Things I’ve Greatly Enjoyed – Jan/Feb

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Well hello everyone!

It’s been a bit. I decided to just combine January and February into one post. Not for a lack of things I was enjoying, but more out of general malaise/lack of motivation to post. I am going to try to avoid that. It’s one of the reasons I’ve tried to work in some regular kinds of journal entries. I wouldn’t say there’s been anything worrisome driving this. I’ve just been distracted by other stuff in my life.

But there are some fun things coming up. I’m working on some cool stuff I hope to share soon. And, of course, editing and figuring out the cover and all that good stuff for In The Dark of the Grove should be starting up before I know it! Anyway, onward and upward looking back at what the last couple months had to offer.

Star Wars: The High Republic

This is the new multi-media series launched by Disney that tells tales of the Jedi at the height of their powers, before the hubris shown in the prequels set in. One of the issues with tie-in books is they are often strangled by how tightly controlled their universes are. Having books be “official canon” might strengthen their appeal for some, but in practice it can become a little wearying when the toys have to be carefully packed into the box once the writer is done.

These new books aim to rectify that, telling tales with characters under control of the group of writers organizing them. So far I’ve read everything that’s come out, including the adult novel, YA novel, Middle grade novel, the comics, the young reader book, and the stories in Star Wars Insider! Phew. It’s been fun. Overall, I’ve liked the feel of the books and the world they’re creating. The sheer amount of characters being introduced (Light of the Jedi sort of introduces most of them, but in a very surface way… each book has introduced new groups of characters so far) is a little intimidating, to be honest. But with a few exceptions the more I’ve read, the more the characters are fleshed out and become more memorable.

Babylon 5

I might do a bigger journal entry about the show at some point. This has been on my “to watch” list for ages and ages. Since I was a teenager, actually. I watched Star Trek, and was kind of in a Star Trek mindset as a teen. So I was Deep Space Nine all the way. It’s not that I wouldn’t have watched Babylon 5, but if I remember correctly it wasn’t really easy to watch where I lived. This combined with the fact that Sci-Fi Universe magazine got really snotty about Star Trek and often pitted it against B5 led to me being a little (unfairly) turned off by the show.

I have tried to watch the show since, but it was hard to come by unless you just dove in and bought box sets of DVDs. Thankfully, HBO Max have released the show in a remastered version (well, mostly, you can read more about that here) and overall it looks better than it ever has. And I got hooked. Now, I have not binge watched a 22-episode series in… maybe ever? Certainly not one I wasn’t already familiar with. But I’m now at the start of season 4 and it’s been maybe a month since I started. This is one of the places where my time has gone. Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Like I said, I’ll write more about it separately. But if you haven’t ever tried it out, I say go for the newly remastered version on HBO Max or iTunes.

Caught in Still Life – Vaults

Do you ever have an album that floats by you, you listen to it, enjoy it, and then it keeps on floating away… only for you to rediscover it, and listen to it obsessively? I’ve had that happen quite a few times. And Caught in Still Life by Vaults is one of those albums. I’m a fan of electronic music and electro-pop. This album came out in 2016, and I remember hearing a few tracks and really liking it, but as often happens there are just so many options for music out there, including old favorites, that I just didn’t give it the time it deserved. But it came back up for me in a Spotify playlist, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop in February. Unfortunately the band split up after this one release, it seems. Lead singer Blythe Pepino has a voice that can shift from tremulous to powerful on a dime, and the music shifts from silky to bluesy to gospel-like to cold to sparse to epic. I think the album if fantastic from start to finish. It’s hard to pick out any particular tracks, but if I had to I’d say Cry No More, One Last Night, Lifespan, and Bodies are standouts for me. The last one has some absolutely beautiful lyric work.

I’m afraid that I built myself so tall / no one will see me when I’m falling 

WandaVision

I remember when this was announced, I was:

A) Excited because I enjoy both characters in the comics, liked what we got to see of them in the movies, and thought they got pretty short shrift in the movies overall and
B) Confused by the name, to the point that I kind of hated it.

Of course, as we found out more about what the plot was of the show, the more the name made sense. And, like most everyone else, I’ve really enjoyed the way the show has unfolded. Some people get their undergarments in a twist about Marvel and the MCU these days. It’s understandable. Like with anything that becomes seemingly monolithic and the 800-pound gorilla in the room, it can become tempting to take potshots at it. But, of course, Marvel (and Disney) is not killing cinema. It’s not choking out independent film. No, that process has been happening a long time before the MCU was but a glimmer in Kevin Feige’s eye. They are just a convenient lightning rod for a conversation that is actually very vital about what film is, what it should be, how its financed, why, etc. A conversation that bleeds over into the arts in general, how we approach and value it, how it’s funded, etc. All of which is very much too big of a topic to go into right now. But my point in bringing this up is that one should not feel bad about genuinely enjoying anything MCU, WandaVision included, no matter what someone else might say.

Because what WandaVision does with the “superhero” format is inventive, fun, creepy, and sometimes even moving. It borrows the visual language of sitcoms, and it’s quite surprising how closely it sticks to the format for the first couple episodes before the facade starts to fall away. But I liked the slow progression. I’ve really enjoyed getting into the character of Wanda (and to a lesser extent, The Vision) in a way that a movie would not have allowed. I actually find Marvel’s slate of TV shows a little more exciting than the next couple of movies, although to be honest that might change as we get closer to actually seeing those movies.

Nomadland

This one just squeaked into February for me. I’ve been a little bit behind on my movie viewing. Blame Babylon 5, writing, and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. But I’ve been trying to catchup somewhat. The night before Nomadland took home a bunch of Golden Globes, I was able to watch the movie. Chloé Zhao’s film, based on a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, does something that exemplifies, for me, how powerful film can be. It not only transports you, but it transports you into a world that lives right along with your own. In some ways, it reminded me of the feeling I had when I watched Ousmane Sembène 1966 movie Black Girl. Not that they are particularly similar in any way other than that feeling of being transported into the lives of someone else. Sembène’s movie was so powerful it crossed the boundary of time (1960s) and presentation (black and white) to feel wholly alive and real and present.

Nomadland has less of a way to travel, being said just a few years ago, involving itinerant workers who spend part of their time working at Amazon, etc. Fiction (the lead character of Fern, played by the ever-amazing Frances McDormand) and Reality (some of the people she meets along the way) coalesce in the film in a way that I found incredibly moving. Zhao shows us a world that somehow speaks to the nostalgic American dream of rugged independence at the same time it shows the stark reality of American poverty. The wanderers depicted in the movie have different routes to their nomadic existence. But most have either separated themselves, or have been separated, out of the “normal” way of life. I think Zhao blends this duality incredibly skillfully. 

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