Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Wicked + The Divine

I’ve been reading through a list of best comics and while most of them leave me mildly entertained at best, I found something more engrossing:

er-thewickedthedivineThe Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing (link for vol. 1)

What it is:
In the universe of the story, gods reincarnate every 90 years as artsy teenagers / young adults who live for only two years – but before they die, they get to be famous, loved and hated. In 2010s they are pop stars. If it sounds Gaimanian, it’s because it is, broadly speaking.

How I found it:
Through the NPR list of best comics. But also once I started reading the other comics, this kept popping up in various recommendations.

Summary judgment:
Of all those comic experiences so far, this has been not the deepest but the most engrossing.

Best things about it:
Its slowly-developing-but-not-too-confusing mystery keeps you wanting to learn more. The action never overwhelms the story, as it often does in other comics. I didn’t find the characters very relatable but still quite interesting and differentiated.

Worst things about it:
It is actually rather hard to put into words but I feel the story doesn’t quite have the depth and, hm, gravitas? I would expect from something so Sandman– and American Gods-like in concept. It seems more interested in music stardom than mythology, which I find a slightly missed opportunity.

Other pluses:
✤ Clear art and quite lovely colors.
✤ It’s fun to figure out which gods are inspired by which musicians (and in specials by which other artists) but I was only good with some writers and didn’t get many beyond the most basic pop stars. I’m not good with pop music, guys.

Other minuses:
✤ I saw that people find further volumes confusing and directionless but it wasn’t exactly my impression. I feel the level is even enough.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the story a lot and brushed up on some lesser known mythologies (not in any particular detail, though).

Fun fact:
In addition to the regular story, the authors occasionally publish extra volumes that show pantheons of different eras and I love that they’re nothing as boring as musicians in the historical appearances. The 19th century pantheon is composed of writers and the 20th’s of modernists (how cool is that? so cool).

Follow-up:
I’m there for the last planned arc and some time when I forget the story once it’s all out I’m planning on re-reading all of it.

Recommended for:
Fans of Sandman (though with slightly lowered expectations) and of similar stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Americans

Advertisements
Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Follow-up:
Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

It’s been a while since I did one of those posts but I recently heard this song again and it reminded me of its greatness. I first heard Martha Wainwright covering Cohen songs (great covers!) and I fell in love with her voice and interpretation but I never got that into most of her own songs – with the exception of this one.

“Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright

Album: Martha Wainwright

Year: 2005

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It uses profanity smartly to draw attention to this little, true-to-life power manifesto and her voice does it so much justice. I can’t imagine anyone, particularly a woman, who wouldn’t find bits in this song to nod vigorously to.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
The beginning is particularly strong: “Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore” and these next lines “And I’m young and I’m strong / but I feel old & tired / overfired” come to my mind all too regularly.

Favorite moment:
I think the part about men in a bar is particularly significant. And I generally like all the moments when her voice seems to break.

Best for: Female empowerment

Listen here.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep

I come back to Emmy the Great often and while her voice is normally nothing like the voices I like, she does incredible things with it. Also, most of her songs are miniature stories and I love me a song that tells a story.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” by Emmy the Great

Album: Virtue

Year: 2011

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It turns the problematic story of Sleeping Beauty into a meditation on a woman’s domestic life. The melody keeps changing, reflecting the changing mood of the woman, sometimes contemplative, sometimes frantic. I like how it plays with the plant imagery and other elements to build a truly gothic atmosphere. The pulsating drums create the urgency of the song. And there are small inside jokes, like when the husband is quoted, the music quiets and for a moment a rattlesnake sound appears.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
It has a lot of small gems which add to the sense of mudane gothic, like “I will stay and watch the days go past / And I’ll see how the plants advance / And they turn on what they know” or “But I swept until I couldn’t sweep / And this house is still alive”.

Favorite moment:
There are a few but I like when the “Come back, come back…” introduces the hypnotic part of the rhythm.

Best for: House cleaning. Seriously though, for contemplating traditional gender roles in marriage.

Listen here.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Seven Curses

Back to Dylan Time! Which should be all the time, basically.

“Seven Curses” by Bob Dylan

Album: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1

Year: 1963

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
It’s such a simple song, a true illustration of Dylan’s folk roots (I’d argue it’s truer than his protest songs even): with no ornamentation and a very simple, very stark story it raises Dylan’s vision of the Wild West to a mythical realm. And my personal favorite thing about Dylan’s songwriting is how he can tell a story: an actual story with characters, a plot and a resolution. Also, thank heavens they published it on the Bootleg Series because it’s such a loss it was never released on an album.

Favorite lyrics:
I like the simplicity as in a real folk ballad and the vengeful numbers game at the end. I’m not sure if I have a favorite line though, it’s such a consistent text.

Favorite moment:
I like the moment when the narrative changes once the judge has lied.

Best for: It’s a decent sing-along and it could make a decent movie.

Listen here.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: These Dreams

Today let’s pay attention to one of my older favorites, the dreamy (pun not really intended but I take the responsibility)

“These Dreams” by Jim Croce

Album: Life & Dreams

Year: 1973

Category: All-time favorites

Why it rocks:
It’s such a nostalgic, swaying beauty, showing the personal depth an acoustic song can reach thanks to its simplicity.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Now we’re just lonely people, / Trying to forget each other’s names” maybe, but this song is not about quotable gems, it’s more about the honesty of a universal experience.

Favorite moment:
The whole way his voice harmonizes with the guitar and the violin.

Best for: Honestly? I love singing along to this song, even though I certainly don’t do it justice. I even do the humming. Just be grateful you don’t need to hear me.

Listen here.

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Whiplash

I’ve finally watched a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and it didn’t disappoint.

er-whiplashWhiplash

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Damien Chazelle (who must be a jazz fanatic) wrote and directed this 2014 movie about a music student, played convincingly by Miles Teller, who gets a chance at the top distinction in his school: joining a demanding band that can jumpstart his career. The only problem is that the instructor (J.K. Simmons, great as usually) will stop at nothing to push his players. Also, so much drumming.

How I found it:
A few years ago I saw the trailer and I immediately loved it for a couple of reasons. I meant to watch it but, of course, didn’t and I’ve only caught up now.

Summary judgment:
I liked everything about this movie, on this very cerebral, admiring level.

Best things about it:
It’s smart but never boring; it cranks up the drama but at the same time the stakes remain debatable: not everyone would give up their life and dignity for a spot on a band (which only makes it more fascinating).
My favorite part of the whole story is the relationship between the two antagonists: how they destroy and save each other at the same time because they remain two sides of the same obsessively ambitious coin. This might be the best written protagonist-antagonist relation I’ve seen in a long time.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind is I slightly wish for more female presence in the story (even if just as some other musicians in the band). But I don’t have many complaints. They even made jazz exciting.

Other pluses:
✤ I like how this story belongs very much to Andrew. It’s his obsession with excellence and achievement that makes him a perfect victim but also he never really feels like a victim. Small things you notice in the plot combine to build the character, e.g. at first it’s surprising to see no relations between him and the other students but slowly it all begins to add up. In a way, the less we like Andrew as a person, the more he becomes a worthy adversary for his teacher.
✤ I was genuinely surprised at the final part, after everything that happens in the school.

Other minuses:
I was maybe a little tired of the relative ugliness of Andrew’s surrounding, which comes from filming them so realistically but that’s my personal bias for pretty interiors.

How it enriched my life:
It made me think and admire the storytellers. It also made me appreciate the art of drumming.

Fun fact:
I always had an appreciation for drumming, as a matter of fact. Actually, I used to fantasize that if I were to be in a rock band, I would definitely be the drummer (mostly because I’m completely tone-deaf and the rhythm is all I could manage; except I couldn’t, probably, especially once I’ve seen this film and realize how hard it is). I even wanted to take drumming lessons for a while but I never wanted it hard enough to follow through.

Follow-up:
So apparently the creator, Damien Chazelle, wrote La La Land? And I admit I’ve watched it since but it’s not worth a write-up.

Recommended for:
People who admire a psychological drama of abuse and revenge. People who wanted to be professional musicians and need reasons why it’s not that great.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Jane

Standard