I don't know how much longer he'll last with the way he's been peaking). That last episode might've actually been my favorite of the season due to a variety of subtle moments I appreciated. For starters, Sarah talking her fellow police officer Tony down from his "spy nest" as if there was nothing weird about it. Then at a refreshing tribal council where a two million dollar mistake could happen at any time, Sarah refused to let Tony play immunity for her and Jeremy screamed instead of playing Michele's 50/50 immunity coin. I say "refreshing" because for once, it genuinely felt like long-term friendships transcended Survivor's growing moral decay. P.S. Such a nuisance having to look up everybody's votes on YouTube. I rarely even bother.

It's amazing what gamers can accomplish in that "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" video game. I've been watching some streamers play Survivor on one of the islands, complete with challenges and confessionals (hilarious seeing cute smiling avatars vent and stoke drama). The competition was meant to be non-serious and fun, but I think a couple of those streamers got legit angry.

Was it just me, or did the hypnotic voice of that schizophrenic AI ball "Solomon" sound like Rami Malek? I've actually been liking this third season of "Westworld". The idea of a well-spoken AI that runs predictive modeling to save humanity fascinates me. IBM's actually working on a new AI named "Debater" that constructs arguments and counterarguments, and works to emulate the most persuasive human debaters.

All work at home and no play

Now that California has bent the COVID-19 curve, I finally braved a grocery store for the first time since the shelter-in-place began. (I wore the same face mask that I think I originally bought in 2005 to caulk my parents' bathtub.) The stories about toilet paper were true. Nothing but empty shelves. Good thing I'm still stocked up on the toiletries I accumulated because of my natural, everyday aversion to running out of the brands I like.

Georgia is really allowing movie theatres to reopen on April 27? What's the point without any new movies to show? From what I read, none of the major theatre chains plan to open until mid-summer. They're targeting "Tenet" on July 17 as the first new release to screen.

Before I cancelled my Netflix subscription, I spent the last days of my free trial streaming original Netflix films from some of the directors I like. I do plan to resubscribe once the new season of "Stranger Things" comes out, whenever that is. I also drafted a potential watch list of Netflix titles that piqued my interest, such as "The Haunting of Hill House" series and "The Lovebirds" comedy movie.

Watched movie: "22 July" (2018)
Arduous Paul Greengrass film about the deadliest lone terrorist attack in Norway's history, the sensationalized trial, and one survivor's grueling recovery. I skipped the limited theatrical release because of my disinterest in seeing a shooting massacre where so many youths died. But I finally streamed it out of respect for the director. I found it too long and hated being subjected to the terrorist's smug bravado, especially because I know there's so many people in the world who agree with him. But just when I thought nothing in this movie could cheer me up, that grounded, life-affirming message at the end really resonated with me. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "okja" (2017)
An eccentric, emotional Bong Joon Ho film about a farm girl (and "non-violent" animal lovers) trying to rescue her beloved super pig from a corporation. Props to the CGI effects for really making me care about this pig. Side note: Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal sure "hammed" it up. Definitely stay after the credits. Rating: 7
Watched movie: "Apostle" (2018)
Grisly Gareth Evans folk horror film wherein Dan Stevens goes undercover on an island of cultists to find his kidnapped sister. I found the first part of the movie entertainingly suspenseful when the cult founders tried to figure out which of their converts was an imposter (you would think this would be easy, but Dan Stevens kept lucking out). However, I soured on the movie once it got gut-churningly cruel. Rating: 5

Would be great if social distancing restrictions got eased enough where I could get a haircut again. How is it that WWE is designated an "essential" business but not barbers?!

I read a study that between 50 and 85 times more people in my county (Santa Clara County) may have been infected with COVID-19, based on antibody blood tests. I'm actually very curious about whether I ever contracted COVID-19 long before the outbreaks started in the U.S. I distinctly remember feeling sick on January 22 of this year. It was a Wednesday, the same day I screened "Color Out of Space". I had no respiratory symptoms but felt fatigue, chills, and body aches. I took two naps before going to the movie. Fortunately, I had secured my ticket online and was sitting far away from everyone. Then the next day, I felt perfectly fine again. I would love to take the antibody test if it becomes available to the public--but if I have to prick my finger, forget it. :P

Watched movie: "The Cloverfield Paradox" (2018)
I remember this movie received a lot of negative reviews, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. I will concede that all of the horrific sci-fi phenomena felt random and inexplicable. It also bugged me how loosely the film glommed onto the Cloverfield brand, i.e., naming the space station "Cloverfield" and tacking on that surprise ending. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Creep" (2015)
Creepy as advertised. This found footage movie chronicles a videographer's awkward and increasingly scary interactions with a man (Mark Duplass) who hired him to film a cancer diary. I found the first part of the movie uncomfortably slow, but the second part did a good job conveying the scariness of being stalked. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Creep 2" (2017)
Farcical found footage sequel that to my incuriosity, developed (and appeared to humanize?) the same Mark Duplass character from the first film. A character whom I couldn't care less about. :P Rating: 4
The new normal

Bay Area shelter-in-place order extended to May 4. My life feels like that "Groundhog Day" movie where I wake up to the same routine every day. I work at home, eat in my car, listen to the same news and "traffic" report, and avoid people (especially kids). No sports to follow, no new movies, and pretty soon no new TV content. But I guess there's another blessing I should count: I never feel lonely.

Incidentally, I didn't watch either night of the WrestleMania 36 pay-per-view. I found it laughable that WWE charged $59.99-$79.98 for both nights. But I did find out what a Boneyard Match is: the winner has to bury the loser alive. So I guess that means the Undertaker's opponent is dead now. :)

Well, I finally subscribed to Netflix for a 30 day free trial. I managed to watch all three seasons of "Stranger Things", a Netflix original series which reminded me of my own nerdy childhood in the 1980s (including the part where boys get interested in girls and neglect their friendships). It's funny how I never really appreciated the awesomeness of the 1980s until after I grew up.

Watched movie: "I don't feel at home in this world anymore." (2017)
Darkly comedic Sundance winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic about a misanthropic nursing assistant who wants to track down and tell off the dangerous criminal who burglarized her house. It was directed by the "Blue Ruin" star, and fondly reminded me of "Blue Ruin" how inexperienced the main character was at vigilantism. The movie wound up flying off the rails with its zany coincidences, but all in all I enjoyed it. Rating: 7
Watched TV series: "Stranger Things" season 1
Enjoyable 1980s homage that intrigued me enough to binge the entire first season in one night. The show kept me hooked by dangling that carrot of finding Winona Ryder's missing kid, a la "Poltergeist". The show also made successful use of the Game of Thrones formula, i.e., developing the main characters apart from one another to make me vested in them. I found Eleven and police chief Hopper particularly entertaining. I eagerly anticipated the episode when all of the major characters' investigations finally converged and they all teamed up. Side note: I can't help thinking that "Silent Hill" inspired the Upside Down. Rating: +++1/2
Watched TV series: "Stranger Things" season 2
Much like that crayon map inside of Winona Ryder's house, this season's storylines felt like a spaghetti mess. To use my own sports analogy, it felt like the writers benched Eleven and stuck a lot of characters in "garbage time". Fortunately, the season ended awesomely once the character paths finally converged, with even the weaker storylines paying off in some way. Interestingly, my favorite character this season was Will. What an inspirational survivor, that kid. Side note: Props to Bob, but what a mockery of BASIC programming. :( Rating: +++
Watched TV series: "Stranger Things" season 3
Dopier and less charming than the previous seasons, but I still found it entertaining enough to binge in one day. I particularly liked seeing the psychologically scarred characters having fun and coming out of their shell. Side note: I've always loved "The NeverEnding Story" song--I wish they had kept playing it. :D Rating: ++1/2
Flatten the curve

Torturously boring to work from home without movie theatres and restaurant dine-ins. I spend my days eating meals in my car (trying to patronize my favorite restaurants)--and as a new hobby, I sightsee what my old hangouts look like without people. But I should count my blessings. I still have a job and feel great health-wise. Possibly because I've been sleeping more and eating mostly poke (raw fish in a bowl of rice that I can easily eat in my car).

Another upside is I don't feel self-conscious about my sanitary quirks anymore, like washing public bathroom knobs and eating pizza with a knife and fork. Now people besides me can understand what dried-out hands feel like. :)

Shelter in place

I was ok with the "social distancing" phase of the COVID-19 pandemic since I'm already a recluse, wash my hands often, and don't like touching doorknobs. But now my Bay Area county issued a "shelter-in-place" order, meaning I'm supposed to stay at home until at least April 8. The worst part for me might be the theatre closures, even though they were pretty much empty anyway.

Before the theatres shuttered, I did finally screen a movie in IMAX with Laser, which uses a sharper and brighter 4K laser projection system instead of a xenon arc lamp. All in all, my eyes couldn't detect much difference. :P

I guess WrestleMania 36 isn't getting cancelled after all. The show will simply air inside an empty Performance Center. Wow.

Watched movie: "Bloodshot" (2020) in IMAX with Laser
Vapid comic book movie about a supersoldier (Vin Diesel) who can heal just like Deadpool, but has nary any personality. Which made the action sequences tedious because a) I knew Vin Diesel couldn't die, and b) I didn't care whether he succeeded or not. Sadly, some emotional weight could've easily fixed this film and given me a reason to care. Instead, the movie opted for some really asinine humor. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "King Kong" (1933)
Surprisingly entertaining for such an early monster movie. I got a big kick out of Kong's impetuous, chest-thumping personality. To my amusement, this gorilla didn't give no f**ks. He flung humans off a cliff, chomped them in his mouth, stomped on them, and even tossed one woman to her death because she wasn't the blonde one he had a thing for! (Keep in mind this film was made in the 1930s.) Funny how much more I enjoyed this jittery stop-motion Kong over the later, more realistic CGI versions. I also liked those other prehistoric monsters on Skull Island. Rating: 7

To my disbelief, this global novel coronavirus pandemic has wildly snowballed into one news bombshell after another. At first it was just film festivals getting cancelled, the James Bond film release moving from April to Thanksgiving, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open (a Masters tennis tournament at Indian Wells that I've considered attending ever since Serena Williams stopped boycotting it) getting cancelled, and my workplace banning handshakes. Now my workplace feels like a ghost town with employees encouraged to work from home. My moviegoing schedule has been completely upended. The NBA suspended the rest of the season, and other sports leagues followed suit (still can't believe that the NBA player who had prank-touched every microphone and recorder at a media event ended up testing positive for the coronavirus)!

What's next? For sure WrestleMania in April. (I never dreamed WWE would ever cancel that.) Cannes Film Festival and French Open in May? Anime Expo, Wimbledon, and the Summer Olympics in July?

Watched movie: "Onward" (2020) in 3D
An urban fantasy adventure from Pixar. A fun movie--I just wish it had delivered the big emotional payoff that the entire adventure had been building up to. Side note: I enjoyed the Maggie Simpson short. Rating: 6
The dogs of bore

After ordering the last 14 WrestleMania pay-per-views, I'm thinking this is the first year I'm going to pass on it. The show has gotten way too long to sit through, and I'm just not excited about anything on the card--not even the Undertaker's return to WrestleMania after missing last year's. I still remember how hyped I used to get for his undefeated WrestleMania streak matches.

It's criminal how WWE underutilizes Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. Instead, we're going to get Goldberg and Roman Reigns spearing each other for five minutes, one Brock Lesnar suplex after another, and "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt shrugging off five+ Attitude Adjustments.

I'm intrigued by the suggestion of a two-night WrestleMania with two main events. The suggestion alone wouldn't convince me to watch either night, but I'm intrigued by all the different matches that wouldn't make the card otherwise.

Man. I can't screen any more movies at the six-week long Akira Kurosawa Film Festival because the final two weeks got cancelled. The Stanford Theatre closed until further notice out of "an abundance of caution". The owner's scared of the coronavirus even though no one in the theatre's actually been infected.

Watched movie: "The Lodge" (2020)
A painfully awkward "horror film" wherein Riley Keough inexplicably babysits her two future stepchildren alone at a remote snow lodge. I say "painfully awkward" because to my dismay, neither adult seemed the least bit empathetic as to why the children saw her as a homewrecker. I say "inexplicably" because the father knew full well that the Riley Keough character had once survived a mass cult suicide, yet still left his children alone with her in the middle of nowhere. I also put "horror film" in quotes because I found it boring and defanged by too many "that scene was just a dream" scares (just like "It Comes at Night" which also had Riley Keough in it). By the end of this snowy snoozefest, I lost interest in which scenes were reality and found the characters too unlikeable to care about anymore. Rating: 4
Watched movie: "Nora inu" (1949) a.k.a. "Stray Dog" (1963)
Excruciatingly slow post-WWII film noir directed by Akira Kurosawa, where Toshiro Mifune plays a rookie homicide detective (not a samurai) who races to track down his stolen Colt pistol before an armed robber uses all seven of the bullets in it. But when I say "race", picture two snails racing against each other because that's how slowly the robber used each bullet and that's how slowly the rookie and his veteran partner trailed him. It actually vexed me how long some of these scenes dragged. The upside: all that scrupulous police work eventually got me really vested in them catching this guy--so the film's brilliant Hitchcockian climax amped me up. Rating: 6
Watched movie: "Tengoku to jigoku" a.k.a. "High and Low" (1963)
Slow and anticlimactic. I did like its unpredictability, as the movie starts with a moral dilemma (whether Toshiro Mifune and his family should lose their wealth to pay a kidnapper's ransom, even though the guy mistakenly kidnapped the chauffeur's son instead of Toshiro Mifune's son); then turns into an exhaustingly long police procedural. I guess after all that, I expected some kind of mind-blowing twist or shock to end the movie (but I guess the mind-blowing twist was that the film had no twist--the kidnapper was just some stranger even though I could've sworn I spotted him conspiring with Toshiro Mifune). Maybe I just need to stop overthinking these Kurosawa crime dramas. :P Rating: 5
Watched movie: "The Invisible Man" (2020) in IMAX
Refreshingly smart Leigh Whannell film where Elisabeth Moss struggles to outwit an abusive ex-boyfriend who can turn invisible. A somewhat futile struggle, given how easily he thwarted countermeasures like paint and water watching. I basically saw only one important weakness: his urge to push his luck against the one woman who knows him best (stalking her rather than killing her). Meaning, sooner or later she was bound to anticipate his next move. I would've rated the movie higher, but I wanted a more satisfying payoff for all that cruel psychological torment. Rating: 6
Wish fur-fillment

Thanks to a Family Programming initiative courtesy of SFFILM Education, I got to see Netflix's new Shaun the Sheep sequel for free at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Awesome movie. Wasn't happy to see all the nude protesters outside of the theatre though, standing there in full view as parents and their children exited.

Recently I reviewed my checklist of lifetime goals, and removed several items that I completely lost interest in: "race in a marathon", "advanced swimming", "car mechanics", "Easter Island (Moai statues)", and "Funspot". Funspot is the famous New Hampshire arcade in "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters", which I soured on visiting once I learned of the Billy Mitchell and Todd Rogers video game records scandals.

Watched movie: "Farmageddon" (2019-2020)
A Shaun the Sheep movie that delighted me to no end. The laughs and feels just kept on coming. Stay during and after the credits. P.S. During the post-screening Q&A with producer Paul Kewley where he exhibited the miniature stop-motion puppets, I learned that Aardman Animations stuck the sheeps' mouths on the sides of their heads because that's easier to animate. Rating: 8
Watched movie: "Blumhouse's Fantasy Island" (2020)
The audacity of Blumhouse to cheapen this beloved TV show into a superficial PG-13 horror flick where the fantasy characters inexplicably become zombies. The rules of the island made no sense; the movie ended the fantasies pointlessly and bungled its messages about bullying and self-acceptance; and the big plot twist struck me as colossally dumb. Why such a long-drawn-out charade? Rating: 3
Proud of "Parasite"

Although this is the fifth consecutive time I've mispredicted the Academy Award for Best Picture (I sensed the upset coming when Bong Joon Ho unexpectedly won Best Director), I've never been happier to be wrong. "Parasite" was my favorite Best Picture nominee of the year and in my opinion, the most deserving film to break through as the first non-English Best Picture winner. I also loved the warm reaction to the win, from audience members chanting for the lights to come back up to filmmakers tweeting affectionate words about it. Other highlights from the Oscar ceremony:

  • Steve Martin and Chris Rock cracking me up and repeatedly picking on that "famous actor" Jeff Bezos in the audience.
  • Montages of the nominated acting performances instead of just singular clips.
  • Eminem finally performing "Lose Yourself" 17 years after it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • James Corden and Rebel Wilson showing up in outfits from that Razzie frontrunner "Cats".
  • Presenters introducing other presenters. Just kidding--that was stupid.

I'm also excited by the announcement during the Oscars broadcast that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will finally open to the world on December 14, 2020.

Watched movie: "Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn" (2020) in IMAX
Better than "Suicide Squad". Stay after the credits. Rating: 5
Monday morning quarterback

Now that the San Francisco 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV (it's like they couldn't do anything right halfway into the fourth quarter) and my favorite taqueria for chili verde inexplicably stopped making chili verde, I already came up with my four worst events of the year. :( I did get a kick out of some sage fortune cookie advice I got from that prophetic Panda Express in Oakridge mall: "IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT."

Congratulations to the "unloved champion" Novak Djokovic on a record-extending eighth Australian Open title. Don't know how he got away with patting the chair umpire's feet and bullying him. Goes to show the double standard on code violations. And speaking of unsportsmanlike conduct, congratulations to American Sofia Kenin on winning her maiden Grand Slam final. I hate her bizarre hysterics but admittedly, I'd rather root for an astoundingly clutch player over a wildly inconsistent player whom I've always found overrated.

I'm not too bummed about an injury-hampered Roger Federer losing his Australian Open semifinal because let's face it, he had no business winning that bizarre five-set quarterfinal against Tennys Sandgren. I watched Federer save all seven match points with my own eyes and I still don't believe it. He looked so sluggish with no pop on his serves, like he wanted to just retire from the match. Afterward, I was impressed to find out that Federer has never retired during any tennis match.

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

Loved the classy 24-second shot clock violation tributes to Kobe Bryant. Still in disbelief that he and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash. (This goes to why I'd never ever fly in private aircrafts.) My favorite memory of Kobe actually isn't from a Lakers game. It's from the 2008 Olympics gold medal game where he helped LeBron James redeem the U.S. men's national basketball team after their 2004 bronze medal. I fondly remember Kobe knocking down a clutch 3-pointer (picking up a foul too), and shushing an anti-USA section of the crowd with his finger. Then afterward, he looked genuinely overjoyed to have won a gold medal for America.

In WWE news, I really enjoyed this year's 30-Man Royal Rumble Match. Unlike the 30-Woman Royal Rumble Match, which just cobbled a bunch of random encounters together, the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match focused on two strong storylines and coordinated the whole match around them.

In Australian Open news, imagine the emotion had Caroline Wozniacki ended her tennis career against best friend Serena Williams in the fourth round. Instead, disappointingly, both players lost their third round matches and didn't even make it to the second week. Well, Wozniacki can still retire with her head held high, having finally won a Grand Slam title in a thrilling final that I'll remember fondly from the 2018 Australian Open.

In award season news, I can't remember the last time the Golden Globes and Guild Awards made my Academy Award predictions so easy. My final Oscar predictions for 2019:

  • Best picture: "1917"
  • Best director: Sam Mendes, "1917"
  • Best actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"
  • Best actress: Renée Zellweger, "Judy"
  • Best supporting actor: Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"
  • Best supporting actress: Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"
Watched movie: "Color Out of Space" (2020)
Lurid film adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft short story wherein a crashed alien meteorite mutates the plants and animals on a family farm (similar to that recent movie "Annihilation"). The film bored me for awhile, but then shocked me with a body horror incident that curdled my blood. The movie also livened up once Nicolas Cage, as per usual, went bonkers. Rating: 5
Watched movie: "Bad Boys for Life" (2020) in IMAX
This threequel started off well with funny ribbing, heartwarming comradery between long-time friends and family, and compelling motivational catalysts. But then about halfway through, three specific plot points ruined the movie for me: a) killing off the beloved Captain Howard, which added nothing to the plot (it just went forgotten and unavenged) and killed the fun of the rest of the film for me; b) Marcus reneging on his earnest prayer, which killed the movie's most touching scene for me; and c) starting a redemption arc for an irredeemable assassin (which to my chagrin is becoming a cliche) who incidentally, didn't look the least bit like Will Smith. Stay during the credits. Rating: 4

Rather annoying how the live Oscar nominations broadcast excludes the supporting actor/actress categories. Wasn't until later that I learned Jennifer Lopez got snubbed. One could argue other snubs as well, but to me this potential Oscar nomination had the strongest precursors.

Here's how I rated the 2019 Best Picture nominees from favorite to least favorite:

  1. "Parasite" (My rating: 7)
  2. "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" (My rating: 7)
  3. "Marriage Story" (My rating: 7)
  4. "Jojo Rabbit" (My rating: 7)
  5. "The Irishman" (My rating: 7)
  6. "1917" (My rating: 7)
  7. "Little Women" (My rating: 6)
  8. "Joker" (My rating: 6)
  9. "Ford v Ferrari" (My rating: 4)

Now that both "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" and "The Irishman" lost the Producers Guild Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards, I see "1917" as the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture. If Sam Mendes wins the DGA Award, that'll cement my prediction.

Congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers on finally taking back the NFC crown (after a long and demoralizing drought)! I actually felt bad for Aaron Rodgers, having to watch the 49ers run the ball past the Packers defense again and again and again. There was just nothing they could do.

Watched movie: "Tenki no ko" (2019) a.k.a. "Weathering With You" (2020)
Breathtaking, emotional Oscar entry from Japan that looked like it took ages to animate. Every scene of rain or shine looked like a work of art. According to the director in his post-credits interview, the animators had to hand-draw every raindrop. He also confirmed that his two characters from "Your Name." made cameos. Rating: 7

Well, looks like I already have a candidate for worst movies of the decade from 2020 to 2029.

AMC Stubs A-List continues to impress me. They quietly added a new feature called A-List Entourage. It allows an A-List member to invite other A-List members into an "entourage". Any member of this entourage can book free A-List tickets for each other--a huge convenience for reserving seats next to each other in one fell swoop. If only Regal did something like this. None of my friends patronize AMC.

My AMC Stubs A-List membership comes with an AMC Stubs Premiere membership, meaning I accumulate 2395 AMC Stubs points for every monthly membership charge. So about every six months, I get enough of a reward for a free standard movie ticket. The trick is what to use the free ticket on, as the activated reward expires in nine months and I already receive three free movies a week. So rather than attempt four free movies in one week, I've been watching "alternative content" films that are excluded from A-List. This month, I'm going to watch a fan preview screening of Japan's animated Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film. Incidentally, I also have to figure out when to redeem the "guest re-admit pass" I received from AMC when their digital projector broke in the middle of "1917" (forcing me to book another A-List reservation for a later screening). Same goes for my free Regal Crown Club standard movie ticket, which expires later this year. Guess at some point I'll have to see four movies in one week. :P

Watched movie: "The Grudge" (2020)
Mind-numbingly bland American sidequel that felt overstuffed with pointless character development (who cares about the doomed characters' backstories?!). Not a single creative scare either. I did find a couple of scenes unintentionally funny: when the knocking ghost appeared in the peephole and a zipper inexplicably interrupted an idyllic scene's soapy score. Rating: 3
A new decade

Welcome to the new home of my blog! I was the only blogger left on, so many thanks to Allan for maintaining that web site for so long. Unfortunately, my new home lacks the handy search feature from I've aggregated all of my past blog entries into one humongous blog archive that can be searched by web browser via the "find" tool.

I've also decided that starting this decade, I'm going watch movies without taking any notes. Ironically, I found I was missing noteworthy moments onscreen because of my preoccupation with writing notes. I also found that I hardly even referred back to my notes after each movie. So we'll see how this bold new practice goes.

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