Best New Stuff – July 2018

 

 

GLOW Season 2

I always liked GLOW; I found it winning, and complicated in ways that most shows don’t let their women characters be. But its first season had some issues that I wouldn’t begrudge people for disliking — it had a diverse ensemble, but didn’t care to use much of it, for starters.

But season 2 — man, season 2 blew me away. What an exquisite way to expand on the concept of the first season, present two separate and totally fair conceptions of a coming out story, building and broadening the friendship at the core of it, expertly placing clues and pacing itself for the end of the season. This is a show to watch, more subversive in its portrayal of female life than something like The Handmaid’s Tale. Plus it’s got a truly kickin’ soundtrack.

Hereditary

I am not the sort of person who ascribes to the philosophy that a horror movie has to be scary, but if I was Hereditary would still hit the mark. The first 3/4 play out like an atmospheric stretching rack, until the final act really drives it home. It’s the sort of movie that’s impossible to market without audiences being familiar with it, even though it isn’t all that unfamiliar from horror movie touchstones. It’s just that the ambience is so enveloping, the execution so wholly authentic, it’s impossible to get the message across until the movie’s been seen.

But after you’ve seen it? Well, the dark of your bedroom will never be the same again.

God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty 

While last month (and a little of this month) is still dominated by Everything Is Love, I somehow missed the release of the latest FJM. Where before I had been kind of hot and cold on the folk star, I’m now enrapt by his crooning, which seems to covers everything from love songs to comedy pieces.

 

 

but the Youtube song of the month?  That’s Isakov all the way, baby. 

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Best New Stuff – June 2018

Well golly, that was one helluva Pride wasn’t it? When we started the month everything seemed like a wide-open horizon. Now…well, it’s been a long month.

Writing about culture, in times like these can seem trivial. Unlike others, I don’t have any grand statements to opine about empathy machines or revealing who we really are; right now culture feels like a thing to do, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like the thing to do. I find more and more that I am explaining to people what actual representation looks like. It’s not always the stories in front of the camera, sometimes it’s the people behind the camera too — and the people who green light these things, and the people who shape political landscapes our art is born onto. That’s representation that we need to fight for, and that needs fighting for at the moment.

That being said, here are some things that just gave me life this month:

Nanette

Wow. There’s so much to say about Hannah Gadsby’s daring, groundbreaking, and gutting comedy special, but to put it succinctly: While the rest of the world was talking around talking about how to appropriately deal, as a society, with men who have hurt others, Nanette tackles it head on, forcing the issue in your face and elegantly circling the horses around you. By the end of the hourlong special, I was rapt, and the feeling has consumed me for days. Run don’t walk to your nearest Netflix outlet to hear on why Hannah Gadsby is the comic special to watch.

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The Good Fight

It’s become tired to say that something is (or will be) an important artifact of the Trump era. But leave it to the Kings (the writers behind this and The Good Wife) to find a way to make it wired, and—most importantly—fun. For all its pointed politics that can sometimes misstep or mis-swing, perhaps no scene has summed up like under this administration quite as much as a (liberal) judge getting a push alert to his smart watch, and uttering “Oh! This world!” and then continuing about the scene without a second thought. The Good Fight doesn’t always win its battles (its continuing blindspot for race relations, despite focusing on a Black law firm, is proof of that), but it did manage to be a fun 23 episodes, that didn’t pull back from the pulled-from-the-headlines nature the first show embraced—even as the headlines get more and more ludicrous.

For a Good Time, Call…

It’s hard to pull off a platonic love story between two female friends without it seeming too queer baiting, and For a Good Time, Call… definitely indulges those tendencies too. But by the end of this fun film, it’s clear that—on whatever level these women choose—they are soulmates, through and through. And their fights, to-dos, and deep affection finally reflect that of women friendships I know.

Plus, my god, they are funny.

APESH*T – Everything is Love

The release to end all releases. Once again Beyonce has stopped the world with a few Instagram posts, a video, and a full-fledged, long-awaited album with her husband. Everything is Love is neither of the artists strongest work, and coming off an album as strong and powerful as Lemonade it certainly falls short, just by nature of being more experimental and less nuanced. But the album has deceptive depth, and—honestly—all the songs are bops, in their own way. It would probably be better received if it had followed the self-titled album, but Everything is Love will likely hold more of a place in the zeitgeist than its initial response may reflect.

Also, I mean, this video, my god:

Ocean’s 8

It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, and it won’t fix anything. But good lord did I need a movie full of competent women wearing kick-ass outfits pulling off a heist. I now own a velvet blazer, so Cate Blanchett’s propaganda worked.

1528406019661-3e6935b8e43ce5e189a9309d47097a4bHonorable mention: 

Incredibles 2

Fahrenheit 451

The Assassination of Gianni Versace

The Color Purple (the musical)

Best New Stuff – May 2018

This month I did something a little different: I watched a lot of The Americans.

That wasn’t all that unusual; the show has been one of my favorites since I started watching it years ago. The show is a smart, level-headed look at marriage through spywork, finding perfect distorted mirrors of parental and partnership trials, always one step ahead of what I think it could be.

I’ve spent May watching the first five seasons of The Americans — as well as, of course, the sixth season as it currently airs — for a few reasons. The first being, writing an essay for Bright Wall/Dark Room, timed with the release of the final episode. And also, it’s been great to rewatch the show, and see how the kernels were methodically planted (and uprooted) over the years to get The Americans where we are today.

The result is that I have a more profound understanding of the show, as well as an essay at BW/DR. But throughout it also struck me how hard it can be to write about what we love (I mean, just look at that slapdash description up-top).

Shows like The Americans excel so well at so many things it can be a struggle to find the words to describe how it operates, let alone how it hums. And I find that I can often feel this way when I discuss lots of different kinds of things I like: Essays I enjoyed, movies that really touched me, people who truly enrich my existence. It’s something I’d like to get back to, and also something I hope to do more (and better) within the walls of this platform.

Between that and the Seattle International Film Festival, I’ve been pretty booked-up, pop culture-wise this month.

But among other things I watched this month:

Sorry to Bother You

Picnic at Hanging Rock (a bit uneven, but so damn enthralling) 

Akane no Mai, from Westworld, which seemed to be one of the first things actively interested in the emotional groundwork and stakes for its characters. 

Killing Eve — another slightly scattershot entry, but boy howdy is that something I can’t wait to see more of. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which found such depth of humanity without ever tipping its hand into excusing bad actions. This is one to watch, with a real starmaking turn from Chloe Grace Moretz. 

Best new stuff – April 2018

What up what up, we’re back at the end of another month! Let’s get some of the more important visuals from this past month out of the way:

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BEYONCE AT COACHELLA

It was so momentous that during my mid-month check in, wherein I take notes about what I watched in the first fortnight of the month so that the end-of-month Zosha has more memory, Beychella was the only thing I managed to write down.

Anyway, suffice it to say this was a month, and now we’re on to May. But before we do that, let’s review some other stuff:

Solaris

There’s a lot I sort of wish I could change about Solaris, but I’m so immensely grateful for it. I love finally getting around to bigger names like this and seeing all the ways it shaped and informed a genre, like slotting in a puzzle piece — a middle one, not even a perimeter. Solaris is so raw for such a structured film, a perfect balance of wearing its ideas on its sleeve while also being a deep well to mine for philosophy.

Dirty Computer

Janelle’s new album is here! And guys, it’s good. At parts it feels not quite as good as the sum of its parts, but between the call to arms that double as bops, and the stunning visuals of her accompanying “emotion picture” there’s no reason to not be listening to Janelle right now. Seriously what are you doing? (Unless it’s Beychella; then you get a pass for whatever.)

Punch Drunk Love

After having heard people talk about this (as Adam Sandler’s best performance ever) for years, I finally took the plunge for a forthcoming essay I edited at BW/DR. And wow. Wow! So enchanted with Paul Thomas Anderson as an auteur so preoccupied with the alchemic magic that happens within relationships, and how beautiful—and challenging—it can be to find someone whose weird matches your weird. This film shared so much DNA with Phantom Thread, I can’t wait to watch them together.

Jane the Virgin

Well the latest (and, apparently, penultimate!) season has wrapped and dAMN WHAT A TWIST. But leading up to the twist the show managed to do something truly remarkable: Ground itself utterly and completely. Every move felt right, every pain cut deep, and every smile was like that first day of 60 degree sunny weather in Seattle after winter. So in awe of how much this show does while making it all look easy.

“How Riverdale Turned Archie Into a Facist”

This essay is exactly the kind of thing I want to do with all of my time. Focused, yet flexible enough to envelop broader criticisms and insights about the show, this piece grabs you with its title and earns its keep by tracing a path so eloquently I ended up thinking I hadn’t given the show enough credit for what it did. 👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻

Call Me By Your Name

As part of my reading books that movies I loved recently were based on, I reached for this one. So much more urgent than the movie, yet still just as sticky with heat. Spent a week after reading this thinking that I had already been through a week of summer weather, but realized it was just André Aciman’s feverish prose that painted such a vivid picture it was like I was right there in Italy with Oliver and Elio. Perhaps not quite as sophisticated as its cinematic counterpart, a bit less interested (and thus, neglectful) of the age difference at its core. But invigorating nonetheless.

“A Love Profane”

Two years of Lemonade, looking back at Deaux St. Felix’s stunner of a review from back then.

 

Honorable mentions: 

Death of Stalin

A Quiet Place

Bob’s Burgers

Superstore

 

And now to leave you with a distinct Youtube mood of the month: 

Best New Stuff – February 2018

The shortest month of the year is out of the way, but boy did it pack a wallop. There was some truly stunning stuff that passed through my purview in February, and made this blog post (a series which I hope to keep up with) easy to write.

Other thoughts I was having this month: It turns out getting over being minorly hit by a car is a long, non-linear process, and it is frustrating as all hell. Between staying on top of doctor’s bills wrongly directed to you, and having to beg and fight for every bit of treatment, it’s clear the healthcare system in this country is utterly broken. I’ve learned that it’s absurd that something like massage — a vital part of helping me recover in the past 12 weeks, and helping manage inflamed muscles in order to actually make them heal and respond to the PT — is seen as a bougey indulgence. Getting massages and speaking with my incredibly knowledgeable massage therapist helped me learn what muscles weren’t working when they should and vice versa, as well as how to actually go forth with my workout. It was utterly important to my recovery, and I had to specifically ask for it. I can only imagine what it would be like in a system that actually valued my health and my writing.

Hopefully next month I’ll have more writing to share with you. See you in March!

*heart eyes*

Annihilation 

This movie will be talked about in the years to come. Alex Garland — following up his exquisite Ex Machina — has created a cerebral and gorgeous sci-fi film that’s already (rightfully) drawing comparisons to Tarkovsky. It’s immensely hard to talk about; it’s unsettling, and challenging, and easy to mistake as faux-deep. But it won’t let up. The end keeps building and building, past what the film seemed like it was going to be and into something less concrete, and far more compelling.

We Were Eight Years in Power

What is there to say about one of the greatest essayists of all time? Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ability to weave words and illustrate power structures is almost unrivaled, and his collection of essays shows that he can take that insight even further.

Black Panther

What is there to say about Black Panther? A new, and lasting, high-watermark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that works as both a comic book film and a social commentary; a film as funny as it is heartfelt, complex as it is straightforward; one of the best villains in recent memory, comic adaptation or no. As I wrote here on Pulp Diction, there’s plenty of people better (and less white) to read on exactly what the movie means. You should see the movie, read them all, and see it again. I’m trying to.

*heart eyes*

Your Favorite Band is Killing Me

This one might be better for March — it’s looking like I’m not going to finish reading it before the month is out — but damn if this isn’t a fun read. I picked this up on the suggestion of a writer whose essay I edited, and now it’s my turn to recommend it: Steven Hyden’s ability to weave a personal hand with deep knowledge and insight about music and commentary therein is both awe-inspiring and enjoyable as a sort of novel-length brain exploding meme. He pushes past “musicians often spar” and “the media concocts competition between stars” to find truer notes about why each respective “rivalry” formed, and how they shaped the respective artists’ careers. It’s definitely written in 2016 (the last two chapters I’ve read have mentioned Trump as merely a businessman, and said that at least the Taylor/Kanye dispute is put to rest; simpler times) but almost all of the acumen is good no matter what year it is.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This show ended on a downbeat, both narratively and artistically speaking. Despite being a culmination and collection of so many things the show has done up to this point, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s finale was a bit of a rushed, beginning and ending to this season’s storyline. But this season has accomplished some truly amazing highs, covering everything from Borderline to letting your protagonist acknowledge and grow past the bad things they’ve done. Tuning into season three often felt like you never knew what you were going to get, and the show has proved to be all the richer for it.

Janelle Monae’s new singles

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since Janelle Monae last graced us with an album, but the ArchAndroid is back, and boy are the results amazing. Though released just last week, it’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t jamming to either “Make Me Feel” or “Django Jane.” The former has solidified Monae as the second coming of Prince (and Bowie), and the latter shows that she doesn’t need a hook to dominate the rap market. More than three straight minutes of fire — and that’s all before the album comes out or I tell you which song I’m talking about.

Honorable Mentions:

A Philadelphia Story

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children

 

Youtube of the month: 

It’s an (unsurprising) two-fer this month:

Best first views – January 2018

Starting the new year off right with a MoviePass in hand and a few good first-time viewings. Thanks to said Pass, January 18 was really a record month for new movies, which means a lot of other interests fell by the wayside, but here we are:

Phantom Thread

Despite seeing this movie almost a full month after it came out, I managed to have basically nothing spoiled for me (though I was on full alert for some high quality breakfast scenes) and boy was it worth it. This movie was nothing like I expected it to be, a distinctive take on relationship dynamics and the power-shift that happens like volleyball within it. Everything from the score to the sartorial choices was scrumptious and laced with significance, and Paul Thomas Anderson makes it all feel light as air. Is this what love feels like?

shot from

Broadchurch

Not always perfect, but never a bad time. Set against the scenic Scottish coast, Broadchurch always felt at its best when it was elegantly untangling the relationship between its two core characters. Their dynamic is truly beautifully handled, evolving carefully and with love at every step. It’s tough investigation material, but Miller and Hardy are one for the ages.

Call Me By Your Name

Another long-delayed viewing which I didn’t expect to be able to be so easily accessible after all the hype. What a delight to be proved wrong yet again, by a movie as nuanced and understated as Call Me By Your Name. More thoughts on it here, but suffice it to say:

Call Me By Your Name’s direction also allows it to feel raw and intimate, an idyll just as full of heartache as it is of peaches. So much of the film is devoted to feeling—summer, love, each other—and Guadagnino utilizes every tool at his disposal to seduce and immerse the audience in the sensation of being right there.

All the Lives I Want cover artAll the Lives I Want, by Alana Massey

A perfect collection of essays to start the new year: Massey’s bravado and brassy voice amplifies the sharp wisdom of her writing, taking each thesis to further and more unexpected places than you ever expected it to go. Her ideas get under your skin like a bug bite: Something that seems so run-of-the-mill as it happens to you, and yet returns again and again to remind you of the power it can wield in your life. She’ll change the way you feel about everything from Lil Kim to Anna Nicole Smith to Courtney Love to the Lisbon Girls to—well, everything. Her prose is like a sunbeam on a cloudy day and boy do you just want to bask in it.

The Good Place (‘s final few episodes of season 2)

Would that every show on television showed such inventiveness when it came to their structure. The show was really firing on all cylinders in season 2, and showed over and over again the kind of beautiful (and accessible) dynamics that can come from constantly blowing up and reestablishing the point of your show.

Jay Z’s 4:44 music video

Whatever else there is to say about the actual complexity, depth, and production of the album, the visuals Jay Z and his team have concocted for 4:44 (the album) are stunning and cavernous. To watch them is to spelunk through a couple of pop culture icons truly chewing on their place in the community, and their community’s place in the the country. 4:44 (the song) was no exception.

Lady Macbeth

Finally a piece that seems to really be able to reckon with white women’s complicity in racism. It’s damning and yet understanding, cutting to the core and looking at every tree ring along the way. Lady Macbeth feels utterly crucial in today’s world. As does Fran Hoepfner’s essay about it at Bright Wall/Dark Room.

Honorable mentions: 

A Ghost Story

Riverdale

Youtube of the month: 

The TV Shield: How Policing on TV Needs to Evolve

 

Crime procedural have long been a staple of prime time television. In a crowded TV landscape like the Peak TV we’re in now, crime shows remain a familiar draw for viewers. There is an easy-to-tweak formula that networks can replicate over and over again. This formula is how we end up with so many TV police tropes, including ripped-from-the-headlines police, psychic police, detectives in a certain location, crime scene unit officers, law enforcement teaming up with mathematicians, federal agencies enlisting cutting edge technology, and goofball police all crowding the TV Guide with their antics.

But as the political climate shifts more and more divisively, show runners need to start being more aware of the moral predicaments their heroes are thrown into — and what that means as a reflection (or not) of modern policing.

brooklyn99.jpgSource: The TV Shield: How Policing on TV Needs to Evolve

Where The Man in the High Castle Dodges Reality

“The Man in the High Castle” should be the program on everyone’s lips after November’s election. After all, the show takes place in an alternate universe in which the U.S. has lost World War II, leaving the Nazis and Japanese empires to divvy up the states. Streamed through Amazon, the show isn’t beholden to any strict network guidelines around language and content. Instead of saying the pledge of allegiance in the morning, school children turn to a picture of the Fuhrer and perform a Nazi salute. The show’s premise is eerily close to discussions and debates rolling around the American zeitgeist now. And yet, it’s about as soft as the “Edelweiss” cover that opens its episodes.

Read more.

The Affair – 310

If “310” had existed in another season, or after another run of episodes, this might be a different review. The episode — chronicling Juliette and Noah’s days in Paris, and commitment to their family members as well as each other —has plenty of sweet, emotional moments. It’s just that they only barely connected with what we just saw.

Take Noah’s arc this season. We’ve seen him come to terms with a burden he was carrying around with him for the entire show (except it had never been mentioned), spiral out of control multiple times, cope with his time in prison, dissolve his marriage to Alison, burn his bridge with Helen, and finally realize that he stabbed himself in a disassociative episode and…none of that, is here.

Whatever build up there was between Juliette and Noah this season, whatever complications she adds to his life, is largely absent here, save for an errant mention of when he was out of control a few months ago and she helped him right the boat. What was his recovery process like? Who knows. It’s not relevant here. Never mind the fact that the entire season built out a mystery and a few mental health episodes to keep its wheels turning. The Affair has always struggle to balance the different strands of the show, but here it feels like it bucks the hook its so steadfastly held onto in favor of a romance drama.

What’s left has some nice moments: Juliette’s quietly sad disbelief at Etienne’s lucidity, only to still be crushed when her fears are confirmed moments later; Noah’s talk with Whitney, though perhaps a bit on the nose (The Affair specialty), feels like a solid connection between these two.

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But it doesn’t feel at all like a resolution to their arcs. For Juliette, it feels like her introduction has gone from hot, sexually-open, stereotypical Frenchwoman to grieving wife seeking escape to ignored lover to…girlfriend? I guess? Again, we haven’t really seen anything from this relationship, pre-recovery or no. Juliette’s arc mostly makes sense when we look at what (apparently) the writers are trying to do with Noah, which is completely rehab his image.

It’s a bizarre step, seeing as how he didn’t need to be rehabbed until they decided to spin him out of control to spin out a season mystery. Noah has always been a bit of a scumbag as a real person, but as a character who opted to go to prison at the end of last season to protect the women he loves, he was not exactly in need of saving. “310” returns him to that place he always seems to get to in Affair finales: loved by a woman, against all odds, and stepping in to be her night in shining armor.

I’ve written before that season 3 of The Affair felt a bit like a show they had ventured off the roadmap with, and “310” only confirms that for me, unfortunately. But they’re renewed for season 4, so next fall The Affair will be back on the map, one way or another.

Stray thoughts

  • I can’t get over Juliette getting a finale half, which seems a bit weird to me. Although we left basically everyone else at a nice stopping point (Alison getting shared custody of Joanie and a potential job, Cole choosing Luisa, Helen coming clean and mending things with Vic) Juliette has been so close to a non-entity. Her plot line here, while narratively rewarding in some ways, seems to only exist to prop up Noah’s half.
  • Noah would pretend he’s Hemingway.
  • I really liked the way they played the two versions of Juliette’s colleagues. Too often the memory questions this show asks seems to be overly-convenient (the restaurant scene, or the season 1 finale) but this one was a simple illustration of how weird social situations are, with or without a language barrier. The no subtitles in Noah’s was a nice touch too.
  • I’m not saying Juliette’s boss was wrong or right, but damn that scene was brutal to just be a random, lingering thread.
  • As was the black humor of getting Etienne’s body into the elevator. Oof.
  • From the notes: It’s only a matter of time before Noah shows up inappropriately [after Etienne’s death].
  • Oh Furkat. What a douche.

The Affair – 307

Partway through Helen’s perspective this week, Vic seems to be reaching his breaking point. It’s understandable, after all she’s shown over this season that she’s still got feelings for Noah that tip her into delirious love, and she’s been showing little to no regard for how that makes the rest of her family feel.

“Wake up Helen. This man’s problem is much bigger than you and I can handle,” Vic insists. He no idea how much truth there is to those words, but the truth is neither does Helen.

This week is a continuation of last week, where we saw Noah struggle with his sanity and place in the world while Helen struggled with how much she “knows” Noah and the glowing love she still feels for him in her heart, recklessly unthinking about how it affects those around her. When Whitney tries to get her to understand what taking Noah back would mean Helen laughs in her face, scoffing “how it’s affected you?” She’s clearly ignoring the impact Noah, as a force, an adulterer, a convict, has had on her family, let alone her life. And while Vic is acting the way someone would if your girlfriend moved her ex-husband who she’s mooning over into your house without consulting you and then lied about it, Helen can’t see that. And so it becomes pretty clear early on that this is going to be it for Vic/Helen.Episode 307

I still like Vic. He was always smarter and more observant than Helen gave him credit for; on a different show he’d be the guy. On 30 Rock he’d be the sort of sardonic, quirky doctor who Liz Lemon would fall for against the odds. On The Affair he’s a casualty of Helen’s pathetic obsession with her Noah.

Which Noah seems to take utterly for granted. In his version of events Helen is much more down to business, confident, and bruising than her own skittish self-image. Vic is comes off more imposing; standing and looking down his nose as he dispenses sarcastic medical advice.

But no matter the reality Noah’s addiction to vicodin seems to ring true. At this point any other explanation for his erratic behavior and “attacks” from Gunther would just seem untrue. His prison flashbacks insinuate that Gunther was a majorly threatening presence when he was inside, but outside jail? What could the explanation possibly be?

He remembers himself as far more alert and self-reliant in his version of the day, but Helen imagines him as almost a child, whom she helps to dry off after the shower, feeds, medicates, and generally throws her life under the bus for. And what does Noah give in return—refusal to admit a drug problem? Ending her relationship? Withholding his circumstances when she’s trying to help? Lording his pending sainthood for taking the fall for her with the car accident?

Helen deserves more than that. The show knows it too, that’s why this week feels so painful to watch. With any luck she’ll wisen up soon, but knowing this show we’ve got miles to go before we sleep on that front.

Stray thoughts: 

  • Helen just thinking out loud to Nina’s answering machine about Noah’s condition and place in her life.
  • “Vic he’s their father, what was I supposed to do?” Vic: *shrugs*
  • “What kind of doctor refuses medication to someone who’s suffering?” Noah asks after Vic. The kind trained to look for Vicodin addiction.
  • Ahhh Furkat. And he camps, to go watch his 24-year-old daughter’s band play at festivals. What a treat.
  • Interesting touch the widely disparate looks Whitney rocks between Noah’s and Helen’s visions. It’s that kind of nice work that The Affair can do to more subtly clue the audience in to characters relation to each other.