October screentime 2017

american vandalAmerican Vandal (season 1) series, Netflix

This was definitely over-hyped for me. It was good, but not as good as everyone was telling me it was. I like crime docs sometimes, I like a good spoof with those kind of ‘insider jokes’ for people that watch a lot of them. But I just got bit tired of the premise after a while. Eh, it’s okay.

bojack-horsemanBojack Horseman (seasons 1 & 2) series, Netflix

Once it got into the second half and got a bit darker, I enjoyed season 1, but then got really bored part-way through season 2 and stopped watching. I like the nihilistic sense of humour, but I’m not sure what wasn’t doing it for me in season 2. I’ve heard as whole Bojack just gets better and better as it goes on, so I might give it another go. Another ‘eh’.

Selma-Movie-Poster-webSelma (2014) film, Netflix

This is an excellent film – beautifully shot with great performances. Apparently they couldn’t use any of King’s actual speeches as the license is held by another studio, but David Oyelowo’s performance is so good (as is DuVernay’s writing) that it didn’t jar at all. As always with films like this, it draws parallels with the present – when the marchers crossed the bridge, it made me think about how the Black Lives Matter protesters are treated now – how much was achieved then, the cost, and how far there still is to go.

the good placeThe Good Place (season 1) series, Netflix

I loved this. It’s one of those series that you have to watch to the end – seriously, it plays the long game so all of the things that you think are incongruent with the premise are actually…not. Ted Danson is always good value (and when you get to season 2 which I started watching in November, his character has an excellent an answer for if you ever get frustrated with the trolley problem). Mostly I’m just sad now that American football has delayed the rest of season 2 until January.

travelers netflixTravelers (season 1) series, Netflix

This was exactly the sci-fi I was looking for. It’s light enough to be binge-y easy watching, but also engaging enough to actually watch. It’s basically time-travelling humans coming back from the future to try and save humanity, but they don’t come back in the usual sort of way, which is often what causes them problems. The first episode sets this up, and as a result drags a little as each character is introduced, but once it got going it was exactly perfect for tired-but-not-tired Netflix time.

gaga five foot twoGaga: Five Foot Two (2017) documentary, Netflix

I’m not a big Gaga fan (I like some of her music, though her Bowie tribute was awful, but sometimes find her a bit annoying), but I wanted to watch this because it shows her difficulties with chronic pain. As a fellow spoonie, I was intrigued about how she manages life as a performer with chronic pain, and how well it would be represented (good spoonie rep is very hard to find). As a whole, the doc is just okay – it has some interesting moments but also is a bit lacking (it often feels like an ad, which it is really). I think if you’re not already a fan, this film probably isn’t going to convert you. From a spoonie perspective, it was interesting. She does acknowledge at one point that without her success she probably wouldn’t be able to afford the medical (and non-medical) help that enables her to keep performing. But there is also a tiny element of “if you’re determined, you too could fly through a stadium like it’s no bother when you have severe pain”, which isn’t helpful. Watch it if you’re a Gaga fan, don’t bother if you’re not.

stranger things 2Stranger Things (season 2) series, Netflix

I actually enjoyed this more than series 1, which was a tiny bit over-hyped by the time I got round to it. The final bit of the final episode was absolutely pants – they always have to hetero everyone and bring in random characters you’ve never seen before just to make it a special hetero moment for everyone (though I did enjoy Dustin & Nancy). A few of the episodes are saved by just how good Millie Bobby Brown is, but the episodes she has with Hopper are great. I also liked Lucas’ arguments about not being Winston (the Ghostbuster) – it’s a really good example of how to bring in wider conversations about representation, stereotyping, etc, in an easy to understand and still entertaining way. What the series needed was more tension at the end – it needed a bigger, longer Bad Thing after the happily-ever-after to balance out the saccharine and make you anticipate and need season 3 more.

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October reads 2017

I’m starting a PhD next month so I’ve got no idea how much non-academic stuff I’m going to get to read – I’ll either be reading less (because of reading so much PhD stuff), or reading more (to procrastinate from reading PhD stuff). We’ll see!

little deathLittle Death by Thomas Kriebaum (graphic novel, fiction)

This is a silent graphic novel about death as a travelling salesman. The artwork is very cute and I like the limited colour palette, and some of the scenes are quite funny. But I think this would have been much better if Kriebaum had pushed the concept a bit further – it was just an okay read and didn’t do enough with the potential it had. Good to flick through, but definitely one to borrow not buy if you’re interested in it.

the player of gamesThe Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (novel)

Though this is the second of the Culture novels, a friend said it was the best place to start and I think I agree. The writing was a bit stilted at first, so it took me a while to get into, but once I did it was very readable and enjoyable. The ending is pretty obvious, but I enjoyed getting to know the world and it was the exact kind of sci-fi / speculative fiction I was in the mood for. I’ll definitely check out some more of the Culture, as I think they’re all quite different which I like in a within-world series, and the trappings of ‘utopia’ / post-scarcity society is not something that’s explored as often as dystopia.

letters for lucardoLetters for Lucardo: Book 1 by Noora Heikkila (comics, fiction)

You guys. You guys. This is so good. It’s gay erotica about a relationship between a 61-year-old mortal and an eternally 33-year-old vampire. There is a lot of explicit sex in this (so it’s not one to read on the bus), but it’s also this really loving relationship between these two men – grappling with all the usual stuff but also the fact one of them is a vampire, and the other will die. Vampire-human relationships are far less creepy when it’s an older human instead of a teenage girl with a 200-year-old (eww), and showing the sexuality of someone older is rare and so well done in this. It’s also a book to shove into the hands of anyone who says explicitly consensual sex can’t be super hot. Because damn.

the phantom atlasThe Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching (non-fiction)

This is about fictional places that have appeared on real maps; sometimes due to lies, sometimes due to story and myth. It’s definitely a book to dip in and out of and not cover to cover, as there are quite a few similar stories in a row at times, particularly of lying explorers (the book is organised alphabetically, so I just dip in at random). It’s stunningly produced, though, with lots of pictures of beautiful old maps and gorgeous end papers.

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Northern Ballet’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

boy-in-the-striped-pajamas-I normally love the Northern Ballet and their ability to tell stories in an engaging and beautiful way. But they totally missed the mark on this one in almost every way.

There’s a character who looks like a kind of S&M Darth Vader, that at first I thought represented death, but at the interval saw was ‘The Fury’ (in the book Bruno mishears ‘the Fuhrer’ as ‘the Fury’). This was a very odd choice. Though well-danced, he didn’t really add anything, and made the final scene less impactful. In the opening scene, the Fury moves the Commandant’s arms and then their movements become in sync, which is a really odd way round to do it as it effectively takes the responsibility away from the Nazi officers as though it’s actually that they’ve been directed/possessed by this thing, not that they did it, if that makes sense.

The curtain call also felt odd. The corps are always the first to take a bow, but it meant that the Nazi guards and the Jewish people they’d just, a scene previously, forced to undress and enter a gas chamber, were holding hands and smiling as they took their bow. It’s weird, no? It doesn’t feel like a thing that should have to be said, but don’t make Jews smile and hold hands with the Nazis that slaughtered them (literally 5 minutes previously). Just don’t.

Given the subject matter, there should a kind of raw and powerful emotion, but I felt little emotional connection to the characters or the piece as a whole. Which is, again, odd. Partly I think it’s due to the music being not quite flowing, but also something about the pacing of the scenes being too fast to really go deep enough into what’s happening or the characters.

There were good individual performances, and the set design was good, but as a whole this ballet is way off.

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September screentime 2017

Lizzie borden chroniclesThe Lizzie Borden Chronicles (season 1) series, Netflix

I actually watched this in August and totally forgot about it, which isn’t the best sign. It’s not a great series, despite casting Christina Ricci as Lizzie Borden which seems like her perfect role. Most of the episodes lack any kind of tension, or any real fear Lizzie will be caught, and I didn’t really care at all about what was happening. The best parts come from the interaction between Lizzie and her sister, particularly at the very end, but it’s not enough to save it. Skip this and read See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt instead.

freaks and geeks.jpgFreaks and Geeks (season 1) series, Netflix

I am often very slow to watch things, but I’m glad I finally got to this as it’s as good as everyone says. It’s more understated than a lot of American high school shows, and is less about prom and more about the terror of being a teenager.

ozarkOzark (season 1) series, Netflix

The title font makes it look like sci-fi but Ozark is actually a crime drama/thriller. Jason Bateman is surprisingly good in a non-comedic role as an accountant for a drug cartel who has to launder more money than is really possible in a tiny, odd town after his partner was found to have been skimming money. It’s pretty smart, atmospheric, not too cliched, and definitely worth a watch.

circle.jpgCircle (2015) film, Netflix

This is not as smart as it thinks it is. It would be much better as a short episode of Black Mirror, but as a film feels bloated, heavy-handed, and badly written and acted. I liked the very end, but I’d say don’t bother.

rick and morty.pngRick & Morty (season 3) series, Netflix

Though I don’t like the dudebro fandom, I still love this show. I liked that the rest of the family were a bit more fleshed out this season and had more than just background personalities. And Rick was as nihilistic as ever but also a bit more whole too, if that makes sense? (*whispers* I thought pickle Rick was stupid & made no sense in terms of the science on the show, which I think was the point in terms of Beth’s psychiatry session and Rick being ridiculous. But it was still stupid. *runs away* *don’t @ me*).

dallas buyers club.jpgThe Dallas Buyers Club (2014) film, Netflix

Matthew McConaughey is really great in this, and it’s also a pretty good film. It does, however, have a few issues. Instead of casting a trans actor, they got Jared Leto, who puts in a good, if caricatured, performance. I mean, it’s 2017, there are loads of trans actresses who could have done a better job (and who hopefully aren’t as big an arsehole as Leto). It’s also a little bit ‘straight saviour of the gays’ at times. But McConaughy’s talent makes this a really good character study of a homophobic man who finds his life and his views completely transformed by AIDS, as well as touching on the challenges for AIDS patients before good treatments were developed.

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September reads 2017

the goldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (novel)

I spent most of the month reading this off and on, but I’m still finding it difficult to articulate what I think about it. There were times when I thought it was incredible, both at a writing level and as an enjoyable story, but others when it dragged and just felt okay, and the final couple of pages felt a bit cheesy and lacked a nuance in the writing of some of the earlier, better sections. There’s so much to think about in this book, like the idea of furniture restoration as both part of the discussion of the meaning of objects, and related to reconstruction of self and others after experiencing trauma. But, and it’s a big but for me, I wish it was a shorter tighter book. It could do all the same things but without the bloat. I can see why people love this book, but it’s not consistent enough to be a favourite for me.

what is homeWhat is Home? by Anja Uhren (comics – non-fiction)

This is a collection of different people’s ideas of what ‘home’ means, beautifully illustrated by Anja Uhren. Some of the answers relate to the physical environment, some to people, some to a kind of feeling. I wanted to pick this up because I’m moving soon, and I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘home’ a lot recently, but also because I love Uhren’s work. Her illustrations are beautiful, but I also love the way she lays out her pages and uses colour to shift the mood and create a kind of movement. There’s also a little fold-out bit at one point which makes the book more tactile, which feels appropriate for something like ‘home’ which is both a tangible physical thing and something intangible. (Photo from her Etsy page).

visual thoughtsVisual Thoughts: issue no. III by Anja Uhren (comics – non-fiction)

I don’t usually buy artists’ visual diaries because they often feel a bit thin in content, but I couldn’t resist this one. It’s absolutely stunning (as is all of her work) and varied in topic and materials and style. I read (looked?) through it on my way back from Thought Bubble and it was perfect.

deserter's masqueradeDeserter’s Masquerade by Chloe Cruchaudet, trans. by Frank Wynne (graphic novel, non-fiction, french in translation)

This graphic novel is based on the true story of Paul Grappe, a french soldier in WWII who deserted after his friend is blown up in front of him, and then lives as a woman with his wife Louise in order to remain hidden. The artwork is beautiful with a muted colour palette throughout, and doesn’t shy away from the darkness in the trenches or in domestic violence. I particularly liked the way Cruchaudet includes a dance between Paul and Louise at the beginning and end, drawn differently, to reflect the changes in their relationship over time. I think what’s interesting about this book is that Paul is an abusive arsehole – he’s questioning societal and gender norms, and suffers from PTSD, but that doesn’t make him automatically a good person. There wasn’t as much in here about gender and queerness as I was expecting, and more transphobic and homophobic slurs than I was expecting (but all in the context of attitudes of the time), but it was still an interesting, unexpected, and beautifully illustrated story.

Also on the blog this month:

Oddly specific book recommendations #2: when you break up with someone you love because it just isn’t quite right

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Oddly specific book recommendations #2: breaking up with someone you love cos it just isn’t right

It’s hard to be broken up with, especially if you think the relationship is going well so it comes as a bit of a shock. But these recommendations are for the breaker-upper. Because breaking up with someone that you love is also hard, even if you know that it’s just not quite working. It’s something you probably spend a long time agonising over, with a fear that you’re making a terrible decision and hurting someone you love in the process.

Photo 19-09-2017, 20 43 27.jpgOne of the things in that situation is to turn to the creased spines of old favourites – immersive worlds that have a kind of comforting familiarity to escape in. You will know what book that is for you. For me, that’s probably the seventh Harry Potter book, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick.

strong female protagonistI’m not suggesting Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag for the title, but because it’s essentially about someone trying to do something in a new way, a way they think will be hard but better, but a way that everyone is telling them is the wrong thing to do. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s great to read, and as a graphic novel is perfect if your concentration span is down and you’re not up to reading a novel.

sex criminalsFor another comic, try the first volume of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky. It’s funny and weird and filthy, and also about two people who feel alone finding there’s someone else just like them. The second and third volumes go more into some of the difficulties in their relationship once the initial euphoria passes, which may or may not be for you depending on how you’re feeling. But the first volume is definitely a good shout.

undyingIf what you feel like is something sad (because sometimes you don’t want to distract yourself from the bleurgh, you just want to lean right into it), try Undying by Michel Faber. Written in response to his wife Eva’s death, it’s a poetry collection about telling the world she existed, that she loved and was loved by him. Breaking up with someone even though you love them is usually about feeling there’s something missing, that there’s something more. Through grief, this collection will show you that more.

If you only have five minutes, read these two poems by Richard Brautigan:

For Fear You Will Be Alone

for fear you will be alone.jpg

Love Poem

love poem

 

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August screentime 2017

castlevania.pngCastlevania (season 1) series, Netflix

This didn’t feel like a full series and seemed to end as soon as it got going (though it is only 4 episodes). It’s more of a prologue to a story rather than a story in itself. The animation is okay, nothing particularly special, just sort of anime-ish. It’s a little gory, but no where near as gory as I was expecting given that’s what every mentions about it. It’s fun, it’s okay. Worth a watch if you like Dracula.

top of the lakeTop of the Lake (season 1) series, Netflix

I’ve heard the latest season of this isn’t so good, but I liked this one. It’s kind of ‘noir in the sunshine’, and, though I haven’t seen much crime drama set in Australia, it feels very familiar. The outsider cop, the young girl in some kind of trouble, sexual assault, a “weird loner”, “bad guys”, the-bad-guy-isn’t-the-overt-baddie-but-that-other-guy, etc. But I think I enjoyed it because of that familiarity – I knew what I was getting and it’s exactly what I was in the mood for.

in this corner of the world.pngIn This Corner of the World (2016) film, cinema

This is a beautiful animated Japanese film set before and after the bombing of Hiroshima. It’s a film that’s mostly about the small, family moments of day-to-day life, set against these huge events, and about how to live and live well amongst massive change and destruction. It’s a little over-long, but I otherwise loved it. The animation uses a really soft colour palette, and is particularly good at moments of violence when it subtly shifts between Suzu’s drawing and the reality. Even at the moments the story dragged a little, it was still stunning to look at.

suicide squad.pngSuicide Squad (2016) film

The writing, the characters, the plot…everything about this film is terrible.

the box.pngThe Box (2009) film, Netflix

Though it has a lot of potential, this film is just very blah. It’s based on an episode of the Twilight Zone, and, despite never really exploring the ethical dilemma at the centre of the film, feels padded and dragged out. The second half of the film gets weird in a bad, unexplained way, and, as usual in these sorts of films, disfigurement is ‘othered’. Give it a miss.

selfless film.pngSelf/less (2015) film, Netflix

This is basically a poor man’s Get Out. There are some similar themes to Get Out (though more based around wealth rather than race), but it never really gets to grip with them or explore them in any depth, and just becomes a kind of generic action film. Watch Get Out instead.

Game of thronesGame of Thrones (season 7)

I enjoyed the final episode but I feel like I’m just watching GoT now because I watch it, and it’s nearly over. Early GoT was all about subverting traditional story roles and plotlines, which is what made it so great, but now that it’s ending it can’t do that anymore. Now, the person who looks like the hero will survive against impossible odds, while the bad guy is unquestionably the bad guy. Also – so much deus ex machina. So much. But, saying all of that, I will watch the final season when it comes out.

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