Hoo, boy. Time slipped right by me. I was planning to do my Culture Consumption for March on time, but then the next thing I knew it was April. In addition to putting two months together, I’ve done a lot media consumption over the past two months — which means I’ve got a huge stack of things to talk about.
I’ll try to move through it all as quickly as I can. If I have the wherewithal, I’ll try to expand on a few of these later on.
Anyway, here I am at last with all the books books, movies, television, games, and podcasts I enjoyed over the past two months.
Let’s kick things off with a couple of fantastic poetry collections.
First, The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeletal structure of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poetic description of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow beautifully explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language.
Second, This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems focus on Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate are continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.
Delving into fiction, Nnedi Okorafor’s Noor is the story of Anwuli Okwudili, a woman who prefers to be called AO, who has a number of necessary body augmentations on her arm and legs — a fact that that makes some superstitious people in Africa believe she is evil or wicked. When she is attacked by men in her local community, she fights back with incredible power and flees into the desert. On her journey, she finds new companions, faces off against an powerful corporation, and finds hope filled utopian community finding safety within the winds of a man-made natural disaster. I loved the characters and communities portrayed with Okorafor’s Africanfuturist vision of a future. It’s a great read.
Cosmobiological: Stories by Jilly Dreadful is a collection of hopepunk short stories that explore love, relationships, passion, the resilience of the human spirit, and the possibilities of hope through myth, fantasy, and science fiction.”5×5″ (which you can read at LightSpeed) is an epistolary story about two young people who connect with and find strength through each other at an advanced science camp.
Another gorgeous tale is “Even the Simulacrum Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” which is about a woman who has been genetically engineered for increased empathy. In the story, she has to deal with the impact that this increased empathy has on her live and reckons with her relationship with her father. It totally made me cry by the end.
And these are just two of many of the fantastic tales in this collection.
Another great read was Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a moving novel based on actual history, in which a small town in 1665 England volunteered to quarantine itself after signs of plague began showing in the village. Brooks relates the story from the point of view of Anna Frith, a fictional servant of the pastor. Being a story of the plague, many tragedies happen in this story, as well as moments of beautiful human compassion.
Books Finished the Last Two Months:
1. The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walwrath
2. Cosmobiological: Stories by Jilly Dreadful
3. Tarot for Troubled Times by Shaheen Moro and Theresa Reed
4. The 2021 Rhysling Anthology, edited by Alessandro Manzetti
5. Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
6. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
7. This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko
8. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Total Books for the Year: 13
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell, and The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel
Short Stories & Poetry
Since this post is already going to be very long — and my list of stories and poems to share is going to be equally long, I’m putting them in a separate post in order to keep things clean looking.
I’ve watched a lot of movies — which was made possible in part due to some long flights for an international trip. As a result, I can’t possibly talk about them all of the ones I enjoyed (there were soooo many). Therefore, here are a few that were particularly notable for me.
I watched a couple of utterly fantastic Nicolas Cage movies. In Pig, Cage plays a recluse living with his truffle pig in the middle of nowhere. His only communication with the world is Amir, who purchases the truffles for elite restaurants. When his pig is suddenly taken away from him, he goes on a journey to get it back.
What I expected was another zany Cage action movie — what I got was a beautiful exploration of grief and how it lingers and changes in a person’s life. Teresa Horosko delves into this subject and how it helped her process her own grief in the essay, “We Don’t Get a Lot of Things to Really Care About,” in which she writes:
“Pig showed this grieving viewer an alternative: when all your anger and emotions and tension don’t turn into revenge and instead turn into talking about feelings and acknowledging the loss as tragic. Pig gave me some hope that I wasn’t alone, that there is life and love that continues after loss. “
The second fantastic Cage movie I saw was The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which he plays an alternate version of himself, an actor so obsessed with fame, money, and glory that he has become estranged from his own family. Needing to quickly pay some bills, he agrees to attend a millionaire’s birthday party for cash — only to find himself wrapped up in a drug cartel situation.
The movie is charming, hilarious, and wildly fun. Both Cage and Pedro Pascal are funny on their own, but the chemistry between the two of them brings everything to another level. Toward the second half of the movie, I was honestly laughing so hard, I couldn’t breath. Possibly most surprising, the movie infused me with the desire to go watch Paddington 2.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a gorgeously crafted film, in which artist Marianne is hired to paint the portrait of Hélöise a young women who is soon to be married. Because Hélöise is opposed to the marriage and refuses to be painted, Marianne is asked to pretend to be a companion and paint the portrait in secret. As the two women come to know each other they bond and develop a beautiful, romantic intimacy.
Every frame of this film is beautiful, evoking the sense of quiet isolation of the house and the women — with lovely moments of intimacy and sexual tension evoked in a look or a simple touch. In addition, I’m in love with the way that this movie portrays a passion for the arts, both in the creation and appreciation of beautiful works. From top to bottom, this is a gorgeous film.
Now, let’s switch gears into the realm of horror and thrillers, of which I watched plenty the last couple of months — starting with X, a terrifying homage to golden age horror films, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Set in the 1970s, X is about a group setting out to make a cheap porno film at a remote farm, owned by an old married couple. Events quickly turn deadly when the desires of the old couple bubble to the surface.
X is tense and gory — and portrays various perspectives on sexuality and desire. Claire Holland examines this aspect of the movie in her excellent (and spoiler heavy) essay, “Sex Won’t Kill, But Something Else Surely Will,” in which she writes:
“X deftly explores the ways people relate to sex—the baggage and shame we carry around our sexual selves, as well as the many ways sex can be healthy and therapeutic, even transformative. It can also expose some of our worst impulses and deepest insecurities.”
In Fresh Noa is a young woman tired and exhausted by the dating life. As such, she is pleasantly surprised when she makes an awkward but sweet connection with Steve in the vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Letting herself get caught up in the fun of the experience, she agrees to go on a weekend trip with him after only a couple of dates — which, because it’s a horror movie, goes terribly wrong.
I had some sense of where this movie was going — and at the same time, I was fully unprepared for all that went down. This film is smart and stylish and at the same time gross and graphic. It’s beautiful and disgusting, and surprised me many times over. From beginning to end, it kept me on the edge of my seat.
Promising Young Woman is a revenge film. Following the sexual assault on a college friend, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) devotes all her time and energy to seeking revenge on the kind of men who would assault women in this way. Every weekend she goes out to a club and pretends to be too drunk to stand, and every weekend some dude picks her up and brings her home — at which point she acts.
Promising Young Woman has rightly received a ton of praise. It’s tight, tense film that excels at depicting female rage. Jude Doyle has an excellent essay on how female rage is portrayed in this and other movies. He writes:
“The greatness of Promising Young Woman lies in how unsanitary Cassie’s rage is. She isn’t noble, or admirable, or cute; she isn’t presenting a term paper on rape culture. She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it any more. Cassie does things that are deeply scary. She does things that are staggeringly cruel.
Nor is Promising Young Woman “feminist” in any soft or sisterly sense of the term. When women are implicated in her friend’s rape — the college dean who refused to punish the rapists, or the self-described “good girl” who blames the victim for drinking — Cassie is just as vicious to them as she is to the men, if not more so. “
Switching genre gears again, Old Henry is a fantastic Western film. The story centers around an old farmer, the titular Henry (played by Tim Blake Nelson), and his son, who find a fallen rider on their property. The discovery quickly leads to a threat as men claiming to be the law come looking for him.
Old Henry provides Nelson with an opportunity to shine. Underneath the quiet calm of a farmer accustomed to hard labor and long winters, is a cool calculation of a man capable of facing off against dangerous men. One of the joys of this film is how it teases out the truth of who Henry is — ultimately concluding with a powerful conclusion.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Two Months:
1. Pig (2021)
2. Thoroughbreds (2017
3. Promising Young Woman (2020)
4. The Suicide Squad (2021)
5. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
6. Jungle Cruise (2021)
7. Don’t Look Up (2021)
8. Ford v Ferrari (2019)
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
10. X (2022)
11. The Last Time I Saw Richard (short film, 2013)
12. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)
13. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
14. Fresh (2022)
15. Scream (2022)
16. Old Henry (2021)
In addition to all the reading and movie watching, I also managed to binge quite a few TV shows from beginning to end.
As soon as season two of Russian Doll was available, I jumped right in. After the events of the previous season (in which the main characters found themselves dying and reliving the same night over and over), Nadia finds herself once again in a strange time-travel circumstance. A certain subway train is able to transport her to the 1980s, where she finds herself inside the body of her mother. Thinking she might be able to change her own past for the better, Nadia begins to take actions that could have an unfortunate affect on time itself.
Natasha Lyonne is once again fabulous in the roll of Nadia — and the story is strange and beautiful all at once. I loved seeing all of these characters come back, and loved the dark, quick-witted New York humor. Another fantastic ride.
All three seasons of Into the Badlands provided great background entertainment for me as a did a large amount of data entry work for my day job. Set in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by powerful barons, the story revolves around a number of other characters who are scrabbling to maintain or fight against the power structures at hand. Since guns have been outlawed in this world, the fighting is occurs through hand-to-hand combat and sword play — which is the real star of the show. The fight sequences are artfully choreographed with a surreal and gory beauty to them. And I say gory, because the blood splatter is aplenty.
The Boys had been recommend to me by a couple of people — and now I’ve finally seen it. The premise answers the question, if superheroes were real, what would the real world collateral damage be? The answer is a lot of gnarly corpses scattered along the roadside, all covered up by the money-making conglomerate in charge of the supes and their public image. The show is full of dark humor (right up my alley), and I had a lot of fun with both seasons and am looking forward to the third.
I’ve been meaning to dip into the Marvel shows available on Disney+ for a while now and have finally seen both WandaVision and Loki — both of which I enjoyed. I especially liked that the mini-series/series format allows the creators to play with the storytelling style and structure, as well as expanded the Marvel universe as we know it. Fun stuff.
I completed the Samorost series of puzzle games on mobile. The first game is about 15 minutes long and presents a strange little animated character, presumably named Samorost, on a tiny floating planet (or ship?), which is about to be struck by another speedier planet — and the goal is to prevent that from happening.
In the second game (about an hour long), Samorost is minding his own business at home, when an alien lands and kidnaps his dog. He must then rush off and attempt to save him.
This third game is the most in-depth and complex, taking about five hours to complete. In this one, Samorost looks out from his tiny home planet to view the other orbiting bodies nearby and decides to go on an adventure — only to find himself wrapped up in saving the people of these worlds who had been attacked by a dangerous being.
All of these games feature a unique mixed-media art style that combines hand-drawn animation with photographic imagery and computer-rendered backgrounds. This allows for the creators to develop strange and unique worlds, with beautiful textural depth.
The puzzles are also unique, sometimes straightforwardly simple and sometimes seemingly complex. However, the complexity is in part due to the nature of the games’ design, as it doesn’t explain or lay out specific rules of how to solve each puzzle. Rather in each individual scene, it’s up to the player to figure out which objects are intractable and in what way. In some cases, I found myself stuck on an otherwise simple puzzle, simply because I needed to slide my finger across the object instead of tap.
Anyway, these were odd, but fun little games. Which I may or may not return to again.
I played a bit more of Disco Elysium, a game that is rich in storytelling and fascinating characters. The story and world continue to evolve and reveal more, and I can’t wait to discover the truth behind events (if that’s even possible to discover considering how philosophical and existential the game is thus far).
On She Plays Games, Lauren continues to pump out fantastic episodes. In her conversation with Mary Kenney, they talk about game writing, her recent work on Spider Man: Miles Morales, and her new book Gamer Girls.
Laura Deutsch and Rebecca Dixon, cofounders of The*GameHers, joined She Plays Games to discuss how the pair developed a supportive community and app in order to connect women who play games with each other.
And if you’re at all interested in getting into game development, check out the episode with Sara Machado, head of recruitment at Hitmarker. She shares how to “scope out whether or not a company is the right fit” and discusses some of her projects designed to support young developers getting into the industry.
On Script Lock, guests Ashley Swidowski (character art director at Bad Robot Games) and Graham Rexnick (a writer, director, and sound Designer, who worked as a writer on Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn) talked all things horror. On the episode they talk about why they personally love horror, what makes games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil so powerful, and so much more.
In the Imaginary Worlds episode, “Stage Fright,” Eric Molinsky delves into the world of The Grand Guignol, a theater in Paris that developed many of the basics of the horror genre that are still used today in modern horror.
Horror Queers took a stab at the off-kilter classic, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), providing fantastic commentary on the films development and filmmaking, as well as exploring some of the horrifying moments of the movie.
Scriptnotes is always fantastic to listen to, but the “The Nuclear Episode” was particularly compelling. As the world approaches new concerns about nuclear war, John August brought on two experts — Joan Rohlfing (Nuclear Threat Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy) and author/reporter David E. Hoffman (Washington Post) — to discuss the current situation and what responsibility writers have in how they tell stories about nuclear conflict and concerns.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?