It's All About Open Source

A friend of mine who has been doing some programming (hi, Fy!) recently asked me for some ideas on open source projects they could look at and possibly contribute to. It made me think of what open source software I tend to use on a regular basis… which is a decent amount as someone who runs a few different Linux systems. It seemed like a solid opportunity to compile the Super Official List of Open Source Stuff John Likes™. As someone who doesn’t really know much about writing code, I have no idea if any of these are good candidates for someone to start contributing to open source; they just happen to be things I use on the regular. Without further adieu and in no particular order:


Notepad++ has been one of my favorite Windows text editors for as long as I can remember. While it may not be as flashy or as popular as some of the other editors I’ll get to in a little bit (yeah… I’ve got a thing for text editors), it’s hard to top the speed and footprint of Notepad++. It also has at least basic syntax highlighting for almost every programming language under the sun. I also can’t overstate the importance of being able to open a plaintext file at work and having the editor launch immediately.

Visual Studio Code

VSCode is another rare example of Microsoft software I enjoy. While I dislike the large, clunky IDE that is Visual Studio, VSCode is a nice balance between a simple editor and an IDE. It has a large plugin ecosystem that can give you benefits of things like Intellisense and a debugger without being needless. It’s based on the same Electron framework as GitHub’s Atom editor. I’ve found it to be such a nice editor across a wide array of languages that I’ve even taken to installing it on Linux systems for the times when I want a GUI editor.

If you’re curious how I configure it, here’s my settings.json file. Note that I mainly use it for PowerShell:

    "workbench.colorTheme": "Dracula",
    "editor.minimap.enabled": true,
    "editor.minimap.showSlider": "always",
    "editor.wordWrap": "on",
    "editor.scrollBeyondLastLine": false,
    "files.hotExit": "off",
    "powershell.integratedConsole.showOnStartup": false,
    "editor.fontFamily": "'Fira Code', 'Fira Mono', monospace",
    "editor.fontLigatures": true,
    "git.ignoreMissingGitWarning": true


Of course, most of the time when I’m using Linux I’m not using a GUI. I feel at home on the command line, which is good considering I run a handful of headless servers that I only ever access via SSH (which happens to be a great way to mess with scripting or code from a Chromebook if it doesn’t have support for Linux apps yet.) Vim is the de facto CLI editor for me (sorry Emacs users), and I can install it on literally everything. Most Linux distros also come with either it or Vi installed by default, so it’s ubiquitous.

Vim has a reputation for being difficult to use, but I don’t really think that’s the case. It’s just that it’s very different to use if you’re coming from most modern editors. Once you get accustomed to it, I’ve found it to be perhaps the most easy for editing text effectively. Plus, it has a rich plugin ecosystem for things like syntax highlighting and support. I use Pathogen as my plugin manager for Vim.

If you want to know my Vim config, this is my typical .vimrc file:

execute pathogen#infect()
set hlsearch ignorecase smartcase incsearch relativenumber ruler
set laststatus=2 tabstop=4 shiftwidth=4 expandtab notitle
syntax on
filetype plugin indent on


htop is a super handy, interactive utility for seeing what the heck is happening in a Linux system. Think of it like the terminal version of the Windows Task Manager. It gives you a nice breakdown of CPU, RAM, and swap usage along with a listing of processes and what each is doing. It also offers and easy way to adjust the nice level of particularly important or greedy processes. It’s an enhancement over the older top utility.

Screenshot from 2019-05-06 17-32-51.png


tmux is terminal multiplexer, hence the name. If you have no clue what that means, it allows you to take a single terminal and divide it up into multiple virtual terminals. This lets easily have multiple terminals on the screen at the same time with different information on them without having to flip between tabs. Here’s a sample:

Screenshot from 2019-05-06 18-16-41.png

In a single terminal window I’ve got Vim open with some simple Go code on the left pane. The right side has two panes; the top pane has Cowsay running while the bottom pane I just used to install Cowsay. While not exact useful in the scenario I set up for this screenshot, it can be really handy for doing something like writing a script in one pane and having a second, smaller pane to the side or top of running it periodically without ever needing to close the file.

The other super handy part of tmux is that you can keep a persistent session going on a remote system without staying connected to it. I can SSH to a server, open tmux, connect to an IRC server, and use it for however long I need. If I want to disconnect from SSH but keep my IRC session going, I can simply detach my current SSH session from tmux but leave tmux running. Then I can close my SSH session. When I later SSH into the system again, I can reattach to the existing tmux session and pick right back up where I left off.


Since I’ve mentioned code a few times in these examples after starting the post off by saying I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to writing code, PowerShell is the one exception. I basically live in a PowerShell window for work, using it for both my day-to-day management at the CLI and in scripts that I use to automate my work… because work smart, not hard, right? I feel decently proficient with PowerShell, and I’m excited that version 6 is now open source! It’s nice to be able to use the same scripting language and commands to manage Windows servers at work that I use to manage my Linux servers at home.

I haven’t posted anything new in a while (I’ve written tons of stuff but just haven’t thought to post it), but you can see some of my sample PowerShell scripts over on GitHub. I’ve also posted some /r/DailyProgrammer challenges as Gists.


Hugo is a static site generator. The concept is that instead of needing a CMS (content management system… think something like WordPress) to manage posts, pagination, design, etc. on a website that you can instead do it all via plaintext. Hugo allows you to have HTML templates, CSS, and then posts that are authored as Markdown. When you make a new post or change the site in any way, you can recompile your site which is then output as simple HTML and CSS that you can throw onto a web server. New post? Recompile the site and just move the files. Hugo worries about things like how many posts there should be on a page and will adjust it all for you. Need to change information in your header? Just change it one time in your template file and then recompile; there’s no need to use sed through every page and change each of them.

There are plenty of other static site generators out there (Jekyll is a popular one), but I’ve found that Hugo is by far the fastest. When your site starts to get large with a lot of pages to parse and generate, generators like Jekyll — which is written in Ruby, an interpreted language — can start to bog down. Hugo is written in Go; it’s literally one binary, and that allows it to be super speedy even when your site is large.


To end the post on a fun note, NetHack is an incredible video game. It’s easy to look at it and assume that it’s a simplistic, basic game. It runs in a terminal (though variants with tiles and graphics do exist), and everything in the game is represented as an ASCII symbol. Your character? The @ symbol. A kobold? The letter k. The game is also crazy old… it was released in 1987. Here’s what it looks like:

Screenshot from 2019-05-06 18-38-44.png

It’s a fantasy game so the whole point is to hack-and-slash your way through a procedurally generated dungeon, meaning no two games are the same since each level is random; on top of this is the fact that there are more classes, races, and mechanics than most modern games have.

Even better is that the game is still being updated. The latest commit on their GitHub repo was yesterday. Pretty nuts. The game is also a marvel of what’s possible in the C programming language. Imagine making something like this without even being able to use objects.

NetHack exists for every operating system on the planet, but if you don’t want to bother with installing it you don’t have to. You can instead just hop on the NetHack server.

There are, of course, tons of other open source applications I use on the regular — I didn’t even bother getting into operating systems — but these are the ones I use the most frequently and enjoy the most. The most important thing, though… is to stay pink!

Unusually Pink Podcast Links

As we mentioned in our last episode, we recently got our podcast all over the Internet so you can listen to it regardless of which service(s) you happen to prefer.


Our host for the podcast is Podbean. The posts on the podcast page for each episode will always link to our Unusually Pink Podcast profile there. (Related: we are crushing it on the alliteration front.) We figured most people wouldn’t be listening to it directly from there, though. So if you happen to use any of the following services, feel free to give the podcast a follow and stay on top of the latest episodes. Posts from the website for new episodes, of course, will also be posted to our Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Why does Google have two? Great question.

Microsoft Edge Insider: It's Actually Not That Bad

If you happened to listen to our Introduction Episode of the podcast, you’ll know that Brandi and I are sysadmins who work together in a highly Microsoft-centric environment. Essentially all of the servers we manage run some flavor of Windows, we make heavy use of Office 365 and Azure, and both of us spend our entire day either typing email into Outlook or commands into PowerShell.

You may read that and think, “Wow, they really like Microsoft stuff.” At least for me (John, if that’s not clear by now) that’s not the case. I tend to be extremely critical and frequently frustrated with a lot of Microsoft’s offerings. I’ve poured a healthy bit of salt into the Internet over the years at Microsoft’s expense. I could even share some of my more recent frustration with Microsoft products if it wouldn’t spoil what will likely be content for a near-future podcast episode. Suffice to say, there’s a reason one of my former coworkers threw together this image… that’s my face on the can if you’re confused.


And there’s a reason why I made this image at one point. Cut me some slack… I didn’t really know how to use GIMP that well at the time.


That being said, I’m all about trying the new hotness where software is concerned, so I decided to install the new Microsoft Edge Insider build on my work machine. If you haven’t been keeping score at home, Microsoft essentially admitted that the current, production version of Edge that ships with Windows 10 is a disaster. No one uses it according to every metric, despite Microsoft’s attempts at forcing it on users. They also accepted that their rendering engine under-performed. Perhaps the biggest problem, though, was how the Edge browser was inextricably tied to the underlying operating system, meaning that Edge essentially only got updates during Microsoft’s major updates to Windows 10. Going 6+ months between browser updates is a pretty massive blow when competitors are releasing new versions every month.

The new builds of Edge are based on the open-source Chromium project. While perhaps most notably serving as the underpinnings for Google’s behemoth of a browser that has come to dominate the web, Chrome, it’s also come to serve the same function for plenty of other noteworthy browsers, such as Opera and Brave.

So I threw the Insider build on my work PC to check it out. If you happen to be curious, you can install it alongside the current version of Edge. The icon looks the same but has a green “Dev” stamp over the blue “e”. If you fire it up, it looks essentially like what you’d expect to see opening the current version of Chrome. You get the option to sign in with a Microsoft account, though, rather than a Google account. The various options and settings have been changed up in how they appear, but they’re basically all the same. If you’d like to use an extension, you can select from a subset of Chrome extensions that are currently working with this build of Edge in Microsoft’s own gallery; I’ve read that they’re working to make every extension supported by Chromium and Chrome work with Edge eventually. I was just happy enough that I could get uBlock Origin.


I’ve been running with it as my default browser for a couple of weeks now, and I have to admit that I haven’t run into any issues yet. Everything just works the same as I’d expect, only with a bit of a smaller footprint than with Chrome. I assume this is due to all of the Google services Microsoft ended up removing. If so, it almost reminds me of how Firefox was before the Electrolysis rebuild, where it had become a bit slow and clunky due to bloat. Or how Opera was back in the day when the browser featured a mail client, IRC client, toaster oven, vacuum cleaner, etc. A good feature purge isn’t necessarily the worst thing to happen to some software projects as they expand over time.

Speaking of Firefox, one of the downsides to this is the fact that it means yet another browser is now based on Chromium. Outside of looking as extremely niche browsers, this means that Firefox is now the only non-Chromium-based mainstream browser. That’s a sticky situation since it means that a single project (Chromium) can essentially dictate the growth and direction of the web if they so choose. If that project opted to move away from established standards to do their own thing, for example, no one would be able to ignore that many impacted users. Switching to a Chromium base is a situation that I would describe as good for Microsoft and extremely bad for the web as a whole.

And if you’re one of the three people in the world using the current stable version of Edge with Windows 10 and you’re mad that it will be going away, please just read this article about a nasty Edge vulnerability that Microsoft has declined to patch. Then please stop using that browser.

The Unusually Pink Playlist

Do you want to listen to the dankest collection of music since my 2018 Spotify wrapped post? If your answer is yes (and really… I don’t see a single possible reason why it shouldn’t be) then you’re in luck. We are pleased to introduce the Unusually Pink Playlist. Featuring tracks loved by Brandi and I, most will be more recent discoveries as opposed to old favorites; we don’t really want to start off a brand new playlist with 10+ hours of material right out of the gate… even if it would be really good material.


Brandi and I have a lot in common when it comes to music, but we also a good bit of diversity and different methods of finding new music. We just start putting this playlist together the other day, but you’ll eventually start seeing plenty of indie, hip-hop, and EDM making the rounds along with some pop.

If you find yourself enjoying the playlist, feel free to give it a follow! Song recommendations are always welcome; hit us up on Twitter @UnusuallyPink.

Switching To Squarespace

If you happened to see this site around the time when the first post went up, you might notice that:

  1. The site looks very different now.

  2. A lot of what’s in that first post no longer seems to be true.

For example, this is not the Rusty theme for Hugo. Those technically savvy would also notice that the site no longer has the same DNS record value as where things were originally hosted. That’s because the site is no longer running on my own web server and is not created using Hugo. There were a few reasons for this. The main was just that I’m really bad at web design. The Rusty theme in Hugo is pretty light on imagery, which I’m cool with. Once we decided to actually make Unusually Pink into a thing and do a podcast, though, we had our amazing logos made by the uber-talented JPFDesigns. Integrating those into the Rusty theme for Hugo was a bit more than I was up for; CSS is legitimately the final boss of my life, and my life is (apparently) an NES Contra game; I couldn’t do it.

The other reason was just that it allows for much better reliability. The site isn’t beholden to my ability to not mess up my web server. Not that it’s particularly likely for me to do something to brick it (I’ve been using Linux and Nginx for my web servers for ages now), but it’s possible. I was also responsible for backups, which I’d prefer to take off of my own hands if possible.

The last reason was that the site really needed to be divided from one main section (e.g. the blog I originally planned just to do something with the domain) to two sections: a blog and a list of podcast episodes. While I was able to just dump a /podcast directory into my static folder for Hugo, it meant that posting podcast episodes and summaries was now an entirely manual process rather than something assisted by a CMS-esque system like Hugo.

Swapping to Squarespace allowed me to let someone far smarter than me figure out all of that within a theme; all I had to do was upload some images (Squarespace is awesome at scaling images for me, even when it needed to make one tiny for the favicon) and then swap around a few of the colors in the theme to get something unusually pink. I was also able to simply add two blogs to the site; one is a normal blog and the other will have posts for each podcast episode. In this way, both sections of the site are managed by a CMS rather than being done manually. Doing it manually may not seem like too big of a deal at first, but once you start to get too many posts for a single page, creating and manually updating the pagination after each new post would be enough to drive someone insane.

As for choosing Squarespace, it’s the one I’ve heard the most about through various avenues on the Internet. Their pricing was reasonable, and I figured it seemed like a safe bet since I know a few other people who have experience with them. The other recommendation I got was Wix, which I admittedly had never heard of previously. Looking at the pricing for Wix compared to the pricing for Squarespace, though, I think it’s clear that Squarespace is a better deal. The Wix $11 USD per month package is pretty lackluster, especially when you look at 2 GB of bandwidth and 3 GB of storage. To get something more comparable to Squarespace’s $12 per month package that includes unlimited bandwidth and storage, you’d need the $14 per month plan from Wix… and that still doesn’t give you unlimited storage.

Expect the site to still go through a few minor changes as we continue to tweak the layout, colors, and everything else. Feel free to drop any feedback to our Twitter profile!

The Accidentals Show

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pretty big fan of music. I link my Spotify account to for all of the juicy statistics, and I feel like I’ve been a complete loser if my weekly report doesn’t have at least 24 hours of listening on it. One of the things I’ve never really done much of, though, is live music. I’ve wanted to start attending more events, though a bit of social anxiety can make that challenging (though it helps that many of the shows I’d want to go to are at bars… drinking making social anxiety more tolerable.)

The final push, though, came a few weeks ago when I got an email from Spotify about an upcoming show. I’ve received a few of these emails before where Spotify finds upcoming shows (relatively) close to me and recommends them. While the other shows I’ve seen before weren’t particularly enticing, the most recent email was for a show by The Accidentals. Despite the fact that they’ve been together for quite a long time, I never discovered them until late last year when a friend and I were trying to find a bunch of songs to add to our BlizzCon-themed playlist we were creating in preparation for our trip. I stumbled across their track Earthbound and immediately fell in love. Since then I’ve been through their entire library more times than I can count.

My friend graciously agreed to go with me, so yesterday we got to experience The Accidentals live. The show was nothing short of incredible; I feel like I should’ve paid more for the tickets given how amazing the experience was. All three members of the band are such talented and passionate people, playing an insane variety of instruments and doing songs in a swath of different styles.


While they didn’t perform Earthbound, I was stoked for them to play both Heavy Flag and Crow’s Feet, along with a completely acoustic version of Sixth Street at the front of the stage. I also got to experience some brand new songs they’re trying out in preparation for the TWO (!) albums they’re planning to release this year. The first will be a live album coming out in a few months, and the second later in the year will be a fully produced studio album. The show was definitely the high point of my 2019 thus far. Any music fans who happen to get the chance to see The Accidentals live should definitely jump at the opportunity and support some amazing live music.

Unusually Pink Peripherals: Razer Quartz 2019

Given the name of this site and what I said in the first post, you can probably guess that I’m a fan of things which are unusually pink. That’s why last year when gaming peripheral maker Razer announced a line of pink products under their new Quartz branding, I was stoked. I immediately ordered both their keyboard and their mouse. The Quartz products generally aren’t brand new; they’re a pink take on existing products. The first keyboard was a Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition with Razer Green switches (their equivalent of Cherry’s MX Blue line of clicky, tactile switches.) It’s great, and I still use it daily:

2019-02-07 17.03.24.jpg

The mouse was a bit less exciting as it was a pink variant of the Razer Lancehead. The Lancehead isn’t a bad mouse, but it’s not what I’m really looking for as far as gaming goes. It’s a relatively flat mouse with small, squishy side buttons. I used it for a while but eventually switched to a different mouse.

I was happy with my purchaes, but just last week Razer announced updates across their Quartz lineup. I once again had zero self control and immediately purchased the new keyboard and mouse.

Razer Huntsman Quartz

This keyboard was exciting because, along with being pink, it’s based on the Huntsman. That’s Razer’s first keyboard with their new optomechanical switches. Rather than being completely mechanical, these switches use the same mechanical feel to allow a beam of light to pass through it and be detected by a sensor on the opposite of where it is generated. That light hitting the sensor triggers the actuation of the switch rather than a metal contact. I’m not pro gamer, so I can’t honestly say if I feel any difference in the speed or accuracy of actuation, but I do have to admit that the whole thing is cool as hell. On top of that, every single switch has a metal stabilizer to ensure each key gives a solid, consistent press. That’s normally something you only see on larger keys like the spacebar, Shift, Enter, etc.

2019-03-27 08.56.07.jpg

The keys aren’t embedded into a base for the Huntsman; they sit flat on the board. I really like this style, and it looks great. The keys all have a beautiful, smooth, soft pink finish that looks great. The board itself has the same finish, which is a welcome improvement from the Quartz version of the Blackwidow Tournament Edition. That board had the same key finish but something that felt like a soft-touch powder coating on the board itself. While it had a decent texture, it also seemed like something that could scratch off in an accident. My board actually came with a tiny nick in that coating above the function keys.

I was a little leery about spending so much on a keyboard when I didn’t even know if I’d like the switches, but typing on them is a downright joy. Every key stroke just feels good. Their actuation force of 45 grams is a little lighter than Razer Greens that clock in at 50 grams. I was surprised, though, that after a weekend of gaming on the optomechanical switches, typing on Razer Greens actually felt heavy to me. 45 grams feels like the sweet spot where the switches are easy to press, but not so easy that you could do it on accident. The tactile feedback also removes any doubt of whether or not the switch actuated. On the whole, I adore these switches.

I do wish there was a TKL variant since I don’t really need the number pad on my gaming keyboard. I had to move the keyboard further left to keep the same amount of space on my mat for the mouse, but it’s still comfortable to keep my left hand on WASD.

Razer Basilisk Quartz

The mouse was also a very nice improvement for the Quartz line. This variant is based on the Razer Basilisk, which is an FPS-centric mouse. I appreciate the fact that it has a very large hump behind the buttons, meaning that even with my relatively large hands I can palm the mouse without my hand touching the mat. The rubber grips around the sides are super nice and have a good feel to them. The scroll wheel features adjustable tension, handled via a small wheel on the underside of the device. You can go all the way from extremely rough, tacticle clicks for each scroll to free scrolling. I found a very low amount of tension to be the best for me.

The side buttons have a good feel to them, though the true boon for this mouse is the DPI clutch just in front of them. The clutch can be configured to decrease your DPI if you need to be precise. For example, you might want to hold in the clutch while sniping in a game to avoid things feeling too twitchy. The button for it is a bit large for my taste, extending just a bit over the first side button. Luckily, this button is removable and comes with a smaller button you can swap in that I greatly prefer. If you have no interest in the clutch, you can also replace it with a pink rubber plug that simply fills the hole and matches the rest of the mouse’s exterior.

Given that Overwatch is my game of choice at the moment, the Basilisk feels like the perfect mouse. It pairs nicely with the Huntsman, and I’ve been really enjoying these preferals across a variety of games like Overwatch, Diablo 3, and Elder Scrolls Online. To be perfectly honest, I’d have kept them no matter what just because, well… they’re pink. I’m actually extremely happy with both of them, though, as they’re high quality products that deliver a high quality experience. Many pink computer accessories are pretty much hot garbage because the gimmick of being pink is the selling point, not the quality. With these two devices, though, you absolutely get both the performance and the color. If your battlestation needs a little more pink and you’ve got the spare money, you can’t go wrong with the current Quartz lineup.

Firebase Update Control Error

One of my websites (not this one) is hosted via Firebase. It’s a largely static site that I rarely need to touch. I manage it from their CLI running on a VPS that I do some coding on so that I can access it regardless of which of my numerous devices I happen to be using. Since I don’t touch the site regularly, though, the Firebase tools tend to get a bit out of date. I needed to push a minor change the other day and figured I’d check for an update:

sudo npm install -g firebase-tools

Instead of completing happily, though, I got the following:

npm ERR! path /usr/local/bin/firebase
npm ERR! code EEXIST
npm ERR! Refusing to delete /usr/local/bin/firebase: ../lib/node_modules/firebase-tools/bin/firebase symlink target is not controlled by npm /usr/local/bin
npm ERR! File exists: /usr/local/bin/firebase
npm ERR! Move it away, and try again.

I’m a bit embarrassed that I did a bunch of super unnecessary troubleshooting at first instead of just reading the error. When I finally got to that point because things like clearing the npm cache didn’t work, I saw noticed this:

File exists: /usr/local/bin/firebase
Move it away, and try again.

Okay, seems sensible enough. I first just renamed it in the same directory.

sudo mv /usr/local/bin/firebase /usr/local/bin/firebaseBKP

I re-ran the npm installation command, and sure enough it worked without any issues. I verified I could actually see firebase in my $PATH:

which firebase

And that it was the newer version:

firebase --version

With that out of the way, I simply deleted the file I renamed:

sudo rm /usr/local/bin/firebaseBKP

Then I could push the update to my site without any issues. To be honest I’m not entirely sure why or how that file wouldn’t be controlled by firebase or it couldn’t be removed by running the command under sudo, but I’m happy that it had a clear error message that allowed me to fix things easily enough… once I actually, you know, read the error message.

PSA: Get Ready For New Let's Encrypt Validation

If you’re using Let’s Encrypt, now would be a really great time to make sure that you’re ready for them to stop supporting ACME TLS-SNI-01 domain validation. I got an email a couple of days ago (as I assume everyone using Let’s Encrypt did) letting me know this change was coming. I had nothing to actually do, but going through the validation was super easy and is likely worth the time to ensure your site(s) aren’t impacted. March 13th is the deadline for ACME TLS-SNI-01 to no longer function, so there’s still a lot of time to take a couple of minutes and verify you’re in good shape.

*Note: I’m using certbot, which makes this whole thing super easy. If you’re not using certbot then your steps will be different.*

The Let’s Encrypt staging environment already has disabled ACME TLS-SNI-01 validation, so checking against that is a good test. As a certbot user, I also needed to validate that I was using at least version 0.28 of the application, which is simple enough to do via:

certbot --version    

That appears to be the latest version offered by the PPA: ppa:certbot/certbot

Testing a certbot run against the staging environment is toggled via the --dry-run switch. If you do a dry run of your renewal against the staging environment and everything comes back successful, you should be in good shape:

sudo certbot renew --dry-run

My certs all validated successfully, so everything is ready to go for the change. I presume if there are any failures then the dry run will alert you to what needs to be fixed; I can’t say for sure since I was lucky enough to not see any of those. Full instructions from Let’s Encrypt are available on their site, though.

Happy encrypting!

Illness Movie Binge

I’ve been sick for the past week, and with a long weekend this past weekend I did what any sane sick person should do during cold weather: bundled up on the couch with blankets, a lot of tea, and watched movies. I’m usually too lazy to pay attention to a full movie, but given that I was camped out on the couch for entire days on end with a throbbing sinus headache, keeping track of the plot of a 2 hour movie was easier than keeping track of the plot for multiple television episodes. I ended up watching 7 movies across 3 days which is more movies than I watched through all of 2018. I’m not about to even come close to writing a review for each movie given how particular I get after doing so much film analysis in college, but I figured I’d jot down some quick thoughts on each of the films I happened to watch. Most of them were titles that were just added to streaming services I use. I watched each movie without looking at basically anything, from reviews to earnings so I could go into it as blind as possible, though with some of the more… popular recent titles (ahem, Bird Box) I had already seen a lot of chatter. For most of them I went back and checked that info out afterward, though.

I didn’t intend for this since I knew basically nothing about the majority of the movies I watched, but most of the live action ones had extremely small casts. Go figure.

It should go without saying but basically the rest of this post will contain spoilers. Skip a film if you don’t want something ruined.

Annihilation (2018)

I mainly watched this because I like pretty much anything with Natalie Portman, which already starts the bias train off on the right foot. I found the movie to be pretty entertaining. I liked the creepy, new-weird vibe that I assume comes from the novel it was based on (which I immediately added to my wishlist after watching this.) I thought the small cast did quite well, and they kept the tension on edge. The non-linear timeline, aided between Portman’s recounting of events as the basis for the film plus the characters’ self-proclaimed inability to keep track of time within “The Shimmer”, also made it fun to try to piece together what was happening. The end was trippy as hell (though not the trippiest of what I watched.) Before the very end I was tempted to think the idea of killing the alien being which spawned “The Shimmer” caused the whole thing to self-implode was a little too neat-and-tidy, but Lena and Kane’s ending scene where neither believes they are their true selves combined with the changing irises brought it back. I thought it was definitely worth watching, though I can understand how it flopped at the box office. I’m also curious where the story goes from here since I know there are two additional books in the series; I’ll be checking them out for sure.

If you like weird sci-fi that won’t always make complete sense and isn’t entirely explained, I’d recommend giving this one a shot.

Bird Box (2018)

I had heard a ton about this movie over the past month, not the least of which being the idiots doing the “Bird Box Challenge” and injuring themselves. I knew the basic premise of the plot, and I actually own the book though I haven’t read it yet. More on that later. I found the concept to be extremely interesting; otherworldly beings that inflict anyone (well… almost anyone) who looks upon them with such powerful emotions they’re compelled beyond control to kill themselves. The film started off just as promising, and the scene with Malorie and her sister leaving the hospital was truly intense. After things settled in at the house, though, the problems with the film began. There were just so many plot holes that the whole thing barely made any sense. Just the ones I happened to remember right now:

  • The harrowing trip to the grocery store went relatively smoothly aside from when the car was surrounded by the creatures, despite the fact that shots of the street prior showed complete chaos of wrecks and road blockages. How the hell would you actually drive through that with just GPS (the display for which is always delayed…) and proximity sensors is pretty rich.

  • After Machine Gun Kelly and whoever the woman he was with (most of the characters weren’t memorable enough for me to recall the names… that’s bad), they somehow continued to get food without the car? They lived in the house for YEARS, based on the age of the children. I don’t think they got enough supplies for that from a single trip.

  • When Psycho Dude (again, I don’t recall the name) made most of the house see the creatures and commit suicide right after the birth of the children, he opens the windows in the bedroom where Malorie and Olympia gave birth. Olympia destroys the window when she jumps out of it. Somehow this is later repaired without sight. Wut?

  • Malorie, Tom, and the children randomly relocate to a much more secluded house from which Malorie eventually departs on the river. How the hell did they get there? Was it that easy to just walk outside, not listen to the temptation of the creatures, and stumble upon it? I could maybe buy that, but if that’s true then it’s horribly contradicted later by the next point.

  • Why the fuck would you make someone look when going through the rapids on the river? When reaching the rapids, why not just land the boat and walk around them? When this initially came up, I assumed there was significant river travel after the rapids, though that obviously wasn’t the case since Malorie and the children run to the rescue location after (unsurprisingly) overturning their boat. The only thing that makes sense is the idea that getting onto land is just way too dangerous for the entire group, thus putting a single person in danger by looking is a safer bet. If that’s the case, though, then I have to ask again how the hell they randomly got to this house in the middle of nowhere. The continuity was just awful.

  • A last, more general point, but Malorie seemed to have an almost preternatural ability to see when blindfolded if it was really important. In the last mad dash to the doorway of the school for the blind, for example, she 1.) runs straight to the door, 2.) sets the children down right in front of the single step, and 3.) steps over it without issue. In the forest before that, she tripped over every fucking log in the place.

On the whole, I thought Bird Box was a great idea that was ruined by an absolutely awful movie. I’m still looking forward to reading the book in the hopes that it does the concept more justice.

Unless you’re literally dying to see what all of the noise in the media regarding this movie is about, I’d skip it.

IO (2019)

I knew literally nothing about this film going in, but it seemed sci-fi-esque and was new on Netflix. The concept was interesting, and not particularly far-fetched given the way the world is going. The beginning and end of the movie were pretty good, but I felt that the middle was really bogged down by preaching “Being alone is bad, m’kay?” As someone who is pretty lonely, I don’t particularly like that motif in films. People who are lonely already know this and feel shitty about it. People who aren’t lonely are like, “Yeah, whatever, that would suck.” We don’t need an hour about it. That being said, I felt that Margaret Qualley did a great job of portraying someone who was quirky and awkward from years of isolation in the interactions between Sam and Micah.

When I initially watched the film, I thought the ending was terrible. Sam decides to stay on Earth, removes her helmet in a toxic environment, and somehow lives. To me that just seems way too implausible. The film showcased how a queen bee had adapted to the new environment when it lived through the toxic storm. Bees live way shorter lives than people, though. Given that Sam had never experienced Earth “before”, we can figure that she can her father had been working on these projects essentially her entire life. I can believe that in a few generations of bees that mutations would occur to allow for this. A single person just randomly mutating to survive in a toxic environment? Yeah, no.

After thinking it over, though, I’m choosing to interpret the ending in a different way that makes me like the film much more. My thought is that Sam didn’t become immune to the toxic environment but that she actually died when the scene of her removing her helmet faded to black. The ending scene of Sam on the beach with the child is the final iteration of her recurring dream rather than reality. Maybe that’s macabre, but it makes for a much better film.

I think pretty much everyone should watch this one to develop their own opinion.

Close (2019)

I watched this soley because I saw Noomi Rapace was the star, and I’ve loved her since her work in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. After the opening scene of Sam saving the lives of the journalists in Sudan in true badass fashion, I was pretty stoked. The movie was off to a great start. When it switched gears to “babysit the bratty rich girl”, I may have audibly groaned. I maintained an affinity for Sam throughout the film just due to my bias for Rapace, but I literally spent the whole film wishing she would just abandon Zoe and move on. There were a handful of sick action sequences, but on the whole the film was a super generic “z0mg, gotta find who is betraying who!” film with the most predictable “plot twist” possible. I almost wanted to be engrossed by the generic plot just to distract me from how much I hated Zoe. The ending was also extremely anticlimactic with Zoe and Rima mostly holding off the lone gunman, who was the leader of the dumbest criminal organization on Earth until Sam could remember to stop guessing numbers that couldn’t possibly be the birthday for a teenage brat and get herself out of a locked room. Oh, and that gunman’s sole contact to their buyer was murdered by Sam like 45 seconds after the gunman and his contact spoke. So he wasn’t getting paid. That dude was straight up horrible at his job.

Unless you adore Noomi Rapace beyond all understanding, definitely skip this movie. Just watch The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for the 500th time… you’ll be better off for it.

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

I took a break from live action films to weeb out for a little bit. This film is the sequel to 2017’s Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. It’s a sequel in the way that Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a sequel; they’re parts of a trilogy and just continue the unfinished story. The animation from all of these films is absolutely top-notch. I don’t watch dubs, but the Japanese voice actors did really well to my supremely untrained ear. The pacing for this film was much better than with the original title that was saddled with a good bit of setup. Beyond that, just everything was better, to be honest. The action sequences were more engaging with less “let’s do the same thing over and over for 15 minutes.” The plot is what takes it on the nose up until the very end, though, as everything is mostly straightforward as can be right up until the revelation that the Bilusaludo’s vision of “victory” looks quite different from what the humans and Exif envision. And yes, if you’re curious I recalled the name and spelling of the fictional race “Bilusaludo” when I don’t recall the normal, American names of the half-dozen characters in Bird Box. That should say something about Bird Box. I felt like Haruo’s decision between losing to Godzilla or sacrificing humanity to achieve a Pyrrhic victory was the first sense of emotional discord in the series beyond the general rage at Godzilla. Haruo’s swallowing of that rage in a refusal to concede Earth also set a terrific basis for the third film.

Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2019)

In easily the best film of the series, this one was truly enjoyable to watch. Building on the themes from the end of City on the Edge of Battle and setting up for the conclusion of the series, the film plays upon the idea that both 1.) people are never satisfied with what they have, 2.) hate breeds hate, and 3.) everyone has their own agenda. It was a little similar to the Bilusaludo reveal of wanting nanometal to encompass the Earth, but the Exif long-con to use humanity to summon their demi-god Ghidorah to Earth as an offering was unexpected… even if it was a little rich that both of the alien races helping humanity essentially turned on them within a span of a day or two. I also enjoyed the play on humanity’s own weakness for so easily falling into the claws of religion rather than looking at the logical conclusion that the Houtua’s work saved them from the nanometal, not a higher power.

As is so commonly the case in anime, the final confrontation between Haruo and Metphies was needlessly dramatic due to Haruo going by himself rather than just taking a few other people along with him, but oh well. The real ending was honestly pretty poignant with Haruo seeing humanity’s assimilation into the Houtua culture (which views “winning” as living and “losing” as dying) and realizing that he alone was keeping alive the hatred which allows creatures such as Godzilla to be created in the first place. Maybe it was just to drive the point home how strong his hatred was, but it was a little surprising to me how unemotional Haruo was in his final conversation with Maina or even the one before that where she revealed the Houtua have no word for “hate”, but it felt meaningful nonetheless when Haruo opted to kill himself to safeguard the future of humanity, even if it wasn’t the future he wanted.

It’s a bit of a slog to get through the first film and parts of the second, but I think they’re worth watching to experience the third. I’m not normally a Godzilla fan, but this was just a terrific anime film in general. If you do watch it, stick around until after the credits of The Planet Eater.

2036 Origin Unknown (2018)

By far the trippiest of the films I watched, I opted into this one just because Katee Sackhoff is the star, and I absolutely loved her in Battlestar Galactica. And when I say she’s the “star”, it’s a bit of injustice because she’s literally one of two actors with any significant screen time; the other actor gets maybe 10 minutes. She solo acts pretty much the entire thing, which is insane. When the film first reveals the mysterious cube on Mars, I was prepared for a shitty 2001: A Space Odyssey rip-off. It quickly turned into much more than that, though, as the film really explored the place of AI in humanity’s future and an almost Ghost in the Shell-esque questioning of the nature of one’s own reality.

I can’t even give a good recounting of the end simply because I don’t quite fully understand it yet. ARTI seems to have destroyed the Earth and all of humanity along with it, opting to use Mack as the basis for an android representative of what humanity could be as it leverages the cube to meet an alien civilization. While tons of people have theories about the film, I took most of it at face value. After Mack dies from suffocation when the Earth is destroyed, she sports the same injuries she had in the video to the android version of herself, though I can’t account for when that filming would have taken place given how little time there was between the assault on the mission control room by security forces, Earth’s destruction, and Mack’s death. My best guess is that Mack from the film is not the human Mack from the video, but that ARTI has been running this same simulation over and over as a sort of Turing test to produce the best possible android version of Mack that he can. Now that I know what happens, I really think I need to give this one another watch to make more sense of it. The fact that I’m willing to do that speaks volumes for the film, though. Despite a low budget and virtually no cast beyond Sackhoff, it was a fantastic watch.

If you like sci-fi and don’t mind a pretty cerebral ride, you owe it to youself to check this one out. Just be aware that you’ll likely feel pretty lost at the end and, like me, either want to watch it again or just feel like you wasted your time. Your mileage may vary.