What Wednesday #4

Today I defend a kids show, get emotionally wrecked by Room, enjoy a surprisingly good James Bond knockoff, and vibe out to some plunderphonics.

What Wednesday is where I talk about what I’m watching, reading, playing, listening to, etc. Today I defend a kids show, get emotionally wrecked by Room, enjoy a surprisingly good James Bond knockoff, and vibe out to some plunderphonics.

What I’m Watching: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Yes, The Clone Wars is a kids show. Yes, I’m a 32 year old man. No, I don’t have kids. But I also don’t know many kids shows that would send a half dozen slaves plummeting hundreds of feet to a horrible death. On screen! It was actually more than a little disturbing and something I never expected from a “kids show.” (Kids in this case probably means early teens. There’s enough intense action and mature plot lines that little kids should probably watch the younger skewed Rebels) It was interesting watching a show aimed at a younger demographic deal with such a complex and morally difficult topic like slavery; and while it predictably simplified things, the fact it went there at all was cool. I can see it prompting deeper discussions with parents, which I think is an admirable goal.

Although Clone Wars occasionally deals with weightier topics (often clumsily–read this for an excellent deep dive of how weirdly twisted it can be), it’s still STAR WARS, which means lots of sweet lightsaber fights and space battles, and that’s all I really need. I spent a good chunk of my childhood reading every Star Wars  book I could get my hands on (I was not what you would call a “cool kid”), so when I found out there was a relatively high quality Star Wars show out there on Netflix, I had to give it a go. And while it is a (beautifully) animated kids show, it actually isn’t half bad; in fact, it’s often quite good–at least as good and, in many cases, better than the prequel movies it’s based on. There are good reasons that when you Google “Star Wars clones”Clone Wars pops up well before Attack of the Clones (probably the worst Star Wars movie ever made–that thing is hot trash compactor garbage). In fact, Clone Wars actually makes young Anakin Skywalker not completely insufferable and even sorta likable…which is a minor miracle in itself.

What I’m Also Watching: Room This might be the most emotionally draining movie I’ve ever seen. It’s at least up there with movies like 12 Years a Slave and Precious. There were at least 4-5 moments of sheer emotional devastation–and that’s only within the first half. A quick plot rundown: 17 year old girl gets abducted and held captive in a small shed; is raped and eventually impregnated; births and raises a 5 year old boy within her tiny prison. To protect the boy, she tells him that nothing exists beyond the walls of the room they’re in, which he then fills with typical childlike wonder, greeting each mundane object as a close friend.

It’s impossible to overstate how powerful the performances are from Brie Larson, as the mom, and 9 year old Jacob Tremblay, as the little boy. I never once questioned if they were mother and son. Maybe they actually are. It wouldn’t surprise me. The writing is also wonderful. Jacob is precocious and startlingly poetic without being ridiculous. What could have been an exercise in emotional manipulation, turned out to be a thoughtful take on shared trauma and motherhood. The writer of the book it’s based on, Emma Donoghue, even said it can be taken as an extreme representation of motherhood in general, the tight bond between a mother and child not unlike being trapped together. The characterizations throughout were also on point–plenty of moments had my therapist wife nodding along in agreement with their responses to trauma. If there’s a more emotionally powerful movie out there, I don’t want to see it. I don’t think I could handle it.

What I’m Also Also Watching: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Based off a second-tier campy TV spy show from the 60s (miss); that plays up the ridiculousness of James Bond without a charismatic superstar like Daniel Craig (double miss); from a director whose style can get more than a bit grating (new Sherlock Holmes movies? no, thank you–triple miss). I definitely didn’t expect to like this movie…but I did! A good bit, actually. It was tightly plotted, occasionally hilarious, and anchored by solid performances from the main cast, including Superman himself, Henry Cavill (and I hated Man of Steel, so definitely a pleasant surprise). I liked it enough that afterwards I googled info on a sequel. Long story short: didn’t make enough money, not gonna happen 😦

What I’m Listening To: The Avalanches, “Colours” Samples on samples on samples. The Avalanches matter because of their hugely influential and critically acclaimed debut album, Since I Left You. Their new album, Wildflower, matters because it’s their first in the 16 years since that debut album. They’re probably the best in the genre known as (wait for it) Plunderphonics (betcha haven’t heard that one before), which basically means taking pieces (samples) of different songs and putting them together in weird ways to make a totally new sound. In other words, Frankenstein music. It can be gimmicky, but it can also be awesome, as these guys usually are. (Ironically, “Colours” is the one song on the album that doesn’t actually have any samples, but it nevertheless still sounds wonderfully strange.)

What Wednesday #2

Today I play some cards, jam quietly, and journey to the Twilight Zone.

What Wednesday is where I talk about what I’m watching, reading, playing, listening to, etc. Today I play some cards, jam out quietly, and journey to the Twilight Zone.

What I’m Watching: The Twilight Zone I realize I’m 50+ years late to this, but good gracious this show is incredible. It’s kind of unbelievable how well it has aged over half a century. The parts that do feel dated are generally because they’ve been copied so many times, like surprising twist endings (looking at you Mr. Shyamalan), that the original seems antiquated. A lot of the episodes wouldn’t feel out of place on HBO today. Watch almost any show from the 70s to see how difficult that can be. I mean, this thing was made ten years before we landed on the moon.

Unfortunately, a show like this just wouldn’t work today. With today’s TV putting a huge emphasis on serialization (where each episode builds on the one before it, like Game of Thrones), shows with totally different plots and characters every episode just won’t fly now. Which is a shame; I love that each episode feels like a self-contained mini-movie. It enabled them to take a lot more risks, because if one episode didn’t work, oh well, no harm done. On to the next one. Some of my favorites from the early episodes: “The Lonely” deals with artificial intelligence and our complicated relationship to it, 15 years before the personal computer was invented; “Third from the Sun” has a wonderful twist ending; “And When the Sky Was Opened” presents the terror of having your existence wiped from memory; and “Time Enough at Last” has one of the most famous and referenced endings in TV history. Spoilers, but it’s amazing.

What I’m Playing: Hearthstone To continue the theme of me coming late to things, I’ve recently gotten addicted to this 2 year old card battle game. It’s based on the Warcraft series, which I’ve never played, emulates Magic: The Gathering, which I’ve also never played, and revolves around an ultra competitive multiplayer mode, which I usually hate…but I can’t put it down. It ramps up the difficulty at a nice pace and never feels as overwhelmingly complex as Magic. The card collection aspect also taps into my completionist-OCD personality and is easily accessible for a quick game on my iPad or phone–which means I’m probably going to be playing this one for a long time.

What I’m Listening To: Palmistry, “Club Aso” Club music for the library, this isn’t for everyone. But as a sometimes fan of Drake and Rhianna, and an always fan of chill music, I can dig it.

What Wednesday #1

What Wednesday is where I talk about what I’m watching, reading, playing, listening to, etc. It’s the absolute least I can do and still consider it writing (barely).

What I’m Watching: The Americans Season 4 Finale I’m just going to go ahead and assume you’re not watching the Best Show On TV (sorry Game of Thrones). What’s wrong with you?! Cold War spies. The early 80s. Incredible performances. Deep moral quandaries. David Copperfield. It’s Mad Men does James Bond. And like Mad Men, some call it slow. I call those people idiots. It’s the most mature, complex, difficult drama I’ve ever seen (sorry The Wire).

What I’m Reading: A Dance With Dragons Speaking of Game of Thrones, I’m slowly (very slowly) working through the “newest” (it’s 5 years old!) Game of Thrones book. The later books in Game of Thrones can be a slog. I’ve thought for a while the TV show has become better than the books. Watching the current season while trying to get through this book seals it.

What I’m Hearing: Beck, “Wow” (don’t say wow, don’t say wow) Wow! (ugh) Beck filtering modern hip hop sounds through his own weird lens, much like he built his career on with Odelay (1996). His sound changes in concentric waves, from Odelay to “Wow”, Sea Change to Morning Phase, alternating between styles, never doing the same thing back-to-back. Love it.

“Television is …

“Television is like some gentle, mindless robot carrying sports tenderly in its arms to the top of the mountain and then over the cliff.”

Leonard Shecter, 1969

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