Best New Stuff – August 2018

August was hazy. Literally.

Seattle was swamped by a smoke storm, and so for weeks on end what appeared to be fog or even low clouds was actually unhealthy, ashy air blowing in from wildfires on all three land-sides of the state. Do not recommend.

The whole thing left the last bit of summer in a bit of a drag, but not without its highlights. To name a few:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

As one headline put it: America is horny for wholesome, and boy howdy, was this film wholesome. As if it weren’t enough that this film centered on Asian American woman finding love — which, despite the next entry in this post, is startlingly still a rare occurrence — this film takes the long-running trope of “fake relationship” and somehow makes it not just believable but grounded. For all there is to say about the internet’s burst of love for Peter Kavinsky, there’s something truly run and radically soft about the entire affair (with a large thanks to Kavinsky). The real star, here, is Lana Candor, who is the one to watch, and manages to navigate the startlingly human approach to the situation. Coupled with Set It Up, Netflix is on a roll with its rom-com offerings.

Sharp Objects

That Zepplin needle drop, I mean, goddaamn.

A massive improvement on the book, weaving various strands of mistreatment and anger together in an eloquent and ultimately gutting portrayal, all beautifully strung together by Amy Adams. The show (unlike The Leftovers the book, see below) manages to not answer any questions too concretely, helping (along with the sharp and lush editing) to make the whole thing feel like a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare. Its exploration of the harm that comes to women doesn’t shy away from the vindictiveness between women, and even manages to note that sometimes — perhaps more often than we’d care to admit — women’s anger is unjustified or mismanaged.

Some enthralling recaps on the show over at The AV Club and also at Tom and Lorenzo, now that HBO isn’t being a butt about it.

Crazy Rich Asians

The opulance. The decadance. The luxuiousness. And that’s just the wrapping. Crazy Rich Asians manages to be both an excellent rom-com, without skimping on the “personal is political” angle.

Trial and Error, season 2

The second season of this lovable goofball of a show was like watching someone juggle goldfish bowls while riding a unicycle. It’s possible the unicycle was more wobbly than it was on the first go-around, but the sheer accomplishment of staying steady and keeping those goldfish in the bowls is an achievement unto itself. Often times it seemed like it was getting too caught up in its own cleverness or random sense of humor, but just when I think it’d tipped too far the absurdity turned out to be a clue — and I got hyped to notice it!

At the very least this show deserves to be renewed for a third season, because I need to know exactly what the hell is happening with the witches of East Peck.

The Leftovers

This time, it’s the book. I didn’t love it the same way I loved the show — which makes sense, given that the book only covers the first season, the weakest of the show — but it was a fairly good read to try out. Where the show pivots the themes of mass loss and grief into spirituality and philosophy (while also maintaining the interpersonal affects of the disappearance), the book stays fairly grounded in the person whose head you’re in. It’s a great exploration of how two people can approach a meeting entirely differently, and still think they’re on the same page. I think it needs a bit more embroidery to fleece together the stories (for a book that’s all told from perspective there’s a lot left to the imagination) but it also steadfastly refuses to offer up any easy answers or conclusions about why or how these people’s lives are the way they are.

Honorable mentions:

The Feels

Blue Collar

Paterson

 

Youtube song of the month:

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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 – March 2018

In like a lion, out like a lamb.

While the first part of this month had a lot of senior editing for me over at Bright Wall/Dark Room, and producing at SeattlePI, the second half — well, it was more of the same. But I somehow carved out more time for some viewings on the side. Here’s what was the best of the docket:

3 Women

Initially picked up for an essay forthcoming at BWDR that I was editing, this Robert Altman classic has a sort of haunting, dreamlike (in the truest sense of the word) feel to it that will stick with you long after that final shot of the tires in the desert has left the screen. It’s ineffable and aloof, and yet somehow eerily familiar and reminiscent. Avant garde identity theft/personality melding in the 1970s with Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall. What’s to go wrong?

The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein’

The best kind of analytical essay is the kind that makes you want to immediately pick up the thing being dissected and revel in all of it. That’s exactly what this New Yorker piece by Jill Lepore does, weaving biographical details of Mary Shelley with historical meaning with quick hits of studied analysis. It makes me want to have a (preferably old and fragrant) copy of “Frankenstein” right in my hands, and to read the book and the essay all in one sitting.

Annihilation

Last week talkies, this week raw eBook (just kidding, it’s a regular book): After watching the movie, my boyfriend and I have taken to reading the book and — though there’s still more book to read, thank god — I’m confident to say that this is one of the better new reads I’ve done this month. It’s completely enthralling and diligently crafted to build and build and build, in a way that always leaves you wanting more no matter where you stop. Plus it’s a completely different taste than the movie (think man vs. man rather than man vs. nature) which means I have no idea where we’re going to end up.

Hold Up, They Don’t Love You Like I Love You

I mentioned before that great analytical essays make you want to immediately rush to the thing being dissected, but there’s other forms of great too (normally people who are better writers, or who write with more time spread these things out, but it’s my blog so enjoy the cracks, readers!). And perhaps no one is as good at the “Utterly catching you off guard with a funny, lighthearted tone and so intricately blurring the line between analysis and recounting that you’re not even sure how to pick it apart” than Fran. Her latest essay at BWDR is a masterclass, covering so many different things and handling it all with aplomb. Now how do I watch Ocean’s Eleven?

One Day at a Time

Norman Lear is still there, but the game has changed — and thank god it has. This (still unrenewed!!) Netflix sitcom follows a Cuban-American family through the ups and downs, comings outs and and coming ons, day-in and day-out of their lives and reader, it stunned me. I really didn’t think I could still do the tried and true sitcom formula, but One Day at Time knows when to keep the jokes down and focus on the heart. And though it often veers into Full House-esque, after-schools-special monologues, it’s masterful and empathetic in the way it tackles its subjects. Watch it now on Netflix, or just leave it streaming in the background so Netflix registers viewers and renews it already; I’m not your mom.

**since I wrote this review ODaaT got renewed! We did it America! #Blessed

Schitt’s Creek

This show — despite being recommended by so many people I love and respect — took me a while to get into, but thank god I did. “Girl’s Night,” in particular, bowled me over in the way it gracefully unfurled its true wingspan, swinging so simply from “wacky hijink” scenario to “grounded, interpersonal connections that make you want to reach out and stroke the screen.”

Honorable mentions:

Jane the Virgin (everything I need, and will probably be coming during its finale in April)

A Fantastic Woman

The H Spot

Youtube vid of the month:

Bonus: 

 

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: