Culture Consumption: April 2020

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

Shutter by Courney AlamedaAs I mentioned last month, I was struggling a bit with reading — until I switched away from the book I was struggling with to read Shutter by Courtney Alameda instead. It was the perfect choice.

Shutter is a a fun YA horror novel about teenagers battling ghosts and other evils. Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of Van Helsing, who uses a combination of guns, knives, and a uniquely rigged camera to destroy monsters and exorcise ghosts. When she takes on ghost hunt that turns out to be too much to manager, Micheline and her crew of fellow junior agents find themselves all cursed, fated to die if they can’t find a way to break the soul chains that bind them.

The characters are smart and skilled, and yet still young enough to make mistakes. One of the things I appreciate was how the story handled its elements of romance. The affection between Micheline and Ryder comes from years of growing up together and a sense of earned-respect from working side-by-side in the heat of battle. It feels natural and genuine that they would fall for each other — the only obstacle being Micheline’s father and his expectations for the kind of person she should marry in order to continue to the Helsing line. It makes sense in the context of the world in which they exist and feels natural.

On the whole, this book features a nice blend of action, horror, and teenage romance — making for a fun, quick paced read and the perfect escape.

Sealed by Naomi BoothAnother great (though very different) read this month was Sealed by Naomi Booth. Set in rural Australia, Sealed is a psychological body horror novel. Much of the tension is driven by the anxieties of the main character Alice, who is heavily pregnant and her fears about rumors of a bizarre disease that seals people within their own skins. When her obsession with the disease nearly threatens her government job, Alice and her boyfriend Pete (who I find annoying) travel to the countryside in search of solitude and safety. But Alice still sees signs of the disease all around her and she increasingly questions whether they made the right decision.

This book is brilliant in the way it slowly builds uncertainty and tension. The world Alice and Pete inhabits is frightening even without the threat of this new disease, between concerns of poverty, privately controlled social services, and environmental pollution. However, the overshadowing threat of this skin-sealing disease and Alice’s distrust what lies beneath the skin of her pregnant belly amps everything up. It’s a brilliant novel, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Booth.

Books Read Last Month:
1. Shutter by Courtney Alameda
2. Sealed by Naomi Booth

Total Books for the Year: 18

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Dune by Frank Herbert, White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards, and Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow

Short Stories & Poetry

The End of Poetry” by Ada Limón (New Yorker) —

“Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower
and snowshoes, maple and seeds, samara and shoot,
enough chiaroscuro, enough of thus and prophecy
and the stoic farmer and faith and our father”

In April” by Rainer Maria Rilke (Poets.org) —

“Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung over the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches disclosed the empty day.”

Blessing the Boats” by Lucille Clifton (Poetry) —

“may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear”

What Women Are Made Of” by Bianca Lynne Spriggs (The Slowdown) —

“We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;:

Getaway” by Nicole Kornher-Stace (Uncanny Magazine) — “This time you tell yourself you’ll stay put like you were told to. Sit with the engine idling and bide your fucking time. You won’t go running in there after them. Not this time. You know by now that you can’t stop them anyway.”

After all those years of fear and raging in my poems” by Toi Derricotte (The Slowdown) —

“It took so many years, the self
breaking like a pod. so many years
to pull up the details
of cruelties that were so quickly
buried—so that one could go on!”

Of Marrow and Abomination” by Morgan Sylvia (PseudoPod) — “I am very young when I first dream of the ruined barn.”

Make Work” by B.C. Edwards (The Inquisitive Eater) — “He is want, nothing but want and instead he is folding the knives and the forks into the napkins so it looks like the knives and forks are being tucked into a rough white sleeping bags, like they are camping. He does this again; he does this again.”

Movies

My roommate and I have been introducing each other to classic movies. I particularly enjoyed seeing Strangers on a Train, which was nothing like what I expected, and Body Heat, which is a fantastic noire.

The Platform (originally El Hoyo) was probably the most fascinating movie I’d seen this month. It’s an intense thriller, in which a man named Goreng wakes up in a cell centered by a giant pit distending down an immeasurable number of levels. Every day a platform lowers through the floors, granting the people a short passage of time to eat whatever they wish. The more the people above eat, the less the people below receive.

El Hoyo / The Platform

This is movie relies heavily on the social aspects involved in the desire, need, and desperation for food. It reminded me of first of The Cube, in that it’s a claustrophobic contraption built by some unnamed Authority with a purpose that is unclear. It also reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, in that each month the prisoners are moved within the tower. Almost without fail, surviving the brutal scarcity and starvation of the lower levels, the people in abuse the privilege of abundance one they’re moved to a higher level, rather than feeling sympathy for those below them.

Movies based heavily on an allegorical concept designed to explore social structures can be challenging to accept as a viewer. However, this movie works because of its phenomenal script and cast, which lends the characters depth and complexity and believability.

I’m not gonna lie. The Platform is not a light hearted story — and is often rather depressing. However, moments of slim (very slim) hope and humanity made for a fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Another high concept movie was Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon Ho (who recently won a best picture Oscar for Parasite). The movie focused on the last vestiges of humanity travel around a frozen world on a self sustaining train. The train is laid out with a clear social structure — the wealthy and opulent live in the front of the train, while the impoverished live clustered together in the back. Chris Evans plays a man leading a revolution, with the aim of taking control of the train and changing the social structure.

Although the movie stretches plausibility, Snowpiercer exists within its own internal logic. The movie dives full tilt into its concept, with each scene and setting carefully designed by Bong and his crew — so that even though I don’t understand every single aspect of this world, I’m willing to go along with the ride, trusting that the director’s skill will lead me on a phenomenal journey.

Snowpiercer

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Strangers on a Train (1951)
2. El Hoyo / The Platform (2019)
3. The Wrong Man (1956)
4. Body Heat (1981)
5. Snowpiercer (2013)

Television

While playing around with some crafts and coloring, I’ve been binge watching The Great British Baking Show. My roommate have seen at least three seasons thus far (not sure which, since the numbers seem to be listed wrong). It’s honestly such a relaxing, delightful show to watch. I love seeing people pursue complex creative challenges for the love of the work itself (especially since there is no financial reward at the end). The people work hard and support each other and help each other out along the way. It’s feel-good TV at its finest.

I also watched Cursed Films,  a horror documentary show streaming on Shudder, which explores the history and lore behind films that are said to be cursed. Most of these curses are based on myths of unusual deaths or circumstances surrounding the filmmaking process. Season one covers films such as The Omen (1976), The Crow (1994), and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), among others. All the episodes are well researched and interesting to watch, with the first two being decidedly creepy and the subsequent episodes growing increasingly more grounded and heartbreaking.

Games

Last month, I expressed little interest in the crafting and building side of Fallout 4 — which in April I have completely negated. I’m now completely in love with building up settlements, and all I want to do is make super cool buildings and structures — main storyline be damned. There’s some frustrating aspects to it (why is there no easy way to build interior walls or doors? why???), but I’m digging the possibilities and the opportunity for design. It’s a much more chill version of Fallout. I’m sure I’ll do some more exploration of the storylines eventually, if only to get more supplies for my settlements.

I’ve jumped back into Skyrim a couple of times in order to complete a few quests here and there — only to gain a few more quests along the way. I’m no where near ticking off enough boxes for it to be satisfying, but whatever.

I also started playing Stella (a mobile game available through Apple Play). It’s a puzzle side scroller, in which you play as a woman through a terrifying landscape. The design is good and there were moments that genuinely started me, so it’s fun.

Podcasts

What’s Good Games continues to be my go-to podcast, the one I listen to before all others. I just love the personalities of the hosts as they dig into video game news and commentary.

The Imaginary Worlds podcast has a great episode discussing how an 2005 virtual pandemic in World of Warcraft provided epidemiologists with a framework for understanding how pandemics work in the real world — and even shows similarities for the current crisis today.

On Switchblade Sisters, April Wolfe has great conversations with Mitra Jouhari about Earth Girls Are Easy and with Felicia Day about Gremlins.

Writing Excuses offered two great episodes about Writing the Other – Being an Ally and dealing with the emotional fallout of being in the Agent Query Trenches.

The gentlemen on Horror Queers offered a great discussion of Hellraiser: Bloodline, which has me wanting to dig into the entire franchise (which is currently streaming on Shudder.


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


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