Culture Consumption: June & July 2017

With all the traveling and such, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’ve read some great books and seen some great movies over the past couple of months, though.

Books


“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”
— from Certain Dark Things

I love vampires and I love Mexico City, so it’s no surprise that I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The world Moreno-Garcia has created features vampires of many species that live out in the open with humanity. Though vampires have been ousted from many countries around the world, they’ve gained a stronghold in Mexico, forming powerful and dangerous cartels — with the exception of Mexico City, which exists as a vampire-free zone due to the strength of the human gangs.

Certain Dark Things is told from multiple points of view — Domingo, a garbage-collecting street kid; Atl, a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers on the run from a rival vampire gang; Rodrigo, a human servant of vampires hunting Atl; Ana, a cop who becomes wrapped up in events when bodies start turning up; and a few others. Altogether, this is a brilliant crime thriller full of vampires and gangsters and femme fatales. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is fast becoming one of my writers favorite writers, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

“There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.”
— from Down Among the Sticks and Bones

In Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires. But the world is full of doors to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.

Seanan McGuire seems to be getting better and better with every book she writes. The writing in this book is beautiful, often taking on the “fairy tale” tone of an outside narrator as a separate character relating the story.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it.

It’s clear why Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is considered a classic of the thriller/horror genre. Jackson was a phenomenal writer, masterfully weaving a complex and dark story of family as told through the voice of Merricat, the younger of the two Blackwood girls. Merricat is fanciful and a bit unsettling in how she relates the bleak history of the Blackwoods. A captivating and brilliant novel.

I also enjoyed In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle, which presents a lovely story of an ornery old farmer who discovers that unicorns have decided to take up residence on his land.

Bitch Planet: Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro, introduced a dystopian world, in which women who fail to conform to the standards of society are condemned as Non-Compliant and are sent off to a prison world, nicknamed Bitch Planet. In addition to exploring the ways women are punished for being true to themselves, the graphic novel looks at media and prison culture — at times responding to “women in prison” exploitation movies that were popular in the ’70s, both pushing against the tropes those films presented and at the same time feeding into them. The women are often drawn naked in the panels, a literal illustration of their vulnerability, and yet the women are rarely timid or weak — they are defiant; they fight back. I’m not sure I’m in love with this one yet, but I enjoyed it enough to want to check out the next volume.

From <i>Bitch Planet</i>, volume one.

From Bitch Planet, volume one.

From <i>Bitch Planet</i>, volume one.

From Bitch Planet, volume one.

Books/Scripts Finished Last Two Months:
1. Bitch Planet: Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro
2. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (audio book) by Shirley Jackson
4. In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle
5. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
6. The Island of Nose, illustrated by Jan Marinus Verburg, written by Annie M.G. Schmidt
7. La La Land, written by Damien Chazelle
8. The Promise (unproduced script presented as an audio movie) by Chris Salmanpour
9. The Gauntlet of Phillip Montega (unproduced script presented as an audio movie) by David Gay

Total Books for the Year: 22

Did Not Finish: The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner. The writing and art are good, but I was not connecting with it, so I decided to move on to something else.

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin

Movies

Wonder Woman (2017).

Wonder Woman (2017).

There has been considerable praise for Wonder Woman, which is well deserved and I’m not sure I can add much to what already has been said. Although it has some of the same flaws that often occur in big budget superhero movies, Wonder Woman is action packed, funny in the right moments, and delightful. Gal Gadot plays Diana with a mix of strength and compassion, and her moments of vulnerability are not shown as weakness. Also, instead of the dark, brooding, tortured heroes that have proliferated movies in recent years, Wonder Woman presents a return to idealism — a hero fighting not for revenge, but because they believe protecting other people is the right thing to do — which is refreshing.

Dafne Keen as Laura

Dafne Keen as Laura in Logan.

Speaking of brooding heroes: I finally saw Logan, which is grim, dark, and bloody good fun. The movie embracing its R rating, with action sequences full of severed limbs and blood splatter. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fantastic in their roles as Wolverine and Professor X, but the real star was Dafne Keen as Laura. She spends over half the movie not saying a word, but holds her own strength in that silence. Plus, she utterly obliterates a ton of military men over twice her size and it’s awesome.

Available to stream on Netflix, XX is an anthology of horror short films directed by women. Each film was strong on its own, and the stop motion animation between each film was beautiful, too. I particularly loved “The Box”, in which a young boy sees something that causes him to stop eating. “The Box” unsettled me in a number of ways.

New-to-me Movies watched over the last two months:
1. Trolls (2016)
2. The Young Victoria (2009)
3. XX (2017)
4. Among Friends (2012)
5. Logan (2017)
6. Wonder Woman (2017)

Television

Sooooo much TV watching this month. Netflix is swallowing up all of my free time.

Daredevil

Daredevil season one, before he gets himself the fancy red suit.

After loving the first season of Jessica Jones and seeing the trailer for The Defenders (which I’m stoked about), I decided to check out Daredevil — only to find myself loosing time as I fell through both Season 1 and 2 of the series. It’s dark, violent, and well written with a number of great side characters that help create a human connection that holds the superhero plot together.

Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson) is among my favorite of these side characters, as the guy you take one look at and immediately assume is a fool, someone underestimated. He’s sweet and funny and far more formidable than people give him credit for and on a number of occasions pulls intelligent legal arguments to control or diffuse an intense situation.

Karen Page (played by Deborah Ann Woll) is also fantastic. She starts out as a victim, a woman who comes upon the murder of her boss and whose live comes under threat shortly after. Instead of wallowing, she joins Matt and Foggy at their office and begins to take strength from digging for the truth. She relentless, while holding onto compassion for the people around her.

Daredevil

Matt Murdock, Karen Page, and Foggy Nelson.

Another great character is Claire Temple, played Rosario Dawson. Claire is a nurse who finds Daredevil injured in a dumpster and decides to patch him up and help him out, making her the first person to discover his real identity. She’s practical, smart, no-nonsense, and believes the world needs people like Daredevil doing the work to protect people in Hell’s Kitchen.

Although Claire appears only in a handful of episodes, she’s unique in that she appears in all the standalone Defenders series — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and The Iron Fist — one of the only characters I know of to do so. In fact, her presence in Jessica Jones is what prompted me to check out Daredevil in the first place and knowing that I’ll see her in Luke Cage and The Iron Fist is a large part of what’s driving me to pursue watching those shows, as well. She’s an interesting connection between each of the shows and I’m really interested to see how her character grows and changes.

Daredevil

Claire in Daredevil

Season 2 of Daredevil also introduces Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, and Jon Bernthal gives a great performance in the role, showing a focused ruthlessness with a sense that underneath the surface he’s deeply wounded. The Punisher provides a great foil for Daredevil, exploring how far is too far in being a vigilante.

Other TV this month included season three of Sherlock and a few episodes of the first season of Twin Peaks. I never saw Twin Peaks when it first came out, but I’m certain that I would have loved if if I saw it when I was younger. It’s such a strange show and I’ll be jumping back into it as soon as I get through all the Marvel Defenders series I’m currently watching.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?

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