Things I’ve Greatly Enjoyed – November 2020

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As I write this, we’re heading into the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. It’s a weird one this year, to be sure. I’ve not seen my family in over a year. It’s been hard. But, as I said in a recent Tweet, I’d rather not see them for a year or even two than never see them again. It’s just not a roll of the dice I can make. So, it’ll be just me and my partner. Too much food, maybe a boardgame or two, and some movies. One thing I’ve been thinking about doing is a monthly post about stuff I’ve really enjoyed the month(ish) previous. Maybe there will be something that piques your interest. If nothing else, it’s a good record for me as I am terribly forgetful.

Hades (Switch, 2020)

I saw an ad for this on the Switch, watched the trailer, and was immediately taken with the art style. I have not really played a roguelike game before (I actually had to look up what that meant!) so that’s new to me. But I can say without fail that Hades is one of the best games I’ve played this year in terms of sheer enjoyment. The art style is really phenomenal. The color palette and designs of the levels are so gorgeous sometimes I just stand Zagreus still so I can look at it. The character art is, for lack of a better term, pretty damn hot and interesting. The voice acting is also topnotch, really bringing the characters to life. All of this and smooth as butter controls, an endlessly fascinating system of boons and weapons and upgrades (both temporary and permanent) you can mix and remix… it’s really, really good. I’m not sure I’m GOOD at it. But I’m only about 33 attempts in. I usually do an attempt or two during a session. Which makes it a good video game for me right now.

Possessor Uncut (2020)

I went into Possessor knowing very little about it. Mostly, I’d just read some pretty rave reviews on horror Twitter. And, of course, there’s that terrifying and intriguing poster. I honestly don’t want to say too much about it here, because I think going in fairly blind is a rewarding way of watching the movie. The concept is much more sci-fi than I was expecting, and Andrea Riseborough does a remarkable job in the lead. Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up in a role that reminded me a little of her role in Annihilation. Her turn as Dr. Ventress in that is one of my favorite roles she’s ever done, and one of my absolute favorite movies. So that’s very much a good thing. There are some truly arresting visuals, and the movie plays with a lot of interesting ideas that rewards repeat viewings. 

Waves – AVA (2019)

Waves is a Modern Classical album from violinist Anna Phoebe and pianist Aisling Brouwer, under the moniker AVA. It’s absolutely gorgeous and transporting. I really miss the days you could go to a record store or even Barnes & Noble (or the late, lamented Borders) and listen to new music in their kiosks. Sure, you can preview anything through streaming now, but I miss the curation and recommendations in-store. No online site or app has quite replicated that for me, but I will say Spotify does a great job of giving recommendations based on the music I listen to. It might help that I listen to a LOT of music. In this case, I was listening to a great deal of Olafur Arnalds‘s Some Kind of Peace (which is also amazing, and I probably should have included here as well) and various albums of Max Richter. Anne Phoebe’s work came up, which led me to this this project with Brouwer. Anne Phoebe’s own work is also gorgeous, btw, and well worth checking out. If, like me, you collect vinyl, then I’d recommend getting Waves from Target. They had it for only $21. Id have gotten it straight from Bandcamp, but it ships from the UK and the shipping cost was nearly as much as the album. And I couldn’t find it from any indie record store online that I frequent.

The Crown Season 4 (2020)

There are few shows that I get as excited for as The Crown. It’s a little hard to explain. I don’t know a great deal about British history, which has made the first few seasons, at least, a genuine surprise. Part sumptuous historical drama, part soap opera, and all grade-A acting and score—it’s very easy to get swept away by. I admire the fact that the show seems to be fascinated and disgusted by the Royals in pretty much equal measure. You’ll go from extreme empathy to disgust for a character in a single episode. And, yes, there’s a fair amount of storytelling and filling in details and rejuggling timelines for dramatic effect. And thank goodness! Also, this season has the added joy of Gillian Anderson. I love Gillian Anderson. She had me with X-Files, to start, of course, but it’s been so great following her career and seeing all the things she’s done. The fact that she’s playing someone who, by my measure, was truly reprehensible in so many ways makes it all the more interesting. Her squaring off against Olivia Colman’s Queen (Colman is another favorite) and the fireworks that spark there has been a delight. I only have two episodes to go, sadly, of this season. But I’m going to savor them.

Ducktales Season 2 ( 2018)

I’m catching up on Ducktales! I would really love to get completely caught up, but man some of the seasons have a lot of episodes! They fly by, of course. I have a hard time keeping up with animated series. Even series I greatly enjoy. I don’t know why, but I just have to be in a certain mood. But Ducktales is one that, when I start watching, I can usually plow through a few in one sitting. I was a fan of the original cartoon, so I was intrigued from the start. What I did not expect was a modern retelling of the series that pretty much improves on the old one in ever way, while still retaining the charm of the first series. David Tennant is reliably fantastic as Scrooge, and I love that the nephews have distinct personalities beyond “the red one, the green one, and the blue one.” I mean, maybe there was more of that in the old show than I remember, but I don’t think so.

 

My Dark Vanessa (2020), Utopia Avenue (2020), and Station Eleven (2014)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I mean, I’m always reading something.  But I’ve managed to slow down and focus a little more. I also usually read one book physically (either a book or e-book) and have one book going on audiobook. But, since I’m working from home that has eliminated my commute and my usual audiobook listening time. But believe me, you won’t find me complaining. But I’ve been taking more time out to just sit back and listen to the audiobooks, and slow down and read some books for a decent length of time. These three books were some of my favorites of the recent ones I’ve read.

My Dark Vanessa is a fairly harrowing tale. I recommend research and paying attention to any trigger warnings you see if you’re a survivor of sexual assault. It feels slightly odd to call it a page turner, but I think that’s a pretty accurate description. Russell does a really masterful job of keeping the story going. Beyond that, her character work here is breathtaking. To the point that I think reading this could really open some people’s eyes about the mindset of victims and perpetrators in sexual abuse and manipulation.

Utopia Avenue is from David Mitchell, writer of one of my favorite books of all time, Cloud Atlas. Which in turn led to the movie by the Tom Tickwer and the Wachowski sisters, of which I was also a fan. The new book is interesting in that for most of the book, it’s a pretty straightforward period piece detailing the rise of a fake band in the UK. If you’re a fan of the music of that period, I think there’s even more to love here. The meet-ups with some of the famous faces of the time (Bowie, Joplin, Hendrix) can be a tiny bit goofy at times. But not goofy in a bad way? Maybe it was just me, but I was so thoroughly charmed by the characters that it worked for me. Woven throughout the book, however, is a plot that dives headfirst into the “Mitchellverse” that includes quite a few of his novels. If this is your first David Mitchell novel it might seem surprising and maybe even unwelcome. I, however, really enjoyed that particular plot thread.

Station Eleven is a book a few friends on GoodReads had read and liked, and I was intrigued by the basic plot. It involves life after a societal collapse. As I mentioned in a previous journal entry, the nature of the societal collapse was a little more anxiety-inducing than I expected. That being said, it’s really to the author’s credit that it was. It’s depicted in a chillingly realistic manner, with some extra bits of realism that post-apocalyptic fare doesn’t usually account for. The character work here is beautiful and precise, and left me with a lot to think about in terms of the how the actions we take, big and small, can echo through other people’s lives. 

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