What I have been reading and Watching

Hi everyone. I have read and watched too much during these past couple weeks to write about, so I thought it would be best to put some of my favorite things I watched and read in a post. Let me know if you have other suggestions.

Movies

The Crying Game – The Crying Game is a bizarre story, but is surprisingly effective. Stephen Rea is the main reason I decided to watch this film. He was married to prominent IRA activist Dolours Price. The film takes some incredibly weird turns, but I am surprised by how affecting I found the film to be. It’s on Netflix and I would recommend if you are really bored. B-

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Ang Lee’s beautiful film about sacrifice and growth is still quite good. The performances here are great, but the film is mainly about the cinematography and choreography of the fights. It is excellent and a really fun watch. I think this movie definitely could have more to say, but it is a really well-made film. B

Television

Hillary – The Hulu docuseries is an interesting look at Hillary’s life. The documentary is divided into two parts: the 2016 election and a chronological look at her past. I found the latter to be more interesting, as they ask tough questions about her time as a first lady and show how important she is as an American figure she is. The 2016 election is less interesting to me, but it is through no fault of their own. It simply has been rehashed and debated too much.

The documentary is certainly biased toward Hillary, but it does a good job of giving counters to many of her assumptions. This is a film that is dedicated to her story, so naturally, she will look more sympathetic than others. However, I think this is a good docuseries, that understands the subject. For anyone with a passing interest in politics, you should watch. B

Devs – This is probably the best show I have seen on the nature of free will. Too often shows that tackle these subjects aim for complexity. This show aims for slow understanding. The showrunner is Alex Garland, who wrote Ex Machina and Annihilation, two films that I adore. Devs is a slow-burn, but it is too the show’s benefit. Its approach gives it time to analyze the ideas behind the show, and give it a melancholic feel necessary to the story. I cannot describe the show without giving away important details, but if any of these topics interest you, watch it. A-

Breaking Bad – The hallmark show is definitely overrated, but is still a great watch. The ending is phenomenal, and while certain sections of this show lag, Breaking Bad really becomes a beautiful study on what lurks beneath. Every performance in this show is excellent, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul are the two standouts to me. Bryan Cranston is obviously terrific as well. While The Wire is still the best show of all time in my book, this is a great watch and should be on everybody’s list. A-

The Leftovers – This is peak pandemic watching. The premise of the show is that 2% of the world’s population disappears all at once. The story picks up three years later, as people are left to try to figure out what happened and avoid it happening again. This is not a show interested in explanations, but rather in how people deal with and attempt to explain the unexplainable. The Leftovers loves ambiguity and uncertainty, which will frustrate plenty of viewers. Nevertheless, I think it is beautiful. I still have one more season to go, but I cannot recommend it enough. If you are into bleak storytelling, it is hard to get bleaker than this. Damon Lindelof is the head writer, and he does a phenomenal job. A terrific watch and my only regret may not be rating it highly enough after the final season.

The Plot Against America – One of my favorite books is now an HBO miniseries. David Simon and Ed Burns, the men behind The Wire, recreated the alternative history into an extremely real story of not doing the right thing when needed. Simon and Burns nail the characters, and the performers really bring the nuance forward. It is a necessary tale of anti-semitism and of poor leadership in times of crisis. Sounds familiar?

Mrs. America – The first three episodes of this show dropped on Hulu a few days ago, and all of them were excellent. The story about the figures in the women’s liberation movement is a terrific story about how women fought to gain respect amongst their colleagues on both sides of the feminist movement.  I will have more as the show continues, but a great watch as well.

Top Chef – Top Chef is the best. I love it. It’s just so fun. If you need a cooking show fix, this is the one. Fun, fast, and incredibly high stakes, Top Chef is what every cooking game show hopes to be. It is terrific. Watch it. Seriously.

Books

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – The definitive book on the troubles in Northern Ireland. A searing account of the violence and anger that defined generations of violence. It is a terrific and well-researched story.

A Dance with Dragons – The last of the Game of Thrones books. I have read many books in between when I have gotten bored, but this is one of the most entertaining books of the series thus far. I cannot wait to let you know what I think of the conclusion!

David Benioff’s City of Thieves

After finishing Game of Thrones, I was interested in reading the book written by one of the show’s principal writers, David Benioff. I am pleased to report that the book is excellent.

City of Thieves is a book inspired by the true events of his Grandfather and takes place during the siege of Leningrad. After his Grandfather Lev is taken in by the Russian police, he meets an army deserter named Kolya. The colonel at their prison offers them a way out, to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding and get freedom and ration cards. If not, they would be back in prison for as long as they lived.

Benioff’s story is fun and heartbreaking, managing to weave humor with horrifying aspects of Leningrad during siege time. The prose is also easy to understand and deft. It is a short book but an incredibly fun and fascinating read. This is an excellent historical fiction book.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind & Charles Murray’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – I was hesitant to watch this movie because I simply assumed it would use a clever convention to tell a different permutation of the same rom-com story. This movie differentiates itself by investing in the characters, those in and outside of the main relationship. What kind of people would do this and what kind of people would perform these procedures? All of these questions are tackled in unique perspectives, and the twists at the end create for a satisfying narrative. That being said, I found this film slightly lacking emotional bite, which I think may have been solved by watching this in a theater. Regardless my experience was never quite as impactful as I hoped, bringing down my overall score. It is still worthwhile, and I have a feeling with the right audience it would be incredibly impactful. 8.5/10

“If something about your prospective spouse bothers you, but you think that you can change your beloved after you’re married, you’re wrong” (135).

Charles Murray was caught up in a wave of controversy in 2017, as his book The Bell Curve became a source of seeming unending controversy at universities, including the University of Michigan. While I did not attend the event with Charles Murray, it was a sad state of affairs for everyone involved. While I understand the implications behind his study, and why people would be concerned, I have no reason to believe the data collection was done incorrectly. Regardless, the reasoning for including racial IQ scores does not seem to have been entirely thought through, which makes me feel slightly uneasy about him. We all make mistakes, and I feel as though he is important to still listen to, even though some of his past work may be questionable at best.

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead had been sitting on my desk for a while and I was not sure how to really look at it. However, after reading through it, I found parts of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to be genuinely enlightening, and it has left me with many thoughts and questions to ask. Tips about testing yourself and thoughts about non-judgmental society have left me in deep contemplation, and I hope to get to ask him questions about it in the future and write a review on it. While I was not as enthralled with the advice on how to present yourself in the workplace, other sections make this book important reading for all 20 year-olds. This one of the more important books I sat down to read, and even if you hate Charles Murray, you will find something in here that is valuable.