Sunday, April 30, 2017

Favorites: April 2017

Welcome to the debut of this new feature: monthly favorites!  I watch alot of YouTube channels, where the concept of making a video about one's favorite things from the previous month has become ubiquitous, and yet I never thought to apply that concept to this blog until my friend Sarah did a "What I'm Enjoying" post on her blog the other day.  (Shout out to Sarah, who has had to listen to my dumb pop culture thoughts for over a decade.)  So because I'm very unoriginal, I'm copying the rest of the world and hopping on the favorites train.  There is so much art that I've never been able to talk about on this blog because I just don't have enough time, or I can't think up a piece that's expansive enough to post here.  This will be a nice way to get out some quick thoughts about things I like.  Plus, I sometimes find the serious, analytical voice that I apply to this blog a little suffocating, so these will be a pleasant respite where I get to be slightly looser.

Will I be able to do these every month?  We'll see!

Last November, Turner Classic Movies launched a new streaming service called Filmstruck, aimed at catering to the most passionate of cinephiles.  It features hundreds of films from the Criterion Collection's streaming library, as well as a revolving list of additional titles that are curated and packaged into monthly themes.  If you're looking to clear up some cinematic blindspots, it's the perfect service for you, as it's got extensive selections from such greats as Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Francois Truffaut.  I finally signed up for the service earlier this year and I've been absolutely loving it.  I've had some time off from work lately, so I've been using my free schedule to watch a movie on Filmstruck every day, and I've already gotten through all of Mike Leigh's filmography and many other classics that I'd been putting off for ages.  There are still some things the service needs to work out -- the player occasionally has buffering issues, and there still isn't an app for the PS4 or Xbox One -- but so far it's been well worth the investment.

The Lost City of Z
I love James Gray's Two Lovers and The Immigrant, so I was pretty amped to see his latest film when it came out a few weeks ago.  It did not disappoint at all, delivering a majestic story with a characteristically beautiful interior journey for its protagonist.  There's always a difficulty when it comes to telling stories like the real life one of Percy Fawcett (played here by Charlie Hunnam), as it can come off like the tale of an enlightened white male amongst a bunch of primitive natives, but Gray is smart enough to know better.  He treads the line skillfully, interrogating the Western imperialist notions of the time while still applying sense of wonder to Percy's quest.  There aren't any other filmmakers like him today.  Where something like La La Land tries to pay homage to the classics of a bygone era, Gray's work genuinely feels like they are lost films unearthed from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Don't miss out on The Lost City of Z, it's one of the best films of the year so far.

Jim Jarmusch's most recent film was only in theaters where I live for one week last December, so I missed it back then, but I finally caught it on home release earlier this month.  I liked Only Lovers Left Alive (my first Jarmusch experience) well enough, but Paterson absolutely knocked my socks off.  It's a gorgeous, healing film that finds beauty in the mundanity of life, the music in quiet moments that checker our days.  Every scene feels like its own special gem -- I haven't stopped thinking about the scene where a little girl shares a poem she wrote with the protagonist (Adam Driver) since I watched it.

Kendrick Lamar - "Humble" Video
Everybody and their mother is going nuts over Kendrick Lamar's new album.  My verdict so far is that I like it, but am having a hard time loving it the way the rest of the world seems to.  One thing I am absolutely wild about, however, is the video for first single "Humble."  There are at least 30 different eye-popping shots in this three minute video.

Land of Talk - "Loving"
Despite Lizzie Powell's affiliation with Broken Social Scene, one of my favorite bands of all time, I was unfamiliar with her project Land of Talk until recently.  Well "Loving," one of the singles from her upcoming album Life After Youth, has certainly got my attention.  The background vocals from Sharon Van Etten, that exploding chorus, the guitar breakdown towards the end; it's all perfect.  I've listened to this song almost every day since it came out.

The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions
I was slightly worried about the latest album from these Canadian power-pop pros, because it's their first without thunderous drummer Kurt Dahle and weirdo troubadour Dan Bejar, but it's another collection of hooky gems.  People don't get as enthusiastic about a new release from the gang anymore, but they're still one of the best bands working right now.

13 Reasons Why
It's become a little problematic to like Netflix's adaptation of the popular YA novel of the same name, given its choice to paint a teenage girl's suicide as a revenge thriller and its controversial decision to graphically depict the suicide.  But pitchforks be damned, I really liked this show, which was a surprise given that I hated the book when I read it years ago.  Its portrayal of Hannah Baker is flawed, sure, but in between the more lurid moments is a really compelling teen drama that takes all of its characters' emotions and perspectives seriously.  (Also read one of the writers' defense of the suicide scene here if you have the chance.)

The Expanse, Season Two
I liked the first season of this Syfy space opera well enough, but it felt like mostly setup, covering the parts of the book series its based on that were needed as foundation for when things hit the fan.  And hit the fan they did in its twisty, thrilling second season.  Every single episode seemed to have at least one plot point that made my jaw drop, and its cast of characters got more compelling as the stakes increased.  The Expanse is at once the sci-fi answer to Game of Thrones and the spiritual successor to Battlestar Galactica.

Mob Psycho 100
I've been trying to get back into anime, and at the top of my list of recent shows to check out was last year's Mob Psycho 100.  It's based on a manga created by ONE, who also is responsible for One-Punch Man.  I loved the anime adaptation of One-Punch Man, and while Mob Psycho isn't quite as entertaining, it's still well worth your time.  Not only does it feature stunning animation from its all-star staff, but it's got some surprisingly moving character beats underneath its broad comedy and genre trappings.

Chelsea Peretti's "Rain's Comin' In" Play (Podcast)
Chelsea Peretti hasn't released an official episode of her podcast Call Chelsea Peretti in ages, but a few weeks ago she gifted listeners with a recording of the performance of her play "Rain's Comin' In" at the UCB theater.  Anybody even vaguely familiar with Tennessee Williams will appreciate the spot-on way she parodies elements of his work and others like him.  But even if you have no frame of reference, it's so heightened and hilarious that you'll laugh nonstop anyway.

The Canipa Effect (YouTube Channel)
As a part of my mission to get back into anime, I've been watching and reading alot of content about anime too.  One of my favorite things I've stumbled upon is a YouTube channel called The Canipa Effect, which provides an in-depth look at the anime industry.  I especially like his animation spotlight series, where he focuses on one animator or studio and pinpoints what makes their work so special.  His passion shines through in every video, and they've taught me so much about animation and anime in general.

The Doughboys 100th Episode (Podcast)
Everyone's favorite podcast about chain restaurants celebrated its 100th episode this month, and they did so in disgusting fashion by trying out a "Chicken Nugget Power Hour," where they attempted to eat a McDonald's chicken nugget once every minute for 60 minutes straight.  Guest Jon Gabrus was the only one to make it all the way to 60, but that doesn't stop the episode from being a joy to listen to throughout.  Here's to 100 more.

Make Out With Him (Podcast)
I've been a big fan of Rosianna Halse Rojas' and Lex Croucher's YouTube channels for years, so when they proposed starting a dating advice podcast together late last year, I got extremely excited.  They finally debuted the official podcast a few weeks ago and it's been just as delightful as I imagined it would be.  Every episode is like hanging out with two lovely people while they joke around and give out thoughtful advice.  It seems like every Youtuber is starting a podcast these days, but if you only decide to listen to one, make it Make Out With Him.

Why Today is Awesome (Instagram)
This month is very YouTube heavy, because here's another YouTube-adjacent pick.  If you're a longtime YouTube watcher, you probably remember the collab channel Five Awesome Girls, which ended back in 2011.  The enthusiasm for it never died, as they've had many reunions at various conventions, and now they've made a return of sorts to collaborating in the form of an Instagram page.  It's a small, low-key project but it's a nice little injection of positivity that can be helpful for negative grumps like myself.

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