(PS2/PSP) Rhythm games never quite caught on without gimmicks. I mean, I love them, but unless you have a floor mat (DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION) or guitar (GUITAR HERO) or drums (ROCK STAR) good fucking luck selling your game. Even the progenitor of the genre — PARAPPA THE RAPPER — couldn’t sell their sequel.

That said: I’m a sucker for every weirdo rhythm game, and this is a rhythm game I absolutely cherish. It perhaps had one of the best rhythm game control schemes of all time, and it managed to craft an emotional narrative as well. Best of both worlds.

Let me rewind a bit:

GITAROO MAN is a pretty basic ‘boy meets girl, girl meets boy, the world needs saving and can only be done through music’ story, but it pulls it off through its charismatic visual design and charming soundtrack. (I even imported the OST waaaay back in the day!) It’s a game that I’d always wished would get a proper re-release or, dare I even say, a remaster? However, it seems doomed to live in the shadows.

I recently wrote about HAVEN, one of those rare games that genuinely moved me as a romantic work, but this one did as well, twenty years prior. There’s one ‘stage’ you play, when you’re just playing a lullaby and the person you’re with feels safe and tired and lays their head on your shoulder, and the ‘stage’ ends.

It’s an extremely sweet and tender moment that you actually interact with, instead of just watch.

I will note that the opening dialogue is clumsy, and the way the game leans on the ‘life bar’ is kind of creepy in a conquest way, as is the ‘OH YEAH!’ at the end. I chalk all of that up to reusing code because this was clearly not a big-budget game, but uh, yeah. Try not to think about any of that too much and enjoy the tune.

Sadly, the game is practically impossible to get ahold of now unless you’re willing to pay waaaaaay too much, so I shouldn’t even be recommending it and definitely don’t ask me if you can borrow my copy, but we can all enjoy the videos, can’t we?

HAVEN (2021)

(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xboxes) I’ve been seeking out cozy console gaming for some time as I’m fucking sick of mindless violence, even if it hits my lizard brain in the right places. Yes, there are a lot of cozy indie games available for PC — and when I mean cozy gaming, I mean small-stakes games that coddle you and actively try not to re-invoke any prior lived trauma — but I still don’t have a Steam Deck because holy hell they are expensive, and I don’t really do desktop Windows gaming as I like to keep my office to work-things, which means that space is off-limits for gaming. So, until I rectify that or receive my long-awaited Playdate, I’m at the mercy of the Switch and PlayStation Stores.

I downloaded HAVEN on a whim, shortly after having upgraded my PS+ account to Sony’s version of the Xbox Game Pass. I expected very little but a light experience, as it looked like JOURNEY meets ENTWINED (which may or may not be currently available?).

I didn’t expect HAVEN to be so romantic.

Historically videogames have not prioritized romance and — even when they have — it’s often offered as something secondary. (Unpopular opinion, but while that has changed quite a bit recently with games like DREAM DADDY and BOYFRIEND DUNGEON and even THE LAST OF US: LEFT BEHIND, more often than not games still focus on gunplay instead of folks navigating love.)

HAVEN puts romance forward, first and foremost, and it’s amazingly handled. Out of the gate, you know these two love each other. (Yes, you can queer the romance — thanks to a recent-ish update — although it does default otherwise. I’ll give you two guesses as to which I picked, and the first doesn’t count.)

Let me rewind a bit:

HAVEN features a couple, Yu (by default the woman in the relationship) and Kay (by default the man in the relationship), who have escaped a planet that features a ‘Matchmaker’ that forces coupling based on an algorithm. The two of them fall in love apart from the ones they’re assigned and they finagle a way off the planet on a rickety spaceship not meant for the sort of travel they’re embarking on, and they crash on a slightly unforgiving planet, having to use their skills to combat the creatures that inhabit the planet while also salvaging parts for their ship.

It’s hands-down the best depiction of a young relationship I’ve encountered in a videogame. It’s messy, it’s physical, but also endearing and earnest and honest. They cook together. They sleep together. They get high together. Yu sprawls over the bed, her arm laying across Kay halfway through the night. There’s even a bit where they try to change bedroom sides because of — well, moisture — and it ends terribly, but if you’ve been there, you’ve been there! They lounge around with their guard let down, mouths agape as they feel their own exhaustion. They change into comfy clothes when they’re in their ’Nest’ (the spaceship they’re trying to repair). They occasionally quip horny remarks to each other, but it never feels pornographic, it feels sweet, which — again — is rare for a videogame, but isn’t rare for real-life.

Also, both protagonists are super-smart and accommodate each other in ways the other cannot. It’s a literal coupling of minds, and I can’t get enough of it. Just watch how they nuzzle each other!

Hell, even the idle animations! Yu will passionately throw herself against Kay, and they both will heal that way. Occasionally there’ll be a chaste kiss. When they ‘flow’ across bridges (they have anti-gravity boots that allow them to float around the planet) they often hold hands. It is adorable, and I just glow and want nothing bad to happen to them.

This is one of the few games that realizes: you don’t have to put your protagonists through hell simply for narrative escalation. Is there conflict? Yes. Are there goals to be met? Yes. Do Yu and Kay occasionally bicker? Yes (depending on the dialogue choices you make). However, it’s a loving, non-toxic relationship, and goddamn, we need more of that in gaming. If anything, it reminds me of the simple tranquility of ICO, even just due to occasional downtime. (In fact, if you wait long enough in a certain spot, both Kay and Yu will sit down and a bird will nest in Kay’s hair. It’s so cute.)

I’ll note that Polygon underscores the use of HAVEN’s loading screens, and I cannot deny that they are fabulous. They do a great job of unfurling them as you progress through the game, and they also become quite tastefully tantalizing.

Also: watch for the tactility. Kay & Yu are physical in a very comfortable way that also looks natural, which is odd for a video game, and something worth applauding. You can practically feel the drool from Yu’s mouth as she’s asleep. It may sound simple, but it’s an astounding accomplishment.

I don’t have enough superlatives for this game. While it has issues — especially with exploring, an impenetrable interface and a cumbersome fast-navigation system — I grinned and glowed 90% of the time while playing it. I just want more of this, all of this, all about intertwining. So many games suck at this, at character-forward romances with action-centric design but HAVEN absolutely nails it; it’s a gorgeous experience in every which way.

Also, the opening title sequence is amazingly opulent and kinetic with explosions of color and unfurling of watercolor emotions and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t watched it more than a few times:

I’d also like to suggest the soundtrack video via DANGER, which is like DAFT PUNK meets HEALTH. It’s absolutely delightful while also being incredibly soft.

Goddamn, I just love to see them coupled together out in a field, nothing to bother them, just letting the sun soak in. If you’ve never done this with a loved one? Make a point to do so, even if someone calls the cops on you. (I’m not not saying that happened to me.)

(Also, I love how the seasons progress and times change in the OST as they stay stationary. So idyllic, at least until the last moment right before the very end which, oddly reminds me of the cult-favorite rhythm game GITAROO MAN, one of the few other games to nail peaceful, romantic tranquility.)

I’m astounded that this game didn’t initially launch with the feature to have a queer couple, as it feels so natural, especially considering that one of the primary themes of the game is indoctrination. This is a game that needed all sorts of different people and voices, and they managed to eventually find a way.

Lastly, check out the dev blog entry via Sony’s Playstation blog, as it has a wealth of information and insight.

I cannot recommend this game enough. I feel like I’ve been overly enthusiastic about the recent works I’ve been imbibing and — yeah, I’m prone to gushing — but this is the real deal. I’m not sure it’ll have the influence of LIFE IS STRANGE, but it deserves it.

“Love stories always end badly.” “Ours doesn’t!” “No, not ours, but ours isn’t a story: it’s even better. It’s real life.”

Original trailer:

“Until the last moment?” “Until the last moment.”


As a fan of Linda Holmes — a mainstay of the delightful media discourse NPR series POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR — I’d been meaning to get around to reading her first novel EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER and her latest novel FLYING SOLO.

It wasn’t until I saw Linda Holmes reply to a tweet extolling her description of a library as a church, a spacious place to worship words, that I felt the need to immediately prioritize FLYING SOLO.

In my youth, I lived close enough to our local library that it was a five-minute walk. I’m not exaggerating: it would’ve taken longer to drive there than to walk.

For many years, it consisted of a small cottage house, wall-to-wall shelves with books crammed up to the ceiling. It was comfortably cramped, and it was overseen by a woman named Susan Overfield, who was the exact image of what you’d expect her to look like: short in stature, unkempt salt-and-pepper hair, but so passionate about books and knowledge and she knew exactly where everything was and would always give you recommendations for texts you never knew you needed. Essex, Vermont’s patron saint of libraries.

I’d walk out with an arm full of books and come back a week later to return them and repeat the process.

Time passed and it was suggested that the library had outgrown the cottage, so they decided to move to a more spacious building. I fretted when I heard the news, worried that they would move as far as possible from my home, fearful that it’d disrupt my weekly pilgrimage.

Instead, they moved into an abandoned church, on the same corner as the old cottage and, as Holmes alluded to: if you believe in a higher being, books get you there. If you don’t, well, consider it a temple to unbound delights.

(I’ve since learned that libraries moving into churches is pretty common in New England, so it’s nothing exclusive to my town.)

This is a very long-winded way of saying: I feel very seen by Holmes. Not only did I prioritize FLYING SOLO because of the library :: church bit, but also because, well, it’s right there in the name: flying solo. While, yes, I’ve spent more of my life entangled with people than not, I’m a loner at heart. I love solo walks and I love reading by myself and watching films by myself and I absolutely love traveling alone.

Again, all of that is rather antithetical for someone who has been partnered up with folks for longer than not, but it’s true. Introversion and anxiety is a hell of a bad combination, not to mention a delicate balancing act, and I see that all over the protagonist of FLYING SOLO: Laurie, the sole daughter who grew up among three brothers.

FLYING SOLO centers around Laurie, 39-going-on-40 (yes, actually — it’s not an ‘I’m always 39!’ joke), whom is tasked with returning to the small New England hometown she left for the Pacific Northwest to sort through her dead great aunt Dot’s house and clean it out. She stumbles over two objects of note: 1) a wood-carved duck carefully preserved and hidden amongst Dot’s belongings and 2) the sweet ex she broke up with because she knew she wanted a life elsewhere and he did not.

While I thought FLYING SOLO would mostly focus on the will-they/won’t-they of the latter facet, it leans hard into the first. It turns out that the duck may have been crafted by a famous artists, and Laurie unknowingly offloads it before realizing that it may be worth quite a bit. What follows is essentially very soft heist, the softest, but it’s still quite fun and beguiling, and then matters unfurl.

I’ll note: this is a very specific book, despite straddling a number of genres. It’s all about the nerds and weirdos and misfits. It’s not a traditional romantic novel — Holmes draws that line in the sand very quickly — but it traffics in all of the comforts of everything from rom-coms to melodrama to thrillers to action — however on a much smaller scale.

It’s a fun and substantive ride, and the end payoff with Dot and the duck is expertly handled. If you are one who keeps people at an arm’s length in a warm way, this is for you.


OPPLOPOLIS comes from the mind of Kit Roebuck and his brother Alec. If you were around in the nascent days of web comics, you may be familiar with Roebuck’s 2003 webcomic NINE PLANETS WITHOUT INTELLIGENT LIFE, an existential and experimental series of online comics, often utilizing the web browser as an infinite canvas.

OPPLOPOLIS premiered in 2012 and, as Roebuck notes it’s vastly different experience. While it’s still heady, it’s far more propulsive; a sort of ‘tomorrow paranoid thriller’. I remember finding it quite enthralling as each issue dripped out, but to my dismay, it rather abruptly ceased in 2015.

However, Roebuck opted to bring it back, presumably because he saw UNDER THE SILVER LAKE and said to himself: ‘Hey, I was doing this years ago and my take was far more interesting!’ and if that’s what he thought, I would certainly agree. It’s surreal while still feeling grounded; romantic without feeling pandering.

Also, let it be said that Kit’s command of figure work — while always great — has vastly increased over the years. You can practically feel the heft of the character actions as they poke and prod over the panels.

It’s a fascinating work, one that is absolutely free to you to click through, but one that I hope will fully find its way to print some day.


Few novels can evoke the feeling of a Kurt Vonnegut work, of leaning on the crafting of an internal sci-fi novel, one that speaks just as much as the text it’s buried in, but Caroline Woods’s THE LUNAR HOUSEWIFE manages it.

Louise Leithouser inhabits 1953 New York City as a romance writer who pens articles for her boyfriend Joe’s upstart culture magazine DOWNTOWN under the name of ‘Alfred King’. She met Joe while waitressing an industry party, and passed herself off as someone with a higher station in life than in reality and, while she’s still insecure about her lower-class background, she’s slowly adjusting to being part of the upper-crust party, instead of being party to hand out hors d’oeuvres.

As Louise spends more time with Joe and Harry, the other half of DOWNTOWN magazine, her suspicions are raised as she overhears murmurs of fear and paranoia from the two of them. By the time she’s assigned an interview with Papa himself — Ernest Hemingway — she’s fraught with anxiety, which he stokes with off-the-cuff remarks about government surveillance and the like.

To process her suspicions, Louise writes her life into the star-crossed romance novel she’s always wanted to pen: THE LUNAR HOUSEWIFE, which focuses on a fuckup of a single American woman who defected to the Soviets in hopes of feeling useful again, who is then shot into space to be a ‘housewife’ to a single man while the two of them inhabit a pod on the moon.

Woods’s interweaving of second-halves, literary aspirations and influences, along with the singular thorough-line of cold war insecurities, sets the stage for Kilgore Trout-ish digressions, which are a fine second-side to the same coin; Woods leans on romantic fiction tropes instead of Trout’s action and wartime scenarios to spread her, and Louise’s, deeper messages.

While THE LUNAR HOUSEWIFE isn’t as intricately wound as one might like from a thriller, it trades the intrigue for ruminating on a more realistic portrayal of the end-result of confronting others with your paranoid instincts. This is a singular tale of a woman with artistic and autonomous aspirations, of a woman who, in her own words, learns that “the government lies to you. Men lie to you.” and is constantly endeavoring to keep herself open, while protecting herself.


Sarah Waters often traffics in thrilling historical lesbian romances, which is obvious by the names of her earlier novels, such as TIPPING THE VELVET (1998) and FINGERSMITH (2002).

THE NIGHT WATCH (2006) is a bit of a detour, as it’s far more Dickensian — in spirit, not time as it takes place in various times before, during, and after World War Two in London — and far more of an ensemble, which features not only a lesbian couple, but also a straight couple, and one jailed man whose sexuality is slightly more complex. (There are additional supporting characters, but those are the major players.)

If that description sounds maddeningly vague, it’s by intent. THE NIGHT WATCH is incredibly restrained with doling out character particulars, and jumps around in years to intentionally provoke intrigue and drama, but also serves to contrast how these characters have coped with wartime and recovery.

In that sense, it feels remarkably relevant in this age of COVID-19, as you read how the characters shelter-in-place, experience how they put themselves at risk by venturing out into the world, tales of first responders, and the like. More than anything, it’s about living with an invisible threat while also living a hidden life, and yes, it’s just as loaded as it sounds.

While all of the characters are richly drawn, I can’t help but wish that Waters had dialed back the scope a bit, as I found myself drawn to the queer relationships lived by Helen, Kay, and Julia, as opposed to the straight and male romances lived through Viv, Reggie, and Duncan, all of which felt like their relationships were hitting the same notes, but with less-satisfying results.

Regardless, Waters is an expert at balancing literary storytelling while also penning extraordinary steamy content, and it’s worth reading THE NIGHT WATCH solely for the more tantalizing passages and the relationship dynamics that she details.


(Cinemas) I wrote a bit about THE SOUVENIR (PART I from here on out) a few days ago, in case you missed it. You might want to start there.

Given that I will watch anything from Joanna Hogg, I intentionally neglected to watch THE SOUVENIR PART II’s trailer (PART II from here on out), going in cold. What I saw wasn’t even close to what I thought we would get. I was thinking it would be something along the lines of THE UP series — checking in on the character as they age.

PART II is far more interesting than that.

PART II, an overtly autobiographical piece from writer/director Joanna Hogg, picks up approximately where the first part left off and follows aspiring filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) as she tries to process the events of the first ‘film’ of her life (in several ways), while also becoming a more singular being.

I imagine there will be a number of folks who will find PART II to be too inside baseball. (That said, film nerds will eat this up.) Instead of focusing on a realistic relationship melodrama, PART II is specifically about Julie trying to find the images to deal with what she’s going through, and most of that is done through her work on her final student film. There’s a lot of riffing on PART I, there’s a lot of film jargon, and a lot of time spent on film sets and film crew members angrily bickering with each other.

In other words, the narrative propulsion is the polar opposite to PART I, but the center is still the same: it’s all about Julie’s journey, and Hogg handles it masterfully. Just like with PART I, it’s so beautifully and effectively shot — you can tell it’s a Hogg film based on how she frames buildings and navigates interior urban spaces, how she opts to obscure people’s faces more often than not, have them ‘turnout’ or ’turn in’.

I can’t recommend these two films enough, but I would suggest watching them relatively close together. I hadn’t seen PART I since it screened in theaters in 2019, and felt like I was missing out on a lot in PART II because, uh, my memory, and the past two years have been particularly harrowing.

Lastly, Vadim Rizov’s A.V. Club review touches on a lot of film and autobiographical references and riffs I wish I had time to note.


(hoopla/kanopy/Prime/Showtime/VOD) I saw THE SOUVENIR during its theatrical release on a sparsely attended Sunday afternoon matinee at the Lakeview Century Cinema, an act only a handful of Chicago folks would do, even in the before times.

THE SOUVENIR is a story from writer/director Joanna Hogg — who also wrote and directed EXHIBITION, which I dragged some folks to a Chicago International Film Fest screening many years ago which I loved, but I’m pretty sure they have yet to forgive me — about a young woman named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, and yes, Tilda Swinton appears as her mother) who makes terrible relationship decisions that she firmly believes in, but can’t see that they’re awful. Classic youth romanticism. There’s a lot of class work thrown in, commentary about art and film, facets of addiction and the like, but ultimately it’s about her navigating, discovering, reckoning.

Right before the credits rolled, I thought I couldn’t love THE SOUVENIR more, then it closed out with a new Anna Calvi song (see also the previously recommended music video STRANGE WEATHER) and I shivered. Then an older women behind me complained to her companion:

“I don’t know, the whole film was weird. I mean, this song too! So weird!”

Damn right it was, and we need more of it.

Astoundingly, Hogg received funding for a sequel in which Robert Pattinson was to co-star. Then COVID and THE BATMAN happened, but the sequel did go into production — sans Pattinson — and is now in theaters! Give yourself the dramatic double-feature you deserve!


Programming note: I’m swamped this month balancing NaNoWriMo and work and life, so the few posts I’ll eke out will be brief and will often lean on others.

(peacock/VOD) DEFINITELY, MAYBE is one of my favorite modern rom-coms, and I was elated to see that Caroline Siede featured it in her fantastic WHEN ROMANCE MET COMEDY series (despite the fact that it took me several months to finally read it):

“Definitely, Maybe isn’t a “soulmate rom-com” about how there’s one perfect person for everyone. Instead, it looks at the realistic ways in which timing, circumstance, and miscommunication can impact and upend relationships. And it finds hope in the fact that good things can still come out of a romance that’s not meant to last. Definitely, Maybe is essentially the cinematic equivalent of the adage that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime—and that there’s value in all three.”

I’M YOUR MAN (2021)

(Cinemas) Temporarily pausing the horror posts, because, well, because this was the second part of a self-inflicted double-feature with LAMB, and I loved it.

I’M YOUR MAN is a high-concept romantic drama from actor/director/writer Maria Schrader (perhaps best known in the U.S. for the Netflix series UNORTHODOX, but I know best for portraying Jaguar in the German historical docudrama AIMEE & JAGUAR), that features Dan Stevens as an ideal robotic romantic companion to middle-aged academic Alma (Maren Eggert). The film leans on a lot of rom-com tropes, notably those of a ‘perfect’ man who can fix one woman’s self-made woes, but then intentionally subverts them. (I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. See also: TIMER (2009))The end result is a very smart look at not just what folks want from partners, but how their romantic histories inform each other.

The trailer leans in a bit too much on the shock that Dan Stevens can actually speak German — I’ve forgotten almost all of the German I learned in college, so I can’t attest to whether his approach works, although I imagine the fact that he’s a robot works in his favor — but I applaud his effort.

Lastly, I’d like to note: while I do often enjoy watching empty rom-com trifles via Lifetime or Hallmark — I won’t deny it — I’M YOUR MAN is funny, sensitive, and substantial. If you have a heart, the closing will stick with you.