Monday, July 31, 2017

Favorites: July 2017



Favorites is a monthly feature that offers up quick thoughts on media, both new and old, that I've recently enjoyed.

Movies
Atomic Blonde
I just saw this one yesterday, so my enthusiasm is still fresh, but I think it will linger for a long time anyway.  Atomic Blonde blends elements from two of my favorite action franchises of the last 15 years -- the European spy machinations of the Bourne series and the gritty neon-noir of the John Wick films (director David Leitch also co-directed the first John Wick) -- and creates its own ultra-slick, incredibly satisfying experience.  It almost feels like critics are underrating this a little in their reviews, pointing out the admittedly busy plot but underplaying just how well its visceral thrills negate that.

Thelma & Louise (1991)
I watched this touchstone fugitives-on-the-run film for the first time on Filmstruck a few weeks ago, and it's just as much of a gem as promised.  Auteur director Ridley Scott does his best to stay out of the way of Callie Khouri's sparkling script, which paints the titular characters in vibrant colors, but also the many folks who are drawn into their chase.  It helps that Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon have terrific chemistry that really sells the idea that Thelma and Louise are lifelong friends who would go down in flames for each other.

Turner Classic Movies
If you're like me, you probably think of Turner Classic Movies as that channel you bypassed as a kid because they always played boring, old black-and-white films.  Despite my growing love of cinema over the years, I still had that association in my mind, which caused me to never look too deeply into the films they had to offer.  It turns out that TCM is a treasure trove of classic Hollywood titles, constantly playing the work of greats like Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder.  In July, they spent every Wednesday and Friday night going through the entire filmography of Alfred Hitchcock, and it was quite an invaluable experience.


Music
Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder
The Canadian indie rock supergroup returned this month with their first album in seven years, and it was worth the wait.  I'm one of the few people who still thinks their last record was fantastic, so I still slightly prefer that one to Hug of Thunder.  Regardless, nobody delivers textured jams quite like Broken Social Scene, and I'm so happy to have them back.

Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
I already spoke about Vince Staples in a previous entry when he released the video for his first single off of Big Fish Theory, but the whole album is so good that it's worth repping again.  In many ways, Big Fish feels like a kindred spirit of last year's Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown.  Both rappers hop on beats others wouldn't dare touch, exploring the unique pleasures that come from hearing someone nimbly rap over glitchy, zonked-out electronic tracks.  Plus, at just over 30 minutes, Vince make use of another quality other rappers avoid -- brevity.


Television
I Love Dick
Here's an opinion that may get me murdered around some parts of the internet: I don't love Transparent.  What I do love is that its success and acclaim has given creator Jill Soloway carte blanche with Amazon, and she's leveraged that long leash to help bring the lovely and strange I Love Dick into existence.  Soloway executive produces and directs a few episodes, so the show adopts many of Transparent's best stylistic touches.  But without her writing and showrunning, it also escapes some of the fussier and annoying tics that bog that show down, as it explores sexuality, expression, and desire in the academic world of Marfa, Texas.  The result is one of the most unique shows of the year.

Little Witch Academia
Anime Harry Potter.  That's the easiest way to pitch Little Witch Academia, both in concept and in explaining why the show is so appealing. The long-awaited series finally made its American debut on Netflix, and I binged the first 13 episodes in a weekend. Featuring eye-popping animation from Studio Trigger (the minds responsible for Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill), it's an absolute treat to watch.  But what takes the show to the next level is its strong characterization and commitment to subverting expectations.  The protagonist actually has to work hard to become a better magician; she's not just floating along on a chosen one narrative.  And the school's most talented magician, who would usually be painted as the antagonist, is revealed to be the show's most complex character and grounded character.  I can't wait for the rest of the season to drop on Netflix later in the year.


Miscellaneous
IGN Anime Club (podcast)
I'm late to the game on this one, as it was already cancelled a few months ago, but I recently discovered the IGN Anime Club podcast and have been going back into the archives and checking out old episodes.  What I like about it is that the hosts have a clear love of anime, but they make the show appealing to casual anime fans like myself.

NPR's interview with the Crutchfield twins (article)
I'm planning on writing something about the Crutchfield sisters myself soon -- if I mention it here, that means I have to commit to finishing it -- and this NPR interview is one of the things that gave me alot of extra material to inform my thoughts on their music.  The interview takes an interesting approach, by interviewing Katie (who makes music as Waxahatchee) and Allison (formerly of the great band Swearin', now solo) separately about each other's new albums.  You get a great sense of their chemistry and twin energy, as their answers inadvertently dovetail into unified ideas and narratives.  It's another wonderful insight into the minds of two of the nicest, most talented musicians working today.

Stereogum's feature on Ted Leo (article)
Earlier this month, Stereogum released this massive piece after spending some time with Ted Leo, whose new album is coming out soon.  It's an incredible bit of journalism, delving into Ted Leo's history with sexual abuse (revealed for the first time here) and chronicling the tribulations of maintaining a long-running, mid-level rock band.  Even if you're not a fan of Ted Leo's music -- and why aren't you?! -- it's worth a read.

Why I Love Being a Hufflepuff (YouTube video)
I'm a diehard Ravenclaw, but this video from Sophie Jerrome, one of my favorite smaller YouTubers, makes a convincing case for Hufflepuffs.

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