April 29, 2024

Media Diet: March and April

A quick look at the movies, television shows, and books that have captured my attention over the past two months.

The Holdovers
Let it be said: Paul Giamatti is a master of his craft. Even when he plays an inherently unlikeable character (which he often does), he’s able to infuse the character with enough grace and warmth that you can’t help but root for him. This is, in fact, what The Holdovers does best: show a world that is unlikeable but embed in it a sense of grace and warmth that makes you hope that everything is going to be okay. It’s a curmudgeonly-heartwarming film, and we don’t always get too many of those these days, so I cherish this one.

Harry Sylvester Bird
I understand the importance of satire, and for the most part, I enjoy it as a method of elucidating things that need skewering in culture. But this novel—where a young white man is convinced he’s a Black man in the wrong body—didn’t quite hit the mark. The book doesn’t quite make the satire biting enough, and there are long passages where the plot feels almost too earnest rather than satirical. It is gorgeously well-written, but by the end, I didn’t feel like the absurdity of the premise had paid off.

Anatomy of a Fall
The truth is that I’m a sucker for a movie about storytelling, and Anatomy of a Fall is exactly that: an exploration of the stories we tell to make ourselves palatable—to define us as guilty or innocent, depressed or elated, loving or enraged—to others and to ourselves. I’m also a sucker for a courtroom drama—even though the French justice system seems very strange and foreign in this film—so I was thrilled that this movie spent half its time in the machinations of the trial. And that fight scene. Every movie argument (or even argument in real life) should be this well written. The violence of those words shook me; I’ll be thinking about this whole film for a long time.

American Fiction
This is not, as the trailer would have you believe, a satire about the publishing industry. It is instead a warm and vivid family drama disguised as a social commentary. It is in those delicate family drama moments that American Fiction shines, and Jeffrey Wright deftly exudes tenderness from beyond his gruff exterior. Cord Jefferson’s script adeptly infuses humor within the drama, and the movie moves quickly, lingering only on what is necessary. I’ll be returning to this one again.

All Joy and No Fun
Having a child is exhausting, and to be honest, not always the most fun. Jennifer Senior captures that sense of no fun” perfectly by breaking down just what makes parenting so grueling, while also acknowledging the rewarding aspects of the journey as well. One of the rare parenting books that focuses on how the parent feels, All Joy and No Fun reminds that it doesn’t have to be this hard, and that we can bring back some fun to the process. Not all of the book is revelatory, but it was definitely validating for someone like me who struggles every day with the more challenging parts of parenting a toddler.

60 Songs That Explain the 90s
I’ve been listening to this show for years and it released its final episode in March and all I can say is that this is one of my favorite podcasts. Come for the reminiscence of songs that shaped your youth, stay for the amazing audio essays Rob HarviIla weaves into every episode. I only dream of being able to write like Rob; that he can tell such vivid stories while tying in important historical pop culture is a sign of genius.

We document our family vacations extensively, with photos and videos capturing the awesome and the mundane. Looking back at this documentation, what stories will my daughter have to tell about the places we’ve been and the things we’ve done? How will she fill in the gaps and remember or imagine what wasn’t captured in a photo or video? Aftersun gutted me, not just because it was a heart wrenching film about a father and his daughter and the beauty of their intimacy, but because it reminded me that no matter how much we document, our memories will be built on the moments we didn’t capture, on the way we felt then and feel now that we can look back on what was. This goes on my list of all-time favorite films, easily.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 16
Whomever picked the queens for this season should be applauded: this was a dynamic group of contestants who each had something special to bring to the cast. The changes to things like the lip sync tournament for eliminated queens, and only bringing back a final three for the finale, kept the series feeling fresh. And the final three felt correct. Sure, I was hoping for a Sapphira win, but Nymphia is a worthy winner. One of the better seasons we’ve had in a while.

Holding Pattern
Jenny Xie’s debut is impressive, though ultimately not what I had hoped it would be. Exploring ideas of family, intimacy, and feeling stuck” in life, there’s a lot to like here. The pervasive exploration of touch and shared experience is interesting; I only wish she had dived in deeper into some of those themes. The plot meanders a bit and many of the characters remain unexplored and unfulfilling, but the prose is evocative. An enjoyable read, but you can’t help but wish it was a little bit more than what it ended up being.

Smart Brevity
There are important nuggets of wisdom in here, but nothing that I didn’t already learn in my corporate communications class in university: keep things simple, clear, concise, and write from an audience-first” perspective. The examples in here are helpful, but this book mostly reads as an ad for Axios and AxiosHQ more than anything else.

Drag Race UK vs the World, Series 2
Like the rest of the world, I’m not pleased with the way this ended, even though I called it several episodes into the series. It’s clear that production had a heavy hand in determining some of the decisions made during the run of this show, but it remained entertaining nonetheless with a fantastic group of queens (La Grande Dame and Marina Summers being among my favorite queens to ever appear on a Drag Race franchise) and some good challenges and fantastic runways. I’m not sure how long the vs the World” format will continue with Global All-Stars on the way, but this was a great addition to the franchise.

Surprised it took me this long to watch this movie: it seems like it would be right up my alley. And yes, much of it was catered to my tastes: gorgeous animation, a story centered on family, fun and quirky characters, etc. Sadly, the story lags a bit at times and doesn’t resolve that effectively, and other than a few notable exceptions, the music didn’t resonate as much as I thought it would. A pretty solid Pixar movie, but not among the greats.

Poor Things
I can understand the accolades for this movie. It is impeccably shot, delightfully whimsical, and meticulously crafted. Emma Stone is incredible; this might be her best performance of her career. I should have loved this movie a lot more than I did; I didn’t because I couldn’t get past the idea that, at least for the first part of the film, the male characters were infatuated by, in love with, and having sexual relations with a character who was essentially a child. Everything else the movie did was clouded by the distaste that left in me.

The Great British Bake Off, Season 14
After more than a dozen seasons and several spin-offs, this show risks being repetitive; there’s only so many times you can watch someone make a genoise sponge. It doesn’t get repetitive, however, because the contestants are always so lovely and vibrant—and ever so nice to each other. No cattiness like other competition shows, but instead a niceness that exudes from every character; it’s easy to be engrossed and root for them all.

A few albums I’ve really been enjoying recently:

  • Kacey Musgraves, Deeper Well: Not as strong as some of her earlier albums, but still hauntingly beautiful.
  • Ariana Grande, eternal sunshine: Best album since sweetener? Actually, probably even better. Been playing this on repeat; meshes perfectly with my vibe these days.

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